Wednesday, 17 April 2013

City of London & Transport for London plan to redesign Aldgate gyratory this year. After all the positive noises coming from City Hall, if this is all we get from the Mayor's revised cycle strategy, we might as well all give up and move to the Netherlands.

Redesigned Aldgate junction. Dogs breakfast for cycling, as far as I'm concerned

UPDATE on 19 April 2013:

The City of London has been in touch to say that this is not the latest version of the scheme, that the scheme hasn't yet been finalised and that these plans are still subject to change. The City of London would like me to let people know that they will share the detailed designs with the wider community in the summer for full public consultation and will welcome comments on the design proposals at that time. 


I'm going to get in a lot of trouble for posting the image above. What this image shows is the City of London / Transport for London plan for redesigning Aldgate gyratory. It's a confidential document and I'm not supposed to publish it. But I'm going to publish it because I think it deserves a wider audience than it's getting at the moment. If I get into trouble, so be it. 

What you can see above is Aldgate High Street running east to west along the middle of the map. This will be returned to two-way traffic as will the northern side of the gyratory (both of these axes are currently one-way multi-lane nightmares). The bit in yellow is pictured below and will be turned into a pedestrian area. What you can also see is some tiny little bits of green which represent a few paltry advance gates for people to cycle into the advance stop boxes. 1990s road design writ large all over this scheme. Simply not good enough for the sort of future London is planning. 

St Botolphs as it looks now. Soon to become a pedestrian
(and cycling?) only area
Aldgate gyratory is a horrible mess. It's noisy, full of fast-moving traffic, dangerous and deeply unpleasant place. It is a major barrier to cycling east of the City of London. In the top right of the map is Whitechapel High Street where the low-grade Cycle Super Highway to Bow roundabout starts. That is the same Super Highway that will be upgraded to a segregated bike track between Bow and Stratford later this year. The City of London is absolutely right to want to do away with Aldgate gyratory, even when you take into consideration the extremely hefty £14.5million price tag.

The plans as they stand are to close the area alongside St Botolph's church and create an area that only pedestrians and people on bikes can use (the big yellow patch on the left of the map). A lot of streets in the area that are currently one-way racetracks will become two-way, and a lot of smaller streets will open up to two-way cycling. All these things are good. 

St Botolph's as planned (pictured from the left of the previous image)
Source: City of London Aldgate strategy document
However, what alarms me about the scheme is the really poor quality provision for cycling into and out of the City. One of the aims of the redesign is to make this whole area "easier to walk or cycle through".

But if you look at the details planned for the main roads through this area, you can see that the proposal is to basically paint some bits of green paint within a road layout that will look and feel almost identical (on the main east west access) to the current scary-as-hell-dodge-the-buses-and-tipper-trucks layout that's there at the moment. This, bear in mind, is a route where fully 32% of vehicles in the morning peak hours are bicycles. Yet the provision for cycling is, as far as I'm concerned, null. 

Same road as the road through Aldgate will look similar to this
down in Stratford. Why not in Aldgate as well?
This simply isn't good enough. The Mayor is building a top-notch piece of cycling infrastructure at the other end of the same road down in Aldgate where he is building Cycle Super Highway 2. The City of London expects 10% of its workforce to travel to work by bike by 2020. Given the massive population growth expected east of Aldgate over the coming years, the City of London should be building Aldgate to make it easy for people to cycle safely along Cycle Super Highway 2 to their workplaces in the Square Mile and beyond. I think the scheme as it stands is an abrogation of the City of London's responsibilities to the safety of 10% of its workforce. The same design that is being applied in Stratford could and should be applied at Aldgate to enable people to cycle safely into the City of London.The current plan simply isn't good enough. 

Believe it or not, this is an official
City of London bike route (Fleet Street)
Hardly compelling place for people to cycle.
More of the same coming to Aldgate?
What makes the Aldgate scheme even worse is the fact that the Mayor is explicitly focussing on getting junctions right for cycling. The much-touted Junction Review is being upgraded. According to the Mayor's recently refreshed cycling strategy "Spending on the junction review will be significantly increased, and it 
will be completely recast to prioritise major and substantial improvements to the worst junctions".That document explicitly singles out how the Mayor will improve Aldgate junction in the spirit of "quality not quantity". Sorry Boris, this scheme isn't quality for safer cycling. This is nice landscaping, looks nicer, certainly has some merits. But as far as east-west movement is concerned for people cycling into the Square Mile from Cycle Super Highway 2, this is rudimentary at best, regressive 1990s street design at worst.

There have been a lot of positive noises coming out of City Hall around cycling recently. Aldgate has been primed by the Mayor as one area that will become dramatically easier to cycle through. I'm afraid the plans as they stand at the moment simply aren't good enough and if this is the best we should expect from this massive push to make London a better and safer place for cycling, we might as well pack up and move to Denmark or even to Chicago frankly, given Chicago is doing way more exciting things than London at the moment.