City Conversations: Segregation and Safety
Location: The Building Centre, London
Date: Tuesday 3 July 2018
Andrew Scoones -Director of ngenuity
Olivia Walker – Head of City Development, Bosch Global
Phil Jones – Founder and Chairman, Phil Jones Associates
Amanda Gregor – Urban Designer, Witteveen+Bos UK Ltd
Andy Murdoch– Buro Happold Engineering
Andrew Scones, who chaired the conversation, reports on this discussion around what we do with limited transport space to make more sustainable forms of transport safer, so that they can grow, both now and in the future.
After a huge increase in recent years, it is reckoned that still only about 2% of London journeys are undertaken by bicycle. This seems to compare unfavourably with, for example, cities like Copenhagen where more than 40% of the population commute or go to school by bike. Key to this success is a sense of security cyclists feel on the streets of their city. What is it that makes these cities more successful in attracting a higher proportion of people to travel by bicycle?
We should not underestimate the importance of the legal status of different transport modes and the behaviour of street users. Another key factor is, of course, good transport planning. If you provide more space devoted to cycling then cycling will increase to fill that space. But should this space be segregated? With such growth comes the inevitable push back and other road-users may start to lobby for similar preference. Competition for space can create hostility. The panel also explored future scenarios: will cyclists mix happily with connected driverless electric vehicles (CAVs) or will they also compete for segregated spaces.
Phil Jones is a Chartered Engineer and the founder and Chairman of Phil Jones Associates, a 50-strong practice now operating from 5 UK offices. He is a highly experienced transport planner and engineer and has worked on numerous guidance documents including Manual for Streets and Manual for Streets 2. He led the team that developed the Welsh Active Travel Act Design Guidance and is currently working on the update of Local Transport Note 2-08, Cycle Infrastructure Design for the Department for Transport. Phil is one of the leading practitioners in developing streets that combine strong elements of urban design with the practical requirements of accommodating different modes of transport and different activities.
He is often portrayed as a promoter of ‘shared space’ schemes – usually urban spaces where there is no segregation between traffic bicycles and pedestrians – but he is not even fond of the term, preferring and insists that he is not an absolutist on the question of segregation. He would always aim to start with a consideration of local context – what functions is this space trying to accommodate, to what extent are they complementary or in conflict, how much space do we have to play with.
Having said that he is firmly of the view that we will only achieve mass cycling if there is a marked improvement in the level of perceived safety. Although cycling is no more risky than walking in terms of fatalities per mile travelled, many perceive it to be far more dangerous when the space is shared with heavy traffic, which is still the case across most of London. That means that physical protection on busy streets is necessary if they are to be seen as suitable for cycling by the majority of the population. He feels we are now seeing a change in the culture and mix of cyclists where and when the environment has changed in this way.
He has been involved in a number of ‘shared space’ schemes, including in London, and he does think this type of approach can have merit. He is, however increasingly uncomfortable with the term ‘shared space’, since it can mean different things to different people, and to that end he has recently contributed to a CIHT review of such schemes. This divided them into ‘pedestrian priority’ streets, where drivers of the few motor vehicles that enter treat it as a place for people; and ‘informal streets’ where the normal rules governing traffic behaviour are reduced or absent, thus requiring drivers to engage more fully with their surroundings, but pedestrians are still provided with adequate crossings and protection. He gives an example of a scheme in Bexleyheath.
As for CAVs in urban streets, he is very much a sceptic. He remains to be convinced that they will be able to cope anytime soon with the complexity of interactions that humans create and accept whenever they use a busy London street. If they aren’t to present an unacceptable risk they will have to be subservient to people on foot and cycle – and so won’t be able to make reasonable progress.
Olivia Walker is Head of City Development Bosch Mobility Solutions. She previously spent more than 10 years in consulting, helping large organisations address change and opportunity driven by long term, macro trends. Her work is now focused on cities, and the impact of transformational shifts in technology and society. For Bosch she now leads engagement with the London ecosystem and the development of future mobility in the city, aiming to make cities better for life tackling issues such as pollution, congestion and transport access.
It is her contention that the introduction of CAVs must enable us to do things better than we do now. Not just replacing private car journeys – a priority in her view – but also reducing the number of ‘empty vehicle journeys – buses outside of peak hours for example. All new vehicles already have some form of autonomous systems and it is working out how to use these incrementally to bring about a more harmonious, and therefore safer, use of city streets by different modes of transport is where the challenge lies. Should the autonomous sector be looking at adapting their technology to solve the ingrained problem of lorries failing to see bicycles?
We don’t yet have the fully developed technology such as the bandwidth required for all the informational decisions that CAVs need to make in a complex street environment. However towns in America are already trialing fully autonomous vehicles, so the opportunity may not be as far away as we think.
To achieve healthier safer streets there needs to be a ‘mode shift’ and although the GLA and transport for London have a clear plan with for example, active travel and public transport, sometimes this can be disrupted by unexpected technology-enabled mode shifts. The prime example of this is the Uber taxi service where the impacts of such a new service could not be calculated by the city transport authorities because it was not integrated into the overall city plan. To plan an integrated transport policy for the benefit of all citizens and transport modes cities need to exercise a degree of control.
In London, it can seem as though every white male with a beard is commuting by bike, but for a true demographic change, a much broader cross-section of the public need to be persuaded to adopt the bicycle as a regular form of transport.
Amanda Gregoris an Urban Designer at the Dutch engineering practice Witteveen+Bos UK Ltd. She is part of the resilient infrastructure team with a focus on walking and cycling projects. Since 2015, Amanda has been part of the team behind the community led initiative, Peckham Coal Line which aims to create an urban park with walking and cycling routes using disused coal sidings and unused space between Queens Road Peckham and Rye Lane.
Amanda sees the need to look broadly at the governmental and infrastructure planning aspects of planning for a safer and healthier transport system. In addition there is a need for a shift in our behaviour, particularly if we are to encourage a more diverse representation of the population to take up cycling and make the most of the investment that is going in.
‘Dress for the destination, not the journey’ is an approach that is more prevalent on the continent where cycling is adopted to a greater extent. Perhaps this in easier in smaller, more compact cities where commuting distances are less. The data is not very well known, but how many young active travellers who, for economic reasons are both forced to live ten plus miles from the city centre, choose cycling as their mode of transport – and dress accordingly. Is this a demographic that is particular to large cities such as London?
It was generally agreed by the panel and audience that safety at junctions was the ‘stress point’ for the segregation strategy for pedestrian, bicycles and cars. Busy thoroughfares can become extremely complicated and frustrate the movement of one or several of these groups when segregation is introduced.
Andy Murdoch is a Chartered Civil Engineer and has been responsible for planning and delivering the engineering for medium and major sized urban planning and infrastructure development schemes. He is well versed in town planning, transport planning and technical approval processes for complex and has a working knowledge of sustainable transport systems. He now largely performs the duties of Project Principal on a variety of complex urban projects and also heads up BuroHappold Engineering’s Transport & Mobility Group. He has led our infrastructure and transport work on high profile London and UK projects such as Wembley Regenerations, Greenwich Peninsula, Convoys Wharf, redevelopment of Ascot Racecourse, Kingston Town Centre (Eden Quarter), Wolverhampton (New Summer Row) and Edinburgh Harbour. He also has a wealth of international experience on projects such as Haramain High Speed Rail (Saudi Arabia); Kurskiy Station (Moscow); King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (Saudi Arabia); Al Ain Emarat (Abu Dhabi) and Chandigarh (India).
Another circumstance is the busy transport node where the number of pedestrians in a shared space can increase and decrease rapidly and regularly throughout the day, so-called dynamic behaviour. Andy was involved in theproject looking at the redevelopment of Kingston Town Centre as a transport hub where there was a need to assess the need for dedicated spaces for different transport modes.
It was generally agreed amongst panellists and guests that increasing the amount of active travel – more walking and cycling – is desirable. Some fundamental changes in the law could bring a greater feeling of safety to cyclists in particular. They in turn need to change the way they behave. There were still questions about whether cycle routes really do make things safer particularly at junctions and whether cities need to reduce private car journeys and sacrifice speed as a more effective way of achieving their healthy aims.
Can technology be an enabler of progress? CAVs, artificial intelligence, drone deliveries are perhaps nearer than we think. The important question is what role city transport authorities need to play in this. If space is limited and we need to reduce journeys the decisions need to be under democratic control. Perhaps the most uncertain area is how far cities can give freedom to transport mode choice while at the same time provide enough control to achieve the aims of a healthy well-connected city. Are we looking at a new paradigm?
There are lobbies who should also feature in these plans. Those with problems hearing and seeing and those with mobility issues have the same rights of access in cities as the other street users and should not be forgotten in long-term transport plans.
In short, good planning can only do so much to bring about greater safety for healthier modes of transport. Technology will be an enabler of better sharing of space, but does it come at the expense of the ‘freedom’ to roam the city by all modes of transport that we enjoy now?