|Southwark Bridge, photo by Alan P|
This all looks very progressive to me, almost "Dutch". Now a little bit of searching of photos on Flickr has shown me that the concrete segregation was in place before the blue CS7 markings were put down, so I don't actually know when the segregation was done and if it was part of the Superhighway plan. Certainly in 2004 all Southwark Bridge had was very narrow painted advisory bike lanes, with two motor lanes northbound and one southbound. This image suggests the segregation might have been built in 2007, well before the Superhighways programme started.
Discussion of this subject on A Grim North has suggested that the segregation was not put in primarily to benefit cyclists, but to reduce the capacity of the bridge to lengthen its life. This does not seem to make too much sense, as the bridge previously had a reputation as "the car park bridge" as, according to Wikipedia, coaches used to park there. This parking was presumably in the inside northbound lane, and on top of the advisory cycle lane, reducing the bridge to two lanes: all the old photos I have seen show double-yellow lines in the southbound lane. If the parking was evenings only, and the bridge really operated as three lanes during the day, then, yes, the segregated cycle tracks could have reduced its capacity during the day. So this would be a case of, as so often, the best cycle facilities in the UK coming about accidentally, for reasons other than the desire to create good cycle facilities, as with the Cambridge Guided Busway.
In this case, it does not matter. The result has been to create the best crossing of the Thames for London cyclists, and it made sense to direct CS7 this way. At the north end of the bridge Queen Street is closed, and motor traffic has to turn right or left onto Upper Thames Street, as shown below. Cyclists on CS7 thus have a clear run into a largely traffic-free Queen Street, and then King Street, via another bollarded road-closure, right up to Gresham Street, in the heart of the City: altogether one of the best bits of cycle route in London. This is very much a Dutch city-centre pattern of combining segregation, in places where there is no sensible alternative, with strategic closures of other streets to motor vehicles (sometimes termed filtered permeability for cyclists), or use of one-way street networks, with cycle exceptions, to provide almost traffic-free cycling on the remainer of a route.
|Looking from Southwark Bridge towards Queen Street, photo by Alan P|
In further discussion on A Grim North, it is commented that the segregation on the bridge is poor, with high, unforgiving kerbs, and the tracks too narrow to allow overtaking of slower cyclists. I would say that it would be possible to overtake another cyclist on these tracks, particularly if you rung your bell and got them to move in as far as possible, but it is certainly true that the kerbs could have been done better. Here is a new cycle track in Assen, which I photographed on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain study tour in the Netherlands in September. I have referred to this one before: it is the secondary cycle track, for the benefit of which Assen moved the canal two metres sideways. Being new, I take it to represent the state-of-the-art of Dutch design. You do see slightly different designs all over the Netherlands.
|Track along the south side of the Vaart canal, Assen|
The fact that this is a two-way track is not relevant here. The outer kerb is in fact fairly high, and vertical, but the inner one is low and chamfered, allowing a possible run-over on to the pavement. This, incidentally, also makes the track usefully permeable to disabled buggies and the like. Accommodating the needs of the disabled is a significant, and generally overlooked, purpose of Dutch cycle infrastructure. Clearly this is not a very similar environment to central London; nevertheless, lessons can be learned. Note the shiny new lifting bridge on the canal in the background. The Dutch are always building bridges. There are loads of bridges across the canals of Assen, and all of them have cycle provision. Either they are cycle-only bridges, or they have cycle lanes or tracks. And you never get parking on Dutch bridges. The Dutch have twigged that space on bridges is too precious to devote to parking.
Despite the general wateriness of the Netherlands, crossing water on bikes there is now never a problem. It has been a problem in the not-so-distant past: here is Mark Wagenbuur's intersting video on the history of the Berlagebrug in Amsterdam. In 1984 Dutch cyclists had to fight for cycle provision on this bridge. They won.
One thing that comes up repeatedly in discussions of Dutch cycle infrastructure by British cyclists is that they don't understand how very new it is. This means that those who last visited the Netherlands perhaps 20 or 30 years ago really don't have much relevant knowledge (another reason to suggest they go on a study tour). Virtually all Dutch cycle infrastructure has been replaced, or radically improved, in the last 30 years, and David Hembrow suggests that most Dutch cycling is now done on infrastructure that is less than 15 years old. The Berlagebrug incident was perhaps a turning point from which the modern Dutch infrastructure-driven cycling renaissance can be dated. The incident also shows that this renaissance, in its early days in the 1980s, was far from secure. The Berlagebrug didn't recieve cycle lanes until 1982, but they were threatened by a change in political fashion only two years later. The cyclists in Amsterdam stood up to that threat. This is a salutary lesson to the cyclists of London today: it shows how similar our situation is with Blackfriars Bridge now.
It may be that TfL don't think good cycle provision on Blackfriars Bridge is necessary, because they have done CS7 and Southwark Bridge. This is a mistake, because cyclists need a dense grid of safe routes if mass cycling is to come about: this was a vital lesson the Dutch learned in the 1980s. It doesn't all need to be kerb-segregated (Berlagebrug is not), but it does all need to join up properly, cycle space needs to be uninterrupted by parking and taxi and bus stopping, and all the junctions need to be safe, all factors conspicuously factor lacking at Blackfriars and throughout London. There are few enough Thames crossings as it is, and none dedicated to bikes. Boris Johnson could have spent £60 million on a cycle bridge across the Thames, but he chose to spend it on a ridiculous cable-car project instead. The city of Amsterdam injected a fair amount into the London economy by getting London architects to design the magnificent Nescio Bridge across the Amsterdam-Rhine canal, possibly the longest dedicated cycle bridge in the world (which, surprisingly, only cost £6.5 million in 2005 – how do they do huge infrastructure so cheap when it seems to cost us thousands to put in a few cycle stands?). It's a pity that our talented people are not able to exercise their design abilities on cycle bridges for our city, which so pointedly needs them – and not just across the Thames, but also across the Rivers Lea, Brent, and many rail and motorway corridor barriers.
But I wish to end on a positive note. Cycle Superhighway 7 at the City end is a little blue oasis in the general cycling inferno that is London. It is a start. It gives a glimpse of what we could do and what we could get. The key elements are there: dedicated, uninterruptible space for cycling, sensible junction and signal design*, and integration with de-trafficked streets. We need to keep pressing at all levels of government pointing out the good examples like this, showing how removal of motor vehicle space and motor through-routes have improved, not impoverished, the city where they have been implemented, and explaining that the Cycling Revolution requires this sort of streetscape to become the norm, not the exception, and that this would be good for all Londoners. The odd historical reasons we have got here notwithstanding, we have here a start.
*Post-script: OK, in my desire to end on a positive note, I was too positive here. As Cyclists in the City points out today, the junction at the north end of Southwark Bridge is a nightmare at busy times (compare the picture he has used with the one I used). Though not as bad as what is proposed for Blackfriars, it is still poorly designed, with masses of blue paint, but vehicles still allowed and encouraged into the left hand-lane, allowing no space for cyclists.