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.


  1. TfL didn't even keep that lane in place for the few days between the Olympics and the Paralympics! It was removed right after the Olympics, and was just put back in last weekend in time for the Paralympics.

    This junction has killed at least one cyclist before and will probably kill again when they take that lane away in 11 days time. But TfL don't have the guts to stand up to Boris and do things properly.

  2. Here's another example of design(sic) which comes from some of the road engineers in London. They seem to have completely failed to assess the potential hazard of a substantial volume of left turning motor traffic making an abrupt turn directly across a cycle lane. This displays a serious level of negligence in the execution of the design and only the ability of the cyclist to remain upright and steer away from the truck avoided a far more serious incident. That said the truck driver equally demonstrates a complete lack of competence in road observation, overhauling the cyclist, indicating left, and immediately starting the turn as she is alongside the cab and quite clearly going straight ahead. the silver 7-seater is equally turning left whilst completely ignoring the cyclist with the camera cycling on their nearside and going straight ahead.

    A factory owner whose factory layout did not account for such hazards would find themselves in court for a failure in their duty of care. It is about time the roads were considered more as the workplace in this respect.

    The solution at this junction is to ditch the filter through cycle lane on the nearside and merge left turning motor traffic across the cycle traffic well in advance of the junction, this design is widely used in Denmark, Switzerland etc, as a safer way to get right (left) turning motor traffic across a cycle lane or path.

    1. Dave, if I understand you correctly I completely agree, they've got one of those cycle lanes (with motor traffic turning left crossing the cycle traffic well in advance of the junction and the cycle lane forking into two, one for cyclists going straight on, one for cyclists turning) on Huntingdon Road in Cambridge which I regularly cycle down.

      Here's a link to it:,0.109485&spn=0.001088,0.002063&sll=35.675147,-95.712891&sspn=46.302722,67.587891&hnear=Cambridge,+United+Kingdom&t=m&z=19&layer=c&cbll=52.214498,0.109664&panoid=7zLERKPXoQqTCzfZCljdng&cbp=12,119.77,,0,18.49

      It's wider and better painted now than it appears in that photo.

      It's also much safer than anything found in London.

  3. Encountered this lane myself for the first time when heading over the bridge on Monday morning, I was hoping to make a right turn onto Upper Thames Street but found that was also removed. Not a huge problem as I went straight over then onto Bank (?) and turned right there to head down towards Tower Bridge/The Highway.

    I think that would be my only gripe, removing the right turn for cyclists, it just doesn't make sense IMHO, my only other concern was the relatively narrow gap they left between the cones for the amount of riders you get in the rush hour, creates a bit of a bottle neck :-D

  4. @ DaveH

    Merging before the junction will not work with this volume of both cycle and motor traffic. The only good solution here is to separate cycle traffic and motor traffic in time and/or space through the junction.

  5. I’d just like to pick you up on one point – it may seem pedantic but it is actually quite important. The conditions are not the result of the Traffic Management Acts, as such. The TMA is what imposes the obligation of “network assurance” on highways authorities, to facilitate traffic flow, but the TMA is also explicit in stating that the term “traffic” includes pedestrians and ALL vehicles, whether motorised or not. So it is not the Act itself which produces this result, rather its mis-interpretation.

    Now, at national government level you can see why they might want to promote motor use on our roads – more vehicles means more VED, more fuel duty and more VAT on fuel (and of course on the duty itself) flowing into the Treasury. However, the great majority of roads are the responsibility of highway authorities which are local – either the shire counties or cities – which have no revenue raising powers against motor vehicles or their drivers. This is of course quite apart from the argument that revenues raised nationally are insufficient to cover the costs of roads once you have accounted for those costs properly, to include police and emergency services and other “externalities”. If you take a typical highway authority, such as Surrey County Council, the only way they can raise revenue from motorists is through on-street parking charges, and even those are actually run at a deficit (because the county also has the obligation to “police” illegal parking or obstruction of rights of way) and will continue to be while strident motoring interests bellyache about the imposition of on-street parking restrictions or charges in town centres or around railway stations.

    And that is the point – local authorities will not, by and large, with noble exceptions which seem mainly to be Lib-Dem controlled, either spend money on cycle infrastructure (or subsidising bus services, for that matter) or appear to take road space away from motor vehicles for fear of upsetting those noisy vested interests crying “foul” whenever a motorist’s untrammelled rights are threatened.

    From the experience of my own locality it seems to me that much of the noise comes from small retailers who evidently believe, against all the evidence, that totally unrestricted car parking is vital to their commercial interests. I find myself in the bizarre position of hoping that he anticipated arrival of a WH Smith in my small town will screw the local newsagents who are the principal moving force behind the local opposition to parking controls, so they learn that it is the supermarketisation of retail which represents the true existential threat to small retailers.

    Whatever – without strict standards imposed from the centre, local authorities can’t generally be relied on to do very much. For highways generally, the county is responsible for building and maintaining roads but must comply with standards set in Whitehall. The same is true for schools. The same needs to be true for cycle infrastructure – with the interpretation of the Traffic Management Act properly clarified.

  6. Interesting to see BC moving into advocacy, I really hope we don't get into a situation where BC and the CTC start working opposite each other and wasting resources.