Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Transport for London nails it. Full-scale Dutch cycle designs being tested for roll out in London as early as next year

Testing the new Dutch-style roundabout at the TRL facility

Yesterday, Transport for London lifted the lid on test facilities that were built late last year at the Transport Research Laboratory in Bracknell. Pictured above, TRL's first test roundabout. You can read a useful review on the BBC London website and there's a key point made by one of the TRL engineers on this video: "the car drivers does not get affected by the cyclist in the road". Exactly. Nor does the cyclist 'get affected' by drivers of HGVs or buses as they do at the moment. And, in fact, it's better for pedestrians too. Instead of a traffic island where you are expected to run across the road when you spot a gap, you get zebra crossings. Why? Because you need to slow down motor vehicles to give pedestrians and cyclists the same equal rights to travel through the junction safely as you do to motorists. At the moment, that's not the case. Motorists get priority again and again and again. 

You'll notice the design is very very Dutch, even the give way symbols on the carriageway are Dutch symbols, rather than standard UK road symbols. My understanding is that the plan is to keep refining the scheme and to test more commonplace UK road markings. 

The roundabout is a huge step forward. Late last year, Transport for London proposed a scheme to make the roundabout at the northern end of Lambeth Bridge safer for cycling That proposal was pretty weak. You can read a good review of the original TfL proposal on AsEasyAsRidingABike blog. The roundabouts at either end of Lambeth Bridge have both been touted (unofficially, mind you) as potential locations for a Dutch-style roundabout. Lambeth North is a pig of a roundabout. The southern roundabout is just as dreadful. Pinchpoints, buses, lorries, bikes, taxis all jammed into narrow lanes, full of conflict between different road users. 

Pictured below, a fairly typical morning rush hour at Lambeth North roundabout. Complete chaos for drivers watching out for cyclists; cyclists having no legitimate space on the road; what's even worse is that there is nothing to slow drivers or cyclists down and protect pedestrians at the zebra crossings. 

The key benefits of this new TfL design is that - unlike 99% of roundabouts in UK cities - this design gives pedestrians and cyclists safe, convenient ways to cross the roundabout that are just as safe and just as convenient as for drivers. At the moment, most roundabouts are designed to get drivers around them as quickly as possible and woe betide anyone else who needs to get across them who is on foot or on a bike.

Funnily enough, the National Cycle Manual standards in Ireland contains a variant of this design. The National Transport Authority makes it clear why this sort of infrastructure is necessary: "If we are going to expect a massive increase in cycling, there has to be an increase in the offer for cycling". The same goes for London.

The problem with the Irish design, though, is that is only goes halfway to solving the issues at roundabouts. The Irish design paints some markings on the road where the bike lane is and leaves it for drivers and cyclists to work out who has priority. The TfL design, though, is the real deal. It structures things so that cyclists are clearly protected by the belisha beacons and it makes life easier for drivers by putting pedestrians and cyclists somewhere predictable. The exact opposite of the way the Lambeth Bridge roundabouts work at the moment.

The TRL test facility is also testing bike traffic lights - the sort of traffic lights used all over Europe already - that would allow Transport for London to design junctions so that people on bikes and in motor vehicles can obey different timings on the traffic signals. TfL has already made public that it will consider using these traffic lights at junctions like Bow roundabout, provided the Department for Transport gives the lights approval. I know that a number of other high profile junctions - for example at some of the junctions near London's bridges - might see these bike traffic lights, provided of course, that the DfT gives the go-ahead. 

There's plenty more underway as well in the form of detailed mock-ups of alternative junctions and other traffic signals, as well as more experimentation with segregated bike lanes. TRL has published a full list of the test scenarios on its website. 

The pace of change on London's streets is still incredibly frustrating. Ill-thought through designs like those announced by Westminster council a couple of months ago smack not only of yesterday's road engineering but, even worse, they seem to assume people on bikes behave just like people in cars. They don't. And the TRL test scenarios are clear evidence that Transport for London has realised, just like its colleagues in the Irish Republic, that people on bikes need a different offer on London's streets - an offer that does not treat them the same as one tonne motor vehicles.

If you have any doubts about whether Dutch-style roundabouts actually work or not, have a look at this video of one in operation. All good stuff. Admittedly, this is a rural location by the looks of it, but this is exactly where, in the UK, you'd be faced with some snarling, horrible roundabout that simply makes it impossible for your average person to cycle from A to B.

Friday, 26 April 2013

The Crown Estate - the UK's sixth largest land owner - declares: "Cycling is good for business" and "We agree with you that what cyclists really need are safe and segregated cycle lanes as suggested by the Mayor in his ‘Vision for Cycling’"

Regent Street during recent emergency gas works.
Less pollution, no horrible traffic congestion. 
Over the past fortnight, I have commented on plans to re-design the roads in the streets south of Piccadilly Circus. The works will narrow many of the roads in a way that will make it more hazardous to travel by bicycle than the current hairy arrangements in this area.

I feel strongly that there is an opportunity in this area to create an environment that makes it safer and more convenient to travel here by bicycle. There is sufficient space and sufficient investment in the pipeline to achieve this. The schemes also seem to mean conditions will get worse for significant numbers of bus passengers. As the Evening Standard put it yesterday: "there are fears that the removal of bus lanes, and the shrinking of such busy roads, will boost congestion and leave cyclists even closer to traffic. The plan also runs counter to Boris Johnson’s policy of creating segregated routes to increase cycle safety".

The proposed works are to be and the ultimate design are by Westminster council, however, the funding and overall strategy is led by The Crown Estate. The Estate is a property business that manages property which is owned by the Crown but is not the private property of the monarch. It is the sixth largest landowner in the country and is governed by an Act of Parliament and its profits go to the Treasury for the benefit of the nation.The area around Regents Street and St. James's is directly owned by the Crown Estate. It therefore has a pivotal say in what the heart of the West End looks like and how it works.

The Crown Estate is a significant land owner and developer. What the Crown Estate thinks and does matters not only on Regent Street but around the country. I am delighted that the Peter Bourne, development manager of the Crown Estate has responded to my blog posts in an informative email that contains some highly significant statements.

I will let Peter's email talk for itself but have taken the liberty of bolding the lines that should make local authorities and land owners around the country sit up and take notice. See for yourselves:

Email from Peter Bourne, development manager, The Crown Estate:

"In answer to your original post on 18 April and the subsequent one on yesterday, The Crown Estate are strong supporters of cycling in London and are actively promoting cycling here in the West End.

We have created 500 secure cycle parking spaces, complete with lockers and showers, in our buildings with another 500 on the way in buildings under construction. We have also provided some 100 on street cycle parking stands and are looking to increase this number.

We are also working to reduce traffic and congestion in the local area, for the benefit of both pedestrians and cyclists. 10% of traffic on Regent Street is from goods vehicles, so we created a delivery consolidation scheme that now involves a quarter of the Street’s shops. This award winning project sees retailers bring their goods to a consolidation centre outside of London, from where they are then brought to store by electric lorry. This means 75-80% fewer deliveries, less traffic and less pollution. We have a similar project to reduce office deliveries that uses cargo bikes.

We agree with you that what cyclists really need, however, are safe and segregated cycle lanes as suggested by the Mayor in his ‘Vision for Cycling’. Within days of that report being published we met with Transport for London and proposed a north-south route running from The Mall to Regents Park. There is still some work to be done on this, but we hope that it could be implemented before the end of 2014.

Our support for cycling is part of a wider commitment to sustainability, which is why we are also investing in making Regent Street safer and more welcoming for pedestrians. We also know that the completion of Crossrail and tube network upgrades will bring 20-25% more pedestrians into central London, so wider pavements and improved pedestrian facilities are essential.

Proposed improvements to Lower Regent Street and Haymarket, which your post focuses on, are part of this commitment. They build on the success of the Oxford Circus diagonal crossing and the re-introduction of two-way traffic around Piccadilly Circus, which we also helped design and co-fund. All these schemes seek to better manage congestion and reduce pollution, whilst the new road surfaces and improved traffic easing measures that they bring also benefit cyclists.

The more recent blog makes some specific proposals: “What Westminster needs to do here.”

• Create a two way system for bikes: that is what our north-south routes does; albeit not on Haymarket/Regent Street.
• Bike access from Shaftsbury Avenue to Piccadilly along the current bus- only lane: the scheme proposes this.
• Piccadilly/St James’s bike lanes: the new Boris east-west cycle route will run along Bird Cage Walk and the existing route along The Mall will link into this, in turn (subject to approvals) linking in to our proposed north-south route through Soho and up to Regents Park  to create a fully joined safe network.

We know that traffic, congestion and pollution are amongst the top concerns of businesses, residents and visitors to the West End. So tackling these issues and making the area more welcoming to pedestrians and cyclists alike is good for business as much as it is for the environment and visitors. This strategy drives our investment and our plans for the local area. We hope that this reassures you that The Crown Estate is and will remain a firm supporter of cyclists in London.

We anticipate that your readers would like to see a response from The Crown Estate on the issues you raise. I am therefore proposing to post a version of this note as a comment.

I would like to invite you to visit Regent Street where I would be happy to give you a tour of the cycle friendly schemes we have implemented and brief you on our future proposals, including the north-south cycle route we are working on. Please could you let me know when you could make such a meeting. "

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

My view: Westminster council is peddling the height of irresponsibility as it designs roads to make people play frogger with lorries and buses when they're on their bikes. It's madness.

The Times's editorial today. 
Today's big news is not actually about Westminster council. It's about the massively impressive work done by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group in releasing its Get Britain Cycling report this afternoon.

The Times has written a  hard-hitting editorial covering the work of the APPCG and its report issued today and I'd urge you to read it.

The Times makes two key points. In its editorial, the lead theme is this:

"Cycling has been good for David Cameron. The Prime Minister has used cycling to help brand himself a modern Conservative: young, down to earth and environmentally conscious. Now it is time for him to be good for cycling."

And within its main pages, there is a stinging article by Chris Boardman which concludes, rightly, that "apathy and lack of leadership that will continue to make us fat and our roads unpleasant places". Bang on.

If you do one thing this week to make a difference, please please please sign the petition started by The Times to ask the Prime Minister to implement the recommendations of the Parliamentary report. Click here to the e-petition website; it takes 30 seconds. 

One of the reasons we need this petition is to intervene on schemes like the one being built in the heart of Westminster by Westminster council and sponsored by the Crown Estate.

Westminster Council has presented this scheme as an 'improvement' for cycling. I've seen some documents from the council that even promote the scheme as a 'vast improvement' for cycling. I beg to differ. I think this is a vast improvement for the rental yields of the Crown Estate (and that's absolutely fine, by the way, if that's what the Crown Estate wants to achieve). It is not, however, a 'vast improvement' for cycling.

Snapshot of the planned road narrowing at Haymarket
and Lower Regent Street. Courtesy Westminster Council
I've now had a chance to review the detailed diagrams of the scheme which are available on Westminster's website.

Just to be clear the scheme costs over £8million. Cycling and road safety element of the scheme? Just over £100,000, ie about 1% of the spend will be on cycling and yet Westminster is trying to pass this off as "vast improvements" for cycling. Utter and complete misrepresentation in my book.

What will happen is Lower Regent Street will become between two, three and four lanes wide. Half way along, we'll have two five metre wide lanes northbound with a big traffic island in the middle. Five metres is just enough for two cars to fit side by side or a lorry and a car. So the two lanes will, in reality, become four and cyclists will feel either a) incredibly intimidated by close shave passes or b) won't be able to get anywhere if the traffic's bad because there won't be any space. Get to the junction with Piccadilly, and you have three x narrow lanes and bus stop (ie four lanes) and an insulting sliver of bike lane down the middle of the four lanes that's only just wide enough for a person to squeeze between two buses. This is 1970s road design if ever I saw it. Nice big pavements and lovely granite in the middle of the carriageway, though, which will make it look nice and a little easier for only physically fit people to dart across the road and seek refuge from the traffic halfway across.

No change here. The bike lane leads into a concrete
traffic island. You'll be expected to whizz across the two lanes
on the right of the picture into the 'bike lane' and then
turn left. Insanity on a plate. 
Haymarket is trickier to tell. The plans don't show how wide the lanes will be. But you can see the road has been narrowed considerably. And you'll be expected to cycle down the RIGHT HAND SIDE of three lanes of traffic. If you want to turn into Trafalgar Square, you'll then have to cross the vans, taxis, buses, lorries all bearing down the hill on you at speed and move into the bike lane. Which will still, as now, be a tiny narrow strip in the middle of four lanes of traffic that leads directly into a concrete traffic island. The problem here is a) too much traffic b) traffic changing lanes frequently c) lane changing takes place at speed d) lots of very large motor vehicles, mainly buses and coaches but also HGVs. The scheme provides lovely wide pavements but actually makes the conditions for cycling (currently you at least have the relative safety of a very wide bus lane that keeps you away from the coaches and lorries) even worse than they are no and neglects to improve the hopelessly inadequate junction design.

Cycle towards Trafalgar Square down Cockspur Street? No change - two x 3.3m wide lanes for buses. If there are four or five buses in the street (which is normally the case), you're stuck breathing in bus exhaust and trying not to get squashed. As a senior road traffic policeman explained to me quite carefully once, if that bus hits you at 20mph, you're long gone.

Central London? No chance. This is Berlin, I'm afraid. 
What Westminster needs to do here is create a two-way system for people on bikes and build at a minimum two metre wide bike lanes on Haymarket and no Lower Regent Street. There is ample space for these. The lanes that run between Haymarket and Lower Regent Street should become two-way for people on bikes and remain one way for people in motor vehicles. There needs to be bike access from Shaftesbury Avenue into Piccadilly (at the moment it's buses only even though bikes are allowed to rejoin a hundred yards up the road - oversight or deliberately excluding bikes?) and Piccadilly and St James need bike lanes too. They are essentially impassable on a bike in the morning rush hour and at weekends.

Of course, the other option would be to massively reduce the amount of motor traffic on these streets in the first place. But Westminster's policies are to increase motor traffic, not reduce it. The neighbouring Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea officially labelled Westminster's pro-car policies as "inevitably producing additional traffic congestion within central London". They're right.

My own view is that Westminster is putting rental yields first. It is eliminating the bus lanes; it is pursuing policies that increase motor traffic congestion; it is failing to create safe, convenient routes through central London for cycling and it is expecting pedestrians to leg it across the road onto traffic islands, rather than creating a genuinely civilised shopping environment in which people on foot, on bike and in buses as well as taxis or cars have to fight for space on narrower, fast-moving, heavily polluted, traffic-congested streets.

The money is there, the will is there to change things and there is tonnes of space to get this right. But the direction of travel is backwards. And it is being presented - in my view utterly immorally - as an 'improvement' for cycling when the numbers quite clearly show that is claptrap.

If you want to do something about this, please do one of these things:

Attend the public consultation on Friday morning this week. 

Or write to

Martin Brazier
The Crown Estate, 16 New Burlinton Place, London W1S 2HX.

Martin Low
Commissioner of Transportation
City of Westminster

The Westminster City Council Project Director for the scheme is Mark Allan

Sarah Coxhall
West End Business Improvement District

If you live in Westminster, write to your councillors 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Some good cycling updates from Southwark as new cycling and walking footbridge opens. Just needs the rest of the link to come into place now.

Well done Southwark Council. This is the eastern Elephant &
Castle bike bypass. During the works on the bridge, the council
has insisted on a lane for bikes and a lane for pedestrians. 
Well done Southwark Council. During some major works to a rail bridge that runs over the Elephant & Castle cycle bypass, the council has insisted that contractors create a way through for people on bikes and for people on foot. Sensibly (and I wish this were standard practice in the rest of London), they've created a separate track for cyclists and another for pedestrians. The result is that it works for everyone and people feel they have a right to cycle through or walk through that is clearly their space. How different from so much of the rest of London.

I was heading east for a change at Elephant because I wanted to go and look at London's brand new bike and pedestrian-only bridge that was officially opened late last week. The Connect2Southwark Bridge is the result of over a decade's work by Southwark councillors and Southwark Cyclists. 

Bike track on the New Kent Road. Pretty heavily used
Let me guide you on my journey to the Bridge from central London. After I'd nipped through the construction works pictured above, I took Southwark's London Cycle Network routes 22 and 23. And they're pretty impressive, to be honest. You get to whizz along the not bad segregated bike tracks that now extend most of the length of this section of the New Kent Road. The only downside is that you can wait ages at the lights to cross from the bike track over to the other side of the main road. Traffic flow for people in motor vehicles must come before traffic flow for people on foot or bike, of course...(Although, some fairly massive news just in is that Transport for London - which operates all of London's traffic lights - has started reviewing how it models traffic behaviour at traffic lights to better account for pedestrians and cyclists. This is a very significant development, as cyclists and pedestrians are woefully unaccounted for in most of London's traffic planning at the moment)

What follows from here is a whole series of roads that have been nicely traffic-calmed with speed humps and are the sort of thing you might find in parts of Hackney. The only difference is that Southwark hasn't been quite as bold as Hackney and there are no filters along these routes to stop lots of through motor traffic. 

Nifty updated bike crossing of the main road, helped
by speed table to slow the motor traffic and clear access from the
bike track so you can cross the road on a bike. 
You then have options of using the road route or of cycling through the newly revamped Burgess Park. Burgess Park provides a decent east-west off-road route but there's one thing I just fail to understand. There's no street lighting. So, if you want to cycle through here at night, you're at the mercy of the darkness. That's hardly going to inspire most people to use the park as a sensible cycling route. Apparently, the council doesn't want to create light pollution in the park. It's happy to stick excessive lighting all over its estates but not along a major bicycle transport axis. Just weird. 

There are some small but nifty pieces of street design intervention that make a real difference on the journey. Things like this bike crossing pictured on the left. Here, the road traffic is slowed down by a speed table and there is a clear space created for cyclists to position themselves in a way that they can cross the road and carry straight over. Small intervention that makes a big difference. 

Cattle pens on the bike route. These really shouldn't be here. 
The route towards the bike bridge is pretty decent. You pedal your way through 1980s housing estates in a completely straight line through some  nice motor traffic filters that mean only bikes and pedestrians can go all the way through and motor cars have to stick to the main road to get anywhere. It's a fairly decent route. Until you come to these things: Horrible cattle pens (one of which seems to be brand new) that make this route unusable on any sort of larger utility bicycle and just make your heart sink when you see them on a bike. They're basically saying cyclists aren't welcome on their own bike routes. There's simply no need for this sort of rubbish. The Dutch and Danish would use double bike speed humps to slow people down and simultaneously render the route unusable for mopeds. We use horrible cattle pens that have no place on a bike route. 

And then we come to the new bridge itself. It's actually a really exciting and beautiful thing and used, in fact, to be a railway bridge. You can see pictures of the old bridge being removed by crane a few months ago and the new bridge being gently lowered into place. Brand new cycle path; clear bike route signs everywhere you look; plenty of space for pedestrians and people on bikes to get past each other. It's very very nice indeed.

The new bike bridge whizzes you over the Rotherhithe New Road. And then you carry on a few hundred yards on a brand new, wide cycle-and walkway. And then you literally bump into South Bermondsey train station.

The route, proposed by the fabulous Barry Mason of Southwark Cyclists, is intended to continue through the station (there are empty arches immediately either side of the station entrance, just filled with earth and weeds) and then past Millwall stadium and off into Rotherhithe. Except for the time being that's not the case, you literally come to the end of the line and you're left trying to work out where to go next. There is a diversion in place for the time being but I must admit that I struggled to find it last week.

End of the line for now. The new
bike link comes to a halt at South
Bermondsey Station.
Part of the reason that the route doesn't sweep on past the station and into Rotherhithe is that the land on the other side of the station is not in Southwark, it's in Lewisham. So, in order to connect South Bermondsey (in Southwark) to Rotherhithe (also in Southwark), Sustrans (which has been integral to delivering this route) has to convince Lewisham council and a whole host of landowners to allow the route to continue under the railway viaduct.

Sustrans and Southwark council have done a good job here (albeit, I simply can't understand why it's acceptable to build cattle pens on bike routes or not have street lighting on bikes routes either). My understanding is that money had to be raised from all sorts of sources, including Lottery funding and a whole heap of landowners had to provide permission for even the odd few metres of bike track here and there. No small job.

I have to hope that Lewisham council will join the party and help the link to become whole because it will make a fantastic, long-distance route that could really opens up a decent orbital route across a sizeable chunk of south-east London when it's finished. And in the meantime, I'll continue to wonder why on earth infrastructure for bicycle transport is so poorly funded, such that we leave charities to raise the funds together with local councils, which are themselves fairly cash-strapped, whereas many road schemes seem to be funded with largesse from central government.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Another week, another person crushed on a bike by a tipper truck in central London. This is becoming ridiculous. We need meaningful and proper intervention - on our roads and in the construction industry. And we need it now.

Junction of Theobolds Road / Gray's Inn Road today
Picture courtesy Joseph Stashko
2009. A green tipper truck. Just near Oval tube station at the junction of Kennington Park Road and Harleyford Road. Plus Catriona Patel, cycling to work.

What followed?

"'I've lost half of my life' - a man speaking today about the death of his wife. Katrina  [sic] Patel was crushed by a lorry last year, cycling through the morning rush-hour by Oval tube station. The driver, Denis Putz, was over the legal drink-drive limit. He was on his mobile phone. And he'd been caught 'driving while disqualified' 20 times before. He was jailed for 7 years yesterday and 'banned from driving' for life." Read that carefully - he'd been caught driving while disqualified 20 times before. What sort of industry hires people who are so utterly incapable of doing the job safely and gets away with it?

The tipper truck stopped after today's road collision
with a Boris biker
Picture courtesy Rossithebossi
This afternoon, a young man on a Boris bike airlifted to hospital with extremely serious injuries. Pictured left, guess what, a tipper truck involved in the collision. 

This is how the UK media thinks we can make the roads safe for people on bikes who have to cycle around tipper trucks: 

I don't hold out much hope for trixi mirrors or sat nav gizmos making a blind bit of difference.

What I do trust, however, is the report by the Netherlands' road safety institute which says this: "Truck drivers do not make the best possible use of the different mirrors [and] cyclists insufficiently take account of the fact that trucks have a limited visual field. The ultimate solution for the blind spot problem is a structural separation of trucks and cyclists."

HGVs and bikes forced into the same space on Cycle
Super Highway in the City of London
Enough is enough. The solutions proposed and promoted by the UK media are half-baked, ill-thought through and not good enough. The Dutch are right. You need to keep tipper trucks and people on bikes apart from each other. The majority of people killed on bikes on London's roads are killed in collisions that involve tipper trucks. 

But you also need to sort out the lethal practices of the construction industry. Every week, it seems, another person is mauled or killed by a tipper truck. My view? The construction industry has a lot to answer for. As ibikelondon blog puts it: "A combination of unscrupulous payment practices whereby some drivers are paid per load, a distinctly criminal element that runs through the haulage industry, and the fact that most drivers (no matter how careful) can't actually see the vulnerable road users around them, combine to ensure that HGVs are the most dangerous vehicles on the roads, and account for a shocking level of deaths." I'd clarify that comment a bit and say it's not just any old HGV drivers. It is largely (but not exclusively) tipper truck drivers that are the menaces on our streets, driving waste for the construction industry.

The Mayor needs to start showing he means business.

These trucks are not allowed to reverse on site without a banksman/woman. So why on earth is the construction industry only responsible for trucks on-site, not on our streets?

Boris Johnson commented last week that he might consider some sort of lorry ban at rush hour or for lorries without the right safety kit (although I'm not entirely sure he has the powers to do this yet). But he also needs to speed up the development of cycle networks that are safe for people to use and where, as the Dutch road safety institute says, they are kept well, well away from tipper trucks and other HGVs. He also needs to call up councils like Westminster which is proposing to make its streets even narrower, forcing HGVs and people on bikes into the same narrow space

And in the meantime, I'd recommend you read Mark Ames's sage words of advice: " Always remember; if the truck is ahead, stay back.  If the truck is behind, get ahead."

But just using this common sense isn't enough. I avoided being run over by a tipper truck last summer by bailing out on to the pavement. The driver decided to overtake me in a pinchpoint. The only two options were a) deliberately fall off my bike b) have the driver run me over. This, by the way, is a pinchpoint on Cycle Super Highway 8 that now has a massive 'look out for cyclists!' sign in front of it. The engineers know it's not safe. It isn't safe. They need to sort it out. Getting ahead or staying back isn't enough to keep you safe on a bike. We need meaningful and proper intervention - on our roads and in the construction industry. And we need it now. 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Why is the Crown Estate turning central London into a no-go zone for cycling and making conditions worse for bus passengers? Write to the Crown Estate and let them know what you think.

Before and after view of Haymarket. Four lanes will be reduced to only two narrow lanes - plenty of space
for a meaningful bike lane but that won't be happening. Bus passengers lose their bus lanes too.
Image courtesy City of Westminster

Back in February, the City of Westminster published plans for the area around Lower Regent Street and Haymarket. Pictured above is a before and after shot of Haymarket. Miraculously, both of these shots show the scene with hardly any cars and only one bus. Most days, this area is a logjam packed with buses, taxis and bikes.

This is the bike lane at the end of Haymarket as it looks at the
The Crown Estate (ie the Queen's estate) is paying the City of Westminster to spend millions of pounds to build massively wider footways, knocking out the entire bus lane area. That means bus, bikes and taxis will have to fight it out in the remaining two lanes available. There won't be any less motor traffic, it's just that buses will now have to crawl along with the cars in the narrow lanes. And bikes will have literally nowhere to go. You'll just have to sit there breathing in fumes and going nowhere.

The same thing will be going on along Lower Regent Street which heads north and runs parallel to Haymarket. Lower Regent Street is currently six lanes wide. This will be narrowed to three.

In all, the council will remove three lanes northbound and two lanes southbound. And is providing absolutely no safe space for cycling. In fact, no space for cycling at all, unless there is no motor traffic whatsoever.

Lower Regent Street as it looks now. Six lanes wide. At rush hour, almost impossible to move here on a bike
as motor traffic fills up the entire space. 
Westminster has already done this magic trick on Piccadilly, turning that into a two-way street (much of which you're no longer allowed to use on a bike, by the way) and on Pall Mall. The result is extremely narrow carriageways where it is both more dangerous and much more intimidating to be on a bike. At rush hour, the lanes are pretty difficult to navigate, you're forced to duck and weave between queuing motor traffic. Outside of rush hour, the traffic is moving extremely fast and, due to the narrow width of the lanes, incredibly close to your flesh and bones. That is to say nothing of the total lack of bike parking installed by Westminster since it put these shiny new road layouts in place (even more ludicrously at Leicester Square where there is now precisely zero bike parking. Transport for London paid for a good chunk of the Leicester Square scheme only to see its pro-bike policies dashed by Westminster's never-think-about-people-on-bikes policy).

Lower Regent Street as planned
Three narrow lanes, a wide traffic island and cyclists
will be left hugging the kerb, trying to inch their way up the street.
Image courtesy City of Westminster
These designs are not appropriate for a city where the Mayor plans 5% of all journeys will be made by bike by 2020.

The fact is that you simply can't avoid these two roads. To the east, you have Leicester Square which is completely and utterly impermeable to people on bikes. To the west you have St. James's Park. If you want to get north or south through this part of the West End, these are the only roads you can use. They are, laughably, already part of the London Cycle Network (not that you'd ever know) and they're already nasty and dangerous places to be on a bike.

These schemes will do nothing to make either route safer or easier to use on a bike. I suspect they'll also make these routes slower and less easy to use by bus as well. There is unbelievable amount of space to create safe, sensible conditions for people to cycle through these streets, kept apart from the buses and heavy traffic and kept apart from pedestrians. But neither the Crown Estate nor Westminster council sees fit to include even the slightest nod towards bicycle transport in these schemes.

My own view is that these schemes are utterly wrong for central London and I'm astonished that the Crown Estate is going ahead with funding designs that discriminate so vividly against bus passengers and people who want to travel by bike.

I suggest that if you feel likewise, you write to 

Martin Brazier
The Crown Estate, 16 New Burlinton Place, London W1S 2HX.

You might also want to copy

Martin Low

Commissioner of Transportation
City of Westminster
11th Floor North
City Hall
64 Victoria Street
London SW1E 6QP

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

City of London & Transport for London plan to redesign Aldgate gyratory this year. After all the positive noises coming from City Hall, if this is all we get from the Mayor's revised cycle strategy, we might as well all give up and move to the Netherlands.

Redesigned Aldgate junction. Dogs breakfast for cycling, as far as I'm concerned

UPDATE on 19 April 2013:

The City of London has been in touch to say that this is not the latest version of the scheme, that the scheme hasn't yet been finalised and that these plans are still subject to change. The City of London would like me to let people know that they will share the detailed designs with the wider community in the summer for full public consultation and will welcome comments on the design proposals at that time. 


I'm going to get in a lot of trouble for posting the image above. What this image shows is the City of London / Transport for London plan for redesigning Aldgate gyratory. It's a confidential document and I'm not supposed to publish it. But I'm going to publish it because I think it deserves a wider audience than it's getting at the moment. If I get into trouble, so be it. 

What you can see above is Aldgate High Street running east to west along the middle of the map. This will be returned to two-way traffic as will the northern side of the gyratory (both of these axes are currently one-way multi-lane nightmares). The bit in yellow is pictured below and will be turned into a pedestrian area. What you can also see is some tiny little bits of green which represent a few paltry advance gates for people to cycle into the advance stop boxes. 1990s road design writ large all over this scheme. Simply not good enough for the sort of future London is planning. 

St Botolphs as it looks now. Soon to become a pedestrian
(and cycling?) only area
Aldgate gyratory is a horrible mess. It's noisy, full of fast-moving traffic, dangerous and deeply unpleasant place. It is a major barrier to cycling east of the City of London. In the top right of the map is Whitechapel High Street where the low-grade Cycle Super Highway to Bow roundabout starts. That is the same Super Highway that will be upgraded to a segregated bike track between Bow and Stratford later this year. The City of London is absolutely right to want to do away with Aldgate gyratory, even when you take into consideration the extremely hefty £14.5million price tag.

The plans as they stand are to close the area alongside St Botolph's church and create an area that only pedestrians and people on bikes can use (the big yellow patch on the left of the map). A lot of streets in the area that are currently one-way racetracks will become two-way, and a lot of smaller streets will open up to two-way cycling. All these things are good. 

St Botolph's as planned (pictured from the left of the previous image)
Source: City of London Aldgate strategy document
However, what alarms me about the scheme is the really poor quality provision for cycling into and out of the City. One of the aims of the redesign is to make this whole area "easier to walk or cycle through".

But if you look at the details planned for the main roads through this area, you can see that the proposal is to basically paint some bits of green paint within a road layout that will look and feel almost identical (on the main east west access) to the current scary-as-hell-dodge-the-buses-and-tipper-trucks layout that's there at the moment. This, bear in mind, is a route where fully 32% of vehicles in the morning peak hours are bicycles. Yet the provision for cycling is, as far as I'm concerned, null. 

Same road as the road through Aldgate will look similar to this
down in Stratford. Why not in Aldgate as well?
This simply isn't good enough. The Mayor is building a top-notch piece of cycling infrastructure at the other end of the same road down in Aldgate where he is building Cycle Super Highway 2. The City of London expects 10% of its workforce to travel to work by bike by 2020. Given the massive population growth expected east of Aldgate over the coming years, the City of London should be building Aldgate to make it easy for people to cycle safely along Cycle Super Highway 2 to their workplaces in the Square Mile and beyond. I think the scheme as it stands is an abrogation of the City of London's responsibilities to the safety of 10% of its workforce. The same design that is being applied in Stratford could and should be applied at Aldgate to enable people to cycle safely into the City of London.The current plan simply isn't good enough. 

Believe it or not, this is an official
City of London bike route (Fleet Street)
Hardly compelling place for people to cycle.
More of the same coming to Aldgate?
What makes the Aldgate scheme even worse is the fact that the Mayor is explicitly focussing on getting junctions right for cycling. The much-touted Junction Review is being upgraded. According to the Mayor's recently refreshed cycling strategy "Spending on the junction review will be significantly increased, and it 
will be completely recast to prioritise major and substantial improvements to the worst junctions".That document explicitly singles out how the Mayor will improve Aldgate junction in the spirit of "quality not quantity". Sorry Boris, this scheme isn't quality for safer cycling. This is nice landscaping, looks nicer, certainly has some merits. But as far as east-west movement is concerned for people cycling into the Square Mile from Cycle Super Highway 2, this is rudimentary at best, regressive 1990s street design at worst.

There have been a lot of positive noises coming out of City Hall around cycling recently. Aldgate has been primed by the Mayor as one area that will become dramatically easier to cycle through. I'm afraid the plans as they stand at the moment simply aren't good enough and if this is the best we should expect from this massive push to make London a better and safer place for cycling, we might as well pack up and move to Denmark or even to Chicago frankly, given Chicago is doing way more exciting things than London at the moment.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

City of London: Demand for cycle parking in new office buildings outstrips supply by 100%. How the Square Mile is designing cycling into its fabric and where it needs to do better.

Demand for cycle parking in this new building in the Square Mile
already outstrips supply by 100%. And it's not even built yet.
20 Fenchurch Street. Image, courtesy The Guardian
I attended a cycling forum at the City of London last night. Some very clear trends are starting to emerge in the Square Mile and I think they deserve wider attention.

The first major trend is the massive increase in demand for cycling parking. According to the City of London officers, demand for cycle parking in some brand new office buildings is already pre-let to future tenants but those tenants are demanding even more bike parking space. At 20 Fenchurch Street, where the so-called Walkie Talkie building is being built, the owners have already let 50% of the office space. But they have already pre-let 100% of the bike parking spaces. In other words, demand for bike parking outstrips supply two to one.

Fairly standard sight in many City of London office blocks.
Just a fraction of the bike parking within one large
employer in the Square Mile. 
The City of London has had fairly robust cycle parking requirements in place ever since its 2002 Unitary Development Plan. The City demand all new office blocks meet a minimum requirement of "one cycle space for every 250 sq.m. of office floorspace" (and one per dwelling for new housing). The result of this policy has been that off-street cycle parking has boomed from only a handful of new cycle parking spaces in 2002 to 2,100 new spaces in 2008, a further 2,000 in 2010, 1,000 in 2011 and a further 1,100 in the first nine months of 2012. The City of London reckons it has 20,000 off-street bike parking spaces in office blocks, sufficient for 1 in 18 workers in the Square Mile.

The City is going to tighten up its cycle parking requirements still further in its new Local Plan, provided that is approved in 2014. The bike parking requirement will increase from one space per 250 square metres to one per 125 square metres (Boris Johnson's own strategy requires all boroughs to adopt one bike space per 150 square metres of office space). The idea is that the City expects one in 10 of the workforce in the Square Mile to be cycling to work.

My own view is that, if Boris is requiring a minimum standard of one space per 150 sq metres of office space, that the City should be more ambitious than one per 125 sq metres. Even the City of Westminster, a borough that I usually knock for its deliberately antagonistic approach to non private car transport, already has a one bike space per 125 sq metres policy for new office space. In other words, it is already twice as aggressive as the Square Mile and has been ever since 2007.

Both of these local authorities pale into complete insignificance compared to Cambridge, however. In Cambridge, new offices are expected to provide one bike parking space per 30 square metres (ie four times as many as they will be expected to provide in the City of London) and in addition to that, they must provide decent visitor bike parking. For residential dwellings, Cambridge insists on bike parking space per bedroom (ie three to four times more than Westminster). 

Public bike parking underneath a new shopping centre
in Cambridge. None of this sort of thing happening in London.
Another area where things aren't so impressive in the Square Mile is when it comes to on-street cycle parking. There are 2,000 on-street cycle parking spaces and that simply isn't enough. The Square Mile has a real cycle parking problem in the many on-street areas that are partly private space; for example, large employment areas like Broadgate or Paternoster Square. These are private estates with a right to walk (but not cycle) over them and they are dotted all over the Square Mile. No cycle parking for visitors at all, only for people who actually work in the buildings.

More and more new gleaming offices are going up all on these semi-private estates. Think about places like Broadgate, Spitalfields, Paternoster Square, the offices all the way along the top of City Thameslink station platform - all of these are cycling no-go areas. You're not allowed to cycle your bike here and you're not allowed to park your bike here. This means massive swathes of the City are banned to visitors arriving by bike. That's not good enough and the City is silent about this issue in its draft Local Plan which is due for approval next year. In other words, there's little evidence things will change.

In summary, some very good developments that the City of London can be proud of. But it's also clear there are some big cycle parking blind spots. These blind spots are all over the City and growing in number as more new office blocks spring up. It's time to review whether cycling and cycle parking should be enforced in these areas. I think it should be. 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

London's cycling commissioner sets out in detail what he expects to see happening on London's streets over the next three years. All the right noises but now the questions are all around delivery.

The room votes for the motion that "cycling is getting better", at least
getting better than it was looking this time last year.
Picture courtesy Rachel Aldred
Last night I chaired the first London Cycling Campaign Policy Forum, a meeting organised by Rachel Aldred  of the University of Westminster who is also leading a new informal academic cluster, the "London Cycling Research Group".  Lead speaker was London's new Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan.

The last time I sat in a room with a lot of cycling folk and a range of political folk was in April 2012 at the London Mayoral hustings where Boris Johnson put in an angry and bellicose defence of his cycling policies  and Ken Livingstone provided some pretty weak bluster that showed he had just about (but only just) grasped some of the strategic issues. The mood in the room was very definitely a mood of anger.

The mood last night was extremely different. I asked the audience at the end of last night's discussion whether they felt things since that date were looking up for cycling in London or whether they felt things were about the same (or, worse, going nowhere). I reckon 95% of hands shot up to say they felt things were getting better. All good stuff.

We learned quite a lot last night:

Gilligan was keen to stress that we are still going to see a lot of rubbish coming off the cycling production line; projects like the Olympic Park, which were agreed six to seven years ago and, he warned, will be way below standard in terms of cycling provision. It is a pretty tragic admission that the Olympic Park regeneration is going to be a cycling failure. But I can understand how he can't be held to account for a major piece of urban planning that was agreed well before his, or the current Mayor's, tenure.

Some more classy bike infrastructure at Vauxhall Cross.
Mixing it with buses.
If that's the case, what should we measure Boris Johnson's delivery on?  Boris set out his updated vision for cycling back in March. It consisted of a number of specific new measures and Gilligan provided a good deal of detail on some of these.

Gilligan made clear that he expects to see a much improved Cycle Super Highway 5 through Camberwell and out to New Cross in place this year as well as the Cycle Super Highway 2 Extension to Stratford. As he points out (and he's right to say this), Super Highway 5 is not going to be at the levels of international best practice. But it is going to be a darn sight better than the utterly hopeless designs that were first touted for this route and which I reviewed a couple of years ago (original plans available here). He indicated quite clearly that several of the planned Cycle Super Highways will be re-aligned (including Cycle Super Highway 5, for which the final route is still not decided) but wouldn't be drawn on details.

The first genuinely new deliverables are still a couple of years off; the first "Quietway" routes will launch in 2014 with a focus on orbital routes. One of those, he hinted, might be a route parallel to the south circular. Boris's headline-grabbing segregated bike track from west London, along the Westway towards Tower Bridge is not likely to be in place before 2016, he confirmed. Gilligan also provided some updates on the plans for "Mini-Hollands" - creating cycle-friendly boroughs in outer London. He stressed that "Not all of the outer boroughs are interested in cycling; some are actively hostile," but confirmed that he is expecting to award funds to between one and three outer London boroughs from a pool of seven that have confirmed they want genuinely to embrace cycling as a form of transport.

Cycling in the Netherlands. I can't see this being reality
in London for decades to come, I'm afraid. Source
AsEasyAsRidingABike blog
The topic of outer London merged seamlessly into discussions about the fact that children won't and don't cycle to school and a blunt admission that cycle to school rates are tumbling: "We spend a lot of money on cycle training", he pointed out, "yet the proportion of children cycling to school in London has fallen". Compare and contrast with the Netherlands where Dutch kids (and especially teenagers) seem to have been granted massively more independence than their UK counterparts, in part thanks to safe, easy-to-use bike infrastructure. Still, I think Gilligan's admission is important in itself - it is the first time I've heard a senior political figure (if that's a fair description?) admit that the policies of encouraging children to cycle to school in London and the rest of the UK have largely failed due to lack of safe routes to schools.

Two things worried me, though, and both are inter-related. It's extremely clear that Transport for London is going to be hugely dependent on local boroughs to implement London's new cycling vision. TfL has the cash and, to some extent, has a big juicy carrot with which to attract the boroughs. As Gilligan kept pointing out, they run 95% of the roads. He explained how the boroughs have formed a senior level working group that will coordinate the planned central London "bike grid" and some of the Quietways. It sounds good but Gilligan consistently repeated one slightly worrying mantra: "touch car parking and you die". He wanted to stress that the boroughs, as a rule, are loathe to move or remove car parking. In places like Westminster, where cars are free to park the length of the Waterloo Bridge bike lanes; along both sides of most of the borough's very poor quality bike routes, and where the borough is encouraging more and more car parking, this could be a real barrier to success. That said, boroughs like Camden are already demonstrating a clear ability to think more pragmatically about this sort of stuff, by simply moving car parking so that it's slightly more out of the way, rather than abolishing it entirely. Some of the parking schemes in Camden and Hackney are really grappling this problem and taking positive incremental steps to improve things. More of this across London would be a good start.

Hopeless cycle infrastructure in the City of
Westminster on one of its London Cycle
Network routes. I mean, why even bother?
Can design standards change this, though?
Gilligan's final piece of news was a confirmation that London will finally get its new London Cycle Design Standards this summer. This is significant. stuff. London's first Cycle Design Standards were published in 2005. And then consigned to the rubbish bin. They were weak standards and have been entirely ignored ever since. Gilligan is promising a significant upgrade when the new Standards are published. But the important thing will be whether those standards are followed through.

And that's where I worry that an organisation like Transport for London has a long way to go. Over 3,000 people work in the Surface Transport team at TfL, delivering changes to London's streets. Inculcating a real understanding of what London needs to make it a great city to cycle in will take time. We need cycling to pervade the thinking of every single one of those 3,000+ people. Cycle Design Standards are just the start of that process. What really needs to happen is that people within TfL have to feel a responsibility for making London a cycling city. And they need to push that responsibility into the boroughs. If cycling is treated as just a niche for a couple of years, that's not going to happen.

Things do genuinely seem to be on the move as far as cycling in London is concerned. And as one member of the audience from Cambridge Cycling Campaign put it, big noises coming from London can help change the debate all across the country. The real challenge now, though, is that we need to move from debate to implementation. That alone is what matters at this stage. Everyone can play a role in helping make London a better place for cycling. We need to be extremely vigilant to borough developments and to flag them loudly and clearly to Transport for London and the cycling commissioner, especially if things look like they're going wrong. And, importantly, we also need to keep tabs on the Mayor and his cycling commissioner as well to make sure that these good vibrations turn into good things on the ground.