Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Good news for cycling from City of London, Transport for London and Southwark Council - Real coordination taking place on the Waterloo bike route and masses of new cycle contraflows in the Square Mile

Firstly, an update on the story at Upper Ground - the main Waterloo to City of London bicycle link. Southwark Council last night issued a press release confirming what I'd posted on this blog last week, namely that Southwark Council "will not close [the route] until a full Traffic Safety Audit has been carried out which will pin point the best alternative routes in the immediate area [and] will continue to work with cyclists, Transport for London and the developers involved, to find safer routes in the vicinity."I'm impressed that Southwark has a) held its hand up and admitted it should have handled the closure of this vital cycle route better in the first place and b) once it realised its mistake, that Southwark has reacted quickly and efficiently to bring relevant parties together to try and resolve the problem.

One of the first contraflow cycle routes in the City of London.
More coming soon. 
What's equally impressive, though, is what is happening behind closed doors elsewhere:

My understanding is that (partly as a result of Southwark's initially clunky handling of the bike route closure?), Transport for London was not involved in the decision to close the Waterloo to City bike route. There's no reason why TfL should be involved in the closure itself. But Southwark's proposal was to shove people from the safe cycle route on to busy TfL roads instead (namely Stamford Street and Blackfriars Road) - thereby making this a TfL problem.

It seems that in the few days since the team at Southwark Cyclists and this blog raised the issue of the bike route closure, Transport for London has been fully engaged with Southwark Council and the two authorities are working cooperatively to come up with alternative routes. This is how things should be. It means that both of the authorities responsible for the roads around this area are working together to think about how to enable people to travel safely and conveniently around London. We need more of this elsewhere in London too.

I've been led to believe that TfL is keen not to close the Upper Ground cycle route if at all possible.  That doesn't mean that the closure is avoidable. But it does mean that the right people are trying to find proper alternatives by working together. I've also been told that Southwark and TfL are reviewing the entire corridor between Blackfriars Bridge and St George's Circus (down at the end of the nasty and intimidating drag race strip that is Blackfriars Road) with a view to making it radically safer and more convenient to cycle along. There's plenty of space to do something meaningful along this corridor to improve bicycle transport. It may be some years before we actually see that emerge on the ground but it's clear that senior people at both Transport for London and at Southwark are thinking constructively about how to make bicycle transport more practical and safer along this corridor. That's good. It would benefit everyone to change this street - which is currently something of an express sewer pipe for several lanes of motor vehicles to floor it from one end to the other - into a place that is safe and pleasant for everyone.

But that's not all that's happening on the cycling front.

Lots more of these signs heading to the Square Mile soon
Over the other side of the Bridge, in the City of London, the authorities have announced that they intend to turn nearly 30 one-way streets two-way for cycling. One of the most interesting developments is the idea to create a series of two-way cycle routes in the streets around Bank junction that would act like a sort of cyclist bypass, allowing people to cycle around the outside of 3/4 of Bank without having to negotiate the junction itself. Given that Bank is one of the most dangerous junctions in London and is in any case horribly slow and congested to cycle through, I think this is a hugely positive step.

The proposals will be listed on the City of London's website by next week and the stated intention is to:

·      Improve safety by providing alternatives to some of the busiest City streets.
·      Improve local access for all traffic where possible.
·      Improve provision and facilities for people who cycle.
·      Reduce journey distances and times.

A summary of the streets affected is listed below.

Streets Proposed for Contraflow Cycling
Carey Lane
Dowgate Hill
Gutter Lane
Old Jewry
Basinghall Street
Cloak Lane
Finch Lane
Ironmonger Lane
Portsoken St
Birchin Lane
College Hill
Foster Lane
Moor Lane
Seething Lane
Bouverie Street
College Street
Great Swan Alley
Muscovy Street
St Mary Axe
Bow Lane
Copthall Avenue
Gr.StThomas Apostle
Nicholas Lane
Whitefriars St
Bride Lane
Crutched Friars
Great Winchester St
Noble Street

Streets Proposed for Two-way Traffic for All Vehicles
Bridewell Place
Carmelite Street
Foster Lane
Seething Lane
Tallis Street

I think this is fantastic news. It is all the more impressive when you consider that in neighbouring Westminster, one-way streets rules supreme. Ever tried cycling through Soho or Mayfair? You simply can't cycle sensibly through the West End without deviating down big one-way diversions which have the effect of making cycling impractical and often downright dangerous. So, hat's off to the City of London for this bold move. 

My issue with the City of London's plans remains, however, that the Square Mile lacks an overall plan for cycling. That is amply demonstrated by the latest batch of the City of London Area Plans which state the City's intention to "Review the current hierarchy of cycling routes, and explore the possibility of encouraging alternative routes through the quieter streets of Hackney and Islington." Do they want to make cycling practical and safe in the City or don't they?

Nonetheless, the addition of contraflow cycling in many one-way streets is very positive. But those streets need to link to other routes and create a viable network that flows in the directions people want and need to go. The contraflows will help people who are intrepid enough to want to try out new routes down a network of higgledy piggledy back streets. But that's only ever going to represent a small cross section of people.

If the City could link its network of quiet routes, connect them properly, especially where they cross large roads, there is a realistic chance of seeing a genuine cycle network through the Square Mile. But it will also need to consider optimising some more major routes for cycling, not simply go about narrowing all the through routes and expecting cyclists to stick to a network of second-class back routes that don't link to anywhere in particular.