Tag Archives: Lambeth

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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A Tale of Two Streets

What is the difference between a street and a road?

Roads carry traffic from one place to another. When you make a journey by car, you should be on roads almost the entire time, the exceptions being when you set off from home, and when you arrive at your destination.

Streets are where people live, and the only traffic on them should be traffic that needs to be there – residents, visitors, deliveries.

So why is the phrase “rat run” so familiar in the UK?

A rat run is a street that is being used as a through-road. Most streets in the UK can be used like this, which is why children don’t play out in the street any more, as it’s highly likely that someone who has no business in the neighbourhood will be using the street as a short cut. This is the standard UK road design – but why?

Near my home there are two streets, and they’re very similar:

  • They are both residential streets (though one has many shops on too).
  • There are main roads to the North, South, and East.
  • They are connected directly to the road to the South.
  • They are connected the road road the East, very near to the junction with the road to the North.
  • They have a one-way street connecting them to the road to the East.

One of them is great to walk or ride along, but the other one can be horrible. One of them has hardly any traffic, the other is full of speeding taxis, motorbikes and vans.

Here’s why:

Hercules Road in London SE1, showing bad design which encourages rat-running

There is no restriction on traffic through the street here

As there is no restriction on traffic passing through the street, traffic heading from the North to the South-West (or vice-versa) can skip one set of traffic lights by using it as a rat-run, instead of keeping to the main through-roads.

Lower Marsh in London SE1, showing design which prevents rat-running.

Better design makes rat-running impossible, and the street is pleasant as a result

On this street just around the corner (I’ve kept the same layout for comparison) you can see that rat-running is impossible here, it doesn’t help you to use the street instead of the road. As a result, only vehicles who have reason to visit the street will do so.

The streets in question are Hercules Road and Lower Marsh, both in London SE1. Okay, so I kept the same layout for both streets, they’re not really quite as similar as that – Hercules Road has three one-way streets connecting to the West, whereas Lower Marsh has none any more, due to Waterloo station –  but they are very much the same in most important aspects.

Lower Marsh is pleasant to walk down, ride down, or even drive down, if you must! On how many streets in central London can a cat sit and wash?

A cat washing itself on Lower Marsh

Now this is what I call “shared space”!

Whereas Hercules Road isn’t even safe for fast cyclists, due to the aggressive rat-running, and also this awful pinch-point:

A nasty pinch-point on the rat run that is Hercules Road

I didn’t intentionally set out to get photos of taxis here, but they are very numerous! (Hercules Road is mainly residential, though the railway arches at the South-West end, seen in the background, are used as business units It’s also extremely wide at the Southern end.)

So here we have an example of good design, and bad design. Lower Marsh works, and there is no reason for Hercules Road to be a through-route for motor vehicles. Who do I get in touch with to look at this?

UPDATE, 29th of May 2012: I’ve been thinking about the options for Hercules Road (I do actually have that much time on my hands!) and a Lower Marsh-style solution won’t work, as it will still allow traffic heading North to rat-run around the traffic lights at the junction of Kennington Road and Lambeth Road. There’s tons of options, but I think the main point should be to remove the desire to use a street as a thoroughfare – a street should be a destination, not part of a route.

So, here’s one possible solution (I’ve added in a few more roads on this plan – all the one-way restrictions on these streets are already there):

Hercules Road, suggested motor traffic reduction scheme. Blocking motor traffic just south of the junction with Cosser Street will solve this.

Aah, I can see the cats sitting safely in the road now!

With this plan, the southern part of Hercules Road remains two-way. This is useful for the business units who rent space beneath the railway on the west side. (Luckily for the catering company which faces Cosser Street, they have a driveway on each side of the barrier!)

I’m not sure whether the top half of Hercules Road needs making one-way or not (probably does), but I’m certain that putting that motor vehicle restriction in place will remove the desire for using the street as a rat-run. Residents and businesses still have access, but the ability to skip the lights has gone.

I don’t know how much a few signs, a lick of paint and a concrete kerb cost, but I dare say it’s well within the budget of Lambeth Council to make Hercules Road into a street fit for those who live there.


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