Creating Conflict in Sheffield

Planners set up conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians

I’ve been very critical about some of the very poor investments that my city, Sheffield, has made in cycle facilities so you might think that when they create a long section of wide, well-surfaced separate cycle track alongside the city’s inner ring road, giving access to important buildings including the railway station I would be very pleased.

Sadly it’s a mixed blessing and while the cycle track has done some good, weak insensitive design has created new problems and put cyclists into conflict with pedestrians, just the thing that a separate cycle track should avoid.

In the photo above, the track is  the pink paving, with lots of separate space for pedestrians on the cream coloured paving alongside. We’ll ignore (for today) the slight problem that there is no signage to tell pedestrians which bit is which, at least there is plenty of room for all. But here’s the pinch point:

Very large numbers of people use the pedestrian crossing from the station on the left to head towards the university and city centre on the right, the track and footpath are narrower. But the big problem is that cyclists don’t have a place in the planners’ traffic-light scheme. This next photo shows what happens when the motor traffic is stopped by a red light:

Pedestrians crossing the road are walking across the cycle path, oblivious to the possibility that cyclists might be coming, you can see that in the  body language of the couple walking towards us.

Then the lights change and pedestrians have to wait:

And of course they wait in the most obvious place, on the cycle track, while more pedestrians are emerging from behind the hoarding on the left (An empty site that might be built on one day). When the lights change again a new danger is apparent:

People are setting out across the lights leaving a space on the left where a cyclist can pass, but frequently people coming from the hidden area on the left will notice that the light has changed and run to cross the road (I’ve done it often myself). There’s a strong chance that they might emerge suddenly from the left just as a cyclist crosses their path. So that’s an accident waiting to happen.

The problem seems to be that planners don’t see cyclists as traffic but as a tricky kind of pedestrian. If the cycletrack was thought of as part of the road rather than part of the footway, separate but similar like a bus lane, then it could be included in the traffic light scheme and cyclists could flow past when the cars were flowing. If the plan was to keep the cyclists firmly apart from the road then the track would have to be routed to allow a proper place for pedestrians to wait and cross the road. As it is neither happens, planners seem unaware that cycling as transport doesn’t work if cyclists have to behave like pedestrians half the time, and schemes like this develop dangers for all and potential for antagonism between two groups who are equally victims of our obsession with the car.

Incidentally, the photos were taken during the day so a higher proportion of older people. During the commuter peaks times there is a larger number of people, many in a hurry and they are of working age

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16 Responses to “Creating Conflict in Sheffield”

  1. caroline Says:

    I feel really ignorent :) because I never realised, the pavement was in 2 lanes!!

    I mean I don’t cycle in town……one day maybe? But as a pedestrian, I just never knew!!

  2. chrisrust Says:

    That’s the point Caroline, if the City Council don’t design it so that pedestrians understand what it is, why should you or anybody else notice? There is one of those walker/cyclist split signs a bit further on but it’s fixed to a convenient post about 15 metres away from the actual path. Sometimes I think they are just having a laugh because I hate to think that people can be so stupid.

  3. Andy in Germany Says:

    I appreciate we’re alking about the UK here, but here’s a thought:

    Wouldn’t it be a fairly simple matter to extend the crossing over the cycle lane? The city could paint the white line across the cycle lane, then add another white line between cycle lane and the pedestrian path, perhaps with a couple of bicycles painted on the cycle lane side as a hint. Hey presto, conflict gone.

    Well, it works here, but what do we know?

    By the way, before you siggest this it may be worth asking your town ‘planner’ why the lane as built in the first place. If it’s there to help cyclists, great, if it’s there so Sheffield can claim ‘XXX cycle lanes built last year’ in glossy brochures and look good, then you’ve just saved five minutes of arguing…

  4. chrisrust Says:

    Thanks Andy, I think the point is that there are many strategies, such as the one you describe, but the highway engineers are oblivious to the need. Actually there is a kind of theoretical routing of the cycleway to pass behind the waiting pedestrians but it’s only apparent to a very alert person prepared to study the rather abstract arrangement of different coloured paving stones and it’s more a graphical concept (like the schematic London Tube map) than an actual path that invites you to follow it. My view is that they should have put the lights between the cycle path and the footpath, so cyclists stop and start with the motor traffic, effectively the same plan as yours, but it’s rather too late for that. Also I suspect in Germany, from anecdotal evidence I heard recently, people actually pay attention to white lines and stuff, in Britain we need something more in your face.

  5. Gareth Says:

    Very clear exposition of the problem Chris. There is another problem with this particular stretch of cycle route – if you are arriving at Sheffield Station for the first time you would not know it is there – so would be quite likely to head into the city along the pavement on the other side of the road.

  6. SimonG (@wildnorthlands) Says:

    Isn’t the real problem that there is a hoarding limiting the amount of space available for both pedestrians and cyclists? The land behind it belongs to Sheffield Hallam University I believe.

  7. chrisrust Says:

    That’s clearly a big contributing factor although it doesn’t make it less bad to design a cycleway that is bound to cut through the pedestrian waiting area at crossings.

    I’m pretty sure that the site (formerly Sheffield Hallam University Students’ Union) now belongs to the City Council or a developer and was earmarked for a possible hotel. At the time the site changed hands and changed use it should have been possible for the planners to assess the implications and, for example, retain some space temporarily or permanently to deal with the footpath/cycleway problem as well as addressing that problem in any approval for future build. When the old building was demolished it would have been possible to re-align the hoarding and create some temporary paving.

    Similar problem over the road in the station, there’s a huge vacant site adjacent to the inadequate area for taxis and cars to drop off and pick up people. No reason not to use part of that site to ensure adequate space for vehicles but the planners didn’t predict the problem (horrible traffic queues to get into the station) and didn’t deal with it when it happened.

  8. Cllr Ian Auckland Says:

    I was forwarded this blog-post and as a local councillor asked to respond, which I’m happy to do. I have spoken to Council highways officers about this specific issue and they have conceded that the arrangement at the bottom crossing on Sheaf St is not ideal. At the super crossing on Sheaf Street from Howard Street to Sheffield Station, the cyclists are taken around the back of the crossing where there is more room. As you may be aware there is redevelopment planned of the Sheffield Hallam University site at this location and when this happens there may be the potential to design something similar at the bottom crossing. Council officers have also indicated that signs and cycle symbols could be improved. Rest assured I will continue to press on this issue.

    Cllr Ian Auckland
    Lib Dem Spokesman for Environment & Transport

  9. chrisrust Says:

    Thank you Ian, it’s really gratifying to see our councillors taking an interest in this. Any more of this sort of behaviour and I might have to find somebody else to whinge about.

  10. Gareth Says:

    As someone who uses this cycle route and crossing daily on my way to the station to get to work I am encouraged by Ian’s response.

  11. Simon Geller Says:

    I had a further thought about this which was that when the crossing was put in, it was as a route to the station rather than as part of the cycle ring route. At the time the thinking was that the ring route would go along Pond St to Shude Hill, but that was subject to the re-development of the Post Office paying for it, which hasn’t happened.(I think all that’s needed is a couple of dropped pavements on the pedestrian area underneath the Commercial St bridge, but apparently the council are worried about conflicts with people parking their cars on Pond St) It was also thought that pedestrian movements across this crossing would be relatively light, and that hasn’t happened either.

    It doesn’t excuse it but perhaps explains the lack of joined-up thinking. In the meantime you can go Pond St>>Harmer Lane and avoid the area.

    It was something we were consulted on when the station area was being developed and we didn’t spot it – mind you it wasn’t clear at the time whether the cycle lane was going to be on or off-road. ON balance I’m glad it was taken off-road as the on-road lanes on the Northern Inner Relief Rd for example aren’t working.

  12. chrisrust Says:

    >It was also thought that pedestrian movements across this crossing would be relatively light, and that hasn’t happened either.
    Hmm, it only goes to the Bus Station, Hallam University and the North side of the city centre including the Law Courts.
    Actually, even if you aren’t going to the university, rather than climbing up Howard Street pedestrians can walk up through the university, taking two lifts to get from level 1 (Station) to Level 5 (Arundel Gate) then up the escalators in the Millenium Gallery to the city centre without much effort. Should be promoted as a route for the short of breath and challenged of knee to compensate for the proper easy access route they could have built up Howard Street..

    >ON balance I’m glad it was taken off-road as the on-road lanes on the Northern Inner Relief Rd for example aren’t working.
    A agree about that, I guess it all points to a solution neither on or off road but definitely on the road side of the lights.

  13. Simon Geller Says:

    The overall strategy has been to create shared spaces where cyclists and pedestrians can mingle without conflict. That works fine as long as you do have lots of space (see Barkers Pool) – when you get pinch points it starts to break down. Unfortunately the planners stopped short of making Sheaf Sq a shared space, although this is effectively what it has become since the harrassadors were told to back off.

    A short term “quick win” here would be to ask Hallam to create a permissive right of way, move the hoardings back and put some temporary paving down to create more space. That could be achieved by members of Hallam staff putting pressure on their Estates dept….

    I’m not sure that the Hallam lifts are a public right of way, and it’s much better for you to walk up Howard St anyway. Can you take bikes in the lifts? ;)

  14. chrisrust Says:

    Thanks for that Simon, it’s great to have an audit trail and an opportunity to reflect on the planning process.

    “A short term “quick win” here would be to ask Hallam to create a permissive right of way,”
    As I mentioned before, I think that site is no longer part of the University but I’ll check. I’ve just had a look from an upstairs window and the land immediately behind the hoarding is level.

    “I’m not sure that the Hallam lifts are a public right of way, and it’s much better for you to walk up Howard St anyway.”
    I’m guilty of putting off my cycling hat and thinking about the people walking up from the station (irresponsible of me I know :o). If they have any sort of disability that inhibits their walking (and many do) it would be a real help to have some lifts or escalators to get them up that big hill. University staff take it for granted that they can do that.

  15. Simon Geller Says:

    If I was the Estates dept (which thank God I’m not) I’d be worried that encouraging people to use their lifts would lead to overcrowding and perhaps a security risk (those lifts are pretty busy anyway) Still it’s worth asking them I should think.

  16. Simon Geller Says:

    This is how they solved the problem at Westbahnhof, Vienna –
    first the stoplight for peds, then the cycle lane, then the road.

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