Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Thanks to muddy thinking by The Royal Parks, one of Britain's most iconic buildings to be the scene of Europe's most laughable cycling infrastructure

TfL's proposal is for safe space for cycling at Buckingham Palace. The Royal Parks have vetoed this plan
Imagine cycling on London's new and impressive cycle highway with your teenage children. You're cycling along safe, protected tracks all the way through from the Tower of London on your way to Hyde Park. And then, just as you get to Buckingham Palace, the cycle tracks stop. And you and your kids will have to move into three lanes of traffic, then turn off the road onto the pavement and wait to cross SIX lanes of traffic, to get back on to the cycle track. Heading the other way, you'll just have to make it across the junction above by mixing in with all the taxis turning left as you try to cycle straight on.

That is exactly what is going to happen. Because for some reason, with no evidence I'm aware of, The Royal Parks, seems to have vetoed Transport for London's proposal to put safe space for cycling through the junction in front of Buckingham Palace.

In front of one of the world's most iconic landmarks, we will have one of the world's most laughable pieces of cycle infrastructure. The tourists who see it will compare with what's going on back at home and have to laugh at just how backwards Britain is. Or, rather, it would be laughable if it weren't so downright irresponsible of The Royal Parks and so dangerous for everyone forced to use it.

The picture above shows Transport for London's proposal and looks quite harmless to me. You can see that cyclists are given a safe space to cycle through the junction from left to right and are kept neatly away from the motor traffic. Pictured below is a map that shows what the Royal Parks wants you to do: Jump off the cycle track (in red) and into the stream of traffic through the junction. And then back off the road on to a track. As the Evening Standard put it, this create a genuine "giant gap" right in the middle of the Mayor's cycle super highway.

Proposed route courtesy of the Royal Parks. Highlighted in red: Off the cycle track, back on to the road.
Buckingham Palace is in the bottom of this map. Alternatively, wind through thousands of pedestrians
on the section in green. 
If you look carefully at the plans, you will see there is in fact an alternative to sprinting it across the front of Buckingham Palace. And that is by following the service road along The Mall and then on to the Constitution Hill cycle track by following the bit I've highlighted in green above. But that means cycling through a shared space area which is the extremely busy pedestrian tourist route to Buckingham Palace from Green Park. The Royal Parks can't seriously want to encourage people to cycle directly across the path of all those thousands of tourists? It would be chaos for everyone.

Tonight's Evening Standard. Thank you so much, Royal Parks
Let's just be clear about this. The Prince's Foundation wrote to the Mayor to support his cycle super highway plans. From what we know, the Royal household has no objection to the cycle super highway plans. But The Royal Parks does seem to object to the cycle super highway plans and is content to throw people into the middle of a very busy, six-lane road junction and force them to work their way across from one side to another over a space of 300 metres. For no tangible reason other than someone doesn't seem to like the idea of making cycling a safe form of transport.

I don't think The Royal Parks has much of a clue what they're doing with the cycle super highway. In November it wrote to the Mayor insisting that "the Cycle Superhighway routes must be entirely road based as they pass through Hyde Park".And yet it seems to be encouraging TfL to build a solution through the park that ISN'T road-based (the majority of the route will be on protected tracks) except in front of the Palace where it will be. The letter suggests that The Royal Parks is rather worried about 'more cycling' in the Park and its impact on other users. Fair enough. But nowhere does The Royal Parks seem worried about the massive volumes of motor traffic in the parks and the impact of that on other users. Bikes are the demon, it seems, but it's fine to route multiple lanes of through motor traffic through a park. Just bizarre.

Have a read of The Royal Parks's submission to the Mayor. It is truly brazen. It insists, for example, that that TfL should "indemnify The Royal Parks from any personal accident claims resulting from the use of any parts of the Superhighway route in the parks". You have to wonder whether The Royal Parks have demanded this in relation to cyclists alone or whether they also place similar demands on other roads users, car drivers for example?

The problem section hightlighted in red. Between Birdcage Walk and Constitution Hill,
thanks to the Royal Parks, you're on your own, mate. 

The latest consultation shows the route of the proposed cycle highway through the Royal Parks. There are, to be fair, some decent bits here. Much widening of existing, low-grade cycle infrastructure that could make it properly useful. That said, I have my own strong doubts about the fact that this cycle highway will be closed late at night (Hyde Park section will be shut), thereby dumping people on the hugely busy, multi lane alternatives which are Park Lane and Bayswater Road and I think that needs addressing as well. And I can see that The Royal Parks may wonder why the cycle highway can't be routed, say, up the side of Park Lane and the side of Bayswater Road.

I'd urge you to do two things.

1) Look at the new consultation and send your comments. The TfL consultation is online here.

2) But why not ping an email to the Chief Executive of The Royal Parks, Linda Lennon, The Old Police House, Hyde Park, W2 2UH - email chiefexecutive@royalparks.gsi.gov.uk and ask her to reconsider her position to allow safe space for cycling in front of the Palace. The current plans simply don't stand up.

Following the Evening Standard article, are The Royal Parks back tracking?