A Small Step in the Right Direction

Welcome to those of you who are here thanks to my rant last week about John Franklin, I had no idea it would reach so many people. I’m going to be a bit more positive with this post, but don’t worry, I’m sure the bile will surface again soon enough. (That Boris Johnson has got it coming to him!)

Last month I wrote a post about a positive change which the DfT made to the rules governing road signs in the UK — now, “Except Cycles” can be added to “No Entry” signs. (Though I just found out it took years to get the DfT to agree to try it. Come on DfT, I actually praised you in that post! How hard can it be to try out a new and bloody obvious to understand sign?)

Previously, the only options were to have an island for cyclists to ride around to avoid the restriction (I like this, but it’s more costly to install and takes up space) or to use the “No Motor Vehicles” sign (aka the motorbike-jumping-over-a-car sign), which is often ignored by drivers. (Surely all drivers should be aware of what the signs mean? It’s pretty obvious.)

Photo showing a one-way street with cycle contraflow, using 'no entry' signs with an island for people on bikes to pass

The no-entry-bypass (though strictly speaking I think it’s missing a cycle sign to the left?). This also helps to stop vehicles coming the other way from turning right across a cyclists’ path, but takes up more room and is more expensive to install the island.

Photograph showing 'no motor vehicles' sign and cycle lane

No motor vehicles sign – though I’ve seen this ignored often. It just doesn’t seem to garner the same amount of respect as a no entry sign, for some reason.

Well, Camden council must be congratulated on using the new rules quite enthusiastically! Due to one-way restrictions in the streets around Argyle Square, until a few weeks ago it was impossible to ride a bike from Tavistock Place/Regent Square to the hire bike dock on Belgrove Street at Kings Cross — well, not without tackling the horrible major roads around the area, or getting off and walking. But now, thanks to a little road-repainting and some “except cycles” signs, this quiet and easy way to Kings Cross is now legal.

Looking North at the junction of Tavistock Place and Regent Square

Looking North at the junction of Tavistock Place and Regent Square

Looking East from Argyle Street to St. Chad's Street

Looking East from Argyle Street to St. Chad’s Street. Weird angle on the junction here!

Looking North up Belgrove Street from Argyle Square

Looking North up Belgrove Street from Argyle Square. Those bike symbols are huge!

Since these photos were taken, green surfacing has been added to some areas to make it clear that there’s a bike contraflow, especially at junctions where it might not be clear to drivers that bikes will be coming from the other way.

One other thing I noticed was that the bike symbols painted on the road are numerous and huge! I’ve seen these in a few places, are they DfT regulation or councils’ own? Either way, I do quite like them — they’re very bold and not too close to car doors, and the frequency of them helps to assert a cyclists’ confidence to be there.

Camden seems to have been installing these around here like they’re going out of fashion — the whole area around Argyle Square is covered in them. (Good work, whoever decided this!)

I’ve always found the streets around Argyle Square to be exceptionally quiet, especially considering they’re so close to the mayhem of Euston Road and Gray’s Inn Road. I don’t know if it’s by accident or by design that they follow the Dutch practise of making a neighbourhood useless as a through-route to motor vehicles — it’s impossible to use these streets to get anywhere, as they all lead back to where you started from (the little traffic that there is here is mainly taxis servicing hotels) — but either way I’m glad that this area is now more permeable to bikes.

It’s a tiny change to the rules, but it provides councils with a cheap-and-cheerful solution to help make riding a bike for transport much easier.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “A Small Step in the Right Direction

  1. Sebastian

    motorbike jumping over a car…

    “(Surely all drivers should be aware of what the signs mean? It’s pretty obvious.)”.

    To me it implies iminent danger. Something like “Watch out for Stuntdrivers”… I suppose this merely exposes my cutural idiocy and obsession with demolition derbys.

    Oh, and bikes.

    • I like this take on it, from a North American perspective!

      • Sebastian

        Aha! This is my point. I would be tempted to spend an hour. They wouldn’t put up the sign if wasn’t a fairly common occurence… and then I would feel ripped off and it would ruin my entire Euro trip… Even though it was FREE and only tacitly implied by a road marker. This is merely a toe in the water as far as plumbing the depths of American cultrual idiocy. Have fun with the Olympics right!

  2. Paul Reeve

    I don’t live or cycle in London but the biggest problem with contraflow cycle lanes is, from my experience, not from traffic but from pedestrians who just step straight off the pavement into the lane or from behind vehicles. They seem to be unaware of the fact that the cyclists in the lane are travelling in the opposite direction from the main traffic flow.

    • I guess that’s a cultural thing – maybe we’re just not as aware of bikes when we’re on foot in the UK. We should be more bell-happy when riding our bikes – in fact, some of the hire bikes have loose bells which tinkle gently as you ride, which seems to help a lot with pedestrian awareness!

  3. thecyclingjim

    It is certainly a small step in the right direction but what would really top it off is directional signage to go with it, with continuity at that. At the moment it just looks like a collection of roads where contra-flow cycling has been allowed but a potential user would still have to consult a map (although if, as you say, Camden Council are installing them ‘like they’re out of fashion’ a paper map would be a bit obsolete) or GPS journey planner to make sense of it all. There are times where I’ve happily wafted around roads like this on a bicycle because, although I had a rough idea of the direction I was heading (as I’m often a visitor to London) I was just enjoying my time in the saddle. However, it would be nice if signage was provided to eliminate guesswork, especially as London has loads of landmarks and ‘town centres’. Then riding a bicycle would look just a tad easier and more reassuring (if signage had continuity of look and feel) and inviting as a result.

    Of course there must be high quality seperation of bicycles on major arteries too to create a high quality network of routes of course otherwise these fiddly bits are rendered useless :)

    • I’ve got so used to planning my routes in advance that I rarely look for bike direction signs in London, but you’re right — it should be easy to navigate by bike without a map. After reading your comment I had a look on Google Streetview to see if there are signs around here, and to my surprise there are some! I think your point is still valid generally, though — I wish bike direction signs could be relied upon all the time.

      Your second point is even more relevant, of course! These fiddly bits should be in the areas between good quality main, direct routes on protected cycle paths — whereas I use these quiet streets almost exclusively to avoid the main, direct routes as they’re pretty nasty to cycle on right now. (More to the point, my girlfriend refuses to ride among busy traffic, and quite right too!)

      • PaulM

        The last Central London sheet for the TfL cycle maps I got had no one-way info on it at all. The sheets at snaller scale which cover the areas eitehr side as well do have some info but it is harder to make out and it is fairly hopeless at showing cycle contraflows.

        I did email in with this comment so I guess I hope TfL’s cycle people will sort it out for the next edition.

        • I suppose that’s a problem when cycle contraflows are the exception rather than the norm – how do you show them on a normal street map? Maybe a grey or hollow arrow pointing the other way?

          • Paul M

            They used a kind of double arrow – >> – in brown. It worked adequately on the larger-area maps but they never featured on the Central sheet even when the basic one-ways were shown.

  4. Paul M

    My first encounter with this matrix of streets was in making my way from my office in Fleet St to join the Kings Cross rides earlier in the year, and it was good to see the enthusiasm with which Camden has adopted the new simpler rules. The City of London has also made use of the relaxations with about 10 streets added ot their list of contraflows in January, and about another 10 due to follow this year. Unfortunately, the council adjoining both of these, Westminster, has shown precious little sign of following suit, so what on a map looks like a straightforward proposition – cross the City and Central Westminster on side streets without needing to stray onto a major route – is actually impossible.

    Sort of in their defence though, while the “no stunt motorcycles” sign plus some form of traffic island was much more expensive that an “except cycles” plate and a bit of paint, the truth is that by far the smaller part of the budget is actually spent on men leaning on shovels. There are consultants’ reports to commission, traffic counts to undertake, and health and safety assessments to be made. It was still costing the City of London an average of £20k per street even when all they had to do was screw a square metal sign under the no entry sign at one end (they don’t really do the road markings bit – they hate “street clutter”).

    Pedestrians not expecting cyclists coming from the “wrong” direction certainly are a hazard, and I have had more than one encounter with an abusive pedestrian accusing me of cycling the wrong way on a street with a clearly marked contraflow. One has to hope that hey will become used to it as the new routes mature. I suspect the road markings are not made for the benefit of pedestrians, but for liability reasons – if a ped is hurt in a collision with a cyclist he is far more likely to get satisfaction from the council over negiligence in their design or implementation than from the offending cyclist, and they can then defend a civil claim by saying the plaintiff had due warning. If they were really meant to assist, they would be painted every few metres in groups of three, as they are in Paris.

  5. Pingback: No entry (except to cyclists with 20:20 vision) | The Alternative Department for Transport

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