“Cyclists Dismount”: Highways England’s plans for A23 Hooley

Highways England has published plans for improving the flow of motorised traffic through Hooley, on the A23 just north of the M23 motorway.

Where is it? What is proposed?

Hooley (map) is a village (wiki page) in the Merstham district of Surrey which sits between the north end of the M23 motorway and Coulsdon in the London borough of Croydon.

The A23 Brighton Road runs through the village.  It is a series of  bottlenecks as the road repeatedly swaps between one and two lanes on the north and south carriageways.  It’s a bit of a pollution hotspot too because it sits in a shallow valley.

Highways England (HE) has about £3m in its current funding plans to try to address the traffic issues through Hooley.  HE has been dropping hints about the project for a while – with stories appearing in local newspapers (e.g. here and here) – and in late July’18 put up a project webpage with a briefing document and drawings.  Some early news reports suggested physical works were starting in autumn 2018, whereas it will be summer 2019 at the earliest.

In summary, HE propose to widen the carriageway by removing the grass verge on the west side of the road to provide two northbound lanes on the carriageway.  The remaining pavement along the northbound carriageway will be designated as a shared-use pedestrian and cycle path for much, but not all, of its length.  There will be tweaks to the existing pedestrian crossings – the southern one converted to a toucan crossing for pedestrians and cyclists to use.  The speed limit will be reduced from 40mph to 30mph through the village.

On 27 & 28 July, HE held and exhibition at Hooley Village Hall, put up posters of the proposals and plans, and several staff chatted with visitors to answer questions and collect feedback.  HE published a document with frequently asked questions shortly afterwards.   The public can provide feedback by emailing A23BrightonRoadImprovements@highwaysengland.co.uk

The HE staff explained that there’s about £3.5m to spend on the project, but that digging must start by 2020 otherwise the funds will be redirected elsewhere.  The project is at preliminary design stage, and HE is seeking feedback on the proposals.  There’s still time to tweak the plans in response to the public’s concerns, but probably insufficient time to make major changes.  For example, anything that involves a compulsory purchase order to acquire land to make the road or pavements wider will not be considered, as that would exceed the project’s funding envelope and legal process will take too long.

Eavesdropping on conversations, it was clear that visitors to the exhibition had lots of questions, and predictable and justified concerns, e.g.:

  • Wider road means traffic nearer residents’ houses, with concerns about noise, pollution and impact on values;
  • These sort of traffic schemes don’t alleviate traffic, they just encourage more;
  • This scheme just moves the bottleneck a few hundred metres northwards up the A23;
  • Reducing the speed limit to 30mph will make no difference without robust enforcement as, outside rush hour congestion, the existing 40mph limit is widely ignored; and
  • Removing or shortening laybys hampers access to the shops and businesses along the road.

What’s my interest?

I drive along this section of the A23 maybe 4-5 times per month. I agree that the northbound carriageway where the A23 and M23 join is congested, especially in rush hours.

More relevant to this blog is that I sometimes ride a bicycle along some of this section of the A23. I’m not the only one, but there are not many of us.  Looking at fitness tracking websites for records of people who have cycled locally, it’s clear a few hundred people each month are cycling on all or some of the A23 within this project’s scope, for both commuting and leisure journeys.

Everyone I know who cycles on the A23 through this area describes it as a really unpleasant experience, bordering on dangerous and foolhardy.  Only those who are experienced and confident – or blissfully innocent – choose to cycle through here.  It fails the 8-80 years old test.

Redhill in Surrey to Coulsdon is 6.25 miles with this stretch of the A23 in the middle.  It’s shorter than most of the cycle commutes I do in London.  Croydon’s then another 4 miles or 20 mins on a bicycle.

a23route#4.png

I suspect more people carry a bicycle on the 7 minute train journey between Redhill and Coulsdon than cycle it.  Transport for London provides 4 buses/hour on week days on Route 405 between Redhill and Coulsdon (onwards to Croydon), dropping to 2/hour on Sundays.

I can safely guess modal share along the A23 between Redhill and Coulsdon puts private cars first, train second, bus third, and leaves bicycle journeys somewhere in the margins of error.

 

What’s the current cycling provision on the A23 through Hooley?

None through the village.  You cycle on the main carriageway with its current 40mph limit.

(Normally, I’d illustrate a blogpost with some photographs that I’ve taken cycling along a proposed scheme.  But as I’m not suicidal, I’m going to use shots from Google Street View instead.  All the street views below are the current road [with Google Maps links in the text], with the drawings being the proposed changes.)

North of the village approaching Coulsdon, there’s a few metres of shared-use pavement near the A237 roundabout and Coulsdon Station.

a23sb#23.png

Cycling south from the village towards the M23 junction, the A23’s southbound carriageway has a short section of mandatory cycle lane.  Amazingly (for the wrong reasons), this cycle lane actually joins the M23 slip lane for approx. 150m, before forcing people cycling to cross the M23 slip lane to rejoin the A23.

a23sb#1combo.jpg

The A23/M23 junction is outside of this project, so this dangerous situation will continue.

 

Highways England’s plans for cycling through Hooley – Northbound

HE has provided detailed drawings, so I’ll only use extracts.

Northbound 1: junction at Dean Lane

Travelling northwards from the M23 junction, the first intervention is to widen the road to two lanes approaching the junction with Dean Lane, and to reduce the speed limit to 30mph.

A23SB#5.png

A23SB#22.png

A fair number of people cycling along this stretch turn right at this junction to ascend Dean Lane.

A23SB#7Bcrop.png

For someone cycling, the movement from the current single northbound lane into the right-turn lane is just about doable, usually with lots of arm-waving and a few hand signals which are not shown in the Highway Code.

If the carriageway is widened to two northbound lanes, this right turn will be nigh impossible for someone cycling.  Dropping the speed limit to 30mph at this junction will not help.  HE should reflect on its accident data for these sort of junctions, especially involving VRUs, and reflect on the design.

Northbound 2: New shared-use pavement at Church Lane

Carrying on northwards, HE propose to convert the pavement and verges on the west side of the road into a shared-use pedestrian and cycle path.  The path will start just south of Church Lane.   The current two-stage pedestrian crossing will be replaced with a single-stage toucan crossing (I’ll return to this below in southbound comments).

A23SB#9

A23SB#10.jpg

The HE officer I spoke to was unclear about how a northbound cyclist would join the shared-use pavement, either via dropped kerb before the toucan crossing, or through the crossing’s own dropped kerb.  From the drawings, both options require 90 degree left turns off the carriageway, which requires cyclists to slow down further – something few will be keen to do when you’ve got a 30mph 40 tonne HGV sitting on your tail.

A better solution would be a short section of mandatory cycle lane on the main carriageway up to the toucan crossing, with the option of leaving the main carriageway on a straight ahead ramp up onto the shared-use pavement.

Northbound 3: Width of the shared-use pavement

The FAQs state that the shared-use pavement “between 3.7m and 2.5m wide”.

The Department for Transport design guidance LTN1/12 Shared Use Routes for Pedestrians and Cyclists.  Although just six years old, it does show its age and newer guidance, such as TfL’s London Cycling Design Standards, provide clearer advice on aspects such as crossing side roads.

All of the guidance document applies to the design of this shared path, but I’ll pick out a few paragraphs such as 7.36 (effective width), 7.60 (buffer zone from carriageway) and 10.23 (converting a footway to a shared-use path). It should have a minimum “effective” width of 3m, plus a buffer zone from the carriageway to provide space for street furniture.

A23SB#11

A23SB#12

The FAQs suggest this will not be achieved along the pavement’s full length.

The Reigate & Banstead District Council or Surrey Council Council will need to process paperwork to convert the footpath to shared-use pavement, which will give councillors (and residents) and opportunity to ask questions.

A23SB#13

Northbound 4: End of the shared-use pavement at the Star Lane junction

The main carriageway approaching the junction with Star Lane is already two lanes wide, but this scheme proposes to widen the lanes further.  The drawings suggest that space will be taken from the central island and from the pavement.

A23SB#15.png

A23SB#14c

HE propose to narrow the pavement approaching the traffic lights.  This leads to the major flaw in this scheme for people cycling: the shared-use pavement ends.

As stated in the drawings, there are two options for cyclists:

  1. cyclists will need to dismount” and push their bikes. This fails Highways England’s own guidance issued in 2016 IAN195/16 Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network, which is explicit that people riding bicycles cannot be assumed to be able-bodied; or
  2. rejoin carriageway via a new dropped kerb”. That too is an awful solution, has been discredited since the 1990s, and is regarded as a sign that the highways authority is too lazy to build a proper solution.  HE is expecting people riding bicycles northbound to make a 90 degree right-turn onto the carriageway, into the path of two lanes of motorised traffic trying to beat the traffic lights.

Here’s an example of a “rejoin carriageway” dropped kerb in Morden which, unlike the HE drawings for Hooley, does have the merit of painted markings.

A23SB#16.jpg

The HE engineer I spoke to accepted that LTN1/12 and IAN195/16 apply to this scheme.  He admitted that he does not cycle himself and was rather bemused when I pointed out the flaws in the proposed design.  He stated that the plans do not provide enough space to continue the shared-use path to the traffic lights, saying that there wasn’t room for pedestrians and cyclists.  I explained that someone dismounted and pushing a bicycle takes up more pavement space than someone riding, which he accepted.

Note that the drawings for the Star Lane junction do not include Advanced Stop Line (ASL) boxes, nor lead-in lanes, for people cycling through the traffic lights.

I don’t profess to know what the right solution would be.  One option could be to compromise the widths of the motorised traffic lanes slightly, giving space for a ramp off the pavement into a mandatory cycle lane northwards to the traffic lights and an ASL box.  Whilst that might assist people cycling northwards, it doesn’t help southwards as I’ll explain below.

[Example to follow]

North of the traffic lights, the road will be widened to two northbound lanes, and returned to a 40mph speed limit at the junction with Netherne Drive.

 

Highways England’s plans for cycling through Hooley – Southbound

Southbound 1: junction with Star Lane and access to the shared-use pavement

Southbound, the junction with Star Lane does not have an ASL box, and won’t get one under these proposals.

A23SB#24.png

The HE engineer I spoke to said that someone cycling southbound and wanting to join the shared-use pavement on the west side of the road, should dismount at the lights, push their bicycle across the pedestrian crossings, before remounting their bicycle on the pavement south of the traffic lights where the shared-use section starts.

That fails IAN195/16.  It also raises the question of whether HE has assessed these designs as part of its duties under the Equality Act.  The FAQs indicate this won’t happen until next year.

A23SB#17

Similar to the access issues at the Church Lane end of the path noted above, there’s no space provided at these lights for someone cycling to leave the carriageway, other than turn 90 degrees left on to the pavement at the pedestrian crossing’s waiting area.

Southbound 2: end of the shared-use pavement and crossing the road

At the south end of the shared-use pavement, by Church Lane, HE propose to replace the current two-stage pedestrian crossing with a single stage toucan crossing, followed by a gap in the verge to allow people cycling to continue south on the cul-de-sac (upper left of the picture below).

A23SB#18.png

A23SB#20.png

If you cycled southwards on the main carriageway (instead of the shared-use pavement), there’s no provision in these plans to access the cul-de-sac by the toucan crossing.  Presumably, if you’re been happy having motorised traffic on your tail for the previous 3km, you’re not going to want to access a bit of protected space past Starbucks, are you?

Southbound 3: rejoining the southbound carriageway

Remember the mandatory southbound cycle lane that enters the M23 slip lane?  Well, to help you access the mandatory cycle lane from the end of the cul-de-sac, HE propose to cut a gap in the verge.

Note the drawing’s reference to IAN195/16, and the existing painted cycle lane on the A23 being below the 2m minimum of the new standard.  This scheme will not widen it.

A23SB#21

This scheme ends before the M23 junction, so there is nothing proposed to provide a safe route for someone cycling to stay on the A23 without crossing the M23 slip lane.

 

Conclusion

With a limited budget, and the need to avoid CPOs to acquire more land, this scheme will be a compromise between conflicting demands.  There’ll be the usual guff about “balancing the needs of all road users”.  But as proposed, the compromises are clear:

  • Residents are making compromises as they lose pavement and verge space outside the properties to see motorised traffic closer to their properties;
  • Pedestrians are making compromises as they are getting narrower pavement on the east side the road, and sharing a pavement with cyclists on the west side;
  • Cyclists are making compromises as they lose the feasible right-turn into Dean Lane, are expected to share a pavement with pedestrians, and either dismount and push at the Star Lane junction, or submissively wait for a HGV driver to let them join the main carriageway.

What I don’t see are the compromises being made by the PHV drivers shuttling south Londoners to-and-from Gatwick who, as the FAQs estimate, will gain up to 80 seconds on their journeys.

Most road schemes in this area are delivered by TfL or Surrey County Council, so this is a chance to see how Highways England is adopting its new design standards.

This scheme arguably fails against the standards set out for inclusive cycling in IAN195/16.  Highways England needs to do better.

Highways England is seeking feedback on the scheme to this email address: A23BrightonRoadImprovements@highwaysengland.co.uk

 

Links to documents

Highways England’s IAN195/16 Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network

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