How to waste money on cycling infrastructure

We can all find examples of where cycling infrastructure is particularly bad. I’ve tried to identify the places around Derby that I find the worst, where there has been an attempt to spend money on improving things, and where the money has been completely wasted.

At each location, there must have been an investment budget, a team of designers, a fair amount of planning, and actual “on the ground” work. How can all this effort, time and money result in facilities where nothing at all could easily be a better solution?

No doubt all the infrastructure has been funded from some “cycling budget” and the relevant spending organisation is probably patting themselves on the back on their impressive spend on cycling facilities. A good example of where money is often wasted is the ubiquitous “Cyclists Dismount” signs which are either blatantly obvious (“don’t cycle down the steps ahead”) or just to satisfy some lawyers. They are always paid for from the budget for cycling improvements.

Think what good improvements could have been implemented if the money invested on the useless schemes below was applied more sensibly? For example, some of the major gaps in the Derby network could have been addressed.

While Derby City Council are responsible for some of the examples, other organisations involved include Derbyshire County Council and National Highways. Each of these organisations have implemented high quality infrastructure elsewhere so I’m not criticising all that they do – I would just like to see that money allocated to cycling infrastructure is always spent well. This is particularly relevant to Derby City who are currently planning spends of multi millions through their successful bids to the Transforming Cities and Active Travel Funds – let’s hope this significant investment is well spent.

Friargate right turn paint

Friargate (near the Greyhound pub) is a very busy road with two lanes in each direction. National Cycle Route 54 runs from Derby City Centre and then along Vernon Street. To access Vernon Street for cyclists from the west, the Council have provided a painted cycle logo and a right turn arrow in the middle of the 4 lanes of traffic.

Friargate looking eastwards towards city centre

Reaching the central area when travelling along Friargate towards the city means crossing two busy lanes of traffic.

Cycle traffic emerging from Vernon Street will need to take up the position in the centre of the road and then wait for a suitable gap in the two lanes of city bound traffic – quite a vulnerable position to wait.

Friargate looking westwards towards junction with Uttoxeter Old Road

The sharp eyed will notice the “Keep Clear” area painted on the road and also note that this doesn’t line up with the cycle arrow. Any cycle traffic crossing two or more lanes of stationary traffic is always vulnerable to one of the lanes deciding to move and also to other traffic (e.g. motorcycles or other cyclists) filtering past the stationary cars.

The creation of the “cycle arrow” was part of a wider Council scheme to change the road layout to improve air quality which did not actually encourage any motor traffic or pollution reduction but just spread it across a different area.

Kingsway Traffic Lights

The roundabout by the entrance to the Kingsway Retail Park had traffic lights (including crossings for cyclists and pedestrians) installed back in 2016. All four roads leading to the roundabout have lights. Soon after installation, the Council found that there was significant congestion arising from the traffic lights and decided to turn them off whilst investigating a solution. It’s now 2022 and they’re still turned off!

The result is that cyclists (and pedestrians) need to cross 2 or 3 lanes on each entrance road. Motor traffic rarely stops to allow cyclists to cross and, when it does, there is the added danger of one or more of the lanes stopping but traffic in other lanes still proceeding.

View from cycle route on north side of Kingsway approaching the retail park roundabout

The existence of the lights leads drivers to think that cyclists and pedestrians are waiting for the lights to change before crossing and don’t consider that they might need to stop to assist them.

As the roundabout was designed with operating traffic lights, no attempt was made to reduce corner speeds (e.g. by making the corner angles tighter) so some of the crossings have the risk of fast traffic appearing from around a blind corner.

Little Eaton on road Cycle Lanes

There are two problem areas. Firstly there are on road painted lines that start and stop at random, are far too narrow and where the paint has often worn away.

Looking north on Alfreton Road near New inn Lane

Note the narrowness of the cycle lane. Also see how it stops near the central refuge just as motor traffic moves towards the kerb to avoid the refuge

Secondly, there are wider painted lanes (towards the north) which are completely unusable as they are always covered by parked cars. What is the point of painting the lanes if not complemented by parking restrictions (which are then enforced)?

The sharp eyed can see the cycle logo under the car. Looking north on Alfreton Road north of “telephone box library”
24 hour parking on cycle lane. Looking north on Alfreton Road approaching junction with Morley Road

Painted on road cycle lanes are of little benefit to cyclists and are no longer supported by the DfT who now refuse to provide funding. The lanes encourage drivers to ignore the cyclists as they are “okay in their space” and thus pass too closely. Research suggests advisory lanes increase injury risk by 30% (over having no lanes). Without segregation (e.g. a kerb) between the road and the cycle lane there is no protection to cyclists from the motor traffic.

Royal Hospital cycle lane

Uttoxeter New Road leading westwards to the hospital has a mandatory (solid white line) on-road painted cycle lane.

Westbound Uttoxeter New Road just before entrance to hospital (looking eastwards)

A solid white line means that it is an offence for motor traffic to cross the line (like a double white line in the centre of the road). From the picture above you can see in the distance that various cars are parked (which can only be reached by crossing the white line!). You can also see how close the traffic (e.g the white car) is to the painted line which a lot of cyclists using the lane would find intimidating and dangerous.

Looking westwards from the same spot

As traffic approaches the hospital, there is a left turn lane to enter the hospital. The cycle lane proceeds on the main carriageway but is no longer mandatory so motor traffic may cross the white line. Motor traffic will take this left turn often without regard to cyclists in the cycle lane.

Findern Interchange / Rykneld Road cycle lane

The roundabout above the A38 at the southern end of Rykneld Road is a particularly dangerous location for cyclists. While there is very little cycling infrastructure in place, what is there is unsatisfactory.

On roundabout by southbound A38 on slip road looking westwards

On the roundabout there is a single short section of on-road painted cycle lane. To reach this section from Rykneld Road or Burton Road, the cyclist has to cross the A38 southbound entrance slip road which motor traffic on the roundabout approaches at high speed.

End of A38 northbound off slip road – looking south down slip road

At the western end of the on road cycle lane there is a decent quality off road path going south along the eastern side of the A38 off slip road. However, on reaching the end of the path, the cyclist needs to cross the slip road to reach a path going southwards alongside the A38. Traffic on the slip road is typically travelling at 70 mph+.

A38 northbound off slip road looking westwards

Cyclists who wish to proceed on to Staker Lane to Mickleover or back along Rykneld Road need to then take their life in their hands as the on road lane ends by the A38 off slip. Traffic leaving the A38 is typically travelling fast and, after a long period of driving on what is, in effect, a motorway, do not expect to be looking for cyclists. Travelling to Staker Lane means crossing the slip road with no protection. Travelling around the roundabout to turn right means moving to the right hand side of the road and then encountering the A38 northbound on slip road and the A38 southbound exit slip.

All in all not an experience most cyclists would welcome and one which would put off inexperienced cyclists.

Raynesway cycle steps

From the Asda roundabout near Spondon, there is a good quality off road cycle route close to the south side of the A52. This route is hardly used by cyclists as, when it reaches Raynesway, there is the need to climb approximately 30 steps, follow the Raynesway pavement on the bridge over the railway and then climb down another flight of steps.

East Service Road looking northwards from near Raynesway Ambulance Station

Eventually you’ll reach the East Service Road near to Megaloughton Lane although you’ll find there is a crash barrier between you and the actual road!

The 2 sets of steps are to allow the route to cross over the railway line so I can understand the problems that the designers had. However, about 200m to the east, there is a level crossing of the railway (for pedestrians and cyclists).

Looking northwards at crossing joining sections of Megaloughton Lane north and south of the railway line

On the west side of Raynesway there is a similar need to cross the railway and this has been achieved by a staggered ramp rather than a set of steps – much more usable by cyclists and other wheeled transport.

Bishops Drive puzzle

(Thanks to Ken Timmis for this suggestion).

Fairly recently Bishops Drive in Oakwood was resurfaced. At this point the Council made the sensible decision to remove the central line in the road (having no central line has been shown to reduce overall traffic speed as drivers are more tentative).

After resurfacing it was then decided to implement a painted cycle lane at the side of the road. On road painted lines are not supported or funded by the DfT and are more dangerous than having no lane at all. Therefore, implementing facilities consisting of just painted lines is a waste of money from the cycling budget.

I suspect there were debates within the design team as to which side of the road the cycle lane should be on as it seems a compromise was reached where the cycle lane switches from side to side, seemingly at random! The painted cycle lane is broken into four sections which alternate either side of the road, disjointed and unconnected.

Green line shows the cycle lane and how it jumps from one side to the other (click to see more detail)

This situation gives us the puzzle. Are cyclists meant to cross the road to reach the cycle lane on the other side and then cycle against the traffic? Should you feel safer cycling within the road when there is a cycle lane on the opposite side? What manual (perhaps with missing pages) were the designers working from?

The latest design guidelines for on road cycle lanes insist on segregation from the motor traffic and adequate width plus high quality connections at the ends of the cycle lanes – ending just because there is a bus lay-by isn’t a “good connection”.

Other examples

I’m always keen to hear of other misjudged spends of cycle money in the Derby area. Let me know by email.