Saturday, September 1, 2012

Boris - Pie in the Sky?

You gotta love Boris. He really is the master of the improbable, not to say stupid, vision. Airports in the sea. Roads underground. And now, cycle lanes in the sky!

The Times reports that Boris "is considering proposals for a raised cycle network between mainline stations in London" similar to the High Line in New York. The difference being, High Line is a linear park along a disused railway (and interestingly, the park rules prohibit bicycles, skateboards, skates or scooters), whereas Boris is proposing putting cycle paths alongside existing, working, extremely busy raised railway tracks.

Now, unless I miss my guess, there isn't a huge amount of spare room on the elevated tracks in London. It's not like they were built with a wide strip of surplus land on each side. (That's the great thing about railways - they are extremely compact in terms of space used per passenger journey.) You can't have cyclists riding a foot away from trains whooshing by at 60MPH, for the same reason you're advised to stand back from the platform's edge at a station, although Boris would probably tell you that it's perfectly negotiable if you keep your wits about you. I suppose you could have some kind of cantilevered arrangement to hang a cycleway off the side of existing viaducts and bridges, but that would be very complex and cost a fortune. Some parts of the railway do have enough spare land to form a cycle track, but there are so many bridges and points where the spare width isn't sufficient. A further problem is that you will need regular points of access, so that people can join and leave the railside paths. If the track is elevated by, say, twenty feet, you would need ramps of 400 feet in length to give a reasonable 5% gradient.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all in favour of original ideas and creative solutions. But wouldn't it be a lot easier and cheaper to stay at street level most of the time? Building cycle flyovers or tunnels to take cyclists safely through junctions wouldn't be a bad idea, connected to proper segregated cycle paths, of course. Or we could just do what the Dutch do, which is proven to work and is (now this really beggars belief) mainly at street level. If there's one thing the Olympics has proved is that London's road network can carry essential traffic plus lots of extra Olympics cars and still be fairly empty. In other words, TfL's standard excuse for doing nothing for cyclists - that every motor journey is essential and traffic flow is paramount - has been shown to be a lie.

But where could you put segregated lanes at street level on London's busy streets, where we are continually assured there is no space?

How about here, on Victoria Embankment (below):

 As you can see, there is a wide central reservation, whose main purpose is to enable motorists to exceed the 30MPH speed limit in safety. Reallocate that space and you have a decent cycle lane.The road also has parking for coaches, which could quite easily be reallocated to nearby streets - there are plenty that are wide enough. This embarrassment of under-used and misallocated space runs all the way from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge and would yield plenty of room for a good segregated lane,  even without reducing the number of  general traffic lanes.  Why doesn't Boris do this? Perhaps because it's a lot more boring than putting cycle lanes in the sky?

1 comment:

  1. On a recent trip to Verona, in Italy, our hotel overlooked a wide “boulevard” which was very similar to Embankment. OK, it didn’t have a river on one side, but it did have four traffic lanes (without the central median), was tree-lines and had wide pavements on either side.

    In Verona, this and similar roads had a two-way cycle lane on one of the pavements, behind the line of trees so provide with extra protection from traffic (and this being Italy, boy, do you need that protection). The cycle lane was simply marked on the pavement by yellow lines, solid either side and broken down the centre. It was in effect shared space, but I could observe no conflict, largely because people on bikes were generally riding at a fairly sedate pace – as I guess you probably have to, in a warm climate like that.

    Cycle infrastructure was no-where near Dutch standards, and as I say, Italian motorists really are best avoided, but permitted us of pavement by bicycles was in many places signed, and almost everywhere else assumed – perhaps it is formally permitted but I don’t know for sure. Not all such shared pavements were entirely satisfactory, but they did seem to manage to keep clutter such as those funny little Telecom boxes, waste bins and lamp posts out of the way, so generally they were better than they are here. There also seemed to be a generally relaxed approach to cycling with people moving at perhaps 15kph at most, and incidents which might reasonably unnerve pedestrians seemed very rare.

    Fast cyclists, of whom there were very few indeed, and they were primarily on racers, clad in helmet and Lycra and clearly out for a proper blast, generally stayed on the roads, though I do wonder whether the UK equation between road mortality and prolonging of life through exercise would apply in quite the same way there.

    Much as I would like to see cycle infrastructure up to Dutch standards here, I doubt that this is politically possible at this time. Local and national government could easily get away with dismissing it as pie in the sky, indeed they are probably afraid of how the non-cycling public would react – even if their fears are unjustified.

    But I really don’t see why we could take a step in the right direction, with shared use being much more widely permitted. Perhaps it could be achieved by setting a speed limit, say 8-10mph. Cycle computers which can read out speed cost only a few quid these days so it would not be hard to know whether you are within the limit. Vehicular cyclists could carry on barrelling down the road. I would opt for the slow road any time – I don’t actually think you get there much quicker anyway, and wearing a suit and tie on a bicycle rather precludes speed if you don’t want to be in a muck-sweat when you arrive.

    On the subject of medians, they were installed in the recent reversion to two-way on Pall Mall and ST James St, and on the reconfiguration of Kensington High Street. They may well have the effect of encouraging motorists to speed, but I suspect they are there to assist pedestrians cross the road – if you want to keep traffic flow nice and smooth, Boris style, why interrupt it with pedestrian crossings when you can just make the pedestrians step into a shooting gallery, making it to safety in two hops?