Campaign: New Standard Bearers

This article was originally published in the September 2014 edition of London Cyclist

What have design standards ever done for you? Tom Bogdanowicz and Charlie Lloyd look at the first post-Go Dutch version of the London Cycle Design Standards

What, you may ask, did the London Cycle Design Standards (LCDS) ever do for you? Not much — and that’s exactly the problem.

The first version of LCDS, published in 2005, was limited in scope, constrained by outdated national regulations and often ignored. Even the simple stuff like building cycle-friendly speed humps rarely made it to the design stage.

Which is why Transport for London has published a new edition which aims to bring Dutch or Danish quality of road design to London streets — this was a Mayoral commitment from our Love London, Go Dutch campaign.

LCC’s take on the new LCDS (still at consultation stage as we went to press) is a guarded welcome, but with a significant number of caveats (there are some 200 comments in our detailed response).

We certainly share the view expressed in LCDS that “it will take consistent commitment to the quality and ambition of cycling infrastructure design to realise the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling.” And we back the new LCDS principles of safety, directness, comfort, coherence, attractiveness and adaptability, which draw on established continental practice. Such principles can, if applied consistently and extensively, help London become a modern world class capital, as well as place where cycling is the norm rather than the exception.

We also like the new concept of a Cycling Level of Service measure — a system of grading cycling infrastructure against best practice standards. However, we would want the grading system to be cranked up a notch. Most of our roads are below standard, rather than of a ‘basic standard’ (the bottom grade in LCDS), as far as cycles are concerned.

And while the updated LCDS encouragingly refers to several continental junction designs and street layouts that are rare in the UK, it doesn’t go all the way and give planners and engineers the detailed guidance that would encourage them to install such designs where necessary on our roads.

What are TSRGD?

Several of the headline changes in LCDS are closely associated with, and dependant on, another acronym: TSRGD, or the Traffic Sign Regulations and General Directions. These are the national rules governing road signs, road markings and traffic movements associated with them. Without changes in TSRGD a range of new cycling schemes could not be implemented in the UK.

TfL deserves credit for pressing the Department for Transport to revise these rules (also currently at consultation stage), so that the Mayor’s promise of “making our roads as safe and inviting for cycling as those in Holland” at least has a fighting chance of realisation.

Eliminating red tape

A significant change in the regulations, reflected in both the LCDS and TSRGD, which engineers and cycling officers are celebrating, is the planned relaxation of rules on introducing cycling measures like ‘with flow’ and ‘contraflow’ cycle lanes. You will now not need a Traffic Regulation Order, which requires lengthy consultation and expense, to implement a range of cycle facilities.

This means that something as simple as adding an ‘except cycles’ plate to a lamppost will not mean excessive delay and work for local highway authorities.

What needs to change?

Here’s a few of the areas where the draft LCDS needs improving:

It needs to be absolutely clear that these standards apply to all streets in London, not just to cycling schemes funded by the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling programme.

There should be guidance on how the Cycling Level of Service must be used to evaluate all traffic schemes and to create an area-wide evaluation of what is needed to provide safe and inviting space for cycling.

Junctions and roundabouts — there is very little guidance of what junction to use, where or why different choices might be made.  Detailed drawings and dimensions are needed to help planners and engineers make informed choices.

Traffic signal innovations require much more detail. It needs to be clear that cyclist and pedestrian safety should be prioritised over theoretical estimates of motor traffic congestion.

A ‘green scramble’ phase for cyclists and pedestrians (as used in the Netherlands) is a quick and cost-effective way of making difficult junctions safe for cycling.

Construction detail is very weak, with little included on choices of materials or costs.

Traffic calming is dealt with briefly — there should be a full exposition of dozens of different types, with advantages and disadvantages for cyclists.

There is very little on wayfinding for cyclists. Riding in London would be far more attractive if we could all find the best quiet routes.

The LCDS should give clear guidance on how planners can move from the existing motor-traffic dominated streets towards high quality, greener street environments.

Continental designs

Another big change in the LCDS is the presentation of a range of continental junction and street designs which, thus far, have been a rarity in the UK. You will find illustrations of Dutch-style roundabouts with separated crossings for cyclists and pedestrians, Danishstyle two-stage right turns, junctions with protective islands at each corner, cycle priority streets, low-level cyclist light signals and priority crossings that include a pedestrian zebra with an adjacent cycle crossing. An LCC memberinspired design (‘hold the left turn’) that reduces the danger of the infamous left-hook collision is also included.

These are all tools that London traffic engineers need to create the Space for Cycling that was at the heart of our local election campaign. The LCDS was in fact developed in tandem with an international fact-finding study (The International Bench Marking Study) by consultants John Dales and Phil Jones that is due for release this year.

Regrettably, as we say in our response to the LCDS consultation, the design guide stops short of providing London planners and engineers with more detailed diagrams, dimensions and applications of the continental and other new designs. There are also junction solutions that are not included at present; the Dutch CROW infrastructure manual devotes 68 pages to the technical details of various junction treatments.

Given that engineers and planners are generally risk averse, especially if something isn’t fully illustrated and documented, they may be reluctant to push for it to be implemented. And even if London cycling officers and engineers push ahead with solutions that are well established on the continent, but less common here, other transport departments may intervene unless they have checklists that establish correct implementation. In the era of electronic documents, appendices and illustrations, links to UK and continental examples and ongoing updates are all a potential, and necessary, addition to LCDS.

Coherent networks

Unlike the earlier edition of LCDS, the new version allocates significant space to planning cycling networks. Practitioners are given guidance on creating a fine mesh of permeable streets for cycle users, as well as providing protected space on busy roads and removing barriers. The document also makes clear that consultation with stakeholders should take place at a meaningful stage in the design process, not after there is no scope for change.

Cycling Level of Service

An essential element of LCDS is a Cycling Level of Service measure. It enables highway authorities to check the standard of provision for cyclists at present and to judge how various new measures could improve it. Heavy turning traffic at junctions, for example, is rated as ‘critical’, some conflict as ‘basic’, significant reduction of conflict as ‘good’ and elimination of conflict as ‘highest’.

Current provision for cyclists is judged against six criteria: safety, directness, coherence, comfort, attractiveness and adaptability.

The safety section includes measurements of how safe the road ‘feels’ to people on bikes, as well as measuring the risk of collisions. Adaptability is a new concept for this type of grading system and it allows for planning for further growth in cycling. Comfort really means ‘usability’ — is the space for cycling wide and smooth, or narrow and too rough to ride on? If a cycling scheme fails the assessment for any of the critical items of safety or comfort it is unlikely to receive funding from Transport for London.

What LCDS describes as ‘basic’ would undoubtedly be labelled as ‘inadequate’ in Holland, but the principle of rating provision for cycle users has merit. In Copenhagen the authorities go a step further, publishing an annual bicycle account which measures performance against targets and looks at public perceptions of the level of service.

From theory to practice

There is little doubt that LCDS 2014 is a step forward in UK cycle infrastructure design. With the benefit of consultation input and some revisions it could become the standard to beat in UK guidance. But even the best guidance is useless unless it is applied in practice.

Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, is relying on some of the new-tothe- UK designs that are in LCDS to help deliver the Mayor’s flagship cycling programmes. These must provide the sort of quality and universality that the Dutch and Danes take for granted and turn London into the cyclised and civilised city that the Mayor has promised to create.