Westminster Bridge bus stop bypass, revisited

In case you had forgotten, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust spent over £10,000 of NHS funding in an attempt to prevent ‘floating’ bus stops being built on Westminster Bridge (a detail uncovered by Tom Kearney).

This was part of an orchestrated campaign against the bus stop bypasses from hospital management. They sent out press releases to the Evening Standard, with quotes from their chairman –

Sir Hugh Taylor, chairman of Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS trust, said: “We believe that TfL’s plans for cycle lanes and so-called ‘floating’ bus stops on Westminster Bridge pose risks to both pedestrians and cyclists. We are particularly concerned about the impact on patients and carers, especially the elderly, disabled, and families with children in buggies and wheelchairs coming to Evelina London Children’s Hospital.”

They started a petition against the bus stop bypass design – garnering just over 1,000 signatures. They added news items on their website. They organised protest events.

Further FOI requests revealed this entire strategy may have originated with the local MP Kate Hoey, who wrote to the Trust in April 2016 suggesting a campaign against the bus stop bypasses would be

‘a great opportunity’.

Those same FOI requests contain a hilariously revealing admission from the Trust’s Secretary and Head of Corporate Affairs –

‘I don’t think we’ve any evidence [floating bus stops] are unsafe – even though we think they are’

Despite not having any evidence, this same individual was simultaneously claiming that 

‘The Trust is very concerned that Transport for London’s plans for the cycle super highway and “floating” bus stops on Westminster Bridge are dangerous’

The whole curious affair is covered in detail by both Cyclists in the City and by Paul Gannon.

Fast-forward a year to 2017, and it turns out that Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust…. aren’t actually opposed to bus stop bypasses at all, and drop their high court challenge. Construction started in the summer of that year, with zebra crossings across the cycleways at the bus stop islands. The official opening of this southbound section (in front of the hospital) was in the autumn.

That means these bus stop bypasses have been running more-or-less normally for around eight months now. Has the predicted danger and chaos ensued? To give a flavour of how these stops operate at busy times, I filmed them earlier this month, at 5pm on a Wednesday. I stood here for forty minutes (until my phone battery ran out). The following video shows every single person who cycled (or scooted) past the bus stops between 5 and 5:40pm – around 100 people. The cuts don’t hide anything – they’re simply those periods when nobody was cycling past.

As you’ll see if you watch the entire video, it is very, very mundane. The vast majority of people cycling past do so without any interaction whatsoever – when interactions do occur, they are at slow speed and involve negotiation. This is hardly surprising. People cycling have an interest in not colliding with other human beings – they will injure themselves in doing so. While filming these clips I kept on having to remind myself that an NHS trust objected so strongly to something that is frankly pretty boring.

Nevertheless there are some moments that are worth commenting on.

  • The very first clip (0:13) shows someone overtaking someone slower, by using the bus stop island. There was nobody standing on the island at the time, so nobody was put in danger, and I doubt this manoeuvre would have been attempted otherwise. This is, however, one reason why I think it was a mistake to build the cycleway so narrow (1.5m, and with high kerbs) – it prevents overtaking, and more importantly it removes ‘negotiation space’ as people step onto the zebras, or accidentally step into the cycleway. In a misguided attempt to slow people down, I think the narrowness of the cycleway here actually makes matters worse.
  • From 4:38 onwards there’s a good example of some interaction on the zebra crossing.
  • 7:14 – probably the fastest cyclist of the clip.
  • At 7:25 a woman looking at her phone accidentally steps into the cycleway and stumbles. The man cycling seems to have anticipated this happening and is already steering around her.
  • From 9:16 we see an elderly woman in a hospital chair being wheeled across the zebra, to the island, to a waiting taxi. (Incidentally the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association claimed in their consultation response that “segregated cycle lanes will make it difficult to load people in wheelchairs and other mobility impaired people – this will be a particular problem outside St Thomas’ Hospital.”)
  • From 9:26 there is a minor near miss, as a woman steps into the cycleway without looking. A collision is avoided by the man cycling anticipating, and stopping. (There were a number of other minor incidents like this with people stepping into the cycleway without looking, but none were anywhere near as close as this).

I don’t think we can learn too much from all of this because I was only here for forty minutes. I know that Transport for London have been conducting more extensive rolling video surveys of the new zebra crossings on CS6 and on CS2, which will provide much more comprehensive analysis. However, this was a busy period of the day, at a time when lots of people were coming and going to get on buses. Just under a hundred people cycle past in this period too.

The design is not perfect. As I’ve already mentioned, I think the cycleway is too narrow, which will create problems. The bus stop islands seemed to cope with the number of pedestrians at this busy time, but they could (and should) be wider. To my mind the road here is still ridiculous wide – four lanes, with hatching, and an island – and I really think some serious consideration should have been given to narrowing the road to three (or even two) lanes, and indeed restricting the types of motor traffic allowed to use the bridge to buses and taxis only, which already dominate the traffic composition in any case. That would have allowed much more space for pedestrians, for people cycling, and for bus users.

But even with these problems, it is hard to see what all the fuss was about. My video shows forty minutes of pretty benign interaction (or non-interaction), and even when things go wrong and people behave badly or make mistakes, there are no consequences. Perhaps most importantly of all, the whole video shows buses and cycles flowing freely, without coming into conflict with one another, or impeding each other. Both modes benefit. It’s a stark contrast to the previous situation, where anyone cycling on the bridge had to mix it with these large vehicles.

The footway on the left here was also ‘shared use’, with people allowed to cycle on it, so the new arrangement is yet another improvement in that respect, clarifying where people cycling should be, and where they are expected.

It does seem extraordinary to me that these proposals received so much attention and outright hostility, while the road network across London remains such an unpleasant, dangerous and pedestrian-hostile environment – where ‘green man’ pedestrian signals still do not exist at busy junctions (and are blocked (in 2018!) on the grounds of modelled delay); where zebra crossings are so scarce; where people face massive delay and staggered crossings trying to cross even one arm of a junction. My hope is that as more and more of these types of bus stop are built, so the evidence base will build too, and we (and NHS Trusts) can start to focus our attention on the more pressing problems instead.

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9 Responses to Westminster Bridge bus stop bypass, revisited

  1. Mike says:

    Thanks for the update, and very illuminating it is too. Perhaps every local council should receive a copy as a training aid and every NHS trust should be force-fed your video until their ears bleed.

  2. canamsteve says:

    As noted, cycle haters don’t need facts to back up their beliefs. Even when the facts contradict them, they are still steadfast haters.

    I did note at lest one cyclist was not inclined to yield to pedestrians waiting at the zebra crossing. It’s of course a ridiculous “loophole” in English law that the pedestrian must technically be “on” the crossing (in other words, if you are safely waiting for the traffic to stop, the traffic doesn’t have to stop) there’s no extra room for that manoeuvre here. More space would be much better, but then I suppose we should be happy we got this much.

      • welshmullet says:

        Rule 195: https://www.highwaycodeuk.co.uk/pedestrian-crossings.html

        Zebra crossings. As you approach a zebra crossing

        look out for pedestrians waiting to cross and be ready to slow down or stop to let them cross
        you MUST give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a crossing
        allow more time for stopping on wet or icy roads
        do not wave or use your horn to invite pedestrians across; this could be dangerous if another vehicle is approaching
        be aware of pedestrians approaching from the side of the crossing.

        A zebra crossing with a central island is two separate crossings (see pictures in Crossings (18 to 30)).
        Law ZPPPCRGD reg 25

        So you only have to legally give way if the pedestrian is on the crossing. If they’re waiting on the pavement, you do not have to give way.

        • canamsteve says:

          Which, as I noted, is either a huge flaw in the law or a huge loophole. The only reason the existing regulation works is because the majority of drivers are sensible, and the odd idiot behind them is forced to stop by their prudent actions.

          So, let’s say you are a parent, whose child must cross a busy road at a busy time of day to go to and from school. Do you counsel them to step boldly into the Zebra crossing hoping the cars will stop? Wait patiently? Dip a toe? What if the next driver is that odd idiot?*

          It’s a very poorly designed regulation (IMO) and shows the primacy given to motorised vehicles over other road users. It’s not even fair or reasonable. What if I step out when you are two metres from teh crossing? Apparently now you MUST give way. Other jurisdictions write better regs and provide better infrastructure. But the UK seems to know everything is better the way they do it – no need to look at what is done elsewhere

          *Of course, we know that in reality, little Timmy and Allison will actually be driven the five blocks to school by Mum in her 4X4

  3. Marten says:

    And you can hear the woman at 9:26 say sorry, and the man on the bicycle going “oh, it’s okay”. It’s just astonishing how much more social and relaxed even near misses are when it comes to pedestrians and bicycles.

  4. Pingback: Westminster Bridge bus stop bypass, revisited

  5. Tim says:

    Great to see how things continued. I still feel strongly that the trust should have been reprimanded for wasting so much tax-payers money on such a pointless and ultimately futile campaign. NHS trusts should be supporting healthy behaviour, and prevention is so much better than cure. Not surprised to discover Hoey was involved.

    A couple of thoughts/points.

    a) I still agree with other commenters that the law regarding zebras – that pedestrians have to step out first – is ridiculous. This has been discussed on another of your posts. However, in Manchester I have very frequently stopped to wait for pedestrians to cross only to have them also wait and insist I go first! Not something that happens for pedestrian crossings over the main carriageway very often. I guess this could be attributed to British politeness, or to pedestrians not trusting me to wait for them. 🙂

    b) On the subject of kerbs I think it’s always a compromise. The “kerbier” – higher and steeper – the kerbs are, the less likely people are to step off them blindly, and the fewer people will do so. But shallow angled kerbs are more forgiving to cyclists who go astray for any reason. Personally I prefer to have them more clearly defined. Preventing rather curing.

    c) I think the link in the paragraph above Will Norman’s post is duff. I was interested to read about how the campaign had been abandoned.

    d) Any chance of getting rid of spam comments?

    Again, thanks for taking the time to make and edit the video, and to post about it.

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