27 Responses to The physical constraints of London’s streets

  1. As usual a very well put together piece and thank you for taking the time to collect all these photo’s in one place 🙂 It’s also interesting to note just how few of these seemingly massive urban motorways don’t even have cycle lanes and even as a confident and fairly quick cyclist negotiating road layouts that by design encourage excessive speed isn’t a pleasant way to get around.

  2. Roadscum says:

    What time of day were these pictures taken? What do these stretches of road look like in the rush hour? Is a bit of blue paint the answer or just another way of encouraging motorists cyclists to think bikes belong in the gutter?

    • They’ve been taken over a few months, so I can’t recall exactly when they were all taken. The ones that are definitely in rush hour are the top one of Piccadilly, St James’s Street, Theobald’s Road, Clerkenwell Road, High Holborn, Uxbridge Road, Camden Road, Stratford High St, Ludgate Hill, King’s Cross, Cromwell Road and Portland Place. Others may have been taken then, and traffic might have been lower.

      Worth noting that the blue paint that appears in a few of these pictures is not a cycle lane; it’s not bordered by a white line, solid or dashed, and is therefore only a ‘guide stripe’ within an existing carriageway lane. I certainly don’t think that constitutes a solution. Space on these roads and streets needs to be properly reallocated.

  3. ex-londoner says:

    There seems to have been no problem in allocating space to the ORN.

  4. There’s plenty of space for sure. And the widths of many of these example have not changed in hundreds of years. After the Great Fire of London in 1666 many of the medieval streets were swept aware by either the conflagration itself or post-fire town planning. The volume of ‘traffic’ hasn’t changed a great deal since Victorian times, it’s the higher speed of motorised vehicles that’s changed.

    Barriers and build-outs have been added here and there but a lot of the carriageway restriction is due to parked cars (and stationary ones, idling, in queues).

    It’s perhaps surprising to learn that the width of many four-lane highways (and 6 & 8 etc) were not made that wide for motor vehicles. Car-centric design is relatively new, and can be reversed, given the political will.

    Here’s a four-lane highway in my home town of Newcastle that most people assume was widened for motor vehicles but, in fact, has been so wide for hundreds of years:


    • kraut says:

      The volume of ‘traffic’ hasn’t changed a great deal since Victorian times
      Are you sure about that? London is a *lot* bigger now than it was in Victorian times, and I’m pretty sure car ownership and use is much higher than horse and carriage ownership was in those days.

      it’s the higher speed of motorised vehicles that’s changed.
      Not at rush hour. If anything, traffic in central London at rush hour is probably slower now than a hundred and twenty years ago.

      Other than that, completely agree. What’s holding up the cars is the other cars, so the only way to help them is to get people out of cars – and onto bikes. And the only way to get the majority of people onto bikes is to provide segregation. There’s ample space – and where there isn’t, the street would likely benefit from pedestrianisation anyway (large swathes of the square mile, for example, are architecturally beautiful, but a nightmare of traffic noise and exhaust).

  5. Pftt. Sadly, Britain’s streets are not wide enough for… Oh. Wait.

  6. Mike-LCC says:

    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told by journalists during interviews: “There just isn’t the space in London, is there?” – very often while we’re standing on a street just like one of these.

    A supposed “lack of space” has become a mantra for the unthinking and obstructive as a means to blocking the creation of decent walking and cycling facilities in London. Well done putting all these photos in one place – we’ll certainly link to them from our website.

  7. So Boris is saying “thanks for the votes, chaps, now f*ck off!” Cheers, Bojo. I guess the LCC had little choice but to endorse Boris as he had, after all, signed up to their Go Dutch campaign, even though he did it at the last minute. A cynic might might say it was a desperate attempt for a few more votes, because he didn’t have a clear lead over Ken at the time.

    Getting him to sign up was the easy bit. The hard part will be getting him to stick to it.

    Asking a politician to agree to something before an election is like asking a man to agree to something before sex – they’ll say yes to anything, and deal with the consequences later!

  8. I think it ought to be said that almost anywhere there is room for anything that makes cycling more difficult, whether that be multiple lanes to make right turns across, or a central median to make cyclists feel uncomfortable, there is room for cycle infrastructure. The roads that would benefit the most from segregated infrastructure are not narrow streets like this where all that is really needed is contra-flow cycling, but roads like this where there are multiple lanes in the same direction and a cyclist who sticks to the kerbside lane may unintentionally find themselves in a left turn lane.

    I think it has been said elsewhere that only 10% to 15% of roads actually need cycle paths to make a cohesive network. This has unfortunately however been selectively misquoted to imply that the Dutch cycle network has gaps in it where cyclists will be riding on major roads – this is wrong, as cycle paths run along all the major roads, forming a cohesive network, but other quieter roads will either have on road cycle lanes or other traffic reduction methods such as road closures.

    It is worth pointing out that the TLRN only constitutes 5% of the total road length in London, but if you built proper cycle paths (not the “Superhypeways) along these roads, you would have a limited amount of coverage for the whole of London. All you would have to do then is twist the arm of the City of Westminster to improve permeability within their boundaries – unfortunately they seem to think cycling is not worth bothering with because they can’t make money out of it.

    • kraut says:

      In a sensible city, that whole area would be pedestrianised and through traffic banned, extending the traffic free oasis of Covent Garden and helping local business get extra footfall.

  9. PaulM says:

    Picking up on the Bojo comment above, a contact in the City cycling forum has done some FOI requests which have established that when Boris was asked before the Mayoral election if he had the latest analyses, for 2011, of London road casualties, and denied that he had, he was, to put it at its most charitable, “mistaken”. I very much hope that this will be picked up by someone with some profile to get it properly aired.

    Chris comments on the use of central medians on a number of the roads you highlight – can someone provide a rational explanation for them? I can see why a central reservation and barrriers are necessary on a motorway – we daily hear of incidents where they have prevented carnage – but London roads are almost exclusively 30mph limited and traffic can rarely even achieve this speed. Most 30mph roads, indeed most suburban and rural roads of any speed limit, manage with just a white line and for motorists at any rate the accident risk is declining steadily. Most of these medians could alternatively be applied to providing a 2m wide cycle lane in at least one direction.

    The point about “not enough space” of course doesn’t just impact cyclists. Pedestrians, especially elderly or disabled pedestrians, are increasingly suffering from this mania to make more roadspace available to motor vehicles to “smooth traffic flow” – a statutory obligation under the Traffic Management Act, except of course the TMA makes clear that cyclists and pedestrians are also “traffic”. Literally thousands of pedestrian crossings are being ripped out all over town. Others are being downgraded from light-controlled to uncontrolled. Still more are being subjected to reductions in the pedestrian phase, those intimidating countdown timers, or adjustable phasing under “SCOOT”, a measure intended (you guessed it) to prioritise motor traffcic, not pedestrians.

    I have had a fruitless exchange with ky local City councilmen on this point. While generally sympathetic, in a theoretical kind of way, with promoting cycling, they hold to the view that the changes to pedestrian crossing are “popular” with pedestrians! Anecdotally, my own impression for myself and anyone iI talk to, is that they are as “popular” as a ham sandwich in a mosque.

    But of course if you believe what you read from TfL, you might well believe this. TfL has serious form for massaging statistics. My own particular favourite is the one which says that a majority of cyclists, car and van drivers who were aware of the trial, approved of the admittance of motorcycles to red route bus lanes. Or, to get a majority approval to report in ther paper, they had to limit the sample to people who were aware of the trial in the first place, and then artificially widen the sample by confalting two, or three, very different populations of road user. I think we can guess what the views of cyclists alone would have been, but the TfL paper didn’t report it. Another sleight of hand was the results of reducing green man phases on about 1,000 pedestrian crossings. The percentage of motors getting through a traffic light in a single cycle improved by several percentage points, from various high 80s/low 90s values (different types of vehicle/time of day) to mid 90s values. Meanwhile, teh percentage of pedestrians getting across in a single cycle remained virtually constant at close to 100%. Well, I never! Of course it misses the obvious point, ,that pedestrian flows are considerably more efficient so it would be bizarre in most circs if every (able bodied) pedestrian didn’t manage to get across while the light was green – they just stand around waiting for much longer now.

  10. Kim says:

    The problem isn’t the width of the streets, it is the narrowness of Boris’s mind!

  11. Clare Neely says:

    Smoothing the (motor) Traffic Flow is NOT a legal requirement under the TMA. It has to be taken alongside a highway authority’s other priorities, road danger reduction for instance or perhaps reallocating space to walking and cycling.

    The only thing that has ever stopped congestion is the congestion charge.

    Reallocate highway space to walking and cycling there will still be motor traffic congestion, it will just be formed of fewer motor vehicles, because people driving 2 miles or less, around 50% across London, or even 5 miles or less, around 80% may finally be, walking or cycling, driving at another time, driving with a friend…

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  13. Peter Clinch says:

    The Dutch appear to pride themselves on pragmatism, and my contact with them (married to one so I know a small selection and visit moderately often) suggests it’s a fair assessment in large part. They have places where there isn’t room for separate lanes and bikes mix with moderate two way urban traffic (take a Streetview tour of the Zeeheldenkwartier of Den Haag where my brother in law lives with his family, for example) but they do the best they can, and then where there is room they have them (i.e., still doing the best they can). Blanket statements of “there isn’t room” is preposterous for London as the pictures show. It’s also preposterous to assume there always is room in many Dutch urban areas (I was certainly mixing it with Real Traffic in Zandvoort last week), but that doesn’t stop them creating useful cycling infrastructure that’s fitted as well as the space will allow. My (admittedly limited) experience of cycling and watching where busy traffic mixes in NL suggests that the Safety In Numbers effect seems to be at work: the cyclists don’t seem to be at war or cowed by the motors, the drivers seem to give them the space they need.

    So, the moral is that London, like NL, is not a homogenous place. There are places where lanes/paths won’t fit, but that doesn’t give an excuse for not bothering where they will. The Dutch don’t make excuses, they make good routes, so let’s follow their example and put them where they will fit. The notion that if something can’t be done perfectly it’s not worth doing at all is a very harmful one.

    • bcacitizen says:

      “the cyclists don’t seem to be at war or cowed by the motors, the drivers seem to give them the space they need” – because if you, as a car driver, collide with a cyclist in NL it is always your fault. Also, in general, the Dutch ride from A to B, in the UK esp. London, people ride as if they are in a time-trial in the Tour de France !

  14. Anoop says:

    Switching from a car-dominated to a cycle-orientated transport system will be good for the economy, the environment, public health and personal happiness. There is no lack of space, technology or money to build high quality cycle infrastructure which will encourage large numbers of people to cycle. Those in power have a duty to make it happen.

  15. Rob says:

    Great work on proving the ‘no space’ argument to be a fallacy. In the home counties, acres of road space has been ‘lost’ to cross-hatching. Not only does it lose space that could be used for cycle lanes, it actually intimidates drivers to allow insufficient room when overtaking cyclists.

    • Mark says:

      Suburbs of Manchester (Droylsden/ Ashton) is the same. http://goo.gl/maps/zScMR

      Have absolutely no idea what this is for, and also unusable in rain.

      • The idea is to create the impression of a narrow carriageway, and to discourage overtaking – and hence more careful driving. Whether it works or not, I don’t know. I do know that it reveals a complete failure to understand how people on bikes might wish to use roads like these, or even that they might exist at all.

        • Michael J says:

          Also the central cross-hatching has the unintended (but obvious when thought about) consequence of making drivers feel safer (less chance of wing-mirror collision with oncoming vehicles) and hence more likely to speed. Removing the central line has the opposite effect (makes drivers more wary)

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  19. Matt says:

    Very thorough and I have sent this link to Lewisham Cyclists, as one member reckons there’s not enough space for CS5. Let’s see shall we: http://goo.gl/maps/nkpkr (New Cross Road).
    Or here: http://goo.gl/maps/1e80 (Lewisham Way);
    Or here: http://goo.gl/maps/Ml28x (Old Kent Road);
    http://goo.gl/maps/Ow3nc (Camberwell New Road), and finally:
    http://goo.gl/maps/N1s4H (Blackheath Road).

    Others not mentioned include the Purley Way and other parts of the A23, such as around Streatham Hill. But, reading this post, one would get the idea

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