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 what...an 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.