Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Petrol Promotions, Prioritising Parking & Poor Passengers

As those who have followed this blog a while will know, I do have a car, but it sits (off street) most of the time. It does get filled up every so often and at the moment, I get to benefit from a "pennies" off per litre promotion my local (big, national) supermarket is running.

Actually, we don't tend to shop in our local (big national) supermarket very often and so on the infrequent occasion we need to fill up, it is only about a £2 saving on a 50 litre tank. The reason we don't need to fill up very often is we try and use the shops in our local area as much as possible and although for groceries it is still a national chain, it is a smaller shop which is within walking and cycling distance of home (and it is at the more "cooperative" end of the scale if you catch my drift).

The big store is designed for cars. It has almost direct access from a trunk road with a huge car park (although people always queue to get close to the door). The access to the trunk road also serves a 1980s residential development and as a result vehicles are prioritised over those walking and cycling - it has a staggered Toucan crossing to contend with which is arranged to not affect traffic.

At the store, walking and bike access is squeezed down the side of the building, although at least it connects to the cycle track which runs along the trunk road. The bike parking is at the far end of the store (away from the entrance) as trolley parking is prioritised. There is a bus route which goes into the store (no use to me, though), but it dumps people at one end of the car park, rather than stopping right outside and so passengers have to lug their bags through the car park to go home. The store sells everything and so it is not a place to go for fun.

Although the big store is actually on my way to and from work, I never go into it (unless getting petrol or using the car for a big shop), I prefer to make a slight diversion to use the local shops. I can park my bike right outside the door of the local supermarket and I also have access to the other shops. There is car parking outside (pay and display) and so there is still the option of the car for a bigger shop or the bus (which stops at the shops and within 2 minutes of where we live).

The more local shop has been running for years and I hope it continues to do well as it means we don't have to do a weekly shop at the big store; just pick up what we need as we go (and we have the other shops too). The trouble is, the big store is cheaper and so as well as being able to entice people there with a petrol discount, they can undercut the local shops. The flip side is that if walking or cycling, you tend only to buy what you really need rather being enticed to fill up the boot of your car.

The big supermarket is a classic business model. You can get anything you want under the one roof, there is plenty of free parking and as a result, the local streets are arranged to get traffic into and out of the site. This arrangement can be found at countless locations up and down the country and has us stuck into a loop with the supermarket business. I know there is the other model of large convenience stores, but they seem to be aimed at knocking out the smaller independents. At least with the local supermarket, there are still two independent newsagents in the same parade.

The big store's business model pays no regard to people who are not arriving by car and of course, there is no offer of a bus ticket refund, or loyalty card points for walking or riding to do your shopping - you are only valued if your mode has an engine. There are other examples of this difference in valuing people for their mode. Larger shopping centres often charge for parking (and unlike paid-for council parking, we don't hear that fool Pickles moaning about parking profits for private operators!), but one can often get money back for using the supermarket "anchor" store or perhaps the cinema. Again, no discounts or refunds for those arriving by public transport, foot or bike.

These sites are again arranged to stuff the traffic in and those trying to walk or ride (or live) around them be damned. It is of course easy to take a car park ticket from a shopper and stick it in a computer for a discount - it is a little harder to prove that you walked to the cinema! But, whole swathes of the purchasing population are treated differently because of their modal choice. In the public sector, it is the same. Zelo Street recently blogged about the hollow "victory" the newspapers had over hospital car parking in England. I recommend reading David Hembrow's post on free parking because as ever, there is a lesson to be learned from across the North Sea about providing real alternatives.

A few months back, Mrs RH spent some time in hospital (she is fine now, by the way, although she brought a small person home with her!) I was fortunate to be able to bike over to the (edge of town) hospital for frequent visits as I knew how expensive the parking was. When came to taking the kids visiting in the evenings, it was just not practical to use the bus (we were time poor between me getting home from work, getting the visit in and then home in good time for bed) and so we used the car. There are arrangements to help some patients and their families with parking charges at many hospitals (hence the hollow victory), but there is no campaign to help people pay for bus travel to hospital - especially as the fashion is now to have large, edge of town hospitals - again, all designed for motor car access.

Being an edge of town site, the hospital sits within a roads system designed for cars. In common with many places in the UK, it is a PFI monster which has centralised loads of services alongside other hospitals and smaller units having been flogged off as housing sites. If you live near a bus route which serves the site, then you are reasonably OK (although many routes end up literally going round the houses which is the outer-London arrangement). Live a few miles away from the site, or out of borough, then it will be multiple buses to get there. Train-wise, it is just over a 1km walk, but many pedestrian crossings and horrible subways.

I don't know if the parking charges cover the cost of running the car parks at the hospital, but it is expensive and I can totally understand why people get upset paying when the alternatives are so poor. If you are ill or visiting someone with a long stay in hospital, the last thing you should worry about is transport.

We never seem to learn from past mistakes. Our approach to transport seems always skewed to the car, never recognising that there are huge numbers of people who either don't or choose not to drive everywhere. Big stores and regional hospitals are a good example of the illusion of the freedom of choice. If the local shops go out of business, then it is the big stores who corner the market and immediately, the non car-using people are immediately at a disadvantage as they have lost their choice. Those already using the big stores have given up their choice in reality as their lives now include infrequent, but large shops with the car. With hospitals, we are promised the choice of where we are treated. For many, it is a struggle to get to their nearest hospital, let alone travel to the next town. There is no real choice for many.

As someone who is a small cog in the transport sphere, it is frustrating that many of the decision-makers and influencers don't see need to change how we travel and most importantly, give people real choice.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

My Personal Cycle To Work Day

Today was "Cycle To Work Day", an event aimed at getting people onto two wheels for at least one day this year. For me, it was my normal cycle to work, but I thought it would be a bit of fun to run through my journey.

There is more information on the Cycle To Work Day website and while a single day of publicity is not going to change anything overnight, at least it might be a way of showing the conditions that many of us put up with already and get people thinking what would happen if the right infrastructure was provided.

So, here follows a set of photos with some comments, and I will round up with some thoughts at the end;

The bike is ready to go. Coming to the end of my 4th year as a
bicycle commuter, I have the best bike I have ever had. 7 gears
(including a super low gear), twist shift, luggage rack, proper
mudguards, nice and upright, a comfy saddle and a smart bag which
converts from messenger to pannier. A happy rider indeed!

Round the corner from home, I am on a shared-use, unsegregated
cycle track. A bit uneven in places, it is far better than the amazingly
empty 50mph trunk road on the right. I don't normally see pedestrians,
but, this would be ripe for a proper separate footway and track.

Further down, our old friend, the multi-lane flare appears on the
approach to a large junction which means the track gets really narrow.
I often have to give and take with people walking or by the bus stop
in the background and if you think this hedge is bad now, you should
have seen it last month - virtually impossible.

Still on the cycle track, things are a bit better again, but the nice wide
verge separating riders and walkers has gone.

As I near the half-way point, the track goes all shared-use, segregated.
The trouble is that it is all paint, too narrow and often occupied by
pedestrians who for some reason, don't fancy walking next to the
50mph dual-carriageway!

So, well into the on-carriageway section of my commute and it is
advisory cycle lanes all the way. Normally, this road is stuffed and I
am able to glide past the traffic queues (watching for left hook at the
junctions of course). This morning, some plonker parked, and from
the fog on the windows, this person has been there for some time.
It would be a doddle to build a cycle track between the white line
and the edge of that concrete strip. Sigh.

Nearing the end of my journey, I have just ridden around a large
roundabout and now I just have a section of urban dual-carriageway
to contend with. I am not sure what is more fun, the bus stop to my
left, the sunken gullies in the cycle lane, or the vehicles to my right.

A quick nip over an area of single surface shared-space (which
kind of works as it goes nowhere for traffic) and my goal is in sight
(not work, but where I pick up some rolls for lunch!)

The bike gets tied up in the secure compound by the staff entrance
to my building.

And so to work with the obligatory cup of tea (strong, one sugar please)
and a sneaky pain au chocolate to get me started.

The first job of the day - setting up a new project file.
No money announced as yet, but I am going to put some base
drawings together as I live in hope. This project is staying with me!
(if we ever get some cash!)

I guess the photos are a fair reflection of many people's bicycle commute. On the first part of my journey, the photos show there is tons of space, but while all of the attention is in Central London (and please do read the blog post by Cyclists in the City), it is very easy to feel forgotten.

Sadly, the second part of my journey is on my patch and I don't have people queueing up to ask for it to be made wonderful (they are queueing up to sit in traffic) and so I doubt it is even on the political radar (with a small, and very objective and not at all critical 'p'). There is very little money floating around for cycling in my neck of the woods, despite the almost constant announcements.

I do live in hope and that Quietways folder is absolutely genuine - I am going to find the time here and there to get some base plans drawn up so the schemes exist. Once a scheme exists, even on a shelf, there is at least a chance it will be built. It is something to talk about and it is more than a scheme name on someones wish list.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Guide Dogs Cycle Eyes Campaign: Barking Up The Wrong Tree?

One of the things which gives me a buzz as an engineer is seeing a highway scheme I have had a hand in being used. What is even better is seeing people who could not have used that piece of highway before, now being able to use it.

As many people will know, a large infrastructure scheme is something which people like to associate themselves with whether it is as clever designers, the project sponsor or the politician cutting the ribbon. Me? I remain a fan of the small scheme - the ones which can make a real difference to people's day to day travelling.

I am a veteran of bus stop design. By that, I mean I have traipsed around the streets looking at flags, shelters and bins, scribbled away in AutoCAD, run countless public consultations, written endless committee reports and spent hours in the council chamber attempting to explain and advise councillors that making bus stops accessible is a good thing to do, despite the opposition from people who don't want a bus stop near their premises. 

Access for all should be our objective.
The grief and the hard work is totally forgotten when I see someone getting on my bus who couldn't have done so easily or at all before. If a the highway environment can be changed to meet the needs of the person finding access most difficult, then it will make everyone else's life a doddle.

But, this is not a post about bus stops. The point of mentioning them is two-fold: first, I have a social responsibility as a professional engineer to make the world a better place. I know it sounds a bit hugs and peace, but when I get a letter of thanks from someone who can now use the bus because their local stop is accessible, it is the best possible outcome from an often hard-won process. Second, I am often asked by people objecting to bus stop works just who is asking for the improvements and the answer is usually "nobody". People put up with an awful lot and get on with their lives, but when it comes to travel, there are often tremendous barriers and so making the highway accessible to all is clearly the right thing to do.

Built for wheelchair users, but life is even easier for everyone else.
This holds for walking and cycling, where changing the highway environment so it is accessible to all pays an awful lot more dividends than we might imagine in terms of personal independence, inclusively and indeed dignity (many people don't want to be seen asking for help). The motivation for a pair of dropped kerbs across a junction may come from wanting to help wheelchair and mobility scooter users cross the road, but it means that people pushing buggies have an easier life, people using sticks to walk don't have to step into and out of the road and actually, life is made a tiny bit easier for everyone else.

As well as people like me trying to do the right thing (it is my job you know), there are many organisations and charities with aims which are actually pretty similar in terms of improving people's mobility. They are interested in improving the lives of the people they represent (whether generally or by membership) and so it is always a shame to see campaigns which on the face of it pitch people with common aims against each other.

So, it was with dismay that I learnt about Guide Dogs' "Cycle Eyes" campaign. It essentially asks "cyclists" to watch out for people who can't watch out for them. On the surface, who wouldn't agree that people riding bikes shouldn't be looking out for people who would struggle seeing them when crossing the road, or walking next to a cycle track or so on? Forget about one's chosen mode of transport, isn't it the moral duty for people to be aware of others full stop (yes, many don't!).

They give 5 points to think about;
  • Pay attention – look to see if the guide dog and owner, or person with a cane are waiting to cross. Remember that they can’t always see or hear you.
  • If you see the guide dog and owner or person with a cane waiting to cross, use your bell or call out to let them know you’re there.
  • If the guide dog and owner or cane user are already crossing the road, please stop and wait until they've reached the other side.
  • Do not cycle up behind or around the guide dog and owner, no matter how much space you think you’ve given them. The dog may be startled and get confused.
  • If you need to use the pavement for any reason, please dismount. Bumping off the kerb onto the road can scare and confuse the guide dog.
It is not just "cyclists" who are a danger to people walking on our
streets you know!
OK, it all seems reasonable and perhaps things that many people might not have come across (at least in detail) before. The campaign was started because of "a noted increase in guide dogs and their owners being hit by a bike or having a near miss." Really? This not something I was switched on to and doing he job I do, I like to think I have a rough idea of what is going on in terms of conflicts, collisions and the like. 

It turns out that Guide Dogs have been a bit naughty. The "noted increase" comes from the following data;

There are just over 320 guide dog owners in London. We know not every guide dog owner reports these incidents, and whilst we have had an increase in phone calls from Guide Dog Owners reporting incidents, through social media we invited blind and partially sighted to fill in a Survey Monkey. 33 of those who responded were guide dog owners from London, 42% of those have been involved in a collision with a cyclist 76% have had a near miss (defined as where they have narrowly avoided a collision).

This tweet was doing the rounds at the end of June;

So, it would appear (and I would welcome some detailed clarification if I am wide of the mark) that Guide Dogs has created (either on purpose or by mistake) a survey (now closed) with responses from people with "strong views on cyclists in London". I doubt very much if the strong views presented were mainly positive and certainly the "data" bears me out. I mentioned at the start of this that the people interested in making bus stops accessible are those who don't want the bus stops near their premises - like Guide Dogs' survey - classic self reporting which can skew the real picture.

Looking at the data, we have 320 guide dog owners in London and 33 (10%) filled in the survey. Of those, 42% have been involved in a collision with a cyclist (14) and 76% have had a near miss (25). What we don't know is what were the circumstances of those incidents were or over which period they occurred (3 years? 30 years?). I would not for a minute wish to devalue the impact that these incidents must have had on the individuals involved, but the survey really does suggest that it was a vehicle (if you excuse the term) to set up guide dog users as being under attack from this dangerous, group of people known as cyclists. I will state it again - I am not a cyclist, just somebody who chooses to travel by bicycle.

Reading further into the article on Guide Dogs' website, we learn that "Cycle Eyes" is supported by Transport for London and quotes TfL's Leon Daniels;

"It is vital on London's busy road network that we all understand and respect the needs and welfare of our fellow road users. We support the Guide Dogs' campaign to remind cyclists and other road users to watch out for and give extra care to visually impaired and other vulnerable pedestrians. This, together with the work being done to make pedestrian crossings more accessible with tactile paving and audible signals, will make London's roads safer for all."

Perhaps this should be the focus of a campaign?
Well, the campaign is aimed at "cyclists" (not other road users) - it would be very interesting to see a survey undertaken by Guide Dogs on how many collisions and near misses occurred involving motorised traffic. It would be very interesting to see a survey from Guide Dogs on whether or not users are happy with the level of provision at crossings as there are a heck of a lot on borough and TfL roads which have no provision at all. No tactile paving, no green men. Squat. What about footway parking making life so difficult for people to walk along a street? What about advert boards left in the middle of footways? What about the often poor state of footways. What about parked cars preventing people from crossing the road at junctions? I think Guide Dogs are barking up the wrong tree!

Perhaps you need to remind Mr Daniels about just how bad the
pedestrian experience can be on "his" road network.
(A12, Barley Lane - from Google)
Guide Dogs' also state;

"We work incredibly hard to get blind or partially sighted people out of their homes and mobile, so to hear that vision impaired people are anxious and in some cases fearful about going out in London because of irresponsible cyclists is very worrying. With the Mayor committing nearly £913 million to a 'cycling revolution' we need to make sure that cyclists are more aware of blind and partially sighted pedestrians."

So, they seem to suggest that with £913 million being spent on "cyclists", they had better shape up - seems like classic blaming of that "cyclist" out group to me. The London Cycling Campaign supports Guide Dogs in this initiative if you read the Guide Dogs' web page, although it seems a little less clear on the LCC's website and indeed, there is clarification being provided in the comments;

"One reason for LCC to support the guide dog users was to point out a real problem (however big) and lay the basis for working together to get better infrastructure. If we propose safe space for cycling on London Streets that seriously inconveniences blind people we will get nowhere. All the blind people I spoke with this morning recognised the need to improve conditions for cyclists.

To me, that is absolutely fair, but Guide Dogs have not echoed the need for good infrastructure, just had a pop at cyclists. LCC also stated;

"Another reason to support them is to make the point that many cyclists are inconsiderate of pedestrians, whether they are sighted or not. If you cycle on urban streets in London you should be expecting pedestrians to walk out without paying attention and moderate your riding style so that it doesn't create a problem for them, or for you."

I bet this is a common issue for Guide Dogs and LCC!
Oh nice. So LCC is now repeating the "cyclists" as an out group mantra. Where is the proof that "many cyclists are inconsiderate of pedestrians" then LCC - can you back this self-blaming with facts? I would suggest that as far as LCC members go (and I am one), this campaign is preaching to the converted. Many members of LCC may not be aware of the detail of why bikes can be an issue for guide dogs and their owners, but they will have an appreciation of the rounder issues. Going to the effort of joining an organisation does rather suggest (at least to me) that one already has an interest in the issues the organisation is interested in.

Guide Dogs have also made a helpful film which does indeed show "cyclists" going through red lights when people (including a person with their dog) are trying to cross on a green man. No, those people should not be doing that, but the behaviour is not because they are on bikes, it is because they are determined to make progress and sod everyone else. No different from people driving badly - it is people. The funny thing is that although the film shows how hard it is to hear bikes passing, there is no comment on the intimidating traffic. There is no comment on how difficult it is for people and their dogs trying to negotiate the multi-stage pedestrian crossings shown in the film.

So yes, Guide Dogs, there are some people who happen to ride bikes badly and without consideration to those more vulnerable than them, but lumping us all into this group called "cyclists" is not the right thing to do and should do know better. LCC, yes, I am irritated that you have aligned "us" with this campaign and indeed have repeated the many "cyclists" are bad mantra.

As an engineer, as someone who walks and rides a bike, I agree that our highway network can be pretty intimidating and downright impossible to use for some (unless driving). The trouble is that campaigns can backfire and to many people, it seems that there are these little interest groups squabbling, when actually, we all (broadly) want the same thing and that is a safe and fully accessible highway network for walking and cycling. If I were a cartoonist, I would draw an ivory tower with a ministerial type figure sitting at the top of it sniggering while little protest groups have an argument at the bottom (yes, this is a cue for someone to draw this please!)

This kind of thing is simply reinforcing the view held by some people that "cyclists" are irresponsible. It gives column inches in the media which are dedicated to having a pop at me because of my transport choice. It makes some people who are driving think it OK to have a go at someone, purely because they happen to be on a bike. If I singled out a person who relies on their guide dog in this way, I would be pilloried. Please rethink this as I think the aims have the best of intentions, it is just you have picked the wrong target.

Update Sunday 31st August 2014
Guide Dogs has now got their film showing as "private" and have provided an apology on their website:

We apologise if we have offended any cyclists during this campaign launch. A small number of cyclists have voiced their concerns over the size of the survey. Our survey was primarily to obtain case studies for our campaign and gather some specific stories from those who have been hit or had a near miss from a cyclist.

We have always clearly stated that we know the vast majority of cyclists are responsible. This campaign reaches out to them to encourage the whole cycling community all road users in London to look out for blind and partially sighted pedestrians.

I wonder if more than 33 "cyclists" (there's that group again) were offended? Sorry, but the damage has been done. Blaming bike riders was a quick action which added (in its own little way) to the bile against a group of people who have chosen one particular mode of transport.

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Relevance Of Road Safety Audit

I am sure many of you will have at least heard the term "Road Safety Audit", even if you haven't the faintest idea what it is (although the clue is in the name!)

You may have even heard people referring to schemes as either "passing" or "failing" a Road Safety Audit (RSA) - well put that straight out of your mind, there is no such thing. A RSA does not approve or reject a scheme, that is the job and the responsibility of the highway authority and those making the decisions. Put simply, a Road Safety Audit (or RSA) is an independent assessment of the road safety impacts of a highway scheme on all users, including those maintaining the asset and is a useful independent check on the safety implications of a scheme.

As is often the case, the standards (and guidance) stems from the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) and is covered in HD19/03. The DMRB is mandatory on Highways Agency operated trunk roads and motorways and as such does not always translate well to local roads. As far as RSA goes, many authorities have their own versions and procedures in place such as Transport for London (linked to without endorsement or judgement); but the principles remain the same. If you are really interested in the detailed mechanics of RSA, I recommend reading HD19/03 as it is full of the definitions and structure of the audit process - far more detail than I will be boring you with here!

I also recommend you visit the Road Safety Audit interactive website developed by CIHT, TMS, Lancashire CC and DfT. The site has pretty comprehensive checklists of things for auditors to consider. I have to praise TMS here - they are a consultant which aside from many things, has undertaken over 11,000 RSAs. They are also skilled at auditing highway schemes from the point of view of vulnerable users. I have read many of their audits and they are always thorough.

Competency of Auditors I am not a road safety auditor. To call myself one, I would need to be able to demonstrate a track record of safety auditing, have a relevant set continuing professional development (CPD) activities and experience in road safety engineering. I do maintain my CPD as a matter of course and could demonstrate the background required, but as I don't undertake RSA myself, I cannot call myself an auditor - I know what to look for in terms of auditor competency and content of a RSA; and in my day job, I do review quite a lot put forward by developers.

The requirement for auditors to be competent comes from Article 9 of EU Directive 2008/96/EC which is concerned about the safety of the Trans-European Road Network (TERN), itself part of a wider set of transport networks. For the UK, this trickles down to a fair bit of our motorway and trunk road network. For RSA, this Directive meant that by and after December 2011, those undertaking audits must have relevant training and hold a certificate of competence - of course, only mandatory for those working on the Trans-European road network and therefore motorways and trunk roads (mandatory under HD19/03 as mentioned above). The TERN is very much for long-distance road transport and this probably shines through the DMRB in terms of the priority afforded to walking and cycling in the design standards.

The UK Government was pretty useless in sorting out auditor standards and so in practice, the industry reacted to make sure people were (and are) qualified, whether or not local procedures are in place to vary the policy or details of the RSA process  The Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT), through its Society of Road Safety Auditors (SoRSA) seeks to coordinate and disseminate best practice and for those meeting various training and experience requirements, they issue professional qualifications and a Certificate of Competency for practitioners. For example, I am an Associate Member of SoRSA which shows I have the basic training and road safety engineering background. A full Member would be able to show more detailed training and a track record of performing RSAs. A Fellow would be a leading specialist in RSA. The Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE) also runs a similar arrangement for its members.

The other interesting thing to note is the more wider experience of an auditor. There is such a wide range of layouts and design options on the road network, it is simply not possible to be an expert in all of them. Like me, many highway engineers are generalists and so for certain schemes, the advice of experts might be needed when a design is being developed. It is no different for safety auditors. For example, while an auditor will have a working knowledge of traffic signal operation, for a complicated junction, additional advice will be required from a signals engineer. For issues affecting blind and partially-sighted people, the auditor may wish to discuss a scheme with a local support organisation.

Of course, this does start to lead us down the debate as to whether auditors need to have had specific training or at least demonstrable experience in cycling, walking and disabled user issues - in my view yes. In fact, auditors will need to have had experience in design to be able to understand how things fit together. My argument could extend to driving of course, but from any user point of view, it is important that the auditor understands the issues without necessarily being a "driver" or "cyclist" or "pedestrian". Actually, auditors should also have an appreciation of issues for powered two-wheelers.  Yes, I have spent a bit of time on the competency of safety auditors, but my general point is that they should understand the design process and the issues facing all road users - they need to be rounded and experienced engineers foremost.

The Audit Process Audits are rarely undertaken by an individual (expect for simple Stage 1 audits) and would normally be two people for most audits, with more as required. The team would comprise of a "Audit Team Leader" who should be very experienced, "Audit Team Members" and sometimes "Audit Team Observers" who are essentially auditors gaining experience and who are expected to contribute to the process. We also have "Specialist Advisors" as required (such as the signals example given above). Another important thing to note is that those involved in audit must be completely separate from those involved in design because of the clear conflict of interest. It doesn't necessarily mean people must be from different organisations, just that things are separated to maintain objectivity.

There are 4 general stages to the RSA process, unsurprisingly, Stages 1 to 4. A Stage 1 RSA is at initial design stage, really before much of the detail is worked up. It can help the designer to get another view from a pure road safety point of view before too much detailed (and costly) work is undertaken. Generally speaking for most highway authorities, the larger schemes only will be subject to Stage 1 along with developers submitting a planning application. With developers, some see RSA as one item on a long list of things to do when making a planning application, but that is no bad thing.

Stage 2 is at detailed design stage and for smaller schemes, Stages 1 and 2 are often combined. For example, if a RSA was being done on a stand along zebra crossing, a combined Stage 1/2 might be done as the difference between initial and detailed design is often quite small. It doesn't stop a crossing location being subjected to Stage 1 based on a quick plan, but this doesn't happen much in practice (of course it would on a Highways Agency scheme where RSA is mandatory).

Stage 3 is at completion of construction and ideally before the road is opened. In practice, where the scheme is an addition to a live road, a Stage 3 cannot be done before "opening" and so HD19/03 requires within 1 month of "opening". Individual highway authorities may have their own process. 

Stage 4 is not always used, especially where developers are concerned as it deals with monitoring which is pretty much the job of the local highway authority anyway. HD19/03 suggests monitoring during the first year of operation and then a formal accident review at 1 and 3 years after opening. In my experience, not often done. (accident is used throughout the standard - I prefer collision).

As mentioned above, the RSA is a process where the safety aspects of a highway scheme are assessed. It is not a check on design standards, it is not an opportunity for an auditor to redesign a scheme (more on that later) and it is certainly not a process to endorse or condemn a scheme. It is also not the role of the auditor to redesign the scheme or to make design changes - apart from taking on design responsibility (which is another whole area of legislation and liability), designers are employed to design the scheme. I would suggest, however, that training designers in road safety audit is very valuable as they will often spot things and make changes which designers not trained in RSA will miss.

The RSA (at whichever stage) is a formal process which ends in a report set out in a standard way which seems a little strained to the casual observer, but is designed to be a consistent approach. Before the RSA takes place, it is vital for the correct brief to be provided to the audit team. For me, this is probably as important as having competent auditors as if the brief is crap, the audit will be crap and of little value.

The audit brief will provide the audit team the scope of the scheme to be audited along with full details and relevant supporting information. I have seen audit reports submitted where the scantest information has been provided to the auditor - little more than a plan in many cases and no wonder the audit team struggle. At Stage 1, it might just be a sketch on a plan, but it would greatly help if information such as traffic flow and speeds could be provided. Perhaps for my zebra crossing example, a map of the area showing schools or shops might help.

Despite what some consultants working for developers would have you believe, the whole audit team should visit the site. Yes, it is obvious, but some try and get away with sending one person, especially at Stage 1, to try and save a few quid on site visits. This is not right as how can one comment on the issues without visiting the site - that is almost as bad as me commenting on sites I haven't been to (oh, wait!). You cannot design without visiting the site and you certainly cannot audit without visiting either. At Stage 3, the standard requires a night visit (to look for any issues not apparent during the day) and again, some people try and skip that because of the cost (worse hanging around for dark in the summer of course).

So, to the audit report. The format will broadly be as follows (from the standard):

  • A brief description of the proposed scheme;
  • Identification of the audit stage and team membership as well as the names of others contributing;
  • Details of who was present at the site visit, when it was undertaken and what the site
  • conditions were on the day of the visit (weather, traffic congestion, etc.);
  • The specific road safety problems identified, supported with the background reasoning;
  • Recommendations for action to mitigate or remove the problems;
  • A3 or A4 location map, marked up and referenced to problems and, if available, photographs of the problems identified;
  • A statement, signed by the Audit Team Leader in the format given at Annex D [of the standard]; and
  • A list of documents and drawings considered for the audit.

The road safety problems which are identified should also be presented individually with a recommendation. The standard has a series of checklists for Stages 1, 2 and 3 which try and make all audits consistent. The report would also consider previous audits (if undertaken) and any recommendations or changes made. Each problem will be set out with its location, a summary (including the type of collisions which could occur) and a recommendation. It is bad practice for an auditor to recommend "monitoring" unless the issue is really minor - he or she needs to get off the fence.

London Road roundabout, Clacton-on-Sea.
Image adapted from Google Maps.
So, let's have an example. The image here is of a roundabout junction on the A133 as it enters Clacton-on-Sea in Essex. I have circled a staggered zebra crossing and so let's just assume the proposal is to change an existing uncontrolled pedestrian crossing to this one with the zebra crossings to make things safer for pedestrians.

The A133 as it approaches the area is a wide single carriageway road subject to the National speed limit which steps down to 30mph around 100 metres before the roundabout. As the road approaches the roundabout, it opens up from one lane to two lanes for about 25 metres before the give way point on the roundabout. The design is for a staggered zebra crossing (i.e. people cross two, distinctly separate crossings) and although there may well be lots to mention in the RSA for the roundabout as a whole, I will concentrate on this one arm for this example.

So, in the format of the RSA (normally section 3 of a report) and assuming a Stage 1 RSA, here are a couple of problems which could be identified:



North-western arm, approaching roundabout.

Excessive traffic speeds approaching crossing/ roundabout. Site observations suggest speeds above 30mph speed limit which could result in vehicles overshooting zebra crossing when being used by pedestrians.

Provide measures to ensure approach speeds to ensure they are low enough for drivers to be able to stop when the crossing is being used.


North-western arm, approaching roundabout.

Visibility of pedestrians crossing. The two lane approach to the crossing could create conditions whereby one lane is free flowing and one with queues. The queueing lane could mask pedestrians crossing from the free flowing lane putting them at risk of being hit by a vehicle in the free-flowing lane.

Consider suitability of multi-lane approach to zebra crossing or consider alternative method of control.

OK, I could go on and do a whole report, but this is a long enough post as it is. You will note that although the process is laborious, it is designed to be logical and consistent which allows the issues raised to be considered logically. The auditor does not add any weight to an issue, does not rank the issues or undertake any design work. With the first problem, it would now be up to the designer to consider the approach speeds and decide whether to make changes. It could be that as this is a Stage 1 RSA, no traffic data has been gathered and when speeds are checked, they are appropriate for the provision of a zebra crossing.

The second issue is harder for the designer to deal with as the auditor has highlighted a pretty fundamental potential issue with multi-lane approaches to zebra crossings. On further thought, the designer may decide that the layout is acceptable (as traffic data shows queueing unlikely) or might decide that a traffic signal controlled option is better. In real life, there is a cycle track around this roundabout and perhaps a Toucan crossing which can be used by cyclists might be more appropriate? A Toucan crossing would also have traffic speed detection which could deal with the first problem (if it is a problem).

At Stage 1, it should be relatively simple to make changes to a scheme. It might be that a layout or part of it might not be appropriate and the recommendation is to change it as above. But what if the zebra crossing remains the favoured design and the scheme is subjected to a Stage 2 RSA with no changes? The auditor is not there to design the scheme and can only raise safety issues at this stage which makes life tricky for the auditor if the issues are still fundamental.

The difficulty at Stage 2 is that the design has crystallised after a lot of effort and the danger is that the designer and indeed the scheme promoter have a "pride of authorship" or perhaps have their heads stuck in the sand - a fair bit of money might have been spent by this stage. A good auditor will need hold their nerve and remain objective. In my example, the same issues should be restated unless evidence has been provided to deal with the issues.

So, what happens at Stage 3? In my example, let's assume the zebra crossings went in as designed and the concerns raised in the audit where not dealt with. It may be that no problems ever materialise and the audit is accused (perhaps not openly) of being over cautious. Having at least two people auditing gives some quality control as they are expected to debate the issues and only include them if they are real road safety issues. It might happen, but I would rather be cautious than cavalier.

When the site is reviewed at Stage 3, it may be that approach speeds are still too high. It would still be possible to recommend speed reduction measures as they could be installed (it might cost of course). If the pedestrian masking is still a problem, it is probably not helpful for the audit to recommend a different type of crossing and so it is hard to make useful recommendations in many cases when things have been built. Often, an audit will recommend warning signs in a situation like this which is a bit of a cop out, but one caused by the designer/ scheme promoter.

Once an audit has been completed an the report issued to the project sponsor (i.e. the person responsible for the project, not the designer), then it is usual practice for the designer/ design team to formally respond to the issues raised (known as a designer's response), although the person with overall responsibility for the project is the one to ultimately decide if the issues raised by the audit are significant. Any items not considered significant should be formally recorded as such (and with reasons) in an exception report - although it is ultimately the decision of the highway authority what gets built.

Limitations & Issues
The process to HD19/03 is more extensive and detailed than I have set out and is predicated on a decent level of resource for schemes, including staff. For a small highway authority working on small schemes, they are unlikely to have the resources of the Highways Agency or a large county council and it means that the person responsible for the scheme might be the highway authority representative and the designer - in this situation, people need to be open and record their thoughts and decisions as it is the only way to remain objective.

It might also mean that many schemes don't get subjected to a safety audit on cost grounds. For example, a straight-forward zebra crossing might cost £20k and a three stage RSA might cost another 15% of that budget. I am not suggesting this is right or wrong, just a reality of budgets.

What of innovative, dare I suggest radical schemes? There should be no difference to the process. It might be the auditor is not familiar wit the concepts involved and they need to be properly explained in the audit brief - perhaps with a statement provided by the designer on how the scheme is intended to work. 

Take this image of a bus stop bypass on Lewes Road, Brighton. I can imagine an audit raising safety problems with people crossing away from the dropped kerbs, on the far side of the bus shelter and not being seen by cyclists. Yes, this is a valid safety issue, but could an auditor recommend anything sensible to deal with the issue - guard rail on the far side of the shelter perhaps? 

Actually, this kind of "problem" would be a sign that the audit team perhaps didn't understand the scheme or might be over-cautious. The dropped kerbs are provided for people with reduced vision or mobility. There is nothing "wrong" with people crossing elsewhere - they have the cues around them of needing to step down into the cycle track. Had the dropped kerbs not been provided, then that might be raised as a problem. This goes back to the designer(s) explaining the scheme at the audit brief stage and perhaps (in my opinion) the auditor needing to have had experience of this kind of design or consulting with someone who does.

Another example. Bromells Road at Clapham, which has the footway of the main road ("The Pavement") continuing across the junction. The point of the scheme is to give reinforced priority to pedestrians over traffic leaving the side road. This would need to be explained in the audit brief otherwise the auditors might be concerned about blind and partially sighted people not knowing where the extents of the carriageway are (there are none, it is all footway which vehicles have to cross).

The other pitfall is where different layouts are subjected to a RSA and this is used by scheme promoters to pick the "safest" one. This is very bad practice because of the lack of weight given by the auditors. In my example, a Toucan crossing and a zebra crossing might throw up different issues and so suggest one is safer than the other is wrong - it depends on so many variables, it wouldn't be comparing like with like.

There are other audits which can be used to complement RSA such as a Quality Audit (see 3.7 of Manual for Streets). A Quality Audit (QA) might contain a wide range of elements and it will be for the decision makers to decide on how thing are weighed up in the final analysis. MfS suggests that a QA may include all or some of the following;

  • an audit of visual quality;
  • a review of how the streets will be used by the community;
  • a road safety audit, including a risk assessment;
  • an access audit;
  • a walking audit;
  • a cycle audit;
  • a non-motorised user audit;
  • a community street audit (in existing streets); and
  • a Placecheck audit.

Other people being involved in reviewing schemes from the point of view of various users or from an architectural point of view can add value to a scheme, but as with the RSA, the responsibility for the scheme remains with the designer(s) and those making the decisions and any audit process shuld be reviewed with the scheme objectives as a benchmark. Beware of any highway authority (or indeed developer or designer) who suggests that a scheme is fine because it "passed its safety audit" or "the safety audit didn't raise that issue" - the auditor might have missed something or wasn't given the full details.

Final Thoughts
Returning back to my starting point. I have often heard people say "how did that scheme pass a safety audit". Well, assuming it was subjected to a RSA, it is not a pass or fail and I hope that this post has given you some insight as to why. What people examine is how the design process was progressed and how the decision was made. If a RSA was undertaken, what was picked up by it? What was the designer's response? What weight did the person responsible for the scheme give the issues? Did the decision maker know all of the issues? Sometimes, there might be potential safety issues with a scheme, but in the final analysis, the decision is taken to build it. 

Road Safety Audit is just one of the tools highway engineers can use to help them design a scheme. It is not the auditor's job to design the scheme, merely point out potential road safety issues. If you are reading a RSA as a campaigner, it won't be enough. You need to be reading it in conjunction with the audit brief, a designer response and an exception report to get the full picture.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A Bridge Too Far? East London River Crossing Consulation.

Transport for London is currently running a consultation on options for river crossings in East London.

Yes, another London-centric post I am afraid, but it has relevance everywhere of course, as bridges are perhaps the one of the most long-practiced set pieces of civil engineering - long before civil engineering was set as a profession. Those who have been with me since the start of this blog will know that I like a bridge and so what could I object to with TfL's plans?

Whether for trade or military purposes, bridges have always played an important part of city life and even in the modern age where tunneling become possible, some bridges have an air of romance to them, even the most utilitarian. A fixed link between two banks which can be used in (almost) all weathers has seen the demise of ferrymen, but free movement across rivers has always been seen as vital for the economy of a city.

The QEII Bridge (Dartford Crossing).
I have had an on and off relationship with the River Thames during by career, sometimes working near it, sometimes needing to cross it. During my time as a developer, I had the "pleasure" of using the Dartford Crossing twice a day for many years. 

The crossing allowed me to live in one part of London and work in another, although as I drove to work back then, the opportunity would have been denied to me if I didn't have a car - the public transport option would have taken me hours at each end of the day and so my transport choice was essentially take a job where I drove to and from work or don't take the job.

Provision for motor traffic is the fixation for the Mayor's current consultation, pure and simple. There is this concern that growth in the east and south-east boroughs is stifled because of a lack of road crossings of the River Thames. Indeed, between the Woolwich Ferry (connecting Greenwich and Newham), there is nothing until Dartford and the Government is also looking at more (traffic) capacity in that general area too.

TfL is concerned that there is a lack of road capacity across the river in East London because businesses have apparently told them as much and the population is growing. The Blackwall Tunnel also regularly has more traffic using it than its design capacity and so this is why another tunnel at Silvertown is being separately looked at.

The options currently being proposed are:
  • A new ferry at Woolwich
  • A new ferry at Gallions Reach
  • A bridge at Gallions Reach
  • A bridge at Belvedere
The Woolwich Ferry.
As far as the ferries go, I have fond memories being taken on the Woolwich Ferry as a child and I recently took my bike over on a training ride. That would have been the first time in well over ten years with the last crossing made when the whole of East London ground to a halt when there were problems at both Dartford and Blackwall and it took me over 4 hours to drive home for what was usually a 40 minute journey.

The good things about ferries is that they have a relatively low capital cost and they don't need vast approach ramps to clear shipping lanes. The problem with them is that they cost a lot of money to run and maintain and are not always available - this part of the Thames suffers from fog at certain times of the year and the ferry has to be stopped.

The Woolwich Ferry has vessels over 50 years old and so this option would be (larger) replacements which would operate pretty much as now. The consultation suggests that over time the costs of the option would be more than a bridge, but in terms of (motor) traffic impacts, things would be the same because the link is fixed. In my view, larger vessels could mean a slight increase in traffic use, although the traffic queues at some times are off putting and so will not always be a popular driver choice anyway. From a walking and cycling point of view, the ferry is easy to use and there are no steep ramps to deal with.

Next we have a proposal for a Ferry at Gallions Reach (connecting Greenwich and Newham, but closer to Bark & Dagenham and Bexley than the Woolwich Ferry). It has the same pros and cons as Woolwich, but would put more people in reach of the Thamesmead area supporting jobs and housing (apparently). TfL's consultation document shows that this option would perhaps increase (motor) traffic on the A2016 through Thamesmead and also on the A406 North Circular (could any more fit on?). They suggest a decrease might be experienced at Blackwall, Woolwich and Docklands.

An older proposal for the Thames Gateway Bridge.
Then we have a bridge proposed at Gallions Reach. Yes, this is the same as Ken Livingstone's Thames Gateway Bridge which was cancelled by Boris Johnson and the East London River Crossing which was first mooted in the 1960s as the urban motorways proliferated. Indeed, the land needed on either side of the river remains safeguarded to this day and some construction at Beckton took place. A bridge in this location would be very high to clear shipping lanes and for walking and cycling, I am not sure it would be as simple as a ferry in terms of the ramps and being open to wind, fog and rain coming in from the North Sea! 

Traffic-wise, the prediction is for increases through Thamesmead and well out east to the edge of Bexley, the A406 and parts of the A13. Reductions in traffic are expected on the Havering section of the A13, Blackwall, Woolwich and Docklands. The implication is that rather than using the A13, drivers getting to the south would come along the A2016 rather than A13. Doesn't look good for the A406 though! Again, the document cites better access for jobs and homes, but this clearly means better access by car.

Finally, we have a bridge at Belvedere (connecting Bexley with Havering/ Barking & Dagenham). This idea has come out of the blue for me and I don't yet know who has pushed for this behind the scenes. The consultation documents suggest an increase in traffic on the A13 through Havering/ Barking & Dagenham and most of Thamesmead/ Belvedere. Reductions would be expected At Blackwall, Woolwich, the A406 and the western end of the A13. Again (traffic) access to jobs and homes is cited as the advantage. Bexley Council has blown hot and cold over bridges because of traffic fears, but two bridges seems to be favoured to spread the traffic around.

The consultation documents also give some detail various indications of timescales (although who really knows with large projects), costs and (motor) traffic impacts. There is also a suggestion of charging drivers to use the crossings, although the document is silent on Blackwall. There is also commentary on environmental impacts in terms natural habitats, pollution and so on.

In my view, the consultation is flawed. If you fill in the online form, you are asked which schemes you do or do not support and at the end which you think should be taken forward. There are no other options, although you can stick comments in as you go. My own view is that any increase in cross river motor traffic capacity will undoubtedly lead to traffic congestion on the main routes either side and more seriously, the associated local streets. I do think that links are needed for public transport and for walking/ cycling, but not necessarily over the Thames.

For crossings over the Thames, clearly the ferries are best for walking as they don't need one to walk the distance of a bridge and for many people, they are part of a longer journey using buses. Cycling across the Thames might be an option for some people, but it won't be at all attractive unless the cycle routes are fully enclosed from the weather and they connect to proper cycle tracks either side rather than the free for all dual carriageways there are now.

A quiet route over Rotherhithe New Road.
Actually, I think the funding (which is by no means certain) would be better spent on many small bridges. There are plenty of local places where there are significant barriers to walking and cycling which could be overcome with relatively modest bridges. I have been looking at some potential Quietway routes recently and every time there is a railway, major road or river, busy roads converge on often narrow bridges and there is no space for protected cycling.

Other cities spend money on these kinds of bridges, but here, it only seems a worthy investment if it for traffic. Cleverly located bridges can make walking and cycling direct and safe and from the point of view of city and population growth, could negate the perceived need to keep building more roads as these Thames crossings actually are. So, please respond to the TfL consultation and point this out and if you have a missing link which would benefit from a modest bridge for walking and cycling, let me know as these are interesting little projects in their own right.