Saturday, 25 July 2020

#LDNCycle Safari: Hackney On The Right Track

As part of my tour of the Hackney/ Tower Hamlets borders with Hackney Cyclist the other Saturday, we went for a look at a couple of streets which had had cycle tracks added to them.

I have had a pop at Hackney over the years because of a stubborn refusal to build cycle tracks on its main roads (some of which are managed by Transport for London to be fair). The borough relied on buses for many years as the only form of public transport, although it is now very much part of the London Overground system; the reliance on buses might explain some of the reluctance, but that will only take you so far.

Hackney is famous for modal filtering where through-motor traffic is removed from mainly residential areas (but where access is maintained for residents, deliveries, emergency vehicles etc). The most famous area is De Beauvoir Town which was extensively filtered in the 1970s - a good background from Hackney Cyclist can be read here

In more recent times, further filtering schemes have gone in such as at the southern end of Goldsmith's Row which created a section of walking and cycling street around a decade ago along the edge of Haggerston Park and today is part of Quietway 13 which runs from near Broadway Market southwest to Tabernacle Street on the edge of the City of London (Goldsmiths Road is just southeast of Hackney City Farm);

Goldsmiths Row is a very nice place to cycle because it is car-free and before the Covid crisis, it was a very popular commuting route to the The City of London with cycle traffic flows being prominently shown on the cycle counter you can see in the photograph below;

At the moment, it seems that peak weekday cycle traffic flows have reduced because people are either working from home or not working because of the virus impacting employment in The City; but weekend numbers are up which reflects people wanting to get out for some fresh air and maybe taking more advantage of what's on offer in their local area.

The problem with Goldsmiths Row is that it means main roads without any protection from traffic. At the southern end, there is at least a little detour through the park to a toucan crossing over the A1208 Hackney Road to get to Columbia Road (which is filtered at its northern end) and the northern could probably do with some neighbourhood filtering. Here's a video of the traffic-free section (link);

So, the filtered section of Goldsmiths Row is essentially a cycle track with a footway on each side, but as far as Hackney's history goes, the borough has never really built cycle tracks along roads next to general traffic. However, this is no longer the case.

Wick Road was a wide one-way street flanked by car parking and was almost an extension of the large tangle of roads to the east providing access to the A12 East Cross Route (which connects to the A11 at Bow and then the Blackwall Tunnel). Hackney decided to make the street 2-way for traffic to improve bus services and to reduce people using other streets as a cut-through.

The scheme includes one-way cycle tracks on each side of the street, new bus stops (some floating and some shared path) and extensive planting. The space for cycling was created from the removal of car parking bays, reuse of space from an existing short cycle track and part of a very wide footway (and some of this has been depaved too). 

The original idea for the scheme was to simply have people cycling on the carriageway which prompted a big push from local campaigners to have protected cycling because the road would still be busy and carry buses. The street reverted to 2-way operation last August and it was also possible to cycle in both directions in relative safety.

The photograph above is pretty typical of the layout with the existing footway at the the rear of the highway and the cycle track in some repurposed space with the original planting maintained. The first problem is that the cycle track is too narrow on some sections - here it is 1.6m wide excluding the kerb lines. Also, because I'm picky, the bollard is in handlebar catching range and I would have preferred red asphalt for the cycle track. Additionally, the tactile paving is incorrect - the corduroy type has been used when tram style is the requirement of the national guidance.

The photo above is the junction with Bradstock Road (just to the right) which was already part of a local cycle route which connected to Barnabas Road (on the left) via the retained 2-way cycle track you can see in the centre of the image (and where the tactile paving is correct from the original scheme). The designers provided a continuous treatment over the side street, although it's essentially shared presumably to make it easier to connect to the contraflow cycle track in Bradstock Road.

At the western end of the street, the cycle track ends and people cycling have to mix once more with general traffic. The photograph above is at the western end of Wick Road approaching the junction with the B113 Kenton Road. The original junction was extremely large and so the decision to integrate rather than protect is odd. Maybe the issue is that there is no plan for Kenton Road or Well Street (opposite Wick Road), but the design could have protected at the junction and integrated beyond. 

Well Street is one-way towards the junction, but a protected junction could have allowed people to enter Well Street which would be useful to have 2-way cycling in it as a local shopping street.

Bus stops along the street are two variants. Most are floating (above), although having the footway and cycle track at the same level rather than stepped is a compromise. A couple shared where people walking, cycling and using buses share an area before separation returns (below).

At least with the bus stop above, it could have been made a floating type, but space was given to a car parking bay on the other side of the street (in the westbound direction). I do like the fact the bus stop waiting areas and shared stops have a distinctive paving type which helps recognition.

For the eastbound approach to the junction with Barnabas Road (which connects to Homerton Overground Station), we are back with integrating cycle traffic in the carriageway (above) which is an odd choice because motor traffic cannot turn left here. On the other side of the junction, the return to the cycle track is via an uneven dropped kerb which is a wheel catching risk and the changes in crossfall will be awkward for the users of tricycles (below).

One of the key design decisions (taken at a network level) was to make the street two-way and improve bus access which is a good idea if we are to help people travel my means other than private car, but the carriageway has been kept to 6.5m. You will recall this is the same along Lea Bridge Road in Waltham Forest and this is because Transport for London Buses will resist carriageways being taken down any further, despite there being plenty of routes which are effectively narrower because of car parking. 

My view is that because we have a 20mph speed limit, we should be taking these carriageways down to 6m and remove the centre line because bus and indeed HGV drivers should be perfectly capable of slowing down when passing another large vehicle and the extra half a metre would have released more space for wider cycle tracks.

At the eastern end of the protected section, people cycling are dropped back into the carriageway approaching the junction with Brookfield Road/ Cassland Road and the A102 Kenworthy Road/ Wick Road (below). It's simply awful for cycling (and walking), but it's under Transport for London's control. It's utterly hostile and hard to navigate.

Like my discussion around Lea Bridge Road, Wick Road has compromises. The decision to go two-way for general traffic immediately creates compromises on space for other modes because of TfL Buses. There has also been a decision taken to retain a fair amount of car parking. These aren't necessarily compromises the designers would have chosen, but they are a reality. However, it is true to say that Wick Road does enable people to cycle and despite the issues, that's the important thing. Here's a video of the new layout (link);

The final scheme to look at in Hackney this week is the southern section of the B108 Queensbridge Road. It's a wide street which runs parallel and east to the A10 Kingsland Road and connects the area around Columbia Road in the south to Dalston in the north. The southern end of the street is just 200m west of Goldsmiths Row and so there's a tantalising hint of a network. The southern section of the street has recently been upgraded to provide cycle tracks between the A1208 Hackney Road and Whiston Road.

Sadly, Hackney has continued the theme of integrating people cycling with general traffic at the Hackney Road junction and at least when I was there, a van was left blocking the access to the northbound cycle track.

The design approach is the same as Wick Road with footway level cycle tracks and I really cannot see why, because the cycle track was created from carriageway space previously occupied by car parking (below). This really should have been a stepped arrangement with a forgiving kerb.

Hackney has been pretty brave in removing the car parking bays from the street, but the carriageway remains wide and as this street is not a bus route, I cannot see the reason for this. The dimensions vary, but generally the footways are around 1.8m, the cycle tracks are around 2m and the carriageway is 6.6m. There are no buses on this street and so there doesn't seem any reason why the cycle tracks could not have been 2.3m which would have been the same as the standard in Copenhagen. What is great about them is that they are machine-laid and very smooth, but they of course should have been red!

At the junction with Dunloe Street (which runs both sides of Queensbridge Road), the side streets have had motor traffic filtered (above) and there is now a parallel zebra crossing between both parts - essentially crossroads with walking and cycling having priority and very nice it is too. For some reason there are "no entry expect cycles" signs on the side streets which incorrect, they should be "no motor traffic" signs. But I'm picky.

Further north (but on the southbound side) there is a London cycle hire docking station (above). This was there before the cycle track and apparently moving it to have cycling behind it would have been costly. The mandatory cycle lane with wands does a reasonable job of keeping people safe and having cycling at carriageway level allows people hiring or dropping a bike to access the northbound cycle track via a dropped kerb on the other side of the street. 

I would prefer to see a traffic island on the upstream side of this cycle lane to provide heavier protection. At the end of the hire cycle docking station, the cycle track restarts (above). The other thing which this all shows of course is that the carriageway is too wide because it was easy to fit in the cycle lane around the docking station!

Still, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and so on a pleasant Saturday morning, there were plenty of people out enjoying the new street layout. Again, here's a video of the new layout (link);

One other little thing you will have seen in the video is that there are lots of new trees on the street which is great, but even if the cycle tracks were wider, there still would have been space to put them in between the cycle track and the carriageway and if provided every so often on alternate sides, then this would help break up the dead straight nature of the street because I bet there's a speeding issue (which would have been the case before). There would also have been space for the dropped kerb slopes to be provide outside of the cycle track and spots for occasional car parking or loading space which would also have helped give different cues to drivers. Maybe something more like the sketch below;

Hackney has done pretty well for cycling over the years without specific infrastructure, other than short links and park routes - Goldsmiths Row shows what can be done when a street coincides with a strong desire line. In many ways this shows that most of the time, cycling can be made great by removing through traffic (which is international best practice. However, a full network needs to provide for people on main roads and at last Wick Road and Queensbridge Road is starting to address this. What is clear though, is signalised junctions are a problem which are not being tackled yet and as a general point, there needs to be a more forceful exchange of views with TfL Buses because we really don't need 6.5m wide carriageways.

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