Thursday, 14 April 2011

Vauxhall Cycle Super Highway plans - more compromises on the gyratory. Some good, some bad. But it's all down to political will.

Earlier this week I spent a happy evening walking up and down Vauxhall Bridge Road and around Vauxhall gyratory with none other than Transport for London. Happy days.

TfL contacted me after reading my comments on the SuperHighway scheme between Victoria and sunny Peckham, in particular relating to these comments here about Vauxhall Bridge Road and about the entry to Vauxhall gyratory here.

And it was a very interesting evening. For lots of reasons.

First and foremost, TfL has promised a written response to my comments about the scheme at Vauxhall Bridge. And I got a genuine sense from TfL that it wants to listen to cyclists and that it genuinely does want to make cycling 'work'. But I also got the impression, as I have on the couple of other times I've met people from TfL, that there's an internal turf war going on. And these are very much my words and thoughts, not those of anyone from TfL directly. That turf war seems to be between those who realise they need to take road space and allocate it to cycling to make it safer and more convenient to cycling. And those who just want to whack as many motor vehicles as possible through London's streets.

And that's why we end up with this completely compromised mixed-bag of facitilies for cycling.

Let's look at this for example:
Vauxhall Bridge: Now and as planned
Vauxhall Bridge itself. An image showing current and planned traffic arrangement. If you look at the picture at the top, you can see the current arrangement. A narrow bus lane heading northbound. Head south, though, and you have a cycle lane that is "worse than useless". TfL's words not mine. I've mentioned the approach to Vauxhall Bridge and the nightmare cycle lane before but you can see it in all its glory here.

So let's see how TfL plans to make the bridge "provide cyclists with safer, faster and more direct journeys". Wahay, no more cycle lane. So, what do you get instead? At the moment, there's a 1.4metre bike lane (not very wide) plus a 2.5m motor vehicle. So, 3.9metres for traffic to get past you. Under the scheme that will shrink to a 3metre lane with no cycle lane. As another blogger puts it, this will result in conditions like this:

Due to the on road bits being built on sections of road which are quite narrow, then there is lots of conflict with drivers as you are forced to take a primary road position at plenty of points to keep safe. Not exactly what a novice cyclist wants to be doing on their dream cycle path to work.

Not to mention the fact that the exact opposite conditions are in place further up the street where the nearside lane is 3.9metres. So, at one point, the nearside lane is just wide enough for an HGV to get past you. But on the bridge, the exact opposite is the case. Just picture the scene: There you are on your rather slow and slightly wobbly cycle hire bike. You're going to have to cycle in the middle of the lane to encourage motor vehicles to overtake you in the second lane. Not fun at all.

I've already profiled what happens when you come off the bridge on to the gyratory. It's a mean, narrow bike lane with four lanes of motor vehicles beside you. All of you forced into a racing track-style curve which almost always features motor vehicles cutting in to your extremely narrow advisory bike lane.

So far, so unimpressive.

But back to my point about the turf war between the people who seem to realise you need to create proper bike infrastructure and the people who just want to ram as many motor vehicles through the roads as quickly as possible.

Vauxhall gyratory heading from Vauxhall Bridge towards Oval.
How it looks now
Because just when you despair about the design of this Cycle Super Highway, along comes something that's actually not truly bad. 

And that's this part.

Here's the plan. Five motor vehicle lanes become four wider
motor vehicle lanes plus one bike lane
Here's the section of Vauxhall gyratory as you head off the bridge in the direction of Oval. At the moment it consists of five lanes heading under the railway bridge. It's pretty grim for cycling. I've been run into at least once here this year and near-missed pretty much once a week as I cycle through here.

And here's the plan. From five lanes to four. Plus a new bicycle lane.

Look in detail at what's going on and the motor vehicle lanes are all slightly wider than they are at the moment. There's a slight refuge area just before the bridge to keep motor vehicles away from cycles as they come round the race-track curve under the bridge. And then there's a mandatory cycle lane.

The fact that the mandatory lane is only 1.5metres is disappointing. But the fact is that this scheme feels like cat and mouse. To me it looks like Cycle Super Highways are about sneaking in bicycle infrastructure that won't upset the motor vehicle contingent. Where they can get away with it, TfL's road engineers are putting infrastructure in place that at least hints at what is really needed. But a hint is all we get. No two metre wide lanes here. No safety for cyclists when they're on the bridge itself. But suggestions of what a bicycle lane could look like when it works.

My Transport for London host was charming, informative and a keen cyclist. But he admitted "you need cultural change before people are prepared to accept that cars might need to wait [for cyclists and pedestrians]."

That's exactly what's going on here, I think. Our Mayor wants to encourage cycling. But it seems that he doesn't judge the political mood as supporting priority for people on foot or on bicycle. Or in wheelchairs or motor scooters for that matter. I get the feeling that he feels he has to pander to the 'motorist'.

Most people I know are motorists. I am, for one. But an awful lot of us think motoring is not the way forward in central London.

We're clearly going to have to make sure London's next mayor realises that a lot of us think that way. Otherwise we're just going to get more of the same.