Safak’s cycle story: Why I ride a bike

I am a 38 years old woman living in Bicester for two and a half years. I don’t drive and never had a driving licence. I know, very unusual for this country. But I wasn’t born in the UK and in the ‘having a driving licence by the time you hit 18’ culture. I am originally from Turkey where there is a comprehensive and affordable public transport system, as not everyone can afford a car. After I left Turkey, I lived in Germany which also has a great public transport culture. As a result, I survived without needing to drive or having a driving licence, that was until I moved to the UK.

Using public transport is not common here – this is a chicken and egg situation; as everyone is driving, public transport is not needed, or public transport is not common everyone needs to have a car. I had two options to be able to be more mobile and not being dependant on my husband and his driving skills: having a driving licence or cycling. Both presented a barrier as I didn’t know how to cycle either result of growing up in a country with more dangerous roads than here and not a bike path in sight. For me cycling presented the quickest, simplest and cheapest way to get mobile.

I started to practice and learn how to cycle first time in September 2018. As we live close to the cycle paths it was not a big deal at the beginning. Just going to the supermarket was the first target and I am telling you it was not easy. Especially if you are 38 and it is very obvious that you are trying to keep your balance. Then I started to cycle to the train station to take the London train where I work. This was a bit trickier as there is no continuous bike bath all the way to Bicester North Station. So, this means I needed to hop off and walk some of the route to reach my destination. I was still not comfortable to cycle on the road at this point.

My experiences have taught me a lot, getting to grips with cycling, route finding, dealing with traffic and much more. There is much to share with those of you new to cycling or thinking of hopping on a bike to go to the shops or take their kids to school. So I will talk about how I start to cycle on the road, how I built my confidence and how I dealt with my first puncture in the next blogs.

Symmetry Park Consultation Response

To view and comment on the full planning application please refer to the Cherwell Planning Portal

Below is Bicester Bike Users’ Group response from 21 December 2020

Planning Application 20/03404/F : Symmetry Park

21 December 2020

1. INTRODUCTION

Given the location of this development, the applicant rightly recognises that the site ought to be used for pedestrian and cycle access. However, the applicant argues that the existing provision is suitable when in fact the provision is extremely poor and non-compliant with current standards (and has been recognised by Oxfordshire County Council Highways as such). It would be unreasonable to expect pedestrians and cyclists to access the development given the current lack of provision, and the applicant should be required to provide or contribute to compliant means of pedestrian and cycle access.

To date, there has been no engagement with the local cycle organisation, Bicester Bike Users’ Group, as recommended by LTN 1/20 (10.4.17).

In its submissions, the applicant makes no reference to significant current guidance, for example Local Transport Note (‘LTN’) 1/20, the OCC Cycle Design Standards, nor the Local Walking and Cycling Plan (‘LCWIP’) for Bicester. At 4.2.2 of its Transport Statement, the applicant relies on LTN 2/08, a document originally published in 2008 and which has been withdrawn.

The applicant’s contention that the pedestrian and cycle provision is policy compliant is not supported.

2. PEDESTRIAN AND CYCLE LINKS TO THE DEVELOPMENT

LTN 1/20 requires that schemes for cycle traffic to connect to new developments will be delivered as part of those new developments (14.1.1 to 14.1.4).

The Bicester LCWIP sets ambitious targets for cycling in Bicester. Policy BCW 1 requires OCC to plan for at least a tripling of cycling and a doubling of walking trips within Bicester in the next 10 years. Policy BCW 3 requires that the walking and cycling network is prioritised in transport and road plans. Policy BCW4 requires OCC and CDC to improve the cycling and walking network by s.106 and s.278 works. The Bicester LCWIP is deemed a material planning consideration in the approval of new developments.

LTN 1/20 confirms that main roads are usually the roads where people most fear the danger from motor vehicles (4.2.5). On busy and fast roads, most people will not be prepared to cycle on the carriageway, so they will not cycle at all, or some may unlawfully use the footway (4.4.1).

On busy strategic roads where significant reduction in traffic speeds and volumes is not appropriate, dedicated and protected space for cycling must be provided (4.2.11). OCC has previously confirmed that the current speed of 50mph is due to remain, and are planning for the very high traffic volumes on this carriageway to increase. Official OCC monitoring data (site number CP303) confirms that average daily traffic flows are over 20,000 per day.

LTN 1/20 sets out the requirements for cyclists to use the carriageway. No cyclist is expected to share the carriageway with motor vehicles at any speed greater than 30mph (7.2.4). Figure 4-1 gives guidance for the appropriate provision for cyclists at various speeds. At 50 mph, the only acceptable provision is stepped cycle tracks. Any other provision is considered suitable for few people, will exclude most users, and will have safety concerns. The OCC Cycle Design Standards also require stepped cycle tracks (2.2.6 & 3.4.6).

The applicant’s submission that cyclists should use carriageways to access this proposed development (4.2.5) despite these being 50mph is therefore not in accordance with the guidance.

While it is theoretically possible to access the site by an off-road route, the route does not comply with any of the basic minimum standards for off-road pedestrian or cycle access and is effectively unusable.

At such high vehicle speeds, it is essential that there be a ‘buffer zone’ of horizontal separation between the carriageway and cycle tracks for safety and reassurance to users. At 50mph, Table 6-1 of LTN 1/20 recommends a desirable horizontal separation between the carriageway and cycle tracks of 2m, and insists on an absolute minimum of 1.5m. The OCC Cycle Design Standards require the same (3.2.7). While there is a short stretch of path on the A41 in front of the development, contrary to the requirement for segregation, this path has no horizontal separation whatsoever in the face of high traffic volumes and speeds, which is very intimidating to users.

LTN 1/20 also requires that pedestrian and cycle routes be segregated, not shared, because shared space is intimidating to vulnerable pedestrians, and discriminates against those with a disability such as the blind or partially sighted (6.5.4). The OCC Cycle Design Standards also require segregation (2.1.3 & 2.2.8). None of the paths along the A41 that could be used to access this development provide for segregation, they are all shared.

All of the relevant guidance requires a minimum width for safe and usable cycle and pedestrian facilities. LTN 1/20 requires adequate width (4.2.15). Bicester LCWIP recommends a width of 3.5m (p.21) and the OCC Cycle Design Standards insist on 2m or 1.5m at an absolute minimum (3.2.17). The current path, which for the most part is on the opposite side of the A41 to the development and requires crossing a busy and dangerous road with no recognised crossing point, is a shared pedestrian and cycle path that is generally only around 50cm (fifty centimetres) wide. The path is in a poor state of repair, and given its trivial width, is almost impossible to use, let alone share with other users, and quickly becomes overgrown with encroaching vegetation. It is not a viable route.

For these reasons, for this development to comply with the relevant policies, the applicant needs to provide or contribute to safe and viable pedestrian and cycle links consisting of segregated continuous (ie not requiring users to cross the A41) and horizontally separated paths of adequate width.

3. PEDESTRIAN AND CYCLE ACCESS

At present, access to the site by pedestrians and cyclists is envisaged to be either via a ‘green link’ path or via the main vehicular entrance. The issue with the current proposal is that it requires pedestrians and cyclists to take an unnecessarily long and circuitous route where the route from the A41 to their destination as the crow flies is in fact very short. Such a long and circuitous route is not a problem for motor vehicle users, but is a significant disincentive for pedestrians and cyclists, and will discourage visitors from using this means of access.

The OCC Cycle Design Standards require that the distance required to make a journey by bike is minimised, ideally making it more convenient to walk or cycle than drive (2.3.1). One of the basic requirements of LTN 1/20 is that of directness.

A preferable design would be to permit pedestrians and cyclists to access the development at the closest natural desire line to the approach direction. A pedestrian and cycle access point at the western corner of the development would achieve this.

Town Centre plans, suppressed demand and unlocking cycling in Bicester

The following email was sent on the 19th December 2020 following the Stakeholder Meeting held by Oxfordshire County Council to discuss Emergency Active Travel Fund plans for Bicester Town Centre. Cllr Michael Waine represents Bicester Town Division, where most of EATF plans are proposed.

To: “Michael Waine” <michael.waine@oxfordshire.gov.uk>

Cc: “Paul Troop” <paul@bicesterbug.org>, “Rick Hughes” <rick@bicesterbug.org>

Dear Cllr Waine, 

Good to meet you and have a productive discussion about the EATF plans for Bicester last week.

During the meeting you posited a theory about the lack of cycling in Elmsbrook, and I promised to provide you with data to support my view that cycling was indeed significant and on the increase. Below is the measured bike journeys at the entrance/exit to Elmsbrook, as monitored through Mode Transport, the transport coordinator working with A2Dominion.

There are a few points I would like to make on the back of this data.
1. There is a steady increase in cycling year on year.
2. the lockdown saw a significant increase in cycling activity, this was mirrored across the county and the country. The drastic reduction in traffic has a major role in this increase.
3. The significant volumes of people using a bike to and from Elmsbrook is despite of the poor connectivity of the site to other parts of Bicester, notably the town centre.

Points 2 and 3 are important in that they illustrate the concept of suppressed demand, a common phenomenon in travel habits. Clearly the demand for cycling is higher than the level in 2019 alone would indicate, peoples choice to cycle is being suppressed by the levels of traffic on the roads around Bicester.  Roads which they are forced to share with traffic because the cycle network is not cohesive and connected (for example riding from Elmsbrook to the town centre is not possible without joining busy roads).  A similar reduction in walking would be seen if we removed half the pavements in the town, a move which would make the walking network as disjointed and confusing as the current bike network.  It is often said that you cant judge the need for a bridge by how many people swim the river, that is valid for cycling. We at BicesterBUG are working for those who do not yet cycle, the ones you will not see on a bike currently, the ones on the bank of the river, not confident enough to swim  across.

We have a number of residents in Elmsbrook who have gone through the process of learning to get around by bike in Bicester, two of whom do not drive and have little other choice.  They have been grown in confidence enough to swim the river, but they should not have to, we have the policies and tools to build the bridges.  This speaks directly to your theme of balance, travel in Bicester is currently far out of balance to the detriment of the town as a whole.  Their experiences of fear of traffic and confusion at the network are valuable lessons going forward, I would gladly put you in contact with them if you wish to understand the issues better. Sadly for each one who braves cycling in Bicester there are plenty who do not but support measures to make it easier, as born out by the data in the LCWIP (e.g. section 7).

We look forward to engaging with you further on this important topic, especially with the critical EATF funding.

Regards, 

George Bennett

Chair of Bicester Bike Users’ Group

Pioneer Roundabout Consultation Response

To view and comment on the full planning application please refer to the Cherwell Planning Portal

Below is Bicester Bike Users’ Group response from 24 August 2020

Interim Submissions on Pioneer Roundabout

Planning Application 20/01830/F

24 August 2020

1. SUMMARY

The current roundabout design is problematic in that it is grossly over capacity for motor vehicle traffic, making it costly and dangerous. The design replicates the disastrous design issues that have plagued other roundabouts in Bicester such as the Vendee Drive Roundabout, the Bicester Village Roundabout, and the Rodney House Roundabout.

The gross over capacity makes it impossible to provide suitable provision for pedestrians and cyclists, in breach of the provisions of the Cherwell Local Plan, compliance with which is a legal requirement.

These issues have already been identified within Oxfordshire County Council (‘OCC’) and funds released to the designer to address them through an alternative design.

To date, none of the alternative designs so far produced have been workable because they were instead grossly under capacity. Despite OCC’s brief not having been met, the designer and Graven Hill Development Company are pressing ahead with the original, flawed, design. Though steps to ensure that the designer meets OCC’s brief may now be in train, these interim comments are addressed to the design as it currently stands.

2. RELEVANT PLANNING LAW

The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 S.70(2), read together with what are now s.38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and Paragraph 11 of the National Planning Policy Framework, specifies that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. As the House of Lords confirmed in City of Edinburgh Council v Secretary of State for Scotland [1997] 1 WLR 1447 (HL) per Lord Clyde: ‘By virtue of [s.38(6)] … If the application does not accord with the development plan it will be refused unless there are material considerations indicating that it should be granted.’ (at p. 1458E-F)

Cherwell Local Plan, Policy SLE 4: Improved Transport and Connections

‘All development where reasonable to do so, should facilitate the use of sustainable modes of transport to make the fullest possible use of … walking and cycling.’ (Emphasis added.)

In the context of the present planning application, there are no material considerations that would justify the design not making the fullest use of walking and cycling. As such, for the reasons set out below, the current design is unlawful.

3. OVERCAPACITY

3.1 General Issues with the Design

There are numerous problems with the current design, but all flow from the primary focus by the designer on meeting the criteria of ensuring excessively high vehicle traffic flow through the unreflective use of the default setting for the ratio of flow:capacity (RFC) of 0.85 of the ARCADY software. One does not have to look far to see the negative consequences of the formulaic application of algorithms.

The design is generally poor, and copies many of the disastrous aspects of other roundabouts in Bicester that have led to serious usability issues for all road users, including fatal accidents and serious and repeated damage to infrastructure. Such roundabouts include the Vendee Drive Roundabout, the Bicester Village Roundabout, and the Rodney House Roundabout (apparently also designed by this designer). The roundabout is also due to be located on the A41 road to Aylesbury that has experienced more than 100 fatalities in the last 3 years.

The designers have focussed on providing excess motor vehicle capacity during narrow peak-time windows through mechanical acceptance of the default settings on the ARCADY software. This has led to the design being grossly over-capacity at all other times. Gross over-capacity has a number of negative consequences. At the construction stage, it leads to rapacious land consumption and excessive construction costs. In use, it leads to excessive and unlawful motor vehicle speeds, which in turn result in loss of control, fatalities and serious injuries, and costly infrastructure damage. This subsequently necessitates costly redesign (see the Vendee and Rodney House Roundabouts). For that reason, it is unsurprising that Rodegerdts & Program (2010) observe:

‘A volume-to-capacity ratio of 0.85 should not be considered an absolute threshold; in fact, acceptable operations may be achieved at higher ratios. Where an operational analysis finds the volume-to-capacity ratio above 0.85, it is encouraged to conduct additional sensitivity analysis to evaluate whether relatively small increments of additional volume have dramatic impacts on delay or queues. The analyst is also encouraged to take a closer look at the assumptions used in the analysis (i.e., the accuracy of forecast volumes). A higher volume-to-capacity ratio during peak periods may be a better solution than the potential physical and environmental impacts of excess capacity that is unused most of the day.‘ (Emphasis added.)

3.2 Provision for Walking and Cycling

No attempt appears to have been made to maximise walking and cycling. Instead, the designer has tried to make provision for active travel only at the very last stage of the design, by which point the only provision that can be made is negligible.

The problem stems from the wide, swept, approaches that result from the emphasis on high capacity and high-speed vehicle movements. In such a design, crossings can only be safely placed at a considerable distance from natural desire lines. For instance, the crossing on the A41 Aylesbury arm is almost 50 metres from the natural desire line.

In addition, high speed junctions limit the types of crossings that can be deployed, and the locations where they can be deployed. Designing to accommodate motor vehicle speeds of 40mph around the roundabout and with 3-lane wide carriageways limits the possible crossing choices to traffic light-controlled crossings, which are one of the least accommodating of active travel. In addition, traffic-light controlled crossings are required to be placed away from the give way point on a roundabout (and hence away from the natural desire line) so as to avoid causing confusion to motor vehicle drivers. It is for that reason that LTN 1/20 (2020) points out at 10.4.5: ‘In many situations, reducing the speed of motor traffic using the carriageway will enable additional options for the crossing design to be considered.’

The design could be substantially improved by taking a more measured approach to the motor vehicle capacity and by designing the roundabout for slower speeds. Following the Dutch approach to roundabout design, the approaches to the roundabout could be straightened to improve visibility of pedestrians and cyclists and the geometry could be constrained to discourage unlawful speeding. This would then permit the pedestrian and cycle crossings to be placed very close to the natural desire lines, and for the crossings used to be those that are much more accommodating of pedestrians and cyclists, such as zebra or parallel crossings. Thought could also be given to crossings that would permit cyclists (who move more swiftly) to cross the carriageways in one movement rather than two (as with pedestrians).

Finally, in the light of the recent introduction of LTN 1/20, the design needs to be reviewed to take into account this guidance, for example the depreciation of shared pedestrian and cycle paths and corresponding requirement for segregated paths.

4. HISTORY OF THESE ISSUES TO DATE

In compliance with the public sector equality duty, OCC correctly engaged with relevant interested parties such as BBUG at an early stage of the design. The concerns outlined above were identified by BBUG, the local county Councillor Dan Sames, and the county cycling champion Councillor Suzanne Bartington. The issue was reviewed at the OCC Assistant Director level. As a result, substantial funding was authorised to improve the provision for active travel by adopting a more liberal approach to motor vehicle capacity, reducing motor vehicle speeds by adopting aspects of Dutch designs such as straight approaches and constrained geometry, and providing acceptable facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.

However, rather than offering a workable alternative design, the designer squandered OCC’s funds on a series of obviously unworkable designs that did not meet OCC’s brief. While the designs explored were commendably inspired by standard Dutch ‘CROW’ designs, they were unworkable because they assumed either a single lane entry and/or a single lane exit which in any arrangement would be woefully unable to accommodate the necessary traffic flows. The designer’s approach went from one extreme (gross over capacity) to the other (gross under capacity). Any reasonable designer ought to have been aware from the outset that a two-lane entry and exit roundabout would have been the minimum required. BBUG’s suggested designs, provided to the designer, had always assumed two-lanes for entry and exit. When this issue was highlighted, the designer provided a revised design that was still unworkable due to gross under capacity, primarily because the designer had used excessively constrained parameters for entry width, approach width, and flare length (the three most influential parameters for capacity).

Despite the designer not fulfilling OCC’s brief to provide a workable alternative design, OCC did not initially press the issue further. As a result, Graven Hill Development Company have proceeded to planning with these concerns unaddressed. The design currently the subject of this planning application remains the original problematic design, with minor tweaks.

BBUG has raised these outstanding issues at the OCC Assistant Director level. We remain hopeful that OCC will press the designer to fulfil the brief set and produce a workable design that is lawful in that it meets the Cherwell Local Plan requirement of facilitating the fullest possible use of walking and cycling. In the meantime, we are providing this interim note of our concerns to illustrate the seriousness of the matters that remain outstanding in relation to the design of this roundabout.

5. REFERENCES

Adopted Cherwell Local Plan 2011-2031 (2015)

Local Transport Note 1/20, Cycle Infrastructure Design (2020). Department for Transport

Rodegerdts, L. A., & Program, N. C. H. R. (2010). Roundabouts: An Informational Guide. Transportation Research Board Signalized Intersections Informational Guide (2nd Edition).

Matt’s story

Teaching my 4 yr old daughter to ride a bike under lockdown 

Watching Sylvia – my four-year-old daughter – learning to cycle unassisted has been one of the highlights of being a parent. I now go out with her once a day to explore the neighbourhood, and as a result it has given me a new perspective on cycling for the inexperienced in Bicester: 

* it’s flat. I have no concerns about Sylvia going out of control down hills, or struggling to get up hills 

* roads are assumed to be dangerous. Sylvia instinctively makes a bee-line for pavements and paths, even when there are no cars around. 

* clear crossing points are essential. Sylvia checks both sides of the road before crossing. 

* the reduced noise levels from traffic have made cycling more attractive than it was previously. 

* Sylvia understands social distancing, and pulls over if there are people walking or cycling from the opposite direction. 

* the cycle paths around Langford are good. Some continuous footways and other traffic calming measures would be helpful to join them up. 

* pavement parking in Langford phase 2 is endemic. In many stretches the width of the pavement is halved – including sections of the Healthy Bicester running route (‘the blue line’). 

* London Road is hazardous. Narrow footpaths and inconvenient crossing points mean that I won’t be trying this again in a hurry. 

* I am concerned about the speeds of cars around residential streets – it’s supposed to be 30 mph but many people exceed this. 
I think the challenge after the lockdown will be to maintain Sylvia’s enthusiasm, because it will be more dangerous and noisy when the volume of cars returns to previous levels. However, if she is anything like her dad she will be on two wheels for many years to come. 

Jenny’s Story

So what has COVID-19 done for me…?

In some ways, quite a lot but a lovely example is that is has allowed me the time and probably more importantly, the energy to slow life down a little and get back on my bike.

When I say ‘allowed’ what I actually mean is that as I’m stuck in the house with my lovely teenage girls (Emily 17 and Molly 15), I finally gave in to them begging me to go out for a ride with them alongside our Working Cocker Spaniel, Chip.

Since moving to the Elmsbrook Eco Community in August 2019, I am sad to admit that I hadn’t been out on my bike and had actually lost my confidence. For some reason it seemed like a big deal to get back on it again…..wobbling (in more ways than one!) and looking like a bit of a plonka!

This is especially hard to admit as I’m now living in an ‘Eco’ community and ‘should’ be doing the right thing. However, my normal commute to work of around 110 miles and busy family life felt like there was never enough time or energy to get on my bike for errands or exercise or just pleasure.

Thankfully my girls grinding down my resistance to going for a ride has actually brought me so much pleasure doing this time of ‘lockdown’. We have had so much fun on our daily rides, enjoying the sunshine, enjoying our time together, getting a little exercise and having some much needed giggles (normally at my expense).

Now, the joy of our daily rides did hit a bump (or pothole?) in the road when I got a very wobbly front wheel, slow puncture and dodgy gears. For a number of days, I was housebound and missed out on the rides with the girls……and actually I really, really missed them.

Luckily, there is a super kind and generous chap called George (chair of BicesterBUG)  who put a message out on our Community Facebook page, with the offer of helping anyone that had started to use their bike again but had some niggles or issues with it.

Dutifully following all rules around social distancing, I duly dropped my bike off with George, he did a Gold Standard complete service of my bike and dropped it back on my doorstep three hours later.  What a hero! 

So, thank you COVID-19, you have given me time to spend with my girls, they forced me back on my bike, my confidence is starting to return (slowly!) and I have met another fabulous neighbour in our community that has willingly given his time to help keep me cycling.

A little silver lining in these challenging times….