Such is the pace of developments in London cycling infrastructure (planning if not actual execution) currently that a couple of details in my long blogpost of 11 days ago have already been superseded.
The most striking one is that a plan has now been produced for taking the East-West Cycle Superhighway past Buckingham Palace in a sensible manner, with the support of the Royal Parks Authority. There will be, if this goes through, a two-way segregated track on the north and west sides of the Queen Victoria Memorial linking a new cycle track on the north side of Birdcage Walk (currently the most stupidly-designed road in the area, with masses of space wasted in the middle of it, with giant pedestrian islands and dead areas between) with a widened two-way track on the north side of Constitution Hill. The segregation around the Memorial will be with bollards, removable for ceremonial purposes, unlike on most of the Superhighway, where it is with kerbs.
|TfL visualisation of the bollard-segregated track in space taken out of the road (middle background)|
|Plan for the Superhighway link at Buckingham Palace|
This all looks sensible enough, and people should respond to the consultation, supporting it, by 4 October. The question that is posed is: what was the problem before? Why was the Royal Parks Authority, until last week, bizarrely insisting there should be a gap in segregated the Cycle Superhighway in front of Buckingham Palace for 'safety, operational and aesthetic reasons', which would have caused, as Cyclists in the City pointed out, the Superhighway flow to get mixed with hundreds of gawping, snap-happy tourists on the Mall Service Road (effectively a pedestrian area, shown hatched just south of Green Park on the map above), obviously a recipe for disaster, and a position made even odder by the fact that, for the Superhighway solution in Hyde Park, the RPA was insisting that cyclists not share any of the current subdivided paths, but be routed via the roadway of South Carriage Drive.
|South Carriage Drive, Hyde Park, a bizarrely under-used road space, will take the next section of the route westward|
The appointment of a new chief executive at The Royal Parks, which is responsible for the roads around Buckingham Palace, has been key to resolving the dispute.
Previous chief executive Linda Lennon was a fierce critic of many aspects of Transport for London’s 18-mile “Crossrail for cyclists” that passes through Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park as it links Barking and Acton.
The Royal Household is understood never to have objected to the plans.
Mr Johnson said: “This is the final jigsaw piece in what will be one of the world’s great cycling routes. I am absolutely delighted that we and the Royal Parks have been able to reach agreement and I pay tribute to the agency’s new chief executive, Andrew Scattergood, his staff and TfL officers for the immense work they have put in to make it happen.So an anti-cycling Chief Executive left, and suddenly the 'safety, operational and aesthetic' objections all disappeared and the RPA was left looking rather less like the car-oriented dinosaur that campaigners had perceived it as before (the Royal Parks of course being full of roads that are full of cars, roads used as normal parts of the through-traffic system of London, with this fact not seeming to cause the RPA any distress or sense of conflict about their purpose). Hopes are raised that, after decades of campaigners asking for it, the Outer Circle of Regent's Park might cease to be a huge gyratory for motor traffic, but might be changed so as to allow only motor access to the car parking, the zoo and residences, and to facilitate a much-needed north-westbound Cycle Superhighway, CS11.
So my message here is that often, despite outward appearances of implacable homogeneity of institutional opposition to progressive schemes, it can often turn out to be only one badly-placed person, in reality, who is causing the problem.
On the flip side, one well-placed progressive person can often galvanise an organisation and create more progress in a short time than has been achieved for many years. And I have to hand it to Cllr Phil Jones, Camden's Cabinet Member for Transport that he has, with the assistance of his officers, got Camden making better progress on actually implementing a Central London Cycling Grid (to complement the small number of built Superhighways) than all the other boroughs combined. I reported in my last post that the promised link between Royal College Street and Primrose Hill was currently stymied by bus-related arguments, but apparently these have been overcome, and Camden is now produced an attractive plan for consultation, which I recommend all London cyclists respond to favourably as well.
|Proposals for Pratt Street|
Once the links are complete, cyclists will be able to ride from Swiss Cottage and Camden Town to Canary Wharf, Barking or Elephant & Castle entirely on separated cycle tracks or low-traffic streets. It’s testimony to the power of the relationship between TfL and a borough genuinely committed to cycling.Actually he could go go further. If the Mayor actually builds CS11, promised for 2016, it will be possible to go all the way from Brent Cross to Canary Wharf, Barking or Elephant & Castle on cycle tracks and low-traffic streets. So I congratulate Cllr Jones on getting his plans this far, though I have disagreed with him on the best solution for Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street, Camden's 'West End Project'.
With the West End Project, I felt, as I said last year, that fixation on the objective of undoing a gyratory system for cars and buses had got in the way of visualising the best possible ways of changing these roads to benefit pedestrians and cyclists, who are supposed to be at the top of Camden's 'transport hierarchy'. Camden's planners are now doing as good a job as they can on trying to solve junction problems that will be introduced by having stepped cycle tracks running in both directions on a two-way (for cars) Gower Street, but I think there are fundamental problems here. The cycle tracks will be on the same level as the motor lanes at the junctions, so reduced to painted markings, Danish-style, and therefore an attempt to signalise the cycle flow separately from the turning motor flow is likely to result in cyclists just getting blocked off by cars and vans invading their space. There is something of an attempt to combine Danish and Dutch junction principles here which I fear will not work. The Danes merge the cycle flow with the left (their right) turn for motors and expect cyclists to turn right (their left) in two stages. A full Dutch signalised solution separates all the conflicting cycle/motor movements in time, but depends on segregated tracks running right up to the junction, which cannot be invaded by motors. Without segregation at junctions, how can separate signalising work without risking the blocking-off of the ahead path for cyclists on what is certain to be a congested road? However, Gower Street clearly is not wide enough for two-way motor flow plus two-way cycling segregated at the junctions in the manner of a large Dutch signlised junction. The problem here is the whole architecture of the system left by removing the one-way flows for motor vehicles. (Another bad problem with the Gower Street plans is that one of the 'Danish' tracks will be interrupted by a loading bay, something the Danes would not dream of.)
But, to get back to my main theme here, we've got some individuals in influential positions now doing a lot of good for cycling in London, and we've got one or two who have been really getting in the way. Linda Lennon may have gone, but we still have a fine example of the latter tendency in Hackney Council's Planning Sub-committee Chair and perhaps Phil Jones's polar opposite, Councillor Vincent Stops. Stops has been a long-standing and clear opponent of segregated cycle infrastructure, and most likely through his influence Hackney Council has prevented TfL implementing Cycle Superhighway 1 on the A10 in the borough, consigning it instead to indirect back-streets in the manner of the old poor-quality London Cycle Network, and sacrificing the safety of the majority of cyclists who will always wish to cycle on the direct, main road, on which 28% of the serious casualties to people on bikes in Hackney now occur. Stops has actually written a blogpost on the subject of Cycle Superhighway through Hackney, but this does not really attempt to justify the route that Hackney Council has forced on the Superhighway on any logical grounds, rather, it attacks the whole concept of cycle routes:
A route-based approach is limiting, when streets are better regarded as a network
Drawing lines on maps, declaring them cycle routes and investing heavily along the route seems to capture the imagination of cycle planners and some campaigners, even though hardly anyone cycles such a route from end to end. Some of the investment that comes from such route-based planning will be good cycling value for money. However, instead of spending all this money on CS1, there are numerous other locations in the borough where investment would have been better directed. Improving these other locations, rather than using a large pot to titivate, and not substantially make things better for people cycling would certainly be better value for money, in terms of improvements to cycling.
In Hackney, in contrast to the route-based approach, the most innovative recent work has been the creation of a Bikeability map which assesses all of the borough's streets, regarding them as a network. Incrementally improving this network, particularly where there are historic clusters of collisions, will provide the best value for limited cycle and road safety funding. Sometimes improvements may be made opportunistically.
|Hackney's 'Bikeability map'. The green on minor roads represents a lower 'Bikeability skill level' than the grey-brown on (e.g) the A10 running straight N-S down the west side of the borough.|
Hackney Council has to be congratulated for getting so much value from the Cycle Superhighway processwill be regarded with some very raised eyebrows in the borough and beyond.
Of course I'd not dispute that streets should be regarded as a network, and, ultimately, almost the whole network needs its quality raised for cycling, but the points that are missing from Stops' analysis are 'utility' and 'standards'. Some routes are of far more utility and importance to cyclists than others, and it is here that investment at this early stage in developing a cycle network must be concentrated, to develop what I'd describe as the 'backbone network' of obviously attractive and useful routes that is needed to pull people in to cycling. Generally, but not always, these routes will be on the main roads, where, to achieve acceptable standards of actual and subjective safety, cyclists need segregation.
Stops wishes to focus on the wider network, and implicitly, to focus on small roads, because he seems to have a horror of the idea of subdividing the space on larger roads using kerbs, which he considers to be 'pesky' things that will disadvantage pedestrians, bus passengers, or others. But the 'Bikeability map' approach that Stops praises is fundamentally discriminatory and opposed to inclusive cycling, because it accepts a general and permanent compromise between efficiency and safety that is inimical to creating to a quality cycle network with uniform provision. What this 'Bikeability' thing, in this context, is really about is classifying cyclists, not roads. The very concept of 'Bikeability' in play here is a motor-oriented one, confusing 'cycling skill' with 'willingness to cycle with motor traffic'. Brave 'skilled' cyclists (normally young men) will continue to push their way down the A10, with its bad crash rate, because it is the most efficient, useful route for them. The slow and less assertive will, if they try to cycle at all, which most of them will not, be consigned to an indirect, low-priority, hidden 'superquietway' that will not be easy to use and will not get them to the places they need to go. This is not a good approach if your aim is mass cycling. But I sense this may not be Stops', or Hackney Council's, real aim.
Stops goes to a bizarre extreme in inventing arguments against segregated cycle tracks, for example when he commented on Twitter on the forthcoming East-West Superhighway:
How will an 8 year old get through a more congested Parliament Square as a non CSH route user?...as if there are eight year-old cyclists using Parliament Square now who could possibly could be inconvenienced (rather than enabled) by the cycle track! (Even if you accept the wrong contention that the cycle track will cause congestion, I challenge Stops or anyone to stand at Parliament Square for a day, or a year, counting eight year-olds on bikes. There will be more flying pigs seen, except, of course, when road are closed for events like the RideLondon.)
Stops likes to claim that Hackney is London's best borough for cycling. I'm sorry, but the truth is that cycling in Hackney is, by and large, crap. I've often cycled in Hackney, and I cycled through Hackney the other day. There is no provision on main roads, which are choked with buses and other heavy vehicles, and the minor road routes are slow, deprioritised, badly-maintained and uncomfortable. You are bumping over severe traffic-calming all the time, and badly-maintained surfaces, taking long ways round, trying to follow neglected or non-existent signage in obscure places, you are constantly having to give way to main roads, or even slightly more important roads, and where you meet a main road to negotiate a straight across or dog-leg junction you have no help and no protection. Hackney can't even can't keep these poor backstreet routes open. The famous one running east-west from Canonbury to London Fields is currently blocked by major digging where the railway goes over in Middleton road, and cyclists just have to use the pavement.
Cycling in Hackney is inefficient and dangerous on the backstreet routes that borough provides, and very dangerous on the direct main road routes that it does nothing to make attractive or comfortable. Contrary to Stops' frequent claim that Hackney is some sort of great cycling leader amongst London boroughs, it actually (according to TfL cycle counts) has a similar cycling level to the boroughs of Richmond upon Thames, Hounslow, Islington and Lambeth, places with very different local circumstance and policies. The 2011 census gives utility cycling actually at a higher level in Richmond upon Thames than in Hackney (though I don't put much store by census transport data, as it comes from a self-survey, and may just mean that Richmond people want to believe they cycle more than Hackneyites do).
|TfL counts had (2013) Hackney on 6% of journeys compared to Richmond, Hounslow, Islington and Lambeth on 5%|
|2011 census data had Richmond ahead of Hackney on cycling|
Cllr Stops' partner Rita Krishna, is strangely (or not so strangely, if you know the local situation) on the Committee of Hackney Cycling Campaign. Since she appears to share the same views as Stops, those Hackney cyclists wishing to campaign for good-quality infrastructure in their borough had best lend their support to the rival campaign, Hackney People on Bikes, which does support the policies promoted in this blog (which are also the official policies of the London Cycling Campaign). In any case, it looks like Hackney will continue to be a blockage to the development of a high-quality, inclusive cycle network for Londoners while Vincent Stops remains influential on the borough's transport policy.
I paid a visit to the Embankment on Friday to see how the East-West Superhighway construction is getting on (and to examine those pesky kerbs). Only a 500m section is currently open, between Horseguards Avenue and Westminster Bridge, and it is only accessible to westbound (or southbound) cyclists, as there is no way to reach it eastbound. However, looking at the rest of the work on the two kilometre section between the open section and Blackfriars Bridge, I expect all this length to be open by the end of the year.
|Completed Superhighway section looking south (up river). The basic two-way track is 4m wide in general.|
|This is all cycling space. The right-hand area is a lane for right-turning cyclists, who will cross the carriageway using the signals|
|Completed Superhighway section looking north (down river)|
Make no mistake, this is the proper thing, and very satisfying to see, as the first piece of truly high-quality cycle infrastructure ever built on a main road in Central London. This is the most significant thing done for cycling in London since Camden built its tracks at the turn of the century, and, before that, well perhaps the most significant infrastructure put in since the 1930s (though that was suburban, not central). It's worth re-emphasising here: this is a gain from road-space. Nothing has been lost by pedestrians (in fact a lot has been gained). A simple transfer has taken place from space dominated and, from the point of view of most people, monopolised by motor vehicles to space dedicated to active travel. We'll see a lot more of this with the rest of this Superhighway scheme, and the north-south one from Elephant and Castle to the border of Camden. The politicians and public servants, like Vincent Stops and Linda Lennon, who say they support cycling, but do not want to see this kind of thing on their patch, will in future be seen more and more as an anachronism and an impediment to the development of a more civilised, pleasant and sustainable city.
The new Superhighways and Camden's grid routes point the way to a future pattern of use of road space that gives everybody an opportunity to cycle their journeys if they wish. The discriminatory approach based on keeping direct main routes as the cycling preserve of a tiny fit and brave minority must be consigned to the dustbin of history.