Wednesday 24 July 2013

Error messages

The other evening, I was reading through one of my earlier blogs when I thought to look more closely at the "parallel" route I had drawn alongside CS2.

View CS2 in a larger map

In the original draft, only the green- and the blue-coloured routes were shown. The route coded in red has now been added. It is slightly longer than the route coded in green—3.21 miles versus 3.19 miles.

The general point I was making, therefore—which is that there isn't actually a very satisfactory "parallel" route running alongside CS2—holds true. Even so, for the sake of completeness, I felt it needed to be added.

* * *

In my last blog on dual networks, I highlighted what I considered to be some very important points:

  • Typically, the aim [of a strategic cycling plan] is to increase the number of cycle trips whilst reducing cyclist injuries. 
  • Strategic cycling plans should consider whether or not it is practical to design facilities so that they are suitable for cyclists of basic competence.
  • Indirect cycle routes may lead cyclists to choose more direct routes with greater risk. 
  • Alternative routes merely supplement the main road routes, and rarely eliminate the need for cycle provision on the latter.

If TfL are intent on developing a separate network of "quieter routes on side streets for new cyclists, cautious cyclists and all sorts of other people who would rather take it more slowly", in line with the Mayor's Vision for Cycling, I think it would be negligent of them not to take these points on board.

* * *

My proposal is for the development of a single network. In terms of route selection, I would start by including all of the Cycle Superhighways, probably all of the LCN+, the best of the LCN—which is actually the most of it—and then work out if there is anything else still missing.

Once the routes had been identified and the network planned, I would then "introduce" this network as quickly as possible by doing as much as possible at least bureaucracy first. I would then develop it further on the basis of priority interventions and a timetable.

Don't we all love to see that word: 'END'?

The people who paint it, and the planners who inscribe it on the plans—what do they think they're saying to cyclists?

(Words and image from Leeds Cycling Campaign)

I definitely would not have any sign which reads: 'Cycle route ends'. These seem to me to be a total cop-out. If nothing else, I would lay down repeat markers, or route confirmation markers, on the road surface, and mark the map accordingly ("dangerous connection").

I would use alternative routes to supplement the main road routes as much as it is practical to do so.

The main feature of this proposal is the improvement of cyclists' safety, based on the speedy implementation of 'soft' measures in the short-term, and the more carefully-considered development of 'hard' measures in the medium-term.

* * *

The most commonly-stated objection to this way ahead is that it would do nothing to enhance the safety of cyclists in London.

Image from Cyclists in the City
Following the recent deaths of cyclists at Aldgate and Holborn, the London Cycling Campaign wrote that advisory blue paint—over which motor traffic is directed to drive—is "worse than useless because it can create a false sense of security for those very people who are being encouraged by the Mayor to take up cycling, and take advantage of the 'new, safe routes' for cycle commuters."

The picture to the right shows a publicity shot produced by TfL to promote the Cycle Superhighways scheme.

Of course, if this thing were for real, and if a young woman cyclist was actually killed wearing clothes like that, most likely it would only be a matter of time before someone started blaming her, the victim, for not wearing a hi-viz jacket or a helmet.

In response to the City of London's plans for Aldgate, Mark Treasure wrote:

"The City of London is designing an environment for existing ‘cyclists’, when instead they should be designing an environment for people on bikes. Tourists. People trundling along with lots of shopping. The elderly. Pupils going to school. An inclusive environment, for all types of bicycle users.

"This isn’t a specious point—there are already large numbers of people cycling in London who will not go anywhere near Aldgate and roads like it, if they can avoid it, particularly those casual Boris bike users who stick to parks and quiet routes, and their numbers are bound to increase as improvements are made across London.

"To exclude people like this—indeed, large swathes of society—from using your roads while on a bike is not just unfair, it’s short-sighted."

I think a lot of what Mark says is entirely reasonable. The junction at Aldgate definitely, definitely, definitely forms part of a worthwhile cycle network. At the eastern end, there is CS2; at the western end, the City; and at the southern end, Tower Bridge. The City authorities are planning to spend £12 million converting the junction from a one-way four-lane inner city gyratory to a much more appropriate two-way two-lane urban A-road. Even so, they were still unable to find any dedicated space here for east-west cycling.

The space is there, I am convinced of it; you've just got to look for it. How many pedestrians walk up and down this street? How many deliveries need to be made in the immediate area? Whereabouts in the pecking order were cyclists placed? What is the long-term vision for this area?

This said, I can see where the City of London is coming from, as well. It needs to be plainly understood that even if the City had planned to develop the Aldgate junction to Dutch standards, large swathes of society would still be excluded from using a bicycle in London. A piecemeal approach does not a safe cycling environment make.

I am very well aware that you do have to start somewhere, but what is the evidence that a few, isolated high-profile schemes are amongst "the constant factors of a thoroughly understood cycling policy"? No, please, don't just avoid this question: what is the evidence?

The case is, as things currently stand, it may be very emphatically said that utility cycling is a long, long way from being a realistic option for that group which is identified as The Interested but Concerned.

Cycle lanes and the like are only "worse than useless" when considered from the perspective of this group. However, for The Enthused and Confident, who value "consistency, predictability and regular physical cues", who are "comfortable sharing the roadway with automotive traffic"—and who, incidentally, are being killed in London at the rate of about one every twenty-four days—the development of a "bare-bones infrastructure" would help to clarify "what rules or possibilities are likely in a given situation", and thereby reduce errors—"for all".

* * *

I was talking about the LCC's stated opposition to my proposal. To remind you, they say that a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network "introduced" to a minimum level of functioning would do "NOTHING to improve cyclists' safety in any way."

Mark Treasure writes that there is already a large number of people cycling in London who prefer not to go anywhere near roads like Aldgate, if they can possibly help it. Now, the point I am about to make is a general one, but it helps to be able to quote specific examples.

First off, Jemma from Help! My chain came off, who posted a blog entitled And time to dismount. In short, her story is that she needed to get from Crouch End to Waterloo Bridge, that she followed the route suggested by TfL's journey planner, and that she found the final leg of her journey so "terrifying and perilous" that she ended up walking it.

"At the start of my commute, I was at ease with the calm traffic and simple roads," she wrote, "but then I stumbled into territory where cars, black cabs and monstrous lorries rule the streets. I quickly learned where my place was, and it was a difficult decision between the pavement and the gutter."

The central theme of Jemma's blog is that a safe space for cycling is required on London's main roads. I strongly support this, but even so, there is no sense in pretending that the provision of this space is likely to be a short time in the coming. Besides, until these works are completed, it would be possible to make this journey using mostly back street routes.
In David Arditti's latest blog, the subject of a back street route that goes via Great Russell Street - Bury Place - Newton Street - Great Queen Street is brought up. I have shown this route in light blue.

Because of the fact that many one-way roads in London are inaccessible to two-way cycle traffic, the most direct north-south route (via Drury Lane and Museum Street) is only available in one direction (south - north). Going the other way, the route which David describes is probably the best option. 

In fact, it was David's idea to create the contraflow lanes and the track on the northern side of High Holborn. Judging by this comment from Schr√∂dinger's Cat, it has been very well received: "I use the north-south route through Holborn all the time. I didn't realise you were behind it! The best bit is the cycle path along High Holborn. [...] Thanks for creating that route. Without it I wouldn't have cycled half as much as I have done, as it provides a largely non-scary way through [...] For me it's enabled many journeys between Camden and Waterloo."

Despite this positive feedback, David himself is not a fan of back street routes. For him these routes will:
  • always be less efficient and less direct than the main roads; 
  • always involve more give-ways and delays;
  • always be incomplete and interrupted by sections of main road; 
  • inevitably not go to the places cyclists most want to go to; and 
  • often be cramped, full of parked cars and other obstructions, be under-maintained, and have poor subjective safety (though they will probably be absolutely safer than the main roads, where the lorries and buses are). 

He continues: "Whether under the title of the London Cycle Network, LCN+, Greenways, or Quietways, this non-solution is doggedly pursued in official policy. No amount of failure seems to cause a rethink."

* * *

David's commonly-stated belief is that the LCN+ was "mostly conceived of as being on minor roads". This is simply not true.

Brian Deegan, one of the architects of the LCN+, has told me that when they set out to design the network, they began by identifying various key locations throughout the metropolis. They then drew straight lines to connect these points, and then identified the route—be it on a main road or a back street or whatever—that most closely aligned with the direct line.

Yes, there were instances where back streets were used instead of main roads, e.g. LCN10 instead of the A10 (now CS1), or LCN50 instead of the A41 (now CS11). Even so, about a third of the LCN+ was routed on the TLRN, and it also included (to give you a couple of examples of main road routes on borough roads) a route from Uxbridge to Marble Arch via Shepherd's Bush along the A4020 / A402 (LCN40), and a route from Romford to Aldgate via Stratford along the A118 / A11 (now CS2).

Another piece of misinformation attached to the LCN+ is that it was 60% complete by the time the project drew to a close. Excepting those bits which were inherited from the old LCN, I am not aware of any examples of the LCN+ working well.

Indeed, for all David's criticism of the LCN, if there is a single piece of quality infrastructure in London which does not have its origins in the LCN, I would be very surprised to hear about it.

* * *

I don't know why this isn't obvious to other people, but surely the biggest problem with the LCN is that it was never made to function.

All those yellow and pink lines are "non-functioning" sections. In reality, then, the LCN was a not-work, rather than a net-work.

Clearly the "prudence" of "introducing" the whole of this network to a "minimum level of functioning" was never accepted. Even now, with the benefit of hindsight, it is, by and large, still strongly opposed.

Indeed, "London’s principal cycling advocacy group" assert that the "introduction" of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network would do nothing to enhance the safety of cyclists in London. Do you hear me? NOTHING.

* * *

In the case of Jemma, the events she related were not particularly unusual, and the only reason we got to hear her story is that she blogged about it. If Fate had been kinder to the 68 Londoners killed whilst riding a bike during Boris Johnson's time as Mayor, we wouldn't have got to hear their story either.

"Linda, the cyclist who witnessed the after-math of Johannah Bailey's fatal crash on Cavendish Road and posted information on the web, has begun a campaign for improvements to the cycle provision. 

She suggested that an off-carriageway cycle track would improve conditions. She was astounded to be told that a track already existed! The routeing is obscure, the surface is not well marked and the signposting is misleading. [...] She and 80% of the cyclists using the route had no idea that an alternative was available."
(Charlie Lloyd, August 2011)

This said, we generally get to hear precious little about the events surrounding cycling fatalities, which is a shame really, because clearly there are lessons to be learned.

Regarding Philippine de Gerin-Ricard, I would be very interested to learn the origin and destination of her final journey. I only know that she was working at Marks and Spencer, that she was on a day-off, and that she lived in Bromley-by-Bow.

She could have picked up a hire bike pretty much anywhere in London, of course; but it is a general point I am making, and I need to be able to speculate a little in order to make this point.

There are two large M&S stores close to the Aldgate junction, one on Finsbury Pavement and the other on Fenchurch Street. Using the nearest hire bike stations as my hypothetical start points, I have plotted two journeys to a hire bike station in the heart of Bromely-by-Bow.

Blue: 3.74 miles Red: 3.47 miles

In the case of the journey from the hire bike station closest to Finsbury Pavement, you can see that the journey distance is actually less when using the alternative route than when using the main road route.

Blue: 3.48 miles Red: 3.68 miles

From Fenchurch Street, the reverse is true.

Providing alternative routes for non-roadsters is only possible through the development of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network. And the general point I am trying to make is that until all of the high-engineered changes to London's 500 most dangerous junctions are made, a more immediate way for cyclists to deal with junctions like Aldgate is to avoid them.

The purists won't much care for this, I know, but given where we are now, what else is there to do apart from to keep talking about it? We have an immediate problem, and we require immediate solutions.

* * *

Rachel Aldred has written (here): "Like two-way pedestrian flows, two-way cycle flows should be the default, whatever the restrictions on motor traffic." Absolutely. With some very obvious exceptions, a route is not "functional" if it doesn't work in both directions.

Theobalds Road - Vernon Place - Bloomsbury Way works in both directions for pedestrians, and indeed for buses, but only in one direction for cyclists. The London Cycling Campaign suggest: "An immediate solution could involve putting a temporary barrier down Vernon Place and Bloomsbury Way, wide enough to allow cyclists to pass buses in the contraflow bus lane when they're stopped."

In this instance, I note, the LCC would be happy for this route to function at a minimum level.

Would a route such as this create a false sense of security for those very people who are being encouraged by the Mayor to take up cycling?

Could it be used by tourists, or by people trundling along with lots of shopping, or by the elderly, or by pupils going to school?

Or is this simply a pragmatic response to a difficult-to-solve situation?

* * *

I read with interest Paul M's latest blog on his Reflections on Holborn. He writes: "I have no doubt that organised protest and pressure is essential if we are to see anything change. That’s what it took in the Netherlands, four decades ago, and look where it got them!"

What Paul fails to mention is that over the last forty years, the Dutch have been working to a "concerted and coherent programme." They had a plan. They didn't just have a destination in mind; they also had a clear idea of how they were going to get there.

Theobalds Road - Vernon Place - Bloomsbury Way used to be part of the LCN, used to be part of the LCN+, but since about 2009, it has been part of nothing.

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