Why “sharing the road” has failed

It’s quite interesting how you can end up with strange bedfellows within a Facebook group and have interesting, if unfortunately fruitless conversations. However I do think that the 44 ton truck driver I was in discussion with had some interesting points that needed addressing.

Do I think, that in anyway, I changed his viewpoint? I hope so. Some of what he stated and believed is quite scary, and if we, as a society, want to create better road spaces that provide facilities that enable people to make real choices to move away from the private vehicle, then we need to bring these truck drivers with us.

More importantly this discussion is about councils being honest with the way roads are perceived and how different types of traffic should be using them.

Highways England is about to release an Interim Advisory Note (pdf) that recognises cycle traffic has to be given its own space on our roads. Sharing road space has failed as a policy. When one mode is travelling at 12-15mph and another significantly heavier mode is travelling at 30-60mph we have a big problem that is killing people. It is good that the DfT is finally admitting something must be done and sharing is no longer good enough.

At a local level, I sometimes feel that the council’s Highways department truly believes that sharing is good enough. The cynical part of me recognises that a “sharing road space” policy where drivers need to slow down and pass wide of cyclists places responsibility for poor design on the driver that kills the cyclist, simplifies the design work by defaulting to outdated DfT Highways design guidance, and saves money.

However no matter what the reasons for a “sharing space” road design, be absolutely clear, it kills cyclists. It stops “ordinary” people from getting on a bike and riding to work or the shops. Parents will prevent their children from riding to school on a bike. It even endangers pedestrians (I’ll explain later). Simply put, a “sharing space” road design approach gives the perception and evidence that our roads are too dangerous to do anything other than get into a car and slowly get fat.

So how do we go about fixing a “shared space” road design approach?

Step 1

The first step in fixing roads is councils and, particularly, Highways departments admitting that cycle traffic and vehicular traffic should not usually be sharing the same space.

Step 2

Next we change the way we define the space on our roads to create the right space for the most vulnerable road user, the cyclist, through the use of paint. This does not impact traffic flow, but gives drivers clear indication of the passing space we expect them to give when meeting cyclists.

Saltford (2)
Road markings defining the space needed for a cyclist to use the roads safely and psychologically nudge drivers to give them space when passing. Note that the design encourages vehicles to keep away from pavements protecting pedestrians.

In the case of my local council, the above can be implemented as part of the annual £2M road resurfacing programme. It can also be included in any road line refresh programme.

Step 3

The next step is to get council Highways departments to follow the upcoming Highways England IAN and change our road landscape. This however takes a lot more money and specific budgets that are not available easily within the current economic climate.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 14.27.15


What I am trying to say here is that we need our council officers and councillors to be honest with the design of our roads. That simple, relatively free changes to the way we paint our roads will have a major impact on behaviour.

That council Highways departments need to deliver paint marking designs that prioritise the most vulnerable road users and use nudge theory to encourage good driver behaviour. It is important to recognise this to be a sticking plaster where structural changes can come later as and when grants become available.

Below is the response I wrote that started me on this blog post and shows how scary some people think. Why Highways need to paint advisory markings to keep encourage and remind drivers that cyclists do belong and roads and that when passing to give them enough space to pass safely:

Our discussion ended in a dead end with me highlighting why a 2mile “perfectly flat and well maintained” footpath converted to a shared path fails with multiple drive entrances and giving way to side roads at every opportunity. Something that a parent could use with kids going along at 10mph but not useable at 15-25mph https://goo.gl/maps/mUSrKymTPu12 You stopped responding to my comments. *shrug*
Your basic premise is that if a council provides a semblance of a path that can be perceived as a cycle path then cyclists must legally use it and that it is their responsibility if they are on the road and get hit by a vehicle. This is tantamount to legalising murder.
Your other premise was that IF cyclists are not prepared to use provided cycle paths then we should rip up all cycle paths and cyclists should share the widened roads. The irony is that this is EXACTLY the policy that the DfT has pursued since the 1950s resulting in excessive car ownership and low cycling levels. It is only in the last 3 years that there has been a cultural change in the DfT with a recognition only this month that cycle traffic must be treated separately on roads and given it’s own space AWAY from pedestrians and motorised vehicles.
I’m not sure how many parents would be happy sending their kids off on their bikes in that scenario and how many of them choose instead to drive their kids to school. Oh hang on, yes that’s been measured. About 23% of rush hour traffic is the school run.
I’m sure you are aware that congestion is not a linear function. I’ve attached the graph. Killing the school run would make your deliveries so much faster.
Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 17.44.42.png
On top of this, Urban planners are beginning to finally realise that you can have a city that is “car sick” and that you should not make it easier to drive through a city, but make it harder and less direct, while making it easier to walk/cycle through a city and more direct. AND provide cheap reliable public transport. Cities that are adopting that approach are seeing themselves thriving. (e.g. Nottingham/Bristol/London/Cambridge/Oxford).
This however costs you money as cities try and keep out your 44ton vehicle or make you choose specific routes through their city. Yet “if you stop buying stuff then us lorries won’t need to come into your areas” argument is the “we’re vital to the economy” argument yet Nottingham is thriving.
You and your mates need to recognise that cycle infrastructure achieves two things that help you.
1) They get the “slow” cyclists out of your way.
2) They get people out of cars and onto bikes/buses/trams/trains reducing congestion.
You however need to recognise that taking road space away from vehicles and allocating it to cycle tracks/paths is not the same as taking a river and blocking off half of it and still expecting to cope with the same amount of water in half the space. Traffic is reactionary. It is intelligent. People adapt almost instantaneously to conditions. It’s what drives Traffic Evaporation. It’s a well documented and understood phenomena https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearing_traffic
Now if you are not prepared to get to grips with the fundamentals of a group of exceptionally open minded individuals that are trying to make the transport systems hyper efficient and getting people out of their cars, while long term, saving the NHS a fortune, and all you can see is “bloody cyclist and their infrastructure slowing my delivery down” then there really is no point to further discussion.
Note the chart was taken from this talk http://www.ted.com/talks/jonas_eliasson_how_to_solve_traffic_jams

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