Sunday 15 December 2013

Westminster's major road network

Each year, the Department for Transport calculates the total volume of traffic (for each junction-to-junction link) on the major road network. This is separate to the studies carried out by Transport for London and the London boroughs, incidentally.

The Annual Average Daily Flow (AADF) figures show the number of vehicles that use a given stretch of road on an average day of the year. The busiest road in Westminster is not in fact the Westway (77 798), as I had supposed, but Park Lane, with an average of just over 100 000 vehicle movements a day.

Anyway, I am looking at Westminster's proposals for a central London bike grid. As things stand, what the Westminster network amounts to is a couple of CSHs, some back street routes, some routes through parks, and a route alongside the canal.

Now I'm a big fan of these 'quietway' routes. Whenever I cycle in London, I try to use nothing else. But there are certain journeys I need to make from time to time which it is simply not possible to make other than by the main roads. In any event, there is much more to it than this.

Key:  Red—Yes   Blue—No

The map above shows all of the junction-to-junction links on the major road network with an average of more than 750 bicycle movements per day. In red are those sections which it is proposed be incorporated into the bike grid; in blue, not.

To be clear, the DfT study is mostly concerned with what's happening on the major road network, and so it is no surprise that parallel routes do not feature in the map above. Even so, there is quite a lot of blue on this map, and not very much red, as you can see.

Actually I was a little taken aback to see Park Lane on this map (912 cycle journeys per day). Clearly some people regard being able to go quickly as preferable to most everything else. Be that as it may, there are something like five thousand cycle movements a day on the parallel route in Hyde Park (source). Given that it is simultaneously direct and pleasant, improving the quality of this route would very much be my priority.

With only limited funds available, should the red-coloured
routes be developed before the black-coloured routes?

The black-coloured routes shown above featured in the first map that we looked at. These routes are already functional, and fairly popular with cyclists.

The red-coloured routes are not yet functional, not in their entirety, at least. Even so, would you please take a moment to consider this perspective from Mark Syndenham of the Edinburgh Bike Station:
"Most people view a place through the prism of their usual journey, which is generally made on the main roads. Maps contribute to this world view. Any regular map of a town will show the main roads in bold, and these effectively become the 'skeleton' of the town, with everything else seemingly built around them. This elevates them to a status that they don't deserve. Why is an A road any more important than a B road or a path across a path? It is all viewed from the perspective of the motor car, and it constrains how people think and view their surroundings, and therefore pre-determines how they travel from A to B." 
The point is that if alternative routes become available, people can decide for themselves which routes suit them best. That is to say, give people all of the necessary route information, and then let them make their own minds up which way they want to go.

It is very important to bear in mind that, for this strategy to work, it is essential that there is both density and connectivity of routes. If not, there really isn't a 'choice' at all.

Another thing to bear in mind is that there are instances when the back street route is not able to serve as anything like a viable alternative. One such case in point is Quietway 19.

Three ways of going from A to a

Going from the 'A' of the A308 to the 'a' of Soho Square is 2.7 miles by car (the black-coloured route).

Via the green-coloured route, it is 0.91 miles from the 'A' of the A308 to the point where Quietway 19 starts. The length of the 'quietway' route is 2.45 miles. From A to a, then, the journey distance via the green-coloured / 'quietway' route is 3.36 miles. This is about two-thirds of a mile further than the main road route.

With the green-coloured route, the journey-distance from A to a is 2.77 miles, or about two-and-a-half per cent further than the black-coloured route.

Coming back the other way, from a to A, the journey distance by car is actually 3.23 miles, and via the Quietway 3.51 miles (both routes not shown). The return journey via the green-coloured route would also be a bit further, but only by something like an extra 150 metres.

The DfT data shows that cycle traffic on Piccadilly makes up nearly 6% of the total traffic between Hyde Park Corner and St James Street, and over 18% of the total traffic between St James Street and Piccadilly Circus. Moreover, according to the Levenes cycle injury map, there have been just three serious incidents on Piccadilly since 2005 (each involving children, remarkably).

More than 2 000 cyclists a day use Piccadilly, and for this—no doubt very experienced—group of people there is no practical or realistic alternative route available. Does, therefore, a route along Piccadilly feature in Westminster's plans for a central London bike grid? No, it does not.

View Westminster cycle traffic in a larger map
Key: Green < 1000 light blue < 1500 dark blue < 2000
Yellow < 3000 Orange < 4000 Red > 4000

But why not? The main reason, surely, must be that there remains irreconcilable disagreements amongst the various stakeholders as to what sort of 'cycle infrastructure' should be installed.

"Perceived safety is the barrier that still matters." (Michael Andersen)

It upsets me, frankly, that an organisation which purports to be "The voice of cyclists in London" has so little to say on behalf of the people in the middle. For most of the time that I have been trying to deal with them, they have mainly been concerned to represent the interests of the commuter cyclist (the Strong and Fearless). Indeed, it was only a couple of years ago that the London Cycling Campaign were seriously considering changing their name to 'London Cyclists'.

Just in time, however, the Chief Executive was changed instead. Picking up on the mood of the bloggers, the LCC then radically shifted tack and began to speak up for the kind of cyclist who needs "proper provision" (the Interested but Concerned). However, given where we are now, and how far we need to go, ensuring that this group is properly provided for can only realistically be undertaken as part of a long-term plan. In the short-term, it is the Enthused and Confident group which holds the key.

After Katja Leyendecker gave evidence to a Commons transport select committee, she later wrote: "If anything, the point I did not make strongly enough at the Committee hearing was about the importance of leadership in assessing risks and hazards. Sounds boring? It's not. Laying firm foundations by getting the things right that have a big impact (policy, strategy, plans and engineering road design and layouts) is vital."

"But you were literally here." (video)
Considering where the repeat markers have been positioned, it seems reasonable
to insist that the cyclist should indeed have been riding in the gutter.

Another one of those "vital" things is that cyclists are visible at junctions. Essentially what this means is that cyclists need to be positioned in the right place relative to the motor traffic.

It is also necessary to caution against giving people the wrong impression. One of the problems with the CSH routes, says a report in The Atlantic Cities, is that they provide "the illusion of safety". Thus (says Cycling: the way ahead):
"According to its specific features and its resources, each town will have to choose its priorities or specific actions to take. Reproducing apparently effective action taken elsewhere could have negative consequences if the concerted and coherent programme on which such actions have been based is not taken into account. On the contrary, it is preferable to draw inspiration from known examples with due caution."
It's going to take time. Even with all the will in the world, it's going to take time. Mark Treasure reported that earlier this year he cycled around Utrecht and Amsterdam with Mark Wagenbuur (bicycle dutch) and Marc van Woudenberg (amsterdamize):
"They were at pains to point out to me the bad bits of their cities, the areas that haven’t got around to being changed yet. These are quite ‘British’ in their appearance, with no cycle infrastructure to speak of, or that disappears when you need it, or with parked cars that have to be negotiated out and around, and relatively fast motor traffic in close proximity. Principally, these were main roads."
If you haven't yet had a chance to read Mark's report in full, it is well worth a look. But my overwhelming sense, both from this blogpost and the video which inspired it, is that deciding is the hardest part. I would also add that this decision was almost certainly easier to make in 1970s Holland than in modern-day Britain.

Closing remarks

Johan Diepens of the Dutch Cycling Embassy has said that in planning for cycling, the critical thing is to design your network correctly. "Everything else is trivial," he said. There doesn't seem to be any controversy about this issue now. It is therefore necessary to ask why roads like Piccadilly have not been incorporated into the central London bike grid.

Surely it cannot be because installing ASLs at junctions and laying repeat markers on the road surface would be more trouble than it's worth, is it?

1 comment:

  1. Good post and great to see the evidence collected in one place. It was always an odd ommission, even to this in-expert eye, that there was no comparison to existing cycle flows when creating the grid.

    In fact the whole thing smacked a bit of "greenwash" - where could cycling be fitted around existing practice because this is something city hall have told them to do rather than make any changes. It was telling that any "engineering" type solutions such as closing roads or creating separated space was dismissed out of hand in the openning pages.

    Are you overall optimistic on Westminster's proposed grid? Or are all we going to get is some different shades of dangerous, meaningless paint?