Wednesday, 14 May 2014

De Beauvoir Town

I've lived in five different areas of Hackney over the past ten years and out of those five areas my favourite to live in was De Beauvoir Town. A small area tucked above the Regent's canal to the west of Hackney, most of De Beauvoir Town is closed to through motor traffic. Here is a map of the area and the road closures:


and a picture of the crossroads right in the centre of the area where all four roads are closed as they meet


I took this picture on a quiet bank holiday afternoon so whilst not many people are in this picture if you stand here during a weekday rush hour you'll see a stream of people cycling along here. In fact, if you stand here any time of the day or night you'll see people on bikes vastly outnumber people in cars. It's not hard to see why when you look at the surrounding area on a map. The road in the picture above provides a direct and quiet route from London fields through to Islington whereas if you wanted to drive it would take longer and is much less direct. It's the motorists that are inconvenienced, whilst everyone on a bike gets the most direct route.

There is no need for protected space for cycling here as there is virtually no motor traffic on these streets at all. Only residents or people visiting residents drive down these streets, and they tend to drive at low speeds as well. There is no "banning" of motor vehicles here though, every single address can be accessed by motor traffic. Almost all properties have ample car parking, three or four off street spaces in some cases. It's also clear from looking at both the make of cars and the price of property that most here are not short of money. It doesn't really come as any great surprise that living in such a quiet and pleasant place close to Central London is a desirable place to live. A shame I can no longer afford to live there.

It's not just people on bikes who benefit either. I remember walking to The Scolt's Head through the junction above during the snow in early 2012 and kids were out building snowmen, right in the middle of the road. One of the very few roads in London where they were able to do this.

Here is another closure to the west of De Beauvoir Town where the boroughs of Hackney and Islington meet at Southgate Road. 


They didn't have that nice looking bike path in the distance when I lived there, it was just a shared pavement. Although that "Cyclists give way" sign is new and I don't really see why they installed it to be honest. Two people using the same bike is something you see everyday in the Netherlands but is a rare sight in the UK. I used to give my flatmate a "backie" when we cycled back from the Scolt's Head in an evening but only because we lived in De Beauvoir Town.

Whilst this is now a major route for people cycling it wasn't planned that way. These road closures were pushed for by the local residents association decades ago, sick of all the rat running through their streets. 


A byproduct of these closures was the cycle routes and the safe places for children to play; truly living streets. It's quite remarkable that just a handful of road closures changes the entire area and streets just a few blocks away are crammed with rat running traffic all day long, along with low cycling rates.

This space for cycling doesn't last long though, De Beauvoir Town, along with places like Goldsmith's Row and London Fields are just small isolated parts of Hackney that are marvelous places to cycle surrounded by horrendous places to cycle. The A10 runs alongside the east side of De Beauvoir Town but has no space for cycling despite the absurd amount of space. 


A very large pavement, parking, a side road, more parking and then the main A10 itself, four large lanes wide



Meanwhile Hackney council are blocking any plans on putting a cycle superhighway down the A10 as there just isn't the space. Instead they are pushing for "quietways" alongside, so whilst motor traffic gets a straight and direct route through the heart of Stoke Newington and Shoreditch people on bikes have to take a longer, piddly route along back streets. The council are pushing for 20mph limits on the A10 but if you've ever cycled along Camden High Street or Clerkenwell road then you'll know that even if you paint "20MPH" in massive ten foot long letters on the road most will not will stick to it. Not even TFL bus drivers or the police themselves. So I'm afraid you'll have to carry on cycling down here amongst fast moving buses and lorries and past Antony Smiths ghost bike to access De Beauvoir Town until the council change their mindset.

If you want to try and help improve cycling conditions then there is a space for cycling ride in Central London this weekend. Whether cycling round closed off streets with thousands of others will actually achieve anything is another matter. It might make the next mayor decide to focus more on cycling when his or her term comes and finally build segregated cycle lanes on London's main roads. Or it might not but it is worth a try. Perhaps if you get together with your neighbours and you all decide to approach the council as a recognised residents association then perhaps you too could close roads in your neighbourhood, creating space for cycling and streets for kids to play in. They might not agree but it is worth a try.

See you on Saturday.







Monday, 21 April 2014

Revisiting the Olympic Park

When I started this blog last summer I had every intention of updating it regularly. I was more surprised than anyone else when on returning to work after a short holiday, I found myself promoted. With the new position came some long days and plenty of work. Now things have settled down I should be able to find the time to update this blog again. Maybe.

My first post was written immediately after the North-Western section of the Olympic Park reopened. This month the rest of the Park has finally reopened nearly two years after the games and I thought it would only be right to visit it and see if they had built some better quality cycling infrastructure this year than the stuff they built last year.

Firstly they have made the odd alteration to some of the cycle infrastructure that was already in place, such as removing the end of this cycle lane so it doesn't imply you are meant to cycle into the kerb


and moving an electrical box out of this one outside the Copper Box



Just a shame they didn't plan these lanes a little better before actually putting them down in the first place. Unfortunately they have made no improvements to Westfield Avenue, the dual carriageway which leads to the 5,000+ capacity car park in the Westfield shopping Centre and runs alongside the Olympic Park. This was also the main entrance to the Olympic Park back in 2012 and is still the main entrance most people use coming from Stratford station to the newly opened South Park and the Aquatics centre. Last year I described how it was a bit of a pain to constantly give way to pedestrian crossings and bus shelters. Whilst still being a pain I would say it is now actually quite dangerous indeed. Back then the southern section of the Olympic Park was still all locked away and not a single bus went down this road so pedestrian footfall was very low indeed. However it is now served by two bus routes and people often wait for buses after shopping at Westfield



The cycle track gives way to both people who are already crossing from the main entrance of the Olympic Park to get to Westfield and Stratford station and also gives way for people who are waiting to cross. Meaning you have to give way about 99% of the time.



The vast empty concrete area to the right of here is where the army searched people in the summer of 2012. It will eventually be the International Quarter; a "new metropolitan business district for London" meaning this cycle path will be totally unusable in a few years time when you have to give way to the 25,000 people expected to be working in those skyscrapers. Or the 54,000 football fans that will also need to cross here. Or the many thousands of people just coming to the park itself. Meanwhile the road to the left of the cycle track is a large dual carriageway with a vast central reservation; an obscene waste of space that could have been used for cycle tracks on either side of the road that are separated from both the pavement and the road.



If you continue along the cycle track it suddenly stops dead, if you want to turn right onto Montfichet Road then the cycle lane continues on the pavement on the opposite side of that large concrete wall on the other side of the road. To access it you have to use four pedestrian crossings.



or you can cycle on Montfichet Road which has no cycle lane on one side and what must be one of the most narrow cycle lanes in London on the other



The cycle track on the pavement on Montfichet Road is simply awful and back in January they stuck a traffic light pole in the middle of it whilst they were constructing a new crossing after the track had already been built. They've fixed that now by simply rubbing out the paint of the cycle track here




Remember this road did not exist at all a few years ago, it was just a building site and wasn't built until shortly before the Olympics. I remember cycling on the Greenway back in 2010 watching them build the flyover that this road would become and wondering if t would be a temporary road just for the Olympics or part of "the legacy". They had the money, time and space to design it well and they totally messed it up with seemingly no thought or proper planning going into the cycle infrastructure whatsoever.

The reason they built the pedestrian crossing above back in January is because this is the location of the road leading into and out of the aquatics centre car park. "very limited pay and display parking" says their website; however there is certainly a lot more car parking spaces then there are cycling stands


Could you see your 8 year old daughter or 70 year old grandmother cycling out of this brand new road leading from the car park, constructed within the past few months?



The other road that leads to the aquatics centre is Carpenter's Road. This was one of the roads that existed back before the Olympic Park was built and was almost all various industrial buildings and car repair workshops. It has been rebuilt with an on road cycle lane which stops at every bus stop



And to rub it in they left a piece of land to the left of the pavement that is just the right size for what would make an excellent two way cycle track



The other road that exists in the southern section of the park is the loop road, which curves around the stadium. Originally built for construction traffic to move around the park when it was a building site it was then used as a service road during the Olympics to ferry athletes, the media and others working at the park during the games. It now forms a ring road round the southern section of the park. The cycle lane along the eastern stretch is advisory and narrow; you can see the acres of space they have here to play with



on the bottom section an excellent new path has been built linking the Greenway with the loop road. However on the loop road itself they appear to have a two tier provision for people cycling; a shared use pavement for less confident cyclists and on road cycle lane for more confident ones, instead of just building a cycle track suitable for all, like they do in the Netherlands



Well shared use until you actually get to somewhere you want to go to


and here is the other section of the loop road to the west of the stadium. This section isn't actually open yet but you can ride or walk along it if there is no security there until you get to the old Big Breakfast house where barriers block the road off for construction of the canal park. They've built a new path alongside the big breakfast house linking the canal to the Olympic Park so that'll be handy when it opens. However back on the loop road we find the same narrow advisory cycle lanes painted on it. It also has quite wide pavements despite the fact they are not planning to build anything along here so isn't really anywhere you'd expect to see many pedestrians at all. A canal is to the left here beyond those trees so plenty of space to either build a two way cycle track off the road, or decent tracks on each side


In fact if you go on Google street view you can see how it looked back in 2012, just months before the games, and the amount of space they had here.


One section I didn't get to see last year was the section of Waterden road that runs through Hackney. Back in 2007 this road served mainly bus depots and allotments, today it runs past the very ugly International broadcast centre, since renamed iCITY and the home of BT Sport. As Waterden Road slices through the centre of the park in Newham it is a wide dual carriageway where almost every single motorists fails to observe the 20mph speed limit. However as it turns into Hackney it becomes single carriageway despite there being more than enough space here for it to continue as dual carriageway. It also has a wide, segregated two way cycle track which all side roads give way to, including the road leading to the Copper Box car park


it's not perfect; the pavement on the other side of the road is quite narrow yet has shared space signs for cycles, the zebra crossings don't link up with the paths leading from the park towards Wallis Road in Hackney Wick and lorries can park on the track. However this part of the Olympic park that is located in Hackney has some of the best cycle and pedestrian infrastructure to be found here.

It doesn't last long though as that quite good cycle track does just simply end when you get to the massive multi-story car park in the North-western section of the park; and boy is it a whopper, so big I could barely fit it into one shot



And then you get to the Eastway, which used to be two way for bikes and one way for cars but now to allow bus route 388 to transport not many passengers from Hackney Wick to Westfield they've recently opened it up eastbound to "bikes, taxi's and buses"



What used to be dedicated space for cycling now gone and replaced by two way traffic and a large shared use pavement




And onto where the Eastway meets the A12, this is where Dan Harris was tragically killed by an Olympic bus during the games. They've spent the past few months readjusting this junction and it is now a mess of slip roads and very difficult to navigate either on a bike or as a pedestrian. It is a tricky junction if you're on a bike as a lot of traffic wants to do an extreme left, almost a U-turn to get onto the A12 southbound towards Central London and the Blackwall tunnel (exactly as the bus that killed Dan Harris was trying to do). However cyclists are banned from the A12 so will always want to carry on straight ahead towards Leyton. They've spent a lot of time and money rebuilding this junction since the games and have reinstalled the ASL which they removed during the games. They have also added a yellow sign warning people cycling to look out for vehicles turning left



and then another for vehicles turning left to "Beware of cyclists"



Again they've made the pavements and crossings shared use but kept ASL's on the road catering to two types of people cycling. The junction here is massive and there is plenty of space to "go Dutch".

There is a brand new, as yet unopened, road along the top of the park, this was again part of the service road ferrying athletes and officials around during the games and you can again walk or cycle along it if security are not around. As you can see from this map of the park in 2030 this road will have nothing along it, no homes or businesses; it simply links one side of the park with the other, despite there being a huge dual carriageway which slices through the centre of the park that already does this. It has little space for cycling but space for pointless diagonal lines in the middle of the road



It also has wide pavements (shared use, of course) despite the fact that I suspect you will hardly ever see anyone walking along this road as there is nothing on it at all and there seemingly never will be. The cycle lanes also just ends as you approach the junction, without so much as an ASL to help you out.



We then find ourselves on Temple Mills Lane, which runs along the eastern side of the park. Here the two way on pavement cycle track reappears and of course disappears as soon as the velodrome bus stop arrives



Note the large area to the left here, perfect size for a wide two way cycle track that would by-pass the bus stop, however the planners have just put some mud here instead. The cycle track does then continue for a short section until both cyclists and pedestrians have to give way to cars travelling to the velodrome car park.



As I passed the velodrome this weekend the car park was full, as was the parking on the road outside



Olympic Park Avenue then runs from the velodrome back towards Westfield Avenue. It has no space for cycling on it but space for car parking on both sides of the road forcing you to ride in the sustrans approved primary position




Thanks to Google earths historical aerial photography feature I know that in the photo above I'm stood in the exact spot of the southern loop of the Eastway cycle circuit. Less than ten years ago this entire area was devoted solely to bikes. The road then does then have a two way cycle path on the pavement again from here down to the bridge over Stratford international station but again no clear way to access it and if you didn't already know it was there you would have cycled past on the road without seeing it.



Here is what this area looked like during the games as a reminder of the amount of space they had to play with here



That cycle track then just stops a bit further down the road, forcing you to cross the road to continue over the bridge over Stratford International station.



Honour Lea Avenue runs between the East Village and what will eventually be Chobham Manor; again it has a narrow two way cycle track on the pavement that I at first did not notice as there is no way to get to it from the road


However you're probably best sticking to the road instead as along here you will eventually be forced to give way to what will one day be a residential side road into Chobham Manor


They obviously expect people to use the road as it has two tier provision again at this junction, shared use pavements and crossings alongside an ASL on the road.


Pushing the button at the pedestrian crossing I had to wait for about a minute while absolutely no traffic whatsoever passed before the signals changed to stop no traffic at all and signalling it was safe for me to cross. It was only as I got to the other side of the Toucan crossing I saw the "no cycling" sign on the pavement forcing you back onto the road again so not really sure what the point of this crossing is



When they do eventually build Chobham Manor and its streets have absolutely no provision for cycling on them please do remember the amount of space they had here at their disposal



We then come to the new school in the park, which opened late last year. I was in the area a couple of months back and happened to be passing shortly after after three when it was time for the school run. Despite this being just a short walk away from one of the best connected railway stations in the country the cars were parked up outside three rows deep; on the pavement, on the double yellow lines and also slap bang in the middle of the road.



I'm sure inside the school they are trying their best to teach the kids right from wrong but outside their parents show total disregard for the law and selfishly block the entire road to everyone.



In the Netherlands the vast majority of children cycle to school whereas here in the UK the figure is between 1% and 2%. In Newham, the borough where this school resides, 30% of all trips are made by car and just 1% of all trips are made by bicycle, the lowest figure within inner London, even though 58% of households in Newham do not own a car. That link also explains that Newham’s obesity rate among primary school children (year 6) is 26 per cent, higher than both the national and London rates. Not sure whether the school even provides cycle stands for the pupils or not but there is definitely none outside and searching for cycling on their website returns no results. Newham councils travel to schools plan certainly does not fill me with confidence. Nor does it to see schools offer children cycle training and then point out to parents that despite the training they don't encourage children to cycle to school due to heavy traffic. It's no surprise then that the Netherlands ranks top in the world in the child well-being table whist the UK is 16th.

Finally we come to the East Village itself, where the athletes stayed during the games and which was marketed in videos showing everyone cycling and boasting of a "cycle space for every home" (which is a legal requirement in the Netherlands). Unfortunately they did not build any actual space for cycling, just narrow roads


 and some monster sized pavements. This van has helpfully parked on the pavement to help illustrate this


Note you can see the large white lorry parked up on double yellow lines in both pictures above which shows the amount of space between the two buildings. They've also built wide pavements at the junctions and then just painted the smallest bike symbols possible on the road itself



Some of the new properties built have one way streets for all vehicles so if you live in one of those flats to the right of the picture you're meant to cycle all the way round this square to get to it



Also in the East village is Victory Park, which is quite nice and the mirror labyrinth is worth a visit but it does have this rather pointless cycle lane that goes from nowhere to nowhere, I just can't see any reason as to why they built it



Underground car parking does exist in every block within the East village, although there is a weekly charge along with a waiting list. The owners admit that demand will exceed supply and there is likely to be a long wait for available spaces. Compare this to the new development of Kloostereen in the Netherlands, which will eventually have 9000 homes. Every single home has more than adequate car parking so there will be no neighborhood disputes and no Parking mad TV programme to be made there. They still expect 86 cycle trips to be made per day per 100 residents in Kloostereen though as cycling was designed into the development from the beginning. Important to note that if you make driving or parking harder it doesn't necessarily mean more people will cycle but if you concentrate on building decent cycling infrastructure that is appealing and safe for all then you will see more people cycling.

And finally the extremely wide road leading from the East Village towards Stratford station, which you're highly unlikely to see any children riding home from the new school at any point in the near future



turning right at the end here takes you past the barely used Stratford International station and then back onto Westfield Avenue where if you want to access the two way cycle track on the other side or access the main park as a pedestrian, then you have to use four pedestrian crossings and wait in three separate pedestrian pens


So whilst the artists impressions of the park always seem to show people cycling and walking, and the promotional videos talk of cycle spaces for every home and of how well connected the area is by public transport the reality is a park is designed and catered for motorists. Huge wide roads with absolutely no restrictions on them for any vehicles. Enough parking for thousands and thousands of cars. Pedestrian crossings that take ages to wait for the green man and where in places you need to wait in multiple pedestrian pens just to cross from one side of the road to the other. Crap cycle lanes that are designed so badly they are in places totally unusable. Every part of the road network within the park has been designed about accommodating motorists as best as possible with any pedestrian or cycling infrastructure seemingly a mere afterthought.

Nearly ten billion pounds was used to build the Olympic park which could and should have been designed around people, not cars. It could have been very different but is instead a once in a generation opportunity well and truly missed.