Sunday, 20 October 2013

Guest post: Two people killed at the same spot in City of London. Sticking plaster solutions suggested, yet again.

Last week, Transport for London published a consultation on plans to improve conditions for people cycling and walking on Upper Thames Street. I asked a colleague who works in one of the offices on Upper Thames Street what he thought about the plans. These are the comments of @KristianCyc

Yet again, some small changes planned to make Upper Thames Street a tiny bit less dangerous

Things are looking up for safety on Upper Thames St. The City of London is consulting on changes to this road, focusing on the junction leading to Southwark bridge road, where cycle super highway 7 terminates. This is important, because this is a popular route for cyclists and it is not a safe place to cycle. Sebastien Lukomski was killed here in February 2004

Following this tragedy, the City of London made changes to the road to make it safer for cycling, introducing feeder lanes and ASLs. 

Clearly, the changes implemented did nothing to address the problems at this junction, and in 2008 Nick Wright was killed just a few metres from where Sebastian Lukomski suffered the same fate. Just a few weeks ago another man escaped with his life but suffered severe leg trauma. Now the junction is to be changed again, perhaps it would be safe to assume that they will be extra keen to get it right this time? Sadly, history is repeating itself. 

Approaching Upper Thames Street from the south. The blue is a bike lane, apparently. Vehicles in the left hand lane are turning both left and right; people are generally cycling straight over the junction

Upper Thames St is an intimidating and unpleasant place to cycle even for the most hardened cyclists. The consultation alludes to the possibility of Andrew Gilligan’s “Crossrail for bikes” project being routed along this road. Serious levels of investment would be required to truly change the road and make it safe, pleasant and suitable for people of all ages and abilities. However, the route is not finalised and changes would not be finished until 2016 anyway. In the interim, Transport for London has proposed some measures that are worth having a look at. 

There are some good bits:
a straight across pedestrian crossing (current situation is people having to wait twice at a staggered crossing)
extension of the traffic island to prevent motor vehicles turning right into the car park on the south side and a) holding up the traffic and b) risking collision with cyclists (plenty of occasions that this has happened). Although if this reservation wasn't there, they'd be plenty more room for safer cycling.  

But there are some clangers that need addressing:
1) For cyclists continuing westbound on Upper Thames St, there is a significant left-hook risk from vehicles turning on to Southwark Bridge.
2) For pedestrians travelling east or west across Southwark Bridge, there is no pedestrian light or phase. Pedestrians are forced to guess when it is safe to walk across, and run for their lives if they get it wrong.
3) For cyclists travelling along Upper Thames St, cycle lanes are too narrow for HGVs in the next lane to overtake safely or are inconsistent, at one point simply merging with the next lane.
4) For cyclists joining Upper Thames St from Southwark Bridge, there is a left hook risk from vehicles turning left onto Upper Thames St, plus the confusion and conflict that invariably comes from the fact that vehicles in the left lane can also turn right.
5) Cyclists heading westbound on Upper Thames St and turning north at the junction have to cross two lanes of traffic to do so, which will be moving traffic if the light is green when the cyclist arrives at the junction

Of these most significant risks, two appear to have at least been identified. With regards to point (5), the plans introduce a waiting area for cyclists making this manoeuvre, suggesting that they see this as a problem. However, nothing has been done to solve the problem of crossing two lanes of traffic first. An earlier version of this plan included a Copenhagen-style right turn: Cyclists would have been able to turn left into the northbound carriageway on Southwark Bridge and then wait for the green lights to cross into the City of London. That seems to have been considered too difficult, so instead, you have to play chicken with two lanes of HGVs instead. 

TfL does seem to have identified the inconsistency of the cycle lanes along here (they narrow and widen like crazy), particularly when heading eastbound from the junction, at the point where the cyclist who suffered severe leg trauma was hit. At this location they intend to remove some of the pavement so they can continue to squeeze 1.5m of advisory cycle lane through the tunnel. Encouraging HGVs to overtake cyclists here with only 1.5m of cycle lane to occupy is a dangerous idea, and best considered by reading about how one person who witnessed CCTV footage of Nick Wright being killed reported on the incident:

Without sufficient separation between HGVs and cyclists there will continue to be a serious risk of this type of collision repeating itself. Experienced cyclists will ignore the new cycle lane, hold the traffic lane and deal with the subsequent aggression. Less experienced cyclists will be left at great risk. This is not acceptable. Please respond to this consultation and make it clear to the City of London that this isn’t good enough. These 5 risks should have been identified and they must be addressed in the new design.

With particular thanks to Bill Chidley whose past coverage of these incidents was invaluable in piecing together the history  on Upper Thames St.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Local roads in London: up to 75% of peak traffic is now people on bicycles and yet there is no consistent policy for making those roads safe for cycling

Here's one we don't have. Protected bike lane down the centre of Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC.
US Senate in the distance. 
Back in June, Transport for London issued the results of a detailed central London bicycle census. The numbers showed that during the morning peak, 24% of all vehicles inside the congestion charge are bicycles. Average that out across an entire 24 hours and you get 16% of all vehicles.

For some reason, however, TfL never published the full results at the time.

Handily, I have now obtained those results and the more intrepid among you can delve into the data yourselves. I've uploaded the morning peak data and the afternoon peak data.

For those of you who don't want to trawl the data, here's the morning rush hour data in summary. I was fairly stunned to see the numbers on Kennington Park Road, a route I use most mornings. The percentages are also fairly stonking. But what's just astonishing is to see figures in the high 50%+ range even outside the congestion charge area on places like Chelsea Bridge or, in fact, Kennington Park Road. Just as staggering are the numbers at places like Parliament Square which is downright hostile for cycling. The entry roads are all designed in a way to actively suppress cycling (in my view) and yet people have to cycle here and do so in huge numbers.

Morning peak - cyclists between 7 - 10am at various sites
Most of the streets listed above are fairly sizeable roads. It is equally telling to look at quieter streets on local roads. Streets like Black Prince Road in Lambeth where people on bikes are 65% of the traffic in the mornings; Paul Street in Hackney (75%); St John's Street in Islington (54%).

What is so damning about all of this is that even on local roads where the number of people on bikes is more than 50% of the peak traffic, the quality of the experience for cycling is utterly random.

Bike counts on local roads in London, rather than main roads, during the morning peak

Black Prince Road is a residential street with one bus route. Apart from a few elephants' feet road humps which do nothing to slow the traffic, motor traffic can roar down here as much as it likes. Paul Street, however, is 'filtered' so that motor traffic can't blast through the entire street, it only really makes sense to drive here if you're going somewhere on this street. St John's Street has a laughable bike lane filled with parked cars despite the massive width of the street. It is to London's shame that routes that are dominated by bike-traffic are so utterly inconsistent and the experience for cycling on these bike-dominated routes is made deliberately haphazard in a way that would never be acceptable for driving.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Absolutely crazy: Cycling is being deliberately suppressed by five new schemes in London all of which squeeze out safe, sensible cycling. Thames crossing review identifies massive need for cycle crossing but only offers people the chance to stick their bike on a £4 cable car

It started with a trickle and then it turned into a flood: London is being swamped with crazy road narrowing schemes on major cycling routes; the worst of which will see two lanes out of four turned into pavement and yet even there, the only provision for cycling will be advisory bike lanes that stop and start along road space that is made deliberately narrow. These schemes will be in place for at least the next 20 years, in most cases.

Goldhawk Road now. Will be reduced from four lanes to two but with only intermittent, advisory bike lanes. 
In Tottenham, TfL is proposing to remove part of a gyratory. It will also remove one lane of motor traffic AND remove the existing segregated bike track. Now, the bike track itself could do with an upgrade. But why on earth is TfL ripping up bike infrastructure and creating acres of paving space, rather than using the masses of new space it is creating and making a decent bike-friendly link in this part of Tottenham? Rachel Aldred blogs about this in brilliant detail, declaring that the engineers simply haven't thought about cycling here. You can comment on the scheme on TfL's website but even if you do, TfL only wants your views if you're either a "resident; business; bus user; or motorist". Screw the cyclists. In any event, I'd urge you to read Rachel's blog and comment on the website.

Plans for Goldhawk Road. See that blue bit? That's not a bike lane, that's road space that will be taken and given to trees. 

Meanwhile, just west of Shepherd's Bush, TfL and Hammersmith and Fulham council have designed schemes on Goldhawk Road, Uxbridge Road and others, to narrow the carriageway and plant lots of trees. The schemes, as they say, have been designed by "residents and businesses and further consultations with local businesses, schools, the police and London Buses". Note, no consultation with people who think and care about making cycling safe and convenient here. You can see the schemes and respond to the consultation online here. 

According to Hammersmith & Fulham Cyclists: "The overall plan is for what was two lanes each way to become a 3.5m wide lanes and a 2m wide cycle lane each way. This does mean that a bus lane is being relinquished and cycle lanes are replacing them." Sounds great, doesn't it. The problem being the bike lane turns into bus stops at regular intervals, randomly narrows here and there due to extra pavement widening and disappears entirely at major junctions. It's definitely a step in the direction of cycling but a real missed opportunity to deal with some major problems. This review by H&F Cyclists is well worth a read. 

If you want to see something really bonkers, though, look at this scheme in Lewisham. Over in Ladywell, the countil plans to remove trees on one side of the street to create parking spaces. And then build NEW trees on the other side of the street that completely and utterly block the cycle track along this main street. 

There is something systemically wrong going on and a complete failure by councils and TfL to properly secure safe space for cycling in these new schemes. The money is being spent to remove space from motor traffic but instead of some of that space being given to make cycling a safe option, instead it is going to trees and making cycling even less appealing in most of these examples.

Here is what London's main high streets won't be looking like for the next 20 years. Pic courtesy Streetsblog
To top it off, this is what sums up what is going on: Transport for London has decided to go ahead with building a new crossing of the Thames, east of the Blackwall Tunnel. TfL's review concludes: "[It is] clear that there is a strong appetite within the public and stakeholders for TfL to consider crossing improvements for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users". 

Great, you think, TfL is going to make it possible to cross the river by bike, not just by car. Except that's not the case. Read the report in detail and this is what is promised to make it easier to cycle from south of the river if you live in SE London: "Cyclists and pedestrians are not permitted to use Blackwall Tunnel, for safety reasons. We anticipate that Silvertown Tunnel would not be accessible to cyclists and pedestrians for the same reasons. Pedestrians and cyclists can use the Emirates Air Line cable car, which links the same places as the proposed Silvertown Tunnel."

Cable car??? What's the point in a review that declares 'cyclists need somewhere to cross the river' and concludes 'cyclists won't get anywhere to cross the river'?

It's completely insane. I feel like the Mayor is doing great things to put cycling on the map. He has a great vision, plans for some really good quality schemes on certain routes. But at the heart of Transport for London, precisely nothing has changed. Cycling is being ignored on 90% of new road investment in London. And that's because the TfL machine is massive and only has a handful of people worrying about cycling. How come London buses get to advise and agree every single new scheme in London but London cyclists don't, for example?

Something has to change.