A second attempt at the A24 in Morden – and it’s still not good enough

I went to an interesting talk at the Guardian’s offices in London yesterday evening, entitled ‘What Can We Do to Get More People Cycling in London?’, featuring a panel of Chris Boardman, Andrew Gilligan, Rachel Aldred, Peter Walker and – as the token ‘opposing’ voice – Steve Macnamara of the LTDA.

The debate was wide-ranging, and largely consensual, with even Steve MacNamara stating that he ‘agreed with 90%’ of what Transport for London was building in central London, and making the reasonable point that taxi drivers don’t really want to be sharing space with people cycling on main roads – it doesn’t really work for either mode of transport. He also made the case for more cycling across London, arguing that more cycling means fewer motor vehicles on the road, and that (humorously) ‘we don’t really want anyone else on the road apart from cabbies’.

But a feature of the discussion that leapt out – for me at least – was delivery. For instance, despite Chris Boardman’s willingness to see improvements in his home town, any potential for change petered out in the face of council indifference and reluctance to do things that weren’t officially approved by central government.

Andrew Gilligan stated that he was ‘jealous’ of New York’s Janette Sadik Khan, who had control over all of that city’s roads, while in London TfL only controls about 5% of the road network. That means boroughs have a big say in whether schemes go ahead, and can effectively block cycling infrastructure if a few awkward individuals have a particular antipathy to it. This is the reason the E-W Superhighway completely bypasses the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for instance, and why Superhighway 9 was cancelled.

And while there is obviously some very exciting stuff happening on a number of roads in central London, delivery in outer London is very patchy indeed, even when schemes are on TfL roads, designed by TfL. A case in point is the A24 in Morden. This is a road where, way back in 2012, TfL proposed some very poor changes ‘for cyclists’, which I reported on at the time. It essentially consisted of retaining 3-4 lanes of motor traffic, with shared use footways and narrow cycle lanes – repeatedly interrupted by parking bays – running in parallel with each other. I wrote that

with just a little more imagination, and a bit more budgetary commitment, there is great potential for good, separated infrastructure, suitable for all cyclists of all ages and abilities, to be provided along this road. The consultation proposals also bear the hallmarks of compliance with the Hierarchy of Provision; that is, conversion of pavements to shared use in the event that the authority responsible is unwilling to reduce traffic, slow it, or reallocate carriageway space. Likewise it is presumed that those using the pavement are willing to sacrifice their journey time for the privilege of cycling away from traffic.

I also wrote that

I’m not entirely convinced that the A24 immediately to the south of this area has to remain a four (and in places, five) lane road. There is scope for the reallocation of a vehicle lane for a cycle track, at least along the section until the junction with Central Road (but note that reallocation is not strictly necessary, given the existing width available).

I reached that conclusion because, although this road is 3 or 4 lanes wide at the moment, long sections of it are effectively only 2 lanes, because of the parking bays that take up most of one lane.

Well… it turns out that there is a new consultation on this road, or at least a part of it – the southern end – and the proposal is indeed to reduce the four lanes for private motor traffic to just two. But what is proposed for cycling is barely any better than before.

We have a mandatory cycle lane, yes. But it is directly on the outside of parked cars, in a dangerous position, rather than between those cars and the footway.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 16.24.04

There’s a bus lane in the opposite direction, which wasn’t there before, but that is the extent of the cycling provision. Right at the bus stop itself, the footway becomes shared use. A ‘bus stop bypass’, but not a very good one.Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 16.24.25

And that’s pretty much the extent of this scheme – a bus lane in one direction, and an unfriendly and dangerously-positioned cycle lane in the other.Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 16.24.41

A cycle lane which also gives up at a bus stop –
Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 16.25.04

And in the opposite direction, a cycle lane starts from behind a parking bay, leading you into a three lane-wide ASL. Good luck turning right here.

Given the width of this road – it is really very wide! – and the fact that two of the four lanes for motor traffic are now being lost, this is pretty thin gruel.

A very wide road. And two lanes for motor traffic are going. Is a shared bus lane and a poor cycle lane really the best we can do?

A very wide road. On which two lanes for motor traffic will be going. Is a shared bus lane and a poor cycle lane really the best we can do here?

The wide grassy median is of course being retained too – valuable space that could have been used for cycling, and would also help to reduce vehicle speeds if it were to be removed.

This is the second attempt at sorting this road in barely three years, and although it is progress of a some degree, what is proposed is very far away from the kind of inclusive cycling design that we are starting to see in central London, and in other British towns and cities. We need more – a lot more – of this higher-quality infrastructure if cycling is going to continue growing; it’s the only thing that will reach those parts of the population that aren’t cycling now. Cycling in bus lanes, or cycling between parked cars and fast motor traffic, on busy roads really isn’t going to cut it.

I’m not quite sure what the root problem is with this scheme. It might be that it hasn’t been allocated enough funding to alter the road properly, to create decent, parking- and kerb-protected cycleways in both directions, and to remove the median. It might be that officers and planners just don’t care enough. Or it might be that there’s only a relatively small amount of people in TfL who ‘get’ how to design for cycling.

Whatever the explanation – it’s still not good enough. If you can, respond this evening to the (very brief) consultation, saying exactly that.

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7 Responses to A second attempt at the A24 in Morden – and it’s still not good enough

  1. Paul Luton says:

    There are problems with putting a cycle lane inside of parking. Passengers are even more likely to open doors carelessly than drivers and can just leave the door open blocking the cycle lane. At least there does seem to be a buffer zone.

    • Tim says:

      Some truth in this – no magic bullets – but when the cycle lane is on the carriageway side, cyclists will naturally have a tendency to cling to the parked cars to stay out of the way of moving vehicles. This is not the case if the cycle facility is on the footway side – in fact the opposite. As long as there is a buffer zone (as logic dictates there always should be – a car space needs to be wide enough for car plus open doors) I’d go for a separate cycle facility between the footway and the parking every time.

      • Tim says:

        Unless of course the cycle facility can go somewhere else altogether – unbundling or unravelling the modes.Perhaps by closing a route to private motor traffic.

    • Simon says:

      Yes but then you fall onto the pavement, not into the road.

  2. Assuming a 26 metre wide roadway from pavement to pavement outer edge, I created a diagram showing how it could be. http://streetmix.net/CyclingEdmonton/259/a24. As you can see, it’s clearly superior. And I also tried making a bus stop cross section before deciding to represent a different area with parking. They work perfectly, and meet Dutch best practice, 2 metre pavements (sidewalks), 2.5 metre wide one way cycle paths, well protected ones I might add, with 2 metre wide verges, a 2 metre wide parking lane, a pair of 3 metre wide lanes, one per direction for motor traffic and a 3 metre wide bus lane on the right. I even made sure to remember that the Brits drive on the left hand side of the road. Assuming that the junctions are right, the surface for the cycleway is smooth, the kerbs are splayed out 30 degrees, this should work very well.

  3. Jitensha Oni says:

    I used to live just southeast of there. The A24 should be a through route for cycling and is simply not getting the appropriate protected cycle lane treatment for that**, but in the details of the consultation on its own terms I’m struggling with the bus lane. It’s only in the last couple of years that the section by Morden Park, which the consultation proposals will link to, was given mandatory cycle lanes on both sides (green no less!), retaining the dual carriageway:

    https://goo.gl/maps/3UqnZkTg5it

    There’s no bus lane until you’re past the mosque, 750 m or so north of where the mandatory cycle lanes start. In passing one should note that there’s some bonkers random parking spaces interrupting the mandatory lane in places. The consultation ends to the south at the border with Sutton where you go into a changing section of single and multi-lane carriageways but no bus – or cycle lanes – except for an utterly bizarre isolated 200 m on one side of the road in North Cheam.

    So, even accepting its own thin gruel, why have a short section of bus lane in the consultation plans when the mandatory cycle lanes could be extended south to the border with Sutton? In fact it looks very much like the consultation has simply copied this section:

    https://goo.gl/maps/ARA7nxw9XSq

    The consultation says the idea is to have “a consistent cycle facility” – but it’s only ‘consistent with’ (= copied) what they’ve done before – it isn’t consistent as a cycle facility since it is a) interrupted e.g. with the parking spaces in the cycle lane in the last iteration; b) seems to view cycle and bus lanes as interchangeable, and c) gives no indication it has any idea what kind of cycle facility it is providing. As it is I refuse to engage with this kind of thing on its own terms, and yet again I’ll be telling them so, even though it won’t make any difference.

    **One of the AADF points in the mandatory lane section*** shows a large rise of cycling until about 2008-9 – from ca 100 in 2001 to ca 700, then a decline to ca 150 in 2013-14. I don’t know why the rise and fall, but clearly nothing effective (if anything) was done to encourage the promising shoots of the late 00’s. I doubt the recent changes and proposals will help at all.

    *** http://www.dft.gov.uk/traffic-counts/cp.php?la=Merton

  4. Mark Williams says:

    TFL institutionally does not like cycling now and never has done since its creation. In the interests of BBC-style `balance’, it doesn’t like private motoring (including motor taxi cadging) very much, either. I did read somewhere that in recent years it had recruited ~200 employees onto its `cycling’ team. Not sure whether that was total or full-time equivalents, but even when you account for all the pointless paper shuffling (apparently limitless consultations for very mediocre proposals, etc.), it remains a mystery what could possibly be occupying this number of workers for so long. Then consider that it pales into insignificance against the number on the `anti-cycling’ team…

    Although this consultation is in the `cycling’ section of TFL’s consultation web site, the `audience’ list rather gives the game away as to which team is responsible for it. Just more plausibly deniable motor traffic calming from a dysfunctional highway authority which it hopelessly out of its depth.

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