Thursday, 18 April 2013

Why is the Crown Estate turning central London into a no-go zone for cycling and making conditions worse for bus passengers? Write to the Crown Estate and let them know what you think.

Before and after view of Haymarket. Four lanes will be reduced to only two narrow lanes - plenty of space
for a meaningful bike lane but that won't be happening. Bus passengers lose their bus lanes too.
Image courtesy City of Westminster

Back in February, the City of Westminster published plans for the area around Lower Regent Street and Haymarket. Pictured above is a before and after shot of Haymarket. Miraculously, both of these shots show the scene with hardly any cars and only one bus. Most days, this area is a logjam packed with buses, taxis and bikes.

This is the bike lane at the end of Haymarket as it looks at the
The Crown Estate (ie the Queen's estate) is paying the City of Westminster to spend millions of pounds to build massively wider footways, knocking out the entire bus lane area. That means bus, bikes and taxis will have to fight it out in the remaining two lanes available. There won't be any less motor traffic, it's just that buses will now have to crawl along with the cars in the narrow lanes. And bikes will have literally nowhere to go. You'll just have to sit there breathing in fumes and going nowhere.

The same thing will be going on along Lower Regent Street which heads north and runs parallel to Haymarket. Lower Regent Street is currently six lanes wide. This will be narrowed to three.

In all, the council will remove three lanes northbound and two lanes southbound. And is providing absolutely no safe space for cycling. In fact, no space for cycling at all, unless there is no motor traffic whatsoever.

Lower Regent Street as it looks now. Six lanes wide. At rush hour, almost impossible to move here on a bike
as motor traffic fills up the entire space. 
Westminster has already done this magic trick on Piccadilly, turning that into a two-way street (much of which you're no longer allowed to use on a bike, by the way) and on Pall Mall. The result is extremely narrow carriageways where it is both more dangerous and much more intimidating to be on a bike. At rush hour, the lanes are pretty difficult to navigate, you're forced to duck and weave between queuing motor traffic. Outside of rush hour, the traffic is moving extremely fast and, due to the narrow width of the lanes, incredibly close to your flesh and bones. That is to say nothing of the total lack of bike parking installed by Westminster since it put these shiny new road layouts in place (even more ludicrously at Leicester Square where there is now precisely zero bike parking. Transport for London paid for a good chunk of the Leicester Square scheme only to see its pro-bike policies dashed by Westminster's never-think-about-people-on-bikes policy).

Lower Regent Street as planned
Three narrow lanes, a wide traffic island and cyclists
will be left hugging the kerb, trying to inch their way up the street.
Image courtesy City of Westminster
These designs are not appropriate for a city where the Mayor plans 5% of all journeys will be made by bike by 2020.

The fact is that you simply can't avoid these two roads. To the east, you have Leicester Square which is completely and utterly impermeable to people on bikes. To the west you have St. James's Park. If you want to get north or south through this part of the West End, these are the only roads you can use. They are, laughably, already part of the London Cycle Network (not that you'd ever know) and they're already nasty and dangerous places to be on a bike.

These schemes will do nothing to make either route safer or easier to use on a bike. I suspect they'll also make these routes slower and less easy to use by bus as well. There is unbelievable amount of space to create safe, sensible conditions for people to cycle through these streets, kept apart from the buses and heavy traffic and kept apart from pedestrians. But neither the Crown Estate nor Westminster council sees fit to include even the slightest nod towards bicycle transport in these schemes.

My own view is that these schemes are utterly wrong for central London and I'm astonished that the Crown Estate is going ahead with funding designs that discriminate so vividly against bus passengers and people who want to travel by bike.

I suggest that if you feel likewise, you write to 

Martin Brazier
The Crown Estate, 16 New Burlinton Place, London W1S 2HX.

You might also want to copy

Martin Low

Commissioner of Transportation
City of Westminster
11th Floor North
City Hall
64 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QP