Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Blackfriars: TfL finally hints at a compromise to make the junction safer for cycling. It's not perfect but it's a step in the right direction.

Blackfriars junction at rush hour. Turn right here across three lanes of motor traffic
 As I came to work this morning, I cycled over Blackfriars Bridge. Lots of people on bikes, as usual. The new road layout has more or less settled down over the last couple of weeks and I've been waiting till the whole thing is finished to give a final verdict. I have to say, the northern junction is pretty grim.

There are some good bits. The cycle lane pictured above is now wider than it used to be. The lane used to narrow at this point, creating a rather hairy pinch point.

But to turn right from this point is very trying indeed. As I suspected when I first saw the plans a year ago, you have to get yourself across three lanes of motor traffic to get into the right hand lane. Motor drivers are accelerating off the traffic lights and all of a sudden, half a dozen people on bikes try to fling themselves across all three lanes. You see people taking the lane, you see other people weaving between lanes, you see some people cycling into the right hand lane well in advance of the junction on the bridge itself. Basically, it's a complete free for all. It's not predictable for people whether they're on a bike or behind a wheel.

London Cycling Campaign spells out what's wrong with
current Blackfriars layout
Frankly, it's downright dangerous. And as I've repeated for over a year, it's outrageous that there is virtually no provision for safe crossing of this junction on a bicycle, when you consider that cycle 'traffic' here is the largest single mode of transport at rush hour. I asked a colleague of mine to try cycling over the Bridge and turn right into Queen Victoria Street. That colleague is a police road safety officer. He picked up a Boris bike and gamely cycled over the junction at rush-hour. "Hmm, I see what you mean," he said.

Things, however, work in mysterious ways.

Last year, thousands of people protested on this bridge about the design of the junction. They came out several times to make the message again and again, that the design was inadequate. The issue was brought up to the London Assembly and to the Mayor. And some initial changes were made. If you come into the junction from Queen Victoria Street, you'll notice a new bike lane alongside the two motor vehicle lanes. That bike lane was not part of TfL's original plan. They went back to the drawing board and 'magically' created some space for a bike lane. So that's good. There's also an advance stop box on the right filter into Queen Victoria Street now. Frankly, I think the advance stop box is utterly pointless. You can't access it unless you're ahead of the queue of motor vehicles or unless you like darting in front of HGVs (bad idea). Not good.

Then last week, Transport for London issued a press release about the killer design it had installed on a brand new cycle super highway at Bow Roundabout. The design features a segregated bike lane into the roundabout with separate traffic lights for people on bikes who can then pull away from the junction ahead of motor vehicles. The design isn't perfect but it's a start.

Looking at the detail of the TfL press release about Bow, I noticed this paragraph:

"TfL will closely monitor the performance of the early start facilities (at Bow), and has now begun to look at other junctions across London where this technology could also be introduced to provide a safer route through junctions or roundabouts, including potentially on Blackfriars bridge."

Bow roundabout design. Coming to Blackfriars?

I think this is a strong hint that TfL is considering whether it might be possible to install a separate cycle traffic light on Blackfriars Bridge.

My own view? I think that would be fantastic news. I would far rather see a proper solution, similar to the design by London Cycling Campaign here. But as a first step to sorting out this horrible junction, a well-planned (and only if it is well-planned, with good traffic light phasing and enough space to let people cycle well ahead of the motor traffic before the lights change) cyclist-only traffic light would allow people to cycle past the motor traffic and get themselves into a safe position for turning. What's more it would keep motorbikes out of the bike lane (which is a constant issue here). Put simply it could allow people to position themselves ready for the junction to turn right, without having to weave in between three lanes of motor traffic. As a quick-fix solution, it could turn a horribly dangerous right turn across three lanes into a much simpler and safer manoeuvre.

I think we also need to see improvements at the southern end of the Bridge as well. The National Cycling Network crosses into Upper Ground here but is a complete shambles with pedestrians and people on bikes fighting for a tiny amount of space on a central traffic island and there is masses of space given to motor vehicles (four lanes heading south), which makes for race-track driving conditions. There's a complete lack of safe crossing facilities for pedestrians as well - you just have to fling yourself across Stamford Street in the hope of making it between motor vehicles.

Both sides of this bridge need to be made safe places for people on bikes and on foot. And I sense just a glimmer in that TfL press release that something might be on the drawing board. It doesn't sound perfect. But it sounds a lot better than what we've got at the moment.