diamond geezer

 Wednesday, July 29, 2015

It's official, Bow Roundabout is getting pedestrian crossings! And about time too.

TfL launched a consultation in February, which reported yesterday, and the confirmed result is that everything proposed in the consultation will happen. As such you could consider the 'consultation' to be nothing but a five month hiatus, slowing down a project they had every intention of proceeding with anyway. Or you could see this as a vital public check, and what's more they were never going to make any changes until local Cycle Superhighway upgrade work kicked off in the winter anyway.

I've reported on the plans in some detail before, so for further commentary you should re-read that post rather than me retread old ground here. Plus that post even gets a mention in TfL's consultation response, there's a link to it in Appendix E as an example of "Press release and local media coverage". But the long and the short of it is that seven new pedestrian crossings will be added, linked by a spine walkway across the centre of the roundabout, but with the unfortunate side effect that road traffic should expect to have to wait a bit longer to get through. Construction is planned to begin later this year and finish in summer 2016.

Here's a pretty, but not especially helpful, illustration to show what the scheme might look like. There'll be a 34-storey building to the right of the picture by the time the project is complete.

And here's TfL's summary of what the Bow Vision Interim scheme will achieve (along with a smidgeon of commentary)

• New signalised pedestrian crossings on Bow Road (one of these they could add today, the other is genuinely new and will make life much safer, but has the potential to disrupt traffic coming off the roundabout every time someone presses the button)
• eastbound cycle ‘early-start’ facility lengthened (this is not exciting, trust me)
• New signalised pedestrian and cycle crossings on Stratford High Street (one of these they could add today, another will slow down traffic unless it's directly synchronised to the traffic lights at the roundabout, and the other is genuinely new and will make life much safer, but has the potential to disrupt traffic coming off the roundabout every time someone presses the button)
• and improved access to the River Lea towpath (via two pedestrian/cyclist crossings, and that black tarmac zigzag in the picture above)
• Existing traffic islands on Stratford High Street merged into one large kerbed island (this creates "additional public realm", but it's underneath the flyover, so it's nowhere you'll be keen to hang out)
• eastbound contraflow lane removed (these lanes are a potential killer if you're a pedestrian, because you never think to look both ways, so it'll be good to see this one go)
• Bow Roundabout kerbline cut back to widen carriageway (sheesh, how many times? This'll be at least the fourth attempt TfL have had at shaving the edges of the roundabout, maybe the fifth)

This map might, or might not, makes things rather clearer. The flyover runs from Bow (left) to Stratford (right).

The new scheme is intended to provide a perfectly safe way of crossing the roundabout no matter which side pedestrians start from or want to get to. But what it doesn't necessarily do is to provide a direct route. For some crossings the new safe route will be fairly straight-forward, and I'd expect local residents to follow as directed. For example, when I'm walking from my house (top left) to my doctors (bottom left), it'll be a joy to have two safe and direct crossings to follow once the improvements are complete. And when I'm walking from my house (top left) to Tesco (bottom right), I'll happily switch from four unsignalled crossings (today) to four signalled crossings (next year). But east/west crossings will instead become irrationally indirect, which isn't so good, essentially because the new links form a tree rather than a loop.

For example, suppose I'm walking from my house (top left) to the River Lea towpath (top centre).

At present this takes two road crossings. The first of these (the red arrow) is ridiculously unsafe, as traffic could be swinging off the roundabout onto the A12 dual carriageway at any time, and vehicles are notoriously poor at signalling their intention in advance. But the second of these (the green arrow) is already perfectly safe as it crosses the slip road at traffic lights. TfL plan to remove both the red and green pedestrian crossings as part of the junction upgrade. Instead I'll be directed to use four new signal controlled pedestrian crossings instead (the yellow arrows), linked by walking along the orange arrows, a route which you'll see takes me a long way out of my way. Will I really want to follow the approved route every time, which'll involve pressing four buttons and waiting for the lights to change each time? Or will I be happy to take my chances via the original red/green route, where both crossings will still be technically present, but now with their dropped kerbs removed? I suspect the latter.

TfL can rightly claim that their improvements will create safe paths at every arm of the Bow Roundabout, and were I in a wheelchair I'd use (and be duly grateful for) each one. But the creation of risk-free pathways brings with it a time penalty, as desire lines are ignored in the quest for perfect safety. TfL aren't allowed to build merely better infrastructure, they have to build 100% safety-compliant infrastructure, and if that means everyone takes longer to get where they're going, so be it. TfL's own table of data suggests that some Cycle Superhighway journeys will take one minute longer as a result of the change, and at times motorists and bus passengers may be delayed by two. They don't provide data on how much longer pedestrians will take as a result of this extra-staggered crossing, but seemingly that's not important so long as we're guaranteed safe passage to the other side.
TfL acknowledges the concerns that some organisations and individuals have expressed regarding the potential traffic impact of these proposals. However, we are satisfied that the impact on traffic is reasonable when balanced against the improvements the scheme would provide for pedestrians who currently cross Bow Interchange and the likely growth in walking through the area, including people who would walk more if they felt it to be safer.
Nevertheless, these proposals represent a significant transfer of transport superiority away from wheels and towards feet. In previous announcements TfL had made it perfectly clear that no crossings could be introduced if they affected traffic flow. The A12 is a significant trunk artery, went the argument, so they couldn't possibly add signals that might affect vehicles attempting to enter or depart. So there still won't be traffic lights on the A12 slip roads, but at certain times the seven other crossings will introduce holdups on all arms of the roundabout by creating a domino effect. Indeed in the future I'll be able to stall traffic simply by pressing a button, which might then back up onto the roundabout, which might then block the paths of other vehicles, which might then temporarily mess the whole junction up. And all this is assuming I need to wait for the green man anyway, because you know how it is when a gap in the traffic appears, you dash across, and then the lights change behind you several seconds after you've gone, and all the pointlessly delayed drivers scowl.

It might seem somewhat churlish to be whingeing about the introduction of something I've been campaigning for for the best part of a decade on this blog, namely the introduction of pedestrian crossings at the Bow Roundabout. It might also seem odd to be lambasting the downsides of a solution that significantly resembles something I recommended in 2011. But just because something's being done doesn't mean it's being done optimally, and just because new lights are going in doesn't mean we're all going to use them. Will Bow's pedestrians switch to the new nanny-level crossings, or will we continue take our chances on the existing desire lines and reach our destination significantly faster? Assuming we get to the other side at all, that is, but then I've been nipping across these slip roads since the turn of the century and none of my close shaves have killed me yet.

I find this an interesting, and more widespread dilemma, in that making public infrastructure 'better' often involves making certain aspects of it worse. But that's because there are always various transport interests to balance out, and someone has to judge the needs of one group against the drawbacks to another. Indeed solving the Bow Roundabout issue for everyone for good will take a lot more than just seven sets of traffic lights, it'll need a coordinated plan that essentially starts again from scratch.

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