The Cyclists in the City blog has cast its eye over the City of London’s latest response to the Superhighway proposals [pdf], interpreting it as suggesting that the City are supporting their proposals, and actually demanding even more radical change.
I’d really like to be that charitable – after all, the City are demanding better pedestrian crossings, more pedestrian space, and better waiting times, as outcomes from this scheme. However, it’s quite hard to take these demands at face value when their response to the current proposals is so strangely negative. I can’t make sense of it. It seems there is some politics going on being the scenes, but the City’s interpretation of what is currently on the table is so oddly skewed it bears examination.
For a start, the City explicitly state that the proposals will make the roads in question worse for pedestrians.
The overall impact of the current proposals on pedestrians, local access and the environment are not in keeping with the Mayor of London‟s Vision to “create better places for everyone”.
Apparently, the current proposals have such an impact on pedestrians, they can’t be said to create a ‘better place’ for them. Elsewhere –
Officers believe that TfL’s proposals will have a significant adverse impact on the City. In particular to pedestrians, traffic flow, access and network resilience. It also fails to sufficiently address other challenges such as casualty reduction, air quality and the built environment.
‘Significant adverse impact’, in particular on pedestrians. Justified? Here are the new crossings that will be provided, listed by the City in a table, which I’ve annotated. Of the 14 listed, 12 are an (often substantial) improvement. The two that are worse are negligibly worse – the ‘2-stage’ crossing listed is a crossing of the road, then a crossing of the cycle track. This also applies to other ‘2-stage’ crossings listed above – they are not conventional two stage crossings – they are a crossing of the road in one go, followed by another (signalised) crossing of the cycle track, much better than crossing two large carriageways in two stages.
Three of the junctions mentioned currently have no pedestrian signals on one , two, or all of their arms.
The Tower Hill/Minories junction would be a huge improvement, as you can see below.
The City have this to say –
Whilst most of these new crossings are welcomed and long overdue, a number of them are proposed to be the “stagger” type crossings. These are crossings where pedestrian will need to cross in two attempts (two stages) and are therefore less than ideal.
Given that these “stagger” crossings are being put in place where there are currently no signals at all for pedestrians, this strikes me as being a little uncharitable. But if the City – in good faith – are calling for more direct crossings as part of these proposals, then that is very welcome. There is no reason at all why direct crossings can’t work with segregated cycle tracks – in reality, a number of these crossings remain two-stage to preserve motor traffic capacity, not for anything specifically related to cycling.
It’s also worth pointing out that – as mentioned above – there are two very different kinds of ‘stagger’ crossings. There are the current, horrible ones on the Embankment, which leave you stranded on a narrow island in four lanes of thunderous motor traffic.
Then there are the ‘stagger’ crossings that will replace every single one of these unpleasant crossings, which are of this form –
These are very different beasts, and the latter has to be acknowledged as a massive improvement, even if it remains a ‘two stage’ crossing.
So the crossings – while plainly not ideal – are almost in every case a large improvement on what is currently in place. The City are right to call for more – and one should welcome the chance to make things even better for pedestrians. But do the current proposals really justify comments about ‘significant adverse impacts’ on pedestrians? I’m not seeing it. Even the space gains for pedestrians (several thousand square metres) are accepted slightly churlishly by the City –
Although the proposals provide more pedestrian space, they are not necessarily at the locations where they are most needed such as the large islands north of Ludgate Circus or the islands forming the cycle lane segregation. In fact, the proposal looks to reduce footway space, particularly outside areas where high pedestrian flows exist such as at the Tower of London, Trinity Square Gardens, Queen Street and Ludgate Circus.
Footway space is, in truth, being marginally trimmed at these locations. Ludgate Circus is both gaining and losing some footway space –
… while the losses at Trinity Square and Queen Street are really quite marginal, especially in the context of the public space behind the carriageway in both these locations. To focus on these minor changes, as against the major gains elsewhere, again seems churlish. This is without even touching upon the large overall benefit to pedestrians from the way these schemes move motor traffic further away from footways – making for quieter, more comfortable and attractive experience – and the benefits from the banned turns for motor traffic, making it substantially easier to cross many of the minor side roads covered in these schemes. None of this mentioned by the City, at all.
The remaining pedestrian-specific issue the City raises are the longer waiting times at some of the pedestrian crossings, particularly at Ludgate Circus, where waits could be up to 24 seconds longer. But, as with ‘staggered’ crossings, this issue of timings is entirely related to maintaining motor traffic capacity. There is no incompatibility between cycling infrastructure and short waits to cross the road – the problem is the motor traffic.
The City’s position here is – rightly – that crossing times have to be shorter, but something has to give, and that ‘something’ should be motor traffic, not safe and attractive cycling conditions. Unfortunately it’s not clear where the City stand on this issue, particularly as they are making noises about delay to motor traffic elsewhere in their response, and also because of their strange comments about the Superhighway schemes being ‘biased’ towards cycling.
[The Superhighways] will run mostly on TfL roads, be direct and largely segregated. At junctions, conflicts between motor vehicles and cyclists will be removed. In order to achieve these design objectives, the reallocation of road space, amended signal times and restricted access is proposed. The City considers that the proposals are too heavily biased towards cyclists with insufficient consideration given to the needs of other users.
Funnily enough, ‘removing conflicts’ at junctions, and physically separating between them, is exactly what TfL should be doing on these busy roads – these designs, despite the ‘bikelash’ hype, are really the bare minimum.
So, from this passage, it seems the City believe that the mere act of designing properly is enough to render these proposals ‘too heavily biased towards cyclists’. (To look at this another way, how might the proposals becomes less ‘biased’? Maintaining conflicts at lethal junctions like Ludgate Circus, or Blackfriars? Continuing to mix people cycling with HGVs and coaches on Lower Thames Street, rather than separating them?) My concern, from this kind of comment about ‘bias’, and from comments elsewhere that
the segregation design would significantly compromise network resilience
is that the City want to iron out these niggles, in some areas, over the quality of the pedestrian experience by watering down the quality of the Superhighway proposals, and even eroding them completely, rather than taking more time, and space, away from motor traffic. I hope that’s not the case.