As a result of the pandemic and the need to increase the accessability, attractiveness, and take-up of cycling, the government announced last year that money would be released under an Emergency Active Travel Fund to enable the rapid creation of pop-up cycle infrastructure – quick and dirty, but safe routes for cycling. One of these projects is a short route connecting Coventry’s Canal Basin and the city centre, destinations that are separated by the presence of a large ring-road and which until now have only been “accessible” via a no-cycling, narrow footbridge. It may have taken me some time to get around to looking at the route, but this week I finally got a chance to try out the new connection.
The above video shows the route in both directions. Starting from the Canal Basin, we have a newly widened, surfaced, and marked, off-road bidirectional shared-use space. After just 60 metres, the route crosses the access road for Wickes and then enters into the main carriageway, taking over one former motor vehicle lane, buffered by wands, and becoming physically separated from the pedestrian footpath. The route then uses existing pedestrian crossings and an underpass to cross the ring-road and its slip roads before continuing in another temporary separated fashion taking over a former traffic buffer zone on Upper Well Street for about 65m, before it terminates at the junction with Lamb Street.
You can see an overview of the area on Google Maps, and some Street View images also show the newly installed facility.
The new connection is incredibly useful to join up the Canal Basin and city centre. The former is the southern termination point for the northern section of National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 52 which runs along the canal towpath and makes for a useable leisure route into Coventry. However, until now, bridging the barrier that is the ring-road has been difficult, only safely possible using the footbridge which does not permit cycling, is slow to cross, and is likely to pose access issues for some riders. The new route means cyclists can continue their journey easily and in reasonable safety, making the crossing comparatively quickly. That’s not to say it’s without issues, but with the pop-up facility being quickly installed and mostly of a temporary nature, I’m quite forgiving of it and I don’t think it’s fair to be overly critical in its current form.
Having said that, I would like to see a permanent facility installed, and in that case, there are issues that need resolving (and which for the most part shouldn’t be insurmountable). So, let’s take a look at what can be improved.
Issue 1 – Space
One issue to look at here is space. There are constraints which make providing a suitable width difficult, particularly on the northern access road where what was formerly two motor traffic lanes occupied under 6m of space. With the removal of the outer of those lanes, the remaining lane still needs to maintain a minimum width (not less than 3m) meaning under 3m of space became available for the cycle lane. This is below the minimum standard required of 1.5m per direction.
Space is also a bit of a problem on the southern side of the route connecting with Upper Well Street, where the connection by the pedestrian crossing feels very limited in width, compounded during my visit by a fallen sign. It widens out by the end near Lamb Street however, where it feels much more comfortable.
If this route becomes permanent, I would like to see this addressed as far as possible in order to achieve the minimum acceptable width for the entirety of the route. On the northern edge, space is difficult to find whilst maintaining minimum acceptable widths for all users. Therefore, I’d suggest a very light separation between the cycleway and a 1.5m footway using forgiving, gentle kerbing between the two and a colour differentiator – or even having it completely level between the two users, with only the differing colour used to mark out the cycling space. That way, in the event that pedestrians need to move off the footway due to occasional congestion (e.g., two wheelchair or mobility scooter users approaching each other), one can use the cycle path.
This is a compromise solution, of course, and not ideal for either user, but it’s an option that would perhaps work for a fairly low traffic, short walking and cycling route. It should also allow for the installation of a more substantial barrier between the cycle lane and the main carriageway of maybe 0.5m.
The buffer is important for the perception and actual safety of people cycling against traffic which can be intimidating, particularly with larger vehicles, despite what should be fairly low speeds – you can see from my video that I tended to ride near to the central dividing line when traffic was present. I was a little concerned to see a number of missing wands in the temporary installation. I don’t know, but I do wonder if these have been hit by drivers. If that’s the case, it doesn’t shout safety for the cyclists using the route!
Issue 2 – Signage, Ongoing Route-finding, and Access
As it stands, navigation to and from the existing pop-up route is poor on the city centre side. When arriving in Coventry, having crossed the ring-road and approaching the end of the pop-up route, I wasn’t clear on where to go next. As it happens, I took a left on to Lamb Street, but what I didn’t realise was that actually heading straight on would have been better for my destination. Looking back at the video, it’s clear that to proceed straight on, I would have needed to move significantly out to the right into the main traffic lane. Ideally the route would have taken me straight on cutting through the extended pavement, passing to the side of the car park information sign.
On the return journey, I attempted to pick up the cycle lane from Upper Well Street but struggled. I could see the lane but no way to get there. I ended up bumping over a central reservation to get to the separated route – not an ideal solution, nor one available for all riders. Again, looking back at the video, the only option I can see other than what I did would have been to use the space before the central reservation as a right-turn lane – but this isn’t marked for such a purpose, and indeed is intended for traffic turning right from the opposite direction, and so has the potential to put a rider into head-on conflict with other road users.
Issue 3 – Signal Controls
The controls to activate the crossing signals are not currently accessible, with no activation button reachable by a cyclist travelling into the city crossing the north side slip road. I did want to be quite forgiving of this given the pop-up nature of the infrastructure, but it is clear that an existing pedestrian crossing pole has been relocated into the carriageway yet nothing has been provided for cyclists. The same issue is present for crossing the south side slip road when travelling back towards the Canal Basin – the beg button is simply not accessible. This is a major oversight.
At my time of visiting, I was fortunate that when travelling in both directions traffic was light and I had no need to activate the crossing, being able to safely move across during a gap in traffic. However, had this not been the case, reaching that activation button (the “beg button”) would have been difficult whilst being mindful not to edge my front wheel into the carriageway. Users of other “non-standard” cycles may find reaching the button impossible.
The ideal solution here is to have automatic activation where approaching cycles are detected without the need to press a button. This gives the best experience for riders, particularly if detection is early enough that a green signal can be given by the time the rider reaches the crossing, avoiding the need to stop.
Issue 4 – The Wickes Access Road
This is perhaps a smaller issue than those above. The DIY store, Wickes, is located on the corner between the ring-road and Radford Road to the north. It has a one-way system for its grounds with the entrance being from the ring-road side, exiting on to Radford Road. This means that cyclists and pedestrians using the new route must cross the access road which could have vehicles turning into it – not so bad for cycling into the city where riders are face-on to traffic and should clearly see drivers who are about to turn, but more awkward for travelling in the opposite direction which requires a shoulder check while travelling uphill in a fairly narrow space.
I would like to see a reconfiguration of the Wickes access so that it is either reversed, where vehicles enter from Radford Road and exit via the ring-road, or that both entrance and exit is via the Radford Road junction. I’d suggest the former is the most preferable though, to account for easy movement of large goods vehicles through the site. By reversing the flow of traffic, it makes it much easier for cyclists (and pedestrians) travelling in either direction to see vehicles using the exit junction, and for drivers to identify those vulnerable road users and to give way to them.
There are a couple of problems with this plan – it would mean the need to redesign the Radford Road junction, to re-angle it to accept vehicles entering rather than exiting the site; and should protected, separated cycling ever come to Radford Road, then there would be a similar issue with how to handle that junction. However, that latter point is an issue for another time, should a scheme ever develop there.
Again, I want to stress the point that for the most part I’m not being too critical of the current pop-up infrastructure itself. This was put in quickly using mostly temporary measures as a way to improve cycle access to and from the city centre. There is a point to be made about making sure such routes can be safely navigated (particularly thinking about activating the crossings), but otherwise this is a useful temporary facility. I hope that it can be made permanent, and if so, the above issues are some obvious points that I’ve noted after one visit (two uses) which I think should be addressed to create the best possible route given the physical constraints of the location.
If the route created by the temporary infrastructure is not made permanent, a suitable high-quality alternative really must be provided to create that link between the Canal Basin and the city centre. Having now experienced a largely friction-free crossing of the ring-road, I really don’t want to have to return to using that footbridge!