Friday, 5 October 2012

Updated: National Cycle Network route Waterloo to Blackfriars still due to close, no safe diversion route for people on bicycles planned yet. But Southwark has agreed not to shut the route until a safety audit has been carried out. Progress and thanks to Southwark Council officers.

Here we are looking at the building sites on National Cycle Network
Waterloo to Blackfriars. Shuts Monday. 
Earlier today Southwark Council held an on-site meeting at Upper Ground on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge. Joining the Council representatives were managers of the three (no less) separate construction projects all taking place around this junction, plus  representatives of Southwark Cyclists, Living Streets, Sustrans and Transport for London buses. Oh, and yours truly. 

I can report, following this morning's meeting, that there is not yet any plan to put in place a safe diversion for the thousands of people who use this route every day on a bicycle. 

More precisely, a spokesperson for Southwark Council has asked me to clarify:

"The Temporary Traffic Order for the proposed closure will be in place for 12 month [from Monday] but the actual closure, should it go ahead, will only be in force until the opening of the hotel in early September 2013. As mentioned at the meeting, the closure will be reviewed periodically and decisions will be taken on whether the closure remains in place will be based on construction vehicle numbers from the developments.

Upper Ground will not be closed on Monday. No date for the closure will be considered until we have reviewed the Road Safety Audit being undertaken and consulted with Transport for London regarding safer provisions for cyclists and pedestrians."

What that means is that from Monday, Southwark has given the go-ahead to the construction companies to close the road so that they can get their lorries on site. Perfectly sensible. Each site may have as many as 100 lorry movements a day. That's 300 lorry movements here per day, given three sites. 300 lorries plus thousands of bikes in a very narrow space, not a good idea.

But Southwark council's officers admit that they only thought about the cycle route far too late. I hate to bash the officers themselves. They're good, nice, honest people. Actually, I quite liked them. But they should have included the cycle route in their planning. All the more so given this is a National Cycle Network route. 

What they're now saying is that the whole thing may not be closed after all and that the whole closure can now only go ahead after there has been a safety audit. Amen to that.

If the closure does go ahead and you want to cycle from Blackfriars to Waterloo, your only option will be to turn right at the bottom of the Bridge, across four lanes of traffic and then run the gauntlet of Stamford Street. You can then chose to try and turn right further along Stamford Street back to the section of Upper Ground that is still open (in other words, you'll have to sit in the middle of two very fast streams of motor traffic just hoping a gap will open up in the narrow lanes to let you cross) or you carry straight on to the Waterloo Imax roundabout. Previously, you had the option of avoiding both the dangerous right turn from the Bridge and to go underneath the Imax roundabout by using Upper Ground. Let's just remember that Blackfriars Bridge and the Waterloo Imax roundabout are two of the top 10 most dangerous junctions for cyclists in London

Blackfriars Bridge southern end - let's all cram
into the cycle box together. Hardly safe, good-quality
cycle infrastructure. Now the only way to Waterloo.
The problem with all of this is that if the road closure does go ahead, cyclists are going to be thrust into a very busy alternative route on main roads that takes in two of the most dangerous junctions in London and that route has absolutely nothing to make it safer for cycling. 

What's more, the alternative route is entirely along streets that belong to Transport for London. In other words, by closing its own route, Southwark (wittingly or otherwise) has pushed the problem on to TfL. Only, TfL is now having to rush around last-minute to try and think of solutions to resolve the problem. 

My sense is that all parties now understand the problem. That Southwark Council realises it's made a mistake and wants to make up for it. That the construction firms realise the problem. And TfL realises the problem.

I have to hand it to Southwark Council for reacting promptly to public criticism and to the Council for pulling together representatives from the construction, bus, cycling and pedestrian communities at short notice to try and resolve things. Yes, the Council messed up. But it is trying to resolve the situation. At least, for now, there's a sort of temporary reprieve.

Question now, is anyone going to sort it out? And how?