Thursday, 5 September 2013

Richard Mann and his local Oxford cycling group, Cyclox are planning on mis-investing £1m of Cameron's recent cycling funding making key Oxford roundabout, The Plain, *more* dangerous for cyclists

We all know the government are just offering 'crumbs from the table' (according to the British Medical Journal) with their recent, pitifully small grant to fund cycling infrastructure. However, there's potentially an even more grave problem for the future of transport cycling in Britain. Namely, that what little money there is can still be completely mis-invested by idiotic town-planners – and even local cyclists – that don't understand the basic fact that your child will be safer when cycling if he/she isn't sharing an extra narrow 'general traffic lane' with a bus or lorry.

Richard Mann is just one such cyclist who has, incredibly, publicly supported Oxford council's proposed plans to narrow The Plain roundabout in Oxford which currently caters for almost 10,000 trips by bike each day.

I can understand why the journalist who wrote a story on this for the Oxford Mail, Freddie Whittaker, might not understand why the proposed changes will do the very opposite to his ill-informed headline of making The Plain 'safer for cyclists'. He' a journalist after all. Perhaps he never cycles, he just got told to cover this story but his editor. But for someone (Richard Mann) who feels they represent a 'cycle campaigning group', to support these reckless plans is absolutely unacceptable.

The proposed changes have not been formally released as diagrams, but we are told that:

At present the carriageway that runs around The Plain varies between 6m and 10m in width, but the redesign would change this to 5m all the way...  Instead of two lanes approaching The Plain from the city, there would be a single lane. 

Essentially, these plans boil down to road-narrowing like the City of London did with Cheapside, something the City of London planners have now acknowledged has been a complete failure for cyclists using this roads. Richard Mann and Oxford County Council's proposals also sound alarmingly similar to plans which TfL drew up last year for the roundabout where Lambeth Bridge meets Embankment.

TfL's proposed changes in 2012 to narrow Lambeth Bridge Northern Roundabout which were rejected by LCC and eventually binned by Andrew Gilligan, London's Cycling Commissioner.
These plans essentially consisted of narrowing the carriageway in an effort to slow motor-traffic. However, this just means that those on bikes who lack the protection of steel box (a car) are put in even closer proximity with inherently life-threatening buses, or even lorry drivers like the one which killed a Londoner on a bike yesterday. Forcing your child, or your grandmother, or your niece to share an even narrower 'general traffic lane' with cars, buses and HGVs is simply not going to 'make one of Oxford’s key problem junctions as cycle-friendly as they possible' (to quote Richard Mann). It's going to make it substantially worse for those on bikes.

The way to make a junction, road, or roundabout safe for people on bikes is to provide dedicated space for cycling which is not shared by potentially fatal motor traffic. If you want the motor traffic to slow down, give them a bloody speed limit for god's sake. Don't try and use people as mobile human traffic calming devices. Richard Mann, this is inhumane.

And it is for exactly this reason that TfL rejected their plans for Lambeth Roundabout and are choosing instead to trial a Dutch solution, as advocated by campaigners and bloggers that have read David Hembrow's blog. This is a design that sensibly provides a segregated cycle lane for your niece/grandmother/child to navigate the roundabout free from motor traffic.

A 'Dutch roundabout' in Holland where cyclists do not have to share traffic lanes with motor vehicles.
TfL's trial Dutch roundabout which they have constructed in at their testing facility. Berkshire.
So if London, with all it's cars, taxis, and buses has opted for a Dutch solution, and is rejecting the idiotic road-narrowing demanded by Richard Mann, it is slightly bizarre that Oxford is not doing the same thing. What is the point of TfL spending a million pounds trialling Dutch roundabouts if that knowledge cannot be shared across the UK and used to actually get this country cycling, not worsen existing conditions

What makes Richard Mann's and Oxford Council's proposed changes all the more gob-smacking is that The Plain roundabout is:
  1. Larger than that formed when Lambeth Bridge meets Embankment which TfL are planning on turning into a 'Dutch roundabout' with segregated cycle lanes.
  2. Currently used by substantially more cyclists a day than the aforementioned counterpart in London.
  3. Needs to handle far fewer buses and cars each day than Lambert Bridge North Roundabout, especially in the coming years as Oxford city centre, to which it is the eastern gateway, becomes increasingly pedestrianised and cycle-friendly. 
The Plain and Lambeth North Roundabouts compared side by side. Pic by @Robonabike.
Put simply, there are no excuses in terms of size for The Plain not to 'Go Dutch'. There is plenty of space here for full segregation. Anyone that tells you otherwise is simply lying. If there wasn't the space available the Council would not be happy to reduce the carriageway from a maximum of 10m to '5m all the way', nor to replace the two general traffic lanes approaching The Plain roundabout from the city with 'a single lane'. Some trees may have to be replanted, but I believe that is a valid sacrifice to make if it prevents Oxford residents being seriously injured or killed while cycling here.

Nor is it necessary for Oxford County Council to create two lanes for motor traffic here. Motorists will be able to get around Oxford perfectly easily with one lane since so few people drive into the centre of Oxford now. In fact, segregating less confident cyclists from the main carriageway will actually make it easier and quicker for drivers to use the roundabout than the proposed road-narrowing plans which I've heavily criticised above.

And there is a £1m lined up which could pay for a Dutch solution.

But at the moment that's not going to happen. It's a terrible, terrible waste. 

If you feel similarly please let your views by hear by emailing the Oxford County Council at highway.enquiries@oxfordshire.gov.uk, especially if you are an Oxford resident that uses this roundabout.

I'd also recommend contacting Richard Mann at richard@transportparadise.co.uk, especially if you feel like you could do a better job of representing the interests of those that want to travel from A to B by bike in Oxford.

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If you think I'm exaggerating, full details about Oxford Country Council's and Richard Mann's plans for The Plain can be found here, from http://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/content/cycle-city-ambition-grant-application.

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Mulling over this, it's a real surprise to find this kind of thing happening in Oxford, which has perhaps the best cycle lane in Britain running alongside Marston Ferry Road. The people that built this clearly understand that cycling works best when cycle traffic and motor traffic aren't mixed in narrow 'general traffic lanes' but given their own separate space. This just makes it all the more inexplicable that the County Council and Richard Mann want to spend £1m in order to dangerously mix bike and motor traffic on The Plain roundabout.

This cycle lane (or perhaps 'cycle-road' is better?) is the, for my money, the best in the UK. Wide, safe, well-paved, it's the main reason that almost 60% pupils at Cherwell School (located just off the cycle lane) cycle to school.
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Edit 6/9/13 - Doug Culnane has commented below with a link to a very rough mock-up of how The Plain might look with 'Dutch-style' segregation of bike traffic, rather than the lethal road-narrowing Richard Mann is supporting.

A very rough idea of the kind of segregation the County Council and Cyclox should be pursuing given the ample size of the roundabout, the fact they have £1 million to spend, and that Oxford has the second highest cycling rates in the all of the UK. By Doug Culnane.