Monday, 18 February 2013

Cycle Routes

A good cycle route is one that goes somewhere people want or need to go. That's a very simple concept to understand, but apparently some people have trouble with it.

On NCN27, between Yelverton and Tavistock, lies the hamlet of Grenofen. Once, before Grenofen Tunnel was re-opened as a cycle route, NCN27 skirted the edge of the hill upon which Grenofen was built, before heading straight up that hill, veering off shortly before actually reaching Grenofen.

There were plans to continue NCN27 through Grenofen, in fact, through the grounds of the local pub, the Halfway House. For some reason or the other, those plans ground to a halt and in due course the tunnel route was opened.

Of course, the tunnel route is infinitely better - not only because it extends the traffic-free cycling right into Tavistock, but more importantly because it cut out that very steep and long hill. In doing so, this section of the route suddenly became useable by families and occasional cyclists, who before would have avoided cycling simply to avoid the big hill.

However (and you knew this was coming, didn't you?) there is a problem: the people of Grenofen, sandwhiched between the busy A386 and somewhat quieter Whitchurch Road, are effectively cut off from NCN27, despite the fact that it passes right under their homes.

Sure, it is entirely possible to cycle along Whitchurch Road into Tavistock, before turning off on Anderton Lane and joining NCN27 there, but that is not a family-friendly route and involved several reasonable size hills.

This isn't the only such example just on NCN27, let alone further afield. In Bideford, NCN27 passes through East-the-Water, which is opposite the river from the heart of the town. There is a long and rather narrow bridge over the river, but it is NOT a cycle-friendly route! In fact, the edges of the kerb are rubbed shiny by the wheels of large HGVs.

In Bideford there are numerous empty shops, yet the town council refused to classify one of the two pavements over the bridge as shared space and in doing so they absolutely ensured no cyclist riding through Bideford on NCN27 would cross the bridge to spend money in the town.

Cycle routes must be connected to communities. They must offer good cycling routes, with numerous places to join and leave the route. Signage should be such that a complete stranger to an area should have NO need whatsoever to consult a map, a compass, a GPS device, nor any other navigational tool to find their way around.

Cycle route signage should be visually distinct, and not merely a small NCN sticker stuck on a lamp post somewhere. The signage should clearly direct people to shops, places of entertainment, sports facilities and more and crucially, from those places there should be clear signage back to main arterial cycle routes.

Here's a simple example from the Bristol - Bath cycle path - have a look and see what I mean:

Signage painted on the path Simple & effective


As you can see, people joining the route at this point don't have to have a good sense of direction, or be familiar with the local area. All they need is the ability to read and they'd know which way to go.

Equally, on the path the exit points are named, much like what you'd find on a motorway. This makes navigating the route so much easier, especially for people who don't have local knowledge. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue on motorways if all signage was to be removed?

I have a few questions to whomever designs and constructs cycle routes:
  1. Why is signage typically lacking, or extremely poor when present?
  2. Why are the routes not designed to include important stops along the way?
NCN27 bypasses Great Torrington and the only realistic way to get from the cycle route to the town, or vice versa, is to cycle on the A386 - NOT a pleasant or subjectively safe experience!
Equally, the tarred access road used by construction crews while Gem Bridge was being built is now gated and locked, resulting in a vital link between Gem Bridge and the A386 being closed. Admittedly this may be due to the land owner, though surely this should and could have been negotiated  at the start?

What I'm proposing is not revolutionary, nor can the highway engineers claim, as the Highways Agency recently did, that they're not trained to deliver what I'm referring to.

The reality is that when roads are designed for cars, signage is a critical element, and they don't cut corners there. From most cities or towns there'd be signs directing traffic towards arterial roads, motorways, etc. Obviously on those aterial roads and motorways there are signs showing the names of junctions, cities and towns, or sometimes entire areas, e.g."The North".

So why is that same principle not also followed when putting cycle routes in place? Why are cycle routes allowed to bypass towns, villages and hamlets and why is there no "cycle route past shops"-type diversions? Why are there no distances shown on what little cycle route signage does exist?

We need to normalise cycling if we ever want to grow it, and putting in place cycle routes that go where people want or need to go is a good start. Ensuring adequate signage is in place and multiple points of entry and exit to such routes exist will further improve things.

A good cycle route goes where people want or need to go. One that doesn't isn't a good cycle route. It's that simple.