Consistent cycle-friendly design standards consistently applied: why wouldn't you?

Consistent cycle-friendly design standards consistently applied: why wouldn't you?

In the second of a series of blogs about the Government's review of cycling and pedestrian safety, our Policy Director Roger Geffen explains why we need consistent cycle-friendly design standards, and what we mean by 'cycle-friendly' infrastructure.

In the first blog of this series, I outlined how joint lobbying by Cycling UK and its allies has shifted the Government’s initial ‘Cycle Safety Review’ (which at first looked as if it would be all about cycling offences, helmets, hi-viz and so on) into a wider review of safety for walking as well as cycling, with the aim of achieving ‘more’ as well as ‘safer’ cycling and walking. Our ‘Cycling Safety: make it simple’ booklet summarises what Cycling UK will be pressing for in our response to the review.

The first of our headline recommendations relates to infrastructure, i.e. designing all roads, junctions, new developments and off-road facilities to consistent high standards of cycle-friendliness. At present, the confusing plethora of often-contradictory design guidance is clearly failing to ensure safe and sensible designs. Too many cycle facilities in the UK are still worse than useless, or even downright dangerous. Frankly, the situation is a mess.

The good news is that the Government has already commissioned a review of its current Cycling Infrastructure Design guidance (Local Transport Note LTN 2/08). Better still, they have engaged some really good consultants to work on it, namely WSP and Phil Jones Associates.

Phil Jones was also responsible for the Welsh Government’s excellent design guidance which Welsh authorities are required to follow (under the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013), and Highways England’s more recent guidelines on Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network. I trust he and his colleagues can now draw on the best practice from these and other sources (notably the London Cycling Design Standards), while replacing the many other guidance notes that will then become redundant. It makes no sense to have different authorities in different parts of the country taking different approaches to cycle design. This is not only wasteful, but also causes confusion and frustration to cyclists and drivers alike.

Different types of infrastructure

So, what do we actually mean by ‘cycle-friendly infrastructure’?

Well, we’ve provided a handy councillor-friendly guide to this in our booklet ‘Space for Cycling: a guide for decision-makers’. In a nutshell, though, the answer depends on the type of road.

Creating safe cycling conditions on faster and busier main roads requires protected cycle lanes, with priority at junctions. In a moment, I’ll come to the questions of what kind of protection, and how priority at junctions can be achieved. At the other end of the spectrum, we have a range of solutions for lightly trafficked streets and rural lanes. The key principle here is that, if roads and streets are to be safe and feel safe for cycling – by young and old, males and females, people with and without disabilities – they must either provide physical protection from faster or busier traffic, or else the traffic needs to be slow enough and light enough for anyone (including children etc.) to be able to cycle safety and comfortably without needing physical protection.

“But there isn’t always space for protected cycle lanes”, I hear you say! And that’s certainly true for some urban streets and rural lanes. However, that isn’t a reason to bottle out of creating safe cycling conditions! If the space isn’t there for protected cycle lanes and none can be created (e.g. by removing parking), the alternative is some kind of traffic management solution which reduces traffic volumes and speeds to a level that is safe and comfortable for cycling by young and old alike.

Low traffic speeds and volumes

That’s why we are so keen to see 20mph adopted as the ‘default’ speed limit for streets in built-up areas. That wouldn’t preclude higher speed limits on faster and busier main roads but,as the majority of the length of any town or city’s road network consists of the narrow local streets, the roads with faster busier traffic should be the exception where signing is needed to indicate a different limit. The majority of our urban streets - where people live, work, shop and go to school - should have 20mph limits. Hence 20mph, not 30mph, is the limit that should apply by default, i.e. the one that applies unless signs tell you otherwise.

“But wouldn’t 20mph limits cause uproar?” Not at all – don’t