The new Ipswich Road cycle lanes – a review

As we reported at the end of August, the new cycle lanes along Ipswich Road have been unveiled. Derek Williams looks at some of the serious safety issues

Safety issues on Ipswich Road – Video Derek

Background

We gave a summary of the cut-back Ipswich Road cycle lanes in a previous blog. Suffice to say that what had been offered as the first phase of a really useful scheme to provide cycle lanes all along Ipswich Road (giving hundreds of school kids and college students a safe cycle route) had been cut back to a barely useful rump of a scheme. This was all because the Town Close school objected, wanting to keep on-street parking bays for a handful of its parents doing the school run.

Now the schools and city college have gone back for the new academic year, we can see the problems, which are quite severe.

It’s fair to point out the project isn’t quite finished, there are wands to be installed, which will hopefully prevent some of the problems of drivers drifting into the cycle lanes, but how good they will be depends on how close together the wands are installed and how quickly they get replaced when they get knocked over.

The riding experience

It’s certainly “interesting”, mostly it’s not bad, especially outbound, but in places it’s downright terrifying, clearly dangerous and unfit for purpose.

A sunken manhole cover in the cycle lane, one of several – Photo Derek

There are several drains and manhole covers which are lower than the running surface, which most cyclists try to avoid and in so doing swerve around in the cycle lane. Because the traffic is confined to a narrow lane, cars are driving close to the cycle lane line, resulting in some very close passes. These depressed covers should have been seen to in the construction phase and they spoil what is otherwise quite a good, flat running surface.

The staff entrance to City College (note the driver correctly giving way before turning) – Photo Derek

The lane markings at junctions are pretty good, with well-positioned cycle logos to attract drivers’ attention.

However, the problem with this design is heavily dependent on drivers understanding the rules of the road and not cutting across the path of cyclists.

Pedestrian priority was promised on some side roads, which has been partially carried out but on others not at all.

Richard watches a driver park in the cycle lane – Photo Derek

The lanes are, perhaps predictably, used as a place to park by some drivers. This is a particular problem around the lay-by opposite the City College main entrance, but it’s not just there, we’ve witnessed a lorry delivering to the college and several people dropping off passengers.

The wands, when installed, should at least reduce these sort of cycle lane incursions.

The outbound lane

Ride-through of Ipswich Road outbound – Video Derek

Leaving the Grove Road junction, the cycle lane doesn’t start until you reach the pedestrian crossing just past Grove Avenue. For cyclists coming from the Orange Pedalway on the northern side, turning right at the Grove Road crossing, it works quite well as the traffic is held on a red light from both Grove Road and St Stephens Road. For cyclists coming from Grove Road or the city however, they have to ride in the traffic.

The narrow lane toward the college. Traffic passes close here, especially buses and lorries – Photo Derek

The first section of cycle lane is very narrow, just about the minimum of 1.5 metres. Cars pass very close here, also running in narrow traffic lanes. There is a 20mph speed limit, which some drivers obey. It was acknowledged during the consultation this might be a problem, the available width for the footpath, cycle lane and carriageway is very restricted. The situation has been made worse with the widening of the pavement, but there is very heavy foot traffic here with students making their way to the college, so that was justified. We have received some feedback about this already and it may be an issue we need to look at.

There are a couple of bus bays which interrupt the cycle lane, but again, we accept the space constraints.

Fairly soon the lane opens out to around 2 metres width and this feels nicer, but there is the problem of sunken drains and manhole covers, especially just before you reach the college.

At the point where the parking bays replace the inbound cycle lane on the other side of the road, traffic moving in our direction sometimes enters the cycle lane because inbound traffic drives over the centre line in an effort to give parked cars on the other side of the road enough space when passing. This is the first example of the danger caused by these bays.

The outbound lane finishes at a random point around the Lime Tree Avenue junction and you’re back in the traffic. Another scheme to get the cycle lanes over the ring road is somewhere on the “to do” list at County Hall. However, because of the parking bays on the inbound section, this will be of limited value.

Apart from the problem of traffic ingress, badly fitted drain covers and the narrow section, this is certainly an improvement. Riding on Ipswich Road was previously never a nice experience.

The inbound lane

Ride-through of Ipswich Road inbound – Video Derek

Leaving the ring road junction, you’re riding in the road. You then come to the car parking bays, which at the morning school dropping off time are generally full and contain a lot of SUVs. The bays are drawn for a normal car size and SUVs just don’t fit because they are too big, so they occupy some of the limited traffic lane.

The on-street parking bays where a cycle lane should be – Photo still from video

There is no legal alternative but to ride in the traffic, which in the morning is hellish. It’s important not to go too close to the parked cars because of the danger of doors opening.

If the traffic is really heavy and slow then it’s maybe not so bad if you don’t mind riding in nose to tail traffic, but if it’s heavy yet moving, there’s no alternative to riding in the centre of the lane and to delay the drivers behind. This will not be fun in the dark or in bad weather.

This section as you pass the on-street parking is not for the faint of heart, the word “terrifying” would seem reasonable and it is totally unfit for kids to use as a route to school. Ipswich Road is a very busy road and the idea of giving up so much road space to on-street parking is impossible to justify, it’s dangerous, but it’s also a waste of limited road space.

School kids avoiding riding in the dangerous traffic – Photo still from video

As may be expected, a large number of cyclists – and not only children – simply avoid riding on this section and take to the footpath as a safe alternative, and some ride contraflow in the outbound cycle lane.

Shortly after you reach Cecil Road – the road where the Hewett Academy is located and so the end of the section that would have been so useful to school kids – the cycle lane starts. This is just before the entrance to City College, meaning it’s of little use to college students either.

The lay-by where cyclists are forced to ride in the door strike zone – Photo still from video

At a point opposite the entrance to the college the cycle lane takes riders past a lay-by with no protective buffer between the bikes and the parked cars. Again there is the obvious danger of door strikes, which are more likely here than with the parking bays because cyclists will be riding in the bike lane which actually confines them in the door strike zone.

As we progress alongside the lay-by, the cycle lane gets narrower, meaning it gets even more dangerous. To make things even worse, cars frequently squeeze in at the end of the lay-by, parking on the double yellow lines and illegally blocking the cycle lane.

The only way to describe this is very dangerous. How this lay-by and the car parking bays passed a safety audit is hard to understand. This was the main issue we raised during the initial consultations.

Cars for the Town Close school entrance, blocking the road and the cycle lane – Photo still from video

Things improve as we ride past City College but at dropping off and collection times cars – with a large proportion being SUVs – queue to get into Town Close school. As might be expected, these also invade the cycle lane.

The lane ends just beyond the pedestrian crossing, and then starts again just a few metres later for the Grove Road junction.

Summary

The outbound lane is not without issues, but is not too bad overall, certainly an improvement on what was there previously.

The whole scheme will be improved greatly once the planned wands are installed, providing they aren’t placed in the cycle lane, there are enough of them and they get replaced quickly when they inevitably get knocked over.

But the inbound cycle lane is a disaster, it’s almost an object lesson in bad cycle infrastructure design. The parking bays should be removed and the cycle lane installed as per the original plan as a matter of urgency. Also the lay-by should at least be modified in some way to provide a buffer zone for cyclists.

The Town Close school needs to reconsider its traffic arrangements. It cannot be right that a school destroys an active travel scheme which would have benefitted hundreds of young people for the sake of a handful of parents doing the school run.

As it stands what’s left of the inbound arrangement is maybe of some use to a few commuters, but is pretty much useless for the vast majority of potential users. Worse, this present arrangement destroys the opportunity of creating the larger scheme for the rest of Ipswich Road out beyond the ring road.

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