Southampton's Newest Cycle Infrastructure: Effort: 2/5, Attainment: 1/5

Published 2014-02-15 at 14:51

Earlier in the week, Southampton City Council Highways Department happily trumpeted the nearing end of the works at the Saltmarsh Rd end of the Itchen Bridge which have helped cause all sorts of traffic congestion in the city over the last few months.

The junction was being converted from a roundabout (which has been there some time) to a new signal junction as part of the start of the implementation of the Eastern Cycle Route. Ostensibly a Cycle Superhighway in all but name only, the ECR is an attempt by SCC to build upon the existing "high" use of the Itchen Bidge corridor and to work towards their targets for increasing cycle use in the City. As one of only 5 crossings of the Itchen River inside the M27, and the heaviest used, the Itchen Bridge/Portsmouth Road corridor was an obvious candidate for a flagship fund-winning project.

Last February, the consultation for the first phase of the whole ECR went out and came back. Kingsland Sq in Section 2 to Section 6 were included. I'm not going to go into detail here on the whole scheme save to point out that the majority of Phase 1 was proposed off-road/segregated and included reducing the wholly unnecessary dual carriageway of Evans St/St Mary's Pl down to a 2x single lane boulevard. SCC seemed like it was trying.

But then what happened. Well, removing the dual carriageway was the first thing that was junked; can't be having that now can we. But the Consultation Report says those are the only changes.

So let's get on and build something. First up was the junction shown above. By this point you might have compared the plan for the junction in the tweet above to the consulted plans. They're not the same are they?

Interestingly a closer to as-built plan turned up yesterday; this was not in the original consultation plans:

I have Freedom of Information requests in for the various documents that link the consultation scheme and the delivered so will hold fire on most of my criticism until I have a clearer idea of the logic that informed the process but, some questions in the interim:

  • How can that left kink in the cycle lane on Central Bridge be a good idea? Even if the sudden deflection were acceptable for a cyclist (to be fair, it doesn't look quite so bad in real life), we have predominantly ahead cyclists to the left of left turning traffic (although few to no heavies because of the weight limit on Central Bridge). This is not to mention the obvious cutting across the cycle lane that the left turning traffic will do. The lane may be mandatory (solid line) but will not be enforced so might as well not be there.
  • Where have all the Advance Stop Lines (ASLs) are gone? Granted, there is some debate as to the usefulness or not of ASLs but as a tool for putting yourself in front of left-turning vehicles, they are of at least some value (I would doubt the strange staggered stop line is an acceptable substitute) and for right turns, perhaps somewhat more useful. The latter is perhaps somewhat ameliorated by the relevant right-turn pockets on the left ahead of the stop lines on the appropriate left-turn arms but given these are untested on UK roads and certainly a novelty for the area, ASLs for more confident cyclists are still warranted and indeed were in the original scheme.
  • Right turns from Central Bridge have now apparently been banned yet the junction encourages right-turns for cyclists. No exception is signed. This is inconsistent at best, dangerous at worst.
  • What possible numerical justification for an extra turn lane is there on either of the main (East and West) arms? At most you can get 2 car lengths in the lane and given the cycle time of the signals, is likely to make little real difference to the capacity. The right turn from Central Bridge has been banned yet that extra lane remains; the lane on the Itchen Bridge arm has appeared.
  • Drop kerbs have apparently been provided to allow cyclists onto the footway. First, this wouldn't be necessary were the carriageway not so hostile; second, this doesn't appear to be signed either...

On the bright side, they've put in a slightly better bus stop bypass than was proposed before if, in my opinion either the designer or lining contractor, has laid the double-yellow markings incorrectly.

I'd like to be happy about this junction, I really would. It's the completion of the first part of the most comprehensive cycle scheme Southampton is likely to see for the foreseeable. I've been defending the scheme concept to various (driver) friends over the last few months (generally signals > roundabouts for cycle safety) but this really is a complete disappointment. The consulted-upon scheme was hardly perfect but it at least showed some willing as part of SCC's warm words on cycling. However, since then it seems we've reverted to business-as-usual which is: "don't upset the motorist". The tone and target audience of all the consultation/update material gives this away. None of the other proper schemes proposed in the City (e.g. Lover's Walk off The Avenue) are any closer to being realised and all focus is on the new dual carriageway being driven through the centre of the City on Town Quay; a scheme which lacks acceptable cycle infrastructure. As I say, I have FoI-ed some relevant information and will likely update with a more informed consideration in the future.

I can't be too mean, transport is a small industry after all, but as a resident, an engineer, and an all too occasional cyclist, this really is a big disappointment. I'd hoped for better.