History comes full circle – Tavistock Place moving towards the cycle provision it deserves

There are a good number of encouraging cycling schemes appearing in London now, either physically on the street, or in the form of consultations and trials.

One of the latter is Camden’s plan for the Tavistock Place, or ‘Seven Stations’, route, running east-west across Bloomsbury. There’s an excellent, detailed history of the origins of this cycling infrastructure from David Arditti here, which is well worth reading if you haven’t already done so (and probably worth reading again, even if you have).

Given the present-day consensus on cycling infrastructure, I think it’s hard to imagine just how radical this rather narrow two-way track was at the time it was built, and David’s piece gives a good account of the struggles and difficulties that were faced in implementing it.

But fifteen years on, it is a victim of its own success – it is too popular. Around 6000 cycles pass along it on a weekday, and that’s an awful lot for a 2.5m bi-directional track with high kerbs.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 21.33.34

I’ve heard some silly suggestions that this volume of cycle traffic means that the cycling infrastructure should be completely dismantled, mixing cycles back in again with the motor traffic that still uses this street. That would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg – destroying the attractive cycling conditions, free from interaction with motor traffic, that bring so many people to this street on a bike in the first place. 10,000 motor vehicles per day is far too high a level for comfortable sharing on a bike.

But something obviously has to give, and to its credit, the borough of Camden have come up with what is a really quite radical improvement, which is going to be trialled before being implemented permanently.

The trial will involve turning the existing, pictured, two-way track into a one-way track, conventionally at the side of the road, for east-bound cycle flows. If you’re cycling west, the entire existing westbound motor traffic lane will become a cycle lane.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 21.57.23

The purple arrows show flow for cycling; the blue arrow, motor traffic flow. Restricting motor traffic to just one-way means only lane for motor traffic, and consequently much more space for cycle traffic.

In a neat twist, that means the street is finally going to catch up with Paul Gannon‘s original proposals from over fifteen years ago – which involved restricting motor traffic to one direction (albeit to create a genuinely wide two-way track, rather than one-way provision on each side of the street).


Visualisation by Paul Gannon, taken from his blog here

Of course this bold vision was watered down in the way David Arditti describes – two-way flow for motor traffic was maintained, resulting in the compromised narrow two-way facility that is on the street today. (It is nevertheless interesting that this compromised facility has attracted enough people cycling to make the case for present-day expansion unarguable).

The really clever part of this new trial scheme is how this same one-way arrangement is being used to actually reduce motor traffic levels, by pointing the one-way flow in opposing directions, on either side of Gower Street.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 22.04.32

That means it’s no longer going to be possible to drive along the length of this street – you can’t drive (for example) into the West End from the east along it, and vice-versa, you can’t drive from the West End into Clerkenwell along it. Motor traffic levels should consequently therefore greatly reduce, on top of the reduction that will come from reducing from two-way flow in two lanes to one-way flow in one lane.

The arrangement will also prevent taxi drivers coming from the east and turning right (northbound) towards the stations on Euston road – this will remove a great deal of the collision risk at the junctions that was a problem on this route, coupled with conventional one-way flow for cycling.

Taxi drivers weren’t to blame for taking this route. Right turns are prevented on Euston Road by Transport for London in order to ‘smooth traffic flow’ along it (providing a signal for right turning motor traffic means stopping oncoming motor traffic). That has inevitably meant pushing motor traffic that should be using Euston Road onto these roads in Camden, effectively creating a gyratory system at the expense of borough roads, in order to push as much motor traffic along Euston Road as is possible. A sane solution to London’s traffic flow (all types of traffic, not just motor traffic) should involve allowing motor traffic to make right turns from main roads, instead of these kinds of arrangements, which create extra motor traffic (and extra risk) on streets that should not be carrying it.

Camden’s trial for Tavistock Place is planned to start in August, and will run for 12 months, after which it is hoped to convert the scheme into a more permanent arrangement, with stepped tracks on each side of the road, and improved crossings. With lower traffic levels, I suspect many of the existing traffic lights could be removed, replaced with priority junctions and zebra crossings, so there’s much to gain for pedestrians too. All in all it should make for a much more attractive, calmer street that is better to walk and cycle along.

The trial plans are available to view here

This entry was posted in Camden, Infrastructure, One-way streets, Transport for London, Trial arrangements. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to History comes full circle – Tavistock Place moving towards the cycle provision it deserves

  1. Astonished by the stat that 6000 cycles use the route per day. And good to see this groundswell is being recognised in road redesign.

  2. davidhembrow says:

    I’m very happy to see that progress is being made here. It seems a long long time since I first read of Paul and David’s efforts along here.

    I agree that mixing 6000 cycles with 10000 cars is absolutely no way to go. However, what’s being proposed now with the one-way system running in opposing directions is quite similar to what’s happened in many Dutch cities. For instance, a similar thing civilizes some streets in Assen. But in that Dutch example there are no cycle-paths because through traffic has now been eliminated. Only a little access traffic remains and that has been reduced to such a level that they really are not required. Groningerstraat / Nieuwehuizen in Assen appear in some places to be narrower than Tavistock Place (mostly less than 12 m total width to play with) but much more space is now available for cycling than would be the case if a cycle-path was provided.

    But perhaps there’s an important difference: I don’t know the area and it’s impossible to tell from Google maps, but if Gower Street->Torrington Place->Malet Street (for instance) are useful one-way through routes by car then drivers will continue to use that route, whether one-way or not, and you won’t be able to get the same huge decline in through traffic as was achieved on the streets in Assen. On the left part of your map it almost certainly is possible. i.e. make the one way the other way around for the short stretch between Huntley and Ridgmont and then anyone who enters on Gower Street would have to go back along “*Enies Mews”, and almost certainly end up leaving in much the same place as they started. That’s the key to making roads like this work for access only.

    • It will be interesting to see how much motor traffic reduces with this trial. One of the benefits of such a rough-and-ready arrangement is that outcomes can be assessed and fed back into the way the final scheme is designed. I don’t think it will happen, but motor traffic might reduce to such a level that physical separation isn’t even necessary.

      • Dan B says:

        I think physical separation is necessary for many people to start riding though. As you’ve posted elsewhere, without it people will ride on pavements. NOBODY on a bike can trust every single driver to drive sensibly and safely around them at this point in time – even on my residential street (20mph, speed bumps, not a through-route for motor vehicles) some people still drive like idiots. Subjective safety is hugely important, and comes from physical protection.

  3. This is why the more far-sighted councils sensibly resist any safe cycle infrastructure: give cyclists an inch…

  4. However, viewing the problem selfishly as a regular user of the Tavistock Place cycle track, this news comes as a great relief. Many days the most frightening near-misses on my journey are with other cyclists along that track.

  5. Notak says:

    The ;funny’ thing about the photo of the road in its current state:
    is that it shows bike riders behaving like car drivers, ie all queueing up in one long line at the lights.

    • congokid says:

      I’m a regular user of that route (to/from Marylebone Station to Chancery Lane).

      My use is mainly off peak, when it’s rather good and I’m often the only one waiting at lights. It’s a different matter at peak times, though, and that’s one of the major frustrations (the other being the lack of track width (and I have a list of minor frustrations, too!)). Waiting in long queues at traffic lights, which don’t seem to be set up in a ‘green wave’ for cyclists, rather defeats the purpose of using a bike rather than a motor vehicle. In these instances I’d be inclined to join the motor traffic and filter where possible.

    • MJ Ray says:

      I think people tend to queue up on the left because there’s a kerb to rest your foot on comfortably and the track isn’t really wide enough for comfortable side-by-side riding once in motion.

      • Contra MJ Ray, I think people tend to queue not for the footrest but because when the light changes, there will be cycles coming from the other direction: if you’ve pulled forward in the right hand lane of the cycle track, it’s problematic to merge back in quickly with the cycles headed in your direction.

  6. Notak says:

    Ah, I was trying to put the photo there, not a link back to the page you’re already reading.

  7. Spoquey says:

    One problem with segregated cycle lanes is that you always come to junctions, and the junctions are invariably where the collisions happen, when you have to mix back in with drivers. The junctions are usually poorly designed and certainly not designed to favour the cyclist. So we teach or force cyclists of different speeds and abilities to accept being crammed into tiny high-kerbed corridors, only to spit them out again into the path of drivers who have not been taught or forced to change their behaviour. Crazy, when driver behaviour is what is doing the damage.

    The real problem is the inability of the police and justice system to enforce the existing law and penalise drivers properly and fiercely enough.

    By the way what happened to our cycling czar, a few years ago the press was full of him and now not a peep?

    • matthewp says:

      If it’s done properly, the junctions are either engineered so that motor vehicle speeds are forced to be low, or the junction would be signalised so that cyclists are crossing at a different time from the motor vehicles.

      But I agree, it is rarely done well in the UK, and often the cycle infrastructure gives up at junctions.

      I was struck, cycling in the Netherlands, that while quiet roads might not have any segregation, often a segregated route appeared just before the junction so that you were guided safely across. This makes so much more sense, given that junctions are much more dangerous than plain road.

    • Dan B says:

      No, that’s the problem with badly designed and poorly built protected lanes. and the problem with badly designed junctions. It is NOT a fundamental problem with the concept of protected infrastructure for cycling.

  8. Joe says:

    I’m assuming that Camden is making progress because the tories are in the minority. If only that were true for the rest of the country….

  9. Being Dutch I am all for developing cycling infrastructure. I currently live in Ireland and they have done here what is proposed in the above article. Basically the council narrowed a one way street for motor vehicles and build a cycle path along side the road. The only problem is that cyclists have to cycle into the traffic as opposed of cycling with the traffic. Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians therefore have to be extra vigilant.

  10. I’m not sure that what Camden is proposing is ‘radical’ in international terms, rather it is commonplace. However, it is true that in the UK context Camden’s proposal is indeed radical and sets down the sort of solution we will want other UK authorities to introduce so that what seems radical here can also become commonplace in our urban areas. The upgrade will underline the disparity of provision between go-ahead Camden and neighbouring anti-cycling Westminster.
    That said, there is something radical which Camden is doing, which demonstrates their commitment to improving cycling conditions in Camden, and which UK cycle campaigners should take note of and try to get adopted by their own local authorities. It is concerned, I’m afraid, not with the sexy (?) technical stuff about infrastructure or direction of traffic flows, but with boring old process. Yet it may well be offering us a way to speed up cycle implementations and defuse the anti-cycling zealots. Camden’s intention is to introduce the changes described in the above blog as a trial which will be assessed and continued or discontinued after a few months. This enables Camden to get the new system working and tested rapidly before it has to go out to public consultation (which will happen after the assessment period if it is decided to keep the new system in place).
    Another important lesson for UK campaigners from the experiences in Camden is the essential role of Camden Cycle Campaign and its lobbying efforts with the council and, absolutely vital, of support from influential councillors. Pressing your local council to set up a liaison committee to discuss pedestrian, cycling and local environmental issues related to motor traffic may take time and lots of rebuffs, but in the long term it will pay dividends.
    It’s worth having a look at this video which Camden Cycle Campaign made and which, no doubt, had influence on the council: https://vimeo.com/72901625
    I no longer live in Camden but it’s very pleasing to see the success the campaign is having in extending the capacity of this route (and also extending the length of the Royal College St segregated cycle tracks).

  11. Pingback: Quietway 2 – a sneak preview | Better Cycling London

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