This is our response to the council plans for Blue House junction on the Northern Access Corridor. The council engagement can be accessed at https://bluehousetohaddricks.commonplace.is/schemes/proposals/blue-house-roundabout/details and comments are open until 21st August 2016.
It forms part of our detailed response.
Blue House Junction
With the proposed design, the council are designing for high-volume and high-speed motor traffic. Despite the greenwash about bus and cycle improvements, the council have made no attempt to prioritise anyone other than private car drivers. Well designed junctions make cycling a viable option, by allocating suitable space and time to cycling. On a Strategic Cycle Route, a suitable allocation of space would be clear, direct and convenient cycleways, separated from motor and pedestrian traffic. A suitable allocation of time will ensure that overall delay to road users is minimised, by targeting junction capacity to the most efficient modes of transport, such as cycling and public transport.
Currently, we feel that the space and time allocated to cycling has been added as an afterthought, and that the design has been led rather simplistically by private motor traffic. The council must consider other transport modes from the outset, and should be separating more vulnerable road users from motor traffic. The current design forces pedestrians and cyclists to cross using at-grade signalised crossings, and to use the centre of the junction as part of their route. It is unclear whether these crossings will be designed to a suitable standard to attract use. We remain doubtful and explain further below.
Crossings not adequately designed
The at-grade (level) crossings will likely force pedestrians and cyclists to wait for excessive times. Having to wait at multiple crossings in order to scale the junction will compound the delays, and will increase their journey times when the council should be seeking to minimise delay for active users on this Strategic Route. This clear priority of motor traffic will not encourage more people to choose walking or cycling, indeed it will tip the scales back in favour of motorised journeys, undoing the hard work the council has done in other areas and encouraging the wrong kind of modal shift. The proposed crossings also leave pedestrians and cyclists exposed to pollution, noise and the road dangers while waiting and when crossing the carriageway. It is not a pleasant experience.
Instead if the council continue to design for such high volumes and speeds of motor traffic (which we advise is a very flawed concept to tackle the city’s transport problems), pedestrians and cyclists should be given grade separated crossings that are built to a high quality and that feel safe and are easy to use. This would remove any need to wait at the junction. Grade separation would likely mean a walk and cycle bridge over the junction, or it could be an “open-air” underpass. Grade separation can be designed in ways which do not reduce social safety or security, below is an example of a subway that provides great visibility and light throughout the underpass with little change in elevation for both motor traffic and cyclists/pedestrians.
The proposed crossings also do not follow the desire lines of pedestrians and cyclists. At best this forces them on to detours that add unnecessary length to their journey, further increasing delay. Yet it is even more likely that people will follow the path that is most obvious to them, leading them to cross the carriageway at points where no official crossing facilities exist.
This is even more likely due to the number of crossings people will have to negotiate to master the junction in their desired direction. For cyclists this could even result in cycling on the carriageway to avoid the delays they would otherwise have to endure on the inadequate crossings. Once again if cyclists do this, the junction will provide little to no improvement over the existing conditions, and may actually make them worse by increasing traffic speeds. For these reasons, people may decide not to use the junction at all, which runs counter to Newcastle’s policy to get more people cycling and walking and provide convenient and safe infrastructure.
If council wants to design junctions for motor traffic (which is outside their own policy) then high-engineering solutions, like bridges and underpasses, are needed to cater for cycling and walking on Strategic Routes.
Designing for an increase in motor traffic would be disastrous
If the council would seriously look at prioritising a modal shift in Newcastle, the council could design a safe junction with a much smaller footprint to deal with the existing motor traffic levels or lower motor traffic levels. Motor vehicle use at this junction has fallen in the past 10 years, and with careful transport planning will continue to fall. The shift potential is massive as many local journeys are short but currently still done by car. This is due to lack of available alternatives. Council must enact their own policies of mode shift and transport transition, and make implementation plans towards car reduction and prioritisation of walking, cycling and public transport.
Clear walk/cycle delineation needed
It is not clear from the images we have seen how the council intend to separate cycles and pedestrians. It seems council have not even given this important design detail much of a thought. Cyclists and pedestrians must be separated along each link to the junction to ensure that the routes are safe and comfortable for each to use. This also applies at any crossings. Many recent council schemes have reverted to shared walk/cycle paths at junctions. Council must use designs that keep the different users separate for users’ convenience. Examples of how this can done can be found in the UK. A diagram showing how this can be achieved is included in the Waltham Forest Mini-Holland Design Guide, mirroring well-tried Continental practice:
Council must clearly delineate walking and cycling for the convenience of the users.