Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Why are Hackney's segregated cycle lanes being removed?

Across the world they're slowly copying the dutch and building segregated cycle lanes. From New York to Moscow and from India to London. Not surprising considering countries that build dedicated infrastructure for cyclists generally have a very high number of trips by bike and countries that mix cycling with fast moving motor traffic generally get very low model shares. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out why. The vast majority of people in London do not cycle because they don't want to cycle with traffic but would if there were dedicated cycle lanes built

In my neighbourhood though they don't agree with this. Members of my local cycling campaign group regularly argue against cycle lanes on twitter, on blogs and on cycling forums. They also have a link on their website to negative research on cycle lanes, by John Franklin. Hence why 97% of children in Hackney do not cycle to school, compared to 53% that do in Amsterdam (89% across the Netherlands). So whilst others are finally getting on with building segregated cycle lanes, here in Hackney we're busy ripping them out. Here are a few examples.

Goldsmith's Row

This, along with London Fields is probably the area of Hackney that has the highest number of people cycling. From looking at a map you can see why. It links Hackney Central to Hackney Road via London fields so was always going to be the most popular route for people cycling from Hackney towards Shoreditch or Whitechapel as it is the quickest and shortest route. Even if it had no cycling infrastructure at all it would still continue to be the busiest route for people on bikes.

It used to have a segregated lane along it and google maps streetview caught images of it before it was removed

Goldsmith's Row used to be a busy rat run so was closed to motor vehicles last year leaving it open to cycles only.



Now many people will argue that this change is for the better and they'd have a very good argument. Goldsmith's Row is a marvellous route to cycle along and they've recently installed a cycle counter on it, as you can see in the picture above. However is was already a very good cycle route and had a perfectly decent enough segregated cycle track. It was already one of the best roads to cycle on in Hackney so you could argue that the money spent on this could have been better spent installing infrastructure elsewhere, or continuing the cycle track up to Broadway Market. The derelict Queen Elizabeth hospital for children that runs along the road will soon be converted into 188 characterless flats so it remains to be seen if this road will remain open for cycles only. 

Waterden Road

I've mentioned this road before. Originally built as the link road to Stratford International station it never opened as between it being built and being opened London won the bidding for the 2012 Olympics. It is now the main road through the Olympic Park but the segregated cycle lane was removed and replaced with a dual carriageway, with a shared cycle lane painted onto a new pedestrian bridge alongside.

Wick Road / Eastway

This one is the worst example.  I used to use this route regularly whilst on my way to cycling in the Essex countryside. In fact I've cycled all the way from Hackney to Amsterdam on two occasions and it always amused me that on the entire 80 mile ride from Hackney to Harwich this was the only segregated cycle infrastructure I would use, until I stepped foot in the Netherlands. Again we have to use google maps street view as a time machine to see it

It had a fantastic left turn cycle lane which allowed you to continue left onto Eastway when the lights were red, and more importantly, it removed the threat of being crushed by a left turning lorry, something you see in news reports in London far too often lately.

Here it is now, with the cycle lane removed.

Before, with someone cycling on the lane

After, with someone cycling on the pavement

The cycle lane here

replaced by a ridiculously large pavement here

And the exit from the lane here

replaced by car parking

It is a scandal that this lane was removed. Hackney should have been copying this junction and installing this exact kind of cycle lane at major junctions all over the borough. Not only that but TFL and other boroughs should have been copying it. Want to reduce lorry / cycle deaths at junctions? This is the way to do it, by physically separating them at junctions.

Now I'm not suggesting you just slap down cycle tracks on all the main roads in Hackney and everyone simply gets on their bike. They need careful planning to ensure they are all direct so they actually take you from A to B. They need to be wide enough to accommodate enough people who want to use them. More importantly they need to be safe, especially at junctions, and also designed to allow people to cross the road. Other infrastructure also needs to be in place where bikes and motor vehicles mix, and some of it already is in Hackney. Things like filtered permeability, one way roads for cars which allow bicycles to travel in both directions, road surfaces that use material like cobbles to slow traffic down, etc.

Until these lanes are built though the main roads in Hackney, like Mare Street, Kingsland Road and Old Street will continue to be dominated by motor traffic with most opting for the buses. You can talk about cycle training or 20mph limits but it won't make a difference. The vast majority of people simply will not cycle down a road like Old Street whilst they have to share it with buses and lorries. However they might if we look to other countries that have achieved far higher levels of people cycling than we have here in Hackney. Or engage with people that do not cycle in Hackney (the vast majority) and start to build the infrastructure that will get them onto their bikes.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Bow roundabout Cycle Superhighway 2 update

Yesterday I went for a bike ride in the sun down the canal, past the Olympic Park and the old Big Breakfast house to Bow roundabout. Up until two years ago if you wanted to continue after Bow towards Three Mills or Limehouse then you had to cross 4 lanes of traffic, with no crossings to help you along. Now you have this nice floating towpath along the canal under the roundabout, which is handy as I took shelter on it when the sun vanished and the heavens opened. 

Cycle Super Highway 2 was opened in July 2011 and was originally due to go from the City to Ilford, however Newham council blocked it through their borough so it ended at the Bow roundabout instead. Since it opened two years ago three people have died cycling on it and two of those deaths occurred at the Bow roundabout itself; Brian Dorling on the eastbound approach, and Svitlana Tereschenko on the westbound approach. These two deaths forced TFL to make changes to the cycle lane layout at Bow.

The eastbound approach was adjusted before the Olympics last year, as covered in some depth by Diamond Geezer here and on the 'as easy as riding a bike' blog here. A very short segregated lane was built so people could reach the ASL and then the junction went from having three traffic lights to a total of eight traffic lights, including an annoying phase where the lights are red for people on bikes approaching the ASL whilst they are green for motor vehicles. Annoying if you're cycling this way but TFL clearly hope this will guarantee no more deaths involving left turning lorries here, as technically either a bike or a lorry has to jump the red lights or a lorry has to illegally enter the ASL for them to meet.

Yesterday the eastbound segregated lane around the roundabout was coned off, although I couldn't see any reason why, it seemed fine to me.

They haven't yet started building the extension of CS2 from Bow to Stratford, although it is due to open later this year. The road is very wide here and unpleasant to cycle along, but thankfully one of those traffic lanes will be removed to make way for a two metre wide segregated cycle lane.

TFL themselves say about 60% of people cycling along here use the flyover and that figure seemed to be about right as I stood there watching everyone yesterday afternoon. To access the flyover you need to cross two lanes of fast moving traffic and then do the same as you exit the flyover but it is quicker to do this, there are no traffic lights up there and no danger from any left turning lorries.

They didn't get round to adjusting the westbound approach before the Olympics so stuck up this "Look out for cyclists ahead" sign and hoped that would do for now. However they are now busy rebuilding the eastbound approach and you can see a map of the proposals here

A shared cycle and pedestrian walkway has been created whilst the work is carried out

here is where the cycle lane will leave the road (hopefully they will move the lamppost)

here is where the bus stop will be

along with the crossing so pedestrians can access the bus stop, again they'll hopefully move the lamppost here too

the lane will then run along here (at pavement level still segregated from traffic) where it will join the Bow roundabout using the same traffic light system on the opposite approach, again I'm hoping this lamppost is moved before then

The lane looked a little on the narrow side to me but I'll reserve judgement until it opens and I actually get to ride along it.

It occurred to me that whist I've used CS3 along Cable Street many times I have never actually used any part of CS2 so thought I would ride along it towards Mile End to see what it is like

I was dismayed to see this cycle lane closed sign

only to find out it wasn't closed at all. The cycle lane is on the pavement here and is nice and smooth but this is the only part where it is segregated from traffic

 after this it is painted onto the road all the way to Aldgate where motor vehicles can legally travel in it. 

just look at the size of the pavement outside Bow Road station - the pavement on the opposite side of the road is also very wide showing just how much room there is on Bow Road. Indeed it used to have trams running along it, as well as all the other traffic.

They've built a wide segregated lane on CS3 on the pavement so can't see why they couldn't do that here. Here's a couple of pictures I took whilst cycling in Amsterdam a couple of months ago using cycle lanes built on much narrower pavements and roads

just send someone from TFL over to the Netherlands to see how it's done and copy them. It just works.

Anyway back in East London the cycle lane was flooded a bit further down, the guy cycling in the picture was using it but decided to use the pavement for this stretch, luckily he could just about manage to find room

I was quite frankly not enjoying this ride anymore so took the pedestrian crossing to the opposite side and continued back to Bow. Here it is even worse, the blue paint has almost completely faded away

It was deeply unpleasant to cycle along this stretch, cars were travelling pretty fast and very close to the cycle lane. It also didn't help that cars were parked illegally in it

Strange that whist I was riding along CS2 yesterday assembly member John Biggs called for the entire route to be segregated from Aldgate to Bow and I agree with every word he said. CS2 from Bow to Aldgate is simply not fit for purpose and needs radically upgrading before someone else dies riding along here.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Cycling in the Olympic Park

In 2007 an area of East London that was mostly industrial or wasteland was bulldozed to build the Olympic Park. Much was made of the 'legacy' of the park once the games were over, promotional videos were made about how accessible the park would be via public transport and that cycling and walking would be the main way that people would get around the park. For the East Village a fly through promotional video explained that there would be a bike space for every home and also appeared to show to show a future world where despite there being roads, not a single car exists and instead everyone is using a bike. There were also lots of diagrams showing how the park would be crisscrossed by 'green' cycle routes

The park is 560 acres in size, about the same size as Hyde Park, is located about four miles from Central London and will eventually have over 8,000 homes. Therefore this was a real opportunity for a small part of London to finally 'go dutch' and to do it the right way. Imagine if the dutch built an entire new district just four miles from the centre of Amsterdam. There would be wide and well maintained segregated cycle paths on the busiest routes with physical barriers in place to ensure the quieter routes are almost car free. Cycle tracks would get their own bridges, traffic lights and tunnels. So how does London match up?

In the 12 months since the games they've been busy clearing away all the pedestrian walkways and rebuilding the roads and on Monday afternoon the park, or The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to give it its full name, finally opened to the public. Not all of it mind, just the northern area of the park. The former Olympics Village, now called 'East Village' is due to open later this year. The southern area of the park where the stadium and Aquatics Centre are based, along with the Velopark in the northern half of the park will open in April 2014.  Just an hour after it opened I strapped my 14 month old daughter into her seat on the back of my dutch bike and we went down to explore it.

There are two ways to get into the park, from the Stratford side via Westfield Avenue which, you may guess, runs along the Westfield Centre behind Stratford station and from the Hackney side via White Post Lane, near to Hackney Wick station.

White Post Lane was closed in 2007 to build the park which left Hackney Wick as an island with no through roads at all. Since then very few motor vehicles can be found here most of the time, only vehicles actually accessing somewhere tend to visit, rather than those passing through to somewhere else. The area is also home to lots of artists, some cool little bars and restaurants. As there is also little public transport round here the bike is king. If you're cycling to the park with small children, like I was, or just prefer a traffic free route to get there then this is the route to use. Just head along the canal until you get to White Post Lane and you can access the park straight from the canal.

This is the entrance from White Post Lane

The security guards will tell you to dismount from your bike and you have to walk along the pavement until you get to Waterden Road. All the way along to Waterden Road there are security guards, I counted 12 of them, all making sure you don't cross the road when there is traffic coming and don't step out into the road unless you are at a designated crossing. Presumably that is because this is still a building site and not a public road so if anyone was injured or killed on this road, it would be taking place in a workplace and not on a public highway.

Once I got past the security barrier the line painters were busy putting the road markings down. There is no cycle lane until a few metres before the ASL.

Note the blue bike sign on the lamppost as well. There is plenty of room for a segregated cycle lane here. As much room as they wanted really as this has been a construction road for the last 6 years so they could have made it as wide as they wanted. Instead we get narrow roads, ASLs and shit cycle signs on lampposts. This is one of the 'green' cycle routes in the map above but I can't see how they can possibly qualify it as a green cycle route when it doesn't even have a cycle lane on it. From April 2014 this road will be open to all traffic. Not only that but it will be the main road to the Aquatics centre and one of the main bus routes for buses serving the park so I can see traffic levels being quite high here. For the next 8 months though you have to turn left to go up towards Waterden Road. There is another ASL for bikes coming down from Waterden Road but no cycle lane leading into it

Also at the top of this road where it meets Waterden Road there are two lanes for traffic and an ASL in front of them but no cycle lane leading into it. Therefore no way of getting to the ASL if more than one car is at the traffic lights.

Continue straight on over the toucan crossing here to access the park.

To access the park from the Stratford side you have to get to Westfield Avenue and to do that you have to cycle along Montfitchet Road, which has the most narrow bike lane I have ever seen in London. So thin they could barely fit a cycle symbol into it, never mind an actual bicycle. Again this is one of those 'green' cycle routes in the map above. As I mentioned I was cycling with my 14 month old daughter on the back of my bike so there was not a chance of me cycling along that road, therefore you'll just have to have this picture taken from the pavement

It leads into an ASL

There is a tiny cycle lane painted onto the pavement

which then leads to a shared use path until you get to the cycle tracks, which are on the same level as the pavement but with kerbs to segregate them from the pavement itself

The tracks are generally quite smooth, except they've planted a lot of trees alongside them and they have these square cobbled areas surrounding them which also cover half of the cycle path and are very bumpy

I was on a dutch bike so they didn't bother me too much but if you're on a road bike you may want to use the other side of the path to avoid these. Oh, unless they also stick a roadworks sign on the path, then you have no choice.

You then have to give way to a pedestrian crossing

The crossing appears to go no where but as you can see from the banner on the fence this area will be the Stratford City International Quarter. This is a huge new business district with skyscrapers offering four million square foot of office space and they hope to have 25,000 people working here by the time it is finished. Most of these workers will arrive via Stratford station so pedestrian crossings are needed here but the area where people wait to cross is slap bang in front of the cycle track. So motor vehicles get a free passage and only have to give way once the lights are red, whereas if you're cycling then you give way and try to cross at some point after people have started to cross the road, before people from the other side have joined the pavement and hope no one rushes out in front of you in the meantime. Should be fun at 9am when thousands are heading to work this way! A perfect example of why these tracks should have been placed at roadway level between the pavement and the road, as the dutch would do, to avoid these conflicts.

Anyway, slightly further on and there's another pointless sign placed on the cycle track, note the kids cycling along the pavement here.

Before you have to give way to another pedestrian crossing

The track then just ends and you're suddenly on the pavement

as there is a bus stop here (complete with roadworks sign to avoid!)

Just a mile down the road they are busy building cycle bus stop bypasses as part of the CS2 extension but here you're expected to just share the pavement with pedestrians and people waiting for a bus. There are bound to be a few conflicts here.

The Olympic spirit is still alive and well here as you have to negotiate an obstacle course featuring a sandbag, roadworks sign and yet another pedestrian crossing! This ride is fun!

After that, we give way to a fourth pedestrian crossing..

And then a junction. Note the ASL on the road, however there is no dropped kerb so you cannot actually access the ASL from the cycle track. They seem to have developed a two stage system here, one for 'confident' cyclists using the road and one for everyone else, rather than just going dutch and building tracks suitable for all.

You're then on the pavement until you hit a side road.

It is isn't clear, however, that you are actually supposed to give way to this side road until you've already past it. Also note the posts along the path here.

After this though the path is nice and smooth with no cobbles and nothing to give way to. This part is great.

However notice the barriers in the road. This isn't some vigilante action by cyclists to create a cycle lane, this is due to events that have been held in the park this last few weeks which have meant lots of pedestrians heading from it to Stratford station at the end. However this also demonstrates the huge amount of space here. Traffic is easily able to run in both directions on the road leaving wide spaces left on both sides of the carriageway

There is ample space here to have a pavement, a road and wide segregated tracks on both sides of the carriageway. However these barriers will soon be taken away and the road will return to a dual carriageway. 

Just before you get to the parkland they've built a separate bridge for pedestrians and cyclists but it has these awkward barriers on it

I got through fine with a bit of manoeuvring but if you're towing a trailer, like those crazy dutch people like to, then you might have to use the road instead. Presumably this is to stop any motor vehicles trying to use this rather than the road, causing the bridge to collapse.

We then come to a shared use pavement (note the ASL on the road though)

Continue along the pavement and use the toucan crossing to enter the park on your right.

If you want to access the Copper Box or travel up Waterden Road towards Eastway then after the shared use crossing the area outside the copper box is also shared use until the cycle path continues again, with an electrical box planted in it.

The cycle track has priority over the road leading into the Copper Box car park, which is good to see

But then is barried off immediately after it with a sign saying motor vehicles only past this point.

A shame as I wanted to see what the rest of the cycle lane was like along Waterden Road, especially what improvements had been made to the junction where Dan Harris was tragically killed by an Olympics bus during the games last summer. Some other time.

Now here's the interesting thing. Waterden Road existed before the Olympics but used to run from the A12 down to White Post Lane and Carpenters Road. It now bends round outside the Copper Box and heads to Westfield. However this new stretch of Waterden Road did exist pre-olympics but didn't ever open and was never used. This was the access road to Stratford International station and back in 2007 after being inspired by this post on the diamond geezer blog I cycled down to Waterden Road and took photos of various warehouses, bus depots and fly tipping before it was all swept away. It makes me feel quite old that six years on I'm now stood in the exact same spot taking photos of the same area but I'm glad I did. Here's Waterden Road (formally the Stratford International station link Road) as it is now

And here it is back in 2007 as the link road that never opened:

It may not look the same, due to the changing skyline but give or take a few feet and I'm stood in the exact same spot in the two photos above.

The most remarkable thing about the photo from 2007 is that when they constructed the link road into Stratford International they build a proper two way dutch style segregated cycle lane. You can quite clearly see it on the left of the photo with cycle symbols painted on it a bit further down. It looks nice and wide too, probably wider than the well used cycle tracks through Bloomsbury.

Quite why they built a segregated cycle lane here when so little of them existed in London at that time I'm not sure but it is nice that they did. Just a shame that not a single cyclist ever got to use it. Even more tragic is that at some point in the last six years someone took the decision to rip it up and replace it with what we have now have instead. As can be seen there is now enough space to have that exact segregated track built, this time on both sides of the road.

We'll have to wait until later in the year to see what the roads are like outside East Village, very little like the car-less video at the start of the blog if the street view image from last year is anything to go by. It's scandalous that they built a huge dual carriageway of that size in what is purely a residential area. If they have any sense they will rip one of those lanes out and build wide, segregated cycle tracks. However I'm not holding my breath.

A map of the park in 2030 show that many more roads will be built in the park. These will include new bridges over the canals, more entrances into the park than the two that currently exists, along with lots of roads outside all the apartments. I can see no evidence that any of these roads will be restricted in any way so you can only expect motor traffic to vastly increase in this area. Not to mention the car parks they are building outside the velodrome and aquatics centre. Westfield already has 5,000 parking spaces and you can park all day for just £5 as I keep being reminded of every time I cycle behind one of those fucking adverts on the back of a bus. Oh, and let's not forget the massive multi-storey car park that is built on the north-western side of the park, outside what was the International Broadcast Centre, or iCITY as it is now known.

I look forward to coming back to this area again in 2030, if I'm still alive obviously, however with all the dual carriageways and car parks something tells me that in the Olympic Park the car will remain king, as it does in the rest of London. An opportunity missed.