THREE.. Bad infrastructure… and the problems it causes

Tree in a cycleway

Bad infrastructure… …is encountered by cyclists every day and this has a negative impact on encouraging more people out of their cars.

Firstly, such infrastructure can be unsafe and inconvenient, which inevitably leads to a reduction in the number of cyclists using it and an increase in pressure on other forms of transport.

More importantly, where there is already some sort of cycle facility in place there is little incentive for the transport authorities to create new and better provision. Local Authorities often take the view that as long as there is a facility in place, no matter how inadequate, they have done their duty. This mindset has to change.

We want to see an end to substandard cycling provision: poor quality provision is worse than none at all

The Campaign wants to see an end to substandard cycling provision, lessons learnt from past poor design and an appreciation from planners that poor cycling provision is worse than no cycling provision at all.

Let’s take a look at examples of bad infrastructure.

Poor quality cycle lanes

Poor quality cycle lane

In too many cases across the city, cycle lanes are simply too narrow to be safe and are often well below the recommended standards. This has two consequences. Cyclists don’t use them because they are impractical and motorists either overtake too closely or get irritated with cyclists for not using the perceived facility. In either event, neither the cyclist nor the motorist benefits.

Inadequate facilities are harmful: cyclists can’t use them, and motorists can become irritated when they see cyclists not using the perceived facility

It simply isn’t sufficient to draw a white stripe on the road with a bicycle sign inside it and assume that’s the end of the matter. Cycle lanes, as with any other traffic infrastructure, need to be designed in order to provide a specific benefit for the user. If this were done there would be many fewer instances of cycle lanes coming to an end just when they are needed.

At present it’s sad but true to say that in many situations cyclists would be safer if an existing substandard lane was removed and cyclists and motorists shared the road.

Shortcomings of pavement cycle tracks

Barton Road

Pavement-style cycle tracks alongside the road have so many problems for both cyclists and walkers that most need to be completely rethought

Cycle tracks, off-road but alongside roads, are another area which needs to be completely rethought.

A lack of priority for cyclists over side roads, conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists, narrow segregation (if any) and poor construction all conspire to create a poor cycling environment.

Lack of priority at side roads – such as at Barton Road, Milton Road, and many other locations – is also a key problem. As well as the obvious danger this creates, stopping to give way to cars every few hundred yards means a loss of momentum, increases journey times and is not conducive to a pleasant cycling experience. Other vehicles are not expected to stop repeatedly and neither should cyclists be.

A large number of cycle collisions already occur at junctions. Off-road routes without priority over side roads introduce lots of new junctions and hence more danger points.

Good crossing

Cambridge is an ideal place for a government-approved experiment to demonstrate that giving cyclists priority at sideroads, as on the continent, works to everyone’s advantage, so that it can become the norm well before 2020

The inaccessibility and narrowness of such tracks often makes maintenance difficult as they are unsuitable for road-sweeping vehicles.

The general principle is that if cycle tracks are to be provided, they must be of sufficient quality to enable cyclists to use them should they so wish and avoid antagonising car drivers for those cyclists who remain on the road.

Case study

Coldham’s Lane Bridge

The fairly new bridge for cyclists on Coldham’s Lane is a classic example of inadequate provision for cyclists in Cambridge.

Coldham's Lane Bridge

The main problem with the design, which we highlighted at the time, is that the cycle bridge is on only one side of the road bridge. Anyone cycling from the city centre out along Coldham’s Lane is forced to stop and cross the road twice. The bridge is too narrow, the gradient too steep and it has poor access.

The result is that people are coerced into using a substandard provision that fails to meet their needs, leading to conflict with drivers who think cyclists no longer have the right to be on the road here, and this again has inevitable knock-on effects on the numbers on two wheels.

Coldham's Lane Bridge

Poorly thought out, cheaply constructed, the bridge is not of high quality and the whole structure will need to be replaced in a decade or two – with luck by 2020.

When this bridge is replaced a realistic amount of money must be spent to address these design problems. The whole road bridge should be rebuilt, with proper space for cyclists and walkers, to provide a long term solution and not a short term, botched, quick fix.

The Coldham’s Lane bridge experience offers, we believe, an important lesson for city planners that needs to be learned for the future – particularly when the time comes to design the proposed cycle provision on Hills Road Bridge, for instance.

What do we do about shared-use pavements?

Crowded cyclepath

A painted line and a sign on a pavement does not a good cycle facility make. Planners should instead always try to improve the general road environment first, which means giving over more space on the road for cyclists

Generally speaking, the Campaign believes that pavement provision should be the provision of last resort. Planners should always try to improve the general road environment first, which means making space for cyclists.

If pavements and paths are to be designated as shared use, much more needs to be done than providing a painted line and a signpost.

Pavement

Authorities need to ensure that there is sufficient space for both cyclists and pedestrians, that the surface is suitable for cycling and not overgrown; and there are no obstacles in the way. Clear and unambiguous signage will avoid the confusion over whether a pavement can be cycled on or not.

Currently, it seems that the decision on whether these paths are acceptable for shared use is often arbitrary and there are few guidelines in place. In many cases they should be returned to purely pedestrian use and a new cycle lane created on the road.

Obstructions

Anti-shopper barriers at a Tesco supermarket

Van blocking the exit to a cycle bypass

There are several points in the city notorious amongst cyclists where elements of design intended to slow cycles down in fact have the effect of stopping them completely – especially when they are towing trailers. An obvious example can be found on the path by Tesco’s near to Riverside where chicanes have been installed which have the unintended effect of forcing cyclists to stop. This sort of bad design needs to be removed from the city’s cycle routes, especially from places like supermarkets, which are prime destinations for cyclists with trailers and shopping bags!

There are methods to make cyclists slow down at danger points without causing them inconvenience

There is a case for removing most of the city’s existing pinch point obstructions. Often they serve no purpose other than to slow down cycles unnecessarily and they can also further handicap people in wheelchairs.

Dooring lane

The parking bays in Trumpington Road outside the Botanic Gardens are also extremely badly designed. To have a cycle path less than an open door’s width from the car, is asking for trouble. Carelessly opened doors will hit cyclists riding in the cycle lane. More care needs to be taken when trying to match the needs of parking and cyclists.

Junctions

Royal Cambridge Hotel roundabout

Junction of Downing Street

We also believe that the double roundabout at the Royal Cambridge Hotel, one of the most dangerous and accident-prone junctions in the city, could be improved by the re-introduction of traffic lights. Modern traffic light systems can avoid the queuing experienced in previous decades.

Some traffic lights could also be reworked to benefit both cyclists and pedestrians. The Downing Street/St Andrew’s Street junction is a classic case where the continental style “left on red” system could be tried. This is where cyclists may turn left if no pedestrians are crossing, and works very well abroad.

An example of a well thought out and useful left turn is the junction at the end of Hills Road bridge and Cherry Hinton Road, where the separate left turn lane for cyclists enables them to bypass the traffic lights completely.

Addressing niggles on a city-wide basis

A systematic effort to get rid of the numerous little niggling problems that every cyclist faces on their daily journey would make journeys so much more pleasant

While a few large-scale projects are required to make cycling safer and more convenient in Cambridge there are also many small things that can be done to make a big difference.

Every cyclist in the area can name numerous small, niggling problems along their regular cycle routes and in many cases putting these right should be an inexpensive process. These include bumps, potholes, dropped kerbs which are not flush with the road, or any of the other numerous small obstacles which are the legacy of decades of bad design. There needs to be a concerted and systematic effort to identify all these minor problems and remove them from the city’s streets.

For the future, if high-quality cycle provision is installed in the first instance, and well maintained, such niggles will be vastly reduced.

Bumpy path Temporary cycle lane Pothole Big crack in a cycle path

Conclusion

All the above are just some of the many examples of badly designed infrastructure across the city, provision which actually provides very little benefit to anyone. Such facilities mean that transport authorities can be seen to be fulfilling their duties whilst supplying something that is actually of negligible value and does nothing to encourage cycle use, and can in fact make cyclists feel less welcome on the road.

Tackling the legacy of bad provision by 2020 is essential to make cycling easier, more accessible and safe for everyone

Determined efforts need to be made to tackle this legacy so that the entire network is open, accessible and safe for cycling. Routes need to be identified and redesigned with high-quality materials and a genuine political will to create more space on the roads for cycling. There is also need for better guidelines to help planners assess whether a path is suitable for shared use, segregated shared use or whether on-road provision is a better option.