With an hour or so to kill before visiting friends in London over the weekend, I decided to take a quick look at Stratford High Street, and what the promising plans from Transport for London for a kerb-separated track, running from the Stratford gyratory to Bow roundabout, might look like in practice. The consultation closes next Monday, the 11th of February, so if you do want to get your comments in (and I urge you to do so), I hope this picture-heavy post may be of some use to you.
Starting from the Stratford gyatory, and heading west, the TfL plan is for a 1.8 metre wide mandatory cycle lane.
Looking at the enormous amount of space available here, this doesn’t seem like the best solution.The wide area to the left is purely for left turns onto Tramway Avenue (West Ham Lane). Given the boldness of the main section of this scheme (about which more later) this does seem to be a bit of a cop-out. No bus stop bypasses, no cycle track, and no traffic lanes taken away from the gyratory. The cycle lane will be painted between this bus and three lanes of traffic. Not a nice place to cycle.
All that will change here is that the cycle lane will be painted blue, and made ‘mandatory'; the same arrangement as for the previous bus stop. It is not clear to me why Transport for London have not chosen to employ a cycle track passing behind the bus stops on this section of the Superhighway, like they have on the remainder of the route to and from Bow.
As we leave the gyratory and progress down Stratford High Street, however, we start to see the substantial improvements; those that will make this currently rather terrifying road somewhere suitable for anyone of any age or ability to ride a bike.
You can’t turn right directly at this point – so I’m not sure why the ASL is being suggested. It seems entirely pointless. As we shall see, these single-lane ASLs reappear elsewhere on Stratford High Street, and are potentially quite dangerous in these other locations.
A little further, we come to the first of the bus stop bypasses.
As you can see from the plans, when a bus stops, it will do so in the approximate position of the silver car (leaving just one lane free for motor vehicles). The bus stop will be in lane 1, and the cycle track will pass behind it, leaving a very large amount of pavement free for pedestrian movement.
In principle, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this arrangement. Of course, there will need to be clarity, and ease of crossing the track for more vulnerable pedestrians. But I cannot foresee any problems once both people on bikes and pedestrians in the area get used to the design.
Next we have a reasonably major junction, with Wise Road and Carpenters Road.
This is a bit of a bodge, unfortunately. If you wish to turn right, notice how the kerb separation finishes only a few tens of metres from the junction itself. There is no way that you can safely make your way across to the right hand part of the ASL in that distance, with traffic progressing straight ahead in both lanes. A sensible option would be to wait for a red light, then position yourself in the ASL. Or, fiddle your way around the junction on the shared pavements (in yellow), using the pedestrian crossings.
To be fair, you can’t really blame Transport for London here. We do not have any precedent for a cycle track design that allows right turns at junctions. It simply hasn’t been done. What should really happen is that you should progress beyond Wise Road, then wait to cross Stratford High Street on a cycle track aligned with a single-stage pedestrian crossing. But we’ve never done a design like this -
in the UK. So to an extent TfL are fumbling around in the dark a bit, and making the best of a bad job.
Here’s the next bus stop -
Again, the bus will be stopping one lane further out, and the shelter will be approximately where the bus is. There is, as you can see, acres of space to the left of the bus for a track and a separate pavement.
Now to the biggest junction on Stratford High Street, that with Rick Roberts Way.
To make a right turn here, you’re either going to have to get into lane 3 (again, a dangerous near-impossibility from the track itself) or, more sensibly, progress through the junction, mount the pavement on the south-west side, and then enter the ASL at the mouth of Rick Roberts Way to the south, and wait for a green light. This will work, but it is far from ideal. TfL are constrained, I think, by the lack of a precedent for cycle track design at large junctions, but plonking cyclists on the pavement is not the way forward.
I would also stress here that the ASLs planned at this junction look to me to be incredibly dangerous, given that they may encourage cyclists to make right turns from lane 1, when there will almost certainly be motor vehicles heading straight on from lane 2. A recipe for conflict.
From here on to the Bow flyover, it’s fairly plain sailing. The protected track continues all the way to the roundabout, again replacing this traffic lane.
Now heading east, back along Stratford High Street from Bow roundabout. At present, the exit from the roundabout is effectively a two-way road, with fairly thin cycle lanes on either side. The reason this cycle lane (and traffic lane) is here is because if you want to head west from the buildings on the north of the road (on the left in the photograph), the flyover means you can’t do so without travelling a good distance east.
If you want to cycle west, you will now do so on a shared use pavement (marked in cream). Another bodge, I have to say. A better solution would be a wide, two-way cycle track. As you can see from the photograph below, there is plenty of space between the building frontage and the flyover for such a track. A shared use pavement does not strike me as especially ‘Dutch'; more ‘will this do?’
There’s a bus stop a little further along -
The bus stop and the cycle lane are sort of wedged in together so motor vehicles can pass stopped buses on the outside, with cyclists having to do exactly the same thing (the very thing the designs elsewhere on the Superhighway avoid). Meanwhile westbound cyclists will be using the pavement past the rear of bus stop, which is not a great idea. It’s messy, and it’s come about because TfL apparently don’t want buses to stop eastbound motor vehicles, even momentarily. (These vehicles will, of course, only be arriving at the next inevitable queue at a red traffic light slightly more early). If the bus stop was moved out to the double white line, then there would be plenty of space available for a decent solution. This needs to happen.
There’s not much else to comment on regarding the return journey; it’s broadly similar to the westbound cycle track. At the junction of Rick Roberts Way (already referred to) this eastbound sea of cars
Right turns should safely be made by the method described above; progress through the junction, then use the shared use pavement to enter the ASL, and wait for a green light. The blue ASLs on Stratford High Street itself however are – to repeat – bizarre and potentially very dangerous.
Another bus stop bypass will be located here, with buses stopping in the position of the Mercedes -
Here the cycle track (which will be in the bus lane) comes to an end, and if you don’t wish to cycle around the gyratory, you will have to go up onto the pavement, and use the two crossings, to then continue in the contraflow bus lane on the southern side of the gyratory.
The bus lane contraflow -
It’s certainly preferable to cycling on the gyratory itself, but again, hardly ‘Dutch’ in approach. With a bit more boldness it would be easy, in principle, to implement an eastbound cycle track here, separated from buses, given the enormous width available (this is the same stretch of road where there will be merely a cycle lane for those heading west, as referenced at the start of this post).
Further round the contraflow, there’s even evidence of a former attempt to provide for cycling away from buses – some faded hieroglyphs on the pavement.
And of course the pavement on the other side is ‘shared use’.This area really needs the same continuity and quality of design as the cycle track being proposed on Stratford High Street; a clear, smooth and direct route, away from buses and pedestrians. It’s entirely possible; but TfL seem to have given up on the gyratory itself. A pity.
So, in summary. This is a really fantastic step change in approach from Transport for London; reallocating road space, and creating safe, comfortable tracks that people can cycle in, away from motor traffic. Unfortunately it has been let down slightly by an unsatisfactory approach to large junctions (TfL can’t entirely be blamed here; they don’t really have a toolkit to work with), a strange ASL obsession which may create danger, and an inadequate solution for the Stratford gyratory, in both directions, particularly heading west, and also for the eastbound section by Bow roundabout. Nevertheless the proposals do deserve (qualified) support; it’s quite remarkable how far TfL have come in just a year. Please send your comments to them.