The council is currently consulting on a range of new walking and cycling changes, some better than others.
Where Living Streets North Tyneside disagree with what is proposed, for the most part this comes down to the use of shared use footway conversions. In our organisation’s view, and that of central government in their Gear Change Plan, this just shouldn’t be happening.
Rake Lane, however, is much more complex. The issues raised by the options put forward by the council are quite difficult to take in. There are many similar, very large gyratory roundabouts, around the borough. These are big barriers to walking and cycling. Finding solutions to them is extremely important.
Any improvement for walking and cycling represents a trade off between safety and convenience. Having to wait, give way, or take a longer route is something that people on foot, or on bikes, are generally pretty intolerant of. Too much of it and people are more likely to reach for their car keys. The perfectly safe solution may be so inconvenient that many people will ignore it.
The problem with big gyratories like this is that it is almost impossible to achieve a satisfactory balance between safety and convenience. The long-term solution if we want a greener, healthier borough is to get rid of them.
Others have done an effective critique of the problems of the two options designed by the council including Highway Magazine’s Ranty Highwayman. The unfortunate reality is that both of the designs are pretty unsafe… and pretty inconvenient. There’s a fairly strong chance that as consultation and design work progress the end result will be even more unsafe or even more inconvenient or possibly both (see note below).
This isn’t intended as an attack on the skills of the council’s urban designers & consultants, its just that the job they’ve been given was impossible to start with.
The council have asked that we make constructive criticism of of the schemes they’ve put forward, so in that spirit we’d suggest that the redesign of this junction be revisited completely with a clear set of aims:
1/ Reduce the amount of space given over to motorised traffic by one third to create not only new walking and cycling space but also new usable green space that local people can enjoy.
2/ Use traffic signals to manage interactions between motor traffic and pedestrians and cyclists ensuring that everyone is stopped no more than once on their way through the junction regardless of how they travel or direction they are travelling. Prioritise buses ahead of cars.
3/ With the gyratory gone give pedestrians and cyclists separate / protected but parallel direct routes that make good reuse of existing tarmac, complying with the Gear Change Principles.
We’d accept that traffic signals cost money which may not have been budgeted for. If the current designs are pushed through, it’s very likely that pressure for signals will come anyway from the public, as it will not feel safe. Worst case, people will get badly hurt and the junction will drain ever more time and money.
The desire of the council to “Go Dutch” is great, but sometimes this means accepting that a class of junction needs to disappear entirely rather than have a striking design bolted on. The work done looking at “Dutch Roundabouts” isn’t wasted, as there are dozens of smaller roundabouts around the borough where this would be ideal.
An Explanation of Safety At Roundabouts:
For a vehicle on carriageway a roundabout has a series of “conflict points”: Entering the roundabout, and then passing each point where other vehicles join the roundabout before your vehicle exits. For a multi-lane roundabout the number of these points is at least doubled.
On a bicycle or motorcycle the consequences of a collision at these points is potentially life changing, in a car less so.
If bicycles are offered a cycle lane up to the edge of the roundabout then the number of conflict points increases by one. If bicycles are offered a cycle track around the roundabout the conflict points become the same as for pedestrians, two for each arm.
What this means in practice is that if these measures are to be provided then the high number of conflict points needs to be compensated for by changing the speed at which motor traffic uses the junction and also very carefully designing the angle at which pedestrians and cyclists approach. For a small roundabout this is easy to do, but for a large gyratory it is very difficult. The safer these points are made, the lower the capacity of the junction becomes (bigger traffic queues).
The best thing about the designs produced by the council is the reduction to a single lane shown in the Option 1 design and the good angle of approach for pedestrians and cyclists, however the consequences of a collision remain far too severe. The Option 2 design is much less safe as motor traffic has more space and the angles of approach for pedestrians and cyclists are so poor.
If you want to see what a safe Dutch Roundabout looks like in a place a lot like North Tyneside, try this (its very small, very slow and has a primary school next door):