Friday 16 November 2012

Cycle Superhighway 9. My observations.

Hounslow Transport Department is consulting informally on the plans in the Hounslow area.  the route goes west from Hyde Park Corner to The Bull in Hounslow Town Centre (an historic coaching inn which must still be a popular pub as the superhighway does a special dogleg in Hounslow to end there).

An example of the plans is here

I have written to the Highways Officers at Hounslow as follows:

Dear Sirs,
Cycle Superhighway 9 – Outline Designs

My interest
                I commute by bicycle from home to Central London through Hounslow and along the A315 following the proposed route of CS9.  I have been doing this for around 10 years.  I am in addition a senior lawyer who is often consulted by cyclists and their families following serious collisions resulting in the death or serious injury of cyclists.  I have a deep commitment to improving the safety and popularity of cycling.
The Outline Designs
                The designs of the proposed CS9 have some merit.  In particular the square blue box cyclist markings placed mid carriageway are useful in indicating to all road users that a cyclist can be expected to ‘take the lane’.  Comprehension of this is, in my experience, often lacking in motorists particularly in the Hounslow area.  However care needs to be exercised to place these on the approach to all junctions and bus stops sufficiently far back to encourage cyclists to move out well in advance of the hazard.
                Equally the improved advanced stop lines are useful though you will need to exercise your influence with the local police to enforce these so that they do not continue to be widely flouted.
                Also tightening up the parking restrictions along the road will obviously benefit cyclists.
                The problem with the outline design, though, is the widespread reliance on the use of narrow (1.5m wide) with flow cycle lanes.  These are positively inimical to the safety of cyclists and it would be far better to save the paint and omit these altogether.  The relevant design standard, Cycle Infrastructure Design (Local Transport Note 2/08) states that cycle lanes should be 2 metres wide on busy roads.  I attribute my survival after thousands of journeys on the A315 in part upon always travelling at least one metre from the kerb.  The distance from my centre line to my right elbow will take up almost the whole of the remaining 50cm.  All the 1.5m lanes will achieve is to encourage very close passing by motor vehicles, including buses and lorries, on the rare occasions when they are able to outpace a bicycle.  When stationary, as they often are, they are likely to have their wheels hard up against the cycle lane with the dual disadvantage of a narrow strip with poor visibility on the nearside and a reduction in the amount of room available for cyclists to overtake on the offside.  An appropriately trained/experienced cyclist will ignore the narrow cycle lanes, positioning him or herself as though they were not there.  This means that not only is installing them a waste of money, but that they may lead to unwelcome hostility from other road users who do not understand the principles of bikeability.  There is a particularly poorly designed section on map 9 where a kerb side cycle lane continues past an informal crossing where it would not be safe for a bus or HGV to overtake.
                The A315 is a busy road.  Traffic is frequently congested.  When it does move at speeds approaching 30 mph, that is only for a short distance before the next traffic light or traffic queue.  The designs appear to proceed on an utterly false premise that motor traffic is faster than bicycling.  This premise is not accurate over any significant distance along the A315 save in the dead of night.  What is clearly needed along this route is a 20 mph speed limit.  This would not increase journey times during the day; it would simply slow down the surges and it is a solution that is supposed to fit higher in the hierarchy of design than attempting to banish cyclists to a 1.5m wide strip alongside the kerb.
                I trust you find these comments helpful.  I hope you will share them with Council Members and TfL, who I assume also have some input into the design and financing of this project.  It would seem to me sensible that you consult with cycling groups such as CTC before investing considerable sums in a scheme that appears to me to avoid both proper segregation and proper integration, managing the worst of all worlds.
Yours faithfully,

Martin Porter


  1. These are, as ever, wise comments, Martin. I hope you're recovering from your crash injuries.

    You would be horrified by the designs of many on-street cycle lanes here in New York, where I moved in August. They are absurdly narrow and often run exclusively in cars' door zone. As you note of the Hounslow designs, if one rides outside them or on the offside edge of them, it winds up the motorists no end - and New Yorkers seldom as a rule need much excuse to get ratty.

    All the best,


  2. Martin,

    I agree wholeheartedly with the limitations you have pointed out in the proposed designs for CS9, but I am utterly baffled by the alternatives you propose. like myself, you are a confident, committed cyclist with a lot of experience on the road. The measures you suggest here would make the experience of cycling in this location slightly more pleasant for suitably confient, fast and experienced cyclists, but despite your stated commitment to improving the safety and popularity of cycling, this would not make this section of road, any more accessible to normal people who wish to use bicycles. Neither the measures proposed for CS9 or you counter-proposal would be enough to get someone like my mum on a bike.

    It seems like your letter was a bit of missed opportunity if all it is asking for is measures to make the route a little bit nicer for cyclists like you and I. After all, we already cycle, and would probably continue to cycle regardless of what local authorities and the highways agency put us through. People like us simply aren't the growth area for cycling, almost everyone who would ever be willing to cycle on our hellish roads already does, there's no growth left in our demographic. If you are committed to the growth of cycling (and the safety of cyclists) do you not feel that this would have been a good opportunity to propose the measures which are necessary to get ordinary folk on bikes; The Netherlands' approach?

    1. I pointed out that the scheme was the worst of all worlds avoiding both proper segregation and integration. My first concern is that they do not make matters worse than they already are. I am happy for others to urge dutch style infrastructure but if it is not happening in Central London it is hardly going to start on the A315 through LB Hounslow.

    2. I wouldn't be too negative about Hounslow Transport, some of their staff have been to Copenhagen specifically to look at cycling infrastructure:
      Perhaps the challenge is to enthuse councillors to act on this knowledge.

    3. Thank you. That is interesting. The response though to my letter is at
      I did not feel that my points were striking home.

  3. I absolutely agree that narrow cycle lanes are worse than useless. It came as something of a surprise, however, when I conducted an informal poll amongst a group of local cyclists, that not all felt the same way. Some felt that a cycle lane of any width was valuable in reminding motorists that cyclists are to be expected. My experience is that the behaviour or many motorists changes for the worse once they perceive that cyclists have been allocated their own lane.

  4. The key issue is the traffic speed, not the width of the cycle lanes. If you've got traffic speed down to 20mph, then 1.5m would be fine.

    The question is whether their design does enough to moderate speeds. Are traffic lanes narrow (<3m). Are side roads tightened up, and pedestrians provided with raised tables, so that turning traffic disrupts the main road flow? Are there frequent pedestrian crossings (not set in a green wave), so that progress is broken up? Does the character of the road (particularly the height and setback of properties / trees) encourage sensible speed?

  5. I agree that a 1.5m unsegregated and advisory cycle lane of whatever colour is next to useless. Even mandatory cycle lanes are next to useless, because drivers park in them, they are positioned to go on the outside of parking bays (thanks Newham and Leytonstone - what are you thinking of?) and it is really difficult to overtake other cyclists without drivers getting annoyed. I always ride on the outer white line of these cycle lanes to avoid gutters and the door zone, and yes drivers get even more annoyed.

    Thanks for making these points to Hounslow/TfL. I hope that they take them into consideration when planning any future super highways.

  6. Martin,
    Off topic, what happened to the blog re footballers . . . that seems to have disappeared?
    Hope you are well.

    1. I did not think it one of my better posts and I cull occasionally.

  7. You are bang-on about cycle lane width, but I don't agree with cyclists overtaking cyclists within 2-metre lanes. Even if the overtakee hugs the kerb, the overtaker will be too close to both the cyclist being passed and any motor traffic in the adjacent lane.

    One commentator mentioned a green wave. I'm convinced this is the single best thing that could be done on a Superhighway: traffic lights set for a green wave at 17mph or so.

    Most commuter cyclists can sustain this sort of speed, and with proper explanation, it would remove drivers' incentive to overtake cyclists. The explanation would include the point that this is the speed at which a lane of motor traffic has its maximum safe capacity.
    It's also faster than drivers usually manage to get around London!

    1. I agree. I would always leave a cycle lane to overtake another cyclist. Overtaking using the same lane is not encouraged for cars and should not be encouraged for cyclists. Thanks for putting that right, I have removed my postscript.

  8. Richard wrote: "The key issue is the traffic speed, not the width of the cycle lanes. If you've got traffic speed down to 20mph, then 1.5m would be fine."

    But as Martin says, riding 1m from the kerb is sensible. The rider's own body then fills the other 50cm, so why bother having a 1.5m lane at all? It doesn't provide a safe refuge for cyclists because if a driver positioned their car at the edge of the lane then they'd brush the cyclist's elbow as they passed. A cycle lane should give space between the cyclist and the kerb, AND space between the cyclist and the car. If it doesn't then what's the point?

  9. Since a cycle lane as wide as 1.5m is hardly to be found in central London, to my knowledge, with the exception of some bi-directional lanes (!) I think they might feel you were being rather ungrateful in complaining about what would appear to be a substantial improvement on anything offered before. But perhaps that is the point: this is still at the level of the diffacility provided mainly to satisfy the appearance of having provided. But we need to get past providing crap infrastructure for the appearance of providing it, even if it isn't as crap as it used to be. Rather if we provide anything at all it should be properly useful.

  10. You have presented good points! Hopefully, those will be considered by the Hounslow's highway officers soon. Anyway, your proposal is aimed for the total safety of cyclists in the area.