Wednesday, 30 November 2011

City of London and TfL - winding up motor drivers by turning you into a speed hump on your bike. New schemes designed to 'benefit' people on bikes fail drivers and cyclists

Going to school - One reason cycling infrastructure
needs space (although note car parked
in bike lane in distance)
Last week, I met with some people at the City of London to see what they're up to in terms of things cycling-related.

What struck me during that meeting was just how little is going on.

First the good news. As I posted last week, budget has been found to open up some streets to two-way cycling. There will also be some new on-street cycle parking which should be announced soon.

One very big piece of news is that the City has secured commitment from Transport for London (again) to review (also again) whether it's possible to remove Aldgate gyratory and make this a two-way environment (again). Let's see what happens.

Less encouragingly, we talked about Cheapside - the street that runs from Bank to St Paul's and about St Paul's Churchyard which runs east from Fleet Street and along the southern side of the cathedral.

A year ago, the City embarked on schemes to make these better places to walk. It has widened the pavements and removed a lot of space from the road.

Police biker stuck in the motor traffic flow.
The problem? The motor traffic doesn't flow. You're
basically stuck surrounded by belching buses

My own view is that the schemes are a disaster for cycling. Anecdotally, I sense that cycling numbers along these roads have also decreased since the changes. I asked people on twitter what they felt about the new Cheapside. Here's what people said:

  • "It's meant to slow down cars. But the taxis don't slow down or stop for pedestrians"
  • "Better for pedestrians, worse for cyclists. Narrow & pinchpoints. See few cyclists here now!"
  • "Worse. Traffic moves slowly. You have to hold primary [road position] which aggravates motorists"
  • "It's deluded. For pedestrians much better. For cycling - a nightmare"
  • "Endured months of diversions assuming it would be better when finished & now it's almost unridable"
£3million pounds+ spent on this road scheme and it's clearly failed to 'greatly benefit cyclists'

Why's that?

Firstly, the roads are now so narrow, that motor vehicles can't really get past people on bikes. And vice versa.  

That means you're either stuck between buses or you have to overtake by crossing the middle of the road. Which is also largely impossible, because the motor traffic on the other side is stuck in a queue as well. Scenes like this one (above) are typical. Person on bike stuck in the middle of motor traffic going nowhere. Fabulous.

New Cheapside exta narrow road layout
Note how close the van is to the guy on his bike

The other clincher is the addition of new pinch points, particularly on Cheapside. Motor vehicles try to overtake you between the pinch-points, then realise there's not enough room, then slam in behind you or literally scrape past you. Just like the bloke driving this van is doing as he buzzes the guy cycling in this picture on the left.

What really gets me is that several people at the City of London told me quite proudly how all of this would work so well for cycling, how it would make people's journeys quicker on buses, how it would be a much nicer street to walk along. Why? They were certain that the re-design of the junction at the St Paul's end of Cheapside would encourage motor drivers to avoid using Cheapside as they are now directed away from the street. That junction is certainly far nicer to cross on foot now than it was. But it's had absolutely no effect in terms of intervening to reduce the numbers of motor vehicles using the street.

Revealingly, the Department for Transport issued a report by the consultancy TRL this week that looked at ways to make the road infrastructure safer for people on bikes.

Much of the bicycling press seized on the report's conclusion that reducing posted speed limits is the primary way to reduce cycle collisions. And one of the key aims of both the Cheapside and St Paul's schemes was to slow motor traffic. But what's happened is that you now have even bigger queues of belching traffic going nowhere. And, yes, I suspect collisions with cyclists will decrease. But that's only because people are avoiding having to try and squeeze down these narrow roads, especially when they're stacked with buses and lorries just idling there and there's no way to get past them.

Now for the really gloomy news.

There's even more of this road-narrowing planned. I haven't seen the detailed concepts yet but both Cannon Street and Fleet Street are under review.

In other words, it will be almost entirely impossible to cycle from east to west through the City during the day when the high motor traffic volumes mean nothing is moving. You'll just have to sit there soaking up the exhaust fumes and looking at the extra wide pavements. Would you fancy cycling with your five-year old along those sorts of roads on your way to or through the City? No? I thought not.

As one commentator has added below, this is coming all over London. You can see the plans for Tottenham Court Road on this site here. Same terrifying use-people-on-bikes-to-wind-up-people-in-motor-vehicles road design. In essence, see that picture of a five-year old at the top of the page? The current fad in urban road design is to place that five year old on a newly-narrowed road; have buses overtake her giving a few centimetres of space (because that's all the space that's left); encourage her to get to the front of the queue in a bike lane and advanced stop line; wind up the bus and taxi drivers behind her (quite understandably); who then overtake her even more closely because they (quite fairly) feel just as frustrated by the whole thing as the person on the bike. It's not only dangerous, it defies common sense.
That report I mentioned by the Department of Transport is a very confused piece of thinking. However, it gets one thing right. Road infrastructure should be designed 'using a behavioural-based approach'.

I think the behaviour that has been applied by the designers of Cheapside, Tottenham Court Road and St Paul's Churchyard is unbelievably poor. Their understanding of road user behaviour is to use children, old people, commuters on bikes as devices to slow down other people in motor vehicles. This is wrong for people on bikes and it's just as wrong for people in cars. It's like a trick - wind up the motorist by putting the cyclist in a sort of dodgems game. It slows down the road, yes. But it massively winds up motorists and makes cycling dangerous and difficult when it shouldn't be. Frankly, I don't see why I should be a dodgem car when I'm on a bike.