The Crap Walking and Cycling in Waltham forest and As Easy as Riding a Bike blogs have both recently posted interesting critiques of the "Magic Roundabout" in York ("spin over substance", "Putting some paint around the circumference of a roundabout does precisely nothing for cyclists", "Would you want to send your child to school on cycling infrastructure like this?"). Elsewhere it is described as a formidable obstacle for cyclists.
Here it is from the air:
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The CTC wrote about it in 2003 (page 6 here), saying much about the "continental style" of this roundabout and referring to CROW documentation from the Netherlands (amongst others) as being an inspiration. On the Magic Roundabout, cyclists are encouraged to use a 1.2 m wide on-road cycle lane which goes all the way around the outside, and on one entry point they're expected to use a cycle lane of the same width sandwiched between two lanes of motor traffic.
In reality, the narrow cycle lane doesn't provide much help for cyclists. In this video you'll see how a York cyclist (bigguychappers) rides up to and over the roundabout:
Comparison with a Dutch roundabout
For a cyclist, the supposedly "continental" style "Magic Roundabout" of York looks nothing at all like a real roundabout as seen over here on "the continent" in the Netherlands. This second example is a typical Dutch roundabout, chosen simply because it's an example close to our home. It should appear at the same scale on your screen as that above from York:
Grotere kaart weergeven
These aren't particularly busy roads, but that doesn't mean that cyclists aren't better off away from them. There is no need to ride on the roundabout itself at all. Cycle paths around this roundabout are 2.5 m wide where single direction and 4 m wide where bidirectional.
We ride this way regularly as it's part of the most direct route to the city centre (see the whole journey from which this is a part ). A video made when riding past this roundabout also looks nothing like the video from York:
Approaching and riding past this Dutch roundabout involves no conflict and no drama. No-one has concerns about riding here themselves, and no adult has concerns about their school age children cycling past this junction. This is just as well because many go past here in order to get to school. This type of infrastructure contributes to the high cycling rate of Assen, and as similar roundabouts are found right across the country, to the high cycling rate of the Netherlands as a whole. What's more, this is also extremely efficient for a cyclist to use. You never have to stop when riding in this direction, and rarely in the opposite direction. In my view, this is truly a "magic" roundabout because so far as cyclists are concerned, it's almost been made to vanish.
Guess which one won an award ?
Unlike the York roundabout, the example in Assen didn't win any awards. No-one said that it was a novel idea which "should be copied by other engineers around the world." (just a few days after this blog post was published, that link was password protected. I guess someone in York reads this blog). No consultancy company still refers to it as an example of their award winning design. For the Dutch, this is nothing but a normal roundabout. In any case, people don't seem to be quite so keen on handing out awards for things like this on this side of the North Sea.
The problem with things like the Magic Roundabout in York is that sometimes the hype gets out of control. It may well be a safer design than the previous junction, but it's a missed opportunity. It could have been so much better, but as so much hype and praise is heaped upon the roundabout it's difficult for other people to notice this. The hype is still believed. Cycling England referred to it quite positively, there have been proposals to copy the "Magic Roundabout" elsewhere in the UK, similar ideas are published as guidance in Australia. The BBC recently said that the "British roundabout" might be conquering the US, and a much hyped example like this could well be held up as a better than average design to copy.
It is often difficult to counter the opinion of an "expert". However, it seems quite clear that in reality the Magic Roundabout shouldn't be an example which is copied. Planners who want to do the right thing for cyclists would be better advised to look at Dutch examples instead.
The Assen roundabout used as an example in this blog post is not unusual. Another post details every roundabout in Assen. Every single one is better designed than the "Magic Roundabout"
Not culture, not history – physical change
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