Route Choice – Public Transport

I have recently found myself frequently discussing and giving advice to travellers in London, as well as planning my own journeys in a range of circumstances, primarily focussing on travel to or from all of London’s airports. This has brought to my attention the range of factors which contribute to the choice of journey we make and the challenge of catering to our needs in most journey planners, from the good old fashioned tube map, through TfL, National Rail, Google or even Citymapper, which is my go-to travel app.

I would like to argue that whether or not you’re travelling in a hurry or not, with or without a suitcase, on a familiar or unfamiliar system, can potentially have a huge impact on what is the optimal route you may wish to take. Let’s start with the obvious…

Time & Money

In general, time is considered the primary and most obvious factor in deciding route choice and indeed journey planners now often tell you at what time you need to leave to arrive at your destination by your desired time, even giving live departure times for buses and trains. You can get across most of London on a bus, but taking the tube is likely to be faster or even, if you happen to be on the right route, jumping on a train. The other side of the story, however, is cost. Getting the Gatwick Express can be only 2 minutes faster than taking the ‘normal’ train, yet cost twice as much, while the Heathrow Express might be worth it if you’re travelling to Paddington, but less so if you’re going somewhere else on the tube network (especially if you can just sit tight on the Piccadilly line for an hour). The most frugal travellers may choose to walk or cycle, of course, but as soon as public transport comes into play, so does cost. The difference between a single bus journey (£1.50) and tube (£2.40) may not be much, but over a week of commuting, it’s 90p x 10 = £9! But time is not always equal to money…


Whether or not you have heavy luggage can potentially have a huge impact on the route you take. Let’s take two hypothetical ways to get to the airport… route A: overground + tube + train, travel time = 45 mins; route B: bus + train, travel time = 60 mins. Route B is takes over 33% more time (15 mins), however route A requires you to carry a heavy suitcase up and down several flights of stairs, as some tube stations don’t have lifts. Since you’re presumably leaving with enough leeway to get to the airport, adding an extra fifteen minutes might well we worth the convenience! Similar factors apply to travellers with mobility difficulties, be it an elderly traveller, someone in a wheelchair or with a buggy.

Knowledge of the network

In this instance, ‘knowledge’ can be understood in a number of ways, depending on experience and exposure to the network, as well as the ‘savviness’ of the traveller. London is famous for its tube network and many visitors are still planning their route using a faithful tube map. For many tourists, a bus journey could be preferable – but I am yet to meet someone who thinks that deciphering London’s bus network is easy. Awareness of the entire network may not come readily, even looking at TfL’s website. If you’re travelling from West Hampstead to St Paul’s Cathedral, should you take the Jubilee and Central lines? No! Hop on a train and get off at City Thameslink – it’s faster and there are no changes required. A further element of this is the capability to extend beyond the public transport offering into the fringes of MaaS. Perhaps the quickest way is neither bus nor tube, but hopping on a Boris bike, an ofo or a mobike?


Whilst we might prefer to have the simplest/cleanest solution (“just get me from A to B”), knowing the context of the journey might be really beneficial despite our inherent defensiveness about apps or services knowing too much about us. Wouldn’t it be handy having a personalised guide who can differentiate between when we just need to get to a meeting as quickly as possible, or whether we have time to take a more comfortable journey with two heavy suitcases, as well as when we might save money from altering our trip by walking an extra 5 minutes to catch a bus?

Photo by Janis Oppliger on Unsplash

A4 Great West Road Consultation Exercise

It seems to be consultation season. Or maybe it’s just autumn; the days are getting darker and I have more time to give my views on consultations, particularly those regarding cycling. Last week, I answered the rather long consultation on CS9 (Cycle Superhighway 9 from Kensington Olympia to Brentford) and spotted a smaller consultation on “proposed changes to cycling facilities on the A4 Great West Road between Syon Lane and Boston Manor Road” – so small, in fact, that TfL only accept responses directly via email, rather than the usual forms for comments. But I digress. Here are my thoughts on the proposals…

Strategic Cycling Analysis Figure 1.2

The stretch between Syon Lane and Boston Manor Road is only a 1 km part of the local 44 route, which runs the full length of the Great West Road from Hounslow to Hammersmith over 12 km. As there is not really an apparent alternative route and the existing infrastructure provides suitable width on the side of the carriageway, I believe that this route could be a viable candidate for high quality superhighway-standard cycle infrastructure, depending on cycle demand and taking into consideration the busy nature of the Great West Road. In fact, the TfL Strategic Cycle Analysis (SCA) identifies the road as having top 20% potential cycle flows (SCA, Figure 1.2).

I generally approve of the idea of improving facilities for cyclists and pedestrians on the A4, however I note that this is a very busy road with high traffic speeds, therefore the infrastructure must provide safety for vulnerable road users along the full length of the route, or an alternative route should be suggested.

Build-outs and raised tables

My specific concerns over the proposed plans are the number of locations where the cycle path is converted to a shared pedestrian and cycle path. To maintain the continuity of the cycle route, I would suggest that a separated footway is preferable to a shared use footway. See right for the descriptions from the London Cycle Design Standards, Chapter 4.

Shared use footways (LCDS)

Some additional separation from the adjacent fast-moving traffic, over and above the kerb would be beneficial as the kerb is relatively low over long stretches of the route, giving cyclists little perception of segregation, as can be seen in the street view above. I very much approve of proposed build-outs to reduce vehicle turning radii, however these should be implemented at every side road, not just some, and be accompanied by raised tables throughout.

As mentioned above, the stretch under consultation is only part of a much longer route which would benefit from improvement and as such, a greater view should be taken of the corridor, to ensure both continuity along the route and connectivity with the surrounding area. I hope to see further consultations which build on feedback received to date.


Have you responded to this consultation or similar ones? What is the key thing which struck you about the proposal, either positive or negative?

Melville Crescent Consultation Exercise

The City of Edinburgh council periodically releases consultations about various aspects of the city. This one caught my eye, in which they “are seeking [citizens’] views on proposals to improve Melville Crescent to make it a more pleasant environment for local residents, staff and people passing through by foot and bike“. Here’s what I thought:

Option B Melville CrescentOption B is my preferred option, however it requires some enhancements, as there does not appear to be adequate visible pedestrian crossing facilities. If traffic volumes are low, then a zebra crossing is not necessary, however there does not appear to be a clear provision for north-south movements across Melville St. The east-west CCWEL (that’s the City Centre West-East Link cycle route which they refer to only as an acronym) alignment appears to be the safest, provided the cycle route is clearly visible – for example through a different surface treatment. I imagine that due to the location in Edinburgh’s New Town, restrictions on materials will be in place to maintain the historic feel, but appropriate sett paving (the subject of another recent consultation) can be used to good effect.

This option appears to have the largest amount of public realm which should serve to make the area more attractive and a place where people will want to dwell. As far as I know of the area, it is primarily residential and offices therefore it would present a great opportunity for a café, bookshop or other similar commercial venture to enhance the appeal and ‘sense of place’ for the location.

In summary, I believe it is most important to ensure pedestrian and cyclist provision is prioritised over vehicular traffic to improve the public realm and make the area more pleasant and inviting. What are your thoughts? Did you complete this consultation?

Triumph of the City

The post takes its title from the book I have just finished reading and which I intend to summarise so that you can either enjoy the synopsis and be inspired to read it for yourself, or simply take away my interpretation of the lessons presented therein. [caveat: I initially started reading this book about three years ago and got most of the way through it, but admittedly found some of the chapters repeating the same ideas, which made me put the book back on the shelf and only pick it up recently to finish it, for my personal satisfaction of completeness.] I have decided to use the concluding chapter as a guide to comment on the ideas presented in the book with subheadings as in the original text, which I quote from liberally.

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Copenhagen: More bikes than cars

In the news today: bikes outnumber cars for the first time in Copenhagen

In Copenhagen, which I had to pleasure of visiting in May, the balance has finally tipped so that more bicycles (265,700) have been counted than cars (252,600) in the city centre. The figures are a daily number, though it’s not clear whether this is a yearly, monthly, or other average.

Cycle Counter in Copenhagen
Cycle Counter in Copenhagen

Key Facts:

City: Copenhagen

Population: 600,000

Investment in cycling infrastructure: £115m (1bn DKK) since 2005

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Route Choice – Cycling

On this sunny Sunday morning, I decided to cycle along my current favourite route, heading south out of Birmingham towards Worcester. The first few miles are along the Birmingham & Worcester Canal towpath, recently refurbished through the Birmingham Cycle Revolution. I then switch to the NCN5, which initially follows quiet paths along the Rea River Valley, before moving onto residential streets in a suburban area. Moving further away from the city, the route takes less-used and narrow back roads out towards the countryside and continues in this manner into Worcestershire.

For a leisurely weekend ride, such routes are undoubtedly the best: quiet, scenic and above all traffic-free. They have their downsides though: cycling through a park requires a certain degree of skill to avoid dogs and children running across your path for a start and you will likely not be taking the shortest route to your destination. Sunday: fine; Monday, heading to work: not so fine. For the purposes of commuting, cyclists prefer a shorter, more direct, even if busier and more dangerous route.Continue reading


Every now and again, I think about the vast amount of data which is at our fingertips in today’s world. This morning, I was looking for a plumber. Typing ‘plumber’ into Google gives 86 million results in less than a second. In a moment of nostalgia, I also opened the Yellow Pages – at only 128 pages of A5, I fear an older generation wouldn’t recognise what used to be a volume large enough to hold open a door. Indeed, my grandparents’ generation obtained its knowledge from books – every home had an encyclopedia. Now, every home has multiple digital devices which can access Wikipedia in the blink of an eye. You look up the largest cities in the EU, click on Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh out of curiosity, then on Burgh, Borough and before you know it, you’re also looking at a list of the London Boroughs, learning the difference between those with and without royal patronage… and the search goes on, an hour has easily disappeared.

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Free Public Transport

Have you ever been tempted not to pay a fare? I imagine this will largely depend on the nature of the transport system you are using. In Paris, the barriers to enter the Metro are full height, so no chance of dodging them. In London, Underground barriers are about chest height, so probably too high to get over. In Warsaw, on the other hand, the barrier is only a turnstile, which I have seen jumped over (or slipped under) many times. Would a simple solution such as broader barrier stop this from happening? I’m pretty sure!

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What makes a successful transport system?

This evening, I attended a presentation of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority’s new WM Strategic Transport Plan entitled “Movement for Growth”.

After a presentation of the long term approach to transport in Birmingham over a 20 year period, a discussion ensued with unsurprising comments either applauding the plans, questioning them or criticising them for taking so long to come to fruition. Not much to write home about. What I did find notable, however, was one gentleman’s comments answering the question of “What are the characteristics of a highly successful transport system?” He mentioned 5 things:

  1. Legible
  2. Through ticketing
  3. Easily interchangeable
  4. High frequency
  5. Run on electrified rail

According to him, the combination of the above make cities easy to use. I found this list to be a great summary, in line with my personal experience of using transport systems in a range of cities, countries and continents. Furthermore, he pointed out that the way in which a transport system is characterised is the same for both a newcomer to a city and a long-time resident of the city, be they a new or experienced user. Granted, an ‘old’ resident may know that the 41 bus runs past their house and takes them to work or to the city centre, but if they have to go somewhere new, the above list of items will ensure that the transport system is easy to adapt to their circumstance. Needless to say that such as system is necessary to encourage sustainable travel and decrease the reliance on cars.


What is your opinion on what makes a successful transport system? Do you agree with the above list? Are there any key characteristics which have been missed out?

Lost at Sea

Unless you have an awesome grip on technology or a complete aversion to all things modern, the chances are that, like me, you have accounts for: Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, WordPress (among others) and are consequentially lost in a sea of social media platforms.

Perhaps you are a little confused how to use each one to the best effect? This is the challenge I am trying to overcome tonight. I’ve spent the evening browsing a variety of sites, reading a few blogs and articles. Luckily, some of the content I found was interesting – so much so that I wanted to share some of it with friends, while other items I wished to save for later, as a reference. But which tool is most fit for each purpose? I don’t like to share everything via facebook (partly because it just doesn’t feel like the right place; partly because I don’t think it’ll be the most convenient platform for the recipient). Neither do I like to save everything into Evernote (I recently exceeded 100 notes and realised it will soon become difficult to find things unless I categorise them properly).

I’ve identified 8 platforms which I have accounts for and which could potentially be used to share or store my findings:

  • Facebook – sharing with friends (individuals or all),
  • Google+ – sharing with the few people who use it,
  • LinkedIn – sharing with colleagues or friends in a professional capacity,
  • Tumblr (4 blogs) – supposedly for sharing, but more for my personal record,
  • WordPress (2 blogs) – this blog and another one which was an attempt at an alternative to Tumblr,
  • Evernote – my private store of notes (categorising these will be a task in itself),
  • Instapaper (4 categories) – mostly used to send articles to my Kindle to read later,
  • Google Docs – a few more things which I like to have access to via the cloud.

What next? Get rid of the duplication – why do I have 4 tumblr blogs? Is my WordPress Tumblr-alternative easier to use? I guess I’m okay with the FB/G+/LI distinction for the different recipients. But I definitely need to give my ‘multiple blogs’ idea some more thought – I currently have no idea what each is even supposed to be for! I will now get a piece of paper (in fact, it’s already been patiently waiting while I wrote this post) and plan out for which purpose I will use each tool. Once that’s done, I’ll be able to once more set sail across the sea of information that is the world wide web!

Have you come across a similar problem? How do you manage your social media platforms?