A few weeks ago, I was with some folk and we were talking about one of the latest ‘vexed issues’ in street design: how to deal with off-carriageway cycle tracks when they pass bus stops.
I’ll begin these comments by stating that, at least and at last, this is a ‘vexed issue’ rather than a non-issue. The fact that we’re having to think about how best to design in the context of better provision for cycling is a good thing. As a cliché goes for football managers who can’t play all their very talented players at the same time: ‘it’s a nice problem to have’.
Our meeting arose from concern expressed by some who represent pedestrians’ interests about the design of proposed ‘floating bus stops’ (bus stop by-passes for bikes) on the extended ‘Cycle Superhighway’ in Stratford, East London (CS2). This concern had been provoked specifically by the following sketch, published by Transport for London.
Working with Living Streets (of which I’m a Trustee), the meeting was called for two main reasons: (a) to try and head off any unnecessary, unedifying and helpful ‘us and them’ exchanges between ‘cyclists’ and ‘pedestrians’, bearing in mind the many priorities for change that are shared by people who walk and cycle in urban streets; and (b) to see if we could contribute positively to the development of design thinking on the relationship between bus stops and cycle tracks, of which there is – sadly – all too little British experience. (I’ve seen a few in Brighton and London; but only a few.)
My take on the evening was that it was a hugely constructive get-together, attended by eight people (including me) representing Living Streets (national and local groups), the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the London Cycling Campaign. Having a wheelchair user at the table was particularly helpful. We started by trying to clarify pedestrians’ concerns about ‘floating bus stops’ (and the implications of the sketch above, in particular), but quickly moved on to shared aspirations for street design in general, and then set about trying to establish principles to help guide ‘floating bus stop’ design in the UK.
In doing this, I ran through a variety of slides showing existing layouts in similar situations from other European countries and Britain, so that we could discuss what seemed to us to be good and bad ideas in different contexts. Although it gave the group a rather sad insight as to how I spend my holidays and spare time, the slides were valuable in enabling the pros and cons of different layouts to be debated. One thing we quickly realised was that the ‘floating bus stop’ conundrum is in fact a subset of a broader design challenge: what to do when a cycle tracks pass through areas that are also a focus of pedestrian activity; as, for example, outside railway stations or where people stand while waiting to cross at Pelicans. (The photos below help to illustrate.)
The meeting was scheduled to last an hour and a half, but we happily spent much longer working our way forward in a positive and, as I said, constructive atmosphere. There was no formal note of the meeting but, unless I’m gravely mistaken, the following could reasonably be said in summary of our deliberations.
· There was strong in-principle support for the introduction of cycle infrastructure, including protected cycle tracks, that is likely to encourage mass cycling.
· It was recognised that the introduction of cycle tracks that are neither conventional carriageway nor footway, and relatively unfamiliar on British streets, will inevitably be found confusing by some users (especially pedestrians), at least at first.
· Design should therefore generally seek to differentiate clearly between footways and cycleways. This is to minimise the likelihood both of collisions and of the perception by pedestrians that cycling on cycle tracks is ‘pavement cycling’.
· Implementing protected cycle tracks (facilities that are separated from the vehicle carriageway but immediately adjacent to it) in complex urban streets is bound to give rise to the potential for conflict with pedestrians in certain locations/types of location (e.g. at bus stops, especially the busier ones)
· The default option in such circumstances must be to address the design challenge presented, not to avoid it by seeking to divert cyclists into the traffic carriageway (where the consequences of any conflicts are potentially much more serious).
· Locations of potential conflict between pedestrians and cyclists can be considered like junctions, with relative priorities designated, and designed for, on a site-specific basis, according to assessments of relative numbers and proportions of pedestrians and cyclists, the space available, and the complexity of local pedestrian activity patterns.
· While the purpose of better cycle tracks is to make cycling be and seem both safer and more convenient, the existence of a cycle track does not mean there will be unbroken priority for cycle movement along it. Though breaks in cycle priority should be minimised, yielding to pedestrians will be appropriate in some locations, and design should both encourage and enable cyclists to yield as necessary.
· Generally, design should encourage mutual awareness (and indeed what a leading cycling campaigner recently termed ‘mutual generosity’) on the part of both groups of users – people on bikes and people on foot – and make plain the relative priorities for each in any given location.
Arising from the above, my colleague Chris Martin went to work on the TfL sketch in an attempt to illustrate different ways of designing ‘floating bus stops’ for different combinations of circumstances. I’ll post these shortly, along with a comparable set of diagrams from the Irish Cycle Design Manual.
For the present, I leave you with a photo I took in France. I think it’s appropriate.