Tag Archives: London

Football-pitch junctions

We’re really not stuck for space, we’re just bad at slicing it up.

I was looking at a huge junction in London recently and was wondering if you could fit a full-sized football pitch in the space. (After all, it’s a measurement people seem to understand.)

It turns out, you quite often can (or very nearly). I superimposed an aerial shot of a major football team’s pitch onto various road junctions around the UK to see how much space was really available. Then I made them look nice and uploaded them here for your perusal.

If you’re not familiar with the scale here, have a look at these photos to get an idea of just how big this football pitch is.

 

Parliament Square, London, with two football pitches overlaid

Parliament Square, London. I find it amazing that you could fit TWO full-sized football pitches in here!

 

Holborn Circus in London, with a football pitch overlaid to show just how massive the space is.

Holborn Circus, London. A notoriously dangerous junction which is currently undergoing redevelopment (though the redesign looks pretty crap to me).

 

Euston Circus, London, which is as big as a full-sized football pitch

Junction of Euston Road and Tottenham Court Road, London. Still called Euston Circus despite being bulldozed through in the 1960s or 70s, this area is currently subject to road-works where the car will remain king.

 

Aerial photo of Picardy Place, Edinburgh, with a football pitch overlaid to show the size.

Picardy Place, Edinburgh.

 

Tollcross in Edinburgh, big enough for a football pitch.

Tollcross, Edinburgh. A junction which I hate, it’s some sort of 1960s town planner’s dream scheme. Awful to walk across, takes ages waiting at the many arms of this junction. I’ve never cycled there but I can’t imagine it’s much fun.

 

A junction in Leeds, absolutely masses of unused space, very bad walking and cycling conditions.

Kirkstall Road and Willow Road, Leeds. Recently remodelled, this area offers “provision for cyclists to use the new bus lane and enjoy a safer and easier ride“, as if that’s going to get people cycling. Duuuhhh, try again, Leeds City Council!

 

Hyde Park Corner in London is bigger than THREE full-sized football pitches!

Hyde Park Corner, London. I know the island takes up much of this, but the fact that you can easily fit THREE full-sized football pitches in the area tells us that there’s literally room for improvement here.

 

And a new, late addition:

The junction of Leith Walk and London Road in Edinburgh, into which a full-sized football pitch can almost fit.

Currently the subject of fierce debate, the southern end of Leith Walk in Edinburgh.

 

Do you have any more suggestions of wide roads and junctions to try this on? Let me know in the comments and I might do a follow-up.

All satellite images from Google Maps.

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Cycling-friendly joined-up thinking

Hello London visitors! Welcome to the UK capital city. It’s great for cycling here, and we’re not just saying that!

VisitLondon.com (the “official visitor guide”) tell us that:

“The banks of London’s river Thames offer long stretches of traffic-free cycling. Most of London’s Thames-side cycle route is on the Thames Path National Trail.”

Sounds great! So let’s follow that link to the Thames Path website and check out their “planning a trip” page:

“The Thames Path is a wonderful place to walk, but PLEASE NOTE it is NOT a long distance cycle route. See our FAQs about cycling to find the short sections which can be cycled.

Oh.
 

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Andrew Gilligan versus TfL’s love for motor vehicles

You know what? This Andrew Gilligan chap might not be half bad. I went to a talk last week at which he was the main event, and I went in full cynical miserable sod mode as usual, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Now, all the excitement about the Mayor’s cycling “Vision” has died down and is giving way to more sober scrutiny, although I wonder why we cycling campaigners weren’t cheering for Caroline Pidgeon rather than Boris all those weeks ago. (We have a voice in the London Assembly who has seen the Vision and is calling for more! Surely we should be behind that 100%?)

Having said that, I do like a lot of the language in the “Mayor’s Vision” document, which was written by Gilligan. There’s lots of bold statements about doing things right and about treating cycling as a proper mode of transport, all of which is very pleasing to the cycle campaigner’s eye. At the talk he told us that he accepts that installing cycle paths will sometimes increase journey times for motor vehicles – something which was heresy at TfL a couple of years ago, and probably remains so in certain quarters.

He was also very blunt about some of the crap cycle infrastructure which has been installed in recent years (yes, he used the word “crap”), openly admitting that much of what’s been done, and what continues to be done, simply isn’t anywhere near good enough.

But there’s also some rather less bold statements, about shared bus-and-bike lanes for example (Will motorbikes and taxis still be allowed in them? Is it fair that 50 bus passengers have to wait behind me as I ride at a casual 8mph?), and a strange faith in the power of mandatory cycle lanes (“which motor vehicles cannot enter” – ha!), but still, things seem to be pointing in the right general direction at least.

I was rather disappointed by Gilligan’s target of 5% cycling modal share by 2020, which I consider to be rather unambitious, but at least he did explain his reasoning behind this, which is that it’s a larger increase than anywhere else has managed, so a higher target is very unlikely. (Though I wonder if he’s taken the awfulness of rush-hour public transport into consideration – surely Londoners would flock to a safe, free alternative to the Central line?). I may disagree with the figure, but at least he put some thought into it unlike Edinburgh city council which picked a number out of thin air before deciding not to bother.

So even though I don’t agree with everything he says, I do like the way in which Gilligan comes across (though I suspect that’s one reason why he got the job in the first place). I think this might be because he’s a journalist and therefore skilled at communication, but also because he’s not a politician. He didn’t have to make any promises to a braying public in order to get the job, and he’s not chasing any votes in the future, so he doesn’t have to sugar coat bad news or slither his way around tricky questions. I found his honesty and candour to be quite refreshing, and I was impressed to see that he didn’t rush off immediately afterwards but instead stayed behind discussing things with attendees without even a hint of wanting to be somewhere else.

So I want this post to be read in the spirit of constructive criticism, rather than just whinging. I’m also aware that I covered this topic in my last post, but I’m going to talk about cycle paths along main roads again anyway.

Quietways should be secondary routes

At the talk on Monday there was much discussion of the Quietways and the obstacles which will need to be overcome. One big problem is that the local borough councils control most of the roads, and therefore TfL will need their co-operation (and the co-operation of residents) to implement the Quietways.

When Gilligan was giving hypothetical of the new routes which will roughly follow tube lines, he said something like “for example, you could take the Bakerloo superhighway to Baker Street then get on the Circle Quietway to Kings Cross” as he waved his hand to the south, rather than out of the north-facing window towards the wide, thundering, TfL-controlled clearway of Marylebone Road which lay right outside the building we were in.

I understand that was just an example and that he wasn’t giving us any hints about a probable route for this part of the network – he was very careful to not make any announcements like that yet – but I got out my map anyway and looked for a possible route from Baker Street to Kings Cross which didn’t involve riding along the terrifying but conveniently direct urban motorway which is the A501 (AKA Marylebone Road and Euston Road).

The Mayor’s Vision document says that “unlike the old London Cycle Network, Quietways will be direct” but it’s just not possible here. The best I could find was the red line shown below:

A map showing two routes from Baker Street to Kings Cross in London. The direct route on TfL roads, and the complex wiggly route on local council roads.

Dangerous but direct route (in blue), or safe but slow Quietway (in red)? The dual network awaits your selection!

In his introduction to the Vision document, Boris Johnson says: “Cycling will be treated not as niche, marginal, or an afterthought, but as what it is: an integral part of the transport network, with the capital spending, road space and traffic planners’ attention befitting that role.”

Sounds great, but that red line doesn’t look like an “integral part of the transport network” to me.

The Vision’s promise of direct Quietways simply isn’t physically possible here. I strongly suspect that if the only option was a back-street Quietway, most of those hardened commuter cyclists who already cycle from Baker Street to Kings Cross will simply continue to do so along the A501. So who is the Quietway for? Surely we’re not talking about the ridiculous “dual networkagain?!

Why would TfL continue to prioritise motor traffic while keeping cycling hidden on the back streets?

Perhaps it’s because of London’s narrow medieval road system – after all, the A501 only has seven lanes for motor vehicles here and a central divider (how quaintly 10th-century!) so I guess the bike users will have to slum it where they don’t get in the way of all that very important burning of fossil fuel:

A photograph of Marylebone Road in London, which has six lanes for traffic and one parking lane.

“London doesn’t have wide roads like New York City” (Pic: Google Maps)

If Boris is telling the truth, then the only option is to take space from Marylebone Road/Euston Road and turn it into cycle path. Otherwise we’re just prioritising motor vehicles yet again (“Driving from A to B? Take the straight, direct road! Cycling from A to B? Turn right, then second left, then a dog-leg at the next lights, then left, then third right…”).

The nice thing about this is that it would join up with the much-lauded Westway bike paths and – if you’ll permit me a moment of fantasy – from Kings Cross they could easily tackle Farringdon Road, Blackfriars Bridge and Road… Sort Park Lane out too, and we have a central London circular cycle route!

This is a problem which the Quietways will come up against time and time again – very often, the only direct routes between popular locations are the big, busy roads. It’s a problem which will become particularly acute anywhere near the Thames, as nearly all the bridges are heavily used by motor traffic. Unless Gilligan has a big enough budget for two-dozen new bridges along the Thames then bikes will have to be accommodated on the existing bridges, and this can only be done by taking space from motor vehicles (or the footways – this isn’t an anti-car thing – on the western side of Blackfriars Bridge where the footway is extremely wide, for example).

It’s not an insurmountable problem, but creating safe, clear space for cycling will require the cojones to take space away from motor vehicles, which I hope Andrew Gilligan has.

A focus on Quietways means the LCC’s “Go Dutch” campaign failed

Without being prepared to put bike paths on main roads such as the A501, the Mayor’s Vision is not what we wanted. David Arditti’s Go Dutch option won the LCC’s campaign vote by a huge majority, and subsequent events have shown how popular the Dutch concept is. Even after LCC’s yellow-bellied mangling of the wording, there’s only one thing that “Go Dutch: clear space for cycling on main roads in every borough” could possibly mean – Dutch-style cycle paths along main roads. (They weren’t suggesting we all speak Dutch while being tailgated by a bus, were they?)

But that’s not what the Quietways concept is.

Don’t get me wrong – the Quietways are a hugely important addition to a proper segregated network of cycle paths, but on their own they’re not the cycling revolution we’ve been promised. They shouldn’t be the primary cycling routes.

Maybe I’m being impatient here, but I worry that the Quietways is yet another attempt at providing cycling routes without adversely affecting motor traffic in any way, which are therefore ultimately doomed to die an obscure death on the back streets.

And maybe I’m getting ahead of myself too – Gilligan didn’t give any details about the route, perhaps even the phrase “Circle Quietway from Baker Street to Kings Cross” was just a throw-away example. Perhaps they really are cooking up something exciting for the A501. I really hope so.

I really don’t want to sound down on Gilligan, as I think he gets cycling in a way that nobody of influence at TfL has done before. But by going after this seemingly easy option of the wiggly back-street routes he runs the very real danger of repeating the mistakes of the LCN and LCN+, despite aims and promises to the contrary.

Does Gilligan have the power and influence to change decades of motor-centric culture at TfL, or is he there to use his journalistic skills to put a positive spin on lacklustre efforts?

Perhaps the real battle isn’t the one which Gilligan is prepared to enter with the boroughs, but the fight with a much bigger foe, which is long overdue. I speak of every liveable London and safer streets campaigner’s worst nemesis: TfL’s Network Assurance department.

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How to suppress bike riding #1: Hyde Park

Update: It seems that Hyde Park has been ridiculous for years, and I’m far from the first blogger to cover it. See this 2011 article on Vole O’Speed, and this 2012 article on As Easy As Riding A Bike.

On New Year’s Day 2013 we went for a bike ride in Hyde Park.

Actually, we first went for a walk. Crossing Westminster Bridge we saw four wide vehicle lanes almost devoid of traffic, but thousands of people on foot crammed onto the footpaths.

At Parliament Square most of the road was blocked off to motor vehicles due to some parade or other, which gave us a clear view of just how much space is taken up by the huge expanse of tarmac we call ‘the road’.

The end of Westminster Bridge beside Big Ben in London – masses of space given to motor vehicles, people crammed onto footpaths

I should have taken a camera, but you get the gist. Does this look like a sensible distribution of space to you? (From Google Maps.)

As The Mall and Constitution Hill were closed to motor traffic, we hired bikes and rode along the ridiculously wide roads to Hyde Park Corner, where we squeezed in to share the tiny two-stage toucan crossing with the crowds of people riding bikes and walking.

So far, our journey was a demonstration of how much space is available through much of London, and how much of that space is given to motor vehicles even when they’re massively outnumbered by people walking.

The Mall in London. Hugely wide roads, massive verges, almost invisible cycle path.

No room for cycle paths here, of course… The 2m-wide cycle “facility” is behind the fence on the right. (Image from Google Maps.)

Hyde Park itself should be a mecca for all forms of non-motorised transport. It’s a huge park so it should be great for walking, of course. But a park on this scale deserves to be great for riding a bike, rollerskating and jogging, too.

But it’s not. Even here, the anti-bike planning is clear. On the baffling North Carriage Drive and South Carriage Drive there’s little more than a painted line to protect bike riders from taxis. On the equally baffling West Carriage Drive there is an off-carriageway cycle path on each side of the road – about 1m wide, painted on the footpath. It’s crap, but for me it’s still better than an adrenaline-filled ride along the busy road itself.

I describe the Carriage Drives as baffling because I can’t work out why they’re there at all – there’s no need for a large road bisecting the park, and there are perfectly good roads outside the park so why are there parallel roads within it? Even if these roads are absolutely essential, why is the cycling provision on them so poor given the vast amount of space available?

But what really annoys me is that so little space is given over to people riding bikes, and even walking is given short shrift when it crosses motor traffic. I mean, it’s meant to be a park, isn’t it? For people? Why is there a two-way unrestricted road running through the middle of it?

Even the most ardent ‘little Londoners’ would find it hard to argue that there is a lack of space here – after all, the whole park is ‘space’ – yet people riding bikes are pushed into conflict with people walking, as both groups are crammed onto narrow strips of path with a white line down it. It’s confusing and unpleasant.

Conversely, huge swathes of land are given over to horse riding! I have nothing against horse riding, but the number of people riding horses is miniscule when compared to people riding bikes or walking. The horse path which runs alongside Rotten Row is about 20m wide – compared to the two-way cycle-path which is perhaps 3m wide, and the footpath alongside which is about 4m wide. (My own visual estimates, may be wrong.)

Satellie photo of Rotten Row in Hyde Park, London. Very little space given to walking and riding bikes, tons of space for horses.

This is just crazy. So much space, so little sense. (Satellite photo from Bing Maps.)

Not that I want to turn this into a horses-vs-bikes debate – there is plenty of space for everyone in Hyde Park, it’s just very badly apportioned. Why are the foot- and cycle-paths so narrow? There’s nothing stopping them from being widened, and this would result in a much more pleasant park for everyone.

The experience of riding along Rotten Row can live up to its name at times. People walking on the narrow cycle path, hardcore Cyclists glaring at other people riding bikes for not doing it properly, the holier-than-thou look on the face of the Daily Express readers which says “I know you’re thinking about killing a child with that bike…”

And yet it’s immensely popular. When I was there on Tuesday it was chock-full of tourists riding hire bikes, lights blinking in the dusk.

The Royal Parks, who manage Hyde Park, claim that this is a “fantastic green route“. Have they actually tried to ride a bike there? Or is this an example of “Hype Park”?

Then there’s this PDF document, which says

“Taking cycle routes through the centre of the green space creates the potential for more conflict between park users.  It has been shown in studies and by experience that most conflict occurs at junctions, therefore taking paths through the centre using an existing footpath increases the likelihood of conflict. This has a detrimental effect for park users and their safety.”

Oh how considerate! One minute, people walking and cycling are crammed together on a narrow footpath, now all of a sudden they’re concerned about safety. Do they really think that there’s no solution other than to make bike routes longer and less desirable?

At the moment, the cycle paths are dangerous, but only because they’re too narrow, and crammed onto the edge of a footpath. They’re an afterthought, installed on the cheap.

Really, Hyde Park should (and could) be a great traffic-free place for walking and riding a bike, but due to the usual UK anti-bike planning, it’s not. (It’s better than almost everywhere else in London, but that’s faint praise indeed.) It should be great for leisure riding as well as for through-travel.

For an example of what Hyde Park could be, see this article on ‘As Easy As Riding A Bike’ about Amsterdam’s Hyde Park equivalent, the Vondelpark.

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Freedom, Easy, Fun, Family Time – A Fair Description of Cycling in London?

Today, this leaflet landed on my doormat:

Front cover of TfL cycling leaflet, "Freedom"

“Catch up with the bicycle” while the taxis and lorries speed past

I’d already seen posters with the same image dotted around the motor-dominated roads around here and had planned on whinging about them, but the leaflet means I don’t have to take the camera outside, and it provides more food for thought. There are four images of bikes throughout, with the frames arranged to read “Freedom” (on the cover), “Easy”, “Fun” and “Family Time”. Do those words come to mind when you’re riding a bike in London?

On the first page is a message from our Dear Leader, Boris, which gives me some hope that he’s slowly coming around to my way of thinking:

“More and more people are choosing to cycle to work or to the shops. It saves money, and can be quicker than driving or taking public transport. Cycling, though, is more than a great means of getting from A to B with a bit of a work-out en route. There’s no better way to explore your local area and the rest of this fantastic city of ours and, best of all, cycling can be fun, for everyone.”

He gets it! He finally understands that cycling should be for everyone, and for every-day tasks! So surely it follows that he wants to install Dutch-style infrastructure, which makes it safe, fast and convenient for kids to ride to school, or for granny to pop to the shops?

Unfortunately, he seems to think that things are fine as they are – despite riding a bike in the UK being 30 times more dangerous than driving a car – and instead of getting the job done properly he seems to believe that yet another poster campaign and a few words of encouragement will turn London into a great cycling city.

“London is a great place to ride a bike. If you already cycle in London, you don’t need me to tell you that. If you’ve yet to start, there’s never been a better time to give it a go.”

Seriously, Boris? I already cycle in London, and “great” certainly isn’t the first word that springs to mind. Sure, occasionally it really is great – around 3am when the back-streets are mine alone, it often feels great – but I don’t think that’s what anyone has in mind when we talk about building mass cycling.

“This leaflet is packed full with useful information to get you on your wheels.”

So, let’s have a look at this useful information which will convert London into a New New Amsterdam. Its five pages of content can be summed up:

  • Use the TfL online cycle journey planner. But fingers crossed there isn’t an arbitrary closure with no diversion, or a van parked in the cycle lane!
  • Use the cycle hire. A good idea, as long as you’re not one of those poor bastards who lives outside the cycle hire area, i.e. the vast majority of Londoners.
  • Use the Cycle Superhighways! The less said about these the better.
  • “Be prepared” Training and maintenance sessions are cheaper than roadworks…
  • Use the back streets. Because we know the main direct routes are hellish to ride a bike along.
  • Use a map. You’ll need one, because the route will be badly-signed with lots of turns through back-streets.

The whole leaflet-and-poster campaign idea is such a half-arsed effort. I don’t doubt the good intentions behind it, but it’s really an admission of failure and defeat. If the conditions were right, there would be no need for leaflets and posters encouraging cycling – people would do it anyway, they would want to do it, because it would be the cheapest, fastest, easiest way to get around.

And it really could be the best way to get around. Even on a clunky hire bike I can ride from Waterloo to Kings Cross in about 20 minutes – and that’s taking a complex (but fairly quiet) route of back streets. That’s faster than the tube or bus, and about £10 cheaper than a taxi.

So if riding a bike is so great, why do so few Londoners do it? Are they all blind to the wonderful world of cycling for transport? Why will this leaflet and poster campaign fail to increase cycling rates by any measurable amount? Is it because people are stupid, or haven’t seen the light?

Or, maybe it’s because while it can sometimes be okay (and even “great” under very special conditions) riding a bike in London contains too many hazards and worries, too many nasty moments, and too many unwelcome surprises from vehicles and the authorities alike.

“There are lots of things to think about when you first get into cycling…”

Damn right TfL – there are lots of things for you to think about if you really want people to take up cycling. We can’t ignore the elephant in the room and pretend that all we need is a can-do attitude, or maybe the real cycle-resistant just need to go on a heart-shaped bike ride (no, really, I’m not making this up). So this whole campaign seems to me like TfL is saying “we’ve failed, we’re out of ideas, we know our infrastructure is substandard and hostile but these leaflets are cheaper than tarmac and concrete, and it’ll have to do.”

Why are there no leaflets or posters recommending people take their car? (“Catch up with the car: Freedom, Easy, Fun, Family Time” – I can see it now!) The reason is because when people look at the streets around them, it’s obvious that the car is the most important mode of transport. It’s obvious that the country has been built around the car. It’s obvious that the car comes before all else in the UK, and therefore a car is the obvious choice for transport.

To turn that around we need a sea change in the way roads are designed in this country, and until we have it, all the posters and leaflets in the world aren’t going to make any difference.

I know this post is just a rant, but I’ll get around to making some positive suggestions soon!

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