Monday, 26 November 2012

"Safe" diversion during Upper Ground closure means getting off your bike and walking across junctions. We should be using road safety audits to design risk out of cycling not to design cycling out of the streets.

This is the 'safe' diversion built for cyclists
by Southwark Council. So safe, you have to
get off your bike and push. Insane.
Stamford Street via @jamiewallace
Over the weekend, Southwark council closed Upper Ground - which is the bike route between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge. A cycle count last month showed 700 people on bikes used the route in just one hour 8am - 9am. So, we can assume this is a route for between 2-3,000 cycle trips every day.

The council closed the Upper Ground route last weekend and set up a cycle route diversion. Pictured left, part of that diversion as snapped by twitter user @jamiewallace. You can see a map of the original route and the diversion that Southwark council has implemented. The diversion consists of little more than some diversion signs.

Unbelievably, if you follow the diversion route, you're told to get off your bikes in order to turn right at a traffic light on Stamford Street.

What is so incredible about this whole scheme is the obvious irony of Southwark council investing in a safety audit, marshals and in closing the safer Upper Ground route for the benefit of cyclists' 'safety' during a construction period. But then encouraging people to cycle along a busy, fast-moving alternative route that is potentially so dangerous people are asked to dismount and push their bikes to follow the diversion. Can you imagine if we designed the railways like this? Trains would have to stop at every level crossing and then creep across. The journey from London to Exeter would probably take three times as long. It just wouldn't happen.

On the railways, we would have fleets of people designing out risk, creating safe passage for train passengers.

But when it comes to the way this cycle scheme has been handled, no such thing. The approach to the safety of people using bicycle transport on this route seems to me to come down to minimising the danger of conflict for lorry drivers and car drivers. In other words, let's make the route safe by banning cycling, or by making people get off their bikes to keep them out of harm's way.

It can be done. Crossrail worked with TfL
to install this temporary bike contraflow
during 9 months of building works on Farringdon Rd
Pic courtesy @Johnstreetdales
It seems to me that cycling is simply ignored by a lot of highway authorities and then made to fit around what's convenient for everyone other than people cycling.

A notable example of where that isn't the case is about half a mile up the road from Upper Ground on Farringdon Road.

Crossrail has a massive building site at Farringdon. It has had to make Farringdon Road (normally a four lane road) one way for motor vehicles for at least nine months.

Working with TfL, Crossrail has built safe cycling into its roadworks and proven that it is possible to put cycling into the heart of road schemes and road closures.

"For cyclists, a southbound cycle-lane will be put in place in the closed section of Farringdon Road. This contra-flow lane will be segregated from northbound traffic. This means that cyclists will not need to use the diversion route."

The diversion would have meant people cycling an extra one mile around the site, and would have involved a number of very hairy right turns across several lanes of traffic. In other words, Crossrail has built a solution that avoids exactly the problems that Southwark Council has created with its half-hearted cyclist diversion at Upper Ground. What's more, Crossrail hasn't asked anyone to get off their bikes and walk.

It's not rocket science, it just needs relevant highway authorities to think about cycling with the same foresight they give to other road users. It's good to know that these things are possible, though, if people  in the position to make things happen come together and make them happen. 


  1. Dismount sign has now been removed.

    There's terrible conflict between newly diverted cyclists/buses, pedestrians and other vehicles turning into, and on, Cornwall Road (north) - a narrow and congested road at the best of times.

    I guess this is why they were asking cyclists to dismount.

    So it's a real mess - I'm not sure what the solution is given where we are now. But I fear there will be accidents at the Stamford Street/Cornwall road junction.

  2. Yes, it's all totally rubbish. So rubbish, that I am planning an alternative: take the Toucan crossing on Blackfriars Bridge southbound to Upper Ground as usual. Take the first left down Rennie Street, and right along the pavement as far as Hatfields, where you turn right and then rejoin Upper Ground. This has worked for all previous closures at this site. I'll probably do the same in reverse in the evening, or I might use the road, depending on the traffic/number of pedestrians. The street is so narrow and clogged and full of buses that its actually quicker to walk along the pavement heading east than it is to ride in the traffic.

    Yes, I am planning to cycle on the pavement, which makes me evil. However, this stretch of pavement at 9am is usually pedestrian free, and is also about 20ft wide so I expect I will be able to dodge any stray walkers that might cross my path. It's so wide, in fact, that I wondered why the council didn't just put a temporary bike lane on it.

    I do generally try to be a nice law-abiding cyclist as per my Bikeability training. But by golly they make it difficult...

  3. Yesterday I tried my own solution to Upper Ground: from Waterloo – Mepham St, across Waterloo Rd, Exton St, Brad St, Roupell St, Colombo St to Blackfriars Rd. To Waterloo – right turn from Blackfriars Rd into Meymott St, Roupell St, Exton St, across Waterloo Rd and the wrong way up Mepham St.

    Eastbound was pretty straightforward, you just have 50m against a one-way in Roupell St near the language school, and the need to ride with care due to the high pedestrian traffic there. You emerge onto Blackfriars Rd by the church, on a bus lane and a short distance from the traffic lights at Stamford St.

    Return was another matter, and in fact I would prefer to take my chances with the Stamford St junction, where at least you can wait for northbound traffic to be held at the lights. Continuing down Blackfriars Rd but manoeuvring to the right so that you can turn across to the right just after the pedestrian crossing by Meymott St proved to be quite scary, and while it is peaceful through Roupell St (again a 50m stretch of one-way to go the wrong way down) it is a bit daunting going against the flow of buses in Mepham St.

    This morning I took the official diversion eastbound. It was not particularly unpleasant being mainly on the old route but joining Stamford St at Broadwell wasn’t nice. I diverted via Rennie St as the signed diversion through the Stamford St triangle approaching Blackfriars Rd has a humungous puddle across most of the inside lane. Westbound this evening, I think I’ll try Emily’s suggestion of cutting down Rennie St and along the pavement to Hatfields, then back to Upper Ground. I’ll just have to take it sedately, and keep my eyes open for pedestrians and coppers.

    1. This morning I thought I'd try an alternative by riding along the South Bank from the NT. I figured it would be OK, only need to walk along the stretch by the Oxo building, then cut through to Upper Ground after Sea Containers House. Wrong: there is a hoarding along the front of SCH too, big signs asking cyclists to dismount, plus a marshal on site. Perhaps not legally enforceable, but frankly it would be antisocial to cycle there, way too narrow and busy with pedestrians.
      So thank you Southwark for cutting out 2 safe cycle routes in one fell swoop.

  4. "cyclists please dismount"


    How about: "Transport planners please do your job"

    I'm at the stage of completely ignoring ridiculous attempts at cycling provision. For instance Tavistock Place parallel to the Euston Road - if it's got a 'cross over' it's not a cycle lane it's wacky races. So I'll take a place in the car lane instead. Apart from annoying the car drivers it's safer because the 2 way cycle lane frequently causes confusion at turnings where either no one takes right of way or everyone tries to.

    It's not a solution but is a clear signal to planners.

  5. Just more examples of bad planning.. I remember a few years ago when they painted the Cable Street cycle line blue so it would be become the oh so different "Cycle Superhighway". The eastbound lane was shut for weeks and weeks over the summer (the time that over-wintered cyclists should be able to enjoy trouble free!) and the diversion route was unbelievably along The Highway - I'm a seasoned London cyclist and I'd never dream of cycling along there.

    Have you also noticed that when they close sections of cycle lane and either stop part way through or finish the works but don't move closure / barriers for a long period of time. There never seems to be an urgency like there would with works closing actual lanes of traffic.

    I just hope that there aren't any serious incidents as a result of this as that seems to be only thing that raises awareness of cycling issues.

  6. Parking has now been suspended on the west side of Cornwall Road (N), so should make it less of an obstacle course. I'm not sure why it was such a mess at the weekend - maybe because the signs hadn't gone up at that point, or the suspension was just being ignored.

  7. For the past month or so, the South half of that Farringdon Road contra-flow has been closed. There's a diversion through side streets:

    1) Change down to a low gear. You'll need it for the next bit!
    2) Turn right into St Cross Street. (Wait for a gap in the traffic caused by a pedestrian crossing further South.)
    3) Haul up this road and wait for a diversion sign on the right. It points left, taking you down Hatton Gardens.
    4) Arrive at the Prince Albert Equestrian Monument, which forms a roundabout.
    5) The traffic light is very, very, very slow here. Admire the monument while you wait. Admire it some more...and repeat...
    6) Turn sharp left, slightly more than 90° onto Charterhouse Street. Don't be fooled into taking the more visible 2nd turn - that's the A40!
    7) Green cycle route down the left edge is quite nice.
    8) At the junction, you'll need to turn right. It has green block for cyclists at the front. If you're nervous, you can wait for traffic to stop and use that to get into the right-hand lane.
    9) Wait for the lights to green again and make your right turn once it is safe to do so. Technically it's a box junction but expect some beeps from behind if you don't edge forward into it!

    This is OK for running errands but I won't be commuting that way! Way too slow now.

    I guess Crossrail needs those extra 2.5 metres along its construction site. It often turned into a pond as the drains were all blocked by access ramps!

    Any suggestions for a better North/South route near there?