One week after a “continental geometry roundabout” designed to protect cyclists opened in Cambridge, a 12-year-old boy was injured last Wednesday evening when he was knocked off his bike there in a hit-and-run incident. His mother claims the roundabout creates more danger for cyclists than the one it replaced.
The roundabout, which cost £413,000, was officially opened on Wednesday 8 October. It is aimed at improving the safety of cyclists with 16 reported road traffic incidents there, three of them resulting in serious injury, in the five years prior to Cambridgeshire County Council unveiling its plans last year.
Unlike roundabouts in the Netherlands which apparently helped provide the inspiration for it, there is no fully segregated bike lane on the perimeter. Instead, it has a shared use cycle and pedestrian path going around the outside.
Cambridge Cycling Campaign expressed a variety of reservations about the scheme during the consultation period.
It acknowledged however that the council had to work within the constraints of Department for Transport funding, and said it hoped the proposals would reflect “phase one” of a process that would in time lead to Dutch principles being fully adopted.
One local cyclist, Rad Wagon, also undertook a detailed critique of the plans on his blog.
Last Wednesday, a week after the roundabout opened, the 12-year-old boy, described as an experienced cyclist, sustained minor injuries and was left shaken after being hit by a car as he rode home from school, with the driver failing to stop, reports Cambridge News.
Located in the east of Cambridge, the roundabout is at the junction of Perne Road, a main route running north to south, and Radegund Road and Birdwood Road, an east to west route used by many cyclists travelling to and from the city centre.
It is also close to several schools, one a secondary school that has the highest level of cycling anywhere in the UK.
The boy’s mother, Melinda Rigby, who lives on Birdwood Road, told the website: “The recent change in layout of the roundabout has reduced the previously wide roundabout where cycle and motor traffic flowed well together to a narrow space where heavy motor traffic is tempted to squeeze onto the roundabout with cyclists, endangering lives.
“This is the second incident in as many weeks since this new layout has been finished that local residents are aware of. We are all very concerned for the safety of the Cambridge cycling community on this main cycle route out of the town centre.”
After describing how the motorist pulled out of Perne Road, “side-swiping” her son and “leaving him lying on the new cobbled centre injured,” she said the road should be widened, and that improved lighting and signage alerting drivers to the presence of cyclists should be installed.
She added: “If you are in a car and you’re not a cyclist, it’s a very different experience. Cyclists are very exposed and behind the wheel you get no sense of their vulnerability – and mortality.”
She’s far from the only concerned parent. Another, road.cc contributor Caroline Dodgson, has a 12-year-old daughter whose journey to school takes her through the roundabout every day.
She said: "At first, my daughter didn't even realise the route cyclists were supposed to follow as the tarmac wasn't coloured like the local bike paths.
“After hearing about the schoolboy injured this week, I rode down to the roundabout with her to assess the safest way to school. She finds it difficult to cross from the path to the island in the middle of the carriageway because of the speed of the cars coming off the roundabout.
“Cycles have to give way at three points to cross the roundabout from Birdwood Road to Radegund Road (the two arms of the roundabout which have schools on). They are then directed back into the flow of traffic coming off the roundabout rather than onto a bike path.
“Even as an experienced adult I found it difficult to judge the speed of the oncoming traffic and few cars signalled their intentions when exiting the roundabout. I've advised her that the safest thing to do is to walk to the pedestrian crossing further down the road and use that to cross.”
Caroline added: “I've done all I can as a parent – sent her on a Level 3 Bikeability course, ridden the route with her, but I still think the risk is too high. My thoughts are with the parent of the 12-year-old knocked down earlier in the week, and I hope it won't be my daughter or her classmates next time.”
Cambridgeshire County Council’s cycling champion, Noel Kavanagh, has defended the design of the roundabout, saying: “This unfortunate incident is an aberration, where you have got a driver who has committed a serious crime by not stopping. I’d say that is an indication of the type of driver we are talking about rather than any issues with the design.”
A spokesman for the county council added: “The previous layout resulted in a large number of accidents involving cyclists which is why the new changes were made and follows a continental style design to benefit riders.
“For the first time cyclists now have an option of riding separated from traffic and for those wishing to ride on the road the roundabout has been changed to slow traffic down.
“We have monitored, with colleagues from the Department for Transport, traffic flow and behaviour now that it is in use and will continue to do so.”
Designer says lack of segregated path "a deliberate decision"
Last week Mark Treasure, chair of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, published a blog post about the roundabout in which he addressed comments made about it by its designer, Alsadair Massie of consultants Peter Brett, who says he cycles “across it every day.”
Referring to the design, Mr Massie said: “The geometry is taken from Dutch guidance, although you will see some differences from the classic ‘Dutch’ roundabout.
“Most significantly there is no segregated cycle track around the perimeter. This was a deliberate decision,” he revealed. “We could have provided one, there is sufficient space if other elements were adjusted, but there is no off-carriageway infrastructure to link into and no prospect of providing any in the foreseeable future.”
He added: “There is a significant amount of pavement cycling at certain times of day, principally by school children. One of our aims was to make it safer for people to cross the roundabout using the footways, without actively encouraging footway cycling.
“We also wanted to make it easier to cross on foot, as the previous arrangement involved a 60m detour via a Pelican Crossing, with guardrails to prevent jay walking.”
John Stevenson, road.cc editor at large, lives on the east side of Cambridge and went to have a look at the roundabout today. Here’s his views on it.
The problem with Perne Road roundabout is that it's neither one thing nor another. In trying to make a somewhat-but-not-entirely Dutch facility, the council has created a confusing hodgepodge that has several serious flaws:
1 – It's unclear. Because the off-carriageway shared-use route is not a designated lane and therefore not coloured like just about every other cycleway in Cambridge, it's not instantly obvious where cyclists are supposed to go. That means that youngsters are being asked to make a series of decisions under pressure, something that research indicates young minds do poorly.
2 – Drivers don't know where cyclists are going to be. Because cyclists can either use the main carriageway or the shared-use, off-carriageway paths, drivers are expected to look for cyclists in a number of places at each arm of the roundabout, instead of just one.
3 – Rather than rejoining the carriageway into bike lanes or separated cycleways, cyclists using the off-carriageway option are guided back into the carriageway close to the roundabout, where drivers habitually accelerate to regain speed. Cyclists unexpectedly entering the carriageway is the major cause of driver/cyclist collisions where the rider is at fault, yet this conflict is baked into the design.
4 – Cyclists using the off-carriageway option have no priority. To cross to the islands on Perne Road in particular, this means long waits as drivers accelerate off the roundabout, even on a Sunday afternoon.
5 – The narrowed carriageway on the roundabout itself and its exits and entrances means that a mistake is more likely to lead to a collision than before. Lower speeds may mitigate the seriousness of such a collision, but Cambridgeshire County Council is wrong to say that Wednesday's crash is an "aberration" – such crashes are a consequence of the design. And surely protecting cyclists from "the type of driver we are talking about" is the purpose of a redesign intended to make a junction safer for cyclists.
We also observed a guide dog user trying to simply walk round one section of the roundabout who was clearly somewhat distressed that the pavement was putting her in the path of cyclists. As ever, shared use, particularly shared use with high levels of cycle use, is unpleasant for everyone.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.