|The vigil in the centre of Bow roundabout|
|The message of the vigil|
|Ghost bike for Brian Dorling|
|Shrine to Lana Tereschenko|
|The "cycle facilities" that killed Brian Dorling|
|Daytime view to show clearly the defective design (picture courtesy LCC)|
Both the blue strip and the segregated section of lane on the outer edge of the roundabout that have been provided for cyclists have clearly made a dangerous junction far worse for them. The segregated strip is the biggest error. For to aim for its narrow entrance, a cyclist is going have to take the worst possible course, the one that makes it most likely for them to be overtaken on the outside and then mown down by the inattentive driver of a left-turning lorry. The narrowness of the entrance of the segregated section and the precision of the move required to get into it will inevitably slow the cyclist, making it more likely that they will be unwittingly overtaken and ploughed into by a driver having limited visibility from his cab.
This is a totally disastrous mis-application of segregated cycle engineering to a junction – one where the basic problems of the junction have not been fixed, and the best, but still highly unsatisfactory, course for a cyclist remains a high-visibility, fast, vehicular cycling approach, yet they are forced or encouraged to modify that approach to fit in with a facility that does not protect, thus creating a hugely amplified risk. Nobody who understood cycling could have designed this.
Transport for London's consultants on the CS2 project were Jacobs Consultancy. They told TfL that signalised crossings for cyclists were needed and that off-carriageway cycle lanes should be provided around the roundabout, to "encourage less confident cyclists to use the route". Though the wording about "less-confident cyclists" is peculiar – cyclists have the right to protection whatever their level of confidence, and Brian Dorling, for one, was certainly an experienced and confident cyclist – this was correct advice, with which LCC agreed. We know why TfL did not build the crossings. This was made very clear by the answer Boris Johnson gave to London Assembly Member John Biggs in May:
TfL have been unable so far to find an immediate solution for providing controlled crossings at Bow Roundabout that doesn't push the junction over capacity and introduce significant delays to traffic."Traffic", here, as usual when "cycling champion" Johnson uses the word, means, of course, motor vehicles. "Significant delays" to pedestrians and cyclists don't matter in the Johnson–TfL world – significant delays such as being dead for the rest of eternity.
This blog is not afraid to pull its punches, and I think we should stop diplomatically hiding the personal decisions of Boris Johnson behind the acronym "TfL". The way TfL is set up, legally, makes the Mayor effectively its dictator. Johnson personally decided on the trade-off between delays to motor traffic and risk to cyclists at this junction, and at others like it all over London. He could have instructed TfL officials to adopt a different policy, but he did not. People have talked about "corporate manslaughter", but I am not sure there is anything particularly corporate here. If there can be said to be manslaughter connected with recent cyclist deaths at at London junctions, there is only one individual behind it. We know where the buck stops.
More broadly, one should consider that if an attempt is being made to set up a safe cycling network in a city, it would make sense to take expert advice from those who have proven experience of delivering this elsewhere in the world. There is no proven experience of creating safe and effective cycle networks in the UK, thus expertise should have been drawn from abroad, ideally from the Netherlands, and officials should have been given the freedom politically to act on the that expertise. I have been saying for the last 20 years that London should get transport engineers for the Netherlands to redesign its roads, but this never happens.
In every industry in the private sector these is a flow of expertise from one country to another; those who are the real experts in every field move internationally to raise standards everywhere. Whether you talk about manufacturing, engineering, banking, media, arts or sports, we do not live in a nationally-compartmentalised world. In every one of these fields the real experts operate internationally, and are called upon to go wherever they can best help and most increase productivity, quality and profits.
But UK road engineering is different. It seems to exist in a bubble of its own that admits little influence or interference from people trained in places that do the same better. There are two aspects here: street engineering involves interrelated technical and political issues. The correct policies need to come from political leadership, but there needs also to be the technical expertise available to best realise the political ambitions when they are clearly crystallised.
We might forget all about cyclists for a moment, and think about how to design major junctions safely for motorists. We have not a clue about this in the UK either. Standing in the centre of the Bow roundabout, it was easy to observe the designed-in chaos of the motor vehicle interactions at this intersection, with, despite the signal control, near-collisions being a constant feature, with honking of horns and sudden braking all the time showing clearly the problems created by the wrong geometry of the entrances and exits, the multiple lanes and excess lane widths. These are not problems of user behaviour. To think in this way, as Johnson seems to, is to not have progressed to a sensible, realistic understanding of the interaction of human beings with the technology of transport infrastructure. These are problems of design.
The Bow intersection is a bad example, but not untypical of major UK intersections. There are many others similar in London. There are many junctions in London that frighten not just cyclists, but motorists, and are hated by many of them. I guess Bow would be one. Another that I know, because motorists in my area have mentioned to me how much they dislike it, is Northwick Park roundabout in Harrow: another chaotic, open geometry, multi-lane gyratory. This is terrifying to cycle on, and I do not do so, except to make a left-turn, and I advise cyclists to avoid it.
|Northwick Park roundabout, Harrow and Brent|
Staples Corner roundabout is not quite so bad as Bow as the spaces are not so wide, but it is sufficiently bad to greatly increase my tendency to take the tube into central London rather than to cycle down the A5. There was proposed to be a Cycle Superhighway here as well, CS 11, but TfL thought better of the idea, or Barnet, which part-controls the A5 here, did not want it, so CS11 has been redirected to the A41 (where it will still not penetrate into the anti-cycling Borough of Barnet).
|Staples Corner West roundabout in Brent and Barnet|
I am sorry to have to keep repeating myself, but the fact is that the Dutch know how to do roundabouts. They have unrivalled expertise in making roundabouts safer for all road users (including motor vehicle occupants), and it is very hard to undersand why in the UK we continue to pig-headedly avoid importing their expertise. The Dutch design roundabouts according to the principles of sustainable safety, meaning that they make it hard for road users to make dangerous errors. From the Dutch SWOV (Institute for Road Safety Research):
Homogenous use of the infrastructure is one of the Sustainable Safety requirements. On urban main road intersections, where all traffic types meet, this homogeneity requirement translates into reduction of the number of potential conflicts and lower driving speeds. [Dutch] Roundabouts meet this requirement because of their features.By "homogeneous use" they mean all road users using the infrastructure in the same correct, predictable manner, because it was designed to make them do that. This is the reverse of the junction chaos that UK designs typically create.
|Dutch turbo roundabout, from SWOV publication|
On relatively low-traffic Dutch roundabouts, cycle lanes may be located on the carriageway round the periphery of the roundabout, provided that the geometry is such that vehicles entering and leaving the roundabout cross the cycle lane almost at right-angles. Here is such a roundabout that I photographed in Groningen:
|Unsegregated cycle lane on Groningen roundabout|
|One-way unsignalised cycle track round roundabout near Groningen: cyclists give way|
|Cycle priority on cycle path round Dutch roundabout|
|Two-way signalised cycle path round roundabout in Utrecht|
Though I am no traffic engineer, or indeed graphic designer, I have made the crude attempt below to show how the part of the Bow roundabout on which Brian Dorling died could be modified to make it safe for eastbound cyclists, using Dutch-style engineering. This is of course not intended to be a definitive solution, but merely demonstrative of a possibility.
|My suggested design for Bow|
Fixing the Bow roundabout would not fix Cycle Superhighway 2, which I cycled on my way back from the vigil on Friday. The rest of it is a travesty of safe cycle infrastructure as well. The blue lane, marked intermittently in the inner half of the bus lane, does nothing to remove conflicts between cyclists and buses and conflicts at other junctions. This lane has no legal force, not being a mandatory cycle lane (not bounded by a white line), and it gives cyclists no protection in law, nor in practice. The A11 is a horrible road with a peculiarly aggressive "Gotham City" feel to it as you cycle towards the huge, overbearing towers of mammon of the City of London, looming up ahead. The implementation of this Superhighway, of all of them, was uniquely disappointing, as the space for creating proper, segregated cycle tracks on both sides of this road was so clearly present, even without alteration of the current vehicle lanes. The road is enormously wide, with much unused pavement space.
|Bow Road, the A11, photo by Oxyman, taken before the implementation of the Superhighway. Plenty of space here for a wide segregated cycle track.|
As I pointed out in my last post, it was clear at least as far back as August 2009 that the Cycle Superhighways were going to be like this. That was when TfL told LCC that:
Cycle Superhighways does not have the time or the budget to... seek major changes to traffic operations (e.g. via side road orders or controversial Traffic Regulation Orders).Traffic Regulation Orders are the legal mechanism used in England and Wales for all significant alterations to highways, such as altering lanes, changing parking arrangements, or altering junctions. In ruling out seeking these, the Superhighways team was making clear that nothing would actually change on these roads. At that time I advocated that LCC should condemn the Superhighways programme and call for it to be stopped. Now, at its AGM last Wednesday, LCC has finally done that. In an Emergency Motion, overwhelmingly passed, the meeting resolved to:
1. Call upon TfL to immediately redesign the Bow roundabout junction, providing continuous, safe East-West cycle crossings and safe approaches and exits.
2. Call upon TfL to halt work on the remaining Superhighway routes until issues of road space reallocation and junction danger are addressed and resolved.
3. Call upon the Mayor to intervene and give TfL the mandate and political direction to provide clear space for safe cycling on London's main roads.
4. As part of out "Go Dutch" campaign, seek a commitment from the mayoral candidates that the Cycle Superhighways will be completed (including resolving barriers on existing routes) to the highest international best practice standards, in accordance with LCC's "Go Dutch – Key Principles" document.TfL's response so far to the furore over the Bow deaths has been to announce the following:
Work is beginning on how London gears up to move to the next level of cycling infrastructure and continuing to improve safety for cyclists.
This includes a commitment from TfL to review all major schemes planned on TfL roads as well as to review all the junctions on the existing cycle superhighways.
That work will include an assessment of Bow Roundabout, which TfL have been asked to report back to the mayor on as a matter of urgency.This could be interpreted as progress, but it could be intepreted as fobbing-off. We have had reviews and studies of cycling in London until our eyes fall out. What we need is not more reviews by TfL, but a change in policy by Boris Johnson, away from putting motor vehicle throughput above safety for all road-users. If these reviews are a face-saving way of him making this change, that is good. But I worry that what will come out of this will be some nonsense such as merely moving the blue lane at Bow roundabout from the outside to the middle of the carriageway. "The next level of cycling infrastructure" sounds fascinating. Is this the level where cyclists only get their limbs crushed under lorries, as opposed to their heads? For I believe that is what actually happened to both the victims of Bow.
I, for one, would like to see Boris Johnson apologise personally to the relatives of Brian Dorling and Svitlana Tereschenko, and personally promise to them to start to mend London's deadly junctions, in Brian and Lana's memory. I end with a video I made of the one minute's silence on Friday.