Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review of the Junction Review

Cast your mind back to about this time last year. Two cyclists were killed at the Bow Roundabout, and in response to the ensuing protest, TfL announced a review of London's most dangerous junctions.

Ever since then, the gap between the aspiration for a transformation in the quality of London's cycle infrastructure and TfL's actions has been growing. Kulveer Ranger's promise:

"The Mayor’s desire is that reviewing these junctions leads to a step change in the way engineers think when planning road layouts",

is looking more and more broken by the day.

The original Bow Roundabout improvements showed TfL were at least trying, although the result was at best a partial success, no thanks to the DfT's red tape that requires all signals - including those exclusively for cyclists -  to be full-height, leading to a confusing Blackpool-illumination-like forest of similar-looking lights.

Subsequent junction review plans have been looking less and less ambitious and more and more like TfL returning to its discredited strategy of putting traffic flow before safety, and cyclists a distant third behind motorists and pedestrians.

I commented recently on the plans for the Millbank Roundabout, which was summed up by Dr Rachel Aldred of Westminster University Department of Planning and Transport thus: "Cyclists using the road will have less space than at present...however, cyclists using the pavement facility may... come into conflict with pedestrians, and experience problems crossing using the zebras, including conflict with motor vehicles."  Hardly a ringing endorsement.

The proposal for the Tower Bridge Road /Abbey Street junction involves banning the left turn into Abbey Street (except for cycles). However, the diversion to avoid the banned left turn takes motor traffic down Bermondsey Street, which is guess LCN route. So the traffic that can no longer left-hook cyclists at Tower Bridge Road/Abbey Street junction will just come into conflict with more cyclists on Bermondsey Street. And both roads are wide enough to accomodate segregated paths, which of course aren't on offer despite evidence from every developed country that this is the only approach to cycling infrastructure that actually works .

TfL's plans for London Road, Morden, while not part of the junction review, are equally disappointing. On-road parking bays continue to obstruct cycle lanes, at other places lanes run between parked cars and fast-moving traffic, and the cycle lanes themselves are only provided "where possible" - which in practice means no cycle facilities at all where the hazards are worst.

Finally, the IMAX roundabout plans do little to ameliorate one of the most dangerous places in London for cycling. The roundabout is still an old-style deathtrap, although one lane has been removed leading into York Road. That won't stop vehicles continuing to weave between the multiple lanes at high speed. Neither will the nominal 20MPH speed limit due in 2013: we all know that won't be enforced and without traffic calming, speeds will stay exactly as they are today. The cycle lanes are still only advisory, and could encourage cyclists to get into the wrong position on the road. This is only an interim proposal, but even bearing this in mind, it's under-ambitious. Why not provide a continuous, mandatory cycle lane all the way from Waterloo Road into York Road?

One thing is for sure: the only way any of these half-baked excuses for redesigns will save any lives is by keeping the roads intimidating enough to scare people away from cycling. And they will consequently cost many more lives as people retreat further into sedentary lifestyles. And there'll be just as much congestion and pollution on the roads as ever before.

Consequently, each and every one of these schemes is a monumental waste of taxpayers' money. There is little point in investing money in facilities that only appeal to existing cyclists. That is because the target market is small, so the investment cost per journey is high - and there's few new journeys being added. As CambridgeCyclist puts it:

"Why spend money on facilities to encourage me to do something I'm doing anyway? I'm not the target audience for such facilities; you won't increase cycling modal share by being nice to me. You'd have to physically bar me from the roads to keep me from riding on them."

These redesigns don't significantly improve safety at junctions, and the links between the junctions remain as intimidating as ever. Given the shortage of money, we need to be getting road design right for at least the next 10 years. Remember why the junction review is happening: having created the Cycle Superhighways, which consisted of blue paint and very few actual safety improvements, it became clear within less than 2 years that they weren't fit for purpose. Now TfL are spending yet more taxpayers' money reviewing junctions they should have got right in the first place. Yet they are clearly in danger of repeating the same mistake of trying to design safety improvements around the extremely limiting constraints of existing motor traffic flow. It didn't work last time, and it won't work this time. Cyclists will still die and be injured in significant numbers on the redesigned routes. Many more will die due to lack of exercise and due to air pollution caused by motor traffic. London will continue to suffer the economic blight of congestion, and the blight on communities of road danger caused by too much traffic. To be fair, TfL are now saying things like "changes would cause some increase in queuing"  and removing traffic lanes, which we would not have seen before. This is to be applauded, but it's not enough to cause any significant modal shift to cycling. TfL are changing, but at a glacial pace. Meanwhile, more and more people are finding themselves in transport poverty, unable to run a car but having no affordable alternative. TfL need to react to the changes in the economy by opening up cycling to a wider cross-section of society, because cycling is the most affordable transport mode. Currently for most people, cycling simply isn't an option, perceived as being only for the fit and the brave.

Two years ago, I posted about how New York was starting to take cycling seriously. Cyclists in the City reported recently how decent bike lanes are transforming that city:

"1st and 2nd Avenues 'bike ridership' is up a whopping 177% since the protected bike lanes went in. 'Injury crashes" are down 37% in the same period on these streets, down 35 and 58%, respectively on 8th and 9th Avenue...retail sales along the protected bike lane on 9th Avenue are up 49% compared to before the bike lane went in.' "

For a city in the USA, the most car-dependent nation in the world, to be embarrassing London in terms of the quality of its cycling infrastructure is the most damning indictment of TfL policy imaginable.


  1. A good piece, the New York comparison is especially damning. I get the feeling that actually listening is a huge institutional problem for the DfT and TFL, they have the trained engineers and designers and there must be an element of not taking comments or complaints from 'lay' members of the public seriously, yet still ignoring the mountains of emerging evidence that the 'old' ways of doing things just don't cut it.

    I don't use this phrase lightly, but I fear that the 'jobsworths' at each of these immensely fusty backward looking institutions need to start considering that the best people to talk to are those who use the crap they design.

  2. I am writing in response to your comment: "There is little point in investing money in facilities that only appeal to existing cyclists..."

    You know, I think I am going to disagree with you on this one. Certainly I would be very happy to have "the discussion", but before we get to that, herefollows a few selected quotes from your blog:

    "The transport network needs to be planned as a holistic entity." (3 Nov 2011)

    "Where I live, cycle provision is a mess. There are some great facilities, but they're not connected into a network. It's not possible for a child to cycle from my house to any of the nearby schools without encountering dangerous junctions and problematic traffic conditions." (13 Jan 2011)

    "The London Cycle Network is a random collection of difficult-to-find small blue signs directing you down roads where little or no effort has been made on cyclists' safety or reductions in motor traffic. There is almost no segregation from motor traffic." (19 Oct 2011)

    "The cycle route network in London is rather poor and difficult to navigate." (3 Nov 2010)

    "With colour-coded [route confirmation markers on the road], I can see how the idea could work. Parker's vision is about more than just the map - it is about the network. If that network took you along segregated or low-motor-traffic infrastructure, you would have something very worthwhile." (21 Sept 2010)

    "We need to end up with a network of cycle routes that enables people to cycle to work, school or the shops in subjectively safe, pleasant surroundings via routes that are easy to follow and don't take them ridiculously out of their way. This will involve all the things they do in countries that do it successfully: filtered permeability to reduce through traffic on minor roads, shared spaces, and where the route follows a major road, segregated lanes." (9 Feb 2012)

    If it would take us, say, fifteen to twenty years to get to the point as described in your last quote, is there any reason at all, in the first couple of years I mean, why we wouldn't introduce 'a network of cycle routes' to a minimum level of functioning?

    All we are doing is laying the foundations, of course, and even if such a low engineered network would "only appeal to existing cyclists", can you please explain why you think there is "little point" in making such an investment?

    1. Wow you've done your research - and pushed up my hit-rate! :)
      Short answer is that I see low-engineered solutions as typically a substitute for good engineering - a dirty little compromise that enables politicians to appear to be doing something for cycling while avoiding the tough decisions needed to get 10% of journeys being made by bike. So modal share stays pretty much the same; the car stays as the default mode of transport for most people. In other words, it's what we've had for the last 20 years.

      The thing with good engineering is it is in real terms better value, and cheaper, than bad engineering. We've seen this with the Bow roundabout, and it looks like Blackfriars may be next. At Bow, the initial CSH engineering was dangerous, so had to be redesigned and re-implemented. The second iteration doesn't look that great either. If you have to go through 3 plan-design-consult-implement cycles to end up with something usable, the costs really add up. Secondly, the benefits in terms of reduced casualties and better public health are much greater with good engineering that creates new cycle journeys compared with cheap engineering that grudgingly accomodates existing cyclists.
      I would have no objection to lightly-engineered solutions as an interim step if:
      a) it was actually designed putting cyclists first; and
      b) if there were a long-term plan and the solutions could be justified in terms of cost-benefit, instead of just being car-centric-business-as-usual.

  3. Actually I was quite surprised to discover that you had blogged about my proposal, and I would like just to make a couple of points about it.

    Firstly, I would add to your comments about the Tube map by saying that another reason it works so well is because we are familiar with it, and also because it is routinely available in the places where we need it. Thus, either we carry a version of the map around in our heads, or we don't need to, because whenever we need to refer to it, there is one close at hand.

    There is a sense in which you could carry around a version of the LCM in your head, and that is, if you know your current location, and you know the location of your intended destination, then you should also know your direction of travel.

    I think you would always be better advised to consult a map of the network before making any journey with which you are not familiar, but if the worst came to the worst, you've still got a chance with compass colours. With no other signing strategy can you say that.

    The other thing I would like to talk about was your final thought: "With GPS-enabled smartphones becoming ubiquitous in the near future, maybe there is less need for a map and more need for an app?"

    Just recently I posted a comment on the Help! My Chain Came Off blogspot: "Using an online journey planner, the journey from Richmond Park to Elthorne Park requires over 100 separate instructions to describe it: turn left here, turn right there, and so on. However, if there was such a thing as a revitalised London Cycling Network, just three separate instructions would be needed: N7a - G5 - N2a.

    "With a revitalised London Cycle Network, you shouldn't need to look at a map even once during the journey: every single route should be properly waymarked."

    Jemma replied: "I know exactly what you mean about multiple directions. I just can't stand to have to stop at every junction and get a printed scrappy piece of paper out of my pocket to find out where to go next!"

    A scrappy piece of paper or a smartphone, what's the difference? Why not have the routes properly waymarked?

    And why not introduce the network such that it is useful to existing cyclists first and foremost? They're the ones who are being killed on their bikes. And they're the ones who break the law just to get to and from the shops.

    Or is the only priority to ensure that more new cyclists are created?

  4. Seems the main reason that politicians/engineers don't deviate from the status quo is a perceived lack of mandate to do so. Why not spread better designs? (Build up neighbourhood support.)