8 Aug 2011

UK Road design lunacy rant!


I needed an excuse for a good moan so I'm going to pick on British road planners: What do they call those people who draw in the pavements, drains and street furniture? Highway engineers?

What sparked my derision and outrage was watching a YouTube video of a tricyclist commuting near Barnsley. The poor chap was faced with 14 miles of completely unnecessary hurdles! They have absolutely no excuse because there are numerous successful examples of cycling-friendly countries in Europe.
Okay, so the poor chap in the video is riding a recumbent trike and there's too much wind noise, but I do feel his pain! I rode a similar distance, morning and night, 6 days a week in my distant youth. I never forgave them for building a bypass without considering cyclists. (Not even for one fleeting moment in their entire, miserable, working lives!) They saved me from several nasty hills but exposed me to completely uncontrolled, driving psychopaths! Not even a lousy white line for me to hide behind. Let alone a proper cycle path. Or protected lane.

Had road planners/engineers been hand picked from the educationally challenged they might have some pathetic excuse. Logic suggests that they aren't all of carefully selected, low IQ and thus completely lacking in any formal education. Otherwise anybody could do the job! [Allegedly!]

So one is forced to the conclusion that they are quite simply the most miserable bunch of deliberately ignorant and bloody-minded jobsworths on the entire planet! They must actively seek confrontation with the cyclist and introduce extra dangers for the sheer pleasure of it! Perhaps they compete with each other to make life more difficult for the cyclist? There is no other reasonable explanation. IMHO of course!

As I watched the video I realised that exactly the same situations exist, over here, in Denmark. Roads are roads whichever side you ride on. Except that the Danish road designers are trained professionals. They actually think things through properly over here. Over here they don't just routinely waste millions on pointlessly high kerb stones. At least not every last inch of rural bypasses and the like!

When did you last see anybody walking along one of these raised pavements on a bypass?  To share the traffic noise as it races by would be almost intolerable! Not so for the humble cyclist. Who is forced to make some allowances for the greater speed afforded by his mount. Presumably industrial noise regulations do not apply to cyclists exposed to traffic noise?

The rural verge in Denmark is usually marked with a white line about a metre out from the weeds or grass. It is within this line that the cyclist progresses without impeding the traffic. Quite remarkably the line is naturally respected by almost all drivers. With only occasional obstructions by thoughtlessly parked motorists. Or occasionally thoughtless groups of cyclists riding more than two abreast! But lets not be too picky! You just don't see drivers using the marked off, roadside cycle lanes. Not unless they are agricultural vehicles.

The lack of kerbs and reasonable camber in Denmark means that road drainage is spread over a vast area of naturally absorbent soil. The rural verge absorbs rainfall without the drainage system so typical of the UK gutters. The hedges on the Danish verges do their bit too. Even if I do occasionally complain about their absence.

In Britain, main road hedges seemed to be totally lacking. What about the absorption of traffic noise afforded by the roadside hedges? Whoops! I forgot. The British road planners don't give a shit about road traffic noise! In Denmark they put up earth berms beside all new housing to block traffic noise. Before they build! Then they grow a mixed hedge and shrubs on the earth berm as well!

On the video I saw how the white lines moved,, almost arbitrarily, in and out. No thought (whatsoever) was given to how a cyclist might be suddenly forced out into the traffic without warning!

There seemed no rhyme or reason for many of  the obstructions. Pavements reared up where a Danish pavement would have a reasonable access ramp for cyclists. The ramp would lead naturally to the dedicated cycle lane. The cycle lane would continue right round the roundabout in the correct direction without the daft, counter-intuitive shambles I saw on the video.

The Danes show truly remarkable discipline with regards to cyclists on roundabouts. It's not the aggressively British "every man for himself". They will actually stop on the roundabout and wait for you to take your rightful route before proceeding themselves. They will wait before taking their exit off the roundabout to let you roll past. This confused me a great deal when I first came here. I would try and cut across the roundabout instead of taking the longer route via the marked cycle lane. Anything to escape the decades of British psychopaths in cars and lorries ASAP!

Then I discovered that the Danes were quite civilised. At least in this respect. They also look automatically over their shoulders for cyclists coming down the inside at junctions. This can be a bit unnerving! In Britain a car driver is well up the pecking order. He, or she,  will take your space, and your life, if they think they can get away with it. Or rather they don't think about anything except themselves. This stems from the time when only the rich and powerful owned motor vehicles. And carriages before that. The pedestrian was completely beneath contempt. The cyclist only slightly more difficult to brush aside. Both physically and mentally. 

Why would you deliberately force a cyclists to travel the wrong way around a busy roundabout? As we saw in this video. Do the planners really think the cyclists need more exercise? Would a driver really expect to see a cyclist approaching perpendicularly on their (blind) nearside? Recumbents may still be be quite rare but they are not unknown. (Except to UK road planners it seems.)

Why were these major roads not planned with suitable bicycle lanes from the very first, hand drawn line on the map? Or, rather, the highways planning office computer screens. The Danish roads are no wider. Nor narrower. Yet they usually accommodate a cycle lane on both sides of the highway. Or sometimes a dual cycle lane marked suitably for opposing cycle traffic.  As on some existing roads without a suitable verge due to steep roadside banks, gullies or slopes.

In the British case it seems a colossal waste of land resources to build a road with high, fixed pavements and no cycle lanes.  Not to mention increased worries about flash flooding. A soft verge with a parallel cycle lane is an asset instead of a liability. A suitable grassed ditch can be used to contain and restrain heavy run-off from cloudbursts. The hedge on the other side of the ditch helps drainage, reduces noise travel and protects the road from snow drifting and the cyclists from the wind.

The secret to British failure seems to be the total lack of imagination by the UK road planners. They cannot see beyond the rain lashed windscreen of their boring commuter Euroboxes. They quite obviously haven't ridden a bike (or trike) since they were four years old and terminally grazed their left knee. Thereby putting an end to any further countenance of the bicycle as a safe means of transport. So they might as well make it as dangerous as possible for cyclists! To teach those damned tree-huggers that cycling is not a suitable adult pursuit!

Or it may be an outdated, British class/caste system thing. Anybody who rides a bike is obviously unemployed and far too impoverished to afford a car! So all cyclists are parasites and non-contributors to taxes or the local economy.

This completely ignores the physical and and psychological benefits of cycling. Not to mention the massive reduction in health care required by being fit. Provided, of course, that you don't get run over negotiating the crackpot British road system!     


No truly professional road planners were hurt in the making of this rant. :-) 


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