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.


  1. In ref to paragraph alongside first image: Woah! I did not know any of that! :) Elevated cycling lanes would be amazing!

    1. They sound amazing but they're won't be because they are going to charge people to use them. (Think how few people with bicycles use the new cable car across the Thames versus the number who would have used a free bridge if it had been built instead.)

      Given that Londoners already pay a whole heap of money to the GLA and TfL for safe useable roads then to be asked to pay an extra £1 per journey for safe cycle infrastructure is totally unacceptable.

  2. I'm slightly puzzled as to how Westminster can be so obstructive. Sure, they can block lanes on back routes and minor roads, but don't TFL have full control over the TFL road network which seems to include all of the bridges? http://www.londontravelwatch.org.uk/document/378

    Can't TFL determine the parking restrictions on the network?

  3. Waterloo Bridge, although a trunk route, is oddly overseen by the respective local authorities, as I understand it. Also, although Embankment is operated by TfL, for some reason the parking restrictions are completely different in the City of London vs the Westminster stretch of the same road, meaning no bike lane in Westminster, semi-decent bike lane in the City

  4. I have long since given up on Strand or Embankment. Fleet St is generally OK until you get to Aldwych but then you get into a giant Scalectrix set for a few hundred metres, and finally some of the nastiest narrow pinchpoint lanes anywhere in the city. If I am going to anywhere in the Victoria area I tend to head across the River and come back across Westminster Bridge, so I only have to deal with Parliament Square (Only!!)

    I have several clients whose offices are in the West End, mainly between Strand/Pall Mall to the South and Oxford St to the north. In theory all of them could be reached quite comfortably on side streets which would not need a great deal of special provision, and could be only mildly zigzagged, were it not for Westminster’s labyrinth of one-way streets which are impermeable to cyclists and force you to swing wildly left and right to make a way through.

    Not only do they have no cycle contraflow provision almost anywhere in this area, but the one-way arrangements for motor traffic guarantees that these streets are heavily used as rat-run through routes instead of purely as destinations/places. Returning most of them to two-way, and blocking off one end, as the City has done in some places like Cursitor St, Breams Buildings, St Andrew’s Hill, would make them permeable for cyclists, much safer and more pleasant to ride, and much nicer for everyone really. The City is adding new contraflows all the time, at a rate of about a dozen a year. Kensington/Chelsea has also made a start and is crowd-sourcing ideas for another batch this year. Any chance that Westminster will follow? Not a lot.

  5. You also forget to mention that the northbound cycle lane on Waterloo bridge just vanishes into thin air about 3/4 of the way (on the Westminster side).

  6. I'm guessing the Westminster council attitude can be summed in one sentence: "we're rich, bugger off peasant!"

  7. A decent east-west route would be great. I live in Hackney, and with the canal you can get at least to Islington safely, and then weave through the various quieter roads and the few roads with the cycle lanes separated from the roads by kerbs. But it's not exactly direct, nor obvious which is the best way to go, and in some places it's just sh*t. By decent I mean a whole lane in each direction dedicated to bikes. Not a cycle superhighway that have cars parked in it half the time.

  8. I'm almost completely convinced that any TfL-backed east-west cycle route will be on the Embankment. As you say some parts of the existing route are quite good (by London standards...) and it wouldn't take too much work to join up the remaining bits. Mainly continuity through junctions and rethinking some car and coach parking (the Olympics showed how much better this road works when coaches full of exchange students aren't being unloaded into the middle of the road). Crucially though from a TfL perspective, Embankment is wide enough that a decent-ish bike lane could be put in largely without taking capacity away from motor traffic lanes.

  9. Of course there have been plans for a high-quality cycle route E-W across central London logjammed for many years. Camden Cycling Campaign, who originated it, called the scheme the "Seven Stations Link", intending it to run from Paddington to Liverpool St. The LCN+ team called it "Route 0", and it was implemented with varying degrees of quality through Camden and Islington, but Westminster blocked it, being prepared to do no more than put up blue signs (though the Camden and Islington sections became very popular anyway). That was on relatively minor borough roads a couple of blocks south of Euston Road. Of course, a continuous route along the north bank of the Thames is needed too, which would be on TfL roads.

    I suppose if anyone cam make Westminster do any of these options, it would be Boris, but we need to see serious evidence of his intent.

  10. "we are whacking in another six soon"
    Aren't the superhighways well behind schedule?

    1. Oh, and short, and underfunded. They should extend CS7 to Wimbledon when they do Stratford.

  11. Future superhighways need to be built to much higher quality - CS2 was worse than useless - they need to protect people on bikes properly from motor traffic. That's probably going to be more difficult technically and more costly - so I guess we should expect delays..

  12. London's canal and river towpaths have for years been taking their fair share of the strain from walking & cycling growth in the Capital. At times towpaths are now creaking under the pressure as you'd expect from a 200yr old asset. Waterways are loved by Londoners and visitors alike for their charm, tranquility and character. They are multi-functional places in their own right and havens for wildlife, anglers, boaters, walkers and so on, as well as serving as attractive leisure routes to ride.

    With TFL's support, Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways) is now recruiting a Strategic Cycle Routes Coordinator to work with boroughs along the historic Regents' Canal to bring forward improvements on borough roads to create safer, greener east-west cycling routes for commuters or those in a hurry, to complement improvements for shared use on the towpath.

    Cyclists also recognise that whilst they are no doubt very vulnerable on London streets, on towpath pedestrians are the 'small guy' in a place that cannot readily be reconfigured to cope with increasing demands from such limited space.

    We hope that Camden, Islington, Hackney & Tower Hamlets will play their part in delivering these east-west route and junction impovements to offer cyclists greater choice than having to funnel down the towpath where at peak times, there can be over 500 cyclists/hr on little more than 1m of width, with water on one side!

    Visit http://www.canalrivertrust.candidata.co.uk/view.aspx?JobID=312 for information.

  13. Waterloo Bridge is an absolute debacle. A few thoughts:

    1.) The northbound intersection with the Strand where bicycles have to weave through 10-12 buses to make it to the advanced stop line is an accident waiting to happen. Sometimes I would just park my Boris Bike on the South Bank and walk across Waterloo Bridge to my destination instead -- it's faster than waiting in that bloody mess anyway.

    2.) The insanity of the southbound light (from Covent Garden) depositing cyclists into another red light just a few metres away sets cyclists up to have red buses attacking them as the light turns green. I normally run that red light (for safety and to get ahead of the buses, particularly when the bridge is being used as a car park), and was once verbally harassed by another cyclist for doing so.

    3.) MOST VEXING: In what other city on the face of the Earth is perhaps the most expensive real estate in the entire city with the best views (i.e. Waterloo Bridge) allowed to be used as an unregulated car park? Not only do the cars force cyclists back into traffic with buses and cars, but they also LOOK ABSOLUTELY HIDEOUS. Again, it is insane that cars are allowed to park on that bridge. Imagine if cars were allowed to park on bridges in Paris, or the Brooklyn Bridge.

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