Ambushed by a bus stop!

Look at this cyclist coasting down a smooth clear road in Sheffield, what could possibly be wrong?

Take care gentle reader, that cyclist is inches from disaster.I was cycling that way myself yesterday, heading for the big white building ahead, part of my place of work.  Seeing the bus stop layby  I decided to pull in right there.  I was doing around 10-12 mph towards the layby without a care and WHAM! I was on my back on the road, my bike was a metre away and I had bruises down my left side, a smashed wristwatch and dented pride. A cluster of Chinese students expressed concern and were obviously bemused that this old bloke could just fall off his bike in the middle of a dry empty road with clear visibility.

Here’s the culprit

Those neat edging stones dividing the layby from the road are just high enough to catch your front wheel if you approach at an oblique angle and flick the wheel away from under you.

I know all about tramlines (had a couple of accidents with those despite being very cautious whenever I am near one) but I’ve never had a problem with a layby before. You can see that the edge of the stones is quite indistinct, flowing into the top surface compared to the very obvious side and top of the kerbstones behind. When approaching this layby I had no sense that there was a significant step and I suppose I trust road engineers to construct a new urban road like this with safe surfaces and interfaces. The texture of the concrete does a good job of visually concealing the shape of the edge as you can see here:

Approaching that at speed, by the time I could see there might be a problem it was too late.

And why? There seems to no reason to have this feature, except maybe to look neat and tidy. There’s another bus stop a short distance further down the road that doesn’t have the cunning cyclists’ ambush, as you can see here.

I think what makes me upset is that the road builders have a huge catalogue of standards designed to ensure that motor vehicles are safe and can proceed smoothly, but there appears to be no similar concern about cyclists. Dangerously narrow cycle lanes, unfeasible intersections, fragmented routes,  traffic signals controlled by vehicle weight, repeated exhortations to dismount (Try telling motorists that they all have to get out of the car at every junction). We surely have a long way to go.

So watch out, that bus stop might be out to get you.

Postscript 17 August 2010
I emailed a senior planner at Sheffield Council, somebody who had responded when I contacted them about a  problem with the Sheffield Cycle Map. However I received no reply. You may notice that when I have posted criticism of companies here and told them about it they have been quick to respond and usually positive and helpful. It’s a shame that local authorities have not learned from industry how to deal with criticism, a short apology and promise to look into it is often all that’s needed.

6 Responses to “Ambushed by a bus stop!”

  1. Becky Says:

    City of Edinburgh Council’s Streetscape team (or department, or policy, or whatever) quietly slipped in the requirement, at the newly constructed tram stop on Princes Street, for cobbles across the full width of the tram lane for the entire length of the stop. Of course, SPOKES has been lobbying hard for two years to have cyclists’ interests factored into the planning process but Streetscape cheerfully ignored it all. Immediately prior to this tram stop, heading west, is the Royal Scottish Academy building which narrows the road from two to one lane; and Princes Street is extremely well trafficked by buses. So not only do Edinburgh’s cyclists have to concentrate on not getting squished by buses, they now have to avoid oblique crossings of tram rails and traverse (or indeed, cross obliquely onto, or off) 30 metres of cobbles. One rider recently crashed on the rails, and ended up costing him about £150 in damaged clothing and bike, plus cuts and bruises.

    What can we, the cyclists, do about it? Can claims for damages be upheld? Where does one draw the line between what might be described in Formula One as ‘a racing incident’, and a genuine fault of the road by design?

  2. Dave H Says:

    This is the least understood and most dangerous detail in road surface specification that affects 2 wheel road users.

    It represents a high risk detail on level crossings which Network Rail and other operators completely fail to recognise although the Railway inspectorate does have some measures to mitigate this prompted by cyclists during the work for NET (Nottingham) – rails when new should be + 0mm to – 6mm relative to the abutting road surface. Cobbles do not need to be a hazard – we have a flush setted street in Glasgow laid with genuinely tight joints on a properly prepared bed (puddle clay or cold tar) – Cockburn Street in Edinburgh used to be equally good until someone daft had the old flat topped and tight laid setts ripped out and relaid in cod-heritage cobbles (I used to do Nicholson Sq to Waverley Station in 3 minutes by bike before the cobbles were put wrong). The lack of expertise in this exercise was confirmed by the way the High Street/Bridges cross roads was relaid at first by setts along the direction of traffic and then had to get the original pattern of 4 sectors laid with a bond at 45 degrees – the correct way to lay setts and cobbles at a junction.

    Laying FLAT TOP setts around street ironwork is a very good way to deliver the transition between a large and rigid surface and the very flexible tarmac. Examples on the A10 Kingsland Road (LB Hackney) show how the discrete elements of the stone setts can settle slightly but the differences between each of them and then the steel edge are all small – unlike the general pattern of tarmac breaking away from the steel and sinking to deliver a large and dangerous edge. It therefore makes good sense to lay a course or two of flat top setts either side of the tram lines BUT IT MUST BE WITH TIGHT JOINTS, GENUINELY FLAT ON TOP AND ON A PROPER CLAY OR TAR BED to form a seal and deal with settlement.

    It presents a key factor in the figures such as those uncovered by a review of cycle crashes in Southampton – a third of cyclists crashing fell when travelling from carriageway to footway or off road cycle route – the dropped kerbs failure to be flush and the conflict here between a height difference detected by a blind pedestrian and a step high enough to bring down a cyclist. Other very dangerous vertical misalignments arise where thermoplastic road markings are laid – often with enhanced thickness, and repaired trenches have edge joints sealed with tar banding AND are misaligned vertically. Tar Banding can be like ice when wet, and the regulations set a limit of 2 inches as the width – but this is often exceeded.

    Please spread the word for this UK survey – potentially to deliver an official figure for under-reported crash injuries and to highlight the true nature of common cycling injuries and their causes (I suspect that broken collar bones and wrists will dominate with very few bonce bumps , and we may well see a UK confirmation of Canadian figures – that there are between 4 and 8 times as many crashes.

    Please use the link to visit and fill in the short survey to help with this survey.

  3. Bert Says:

    My Girlfriend got sucked in by a highway expansion joint, very similar to what happened here. She got banged up a bit but did not break anything.

    She was on a small wheel Brompton folding bike but think it would have happened on another bike too. You have to have eyes like a hawk and then watch traffic too… I guess its just a matter of time until one goes down.

    Bert, folding bike enthusiast

  4. Gareth Says:

    Sorry to hear about this Chris.

    I can only assume that, since there are no tram routes nearby, the powers that be decided a hazard free surface would lead to a false sense of security for cyclists and addressed the issue with customary care and attention.

  5. Sean Evans Says:

    Hmmm, this is the reason why I use a lage aluminium mountain bike with 2 inch dual purpose tyres for my urban cycling. I can bail out and use grass, mud and cobbles if the situation arises. Skinny tyres = early death!

  6. chrisrust Says:

    Fair enough, but I use the “one bike to ride them all” policy. The Brompton is such fun to ride, has so many practical features for urban/business cycling and is so convenient sitting by the front door that, like a lot of Brompton owners, I probably do twice the mileage I used to do with my old hybrid bike. And beware of giving planners an excuse for substandard provision, “but you cyclists all have full-suspension these days and love all that rough stuff don’t you?”

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