diamond geezer

 Friday, March 18, 2016

The Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade is running late.

That doesn't mean it won't be finished on time, next month, but it is most definitely running late.

You can tell it's late by travelling along it and noticing how much isn't finished yet. You can tell it's late by living on Bow Road and seeing how much there is still to do. You can tell it's late by keeping an eye on the information boards the contractors leave about, and spotting when they knock the intended completion date two months into the future. You can tell it's late from the dozens of overnight road closures introduced this month to get the job done. And you can tell it's late by looking at the CS2 upgrade page on the TfL website. Up until this week the construction period for the Bow Road section was given as July 2015 - March 2016, and now March has been tweaked to April.

In some ways the delay isn't surprising. The CS2 upgrade is a massive project, making good a feeble blue stripe painted on the road five years ago. The creation of two long segregated lanes requires the replacement of dozens of sets of traffic lights, the readjustment of umpteen road junctions and the realignment of three miles of kerb, on both sides of the road. It's mostly the latter that's taking the time.

An army of workmen has descended on Bow, and refuses to go away. They dig, they shovel, they lug, they oversee and they create, changing the nature of the road forever so that cyclists get a much safer ride. It's just that they never quite seem to finish anything. The upgrade is a chain of mini-projects, each requiring thousands of man hours to finish, but the workforce seems too thinly spread to get any individual section 100% conplete. The plan appears to be to get a lot of something done over a period of a few weeks, but not the finishing touches, and then wander off and concentrate elsewhere. And so a lot of CS2 is nearly ready but isn't open, because the final tweaks to cables, kerbs and signage haven't happened.

Take Bus Stop M, for example.

Work began here last July, and now it's March, and the bus stop bypass still isn't open yet. It's been substantially complete since November, with a segregated lane running through behind the bus stop island, but somebody somewhere doesn't want the cycle lane to open. Orange plastic barriers have been used to block off the new lane for the last four months, forcing cyclists to continue through the main traffic, which often means negotiating round a series of parked buses. There must be something not quite finished about the new lane, something which means it doesn't yet meet approved safety standards, with the ridiculous consequence that cyclists have to travel a more dangerous path via the main road instead.

Equally ludicrously, first thing in the morning the barriers are in place, and the Bus Stop M cycle lane is a no-go-zone. Then at some point during the day somebody comes along - I assume it's a cyclist, it isn't me - and shifts the barriers out of the way so that bikes can ride straight through. For a few hours cyclists whizz safely by, from the completed lane beforehand to the completed lane after. And then at some point, likely overnight, some jobsworth comes along and puts the barriers back in place and the whole damned cycle starts again.

Here's another phantom barrier at the top of Bromley High Street. Workmen installed a contraflow lane here several months back, which will one day provide a safe connection for cyclists exiting the estate onto Bow Road. But as yet no cyclist is allowed to use it because as yet no signage has been installed. No matter that the lane is clearly segregated and clearly safe, and that all roadworks at the junction it leads to are now complete. Instead this expensive addition lies unused because whatever the last stage of works required is, nobody's got round to doing it. All the workmen are elsewhere down the road, doing other stuff that needs to be done, and whoever's scheduling the overall project has abandoned completion on Bromley High Street until some later date.

Then there's the junction of Bow Road with Fairfield Road, pictured above. I am stunned by how much work and effort has been put into remodelling this particular junction, a project which has been running pretty much non-stop for eight months, and there's no indication it'll be finished any time soon. The utility companies arrived in July to dig up pipes beneath the pavement and tarmac, a seemingly mammoth task, and then an existing lay-by had to be reappropriated as a left-hand filter, which took ages too. Later the utility workers came back and dug things up again, and currently they're fiddling with some new traffic lights, which have been coned off and incomplete for weeks. Meanwhile the temporary traffic lights are creating lengthy jams, and pedestrians have to nip across as best they can when a gap arises.

This used to be a relatively simple T-junction, with right-hand turns mostly prohibited, but adding right-hand turns for cyclists is creating a surprisingly complex monster. Eventually there'll be forked cycle lanes, filtered cycle lanes and sets of low-level cycle lights, all to cater for bike users based somewhere up Fairfield Road. In fifteen years of living here I've seen no evidence whatsoever that such cyclists exist in any significant numbers, but that's the vaulting ambition of the CS2 project, to alter behaviour and create demand by providing aspirational facilities.

With just a month to go before the entire upgrade is supposed to be finished, it currently very much isn't. In February TfL claimed that "Our Cycle Superhighway 2 works are now 90 per cent complete", and indeed they might be, but that doesn't mean they're 90% open. On Sunday afternoon I walked the whole thing, all the way from Aldgate to Bow, and I'd say the percentage that's actually open is more like 60-70%. The rest is either coned off because the roadworks continue, or barriered off because cyclists aren't allowed onto it yet.

And this makes Cycle Superhighway 2 pretty terrible to cycle down, at present. Cyclists are forever being forced out of the segregated bits into part-coned traffic, thanks to incomplete roadworks, which is remarkably dangerous for a project designed to make cycling safer. And this helps explain why I passed only 19 cyclists using CS2 during my entire three mile stroll - 12 in the road and 7 in the segregated lane. Interestingly that's exactly the same number of cyclists as I passed when I tried the same thing last October, a total equivalent to just six cyclists per mile. Positively unwelcoming, that's the reality of the construction phase of this massive transport project.

It'll all be fine later, probably even brilliant. But there must be a better way of reaching cycling nirvana than this.

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