diamond geezer

 Friday, June 17, 2016

Quietways are new. These backstreet cycle routes should be old by now - they were supposed to start opening in May last year. But the first (of seven) only opened this week, that's Quietway 1 from Waterloo to Greenwich.
Quietways will be a network of radial and orbital cycle routes throughout London. Linking key destinations, they will follow backstreet routes, through parks, along waterways or tree-lined streets. The routes will overcome barriers to cycling, targeting cyclists who want to use quieter, low-traffic routes, providing an environment for those cyclists who want to travel at a more gentle pace.
These aren't cycle superhighways, they follow lightly-used backroads where segregated lanes aren't required, which you'd think would make them easier to set up. Not so. Plans have to be agreed with local councils - in this case there are four - whereas cycle superhighways tend to run on TfL-run roads. With each street a Quietway turns down, a different set of issues arises and a different set of residents must be taken into account. And London doesn't have a straight-forward grid of identikit roads, so the end result varies considerably along the six mile route.

I haven't ridden Quietway 1, so for a cyclist's eye view you should read this in-depth report on the As Easy As Riding A Bike blog. But I have walked it all, and I can confirm that AEARAB has called it right - mostly good, but with intermittent issues.

For a start, the roads genuinely are quiet. That's impressive, given that you'd normally head from Waterloo to Greenwich along something busy like the Old Kent Road, but Quietway 1 successfully threads between the main roads and helps keep cyclists out of danger. Most importantly it manages to link these quiet bits together, to make a ride of it, with more complex infrastructure only where busier roads cross. Some roads on Q1 have been sealed at one end by posts to make them impermeable to larger vehicles, while some have had ramps added to slow traffic down, and others were always this quiet.

The ramped roads are the least convincing. I don't think I'd have enjoyed riding down Great Suffolk Street in SE1, manoeuvring past two-way traffic and parked-up construction vehicles, neither would meeting the boy racer on Childers Street in Deptford have been fun. But half-posted Cornwall Street near Waterloo looked a breeze, and the lengthy run of estate roads and cul-de-sacs to the north of the Old Kent Road was about as non-threatening as it comes. That last section's nothing new, it's part of an existing cycle route, but other sections have been added more recently to make the Quietway work.

The most impressive of these is the new path round the back of Millwall football ground. This part of London is characterised by a veritable delta of railway viaducts, and at Bolina Road one of the most oppressive backstreets in inner London. Instead Quietway users get to take a broad raised path from just outside South Bermondsey station to the Overground bridge where Surrey Canal Road station may one day be built, with views of The Den along the way. Indeed at one point there's a damned good view between the stands onto one end of the pitch... which may be why this path will be sealed off from 2 hours before until 2 hours after any Millwall game, and if there is an alternative route it wasn't well signed.

A few roads do have segregated lanes for bikes, occasionally dualled, and this is occasionally necessary. It's harder to work out why Tabard Street in Borough has been afforded this luxury, indeed I saw two cyclists trying to enter the adjacent park for whom the segregation was a frustrating barrier. And then there's one inexplicable case of residential hostility in nearby Trinity Street where an ornamental chicane has been installed across the road. This (gorgeous) road is otherwise ideal to cycle down, being both broad and quiet, but then comes precisely the deterrent that Quietways were supposed to do away with, and I watched one cyclist simply ride up onto the pavement to avoid it.

Many of the road junctions the Quietway crosses have been upgraded, especially where a quiet street meets a busier one. Variegated grey tiling is often used in an attempt to encourage a slower pace, while elsewhere traffic signals with countdown aid the flow. It generally seems to work well. But some of the improvements are more low-key than they could be, for example at an underwhelming staggered junction on Tower Bridge Road, while at others cyclists are simply expected to zigzag through whatever's already there, which might even mean getting off.

One issue I encountered whilst trying to walk the Quietway is that it's not always particularly well signed. A cycle superhighway is easy to follow because it's blue, and generally straight, but Quietways aren't so obvious, marked only by having "Q1" painted on the road and the occasional purple sign at what are deemed key points. Usually that works, indeed I suspect it works better if you're on a bike and literally reading the road. But I wandered off the correct track at least three times thanks to rationed or ambiguous signage, in one case because a truck had parked on top of the painted arrow at an unexpected turning and there were no signs above tarmac height. At other junctions I had a strong hunch which way to go but nothing to confirm, or was briefly baffled by a directional sign which must have been clear to whoever installed it but wasn't to me.

Oddly the worst signed sections of Quietway 1 are at the very beginning and at the very end. There's absolutely nothing at the south end of Waterloo Bridge to indicate that a safe cycle route exists close by, only a hairpin bend back down to South Bank level which just happens to have a 'Q1' painted right at the very end. Similarly the signage at Greenwich DLR is contradictory and incomplete, indicating two different directions and then nothing whatsoever as the path heads off through a private development, which is nowhere near good enough.

TfL do provide an overview map, but alas it isn't detailed enough to be able to make decisions on the ground junction by junction, indeed I'd say the combination of map and road signage isn't quite fit for purpose. But then Quietway 1 isn't meant to be a one-off track for sightseeing, more a regular route for commuters and local travellers, and once you know where you're going then all that ambiguity disappears. And then what you have is what was intended, a six mile corridor that's safer than the surrounding roads and hence a better way to travel. I wouldn't bother walking it, there's very little of interest to see, but if subsequent Quietways can reach this standard then I might well recommend a ride.

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