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Planning and design for cycling scrutinised by MPs and Peers

Chris Peck's picture
Having examined strategy and safety issues, the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group turned its attention to planning and design for cycling in the third session of its inquiry into cycling on the 6th Feb.
Dutch design of infrastructure was much praised by those giving evidence
Dutch design of infrastructure was much praised by those giving evidence

The panel of MPs and Peers examined a range of witnesses, including CTC, LCC, Sustrans, bloggers, academics and figures from urban design. 

Tony Russell from Sustrans stressed the need for high quality networks of cycle routes, particularly aimed at the less experienced cyclist,  "the sensible, unaccompanied 12-year-old". The evidence from the Netherlands, he suggested, was that where such facilities had been built, cycling had flourished.

Mark Ames, author of the ibikelondon blog, suggested that to make mass cycling, "subjective safety is the crux of the matter - cyclists shouldn't have to feel they need to wear body armour."

Roger Geffen from CTC, urged that the quality of cycle facilities is all important. "What we don't want to see is cyclists excluded from the road and forced to share space with pedestrians. Dedicated space for cyclists - preferably segregated - must be made from reallocating roadspace."

What we don't want to see is cyclists excluded from the road and forced to share space with pedestrians. Dedicated space for cyclists - preferably segregated - must be made from reallocating roadspace.

Roger Geffen
CTC Campaigns Director

Red tape strangling cycling?

Lord Berkeley asked which regulations were proving problematic and preventing good quality design. 

Roger Geffen gave the example of low level traffic signals, which are used widely in Europe to allow cyclists to have their own green phase ahead of motor traffic. Transport for London, he said, is lobbying for this but the Department for Transport is opposed - they will only let local authorities use standard height and size traffic signals, which then create confusion for drivers. 

What about the countryside?

Lord Scott asked about what could be done in rural areas. Roger Geffen responded that networks of 40 mph zones should be rolled out on country lanes, with 20 mph in villages, but segregated parallel cycle routes were required for the busier, inter urban roads.

Steve Brine, MP for Winchester, questioned witnesses about the role of the Highways Agency - controller of the busiest roads which often prove the biggest barrier to rural cycling. Tony Russell explained that too often the Highways Agency failed to provide adequate provision for cycling - "we are repeatedly coming across the results of major schemes which have created unsatisfactory conditions for cycling".

Learning from the Dutch

Fabian Hamilton, MP for Leeds North East, who had cycled from Leeds to the Netherlands in 2012, felt we should simply copy what had been achieved there. Mark Ames agreed, suggesting that a big part of the problem lay with the guidance documents set by the Government and the skills of the engineers who design projects.

Gerhard Weiss from LCC, explained that the 'Love London, Go Dutch' campaign, aimed to copy the Dutch approach of giving cyclists priority: cycle paths aren't there to "get cyclists out of the way", but to allow cyclists to gain advantage over other users.

However, even basic ideas, such as giving cyclists priority over side roads, or low-level traffic lights for cyclists, which are common in the Netherlands or Germany, are incredibly rare in Britain. Only Old Shoreham Road, in Brighton, was cited as an example of really innovative planning for cycling. 

Mark Lazarowicz, an Edinburgh MP, asked why cycling wasn't designed in from the beginning. Roger suggested that a lack of training for engineers was problematic, but the lack of good planning guidance meant that standards of cycle parking and access to facilities  preclude cycling from the outset.

The engineers' perspective

The All Party Cycling Group also heard from a group of engineers and academics. Mike Wilson from the HIghways Agency felt that it was crucial to make sure that trunk road traffic was segregated from cycle traffic - only this would make cycling feel safer.

Adrian Lord, representing the Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics felt that there simply wasn't the resources available to implement good facilities, but also there were often political barriers to providing good facilities, particularly when it came to removing car parking.

John Parkin, Professor of Transport Engineering at London South Bank University, suggested that over the last 50 years Britain had done a huge amount of car-centred traffic management, but mostly ignoring the needs of cyclists. He emphasised the need to ensure that infrastructure for cyclists provide priority, while missing links in the cycling network need to be fixed through safeguarding them in planning frameworks.

Dave Horton, who had been part of the Understanding Walking and Cycling Project at Lancaster University, suggested that instead of "getting Britain cycling" we're actually moving in the wrong direction. Again, he suggested that we need to restructure space away from the car and towards the bicycle, particularly on the busiest roads.

Better guidance needed?

Mike Wilson from the Highways Agency acknowledged that the Non-motorised User Audit approach didn't always yield perfect results. Adrian Lord suggested that many of the schemes built over the last few decades had simply ignored the outcomes of Non-motorised User Audits because space simply wasn't available.

Julian Huppert MP questioned whether there was a lack of training of engineers in providing for cyclists, a point that Mike Wilson agreed with. He said he had spent very little time being trained in design for cyclists, and felt that most engineers working on major schemes were in a similar position. John Parkin felt that the situation had approved a little, with dedicated training for engineers on cycle planning in London and elsewhere.

Adrian Lord stated that the tools used to design roundabouts and junctions precluded Dutch designs - they simply won't allow tight, low speed junctions to be built because these restrict junction capacity. However, John Parkin pointed out that "keeping traffic moving" was a political issue which was contradictory with giving cyclists' priority.

There has to be an emphasis in training for engineers in incorporating the needs of cyclists. Most people aren't cyclists and therefore most highway designers aren't cyclists.

Phil Jones
Phil Jones Associates

Planning ahead for cycling

Jason McCartney MP pointed out that he didn't know of many places where planning gain from new developments was spent on cycling. Adrian Lord responded that when he was working with the cycling demonstration towns, he was able to help them find substantial funding from new developments. In order to be able to secure these funds, he urged that local authorities plan networks of cycle routes in advance, which could then be matched up to funding opportunities when they came along.

John Parkin urged that £15 per head of population be set aside for cycling or a £1bn per year - putting it alongside other major transport infrastructure schemes. 

Phil Jones, an engineer, spoke from experience of working with local authorities, who treat cycling as a marginal schemes. John Dales, from urban design consultant Urban Movement, said that we need to design for "people who don't cycle now" and have a much greater level of ambition. Both he and Tony Armstrong of Living Streets urged the need for planning properly for people and place, rather than merely movement. 

While a 'big picture' commitment to cycling is required, the details are also crucial, said Phil Jones and John Dales. For instance, cyclists can't share traffic light phases with pedestrians, as is common elsewhere in Europe. Similarly, a simple 'left turn on red' approach, which is a standard approach in Germany, allows more junction capacity to be given to cyclists. 

Is 20 plenty?

Rod King, who leads a national campaign of almost 200 local campaign groups pushing for 20 mph as the standard speed limit, urged that the 'national speed limit' of 30 mph was rapidly becoming outdated. Local authorities, he suggested, should have 20 as the standard limit, with roads chosen for higher speed limits, such as 30, where conditions are suitable.

Divided by a line

Tony Armstrong felt that putting cyclists onto a shared use footway was the "easy way out", but didn't provide a good facility for either group. However, Phil Jones, who had researched for Sustrans, argued that in some cases - where pedestrian flows were low and space was cramped - shared use paths were actually a better idea, since paths divided only by a line increased conflict between users. Where possible, though, we should aim to segregated the two groups by providing adequate width facilities for each, separated by a verge. 

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