Superhighway scheme needs rethinking 10

November 13th, 2011 Christian Says

After hearing of the terrible death of a second person at Bow within a few weeks on the cycle superhighway, I tweeted that the thinking behind the scheme needs revisiting. Iain Dale, the consummate Conservative blogger and LBC presenter tweeted back saying it was a ‘knee jerk’ reaction on my part, and sprang to the defence of Boris Johnson and his cycle schemes See: http://bit.ly/sU9Lgn

I think Iain misses the point entirely and I was, frankly, very angry about what I saw was trivialisation of the issue. My tweet was not a kneejerk reaction, but born of concern I already had for the scheme The Supehighways are a bizarre concept.  Paint a section of the road blue – though not a continuous section – and encourage cyclists to use it, and simultatenously deter – but with no legal sanction – motorists from going onto those sections. That seems rather flawed from the start because it is based on the idea that no extra space is being given permanently to cyclists, but rather cyclists are encouraged to assume that a piece of road spares is allocated to them, but there are no clear rules about what they are for.

I don’t want to turn this into a political debate but Boris does not ‘get’ cycling. He is indeed a cyclist but he does not understand that given the growth in cycling over the past decade or so in London, the streets, especially in the centre, have to start being reorganised around their needs, rather than refusing ever to ‘disrupt the traffic flow’ in order to make life easier for them. Ken did not really ‘get’ cycling either, frankly, but that’s another issue.

This is all that the TfL website says about them: ‘They give you safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city. We’ve improved road surfaces and improved junctions for a more comfortable ride, and each Superhighway has a clear, unique identity, with blue surfaces to increase driver awareness.’

Note it just says ‘safer’ but does not explain in what way the lanes are safer, except that ‘driver awareness’ is heightened.  While the scheme was being developed, I was approached by one of the consultants working on it, who said that their suggestions relating to taking road space away from cars and reallocating it to cyclists were invariably ignored. This person was very dissatisfied with the end result and was worried that the superhighways would, in fact, make things less safe for cyclists. Two deaths do seem to suggest that this has been borne out. I reiterate my point – the superhighway scheme must be looked at again and possibly redesigned or abandoned.

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  • http://twitter.com/bassjunkieuk Mark Skrzypczyk

    Another interesting point regarding the car usage of the CS lanes is some are only “cycle lanes” during designated times! The stretch of CS8 along Millbank is Mon-Sat 7am-7pm e-bound and Mon-Sat 8am-7pm w-bound. A similar thing happens on CS7 where it is part of the bus lane which operates at some points ONLY during the peak hours. This means that anyone cycling outside those times has no “help” whatsoever and if you do dare NOT use your little blue lane, and instead ride in primary in the bus lane to avoid potholes and drains as I did on Saturday on the way back from the Tour Du Danger, you get impatient drivers tooting you who want to use the bus lane to undertake the traffic in the outer lane.

    There are numerous problems with the design of the CS’s and are a far cry from what I imagined/hoped they would be when the idea was first mentioned.

  • http://twitter.com/bassjunkieuk Mark Skrzypczyk

    Another interesting point regarding the car usage of the CS lanes is some are only “cycle lanes” during designated times! The stretch of CS8 along Millbank is Mon-Sat 7am-7pm e-bound and Mon-Sat 8am-7pm w-bound. A similar thing happens on CS7 where it is part of the bus lane which operates at some points ONLY during the peak hours. This means that anyone cycling outside those times has no “help” whatsoever and if you do dare NOT use your little blue lane, and instead ride in primary in the bus lane to avoid potholes and drains as I did on Saturday on the way back from the Tour Du Danger, you get impatient drivers tooting you who want to use the bus lane to undertake the traffic in the outer lane.

    There are numerous problems with the design of the CS’s and are a far cry from what I imagined/hoped they would be when the idea was first mentioned.

  • Jim

    TfL’s own assessment of the first two Superhighways makes for interesting reading. In particular, it’s clear from a range of indicators that people find CS3, which has a long segregated stretch along Cable St, to be much safer. As the assessment says, “qualitative research found that the space, separation from other road users and high visibility of

    the Barclays Cycle Superhighways were key factors in improving how safe cyclists feel”. The problem is that CS7 doesn’t provide that separation, and most other Superhighways won’t if they go ahead as designed.

  • Greg Tingey

    Indeed: - see also the entry for Sunday 13th Novemeber, in this blog:
    http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.com/
      Where criticism is repeated of the ill-thought-out, and badly implemented execution of this scheme has brought such bad .results

  • http://twitter.com/BCCletts Dave H

    You only have to look at the failure to deliver the most basic commonsense in the design of the marked lanes to realise that those undertaking the delivery are dangerously inept.  I’ve looked out on the Southwark Bridge Road facility which has a dire arrangement directly outside the flat of an active advocate for cycling. Where the end of a general traffic lane meets parking bays or a bus lane there is a tapering closing off of the lane with a prominent white line.  No such feature is included in the CS which will shunt any cyclist blindly following the blue lane into the back of a taxi – invariably a taxi here, given the immediate proximity of a major taxi repair centre.  Across the street the only benefit I can see of the blue paint is that it highlights the spaces available for parking in the line of cars parked on the CS lane.

    Cycle use in London has not simply doubled, as the overall figure suggests, but key traffic moving commuters from their rail termini points of arrival to their offices and other places of work, is shown by TfL’s own survey to have risen by 400% in the 10 years 2001-2011, and even that is a general picture with highly skewed peak growth, driven by some key events where the use of cycles to deal with long term disruption or overloaded tube and bus routes has delivered an even larger effect – we are talking here of increases in the region of 3000% or higher for stations like St Pancras, and similar for Waterloo, where you might like to compare the scene in 2002, shortly after the cycle lane legalised the regular practice of riding up Station Approach from York Road, and now where around 300 Boris bikes are fed through the 126 stands, and the 30 bike spaces, neatly parked, are now 320 and still short on space.  Before Boris Bikes (around 3 years ago) TfL’s river crossings study revealed that 15% of the peak hour cycle traffic on Blackfriars Bridge was a residual effect of the Waterloo & City closure riding from Waterloo to the Bank, and with the arrival of Boris Bikes and the SWT Brompton Hire scheme the core of their users are making this same trip.

    At stations the sheer weight of numbers from pioneer cyclists who somehow coped with the inadequacies and hassle have forced the operators to make some provision, but this is still based on poor understanding of the users and the market, and thus potential revenue this represents. No one for example sought a before and during picture of the project that saw commuters forced to hike to St James’s Park, Green Park or Pimlico to get on to the Underground when escalator renewal turned Victoria in to a ‘one way only’ station In for the morning peak and Out for the evenings.  The Thameslink planned closures also presented an opportunity to reprise the earlier 2004-05 St Pancras blockade, and I’m told that a fit rider can usually beat a train between St Pancras and London Bridge.

    A bike in London effectively has the value of a Zone card for Zones 1 & 2 with a far higher level of service (immediate start of the journey and almost 100% of the time getting from A to B, with no walk to the stop and waiting for the bus or tube to arrive) With a bike I can leave an event in Kennington and be certain of getting on to a train at Paddington 30 minutes later (it actually took 25 minutes to cycle), or crossing from Euston to Waterloo in 12 minutes – almost every time without breaking sweat.  People are willing to pay for that level of convenience, ask any of the city workers rolling in a ramming their Boris Bikes home in the docking points at Waterloo, as they head for home.  Note the 2007 picture taken at night when most bikes are parked, has the expanded rack provision rammed so solidly full that cyclists often needed assistance to retrieve their machine from the tangled mass, and bollards were being filled up once the racks were full. the change in 2 months at St Pancras (2004-05) is even more dramatic. No small surprise then that every one of the SWT bikes at Waterloo has been on long term continuous hire since the launch in May 2009, almost all showing up as 0.3% of the daily cycle trip total in the recently published TfL study of onward travel from London rail termini, and the automated system now available at Guildford has great interest from many other potential host sites for staff and customer use. 

    As a regular city cyclist in London and elsewhere since the mid 1960′s I also despair at the blind spots in current safety initiatives. A major survey of 5000 cyclists in Oxford & Cambridge identified a key failing for many cyclists – especially women – was the inability to effectively be aware of what was coming up behind them. Those left hook turns, and simple mowing down all feature a large vehicle overhauling the cyclist. Being aware of the approaching threat gives that small opportunity to get out of the way or alert the driver to your presence.

    Both drivers and cyclists should also make far greater use of their ears and sound for safer sharing of the road.  All vehicles have to have an audible warning of approach – very few drivers use it correctly.  It is sounded too loud, too long and too late to actually alert the other road user to the potential of a collision, and cyclists can equally use their integral system by shouting out to make a driver aware of their presence, before the situation gets out of control. 

    A corollary of this is that both parties should be able to hear an audible warning, and I despair to see so many cyclists and pedestrians travelling in a blissful bubble of ignorance listening to their ipod or other source of sound rather than being alert to the hazards around them.  Observing most professional drivers one notices that many drive with their window opened sufficiently to let them hear what their eyes might not see.  Through having that added sense one can hear the tyre noise of a car in the blind spot and the shout of a cyclist of pedestrian if they suspect they have not been seen when a turn is signalled.  Tellingly two reports on cyclists killed when riding into the path of rail vehicles (South London & Tyneside) noted that both had earpieces and ipods recovered with the body, and a strong indication that the riders failed to hear the noise of the approaching rail vehicle and the bells/horns being sounded.

    The other detail is that it is not simply HGV’s that pose the threat to cyclists on London Streets disportionate to their numbers in the traffic mix but one group of HGV’s in particular – construction industry vehicles.  These have several features.  Many are exempted from having, the now common, rigid lifeguards fitted and have twin rear axles compounding the ability to ‘mince-up’ any person who falls between front and rear axles.  Many are working on ‘local rules’ unlike the long haul delivery vehicles where management of drivers’ hours and operations are more readily regulated.  A lot of construction sites, especially in space-starved Central London have no space to stockpile waste or incoming supplies, and the removal and delivery of products, especially perishables like concrete, which often has to be fed into a continuous pour, is under a severe time pressure, with the smaller contractors competing on price, to deliver with the smallest number of vehicles and drivers for work which may often be priced and paid by the load rather than the time taken. I am aware of one contractor who was such a danger to the road users at large and those on site that their contract was summarily terminated on a major project, yet they still got work elsewhere.  Here we might bring in a new element – the Traffic Commissioner, charged with ensuring that operators are ‘of good repute’ and drivers likewise, and they have the sanction of withdrawing an operator’s or a driver’s licence to use HGV’s, but experience of the support of the courts, or the temerity of the Traffic Area office in pursuing action, often delivers the impression of a toothless tiger. Maybe we can be proved wrong, with some stronger action on the persistent offenders, and professional drivers who are involved in more than one serious crash? 

    NB Lifeguards fitted to older trams and buses dealt with the problem of uneven surfaces by being hung on straps or chains, so nothing that a bit of design effort could not resolve.
         

  • http://twitter.com/fonant Fonant

    The stupidest thing about the Superhighways is that the way to do this properly is well-known, and has been tried, tested and slowly improved over a period of some 30 years.

    Proper cycling provision can be seen, and ridden on, in a country that is nearer to London than Scotland is, and which reaches no further north than Manchester. This country has some of the safest roads in the world, while our roads are only “safe” if you’re protected inside a motor vehicle.

    Why do UK highways engineers have such blinkers that they can’t see beyond the English Channel?

  • Startearlysavestress

    Is there any UK city which is really serious about cycling? I mean seeking to reach the standards of Denmark, Netherlands or Munster in Germany. We really only need one, and then the other UK cities might take notice. The idea of copying anything ‘foreign’ seems to bring out the xenophobe/petrolhead tendency in most of them.

  • http://twitter.com/thislast Sam Saunders

    London is the most dangerous place for cyclists in the UK – as recorded in the Department for Transport statistics released earlier this year.  For each mile cycled in London, the likelihood of a casuality is nearly twice the level in most other places – and three times the rate in the East of England. This reflects the situation *before* the current horrible rash of deaths. The relevant table can be seen here: http://www.dft.gov.uk/statistics/tables/ras30055 

  • http://twitter.com/christhebull Christopher Waller

    It would be perfectly possible to change Bow roundabout so that vehicles making a left turn across the superhighway had a separate traffic light phase to cyclists continuing ahead. This would also allow for a pedestrian crossing. The problem as far as TfFail are concerned is that this would cause left turning vehicles to wait for a bit longer. This would not however affect the amount of green time for vehicles continuing ahead (to make a right turn or for access roads or U-turns as most forwards traffic would use the overpass).

    As a temporary solution left turns off the A11 slip roads could be banned with traffic having to make a 270 degree turn around the roundabout, but that would probably cause more queues on the actual roundabout than simply having a separate phase. Also as a temporary solution pedestrian paths across the middle of the roundabout could be installed with crossings taking advantage of the existing stop lines. This would however require using four separate crossings to walk between any two corners of the roundabout, and the stop lines would need to be moved back to fit a crossing in.Alternately the overpass itself could be altered by replacing the inside lane in each direction with a cycle track, but this would require crossings for the exiting and entering slip roads to avoid a situation similar to that formerly found on Blackfriars Bridge.

  • Colin

    The real problem appears to be highway engineers who cannot see past the end of their bonnet.

  • @JeffGazzard Oh yes, am coming to Manchester for Lab conference, and hustings on the 23rd

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  • @JeffGazzard what are you referring to?

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  • @CallyOrange fraid not. But there's a bloke called Christian whose getting married

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