Feeling the Pinch

25 September 2014

Following on from “Cut the Crap”, here’s a more in-depth look at a specific piece of crap, and how it does more harm than good.

The pinch

Here’s a great example of a common cycling “facility” antipattern, which was mentioned in a comment on my previous post.

It’s Hawthorne Avenue in Gloucester.

pinch-lanes

This is an appalling piece of design, for a whole host of reasons. Fundamentally these boil down to the nature of a pinch point, the clue to which is in the name: the traffic is “pinched”. The lane width is reduced and the island in the middle of the carriageway prevents anyone moving outside of the lane.

This means, crucially, that for the driver of a motor vehicle to pass a cyclist at a pinch point is extremely dangerous. Not only does it require a very small passing distance, it also means no-one can divert from their course. This can have fatal consequences. (Though, of course, when it does, the law will not blame you in the slightest for driving into someone else and killing them – but I digress.)

Yet this paint on the road divides the lane very clearly into two smaller lanes. In the gutter is a very narrow lane, clearly marked with a pictogram of a bicycle; whilst the remaining tarmac is untreated. Between them, a line marks the boundary of these two territories.

The message

The visual message, writ clear, is this: The pink bit is for bicycles, the rest is for everything else; and if we all stick to that then everything will be just fine.

People like lines. We refer to lines. They are things we can point at when we’re saying things. When you’re in a ton of crumple zones and air bags, the line acts as your legal reference point: if you’re in Your Lane, you’re ok; if there’s a collision, you’ll have done nothing wrong, because someone else must have entered Your Lane.

And so the road sends the message that cyclists belong in what looks like about half a metre of tarmac in the gutter, and that’s Their Lane, and the rest is Your Lane. It suggests that you are entitled to Your Lane. No matter what. (Remember that Bikeability training recommends that secondary position, the leftmost one, is “not less than 0.5m to the edge of the road” – ie roughly where the lane divider is. Also note that 0.5m is narrower than most bicycles’ handlebars.)

And entitlement is a curious thing. It manifests itself in potentially homicidal behaviour. I’m reluctant to give any oxygen to clickbait, but professional troll Graham Mack provides a shining example of the sort of sociopathic attitude of irresponsibility and endangerment which is fuelled by painting ghettos on the road.

What to do

Best practice for approaching pinch points on a bicycle is this: do a shoulder check, move out to the middle of the lane (primary position), and move back towards the kerb (secondary) when it’s safe to do so. Try doing that when you’re out of your ghetto and Graham “I can’t possibly lift my right foot” Mack is behind you, no doubt honking his horn and turning the air blue and generally having a tiny penis about the whole affair. There’s an appealing glint of schadenfreude in there if you’re thick skinned, but the reality is that when you claim the lane you need the balls to risk a stiff verbal assault, if not a physical one. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

So, if that’s best practice, why don’t we design for it? Why don’t we create a treatment for the carriageway that reinforces people’s right to the lane, and reinforces behaviour that is safer?

Curiously, this would be possible with only a little more paint.

Here’s the existing treatment.

pinch-lanes

But why not something like this?

pinch-hacked

 

Here, there’s a visual break in the “default” lane: vehicles have to traverse pink tarmac. Moreover, they need to give way to it. If there’s nothing there, you can just crack on (it’s only paint, after all), but if there’s a cyclist, there’s a clear signal that Their Lane expands and Your Lane gives way. It lays out the permission and encouragement to behave in the safe manner that is recommended for both cyclist and driver, and—look! lines!—there is something to point to. If there’s a collision, the likely fault is clear: the driver didn’t give way.

There’s no delay to traffic, no loss of tarmac for anyone, no oppression of the vulnerable, no reinforcement of any false sense of entitlement, minimal lack of clarity in a collision, and no undermining of people who behave in a defensive manner or those who train them to do so.

And all for a slightly different stroke with the roller.

Hawthorne Avenue is a prime example of where paint has been made to make things worse—more dangerous—where it could be used to make things a little safer. It’s been applied in a way that precisely contradicts behavioural advice when it could reinforce it. And to exaggerate the insanity, the treatment is applied only at the most dangerous point on the road. It’s a perfect storm of perverse design; a fail so monumentally epic that it’s hard to believe someone wasn’t actively trying to make things worse.

And that is what we see time and time again on the roads.

No, but really… what to do?

Of course, the above solution is still pretty poor. The gutter lane feeding into the pinch is just the same problem stretched out along the road, for a start. And sharing isn’t ideal anyway.

Indeed, sharing hardly seems necessary in this case. Go on, have a browse round Hawthorne Avenue. Look at all that space either side.

hawthorne-aerial

If you measure the carriageway and the pavements either side, then (assuming the lanes are a standard 3m each) you find that the road and pavements occupy 13m of width in total.

I reckon we can do something with 13m.

hawthorne-mix

OK, it’s 13.8m. I’m grabbing a bit over a foot either side. But hey: there’s the same road, but we’ve got proper segregated bike lanes either side, and a pavement too. Take a look down Hawthorne Avenue and you’ll notice there’s room for this along its entire length. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine the raised tables at side roads with cycle lane priority: there’s loads of space for those as well.

What’s the point?

The point is this: so often it’s very feasible to do it properly. Segregation, priority, space. But even when a highway designer or a local authority feels it’s necessary—for whatever reason—to provide for cycling on the main carriageway, it’s not hard to do so in a way that reinforces safe behaviour even without making any imposition on motor traffic beyond the most basic safety.

My sketch may not be a great solution—it’s not segregation—but it shows that paint can at least be used to reinforce safe behaviour rather than dangerous.

Yet the onslaught of antipatterns, of harmful paint and harmful constructions, is relentless. On it goes. And we all feel the pinch.

Addendum (26 September)

As noted by one of the commenters below, not even a day had passed since writing this post before someone on a bicycle was killed on an almost identical pinch point, also in Gloucester (reports: BBC, Gloucester Citizen).

Local authorities seem not to be held accountable for their massive and obvious failings in creating safe environments. Yet another person has died because the approach taken is a lick of paint that opposes every single piece of best practice available.

A slapdash job they may have done, but that’s not pink cycle lane paint on their hands. It’s blood.

 

Comments

  1. chrisrust 25 September 2014 1:49pm #

    Excellent, this and the previous post should be required reading for any road planner. Our local authorities seem hell-bent on finding new ways to create conflict between road users, and all with the best intentions of course.

    • Dave 1 October 2014 8:20am #

      The only solution for cyclists’ safety is BAN them off the roads. Let them only use cycle tracks. Then there would be NO DEATHS. Horses too!

  2. GloucesterNik 25 September 2014 1:50pm #

    Unfortunately this is the case in most of Gloucester. Cycle lanes ending before major junctions, crossing to the incoming lane yards before a roundabout or just stopping with no where to continue. Cycle lanes and paths in the UK are a joke and are put in to meet a requirement. There is little thought or consideration to the actual safety of the cyclist.

    • Bez 25 September 2014 1:53pm #

      Same in most of the country, sadly. It beggars belief that an industry came to such a widespread use of obvious malpractice. Not least when it’s clearly detrimental to safety and has the potential to contribute to fatalities.

  3. Michael J 25 September 2014 1:55pm #

    Pinch points are crazy. If the reasoning in the example is to make a crossing (as the footpaths suggest), why isn’t it a proper pedestrian zebra crossing?

    • Bez 25 September 2014 1:58pm #

      Ha! I was going to draw a zebra on my sketch but thought it might detract from the point I was making 🙂

      But, yes, absolutely. Planners seem phobic of motor traffic having to slow down. Even in residential areas. Go figure.

      • Chris R 25 September 2014 2:14pm #

        The UK’s zebra phobia is ridiculous. If people need to cross then they should have priority over motor vehicles and bikes. They’d get to cross in one go too (try being in that island with a pram or wheelchair, for example).

        Nothing not to like, except we don’t want to slow ‘traffic’ down or are frightened they’ll break the law and ignore that root problem.

        • Bez 25 September 2014 2:16pm #

          I’ve always fancied the idea that all 20 limit zones should be have the same status as zebra crossings…

  4. paulc 25 September 2014 2:20pm #

    the problem in this country is that they absolutely MUST do it on the cheap without uprooting the existing kerbs… that’s why we continue to get paint on the roads and shared use paths…

  5. Andy 25 September 2014 5:18pm #

    “the problem in this country is that they absolutely MUST do it on the cheap…”
    Find Local Authorities the money (£20 per person per year) and it’ll be done right.

    As for zebras, the beacons need to be illuminated. That costs. Although I agree, we don’t use them enough, but it is for that reason. I’d like a local authority to try an experimental layout with only retroreflective beacons and see what happens – could open the floodgates for much wider use of zebras (and tigers).

    The layout you havent explored is to remove the centreline, widen the on-carriageway cycle lanes and have hatching separating them, and have motor vehicles drive down the centre, giving way to each other. Nowhere near ideal, but might be a cheap workaround.

    BTW a standard lane is usually 3.65m wide, not 3m. You’ve potentially got 1.3m extra carriageway width to play with.

    • Bez 25 September 2014 8:19pm #

      Mm, that approach had occurred to me – though not the hatching – but from experience of that design near here, it’s almost entirely inconsequential when cars heavily outnumber bicycles: the road is used just as it was before with the centre line. (Again, though, that’s without hatching.)

      If the lanes are 3.65m, that scales up to an extra 2.8m (ie 15.8m total) for the full monty. Loads of room, then.

      • Andy 26 September 2014 12:00am #

        I have previously thought of a ‘pinch-point’ detail for that layout without a centreline, where instead of putting an island in the middle, the cycle lanes are continued through, full width, protected by islands up to about 500mm wide, forcing motor vehicles to use the remaining (single) lane width in the centre of the carriageway and requiring them to give-way to each other. Probably something more of use in a residential 30mph area than anywhere else. From a peds point of view putting a raised full-width crossing at this point might also be useful. This layout would allow cyclists to continue unimpeded and protected, and should slow motor vehicles.

        In addition, whilst having cyclists negotiate a vertical deflection is far from ideal, it would at least remove the problem often associated with protected lanes, of a lack of maintenance and consequent build up of detritus in the channel, which can quickly make them impassable.

        • Bez 26 September 2014 7:36am #

          I’ve been through those types of pinch before (though without the raised table crossing). They make sense on paper but if you’re cycling through at the same time as a car comes through, you’re often acutely aware that on exiting the pinch you have a car aimed at you. It *feels* close.

          Admittedly, tweaking the implementation would help: widening the cycle lane and extending the hard segregation for maybe 10 yards past the pinch might be of benefit.

          But there is still the fundamental problem that at some point the flows need to merge again, and it’s at that point that the cyclist’s safety needs to be paramount. This is a problem whenever cycle lanes (or short sections of hard segregation) just stop: the cyclist loses all ability to control of when a motor vehicle needs to stay behind and when it’s sufficiently safe to pass. Traffic is a dynamic environment and (without adding a give way line) anchoring the merge point to a fixed position on the road means an inability to cope with that dynamic nature.

          (Edit: also see paulc’s “the other pinch point” comment below.)

  6. Jitensha Oni 25 September 2014 7:07pm #

    You mean lights like this:

    https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.3660676,-0.4416706,3a,75y,267.43h,89.43t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1svvjPm7XUxOmJxwD5fPs2_A!2e0

    cost nothing, and the warning bollards never get smashed dowm/over so they are a purely capital cost too? Wow! You live and learn.

    From your post it sounds like you are an engineer or planner so maybe you could speculate why your colleagues may have used the design the blog focuses on, which, while not explicitly prohibited by LTN2/08 (section 5.7.4), is the least favoured one.

    In any case such pinch designs, with or without lanes, are discriminatory against bicycle users, as certain councillors have been keen to point out in a slightly different context.

    • Andy 25 September 2014 11:44pm #

      “You mean lights like this:
      https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.3660676,-0.4416706,3a,75y,267.43h,89.43t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1svvjPm7XUxOmJxwD5fPs2_A!2e0
      cost nothing, and the warning bollards never get smashed dowm/over so they are a purely capital cost too? Wow! You live and learn.”

      I was referring to why zebras aren’t more widely used. They require the orange belisha beacons to be illuminated. There’s costs in the product itself, ducting, cabling, connection to a supply (and electricity companies can really charge for that ‘service’) and then ongoing operation and maintenance. Without the need for illuminated beacons then they’re just bog-standard sign posts with retroreflective material on them and the same for the globe on top, at which point I suspect zebras would be much more common than is the current case.

      • Dan B 26 September 2014 8:05am #

        And that’s something that would be free to implement – change the law to remove the requirement for zebras to have lights (never thought I’d write that sentence!) and you can allow prioritised crossing points without adding clutter.

        • Mark Williams 5 October 2014 11:32am #

          Here is part of my reply to question 13 of the recent TSRGD consultation:

          – Table 71, item 43 allow retroreflective yellow globe without lighting on low speed roads {minister’s statement for presumption of retroreflective and unlit signs, reduce energy consumption and cost of signs}.

          SUSTRANS also made some further and better points on a similar vein (this is a sentence I never thought I’d write!) in their response, amongst lots of other good stuff.

          The onerousness of the Hoare-Belisha lighting regulations were presumably designed to `discourage’ most councils from ever installing zebra crossings. On most roads in the 1930s, electricity supplies would have been as rare as hens teeth and flashing hardware reassuringly expensive…

      • paulc 26 September 2014 8:13am #

        surely in this day and age we can have solar powered beacons?

  7. paulc 26 September 2014 8:11am #

    This is another pinch point I daily ride through in Gloucester. It’s fine going one way, but an absolute nightmare coming the other as idiots simply must come through without giving way to me or else must overtake before it even though I’m in primary

    http://goo.gl/maps/sXtg4

  8. Tim 26 September 2014 1:00pm #

    Often I’ve moved in towards primary position and drivers have obliviously tried to squeeze past regardless, making matters much worse.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I would have thought it was simple – if there’s not room to overtake, DON’T OVERTAKE! But a lot of drivers seem to do it pretty much “on principle”.

    I notice that in your excellent mock-up you’ve made the cycle lane approach mandatory. Does that mean drivers aren’t allowed to drive over the give-way lines? 😉

    • Bez 26 September 2014 1:05pm #

      Mandatory cycle lanes are only mandatory in the sense of motor vehicles having to keep out of them, rather than bicycles having to keep within them.

      But, in any case, I’m hoping that particular detail isn’t important. I’m no highway engineer and, as I say, gutter cycle lanes are dreadful anyway. I think I was probably just trying to draw fewer lines 😉

  9. Rich Warner 26 September 2014 1:11pm #

    bz2, we have something similar where I live. But it’s in the UK, so has parked cars either side and the cycle part just forms a larger clogged gutter full of leaves and who-knows-what-else.

    http://goo.gl/maps/Gnwjz

    • Andy 26 September 2014 4:36pm #

      That’s why I’d suggest adding a raised full width crossing – to remove the gutter and minimise the build up of detritus.

    • bz2 26 September 2014 4:52pm #

      You’ve got to be kidding me. Those actually just look like gutters. As in, designed to carry water and nothing else. You’d struggle to get into and out of there, and to not hit the kerbstones. Or even to notice them, in autumn.

  10. Harry 26 September 2014 3:30pm #

    But your plan ignores the needs of pedestrians, why not scrap the cycle lane as cyclists should be in the main carriageway and bring the kerbs closer to make a narrowed crossing point.
    The narrowing will also slow traffic.
    So a pinch point that forces everyone into a line astern pattern instead of trying to squeeze through side by side.

    • Bez 26 September 2014 3:41pm #

      Well, yes, I was tackling one thing at a time 🙂

      As others have noted above, you could feasibly put a zebra in.

      I believe (may be wrong) that the narrowest permitted lane width at a pinch is 2.5m, which is the width of a 3.5t truck without mirrors. A narrow car (eg a Daewoo Matiz) is 1.5m, meaning there’d be 1m of excess width for such a vehicle: still enough space to tempt people to make a dangerous pass.

      Indeed, as this article discusses, it’s enough space to ensure that specialist witnesses for the defence will be able to make mitigating statements that, again, reinforce dangerous behaviour.

      So, yes, pedestrians can be a little better catered for, but that’s wasn’t what the post was about at all. Similar pinch points exist without pedestrian crossings.

      But I’m not sure that line-astern traffic can be enforced by a pinch point quite so easily as you suggest.

  11. davidhembrow 26 September 2014 7:01pm #

    As it happens, a road with a pinch point in the Netherlands was almost the only “good” example I featured of a cycle-lane in the Netherlands.

    Frankly, cycle-lanes rarely work well.

  12. rdrf 26 September 2014 9:04pm #

    I think Harry is thinking along the right lines. Your “why not something like this” works only if cyclists are restricted to the cycle lane and want to stay there all the time.

    Since people have been talking about a pedestrian crossing, one possibility is a raised table and/or zebra. It works to slow motors down – sadly it also can be uncomfortable for cyclists, particularly if on a more upright bike and sensitive to vertical variation

    • Bez 26 September 2014 9:07pm #

      As I think I’ve at the very least hinted at: the ideal solution would be segregated lanes as per the Streetmix sketch, and a zebra, preferably raised. But this post is really about the perverseness of using paint to obstruct safe behaviour, with a single example, rather than about discussing the ideal solution for the whole street.

    • Andy 27 September 2014 9:32pm #

      “Since people have been talking about a pedestrian crossing, one possibility is a raised table and/or zebra.”
      Actually, this shows how everyone is ‘infected’ by traditional thinking. Why are we all talking about ‘a’ zebra? That junction has three arms and at least two desire lines – crossing Hawthorne Avenue north of the junction and crossing what appears to be a very wide bellmouth on Bittern Avenue. Also, those radii ought to be reduced and at least two zebras provided on a raised junction – if we’re really serious about better provision for peds. Certainly if off-road cycle provision was available then three (probably ‘tiger’) crossings would be needed, to be replicated at every side road.

      • cyclestrian 2 October 2014 12:57am #

        Andy: zebras on junction arms give pedestrians no more rights. They already have priority when crossing at these points.

  13. Phil Fouracre 1 October 2014 9:56am #

    Great reading. Followed your link to Mack, what an absolute arsehole!

    • Andy 6 October 2014 10:26pm #

      @cyclestrian
      “Andy: zebras on junction arms give pedestrians no more rights. They already have priority when crossing at these points”
      Unfortunately (and despite being in black and white in the Highway Code) this seems to be less and less observed. My main concern is elderly peds who lack the confidence to initially ‘take the crossing’, as it were. Their preferred crossing option, it seems, is traffic signals. However, these are expensive, and, although far from ideal, at least zebras (or even a cut-down version thereof) are a very obvious crossing point, and somewhere drivers should be looking for peds to be crossing, and which gives those peds some measure of control and priority over vehicles.

      http://www.idgo.ac.uk/design_guidance/factsheets/Pedestrian_Crossings.htm

  14. jon86boi 18 November 2014 4:30pm #

    Hi, this has been an issue with the “thoughtful re-design” of the main road through Alton, Hampshire. The response to the emails I sent highlighting the danger that having designated cycle lanes with a sizeable central pedestrian island was to put up a “Beware cyclists” temporary sign. Amazing.

    http://instagram.com/p/sfbgBKJkF2/

    The picture even shows how much even a considerate driver would need to encroach on the cycle lane. I’ve offered to (for free) review any future road planning they are doing to give it a quick once over to spot avoidable mistakes – like this one – that could cause injury

    • Dave 18 November 2014 5:03pm #

      Get a JCB and dig the lot up!

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