Monday, 20 June 2016

The new East - West Cycle Superhighway in London: before & after pictures

Almost exactly a year ago I took a walk from Tower Hill to the Houses of Parliament. Transport for London had just started construction on the new Cycle Superhighway along here and there were three construction sites; on Lower Thames Street, outside Somerset House and alongside Westminster Pier. I came to have a look at how progress was coming along and to get an idea of how wide they were going to be. I also took the opportunity to photograph the rest of the road where work was not taking place to document what the road conditions were like at the time.

It being a Sunday afternoon it was fairly quiet along most of the stretch

so these photos probably did not reflect the usual conditions you would get when cycling here at peak times on a weekday

with the exception of  where the carriageway was restricted due to the Superhighway construction works, where there were queues

There were also very few lorries using the route, whereas had I taken the pictures during the week I'm certain I would have captured many images of lorries 

Before the Cycle Superhighway arrived I'd never seen any children cycling on this road, either on their own bike or sat on an adults bike, aside from when the freecycle events were taking place or the London Cycling Campaigns Space for Cycling Big Ride in 2014

I did see a couple of people on bikes with children on this day but both were on the pavement

Since the Superhighway has been completed I've seen children here every single time I've visited at the weekend, either with adults

On their own

or young friends cycling together in groups

I have also cycled along the entire stretch of this road with my four year old sat on my bike, as have many other parents 
None of this would have been possible along this road before the Superhighway appeared. What little cycle infrastructure did exist here was advisory, narrow and would simply vanish at various locations. It would be unthinkable to see groups including elderly people cycling along this road using the "cycle infrastructure" that did exist a year ago

It amuses me when anyone makes the arguments that 20mph speed limits on main roads will increase cycling levels in any significant way. Would this road have a higher cycling rate had these 30 signs been replaced by 20 signs instead of the cycle track being built?

Conditions now exist where people do not have to cycle filter through heavy motor traffic with inches to spare

People do not have to "keep their wits about them"

A relaxing and safe cycling environment where people can safely ride side by side whilst having a conversation

Conditions have improved for pedestrians as well as with the superhighway in place there are no more narrow shared space pavements

or rubbish painted cycle lanes slicing pavements in half

Motor traffic is also now further away from the pavements leading to less traffic noise for people walking along the Embankment

and more pavement space has been created, along with new pedestrian crossings and improved public realm

The cycle track can also be used by people on mobility scooters too of course, a common sight in the Netherlands

This new Cycle Superhighway wasn't built particulary because the authorities wanted to provide safe cycling facilities or significantly increase the share of cycling trips in the Centre of the capital; people had to fight for it. Back in 2011 Transport For London consulted on changes at Blackfriars, proposing a motorway interchange style junction comprising of multiple lanes of traffic, an increased speed limit, removing pedestrian crossings (directly outside a tube station entrance) and a few narrow advisory cycle lanes
Under these plans had you wanted to turn right approaching this junction on a bicycle from either direction then you'd have had to cross two lanes of fast moving traffic to do so. The plans were totally unacceptable for a junction with such a high casualty rate in the heart of the City. A lot of people protested, there was a mayoral election with "Love London, go Dutch" commitments from all mayoral candidates and then, to cut a long story short, the new Superhighways were built and some others upgraded

Five years on from the Blackfriars consultation and there is no need to manoeuvre past two lanes of fast moving traffic to turn right here; anyone, no matter what their age or ability, can now navigate this junction.
There has been a lot of nonsense written recently about reducing the capacity of road space in Central London for the superhighways. Victoria Embankment was opened in 1870, reclaiming acres of land from the River Thames. Designed by Joseph Bazalgette its main purpose was to accommodate a low level sewer with the added benefit of space for a new underground railway alongside and a new road on top, creating a new link from Parliament to the City and relieving the heavily congested Strand of some of its horse drawn traffic. Tram lines were added some 30 years later and these ran until the 1950's before the space taken up by trams was given over to more space for motor vehicles right up until this year when roughly the same space the trams took up was converted into the Cycle Superhighway.

Top: Embankment in 1952, via Rob Baker on twitter

As for the route from Blackfriars to Tower Hill much of this did not exist until the 1960's when acres of the City were obliterated to make way for the Blackfriars underpass and the Upper Thames Street tunnels

Picture via Alex Ingram on twitter

The remaining section of Upper and Lower Thames Street has been a street transporting Londoners for centuries and was first mentioned over a thousand years ago with all buildings on the street destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Below shows Thames Street (as it was then known) in 1965, shortly before all buildings to the left were demolished to widen the street

original 1965 photo © Copyright David Wright and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

London Bridge, which spans the road here was also demolished (and sold to an American where it continues to be used to this day in Arizona) before a widened bridge was constructed between 1967 and 1972 (lets hope that the plans for cycle tracks on it also becomes a reality).

The photo below is of Lower Thames Street in the 1950's at the end of Monument Street. The Old Billingsgate Market on the right survives as a well used events space but again all buildings on the left were demolished to make way for a wider road

Original photo via A London Inheritance
The building on the left with the colonnades in the 1950's photograph was the London Coal Exchange and a large campaign was fought to save this building from demolition with the Victorial Society and John Betjeman heavily involved. MP Tom Driberg made a speech in parliament where he said "The coal exchange is a national monument in the fullest sense of the phrase, and its destruction would be unforgivable". Despite becoming a Grade 2 listed building in 1958 it was demolished in 1962, the same year the Euston Arch was demolished, both to much public outcry. The determination to plough a four lane road through the heart of the ancient city won the day. The only surviving remnants of the Coal Exchange are the Dragon statues, which were relocated to the Embankment to mark the boundary of the city with replicas then erected elsewhere in the City

Below is a post war map of the area. The coal exchange can be seen on the left side of this image. Despite some "ruins" on the map following the blitz many more buildings were destroyed to widen Thames Street, which now runs North East once it passes Harp Lane to join up with Byward Street to continue north of The Tower of London, creating an artificial hill as it climbs over the District Line tunnels (requiring a change of gear if you ride a heavy Dutch bike like myself).

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson recently commented in the House of Lords that the Cycle Superhighways were "doing more damage to London than almost anything since the Blitz". This was following claims from Lord Higgins that the cycle tracks were "causing pollution", an argument I have heard far too many times. What short memories these men have of great swathes of the capital being demolished in the 1960's and 1970's to make way for the motor car, acts which contributed to the congestion and pollution we have today 
London was far from alone in doing this of course, it happened in cities all over the world. Slowly though, many are now undoing this damage and giving space back to people. The creation of the superhighway along the Embankment and Thames Street is a huge step forward in making London a more liveable city. It has transformed some of the streets of London and allowed many children, tourists and just about anyone who wants to get about by bike in Central London to do so. The London Mayor Sadiq Khan promised to continue the cycle superhighway program with a focus on segregation, trebling the length of them and promising to make London a "byword for cycling". This is alongside other measures such as pedestrianising Oxford Street, at long last. With three cyclists and two Oxford Street pedestrians killed since Sadiq became mayor lets hope he sticks to his promises and Londoners put pressure on him to do so.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Stamford Hill

Transport for London are currently consulting on the A10 Stamford Hill junction at Clapton Common with proposals that "aim to make it safer for all road users" as it "has one of the highest collision rates in all of Hackney".

On approach to the junction from the west the left turn slip lane is to be closed and replaced by a larger pavement.

The pavement here is already very large so not sure why this isn't being replaced by safe space for people cycling instead.

 This would keep people cycling safe from left turning lorries

An example of how to provide safer conditions for people cycling at a crossroads in Rotterdam

For people turning right from Amhurst Park onto the A10 southbound you are expected to cross over several lanes of traffic and then sit in the middle of the junction waiting to cross three lanes of traffic coming towards you, a maneuver which is not for the faint-hearted.

There is also a continuous footway planned just north of the junction which isn't actually a continuous footway at all
Approaching this junction from the north and the road stays very wide with six lanes retained, although one of these will become a bus lane, which is an improvement for bus users but provides nothing for anyone cycling along here.

A new central reservation is planned so the pedestrian crossing becomes staggered meaning people have to cross in two stages rather than the single direct crossing that is here at present, despite the consultation claiming that the changes "make it quicker and easier for pedestrians to cross the road"

There is nothing at all planned here for people cycling, except for some ASLs.

Still four lanes of traffic to navigate through on a bike

Again the left turn slip is to be replaced by a widened pavement at the point where a segregated cycle track should go

An example of how to provide safer conditions for people cycling at a crossroads in Amsterdam

Approaching from the west multiple lanes remain for traffic as well as a left turn slip road

and all people cycling get is a picture of a bike on the road showing exactly where segregated cycle tracks should go.

An example of how to provide safer conditions for people cycling at a crossroads in Utrecht

A new central island and car parking are other "improvements" planned here

You'll be expected to take the lane right in front of this lorry if you want to turn right onto the A10

Approaching from the South barely any changes planned at all, with the carriageway remaining an astonishing eight lanes wide

With the pavement also remaining very wide on approach to the junction

Whilst is it always preferable to take space form motor traffic to create cycle tracks there is no reason for the pavement to be as wide as this here, it is ridiculous. It would be very simple to create safe cycle tracks along here that would not cause much disruption to motor traffic during construction. The footway remains very wide from here all the way down to Stoke Newington train station.

A more sensible use of space; cycle track and floating bus stop, from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

The A10 is the worst road by far for cycling casualties within Hackney with 28% of all serious injuries sustained in a cycling collision in the last ten years occurring on it, along with 50% of all cycling fatalities also occurring on the A10 within this period. Hackney council stated in their 2014 cycling plan that they "will continue to lobby TfL and work with them to resolve the cyclist accident problems along the A10 corridor in Hackney" and that "it is inevitable that cyclists will continue to use our busy high streets and strategic roads that carry high volumes of vehicular traffic because often they are the most direct and quickest routes."

This planned scheme is totally unacceptable and it should be illegal to propose a road layout like this in somewhere like Hackney in 2016. This junction is used by tens of thousands of motor vehicles a day, including nearly a thousand lorries and nearly two thousand buses. There have been several serious collisions here since the consultation opened last month, including one pedestrian fatality with a cyclist also killed here almost exactly a decade ago. 

The proposed layout is totally unsuitable for people to cycle through here "no matter what their age, background or ethnicity". Can you seriously imagine young children using this road waiting in ASLs among multiple lanes of motor traffic? Of course not, there'll be on the pavement, where there is plenty of room for them. This is a huge junction and there is easily the space to fit well designed dedicated cycle infrastructure that would protect people cycling rather than this unambitious and disgraceful proposal which protects the prioritisation of private motor vehicle flow instead.  

An example of how to provide safer conditions for people cycling at a crossroads in Amsterdam

This consultation is only open for around another 24 hours so please respond and ask TFL not to go ahead with this dangerous plan but instead propose safe cycle tracks, just as they are on their other road junctions nearby and help reduce cycling casualties on the most dangerous road for people on bikes in Hackney.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Lower Clapton Road

Transport for London are consulting on changes to the Lower Clapton Road / Urswick Road junction in Hackney with the proposal to remove all traffic signals and replace the junction with an 'informal roundabout' and 'informal pedestrian crossings' along with some fancy paving. TFL state that the reason they are making these changes is due to a higher rate of collisions at this junction compared to similar roads, especially among pedestrians, and also due to congestion to motor traffic.

The proposed layout looks very similar to the recently redeveloped "shared space" Frideswide Square in Oxford, directly outside the main railway station. Despite the large amount of space available here the local council seem to have gone down the same route as Hackney Council have in recent schemes and created mammoth pavements with people cycling on the road having to do so in primary position, acting as a traffic calming measure on a narrow carriageway.

Frideswide Square in Oxford
I just happened to have a meeting in Oxford a few days after the square had officially reopened shortly before Christmas and spent a few minutes stood there observing the traffic. I'd asked the minicab driver to drop me off near the square rather than at the railway station itself for this very reason and asked him what he thought of the scheme. He claimed it was "wonderful" as before you could be stuck at the traffic lights for ages but now it was possible to drive straight through the junction without being delayed. He then proceeded to beep his horn at a cyclist using the informal roundabout right in front of us confirming my suspicions that travel time was higher on his agenda than road safety.

It was an early afternoon when I stood at Frideswide Square and I was not there for very long but it really did not impress me at all

Some traffic did slow down, however some cars and trucks blasted through at fairly high speed. Either way I found myself darting across the informal pedestrian crossings quicker than I would at a zebra crossing and it did not look like a comfortable place to be on the bike. Cycling through here is probably fine for many young adults who are willing to mix it with traffic on busy main roads either side of this square but this layout is totally unsuitable for the vast majority of the population and I would be surprised to see any young children or elderly people cycling here, at any time of the day.

"I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve nearly knocked off somebody on a pushbike"
 As a rough guess I would say about 20% of the people cycling through the junction whilst I was there were using the pavement, rather than cycling on the carriageway

A lady cycling on the pavement, not wanting to informally cross this tankers path 
Two people cycling on the enormous pavement giving a good visual guide of exactly where segregated cycle tracks should have been built in Frideswide Square as part of this £6m redevelopment
I was intrigued by some of the quotes in this article on the Oxford Pedestrians Association's study of Frideswide Square. They found that whilst every single bus driver slowed down for pedestrians to cross the road only a third of drivers did with most driving straight past people waiting to cross, including a gentleman in a wheelchair. Even if traffic was very slow or stationary drivers would still block the pedestrian crossings rather than wait and allow people to cross. The group also witnessed three taxi drivers blasting their horns at cyclists in front of them on the roundabout, just as my own taxi driver did. This is something local councillor Colin Cook has also experienced whilst cycling here and so he thinks that "that there is still room for drivers to show more courtesy and respect for other road users". Or perhaps the council should have built zebra crossings and some cycle tracks in the vast space here, rather than a gigantic underused pavement and mixing bicycles with large motor vehicles on a narrow, busy carriageway?

I was only here for a few minutes so have not seen what this area is like during the rush hour and also haven't used the junction on a bicycle (and wouldn't particularly want to) but there are some strong similarities to the proposal at Lower Clapton Road.

One major difference between the Oxford scheme and the proposal in Clapton is that at Frideswide Square the carriageway has been reduced to one lane on approach to the junction but on Lower Clapton Road the proposal is to keep it to two lanes on two of the three entries to the roundabout

I have my reservations on vulnerable pedestrians using the informal crossings at Frideswide Square but here they are expected to use the informal crossings to cross over up to four lanes of traffic. It is almost exactly five years to the day since an elderly woman was killed at this junction after being run over twice on signalled crossings. I'm not sure how this scheme helps reduce injuries to vulnerable pedestrians, bar forcing them to cross the road somewhere else due to feeling too intimidated.

Having two lanes on approach to this junction southbound is seriously flawed as it means traffic travelling from Lower Clapton Road into Urswick Road will have little incentive to slow down, a potentially dangerous scenario for anyone cycling East to South across the junction. Although as I said on twitter the visualisation of children happily cycling through here side by side to get to school is preposterous
I wasn't quite sure why the mistake had been made in the other visualisations of someone cycling along the central reservation until I read that this was, astonishingly, part of the design.

"The flush central reservation strip on the north side would also allow cyclists to use the middle of the road if they so choose, something which they are currently doing."

Or perhaps people cycle along the centre of the road because the southbound carriageway of Lower Clapton Road is clogged up with motor traffic all day long wanting to turn right and this is the only way you'll get to the front of the queue on a bike

Lower Clapton Road, taken from Google maps street view
The junction under consultation is a very busy bus route with nine different bus services operating through it, including bus route 38 which is the most frequent bus service in London with 59 buses an hour at peak times (although around half of these services start and terminate at Hackney Central rather than at Clapton Pond, presumably due to the congestion at this very junction). I've had a look through the bus timetables of these nine services and a rough calculation concludes that on a weekday morning between 07:00 and 08:00 a total of 166 buses are scheduled to travel through this junction. Obviously that is a rough estimate and will change day to day based on road conditions in the area but 150-200 buses per hour or roughly three buses per minute sounds about right.

Live departures on a bus stop in one direction on Lower Clapton Road during this evenings rush hour
As for the total number of all motor vehicles using this route the Department for Transport traffic flow data reveals that over the five year period from 2010-2014 in excess of 12,000 motor vehicles travelled through this junction in an average 24 hour period, although that is down from the 16,000 from ten years earlier in the year 2000. In each of those five year traffic counts between 7 and 8% of vehicles travelling through this junction per day were bicycles, roughly in line with mode share of trips by bicycle in Hackney of 7%. Transport for London released the modelling results with this consultation which shows journey times being quickened up by 40 to 50% for "general traffic" through the junction post implementation of this scheme. This will surely only make the route more attractive to private motorists and help push the figures back up to millennial levels of 16,000 motor vehicles travelling through here in no time.

Despite the claims from TFL I see little benefit for people cycling or walking here at all. This scheme is all about increasing the amount of traffic using the junction whilst completely ignoring the needs of the 7% of people who currently cycle through here and the many more who might well like to but don't feel it is safe enough. The only people who would benefit are motorists and those who enjoy playing table tennis alongside main roads.

If TFL were serious about improving safety for pedestrians and people cycling they would instead propose something like this, safe cycle tracks and formal pedestrian crossings
This scheme is likely to be expensive to implement and expensive to maintain

The "Dutch Inspired" Shared Space Leonard Circus in Hackney now looking very sorry for itself after every single tree cage has been crashed into, all replaced within the last few weeks. Will the "Gateway Features" be replaced with the same design when they are crashed into or can we expect traffic cones instead?
An informal crossing in Poynton crumbling under the weight of thousands of motor vehicles using it per day (picture via Mark Treasure

A pedestrian crossing installed outside a nursery in Farringdon intended to reduce traffic speed. Now patched up and mostly replaced with tarmac after numerous daily visits from the lorries serving Smithfield Market and Crossrail

This consultation deadline has been extended and now closes on Sunday 20th March, please respond before then and ask TFL to instead provide a scheme which provides better conditions for people walking and cycling.