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arrangement – a two-way track on one side of the street, kerb-separated from the one-way carriageway – has of course been replaced by single-direction cycle tracks on each side of the street.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.
It 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).
The 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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!