Monday, 21 November 2011

Bow roundabout deaths of people on bikes: Is another major London property developer going to come out against the Mayor's transport plans? Time for big business to start making itself heard

Cycling to London Olympics? - this is end of the route
Last week, hundreds of people including the local London Assembly Member John Biggs congregated at the Bow Roundabout to pay their respects to two people killed, in my view, entirely needlessly by poor road engineering schemes. Cycle Superhighway schemes that entice cyclists into feeling they have a safe cycle lane but are in fact, nothing of the sort.

The site of these latest deaths is immediately next to an area scheduled for redevelopment - Strand East - announced with much funfare last month.

Pictured left, an image taken from Gehl Architects - the firm that will design the master plan for Strand East, a redevelopment owned by LandProp - a division of Ikea Group. Gehl is well-known to many people who use bikes. He is a passionate advocate of improving the quality of urban living by 'orienting city design towards the pedestrian and cyclist' and his thinking is absolutely spot-on.

Ikea has hired Gehl here to create an urban master plan that will 'open up non-motorised transport infrastructure'.

Various sources have told me that LandProp (the company that is building the site) is less than pleased with the Mayor about Bow roundabout. For several months, apparently, the developers have been trying to shake Transport for London into doing something about the lack of safe cycling facilities, the utter lack of pedestrian crossings and the insane motorway-like conditions of the High Street along here. In other words, here is a developer preparing to put massive investment into the area immediately next to Bow roundabout and to make this a decent, liveable urban environment. Yet, from what I can tell, the Mayor's insane 'smoothing the traffic flow' strategy means their requests are all in vain and this simply won't ever be a safe place for people to live, for people to cross the road or cycle into town or into Stratford.

Is the Mayor encouraging good urban property development here and then undermining it with a transport strategy that will completely undo the cycling and pedestrian-friendly nature of the Strand East development? I think so.

Bow roundabout is a disgrace.

Following two completely unnecessary deaths in the last few weeks, the Mayor has finally been prodded into action. He has insisted on a review of the roundabout scheme and on all the Cycle Superhighway junctions to report back this week.

Spot the bike lane? Under the lorry!
The fact is that he doesn't need a review. The issue is very simple. The Mayor has two transport strategies. a) 'Smoothing the traffic flow' and b) the 'cycling revolution'. Almost all the money is spent on the former and should the two strategies ever come into conflict, then 'smoothing the traffic flow' always wins. His conflicting strategies mean that people on bikes or pedestrians are shoed into major road schemes as a kind of after-thought. This explains why the Mayor is allowing Transport for London to build Cycle Superhighways with death-trap junctions like Bow, or like this one at Southwark Bridge Road.

This also explains why the Mayor's road engineers consistently ignore recommendations from their consultants to make junctions safer. They ignored the road engineers completely at Blackfriars, they ignored the recommendations to make cycling safer at Kings Cross, and they ignored the consultants who recommended schemes to make Bow roundabout safer. They are about to embark on insanely dangerous road schemes at Vauxhall, Victoria, Peckham and all over London along new and utterly compromised Cycle Superhighway schemes.

I think it's time that some of London's property developers came out in public and criticised the Mayor's road policies more openly.

I wrote a few months ago about another property developer - in the City of London. This company owns some of the most iconic real estate in the world. This is what that developer had to say about the seven lane-wide section of Farringdon Road where it has recently finished a new office development.

Letter from significant global real estate developer to Transport for London about Farringdon Road:

"Any cyclists find this red route an intimidating and unpleasant environment along which to cycle as the wider-than-average street and multiple lanes encourage drivers to drive at high speeds....We consider that a redesign of Farringdon Street is necessary to order to provide a more attractive cycle friendly environment".

But the Mayor isn't listening. Last week, after Mayor's Question Time, the BackBoris2012 team continued to put out press releases via email and twitter about how great it is that the Mayor is both re-phasing and removing traffic lights so that motor vehicles can get about more easily. That policy is just one reason that people are being killed at places like Bow and Kings Cross.

It is a policy shared entirely with Transport for London. In TfL's Draft Network Operating Strategy, the road authority is very proud that it is removing safe places to cross the road. Directly opposite one new development of several hundred flats, TfL is delighted that "A proposal for a new pedestrian crossing was dropped by the developer after being persuaded by TfL that pedestrian demand was more than adequately met at two nearby junctions". In other words, build hundreds of new homes but don't provide anywhere for those new people to cross the road. They'll have to drive.

The Mayor is letting Transport for London design people out of London.

The roads are being designed for maximum throughput of motor vehicles. He's not listening to cyclists. He's not listening to pedestrians. He's not even listening to massive global real estate developers.

Jan Gehl and Ikea Group are going to have to shout very loudly to get their masterplan to work in London. Because it seems the Mayor is encouraging developers to build a city where people walk and cycle. But he's allowing his transport strategy to build completely the opposite - a city of motorways, where you can't cross the road, where you can't cycle with your kids.

This week's review of the Cycle Superhighway junctions had better be bloody good. And it had better have teeth. Otherwise it might not just be people who bike who start revolting.