Monday 14 December 2015

London Cycling Infrastructure Safari Part 3: More Superhighways & Tavistock Place

Yesterday (13th December) was the second day of the London Cycling Infrastructure Safari Winter Series* held in conjunction with The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.

This is the third of three posts, with the first and second available here and here. The original idea was to start at Walthamstow as with the first, but the first day was a push without enough time to linger. The latest one started on Cycle Superhighway 2 at Stratford and so cutting out Walthamstow gave us time to spend more time looking at other things and importantly, getting to Tavistock Place to look at Camden's experimental layout in daylight (just). 

Hardy souls braving the rain were soon joined by more en-route
I think the lesson is that for the future safaris (yes there will be more), we will make them a little shorter to give more time for discussing layouts. I say we, as a special thanks must go to CEoGB board member Alex Ingram, for both his knowledge of the history of London transport in general and in particular knowing his way around far better than I! 

We started in the light drizzle on CS2 and headed west to have a look at Bow as with the first ride. We had another crack at the two-stage right turn into Grove Road and while I was looking at the right signal this time, it was not intuitive. The signal for cycles isn't properly facing them in the waiting zone and the signals I mistook the other week are badly louvred and are confusing. We also noted that the protected track on the exit could not cope with a group. The two-stage right turn might be acceptable for one or two people (and who are happy to sit in the road waiting) but I'm afraid that it is no solution for all or for large numbers.

More positive were the loading bays. It is often said that protected cycling infrastructure is not compatible with loading, but that is nonsense of course as there are several loading bays provided along CS2;

This example operates 7am to 7pm Monday to Saturday and allows loading for 20 minutes or blue badge holders to park for 3 hours. The cycle track width is maintained, but "wiggles" over to create a wider buffer between loading vehicles and people cycling. There are flush areas over which cage trolleys can pushed and a dropped kerb to get up onto the footway (which assists drivers with a mobility impairment or wheelchair users too). One curious feature is the square "lump" of kerb between two flush areas. The consensus was that it is there to stop people pulling into the cycle track to park or load. Seems a reasonable explanation to me.

The kerbs remain a problem. CS2 from Bow to Aldgate is using 45 degree splay kerbs. While not as forgiving as the Dutch approach of flatter angled kerbs, if they are set to the bottom of the splay (to give a 75mm upstand), the UK kerbs can maximise available width and are fairly forgiving - here is a video of a track I was involved with where the kerbs are installed correctly. The photo to the right shows how it should be done.

As you can see from the photo above, there is a 50mm vertical upstand as well as the 75mm splay. The reason this is happening (I think) is that the track is being built in an area which was carriageway (and some footway edges). The usual upstand between a footway kerb and a carriageway is 100 - 125mm and we are getting the same between the footway and the track. The problem could be dealt with by adding more surfacing to the track, but in many places the protection is intermittent or missing, so the implication is that the surfacing levels need to be raised on the carriageway too. I suppose if the main carriageway is ever surfaced, levels could be raised with those of the track. My "green field" example was far easier to build by comparison.

Fast forward to he City now, where sections of the East-West Cycle Superhighway are being opened on a weekly basis; word is that they'll connect to CS3 by the Spring. We are seeing some good stuff being built, although the devil will be in the junctions. I can't wait to keep going from the end of CS3, but in the meantime, here is a glimpse of Lower Thames Street (it will be bi-directional when open);

The kerbs have changed again. Those in the strip between the carriageway and cycle track are single-piece granite lumps with a a much smaller chamfer than we've seen before and being low, there is little risk of pedal strike. On the footway side, we have the original kerbs with a fairly small vertical upstand. It is the "wrong" way round compared to the Dutch set up as the forgiving side is by the footway and people will want to keep away from the kerb on the carriageway.

We paused for lunch at Westminster after noting a loading bay on The Embankment and a parking bay for the RNLI Tower Lifeboat Station. We then went back for another look at CS5 at Vauxhall. This time, we elected to blast through and we even found a green signal at the crossing of South Lambeth Road (nice).

One issue we noticed this time wound was at a floating bus stop. In order to bend the track behind it, a very narrow footway was left for those walking, although the bus stop island was reasonable.

The bus stop "island" actually continues for quite a long way to meet a pedestrian crossing, but we did think that the layout might have been better with the track right at the back of the highway with a wide bus stop island, although this would have meant people crossing the track twice and having to get through the bus stop area. One to watch I think.

We then swung over to (and though) St George's Circus which forms part of the North-South Cycle Superhighway where we continued north along Blackfriar's Road which is being transformed at the moment. We crossed Blackfriar's Bridge to where the N-S will meet the E-W.

The two photos above are from St George Circus. The lower photo shows a staggered informal crossing of the cycle track into a signalised crossing of the main road. This is less useful for pedestrians and could have been done much better without the stagger and a wider waiting area by the signals. Zebras and signals don't mix as a rule), but I can't see why pedestrians can't have a zebra over the track and from next year, a zebra on a track won't need beacons.

From the cycle superhighways, we just had time to get up to Tavistock Place before dark. The cycling infrastructure on Tavistock place is quite old and consisted of a bidirectional track which featured a quirky crossover point at one end to get those cycling in the right place at some signals (see image left from Google). Traffic was two way along the street.

I don't begin to understand how it fits in with the wider network (it's well-established), but the local authority (Camden) has set up an experiment to convert the old track into a uni-directional affair and with a new mandatory cycle lane in the other direction being taken from a traffic lane and protected with wands and orcas. Traffic is now one-way much to the annoyance/ predictions of the End of Days of some full-time commercial fare-charging drivers. For people cycling, it is great (there are issues of left hook in places, but it's an experiment).

I rode the old layout a few years' ago and it was very tight for two-way cycling. At peak times, the route is really busy and so the experiment shifts the balance to cycling and almost certainly fairer. The orcas are not my favourite piece of kit, but they are spot on for an experimental layout. There are some curious bollards here and there which are pinch points, but I guess it is about reinforcing the message to drivers. 

As the day ended, we noticed a few drivers being utterly unable to understand banned turn signs and directional arrows and so some more bedding in is clearly needed, but, it is a good example of doing something quick and cheap to get rapid results. Full details of the scheme are available on Camden's website and I urge you to write in to support the scheme being made permanent; it would be awful to step back from it now. The longer term implication could be a reworking of the street to include wider footways and permanent traffic and cycling arrangements. So, here is another short video, this time, Tavistock Place - note the old (now uni-directional) track on the other side;

It's funny, I had started out just wanting to go and ride some of the new stuff in London as I have done before. It produces good material for the blog and personally, gives me some ideas which can be translated into the day job. The idea for the London Cycling Infrastructure Safaris really came from a few other people saying they fancied coming along too and this has proved to be useful as other views can be aired and debated. I have asterisked "series" in the headline to this blog because as we chatted in the pub yesterday evening it became clear that we needed to carry this on. So, watch this space in 2016, the London Cycling Infrastructure Safaris will return in the Spring.


  1. I regularly cycle along Tavistock Place as part of my route from Marylebone Station to Chancery Lane, usually between 11-12am and then back again 4-5.30pm, so only partially in peak hours.

    I found it a great relief to use after a couple of early journeys on some of the more major streets, and it's still a welcome respite especially after I negotiate Marylebone's streets which offer very little infrastructure, but provide lots of door zone and left hook opportunities. At the time I travel, Marylebone is usually quiet, though when it's backed up - mostly with taxis and private cars - it's impassable and quite unpleasant.

    It's also odd that Grays Inn Road, which is very wide, offers nothing for people on bikes.

    Because the track is available I rarely use other parallel streets, except when road works force a detour. On my afternoon journey it can get very busy and this becomes unnerving when some people on bikes are keen to go as fast as they can. The track's narrow, two way layout is quite unsuitable for overtaking and fast speeds. It also means that at peak hours, long single file queues of cyclists form at traffic lit junctions, so it clearly wasn't designed to cope with large numbers on bikes.

    I wonder what effect the improvements will have, though I'm going to be using it tomorrow and am really looking forward to finding out how it has changed.

    1. I rode the route as two-way a couple of years back and I can say the new layout is so much better; but yes, commuting times will be the test!

    2. Well, I can report that my trip along Tavistock Place was even more relaxed and comfortable than usual. The additional width really helps. I felt slightly guilty at being almost the only person on a bike using it at 11.55am. The return trip was curtailed somewhat as I had to travel to Euston instead of Marylebone, but at 4.45pm the track still wasn't busy.

      Overall, it's a huge improvement on one of London's few bits of dedicated infrastructure. I think it also ought to make it easier for pedestrians crossing to have only a single flow of bikes to watch out for rather than two opposing ones, and clearer sight lines.

    3. Plus, it is just a trial and so could be really improved with a permanent scheme.

  2. What else is coming up for cyclists in the new traffic regulations next year? I know zebras over cycle tracks won't need belishas, but what else?

    1. They're still messing about with it, but hopefully all of the cycling "things" will be made standard such as low level cycle signals - the government really have made a mess of the whole process and we are yet to see the proper regulations.

    2. It would be good if the DfT set out some nice regulations around cycle facilities for the entire country. Some of them making cycle infrastructure on roads with volumes over 2000 vpd and speeds over 20 mph in urban areas and 40 mph in rural areas, setting concrete minimums for cycleways, their surface quality, continuity and width, like 1.75 metres for a cycle lane, 2 metres for a cycle track, 3.2 metres for a bidirectional track, at least 35 cm of a curb used to protect a cycle track, 80 cm next to parking cars, specifically banning the shared use path above certain volumes of pedestrians except where the intent is to pedestrianize a street, prohibiting the use of ASLs, or maybe requiring that an ASL be only built where the speed limit is 20 mph, where no alternative to provide a different cycleway is capable of being provided, requiring a cycle signal so that the cyclists get at least 5-10 seconds of an advance green, and only in cases where the volume is low enough, probably 2000 vpd or less, and each of them has to be individually approved by the secretary of state. This design prevents ASLs from being nearly so widespread. Simultaneous green could be legalized for engineers if it isn't already, and of course, the desirable widths of cycleways and their buffers, and requiring that if the minimums for their buffers can't be met, then a tall buffer (what Canadians call K rails) must be used instead. Officially sanctioning bus stop bypasses, and providing for their geometry, a specific guidance that cyclists must not be purposefully made to slow down, creating a sign to permit cyclists to make a left on red where the cycle paths couldn't permit this otherwise without the sign, and a bunch of other standards.

    3. Design standards is key. Even in London, the standards are guidance and even then, they are a bit thin on the ground with design layouts.

  3. Good news on the kerb front. Evidently Charcon now include what was the 'Cambridge' kerb - with its much flatter 12.5 degree profile and total 25mm? upstand, as a 'Cycle Unit' or 'Cycle Kerb' in their latest catalogue released in the last week or so.

    Use one of those between carriageway and cycleway and a 45 degree splay with 75mm upstand between cycleway and footway and Bob's yer uncle - 100mm total height difference between carriageway and footway.

    Andy R.

    1. I'm aware of it, but not seen it live as yet. In Cambridge, they have use this so people can move from the carriageway to cycle track which seems utterly bizarre - if the track is good, why leave it, plus, I am sure divers will move onto the track with ease!

  4. On Tavistock Place, using orcas or armadillos on the contraflow lane may be OK; this is often done in one way streets in the Netherlands as the danger tends to come from cars behind you rather than facing you, according to David Arditti. It does depend on traffic speeds and volumes though. That is a good scheme in terms of prioritizing cyclists compared to the narrow bi-directional path previously.