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.

22 comments:

  1. Of all the changes I've seen over the last year or so, this has to be the most dim-witted. The pavement is unnecessarily wide considering the footfall.

    And who on earth claimed narrowing a road would benefit cyclists?

    I honestly don't understand the people who plan this city - a lot of their thinking is not just slightly off-key, it's downright absurd.

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  2. For a long time Cheapside has been one way. The city has not exploded from accumulated traffic. Why not make it one way and create a two way cycle track from the gained lane. Simple cheap and work very well. You don't even need to paint it blue.

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  3. Yet more proof that "schemes for cyclists" are not designed by people who commute by bike... Just bloody daft.

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  4. I think the City's claim to promise benefits to cyclists was at best disingenuous. During the day cycle traffic on Cheapside used to account for anywhere between about 25% and 40% of all traffic using the street. It was a relatively pleasant parralel route to avoid St Paul's Churchyard/Cannon Street for E/W travellers. So clearly something had to be said about cyclists.

    In reality - I suspect - the design was entirely driven by the demands of the major landowner in the area, Land Securities plc, developer of the One New Change office/shopping complex who incidentally probably provided most of the money for the scheme, which was funded primarily from "section 106" money, ie the "fee" levied on developers proportional to he sacel ofeir developments for "planning gain". (Rightly or wrongly, the developers get a powerful say in how their s106 money is spent).

    Anyway, the City wanted Cheapside and the surrounding area to be its equivalent of Oxford St/Regent St, and to breathe some life into the City at weekends. In practical terms they have semi-pedestrianised Cheapside to make it more appealing to shoppers. A Consumerist at heart, I see nothing inherently offensive in that goal, but cyclists have in effect been sacrificed at the altar of commerce and no suitable alternative provision has been made for them bar a big increase in the numbers of Sheffield stands. My own impression is that cycle through traffic on Cheapside has totally collapsed, as I suspect any future screenline counts will show.

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  5. +1: cycling Cheapside now more dangerous. But is the remedy not both simple and cheap? Put a wide cycle lane along that broad footway.

    Let’s see what official responses to that reveal about the priorities here…

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  6. exactly. a dutch-style cycle lane along the footway (with different surfacing) would be a reasonable solution. might need some adjustment of loading bays. it'll be usable when the road is congested. if the city refuse this, we can call them on the real priorities here.

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  7. Sensible remedy is to make it one way for motor vehicles and two way for bikes in the now freed up car lane.

    What the Dutch would do in their old town centres.

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  8. I was at the 'Better Streets' conference yesterday. I heard the designer responsible for High Street Kensington, David Moores, explicitly say that he *wants* narrow carriageways in which bicycles can just about squeeze past motor vehicles, because these are good for calming traffic speeds.

    The idea being that the bicycles get to the front, and then motor vehicles are prevented from overtaking the bicycles - ergo, 'traffic' is slowed.

    Of course this fails to appreciate a) how unpleasant it is trying to filter through these narrowed carriageways, and b) how unpleasant it is to ride on a bike in front of impatient motorists who will use any opportunity, no matter how narrow, to squeeze past.

    But David Moores thought this was a wonderful idea.

    It's a disaster, and it's going to spread across London.

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  9. Cyclist being used as human traffic calming is not new, but doest create deliberate conflict and should be avoided. Maybe someone should nip out and paint sharrows down the middle of the traffic lanes and follow up with mass rides.

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  10. Westminster have done lots of this already, be it in a different manner, as part of the picadilly and St James schemes.

    The narrow lanes (narrower than the buses and trucks that use them) are vile.

    There are few things that will stop me cycling, but crawling along behind an exhaust pipe, unable to pass left due to parked vans, unable to pass right due to unnecessary central reservation, is one of them...

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  11. Did you get the impression that the City knows that the Cheapside development was a change for the worse for cyclists? I worry that they look at their new and shiny pavements and think they are all wonderful and the layout works as planned and go on to do the same on Cannon st/Fleet St, completely oblivious to concerns like those above

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  12. Lots of cyclists will choose to use the pavement and they really can't be blamed, but then we'll get even more of the cyclists are worse than Hitler abuse.

    I hate cycling around the city, I get lost and always end up on large roads. As a woman I tend to sit in the traffic rather than force my way through on narrow roads like this, so my journeys now take longer.

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  13. Stupid pavement widening is definitely the current road designers' fad. I just wrote about the topic in the Brent & Harrow Cyclists Newsletter here as a similar thing has happened in Station Road, Harlesden.

    As I wrote there:
    "These schemes are invariably introduced by councils with some vague wording about “improving conditions for pedestrians”, but there is never any real justification for the allocation of space, and no consideration of cyclists’ needs. And then people wonder why some cyclists use the pavements."

    David
    Vole O'Speed

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  14. david moores' email is:

    david.moores(at)projectcentre.co.uk

    if a few cyclists get in touch with him to point out the flaws in the designs he's promoting, maybe he'll start to think again?

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  15. In the picture you've provided the section of pavement in between the two vertical slabs (the section of pavement which only a single pedestrian is using) would make a brilliant segregated dutch style cycle path. Cyclists could easily cycle two abreast here and it would have no effect on traffic or pedestrians and really would make this road a 'cycle super highway'.

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  16. Just took a look at the website for Project Centre. Hilariously, it seems they were also responsible for Exhibition Road as well as Ken High St.

    But if you really want them rolling in the aisles, take a look at the page on CRISP and cycle design (http://www.projectcentre.co.uk/project_desc.php?id=74) and see what they show as the first picture.

    (Clue - "Cyclists Dismount")

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  17. What is striking about these schemes are two things:

    1, they nullify the myth that there is "no room" for decent cycling infrastructure - as you can see there are acres and acres of space, just used very poorly.

    2, there's something wholly undignified about using vulnerable road users as a means to slow traffic and in turn this does not lead to a dignified cycling experience. It's only through creating conditions which encourage dignity and civility that we will ever achieve higher modal share for bikes. Putting cyclists under stress is no way to go about doing it.

    And you're right, this is happening all over London - St James, Pall Mall, Dalston, TCR, Cheapside. It sucks, pretty much.

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  18. Sent a polite email to David Moores. Please do the same if you can.

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  19. Rye Lane is probably their least bad… but its not good either.

    And theres absolutely NO consideration for cycling as the Dutch would understand it… its all weasel words like "cyclist will benefit from overall lower speeds through this junction" blah blah

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  20. I hate pinch points. My commute takes me up a wide road which has pinch points in Palmers Green. Its up hill so every hundred yards impatient drivers are squeezed back onto me.

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  21. I work opposite the New Change shopping centre but now cycle in the back way to avoid Cheapside as the traffic no longer leaves a safe passing distance. It is just too dangerous now.

    They have done the same on Roman Road, E2, and in Dalston too - road narrowing just means less room and consequently even more danger for cyclists. They even covered over the cycle lane that used to be there with pavement but pedestrians already had plenty of room - the pavement is now wider than the traffic lane.

    To make matters worse they have put in traffic islands so that the cars CANNOT make way for a cyclist, even if they wanted to. WHY, and what were they thinking?

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  22. Is it possible to use Gresham Street to the north of Cheapside instead?

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