Thursday, 12 January 2012

Mayor announces two options at killer Bow roundabout. Some signs of positive change. Is this the start of something new or a one-off?

TfL still can't decide if this is the right option
Courtesy London Cycling Campaign
Transport for London last night issued a press statement saying:

"TfL has announced proposals to improve the safety of cyclists using the busy Bow roundabout in east London."

This being the main cycling route to the London Olympics and the scene, tragically, of two cyclist deaths late last year.

Massive hats off to London Cycling Campaign (cautious welcome given to the announcement which you can see here) and in particular to Tower Hamlets Wheelers for pushing things this far but also to the very many people and organisations who have worked with like-mind folk to make the Mayor wake up. The press release is a a good start but it is, in my view, no more than a start at this stage. It's also utterly useless for pedestrians and contains one option that is downright bizarre.

Most important. TfL wants to hear your views. You have one week (I understand). Go to this page, click contact us at the bottom and let TfL know your thoughts (feel free to add here too)

Let's look at the detail

The proposals are defined as being one of TWO options, namely -

"1) Creating an innovative cycle “early-start” phase at the traffic signals on the eastbound and westbound entrance to the Bow roundabout, which would provide cyclists with a dedicated green light phase to allow them to travel around the roundabout ahead of other traffic."

This bit of the press release is encouraging. And so is this: "Transport for London also proposes to install new dedicated cycle lanes on the east and westbound approaches of the roundabout, allowing cyclists to approach the advance stop lines at the junctions without the need to filter through traffic."

All extremely good news. I've never seen cyclist-specific traffic lights in the UK that let bikes get away safely at junctions. They're normal in most other countries but this could be something of a first for London if it's done right. I remain slightly sceptical, though. I have seen plenty of bike traffic lights that force cyclists to wait three minutes and then let them sprint off for 10 seconds before they have to give way to all the motor traffic again. Something along those lines would simply reinforce the sense that motor vehicles must always be given priority over everyone else.

The TfL release then peels off into an alternative that could work but could well be completely insane:

"Option 2) Reducing the existing flyover across Bow roundabout from two traffic lanes to one in both directions, with new dedicated cycle lanes. Traffic signals could also be installed at either end of the flyover to make safe access easier for cyclists."

TfL is preparing to tell cyclists this is where they should cycle
Courtesy London Cycling Campaign
I can't quite believe it. Even with a cycle lane, would you want to zip up this incline with your kids? Cycle up here on a Boris bike? I'm not so sure.

The note to editors released last night goes on to say that traffic signals and dedicated cycle lanes might be installed to open the flyover up to cyclists 'helping to create a safer cycling environment'. Here's the flyover pictured left.

Overall, my reading of this release:

Proper cycle lanes will lead to the Bow roundabout whatever happens, keeping motor vehicles and people on bikes slightly apart from each other. Good. And traffic lights *might* be installed to get cyclists onto the flyover. Frankly, there would need to be traffic lights here, otherwise you'll have to cross one or two lanes of extremely fast-moving traffic to get on the flyover and back off it in the first place. 

Personally I would like a Dutch/Danish/New York option, which would see the flyover kept for motor (or bike) traffic and one lane taken out on the roundabout (or some of the vast pavement space removed and turned into cycling space) with decent cycle space in the approaches plus traffic lights at the junction. That is the sort of solution proposed by the London Cycling Campaign and which you can see at the top of this post. It was discussed and agreed with TfL inspectors when they first reviewed this junction. According to the London Cycling Campaign, the Cycle Superhighway Implementation Plan acknowledged from the outset that: "traffic signals specifically for cyclists and pedestrians (toucan crossings) and separate cycle tracks should be installed."

Fancy crossing the road here? Courtesy
DiamondGeezer blog
Why do you think pedestrians can't be included in the scheme? It's because of this, rather ominous statement: "Initial traffic modelling showed that the knock-on disruption to all road users, including cyclists". In other words, pedestrians, you'll have to wait for the bus to get across this junction.

The fact that there are two options is because Transport for London says it wants to consult. And it wants to do so quickly.

Whatever people might think of the relative merits of both options, this does seem like a genuine change of tone. It is the first time that I've seen Transport for London even dare to discuss concepts that Londoners deserve at major road junctions like this, and at other junctions such as Kings Cross and Blackfriars.

The fact that the press release commits to proper consultation with local and cycling groups is good news. In the past, TfL has paid lip service to consultation. It claimed, for example, to have consulted at length with cyclists at Blackfriars. The reality was that some plans were sneaked out on a Friday for consultation by the Monday. And despite several thousand people protesting on the Bridge, despite hundreds of letters and despite numerous motions passed - unanimously - in the London Assembly, Transport for London just charged on regardless.

We've seen TfL leap into action once before to make cycling safer at one junction. At Blackfriars Bridge in fact, in 2004. It took a matter of weeks after a series of deaths there and the subsequent public outrage to force  a semi-decent bike lane back in 2004. And then everything fell silent again. TfL went back to its bad old ways and, if anything, things got much much worse.

Transport for London must get Bow right. But it must get London as a whole right for people when they're not in their cars, not just this one junction. After all, everyone who lives in London pays for TfL directly. Not just through our income tax but also through the levy the Mayor puts on all of our council tax.

We all have a right to request that those funds are spent properly, on the basis of equal rights to personal safety for all road users. As an article in this week's Local Tranport Today (a thrilling read normally) puts it: "Cyclists' inclusion in carriageway design should start from the basis of expecting equal rights to personal safety for all road users. If this has an effect on other users then that must be accepted". The comment is spot-on, in my opinion.

This is a very welcome announcement. But what London needs is systemic change. One junction could be the start of that. Let's see what happens next.