Wednesday, 27 August 2014

This is surely not acceptable? Residents in exclusive residential square seem to be preventing safe cycling for people of all abilities on new Quietway in Southwark

Cyclists try to negotiate the insane chicane in Trinity Church Square. Residents in this
very smart square are objecting to plans to make this gate usable by people of all abilities.
The Wheels for Wellbeing charity demonstrates why these gates don't work for a Quietway
A couple of weeks ago, Southwark Council published its draft plans for a section of the new Quietway planned between Waterloo and Greenwich. This section of the Quietway is designed by Southwark Council. The sections further out will be designed by other partners, including Sustrans. The most exciting element of the scheme, in my view, is that there will soon be a brand new link around the back of Millwall football stadium, utilising the new cycle and footbridge at South Bermondsey (installed last summer) which will open a really brilliant brand new, direct and off-road route into inner London.

I want to talk about a few aspects of the plan. 

Firstly, I think there are some very useful new parts. At two junctions along the route, TfL has agreed to install new traffic lights. Whatever else you might think about elements of the route, this is great news as it gives people safe ways to cross two very busy streets. Southwark Cyclists rightly welcomes these new cycle crossings

There are some good improvements at a number of other junctions as well - semi-segregated tracks that approach some junctions where cyclists currently have nowhere to go, other than sitting behind streams of spluttering motor vehicles. There are also some sections which currently feature horrible cycle chicane gates and the gates are for the chop, to be replaced instead by much more sensible cycle speed humps. There are also some great new connectors that eliminate some of the wiggly sections of an existing cycle route here and make it much more direct and generally nicer. 

No more of this. Webb Street will link up as these barriers will
be removed and the area landscaped to improve things
for residents alongside a new segregated bike track here too.
Unlike their posh neighbours in Trinity Church Square,
these residents are fully supportive of sensible win-win plans. 
But I have one general and one very specific concern. Let me start with the more specific concern. Pictured above is a cycle 'gate' in Trinity Church Square. The gates were installed a few years ago with a lot of involvement from the local residents association. Don't get me wrong, Trinity Church Square is gorgeous. It is full of beautiful flats and houses and all very charming. And very expensive. It is also heartening to see the way that residents have campaigned to keep motor traffic out of their streets here. 

I'm going to speak to Isabel about this more in a couple of weeks' time but, as you can see for yourself, getting through that gate on a hand bike or any non 'conventional' bicycle is no easy task. 

My understanding is that the residents of the Square are fiercely opposing any changes to the gate and kicking up all sorts of eloquent fuss with local councillors. The insanity is well profiled by blogger Alternative Department for Transport who points out the residents have consented to allow the gate to be widened by a whopping 30cm on either side.

I mean, come on. This is pathetic. Why is a cycle Quietway being held ransom in a way that  makes it near-as-damn-it useless to anyone on a trike or mobility scooter (oh, and the pavement has a similar chicane as well). Sorry, but I just don't think it's acceptable. Full credit to the residents of Trinity Church Square for blocking their streets to rat-running motors but discriminating in this way feels downright ugly in my view. 

My more general concern, as Alternative Department for Transport also points out, is that in some parts, the plans are extremely over-engineered. What that means is that money is being spent where it simply doesn't really need to be spent. So, what you have is lots of existing (and perfectly adequate) infrastructure being spruced up, fancy paving being added all around it and generally made to look a lot nicer. That has benefits for local residents, I suppose. Is it strictly necessary? Not really. Then again, these things have to involve some give and take - getting residents on side is a good thing. 

But there has to be a line somewhere: allowing residents of this square to veto safe cycle routes for all-ability cycling is just not on. It's even less acceptable when you consider that all along the rest of the route, these sorts of discriminatory cycle gates are being ripped out in favour of other solutions. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Mixed feelings about Battersea's new bike-friendly roundabout. TfL is building a traffic-light compromise, rather than a real Dutch roundabout

The planned new bike-friendly roundabout at Battersea Park

Yesterday, Transport for London announced its plans to re-design the roundabout at Queen's Circus on the corner of Battersea Park. The roundabout lies south of Battersea Bridge and is on the route of Cycle Super Highway 8.

The plan is to introduce a bike lane around the roundabout. Bikes will have a separate green phase to motor traffic, so you'll be able to cycle (in theory) without risk of conflict from motor vehicles turning off the roundabout.

I have mixed feelings about this scheme.

A family waiting for drivers to 'let' them cross the
road outside the park. Horrible place to cross.
At rush hour, there are big queues of motor traffic mainly heading north-south across the roundabout to or from the Bridge. This makes it difficult to cross the road as there are rarely gaps in the traffic, which is absurd given there's a massive park here and a lot of people trying to get here on foot.

The fact that the scheme introduces signals for pedestrian crossings is, in my view, very good news. And it is something that locals have been requesting for ages.

In  terms of cycling infrastructure, it is also an improvement on what's there at the moment. The current layout involves a ridiculous segregated cycle track that goes around the roundabout and that gives way to motor traffic at every one of the eight entry points to the roundabout. It is (with the exception of one small section) utterly unusable on a bike.

So, the new scheme quite clearly provides a separate flow for people on bikes, on foot and in motor vehicles. That is a good thing.
New scheme. Bikes get their own lanes and traffic signals
which separate the flow of motors and bikes.

But I can't help thinking this roundabout could have been designed to be more user-friendly for cyclists and pedestrians. If you look at the scheme, it is littered with traffic lights. Bikes will have one set of lights; motor vehicles another set and pedestrians another set. Motor vehicles and bicycles will flow in separate phases around the roundabout, guided by traffic light sequences. It is like a traffic light engineer's dream.

On first looking at the scheme, I couldn't work out why TfL hadn't gone for something simpler.

Last year, for example, TfL paid for a trial of a proper Dutch roundabout (pictured below). Building a proper Dutch roundabout at Queen's Circus would have involved pedestrian zebra crossings rather than signals and bikes would have priority around the roundabout in the same way as pedestrians. It is a neat solution that would have worked well at this particular spot. So why didn't TfL put a proper Dutch roundabout here?

My understanding is that some of the rules and regulations to build the Dutch roundabout haven't yet been signed off by the Department for Transport but that's on the way soon and TfL has indicated it will build one of these in London in the near future. The Dutch roundabout would have worked pretty well here, in my view. And I think most oberservers think similarly.

TfL paid for this trial of a proper Dutch roundabout last year
A simpler solution for Queen's Circus? 
So why has TfL plumped for something that takes elements of the Dutch roundabout and then super-complicates them with traffic lights?

The clue is in the Wandsworth council committee papers. Three of the five justifications for this design are related to motor traffic flow and guess which is the top priority?

"There is limited means of managing queues that develop or ensuring equitable discharge of traffic around the roundabout". So, the traffic light-heavy option has been chosen here in order to manage motor traffic flow.

To its credit, Wandsworth points out that "At an early stage in the design process, TfL made it clear that a conventional approach to designing a roundabout with traffic signals would be unacceptable within the context of their “Better Junctions” review and the Mayor of London’s cycle vision for London." Good, and well done TfL.

But there's no getting away from the fact, this roundabout has been designed to manage motor traffic flow first and foremost. It does create significantly better crossings for pedestrians. And it does create a Dutch-"style" approach that gives space for safer cycling around the roundabout. The whole thing feels over-complicated for both pedestrians and cyclists who could have benefited better from a proper Dutch roundabout, as displayed above. This would have given people on foot and on bikes priority over motor vehicles.

The planned scheme at Queen's Circus, Battersea
What we have here is have a heavily-engineered and heavily-managed splurge on traffic-lights to manage motor traffic queues, with bike tracks and pedestrian crossings working around the motor flow. It feels like the traffic light people gatecrashed a party that would have worked much better without them and that the design should be the other way round: people on foot and bikes get priority, motor traffic flows follow them.

I'll credit TfL with creating better conditions for cycling and walking here. But the underlying principle behind this design isn't quite right.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Boris standing as MP: Let's make sure his "Vision for Cycling" actually happens before he leaves and we get more than just the "Vision" part

The Vision: Can we ensure this is delivered before the Mayor leaves office?
This week's papers are awash with the news that the Mayor is planning to stand as an MP next year. What that suggests, to my ears at least, is that we may have (at best) a not fully focussed Mayor on the job in 2015. And that could have major ramifications for cycling.

Why so? Well, next year is when the first really chunky deliverables are due from the Mayor's "Vision for Cycling". The Vision for Cycling was announced in March 2013 and it consists of a package of nearly £1bil to be invested over 10 years in Quietways, the central London cycling grid and new 'super highways'. Most significantly, the "Vision" is all about building cycle infrastructure that actually looks and feels like cycling infrastructure, and is lightyears more advanced than the Mayor's original 'Cycling Revolution' launched in his first term in office and which gave us extremely poor quality cycle super highways at vastly higher cost than their much higher quality counterparts in other countries.

Getting the Mayor to commit to re-launch his "Vision for Cycling" in 2013 took years of lobbying, of protests, of political, media and public pressure.

And the results of that pressure are only just, very cautiously, peering above the parapets. So, for example, we have recently seen the consultation documents for cycling-friendly junctions at Oval and Vauxhall. The plans for these junctions are an enormous step up on anything we've seen planned in inner London before. They pave the way for junctions that treat bicycles as a legitimate form of transport. What's more, they also create better space for other people as well. The Oval junction is like an urban desert, the whole zone north of the tube handed over to speeding cars to and from central London. Creating a cycle-friendly space here should be the first step in rehabilitating that area, making it a better space for everyone, not just for car drivers who are in any case in the minority.

At last week's City of London cycling forum, Nigel Hardy - the man responsible for implementing cycle infrastructure for Transport for London (and improvement schemes for all other road modes as well, but in this case, with a cycling hat on) - gave a long presentation about TfL's plans for cycling over the next few years.

What was apparent from Hardy's presentation was that the Mayor's Vision for Cycling is starting to become something tangible. Hardy talked about plans for the East-West cycle super highway that will run along the Embankment and about plans to run a bi-directional cycle track from the Elephant, over Blackfriars Bridge, to redesign the junction at the northern end of the Bridge and carrying onup to Farringdon. He asserted that "the case for segregation is understood" on these roads.

But he also pointed out that all these major schemes are due to roll out to consultation in September and building due to start in late 2015 or 2016, ie quite possibly after the Mayor has shifted his focus elsewhere.

What is absolutely clear about both the Embankment and Elephant to Farringdon schemes is that they very clearly take road space away from its current usage and create space for cycling. Justafiably so. If you look at the numbers on Blackfriars, you'll see that 47% of 'traffic' crossing the Bridge at rush hour is now made up of people on bikes.

Just have a think, though, about the forces that will be shouting and screaming about that re-allocation of road space from its current usage. I can very easily see a combination of stuck-in-the-mud business groups (Freight Trade Association among others) shouting very loudly in protest at plans to take out a lane of motor traffic on the Embankment, for example. These groups have good links to a couple of very senior TfL folk who are not particularly enamoured of cycling. Add into the mix a Mayor who is in the process of leaving his London role behind and for whom cycling may no longer feature quite so high on the agenda.

The Reality. Embankment as it looks now. The bike
lane is underneath that parked coach
Put those forces together and we have to consider the possibility that the next 12-18 months will see a string of major cycling investment schemes rolling off the conveyor belt at the design stage and ready to get built but landing into a sea of protests from groups that don't want anything to change and then slumping into a possible lack of strongwilled support for change from a Mayor whose thoughts could easily be elsewhere. That could easily lead to inaction and mean the Vision for Cycling stays as not much more than just that - a vision.

This is the problem I've had with the Mayor for some time. In my view, he royally ballsed-up his first attempt to create a cycling revolution by frittering money on poor quality schemes when he could have used his first term to get meaningful change on the ground. Now that he's finally promised change, he could be leaving too late to actually see that change bear fruit.

That said, the Mayor did lobby for and did obtain the funding to create cycle-friendly junctions and new routes and full credit to his team for that. That funding is now (more or less) in the hands of Transport for London. And TfL is preparing to invest that money in 2015, 2016 and beyond.

What is going to be critical over the coming months is that people continue to lobby and support TfL to actually deliver those big changes. My sense is that we need to show TfL there is a real groundswell of support for the schemes that are coming down the line. That starts with Vauxhall and Oval for now. In September, that will mean Embankment and Farringdon to Elephant. Sure, there will be gripes with the schemes and we should point out where they fall short of expectations. But I'd urge people to focus on the bigger picture and help TfL to get these things on the ground before the political wheels start to slow down.

You can make a start by ensuring you have your say on the schemes for Vauxhall and for Oval. And in September, get behind the plans for the East-West cycle super highway, and for the Elephant to Farringdon plans.

Let's make sure the Vision for Cycling actually happens and let's not allow anyone to derail it before it even gets started.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Two-way cycling consultation: Please support Chancery Lane and Little Britain proposed schemes. Email your comments to the link below.

Little Britain gyratory. Two-way cycling plans
open up a new route to the south
I went along to the City of London Cycling Forum one evening after work last week where the City updated people on its latest plans for making cycling easier and safer in the Square Mile.

One key topic was the City's very successful programme of turning one-way streets into two-way streets for people on bikes. The City first started to roll out two-way cycling on formerly one-way streets in 2009, and adopted a formal policy to extend this across the Square Mile in 2011. By the end of this year, the City plans to have converted 75 formerly one-way streets to two-way working for people on bikes. Contrast that with the City of Westminster which is largely sat on its hands and declared one-way streets are sacrosanct to the West End, for no obvious reason.

In fact, when the two-way programme first kicked off, all sorts of doomsayers predicted anarchy on the streets. In reality, City officials say they have identified only one injury collision (slight) in the last three years which can be linked to contra-flow cycling.

The City is now looking to roll out two-way cycling on two streets that represent fairly chunky barriers to cycling at the moment: on the northern part of Chancery Lane and on a stretch of Little Britain. 

The Chancery Lane plan would open a new link for people cycling west to east that avoids the often hazardous alternative routes of Fleet Street and Holborn. It would involve a short stretch of two-way cycling sourth from Southampton Buildings to Carey Street, which gives you a way to access Lincoln's Inn Fields heading westbound. This would be a great cycle route during rush hour when both the parallel routes can become snarled up with buses and taxis and you're stuck on a bike not really able to move. It is also the only way of providing a route towards Covent Garden that doesn't involve big, nasty junctions.

Soon to be on 75 former one-way only routes in the
Square Mile
My only concern is whether the carriageway is wide enough here, in particular where the two-way cycle lane will run alongside car parking spaces on a short section of Chancery Lane.

It's also a shame that the scheme doesn't extend all the way to the southern end of Chancery Lane. Over time, what I'd like to see here is for the entire road to become two-way for bikes. There is a real lack of north to south routes through this section of inner London and it would be good to see the (completely free) single yellow lane car parking removed from the southern end of Chancery Lane in favour of making the street a) less cluttered b) more useful for more people. I think people should push for that change as the next obvious step but this is a very good first move.

The proposal to make a section of Little Britain two-way is also very welcome. This section is a dual carriageway, part of a one-way gyratory. For years, however, one lane has been out of operation to allow building works at Barts hospital, with no detrimental impact on motor traffic flows. The idea here is to make that lane removal permanent and allow people to cycle south from Smithfields towards St Paul's tube station. Again, hugely sensible.

To be honest, I would like to see an end to the Little Britain gyratory. The whole area is rendered a complete no-man's-land in honour of getting traffic down fat road pipes. I very much hope that the Little Britain plans are the first stage in many steps to make this area less hostile to the majority of people who are travelling here on foot or on bikes, rather than in cars.

City officials are inviting comments by email to quoting "Cycle Permeability" by 22 August 2014. You can download the detailed plans on the City's website.