Sunday, 19 October 2014

While focus is on the Mayor's Superhighways, Camden plans to double its length of segregated track

I wrote a post about two years ago entitled While Boris so far fails to 'Go Dutch', Camden quietly gets on with it. This is something of a 'second round' of that. Today, there is somewhat more sign of Boris Johnson trying to make a permanent mark on London before his mayoral term ends in May 2016 by building some good-quality cycle routes. Though what he will have achieved still looks likely to fall well short of the commitments he made before the 2012 election in response to London Cycling Campaign's Love London, Go Dutch campaign, in particular, he will not have completed the Cycle Superhighway programme to an adequate 'Dutch' standard on all its routes (nowhere near, in fact), the plans for the East-West and North-South superhighways are a substantial advance and have generally been welcomed by campaigners, business, the public and the media, while plans for Cycle Superhighway 5 in south-west London and the long-demanded upgrade to Cycle Superhighway 2 in east London look pretty good as well.

I'm planning to make a more general assessment of where the Mayor's Cycling Vision has got to, 18 months after it was announced, in another post, although attempts to write that keep getting overtaken by relevant events. However, I will to draw your attention here to the fact that, as coverage has been concentrated on the plans above, the Borough of Camden, pioneers of the on-street segregated or semi-segregated cycle track in London, have been continuing to 'get on with it' in a manner that, though it is not above criticism, must be said is not being replicated by any other borough.

When the rebuild of the Royal College Street cycle track was announced in 2012, replacing the two-way track on one side of the street, which had had an intractable collision problem at two junctions, with two one-way tracks, I supported the scheme because it was linked to a commitment to extend the track northwards to Kentish Town Road, making it go from 'somewhere to somewhere', to adapt the words of Jon Snow when he opened the track in 2000. Since then, this has developed into a plan to extend the route southwards as well, down Pancras Road and Midland road, forming a more main road and direct alternative route to the Kings Cross area than the existing back-strteet Somers Town Route (one of the oldest cycle routes in London, dating from Ken Livingstone's GLC era, before 1986).

The consultation on the northern extension closed earlier this month, and the response from Camden Cycling Campaign can be seen here. The gist of the scheme is that Royal College street will become two-way for bikes all the way, the bike space generally protected by rubber armadillos, and in places by car parking on the east side as well. The cycle tracks bypass bus stops and loading bays on the inside. The southbound approach to the Camden Road junction is not protected, and this is a concern, though the northbound is protected.

The southern extension to the route is now being consulted on. The consultation runs to 14 november, and I encourage people to respond. This will be an enormously important pice of infrastructure, linking residential areas in Camden with the big employment growth areas around Kings Cross and St Pancras, with the new Google headquarters, the Francis Crick Institute opening in 2015, and much else. Argent, the developers of Kings Cross Central, say that their site will eventually be home to some 30,000 office workers, 5,000 students and 7,000 residents. It looks as if, at last, we have some cycle route planning in London that is coming at exactly the right time. This route will link southwards into the existing east-west Seven Stations Link segregated cycle route across Bloomsbury   (which itself needs major improvement of course, to cope with the high number of cyclists it already attracts), and that will link to the Mayor's North-South Superhighway at Clerkenwell. We will have the beginnings of a functioning, continuous segregated or semi-segregated network on the streets of central and north London.

It is of credit to officers at Camden that they are conceiving part of this Royal College Street route extension also as the beginning of an east-west route across Camden Town. Ultimately this should run along Crowndale Road to Oakley Square and Hampstead Road. It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that the stage after that should be the construction cycle tracks on Hampstead Road to connect with Tottenham Court Road. This is consistent with the overall Central London Cycle Grid plan.

The part of the Pancras Road plan that would also form the beginnings of the East-West Camden Town route. I would oppose the advance stop areas, which suggest confused thinking about where cyclists should be on the road. I also think it would be better if the north/west-bound route was on Goldington Crescent, merged with the Somers Town Route, approaching Royal College street via the existing bicycle signals.
More southerly section of Pancras Road scheme. The bus stop bypass looks a bit substandard, and having been set back behind the stop, the cycle track would be better continuing its setback across the Chenies Place junction.
The overall network is being developed in stages, and the current consultation goes down south to the Pancras Road / Midland road junction (the tunnel under the railway lines). This junction was consulted on in August, along with a plan for a 2m wide kerb-segregated cycle track on Midland Road northbound (in the contraflow direction), from Brill Place. This plan showed southbound cycling on Midland Road with taxis segregated to the left (there are lots of these serving St Pancras) but only a painted advisory cycle lane separating cyclists from the general (heavy) traffic flow. The Camden Cycling Campaign response called rightly for this design to be improved.

Curious proposal for Midland Road: the caption misleadingly suggests there are 'kerb segregated cycle lanes' on both sides, but the two sides are actually the opposite of one another. Also the central cycle lane on Pancras Road (section under the bridge) is a poor solution. (North is to the left)
The plans for Pancras Road, currently being consulted on, are for armadillo-separated lanes on both sides, which will be 2m wide for most of their length (actually 2.5m wide for 105m, 2m wide for 375m, 1.5–2m wide for 34m, and 1.5m wide for 30m). There is no parking on this stretch, but there will be bypasses for the bus stops.

The existing Royal College Street cycle tracks seem to be popular and working well, except that the planters have in many cases been bashed out of shape by motor vehicles colliding with them. Camden are looking to find out specifically why this occurs. There are no planters planned in the future schemes. Camden quote, from their surveys, a doubling of cycle traffic on Royal College Street since the rebuild of last year.

If all goes well, by the end of this year Camden should have almost doubled its length of segregated or semi-segregated cycle track compared to 2012, and that means they will have increased the total length of on-street cycle track in London by a considerable fraction, as the other boroughs have little. This is being done for very small sums of money compared to what will be absorbed by the Superhighways – hundreds of thousands of pounds rather than millions. It will be paid for out of the TfL's Quietways funding for the Central London Grid.

Whatever detailed comments and criticisms of Camden's current plans may be made, and I am making a few as you can see, and whether the schemes meet the optimum Go Dutch standard, which they probably do not, it needs to be strongly noted that of all the boroughs involved in the Central London Grid, Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Lambeth Southwark and the City, only Camden is making clear and rapid progress towards realising its section of the Grid to any useful standard at all, genuinely planning for broad-demographic 'eight to eighty' cycling on a grid of major and semi-major roads. For this, Camden councillors and officers deserve credit. I urge you to write in support of the Pancras Road scheme.

TfL's indicative map of Central London Cycle Grid routes, Camden section

Friday, 17 October 2014

Harlesden's regressive town centre 'regeneration'

Thursday was the day, if you lived in Harlesden (which I do not). It was the day the Harlesden Town Centre regeneration scheme, four years in the planning, more years than that in the discussion, came to some sort of conclusion, with the new traffic system being 'switched on'. However, a final element of the new street design, the partially pedestrianised Harlesden High Street, will take another month before it opens for business.

In case you don't know it, Harlesden is on the southern edge of the borough of Brent in north-west London, on the boundary between Inner and Outer London, but only three miles from the West End. It is highly multicultural, residential, but on the edge of large industrial areas, rather scruffy, and mostly notable for having a major rail interchange, Willesden Junction, which, curiously, is not in Willesden, but Harlesden. This area has always been a blockage to cycling, consisting of a large gyratory system that interrupts the continuity of the A404 Harrow Road, which is a major cycling desire line, as it has, further west, really the only safely cycleable crossing of the North Circular Road for miles. As a cyclist the gyratory tends to push you a long way off your desire line and mix you with a lot of lorries and buses in constricted spaces. It is also an area where the streets all crazily seem to lead off in directions different to what you expect initially, if you are not very familiar with it, as if the road grid got knotted up by unknown geological processes at some time in the distant past. The impenetrability of the area is increased by the severance caused by the extensive railway wastelands attached to the West Coast Main line just to the south, and the Grand Union Canal corridor. Harlesden High Street is part of this hard-to-comprehend gyratory system, and has always been a merry, chaotic, somewhat down-at-heel mess.

A great play has been made of the new street layout and design having been selected by, or designed by, the local residents and businesses, in the form of the Harlesden Town Team. A study of the area was commissioned by  Brent Council and Transport for London in 2010, produced glossily by a firm called Urban Design Skills, on behalf of the council and the Town Team. I have it here. It is signed (in print) by all the members of the Harlesden Town Team, and contains the usual consultants' guff about 'vision', 'renaissance', 'pillars', 'themes' , 'gateways', 'public realm project areas', etc. I am not sure how much it all cost, but I recall a figure of £2 million just for the studies and preparatory work, from a previous Brent Local Implementation Plan.

And, the result of all this is they are replacing a confusing gyratory system whose design never made any concession to those who wish to travel by bike with... another one. With semi 'shared space' style paving in places. And lots of bollards. And narrower carriageways, that will either squash cyclists into the gutter, with dangerous overtakes by wide, heavy vehicles, cause intimidation if cyclists decide to 'take the lane', or block their progress entirely if traffic is queued up, and force them on to the pavements.

traffic flow changes

The 'star feature' of the Harlesden scheme is the partial pedestrianisation of the High Street, with no motor vehicles allowed except for loading and buses. Cycles will be allowed, but they will not be excepted from the one-way used by the buses. So north-west bound cyclists will be able to cycle in a relatively traffic-free environment, briefly, on the High Street, before joining the merry rat-run between rows of parked cars in Craven Park Road. Going the other way, they will have to throw themselves round the gyratory system, via again narrow corridors parked-up on both sides, which I expect to have just as much of a hostile rat-run character as they do now, full of buses and heavy goods vehicles. There are no exceptions to the one-ways for cyclists in this new system, and there are also numerous minor streets off the main roads, not shown in this diagram, that are one-way.  I expect there to be widespread infringement of the design by cyclists, for their own safety: either going the wrong way down one-way streets, or cycling on the pavements.

The changes from the previous gyratory system are that while the whole of Manor Park Road was one-way before, now only the part north of Tavistock Road (the leftmost of the two one-way cross streets in the diagram above) is, and while the whole of Harlesden High Street was one-way, now only the semi-predestiranised section is. The semi-predestrianisation may be viewed as A Good Thing for pedestrians, but why wan't it continued further north into Craven Park Road, to the junction with Manor Park Road? This would have made sense, as it is all a continuation of the shopping centre.

The answer is that this wider section was wanted to accommodate parked cars on both sides, so couldn't be pedestrianised. Hence the gyratory had to be pushed on to Tavistock Road feed cars into the Craven Park Road shopping area. But note this town centre already has a huge off-street car park – you can see it in the aerial view in the angle of Manor Park Road and Tavistock Road. So clearly a principal driver in the redesign was the maximisation of car parking, and the idea that this has to be right outside shops. This is, of course, a consequence of the faulty idea that shopkeepers often have, that their trade comes mostly by car, when in a place like Harlesden, it does not, it comes predominantly by foot, bike and public transport. But those customers, the majority, are not encouraged by dangerous, unpleasant and polluted car-centric environment. This is one reason why centres like this are failing.

I took some photos of the nearly-completed streetscape of Craven Park Road, effectively the wider, northern part of the High Street, in August.

The scheme is not finished in these photos, but you can see where the kerb lines will be, the general style of it, and also the very large amount of car parking built into the streetscape. I fear the pious hopes of a renaissance of this town centre on the back of this rebuild will come to very little. The system overall certainly does not create a set of streets where parents would be happy allowing their children to cycle. It seems that such a possibility never entered the heads of those designing it.

For the Harlesden Town Centre scheme in the light of today looks like an astonishingly regressive piece of urban planning. With the Mayor of London proposing wide, segregated cycle tracks on main roads in central London, and the neighbouring Borough of Camden putting in cycling exceptions to most of its minor one-way streets, or building contraflow and with-flow semi-segregated tracks to keep cyclists safe on its gyratory systems, here we have a massive, expensive rebuild of a town centre only a couple of miles west that focuses on providing space to park cars, provides unnecessary wide pavements that will themselves almost certainly get parked on as well (because of the low kerbs), and makes no concession to transport cycling on a major commuting desire line except for a few token advanced stop lines at junctions.

I don't blame the members of the Harlesden Town Team for this. They are no doubt good people within their fields of expertise, but they are not urban planners or traffic engineers, let alone experts in sustainable transport. Not having been involved in the process myself, I can only surmise that what happened was that they were given various options by Brent's planners, or by the consultants, all of which would have been rubbish for cycling, and they just chose one. Which we have now got.

Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, did keep warning us, after the launch of The Mayor's Cycling Vision in March 2013, that there would be lots of old-style traffic schemes continuing to come through the planning system on London's main roads, and continuing to get built, even though they were completely inimical to the Cycling Vision. He said he couldn't prevent that, that it takes a long time to turn a supertanker around. One of those schemes was clearly this one.

I criticised the Borough of Camden, in previous posts, for their West End Project, still under discussion, in which they have been seeking to undo a gyratory system (Tottenham Court Road, Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street) merely because it is fashionable to think that doing so will somehow make the streets automatically better for walking and cycling, but without putting in first-class cycling provision, which I thought the Cycling Vision had promised us on these streets. However, perhaps Brent deserves even more criticism for not following fashion, in this case, and leaving a bad old gyratory system almost perfectly intact, after spending a great deal of TfL's money on it,  perpetuating dangerous, parking-sodden streets, which will not encourage people to shop here, providing zero meaningful cycle facilities, and, to top it off, creating the farcical situation of one-way cycling in a near-pedestrianised high street. It's just clueless – as if the the exhaust fumes in the air of Brent prevent people from imagining any different way of arranging things.

What I think they should have done in Harlesden is actually rather on the lines of what Camden are proposing for their West End gyratory (and for which, paradoxically, I have criticised Camden). They should have made the whole of Manor Park Road two-way, and put all the general traffic on the A404 corridor down that, reducing the parking to one side to make it wide enough for the job. Then Harlesden High Street (from the Jubilee Clock junction northwards) and Craven Park Road (to the junction with Manor Park Road) could have been the two-way bus and cycle route (allowing deliveries also at certain times) with wide pavements, done in a fully shared-space style. Alternatively there could have been cycle lanes on the wider parts of Craven Park Road, but this is not Tottenham Court Road, the concentration of buses is far lower, and I think a shared space street, without cars, would have been fine, and it would have looked far nicer, and have been a far more pleasant and safe environment than what we are going to get. This could have formed a 'ready-made' section of a Cycle Superhighway along the A404, so badly needed with the complete neglect of north-west London by the Superhighways programme so far.

For sooner or later we are going to need the A404 Harrow Road converted into a decent cycling highway, and all this work that has been done will have to be changed again.

When I was taking the photos in August, a woman, I surmise a shopkeeper, came of of a shop. The conversation went like this:
"What are you taking photos of?" 
"The street." 
"Because I am interested in street design." 
"This is the worst designed street in London
"Do you think it will be better or worse after these changes?" 
"Much worse. They should have left it how it was."
I think they should not have left it how it was. They were right to try and change it. But, in the end, streets should be redesigned by people who know what they are doing, and who genuinely take the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and bus passengers into account, in that order, as well as the need for a flow of general through traffic on a main artery, and the need for some car parking. The dangers with the "DIY streets" idea (hyper-local consultation and decision-making) are that groups can get excluded (as in this case cyclists clearly were), and that more strategic interests bearing on local streets are not taken into account (for example their place on the city-wide cycle network). In any case, the results can only be as good as the expert advice being given to the community supposedly taking the decisions, and that often leaves a lot to be desired.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Motion on buses and modal share in Central London

I've got a motion with my name on it in the London Cycling Campaign AGM tomorrow, so I thought I would say something about that (to practice the arguments, as it were). Here it is:

Buses and modal share in Central London
Proposed by David Arditti, seconded by Tom Harrison and Mustafa Arif
  1. The history of cycling campaigners supporting provision for buses as beneficial for walking and cycling (by reducing demand for private car use).
  2. Figures published by the Greater London Authority showing that buses now cause more cycling KSIs per km travelled than HGVs. Reference: "News from Darren Johnson AM: Buses as dangerous as lorries for cyclists, but not as fatal", 11 April 2014,
  3. Figures published by the Greater London Authority in the Mayor's Air Quality Strategy (December 2010) showing that buses are a significant, and growing (as a percentage of total particulates) source of air pollution in Central London.
  4. Recent road schemes in Central London, such as Camden's proposed West End Project have sought to justify inadequate provision for cycling on the need to improve or maintain provision for buses and existing bus and cycling modal share.
Defining 'Central London' as the area within the "Inner Ring Road", LCC resolves to:
  1. No longer automatically assume that increasing, or even maintaining, provision for buses in Central London is beneficial for walking or cycling. Nor to automatically accept that such provision for buses is a legitimate reason to accept poor provision for cycling.
  2. Campaign for TfL and London boroughs, in every Central London road scheme, to actively consider opportunities for modal shift from buses to cycling, through the provision of high quality 'Space for Cycling'. Highway authorities should design cycling provision for the modal share likely when there is high quality provision, not based on current modal share, which is suppressed by poor provision.
  3. Seek integration of tube and bus fares (including daily Oyster / Contactless price-capping and Travelcards) with TfL Cycle Hire so as to eliminate the financial incentive that commuters have in choosing to get a bus over hiring a cycle for the final part of their journeys into Central London.
So what's the background to this? Do I not like buses or something? Actually, I do quite like buses, and use them quite a bit. I often use them for journeys when I am transporting equipment which would be impossible on a normal bike, such as the 100mm aperture telescope and motorised equatorial mount that I take to the public astronomy events organised in Regent's Park by the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, and at Ruislip Lido by West of London Astronomical Society. It wouldn't be worth me having and housing a cargo bike for these occasional needs, and such journeys on the London cycling infrastructure as it stands would be very difficult on a cargo bike. My partner, who is disabled, and cannot get far without a wheelchair, also benefits from buses. She gets free travel on them (also on the tubes, though, of course, most tube stations still lack lifts, so that's largely academic) and with help from an able-bodied person can use them to get wherever she wishes. (One major success of Transport for London in the last 8 years has been to get the bus companies to actually maintain their wheelchair ramps properly so they now work about 97% of the time, whereas, before, it was about 50% of the time.). No, I recognise that the buses are a hugely important element to London's transport infrastructure.

However, I have a pretty clear view of what cycle campaigning should be about, and what it should be doing, as well. Cycling campaigns should promote cycling. They need to start from the view that cycling can and ought to be be a major component of the transport mix, and that a a large transfer of journeys currently made by all motorised forms: trains, tubes, trams, cars, taxis and, yes, buses, to bikes is possible and desirable. The people involved in them need to have the courage needed to articulate this as a serious point of view and to be able to picture what it would actually mean. Dave Horton (one of the authors of the important Understanding Walking and Cycling sociological study) put this point clearly:
Meetings about cycling inevitably involve different agendas and compromise. But is our struggle to make cycling mainstream so difficult because we – it’s strongest advocates – still haven’t learned how to speak about it? Are we yet to find our voice? If so, other people, understandably, would struggle to hear it. So perhaps ‘people don’t get it’ because we’ve yet to tell them?
When proposals are put forward that look like they would really make a difference to the urban environment, people react strongly (as they are doing now to the Mayor's Central London Superhighway proposals). They will like them, or they will hate them. They will get involved, and lobby one way or another. The lobbying process and the public debate will throw up arguments that will be had, taken-on, and resolved, and, as I believe the case for mass cycling, and the infrastructure necessary to make it so, is unanswerable, will lead to progress towards the vision, if, that is, as Horton points out, we have the boldness to articulate it clearly in the first place.

How the bus system would look in a cycle-ised London (to use a phrase even Boris Johnson has used) definitely has to be considered, and built into our visions of what a future cycling London would look like. It would, no doubt, still be very extensive, but it would not have to bear the large burden of short trips that it now does. A cycle-ised London would involve a conversion not only of some general road space to dedicated cycle space, but of some bus space as well. However, this should not negatively the bus experience if we also at the same time succeed in reducing the general chaos and congestion on the roads. I think it would actually impact on buses positively. They would no longer be slowed down by cyclists.

To me, there is nothing particularly stunning in the motion. It is just saying that London Cycling Campaign is a cycling campaign. Full stop. It's not a campaign for less cars, and it's not a campaign for less buses. It's not a campaign for 'active travel', and it's certainly not a campaign to 'reduce the need to travel' (whatever that could possibly mean: the need to travel is fundamental to the human species, and indeed locomotion is one of the defining features of all animals). It's just a campaign for more cycling, achieved through transfer from all other modes. And more cycling that's an extra to all existing modes, if you wish, as well (in other words, more leisure as well as utility cycling). And when I say 'all other modes', I include walking as well. You do see this, in cycle-friendly places like the Netherlands and Denmark, that cycling takes a lot of the very short journeys that are walked in the UK, because it is so easy to cycle. It actually becomes the lazy person's option.

Part of the recent background to this motion is Camden's West End Project (but there have been other similar but smaller and less-high profile examples) where, in a planned major rebuild of several streets in central London, the need to enhance bus provision was given as a reason to provide only somewhat half-hearted cycle provision. I discussed this extensively before, and some LCC members did not agree with the line I articulated. As Easy As Riding A Bike (who had a similar view to mine on the scheme) mused on this as follows:
What is quite fascinating to me is how cycling campaigners – people who think that cycling can and should play a significant role in making our towns and cities more attractive places – are often happy to sacrifice the quality of the transport mode they want to see more of, in the interests of wider scheme objectives. This isn’t necessarily a comment about the Camden scheme in particular; it’s more an observation about how cycling campaigners almost expect themselves to be selfless. 
I can’t imagine pedestrian user groups arguing something along the lines of ‘well, the pavements in this scheme are a bit awful, and not suitable for children. But bus users get a great deal – let’s support it!’ 
But effectively that’s what’s happening with this scheme, and has happened many times in the past. It’s almost expected. People wanting to see more cycling will defer to those wanting to see improvements in the bus network (for instance) in a way that would never happen in reverse. 
Of course a large part of this is due to existing mode shares in London, and other British towns and cities. It seems unreasonable to demand more for a mode of transport that, while increasingly visible, and on the agenda, doesn’t really exist, at least compared to bus travel and walking.
He hits the nail on the head here. It's Dave Horton's 'vision thing'. It only makes sense to argue for great conditions for cycling if you believe that they really will work, and really will lead to a modal shift that will post-hoc justify the decision by reducing the need for capacity on other modes. It's a leap of faith. But if it's a leap of faith that dedicated campaigners are not prepared to make,  then we have no chance of convincing anyone else either, and the status quo remains.

I can see where campaigners for improved, or at least maintained, bus provision, like Hackney councillor Vincent Stops, are coming from. I can see that they are very sincere in what they think. They view the bus, collective public motorised transport, as the transport of the disadvantaged: the poor, the sick, the disabled, the very young and very old, as a good instrument of socialism, and a social leveller. Hence the more buses the better. Why should fit people on bikes have the right to inflict damage on the system that these people depend on?

Of course, the answer to this is to look at how it actually works in the most bike-friendly cities in the world. Nobody has in these cities been disadvantaged by the extensive allocation of street space to bicycles (apart from possibly the most die-hard 'I have the right to drive door to door everywhere petrol-heads, and actually, this 'attitude' seems to die out largely in these environments). On the other hand, vistas of transport, for exactly those groups the bus campaigners see themselves as defending, vistas of independence and mobility, have been opened up which are undreamed of here. Cycle infrastructure is great for those in wheelchairs and mobility scooters, and of course enables inclusive cycling, ages 'eight to eighty', as they say, including those with a vast range of physical and mental disabilities.

Far from being some true manifestation of socialism, the argument of the radical bus promoters is a conservative one, with a small c. We have big inequalities in our society, and big inequalities in transport access. We have these problems now, with the large emphasis that London's politicians have laid on buses at least over the 14 years since Ken Livingstone first entered City Hall. Is the answer to just do more of what we have been doing, with the risks to road safety and air quality that this entails, or is to rethink the street balance afresh, from an actively pro-bicycle perspective?

We'll always need buses, or something like them (though maybe trams or trolley buses would be more comfortable and efficient in the long term), and I am sure a comprehensive bus system can co-exist with a comprehensive, safe and effective cycling system (because I have seen it). But the latter just won't happen unless cycle campaigners actually make the case for it. We have to point out that getting people cycling is better in so many ways than getting them on buses: better for road safety, better for both physical and mental health, better for the atmosphere, better for noise and stress levels, better for the planet. That means that cycle provision has to have a higher priority than bus provision, which should itself have higher priority than provision for private motor traffic, taxis, lorries and vans. Most of the London boroughs already claim this is their policy, but in practice cycling has in very few cases ever been genuinely prioritised. We may be seeing a start now on doing this on a significant scale with the proposed Central London Superhighways, and Cycle Superhighway 2 and 5 proposals. I think this progress has been brought about by effective London-wide campaigning for proper, safe, dedicated, practical space for cycling.

Motion 4 doesn't really say anything different about that campaigning. It is simply a reminder of a principle. While not wanting to make any unnecessary enemies, we are what it says on our tin. We are believers in the greater good of cycling over all motorised transport modes for the quality of city life. We are explicit about that, and we need make no apologies for it.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Devo max is not on the ballot paper

As the title indicates, this post is intended mostly for my Scottish readers. If there are any.

This post is not about cycling, except, in a way, it is related.

I've always thought that the general lack of progress on improving Britain's environment is bound up with a democratic and constitutional failure. It is notable that the most democratic countries in the world tend to have the best-manged environments, and the most dictatorial, the worst. The UK has always fallen somewhere inbetween, but not very close to the best.

I view the Scottish referendum as an opportunity to force some constitutional change on the UK establishment. I think the result of a 'yes' vote would, in the long run, probably, be a better, more modern and more democratic, Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, that looked after their people and their environments better.

If, as looks likely, there is a narrow win for 'no', I expect little to change. Cyclists, more than most, will know how promises made by politicians at the point of an election disappear like Scotch mist after they have won. The 11th-hour commitment by the main Westminster parties to devo max in the event of a 'no' vote is deeply unconvincing. The British establishment is extraordinarily resistant to fundamental constitutional change that would break down its powers and privileges. We have been let down on this front by the Coalition, and in particular the Lib Dems, who did not use their bargaining power effectively to gain reform. We had a referendum on changing the voting system for Westminster, but that was meaningless as it did not offer the real reform of proportional representation that constitutional progressives want. The promise to reform the house of Lords has been broken. Promises of devo max I am certain will also be broken in the same way.

The party leaders in Westminster cannot deliver devo max because there would not be support amongst English MPs for an even more asymmetrical devolution arrangement that is even more unfair on England. There is no overall, final constitutional solution being proposed here, because the party leaders haven't been able to think of one that is in the least bit probable or stable. The 11th hour pledge is a transparent panic measure that has not been thought-through. It would, indeed, be the duty of English MPs to vote against some elements of the bribe that has been proposed to try to stave off the Scottish independence bandwagon.

The referendum debate should never have focused so relentlessly on the currency, which is actually not that fundamental an issue. Scots after independence could use the Pound, or the Euro, or their own unit, or whatever currency was found to be most convenient and beneficial for Scotland and all her main trading partners, including England, Ireland, and the rest of the EU,  through international negotiation, the results of which cannot be predicted before independence, because so much would change afterwards.

The focus should be on democracy, on representation, and on systems. If the parties in Westminster had been interested in a federal UK, they could have proposed one by now. But the problems are deep. England would be too dominant in a federation, if kept as a unitary governmental entity, yet England has been a united entity for so long that it cannot now be broken down in any obvious way into provinces that should appropriately have a similar level of devolution even to Wales, let alone Scotland.

My feeling is that the Union has served its purpose, a long and honourable and historical one, and it is time to move on, for Scotland (and indeed Northern Ireland as well, but that is an altogether knottier problem). We have so many international institutions that have an effect of partially pooling sovereignty that did not exist when the Union was founded: the EU pre-eminently, of course, but also the Commonwealth, the UN and NATO. Borders have effectively been broken down between all EU states now. The Union is a level of cross-border organisation that, though there was great justification for it between the 17th and 20th centuries, has now been rendered fairly surplus to requirements.

I think only a 'yes' vote by Scots will deliver the kick needed for real constitutional, democratic, change, leading to long-term social and environmental progress,  in any of the nations of the current UK. The next opportunity, should this one be missed, will be a long time coming.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Protest at 6pm tonight at Kings Cross

I don't have time to keep this blog up to date with developments much anymore, but historically I did cover, and try to promote, the "flashride" (originally called "flashmob") cycle protests that started in London on 20 May 2011 at Blackfriars Bridge. These did a lot to move cycle safety up the London political agenda, and were more effective than many years of organising petitions, letter-writing, and polite diplomacy from London Cycling Campaign, although the immediate objective, a safe design for Blackfriars Bridge and its junctions was not achieved, and has still not been.

Despite this rise in the political prominence of the cycling issue, there is still very very little tangible progress on the ground in London. The Mayor's Vision for Cycling was published 17 moths ago, and a greeted it quite enthusiastically, but with substantial concerns and caveats. These now seem to have been very well-founded. Since then, no cycling infrastructure, resulting from that vision, of any substance, has been built at all. One wouldn't have expected things to start at once, of course; plans need to be laid, people put in place, and things need to be done in a sensible order. But that should only have taken about a year. The summer is when things are built on the roads: if much was ever going to happen, we would expect it to be happening right now, in a very obvious way. It isn't.

I'll have to do a longer post on what appears to be going wrong with progress on implementing the Vision at some stage soon; however, my purpose now is to note that there seems to have been no fundamental change in attitude at Transport for London towards bicycles as transport. There are certainly some good people working at TfL,  and I don't doubt the sincerity of Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, but it is clear that the message of the Vision just hasn't got through in practice to most of the people to whom it needed. So we still see consultations on major schemes for junctions and stretches of roads controlled by TfL where fundamental design change is needed in favour of safe cycling, and where TfL is deluged with informed and precise responses from lobbyists for cycling telling them exactly what they need to do, and yet these demands are swept aside much as they would have been 10 or 20 years ago.

The Kings Cross junction is a high-profile case in point. This should have been one-of TfL's highest priorities for installation of high-grade cycle infrastructure, whatever the effect on motor vehicle flows, because of the number of cycling fatalities that have occurred there (three that I know of in eight years, the last of whom was Min Joo Lee (Deep Lee), killed at the same spot in identical circumstances as another cyclist 14 years earlier).

There is indeed a scheme on the table for significant and expensive and disruptive remodelling of the junction. For cycling, however, it amounts to a pretty old-style feeble paint job that does not provide the physically separated space and separate, direct signal phasing we need for truly safe and inclusive cycling through this horrible junction.

TfL's proposals

As the estimable maidstoneonbike says,
There are some improvements to the current situation. For example, a widened cycle lane, the addition of ASLs in some places, and a tiny bit of segregation. But while these are improvements, these will only improve conditions for vehicular cyclists, and will not attract new cyclists.
He has his own worked-up plans for a proper, high-quality inclusive cycling alternative design, which you can see on his blog.

So once again, London cyclists need to take direct action to show the powers-that-be that progress on safe cycling in London for all is too slow, too half-heated, and that we can't accept this green lipstick on a pig at King's Cross and similar junctions. Tonight's protest has been organised independently from LCC, but I have no hesitation in supporting it, and I will be there. It starts at 18:00 on Kings Cross Square, and sets out at 18:15 on this route.

There is more information on a Facebook page. If you can get there, please respond to this late plea, and do add your presence on foot or on bike to help us make an impact. If Transport for London discovers that they get disruptive, media-savvy and politically challenging protest every time they approve a scheme like this that falls so lamentably below the aspirations of their own Mayor's Cycling Vision, maybe that will have an effect. I can't guarantee it, but it is the best I can suggest until we have the next election for Mayor.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

More on Camden's West End Project

In my last post I spent some time discussing Camden's West End Project to change the traffic system in Tottenham Court Road, Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, coming out against Camden's plan as inadequate for cycling, and suggesting an alternative system that, by leaving the gyratory system in place but reducing the number of motor traffic lanes, created sufficient space for high-quality cycle tracks, while preserving sufficient space for pedestrians. About the same time Rachel Aldred published a post which I highly recommend reading, in which she alludes to the various different designs that have been considered, and also comes to the conclusion that Camden's design is not good enough, for excellent reasons, which are worth quoting at length: 
With colleagues I’ve been analysing English Census data from 2001 and 2011 and I was shocked to see how limited our ‘cycling revolution’ is. I thought places with increases in cycling would see some increased diversity among cyclists. This turns out to be wrong. The gender balance of cycle commuting in Inner London has barely shifted and the age balance has tilted further towards the young. The data suggest even where cycling is rising, cycling conditions still disproportionately exclude women, older and disabled people. Rises in cycling are also skewed towards richer areas. 
It's as if we’ve still been building cycle routes aimed at a minority of adults who are younger, middle-class, able-bodied, fit, and male. Ironically those tend to be groups with good access to alternative modes (e.g. cars) and less need of cycling’s health benefits than those excluded. So I would argue for inclusive design for equity reasons, but also, it’s the only way we will ever achieve mass cycling, with all the associated benefits for our city. And first this means space for cycling, away from fast or heavy motor traffic (although of course, not only that). I think alongside the other laudable objectives of the West End Project, building for mass, inclusive cycling needs to be an explicit priority.
Neither TCR nor Gower will provide safe and inviting cycling under the current plans. Ways of getting there are (a) high-quality segregated infrastructure or (b) filtering to very low levels of motor traffic. My suggested compromise is (b) on Gower Street (close it to through motor traffic) while retaining bus priority on TCR. But if that’s not on offer, I’d want proper segregation from high volumes of buses or other motors, the approach the Vole argues for. Both have pluses and minuses, but I note that Vole’s and my plans both involve reducing and restricting private motor traffic. They don’t hit other sustainable modes to boost cycling, but offer more radically liveable solutions.
And a contribution to the debate on the As Easy As Riding A Bike blog Designing for existing mode share puts the general question that Camden's whole approach here begs: should existing flows of various types of traffic be allowed to constrain designs so that we cannot redesign to accommodate a new balance of traffic which would be preferable for many environmental, economic and health reasons? In other words, because lots of people travel by bus, private car and taxi here now, should we say "We have insufficient space for proper cycle tracks because we have to accommodate these existing flows, or something very close to them, in the redesign", thus falling into an apparently self-prepetuating trap of being unable to in practice alter which modes we prioritise?

On Wednesday 2 July Camden Cyclists held a public meeting at which the arguments were aired. Cllr Phil Jones of Camden Council introduced the scheme, which was then, however, largely explained and defended by two of his officers. The most telling moment for me came when one audience member, a woman, stated that she was not a cyclist, that she found London's roads too terrifying, that she wouldn't cycle on Tottenham Court Road amongst the heavy flows of buses as proposed, and that Camden's scheme whole not encourage her to cycle. A well-known LCC member then pointed out that the road would have a 20mph limit, and asked her how slow the buses would have to go for her to feel safe cycling with them: a question that I thought spectacularly missed the point of what she was saying, accurately representing how most non-cyclists feel about sharing road space with big vehicles.

Cllr Phil Jones of Camden presents the West End Project to the meeting
A fellow campaigner who was present at the meeting has written a letter to Cllr Phil Jones, which I think points up the core issues very well, and, with his permission, I am publishing it anonymously here, as it deserves wider circulation.
Dear Phil, 
Thanks for coming to present the West End Project to us last Monday.

I noticed, as you and [Camden officer] were describing the design process, that there's a persistent lack of consistency between your stated policy, and the way you have been making design choices – and I think this means you're ending up with a project that's much less good than it could be. I thought it might be useful to clarify where the problem lies, and how it might be corrected.

In your own 'Prioritising Sustainable Transport' document, you give the first three core objectives of Camden's transport strategy:
  1. Reduce motor traffic levels and vehicle emissions to improve air quality, mitigate climate change and contribute to making Camden a ‘low carbon and low waste borough’.
  2. Encourage healthy and sustainable travel choices by prioritising walking, cycling and public transport in Camden.
  3. Improve road safety and personal security for people travelling in Camden.
and you give a 'road user hierarchy' (repeated on Monday) of:
  1. Pedestrians
  2. Cyclists
  3. Public transport
  4. Taxis
  5. Powered two-wheelers (motorcycles) and private cars
  6. On-street parking
  7. Freight (including loading and unloading)
This is a great policy.
Its underlying intuition is that people have a choice of transport modes, and that making certain modes easier to use than others will affect those choices. It recognises that allowing people to make better transport choices by making some choices relatively easier has significant both individual and social benefits, in terms of public health, pollution, congestion, severance, road safety etc. It also recognizes that design can (and should) lead user choices.

It also recognizes that, although giving incentives to move from private motorised transport to public transport is valuable, giving incentives to move from motorised transport (either public or private) to active travel is again (socially and individually) valuable (lower pollution, health effects, less road danger, less subsidy, lower costs to individual, etc) 
When you, John, and Sam described the various options you'd considered for the West End Project, and your reasons for rejecting them however, you appeared to be working with a model that assumes everyone is locked into their existing choices, and has no possibility of changing them. (I think this is because your only quantified information here comes from a TFL traffic flow model that takes no account of user choices) This, in turn, seems to be forcing you to make design choices that lead you to, essentially, rearrange the status quo – and lose all the benefits that could come from allowing users a better set of choices.

There's no accounting, anywhere in your comparison of the various designs, for the different choices users could make within these designs, or the value of these choices. (and, oddly enough, when Tom Harrison asked about your quantifying of the value of movements of bus trips to bike trips (as your own policy advocates), you suggested he was 'attacking buses'. ) 
The only way your policy of 'prioritising walking and cycling' can be properly incorporated in design decisions is if you actually attempt quantify the benefits it can give, and make the decisions on that basis. So, for example, rather than saying, 'we can't build an inclusive cycle route because it would involve unacceptable cuts to motor traffic', you might want to say 'we estimate that an inclusive cycle route here will promote significant modal shift and attract 20,000 cyclists a day, and will have such and such health/environmental/congestion/road safety benefits' - and 'we won't be able to allow private motor traffic here because we need to prioritise cycling to get these benefits'. etc. 
Part of the process of quantifying the benefits of removing barriers to active travel will be an attempt to forecast (and target) usage. This can't be just a matter of 'build something and see' – in part because usage is endogenous. If you build very high-quality cycle tracks, many more people will use them. A starting point should be the Mayor's target of 400% increase by 2026 – but I suspect the many existing barriers to cycling on this route are suppressing demand sharply, and it would be good to engineer for at least twice that. It would also be good to know the demand for cycling to school. 
I think it would be useful at this point to return to the main options that were considered, and re-work the assessment process according to Camden's own policy, using a model that allows for users choices (and the possibility of improving those choices) – and attempts to quantify, within each scheme, the real gains from traffic reduction and modal shift (as well as, if you like, whatever real gains from two-way working, and running two-way buses on one street).

It would also be useful to re-think the narrative you're giving to stakeholders. 'Giving better choices to all, for a better environment for all' is a better aim 'than 'balancing the needs of all user groups', which assumes people don't make choices, and leads you back to the status quo. 
Because high-quality cycle routes need to have a consistent standard from beginning to end, and bus routes need to be logical, it would also be useful to have in hand at least an idea of how the rest of Camden should look in the future - where the bikes should go, where the buses should go, where the private motor vehicles should go. To get the West End Project right, we need to know approximately what we will want to do at Holborn, and on and around the High St, in particular. 
I realise this is a lot of work - but given this is a £30 million scheme in the heart of London, (and that, once that money is in Camden's account, it's public money) it seems to me that we should ensure that it's spent for the maximum possible public benefit. I know there has at least been a start in forecasting and quantifiying the benefits of increased walking – someone did this for the Cobden Junction scheme. In terms of cycling I know the TFL cycle superhighways team has done some work on both estimating demand and making a business case – perhaps they could be asked to help out? 
Just as an example, here's how one might start thinking about putting together a scheme following Camden's priorities. (I've no idea whether this would be the best arrangement of the several that have been suggested – one would need to quantify benefits to know.)
To prioritise pedestrians, one could remove all motor traffic from Tottenham Court Road. This would reduce pollution, motor traffic danger, and the obstacle of crossing the road. It would also hugely benefit business, by transforming TCR from a 'route' into a 'place.  
To prioritise cyclists, one could make TCR a pedestrian and cycle through-route. Cyclists don't pose the same danger to pedestrians as motor traffic, they don't get in the way of my place-making, and they'll benefit from a safe, high-capacity north-south route. One could also close Torrington Place/Tavistock to through traffic to make a safe east/west route.  
To prioritise buses, one could make Gower St buses only. It migh be useful to widen the pavements to accommodate more people waiting for buses.  
So here, we've prioritised modes as Camden suggest - and it turns out there's plenty of space for buses, bikes and pedestrians to co-exist. Now we can add in delivery and services, at off-peak hours so as not to delay buses.  
Finally, there's taxis and private cars. If we can let some on, for access only, that's great. In terms of access further south, for now, that's via Woburn Place. We end up with one N-S route with high/quality bike/pedestrian priority, one N-S route with bus/pedestrian priority and one N-S route with private vehicle priority. That seems to reflect Camden's priorities at least a little better than the current design. 
So there's two key points here: 
  • If you prioritise walking, cycling, and public transport here, there's plenty of room for all three, without conflict. It's when you bring in private motor traffic/taxis as well that there begins to be a conflict with buses. So, as in many places elsewhere, the supposed bus/cycle conflict only exists if private motor traffic has priority. 
  • If you bring Woburn Place into the mix, the balance of modes looks very different. Does south Camden need more than one main N-S route for private motor vehicles?
Thanks again for taking the time to come to talk to us.
Yours etc.
As the meeting with Phil Jones went on, I personally became more and more convinced the West End Project is actually a bus priority scheme with some minor walking and cycling improvements tacked on around the edges. There was, as the letter above states, a disconnect between the stated hierarchy and the actual proposals, and a failure to try to model or estimate what the effects of proper cycle infrastructure would actually be on the balance of modes that the streets needed to accommodate. We heard a lot about "massive bus use", but had no information about the average length of those bus trips, so no idea of how many of them would be highly cycleable if conditions for cycling were optimised. Similarly, there was a lot of talk about the need for expanded pedestrian space due to the opening of the Crossrail Station at Tottenham Court Road, but no recognition of the fact that these pedestrians might not need to be delivered by train, many of them might be able to cycle in when (and if) The Mayor's Vision for Cycling really starts to take hold and we have a network of high-quality routes in Central London and beyond. Then the need for pedestrian space versus bike space would look different. Forcing people to use trains and buses because the cycling alternative is so poor is not very environmental.

On the subect of buses, again, there was a contradiction between what the officer said about the huge, and expected increase, uptake of bus travel, and the fact that he claimed the "system was not working for bus users", because of the need to catch north and south-bound buses from different, closely-adjacent streets. I just can't see this. If such large numbers of people are using buses here, they are not being put off by having to walk a few yards to the next street, and I can't see why they should be in general. There are loads of other places in London where bus routing in opposite directions is on different strteets. On the other hand, people are certainly not cycling here in "huge" numbers. People, like the woman we heard from at the meeting, really are being put off from cycling in a massive way by the cycling system, that "just doesn't work" for them. So very different standards of service are being applied to the bus mode and the cycling mode. This is clearly discriminatory, and linked both to the majority/minority status of these modes, and also, I suspect, subliminally, to the way that cycling is perceived as a sporty, athletic activity for tough people who can be expected to put up with a lot of obstacles thrown in their way, while bus use is perceived, in the usual British paradigm, by contrast as being universal and democratic. There is no thinking on how your 80-year old aunty might be expected to cycle on a Boris Bike up Tottenham Court Road.

We also found out there are severe objections on practicality grounds to Camden's scheme. There will be general motor traffic on sections of Tottenham Court Road during the hours of operation of the restrictions, 8am–7pm Monday to Saturday, making E–W journeys, connecting between side-streets, and it will flow at a different time to the bus and cycle N–S traffic on the road because of the phasing of signals. But there will be nothing to physically force that traffic to turn off where it should. There might, we were told, be louvred signs, that change their aspect between "No entry" and something else depending on the time of day. But nothing will physically force general traffic to make those turns off Tottenham Court Road road, and not to continue up it. There was talk of enforcement cameras. But one still wonders how enforceable all this is going to be, as only a part-time scheme.

The scheme that I have suggested is far more practical, because it involves no basic change to the traffic system for taxis, buses and other motor vehicles, just a reduction in the number of lanes. It fits in with the existing engineering of the junctions with Euston roads, which Camden's scheme does not. But I can see that the alternatives proposed above by Rachel Aldred and our corespondent to Phil Jones, which involve one whole N–S street stripped of motor traffic, are very attractive as well, in that they would transform one of the roads even more radically. (Though I can anticipate that one might never get agreement on which road that should be, because one has to balance the commercial significance of the activity on Tottenham Court Road with the cultural significance of the activity on Gower Street – both being able to justify excellent claims for motor traffic-free status.)

Another option that was thrown into the mix at the meeting by Camden Cyclists was the possibility of essential doing the Camden scheme, but having segregation on Gower Street for cycling on both sides in the style of Brighton's Old Shoreham Road (or indeed most main streets in Copenhagen), that is, using half-height cycle tracks with a step up from the road and a step up to the pavement. This would make slightly better use of space than the armadillos proposed by Camden, but I think there isn't much in it really. I still think the pressure for stopping of taxis and delivery vehicles on this space will be overwhelming, and that this form of segregation will be too weak, and will get obstructed in this loction. In any case, there is no way that as much dedicated space for cycling can be made using this basic model, of a two-way Gower Street and TCR, as can be made under my one-way model, as I've taken out more general traffic space.

Half-height cycle tracks on Brighton's Old Shoreham Road. A good solution in Brighton, but I doubt the workability for the more pressurised space of Gower Street
The attachment to the concept of undoing the one-way system for motor traffic on the part of the proponents, and vague 'semi-supporters', one might term them, of this scheme, seems to me irrational and a bit dogmatic. There's no reason why a one-way system can't be even better for pedestrians and cyclists than the best two-way system for general traffic, and I think it might well be. In my model for Tottenham Court Road, pedestrians are separated and protected from all motor traffic by the buffer of the cycle tracks. The larger volume of cyclists encouraged would automatically civilise the street, as well as reduce the demand and need for buses and taxis. Pollution would be reduced, and my scheme would be full time, as opposed to the most-hours-of-the-week free-for-all of Camden's scheme. There's been lots of talk recently about Oxford Street, with it's throbbing red wall of buses, being possibly the most polluted street in the world. This is probably not true, however, it is certainly not a nice destination, a fact recognised by the businesses there. Why would Camden want to even risk reproducing the Oxford Street phenomenon on Tottenham Court Road? Why do these 'semi-suppoters' want it? I can't get my head around that. And where Mark Ames states:
Two way working on Gower Street will significantly improve what - as Londoners - we all deserve to enjoy as one of our most beautifully built streets, full of interesting institutions and seats of learning
– a claim continually made by Phi Jones and other proponents of the scheme as well at the meeting, that there is some property of two-way streets that makes them automatically better for all than one-way streets, I ask for the evidence. I claim that if you look at how things are done elsewhere, you find you can do one-way streets just as badly, or just as well, as two-way streets. Similar claims for how much better Piccadilly would be were made before its conversion to two-way working. The reality proved totally different. Mark Ames, in the same post, also rather implies that those who are asking for a better scheme for cycling than the one Camden is offering are too cycle-focused and not properly considering the needs of pedestrians, or not thinking enough about the demands that the Crossrail station is going to make.

Well, I'd like to draw attention to the following facts. Quite independently of all of us, the Greater London Authority has studied the various options, and, in documents I and other LCC members have seen, and an extract from which which I reproduce here in public for the first time, The GLA's transport experts have concluded that Camden's favoured scheme is not the best for pedestrians.

Extract from GLA briefing on the West End Project
"Scenario C" here is "Existing one way-system maintained, introduction of segregated northbound cycle track on east side of TCR, introduction of segregated southbound cycle track on west side of Gower Street": a very similar scheme to mine, this was judged by the GLA to be the best option for pedestrian comfort. (Scenarios A and B were both variation on the two-way conversion, A being essentially the scheme that Camden are consulting on, and B having instead of the cycle tracks on Gower Street, a two-way segregated cycle track on the east side of Tottenham Court Road.)

The GLA analysis was presented in a meeting at Camden's offices that included London's Deputy Mayor for Transport Isabel Dedring, senior officers of the GLA, Cllr Phil Jones, plus Camden and TfL officers. It makes clear that Camden are significantly at odds with the GLA (and possibly TfL) over this scheme, and that the GLA is trying to do something better for both cycling and walking, which Camden is resisting. I am not sure why Camden have taken this line, but this is important background to know for those considering whether to basically support the Camden plan, with maybe small modifications, as the semi-supporters suggest, or to basically oppose it, and demand something quite different, as I and Rachel Aldred suggest. This is why I have taken the step of publishing the extract from the briefing above.

It seems to me, if anybody is not really considering properly pedestrian needs and the implications of the opening of the Crossrail station, it is Phil Jones and the supporters of Camden's part-time scheme. For, as I pointed out in the meeting, they are proposing, between the hours of 7.00 in the evening and 8.00 in the morning, and and all day Sunday, the opening up a whole new route to the heart of the West End for unrestricted general motor traffic from the north side of London, on the biggest roads, via Hampstead Road and Tottenham Court Road – a route that does not exist now. This route will be in operation during the evening, when the West End throngs with restaurant, cinema, club and theatre goers. It will bering this new stream of traffic right down Tottenham Court Road, bang into the space at St Giles Circus where the new station opens out, bang into collision with all the pedestrian, cycle and bus activity that will be there. To me, this seems crackers. Who has lobbied for it, I'd like to know? Who is Camden actually listening to? In whose interests is this new access stream for general traffic in the evenings and on Sundays down to St Giles Circus? For all its faults, this is one problem that even the current traffic system does not create.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

To gyrate, or not to gyrate?

There seem to be no hard and fast rules as to when a roundabout becomes a "gyratory system", or a "gyratory system" becomes a "one way system";  it seems to be a matter of opinion, but I think we all know what a gyratory is. It is a big system of traffic that circulates in one direction, often so big that there are many buildings in the middle. It is also fair to say that gyratory systems are widely hated by cycling and pedestrian campaigners and assorted other environmentalists and urbanists: associated, in their UK application, as they usually are, with heavy traffic flows, speeding motor vehicles, inconvenient pedestrian crossing arrangements, hellish cycling conditions – where cyclists have been effectively just "thrown to the lions" and told to fend for themselves, with no facilities – pollution, noise, decay, alienation, an un-human, bad-scale environment, and general awfulness.

But then again, we may wander, or sedately pedal, around some of the environmentally best-organised cities in Europe; what about Amsterdam, Utrecht, Copenhagen, Bruges, Münster? We find them to be largely free of this nastiness: clean, easy to traverse, quiet and sociable. But look! Actually, so many of the streets we are traversing are one-way for motor vehicles (two way, of course, for bikes, and often also for buses and trams). And, examined on a larger scale, we will see that these streets are often organised as gyratory systems. So what's happening here? Are gyratories intrinsically bad, or is it just their normal UK application?

This subject has been covered in a very good blog post from last year by As Easy As Riding A Bike, with plenty of pictures of examples from the UK and the Netherlands. I recommend study of this, and I won't repeat what he says, but I'll try to relate it here to some current discussions over gyratory systems in London. The general point is that gyratory systems are just tools of planning which may be used to create very different types of environment, depending on what the intention is. If the planner is determined to force a maximal volume of traffic through a junction, or district of streets in a city grid, they can use an appropriately-designed gyratory system to accomplish this. If they wish to prevent motor traffic from using streets as through-routes, or if they wish to reduce motor traffic in an area of a city to an essential minimum, or if they wish to make space for wider pavements, segregated cycle tracks, or bus lanes, or do a combination of these things, then a system of appropriately-designed one-way streets and gyratory systems is also the way in which to do it. It is the intention behind the planning that matters, not the number of directions of motor travel on any given bit or road. Importantly, one-way and gyratory systems can be designed to give motor vehicles longer, slightly less convenient journeys, and cyclists direct, convenient journeys, and can thus be used to bias travel patterns towards the bike.

I came to understand, way back at the end of the last century, that one-way traffic systems are not necessarily evil creations that cycle campaigners should be on principle opposed to. Paul Gannon, when he started campaigning with Camden Cycling Campaign, had returned from living in the Netherlands, where he had noted the constructive use that was made there in introducing one-ways in narrow grid-pattern city streets to create the space for cycle facilities and block through motor traffic from large areas. I described the campaigns of this period before, in this blog post, where I explained that the Seven Stations Link cycle route through Bloomsbury that we planned was predicated on creating new one-way streets to make space for two-way cycle tracks. (This pattern was common in the Netherlands in this period, though it has become less common since, as such streets tend to have been closed entirely to through motor traffic in more recent schemes). The reason the Bloomsbury cycle tracks are so narrow and compromised now was that Camden Council did not do what we wanted, but attempted to fit two-way tracks into the space that should have been used for a single direction. The tracks were planned to be twice as wide, but lobbying by the black cab drivers, who wanted to preserve their two-way back-street rat-run between Euston and Kings Cross, foiled the plan, amid changes at the council which removed the people who might have had the determination to see the proper scheme through.

The Seven Stations Link in Bloomsbury: half the width it should have been, because the road was not made one-way for motors.
More recently, I observed, and David Hembrow explained, on his excellent study tour of Assen and Groningen, how carefully-worked out one-way systems, with merely signed cycle exception, are the entirely standard, non-intrusive, low-engineering model used in Dutch towns to minimise traffic in small residential streets, which become excellent routes for cycling and walking in consequence. In another type of environment, the one-way system of Camden town, with its many bad features remaining, is at least such that it allowed Camden to progressively reduce the single direction of motor traffic on Royal College Street from three fast lanes to one slow one, which has allowed the construction of the (fairly) successful cycle tracks there, part of the Somers Town route from Camden to Euston Road, give or take a few planters demolished from time to time.

Standard Dutch residential street, where a system of one-ways, with signed cycle exception, minimises through motor traffic while allowing easy access to all properties.

Whereas I used to think, at one time, that roundabouts were necessarily anti-cycling, and that they should be all replaced by signalised crossroads, I've come to realise that this was a simplistic idea, and really quite wrong. Lots of signals are the last things we need on the streets, if we wish cycling to be an efficient, pleasurable and competitive mode of transport. The Dutch and Danes show us how roundabouts properly designed for cycling are an excellent replacement for signalised junctions, reducing delays and congestion for both cycle and motor traffic, enhancing safety, reducing pollution (due to idling traffic waiting in queues), and making the cycling experience easy and smooth. Classic (and usually correct) cycle blogger Freewheeler noted, somewhere that I can't find now, that though removal of London's bad gyratory systems and replacement with normal junctions would make conditions a little better for existing cyclists, it was in no way a prescription, or even part of the prescription, for the conditions for mass cycling, Dutch-style, which requires almost total separation of cyclists from heavy flows of motor vehicles (both for the reason of subjective safety, and the because it is the only practical way of making space for really large-scale cycling).

We've seen the recent disastrous example of Piccadilly and Haymarket, where the return of these streets to two-way working, heralded by the Mayor as a great public realm project for his Olympic city, has resulted in conditions (on Piccadilly) no better for pedestrians than they were before, a hellish cycling environment, as much congestion as before, if not more, as much pollution, no improvement, so far as I can see, in bus service or convenience, and no improvement, so far as I can see, even in conditions for taxi drivers and other motorists.

The dismal sink of the two-way Piccadilly where you hardly see anybody cycling
So I think the subject of what to do about London's anti-cycling, and generally bad, gyratory systems deserves careful consideration, and not dogmatic position-taking. I think there are cases and cases; there are probably cases where the best cycling and walking environment can be most easily got, at minimal expense and reworking, and with minimal opposition, by keeping gyratory systems, for private motor traffic and taxis, as they are, but introducing changes for other road users. There are other cases where the best and easiest solution is the abolition of the gyratory system. I'll raise here two current cases of discussion which I think are examples of both these situations.

I last discussed Tottenham Court Road (in what has become, surprisingly, the second most popular post on this blog), in August 2011. I pointed out then that Camden's plan to transform this road (the northbound arm of the one-way system that also includes Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street) was the best opportunity so far presented of usefully extending Camden's still slight segregated cycle network, that had remained unexpanded since the completion of the Camden section of the Seven Stations link around 2002. I criticised the plans produced at that time by the council, which showed a dishonest artists' impression of a future Tottenham Court Road, two-way and reserved for buses and cyclists, in which cyclists and pedestrians happily thronged. I pointed out that successful cycling systems do not mix cyclists with buses in the same space, that Camden, on past form, would be unlikely to be able to prevent black cabs from using the route, and that the result would probably be very like the environmental sink of Oxford Street, one of the most polluted streets in the world.

These things grind excruciatingly slowly, and three years on, still nothing has happened, but there is a new, supposedly more definitive plan for these streets being put out by Camden, with a consultation, under the title "West End Project", which you can read all about (or all about to the not very high level of detail that has been provided) here. On this page you may see the new dishonest artists' impression of the future Tottenham Court Road.

Camden's current envisioning of the future Tottenham Court Road
This is similar to the 2011 version, except it is slightly better, as there is no fashionable "median strip" to trap cyclists next to the wheels and exhausts of buses a la Piccadilly. But it still has no protected space for cycling, it doesn't show the situation when cyclists get trapped between buses,  or have to pull out around stopped buses into the path of other buses (as the simple, standard Dutch and Danish expedient of the island bus stop with a cycle track passing behind it seems to be regarded as an impossibility here, for some reason, even by the erudite back-room boys and girls at Camden Cycling Campaign), and, importantly, it is a part-time and incomplete vision. Even assuming Camden succeed in banning black cabs, which I still doubt, the road will only be reserved for cycle and bus through-travel between 8am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday, not Sunday, and even between those times, 
Local access for cars, taxis and loading would be allowed on short sections of Tottenham Court Road via side roads. 
So this whole thing is really not how it is presented in the sunny artists' impression. (Funny how they are always sunny, isn't it?)

The other main part of this plan is the design for Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, which are proposed to go two-way for all traffic. This is where, under the current concept, cyclists get some semi-protected space. This will be in the form of one-way cycle lanes on both sides of the street protected by rubber armadillos, similar to those used in Royal College Street. Differences with that street design will be, however, the lack of planters (which have not proved too successful), and the lack of parking. In Royal College Street, parking outside the armadillos protects sections of cycle track from moving motor vehicles. It seems to me that in the Gower Street design, the cycle lanes protected only by armadillos will be highly vulnerable, in a very pressurised traffic space, far more so than Royal College Street, to getting driven and stopped upon by taxis and loading vehicles.

Royal College street, with planters and armadillos. The line of residential parking, there most of the time, protecting the track, is, I feel, a critical feature of this facility, which will be absent in Gower Street
Unfortunately, the details for the design of Gower Street as given on Camden's site are very poor. There is this image, not produced at any proper resolution, for the northern section, and a similar one for the southern, which contain no dimensions, and in no way explain how the cycle routes northbound and southbound are meant to work. There are, incomprehensibly, loading bays shown within the armadilloed cycle lanes at two points. There are lots of advanced stop areas, features which have nothing to do with Dutch or Danish cycle design for highly-trafficked roads, and which smack of a "dual network" concept (not all cyclists using the cycle facilities, in other words, because the are not good enough).

My understanding is that the "protected" cycle lanes will be 1.5m wide. This is just about wide enough for overtaking in, but not generous, for a main cycle route. I am therefore slightly confused as to what the route concept really is here. I am not sure there is a coherent concept at all. The street that offers the most obvious north-south high-capacity cycle route option through the area remains Tottenham Court Road, as I said in 2011. It connects with Hampstead Road, to the north, and Charing Cross Road, to the south. Though Gower Street offers a route southwards towards Covent Garden and Waterloo Bridge (a currently highly unpleasant route, not all of the problems of which, by any means, would be solved by these plans), the north end of it is not accessible, except via the intimidating racetrack lane system on Euston Road, which is not proposed to be changed. Furthermore, there will be no northbound route on this alignment north of Grafton Way. These look like a pretty fatal flaws in the plans to me.

The most detailed graphic (not very) from Camden's site shows that the protected lanes on Gower Street go no further north than Grafton Way, that there's no further route north on this alighnment, and that access from the north is only from Euston Road via unpleasant high-speed slip lanes. These are really bad flaws in the route design.
As a gyratory-removal scheme, too, note that it is only partial. The northernmost part of Gower Street remains only southbound for motor vehicles, for the same reason as for cyclists: there are no changes to the Euston Road system (suggesting there is no collaboration between Camden and Transport for London, who control Euston Road). So, instead, the Camden plan creates a mini-gyratory system at the north end, via Grafton Way, which I submit is an inappropriate, small side road to take this main flow of traffic.
Gyratory removal? Actually, a mini-gyratory where one does not exist now is created in the Camden plans on Grafton Way, an inappropriate street.
It seems that the concept is that cyclists will only use parts of the Gower Street corridor, connecting with it via the side streets, which are promised to have permeability improvements (i.e. more of them will be two-way for bikes) according to Camden Cyclists. On the other hand, on the obvious, continuous and straight north-south route, Tottenham Court Road, for most hours of the week, cyclists will be mixing with general two-way traffic, so the situation is likely to resemble how Piccadilly is now. At the better times of the week cyclists will only be mixing with heavy flows of buses, and cars and lorries on certain stretches. And I'm assuming perfect enforcement of the complicated and part-time restrictions. Does all this sound like a very cycle-friendly plan? I think not. I hear, incidentally, that the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan is none too impressed with the scheme either, and is refusing to contribute to the costs from his budget, though he cannot stop Camden doing what it wants on its own roads.

I think Camden Council has got obsessed by this idea of "gyratory removal" and is not thinking radically enough about how the whole area could be optimised for buses, cyclists, pedestrians, and, indeed, businesses. I think a far better result could be got for cycling, and no worse for buses and pedestrians, probably better, by retaining the one-way system, but reducing the capacity of it by having only one general traffic lane lane northbound in Tottenham Court Road and one southbound in Gower Street. I would put a dedicated bus lane all the way down Gower Street and a full kerb-segregated cycle track there as well. These would be southbound only. In Tottenham Court Road I would put one-way kerb-segregated cycle tracks in both directions. In the northern, wide section of Tottenham Court Road I would put a dedicated northbound bus lane, expanding out from the single motor traffic lane in the narrower southern part, and I would have it separated by bus boarding islands from the northbound cycle track at the stops. There would be loading areas for lorries in appropriate places outside the cycle tracks.

My scheme would seriously reduce general motor capacity, and I think this is a good thing. It is what is needed. The trouble with the Camden scheme is that it is more or less capacity neutral. It is another Piccadilly and Haymarket: it is not really prioritising cycling, it is just shifting the deckchairs around a little, pushing flows in certain directions from one street to another. My scheme would instead seriously reallocate road space and seriously protect cyclists, while allowing the other essential functions in the street to continue, and it would do this by retaining the one-way system, making it more like a Dutch city-centre one-way system. The environmental benefits to everybody, cyclist or not, would be enormous.

Gower Street now. I would reallocate these lanes by making the left one a wide cycle track with kerb segregation, making the middle one the bus lane, and keeping the outer lane as it is. All would be southbound. This fits with the traffic system at the northern end as currently configured, which only facilitates the southbound route.
Tottenham Court Road, north of Goodge street, now. I would reallocate this space by getting rid of the rubbish in the middle of the road and creating wide, kerb-secgregasted cycle tracks running in both directions, plus a bus lane and a separate general traffic lane running northbound. Bus stops would be on islands.
Tottenham Court Road, south end, now. I would reallocate this space to wide, kerb-segregated cycle tracks running in both directions, with one northbound lane for all other traffic. Taxis could still have their waiting area, outside the contraflow cycle track, and there would be spaces for loading for shops outside the track.
The benefits of my plan would not only be motor traffic reduction: it is also simpler. The current motor flows are not altered and there is no need for any large junction changes. There is no small gyratory system inappropriately routed via Grafton Way. The current cycle route towards Covent Garden and Waterloo Bridge is maintained and made far better. The Charing Cross Road to Camden Town route via Tottenham Court Road is made safe and pleasant for cycling, and the exact direct reverse route becomes possible, and just as easy and pleasant. This scheme would really open the West End up for cycling and give us a taste of a proper transfer of Dutch principles to central London. Importantly, it would be the same all the time: no time-dependence, no uncertain enforcement. It would be self-enforcing all the time.

Here is the biggest problem with Camden's proposals: for most hours of the week, between 7pm and 7am, and all day on Sunday, they are making Tottenham Court Road a free-for all, no bus lanes, no prioritisation at all, opening it up to all traffic, in both directions, as it is not open now. This is an utterly retrograde step. This is the aspect of the plan that neither Camden's consultation, nor the commentary from Camden Cyclists, nor that from Cyclists in the City dwells on. So I draw attention to it, and I invite you to think about it. This is going to be a massive opening up of the West End to new motor traffic movements, making many car journeys in the evenings, at night, and on Sundays, in central London easier and more convenient. This is the exact reverse of what Camden should be doing.

I said I would mention an example of a gyratory which I think should be removed. So I'll briefly describe another Camden scheme, where it looks like they might actually be getting it right. This is at an early stage, and there is no consultation yet I can point you to, and no clear official plans yet, but I have seen proposals for the removal of the Swiss Cottage gyratory, and these look like a thoroughly good thing – subject to details, not yet present, being got right. This is connected with Cycle Superhighway 11, which on current plans will run round the Outer Circle, up Avenue road, and into Finchley road via Swiss Cottage. The gyratory removal plan is a crucial part of this, and it has support from Andrew Gilligan. 

One option that I have seen sketched out by Camden involves making the main general traffic route up the A41, Finchley Road, continuous, with a signalised junction with the west end of Adelaide Road (to the south of the Odeon Cinema on the current gyratory island). The part of Avenue Road outside the library, the current east side of the gyratory, would be taken out of the traffic system, and only used for buses and bikes, which would have a direct signalised route through to the part of Avenue Road south of Adelaide Roads, and to Finchley Road, to the north. The connection of the A41 with Fitzjohn's Avenue (B511) would be closed off, thereby cutting traffic through into the leafy residential streets of Hampstead on this axis off in one stroke.

Map of Swiss Cottage, for orientation, for those unfamiliar with the area
Cycle Superhighway 11 would run in some sort of segregated or semi-segregated format up Avenue Road, and would cross into the bus-bike section by the library with signals. There would be ample space here to segregate it from bus traffic and to put the bus stops on islands. It would go on northwards into Finchley Road via more signals.

The critical advantage of making the main A41 route continuous on Finchley Road is that we would loose the circulating system that pushes so much traffic from the north down into Avenue Road (B525) and through to Regent's Park. The design of the gyratory at the moment encourages this totally inappropriate flow. Traffic from the A41 semi-motorway from the outer suburbs just goes bombing into this narrow, leafy road, with its big new schools on the left hand side, and ends up at the Outer Circle. Though there will still be a connection between the northern A41 and Avenue Road, in the new plan, it will involve a left signalised turn at the Adelaide Road / Finchley Road /Hilgrove Road (B509) junction, and then a right signalised turn at the Avenue Road junction. It will no longer be an obvious route, the obvious route will become the A41 Finchley Road down towards Baker Street. The traffic in Avenue Road should be massively reduced, and there will be space for a decent Cycle Superhighway there.

This is the pint at which narrow, residential Avenue Road becomes, inappropriately, the obvious route for traffic heading from the north towards central London. The abolition of the gyratory would end this situation.
As I say, these are early days on this scheme, and I wouldn't get my hopes up too far that it will be as good as this. People have been talking about removal of the Swiss Cottage Gyratory for decades, and nothing has happened. But hopefully we will be able to get agreement between TfL, the Cycling Commissioner, and Camden, on a scheme along these lines that I have described, and, if we do, it will be a thoroughly good thing that the widely-hated Swiss Cottage Gyratory goes. So, with gyratories, there are cases and other cases, as I said at the beginning, to be judged on their exact details.

I the meantime, what can be done bout Camden's poor "West End Project" plan? There is a consultation, which can be filled in here.  In addition, Camden Cyclists are organising a public meeting, at the YMCA, Indian Student Hostel, 41 Fitzroy Square W1T 6AQ at 7pm on Monday 30 June. Camden councillors officers will be present to explain their scheme and take questions. I suggest people attend this and make their views known there as well. Register for the meeting here.

There has been a tone to the commentaries so far published by cyclists that the Camden West End scheme should probably be supported, as it will be an improvement on what we have now, and there is no hope of getting anything better, or no-one can come up with anything better. Camden Cyclists say:
We have concluded that we will support the Camden proposal unless some much better alternative comes up. However, we feel that it will not do much to encourage new people to cycle, although the increase of permeability will allow those that want to to escape via the side streets. But being able to escape isn't really the main function of a cycling street, particularly one that is likely to be part of the new Central London Cycle Grid.
I would much rather see this scheme happen than see nothing happen, as is the case in other parts of London. Space4Cycling should be better than this. But this is better than what's there and better than nothing. It's all a bit of a damp squib, really.
I say, this is all rather weak. It's not difficult to come up with a better, more radical plan, and I've done so. The critical step is letting go of the idea "evil gyratory system must go". My plan, to reiterate, is to keep the general traffic system as it is now, but to make a radical reduction in general motor capcity through having only one general northbound lane on Tottenham Court Road, and one general lane southbound on Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street. There would be a dedicated southbound bus lane in Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, and a dedicated northbound bus lane in the wider, northern part of Tottenham Court Road. There would be segregated cycle tracks, southbound only on Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, and in both directions on Tottenham Court Road. There would be island bus stops so buses would never cross the paths of cyclists. The whole system would be full-time. You can call this the Voleospeed West End Plan if you like. You can refer to it in the consultation and at the meeting, and direct Camden Council and others here.

I suggest we lobby for this Voleospeed West End Plan. What have we got to lose? As I think Schrödinger's Cat recently asked, rhetorically, are we afraid that what crumbs there are for cycling in the current plans will be removed from the table if we object, and that we will get something even worse? I hardly think that's likely.

What is likely is that Camden will do what they have already decided to do anyway, or they will make some minor modifications to their plan. But if everybody makes enough of a noise, with pressure from Andew Gilligan and parts of TfL as well, perhaps they can be forced to go back to the drawing board. I certainly don't believe we will be sitting here in a few years' time, thinking "If only we had not objected to that West End Project as proposed by Camden and not proposed our own silly, impractical, too-ambitious plan to make London WC1 really look like Amsterdam, then we would not have got this horrible thing that doesn't even have the half-hearted cycle facilities that Camden was offering us then". In my two decades of cycle campaigning experience, I can't recall a case that has ever unfolded like that. We have never regretted scuppering a half-hearted plan because we asked for something better. Either we suggest the best and lobby for the best, and get something a bit worse, or we moan a bit, let the planners do their own thing, and we get the crumbs that they offer. Let's have a bit of courage about this. 

Keep the Tottenham Court Road gyratory gyrating for motor vehicles, and civilise it for cyclists and everyone else.