As Jane Austen didn’t say “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a city that wishes for widespread uptake of cycling must install segregated cycle facilities”. This stems from the perception, as opposed to reality, that city roads are dangerous for cyclists and this perception is a major block to cycling for many people. In Glasgow we are lucky that the Council is beginning to understand this and construction of essential cycling infrastructure is ongoing, albeit slowly.
There is nothing new in the building of segregated cycle paths and different approaches have been taken at different times and in different places, but the overriding premise is that the resultant cycleway will provide a safe environment for riders of all ages. As I write, the segregated South City Way (SCW) is being constructed in the Southside of Glasgow, with sections along Victoria Road and Pollokshaws Road already open.
The Angle Taken by the Council
As a commuter along the partly constructed SCW I have been noting progress and have been concerned to see that the default design has been to use angled corners to deflect the cycle path around obstacles such as floating bus stops (A). These are awkward for cyclists to pass and near impossible for cyclists to traverse 2-abreast (*See Footnote, Why is cycling two-abreast important?). Angled corners would never be used in the construction of a road, so I wondered why the council deemed them appropriate for cyclists. To find out I suggested to Glasgow City Council that curved corners would be better and provided visualisations of before (A) and after (B), in the latter the angles converted to curves. The following response was received.
“The example sketch sent in does indeed improve the alignment for cyclists, providing a much straighter route around the pedestrian island” & ” alarmingly, given this suggested layout, it is extremely unlikely that cyclists would slow down. It is unlikely therefore that any extra care would be exercised at the crossing point, or near the bus shelter where pedestrians are likely to be standing. This is one of the main reasons why pedestrians are not keen on ‘floating’ bus stops, since they worry about conflict with inconsiderate speeding cyclists. On the contrary, the tighter alignment of the SCW ‘floating’ bus stops and the use of mini-zebra crossings, emphasise pedestrian priority, i.e. cyclists need to slow down and exercise due care.”
So there we have it, in the words of a Council official cyclists cannot be trusted around pedestrians and need to be made to slow down by engineering difficult route alignments. Paradoxically however, the angles do not actually slow cyclists, but simply make for increased cyclist stress while negotiating a difficult section of cycleway. Nothing is gained.
Note that the Scottish cycleway design guide “Cycling by Design” only figures smoothly radiused curves for this situation (their Figure 5.6).
The Fashion for Flares
The SCW, in common with other segregated routes, is crossed by side lanes and side roads which mainly carry motor traffic. Bizarrely, these have no traffic calming features where they cross the cycleway meaning that drivers are not made to slow down. Even more bizarrely, most of the junctions that cross the South City Way are flared, the purpose of flaring at a junction being (incredibly when crossing a cycleway) to increase the vehicle turning speeds.
Sauce for the Goose?
So there we have it. The Council has deemed cyclists to be reckless speed-mongers careless of the safety of pedestrians and in need of slowing by the construction of awkward angular corners. Drivers, conversely, are taken as paragons of safety and trusted to cross segregated cycleways as fast as they like. To assist them in this, they are provided with lovely sweeping flared bends. Can I be the only one to spot the outrageous double standard here? In the rare event that a cyclist collides with a pedestrian neither party is generally seriously hurt and the cyclist will usually come off worst. If a vehicle collides with a cyclist?; well we know what happens and it’s not to the driver.
So please Glasgow City roads engineers, we are delighted that you are building segregated facilities but please think of the mixed messages that your current infrastructure design is giving and, more importantly, think of the consequences.
You may not cycle on it but I and many others do.
Why is cycling two-abreast important?
A1. It’s because we are hypersocial creatures and we like to chat to friends while travelling. Is that important? Just ask yourself, if there are two of you in a car, does the passenger get in the back seat? If not, why not?
A2. Creating artificial pinch points reducing cyclists to single file seriously restricts the potential traffic the route can carry. Cycling maybe a relatively niche activity today, but the potential to grow is huge and to ignore growth in cycling numbers shows lack of foresight.