Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Overwhelming support for bike tracks rather than shared bus lanes; Transport for London publishes much improved plans for Cycle Super Highway 5 (Victoria to Lewisham)

Vauxhall Bridge morning rush hour. Mornings, northbound
is busy and southbound very quiet (as pictured.
In the evening the southbound is busy,
northbound more or less quiet. 
Earlier this week, Transport for London published the results of its consultation exercise on Cycle Super Highway 5 and announced some fairly chunky changes to the original proposal.

In summary, the plan is now as follows:
  • New Cross Gate to Oval will be delivered more or less as planned by this autumn. 
  • Next year, that original section of the route will be upgraded and 70% of the bus and mandatory cycle lanes will be “semi-segregated” from the general traffic using cats’ eyes, rumble strips, traffic wands etc
  • Also during 2014, TfL will build the section from Oval to central London
  • And by end of 2015, it will upgrade the junction at Oval (with a fairly weedy interim solution in the meantime)
TfL also confirmed it is considering a Quietway route that will run parallel to this main road route and that it is exploring options to extend Super Highway 5 to Lewisham. 

All in all, I think this is a marked improvement on the original plans. Provided, of course, it all goes ahead. Planning for this Super Highway has been rumbling on since 2011 when the first (extremely poor quality) designs were drawn up.

My sense from this latest document is that there is still quite a lot more work to be done before Super Highway 5 becomes reality and that there are a number of sticking points. It's pretty clear that there's still some debate going on about how the Cycle Highway will cut through Vauxhall gyratory. I'm genuinely surprised that Transport for London has claimed that the new business improvement district VauxhallOne "has withdrawn support" for the cycle tracks through Vauxhall. I asked VauxhallOne if that was indeed the case. Their executive director Giles Semper told me "I hope it is clear that we did not set out to oppose the Superhighway in itself – rather, we welcomed it – but that we felt we needed to point out some fundamental flaws with the route design". So it seems very strange that TfL chose to represent the views of VauxhallOne as having 'withdrawn support' for the cycle highway. You can see VauxhallOne's detailed response here and make your own mind up. I think they are fairly clearly backing the cycle highway but with some requests to review elements of it. 

The heart of Vauxhall is currently a one-way three lane
motorway. Plan is to build a cycle track
down the left hand side of this picture
I'm also surprised that TfL has flagged concerns by local residents on Harleyford Road (the three lane one-way sprint from Oval to Vauxhall) concerned that a cycle track here would "cause conflict between pedestrians and cyclists and would make it difficult for them to park outside their property.". Firstly: the pavement here is horribly narrow and leads straight on to a race track of cars and the cycle track is a clear improvement. Secondly: residents can't park here anyhow (and no-one does park here) except for at weekends.

TfL presented two options on Vauxhall Bridge itself - either a cycle track over the bridge or to create a southbound bus and bike lane, to replace the existing and horribly narrow advisory bike lane. I was intrigued to see that 51% of people supported the cycle track option including, believe it or not, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association. Only 21% supported the bus / bike lane, among them, the London Cycling Campaign. That throws up an interesting challenge given that most people want to cycle on cycle tracks and don't support the London Cycling Campaign's preferred option.My understanding is that the London Cycling Campaign position derives from the fact that the plans for the cycle tracks suggest the tracks might well be quite narrow and the LCC has concerns about whether people will really use them or not if they're too narrow.

Believe it or not, this is the London Cycle Network route 3 to Clapham.
Can you spot it? You're meant to swing
across four lanes of traffic into the little archway on the right. Insane.
There will also be some immediate improvements to London Cycle Network route 3, which runs from Waterloo to Clapham Common with a vastly improved turning off Kennington Oval into Meadow Road, to connect cyclists with the very popular quiet routes north and south of the Oval. At the moment people have to turn right in the middle of four lanes of traffic, between two very fast blind corners if they want to access the quiet routes south of this road.

Coming soon along the route to New Cross? 'Armadillos' in action
in Barcelona. Courtesy Camden Cyclists
Further along the route, there are a number of improvements to the original plans with a lot more mandatory cycle lane and, in many cases, slightly widened cycle lane. There will also be more bus lanes along this section. As mentioned above, these sections will initially consist of some white lanes and not much more but will become "semi-segregated" from next year, in the form of 'armadillos' or similar sorts of lane separators. This is a very interesting new development that has required Department for Transport approval. Another improvement will be the implementation of seven metre deep advanced stop lines (i.e. double the current depth), again, subsequent to Department for Transport approval.

Less encouragingly, there are significant number of sections where people will be expected to follow "route logos to encourage cyclists to adopt a central riding position for this short stretch of road". This will be the case at Oval junction for the next two years until TfL can come up with a safer way to navigate people through this mess. As Rachel Aldred puts it in her blog, the 'route logos' don't sound so great when you change the phrasing slightly and read it instead as: "Route logos will encourage your children to adopt a central riding position (jostling with the buses and lorries and impatient white van drivers)....". Doesn't sound so good, does it?

Still, my sense is that the plans are, for the most part, an improvement on the original consultation. I'm impressed by the fact that TfL has clearly sought and won Department for Transport approval for things like deeper advanced stop lines and I'm impressed by the plans to upgrade the route in stages, which seems sensible. I'm concerned that section between Oval and central London still feels like it's hanging in the balance, though and I think parts of the route through Camberwell are still pretty poor to be honest.

As a reminder, here's what the section from central London to Vauxhall looks like at the moment, with thanks to Croydon Cyclist cyclegaz



And if that's not bad enough, here's a part of Oval junction (the Cycle Highway 7 part) as it stands at the moment. This will soon be the meeting point of two Cycle Super Highways. You can read more about this shocking incident (which is sadly all too typical in this road layout) here.