Designing for Cycle Traffic – The New Essential Read

We bring you something a little bit different today – a book review from Brenda Lillicrap, GoBike committee member,  on ‘Designing for Cycle Traffic – International Principles and Practice’ by John Parkin and published by ICE.

This is a book that should be made available to everyone involved in designing for cycle traffic, from policy makers and their advisers, to those responsible for the design details. It should also be studied by those who think their responsibility is designing solely for motor traffic.

The book’s title signals its stance: cycle traffic is distinct from both motorised traffic and pedestrian traffic, and needs specific design decisions. It is taken as read that reducing the dominance of motor traffic on our roads is an uncontested good, given the benefits of increased activity levels and reduced congestion, noise, pollution and risk. Its standpoint is that people who walk and cycle become ‘vulnerable’ road users only because of decisions made by the designers and motorised users of the road network, and that the benefits of increased cycle use will be gained by designing out of the physical infrastructure the ability to create vulnerability. Sadly, this case probably needs to be made more explicitly and elsewhere to traffic designers still entrenched in the aim of maintaining or increasing the volume and speed of motorised traffic through our streets.

The book succeeds in its aim of providing a coherent summary and evaluation of principles and practices of designing for cycle traffic, referring mainly (and widely) to Danish. Dutch, US and UK guidance. It is clearly structured, with an opening overview, closing highlights summary and source references in each chapter. The principles of planning and design are covered first, then designing for cycle traffic on or next to the carriageway, routes away from roads, and then designing for crossings and junctions. Later chapters deal with more general questions such as modelling and auditing, and developing national issues and innovation.

The central chapters provide a wealth of examples of good solutions to common design problems, such as crossings and side roads, maintaining permeability for cycling through one-way streets, and the problem of motor traffic turning left while cycle traffic moves straight ahead. The author explains that it’s not his aim to provide a catalogue of poor practice, but a few more pictures showing the contrast with the good practice advocated could have amplified his message. As one example, the quiet statement in connection with signal-controlled crossings (11.4.2) that ‘[s]eparation of cycle traffic from pedestrians should be the norm’, illustrated with a picture of such a crossing, is far from the daily experience of many people cycling in UK towns and cities. A contrasting picture of a crossing shared with pedestrians with two stages and a narrow guard-railed island could have emphasised the scope of the change in thinking needed.”

Our lead on consultations, Tricia Fort, came across this book via her membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers and has now been asked to submit her own review, hopefully to be published in a forthcoming issue of “Proceedings of the ICE – Urban Design and Planning.” The book is good, it challenges a lot of the things we are told about road design, such as that one-way streets are one-way for everyone, or that shared footways are the way to go, and it is a really refreshing, common sense read for anyone who cycles.

The book does have some slight flaws:

  • The photographs are all grey scale and many don’t have the definition required to adequately demonstrate the author’s point.
  • There is mention of Scotland and Cycling by Design, but UK reference is generally to English documentation, one example being the omission of any mention of Core Paths. Bridleway appears to be the nearest equivalent.
  • In the chapter on Planning for Cycle Traffic methods of counting cycles, such as cordon counts, are discussed but there is no mention of cycle tracking apps. At GoBike we have been very grateful to Bob Downie for the work he has done with Strava, and his latest work demonstrates a good correlation between the data from this app and cordon counts.

The author appears to have collaborated at times with Brian Deegan, who is one of the UK’s leading street design engineers and was co-author of the London Cycling Design Standards. Brian was brought in briefly by the consultants working on the plans for Byres Road in Glasgow, but his, and their, input appears to have been compromised by the City Region Deal constraints and council plans, and of course, we are still awaiting the final outcome.

Designing for Cycle Traffic is not yet available to download but Tricia will certainly be referring to her review copy in future responses to consultations.