Manual for Streets

ManualforstreetsAs cyclists we all know that for far too long the car has taken precedence over all else. But in terms of local street design — at least here in the UK — that could be about to change.

Last week the Government’s long-awaited Manual for Streets was unveiled. A joint project by the UK’s Department for Transport, and the Department for Communities and Local Government, it’s been billed as the most influential document on urban design in 50 years. It basically spells out how new residential streets should be designed and how existing ones should be modified so that people, whether pedestrians or cyclists, are at the heart of the design rather than the car. This is quite a radical, albeit long overdue, shift in thinking — and one that, to my mind anyway, seems to make perfect sense.

The principle of this new guidance is based on a traffic engineering philosophy called shared space, which was pioneered by the Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman. There’s an interesting article about this philosophy on wikipedia, but essentially Monderman believes that if everyone — cars, cyclists and pedestrians — is forced to share the same road space, drivers automatically reduce their speed and take greater care. This minimises accidents and encourages socially responsible (driving) behaviour.

Kensington High Street, which I cycle down every day, has recently adopted some of these principles by removing  pedestrian barriers and putting extensive cycle parking down the centre of the road. These measures are designed to put drivers on alert, because at any time a pedestrian could step onto the road or a cyclist could emerge from the parking bay. Apparently it’s working: figures released by Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council show that pedestrian accidents are down by 43.7 per cent. 

But as a cyclist I’m not so sure it’s fully embraced Monderman’s principles. While traffic speeds might have fallen, it’s the parallel parking which causes problems for cyclists. Once the "door zone" is gone then we might have a better chance of reclaiming the road safely.

Still, it’s at least nice to see one London borough looking at different ways of designing our streets so that the car no longer has a monopoly on road space.

But back to the Manual for Streets. Most of the stuff about cyclists is in chapter 6 — it makes some interesting points about cycle lanes:

  • Cyclists should generally be accommodated on the carriageway. In areas with low traffic volumes and speeds, there should not be any need for dedicated cycle lanes on the street.
  • Cycle access should always be considered on links between street networks which are not available to motor traffic. If an existing street is closed off, it should generally remain open to pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Cyclists prefer direct, barrier-free routes with smooth surfaces. Routes should avoid the need for cyclists to dismount.
  • Cyclists are more likely to choose routes that enable them to keep moving. Routes that take cyclists away from their desire lines and require them to concede priority to side-road traffic are less likely to be used. Anecdotal evidence suggests that cyclists using cycle tracks running adjacent and parallel to a main road are particularly vulnerable when they cross the mouths of side roads and that, overall, these routes can be more hazardous to cyclists than the equivalent on-road route.
  • Cyclists are particularly sensitive to traffic conditions. High speeds or high volumes of traffic tend to discourage cycling. If traffic conditions are inappropriate for on-street cycling, the factors contributing to them need to be addressed, if practicable, to make on-street cycling satisfactory. This is described in more detail in Chapter 7.
  • The design of junctions affects the way motorists interact with cyclists. It is recommended that junctions are designed to promote slow motor-vehicle speeds. This may include short corner radii as well as vertical deflections.
  • Where cycle-specific facilities, such as cycle tracks, are provided, their geometry and visibility should be in accordance with the appropriate design speed. The design speed for a cycle track would normally be 30 km/h (20mph), but reduced as necessary to as low as 10km/h (6 mph) for short distances where cyclists would expect to slow down, such as on the approach to a subway. Blind corners are a hazard and should be avoided.
  • Cyclists should be catered for on the road if at all practicable. If cycle lanes are installed, measures should be taken to prevent them from being blocked by parked vehicles. If cycle tracks are provided, they should be physically segregated from footways/footpaths if there is sufficient width available. However, there is generally little point in segregating a combined width of about 3.3m or less. The fear of being struck by cyclists is a significant concern for many disabled people. Access officers and consultation groups should be involved in the decision-making process.
  • Cycle tracks are more suited to leisure routes over relatively open spaces. In a built-up area, they should be well overlooked. The decision to light them depends on the circumstances of the site – lighting may not always be appropriate.
  • Like pedestrians, cyclists can be vulnerable to personal security concerns. Streets which meet the criteria described for pedestrians are likely to be acceptable to cyclists.
  • The headroom over routes used by cyclists should normally be 2.7m (minimum 2.4m). The maximum gradients should generally be no more than 3%, or 5% maximum over a distance of 100m or less, and 7% maximum over a distance of 30m or less. However, topography may dictate the gradients, particularly if the route is in the carriageway.
  • As a general rule, the geometry, including longitudinal profile, and surfaces employed on carriageways create an acceptable running surface for cyclists. The exception to this rule is the use of granite setts, or similar. These provide an unpleasant cycling experience due to the unevenness of the surface. They can prove to be particularly hazardous in the wet and when cyclists are turning, especially when giving hand signals at the same time. The conditions for cyclists on such surfaces can be improved if the line they usually follow is locally paved using larger slabs to provide a smoother ride.

You can download the entire Manual for Streets for free here (a rather chunky PDF).

There’s also an official Manual for Streets website and quite an interesting report on Channel 4 News, March 29 that is worth watching. I’ve yet to see a response from any of the official cycling organisations (CTC, Sustrans etc) and the mainstream press seems to have ignored it (as far as I can see).


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