diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Making the Bow roundabout safer for pedestrians

Whilst there's (rightly) been a lot of fuss about how poor the Bow Roundabout is for cyclists, let's not forget it's also a death trap for pedestrians. Built as a motorway junction circa 1970, the Bow Interchange was never designed for easy crossing on foot. But with the Olympic Park and Lower Lea Valley blocking alternative routes to the east, anyone trying to travel between Bow and Stratford has little choice but to pass this way. Two major roads cross here, with a total of eight slip roads to negotiate. The four entry roads have traffic lights but not pedestrian signals (the blue arrows on the map below) (safe-ish). Meanwhile the four exit roads have no aids to crossing at all (the brown arrows on the map below) (very unsafe). Here the car is king, and local pedestrians all but ignored.



Let me take you through one complete anti-clockwise circuit of the roundabout, starting outside the McDonalds drive-through, to show you how dangerous it is. You might want to follow on this Google map. And TfL planners, you might want to take notes.

1) Bow Roundabout West to Bow Roundabout South (across the A11, under the flyover)
1a) Eastbound sliproad from A11: This is fairly easy to cross on foot. There's no pedestrian signal, but all traffic stops at a red light for about 75% of every 50 second cycle. This gives plenty of time to stroll over, so long as you don't start out just before the light turns green, which it does with no warning, so beware.
1b) Westbound sliproad to A11: This is not at all easy to cross. Traffic streams off the roundabout at all times, so you have to judge best when there's a gap and nip across. If you're lucky then approaching cars will signal that they're continuing round the roundabout, leaving the sliproad clear, but accurate use of indicators can't be guaranteed. If you're too old or infirm to be able to break into a run, when necessary, then it's probably best not to risk it. If you're in a wheelchair, then you'd never dare cross here.
Shortest alternative safe crossing: From McDonalds walk up the pavement past St Mary's Church to the pedestrian crossing by the Gladstone statue. Cross to the centre by the church gates, then take the second pedestrian crossing to the other side of Bow Road. Next use the zebra crossing at the top of Bromley High Street, then walk down the pavement to the Bow Roundabout. Total diversion time: 6½ minutes.

2) Bow Roundabout South to Bow Roundabout East (across the A12, above the underpass)
2a) Northbound sliproad from A12: This is fairly easy to cross on foot. There's no pedestrian signal, but all traffic stops at a red light for about 75% of every 50 second cycle. This gives plenty of time to stroll over, so long as you don't start out just before the light turns green, which it does with no warning, so beware.
2b) Southbound sliproad to A12: This is not at all easy to cross. Traffic streams off the roundabout at all times, so you have to judge best when there's a gap and nip across. If you're lucky then approaching cars will signal that they're continuing round the roundabout, leaving the sliproad clear, but accurate use of indicators can't be guaranteed. If you're too old or infirm to be able to break into a run, when necessary, then it's probably best not to risk it. If you're in a wheelchair, then you'd never dare cross here.
Shortest alternative safe crossing: Walk south to the exit from Bromley High Street. This isn't entirely safe, but if there is any emerging traffic then it usually stops. Continue to the subway opposite Tesco, then pass through to emerge opposite the aforementioned supermarket. Cross Hancock Road, looking carefully to check that no traffic's coming, then walk north along the pavement to the Bow Roundabout. Total diversion time: 9 minutes.

3) Bow Roundabout East to Bow Roundabout North (across the A118, below the flyover)
3a) Westbound sliproad from A118: This is fairly easy to cross on foot. There's no pedestrian signal, but all traffic stops at a red light for about 75% of every 50 second cycle. This gives plenty of time to stroll over, so long as you don't start out just before the light turns green, which it does with no warning, so beware. Except hang on, what's this?
3b) Eastbound contraflow to Sugarhouse Lane: Yes, watch out, there's a contraflow lane here running along the southern edge of the flyover. Traffic's rare, but that makes speeding cars even more deadly when one does eventually come along. To cross at the lights requires blind faith that no vehicle will suddenly divert off the roundabout - you'll get only a few metres notice if one does. And there's a distinct hump in the edge of the pavement here - this is most definitely not a recommended crossing route. Maybe they want you to cross away from the traffic lights instead (that's 3a and 3b at the same time), but if you try that then beware of two-way traffic!
3c) Westbound contraflow from Marshgate Lane: And another contraflow lane, this time along the northern side of the flyover. There are no lights at the exit onto the roundabout, but there is a damned good view back towards Stratford so you'll easily see any traffic approaching. This one's safe... unless you forget it's there when crossing 3c and 3d at the same time, in which case the unexpected contraflow could easily kill you. Nearly has me.
3d) Eastbound sliproad to A118: This is not at all easy to cross. Traffic streams off the roundabout at all times, so you have to judge best when there's a gap and nip across. If you're lucky then approaching cars will signal that they're continuing round the roundabout, leaving the sliproad clear, but accurate use of indicators can't be guaranteed. If you're too old or infirm to be able to break into a run, when necessary, then it's probably best not to risk it. If you're in a wheelchair, then you'd never dare cross here.
Shortest alternative safe crossing: Time to use the new floating towpath! Walk away from the roundabout, turning left past the Calor Gas depot down towards the River Lea. Turn left along the floating towpath underneath the main road (which is illuminated at all times, even if the approaches aren't). On reaching the new footbridge turn left, and back up the slope to return to the roundabout. Total diversion time: 3½ minutes
Shortest alternative safe crossing after dark: Don't take the floating towpath route after dark. I tried this at 8pm last week, walking down an unlit path into a remote tunnel (where any crime would have gone wholly unseen), and it's probably the most unwise scary thing I've done all year. The 24-hour safe route involves walking up Stratford High Street as far as Abbey Lane, crossing that, then crossing the main road at new traffic lights, then walking back down Stratford High Street to the roundabout. It's a lengthy, but necessary, detour. Total diversion time: 12 minutes


4) Bow Roundabout North to Bow Roundabout West (across the A12, above the underpass)
4a) Southbound sliproad from A12: This is fairly easy to cross on foot. There's no pedestrian signal, but all traffic stops at a red light for about 75% of every 50 second cycle. This gives plenty of time to stroll over, so long as you don't start out just before the light turns green, which it does with no warning, so beware.
4b) Northbound sliproad to A12: This is not at all easy to cross. Traffic streams off the roundabout at all times, so you have to judge best when there's a gap and nip across. If you're lucky then approaching cars will signal that they're continuing round the roundabout, leaving the sliproad clear, but accurate use of indicators can't be guaranteed. If you're too old or infirm to be able to break into a run, when necessary, then it's probably best not to risk it. If you're in a wheelchair, then you'd never dare cross here.
Shortest alternative safe crossing: Ah, now this is difficult. There's no pavement along the eastern side of this former motorway, nor any useful footbridge or subway anywhere nearby. Instead, walk down the slope to the towpath beside the River Lea and continue north for approximately one kilometre. Exit the towpath at the Greenway, then walk up the ramp, double back and cross the river. Walk ahead to the end of the Greenway, turn right onto Wick Lane, and then left at the mini-roundabout to cross the A12 via the footbridge. Walk along Old Ford Road to the traffic lights, then left to the end of Parnell Road. Use the two zebra crossings to reach Tredegar Road and then Fairfield Road, crossing the latter at the zebra crossing further down. On reaching Bow Road turn left, and continue past the church to the roundabout. Estimated total diversion time: 35 minutes

I hope that's given you some idea of how utterly pedestrian unfriendly the Bow Roundabout is. So unfriendly that people are compelled to dash across and hope. So unfriendly that to make a safe circumnavigation of the roundabout on foot would take over an hour. So unfriendly that I've even seen mums with pushchairs catch a bus to take them one stop from one side to the other, that's how unsafe they feel. And what have TfL been doing about it? Quite a lot, allegedly, but nothing concrete.
Question by John Biggs (18th May 2011): What progress has been made to provide safe pedestrian crossings at the Bow Flyover/roundabout on the A12?
Answer by Boris Johnson: TfL has spent substantial effort looking at options for pedestrians crossings in this location and modelling various possible solutions. TfL have been unable so far to find an immediate solution for providing controlled at-grade pedestrian crossings at Bow Roundabout that does not push the junction over capacity and introduce significant delays to traffic. The feasibility of providing pedestrian crossings at the roundabout will continue to be investigated for the future.
None of the obvious solutions for improving the Bow Roundabout would work well. You can't build subways because there's an underpass. You can't build footbridges because there's a flyover. You can't add traffic lights at the four exits from the roundabout, because traffic would seize up. You could add zebra crossings at the four exits from the roundabout, except that would slow the flow of traffic and Boris won't have that. You could add an "all red" phase to the sequence of traffic lights at the roundabout, say once every 90 seconds, except that would seriously restrict the throughflow of traffic and cause major tailbacks, and be a complete waste of time if pedestrians weren't trying to cross, plus it could still take several minutes to walk from one side to the other. All deemed impossible, infeasible or impractical by TfL, so it seems.

And yet TfL are going to have to find a solution. They've promised an urgent review of the Bow roundabout in response to the recent death of two cyclists, and there'll be an outcry if it ignores pedestrians. Thousands of Olympic spectators will be heading this way next summer, intentionally or unintentionally, and it would never do to accidentally kill one.

So I'd like to offer a solution. It's "at-grade". It's cheap. And, best of all, it already works. All that's needed is to utilise the open space in the centre of the roundabout, beneath the flyover. Here's how.



There are currently eight sets of traffic lights at the Bow Roundabout, marked on this map with black arrows. Add a proper pedestrian crossing at each - red man, green man, dropped kerbs. That's all this solution needs. Two crossings will take anyone to the centre of the roundabout. And then two more crossings will take them to whichever other side they want to reach. Four crossings in total, via a safe route that already exists but isn't obvious. For example...

1*) Bow Roundabout West to Bow Roundabout South (across the A11, under the flyover)
1*a) Eastbound sliproad from A11: Pedestrian crossing one, from McDonalds to the concrete space beneath the flyover. The green man will be showing for 75% of the time. Easy.
1*b) Bow Roundabout West: Pedestrian crossing two, to the centre of the roundabout. Might be a bit of a wait, and there's only a short period to cross.
1*c) Bow Roundabout South: Pedestrian crossing three, to the pedestrian space above the underpass. Might be a bit of a wait, and there's only a short period to cross.
1*d) Northbound sliproad from A12: Pedestrian crossing four, to the Bromley-By-Bow side of the roundabout. The green man will be showing for 75% of the time. Easy.

Like I said, this already works. There are no green men to aid you on your way, but all the lights already turn red, and all the traffic already stops. It's just counter-intuitive, that the safest way to cross the roundabout isn't the most direct route, but via the huge bleak space in the centre. So why isn't this an ideal solution? Well, there are a few drawbacks...
i) Pedestrians are very bad at doing what they're told. Even though there's a safe route, most pedestrians will choose to ignore it, taking the existing (risky) quick route instead.
ii) Inviting people to cross to the centre of the roundabout adds pedestrians where there aren't any at present. Any sudden increase in jaywalking would make the roundabout more dangerous, rather than less.
iii) Metal barriers would need to be erected to constrain pedestrians to the approved routes, and to stop them running willy-nilly across the roundabout. Adding metal barriers isn't what Boris's TfL does - their policy is to aid choice and freedom by taking barriers away.
iv) The Bow Roundabout is a key hub on the Olympic Route Network. The last thing Games organisers want is eight new pedestrian crossings on the ORN.
v) These changes do nothing for bikes - nothing at all to improve the Cycle Superhighways.
Anyway, this is my solution. Eight pedestrian crossings attached to existing traffic lights, and a new safe refuge in the centre of the roundabout. It wouldn't cost much, and it wouldn't unduly affect existing traffic flow. Indeed, as I think I've already argued, the infrastructure already exists and the safe routes are already there. Obviously TfL will have considered this option and discarded it, otherwise they'd have introduced it by now. But I look forward to seeing what their alternative proposed solution at the Bow Roundabout is. Because nobody likes an appallingly-designed junction at the bottom of their road, and I'd rather not live near a death trap any longer than necessary.


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