Tag Archives: infrastructure

A message to you Rudy

Dear Mayor Johnson,

On Tuesday the 19th June this year, as you rode through the sunny  morning  peloton of Islington, I’m sure the conditions for cycling at a northerly crossing of the A406 were the last thing on your mind. That was certainly the case for me. All that changed when I found myself waiting at the lights with none other than the Chairman of TfL himself.

I would never normally trouble a public figure in the street as I consider it to be rude but in this case I had to make an exception. After all, I have been trying to get some issues flagged up with your office for some time now and the opportunity was too good to miss.

We had a short exchange at the lights, perhaps you remember…

Me: It seems churlish not to ask you a question as I find myself at the lights with you. Would that be ok?

You: Fire away!

Me: Would you be surprised to know that local cyclists and cycling groups are unhappy with the new Henlys Corner?

You: Oh fuck them! We have spent billions up there!

Me: I live up there and the money has been spent badly with respect cyclists…

The lights changed and off you went…

I will admit that I was shocked at your language… but in no way offended. I don’t mind a bit of rude language. I am also certain that you have the needs of London’s growing cycling community in your heart. Actually, you spoke from your heart  and I have a lot of respect for that, despite disagreeing. I understand your remark to mean something along the lines of…  those whinging cyclists are never happy! “Oh fuck them! We have spent billions up there!”.  I can quite understand that you could feel that way given the expense and endless planning process. As Mayor, you cannot be expected to know the fine details of every junction redesign. Your commitment to the “go Dutch” tests and to cycling, more widely, means that you will be able to see the problem if only I can get the message to you.

You were not to know…

-          That I am one of those whinging cyclists so it was really me you were telling to get fucked. That felt great, cheers.

-          That, as an experienced National Standard Cycling Instructor, who has to carry out risk assessments of roads and junctions for cyclists as a daily part of my job, I have the expertise to make the judgement. Safety and amenity are worse for people on bikes, who use the junction, post the redesign, despite major improvements for other modes.

-          That it’s not just folk like me who can see the problem…   For example, Cllr Brian Coleman. Before the elections this year, I found myself on the phone with, the then, AM Coleman and took the opportunity of putting the same question to him. He was surprised, being under the impression that the new design was better for all. Like you he mentioned that loads had been spent… but without the swearing.  After meeting me for 15 mins at Henlys corner one morning, he accepted that there, “is a problem” and showed willingness to work toward a solution. He gets it.

-          That the plenary question put by AM Andrew Dismore about Henlys Corner, on the day after we met, was as a response to a meeting he had with me at Henlys Corner recently. He gets it too.

-          That Phil Jones, who delivers training to TFL engineers, on cycling provision, has looked at the video I made about the new Henlys design. His verdict  – “Excellent – clear, unemotional, irrefutable”. He gets it so much that he has offered help getting whatever proposals are eventually made into a really useful and compliant form. – Gold dust… Cheers Phil!

-          That I attended the Talk London event in Barnet earlier this year to try to raise the issue but was only able to talk to one of Isabel Dedring’s team, a Mr. McGeevey. In any case, the GLA office has been aware of the issues at least since January 2012 when we began corresponding.

-         That The Great Divide Ride took place in March to highlight the issue of poor provision for cyclists crossing the A406.

Please see this video:

When one really looks at what has happened to the cycling provision at this flagship scheme, “fuck them” may well have been key design guidance.  There are many other issues too technical to go into in the video. I am really pleased that TfL is working with Barnet on the issue of Barnet’s refusal to allow a Cycle Superhighway. Henlys Corner will need re-designing, in any case,  should that ever change. The question remains; Why wasn’t state of the art provision included in the original design, given the “cycling revolution” and this junction’s planned inclusion in a CS? Seems like an own goal.

A positive result would be someone senior from each of TfL/GLA and Barnet coming to meet the local stakeholder group (www.barnetlcc.com)  as a matter of urgency. We have a number of suggestions/solutions and a top transport consultant in Phil Jones to help present them in the most usefull way. (Note: since I began writing this last week, there has been a very positive contact with senior GLA people and I expect a constructive meeting to take place soon! Hurrah!)

Alternatively, you and I could enjoy some wonderful Salt Beef after a brief tour of Henlys Corner one afternoon… during the school run perhaps, when there are lots of children riding across. What do you say?

The new Henlys corner design lets cyclists down badly and fails to support your vision of cycling in our city. Local cyclists, transport consultants and two AMs have been able to see the problem. Can I get my message to you…?

-L

Daddy, the cars aren’t stopping

My 4 year old wanted to go to “the dinosaur museum” and with this month’s Street Talks subject being “shared space”, a post on Exhibition Road seems in order. Many local authorities are looking at this in the hope that it can offer some relief from what I will call the “inter modal tension” on our streets.

We took the tube to South Ken and joined the throngs of tourists and families heading north over Cromwell Road toward the museums.

I should say right up front that my impression is that the scheme is very poor. Here’s why:

It’s not really Shared Space
My understanding is that there are many other measures that should be in place for shared space to be effective. Pedestrians and cyclists should dominate the space. Through motor traffic should be eliminated or greatly reduced. The fact that Exhibition Road remains a major through route, combined with all the parking spaces rather negates any positive effect that the design might create. A typical London half measure.

Ugly Ugly Ugly
The whole space has been clad in grey granite. Those of you who have been to Aberdeen will be familiar with the effect. There is a diagonal grid of lighter stone which is supposed to represent and reinforce the pedestrian “desire lines” but ends up looking like a giant Argyle sock laid down the road. The pattern looks totally out of place and does not relate in any way to the magnificent Victorian architecture that surrounds it. The chance to do something beautiful with all that contrasting stone, has been lost in favour of what looks a rather lazy design decision.

poor amenity
Does this look like a nice place to sit with your children after a museum session? Where is the shade? In the height of summer this is going to be like an oven. Why is there a seat right next to parking? It’s not really a bench is it….? The doctrine of removing street clutter says that you shouldn’t use bollards. However, sometimes you need them. The bench is doing the job of a bollard and in doing so, compromises its function as a bench. This is dishonest… people before traffic!

I love the smell of deisel in the morning!

There were many chauffeur driven cars just stopped anywhere waiting with their engines running. The absence of road markings makes this perfectly legal. My 4 year old and I don’t want to sit right next to idling cars! Crap design.

It doesn’t work
Fail!The marking on the road surface does have an effect on behaviour… My son kept running along the lines, straight into the path of the taxis and vans! The whole experience was very stressful for me as he had no idea where he was supposed to walk. My boys know to stay on the pavement and we walk to school/nursery daily without problems.  But here in this new “shared” environment, I couldn’t relax for a second. That is exactly how Shared Space is supposed to work…!  Shame no one told the drivers who consistently failed to slow or stop as my little one wandered out. The council know that it’s not working too as they have had to put up signs telling motorists to give way. Those aren’t working either.

The surface is poor for cycling
The stone is slippery when wet and has already resulted in a number of cyclists falling. To be fair, the stone is faced with a rough pattern but this will wear away in time with all the heavy vehicles. I also doubt that the stone sets will remain flush and flat over time… we’ll see.

A massive missed opportunity
Oh what could have been….! All that cash to clad one of London’s most historic streets in granite and er… that’s it. Where are the trees? Where are the kiosks? Where are the fountains? Where is the “place” for all the people who come to this street? It could have been a really lovely place to hang out before/after going to museums or the Albert Hall. There is ample space to have provided two way traffic AND a really pleasant place to be. Think the Ramblas in Barcelona but with cars down one side. As it stands, it is really a car park with the odd unsheltered bench to demarcate the ends of the parking bays. But that is not the greatest tragedy… Where is the cycle lane? This was a golden chance to put in a cycle lane, extending the route that crosses Hyde Park to South Ken and beyond. Amongst the many flaws of the Cycle Superhighway scheme is the fact that the inner ends of the routes do not join up. Any chance to begin to create those connections should not be wasted. Obviously, one can ride down the road but it’s just another fast London road… where is the improvement for cycling?

Is it all bad?
Not at all… What has been done IS an improvement but the part of Exhibition road, to the south of Cromwell Rd., gives a better taste of how these schemes should work. The absence of parking and the fact that the through route to South Ken has been closed, means that this area is working much better. Pedestrians dominate and the two shopkeepers I spoke to said they loved the massive increase in footfall.

Some remain confused, like this driver who got “lost” in the uncertainty of it all and ended up having to get back onto the road via a ped crossing but overall this area felt better.

What is clear is that Shared Space doesn’t work without the raft of other measures that complement it. Principally that motor traffic must be limited or removed for the scheme to work. Local authorities are attracted to the concept but fail to implement the wider changes needed. Ultimately, the way to reduce the negative effects of heavy motor traffic is simply to reduce its access. There is just no getting around the fact that there are too many private cars in our city.

If you want to hear a pompous urban designer enjoying a totally uncritical fluffing from a supposed science journalist, you may enjoy this. Apparently, pedestrians are “natural Pythagoreans” who always favour the hypotenuse… Hence the Argyle sock pattern. What a knob.

If you think a thoughtful critique is more up your street, I recommend:
Waronthemotorist and Voleospeed

My 4 year old put it well as we tried to cross the road outside the Natural History Museum, “Daddy, the cars aren’t stopping!”

-L

A Place at the Table

Sometimes you find yourself in a situation wondering how you got there…

I was in a room, filled with TFL and Borough traffic engineers and planners. I just kept thinking “I don’t belong here” and that at any moment someone would realise their error and have me chucked out! We were all waiting for the start of the London Cycling Design Standards Workshop, delivered by Phil Jones (@phil_PJA if you tweet – worth following) and John Parkin, Professor of Transport Engineering, South Bank University. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded and I think it was a very valuable session for all concerned, especially me.

This two day course was aimed at officers who needed to deliver cycling provision. There was also a good look at the current guidance contained in the LCDS (London Cycle Design Standards). The course itself was very well presented and if all present go back to their posts and do it the way Phil and John told em’ to, we will see a massive improvement in the infrastructure we get in London…. It’s a big “if” but not for the reasons I might have given before the workshop.

Much of the discussion concerning cycling these days focuses on infrastructure and this puts the spotlight on the engineers. After all, they are the ones tasked with delivering it.

It was clear that there is very genuine concern over safety and that they really wanted to get it right for cyclists. There was the odd suggestion that cycling should be moved onto minor routes and other such tosh but overall I would say I was pleasantly surprised at the acceptance of cycling as mainstream transport and the breadth of knowledge displayed regarding good infrastructure. So if the engineers and planners know what they are doing, how come TFL keep getting it so wrong?

One word…. Governance

Again and again as we all discussed various projects or interventions the officers said things like, “that would be great but I will never get it past my superiors or elected members”. Often we came up against the fact that there was no one in the room senior enough to answer core questions like, “What are we trying to achieve on a broader scale?” or “is the goal, modal shift or accommodation of existing demand?”. Answering these questions defines what gets built.

On the second day Phil very kindly gave me the chance to show a short video over lunch. I live in Barnet and the recent changes to Henlys Corner loom large in my life so it seemed a good subject. I added a few of my pet gripes at the front too. What I hate is that stuff gets put on the road which I then have to tell my trainees not to use. Here is what I showed them…

It was kinda quiet afterwards… so I asked, “I think we can all see how much worse that is for cyclists, so given all the expertise amongst practitioners and the good guidance in the LCDS, how did the redesign of Henlys Corner ever get signed off?”

One chap rather bravely said he had signed off on an early version of the design but had then passed it on to another team for review. (Correction Dec 20 2011! Please see note at the end) A colleague mentioned that it would have gone through some sort of cycle review but I can’t see that went very well.

In fact, with my new knowledge of the LCDS gained from the excellent workshop I was attending, it was clear that Henlys Corner fails to meet TFLs own design guidance. There are several small details that turn out to be rather safety critical which are very poorly implemented and that I do not flag in my video as I was unaware of how wrong they were when I was filming.

It is both ironic and timely that only today Jenny JonesAM has got a motion passed (with support from AMs of all the parties) at the London assembly that specifically cites TFL failing to follow their own guidance with respect cycling. Clearly something needs to change.

It really looks as though TFLs internal design review process is not fit for purpose, with respect cycling. Or is it just that those in charge are asking for things to be done in a certain way. How could one tell?

The TFL board is made up of people who all have something good to contribute. There are people with direct experience, not just knowledge, of the various transport modes as well as those whose broad knowledge can only be an asset. There are train, bus and taxi (black and private hire) people, someone who knows about aerospace, people with business and property development experience and of course someone from the tubes. But where is the member representing cyclists?

Black cabs are a private business and make up only 0.6% (per TFL 2009) of modal share, it seems bizarre in the extreme that cycling, with a modal share that is conservatively five times that, is unrepresented while they have a permanent seat. Indeed, the chap from Camden told us that cycling is up to around 12% of modal share in their borough.  Why is there no expert presence on the TFL board to protect our interests? Surely, that would represent some sort of check and balance against some of the nonsense that is going on at the moment at junctions all over the TLRN. Junctions like Henlys Corner… Does it make sense that volunteers from the local LCC group have to fight to get  a compliant design. I thought that was someone at TFL’s job.

In my personal opinion some of the board members may have a financial interest in “smoothing the flow” and could lack impartiality. You may judge for yourself by reading about their declaration of interests here.

I am calling on TFLs Chairman (Boris to you and me) to step up and show us that he is really serious about cycling issues. He should appoint a board member for cycling, who can be part of directing top level policy. The engineers will do the rest. Come on Boris!

The issue is one of democracy. It’s time we had a seat at the table.

-L

A correction:

On 20 Dec. I got this email:

I was at the LCDS cycling training days earlier on in December and may have been the person who you described as “One chap rather bravely said he had signed off on an early version of the design but had then passed it on to another team for review.”

Just to clarify the point, I had undertaken a stage 1 Road Safety Audit in 2008 but that doesn’t mean the design is signed off, the only people who can do that are the designer /client!

It may seem pedantic but it is important to realise that the RSA does highlight safety issues and it is up to the designer/client to react to these and respond.

Glad you enjoyed the course and it was good to see “a user” representing some views of the non-engineer / planner despite that fact that a good deal of those attending ride regularly. To add I regularly commute into central London on my bicycle .

As he says, only the client can sign off the final design… That’s the board of TFL in this case.

Cycle Superhighways are there to “instruct motorists”

Since the Tour Du Danger, there has been a lot to read and listen to. It’s easy to miss something. I think this is worth pointing out.

I was listening to The Bike Show podcast, which covers recent events. A good portion of it is given over to Mayor Boris responding to Assembly questions.

Amongst what is mainly waffle,  I noticed a startling admission. At 21:50 he says that the “whole point” of the Superhighways is “to instruct the motorist that this is a place where you are going to find loads of cyclists, so be careful”.

Well, that’s cleared that up then… The CS is not, in fact, a “superhighway” for cyclists. It is, rather an overpriced and massively over engineered road sign for the benefit of those who choose to drive. How silly of us not to realise. Any expectation that the CS ought to provide priority for cycling is completely unfounded it turns out. Indeed, viewed through the cipher of his statement, the design of the CS starts to make some sense. It wasn’t built for cyclists…

I suppose no one at TFL realised that there were many cyclists on these busy commuter routes who were already serving the purpose of,  “instruct(ing) the motorist that this is a place where you are going to find loads of cyclists”.

A simple road sign saying “Bikes Belong” or “Give Cyclists Space” would probably have been just as good but this wouldn’t have generated the publicity of a “flagship” scheme. Boris likes a bit of publicity…

So the Cycle Superhighways are not “for” cycles, fail to be “super” and are not, in fact, “highways” by any definition of that word.

Boris…. What an utter sham.

HGV blindspots to be marked at junctions?

Cycling Infrastructure or “Hard Measures” as they are sometimes known litter London’s streets. Artifacts of myriad forgotten cycling policies are to be found here and there. Fragments of narrow lanes appear and vanish for no discernible reason. Some of it is still of  use. You can spot the good bits because there are riders on them.

Overall, cycling in London’s traffic is perfectly fine… mostly… once you get used to it. As things stand, it’s not going to be for everyone but training can help A LOT. A great number of people will just never be comfortable sharing with the autos. Their sense of the dangers of cycling might be exaggerated but that’s how they feel. Untill they have segregated lanes to ride on, they just aren’t interested.

For those who take the plunge, it is a revelation. They are soon zooming about and getting all the time, health, productivity, fun and financial benefits of riding a bike.

The various nature of London’s infrastructure throws up some issues though. For example:

If one were going to have a serious problem whilst out and about on a bike, it might involve a left turning lorry. HGV drivers are amongst the most skillful drivers on our roads and the very last thing they want to have happen is any sort of crash. The issue is that, visibility is limited and it is easy for a cyclist to get into the “Blind Spot”.  In my view this is due either to the cyclist undertaking or bad overtaking by the HGV.

The importance of dealing with this issue is well recognised by the various authorities involved.

During training, I always go over the location of HGV blind spots including the instruction NEVER to undertake a lorry or bus. As the driver of a HGV is high up they can not see you if you stop right in front of them either.

blindspot trainingTFL funds HGV awareness training for cyclists. The chance to sit in the cab of a HGV really drives the point home. If that isn’t enough, the blind spot is marked on the floor (in yellow here) so the cyclist can see where NOT to go.  Knowing where the risks are makes them easy to avoid and a trained rider will never let themselves get into this situation. As with all National Standard training, the goal is to minimise the incidence of any conflict.

What then, is the goal of the road markings in the following image?

HGV TrainingAre riders supposed to enter the box up that left side? To me, this says everything about the utter confusion that surrounds cycling provision in London. This is the area FOR cyclists? These boxes are the prefered solution for some traffic engineers.  There is a total failure of consistancy. What on earth is going on?

This mess comes about due to the historical  lack of any coherent cycling policy for London, going back for at least the last 30 years. We need leadership on policy if there is to be a real increase in riders beyond those who are up for sharing the road. There has to be some sort of a plan and someone prepared to make AND push through what will be some unpopular changes at the time. Someone prepared to think beyond the next election. But who can we look to provide such leadership?

Hear me Boris!

Are you for more cycling or against? You’re a rider! You know this is all wrong. If you really want to increase cycling you know what you need to do! You’ve read all the docs. Go on, you know in your heart it’s right. Give us some good cycle lanes. You know the ones… the type people will actually use. Big separate ones with priority. Put them on big arteries. Ones that go where we need to go. Stuff that will encourage non-cyclists to have a go.  Bite the bullet and start removing parking spaces…. Go on.

All those empty taxis circling around in the West End are just that…. EMPTY! There is plenty of room if you have the will. Go on… connect up the inner ends of the Superhighways with new segrageated lanes/streets. If you segregated the Superhighways, more people would use them. Reallocation of space is the way forward if you really want to grow cycling, as all your own studies indicate. Lets have some beautifully planted ped/cycle only streets as well, like they do in other cities and create a real, usefull network for London’s future. How else will you achieve your very laudable cycling targets?

If we are really 3%(or whatever) by mode  in London then can we have 3% of the money to spend on some good facilities? We should have more of the budget than our modal percentage. How about 5% of the road space? If you want to encourage a behavior then provision should lead demand. True?

What percentage of funds/space do taxis take with a 0.6% modal share? It’s all got a bit out of whack, I say.

Follow your heart. I am calling out to you from mine. Hear me Boris!

Let’s get together to hammer out the details over lunch at one of my favourite pie shops. My treat…

-L

How does this happen?

Travelling south on High Road (A1000) toward East Finchley, one may encounter the following bit of cyclo-infrastructural madness:

Is it me or is this bit of cycle lane just a total joke? It systematically takes you from one poor position to another, exposing the rider to every possible hazard en route.

  • It takes you along the “door zone” of the parking bay to the left. Getting “doored” is all too common, sadly. One should ride well away from parked cars. ( but on this day there were none )
  • This is a mandatory cycle lane (note solid line on right edge). Motorists must not cross the solid line. So how do cars using the parking bay get in and out legally?
  • It leads you along the left side of the road as you approach the side turning, leaving you vulnerable to a “left-hook”.
  • It leads you across the side road absolutely flush with the give way lines. This is the worst possible position to take when crossing a minor road.
  • At the Traffic Islands, it keeps you to the left. Again, a poor position for someone on a bike, despite the width of the lane.
  • Finally it dumps you into the “door zone” before vanishing.
  • I ride this road from time to time and often get hooted or told off for leaving the cycle lane. In fairness to the drivers, they may not realise my predicament but the existence of the cycle lane does seem to encourage people tell you where you “should” be riding.

What I can’t understand is how this stuff gets through the planning process. How can it ever get signed off? Someone using this lane as intended will experience more close calls then they otherwise would. If we intend to encourage more cycling we need to make it as pleasant an experience as possible. Is this what the engineers were thinking when they pooted this little marvel out? I think not.

What agenda is being satisfied by these sort of designs? I see the same mistakes being repeated over and over in bits of cycle infrastructure all over London. It can’t be an accident. There is some sort of process at work.  What makes me sad is the fact that so many of them are developed with the involvment of local cycling groups. Somehow the “stakeholder consultation” system is broken. Bad infrastructure does more harm then good I believe.

Personally, I am in favour of cycle lanes where they can be done well. I am hopefull that this will become easier as more and more people get on their bikes over the next decade. At some point (say above 5% modal share) it will be possible to demand large scale reallocation of road space in favour of people on bikes. Cycle lanes will work a lot better when they really are whole lanes (whole roads even) rather then a strip painted on the side of a lane. Bring it on.

More…

-L