NTA Makes Dog’s Dinner of Cycle Quality

The NTA have made a dog’s dinner of cycle facility quality. Yes they are concerned about quality and yes they refer to it in the National Cycle Manual but does anyone outside the NTA really understand it?

When people are booking a hotel, they have an understanding of the ‘Star’ system of ranking. They may not understand the difference between a 2 star and 3 star hotel but they understand that a 3 star hotel is more luxurious or offers better facilities than a 2 star one and would expect to pay more for it (all other things being equal).

So what is the story with the quality of cycle facilities? There are five levels of service – A+, A, B, C and D. Any cycle facility which does not fall into the first four is level D. Width is one of five determinants of quality the other being number of conflicts, percentage of HGVs on the route, pavement condition and journey time delay. (There has been some modification to pavement condition as a result of the development of the Greater Dublin Cycle Network but the amendments have not been incorporated into the written or digital Manual.) Width is by far the most important determinant, so what does the Manual say about width and level of service? The Manual assesses width in terms of the number of adjacent cyclists as shown below.

So is the width of Level C the same as Level D? And is the width of Level A the same as Level B? What is the width of a Level A facility? In Section 1.5.2, there are references to widths of five cycling regimes but the Manual does not state if the cycling regimes correspond to the Level of Service, and furthermore the exact meaning of different regimes is unclear and open to interpretation. For example what does basic two way mean?

Section 1.5.1 of the Manual on Determining Width includes the following
The designed width of a cycle facility is comprised of the effective width, i.e. the
space that is “usable” by cyclists, as well as the clearances that will be required in
different circumstances.

Effective width as opposed to designed or constructed width is a very important concept as it takes conditions on either side into account. This is important as local authorities often provide a 2m wide cycle track with kerbs adjacent to the footpath on one side and adjacent to a traffic lane on the other, which only has an effective width of 1m.

To make matters worse, the Manual defines the minimum width of a shared footway as 3m, but whether this is effective width or designed/constructed width is not clarified and it does not define whether this is one way cycling shared with two way pedestrians or two way cycling shared with two way pedestrians. The MAnual does not take the level of use into account. As 3m is the minimum standard in accordance with the National Cycling Manual, it is assumed that the level of service for cycling is the fifth and lowest category ie D. Then, just when you think that the NTA couldn’t complicate things further, they succeed.

In 2015, they published a Permeability Best Practice Guide which also has five levels of service but in this case they are A,B,C, D and E. Section 3 of the Guide defines widths for the different Quality of Service (see below) but doesn’t define whether these are effective or constructed widths.

Permeability Quality of Service

The Best Practice Guide states that local authorities in urban areas should aim to provide a Level A quality of service for any pedestrian or cycle links between residential areas and destinations such as schools and shops. Not unreasonably, the document goes on to point out that Level A will often be unachievable due to constraints but at least sets out a high target.

So where does that leave the common situation that arises where one section of a route has segregated cycle facilities and the next section has a 3m wide shared footway? Using the permeability criteria, the shared section is ranked category B and C (second and third) but using the National Cycle Manual criteria, it is D (fifth). What would you think of an organisation which ranks a hotel as one star, three star and four star at the same time? The idea of a star ranking is good. It gives cycle campaigners, politicians and the general public a crude but convenient assessment of quality. However, the time to properly define its use is long overdue.


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