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genuinely surprised that Transport for London has claimed that the new business improvement district VauxhallOne "has withdrawn support" for the cycle tracks through Vauxhall.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 So it seems very strange that TfL chose to represent the views of VauxhallOne as having 'withdrawn support' for the cycle highway.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. 


  1. Those armadillos look like an interesting solution!

  2. Those armadillos look interesting. They also look like they might prevent some drivers from parking in the bike lanes (we can only hope!!!).

    I must say i'm much in favor of moving the bus lane over to the left and having it shared. I've had barely any issues with using vauxhall bridge going north but south is just a different story!

    I recall talking to the project manager of the CS routes back in 2010. He mentioned these route logos and how they where there to let cyclists know to take the lane and to let drivers know that cyclists will be in the lane. But how? There was no education? It's just a blue box in the middle of the lane and 99% of the cyclists I see riding these routes pretty much always sticks to the left and only the most confident and speedy cyclists take the lane. It's about time all these routes were updated for all to use in a safe fashion!

    1. The armadillos are plastic, and their rounded shape I guess is designed so that they discourage crossing by motor vehicles without making it impossible, as high concrete kerb separators with the same street level either side might do. The way they are angled suggests that they would be much easier to exit than enter in the prevailing traffic direction - enter over them but exit alongside - so permitting mainteance vehicles etc to approach carefully and park. Traffic wands again would heavily discourage crossing although being flimsy knock-down plastic they can still be crossed if necessary.

      Can't see the point of rumble strips and cat's eyes - all rumble strips do is wake up drivers who fall asleep at the wheel and stray off the road. I can't see a committed road-arse taking any notice of them.

      As for kerb-separated cycle paths, elsewhere in the forest,I see TfL is still fighting against angled kerbs which would permit cyclist to ride up the sides to avoid conflict where necessary. I just can't see why though - do they cost a lot more money or something?

    2. The 45 degrees should cost less, only half a block used :)

  3. Is that London Cycling Campaign backing for the bus/bike lane from pre-Go Dutch days? If it is, fair enough, and I might consider joining again in the light of their changes in policy. If it is from post-Go Dutch, I am glad I did not renew my membership. The message to LCC has been very clear, both from their members and other Londoners: we want cycle tracks, so people 8-80 can go about safely. Nothing less will do.

  4. Yep, does anyone have a link to LCC's rationale for not supporting? I've just renewed my membership, and now I'm wondering whether that was a good idea.

  5. That oval junction is pretty bad. I prefer to approach in the right hand lane because the CS7 is in the left turn lane and that sort of thing happens all the time.

    Coming the other way isn't much better either.

    CS7 actually manages to make things worse here.

  6. Nice to see an improvement to the LCN 3 junction at Oval, which I use daily. It's not too bad, as the crossing there is a toucan with a dropped kerb just before it so you can cross with the lights if there's conflicting traffic, but it could certainly be made easier.

  7. I think if we can get better cycling routes in the city it would encourage a lot more cyclists to come and play!
    Also those armadillos look good!

  8. We at the London Cycling Campaign know people want cycle tracks on busy roads, which is why we called for a 2-metre track in both directions as a minimum for Vauxhall Bridge. Of the options presented initially, we said neither solution was satisfactory, but a shared bus/cycle lane was less unsatisfactory than a very narrow track because of the high cycling flows here.

    Our CS5 consultation response said: "A 4-metre wide bus lane is still insufficient because drivers will pass too closely. Vauxhall Bridge offers vast amounts of space and a 2m cycle track or lane should be provided as a minimum in each direction."

    Our elected Policy Forum, led by sustainable transport academic Dr Rachel Aldred, is currently authoring a 'Tracks and Lanes' policy document to set out clearly LCC's preference for Dutch-style segregated facilities in streets with high volumes of motor traffic.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to reply Mike, I will look forward to the publication of that document. I am afraid many of the activities of the LCC seemed to me to be a lot of tinkering at the edges of the problems in London, or offering (IMO) unrealistic solutions. The new design of lorry was one such example, that only confirmed in my mind that LCC had somehow lost its way and forgotten what its aim is (or should be): get as many people cycling as possible, as safely as possible, of all ages and abilities, everywhere in London.

      I however appreciate what seems to be the new focus on proper separated cycle infrastructure, which I think is the only way to increase significantly the levels of cycling in London (and rest of the UK).

  9. As an aside to this discussion of what came out of the CS5 consultation - I have put an FOI request in to TfL, asking for any documents discussing options for CS5 which were explicitly rejected as they do not meet published DfT guidelines.

    We are told that TfL sometimes want to do things, and are constrained by the design guidelines which central government offers; if TfL respond helpfully to this information request, then cycling campaigners may start to have a clearer idea of which issues they need to be raising with TfL and local authorities, and which items need to be escalated to central government.

    This is particularly apposite given that, for all the friendly noises towards cycling coming from DfT ministers (such as Norman Baker in particular), the hard answer always seems to be '...but local authorities are responsible for providing infrastructure'. I would like a clearer picture of how the guidance issued by the department is constraining local authorities as they plan infrastructure.