Saturday, 4 July 2020
Saturday, 27 June 2020
In recent weeks, I've been cycling along the A12, because with the lighter traffic levels, it has been more peaceful and less stressful than mixing with the maniacs on the parallel A118.
I'll write about the A12 another time, but I cycled as far as the Green Man Interchange where I headed north along Whipps Cross Road to reach the redesigned Whipps Cross Junction in the southeast part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest and which almost at the northeast end of Lea Bridge Road.
Although I have visited Waltham Forest in recent years to look at the transformational Mini-Holland schemes, I hadn't been to Whipps Cross for over 20 years. As one of a group of young drivers, we sometimes ended up in the area for a weekend kebab, mainly as somewhere different to go.
The junction itself was an enormous roundabout with a section of dual-carriageway attached to it which I assume was a remnant of a long lost period of road building (this part of London has all sorts of large road layouts which rarely link up. Google Streetview is gradually being updated with the new layout, but here's a view from 2008;
The 1920s roundabout positively encouraged people to drive into it and around it at high speed and as you can see above, the provision for walking and cycling were not exactly world class. Transforming the junction was part of the council's ambition which came to fruition last year. The plan was to change the junction into a signalised T-junction with land released for a bus terminus and land given back to Epping Forest (image from the project web page);
Back to my trip. I cycled north along Whipps Cross Road which skirts Epping Forest (which is vested with the City of London). There is a shared-use path on the eastern side of the road which is pretty annoying for people walking and cycling because of the lack of separation and its width;
Approaching the transformed junction, the narrow shared-use path splits into a proper footway and cycle track. Yes, there's tactile paving, but only because of the transition. The footway is separated from the cycle track by a kerb with an upstand which is my preferred approach;
This section is 2-way simply because it connects to the shared-use path which is also 2-way. A little further north is the junction with Lea Bridge Road. The pedestrian crossings are "floating" with mini-zebra crossings over the cycle track to reach the signalised crossings over the roads. The photograph below is the zebra crossing which feeds the signalised crossing of the northern end of Lea Bridge Road;
The pedestrian and cycle crossings within the scheme are single stage; in my view, the tactile paving associated with the mini-zebra crossings should be red because buff is reserved for "uncontrolled" crossings. That to one side, it is clear to people cycling that they should be letting people cross.
At the junction itself there is an issue. The crossing movement is ahead only which means one cannot turn left to head west along Lea Bridge Road;
It was only in writing this blog post up that I realised that to make this left turn, one had to cross, turn left, cross back and turn right which really isn't intuitive, although you'll see me cycle most of this without quite understanding in the film linked below. I don't know, but I'm assuming that this is a compromise to motor traffic capacity, although without the signals staging diagram I can't be sure - I suspect that there will be non-compliance here because it's not a convenient layout.
The photograph below is at the junction of Lea Bridge Road with Wood Street looking west. This is where people cross back to head west using the crossing in the foreground. The right turn in the background takes one into Wood Street so at least at the network level, it hangs together.
Coming to the junction from the Woodford New Road end of the scheme, there is also a one-way cycle track heading east. This is linked to further provision coming from the east which is still being constructed. The ahead movement takes one west. In the photograph below, Whipps Cross Road is to the left. This operates as a "hold the left turn" so ahead (westbound) cycle traffic and motor traffic run together. The problem here of course is there's no way for people cycling to turn left.
I think this needs looking at again because turning left into the cycle track on Whipps Cross Road is not in conflict with anyone else and with a bit of playing around with kerb lines the movement can be accommodated.
The photograph below is from the other side of the junction. To head west on Lea Bridge Road, one will come from the right of the photograph and head towards the bus before crossing at the next junction before turning right (at the Wood Street junction) which is partly why there's a two-way cycle track here. Again we have the buff tactile paving and mini-zebra crossing.
The pedestrian crossing is offset between the cycle track and the signalised crossing of the main road. I'm pretty certain that this will be at the insistence of Transport for London's traffic signal engineers who (like many across the UK) simply hate the idea of having cycle track crossings in line with those of the main road. I have yet to be shown where this is a legal requirement and so it makes crossing more difficult. In this location, the "floating" crossing island could have been much wider in my view.
One other issue which I need to raise is where the cycle track crosses the entrance/ exit to the bus terminus. Although it is only bus traffic and sporadic at that, it's a really long access to cross and the technically unlawful use of elephant feet markings don't solve the feeling of exposure.
The cycle tracks are surfaced in a very smoothly laid red asphalt (AC6 for the geeks). The standard of work is some of the best I have ridden on in the UK and the contractor is to be commended.
The kerbs between the footway and cycle track do unfortunately annoy me. While they should be high enough to be detectable by visually impaired people and low enough to avoid catching cycle pedals, the 45° chamfer will still keep people away fro the edge through fear of catch their wheel and those who cannot dismount and lift their cycles won't be able to leave the cycle track.
Perhaps this is less of an issue in much of the junction where the cycle tracks are wide (4 metres for the 2-way sections), but it's an issue where there are shops and other places people may wish to visit, but they cannot easily get off the cycle track.
OK, so I have been a bit critical and it's very easy for me to be so as a cycle-saddle pundit. I'm not party to the design process, the discussions, the awkward issues and the whole range of things which come together on site. Please make no mistake, the scheme is a triumph and it is at the cutting edge of UK cycling infrastructure design and it's a joy to use.
On my visit, I caught a couple who where on London Hire Cycles, a very long way from the nearest docking station at the Olympic park riding in perfect, comfortable safety.
As I queued at the junction to head back towards the A12, this chap wasn't dressed up in the lycra of some of the sports cyclists I had seen in the area that morning (off out into the countryside no doubt).
There was also who I assume were father and son just out cycling. This would have been unheard of before the transformation.
To the north of the junction, work continues along the last section of Lea Bridge Road to where it becomes Woodford New Road which will provide a link to Redbridge. Work is currently up to Oakhurst Gardens, but will continue the two-way cycle track up to Waterworks Corner (the junction with the A1406 North Circular Road).
Anyway, I shall leave you this week with a film of the junction and immediate area.
Saturday, 20 June 2020
It's probably no surprise that I like looking at infrastructure and in fact, experiencing it. It's my professional interest and it makes me a better designer by working out why things were done a certain way.
This week, however, is pure indulgence because I went to look at something which serves no specific function in the street. I have a list of places or things I want to see (and write about) and one of those was the Traffic Light Tree. So, after finishing work for the week, I jumped on my trusty cycle and pounded the mean streets of East London in search of this wonder which I had so far only read about.
I nearly visited earlier this year when I had a bit of spare time after a conference at the ExCel because it's easy to get to from the Docklands Light Railway station at Blackwall, but heavy rain put me off. Fortunately the weather was kind for my cycle and so I headed down towards the A13 to pick up CS3 at Barking.
Following the relaxations to the Covid rules, the A13 has clearly returned to is congested, noisy and polluted state - I was listening to music to avoid the noise, but this section of the cycle route is a long and pretty uninspiring slog.
I followed CS3 as far as the western end of Naval Row where a right turn would take me along Poplar High Street and off into Central London (I'm kicking myself that I have passed this so often in recent years). This time I turned left and headed a short distance to Blackwall DLR station. I then headed to a network of subways and bridges which threads walking and cycling under the A1261 Aspen Way.
This little route varies from a wide an open underpass to a narrow and barrier-filled mess. I then popped up at Trafalgar Way and 100 metres later I had found what I had been looking for.
The Traffic Light Tree sits on a roundabout just outside Billingsgate Fish Market, which like the Traffic Light Tree, is not in its original place. Billingsgate Fish Market was originally in the City of London in the Billingsgate ward, moving to its current site in 1982. The Traffic Light Tree was originally placed at the Westferry Roundabout in 1998 on the site of a plane tree which was suffering from pollution and then moved to its current site and switched on again in 2014.
Unfortunately when I came to take some photos, there were mini-cab drivers parked up on the roundabout, but even so, it was a real joy to finally meet the Traffic Light Tree in all its glory.
The artist who created the installation, Pierre Vivant, has a track record of devising unusual public sculptures. For the traffic geeks, he developed a sculpture at Cardiff known as the Magic Roundabout which is a series of objects made from traffic signs. It's fun, but in my view, nowhere near as striking as the Traffic Light Tree.
There's something disconcerting about the installation (at least in my highway engineer's mind). It's almost as if one of the thousands of traffic signal assemblies has actually taken root and spouted a series of bracket arm branches with tricolor clusters of flickering fruits on each one. It goes against the ordered and designed layouts my mind expects and I guess that's why I've found it to fascinating.
So that's pretty much it. I've aching legs from the trip, but it was worth it to tick this quirky piece of street infrastructure off my list. Of course, I now need to pop back at night to see it against a dark sky. I'll leave you with a short snippet of film showing the sculpture in action - and to the road safety auditors out there - don't have nightmares!
Saturday, 13 June 2020
For the second part of my look at Q6, I headed back to where I left off last time just outside the City of London Cemetery and headed west towards Stratford.
Alas, this section is just 300m long and ends in a clumsy shared area. The parallel zebra crossing helps people cycling cross the road to more shared space before rejoining the carriageway to continue south to Manor Park Station, another 250m away;
I didn't cycle to Manor Park Station, but you can see for yourself a mandatory cycle lane, interrupted by bus stops and which fizzles out before the station. Forest Drive is a bus route and it's open to all traffic so the compromise is to provide paint for cycle traffic.
Q6 carries on it's function of rarely connecting to places where people want to go and one turns right into Capel Road with another awkward layout in the mouth of the junction and with the speed limit going back up to 30mpg.
Once in Capel Road, that's it. No more signs for Q6, despite it being shown on TfL's route mapping page as I showed in the previous post. Newham's section Q6 is currently vapourware!
Using the map and my phone, I carried on - it had taken a while to get to the start of the ride, so I thought I should persevere. Capel Road is the southern boundary of Wanstead Flats and about half way along there are some football pitches. In normal times, the pitches get busy and there's often lots of traffic in the area. Q6 could actually be useful to serve the pitches, but the first part has parking on both sides which doesn't allow two-way traffic.
I did see some cycle parking hangers which offset the wall to wall car parking;
About three-quarters of the way along (heading west), the road widens quite a bit and there is evidence of some decent work going on. A kerb-protected cycle track is taking shape on the north side of the steet;
The car parking has been floated to give space for a two-way cycle track along the north side. People cycling west will have to keep an eye out for car doors being opened, but it should mainly be car passengers and they will be facing each other. There was never a footway on this side, so I can see that at busy times people cycling will have to dodge footballers walking along the track or crossing it into the fields to take a short cut.
For westbound cycle traffic, people need to join a shared space and then cross using a parallel zebra crossing which is already in place;
I only realised how this works after look for any plans online with thanks to Newham Cyclists for having one in their website. This does unfortunately leave a problem - why protect a section of Capel Road when the rest is unprotected? At the network level, Capel Road is in a triangle formed by the A116, A114 and A118, so why isn't the street filtered?
At the west, work is not yet finished, but the cycle track will end at another shared space for a parallel zebra crossing of Woodford Road (A114) into Brownlow Road. The crossing is already there and to get to it one pulls left onto a bit of cycle track and then across the entrance to Capel Road. After using the parallel zebra crossing, it's a case of turning right into Brownlow Road from another bit of shared space.
The route then heads off along the back streets and I had to keep stopping to check I was going the right way, for example, at the end of Bramall Close, people are invited to join another shared space, but is it ahead or right here? There hasn't been much new layout work, just resurfacing the carriageway and shared areas.
Further west and Buxton Road has fairly recently been made one-way for general traffic (below), with two-way cycling retained. The street has humps (as it did when two-way), although the designer has forgotten to warn people cycling with a lack of markings for westbound cycle traffic. The route does pass Maryland Primary School which is useful, but I really cannot see why the one-way is necessary - I can see a safety issue with drivers knowing they don't have other drivers coming towards them. The wider area needs filtering in my view.
At the western end of Buxton Road, the route crosses Leytonstone Road, a busy north-south traffic route using another parallel zebra crossing. One has to move to the right hand side to join the inevitable shared area approaching the crossing, but it sort of works and puts one on a direct approach;
The problem is once over the crossing into Henniker Road where the design simply gives up again with people having to bounce up another dropped kerb in the junction area.
At the western end of Henniker Road I got a bit lost. I had assumed the route would meet the A112 Leyton Road, except it doesn't, it does another zig-zag via Major Road where it meets Leyton Road at a mini-roundabout. Major Road is one-way for south-bound general traffic, but people cycling north have their own give-way at the mini-roundabout;
It's a very odd layout which again puts walking and cycling into conflict. Q6 turns left here (west) along another section of Leyton Road. It seems odd, but Leyton Road used to follow a couple of bends through some junctions which are now replaced with the mini-roundabout above and a kerbed roundabout round the corner.
Carrying on cycling, one gets back on the road for the mini-roundabout and then is almost immediately invited back onto the share space area to use a toucan crossing round the corner;
This is frankly bizarre and simply doesn't work. It's not accessible to people using larger cycles and one really won't want to jump into the road on the mini-roundabout with children. The toucan crossing doesn't even have flush dropped kerbs;
After using the crossing, one reaches the junction of the Leyton Road, the A112 Chobham Road, the A112 Leyton Road and Liberty Bridge Road (yes, it's a bit confusing - I assume the A112 was pushed through the area many years ago leaving the old streets bypassed). Q6 heads north on the non-A-road section of Leyton Road;
Leyton Road is one-way south-bound with cycle traffic taking to the two-way cycle track which is again oddly to the rear of the footway area, although there is at least a tactile line between the two. The cycle track isn't that smooth here and across the private accesses, it drops to carriageway level with unlawful elephant's feet markings;
The northern end of Leyton Road meets Temple Mills Lane. People cycling are meant to cross the end of Leyton Road and head west along a shared space on the southern side of Temple Mills Lane before dropping back into the carriageway again. This part of Temple Mills Lane has a bus gate;
Just beyond the bus gate, there is a bridge and cycling is in a protected area, although it's a little narrow. Cycling the other way is on a separate bridge which is shared with people walking - shared space again.
At the end of Temple Mills Lane, there is a large signalised junction with advanced stop lines and toucan crossings all round. Dual-provision strikes again. We're on the edge of the Olympics site which was built with lots of rather wide roads. Q6 will continue west into Honour Lee Avenue and so did I. Honour Lee Avenue has a two-way cycle track on its north side, but unless one had realised they they should have used the toucan crossings at the junction, there's no way of reaching it from the carriageway.
If Honour Lea Avenue seems familiar, then you'd be right, it was covered in a post just over a year ago and so I won't bother going into any detail here. It's kind of good, despite the iffy side road treatments;
At the western end of Honour Lea Avenue, we reach the Olympic Park and the end of Q6 as it currently stands. There is a lot of work going on in the Olympic Park and I don't think Q6 is completely ready. The route will cross Waterden Road to go into Copper Street and then over the River Lea Navigatation and down to Wallis Road using a wheeling ramp or a lift not large enough for non-standard cycles which I saw last year;
Q6 will reach the Cadogan Gate of Victoria Park and from there gives opportunities to reach other places through the park. Beyond here, I'm not sure what is happening as the route was originally meant to eventually meet CS2 at Mile End;
When or if that happens is uncertain and because the branding has changed, Q6 may go the way of the London Cycle Network and be a quirk of history to be reinvented and tinkered with by future designers. In the meantime, I'm left wondering what Q6 is and who is it for? It's not for people commuting to Central London from Barkingside - people who do that will be using direct roads. It provides some access to Barkingside and Manor Park stations, but it doesn't serve Barkingside or Manor Park themselves.