|Not only does this Sustrans route consist|
of nothing but loose pebbles, there's a
gate on it which I could not pass without
removing my bike trailer.
|A common problem with Sustrans|
signs is that they tell you the same
thing in more than one direction
Sustrans' attempts at building infrastructure often include such features as paths shared with pedestrians, on-road cycle-lanes shared with buses, narrow widths, rough surfaces, places where it's necessary to dismount, and many obstructions. These make progress by bicycle slow (so much for a practical means of transport). Where Sustrans routes consist of nothing but sign posts on country lanes, these almost invariably result in a long detour.
|A photo from nearly ten years ago. From this point, turn left and take the Sustrans NCN route along country lanes to Newmarket, 15 miles. Turn right to take the direct route, just 6 miles. This has still not been improved.|
I could spend a lot of time writing about past errors of Sustrans but this blog post is not about those. What I want to write about today is the new Sustrans "Handbook for cycle friendly design", which sadly is not nearly the document that it should be.
|Cycle training cannot|
result in mass cycling
A few pages later the document starts to talk about "understanding user needs" with the illustration to the right being prominent. This shows "primary and secondary riding positions", primary meaning of course taking up a position in front of motor vehicles in order to control the following traffic.
Sustrans say they are designing for "the less confident cyclist" but this apparently means "a sensible 12 year old [...] trained to Bikeability level 2". While Dutch children have cycled to school as well as for other purposes for many years before they reach the age of 12, the needs of younger British children to be able to do the same are not being addressed.
It should be noted that Bikeability training in the UK is not associated with a higher rate of cycling. Training cannot result in true mass cycling because it does not address the fundamental issues which face cyclists. In particular it does not address subjective safety issues so parents won't allow their children to cycle even if they have been trained.
The importance of a fine grid of infrastructure appears to have made it into the Sustrans manual (they call it a mesh) and it's illustrated by a map which similar to those you'd see in the Netherlands, showing a primary grid which is linked by a secondary and third level grid. The language of what is required is in the Sustrans document, but what follows falls well short of the extremely high quality and convenience required in order to attract people to cycle.
|Sustrans emphasize Shared Space|
features early in the document
Bizarrely, their diagram to illustrate "good street design" shows that roads on which there was space for a cycle lanes should lose those lanes as they approach a roundabout which itself has no clear markings. This will generate conflict and danger just as it does at similar designs which have been tried in the Netherlands.
|Two out of three are dangerous|
Similarly, the central island design is lethal. Sustrans suggest painting bicycle symbols on the road, but this paint will not prevent drivers from pulling into the path of cyclists in order to pass the pinch point. We have pinch-points like this in the Netherlands, but not with cyclists are on the road. They are used at entrances to villages and to assist people to cross the road.
|Advanced stop lines ? In 2014 ?|
|It's already proven to be dangerous|
in Southampton and lethal in
Denmark. Why duplicate this
elsewhere in the UK. There are
better, safer designs for traffic
But the worst of their "innovative" facilities by some margin is the much criticised Southampton two-stage turn. This attracted criticism well before it was built because it was no more than a poor copy of a type of junction which is not only inefficient for cyclists to use but which has also proven to be lethal. Denmark has many junctions of a similar type and has worked for years to try to make them safer. Nevertheless, a relatively developed form of this type of junction killed seven Copenhageners last year. Is that the type of innovation that the UK needs ?
|Sustrans asks for British cyclists to have|
cycle-lanes narrower than the Dutch build
Sustrans propose mere 2 m wide cycle-lanes as being adequate even with traffic flowing at 40 mph. At these speeds, proper high-quality segregated paths are required.
|Gilbert Road Cambridge. A missed|
opportunity to do something better.
recent summary of cycle-lane problems. This dangerous idea keeps being proposed in inferior design guides from around the world. A cycle-lane like this almost invites motorists to turn across the path of cyclists and it is not a safe place to be. Not for an experienced cyclist and also not for the 12 year old with Bikeability training which Sustrans claim to be designing for. There are far better, far more convenient designs of traffic light junctions than those which Sustrans seems to be aware of.
|Buses and bikes should never be mixed|
The only way to achieve harmony between buses and bikes is to keep them apart.
|Cyclists need all the help they can get when approaching and|
negotiating a roundabout. Stopping the cycle-lane early so that
cyclists can "mix with traffic" is not a solution. Click to find
out how the Dutch build safe roundabouts.
i.e. The very safest designs of roundabouts for cyclists are safe precisely because cyclists don't use the roundabout.
Sustrans are not the first to make this mistake. It's a misunderstanding which has come up repeatedly with British road designers. I had a prolonged online conversation with a planner in Bedford in 2011 about this exact misconception. Regardless of this, Bedford has more recently gone one 'better' and proposed a turbo-roundabout with on-road cycling, and Sustrans amongst other campaigning organisations actually approved of this as good practice.
Turbo roundabouts are absolutely not for cyclists to ride around. They are a special design of motor vehicle specific roundabout intended to speed up traffic around such places as motorway exits. Ideally, cyclists won't even see these types of road junctions.
|Mini-roundabouts give little reaction|
time and can be more dangerous than
full sized roundabouts for cyclists
|No. Don't do this.|
we don't have any shared use paths in the Netherlands because they cause conflict and are not efficient to use but Sustrans expresses a strong preference for shared use on the grounds that it "maximises the usable width". As we're on the subject of widths, what do they suggest ? It turns out that a 3 m wide path is considered to be adequate for a main cycling route. That is thought to be enough for two way cycling combined with 2 way walking. 2.5 m and even 2 m widths are also considered to be adequate in some situations.
|Sustrans recommend just a 2.5 m|
wide bidirectional cycle-path
through underpasses. This is
very narrow. The dimensions of
this underpass suggest no
consideration of social safety.
Contrast this with the situation where we live in the Netherlands. We have mostly 4 m wide cycle-paths for bidirectional use, narrowing sometimes to 3 m wide for secondary routes. These are usually parallel with a 1.5 to 2 m wide path for pedestrians. For single direction cycle-paths, 2.5 m wide is normal, again parallel with a 1.5 m to 2 m wide path for pedestrians. The usable width is not being "maximised" by Sustrans' guidelines, but actually it is being set very narrow indeed.
|Sustrans dimensions for segregated|
paths would be OK if this was for
single direction use. A 2 m width for
bidirectional use is not enough.
Sustrans have been building inadequately wide infrastructure for an overly broad user-group for many years and of course they have seen the conflicts that result from cramming people onto narrow badly designed infrastructure. This document even suggests a way of trying to deal with it: 'On unsegregated paths consideration should be given to the erection of courtesy signs such as “cyclists give way to pedestrians” or “share with care”.' Needless to say, well designed paths do not need such signs.
The one on the right illustrates another problem. This road junction has been designed in a way that it is so confusing to use that people require a sign just to tell people how to negotiate the junction. It doesn't tell the user anything about their destination unless that happens to be "Canal" or "Ashton Road".
And I've even pictures two of the others, which say "Please give way to pedestrians in path", raising the question of whether this would be necessary if the infrastructure had been designed to remove conflict between user groups instead of creating it, "Use diversion when route ahead flooded", which raises the questions of why there is a cycle path which floods and whether this is really an issue which should be "solved" by putting up a sign.
Who are Sustrans designing for ?
I mentioned briefly above that people with physical disabilities particularly have an enormous amount to gain from a real grid of high quality infrastructure. But that, sadly, is not what Sustrans are planning to enable. They've adopted the language of providing a real grid but their standards aim far too low to provide infrastructure which can be used by the entire population.
|Sustrans labelled this photo|
"inadequate drainage". I'm
more interested in how you
get through that gap with
this type of bicycle.
The designs that Sustrans are promoting are not good enough to get the masses to ride bicycles. They're also not good enough for confident cyclists to make the efficient journeys which everyone who cycles wants to be able to make.
Cycling should be for everyone. Able-bodied, disabled, young, old, fast or slow. Infrastructure for cycling should be designed for all these people to use safely at once. There should never be a choice between a safe option and a fast option. This is not a dream, it's reality just over here on the other side of the North Sea.
I think it's notable that while the best practice in cycling is not to be found in the UK, the references section of Sustrans new handbook includes only UK sources. Sustrans' references section tells me where to find their own publication about dealing with Japanese Knotweed, but there's no reference to the world's best practice cycling design documentation from CROW.
It's not just CROW that they're ignoring. We've offered to help to educate Sustrans planners about best practice but ten years have gone by without any interest being shown by Sustrans. We're still here. We can still help. We can show you better than ever what best practice really looks like as well as explaining the pitfalls that you must avoid. But we can only do so if you talk to us.
Other new guidance
|Several of my older photos are used|
in the camcycle guidance, one from
2008 fills most of the front cover.
The document could have benefited
from newer ideas and newer photos
but these were not sought.
It's also worth pointing out that not one of the three new documents discusses the safest roundabouts or the safest traffic light designs from the Netherlands. In all three cases they are promoting inferior designs which are less convenient as well as less safe for cyclists. Read more about good junction design.
From "Fast Forward" onwards, the illustrations and photos above come from Sustrans' handbook except for those on the cover of Making Space for Cycling, the largest of which is my photo.
A reader confirmed that the "inadequate drainage" barrier still exists and pointed out where it is.