Royal College Street did not “Go Dutch”

The new Royal College Street layout is still not finished yet, but having seen the plans and seen the parts which are finished I think I should let you know about Camden’s flagship cycle scheme. My conclusion: it’s not very good.

It’s certainly not “truly Dutch” despite what Camden Cycling Campaign say.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s better than 99.9% of other roads in the UK and I’d much rather cycle here than almost anywhere else in Britain – but that really is faint praise, as almost every other road is truly dreadful.

The annoying thing about Royal College Street is that it’s essentially new-build. The whole road has been resurfaced and had a new layout applied, so there’s no excuse for rubbish here.

But there are so many flaws it’s difficult to know where to start. So why don’t I start with the bus stops? They’re certainly nowhere near Dutch standards (this is what Dutch bus stops actually look like).

Here’s a photo of a bus stopped at the southern-most bus stop on Royal College Street:

A photograph of a bus stopped on the new Royal College Street layout. There is room for cars to pass the stopped bus, but people boarding or alighting must stand in the cycle path while doing so. A bike user veers onto the footpath to avoid people getting on and off the bus.

This is not Dutch.

There are several things wrong here. The obvious problem is that despite there being plenty of space here, bus passengers and bike users are put into direct conflict, as people boarding or alighting the bus stand in the cycle path. The woman riding a bike here has illegally veered onto the footpath to avoid this conflict.

The other thing that’s wrong here is that while people on bikes must either break the law or stop, cars can pass the bus unimpeded! (Did someone say “prioritise cycling”?)

Another photograph of the same bus stop on Royal College Street. A taxi and a motorbike pass the stopped bus, while bike users and bus passengers are placed in conflict.

This really, really is not Dutch.

However, this isn’t what was promised. Here’s the detail from the original consultation document:

A detail from the plans for Royal College Street, which show that the bus stop filling the width of the carriageway.

This was never going to be Dutch.

As you can see, the original plans show the bus stop filling the width of the carriageway, forcing motor vehicles to wait behind the bus while it is stopped. But in reality, the road here is much wider, wide enough for a car to overtake a stopped bus.

I pointed this out on Twitter and got rather arsey replies from the Camden Cycling Campaign who insisted that the scheme was fine and that a taxi is a “skinny car” (whatever the hell that means):

Camden Cycling Campaign tweets: "Some skinny car squeezed through when bus stopped close to kerb. So..??" and "Camden plan: buses delay cars. Except if no parking. The consultation drawing gives carriageway 3.9m, bus stop 3m? OK?"

This is in English.

Brian Deegan (who was head of the scheme until he moved from Camden Council to TfL) also discussed it, insisting that cars did wait behind stopped buses, although he conceded that he hadn’t actually been to look yet.

He also said that Royal College Street was “tighter to the north” which isn’t entirely correct either. It is true that the entire road width is narrower, but due to having no parking spaces the carriageway is actually wider and even large vans can pass buses here!

A photograph of the second bus stop on Royal College Street. There's enough space for a large van to pass the stopped bus, while a bike user has to stop while passengers board and alight the bus.

Even less Dutch.

So, while the van and taxi pass the stopped bus, the bike rider on the left has stopped while the bus passengers cross the cycle track to reach the narrow footpath. Does that seem like prioritising walking and cycling to you? Because it sure doesn’t look like it to me.

It looks like business as usual, prioritising private motor vehicles while patting cycling on the head (along with walking and public transport).

Just after I took the photo above, another rider chose to leave the semi-segregated cycle lane and follow the cars, passing the bus on the right-hand side rather than come to a stop until the cycle track was clear of bus passengers. I understand why he did this – why lose all your momentum when there’s clear space to proceed? – but he shouldn’t have had to make that decision. People on bikes shouldn’t be faced with a choice of choosing to be safe or choosing what’s convenient. Good cycle infrastructure is both safe and convenient.

There’s clearly plenty of space at both bus stops for a proper bus stop island to enable passengers to board or alight without standing in the cycle track. In fact, I have made one of my mock-ups, showing what the bus stop at the southern end of Royal College Street could look like:

An altered photo of the southern bus stop on Royal College Street, showing that there is plenty of space for a bus stop island.

This is more like it. (Though as Chris points out in the comments, the bus shelter should be on the island. Like this altered version of Camden’s own visualisation which I did in January.)

Conclusion: The bus stops are crap

So that’s what I think of the bus stops on Royal College Street: they’re crap (or poor, or second-rate, or sub-par, whichever you prefer) and they force bus passengers and bike riders into conflict, while giving motor vehicles the red carpet.

Further to this, it must surely be stressful for people with visual or mobility difficulties to step off a bus into a stream of passing bikes, or to step in front of on-coming bikes when the bus pulls in. And what’s more is, there’s no need for this conflict whatsoever. We know how to do it right, and shouldn’t be building in conflict like this. If the street was extremely narrow then maybe I could sympathise, but it’s clearly not.

There are other things wrong with Royal College Street – the high kerbs massively reduce the effective width of the cycle tracks, and at one point the track turns into an advisory lane which then disappears altogether – but I’ll save them for another post.

This isn’t what I expected when we asked London to “Go Dutch”.

Footnote: I wonder if Brian Deegan has been on David Hembrow’s Study Tour? I think he really needs to see what good cycle infrastructure really looks like.


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26 responses to “Royal College Street did not “Go Dutch”

  1. This. Couldn’t agree more. We must continue to speak out for best practice and criticise (constructively, as you have) what is better than normal but not good enough. Appreciating substandard cycling infrastructure is exactly what has got us to where we are now.

    Incidentally, I’d rather have the shelter on the bus stop island, which should be possible (with maybe a slight bend of the cycle track).

    • Thanks Chris, much appreciated.

      You’re right about the bus stop shelter, it would ideally be on the island. In fact, I made a mock-up of exactly that back in January which showed that design, I’ll see if I can find it.

      • davidhembrow

        Thanks for another great post. As Chris, yourself and we all agree, the best possible infrastructure must always be the aim. Understanding why some things are not good enough is vitally important in order to be able to achieve the best.

        Your description of people leaving the cycle-lane in order to be able to overtake others riding bikes within it and the photo of a cyclist stopped to wait for bus passengers while drivers could easily overtake the stopped bus, both show something about the priorities of the designer of this infrastructure.

        It’s disappointing that Camden Cyclists appear to think that this is “truly Dutch”, because it simply is not so. Perhaps they would also benefit from being shown what real Dutch cycling infrastructure is all about as this could help them to set higher standards for themselves.

  2. Another well written article SC. Brian Deegan if you are reading this we have a couple of places left on our September 2013 Study Tour, please do get in touch with me and I’ll send all the details. Thank you.

    • Thanks Judy.

      I push your study tours because I genuinely believe that we have very much to gain from them! Certainly, Gilligan’s recent comments about “no space on London’s roads” show that his last trip to the Netherlands was a waste of time.

  3. Bill G

    It does feel churlish to criticise what is a better than average road but it really isn’t good enough. The south bound lane is not adequately protected and nor is it wide enough to over taking or simply to ride side by side and have a chat.

    Twice in two weeks the south bound lane has been blocked by Parcel Force vans parked outside the garage / exhaust centre during the motrning rush hour, which forces you to choose between ‘salmoning’ into the on-coming car lane or hopping on to the pavement and pissing off the pedestrians. A fine example of the limits of white paint and armadillos in holding back selfish parkers.

    The north bound lane has not been blocked yet but it certainly seems narrower than the old lane. All in all, I like the removal of the traffic lights but beyond that the old set up was just as good and the large kerb offered far better protection than the paint and armadillos.

    • Thanks for your comment, Bill.

      I know what you mean about it feeling a bit churlish, but if we’re going to spend public money on this then we’ve got to do it right. Otherwise Camden Cycling Campaign will continue to promote this as “truly Dutch” and we’ll end up with more half-baked schemes like this one.

      I didn’t see any vans blocking the cycle lanes, but there’s certainly plenty of opportunity for it. And also some proof that vans are parking there – I assume that the damage to this planter wasn’t caused by a bike!

  4. Paul M

    I confess I am baffled. On the one hand, I think you exaggerate a little about the space available for cars to pass – judging by your photo I would say it is little more than the 2 metre width of the cycle track, and any car passing through should at least proceed with caution if it wants to hang on to its wing mirrors.

    On the other, it is abundantly clear that there is more road width available than the plan indicates. How can that be? I take it you’re sure the bus stop on the plan and that on the photo are one and the same? On the assumption that the engineers were capable of stringing a tape-measure across the road and reading off the length stretched across, one has to assume that the extra carriageway width must have come at the expense of narrowing of something else – not apparently the cycle track behind the bus stop, which looks like it has the 2 metres shown in the plan, but the footway? Or the cycle track on the other side?

    The point is accentuated in your “even less Dutch” photo, where it can be seen that the footway is a miserable width, as well as being cluttered with poles. I should imagine that it is not only when a bus is at the stop that conflict between passengers and cyclists would occur – while passengers are waiting on the footway, there would be barely enough space for pedestrians to pass them and the temptation to step onto the cycle track, possibly without looking, must be there.

    It is also abundantly clear that the result is conceptually different from the plan. In the latter, it is quite clearly intended that motor traffic must wait behind buses. The wait would not be all that long, but as a means of making motor vehicle use just that little less attractive and tipping the balance towards bus and cycle, it is significant. In the result however they have clearly conceded to some form of pressure to allow traffic to overtake stationary buses, entirely at odds with the strategy, but they have done so fairly incompetently because while a standard saloon car can squeeze through that gap, anything larger, a light good vehicle for example, can’t, and worse still might think that they can, potentially causing an incident which risks injury, damage and delay to the bus passengers while the mess is sorted out.

    I can’t really make out the kerbs properly from the photos but I assume that apart from the raised tables at the bus stops, there is about 8-10cm of vertical rise on the kerbs to left of track. Presumably (?) these are the original kerbs and they haven’t been changed, but in any case as we saw on the TfL plans for CS2 extension, there seems to be a blind spot about use of angled kerbs to minimise trips and pedal strikes. Doesn’t make any sense, but there you are…

    • Hi Paul,

      Certainly, the space to pass the bus at the southern-most bus stop is only just enough for a taxi, but it certainly is enough. The second bus stop along the road has a much wider car passing space, as shown. You’re right that the footway width here is pretty miserable too. Bare minimum, really.

      I puzzled over the discrepancy between the plans and the real thing for a while. They definitely haven’t narrowed the footpaths (I checked using Streetview, which shows the old layout), and the cycle track width is 2m. I can only assume that the road width on the original plans were wrong.

      The kerbs are too high, if you ride too close then your pedal will hit them. Same for the planters. This means that people ride in the middle, which makes overtaking difficult. The effective width is much less than 2m. (A subject for another post!)

  5. fred

    The useful thing about this armadillos and planters design is that it’s easily changed at very little cost. If the kerbs and planters mean that the cycle track is too narrow, it can be widened an extra half metre or so. There’s plenty of room. Likewise, the bus stop elevation on the cycle track can be widened another couple of metres (with a pavement surface, and kerbs), to provide a space to alight from the bus. Again, that’s a small and inexpensive change, that will allow the street to function as originally intended. So can we change ‘crap’ to ‘flawed, but easy to correct’, praise the things that are good, and start to push Camden to make the corrections?

    • I think you have perhaps too much faith in councils’ willingness to make quick changes!

      Furthermore, if the changes are so easy to make then why didn’t they start with the widest cycle tracks possible, then narrow them later if the carriageway needed widening?

      You say it’s cheap to change, but I bet Camden will be wary about spending even more money on a scheme which is already meant to be top-notch.

  6. CalumCookable

    You’re quite right. It might work fairly well in Denmark, but this isn’t Denmark. British people will not expect this design, and if someone getting off a bus is hit and injured by someone on a bike, not only will this be an injury which could have been avoided (if the plainly superior Dutch example had been followed), it will also be a public relations disaster for (what is being passed off as) “Dutch-style” cycling infrastructure in the UK.

    Another point I would make is, where are the raised Kassel kerbs to allow wheelchair users easier access to buses? I should think these would be a standard feature in any civilised city. Even hellish backwards Glasgow has put these in place on its new cycle tracks, which treat bus stops in a similar way to RCS.

    • Hi Calum,

      Thanks for your comment. I think you make a really good point there. Royal College Street will only give “Go Dutch” a bad name – the bus users won’t like it and nor will the faster bike riders (I can see it being used as a stick to beat the idea of Dutch-style streets with in the future).

      As for the kerbs, I think all the buses in London have these automatic ramps for accessibility:

  7. Excellent piece of constructive criticism. One of the historical problems with the UK is money has been spent on infrastructure in places, but often half-heartedly.

    Even with better facilities being planned and installed it is important to work to try and ensure that they are fit for the tasks and deliver value for money. One of those tasks is to make cycling look and be safe for potential cyclists.

    From the photos and description, I’m not convinced it does 100% and that means cycling will still have the same issue which is people cycling despite the environment. We need people to cycle because of the environment.

    • Thanks for that, Gary. There are more flaws with this scheme, and I intend to point them out in future pieces. I’m doing this so that the same mistakes aren’t made next time because, as you say, we need people to cycle because of the environment! Right now, it’s easier to drive up Royal College Street than it is to ride up it, and that’s not right.

  8. I agree with these constructive criticisms. It’s very important to point out what went wrong with these scheme so that needless errors aren’t repeated.

    Understandable, given the lack of segregated cycle lanes in UK, that mistakes will be made at the moment. Important thing is to nip them in the bud for the future.

    Good work!

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  10. Andre Engels

    I think you’re pushing the wrong part of your argument here. As we say here in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (named Dutch #1 cycling city in 2011) “Don’t hate the car”. The issue is not that there is too much room for cars to pass the buses, the issue is that the cycling lane is in the wrong place. If there had been a (sufficiently wide) cycling track behind the bus stop (and sufficiently pedestrian space left), and they still managed to squeeze out enough room to get the cars to pass, so much the better.
    Of course, really going Dutch would be something else altogether – a cycling lane this close to the road is getting old-fashioned around here. Recently I have taken up the hobby of designing real Dutch-style solutions for English situations. For this street that comes up with the following:

    Take out the parallel road to the left, put the cycling track (2-way, 4-5 meter wide) either there or just this side of the trees (the remainder of these two areas being pavement). and add some parking space to the left side of the road to compensate for the lost ones on the parallel road. The bus stop could then eat into this parking space without any hinder to all three modes of transportation, and have a real Dutch-width cycling track, plenty of pedestrian room and unimpeded traffic for cars all at a go.
    In the ‘more northern’ situation there is no such parallel road, so we have to go different. My proposal here would be to have a 2-way cycle track on the left (4 meters 2-way is really more than 2 times 2 meters 1-way), then the (significantly broadened) pavement, and then the carriage road. Plants and street furniture go on the right side of the pavement; the bus stop could eat into the pavement, but I don’t think it would be enough to make the bus passable by car, so it’s better not to do so, and have some walking space left.

    • The service road, unfortunately, doesn’t go very far up Royal College Street, so there’d be no advantage to using it for cycling, I don’t think.

      The cycle lane and bus stop should definitely be swapped around though (i.e. the bus stop should be on the raised part of the cycle track, while the cycle track should run behind it, through where the bus stop currently is), and the parked cars moved left a metre or two to create a door-zone buffer for the southbound cycle lane.

      Plenty of space! I don’t know why they didn’t do that to begin with.

      • Andre Engels

        Perhaps the reason why is simply because it is the smallest change from an original design that did not cater for cyclists at all? And I guess we agree here: That cycle track could easily have been both moved to the left and widened a bit without taking too much off the pavement. And then a mild swerve to the left would have been enough to pass the bus stop on the correct side (I had originally written ‘right side’, but that can be misunderstood in this case).

    • Forgot to mention – I’m not anti-car in principle, but they should be at the bottom of the transport heap. Here they get priority over bikes and buses. Bikes must wait for passengers while the bus is stopped, then when the bus is ready to depart it must wait for a break in the stream of passing cars. It also shows that there was enough space to do it properly.

      There is also something to be said in making car journeys less convenient. In the UK it’s the default option for many people, even for journeys of less than a mile. Making that journey slightly less convenient tips the balance in favour of other modes, and we really need a lot of tipping of that balance here!

  11. davidhembrow

    I just re-read my post about London’s new plans from March. Until now I’d forgotten that they had written about exactly this problem of conflict between bus passengers and cyclists as if it was intractable. I criticized it then as being not very Dutch, and I’ve expanded that section of my criticism with a link to this post showing what they branded as “Dutch”.

    • One thing – the Mayor’s “Vision” was written by Andrew Gilligan, who had nothing to do with Royal College Street (a non-TfL road controlled by Camden Council) which was already fully planned by March, including the crappy bus stops.

      It’s still strange that cycle paths at bus stops are proving to be such a head-scratcher for so many people, when the solution is very simple and has been clearly documented and described many times. Yet the abominations we install are still described as being Dutch!

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