Thursday, 19 January 2012

Add your comment: Missing east-west bike link could connect Holborn Circus to Threadneedle Street - neat route that avoids Bank junction congestion and danger spot

New east-west bike link opening at St Paul's - avoids Bank junction eastbound
I received an email early this week from the City of London asking for comments on a proposed experimental cycle scheme, that would allow cyclists coming from Holborn Circus to access a fairly direct east-west route from St Paul's gyratory towards Moorgate or the north of Bank. What's neat about it is that it opens up a parallel route to Cheapside that would allow people to avoid Bank junction and cycle to the north of the Bank before carrying on east-wards. I've drawn the new route in the map above (thank you bikeroutetoaster.com)

If you're not too familiar with the area, here's a link to the google map.

You'd cycle through the bus/taxi/bike-only Angel Street which skirts the north side of the BT building at St Paul's, hop on to the extremely wide pavement via a new dropped kerb, head north for a few metres and then into Gresham Street.

So, on the positive side, a cheap, quick win for cyclists that opens up a new west-to-east route that avoids Bank junction.

However, there's a number of negatives in my view. I'd be very grateful if other people familiar with these junctions could add their thoughts and comments by emailing either me directly at Cyclistsinthecity@gmail.com or commenting below. 

Pictured below is a detailed technical drawing of the link as planned. Basically, by opening up the pavement area to cycling, the City can fill a missing link for cyclists who want to head from the St Paul's gyratory into the quieter streets north of Cheapside. Importantly this allows you to avoid Bank junction which is often extremely clogged up and is the scene of more car-on-bike collisions than any other junction in the Square Mile.

Here are some issues that stand out to me:


  • The hop onto / off of pavement bit: It's really badly signposted. Lots of people walking along here will wonder why the hell a bike is hurtling at them. At the very least, some bike logos should be painted on the ground as you enter and exit the paved area.
  • Unless you're hyper-familiar with this junction you won't know where you're supposed to head to when you cycle on to the pavement area, so those bike logos are important for cyclist navigation as well. I also feel there should be some marking across
  • Gresham Street itself is a challenge. Until very recently, the entrance into Gresham Street was bicycle-only. There's a cafe on the corner, much loved by black taxi drivers. For some reason, the bike entry was converted a few months ago into a temporary all vehicle entry. This scheme would formalise that two-way working at this junction. So, yes, bikes get a new access route. But so do the dozens and dozens of taxis that want to use this as a rat-run and avoid Cheapside and Bank. What this means is a) cyclists get a quieter, alternative route along Gresham Street that avoids Cheapside and Bank but b) the new two-way working means that Gresham Street - which has always been a quiet local access road - will become a fairly busy rat-run.  
  • The fact that Gresham Street will be a busy two-way junction means that the bike crossing (which is after all directly across a fairly fast two-lane gyratory) will be a fairly tricky manoeuvre. At the very least, bike footprints should go across the road here.
What's slightly irksome about this experimental scheme is that it sort of matches the City's recent and very positive rhetoric about cycling. But then undermines it completely. The City of London published its local transport plan last week. In the plan, it states its intention to:

"The continued creation of more pedestrian and cyclist shared routes and more pedestrian zones that permit access for cyclists, i.e., the selective exclusion of motor vehicles from some local access streets, at all times or only at some times of day."

This scheme is definitely a case where the City is adding new and meaningful access for cyclists. Good.

But it's failing to exclude or limit the number of motor vehicles in this particular local access street. Bad.

It's also debatable whether this is a 'quality' cycle route (something else in the City's recent rhetoric. After all, it's not at all clear whether people will even realise this is a legitimate bike route or not, there doesn't look to be any signposting, any obvious markers that tell you where to go. I know my way around the City's back streets but plenty of other people wouldn't have a clue where this heads to.

The cycle crossing needs more detailed thinking about to make it a) findable b) safer c) clear what you're supposed to do and where you're supposed to go when you're perched on your bike on the pavement.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, this scheme is experimental. But I fear it means Gresham Street will switch permanently from being a quiet local access road with one-way for motor vehicles (two way for bikes) to a busy two-way rat-run.
If this experiment were ultimately to lead to a proper, clearly-marked cycle track (one that also lead north of here so that you could come west along Gresham Street and then head north towards Islington), then great.

But there's no indication whether or not that's part of the plan yet.

So, on the plus side, hooray, the City of London is looking at ways to give more people better options for cycling through the City. On the negative side, err, it means shared space on the pavement and shared space in Gresham Street which will no longer be a local access road but becomes a rat run instead. However, if this is the start of a proper cycle track that allows you to enter and exit Gresham Street in either direction and becomes something that people want to use as an alternative bike route and want to make better over the next year or two (more money to be found for that), then it's a good start. What do you think?
Do send me your thoughts to cyclistsinthecity@gmail.com or comment below email subject 'Gresham Street Consultation' by 29 January please.

15 comments:

  1. Widen the crossing (move the stop line north by 4m), long dropped kerbs both sides (without extending tactile), and legitimise cycling on the east side north of the crossing. Drop can extend north of stop line on east side, so cyclists go as close to natural alignment as they can (makes them much more predictable).

    A few mini signs on bollards are probably ok.

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  2. This appears to replace a straight route with a longer one involving two right turns across traffic. Much as I loathe Bank, I doubt I'd take it.

    One thing that comes up as part of your writeup is the anomalous status of black cabs. Why on earth are they so privileged in this city? What could be more congesting than a class of vehicles that spends half its time driving about empty and much of the rest stopping with impunity in places calculated to cause maximum havoc.

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  3. I'd definitely like to see the Gresham St junction as bicycle only rather than opening it 2 way for cars otherwise much of the value to cyclists of a quieter route has gone. If this does happen some care must be taken over the parking situation outside the cabbies cafe as the previous cycle only junction threw cyclists into the middle of what could be at times a taxi car park. Look at the junction on google street view to see a good example. Ideally cyclists should have their own dedicated bit of the road until it becomes 'proper' 2 way at Noble Street.

    Also it's been a while since I cycled on Gresham St but the road surface was awful. Lots of bumps, potholes, uneven tarmac - a real nightmare to cycle on. I hope this gets addressed.

    Finally I'd like to see it extended onto Old Broad St using Throgmorton Street, taking you around the back of the stock exchange.

    Overall - not bad but could do better.

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  4. dan (based frequently at BT Centre)19 January 2012 at 16:11

    It is a good idea, providing the pavement section by Nomura House is sufficiently bike friendly. The Gresham St/Wood St junction can be a bit hairy at times though.

    How many cyclists use Newgate St - Cheapside - Bank as a route? As opposed to London Wall or Cannon St?


    The new route would only have value going east, wouldn't it, as it would be slower coming west than going down Cheapside - which is why you don't see many bikes going west on Gresham St now.

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  5. Firstly, the Local Transport Plan and City policy provide that local access roads (those shown in white in their LIP volume 3 fig 3F) are suppose to be prohibited for through traffic. Most don't actually have any physical preventative measures. Gresham St did, at least West-east, but this proposal takes this away. It should be restored to cycle-only, or at least made a bus/taxi lane (not red route, so no PTWs).

    Secondly, I agree that the signage needs to be greatly improved on the shared-use path or there will be confusion and limited take-up. We don't want another St Paul's Churchyard/Carter Lane junction where the Cyle sign is only visible as you whizz past, and the cycle use is really not apparent to the pedestrians using Carter Lane.

    Thirdly, why not extend the shared-use up to the Museum roundabout to give access to London Wall, or at any rate to Little Britain so that cyclists can progress that way through to Smithfield without having to go around the gyratory.

    Finally, is it not about time the gyratory was resotred to 2-way use? Gyratories are so 1960s!

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  6. "We don't want another St Paul's Churchyard/Carter Lane junction where the Cyle sign is only visible as you whizz past, and the cycle use is really not apparent to the pedestrians using Carter Lane." Indeed, I whizzed past on Cannon St/St Paul's Churchyard/Ludgate Hill for years before noticing the blue bike sign during a lunchtime walk. Now it's an easy left turn into Carter Lane, and usually not too many pedestrians around. But more signs would be good.

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  7. Making a reasonable backstreet route legal: good.

    Making the main roads safe to cycle on: essential.

    The lesson in Oxford is that however good you make the back routes, the majority will still use the main roads (whether by preference, or because there's only so much effort anyone wants to put into navigating). So ultimately you have to make main roads safe enough / comfortable enough. That means unpacking gyratories and controlling parking ... and not worrying too much about the details of back routes.

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  8. This does rather look as though the City is trying to find the easiest, least 'disruptive' way to meet its commitment to providing decent East-West routes.

    Gresham St is okay to cycle on but only because there isn't much traffic. Unfortunately, what traffic there is mostly consists of taxis and delivery vans who both think cyclists have no right to be there. Restoring one-way working at the junction is essential.

    But that would leave other problems, like crossing St Martin's Le Grand which typically has lots of fast-moving traffic. A pedestrian zebra crossing just above the junction with Gresham St might help a little.

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  9. Danny, you placed particular emphasis on the claim that it is an experimental route. Did the City give you any indication what the experiment is seeking to prove?

    You say that it would allow cyclists coming from Holborn Circus to access a fairly direct easy-west route that allows people to avoid Bank and cycle to the north of this junction before carrying on eastwards.

    Rather tantalisingly you have the route finishing at the rear of some big building, and whilst I can easily see what people would be expected to do thereafter, it would be proper for us to see the route plotted from one side of the City to the other, and in both directions.

    If the point of the experiment is to establish whether people would divert from the most direct route, we already know the answer to that.

    This is not at all what I was expecting. About the only thing in its favour is that it is cheap and quick.

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  10. I take Angel Street and Cheapside every day, so I’m very interested in this. However:

    1) Angel Street is used for tourist coach parking, and whilst not always fully in use, there is a considerable risk that coaches would block (or at least obscure) the entrance/hop-on to the shared pavement at the start of the scheme.
    2) The gyratory traffic descending St-Martins-Le-Grand is often moving at high speed, with vehicles changing lanes (it’s a 2 lane stretch converting to 4 when Angel Street joins) unpredictably, because they are about to have to make a choice of left or right (Newgate Street or Cheapside/New Change). Getting across this might therefore be quite difficult. There is a pedestrian traffic signal on St-Martins-Le-Grand, which might help, but I can remember the exact location with respect to the Gresham St junction, so I could be wrong.
    3) I agree with the previous commenter who questioned where this route would leave you at the end. I need to make it onto Cornhill, one street further south than currently proposed, so I’m not sure I’d find this route particularly beneficial if I couldn’t gain easy access to my route at the end.
    4) Pedestrians. Already I find Cheapside/Poultry the worst in the City (which in turn is the worst part of London) for pedestrians stepping out right in front of me without looking. Attitudinal problem? Too much telephoning/texting? Drunk? I don’t know, but the quantity that simply think, “it’s safe to walk into the carriageway without so much as a glance” is stunning. My bell gets almost all its daily exercise in this stretch, and sometimes not even that is sufficient. If Gresham Street were true shared space with pedestrians, I can only think this would be even worse, and so for my own safety I would avoid it.

    Finally, I do agree that it is worth providing an alternative to Cheapside/Poultry. These roads have been rendered too narrow for cyclists by the recent anti-cycling “upgrade”. I’ve already witnessed a taxi driver assaulting a female cyclist in a dispute in this stretch. Accidents here are now much more likely thanks to the “upgrade”. I hope that my comments above are useful and could be considered in the design of an alternative route. Furthermore, an East-West route would be helpful too.

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  11. I am happy to see the City taking an active step to find an east-west route in line with the commitment made recently in the LIP.

    Although I cycle sometimes on Gresham I'm not really familiar enough with the whole route to comment on the scheme, but I will say from what I've seen that it's clearly a "half way" solution.

    Give us some dedicated space please! This looks like "more of the same" where we are expected to share the road with traffic and the pavement with pedestrians.

    Dropped kerbs, abusive taxi drivers and little blue signs do not a cycling network make! We need our own space!

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  12. A few thoughts - the pavement by Nomura House did (I've not been working over there in two years) have two large cycle racks and some small trees, and the crossing from the other side of St Martin's Le Grand (south of Gresham Street). They'd all be in the way of cycling along the otherwise wide strip.

    Angel street, behind BT Centre, and the right turn into it isn't that nice, as most vehicular traffic will be continuing straight on, and it's been buses (and bikes, and delivery lorries) only a while, and includes a bus stand. So there's usually parked-up buses as well as some driving through.

    The taxi drivers congregate by that cafe on Gresham Street because there's an upstairs Cabbies-only room. And there's a lot of taxis that park up all around there, far more than just in the small rank. The rest of Gresham Street also has more than a few parked cars all the time, and Lothbury's a popular rat run.

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  13. Use Gresham St everyday (office backs on to it). Rob is right, the road surface is awful - full of potholes and cracks. Because it goes through the heart of loads of office buildings between Cheapside and London Wall, it's also heaving with pedestrians, who at the moment do not pay much attention when crossing (because it is just a back street). If this route's going to be publicised widely, that fact needs addressing so as not to risk the safety of pedestrians and cyclists alike.

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