Thursday, 26 December 2013

Central London cycling grid - first positive signs of progress. Mayor's previous policies are seeing bus use in decline; private car use on the increase and bike use flatlining

Royal College Street bike path in Camden. Soon to be extended both north and south

I'm starting to hear some fairly interesting noises about the central London cycling grid, a proposed network of "routes for people who want to cycle slowly, in their ordinary clothes, away from most of the traffic". Phil Jones, the councillor responsible for transport in Camden council (and a great protagonist of the recently-launched Royal College Street cycle way pictured above) announced on twitter that the Royal College Street scheme will be extended next year (I believe up towards Kentish Town and down into central London). He also hinted at restrictions to motor traffic on Tavistock Place - the hugely popular east-west bike route across Bloomsbury. That bike route is operating way above the capacity it is built for with big queues of people cycling in the morning along very narrow and weirdly-laid-out bike tracks. By reducing through motor traffic here, the council can provide much better infrastructure for cycling and enable greater capacity of bikes than the route can currently handle.

Map of the proposed central London bike grid

Also in Camden, cycling will be finally be allowed on the contraflow bus lane that leads between Theobolds Road and New Oxford Street. This is really overdue. The changes should come into effect in the New Year. As Voleospeed blog points out, cyclists already use the bus contraflow because it is safer than having to fling yourself around the madness of Holborn gyratory but they are consistently being fined by the police for doing so. This is practically the only section of bus lane in London that is out of bounds to people on bikes as well and it is completely ridiculous it was ever allowed to go ahead on this basis in the first place given there are near identical road layouts elsewhere where bikes are allowed (think London Road near Elephant & Castle). It is good that Camden and TfL are finally rectifying this insane situation.

It seems to me that, within some boroughs at least, the cycle grid will be quite good. And what I mean by 'quite good' is that it will adhere to a new policy requirement adopted by the London Cycling Campaign that was suggested by Rachel Aldred. In a nutshell, that "policy is designed to ensure that we campaign for a dense network of streets that have either low-speed motor vehicles in low volumes, or protected space for cycling, including through junctions." (If you want to understand the policy in detail, read Rachel's post)

As I've stated in previous posts, however, it is by no means clear that this sort of thinking is going on in all the central London boroughs. Many parts of the grid that go through Westminster are a bit of a shambles and wiggle around complicated one-way systems. Worse than that, though, is the fact that Westminster quite clearly states it won't be building anything like the standards that the London Cycling Campaign is calling for. In fact, Westminster makes very clear that it will not consider implementing anything that makes it 'harder' for other types of vehicles to get around. In other words, people will end up having to cycle down taxi and white van ratruns in Westminster but they'll be able to cycle on calmed streets in Camden that don't allow through motor traffic and are therefore much less busy. What's more, Westminster makes it pretty obvious that it thinks kerbside deliveries are more important that protected cycle lanes on busy main roads.

Cycling mode share in London is beginning to flat line. 

This situation has to change. If you look at the figures releases last week, cycling in London has suddenly begun to flatline. It's well worth having a read of the review in AsEasyAsRidingABike blog. The latest stats also show by the way is that the number of bus journeys is suddenly in decline for the first time in over a decade and private car use is beginning to actually increase in outer London. I have to think that these are the result of policy decisions by the Mayor.

It is absurd that bus use is declining and private car use increasing while bike use is flatlining. Our city is getting more and more crowded as its population grows. A transport policy that discourages highly efficient use of roads by bus transport and bike transport while increasing car use is bad for congestion, bad for pollution, bad for business and, ultimately the result of short-sighted policy-making in the recent past. That needs to change. And local authorities like Westminster can't be allowed to pursue policies that further privilege motor traffic at the cost of bus and bike.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Needs your feedback: Westminster council publishes a cycle strategy designed by a drunk spider. Some of this is fairly decent but a lot of it is really second-rate. Please fill out the online survey (link at the bottom)

Believe it or not, the pink line is meant to be a direct and convenient bike route. Call me stupid? 

Westminster council (or, rather, the City of Westminster as it calls itself) has this week released its draft cycling strategy. You can comment on the strategy on Westminster's website.

The strategy is to deliver what Westminster calls a network of 'well-signposted, direct and continuous cycle routes' through central London. Pictured above is one of those 'direct and continuous cycle routes'. The Jubilee Line will take you from St. James's Park, up Bond Street to north of Oxford Street. Now, the big and positive thing about this is that you will - by the looks of it - be able to bike north up Bond Street and that is a big deal indeed. But just look at the insane amount of back and forth you'll have to do to line up with the stretch on Bond Street. No-one in their right mind is going to use this is they face a literal maze of one-way streets just to connect with the clear stretch along Bond Street.

Or take a look at the stretch north of Oxford Street along New Cavendish Street. This route links with the main east-west bike track on Camden's streets across towards Bloomsbury and ultimately Islington. This looks like wiggle central. If you're in a car you can storm down three-lanes of New Cavendish Street but it looks to me like Westminster wants people on bikes to take the least direct, most convoluted route possible. Why not create space for cycling along the more direct route here, namely along New Cavendish Street and then in to George Street?

And what is critical, of course, is to actually make space for cycling. Some of these streets are already part of the London Cycle Network within Westminster. But the carriageway is filled with parked cars and with multiple lanes of fast-flowing motor traffic. Some of these routes aren't going to work unless that changes and they'll be nothing more than highly windy, convoluted ideas that no-one uses.

In balance, some of these routes look pretty encouraging. The planned 'Victoria Line', through Soho is one of those. It would shoot up (and down) Wardour Street and was first mooted with support from the Crown Estate back in April. That would then link to a route towards St James's Park and Vauxhall Bridge. It, also, seems to link, however to a Victoria Non-Line, namely to a long stretch where you'd presumably have to get off and walk your way to the other end of Green Park, having walked down a one-way road and crossed Piccadilly.

I'm also not at all sure what is going on a Trafalgar Square. You'd have to come up the Mall, do a left a right, a left, a right and right again, all to wiggle around and get yourself aligned with Whitcomb Street. Pretty messy if you ask me.

I'm sure it must be a mistake but the bike track through the middle of Hyde Park Corner disappears on this map, replaced instead with a jolly ride around a six lane gyratory. It's a bit like publishing a map of London and putting the M4 down the Grand Union Canal towpath.

I'd urge people to take a look at the map and look for similar crazy routes. Where you see a dotted line route and a full-line route, assume that the dotted line is an alternative proposal.

Once you've had a look at the map, please have a go at completing the online survey and making sure Westminster knows what you think. Some of this is downright rubbish and we need to make sure the council knows about that. Please post any comments on this blog as well and I'll wrap those up into an email to the council when I've got sufficient feedback.