Monday 10 July 2017

Trip to Netherlands: Rotterdam


Rotterdam is where we had been based for the whole of our Netherlands trip.

Rotterdam is interesting, in that like Southampton it is a port city, which was heavily bombed during the war and which has a large volume of commercial traffic. Also, unlike the other cities we had seen, Rotterdam was not early into the Dutch bicycle revolution so does not yet have the perfect infrastructure that we saw in Delft and Utrecht.

In Rotterdam there were still plenty of 4-6 lane highways.  But they mostly had accompanying 2 lane cycle lanes, usually on both sides.  Unlike Southampton, after the war they did not try to rebuild the centre of the city on the old grid, but started again, creating enormously wide boulevards that have space for traffic, bikes, public transport and people on foot.

Rotterdam City

The O bike experience

Our meeting at the Council was to be after lunch, so for the morning some of us decided to experience the local O Bikes. These are the modern generation of share bikes that are GPX enabled and oddonot need to be docked. You can pick one up wherever you find it an leave it in any legal bike parking spot. See the O Bike web site and the Rotterdam O Bike information.

O Bikes in Rotterdam

Parking O Bikes in Rotterdam
I’m not going to spend long on this - John Savage, councillor for Portswood, was also on the trip and here is his excellent blog on this topic.

Rotterdam has clearly not yet got the extreme cycle parking problems of Rotterdam, and although cycle infrastructure was good by UK standards, it was not perfect or fully connected.

Interesting Observations in Rotterdam 
Some things we saw on our ride:

  • Cargo bike deliveries  
DHL Delivery
  • Lots of expensive top-end cars charging - we wondered if being electric gets a privileged parking place, which might be a force for change?
  • The City Centre has enormously wide roads but there were plenty of places where 6 lane highways had been taken down to a tram route and a cycle road and one lane traffic in each direction. The traffic was dense but did not seem gridlocked.
  • There was a tunnel under the river. This had presumably been built for pedestrians some decades ago, but it would have been a long walk, and it has now been taken over almost entirely by cyclists, including the escalators.  Who says you can’t take a bike on an escalator?
Bikes on Escalator
Bike Tunnel

  • The Signage: I expect this was the same in the other Dutch cities, but this was the first time I had needed to navigate rather than be led by a local. At many important intersections there was a map of the network (see below).  This intersection (and map) would be numbered, and all the other numbered intersections were shown on the map.  Navigation then becomes remembering a set of numbers to cycle through and then following signs on the lamposts - e.g. the sign in the picture below shows us the route from 58 to 14 or to 17. (Note the finger signs the major cycle route signs
Map showing numbered intersections

Directions to adjacent numbered intersections (in green)
  • Mopeds and scooters on the cycle paths. This was true in all cities, but most noticeable in Rotterdam, and may be a symptom of the larger proportion of the population who have not grown up with the cycle culture.  We asked about this and were told it was a considerable problem: they go much faster than the bulk of the cycle traffic, they make a lot of noise and they smell. It is quite possible that laws may change in the future to classify even these low CC motorbikes in the same way as higher capacity motorbikes, and get them off the cycle tracks and onto the road with cars - and presumably into helmets

Rotterdam Council

We were hosted at Rotterdam City offices by John Akkerhis and a number of his colleagues from Transport, mobility and cycling.

One of the first things we had noticed was the stunning architecture of the building. An interesting observation was that the workers in the office part of the tower are required to be out by 1900, in order to make the place quiet and relaxed for the residential occupants. This deliberate “mixed zoning” ensures that areas are not crowded for one part of the day, but deserted for another part of the day. 

Rotterdam city has a policy to re-develop the city to make it a liveable, thriving and denser city, and this is accompanied by plans for health, mobility, accessibility etc. They call their plan the “City Lounge” and this presentation sums ups their aspirations

They are certainly not yet all the way there, and they pointed out that there was a push to make so much progress that they were past the point of no return so that future political changes would not be able to undo the progress that had been made.

Random Facts of Interest from Rotterdam Presentation

  • Modal share cycle use in Rotterdam is low for the NL at 23% for < 5km. There has been a growth of 60% in recent years and it is still growing at 10% p.a. - they want to be a bicycle city. They have built 600 km of cycle lanes in city - mostly in the last 10 years. This expenditure has mostly been subsidised by national air quality incentives.
  • They are working on green waves for bikes
    • Signposting which way to go at junctions
    • Faster lights for bikes when its raining
    • Intelligent systems to estimate how many cyclists in the queue at lights and to keep the lights green long enough to ensure they all cross
    • Indicators to tell you whether you are going the right speed to get a green at the next light
  • There is an issue in the south of the city where there has been significant recent growth in the population. Many of these are immigrants without a cycling culture and tending to worship cars as status symbols. Children get overweight, modal cycle use is much lower, women don't know how to ride, people can't maintain bikes. They are spending a lot of money on changing culture here...
  • They have been trying to work out where the cycle parking issues are. They paid €20M to build 5000 parking places at the station. They now need more and are looking for government help
  • At the main city centre parking spots they have pushchairs to borrow (so parents can take babies) and bike repair hubs. 
  • In residential areas where houses don't have parking for bikes the council offers to build bike lockers (huts) on streets in parking places and they subsidise citizens to make on street cycle stands. So, if the residents of a street ask for more bike parking to replace car parking places they do this.
  • They subsidise boats to be ferries across the river and cyclists only pay as pedestrians (around €1 per trip). In addition there are a couple of bridges and the tunnel. They don't expect people to detour too far to cross the river. (In Southampton it costs £7.50 for a day return on the one boat across the river, the alternative being a 5 mile detour).
  • All ships in Rotterdam and up-river plug in to shore electrical supplies to improve air quality. However this is not mandated for ships at Hook of Holland and docks adjacent to the sea (although our Ferry did plug-in on arrival at Hook of Holland.) 

Trip to Netherlands: Utrecht

We were hosted at the City Hall be Jan Bloemhevul and Mark Degnakamp, and for the morning by other members of the transport, mobility and cycling staff.

Background to Utrecht

Utrecht is a city of about 350,000 people and they compared themselves, maybe, to Sheffield in the UK.  They business is mostly service industry and high tech, and like Southampton, the Universities, Hospitals and medical research are the biggest employers. They have the biggest inland docks in the NL, and this historic area is still apparent.  In recent years there has been a massive expansion of the population, and a whole new area of the city has been created to the South, as well as a new science park to the west.

Utrecht is well known in Urban planning circles for its innovations in changing the way space is used and its move to being a "liveable city”, and its aspires to be a “World Class Bicycle City”. Around 43% of all journeys under 7.5km are made by bike, 17% of all journeys between 7.5km and 15km, around 50% cycle to work or school and there are 125,000 cycle journeys through the city centre every day which puts it right up there with the most successful. It also has 15% of journeys on public transport.

"Utrecht is growing at a rapid pace. It is a city where an increasing number of people wants to live and work. Additionally, it is a popular destination for day trippers and tourists. This is good news for the Utrecht economy, but with the growing bustle and increased activity we also have to make a greater effort to keep our city pleasant, orderly, clean and safe. In Utrecht, this is a joint effort of residents, entrepreneurs and organisations. The bicycle has been assigned a leading part, for if we make Utrecht a genuine world-class bicycle city, the health of our city and its region will benefit in all respects. 

On Our Way to Making Utrecht a world-class bicycle City

To become a world-class bicycle city, Utrecht should be safe for cyclists of any age. In a world-class bicycle city, the street scene is dominated by cyclists. In the development plans for the public area, the bicycle has pride of place and right of way – both literally and figuratively – wherever possible. To be a world-class bicycle city, however, it is essential that a firm basis is in place: an extensive network of comfortable bicycle paths and lanes as well as excellent bicycle parking facilities. We are doing our utmost to make this happen. We aim at using innovative methods to make cycling easier, safer and more fun."

Unfortunately I left my phone in my hotel so had no pictures this day, but I have borrowed some media from the Utrecht web site.

Utrecht; Cycling City of the Netherlands?

Interesting Lessons

The first and most enduring impression of Utrecht is the extent of the success of their  cycling policy. “Build it and they will come” could never have been shown to be more true! But there are some interesting side-effects of moving all those joints from cars to bikes.
  • They have a very real cycle parking problem,  They have recently spent €50M on 20,000 cycle parking places near to the station. (But if that seems a lot, they also had to spend €1B on space for 8,000 extra cars, so cycling infrastructure looks cheap!)
Mass Underground Bike Parking in the City Centre
  • There are bikes left everywhere. Sometimes so many that it becomes unsightly or even hazardous. In city centre spaces they have had to make it compulsory to use official bike parking spaces. Public bike parking is usually free, but in the underground purpose built stores they start charging after 24 hours and the cost ramps up.
Bikes are everywhere they can be

  • There are traffic jams for bikes, particularly at popular times, commuting times etc. Very often the density of transport in the bike lanes is much higher than on the wider roads - and it becomes to look like there is too much space allocated to cars and more should be allocated to bikes.
Bicycle Rush Hour Utrecht 
  • New Buildings are now required to provide cycle parking for all the residents/users of that building 

In order to reduce motorised traffic the traffic designers take various measures to discourage cars and encourage cycling
  • Lanes on highways have been reduced form 2 or 3 in each direction to 1 in each direction.
  • The traffic light phases have been changed to longer red passes for cards and longer green phases for bikes
  • Speed limits on roads of 30 kph (20 mph) have been applied on all roads except major through roads. The roads have been redesigned to make 30kph likely - people ignore the speed limit if the road is too wide and easy. 
  • They have a policy of trying to keep flow going on the city streets, which can often be achieved by removing traffic lights. Where the streets are narrower and slower, it turns out that the flow is better without lights and pedestrians can cross more easily
The effect of this traffic evaporation from the centre is to displace some car traffic outwards on to the motorway ring roads, and of course, these are now suffering congestion.

They are working to improve the air quality in the city by reducing emissions.
  • Smart Logistics. They are working towards a zero emissions policy for all deliveries - by moving to electric and to cargo bike delivery
  • They are incrementally increasing the standard required of vehicles allowed in the city - so Euro 6 or LNG are on the way.
Last Mile Delivery by Cargo Bike

In the long run they envisage a city without private parking places. Instead the city will provide “mobility as a service” and sell citizens and visitors the full mobility package tailored to their needs. This will involve car sharing systems, bike sharing, and public transport, all available via a city smart card, and all intelligently planned for each individual.

BIKE! The amazing world of cyclists in Utrecht (tongue in cheek)

Bike Ride

After our presentation from the city we went for a ride with Jan and Mark.  A few interesting observations:
  • There were bridges over the rivers. One bridge was cycle only and had cost some €M's.  The road bridge had a two way cycle lane welded onto the side.
  • There was a lot of new and high quality infrastructure, but we also saw the "bad". On a route into the centre of the city through the outskirt shopping areas (could have been Shirley or Portswood in Southampton) a narrow cycle lane had been forced along the pavement.  It was too narrow for easy cycling yet it took a large amount of the pavements, leaving the pedestrians and shoppers squashed and jumping for cover as cyclists went shooting past at 20kph. This is not the scenario I would want to see. Pedestrians should come first. 
  • It was interesting to see intelligent signs that told you how you would need to alter speed to go across the next traffic light without stopping - so 150 m before the lights you were encouraged to go slower or faster, or keep the same speed.


There is an excellent website at with lots of information and figures, and pictures, some of which I have borrowed for this presentation. 

The CREATE Project funded by the European Commission under Horizon2020 is one of the first projects that addresses the task Tackling Urban Road Congestion.

Thursday 6 July 2017

Trip to Netherlands: Delft

We were in Delft by Shelley and Angela from Mobycon, who help design sustainable transport solutions. After kitting us out with hire bikes (actually they were owned by the train company and used for a "train and bike" mobility solution), we had coffee and then went for a ride round town to see things first hand 

Notable things we saw:

1. The parking at the station was for around 5000 bikes. Very spacious and technically supported so people could easily find the few spaces. Cycle Paths and signage right to the door.
Bike Parking at Delft Station

2. The bikes we got belong to the train company. Any registered NL citizen can hire a bike to extend their train journey very cheaply (free?). They were the type without handbrakes which took a little getting used to!
The Train Company Bikes

3. As we sat outside Mobycon building we could see the route to the station and one main road. There were nearly always more people visible on bikes than in cars.

4. In some places the number of bikes was a little scary - they take no prisoners and assume everyone is as confident as them.

5. The old city is completely traffic free (except those that can get through bollards).  It was a bit empty when we were there, but you could see that it would be a lively social centre when the market was in situ.

Market Square : Car friendly version
Market Square: People friendly now

6. We saw a “Home Zone” where cars are limited to 10 kph, there are no through roads, and parking (even for bikes) is at a premium.

Home Zone

7. We were shown an amazing roundabout. This was a fantastic example of changing the power dynamics of a city form cars to people. We were so impressed by this roundabout that we all cycled round it many times whooping like children! Here is the before and after picture:
Before and After

  • Tram and busses go straight through the centre and then the lights stop everyone else
  • Cars give way to pedestrians then to cycles that come in *both* directions (many more of them when we were there than in the video).
  • The road has been reduced from Dual Carriageway to one lane in each direction plus a separate lane for trams and busses.
  • But cars seemed to make fine progress

Video of the Roundabout in Action

This is how to make roundabouts safer for cycles

8. We saw an  area where they were removing an old six lane highway near the station and replacing it with human scale infrastructure prioritising pedestrians, bike users and public transport.
A six lane highway has been replaced by exposing the canals underneath and creating a green waterside walk

9. We saw the University where they have removed major access road over bridge and replaced it entirely with cycle *road* (and a very busy cycle road it was too). 

The TU Delft Campus as it was

TU Delft Campus now (cars can still get there, but they are guests and come round the back!)

10. We saw a number of these - a kind of bin on the front of a Segway! Apparently kindergarten teachers take the kids for rides in them. They love it!  

Kindergarten Transport

Thanks enormously to our Mobycon hosts for the tour they gave us and for the use of some of their pictures.

Monday 3 July 2017

Cycle Infrastructure in the Netherlands. First Impressions

I am lucky enough to be representing Southampton Cycling Campaign on a trip to the Netherlands to review Cycle Infrastructure and culture. There are representatives from Southampton City Council, Clean Air Southampton, British Cycling, Sustrans, and the Southampton Cycling Campaign on the trip.

My group travelled to Hook of Holland by overnight Ferry, and the first stage of our journey was by bus and train from the Ferry Port to Delft. (interestingly, the ferry, on arrival in Holland, plugged into the mains, and turned off its generators)

I am going to post blogs on each day of the trip. Initially I will simply state what we saw. I'll finish up with a reflective and analytic post - how can this inform us in Southampton?

First impressions

Hook of Holland is similar to any small dockside city in the UK.  Most of the infrastructure is post war rebuild and access to the ferry terminal was through residential streets and past shopping areas.  However the authorities have managed to squeeze in proper cycle paths on all roads. Parking is **always** off road - at least set back from the cycle lane. 

Good signposting for bikes everywhere, and of course the was a cycle path right to the ferry terminal.
Cycle Lane out of Ferry Terminal

Roundabouts have cycle path crossings 5 - 10 m before roundabout entrance - and traffic gives way to bikes.

This Video from BicycleDutch on Youtube shows such roundabouts in action

At pinch points where there is not room for road and cycle path  (e.g. through a pedestrian island) the cycle path does not disappear but instead cars need to time their entry into the pinch point as they will have to go into cycle lane, and then they must give way to cycles.

Cycle lanes alongside long stretches of motorways were well used by folks wearing their work clothes including suits.

The only helmet or high viz I have seen so far was on a uk cyclist leaving the ferry. 

Time Out

I have not posted for some while (last post was in early February). I hd been making good recovery from a head/brain injury incurred when I was knocked of my bike (Oct 2015), but unexpectedly suffered setbacks in February.  Hopefully I am on the road to recovery and clarity of thought again now.

Thursday 9 February 2017

Defining and Signing Southampton City Cycle Route 2

There are a number of potentially useful cycle routes shown within Southampton City on Open Cycle Map.  These routes are primarily on road, using quieter roads. There is currently no signage for these routes.

Southampton Cycle Route 2

The City Council have asked The Southampton Cycling Campaign for help on approving these routes and suggesting signage, starting with Southampton City Cycle Route 2, which departs from NCR 236 just to the West of the Central Station and takes you to the Fours Horseshoes at Nursling at the point where the M271 joins the M27.   At this point the route is outside the city boundary, but the cycle route continues to westward from here to join the NCR 246 (Station Road/Lee Lane) and north to join the Southampton Road into Romsey. The full route is shown in Map1 in dashed blue, going parallel to Shirley Road to Shirley, then through Wimpson and parallel to the M271 to Nursling.

Map 1:  Southampton City Cycle Route 2 from Open Cycle Map
As it happens this is a route @suukii and I use very frequently to go from Southampton to Romsey, so we volunteered to make the initial suggestions for signage. However, it soon became apparent that other member of SCC had views about better routes.  This document therefore looks at which route would be best to sign.

What makes good signage?

We were told to expect that the signage would be applied as stickers on lampposts, similar to those used by the National Cycle Network (see Fig 1)

Fig 1: National Cycle Route Lamppost stickers

 There has been some discussion within the Cycle Campaign about what makes good signage, and some members feel that the only correct answer is proper "finger signs" but the reality is that we won't get the more expensive signs until there are well established routes - and the routes will not be well established unless signed, mapped and advertised.

What makes a good "Quiet Route"?

On road cycle routes should ideally meet the following conditions:
  1. Directness - they should go where they are going with as direct a route as possible
  2. Not busy, and no HGVs (Various cycle route design manuals define what this means in terms of cars/hour)
  3. Traffic Not fast. a 20 speed limit is massively preferred.
  4. Space exists to ride outside the door reach of parked cars
  5. Crossings/Junctions with major roads should be managed in a way appropriate to the traffic load and speed on the major road. Again, cycle path design manuals, such as Interim Advice Note 195/16 - Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network, define the appropriate managements for different traffic density on the main road.
  6. Reasonable road quality.
  7. No unreasonable obstacles restrictions in the road that make it unsafe for bikes (e.g pedestrian traffic islands, on-road bus stops etc)
  8. Suitable for an appropriately trained 11 year old secondary school child to ride unaccompanied. If this is not the case then it isn't really a cycle route.
Map 2:N236 to Oakley Road / Regents Park Road junction
from Open Cycle Map

Comments on Map 2:

The Park Road cross over Paynes Road (Green Circle) can be problematic. Paynes Road can be quite busy, although it is calmed by the traffic lights where it meets Shirley Road at Foyes Corner.

The proposed route from Randolf Street to Henry Road uses a alley way at the end of Randolf Street Red Circle). There are issues with mounting pavements, parked cars across the ends, and it is not marked for shared use.

In practice most people who do this route prefer to turn down Nelson Street and join Foundry Lane earlier (red line).  Nelson Road has many parked and is narrow, but is very quiet.

Foundry lane itself is too fast, and has a school on it - cars behave particularly unpredictably at School gate times. Occasional HGVs.

Crossing Regents Road from the top of Foundry Lane to Oakley Road (Blue Circle) is a difficult junction, particularly when coming South.  It needs some attention for cyclists.  There are pedestrian lights nearby but they are useless if going on to/coming from Oakley Road.

Is is safe for an 11 year old?
Probably.  It would benefit from a general speed restriction of 20 mph, exclusion of HGVs and some support for cyclists at the two major road crossings.

Map 3: Oakley Road / Regents Park Road junction to Mansel Park

Comments on Map 3:
Oakley Road is not much loved by cyclists.  The traffic is too fast, too frequent and there are occasional HGVs. There are too many parked cars at critical points that push cyclists out into the road.

In particular the traffic around the Treboura Way crossing (Red Circle)is not suitable for the faint hearted.  The Crossing itself has traffic lights, but a green cycle lane is needed across the road and up the sides of the hill either side.

Mansell Road East has too much erratic traffic around school times, is narrow between parked cars and the road surface is disgraceful - difficult for bikes. It is used as a rat run and there is frequently intolerant traffic.

The entrance to Mansel Park(Green Circle) has been made deliberately difficult for bikes to negotiate - particularly when leaving the park coming SE.

Is is safe for an 11 year old? 
Marginal.  Serious consideration of the traffic conditions (and calming them) on Oakley Road and support for cyclists at the Treboura Way crossing should be made.

Pavements might be used in places by the faint hearted, but of course that is illegal, and if legalised makes it difficult for commuter cyclists who start getting driven off the road by some cars who believe bikes should use the cycle path.

Alternative Route Suggested by Some:
(This route is shown in red)

The difficulties at the crossing of Regents Park Road into Oakley Road (Blue Circle) have already been discussed above. A better alternative is to use the pedestrian lights to cross into St Edmunds road.

The route then joins Romsey Road for a short bit to cross Winchester Road/Treboura Way. (Shown in thick red line).  This bit is completely unacceptable for anyone but the strong and confident. There is quite a steep hill on the South side of the main road.  There is almost always a queue for the traffic lights, and Romsey Road is too narrow here to allow cars to pass bikes safely, yet there is rarely any opportunity for them to overtake as there is always oncoming traffic.

Redbridge Hill and right up to Windermere Avenue, on the other hand is a wide piece of road, with a real opportunity for building e.g. an on road cycle lane protected by armadillos. Resident parrking is needed, but there is plenty of space to provide this off road.

Would it be safe for an 11 year old?  
It would be good, if only a solution could be found for the Romsey Road bit.

Map 4: Mansel Park to Hillyfields
Comments on Map 4:
There are a few changes to this route (in Blue lines).  After Mansel Park the official route suggests going on a footpath, This is narrow and unmaintained and quite unsuitable for shared use - and very difficult to access when heading South. We suggest keeping to the road.  At the Brownhill Way roundabout there are big changes and the old path across a field is now built over. Instead there is a new off road shared cycle path of high quality as shown.

However the crossing of Brownhill way (red circle) is completely unsuitable, and seriously unsafe.
  1. The traffic on Brownhill way (the east-going of which has just come off the M271) is a constant stream and fast in both directions, and in the wrong frame of mind for making gaps to allow bikes or pedestrians to make it across the road.
  2. There are no traffic signals.
  3. Someone has constructed chicaned barriers in a way calculated to make it as difficult as possible for a bike to get in position to cross, and to make it impossible for a few bikes to get into position at the same time.
This crossing would contravene every rule in the book if it was subject to Highways England regulations - which it presumably narrowly misses by dint of being a few the otherside of the roundabout from the motorway.  Given that the rest of the new cycle route is so good - this is a big #FAIL.

Is is safe for an 11 year old?  
Only if the Brownhill Way Crossing can be mended.

Alternative Route (contin)
At the top of Windemere avenue it would be possible to join back with the oficial route (green line)
However, to avoid the catastrophic  Brownhill junction, the red line continues another way.  

This part of the alternative route is all in 20 mph calmed traffic area.

Th crossing of Brownhill Way (Green Circle) is at traffic lights.  It is a bit complex for a bike coming up from Lower Brownhill Road and could certainly be improved with some road paint and signage.

Is is safe for an 11 year old?  

Map 5: Hillyfileds to Nursling and to NCR 246 (Lee Lane)

Comments on Map 5:

The final bit of the route passes the Ordinance Survey on a wide and smooth dedicated cycle path on a wide pavement and then joins a dedicated path through the fields and up to Nursling.

Here ends Southampton (we think?). But we presume that the signage will be continued until the path joins the NCR246 (Lee Lane).

A further View on the Whole route.

The following commentary was submitted by another senior and experienced member of SCC. Although there might be some disagreement about what the official route was intended to be (there have been many maps issued and they are not consistent at the detail level) we can see that this member takes quite a different view of the earlier part of the route (which I suggest is largely OK) - for example suggesting that using Shirley Road would be preferable to the options discussed here.

Of course, Shirley Road/ High Street is the direct route. Given the width available, it would appear to be the obvious route. The failure of the council to provide decent cycle infrastructure when the road was completely re-fashioned in quite recent years is held up in Campaign History as the most obvious example of the Council's anti-cycling attitude.

However, with the road in the state it is in now I cannot agree with the author that Shirley Road is suitable for cycling by any one other than the most confident cyclists. It fails on every one of the points for a good quiet cycle route, except road surface.

But the commentary below does show us, as we know, that cyclists come in all shapes and sizes, and in all levels of confidence and ability.


I think in defining these quiet on-road routes we need to strike a careful balance between what is suitable for the unconfident or young cyclist and what is the fastest route from A - B. But I think we will do people the most favours be selecting the safest route. Commuters who make the journey regularly can refine the route as they see fit for their own level of skill and confidence.

At present I cannot recommend *any* of the routes as really suitable, but either would be adequate (and the alternative preferred) if we could cure either the Romsey Road crossing of Winchester Road/Treboura Way or the Cycle lane crossing of Brownhill way.

Another Member's Comments:  Cycle Route Station-Nursling

Station - Paynes Road

Poor surface, busy commercial traffic in Millbrook Road and when crossing Waterloo Road. The crossing of Paynes Road is difficult and potentially dangerous; Park Road here is usually narrowed by parked cars so that cyclists are often head-on to motorists. When travelling northbound it would be safer and more pleasant to divert east to Shirley Road and cross Paynes Road at the traffic lights.

Paynes Road - Regents Park Road

Richmond Road is usually busy. A much quieter and slightly shorter route is Firgrove Rd - Nelson Road. Either route leads to the poorly surfaced Foundry Lane, which is quite busy with motor traffic which is often fast. A safer alternative to this section is Shirley Road, which is much better surfaced, with few parked vehicles and is also easier to navigate for those not familiar with the area. The only disadvantage is the presence of pinch points, though these could be improved by the provision of adequately wide advisory cycle lanes.

Regents Park Road - Mansel Road West

Oakley Road is busy and fast with parked vehicles. Although it crosses Tebourba Way at traffic lights this junction is unpleasant, particularly since the cyclist (in either direction) has to climb a hill with a stream of overtaking traffic. North of Tebourba Way the route is tortuous and goes through residential streets where the cyclist will encounter motorists moving off or parking, sometimes on the "wrong" side of the road.

The entry into the Mansel Park is very narrow, while at the north end the cyclist has to cross two streams of traffic.

A safer, more direct route, which is also far better surfaced and easier to follow is from Shirley High St to the "Old Thatch" lights and then via Redbridge Hill to Windermere Avenue. The only disadvantages to this route are the double mini-roundabout at Wimpson Lane and, southbound, emerging from Redbridge Hill onto Romsey Road. The latter could be circumvented by taking the route onto the service road to the S of Redbridge Hill and then providing crossing points at the Tebourba Way crossroads; this route is already used by many cyclists. The route could be further improved by a "crawler" on-road cycle lane up the hill from Tebourba Way into Shirley.

Mansel Road West - Brownhill Way

Mansel Road West has a poor surface and is very busy when children are drived to and from the school. Colne Road, though busy, might be an alternative.

The southern access to the new shared use path is a very tight "wheelbarrow turn", particularly since the road is narrowed at this point, so that cyclists are forced to use the whole width of the road. The barriers at the end of the path should be modified (moved away from the road &/or the gap widened) so that cyclists travelling in either direction have more leeway to manoeuvre safely.

Friday 3 February 2017

"Happy City" by Charles Montgomery: A digested read

 Happy City
(Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design)
Charles Montgomery

Penguin Books, 2013

 …and its relevance to cycle campaigners in the UK

My Summary Summarised:

For the future of humankind we need to become less dependant on fossil fuels. To do this we need to be less dependent on transport and live quite densely, in cities, so cities need to be happy places.

(C) Penguin Books


I have a confession to make.  I work as an academic, but I have never before in my life read a non-fiction book through cover to cover.  Theses and papers yes, but book, no. I read this book right through. It explained to me much of what I have seen happening as cities throughout the world are beginning to change their shape and behaviour.

I have become increasingly interested in Urban Design and so called “Liveable cities” in recent years, since spending 2011, one of the happiest years of my life, living in the centre of Montpellier in the South of France.  Wherever I went in Montpellier I was aware of the efforts that the (socialist) City and Departmental Councils were taking to make us residents happy – I found myself boring visiting friends pointing these things out. So it was a pleasant surprise to me to realise that there was a whole science to urban design for happiness and this book is an interesting introduction. 

Place de La Comedie, Montpellier City Centre.
Cars were removed from the whole city centre and a large area which had been a massive car park was recreated as an enormously popular public Square and Gardens which are well used by the city, business and the citizens. It is now served by frequent trams and the SNCF/TGV station is just a few hundred meters away. Footfall in local shops and cafés increased enormously.

The book is written by a very well informed Canadian journalist, and its style is largely anecdotal and easy to read. However, it is very well referenced and there is no doubt about the provenance of the underpinning information. There is an inevitable North American slant to the book, but the European, and indeed global, dimension is well covered.

I found the bigger picture presented in this book valuable. For that reason I hope other cycle campaigners will find it worth a read, or at least appreciate my digested read. 'Happy Cities' explains where cycling and walkability fit into the much bigger picture of the sort of urban designs and planning we need for the next century. In cities where councils already get the point that this book makes, cycle infrastructure is already a priority. City councils that repeatedly fail to make even the simplest of improvements to cycle infrastructure (like my own in Southampton) are still living in an old paradigm where motorised transport is the lifeblood of the city and all other needs are subservient to that.

Happiness and the City Council

The basic premise of the book is that the job of the city council is to ensure that citizens are Safe, Healthy and Happy; everything else (e.g. economic development, social support, the transport system, the architecture of the city centre, support for the disadvantaged) is part of the above.

Montgomery then looks at what makes us happy – he treats the science of happiness as a specialism of economics, and drawing on many examples from Sociology, Psychology, Economics and Urban Design he goes on to conclude that the main contributors to happiness are good social contact and a feeling that you contribute something worthwhile to the world.  Perhaps surprisingly increased wealth only contributes to happiness up to the point that a person earns the average for their society – above that it can have a negative correlation. Things that make people unhappy are poverty, loneliness, poor health, fear and a feeling of lack of control of their lives. There is also a very strong inverse correlation between happiness and time spent commuting; people who walk to work most often have the highest life satisfaction.
From Happy City (c) Penguin

Why Cities became Rundown in the Post-war period

At the beginning of the last century the majority of people lived in communities of some kind or another, varying from villages through towns to cities (and villages within cities).  No-one can deny that there were many aspects of life in these days that contributed to unhappiness, but also, the author argues there were aspects of these lives, to do with community, trust and a sense of belonging, that made people happy. However, industrialisation made the lives of some city dwellers overcrowded, unhealthy and undignified; the more well off moved to select areas of the city and cities became segregated.  The middle classes built new areas around the town, suburbia, with less pollution, less noise and some pleasing greenery around their houses. Tram and bus services of the period served them well.

Then came the car.  Carlton Reid’s excellent book “Roads were not Built for Cars” tells this history, which is repeated here, of how rich car owners and their automobile clubs lobbied government and used their wealth and influence to change the ownership and purpose of roads in just a few decades. By the post war period cars had become the rightful owners of the road, and other users were increasingly banished and intimidated, and main roads were pedestrian free (no jaywalking) for “their” safety. Roads then spilt communities.

An immediate consequence of the increasingly affordable car was that people started to move further away from the city in search of bigger, more private affordable housing, and coupled with population explosion we saw the rapid growth of “sprawl” – suburbs or “exurbs” with no centres. And as their housing is much less dense than in cities and the original suburbs, everything is some distance away.  People living in these places are almost inevitably forced to drive for even the simples of needs – work, the gym, the shops, the doctor, the hairdresser, the pub etc.

As better off people moved out of the cities they took their tax revenues to out of town areas, leaving cities to survive on the taxes paid by the poorer people left behind.

Perhaps North America has suffered worse than most of Europe from sprawl. The book spends much space on this topic and and on the witchcraft of Zoning Codes which prevent North Americans from changing the layout of their sprawl, for example to build some kind of a commercial and social centre to make an area liveable. But we are not exempt in Europe – I know plenty of people in the greater Southampton and Portsmouth area who have no access to even the most basic facilities without using their cars.


People who use cars to access all their needs clog up their roads and in particular the roads into the cities where most of them work. They demand ever better, ever faster, ever wider roads to accommodate their needs. In particular they demand that the city councils (in cities where they do not pay tax, as they live outside the city) improve their transport infrastructure, at the cost of the residents who do pay local tax, so that they can get to work faster. 

There is a clear fairness issue here. In Southampton where I live, the transport budget is permanently stretched to meet the needs of mainly outsiders using the roads, and there is never enough money left to build good infrastructure to allow locals to get around by cycle of to re-join up the communities that are split by busy, noisy, polluted roads. The citizens of these main roadside communities are exposed to illegal levels of pollution and suffer significant health problems. But the car drivers from suburban Hampshire are not paying Southampton for this.

What Makes People Happy?

The final, and possibly most important contribution of the book is to look at what can be done to address the problems caused by the car and sprawl.

The Montgomery answer is that we all need to live closer to our places of work and to the services that we need, and this requires us to live in higher density housing – cities. But these cities do not have to be the overcrowded, dirty, polluted, noisy, crime-ridden, unfriendly, high-rise and slum dwellings of history. He looks at examples of good practice from a number of famous “happy cities”, Vancouver, Copenhagen, Paris and even Bogotá (who would have thought it?), and includes recent developments in London and New York.

Streets for people: Copenhagen’s Kompagnistrædet before and after pedestrianisation. (Jan Gehl and Lars Gemzøe/ Gehl Architects Urban Quality Consultants.) From the Happy City  (c) Penguin

Things that make people happy about cities are:

Good public transport:  Happy cities have the main routes delivered by excellent high speed public transport (Light railways, trams, tubes, or even busses with dedicated traffic free lanes), connected to a network of more local services with a frequency such that people do not need to consult a timetable (at least every 15 minutes) – with live information systems to allow people to know the time of the next service.

Pedestrian and cycle infrastructure that is prioritised (or appears to be prioritised) over private motorised traffic.  Cycling, in particular, can allow people the independence to get around cities quickly and efficiently, and they will happily prefer to cycle than drive if the infrastructure supports them. (And remember that a tram-load of people or the equivalent number of cyclists take up far less street space and create far less pollution, noise and danger to the rest of the citizens than the equivalent motorised transport).

Green Space: In a city in which most of the citizens live in relatively high density accommodation it is important to provide space – parks, gardens - that provide quiet and open space for people for all sorts of use, from skateboarding through to sitting and people watching.  Copenhagen even involved their “down-and-outs” in designing the space they wanted to allow them to get drunk without offending others!  (Southampton has wonderful parks and the Common – and the excellent use that is made of these spaces is central to the Southampton experience.)

 The Emerald Necklace in Boston: Green Space was designed into the city as a set of linear parks. Restored in the 1980's to make the city more liveable. Other cities are trying to retrofit such spaces.
Quiet: The noise of engines, background traffic, sirens, horns and people behaving loudly or aggressively are all know to put people on edge.  People are happier without this noise.  Calming traffic, traffic free areas and more green space all contribute to greater quiet and general happiness.

Community and trust: People feel happiest in places they feel they belong, and people feel most comfortable amongst people they know (even if by that we mean that they pass on the street every morning).  According to Montgomery, "our trust in neighbours, police, governments and even total strangers has a huge influence on happiness, and when it comes to life satisfaction, relationships with other people beat income, hands down". 

Of course, streets that have been fully fashioned for motor vehicles do not make the best places casual meetings and developing the sort of nodding acquaintances that lead to trust in a neighbourhood.  He refers to the work of Sadik-Khan (Streetfight) in New York where they showed that "reducing the number of lanes on carefully selected streets or closing them entirely not only provided pedestrian space and breathed new life into neighborhoods, but also actually improved traffic. Simply painting part of a street to make it into a plaza, bike, or bus lane not only made the street safer, it also improved traffic and increased bike and pedestrian foot traffic and helped local businesses to prosper".

Equality and Fairness: This is excellently summed up in a quote from the book, attributed to ‘Enrique Peñalosa, then mayor of Bogotá, Columbia: One of the requirements for happiness is equality. Maybe not equality of income, but equality of quality of life and, more than that, an environment where people don’t feel inferior, where people don’t feel excluded.”

So if we accept this point, the city must be seen to invest as much in public infrastructure (green space, meeting space, walkability, public transport) for the poor as it does for the better-off.

My take home message from this book

The population of the world is expanding fast, and at the same time we need to reduce greenhouse gases to slow global warming.

City dwellers produce around 70% less greenhouse gases than their rural neighbours or sprawl dwellers (due to less use of transport, and the economies of smaller denser housing, and the economies of providing services to them). Blessed be the city dwellers.

People who live away from towns and cities still mostly have to travel to work in those cities. The longer a person’s commute time the unhappier and more stressed they will be. Upon them shall be a curse.

People who need to use roads lots spend lots of time in traffic jams, and lobby road providers to improve the network – the budget for roads will never be enough to catch up with the demand or the induced demand when new roads are created (the M25 effect!).

There is an import lack of equity (in terms of share of the public purse) between those who live in cities, who:

  • need less roads;
  • often use financially viable public transport, walk or cycle;
  • produce less greenhouse gasses;
  • for whom providing public services is much more efficient

compared to those who rely on cars for transport who:

  • clog up the cities in which other people live with three lane highways carving up residential areas;
  • cause pollution affecting other peoples' children;
  • demand car-parking taking up much of the potential public space in cities;
  • need greater financing for provision of distributed public services.

Investing in well designed city environments with walkable neighbourhoods, good cycle infrastructure and minimal through roads for cars makes for happier citizens and is a good blueprint for the future of humankind.

Thanks as ever to my partner Su White @suukii for her contributions.