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Making room for a cycling boom

Cycling is now an important part of urban living and needs to be incorporated in highways design. The ICE’s Cycling group has provided some key guidance and, with a roadshow planned, there is no better time to update on progress.

Victoria Embankment cycle plan

More space: Artists impression of cycle friendly plans for Victoria Embankment

Cycling is becoming a must-have choice for self-respecting cities acting on the global stage. Most famously, Copenhagen has been at the forefront for many years. Perhaps it is no accident that Denmark was also the happiest country in the word in 2013.

Politicians are seeing the value of cycling as a mode of transport linked with liveability. Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel made the point in 2012, stating “there is a city wide war on talent and ‘liveability’ attracts talent”. In the vanguard of this war are bicycle share schemes.

There are over 500 schemes worldwide, including in world cities such as New York, Paris and London. There has been a steep rise in the number of schemes since 2008 and adoption outside Europe in particular has been dramatic.

This government wants to make it easier and safer for people who already cycle as well as encouraging far more people to take it up

One of the characteristics of urban densification is that more and more people are owning less and renting more, and this includes bikes. And for engineers, this means there is a need for the transport system to be re-engineered to cater for the change in demand.

Attitudes to cycling are also changing, partly due to British success in sports cycling and a consequent growth in interest in the sport as a spectator event. This interest will continue this year with Yorkshire’s hosting of Le Grand Depart of the Tour De France in July and Northern Ireland’s hosting of The Grande Partenza, the Giro d’Italia equivalent, two months earlier in May.

The numbers are already on the up. The 2011 census revealed significant rises in cycle commuting in some UK towns and cities.

Nine London boroughs have more than a 6% cycle to work share, and in Hackney over 15% cycle to work. Bristol’s cycle share rose from under 5% in 2001 to over 8% in 2011, and Cambridge also saw an increase to 32%.

The six Cycling Demonstration Towns and the 12 Cycling Cities and Towns have shown that investment in infrastructure and promotion activities leads to more people cycling. The census also shows that many more people say they cycle than are counted in traffic counts and this is a testament to the surge in leisure cycling and the effect that the fear of traffic danger has on utility cycling.

Nationwide push

A nationwide drive to promote cycling in cities and national parks across England was launched last summer via the government-led Cycle City Ambition scheme. Prime minister David Cameron announced the biggest ever single injection of cash for the country alongside plans to make roads safer for those on two wheels (NCE 29 August 2013).

Said Cameron: “This government wants to make it easier and safer for people who already cycle as well as encouraging far more people to take it up and business, local government, developers, road users and the transport sector all have a role to play in helping to achieve this.”

The Department for Transport followed up with the launch of its cycle proofing project in Autumn to ensure local councils take “better account of cyclists when planning roads”. An original pot of £42M was increased to £94M for local authorities with a promised £24.8M to 2015 to be spent on re-designing 14 key stretches of A-road to make them safer for cycling.

Of the £94M, £77M has been divided between Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford and Norwich. The New Forest, Peak District, South Downs and Dartmoor each share a slice of £17M funding for national parks.

With local contributions, the total new funding for cycling is £148M between now and 2015. The investment in cycling in the key cities and London is close to the recommended figure of £10 per head and in 2015 over £1M per month will be being spent on cycling infrastructure in these places. The Local Sustainable Transport Fund has also provided over £600M through 96 packages to 77 local authorities outside London to deliver schemes between 2011 and 2015. Along with local contributions provided by all funded project teams, over £1 billion is being invested in local sustainable travel, and a proportion of this funding is being directed to cycling schemes.

In London £17M is made available over three years, to help boroughs to deliver measures to help increase the take-up of cycling and make the city safer for cyclists. This is over and above the funding pledged by the London mayor Boris Johnson in 2013. Among the ideas for Johnson’s £100M “mini-Holland” funding there are plans to scrap gyratories, remodel the suburbs for bikes and reconnect neighbourhoods torn apart by high speed main roads.

It is no longer about merely seeing cycling as a safety problem to be solved, it is about solving capacity issues to accommodate cycling demand

London might be regarded as being in its third phase of promotion for cycling. The first phase was based on the London Cycle Network, the second based around the Cycle Superhighways. The third phase involves significant development and infill with quietways, a central London grid and mini-Hollands.

Transport for London, partly in response to the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling, is re-writing its London Cycle Design Standards to better reflect the current thinking of the place of cycling, and its relationship to the nature of roads in London.

And while London leads the way, significant changes are afoot at a national level. The Highways Agency has announced that it is to re-write its Design Manual for Roads and Bridges to incorporate issues in relation to cycle traffic that match current international best practice.

Meanwhile the DfT has vowed to cut red tape that can stifle cycle-friendly road design and has said councils will be expected to deliver infrastructure that properly takes cycling into account. It all adds up to significant changes in relation to the design needs of cycle traffic.

“We have shaped modern cities through the traffic management schemes we expertly created in the 1960s and 1970s when the emphasis was on space and movement for motor traffic. Our thinking now needs to reflect a wider agenda and a more disparate set of demands for movement,” explains John Parkin, professor of transport engineering at the University of the West of England and chairman of the ICE’s Cycling Working Group.

“We now need to ensure we rapidly develop our ideas for providing space for cycle traffic and manage cycle traffic at a network wide level using all our transport planning and traffic engineering skills. It is no longer about merely seeing cycling as a safety problem to be solved, it is about solving capacity issues to accommodate cycling demand,” Parkin says.

The Cycling Working Group was set up in 2011 and has brought together some of the leading practitioners within this relatively new field of expertise. The group is planning a roadshow that it will take to the ICE regions and it is also developing a strong web presence with links from the ICE’s pages to relevant resources.

A significant piece of work for the future will be linked to providing appropriate training for engineers in designing for cycle traffic, says Parkin.

The future of safe, efficient and practical travel by bicycle will be secured by the continued actions of engineers who are focussed on top quality design that is fit for purpose. The opportunity is for UK engineers to be exporting their expertise in the way the same way as the Danes and the Dutch.

Construction industry’s role in the debate

Lorry cab

While it is clear that civil engineering and infrastructure development can provide solutions for safe cycling some say construction is actually part of the problem.

Surveys indicate that 60% of people would cycle but the biggest barrier to take up is fear of danger. Most danger comes HGVs, which cause a disproportionate number of cyclist and pedestrian deaths. In London HGVs make up only 4% of the traffic and yet are involved in over 50% of cyclist deaths and on average there are over twice as many pedestrian deaths. And the majority of those HGVs are construction vehicles - skip lorries, tipper lorries and concrete mixers.

Tellingly, these vehicles are exempt from regulations requiring side guards, which prevent vulnerable road users being dragged between the wheels and extra mirrors to improve visibility, with the blind spot being the most common proffered explanation for such deaths.

The industry is acting, with clients such as Crossrail and Transport for London demanding that its suppliers meet certain minimum standards. And suppliers such as Lafarge Tarmac are taking a voluntary lead. Its new vehicles have been fitted with approved safety equipment as standard since mid-2012. Crucially, this includes:

  • Fitting of side under run bars
  • Fitting of side sensors to help eliminate blind spots with audible warnings for cyclists
  • Fitting of warning signage on the rear of vehicles and on the side under run bars

All its vehicles under eight years old either have been or are in the process of being retrofitted with safety equipment with the aim of complete coverage in London by the end of the year and nationwide by the end of 2015.

It is also leading the way on driver training. It is the only business in the sector that can self-audit under Transport for London’s FORS Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme and drivers of all its 1,600 trucks will have received Vulnerable Road User training by the end of 2014. Others are following, and adoption of best practice will be speeded by three ground breaking developments:

  • In December 2013 TfL launched a national construction logistics standard for work related road risk, which was drawn up by an industry wide working group working over a period of several weeks. Many companies are now specifying this throughout their supply chain. Cycling Working Group member, Kate Cairns, who is an independent sustainability advisor and construction logistics safety consultant, represented the ICE on this group and the ICE will be encouraging adoption of the standard by all its members.
  • Last week the London mayor Boris Johnson announced the banning of all lorries in London which do not comply with safety requirements, which in effect annul the existing exemptions for construction vehicles.
  • This month the European Parliament will be voting on amendments to the weights and dimensions directive, which if accepted will require mandatory improved direct vision on the design of all new lorry cabs. Traditionally cabs have been designed like a brick to maximise payload within the limitations of length resulting in significant blind areas all around the vehicles. Retrofitting of mirrors, cameras and sensors can result in driver overload with it taking up to 6s(?) to check all around the vehicle.

Lobbying MEPs in Brussels last week was a London delegation that included Cairns alongside Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan and Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman. However, despite backing from the mayors of London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Madrid, and leaders of 130 other European cities, transport unions and victims groups, the UK government has declined to support the measure.


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