Sunday 19 February 2012

Love London, Go "slight head start at the ASL" ?

LCC original
A few days ago over on the Pedestrianize London blog, Paul James put together a very good critique of the 'lack of ambition and "Dutchness"' of the London Cycling Campaign's plans for Parliament Square.

For his post, he edited the LCC image to create something which looked considerably more Dutch.
Paul's version

In particular, Paul deleted the on-road advanced stop lines (aka ASLs or Bike Boxes) and the on-road cycle lanes. Quite right too, as these are something which are not really "Dutch". They exist, but they're rare, and shouldn't be found in a modern design for a busy street like this.

"We favour ASLs"
Discussion followed, with several people saying that they preferred Paul's vision. Mike Cavenett, Communications Officer of the LCC, explained thus: "We favour ASLs because they give confident cyclists an advantage (however, slight) at traffic signals. They're not a substitute for proper bike tracks, they're complementary. Confident cyclists can use them and ride on the carriageway, while less confident ones will use the kerbed tracks that are part of every busy street."

It's quite extraordinary that the LCC should "favour" advanced stop lines as part of a campaign called "Go Dutch", because ASLs are actually rare in the Netherlands. When this post was discussed elsewhere, and a suggestion was made that mistakes were being "copied from the Dutch who invented the things in the first place" this made me think about the last time that I actually saw an ASL in the Netherlands. These days, ASLs are British much more than they are Dutch.

A traffic education
"Happy families" game
from the Netherlands
shows how ASLs don't
really eliminate
hassle from motorists.
It does depend on where you go, of course, but while we're surrounded by high quality cycling infrastructure in Assen, there isn't an ASL anywhere in this city. There also isn't one on any of the routes I follow regularly into the countryside, through other cities, villages and towns. The closest I'm aware of is 30 km North of here in Groningen. They're not all that common in that city either, and are not found on the main routes for cyclists that I usually use or on large junctions as they are being suggested for in London. Dutch cyclists manage quite well without ASLs because of more advanced traffic light and roundabout designs, as well as many opportunities to take routes which avoid signaled junctions.

Just because something can be found, somewhere, in the Netherlands, that doesn't imply that it's a good example worth copying and branding as "Dutch" elsewhere.

The Bristol ASL and bus incident
As it happens, an ASL in Britain was in the news this week, though I've not heard anyone comment on this particular aspect of the story. The ASL appeared in CCTV footage of a bus driver, Gavin Hill, who used his vehicle to deliberately seriously injure a cyclist:

Bristol, Britain's "Cycling City". Note how an advanced stop line completely failed to help a cyclist who was the victim of a deliberate attack by a bus driver (click on the underlined text if you wish to see the rather shocking video).
The street on which this incident happened already has cycling infrastructure as "favoured" by many campaigners in the UK in the shape of an Advanced Stop Line. However, this infrastructure played no part at all in keeping the cyclist safe. Actually, ASLs and other paint on the road do nothing to reduce conflict on the streets. Indeed, in encouraging cyclists to try to get past cars which are in the lanes which lead up to the ASL they can actually promote conflict. I'm not the only person to have noted that if you find your way into an ASL in the UK, it's likely to have a car in it.

Dutch, Danish, or something else ?
ASLs were not the only aspect of the LCCs design which was discussed in the comments on Paul's blog post. Richard Lewis, who produced the design for the LCC, also joined in: "The un-Dutch lanes. I agree that the tracks and lanes are hardly Dutch in design. This is because they are mainly Danish.

So is "Go Dutch" actually "Go Danish" ? It shouldn't be. In my view, Danish junction design at major intersections is less good than Dutch design because it promotes conflict and causes cyclists to have to make multi-stage turns more than Dutch junctions. Danish junction design has proven to be lethal. However, I'm quite sure that the Danes wouldn't put an ASL here either.

Richard carries on to say "I've actually done a 'hybrid' of both". There's an explanation of why: "Essentially this is because Dutch designs are actually so good that British engineers won't go near them, and because Danish designs are pretty good (and getting better over time) but are also much more transferable. " Actually, though, these proposals are neither Dutch nor Danish nor a hybrid, but something new and unproven.

Instead of the LCC asking for best practice, they are still asking for something less. Compromises are being made before even starting a process of negotiation. I wrote before about how this timid approach will never lead to the needed change. It's akin to Rosa Parks having asked merely for the signs on the bus to be in a fixed position.

Bow Roundabout
It's not just at Parliament square that the LCC are making proposals for advanced stop lines at busy junctions.

In a recent article ending with the words "we need action to tackle road danger and make out city as inviting to cycle in as those in the Netherlands", the London Cycling Campaign suggests the following layout at Bow Roundabout:
LCC's proposal for Bow Roundabout (page 28/29 London Cyclist Feb/Mar 2012)
Until I read the article that it accompanied, I thought this diagram was a demonstration of what not to do. It may fit well with the preconceptions of people who think that ASLs "give confident cyclists an advantage" but this is an overly complex junction design which makes a mockery of proper cycling infrastructure and everything that sustainable safety principles argue against. This confusing jumble of different types of infrastructure puts cyclists directly into conflict with drivers as they attempt to reach those advanced stop line bike boxes.

I am completely at a loss to explain how this type of infrastructure could be thought to make London more like a Dutch city. The Dutch don't design two speed infrastructure.

In my view, what is being proposed here is actually worse than the proposal from Transport for London.

Representing the members
Last year, the LCC held a vote to discover which theme its members would like it to campaign on. Four different choices were given, and "Going Dutch" won by a mile with nearly 60% of the total votes cast. However, the leadership of the organisation had long been opposed to Dutch style infrastructure (much discussed on the late and lamented Crap Waltham Forest blog) and from the start, the proposal for "Going Dutch" was couched in particularly vague language and discussed in a way which indicated a lack of enthusiasm for what the membership had voted for.

Even before the vote, as long ago as July, there was discussion on the LCC's own website about the language then being used for the proposal. Many people were not happy with the way that "their" option was being presented. The impassioned first two paragraphs of the first response that you can read at that link sum it up well:

"Road space" is such a woolly term. The LCC has worded it like this to be attractive to your mum/gran/son who sees the pretty picture of a segregated cycle track, whilst suggesting a simply more blue paint to appease the lycra warriers who want to keep the right to cycle at 20mph in A-roads round central London. I really don't know what I'm voting for here. The title "Going Dutch" should by principally about segregation. Please LCC don't shy away from this word. He goes on to say: We need roads that my mum/gran/son will be drawn to cycle in. The ONLY way to avoid the BATTLE on the roads is to be segregated, like in Holland. NO to blue paint. NO to wide roads. YES to physical barriers protecting cyclists along main roads.

He didn't say so specifically, but I'm pretty sure that writer was not asking for more ASLs, and it's quite clear that he was not asking for on-road cycle-lanes.

In the last few weeks, the staff of the London Cycling Campaign, several of whom have publishing, marketing and fund-raising backgrounds, have done a good job of what they do well. They've produced a lot of text, achieved a lot of press for their campaign, and boosted membership of the organisation. While it looks great, what has been produced is a bit hollow. They still don't really seem to understand either how Dutch infrastructure is designed and works, or what "Going Dutch" meant to the people who voted for that option and who pay their salaries.

Instead of asking for what its members asked for. i.e. replication of Dutch conditions for cycling on London's roads, the LCC continues to promote less than ideal solutions, such as (but not limited to) Advanced Stop Lines (Bike Boxes) and on-road lanes. Woolly terms like "clear space" continue to appear in LCC literature and there is a lack of ambition for real change.

Rather than designing for the 8-80 age range, so that all Londoners could cycle just as all types of Dutch people cycle, the LCC is still designing for the 18-38 age range who are least concerned about subjective safety. With their current ambitions, a more accurate name for LCC's 2012 theme could well be "Love London, Go slight_head_start_at_the_ASL".

If you want to support a campaigning group which is really dedicated to bringing Dutch infrastructure to the UK, support the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. To find out for yourself what Dutch infrastructure really looks like and how it is used, book a study tour. In three days we present a condensed view of our experience of living in and cycling tens of thousands of kilometres in both countries.

As I couldn't find it online, the picture of Bow proposal came thanks to the anonymous (unless he doesn't want to be) person who sent me a copy of the LCC's beautifully presented "Love London, Go Dutch" press pack. If cycling could be boosted by mere "branding" there would be no problems.


Edward said...

Another great post. I'm glad you're still finding time for the odd post now and then.

What's odd to me is in the comment by the designer, Richard Lewis, where he says "LCC is a broad church, and there are a lot of objectors to Go Dutch". His commitment to taking account of everyone's wishes is admirable but the problem with trying to keep everyone happy is that you end up with a poor compromise.

Listening to everyone's opinion is important but those opinions must be tested. Why are people against "Go Dutch?" Is it because they want to weave between double-decker buses and trucks? Even if they do, do they speak for the majority, including the majority of the population who would choose to use a bicycle for some journeys if they could do so safely?

When it is clear what works, rather than trying to accommodate views that are in fact based on false assumptions, wouldn't it be better to carry on with what works and explain why?

Maybe I'm just being arrogant.

Mike Cavenett said...

It's unacceptable for you to claim LCC is only designing streets for young fit cyclists.

Every one of our recent designs (Olympics, Bow, Blackfriars, Parliament) clearly includes wide kerbed or fully segregated cycle tracks in every direction, as well as cycle-specific traffic lights.

These designs are specifically designed for people of all ages and abilities because they eliminate conflicts with motor vehicles.

The idea that including ASLs as well negates the safety value of these bike lanes is wrong.

Sorry it upsets you that our designs don't fit your strict model precisely, but it's our job to find pragmatic solutions that provide safe and convenient cycling for all Londoners, and that's what we'll continue to do.

Our biggest concern this week is why only a paltry 33 MPs have signed the The Times #cyclesafe EDM.

Please everyone consider joining the ride on Wednesday evening in central London to highlight the need for real change on our streets (details below):

Mike Cavenett
London Cycling Campaign

David Hembrow said...

Mike, You can either "Go Dutch" or you can continue with your style of "pragmatism". However, you can't do both because they are fundamentally incompatible.

Your designs don't disagree merely with what you make out to be my personal "strict model". Rather, they fly in the face of what is normal in the country you claim to be copying from, and with what your members requested you to do.

After adopting a theme of "Go Dutch", and having recruited extra members on the back of seeking real change, it's perfectly reasonable that people should complain if it becomes obvious that the LCC is not doing what it said it would do.

This is what I find to be unacceptable, and that is why I have criticized the LCC in this piece.

A two-speed solution where "fast" cyclists are provided with on-road facilities while "slow" cyclists are provided with off-road facilities makes no sense at all. It is likely to result in lower quality for both of the parallel networks that you ask for.

The UK already has quite enough off-road infrastructure which is built down to the expected requirements of people who rarely cycle. This is not good enough.

Off-road facilities built to high enough standards - i.e. the standards that people expect in the Netherlands, and of "Go Dutch" in London - remove the need for a parallel network on the road.

Anonymous said...

You can find the occasional Advanced Stop Line in the Netherlands, generally in places where the roadway is too narrow for multiple motor traffic filter lanes and you still want to give cyclists the opportunity to turn left while being clearly visible. In some places a hook turn is performed instead.

Ewout said...

ASL's, or Opgeblazen Fietsopstelstroken (OFOS) as we call them, are still built in the Netherlands, and do appear in the guidelines, because they can be benificial for cyclists in the right situations. At a default Dutch intersection, cyclists going left (right in uk) would have to wait twice. With an OFOS, cyclists can turn left in one go, without a lot of conflict with drivers from behind. It is only applied at small, uncomplicated junctions, with just enough traffic to require traffic lights. This is at all not the case with this major junction. LCC seems to be looking at situations with a fixed perspective, trying to fit the few things they know in every situation. The OFOS is just one page out of thousands of the manuals used in the Netherlands. There can be so many better solutions. You can't 'Go Dutch' without actually looking in the Dutch manuals (which they don't seem to have, else they would know all this). See

John Crossley said...

Britain is beyond help. No matter how many times you tell them that copying the Dutch verbatim is the only way, they insist on doing things differently.

So I'm not hanging around here waiting for things to change. I'm following in your footsteps, David, and emigrating to NL. I'm learning Dutch as we speak.

Wilfred Ketelaar said...

I thought you weren't going to write blog posts anymore. Not that I'm complaining or something like that. I can't believe people (read: governments et cetera) are to stubborn to look at a existing design and use that. It's the same with our OV-chipkaart (read: public transport card). There are perfectly good working systems all over the world, but no... we (the Dutch) have to 'invent' our own version which has major issues.

Anyway... I think I would like to share the link to one of our few ASL's and the one you probably mean in your blog post. Here it is.

John Crossley said...

But the OV-Chipkaart is highly innovative in that it is the only country to have all its public transport on one smartcard. Likewise, the Netherlands is the only country to have a nationwide very high quality cycle path network. It is the only country to have a nationwide cycle hire network accessible at a swipe of a card.

The difference is that the Netherlands try to innovate where no comparable system exists elsewhere e.g. nationwide cycle paths, nationwide cycle hire.

On the other hand, they are perfectly happy to take knowledge of pre-existing foreign developments, such as the London Oystercard, and adapt it for the Dutch situation.

The Netherlands can do that because it is not an insular nation (note how well the Dutch speak foreign languages). The UK cannot because it is (the British only speak English).

The end result may have 'issues' (like the OV-Chipkaart) but you can't accuse the Dutch of ignoring what exists abroad.

crapbournemouthcyclist said...

David, off topic but couldn't see any other way of reaching you, do the Dutch have 'lollipop ladies' at all? I imagine they don't need them!

Nico said...

Last year when my LCC membership came up for renewal I seriously considered letting it lapse because I felt they did not push cycling in a way I'd like, aiming for anyone 8-80 to be able to go out on a bike safely.

When the "Go Dutch" theme came up I decided to renew, to give them another chance, but if they continue with plans like the one shown above I will definitely stop contributing and give directly to the CEoGB instead.

In this election year it is the time to push bold (for the UK...) ideas, after all Ken Livingstone had proposed to pedestrianise Parliament Square, why not push for that AND proper segregated cycle lanes as well? If you're going to dig up the square you might as well put up the best infrastructure available rather than so-so bits that will have to be dug up and redone AGAIN, as it seems is going to happen with most of the Cycle SuperDeathways (the most expensive blue paint in the world).

Neil said...

The LCC dual approach makes no sense for the design of the infrastructure. It only makes sense from a political point of view, i.e. appeasing some members who don't understand Dutch infrastructure or who are convinced that it will make it any easier for councils to force cyclists off the road.

They really should be getting proper advice on what Dutch infrastructure is like and designing with the aim of making it the best possible route for cyclists of all ability. i.e. make it so good that no sensible person would want to use anything else.

christhebull said...

I agree with Neil that this is a political decision, for if the segregated infrastructure was of sufficient quality it would not be necessary to include ASLs. In practice they would probably just get used by motorcyclists.

I also think the Bow design shown is not as good as that on Paul James' site, and it would probably be worse for drivers as well. In any case, having on road cycle lanes and off road tracks in the same direction on the same road means neither are likely to be wide enough.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post, but something occurred to me while watching rush-hour cyclists at a busy junction in central London. The common complaint about ASLs is that when you reach them they are full of motorbikes and taxis.

The ASL I watched was full of cyclists, preventing other cyclists from reaching the front of the traffic, forcing them to stay on the left-hand side of potentially left-turning vehicles.

It struck me that the theory of the ASL is fundamentally flawed. If cycling really boomed under the current UK road system, for some reason, then the ASL would be inaccessible pretty much all of the time, as it will always be full of other cyclists.

The entire concept of the ASL as part of high-quality infrastructure is therefore false, as they can't handle large numbers of cyclists. Its design is useless in a situation with more than a dozen cyclists, it is only of use if cycling remains a niche activity. QED.

Multiparty Democracy Today said...

Would be interesting to see a post by you about the rather silly designs being used by the US nowadays. At least their advance stop lines are more likely to be respected. Still doesn't do anything to help during the green light and does little to prevent hooks, and does not obstruct traffic trying to enter when they shouldn't. The UK cycle lanes are usually green, but the US is usually only a painted line, sometimes only 1.2 metres wide, though most bike lanes are 1.8 metres wide or so, which is something the LCC would probably gladly take. It is actually prohibited by the MUTCD, the American version of the CROW, to use all way greens for cyclists. But at least they made it possible to use cycle tracks and bicycle specific signal heads, which is a really useful benefit.

Unknown said...

On my daily commute a ASL has appeared, much to my delight as wel as that of car drivers. This particular crossing has completely being redesigned whit great result. The waiting time has been reduced tot seconds for cars and bikes alike. No more waiting! So there can be a use for ASL's, but in the right spot I presume?