Friday, 16 February 2018

Alder Road, Poole: It's A Network Problem

Alder Road in Poole is being resurfaced and the local highway authority is making changes to the road marking layout to help people cycling. The problem is, it's not the road marking layout which is the problem.

Don't get me wrong. Making layout changes during major maintenance work is often a good idea, but unless this is following a grand plan, things get looked at in isolation and the best intentions can lead to failure. 

Alder Road is a typical urban UK road. It is a 30mph classified road (A3040) and as well as being part of a network of connector roads carrying some 18,000 vehicles per day (2016). It serves commercial areas, shopping parades and has extensive residential frontage. It also provide access to many residential areas and is a bus route.

The full 2016 Department for Transport traffic data is as follows (from manual counts, so accurate);

With 0.6% of the mode share, it is absolutely clear that those cycling are part of the fit and the brave group (or perhaps desperate) and I'm aware that the road is pretty gruelling as a commuter route.

In terms of geometry, much of the road has a 7.3m carriageway with two 1.8m footways - this can be found absolutely anywhere in the UK. I have had a very quick look at the casualty history for the road. The data isn't quite up to date, but the rate is something like 8 per year along the whole length with 1 being a serious injury and 7 being slight injuries per year. 

I've not crunched the numbers in any detail, but people walking, cycling and riding motorcycles feature highly in the data. In terms of traffic flow, people cycling and riding motorcycles are disproportionately represented given the low mode share compared to other traffic.

So, what is the issue with the resurfacing scheme? Well Alder Road traverses a series of hills and the idea is that where people cycling are going uphill, then they will be provided with a 1.5m advisory cycle lane to give them some "wobble room" (my language). This means that on those uphill sections, the general uphill traffic lane will be 2.8m and the downhill lane will be 3m. 

There are locations where the road width increases at junctions. In order to provide right turn lanes (turning pockets) and additional lanes approaching traffic signals, the advisory cycle lane stops. At signalised junctions, advanced stop lines for cycles are planned. As reported in the Bournemouth Echo, local cycling campaigner and trainer Jason Falconer has said;

"They just want it to look like they are doing something there... ...Large vehicles will have to drive in the cycle lane there, and the lanes will not continue over the junction where the road widens, it is really dangerous... ...It will put unskilled riders, the majority, at more risk than they are at present."

Jason tells me that he has made suggestions for this and other (better routes) which could be improved, but to no avail. Some of his thoughts are on his blog.

The local council, however, has responded by saying that a final decision hasn't been made. I have seen the plans (having described the approach above) and I have no doubt that the council has put in some effort to design a new road marking layout. However, the proposals are (in my view) doomed to fail.

Providing cycle lanes for travelling uphill can be of some benefit because people will be cycling more slowly and this means that they are more likely to move their position around (or wobble!). However, with a 2.8m uphill general traffic lane and opposing (downhill) 3m lane, the effect will be that those driving uphill will be pushed towards the centre line (which will no longer be in the geometric centre and because of oncoming drivers, they will want to keep further left. 

This means that at best, nearside wheels will end up wearing the advisory cycle lane and at worst, they will end up driving in the lane. A 7.3m carriageway is usually just split with a centre line giving 3.65m running lanes. The London Cycling Design Standards (4.4.2) gives some advice on lane widths and it turns out the 7.3m (3.65m lanes) carriageway is pretty poor for cycling;

The rule-of-thumb is to avoid situations where motorised vehicles and cyclists are expected to move together through a width between 3.2 metres and 4 metres.

For the Alder Road scheme, we at least have a total of 4.3m going uphill and 3m downhill which avoids the LCDS "rule of thumb" dimensions, but although those cycling downhill will be faster, the 3m running lane is going to feel pretty intimidating.

Anyway, we can debate the guidance, but the truth is that cycling has a 0.6% mode share on Alder Road. It is not surprising given the traffic volume and there is absolutely no way that the new road marking layout is going to improve that share. 

If we were going to change the road marking layout, I might be tempted to go with a less is more approach and only provide markings where they are really needed, such as at junctions, approaching traffic islands, bus stops, crossings and so on. Transport for London undertook a (limited) study on roads not entirely dissimilar to Alder Road which showed a statistically significant speed reduction. Perhaps Poole should save some money on paint and invest in some before and after speed surveys. 

From a cycling point of view, fewer road markings will mean that drivers might actually need to concentrate on giving space - if a centre line is present and there is oncoming traffic, some drivers still attempt to pass a cyclist while keeping to "their" side of the road. A lack of centre line requires more care.

I hesitate to make mention of installing lanes on both sides of the road without a centre line because on a road with these traffic volumes, it is a bad idea. I only mention and dismiss it because it is bound to come up in discussion!

So, I have suggested that Poole shouldn't proceed with their plan and indeed, I have suggested less is more, but what else can we do? Less is more won't make conditions worse for the 115 people cycling each day (or 58 people if they are going there and back!), but if we really want to grow cycling we have to look at how the network operates.

We don't want to convert the footways to shared-use, because apart from only being 1.8m wide, this would be a severe degradation for people on foot and it would be terrible for cycling. We therefore need to reallocate the road space. To provide a fully accessible and safe layout, we are going to have to make the road one-way for motor traffic.

This layout is extremely radical and would only be possible if the whole network is considered in terms of running local access through "traffic cells", re-routeing buses (probably with bus gates to maintain the traffic cells) and deciding that the very large A roads in and around the town will be the one taking through traffic. The arrangement will make loading a more troublesome and bus stops will need to use shared areas of cycle track as shown below from Royal College Street in London.

This is a very challenging proposition because we are so used to trying to bolt on cycling to either walking or motoring space. In situations like Alder Road, if we (rightly) accept we are not going to degrade walking space, then we have a stark choice to make with cycling. This something we cannot possibly do on a street by street basis and it is certainly not solvable with road markings.

My advice to Poole is that they should consider a "do minimum" scheme (with monitoring) for the short term and then think about what they are trying to achieve across the town. If they cannot begin to comprehend the scale of the challenge and the radical thinking needed, then they frankly may as well give up now. That goes for countless locations in the UK.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Everything's Fine

After a consultation with Londoners, Transport for London applied to the Secretary of State of Transport, Chris Grayling, to increase the costs of penalty charge notices (PCNs).

This was specifically to increase fines on the Transport for London Road Network (TLRN) and the Congestion Charging Zone (CCZ) from £130 to £160 (or £65 to £80 for early payment). The kind of contraventions were are talking about relate to parking, bus lane use and moving traffic (disobeying banned turns, yellow boxes etc).

The full consultation report is available here. The report makes some interesting reading. For example, after a review in April 2017, it was found;

"that the volume of PCNs raised for TLRN and Congestion Charge
contraventions in has been rising since 2011. It also found that the rate of repeat offending has been growing during the same period. In 2011 almost 60 percent of CC PCNs and 34 percent of TLRN PCNs were issued to repeat offenders. By 2016 this number increased to 64 per cent for the CC and 38 percent for TLRN PCNs. The rise in contraventions on the TLRN and in the CCZ is a factor that impacts on congestion, traffic speed and traffic flows in London."

That is some serious levels of ignoring the rules by some people! I'd go as far as saying that PCNs will be an operational expense for many people which gets funded by customers or ignored by the rich.

Just 7,390 responses were received from the public businesses in a city of some 8.7 million people. Overall, TfL looked at the comments people made which was summarised as follows;

"7,847 of all comments made by the public and businesses opposed the proposal, 657 comments supporting it and 1,609 comments supported implementing a change but with some vehicles / road user groups included or excluded from the PCN increase"

So there was not much support for an increase in charging from those responding - I'm not sure that comes as much of a surprise!

There were responses from 21 "stakeholders" which are rather revealing. The RAC agreed with the proposals, but thought the increase was too high. The RAC Foundation (which is a separate entity) was opposed, citing poor signage being the main problem.

The AA said that TfL and London Boroughs (the boroughs not being part of the proposed increases! should not collect revenue from PCNs and review contravention "hot spots" to see if engineering measures could improve compliance and first time offenders should receive warning letters.

Westminster council opposed the proposal because of the hardship it would create for residents and businesses. Camden council also opposed because they felt more analysis of the data was needed and there would be inconsistency between borough and TfL charges. You can read the rest for yourself, but there was support from community groups and organisations.

Anyway, TfL decided to proceed with the increase in the charge but was dealt a blow when Grayling objected to the increase. He was quoted in City AM as saying;

"Having considered the evidence carefully, I do not accept that there has been a consistent deterioration in driver behaviour, and consequently I do not agree that it is necessary or reasonable to increase the penalty charge level by 23 per cent. I have come to the view that the proposed TLRN penalty charge level would be excessive, and I have therefore decided to intervene."

The Mayor's Office said;

"Drivers who don’t play by the rules by driving in bus lanes or blocking important routes are increasing congestion, while causing serious hazards for other road users – including cyclists and pedestrians.

Overall, the number of PCNs [penalty charge notices] has increased in recent years, with the evidence showing more offences being committed by repeat offenders. The current fine is simply not enough of a deterrent for a small number of drivers who are increasingly flouting the rules."

Essentially, unless Grayling withdraws his objection, TfL cannot up the charges which City AM suggested would have added £80m of revenue to TfL's business plan between 2016/17 and 2021/22.

On the "revenue" side of things, £80m is peanuts in the bigger scheme of things, but add up enough peanuts and you'll have a bag. It is not really revenue in the conventional sense because money raised through PCNs has to go into transport projects (easy for TfL). We should remember that the government will cut £700m of revenue to TfL from 2018/19 and from 2020, £500m of vehicle excise duty paid in London will be taken out of the Capital. TfL needs every penny it can get.

But, back to the point. I responded in favour to the consultation, largely because I'm not particularly sympathetic to people getting PCNs. Apart from never having received one, I get to hear the excuses people give during my day job and I see some appalling behaviour from where people choose to park to drivers ignoring safety-critical traffic signs.

However, I have some sympathy with some of the more rational sentiments given in response to the consultation and there is a need to change the way we run the approach (which goes beyond London). I would say it is slightly ironic that a traffic authority cannot set it's own charges and localism always seems to be ignored when the political perception is one of "war on the motorist". I suspect Graying has used the opportunity to give Mayor Khan a kick, because that's politics, even though it's detrimental to Londoners.

So, if I didn't have to deal with Grayling, what would I do? Well I'm interested in the impact of the behaviour, so let's look at the issues in what I think should be an increasing level of seriousness and therefore level of PCN. London Councils (representing the boroughs) already has a higher charge for more serious offences, so it's not a new idea!

Overstaying parking bays
Let's be honest, being a few minutes late getting back to your car is not going to kill anyone and so does a PCN for overstaying need to be particularly high? Of course, parking bays are provided as a service and too much overstaying means a loss of turnover of space and so the level of fine needs to be higher than "feeding the meter". Of course, as I said above, this would be one area where a PCN would be an operational business expense to many!

Parking or stopping in a taxi rank
Taxi ranks are there to perform a public transport function, although it is perhaps a little niche in the wider city transport sense. But, they still need some protection and a deterrent from abuse.

Parking in or overstaying loading bays
Loading bays are there to keep a city serviced with goods and if they are not clear when the delivery appears, we'll get the driver stop somewhere less appropriate. Unless you're delivering, keep out and if you've finished your delivery, get out!

Parking on single yellow lines
It's a generalisation, but single yellow lines are either there to stop all-day commuter parking, or they are used to keep key routes clear at peak times. Someone parking on one in a residential street is causing less of a problem than someone parking on a main route, but there is no way of separating the situations in terms of a PCN level.

Perhaps the answer is to reclassify key routes and change the yellow lines to the red lines of a, well, red route. A red route restriction would not allow the stopping to drop off/ pick up passengers which is allowed on a yellow line. Yes, over time, traffic authorities would need to think about the class of road involved.

In London, TfL restrictions are always red route and so perhaps some flexibility could mean that some locations might be suitable for "downgrading" to yellow lines. It should also be noted that blue badge holders are allowed to park for up to three hours for single and double yellow lines (with some variations), so there is a need to act with care.

Parking on double yellow lines
These tend to be used to keep junctions clear, are used one side of the street to keep access clear or on main routes which need to be clear all the time. Double yellow lines are also used to keep fire gates clear or modal filters accessible. We are starting to flirt with safety-critical restrictions here.

Loading bans
One can still stop to drop off/ pick up passengers, but where the are "kerb blips" loading and parking is banned (including blue badge holders). We are now into keeping things properly clear to prevent congestion or danger.

Red routes
Provided with or without red lines, there is no stopping here at all, not even for dropping off or picking up passengers (unless a taxi which applies to many situations as well, but for only as long as is necessary).

Yellow box junctions
Yellow boxes are important features for keeping junctions clear (especially at traffic signals). If enforced (and so obeyed), they can also provide space for emergency drivers to cut through congestion.

Bus lanes and cycle lanes (including advanced stop lines)
Bus lanes are provided to prioritise the moving of people and so those driving in them are potentially gaining an unfair advantage and those parking in them (notwithstanding prevailing parking controls) are blocking efficient transport.

Cycle lanes (mandatory that is) are provided to prioritise the moving of people, but also nominally there to improve safety. Notwithstanding governments refusing to enact the part of the Traffic Management Act 2004 which would allow enforcement of stopping in mandatory cycle lanes, we are definitely in a safety-critical situation.

Parking on footways, cycle tracks and across dropped kerbs
It's a safety and accessibility thing!

School keep clear restrictions
Designed to keep areas near school entrances clear (a no stopping restriction), those who ignore them are adding to the risks children face on the school run - especially on foot.

Crossing zig-zags
Seriously, why would anyone stop or park on these? But they do. The zig-zags are there to keep views of the crossing clear so people can see and be seen by drivers. Safety-critical and needing a large fine and culprits thinking themselves lucky it's a civil PCN and not the police prosecuting them.

Moving traffic contraventions (signed)
No entries, banned turns, one-ways, no motor vehicles, pass on the left arrows at traffic islands etc are safety-critical - even a pedestrian zone has been created to keep drivers out to ensure the safety and comfort of people walking (and cycling if done properly). Throw the book at them I say!

OK, I am not saying we need a specific fine for each of these, but the London Councils' approach is too simple. I might be able to group the issues above into perhaps 4 classes (you might have your own groupings and a different order of seriousness). The issue here is what level of fines are required?

Personally, I wouldn't want to lose any money to a PCN, but at least on TfL's network, there is a 38% level of repeat offences. How much would be a deterrent for stopping on crossing zig-zags - £200? £500? It's a tricky one, because although £500 is a serious lump of money, it is more serious for some than others. There is no way to fine someone according to income with civil enforcement and so perhaps for the more serious matters, the shift has been too much towards traffic authority enforcement than police enforcement (because of how the law was changed for decriminalised enforcement).

For my mind, getting points on your licence for stopping on crossing zig-zags is more of an issue for people because it could ultimately count to loss of licence (although the amount of points being get above 12 is constantly staggering) and higher insurance. At the bottom end of the scale, perhaps a warning letter for parking in a CPZ would be appropriate for a "first offence"; although someone could gain first offences in each traffic authority unless it was a regional or national scheme!

The AA mentioned looking at engineering to prevent contraventions (although surely PCNs could help fund reviews). I have some sympathy for this as well. Street and road layouts should be intuitive and physical layouts are always going to be better than signs'n'paint (although every situation is different). A no entry is a no entry, but some banned turns can be physically prevented or discouraged for example. I'm not sure how engineering would stop people parking on a yellow line though!

Perhaps the issue for TfL here is that they are simply continuing as they have always done and this is no different to anyone else. What perhaps they (and the country) needs to do is to take a step back and look at how we enforce based on the harm caused and set penalties accordingly.

I disagree with Grayling because he shouldn't be interfering in the operation of the City and equally I do not believe for a minute that he would support punitive fines for safety-critical issues in exchange for a light touch at the more annoying end of the offence scale. I also think we need to look at other issues which need to be made enforceable such as stopping on crossings in a traffic jam (make this akin to yellow boxes).

Like the speeding issue I covered last week, PCNs have become popularly expressed as another driver "tax" by the noisy opponents of charging and it is time to re-establish a link between behaviour and consequence. Perhaps if traffic authorities could share data nationally, a repeat crossing zig-zag stopper should lose their licence.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Speed Merchants

Last week, I looked at the ridiculous assertion that protected cycle tracks in street renewal schemes would have everyone cycling at 25mph. This week, I'm going to have a ponder around the comments made by a police chief on why we should crack down on speeding drivers.

First, an admission. The early nineties was when I both obtained a driving licence and was done for speeding. 4 points, a hefty fine and higher insurance was a bit of an eye opener. As a professional engineer, I have also learned a little bit since then and so my opinions have been tempered which will immediately put me at odds with those who objected to the words of the police chief.

First, we have the chief constable of West Mercia, Anthony Bangham who is the lead for the National Police Chiefs Council on road policing. He made comments at the Police Federation's Roads Policing Conference which took place this week, although it seems to be quite difficult to work out what he actually said such is the spin from the media and others!

The Guardian reported Bangham as saying;

"I do not want the public to be surprised, I want them to be embarrassed when they get caught,” he said. “They need to understand the law is set at the limit for a reason. They should not come whingeing to us about getting caught. If booked at 35 or 34 or 33 [in a 30mph zone] that cannot be unfair because they are breaking the law."

“On average five people are killed on our roads every day. Our role is to help make our roads safer and we will seek compliance with the law to help prevent the tragedies that happen too often on our roads.”

He apparently called for ministerial support for zero tolerance on speeding saying;

“I would like to see a more obvious, explicit commitment to this across government,” 

What happened then, it seems, is the usual suspects waded in to condemn Bangham by suggesting he was demanding that drivers who are caught just 1mph over the speed limit should be punished. The National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) reported this quote from Bangham;

“As an example, anything from 31mph onwards is over the speed limit and the options for a police response – a speed awareness course, fixed penalty notice or attendance at court – are discretionary based on the circumstances.  My message to drivers is - don’t assume you have a free pass if you’re over the limit."

So yes, 31mph where the speed limit is 30mph means that a driver would be exceeding the speed limit by 1mph and so is an offence and this might be the thing which got the frothers going. 

The Guardian reported Bangham's reaction to this as;

“We will always ensure our activity is intelligence led and therefore on our highest harm routes, if we know they are dangerous, then we will consider how we best enforce those speed limits.”

As I have said, it is hard to piece together exactly what was said, but the general press were certainly not objective with many going for the 1mph spin such as the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and The Sun. The Greater Manchester Police Federation seems to have tagged onto the 1mph discussion with their chair, Ian Hanson, saying;

“Whilst any sensible person would support the principle of trying to make our roads safer, I think the comments by Chief Constable Anthony Bangham demonstrate a woeful lack of understanding of the sensitivities around speed enforcement and the relationship between the motoring public and the police."

The story has also been picked up by the trade press with the website, Car Buzz, having a particularly outraged headline;

"Insane UK Police Chief Wants 1 MPH Over Speed Limit to Be a Crime"

The article continues;

"Getting a ticket for speeding has become so commonplace that it's more of a tax on driving than an actual crime. Even The Grand Tour's James May (a.k.a. Captain Slow) has been caught speeding. Strictly obeying speed limits is already tedious, but Chief Constable of West Mercia Anthony Bangham wants to make it even worse. AutoExpress reports Britain's police force wants to make radical changes to guidelines that would punish motorists who are traveling just 1 mph over the speed limit. We have just one thing to ask: are you out of your mind?"

A tax on driving rather than an actual crime - really? We also have the faces of motoring respectability commenting. AA president, Edmund King, is quoted in the Guardian;

“Surely it is better to educate motorists rather than just slap a fine on them. The last thing we want is drivers glued to speedometer 100% of time.”

The RAC's road safety spokesman, Pete Williams has said;

“[it would appear] harsh to penalise law-abiding motorists who may occasionally go very slightly above the limit."

“It doesn’t seem sensible to penalise drivers for breaking the speed limit slightly as it could have the effect of making drivers paranoid and constantly checking speedometers when their focus should be on the road."

“While speed is clearly a contributory factor in many road accidents and there is no question that drivers should obey the speed limit, it doesn't seem sensible to make motorists constantly look at their speedometers for fear of drifting a few miles an hour above the limit,”

Those supporting Bangham seemed thin on the ground. Joshua Harris, the campaigns director at Brake, the road safety charity, said;

“Speed limits are exactly that, limits, set at the top speed that it is safe to drive on any particular road. Drivers who go beyond these limits are behaving recklessly and endangering the lives of themselves and others. Brake wholeheartedly supports Chief Constable Anthony Bangham’s view that a zero-tolerance approach to speeding is required, sending a clear signal that breaking the law is not acceptable."

It is essentially government policy to leave it to the police how they go about their operational business. With speed enforcement, the police will generally use the Association of Chief Police (ACPO, now NPCC) guidance which is summarised by the Crown Prosecution Service as follows;

"The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) issued revised speed enforcement policy guidance in 2013. It suggests that enforcement will normally occur when a driver exceeds the speed limit by a particular margin. The particular margin is normally 10 per cent over the speed limit plus 2 mph. The guidance sets guidelines for when it would be appropriate to issue a fixed penalty notice or for the driver to attend a speed awareness course, and when it becomes appropriate to issue a summons. These are guidelines only and a police officer has discretion to act outside of them providing he acts fairly, consistently and proportionately."

Above - a general table to explain the ACPO guidance.

One issue which the pundits have been debating is the accuracy of speedometers. Several people have conflated the ACPO 10% plus 2mph with the accuracy of speedometers which is nonsense. I found a good summary of the subject on The Car Expert website;

"The UK law is based on the EU standard, with some minor changes. A speedo must never show less than the actual speed, and must never show more than 110% of actual speed + 6.25mph. So if your true speed is 40mph, your speedo could legally be reading up to 50.25mph but never less than 40mph. Or to put it another way, if your speedo is reading 50mph, you won’t be doing more than 50mph but it’s possible you might actually only be travelling at 40mph."

If you are as geeky as me, you will be interested in the legislation. Paragraph 19 of Schedule 3 of the Motor Vehicles (Approvals) Regulations 2001 states;

1.  The vehicle shall be fitted with a speedometer capable of indicating speed in mph at uniform intervals not exceeding 20 mph at all speeds up to the maximum speed of the vehicle and capable of being read by the driver at all times of the day or night.

2.  For all true speeds up to the design speed of the vehicle, the true speed shall not exceed the indicated speed.

3.  For all true speeds of between 25 mph and 70 mph (or the maximum speed if lower), the difference between the indicated speed and the true speed shall not exceed—V/10 + 6.25 mph, where V = the true speed of the vehicle in mph.

So in short, any claims about speedometer accuracy pushing people over the speed limit is patently wrong. 

There is, then, the issue of the tolerance of the speed detecting devices used by the police. The ACPO guidance states (in 9.7);

"These guidelines do not and cannot replace police officer's discretion. Where an officer decides to issue a summons or a fixed penalty notice in respect of offences committed at speeds lower than those set out in the table [the 10% plus 2 table], he or she must consider the tolerances of the equipment used to corroborate their opinion. Police speed equipment are tested and approved to work with a maximum tolerance of +/-2mph up to 66mph and 3% for all speeds higher than 66mph, so it is possible to use these tolerances as a prosecution threshold. Moreover, in particular circumstances, driving at speeds lower than the legal limit may result in prosecution for other offences, for example dangerous driving or driving without due care and attention when the speed is inappropriate and inherently unsafe"

Of course, with the legislation for speedometers, any police equipment maximum tolerance is simply cancelled out and we are actually discussing very remote possibilities.

Turning to the comments made by the AA president (and many others), I wonder where this comes from. Unless one checks their speedo from time to time, how does one ensure compliance? Experienced drivers will over time come to "learn" how their vehicle responds. Engine note, selected gear and other cues will help them maintain their speed, but a glance at the speedometer is essential.

The having to stare at a speedometer argument is often used by people who are against 20mph speed limits (a subject which I covered a while back). There are strong arguments that the design of a street reinforces the speed limit and certainly a signs'n'paint approach to an existing layout may not always be fully successful. I'd see this as a foundation on which to base a comprehensive street rebalancing. 

However, we know that people outside of vehicles fare badly when hit and so lower speed limits in urban places which are properly enforced is a good thing as far as I am concerned and I certainly support a default 20mph speed limit in urban places - 20's Plenty for Us tells us that being hit at 20mph is much more survivable than at 30mph.

Anyway, back to Bangham's comments (as best as I can piece them together). Any statement that exceeding the speed limit by 1mph being against the law is a statement of fact from which there is no wriggle room. Speed limits are absolute numbers and the traffic orders either used to establish them or the legislation for default limits (30mph in built up areas and national limits elsewhere) do not provide for any tolerance or variations.

For me, the line "don’t assume you have a free pass if you’re over the limit" is key. As I hope I have demonstrated in the links throughout this post, we have often found ourselves in a position where we get bleating about the so-called war on the motorist whenever anyone suggests a tougher approach. Car Buzz sums this up with the line "getting a ticket for speeding has become so commonplace that it's more of a tax on driving than an actual crime" - in other words, speeding is now considered part of everyday life, socially acceptable even and speeding fines are just another tax.

We should be clear that the "revenue" from speeding fines does not get reinvested in policing or local road safety initiatives, they go to the Treasury. Therefore, there is no financial advantage to the police dealing with speeding drivers. I don't know how the 10% plus 2mph has become so embedded in popular culture given that it is guidance. Those people worried about staring at speedometers for the round number speed limits presumably find it easier to calculate 10% plus 2 mph and to drive to that as an advisory limit? Perhaps a tougher enforcement regime would lead to more fixed penalties (fines and points). Perhaps it would lead to more court appearances as well and so there is a theoretical resource issue. 

However, once the word is out that breaking road laws has consequences, then the effort needed to deal with (and I hesitate to use the term) low level offences means will reduce and so resources can be put into catching the most dangerous people on our roads and streets. It is this kind of intelligence-led policing which is paying dividends by forces such as West Midlands Police.

The chair of the Greater Manchester Police Federation comments about "the sensitivities around speed enforcement and the relationship between the motoring public and the police" utterly ignores the sensitivities of the public who have lives are blighted and endangered by speeding and dangerous drivers. I have no data, but I would lay odds that most reasonable drivers would also support enforcement of road law, including speeding because it puts everyone at increased risk exposure.

I do think it is right that the government should not interfere with police operations, but the media and "motoring" organisations do their very best to set the tone of the debate. In doing so, they are complicit with the current acceptability of speeding, whatever their motivations are (and that is a discussion for another day). I for one welcome those who are doing the job and who are experts in their field pushing back against this.

Update - 5/2/18
Well it seems that Chief Constable Bangham has been blogging too with some welcome comments on his speech.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Nonsense Travels At 25mph

Anything which challenges UK dogma on what or who highways are for is often met with derision and in our current post-fact thinking of the world, emotive nonsense travels far more quickly than rational facts or critical thinking.

This week, I came across a website which concentrates on plans in London to build a so-called cycle superhighway through Chiswick in West London with the rally cry "ditch it or switch it". The consultation for the scheme closed in October last year, but one of the boroughs involved, Hounslow, has said that decisions will be put off until the summer, partly because of the London elections in May and partly because of issues raised about the Chiswick High Road section.

Anyway, that will have to run its course and I want to respond to the comments made on the "ditch it or switch it" website, although in truth, you can copy and paste this kind of sentiment into any scheme where streets are being proposed for rebalancing. It doesn't matter if you are talking about a single zebra crossing which "takes away people's parking" or a transformative scheme such as CS9. The key claim which caught my attention was this;

"The way things are currently, CS9 will destroy Chiswick High Road. It will make it far less pleasant to shop. Buses will be delayed. Traffic will crawl along spewing fumes. We will lose trees and the tables and chairs outside cafes. Pedestrians won’t be able to cross the road very easily. Our local independent shops will lose business. Exactly who in Chiswick will benefit from cyclists whizzing past at 25mph."

How was this particular speed picked - was it from design guidance? In design terms, we will be talking about a "design speed" which then (through mathematics and physics) translates into things like stopping sight distances, the radii of curves and bends, traffic signal timings and so on. The design speed is not going to be the speed at which most people will be cycling. Perhaps we can look at it more like a "maximum safe speed", or a speed within which most people will be accommodated safely.

The Design Manual for Roads & Bridges in Interim Advice Note 195/16 suggests;

Well, 40kph is is 25mph, but a 3% gradient is 1 in 33 - for every 33 metres travelled, one drops 1 metre - that is a pretty steep hill. The other figures range between 12.5mph and 18.75mph. Remember, this is a design standard for trunk roads and motorways and therefore anything designed to this will probably be rural. 

These design speeds provide lots of margin for error and will rarely be applicable in an urban situation. Chickwick High Road does not have a gradient of 3%, it's not rural and so 25mph is never going to be a sensible or even an achieveable design speed. Of course, the carriageway of Chiswick High Road is 30mph, but driver speed never seems to feature in the concerns of those who are against providing cycle tracks.

In the creaky and out of date Local Transport Note 2/08, we are provided with some design speed advice;

So, the guidance talks about a design speed of 20mph with an average speed of 12mph. The point about momentum is an interesting one because with the "traditional" UK approach of bolting on cycling to walking space, we end up with side roads and obstructions impacting on the flow which one would otherwise cycle at. It also reinforces the margin of safety I mentioned about.

They look the part of "fast cyclists", but they are simply
not going to be able to maintain a Tour de France speed.
OK then, who exactly cycles at 25mph? In 2014, I completed the RideLondon London-Surrey sportive. It was the year which got cut back to 86 miles because of a storm. Including stops, my average speed for the 86 miles was 11.12 miles per hour. On the first 17 mile stage from Stratford through Central London, my average speed was 16.19mph. Anyone who has ridden this will be able to confirm that the first part is downhill and the rest is mainly flat, so a top speed isn't going to be getting over 20mph very often, unless one is riding a full-on racing bike and knows how to use it!

Racing bikes, training and closed roads are still not going
to be able to get most people cruising at 25mph.
RideLondon is on closed streets and even the most amateur fun rider (like I was) is going to have to have completed some training to be able to tackle it. There are going to be people out there who can top 25mph. People such as Chris Froome who averaged 25.47mph in the 2017 Tour de France. But hang on, we are talking about flat West London, not the hills and valleys of France. That's the thing about averages, though, they smooth the numbers out and so while our Chris might have been blasting down some hills, he would have been crawling up a few too.

25mph for people using cycling for every day transport is demonstrably nonsense. It doesn't happen and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise, although it does rather suit a particular style of narrative. Personally, I cruise (average speed) at about 10mph on my commuter bike which is a big heavy, upright hybrid. If I am on my tricycle, my cruising speed is about 8mph. It is a long, long way from 25mph.

People feeling safe won't have to worry about keeping
up with drivers. They can relax and take it a little easier.
There may be fears about how cycling may change an area because of the way in which highway space needs to be rebalanced. If people stuck to that, then they would perhaps be a little bit more honest about their fears. Perhaps some people who don't cycle can only see the young white male cycling on their streets at the moment. This small group of people will be more likely to be moving towards the higher end of the design speed, but being on the carriageway, it's a defensive tactic. This is what you get if you design for cycling as a bolt-on to driver space.

A group of tourists on a safe cycle track. They are seeing
the sights, they're not a racing team.
As with designing streets for driving, we can influence the speed and behaviour of people cycling through design, especially where we need to give clear instructions on how people should deal with the interaction of others such as the approach to a bus stop. However, the key difference between cycling and driving is that the strength, power and endurance of people cycling varies hugely, whereas the motorised transport essentially levels these differences.

A sedate commute, enabled by the protection. This chap
might be your target customer on a rebalanced high street,
rather than the people driving through at 30mph.
What this leads to is where cycling infrastructure is well designed and attractive, then everyone can use it and above a minimum flow (which will depend on location), the "slower cyclists" will help influence the speed and behaviour of those who are more capable of nudging the higher end as they ride. In short, good infrastructure creates the conditions to enable a wide demographic to cycle and in turn speed and behaviour is moderated.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Bridge Over Troubled Water

While the Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson, was going on about building a bridge to France this week, the RAC Foundation said that almost 3,500 bridges in Great Britain are substandard (2016/17 data).

"Substandard" relates to bridges which don't meet the 44 tonne classification for the maximum lorry weight (weight of fully laden vehicle) which comes from European legislation aimed at ensuring compatibility across the area. As usual, there are local variations in how this is implemented and it doesn't mean that 44 tonnes is the maximum allowed. In the UK, for example, there are rules about moving heavier vehicle/ load combinations, but that's another story.

There will be bridges which have weight restrictions (generally 3, 7.5 or 18 tonnes) which are perfectly adequate for their local situations (because larger vehicles are not wanted in the areas concerned) and there are plenty of bridges which have had some interim measures applied to them which means they still don't meet the 44 tonne classification, but they are safe enough. 

For example, the photo below is of St Augustine Road in Leicester which is carried over the River Soar by the West Bridge. As far as I know, there is no weight limit on the bridge, but there will be an issue with the footway or parapet (the edge of the structure with the balustrade) because of the use of containment kerbs to keep vehicles off - it's a classic interim measure which can often stay in place for decades!

Given that most of the top ten of councils with the most substandard bridges have huge rural areas, it's not a huge surprise as this will include places which are off the beaten track where 44 tonne lorries either won't be going or where they are not welcome anyway!

The RAC Foundation estimates that the cost to bring the substandard bridges back up to standard is £934m and the wider maintenance backlog on our bridges is around £5bn. With my caveat about the need to bring everything up to 44 tonnes, this is another significant amount of money. 

Taken with the £12bn backlog for carriageway maintenance (and that's just England & Wales), it is a timely story that when politicians start showboating about shiny new things, they always seem to ignore making the best of what we already have.