After writing recently about gryatories and one-way systems – and how they can actually be beneficial for cycling, if applied judiciously – I thought I’d turn my attention to another piece of much-maligned urban infrastructure, the humble bollard.
Frequently impugned as an ugly feature of the urban environment – ‘bollardism’ – bollards, applied properly, are a cheap and easy way of civilising streets; indeed a simple way to turn a ‘road’ in to a ‘street’.
There are several new examples in London. Stonecutter Street has recently been closed off to motor vehicles (but remains permeable to bicycles and pedestrians) at the junction with Blackfriars Road.
Likewise Earlham Street has been closed off at the junction with Shaftesbury Avenue, turning a nasty rat-run into a civilised street with people happy to mingle in the road (no particular need for any re-paving here).
In all of these cases, the intention is to force motor vehicles to use the appropriate adjacent road, instead of cutting through. Motor traffic should be using Euston Road, instead of Warren Street, for instance.
Likewise, Stonecutter Street is designated as a ‘Local Access Road’ in City of London documents, and it is now being treated appropriately by being closed off; it is now genuinely only an ‘access road’, rather than a shortcut to somewhere else.
Of course, a legitimate concern that is expressed is that these kind of arrangements simply displace motor traffic onto other roads and streets; that a problem is simply pushed elsewhere.
There are two ways of responding to this; the first is to point out that some roads are much more suitable for carrying motor traffic than others. Euston Road is the right place for motor traffic, and it doesn’t make any sense to dilute the amount of motor traffic on it by allowing some of it to progress down Warren Street.
Secondly, in closing out motor traffic from these ‘side’ streets, we shouldn’t abandon the main roads, and simply allow them to become dominated by motor traffic. Main roads should also be civilised places. Applying filtered permeability to side streets should only be a part of a comprehensive network strategy, one that sees main roads with appropriate treatments for walking, cycling and public transport. If main roads are comfortable and attractive places to cycle, for instance – with the addition of cycle tracks – then that ‘displaced’ motor traffic can and should evaporate entirely.
By way of example, it’s worth pointing out that ‘main roads’ in Dutch towns carry considerably less motor traffic than the equivalent urban roads in Britain, despite a policy of making side streets virtually impossible to use by motor traffic attempting to pass through. There is no ‘displacement’, because the entire urban environment is conducive to cycling, and so any excess motor traffic that might have been forced onto main roads simply doesn’t exist. That ‘traffic’ is on bicycles instead.
Indeed, when I present pictures of ‘main roads’ in Dutch towns and cities with cycle tracks, I am often met with comments that suggest the road is ‘quiet enough’ not to justify cycle tracks at all. There are many examples in the city of Assen, where ‘main roads’, with cycle tracks, appeared (to me at least) to carry far less motor traffic than an equivalent UK road, despite the side roads being closed off. And this is because people are travelling on bikes instead, to a large degree. This picture of a main road was taken at about 5pm –
Here are some more ‘main roads’, this time in Amsterdam. These are the only available routes to motor traffic, but are nowhere near as congested or dangerous as urban main roads in Britain, despite the smaller network available to that motor traffic.
The point is that motor traffic won’t be pushed onto these roads if you have a coherent policy of making cycling an attractive alternative to driving in urban areas; much of the motor traffic will cease to exist.
In Utrecht ‘main roads’ are even being removed completely, despite limited permeability elsewhere on the network for motor vehicles, because they’re not needed anymore.
A policy of ‘bollarding’ won’t necessarily result in displacement of motor traffic if a sensible strategy of enabling that traffic to shift to other modes is in place.
More bollards please!