Saturday, 23 May 2020

#LDNCycleSafari Goes Solo: Q6 Part 1 - Barkingside to Wanstead Flats

I had aimed on getting some London infrastructure safaris running in 2020, but the Covid-19 crisis has put the kibosh on that plan. However, with the easing of the lockdown I thought I could at least go out and look at some newish infrastructure on my own.

So, last Saturday, I pedaled myself to Barkingside to go and have a look at Quietway 6 which runs from Barkingside Underground Station to the eastern edge of Victoria Park. Except it doesn't, the main part of the route ends at Chobham Manor with the Olympic Park being a gap in the network for some reason. Here is the route shown on TfL's cycle map;

You can see the gap to the southwest of the word "Stratford". For this trip, I actually ended the ride at Aldersbrook Road (at the City of London Cemetery) which gets us about half way along the route through the section in the London Borough of Redbridge (5.7km from Barkingside Station). It had taken a while to get to Barkingside and as I'm not superhuman, the second half will follow at some point.

The route "starts" at the fine Underground Station in the car park where suburban commuters are treated to lots of parking as compared to the small cycle store to the left of the building (which I hadn't noticed until I reviewed the video of my ride).

The sign opposite the station marks the start with a 9 minute ride to Valentine's Park. An interesting choice of destination given that nobody lives in parks and only a select few work there.

The route winds its way around back streets which at least on a Saturday morning during a pandemic (semi) lock down where genuinely quiet. Because the route was winding, one has to keep an eye out for signs and road markings to wayfind. You miss it and you're lost in suburbia.

This sign seems to have a mistake because the picture says use the road to head back to the station, but the sub plate says use the crossings of which there are none. 

There is some genuinely new (and useful) infrastructure. At the junction of Horns Road and Princes Road, a new toucan crossing has been installed along with a new separated cycle track providing a connection between Princes Road and Ashurst Drive. The cycling link is show below and if you look carefully, the toucan crossing is on the top left of the photograph.

It's a nice smooth surface, but unfortunately the demarcation between the cycle track and the footway is poor and the cycle track has tactile paving. A carriageway level/ stepped cycle track would have been better.

As one follows the cycle route approaching the crossing (towards Barkingside shown above), people cycling are invited to use the crossing and there's a helpful line showing how one must wiggle to get round. We've been using this arrange for years but it really does work for all types of cycle because of the inevitable tight turns and and transitioning from cycle track to carriageway and vice versa.

The photograph above shows the route taken using the crossing (I'm looking towards Princes Road). The yellow route is towards Barkingside and the purple towards Valentine's Park. The transition is a dropped kerb just beyond the 20mph road marking and so it means manoeuvring right where general traffic is turning in and out. In addition, there is no easy way to join or leave Horns Road. The guardrail belies an earlier layout where there was a pelican crossing on Horns Road on the other side of Princes Road.

The answer would have been to filter Princes Road, either fully or with one-way out for general traffic to give space for a proper "landing" for the crossing. Horns Road itself is a bus route and I wouldn't be surprised if it were an awful place to cycle under normal circumstances. This is the major flaw of building routes like this because they don't connect with any other parts of a network (because there isn't one).

It does rather make one ask if this end of the route actually serves a purpose other than helping a few local people get to the Underground Station because it doesn't do much for getting to the centre of Barkingside where there are shops!

Beyond Ashurst Drive, we are again into the backstreets. At the network level, there is no modal filtering whatsoever and I would put money on Ashurst Drive being awful at rush hour because it directly connects to the A12 Eastern Avenue to the south. There's footway parking everywhere and I can imagine lots of conflict from people driving out of the side streets all along this part of the route. I did notice some old London Cycle Network signs in the area, but this is not infrastructure which seems to connect up.

The route zig-zags along a couple of other streets to meet the A12 at the junction with Otley Approach. It's another risky transition where people are turning onto and off from the A12.

In the photograph above (towards Valentine's Park), one is expected to bounce up the pedestrian dropped kerb onto a shared piece of path to access a staggered toucan crossing over the A12. This crossing has been in placer for many years and has been a toucan since 2015 and so Q6 merely recycles what is already there. At least the refuge area is wide to allow access for most wheeled users, although people using larger adapted cycles and cargo cycles will struggle with two 90° turns and some people will struggle to reach the push buttons at all which is a major flaw with toucan crossings.

South of the A12, were have another transition into the carriageway of Lynton Crescent which naturally takes place at the A12. In the case of Otley Approach and Lynton Crescent, they need filtering to make the side streets exit only for motor traffic to provide decent landing space.

The rough sketch below shows what I mean. The purple is where the footway is widened to give better space for cycling and where drivers can only join the A12. The people cycling would pull into the widened areas via a dropped kerb, but it would be gentle and they would do so square to it. Once they have crossed, then they are dropped onto the right side of the road anyway.

The green shows the crossings where there is a slight change in direction rather than the stagger to reinforce the two stages - potentially near side signals would be needed to prevent look through to the wrong set. Having a bit more space could allow an extra push button to be set back for people who have trouble reaching a conventionally placed button.

The other thing we need to do is link the two crossings so it's timed to give a green for the second half without needing to push another button; that or some detection because people on the island only have two choices of where to go! Of course, I would rather see walking and cycling space separated, but the A12 doesn't have cycle tracks and it's not always clear if the footways are for cycling (but I'm not cycling on the road there).

The route into Lynton Crescent carries along for 200 metres before entering Valentine's Park immediately after crossing Perth Road, a street which I would bet on being another awful rat-run at peak times. The entrance to the park is a right/ left wiggle onto an odd buildout before you enter the park which is on a "give way to pedestrians" basis - i.e. a shared path.

You'll see the park in the video which I'll put on my YouTube channel at some point. The park is nice enough, but the only highlight is a set of uplighters (above) which mark the path edge. These may well be a complete waste of time because as I exited at the Emerson Road gate, a sign informs us that the park closes at dusk rendering it completely useless as a transport route.

As one leaves the park, one crosses Emerson Road into Bethell Avenue which is slightly awkward being in the inside of a curve. At the end of Bethell Avenue, cycle traffic peels away from general traffic because of an historical layout which used to have a triangular traffic island in the middle of a large junction. One side of the triangle is "plugged" and leads to another toucan crossing.

This crossing is over the A123 Cranbrook Road which runs from the Gants Hill Roundabout to Ilford Town Centre. It's a typically awful Outer London A-road which is fronted by homes and parades of shops, carries multiple bus routes and is hostile to walking and cycling. Q6 at least helps one avoid the traffic, but it avoids the homes and shops that a utility route would service. The toucan crossing awkwardly leads into Cowley Road;

On my large cycle, I couldn't make the tight right turn before the bollard and so ended up on the pedestrian side of yet another shared path. The transition into the carriageway on Cowley Road follows the usual theme for this route, although at least here the transition is at least away from the junction with Cranbrook Road;

If Cowley Road had been filtered for exiting traffic only, then a parallel crossing could have been provided (either signals or a parallel zebra). The image below shows a 2-way cycled track in purple, a cycle crossing in green and a pedestrian crossing in red. This would have make life better for people walking and cycling with a direct and legible layout.

Cowley Road marks the start of another back street section of the route which has a couple of turns before eventually entering Wanstead Park where Q6 points towards Manor Park (below).

By the looks of it, this is an established cycle route given the faded painted segregation as one enters. Very shortly after entering, there's a steep section which takes one over the A406 North Circular Road;

The route then heads into the open spaces which are pleasant enough, but of no practical use on a dark winter's evening in sideways rain;

Beyond the park, the route rejoins residential streets at Empress Avenue;

The route changes direction again into Wanstead Park Avenue which then joins the A116 Aldersbrook Road. Again, another cumbersome crossing of Aldersbrook Road which required a sharp right turn in the junction and then a U-turn via the ordinary zebra crossing which someone forgot to make a parallel;

The route then heads southeast on a shared-use path for around 200m to the junction with the A117 Forest Drive (yes lots of A-roads out this way) In fact there is an advisory cycle lane on the other side of the road heading southeast to give a whiff of the dual-provision to design which blights the UK. Just before the junction, there's another parallel zebra crossing;

In fact, the purpose of the crossing is to scoop up people cycling on the road from the cycle lane who have decided to join of the off road part of Q6 and to access the City of London Cemetery, the latter being the first useful destination the route serves which is morbidly humourous. At this point, Q6 carries on along Forest Drive, but I bailed and headed off back to Ilford on Aldersbrook Road. There's no protection on Aldersbrook Road on which people drive fast and so most people wanting to make utility trips won't use it. Section 2 of Q6 follows in another post.

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