diamond geezer

 Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In words I thought I'd never write, TfL have announced plans to introduce pedestrian crossings at the Bow Roundabout!

They haven't announced this especially loudly, hiding the news inside a mundane press release about the upgrade of Cycle Superhighway 2. But a transformation of the roundabout is promised, subject to public consultation, this time with the emphasis on pedestrians rather than cyclists or vehicular traffic. It's been nearly 50 years since this motorway-standard roundabout was carved into my local neighbourhood, and this will be the first attempt to provide those on foot with a safe way to cross. I should be absolutely delighted... so long as the proposals hold water.

These plans are the first fruits of the Vision for Bow, a partnership between TfL, Newham and Tower Hamlets to deliver "a place which all road users, passing through, find accessible, safe and connected." There are many conflicting interests here - safety for cyclists, the need to keep traffic moving on the A12, and local people trying to get around. Now TfL hope they've finally found a way to weave pedestrians into the mix without overly upsetting those on bikes and cars.

Below is the current situation, with a total of eight slip roads for pedestrians to negotiate. The four entry roads have traffic lights but not pedestrian signals, so can be crossed by paying due attention (the blue arrows on the map below) (safe-ish). Meanwhile the four exit roads have no aids to crossing at all, and a vehicle could turn off the roundabout at any time (the brown arrows on the map below) (very unsafe). As you can see it's impossible to walk around the roundabout without having to negotiate at least one brown arrow, hence every pedestrian attempting to pass between Stratford and Bow risks taking their life in their hands.

What's promised by mid-2016 is the Bow Vision Interim scheme, pictured below This is a 'quick fix' solution to create safe pedestrian pathways across a a roundabout where currently none exist. Four of the existing traffic lights will gain pedestrian signals, and three additional crossings will be added, potentially impacting on traffic trying to exit the roundabout. What's cunning about the new scheme is how it uses the centre of the roundabout (currently off-limits) as a hub to help pedestrians make their way across. And what's intriguing about the new scheme is that I suggested something remarkably similar three years ago, although I'm sure that's entirely coincidental.

The proposed new scheme facilitates walking journeys in two distinct ways.

Pedestrians trying to cross Bow Road or Stratford High Street get the most direct outcome, simply nipping across the two slip roads via two new signalised crossings. Allow me to illustrate with a crossing of Bow Road (that's W to S on the map).

I tried this last night, and had to start off by stepping into the cycle early start zone where I was almost mown down by an approaching bike. In future cyclists will be held back from the blue painted area while pedestrians cross, before proceeding forwards to the next set of lights to wait before entering the roundabout ahead of other traffic. (Hang on, does this mean cyclists will be stopped twice before proceeding onto the roundabout, rather than the default once today... I don't think that's going to be logical, or popular!) The second half of my crossing last night involved trying to judge whether traffic orbiting the roundabout was about to come off or not, then nipping across inbetween, which is always a risky proposition (and would be pretty much impossible in a wheelchair). In future there'll be a signalised crossing here so that I can halt traffic exiting the roundabout, which at busy periods introduces the very real possibility of the roundabout grinding to a halt. It's precisely this intervention that TfL had previously been very keen not to introduce, but now it seems pedestrian safety has finally trumped any perceived need to smooth the flow of traffic.

Pedestrians trying to walk between Bow and Stratford are being offered a much more round-about route. Currently they cross two slip roads, one reasonably safe and one recklessly hazardous, but in future they'll be asked to use four separate (safer) crossings. Allow me to illustrate with a crossing of the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road (that's W to N on the map).

Today's route, following the yellow arrows, is direct but dangerous. Next year's route (following the green arrows) is safer but far less obvious and will take much longer. It starts by crossing to the central reservation, beneath the flyover, then heads out across the main circulation to the centre of the roundabout. This will become a new public space, assuming the public can be tempted to use it, linking diagonally to another crossing on the opposite side. Interestingly all three crossings thus far mentioned already exist, either to halt traffic on or entering the roundabout. What'll be new is the introduction of a drop kerb, and a red/green man combo to tell pedestrians when it's safe to cross (which I can assure you is sorely needed). Only the fourth crossing, across Stratford High Street, will be a completely new intervention. This signalised crossing will be located some distance down the road, but still introduces the potential to back up traffic attempting to exit the roundabout. A similar additional crossing is being added on the approach road opposite, but as this can be synchronised with the main lights immediately ahead, it's unlikely to cause any significant delays.

What particularly interests me is how strongly TfL are going to nudge pedestrians to use the centre-of-the-roundabout route. They say they're going to "resurface the traffic islands and install new lighting... to encourage pedestrians to use the dedicated signalised crossings", as well as attaching additional signage to the flyover columns. They're also planning to remove the unsignalised crossings around the top and bottom of the roundabout, above the A12 underpass, which is the route pedestrians follow today. But unless they barrier this route off, or add unfriendly cobbles, I suspect most of us are still going to take our chances via the quick route - rapidly across in two, rather than a slow relay in four. The millions spent to finally offer safe passage to pedestrians at the Bow roundabout might simply be ignored because the nanny-route takes too bloody long.

And is there anything for cyclists here? Well slightly yes, but mostly no. The two new crossings to the east of the roundabout will allow westbound cyclists on Stratford High Street to pass safely beneath the flyover to reach the cycle link along the River Lea towpath. But as they can already do this via the floating towpath underneath the road, this isn't so much of a gamechanger. Instead cyclists are going to find themselves held up at precisely the same new pedestrian crossings as will cars, one on the western exit road, and two to the east. And the net result is that "journey times for cyclists using Cycle Superhighway Route 2 are expected to increase by one minute".

Other road users don't necessarily get away scot free either. TfL have engaged in some serious data analysis, full details here, which suggests that traffic heading west along Stratford High Street is likely to be most seriously impacted. Westbound bus journeys will take two or three minutes longer at peak times, with similar additional waiting time for drivers approaching the roundabout from the east. And all this arises simply from adding three new sets of traffic lights for the benefit of pedestrians who live locally. I think I can safely describe this as a "transport policy shift", simultaneously a recipe for congestion and an absolute miracle.

And that's not all. You'll remember these plans were described as the 'Bow Vision Interim scheme'. That's because there's a much longer-term vision around here, probably requiring a decade to come to fruition, which would bring total transformation rather than just low level tinkering. Firstly TfL would like to remove the roundabout(!), which at a stroke would simplify (and make safe) crossings for both pedestrians and cyclists. And secondly they'd like to remove the Bow Flyover(!), in order to better connect new communities along the southern fringe of the Olympic Park. Plans for this Vision for Bow are still being developed, and it's hoped they'll be put out to consultation next year.

In the meantime the Bow Vision Interim scheme is now up for consultation, with full plans here and a survey to complete here. There'll be drop-in sessions to meet members of the project team at St Mary's Church on Tuesday 24 February (1530-1930) and Saturday 14 March (1100-1500). The consultation closes on April Fool's Day, which might make you imagine the whole thing could be an elaborate joke. But as a very-local pedestrian I'd like to strongly urge you to take part and have your say, because it'd be nice to be able to walk to the shops without living in constant fear of being knocked down.

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