Four years into Oxfordshire’s latest transport strategy and here we are embarking on another multi-stage consultation for Local Transport Plan 4. The official reasoning makes a case for it but can the goals and objectives of a strategy covering two decades really have changed so much that it warrants starting from scratch? We’ll be taking a look at the detail following tomorrow’s Connecting Oxfordshire meeting at 7pm in Henry Box School.
Connecting Oxfordshire conjures up the idea of places joined together, settlement to settlement, Carterton to Witney, Witney to Oxford, but that’s only one level of local transport. The hyperlocal is at least as important – how we move around within settlements – and it’s the one we consistently fail to make more efficient, pleasant and healthy. Travelling along better local transport links is one part of the solution, not having to sit in 15 minutes of congestion at either end is the other.
The only major road project during four years of LTP3 to be planned, signed-off and (soon to be) built in Witney is the Ducklington Lane junction improvement. It started out with a £2 million budget and a brief to future proof it for a predicted 2030 level of motorised traffic. When the engineering contractor Atkins ran the junction through its capacity modelling software ‘computer said no’; it didn’t have enough lanes for stacking. That’s a technical term for temporarily parking vehicles at a junction so a queue doesn’t back up so far that it adversely effects the next junction upstream.
What to do? Quite a large area around the junction is deemed highway land and during a site visit Atkins’ engineer noticed the B&Q corner “doesn’t go anywhere” (the business park being hidden behind a very large hedge) so no crossings or pavement to it would be required. That was a boon to a modeller of motor traffic because it meant:
- the pavement removal would give more space for traffic lanes,
- more time could be retained for traffic movements.
Stacking traffic is only part of the equation for a signalised junction, there also needs to be a enough time available to clear the stack during each light sequence so a growing remainder doesn’t back up over time. Adding a proper Toucan crossing to reach B&Q would scupper the junction’s maximum capacity in the traffic model.
Despite bikes being regularly parked at B&Q, and people beating paths through the bushes to it, the traffic counts showed low numbers of people walking and cycling on the western arm of the junction, supporting the removal of the pavement along with the potential to cross there. If you’ve tried it you’ll know why; it’s relatively risky and far from pleasant. It’s so unpleasant and off-putting in fact, a sympathetic observer might conclude that the people counts ought to be multiplied by a factor of about 100 to take that into account. Traffic models can’t empathise neither can they model people walking or cycling.
During the consultation bike users requested better access which resulted in a 2m shared path along Thorney Leys to an informal pedestrian crossing, with a refuge, to Thorney Leys Business Park. Oxfordshire County Council could not provide an official, safe and convenient bike route for the employees and visitors to B&Q and the rest of the businesses there. ‘Encouraging’ people to cycle and relieve congestion doesn’t yet stretch to giving them a place to do it.
I don’t think we’ll get another chance to put that right for a very long time and this corner of Witney will continue to be cut off from the bike network for now, and will remain so when the junction eventually starts to operate at its designed capacity in the late 2020s. All that tarmac poured, rolled and marked out, sat there through rain and shine, developing potholes, waiting for that day. Does that sound innovative to you?
So perhaps Ian Hudspeth, the architect of Connecting Oxfordshire, is right, the Local Transport Plan does need a revamp from the top down. I’m not so sure. Cycling and walking were high priorities for all settlement types in LTP3, including Witney, but that had no influence when it came to providing people with a safe and convenient option to cycle to Thorney Leys Business Park. Not considering walking and cycling until after the road layout for the junction was complete was a failure to plan for walking and cycling; good policy made no difference to an old process.
There’s a lot to read, research and review right now in the world of new, cycle-friendly infrastructure design, but you’ll find at least one familiar character doggedly plodding his way through from one version to the next – the dimensioned cyclist.
I don’t know when he first appeared, perhaps there’s a bike-infra historian out there who does? I got into this campaigning game in about 2008 and at that time he could be found wobbling around in a 1m envelope with his twin brother in figure 2.2 of the DfT’s LTN2/08: Cycle Infrastructure Design.
The last four years of austerity have clearly had an effect in London because he’s had to move with the times and confine his elbows to 75cm, his space budget slashed in figure 3.2 of the Draft London Cycling Design Standards by a whopping 25% (along with the graphics budget).
Meanwhile, Sustrans, always aware of gender balance in its publications, has chosen to illustrate the width required by cyclists in its new design handbook with his sisters. Progress indeed.
Now, if I were to spend an afternoon flicking through the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges, God forbid, how likely is it I’d come across a whole section devoted to the dimensions of one of the most common cars on the roads today like the Ford Fiesta? Along with a footnote about larger, less common, but more problematic vehicle types to design for such as vans and lorries? The motoring equivalent of this…
2.6.1 Highway designers consider the dimensions of motor vehicles and their swept paths to determine carriageway widths, junction dimensions and parking layouts. The sizes and swept paths of cycles are usually irrelevant in the design of onroad cycle routes, but there are occasions where they need to be considered. Examples include the approach to a cycle gap, or the interface between the carriageway and an offroad cycle route. Failure to provide the room a cyclist requires can make some routes inaccessible or difficult to use, particularly for disabled cyclists, tandem or trailer users and parents transporting young children by bicycle.
For comic effect I’m being a tad unfair to Local Transport Note 2/08 because it does mention the dimensions of a couple of other bike types, but my point is you won’t find a dimensioned drawing of any other bike type. Neither does it make them easy to picture or design for.
Why are cycle infrastructure design gurus obsessed with diagrams of one type of bike? Is it because other bike types are too difficult to draw? Does showing a handcyclist in primary position feel too uncomfortable? Are bike cargo companies just a fad and not worth consideration in future cycle networks? I’d really like to know because along with other inclusive bike users it’s making my cycling life bloody miserable and turning me into a very grumpy bike-bore at parties.
But hold on a second, section 2.6.1 appears to hold the answer to the problem of designing properly for different bike types – swept path analysis. As far as I know, despite it being a commonly used tool available to highway engineers and urban designers in their chosen CAD systems, nobody applies it to model the larger inclusive bike types in cycle infrastructure design. Just think of all that computing power and graphical game playing fun going to waste!
So bike-infra bods, how about we put a stop to this perverse practice of dimensioning the stereotypical cyclist and set about properly integrating inclusive bike types into the design workflow? Embrace equality and build an accessible environment for everyone – you know you want to 🙂
My day out in Bath as a Sustrans quality control technician…
With a to do list sagging under the strain of new documents landing on it, I did the sensible thing and allowed myself to be sidetracked by the latest Sustrans barrier design. Initially I was incredulous – hasn’t my (admittedly tiny) contribution to the sustainable transport charity’s barrier bureau been used to conjure up enough ways to disadvantage disabled bike users? Apparently not.
Well, aside from the beer, the chocolate and it hanging handily on the end of the high speed Eurostar line, Belgium, or at least the parts we visited, is a country in transition in terms of local transport. Add the fact that it’s home to both the European Parliament and the European Cyclists’ Federation and it’s no big surprise the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group should arrange a study tour to take in some of the best bike infra Belgium has to offer, along with some of the more challenging.
Following on from Part 2: Parking, pavements and potholes – dealing with the stuff you have little or no control over.
So, we’ve got our bike, our basket and our lock and we’re stood outside the shop/pub/café/jobcentre looking for the other half of the parking puzzle – a sheffield stand. Even in cycling nirvanas like Amsterdam and Copenhagen there aren’t always enough purpose made stands or suitable pieces of street furniture to go round, so for short term parking their answer is – take your own.
As part of the team working towards an inclusive cycling policy for London I gave a short presentation to the LCC Policy Forum this week. You’ll find the draft doc along with the other excellent presentations here.
This is what I remembered/meant/forgot to say.
Is there a connection between narrow, filtered permeability and the kind of imagery regularly used to represent cycling?
It’s convenience, or rather the lack of it, that explains why someone who regularly does a 60 mile ride at the weekend, or commutes 15 miles each way to work all week, will choose to jump in the car to pop into town. Sounds absurd on the face it, surely a journey of 1 or 2 miles is easier than slogging your way over the Cotswolds? And of course it is, if you ignore all the phaffing around that goes with it.
This from the most recent research into using a bike in the UK, Understanding Walking and Cycling…
“It is often assumed that short trips could easily be made by bicycle or on foot (e.g., DfT, 2011 pg 5), and the statistics suggest that there are many short trips that could be converted. According to the National Travel Survey (2010) 36.1% of trips under 2 miles and 53.0% of journeys under 5 miles are undertaken by car, with walking accounting for 23.4% of all trips and cycling only 1.5% of all journeys.”
It’s not just distance that differentiates short local journeys from long fast clubruns; one is all about the ride while the other is about the purpose. More than about 5 miles and the time spent on the bike begins to dominate, less than 5 miles, or about half an hour, and it’ll be what you do when you get there that counts. You’re no more likely to clip clop into a restaurant in a pair of budgie smugglers and a shirt colourfully advertising a bank in foreign climes than you are to turn up at the start of a club run in a suit and tie. For a town like Witney it’s a mere 10 minutes from the outskirts to the centre – hardly worth getting changed for.
There are exceptions at either end of the cycling community. I have friends who virtually live in lycra and go everywhere by bike, and equally I occasionally nod to old guys in woollen blazers and brogues riding miles from anywhere, but valued members as they are of that risible 1.5% of journeys undertaken by bike, they’re the bookends of a missing bell-curve that could and should be mass cycling in the UK.
More from Understanding Walking and Cycling…
“For instance in Sweden and Finland 9% of all trips are by bicycle, in Germany 10%, in Denmark 18% and in the Netherlands 26% (Pucher and Buehler, 2010). The research reported here suggests that assuming trips (in the UK) could be undertaken by bike or on foot just because they are short is a rather simplistic approach that fails to fully understand the nature of the problem.”
When I go to the Netherlands and look at the people riding bikes there, just focussing on the people and their bikes rather than the environment they’re riding them in, I see the occasional helmeted roadie on a carbon framed racer, the rarer off-roader on a fully suspended MTB, but obscuring these are masses of people riding relatively heavy machines wearing nothing you’d find between the covers of Cycling Plus.
When it rains I see umbrellas. I’ve tried using an umbrella and it’s not easy in a forward leaning position. Sit upright though and controlling the bike one handed isn’t a problem. In fact everything seems to just work on an upright. Sure you can splash out on a Brompton jacket with darts in the back giving enough room to stretch into an aero position, but that kind of negates having a whole wardrobe to choose from when going out.
Has the technology revolution in bike design made the short journey any easier? Does a 20% weight saving give any significant advantage on a 10 minute journey? Is the electronic derailleur mech going to make my trip to the cinema any better?
Seems to me everything that makes using a bike for short journeys more comfortable and convenient was sorted out before the outbreak of the Great War. Hub gears, mudguards, chain guards, skirt guards, comfortable steel frames, the wicker basket. While since then every technological advance to make going further, faster easier has made the short journey more uncomfortable and inconvenient.
The people using bikes in the Netherlands that give cycling a legitimate voice aren’t ‘keen cyclists’ or ‘cycle enthusiasts’, they do it because it’s been organised in such a way that it’s convenient. As our mega-fit mile-eater we started out with demonstrates, promoting ‘cycling’ doesn’t make using a bike convenient and is doing little to resolve the short journey conumdrum in the UK.
I’m glad to say it’s not a secret here. Not everyone’s conforming to what is ‘normal for the UK’. Our arty bike stands at the back of the Woolgate have a steady stream of snappily dressed bike users coming and going with their shopping. Mostly women. Even more in Oxford ignore the advice of cycling experts and are discovering for themselves what works, or just carrying on a tradition that hasn’t died out yet. They’re the ones doing most to promote the bike’s supremacy for the short journey.
I read the other day that the classic dutch bike is based on the british roadster. Oh Raleigh. Where did it all go wrong?
When you live with an issue every day, think about it most days, write about it once or twice a week, meet others who deal with it every month or so, and every now and then reach the influential with ‘the message’, after all that, it’s all too easy to kid yourself that you’re actually getting somewhere.
But not to worry, eventually the evidence trots up like a big bouncy puppy, so pleased with itself that it’s returned with just what you wanted, only to prove beyond all possible doubt that it forgot all about your ball, having been distracted by the bigger, shinier one thrown by your mates.
Whether it’s TfL and the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London or the CTC’s Cycletopia, the evidence suggests that if and when the able bodied and able minded think about disability cycling they still imagine it taking place in a park or around an athletics track, certainly not on a street or a cycle path.
They’re right of course, that is mostly where it takes place, and the rub is that’s where they’re keeping it – safely confined in their collective mind’s eye out of harm’s way.
So what to do? Throw in the hand crank or keep plodding on through the crowd of indulgent smiles? Well, like a lame Eeyore, it’s onwards, ever onwards..
The four point plan I knocked up in response to the Get Britain Cycling inquiry isn’t going to cut it on its own. As long as the common perception of cycling amongst those tasked with the job to Get Britain Cycling is being reinforced with images like the one above, handcycles and trikes are going to be forgotten about, and with the help of the five inaccessible kissing gates I came across yesterday on the Bourne Valley Greenway, disability cycling will remain confined to inclusive cycling projects.
We need some positive discrimination.
5. Make it Normal
Until we have an inclusive cycle network without all of the physical and mental barriers preventing people from enjoying the benefits of cycles as mobility aids, the disabled need to be included in the plans and expectations of all new schemes.
As an absolute minimum, an image of a handcycle and/or trike needs to be shown in the plans and design access statements for all new cycle infrastructure. Copy and pasted commuters an inclusive cycle network does not make.