Separation between pedestrians and cyclists in a ‘Living Heart’

Guest blog from member WJH

I suspect we could be in danger of being sold a pup by agreeing to the Living Heart separation proposals. The general principle of separation is good, even essential, for reasonably fast cycle travel. Broadmead is a problem, and the proposal is good, especially if they add cycle stands near the central cross roads, and if the contraflow is sensibly arranged, but many continental cities do have pedestrian areas in which cycles and people on foot mix quite happily.

For example, mixing seems to work well in these areas:

  • Grenoble– old town pedestrian area (and outside the station – despite the feature in the photo)
  • Milano – Piazza del Duomo, Via Dante (4)
  • Trento – cathedral square
  • Verona – old town pedestrian (more or less) area

Broadmead is probably a hard case because it does get too crowded and I suspect because of uniquely British social characteristics – cycling, being generally unpopular, has an unusual proportion of the rougher classes, who cannot be trusted to ride carefully among people on foot, and a national tendency to grumble about things that in reality do not affect the grumbler at all. 

The risk of an uncritical approach to segregation is that any area closed to motor vehicles will automatically be closed to cyclists. This actually happened in Cambridge with the main N-S route through the centre being closed for over a decade (“ban the bike ban“), which does point to pedestrianisation as a concept that is often based on driving to the pedestrian area car park and not upon sustainable travel. ITA and Greater Bristol enthusiasts should note that this was also a case of the County authority using its transport responsibility to implement a closure that was not wanted by the City council.

The other problem with this separation approach is the fantasy that marking out clear cycle lanes through pedestrian areas will keep a route clear. People on foot will wander all over them anyway, which is what you can observe any day on the Downs cycle track with its unused parallel pavement for foot passengers. In fact out here in the quiet and leafy suburbs old ladies wander into the road itself without looking more often than you would expect.

Castle Park cycle route also suffers from wandering pedestrians, On a recent visit, despite there not being very many people about, people on foot walked equally on the cycle track and on the footpath, almost like across the Downs, except that in Castle Park some people do actually walk on the footway. So much for separation – and remember this is one of the examples on the Living Heart website showing the virtues of separation. If separation does not occur here then it is unlikely in any more populated public space, like Broadmead or the Centre. One of the other pictures they show was equally irrelevant, the one, possibly in Holland, showing a separated cycle track beside a road, on what looked like a suburban estate, with about three people in sight.

The rest of the route to Temple Meads hardly bears description.

If there is a problem with the centre in Bristol it is probably the great variety of fancy surfaces, which provide a constraint on routes that hinders avoiding people. (I have always wondered why the cycle track across College Green has a bumpier surface than the adjacent footway).

In the Grenoble photo you can see that there are ‘elephants foot’ style cycle markings but no lane as such, except through the give way sign. The route across Broadmead should be marked in this way. 

In pursuing this the following points about cycle provision on the page need greater prominence than they are given:

  • ensuring that routes are not lost to road or pedestrianisation schemes

  • ensuring that space is taken from general traffic not pedestrians

The whole page should really be headed “Proper provision for cyclists” with “Not squeezed onto the pavement” as a subheading, and the page rearranged to match the heading, (and avoiding giving complementary mentions to any cycling facility in Bristol).

BCyC member Sam Saunders has a collection of photos of Bristol shared space. I think they tend to support my point that painting lanes in public spaces like squares is mostly pointless, whatever Living Heart may think. The photos generally show the existing situation with people in squares mixing without division, apparently quite happily.

Where there is division you see interesting things like the man riding down the middle of a two way space exactly between the bicycle signs for opposite direction of travel. The picture of about half a dozen cyclists in Baldwin Street does not really tell us what it would be like as a two way route in rush hour, because they are all going one way, which is fortunate, because two of them are on the ‘wrong’ side of the path.

What they also show is that separate cycle provision in public spaces in the UK is an affair of bollards, sharp turns, white lines, continual changes of surface and fussy detail.  (Is the woman walking across a sort of white bar zebra one of those approaching Temple Meads that are marked “Cyclists Dismount”?) The Gardner Haskins Gap is currently showing extra advert bollards in between the official bollards.

So although allowing cyclists to cross public spaces closed to motor vehicles is an essential part of urban permeability, it is not going to get anyone anywhere either quickly or simply.   Painting lanes through these spaces is probably a waste of time, and also lead to a general belief that closing routes to motor vehicles means closing them to cycles – the Cambridge situation.

Unfortunately this is not an academic issue, Living Heart appear to be on the loose with a scheme to do something about cycling in Broadmead, probably involving pointless  lane painting and banning cycling as a single point activity without any real plan to integrate cycling into the city centre.