Wednesday 1 June 2016

Another Summer Another Death by Design.

Summer is here again and so is the tragedy of unnecessary death by design: A 10 year old girl was killed while cycling to school while crossing a junction on a green light by a right turning truck who also had a green light!

Media interest is again on cycling and luckily the role of infrastructure design is starting to emerge. Thanks to Chris Cummins who did a great article and radio show intro.

Looking at the design of the junction from a Dutch design perspective everything is wrong.

Basic Principle 1: Function.
Mix of very busy thought route for motor traffic and a main cycling route to a school!

Basic Principle 2: Homogeneity.
Fast right turning motor vehicles including massive trucks mix regularly with crossing pedestrians, cyclists and kids on scooters etc...

Basic Principle 3: Predictability.
A massive 4 lane (in one direction!) main road turns into another main road with large curve radius and green light and little indication that the drivers should slow and be very careful of crossing vulnerable road users who have right of way.

Basic Principle 4: Forgivingness
Zero forgiveness in a conflict between a truck and 10 year old child.

Basic Principle 5: State awareness
Huge junction and both the driver and child had a green light so both were clearly unaware of the immense danger present in the situation.

This junction is not particularly unusual for Vienna. Before we talk about details of design and safety we got to get the very basics right. Until that happens this is going to happen again and again and again....

Wednesday 1 July 2015

3 dead Austrian cycists under trucks in 5 days.

It has been a terrible week for cycling in Austria.  If there is anything positive to come of this then this statistical anomaly needs to be used to generate interest in reducing the number of accidents of this nature that happen.

One of these accident is clearly a result of terrible design.  The other 2 seam to be a simple inevitable result of mixing trucks and cyclists together.  When a truck driver makes a mistake the cyclists has no chance.  The only lesson to learn from this is that even perfect vehicular cycling positioning in the middle of a roundabout can not protect you from a SMIDSY (Sorry Mate I Didn't See You).

Separation of trucks and bike traffic by time or space seams to be the only systematic measure that will help reduce these types of mixing mistakes.  This can be done by route, traffic light, operational time restrictions, protected lanes etc...

Behaviour and technique can help when separation fails. However education and behaviour campaigns should not be seen as a primary strategy just because they are cheap.  They have a value but only as a last resort.

Here is some good last resort advice:

"Always remember; if the truck is ahead, stay back.  
If the truck is behind, get ahead.
In a nutshell, try to put as much clear space between yourself and any large vehicles at junctions as you safely can."

Tuesday 30 June 2015

Death as a result of design.

The world has been reading about the terrible death rate of young women on bikes killed by truck drivers at junctions in London. Unfortunately Austria has been forced to talk about safety after there were 2 of these type of accidents on one day. Information here  and here. These together with a fatal accident involving a truck, young woman and a junction last year are at last forcing discussion of Austrian Best Practice road design at Junctions.

The accident at Wiener Hauptbahnhof happened here:
As I understand it from the news report a truck and cyclists were waiting at red lights and when the lights changed to green the truck turned right and rolled over the cyclist who was going straight ahead.

This very predictable situation happened at a brand new junction built to Austrian best practice that frankly is is total and utter crap.

Here is a sketch of the situation including the truck's blind spots.

These type of accidents are clearly happening too often and are clearly a design problem.

Of course there are plenty of fit male experienced cyclists who are happy to blame the victim of this design for not being as awesome as they are. Their advice and coping strategies can be helpful on an individual level but they are extremely unhelpful at getting the system fixed if we can only blame the individual user.

Just like the adoption of seat belts in cars we need the adoption of proven systematic solutions to systematic problems. It is clearly a systematic international problem that is not being addressed properly.

Using the graphic Mark used to try and explain a type of Dutch junction design in 2011 and an image of a trucks blind spot we can see that this design seems to be better for the truck driver and cyclists.

Junction design is complex and appropriate professional standards need to be developed.  This is not easy but copying the best answers to date should be possible for most professionals I would hope.

Austrian Cycle groups have not been too interested in this issue up until now and their main demand is for bike Boxes (or ASLs) and other useless paint which will only increase this problem to London levels where useless paint and mixing is standard.

For more information about these type of junctions  (which are only appropriate for use at certain types of junction) please follow these links:

Sunday 31 May 2015

Shifting blame to the victims of bad design.

I wrote about this particular junction a year ago.  There have been numerous attempts to communicate the danger here by various groups who have also offered good solutions but after much consideration the "solution" is to change the signs.  The signs were being ignored so now the signs have been changed so that the legal consequences of ignoring the signs is shifted to the victims of this dangerous junction.  This will change nothing and there will continue to be danger, accidents, arguments and conflict at this junction.

This video I found on the internet explains the problem much better than I could..

Austria has consistently twice the kill rate per capita on it roads compared to the Netherlands despite the Netherlands having a large number of vulnerable road users.  The planners whose incompetence kills ~250 people a year (more than would be killed if NL planners did the design) are not interested in learning best practice.  They are interested in shifting blame to the victims of their bad design.  This is not an acceptable solution in my opinion.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

150 years of change on the Ringstraße

The Greens have initialized a discussion about the 150 year old RingStraße. They presented 2 proposals and no doubt the discussion will quickly develop into pathetic polarizing Vienna politics, but before it does lets think a little.

This is the ring 115 years ago.

As more and more cars used it it developed into a 2 way street and then a one way 3 (or 4) lane ring road.

It is still a wonderful avenue that has adapted well, mainly due to its huge width.  The huge amount of space is a result of the old City defences that required a clear shooting plane.  This space has many functions and is dominated by the huge number of pedestrians and the 3 lane ring road of motor traffic.

Cycling has been squeezed in too, after the car parking, tram lines and through traffic etc... This was mainly at the expense of the pedestrians.  There have been improvements recently to small sections and in some parts it is wonderful for cycling but there is a lot of conflict between cyclists and pedestrians who are squeezed together while cars take up to 10 lanes of the space.  (There is a very good assessment of the Ring in this book.)

The City of Vienna have a target of halving car use in the next 10 years and promoting cycling, walking and public transport.  So it is clear that going forward the balance of space allocation has to change and my survey 3 years ago showed how nearly everyone was interested in the discussion and most were very open to the idea of change.

The 2 proposals presented by the greens are good and speak for themselves. We could argue about details (and probably will - cycle paths are too narrow...) but generally speaking they are sensible and the kind of professional work you would expect to get from a good urban design consultancy. 

How would I Crowize the Ring?

I will oversimplify this so that this post is not too boring and even more long winded.  I will take a more evolutionary approach than the utopia design renderings which never have any cars on them.  I would do this in stages that could be done independently or in parallel.

Stage one (Do the bloody obvious on the inside).

On the inside of the ring I would make a continuous cyclepath in the middle of the 3 lane footpaths (like the wonderful section at the Stadpark on the outside of the Ring).  This is illustrated in the Northern part above.  If there was a sausage stand in the way I would move the sausage stand or modify the U-Bahn exit...  The result must me a clear continuous through route for cylce traffic that is distinct from the pedestrian areas.

I would continue this lane where there is a side road on the parking lane.  The loss of parking space could easily be created on the inner central lane on a part time or per section basis.  (I know that putting parking on a 3 lane motor way is really really bad design but it is common in Vienna so why not.  Someone else can write a blog about the bad design for cars in Vienna) 

Junctions would have space for turning cars to wait and cross the cycle path and pedestrians crossings at 90 degress without the pressure of the tram ramming them.  These junctions would be designed to be like a pedestrian zone and motor car movements in and out of the center would be reduced as much as possible.

Stage 2. (Do the complicated outside.)
The outside is more complicated. There I would do a combination of the cycle path illustrated above on the southern side of the drawing and a mix side street solution illustrated below.

Stage 3 (2 way traffic in the centre)
Then I would change the central 3 lanes into a 2 lane 2 way road and redesign the junctions.  This would create a less motorway feel to the road and make distances sorter and more direct but slower for cars.  Car parking could also be made available in the central lanes to remove it from the side streets.

Throughout all these stages there would be opportunities to humanize the side roads and create nice spaces in sections.  The above I believe to be a pragmatic incremental approach that would allow surrounding roads to also be adapted to the shifting traffic patterns.

The Ring is 150 years old and in another 150 years we will be extinct if we continue as we have for the last 150 years. You can argue all day long about change but you can not argue with Maths. Change in our world is exponential and so things chance faster and faster. The people that say you can not change things are normally really saying "they do not know how to change things".  However if we want to change things for the better then we can not shy away from the discussion.

Friday 6 March 2015

Are Road Designers Trying to Kill Cyclists?

This is a picture I saw recently where the UK Police illustrate the blind spots of trucks.


Cycle training literature says "Doorzone1There is no doubt that biking in the door zone is unsafe and even deadly."


Lucky Road designers clearly mark these no go areas of the road with bright paint and cycle logos so show cyclists not to ride there.  However as you can see from this picture some cyclists are confused by these no go warning signs.


So despite the good intentions to warn cyclists not to ride in these no go danger zones the markings cycle planners are using are confusing and one could easily conclude they are trying to kill cyclists.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Group Think

We have economic, health, climate, energy and environmental issues and need solutions that will help us work very quickly to a carbon negative, more equal society before we go into climate or 3rd world resource war meltdown and the inevitable human race extinction that will follow. The maths of exponential growth and change, mean things are going to change dramatically.  The only thing we can choose is in which direction things go dramatically.

Often people tell me that technology will solve these problems but there are sustainable solutions out there and cycling is one of the blatantly obvious ones.  It is a proven technology that has many lifestyle, health, time, space, cost, equality, efficiency and environmental benefits. It is a golden bullet that is also fun. All we have to do is facilitate it using tried and tested established real world models and professional published public domain knowledge.

Unfortunately there seams to be some kind of human Group Think dynamics which leave us helpless and paralysed in the business as usual model. If we can not get urban transport right quickly facilitating the cycling golden bullet what chance do we have of dealing with complex problems associated with the economy, deforestation, energy, immigration etc...

Every time I try to explain to someone outside cycling why it is important to facilitate cycling in urban spaces as an option for normal people I have to hear:

"- we all have to behave it is a culture problem.
- who will pay for it.
- cyclist do not obey the law.
- helmets / dangerous / red lights...
- the Greens.
- the MaHü......
.... it is normal you and can not change it."

The following Video is not going to maintain complex life on this planet on it own but it could be a start.  It is an attempt to show different perspectives and that creating conflict with the current road designs and expecting road users to work it out amongst themselves is not going to increase cycling into the main stream and create enough modal shift towards cycling to make any difference worth bothering with.  It is a gentle respectful suggestion that cyclists need to be taken more seriously and not used as human powered traffic calming devices. I think Bernhard of the City Cycling School did a great job of trying to build bridges between the groups, or at least point out that the conflict between them on this bridge is a direct result of the road design.

It and some good work from local activists together with local politicians and planners who listened to concerns has resulted in a solution:

They put up a warning sign.....

OK it is a quick temporary response but it is NOT a long term solution, and not even a solution of any kind other than an acknowledgement of a problem but at least it did not make things worse.

Looking to the longer term (ie. before we cook ourselves on the only planet we have) Vienna has developed ambitions targets with vague meaningless words that are open to interpretation compromise and the same old business as usual model approach.  It all sounds good but what does it really mean?  Is it the low hanging fruit of mobility where every new road modification is used to implement Dutch quality cycling infrastructure?  I worry that "miteinander mobil" means more human powered traffic calming like this un-workable result of group think from the cycle lobby.

The cycle lobby is determined to keep trying to change the behavior of other groups as a solution to their problem.
The media enjoy escalating the conflict between groups to attract more audience.
The politicians tell each group what they want to hear.
The planners follow their guides which based on 30 year old knowledge.
The Police try to enforce incomprehensible laws.
The world keeps turning and getting hotter.

If we are so stupid that we remain trapped in our man made systems of group think then at some point not too far away we will see change forced upon us at a rate that will make us realize that the word "sustainable" really means "not all going to die in the foreseeable future".