Sunday, 28 October 2012

London gets a new US embassy in 2014: Financial Times says London needs to build proper bicycle routes so people can get there. Good. The bike infrastructure in this area is a complete joke.

Coming soon, London's new US embassy. Located in what
is currently a transport desert and a nightmare for cycling and walking

The Financial Times has a weekend edition that includes a sizeable 'House & Homes' section every week. The FT's House & Home reviews significant developments in the global housing markets. It tends to focus on houses in the context of global investors and most of the homes featured in the FT are slightly off the scale of the average Londoner - Donna Karan's 7,000 square foot Manhattan pad featured last week, for example. But as a measure of the international market for real estate, it's a lively and important read.

Which is why I was surprised a few weeks ago to be contacted by the Financial Times House & Home team about cycling. The FT was writing a piece about the new Vauxhall-Nine Elms regeneration scheme, they told me. The FT felt that lack of cycling infrastructure around Vauxhall was a concern and might hold back potential investors/future residents. What did I think?

For those of you who've never heard of the snappily-named Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea development, this is where London's US Embassy will be moving in two years' time. It will also be host to 16,000+ new homes and lots of new offices.

One of the big challenges with the whole development is that is is a complete pain to get to. "Key to the success" of the scheme, says the FT, is the extension of the Northern Line - planned to Battersea Power Station. So far, so normal.

This is the cycle lane where the new US embassy will be
as it looks now. Cycle lane shared with lamps, traffic light
boxes, wiggly lines, broken paving. You name it.
Source Real Cycling
But then the FT does something I've never seen  before: It starts talking about the need to "create a safer and far more extensive cycling terrain" at Vauxhall Battersea Nine Elms and devotes a whole section to the woeful lack of cycle infrastructure here. Rob Ainsley, of Real Cycling blog, devotes a whole page to the existing cycle infrastructure around here, including Nine Elms Lane, which runs through most of the site and which , which he describes as 'a candidate for the worst cycle path in England'.

According to the FT, things may improve: “A new network of cycle paths and walking routes will be created that will be almost entirely shielded from traffic,” says Ravi Govindia, [Wandsworth] council leader and co-chair of the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership. “This will include a brand new stretch of the Thames riverside path and a linear park running continuously from Battersea Power Station to Vauxhall Cross.” There's also talk of a bike and pedestrian-only bridge to Pimlico. I'll believe that when I see it. The last bike and pedestrian bridge proposed across the Thames was nixed by Boris Johnson in favour of a pointless cable car.

Back in Battersea, it's by no means clear whether these proposed bike routes will be any good. Will they be as inviting as the current riverside park, for example, which is so heavily used by pedestrians, that it's near impossible to cycle along, or will there be clear, functional cycle routes through the area? It all seems worryingly vague at the moment.

That said, what really strikes me about this piece in the Financial Times is the simple fact that here we have one of the world's leading financial newspapers talking about an urban regeneration project in London and deciding to major on the lack of cycling and walking infrastructure as a significant issue.

Something similar is going on in New York as well. The famously anti-cycling New York Post (think Daily Mail and times that by 10) finally admitted last week that New York City's increasingly extensive network of protected bikeways might after all be working: "A whopping 177 percent more cyclists rode First and Second avenues after dedicated bike lanes were installed there in 2010", says The Post. But more importantly, the newspaper notes that more cycling is good for business: "Shops along the route of the protected bike lane on Ninth Avenue — from 23rd to 31st streets — got a 49 percent boost in retail sales", it notes.

Bike Lane on Broadway
Bike lane, New York City style. Bring it on London. 

New York is being way braver with its bike infrastructure than London. In London, we're planning for the future by talking about bike lanes through parks, shared with pedestrians. New York is being very no-nonsense. Out goes one lane of motor traffic. In goes a 'protected bike lane'. What's going on at Battersea sounds good. The fact that a newspaper like the FT thinks bicycle transport will be important here is fantastic.

Battersea is soon going to be home to London's new US embassy. Question is, will the Americans be able to teach us a thing or two about building decent bicycle infrastructure around their new headquarters in Battersea? I hope so.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Plans for cyclesafe junctions 'create conflict with motorists and conflict with pedestrians'. Three weeks to respond to TfL's 'better junctions' consultation but only four weeks till they start building.

Transport for London is consulting on plans to make
Waterloo roundabout safer for cycling
. And plans to build the
scheme a week later. 
Something odd is going on at Transport for London. The organisation has recently released plans for a number of schemes as part of its Junction Review.

Let's just remind ourselves what the Junction Review is supposed to be about. Boris Johnson launched the Review early this year when he announced:

"We are seeing a step-change in both the way that people choose to travel, but also in the way that cyclists are viewed on our streets.

'That is why I firmly believe that we must now start to evolve the means by which we plan and manage our extensive network of roads, and why I have asked TfL to review hundreds of key junctions across the Capital to specifically examine safety and provision for cyclists."

My general feeling is that the Junction Review is a good thing. I've seen drafts of other schemes and there are some genuinely bold ambitions. But it's never really been clear whether TfL is really committed to these bold ideas or not.

One issue that has bothered me about the Review process is the way that each scheme is presented showing the possible impact on motor traffic in terms of how many more seconds motorists might need to wait at the junction in rush hour. What unsettles me isn't so much the inclusion of that data, but the fact that there is no additional data to put those valuable seconds in context. So, there's no data to show how many fewer people might be run over and maimed (whether on foot or on a bicycle) as a result of the scheme. And there's no data to indicate how many people might start chose not to drive and start cycling instead if they felt it was safe enough. Interestingly, these are exactly the sorts of things that Danish transport planners think about when they design a new junction or road layout. I can only wish these sorts of things were standard issue in UK road planning too.

Cycle lane in red. London Cycling Campaign publishes
an example from Holland -  What Lambeth Bridge roundabout
 ought to look like
Looking at Lambeth Bridge in particular: Rachel Aldred - Senior Lecturer in Transport at the University of Westminster - has written a fantastic summary of the proposals for the roundabout at the northern end of Lambeth Bridge. Her view (put far too politely in my view) is that: "Cyclists using the road will have less space than at present, due to the carriageway narrowing; cyclists using the pavement facility may a) have trouble leaving the road at a sharp angle b) then come into conflict with pedestrians, and c) experience problems crossing using the zebras". She's completely right. Her view is that the design will actively create 'conflict with motorists and conflict with pedestrians'. So, cyclists lose out to motorists and pedestrians lose out to cyclists. As she says, a high quality Dutch-style solution that does none of these things is entirely feasible here.

Yesterday, TfL announced plans for another scheme. This time for the Imax roundabout at Waterloo Bridge where cyclists make up one quarter of all traffic (and that's using 2009 data so that percentage is probably higher now). There are some good points about the scheme - the plan sees the removal of one lane of motor traffic and there is talk about possibly reducing the speed limit here to 20mph. There's some positive stuff on the southern and eastern sides of the roundabout where there are both new and wider cycle lanes.

Carriageway narrowing in action. This is Cycle Super Highway 7.
Lorries and people on bikes are supposed to share this space,
which has been made dangerously narrow.
But the plans ignore some of the really fundamental problems with the roundabout. The scheme does nothing about the high-speed and dangerous approach to the roundabout from Waterloo Bridge - the carriageway will simply be made even narrower so cyclists will be treated as human speed bumps that slow down (the fast-moving) buses and taxis behind them. Or how about addressing the acres of pointless pavement space around this roundabout such as the eastern side of the roundabout where the road curves in a way that throws cyclists and large motor vehicles together?

Transport for London describes this scheme as as an "interim" proposal. I hope so. I wouldn't want to pedal round here with a 15 year-old and I reckon most people wouldn't think of this as a safe place to cycle. I think my real concern is that the current scheme feels like it's designed for people who already cycle here when it should actually be designed for people who would like to cycle but feel too scared to. There are many, many more of those people and I think the design fails badly on that measure.

The London Cycling Campaign criticised TfL's plans for Lambeth Bridge, saying it is designed to expose "brave" cyclists to danger on the carriageway and plonks "nervous" cyclists on the pavement. Arguably, this Waterloo scheme is designed for "brave" cyclists.

It shouldn't be like this. As the Dutch road safety institute SWOV puts it, the solution is to create a "structural separation" of cyclists and motor vehicles. This is the sort of thing that Rachel Aldred and the London Cycling Campaign are suggesting. It's the sort of thing that allows everyone to get on a bike and cycle safely.

You can find out more about the latest Transport for London 'Better Junctions' schemes on TfL's website and you it's well worth reviewing the London Cycling Campaign's initial responses.

I'd also urge people familiar with these roundabouts to respond to the online consultation, in particular TfL's Waterloo roundabout consultation.  Transport for London is consulting on the Waterloo scheme up to the middle of November. And then the bulldozers move in a week later. 

Please take five minutes to email the City of London and support new cycling schemes on 30 Square Mile streets

City of London - map of the proposed new contraflow cycle streets
Source: City of London
Back in  2009, the City of London started to embrace the concept of making some of its smaller streets more accessible for cycling. A small number of previously one-way streets were made two-way for cycling. And there was an awful lot of hot air about it at the time. Fortunately, the City stuck to its guns. There are already a dozen or so streets in the Square Mile that are one-way for motor vehicles, two-way for people on bikes.Compare that to next-door City of Westminster where there are (as far as I'm aware) only one or two contraflows for cycling and even those that do exist were built over a decade ago.

The City of London has now released plans to turn a further 30 streets two-way for cycling. What's more, I understand (unofficially) that a further half dozen or so are in the pipeline and due to open next year.

But none of this will happen without your help:

When the first contraflows opened up in the Square Mile, there were dire warnings of 'illegal cyclists' hitting pedestrians and an array of voices ranged against opening up streets for cycling. This, despite the fact that in cities like Paris, every single one-way street for motor vehicles (with the exception of major A-road equivalents) is now two-way for cycling. Fortunately, the facts rather disproved the naysayers. The first contraflows resulted in a 60% increase in cycle traffic along those routes and City Police were quick to point out that there were no collisions and that the contraflows "[provided the ability] for cyclists to avoid busy streets [which would be} be a contributing factor in improving road safety in the City'.

The City's main roads are pretty bad news for
safe, convenient cycling. This is Cheapside AFTER
it's been made safer for cycling, can you believe.
In short, I'm asking that people take five minutes of their time to write to the City of London officials to voice their support for this latest batch of contraflow streets. Some of the new streets will open up very useful new routes. For example, the combination of Finch Lane, Birchin Street and Nicholas Lane (points 22,23 and 27 on the map above, or click on the City of London's own cycling contraflow map for more details) opens a new route to avoid Bank junction. It means you could now cycle to and from Gresham Street, via Lothbury towards Lombard Street - which aligns you straight on to the cycle super highway to Canary Wharf. It might sound a bit convoluted but it's actually faster than going via the main roads and - once you've learnt the route - it's almost just as direct as the main roads as well.

But it's in the City's main roads that the real problems lie. Pictured left is a typical scene on Cheapside - the road that runs between Bank junction and St Paul's. The stated aim of the plans to enhance Cheapside when it was redesigned a couple of years ago was to 'Reduce motor vehicles dominance and traffic speeds' and to '[improve] the safety and convenience of the travelling public, especially those in buses and those on pedal cycles'. My own view is that Cheapside has been made significantly worse to cycle on, there's just as much motor traffic but everyone's thrown together in a much narrower, more intimidating, less practical and more dangerous space. And the City is planning much much more of this stuff.

Anyhow, for now, let's focus on the positives. Please take five minutes to write to the City of London and support the cycle contraflows. Please send your emails to by November 2nd and quote "cycle permeability" in your subject line. 

For more details on the plans, you can also see the City of London cycling transport page.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Good news for cycling from City of London, Transport for London and Southwark Council - Real coordination taking place on the Waterloo bike route and masses of new cycle contraflows in the Square Mile

Firstly, an update on the story at Upper Ground - the main Waterloo to City of London bicycle link. Southwark Council last night issued a press release confirming what I'd posted on this blog last week, namely that Southwark Council "will not close [the route] until a full Traffic Safety Audit has been carried out which will pin point the best alternative routes in the immediate area [and] will continue to work with cyclists, Transport for London and the developers involved, to find safer routes in the vicinity."I'm impressed that Southwark has a) held its hand up and admitted it should have handled the closure of this vital cycle route better in the first place and b) once it realised its mistake, that Southwark has reacted quickly and efficiently to bring relevant parties together to try and resolve the problem.

One of the first contraflow cycle routes in the City of London.
More coming soon. 
What's equally impressive, though, is what is happening behind closed doors elsewhere:

My understanding is that (partly as a result of Southwark's initially clunky handling of the bike route closure?), Transport for London was not involved in the decision to close the Waterloo to City bike route. There's no reason why TfL should be involved in the closure itself. But Southwark's proposal was to shove people from the safe cycle route on to busy TfL roads instead (namely Stamford Street and Blackfriars Road) - thereby making this a TfL problem.

It seems that in the few days since the team at Southwark Cyclists and this blog raised the issue of the bike route closure, Transport for London has been fully engaged with Southwark Council and the two authorities are working cooperatively to come up with alternative routes. This is how things should be. It means that both of the authorities responsible for the roads around this area are working together to think about how to enable people to travel safely and conveniently around London. We need more of this elsewhere in London too.

I've been led to believe that TfL is keen not to close the Upper Ground cycle route if at all possible.  That doesn't mean that the closure is avoidable. But it does mean that the right people are trying to find proper alternatives by working together. I've also been told that Southwark and TfL are reviewing the entire corridor between Blackfriars Bridge and St George's Circus (down at the end of the nasty and intimidating drag race strip that is Blackfriars Road) with a view to making it radically safer and more convenient to cycle along. There's plenty of space to do something meaningful along this corridor to improve bicycle transport. It may be some years before we actually see that emerge on the ground but it's clear that senior people at both Transport for London and at Southwark are thinking constructively about how to make bicycle transport more practical and safer along this corridor. That's good. It would benefit everyone to change this street - which is currently something of an express sewer pipe for several lanes of motor vehicles to floor it from one end to the other - into a place that is safe and pleasant for everyone.

But that's not all that's happening on the cycling front.

Lots more of these signs heading to the Square Mile soon
Over the other side of the Bridge, in the City of London, the authorities have announced that they intend to turn nearly 30 one-way streets two-way for cycling. One of the most interesting developments is the idea to create a series of two-way cycle routes in the streets around Bank junction that would act like a sort of cyclist bypass, allowing people to cycle around the outside of 3/4 of Bank without having to negotiate the junction itself. Given that Bank is one of the most dangerous junctions in London and is in any case horribly slow and congested to cycle through, I think this is a hugely positive step.

The proposals will be listed on the City of London's website by next week and the stated intention is to:

·      Improve safety by providing alternatives to some of the busiest City streets.
·      Improve local access for all traffic where possible.
·      Improve provision and facilities for people who cycle.
·      Reduce journey distances and times.

A summary of the streets affected is listed below.

Streets Proposed for Contraflow Cycling
Carey Lane
Dowgate Hill
Gutter Lane
Old Jewry
Basinghall Street
Cloak Lane
Finch Lane
Ironmonger Lane
Portsoken St
Birchin Lane
College Hill
Foster Lane
Moor Lane
Seething Lane
Bouverie Street
College Street
Great Swan Alley
Muscovy Street
St Mary Axe
Bow Lane
Copthall Avenue
Gr.StThomas Apostle
Nicholas Lane
Whitefriars St
Bride Lane
Crutched Friars
Great Winchester St
Noble Street

Streets Proposed for Two-way Traffic for All Vehicles
Bridewell Place
Carmelite Street
Foster Lane
Seething Lane
Tallis Street

I think this is fantastic news. It is all the more impressive when you consider that in neighbouring Westminster, one-way streets rules supreme. Ever tried cycling through Soho or Mayfair? You simply can't cycle sensibly through the West End without deviating down big one-way diversions which have the effect of making cycling impractical and often downright dangerous. So, hat's off to the City of London for this bold move. 

My issue with the City of London's plans remains, however, that the Square Mile lacks an overall plan for cycling. That is amply demonstrated by the latest batch of the City of London Area Plans which state the City's intention to "Review the current hierarchy of cycling routes, and explore the possibility of encouraging alternative routes through the quieter streets of Hackney and Islington." Do they want to make cycling practical and safe in the City or don't they?

Nonetheless, the addition of contraflow cycling in many one-way streets is very positive. But those streets need to link to other routes and create a viable network that flows in the directions people want and need to go. The contraflows will help people who are intrepid enough to want to try out new routes down a network of higgledy piggledy back streets. But that's only ever going to represent a small cross section of people.

If the City could link its network of quiet routes, connect them properly, especially where they cross large roads, there is a realistic chance of seeing a genuine cycle network through the Square Mile. But it will also need to consider optimising some more major routes for cycling, not simply go about narrowing all the through routes and expecting cyclists to stick to a network of second-class back routes that don't link to anywhere in particular.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Updated: National Cycle Network route Waterloo to Blackfriars still due to close, no safe diversion route for people on bicycles planned yet. But Southwark has agreed not to shut the route until a safety audit has been carried out. Progress and thanks to Southwark Council officers.

Here we are looking at the building sites on National Cycle Network
Waterloo to Blackfriars. Shuts Monday. 
Earlier today Southwark Council held an on-site meeting at Upper Ground on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge. Joining the Council representatives were managers of the three (no less) separate construction projects all taking place around this junction, plus  representatives of Southwark Cyclists, Living Streets, Sustrans and Transport for London buses. Oh, and yours truly. 

I can report, following this morning's meeting, that there is not yet any plan to put in place a safe diversion for the thousands of people who use this route every day on a bicycle. 

More precisely, a spokesperson for Southwark Council has asked me to clarify:

"The Temporary Traffic Order for the proposed closure will be in place for 12 month [from Monday] but the actual closure, should it go ahead, will only be in force until the opening of the hotel in early September 2013. As mentioned at the meeting, the closure will be reviewed periodically and decisions will be taken on whether the closure remains in place will be based on construction vehicle numbers from the developments.

Upper Ground will not be closed on Monday. No date for the closure will be considered until we have reviewed the Road Safety Audit being undertaken and consulted with Transport for London regarding safer provisions for cyclists and pedestrians."

What that means is that from Monday, Southwark has given the go-ahead to the construction companies to close the road so that they can get their lorries on site. Perfectly sensible. Each site may have as many as 100 lorry movements a day. That's 300 lorry movements here per day, given three sites. 300 lorries plus thousands of bikes in a very narrow space, not a good idea.

But Southwark council's officers admit that they only thought about the cycle route far too late. I hate to bash the officers themselves. They're good, nice, honest people. Actually, I quite liked them. But they should have included the cycle route in their planning. All the more so given this is a National Cycle Network route. 

What they're now saying is that the whole thing may not be closed after all and that the whole closure can now only go ahead after there has been a safety audit. Amen to that.

If the closure does go ahead and you want to cycle from Blackfriars to Waterloo, your only option will be to turn right at the bottom of the Bridge, across four lanes of traffic and then run the gauntlet of Stamford Street. You can then chose to try and turn right further along Stamford Street back to the section of Upper Ground that is still open (in other words, you'll have to sit in the middle of two very fast streams of motor traffic just hoping a gap will open up in the narrow lanes to let you cross) or you carry straight on to the Waterloo Imax roundabout. Previously, you had the option of avoiding both the dangerous right turn from the Bridge and to go underneath the Imax roundabout by using Upper Ground. Let's just remember that Blackfriars Bridge and the Waterloo Imax roundabout are two of the top 10 most dangerous junctions for cyclists in London

Blackfriars Bridge southern end - let's all cram
into the cycle box together. Hardly safe, good-quality
cycle infrastructure. Now the only way to Waterloo.
The problem with all of this is that if the road closure does go ahead, cyclists are going to be thrust into a very busy alternative route on main roads that takes in two of the most dangerous junctions in London and that route has absolutely nothing to make it safer for cycling. 

What's more, the alternative route is entirely along streets that belong to Transport for London. In other words, by closing its own route, Southwark (wittingly or otherwise) has pushed the problem on to TfL. Only, TfL is now having to rush around last-minute to try and think of solutions to resolve the problem. 

My sense is that all parties now understand the problem. That Southwark Council realises it's made a mistake and wants to make up for it. That the construction firms realise the problem. And TfL realises the problem.

I have to hand it to Southwark Council for reacting promptly to public criticism and to the Council for pulling together representatives from the construction, bus, cycling and pedestrian communities at short notice to try and resolve things. Yes, the Council messed up. But it is trying to resolve the situation. At least, for now, there's a sort of temporary reprieve.

Question now, is anyone going to sort it out? And how? 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

City of London proposes to 'encourage' people NOT to cycle in the Square Mile and to cleanse it streets of bicycles by sending people through Hackney and Islington instead. Space for people on foot. Space for people in taxis. No space for people on bicycles?

Leadenhall Street as it looks now. Not particularly pretty
but at least there's room for people to cycle here. 
The City of London has published some 'Area Strategies' recently that have been sitting in my inbox for a couple of weeks. I should have looked at them sooner. 

These Area Strategies represent sizable chunks of the Square Mile. 

And they look, to me, like a recipe to eliminate cycling from the City of London. 

As I say this, I should point out that I  have to be slightly careful. I am meeting the new team responsible for the City of London's streets in a few days' time. From what we've discussed so far, they do genuinely intend to create conditions to make cycling safer and easier through the City of London. On the one hand, I don't want to alienate those City of London officials. But on the other, the scale of what's proposed is so ghastly, that I feel I have to bring these points to wider attention.

The reason is that the Area Plans read as if cycling is to be simply removed from the City of London. 

Leadenhall Street after the refurbishment. The cycle lane is
now underneath that tree. You'll share the very narrow lane with
lorries and taxis that can't get past you, nor you past them. 
What makes me think that? Very specific, really. The City of London plan for the area around Liverpool Street is to "Review the current hierarchy of cycling routes, and explore the possibility of encouraging alternative routes through the quieter streets of Hackney and Islington." Yes, you read that right. The City of London Area Plan - and remember that these schemes all involve spending millions of pounds - is to bump cyclists off into other boroughs to deal with. 

Still not convinced? Let's look at Moorgate. What's the plan here? The plan is to "Widen pavements and consider ways to rationalise vehicle, cycle and bus traffic within the roadway in order to create a calmed environment for all road users and pedestrians". 

Here's one they made earlier. Cheapside. Note how the van is
scraping past the chap on a bike, now that the lanes are nicely narrowed
No harm in that, you might think. Moorgate is a horrible street to walk along. It's deeply deeply horrible to cycle along too. The reality, though, is that this means it will be virtually unusable on a bicycle - the road will be too narrow to get safely past the stacks of buses and taxis that clog this street every rush hour. There simply won't be anywhere to go. 

What's the plan at Bishopsgate? Yes, you guessed it: "Review the allocation of space to the footways, bus stops, roadways and central reservations, considering the current dangers for cyclists and the congestion caused by buses, both on the carriageway and around bus stops outside Liverpool Street station." Fair enough, perhaps. The road is horrible for pedestrians. But it's a downright death trap to cycle along. Earlier this year, a well-respected, hugely experienced cycle courier was killed cycling here. 

All of this information comes from the City of London's Area Plan consultation pages. The City is asking for feedback. 

This is what it now looks like when you
cycle along Cheapside. Where there used to
be space to cycle in, now there is none.
If you have time and patience, you can trawl through around 50 different PDF documents and then politely point out why you think these schemes aren't positive news for safer cycling. Personally, I don't suggest you bother. 

The tragedy is that I do agree with the City of London's plans to make conditions more agreeable for pedestrians. There is massive pedestrian footfall here. 

But I fundamentally disagree with closing the Square Mile to people who want to travel from A to B by bicycle by narrowing all the main roads and by not providing useful, direct, safe alternatives. 

The Liverpool Street Area Plan talks of the need to 'Review the current hierarchy of cycling routes'. Yes, spot on. 

But there is no such thing as a current hierarchy of cycling routes in the City of London.  

If there were a decent network of cycling routes through the City, then it would make sense to prioritise some routes for pedestrians, some for cycling, others for motor vehicle throughput. But the Area Plans lack a vision for cycling in the City of London, other than a vision which shunts cyclists into Hackney and Islington, and do not (yet) propose any sort of cycle network through the Square Mile. 

As such, each of these Area Plans will come together with the combined effect of making it near impossible to cycle safely and directly through the City of London. 

That is, unless the City of London plans to create a network of routes where cycling is prioritised above through motor traffic. 

There are tiny stretches through the City where these routes almost, exist. Such as the quiet route from Smithfield Market to Blackfriars. But they don't join up. And no-one in the City of London looks at them and even realises they have the beginnings of a cycle network to build on. 

The City of London needs a network of safe, direct routes for people to travel from A to B by bicycle that head east to west and north to south. 

My fear is that the Area Plans as they stand, take absolutely no account of routes that people want and need to cycle along. And as such, combined with a philosophy of 'encouraging' people not to cycle in the City of London, we can kiss goodbye to safe, direct routes for people to cycle. 

There are tens of thousands of people who cycle into or through the City of London every day. 

Some of those 'cyclists' are fairly senior people. 

It's time that some of those senior City of London folk started to stand up for cycling. Whether they like it or not, cycling has become a political issue in the Square Mile. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Boris Johnson: "I have asked Transport for London for a big new east west [cycle] route". Good, but will the City of Westminster block that big new cycle route by obstructing any serious attempt to enable safer cycling through the West End?

Bicycle elevator in Seoul, S. Korea
Part of a network that kicked off in 2009
Courtesy Bike Portland
Boris Johnson took to twitter last week for another of his 'Ask Boris' live Q&A sessions. 

It was in a recent twitter session that the Mayor first mentioned his preliminary discussions for SkyCycle - an elevated cycle track, running alongside train lines. Interestingly, the idea might not be so bonkers. South Korea has bike elevators and bike-only bridges, for example. New York has bike-only crossings on some of the bridges to Manhattan. London is way, way behind. Seoul was absolutely blatant about its plans when it announced them in 2009: 'One automobile lane per road will be refurbished as a bike lane. The government is considering narrowing lanes to make up the space.' It whacked in bike lanes along pretty much every single arterial road in the city. 

Intriguingly, Boris Johnson dropped something of a cycling bombshell last week that hasn't been picked up elsewhere:

Asked by one twitter user 'The cycle superhighways are excellent. Any plans to extend them in the near future?', the Mayor replied: "we are whacking in another six soon plus i have asked tfl for a big new east west route - and they like it! #askboris @kdwignall"

I'd heard some very vague rumours about an east-west route before. But this is the first time the Mayor has come out and stated publicly that he wants a proper east-west cycle route through central London. 

About time, I say. 

Typical road layout in Westminster.
There was originally supposed to be a cycle super highway here.
It was quietly shelved after opposition from Westminster Council.
Clearly not enough space for a cycle track here. 
The east-west links through central London are absolutely atrocious on a bike. There isn't a single decent, safe route for people to cycle through the City of London, through Westminster and out towards either Canary Wharf or to out west. Places like Soho and Covent Garden are mazes of one-way rat-runs for taxis that can be pretty intimidating to cycle through. Other parts of central London such as Mayfair, Marylebone and the areas around Parliament and Victoria are drowned out by two or three lane one-way systems that are unbelievably hostile to cycling. 

Or take a pet favourite of mine. Try cycling from St Paul's to Ludgate Circus, down Fleet Street, along the Strand to Trafalgar Square at rush-hour. It's not for the faint-hearted. And the problem is that all the parallel routes are equally snarled and dangerous. Take the parallel route to the south along the Embankment and you have stacks of belching motor traffic. The bike lane is actually not bad when you're on the City of London stretch of the road but as soon as you cross the boundary into the City of Westminster, the bike lane turns into a coach park.

Posted on twitter by @RossiTheBossi - a list of the dangers
explicitly built into the new junction layout
by Westminster Council at the top of  Waterloo Bridge
None of this is helped by the City of Westminster which has done next to nothing to implement safer routes for people to cycle through. Only recently, the council re-engineered the junction at the north side of Waterloo Bridge, allowing buses to turn on to the Bridge from The Strand. Buses but not bicycles. The only legitimate way to cycle south from The Strand is to cycle around the entire Aldwych gyratory, crossing four lanes twice as you hurtle around. One twitter user @RossiTheBossi took fun out of the new junction by posting this series of the new road layout last night.

I say 'took fun' but he's making a series of serious points. The junction was already pretty nasty on a bicycle. It's now even worse. People cycling through Covent Garden and heading south to Waterloo Bridge on the bike route are now stranded in the middle of the junction behind buses as the traffic lights at the exit from the junction are designed to turn red the minute that the bicycle traffic lights let people into the junction. What's more, there are usually two buses stacked in front of the traffic lights as well, leaving you dumped literally in the middle of a cross roads.

Waterloo Bridge. As soon as you reach Westminster
the parking rules change and you can park in the bike lane
all evening and all weekend. Spot the yellow line change
at the halfway point between Lambeth and Westminster.
Take Waterloo Bridge itself. As you cycle north over the Bridge, responsibility for the Bridge shifts at the half way point from Lambeth on the southern side, to Westminster on the north. There is a decent-width bicycle lane all the way across the Bridge. Except, as soon as you reach Westminster, the parking rules change and the double yellow line becomes single yellow. On the Westminster side, you can park on the Bridge all evening and all weekend, taking up the entire bike lane.

Westminster's statements on cycling in the past have been less than encouraging. The former councillor responsible for transport felt that people on bicycles didn't need special infrastructure and the council's PR team has tended to suggest that 'free educational schemes to help cyclists get the best out of the city'. So far, so depressing.

Cycle lane near Trafalgar Square,  design courtesy
City of Westminster. Why even bother? The cycle lane
actually leads into a bollard. Insanely dangerous design.
So, I'm delighted that the Mayor wants Transport for London to implement a safer east-to-west route through the centre of London for people on bicycles. But he's going to have to force Westminster to start thinking about bicycles as a serious part of the transport mix. And he could make a start by looking at Waterloo Bridge and making that cycle lane usable at night and at weekends. Question is who will win? Will Boris Johnson get his east-west cycle lane or will the City of Westminster stand in the way of serious bicycle infrastructure as it seems to have done so many times in the past.