Thursday, 17 February 2011

St Paul's Churchyard - is it a fountain or a bike lane?

Last year, the City of London unveiled this exciting re-enactment of Victorian gothic pictured on the left.

A rejuvenated drinking fountain. You can read all about the fountain on these pages here where you can track the exciting developments behind the fountain week by week. Plenty of money was spent to publicise this interesting new landmark, it seems.

The fountain is part of the re-design of St Paul's Churchyard, profiled here.

The plan for St Paul's Churchyard involves, you've guessed it, narrowing the road and creating shared space.

Some of the shared space is already there. Carter Lane used to meet St Paul's Churchyard where the fountain now stands. Techincally, it still does and you can still cycle here. The picture below shows where Carter Lane used to meet St Paul's Churcyard and now looks like pavement.

Carter Lane - spot the bike lane. It's there, honest. You just
need to look for it
But look at the picture a little more closely. Can you spot the bicycle lane? This is taken just beside the newly installed fountain. And I have never ever seen a bicycle here. Which, given that I pass here about six times a day, suggests that perhaps no one realises this is a bicycle route. And, done right, it could actually link very neatly into the rest of a route that takes you down quiet roads to Blackfriars Bridge.

If you look really really hard at the picture, you'll see a wooden post near the road. On that post, there's a little blue sign telling you that you can cycle here. But clearly no-one realises that's the case.

That's because, unless you happen to spot the blue sign out the corner of your eye, this space looks like pavement, feels like pavement and if you do cycle it, pedestrians will curse you as being an 'illegal cyclist'.

To be fair to the planners, some of the scheme will be good. The path on the north side of the road pictured above is skimpily narrow if you walk along it and will be a lot nicer under the new plans. But the road is going to be "doing a Cheapside". Lots less space to cycle in, especially in the much much narrower bus lane. There are going to lots of pretty bricks in the road too, ever so fun to cycle on in the rain.

There will be further sensible steps too. The bus stop pictured above will move, making it less of an obstacle to bicycles coming off the junction. A new obligatory bicycle feeder lane heading east will be quite useful too. But possibly the worst new feature: All the coaches from the coach park, will be moved to Queen Victoria Street - a thoroughly miserable road to cycle along where traffic moves at high speed, often forming two lanes and featuring this motorway-style junction here, and where there is plenty of space for segregated bike infrastructure but you will now be squashed between fast traffic and a parked bus.

But let's just focus on this fountain for a moment. I don't know what the fountain cost. But I'd hazard a guess, several hundreds of thousands.
My beef with the fountain is that this is the sort of thing the City of London thinks is important. I can't fault the City for trying to create decent public spaces - there are more places to live now in the Square Mile and there are plenty of exciting new buildings and a new shopping centre at One New Change.

But it's still not thinking seriously about making bicycles a sensible way of getting around the Square Mile. It could do some hugely visionary things. Just imagine a bike corridor between the City and the West End, for example. All those hedge fund-types in Mayfair could pedal to the Bank in less than 20 minutes, far quicker than they can travel by cab. But instead of that, the City feels like a place that's happy to let thousands of taxis plough the streets instead of working with Wesminster and creating a safe cycle route into the West End, for example. (And there isn't one single continuous route you can use from Bank to the West End on a bicycle).