It seems a lifetime since the first proposals for the Portsmouth Road mini-Holland scheme came out. Back then we had a coalition government, we weren’t leaving the EU and Kingston’s cycle scheme was still termed Mini-Holland rather than Go Cycle.
We had councillors claiming that the current “balance” that overwhelmingly favoured motor traffic should be maintained. We had protests that nobody would use this. And we were offered a scheme that would do nothing for those who wanted to cycle but felt that it was too dangerous.
And the council listened to the response. The scheme was inevitably delayed while it was rethought. It opened, in part, some time ago. The remaining part of stage one dragged on. And on.
Today, it was formally opened. And it’s good. I had a very brief hello with Terry Paton who, with Hillary Gander, has continued to push for this facility and more at council level. Kingston Cycling Campaign have tirelessly pushed for this and Andy Allen has been working with the council snagging the route so it can be used as a template for future routes.
No, the route doesn’t go all the way to town. And as a single route rather than a network, it won’t transform Kingston cycling. But forget the snark.
This proves that we can create bike routes in Kingston.
This shows that safe, separate, routes away from traffic are popular and encourage people to use their bikes.
The route is already being used by all manner of cyclists: tandems, families, people pootling to the drops and groups of roadies on a long ride. The mission is now to roll out more schemes, adding in the learning from this scheme.
Now, if only the riverside cafe starts serving a decent latte, they’ll find a huge trade from passing cyclists given the new ease of access from the bike route..
Wheatfield Way is a key route for the Kingston upon Thames GoCycle scheme, providing what is likely to become a busy bypass of the town centre that connects the station with Surbiton and the university buildings. A safe and convenient cycle route for all people on bikes, separate to pedestrians, is vital for this corridor.
Instead, the designs merge cyclists with pedestrians at each of the frequent junctions along this route. This is poor for pedestrians, especially those with disabilities. It is particularly poor for cyclists and will fail to encourage the take-up of cycling that Kingston needs to switch short journeys from car use.
Wheatfield Way joins Kingston’s one way system. This section has at least two lanes for motor traffic in each direction, with further lanes added for filtering. It is often busy, but in quieter times the posted 30mph limit appears to be observed in the breach. There are several pedestrian crossings, all of which are two stage (i.e. the pedestrian has to wait for two light changes).
Subjectively, it isn’t fun to cycle along, even on a road bike.
This route was part of the summer 2016 consultations. Significantly, it took no space from road traffic, instead taking space from pedestrians.
The consultations include a plan to reduce the speed limit to 20mph. However, there appears to be little change in road design to make a driver feel that 20mph is an appropriate maximum speed. Crucially, there is presently a central barrier between the carriageways which varies in width to provide filters for turning traffic. While this barrier might be helpful for a 30mph zone, it is unhelpful for a 20mph limit. By removing the separation between directions, the perceived danger increases and drivers naturally slow down towards the posted limit. Mark Treasure covers this in an excellent article on designing streets so speed limits are self-enforcing.
Removing the barrier gives several benefits:
A self-enforcing speed limit
A shorter crossing distance, allowing pedestrians to cross the road in one movement
Frees up space for a proper cycle route
The Council Response.
The consultation report for Wheatfield Way, produced by Atkins, can be found here. It is not stated what experience Atkins has in designing high-quality cycling facilities.
It is notable that opposition to the Shared Use Footways is a theme to the responses throughout the document. People know that mixing cycles and pedestrians is inappropriate and dangerous, particularly for those people with sight or hearing disabilities.
The council response to this is to state that this shared use is going ahead anyway. The reasons given in the consultation are that there is no space and that drivers would be adversely impacted otherwise.
This felt like nonsense, so I submitted an FOI request why this was so. Here are the key parts of their response.
So there are two elements to this. Firstly, Kingston upon Thames believe that the guidelines back shared space. And secondly, they’re concerned about the impact on motor traffic.
Let’s start with the Shared Use document. This dates from 2012 – i.e. before the learning from the Embankment separated cycle route, etc. In fact, the flow chart for design of a route on page 8 doesn’t appear to offer an option for creating a separated route. So this appears to be somewhat irrelevant to a scheme is largely separated from motor and pedestrian traffic.
Nonetheless, here’s what they say about Share Use (between cyclists and pedestrians):
…and when segregation of modes is helpful, the document states:
I would contend that directly merging cyclists (on what is intended to be a speedy town-centre bypass) into pedestrians walking from a car park to a shopping centre will create conflict, no matter how many surfaces of “different colour and texture” the council uses. This signage only tells people that there is shared space. It does nothing to remove the problem shared use causes.
This clearly states that Shared Use is poor for both cyclists and pedestrians and is only an option where pedestrian flows are light. This is not the case, especially at the junction adjacent to the Cattle Market car park.
What’s more, this quite sensibly states that pedestrians will have priority.
Yet this is meant to be a flagship cycle route. Can you imagine a flagship road route being unveiled with shared pedestrian space and pedestrian priority, purely because it was thought to be a little difficult to overcome a relatively simple problem? It would be laughable.
Interestingly, the Junctions and Crossings section has nothing on merging cyclists and pedestrians. Presumably, this is not seen as an effective, coherent or safe solution
Part 4 of the FOI response stated that other designs were rejected “because of the unacceptable impact on highway traffic capacity”. It’s worth looking at the designs in more detail.
A Better Design
So what can we do here to provide space for cycling? And will this really harm the space for motor traffic?
The first two images remove barely any space for motorists. However, they provide a much-improved space for both pedestrians and cyclists, keeping the two modes separate and allowing pedestrians to cross the road in a single movement.
The second images will be more controversial to the council as they involve a reallocation of space from motorists to other modes. The single lane out of town should not be too impactful; this route is rarely busy for both lanes. This design widens the route to two lanes to allow for the turn into Fairfield South but removes the right turn to Ashdown Road. The design also provides for a better line of sight for drivers turning left into Fairfield Road.
The final design involves cutting the number of lanes through town from three to two. Ultimately, this answers the question of whether towns are for motor cars or people. The routes into town are all single or double lane at most. Widening the roads through town simply means that our town centre is temporary storage for through traffic, adding pollution and noise to a place for people.
My proposal for town allows for the large number of people crossing the roads from the cattle market as well as from Old London Road. Furthermore, I provide a dedicated bike route parallel to Old London Road which avoids cyclists being pushed down a road that regularly closes for events and thus invites conflict with pedestrians.
I must confess that the left turn to Eden Street is unresolved and I invite comment. My present thoughts are that traffic light timing could allow for a crossing to be made parallel (but separately) to pedestrians.
Vital to all these images is that turns on the cycle lane are kept smooth – the initial designs showed tight turns that will not be possible for cycles with trailers. Furthermore, a high quality bike lane without obstruction is an ideal route for emergency vehicles to bypass those occasions where there is significant traffic.
Yes, these final options take away some space from motor vehicles. However, a five lane road through a town centre is excessive and induces much traffic. Removing some space will initially add a degree of congestion, but if compensated for by a high quality cycle route we actually add more capacity and convenience for Kingston citizens.
Finally, we should look at whether this facility works for all cyclists. Certainly, faster cyclists are unlikely to wish to use the current design. The mess at junctions is simply not worth getting off the road for. What we have seen from Embankment is that high quality facilities are used by cyclists of all ages and speeds.
However, it is easy to see how this scheme can be improved. A small squeeze on motor traffic provides large benefits in safety, convenience and comfort to those travelling by other means. The funding for GoCycle was provided by TfL to provide world-class cycle schemes. It should be used for that.
My responses to the consultation are below. A more detailed view of the proposal follows.
In Depth Comments
The scheme continues from Wheatfield Way, past the university on Penrhyn Road.
This scheme is largely sound, but some areas require thought. The continuous footways we saw across junctions on the Kingston Vale route are missing here. The crossing to the university should also be made available to cyclists as it is likely that this will be heavily used once cycling is made more subjectively safe.
The scheme avoids Surbiton Hill Road, which makes sense. This is a narrow hill with an unsighted bend and a 20mph limit that many drivers view as advisory. However, details on the actual route for cyclists are scant: Surbiton Crescent is presently undergoing a trial closure to through traffic, while Avenue Elmers is a designated “quiet road” yet there are no provisions to ensure the road is quiet. This will be of particular concern at school times; we should be aiming to encourage school children to ride to school rather than retaining the status quo.
Once onto Ewell Road, the scheme is largely sensible. The cycle route is sensibly positioned behind parking spaces. There isn’t any note of cycle parking provision; this should be investigated.
And again, continuous footways are required. These are vital for pedestrian welfare; it means that people pushing buggies or those in wheelchairs don’t have to negotiate awkwardly placed drop kerbs or constantly cede priority to motorists.
Further down the road there are two staggered traffic islands. No doubt these will have railings, giving the effect of caging in pedestrians and cyclists. Care should be taken to ensure that cargo bikes and bikes with trailers can easily negotiate these islands – this is not the case with the current island.
The route ends at Tolworth, with a curious centre cycle lane that is presumably designed to link up with the existing green centre space on Tolworth Broadway.
There is a gap from the shared crossing over Ewell Road to the single-width lane towards Kingston. A continuous footway over Lenelby Road would resolve this. And yet again, continuous footways are needed throughout the scheme.
Here’s where the route ends up.
The plans indicate that cycles will be routed down the green island in the middle of the road. The island is presently used as a safe haven by pedestrians attempting to safely use the advisory crossings. It is to be hoped that formal crossings will be put in place to allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross safely.
A far better solution would be to continue the single carriageway cycle lanes on the pavement side of the parking, put in some proper crossings, and remove the centre island. Forcing the traffic closer is known to have a calming effect on speed and would help ensure that the 20mph limit is observed (the photo above suggests that Google’s car wasn’t…). Given that this area was recently renovated, I suspect that won’t be an option.
Again, a reasonable route but this definitely needs more work in places. The gap between Surbiton Road and Ewell Road needs addressing, as does the lack of continuous footways.
Road crossings need particular attention, especially where a two stage crossing is used, to ensure that they’re suitable for all types of cycle as well as less able pedestrians.
My responses to the survey are below. A more detailed examination follows.
In Depth Comments
This route is somewhat more straightforward than we’ve seen previously. There’s a junction at one end and a pretty much continuous route to New Malden at the other. More controversially, this route removes a bus lane. Current modelling suggests that this is feasible.
The route begins with the London Road / Cambridge Road junction from the Kingston Vale scheme and continues down Cambridge Road. As indicated above, a bus stop bypass would be preferable to unloading passengers into the space for the bike route.
Of more concern is the design in box B. The shared footway here is poor, requiring cyclists to cross two light-controlled junctions to join the two-way route. It is surely likely that this nuisance will cause many cyclists to continue along the road and simply attempt to join the cycle route later, negating the point of the infrastructure.
The Gloucester Road junction above is busy, providing a route to the hospital. The sharper turn and wider footpaths are welcome. As noted above, the cycle lanes must be clear to ensure drivers don’t simply pull out across them.
The remainder of the route contains some new zebra crossings and several side roads with continuous footpaths. The junction with Elm Road is interesting, containing a shared space running next to the cycle path. This appears to be so that cyclists can easily travel to Westbury Road. But then why not make this a cycle only space, rather than an ambiguous shared space? It appears that there is room here.
The parking spaces would ideally be to the road side of the cycle route; however, that may add unnecessary bends to the route. One hopes that the council monitors whether the cycle route is obstructed by the parking and alterations made if required.
My responses to the survey are below. Further comments on the Kingston Council publication follow.
In Depth Comments
The route starts at the station, using an existing cycle route that passes under the railway bridge. Right now this becomes a complete bodge at the traffic lights, with the cycle route blocked by the traffic light.
The route passes two crossings, making this an “always-stop” junction for pedestrians and cyclists. This should be revised; it’s not reasonable to expect those on foot or cycle to always wait while warm, dry, motorists are given priority.
Once onto Canbury Park Road, this quietway is OK. It’s not suitable as a main route – the lack of protection from traffic is a problem – but as a feeder route for main cycling routes it’s good. It would be useful to see some clarification around how cyclists will be protected at the busy end near Wickes and Big Yellow Storage.
Onto the main route. This starts at the Wheatfield Way end of Old London Road. I criticised this when the detailed plans were published and I’ve since heard that the foot / pedal shared space will be redesigned. However, this won’t involve a reallocation of space from the three lane urban motorway.
Even without the Shared Space merging, space will be extremely tight. There is barely sufficient space for pedestrians to cross the road already; putting three cycle routes through this seems optimistic.
Nonetheless, this shows a much improved junction from London Road to Old London Road and a proper segregated junction onto the New Malden Route:
This still requires a two-stage crossing for pedestrians – it would be good if this could be revised.
On to the next section and this part is largely good, with the exception of the railway bridge. This manages to fit a bus lane in, which is being removed. Surely there is therefore room to continue the bike lane here?
The continued pavements are welcome, especially on the entrance to Asda which presently has no pedestrian phase on the traffic lights.
I’ve also marked that Birkenhead Avenue should be made one-way. This is presently a rat-run, with traffic avoiding the one-way system using this residential road. Making this one-way back into the one-way would avoid this behaviour, with the bonus of removing an always-stop pedestrian light at the other end.
Continuing past the railway bridge, we reach Manorgate Roundabout. It’s clear that the council have attempted a Dutch style roundabout in the limited space available. On the good side, there is a zebra crossing on every arm of the roundabout – a big improvement on the present situation. On the downside, this incorporates pedal / foot shared space, which is unhelpful for cyclists and dangerous for pedestrians, particularly those with disabilities. I’d be very interested to hear of alternative designs.
This is a busy roundabout, with many buses and HGVs using it. The likelihood of these blocking at least the cycle crossings, if not the zebra crossings, is extremely high if current behaviour continues.
Progressing up Kingston Hill, the road narrows and we’re forced back into shared space.
As noted, there needs to be space for cyclists to overtake downhill. In reality, I suspect many road cyclists will continue to use the road to avoid conflict with slower riders.
Note also the need for a pedestrian crossing from the Albert to the downhill bus stop. Without this, there’s a scramble to cross the road or a lengthy detour.
The remainder of the route has a mixture of some shared pedal / foot space where the road narrows excessively and continuous footways over side roads. While not ideal, I can see why the shared space is employed. I’m most concerned about the shared space employed around the shops at Kingston Vale; there must be a better solution available here:
Overall, this is far better than earlier Mini-Holland proposals, although operating on different roads to those seen in the summer consultations. It is encouraging that the Shared Space at Wheatfield Way / Old London Road will be reconsidered. With a few tweaks and the question of Manorgate Roundabout notwithstanding, this is a good scheme. Looking forward to spades in the ground.
Working in tech at this present moment is refreshing. For several years there has been a movement towards acknowledging that those closest to a problem are best placed to fix it, and that the role of a manager is best placed to define desirable outcomes within which solutions may be freely found.
There are a number of reasons why this appeals. It removes the much of the political gameplay and focuses on getting results. It means that opinion is viewed as hypothesis that should be tested. And it views a failure as a learning opportunity. Opinions are allowed to change as learning is acquired.
However, this can make the rest of the world difficult. To a techie – and many who aren’t – the facts are clear and available so why don’t people use them? Why do they stick to an argument even when it apparently makes no sense?
Humans and the Cost of Change
There are many reasons for this. In fact, it’s only human to stick hard to a viewpoint once formed. Matthew Syed notes this in his book Black Box Thinking.
Matthew Syed, Black Box Thinking
Matthew Syed, Black Box Thinking
Festinger predicted that when the world didn’t end as a cult predicted, the cult’s belief would be strengthened rather than diminished. And this happened. Contrary evidence was presented and yet, far from changing their mind, the cult only reinforced their views.
This is due to the personal cost of change being high. In tech, things change every couple of years and learning is embraced. As things are going to change, you might as well get used to this and create environments which decide winners on the basis of evidence and deliberately make the personal cost of change low. This isn’t the case in the rest of the world.
Changing a viewpoint is expensive. Kate Gray and Chris Young have looked at how to manage change in an organisation: they note that there is no point targetting the extreme opposition simply because of the effort needed to change their mind. Far better to target the floating voters who are not entrenched and therefore will have a lower personal cost of change. (If you’re unfamiliar with their work, take a look here for a discussion on how they went about winning hearts and minds during a Change programme).
So the task of winning people is less than we might think: we don’t need to persuade everyone. But how can we change peoples minds at scale when facts seem to be ignored or wilfully discarded?
It is instructive to look at some examples of why people might make decisions.
To me the Brexit debate seemed clear as a simple question of risk. On the one side was a known entity, however flawed. On the other was complete uncertainty with no limit on the downside. What was always stated by the EU was that freedom of movement was the price for single market access. The Leave side seemed confident that this would not be the case (as my son often is when he demands ice cream without eating his dinner first) and made several promises that were not backed up by previous voting records of the politicians.
Despite this, they won
. Some of this was a clear dislike for the government, but much of this support seemed to have been built over the years by Nigel Farage. Love him or loath him, people appear to identify with him. And yet he is a public-school educated multi-millionaire who has little in common with many of those who voted for him. What they appear to have identified with is the persona of Farage: the man who refuses to obey the norms of politics and who stirs the hornets’ nest with controversial statements. He is clearly positioned as different to most politicians and thus stands out.
Our towns often suffer from dreadful pollution and the population is increasingly unhealthy. The Netherlands has shown that many short journeys can be made by cycle instead of car if good infrastructure is put in place: this is relatively inexpensive and has been shown to have positive outcomes on public health. It is also notable that motor traffic flows well here, taking advantage of what is almost a permanent end-of-term effect.
However, discussion around cycling tends not to focus on this, but on a persona of the cyclist as a law-breaking uninsured hooligan, intent on doing everything they can to cause crashes, annoy pedestrians and increase pollution in towns. Small wonder that the person typically making these connections cannot imagine themselves cycling short journeys in everyday clothes in safety away from motor traffic. Essentially, their persona is somebody who travels by car and there is no readily available persona of the family who travel by bike.
My hypothesis is that in both these situations, people seem to have identified with a persona that affirms their views and reinforces their conclusions. This is sometimes built around a person, but may simply be a concept (the parent who drives a 4×4; the lycra lout cyclist). A factual argument will simply bounce off this persona; indeed, it may even reinforce the strength of opposition.
Remember that at this point we only wish to target the undecided voter. While it’s tremendous fun to troll those who have an aversion to fact, it’s ultimately taking time away from more effective means of gaining support. Instead, would a fact-based story around a persona be more effective? That persona would identify with the concerns of the undecided voter but address them with the fact we’re attempting to portray.
We don’t wish to create another Be Like Bill character that is a patronising figure of fun. But when attempting to win over that vital undecided vote, we cannot simply deliver dry facts. Instead, we could represent the debate with believable personas that directly address the concerns voiced, rationalising the desired behaviour and ostracising the undesirable outcome. For the cycling discussion, give a platform to a disabled person who finds their bike gives them freedom and who needs good infrastructure. For the Remain Brexit discussion, give a voice to those who have concerns about immigration but believe the solution is to work with, rather than against, the EU.
At this stage, this is simply a clumsily-written hypothesis. I’d love to hear whether this has legs and, if so, could be developed further. Or, if this is established practice and I simply need to read more.
On Wednesday 14th September, I attended a Residents Meeting at Kingston Guildhall. Much of this was allocated to discussion on the next tranche of Go Cycle [Mini-Holland] developments. However, the meeting soon became a heated debate focussed around New Malden and its fountain. Time went on, and I unfortunately had to leave before the rest of the programme was discussed at 11pm.
While I support much of the non-New Malden briefs in principle, there is much that needs to be cleared up before the building begins. In particular, the proposal to share space between people on foot and people on bikes must be changed. This bodge is done at practically every junction on the Wheatfield Way scheme, changing what should be a useful link route into a conflict-ridden mess.
So let’s look at this.
Wheatfield Way is a busy road with often fast-moving traffic, being part of Kingston’s infamous one-way system. At one of its junctions it acts to cuts off small shops and a Wilcos from the rest of the shopping area. The crossing is typically busy, with pedestrians often struggling to pass each other and cross the three-lane road in the brief time they’re allocated. There is a cycle lane here, linking Old London Road with Eden Street.
Still busy with people
To recap, mini-Holland was provided to redress the balance of car-dominated boroughs. Money was provided to generate real change, providing high quality cycling facilities that would enable the latent demand of people who want an alternative to their cars, but are fearful of the present cycling environment.
Given that many journeys are short (a third are under 2km) shifting a reasonable proportion of short journeys out of cars and onto cycles has huge potential to reduce town centre congestion with the corresponding health benefits.
The Unacceptability of Shared Space
The present proposal has a two way cycle lane along Wheatfield Way, that merges with the pavement at junctions to provide shared space between cycles and pedestrians.
One of the major benefits of good cycling infrastructure is the ability for all riders to travel as fast or slow as they like away from the dangers of traffic or from pedestrians who travel at a very different speed, often stopping without warning. Conversely, poor infrastructure gives up at junctions, bundling people on bikes into conflict with either motorists or pedestrians, both of whom resent the interlopers for very different reasons.
This is that latter type of infrastructure. Confident road cyclists will simply avoid it, undoubtedly attracting the ire of drivers as they cycle on the road. And less confident cyclists or those accompanying children will simply take the car, rather than trying to “share” space that is already full of pedestrians. Certainly, attempting to find a route through people waiting for a traffic light to change will prove difficult for cyclists with trailers or cargo bikes: exactly the sort of practical bicycles mini-Holland should attract.
Bad for Pedestrians
Who loves waiting at traffic lights while people on bikes try weaving their way past you? You’re clearly in their way, but where else can you wait? Nobody likes this. It’s rubbish. A busy road in front of you and cyclists around you trying to get through a busy junction. It’s awful. The only possible outcomes from this are conflict and anger.
Appalling for Disabled Groups
Picture that inconvenience for fully sighted pedestrians. And now do it blindfold. You can’t see where cycles are; indeed there’s little indication for you that cycles should be expected in the same place. And you can’t hear bicycles either – one of the reasons streets can be more pleasant with bicycles than motor vehicles is the reduced noise.
You’re simply going to avoid this space. It’s dangerous and not somewhere to be if you can’t see. The same applies if you’re deaf and can’t hear people calling to let you know they’re passing on one side or another. I ride a bike and would call myself a cyclist. I’m also deaf in one ear and frequently miss such verbal cues. Personally, I would not feel comfortable in a shared space environment and that’s with a disability I regard as an annoyance rather than debilitating.
The Equalities Act 2010 requires that all UK Local Authorities have an obligation to ensure that all streets and public areas are accessible to everyone, including people who have physical or sensory disabilities (from here, retrieved September 2016).
While Kingston council believes this to be the case, I strongly disagree. This will be extremely uncomfortable, unpleasant and dangerous for the disabled and impaired.
I do not believe, despite the council assurances, that this meets the Equalities Act requirements.
Fine for drivers
Naturally, this scheme is fine for drivers. No space is removed from those causing a polluted, hostile, environment for people. The council will continue to provide a three-vehicle wide space for motors that are frequently occupied by a single person.
A Better Option
Here are the current plans. The three lanes of traffic are retained and the light blue cycle path merges into the pedestrian space where this is orange. The existing cycle path to Old London Road – under the row of telephone boxes here – is lost to shared space.
And here’s what they could look like.
Both roads that feed into this space are widened from two lanes. So let’s instead widen them after the station, with early “get in lane” signage to prevent jockeying for position.
This allows a full two-way separated cycle lane through the junction. There is some question about the cycle route joins with Old London Road and Clarence Street. At present there’s a short cycle route that joins roads on each end of the cycle route. There needs to be some provision for cyclists travelling along Wheatfield Way to be able to turn into Clarence Street but this should be relatively easy to fix.
How this Works
This resolves the problem that shoddy infrastructure won’t be used.
This resolves the problem that bicycles and pedestrians do not mix well.
This resolves the problem that disabled people will feel excluded by the ambiguity of shared space.
And this redresses the balance in a fair allocation of space away from being dominated motor traffic.
In short, it’s a better project that’s worthy of the mini-Holland moniker and will works towards the goal of getting people onto sustainable means of transport
As an aside, the other shared space junctions along the road are equally appalling. They’re easily resolvable and I expect to see continuous cycle lanes in the final designs.