Designing for Failure: Wheatfield Way

TL;DR

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.

Context

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.

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This route was part of the summer 2016 consultations. Significantly, it took no space from road traffic, instead taking space from pedestrians.

My response to the original proposals is here, as is a further review of the shared space.

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.

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Poor car drivers.PNG

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.

 

The Guidelines

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):

shared-use-poorly-designed

And

shared-use-disability-act

…and when segregation of modes is helpful, the document states:

preferred-means-of-segregation-shared-use-doc

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.

Onto the London Cycling Design Standards. The relevant section is 4. Cycle Lanes and Tracks.

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.

lcds-shared-use

What’s more, this quite sensibly states that pedestrians will have priority.

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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

Traffic

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.

fairfield-b

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.

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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.

IMG_20161030_130329108.jpg
Old London Road. Proposed as a cycle route.

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.

Conclusion.

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.

This scheme as it stands might work for slower cyclists. But it’s unlikely to persuade people out of their cars into bicycles. It’s clear that this scheme does nothing to redress the imbalance that presently favours drivers.

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.