It’s great that Newcastle council wants to create Strategic Cycle Routes (SCRs). Safe space for cycling is much needed in our city. We now have to make sure the SCRs are designed well enough so that people will intuitively use them. SCR4 (Gosforth) is part of the seven planned routes and council have recently issued designs for Brandling Park and Clayton Road.
But we’ve been overtaken by events again. This is a repeat of SCR1 (Newburn) where we also did not get to shape the plans council officials put together. The council’s Technical Group, that we take part in, looked at various design iterations for this stretch of the SCR4 (Gosforth) back in September last year (we reported about it here) – before it fell very silent for a few months… then next thing we know – bang – plans html and pdf are out for public “consultation”.
But effectiveness of council engagement aside, here’s are our thoughts about the plans.
The bigger picture is lost again
The stage of evidence gathering seems to have been overlooked. To look at wider traffic management and network solutions, we need to see figures that council should have been gathering, such as volume, speed, modal shares. Only then can we talk about whether Brandling Park really could be transformed into a Cycle Street. You cannot just will a Cycle Street into existence. But it will have to be purposefully designed by looking at the wider network, traffic flows and car / cycle conflicts.
The design at the junction Clayton Road / Brandling Park needs a major re-think. The current plans are very confusing to the user. We will write a separate blogpost proposing our own design solution in due course.
Brandling Park (north of Lambton Road) is narrow and functions as a bottleneck. Drivers rely on pulling into empty car parking spaces to pass each other. This is seen by the Highway Engineer as traffic calming. This regular ‘engineer’s practice’ however creates conflict between driving and cycling movements. Cyclists can be forced to get out of the way, when a driver is trying to ‘just squeeze through’ making this a bad design and against the principles of Sustainable Safety – a campaign policy. It could be resolved by removing council-owned car parking on the West side or, as a complete minimum, by making this stretch one-way with cycle contraflow.
Watch this space.
Surface definition and kerblines
The necking down of the junctions at Brandling / Lambton and Clayton / Brandling is good. Also the kerbline definition is much better, extending the corners of the footway and enveloping the car parking. This way parked cars are not jutting out into the road. It’s also good that car parking bays will be surfaced distinctly different to the carriageway (black and red, respectively). This is welcome as cyclists won’t be as easily shoved into the car parking spaces by forthright drivers (and then having to reintegrate into the traffic). It would be even better if a ‘suggested kerb’ could be included to add clarity and for better for biking safety. The car parking could also be cobbled so it’s made absolutely clear obvious it is not for movement. Like this:
The block parking on Brandling Park’s West side is still too long, resulting into cyclists being shoved into that space by forthright drivers. To avoid this unfortunate and confrontational situation, the linear car parking should be broken down more – say three to four places max.
Transitions are handled awkwardly and the design bypasses desire lines. On Clayton Road this becomes particularly noticeable (but also, however to a lesser extent, the transition from two-way cycleway through the subway to on-street Brandling Park). The cycle provision is not instinctive, specially bearing in mind we are on a Strategic Cycle Route. A first time user would be confused. And that must be the design standard we should aim for: route clarity at first sight, combined with an offer of safety and ease of use. What’s proposed leaves a lot of limbo and unnecessary decision-making / onus to the user.
A lot of on-road marking and painting has been used but this is not enough.
Does the plan make cycling better? Possibly, marginally, and only for the people who already cycle. The required “skill level” is otherwise still set for the “brave and fit” – when cycling, and especially on a Strategic Cycle Route, should be intuitive and conditions desirable, pleasant and irresistible. So, will the council plans, if built, bring about the desired effect of getting new people on bikes?
We think not.
We do think however that the current plan fails the ultimate test:
1) Would an eight-year old be allowed to cycle here by themselves?
2) If they did, would they look out of place?
The answer is No.
And yes, to the latter.