Tag Archives: London

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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Transport Poverty

Note: I’m really struggling to comprehend the number of comments I’m getting along the lines of “ah, well I once had to carry three hundred melons up Mount Everest, so you are wrong”.

So for the purpose of clarification: This article isn’t suggesting that every single journey made by everyone in the whole world should be made by bike. Of course buses, trains, cars and taxis all have their uses, I use them all myself.

What I’m saying is that Britain’s infrastructure over-encourages the use of buses, trains, cars and taxis and massively suppresses the use of bikes, especially for short urban journeys (which make up the vast majority of journeys that people in the UK make every day, and for which the bike would make most sense for many people).

Last week I went to an event 2.7 miles away from where I live.

My journey was entirely urban, through London’s central financial district, AKA “the City”.

There was a tube strike on, so that wasn’t an option. As a result, the buses were packed and the roads congested too. (Actually, the roads are always congested, but still.)

So I walked.

I walked past where my bike is locked up, and kept on going.

It took almost an hour.

At that time of day, the bus would have taken nearly as long – probably 45 minutes or so. But I’d have been paying for the privilege of being squashed into a crowded space for the duration.

Even if the tube had been running normally, it would have taken me 30 minutes at least, if the walking at either end was included. And again, I’d have been paying to cram into a tiny underground train with hundreds of other people.

The distance could easily be covered by bike in about 15 minutes, and yet I chose not to cycle because the conditions on the roads in this country are so awful. (As I walked along, I saw that I was right not to cycle.)

I call this Transport Poverty.

I’m not the first to use this term, but I’m going to talk about what I understand it to mean.

Choices, choices…

What are the options to British people today?

There’s public transport, which for most British people means a bus. Outside of London, buses are usually expensive (here in London it’s £1.45 for a bus journey of any length, in Leeds it’s usually £2 or £2.80 depending on distance – how does your town compare?). They can also be infrequent, especially in smaller towns or on Sundays, whereas here in the capital they are at least fairly cheap and pretty reliable.

But we’re still paying £1.45 to sit on (or stand in, or squeeze onto) a great lumbering beast of a vehicle which almost certainly doesn’t even go exactly where we want it to, and even if it does then it may not take the most direct route.

Photo of a crowded bus with steamy windows. An unhappy-looking woman looks out of the window.

Yeah, this is a great way to travel two miles. (Photo: Simon Ingram)

As Mark Treasure pointed out, a BBC News report about the tube strike showed crowds of people waiting to get on a bus whose entire route is only six miles long – and most bus passengers don’t travel from the first stop to the very last. Even if every passenger was going to the final stop, the whole journey would take only about 30 minutes by bike – and the bike takes you right to the very place you’re going, there’s no walking at the other end.

The same goes for the tube and trains. Rail travel is great over long distances, but for a huge number of shorter journeys it’s terribly inefficient.

Another down-side to public transport is that not only do you have to walk the first and last legs of your journey, but you have to wait for the bus/tram/train to arrive!

You know, now I’m describing the actions required to make a short journey by public transport, the more insane it seems.

You have a walk from where you are to the stop or station, then you have to wait for the bus/train/tram. When it does arrive it may be full to bursting, and it will stop several times at places you don’t want to go before it gets to your stop. Even then you still have to walk to your final destination.

And that’s when everything is running perfectly – when there’s some unforeseen delay it can increase the total journey time massively, and surely we’ve all missed the last train or bus at least once?

Hundreds of people cram onto an underground train

That millions of people choose to do this every day rather than cycle for half an hour, even on a perfect summer’s day, should tell you something about the conditions on the surface. (Photo: Steve Chou)

If you’re very rich then a good (almost-) door-to-door solution is a taxi, but these do cost a lot of money and are often no faster than a bus, as they have to sit in the same traffic as everyone else while you watch the meter run up your final price. It does also seem rather mad that in London we have a huge army of people driving thousands of empty cars around such a densely-packed city, looking for people who need an expensive lift somewhere.

Then we come to the private automobile – usually a car. This option is very space-inefficient as just one person can take up so much room. Wherever these vehicles are found in great numbers in urban environments, you’ll find them going nowhere fast at all. The sheer bulk of the things means that they can never be a mass urban transportation solution, as our villages, towns and cities soon fill up with them, and the freedom these vehicles supposedly represent seems bitterly ironic. Given the massive cost of owning and maintaining these vehicles, many people have to spend a good chunk of their earnings on keeping one.

A still from one of TfL's traffic-cams, showing traffic at a crossroads. One road has three lanes, the other has five. The traffic flows are blocking each other, leading to gridlock.

What London really needs is more space for bulky, polluting, dangerous vehicles. (Image via.)

I should also insert motorbikes into my list somewhere, but this is one option I don’t know much about. But while I’m sure they have their uses, and they don’t take up anywhere near as much space as a car, I’d say that they’re overkill for the vast majority of urban journeys (which are only a few miles in length). They make far more transport sense than cars in some ways, just for the space efficiency (and surely they’re more fuel-efficient, too?). I expect that, for most people, motorbikes also suffer from a poor safety image – which brings us to the humble bicycle.

The right tool for the job

For my journey today (and for a vast proportion of journeys that British people make on a daily basis) a bike would have been easily the best mode of transport. It’s certainly much cheaper than the competition (except walking), and in central London – where the cars and vans barely move at all – it would have been much faster than any other transport, too.

There’s no per-journey cost, it can take me from door to door, and it’s fast enough to make journeys across town quickly. It poses almost zero risk to other people, it doesn’t take up lots of space, and it doesn’t pump toxic fumes into the air. What’s not to love?

People using bikes for transport in Utrecht

Wow, it’s the perfect vehicle for urban journeys! What could go wrong?

But the way that Britain’s roads have been designed means that the best tool for the job is also the scariest. (And remember, they were intentionally designed that way – they’re a man-made construction, not a natural phenomenon.)

So what do millions of people do when they need to make a short journey of just a mile or two? They walk to a bus stop and wait. They flood into a tube station and wait. They sit in the traffic. Some of them even walk along the narrow footpaths and cross all those vehicle-priority minor side-streets!

Very few of them even consider using a bicycle even though it would be the fastest way of making their journey, and cheaper than everything except walking, too. But given the dreadful conditions for cycling in this country, I understand that decision completely.

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.

The luminous person is cycling despite the conditions here, not because of them. (This road has apparently been described as “perfect for cycling”.)

So because using the easiest, most direct, cheapest and cleanest mode of transport involves high levels of stress and fear, the vast majority of people choose to pay to sit in queues of cars belching fumes, or herd into trains and buses.

Cycling in Britain today really is that awful.

There’s a whole country outside of London

And outside of my little central London bubble, the form of transport poverty that many are locked into is that of dependence on motor vehicles.

In Leeds, where I’m from, people are locked in to car ownership, and most people feel they have no option but to drive. The buses are infrequent and expensive, and despite the acres of space available the conditions for walking and cycling are dire. I myself have felt the panic of having no car to rely on, back in what now seems like a former life. I have friends who still live there who really do feel the pain of car ownership yet feel there’s no alternative. Even for very short journeys, the car is seen as the only sensible option.

A road in Leeds which is incredibly wide. Wide enough for 8 lanes of traffic at least, even though there's only one lane each way. Most of the huge expanse of tarmac is painted with various stripes and parking areas.

Leeds could accommodate space for cycling, but it’s a matter of finding space in those narrow streets.

In any Dutch city, even in the busiest parts of The Hague, Amsterdam or Rotterdam, most people would choose a bike to make such a journey. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in that country, and I’ve covered many hundreds of miles through countryside, villages, towns and cities, without any of the stress and fear which is the norm when riding a bike in the UK.

We don’t have to live in transport poverty

If we didn’t live in a state of transport poverty, we wouldn’t even have to think twice about how to travel a mere 2.7 miles.

Dutch families on bikes on a cycle path at a junction. In the foreground we can see a teenage boy on a bike, next to him is his mother with the younger brother sat in a child seat on the back of her bike. Further away is another mother with her children in a box-bike.

This is the opposite of transport poverty. Transport affluence? Transport ease? Transport abundance? Whatever it’s called, I want it.

 

 

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Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies

I wish I could believe everything the Mayor and his team tell me. If there’s one thing that Boris Johnson is good at, it’s making promises.

TfL have recently produced this video about their vision for cycling in London. And it sounds wonderful. Oh, the things they say!

Doesn’t it all sound great?

The Mayor plans to transform provisions for cycling … Investing in cycling makes life better for everyone … We’re spending almost a billion pounds … In London, 4.3 million trips made every day could be made by bike … The streets of central London will be opened up to cyclists as never before … A network of cycle routes will cover central London like a grid … In outer London the vast majority of journeys by car are less than a mile and a half … The idea is to make [the "mini-Holland"] boroughs places as good for cycling as their Dutch equivalents would be … An 8-to-80 cycling culture throughout London … A city where people feel safer cycling, feel confident cycling, and choose to cycle because they really enjoy the experience … London will be a city with a world-class transport and cycling network … Cycling is hugely important…”

And such inspirational music too!

Unfortunately, I don’t believe them. It’s nothing but propaganda and hype, and the cracks are already visible.

Despite these fine words, the plans are already failing to live up to the promises made.

The biggest let-down is the proposed Central London Grid – it’s rubbish. It’s not even a grid!

If you read David Hembrow’s articles on the grid concept, you’ll see that what’s required is a dense network of cycle routes, enabling anyone to cycle from anywhere to anywhere else. That isn’t what we have here.

The grid that isn’t

What TfL have done here is design a network patchwork that affects motoring as little as possible. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the wording of the design brief.)

It includes Hyde Park (which closes at midnight) and Kensington Gardens (which closes at dusk!), and includes bits of canal towpath (which are narrow, and dark at night). This isn’t a grid, it’s a joke.

Don’t kid yourself – the reason Gilligan loves the “quietways” concept so much is not because they’re great for cycling, but because they don’t get in the way of all-important motor traffic.

It’s been tried before, and is proven to be a failed concept. How is this convoluted patchwork of back-streets any different from the half-hearted LCN?

TfL's joke of a Central London Cycling Grid

I’ve updated the Royal Parks to reflect their part-time status, and changed a canal route to grey to reflect the lack of social safety.

You’ll note that motor vehicles remain on the straightest, most convenient and most desirable routes, which TfL directly control. This so-called grid for cycling shows only convoluted back-street routes on borough roads, and you know that Westminster will do all they can to prevent any real change for the better on their roads.

And remember: this is their opening gambit! It’s not going to get better from here, only more and more watered down. If this is their dream plan, then the bold promises made in the video have already turned to ashes.

Why are TfL expecting the borough councils to handle all the cycle traffic on these back streets? What about Euston Road, a TfL-controlled 6 lane-wide motorway which cuts across the city from Paddington to Angel? Why is nothing being done there, or on any of the other multi-lane direct roads under TfL’s control?

You can send TfL your thoughts on their grid attempt until 14th of February using this email address: grid@tfl.gov.uk.

London is very, very far away from Holland

I’d also like to touch upon the “Mini-Holland” proposals. I can’t claim to have read all of them in detail, but I have been through most of the shortlisted ones, and I can say this: Andrew Gilligan’s promises are already broken. 

This is because even the best of these “Mini-Holland” proposals will not in any way create conditions “as good for cycling as their Dutch counterparts” – every one of them falls short in some major way.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the proposals do include some positive changes which should be welcomed. But they’re all piecemeal solutions. Not one of them proposes doing “everything, everywhere” which is required to make these places “every bit as cycle-friendly as their Dutch equivalents.”

All of the proposals are at least a little bit disappointing in their failure to really understand what makes Dutch cycling conditions so safe and inviting.

All the proposals feature brand new ASLs as some sort of solution. Many of them misinterpret Dutch practice and apply it to unsuitable roads. Some of them focus largely on leisure routes. All of them bang on about soft measures such as bike maintenance classes or poster campaigns. The London borough councils really need to go on a Hembrow Study Tour, as they clearly only have the vaguest idea of what Dutch cycling infrastructure actually is.

Maybe I’ll write more about the Mini-Holland proposals once the final decision is made about which boroughs have won the mini pot of gold (as there’ll be less waffle to wade through once they’ve chosen the winners).

But for now, I’ll leave you with Enfield’s vision of good-quality Dutch cycling infra, which is so awful that it probably warrants a blog post all of its own:

Laughably awful visualisation by Enfield council, showing narrow bike lanes in the dooring-zone, and bus stops on the wrong side of cycle paths.

If this travesty is Dutch, then I’m a Dutchman’s uncle.

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Seriously now, what are Lambeth Council’s plans?

I’m not joking here, I want some answers.

Recently my own dear council, Lambeth, voted through a “momentous document” which has already been praised as “terrific” by Andrew Gilligan and “fantastic” by the Lambeth Cyclists.

But walking and cycling have been the high priority for Lambeth Council for AT LEAST 11 YEARS, yet the streets remain curiously car-centric! Surely this terrific and fantastic document won’t turn out to be nothing more than wasted ink? So I pointed Lambeth Council to my last post which gives an example of the sort of thing they need to be looking at if they’re planning on being true to their word.

Lambeth Council's 2002 Road User Hierarchy, showing emergency vehicles at the top, followed by people with mobility needs, then walking, then cycling, with cars way down at the bottom.

Lambeth Council’s ‘Road User Hierarchy’ in 2002. With the possible exception of emergency vehicles, this entire list is an inversion of reality in Lambeth, and I have the concrete and asphalt to prove it.

The council, minds on other more important matters, failed to respond but I did get two replies.

The first was from London Green Cycles which said: “they’ve just agreed to offer free cargobike trials for businesses.” Now I make no comment whatsoever about London Green Cycles as a business, but I genuinely fail to see how offering cargo-bike trials to local companies will get more children cycling to school (for example). Why, it’s almost as if the council hasn’t got a clue what it’s doing! (Hint: install the infrastructure, which we’ve known about for decades, and businesses will be queuing up to buy cargo-bikes.)

The second reply was from Lambeth Cyclists, a group with whom I have had only fleeting contact. (Speaking about the LCC, one of their members said to me “I don’t like all this focus on Go Dutch,” as if Dutch infrastructure is some silly nonsense and can we please get back to doing bike breakfasts and handing out free hi-vis.)

Lambeth Cyclists offered the following: “Change is coming – Tfl CSH5 will make Oval junction better.”

Quite apart from the fact that CS5 is a TfL project not a Lambeth Council one, the latest plans for Oval junction are dangerous crap, nothing but the sort of paint job Boris’ vision assured us had been consigned to history. TfL are promising that the paint job will only be temporary, a stop-gap until something better can be installed in 2015, which is just far enough in the future that everyone will have forgotten about it when it’s finally cancelled due to budget cuts. (You’ll have to forgive me for being cynical, but the Internet’s memory isn’t as short as most cycling campaigners, it seems.)

So Lambeth Cyclists are offering a vague and distant scheme from TfL as evidence that Lambeth Council takes its goals seriously? Maybe whoever sent that tweet would be better off moving to Crapburgh, they’d fit right in there.

So, what concrete changes have Lambeth Council promised so far? What plans are they consulting on which prioritise walking and cycling and push private cars to the bottom of the transport pile? I genuinely want to see them. I really want this to happen. But I suspect that it won’t.

Will Lambeth Council make me happy and prove me wrong, or will they just offer me a free cargo-bike trial instead?

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Thinking big

Does the UK have the guts to do what’s required to create mass cycling? We’re good at talk, but action seems to be thin on the ground.

The trouble with most British attempts to improve conditions for cycling is that they aim to cause little or no obstruction to private motor vehicles. As a result, we’re left with seriously compromised designs.

Recently it has been reported that air pollution in Britain is responsible for many thousands of deaths, and most of that pollution comes from motor vehicles. Solving this problem will require more than just tinkering around the edges.

Bollards and paint and signs, oh my!

We should be thinking big. Little nudges will achieve little.

Lambeth council has just voted to adopt a cycling policy which aims to massively increase cycling in the borough. What this will mean on the ground remains to be seen, as they already have a road user hierarchy which places walking and cycling at the top, followed by public transport, with private motor vehicles at the bottom. Yet there’s very little evidence of this policy on the ground.

A section of Lambeth council's transport plan, showing walking as top priority and cars at the bottom. Ha!

Maybe I’ve got the wrong Lambeth, or it’s an April fools joke. (Page 73 of this PDF document.)

Unfortunately the hierarchy is preceded by these horrible weasel words:

Where possible Lambeth will seek to reallocate road space in favour of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. However, Lambeth will need to work closely with all affected stakeholders to ensure that there is reasonable balance between competing modes.” (Emphasis mine.)

But that was published back in the dark ages of last year. Maybe they really do mean it this time!

If Lambeth aims to be true to its word, then we’re not talking about a bollard here, a dropped kerb there, and a few “no entry except cyclists” signs. It will take far more than this to turn Lambeth into a great place to ride a bike.

Why don’t we start here: close Westminster Bridge Road to private motor vehicles at peak hours.

This is exactly the kind of project Lambeth should now be seriously considering if it is to become London’s top cycling borough. They’ve committed themselves on paper, now it’s time to follow through with concrete and asphalt.

Why not restrict motor traffic on Westminster Bridge Road, between the railway bridge and Lambeth North tube station? Private motor vehicles are at the bottom of Lambeth council’s road user hierarchy, so why are they allowed through here 24/7 creating an intimidating environment for cycling?

This road isn’t essential, motor vehicles will be able to reach their destination by going around using other roads. Westminster Bridge Road is a busy bus route and therefore needs Dutch-style cycle paths along its entire length to be safe for cycling (there are far too many buses for ‘share the road’ to work). The section between the railway bridge and Lambeth North is narrow, so adding decent cycle paths into the current four-lane road would be a squeeze. As far as I can see there’s no other option but to remove the general traffic lanes.

This isn’t just my opinion: I’m putting Lambeth’s very own policies into practice.

An airbrushed image of Westminster Bridge Road showing how it would look with cycle paths.

It would look a little something like this. (Not like this.)

It can be done, by the way. I know Haarlem isn’t London, but that Dutch city turned a pretty horrible road into a beautiful segregated-bus-and-bike-only road.

Ding, dong, the Aldwych tunnel is dead!

I’ve been trying to figure out Waterloo Bridge for some years now. How could it “Go Dutch”? The southern end, at the Imax roundabout, is easy as there’s tons of space. The bridge itself is fairly easy too, I reckon. Remove the central reservation, narrow the lanes and make it 20mph, and I bet there’d be space for cycle paths.

But what about the northern end, where it meets Aldwych and the Strand? On the northbound side there are bus stops and footpaths which are too narrow already, and in the middle is the Strand Underpass motor vehicle tunnel. There’s just not enough space on the road. The nearside lane could be converted into a cycle path, and all private vehicles forced to take the tunnel at peak hours.

But the real solution would be to remove the tunnel altogether. The portal takes up so much room which could be used to create a proper Dutch-style junction. I know this might sound like pie-in-the-sky madness, but it is possible.

Aldwych is wide — incredibly so. The carriageway is five lanes wide. One is used for buses stopping, the next is used for moving vehicles. The middle lane, bizarrely, is used for parked taxis, the fourth lane is used for moving vehicles, and the fifth lane is for parking.

This is utter madness, the land here must cost a fortune and we use it to store parked vehicles!

A photo of Aldwych in London, showing the huge amount of space available.

This is just insane. (Google Maps)

So close the tunnel, make all traffic go around Aldwych — there’s plenty of space for that. Without the tunnel entrance and exit, there’d be space at the end of Waterloo Bridge and on Kingsway to install cycle paths.

While we’re at it, and I say this with a heavy heart, we can lose the old northern portal to the Kingsway tram tunnel. The last tram passed through in 1952! Unfortunately it’s Grade II Listed, which means it’s likely to remain. I do like the old tram tunnel portal, I especially like that the tram tracks remain, but it’s taking up very valuable space on a busy road in central London. But if the tunnel can’t be removed, then a general traffic lane on each side needs to be taken.

Whenever I go out in London, I’m amazed at the number of people travelling in cars, many of them with just a driver and no passengers. This still seems to be the main mode of transport for many people. London clearly isn’t doing enough to discourage private car use, and tinkering around the edges while maintaining motor vehicle capacity just isn’t going to change things.

We should not continue to prioritise motor vehicles. Our political leaders keep talking about how great cycling is, it’s time for them to make it safe for people to do it. They keep telling us that cycling is a priority, it’s time for them to make it so.

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TfL must surely be running out of options now

What changes will Transport for London make at the Aldgate East junction, where Philippine De Gerin-Ricard was killed just over one week ago?

What changes will be made at Holborn, where another person was killed by a lorry today?

They’ve tried “encouraging” cycling, they’ve tried ignoring it, they’ve tried propaganda, they’ve even tried lying to us about it.

They’ve tried doing tiny bits of good stuff, they’ve tried doing long stretches of crap stuff, they’ve tried fiddly back streets many many times (though they never really got even that right, so are determined to give that failed concept yet another go anyway).

What else can they try? Surely TfL have exhausted the list of things which may or may not make cycling safe and attractive. They’ve certainly exhausted the list of cheap, ineffective and motor traffic-neutral interventions.

There’s only one thing left to do: Bite the bullet and do what the Dutch did.

Five years too long

Boris Johnson was re-elected as Mayor over one year ago now and has been the “cycling Mayor” for five years, yet progress has been glacial over this time. Is London significantly better for cycling than it was five years ago? The appointment of Andrew Gilligan as part-time Cycling Commissioner has moved things on a bit, as he seems to be eager to do good things and prevent bad things from happening.

But despite all the fine words, there have still been few firm plans, let alone any concrete changes on the ground (though the CS2 extension was due to be started a few weeks ago, I don’t know if it has yet). I’d settle for some plastic changes – and by that I mean trials of new road layouts.

One of the many things Andrew Gilligan said at the LCC seminar in April (three months ago already!) was that he’d like to trial removing a lane here, adding a cycle track there, by using temporary measures. I’d really like to see this happen now. Set up some bollards and some temporary lights, let’s see how a separate green phase for bikes affects things.

We’ll almost certainly discover that it works just fine, as Leicester did.

All hail the Mayor (of Leicester)!

Earlier this year, Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby closed one lane of Newarke Street to see what effect it would have on congestion. (See local news articles before, at the start, during, and after the experiment.) Despite Newarke Street being a busy thoroughfare and part of the city’s inner ring road, the council wanted to see if some of the three-lane one-way carriageway could be reclaimed for walking and cycling. After a four-month trial, they concluded that the road worked just fine with two lanes, and the extra lane will be used to extend the footpath and install “a separate cycle lane, surfaced in red asphalt” – aah, bliss! I can’t wait to see it (don’t mess this up, Leicester!).

So that’s how easy it is. But you know what? I reckon Leicester could have gone one step further and instead of coning off the lane to all vehicles they could have created a temporary cycle path to see whether more people chose to cycle along there when protected from motor traffic. Sturdy plastic and concrete barriers are available, which would remove the risk of a motor vehicle driver careering through a row of flimsy cones.

Put the roads on a diet

There’s plenty of space to try this on our over-wide highways. Look at Holborn, the location of today’s corporate manslaughter:

A photograph of Holborn in London, the scene of today's death. Four wide lanes for motor vehicles, two reasonable footpaths, nothing for cycling.

Physical evidence that our government prioritises motor vehicles over all other forms of transport

Is there really no room for a cycle path here? Is there really nothing that can be done? Nothing that can be tried? Just fast-moving heavy vehicles day after day, killing some by force and killing thousands by suffocation and fear.

Andrew Gilligan recently told us that we can’t expect change overnight. In his case I guess that’s fair enough, it’s a part-time position and he’s only been in the job a few months.

But what about Boris Johnson? He’s had five years to sort this out and yet has spectacularly failed to do so. Most of London’s roads are no-go areas for cycling as far as I’m concerned. (And millions of other Londoners feel the same way – 30% of people would like to cycle but don’t, and the main reason is fear of motor traffic.)

Boris and TfL: it’s time to stop talking and start taking space from our bloated roads, because without doing that London will remain a dangerous smog-filled mess.

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Update: Of course, it’s not just TfL who need to up their game, but the local London councils too. Most roads (even a large chunk of the ‘main’ roads) are controlled by the councils, not TfL. So this post is really aimed at them too, just as much.

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