Cycling Infrastructure Walking

Meeting the RNIB

Harry & Will from Walk Ride visited Chorlton with representatives from RNIB, to learn about the lived experience of visually impaired people using new infrastructure

We met outside the Royal Oak in Chorlton, next to one of Manchester’s newest CYCLOPS (Cycle Optimised Protected Signals) junctions.

Terri and Erik from RNIB, both of whom have a visual impairment, brought along some extra canes and several pairs of “Sim Specs” which simulate different types of visual impairment, so we could experience what it’s like to walk around Chorlton, crossing roads and cycle lanes.

Walk Ride borrowed an electric trishaw (tricycle rickshaw) from Cycling Without Age UK, to let Terri and Erik experience the protected cycle tracks and junctions from a rider’s point of view. We learned that Terri used to cycle quite often in the past, and Erik still rides occasionally in controlled environments with a sighted rider to follow.

What we learned in the role of visually impaired pedestrians

Consistency is really lacking. Navigating without full vision meant we were reliant on cues like kerbs to tell us where the footway ended and where the road or cycle way began – so it was frustrating to realise that the use of kerbs is inconsistent on different parts of the scheme, or even on different sides of the same crossing! Spot the differences and inconsistencies in the photos below…

Photo of one side of the junction where the pedestrian island is flush with the carriageway and the pelican crossing push button is placed in a separate raised kerbed area – this can make it difficult for guide dogs to locate the button. Here you would always hit a kerb or tactiles before stepping off the pedestrian island.
Photo of the other side of the same junction where the pelican crossing push button is correctly placed next to the crossing, not separated by a kerb. However in this case there are parts of the island separated from the cycle track by an upstand kerb, but other parts have no level change to indicate that you are leaving the island and stepping into the cycle lane. There are two separate mini-zebra crossings across the cycle track from the footway to the pedestrian island. This seems more complicated than it needs to be. Why not give every pedestrian island just one crossing over the cycle track to the footway, and two crossings over the adjacent carriageways?

Unusual layouts can be confusing. Adding multiple crossings to the same destination/island, or adding diagonal crossings across a junction, are not intuitive and create unnecessary confusion for blind users.

More visual contrast for bike lanes would be welcome. Most visually impaired people have some vision, so having clearly marked routes is important as well as tactile paving and kerbs. We all agreed that it would be fantastic if cycle lanes were a single, recognisable colour across Greater Manchester contrasting with the road and the pavement.

Photo of Erik from RNIB on the passenger seat of a trishaw parked next to a floating bus stop. The cycle track has two informal crossings with dropped-kerb tactiles. The bus stop is paved with red brick, but the cycle lane is in grey tarmac similar to the footway. The flat kerb between footway and cycle track provides no upstand.

In Chorlton we didn’t like that the floating bus stops are paved in contrasting red brick – it’s the cycle lane that needs to be visually obvious as a hazard, not the bus stop!

Don’t omit accessibility measures to save money. Some of the CYCLOPS junctions omit tactile studs, which means people may drift off the line of their intended crossing.

Photo of white painted dots on a Manchester CYCLOPS junction, in between the red pedestrian crossing and the grey carriageway
Photo by “Start Safety” showing metal tactile studs next to a zebra crossing.

Disabled People help each other out. Other Disabled pedestrians we encountered were friendly and helpful, letting us know when the way was clear or when the green man was showing at a crossing.

Audible cues are useful. Cycles are extremely quiet compared to traffic noise. If you can hear a vehicle you can take steps to protect yourself – but it is scary to step into a cycle lane without full vision and without a signalised crossing – even when there is a zebra marking and you can “claim” the space in front of you with a cane before stepping out. Could rumble strips be an option?

There is a behaviour problem amongst some cyclists. We’ve all seen cyclists ignoring zebra crossings, particularly where the zebra is across a cycle track rather than a road. Should they all be signalised? How can infrastructure compel good behaviour? If food delivery riders are particularly poorly behaved, can we campaign for legislation forcing those companies to be liable for their riders’ behaviour?

What we learned from cycling

No one wants shared space! We sometimes see this myth perpetuated on social media that cyclists and other active travel campaigners are happy with shared use pavements. This is not true. Shared use spaces are inconvenient at best, and hazardous at worst, for both pedestrians and cyclists. The national standard LTN1/20 Cycle Infrastructure Design is very clear on this point.

Cycles are vehicles and they should normally be either on the road (where motor traffic volumes are low and speeds no higher than 20mph), or on dedicated cycle tracks segregated both from motor traffic and from the pedestrian footway. Exceptions can be made for wide paths in e.g. rural areas with low pedestrian numbers, but in urban areas shared use should only be considered as a last resort.

CYCLOPS junctions are essential because so many cyclist deaths and serious injuries occur at junctions. Junctions are the most important place to segregate traffic, and CYCLOPS junctions are the best solution that currently exist in the UK. They are very new, and so the evolving design is not perfect and not always consistent. Teething problems should be taken seriously, designs adjusted, and existing junctions retrofitted where necessary. We believe CYCLOPS junctions will be a commonplace part of UK roads in the future and so their design needs to evolve to work for all users.

Aerial view of a CYCLOPS junction in Manchester. Four main roads meet at a crossroads. Each road has segregated cycle tracks in both directions with dedicated traffic signals for cyclists separate from the signals for motor vehicles. Cyclists are directed to circulate clockwise around the outside of the junction, during signal phases which protect them from motor traffic. Four pedestrian islands are placed at the corners of the junction, inside the cycle circuit. Pedestrians use a mini-zebra crossing with red tactiles to cross the cycle lane, from the footway onto a pedestrian island. Then they use a conventional, signalised pelican crossing with red tarmac and tactiles to cross the carriageway to another island, from which another mini-zebra crossing takes them back onto the footway. One issue with the design pictured is that, because the roads do not meet at 90 degrees, some of the pedestrian islands are long and narrow, leading to a less simple and less intuitive layout of tactiles and crossing points. Another issue is that the cycle lanes are only coloured green where they cross a carriageway. If they were green throughout they would contrast better against pedestrian areas.

Motor vehicles are the biggest risk to safety. Cyclists are perhaps particularly aware of this because they are typically expected to share road space with cars, buses and lorries. But drivers are overwhelmingly more likely than cyclists to kill or injure pedestrians, even on the pavement. Both RNIB and Walk Ride GM support reallocation of road space away from motor traffic to provide safer spaces for both cyclists and pedestrians.

Bus stop bypasses save cyclist lives. Bus drivers are not perfect and will never be 100% perfect. It’s not possible for cyclists to protect themselves from a 12-ton bus cutting them up, so road layouts have to prevent that conflict from occurring. We know that floating bus stops have been delivered very poorly in some places – and are let down further by reckless behaviour from a minority of cyclists. Those issues need to be addressed bearing in mind the needs of all vulnerable road users.

Working together

News outlets, social media and even elected politicians sometimes seem intent on painting cyclists and pedestrians as enemies, stirring up division about the difficult issues like bus stop bypasses. They create a polarised debate where only pedestrians or cyclists can be safe, not both.

Too much effort is spent on arguing, when actually there’s a huge amount of common ground between pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users. Not agreeing on every specific issue does not mean we’re enemies – it means we should listen to each other.

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