Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Road safety audit at Blackfriars expects 700 cyclists per hour to get off their bikes, cross the road three times and then carry on cycling towards Waterloo. This time, I can't blame Southwark Council but our entire road culture, which allows safety auditors to get away with inadequate recommendations that don't bear resemblance to reality.

Stamford Street - 700 more cyclists per hour will be heading along
here at rush hour from December
In a couple of days time, Southwark Council will close a stretch of Upper Ground - a road that makes up a crucial low-traffic route between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge. I'm quietly predicting an outcry when the closure does go ahead. Southwark is proposing to re-route cyclists via Stamford Street.

I've expressed some grave concerns about the re-routing, not least of which are safety concerns - the biggest of these being the fact that people who normally cycle here can avoid the highly intimidating junction between Blackfriars Bridge and Stamford Street.

Southwark Council and one of the contractors working near the site have kindly sent me a copy of the road safety audit that was commissioned after cyclists protested at the closure of the route.

First some facts. The auditors note that 700 people cycled along Upper Ground between 8-9am on the day they monitored the route in October. Somehow they conclude that means only 1,850 cyclists every 24 hours, which strikes me as a hugely conservative forecast. When I cycle through here most days at 7.30am, it's almost just as busy as it is at 8.30am and my guess is the volume of cyclists is at least 2,500 per day, probably higher. Those 700 people per hour make up a fraction of the thousands of people who cycle across Blackfriars Bridge every rush-hour.

We're talking about quite significant flows of people on bikes here.

Let's assume that the 700 people per hour who use this route use it because they prefer a quieter, safer, less intimidating route to cycle to work than the alternatives on parallel roads - that are narrow, fast and quite unpleasant to cycle along. In the terms of the auditor's report, there's an implication that these 700 people per hour are 'less confident' cyclists. I'm one of those, apparently. I prefer quieter, slower, safer routes to work. I'm not an 'unconfident' cyclist, I just find this route easier and safer to negotiate than other routes.

The report is pretty detailed. Some of it isn't too bad, if I'm honest. It suggests, for example, that Transport for London should paint an advisory cycle lane along Stamford Street. It also suggests carrying the cycle lanes into the filter lane from Stamford Street to Blackfriars Bridge I don't yet know whether TfL has looked at this recommendation.

But two things shock me about the report.

The 'more confident cyclist' can get in to the fourth
lane and use the advanced stop line. Yeh, right.
Picture taken from the fourth lane coming off
Blackfriars Bridge.
Firstly, the total absence of measurable 'cycle standards': The report suggests that Stamford Street should have an advisory cycle lane "in similar vein to those on Blackfriars Bridge Road". The cycle lanes on Blackfriars Bridge Road are worse than useless. They are less 1 metre wide - the sorts of things that mean many impatient motor drivers try to force you into the bike lane but where the bike lane is little more than a dangerous extension of the gutter. The fact that the Mayor of London has a) yet again delayed London's cycle design standards and b) never actually enforced those standards in the first place means that 'road safety auditors' can get away with making recommendations to councils like this that are (in my view) almost immoral.

Secondly, I feel that the report almost entirely bows out of dealing with one of the most pressing issues: the right turn from Blackfriars Bridge to Stamford Street. To cross this junction, you need to swing out over four lanes of motor traffic driving fast off the Bridge. Or, you take the cycle filter left, wait for the lights and then cross the main road and make your way down Upper Ground, thereby avoiding the nasty junction. Here's what the road safety audit has to say:

"The more confident cyclist is likely to use the traffic signals to turn right with the general traffic and use the advanced stop line". Pictured above, the advanced stop line in action. Yes, when it's not dark or raining and when I can look in the eye of the rows of drivers behind me, I'll turn right with the general traffic. When it's dark (e.g all winter), I am much less happy swinging out across four lanes of traffic, unable to second-guess whether the cars behind me will slow down. At least once a month, a driver won't slow down. They'll simply change lane and swerve around me, cutting me up from the inside.

So, what do the road safety auditors recommend? They recommend this: "Less confident [sic] cyclists can leave the carriageway at the toucan adjacent to Upper Ground travel south down the central reserve and dismount to use the pedestrian crossings to cross both Blackfriars Bridge Road and Stamford Street, remounting (on Stamford Street)".

In other words, the auditors seriously expect 700 people per hour to wiggle down a central reservation on their bikes, cross the road three times in total (one of the crossings has no pedestrian green phase by the way) and then pedal off again. That's plainly nonsense.

This isn't a criticism of Southwark Council or of the contractors who engaged this road safety audit. But I think the fact that a road safety audit can present such an inadequate series of recommendations reveals some major flaws in the way our entire road culture works.

The whole industry needs to take a look at how it goes about designing roads that include cycling, rather than treat cycling as a minor irritation. The road safety audit sets out to "ensure the safety of all road users". All well and good. But it prescribes methods that simply don't resemble reality.

My own view? Many 'less confident' cyclists, aren't 'less confident'. They just want decent, safe conditions that demonstrate someone has thought about them as cyclists. When you're a train passenger, you know someone has thought about how to minimise danger during your journey. Same when you're driving. When you're a cyclist, though, it seems you're on your own. Or you're "less confident" because you don't like trucks skimming past you or you don't like crossing four lanes of motor traffic to turn right. Who does?


You can read more about this in yesterday's Evening Standard in an excellent editorial piece. Evening Standard; Give London's cyclists their fair share of the road. If you haven't read it yet, you should. It's a must-read piece.