Major roadworks have been underway in Brighton, along the route that I take from the city centre to my workplace at the Falmer campus of the University of Sussex, for about four months from mid-August until just recently. These works are to do with “improvements” to the Vogue Gyratory system, a complex junction involving the main road between Brighton and Lewes (the A270/A27 Lewes Road) and three other roads: Bear Road, Hollingdean Road and Upper Lewes Road.
Here is a plan showing the effect of the work, which you can click on to enlarge:
The aims of this scheme are apparently to improve traffic flow through the junction, and to make it safer for cyclists. The latter objective is addressed by changing the bus stop which was originally just outside Sainsbury’s (to the left of the plan) into a “floating” stop and putting a cycle lane behind it.
These floating bus stops have been deployed further up the Lewes Road to good effect; cycles pass behind the bus stop so there is no need for them to attempt to overtake buses which have stopped and no need for buses to wait for cyclists passing the stop before pulling in to pick up passengers. The only problem is that pedestrians have to cross the cycle laneto get to the bus stop, and they sometimes do so without paying sufficient attention. There has therefore been an occasional collision between people on foot and people on bikes. Nevertheless these floating stops have largely been successful and I think are a good idea from Brighton and Hove City Council. This is no doubt why they decided to apply the same principle to the bus stop in the Vogue Gyratory.
Unfortunately, the new scheme is not safer for cyclists at all. In fact it’s a death trap. Don’t take my word for it: on one day last week there were three accidents as a direct result of the changes and another just hours later. These incidents were all caused by the introduction of a hidden kerb at the edge of the cycle lane. All four victims fell off their bikes and could easily have been killed by motor traffic as a result.
The hidden kerb is clearly a piece of idiocy, but can perhaps be easily fixed. But there is a far greater danger lurking in the new system. Imagine you are in a car, entering the gyratory from the southern end (bottom left of the plan) and intending to exit up Hollingdean Road (near the top). If a bus has stopped at the floating bus stop it will completely hide the cycle lane and cyclists on it until the car has passed the stop. However, almost immediately after the stop a car wishing to take an exit left has to cross the, totally unprotected, cycle lane. There are no signs to warn motorists to beware of cyclists coming from their left, no barriers and no lights. This is what traffic planners call a “point of conflict” and the current design of the junction makes this a potentially lethal one, which is exacerbated by the “improved traffic flow” through through the junction, which means that cars often travel at quite high speeds along the main carriageway. A serious accident, possibly even a fatality is just a matter of time.
People have suggested that car drivers should know where cyclists are likely to be, but what about a driver who is using the junction for the first time? You can’t expect motorists to be psychic.
So what can be done? It’s hard to see how such a basic design flaw can be fixed without rebuilding the entire junction, but two immediate steps must be taken before somebody dies. The first is to reduce the speed limit for all vehicles through the junction to 5 mph. That may just give drivers the time to notice cyclists immediately to their left. The second is to introduce much more obvious warnings. The problem with the second of these is where to position the required signs. There’s no point placing them on the island forming the floating bus stop because they would be hidden too. Perhaps there could be overhead signs?
But the best advice I can give cyclists in the meantime is to follow the warning given by this lady on Twitter:
The disruption that the Vogue Gyratory roadworks have caused has been horrendous: four months of almost continuous gridlock and the time taken for my daily trip to work almost doubled. This is in itself shows a disgraceful failure of planning. The area is not primarily residential, so they should have worked at weekends and possibly even round-the-clock to mitigate the impact. I’ve been completely exasperated on a number of occasions as the bus I was on inched up the Lewes Road tailback only to enter the Gyratory and find no work at all going on. I don’t think there was a proper estimate of the disruption the works would cause nor was any reasonable plan made to mitigate it.
Now we find out that all this agony will have to be repeated in order to put right what should have been obvious to the planners, especially the failure to recognize the poor visibility of cyclists through the gyratory. There should really be a public inquiry about this fiasco, but I think that will only happen if there is a serious accident. If that does occur, then the relevant employees Brighton and Hove City Council should be facing charges of criminal negligence or even manslaughter.