Sunday, 20 October 2013

Guest post: Two people killed at the same spot in City of London. Sticking plaster solutions suggested, yet again.

Last week, Transport for London published a consultation on plans to improve conditions for people cycling and walking on Upper Thames Street. I asked a colleague who works in one of the offices on Upper Thames Street what he thought about the plans. These are the comments of @KristianCyc

Yet again, some small changes planned to make Upper Thames Street a tiny bit less dangerous

Things are looking up for safety on Upper Thames St. The City of London is consulting on changes to this road, focusing on the junction leading to Southwark bridge road, where cycle super highway 7 terminates. This is important, because this is a popular route for cyclists and it is not a safe place to cycle. Sebastien Lukomski was killed here in February 2004

Following this tragedy, the City of London made changes to the road to make it safer for cycling, introducing feeder lanes and ASLs. 

Clearly, the changes implemented did nothing to address the problems at this junction, and in 2008 Nick Wright was killed just a few metres from where Sebastian Lukomski suffered the same fate. Just a few weeks ago another man escaped with his life but suffered severe leg trauma. Now the junction is to be changed again, perhaps it would be safe to assume that they will be extra keen to get it right this time? Sadly, history is repeating itself. 

Approaching Upper Thames Street from the south. The blue is a bike lane, apparently. Vehicles in the left hand lane are turning both left and right; people are generally cycling straight over the junction

Upper Thames St is an intimidating and unpleasant place to cycle even for the most hardened cyclists. The consultation alludes to the possibility of Andrew Gilligan’s “Crossrail for bikes” project being routed along this road. Serious levels of investment would be required to truly change the road and make it safe, pleasant and suitable for people of all ages and abilities. However, the route is not finalised and changes would not be finished until 2016 anyway. In the interim, Transport for London has proposed some measures that are worth having a look at. 

There are some good bits:
a straight across pedestrian crossing (current situation is people having to wait twice at a staggered crossing)
extension of the traffic island to prevent motor vehicles turning right into the car park on the south side and a) holding up the traffic and b) risking collision with cyclists (plenty of occasions that this has happened). Although if this reservation wasn't there, they'd be plenty more room for safer cycling.  

But there are some clangers that need addressing:
1) For cyclists continuing westbound on Upper Thames St, there is a significant left-hook risk from vehicles turning on to Southwark Bridge.
2) For pedestrians travelling east or west across Southwark Bridge, there is no pedestrian light or phase. Pedestrians are forced to guess when it is safe to walk across, and run for their lives if they get it wrong.
3) For cyclists travelling along Upper Thames St, cycle lanes are too narrow for HGVs in the next lane to overtake safely or are inconsistent, at one point simply merging with the next lane.
4) For cyclists joining Upper Thames St from Southwark Bridge, there is a left hook risk from vehicles turning left onto Upper Thames St, plus the confusion and conflict that invariably comes from the fact that vehicles in the left lane can also turn right.
5) Cyclists heading westbound on Upper Thames St and turning north at the junction have to cross two lanes of traffic to do so, which will be moving traffic if the light is green when the cyclist arrives at the junction

Of these most significant risks, two appear to have at least been identified. With regards to point (5), the plans introduce a waiting area for cyclists making this manoeuvre, suggesting that they see this as a problem. However, nothing has been done to solve the problem of crossing two lanes of traffic first. An earlier version of this plan included a Copenhagen-style right turn: Cyclists would have been able to turn left into the northbound carriageway on Southwark Bridge and then wait for the green lights to cross into the City of London. That seems to have been considered too difficult, so instead, you have to play chicken with two lanes of HGVs instead. 

TfL does seem to have identified the inconsistency of the cycle lanes along here (they narrow and widen like crazy), particularly when heading eastbound from the junction, at the point where the cyclist who suffered severe leg trauma was hit. At this location they intend to remove some of the pavement so they can continue to squeeze 1.5m of advisory cycle lane through the tunnel. Encouraging HGVs to overtake cyclists here with only 1.5m of cycle lane to occupy is a dangerous idea, and best considered by reading about how one person who witnessed CCTV footage of Nick Wright being killed reported on the incident:

Without sufficient separation between HGVs and cyclists there will continue to be a serious risk of this type of collision repeating itself. Experienced cyclists will ignore the new cycle lane, hold the traffic lane and deal with the subsequent aggression. Less experienced cyclists will be left at great risk. This is not acceptable. Please respond to this consultation and make it clear to the City of London that this isn’t good enough. These 5 risks should have been identified and they must be addressed in the new design.

With particular thanks to Bill Chidley whose past coverage of these incidents was invaluable in piecing together the history  on Upper Thames St.