Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Plans for cycle super highway 5 published: Vauxhall gyratory plan gives more space for cycling, a more direct route for cycling and shows TfL is clearly 'getting' cycling. However a couple of concerns where the scheme really needs improving.

TfL proposal for protected cycle track through Vauxhall gyratory
Transport for London has submitted its plans for Cycle Super Highway 5 for public scrutiny. And there's an awful lot to take in. Super Highway 5 will run from Victoria to New Cross Gate. 

First things first: When TfL first drew up plans for its Cycle Super Highways, there was no public scrutiny at all. In fact, I was lucky to be given some drawings of the original plans for the scheme back in 2011. And they were truly useless. You can see some of the 2011 plans on this post and you can admire how TfL's teams had originally planned for a super highway around Vauxhall gyratory that was - well, no different at all to what's there at the moment. It would have meant that cyclists going from Harleyford Road into the bus/bike lane towards Vauxhall Bridge needed to filter across five lanes of motor traffic (usually moving at way over 40mph). Twice. A complete and utter joke.                       
TfL has now come up with something much more interesting. The basic principle of the plan is actually really good. The bus lane heading from the Oval towards Vauxhall would be extended up to the traffic lights at Durham Street (currently, you have to jostle for position with a dozen white vans here) and a segregated bike track would lead you under the station, in a straight line to Vauxhall Bridge. The route is much more direct than currently and it actually follows what a lot of cyclists already do (albeit not legally). 

In other words, Transport for London has looked at what cyclists already do and given cyclists a more direct route through the gyratory, it has taken a lane away from motor vehicles and given it to the cycle track. Instead of having to cycle around two sides of the gyratory in each direction, you'll be able to pedal straight through the middle of it. Which is actually pretty impressive and shows TfL is beginning to 'get' it. Full marks on that front. 

This section to become a protected bike track.
Heading east on Kennington Lane
I hate cycling on this bit at the moment
One problem, though, is the link between the bike track and the Oval. See the map above and the blue box entitled 'Road widening to allow cycle access'? AsEasyAsRidingABike blog points out quite correctly, that is an advanced stop line. You're supposed to cycle up from the Oval, wait to cross at the ASL on to the island, then wait again to cross traffic turning right from Durham Street and get yourself on to the bike track. It could work. But it would mean having to wait twice where cars wait only once. It's also not clear how you're supposed to actually get on to the bike track without pacing it across two lanes of traffic all trying to rush through the green light.

AsEasy blog is quite right to say there's a risk that "Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so a cycle route can be rendered pointless if there are difficult gaps in it". Will people stop and wait in order to use it? Possibly. At the moment, the set up involves waiting here anyhow, then waiting twice more nearer to the station in order to get through that same tunnel. This new scheme means you still have to wait at three traffic lights to get to the station tunnel, just different ones to cars.

The other issue I can see is that the pedestrian island (which is already a busy shared use pavement/bike space) can be very busy at times. If the bike tracks are going to work then those bike/pedestrian crossings look way too narrow to me. They're about the same size as the current crossings and you'll often see half a dozen people on bikes plus a dozen people on foot all penned in waiting to cross on the narrow toucan crossing.

The other major proposal here is Vauxhall Bridge itself. The Bridge is a complete travesty at the moment. Cyclegaz produced an excellent video of the terrifyingly dangerous bike 'infrastructure' that is in place on the southbound side of the Bridge.

TfL's proposal here is quite radical. Back in 2011, TfL had planned to do almost nothing here. The idea was to simply rub out the bike lane and let cyclists play chicken with the lorries. Now, TfL has something quite quite different in mind - It suggests either: a protected bike track running the entire length of the Bridge and a separate bike traffic light at the southern end or moving the bus lane to the left hand side and having bikes and buses share. In theory, either of these options sounds like a massive improvement on what's there at the moment.

TfL plan for  southbound Vauxhall Bridge. Protected bike track
and cycle traffic lights. 
But look in more detail and the protected bike track is pretty disappointing. It would be only 1.3 metres wide (ie barely wider than what's there at the moment) and would lead to a bike-only traffic light that PedestrianiseLondon blog describes as a 'cyclists-always-have-to-stop' traffic light. My preference would be a proper bike track and traffic lights that don't mean always having to wait longer than cars have to wait. If that's not possible, then my money's with the widened bus lane, to be honest.

I have to say that, as far as Vauxhall gyratory is concerned, I think Transport for London has shown some really fresh and clever thinking.

But there are a number of compromises that need addressing. And these revolve around the fact that bicycle must still cede to motor car.

This is London's inner ring road in action. It is the road that skirts the central London congestion charge. And I can only just imagine the hoops TfL has to jump through to fit meaningful bike infrastructure in to this horrible junction.

Exiting Vauxhall Bridge southbound at the moment
This is what it looks like at rush-hour most days
Cyclists squeezed in a 1metre wide gutter
I think TfL deserves a thumbs-up for fitting some pretty decent bike infrastructure into this area. But it really needs to address the links between those better bits of infrastructure and optimise them.

I'm going to review other parts of the super highway over the coming days. There's an awful lot to read through. If you have time and inclination, you can see all the details on TfL's consultation hub pages.

If you use Vauxhall gyratory, you should tell TfL what you think by filling out the relevant sections of the TfL Cycle Super Highway 5 online survey.