Sheffield’s long overdue tram cycle safety report is yet another disappointment

The latest Sheffield Council report into the dangers caused to cyclists by the city’s tram lines has been a long time coming. Commissioned in July 2014, issued to the council in Sept 2015, and published in June 2016. After almost 2 years of work, the report should be impressive, but sadly it’s deeply disappointing and its severely lacking in a number of key areas outlined below. You can read the full report here.

Converting footways to ‘shared use’: lumping people cycling in with people walking to the frustration of all

Suggested road layout changes focus on converting existing footways to ‘shared use’, with a presumption that cycling space must come from existing (limited) pedestrian space. Reallocation of space away from motor traffic is not given a single thought, and the creation of dedicated cycle ways is noticeable in its absence.

where footway width and pedestrian activity precluded almost any physical changes to the road and footway layouts

“…where footway width and pedestrian activity precluded almost any physical changes to the road and footway layouts”

space limitation in the highway, narrow footways near the tramway and significant levels of pedestrian activity in various locations mean that opportunities that some other tramways (especially in Holland, USA and Canada) have been able to utilise are not readily available on most of the Supertram network.

“…space limitation in the highway, narrow footways near the tramway and significant levels of pedestrian activity in various locations mean that opportunities that some other tramways (especially in Holland, USA and Canada) have been able to utilise are not readily available on most of the Supertram network.”

Unfortunately many of the methods have been shown to be difficult to employ at sites in Sheffield and on other tramway systems, due to constraints such as existing minimal footway and carriageway width, and exensive pedestrian activity in footway areas.

Constraints do not include motor traffic, it never crossed their minds to change the space allocated to motor traffic.

None of the provisional layout changes create cycleways, they just lump cycling in with walking, on the footway. It is a cycling report inspired by LTN2/08, widely considered to be obsolete and far behind recognised best practice in designing for walking and cycling.

Fundamental misunderstanding of how Dutch tramways reduce danger…

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of how Dutch tramways reduce danger,  referring to sustainably safe junction layouts as ‘road markings’. The examples from the report below are shown as ‘road markings’ even though they clearly show separated cycle tracks, which provide clear routes across junctions with embedded tram tracks. The layout of these junctions has been designed to be as safe as possible, it’s not the ‘road markings’ that mean that these are safe, and cherry picking and replicating ‘road markings’ alone will not create a safe solution.

From articles and web forums it would appear that many cyclists worldwide believe that track / cycle crossing problems in Europe (e.g. in Holland) have already been fully resolved. However, it is clear from the information that was obtained that, even with various measures and design arrangements being introduced to reduce these issues, some problems still exist on many European tramway systems. Cyclists and tram operators in these places generally seem to be aware of this and, even in Hollsan, there is advice provided to cyclists about how to cross the tracks safely.

…And the best Dutch examples are missing

It’s disappointing that a detailed review of the best high quality cycle infrastructure around tram lines was not included. This example is from Utrecht.

No review of what’s been tried before and why it failed

There is no discussion of Sheffield’s previous plan for dealing with the danger of tram lines, no review of previous programmes of work, no review of their effectiveness, and no discussion of why previous work failed to adequately address the danger. There is no mention of the hospital study conducted in 1994.

No funding, nor any plan to seek it

Funding is non existent, there is no funding plan to go with this report.

Discussion of potential funding sources completely ignores the Sheffield City Region Growth Deal and devolved transport funding, instead choosing to focus on DfT direct funding.

Funding 2

Current tram rail replacement: a missed opportunity?

The report fails to mention the approximately £5 million currently being spent on tram line replacement and fails to identify opportunities from that project to improve the safety of cycling around tram lines.

Funding 1

Funding 2

Funding 3

Failure to look at the bigger picture

This report contains numerous missed opportunities. One if its real shortcomings is its failure to view the tram system as part of the wider street and transport network. Only very immediate localised changes have been proposed (e.g to tram stops, or the roads which have rails themselves), which fail to identify opportunities such as the potential use of service roads alongside tramways as cycling infrastructure. This is something commonly seen in the Netherlands and other European countries.

Service roads like this should be designed to support cycling parallel to the tram lines as is normal in The Netherlands.

Service roads like this should be designed to support cycling parallel to the tram lines as is normal in The Netherlands.

We know the council can do better, we’ve seen better designs in the past. The report doesn’t include the visionary design of the crossing of Upper Hanover Street tram lines, perhaps the best piece of cycle infrastructure design to have ever come from Sheffield Council. It’s not even mentioned in the report. (I’m sorry, I don’t have an image for this and I don’t think it’s been published and I think the design was later watered down citing concerns over motor traffic gridlock).

Desperate scrabbling for a ‘behaviour change’ solution

I’ve not even mentioned the suggestion of building a tram line cyclist training facility…

Additionally, it could be considered whether it might be possible to install a trial facility with tram rails away from live tramway somewhere in Sheffield and provide training sessions for cyclists as to how best to cross the tram tracks.

'Cyclists could also usefully become more aware of traction circle issues'

‘Cyclists could also usefully become more aware of traction circle issues’

Shifting the blame for under-reporting of incidents

The report states that ‘adequate data for cycle incidents in relation to crossing tram tracks in Sheffield is almost non-existent’. This is true, but it sets the blame squarely on the shoulders of cyclists, saying ‘these single person accidents tend not to be reported to the Police’ and ‘the only accident data available is when cyclists report incidents to SCC, SYPTE or Supertram… under-reporting of these types of incidents could be significant’.

Stats19

SYPTE reporting

This is a misrepresentation the situation. Research by CycleSheffield has found that when cyclists report these crashes to the police, they often refuse to accept the report. The Sheffield Council cycle forum has even sent a letter to South Yorkshire Police expressing concern at their failings to record these crashes. Another route is to report incidents to the Council or Supertram but people are often fobbed off just the same (as documented by CycleSheffield).

“I tried to report it to the police via 101 and they insisted that it was not reportable.”

“Supertram, they were not in the slightest interested and told me I should have gotten off my bike and walked across the junction.”

The blame for a lack of data lies squarely with our local authorities.

If you’ve crashed on the tram lines then report it at tramcrash.co.uk which is run by CycleSheffield. They collect the information and anonymously share it with whoever needs it (including Sheffield City Council). They have created an up to date map of all reported crashes.

Conclusion

So, to sum up, very very disappointing. I hope that CycleSheffield are able to put pressure on Sheffield City Council to improve this report. As a proven major cause of injury and distress, cycle crashes on Sheffield’s tram tracks should be taken seriously. Sheffield City Council says it wants to increase the number of journeys made by bike in the city, now we need some action to prove it.

Update (June 2016)

And they have, the report has been pulled from the council meeting agenda pending further discussion.

2 thoughts on “Sheffield’s long overdue tram cycle safety report is yet another disappointment

  1. Dexter Johnstone

    Good article, cheers Matt! Surprised you didn’t mention the ‘dooring’ issue though. Also that tram track replacement work is cost £30m I think. Not £5m. Check the SCR capital budget I put on the CycleSheffield site.

    Reply
  2. Paul Walton

    Twenty years on and various reports, plans and useless words from SCC. They have no intention of either spending money, diverting money or bidding for money which will make a difference. They have no intention of making any changes which they believe will cause opprobrium from the vehicle driving public. Sue them.

    Reply

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