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How to develop successful cycle infrastructure Robin Reed

What makes a good cycle scheme stand out from the crowd? The award-winning Lewes Road cycle scheme offers valuable lessons for this increasingly important form of urban travel.

Lewes Road in the UK city of Brighton & Hove was a typical 1960s dual carriageway. Despite its size being increased over the years in response to the growing number of private vehicles, it continued to suffer from the same old congestion in rush hour. With two universities and a football stadium nearby, demand for travel along the route threatened to outstrip available capacity.

Following the tragic death of a young cyclist travelling along the route to the University of Sussex, the local council took bold steps to prioritise the movement of people rather than vehicles by radically transforming the road. Mott MacDonald worked closely with the City Council and undertook the feasibility and detailed design of the project, ensuring that many of the innovative features were successfully designed and implemented.

The scheme has been in place for around two years now and has produced excellent results in terms of modal shift, most notably a 15% increase in cyclists and 7% increase in bus passengers. It highlights a number of strategies to help ensure cycle infrastructure schemes are successful.

  • Ensure the project has strong political and technical leadership. This is essential if controversial schemes that often involve re-allocation of road space are to get the go-ahead. When hard decisions and trade-offs need to be made, it is important that scheme designers identify sound technical solutions that allow decision-makers, such as local councillors, to argue for the best schemes and stand their ground on difficult decisions.
  • Consider whether the location is favourable. You need to be sure that those who are most likely to consider cycling are present in sufficient numbers within the scheme’s catchment area. In the case of Lewes Road, this condition was met by the two universities providing a steady stream of potential cyclists who supported pro-cycling measures.
  • Innovate to enhance project outcomes. The Lewes Road cycle scheme incorporated 14 ‘floating bus stops’, which sit on islands between the cycle lane and the road, allowing cyclists to bypass stationary buses safely and without conflict. These had never previously been used in the UK, but have since been replicated by many other authorities, including Transport for London. However, all too often new cycling schemes appear with innovative features that won’t actually benefit the cyclists themselves, or have simply been copied from another location and applied in an inappropriate context. This usually happens when scheme designers don’t think from the cyclists’ perspective, or are not cyclists themselves.
  • Use evidence to win over the opposition. When faced with 35,000 consultees, many of whom do not cycle or believe investing in cycle facilities is a waste of money, it is essential that your arguments are clear and supported by evidence. Evidence gathered to inform the consultation can also be invaluable at a later stage in the project. Collection of essential ‘before’ data in relation to travel behaviour and mode share enabled the benefits of the Lewes Road scheme to be fully quantified after it had been implemented.
  • Be prepared to sacrifice capacity for cars. A loss of traffic capacity or parking is usually necessary to create truly high-quality cycling facilities, simply because such facilities require sufficient space in the highway. On Lewes Road, we successfully made the case to reduce the capacity for general traffic by 50%, and to reallocate that space to cyclists and buses, by proving that more people were already travelling by these modes. Capacity reduction for vehicles and loss of parking are often considerable challenges, but it may be impossible to develop a progressive cycle scheme without such action.
  • Adequately consider the needs of cyclists. Most people are unwilling to switch to cycling unless there is dedicated, fit-for-purpose space for cyclists, which is generally free of intrusion by heavy and fast motor vehicle traffic. In cities where the aim is to grow cycling rapidly, simple, cheap and effective means of securing space have been used as first steps, with more permanent solutions following in due course. Such features can include ‘armadillos’ or ‘wands’, inserted into the road surface to separate traffic lanes from cycle lanes, which can then be replaced by full kerb segregation at a later date once the scheme has gained public acceptance.
  • Attention to detail is important. Cyclists can be a difficult audience to please, and minor details such as providing flush dropped kerbs and smooth transitions can make all the difference.

We must keep these key points at the forefront of the mind when planning and designing cycle infrastructure. Get them wrong, and cycling schemes can become expensive ‘white elephants’. Get them right, however, and cycling schemes can be truly transformative.

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