Friday, 29 August 2014

Birmingham City Centre Site Visit 2

These notes are for the stakeholder site vist. The Cycle Ambition bid and the City Centre Cycling Strategy recognised that there are two quite clear corridors that form a 'cross' in the city. 

South to North Route into the City Centre
The first is that almost all cyclists entering the city centre from the south are funnelled into Hurst St and Hill St and up to Victoria Square. Much of this route is earmarked for public realm improvements as part of the planning gain from New St station redevelopment. It is also affected by the Metro extension which cyclists must cross.  The existing northbound central cycle lane feeder to the advanced stop line at Smallbrook Queensway was designed when almost all motor traffic went left or right and only cycles and taxis and a small number of vehicles went ahead up Hill St. A safer option would be to keep cyclists on the nearside and give them a phase to cross Smallbrook Queensway at the same time as pedestrians (similar to the contraflow on the opposite side), but this would mean cyclists experiencing similar delays to what currently happens on the southbound contraflow.

North to South Route into the City Centre

There is a similar, but less obvious route that could in future be promoted from the north via Newhall St. This would however require a short section of contraflow including works to the signalled junction at Colmore Row. Could these signals be removed and replaced with a table top junction and some zebra crossings for example?

The route would continue south onto Bennetts Hill down to New St station and out to Hill St via Stephenson St. Normally one-way, Bennetts Hill has been operating as a two-way street for the last few months during works on neighbouring Temple St. At present we have drawn up options for segregated and unsegregated contraflow - bearing in mind this is access only and will be 20mph it shouldnt really require major infrastructure.

Bennetts Hill - lower part from New St
Bennetts Hill - upper part from Waterloo St to Colmore Row

West to East Route across the City Centre
The obvious route is from Five Ways along Broad St. Broad St is not part of Cycle Ambition grant due to construction of Metro in next few years. A 'parallel' route linking Five Ways to Holliday St is therefore included.  There is a discontinuity at Paradise Forum (to be addressed in the Paradise Circus redevelopment) and then its necessary to go along Waterloo St, Temple Row, Bull St and Corporation St to Lancaster Circus. This is a straightforward route if you know it but with frequent changes of direction its far from obvious.  What is the best way to show these routes within a busy city centre?

East to West Route across the City Centre
A number of routes converge at Lancaster Circus. From here the only westbound routes are either around the Queensway (see previous notes) or via Steelhouse Lane. The route from the subway onto Steelhouse Lane is very poorly defined and appears to cross the hospital entrance. There is a temporary discontinuity at Colmore Circus but again the route through the pedestriansed section is unclear. Colmore Row then continues to Victoria Square, Paradise Circus and onwards towards  Broad St via Centenary Square. As with the eastbound route, this is a logical 'straight line' route but difficult to follow on the ground and would not really function if cycling levels were to increase as there would be too much pedestrian/cycle conflict.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Birmingham City Centre - St Chads Circus to Moor St Queensway site visit

Please note that any 'proposals' or 'potential routes' mentioned in this note will be subject to any constraints identified in the design development and subject to the outcomes of a full public consultation process. The word 'proposal' therefore refers to the ideas for a cycle route network that were set out in Birmingham's Cycle Ambition Bid.

Looking at movements around the Queensway
The site visit notes refer to potential and existing cycle routes around the Queensway and Park Street between St Chads Circus near Snow Hill and Moor St Queensway. These connections are largely on wide shared footways, typically the footway width is between 3.0m and 6.0m. Most of the footways are surfaced with concrete paving slabs. There are a number of generic issues to be considered:
  • How to 'define' that the area is available for cycling (shared footway or create a dedicated cycle track) including surfacing and waymarking.
  • If separate cycle tracks and pedestrian facilities are installed, how will the arrangements and connections to other routes work, to what extent can we achieve consistent provision when 'retro-fitting'.
  • How to accommodate bus stops and other kerbside activities where pedestrians cross a cycle track.
  • Best arrangements at subways and surface crossings where pedestrian and cycle movements have to be safely accommodated.
  • The links and transitions to various on-carriageway and off-carriageway cycle routes that meet the Queensway and Park St.
  • Can we rearrange any street furniture to minimise hazards and inconvenience for pedestrians and cyclists, including blind and partially sighted users and people using wheelchairs.

St Chads Circus Connections: This area connects routes coming in along Soho Road at Constitution Hill plus a parallel route from Newtown that enters via Summer Lane and an access to the canal towpath. For the most confident fast cyclists coming from Soho Road, Snow Hill Queensway leads straight into the city centre and is now closed to traffic except bus, taxi and cycles but the gradient and road width at the multi-lane junction is challenging and not a safe environment to mix with motor traffic, so doesn't presently cater for most people. There is also a signed cycle route on Lionel St off Constitution Hill that leads towards Paradise Circus.  As part of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution (BCR) canal route works, the link from the canal towpath access at Cliveland St to the subways under the Queensway at Little Shadwell St (in the 'Gun Quarter') and Loveday St (leading to Lancaster Circus) will be signed.  The subway by little Shadwell St provides a grade separated crossing of Queensway and access to Steelhouse Lane via Whitall St, leading towards the Childrens hospital and Law Courts.

St Chads Circus requires cyclists to cross two lanes of traffic to go from Constitution Hill into the city and vice versa.
It would make sense to permit shared use on all of the wide footways between Lionel St, St Chads circus, and Lancaster Circus to offer connections between all of the routes and local attractors. The area between St Chads and Lancaster Circus is generally not busy with pedestrians although there are two hotels, the Salvation Army Hostel and St Chads Cathedral all of which generate some pedestrian traffic throughout the day. The main issue in this section therefore is less about managing conflicts and more about making coherent routes and waymarking that is easy for pedestrians and cyclists to follow. Street furniture effectively halves the width of the available footway in places, and there is a bus stand layby (not a bus stop). A 'half height' or hybrid cycle track could be constructed here if street furniture was moved, but this may be more tempting for drivers to use as a place to stop, and would need to be discontinued and revert to shared surface by the subways and other localised narrowings. This arrangement could add significantly to street clutter and maintenance costs in terms of additional signs and tactile paving compared to a simple shared footway.

Sign posts, lamp columns and advertising poles within the wide footway on St Chads Queensway near Lancaster Circus.

Footway width reduces on the approach to Lancaster Circus subway although none of the adjacent buildings has entrances onto this footway.
Lancaster Circus Connections: Lancaster Circus forms a 'gateway' to the city centre for pedestrians and cyclists by providing grade separation at the intersection of the A38, A34 and the Queensway. Links to the canal towpath at Newtown Row and Corporation St are being improved as part of BCR. There is some existing provision for cyclists along the A34 Newtown Row in the form of shared footway, cycle lanes and bus lanes and a toucan crossing. Routes along Corporation St are proposed to be improved as part of the BCR 'Lichfield Road' corridor. A 'parallel' route is proposed to come into the city via Lister St and through the Aston campus to Aston St. The proposed main cross-city centre cycle route towards Paradise Circus and Broad St uses Steelhouse Lane (and Corporation St for the reverse).  There is an existing busy toucan crossing of James Watt Queensway (from BCU to Steelhouse Lane).

Issues to consider around Lancaster Circus and James Watt Queensway:
  • There are some busy bus stops in this area close to the University where space is most constrained.
  • The air ambulance stops outside the Childrens Hospital.
  • Connections between the carriageway and Lancaster Circus subways are not well defined for cyclists.
  • The footways along James Watt Queensway are 'shared use' but not well connected - for example no clear route to/from Dale End which has a pedestrian only crossing, no surface markings to indicate shared areas.
  • Two-way cycling is required on both sides of James Watt Queensway (to link to Dale End and Jennens Rd) so any dedicated space for cycling would need to be wide enough to accommodate this.
  • There is a lot of pedestrian activity on this section, although the pedestrian movements along the road generally coincide with direction of travel of cyclists and there are few frontages direct onto the footway so not as much potential for conflict apart from at bus stops.
This toucan crossing at James Watt Queensway near Steelhouse Lane and Corporation St is often busy with pedestrians and cyclists in term time. Further along towards Dale End, there is a lot of street furniture and an unused bus layby, and the shared surface terminates with no connection into Dale End. There is no priority for pedestrians and cyclists at the exit from Corporation St onto the Queensway although the flows probably significantly outnumber motor traffic.
Dale End to Jennens Road and Curzon St Connections: Dale End leads to the High St shopping area of the city centre. There is an entrance to the University campus (Coleshill St) with a toucan crossing of the Queensway immediately south-east of Dale End. The main road route to Nechells Parkway starts at Jennens Road. It is proposed to upgrade crossings of the ring road around Curzon Circle to toucan crossings and to improve links to Landor St as parts of the parallel route network. there is a link to the canal towpath off Curzon St. There is a shared pedestrian/cycle path in Eastside Park leading to Curzon St and existing toucan crossing of Park St.

Issues to consider in this section:
  • The north-east footway of Queensway is shared use (part of the 'City Ring' signed route). There is a toucan crossing over Jennens Road.
  • There is a gap in the cycle route between Jennens Road and Eastside Park (near Bartholomew Row). i.e. it is legal to cycle as its part of the shared use but the space is physically not well arranged.
  • Park St/Masshouse Lane/Moor St Queensway form a gyratory system. Cyclists using the carriageway need to move into the offside lanes in busy/fast traffic for some manouevres - for example to go from from Moor st Queensway to Jennens Road.
  • The route is not very legible, apart from the toucan crossings it just uses the original footways with a few blue signs.
  • There are a few physical pinch points where cyclists and pedestrians are funnelled together around the toucan crossings.
The shared footway from James Watt Queensway to Jennens Road has lots of sign poles. The number of cable ducts visible in the photograph may indicate that construction of a new path to provide dedicated space for cycling could be expensive.
A 'gap' in the shared footway between Jennens Road and Eastside Park.

Paving slab symbol used to supplement upright signs at Eastside Park

Park Street to Moor St Queensway Connections: The cycle route from Eastside Park continues over Park St on a toucan crossing, crosses Masshouse Lane and round in front of La Tour hotel up the pedestrianised section of Albert St to link to Moor St Queensway.  There are toucan crossings on Moor St Queensway, one between Albert St and Masshouse Lane and one just west of Albert St. Albert St leads to the High St and Bullring shopping centre. Signed cycle routes from Digbeth enter the city centre at Fazeley St (includes the Ward End Route, links to Bordesley, the Stratford Road Parallel and links to the Rea Valley route via Digbeth). there is also a link to the Grand Union Canal towpath.  Moor St station, New St station and the proposed HS2 terminal at Curzon St are all in the vicinity.

Issues to consider in this section:
  • The route between Eastside Park and Albert St is discontinuous and hazardous at the crossing of Masshouse Lane and in front of the hotel entrance.
  • The junction of Fazeley St and Park St is hazardous.
  • Speed of traffic on the park St gyratory system is intimidating for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • There is poor visibility at some of the informal pedestrian crossings on Park St and at the zebra crossing on Fazeley St.
  • There is no clear route between Albert St (on the city centre side) and the toucan crossings.
  • There are conflicting movements between pedestrians and cyclists on Moor St Queensway due to access from car parks and bus stops.
  • Inadequate waymarking to and from the city centre.
No clear route to Albert St past the door of the La Tour hotel

Visibility at dropped kerb crossing of Park St is obscured by street furniture and bus shelter

No defined space for cyclists along Moor St Queensway
Moor St Queensway footway gets very busy near bus stops and car park
Considerations: Good practice guidance would suggest that all routes offer separate pedestrian/cycle facilities rather than shared use. Would this work around bus stops? Are subways or surface crossings better? Should we replace all paving slabs with tarmac or does the uneven ride help remind cyclists to slow down within the central area? Can we take sufficient space from carriageway for two-way cycling where necessary? Can/should we replace 'toucan' crossings with parallel ped/ cycle crossings? If we can't have road sign poles within footway/cycle track how do we accommodate them? To what extent can we reduce the street furniture - what can we remove? 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Easy Riding in the Lake District - thanks to the Local Sustainable Transport Fund

Occasionally a ‘must win’ brief drops through the letter box. In 2012 I received an invitation to tender from the Lake District National Park – ‘The consultant must be prepared to cycle all on and off road routes in the study area during the month of March’.
The Lake District National Park (in partnership with Cumbria Tourism and Cumbria County Council) received money from the DfT Local Sustainable Transport Fund to encourage healthy and sustainable travel and tourism within the area. Our job was to try to identify some circular cycle routes that would appeal to a wide variety of users. We set out to 'grade' the routes to give an indication of difficulty (based on gradient, traffic danger, technical trails or remote areas) and also to improve the signing. This was to help eliminate confusion over terms such as 'permitted path', 'bridleway', 'byway' etc that don't give a good indication of what users are allowed on which paths.
Simplified and consistent signing of off-road routes was co-ordinated with standard highway signs

One of the problems of the area (from a cycling perspective) is that it tends to be extreme; extreme gradients, difficult off-road technical trails, and extreme levels of traffic on some roads. At first glance, the cycling offer only appeals to real enthusiasts. However, take a closer look and there are many roads, paths and trails that largely run along the flatter lake sides and valleys. These routes, in combination with taking a bike on ferry services and bike-buses enables a circular trip that doesn’t involve busy roads, and the views from the ferry or the bus are excellent.

The car traffic associated with tourism is responsible for the majority of carbon dioxide and other air pollution in UK National Parks. Over 90% of visitors typically arrive by car, however this is not the major problem, and with relatively poor rail connections it would be difficult to alter this. The main issue is the short local journeys that occur within the National Park during a visit, sometimes in combination with inconsiderate parking on local roads.

People often move from one attraction to another, spending just 20-30 minutes in each place before moving on. Congestion can quickly build on narrow roads, and towns and villages become clogged as drivers look for a parking space. To save money, many day visitors bring a car full of food from home, so a day visitor brings relatively little money into the local economy.  Considerable expense is required to build and maintain the roads and car parks, as well as hidden costs of environmental damage and road accidents.

Sustainable transport solutions developed for the LSTF aim to replace some of those short local trips by more time spent on bicycles or on foot, so the car stays in one place for longer, easing congestion and minimising its impact. At the same time, because people are travelling more slowly they explore in greater detail and spend more money in local businesses. Cycle routes themselves can be a catalyst for new business and employment in catering, accommodation and cycle hire, often in quieter locations that are away from the main ‘honeypot’ attractions.

Advantages of more people cycling and walking in rural areas include:

·    Greater numbers of people able to access ‘hot spots’ such as Beatrix Potter’s house, where car parking capacity is limited.

·    Cars spend more time in one place, reducing the number of short car trips during the day, as their occupants explore the area by bike instead. This is better for pollution and congestion.

·    People travelling on foot and by bike tend to spend more money locally on refreshments and accommodation.

·    Organised activities such as cycling and walking festivals can be promoted around the infrastructure to extend the visitor season and to attract mid week visitors.

·    Cycle routes can be a way to attract visitors into quieter parts of the National Park that don’t have so much traffic.

A couple of weeks ago I pedalled up to the Lake District one afternoon along the Lancashire/Yorkshire border, sampling local delicacies along the way....

Lancashire Lunch - butter pie and eccles cakes

and next day went to the 'grand opening' of one of the improved routes, where Wiggo and Cav were on hand to do the honours!

Wiggo and Cav wave us off
VIP ribbon cutting!

The route from Ambleside to Langdale is typical of the issues that we tried to address within the study. The first problem is getting out of Ambleside, which is seemingly surrounded by busy main roads. However, there is a ‘secret’ quiet lane called Under Loughrigg at the far side of the village park. From here it’s possible to access bridleways leading to Rydal and Grasmere (currently being improved for cycling), or in our case, to turn onto a short section of cycle track alongside the A593 towards Coniston. Where topography constrains the road into a narrow corridor, cycle lanes on the carriageway have been provided. A short track over an attractive old footbridge leads into Bog Lane, a very quiet road that links to Skelwith Bridge.

At Skelwith Bridge we entered into the National Trust land across Elterwater meadow and alongside the river to Elterwater village. Here the path has been widened, resurfaced and realigned to help prevent flooding. The new flatter, smoother surface is also more accessible to both pushchairs and wheelchair users and others who would struggle to cope on uneven surfaces. This is increasingly important as a high proportion of existing visitors are older people who still want to be able to access the countryside, and the National Park also wishes to broaden its appeal to attract more young families with children, as well as younger people with a sense of adventure. This kind of easy access with a spectacular view is exactly what we were aiming to achieve within the project.

The lovely widened, level path through Elterwater meadow

The route continues along minor roads and tracks to The 'Wainwright Bridge' which connects to a new section which gets a bit more hilly, with a deviation up the side of the hill to the quarry, before skirting along the hillside and dropping back across the fields to the  Stickle Barn.
Exhilerating swoop down the fell side before crossing the meadows to the Stickle Barn pub for lunch.

Identifying the route was of course the easy part. The hard work has subsequently been done by the Lake District National Park in partnership with the Cumbria Tourism, National Trust, Cumbria Council and the local land owners, to negotiate, design and construct the trail. The project costs were about £100,000 to create the new paths and upgrade existing paths. A substantial amount of the money stayed within the local economy. The stone and surfacing for the paths was sourced from the Elterwater Quarry (Burlington Stone, owners of the quarry, also permitted the route to run through their land) and some of the construction was undertaken by a local farmer following a successful tendering process. In addition to creating local employment, local contractors bring substantial practical experience of creating paths that can withstand the extreme weather. Particularly dealing with the volume of water coming off the hillsides which must pass beneath the path if possible to avoid the  surface being washed away.

The path to Langdale is just one of many routes being developed. Along with the physical infrastructure other innovations in the overall 'Go Lakes Travel' programme include bike-carrying buses, an electric bike hire scheme and a range of promotional maps and events to highlight the routes and the attractions that they serve. Exploring the area by bike for the study has certainly changed my perception and, with the route improvements, it is now possible to visit one of the country's busiest national parks and yet spend many hours virtually traffic free either on or off-road. For more information about cycling in the area visit the  Go Lakes Travel and  Lake District National Park  websites.