Conflict by Design

Surrey County Council are, at the time of writing, consulting on implementing some cycling facilities in Walton-on-Thames to act as a link to the shiny new bridge that has been installed.

Walton Bridge

Figure 1 Walton Bridge has shared paths for cyclists and pedestrians. Photo by Get Surrey

Consultation Area

Figure 2 Walton-on-Thames proposed cycle plan overview. Shared pavements in lime green. Original image from the consultation plans

The consultation can be found here. In summary, the plans being consulted upon involve:

  • Widening certain pavements to between 2.5-3m along roads that link to Walton Bridge
  • Marking these widened pavements for shared use between cyclists and pedestrians
  • A limited portion of these shared pavements will be painted to show a separate bicycle lane
  • Plans stop shortly before the road turns into a 40 mph zone
  • At all junctions with side roads, motor vehicles have priority

On superficial analysis the plans appear to be very good in separating cyclists from motorised traffic, providing a subjectively safe space for existing and would be cyclists to go about their business. But that would be superficial analysis indeed.

From the overview of the plans (Figure 2) we can see that the shared paths run through the shopping areas of Walton-on-Thames, pavements that are heavily used by pedestrians to go shopping. These plans deliberately put cyclists in conflict with pedestrians because they fail to recognise that shared paths only ever work when there are very few users of vastly different speeds.  In these plans at each junction along the main road, cyclists do not have right of way posing a further danger to them and pedestrians.  The plans appear to have been designed to get cyclists out of the way of motorists and put them into direct conflict with pedestrians in an area heavily used by pedestrians.

This excellent video by WokingTrafficSafety shows a walkthrough of the pavements in Walton-on-Thames that these plans are for.

Figure 3 Walton-on-Thames video walkthrough

Surrey County Council are willing to take away some road space in an attempt to widen the pavements. However, the use of shared pavements in this area is completely inappropriate. There is enough room on the roads in question to have pavements, wide separated cycle lanes, which have same priority as adjacent roadway, and two way roadway for motor traffic. However, it requires the will to reallocate space properly.

The consultation can be found here. Please do visit the consultation page and leave them your thoughts using this link. The consultation closes on 19 August.

3 thoughts on “Conflict by Design

  1. Yep. As a relative local, I held off commenting here untril I had a chance to sample the cycling delights of the new bridge and what one might expect of the rest of the infratructure, though I’ve put in my 2 penn’orth on the council’s website.

    Your points about the town centre and conflict are extremely important. The big problem here is that any criticism of the cycling component by the few cyclists that there are will be debated (and in all likelhood rejected) behind closed doors by the very people who OK’d the scheme in the first place. I just hope enough shopkeepers and pedestrian residents see it as you do and complain. But in view of past schemes that would probably have to be >100% against to have any traction. We’ll see I suppose.

    Anyway, although I normally use the road, I cycled over the new shared use on Walton Bridge last week. It is actually reasonably wide and there were both cyclists and pedestrians using it, albeit in a rather chaotic manner, which prompted one lady pedestrian say to her companion “this could really do with lanes marking”. I said “precies” in my best Dutch accent and cycled on, nodding sagely. Indeed there is plenty of room for something like this >> (ignoring the central green bit): on the bridge and everywhere else they want to widen the footway to 3 m. IMO it would look a lot nicer too.

    And once the shared use is extended, when you’ve cleared the bridge and started along Bridge Street, the plans show that you will soon meet “uncontrolled crossings” where “vehicles have priority”. Now ignoring the fact the bicycles are vehicles by law, if the designers think this is acceptable, I don’t see why they are bothering with any cycle facilities at all. It is much safer to cycle on the road. Shared use may help subjective safety, but this design is a retrograde step for objective safety. An acceptable design has to do both.

    What concerns me more though is that, even if one thought it was OK by itself, it is poorly linked to other main through routes. A toucan crossing is proposed to link the bridge approach with Oatlands Drive. Not ideal, but cyclng/pedestriain paradise compared with the difficulty in continuing up New Zealand Avenue – there is no equivalent toucan across Bridge Street on the plans, or cycle lanes along NZ Avenue conecting to the bridge approach except by the complex toucan across Oatlands Drive. And instead of extending the works right up to the Waterside Drive roundabout to the NE , more work in the central area might be more usefiul. e.g. providing a more cycling-friendy connection between NZ Avenue and Ashley Road (and vice versa).

    There’s a lot, lot more but I’m losing the will.

    PS Going over the bridge from the Shepperton side, there is currently a large sign, I think meant for the motorists, saying “adverse camber” between the carriageway and the temporary cycle/pedestrian access to the shared use. Now forgive me for being picky, but didn’t the contractors move massive amounts of earth to construct the bridge and approaches, and maybe this was a teeny-weeny oversight? Hmmm?

  2. Yep. They’re doing it to get cyclists out of the way and CAUSE more conflict with cyclists and further marginalize them.

    It’s an ANTI cycling scheme. Typical.

  3. I submitted a response to the consultation, sector by sector. That meant that, for all bar one of the sectors, my first paragraph was cut&pasted – only one sector envisages a segregated cycle track – observing that a shared use path merely transfers the conflict from cyclist-motorist to cyclist-pedestrian, and that 2.5 or 3 metres is woefully inadequate width for a shared facility. There were more specific comments for each individual sector, like why were they reducing a grass verge in one place rather than taking width from the road, and why were they removing mature trees in another. (Not much hope on that score, when you see that in Bracknell, two mature oak trees have been felled to improve sight lines for cars at a junction “to improve safety” when a perfectly viable solution would have been to re-engineer the road, eg reduce turn radii, to reduce speeds and prevent high-speed turns into and out of the side road in question). I also commented that in places it looked like the cycle facility was purely incidental to the main aim which appeared to be to provide considerable extra on-street car parking, and finally that one shared path of 3m was reduced to 2.5m for a stretch where the plan indicated that 0.5m could easily have been taken off the road to maintain the path width.

    Overall, my comment was that the scheme appears to be more about removing slower cyclists from the road where they obstruct the passage of motorists than it is about enhancing the safety or utility of the route for the cyclists themselves – and the pedestrians don’t get a look-in at all!

    I don’t know Walton well enough to judge how well cycle and pedestrian traffic would mix. Apart from the truly awful design of many urban schemes I have seen, as illustrated in “Cycle Facility of the Month” and elsewhere, it’s fairly obvious that anywhere which has more than an occasional pedestrian is unsuitable for shared use. In other places however it might work quite satisfactorily – in Gosport for example, where I grew up and until recently still had familial connections, there are shared use paths on which you almost never see anyone walking simply because they don’t connect two places which people want to travel between and which are close enough together for most modern folk to walk – but they do, and are well close enough to ditto, by bicycle.

    We’ve had a little twitter spat about the role of Sustrans in this. I think you are being unduly harsh. I have to agree that Sustrans is far from perfect as a campaigning or advocacy group, but firstly it is light-years ahead of the other national mass-membership cycling groups, CTC and British Cycling. It is probably also ahead of immediate local cycle groups, if my own local experience is anything to go by. Secondly, it has a curious hybrid status in that while it is an advocacy group, it is also an implementer of schemes. You may remember that it was one of the first winners of a large grant from the heritage lottery fund back around the millennium, raising matching funds from other donors (including, over the last 14 years, me). Its focus has, I admit, largely been on leisure routes, but I don’t think that it means it has no expertise on utility cycle infrastructure. It is, again, way ahead of the principal membership groups, and comparisons with the Dutch are useless because currently there is NO significant membership organisation, QUANGO or governmental body which comes even close. (CEoGB might become that organisation, but that is not where they are yet) Some of its flagship schemes especially around its home territory of Bristol/Bath are in fact widely used for utility purposes. It is also active on safe routes to schools – even if those don’t often live up to Dutch standards.

    Anyway, a campaign group can afford to be arsy with local government, and it can afford purity of thought and total lack of compromise. Without such campaigning groups we would never get anywhere. Sustrans however also has to implement real-life schemes in collaboration with local councils and reliant on grant-aid to itself and matching funding from the councils. Its schemes may largely be leisure but they are of great benefit to the people they serve and they can’t afford to place them in jeopardy.

    It is not Sustrans’ fault if Surrey CC (roads cabinet member John Furey, of the drink-drive conviction and reported “over my dead body” comments about cycling) finds it convenient to treat their involvement as the tick-box for consulting “cyclists”. Sustrans doesn’t claim to represent all cyclists, it is SCC which is conveniently assuming that, and if Sustrans demurred, no doubt they would fall back on John Franklin instead. It is up to us, as interested citizens or through the membership organisations we have joined, or could form, to ensure that SCC doesn’t try tricks like that.

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