The street pictured above is Blackfriars Road in London, looking north towards Southwark tube station. The illuminated tall building on the right is Transport for London’s headquarters, Palestra House.
As you can see, the road is rather wide. At a rough guess, each carriageway could accommodate three cars, side by side, if not more. At least six vehicles wide.
How would we make cycling a more comfortable and pleasant experience on this road? The obvious answer would be to reallocate some of that space, and to create wide cycle tracks, protected from motor traffic, on either side. There’s plenty of room for the cycle tracks to pass behind new bus stop islands too, freeing buses and bicycles from interaction with each other. A narrower carriageway, in and of itself, would also lead to a reduction in vehicle speeds.
Indeed, this is what the Mayor of London’s new Vision for Cycling suggests should happen on Blackfriars Road; it states that TfL
will segregate where possible, though elsewhere we will seek other ways to deliver safe and attractive cycle routes.
With the proviso that nothing must reduce cyclists’ right to use any road, we favour segregation
We will install Dutch-style full segregation on several streets without bus routes, such as the Victoria Embankment. We will install it on several streets which are wide enough to put bus stops on ‘islands’ in the carriageway
Blackfriars Road meets all these criteria. ‘Dutch-style full segregation’ is eminently possible here, despite the presence of buses and bus stops, because tracks can easily run behind those bus stops, and not interfere with the functioning of the bus route.
The problem, however, is that current guidance would not suggest the installation of tracks.
The hierarchy of solutions suggested in the Department of Transport’s Cycle Infrastructure Design (above) gets things back to front, in that it suggests last what should actually be implemented first on this kind of road. There is no need for traffic volume reduction, or speed reduction, on Blackfriars Road. The cycle tracks can and should be installed on the road, as it currently stands.
Of course, a lower speed limit of 20 mph, as compared to the current 30 mph limit, is desirable. But it is not necessary, and nor should it be considered as a priority for improving cycling conditions ahead of safe, comfortable and well-designed cycle tracks. Nor indeed do we need to ‘reduce traffic’ to make cycling a more attractive option on Blackfriars Road. (Indeed, we shouldn’t really be concerned with ‘reducing traffic’ at all, but rather with changing the mode of transport that ‘traffic’ uses).
The problem is that so much current cycling guidance is fixated on attempting to ‘reduce traffic’, when it should instead be focusing more clearly on creating good conditions for cycling. Obviously, these two aims will often overlap quite neatly, but they are not one and the same thing. I think this explains why the CTC are in a bit of a policy muddle; they have confused two different policy aims. Creating good conditions for cycling is not the same as reducing (motor) traffic, even if the latter is an outcome of the former.
Maybe this confusion on the part of the CTC stems from the legacy of the ‘no surrender’ attitude amongst their more prominent campaigners in the earlier part of the 20th century; the struggle to retain and control roads on which motor vehicles were seen as intruders still informs current attitudes. This necessarily waters down the commitment to proper Dutch-style provision for cycling, because it would require a ‘surrender’ of certain categories of road. The result is a compromise, apparent in this description of the Hierarchy of Provision provided by the CTC themselves –
Many people who don’t cycle say they’re held back by their fear of traffic, and reckon they’d cycle if there were more cycle paths away from the roads. Local demands for ‘traffic-free’ routes can be quite persuasive for councils, but when they install segregated tracks they often meet with opposition from cyclists who would prefer to cycle on the road… The dilemma over how to decide on the best option for a given location led to the development of the ‘Hierarchy of Provision’, a concept that was officially endorsed by the Department for Transport (DfT) in 1996. In theory, therefore, the Hierarchy has been embedded in the Government’s cycling policies for years.
Well, there really shouldn’t be a ‘dilemma’; the best solution for cycling on a given category of road should be quite obvious. In fact, there is only a ‘dilemma’ because the CTC are in the unfortunate position of having to accommodate the demands of the ‘no surrender’ group alongside the demands of those who might want to cycle in comfort with their children.
I also think it would be fair to say that in attempting to resolve this dilemma, the Hierarchy of Provision doesn’t really solve anything. As Freewheeler of Crap Waltham Forest put it –
The problem with the CTC’s Hierarchy of Provision is that instead of demanding concrete infrastructure which would make cycling safe, fast and convenient it dissolves into windy platitudes.
And that is exactly what we would get on Blackfriars Road; instead of clear demands for that ‘concrete infrastructure’ – cycle tracks which would make cycling a comfortable and pleasant experience for all – the Hierarchy instead provides a vague demand to ‘consider’ reductions in traffic volume and speed.
It’s nowhere near good enough, and thankfully, it seems to be on the way out, principally because it is fundamentally incompatible with the policy that Transport for London, housed in that building on this road, will be coming up with in response to the Mayor’s Vision. Transport for London will be segregating cyclists on the network, quite often in places where there is no reduction in traffic volume or speed, and they will be doing so as a first priority.
National policy needs to start catching up.