Is the bicycle being forgotten about in London’s new street designs?

Danny of Cyclists In the City has been tireless in documenting the increasing rash of widened pavements and narrowed carriageways that are springing up all over London. In his most recent piece on a location where a street has been redesigned in this manner, Cheapside – where the carriageway has been narrowed significantly, cycle lanes have been removed, and the pavement extended – he notes that

My own view is that the schemes [on Cheapside and St. Pauls’ Churchyard] are a disaster for cycling. Anecdotally, I sense that cycling numbers along these roads have also decreased since the changes…

Firstly, the roads are now so narrow, that motor vehicles can’t really get past people on bikes. And vice versa. That means you’re either stuck between buses or you have to overtake by crossing the middle of the road. Which is also largely impossible, because the motor traffic on the other side is stuck in a queue as well…

The other clincher is the addition of new pinch points, particularly on Cheapside. Motor vehicles try to overtake you between the pinch-points, then realise there’s not enough room, then slam in behind you or literally scrape past you.

My personal feeling is that the narrowing of the carriageways, and the widening of the pavements, have been undertaken in a genuine attempt to improve the street environment for pedestrians. A narrower carriageway will be easier to cross, and vehicle speeds should be lower; this in addition to the obvious benefits of a wider pavement. Unfortunately it seems that little or no consideration has been given for how these changes might affect people on bicycles.

Having just returned from the Better Streets conference on the 29th November, these issues suddenly sounded rather familiar. One of the speakers at the conference was David Moores, Technical Director of Public Realm for Project Centre, the consultancy responsible for the redesign of Kensington High Street. Like the streets Danny Williams has been talking about, this redesign features a wider pavement, narrowed carriageways for vehicles, and a ‘median strip’, a kerbed separator that lies down the centre of the road. You can see it in this photograph below, which I have taken from David Moores’ own presentation –

Like the other measures, this  kerbed divider is designed to improve the environment for pedestrians, making it easier for them to cross the road, where they choose. They can cross one side, and wait on the divider until the other side becomes clear. In essence, it’s an extended ‘pedestrian refuge.’

As you can see, it’s also used as a cycle storage area. Cycle stands are great, of course, but I’m not tremendously enthusiastic about them being placed in the middle of the road. For a start, you’ve got to get to the central island in the first place, which means negotiating your way across to the centre of the road. You then have to cross the road to get to the shop you intend to visit, before having to cross back again to retrieve your bicycle, and then cross back again to the edge of the road to resume your journey. Cycle stands placed at the side of the road – by the shop, restaurant or place you actually want to visit – are far more convenient.

The principle of using such a divider for making it easier to cross the road has a sound basis, but David Moores talked at length about wanting to make it wider – to make it a ‘third footway’ in its own right. The logic of this escaped me slightly. I’m not sure people really do want to walk down the centre of the road – there’s nothing there, really, apart from the odd tree, and the pavement itself. They just want to cross it, to get to the shops, facilities and destinations on the other side. It didn’t seem necessary, to me, to make this a place where people could walk longitudinally more easily, because people have no reason to do so.

The other troubling aspect of this widening – which of course didn’t take place here on Kensington High Street – was that it would have involved narrowing the carriageways still further. This narrowing was something David Moores was enthusiastic about, in its own right, particularly when it came to interactions with people on bicycles. You can hear what he had to say on this issue by clicking here (the full speech can be listened to here), but I have transcribed the relevant passage below –

Cyclists… We have looked at additional design work since then, on Walworth Road, where, with a narrower carriageway, cyclists get to the front at the signals, and they set off, and they effectively monitor the speed of the traffic. Because we provided slightly wider lane widths here [on Kensington High Street] you actually get vehicles trying to get past the cyclists, so it’s sort of evidence to suggest that a narrower carriageway protects cyclists, particularly when you’ve got a large number of signals, because it acts like lock gates, down through the design.

I must say I muttered something under my breath while I was sitting in the audience listening to this.

This is the ‘narrower carriageway’ on Walworth Road, of the kind that David Moores was talking about, below –

Again, we have the ‘median strip’, designed to help pedestrians cross the road. But crucially the carriageway is considerably narrower than that on Kensington High Street. For David Moores, this narrower carriageway is a much better idea. In his words, it ‘protects cyclists.’ Unlike on Kensington High Street, where vehicles ‘try to get past’ cyclists, on Walworth Road the vehicles are stuck behind cyclists, where their speed becomes ‘monitored’ by those people on bicycles (I think this is just a more attractive way of saying the vehicles are ‘held up’ by bicycles).

My problem is that, for cyclists to ‘get to front at the signals’, the carriageway will quite obviously have to be wide enough for them to move past a car; but if that is the case, then it is wide enough for a car to attempt to squeeze back past them once traffic starts moving, regardless of how safe this might be. The only way to stop this is to adopt an ‘assertive’ road position, which is little understood by most drivers, and can quite often be seen as an act of provocation. It’s certainly not a recipe for harmony between drivers and people on bicycles, to say nothing of the safety consequences for the more timid people on bicycles – possibly the majority – who tend to hug the kerb as they cycle.

To be cynical, it almost appears as if bicycles are being used, deliberately, as a traffic calming measure. Maybe that isn’t the intention, but that is certainly the outcome, and an outcome is being talked about, positively, by the designers of these streets.

It comes as no surprise to me that Project Centre are also responsible for the redesign of, amongst other locations, Cheapside, Walworth Road, Rye Lane, and proposed changes to Holborn Circus (the consultation for which showed absolutely no bicycles at all). Every single one of these redesigns involves wider pavements, more pinch points, and increased conflict between bicycles and motor vehicles. Even if the traffic is stationary, it remains deeply unpleasant to cycle on these kinds of roads, because it is either impossible – or worse, dangerous – to filter, due to the narrowness.

My impression, looking at these schemes, is that very little thought has gone into making these places environments where people might actually want to cycle. And it’s not just Project Centre who are overlooking cycling. Farrells – the architects who elected to remove the cycle track on Byng Place in Bloomsbury and replace it with a rather pointless ‘shared’ space, that in reality is not shared at all – have put forward a proposal for Euston Circus, at the north end of Tottenham Court Road. They intend to turn this large, unpleasant, grade-separated, multi-lane junction into a…

large, unpleasant, grade-separated, multi-lane junction. But with wider pavements.

Better for people on foot, but again, no consideration for anyone using a bicycle. (Indeed, it is telling that not a single bicycle appears in this illustration, just as with Holborn Circus).

We’ve also seen the formerly one-way streets around Piccadilly converted to two-way by Atkins; in principle, a good idea, but implemented with no thought for how their designs might turn out for someone cycling along them.

This street – Pall Mall – once a wide, one-way street, is now one giant pinch point, in both directions, thanks to the combination of parking on both sides, and the new median strip. When traffic is flowing freely, you have to ‘take the lane’ to avoid people attempting to squeeze past you. When it is congested, it is unpleasant or impossible to filter.

And at Russell Square, yet another design that is antithetical and hostile to the needs of cyclists.

This used to be a bus contraflow. It is now a four lane road, with a wider pavement, and narrow carriageways. Unpleasant for cycling. And dangerous. Camden Cycling Campaign have an ongoing safety issue with right turns at the junction behind where I am standing, something that was also highlighted by the late and lamented Crap Waltham Forest blog.

On other sides of the square, carriageway space has been reallocated for more pavement, and for parking.

And incredibly, on the west side of the square, a kerb-separated cycle contraflow has been ripped out, and replaced with… nothing. You can see the old design in Streetview –

It is here that Velorution have been forced to improvise a solution, protecting themselves with cones as they cycle legally against the flow of traffic, as below –

So it seems that at every location in London where a road is being dug up and redesigned, while some improvements are being made for pedestrians, little or no consideration is being given to how the street could be made better for cycling. Indeed, in some cases, the street is being made objectively worse, or even dangerous.

Is the bicycle being forgotten about? It certainly looks like it.

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24 Responses to Is the bicycle being forgotten about in London’s new street designs?

  1. Here on the south coast in the Worthing area we have two different types of road narrowing.

    Where a central island with a kerb has been used, the narrowing results in nasty pinch points for cyclists: especially the traditional pedestrian refuges that are apparently invisible to drivers unless they’re within a few feet of their front bumper. Short central islands cause drivers to regularly “cut up” cyclists, or to perform emergency braking when they suddenly realise they can’t get past. It is the start of the island that is the problem. Longer central islands add the additional problem of drivers getting “stuck” behind cyclists, or cyclists getting stuck behind motor vehicles. This can make the race to get to the island first worse too.

    The other type of road narrowing is where the pavement has been built out into the road at pedestrian crossings from one or both sides, but without any central island. These are MUCH nicer in practice for cyclists. Cars can overtake with plenty of space if there is no oncoming traffic, but they won’t try to overtake if there is traffic coming the other way. I think the fear of a head-on collision is greater than the fear of hitting a kerb or bollard, and car drivers seem to be programmed to look for other cars much more than they look for cyclists or kerbs. An odd problem in Worthing has been car drivers failing to see, and so hitting, the kerb build-outs, even though they’re extremely obvious!

    So I’d agree with the article. Central pavements are horrible from a cyclist’s point of view: if you want to narrow the roadway, extend the pavements on either side, leaving the cars right in the middle with nothing separating the opposing lanes. You can then put cycle parking on both sides of the road, much nearer to the shops and requiring much fewer road crossings by cyclists on foot. Cars are naturally calmed by the potential risk of head-on crashes with other cars, there’s space to overtake properly if traffic flows are light, and in a jam there’s enough space in the middle of the road for cyclists and motorcyclists to pass.

    Here’s a really nasty pinch point, tapering on a curve: http://g.co/maps/u54fd

    A nasty longer pinch point: http://g.co/maps/39cxt

    Much better road narrowing: http://g.co/maps/k47ef – this actually causes far fewer problems for cyclists. There is now cycle parking outside the greengrocers on the new built-out pavement too.

    Road narrowing at a pedestrian crossing: http://g.co/maps/rtfpg – so much better for cyclists than a central island.

  2. wyadvd says:

    These road layouts look nothing short of scary for a cyclist. A recipe for constant harassment of cyclists virtually everywhere. If the intention is to sacrifice cyclist’s sanity at the alter of traffic calming, are they implementing a 20mph zone too (not that the average suicidal curb hugging cyclist makes a habit of going at 20mph).

    the two layouts I would favour in these circumstances are the minimalist “home zone”- no furniture, no pavements. no crossings, maximum visibility , maximum eye contact, as per ashford city centre.

    or

    12 ft lanes wide enough for cars and bikes to coexist properly with minimum stress. (although at the expense of pavement space), with regular crossings for pedestrians.

    otherwise all I have to say is that its all very depressing.

    • I think you have misunderstood the concept of the ‘home zone’, or woonerf. As implemented in the Netherlands, it’s an extremely impermeable residential environment, that is far from ‘miminal.’ They look like this – this example is in Assen. Very narrow streets, with furniture, a speed limit that is ‘walking speed’, and with no permeability. More good examples on wikipedia.

      They are certainly not appropriate for these London environments, which are busy through-routes.

  3. wyadvd says:

    the presumption must also be by the road designers that pavement cycling will be accepted “by stealth” as normal. it doesnt help those of us who actually do travel much faster than most motor traffic. it also doesnt help pedestrian safety. And if it becomes widespread, then I believe people will forget that their bikes can travel at 20mph fairly easily, and the bicycle will become less practical than walking. maybe that is the aim.

  4. Richard Leeming says:

    My bike commute is se15 – w1 and back. Daily. It ought to go down Walworth road as it’s a fast main road, but I avoid it like the plague as it’s a NIGHTMARE. Instead of regulating the speed of traffic you get buses, taxis, lorries, cars forcing you into the pavement where there are pedestrians one foot on the pavement and one foot in the road waiting to cross.

    Please tell the person who thinks this is good for cyclists that they are incompetent or an idiot, of both

    • fluffymike says:

      I avoid Walworth Road for my bike commute because it’s so slow – far too many traffic lights

      on the other hand, I don’t find the traffic there any more intimidating than other roads – if anything, the traffic is probably a bit slower than many similar-width through roads because of all the streetscaping

      I find it fairly pleasant when I’m on foot

    • It really depends on the time of day. I’ve only once been along the Walworth Road and been caught in traffic. The rest of the time it’s a fairly nice ride.

  5. I no longer travel up and down Kensington High Street since the carrageway changes, it’s even more of a nightmare than it used to be. I guess the local shops don’t want my business so that’s ok.

  6. Left hand, right hand says:

    What was the target to increase cycling again? They certainly are not trying to ‘double’ the cycling with designs like that. It’s obvious they expect all cyclists to be the ‘fast and fearless’ kind. Are they cynical or stupid? Do they know that everyone is a (possible) cyclist, but still decide to build rubbish? Or is the idea of ‘8 to 80 cycling’ too foreign (Dutch?) for them?

    In the USA they have built cycle paths in the median. Would that work here as well?

  7. wyadvd: I don’t think it helps to describe anyone attempting to cycle on our cycle-unfriendly streets as “suicidal”. People have a right to cycle at whatever speed they wish, and the infrastructure should make it safe for them to do so.

    The general thrust of this article and the comments though is right. This business of road narrowing is clearly just another foolish designers’ fad, replacing the now-discredited fad of “shared space”. In attempting to use cyclists as moving speed regulators, these designers will just push cyclists off the roads and on to the pavements. Hopefully they will finally get the right idea, and having moved the kerb, put in another kerb or separator (e.g. a line of trees or street furniture) to create Danish-style intermediate-level cycle tracks.

    David
    Vole O’Speed

  8. JonF says:

    I don’t think the bicycle is being forgotten – its being ignored.

    I think it is time we woke up to why the pavement is being widened and its certainly not for pedestrians.

    When was the last time you looked at a public phone? They are massively wide across the pavement, not to protect the phone or user but to accommodate a large advert.

    If you look at Diamond Geezer’s flickr pic you will see these are springing up in Bow
    without a phone attached to one side.
    Cyclists Beware

    Pavement (& x-cycle lanes) are valuable real estate – an untapped revenue stream.
    I suspect the council’s wisely wait a few weeks before planting the ad signs.

  9. wyadvd says:

    I was referring in the main to the chosen road position of majority of cyclists, ( cowering in the gutter, weaving in and out of parked cars, and filtering inside lorries at traffic lights) which while it doesn’t cause their deaths directly it doesn’t help them survive on road layouts like these.

  10. wyadvd says:

    I’m certainly a regular cyclist, but I’m definitely showing my ignorance when it comes to road design issues!

    In Ashford (Kent) town centre they have an open area where there are very few road markings and road furniture. It kind of works in terms of useability and road user safety. Maybe I was using the wrong term.

  11. Kim says:

    Maybe you should have asked these road planners which cyclist they expected to provide this human traffic calming service? Is this the sort of layout they expect everyone to be able to use? If an eight year old child can not use it then it is not fit for purpose.

  12. Jim says:

    Looks to me like every one of these redesigns fails to meet TfL’s cycle design standards (http://www.tfl.gov.uk/businessandpartners/publications/2766.aspx), in fact the basic concept behind them all (forcing cycles into the same flow as vehicles) is directly contrary to the guidelines. Perhaps a question to the Mayor/TfL to see whether they agree is in order …

  13. Zoe says:

    It’s true, bike parking in the middle of the road is inconvenient, and also I left my bike on one and came back to find that a vehicle had hit it, as there was no real pavement to protect it and some people are really bad drivers.

    I cycle down Walworth Road and while the traffic is slower, there are mad dashes where the cars can go quickly but are then held up by cyclists, causing impatient overtaking in dangerous places. It’s not too bad during the day, but it’s awful during rush hour.

    I’m shocked that TFL are so cavalier about the safety of cyclists, what’s wrong with them.

  14. ‘This narrowing was something David Moores was enthusiastic about…

    “…it’s sort of evidence to suggest that a narrower carriageway protects cyclists”.

    I must say I muttered something under my breath while I was sitting in the audience listening to this.’

    Why? He’s absolutely right. The only way it would make cyclists less safe is if they cycle in the gutter. A cyclist riding properly in the lane will be protected and cars behind will be required to reduce speed. These are good things.

    I think you are veering into car-centric language when you talk about cars being ‘held up’ by cyclists. No road user has the right to a certain speed of travel on the roadway. All vehicles must give way to the vehicle that has the right of way. When that vehicle is a bicycle, road speeds will be reduced. A cyclist has every right to travel on the road and when he has the right of way, cars behind must wait until they can safely overtake. A cyclist travelling at normal cycling speeds is not ‘holding up’ traffic. This is the law and anyone who suggests that cyclists are holding up traffic either does not understand a cyclist’s equal right to the road, or does not understand that a cyclist has the right and responsibility to travel safely on those roads.

    Filtering, while (incredibly and stupidly) legal in the UK, is extremely dangerous. No cyclist should ever EVER attempt it. What’s the rush anyway? We should ride in the road as if we’re operating a vehicle – because that is what we are doing.

    When we pretend that we’re some kind of vehicle-pedestrian hybrid, and when we pretend that we’re lesser road users with less right to the road, that’s when the problems start.

    • ‘The only way it would make cyclists less safe is if they cycle in the gutter. A cyclist riding properly in the lane will be protected and cars behind will be required to reduce speed. These are good things.’

      Your basic problem is a failure to grasp human psychology. Most people are not bold enough to cycle right in front of buses and lorries that will often be travelling at speeds two or three times greater than them. People will cycle to the left, because that is where they feel safer. Nor do they like to feel that they are ‘holding up’ traffic.

      Perhaps these attitudes aren’t rational, but unfortunately, human beings aren’t rational. Your ‘solutions’ rely upon perfect, well-mannered and faultless behaviour from all road users. Deeply unrealistic, in other words.

    • Christhebull says:

      You say that cyclists should not be allowed to filter even though this can be done reasonably safely if one takes care around junctions and HGVs, simply out of a need to act as if we are operating a vehicle. Does this mean that when cycling, should I follow a motorcyclist around the outside of a traffic queue, I am therefore doing something wrong by copying a vehicle operator?

      Maybe we should make pavements narrower and use elderly people to “moderate” the speed of joggers who will get held up.

    • If only it was as simple as the way you describe it then the whole world would be a much nicer place for everyone🙂 The problems with that Utopian view of things are two-fold. Firstly not all cyclists have the confidence to ride assertively, certainly not many new cyclists and even some more experienced riders would shy away from riding in a more central position when the road design doesn’t permit a safe pass (which in theory would mean the car using the OPPOSITE lane) This is normally doable with traditional small pedestrian islands but can be seen as “holding up traffic” if you adopt a central position through the extended sections with long central medians such as those shown above.
      The second (and main IMHO) problem is impatient car drivers, they see a cyclists and make the simple connection of cyclists=slow=holding me up and therefore will try everything to overtake the object they perceive to be holding them up. It doesn’t matter if their passing you only means they join the back of a queue 10 yards ahead, at which point you ride on past (because ya know filtering ISN’T that dangerous and is legal….) and they never see you again. Meanwhile Mr Driver is sitting there staring at the back of another car thinking “stupid cyclists holding me up!” I guess the whole “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem” is lost on most drivers sitting on traffic😉

      I really do sense a huge common sense and logic fail in the way David Moores thinks that removing road space makes things better for cyclists? Maybe Mr Moores should try actually riding a bike down some of these streets to see how “pleasant” an experience it is. I’ve used Walworth Road on occasion and don’t think it particularly bad but then my yardstick is probably a bit skewed as I tend to use main London Roads so it’s really just as good/bad as the rest. I’m a fairly confident riders, riding assertively when conditions call for it (my safety trumps drivers journey times…) and can filter with a reasonable level of skill – reading the road and holding back when it’s dangerous to pass. Unfortunately with road designs such as this these skills will some become barriers to new riders who wish to use their bikes but instead are scared off by having to share narrow roads with other large vehicles.

  15. Cycle paths in the median could work, (there are already roads out there with wide medians that could accommodate a cycle path as is) but one would need to consider other traffic making right turns across the path, as well as how cyclists are to access the path and leave it. It would be perfectly possible to design a signalised junction (or even signalised roundabout) where these considerations were catered for, though.

    The most obvious advantages of a median cycle track is that it would eliminate left hook incidents; and it would leave the nearside kerb free for parking / loading / taxis / bus stops etc. Also, the width required for a bidirectional cycle path is slightly less then the total width of two separate one way cycle paths, and would more easily allow for a “tidal flow” of cyclists.

  16. Paul says:

    I feel really forgotten as a cyclist in these new designs. And it scares people off from cycling. On Boxing Day I went to the city with my partner behind me. I’m cycling every day, but she is not, rather trying to get more into it. Turning right from Southampton Row into Russell Square we had a pushing Black cab behind us. He couldn’t pass and we were waiting for all the traffic coming the other way to pass before we were going. There was no way to let the cab pass, we waited until the next red light and left then. What would happen on a normal day with a whole queue behind us? My partner was freaked out after this experience. This ‘so innovative’ design scares people off from cycling! I ask myself: Why are there new street designs ‘invented’ when there are good concepts around? Why not have a look abroad? To Denmark, Sweden? It works there! All road users can co-exist! But not with these so-called ‘innovations’…

  17. Pingback: In the way | As Easy As Riding A Bike

  18. Pingback: Against shared use | As Easy As Riding A Bike

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