Late last year, the initial plans for Cycle Superhighway 5 were released by Transport for London. The Superhighway was routed over Vauxhall Bridge, and straight up Vauxhall Bridge Road, to Victoria station, where it ended as it met the current gyratory.
Unsurprisingly for a main road in London, Vauxhall Bridge Road is quite wide.
As it approaches Victoria, it does narrow slightly, although remains at least four lanes wide, with reasonably generous pavements on either side.
The initial TfL plans were not particularly ambitious, at least as far as cycling comfort was concerned. The route southbound was to be a combination of widened bus lane, and mandatory 2m cycle lane, and the northbound route would have been a 2m mandatory cycle lane, similar to that currently on Millbank. An important detail is that these arrangments would have seen the stripping out of the (intermittent) vehicle lanes on each side, leaving just a single lane for private motor traffic in either direction.
It now appears that these plans have been abandoned, and the Superhighway will be diverted away from Vauxhall Bridge Road, onto the adjacent Belgrave Road.
Now this wouldn’t necessarily be too much of a problem – Belgrave Road is only marginally less direct than Vauxhall Bridge Road.
But there are two troubling aspects here. The first is that a Superhighway on a main road in London has simply been abandoned because of the concerns of Westminster Council about ‘traffic capacity’, and residents’ concern about rat-running. In the words of Boris’s Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan,
… cycle superhighway 5 was planned to come from New Cross and Peckham, over Vauxhall Bridge and up Vauxhall Bridge Road, ending at Victoria.
Nobody liked that idea much, frankly. We would have had to remove some general traffic space on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Both Westminster City Council and local residents feared that that would cause extra congestion on the road itself, and lead to rat-running through Pimlico’s residential streets.
I didn’t much like the prospect of cyclists using Vauxhall Bridge Road, which is extremely busy and in the northbound direction requires you to cycle into the middle of the road, often in heavy traffic, to avoid being taken left into Drummond Gate. There’s also the Victoria end itself, which requires cyclists to navigate one of central London’s worst gyratories, especially chaotic at the moment (and for years to come) with the station rebuilding works.
So it seems that Westminster Council simply didn’t want motor traffic lanes to disappear on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Gilligan’s comments about Vauxhall Bridge Road being ‘extremely busy’ and having to ‘cycle into the middle of the road’ are, I think, just window dressing in an attempt to back up Westminster’s position, because a properly designed Superhighway should insulate anyone cycling from that busy traffic, and not require them to cycle on a blue stripe in the middle of the road, as originally designed. It should be possible to design a junction where cyclists can progress straight ahead in safety – if we can’t do this, we might as well just give up now.
The second issue of concern is that the route the Superhighway is being shunted onto is not going to be adjusted in any way to make it attractive for cycling. All that will happen here is the painting of the now familiar blue squares, intermittently on the road, which serve only for ‘wayfinding’. In Gilligan’s words –
Because Belgrave Road is fairly quiet, we wouldn’t need to make any changes to the road, apart from intermittent markings – square symbols every so often on the road surface to reassure cyclists that they were on the right route. There wouldn’t be any continuous lines of blue paint. There wouldn’t be any physical change to the vast majority of the road. There wouldn’t be any changes to the bus stops. And there wouldn’t be any loss of parking.
Well, frankly, this is ridiculous. Belgrave Road is only ‘fairly quiet’ by comparison with Vauxhall Bridge Road. It still carries over 8000 vehicles a day, which is about half the amount of motor traffic on Vauxhall Bridge Road. (Figures from the London Cycling Census Map show that Vauxhall Bridge Road carries around 17,500 motor vehicles per day.) So Belgrave Road is not a quiet road, at least by standards that would make it appropriate for cycling for all – and nowhere near the 2,000 PCUs per day recommended by new LCC guidance as appropriate for a road without physical segregation. (Another detail – will it even have a 20mph limit?)
I would expect that a substantial proportion, but not all, of the cyclists currently using Vauxhall Bridge Road will switch to the new route. So adding the switchers to the existing users, Belgrave Road might see perhaps 1600 a day.
But this doesn’t make much sense – given that nothing is fundamentally changing on Belgrave Road, it begs the question why people cycling on Vauxhall Bridge Road haven’t switched to Belgrave Road already. Some blue squares painted on the road aren’t going to make a jot of difference to the attractiveness of the route.
So something needs to give here – if the Vauxhall Bridge Road route is being abandoned, then Belgrave Road needs to be properly adapted, to make it suitable. There are simple ways to achieve this. The road could be made fully one-way for motor vehicles, to allow space for protected cycle tracks behind the existing parking (which wouldn’t need to be removed).
The road is already one-way only at the northern end, and residents would still be able to access their properties, albeit via a slightly more circuitous route.
Alternatively – as the residents claim to be concerned about ‘rat-running’ (remember, this is the reason given for not removing capacity on Vauxhall Bridge Road) – the road could be bollarded at intervals to cut out through traffic, while still allowing the Superhighway to pass through. This would improve the quality and safety of the street for local residents, while making it appropriate for a Superhighway.
It is not acceptable to shunt a Superhighway onto another street, and to assume that street, without any adjustment, is acceptable simply because it carries less motor traffic than the thunderous Vauxhall Bridge Road. The rhetoric contained in the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling is not being matched by policies on the ground. Some quotes from that document –
Timid, half-hearted improvements are out – we will do things at least adequately, or not at all.
Our policies will help all Londoners, whether or not they have any intention of getting on a bicycle. Our new bike routes are a step towards the Mayor’s vision of a ‘village in the city’, creating green corridors, even linear parks, with more tree-planting, more space for pedestrians and less traffic.
The next all-new Barclays Superhighway, the route currently named CS5 from Victoria to New Cross, is being further improved from the already-announced plans. Details of this and other improvements and reroutings will be announced soon.
This is a test of commitment. Will this stretch of Superhighway 5 be designed appropriately, or will it be yet another timid and half-hearted compromise of the kind we are so familiar with?