The deadline for responses to the consultation on Transport for London’s Central London Grid is this Friday. Both London Cycling Campaign and Rachel Aldred have provided detailed responses, which I recommend you read; I thought I’d add some comments of my own to complement theirs, and also to remind you to respond yourself.
The idea of a Central London Grid is an excellent one – a network of direct routes that connect up across Zone 1, and that are (or should be) suitable for anyone who wants to ride a bike. The stated intention is to compose it mostly of routes away from main roads – around 75%. The remaining 25% of the Grid will be composed of main road interventions. These percentages can be quibbled about, but they sound reasonable. What is absolutely essential, however, is that the form of the Grid, and the treatments at ground level, are suitable, and there are worrying signs that the Grid will fail on both counts.
This isn’t all the fault of TfL. There is intransigence from Boroughs, particularly Kensington and Chelsea, who (as we shall see) have effectively eviscerated the Grid network in their borough. There is a higher density of Grid in Westminster, but again this is a borough that seems determined to fit cycling in around the margins, not provide for it in any useful way. There are also problems with the Royal Parks, firstly with even allowing cycling within them, and also with closing times.
But there are issues with how Transport for London is approaching the Grid. Firstly, in regarding what, precisely, is an ‘adequate’ Quietway, and secondly with ‘dual networking’ – treating Quietways as a kind of network for a slow, nervous cyclist, while main roads remain the preserve of the faster, confident existing cyclist.
Some of the proposed Quietway routes will follow streets and roads that have had measures already put in place to cut out through traffic – Goldsmiths Row in Hackney fits into this definition. However it is not clear from the TfL Grid document whether measures will always be put in place to ensure that motor traffic is greatly reduced on the Quietway routes.
It seems to me as if the Grid is being put on streets that have already had proper traffic reduction measures installed, and on streets that are deemed to be ‘adequately’ quiet already. But the scheme is crying out for a definition of what ‘adequate’ actually means, in terms of the volume of motor traffic – this could then set a benchmark for when measures like filtered permeability would have to be applied. The TfL document states
Like the name suggests, Quietways will use the quietest roads possible while balancing the need for directness, usability and safety. In some busy parts of central London there are no absolutely quiet roads, but all will be significantly less busy than the alternatives, with fewer vehicles, travelling at lower speeds
Well, there may be ‘no absolutely quiet roads’ in some parts of central London, but that suggests that the Grid should create these quiet routes, through deliberate interventions, not attempt to pretend that they are suitable simply by virtue of being a bit quieter than the horrendous main road nearby. The Grid is being presented almost passively, when it should be an active intervention to create safe and inviting conditions.
The other issue is the aforementioned ‘dual networking’. The TFL document has this definition –
Quietway routes are slower than the main roads. They are not aimed at speedy commuter cyclists, who will almost certainly stick with the fast main roads. They are intended for people who want to avoid the main roads and want to take it more slowly and calmly – the new kind of cyclist we want to attract.
The problem here is that if Quietways are ‘slow’, then nobody is going to want to use them, be they a faster lycra type, or just an ordinary person on a Boris bike. Quietways should be suitable for all – they should precisely be aimed at commuter cyclists as well as everyone else, because cycling needs fast direct routes to be attractive.
The additional danger here is the age-old problem with dual networks; that you end up with two different types of route that are both inadequate in different ways. The Quietways are fiddly and unusable, while the main roads remain hostile and unsuitable for most, justified on the grounds that if you don’t like it, well, there’s a Quietway over there, somewhere else. The Grid has to have Uniformity of Provision – the idea that all its routes should not trade off safety against convenience, and should be desirable and attractive for anyone who rides a bike. This is the essence of the Dutch approach to designing bicycle networks. They do not design different kinds of route for different people – that is a recipe for poor provision.
Now onto various specific issues. The Grid network in Kensington and Chelsea is hopeless.
Not only have Kensington and Chelsea blocked the routing of a Superhighway down Kensington High Street – they do not want cycle tracks on this road – they have also provided some suggestions for a ‘Quietway’ network in their borough that are, frankly, insultingly bad. There are lines on this map that just stop and start – they don’t even join up! Kensington and Chelsea need to be told in the strongest possible terms that this simply isn’t good enough. There has to be a coherent east-west route as part of the Grid here – through Holland Park (where cycling is currently banned) and the Royal Parks, and/or through the streets of the borough, to the south.
There are issues here with Parks too – as I understand it Kensington Gardens closes at dusk, effectively rendering it useless for much of the winter as part of a cycling ‘Grid’. If routes are being placed in parks, access should not be compromised. Hyde Park as a whole closes at midnight.
Sections of the Grid that run through The Royal Parks will form useful, pleasant routes. The proposal to close the Outer Circle of Regents Park to motor traffic will make this an excellent route, as well as improving the quality of the park as a whole. Likewise a route up the eastern side of Green Park is much needed. The Royal Parks need to be urged to support these suggestions, and also to ensure that the routes are properly designed, and wide enough, to ensure that people walking and cycling do not come into conflict with each other.
Westminster, for all the criticism it has come in for, is actually ahead of Kensington and Chelsea in one important regard – it will be allowing (hopefully) Superhighway 11 to run across its borough, and of course the main East-West route will run along some important roads in Westminster. Both of these routes will (or should) be fully segregated. However, there are issues with the fiddliness of the proposals for Quietways in Westminster. Particularly around Paddington, and in St James, the Quietways seem to meander all over the place, avoiding roads and streets that require interventions. Back street routes in Westminster need to be pleasant and direct.
In Camden, Hackney and Islington, the Grid looks pretty good, and includes some streets that already carry high volumes of cycle traffic, particularly the Tavistock Place segregated track, and the Clerkenwell Road.
It’s good to see these kinds of direct routes in the Grid. It is important, however, that whatever treatments are employed on these roads, they will be made suitable as genuine Quietways.
The final issue I’d mention here (doubtless there are many more) is in the City, where there are a number of serious blockages, particularly London Bridge, where a Superhighway doesn’t actually connect with anything.
This area is crying out for a sensible, continuous north-south route, straight across the City, and doesn’t seem to have got it. There isn’t one. The obvious choice would be across the horrible five-fingered Bank junction, with closures or filtered permeability on some of the approach roads. The area is teeming with people on foot, on public transport, and on bikes, and yet most of the space has been allocated to the private car. The Grid should represent a golden opportunity to address that imbalance.
So please do comment on the Grid before the end of Friday – reply to email@example.com. All responses to the Consultation will be used to bolster the Grid concept, to revise it, and to improve it. It’s vitally important that it is implemented properly.