The finest cycling infrastructure in London should be opening next month between Bow and Stratford. That's the extension to Cycle Superhighway 2, a mile and a half of mostly-segregated cycleway designed with bike safety at the very top of the agenda. It'll run along Stratford High Street, a blessedly wide road with plenty of room to carve out space for cycling. And it'll be hugely better than the piss-poor Cycle Superhighway 2, which is essentially a blue stripe painted on the road (which links to the new extension at the Bow Roundabout).
And yet there are hints that the extension to Cycle Superhighway 2 might be just a little too complex. A number of fresh features are being introduced, previously unseen or uncommon, with the express intent of protecting cyclists from danger. These include a cycle early start feature, six bus stop bypasses and a special two-stage right turn. What's intriguing is to discover that TfL have gone to the bother of creating three YouTube animations to teach road users to how use these safety improvements. Something about each of the three features needs explaining, either to cyclists or pedestrians, else there's an expectation they won't be negotiated properly. And it's just my twopenn'orth, but I reckon most road users will never see the videos and so will end up using the Cycle Superhighway extension instinctively rather than appropriately. See what you think.
Despite lengthy roadworks on the westbound approach to the Bow Roundabout, little of this cycle early start facility has yet been created. All that's so far present are some chalk marks on the tarmac, showing where a segregating barrier will be built and an advance signal pole will be erected. The new staggered start line will mirror the early start facility installed on the eastbound side of the roundabout last year. Vehicular traffic is halted at a stop line further back from the junction, allowing cyclists to filter into a broad forward space, then head off first when the lights change. If everyone followed all the instructions this should be safe, but a year's visual evidence suggests they don't, and a significant number of cyclists jump the final red light when they believe it's safe to do so. Sometimes that's bravado, sometimes that's a calculated decision, but for others it's because they genuinely didn't realise the second red light applied to them. TfL realised this after a few weeks of operation and put up yellow signs saying "Cyclists Stop On Red", but this does suggest a cycle early start junction only works properly if riders are fully educated.
Here's the video that TfL have put together to explain the westbound cycle early start, now under construction. It explains how cyclists should pass through the first stop line but should stop at the second before proceeding onto the roundabout. Only when this light turns green should they continue, and then the traffic behind will follow at a safe distance without fear of knocking anyone over. If the video circulates widely and everyone behaves appropriately then lorry-squashing should be a thing of the past. But this angelic behaviour won't happen, cyclists will still jump the lights, evidence from the eastbound tells me that. And the video's missed out an important "what if", which is what if you cycle up to the roundabout and the first cycle light is red. In this case you're supposed to wait patiently while all the vehicles pile onto the roundabout ahead of you, because that's safe, but again evidence from the eastbound suggests few cyclists will bother. They'll speed through to the green light on the roundabout and dice with the potential appearance of left-turning lorries, because you just would, and this video's not going to help prevent that.
Oh, and someone in the TfL animation department can't spell "SEPERATE". Just saying.
The appearance of six bus stop bypasses is a high profile change which TfL will rightly be trumpeting. Along the rest of Cycle Superhighway 2 the blue stripe breaks at bus stops, and cyclists have to find their own way round through the traffic. Not here. Brand new cycle paths are being added round the back of bus stops, which means no conflict with the rest of the traffic at all, which is excellent. My photo shows the bus stop bypass closest to the Bow Flyover, which is nearing completion. The new bike lane is deeper than the pavement, to prevent cyclists from whizzing off at all angles, and forms an island where passengers will wait for buses. Nobody's replaced the bus shelter yet, but rest assured they will.
But there is an issue worthy of creating a video, which is that cyclists and pedestrians will now need to avoid each other. Passengers alighting from a bus must cross the cycle bypass, as must those hoping to wait for a bus here, but how? One small section of the cycle path has been raised to the level of the pavement, to be marked by tactile paving, and this is the sole official crossing point. Indeed if you've got a pushchair or wheelchair it's your only option. But will everybody else walk to the crossing point or will they cross willy-nilly? I think we know the answer. The video urges pedestrians to wait for cyclists, and cyclists to watch out for slow pedestrians, and everyone to watch out for one another. In PerfectWorld obviously that'd be the intention, but in reality I expect able-bodied pedestrians to cross wherever they like, and desire line anarchy to ensue.
Oh, and bus stop bypasses are nothing new.
Here's one on Alexandra Avenue in Rayners Lane, been there for years, no fuss.
3. A two-stage right turn for cyclists on Stratford High Street (TfL instructional video)
And this is just baffling. When Westfield opened, a major multi-laneroad junction was created where Stratford High Street meets Warton Road, but two years later it's being entirely remodelled with cycle safety in mind. Two slip roads are being removed, and contractors are building out the footway to reduce left-turn conflict. Traffic attempting to turn right out of Stratford High Street will have a new segregated lane to wait in, and cyclists will have an advanced stop line in front of these lights. That should be enough, except TfL have recognised that not all cyclists will be confident enough to move out from pavement-side to reach this right hand lane. The perfect Cycle Superhighway reduces all vehicle conflict, so having to cut across the traffic is not good enough.
Hence the video. I'd suggest watching it now, or reading this commentary, so that you can sit there and gasp "seriously, they want cyclists do what?" To follow TfL's recommended method of turning right, you don't turn right. You go straight on, beyond your intended exit, then cycle up onto the pavement. This is described as a shared pavement, meaning that bicycles and pedestrians are now likely to come into conflict, but that's deemed officially safe. Then you cycle back towards the road junction and join the traffic on the side road, before riding straight across and on your way. One 180° turn and one left turn becomes the equivalent of one right turn, with no scary buses or lorries involved along the way. So I have to ask, is any cyclist ever seriously going to attempt this two-stage manoeuvre. It's further to cycle, interferes with pedestrians and could require you to wait for three separate changes of the lights before you finally escape. The safe option is also the very-slow option, as well as being entirely counter-intuitive. Even cyclists who've watched the video are unlikely to go the long way round, and for everyday cyclists I'd say there's almost no chance. The video is little more than a box-ticking exercise, aimed at claiming risk has been removed when in reality almost everyone will ignore it.
So that's the extension to Cycle Superhighway 2, opening this autumn, and packed with safety features many users will either overlook or misunderstand. When a blue stripe is too complex to be used without training, perhaps we're still some way off creating the finest cycle infrastructure in London.