The Central London Grid

The deadline for responses to the consultation on Transport for London’s Central London Grid is this Friday. Both London Cycling Campaign and Rachel Aldred have provided detailed responses, which I recommend you read; I thought I’d add some comments of my own to complement theirs, and also to remind you to respond yourself.

The idea of a Central London Grid is an excellent one – a network of direct routes that connect up across Zone 1, and that are (or should be) suitable for anyone who wants to ride a bike. The stated intention is to compose it mostly of routes away from main roads – around 75%. The remaining 25% of the Grid will be composed of main road interventions. These percentages can be quibbled about, but they sound reasonable. What is absolutely essential, however, is that the form of the Grid, and the treatments at ground level, are suitable, and there are worrying signs that the Grid will fail on both counts.

This isn’t all the fault of TfL. There is intransigence from Boroughs, particularly Kensington and Chelsea, who (as we shall see) have effectively eviscerated the Grid network in their borough. There is a higher density of Grid in Westminster, but again this is a borough that seems determined to fit cycling in around the margins, not provide for it in any useful way. There are also problems with the Royal Parks, firstly with even allowing cycling within them, and also with closing times.

But there are issues with how Transport for London is approaching the Grid. Firstly, in regarding what, precisely, is an ‘adequate’ Quietway, and secondly with ‘dual networking’ – treating Quietways as a kind of network for a slow, nervous cyclist, while main roads remain the preserve of the faster, confident existing cyclist.

Some of the proposed Quietway routes will follow streets and roads that have had measures already put in place to cut out through traffic – Goldsmiths Row in Hackney fits into this definition. However it is not clear from the TfL Grid document whether measures will always be put in place to ensure that motor traffic is greatly reduced on the Quietway routes.

It seems to me as if the Grid is being put on streets that have already had proper traffic reduction measures installed, and on streets that are deemed to be ‘adequately’ quiet already. But the scheme is crying out for a definition of what ‘adequate’ actually means, in terms of the volume of motor traffic – this could then set a benchmark for when measures like filtered permeability would have to be applied. The TfL document states

Like the name suggests, Quietways will use the quietest roads possible while balancing the need for directness, usability and safety. In some busy parts of central London there are no absolutely quiet roads, but all will be significantly less busy than the alternatives, with fewer vehicles, travelling at lower speeds

Well, there may be ‘no absolutely quiet roads’ in some parts of central London, but that suggests that the Grid should create these quiet routes, through deliberate interventions, not attempt to pretend that they are suitable simply by virtue of being a bit quieter than the horrendous main road nearby. The Grid is being presented almost passively, when it should be an active intervention to create safe and inviting conditions.

The other issue is the aforementioned ‘dual networking’. The TFL document has this definition -

Quietway routes are slower than the main roads. They are not aimed at speedy commuter cyclists, who will almost certainly stick with the fast main roads. They are intended for people who want to avoid the main roads and want to take it more slowly and calmly – the new kind of cyclist we want to attract.

The problem here is that if Quietways are ‘slow’, then nobody is going to want to use them, be they a faster lycra type, or just an ordinary person on a Boris bike. Quietways should be suitable for all – they should precisely be aimed at commuter cyclists as well as everyone else, because cycling needs fast direct routes to be attractive.

The additional danger here is the age-old problem with dual networks; that you end up with two different types of route that are both inadequate in different ways. The Quietways are fiddly and unusable, while the main roads remain hostile and unsuitable for most, justified on the grounds that if you don’t like it, well, there’s a Quietway over there, somewhere else. The Grid has to have Uniformity of Provision – the idea that all its routes should not trade off safety against convenience, and should be desirable and attractive for anyone who rides a bike. This is the essence of the Dutch approach to designing bicycle networks. They do not design different kinds of route for different people – that is a recipe for poor provision.

Now onto various specific issues. The Grid network in Kensington and Chelsea is hopeless.

This is not a network

This is not a network

Not only have Kensington and Chelsea blocked the routing of a Superhighway down Kensington High Street – they do not want cycle tracks on this road – they have also provided some suggestions for a ‘Quietway’ network in their borough that are, frankly, insultingly bad. There are lines on this map that just stop and start – they don’t even join up! Kensington and Chelsea need to be told in the strongest possible terms that this simply isn’t good enough. There has to be a coherent east-west route as part of the Grid here – through Holland Park (where cycling is currently banned) and the Royal Parks, and/or through the streets of the borough, to the south.

There are issues here with Parks too – as I understand it Kensington Gardens closes at dusk, effectively rendering it useless for much of the winter as part of a cycling ‘Grid’. If routes are being placed in parks, access should not be compromised. Hyde Park as a whole closes at midnight.

Sections of the Grid that run through The Royal Parks will form useful, pleasant routes. The proposal to close the Outer Circle of Regents Park to motor traffic will make this an excellent route, as well as improving the quality of the park as a whole. Likewise a route up the eastern side of Green Park is much needed. The Royal Parks need to be urged to support these suggestions, and also to ensure that the routes are properly designed, and wide enough, to ensure that people walking and cycling do not come into conflict with each other.

Westminster, for all the criticism it has come in for, is actually ahead of Kensington and Chelsea in one important regard – it will be allowing (hopefully) Superhighway 11 to run across its borough, and of course the main East-West route will run along some important roads in Westminster. Both of these routes will (or should) be fully segregated. However, there are issues with the fiddliness of the proposals for Quietways in Westminster. Particularly around Paddington, and in St James, the Quietways seem to meander all over the place, avoiding roads and streets that require interventions. Back street routes in Westminster need to be pleasant and direct. 

The Grid in Westminster. The dashed lines are routes TfL want to implement

The Grid in Westminster. The dashed lines are the routes TfL want to implement as a first preference

In Camden, Hackney and Islington, the Grid looks pretty good, and includes some streets that already carry high volumes of cycle traffic, particularly the Tavistock Place segregated track, and the Clerkenwell Road.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 16.54.18

It’s good to see these kinds of direct routes in the Grid. It is important, however, that whatever treatments are employed on these roads, they will be made suitable as genuine Quietways.

The final issue I’d mention here (doubtless there are many more) is in the City, where there are a number of serious blockages, particularly London Bridge, where a Superhighway doesn’t actually connect with anything.

London Bridge (the rightmost bridge). A Superhighway, that ends, leaving you stranded

London Bridge (the rightmost bridge). A Superhighway, that ends, leaving you stranded

This area is crying out for a sensible, continuous north-south route, straight across the City, and doesn’t seem to have got it. There isn’t one. The obvious choice would be across the horrible five-fingered Bank junction, with closures or filtered permeability on some of the approach roads. The area is teeming with people on foot, on public transport, and on bikes, and yet most of the space has been allocated to the private car. The Grid should represent a golden opportunity to address that imbalance.

So please do comment on the Grid before the end of Friday – reply to grid@tfl.gov.uk. All responses to the Consultation will be used to bolster the Grid concept, to revise it, and to improve it. It’s vitally important that it is implemented properly.

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13 Responses to The Central London Grid

  1. paulc says:

    It would help enormously if the boroughs were relieved of their authority for these items and just told, the city is a whole like it or lump it…

  2. Paul says:

    Fully agree with paulc here. This is a strategic network and should not be liable to veto by one borough. Does any other city have this daft structure of government ? The New York Mayor seems to be able to do this sort of thing.

  3. One highway authority says:

    We have 34 or 35 – or even more – highway authorities all with their own area of road. No wonder the roads are in such a bad state – patched and potholed, with utilities digging up all over the place at seemingly random times. We really do need one highway authority for the whole of Greater London. That way all planning would be joined up and I reckon more economical.

  4. bikemapper says:

    I deplore the quality of this debate.

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  6. monchberter says:

    I really hope Kensington and Chelsea are shamed into some form of action because their contribution is just an insult.

    I can understand that they have to manage very self righteous residents who may not want cycle routes diverted down their residential streets for fear of losing parking but frankly they need to realise the impact their inability to think beyond their borders, particularly where it suppresses cycling from adjacent and outer London boroughs is bordering on extremely mean.

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  8. bikemapper says:

    I will just tell you now, Monchberter, that only two or three years ago, Kensington and Chelsea affirmed their support in writing for a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network. About ten years ago, Westminster did the same thing. There is one reason – and only one reason – why the Central London Bike Grid is – to quote the Alternative DfT – “rubbish”.

    Cycle campaigners resolutely refuse to prioritise between the various network elements. They want routes which provide good accessibility and which are direct, sure. But they also want routes which are (subjectively) safe and comfortable.

    I understood from this blog that the Dutch think about these things in twenty-year cycles. If you understand this, then you ought to be able to realise that the important thing at this stage is to lay a solid foundation, and not to judge this thing after two months, or even after two years, but after ten / twelve / fifteen years. And yet, Mark concludes his blog: “It’s vitally important that it is implemented properly.” Presumably, what he means here is that it is implemented to a high quality – and pronto! But you put high quality engineering on routes which do not go anywhere, or which don’t join up to anything, or which go up hills (as per the route through Holland Park), and just see how far it gets you.

    • Simon Still says:

      I’m not sure what point you’re making here – “They want routes which provide good accessibility and which are direct, sure. But they also want routes which are (subjectively) safe and comfortable.”

      Those two aims should not be incompatible but this just strongly points towards the ‘backbones’ of a grid being along large, busy, main roads. That’s fine – it is the same in Holland – but requires proper, protected, separated bike infrastructure with priority over side roads. Much of London’s road network has more than enough space if it is re prioritised.

      The real problem with the TFL plan, as Mark makes clear and was the main point I put in my own response is that the dual network idea is fundamentally flawed. *All* ‘utility’* cyclists want to get to their destination safely and as quickly as possible. Direct routes are all the more important for your slow, cautious, cyclists as they will take more time to cover the circuitous routes.

      *That’s utility = using a bike to get somewhere vs leisure = riding a bike a pastime purely for the joy of doing so.

  9. Paul M says:

    The City grid you show is a bit curious to me – you talk about a north-south route being missing but their grid doesn’t show what, on the ground, I would say was quite a serviceable route, which I have used to get from Waterloo to Hackney.

    Coming to the end of the superhighway on Southwark Bridge you cross Upper Thames St into Queen St, then across cannon St to King St, Basinghall St/Coleman St (where cycle contraflows are proposed, possibly now implemented, under the City’s latest roll-out) across London Wall to Moorfields, across Moorgate to South place and then up Wilson St and Paul St (where you enter Hackney and a rather nicer cycling environment, with contraflows) leading to Old St where you can cross to Pitfield St, on what looks like it is now, or about to become, superhighway.

  10. OnlyAnotherAndy says:

    Clerkenwell road: http://goo.gl/maps/ow5JC

    Did someone say “quietway”? Are they going to block through motor traffic here? I really doubt it. Why does this, to me, look like some more useless paint on a hostile busy road?

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