What might a safer Elm Grove junction look like?

When I was collecting signatures for my petition about the road crash hotspot at the bottom of Elm Grove, a few people asked how redesigning the road could improve safety. How different could it really be?

Following the council’s invitation to submit ideas for their forthcoming review of this junction, I got together with a few friends and we have come up with two options for a safer junction, plus some other ideas to think about. I’ll be emailing all these ideas to the council’s Travel Planning team tomorrow, just in time for their 1st November deadline.

If you think these are good suggestions, there’s still time for you to drop them a line to say so – feel free to link to this blog post if you want to. Or, of course, send in your own thoughts about what’s wrong with the junction and how it could be improved.

Preferred option – London-style

lewes-rd-option-1

Move the central islands on Lewes Road, both north and south of Elm Grove, to create a wide, protected, two-way cycle track on the western side of Lewes Road, connecting with the cycle paths around the Level and continuing past Union Road, Park Crescent and Elm Grove, as far as (approximately) Kendrick’s Property Services.

Convert the bus stop opposite to a floating bus stop, and provide a signalised crossing for southbound cyclists to enable them to join the two-way track as they emerge from behind the bus stop.

Here’s a picture of a similar crossing already in place in London:

parliament-bike-crossing

Introduce a two-way protected cycle track at the bottom of Elm Grove, accessible both from Elm Grove and Islingword Road (provide a cyclist-only cut-through at the bottom of Islingword Road).

Use signals for cyclists on the two-way track to allow them to turn left or right into Elm Grove (via Islingword Road) and for cyclists turning left or right out of Elm Grove.

Add a pedestrian crossing just south of Elm Grove. This will make it quicker and easer to access the GP surgery. Straighten the crossing north of Elm Grove, as the distance to be crossed would be reduced by the width of the cycle track. Remove all the railings.

Option 2: Copenhagen-style

lewes-rd-option-2

One-way raised or wand-protected cycle lanes on both sides of Lewes Road and Elm Grove.

Vehicle traffic stopped further back from the junction than cyclists and left turning vehicles held, with a large “mixing zone”, giving cyclists a clear head start as the lights change.

Other ideas

Minimal changes

If there is to be no alteration at all to the road layout, the council could still introduce:

  • Advance green signals for cyclists, or simultaneous green for cyclists
  • Low level lights, so that cyclists can easily see the signals
  • Traffic lights which hold vehicles from making a left turn into Elm Grove until cyclists have had a chance to clear the junction

A broader view

In order to allow the structural changes outlined above, it may be necessary to reduce the number of vehicles passing through the junction. The council could explore the following possibilities for doing that:

  • Preventing vehicle left turns into Elm Grove (except for buses). This may require some other changes to prevent rat-running.
  • Making the southbound left-hand lane into a bus lane.
  • Preventing vehicle right turns out of Southover Street, to minimise traffic turning left into Union Road.
  • Making Lewes Road one-way northbound (except for buses, taxis and cycles), and  Upper Lewes Road one-way westbound (except for cycles)

I am aware that the brief for the council’s review is to focus on efficiency, and that the budget is tight. Our suggestions may seem unrealistic. However, I think there is a very strong case for designing streets that feel safe for cycling, in order to enable a significant shift away from private car use and towards cycling for most short journeys.

All the evidence from Europe is that protected infrastructure provides that sense of safety, and that it is possible to create the circumstances for a much higher modal share for cycling than we currently see in the UK.

More people cycling would relieve congestion in the city and therefore improve the overall efficiency of the road network. It would also make a big contribution to our air pollution problem and give more people an opportunity to take everyday exercise.

Even if the council does not currently have enough money to transform the junction fully, I think it would be worth producing a tested and costed design that would afford adequate protection for people on bikes, so that they are able to quickly bid for the necessary funds in the future.


Calais

So I went to Calais as part of the Critical Mass to Calais bike ride last weekend.

A week later, I am no closer to having anything coherent to say about it, but I thought I would put down some of the disjointed ideas it sparked anyway.

Travel/pilgrimage/migration

As David Charles pointed out in his excellent piece about the bike ride, cycling is not the most efficient way to get bikes from London to Calais. But the process of travelling there under (to some extent) our own steam gave me plenty of time to think about what such journeys mean for people in different circumstances.

I spent some days thinking about what to take with me, trying to imagine what I would need and what would be unnecessary weight on my bike. Everyone planning a long journey must make decisions like this, especially if their journey is on foot or by bike.

It is quite a satisfying experience, to pack your bags well and efficiently, to know where to find the things you need along the way, to be pleased with what you have brought and what you have left behind. But I was haunted by the thought of people packing for a journey they could not imagine and could not prepare for. I thought about what that process would feel like if every decision brought with it a pang of sorrow.

Before I left, lots of people told me I was doing a great thing. My journey was admirable. I realised that for people like me, travel is always to be admired. Even if I had been heading off on a holiday, people would have been pleased with me, congratulated me on my spirit of adventure. Our culture celebrates exploration, exertion and discovery.

In Kent, our route incorporated paths and roads now marked as the Pilgrim’s Way, a reminder of an older tradition of journeys made for the sake of journeying, and in the hope of hospitality along the way.

But for the people we met in Calais, and those trapped in Greece and Hungary, hospitality and admiration have been much harder to find.

Refugees and migrants

Nearly all the people we saw at the camp in Calais were young men. 90% of those stuck there are men, though I did see a young child in the brief time I spent there.

When I say young men, I mean very young. I spoke with one young man who was probably no older than my daughter, about to set off on her own big adventure to university in a couple of weeks’ time. He told me he wanted to reach the UK, so that he could work and send money back to support his family in Sudan.

I think Paul Mason is right in this piece, when he says that the distinctions between people fleeing war and poverty are increasingly meaningless.

Why is getting on your bike to find work the right thing to do if you are unemployed in the north of England, but the wrong thing if you are in Sudan? (clue: racism)

Charity and solidarity

The spontaneous mass movement of people all across Europe wanting to welcome refugees and share their belongings, and even homes, with them has been astonishing.

Just as the political institutions of Europe are being swept away by the sheer numbers of people arriving, so the power of the media to determine public opinion is being undermined by the swifter and deeper communication of Facebook.

As this excellent piece by Plan C describes, there is not a clear distinction between charity on one hand and political pressure on the other. David Cameron has been forced to shift his position in just a couple of days. All four Labour leadership candidates declared themselves in support of offering sanctuary to more refugees in the Sky News debate on Thursday, in terms that would have been unutterable by most Labour candidates before the election.

Human structures

The camp at Calais is hardly built at all. All the buildings are made of wood and tarpaulin, those that are not simply tents. There is a tap, but no sanitation to speak of. When it rained on Sunday night (after I had left), many structures were simply washed away.

And yet, there are systems. There are roads. There is a shop and a cafe. There is a church, a mosque, a library and a school. There are neighbourhoods, marked with signs showing the countries where people have come from – Sudan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia. People make society, whatever their circumstances.

I didn’t take any photos on my trip. Here is a photo album taken on the same day by Natasha Quarmby, who was careful not to compromise anyone’s immigration claim or exploit their plight for sentimental or campaigning purposes.

I’m glad I went. I wish I had stayed longer in the camp (as it turned out, my ferry didn’t leave for another six hours, so I could have done). I hope we can keep up the pressure on the governments of Europe long enough to make a real change for everyone who needs a safe haven here.


Are we really the best European city for clean transport? I don’t think so.

At the beginning of September I went on a short fact-finding tour in the Netherlands. I’ve been mulling over how to begin to describe what I saw there. I think it will probably take more than one post, but here’s a start.

The notes I wrote on the train home read:

“I want what they’ve got:

  • Real choice about how to travel
  • Peaceful and sociable spaces in town
  • Freedom of movement for kids
  • Equal access for disabled people”

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Choice

In the Netherlands, people choose to ride bikes for many of their everyday journeys. If they prefer to drive, they can, but the choice to cycle is, by design, the quickest and easiest for journeys where the bike is the common sense option – getting to school, taking small children to school, going to work if you live within cycling distance, food shopping, meeting friends, going to parties, attending sporting events, relaxing in the countryside, and so on.

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Peaceful and sociable spaces

Roads in town centres and residential areas are designed to be nearly car-free – traffic is controlled and directed away from where people live, shop and relax.

Before I went to the Netherlands, I thought I would be finding out about the details of street design – kerbs, widths of cycle paths, traffic lights and so on. I did learn something about those things, and there are many impressive ways in which those details make cycling in the Netherlands a pleasure.

But in fact the most important lesson I came back with was that mass cycling in the Netherlands is the result of a process of holistic town planning. It’s not a narrow transport issue, but one which encompasses housing, health, business and retail policy.

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Freedom of movement for kids

The average age at which Dutch children begin to travel independently to school is just over eight and a half. 90% of secondary school children cycle to school, sometimes commuting over distances of up to 20km.

Having arrived at school by bike, children are then easily able to get themselves to their friends’ houses, to their after-school activities, and home again. Imagine how much less traffic we would have on our roads if all those journeys were being made by bike here.

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Equal access

The Netherlands has a dense grid of smooth, wide, traffic-free paths. This network is the key to enabling safe cycling by people aged 8 to 80. It also enables people who use other kinds of wheeled transport – wheelchairs, hand cycles, disability scooters, tricycles, electric bikes, etc – to travel independently around town, between towns and into the countryside.

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So, can we go Dutch?

Cycling around Brighton this month, I have been struck by the comparatively poor quality of our cycling infrastructure, compared with what I saw in the Netherlands.

But I’ve also been thinking that there are several areas of the city where we already have the beginnings of the kind of nearly car free networks that make cycling attractive and popular in Dutch towns. With a little more imagination and courage, residential areas like Hanover could be transformed into safe spaces for children to explore and play. In the Netherlands, my outlandish fantasy for our neighbourhood is pretty close to reality.

Yesterday I caught the Bike Train to Stanmer Park. Several children joined us, taking advantage of the rare chance to cycle in a sociable and friendly way, free from the danger of fast-moving traffic. I want what they’ve got in the Netherlands, not because I’m a cyclist but because I wish British children could have that kind of freedom all the time.


Can we ‘go Dutch’ in Brighton?

Nearly 40% of Brighton & Hove households do not own a car or van, and a declining minority travel to work by car.

It’s very easy to live in Brighton without owning a car – the city is pretty compact, and it doesn’t take long to get from anywhere to anywhere by bus, bike or on foot. We have a good public transport networks (though of course they would be better if they were publicly owned, properly integrated and cheaper to use).

As you would expect, with the lowest level of car ownership in the South East, we also have a low proportion of people travelling to work by car – just 37%, compared to 60% in the South East.

However, this pattern is not replicated when it comes to bicycles. I couldn’t find specific figures for Brighton, but nationally around 43% of people own or have access to a bike. Yet only 5% of Brighton residents cycle to work. And that’s high, compared with the South East or the rest of England.

Why are cycling rates so low? As the BBC found out this week, the biggest reason is that people are scared to cycle on the roads. And who can blame them, when very little effort is made on most UK roads to keep people on bikes away from terrifying lorries, buses and cars?

After years of increasingly impatient pressure from campaigners in London and around the country, a growing movement led by cyclists is demanding decent space for cycling – protected cycle ways on main roads and smaller roads made truly safe, with low speeds and protection from rat-running.

This is not a revolutionary demand. It’s something they take for granted in the Netherlands, where nobody is “a cyclist” because everybody rides bikes. Children ride their bikes to school. Parents carry babies and toddlers on their bikes. People carry shopping by bike.

Though it seems the most natural thing in the world now, the Netherlands hasn’t become a cycling paradise by magic. It is the result of policy decisions and a serious level of spending. The Dutch decided to make cycling attractive and safe, rather than doing what the UK and many other countries have done, and designing roads only for cars.

I’m excited to be going on a short trip to Assen, in the Netherlands, at the beginning of September, to see how Dutch streets are designed. I’m hoping to come back to Brighton with ideas for how things could be different here, particularly for residential areas like Hanover, where I live. If anybody has specific questions they would like me to try and find answers to, please let me know in the comments box or on Twitter.


Go, Move, Shift

I’m a very lucky woman. Despite the occasional unorthodox lifestyle choice (no marriage, no car, no school), I’m generally treated respectfully by people I meet. My right to exist is not usually questioned or challenged.

I’ve never had to cope with moving into a new area, to be greeted by something like this:

I’ve never been homeless, never come up against the myriad architectural features that exist to make urban spaces unwelcoming for people with nowhere else to go.

anti-homeless spikes in London

It’s much more than spikes – click the picture for an article about the whole range of hostile architecture.

As I say, I’m lucky. What I don’t understand is why other people, also blessed with stable homes in a country not currently riven by war, feel the need to drive the unlucky ones so far out of sight.

Is this happening more? Maybe it’s always been like this and I’ve just noticed it more this year. In the last five weeks alone, 28% of voters supported a party whose main policy was opposition to immigration, refugees have had their makeshift shelters bulldozed in Calais, there’s been an outcry about spikes to prevent rough sleepers bedding down in the ‘wrong’ places, and the annual round of traveller evictions has begun again in Brighton.

Here are the lyrics, for those who prefer or need to read, rather than listen.

Despite my luckiness in life, I do have some small insight into being one of the unwanted ones, thanks to my obstinate choice to get around by bike. Like gypsies and travellers, “cyclists” are an acceptable target for violently expressed hatred.

I’ve often wondered if, in both cases, this is born of envy. Watching someone whizz past the traffic jam on a bike must be a bit galling, I suppose. A travelling life doesn’t appeal to me, but I guess it might look like an easy option for people who work in jobs they don’t enjoy to pay sky-high rents, while the travellers seem to come and go as they please. There’s a feeling that the outsider group is somehow getting away with something and should be made to knuckle under like the rest of us.

Even though it would make so much more sense to design cities, as they do in the Netherlands, in order to encourage and welcome cycling by people of all ages, for all kinds of journeys, riding a bike in the UK at the moment means negotiating an environment so hostile it might as well have been designed by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Last week, I went to a consultation workshop on the proposed new road layout in North Street. A large part of the conversation focused on concerns (expressed mainly by the police and representatives of the Chapel Royal) that additional seating in North Street might inadvertently provide a refuge for the rough sleepers and street drinkers who are apparently soon to be driven out of New Road and Pavilion Gardens. The developers did their best to be reassuring, explaining that the new development will flatten the building fronts on North Street, removing all those enticing doorways.

When I said the street drinkers didn’t prevent me from enjoying New Road and Pavilion Gardens, I was told I must be very unusual. Am I? I don’t think so. Both areas are always busy and bustling when I go there. The street drinkers don’t dominate, because the space has been made welcoming for everyone.

It seems to me that these problems are not caused by the existence or presence of those unwanted people, but by our inability to share nicely. If we can make our cities and continents into places where there’s a bit of space for all kinds of people, then we might have a chance of working out how to actually help those among us who are down on their luck, instead of spending all our energy trying to sweep them away.

After all, as we are rapidly finding out to our cost, there is no “away” on a finite planet. There is no bottomless pit for our rubbish, no sink big enough for our carbon and no safe storage for our nuclear waste. And there is no “someplace else” for the refugees, the travellers, the street people and the cyclists to put themselves.

This Saturday, at the People’s Assembly Against Austerity demonstration in London, I heard a young woman speak simply and powerfully about the campaign by a group of young single mothers to be housed in London, after Newham council evicted them from their hostel.

The Focus E15 mums are an inspiration as they continue to fight for decent housing for everyone, not just themselves. Here in Brighton, housing is also a major issue. With 28% of local households living in private rented accommodation and house prices continuing to rise, tenants are facing increasing demands to pay more rent and higher agency fees or find “somewhere else” to live.

Brighton People’s Assembly Against Austerity and the new Living Rent Campaign have called a public meeting on July 10th, to talk about how we can begin to turn things around. I’ll be there and I hope it can be the start of a more hopeful conversation.