Monday, 8 November 2010

Southwark Bridge to Queen Street. Plant pots and barriers coming soon

Queen St as it used to look
Some months ago, Transport for London spent £250,000 or so improving the pedestrian and cycle crossing between Southwark Bridge and Queen Street. I first wrote about this here.

I'd argue that the the old juntion was pretty nasty. Pedestrians had to cross in cattle pens. People on bikes had to weave between a fence and some railings.

Queen St as it is now
What that money did was to replace a fairly people-unfriendly junction with a rather more user-friendly junction.

This is what the design looks like now. It is much easier to cross as both a pedestrian and on a bicycle. Certainly, the big lump of paving over on the western side (left side of this picture) isn't hugely attractive but the scheme works. It can also cope better with the fairly large number of cycles that queue here at rush hour to access Southwark Bridge to the south (the superhighway design at the north end of the bridge leaves a lot to be desired but I'm not going to cover here).


Queen St with gates and potplants coming soon
So, you'd think the City might be content to leave it alone? No chance of that. Apparently, there's a lot of conflict between people on foot and people on pedal cycles here. Myself, I'd say the conflict here is actually between people in motor vehicles who get several lanes to themselves and the priority traffic light phasing vs everyone else who's not in a car. But, not the City. They want to spend, and have approved, as far as I know, a further £184,000 on :

"proposals aimed at reducing conflict between cyclists and pedestrians and measures to reduce cycle speeds. Proposals include the introduction of carefully positioned planters, together with associated paving and other street furniture and the introduction of a raised area of carriageway on the north side of the space."
Queen St slightly further north as it is now

What that means in reality is more of this: Welcome to the City of London on your bicycle. Once you've crossed the motorway on Upper Thames Street, welcome into a shared space where your path is aided by a giant gate. Then you can dodge some plant pots and then worry about where to cycle so as not to knock off pedestrians.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Shared space. Germany's version.
Here's how the Germans would design a space like this. Here's a crossing in the centre of Berlin, near the main shopping area. Clear, marked cycle route. Shared with pedestrians, yes, but clear and easy to follow. No gates. No pot plants.
 
London's politicians clearly have an issue with cyclists going too fast. They don't seem to have much of an issue with motor vehicles going too fast. The City has resisted a 20mph zone for years, for example. But they'll happily put people on foot and bikes in the same space, make them compete for a fraction of the space given to motor vehicles and then force people to cycle like space invaders dodging plant pots.
 
I noticed in my correspondence with Kate Hoey MP that her problem was 'commuter cyclists'. And it's kind of true. I hear that sort of attitude again and again within the City as well. Locals hate people in lycra with helmets cutting them up and cycling too fast. That is what people perceive as 'cyclists'. There's an excellent piece on At War with the Motorist here about the 'cyclist'.
 
I too want to cycle to work in my suit or to town in my jeans of an evening. I'd like to cycle into the City with my five-year old niece actually. But there's a disconnect. On the one hand, we have road safety people insisting we should wear helmets, wear hi-viz, cycle by "taking the road" and behaving like under-powered motor scooters. Sorry, but my niece ain't going to do that.
 
On the other hand, those tiny bits of cycle infrastructure that we do get, are designed for the exact opposite. Cycle extremely slowly, have no priority anywhere, weave in and out of people on foot. Wait ages at traffic lights for motor vehicles. And now, dodge the plant pots too. I tried to encapsulate the problem here and here. Maybe I think too much about these sorts of things. But it's baffling to me that the area of non-motorised transport is so utterly lacking in any sort of direction that the whole thing just doesn't hang together.
 
I dislike the policies of Barnet councillor Brian Coleman with intensity but on one thing he's right: "My priorities are roads, roads, roads and roads." With that one statement he sums up exactly how most people think. And I can't help but wonder if it's because there's no-one and nothing at the top joining the infrastructure, the rules and the regulations together that would enable people to make a really genuine choice about whether they drive on a road or whether they walk or cycle instead. Because the whole thing just doesn't hang together if you're on a bike or on foot whereas it does if you're in a car. No wonder people vote for Coleman. They just want to get to work or to school or out to play. And he's right. Roads are there, the infrastructure and the systems are there. If you want to cycle or walk, those features just aren't there to the same degree. And so plant pot dodging is what you get instead. Depressingly.