A visit to Superhighway 2

The upgrade of Superhighway 2 has been generating some publicity (bad publicity), and this week I managed to head out to Whitechapel (and indeed along the route to Bow roundabout, and back again) to have a look at it.

The first, and probably most important, thing that has to be said is that virtually none of this route is complete. Given the publicity, I was honestly quite shocked at how little of this route has actually been finished. I was expecting a relatively serene cycle up to Bow roundabout and back (or at least pockets of sereneness) but for most of the time I was cycling along this road I was mixing it with buses, coaches and HGVs. This is a rough guess, but at best only 10% or so of the distance between Aldgate and Bow Roundabout currently has cycling infrastructure that is actually available for use. The rest of it is still cordoned off –

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 14.34.32 or still under construction –

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 14.36.32

or somewhere where work hasn’t even started.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 14.40.33That means that this is still a very unpleasant road to cycle on; in fact, probably more unpleasant than before any of this work started, given that in areas where construction is taking place you are forced into narrow areas with motor traffic; impatient motor traffic.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 14.43.44

It shouldn’t be at all surprising, therefore, that the people cycling along this road will be disproportionately composed of the types of people who are more suited to coping with these conditions – namely, young and middle-aged men. Children and grannies will be absent, for pretty obvious reasons.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 14.46.22

Nor should it be at all surprising that the people cycling here – and dipping in and out of the small pockets of infrastructure that have recently been completed – will not all be pootling along serenely, like someone trundling through a park on a Dutch bike. It’s hopeless to expect that. Many will be going fast, almost certainly faster than they want to, because that’s what you have to do when road conditions are this hostile. They will be in that mindset even for the short stretches of cycling infrastructure they are using, and it’s totally unrealistic to expect otherwise.

It’s also premature, in general, to leap to conclusions about this route when so little of it is even complete.

As for the bits that have been completed, two elements have been attracting attention. The first are the (two) junctions with signal separation, to prevent left hooks. Observing these junctions in action, and using them, I think they are a qualified success. Travelling along CS2 in an east-west direction, they do ensure completely conflict-free passage through the junctions.

Left-turning motor traffic is held, while cycle traffic progresses through the junction, along with motor traffic progressing ahead.

Left-turning motor traffic is held, while cycle traffic progresses through the junction, along with motor traffic progressing ahead.

Conversely, when motor traffic is turning left, cycle traffic is held.

Conversely, when motor traffic is turning left, cycle traffic is held.

But there are some problems – perhaps the most obvious is the way that motor traffic is still privileged. For large parts of the cycle, motor traffic has a green to turn left, and a green to go ahead, which just doesn’t feel right while you are sat there at a red.

Green for left turning motor traffic, and for traffic going ahead. Except cycle traffic.

Green for left turning motor traffic, and for traffic going ahead. Except cycle traffic.

I didn’t capture it on camera, but this arrangement ‘provoked’ a number of people to cycle straight ahead through the junction, but from the left turning motor traffic lane. Doubtless others will be tempted to jump the lights here from where the above picture was taken, in the cycle lane, which could potentially be quite dangerous. I don’t think it’s helpful to blame people who might break the rules like this; it would be more constructive to examine why they are doing it, and then adapt the junction and the way it is signalled to prevent it. Clearly, the problem is that, when motor traffic is travelling ahead through the junction, it feels wrong to be held while you want to progress in the same direction. Equivalent Dutch junctions would never operate like this, for much this reason.

More controversial (or ‘controversial’) perhaps are the bus stop bypasses, particularly the one close to Aldgate, heading east. The footway here is really too narrow to be comfortable.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 15.42.03

This isn’t good for cycling, or for walking, because at busier times it is likely that people will walk in the cycleway.

But to my eyes there is a potential (and relatively easy) fix. It’s a little hard to tell from the photograph above, but the motor traffic lane on the opposite side of the road from this bus stop is enormous.

Wide enough to park two taxis side-by-side.

Wide enough to park two taxis side-by-side.

This lane must be around five metres wide – right opposite the bus stop. You can see this on Google Streetview, and indeed on the plans for this stretch of CS2.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 15.52.30This is a ‘merging area’ for where the westbound bus lane ends, but does it need to be this long? Buses could be given priority over the motor traffic lane as soon as the bus lane ends, meaning this large lane could be narrowed down to three metres, and the narrow footway by the bus stop bypass could be two metres wider. (This would also make the road easier to cross informally).

As for the bypass itself – I’ve already made points about the nature of the people cycling through it, and the skewed behaviour that might be expected as a result.

The approach to this bus stop bypass. Good luck expecting kids, grannies, pretty ladies in floral dresses to appear from this environment.

The approach to this bus stop bypass. Good luck expecting kids, grannies, pretty ladies in floral dresses to appear from this environment.

But even so, for the short period I watched this bus stop, I didn’t exactly witness carnage.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 20.50.47The woman in this photograph walked along the cycle bypass, quite slowly (she couldn’t get around the shelter) while the man on the hire bike followed her. No tempers fraying; no angry dinging of bells – he just waited for her to step onto the island, then merrily pedalled on his way.

This is how most human beings will behave. Few of us have an innate desire to crash into other people, or to bully them out of our way, on a bike, any more than we do on foot, and we’ll adjust our behaviour accordingly. Of course there will be always be dicks, but as more and more infrastructure that allows more people to cycle in London gets finished, and starts to spread across the capital, these dicks will increasingly be diluted by the mass of ‘ordinary’ people cycling.

It’s finally worth mentioning that, despite some heavy-handed attempts to insinuate that this infrastructure is ‘for’ posh or middle-class white men, the people cycling along this road and its environs during the day (admittedly, not during rush hour, which I didn’t witness) don’t fit quite so easily into this stereotype.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 20.59.23 Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 20.59.40 Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 20.59.54 Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 21.00.26 Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 21.01.03 Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 21.01.19 Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 21.01.40

Maybe they are under-represented, but people who aren’t white, posh or male are cycling here already, and they need a safe and attractive cycling environment just as much as anyone else. The infrastructure on the A11 isn’t perfect by any means, but it will be a huge step towards achieving that, and towards converting cycling into a simple mode of transport, rather than something resembling an extreme sport, fit only for a tiny section of the population.

And it’s not finished yet. Did I already say that?

This entry was posted in Cycle Superhighways, Infrastructure, London, Subjective safety, Transport for London. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to A visit to Superhighway 2

  1. Ian says:

    That’s a nice drain taking up half the cycle path near the bus-stop at Aldgate. My tyres aren’t especially narrow but I wouldn’t cycle over that.

    Why is it so hard to design a grating for a drain that doesn’t bear an uncanny resemblance to those slots they used to put in the ground for us to park our bike wheels in?
    Or failing that, to just install the damned thing at 90 degrees to the direction of traffic.

    • I’m usually the first to criticise where these things have gone wrong, so I applaud your attention to detail, but if you’re referring to this image ( https://aseasyasridingabike.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/screen-shot-2015-10-15-at-15-42-03.jpg ) then I think TfL have got it right.

      If you look closely it’s actually a tyre-friendly “waffle” style drain cover. I think it just looks like a wheel-trap due to the angle the photograph was taken from.

      • Ian says:

        You could be right. I’ve not seen those before – I’m going to write to my councillor demanding they install them in Glasgow. But she’ll probably ignore me because she has no interest in cycling; she’s too busy trying to create more car parking spaces outside the businesses in my area and turn all the residential streets into one-way streets to improve the flow of traffic. Ironically she’s a member of The Scottish Green Party.

  2. SteveP says:

    “…motor traffic is still privileged”.

    Don’t you mean “The privileged are still in cars?”

    No matter – some progress is made. We’ll take it and move on.

  3. Notak says:

    About the footway being too narrow by the bus stop and bypass: this is IMO a feature of bus stops generally, with or without cycle bypass. It’s invevitable, really, when you have a bay for the bus to pull into, so narrowing the footway just at the point where it’s busiest with people waiting for, getting on and off the bus and walking past. Add to this the physical obstruction of the bus shelter itself and there really is not enough room at busy times. The obvious answer would be to have buses stop on the road itself, with no bay – but of course this obstructs traffic behind them.

    • Ian S says:

      I think you mean that it obstructs the priveledged in their cars behind. Technically, bicycles and their riders are still classified as traffic.

    • Andy R says:

      Quote: “The obvious answer would be to have buses stop on the road itself, with no bay…”
      I don’t know about London, but this is now the preferred treatment for bus stops in a number of authorities. It’s an acknowledgement that buses can often get ‘trapped’ in bus bays by the drivers of adjacent vehicles not letting them back into the traffic stream.

      • Jitensha Oni says:

        There’s at least one like that along this road: at about 6:25 in sw19cam ‘s video:

        The 18 minute video shows the entire section from Bow to Aldgate as of 7th October in one run. sw19cam’s channel has provided and continues to provide an excellent document of the changes along the A11 – and how a pragmatic rider like himself handles them; so well worth a look to complement the detailed analysis this post provides.

      • Andrew L says:

        This certainly happens in many areas as far as I know. When I used to live in Kingston I noticed many of the bay style bus stops being replaced by a wider pavement and a bus stop in the road (this would have been mid 00s) to allow buses to get on the move more quickly. If it means there is potentially more space for segregated cycle lane then double win!

      • RobertL says:

        Here in Queensland, buses have right of way when pulling out from the kerb. They are the only vehicles that have this right of way – the opposite of normal. The law was introduced in about 1985 when I got my licence. It seems to work OK.

  4. Andrew L says:

    It looks like, once finished, it could be wonderful compared with the usual crap that we have endured for years. For once maybe we won’t need to yearn jealously for Dutch style infrastructure. Not perfect but well done to TFL for a massive step in the right direction.
    Now the challenge is go get this replicated all over the country.

  5. Adam says:

    It’s shaping up to be quite good, better than before but that’s not hard. They painted a new section near the Whitechapel cinema a few weeks ago that’s used end to end as a car park every evening… I’m hoping they’ve not dropped the plans to segregate it. I’ve also seen a few vans and taxis stopping in the small gaps in segregation, and cars often queue across the cycle lane to get out of junctions, so unless they can eliminate these conflicts we’re still not going to see mass cycling of all abilities.

  6. Colin Tweed says:

    You make a good comment regarding the junction (is that at Cambridge Heath Road?).

    I used to ride CS2 every day for about 3 years, during that time they changed the traffic lights at Bow Roundabout to be more “cycle friendly” which meant that if you stuck to the cycle lane you could be sitting at a red watching all the motor vehicles going in the same direction you want to.

    Once I sussed out the traffic light pattern, I used to decide on approach whether I went through the cycle lane or joined the motor vehicle lane to minimise waiting. By the looks of it, if I was having to cycle through Cambridge Heath Road junction every day, I might join the motor traffic lane to avoid waiting to go straight on.

    I’d have to suss out the phasing first though obviously😉

    Unless the cycle path is separated by a kerb on approach???

  7. Notak says:

    If a new feature introduces a claimed safety benefit along with a tangible inconvenience, some people at least will ignore or circumvent it, and so not benefit from the increased safety. Like taking the battery out of the smoke alarm because it goes off every time you make toast.

  8. Not bad. 2.5 metres of width would be better, as would 2 metres behind the bus stop. They also could have put the wands (flex bollards) on top of a Copenhagen curb, and that would have been much nicer. Same with the mandatory cycle lanes. The traffic light timing is an easy fix, but what I don’t like is that they have the two stage part. It does not give you protection from motor traffic. Admittedly they are a big improvement over what was there before. Simultaneous green or protected intersection would have been a fairly simple thing to add here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s