Friday, 23 December 2011

Change may be on the way at King's Cross, but it needs to be the right change for cyclists

The Christmas Vigil at King's Cross to remember the 16 dead cyclists, and over 60 dead pedestrians, in London this year (with many more seriously injured), and to demand action from the Mayor and TfL to reduce danger on London's roads, took place on Tuesday, and was well-attended, well-organised, brief, poignant, and to the point. A model of a dignified public protest on a serious issue, it brought together grieving relatives of those killed, members of the London Cycling Campaign, RoadPeace, Living StreetsTransport for all, and many other individuals who feel passionately about the issue. Politicians who attended included Jenny Jones, the Green mayoral candidate, and London Assembly Members Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem) and Andrew Boff (Conservative).

The vigil
Here is Caroline Russell of Islington Living Streets speaking at the vigil:

And here are Mark Ames (ibikelondon) and Mustafa Arif, Board Member of LCC:

There seems to have now been a reaction to the Kings Cross safety campaign (and to the Bow campaign) from TfL. Yesterday (22 December) they published the following media release:
TfL to carry out a strategic review of the Kings Cross road network during 2012
TfL has today announced details of a strategic review of traffic movements through the Kings Cross area.
The review, which will begin in the spring of 2012, builds on previously agreed work to review traffic speeds through the area.
The study will consider how all road users, especially vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists, travel along the TfL and local borough road network around Kings Cross.
The findings will enable an informed discussion regarding the future of the Kings Cross gyratory system and the aspiration to return it to two-way working.
TfL intends to discuss the scope of this work with both Camden and Islington Councils in the New Year and will commence the study in the spring.
TfL has also now completed its initial review into the proposed Pedestrian Improvement schemes at three junctions outside Kings Cross station, in particular considering the location at the junction of York Way and Grays Inn Road where there was a fatal collision involving a cyclist in October.
The pedestrian improvement scheme has been developed and agreed with Camden Council following earlier reports by TfL identifying the need for enhancements at busy junctions around the station, helping pedestrians move more safely through the area.
The scheme, which will deliver wider pavements, reduced street clutter and new advanced stop lines for cyclists around Kings Cross station, has been reviewed to see if any further changes were possible prior to commencement of main construction in January.
York Way
Although there will be no significant changes to the original scheme in the short term, TfL will be further widening the approach to York Way junction to provide additional space for road users and cyclists through the junction.
Work will begin during the Christmas period and TfL has committed to delivering the pedestrian improvements by April 2012, ahead of the London 2012 Games.
However, TfL will include the York Way junction within its ongoing cycle safety junction review to identify, discuss and plan further improvements.
Were any potential options to be identified which would benefit all road users, TfL would look to install these after the London 2012 games.
Work on these improvements will start during Christmas between 28 and 30 December, to take advantage of the reduced traffic flows during the festive period. TfL will be working on site 24 hours a day where possible and lane closures will be in place outside Kings Cross station while these works are carried out.
When main works begin in January 2012, TfL will work overnight to deliver these improvements where possible to minimise disruption to people travelling through the area.
Leon Daniels, Managing Director of Surface Transport at TfL, said: 'Any fatal collision on the Capital's roads is one too many and the Mayor and TfL are determined to work night and day to reduce that number.
'We will be working closely with all partners to carry out a strategic review of how traffic moves through the area. However, we have an important commitment to provide pedestrian improvements around Kings Cross station ahead of the London 2012 Games. Work will begin to deliver these during Christmas while we continue to investigate further changes at this location.'
Notes to Editors:
TfL had committed to deliver the schemes before the London 2012 Games in view of the increase in pedestrian movements around Kings Cross during the Games
TfL continues to investigate making improvements to the junction at Bow roundabout and has now identified potential options for improvements. Detailed modeling and design is now being carried out and more details will be available in the New Year, when TfL begin discussing the improvements with key stakeholders and cycle groups
There seems to be a significant change of language and tone from TfL here, compared to previous statements on this and related issues. The wording
consider how all road users, especially vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists, travel along the TfL and local borough road network around Kings Cross 
contains a different emphasis from previous statements which, in the last few years, always talked about "reflecting (or balancing) the needs of all road-users" It seems as if the (justifiably) emotive vigils and other campaigning actions (such as the Blackfriars Flashrides and the Tour du Danger) at the various dangerous junctions have rattled TfL. They have noticed that their language of "balance" between provision for road-users of totally different levels of vulnerability is at odds with what a lot of ordinary Londoners are thinking and saying. One can only applaud Leon Daniels stating now that "Any fatal collision on the capital's roads is one too many".

Another new thing here is talk of an "aspiration to return it [the King's Cross gyratory] to two-way working". TfL has consistently insisted in the past that it was not possible to remove the gyratory. Any big changes are being put off until after the Olympics; still, it looks like TfL have been stung by criticism arising from the death of cyclist Min Joo Lee (Deep Lee), about their unwillingness to make space for cyclists in Grays Inn Road and York Way as part of the current changes, because they are in such a hurry to get these done in time for the Olympics. As the Camden New Journal reported a couple of weeks ago:
On Monday night, Kenji [Hirasawa, boyfriend of Deep Lee] listened patiently in the Town Hall chamber – a perfect picture of dignity in his blue suit with top shirt button done up – as council officials argued they were mostly meeting cycle safety targets in a presentation of endless graphs and pie charts.
A TfL representative insisted that introducing a cycle lane at the junction would “cause considerable queues”, stressing that there was “limited time” to conduct a review of the proposed changes for the junction because of a “commitment” to make them in time for the Olympic Games.
And Caroline Russell mentioned at the King's Cross vigil that cyclist Leslie Michaelson was killed in exactly the same way as Deep Lee at exactly the same spot, 14 years ago.

So now TfL have decided that it is possible to modify the current plans, to be implemented by April, specifically
further widening the approach to York Way junction to provide additional space for road users and cyclists through the junction
 – whatever that confused-sounding wording means. Cyclists are "road users": are they making space specifically for cyclists, or not? It sounds even less hopeful where they go on:
However, TfL will include the York Way junction within its ongoing cycle safety junction review to identify, discuss and plan further improvements.
Were any potential options to be identified which would benefit all road users, TfL would look to install these after the London 2012 games. 
So we have more of the suspicious old language about "benefiting all road users", which has always, in the past, meant not looking after the vulnerable ones.

So what should be done? It has been suggested that there should be a segregated cycle lane installed at the north end of Grays Inn Road, to protect cyclists at the point where the deaths have occurred, but actually I cannot see how this could work. In the diagram below (reproduced from TfL's plans for the junction from before the latest announcement), the place I presume it would go I have marked with the red cross.

From TfL king's Cross consultation leaflet
A lane in this location would not work because cyclists aiming for it would get cut-up from the right by traffic trying to get into the westbound lanes leading into Euston Road. It would create exactly the same difficulty as does the segregated cycle lane on the Bow roundabout – creating an extra-difficult thing for cyclists to get to that would slow them and modify their road positioning in such a way as to make them more vulnerable to the left-hook. There would still be a battle to get into lane in Grays Inn Road. The Dutch would not do anything like this. No, to make this safe for cyclists, the whole thing needs to be rethought on "Dutch" (or Danish) lines. The stop lines for the Grays Inn Road lanes going both north and west need to be brought back to before the point at which the lanes split, so that all motor traffic exiting Grays Inn Road can be stopped at once. Then a segregated lane on the left hand side of Grays Inn Road could work, because cyclists could be put through the junction (in various directions) on a signal phase of their own without conflicting with any other flows. This style of engineering at a major, "difficult" junction in Copenhagen was recently described on the Danish Cycling Embassy site.

Many will rejoice at the hint that TfL may consider, in the longer-term, removing the whole, complex Kings Cross gyratory system. I would caution that gyratory-removal does not necessarily produce good cycling conditions. We have recently seen a major gyratory in Pall Mall and Piccadilly removed, with extremely poor results for cyclists. Gyratory-removal is not a cure-all for car-sick, cycle-excluding road-design. It does not even come close, if done badly, that is, if it is done without a central concern for the subjective safety of the cycling experience. Unless cyclists are given clear space on main roads, in the wording of LCC's Go Dutch campaign, unless, in other words, their space is dedicated and properly protected, then cycling in these roads will never feel safe enough for most people to consider cycling there.

The worst possible results for cyclists from gyratory-removal come when new two-way roads are created, as in Pall Mall and Piccadilly, where the lanes are narrow and there is no space for motor vehicles to overtake cyclists when the traffic is flowing, hence cyclists are forced to act as "rolling speed bumps", a very intimidating experience for all but the most hardened vehicular cyclists, and not a role anybody would like to see their child or grandmother play. And when the traffic is not rolling, cyclists are just stuck in the fumes, unable to get through, or tempted to cycle on the pavement. All this may be slightly safer, but is no more appealing and efficient for cycling than the old gyratory arrangements – which is why such changes will not get many more cyclists on the streets, will not reduce motor traffic volume much, and will probably lead, a few years down the line, to the authorities just saying to themselves: "Actually, why don't we try one-way traffic again, we will be able to increase capacity that way and reduce congestion and pollution", and so the gyratory system of traffic-planning fashion will continue to spin.

If you look at cycle-friendly major cities, such as Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Copenhagen, even Stockholm, Munich and Berlin, you will not see the general removal of one-way systems for motor vehicles. What you will see are comprehensive bypass networks for cyclists, so cyclists are not put through these systems, jostling for space with cars and lorries, as they are in London. There is even a case to be made that one-way systems for motor vehicles are more or less essential in getting them out of the way of cyclists on many streets in dense centres, and for creating long, inconvenient routes for cars and short, convenient routes for bikes, which is one method of prioritising and encouraging cycling.

So I think it is a mistake for cycle campaigners to regard the removal of one-ways and gyratories as a real end of campaigning in itself. There are probably a hundred different possible solutions to the King's Cross traffic mess, but I am sure that the only ones that will make the junction attractive for cycling will be the ones that separate cycle space from motor space comprehensively, and, where those spaces must overlap, separate the cycle and motor flows in time. Whether the roads are one-way or two-way is not exactly the issue.

So apposite are the comments of Deep Lee's boyfriend, Kenji, on King's Cross, as quoted in the Camden New Journal article, I'll end with some more of them:
I grew up in Shinjuku, the busiest area in Tokyo. I never heard that such a dangerous junction existed in that city. The council had given a presentation about how the Town Hall was generally meeting its targets and complying with standards. It is just their normal job and duty – it is nothing special to show off like that. For me, because of their laziness, my girlfriend is killed at the junction.
I will be so ashamed that Deep Lee was killed at this junction if I am a member of Camden Council or TfL. This area is known as a blackspot for cyclists. It is so shameful that there exists such a name of a place in Camden and in London, one of the most developed and advanced cities in the world.
It is indeed shameful that this situation has been allowed to continue for so many years. When TfL asked Kenji if the ghost bike could be removed, he told them to "Sort out the junction first".

And kudos to Lib Dem mayoral candidate Brian Paddick, quoted in the same article as saying:
It is better that we have to wait for five minutes in a car than have someone killed.
Candles at the Kings' Cross vigil

While congratulations are due to racing cyclist Mark Cavendish for winning BBC Sports Personality of the Year, the idea that this could somehow lead to a new respect being shown to everyday cyclists by motorists on the streets of the UK is, of course, absurd. After all, the award has been won by cyclists in the past with no such effect. Such an idea can only be entertained by those who try to promote any solution for generating a cycling culture other than the only proven one, safe cycle infrastructure.

1 comment:

  1. David,

    You're right, we shouldn't expect cyclists to get across two lanes of fast-flowing traffic to get into a cycle lane, segregated or otherwise. A proper solution for this junction should be something along the lines of what you suggest.

    I suppose my post concentrated too specifically on the two lanes on Gray's Inn Road heading in to York Way, and how space could be reallocated there for a safe solution at the lights (despite TfL's objections), without considering the nature of the junction as a whole.