Monday 4 April 2016

Fragments Of The Red Pill: London Cycling Infrastructure Safari 2nd April 2016

As promised, the London Cycling Infrastructure Safari returned last Saturday and as usual, it was arranged in association with the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.

As usual, Alex Ingram provided the local knowledge to get us round the tricky bits and the event enticed about 25 people out into the warm Spring sunshine. It's a far cry from mooching around looking at kerbs on my own and it gives the opportunity for people of all backgrounds and views to put their points across. If you search #LDNCycleSafari on Twitter, you'll see some photos of what we looked at. It was the third outing of the event and we will carry on into the future and expect to see some blog posts from time to time.

I'll come back to the route we took shortly, but I think it is interesting to remind ourselves what cycling in Central London is usually like. This little video is us trying to get from the paint'n'signs CS8 which fizzles out at the notorious Millbank Roundabout to Parliament Square which is a maelstrom of cars, buses and lorries. There is no way most people would clamour to cycle here. I have on an irregular basis, but I wouldn't recommend it (unless it is at the end of the London-Surrey 100 when it is closed for the sportive!);

The video ends as we are about to cross Parliament Street before turning left onto Victoria Embankment where works are currently underway to take the East-West Cycle Superhighway from Victoria Embankment to Great George Street via Parliament Square.

I would also like to take the opportunity to think about Victoria Embankment as well. As we got into the street, the lanes are set up for roadworks and are narrow. We were heading northbound (on the west side of the street), but we needed to find somewhere to cross to the east side of the street where the currently completed section of the superhighway has been placed. This section has been built for some time and so it was a little bit of a shock to see it closed again!

As we headed northbound, we became aware of hooting behind our group. It was someone driving a Range Rover who was extremely upset being caught behind us and proceeded to barge past, hooting as she did. We caught the driver at the next set of lights of course. I raise this not as a pop at people driving in this area (although I think it madness), but as a contrast to having got used to the calm and comfort of the cycle track. Here is what Victoria Embankment used to look like;

I took this during the 2014 FreeCycle ride where the road was open to just cycles, but it shows the amount of space given over to motor traffic under normal conditions. The next photo was taken a bit further north for my post about zebra crossings and was to show how risky it is having to cross two lanes of traffic (with one masking the other); it does show again the total absence of protection of space for people cycling and was always awful to use.

So, let's get back to the safari. We started at the western end of CS3 at Royal Mint Street where work was underway to connect the route to the East-West Cycle Superhighway. By the Summer, it will be possible to cycle from Barking to Westminster on mostly protected cycle tracks. After a bit of a detour because this end of the route is still being built, we had a ride down Lower Thames Street (which isn't strictly open yet);

We stopped just after Monument Street for a chat, although the bells from St. Magnus The Martyr Church kind of drowned us out!

We retraced our steps back to Monument Street where we debated and tested the link from the cycle track into the street itself. The link has been there years but as Ruth-Anna with her cargobike and Isabelle with her hand-cycle found, it is pretty awful and hard to use so is now overdue for a complete change. The popular solution was to de-bollard the area and restore the historic road layout, but as a cycle access. As a wider issue, the group felt that there were lots of locations where the connections to side streets were lacking.

We then hit the awful roads again and got ourselves to Southwark Bridge where we picked up the paint'n'signs route of CS7 which we followed all the way to the Elephant & Castle (I can't resist linking this NSFW clip). Being a Saturday, many areas along CS7 weren't under parking restrictions and so in many places, vehicles were parked in cycle lanes which were less than useless. We had a quick peek at Elephant & Castle which was being remodelled (and will be the subject of a future safari) to start at the southern end of the North-South Cycle Superhighway.

We then spent some time cycling along the route which takes in St George's Road (one-way for motor traffic), a stub of Lambeth Road (which is filtered), St George's Circus and Blackfriar's Road. The thing that soon strikes you is that there is plenty of space, it is calm and comfortable and feels safe. Have a look at this video from St George's Road showing the group (without prompting) cycling in twos and chatting, still with space for people cycling the other way;

Here is the same street, but from the handlebars;

The photo above shows the treatment at the junction with Garden Row which is one-way, only allowing motor traffic to turn right onto the main road. I had thought it a bit over-engineered, but Garden Row connects with London Road which is a one way road and so maintains access. The bidirectional tracks have been used quite a lot on the North-South (and East-West) Cycle Superhighway and is presumably easier to deal with in terms of traffic signals. The private accesses and smaller streets don't have signals, but there is space between the main road and the track to give drivers space to pause and check before they complete their turns.

The photo above is on Blackfriar's Road which believe it or not was previously just a single carriageway, so the cycle track hasn't taken out much motor traffic capacity, other than at some junctions. My perception from visiting the area a lot over the years is traffic has reduced in the area and so the space is a freebie. This is confirmed by the DfT traffic data for the location;

Notwithstanding the ups and downs of the figures, we are currently in a less trafficked era and we are lower than 2002 which was the previous low. The wheeze is that protected infrastructure is now in place and the cycle counts will rise considerable in coming years; this has locked in people-moving capacity improvements. We were going to stop for lunch on Blackfriar's Road, but the place I had in mind was closed and so we retraced our steps back to the Imperial War Museum. Although we did use the opportunity of the sun behind us to take some more photos!

From the museum, we picked up the old LCN3 route which took us along Lambeth Road (which could so easily be provided with protected cycle infrastructure) and then the back streets of Vauxhall (Lambeth Walk and Tyers Street) before turning off the route to stop at Vauxhall Walk for lunch (and which I looked at a few weeks ago). We even saw a couple of people drive through and the space still worked fine!

After lunch, it was a short hop across to CS5 where we picked up Harleyford Road and cycled south-west passing The Oval to pick up a section of CS7 which had recently been upgraded to provide uni-directional kerb-protected and stepped cycle tracks on each side of the A3 Kennington Park Road. Again, a short video;

About half way through the video, we pass Magee Street which is one-way onto the A3 and has a continuous footway as well as cycle track. At the end, we approach a floating bus stop and you will note that Isabelle uses the very small hump at the pedestrian crossing point into the bus stop island to leave the track because everything is flush. It was a good point of discussion because even the slight kerb between the footway and the track is difficult for some people to deal with and by that I mean that if someone wanted to leave the track to stop at a shop, they may not be able to. The whole issue of UK kerbs lacking proper off-the-shelf solutions to this (which assist visually impaired people locate them) and seems to me to be a big issue which is bubbling under the surface of all of this really good work being done. The debate will continue.

We skirted by to CS5 via Bowling Green Street and Kennington Oval and headed north-west towards Vauxhall Bridge on CS5 once more. 

The south-eastern side of the bridge has the cycle track and footway separated by a "demarcation block". The block is raised, but with shallow ramps either side and for those using cycles for mobility or with tricycles and other types of cycle, they offer no block from mounting the footway (for the reasons I gave above). These blocks have been around for years being used with shared, segregated cycle tracks, but with tactile paving to make layouts messy. I'm not sure if how they have been used at Vauxhall Bridge works for visually impaired people and I would welcome the feedback as it is a detail we just struggle with. 

I still like the idea of the footway being stepped up above the cycle track level and I know we now have the "Cambridge Kerb" which could provide delineation between footways and cycle tracks (although they are being used between the carriageway and cycle track in Cambridge). For straight runs of kerb line, I think the best layout I have seen so far is in Leicester where a stock half battered kerb has been laid on its "back" to provide a gentle rise from track to footway (as below). We'll see where this all goes I suppose.

Vauxhall Bridge has maintained motor traffic lane capacity and despite people who are against the cycling infrastructure saying it is never used, it has been created by removing the southeast-bound bus lane and so people are free to sit in traffic jams as they did before while people whizz by on bikes. For us, the bridge was a breeze;

I really cannot see how some people were worried about losing the right to ride on the road when we have infrastructure like this. Before the cycle track, Vauxhall Bridge was only for the brave; everyone can cycle on Vauxhall Bridge now and that includes those who want to stay on the road (I doubt there are many takers).

From Vauxhall Bridge we turned right onto Millbank and then to Parliament Square where this post started. Keeping in mind how awful the area used to be, let's have another quick look at Victoria Embankment now;

It's now hard to remember Victoria Embankment without this cycle track; genuinely enabling stuff! 

After riding Victoria Embankment, we ended up at the South Bank for a drink and a chat about what we had seen and more importantly, the forthcoming London Mayoral elections on 5th May. This brings me round to the title of this post. The red pill is a reference to the film The Matrix (have you been under a rock?) and in a concentrated area of Central London we are seeing changes to our surface transport system which recognises cycling as a mode of transport which needs its own safe and comfortable space to enable everyone to cycle. It's not a "nice to have" any more as cycling represents a huge untapped amount of people-moving city-capacity. Not only that, it can release capacity on the Tube, rail and buses for people travelling longer distances (or just don't wish to cycle).

The problem is, it is very easy to get carried away, but most of London is awful for cycling, especially in Outer London. So far, Mayoral hopefuls have been pretty vague on cycling in their manifestos and I think they all need a push (some much more than others). Once we have a new Mayor, then campaigners and professionals alike must ramp up the pressure to explain what it means to have a liveable city with enabling cycling being a key component. Luckily for us, we now have stuff we can go and point at and to be honest, me writing blog posts on it will no longer be necessary as the infrastructure becomes boring and ordinary!


  1. I suggest the website globonsomeday tag road signs for some ideas about decluttering UK road signs. I even adapted some of them to meet the general idea about how the MUTCD works in the US and Canada, like parking regulation signs. I like them quite a lot. Why don't we just use red and amber arrows instead of a blue sign under each traffic light that controls a specific direction, it just adds clutter.

    Also, I noticed that rarely is the circular sign for cycle path used for cycle tracks like this. Any idea why? You also did not seem to do that for that minor connection you did yourself a few months ago in NE London.

    And also, I suggest that people think about the fact that the Dutch release for free and for anyone to look at (it helps if you know dutch or have a translator) crash records site with quite a bit of detail. Why doesn't the UK have one, is it because we don't want people to realize just how dangerous roads are in the UK?

    Finally, did you manage to convince any of your co slaves, er, I mean co workers to adopt Sustainable Safety?

    1. "crash records site"
      STATS19 is the police collision recording form/database

    2. The blue circle signs are a requirement of national regulations - the green bike is "go" and the blue sign is the direction. Our Department for Transport has refused to allow small arrow green signals unfortunately.

      As above, our data is published and can be manipulated such as Crashmap given by Eric D - In London, we have;

      And it is really useful for quickly checking data; local authority staff can delve deeper if needed with raw data.

    3. One trivial way to de-clutter UK highways; simply ratify the Vienna Convention---and no imperial units opt-outs, either. But the Not-Invented-Here is strong amongst UK highway `industry', who have a vested interest in making it all as complicated as possible. Time for a Good Roads Movement to rid ourselves of them?

      Another is to straightforwardly outlaw abandoning of motor vehicles (including loading) within public highway boundaries, nationwide---with exceptions for absolutely nothing but emergency services and perhaps police forces on flashing blues---and enforce 24/7 without fear or favour. Again, vested interests can scream and whine as much as they like---I have noise cancelling earphones!

      I could go on (and on)...

      Planks is right: the A3211 cycleway will be a bit less crap once the one on the other side is done, although that will probably have to wait until after the network is extended to every other highway with motors speeding in excess of 30 km/h or volumes above 2000 passenger-car equivalents per day.

  2. Roughly how wide are the bi-directional tracks on Vauxhall Bridge and the Embankment?

    Andy R

    1. From memory, I think about 5 metres (give or take) and so pretty good I think

    2. Vauxhall Bridge cycle track is actually 3m which is fine (as the flow is 80-90% tidal at the busiest times). Embankment around 4m.
      The new track outside Houses of Parliament to the north of Westminster Bridge is only 2.5m but that's probably OK too. Much better to have slightly narrow continental-style facilities than adequate width conventional cycling infrastructure.

    3. You don't need one - just a fairly reliable metre-stride (which is all I use!).

    4. I think I was getting confused with the wide section at the bottom! Yes, British Standard 1 metre stride!

    5. Use your own height. If you're 175 cm tall, then lay yourself crosswise. Pretty soon the Dutch might be 2 metres tall, and so they could measure their cycle paths themselves.

  3. "I really cannot see how some people were worried about losing the right to ride on the road when we have infrastructure like this." - I guess the problem there is that most of the country *doesn't* have infrastructure like this and probably never will. Even in that there London, I imagine that this is pretty unusual. That's why people worry about it, IMO.

    1. I did put up a health warning that this is a small part of the road network in central London, but your point is well-made. I think my point is more that if you have this stuff, why wouldn't you use it?

  4. The numbers are interesting. Bikes on Blackfriars Road doubled from 2009 to 2010 (when the bike hire scheme was launched), but I wonder what caused the doubling from 2002 to 2003. And curiously little appears to have changed since 2010 when I would have expected some increase in numbers.

    1. The London Congestion Charge was introduced in February 2003.

  5. By the way Ranty, the second picture from the bottom, the one with the cycle track and car parking on road, the way that the parking is built, as a bay that looks different from the rest of the street, with kerb extensions/bulb-outs at junctions, that is how the Dutch design their parking lanes for cars if they must be parking on street. With bricks, in a separate bay, different colour. It makes the road look optically narrower, and a completely separate role within the street function. It is not optimal on distributor roads as hitting a solid object on the roadside especially without anything making a buffer at 50 km/h is not good, but the concept still works on distributor roads, and is used in all modern access road constructions. Works nicely as optical narrowing as well as making it 100% clear as to where you may or may not park.

  6. I can't remember if it a s parking bay for general users or not; there are several loading bays and even a parking bay for the Thames Lifeboat Station. I suspect the Audi was illegally parked! Personally, I would prefer the parking to be in a layby surfaced in the normal road materials as parking on paving leads it to fail eventually.

  7. If these bi-directional tracks are a roaring success and become overcrowded surely they lend themselves to becoming extremely wide uni-directional tracks in the medium to long term.

    1. I hadn't thought of that - of course!

    2. Don't forget about how this is an extremely rare route throughout London. If a proper grid is built, then people won't need to go out of their way to find the cycle track, and would just use a route closer to home. Just like how if there is just one motorway on a route, people use that route even if it means going out of their way to use it, but if there are a couple within a dozen kilometres maybe, then people spread out. This is why claims of "world's busiest cycle path" or tunnel or bridge must be viewed with suspicion. It may be that there are too few tunnels or cycle paths, and not enough on the desire line.

      The path should also be consistently wide. 4 metres normal for a two way path, 3.5 metres minimum, for a primary route, and 3 you have some options in relation to between 3 and 3.5 metres for a secondary path. The kerbs must be angled and there must be no upstand and the kerbs must be low, with obstacles kept out of the overhang handlebar area, so as to keep as much room open. One way cycle tracks to be 2.5 metres wide standard, 2 metres minimum including past a bus stop.

      There must be as few traffic lights facing cyclists as possible, so modifying junctions so as to only make conflicts that affect motor vehicles and some other traffic when the former number too many or too fast or both, be signalized. Make puffin crossings floating pufffins, with a buffer, between cycle track and roadway so that you can control each independently, same with the bus stops. Roundabouts are a good alternate option so as to avoid traffic lights. Simultaneous green and the protected junction have an important advantage in that you can usually make a left turn on red without stopping, giving it more efficiency, and fewer cyclists stacking.

      The Dutch have many clever ways to make it much less likely that cyclists will ever stack. Bicycle congestion, as desired as some people may wish it was, it not something good because then it might lead to people having less convenient journeys, rulebreaking and people using bicycles less.