Sustrans Cycle Design Guide

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Sustrans Cycle Design Guide

OK, light touch paper stand well back.....

Firstly I'll give you some background.  As some of you know I work for Sustrans looking after infrastructure in North East England.  I've been using this design guide for the last 6 months in draft dealing with local authorities up here.

The pdf / printed design guide that has been released is a summary and the full guide which runs into hundreds of pages of text and photos will gradually be published online over the next few months.

The guide represents the experience of a team of Sustrans Chartered Engineers who have been working on Connect 2 projects over the last four years.  In doing this they have been working with very "average" UK local authorities and also coming into contact with Highway Engineers employed by consultancies working for the Highways Agency, LA's and also housing developers.

The engineers working for Sustrans are from a mix of backgrounds and have in previous careers done anything from building motorways, bridges, housing developments or working in County Highways departments.  The aim in writing the guide is to deliver something that reflects what can and has been done in the UK, can be endorsed by the main UK professional bodies and is usable by the average highway engineer.

Anyone who has tried to get cycling improvements built, or influence provision on a new development will know how conservative this profession can be and how little incentive there is for most engineers whoever they are working for to build anything not laid out in DMRB.  You'll also know how damaging to cycling schemes Safety Audit can be, and how even what starts out as a good scheme can be wrecked by the process.

Most engineers involved in building our roads don't ride a bike and have literally no idea what the design requirements are.  In bigger cities things are slightly better, the engineers on projects are more likely to have spent some tim on two wheels even if they have little or no experience of designing for cycling.

In a few isolated locations around the country there are a few people who are starting to know what they are doing, and who are not afraid to look overseas for solutions.  Whilst in many cases they have been asked to comment on this publication, it isn't really written for them.

For those of us following cycling in the big cities or looking at high profile projects its very easy to forget where things still are across the rest of the country.  You might well not agree with everything in this document, but if you are trying to get improvements made you will be able to use it to your advantage.


More latter....



Ok, some more....

I had a chat with Mark and Kevin at the Cycle City Conference in Leeds and have had the pleasure of trying to debate the rights and wrongs of this in 140char on that twitter, not easy.

The guide doesn't advocate a dual network, it asks engineers to have a think about whether all cyclists are ging to be able to use off cariiageway infrastructure they are building and to have a think about the impact on anyone who is still riding a bike on carriageway.  Given where we are still in the UK this remains sensible advice.  Mentioning Bikeability and primary/secondary riding positions does not mean that you are saying take the lane and everything is fine.  Particularly when designing traffic calming it is a "good thing" if highway engineers understand how the public are taught to ride a bike.

It isn't really sensible for a publication like this to spend time examining how junctions are built in the Netherlands or Denmark.  For the averageUK Highway Engineer that is the point where they will switch off and chuck the publication in the bin.  What the guide does is try to find the best that has been done here, and as we all know the number of good schemes on the ground is still pitifully small.

The point Mark makes about failing to mention tracks inside parking bays is I think a good one and I'll try and get this changed for the next edition which I expect will be at the back end of this year once the TSRGD changes come in.  I'd expect by then that we'll also have some more good examples on the ground to cite.

The vast majority of UK schemes that go in over the next few years will contnue to include quite a lot of shared (ped/cycle) use, as while the numbers of people walking short trips is so much bigger than cycling.  I've ridden tracks in the Netherlands that don't have a footway.  So we will continue to need guidance on how to do shared use as well as is possible.

The vast majority of UK cycling schemes will still be implemented on budgets where touching utilities is not possible, so kerb lines will stay the same and the end result will not be anything like the quality of a Dutch street reconstruction.

Yep, we need to aim high, ask for what works etc etc.  But we will continue to need guidance for schemes which are stepping stones on the way to really good infrastructure.


Hopefully this hels explain a bit of background.  Happpy to answer any specific queries.






"The guide doesn't advocate a dual network, it asks engineers to have a think about whether all cyclists are ging to be able to use off cariiageway infrastructure they are building and to have a think about the impact on anyone who is still riding a bike on carriageway. Given where we are still in the UK this remains sensible advice."

If it sounds like a dual network and looks like a dual network, how isn't it a dual network?

Maybe I'm just sore today after Yet Another Close Passer that gesticulated out of his window that I should be on a cycle track that is built but unsigned because it failed its safety audit (one end emerges on the corner of a T-junction, the other into a lamppost) and doesn't go where I wanted to go (turn left at crossroads ahead) anyway.

Is that sensible advice? Shouldn't guides produced by cycle-friendly organisations show people how to build what we want, rather than how to meekly follow current broken practice?

As for the 1.5 metre staggered bollards, why is making a cycle track unusuable by some cycles acceptable even as a last resort? It makes me very angry every time a rider on our day trips crashes into one of the multitude of barriers that Sustrans has accepted.


A dual network is where two different standards of infrastructure are deliberately built side by side, or in parrallel routes.  This absolutely isn't advocated (could argue that this is in the Scottish Design Guidance).

To use your example, the text is suggesting that engineers look out for the problems they can cause.  It then does go on to explain how to build better infrastructure over what will eventually be 1000's of pages, when the online sections go up.

I think that where a lot of people see a problem is that Sustrans have deliberately not stepped outside what has already been achieved in the UK.  All I can say to that is try to undestand the audience this is aimed at.

Most barriers on the NCN are nothing to do with Sustrans, they are installed by local authorities on LA owned and maintained sections.

I don't myself like the 5 bollards and would only ever use them as an absolute last resort.  However which bike are you suggesting couldn't get through them?  The design is tested for a tandem, hand bike or standard bike with child trailer.  Not a pleasure to use but workable and preferable to guardrail.


Then if you're building a new track and still providing for cycles on road because the new track is below an acceptable standard for some cycles, then that's the dual network, isn't it?

Maybe all bikes can get through the 5 bollard crash hazard but bikes are not the only cycles: wider tricycles and some other Human Powered Vehicles are blocked by them. I also think sociable tandems and wider trailers/cargo bikes will struggle. Yes, it's preferable to guardrail, but amputation is preferable to a fatal heart attack and I'd still rather not suffer either!

And there's often this convenient "installed by local authorities" disclaimer about the worst bits of Sustrans routes. So who's the routing authority for the National Cycle Network then? Why doesn't Sustrans declassify or refuse to classify routes that have been made unsuitable by barriers? Is it because it's OK if the NCN is a network of last resorts?


mjray, no, I wouldn't call that a dual network, which I'd define as setting out to create parallel networks rather than accidentally creating it for a short section.  There is nothing in the guide promoting the idea of running multiple types of infrastructure on the same or parallel routes, none of the technical drawings show this.

The 5 bollards will genuinely work with the vehicles you describe, it’s in there as a last resort.  Unfortunately if you try to install infrastructure you will find safety audits demanding something of this sort, so better to define the best of a bad bunch rather than say nothing.

Sustrans is the routing authority for the NCN.  When the network was laid out those involved were aware of the pressure that is put on council officers to "do something" about motorbike use on paths.  This ain't dutch mopeds, it’s the great british public on high powered trail bikes.  

I can politely ignore the emails I get from County Councillors about motorbikes on Sustrans owned paths, but officers are not able to stand up to this pressure when its council owned and maintained land.

That said some solutions are better than others.  Stockton use the widest A frame motor bike controls that they can get away with, and that means that NCN1 is just about usable.  I've struggled to get a bike with upright bars through some of them used elsewhere.

Getting access controls modified / taken out is something that gets done all the time.  On my patch they are gone from NCN72 through Newcastle, but still there in places on NCN7 to Sunderland.  Some of them I don't think would stand up to a challenge under the equalities act from a local resident.

In general if you want something fixed or changed on a LA owned section of the NCN you'll get help and support from Sustrans but what you say as voter will count for far more than our say so.  It pains me to say it but threatening withdrawal of NCN status from some of their land is not something which would have most councils quaking in their boots, but a legal challenge from a resident is another matter.


forgot to mention Kevin's point regarding the "five bollard" design on page 30.  The way this page should read is that where a track meets a road the preferred solution if cyclists approach speed is seen as a "risk" is painting SLOW on the track.  If you have the space then designers might consider the design at the bottom of the age where the track has a pair of bends.  As a last resort use 1.5metre separated bollards.


The reason this needs to be in the guidance is that otherwise a LA engineer will use guard rail chicanes, and safety audit will fail a scheme without them.  It takes a real battle to get rid of the guard rail and you need a set of alternatives laid out.


"It isn't really sensible for a publication like this to spend time examining how unctions are built in the Netherlands or Denmark. For the average UK highway engineer that is the point they will switch off..."

I'd like to think the 'average' UK highway engineer has a more curious outlook than to dismiss something out of hand (presumably because it's 'foreign'). There is, afterall, something called CPD, Continuous Professional Development, a duty for those who are Chartered or Incorporated. As a non-Chartered, non-Incorporated traffic 'engineer', I can say I also feel a personal responsibility to make sure I'm up-to-date with what's going on out there, and I'd like to feel my CPD record stands up to the best of them.

Civil engineering (particularly design) is perhaps one of the most peripatetic professions. Engineers move. All the time. They should also be learning all the time. Given the international nature of many Consultancies they should also be exposed to a wide range of experience and ways of doing things. If the ones you have dealt with are so stuck in their ways then I suggest they shouldn't be in the profession, they may be doing more harm than good.


"The vast majority of UK cycling schemes will still be implemented on budgets where touching utilities is not possible, so kerb lines will stay the same and the end result will not be anything like the quality of Dutch street reconstruction."

This I agree with entirely. From the engineer's point of view it seems to be the one blind spot of campaigners, a failure to appreciate construction costs and the funding available, certainly for cycle-specific schemes. (Even with the CCAG monies major, wide-ranging, 'Dutch' segregation will be out of the question for any of the cities - only if it was a continuous annual award could they start to approach that level). However, this shouldn't preclude high-quality cycle facilities being proposed at the outset of a scheme, particularly larger highway schemes where the cost of a cycle facility may be dwarfed by the other costs associated with the carriageway, and this is why those 'average' highway engineers need to be educated with the latest and best ideas.


As for slowing cyclists on approaches to highways - if this is thought necessary would a version of the vertical calming on Dutch tracks (as shown in one of the infrastructure talks at Cycle City and also on a video on David Hembrow's blog) although there used to slow mopeds, also be an option?


I've seen photos of bike speed bumps on a couple of tracks but not sure of location, I suspect that the reason we are not suggesting this is that often the "safety" question is as much about "children running out" as it is bikes.  The double bend in the track deals with this well, just used it on a scheme in North Tyneside and it's a joy to ride.

I looked at speed bumps for the Coast to Coast at Stanley to try to deal with speeding motorbikes, however locals informed me that as its all teenagers on trail bikes any bumps would add to the attraction of NCN7 rather than put them off.

I don't mean to be too harsh on engineers, but my experience of trying to show photos of foreign infrastructure is not good, so I think sticking largely to UK examples is the right move.   What can work is showing a UK example, e.g. old shoreham road, and then moving on to show some similar dutch streets with a slightly more refined design.  I'm taking a mixed group of politicians, planners and engineers over to Velsen in June and the repsonse has been very positive so heres hoping it triggers some of those involved to develop an interest in Dutch junction design.

Sounds like we shared a room in Leeds, I was the Sustrans guy with ginger beard and green shirt.  I liked the way the Leeds engineers intended to ditch their ASL's.


If that's your experience of the highway engineers you've dealt with then that's fair enough. But as a practitioner I'd like to think they are by no means representative of the profession, certainly not of the people I've been lucky enough to work with in my career (and besides myself there were up to four other engineers, both Local Authority and Consulting, all of us working on just one of the CCAG schemes, present for most of those infrastructure talks).

Fundamentaly engineering is about solving problems - wrt cycling that problem is getting a quart into a pint pot...for tuppence hapenny...and with political backup usually absent. We should not be precious about where those solutions come from; and as I've also pointed out on other sites where it's been suggested we might have a 'not invented here' attitude, UK civil engineering, whether on the design or construction side is a very international business, possibly one of the UK's unsung exports, it's more than used to dealing with different standards and approaches.


Yep, lots of good engineers, including many within Sustrans, and the problem of failing to look properly at continental examples isn't confined to one discipline within transport.  Problem perhaps stems from the UK's road safety approach, its got better (except for cycling), and people often very nervous about any change in methods.  One LA I deal with has successfully removed all but a few zebra's from their roads, replacing with guardrail and signals, show them a photo of a dutch cycle junction and it does not compute.  Hopefully once we get a few installed in a UK context attitudes will change,but that said Icome across many who have not yet really accepted Manual For Streets.


joys of building UK infrastructure:

Its a greenway that follows a utilities corridor through a housing estate crossing various types of road along the way ranging from quiet residential to quiet 30mph bus route.


So if the roads are quiet, why hasn't it got priority across all its junctions?

I'm currently facing potentially this situation with some new housing and associated roadworks on National 1. Policy says that the new access roads crossing National 1 should give way to it, but the existing similar-size access road that crosses National 1 has priority over it (in theory, not often in practice - cycle volumes dominate most of the day). I'm suggesting strongly that this is a good opportunity to correct that incorrect priority at the existing road, but I fear Sustrans would accept the existing crossing remaining unchanged.


There are very few examples of cycle track priority over 30mph roads, also the same goes for roads over 2000 vehicles per day.  Cycling England’s guidelines said “full consideration should be given to priority crossings where they cross minor roads where daily traffic flows are below 2000 vehicles per day on the side road”.  The other problem you have is that all guidance for cycle priority in the UK puts this on a raised table, which isn't always possible on bus routes.

[in rural situations forget it, then again the dutch don't give priority there either].

In Stockton the first thing I did when the scheme went into design was ask if we could get all the estate made 20mph, this would have helped.  Unfortunately 20mph is not that far along in this borough so didn't manage it.

This is the first example of a cycle priority crossing going in this borough.  It pains me to say it but its one of 3 in the whole of north east england (two of which installed this year on Sustrans funded schemes).  We managed to get priority over the more minor of the two roads because actual speeds are very low, we didn't on the bus route where speeds and volume are higher.   Once a Highway Authority does something once then thats half the battle.

In your scenario I'd look at the context, urban/rural, the speeds on the roads the track crosses (hopefully 20mph), the speed on any parralel highway that traffic is turning off (hopefully not above 30mph, you are out of luck if its 50mph).  You should also check if the LA has ever delivered cycle priority before and take a realistic view over whether your location is a place where they will try something new.  Your Sustrans area manager may well already know all of this, but quite possibly won't - I cover four counties and can't monitor every new housing development.  Good luck with it.

pete owens

Rather like LTN 2/08 it starts off well, describing cyclists needs in terms of speed, space, turning circles and so on. Sadly, also like LTN 2/08, it then goes on to ignore those needs when specifying dimensions of cycle specific infrastructure - just rehashing previous rubbish standards.

The explanations of how to design roads, junctions, roundabouts, cycle streets, shared spaces, traffic calming and so on to be cycle freindly in the first place by designing out conflicts is good. This is a refreshing change from the traditional Sustrans approach of bolting on cycle facilities as an afterthought to inherently cycle-hostile road layouts - and deliberately lowering standards so that those facilities could be squeezed into limited space.


I tend to take the view that the absolute minimum for single direction cycle specific infrastructure should be held at 1.5m, but that there will always be site specific compromises above that level.

Current example is a Hybrid Lane scheme I'm working on which is on my own kids route to school, where we will hit 1.8 metres wide.  This is below the 2 - 2.5m stipulated in the new Sustrans guidance (standards abandoned already! I hear you cry).

I could give you a robust defence based on site specific issues, local politics, mature trees, car parking etc, but I won't.  Its the usual story that delivering a scheme is achieveable within the timing I have the funding for with one design, but unachieveable if we try and take more space this time out.  

So we'll build it, and then if mode share increases enough then we'll go back in 5 years and confront some more difficult issues and widen it.  

In the mean time my kids get kerb separated infrastructure on an A Road, not quite dutch but to a higher standard than most other UK.  Anyone who wants to call me names over this is free to do so.



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