A short while ago, I criticized the design of brand new cycle lanes on Manchester Road in Bolton. I still think it is pretty much all dreadful, but it might be reasonable for someone to ask me: “OK, what do you propose as an alternative?”. Of course, I could say that I am a highway user, not a designer, so it’s not my role to find solutions; only to raise problems with the proposed solutions. However, it is interesting to pursue an example if only to see whether someone has an answer.
The specific example I want to look at here is the junction at which Weston Street meets Manchester Road. I explained the problem with this in my earlier article, but I’ll do so again here so you don’t have to go and look at it. This is a view of the junction as I approach it along the cycle lane (my granddaughter was behind me on the tagalong in these pictures):
We were riding along Manchester Road towards Bolton and Weston Street is the side road to the left. The first problem you can see is the wide, flared junction mouth, which allows drivers to turn without slowing down much and consequently introduces an increased danger of left hooks (a cyclist being hit by a left turning driver approaching from behind). Of course, that problem could easily be solved by moving the kerb out at the corner and reducing the kerb radius, which would improve the junction for pedestrians as well.
You can also see, in the picture above, a car driver waiting to emerge from Weston Street, so it is not sensible to ride across close to the front of that car. What you can’t see until you move further away from the kerb is that there is another car driver on the other side of that one, waiting to turn left:
It is likely that the driver of that second car cannot see a cyclist in the cycle lane, so the chances of a collision at that point are greatly increased by riding across the junction close to the edge in the cycle lane. I always ride past this road in primary position as shown in the this picture, and the presence of this new cycle lane will not change that, but for a lot of less confident cyclists this road will be unusable.
I find it hard to understand how it could be that this is a very dangerous design, but a highway engineer has put it in there anyway. It is worth thinking about what the alternatives might be.
Improving the Junction Itself
Firstly, let’s look at the specific local problem of the design itself. This design attempts to separate cycle traffic moving along Manchester Road from motor traffic also moving along the same road. It doesn’t really do this successfully because there is no physical barrier such as a kerb, and the cycle lane is not wide enough anyway. This road is classed as a busy road, and is a bus route, so, according to the guidelines contained in the Department for Transport’s Local Transport Note 2/08, the cycle lanes should be at least 2.0 metres wide.
Leaving that point aside, though, the separation fails for another reason. Drivers exiting Weston Street onto Manchester Road are now expected to track two traffic flows coming from their right rather than one in the absence of the cycle lane. This is increasing the cognitive load on the driver at a time when they are trying to find a gap in traffic to move into. The position of the cycle lane makes it less likely that such a driver will notice people on cycles as they are not part of the main flow, and may even be obscured from the view of left turning drivers by the vehicles of right turning ones.
A well tried solution to mitigate this problem is to separate the cycle and motor traffic flows more thoroughly by setting the cycle lane back from the main road as it goes across the side road so that those emerging drivers can deal with the two flows one at a time. This type of approach is discussed very well by Mark Treasure in a blog article on side road treatments. My first reaction when thinking about those approaches in this context was a concern about available space, but then I realized that there might be loads of space if we got rid of the wide flare on the junction; something that is desirable anyway to force drivers to slow down to take the corner. Here is a Google satellite view of the junction, taken before the new paint was added:
Here I have kept the same kerb lines for the footways but added islands to protect the cycle lanes on the curves, tightened up the kerb radii, removed a pedestrian refuge at the junction mouth, and provided a parallel zebra/cycle crossing set back from the main road. Drivers exiting from Weston Street can now deal with the cycle (and pedestrian) flow before reaching the main junction and have space to wait to exit the junction. Drivers turning left into Weston Street from Manchester Road can make the turn without having to worry too much about giving way to cyclists on their left and suffering the ire of impatient drivers behind them as they have a space to wait, after they have made the turn, until the cycle lane is clear. In both those cases, when the driver crosses the zebra crossing and cycle path the only thing they have to think about is giving way to cyclists and pedestrians.
There are some remaining issues to be sorted out, but there are solutions for those. The cycle lane as shown is approximately 2 metres wide (slightly more on the crossing), which takes up a little more space on the main road. However, there is sufficient space on the other side of Manchester Road to take a little width off the footway there. It is also slightly more difficult for right and left turning traffic to wait and exit the junction in parallel; however that is already difficult when traffic is heavy.
Well, that seems on the face of it like a good solution, but there is a niggling doubt in my mind related to something Mark said in his article: “all the side roads being crossed will have limited flows of motor traffic. They all run across access roads; roads that are carefully designed to only allow motor traffic for access purposes. These are not roads that people will be turning into to drive off somewhere else – they will be accessing properties on that road, or just off it.”
This is a problem here because Weston Street is itself actually quite a busy through road that people use to get from the Great Lever area towards St Peter’s Way; the main access road into Bolton from the south, as well as to get to destinations on Manchester Road. One solution to such a problem is to reduce the traffic by filtering the road so that it can only be used for access rather than by through traffic. However, this is one of very few roads available to allow traffic (cycle or motor, or even pedestrian) to get across the railway line that goes from Bolton to Salford and Manchester, as can be seen on this map:
Weston Street goes under the railway, underneath a very narrow bridge. Orlando Bridge is a narrow bridge that is not suitable for high volumes of traffic. The bridge to the south carries Green Lane, which is narrow, extremely busy and is a problem in itself as it goes past a primary school. There is another bridge over the railway just off the map to the North, carrying Trinity Street, but that also is already very busy and passes the front of the railway station with its taxi ranks and pick-up points. After that we are into the town centre.
I do not have an answer to this problem, but it is clear that addressing it will require a much more fundamental look at traffic flows around the town. I would hope that the introduction of better cycling and walking facilities will reduce the volume of traffic considerably overall, but there is a chicken-and-egg problem. The whole traffic system needs to be rethought to reduce the need for motor vehicles to cross this railway line, and that can’t be solved by putting a bit of paint onto a road. In the meantime, I think the Council ought, at the very least, to rework the cycle lanes on Manchester Road along the lines I have suggested above.