Short-term Strategy

Turning a city into a transport paradise inevitably takes time. There’s a lot of city that needs to change, and a lot of people that can obstruct progress. So it is important to carry on taking small steps, as well as working on bigger ones.

What’s on the agenda in Oxford in 2014? There are some major projects – a £900k project to make The Plain roundabout more cycle-friendly, and planning for a major extension to the Westgate shopping centre, and a rebuild of the railway station.

But there should be progress on financially-smaller schemes as well. They should not be postponed yet again. While it is true that people will carry on muddling through without them, they do have a positive effect, so every postponement is an opportunity missed.

There are three simple cycling schemes which should be done in 2014, and a long list of small improvements for walking where progress can be made.

1) Cycle lane under Botley Road railway bridge. The traffic-light island needs to be trimmed slightly, but otherwise this is simply a matter of painting in a cycle lane and narrowing the traffic lanes. The dimensions are all a bit tight, but adequate at 20mph. The railway bridge might get rebuilt, but it might not, and the costs of marking a cycle lane are so low that it should be done as an interim solution, regardless.

2) Cycle lanes on Marston Road. This scheme has been on hold, and should be pushed to implementation. It consists of an outbound cycle lane from London Place to John Garne Way, and cycle lanes on both sides from there to the start of the cycle tracks. The parking would all be moved to the east side and placed in a bay.

3) Parking ban on Donnington Bridge Road. Cycle lanes were painted on Donnington Bridge Road a couple of years ago, but they are generally obstructed by a small number of parked cars. The cars are parked half on the pavement, half on the road: the road is clearly not wide enough for parking. There is spare capacity in the side roads, and the whole length should be double-yellow restricted.

4) Raised side-road crossings. The new type of raised side road crossing that was installed along Iffley Road is very effective at giving pedestrians priority. These should be installed at all side roads, in due course. The next batch could be along Botley Road, to improve conditions for people walking from and to the Park & Ride.

Traffic in Inner London

This chart shows motor-traffic volumes on main roads (A roads) in inner London. The data is from the DfT’s traffic counts for 2012, with junction codings made consistent (not a trivial task).

There are huge traffic flows to the west, using the two big roads (the A4 and the A40). If you provide big fast roads, they fill with traffic (which then needs somewhere to park). Other parts of inner London, notably to the north, manage with roads that are nowhere near as big. Quite a lot of this traffic is unnecessary.

The second observation is that flows can vary quite substantially along a route. Much of the traffic is short-distance: avoid falling into the trap of thinking that there’s lots of long-distance traffic that needs through routes. Most journeys from outer to central London are by rail, not road. This effect can also be seen in the way that flows diminish away from the big roads. Inner London has excellent public transport, and unless there’s a quasi-motorway, most people will avoid driving for any distance.

The policy implications of this are well-known: traffic will disappear if you reduce roadspace. In north London, traffic could be suppressed further, for instance by removing general traffic from Camden High Street. If conditions for the on-street alternatives (buses, walking, bikes) are improved at the same time, all the better. In south London, the A road network could be simplified. Would it perhaps even be better to concentrate traffic on the Embankment, rather than creating a network of nasty junctions in Lambeth and Southwark?

Normalising Cycling in Inner London

Cycling in London is peculiar. It is characterised by commuting several miles into central London. LCN+ and the Superhighways have – in different ways – both been aimed at providing for this middle-distance commuting market, partly to help relieve overcrowding on the tube. Unfortunately, these routes are often incomplete, or compromised. Key junctions remain risky, especially in central London, and inner south and east London. Fixing these junctions is proving very difficult, due to the volume of traffic using them.

While this type of middle-distance cycling is certainly found in the Netherlands or Denmark (or in Oxford or Cambridge) it is not the norm in those places. Normal cycling is short-distance, little more than a mile or two, and includes a wide range of journey purposes. Commuting only accounts for a quarter of journeys – there are more trips for shopping than commuting.

The situation in London is peculiar, but not inexplicable. The conditions for cycling aren’t good, so it is largely confined to the braver sort of cyclist. You need a certain level of commitment to even consider it. Public transport is very good, and crowding is tolerable over short distances, so people don’t tend to bother with cycling for short distances. Providing routes for longer bike journeys is easier, because you can avoid the difficult bits. And to top it all, key attractors for short journeys, such as town centres, are often in those difficult bits which cycle routes avoid.

If cycling is to be normalised, the focus has to change to short-distance journeys, and for strategies to be more centre-based than route-based. Why hasn’t that already happened? In outer London, it hasn’t happened because there isn’t the demand for it. Most people drive, few cycle, and there isn’t much demand for that to change, alas. In inner London, the demand is there, but space on the main roads is too highly contested, making it very hard to get started on the difficult bits. Providing a fine-grained network for short-distance cycling is clearly a job for the borough, but on main roads TfL effectively has a veto, with traffic taking priority. So there’s a stalemate.

To break out of this stalemate, some fairly substantial change will be needed at main road junctions – the sort of change that would cause traffic chaos if we weren’t simultaneously getting a substantial number of people out of their cars. So we need to change quite a lot in fairly short order, as a package. The change needs to be convincing enough that it leads to substantial modal shift, with fewer people driving, leading to less congestion, and fewer people using the tube for short journeys, leading to less overcrowding.

Ideally we need to find an area where cycling is already fairly established (if not normalised), where car-ownership and use is quite low (but with scope to be further reduced), where the TfL trunk road network is fairly sparse, so there aren’t too many huge junctions to deal with, and where there’s a lot of short-distance tube overcrowding, ready to transfer to bike (or bus) if conditions on the streets improve.

The best opportunity looks like Camden/Islington/Hackney. That isn’t to say that some other parts of inner London aren’t in need of a similar approach, or that work on key problem junctions (such as Aldgate and the Elephant) should stop. If the approach can be made to work in inner north London, it should certainly be attempted in other parts of inner London as well. But the best chance of success is in the north.

What needs to be done? TfL, with the boroughs, needs to look at the main road network, and work out how much room can be made available for cycling, how much impact that will have on other modes, and how much traffic reduction will be required to make it work. And then they need to go for it.

Totally Integral

Transport strategies should be integrated. They need to be, if they are to be successful in the long term. They should be based on an understanding of who travels where, by what mode, how that is likely to change, and whether that can be influenced. Planning for each mode in isolation is easier, but inefficient, because the plans for each mode impact on the others, and frequently conflict. A plan for one mode might look quite sensible in isolation, but be completely ineffective because it fails to understand the characteristics of the travel markets it competes in.

Transport also suffers from an inherent tension between the needs of travellers and the communities they travel in. The tension gets worse, the longer the journeys. Often there is a mixture of local trips, longer trips and through trips, all competing for attention. There are often two levels of government responsible, sometimes more.

While a perfectly-integrated transport strategy is impractical, transport strategies will be far more effective if these issues are considered and addressed, even if only at a high level.

Taking London as an example, you can segment the transport market into three – journeys in inner/central London, journeys in outer London, and journeys from outer to central London. The three markets are very different. Inner/central journeys are dominated by sustainable modes, with less than 20% by car. In contrast, the car accounts for about 60% of journeys in outer London; driving is very much the norm. Journeys from outer London to central London are 80% rail.

Clearly, London’s transport strategy needs a strong focus on rail – how to provide for the large commuter flows between outer and central London with tolerable levels of overcrowding. But that needs to be woven into the rest of the strategy. Rail commuting creates a distribution issue in central London. It’s important to get rail services as close to the City as practical, but there’s also a strategic interest in facilitating walking from the rail termini (hire bikes are almost irrelevant, given the scale of the task). Improving the walking environment makes central London more attractive as a leisure/shopping destination, making better use of the comprehensive rail service. Rail also suffers from increasing overcrowding as you get closer to the centre – there’s a strategic interest in diverting some of this demand away from rail.

The low usage of cars in Inner London provides an unexploited opportunity. There’s quite a bit of through traffic and freight traffic on Inner London main roads, but local trips are dominated by sustainable modes. The local interest is to improve the sustainable modes further, with little interest in providing for cars. The strategic interest is to discourage car-commuting (which makes other road journeys unreliable), but also to provide alternatives to using rail services into central London (which are overcrowded). While the space available is highly constrained, there is a co-incidence of interests in promoting buses and cycling. In particular, given adequate provision on main roads, cycling could become ubiquitous, not just for commuting into central London, but for a much wider range of journey purposes, and with a broader demographic.

The situation in outer London is quite different. Local journeys are a little more dispersed, and orbital public transport less effective. Through journeys are concentrated on a few high-capacity roads. A large proportion of local journeys are still concentrated on education and shopping (and are predominantly short-distance), but car ownership is high, congestion intermittent, and car-usage is frequently the norm. High car usage creates a health, pollution and carbon problem. It also constrains the opportunities for non-car-owners. But policy is likely to be focused on creating opportunities to use alternatives to the car, rather than explicitly restricting car use. Take up of alternatives is likely to be slow. Conversely, there is less pressure on roadspace, and fewer through journeys. So there will be more opportunities to moderate traffic speed and to take space for cycling. Rather than a radical transformation, the strategic interest lies more in applying continuous support for incremental change.

That’s a very high-level survey of the interactions between journey patterns and modes, but I think it already indicates that there is significant value to be gained from looking at transport in an integrated way. This allows policies to be adopted that are more likely to be successful, and more likely to fit together into an effective overall approach.

Total Cycling – Main Road Survey

This map shows the current state of Oxford’s main road cycle network. About half the network is in Green, and has cycle lanes, bus lanes or priority cycle tracks. Yellow indicates non-priority cycle tracks (shared pavements), cycle lanes that are too close to parking, or pedestrianised streets with restricted cycling hours – these need review and improvement. Orange shows where cycle lanes could be installed (usually by restricting some parking, or replacing pedestrian refuges). The few sections of six-metre road are in red.

Junctions are colour-coded in the same way – green are OK, yellow needs some attention, and orange needs quite a bit of attention.

The next stage of developing the Total Cycling strategy is to list the areas needing attention, identify rough costs associated with likely treatment, and set out priorities and a program.

There is a parallel analysis of routes to support family cycling, and access to employment sites away from the main roads. Quite an extensive network already exists, so the focus will be on areas where provision is notably absent, particularly around Cowley Centre, and on the main hospital sites.

Total Cycling

Total Cycling – Everyday Cycling Everywhere

In any city with a developed cycling culture, there are cyclists everywhere. They don’t just use a handful of excellent routes; they use pretty much every available street. People just take the most obvious, usually the shortest route from where they are to where they want to go. The only roads people avoid are multi-lane roads without street frontage.

In north Oxford, for instance, there are two main roads closely parallel to one another. Neither is that busy, or fast, but there’s a steady flow of traffic on both. One has continuous bus and cycle lanes, the other has a long gap in the southbound direction, with all the traffic sharing a single narrow lane. More people use the good road, but significant numbers still use the not-so-good one. People won’t even divert a hundred metres for a better cycle route.

To make a cycle city, virtually every street has to be made cycle-friendly. Residential streets are fairly easy – introduce 20mph limits, and arrange the parking to stop any speeding. The hard part is making main roads cycle-friendly. It can take decades to make all the main roads cycle-friendly; this is where you need to develop a strategy. A Total Cycling strategy is one that sets out a credible program for making all streets cycle-friendly.

The first part of a Total Cycling strategy is assessing the current situation on the main roads – how much traffic, how fast, how much space, and whether there are any roundabouts or gyratories. The situation will vary from city to city. You may be lucky and have lots of wide streets and no difficult junctions, but in most places it’s not so easy.

The Dutch have developed standard cycle-friendly solutions for various types of roads, based on the level of traffic and its speed. Unfortunately, they don’t always fit (even in the Netherlands). In fact, in UK cities, you’re quite likely to find that they rarely fit. The level of traffic and speed on most UK main roads would, by normal Dutch standards, require separate cycle tracks, but that will often mean narrowing the pavements and rebuilding all the drainage. It may be more palatable to reduce speeds so that painted on-road cycle lanes can be used instead. Even that will often require the removal of parking.

The space constraints at junctions will probably be the hardest challenge. Often junctions have been arranged to maximise capacity for motor-traffic. Making space for cycling will require reductions in junction capacity, and increased (motor-traffic) congestion. Again, painted solutions, accepting a certain degree of conflict, but managing the risks by reducing speed, are more likely to be practical.

For the purposes of a Total Cycling strategy, you don’t have to design every scheme, but you do need to have a reasonable idea of what is going to be required: where the space is going to come from, who will have to be displaced, how much traffic or speed reduction will be needed, and whether the costs are acceptable.

When you’ve identified the strategy for making your main roads cycle-friendly, you’ll need to consider the range of cyclists it will work for. In an ideal world main roads would be suitable for cyclists of all ages, but you may find that is impractical. If you’ve had to opt for painted solutions, particularly at junctions, the main roads won’t be sufficiently cycle-friendly for family cycling. Fortunately, family cycling is more willing to accept constraints on routes – family groups will often avoid main roads anyway, and prefer quiet routes, even if they are less direct. So coupled with a strategy for treating main roads, you need a strategy for family cycling – routes that take families and children starting to cycle on their own to the places they want and need to go – schools, shops, libraries, parks, swimming pools.

If we are to achieve Total Cycling, almost all our roads are going to have to change. That is no small task, and any serious cycling strategy has to address itself to the scale of the problem. Most cycle strategies fail to do this, and all they achieve is delaying the development of an effective strategy until the next time.

Buses & Bikes – Rivals or Colleagues?

The biggest influence on public transport use is car ownership. If people own a car they tend to use it. So to a significant extent, buses compete with cycling for the non-car short-distance market. On the streets, that sometimes gets expressed as mutual antagonism between bus drivers and cyclists. Bus drivers complain that cyclists get in their way, and cyclists complain that buses drive too close. Buses and bikes often end up repeatedly overtaking one another, to their mutual annoyance.

But as cities try to reduce the amount of traffic, and become more liveable, we need the alternatives to the car to be working together. We need to focus on the different strengths of the two modes, and encourage synergies between them, to maximise their joint effectiveness.

At the highest level this is about modernising the image, both of the bicycle and of the bus. Modern technology can facilitate the flexible delivery of a variety of transport options. The target audience is seen as the young urbanite picking up their smartphone and choosing between a city bike, or the bus, or hiring a car, depending on their immediate needs. But at the operations level, we also need to be identifying and communicating the fundamental synergies, so the different modes start working together as colleagues.

So why should the bus industry support cycling? The main reason is that cycling is better at handling peak loads. Cycling is particularly competitive at peak periods when the roads get congested; it’s often much the fastest way to get to work or school. And this is the time when buses are often overcrowded. It actually helps bus operations if their peak demand transfers to bikes. The second reason to support cycling is that it works best for short trips, leaving the longer trips on buses. This reduces the extent to which buses have to stop and start in the inner suburbs, speeding up journey times. The benefits to the operator depend partly on the fare structure, but even with flat fares it means the longer trips get a better service. Also more generally, these short bicycle trips, particularly in the inner suburbs, help reduce congestion, and make it easier to provide bus priority.

And why should cyclists support the bus industry? Cyclists can often be a little too enthusiastic about their own mode of transport. But even so, most can appreciate that cycling doesn’t work well for everyone. Particularly for longer journeys (more than 3km), public transport becomes more attractive. So buses are critical to provide an alternative to the car for medium distances. By providing a range of alternatives to the car, it becomes feasible to reduce traffic, and improve conditions for cycling. Public transport is also useful for those times when cycling isn’t so appealing – for instance when it rains, for longer trips, or when you have children in tow.

For pedestrians in the city centre, there are further reasons to get a good balance between cycling and buses. If bikes cater for peak trips to work and school, bike parking can be reasonably spread out. But if cycling dominates for shopping trips as well, the city centre rapidly gets over-run with cycle parking. So it helps to have a good bus service, allowing journeys to key destinations to be handled more efficiently. But it makes sense to have a balance, because space for bike parking can be found in a variety of unused corners. Whereas the space for bus stops has to be concentrated on a few main streets. It can be tricky to find enough space for bus stops – and even harder to make attractive.

For cities trying to move away from being dominated by the car, there are important advantages to promoting buses and bikes in combination. Neither mode is perfect, and a good mixture avoids the problems of having too much of either. But beyond the benefits to the city as a whole, the synergies between bikes and buses mean that it is definitely in the interests of cyclists to promote the bus industry – to help reduce traffic, and in the interests of the bus industry to promote cycling – to help spread the peak, reduce costs and improve revenue. Bikes and buses should be colleagues, not rivals.

Low Cost Cycling Culture

Oxford is a city of 150,000 people. 30% of adults cycle at least once a week, and 20% cycle to work. It has a fairly well-established cycling culture. It has achieved this with mostly low-cost infrastructure.

Across the table above, cyclists are divided into a number of types. Child cyclists are broken down by approximate age-group (assuming they are accompanied). There is a separate category for solo cycling by the 11-13 age group – a critical group in the UK, since this is the age when children go to a larger secondary school, typically further away, making cycling very important.

The adult cyclists are in four groups based on UK Department for Transport research. The first group (scared) don’t want to cycle on main roads; they will cycle on pavements and use crossings, but not on main roads. The second group (careful) will cycle on main roads, but only if they can stay to the side. They don’t generally look behind, don’t like pulling out around parked cars or to turn right, and hate UK-typical fast roundabouts. The third group (skilled) look behind, are much more aware of the traffic around them, and can handle right turns and roundabouts. The fourth group (wild) passes cars on the inside or outside, rides on the pavement, and doesn’t care too much about obeying traffic rules.

The observation in Oxford is that – in an established cycling culture – the biggest group of adults are “careful” – an estimated 75% of the total. They do use main roads, but they don’t tend to look behind them, and avoid pulling out to make right turns in free-flowing traffic. This group is often ignored, and is often much smaller (in less-developed cycling cultures), but they are a critical group to understand. So what type of infrastructure allows this group to cycle?

Looking down the table, there are a range of types of infrastructure. For comparison, Dutch-style cycle tracks (with segregation at junctions) work pretty much across the board. But creating such infrastructure is expensive. Danish-style tracks (with integration/close-proximity) at junctions works for most age groups, though perhaps not for the youngest. Again, this is pretty expensive, and hasn’t been used in Oxford.

Instead the main provision on Oxford’s main roads are painted cycle lanes and bus lanes. There are two aspects that seem to have made this work: firstly that traffic speeds have generally been brought below 30mph (50kph), and secondly that bus drivers are trained not to intimidate cyclists. In a few situations where there are significant volumes of traffic turning (left) across the cyclists, the cycle lane has been painted across the junction, to emphasise to the driver that they are cutting into the space for cyclists, and should behave accordingly. One major roundabout at the eastern end of the High Street has been treated using “Swiss” techniques to reduce traffic entry speeds.

Looking at how these techniques work for the different types of cyclists, they seem to be adequate to enable the careful adults to cycle, and older accompanied children. However this leaves significant gaps, and we would not have a workable cycle culture if those gaps remained. So we have also made a separate network of facilities using shared paths, for instance in parks, quiet streets (all 20mph/30kph), and where necessary a shared-use main road pavement (typically fairly narrow, and giving way at each side road). This network, focused on schools, fills the main gaps, and in particular provides for 11-13 solo cycling to secondary school. Coupled with some (technically-illegal, but nobody cares) cycling on pavements by younger children, this covers the full range of cyclists.

Find out more about the the ways cycling changes as children develop, or the different types of adult cyclist.

The Seven Ages of Cycling

Shakespeare wrote of the seven ages of man: the mewling infant, the whining school-boy, the sighing lover, the quarrelsome soldier, the wise justice, the slipper’d pantaloon and ending with an oblivious second childhood.

To me, Shakespeare’s point is that people change over time, that we have different attitudes, and that none of those attitudes is inherently better or worse: they are just different. Our society is inevitably made up of people of different ages and attitudes, and we need to work with that variety.

In a similar vein, I’ve been observing how cyclists change, particularly through their childhood, but also in parallel through parenthood. If you want to build a cycling culture,
cycling has to be adaptable to many life changes.

For the first few years, children are mostly passenger cyclists. While there are a variety of specialist bikes and trailers, most people manage with a simple bike seat. You can only use these from about nine months, but that typically coincides with the end of maternity leave. The child’s trips mostly consist of going to nursery, and to the playground, maybe to the shops. Generally these are quite short.

From about three, children get their own wheels, starting off with a scooter or perhaps a balance bike. Later they progress to a conventional bike, mostly with stabilisers. At some point around age five they learn to pedal. These get used for very short trips, mostly leisure trips, for instance to the playground.

When the children start school, they sometimes cycle, although there’s often little speed advantage over walking. For the moment, almost all cycling is on pavements, or paths, very slow, and only for short distances. For longer distances, parents might have a trailer bike (or similar), but for many families, children in this age group only cycle for short trips. For slightly longer trips they’ll walk along the main road, or get the bus, or go in the car.

As children get a bit steadier (age seven or so), they can start cycling on quiet roads, heavily supervised. If there are reasonable quiet routes, cycling can be used – particularly in summer – for longer leisure and shopping trips. Bikes are still unlikely to be used to get to school (unless you live further away). As children get older, and parents get more confident, the children can manage longer trips, on slightly less-quiet routes, with less supervision. The parents will teach the basic rules of the road – keep left and give way at junctions. Children are still likely to be accompanied at all times.

From about nine, parents will sometimes decide to take their children on shorter, busier routes – because they can. To start with, these will be strictly left-on, left-off, with the parent close behind giving instructions. A certain amount of dodging onto the pavement may be required, perhaps to use a crossing.

At eleven, it’s crunch time. There’s cycle training on offer at the school, and the secondary school is a mile in the wrong direction. If there’s a viable quiet route to secondary school, now is the time for the child to learn enough road skills so they can get there under their own steam. Making this possible is a key objective. Take-up of cycling by Year Sevens can be better than 50% if the conditions are amenable. It will never get close to that level if they start later – and in particular, subsequent take-up by girls will be virtually zero.

If a secondary school child has a bike in reasonable condition, and uses it to go to school, they will start using it for other independent trips. They will start off using the quiet routes, but progressively take busier short-cuts, with parental approval and negotiation (and sometimes without). The wise parent gradually lets off the reins, with useful tips and crossed fingers. This is an education process for the parents, as much as the child.

Some time about age thirteen, if conditions permit, and parents allow, the child will effectively have the freedom of the city.

What is it that makes that possible? Firstly quiet routes that let you get about the city. This allows cycling to be a viable mode for families and for the first stages of independent cycling, and allows the bike to be used for transport, rather than just for play. These quiet routes don’t have to be direct, and don’t all have to be perfect, but the better they are, the more they will be used. The less-perfect routes will prevent some family cycling until the child is older. For short distances pavements are adequate to start with, but for practical distances, proper quiet routes are required.

Secondly, there have to be direct routes that adults and teenagers can use to get about quickly – preferably quicker than any other mode. Direct quiet routes are best of all, of course, but they are rarely possible. The direct routes mustn’t be too hairy – otherwise they won’t be used by all the adults in the family, and the teenager probably won’t be allowed to use them. They need to be tame enough that any adult with basic cycling skills can use them without worrying about it too much (or too often).

Whether teenagers continue cycling is another matter. There may be differences of opinion over whether a helmet should be worn. Girls in particular value travel modes where they can chat with their friends. If one among a group stops cycling, the others will probably stop as well. If the cycling culture is very well-established, and there are wide tracks or quiet roads (and no steep hills), they probably will keep cycling. But more often, they’ll switch to walking or getting the bus. When they’re older, if they’re living somewhere where cycling is viable, they’re likely to return to cycling … probably just in time to have children. And so the cycle continues.

Urban Roundabouts 4

Sometimes, there is room for a Dutch roundabout, but there’s a little too much traffic. This is most likely to be a problem if morning peak traffic is concentrated on one arm of the roundabout. In this situation it is sometimes possible to handle the excess traffic using a bypass lane.

This is a sketch design for a roundabout in Bedford, which has recently been proposed for conversion to a Dutch “turbo” design, but without cycle tracks. This sketch design provides an extra lane from the busiest arm, in this case going through the centre of the roundabout. Unlike the “turbo” design, cyclists can negotiate this roundabout without needing to pull out into the right-hand lane, or switch to the pavement. This design is experimental; if the lane through the centre doesn’t work, the junction will need to be converted to traffic-lights, if it is to be cycle-friendly.

The original aerial imagery is from Google Maps.