Archive for Main Roads

Cyclists are from Mars

(and Earth, and Venus, and Mercury)

In an important 2010 report which deserves a wider audience, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) identified four different types of adult cyclist, based on how they cycle, and in particular how they feel about sharing the road with other traffic.

The four behaviours that DfT identified were Assertiveness, Guardedness, Avoidance and Opportunism. You can simplify that slightly to Skilled, Careful, Scared and Wild. But even those descriptions are quite hard to remember, so I’m going to translate it into something more memorable: Cyclists are from Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury.

Martian cyclists (assertiveness) are those that have done the training. They look behind regularly, they pull out early to pass parked cars and to turn right. They know how to tackle roundabouts.

Earthian cyclists (guardedness) are comfortable enough about other traffic that they’ll cycle on busy roads, as long as they can keep to the left, out of the way. They’re only happy turning right if the traffic is going really slowly. They hate roundabouts.

Venusian cyclists (avoidance) don’t venture onto main roads at all. They only cycle if there’s a quiet route, preferably off-road. They will cycle on the pavement of main roads, and use crossings, but are likely to switch to an alternative mode, if they can’t find a reasonable route.

Mercurian cyclists (opportunism) are typically young men in a hurry. They don’t really care about the rules of the road, and just go fast by whatever route is available – inside, outside, on the pavement, whatever.

As always with attempts at segmentation, these four types actually lie on a continuum, and some people will adopt different behaviours in different circumstances. But thinking in terms of these four types helps to ensure we cover the range of cyclists. The research was qualitative – it was based on small group discussions in a range of different towns. No attempt was made to quantify the numbers of current or potential cyclists that are in each group. In many UK towns, with hostile road environments, the Mercurian and Martian cyclists are likely to predominate.

However, one thing this does highlight is the problem with talking about cycling: different types of cyclist might as well be on different planets, for all the understanding they’ll get from other types of cyclist.

To give a practical example, where I live, there are two roads you can take into town: Hythe Bridge Street and Park End Street. One of the standing debates in my household is: which is the better way to cycle into town.

To get to Hythe Bridge Street you go straight-ahead at the big junction outside the station, and then join the heavy traffic along Hythe Bridge Street as it narrows. There are no cycle lanes and a couple of pinchpoints. At the end of Hythe Bridge Street, the traffic is forced left round a tight bend, there’s a Pelican crossing, and there’s a gap for cyclists to go straight, and into town.

To get to Park End Street, you have to pull out into the traffic approaching the big junction to fork right into the bus area. You then have to get past the bus stops and through another set of lights. There’s not much traffic on Park End Street, and there are cycle lanes, but there’s often loading, and some buses go a bit fast.

My partner prefers Hythe Bridge Street (and I think she’s mad). I prefer Park End Street (and she thinks I’m mad). The reason is that I cycle like a Martian – pulling out and watching a few buses seems the easiest. Whereas my partner cycles like an Earthian – keeping straight ahead and turning right in slow-moving traffic is easiest.

Almost all cycle campaigners (and cycling officers) are Martians. Most of them can understand that other cyclists are different. But they generally fail to understand how they are different, and how prevalent the different types might be.

Our experience in Oxford is that Earthians predominate. Oxford has about 20% of commuters cycling to work (28% in some wards), and 30% of adults using a bike at least once a week. Most of them cycle on main roads, but there’s very little take-up of adult cycle training. The reason that cycling has become normal for Oxford’s middle classes is that the roads have been adapted to make “Earthian” cycling a reasonable thing to do. We no longer have any gyratories, and our only major roundabout has been tamed (mostly). You can go straight-ahead at almost all main junctions without difficulty, and rarely get forced into making an uncomfortable right turn.

Oxford’s approach to infrastructure has always been quite pragmatic. A lot of painted cycle lanes and bus lanes were marked out in the eighties, and they worked well-enough (for Earthians). Separately, a number of quiet routes were developed, focused on schools. These also worked well – for children, and for some adults (a mixture of Venusians, and others who found them to be useful short-cuts). So these routes have been extended and linked up to make a quiet network, mostly by providing crossings of main roads. It has developed into a dual network.

The initial idea of the dual network was that the two parts were equally important. We thought that new cyclists would be Venusians. But it has become clear over the years that – for adults – the main road network is considerably more important. This is partly due to the circuitousness of the quiet network, but it is also because Earthians appear to outnumber Venusians, by some margin.

It may be that there are a large group of potential Venusian cyclists that aren’t being catered for. But for whatever reason, they aren’t speaking up. Perhaps they can see for themselves that the space isn’t really there. Perhaps they’re settling for the circuitous quiet routes. Perhaps they’ve converted themselves into Earthians. Or perhaps they walk, or catch the bus, or drive.

Instead, the local pressure is to fill in the gaps in the main road network – to deal with the remaining parking on the main roads, if possible, and provide more cycle lanes. There is also support for 20mph limits on side roads, and a range of techniques for slowing traffic on main roads.

For other cities wanting to improve conditions for cyclists, and struggling to find the space and funds to do so, it would be sensible to think carefully about the type of cyclist you are trying to provide for. By understanding and catering for the specific needs of Earthian cyclists, you are likely to be able to make cycling viable for a substantial portion of the adult population. Trying to provide comprehensively for Venusians in congested main road corridors is much more difficult.

So what are the key things that make the roads tolerable to Earthians? The main thing is that the default route at all junctions needs to be straight-ahead. After all, for most journeys, you mostly go straight. This is actually quite simple, and just-about permitted by the regulations: paint the cycle lane across the junction. If it is clear where the straight-ahead cyclists are going to go, then motorists are perfectly capable of finding a way round them. That can be made to work at most urban traffic lights (the Germans have a range of designs). Roundabouts and gyratories are harder, but the principle is the same: always give priority to bikes going straight-ahead over left-turning traffic. Dutch-style roundabouts meet this criterion. Gyratories generally don’t, but it may be possible to adapt them so that they do (or even better, get rid of them).

Earthians are less particular about what happens between junctions. The various degrees of segregation don’t matter very much to them, as long as they have a clear path, and traffic is keeping to 30mph (or preferably a bit slower). The main improvement is to regulate parking, and paint continuous cycle lanes. Gaps in the cycle lanes for zig-zags and bus stops aren’t ideal, but they’re not critical.

If cities want to make real progress towards getting a good proportion of people onto bikes, they should focus on providing for Earthian (ie careful adult) cyclists – there are plenty enough of them – and focus on the key things that make Earthian cycling tolerable: cycle lanes and straight-ahead priority at junctions.

Cycle-friendly main roads 2

In contrast to Oxford, most UK cities are quite hostile to everyday cycling. There are no cycle lanes, so the traffic has too much space and goes too fast. There are roundabouts, where you would worry about cars pulling out on you, and gyratories, where would you get cut-up. For example, here’s a map of Worcester:

Hardly any solid red lines (cycle lanes). Lots of black (roundabouts) and blue (gyratories). It’s clear that Worcester is the sort of place where young men might be brave enough to cycle, and some others will venture out on the quiet routes, but there will be little “everyday” cycling; the main roads don’t even begin to be cycle-friendly.

Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, Cartography (c) Richard Mann

Cycle-friendly main roads

Map of main road cycle lanes / roundabouts

One of the trickiest tasks in moving towards a Transport Paradise is adapting main roads so they are pleasant enough places for adults to choose to cycle. The critical things appear to be providing some form of clear space for cycling alongside traffic, and removing gyratories and tightening the geometry of roundabouts.

Oxford has progressed further with providing cycle lanes, removing gyratories and tightening roundabouts than any other UK city. On the map above, urban main roads are shown with dotted or solid red lines next to them. Solid red lines show where there are cycle lanes (or priority cycle tracks). Roundabouts are marked in black (unless they have priority tracks or tight geometry), and gyratories are in blue (there aren’t any).

In terms of making its main roads cycle-friendly, Oxford is just over half-way. There are quite a lot of cycle lanes, no gyratories, and few roundabouts. A key roundabout at the centre of the map has been partially tightened.

Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, Cartography (c) Richard Mann

Dividing Cycle Lane Across Junction

Dividing Cycle Lane at junction

This cycle lane continues across the junction, and divides in two, giving continuity to both routes. The division provokes a high level of signalling by left-turning cyclists, even though they have little direct interest in doing so. The clarity of the markings leads to drivers of left-turning motor vehicles giving way to cyclists going straight ahead.

Cycle Lanes across Junctions

Painting a cycle lane across a signalled junction

Cycle lanes can be painted across junctions, to give a sense of continuity to cyclists, and remind left-turning traffic that they should only overtake if it is safe. This arrangement has been installed at three junctions in Oxford that had accident problems with left-turning vehicles, with positive results. The cycle lane is interrupted only for the ASL and the crossing.

Crossing side roads

Slight humps at side roads mean that pedestrians can walk along the main road without breaking their stride. The gap in the double-yellows helps give a visual impression of continuity. A hump is cheaper than tightening the radius, because it avoids the need to alter drains. However it operates in the same way, because driving across a hump at an angle is uncomfortable, so cars slow down. Turning vehicles slightly disrupt the flow of traffic on the main road, reducing speed and making it more pleasant to cycle along.

The cycle lane is painted across the side road because this reduces accidents. It also gives a strong impression of continuity to the cyclist.

Walking along main roads

Crossing side roads without looking

If side roads have tight corners, and speeds are low, you can walk along the main road without breaking your stride crossing side roads. You hardly bother looking backwards, and a glance tells you there’s no immediate danger. Often people don’t even look.

20mph is fast enough in towns

20mph repeater signs x3

On main roads, you can get speeds down by narrowing – there’s enough traffic to help break up sightlines. On residential streets, you can switch parking from side-to-side, or use build-outs on both sides.

On in-between roads, there’s only so many speed cushions you can put in, and sometimes a bit of extra signage is required. Slowly but surely, people are getting the message – 20mph is fast enough in towns.

Parking bays for shops

Cycle lane and parking bay
The short-stay parking outside the shops was put into a bay, cutting into the pavement, to provide a continuous cycle lane. The “official” pavement ends up fairly narrow, but this is acceptable because the shops have open forecourts. It isn’t practical for residential parking.

Parking on main roads

Parking and bike lanes on 9m/10k mvpd road

On main roads, parking can usually be moved onto side streets. But some “in-between” roads need to carry heavy traffic (say 10,000 motor-vehicles per day) and provide residential parking. The photo shows an early attempt to provide cycle lanes. It has worked surprisingly well – traffic speeds are reasonable, there is no particular accident problem, and it is used by about 700 people on bikes per day.

It could be better – it probably needs more parking restraint in the cycle lanes, a buffer zone between the parking and the cycle lane, and no centre line.