Traffic calming & Road Safety Audit chicanery
The Council's Highways & Engineering Department recently completed a road safety scheme in the main street of my local village. Most of it seems okay: building out the footways to enclose the rows of cars that have always parked along one side of the street. I can see how this makes it safer for pedestrians to cross and making the road seem narrower might slow traffic a little.
One feature of the scheme doesn't suit cyclists, nor it seems anyone else – it's a chicane by a bus stop. I cycle through here most days and can manage safely by moving to the centre of the lane, but I keep wondering what it's for. So I wrote an email to the Highways & Engineering Department.
Projecting bus stop, Horwich
There is some work being done to the footpaths in Lee Lane, Horwich. Part of the work is the extension of a section of footpath to project it into the highway. The work I am referring to is outside the Bay Horse pub, on the opposite side where there is a bus stop, and also on the same side as the pub. A chicane has been created that I think is a hazard, especially for cyclists. The work is illustrated here.
The sudden narrowing of the road means that cyclists must ride out into the centre of the lane, sometimes towards oncoming traffic that is itself forced out into the centre to get by the obstructing effect of the projecting footpaths.
Could you please let me know why the footpaths have been altered in this way, and at whose request. Is it the GMPTE who has requested the work? Is it possible to reinstate the footpath as it was before, to make the kerbs continuously parallel to each other? This would seem much safer.
The Senior Engineering Manager sent a reply a few days later. At the bottom of the email is written: This e-mail and any attached files are confidential and may also be legally privileged. They are intended solely for the intended addressee. This not legally binding but I'll respect his wishes by not reproducing it word for word. He wrote to the effect that due to the Council's internet site restrictions he was unable to view the photos on the link I'd sent. But he was familiar with the scheme, whose aim is to slow vehicles through the centre of the village, and the carriageway narrowing (the chicane) is a 'gateway' feature to help achieve this. He said that although the road is narrowed slightly, the remaining width should be adequate for vehicles to pass cyclists safely, and that a Road Safety Audit will be undertaken on the scheme to ensure that no issues are present for any road users. New road markings will make it all look better, he said.
Several months later the job was finally finished, complete with the promised road markings.
So then I wrote again.
I wrote: Dear [Senior Engineering Manager],
Thank you for your reply. I see that the works are now complete. The Lee Lane 'gateway' feature remains a hazard for cyclists. I would describe it as a chicane more than a gateway. On the Lee Lane carriageways there is just about enough lane width for bicycles and motor vehicles to travel side by side in the same direction. At the narrower section which has been created at the bus stops there is not. Cyclists are forced out into the path of motorists travelling in the same direction, who must either slow down behind them or traverse into the opposite lane where there is often traffic coming the other way. I assure you that the width is not at all adequate for vehicles to pass cyclists safely. The resurfacing and road markings have nothing to do with it.
A road safety scheme this may well be, but the safety of cyclists does not seem to have been considered. I would be grateful if you would let me know the results of the Road Safety Audit and whether any cycling representatives were consulted.
He replied that the Road Safety Audit should be completed this month and he will pass a copy on to me. The scheme was "scrutinised by the Bolton Cycling Forum in October 2009 and no issues were raised at the time."
The Bolton Cycle Forum is a Council-run group that anyone can attend and is 'involved in the development of good practice around cycle infrastructure' says the Council. A local Road Club representative on the forum told me it doesn't do much scrutiny except on major schemes such as new cycleways along disused railways and that sort of thing. For routine projects like the one in Horwich, some papers may get passed around but that's about it.
I look forward to receiving a copy of the Road Safety Audit. I wonder if it really will be done by an independent, multidisciplinary team as it seems it should be. I don't actually care too much about the road narrowing itself, pointless and slightly hazardous though it seems, but I am curious about the process that bring these things about and what happens if someone complains.
Some of the urban roads round here can hardly be called 'roads' in the normal sense of the word. They are literally obstacle courses. There appears to be no statutory width for urban roads in the UK. The Council's Senior Engineering Manager insists that the "width [of the Horwich chicane] should be adequate for vehicles to pass cyclists safely" but that's not true, unless he means one after the other instead of side by side.
The DfT's Manual for Streets is the nearest thing I've found to setting a standard, with Manual for Streets 2 extending the principles of residential street design to high streets and a process to deliver the Government's new de-cluttering agenda (that's interesting). But these are left to Local Highway Authorities to interpret as they see fit. Surrey County Council's Traffic Calming Good Practice Guide says traffic calming pinch points must have a lane width either greater than 4 metres or less than 3 to avoid the 'squeezing' of cyclists.
The Horwich chicane is just over 3 metres per lane and the 'squeezing' effect is obvious, with the tendency for motor vehicles to squeeze themselves out towards traffic coming the other way even when there are no cyclists. The gap in the yellow line makes things worse (where the white van is parked).
It's not going to calm the traffic anyway. Chicanes (pinch points) are referred to as horizontal deflection traffic calming (vertical being road humps). The Surrey Guide states that if the aim of a traffic calming scheme is to reduce speeds to below 20 mph then it is unlikely that this can be achieved by the use of horizontal deflection techniques only. A hump might have made a difference but I assume those aren't allowed on main streets.
I'll be interested to read the results of the Safety Audit. I don't see how it can conclude that the new 'gateway' does anything but reduce safety for cyclists.
I don't make a habit of complaining about botched road improvements but you see them everywhere. What is the Government's new de-cluttering agenda I wonder? Roads in urban areas in the UK are now a mess, with far too many build-outs, road markings, barriers and bollards, traffic signals, and the jumble of notices and signs that rarely seems co-ordinated. I'd like to see much simpler roads and reliance on zero tolerance of traffic lawbreaking instead – as in Australia. It's hard to imagine how this can happen now. Chorley Council has only just installed the ridiculous and pointless chicane in the photo above, and removing features like these would probably be more expensive than they cost in the first place. The only hope is that they somehow fail the so-called Road Safety Audits.