diamond geezer

 Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cycle Superhighway 2 is getting an upgrade. TfL launched a consultation in the autumn to replace their useless blue stripe with a segregated lane. Yesterday they published the results of that consultation. A key change means the superhighway won't be segregated through Whitechapel Market, which has made cyclists rightly angry and traders rightly delighted. But pretty much all of the rest of the upgrade plans are going through unchanged, including the most complained about feature of all, which is the banning of two major right turns at the road junction near Mile End station. We hear you, said TfL, but we're going ahead anyway and if the backstreets suffer when drivers try to find an alternative route, sorry. And they're also going ahead with mucking up the pavement outside my front door, and lengthening the waiting time at my local pedestrian crossings, which I'm not terribly happy about either. Obviously it's crucial that cyclists get a safer ride as a result of CS2's imminent upgrade, but local infrastructure will be adversely affected in the process and some of us have to live with the end result.

So I'll be keeping a close eye on one particular section of CS2 as next year's upgrade goes ahead, and reporting back. I've picked the eastern end of the upgrade, that's from Bow Road station to the Bow Roundabout, specifically in an eastbound direction. Let's start by seeing how things are now, what's planned, and what the impacts might be.


The segregation of CS2 opposite Bow Road station will be fairly straight-forward. Two narrow slices of pavement need to be swallowed to accommodate two pedestrian crossings, but there's plenty of pavement available and nobody appears to be disadvantaged. Better still, by making room for a segregated lane within the existing roadway, none of the eight existing trees need to be cut down. It's a less rosy picture on the other side of the road, however, outside Thames Magistrates Court, where all four trees face the chop. One of these has been planted and replanted several times over the last decade following damage from passing vandals, and has only recently reached a thriving maturity. Now a cycle lane will finally kill it off, which makes me sad, and TfL have yet to say whether they'll be able to plant a replacement elsewhere.


This is the railway bridge across Bow Road, which is only occasionally used by trains. Its span causes the road to narrow, and means that the blue stripe of CS2 currently slims down to a minimal width beneath the bridge. TfL could have diverted the cycle lane through the pedestrian arches to either side but have chosen not to do so, I'd say wisely, which leaves no choice but to maintain a narrower cycle lane in the road. The width here will be 1.5m, whereas elsewhere on CS2 the minimum is 2m, and cyclists will simply have to cope. The big change in their favour is that 'wands' will be used to prevent vehicles and cyclists from coming into contact - a compromise between reality and total segregation which avoids the main carriageway having to be cut from two lanes to one.


From the railway bridge onwards, the upgraded superhighway's path is to be taken from the existing pavement rather than the road. At no point will the pavement shrink below 2m in width, which is TfL's operational minimum, but things will get rather tighter than at present past the pub, the garage and the opticians. The pavement will be at its narrowest immediately adjacent to the pedestrian crossing at the top of Campbell Road, which could become a particular pinchpoint. And looking at the plans, things look even narrower for pedestrian congestion on the southern side of the crossing, and I fear that people will start walking out into the cycle lane to negotiate past other people waiting to cross.


In common with the rest of the Cycle Superhighway, the bus stop opposite Bow Church station is to gain a bus stop bypass. In an interesting move the bypass will run along the edge of the existing pavement, and a waiting area for pedestrians will be built out across what's currently the inside lane of traffic. There's room - the road is particularly wide at this point - but I have my doubts regarding how well the rearrangement will work in practice. This bus stop is the driver changeover point for the busiest bus service in London, the 25, which often leads to queues of vehicles, and to busfuls of passengers turfed out as journeys terminate early. Are all these passengers going to wait nicely on their island, and are they all going to walk up to the officially designated point to cross the cycle lane. No, they are not. I shall be watching this one with interest.


At the junction with Fairfield Road, TfL have seized an opportunity. A segregated layby with a 25m parking bay exists outside the former Poplar Town Hall, so they're closing it and turning the whole thing into a cycle lane and left-hand filter. This could be good news for cyclists, with separate traffic light phases preventing them from coming into conflict with turning traffic, or it could be Nanny Central if cyclists are kept at red for much longer than at present just in case a bus wants to turn the other way. Cyclists will be also allowed to turn right out of and into Fairfield Road for the first time, which I fear will lengthen the traffic light phase even more. Meanwhile a fair chunk of pavement is being lost, and the existing straight-across pedestrian crossing is being staggered, and the average time people have to wait to cross is being significantly increased. It seems that necessary safety brings unnecessary complexity, and at this junction I'm yet to be convinced the balance is right.


One of the more laughable aspects of the existing Cycle Superhighway is that vehicles can legally park on it. Various loading bays exist, not to be used during peak hours but freely available between 10am and 4pm, overnight and on Sundays. Above is the loading bay outside Bow Post Office, with two cars blocking the blue stripe and forcing cyclists out into the traffic. This loading bay is to survive, with equivalent hours of operation, but the cycle lane will now run behind it along what's currently the edge of the pavement. And that's good, because some of us do occasionally want a delivery van to park within vague walking distance of our house, and the CS2 upgrade isn't destined to strip that option away.


And now for the slaughter of the bus stops. There are currently three bus stops between the Gladstone statue and the flyover, but by the end of next year only one will remain. The first stop outside the hairdressers closes completely because there isn't room behind it for a bypass, transferring services on routes 8 and 488 to the next stop down. This will now host all six routes that pass this way, with cyclists being diverted behind at precisely the point they might have been thinking of edging out to use the flyover. More worryingly the bypass's newly created passenger island will cover one of the existing three lanes of traffic, which with buses now parked up in the second will undoubtedly slow the flow of traffic and increase congestion.


Finally, here's the Bow Flyover bus stop that TfL have now deemed obsolete. In their consultation they say "it is currently not heavily used compared to other stops on the route, with less than 200 bus passengers passing through during the two peak hours." That's the equivalent of three passengers a minute, but apparently that's not enough, so from next year everyone who currently uses this bus stop will have walk up the road, or get off early. The real reason for the bus stop's removal is because it's totally in the way. At present CS2's blue stripe feeds straight into the bus stop, so cyclists can't get by if a bus is present, and the entrance to the segregated lane up to the Bow Flyover is simultaneously blocked. It's a perfect example of the absymal design of the original Cycle Superhighway, to which it seems the only practical solution is the death of a bus stop.


There's one more potentially worrying sentence at the end of the consultation report - "We are investigating whether it is feasible for buses to use the flyover." The Bow Flyover's quite long, so rerouting buses this way this would mean the removal of the next bus stop too, and a potential half mile gap between stops. So please, don't think that everything about the Cycle Superhighway upgrade is going to be positive. Safer for cyclists, sure, and quite frankly about time too. But for those of us who live en route, or walk or drive or catch the bus along it, some things may be about to get less super. I shall be watching.


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