Thursday, 28 April 2011

Did TfL plan a safer Blackfriars Bridge and scrap it? It won't let us see the traffic data it used for its new scheme.

TfL's original plan for Blackfriars?

The LCC claims that this plan on the left was approved by the City of London and was TfL's original suggestion, subsequently scotched in favour of a plan that keeps motor vehicles moving as quickly as possible over the bridge while making it more dangerous and less convenient for the majority of people using the bridge junction who are walking or cycling. This original plan would have slowed the junction down and added more pedestrian crossings, making it safer for cyclists and pedestrians alike.

The diagram shows the original proposal superimposed on the current motorway-style arrangement.

The LCC also claims that TfL has admitted Transport for London used out-of-date traffic data when it submitted its more recent anti-walking and anti-cycling plans. When we went to meet TfL at this junction together with three London Assembly Members, TfL verbally admitted to using traffic data from 2007.

Why's that important, you say?

Well, have a look at this video. I took this video at 8am one morning last week. The video shows one green light phase at this junction on a perfectly typical morning.

What this shows is that the junction, at least in the rush hours, is packed with bicycles. More bicycles than motor cars, in fact.

In Februay I noted there are now 1,926 bicycles a day heading north on this bridge in the rush-hour. That's up from 432 in 1990.  In any case, bicycles now comprise 35.6% of the total traffic on Blackfriars Bridge heading north in the mornings. That's more than any other mode of transport and higher than private motor cars and taxis combined (31.9%). Back in 2007, though, the number of bicycles was only about half what it is now.

And that's why TfL's traffic data matters. Because if TfL is really modelling on 2007 numbers, then it is completely failing to take into the account the fact that number of people cycling in central London is booming while the number of people using private motor cars in central London is falling. And as the LibDems put it, it's very strange that Transport for London "favours smoothing the traffic flow for motorists and worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists"

It's almost as if Transport for London is looking at what's happening on the ground and deliberately ignoring it.

So, we decided to ask Transport for London in writing.Specifically we asked them for:

1. Any information held about modelling of vehicle flows for the Blackfriars junction scheme being progressed for Network Rail. This should include (but not be limited to) baseline data for motor vehicles and cycles, sensitivity testing and details of the model packages used. I realise this may mean a large amount of data so would appreciate advice and assistance as soon as possible to narrow down this request.

Here's their response:

"TfL is not obliged to supply this information to you as it is exempt from disclosure under Regulations 12(4)(d) of the EIRs, which applies to information which is still in the course of completion, to unfinished documents or to incomplete data. The information you have requested is in the course of completion and the modelling does not yet incorporate changes made to the Blackfriars junction scheme. The modelling needs to be reviewed, adjusted and approved to ensure that it is an accurate reflection of the proposed scheme.

The use of Regulation 12(4)(d) is subject to an assessment of the public interest in relation to the disclosure of the information concerned. TfL recognises the need for openness and transparency but considers that the public interest favours maintaining this exception as disclosure of incomplete modeling work could give a false impression of the impacts of the scheme. TfL considers that the public interest is better served by allowing TfL to complete and audit the modelling in line with changes made to the scheme."

This response came a couple of days after we'd met TfL. And it came after TfL affirmed to us that the design had been approved some time ago by TfL and by the City of London 'as required under Network Rail’s Traffic and Works Obligation'.

TfL's defence of the current scheme for this junction is founded on the "the need to ensure the traffic capacity of the Blackfriars Bridge junction was not constricted to such an extent that there would be widespread traffic congestion".

And yet I interpret TfL's refusal to release traffic data as saying something like this: Despite the fact that the scheme for Blackfriars was complete, signed off and agreed by everyone, err, the traffic modelling data wasn't complete, so we can't let you see it. If that's the case, then TfL's insistence that making this bridge safer for cycling and walking would harm "traffic capacity" wouldn't really add up.

If that's the case, then, can we have that original design back please?

Thursday, 21 April 2011

LibDems: TfL "favours smoothing the traffic flow for motorists and worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists"

The leader of the LibDems in the London Assembly and Vice Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee has now joined Labour's Val Shawcross (Chair of the Transport Committee), John Biggs, Jenny Jones of the Green Party and John Boff of the Tories in lambasting Transport for London's plans for Blackfriars Bridge.

There are only five political parties represented in the Assembly, the Tories, LibDems, Labour, Greens and an Independent, former BNP member. So, five out of the total 25 London Assembly Members, representing four out of the five parties have reached consensus on Transport for London's anti-walking and anti-cycling intentions at this junction.

Caroline Pidgeon completely gets the point when she says:

"It favours smoothing the traffic flow for motorists and worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists."

The full text of her response to TfL is below.

As I mentioned earlier this week, Blackfriars is emblematic of a London-wide issue, namely the way that Transport for London, under the direction of the Mayor, consistently over-rides the safety and priority of people who walk, cycle, use mobility scooters and the like in favour of smoothing traffic flow for the mythical 'motorist'.

London is a city of people who walk and increasingly a city of people who cycle. You'd never think that was the case if you looked at how TfL routinely goes about planning major junctions such as Blackfriars.

Blackfriars is just one example of what I consider the Mayor's anti-cycling and anti-walking agenda. CrapWalthamForest blog points this out much more harshly in this article here:

"As London Travel Watch point out

'The emphasis on keeping traffic moving as opposed to traffic reduction will limit the scope to rebalance the use of London’s streets in favour of the pedestrian.'
Or for that matter cycling.

This is what ‘Network Assurance’ means: prioritising motor vehicle flow above all other considerations. Infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists is rejected out of hand if it seriously conflicts with that priority."

Full text of Caroline Pidgeon's response to TfL:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing as the Liberal Democrat Transport spokesperson, to set out concerns with the new Blackfriars Bridge road layout proposals by Transport for London.

I recently went on a site visit to Blackfriars Bridge with TfL, including one of the engineers working on this layout. I was very surprised at the seemingly inflexible attitude to any suggestions I made.

I welcome the surface level pedestrian crossings in place of the subways. I think this is a good step and will have a positive influence on the pedestrian experience on the bridge. However, I was wondering if this might be a suitable location for a “Tokyo” style junction crossing? I think this could work really well looking at the layout of the junction, taking into account the number of pedestrians who use these junctions collectively and who will want to go in different directions across the road junction.

In particular I would like you to consider the following suggestions, hopefully with a view to consensual agreement and finding a way forward.

• The current temporary 20mph at the northern end of the bridge makes cyclists and pedestrians feel safer. I understand that traffic cannot usually travel over 20mph during the daytime; however it sends a clear message to drivers that this is a 20mph zone and more care and vigilance is needed. I believe that not only should the 20mph zone be retained once the new road layout is introduced, but it is extended across the entire bridge to make the whole bridge safer for pedestrians, cyclists and the motorists themselves.

• One option to consider is the reduction in the number of lanes for vehicular traffic at the northern end of the bridge in order to facilitate a side cycle lane in keeping with the desire to encourage increased cycle use and introduce clear cycle lanes?

• At the Southern end of the bridge, I have had groups contact me expressing concern over the road layout. Is it possible to consider reducing the number of traffic lanes from the bridge to the Stamford Street lights? In addition, the narrow and unnatural central cycle lane clearly needs replacing with a North to South bound one as described above. I think the whole bridge needs and junctions either end should be considered as a comprehensive scheme rather than in parts.

• Pedestrians strongly want to see the retention of the east–west temporary pedestrian crossing over New Bridge Street, as this will ensure that less mobile pedestrians avoid lengthy detours over several crossings as they cannot access the subway? The Tokyo style crossing proposal would assist with their concerns too I believe.

• I understand there is a structural problem with the “tear-drop” island. What assessments have been carried out on this island? Would it be possible to take back and utilise any of this space whatsoever, as it seems like a waste of valuable space on this very tight piece of road? Also, can you provide the cost of repairing this structural problem and indicate whether there is any room in the budget to sort out this problem? It seem apparent that using some of this space more widely would allow for the two lands of vehicular traffic and a cycle lane and more pedestrian space. A win for all road users.

Overall, from the feedback I have received by many constituents and interest groups regarding this scheme, I feel that the proposal is not fairly balanced. It favours smoothing the traffic flow for motorists and worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists. I hope TfL will look closely to my suggestions and from other interested parties to try to redress this balance.

I look forward to your detailed response.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Caroline Pidgeon AM

London Assembly Liberal Democrat Group Leader

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

TfL being "ludicrous" about Blackfriars scheme, suggests Vice Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee

Big Ben - smoothing the traffic flow for cars. Safe for everyone else?
This picture on the left has nothing and everything to do with the fiasco at Blackfriars Bridge where Transport for London is proposing to redesign the northern junction to make it less conveninent and less safe for pedestrians and cyclists so that motor vehicles can get through this junction even more 'smoothly' than they already can at the moment.

I say that because, at present, you hardly ever see significant queues of motor vehicles at the Blackfriars northern junction. Despite this, TfL seems terribly worried that "the need to ensure the traffic capacity of the Blackfriars Bridge junction [should not be] constricted to such an extent that there would be widespread traffic congestion." That concern about supposedly 'widespread' traffic congestion feels to me, to be at the sole expense of cyclist and pedestrian safety.

I wrote yesterday about TfL's concerns that motor vehicles might have to 'stack' at junctions and how the transport authority wants to be able to process as many motor vehicles as possible through its junctions with as little congestion as possible. It sounds sensible enough. But the net result is that you end up with situations like this one pictured above.

The picture shows a pretty typical rush hour as you head along Victoria Embankment beside the Thames and pop up just by Big Ben. To turn right towards Parliament Square, you basically shuffle along some hatchings between two lanes of motor traffic turning right and one lane of motor traffic turning left. It's pretty unpleasant. And dangerous too. Just look at all those bikes hugging the hatchings and imagine an HGV or coach ploughing along on both sides of the bicycles. It's a recipe for collisions.

Interestingly, TfL is proposing to add an extra lane for motor traffic on the northbound junction at Blackfriars and, guess what, some hatchings exactly like these ones at Big Ben to keep motor vehicles apart. The hatchings will become the only refuge for right-turning cyclists, just as they are here.

The Big Ben junction is confusing for cyclists and baffling for motor drivers who wonder what all these bikes are doing in the painted traffic island area and then stress about how to get past the bikes. When the lights go green what ensues is a sort of cat-and-mouse game. What happens is that the cars wait for the bikes, the bikes wait for the cars. Then some motor driver charges forwards. Cyclists dodge, swear and carry on. The whole junction has to proceed much more slowly than it might if bicycles had their own space and motor vehicles had theirs.

My point here is that TfL choses to design its junctions this way. It only recently 'upgraded' Victoria Embankment with bicycle lanes that appear and then disappear every few metres. But it left this particular junction untouched. The result is that both cyclists and pedestrians end up crammed in very narrow spaces between several lanes of motor vehicles. Sound familiar? Something pretty similar is going on at Blackfriars in my view.

And the depressing thing is that Boris Johnson actually encourages this sort of thing. He wants traffic to get through junctions as quickly as possible:

'Smoothing traffic flow means delivering more reliable journey times, and more free-flowing travel conditions than at present.

Thing is, that 'smoothing' of the traffic flow seems to only refer to motor vehicles. If you're on a bicycle you get to wobble along in some hatchings. If you're a pedestrian here, you make do with a tiny and usually crammed pedestrian island. It's a deeply unpleasant crossing for everyone who's not motorised.

So it's not very encouraging to see the latest developments on Blackfriars Bridge. Val Shawcross and John Biggs London Assembly Labour members, Jenny Jones, Green AM and Andrew Boff, Tory AM have all criticised TfL's plans for Blackfriars Bridge. Hundreds of people have written in to TfL's consultation on the bridge design.

You'd have thought TfL might have the humility to admit it might be ever so slightly in the wrong. Maybe it's time to notice that well over a third of commuter vehicles on Blackfriars Bridge are bicycles and design a space that allows them to get through the junction as safely as possible. But no, TfL are sticking to their guns. The design is about motor cars, it seems.

Earlier this week, Caroline Pidgeon, who is the chair of the LibDems at the London Assembly and Vice Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee met TfL on Blackfriars Bridge to see what the Mayor's transport authority was planning for the vast majority of people who walk or cycle over the bridge.

Here's what she had to say:

"I found TfL not very receptive to changes and came up with reasons not to do something. It is ludicrous that any junction redesign should make pedestrians and cyclists worse off".

Let me just be clear about this. My beef with TfL isn't about cycling and only cycling. It's about why TfL continues to design streets around people in motor cars to the exclusion of 10-year olds who want to cycle to school (there's a school just along from Blackfriars Bridge for example), City businessmen who want to use a cycle hire bike between meetings, people in mobility scooters who want to use decent cycle lanes, the way they can in the Netherlands, pedestrians who want to cross the road without having to wait for four traffic signals. We're all lumped together as being non-motor vehicles. In the centre of London, where people on foot and on bicycles vastly outnumber motor vehicles, we're allowed to enjoy dangerous and inconvenient traffic schemes in the name of smoother traffic flow for motor vehicles.

So far, four main political parties in the London Assembly, the Chair and Vice Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee and hundreds of people who walk or cycle over Blackfriars have all written to Transport for London to object at how the Mayor's transport authority intends to implement a scheme that works against cycling, walking or, frankly, mobility scootering at this junction.

The thing is that Blackfriars is emblematic of the goals that the Mayor is setting his transport authority. If a cross party group of Assembly Members and a sizeable chunk of public response to Blackfriars aren't enough to budge Transport for London on this one, what hope is there for other schemes like this as they pop up across London? Let's see what happens next but I certainly feel that my London mayoral vote is suddenly becoming a lot more relevant as I learn more about where the Mayor's priorities lie.......

Monday, 18 April 2011

London's ghost cycle super highway lanes will kill. All because TfL doesn't want cars to slow down.

Southwark Bridge road and its ghost cycle lane
Last week, I spent an evening walking around Vauxhall Bridge Road and the Vauxhall gyratory with a chap from Transport for London.

One of the things that we got talking about was what people are increasingly referring to as 'ghost cycle lanes'. Here's a picture of one just south of Southwark Bridge. My view is that these lanes are death traps waiting to happen.

Look at the scene above.

The bus and the lorry behind the lights are in the 'ghost lane'. Essentially, it's a normal motor vehicle lane. But it's painted blue and has bicycle symbols on it.

I took this photo and watched as the lorry on the right of the picture overtook the chap cycling along in the ghost cycle lane (by thre traffic light in front of the bus). The lorry overtook the cyclist and turned left in front of him. If the man cycling hadn't braked, the HGV would most likely have killed him.

This happens again and again. And is a function of the ridiculous design of this junction. It's a bicycle lane filled with HGVs and buses.

That's my problem with ghost cycle lanes - they're a half-cocked excuse at not implementing a proper bike lane. And they're dangerous. Because they're neither one thing nor the other. In theory, I reckon transport planners think that each vehicle will work out how to navigate the ghost lanes safely. But in reality, as I saw at this junction, if you're big and fast, you do what you bloody well like, and screw the cyclist.

I asked my TfL host why London's transport planners couldn't allocate more space to cycling at one particular junction, namely at the cross roads at the northern end of Vauxhall Bridge here. This is a place with four lanes of traffic leading up to the lights in each direction. In other words, plenty of space to allocate space for cycling. The plans for both the Cycle Super Highways that will soon cross this junction from north to south and east to west are to implement ghost lanes. Not proper bike lanes, just a bit of blue paint.

The reason is to prevent 'stacking'. A new term to me. What it means is that TfL want as many motor vehicles as possible to be able to access the junction as possible so that they can get through the junction efficiently and not cause congestion. In other words, they want motor vehicles to be able to fan out as they approach the junction, so they don't back up as much along the street. That should enable motor vehicles to get through the junction more quickly.

The thing is, what that answer doesn't reveal, is that if you're not in a motor vehicle at the time, you're bottom of the pile.

Let's see what that means in reality, then.

Here's the new Cycle Super Highway heading west along Millbank. It's almost shockingly impressive especially compared to what was here before which you can see here. The hatchings down the middle of the road are gone. In their place, two fairly decent bicycle lanes. Redesigning road space this way is genuinely good news for cycling. There are plenty of streets all over London that could be redesigned like this but nothing's happening. It's just this one street.
Back to Millbank, though.

Just as you get used to the nice wide cycle lane along Millbank, things go a bit pear-shaped. The same as they do at Vauxhall gyratory, TfL's Cycle Super Highways completely fail to deal with the difficult bits of your journey just when you need them.

 'Stacking' for bicycles but not for motor vehicles?
If you carry along Millbank you soon come to the junction with Vauxhall Bridge pictured left.

The Super Highway isn't finished here yet. But when it is, it will work exactly the same way as that treacherous junction pictured at the top of this page on Southwark Bridge Road.

What happens is that the blue cycle lane disappears and instead, you get four lanes of motor traffic. If you're a cyclist heading straight on, you have to share the nearside lane with left-turning motor vehicles in your new bicycle ghost lane.

EDIT UPDATE IN NOVEMBER - It is exactly this sort of 'ghost bike lane' design that has now killed two people at Bow roundabout. And Transport for London is proposing dozens more junctions should be designed exactly like this.

In other words, your bike lane buggers off and you get to share a motor vehicle lane that happens to be blue.And you get HGVs overtaking you and cutting left in front of you, just as I saw at at the top of this article on Southwark Bridge Road. Fabulous example of an institutionalised death trap.

So, in other words, the junction will look hardly any different to how it looked today, in this picture here.

Lots and lots of bicycles, crammed into a narrow strip stuck between the pavement and the motor vehicles. And guess what? Because motor vehicles have four lanes to themselves (including what has been your cycle lane up to this junction), there's not much of a queue for motor vehicles. It's never more than a few vehicles deep. But there are upwards of 20 cyclists in this stack of bicycles, all lined up in a tiny, narrow space that will be not much different when the Super Highway is complete.

So, it seems that TfL doesn't want motor vehicles to stack. But if you're on a bicycle, tough luck mate, you'll have to make do with a mega queue of bikes in front of you. Can't make it less convenient for Londoners to drive everywhere and more convenient to cycle and walk now, can we?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Vauxhall Cycle Super Highway plans - more compromises on the gyratory. Some good, some bad. But it's all down to political will.

Earlier this week I spent a happy evening walking up and down Vauxhall Bridge Road and around Vauxhall gyratory with none other than Transport for London. Happy days.

TfL contacted me after reading my comments on the SuperHighway scheme between Victoria and sunny Peckham, in particular relating to these comments here about Vauxhall Bridge Road and about the entry to Vauxhall gyratory here.

And it was a very interesting evening. For lots of reasons.

First and foremost, TfL has promised a written response to my comments about the scheme at Vauxhall Bridge. And I got a genuine sense from TfL that it wants to listen to cyclists and that it genuinely does want to make cycling 'work'. But I also got the impression, as I have on the couple of other times I've met people from TfL, that there's an internal turf war going on. And these are very much my words and thoughts, not those of anyone from TfL directly. That turf war seems to be between those who realise they need to take road space and allocate it to cycling to make it safer and more convenient to cycling. And those who just want to whack as many motor vehicles as possible through London's streets.

And that's why we end up with this completely compromised mixed-bag of facitilies for cycling.

Let's look at this for example:
Vauxhall Bridge: Now and as planned
Vauxhall Bridge itself. An image showing current and planned traffic arrangement. If you look at the picture at the top, you can see the current arrangement. A narrow bus lane heading northbound. Head south, though, and you have a cycle lane that is "worse than useless". TfL's words not mine. I've mentioned the approach to Vauxhall Bridge and the nightmare cycle lane before but you can see it in all its glory here.

So let's see how TfL plans to make the bridge "provide cyclists with safer, faster and more direct journeys". Wahay, no more cycle lane. So, what do you get instead? At the moment, there's a 1.4metre bike lane (not very wide) plus a 2.5m motor vehicle. So, 3.9metres for traffic to get past you. Under the scheme that will shrink to a 3metre lane with no cycle lane. As another blogger puts it, this will result in conditions like this:

Due to the on road bits being built on sections of road which are quite narrow, then there is lots of conflict with drivers as you are forced to take a primary road position at plenty of points to keep safe. Not exactly what a novice cyclist wants to be doing on their dream cycle path to work.

Not to mention the fact that the exact opposite conditions are in place further up the street where the nearside lane is 3.9metres. So, at one point, the nearside lane is just wide enough for an HGV to get past you. But on the bridge, the exact opposite is the case. Just picture the scene: There you are on your rather slow and slightly wobbly cycle hire bike. You're going to have to cycle in the middle of the lane to encourage motor vehicles to overtake you in the second lane. Not fun at all.

I've already profiled what happens when you come off the bridge on to the gyratory. It's a mean, narrow bike lane with four lanes of motor vehicles beside you. All of you forced into a racing track-style curve which almost always features motor vehicles cutting in to your extremely narrow advisory bike lane.

So far, so unimpressive.

But back to my point about the turf war between the people who seem to realise you need to create proper bike infrastructure and the people who just want to ram as many motor vehicles through the roads as quickly as possible.

Vauxhall gyratory heading from Vauxhall Bridge towards Oval.
How it looks now
Because just when you despair about the design of this Cycle Super Highway, along comes something that's actually not truly bad. 

And that's this part.

Here's the plan. Five motor vehicle lanes become four wider
motor vehicle lanes plus one bike lane
Here's the section of Vauxhall gyratory as you head off the bridge in the direction of Oval. At the moment it consists of five lanes heading under the railway bridge. It's pretty grim for cycling. I've been run into at least once here this year and near-missed pretty much once a week as I cycle through here.

And here's the plan. From five lanes to four. Plus a new bicycle lane.

Look in detail at what's going on and the motor vehicle lanes are all slightly wider than they are at the moment. There's a slight refuge area just before the bridge to keep motor vehicles away from cycles as they come round the race-track curve under the bridge. And then there's a mandatory cycle lane.

The fact that the mandatory lane is only 1.5metres is disappointing. But the fact is that this scheme feels like cat and mouse. To me it looks like Cycle Super Highways are about sneaking in bicycle infrastructure that won't upset the motor vehicle contingent. Where they can get away with it, TfL's road engineers are putting infrastructure in place that at least hints at what is really needed. But a hint is all we get. No two metre wide lanes here. No safety for cyclists when they're on the bridge itself. But suggestions of what a bicycle lane could look like when it works.

My Transport for London host was charming, informative and a keen cyclist. But he admitted "you need cultural change before people are prepared to accept that cars might need to wait [for cyclists and pedestrians]."

That's exactly what's going on here, I think. Our Mayor wants to encourage cycling. But it seems that he doesn't judge the political mood as supporting priority for people on foot or on bicycle. Or in wheelchairs or motor scooters for that matter. I get the feeling that he feels he has to pander to the 'motorist'.

Most people I know are motorists. I am, for one. But an awful lot of us think motoring is not the way forward in central London.

We're clearly going to have to make sure London's next mayor realises that a lot of us think that way. Otherwise we're just going to get more of the same.

Blackfriars - Now a fourth political party condemns the scheme. Surely TfL has to consider its approach to 'traffic flow' now?

I wrote a few weeks ago about how Val Shawcross and John Biggs of London Assembly Labour Party together with Jenny Jones of the Green Party had been instrumental in forcing Transport for London to re-open its consultation on Blackfriars Bridge.
I also wrote at the time that I felt uncomfortable wading into politics on this blog.

But I'm delighted to discover today that Andrew Boff, Conservative Assembly Member has also joined in the criticism of TfL. Andrew has commented to the TfL consultation also broadly in support of amending this scheme to make this bridge more cycle-friendly. I've copied his comments below.

This is great news. Caroline Pidgeon of the LibDems has also expressed support although I haven't seen her written comments.

That means all three major political parties plus the Greens are lined up against TfL's policy of forcing as much traffic through this junction as quickly as possible. Because it is exactly that policy of ensuring that maximum flow of motor vehicles as quickly as possible that is the issue here. And it's the same issue all across London.

That is why boroughs like Kensington & Chelsea can get away with stating in their official transport plans that "it is not practical to allocate road space specifically to cyclists". It is also why the City of London can spend tens of millions on plant pots and fancy paving and get away with 'improving the public realm' rather than making the roads safer, easier, less stressful for both cyclists and pedestrians.

I know these objections so far are all about Blackfriars. But it's very encouraging to see that London Assembly Labour, Green, LibDem and now Conservative party Assembly Members are all standing up and asking TfL to change their tune.


From: Andrew Boff
Sent: Thu 4/14/2011 3:25 PM
Cc: Kulveer Ranger
Subject: Blackfriars Bridge

It strikes me that the revised plans are inadequate for the purposes of safe cycling. I accept that this is a complicated junction and that due weight needs to be given to the requirements of motor vehicles and the need to avoid too much queueing. An equal, if not greater, weight needs to be given to the cycle users.
A summary of my concerns is as follows:
There are too many gaps where cycle lanes are undelineated;
The complexity of the arrangement makes it a hazard for cyclist not familiar with the junction;
The number of cyclists using the bridge is likely to increase over the next few years and there should, therefore, be flexibility built into the scheme to cope with future modifications;
There is an opportunity for a continuous cycle lane from Queen Victoria Street round to the bridge which has been sacrificed for the purposes of creating a bulge in the footpath whcih seems to make little sense - the footfall is moving;
The provision of advanced stop lines is welcome but doesn't take into account that most drivers don't seem to know what they are;
There is an inadequate explantion for the size of the traffic island in the middle of the scheme.
All in all, the scheme does not seem to be a net improvement for cyclists. I think this needs to be revisited.

Andrew Boff
Londonwide Assembly Member
City Hall, The Queen's Walk, London SE1 2AA

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Cycle Superhighway is scandalous. Carbon copy of killer bike lane coming to Vauxhall Bridge Road

Last summer, a man called Everton Smith was killed cycling along Vauxhall Bridge Road towards Drummond Gate (turning left).

Sergeant Simon Seeley, from the Met's road death investigation unit, said: “Our traffic management unit has advised me that that cycle lane is not of the required width. It is not the proper width for a cycle lane.”

Seeley pointed out that: Not only was the 1.2 metre-wide cycle lane below the minimum 1.5 metre width set out in government guidelines, but the adjoining traffic lane was only 2.9 metres wide and went on to point out that the lane was only 40cm wider than the HGV that ploughed into Mr Smith killing him.

So, it's fascinating to see how Transport for London intends to resolve that issue when it redesigns the space as part of its new Victoria to Peckham Cycle Superhighway. Here it is on the left with a before and after shot. And click here to see what the area looks like.

Heading along that same direction now, the plan is that what was a 1.2m cycle lane and 2.9m adjoining lane is now a whopping 3.0m lane, with no bicycle lane. So TfL is proposing to simply make that killer lane narrower and hope that sorts things out.

Look on the other side of the street, heading southbound, and there's a deeply cynical 'wide' lane. It's a 3.9m motor vehicle lane with 1.5m of blue paint in it. In other words, if you're a bicycle, you will be expected to cycle along on the narrow strip of blue paint, which is the narrowest possible width for a bicycle lane. There will be no markings on the blue strip so it's not technically a bike lane, which gets TfL off the hook from this point: The actual motor vehicle lane will be only 2.4metres. That'll be fun when a 2.8m wide HGV is trying to get past you.
Look more closely and you can see just how cynically even that appearance of extra space has been achieved.

Head south again, towards Victoria, Mr or Mrs Cyclist, and you will now be expected to head north by cycling along in a perilous 1.5metre bike lane sandwiched between two traffic lanes, both only 3.0metres wide.

So, TfL have basically wriggled out of one dangerous and killer cycle lane by removing the cycle lane into Drummond Gate entirely. And then they've gone and installed a northbound cycle lane that is only 1.5metres wide and will force cyclists to wobble in between two lanes of fast-moving motor traffic with just 3.0 metres to play with, 10cm more than the killer lane that resulted in the death of Everton Smith.

Let's just remind ourselves what these killer middle of the road cycle lanes look like:

Guess how wide this cycle lane was? 1.7metres. In other words, two people were killed in a cycle lane that ran down the middle of two fast-moving motor vehicle lanes. That lane was wider than the one TfL is planning to install on Vauxhall Bridge Road directly next to the spot where another cyclist was killed by a too-narrow cycle lane.

It's utterly scandalous.

TfL is refusing to allocate road space to cycling. It is borrowing space from one side of the street to make the southbound side safer after a cyclist was killed there last year. It is then implementing an entirely insane cycle scheme heading northbound that directly mimics a scheme where two cyclists were killed. The cycle lane is too narrow. The motor vehicle lanes are too narrow. The motor vehicle speeds are too fast. I wouldn't cycle my niece down this. Would you?

TfL is laying out Cycle SuperHighways that bluntly refuse to allocate space to cycling. To me, this is a deeply cynical and flawed compromise that shoves two fingers up at cyclists.

What TfL should be doing is removing a lane and creating enough space for people to cycle here in safety. Instead, it is creating the illusion of bicycle facilities while protecting space and speed for motor vehicles. An illusion that we know is deathly.

Thanks TfL. As the Londonist article stated a few weeks ago: Please stop trying to kill me! 

If you think this plan looks rubbish, then send your thoughts to

TfL designs a new Cycle Superhighway at Vauxhall Bridge. Nothing's changed. It's still a motorway. And cycling is still treated with derision.

Amazing isn't it. Transport for London's first drafts of the new Cycle SuperHighway are now out. On the right is an image of the exit from Vauxhall Bridge, heading south into the gyratory. I profiled this junction a few weeks ago here in much more detail. Five lanes for motor traffic and a tiny bike lane. As you head towards the gyratory on your bike, you have to slip along on the inside of cars that are turning towards central London (where the yellow taxi is heading right in this picture). If you're heading straight on, you'll find a lot of motor vehicles travelling extremely fast and weaving in and out of lanes. Almost certainly, there will be at least one motor vehicle weaving into the paltry bike lane.

So it was with lots of excitement that I opened up the first draft of plans for the Cycle SuperHighway that will run from Victoria, through Vauxhall, Oval and on towards Peckam. I thought that TfL might realise that here's a junction with plenty of space to make things slightly safer and easier for cycling. Perhaps by removing a lane of motor traffic and slowing this junction down a little bit to make it easier to manoeuvre on a bicycle? Or by creating a space that is slightly segregated from the thundering lorries that whizz down from the bridge?

Here's a plan of how this part of the junction looks now (above). The top of the diagram shows the southbound section of the bridge shown in the distance in the picture above. You can see the four lanes of general traffic and a space between that traffic and the bus lane. you can also see the extremely narrow, advisory bike lane.

Let's have a look at Transport for London's bold vision for tackling this junction and making it how TfL intends to provide cyclists with safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city.

Pictured here is a diagram of what this junction will look like after its makeover into a Cycle Superhighway.

Notice much difference?

The tiny strip of advisory cycle lane is now blue. And it's a mandatory lane, ie motor vehicles may not enter.

But unless my eyes are deceiving me, it's the same lane.

It's just as perilously narrow as it is at the moment. There are still four lanes of motor traffic heading into the gyratory with you and you're still going to get swiped by fast-moving motor vehicles when you cycle on into the junction.

Unless it's me being horribly negative, all I can see here is a mandatory cycle lane that is too narrow and that leads you into multiple conflict zones with fast-moving motor traffic as you leave the bridge and try to navigate the gyratory.

Thanks for the support, TfL. If this is all you're capable of, you might as well hardly bother.

I'll be reviewing the plans chunk by chunk over the coming days. If you think this bit of the Superhighway is bad, just look at the sheer scandal of what TfL is proposing on the north side of the Bridge.

If you think these plans are rubbish, then send your thoughts and comments to

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Square Mile - new public bicycle pumps springing up!

New public bicycle pump in the Square Mile
Blimey. I can be quite critical of some of the things that the City of London does when it comes to its streets and junctions.

But here's something I never quite believed we'd see - the first public bicycle pump in the City of London.

It's one of two, in fact.

This one is sitting nice and pretty in the glorious Baynard House Car Park on Queen Victoria Street.

Head in the car entrance and down the ramp and you'll see bike parking for 70 or so bicycles. And this - a shiny new public bicycle pump.

I haven't had time to make it over to London Wall yet but apparently, 150 or so new bicycle stands are ready in the car park underneath London Wall (Moorgate end) complete with, yes, a public bike pump.

Stockholm - removed a motor vehicle lane on its main
bridge, added a new cycle track. Complete with bike pump
How neat is that? My only criticism (sorry!) is that it might be nice to see one in the street rather than in a car park in the future. Here's one I snapped in Stockholm. This is on the main bike route between two of the islands and just next to one of the city's main bridges. Note how Stockholm has removed motor vehicle lanes on the bridge and installed a segregated bike path instead, complete with bike pump and the odd floral addition.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

"There's more than enough money there". Is the City more interested in funding plant pots than safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists?

New Change - next to St Paul's. A new road scheme
with a bike lane that isn't likely to make it any easier or safer
to cycle here. Can you spot the bike lane? £500k was spent 
on the paving and plant pots just here, though....
A few weeks ago some of us attended a public meeting of the City of London's Streets & Walkways Committee - the committee of councilmen (councillors) who recommend schemes that shape the streets of the Square Mile. Those schemes are then approved or amended by other committees but this is the starting point. 

What really struck me in the meeting, though, was a comment made by one City of London official: "There's more than enough money there", he said, to make a difference to the City's road safety figures. The committee heard that the issue isn't about lack of money, it's about where the money gets spent. 

So, some of us have decided to get a better understanding of where the City's money is getting spent. And the results are rather surprising.

Let's start with a tiny bit of context, about something called StreetScene. StreetScene is the City of London's strategy for creating a better public realm on its streets. You can read more about it in this document here if you're interested. But in summary, the good news, is this is about spending money to make the City's street's places that 'enrich the qualities of the public realm'. In a separate document, here, you can see examples of how and where those StreetScene projects are

So far so good. As someone who walks, cycles, drives, takes buses and the tube in the Square Mile, I like the idea of getting about in streets that are safer and nicer places to be. 

But there are two catches:

Firstly, the Street Scene Manual, which is the guide for implementing Street Scene projects in the City never ever mentions cycling. It talks about making walking a 'more pleasurable experience', and I can't disagree with that, but not cycling. 

No StreetScene money here. Pedestrians walking
towards Blackfriars are forced to cross a motorway-
style slip road
And secondly, the strategy doesn't talk about making the City's roads safer, only about making it 'a more pleasurable' experience to walk around the Square Mile. Let's take one such City road, Queen Victoria Street pictured on the left here. None of the StreetScene money seems to be going into making junctions like this safer for pedestrians.You'll notice people walking down the middle of what is essentially a motorway-style slip road here. This a fairly normal sight at any time of the day at this point because the only way to walk from the Millenium Bridge to Blackfriars Station involves either legging it across this junction in the middle of the carriageway or using a grotty underpass while motor vehicles speed past on to this motorway-style slip road. 

Spot the bike lane. StreetScene in action
Here are a couple more examples:

To the left, the bike lane between Carter Lane and New Change, just to the south of St Paul's. Recent Street-Scening removed the road that used to be here and turned it into shared use pavement. Can you spot the bike lane? It's the tiny piece of drop kerb by that pillar, just to the left of the bus stop. What this scheme has done is to create a very pleasant walking realm (good) but it's more or less removed a route for cycling that ran parallel to St Paul's Churchyard. You'd have to be able to spot that pillar with its little blue bike lane sign to know you can cycle here. 

Further along, the City has spent considerable cash on paving Carter Lane, shown to the left. It looks nice. But it doesn't have any impact whatsoever on improving the safety of pedestrians and cyclists on the City's roads. Not to mention the fact that the pavement has become a de facto car park.

Let's look at just how significant this is. I am grateful to a fellow City resident for spending several nights in front of the computer screen for this data. We've looked at the minutes of every single set of minutes of the Streets and Walkways sub-committee from May 2004 to December 2010 and looked at how that Committee has allocated approximately £31million of capital expenditure in that time.

Capital expenditure approved by City of London Streets & Walkways Committee May 2004 - Dec 2010: 

% of Total

So, 64% of the City's expenditure on its streets seems to be going into StreetScene - a project that focuses exclusively on creating a better public realm for pedestrians in the form of aesthetically pleasing spaces but ignores cyclists and seems to do very little to address key junctions where most pedestrian casualties occur. 

In a nutshell, my concern is that the City of London's Street & Walkways Committee has spent a lot of money  over the last few years, predominantly on nice paving and plant pots, while the City's road safety record has continued to worsen. 

And I can't help but think that, were the City to spend its StreetScene budget on making its main junctions safer for pedestrians and its roads safer for cyclists, it would be a far more 'pleasurable experience' for everyone. And it's alarming that is has taken the actions of the people who have written into the City of London about it's Local Implementation Plan over recent months to make the City even consider that it might need to set proper targets for reducing road casualties.