I strapped a new camera to my bicycle handlebars yesterday, and decided to venture south across Vauxhall Bridge. It’s a journey I’ve made only few times before (like black cabs, I don’t go south of the river) but I thought it would be worth recording how desperately awful it is to cycle on this bridge. The stills below are from a video taken at about half past three in the afternoon – so a reasonably quiet period. I can confidently predict that the road conditions would be significantly worse a few hours later.
The approach, with the bridge in the distance.
Notice that there are three lanes for going ahead onto the bridge, despite there being only two lanes on the bridge itself. This is a consequence of Transport for London’s mordid fascination with stacking. TfL like to fit in as many traffic lanes as they can at junctions, so they can pump the maximum number of vehicles through the junction when the lights change. The unfortunate side-effect, of course, is ‘jostling’ on the other side of the junction, which hardly makes for a salubrious cycling experience.
Setting off into the intimidating open space of the junction. (Note how many vehicles are still passing through the junction, despite my green light. Of course none of these vehicles could possibly have jumped the lights, because as we all know, that is something that only cyclists do).
This image shows how close an unscrupulous HGV driver would pass me if he chose to remain in his lane (see here for a graphic illustration of this kind of driver).
In short – a pretty unpleasant, not to say intimidating, experience, even for someone who has spent many years cycling in and around London on major roads.
Fortunately, and not before time, this road design is changing, once the ‘Superhighway’ arrives. Unfortunately, while some of the danger will be removed, the change involved is hardly an improvement for cyclists.
The Cyclists in the City website has the details. The positioning of the southbound bus lane is not changing (the solid white line you can see to the right in the final image). All that is happening is that the cycle lane is being removed, and the entire space between the kerb and bus lane is being carved up into two vehicle lanes. That’s all. The dividing line between the two existing vehicle lanes is in fact moving nearly a metre to the left.
At the moment, there’s a 1.4metre bike lane (not very wide) plus a 2.5m motor vehicle. So, 3.9metres for traffic to get past you. Under the scheme that will shrink to a 3metre lane with no cycle lane.
I think this is an improvement for faster, more assertive cyclists – they can ‘take the lane’ while no longer worrying about whether they might be intimidated into the cycle lane.
But I think it’s actually making the bridge worse for more nervous cyclists, because they will probably cycle in a similar position to where they currently cycle (in the cycle lane), while the dividing line of the vehicle lane adjacent to them is moved nearly a metre closer to them.
Bridges are crucial parts of the London road network for cyclists, because they almost always have no choice but to use them. Vauxhall Bridge, as currently configured, is a massive barrier to the take-up of cycling in this part of London. Few novices are ever going to opt to cycle in and out of London on a bridge that is this hostile. And I fail to see how shuffling the vehicle lanes to the left, while replacing a dangerous cycle lane with blue ‘elephants feet’ bicycle symbols every ten metres is going to make the blindest bit of difference.