Monthly Archives: July 2013

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.

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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