Monday, 17 October 2011

12 year olds' route to school, UK style.

I was cycling my way into Cambridge, passing over the A14 then going past Orchard Park.

[ If you don't know the area or the UK, Orchard Park is a new housing development, fairly typical for modern edge of town developments.  I bet you are imaging some lovely houses nestling in an orchard of fruit trees.  Well that is some cruel joke, there is no orchard, it is just something dreamy to put in the marketing material. Housing estate names are often related to what was bulldozed to make way for concrete and tarmac. ]

As I was pleasantly riding though the apple trees dual carriageway, I noticed I was following a school boy on his way to school. He was using the tick-box cycle facility - a wide footpath next to the road.  He arrived at the Kings Hedges Road junction.  A truck was at the lights waiting to turn left.

Next to Orchard Park, Cambridge.  Click to view in Google StreetView.  

What happened next, sums up very nicely cycling in the UK and what behavioral traits the current road and cycle design practices breed.

So, you are 12, wanting to cross a side road, that consists of 5 lanes of traffic and three separate pedestrian crossing stages.  He came to the obvious conclusion that waiting three times over is very inconvenient. So while the truck is held at a red light and his crossing phase is also red he might as well cross to save some waiting time. He dithers then goes for it.

Meanwhile, Mr Truck driver is watching his red light, it goes green, he floors it to be immediately faced with gambling-boy crossing, and then pulls an emergency stop, skidding, wheels locked up, drawing a one foot long black stripe on the tarmac.  Mr Truck then angrily shouts at a 12 year old boy.

End of witness statement.

If it isn't obvious, although the cycle and pedestrian facility is reasonably safe, it is massively inconvenient.  Waiting at lights in a car is inconvenient too, but you have the advantage of a high top speed to offset the delay.  Pedestrians and cyclists take a big hit on their journey time with each delay. Personally, I get round the waiting time by jostling with the traffic and only waiting for one set of red lights. I am odd though, its far more convenient and safer to drive or to be driven to school.

For a careful driver it was plainly obvious that a dithering child next to a crossing is a hazard that needs to be watched. My observation of the typical British driver shows that hazard perception and prediction is not well practiced unless it appears directly in front of them - they drive with a tunnel vision.  The vulnerability of cyclists and pedestrians is not a consideration.

I could let my observation pass, but I see the Cambridge Cycling Campaign constantly fighting against these kind of defacto standard cycling and walking provision at new developments. It should be the job of the planning departments to look out for the future 12 year old boy and his route to school, and protect him from the unobservant modern motorist.  Otherwise, we continue to approve and build car centric communities.  No wonder the congestion charge was opposed, we need our cars.

Also of interest in this area is the Cambridge Cycle Campaign's proposed Ring Fort Path, trying to create a convenient route for residents of Orchard Park rather than long detour.


  1. This is what I (as an Architecture & Planning freshman at UWE) absolutely HATE about new developments (or even slightly older ones, like Bradley Stoke to the north of Bristol). Shared use paths on their own in the middle of nowhere are fine, because there won't be many pedestrians, and some minor single track rural roads are effectively shared use with horse riders etc.

    But if you expect cyclists (who are using "vehicles" even if only in a notional legal sense) to wait around at staggered crossings while motor traffic usually only has to wait at one set of lights (occasionally two or three at signalised roundabouts, staggered junctions or places with staggered crossings on the exit routes), then you are being a bit of an "epic fail"...

    In regards to the actual sequencing of traffic lights, I think the idea is to ram motor traffic through and give pedestrians (and cyclists on shared paths) the left over bits...

  2. I wrote the original complaints about this design which appeared in the Cambridge Cycling Campaign newsletter. The council and developers ignored the complaints and of course this was built exactly as designed...

    This development's hostility to cycling is in stark contrast to the new development near our new home, which is completely normal for the Netherlands and demonstrating what could be normal for the UK too.

    A change requires somewhat stronger objections than are currently raised.

  3. Thanks for posting those links David. Every problem in this was perfectly predicted 5 years ago.

    In my few years of passing through the area, I have never seen any people stopped having a chin wag despite it being close to communities. The lack of shops and fast through traffic make this a real no man's land.

    But, I am often entertained by the traffic light grand prix where the prize is first to join the crawl into Cambridge. Fab!

  4. That is one of the reasons for why we need Ring Fort Path:

  5. Can I join in with another, small note. Another gripe of mine is the idea that bikes and buses can mix happily.

    In several parts of Cambridge, where the roads are narrow and the bus frequency is high, this spells disaster!

    I just saw yesterday a case in point. A small boy, looked like 8, on a bike, followed by his mum also on a bike, both riding on a bus and cycle lane.

    They stop at a red light (yes, cyclist do stop at red lights). Behind them a double decker is approaching. Light turns green, bus speeds on.

    Child on bike start off the junction, going slowly straight ahead. The bus is overtaking him at some speed in the narrowest bit, where the pedestrian crossing barriers are. The poor boy struggles to gain speed, wobbles visibly, and it's nearly squashed like a mosquito by the bus against the metal railings.

    It chilled my blood.

  6. Marianna, I don't see that as a small issue at all. You're absolutely right. Bikes and buses are completely incompatible and should never be mixed together. Combined "bike and bus" lanes are a disaster for cyclists.

    Of course, this was all known a long time ago. Dutch infrastructure keeps bikes and buses apart and has done so for at least thirty years. Britain has yet to take note of the importance of this.

    The only time I've ever ridden my bike in a bus-lane in the Netherlands was when the bike-path was dug up and so a bypass for bikes was created in the bus-lane. Naturally, the bus-lane was closed to buses so that there was no conflict.

    These things are all part of why it is that cycling is so very popular in the Netherlands, and why even Cambridge has no-where near the cycling modal share of even a below average Dutch town.