I’ve just come across a clear example of what I mean when I say that policy-makers and commissioners could be much wiser when it comes to using behavioural insights, and that being systematic about behaviour could lead to much better policy. In a comment in response to a passing mention in a Bicycle Dutch blog on roundabout design, Patrick Lingwood (whom I believe is Walking & Cycling Policy Officer at Bedfordshire CC) gave this very detailed description (below) of how the authority arrived at a specific design.
It’s long, so I’m going to make my response first; I don’t want to lose anyone here, so I’m not asking you to become experts in comparative cycle infrastructure and roundabout design. Before I do, can I just say that we should be grateful to Patrick for posting in such detail; it’s not often we get such a clear explanation of the rationale behind decisions.
Here’s my point: Bedfordshire’s design (effectively endorsed by the DfT) begins with an assumption about meeting demand for motorised traffic at the current level or higher, and of meeting current demand for cycling and walking, only more safely than at present. With this starting point, the resulting design is probably the best obtainable; personally, I’d love it, as I’m very comfortable taking prime position on my bike.
But I’m pretty sure that behaviour-smart policy-making would start with an analysis of current behaviours. A place-shaping local authority would identify the thousands of journeys of less than, say, 5km that pass through this roundabout daily and use a range of insights into the barriers to healthy, sustainable travel by the people who travel by car but are within walking or cycling distance of their destination. With a clear understanding of the behaviours it wants to encourage, and the design process would then begin. And insights from behavioural sciences, along with experience elsewhere, would be used to identify how to make the behaviours being encouraged both easy and normal. This would be reflected in the final design, whereas the Bedford plan is unlikely to reframe walking and cycling as anything other than (as at present) low-status. A behaviour-smart approach might seem radical at the moment, but it’s the future, as policy-makers become more exposed to behavioural insights.
Anyway, I’ve had my say – here’s Patrick’s explanation:
“with regards to the Bedford turbo-roundabout, it is easy to misunderstand the impact of a design on the basis of a short article in LTT (Local Transport Today). The overall concept indeed was inspired by the examples in The Netherlands, but the concept has been adapted to the local environment.
First you need to understand the current arrangement in Bedford. It is an English-style roundabout in the middle of a very Victorian town. The roundabout itself is relatively small but has a relatively wide unmarked circulating carriageway where traffic either circulates as single lanes or doubles up depending on flow. Vehicles circulate too fast, entries are too close and it is difficult to predict vehicle paths, so that other vehicles, including cyclists, find it difficult to safely enter the roundabout. There are several circulating vehicle-colliding-with-entry-vehicle collisions as a result.
Most cyclists are also following a different path from most motorised vehicles. So there are conflicts as cyclists move across the different paths of vehicles. And of course there are the typical entry – circulating collisions where vehicles enter the roundabout without noticing the circulating cyclist.
On top of this, there are high pedestrian flows. There are 2500 pedestrian crossing movements of the arms without any assistance apart from the central islands, with several accidents resulting as crossing pedestrians are hit mostly by exiting vehicles.
So with 32 injury accidents, including 8 serious, over 10 years, at a cost to society of nearly £2 million, there was an urgent need to do something. The roundabout lies on an important route to the town centre and station for cyclists with over 500 cyclists a day, but it is also on a key interurban and intra-urban route with 25,000 motorised vehicles a day.
The council’s first choice was single lane compact (Dutch-style) roundabout. This was modelled but was found not to cope with the vehicular capacity, because whereas compact roundabouts can cope with those kinds of flows, the junction flows at this roundabout are not balanced. This is where the turbo-roundabout concept came to our rescue.
Ignoring the type of cycle provision for the moment, the essence of a turbo-roundabout is that it can cope with higher flows than a compact roundabout (up to 35,000 vehicles per day) because of 2 lane entries and 2 lane circulation. Secondly the raised circulating lane dividers prevent straight-lining through the roundabout so reduce vehicular speed entering, circulating and exiting the roundabout, thereby creating a safety benefit. Finally the spiral lane marking through the roundabout reduces the conflict points as vehicles enter, circulate and exit.
Our estimate, based on the radius of curvature of vehicular paths, is that in Bedford this will reduce motorised vehicle speeds from current 25mph to around 10-15mph, approximating much more to cycling speeds. The lower vehicle speeds allow us to put Zebras on every arm which will further change the way motorists use the roundabout, becoming more aware of vulnerable road users, and further reduce entry and exit speeds.
So with motorised vehicles and pedestrians now catered for, that leaves what is the best solution for cyclists. First it should be understood, notwithstanding the Dutch style preponderance of cycle tracks, if vehicle speeds are low enough, it is safer for a cyclist to go round a roundabout in the primary position. Annular cycle tracks create additional conflict points. In primary position on the road, a cyclist is most visible and has least conflict points, especially so in a single lane compact roundabout or turbo-roundabout.
Secondly, you cannot legally create a non-signalised annular cycle track and a pedestrian crossing in the UK context. This is the significance of the TRL work. It is the first stage in seeking a change in Government regulations to allow this. So either pedestrians get priority at a Zebra or cyclists have priority using Give Way markings (not a feasible option in this context).
Thirdly and most importantly, a cycle track is neither the safe nor correct solution for the Bedford roundabout. The four roads that lead to the roundabout have very high flows of pedestrians with adequate footway widths, but certainly not shared path widths. Most cyclists approaching this junction are on-road, using the cycle lanes on the most congested link. Cyclists going through the roundabout in primary position, i.e. taking up the whole lane, will have no more conflict points than in a Dutch-style compact roundabout, and around a third of the conflict points under the existing design. A detailed analysis of the accidents suggests a 75% reduction in serious accidents and 40% reduction in slight accidents for all modes, including cyclists.
So as long as cyclists are happy to take primary position in front of traffic, they will be safer and get through the roundabout faster than in an annular design. The conflict is between perceptual safety and real safety. The big question is whether cyclists will feel safe in primary position in front of slow moving traffic.
This is where personal feelings often cloud professional judgements. An analysis of Bedford data is that there are 2 types of cyclists – “Quick” cyclists happy to share with traffic and “Quiet” cyclists who want to be segregated from traffic as far as possible. The current division of cyclists in Bedford is around 60% Quick cyclists and 40% Quiet cyclists (on the basis of a survey of station cyclists and an analysis of road usage). Currently at this junction, 350 are on-road and 200 off-road (a lot of those are child cyclists).
So for Quiet cyclists we are creating a cycle track which leads to the Zebras. They will be able to go round the roundabout using the Zebras, 2 of which have been widened to maximum of 4m (on the main cycle crossing flows) to create as safe a crossing environment as possible.
In summary, the roundabout should definitely be safer for all users – pedestrians, cyclists and motorised users, than the current layout. Secondly, unlike now, cyclists will have a legal choice, depending on their nature, whether to go through the roundabout on-road or off-road. Hopefully this will create a virtuous circle of happier cyclists, eventually leading to higher cycle usage. We are thankful that the DfT Cyclist Safety Grant has been awarded to allow us to trial this innovative design.”
I recorded the talk I gave at the Political Innovation event at the end of September. But the sound quality isn’t great, so I didn’t do anything with it. Then, a couple of days ago, I listened to this newly-remastered recording of Joy Division playing ULU in 1980 and decided that, if I can enjoy JD through a bit of muffle, then why not make my talk available?
Here it is on Soundcloud. A bit of an experiment. Let me know if you think this works. There is a Soundcloud app for smartphones, so you can listen on the move if that’s your thing – or you can download it to your iPod.
I’m hoping this will appeal to anyone who is interested in both public services/policy and also behavioural insights. The final few minutes consists of me being pretty optimistic: I reckon that making the use of insights from behavioural sciences mainstream – and being open about it – can help create better designed services, a more effective relationship between citizen and state, and also, in the longer-term, a more mindful society.
Lord Krebs, incoming President of the British Science Association was reported last week as criticising government use of ‘nudges’ But it seems that this amounts merely to a reservation are that using behavioural insights shouldn’t be a “get out of jail card if the government wants to avoid tougher approaches like taxation and regulation”. Which shoots down in flames a case that precisely no practitioners are making in the first place.
In fact, making public policy choices informed by behavioural science is on the verge of being accepted into the mainstream – in principle at least. This is quite something for what was a trendy discussion topic only a handful of years ago.
In the long run, what will surely happen is that the main thread of the case for using behavioural insights (that we are “predictably irrational”, so policy and services need to reflect this) will change. I predict it will be turned on its head, and I’m going to do what I can to make sure it is. Why? Because our true nature, our loss aversion, our temporal discounting, the heuristics we use are, in fact, completely rational, given the way our species has evolved. We only appear to be irrational when viewed through the lens of economists and philosophers whose assumptions were never true. Sorry, but humans are not rational economic agents, operating in an economy heading for equilibrium (and credit is due to IPPR for bringing this understanding closer to the mainstream with its Complex New World report).
Putting this growing acceptance into practice, though, is being held back by a number of things. First, the number of practitioners (that is, people who help bodies apply behavioural insights) is small; second, and a chief cause of #1, there isn’t a clear market for commissioning behavioural work in public services where this is not well established; third (and, of course a chief cause of #2), it doesn’t ‘belong’ to any existing profession. So while behavioural insights have informed the work of designers and advertisers for decades, that’s just not true in public policy. So what’s becoming mainstream in principle is being held back in practice.
If I’m right, then over the next few years, we’ll have to face up to the real challenges of public policy catching up with the evidence base and making decisions based on what people are really like, not what Enlightenment thinkers and classical economists say that we’re like. These challenges should be much more substantial than the red herring debates to date (such as that around the House of Lords Select Committee report)
An event I’m doing with Political Innovation aims to highlight one such practical challenge, namely the tension between using insights from behavioural sciences and an approach that progressive voices, myself included, are rightly positive about: co-design. In participative democracy, participation and service design, co-design with citizens and users is surely a good thing. Is it not a way of cementing the move away from the ‘we know best’ style of decision-making which has rhetorically been a no-no for twenty years, but which we all privately admit still prevails?
Here’s the problem, though: Why would I, as a citizen, play a part in designing a service which aims to prompt certain behaviour on my part with cues which I consider irrational or childish? As a policy maker, what is my response to this: accept that the human inclination to think that we are much more in control of our actions than we really are trumps proven, scientific insight? The risk is that the use of behavioural insights becomes an extension of ‘we know best’ policy-making. And that’s what we’re trying to avoid, isn’t it?
I’m not sure I have the answers, but I’m pretty sure that the questions here are going to be important. Come along on 25 September if you can.
@theneweconomics points the way to reshaped economy & finance system, and I wonder what #localgov needs to do
I like this article by NEF’s Tony Greenham very much, because it explains what those who think the financial system is broken should be for, not just what they’re against.
You could give these ideas a number of different narratives, with pretty much the same result. I’d speak of a more localised economy and of the lower use of natural resources that would result from these measures.
Again, I’m struck that this is at the heart of shaping the places of the future and that therefore – in its long-term thinking, once it has dealt with the short-term financial issues – local government needs to be working out its role in this brave new world. Not to mention what it can do in the meantime, in the absence of central government action.
The global economy is broken. Here’s how to fix it
Head of Finance and Business
The system is broken, here’s how we fix it. Don’t tinker with ringfencing banks. Break them up as the first step to creating an effective local lending infrastructure. This is not pie in the sky. This is what the German banking system looks like. Its local public savings banks have supported small businesses and ordinary people throughout the recession, where big banks run away at the first sign of trouble. No annual pantomime of Project Merlin is required for our industrial competitors.
Don’t create new money just to feather-bed bankers and enrich the wealthy. Create new money to create new jobs and new wealth. Use quantitative easing directly to fund the renewal of our infrastructure, to build the new green economy, eradicate fuel poverty, reskill the unemployed and tackle the climate crisis at the same time.
Don’t let people become the slaves of distant creditors. It’s time to talk of a massive relief of debt. The UK’s problem is not really the public deficit that so obsesses the chancellor, but private household debt and the daunting treadmill that awaits a generation of young people burdened by student fees, relentless rents and a housing market that is still in the realms of fantasy.
Don’t wait for money to trickle down. Experience shows that, left to its own devices, it will flood upwards. We can start by setting up local barter currencies in every city that help new enterprises use wasted land, buildings, resources and people. Ultimately we need more dispersed ownership and control of the nation’s natural, human and financial capital. We need to restore large sections of the financial industry to the mutual ownership that served this nation so well until the scandalous smash-and-grab raids of demutualisation in the 1990s.
In short, we need to reassert the public interest. It turns out that, as a governing principle for the financial system, greed is not good. Financial plutocracy must give way to financial democracy – banking as if people mattered.
This is my analysis from last week’s Local Government Chronicle. What’s it about? Here’s a clue: though I learned many years ago that sub-editors never accept the author’s suggestion for a title, I still try – and for this one my attempt was “It’s The Local Economy, Stupid”.
The challenge councils are working on now, dealing with funding cuts, are minor compared to the challenges our places face as a result of systemic global problems. This is why people like Neil McInroy focus on the concept of local ‘resilience’.
I accept that there aren’t yet many local politicians looking to reshape their local economies to meet these fundamental challenges. So the argument needs to be won.
You can help by asking your local leader, “What will the local economy be like if the financial markets meltdown after a default by, say, Greek and Portugal? And wouldn’t it be good to start right now to shape it so that it can deal with shocks like that?”
Creating a sustainable future at the grass roots
22 September 2011 | By Warren Hatter
All local economies are facing instability in three systems on which we depend: in the financial markets, in energy supply and prices, and in ecosystem services. And we can already see local problems caused by instability in these systems: just look at the boarded windows on a typical high street, rapidly rising domestic energy prices, or the way that more homes are becoming uninsurable due to flood risk.
Worse, whatever the causes of the recent riots in urban England, they are a sure sign that there are many who feel detached from their local economy. Worse still, all these systems are now subject to major shocks, whether this is financial meltdown from a European country defaulting on its loans, massive jumps in food prices or cuts in oil supply.
There are concrete ways of getting to the understanding that your locality is vulnerable. Maybe through ecological footprinting of the area and starting to understand ‘one planet’ principles (like Sutton LBC); through commissioning a consumption-based carbon footprint, revealing that the true scale of the carbon challenge is more than twice what NI186 has had us believe (like West Sussex CC); or through a networked approach to place planning (like CLES’s work on local resilience).
When leaders realise that their local economy is not fit for purpose, what do we do? First, recognise where we need to go. We often hear leaders talking about the opportunities of a ‘low carbon economy’, but there is much more to this concept than benefitting from ‘green growth’ by providing goods and services related to energy provision and efficiency. The local economy that evolves will need to be:
resilient to shocks linked to food supply
resilient on energy
using much lower-carbon supply chains for everything
able to maintain its natural and social capital
If we don’t choose to be laissez faire, what can local government do to create the conditions for this new, sustainable economy to thrive?
Recognise that place is important
The “little platoons” approach to localism and big society will not suffice here. I believe that there is a vital role for leadership of place (place shaping, place stewardship, call it what you will) that is often absent from Big Society narratives and which is best carried out by a strategic body with a mandate: the local authority. As NLGN has suggested, some places are better equipped than others for the ‘Big Society’, so some intervention is needed. But this has to be about supporting communities, not top-down approaches which stifle innovation.
Grow our economic capacity
Relatively few economists work for local government; still fewer who are engaged with the ‘new economics’ and want to develop policies that let diverse, local enterprise flourish and resource loops become closed. In the future, for example, how can we encourage funding through a new local lending infrastructure? There is a range of models being used and proposed by the likes of NESTA.
Evolve our approaches to local leadership
More than ever, local authority leadership has to allow others in the community the space to lead. To do this, we need to excel at recognising civic entrepreneurship, and nurturing it. And enable the networks that are most likely to bring innovations to scale, so that every place might benefit from innovation elsewhere.
A sophisticated approach to behaviour change
More resilient, successful places can only be created with significant lifestyle changes, but we know that, in recent years, attempts to persuade people towards lower-impact lifestyles have had limited success; increasingly, we are learning to make sustainable living aspirational and in tune with people’s values.
We will have to measure our wealth in a much more rounded way than GDP and GVA do at present. One benefit of new ways of understanding success is that it will make sense for local assets to be used to their full potential.
Whatever we call it, the signs are that the new economy, the Civic Economy, the Big Society, is emerging, with massive energy, with diverse leadership and funding mechanisms and with a strong sense of place. Though these disrupt business as usual, they point to a high-wellbeing, resilient future with high social capital; this is unequivocally an opportunity agenda.
If we can work our way through the challenges, we will find that the local initiatives like these become mainstream. Delivering them is not our job in local government; creating the fertile ground for them to grow and thrive, is.
Warren Hatter is a local improvement advisor specialising in climate change, behaviour change and local leadership
Two recent reports make it clear there are already plenty of initiatives to inspire and councils are involved in many of them. Among the many initiatives highlighted in NESTA’s Compendium for the Civic Economy and NLGN’s Realising Community Wealth are:
- Fintry community energy partnership, producing profits from sustainable energy for a whole community
- Nottingham University Hospitals’ sustainable food procurement, promoting local entrepreneurs and growers while improving value for the NHS
- Sutton Bookshare, a virtual library where members lend books to each other
- Time Banks network in Islington, enabling people to share skills
- Southwark Circle, a co-designed membership scheme for older residents
- Surrey Museums’ provision by volunteers
I wonder whether the public sector stands to benefit in one respect at least from the economic downturn. It has arrived at a time when the public sector knows it needs to innovate like never before. Public policy agendas around efficiency have, arguably, seen all the low-hanging fruit picked. Other policy agendas (personalisation, climate change, knife crime) beg for approaches never contemplated before. Not only is the need for innovation beyond doubt, but also leading players make the right noises. Councils tell the Audit Commission that innovation is important to them and that they embrace risk. If we can overcome some of the cultural difficulties (eg – risk involves failing sometimes, and I don’t see many public sector bodies owning up to failure any time soon), there’s surely a chance here to recruit the emerging innovators and entrepreneurs to the public service cause. Not just because the conditions are becoming right in public services, but economic conditions are surely strengthening the public sector’s hand. Credit and venture capital, the essential tools of the innovator and entrepreneur in the private sector, are suddenly much harder to come by. It’s a good time to be developing the range of models for designing and delivering the public services of the future.