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 –
or somewhere where work hasn’t even started.
That 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This 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.
But even so, for the short period I watched this bus stop, I didn’t exactly witness carnage.
The 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.
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?