Wednesday, 29 August 2012

British Cycling 'comes out' and declares it is time for the UK to follow the lead of the Dutch and the Danes : time for 'cycle tracks which are separated from traffic' in our cities. Amazing news.

Temporary bike lane on Southwark Bridge.
Will it stay after the Olympics? No chance. 
Cycling to work this morning, I was delighted to see that the temporary bike-only lane on Southwark Bridge is still in place.

Pictured left are the people in front of me as I cycled in to the City of London at around 7.45 this morning. In another half hour or so, this junction will be considerably busier and there will be many, many more people cycling through here.

The crazy thing is, that in two weeks' time, this bike lane will be dismantled.

For just a very few weeks, Londoners on bikes have been able to cross this junction safely, in a protected space reserved only for bicycles.

Normally, this junction is filled with HGVs, white vans, buses and all manner of motor vehicles turning both left and right in the left-hand lane and right in the right hand lane. To proceed safely to the front of the junction on a bicycle you normally need to weave between all these large motor vehicles like a sort of small insect, threading your way in between the massive motors. In short, you are made to feel inferior and unwanted on the road. A road that is - let's not forget - one of Boris Johnson's much-feted cycle super highways.
Approaching Southwark Bridge. Traffic engineers
deliberately mix left-turning lorries and cyclists
going straight ahead. Recipe for disaster. 

Pictured left, is the same cycle super highway, only slightly further south. The blue paint is supposed to mark a cycle lane that continues straight ahead. But it's also the left turn lane for HGVs and vans. You have to ask how Transport for London came up with this design. At best it's incredibly difficult to cycle through here, at worst it's treacherous. But imagine being the HGV driver who wants to turn left, as 20+ cyclists swarm around you trying to go straight ahead. It's not the cyclists' 'fault'. The problem is that the people who designed this junction gave up any pretence of responsibility for people's safety and decided to let people on bicycles and in HGVs just fight it out amongst themselves.

This whole stretch of road is atrocious. There are two traffic islands between these two pictures that simply don't need to be there. People on bikes are squeezed between lorries that are trying to rush past them just when the road narrows to include wider pavements and traffic islands. The traffic engineers have deliberately created hazards that make this stretch of road unnecessarily stressful and downright dangerous for all road users.

Road layouts like this are all too common in London and elsewhere in the UK. They are the result of traffic management acts (in other words, laws that grant powers to traffic authorities like Transport for London), the Highway Code, Department for Transport rules and regulations and sheer wilful ignorance on the part of many of the people involved to design our roads to work only for people in motor vehicles and to utterly ignore the safety (let alone the convenience) of people using bicycles.

In this context, I was absolutely fascinated to read a letter published by British Cycling that starts to refer very clearly to this problem. Let's just remember what British Cycling does. This is the body behind Team GB's Olympic cycling successes. This is a body that I used to think was only concerned with road racing, BMXing and the velodrome and that saw cycling only as 'sport'. I always thought that British Cycling wouldn't be interested in making our towns and cities places where cycling is normal and everyday and humdrum.

This is what Southwark Bridge normally looks like. Time to end this
sort of rubbish. This isn't cycling infrastructure. This is a death-trap.
And then, British Cycling said this, in a letter to the London Assembly:

"In designing infrastructure and implementing road policy we need London to make the choice that it wants people to cycle and walk and that this takes priority over getting motorised vehicles through junctions quickly. Junctions like Elephant and Castle and Vauxhall Cross and the surrounding roads are deterrents to all but the bravest person on a bike."

This is language that echoes many of the thoughts expressed by this blog and many others.

The comments by British Cycling are particularly clear that road layouts like the one above are no longer acceptable. And what's unbelievably striking is that this sports organisation then pulls its punches and says in no uncertain terms that it is time the UK adopted a similar approach to cycling as the Dutch and Danish have done:

"In the Netherlands and Denmark cycle provision on urban main roads is typically a set of dedicated cycle tracks which are separated from traffic and provide those cycling with priority at side roads and a clear and safe way across junctions and roundabouts. If we are to achieve a cycling revolution in London and get a significant proportion of Londoners cycling we must have a set of design guidelines for road and cycling infrastructure that are in line with this international best practice and the political will to fund and implement it consistently throughout the city."

What that means is more junctions like the temporary bike-only lane pictured at the top of this article on Southwark Bridge. And fewer junctions like the picture below that where lorries and cyclists are supposed to play hopscotch with each other.

I think it's fantastic, and frankly amazing news, that British Cycling has come out in support of an approach to cycling that suggests it is time the UK followed the lead of our neighbours in the Netherlands and in Denmark. And I, for one, wish the cycle lane on Southwark Bridge would remain. It turns that part of my journey from stressful, unreliable and dangerous, into a simple, relatively safe and easy manoeuvre. It should stay. But I bet Transport for London hasn't the guts to keep a lane for cycling and will hand it straight back to the lorries and taxis as soon as the Paralympics are over.