ESPC
Published On: Thu, Jun 28th, 2012

Opinion – Trams and bikes – do they mix?

by Andy Arthur

A Bloody Trambles

So Princes Street in Edinburgh has been shut for around 2 or 3 years (I’ve lost count) and this is the THIRD attempt to lay the tram lines and surface.
A Bloody Trambles

The last two attempts quickly broke up under the pressure of cold winters and the weight of Edinburgh’s fleet of low-floor, 15 tonne, 2-axle buses rumbling constantly across them (the designers imagined that the Trams would replace the buses. They won’t. And never will.)

A Bloody Trambles

The tram lines have also proven to be a nightmare for cyclists – set in smooth concrete or rough setts, with buses and taxis forcing your line and on dark and wet nights, many a cyclist has fallen victim to them and broken their price, their bones and their bikes. It was apparent that the people behind Edinburgh’s tram had made absolutely zero allowance in their thinking around how cyclists might “interact” with tram lines when forced across them at shallow angles by poor road design and by other road users.

A Bloody Trambles

With much fanfare, Princes Street is to be opened to traffic this weekend. So what do we find?

A Bloody Trambles

Badly repaired surfaces and thoughtlessly dangerous “cycle lanes” and Advanced Stop Reservoirs strung across the tracks. It will be a matter of days before another cyclist is brought down here.

I’m appalled.

Andy Arthur is a supporter of POP Scotland. He designed the illustrations for the campaign which resulted in 3,000 cyclists pedalling to Parliament in April to raise awareness of the need for safety measures to encourage cycling on Scotland’s roads and streets. He also LOVES cycling. You may see all of his photographs on Flickr.

About the Author

- Founding Editor of The Edinburgh Reporter. Edinburgh-born Freelance multimedia journalist, always available for commissions!

Displaying 9 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Kim says:

    Just remember what happened the last time tram tracks and cyclists where mixed together on Princess Street.

  2. Dave H says:

    Tram tracks can be safe for cyclists if a few basic details are dealt with, and research done 20 years ago for DETR (and at present ‘lost’ by TRL) provides some clear pointers on what good design principles should recognise.

    In developing the standrads for NET we successfully argued for a key change in the standards for new tram rail installations to be to a tolerance of +0mm to -6mm relative to the abutting road surface, and the installation should ensure that all edges and ridges shold be eliminated or mitigated to make them less than 5mm of vertical misalignment, using the standards for tramline tactile paving as a template.

    The most significant claim in respect of tram rails being too high above the surface of the surrounding road surface was actually for a motorist (Roe v Sheffield Supertram & others), who was very seriously injured when his car was claimed to have slid along the railheads with all 4 wheels before crashing.

    From the part finished? detail of the embedded rails I note a band some 20-25cm across with several ridges and troughs, and wonder if there is a finishing detail yet to be placed? It will need to be a very clever material or keyed/glued down well given that it will need to be a very thin layer. I’ve photographed a couple of locations with locally available ‘straightedges’ and gauging coins 5p~<20mm 2p=25mm.

    There remains the issue of the flange groove in the tramway track used for on-street running. The normal standards are Ri60 (and Ri59 – wider – for tight curves) and the width of the tapering groove in Ri60 (36mm) is a perfect wedge-tight fit for the standard 32- to 37- sizes of cycle tyre, along with the ability to catch wheelchair castors and the tyre size for most wheelchairs is also 32- to 37-

    Jamming a tyre in the groove is normally a rare event as this does require the cycle to be travelling almost parallel with the rails. Tyre deflection is generally the mechanism for falling off.

    There is a solution to the flangeway problem but it is not cheap and could not be justified for the entire length of a street running tram system, and it is primarily for railway level crossings. I will note here that I have been working to get approval to use this system on some problem level crossings in the UK. Tramways could use could use the system but it is designed for the standard rail section (BS113A/EN56) and not suitable for street track.

    However, it is fundamentally the presence of surface irregularities greater than 5mm in height which can be obliquely struck by cycle or motorcycle tyres which create the hazard, and there are 2 ways to deal with this 1) eliminate the irregularity 2) avoid striking the iregularity at an oblique angle.

    The woes may yet increase following 2 recent incidents on Manchester's Metrolink and Croydon's Tramlink where pedestrians have been carried along by the tram for a short distance as it made an emergency stop, as a collision took place, as this may lead to a review of the surface finishes and platform detail where pedestrians may cross the tracks, on existing and developing systems.

    It may also be relevant to read the report on the fatal crash between a cyclist and tram http://www.raib.gov.uk/cms_resources.cfm?file=/090312_R062009_MordenHallPark.pdf There are a number of crossings on the off-street sections and the cycle route crossing near to Edinburgh Park stop/station has had it original skew alignment revised to square, with fairly tight radii (slightly below 6 metres I believe) to deliver this. Visibility is good at this location.

    Happy to discuss further with you Andy in case additional pictures need to be taken.

    I understand that around 20 cases of falls are currently being considered – possibly as a class action, a detail which is rather worrying considering that less than half of the proposed on street track is currently in place on roads open to cyclists and other traffic.

  3. Keith hales says:

    Lets organise a bike the street when Princess street opens. Get. 1000 people out there.

  4. Jim says:

    From what I’ve seen in Dublin, Munich and Frankfurt their trams have been built and installed in exactly the same ways as Edinburgh. Cyclists just need to pay a bit more attention.

    Will be interesting to see how long the tarmac lasts this time. Last time it was laid at the last minute and in the rain. Same happened again this time

    Only good thing is I understand the installations have a 10 year guarantee on them.

  5. DD says:

    How do the thousands of cyclists manage in Amsterdam without getting stuck in tram tracks?

  6. Tim says:

    Good god, that shared lane looks like a total death trap to me.

    I have to admit not following exactly what Dave H is suggesting with all the techno-babble, but I fail to understand how shared bike/tram or bike/bus lanes can ever really be a good idea. Cyclists are small, fragile, and travel at a constant lower speed. Public transport can go faster, but is stop-start and big and heavy.

    Also, I would suggest that cycles “travelling almost parallel with the rails” will be pretty common when they are sharing a lane (duh?!). Hence “jamming” and “tyre deflection” will be frequent occurrences, and Dave appears to deal with neither convincingly in his fairly long post. The “flangeway problem” is far greater than that caused by rails standing higher than the road surface.

    I know a few people who’ve come a cropper on Manchester Metrolink rails, and at least one who ended up in hospital for weeks.

  7. Anguish says:

    Re Amsterdam – having lived/cycled there for 5+ years the reason why thousands of cyclists do not get stuck in the tram rails is because they almost never share the tram tracks with a tram! I.e. there is usually separate infrastructure for bikes (sometimes a separate path, sometimes shared with cars).

    The idea of sticking bikes on a tram route is crazy. Firstly, as indicated above it is dangerous as there is a real chance of getting caught in the tracks (particularly when not crossing them at right angles – that is also a problem in Amsterdam and other cities with trams and bikes) and secondly it means that the trams have to slow down for bikes (or the bikes have to move out of the way….).

    Princes Street is undoubtedly wide enough for a separate bike lane. Given that the street has been closed for a long time, this would have been a good opportunity to build some decent infrastructure. Simply suggesting that cyclists should simply be more careful is a lazy argument. The reason why many people do not cycle in Edinburgh is that they do not want to be put in a situation where thet have to be “careful”. If you build decent infrastructure people will cycle. If you don’t, they won’t.

  8. Paul says:

    Will the trams slow down for cyclists ahead of them?

    I cycle up and down Lothian Road on most days during rush hour but would not tempt fate by riding on the shared tram/taxi/cycle lane. I have three kids and a wife to think of. That is the level of ‘care’ that cyclists should take – they should totally avoid these Lanes of Death.

  9. Brian Abell says:

    It is my unfortunate experience that cyclists and trams do not mix, for the most part. Living and working in Sheffield, I have firsthand experience of the levels of stupidity that 9 out of 10 cyclists will use to carry on regardless in their journeys – not bothering to stop at red lights; failing to use cyclepaths where provided; barreling into pedestrians that are in ‘their’ way. Maybe the cycling fraternity in Edinburgh will be different, but the idea of shared tram and cycle lanes will throw up another problem, and this time for the operators – how badly will the timetable be affected because trams are following cyclists who have every right to use the lanes?

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