Last month I was kindly escorted along Quietway 1 by Sustrans, to take a look at the route – which was still under construction in a number of places at the time.
The route runs from Waterloo to Greenwich, and is reasonably direct – although not as direct as the main roads in this area, particularly the Old Kent Road.
Quietway 1 is talked about as being one of the better examples of the Quietway programme, which has come in for a fair bit of stick, even from TfL’s Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan –
Quietways should have been quicker and easier than Superhighways and junctions to build. They are on much lower-traffic roads and involve far fewer significant physical interventions. But they have been slower and more difficult.
By next month, we will have delivered four segregated Superhighways on some of the busiest roads in London. But on the Quietways, despite more than three years’ work, no route will be complete by the time the Mayor leaves office. This is partly due to flaws in the way the programme is run and partly to differences between some boroughs and TfL/City Hall over quality.
Quietways are supposed to be direct routes running on low-traffic back streets. They are meant to include filtering (bollards or other blockages) to reduce motor vehicle rat-running where necessary; full segregation wherever a route has to use a busy main road; and safe, direct crossings where the route has to cross a busy junction, road or gyratory. This is not always happening.
Some Quietway routes (in build and proposed) represent a step-change in quality from the old London Cycle Network. But most, so far, do not.
It was an interesting experience. I’d say in terms of length, the route is about 80-90% there in terms of quality, and is one of those Quietways that Gilligan might be identifying as a ‘step change’ from the old London Cycle Network (although, notably, Quietway 1 seems to make use of some existing LCN routing). The connections are mostly good, and cycling from Waterloo to Greenwich was a placid and enjoyable experience for the most part. But it’s the remaining 10-20% that presents the problem – particularly, a handful of streets that haven’t been ‘filtered’, and where motor traffic levels are just too high for comfortable sharing of the carriageway, and also a number of junctions where careful thought is needed about how to improve the cycling experience.
Most of those streets with the high traffic levels appeared to me to be at the Waterloo end of the route. Great Suffolk Street – below – had some traffic calming that obviously wasn’t doing anything to discourage people driving through, in numbers.
It was either on this street, or a similarly busy one nearby, that we were honked at by a driver for having the temerity to cycle side by side, preventing him from overtaking. That’s not the sort of thing that should be happening on a genuine cycle route. Traffic levels just shouldn’t be this high; if they’re nice and low, side-by-side cycling is easy because drivers will be able to overtake easily too. These streets just didn’t feel like somewhere I’d be happy cycling with my partner; too much traffic, too many drivers hurrying somewhere else.
Crossing the A3 (Borough High Street), you find yourself on a street that has been filtered, and that made an immediate difference to the quality of the cycling environment. Unfortunately, while the filtering is good, the filter itself definitely isn’t, an absurd double zig-zag that was easier to bypass on the footway.
This really isn’t good enough for a quality cycling route. I have no idea why it’s still here, but evidently residents’ opinions have won out over the might of Transport for London and Southwark.
From this barrier the route jinks left onto Globe Street, which was also already filtered, but has been ‘prettified’ as part of the Quietway scheme with some paving and a central median.
It seems churlish to complain, but the new design has narrowed the usable cycling space on what was already a street that was a dead-end to motor traffic – and you could also argue that there are better uses for hard-won cycling money than paving.
The crossing of the A2 (again, already a filter in place) has been tidied up, with some angled islands that make it easier to cycle into the side roads from the main road.
You’re then onto Tabard Street, which has a curious treatment – a (contraflow) cycleway southbound (which we used) but nothing northbound, with some humps in the road.
This really was a very quiet street, at least at the time we were cycling here, so perhaps a better treatment would have been some filtering, without any need for the cycleway. Tabard Street runs directly parallel to the A2, and seems to be very quiet already, so restrictions on through traffic, while allowing two-way cycling, would have been more appropriate. There wouldn’t be any need for humps, either.
The next part of the Quietway was the best part – a series of quiet residential streets, all filtered, and all connected up with good paths.
A new path connecting Law Street with Rothsay Street. That pre-existing metal barrier needs to go though
Another improved connection
This was an area with large amount of car parking, both on- and off-street (and presumably relatively high car use) but the streets felt safe and comfortable to cycle on.
It was a good illustration for me of how car parking doesn’t need to impact on cycle provision if the streets are filtered properly, and vice versa – car parking and car use can go hand in hand with these kinds of measures that make residential streets pleasant to cycle on.
From here we joined a new path that runs around the Millwall football ground, which was really good – well built, smooth and wide. Unfortunately, however, this will be closed on home match days (basically, to separate home and away football fans from each other) and the ‘diversion’ route seemed pretty sketchy.
This is an area with what seemed like a high percentage of HGV movements on the main roads – there are industrial units, recycling centres, and a large incinerator. Plenty of tipper trucks thundering around, and dustcarts from several London boroughs. Along one of these roads – Surrey Canal Road – we were well-separated from the carriageway on a shared path (absolutely fine, not many pedestrians here), but the junction and minor side road treatments really aren’t good enough. They’re dangerously ambiguous, especially given the type of vehicles using them (and the way they’re being driven).
Who should give way here?
There’s a crossing of a busy roundabout where it is explicit you have to give way (I think that’s correct, again, given the volume and nature of the motor traffic here), but it would really help if there was an island in the middle to simplify the crossing.
It’s too much to look in several directions at once trying to gauge when you can cross both lanes on an arm of a busy roundabout – doing one lane at a time would make things a lot easier.
The same roundabout (and crossing) from the opposite direction
At the time we cycled the route, nothing had been done at the fairly horrible junction of Surrey Canal Road and Trundleys Road. The cycle route has to get across these roads with motor traffic coming from multiple directions, to enter a park. It will be interesting to see how this problematic junction is resolved.
From this park (Folkestone Gardens), there’s another attractive cut through under the railway line to Childers Street.
But Childers Street itself – a residential street – felt like another of those roads near the Waterloo end of Quietway 1 that seemed to have people driving through, and too many of them for a comfortable cycling experience.
The other part of Quietway 1 that deserves comment is the strange crossing of Tower Bridge Road.
This is, frankly, a bit of a bodge, involving shared use footway, and people cycling being forbidden from turning right (or left, depending on which direction they are coming from) onto Tower Bridge Road from the Quietway route.
Approaching from Rothsay Street. No right turn
The reason for this bodging is, essentially, that the cycle crossing and the pedestrian crossing right next to it run at the same time, but are ‘separate’. You’re not allowed to cycle across a pedestrian crossing when pedestrians have a green, so that’s why the turns are banned. Meanwhile, the shared use is to get people onto the cycle crossing, which has to run ‘separate’ from Webb Street, which still has motor vehicle entry permitted.
It got me thinking about how the Dutch might resolve this kind of problem. I thought about it for a while, and realised that basically the Dutch wouldn’t get themselves into this kind of problem in the first place. They wouldn’t be trying to join up a ‘cycle route’ across a main road where the side streets don’t line up. The side streets would just be ordinary, residential side streets, and there wouldn’t be a need for a dedicated cycle crossing, because this wouldn’t be ‘a route’. People would be cycling along the parallel and much more direct main roads just to the south and the north, the A2, and the A2206, if they want to go anywhere.
So this fudge on Tower Bridge Street is actually a useful illustration of some of the fundamental problems with routing cycling along back streets in an attempt to avoid main roads. Back streets will encounter major roads, and it will often be very difficult to square the circle when a major cycle route on a minor road meets major road. The problems with implementation of Quietways might actually point to a bigger problem with the concept as a whole. A better role for this kind of programme might be to focus on addressing individual problems, or missing connections, that have been executed well on Quietway 1 – small paths between estates, tunnels under railway lines, paths around football stadiums, and so on – rather than on trying to join these connections up into a ‘route’. It might be called ‘Missing Connections’, instead of ‘Quietways’, for instance. (Or something more catchy).
The overall structure of a cycle network would then be a separate programme, consisting of developing cycling infrastructure on main roads, alongside a strategy of reducing motor traffic to acceptable levels on residential streets. Some of these streets will then organically form parts of sensible (but not ‘official’) routes that develop spontaneously. It’s something to reflect on, certainly, when we look at the differing levels of success (and ease of implementation) of the ‘Superhighways’ and ‘Quietways’ programme to date.