With public transport capacity severely compromised and vehicle usage on the rise, several urgent schemes are being introduced to prioritise bicycles and pedestrians. Cycle lanes, widened pavements and low traffic corridors are all part of TfL's £45m Streetspace programme, and various local councils have also been getting in on the act. One of these is Hackney, the London borough with the highest concentration of regular cyclists, who are demonstrating that an effective intervention needn't cost the earth.
This is the top end of Ashenden Road in Homerton, in normal times a link between two grids of Victorian terraced streets [map]. But not any more. On 11th June the council closed off two parking bays at the junction with Glyn Road and replaced them with chunky timber planters under an Experimental Traffic Order that runs for the next six months. The proper term for this intervention is a modal filter, permitting percolation by bikes and pedestrians but not motorbikes and cars. Physically there's absolutely nothing to stop a vehicle passing through, the gap being rather wide, but the threat of a camera is supposed to warn them off. If that camera exists, I didn't spot it.
This is the middle of Barnabas Road almost immediately outside Homerton station [map]. It too has a modal filter, and this one was delivered a couple of weeks earlier at the end of May. Again it's been very cunningly located, occupying a narrow strip whose closure has broken the link between two sets of residential streets. Councils have been doing this kind of thing for years, repeatedly closing off access points until estates resemble labyrinths it's possible to weave out of but not drive through. The latest plans create even smaller subsets of streets, lowering vehicle density and speed by pushing more traffic to main roads elsewhere.
I stood and watched the Barnabas Road filter in operation for five minutes, during which time the following occurred. Several cars approached the planters, paused and then turned away, aided by convenient sidestreets on either side of the barrier ideal for manoeuvring away. But three van drivers approached and then simply drove straight through the middle, indeed one seemed to speed up simply to make a point. It would be wrong to characterise all van drivers as selfish twats who think the rules don't apply to them, but these three certainly were. Meanwhile just one cyclist rode through the gap during the five minutes of my observation, so the final total was vans three, bikes one. I'd not chalk that down as a success.
Meanwhile in Bow, Tower Hamlets council are having another go at introducing a Liveable Streets scheme. They attempted this for the first time last July and had to abandon the changes on day one, partly because the taxi lobby turned up and growled, but mainly because the implementation was ill thought-through and poorly organised. 2020's scheme is mostly completely different, which we're told is the result of improved community engagement, which just goes to show they should have done a lot more of that the first time.
Bow's new Liveable Streets proposals are up for consultation for the next four weeks. A 12-page booklet will be dropping through every letterbox in Bow, including a very detailed map, or you can download everything now to see what's been proposed. A heck of a lot is proposed, from pavement widening to school streets to replacing mini-roundabouts with T-junctions. In fact so much is proposed that I've had real trouble understanding what's going on at a high level, so this summary map is my best attempt at explaining. The green blobs are the current entrances to the pink zone. The yellow lines are the main roads. Adding the red blobs will divide off Bow (west) from Bow (east).
The biggest change is that they've shifted the proposed location of the bus gate. Last time it was on Tredegar Road, deterring traffic from the A12, but this time they intend to position it centrally on Roman Road itself. It'd be just to the west of the traffic lights, opposite the entrance to the market, breaking the connection to Grove Road. Only buses and cyclists would be allowed through, but it's up for grabs whether that's a) permanently, b) 7am to 7pm on weekdays or c) with an extra break between 10am and 2.30pm. This is why consultations matter. As one of the 70% of Tower Hamlets residents with no access to a car, I'd suggest 24/7.
Elsewhere an intriguing feature is that the 'temporary' blockage of Old Ford Road is to be made permanent. Planters were dropped either side of Skew Bridge in the early stages of lockdown, aiding cyclists and pedestrians trying to skirt Victoria Park, and this should now continue. The other big intervention is to seal off Coborn Road beneath the railway bridge, again with a three-way choice of timings. We already have some idea of what this might look like because it was part of last year's scheme, although this time we might get proper recreational facilities rather than astroturf and pink deckchairs.
I can already sense cabbies' hackles rising and cyclists cheering, but as ever the devil is in the detail. The car park by the bus gate will be reduced in size, but very few parking spaces elsewhere will be removed. Drivers on the eastern side of Bow appear to be getting off lightly. If I've scoured the map properly the intention is to add just four cycle hangars and one cycle stand across the whole of Bow, which seems a pitifully low ambition. And I'm so unnerved by the proposal to "update the signal timing at the junction of Fairfield Road and the A11 to allow for a pedestrian crossing" that I need to blog about that some other time. Plans to improve walking and cycling are always compromises, so we should always check they're the best compromise they can be.