It does feel slightly wrong to make criticisms of a scheme that has vastly improved the streetscape in a particular area, especially when you’ve just left an excellent talk given by a great traffic engineer and designer who happened to be responsible for it, a talk which dealt with how difficult it often is to push change through.
Britannia Junction, by Camden Tube station, has been transformed from an area consisting largely of narrow pavements, fenced off from the road, into a much more generous arrangement for pedestrians. The guardrail has disappeared, and the pavements have been made as large as they can reasonably be made.
To take one particular example at this junction, Parkway – the approach to it from Regent’s Park – used to look like this (courtesy of Google Streetview) –
Basically a road designed around motor vehicles. Three queuing lanes, fencing on both sides to keep pedestrians out of the way and on the thin pavements. Pretty terrible.
It now looks like this.
The road has been narrowed considerably, with the entirety of the junction to the left of central island seen under the old arrangement given over to a new wide pavement. All traffic now passes on just two lanes, instead of three, to the right of that old ‘island’, which is actually the entrance to a ladies’ toilet.
This is a great improvement.
However – and this is the churlish bit – I can’t help feel that the bicycle has been forgotten about (as it has elsewhere, seemingly). The old junction wasn’t exactly pleasant to negotiate on a bicycle – it was fast, and you had to ‘keep your wits about you’ – but at least you could filter through stationary traffic with relative ease to get to the front of the queue, and likewise vehicles could overtake slower cyclists with relative ease.
That has changed a bit under the new arrangement. The new carriageway is narrow (which is obviously a good thing – we don’t need to make roads wider than they need to be), but so narrow that filtering past traffic is a bit of a problem.
A larger vehicle queuing here, such as a van, bus or lorry, would make filtering much more difficult, if not impossible. Filtering is one of the quiet joys of cycling, one of the great advantages of using a bicycle in London, and it’s always a bit upsetting when it gets taken away.
It’s quite hard to see what can be done about it though, because the two traffic lanes have to pass to the right of the toilet entrance, and can’t be made any wider without taking away space from the pavement on the right, which is not particularly wide. Given that queuing capacity here has been reduced from three lanes to two (I imagine that was quite a struggle), reducing down to just one lane for vehicles would be impossible to sell.
The obvious answer would be to route bicycles on a separate track to the left of the toilet.
The pavement is huge, and practically we could afford to lose some of it for a 2m wide track, given that the routing of that track would not lie on a desire line (most of the pedestrians walking were keeping close-ish to the buildings on the left, as that is the most direct route up Parkway as the pavement progressively narrows). Nor is there a huge amount of footfall on this street – certainly compared to the other streets around here, where the pavements are actually narrower. And – as we can see – some of the pavement has been sacrificed, in any case, for a parking bay.
A cycle track, arranged like this, could allow left turns, towards Chalk Farm, which aren’t permitted under the new arrangement (you can only progress straight across the junction, whether you are in a car, or on a bicycle). This would be a turn from the red road, at bottom, onto the yellow road, to the left (again, courtesy of Google).
But of course the difficulty would naturally be how to integrate such a cycle track into the (rather complex) junction itself. There isn’t really any history of doing these things in this country, and consequently things tend to get improvised – as at Bow roundabout. A track would have to run across the island in front of the tube station, but would then come into conflict with left-turning vehicles going up Kentish Town Road (the green road), where either bicycles or motor vehicles would have to be held at a signal.
The difficulties – given that there is no practical experience or template of how to organise the separate flow of bicycles through busy junctions in the UK – would be considerable, especially given that it would inevitably result in a further reduction in motor vehicle capacity. Putting a track to the left of the toilet would quite obviously open up a whole can of worms!
Now that Boris has signed up to the ‘Go Dutch’ agenda of the London Cycling Campaign, Transport for London should (should) start thinking about how these kinds of problems are addressed, and be considerably more open to proposed designs that permit the separate flow of bicycles through complex or busy junctions.
And one final point – Parkway is still a one-way street, two lanes wide, with parking on it. You can’t cycle up it, to get to Regent’s Park from Camden. That surely cannot continue to be acceptable.
Many thanks to John Dales!