Wednesday, 27 August 2014

This is surely not acceptable? Residents in exclusive residential square seem to be preventing safe cycling for people of all abilities on new Quietway in Southwark

Cyclists try to negotiate the insane chicane in Trinity Church Square. Residents in this
very smart square are objecting to plans to make this gate usable by people of all abilities.
The Wheels for Wellbeing charity demonstrates why these gates don't work for a Quietway
A couple of weeks ago, Southwark Council published its draft plans for a section of the new Quietway planned between Waterloo and Greenwich. This section of the Quietway is designed by Southwark Council. The sections further out will be designed by other partners, including Sustrans. The most exciting element of the scheme, in my view, is that there will soon be a brand new link around the back of Millwall football stadium, utilising the new cycle and footbridge at South Bermondsey (installed last summer) which will open a really brilliant brand new, direct and off-road route into inner London.

I want to talk about a few aspects of the plan. 

Firstly, I think there are some very useful new parts. At two junctions along the route, TfL has agreed to install new traffic lights. Whatever else you might think about elements of the route, this is great news as it gives people safe ways to cross two very busy streets. Southwark Cyclists rightly welcomes these new cycle crossings

There are some good improvements at a number of other junctions as well - semi-segregated tracks that approach some junctions where cyclists currently have nowhere to go, other than sitting behind streams of spluttering motor vehicles. There are also some sections which currently feature horrible cycle chicane gates and the gates are for the chop, to be replaced instead by much more sensible cycle speed humps. There are also some great new connectors that eliminate some of the wiggly sections of an existing cycle route here and make it much more direct and generally nicer. 

No more of this. Webb Street will link up as these barriers will
be removed and the area landscaped to improve things
for residents alongside a new segregated bike track here too.
Unlike their posh neighbours in Trinity Church Square,
these residents are fully supportive of sensible win-win plans. 
But I have one general and one very specific concern. Let me start with the more specific concern. Pictured above is a cycle 'gate' in Trinity Church Square. The gates were installed a few years ago with a lot of involvement from the local residents association. Don't get me wrong, Trinity Church Square is gorgeous. It is full of beautiful flats and houses and all very charming. And very expensive. It is also heartening to see the way that residents have campaigned to keep motor traffic out of their streets here. 

I'm going to speak to Isabel about this more in a couple of weeks' time but, as you can see for yourself, getting through that gate on a hand bike or any non 'conventional' bicycle is no easy task. 

My understanding is that the residents of the Square are fiercely opposing any changes to the gate and kicking up all sorts of eloquent fuss with local councillors. The insanity is well profiled by blogger Alternative Department for Transport who points out the residents have consented to allow the gate to be widened by a whopping 30cm on either side.

I mean, come on. This is pathetic. Why is a cycle Quietway being held ransom in a way that  makes it near-as-damn-it useless to anyone on a trike or mobility scooter (oh, and the pavement has a similar chicane as well). Sorry, but I just don't think it's acceptable. Full credit to the residents of Trinity Church Square for blocking their streets to rat-running motors but discriminating in this way feels downright ugly in my view. 

My more general concern, as Alternative Department for Transport also points out, is that in some parts, the plans are extremely over-engineered. What that means is that money is being spent where it simply doesn't really need to be spent. So, what you have is lots of existing (and perfectly adequate) infrastructure being spruced up, fancy paving being added all around it and generally made to look a lot nicer. That has benefits for local residents, I suppose. Is it strictly necessary? Not really. Then again, these things have to involve some give and take - getting residents on side is a good thing. 

But there has to be a line somewhere: allowing residents of this square to veto safe cycle routes for all-ability cycling is just not on. It's even less acceptable when you consider that all along the rest of the route, these sorts of discriminatory cycle gates are being ripped out in favour of other solutions. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Mixed feelings about Battersea's new bike-friendly roundabout. TfL is building a traffic-light compromise, rather than a real Dutch roundabout

The planned new bike-friendly roundabout at Battersea Park

Yesterday, Transport for London announced its plans to re-design the roundabout at Queen's Circus on the corner of Battersea Park. The roundabout lies south of Battersea Bridge and is on the route of Cycle Super Highway 8.

The plan is to introduce a bike lane around the roundabout. Bikes will have a separate green phase to motor traffic, so you'll be able to cycle (in theory) without risk of conflict from motor vehicles turning off the roundabout.

I have mixed feelings about this scheme.

A family waiting for drivers to 'let' them cross the
road outside the park. Horrible place to cross.
At rush hour, there are big queues of motor traffic mainly heading north-south across the roundabout to or from the Bridge. This makes it difficult to cross the road as there are rarely gaps in the traffic, which is absurd given there's a massive park here and a lot of people trying to get here on foot.

The fact that the scheme introduces signals for pedestrian crossings is, in my view, very good news. And it is something that locals have been requesting for ages.

In  terms of cycling infrastructure, it is also an improvement on what's there at the moment. The current layout involves a ridiculous segregated cycle track that goes around the roundabout and that gives way to motor traffic at every one of the eight entry points to the roundabout. It is (with the exception of one small section) utterly unusable on a bike.

So, the new scheme quite clearly provides a separate flow for people on bikes, on foot and in motor vehicles. That is a good thing.
New scheme. Bikes get their own lanes and traffic signals
which separate the flow of motors and bikes.

But I can't help thinking this roundabout could have been designed to be more user-friendly for cyclists and pedestrians. If you look at the scheme, it is littered with traffic lights. Bikes will have one set of lights; motor vehicles another set and pedestrians another set. Motor vehicles and bicycles will flow in separate phases around the roundabout, guided by traffic light sequences. It is like a traffic light engineer's dream.

On first looking at the scheme, I couldn't work out why TfL hadn't gone for something simpler.

Last year, for example, TfL paid for a trial of a proper Dutch roundabout (pictured below). Building a proper Dutch roundabout at Queen's Circus would have involved pedestrian zebra crossings rather than signals and bikes would have priority around the roundabout in the same way as pedestrians. It is a neat solution that would have worked well at this particular spot. So why didn't TfL put a proper Dutch roundabout here?

My understanding is that some of the rules and regulations to build the Dutch roundabout haven't yet been signed off by the Department for Transport but that's on the way soon and TfL has indicated it will build one of these in London in the near future. The Dutch roundabout would have worked pretty well here, in my view. And I think most oberservers think similarly.

TfL paid for this trial of a proper Dutch roundabout last year
A simpler solution for Queen's Circus? 
So why has TfL plumped for something that takes elements of the Dutch roundabout and then super-complicates them with traffic lights?

The clue is in the Wandsworth council committee papers. Three of the five justifications for this design are related to motor traffic flow and guess which is the top priority?

"There is limited means of managing queues that develop or ensuring equitable discharge of traffic around the roundabout". So, the traffic light-heavy option has been chosen here in order to manage motor traffic flow.

To its credit, Wandsworth points out that "At an early stage in the design process, TfL made it clear that a conventional approach to designing a roundabout with traffic signals would be unacceptable within the context of their “Better Junctions” review and the Mayor of London’s cycle vision for London." Good, and well done TfL.

But there's no getting away from the fact, this roundabout has been designed to manage motor traffic flow first and foremost. It does create significantly better crossings for pedestrians. And it does create a Dutch-"style" approach that gives space for safer cycling around the roundabout. The whole thing feels over-complicated for both pedestrians and cyclists who could have benefited better from a proper Dutch roundabout, as displayed above. This would have given people on foot and on bikes priority over motor vehicles.

The planned scheme at Queen's Circus, Battersea
What we have here is have a heavily-engineered and heavily-managed splurge on traffic-lights to manage motor traffic queues, with bike tracks and pedestrian crossings working around the motor flow. It feels like the traffic light people gatecrashed a party that would have worked much better without them and that the design should be the other way round: people on foot and bikes get priority, motor traffic flows follow them.

I'll credit TfL with creating better conditions for cycling and walking here. But the underlying principle behind this design isn't quite right.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Boris standing as MP: Let's make sure his "Vision for Cycling" actually happens before he leaves and we get more than just the "Vision" part

The Vision: Can we ensure this is delivered before the Mayor leaves office?
This week's papers are awash with the news that the Mayor is planning to stand as an MP next year. What that suggests, to my ears at least, is that we may have (at best) a not fully focussed Mayor on the job in 2015. And that could have major ramifications for cycling.

Why so? Well, next year is when the first really chunky deliverables are due from the Mayor's "Vision for Cycling". The Vision for Cycling was announced in March 2013 and it consists of a package of nearly £1bil to be invested over 10 years in Quietways, the central London cycling grid and new 'super highways'. Most significantly, the "Vision" is all about building cycle infrastructure that actually looks and feels like cycling infrastructure, and is lightyears more advanced than the Mayor's original 'Cycling Revolution' launched in his first term in office and which gave us extremely poor quality cycle super highways at vastly higher cost than their much higher quality counterparts in other countries.

Getting the Mayor to commit to re-launch his "Vision for Cycling" in 2013 took years of lobbying, of protests, of political, media and public pressure.

And the results of that pressure are only just, very cautiously, peering above the parapets. So, for example, we have recently seen the consultation documents for cycling-friendly junctions at Oval and Vauxhall. The plans for these junctions are an enormous step up on anything we've seen planned in inner London before. They pave the way for junctions that treat bicycles as a legitimate form of transport. What's more, they also create better space for other people as well. The Oval junction is like an urban desert, the whole zone north of the tube handed over to speeding cars to and from central London. Creating a cycle-friendly space here should be the first step in rehabilitating that area, making it a better space for everyone, not just for car drivers who are in any case in the minority.

At last week's City of London cycling forum, Nigel Hardy - the man responsible for implementing cycle infrastructure for Transport for London (and improvement schemes for all other road modes as well, but in this case, with a cycling hat on) - gave a long presentation about TfL's plans for cycling over the next few years.

What was apparent from Hardy's presentation was that the Mayor's Vision for Cycling is starting to become something tangible. Hardy talked about plans for the East-West cycle super highway that will run along the Embankment and about plans to run a bi-directional cycle track from the Elephant, over Blackfriars Bridge, to redesign the junction at the northern end of the Bridge and carrying onup to Farringdon. He asserted that "the case for segregation is understood" on these roads.

But he also pointed out that all these major schemes are due to roll out to consultation in September and building due to start in late 2015 or 2016, ie quite possibly after the Mayor has shifted his focus elsewhere.

What is absolutely clear about both the Embankment and Elephant to Farringdon schemes is that they very clearly take road space away from its current usage and create space for cycling. Justafiably so. If you look at the numbers on Blackfriars, you'll see that 47% of 'traffic' crossing the Bridge at rush hour is now made up of people on bikes.

Just have a think, though, about the forces that will be shouting and screaming about that re-allocation of road space from its current usage. I can very easily see a combination of stuck-in-the-mud business groups (Freight Trade Association among others) shouting very loudly in protest at plans to take out a lane of motor traffic on the Embankment, for example. These groups have good links to a couple of very senior TfL folk who are not particularly enamoured of cycling. Add into the mix a Mayor who is in the process of leaving his London role behind and for whom cycling may no longer feature quite so high on the agenda.

The Reality. Embankment as it looks now. The bike
lane is underneath that parked coach
Put those forces together and we have to consider the possibility that the next 12-18 months will see a string of major cycling investment schemes rolling off the conveyor belt at the design stage and ready to get built but landing into a sea of protests from groups that don't want anything to change and then slumping into a possible lack of strongwilled support for change from a Mayor whose thoughts could easily be elsewhere. That could easily lead to inaction and mean the Vision for Cycling stays as not much more than just that - a vision.

This is the problem I've had with the Mayor for some time. In my view, he royally ballsed-up his first attempt to create a cycling revolution by frittering money on poor quality schemes when he could have used his first term to get meaningful change on the ground. Now that he's finally promised change, he could be leaving too late to actually see that change bear fruit.

That said, the Mayor did lobby for and did obtain the funding to create cycle-friendly junctions and new routes and full credit to his team for that. That funding is now (more or less) in the hands of Transport for London. And TfL is preparing to invest that money in 2015, 2016 and beyond.

What is going to be critical over the coming months is that people continue to lobby and support TfL to actually deliver those big changes. My sense is that we need to show TfL there is a real groundswell of support for the schemes that are coming down the line. That starts with Vauxhall and Oval for now. In September, that will mean Embankment and Farringdon to Elephant. Sure, there will be gripes with the schemes and we should point out where they fall short of expectations. But I'd urge people to focus on the bigger picture and help TfL to get these things on the ground before the political wheels start to slow down.

You can make a start by ensuring you have your say on the schemes for Vauxhall and for Oval. And in September, get behind the plans for the East-West cycle super highway, and for the Elephant to Farringdon plans.

Let's make sure the Vision for Cycling actually happens and let's not allow anyone to derail it before it even gets started.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Two-way cycling consultation: Please support Chancery Lane and Little Britain proposed schemes. Email your comments to the link below.

Little Britain gyratory. Two-way cycling plans
open up a new route to the south
I went along to the City of London Cycling Forum one evening after work last week where the City updated people on its latest plans for making cycling easier and safer in the Square Mile.

One key topic was the City's very successful programme of turning one-way streets into two-way streets for people on bikes. The City first started to roll out two-way cycling on formerly one-way streets in 2009, and adopted a formal policy to extend this across the Square Mile in 2011. By the end of this year, the City plans to have converted 75 formerly one-way streets to two-way working for people on bikes. Contrast that with the City of Westminster which is largely sat on its hands and declared one-way streets are sacrosanct to the West End, for no obvious reason.

In fact, when the two-way programme first kicked off, all sorts of doomsayers predicted anarchy on the streets. In reality, City officials say they have identified only one injury collision (slight) in the last three years which can be linked to contra-flow cycling.

The City is now looking to roll out two-way cycling on two streets that represent fairly chunky barriers to cycling at the moment: on the northern part of Chancery Lane and on a stretch of Little Britain. 

The Chancery Lane plan would open a new link for people cycling west to east that avoids the often hazardous alternative routes of Fleet Street and Holborn. It would involve a short stretch of two-way cycling sourth from Southampton Buildings to Carey Street, which gives you a way to access Lincoln's Inn Fields heading westbound. This would be a great cycle route during rush hour when both the parallel routes can become snarled up with buses and taxis and you're stuck on a bike not really able to move. It is also the only way of providing a route towards Covent Garden that doesn't involve big, nasty junctions.

Soon to be on 75 former one-way only routes in the
Square Mile
My only concern is whether the carriageway is wide enough here, in particular where the two-way cycle lane will run alongside car parking spaces on a short section of Chancery Lane.

It's also a shame that the scheme doesn't extend all the way to the southern end of Chancery Lane. Over time, what I'd like to see here is for the entire road to become two-way for bikes. There is a real lack of north to south routes through this section of inner London and it would be good to see the (completely free) single yellow lane car parking removed from the southern end of Chancery Lane in favour of making the street a) less cluttered b) more useful for more people. I think people should push for that change as the next obvious step but this is a very good first move.

The proposal to make a section of Little Britain two-way is also very welcome. This section is a dual carriageway, part of a one-way gyratory. For years, however, one lane has been out of operation to allow building works at Barts hospital, with no detrimental impact on motor traffic flows. The idea here is to make that lane removal permanent and allow people to cycle south from Smithfields towards St Paul's tube station. Again, hugely sensible.

To be honest, I would like to see an end to the Little Britain gyratory. The whole area is rendered a complete no-man's-land in honour of getting traffic down fat road pipes. I very much hope that the Little Britain plans are the first stage in many steps to make this area less hostile to the majority of people who are travelling here on foot or on bikes, rather than in cars.

City officials are inviting comments by email to quoting "Cycle Permeability" by 22 August 2014. You can download the detailed plans on the City's website. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

City of London cycling forum 31st July at 6.30pm. Please come along - unless you want to be a human speed bump

The bit under the pavement? That used to be a bike lane.
Pic by @hackneycyclist and via ibikelondon blog
This is a very busy cycle route. it is on the Mayor's proposed central London bike grid. The new scheme at the western end made the tunnel massively safer for cycling, it made it easier to cross the road, and it improved motor traffic flows. You could now cycle safely through the tunnel and get to the junction, without putting yourself in harm's way. Really, genuinely, a very positive piece of work. 
Basically, the same City authorities that give you safe cycling at one end of the tunnel, have removed safe cycling at the other end of the tunnel. You will now be forced to swerve into the path of buses and lorries, acting as a human speed bump that makes drivers slow down and exposing you to considerable personal risk in the process. Yes, almost unbelievably, the City is building a new pinchpoint into a central London bike grid route that is busy with buses, HGVs and masses of black cabs. And it's not as if the City proposes any other decent east-west options for cycling. I'd have a good read of ibikelondon's analysis and then I'd do something about it. 
What I'd do is come along to the City of London cycling forum on 31st July in the City Marketing Suite, which is on the corner of Basinghall Street and Guildhall Buildings (on the eastern side of the Guildhall complex).  Tea and coffee and an opportunity to talk informally with City Members and officers will be available from 6.00 p.m., with the formal business commencing at 6.30 p.m. and concluding at 8.00 p.m.  
This is how the City want people to cycle on roads made deliberately
more narrow, exposing you and drivers to unnecessary dange
Topics on the agenda include:
Quietways and other implementation of the Mayor’s Cycling Vision in the City (superhighways and Better Junctions). Beech Street being a perfect example of how not to do it. 
20 mph implementation, which is due to come into effect today, I believe. 
Casualty trends and road danger reduction approach
Education, training and publicity (remember the eggs, anyone?) 
Public and private cycle parking improvements 
Cycle hire intensification.
Please come along if you can. Especially if you don't think the City should be pulling out bike lanes on busy bike routes like Beech Street. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Oval junction - proper cycle tracks, internationally high-standard junction, proper everything. This plan is fantastic. Needs you to tell TfL likewise.

Plans for serious, usable, safe, practical cycle tracks at Oval. Just look at it. Doesn't it make you hum? 

On the same day that Transport for London published its plans for the Oval to Pimlico bike track, it also published plans to sort out the truly terrifying Oval junction.My understanding (I may be wrong) is this scheme is intended to be in place by October (same as Vauxhall).

Please please please take a look at the TfL page and send in your comments on this scheme. 

Some of you may remember that it is three years since Mark Ames and I organised the Tour du Danger, a bike ride to protest about this and other killer junctions. We set off from Oval junction. It is here that Catriona Patel was crushed to death by an HGV driver who had been disqualified 20 times and was on his mobile phone at the time. Countless others have been seriously injured here.

The problem at Oval is that you have three A-roads meeting across two different junctions with large volumes of traffic in multiple lanes, at high speeds. And into the middle of that was plonked some blue paint for people on bikes to follow. The current set-up is downright dangerous. The whole place is just grim.

What TfL is - at last - proposing here is pretty magical. I have to say this is, in my view, best-in-class cycle infrastructure.

The idea is that TfL will build cycle tracks through the junction that keep cyclists away from fast-moving motor vehicles and that have separate traffic light flows to motor traffic. The routes are just as direct as the motor traffic routes. The quality of the tracks is extremely high. The whole thing makes sense. It is logical, simple, easy to use and friendly for people at any speed on a bike. And what's more, the tracks take you from the start of the junction and all the way through. In fact, I can't see a single point where a bike movement would come into conflict with a motor vehicle movement. That, surely, has to be better for everyone, motorised or not.

North to south through Oval

If you're heading north from Stockwell, you'd enter a bike lane at Oval station (currently shared with motor vehicles turning left and with buses going straight on but the left turn will be banned and buses will need to move over a bit) then carry along a 2-2.5m wide stepped or segregated bike lane, go behind the bus stop, then into a bike-only junction where you either turn left towards Lambeth North or straight on towards Kennington. Wait at the lights here, then continue straight on at the same time as the motor traffic and then on into the bus lane to take you up to Kennington. What is not to like? This scheme pulls you out of the motor traffic flow but gives you something serious that is designed for bikes instead. Pedestrians also get a straight across crossing on the one side road to enhance their priority too, which is something of a first for a TfL road. My only questions around this section are a) whether the track is going to be able to cope with massive volumes of people who bike through here every morning and is a 2m track wide enough b) will the track behind the bus stop be smooth and easy to use or will it be clunky and awkward like the ones at Bow c) will the traffic lights at the end by Kennington Road give enough time for everyone to get through on their way up to Elephant because if not, people won't use the track. We do need some assurances that these points will be made to work.

Heading south is pretty much the same sort of thing. You enter the bike track just by the park, filter into the bike-only left or straight ahead lane. At no point will you suddenly find motor vehicles cutting across you. You just amble on straight ahead, wait at the lights and go with the rest of the motor traffic. Left turning motor vehicles wait for the lights, just like in New York where this is standard practice now. Oh, and if you're cycling towards Brixton, you don't wait, you just pootle on down to Brixton.The only bit I'd strongly criticise here is that at the end of the Brixton Road triangle heading towards Brixton they are suggesting a early-start traffic like for cyclists (like at Bow). I don't think this would be helpful. They should just move the advanced stop line well forward of the general traffic stop line and people will have time to get away before the general traffic. Otherwise, there's a risk this part of the junction becomes too cumbersome and people won't (I fear) observe the lights.

For the rest of it, though, this scheme hums. It just does.

Brixton (in the bottom corner) to Kennington section 
Heading up from Brixton? No more dodging buses. You get a separate lane, separate traffic lights and then proper 2m wide stepped bike lane up the funny triangle bit in the middle there. No more 1m wide 'advisory' cycle lane. A real, meaningful, safe, serious, proper bike lane that keeps you and the millions of buses on this section apart. Seriously, this thing makes me grin like Christmas has come early.

There's even an improvement for pedestrians here with a single crossing of Brixton Road rather than the currently very unfriendly two-stage crossing where you stand around on a narrow road island for two minutes.

It says 'get on a bike'; it says 'trust and obey the infrastructure and the lights'. Why? Because they are actually designed, for the first time ever, for a rational, person a bike.

There are some gripes. Turning right from Camberwell towards Kennington? Not sorted out. Harleyford Street from Oval tube to halfway around the Oval? Rely on bus lanes.

It also doesn't fully resolve the right turn that people have to make when cycling from Kennington towards Brixton into Brixton Road. You get to the end of a wonderful bike track here (near where the Junction 4 is on the map) and you're stuck having to zoom off in front of snarling traffic from an advanced stop line. But then, the scheme never undertook to solve this part of the junction in this first stage, and the rest of that part of the junction is a clear and significant step up.

Proper bike tracks, sensible path-finding. Proper adult stuff. 

To my mind, this scheme works. It works for the thousands of sporty racer folk who zip up and down here from Clapham. It works for the slightly slower, more interestingly-dressed people who cycle through here from Brixton. And, most importantly, it would work for people who don't bike here yet because it's too darn scary.

There are a few bits that can be tightened up. The entry at Oval station heading north, for example. The Brixton triangle junction heading towards Brixton too. But, for the most part, this thing sings proper-bicycle-infrastructure. And it's what the Mayor should have built the first time round. Still, let's get this on the ground. It would be amazing to make this a reality.

Send in your views to TfL on the online consultation form.