Monday, 2 November 2015

Riding Hills Road at Night, Including the New Segregated Section

On Friday, the #CamRideHome trip included looking at the new Hills Road infrastructure. Here's a clip (at the bottom) showing the experience of riding Hills Road, from the Addenbrookes Roundabout all the way to the city centre end at Lensfield Road/Regent Street/Gonville Place junction.

One reason was to have a good look at the new segregated section, one of the early trials of this kind of infrastructure in the country. Not the first of course, but an interesting experiment nonetheless. Some will ask why are we experimenting when it's been done well for decades not very far away, why don't we learn from them, but there we go.

The idea of segregated riding is to encourage those who are not confident about riding with traffic and to get them off (shared-use) pavements to free them up for people walking. It's not really for those already riding, as they've already figured out how to deal with vehicles, although it does add a level of comfort that is beneficial.

from Richard Taylor's blog post

We start all the way down at the Addenbrookes Roundabout. Not the farthest limit of Hills Road, but a junction where the use of it by people riding does pick up a lot. It's an awkward start as it's difficult to use the shared-use path here. There are too many crossings to negotiate near the roundabout and no obvious way to getting onto it. There are side junctions from the hospital, although that can be a bit difficult to access.

Approaching the Long Road traffic lights is awkward whether on the shared-use path or on the road. I'm used to road riding and show what it's like with the left turning inside lane on a different light phase to those going straight on. I suspect any riders that the segregated section is designed to encourage will be on the shared-use path here. That entails crossing a road where the drop kerb position makes it very awkward to see if it's clear to cross from left turning Hills Road traffic. That's not very convenient.

Long Road Junction Approach

After the junction there's a bus stop. But the segregated section doesn't start until well after this. The original plans where to make this bit take riders away from buses, to encourage riders who don't like mixing with big vehicles. Clearly something has been lost here. It does seem that the original plans have been watered down.

And then, the new segregated bit! Woo hoo! Well, apart from the largish puddle right at the join. That needs more work as it's not been that wet recently, what will be the size of the puddle if it pours? And as it's at a road join, water will quickly get under the surface and make this a pothole.

The surface of the segregated bit is great. And it's fantastic that it's so wide, keeping single riders well away from traffic and allowing faster riders to pass. However, the kerb separation seems low and doesn't give much distinction between road and cycle section. I can imagine experienced riders will find this good to allow them to pull out ot turn right out of Hills Road. However, it's doesn't offer much feeling of protection from passing traffic, especially for those not so comfortable. And I can see that people driving may well stray into the segregated section to avoid being held behind right turning vehicles. Not really very segregated is it!

Then, the controversial bit, a floating bus stop. It works quite well from the perspective of someone riding. I did get the idea of taking it a bit slower but not having to scrub off loads of speed. True, the Dutch solution would not include the wiggle. I'm not convinced that detracts from the riding experience too much.

from Amanda Taylor's blog post

As far as bus users are concerned, I'd suggest that we look at the bus stops on Barton Road and Green End Road. They both have shared-use paths behind them, the former with quite a lot of bike traffic. We seemed to have coped with them reasonably well in the past. At least these new floating ones will clearly show where to expect people riding.

Barton Road Floating Bus Stop

Then, passing the end of Luard Road. The previous shared-use path had an unclear priority here with indications that both bike and crossing motor traffic should give way. Of course this results in "who's biggest wins". The segregated section definitely looks like the priority, a much better result. It'll be interesting to see how people in motor traffic respond, especially in rush hour.

Old Luard Road Side Turning

After just 1:27 on this 5:13 clip, the segregated section merges back in with a bus lane. This isn't exactly a very long section of Hills Road. The argument will say "well it's all we coudl do". But how will that help those riders with less confidence? They get to do a quarter of the trip along Hills Road?

If people are uncomfortable riding along Hills Road, I'm pretty sure they are just as uncomfortable in this section and especially over Hills Road Railway Bridge. This bridge has some of the highest level of cycle use in the UK (near end). I've certainly had quite a lot of unpleasant experiences here (video clip).

Hills Road Bridge Behaviour

At the bottom of the bridge, there's a similar issue to Long Road, having to cross left turning traffic. Or, more importantly, left turning traffic having to cross people riding straight on. At least the lighting phases are more in line with going both directions. Still expect experiences like the one above, people driving rushing to cut across people riding.

At Brookland Avenue lights further conflict is guarenteed. The exit along Hills Road has a pinch point to enable a central pedestrian island. There really isn't space to ride and drive next ot each other here. Confident riders will talk about holding primary/control position in the middle of the road. I'm not convinced that will be much encouragement for those less confident. And there is no alternative shared-use path here.

Brooklands Avenue Junction

The conflict is highlighted by the person driving the car on the right. As the phase continues, they edge into the ASL (an illegal move) simply so they can race past anyone riding and get to the pinch point first. This kind of behaviour really shows up the limitations of the ASL here.

Then the Station Road lights provide another pinch point. Recently this has been developed. I'm still at a quandary to work out what the objectives are with the development. The only thing that seems to have happened is to add a pedestrian crossing in. Like the Brooklands Avenue junction it's to an island with separate controls for both lanes. Neither are any kind of an improvement on the two sets of pedestrian lights just away from each junction. They've been there for years and cope with crossing the road much better in a single phase.

Old Station Road Junction (not changed much though!)

The big reason why this isn't helping is that it retains a central island where there is no need. That space could be much better used. The whole road layout aims to push people riding wide before bring them back into a narrow space. This is a classic case of poor infrastructure from a cycling point of view. Swinging to one side only brings conflict when trying to come back in. Drivers will be eoncouraged to speed through here, despite the curves. It's not enough of a swing to slow people driving down sufficiently and it's quite easy to exceed the speed limit.

Dept for Transport cycle training says to use the middle of the lane all the way through this junction in either direction. Sadly, this isn't something shared to those responsible for road markings, which simply confuses people driving when people riding avoid following them for their safety's sake. Yet again, this doesn't do anything for the less confident riders.

Finally, shared space with buses for the remains of the route up to the final junction. At least there's a sign of good cycle provision at the end junction with the first-in-the-UK advanced cycle lights!

In conclusion, it's great to see a bit of new infrastructure move the whole cycling process a bit further forward. However, I'm not convinced that with the low kerb separation and the shortness of the section compared to the full route is actually going to encourage those less confident about riding with traffic. I do see lots of compromises have taken place ot get this in place. Has it been a compromise too far? We'll just have to wait and see.

A Early Friday Evening Ride Along Hills Road (Go HD see * below)

0:03 Starting at Addenbrookes Roundabout
0:22 Approaching Long Road traffic lights
0:40 Left turn light phasing
0:55 New segregated section approach
1:20 Floating Bus Stop
1:45 Side Road Priority
2:00 Floating Bus Stop
2:22 Merging Back into Bus Lane, segregated section finished
2:55 Railway Bridge dodging left turning traffic
3:20 Car edging into ASL to beat pinch point
4:05 Station Road junction, lots done recently, nothing for riders
4:25 Sharing with buses again
4:35 Conclusions
5:00 First Advanced Cycle Lights

* How to go HD.


  1. Of course (as with many things) this isn't finished. I believe that once the other side is done adjustment will be made on the city bound bit after the Long Rd junction and that there will be another floating bus stop rather than a puddle!
    As part of City Deal we can expect a scheme for the junction.
    It would be good to see a video at a busy time in daylight when there are lots of cycles, lots of buses, and people boarding and alighting from buses.
    For several years I used this almost daily, and the decision as to whether pedal hard and pass a bus that was clearly going to stop, or coast and hope it would restart was difficult. With all those cycles it was difficult for drivers, as a waiting passenger would leave it late to put a hand out, and did they abandon the passenger or cut up a cycle?

  2. Finally rode the new section yesterday (after driving through the roadworks for months - seriously we've got to get much faster at installing these things). The surface is a pleasure to ride on. I found it wide enough; the right-hand kerb could be a tad more pronounced but personally I think that is outweighed by the lane obviously being for vehicles and thus not having pedestrians wandering into it. Its definitely a solution to the objection that a segregated path isn't possible somewhere due to the number of residential driveways.
    As a driver its much better for turning across, as the width gives better separation between bikes and the row of headlights behind you. Its also better as a southbound driver because large (double-decker) northbound vehicles no longer pull into the oncoming traffic when they can't be bothered to wait to overtake a bike.
    As a pedestrian I find it more pleasant as the cycle track pushes the motor traffic further away and there is a reduction of shared use by bikes on the paths.
    From what I can see, despite the predictions of the end of the world as we know it, the floating bus stops are a non-event: passengers are bright enough to understand that the island thing with the bus shelter on is where you wait for the bus; people on bikes understand that when there are lots of people on legs close by its not the time to sprint; and people in cars are still stuck behind the bus as the driver checks the birth certificate of every passenger and counts the florins and groats that they use to pay - just like they were before.
    The Long Rd/Hills Rd junction is interesting. Going south, turning right onto Long Rd from Hills Rd most bikes are going diagonally across the junction to join the shared use path down to the Addenbrookes roundabout. I understand the motivation - it cuts out going round the roundabout to get to the Addenbrookes site. The problem is the left filter light phase is so short that when the ASL is full you are only getting about two or three motor vehicles through on each light cycle. Knowing this vehicles go via Luard Rd instead (even at 20mph its still quicker) leading to more contention with the (grossly inadequate) Long Rd shared use path at the Sedley Taylor Rd junction. Maybe an opportunity to get a "green scramble" phase at the Hills Rd junction to drain the ASL, followed by filtered permeability for Luard Rd./Sedley Taylor Rd.