diamond geezer

 Sunday, June 10, 2012

There's been another tweak at the Bow Roundabout. Another change in addition to the segregated cycle lane and early-start cycle lights unveiled last week. There was a problem, you may remember, in that cyclists approaching the advanced stop-line were misinterpreting what the newly-installed forest of lights actually meant.
Some ignored the red light in the cycle lane, because the lights alongside for traffic were at green.
Some jumped the red light in the cycle lane, because the lights ahead onto the roundabout were at green.
Some ignored the red light at the roundabout, because they'd just seen a green light in the cycle lane.
Some jumped the red light at the roundabout, because they thought it looked safe to do so.
Here's TfL's reaction - three small yellow signs.

They like yellow signs in the Bow Roundabout Upgrade Department. Previously, when the roundabout proved to be a deathtrap, they whacked up big yellow signs saying DRIVERS LOOK OUT FOR CYCLISTS AHEAD and CYCLISTS BEWARE DRIVERS TURNING LEFT. They've removed the latter while putting in the new segregated cycle lane. But now we have three new yellow signs that say CYCLISTS STOP ON RED. Because they don't.

The first yellow sign has been affixed to the traffic light in the cycle lane, as a reminder to cyclists that this light does indeed apply to them. Not realising this is a very easy mistake to make. The amber and green lights have bike symbols, so it's very obvious that amber and green apply to bikes. But the red light is just an ordinary red circle, so there's no indication it applies to the cycle lane at all. Cyclists are missing its importance, spotting green elsewhere, and whizzing through. The yellow sign aims to cure that.

In particular, the red light in the cycle lane is lit only when the main traffic lights alongside are at green. Cyclists arriving during this phase see cars, buses and lorries streaming off onto the roundabout and expect to join them. They're not supposed to, else the advance cycle light system doesn't work, but it is incredibly tempting. The segregated cycle lane stretches ahead, with an unobstructed path to the roundabout, and beyond. Why not jump the lights and skip ahead to there? The yellow sign aims to stop that.

It would make sense to replace the red disc in the cycle light with a red bike symbol, to match the existing bike symbol for amber and green. Cyclists should then realise that this red light is for them, without the need for a special yellow sign underneath. But it's not easy to replace the symbol in a traffic light, not overnight, whereas evidence suggests a new yellow sign can be knocked up really quickly. CYCLISTS STOP ON RED. Yes, it sounds really very condescending indeed. But the set up here is so complicated that cyclists appear to need a blatant reminder of the not-bleeding obvious.

Moving ahead to the roundabout, there are two yellow signs - one on a traffic light and one on a lamppost facing the traffic. These are here for a very serious reason, to stop cyclists who've misread the junction from entering the roundabout at danger. Many who've just passed a green cycle light in the cycle lane appear to think this gives them carte blanche to continue ahead. Not so. The front lights at the roundabout are also supposed to apply to bikes, but many (many) cyclists using the junction fail to realise this. The yellow sign aims to change that.

But will they understand what's meant? All the yellow signs say the same thing. CYCLISTS STOP ON RED. Cyclists reaching the roundabout have already passed one of these, now here's another, so is it obvious enough that this is a subtly different message. The junction has eight traffic lights altogether, five of which are applicable to cyclists, and now a couple of these have signs attached. I reckon this is still vague enough to be potentially very confusing. Indeed, all that TfL appear to have done is to take a clearly sub-optimal solution to cycling safety at the Bow Roundabout and added some sticking plasters. The yellow signs don't make anything safer, they're merely an attempt to clarify the mixed messages brought about by the muddle of lines, lanes and signs that engineers recently installed.

I've been out watching to see what cyclists do now that the yellow signs are in place. There aren't quite so many cyclists about, this being the weekend, but I spotted five. Only one stopped at a red light, as requested. Two sailed through the first green light, then the following red light, then straight round the roundabout, completely ignoring the new messages. One ignored the junction and diverted over the flyover instead. And one missed the segregated cycle lane completely, tried edging down the left-hand lane of traffic, clipped a driver's wing mirror, apologised, stopped at the red light while the cycle light alongside was on green, then proceeded onto the roundabout along with the rest of the traffic and narrowly avoided being turned-left onto. I think it's true to say the yellow signs aren't yet working.

The police came to stand beside the new Bow Roundabout lights yesterday afternoon. They might have been observing, but more likely they were there as a much more effective way of saying CYCLISTS STOP ON RED. Because, sorry, a few yellow signs just aren't going to cut it. The upgrade of this junction is an over-complex and confused mess, and no amount of cheap tinkering will change that. If anything the junction is now more dangerous than it was a month ago, with additional hazards brought about by an inadequately thought-through upgrade. What's required is a more expensive redesign of the entire junction, which isn't likely in this climate, or something that impedes vehicular flow, ditto. But now that TfL have gone for the advance cycle-light solution, they're obviously going to stick with it, hence the three yellow signs. CYCLISTS STOP ON RED. Patronising, ineffective and inadequate.

» Here's an excellent detailed report on the inadequacies of the new lights, and possible mitigation, from Cyclists in the City

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