Monday, 14 July 2014

City of London cycling forum 31st July at 6.30pm. Please come along - unless you want to be a human speed bump

The bit under the pavement? That used to be a bike lane.
Pic by @hackneycyclist and via ibikelondon blog
This is a very busy cycle route. it is on the Mayor's proposed central London bike grid. The new scheme at the western end made the tunnel massively safer for cycling, it made it easier to cross the road, and it improved motor traffic flows. You could now cycle safely through the tunnel and get to the junction, without putting yourself in harm's way. Really, genuinely, a very positive piece of work. 
Basically, the same City authorities that give you safe cycling at one end of the tunnel, have removed safe cycling at the other end of the tunnel. You will now be forced to swerve into the path of buses and lorries, acting as a human speed bump that makes drivers slow down and exposing you to considerable personal risk in the process. Yes, almost unbelievably, the City is building a new pinchpoint into a central London bike grid route that is busy with buses, HGVs and masses of black cabs. And it's not as if the City proposes any other decent east-west options for cycling. I'd have a good read of ibikelondon's analysis and then I'd do something about it. 
What I'd do is come along to the City of London cycling forum on 31st July in the City Marketing Suite, which is on the corner of Basinghall Street and Guildhall Buildings (on the eastern side of the Guildhall complex).  Tea and coffee and an opportunity to talk informally with City Members and officers will be available from 6.00 p.m., with the formal business commencing at 6.30 p.m. and concluding at 8.00 p.m.  
This is how the City want people to cycle on roads made deliberately
more narrow, exposing you and drivers to unnecessary dange
Topics on the agenda include:
Quietways and other implementation of the Mayor’s Cycling Vision in the City (superhighways and Better Junctions). Beech Street being a perfect example of how not to do it. 
20 mph implementation, which is due to come into effect today, I believe. 
Casualty trends and road danger reduction approach
Education, training and publicity (remember the eggs, anyone?) 
Public and private cycle parking improvements 
Cycle hire intensification.
Please come along if you can. Especially if you don't think the City should be pulling out bike lanes on busy bike routes like Beech Street. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Oval junction - proper cycle tracks, internationally high-standard junction, proper everything. This plan is fantastic. Needs you to tell TfL likewise.

Plans for serious, usable, safe, practical cycle tracks at Oval. Just look at it. Doesn't it make you hum? 

On the same day that Transport for London published its plans for the Oval to Pimlico bike track, it also published plans to sort out the truly terrifying Oval junction.My understanding (I may be wrong) is this scheme is intended to be in place by October (same as Vauxhall).

Please please please take a look at the TfL page and send in your comments on this scheme. 

Some of you may remember that it is three years since Mark Ames and I organised the Tour du Danger, a bike ride to protest about this and other killer junctions. We set off from Oval junction. It is here that Catriona Patel was crushed to death by an HGV driver who had been disqualified 20 times and was on his mobile phone at the time. Countless others have been seriously injured here.

The problem at Oval is that you have three A-roads meeting across two different junctions with large volumes of traffic in multiple lanes, at high speeds. And into the middle of that was plonked some blue paint for people on bikes to follow. The current set-up is downright dangerous. The whole place is just grim.

What TfL is - at last - proposing here is pretty magical. I have to say this is, in my view, best-in-class cycle infrastructure.

The idea is that TfL will build cycle tracks through the junction that keep cyclists away from fast-moving motor vehicles and that have separate traffic light flows to motor traffic. The routes are just as direct as the motor traffic routes. The quality of the tracks is extremely high. The whole thing makes sense. It is logical, simple, easy to use and friendly for people at any speed on a bike. And what's more, the tracks take you from the start of the junction and all the way through. In fact, I can't see a single point where a bike movement would come into conflict with a motor vehicle movement. That, surely, has to be better for everyone, motorised or not.

North to south through Oval

If you're heading north from Stockwell, you'd enter a bike lane at Oval station (currently shared with motor vehicles turning left and with buses going straight on but the left turn will be banned and buses will need to move over a bit) then carry along a 2-2.5m wide stepped or segregated bike lane, go behind the bus stop, then into a bike-only junction where you either turn left towards Lambeth North or straight on towards Kennington. Wait at the lights here, then continue straight on at the same time as the motor traffic and then on into the bus lane to take you up to Kennington. What is not to like? This scheme pulls you out of the motor traffic flow but gives you something serious that is designed for bikes instead. Pedestrians also get a straight across crossing on the one side road to enhance their priority too, which is something of a first for a TfL road. My only questions around this section are a) whether the track is going to be able to cope with massive volumes of people who bike through here every morning and is a 2m track wide enough b) will the track behind the bus stop be smooth and easy to use or will it be clunky and awkward like the ones at Bow c) will the traffic lights at the end by Kennington Road give enough time for everyone to get through on their way up to Elephant because if not, people won't use the track. We do need some assurances that these points will be made to work.

Heading south is pretty much the same sort of thing. You enter the bike track just by the park, filter into the bike-only left or straight ahead lane. At no point will you suddenly find motor vehicles cutting across you. You just amble on straight ahead, wait at the lights and go with the rest of the motor traffic. Left turning motor vehicles wait for the lights, just like in New York where this is standard practice now. Oh, and if you're cycling towards Brixton, you don't wait, you just pootle on down to Brixton.The only bit I'd strongly criticise here is that at the end of the Brixton Road triangle heading towards Brixton they are suggesting a early-start traffic like for cyclists (like at Bow). I don't think this would be helpful. They should just move the advanced stop line well forward of the general traffic stop line and people will have time to get away before the general traffic. Otherwise, there's a risk this part of the junction becomes too cumbersome and people won't (I fear) observe the lights.

For the rest of it, though, this scheme hums. It just does.

Brixton (in the bottom corner) to Kennington section 
Heading up from Brixton? No more dodging buses. You get a separate lane, separate traffic lights and then proper 2m wide stepped bike lane up the funny triangle bit in the middle there. No more 1m wide 'advisory' cycle lane. A real, meaningful, safe, serious, proper bike lane that keeps you and the millions of buses on this section apart. Seriously, this thing makes me grin like Christmas has come early.

There's even an improvement for pedestrians here with a single crossing of Brixton Road rather than the currently very unfriendly two-stage crossing where you stand around on a narrow road island for two minutes.

It says 'get on a bike'; it says 'trust and obey the infrastructure and the lights'. Why? Because they are actually designed, for the first time ever, for a rational, person a bike.

There are some gripes. Turning right from Camberwell towards Kennington? Not sorted out. Harleyford Street from Oval tube to halfway around the Oval? Rely on bus lanes.

It also doesn't fully resolve the right turn that people have to make when cycling from Kennington towards Brixton into Brixton Road. You get to the end of a wonderful bike track here (near where the Junction 4 is on the map) and you're stuck having to zoom off in front of snarling traffic from an advanced stop line. But then, the scheme never undertook to solve this part of the junction in this first stage, and the rest of that part of the junction is a clear and significant step up.

Proper bike tracks, sensible path-finding. Proper adult stuff. 

To my mind, this scheme works. It works for the thousands of sporty racer folk who zip up and down here from Clapham. It works for the slightly slower, more interestingly-dressed people who cycle through here from Brixton. And, most importantly, it would work for people who don't bike here yet because it's too darn scary.

There are a few bits that can be tightened up. The entry at Oval station heading north, for example. The Brixton triangle junction heading towards Brixton too. But, for the most part, this thing sings proper-bicycle-infrastructure. And it's what the Mayor should have built the first time round. Still, let's get this on the ground. It would be amazing to make this a reality.

Send in your views to TfL on the online consultation form. 

Blimey: Vauxhall to Pimlico cycle track that looks and feels like a real cycle track. Oval plans also published. Step change on all previous plans. Still some major niggles in the central Vauxhall section of the scheme, though. Online consultation now open.

Looks like a cycle track, smells like a cycle track. Shock, horror: actually is a cycle track.
This is the track as it crosses the northern end of Vauxhall Bridge. Only question. How do you turn right
Millbank towards Vauxhall? Not clear. 
Blimey. How things have changed. Back in 2011, I first profiled the plans for a cycle super highway route between Vauxhall and Pimlico. The plans were downright awful.In December 2012, revised plans emerged that were considerably healthier. Finally, after months of planning and meetings with local people and companies (to sense check what is acceptable/what is not), TfL has released the plans it intends to put in place by October this year. And, boy, are they interesting. As a rule, they introduce proper #space4cycling and also achieve more space and better road crossings for pedestrians in this notorious-motor-traffic-must-come-first environment. That said, there are some sections that could do with improvement.

<<TfL consultation page and detailed downloads here>>

No more of this. Buses and bikes forced to share space exiting
Vauxhall bus station. Bad for buses. Not great on bikes either. 
It is well worth you spending time sharing your thoughts on the online consultation hub as they will be needed (critical support is fine).

I live just behind Vauxhall gyratory and use the area day and night on a bike, on foot, in my car, in the bus. I cycle through here on a road bike for training rides and I cycle through here with my shopping or on my way to work. I know many of my neighbours, now in their sixties and seventies, who used to cycle through here but no longer have the desire to pedal through Vauxhall because they can't face the conditions. I think these plans - albeit with some adjustments - have something for all these types of cycling. They also make it a damn sight better on foot as well.

Cycle track as it meets shared space (more than 3x as wide, double the width of current space)
outside Royal Vauxhall Tavern and in the central island (one car lane removed roughly where the bike track is planned). Could this be made better? 

In summary, the plan is to build a two-way cycle track between 3-4m wide between the Oval and Pimlico, separated by a ridge from the footway and 0.5m from the carriageway. The track takes a more-or-less straight line through the messy and downright dangerous gyratory, continues right across the Bridge, through the nasty junction on the north of the Bridge and then gives you options to continue north east through Pimlico towards Whitehall up Regency Street or northwest up a not-yet defined route towards Victoria. The original proposals had people cycling around the gyratory, crossing five lanes of traffic twice. I don't need to remind people that a man was killed cycling through the gyratory last month. The new proposal provides a route I think I would use on my road bike, just as happily as on a Boris bike and that I'd be happy to pedal with my mum. That is something of a first for inner London. There are plenty of benefits for lots of road users here, albeit some things could be improved. My thinking is that, overall, the plans should be supported but some elements could be improved. Whatever your feedback, I think it is important to keep it realistic. Not all solutions are possible, not everything can be catered for. But, for the most part, these are a big step up on what we've got currently and are lightyears ahead of the original scheme which was meant to go in here.

Cutting throught the gyratory. This is the fiddly bit. A proper connection between east and west, yes but could
it be much cleaner? I'm not sure. It's clear that a lot of earlier compromises have been ironed out though. 
First the not so good bits.

The plan widens pavements at many points, for example outside the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (in the picture above), which is currently a narrow shared path that can be packed with people waiting to cross on foot and on bike. Yes, it's true this part will still be shared space. But they've removed a whole lane of motor traffic on both Harleyford Road and Kennington Lane to create that shared space, including one lane under the railway bridge which becomes the westbound bike track once you get past the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. That is two lanes' worth of space added for people on foot and bikes. Pedestrians are going north-south here and bikes east-west and the volume of people is not inconsiderable. It is a very busy area packed with people crossing the road at rush hour and busy into the evenings.

No more of this either. Bikes and pedestrians to get their
own separate crossings here, rather than being crammed into tight,
narrow shared crossing at Vauxhall
Could this piece of the scheme be done better? Possibly, yes. For example, I don't understand why the bike track couldn't be bi-directional under the rail bridge, instead of split in two - eastbound goes through what is now a shared pedestrian/cycling tunnel and westbound takes the place of one (current) eastbound motor traffic lane. That would allow both bike lanes to run through what is currently a motor traffic lane and would mean a clear cycle-only route through what is currently planned to be shared space opposite the Vauxhall Tavern?

If you look at the central section of the scheme (directly above the bus station on the layout above and pictured right), what you have at the moment here is a series of shared crossings that are insanely narrow and jam up at rush hour. They are heavily used by people on foot and on bikes. It is good to see the current shared use crossings will become pedestrian-only crossings and made twice as wide as currently. There will then be separate crossing points for people on bikes. So far, so good. But I'm not entirely wowed by the rather wiggly nature of this part of the scheme, with the bike track tucking slightly up Albert Embankment to give waiting road traffic a space heading north. It seems a bit unclear what's going on here with lots of stop/start changes and switching from cycle track to shared use and back again. That said, I cannot work out how I'd reallocate the space in this traffic island much better given the rules I'd have to work within.

Vauxhall Bridge with bike track on the left
I do wonder whether some cyclists will want to ignore the bike track and this slightly complicated set of three crossings in the centre of the scheme. In particular, heading south east, it might seem easier just to hop on road and go with the traffic.  That said, there are no traffic lights heading southbound until you round the corner whereas there are on-road. Heading north/west, however, the track is a clear win against the road and you would need to stop (assuming all reds) at three traffic lights on this bike track. By comparison, you would currently need to stop at three, possibly four lights and a give way on the on-road routing around the gyratory and through the bus station, covering a far greater distance and having to contend with a number of fairly hairy manoeuvres across multiple lanes of motor traffic.

Now to some of the really not bad or good bits:

The bike track across the river is fab. 3.7-3.8m metre wide and simple to use at both ends (although I have some concerns about how you'd turn right from any of the approaches to the northern end of the Bridge). The sections away from the centre are generally fairly swish with straight lines, priority over side roads or direct traffic light-controlled crossings. In a couple of places, general traffic turns have been banned which means cycle traffic will be able to go on green at the same time as straight ahead motor traffic (if the UK had laws like the US and Europe, we'd be able to come up with a better solution that didn't ban turns but the Department for Transport are luddites on this issue).

Vauxhall Bridge now. Cycling to school and mixing
it with the buses? Thanks but no thanks
There are a number of new direct crossings for pedestrians replacing existing two stage crossings, for example on Harleyford Road, so you can walk across the road in one go rather than having to wait up to three minutes in the central reservation. The pedestrian crossings at the south side of the Bridge are made significantly wider too, with more space for everyone (and it gets extremely busy on these pavements at the moment) to manoeuvre around each other. This is well overdue as the current crossings simply cannot cope with the volumes of people on foot, let alone the current 'shared' with bikes mix.

There is also some extra space created for motor traffic at the northern end of Vauxhall Bridge with a new wider left turn lane.

At the eastern end of the scheme, there is a new genuine link between the two sections of the busy Lambeth cycle route 3 between Clapham and Waterloo created by introducing a proper crossing at Meadow Road (see diagram below). The two sections of the cycle route are currently broken at the Oval where cyclists have to cross right across four lanes of motor traffic on very fast corners with bad sightlines. Or they have to exit the road on a tiny bike slip onto a pavement that is hardly wide enough for two people, let alone pedestrians and bikes. It is very sub-optimal and pretty dangerous at the moment. Those problems will be comprehensively sold by the plan to widen the footway and include a cycle track here.

Bike track from Oval towards Vauxhall showing the
wider footway and cycle track at the exit from Meadow Road
For the most part, this scheme has the look and feel of a proper cycle track. The sort of thing that someone who doesn't currently cycle would look at and regard as safe, intrinsically easy to navigate and easy to use. It is just the central bit that seems a bit odd, rather wiggly and over-reliant on shared space, whereas the rest of the route has clear tracks and clear desire lines.

These plans don't yet show what's going to happen north west of this scheme. There are a number of options to get people up towards Belgrave Square (which will ultimately link to Hyde Park). Three options are up for discussion here. Option 1 up Belgrave Road and make bi-directional on a bike (I think probably the most sensible option), Option 2 with northbound cycling on Belgrave Road, southbound on Lyall Street and a weird wind-about all over the place option 3 which I won't even bother to describe.

My understanding is that the scheme is due to be on the ground in October. And all I can say is wow. It has been four years in the making just to get this far. The original plans were nothing short of a scandal. And here is something that looks and feels like I could bike through here with my mum. Or my sister could bike here with her kids. There are thousands of new homes being built at Vauxhall as we speak. I could pick holes in aspects of the scheme. But my overall impression is that this thing deserves support. And on a purely selfish side (sorry), it will make my year if this gets built. I would like to see some sections improved in particular in the central section. But I can see those sections just about working (for now) if they go ahead with no further changes. This is my neighbourhood. It is a horrible place to bike or walk at the moment. I don't much like driving here either. This scheme makes the walking and cycling options properly attractive rather than something fitted in around the edges. That will make a big difference to me every single day. Let's get these junctions sorted out. Not just here but all across London.


Meanwhile TfL has also released what I think are generally very impressive plans for Oval junction that resolve two of the pretty nasty movements through this junction in a meaningful, serious way. I'll be blogging on those tomorrow. Meantime, take a look at TfL's Oval page. 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Should TfL bosses have taken £6million from the cycling (safety) budget to spend on Tour de France promotional work? Would it be acceptable for the Highways Agency to sponsor Formula 1?

Earlier today, the BBC's transport correspondent Tom Edwards posted a tweet of a Transport for London banner adorning the finish line of the Tour de France. I went to see the Tour in France last year and in Yorkshire this year. I'm a fan. What I am by no means a fan of, however, is what Tom Edwards tweeted later this afternoon "TfL confirm the £6m to host @letour comes out of the cycling budget with the aim of promoting tourism & cycling". I don't know where Tom Edwards got his numbers from but, as TfL seems to have confirmed them, they are as good as true.

Pictured left is an example of something that seems to be funded by Transport for London 'with the aim of promoting tourism + cycling'. It is a, frankly, dreadful social media account that, despite 1,478 tweets has garnered only a whopping 23 followers as part of a patronising #MyCyclePledge campaign that has been running in the build-up to and during the Tour. I can't be sure that TfL has taken £6million from the cycling safety budget specifically to fund this spectacularly pointless Pledge campaign and twitter account but it feels awfully like this may be just one example of Tour funding by our transport authority pinched from the cycling budget. I would imagine that other examples include nice corporate hospitality at the Tour this evening for some TfL folk. Exactly those same senior TfL names who have failed to support safer cycling in the capital.

At this point I think it is worth pointing out there are many different faces within TfL. It is a massive organisation. There is now, in my view, a (still far too small) but solid team of people committed to delivering on cycling. If you're on twitter and into this stuff or you attend any London Cycling Campaign local group meetings you will know and probably liaise with any number of 'good' people within TfL who are advocating and pushing for positive things for cycling in London. Over time, I am confident that they will make some of these things happen.

But I have always felt that there are senior figures, in particular board level figures such as the spectacularly misinformed TfL Head of Surface Transport, Leon Daniels (for some of the numerous examples I can think of, see this Olympics piece and this more general piece or this from As Easy As Riding A Bike) who simply have no truck with cycling. I described Leon Daniels in 2011 as "the enemy" and, having appeared on television with the man, I would still stand by that statement nearly four years later.

Thank you Alex Ingram (genuinely)
for getting this daft TfL campaign
#MyCyclePledge right and
subverting the message so it says
what really needs saying.
And just as much as the 'good guys' at TfL are conspicuous by their hard work and their presence within the cycling community, people like Head of Surface Transport, Daniels or TfL Commissioner Peter Hendy are pretty conspicuous by their sheer absence on cycling. Where are the senior TfL figures telling Camden that its plans for Tottenham Court Road are hopelessly inadequate for cycling, for example? Not a peep. Where are the senior TfL figures when it comes to sorting a way for people to cycle around Bow roundabout? They only crop up on the defensive, never to champion progress. For goodness sake, there still isn't even a pedestrian crossing at Bow roundabout. Any positive word about that from the senior board members at TfL? Nope, none at all.

It is in this context that I'm deeply bothered by TfL spending £6million of 'cycling safety' budget on tourist promotional support for the Tour. Just to put that amount in context, the average being spent to sort out 33 horror junctions like Elephant & Castle over the next couple of years is £9million per junction. In other words, that means we could probably have seen 34 junctions on this list but it feels awfully like one might have got dropped for some champagne, a lousy twitter account and some hoardings on the final sprint.

The 'cycling revolution' in London still feels very fragile. We are still waiting to see the rollout of the first cycling 'Quietways' and some time this week, I believe we'll see the first drafts of the revised Cycle Super Highway plans for Vauxhall to Pimlico. I have to hope these are both better than the Camden-led designs for Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street.

What I want to see is a TfL transport commissioner or the TfL Head of Surface Transport stand up and shout for cycling. The Mayor can shout all he likes but it is ultimately TfL's job to deliver. And the top brass at TfL who need to insist on that delivery.

The last time Hendy stood up for cycling was in 2005 when he issued the new London Cycling Design Standards and promised that "all new TfL-funded schemes will comply with these cycling standards". That never happened. The draft new London Cycle Design Standards were published last month. In a few weeks' time, the same man is likely to approve the new Standards. Question is, whether he will be any more effective at implementing them than last time? I seriously doubt it. That said, I would imagine that Messrs Hendy and Daniels might well have known or at some stage signed off on transferring £6million from the cycling budget to a Tour de France advertising budget.

I love the Tour. I think it's fantastic it came to London. But do I think that money from the cycling infrastructure budget should be funding it? No I don't. There are plenty of other sources for this sort of thing, appropriate sources at that. This, I'm afraid, doesn't feel appropriate.