Tuesday 1 December 2015

London Cycling Infrastructure Safari Part 1: Oases and Orcas

Last Saturday a group of us got together in association with the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain to look at some of the work in progress on the construction of cycling infrastructure in various corners of London.

This post will be the first of a series giving a flavour of what we saw, although please bear in mind that this can only be a snapshot; conditions can change at different times of the day and week! There is another safari planned for Sunday 13th December, but I think I will be starting it at Stratford thus saving a return to Waltham Forest for the Spring. The subject of this week's post is the Waltham Forest Mini-Holland scheme which is ostensibly a cycling infrastructure project, but as we saw, it is so much bigger than that. Truly a project going #beyondthebicycle.

We met up in the weak Autumn sunshine at Orford Road (myself having just guzzled tea and a bacon roll at the Village Bakery) to have a quick look around the area. Orford Road was an amazing contrast to the rotten route I had cycled from entering the edges of Stratford and up through the A112 which all were traffic sewers with parking everywhere.

Orford Road was quiet and calm and the small collection of cafes had people using the chairs and tables placed outside. The scheme on the ground was taken forward after an experimental scheme to ban motor traffic during the day (apart from a local bus route) and I was sent a link to a video after the ride which shows what things were like immediately after the trial ended and the traffic let back in. How anyone would want to go back is beyond me.

The street has been relaid as a level surface shared space with motors only allowed through after 10pm at night and before 10am in the morning and the street is one way to motors and 2-way for cycles (I understand there is CCTV enforcement).

The work is finished to a high standard with good quality paving materials for the main walking routes. The area on which traffic runs is a tidily laid asphalt surface. Buses can come through during the restricted times and other vehicle outside of these times, although I thought the asphalt area to be a little narrow for larger vehicles and there were a few maintenance issues appearing.

The street has a 20mph speed limit and is part of a much larger (and older) 20mph Zone. There were some nice touches such as the lighting columns facing the "wrong" way to illuminate the main walking routes rather than the "carriageway" section. I don't know how visually impaired people find the street and I would be very interested to know.

The other end of the street is "no entry, except cycles" which works just fine. The other end of the street has incorrect signage in my view however. A white circular sign with a red edge means no vehicles and that technically means cycles. I think this needs to be looked at again and made a pedestrian zone or a pedestrian and cyclist zone when the rules finally catch up. I am not even sure that a one way is required, a no entry and one end makes that the case by default. These may be little issues, but I like to see these details done correctly.

Business needs are not neglected with a large loading bay provided at one end of the street. Yes, people will need to walk goods using a trolley. I am not sure what the demand is, but we did see a couple of small vans sneak in to deliver and I wonder if allowing deliveries during the banned period would be such an issue?

Just off Orford Road, a side road has been closed to traffic (Eden Road) and the space combined with a tatty old planted area to create "Walthamstow Village Square" and very nice it is too. The main walking route is paved the same as Orford Road and the open space finished in self-binding gravel which is an awful lot cheaper - a big impact to a budget! The "village" concept is a theme of the Waltham Forest Mini-Holland programme which splits the borough and the work into village themes and from what we could see, things were moving in the right direction. We'll leave the Village with a little video.

Beyond Orford Road, we had a quick look at a motor traffic filter in the form of a railway bridge carrying West Avenue Road. If you look back in time, you will note that the edge of the carriageway was lined with vehicle containment barriers and this is because either the footways on the bridge or the parapet (walls), or both, were under-strength. Closing the bridge to motors has essentially removed the loading risks to the bridge and the area re-purposed as a motor traffic filter and pocket park; two jobs for the price of one!

We noticed a series of numbered bollards on the bridge and when I started hopping between them, their use was immediately obvious; a cheeky bit of street play for kids walking along - it will send the health and safety brigade reaching for their hi-viz and clipboard (I think it is wonderful, even as a trained road safety auditor!)

The closure to motors is part of a wider network of filters which are laid out to prevent or discourage (by making vehicle routes very long) driving through the area, thus leaving it quiet for walking and cycling, but maintaining access for those living and working in the area who need to take vehicles in. This essentially reclassifies this as a network of local streets.

Not all of the works to filter through motor traffic from the area are high cost. This example at Copeland Road simply uses a bit of asphalt, some bollards and trees to do the job (although the dropped kerbs were not properly flush - attention to detail please guys). The timber planters a left over from the original experimental scheme and I assume they will be reused at the experiment. 

So far, this post has not shown any cycling infrastructure other than an "except cycles" sign and this is an important point. Local streets do not need any specific cycling infrastructure, just the removal of heavy and fast through traffic. This is a way of recreating places for people walking too, kids can play in the streets, people can hear each other speak and the pollution and traffic danger is reduced substantially. In the example of Walthamstow Village, Waltham Forest has spent the big money well, in places where people will want to be, but also very little money in other places to remove the unwanted motor traffic.

So, let's have a look at some cycling infrastructure. Our brief whizz around the area took us to Ruckholt Road. Nominally a secondary street (A106), it is part of a wider and more complicated set of one-way systems and loops which permeate the wider area. 

The first section we looked at was a conversion from an advisory cycle lane approaching a junction with an advanced stop line to a mandatory cycle lane protected with "light" segregation in the form of "Orcas". The old cycle lane has been widened by taking a section of footway, but the old channel block has been in which is not a great detail. The Orcas themselves don't instill the same levels of experienced safety as a kerb.

The unit is (I think) some sort of recycled plastic affair with a low profile on the cycling side and a half-battered profile (like a kerb) on the traffic side. They are bolted to the road surface, so no excavation is required. The white line of the cycle lane is on the traffic side which could be an issue for those cycling in the dark - perhaps a line on each side would be better, although that kind of becomes a double-white line road marking which isn't intended for this use.

As usual, I threw personal safety to the wind and bounced over the edges of the Orcas, although I was on my big bike and I didn't fancy it at speed. I don't know if this is the finished job or an experiment, but I cannot see it as being a long-term solution to providing protection that everyone will happy using. 

It is interesting to note that there is no lane or protection in the other direction, although this was previously the case. The other side of the road had car parking inset into the footway (and not done that long ago) which gives a stark contrast between what the borough used to do and what it is trying to do now. One issue I could see with the Orcas was they seem to attract grit and dirt which stays damp after rain which could, over time, lead to potholes forming around them.

Beyond the Orcas, we reach the junction with Oliver Road. At first, I wondered why the Orcas where in the ASL - a swine to turn right if you miss them, but there is no right turn as shown on the now (and wonderfully) common cycle signals complete with the mini ahead only sign. This lends me to think (and hope) that this is a short term scheme which will be built on in the future.

A little further west of the junction, there is some kerbed protection which runs into a floating bus stop. The layout gently ramps the single-direction cycle track up to footway level an is picked out with kerbs. It seems to have been bolted on a little to the previous layout. It is wider than others I have seen (such as CS2 at Whitechapel) and it allows one to cycle smoothly, but I think it is a bit messy and not great for pedestrians and passengers. 

There is a mini-zebra and tactile paving, but the lack of kerb upstand away from the crossing point will be an issue for some visually impaired people. I get the feeling that this is a bit of an experiment and to be honest, the experience of designing and building something is a good way of learning for many practical engineers. Let's see how it goes.

Further west, we have a slip road which leads to a retail park, industrial estate and a tangle of roads and roundabouts (i.e. local destinations rather than the A12 and M11). The whole area is a mess of roads and traffic signals and from what we could make out, there are proper kerbed cycle tracks (we didn't cycle east, so can't comment). 

The slip road uses a cycle zebra crossing (zebra for pedestrians and "elephant's feet" for cyclists). I must point out that this arrangement remains unlawful as the legislation which was going to allow it has been delayed until next year (the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016 since you asked). At first look, it seems OK, but as we crossed, it was clear that some drivers didn't know or want to give way. The problem is that the cycle track runs with the flow of traffic and so cyclists "appear" from behind the nearside of vehicles which is made worse by trees on the approach. This crossing arrangement really needs cycles meeting the crossing at a proper 90 degree angle with an approach to intervisibility is really good.

Just a little further west we reached the junction with Orient Way where see saw some very good provision. The cycle tracks were laid out like proper little roads with decent kerb radii, cycle signals, stop lines and "elephant's footprints" to denote the crossing path to be taken by cycles. 

One little point is that the footprints should be marked outside of the crossing width. Not a massive issue, but we want to show the crossing as wide as possible.

Like many of us, the designers have been grappling with the lack of stock UK-cycling specific "forgiving" kerbs and here they have opted for small elements kerb with a 45 degree splay and an upstand of about 55/60mm. I bounced up and down them on my big bike, but they are more about preventing pedal-strike and to maximise the available width. They work fine for those reasons. I know Cambridge have been experimenting with bespoke kerbs, but we really need a proper conversion of Dutch versions to the UK and if any suppliers are reading, please have a think about this (or even get in touch).

So as we headed west, we left the emerging modern cycling infrastructure (and yes, with its faults) of Ruckholt Road as the A106 became the Eastway and we entered Hackney. Nothing to write home about here other than bollards, Toucans, shared use and roads designed for lots of traffic. We swung south through the Olympic Park and into Newham on our way to Stratford and Cycle Superhighway 2 and that, friends, will be next week's post.


  1. Excellent, thank you; love the wooden posts and look forward to part 2. One question - why can't the orcas be on the white line? That way they would take minimal (subjective) space from both bike and motor transport. As it is, it looks like they're taking space from bikes (even if they're not), a ploy which surely shouldn't be encouraged.

    1. I can only think it is to stop drivers hitting them. The lane is mandatory, so drivers shouldn't enter it. That's my guess anyway!

    2. Legally the white line must be unbroken to ensure the cycle lane is mandatory. The orca being placed on the line as opposed to next to it breaks the line marking and thus makes the cycle lane "illegal". Camden had to move all the armadillos on Royal College Street for this reason.

    3. Interesting point - makes sense to me!

    4. Would be better if the orcas were on the other side of the line.

  2. Nice blog post. Interestingly the elephant's footprints are actually painted within the crossing width in the Netherlands, although I do prefer them to be outside because otherwise the crossing feels narrower than it is.

    1. Yes, I checked back to a video I made while in NL earlier in the year and that is indeed the case. I am used to pedestrian crossing studs being on the outside and that's why it jarred with me.

    2. With vertical kerbs around the central reservation, inset elephant's footprints might reduce kerb-strike.
      The drawing you linked WBM(R)294 also shows them inset.

    3. PS I should have said that all looks great to live in.
      Has the opposition died away yet ?
      As you say, orcas apart, it looks more for people than for bikes.

      For balance, here's a "no conspiracy theories" rant that YouTube links to.
      "Mini Holland schemes =Fake Green Fascism or Smart Green Eco Fascism"
      "Remember folks this is about loss of private transport rights, wiping out self employment and population control/reduction. Cycling is the cover story!"
      TBH I haven't time to sit through it waiting for the point - 'Social Cleansing' ? 'Smart Green Genocide' ?
      Hmmm ... maybe some people won't be convinced !

    4. PPS - I knew I'd heard of Waltham Forest long ago - this blog started in 2007-2012
      ... just for contrast.
      Maybe it all demonstrates the power of blogging ?

    5. Yes, a totally different mindset now from the Crap WF blog! I think the point about the village schemes is indeed that it is about people - cycling is secondary.

  3. Shared Space in Preston has 1" upstands to the kerbs. Apparently, according to the Council that was at the insistence of Galloway's Society for the Blind. The council have refused to get all interested parties together to discuss so how true the need for kerb nobody outside the council knows. However, the kerb and the gutter are the same dark grey; peds and cyclists just don't see it. However, in other parts of Preston where there is no kerb they have used block paving like this scheme to denote the edge of the lane.

    1. Kerbs and channels of the same colour come up quite a bit in falls involving visually impaired people as do kerb-separated laybys finished in similar colour paving as footways. I really think there needs to be more work done in this area and a definitive guide produced with backing of access groups because the poor engineer on the ground is left utterly confused.

  4. Thanks for the write-up! A few quick points in response...

    1. "It is interesting to note that there is no lane or protection in the other direction, although this was previously the case. The other side of the road had car parking inset into the footway (and not done that long ago) which gives a stark contrast between what the borough used to do and what it is trying to do now."

    The eastbound lack of lane is part of the new scheme. What happens is at the lights before, cyclists get a separate signal that runs for a decent period of time before cars do. Even a fairly slow pootler will be through that section and to the next set of lights before any cars catch up. So it's separated in time, not space.

    2. The Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign were really keen for the council to move away from vertical kerb upstands with segregation. They had been using these elsewhere in the area (Hoe Street, Blackhorse Road etc.) and we've seen cyclists get "tramlined" by them. The 45 degree kerbs are far less likely to do that.

    3. The key to the village scheme - both its controversial nature among a minority of locals and its brilliance - is that it encompasses more than just Orford Road. The closures work as a cell, pretty much stopping through traffic in an entire area - as Hackney have pioneered in the UK, but as can also be found elsewhere in Waltham Forest even.

    The other "villages", when in place, will form a ring around Walthamstow Central station. That means a large radius of people will be able to ride from front door to shops, cinema, hospital, workplaces, colleges, schools and transport hubs through the villages or using the protected space coming for main roads. And yes, all those residential areas will also be better for walking, chatting, hanging out etc. Those opposing do so raising some legitimate concerns (emergency vehicle access, deliveries, the elderly and disabled), but at its core, the anti campaign is mainly people who are just angry that they have to spend a few minutes more in their car when they do short journeys from one side of the area to the other - precisely the type of journeys now better done by bike or on foot.

    1. Thanks for the information. I think a Spring return visit is a must and a few locals have already said they'd be up for it. More time to see exactly how it all works. I like the "village" approach as it is a nice way to explain what is happen in that one can access all parts by car, but not drive through - i.e. one doesn't even need to say "road closed". Some of this language is going to be helpful for many of us wanting to do similar things.

  5. Quote "...a cheeky bit of street play for kids walking along - it will send the health and safety brigade reaching for their hi-viz and clipboard (I think it is wonderful, even as a trained road safety auditor!)"

    Whoa there fella!

    A safety auditor's job is to look at the safety of a scheme from the point of view of all road users - not to be a killjoy or barrier to innovation. As long as those posts had sufficient contrast to the footway and there was sufficient room that cyclists weren't going to be trapped or somehow fall against them I can't see much of a problem with them. In fact I recently audited a scheme with a fair amount of dedicated cycling provision where I was perhaps more gung-ho about giving cyclists (and peds) priority over motor vehicles than the designers were. I'd suggest the auditor's motto is more along the lines 'If you're going to do it - do it right', as opposed to 'Don't even think about doing it!'..


    1. Ah, but then you are already switched on to my sense of humour! the biggest problem is that RSA people get brought in too late and the perception is still that they say no!

  6. What would you think of a law permitting moped riders with an engine size of less than 50 cc powered be electricity to be ridden on an urban cycle path at 25 km/h (and cycle lanes) and on rural cycle paths at 45 km/h? This would help to implement sustainable safety, as mass and speed differences must be separated if they cannot be otherwise homogenized according to Dutch policy. A 55 kg moped and maybe 85 kg human on it at 25 km/h is much more comparable to a bicycle which is about a 20-25 kg bicycle (for the upright variety built to the durability standard of the Dutch) with a 30-85 kg rider (body mass varies for obvious reasons, and children are able to get bicycles without restriction, moped riders have to be I think around 16 in the UK to ride one and you have to have a license, registration and insurance) being ridden at 20-25 km/h for most riders than a 1200 kg car driven at 50 km/h. Just too big of a mass and speed difference to be OK. Obviously this means that things like shared use paths can't make sense, moped and pedestrians would have a problem, and paths and cycle lanes must be built to a higher standard, but they had to anyway. If a path is going to be cleared in the winter, a pick up truck with a plow in the front, salt water in the middle and a sprayer in the back with a driving cab must not damage the cycle path, being a good foundation, and 2.5 metre wide one way widths and 3-4 metre wide two way paths and 2-2.5 metre wide cycle lanes must be built, with the design speed being the highest speed you could expect a velomobilist to get up to on the path/lane road assuming that the speed limit for the road directly parallel is not lower. Also worth applying these laws to E bikes, they are just as vulnerable as a cyclist.

    1. I'd have no objections so long as the cycle tracks are wide enough and separate from those walking. I am aware, however, that this has seen a boom in mopeds which are now having to be regulated.

  7. The picture showing the cycle crossing that you described as reasonable, second picture from the bottom, is almost exactly how the Dutch would build such a crossing if they were to work with UK standard designs for how the poles and heads are designed. It is missing some inductive loops for cycle actuation, no need to press a button, and modern designs include a waiting time indicator, so as to let you know how short your waiting time is so that you are more likely to obey the red light. I don't know whether the traffic light planners would like such a concept because it can often show how long the UK cyclists and pedestrians have to wait, but if they are confident that it is fair, I would think they should prove it.

    1. We do use loops in the UK at cycle crossings, but for some reason they don't seem to be reliable. They are being superseded by infra-red kit which seems to be getting quite good; also magnemometors which seem to be better than loops too.