Friday, 3 February 2012

New City of London bike lane. How come the Square Mile authorities can build something like this but Boris Johnson can't on the roads he controls? Lack of political will?

New bike lane all the way through Beech Street tunnel City of London. How come the City can
build bike lanes like this but Boris Johnson can't on his roads? 
This might not look like much but the picture on above represents something quite significant. Something that links directly to what The Times has been pointing out so forcefully in its editorials this week. Roads can be designed to make them safe for cycling. And that is not a hugely difficult thing to do.

One such example is in the City of London. It was revealed a week ago:

The scene is Beech Street - a tunnel underneath the Barbican in the City of London.

Until two weeks the picture you see above was very different. There were two very narrow lanes for motor traffic and the bike lane didn't exist.

There were many problems with this. The pavement pictured on the left is extremely narrow. It made for some fairly nasty walking (bear in mind this is the main route for most people from the tube to the Barbican Centre). The layout also stuffed people on bikes who had cycled along the wide bike lane that leads up to this junction (which you can't quite see in the picture) and then found themselves literally stuck behind a queue of belching motor vehicle exhausts in a tunnel and simply couldn't get past the motor traffic on this very important east-west link. Imagine walking along a pavement and then suddenly the pavement stops and is filled with cars pushing and shoving you out the way - Deeply, deeply unpleasant.

So what has the City done? Well, it has extended the bike lane all the way to the junction and removed one lane of motor traffic as part of a three month experiment. Several people have contacted me to say the results are 'absolutely fantastic'. You can now cycle safely to the junction and not find yourself literally squashed between buses, HGVs and taxis.

What's more the City has fiddled around with the traffic lights so they stay green for longer and cars can get out of the tunnel more easily even though they're in single file rather than in two lanes. Pedestrians get a longer green phase too. Yes, everyone has to wait a few seconds longer but then they get to cross the junction in a more measured way. And that's of benefit to everyone. More time to cross the road, more time to drive across the junction, easier and safer to cycle to the junction.

In other words, pretty much everyone should benefit from this.

Taxis ignoring the new bike lane at Beech St
Is there a downside? Yes there is. The bike lane is mandatory through the length of the tunnel. But then it becomes a dotted white line (ie advisory) near the junction. The result? Well, something like the scene pictured left: Cars fill up the bike lane and the advanced stop box as well, rendering the scheme useless.

So, full marks for trying but unless something forces the motor drivers into their space, there's a risk the scheme won't work well for people on bikes or for pedestrians.

TfL incapable of even designing a bike lane?
All the same, hats off to the City of London for trying to get a bike route that is continuous and goes all the way to a junction.

Transport for London (controlled by Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London) seems singularly incapable of creating continuous bike routes on its own junctions. It seems to have an irrational fear that if you give people a proper bike lane that leads all the way to the junction, there will be congestion mayhem for the people in cars. That's the excuse you hear again and again from TfL when it designs bike lanes like this one pictured here. Boris himself likes to say so as well.

Yet the City of London scheme suggests that Boris Johnson is wrong and that it is possible to build proper bike lanes (well, almost) that work for people in cars and on bikes.

But TfL won't do this. Boris won't let them upset the natural order of cars everywhere and in all available space. What TfL builds instead are 'ghost bike lanes' - is it a bike lane or is it a motor traffic lane? It's basically a normal motor lane painted blue. In fact, Boris has so utterly failed cyclists that even a brand new junction at Tottenham Court Road won't get bike lanes. Three lanes of motor vehicles are being removed but he still doesn't seem to think there's space for a bike lane. It's not simply wrong, it's frankly perverse. You can see how London's Mayor is removing lanes for cars but just expects bikes to squeeze into ever narrower, ever more dangerous road space here. 

I first talked about 'ghost bike lanes' a year ago. They're a dismal and dangerous design. I don't really understand the point of the things. They woo people on bikes into thinking they have a safe bike lane. But in reality they are just normal motor vehicle lanes. And you end up stuck, having to squeeze alongside HGVs and buses, just at the most dangerous point of the road. TfL is designing road danger into its junctions. At least the City of London has the guts to try and do something better.