Could UK first CYCLOPS junction be "slam dunk" for cycling?

First of new CYCLOPS junctions in Manchester is hoped to improve crossings for walking and cycling, and shorten wait times for drivers

A UK-first junction design that protects people cycling and walking, while improving journey times for those in cars, and potentially saving time and money building, could be a “game-changer” for UK cycling safety, according to those behind the scheme.

The Royce Road junction in Manchester, due to officially open on Thursday, is the UK’s first “CYCLOPS” design – similar to the traditional Dutch junction, where cyclists and pedestrians cross in parallel, only in reverse, with cyclists on the outside of the two tracks. This reduces pedestrian crossing distances, and therefore time that can be given back to drivers.

Active travel schemes often fall foul of UK road construction business case assessments, which value the time of drivers above all other road users – meaning any delay to cars is a “cost” against the scheme. By giving more time to motor traffic, the theory goes, such schemes are far likelier to be green lighted by councils.

Greater Manchester's Walking and Cycling Commissioner,  Chris Boardman, shared a ride-through of it on Twitter on Monday. Boardman said: “Our minimum design standard: 'must be usable by a competent 12yr old' the only way to ensure 'non-cyclists' will use it. Nowhere is this more important than at junctions. This Cyclops junction, a UK first, is one of more than 20 going in to deliver that”.

Boardman has called the design “frankly genius”, adding junctions are where most collisions occur, and tackling that risk is a top priority.

Brian Deegan, Boardman’s technical advisor, said: “If you have a junction with 60,000 cars you aren’t going to justify a scheme that takes time out for a few hundred cyclists and pedestrians, and that’s the way everywhere but a few boroughs in London work.”

“With CYCLOPS we are getting capacity wins for cars, which means the difference between it happening now, or after a 2.5-year battle. That’s why we think it is a game changer for safety. I wish we had come up with this 15 years ago.”

At a major junction on Lea Bridge Road in North London, there was a two-year battle for approval of a Dutch-style junction with cycling on the inside of pedestrians, because of predicted traffic delays, according to Deegan.

He believes because there is no “cost” to car traffic, CYCLOPS could cut junction approval times by 18 months, while saving 10% of junction budgets, and adding 5-10% capacity for cars. The first junction will tell its success or otherwise over the coming months.

A further 20 CYCLOPS junctions are on their way in Manchester, and more are being designed, with the first of around six in Bolton alone soon to be delivered as part of a bus scheme. Other UK councils, including Cambridge and Aberdeen, were apparently looking to install these junctions. Deegan argues, these junctions can be built as part of congestion-busting measures, and even from growth funding.

At crossings, pedestrians are calculated to walk at 1.2 metres per second (m/s). At a traditional UK junction, with a cycle lane of at least 1.5m each side, moving the cycle lane to the outside of pedestrians, giving a three to four metre reduction in crossing distance, means five or six extra seconds for motor traffic.

A CYCLOPS gives all pedestrians and cyclists simultaneous green lights, allowing them to make multiple crossings at once. Deegan believes the design also reduces the temptation for those on bikes to take short cuts across the middle, by positioning them back from the junction – with an Advanced Stop Line or ASL for cyclists who want to cross the junction with motor traffic.  

Other benefits include wider turning circles for cycle traffic, which is particularly useful for non-standard cycles, such as trikes and hand cycles, and cargo bikes. It also means those on bikes can filter left at junctions without waiting at traffic lights, and with the “left hook” risk eliminated.

The UK government recently told councils to be more ambitious in planning emergency infrastructure for walking and cycling.

Until the UK has “turning the corner” legislation, where turning traffic gives way to those, including pedestrians and cyclists, going straight, as in many European countries, this is the next best option, Deegan says. “If you want to spend big across the country here’s your win-win. You could throw out thousands of these and you completely transform the UK.”

“It’s an absolute slam dunk.”

Some have criticised the design as too complicated, compared with the Dutch design, but Deegan argues it’s simple to use – with no more crossings for pedestrians than in Dutch designs. He says pedestrians also have more space to wait between crossings with CYCLOPS.

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