Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Transport for London nails it. Full-scale Dutch cycle designs being tested for roll out in London as early as next year

Testing the new Dutch-style roundabout at the TRL facility

Yesterday, Transport for London lifted the lid on test facilities that were built late last year at the Transport Research Laboratory in Bracknell. Pictured above, TRL's first test roundabout. You can read a useful review on the BBC London website and there's a key point made by one of the TRL engineers on this video: "the car drivers does not get affected by the cyclist in the road". Exactly. Nor does the cyclist 'get affected' by drivers of HGVs or buses as they do at the moment. And, in fact, it's better for pedestrians too. Instead of a traffic island where you are expected to run across the road when you spot a gap, you get zebra crossings. Why? Because you need to slow down motor vehicles to give pedestrians and cyclists the same equal rights to travel through the junction safely as you do to motorists. At the moment, that's not the case. Motorists get priority again and again and again. 

You'll notice the design is very very Dutch, even the give way symbols on the carriageway are Dutch symbols, rather than standard UK road symbols. My understanding is that the plan is to keep refining the scheme and to test more commonplace UK road markings. 

The roundabout is a huge step forward. Late last year, Transport for London proposed a scheme to make the roundabout at the northern end of Lambeth Bridge safer for cycling That proposal was pretty weak. You can read a good review of the original TfL proposal on AsEasyAsRidingABike blog. The roundabouts at either end of Lambeth Bridge have both been touted (unofficially, mind you) as potential locations for a Dutch-style roundabout. Lambeth North is a pig of a roundabout. The southern roundabout is just as dreadful. Pinchpoints, buses, lorries, bikes, taxis all jammed into narrow lanes, full of conflict between different road users. 

Pictured below, a fairly typical morning rush hour at Lambeth North roundabout. Complete chaos for drivers watching out for cyclists; cyclists having no legitimate space on the road; what's even worse is that there is nothing to slow drivers or cyclists down and protect pedestrians at the zebra crossings. 

The key benefits of this new TfL design is that - unlike 99% of roundabouts in UK cities - this design gives pedestrians and cyclists safe, convenient ways to cross the roundabout that are just as safe and just as convenient as for drivers. At the moment, most roundabouts are designed to get drivers around them as quickly as possible and woe betide anyone else who needs to get across them who is on foot or on a bike.

Funnily enough, the National Cycle Manual standards in Ireland contains a variant of this design. The National Transport Authority makes it clear why this sort of infrastructure is necessary: "If we are going to expect a massive increase in cycling, there has to be an increase in the offer for cycling". The same goes for London.

The problem with the Irish design, though, is that is only goes halfway to solving the issues at roundabouts. The Irish design paints some markings on the road where the bike lane is and leaves it for drivers and cyclists to work out who has priority. The TfL design, though, is the real deal. It structures things so that cyclists are clearly protected by the belisha beacons and it makes life easier for drivers by putting pedestrians and cyclists somewhere predictable. The exact opposite of the way the Lambeth Bridge roundabouts work at the moment.

The TRL test facility is also testing bike traffic lights - the sort of traffic lights used all over Europe already - that would allow Transport for London to design junctions so that people on bikes and in motor vehicles can obey different timings on the traffic signals. TfL has already made public that it will consider using these traffic lights at junctions like Bow roundabout, provided the Department for Transport gives the lights approval. I know that a number of other high profile junctions - for example at some of the junctions near London's bridges - might see these bike traffic lights, provided of course, that the DfT gives the go-ahead. 

There's plenty more underway as well in the form of detailed mock-ups of alternative junctions and other traffic signals, as well as more experimentation with segregated bike lanes. TRL has published a full list of the test scenarios on its website. 

The pace of change on London's streets is still incredibly frustrating. Ill-thought through designs like those announced by Westminster council a couple of months ago smack not only of yesterday's road engineering but, even worse, they seem to assume people on bikes behave just like people in cars. They don't. And the TRL test scenarios are clear evidence that Transport for London has realised, just like its colleagues in the Irish Republic, that people on bikes need a different offer on London's streets - an offer that does not treat them the same as one tonne motor vehicles.

If you have any doubts about whether Dutch-style roundabouts actually work or not, have a look at this video of one in operation. All good stuff. Admittedly, this is a rural location by the looks of it, but this is exactly where, in the UK, you'd be faced with some snarling, horrible roundabout that simply makes it impossible for your average person to cycle from A to B.


  1. So an orbital bike lane in the standard, crossroads roundabout in your picture has to cross *EIGHT* traffic lanes separately.

    On the incoming lanes, british motorists will NOT stop at the orbital bike lane. They will look INTO the roundabout for motor vehicles and attempt to enter the roundabout without stopping by preference, or drive straight through the bike lane and stop AFTER it.

    As for exiting the roundabout. They won't GLANCE at the bike lane and will drive through it without a MOMENT'S hesitation.

    This will kill somebody on its first DAY in a country with a driving culture like the UK's

    1. The maximum number of lanes a cyclist would have to cross is actually four - six if performing a 180 degree turn to go back the other way, in which case it wdl make more sense to dismount and cross the zebra to the other side, and eight if they did a complete 360 degree circuit plus another 90 degrees to make a left turn.

      You say they won't stop for the bike lane - you think they'lll bore through the zebra crossing first? And why woudl they stop after the cycle lane, ie on the roundabout itself? Unless stopping at an exit lane?

      Your assumption that the UK driving culture is different from elsewhere, notably the Dutch where this design originates, is misconceived. The Dutch are more aware of cyclists for obvious reasons, but that doesn't necessarily mean that some of them behave any better than our resident UK driving ar*eholes.

    2. I'm afraid you're talking nonsense. There exist many roundabouts in the UK with exits that immediately cross pelican crossings. And yet, there's no carnage. Motorists give way, as they should, and pedestrians cross safely.

      Driving culture in the UK is actually very safe. Not perfect, but by the standards set in other countries, we have much to be proud of. Hopefully, we're about to improve on that safety record.

    3. @Tom: that is a different model; traffic lights are directly in front of the driver and take a second or so to change from green to red. These cycle lanes require the driver to scan the cycle path (both ways?) whilst exiting the roundabout. On approach the driver has to scan the cycle path whilst also trying to scan the traffic on the roundabout proper.

  2. If you kill someone after failing to stop at a give way point, you're most likely going to prison.

    Habits will change fast.

  3. Drivers in the UK often behave very inappropriately at pedestrian island pinch points (for example). It is very easy for a sensible road user to see the problems involved with overtaking a cyclist at or near a pinch point, but this action is still very common. Hence, I am not convinced by this roundabout design, particularly as it is to be imposed on motorists. For this sort of infrastructure to work we need somehow to reach a point where there is a majority of the population calling for a radical reform of car sick Britain, not a minority of cyclists who are generally not looked upon favourably as a group.


  4. This design is beautiful and will save lives, although I'm not sure what's going on with that left hand arm in the top picture. How are cyclists supposed to take that left exit? Let's hope they cut a corner because they ran out of materials: I hope they're not innovating away from the rest of the proven-safe design.

    The other missing element which would be mandatory in the Netherlands is to have the cycle path coloured red all the way round, to make it even clearer to drivers that they must give way to cyclists.

    I don't agree with Geoff. The principal danger from pinch points is being crushed from the side by a heavy vehicle travelling in the same direction, but this can't happen on a Dutch roundabout because when a bicycle and a truck are going the same way, the cyclist is protected by a wide kerb.

  5. Those exit arms look far too fast to me, they need to make drivers make more of a sharp turn in order to force them to slow down and give way to cyclists. THAT is a proper Dutch design.

    1. I speculate that the exit arm is as tight as it's going to be because the haulage lobby make sure roads are accessible to their HGVs and to hell with every body else. The general public has been subsidising the freight costs of centralised industry for a very long time both in blood, asthma attacks, broken buildings, and the extra cost of widened or reinforced roadways.

    2. That is a very good point. There is a junction in Camden where exactly this design actually does prevent motor traffic from careering round the corner without properly slowing and this is at the junction between Torrington Place and Gower Street where it meets the cycle lane. I have never seen an accident here.

  6. Looks good and I'm glad to see TfL seem to be taking this seriously. The only concern I have is how the roundabout performs with vehicles longer than a car - a lorry waiting to enter the roundabout could easily block the cycle lane. Would they have to hold back behind the zebra crossing until it's safe to enter?

  7. I think they have slightly different layouts on each arm to see how they work. Very interesting!

    1. Yes, four different entry's, interchanges and exits.. I know as I trialed on this.

  8. The appears great in theory - check the Dutch video, everything flows beautifully. BUT (and this is a big but) it relies on driver education and behaviour changing to look for cyclists appropriately on the cycle lanes. If you watch the Dutch video a lot of the bikes to which cars give way are travelling at the same speed as the cars. So as well as negotiating a roundabout the driver has to look for a cyclist on coming round the outside. Perfectly fine once the expect a cycle to be there, but its going to take a lot of work to get this instinct bred into UK drivers. This is not a criticism of drivers, it's just not the way they're used to driving so it needs a behaviour change. Great in the long run, but I see some short-term pain.

    This type of behaviour is common throughout Europe. I cycle and drive in Munich regularly and that's a real education - cycle lanes run on the pavements and the cycles have right of way across side-turnings. So when turning off a road you have to spot cyclists coming up from behind you on the cycle lane - works perfectly, but even to a cyclist it needed me to massively concentrate and remember.

    The most important thing is TFL are clearly investing heavily and thinking before acting.

  9. The video of the dutch one looks great, but I very much doubt it would work here.

    I suspect some cyclists will be unable to obey the one-way system around the roundabout and go all the way around to turn right (here, or left in the dutch video) but will simply cut the corner, provoking the claim from drivers that "they can't use it properly so why should we".

    Also in my experience of riding (and driving) in London, drivers have absolutely no compunction, whatever the size of the vehicle about queueing across and blocking pedestrian crossings, or side-roads or even entering box-junctions or roundabouts if their exit is not clear. To expect that when encountering a road-layout like this that they will simply wait patiently leaving each crossing point clear until they can proceed safely is ridiculous. After some initial media interest it will become as about useful as the current crop of cycle lanes and advanced stop zones, unpoliced, unusable and unsafe.

  10. I think the TRL/TFL design looks like a poor imitation.

    The cycle path is narrow with vertical kerbs and I think the narrowness seems to make the curve for cyclists appear tighter than the dutch equivalent.

    The central part of the roundabout is tiny with a large flat surrounding area allowing drivers to 'take a racing line' across the roundabout. Compare that to the dutch version, even if you attempt to go over the flat paving in the middle a straight-ish line is impossible due to the wider grass mound in the middle.

    The final worry is on the BBC report the reporter says these will slow down other road users and they won't be happy but TFL will try and reduce the impact, the TFL rep then says one of the things they are looking at is the capacity of the junction and how to maintain vehicle flows with different numbers of cyclists.

    Sounds like they will only be rolled out if they don't interfere with "smoothing the traffic flow".

  11. Ah yes because we can't possibly have any safety improvements for cyclists if the poor diddums drivers have to wait around for a few extra nanoseconds. I predict that this will be completely ballsed up by the British traffic engineers as usual. Drivers will be allowed the geometry to take the racing line and no amount of white paint is going to stop them from intimidating cyclists.

    I wonder if they did any tests involving primary school age children interacting with minicab drivers or tipper lorry drivers in a hurry? I guess not because that test wouldn't give them the results they want.

  12. This could work in central London if the congestion charge is raised to £50 per day for all cars and large trucks are banned between 7 - 9am and 5 - 7pm. Reduce the traffic on the roads first, improve the capacity on trains / tubes and we might get a better deal as cyclists. The era of driving a car into central London should be finished. I do like the bike lights at intersections which is something i've been saying for a while, bikes need 5 seconds head start on motor bikes, cars, trucks and buses. Also, the police need to get tough and inforce the bike boxes so motor bikes do not go into them at the lights. This happens all day, every day.

    1. Totally agree on the Police, but they also need to get tough on cyclists who skip red lights. We're going to struggle to get drivers to obey the law if we don't. They see cyclists skipping lights so why should they leave the cycle box clear.

    2. I would say that 95% of proper cyclists do not jump red lights, there is still some that do and I agree this is not a good look. Boris Bikers seem to be some of the worse at it. However, motorbikes can't use that as an excuse and need to stay out of the cycle lanes and boxes.

    3. Agreed - sadly the 5% have a disproportionate effect on the image of the rest of us. I agree it's not a valid excuse, but I would strongly argue it's a factor. It seems human nature that if you see others breaking rules you are more likely to as well.

  13. RE: lorry/Speeding concerns
    It should be the case that this junction assumes firstly a roughly car sized object and builds sharp corners for it. This slows down cars suitably. Then a very rough, unpleasant to drive on surface is provided for longer/wider vehicles to spill over into. So these vehicles are also slowed but can still maneovre the junction without cutting into cyclist/ped areas. We know this works in practice

    As other commentors have pointed out though, there is a real potential for british road engineers to balls it up. Particularly if they want to maintain high traffic flow through the roundabout. High traffic flow and high cycle safety&flow are in direct competition here. If they increase the traffic capacity, cyclists will suffer.

    One other risk that has so far gone unmentioned. How bloody ugly the british legal system can make these junctions. Dutch junctions are very attractive, and we know they intend to make this 'more british' over time. Yet even now there's a ridiculous amount of belusha beacons in that picture required to make the pedestrian crossings legal. It looks like a pincushion and this is only going to get worse when they determine that 100 more traffic signs are necessary. Need to change some roads laws so engineers can build some attractive as well as functional junctions.

  14. there are differences with the dutch layout. The bicycle lane is too narrow, it should be 3-4 m wide. That will help as well in cyclists havong their right of way. the cycle lane should be made 8-12 cm higher as the road, like a speed bump.

    The bicycle lane leaving the rounabout should do so right after crossing the las lane, so cars heading for the next croosing can see that they wont have to give way to that cyclist, because he or she has left the roundabout.

    Like this very first one in the Netherlands. they had really given good thoughts about it: http://translate.google.nl/translate?sl=nl&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=nl&ie=UTF-8&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fietsberaad.nl%2Findex.cfm%3Flang%3Dnl%26section%3DVoorbeeldenbank%26mode%3Ddetail%26repository%3DEerste%2Brotonde%2Bmet%2Bfietspaden%2Bin%2Bde%2Bvoorrang%2Bfietsers

  15. I live in Hatfield (Herts). By our swimming pool is a roundabout which had a bad safety record. This has had it's geometry reworked along Dutch lines with much tighter bends and much less space for cars. It now really slows the traffic down. When I look at the picture I see similar curves on this one. So I am expecting cars to be much slower on approach and exit, which will make a huge difference.

    Fitted with traffic lights, I'd like to see this at Stirling Corner on the A1(M), which is currently absolutely dire for cyclists and pedestrians.


  16. Transport for London is serious about the issue...

  17. On the face of it, this looks a great idea, given the space to construct it. But I'm afraid I share (at the risk it seems of receiving dog's abuse...)the concerns expressed that cyclists will be very vulnerable to cars exiting the roundabout.
    Not so much perhaps to those entering, as drivers are anticipating navigating the hazard. But those leaving the roundabout have the hazard behind them.
    Agreed that if there is widespread use of the design, coupled with driver education, perceptions will change. But I fear for cyclists in the meantime.
    And I don't think it's good enough to adopt the 'all drivers are b***ards' approach in this instance. Some may well be, but the science behind driver perception deserves serious consideration.