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Talk by Richard Lewis

At our members meeting on Monday 14th February we had a talk from Richard Lewis who is one of those rare beasts: a cycle facility designer who also rides a bicycle.

He is a very active member of Hackney Cyclists, as well as being an officer at Brent Council. This meeting was very well attended and we were pleased to welcome the Barnet cyclists who came along.

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We asked Richard to tell us how he is using the principles of Road Danger Reduction Forum (RDRF) in transport planning for Brent Council. He told us that Brent’s Road Danger Reduction Plan seeks to achieve road safety, together with the encouragement of walking and cycling. His first point is that there has traditionally been a conflict between road safety and sustainable transport – making roads safer has been achieved by having less pedestrians and cyclists on them, whereas sustainable transport requires more people to make their journeys by walking or by riding bikes.

Richard referred to Bob Davis whose 1993 book Death on the streets; the mythology of road safety is a background for RDRF. He also referred to Mayer Hillman's early work with John Adams which showed that the decrease in child casualties after 1970 was due to the decline in independent travel by children. Later on, Mayer added to the discussion by saying that LB Camden has accepted all of the recommendations made by the Road Safety Scrutiny Panel and as a result, Camden has asked TfL to devise new ways of measuring danger on the roads, that don't simply rely on casualty figures (e.g. volume x speed of traffic) and in response, TfL contacted him for advice. Richard reported that Brent is starting to resist TfL’s traffic management approach in its pursuit of road safety.

The application of RDRF should alter peoples' perception that roads are dangerous, thus making them more willing to walk or cycle. Richard gave as an example the proposals for Exhibition Road (to remove all edges, signs etc and to pave it in diagonal squares). He spoke of a planning and design hierarchy of road user groups with the needs of pedestrians, and cyclists considered first, and private motor cars last. He told us that the city of York had made many improvements on the basis of this hierarchy and as a result the number of collisions has reduced by a third, and cycling and walking have both increased. Cycling in York now accounts for 20 per cent of journeys compared with just two per cent in London.

Richard explained the concept of self explaining streets, the design and implementation of which involves the removal of street furniture, lining and excess signage and traffic controls. The idea is to create uncertainty and a sense of risk – so that drivers actually behave safely, and pedestrians and cyclists have the confidence to use the whole street rather than being herded to allocated areas. Paul Gannon reminded us of continental trials of streets without rules where the participants have to make eye-contact before deciding moves. But these schemes worked, he argued, because of different insurance etc. rules regarding responsibility. For self-explaining streets to work, Paul claimed, these liability rules will have to be changed.

Richard pointed us to examples of self explaining streets in London where street furniture including guard railings have been removed and the pedestrian environment enhanced without problems, for example, the Strand with its central island strip and Trafalgar Square. Richard said that traditional solutions including guardrailing and antiskid were placed at the bottom of the hierarchy of solutions, but would still be necessary in some situations, such as on the North Circular.

Richard was asked about the report on the LCN+ 5 CRISP. Being a recent arrival in Brent, he was not involved in the CRISP, however his personal opinion is that LCN+ routes should be direct, coherent and convenient, and serve the destinations cyclists want to use (including shopping areas along the road). He suggested that the heaviest flows of cycles would be found on the main road and not on side road alternatives, particularly at its southern end.

For the near future, Richard plans to do his utmost to improve Kilburn High Road - there was much scepticism from CCC as to this happening after recent attempts by Brent/Camden to make the traffic flow in that road, thereby making junctions more dangerous for cyclists, but Richard said that this would not have happened if strict design standards based on the two councils’ progressive policies had been put into place. However, Richard is prepared to agree that if cyclists want it, the eastern alternative should become the LCN+, and the A5 and western alternative would be incorporated into the LCN. However this would effectively cancel out all future opportunities to make a real difference to junctions like Staples Corner, and a strong bid has been put in ahead of the BSP to include the Western alternative in Brent’s LCN network for funding in 2006/7.

Many LCC members, both from Camden and Barnet immediately spoke of the many problems with cycling on the A5 - perceived danger, volume and speed of traffic and noise etc. It was also pointed out that directness was never supposed to be an over-riding criteria in determining actual LCN+ routes. Richard agreed that this was the case, however if LCN+ funding status is diverted, the problems are likely never to be resolved. There was no conclusion to this discussion.

However, everyone present felt encouraged by the possibilities of Brent's RDR plan and hope that Richard will be successful in getting it implemented. The next stage will be a streetscape and road danger reduction design strategy, which will hopefully resolve some of the sort of design problems present in the recent alterations on the A5 at Kilburn.

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