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