Monday 22 July 2013

A Summer CS3 Safari...

Every 6 weeks or so, I like to go on a longish ride. I find it a good way to wind down and have a think, but I do take the odd photo of things of interest (yes, normally highway infrastructure - a geek, what can i say!). I am not on a racer and I am not doing a 100 mile Sunday ride, but it gets me out in the fresh air!

My favourite (and usual) Long Ride is to go to Borough Market, which has become one of my favourite places to visit in London because of the wonderful food on sale. The beauty of 2-wheels is that I can only buy what will fit in my bag and so I don't end up spending too much; plus it costs me nothing in travel apart from a pastry when I get there!

Anyway, this is not a travel or food blog, it is a highways blog. For the last 18 months or so that I have been doing my run to Borough, I have used a route which takes in the A118 and A11 (including Cycle Superhighway 2 - CS2). This route is direct, but pretty much mixing with traffic and so it is intimidating and dangerous and so on my way back last time, I noticed that one end of CS3 started off as a protected cycle track. It looked good and so my ride last Saturday included the whole length of CS3 in both directions and after the cyclist deaths in London over the last few weeks, my journey was all the more poignant given that we can protect people with infrastructure.

This is a photo-heavy post, but I think it will give a flavour of the route. I will comment on things I liked or didn't like as I go on and I will round up with some wider views at the end. So, starting at Barking and ending at Tower Gateway, here we go!

One end of CS3 at the junction of the A13 Alfred's Way and River Road. The "totem" sign is a familiar feature of the Superhighways and is kind of like a Tube map, but it gives times to the "stops" from the particular totem you are looking at which is a really good feature.

My time (well back from Tower Gateway) was 45 minutes, but I was pushing a bit faster as I was on my way home. Going was longer as I kept stopping taking photos!

So, from a Toucan crossing, the existing cycle track on the A13 has been resurfaced from green to blue and we are away. I am not totally up on the history, but I recall that this layout does date from when the A13 was upgraded several years' ago and there is a green version on the north

The cycle track is not hugely wide, but one could overtake another cyclist without too much effort - if both directions became busy at once, there will be an issue of limited capacity, although the A13 doesn't particular entice anyone to cycle on it as an alternative!

Bus stop bypass. Wherever pedestrians need to cross the cycle track at bus stops or side paths or if the available space shrinks, there are short shared, unsegregated sections. Here, the cycle track could have carried on but there may have to have been a kerb height between the track and the footway with a set of dropped kerbs for pedestrians or a speed table taking the track back up to footway level. I don't know how busy this area gets, but when I was there, it was fine. 

Here is a close up of the demarcation between the footway and the cycle track (yes, I know the blue helps). This kerb is symmetrical and has a ridge about 20mm high. It was designed to provide a tactile (to help those with reduced vision) as well as a visual message between the pedestrian and cycle parts of what is a segregated shared-use cycle track; there is no change in level between the two areas.

As the A13 approaches the massive roundabout with the A406 North Circular Road, CS3 slopes gently down and away from the traffic which immediately makes a difference being away from the roar of the vehicles. In fact, I only realised that I had passed this junction when I looked on a map later!

A little further on, CS3 goes into an underpass under Royal Docks Road. If you look closely, you will see that there is now a kerb upstand between the footway and cycletrack. This is pretty much now a separated facility. The underpass is easy to see straight through and feels quite open and there is no steep ramp either side - it is the road junction which ramps up (easier for engines than legs). My only criticism is that the lighting was a little dim for my liking.

Apart from the tactile paving being a bit wrong (too boring to explain here), here is a fantastic example of how large traffic signs should be installed so that they are not in the way of pedestrians or cyclists. In addition, the sign is passively safe; the posts will collapse should a vehicle hit them rather than stoving the vehicle into the occupants. Also, it is impossible to lose your way here!

Here is where the route crosses Forty Acre Lane. It is one example of an issue which pops up quite a bit on the A13 section and that is how side roads are treated. Where they are busy with traffic, there tends to be a Toucan crossing with multiple crossing points (because of traffic capacity as usual). Where side roads are quieter, the route bends into the side road, but traffic still has priority, possibly because it is leaving a 50mph motorway (pretty much). Not great for continuity and I am sure can be reworked at many locations.

So, we leave the A13 as we sail over East India Dock Road (it is already buried, Boris) and head towards Docklands.

Now things get weird. At the junction of Saffron Avenue and Oregano Drive (after losing my way a bit as the signage is crap), you are put back on the carriageway and...

You are presented with a barrier to a private estate. Large parts of Docklands are privately owned and managed, but you just carry on up to the barrier, an unseen finger presses a button to raise the barrier.

The signage between the barrier and your next public road is awful. I did a complete loop around Clove Crescent before I worked it out. You can just see the blue diamond on the paving (actually a large open plaza) which you are meant to follow!

The diamonds carry on into the distance (my circles!)

Here is a close up. Wayfinding is vital for walking and cycling, especially for those new to an area or route; or who use it infrequently. Being in a private estate may will have been under an agreement with the owner who may not have wished to clutter up the open plaza with signs. But, a couple of well-placed bollards (nice lumps of granite?) with some arrows or repeaters would do the trick. For me, poor wayfinding can ruin the best scheme as you are never quite sure you are on the route.

At the other end of the plaza, the now familiar Superhighway "totem" sign telling me I have reached East India DLR (which is just the other side of the wall) and given there is a trial to allow cycles on the railway off peak, things are coming together well!

Naval Row now. A narrow, low speed, little street which doesn't go anywhere, so good for cycling.

Junction of Navel Row and Poplar High Street (above the Blackwall Tunnel). Poplar High Street starts off quiet, but at its junction with Cotton Street, we are back in Advanced Stop Line country and traffic domination - probably the worst part of the route and there is no photo as I couldn't stop safely!

Just round the corner there is a stash of Cycle Hire bikes!

A familiar style of information point which can be seen all over Central London. TfL has kept the design process rigid and the brand is instantly recognisable. There is also a Legible London Map if you want to head off and away from CS3.
The bustle (and the not feeling as safe) of Poplar High Street gives way to Ming Street which, for traffic, doesn't go anywhere; CS3 carries on regardless.

Next, a crossing over West India Dock Road. I couldn't work out how the traffic signals had detected me as there was no push button - I assume there are buried detection loops (there is a stop line for cyclists). There was a slight problem with the cycle traffic signals as I was concentrating on the far signal head circled in red to start, before I realised mine was the other one circled in green.

This is a classic example of "see through" where the human eye focuses on more distant objects. Had the signal opposite been green, I may well have moved off into traffic. Because we are forced to use full-sized traffic signals for cycles at the moment, this is not an acceptable layout. Smaller, low level signals on the post closest to the stop line would be the natural answer here, so let's hope TfL can bully the government into allowing them.

CS3 then crosses Westferry Road. Cycle demand is from a push button which most people will kind of be familiar with - note the stop line which allows pedestrians to walk past in front on an uncontrolled crossing. You can just see the buff tactile paving which is meant to tell pedestrians they don't have specific priority over traffic - in this case, bikes. You can also hold on to the push button box while you wait to cross!

Again, this crossing is separated from pedestrians and marked with "elephant's feet" (another thing needing approval from the Department for Transport!). Again, we have cycle specific signals which start with a round red and then have a cycle logo amber and green - it works well in this location.

Let's take a closer look at the push button. This is like a Pelican Crossing push button, but for cycles (a Toucan). I have never seen this version of push button before and so was mildly interested as a highways geek. I assume it was being used because the approach was not right for detection loops.

The route goes back on carriageway, but again, an area which looks pretty quiet and does not really go anywhere other than serving the people who live there (no rat running). Conditions might be worse during the week, but here we approach the bridge over the point where the Grand Union Canal connects to the River Thames.

CS3 now turns into Horseferry Road and runs contraflow to a one-way street (heading west) and it is on the wrong side of the road (all perfectly legal with Traffic Regulation Orders), Parking is well regulated and so the cycle lane stays clear. I saw quite a few car club bays as well which suggests that people are starting to think seriously if they need to keep a vehicle so close to the City, but recognise that they might need to use one every so often.

Next, the route crosses the Limehouse Link (another buried road) and nips through the well-kept St. James Gardens and then over Butcher Row.

And then into Cable Street where CS3 becomes a two-way segregated shared-use facility, with traffic being asked to give way to the cycle track - this is getting good again!

The route crosses to the other side at one point, but Cable Street consists of a narrow one-way carriageway which is pretty heavily traffic calmed with speed tables and so feels safe.

This photo is of a gully grid and a kerb, but they are not as boring as you might think! The gully grid is a "waffle" type and so no losing wheels down it. Plus, it give a clue to how Cable Street once was. The water on the cycle track falls from the carriageway side towards the footway and this is a classic Copenhagen-style retrofit where the cycle track is built over the old carriageway which would have been two-way before. A new gully goes in the narrowed carriageway and is piped back to the original gully which gets a new grating and drains the cycle track! You can also see the 20mm kerb upstand between the cycle track and footway.

At zebra crossings, things get a bit painty, but cyclists need to give way to pedestrians and actually, it works just fine.

Here we are at the other end of the route at Tower Gateway. Again, we have the familiar "totem" sign, but this shows the other side of it which carries a map.
My journey didn't end there, I carried on to Borough Market via Tower Bridge and Tooley Street. After a wander round, a drink, a snack and a bit of buying, I turned for home. My original plan was to go back out on the A11 (CS2) to Stratford (has CS2X started yet?) and beyond. But, do you know what? I liked using CS3 so much, I went back the way I came and just used the route rather than thinking of the various features - I didn't particularly slow down, but I relaxed and that just doesn't happen when you mix it with traffic. I began my return leg at 9:30am and already lots more people on bikes (not "cyclists") could be seen which showed CS3 as a route for most people, even at weekends.

Cable Street: October 2009 - a single frame in Google
Image from Google Streetview.
CS3 has some less good sections (Poplar High Street), the signage needs to be upgraded in a few places (signs on bollards please) and parts by the A13 need a good sweep (and the cycle track might need to be widened in the future). I wonder if the route is every checked for maintenance issues end to end because of the various boroughs/ TfL/ private estate people involved in its upkeep - there are loose kerbs which could damage road bikes here and there.

Additionally, and after a chance conversation with a colleague who knows the inner areas of London better than I do, it seems that as well as the A13, some of the other good stuff (Cable Street) was already there. I don't know if the whole route was joined up before CS3, but my journey has me calling it as I saw it, but credit must go to the designers who did lots of things before the Mayor.

But, CS3 is mainly wonderful. If feels safe as you are either protected from traffic or it has to move slowly and give way to you; anyone within a few miles should try it out. CS3 should be basic provision in London and indeed any UK city. Cable Street shows how one-way systems for traffic can release whole areas for cycling. The next time I have a run into town, I think it will be the kerbs and tarmac of CS3 and not the blue paint of CS2!


  1. I cycled CS3 a couple of months back heading out of London to the Essex coast. As a route it's pretty good and I especially liked the off-road provision on Cable Street which was quite busy on a Saturday morning. I did wonder how much fun it would be on a busy weekday morning with a lot more cyclists heading London bound.

    I found the A13 parallel section a bit soul destroying as there's not much to look at other than 6 lanes of traffic speeding past at 50mph (except for Beckton Alps, that is). Also there were a couple of places where lorries had parked over the dropped kerbs which was particularly annoying as I had 15kg in my panniers and had to keep dismounting.

    I wondered how often the A13 section is cleaned as often paths next to busy roads can become full of broken glass and other rubbish. Interestingly it was spotless so the councils/TfL seem to be doing a good job.

  2. I travelled on a Saturday and so yes, weekdays may be a different experience!

    The A13 is (quite) interesting (apart from the view as you mention!) in that the section which CS3 uses is part of a longer section subject to a Design, Building, Finance & Operate contract (DBFO) which was set up before TfL came into existence. So, this area is actually maintained by RMS(A13)plc. Don't know what the sweeping regime is, but some bits needed a good sweep!

    Weirdly, on the other trunk roads in the area (A12 and A127), it is the local boroughs who do the sweeping in their capacities as "Principal Litter Authority", rather than TfL which own the roads!

    Of course, once you leave the A13 onto the A1306, you are riding on a think layer of debris!

  3. I believe all the hard infrastructure existed before the Superhighway. The Superhighway just involved repainting and way marking. This fact is important as it has always reduced the credibility of the CSH programme: the best bits (also the segregation on Southwark Bridge on CS7) were not done for the programme, and what was done for the programme was to a far inferior standard. Hopefully with the CS3 extension in Stratford, this is now changing.

  4. It does then seem that CSH is cosmetic - but (apart from the private bit), the wayfinding does pull things together; although my post was a snapshot of now.

    I look forward to original thinking in the future!

  5. I like the totem sign, but it isn't an 'approved' traffic sign. Other cities do similar things with their walking networks though, so this is nothing new. What powers do local authorities have to sign their cycle routes with signs that haven't been designed or approved based on TSRGD?