Earlier this year, central government announced a limited fund for junction safety improvements for cycling and walking. Birmingham City Council submitted bids for two junctions, and secured funding for the largest of those - the junction of Pershore Road and Priory Road where Suzanna Bull was killed by a lorry last year. The consultation on the plans is now out, covering a cycle track from Bristol Road, over Pershore Road, and down to NCN 5 at the entrance to Cannon Hill Park. It closes on November 9th 2018.
Our general comments:
This is overall a good scheme, and although there have been compromises made (see below), the general feeling of the route will be comfortable and safe. The scheme will introduce safe pedestrian phases for every arm of the junction, as well as giving a safe phase for the cycle track users. This represents a vast improvement in safety compared to the current situation, and so is very welcome. Push Bikes support these proposals.
More detailed notes:
Bristol Road junction:
At the Bristol Road junction, the cycle track does not join directly with the new cycle track Bristol Road. Instead cycle users will have to use the staggered shared use crossings to reach the cycle track. It is not good to have people on bicycles alongside people who are walking on staggered shared use crossings - their paths collide and cycles need more space when turning. There are several reasons why this design is currently unavoidable:
Firstly, due to the controversy over the restrictions on turns implemented as part of the Bristol Road cycle track plans, there is no political will for revisiting the design of that junction. In our discussions with the BCR team, we pointed out that at some point there would need to be a connection made from the Bristol Road cycle track to a cycle track linking up to NCN 5 and that it would be best to design in a connection from the start - so we feel that we did predict this problem. However we understand that putting forward substantial changes to the junction design and reopening that debate would delay the Bristol Road cycle track even further.
Secondly, the surrounding private land is not the only physical constraint on space, but also the services. One manhole cover next to the carriageway goes down to a large chamber that would cost £1 million to relocate if the carriageway was widened further to accommodate a safer crossing space in the middle. It is not possible to change the layout in a way that wouldn't cost a lot more money than has been allocated to the scheme by central government.
Finally, the Department for Transport's safety evaluation of crossings forces crossings to be staggered. Unlike other European nations where pedestrian crossings are designed in a straight line and the people using them are expected to pay attention and understand which section has green and which doesn't, in the UK pedestrian crossings are designed with the assumption that the people using them will not pay attention. Local councils are more constrained by that in the designs they can have for crossings, and so shared use crossings are often staggered and so substandard. There isn't a quick fix to this problem that Birmingham City Council can implement, unfortunately.
We expect that cycle users heading into the city centre may stay on the south-east side of Bristol Road and cross at the toucan crossing at Sir Harry’s Road, which gives a wide crossing point which can be crossed in a single phase. This crossing will be faster for cycle users and for most of those who are regularly using this route, it will be more convenient. For cycle users who need to cross the Bristol Road junction to head along Priory Road, or to head along Bristol Road away from the city centre, the route will be more difficult, and it is difficult to see what can be done to improve that without a substantial redesign. In the long run, we expect there to be a significant increase in cycle traffic through this junction, and some more of the private land may need to be use to build an extra cycle track on the south-east side.
Within the constraints of these plans and the budget constraints, the following changes could be made: The cycle track could be extended closer to the junction; the pavement next to the end of the cycle track could be widened to provide space for cycle users heading to and from the crossing at Sir Harry's Road; wider dropped kerbs are needed on the mouth Dollery Drive to accommodate cycle users heading in both directions.
Pershore Road junction:
The junction is being expanded, and extra lanes are being added for motor traffic, however this is to provide some holding space for during the pedestrian and cycle phases. Without finding a way to maintain the motor traffic capacity for this junction, it would not have been possible to get agreement to make changes to improve the safety of people walking and cycling. This puts us in the situation of supporting a scheme that seems to increase the amount of space available to motor traffic - an odd situation for a cycle campaign - but in terms of taking actions to reduce motor traffic volume, the first push should be to cut off rat-runs (see Living Street's and London Cycling Campaign's 'Low Traffic Neighbourhoods' documents) rather than changing capacity on main roads. For main roads, we need cycle tracks alongside and space reallocated to bus lanes, but we need compromises in order to get those things.
For people walking, the plans introduce pedestrian phases on all arms of the junction. This will be transformative for safety here, giving segregated time to people to cross in safety. Some of these crossings will be staggered, partly to meet requirements of the DfT's safety audits but also to provide stacking space for motor vehicles off the junction when the pedestrian phase is operating. This compromise helps capacity to be maintained and the junction to remain a little clearer while also giving safe space for people to cross.
For people cycling, the plans introduce a cycle track running across the junction from Bristol Road to NCN 5. This will be a wide bi-directional track that has its own signal phase and will give the same level of delay as for motor traffic. There will be an extra lane for stacking motor traffic that wants to turn across the cycle track from Edgbaston Road, so that the motor traffic that is held while the cycle track has green will be able to clear the junction more quickly.
For people cycling along Pershore Road, however, the plans are not as good. There will be a kerb-protected cycle lane on both approaches to the junction which will be given an on-demand light phase to give cycle users a time-segregated opportunity to clear the junction - either onto the cycle track or across to carry on along Pershore Road. It is not clear if this will result in an increased delay for people who want to cycle straight across the junction and carry along Pershore Road, and so it may be that some people will find that they want to stay in the general motor traffic lanes and cross in the same phase as the cars. There are no Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) for people who want to do that - this is again part of the compromise with the designs, but junctions should be designed so that cycle users want to use the segregated facilities, rather than feeling that they are worse than staying on the general carriageway, and ASLs don't fit into that design aim.
We think that the plans for this junction could be improved. Ideally there should be segregated space along Pershore Road for cycle users, but there is not the funds available in this scheme to do that and it is not clear what form that segregated space would take. So how to change the plans to accommodate that future infrastructure is not as clear as it is for the Bristol Road junction. We think the following things would be useful though:
Firstly, the cycle tracks should be brought slightly away from the kerbs, to give space for people to wait for the pedestrian crossing lights. The cycle tracks should have a 'zebra crossing' on it for pedestrians, rather than being light controlled to stop cycle users completely. This could help give extra time to cycles on the junction when the pedestrian phases were on.
Secondly, the designs could be altered to facilitate a simultaneous green phase for cycle users, as happens in the Netherlands. This would provide extra time for people using the cycle track when people cycling along Pershore Road had their green phase, as well as allowing people on the cycle track to turn onto Pershore Road in one movement, rather than taking several stages to get across.
We have passed on some design suggestions to the BCC highways engineers that might form the basis of such changes. Although the changes would be workable within UK highways design guidance, we are not sure if all of the changes will be taken into the designs. We've chosen to not publish our suggestions here, but if you want to support them in your submissions, you should say that you want the cycle tracks to have zebra crossings rather than light-controlled pedestrian crossings and that you want to see simultaneous green phases for cycles on the junction to improve cycle capacity.
Crossing at Edgbaston Cricket Ground driveway:
At the entrance to the Edgbaston Cricket Ground, the cycle track diagonally crosses the road. The left turn lane for the cricket ground has been taken away to provide space for the cycle track. It is good to see this type of single phase crossing being used again (the first one being currently installed next to the Wellington Road junction on Bristol Road). Having a diagonal single phase crossing will make it faster and smoother for cycle users to cross the carriageway.
Junction mouth for The Ashes:
This private road mouth currently has a shared-use crossing, and that will remain. This means that there is a gap in the cycle track which will reduce the attractiveness of the route for people cycling. However no money is going to be spent on this junction, and so although this is not an ideal junction, no money is being wasted on a substandard solution. Hopefully the city council will have some plans for changes they would like to do and ask for funding from future developments in the area - there will soon be a consultation on new apartments on the corner of Priory Road and there is land adjacent to this junction that is waiting for development too.
In our response, we will be emphasising that it is very important that plans for this junction are drawn up for when further funds are available. This would be good to include in your submission too.
Junction mouth for Cannon Hill car park:
The plans show the cycle track continuing across the car park mouth. We’ve asked the designer if there will be space for cars to stop just off the carriageway through bending the cycle track in (see these examples from the Netherlands). The design details are being reviewed and we hope that the cycle track will be kept continuous here and safe for both cycle users and car drivers.
Junction with NCN 5:
We have asked for the cycle track to come up to the toucan crossing here. The facilities for NCN 5 already exist, so no money is being spent on this junction. At the moment the design works acceptably well because the toucan crossing is very responsive and so delays are minimal.