I couple of months ago I highlighted the dangers to cyclists of a new junction in Sheffield City Centre at Furnival Gate/Pinstone Street.
The problem is clear for everyone to see, there isn’t enough room to use both the cycle and road lane with the result that cyclists next to vehicles are dangerously squeezed out.
Warning! This story is long and winding and may induce a feeling of disillusionment and hopelessness. Take a deep breath and prepare yourself before reading, we’re entering the mysterious world of local council highway design!
The junction was designed in November 2011 by Sheffield City Council. The aim of the scheme was set out clearly in the design brief.
The purpose of the scheme is to improve crossing facilities for pedestrians, prevent the ‘U’ turning of vehicles at Cambridge Street and stopping the straight ahead vehicular movement on Arundel Gate across Moorhead.
The proposed scheme consists of the following features:-
1. Provide an enlarged traffic island to Moorhead, with the provision for cyclists maintained.
2. Footway buildouts at the bottom of Cambridge streets to improve pedestrian crossing facilities and prevent ‘U’ turning of vehicles.
The full scheme plan is available here but I’ve cropped it and highlighted it to show the part cyclists will care about.
It’s plainly obvious from this drawing what the problem is. Any cyclist coming up the cycle lane on the outside of the traffic waiting at the lights is put in danger by the narrowing of the main vehicle lane (as in my video above).
Sheffield City Council conducted a Road Safety Audit on this design at the final design stage. The safety audit found a couple of issues but most seem to have been dismissed by the designers and none of the recommendations made it into the final constructed scheme.
SUMMARY: Potential for drivers to continue travelling ahead southeast bound along Furnival Gate around head of new traffic island with inherent risk of collisions with pedestrians.
Although the new island will do much to discourage these dangerous manoeuvres, some drivers may still attempt the indiscriminate movements as outlined and the current problems will continue.
RECOMMENDATION: The south-west bound cycle Ahead manoeuvre from Pinstone Street to The Moor through the Crossing includes a length of red cycleway in the triangular shaped traffic island. This cycleway should be raised to the same level as the island, and a short ramp installed across the running lane from the south-western limit of the Pinstone Street controlled crossing (stud line) to the island. This vertical feature would further discourage vehicles attempting to tum around the head of the island.
The prevention of this U turn manoeuvre was one of the aims of this scheme, you’d expect the designers to consider this carefully as it could mean failing to meet the brief. The suggestion of raising the cycleway would significantly improve the safety of cyclists on this junction but the Road Safety Audit and the designers failed to recognise this.
The response from the design team dismisses the claim that U-Turns will remain a problem.
DESIGN TEAM RESPONSE: It is the view of the Design Team that this extra isiand length will be more than sufficient to deter motorists carrying out such a ludicrous manoeuvre.
The audit team disagreed with this and stated that they needed an exception report. I assume this is a formal acknowledgement of a safety improvement that was identified but not implemented but I don’t really know. The exception report was issued.
RSA TEAM COMMENTS:
To summarise, there is obvious scope for some lengthening of the nib and in addition, the south~east side of the triangular island could be kerbed to contain the Cycle lane [With a ramp] as recommended.
If the Client is not witling to accept the need for taking further steps to make the proposed layout safer for pedestrians then this stage of the audit will not be closed Without an Exception Report
So… we’ve seen that the first problem found by the road safety audit was dismissed by the designers even though the problem identified was a key part of the brief. The road safety audit team failed to identify the increased safety to cyclists of the changes they proposed. Not going too well so far…
Summary: Continuation of cycle route beyond central island sheltered area has no guidance for cyclists; cyclists entering Union Street[should be Pinstone St?] observed to travel to offside of lane with inherent risk of collisions from vehicles.
Cyclists going ahead north-eastbound from The Moor into Pinstone Street do so via a out-through Cycle lane in the central triangular island. When they leave this short lane to enter Pinstone Street and pass through the Crossing, there is no guidance provided to advise them to move to the nearside of Pinstone Street. During the audit site visit, Cyclists were observed to travel straight ahead and position themselves in the centre of / to the offside of the running lane in Pinstone Street. In this situation, there is a risk of cyclists being in Conflict with motor vehicle traffic on Pinstone Street.
RECOMMENDATION: Provide a short length of advisory red cycle lane to the nearside of Pínstone Street extending north-east away from the Crossing to guide cyclists. This would also alert drivers to their presence. This could be extended across the junction mouth of Cambridge Street to further enhance safety.
Hmmm, the safety audit team seem to think that cyclists should be a maximum of 1.5 meters from the edge of the road and need a cycle lane to prompt them to be over there. They think that by putting a cycle lane at the edge of the road drivers would be alerted to their presence… interesting! I believe that drivers are best prompted to a cyclists presence by an assertive position in the road and have been taught that by Sheffield Council funded Cycle Training!
In summary the attitude shown is: cyclists cycling in the centre of the lane, better put in a cycle lane to get them to move them over!
As before, the designers had a different opinion but didn’t justify it very well!
DESIGN TEAM RESPONSE: The Client’s brief is to put back what was there before with no extra work at this location other than the island extension being carried out to meet the interim requirements.
I guess the design team thought that meeting the brief was more important than fixing a safety problem. The audit team were not happy and seem to have lost their temper a little!
RSA TEAM COMMENTS: Again, if the Ciient is not willing to accept the need for taking further steps to make the proposed layout safer then this stage of the audit will not be closed without an Exception Report
The design team seemed to have changed their mind and issued a change of design, but I have never been given the drawing and the final scheme (as built) didn’t include these modifications. Keep reading as this gets interesting a little later on!
DESIGN TEAM RESPONSE: Piease find attached drawing number TD/BN641í4.1B showing the additional Cycleway on Pinstone Street.
RSA TEAM COMMENTS: This is acceptable
The safety audit is happy that the scheme is now safe with the amendments to the design of a new on road cycle lane heading up Pinstone street and across the junction of Cambridge Street.
Summary: Potential difficulties for drivers of larger vehicles turning into Cambridge Street from Pinstone street.
I’m not really interested in this and the safety problem was dismissed anyway.
DESIGN TEAM RESPONSE:The Cambridge St junction is designed for a limousine to turn right off Pinstone St and a Refuse Vehicle turning left off Pínstone St.
RSA TEAM COMMENTS: Accepted at this stage. Any further comments will follow when vehicle movements and driver behaviour has been reviewed at the RSA 3.
Those are all of the problems identified by the road safety audit stage 1 & 2 (before construction).
End of Problems Raised and Recommendations Offered in this Stage 1 & 2 Safety Audit
So, I think my video shows clearly what was built in the end. A junction that is a danger to cyclists with some problems identified before construction relating to failing to meet the brief to stop dangerous U turns. The council refused to acknowledge the U turn issue and the road safety audit team and design team failed to spot the key cyclist danger point.
Construction began and I was appalled and shocked when I saw the junction for the first time. I filmed a couple of videos, spoke to local cycling groups, raised it at the Sheffield City Council Cycle Forum meeting, started writing letters and went to the press.
BBC Radio Sheffield ran a piece in each of their hourly news bulletins one morning.
The council released a media statement (extracts below).
The Pinstone St/Moorhead junction is trying to do four things. Give some priority to cyclists, provide an emergency right turn, prevent dangerous U turns on Cambridge Street and most importantly maintain safety for pedestrians.
This junction is used a lot by pedestrians. Through the week twice as many pedestrians than vehicle use this junction and on a weekend that increases to four times as many.
There are less buses using this junction than there was a couple of years ago so that should help improve sharing of the carriageway.
John Bann, Head of Transport and Highways, Sheffield City Council
What a load of old tosh, its clear from the road safety audit that the design team dismissed problems to do with dangerous U turns and the impact that would have on pedestrian safety. There is no improved cyclists priority, where did this idea come from? How does a reduced number of buses improve sharing of the carriageway!?
I was interviewed on BBC Radio Sheffield along with John Bahn, Head of Transport and Highways at Sheffield City Council.
I was out there on my bicycle yesterday and I survived. But I have seen the video on YouTube and obviously I’m aware of the concerns.
I think we recognise it is a tight location in an urban environment here and we are obviously mindful of safety for cyclists and other road users.
John Bann, Radio Sheffield Interview, 3:15 in embedded audio
Survivable… John, as the head of highways at the council I think you should be setting the bar for your department slightly higher than survivable…!
It’s only a tight location because you’ve narrowed the road to prevent U-turns, stop making up excuses and think about your designs a little harder!
We do undertake road safety audits before the design is built, which we did do, and we had a couple of experienced road safety auditors look at it and they passed it.
John Bann, Radio Sheffield Interview, 3:15 in embedded audio
Correct, but the circumstances of the passing are intesting. You passed the design because you issued an exception report stating that you weren’t going to resolve one of the safety risks they identified and that you’d install an extra cycle lane to mitigate the other (which you forgot to construct)!
The problem is the drivers, there is enough room for the drivers to drive safely if they choose to do so.
Rough Quote from Dick Skelton, Senior Transport Planning Officer, Sheffield City Council at a site visit
As always Dick you are completely correct, but lets design roads to be safe to prompt safe driving and to prevent dangerous driving.
So, a couple of months later the first copy of the Road Safety Audit Part 3 was released.
The first thing to note is that on the final scheme drawings used, there is an ammended version dated Feb 2012 with an extra cycle lane as mentioned in the resolution to problem 2 above, this was never included in the final construction, somehow it was forgotten… Also forgotten was the marked cycle lane across the island (Moor to Pinstone Street direction)
Summary: There are currently conflicts between cyclists using the cycle lane and buses making the left turn from Pinstone Street into Furnival Gate.
When making this left turn manoeuvre the rear of buses and other large vehicles encroaches into the cycle lane, putting cyclists at risk. Many buses were also observed to drive into the cycle lane before making the left turn; further putting cyclists at risk (see photographs below). Given the very high volume of buses that make this manoeuvre this is a particular cause for concern. The chances of such an incidence occurring is increased by having the start of the cycle lane before the pelican crossing, as when the traffic light is at red there is the possibility of a bus and a cyclist being adjacent to each other, then setting off at the same time and coming into conflict the other side of the crossing.
Well done, the issue has been spotted! Not that I expected it to be missed after all my shouting. What are the recommendations?
Ideally move the cycle lane northwards so that it enters the island more centrally (i.e. where the current nib of the island is) so that a turning bus does not encroach into it. If this is not practical (due to the narrowness of the existing island at this point and the impracticality of widening the island due to the needs of large vehicle turning movements (the Audit Team would welcome the views of the Design Team regarding this) then remove all of the on-carriageway parts of the cycle lane altogether but retain the cycle lane through the island.
Options, move the cycle lane into the unused part of the road, or remove the cycle lane.
Option 1, good option, no vehicles use this part of the road, plenty of space apart from a keep left sign which I suspect may be used as an excuse for why the cycle lane cannot be moved to this location.
Option 2, acknowledgement that this cycle lane is dangerous and confirmation that vehicular cycling is here to stay in Sheffield. Cyclists should mix with the other vehicles, there is no room for any segregation of buses and bicycles. I think this is the most likely option as it will cost the least and be the least disruptive.
The result will be that only cyclists who are familiar with the layout of this junction will know how to use the cycle provision, this would be a complete failure of this scheme and a retrograde step for cycling in Sheffield. A good opportunity to improve but ruined by bad design.
Ahead and right turn cycle manoeuvres from The Moor and Furnival Gate into Pinstone Street
SUMMARY: In the drawings provided for the stage 1/2 audit (drawing ref TD/BN641/4.1B) cyclists going ahead northeast bound from The Moor into Pinstone Street would have done so via a cut-through cycle lane in the central triangular island. A short length of advisory red cycle lane was also proposed on the nearside of Pinstone Street extending northeast away from the crossing to further guide cyclists and reduce the risk of cycle/motor vehicle conflicts. Whilst this layout was agreed at the RSA 1/2 stage no such arrangement has subsequently been provided as part of the scheme. Given that many pedestrians choose to cross at the island rather than use the light controlled crossings either side of it (see problem 4.3 below) the lack of a signed cycle track could lead to pedestrian/cyclist conflicts on the island, especially as the width of the dropped crossings on the islands, provided in order to provide an “escape route” for motor vehicles on Pinstone Street in the event of a breakdown, allows and even encourages cyclists to mount the island at speed.
Acknowledgement that safety problems identified and resolved by changes to the design before construction never actually made it into the final scheme.
So, John Bahn, your safety review prior to construction, to summarise, was completely ignored. The solutions offered to the problems identified were either rejected or not implemented. Why do you conduct safety audits but reject and ignore the recommendations? Perhaps you think that a good junction should be based on survivability? Or perhaps like Dick Skelton you think that safety problems are caused by bad drivers rather than bad design?
RECOMMENDATION: Provide the cycle facilities shown on drawing number TD/BN641/4.1B as agreed during the Stage 1/2 Audit in order to segregate cyclists and pedestrians on the island and minimise the risks for cyclists when they are leaving the island and entering Pinstone Street.
A common sense reccomendation, try not to forget the cycle safety bits when building the scheme! (even if they are badly thought through!)
SUMMARY: Pedestrians putting themselves at risk by crossing away from the existing light controlled crossing facilities. Many pedestrians have been observed crossing diagonally at the island rather than use the light controlled pedestrian facilities on each leg of the junction.
People crossing the road where they’re not meant to… where there isn’t a crossing? This must be stopped! * Sarcasm*(it’s getting late and I’m tired!)
RECOMMENDATION: Provide measures on the island to make using it much less attractive to pedestrians and remove the dropped crossings except where cycle facilities are provided.
Ah, lovely, make the pedestrians who’d like to be able to walk around their city centre conform to bad crossing design. We used to do this in Sheffield in the 60s, this road used to be an urban motorway with underpasses, I see we’re not completely free of this mindset yet.
The recommendations given here are dangerous, putting obstacles in peoples way to trip them up (raised kerbs), or make them jump over barriers, or prompt people to walk along the cycle lane(only leave the cycle lane accessible).
These recommendations will not help and will introduce danger. Design the scheme to accommodate pedestrian desire lines, do not try to force the pedestrians to conform, they won’t. We’ve seen this time and time again in Sheffield where barriers have been installed leading to people jumping over them, getting to the other side of the road and having to jump over another set. The problem is with the design, not where people would like to go!
A problem larger than this blog post, drivers using the city centre as a route to avoid the ring road. Part of a bigger problem.
Summary: Potential for drivers to continue travelling ahead southeast bound along Furnival Gate around head of new traffic island with inherent risk of collisions with pedestrians.
The Audit Team is aware of historical problems caused by drivers carrying out indiscriminate / dangerous turns in the junction mouth around the head of the island in the centre of the controlled crossing, in order to go straight ahead along Furnival Gate southeast bound and avoid the traffic restrictions. This behaviour puts pedestrians using the existing crossing and on the footway on the south-eastern side of Furnival Gate at considerable risk.
Confirmation that the issues identified by the first road safety audit but refused to be fixed are valid. The design team ignored the advice of the road safety audit thinking they knew best, perhaps they should be a little less dismissive next time?
Although the new island has tightened the layout, some drivers continue to be observed carrying out the manoeuvre described above, often performing the manoeuvre across the pelican crossing itself thereby adding to the risk. Given the comments provided by the Design Team at the RSA 1/2 stage about the current layout being as tight as it can be given the restrictions of the scheme the Audit Team can make no further suggestions to improve safety at this location. Nevertheless, given the accident risk caused by such behaviour the Audit Team wishes to bring to the attention of the Design Team and the Client the fact that such manoeuvres are still occurring. The Design Team may therefore wish to re-investigate whether any further measures to prevent this manoeuvre are feasible at this location.
One final plea from the road safety audit team for the design team to rethink their strategy on preventing U-turns. The perfect solution was identified in the Stage 1/2 report, raise the cycle lane to the height of the island and protect it with a kerb. This would both protect cyclists and prevent these dangerous U-turns (one of the main aims of the scheme).
This is an evolving story and I will be following it through to a resolution, I hope it will be a positive one. One thing seems very clear from going through all of this, Councils who ignore pre-construction road safety audits do so at their peril, they will come back to bite them and will cost more to resolve post-construction than designing them in before construction.
I strongly feel that Sheffield needs to adopt a mandatory Cycle Safety Audit as part of it’s road safety audit process. The focus for the stage 1,2&3 audits seems to be on motorised vehicles and pedestrians. Some of this focus needs to be shifted in the direction of cyclists with so many more now using the roads. I’m not the only one calling for this, last week Sheffield Central Paul Bloomfield commented
Labour wants all future road and other major transport schemes to be subject to a Cycling Safety Assessment before they are approved.
Paul Bloomfield – Sheffield Star – Monday 3rd December 2012
Sheffield council supports the Times Cities Fit For Cycling campaign, so perhaps it’s time to implement a couple of their suggestions.
Liverpool, Birmingham, Leicester, Bristol, Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield and Belfast city councils all threw their weight behind calls to reform urban areas.
Julie Dore, the leader of Sheffield council, said: “We fully support the Times campaign. We are keen to make Sheffield a cycle-friendly city.”