Thursday, 5 June 2014

Response to East Dunbartonshire Council's Bears Way Scheme

This blog is my response to the above consultation as referenced here:
Firstly, I have to commend EDC for their vision. I am encouraged that there appears to be a recognition that separating modes of travel is vital to increasing the number of people cycling, by improving both actual safety and (crucially) a subject sense of safety - the latter is particularly important for encouraging demographic groups such as children and the elderly who are currently excluded from cycling through fear of hostile road conditions.

I'm pleased that priority for the cycle path will be given over minor side roads - this is particularly important as it:
  1. Signals that cycling is considered a serious form of transport, rather than something associated with leisure
  2. Facilitates journeys along the path by minimising interruptions by give ways and junctions - cycling is most suited to continuous travel conditions at steady speeds
  3. Will encourage potential users onto the facility who, under normal circumstances, would forgo the use of cycle infrastructure which typically impede progress
Combining the above with the raised tables for pedestrians at junctions, a clear message is being sent that active travel methods have priority at these junctions.

I also welcome, in principle, the concept of continuing the protected cycle path in proximity to bus-stops. Often with poor quality implementations, cycle lanes give up at "difficult" points like this, thus forcing cycles into conflict with buses; two forms of transport that are least suited to mixing.

To reiterate, I approve of these measures - EDC have the opportunity here to provide good quality facilities that outstrip the ambition of neighbouring councils. With all that said, I have some comments that I'd like you to consider:

1. Bus-stop by-pass

The Royal College Street bus-stop cited in your document is an inferior example to follow. It puts people on cycles into direct conflict with people boarding or alighting buses. There is only a narrow strip on which to stand and the bus shelter is on the wrong side of the cycle path. As such, it has been necessary to force cycles to give way, thus impeding progress. In addition, elderly, disabled or passengers with pushchairs may feel uncomfortable crossing the path at this point, even if they have notional priority.

This potential for conflict should not be necessary with a well-designed scheme. Much better examples exist in the UK already, specifically in Brighton (see below):
A Bus-stop bypass in Brighton with plenty of space for passengers - first class
As you can see, the (wide) cycle path diverts around the rear of the bus-stop and the shelter. Pedestrians will still have to cross the path, but the crossing takes places away from the actual stop itself, thus completely avoiding the potential for conflict with passengers on a recently arrived bus. The effect is similar in function to existing unmarked road crossings with pedestrian refuges - an arrangement most users will already be readily familiar with.
This sort of facility is very common in the Netherlands. For further continental examples, please follow this link:
I appreciate that it may be that lack of space behind the bus-stop might be cited as justification for your approach here, but it would be worthwhile considering narrowing the road and pushing the bus-stop further into the lane, as is commonplace for other crossing points. Alternatively, it might be necessary to relocate the bus-stop to a more suitable location. It also might be easier to implement a scheme on a uni-directional path (see point 3).

2. Junctions with Minor Roads

As I stated above, giving cycles priority over minor side roads is a major step forward. However, the design used is sub-optimal.
Typical junction treatments where cycle paths cross minor roads in the Netherlands have the cycle (and pedestrian) path divert slighty in order that they cross slightly into the minor road. This means that there is sufficient space for vehicles turning in and out of the road to wait whilst giving way:

For right turning vehicles, this helps in keeping the main carriageway clear and thus removes the requirement for a right-turn waiting lane (as per QCC2). Secondly, vehicles make the turn manoeuvre in two distinct movements - this means that the driver does not have to wait for clear oncoming traffic as well as a clear junction to cross the carriageway. Thirdly, it means that the driver is facing the cycle path at right angles, providing better lines of sight between driver and cyclist or pedestrian and hence minimising the potential for error.

3. Cycle Paths: Bi-directional vs. Uni-directiona

It would be better if a way could be found to keep the cycle path on one side of the road for the whole length of the facility. Indeed, it would be even more worthwhile considering implementing two uni-directional paths on both sides of the road, rather than a single bi-directional path which switches sides. The reasons as three-fold:
  1. It is a more natural arrangement, particularly where the path isn't continuous and cycles are coming from roads which don't have separated paths.
  2. Crossing the road is inefficient and inconvenient - this will be a particularly acute problem if the phases of the crossing aren't optimised to favour cyclists and pedestrians
  3. Width - if the path is heavily used in both directions, congestion could become a problem as there isn't sufficient space to over-take slower-moving riders
Regarding point 2, commuter cyclists will likely not want to use the facility, or will only partially use it if they find their progress is hampered unnecessarily by having to cross at the toucan - alternatively, you might find people will attempt to cross the road against the red signal, thus increasing the risk of a collision.

On that note, the recommended width of paths is as follows (although width recommendations vary with the volume of cycle traffic) - note both below require a 50cm margin between the path and the road:
  • Uni-directional path - 2m
  • Bi-directional path - 3.5-4m
Note that both of these solutions should fit within a single "car" lane. In addition, it is worth nothing that there are ways to resolve conflicts between bike lanes and residential parking - namely by putting the cycle path behind the line of parked cars. This is a common solution in both the Netherlands and in the USA:

(note that is bi-directional path in the picture above).

4. Shared Use and The Roundabout

I can see why this method has been chosen for the top part of the route - it allows users travelling along Main Street to bypass the roundabout entirely. But I can't stress this point enough: shared use paths represent poor quality cycle infrastructure which benefits no-one other than motor vehicles, except perhaps where pedestrian use of the path is negligible in the first place. All shared use paths do is put pedestrians into direct conflict with cycles - the reason why bikes were banned from the pavements in the first place. This creates ill-will between the two user groups, whilst impeding the natural progress of quicker, more nimble bike users (although, the priority at minor roads mitigates this to a degree).
It also avoids dealing with the most problematic element: the roundabout itself. There are ways to upgrade roundabouts to make them safely navigable by bike, particularly ones as large and with as much unused space as this example. Upgrading the roundabout will also extend the usefulness of the facility for those travelling further north along the A81 Glasgow Road. Southbound riders coming from that direction would have difficulty gaining access to the path as a result.
The following video illustrates a number of potential solutions for the roundabout. I would strongly advise giving it a watch:

Alternatively there are a number of examples discussed here:

If these measures were to be combined with uni-directional paths on either side of the carriageway, it would be possible to travel down either route and through the roundabout without interacting with traffic at all for the entire length of the facility. This would be a major incentive to for all types of cycle user.