Update on Royal College Street

Back in January I blogged enthusiastically about the plans for Royal College Street in Camden, and I’m pleased to say the scheme is nearing completion.

It’s a little hard to make definitive comments because the new arrangement isn’t finished, but what’s there already suggests that this will be an excellent, pleasant and safe street to cycle on. It’s not going to be A-grade Dutch quality, but for the money that has been spent on the entire length of the street – around £50,000 – I think it’s really good value for money.

The old arrangement – a two-way track on one side of the street, kerb-separated from the one-way carriageway – has of course been replaced by single-direction cycle tracks on each side of the street. But the one-way flow for motor vehicles has been maintained.

DSCN0027It is important to stress at this point that removing the one-way systems in Camden – part of the process of ‘gyratory removal’ that is very popular in some campaigning circles – would mean this street reverting to two-way for motor vehicles, and that in turn would mean great difficulty in implementing cycle tracks of this width and quality on it. The space required for two-way flow for motor vehicles here would mean very poor quality cycle tracks, or indeed no cycle tracks at all. Subjective safety would disappear.

By contrast, keeping this street one-way for motor vehicles has allowed a generous amount of road width to be allocated to protected space for cycling. (It also makes driving less convenient, relative to cycling). This is a point I have made before – in the desperate rush to remove one-way systems, we shouldn’t overlook how keeping them in place, but for motor vehicles only, can allow the creation of pleasant streets for cycling, and indeed privilege walking and cycling at the expense of driving. This is a common tactic in the Netherlands, and we should copy it.

The separation between the cycle track and the main carriageway is achieved simply – through heavy box planters (yet to receive the plants on the day I visited).

DSCN0026The width of the track is exactly 2m. This is sufficient to overtake, or to be overtaken, in relative comfort (as in the picture above). However, looking at the width of the street, it seems to me that the tracks could have been substantially wider. A bit of a missed opportunity, but one that I hope can be rectified at a future date (and not at great expense, given the ease with which planters and ‘armadillos’ can be moved, relative to the cost of rebuilding a kerbed cycle track).

The high kerbs between the pavement and the track remain, meaning the full width of the track can’t be used, due to the risk of pedal strike – but replacing all the kerbs on the street would have added substantially to the cost of the scheme.

The protection and separation on the southbound track, on the other side of the street, mostly comes in the form of parked cars. I posted some photographs on Twitter, and I don’t think it was particularly clear – judging by some of the responses – that the vehicles nearest the cycle track are parked. But that’s the arrangement.


The parking bay is separated from the track by the humped ‘armadillos’, bolted to the road (these also appear on the other side of the street, between the planters). They seemed to be doing a pretty effective job in keeping the parked cars off the cycle track; there isn’t really any reason to park on it in any case, with the marked parking bays. The Ranty Highwayman did point out to me that these ‘armadillos’ could constitute a trip hazard, especially as they are new and therefore unfamiliar, and not particularly visible. I don’t know if there’s any particular solution to this problem!

As I was heading south, I noticed a van driver parking up and getting out of his vehicle, helpfully providing an illustration of how much infringement there is on the cycle track from a vehicle door.

DSCN0036There’s enough space there to swerve around an opening door.

Of course the risk of ‘dooring’ remains, but is lower than it might first appear. For a start, the drivers will be looking forwards, towards where bike users are coming from, different than the usual ‘dooring’ problems which result from a failure to use mirrors, or to look over one’s shoulder.

In addition, open car doors will be at an obtuse angle to oncoming bike users, meaning an impact – if it occurs – will be a glancing blow, pushing the car door shut again, rather than a halting impact straight into an unyielding door. And finally, any bike user unfortunate enough to be hit will not be deflected into the path of passing motor vehicles; only over to the side of the track, or onto the pavement, where the risk of further injury is much lower.

It was really enjoyable cycling up and down the street – I did so several times! – especially cycling southbound, which felt really comfortable and safe. There is an issue, however, at the very end of the street, where you wait at a light to cross St Pancras Road.

DSCN0043The vehicles heading into Royal College Street (towards the camera) are queuing in two rows at the lights (in the left of the photograph), even though Royal College Street is a single carriageway road. That means there is some jostling for position as they set off from the lights, with vehicles cutting the corner, right across the place where you are waiting at the stop line, which is quite unnerving. The driver of the car in the picture below seemed determined to get there ahead of the taxi beside him, passing within a foot or so of where I was waiting.

DSCN0044The stop line here does feel quite exposed, and could do with some form of physical protection, or with moving back slightly to the point of the last armadillo.

The crossing as a whole, however, is quite neat, with the two tracks on either side of the street converging in one crossing point, and ‘elephants’ feet’ marking the crossing routes.

DSCN0025The other big issue that deserves comment is that of the bus stops, which are ‘Danish style’, in that bus passengers alight directly onto the cycle track itself.

Royal College Street bus stopThe only concession here is that the cycle track is raised up to pavement level, the hump presumably aimed at slowing those on bikes, as well as raising the bus stop to pavement level.

It’s not ideal, but from the couple of buses I saw stopping on the street, enough common sense was being exercised by all parties for the arrangement to work reasonably well. People stepping off the buses seemed aware they weren’t stepping on to a pavement, but onto somewhere they were going to encounter bikes, and likewise people approaching the bus stops in the cycle track were sensible enough to realise that there would be potential conflict.

I even managed to video myself cycling across the bus stop as a bus stopped and people got off.

I guess this will be typical behaviour. Hopefully everyone riding a bike will approach the bus stop, when a bus is stopping, in a similarly slow and cautious manner, and the people getting off the bus will be aware of what they are stepping onto.

These are not busy bus stops, with only one small bus stopping on this street at infrequent intervals, so I don’t think there will be difficulties here. But some pedestrian comfort has been lost.

So there are some minor niggles about this scheme, but it is really hard to complain about it, when it has cost so little, and it is so far ahead of pretty much anything else that exists on the streets of London right now. From what I could see when I visited, it is already very popular – despite still being under construction.

I look forward to it being finished!

This entry was posted in Go Dutch, Infrastructure, London, One-way streets, Subjective safety, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Update on Royal College Street

  1. Excellent update to what looks very promising indeed. I used to live in Islington, but now live in Copenhagen. The convention here at bus stops is for cyclists to give way to pedestrians getting off buses. I guess at some point this becomes ingrained in the culture but in the meantime perhaps some sort of give way indication painted on this section would help ease the transition?

  2. Rode southbound down RCS late last week and van driver was parked in the cycle lane delivering water bottles to the Royal Vetinary College. I don’t think it’s immediately obvious where motors can and can’t park. There weren’t many other parked cars around to guide the van driver what to do. We’ll have to see how this issue resolves over the coming weeks months. I also agree with you about the waiting zone at the southern end of the track.

    Other than that — and the totally inadequate provision of alternative routes during construction (Thames water also decided to block Pratt street et al at the same time as RCS was closed) — the new config appears much better than what was there before. I was hit once and had so many near misses on the old double-track. Glad that some progress has been made here. Now what about Tavistock Place…

  3. Chris R says:

    It’s mostly good news, but I still don’t understand the inconsistency in designs. Why are bus stop bypasses being built in Bow and bus users alighting from/to cycle tracks here? If there’s a guideline due to the number of buses/passengers using the stops (or number of cyclists using the track) I’d like for that to be made public. As it is, it seems like inconsistency is going to be confusing and dangerous.

    Having give way lines on the cycle track is a decent idea, but goes against the principal of a cycle track always being better than using the road. Maybe the iBus (digital display/audio) on bus could give a warning at stops where passengers alight onto tracks? But ideally, just do a good bypass!

    • There is space for a bypass at the southern end, but I think the problem is that the northern bus stops (for example the one in the video) are at spots where the building-to-building width is much narrower. A bypass could be fitted in, I think, but only by sacrificing the parking on the opposite side of the road, and putting a ‘swerve’ in.

      We’ll see how the current arrangement pans out.

    • We have both types here in Copenhagen. Both stops with proper by passes where there is a section of pavement which bus passengers can stand on before crossing the cycle track as well as those where bus passengers dismount directly onto the cycle path. The former obviously the better witht he choice seemingly dictated more by width of road than cykel/bus passenger numbers. Roads here are same width as London. the famous Norreborogade is narrower than TCR and has plenty of bus stops just like this.

      The main issue seems to be when a pedestrian doesn’t dismount the bus as soon as the doors open, but takes time (often those with mobility issues or the elderly) and steps off when the cykels assume all the passengers have passed. Having said that the hierarchy of provision is so ingrained that cykels usually give way same as cars will wait forever for you to pass when turning right (i.e. left turn in UK). I think a path on road this width in Copenhagen would probably be designed in the same way, with no bypass.

  4. Jim Moore says:

    A review done from the POV of two people riding abreast i.e. conversation cycling, would make the flaws that you’ve pointed out even more glaring. Each cyclist needs a minimum of 1.0m width therefore the 2.0m wide lanes don’t allow overtaking within the lane. It also means the door zone is much more hazardous than for a single rider. If the armidillos are to be removed then the cycle paths should be made at least 2.5m or a bit wider.

  5. cycleoptic says:

    my first trip down today, not too impressed, Northern end is still diverted due to electricity board work. Lanes abandon cyclist just short of Camden Road in North

    However I came across a Royal Mail van parked outside the Parcel force depot in the Southbound contra flow causing me to have to move into a stream of oncoming traffic. Further down the contra flow a motorist in the “centre ” of road parking bays opened door into track.

    There is no bus stop bypass just a raised table in front of the bus stop. as mentioned.

    There was also a Conway (Killer type?) Tipper Lorry in the Northbound cycle track, I had a discussion with the driver who was apparently “resting” ( in neither a legal (?) nor safe location?)
    Over 30 minutes later when I returned up Royal College Street it was still there.

    Are a few Armidillo and planters enough to segregate the cycles from cars and prevent parking.
    In many places there are road-work barriers between the planters, I suppose to stop motorists parking whilst further works are continued.

    Yes its a start, but lets learn from it and make really safe cycle infrastructure.

    • People obviously shouldn’t be parking in the cycle track! However, the scheme is still under construction. It’s probably worth holding fire a little until the street is finished. If there continues to be parking on the track after completion, then I’ll be right with you in demanding action.

  6. In your video, there are cars passing the stopped bus, which suggests to me that there’s space for a boarding/alighting island. Looking at the plans, there’s no parking due to be added here, so that’s probably the final layout.

    Sure, 99% of the time there may be no issue, but then I don’t know what it’s like to be partially-sighted or have mobility problems. I can imagine how stepping off the bus onto the cycle track might be pretty unnerving for some people.

    We’re meant to be designing-out potential conflict, not designing-in. If the infrastructure requires perfect behaviour by all users then it’s not good enough.

    • Good spot!

      If there was a bus stop island here, and the bus stopped effectively where the car passed it – i.e. blocking motor traffic – I would be worried about vehicles swerving into the southbound cycle track to get around the bus. There would have to be something physical there to stop drivers doing this.

      But yes, it seems the importance of avoiding a bit of minor inconvenience for motorists – briefly stopping behind the occasional bus – has trumped the reduction of conflict between pedestrians and bike users.

      • That cars would wait behind stopped buses was a key part of the design (both Brian Deegan and Camden Cycling Campaign have said so) so if that’s not happening (and it’s clearly not) then something has gone wrong.

        As you say, something physical – a bollard or two – would stop cars using the oncoming cycle lane to pass buses.

        There’s clearly room to do the bus stops properly, and we should be angry that yet again those driving cars get a clear run up the street while those cycling and walking are inconvenienced. This is a full-width resurfacing of the road, there’s no excuse for not getting it right.

        (Admittedly, it’s not yet finished, but I can’t see how the bus stops will change.)

  7. charlie_lcc says:

    Camden Cycling Campaign have posted their views on the new lanes here http://www.camdencyclists.org.uk/newsitems/ccc/royal-college-street-cycle-track
    They also point out the phase 2 work needed at the north end and to make a crossing of Camden road.

    This is a vast improvement on the tricky two way track beside a busy one way street. The bus traffic is much lower than at Stratford and now passengers only have to deal with cyclists from one direction instead of two. I agree with Stephen, cyclists should give way and stop for people getting on and off the bus.

  8. James says:

    I cross this street everyday and have been impressed with it. However, I suspect that drivers will once again spoil it for us. I’ve seen a number of drivers using the entrance of the cycle lane to park their car while they pop in somewhere nearby, a frequent use of all cycle lanes in London (A taxi firm near elephant and castle uses CS7 to park their taxis). When I was watching the other day i saw a car parked in this new bike lane and a bike had to then use the road only to get honked at by the car behind him for not using the cycle lane.

  9. Offended would be a pleasure in comparison (our poor cycle 'facilities' do more than offend - they KILL) says:

    Buses whilst being FAR more efficient in road-space-use than a single-occupancy vehicle, are still air-polluters and as such should be BELOW bicycles in the hierarchy. The bus driver should have noticed there was a bike coming, waited for the bike to pass, THEN open the doors for passengers. As it was, as per bloody usual he expects the cyclist to submit. Now isn’t that likely to be more of the same culturally-ingrained disrespect for cycling, and how do you engineer such a requirement for training OUT of the design, so that ignorance doesn’t get to affect cyclists as it constantly does everywhere else? No slapping each other on the back and no cigar until that’s how these ‘facilities’ work. We’ve been waiting too long and it’s been bitter. Get it right or give me the tax money back!

  10. Also how can any dedicated cyclist consider it OK for cyclists to have to stop at semi-random points along their journey? Cycling is all about the smooth flow of pedals and wheels, not hurting ones legs in a rejection of all efficiency in cycling style (i.e. stopping, starting and thus pushing harder every time). Asking or demanding pedestrians coming off a bus, who’ve just been resting their legs, to stop for a second or two, (or ten!) is NOT too much to ask. It’s just our culture makes it seem so, exaggerated away from all reason. It doesn’t hurt pedestrians to stop for a second or two. It does hurt cyclists if they’re trying to get the most efficiency out of their machine and ride (and that attracts time-poor commuters, remember, which is supposed to be the goal). It’s not time to bring the ‘fourth-class citizen’ cyclists up to second-class and expect them to bow and curtsey for the ‘privilege’! No, it’s time to promote them, in all sound reason, to FIRST class, and extend all privileges possible – again, within this novel concept called ‘reason’. Which is widely-acknowledged as being absent from taxpayer-funded British street planning, whether local, regional or national level.
    Change the law to make town planners legally-liable for deaths on their creations. To make all car drivers automatically liable in a collision with a cyclist (unless evidence to the contrary) LIKE MOST COUNTRIES IN EUROPE DO. A quick tweak to the law would make a difference in culture, so it’s not just about engineering. Yet the tool politicians can’t manage even that, the cowards… Fill the void that they create in their impotence, fill it with your voice.


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