The gyratory system around Victoria station in Westminster has been a genuinely horrible place to cycle for as long as I can remember. Getting to and from the station, or cycling past it, involves dealing with multiple lanes of one-way motor traffic, zooming off towards Park Lane, or thundering south towards Vauxhall Bridge.
The gyratory makes absolutely no concessions to cycling. If, for instance, you want to get from the station to the safety of Cycle Superhighway 3 – central London’s flagship cycle route, you have to make your way around two sides of a terrifying triangle, holding a position in the right hand lane of traffic heading north onto Grosvenor Place, before taking primary position on the left hand side as you skirt the edge of Buckingham Palace.
Cycle Superhighway 5 should have arrived in this area from Vauxhall Bridge, and should – quite sensibly – have connected up with Superhighway 3 in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace. However, it seems to have stalled right on the boundary of (guess who!) Westminster City Council, leaving anyone attempting to get between the two to negotiate a mile or so of unpleasant roads without any mitigation for cycling whatsoever.
Right in the middle of the Victoria gryatory stands the new Nova development. An incidental detail is that one of the buildings here won 2017’s Carbuncle Cup for the UK’s ugliest building, but I doubt that anyone cycling past has any time to assess its aesthetic qualities, given that they are busily trying to stay alive. Like Superhighway 5, this development should have represented an opportunity to make the roads around Victoria a bit less lethal for anyone attempting to cycle here. There’s even a detailed 60-page Transport for London strategy document dating from 2014, the Victoria Vision Cycling Strategy (link opens a download automatically), which explicitly sets out the key challenges and requirements in the Victoria area, in the context of the then-Mayor’s Vision for Cycling.
However, while there have been some improvements in the area around the Nova development – in particular, widened footways, better public realm, and a surface-level crossing that has replaced a subway – it is unfortunate that, despite this golden opportunity to make some serious changes, cycling has been almost completely ignored as the roads have been rebuilt.
One of the biggest issues is that the gyratory around the Nova development has been retained. The new buildings still sit in the middle of what is effectively a giant multi-lane roundabout. The problem of trying to negotiate these roads without being diverted around hostile one-way systems remains, to say nothing of the total lack of protected space for cycling.
Cycling towards the camera here remains impossible. And when the bus lane is occupied, cycling away from the camera is – while possible – an unpleasant and potentially dangerous experience.
Much the same is true on Victoria Street, lying between Victoria station and the Nova development. Again, we have 2-3 lanes of one-way motor traffic thundering through here, exactly as before.
And again, this arrangement make no concession for anyone trying to cycle east (away from the camera).
Worst of all, it introduces a significant collision risk at the junction itself, where I am standing to take the photograph. On the approach to the junction, a wide bus stand narrows down significantly, leaving perhaps a metre of width between the kerb and stationary vehicles as a ‘channel’ through which people can cycle to reach an inviting advanced stop line (ASL). The area in question is indicated with the arrow, below.
That ASL looks very inviting, but getting there could be very risky indeed. There’s absolutely no guarantee that any large vehicle progressing through the junction will remain a safe distance from the kerb. Three separate examples below, taken within the space of a few minutes.
Anyone cycling up to the lights – forced into a tight merge by the narrowing of the road, and tempted to advance by a cycle lane leading to an ASL, could very easily find themselves squeezed between a lorry, or a bus, and the kerb. If any of these vehicles are turning left, like the National Express coach in the photograph below, the consequences could be lethal.
Someone has already had a very narrow escape here, taken to hospital in a critical condition after going under a left turning lorry at precisely this location.
This is dreadful design, and it’s shocking that new road layouts this are appearing right in the centre of our capital city, with a blank slate to do so much better.
It may not be apparent from these photographs, but the footway on this corner is now very large indeed – nearly twenty metres wide, at the apex.
This is obviously a very good thing, in its own right. A left-turn slip lane for motor traffic has been removed and replaced with this footway, making the junction far more attractive for anyone walking here. But it seems extraordinary that, simultaneously, so little thought has been given to the safety of people attempting to cycle through here. They are almost literally being thrown under the bus. At a location where the building-to-building width is 30 metres, it is simply unacceptable to squeeze people cycling into a tiny space where they are already ending up under the wheels of HGVs.
How can things be going so wrong with brand-new road layouts? How can we we rebuilding roads with 2-3 lanes of one-way motor traffic, without any apparent thought for cycling?
The distinct, unavoidable impression created from the new roads around Victoria is that it seems sufficient to treat cycling as a mere afterthought once the road layouts and widened pavements have been planned. Once the kerb lines have been defined, all that’s left to do is to add a painted bicycle symbol in a box just behind the stop line, and perhaps a tokenistic line at the side of the road, where there isn’t any parking, or a bus lane. Even if that might make a dangerous junction even more dangerous.
That’s just not good enough. These roads could and should have been rebuilt with protected cycleways, allowing people to travel to and from the Vauxhall area and central London in safety, or from west London towards central London. Instead they are still being put in danger, and cycling here will continue to remain the sole preserve of the fit and brave.
Alex Ingram points out that – in addition to the Transport Initiatives/PJA 2014 report for Transport for London on cycling in Victoria, the Victoria BID also produced a report on public realm in the area in 2015. It has this to say –
Cycling in Victoria can feel dangerous and intimidating. High volumes of traffic on the Inner Ring Road and the associated Victoria gyratory have a significant negative impact on cycling through the area. One-way streets in general are a hindrance to the desire lines of cyclists and create longer and more difficult journeys.
… Cycle routes and safety are key considerations when upgrading streets and spaces … In April 2013 a cyclist was fatally injured during the morning rush hour at the junction between Victoria Street and Palace Street. A number of minor injuries have also occurred at junctions along Victoria Street and more serious cycling injuries around the Buckingham Palace Road-Lower Grosvenor Place junction. Here the fast-flowing multiple lanes of one-way traffic include many coaches and large service vehicles which create significant hazards. Major arteries such as Vauxhall Bridge Road and Grosvenor Place are also accident hotspots.