In my previous post What Leicester City Council and Sainsbury’s could have done (1) I took a minimalist approach to providing a safe infrastructure for the Melton Road junction with Troon Way/Watermead Way at the site of the new Sainsbury’s. Now I want to take a little more radical approach.
Both Sainsburys and Leicester City Council make bold claims for their political support for the environment and for carbon reduction.
Sainsbury’s on the environment
Let us imagine the sort of design that would fit with a Supermarket chain that claims the following:
At Sainsbury’s, respecting the environment is about doing the right thing. We aim to be the UK’s greenest grocer, which is great for our business but even better for the environment.
For us, retailing is about more than quality products and great service. It’s also about supporting and helping the communities where we work, and being a good neighbour. We aim for our stores to be at the heart of the communities they serve
Further more, let us imagine they wish to build a flagship store that is their most environmentally efficient:
Sainsbury’s new supermarket in Leicester is one of two ‘Triple Zero’ stores the retailer has just opened. It is Sainsbury’s most environmentally friendly store to date and uses the very latest technologies available to complement its industry-leading standard specification.
Neil Sachdev, Sainsbury’s Property Director, said: “We aim to be the UK’s Greenest Grocer and achieve our 20×20 target to reduce our operational carbon emissions by 30 per cent absolute. To do this we’re now building and running highly sustainable, low carbon stores.
Such a store would of course take into account the environmental impact of it’s customers travelling to and from the site, sadly though all their public messages about the environment ignore transport, it is the elephant in the supermarket.
Of course if you want to build a very environment friendly superstore it helps to do it in an environment friendly city, so let us consider Leicester City.
Leicester City on the Environment
Leicester makes bold claims:
Setting sensible targets
So with a Supermarket chain and City both committed to a sustainable and low carbon environment, to the local community and to healthy and active travel, what might they do for transport at a site with 1,000’s of homes within a couple of miles, a site at a major junction where there is a lot of congestion and which is at the junction of key routes into and around the city.
- They would presumably have targets for the percentage of staff walking, cycling or using public transport to get to work. They would do all they could to encourage this to reduce congestion, reduce car parking needs and increase the health, wealth and productivity of their staff.
- They would presumably have targets for the percentage of customers walking, cycling or using public transport to get to and from their store. They would prioritise access to the store for these customers recognising that by doing so they benefit the local community by reducing congestion, pollution and health care costs.
- They would presumably recognise how key the junction next to the store was for access into and around the city. They would note that it is the most direct route into the city for the communities of Thurmaston and Syston (and beyond). They would note that alternative cycling and walking routes into the city are far less direct and are through unlit parkland that is on the flood plain and thus inaccessible at night and when flooded. They would note that the crossing of the river Soar from the junction is one of the few that does not flood (the next nearest to the North is the A46 which is 3 miles away, to the south it is Loughborough Road 1.4 miles away) and so is important for cyclists and pedestrians.
- They would note how close schools were to the site and the safety issues that come from having an attractive supermarket across a busy road from schools.
Noting all these things creating safe, attractive and convenient walking, cycling and public transport routes to, from and past the Supermarket would be of the highest priority.
Designing the transport links
The roads by this site are all very busy. For example the Melton Road is a dual carriageway that has 5 lanes heading south into this junction. Troon Way has 4 lanes heading east into the junction. There are frequent tailbacks on all 4 arms of the junction.
The London Cycling Campaign has helpfully adopted a simple formula for when cyclists should be provided with high quality protected space. If speeds exceed 20mph (based on 85th percentile actual speeds not the speed limit) or 2,000 PCUs per day (passenger car units, a weighted measure see this pdf for more detail. Here is a bit more detail. The London Cycling Campaign claim this is similar to Dutch requirements although it seems to me that theirs are more finely grained and consistently applied which no British standard relating to safe cycling infrastructure has been. See the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain for some analysis of Dutch standards.
However, every road at this junction way exceeds both the 20mph speed limit and the 2,000 pcu per day measure. The suggestion from a City Council officer I met at the safety audit that cyclists heading out of the city should ride on the dual carriage way shows a worrying lack of interest or understanding of safety for people on bikes.
So, idiot engineers from the City Council aside, it is clear that this junction should have fully protected cycle infrastructure on every arm. Consider the map
If Sainsbury’s and Leicester City were serious about their environmental policies then they would be looking at making the following cycle journeys safe and convenient:
- North/South along Melton Road A607 to provide good access in and out of Leicester (especially for the Golden Mile) for people in Thurmaston/Syston (and the villages beyond). Also to the Rushey Mead Secondary school on the Melton Road.
- East/West along Watermead Way/Troon Way A563. This is a critical east/west connection for cyclists, especially at night and in winter when many will not want or be able to cross the river Soar in Watermead Park. It provides critical connections between work places, hospitals and residential areas
- North/South to East/West due to the strategic crossing of the Soar and the direct route of the Melton Road there are many routes that will turn at this junction. For example from Syston to Glenfield Hospital is from North to West. Syston to the General Hospital is North to East.
- Local Routes to Sainsbury’s. The closest homes are behind the store in Thurmaston and across Troon Way. However, access from Melton Road (North and South) as well as Watermead Way (Birstall is from 1 mile away) will also be popular.
- In the summer connections into Watermead Park and the Sustrans route along the River Soar would probably be popular for people who are less confident cyclists.
With roads as busy as these I believe that grade based segregation is the best solution. Toucan crossings are slow and inconvenient. In the UK these are never very responsive to the needs of pedestrians and cyclists due to the focus on maximising motorised traffic flows. Nor do they provide attractive options that encourage school children to cycle (especially they do not encourage parents to allow their children to cycle to school).
However, the UK also has a very poor history when it comes to the design of grade separated segregation. We build subways that feel dangerous and which flood. We build bridges that are eyesores as well as narrow with long detours on the steep ramps. There are examples close to Sainsbury’s and they are frequently ignored by pedestrians and cyclists like this:
The Dutch do things differently and the best recent example is the Hovenring at Eindhoven that I rode over this summer. (although Mark also mentions a somewhat similar roundabout in Norway).
Note how the Dutch solution is attractive (no more than that, beautiful)!
Not only is it beautiful it also feels very safe. The ramps are gentle and wide, for the most part with grass banks rather than railings. The roundabout gives you a choice of directions so you can avoid other people to feel safe. There is great visibility from all directions and the road which also makes you feel safer.
There are other practical advantages to the Hovenring, installation was quick as large segments were simply lifted into place. Cyclists and pedestrians never have to wait and never delay motorised vehicles. Maintenance is easy as the Hovenring is wide enough and strong enough for normal maintenance vehicles to drive on it.
Imagine how Sainsbury’s could have used this in their publicity and as a sign of where their most environmentally friendly store was. What a great gateway into the City the Council could have made this.
Things would have been done very differently. Instead of all the roads rising upto the junction it would have been lowered by a couple of meters, this would have provided the material for the ramps. It would have made the slopes easy for cyclists and pedestrians. One exit ramp could have curved gently down to the store canopy (where no doubt Sainsbury’s would have thought of providing more than 19 Sheffield stands for bike parking). One ramp could lead to a new cycle bridge alongside Watermead way where currently cyclists have to ride with no protection on a very busy road with a 50mph speed limit.
With imagination and a commitment to their public policies Sainsbury’s and Leicester City Council could have produced something to be proud of, something that would have gone a long way to transform the way that people get around Leicester and to/from this store. With that imagination they would both have gained huge visibility just as Eindhoven is currently reaping the benefits of being see the world over as a leading city for cycling.