Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Boris Johnson: "I have asked Transport for London for a big new east west [cycle] route". Good, but will the City of Westminster block that big new cycle route by obstructing any serious attempt to enable safer cycling through the West End?

Bicycle elevator in Seoul, S. Korea
Part of a network that kicked off in 2009
Courtesy Bike Portland
Boris Johnson took to twitter last week for another of his 'Ask Boris' live Q&A sessions. 

It was in a recent twitter session that the Mayor first mentioned his preliminary discussions for SkyCycle - an elevated cycle track, running alongside train lines. Interestingly, the idea might not be so bonkers. South Korea has bike elevators and bike-only bridges, for example. New York has bike-only crossings on some of the bridges to Manhattan. London is way, way behind. Seoul was absolutely blatant about its plans when it announced them in 2009: 'One automobile lane per road will be refurbished as a bike lane. The government is considering narrowing lanes to make up the space.' It whacked in bike lanes along pretty much every single arterial road in the city. 

Intriguingly, Boris Johnson dropped something of a cycling bombshell last week that hasn't been picked up elsewhere:

Asked by one twitter user 'The cycle superhighways are excellent. Any plans to extend them in the near future?', the Mayor replied: "we are whacking in another six soon plus i have asked tfl for a big new east west route - and they like it! #askboris @kdwignall"

I'd heard some very vague rumours about an east-west route before. But this is the first time the Mayor has come out and stated publicly that he wants a proper east-west cycle route through central London. 

About time, I say. 

Typical road layout in Westminster.
There was originally supposed to be a cycle super highway here.
It was quietly shelved after opposition from Westminster Council.
Clearly not enough space for a cycle track here. 
The east-west links through central London are absolutely atrocious on a bike. There isn't a single decent, safe route for people to cycle through the City of London, through Westminster and out towards either Canary Wharf or to out west. Places like Soho and Covent Garden are mazes of one-way rat-runs for taxis that can be pretty intimidating to cycle through. Other parts of central London such as Mayfair, Marylebone and the areas around Parliament and Victoria are drowned out by two or three lane one-way systems that are unbelievably hostile to cycling. 

Or take a pet favourite of mine. Try cycling from St Paul's to Ludgate Circus, down Fleet Street, along the Strand to Trafalgar Square at rush-hour. It's not for the faint-hearted. And the problem is that all the parallel routes are equally snarled and dangerous. Take the parallel route to the south along the Embankment and you have stacks of belching motor traffic. The bike lane is actually not bad when you're on the City of London stretch of the road but as soon as you cross the boundary into the City of Westminster, the bike lane turns into a coach park.

Posted on twitter by @RossiTheBossi - a list of the dangers
explicitly built into the new junction layout
by Westminster Council at the top of  Waterloo Bridge
None of this is helped by the City of Westminster which has done next to nothing to implement safer routes for people to cycle through. Only recently, the council re-engineered the junction at the north side of Waterloo Bridge, allowing buses to turn on to the Bridge from The Strand. Buses but not bicycles. The only legitimate way to cycle south from The Strand is to cycle around the entire Aldwych gyratory, crossing four lanes twice as you hurtle around. One twitter user @RossiTheBossi took fun out of the new junction by posting this series of the new road layout last night.

I say 'took fun' but he's making a series of serious points. The junction was already pretty nasty on a bicycle. It's now even worse. People cycling through Covent Garden and heading south to Waterloo Bridge on the bike route are now stranded in the middle of the junction behind buses as the traffic lights at the exit from the junction are designed to turn red the minute that the bicycle traffic lights let people into the junction. What's more, there are usually two buses stacked in front of the traffic lights as well, leaving you dumped literally in the middle of a cross roads.

Waterloo Bridge. As soon as you reach Westminster
the parking rules change and you can park in the bike lane
all evening and all weekend. Spot the yellow line change
at the halfway point between Lambeth and Westminster.
Take Waterloo Bridge itself. As you cycle north over the Bridge, responsibility for the Bridge shifts at the half way point from Lambeth on the southern side, to Westminster on the north. There is a decent-width bicycle lane all the way across the Bridge. Except, as soon as you reach Westminster, the parking rules change and the double yellow line becomes single yellow. On the Westminster side, you can park on the Bridge all evening and all weekend, taking up the entire bike lane.

Westminster's statements on cycling in the past have been less than encouraging. The former councillor responsible for transport felt that people on bicycles didn't need special infrastructure and the council's PR team has tended to suggest that 'free educational schemes to help cyclists get the best out of the city'. So far, so depressing.

Cycle lane near Trafalgar Square,  design courtesy
City of Westminster. Why even bother? The cycle lane
actually leads into a bollard. Insanely dangerous design.
So, I'm delighted that the Mayor wants Transport for London to implement a safer east-to-west route through the centre of London for people on bicycles. But he's going to have to force Westminster to start thinking about bicycles as a serious part of the transport mix. And he could make a start by looking at Waterloo Bridge and making that cycle lane usable at night and at weekends. Question is who will win? Will Boris Johnson get his east-west cycle lane or will the City of Westminster stand in the way of serious bicycle infrastructure as it seems to have done so many times in the past.