Thursday, 12 January 2012

Mayor announces two options at killer Bow roundabout. Some signs of positive change. Is this the start of something new or a one-off?

TfL still can't decide if this is the right option
Courtesy London Cycling Campaign
Transport for London last night issued a press statement saying:

"TfL has announced proposals to improve the safety of cyclists using the busy Bow roundabout in east London."

This being the main cycling route to the London Olympics and the scene, tragically, of two cyclist deaths late last year.

Massive hats off to London Cycling Campaign (cautious welcome given to the announcement which you can see here) and in particular to Tower Hamlets Wheelers for pushing things this far but also to the very many people and organisations who have worked with like-mind folk to make the Mayor wake up. The press release is a a good start but it is, in my view, no more than a start at this stage. It's also utterly useless for pedestrians and contains one option that is downright bizarre.

Most important. TfL wants to hear your views. You have one week (I understand). Go to this page, click contact us at the bottom and let TfL know your thoughts (feel free to add here too)

Let's look at the detail

The proposals are defined as being one of TWO options, namely -

"1) Creating an innovative cycle “early-start” phase at the traffic signals on the eastbound and westbound entrance to the Bow roundabout, which would provide cyclists with a dedicated green light phase to allow them to travel around the roundabout ahead of other traffic."

This bit of the press release is encouraging. And so is this: "Transport for London also proposes to install new dedicated cycle lanes on the east and westbound approaches of the roundabout, allowing cyclists to approach the advance stop lines at the junctions without the need to filter through traffic."

All extremely good news. I've never seen cyclist-specific traffic lights in the UK that let bikes get away safely at junctions. They're normal in most other countries but this could be something of a first for London if it's done right. I remain slightly sceptical, though. I have seen plenty of bike traffic lights that force cyclists to wait three minutes and then let them sprint off for 10 seconds before they have to give way to all the motor traffic again. Something along those lines would simply reinforce the sense that motor vehicles must always be given priority over everyone else.

The TfL release then peels off into an alternative that could work but could well be completely insane:

"Option 2) Reducing the existing flyover across Bow roundabout from two traffic lanes to one in both directions, with new dedicated cycle lanes. Traffic signals could also be installed at either end of the flyover to make safe access easier for cyclists."

TfL is preparing to tell cyclists this is where they should cycle
Courtesy London Cycling Campaign
I can't quite believe it. Even with a cycle lane, would you want to zip up this incline with your kids? Cycle up here on a Boris bike? I'm not so sure.

The note to editors released last night goes on to say that traffic signals and dedicated cycle lanes might be installed to open the flyover up to cyclists 'helping to create a safer cycling environment'. Here's the flyover pictured left.

Overall, my reading of this release:

Proper cycle lanes will lead to the Bow roundabout whatever happens, keeping motor vehicles and people on bikes slightly apart from each other. Good. And traffic lights *might* be installed to get cyclists onto the flyover. Frankly, there would need to be traffic lights here, otherwise you'll have to cross one or two lanes of extremely fast-moving traffic to get on the flyover and back off it in the first place. 

Personally I would like a Dutch/Danish/New York option, which would see the flyover kept for motor (or bike) traffic and one lane taken out on the roundabout (or some of the vast pavement space removed and turned into cycling space) with decent cycle space in the approaches plus traffic lights at the junction. That is the sort of solution proposed by the London Cycling Campaign and which you can see at the top of this post. It was discussed and agreed with TfL inspectors when they first reviewed this junction. According to the London Cycling Campaign, the Cycle Superhighway Implementation Plan acknowledged from the outset that: "traffic signals specifically for cyclists and pedestrians (toucan crossings) and separate cycle tracks should be installed."

Fancy crossing the road here? Courtesy
DiamondGeezer blog
Why do you think pedestrians can't be included in the scheme? It's because of this, rather ominous statement: "Initial traffic modelling showed that the knock-on disruption to all road users, including cyclists". In other words, pedestrians, you'll have to wait for the bus to get across this junction.

The fact that there are two options is because Transport for London says it wants to consult. And it wants to do so quickly.

Whatever people might think of the relative merits of both options, this does seem like a genuine change of tone. It is the first time that I've seen Transport for London even dare to discuss concepts that Londoners deserve at major road junctions like this, and at other junctions such as Kings Cross and Blackfriars.

The fact that the press release commits to proper consultation with local and cycling groups is good news. In the past, TfL has paid lip service to consultation. It claimed, for example, to have consulted at length with cyclists at Blackfriars. The reality was that some plans were sneaked out on a Friday for consultation by the Monday. And despite several thousand people protesting on the Bridge, despite hundreds of letters and despite numerous motions passed - unanimously - in the London Assembly, Transport for London just charged on regardless.

We've seen TfL leap into action once before to make cycling safer at one junction. At Blackfriars Bridge in fact, in 2004. It took a matter of weeks after a series of deaths there and the subsequent public outrage to force  a semi-decent bike lane back in 2004. And then everything fell silent again. TfL went back to its bad old ways and, if anything, things got much much worse.

Transport for London must get Bow right. But it must get London as a whole right for people when they're not in their cars, not just this one junction. After all, everyone who lives in London pays for TfL directly. Not just through our income tax but also through the levy the Mayor puts on all of our council tax.

We all have a right to request that those funds are spent properly, on the basis of equal rights to personal safety for all road users. As an article in this week's Local Tranport Today (a thrilling read normally) puts it: "Cyclists' inclusion in carriageway design should start from the basis of expecting equal rights to personal safety for all road users. If this has an effect on other users then that must be accepted". The comment is spot-on, in my opinion.

This is a very welcome announcement. But what London needs is systemic change. One junction could be the start of that. Let's see what happens next.


  1. "Initial traffic modelling showed that the knock-on disruption to all road users, including cyclists, would lead to significant additional road queues on the east and westbound approaches, as well as additional bus delays to the six bus routes that travel through the area and a significant increase in pollution due to vehicle idling"

    TFL still appear to be doing dumb modelling here. Motor traffic is not a constant - it evolves to fit the road system that exists. If the road system changes, motor traffic will re-adjust itself to use that system efficiently. (mostly). Reducing capacity increases delays in the short term - but those whose journey is least valuable/most easily changed (usually private motorists who can easily switch modes/use other routes) will change the way they travel and delays will reduce again to more or less the same point. Obviously this effect only works up to a point - buses and some business/service vehicles can't change their route - but it's still very significant - and TFL does not allow for it in their current modelling.

    The first option here - cycle lights - isn't acceptable as it still doesn't provide for pedestrians. The second might just be feasible if the lane that's taken away is made into a path/paths for both cyclists and pedestrians, and it's toucan-controlled at both ends.

    Much better, though, to bite the bullet, and use LCC's toucan-controlled segregated paths and crossings. In the end, TFL need to understand that pushing more traffic through a junction than is safe isn't morally defensible - and that if they reduce capacity (up to a point - but that point is often something like a 50% reduction) - motor traffic will adjust itself over a short time to compensate - and there will be no gridlock - and, in fact, less pollution.

    1. Not sure I understand this statement:

      'The first option here - cycle lights - isn't acceptable as it still doesn't provide for pedestrians. The second might just be feasible if the lane that's taken away is made into a path/paths for both cyclists and pedestrians, and it's toucan-controlled at both ends.'

      If someone could enlighten me, then please do.

    2. I in turn am not sure I undersand your confusion Chris. I didn't write the above, but it seems pretty clear to me. Do you by any chance work for TfL? ;)

      First option - gives cyclists a head start on the roundabout with cyclist-only lights which will go green before the main lights. There would still be nothing to allow pedestrians to safely cross the junction.

      Second option - the lane taken away from motor traffic on the flyover would need to be for pedestrians and cyclists, or there would still be nothing to allow pedestrians to safely cross the junction. As the left hand lane (typically used by cyclists) peels off to go down to the roundabout, cyclists would need to move across this lane of traffic heading to the roundabout in order to be in a right-hand lane to go over the flyover. Likewise, as they come off the flyover, they will be in the right hand lane and will need to filter into the left hand lane to allow traffic to pass. This is why the above comment calls for a toucan crossing; so cyclists wait and then proceed onto/off the flyover with a green light. Pedestrians would obviously need this too.

      Any clearer?


    3. Hannah, it looks like the plans include early start traffic lights both at entry and exit on the flyover, which would eliminate the need to merge with lane of fast-moving traffic. At least that's what BBC reporter suggests. Plan here:

    4. The idea that a cyclist only traffic light phase should be dismissed (completely) on the basis that it doesn't account for pedestrians seems weird. Following that logic, should we not dismiss the in-situ traffic lights at Bow because they too ignore pedestrians? Dunno, perhaps that's what the original poster was getting at? I absolutely agree though; pedestrians have been overlooked, and that is wrong. But I don't see the connection between a cyclist traffic light phase, and lack of provision for pedestrians. I suspect TFL are worried that 'smoothing the traffic' will suffer if they provision both. I'm not losing sleep.

      For me, the idea that pedestrians would want to walk the flyover seems a little bizarre, but perhaps I'm missing something? For the views perhaps? More fresh air? Is it a shortcut?

    5. MK - I know that, I was responding to Chris's confusion at the suggestion of a toucan crossing as you come onto and off the flyover. I was explaining why it would be problematic were there not traffic lights.


    6. @Hannah. I was trying to understand the reasoning for:

      'The first option here - cycle lights - isn't acceptable as it still doesn't provide for pedestrians. The second might just be feasible if the lane that's taken away is made into a path/paths for both cyclists and pedestrians, and it's toucan-controlled at both ends.'

      In particular 'the first option...cycle lights'. I was under the impression that the poster was referring to TFL's solution option 1, which is the roundabout solution, not the flyover solution - but perhaps I've got that wrong? Aplogies if I've confused people.

      I thought the idea was that there'd be an extra phase added to the current set of traffic lights (AT THE ROUNDABOUT) to allow cyclists to get on & away from the roundabout before motor vehicles. This neither improves nor makes it any worse for pedestrians - so hence my confusion as to why the extra phasing was so quickly dismissed.

      The other thing I found confusing was the idea that pedestrians would CHOOSE to walk the flyover. I'll concede that the both the roundabout and the flyover are hardly inviting, but surely the flyover is longer, meaning most peds would choose the roundabout - but that's just my view of course, and I don't know the local area that well, so perhaps I'm missing something.

  2. Sorry, but this is not a very welcome announcement.

    Regarding option 1, most of the time there *aren't* any cyclists waiting to emerge onto the Bow roundabout. An additional "early-start" phase would be slowing down the rest of the traffic unnecessarily, which is precisely what TfL say they're unwilling to do. At least a dedicated cycle lane up to the roundabout is a good idea, although it's appalling that nobody thought to do this in the first place.

    Option 2 - turning half the flyover over to cyclists - would require a safe path on at the beginning, and a safe path off at the end, if it's not to be even more dangerous than crossing the roundabout. It's a sub-optimal option for cyclists and other road traffic alike.

    And there's *absolutely nothing* here for pedestrians. We continue to have no safe way across the roundabout whatsoever, which isn't just an opportunity missed, it's criminal neglect.

    1. Not sure I fully understand your statement:

      'most of the time there *aren't* any cyclists waiting to emerge onto the Bow roundabout. An additional "early-start" phase would be slowing down the rest of the traffic unnecessarily, which is precisely what TfL say they're unwilling to do'

      But that's exactly what TFL are proposing, a dedicated traffic light phase (to tackle the 'safety problem')? Did I miss something? diamond_geezer, perhaps you should ask yourself WHY there aren't any cyclist waiting to emerge onto BOW roundabout?

      As for this comment:

      'And there's *absolutely nothing* here for pedestrians.'

      Well, there's nothing there for pedestrians, cos, u know, that aren't any. Ever wondered why there aren't any?

    2. @chris. my guess is they're too scared to cross so end up taking a bus. there are plenty of residential spaces around the flyover and, u know, i'm sure they'd appreciate the ability to get round the place without fear of getting mowed down by a car.

  3. Whilst I am optimistic about the fact the TfL have produced something and are at least making noises about talking to others about the impact of their designs, I am skeptical of how they have presented it.

    They seem to have tried to divide pedestrians and cyclists, giving us preference over the former for no apparent logical reason.

    They other is that they have presented two ideas in a "You can have one or the other." way.

    This is like a child at their bedtime saying:

    "Mum, Your choices are either to let me watch television or let me play on my PlayStation until Midnight."

    This is not a real choice and creating the illusion of progress. Any parent knows that this is not going to happen and the correct response is something along the lines of.

    "Child, go to bed now."

  4. I agree with the previous two comments. But let's at least be positive about this - TFL are at last looking at proposal's to improve the Bow roundabout.

    Now we need to ensure TFL fully consult both cyclists and pedestrians to find the best solution for all. Look at it as tweaking the options available. And quickly!

  5. I just sent this to TFL just now.


    I wanted to give feedback as both a pedestrian and a cyclist who uses Bow Roundabout.

    The proposed cycling provisions seem to improve things somewhat but there has been no mention of improving safety for pedestrians. Why not combine the 2 together and have toucan crossings on the roundabout? Take bicycles off the road at Bow roundabout entirely and onto a shared path and crossings?

    If the pavement were to be widened rather than adding a segregated cycle lane, it would be better for all non-motorised users of the junction.

    As a cyclist predominantly, I am more concerned about cycle safety around Bow roundabout but I don't see the point in segregating cyclist from pedestrians.

    The cycle superhighway (westbound) leads into a shared path as you come off the roundabout anyway so why not continue the trend the whole way round? It's better for cyclists and pedestrians. Cyclists are then totally off the road at a dangerous junction and pedestrians have more space when there's no bicycles around. It's win win for 2 transport types rather than just for cyclists.

    I hope you consider this during your review and that it's not just ignored. It's a real shame that two cyclists had to lose their lives before a redesign has been considered. Please take advice from cycling & pedestrian organisations (e.g. the LCC) seriously this time.

    Best Regards,

    Emma (an occasionally pedestrian cyclist)"

    2 Pence, Added.

    1. Well, I would contend that increasing the amount of 'shared use' paths would be detrimental to the safety of pedestrians, but hey, that's just me.

    2. In my view it would be no more dangerous than the amount of cyclists already cycling on the path (to avoid the flyover or the blue lane of danger).

    3. Well, except you're advocating shared use all the way around the roundabout. By definition this will encourage more cyclists to use the pavement.

      It will be more dangerous for peds.

      But not to worry, pedestrians seem to be a rare species in the Bow area, so conflict won't be a problem.

  6. I would like to continue cycling over the flyover, as I do currently. It's much quicker than using the roundabout, and it's hardly a bothersome incline -- if it were it'd be the only hill in Newham.

    1. You are free to do so. I think most people would prefer going along flat than getting up a hill.

    2. The flyover is hardly a major obstacle. I tend to use the roundabout going west because I don't enjoy going right to left across the traffic coming up from the roundabout to join the blue paint. Going east I always use the flyover as the lane join onto the high street is easy. My bike is heavy and only has 3 gears, but we usualy get over he flyover without changing gear.

  7. I'm told drawings are due up on the TFL website anytime now (11am)

  8. Am I right in assuming that traffic lights for both cars and cyclists will be staggered? ie, when it's green for cars, it's red for cyclists (and vice versa)?

  9. The second suggestion is so bonkers that it's obvious that either TFL have hardly any ideas, or that it's just there to get option 1 voted through ASAP

  10. drawings on the tfl site now

  11. TFL's plan is dire

    is that it? will be a bit like the stockwell barrier, but will be blocked by buses and queuing cars for a large part. Still allows cars to take the junction at speed, and for dangerous lane changing.


    why so much wasted space??? make the cycle lane as wide as possible not acres of wasted hatching and barriers.

    1. Not to mention expecting cyclists to cut across an entire lane of traffic to reach it, and to leave it again!

      It's just asking for trouble!

  13. Is the TfL contact-us a device to ensure they don't get any comments about their bow roundabout plans? All the versions I've tried demand that I tell them about an incident (mandatory) and give them my oyster card number.

    1. Yes I have had the same experience, in relation to another matter. TFL website is a bit locked down and dead-endy. Bit like their policies some might say

  14. For pedestrians this proposal offers nothing - which is a pity. I don't believe that cyclists will go anywhere on the roundabout other than over to the other side of the A11 (Cycling isn't allowed on the A12), so why not have pedestrian lights across the A12 entrances and exits which are tied in with the early start cycle lights?

    I quite like the flyover proposal, but that is simply because I cycle it already, and it looks an improvement. The gradient isn't huge (I think Stamford Hill, for example, is much worse), I would expect most cyclists to be able to tackle it OK (I see many different types of cyclist braving the flyover already). The sad truth is that, even if the scheme was made ideal for families, few would use it because of the poor provision either side of the junction (especially Newham side where cyclists have no provision aside from an occasional bus lane).

    I am heartened that TfL are looking seriously at options to resolve this terrible junction. I hope it signals intent to give cycling more priority when looking at road design.

  15. In the video the so-called “early start” traffic signals are nothing like the name would imply. They’re just an extra red light for bicycles only to prevent them from moving along and entering the roundabout when other traffic is already moving. The only “early start” you get is to move from behind the ASL to the front of the ASL when cars are stopped and wait there, like you’d do even without the signals. Both cars and cyclists get the green light to enter the roundabout at the same time. Best I can tell these signals force cyclists to stop at the junction, even if there’s green light for entering the roundabout.

    And the flyover is beyond stupid.. I was imagining the lane going straight to flyover would, you know, go straight with the exit to roundabout being a clear exit. But instead you get this incredible mess of lane crossings.

    The only justification I can think of is that they need something fast before the games and this is all they could *implement* in time. Then real fixes could come later. (Yeah, right...)

  16. @tommi -

    agree about signal solution. don't see why you think the flyover is 'beyond stupid', though. there's, as far as i can tell, one toucan crossing at the start of the flyover, and one at the end. that stops cycle traffic having to filter across a lane of fast motor traffic at each end - (but it shouldn't be compulsory). would seem to get people across pretty safely.

    double toucan as initially envisaged by lcc is still better, though, i think - if the lanes coming into the roundabout are left only, and straight/right only - both so toucans can be synced with straight-on traffic..

  17. I've now taken a quick look at the video of the 'roundabout solution'. I like the way cyclists are physically separated from motor vehicles with the (admittedly) short cycle path.

    I'm rather less convinced by the 'timing' of the cycle traffic-light. It seems to me cyclists (that are at the ASL) get an extra couple of seconds to get onto the roundabout. Then the cars get their green. Presumably, when cars have green, cyclists will also still have green? If so, this means cyclists will still have to duke it out with motor vehicles whilst on the roundabout. This solution does not separate cyclists from motor vehicles. Sadly, then, this means left hook deaths will still be possible - perhaps even more so, because the infrastructure will encourage cyclists to ride on the left of motor vehicles. I'm unconvinced that this solution is even an incremental improvement. It's quite possibly worse.

    1. Chris,

      Looking carefully at the video, I think the following happens. There are the "normal" traffic lights positioned at the front of the ASL and in the traffic stream and a set of cycle lights only for cycles in the segregated filter lane.

      When the "normal" lights are red, the cycle lights are green to allow cycles to filter into the ASL, where they stop for the "normal" red light.

      The cycle filter lights then go red, which presumably is to stop cyclists not yet in front of the ASL from proceeding.

      The front pair of "normal" lights seem to go green a second before the lights closest to the vehicular traffic, and all the "normal" lights go green. The cyclists in the ASL appear to have this, and the distance advantage between the front and back of the ASL to clear the A12 slip road.

      When the "normal" lights go red again, the filter lights go green to allow cyclists to filter to the front.

      A couple of things from this.

      The cycle "advantage" is the sum total of the fraction of a second that the lights take to go green (if the drivers are looking at the second lights instead of the first anyway) and the distance the cars will take to cover the depth of the ASL. And that is it. Wouldn't like to be a slow cyclist in this situation

      The cyclists will have to wait at least one red light (the normal ones) and quite possibly two (whilst waiting at the filter light). This doubles the time that a cyclist may wait at the lights compared with a car. Many cyclists will either disregard the cycle light or use the main carriageway, I would expect. Or simply use the flyover like many do now anyway.

      The video has shown the scheme up to be what it really is. Since I am not sure that anglo-saxon is permissible on these comments I will refrain from further comment other than TfL have yet again managed to put "traffic smoothing" top of their agenda.

    2. Yes, I see what you mean, there are potentially two red lights just to get onto the roundabout. It's just utter nonsense.

      I object to having spent anytime analysing this crap.

      Someone better take the crayons away from TFL.

  18. So, I've taken yet another look at the videos for the 'roundabout' solution:

    The solution is utter bollox. Basically, it's a very deep ASL - that's it!!!!! Absolutely zero re-phasing of the lights. TFL are taking the p1ss.

    Once I've calmed down, I'm going to take another look at the flyover solution; but I'm not holding my breath.

  19. As a cyclist I use the flyover in both directions as it is both quicker and safer than passing round the roundabout as it currently stands. The West bound morning commute would be better if I didn't need to cross across a lane of traffic to reach the flyover but is possible even during morning rush hour. East bound getting onto the flyover is much easier. I'm a small female using a heavy 1970's model mountain bike with 3 functioning gears...the incline really isn't a big deal! The few times I used the roundabout to head West due to high winds I felt like I was going to die...the motor traffic paid no attention to the cyclists and there was no easy way to get to the front of the traffic. The major problem being most of the traffic wanted to turn left whereas all of the cyclists waiting at the lights wanted to go straight on and continue into the city.

    1. I use the flyover instead of the roundabout as well, and I am not exactly super-fit and am on a fairly heavy cycle - the incline seems fine. The worst part east-bound is the slip road entry at the bottom. I don't like Bow Roundabout itself even whilst driving, the one time I tried it cycling, the traffic was light and even then it required some very assertive cycling to maintain position and not be left hooked. In heavy traffic I would be be wary at attempting it.

  20. I'm another cyclist that has been cycling home from the city over the flyover for the past year however I did use the roundabout in the first week as I was not familiar with the area. My initial hesitation in using the flyover was mainly due to it not being marked with a cycle lane (the addition of the super highway since then reinforces the idea that the roundabout is the way to go) and also a lack of signage before the split actually telling people where the flyover goes (from memory there may be a sign that says "bow flyover" - but what does that mean to someone who doesn't know the area?). Yes I may be a little stupid but I'm pretty sure quite a few motorists are also using the roundabout to go straight ahead as well!

    Adding the traffic lights to get on the flyover is probably a good idea - my main concern is that going up the flyover from a standing start won't be too much fun. At the moment there is sufficient distance to build up speed before hitting the incline.

  21. I think I have found out what the issue is with the Bow Roundabout.