diamond geezer

 Friday, July 22, 2011

Cycle Superhighway 2: Bow - Aldgate

I'd hate you to think that Cycle Superhighway 2 is all bad. It isn't. If nothing else, a bright blue stripe painted down both sides of three miles of road is an ever-present reminder to drivers that perhaps they ought to watch out for bikes. But there's only one section of CS2 I'd be happy to ride, only one section where bikes and other vehicles are kept truly separate. The good bit is the first 400m, from the Bow Flyover roundabout to the foot of Fairfield Road. Join me on this one-minute-long ride, and let's see what the designers built right.

vi) CS2: Bow Flyover roundabout to Fairfield Road
Cycle Superhighway 2 was never meant to start at the Bow Flyover. It was meant to start in Ilford, five miles further east, but Newham Council refused to allow the blue stripe through their borough. So instead CS2 whimpers into existence on the far edge of Tower Hamlets, not on the flyover itself, but around the roundabout below. Two sides of the roundabout have gained a segregated bike lane, a curve of blue separated from two lanes of traffic by a low concrete barrier. This is precisely the sort of safety-conscious engineering you might expect to see along a Cycle Superhighway, but along CS2 it's resolutely rare.
But as a pedestrian, attempting to cross the roundabout, no benefits.

A special treat for cyclists exiting the roundabout - they're allowed to ride on the pavement. A special ramp draws them in, then a blue stripe swoops round the curve of the pavement to guide them into Bow Road. Its only twenty yards long, but it helps keep cyclists out of harm's way at a busy junction. One problem, there's no indication of the direction of travel. I've seen more than one cyclist riding the wrong way, because it's only a pavement isn't it, and the official eastbound blue stripe is completely inaccessible on the opposite side of the flyover. [photo]
But as a pedestrian, attempting to cross the roundabout, that's been made more hazardous. There are no lights controlling traffic exiting the roundabout, so you still have to take your chances and dash across the road when you can. But the edge of the pavement is now covered by a blue stripe, so waiting brings additional peril from oncoming bikes.


For the next stretch of Cycle Superhighway 2, thank the medieval residents of Bow. They built their village church in the middle of the main road, which is really really wide, so there's plenty of room for four lanes of westbound traffic. In particular there's plenty of room for a straight blue cycle lane to roar uphill, uninterrupted, with a bus lane and bus stops to one side and two lanes of traffic on the other. You could feel a bit exposed on a bike, sandwiched between double deckers and lorries, but CS2 here still delivers an impressive degree of segregation.

Straight ahead at the entrance to Bromley High Street, and back onto the pavement. You've probably built up a good speed by now, wheeee! [photo]
But as a pedestrian, attempting to cross the road here, the last thing you need is a speeding cyclist. The pedestrian crossing by Gladstone's statue used to traverse only two lanes of traffic, but now crosses two lanes of traffic and a Cycle Superhighway. We all know that cyclists have a bad reputation for stopping at red lights, but they're proving particularly reticent to stop at this one. Maybe that's because they're on the pavement not the road, so they think normal rules don't apply. Or maybe they're not spotting the insubstantial white stop line where the blue line breaks. Whatever, I've already had a near miss here, when I crossed in front of a bus waiting properly at the lights but which shielded me from view from the cycle lane behind. I'm expecting several more such incidents in the coming months, but hopefully no collisions.

A fine fifty metres of CS2 follow. The pavement outside St Mary's Court is luxuriously broad, wide enough to drive a bus down, so the edge of it has been donated to cyclists. They get to ride along a fresh blue surface, six inches above the rush of traffic alongside. If all of CS2 was like this, I might start cycling to work. But no, because converting pavement to Superhighway is incredibly expensive. There were workmen here for months, shifting lampposts and realigning the kerb, then re-laying the paving slabs and re-laying them again until they were eventually flat. If you tried this along the entire length of Bow Road you'd bankrupt TfL's transport budget pretty damned quickly. Instead, cyclists, please make the most of this bit. [photo]
But as a pedestrian, CS2 means pavement disappearing. And there'll be even more disappearing soon when a huge Borisbike docking station arrives. It'll be the second largest in Tower Hamlets, 77 slots in total, although goodness knows why it needs to be so big. It'll involve undoing the last round of workmanship by digging up these same paving slabs all over a-bloody-gain. And it'll devour even more of what used to be pavement, cut from luxurious to sidelined in twelve months flat.

At the junction with Fairfield Road, CS2 returns to ground level. A short ramp down from the pavement and you're back on the road, in time to enter the large blue space in advance of the traffic lights. You probably won't need to stop, these lights don't go red very often. But how nice to have the full width of the road at your disposal while you wait. Except that having the full width of the road painted blue turns out to be pointless. The Cycle Superhighway continues along a thin strip to the left, so left is the only alignment you'll need to follow. You can't turn right at these traffic lights, not officially, not unless you're a bus. That doesn't stop local cyclists, obviously, but officially CS2 is straight ahead only. [photo]
But as a pedestrian, these revamped traffic lights make life worse. I complained about them back in May, you may remember, when it looked like a repeater signal had been removed. Well, bad call, a permanent third set of lights has since been installed at the end of Fairfield Road. Trouble is, it's a new 'improved' model with longer shielding around each light. Better for cars, the lights are better directed. But now much harder for somebody on foot to determine whether the red light is red or not before starting to cross. Indeed, heading from east to west, I'd say it's now impossible. Still, why not step out into the traffic anyway, it probably won't kill you.

So there you have it. The first minute of Cycle Superhighway 2 is undoubtedly super for cyclists. But you won't catch me on the rest. Lanes shared with lorries, bus stops to negotiate around, lanes shared with lorries, parked cars to ride through... and did I mention the lanes shared with lorries? However much has been spent painting the East End blue, this intermittent impractical stripe won't bring about a two-wheeled revolution.


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