diamond geezer

 Friday, September 26, 2014

It's not often that TfL admit they were wrong.

Back in 2011, when Cycle Superhighway 2 opened, they said...
'These vivid blue routes make the world of difference for cyclists on the streets of London, and prove a powerful and visible statement on our roads that assert to every Londoner, whether on two wheels or four, that the capital is a cycling city. Our pilot routes have proved a great success with lots more Londoners leaping into the saddle, and telling us they feel safer on the road.'
But this week, with a major upgrade to CS2 planned, they say...
'We are determined to ensure London’s roads are as safe as they can be for cyclists. CS2 runs on a busy and intimidating road, but currently offers cyclists no physical protection from motor traffic.'
It is indeed as some of us long suspected, that Cycle Superhighway 2 isn't super at all, nothing more than a blue stripe of paint down the road providing no protection at all. You'd at least expect a cycle lane to be separate, but for much of its length CS2 is merely half of an existing lane of motor traffic, as if someone signed the plans off and said "oh that'll do". When a bus meets a cyclist on CS2, one often gets stuck behind the other. When CS2 comes across a bus stop it gives up, directing cyclists out into the main body of traffic by means of disjoint painted rectangles. And CS2 of course rounds the infamous Bow Roundabout, which at least TfL have tried to fix, but the rest of the Superhighway not so.

Until now, that is. A consultation to improve CS2 was launched this week, following many months of planning behind the scenes to try to get the details right. The lengthy delay is because Bow/Mile End/Whitechapel Road is a tough nut to crack, being a single carriageway trunk road with no obvious parallel backstreets. It'd be lovely to shunt cyclists onto quieter east/west roads but there aren't any, with canals and railways and cemeteries amongst the obstacles creating impenetrable barriers along the way. For precisely the same reason it wouldn't be acceptable to hand over an entire lane both ways to cyclists, because the displaced road traffic has nowhere else to go and central Tower Hamlets would be at risk of seizing up.

So what we're due to get is along the lines of the superhighway extension to Stratford which opened last year. This means proper segregated lanes rather than open blue stripes, plus early start lights plus bus stop bypasses. But the original CS2 is along a narrower road than its extension, which means a lot of the improvements will come at the expense of roadway and pavement. We do have some stonkingly wide pavements along the Bow/Mile End/Whitechapel Road, making width reduction relatively simple, but they also narrow considerably in places which is going to cause issues.

For example I still can't quite work out what TfL's proposals for CS2 mean for the pavement area immediately outside my front door. Seven very detailed maps have been produced, really excellently detailed compared to what public planning processes usually provide. But I'm still having trouble picturing precisely how perilously close to my front step the segregated cycle lane is coming, and whether the amount of pedestrian space will be adequate or not. What I can work out is that TfL propose to close the bus stop immediately before the Bow Flyover because there isn't room to stick a bus stop bypass behind it, so passengers will suddenly have further to walk. And I can also tell I'm going to have walk further myself on my commute to work because various pedestrian crossings are being realigned in ways that make them less direct. I know you're wonderful, cyclists, but all these changes so close to home are making you hard to love.

Here's the line from the consultation that's making non-cyclists nervous.
'Our latest analysis shows the proposals would mean longer journey times for motorists and bus, coach and taxi passengers along most of the route, both during construction and once complete. There would also be longer journey times for users of many of the roads approaching the proposed route and longer waits for pedestrians at some signalised crossings.'
As yet TfL haven't got round to quantifying what they think the extent of this disruption might be. They've promised to release some timing predictions later on during the consultation period, but they only erected a string of survey cameras along Bow Road on Wednesday night, so maybe they're still collecting the data. If the flagship East/West and North/South Cycle Superhighways are anything to go by, the impact may spread wider than the immediate vicinity. According to a consultation addendum released yesterday, that project will see westbound traffic on the A13 deliberately held up at lights to control the flow of traffic at Tower Hill. A driver heading from Limehouse to Hyde Park Corner in the morning rush hour can expect their journey time to increase from almost 35 minutes to over 50... a complete change of tack from Boris's original policy of "smoothing the traffic flow".

One significant change on CS2 will be the banning of a handful of right turns to make the cycling infrastructure safer. Two of these near Mile End station sound ridiculous, because there's no obvious way for traffic to find an alternative route. Banning the right turns from Mile End Road into Burdett Road and from Burdett Road into Bow Road will instead nudge drivers round what are currently quiet residential streets, and all because nobody can design a junction properly to suit everyone. Elsewhere, however, cyclists will get a wider range of options than currently, for example with a newly permitted right turn from Fairfield Road into Bow Road.

I have particular concerns about how long the upgrade of CS2 is going to take and how much disruption will be caused. We're promised a start date in early 2015, at which point a substantial amount of digging, realignment and restructuring will begin. That's going to mean lane closures and coned-off pavement on a far greater scale than the original construction of CS2, more like the mess that beset Stratford High Street throughout much of last year. Slower journeys (and increased exhaust emissions) aren't solely the preserve of the upgraded Superhighway, they'll be with us all the way through construction.

There are so many proposed changes along the road from Aldgate to Bow that local residents and road users really need to engage. The best way, you'd think, would be to attend one of the public consultation events that TfL have organised. But there are only four of these, and you've already missed one because it took place less than 24 hours after the consultation was announced. The remaining three all take place at the Idea Store in Whitechapel, with one this Saturday (11-3), one late on Tuesday 7 October (3-7) and the last during the daytime on Friday 10 October (10-4). Compared to the number of consultation events the EW/NS Superhighways are getting, this is utterly pitiful. But you need to get in there with your comments by 2nd November, because TfL will only reconsider their plans if people go to the effort of pointing out positive ways in which they might be improved.

So yes, obviously a segregated cycle lane along Bow/Mile End/Whitechapel Road is a bloody good idea. It's what TfL should have built originally rather than merely painting the road blue and pretending this was good enough. But don't imagine it'll all be rosy, and don't think that only car drivers will be penalised. My pavement's going to be compromised, my walking routes are going to be extended, my waiting times at pedestrian crossings will be increased and my bus journeys are going to take longer. I wish the East End's cyclists well, obviously, but don't expect me to be pleased.

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