Monday, 26 November 2012

"Safe" diversion during Upper Ground closure means getting off your bike and walking across junctions. We should be using road safety audits to design risk out of cycling not to design cycling out of the streets.

This is the 'safe' diversion built for cyclists
by Southwark Council. So safe, you have to
get off your bike and push. Insane.
Stamford Street via @jamiewallace
Over the weekend, Southwark council closed Upper Ground - which is the bike route between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge. A cycle count last month showed 700 people on bikes used the route in just one hour 8am - 9am. So, we can assume this is a route for between 2-3,000 cycle trips every day.

The council closed the Upper Ground route last weekend and set up a cycle route diversion. Pictured left, part of that diversion as snapped by twitter user @jamiewallace. You can see a map of the original route and the diversion that Southwark council has implemented. The diversion consists of little more than some diversion signs.

Unbelievably, if you follow the diversion route, you're told to get off your bikes in order to turn right at a traffic light on Stamford Street.

What is so incredible about this whole scheme is the obvious irony of Southwark council investing in a safety audit, marshals and in closing the safer Upper Ground route for the benefit of cyclists' 'safety' during a construction period. But then encouraging people to cycle along a busy, fast-moving alternative route that is potentially so dangerous people are asked to dismount and push their bikes to follow the diversion. Can you imagine if we designed the railways like this? Trains would have to stop at every level crossing and then creep across. The journey from London to Exeter would probably take three times as long. It just wouldn't happen.

On the railways, we would have fleets of people designing out risk, creating safe passage for train passengers.

But when it comes to the way this cycle scheme has been handled, no such thing. The approach to the safety of people using bicycle transport on this route seems to me to come down to minimising the danger of conflict for lorry drivers and car drivers. In other words, let's make the route safe by banning cycling, or by making people get off their bikes to keep them out of harm's way.

It can be done. Crossrail worked with TfL
to install this temporary bike contraflow
during 9 months of building works on Farringdon Rd
Pic courtesy @Johnstreetdales
It seems to me that cycling is simply ignored by a lot of highway authorities and then made to fit around what's convenient for everyone other than people cycling.

A notable example of where that isn't the case is about half a mile up the road from Upper Ground on Farringdon Road.

Crossrail has a massive building site at Farringdon. It has had to make Farringdon Road (normally a four lane road) one way for motor vehicles for at least nine months.

Working with TfL, Crossrail has built safe cycling into its roadworks and proven that it is possible to put cycling into the heart of road schemes and road closures.

"For cyclists, a southbound cycle-lane will be put in place in the closed section of Farringdon Road. This contra-flow lane will be segregated from northbound traffic. This means that cyclists will not need to use the diversion route."

The diversion would have meant people cycling an extra one mile around the site, and would have involved a number of very hairy right turns across several lanes of traffic. In other words, Crossrail has built a solution that avoids exactly the problems that Southwark Council has created with its half-hearted cyclist diversion at Upper Ground. What's more, Crossrail hasn't asked anyone to get off their bikes and walk.

It's not rocket science, it just needs relevant highway authorities to think about cycling with the same foresight they give to other road users. It's good to know that these things are possible, though, if people  in the position to make things happen come together and make them happen.