diamond geezer

 Monday, July 03, 2017

5 Hackney/Stoke Newington
The original plan for the Greater London borough of Hackney was to pair the Metropolitan Borough of Hackney with the (much smaller) Metropolitan Borough of Stoke Newington. Eventually the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch got added too, making Hackney the cutting-edge go-trendy borough it is today. For today's post I've decided to focus on Stoke Newington, and to try to follow Cycle Superhighway 1 through the former borough. On foot, obviously, because I am not (and will never be) a cyclist.

Cycle Superhighway 1 (Dalston - Stamford Hill, 2 miles)

I live on CS2, which is segregated throughout and therefore one of London's 'gold standard' cycle lanes, but this has given me a false impression of what some of London's other Cycle Superhighways are like. CS1 works to a very different model, being a tour of the back streets rather than a special strip of main road, and this makes following it a bit of a challenge. Indeed, TfL's official map of CS1 is so broad-brush that I really didn't have much sense of where I'd be going until I got there, and only then did I discover how misleadingly simplified their map is. (here's a better one)

Heading out of Dalston Kingsland station, for example, it's not obvious where the nearest Cycle Superhighway might be. That's because the route doesn't pass the nearby busy intersection, it follows Boleyn Road round the back, because the whole point of CS1 is to be following the quieter roads. But even then there's no blue paint on the road to indicate you're on the right track, nor any feeder signs to funnel you in... the priority is occasional signage to tell those already on CS1 where to go next, and not much else.

I was expecting a sign at the Crossway crossroads, surely, but found only large painted letters on the tarmac and a couple of arrows to direct cyclists across. One of the lampposts on the far side had a tiny blue sign on the pole to confirm this was CS1, no bigger than a sheet of A5 paper... this is the standard CS1 repeater. The road ahead surprised me - parking and a bus stop on the left, more parking on the right, and sufficient space through the middle for only one lane of traffic and a bike going the other way. It seems segregated lanes were never an option in these residential streets because parking takes priority... whereas outside my house in Bow parking was withdrawn so that CS2 could speed safely through.

CS1 has been weaving north for a few miles before this point, but on my journey the first sharp turn was to the right up Wordsworth Road. This time there is a sign on a post to follow, but no big white letters on the road you're leaving, only on the road you're turning into. A pot of money has been spent at this T-junction to add a speed bump and a pedestrian crossing, and to seal off this end of the road to all vehicles other than bikes. Curtailing through-traffic makes the Cycle Superhighway safer at a stroke, leaving residential drivers to find another way out, a tactic which has been used several times ahead.

At the next junction a bollard has been plonked in the middle of the cycle lane so that it covers the tip of the arrow painted on the tarmac, as if this were an after-thought. Meanwhile at Butterfield Green a brief car-free shared-space has proved so bike-friendly that the park railings are emblazoned with children's posters imploring cyclists to slow down - the endangered are now doing the endangering.

We're then back into a succession of narrow streets lined with parked cars supporting two-way traffic... not much traffic, but cyclists have to keep their wits about them at all times just in case. They also have to watch out for cars reversing or pulling out, or drivers opening car doors, lest inopportune timing and inadequate attention should have painful consequences. And although CS1's designers have managed to follow the least zigzag route through the residential grid, there are still zigs and zags where staggered turns are required, ensuring that the route ahead isn't all plain sailing.

The staggered crossing of Stoke Newington Church Street didn't look especially cycle-friendly. The central traffic island was proving helpful to pedestrians trying to cross in two stages, but were the unmarked strips to either side meant as similar zones for bikes? A blue sign on the way into the junction would have helped confirm the intended route, rather than two separate painted arrows and a blue sign on the way out. Obviously it's really hard to shoehorn top-class cycling infrastructure into some of London's historic streets, there simply isn't the space, but this junction definitely missed the standard.

Bouverie Road leads up the western edge of Abney Park Cemetery, or would do if there weren't a row of houses inbetween. They're rather nice houses too, as are many of the Victorian avenues round here... so long as you don't cross the reservoirs into Woodberry Down. The next few streets are broader which aids cycling, and still quiet, and also home to a significant population of Hasidic Jews. Because I visited on Saturday they were on the move everywhere, walking (not cycling) from synagogue, a stream of fur-hatted fathers leading their plait-haired sons. I doubt this highly segregated community are impressed to have a cycling route for hundreds of commuters routed through their part of town, and I felt somewhat out of place following CS1 on foot.

A lengthy zig and zag leads to West Bank, a residential street where the Hasidic community gradually thins out. Again it's on the narrow side for comfortably safe cycling, but one-way for vehicular traffic at the far end which halves the risk. Here another staggered crossing of a main road is required, but once again there's nowhere in the centre of the road for cyclists to attempt the right turn in two steps. The downward slope past Stamford Hill station marks the edge of the borough, so that's where I stopped, but CS1 continues north towards Tottenham, soon shunted onto the busy High Road when the backstreets finally run out.

In summary, CS1 is nothing like CS2, it's a completely different style of route. Instead of segregated lanes there are shared backstreets, with funding spent on calming and enhancements rather than serious redesign. The corridor's not direct, hence signage is crucial, but this is intermittent. The whole experience seems very much targeted towards the regular commuter rather than the occasional tripper - there's too much to learn to get it right on your first ride, and too much to be watching out for along the way. A practical solution for shoehorning a safer cycle route through a difficult grid of streets, for sure, but hardly super, and definitely no Superhighway.

» For a proper cyclist's review of CS1, Hackney Cyclist has written 5000 words, and is very much not impressed

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