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An open letter to UK’s cycle training industry

The Alternative Department for Transport emblem
The Alternative Department for Transport

Re: Government using cycle training as an excuse to sideline cycling

Dear TABS and other cycle training organisations,

Are you annoyed that the politicians use you to suppress cycling? This probably comes as no surprise, political figures spouting nonsense is nothing new, after all!

Personally, I would be very annoyed if my work was being misrepresented, and used as an excuse to ignore real cycling provision – and unfortunately that’s exactly what’s happening with you.

Time after time, we see those in power refuse to support proper cycling infrastructure – good quality cycling infrastructure, enabling cycling for all, regardless of ability, as can be found in the Netherlands – and one of the frequent excuses given is that cycle training is offered instead.

What they mean by this is that the government throws some money at the cycle training industry. I know it’s not much money in the grand scheme of things, not enough even to teach every child the basics, and yet some of those in power then consider it “job done” as far as cycling is concerned.

Here’s an MSP in Glasgow refusing to support space for cycling, using training as an excuse.

Doesn’t that make your blood boil? Here you are, trying to do some good, and these politicians are using that as a reason to wash their hands of responsibility!

Here’s another politician, in London, cherry-picking a very rare situation as part of an ongoing campaign against the type of infrastructure that’s proven to be safe for everybody.

Central government frequently trumpets the number of children who have received Bikeability training as if this is a goal in itself, ignoring the fact that very few children actually then put these skills to use by cycling for transport.

Surely this must bother you? I can see you being wary of biting the hand that feeds you – the (other) Department for Transport’s logo is on your website, I guess you must receive funds from them – but isn’t it time to issue a statement which will prevent the politicians’ divide-and-rule, infra-versus-training debate once and for all? I’m often told that training is not in opposition to infrastructure, and this is a good chance to prove it.

As an industry, you surely support the principle of investment in high-quality cycle infrastructure. TABS’ website states that their ultimate aim is “more people taking trips by bike more often and more safely” (and some of your most prominent people are in favour of cycleways).

As we all know, “more people taking trips by bike more often and more safely” will only happen when people feel safe and comfortable travelling by bike – which inevitably means not having to cycle amongst lots of motor vehicles.

Surely you’d much rather be teaching every child in the country the rules of the road on safe infrastructure? Perhaps, with your help, one day the UK will be a country where eight years old is considered late for independent cycling!

I don’t expect you to become another full-time campaign organisation, but silence on this issue is tacit agreement with those who abuse your work. It would help everybody if campaigners had something to show to the politicans to say “look, cycle trainers say you’re wrong too. Cycling needs standards and investment.”

So I’m asking you to issue a press release, or add a page to your website, to make clear that training isn’t an alternative to proper infrastructure, but is instead an adjunct to it. Let the politicians know that throwing a few quid at Bikeability isn’t enough to create mass cycling in the UK, and that they can’t continue to design roads solely for motor vehicles any more.

All the best,
S.C.

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You wait ages for a bus, and then three casualties come along at once

Bus drivers are miserable gits, aren’t they, eh? All they do is sit there, driving around under pressure from a system that puts unreasonable demands on them, encourages them to drive dangerously, working unreasonable hours for low pay. Why don’t they just smile?

Or, if they have concerns or complaints, why don’t they report them?

Which leads me to the thrust of today’s post: There is no independent reporting system for bus drivers.

You should know that for almost 20 years, train drivers have had anonymous access to an independent system called CIRAS, which addresses concerns in a no-blame way. The goal of the system is to investigate concerns and eliminate the danger before something bad happens.

This is one of the reasons why Britain’s railways are so safe – drivers feel free to report concerns about safety, dangerous practice, unreasonable hours, or whatever. They can report to CIRAS, who will discuss with management and staff to resolve the problem.

The CIRAS scheme is clearly of use – Network Rail are members, as are TfL’s Underground, Overground and light rail services.

But for some reason TfL doesn’t use it for their buses. Why is this?

  • The scheme already allows buses, it’s not just for trains.
  • TfL already value the scheme, as they pay for their rail networks membership.
  • Adding the buses most likely wouldn’t cost any extra – what TfL pays for the trains would cover the buses too, as it’s one organisation.
  • And – probably the most important reason – is that TfL’s bus system is dangerous:

Every single day there are on average over 60 (yes, sixty) collisions involving TfL’s buses. (See this FOI’d data.)

A TfL bus is involved in someone being killed or seriously-injured on average more than three times every day in the first six months of 2014. (See TfL’s own bus data here.)

The number of incidents sharply increased when Mayor Johnson introduced bus performance contracts, and has been increasing ever since.

How many of them could be prevented by listening to the drivers?

If we listened to the bus drivers – and the system was changed so that they didn’t have to work over-long hours, so that they weren’t under pressure to complete routes in short timespans – then maybe we would all have reason to be more cheerful.

 


Thanks to Tom Kearney for most of the information here. If you don’t know about Tom, he was hit by a red-light-running bus on Oxford Street, was expected to die, woke up after two weeks in a near-death coma, and left hospital after ten weeks, to piece his life back together. He later discovered that TfL and the Metropolitan Police had failed to investigate the case (some might even say it was covered up).

This should come as no surprise, as the branch of the police which investigate bus crashes is funded by TfL – who are also responsible for the bus system! Talk about the fox being in charge of the hen-house…

Here are some links to articles on Tom’s blog, where you’ll find much more information and detail about TfL’s killer bus system:

How the police and TfL looked every which way they could to avoid investigating Tom’s near-death

Tom forced TfL – against its will – to publish bus collision data

The head of CIRAS tells us that TfL could add buses to the system

TfL and bus companies: Ignoring safety for profit

Guest blog post from a bus driver describing the system in which they work (there’s more of these, from various drivers – they’re in-depth but worth reading)

Finally, for now, can anyone tell me why the mainstream media has ignored this issue? It seems that Tom has uncovered dangerous practices which result in thousands of casualties every year, and yet few seem interested.

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Flailing limbs: LCC and its famously anti-policy branch

London Cycling Campaign is a funny beast. It seems to be the vague head of a loose collective of local cycling groups scattered around London, of varying sizes and levels of activity.

I call it a “vague head of a loose collective” because the local branch campaigns seem to be free to say and do almost anything they want, even if they go entirely against the campaign’s stated goals.

After decades of failure, LCC members have voted, passed the motions, and at long last the LCC has started to become a modern cycling campaign which is asking for the right things.

But isn’t it time to make sure the local branches are following suit?

Most famously – and I’m not the first to notice it by a long shot – the Hackney branch is known for its adherence to what might be called the Franklin and Forester view of cycling: The proper place for it is on the road, mixed with cars, lorries and buses (or at best meandering around the back streets) and anything else is pure namby-pamby devilment. They’ve been this way for many years.

Hackney Cyclists claim to support LCC HQ’s “Space for Cycling” campaign, yet at least three committee members are firmly against some of the campaign goals – co-ordinator Trevor Parsons, long-time LCC member Oliver Schick, former Hackney councillor Rita Krishna, to name the three whose public comments I’ve used in this post.

While the group does support the cycle-friendly intervention of removing through-motor-traffic from minor streets by means of modal filtering (a worthy and important goal), they adamantly refuse to support – and actually work against – the biggest single intervention to enable mass cycling: cycleways on main roads.

How does someone follow LCC’s democratically-approved AGM motions while describing bus stop bypasses as meaning “bus users being done over and having to dodge cyclists“? What sort of cycle campaigner considers cycleways to be “attacking bus users“, and London’s first half-decent attempt at providing for cycling as “the emperors new clothes“?

How is the Space for Cycling manifesto remotely compatible with the belief that that “cyclists and cars want to share” on a vast, fast, six-lane road? And how can a cycle campaigner believe that everyone who uses a bike should be held responsible for the actions of anyone else using that same mode of transport?

The belief that Dutch-style cycleways won’t work in central London is surely in opposition to “Space for Cycling”, which calls for far bigger road changes than merely insisting two-way streets are all that’s required to make cycling safe and inviting for all. (As if having cars and buses moving both ways at Aldwych would make me ride there – ha!)

Apparently “Dutch police shout at people for cycling on smooth, empty carriageways. We don’t want that over here.” That’s not my experience of riding a bike in the world’s best country for cycling. Hackney Cyclists don’t want “tokenistic, and in the long term potentially dangerous, engineering solutions such as cycle lanes and tracks.”

Instead of copying a proven method to gain a mode of transport which is safe and appealing to everyone, cycle training will solve all problems, as “a well-trained and assertive bicycle rider will in any case take the primary position when approaching a narrowing such as this pre-signal, to ensure that the driver of the vehicle behind him or her is not tempted to pass too closely.”

How is any of this compatible with the LCC’s policy of pushing for physical separation of motor and cycle traffic on busy roads?

I don’t see how the LCC can allow Hackney Cyclists to bear their name and logo when so many of the leading lights believe the very opposite of what the campaign stands for.

Hackney LCC also have close links with Hackney Council, not just former councillor and party activist Krishna, but also councillor Vincent Stops, who describes Hackney Cyclists as “the most sophisticated cycling campaign group in London“, considers Dutch-style cycleways to be “trip hazards“, and sees bus stop bypasses as “terrifying pedestrians“.

Councillor Stops also claims that Hackney Cyclists consider Kingsland High Street is “perfect for cycling” – though it has since been revealed that this was merely the personal opinion of Hackney Cyclists committee member Schick.

This is Kingsland High Street:

Kingsland High Street in Hackney, London. A bus is stopped, and a lorry is overtaking it. A cyclist dressed in high-visibility clothing follows the lorry, and a bus follows the cyclist.

“Perfect for cycling”

Does this road look “perfect for cycling” to you? Do you believe someone who said this really has LCC’s Space for Cycling principles at heart?

I don’t even want to debate the actual views held here – madly wrong as I consider them to be – everyone has the right to believe whatever they want.

And of course not everyone in the LCC is going to agree on everything. I’m not suggesting that the LCC becomes some sort of Stalinist one-party state which allows no dissenting voices. Open debate is good, there needs to be room for a wide range of views.

But when a local branch is dominated by beliefs which are clearly at odds with core campaign objectives, it makes no sense for it to be part of the campaign any more. London Cycling Campaign is now, in policy, a campaign which believes in separation of traffic modes along Dutch lines, yet one of its branches works against the LCC’s goals in their area.

At what point does LCC HQ decide that such views aren’t compatible with the campaign’s core objectives and take action?

For example, Special Resolution 3 was voted on at the AGM, committing the LCC to opposing discrimination on any grounds, which I have heard was introduced to prevent people with extremist political views from gaining positions of influence.

I don’t know the finer details of the matter, but it seems that if the LCC is willing to say that a person’s political views (which may be distasteful, but unrelated to cycling) are unacceptable, then surely advocating road designs that aren’t safely usable by less-able people is also discriminatory and unacceptable, and in a way that’s extremely relevant to the campaign.

I’m not even sure why these take-the-lane addicts and bus exhaust sniffers are even active members of the London Cycling Campaign any more, considering that the Dutch model of modal separation has been overwhelmingly approved by LCC members now. I wouldn’t want to be a member of a campaign that opposes everything I believe in.

I’m glad that Special Resolution 3 was passed, as I consider advocating Vehicular-Cycling-as-an-end-goal to be discriminatory (VC is fine as a danger mitigation method in car-sick areas, but it should not be a campaign target, and we shouldn’t be creating roads designed for it). Is a wheelchair or handbike user really expected to “take the primary position when approaching a narrowing” to control the bus behind them? Isn’t advice like that, offered as a reason why cycle infrastructure isn’t required in that location, discriminatory against those who don’t have that option? An anti-discriminatory cycle campaign needs to campaign for infrastructure which is accessible to all.

The London Cycling Campaign needs to either make sure that its Hackney branch is following the charity’s democratically-chosen principles, or it needs to strip the current group of affiliation and allow a new group to be formed – one that actually believes in safe, pleasant cycling conditions which are suitable for everybody.

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Berlin does not have a cycle network

I often hear great things about cycling in Berlin.

Apparently there are “ubiquitous grade-separated cycle tracks, bicycle boulevards, and other facilities“, which mean that “you can get round most of Berlin on segregated bike paths“.

According to this Lonely Planet guide book I have here, “the biking infrastructure is fantastic“, and Stephen Evans of the BBC found “endless cycle tracks” (where are they, Steve?).

I really wish all this was true, but unfortunately it’s nonsense. Berlin is definitely second-rate for cycling.

I often find myself wanting to go somewhere within cycling distance but having to choose to use a different mode of transport, because the conditions for cycling there are too unpleasant for me or the people I’m with.

So with this in mind, I made a map of Berlin’s cycleways. And I’ve been extremely generous in my definition of “cycleway” here. Nothing comes close to the criteria set out in this article.

A map showing roads in central/north/east Berlin which have protected cycleways along them. It's very sparse and disconnected.

This is not a cycle network. (Click for full-size.)

I may have missed a few little bits off, but I think I got all of it.

The red lines are the not-too-bad cycleways, and the grey lines show the absolute rubbish, such as this…

A very narrow, bumpy, neglected cycleway on Luxemburger Strasse in Berlin

Only people with mountain bikes may overtake here.

…and this…

pathetic narrow cycleway right up against the edge of a wide, fast busy road in Berlin. There are parked cars on the footway beyond the cycleway. I have added an arrow to point out the cycleway, it is that bad.

I’ve added an arrow to point out the cycleway, otherwise you might miss it. (Photo: Google Maps)

…so don’t go thinking that I’m being harsh on Berlin here. If anything, I’m being too kind for including those on the map.

In the interests of balance, here’s a typical example of one of the better cycleways denoted by the red lines:

One of Berlin's better cycleways. Not too narrow, but a tiled surface and a low fence which pedals could hit. Also right next to parked cars with only a tiny buffer.

One of Berlin’s better cycleways. Just enough room to squeeze past in the door-zone.

Everything else is either a painted lane on the road or nothing at all, and like most people I’m not willing to mix with motor vehicles along fast, wide, busy roads.

The map covers the part of Berlin where I live and spend most time – the central north and east areas – but the picture is pretty much the same elsewhere in the city. Some areas are better than others, but not much.

I was considering adding some of the back streets on this map too, but I couldn’t think of any that were really suitable. On the whole they’re either too busy with traffic to be serious contenders for being part of a cycle network, or they’re surfaced in the rough cobbled “Kopfstein” that make cycling a pain in both the physical and metaphorical sense of the word.

(I’ll cover some of the back streets in a later post, such as Stargarder Strasse which should be great but is a busy rat-run, and Choriner Strasse which is designated as a “Bicycle Street” but has nothing beyond a few signs to back this up.)

At least there are no buses around here, just trams, though bad street design means that they can be dangerous too (the subject of yet another post to come). But as you can see from the map, travelling by bike in Berlin can be a real pain unless you’re happy to mix with cars, vans and lorries on multi-lane roads.

Photograph of Danziger Strasse in Berlin, showing a painted cycle lane on the carriage-way side of the parked cars, with a lorry thundering past.

Be my guest. I’ll walk.

 

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Cycling in Berlin

There’s so much to cover here in Berlin, that I can’t possibly fit it all in to one blog post. I have to tell you about the excellent public transport system, the suffocating dominance of car parking, the superb driving conditions, the less-than-superb cycling conditions, the at times downright hostile footways, the culture and attitudes, the VC-and-helmet-loving local cycle campaign, and so much more.

So this first post is a general overview of conditions for cycling in Berlin as I’ve experienced them these past five months, and I’ll begin with this statement:

Anybody who says that Berlin is great for cycling doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

I can see how this common misconception may come about, though. Berlin is far better for cycling than any British city (and, for that matter, any city in the US, Australia, etc…). It’s easy to visit Berlin and see the higher number and wider demographic of people cycling and think “yes, Berlin is a good example for cities back home to copy.”

I’ve heard it said that Berlin, with a 13% average modal share for cycling, provides a more realistic model that’s easier for British cities to achieve.

The trouble is, to someone who lives in a country where cycling has been actively suppressed for decades, almost any amount of cycling looks impressive. Living in the UK, it’s easy to see the current motor-dominated transport mix as normal or natural, and therefore to think that countries with higher cycling rates have done something special, artificial and unnatural.

But the truth is that road design in the UK effectively bans cycling as a mode of transport for the vast majority of the population. The “natural” level for cycling can be seen in the Netherlands, where car use is not discouraged (on the contrary), but there are no barriers to cycling either. The road system there has been designed so that people have a genuine choice. They can use whichever mode of transport they wish to, and they very often choose to use a bike.

Somewhere in the middle we have places like Berlin, where the authorities pay lip service to cycling infrastructure, and grudgingly provide for a fairly low rate of cycling, but where journeys by motor vehicle are still prioritised pretty much all of the time, and given the lion’s share of road space.

What this means is that Berlin’s modal share is low, much lower than it should be. A 13% cycling rate is not high or impressive, or anything to get excited about, though it may seem otherwise to people living in countries where cycling almost doesn’t exist.

Berlin’s cycling share should be at least double the current rate, and with better infrastructure, it easily could be.

A View from the Badly-Designed, Badly-Maintained Cycle Path

So Berlin does have some cycleways, separated from motor traffic. This is a good thing, and it enables many Berliners to use a bike for journeys which, without the cycleways, would be made by motor vehicle.

But while these cycleways exist, and make cycling away from motor traffic possible, they are – almost without exception – awful. Berlin falls short on all three important aspects of good cycling infrastructure: maintenance, design, and network.

Maintenance

…or rather the lack of it. For example, concrete tiles are normally used as the surface, and over the years these become uneven, meaning that riding on them is pretty bumpy, sometimes dangerously so. Tree roots lift up the surface too, though while the carriageway never seems to be affected (it is clearly better cared for), the cycleway and footway are often left rucked and cratered. Bushes and trees are frequently not trimmed either, meaning much (or, in places, all) of the cycleway width is taken up by foliage.

A narrow cycleway next to a very, very wide road. The cycleway is almost completely obscured by a bush growing beside it, rendering the cycleway almost useless..

Yes, that really is a cycleway on the right, and its patchy surface is almost completely obscured by a bush. And yes, that’s a wide, well-maintained six-lane road with central median strip on the left.

Design

Even the newest and best-maintained cycleways are poor in comparison to their Dutch counterparts.

Even along the roomiest boulevards they’re too narrow, often wiggly, with street furniture right against (or even in) them. Flush kerbs are virtually unheard of, and the cycleways fall and rise at every driveway (most of which are surfaced in uneven cobble stones) and at side-streets too, where they usually turn into paint on the road. All this bumping up and down expends a lot of unnecessary energy and turns an easy journey into a tiring one.

A cycleway narrows as it wiggles sharply around a pole which is installed in its way. There are further barriers on the right too.

I used to play computer games like this as a child.

The junctions are badly and dangerously designed, with none of the safety or convenience that you see in Dutch cities. That was the first one that struck me, incidentally. Where the Dutch take the cycleway away from motor vehicles at a junction, here in Berlin it bizarrely moves towards the main carriageway, suddenly thrusting you into the blind-spot of turning vehicles.

This design also means that the Dutch-style protected, unsignalled right turns aren’t possible (where the cycleway, like the footway, isn’t controlled by the traffic lights as people turning right aren’t actually interacting with the junction).

A cycleway moves towards the carriageway as it approaches a junction.

Rather than continue straight on, bike users are diverted into the blind spot of turning vehicles. This is the standard for Berlin cycleways at junctions.

The Network

The network is more of a patchwork, as it’s full of large holes and therefore unreliable.

A wide boulevard in Berlin, with most space given to the main carriageway.

No space for cycling on Sonnenallee, but plenty of space for motoring. There’s no good alternative to this road either, so footway cycling is very common here.

Some roads have cycleways, some have painted lanes, some have nothing at all. There seems to be no logic to it, either – some quiet, minor streets have cycleways for some reason, despite the level of motor traffic being very low, while many multi-lane urban motorways have nothing at all.

There’s no consistency of provision, no minimum quality of service that can be relied upon. The surface can vary from smooth asphalt to a relief map of the Moon’s biggest craters. In places, the width of the cycleway suddenly changes at random and for no apparent reason, and in other places the cycleway suddenly disappears, unceremoniously dumping you into the carriageway.

A cycleway suddenly ends and riders are sharply diverted onto a busy dual carriageway. This is a permanent design.

Should I get homesick for Britain, I’ll go stand here and remember why I left.

When roadworks interrupt the cycleway, sometimes you’re thrust out onto a fast, busy road, but other times you’re sent the other way to mingle with people on foot, and sometimes you’re simply abandoned. I haven’t once seen a temporary cycleway take the place of a general traffic lane at roadworks, as is usual in the Netherlands.

Poor-quality handling of a cycleway at roadworks in Berlin. The cycleway turns into painted lines which suddenly veer onto the busy dual carriageway, into the path of motor traffic.

Surprise! Now just swerve out from behind that parked car, onto the dual carriageway.

There’s unfortunately little joy in using the back streets, either. There’s almost a total absence of modal filtering, with most streets remaining two-way through-routes for all vehicles. Luckily, the main roads are so good for driving that rat-running isn’t the huge problem it is in the UK – endless queues of traffic that are normal for London are unheard of here, even at rush-hour. But some people still choose to drive down the back streets at unsuitable speeds, and there’s very little to prevent this.

A small street which remains open to motor traffic in both directions, with cobblestone surface, making for an awful cycling environment.

Rough cobbled surface, busy two-way rat-run, pathetic attempts at traffic calming. What’s not to love?

An even bigger problem with the back-streets is that they’re commonly surfaced in a kind of large cobblestone known as a “Pflasterstein” or “Kopfstein”. These are smooth with rounded tops, and are a real pain to cycle along at anything more than a crawling pace, and even then you’d better not be carrying any fruit. These surfaces are not always well-maintained either, meaning that large gaps can appear between uneven stones, creating danger for bikes.

Despite their bike-inhibiting nature, thanks to modern car suspensions these cobblestones do nothing to slow down a speeding driver.

A close-up of the bumpy cobbled surface of a typical Berlin back-street.

Even when well-maintained, as seen here, this surface is awful to ride on. The photo doesn’t do it justice. Many people choose to ride on the footway along roads surfaced like this, even on streets with almost no motor traffic at all.

The Forbidden City

All this means that while I have many more opportunities for utility cycling than I did in London, there are still huge swathes of the city that effectively remain inaccessible to me by bike, and many destinations within cycling distance that I instead choose to use public transport for, even though it’s slower than the bike and costs €2.20 each way.

So Berlin is not a great place for cycling, though it may seem that way to visitors. It’s not all awful (I’ll show some good stuff at some point) and it is better than pretty much all English-speaking cities, and its lacklustre infrastructure does enable more people to use a bike.

But really it’s a below-average place for cycling, with weak infrastructure – and that’s why Berlin shouldn’t be a model for elsewhere, except as a way of learning which mistakes to avoid.


Footnote: If you’re looking at any of these photos and thinking “I’d like some of that”, please take a look at the videos of David Hembrow and Mark Wagenbuur to see how it should be done instead.


Note: My German is okay but not perfect. If there’s anybody out there with native-level skills and a cycle campaigning urge, and you would like to proof-read/edit some German-language posts I have planned for a sister blog and campaign, please do get in touch!

 

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How Southwark can spend less to do more on their Quietway

After my last post about Southwark’s pointless plans to waste cycling money on their section of Quietway 2, I’ve had a think about what I’d suggest.

Some of the route is already fine, but the bits that aren’t fine have too many motor vehicles on them. While Southwark want to throw money at fancy paving and plants, what this route really needs are modal filters to remove motor traffic while allowing bikes to pass through.

This is cheap because it’s just bollards and a few signs. Politically it’s trickier because car-owning residents often want to drive out of their street at both ends, but I’d be amazed if car-free households aren’t the norm in this area by quite a large margin. The added bonus of more greenery, safe places for their children to play, cleaner air and quieter streets should be enough to get most residents’ approval, I should imagine.

And the nice thing is that this can be trialled easily and altered or removed if it doesn’t work, saving any “place-making” for when the changes are proven to work.

In this scheme, for example, I can see the plaza on the corner of Webber Street and Great Suffolk Street being expanded across the existing junction. This sort of thing should come later, though there are plenty of firms willing to sell their expensive designs for fancy paving without actually changing the nature of the traffic passing through.

Anyway, here’s my suggested plan:

Re-worked map of Southwark's Quietway plans, showing modal filters at various points to remove through-motor-traffic, while retaining motor access for residents and visitors.

Click to see full-size version

It removes through-motor-traffic from the entire route, while keeping motor access for residents and visitors. (In addition to the filters here, all of which are in Southwark Council’s area, I’d add one further west on Webber Street too, near the junction with The Cut.)

Suddenly, and for a bargain price that can’t be beat, the whole of Webber Street and Great Suffolk Street will now carry so little motor traffic that they’re safe to ride.

Further east, the northbound rat-run on Tabard Street is removed (vehicles currently enter from Great Dover Street via Becket Street, turn left up Tabard Street, then right along Pilgrimage Street), while full access is retained.

Most importantly, Law Street is no longer a rat-run. This is currently an awful street to cycle on due to vehicles avoiding the major Bricklayers Arms junction in both directions, just off-image to the south-east. In fact, the filtering in this area improves the entire block between Great Dover Street and Long Lane, as all rat-runs are now prevented. (I think – can you see any?)

The filtering at the top of Law Street also makes safe the turn into and out of the Rothsay Street cycleway, which under the current plans looks awfully dangerous.

I’ve gone no further because I’m not familiar with the area from this point, I always went up Wild’s Rents from here on a complicated, meandering route towards Tower Bridge.

So, that’s it!

The consultation on this section runs until the 5th of September (with the western-most section until the 15th), so there’s a few days left to respond now.

It’s probably worth responding so that when Southwark ignore all our suggestions we can at least point the finger at them when the plans fail. (Cynical, me?)

 

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How to get from Waterloo to Greenwich the hard way

So the plans for Andrew Gilligan’s much-discussed “Quietways” are starting to appear.

Here I’ll look at the plans for the part of the route with which I’m very familiar, east of Waterloo in central London. (If you have knowledge of the route beyond Law Street, please do let me know your thoughts in the comments. The Kennington People on Bikes blog has covered more of the route here though I must say that the suggested changes are rather milder than I’d want to see.)

I’ll say now that I’m not impressed by these plans. They seem to consist of nothing but signs on a route which is already fairly quiet, although not quiet enough in my experience, as much of it needs modal filtering to prevent motor vehicles using it as a through-route.

But these weak plans seek to solve none of the problems that exist along the route, they are mostly just window dressing of the existing infrastructure.

Assault-course cycling

For example, the planned changes on Globe Street offer nothing new for those cycling – quite the opposite in fact, as they introduce four new points at which people riding bikes must give way, while providing no benefits over the existing arrangement.

Here’s Globe Street as it is today:

The existing layout of Globe Street SE1. Simple but effective cycling infrastructure.

Globe Street today.

It works pretty well already (despite the incorrect signage, and even with a lorry parked on the street).

The junction mouths could be wider to allow cycling two-abreast, and there’s a superfluous island (I assume it’s left over from before 2010 when the street was one-way for motor traffic with two-way cycling, before the junction became bikes-only, hence the now-oddly-positioned arrow), but it does work fine. In fact Pilgrimage Street, on the other side of Great Dover Street, ideally needs the same bikes-only junction treatment.

Now here’s the new Quietway plan for Globe Street:

The over-engineered design for Globe Street.

Southwark’s over-engineered plans are a waste of money and energy, and offer no improvement over the current layout.

My question is: how does this make cycling easier or safer?

It feels like a desperate attempt to spend the Quietways money somewhere – anywhere! – rather than admit that the plans are nothing but some signs and paint and spend the money on something useful.

Cycling north-east, one will enter a narrow channel, then mount a hump up to footway level, before dropping back down and reaching the junction. As the foot crossing leads to a locked back gate, I’m not convinced of the need for it. (Perhaps Southwark Council really do expect higher foot traffic than pedal traffic here…)

Don’t get me wrong, if foot traffic is high then we should consider giving it priority over other modes. This is a design I’d love to see on some of London’s other, car-filled roads, by the way. But that wouldn’t ever be considered – it’s only where bikes are concerned that we can tame the roads, it seems.

Cycling in the other direction, THREE new give-way points for people on bikes are to be installed. The first is just before the raised pedestrian crossing, the second is just before the car park exit, and the third is just after the car park exit. I have absolutely no idea what the third give-way is for, other than to punish people for riding a bike.

Why is there even an entrance/exit to the car park on Globe Street? There’s another one to the south side of the car park, surely that’s enough capacity for one apartment block. (Blocking off the exit to Globe Street would mean there’s capacity for a few more car parking spaces for residents, too – win-win!)

No wheelchairs or trikes, please – we’re British highways engineers

After negotiating all that, there’s a fourth give-way to a dead-end carrying no motor traffic at all. Why the priority can’t be changed in favour of bikes on the Quietway, I have no idea. The number of other vehicles using that part of Trinity Street must be almost zero.

Talking of Trinity Street, there’s this lovely bit of ironwork:

A fence bisecting the road, with a gap in the middle for bikes, but with two more fences covering the gap, making it hard to actually cycle through.

Yes, you are actually meant to cycle through this. (Photo: Google Maps)

This particular test of stunt-bike skills is designed to stop people using the street as a rat-run by motorbike – and kudos to the residents for preferring to have a quiet street instead of the dubious pleasure of being able to drive out of it at both ends (unlike the residents of Gilbert Road in Cambridge who value saving a few minutes’ driving over clean air, quiet roads, and safety).

But surely there are better ways of preventing rat-running by people on motorbikes without reducing the cycling capacity to almost zero? And it does massively restrict cycling capacity, as it takes so long to negotiate safely. Many mount the footway to get by, though my favoured solution was simply to use the parallel Cole Street, which features no such restriction. This isn’t designing for mass cycling, it’s a bad joke.

I’m not even sure that the anti-(motor)bike fence is needed any more anyway, as Trinity Street’s junction with Great Dover Street has been blocked off now. It would be simple to extend the new plaza to separate Trinity Street from Falmouth Road, meaning that Trinity Street would be a dead end and of no use to rat-runners.

However, the only planned improvement to this ridiculous bottleneck is to move the two central fences away from the gap, by 30cm, “to comply [with] current cycling design guidelines and ensure cyclists of all abilities can negotiate this feature”. This is paying lip service to the concept of cycling infrastructure which is suitable for all ability levels – no such worries seem to have occurred to the designers elsewhere on this route.

Lipstick on a rat-run

Webber Street, Great Suffolk Street and Law Street are all currently used as rat-runs by people driving motor vehicles, and under these plans they are to remain so. This is not designing for all abilities.

A person on a bike rides out of the junction and has to pass between two large white vans waiting at traffic lights to do so.

The Google Streetview camera catches a typical scene at the junction of Webber Street and Great Suffolk Street.

There are only superficial changes planned at this junction, so the scene above will continue to occur. What if the lights turn green just as you start to pull out, do you trust the drivers not to move forward? Can you see if there are more bikes coming from the left, hidden behind the van? Can you imagine members of your family making this manoeuvre?

A few bollards and entry restrictions would fix this in no time, making the junction bikes-only by blocking off the end of Webber Street as well as Great Suffolk Street to the west. So why are no such improvements included here? They genuinely would improve the roads for people cycling, while keeping access for residents and businesses, and would cost very little too.

Law Street has the same problem. It should be a quiet residential street, but stand there at rush hour and you’ll see it’s mainly used as a speedy short-cut by people driving cars. If a cycle route isn’t suitable 24/7, then it’s not a cycle route.

The cycle Quietway plans for the junction of Law Street, Wild's Rents and Weston Street in London SE1, with dangerous right turn highlighted.

I’ve highlighted the Quietway right turn in a lovely shade of official Quietway purple. Can you imagine a young child waiting there while cars were passing around them on all sides?

Put some bollards on the junction at the end of Law Street and the problem is solved. The right turn along the Quietway can then be made safely, rather than waiting in the centre of a maelstrom of taxis.

Two other points about Law Street: Firstly, you’ll see a pedestrian-priority crossing of the cycleway at the end of Law Street. Why isn’t the same pedestrian priority being installed on the carriageway?

The truth is that motor vehicles are far more dangerous than bikes, so people on foot need more help to walk where there are motor vehicles than where there are bikes. And yet I keep seeing designs that suggest the opposite, that the very concept of a bike is toxic and lethal while all cars are made of marshmallow and driven by kindly vicars.

Secondly, the “bikes right turn” painted symbol could lead drivers to believe that all bikes indicating right are turning onto the Quietway cycleway, whereas some will be turning onto Wild’s Rents instead, potentially leading to dangerous under-taking on the junction.

Protected cycleways where they’re not needed

The plans for Tabard Street are over-engineered, with a short length of unnecessary cycleway that looks too narrow, and bike symbols painted in the door zone of parked cars (this particular intervention seems to feature throughout the plans).

Plans for a segregated cycle path on a quiet back street.

This is just daft.

Regular readers will know that I’m an advocate of high-quality physically separated cycleways, but this ain’t it. We need them on busy main roads, not on quiet back streets! I thought the whole point of the Quietways project was to use cheap measures to reduce motor traffic on a string of roads to form a safe cycling route. So I don’t understand the need for the pointless cycleway here.

Tabard Street is long and straight and vehicles drive too fast along it (hence the speed humps). Why not simply block it off to motor vehicles at the Quietway’s entry and exit points, thereby removing through-motor-traffic while preserving access for residents? (That way, we won’t even need the bike symbols painted in the parked car door-zone, either.)

Money to spend on whatever

Furthermore, I’m concerned that footway and general carriageway improvements appear on the plans. I’m all for improving the footway but surely this should not come out of the cycling budget (especially removing old, redundant driveway drop-downs as seen here on the ‘plan I’ PDF, surely property developers should pay for this when they remove the garage or driveway?).

And what to make of the fact that in only 2.4 miles, there are apparently a grand total of 41 humps along the length of Quietway 2 in Southwark?

I get the impression that the scheme has some money behind it that must be spent, but as the designers are unwilling to add filtering to remove routes for motor vehicles, they don’t know where to spend it. Hence the ridiculous over-engineered stuff on Globe Street and Tabard Street.

I’m still not convinced that the Quietways concept is even a good one. It seems to be a continuation of the failed dual network approach, where some people are expected to put up with inconvenience while others put up with danger.

Who are these people who currently won’t cycle, but will happily leap onto a bike once Andrew Gilligan installs some signs along an already existing, convoluted, twisty-turny route full of humps and rat-running drivers, where they have to constantly give way to everyone? I’m not sure that these people exist.

The whole idea seems to be designed to shut cycle campaigners up while not upsetting the all-important drivers by making any actual changes to the roads. The Quietways don’t seem to form a network, and they’re definitely not the fine grid of interconnected cycling-friendly routes which are needed to enable mass cycling.

It feels a lot like we’re repeating the mistakes of the recent past by creating yet another version of the failed London Cycling Network, with isolated scraps of strange infrastructure, fading paint, and neglected signs scattered around the city.

It doesn’t even live up to its branding, as many of the roads that should be “quiet ways” are, in reality, speedy rat-runs which are to remain exactly as they are.


If you’re minded to take part in the consultation – and given the result of recent consultations I’m not sure it’s worth the bother – then you can submit comments via Southwark Council’s website here.

 

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