Monday, 7 January 2013

At last: A cycle super highway worthy of the name. Two metre wide fully protected bike track planned to Stratford in 2013. "Re-think in policy from the Mayor" says BBC. Only issue? It exposes how truly useless the same super cycle highway is on the stretch between Bow and The City.

Artist's impression of "a segregated cycle lane" by Transport for London. I'm not sure the
impression does this scheme justice. The plans look much better than this. 

Earlier today Transport for London published detailed designs for its planned extension to Cycle Super Highway 2, between Bow roundabout and Stratford. And they are - astonishingly - really rather good. You can comment on the scheme by filling out the online survey at the bottom of the consultation page.

BBC News got the messaging completely right. This isn't some half-hearted scheme. This is 2.4km of "completely segregated" cycle track (for the most part two metres wide, so plenty wide enough for faster cyclists to pass slower folk) and as Tom Edwards says in his footage for the BBC "this represents a re-think in policy from the Mayor". That's completely true.

Until very recently, the noises emerging from the Mayor and Transport for London were all about the lack of space for cycle tracks. And then, last June, Boris Johnson made a statement to the London Assembly: "What has become clear to me is that we are now seeing a step-change in both the way that people choose to travel, and also in the way that cyclists are viewed on our streets. In response to this, I firmly believe that we must evolve our thinking and actions on cycle safety." It seems that slowly but surely the first signs of that 'evolution' are coming to the drawing board.

Stratford High Street - plenty of space for a bike track. At last.
Courtesy AsEasyAsRidingABike blog 
As I said back in June, "There is an unbelievable amount of space to build a world-class cycle highway along this route."

If you don't believe me, take a look at this excellent on Cycle Super Highway 2 by AsEasyAsRidingABike blog: This post shows very clearly the masses of space available to create safe, convenient and direct cycling between Stratford and Bow.

The proposed scheme isn't perfect. The Stratford end is very bitty, with some shared pavement that fits in around the giant Stratford one-way system. The track passes behind bus stops (something that is completely and utterly standard in plenty of other countries and you can see examples in this earlier blogpost) but the angle looks a little sharp in the mock-ups. And the section that crosses Bow roundabout is still deeply compromised.

I'm also perplexed by some of the suggestions for right turns across the High Street (you can see the blue explanation sign in the map below at Rick Roberts Way). You'll be able to turn right (across up to eight lanes of motor traffic currently) by swinging left into Rick Roberts Way, then crossing into an advanced stop line facing west and then proceeding straight ahead. This is something not dissimilar to the way Denmark makes cyclists turn left  (their equivalent of our right turn) and is a fairly standard feature on bike tracks in US cities now. But the London version will mean waiting at a centre traffic island. You'll have to wait for two sets of green lights, in the same way you would in Copenhagen or New York, but it feels a bit clunkier.

That said, it looks like you will also be able to turn right by cycling along the Highway and then moving left onto the shared use pavement at the junction which means that you can technically (and legally) avoid having to stop at the first red light by using the shared area and then moving into position to cross over the High Street. This seems a good mix of working around how people already cycle by making it almost as simple (and legal) as crossing the road without necessarily waiting for the lights (as they wouldn't apply to you at this point). This is the way that Japanese and South Korean cities design junctions, allowing cyclists to 'become pedestrians' at traffic lights and cross (slowly, gently) with pedestrians. It gives you an always-green (green if you're with the traffic, green if you're with the pedestrians). It is completely standard practice in those countries in a way that enables older and much younger residents to cycle safely and slowly without the sort of stop-start you get in London. It actually makes cycling MORE convenient than driving and legally so. Hooray.

Cycle Super Highway 2 - Extension to Stratford
But let's look at the positives. Two metre wide bike track with priority over side roads, treated as an extension of the carriageway and not treated like a footpath where you have to give way to every driveway and side road. Fantastic.

There's been a lot of noise recently about the fact that cycling numbers on London's main roads dropped slightly this year. Frankly, if TfL built something to this standard along Super Highway 7 down to Tooting or out to Wandsworth, I think you'd see a MASSIVE increase in the number of people using bikes.

What makes me say that? It's pretty simple, really. Make it feel safe, make it convenient and people will use it. Look at Montreal, a city that is way ahead of London in delivering bike infrastructure. The city has a serious bike network, much of which is segregated in the way that TfL proposes at Stratford. Montreal's city council points out that only 10% of people who use bikes in the city (and 37% of them cycle weekly outside of the bitter winter months) use roads without bike lanes to cycle on. However, 84% of Montreal residents who use bikes stick to the protected bike network and 87% stick to back streets.

What's the lesson here? Only 10% of the city's cyclists will bike in and around heavy, fast-moving motor traffic. (If you've never cycled in Montreal, here's my review of what it feels like)

If we want to give people the choice to ditch their cars or to stop having to fork out for travel cards, then we have to build a protected bike network along major routes and make it easier to cycle along quieter back streets. That's the only way cycling will ever take off as something that one-third of Londoners do once or more each week. That's the key lesson from Montreal. And every other city that takes cycling seriously.

This new consultation from Transport for London is the first time I've seen anything even vaguely close to catching up on what's already common-place in New York, Chicago, Copenhagen, Montreal, you name it.

It's not all amazing news, however. What this scheme will do, is expose the awful stretch of the same Cycle Super Highway 2 that was opened two years ago and runs from Bow roundabout (where this new stretch will start) to the Square Mile. This early stretch is an utter farce. It's ludicrously dangerous and TfL must upgrade the rest of the route to the same standard as it is planning out to Stratford. If you don't know just how bad the original stretch of Cycle Super Highway 2 is, then have a look at this travel report by Mark Treasure on his blog. It's truly awful. 

@AlterativeDfT has redrawn what the kerb should look like on the
Cycle Super Highway. Note, flushed kerb rather than squared-off
kerb on inside of the cycle track. Better for cyclists & pedestrians
Credit to
There are a couple of details that look wrong. The kerb inside the cycle highway should be flushed at an angle rather than squared off edges (see the redrafted image to the left where the kerb is flushed, unlike the picture above where it is a squared drop from the pavement). The track seems (if you assume the mock-up drawings are right) to take slightly sharp angles when it approaches bus stops. And the Stratford end is a real hodgepodge of on road, shared use pavement and bike track.

That said, I'm genuinely surprised. And I'd kill (not literally, thank you) to have something like this on my journey to work. Do you know what really amazes me? It's that, although this scheme does have some faults, it has taken bits from Japan, bits from New York, and bits from Copenhagen. And it's come up with something that works for London. By taking the best bits from the world and stirring them together to fit the arcane rules and regulations that have been used till now to completely surpress cycling in this country. Never thought I'd say this (at least not as soon as 2013) but well done Boris. And well done TfL.

Take a look at the detailed plans in detail on TfL's website. And add your comments to the consultation.