I'm concerned not as a cyclist, but as someone who has to live beside it, walk beside it, breathe alongside it and occasionally ride buses along it.
I'm concerned because TfL plan to improve Cycle Superhighway 2 but aren't yet sure how. In particular I'm concerned they'll improve it for cyclists by making the road worse for the rest of us. This may not be a popular view, sorry, but then you probably don't live here.
Cycle Superhighway 2 runs from Aldgate to Bow along a major trunk road, the A11. It's a very busy road, because no parallel alternative exists along most of its length. It's a very wide road, wide enough that trams used to run down the middle between the traffic. It has two lanes for traffic in both directions, pretty much all the way along. And it has massive pavements, most of the time, easily wide enough to chop a bike lane out of. There's so much width to play with that it ought to be easy to carve out sufficient space for cyclists, vehicular traffic and pedestrians. But I fear that's not quite going to happen.
It appears that TfL are currently working on three potential plans for improving CS2, three plans with very different rationales, costs and timelines. Further details will be announced before Christmas, we're told, and eventually one of the three (or something else) will be selected for implementation. Here are those three options, as announced last night, courtesy of tweets from the Tower Hamlets Wheelers.
Here's a photo of CS2's notorious "blue stripe of paint", daubed down half a lane of traffic in an entirely substandard way. But look again. See how wide Bow Road is? You could easily carve a segregated cycle lane out of this, on both sides, because there's plenty of room. Build a low kerb two metres from the edge of the pavement, paint the intermediate section blue, and hey presto, a fully segregated cycle lane. It could be as good as the CS2 extension to Stratford, in places, but the rest of the road would suddenly be a lot narrower. Stratford High Street used to be three lanes wide and now it's two, which is fine because that still leaves plenty of room for traffic. But Bow Road would go from two lanes to one, and that's not so good. Off-peak the road would probably cope, probably, but at rush hours the traffic would back up twice as far as it does now, and that's often bad enough. Imagine a two lane trunk road reduced to one, from Bow to Aldgate, simply to make way for an intermittent stream of narrow bikes. This is a road potentially five cars wide, but CS2 option 1 would leave room for only two. By the sound of it buses might get to share the left hand lane with cyclists for much of the way (good for buses, bad for bikes). But everything else heading to the A12 would be squeezed, which'd mean more traffic jams, slower journeys and an increase in the amount of pollutants I get to breathe in. Great for cyclists, in as many sections as TfL think they can segregate, but not so good for the rest of us.
Here's a photo of the only decent section of Cycle Superhighway 2, a brief 100 metre stretch westbound near Bow Church. For reasons unknown, but very welcome, here TfL decided to route CS2 up onto the pavement, perfectly segregated from all road traffic. I told you the pavement was wide, and see, I wasn't joking. Indeed so wide that since I took this photo in 2011 TfL have come back and installed a Cycle Hire docking station alongside and there's still plenty of room for pedestrians. Much, indeed most of the pavement between here and Aldgate offers similar opportunities to slice off a couple of metres and create a splendidly safe cycle lane. Option 2 is an excellent solution, potentially, preserving the main road two lanes wide and leaving sufficient space alongside for those of us on foot. But, three problems. Firstly the pavement isn't always this wide, there are bits where stations and churches and shops and markets and front gardens intrude, which would mean the on-pavement cycle lane would have to end. Secondly there are a lot of bus stops down the A11, and a lot of people waiting, which would demand the creation of several spacious bus stop bypasses, which could get awkward. And thirdly, as the initial tweet suggests, there's a lot of stuff in the way. Trees for a start, dozens of which would need to be chopped down to make way for cyclists - surely an eco-unfriendly own goal. And litter bins too, and bike hire stations, and bollards, and phone boxes, and car parking spaces... but most especially lampposts. Relocating lampposts requires digging up the pavement and relaying the cables two metres back, which I watched contractors doing when TfL created this on-pavement lane in 2011 and it took ages. I bet it cost a lot too, and it'd be a phenomenal task to complete lamppost relocation along both sides of two miles of CS2. Option 2 may be the most logical solution to providing shared space along Bow Road, but at what price?
Blimey, I didn't see this one coming. It's the 100 year-old tram solution, running a separate stream of two-wheeled traffic down the middle of the road while leaving room for everything else to run on either side. That's clever, especially in that it would feed cyclists safely over the Bow Flyover, completely avoiding the Bow roundabout. But is this option also impractical? How safe would a segregated cycle channel along the middle of the road be to enter, or to leave? Not everyone joins a cycle lane at the beginning, nor leaves at traffic lights - our journeys are rarely so conveniently uniform. And surely exiting a central cycle lane would require turning across the flow of traffic, which is precisely the kind of manoeuvre that keeps getting cyclists killed. If option 3 were ever implemented I suspect the number of exits from the central lane would have to be seriously limited, a nannying solution to 'keep cyclists safe'. Meanwhile I have a different issue with cyclists being allocated the centre of the road, which is how much harder it would become for us pedestrians to cross the street. Currently we have many crossing points, all of them with a central island refuge allowing us to split our crossing into two stages. Take those islands away and we'd have to cross in one go, full width, at remodelled "all stop" pedestrian crossings. And I can tell you now, people aren't going to do that. They're going to nip across halfway when they see a gap, as they do now, before then having to dash through the added hazard of a two-way cycle lane halfway.
It is excellent that TfL are finally looking into upgrading CS2 from a blue strip of paint to something half decent. How big that improvement will be depends very much on which upgrade option is eventually selected, and how many mitigating tweaks have to be made to ensure the whole thing works. Some very difficult decisions need to be made, balancing the needs of various road users along a potentially lethal two mile street. So I hope the team trying to come up with a solution for cyclists also remember that some of us have to live, walk, breathe and travel alongside. And I remain concerned.