Another milestone as the blog I started in November 2012 has reached 400 posts! What could be more fitting than a look at Lea Bridge Road in Waltham Forest?
I hit my 300th post in August 2018 where I paused for thought and asked "where next?" Well, the blog has had over 660,000 hits which means people are still reading it which is good! I still don't think the UK has any clear transport strategy, but at least we're getting some change at the local and devolved government levels.
Since I wrote my 300th post, I've left local government and I'm now working as a consultant specialising in walking and cycling design. This blog has turned into a long-term piece of continuing professional development for me. Without it and the conversations it has created, I simply wouldn't be where I am today. You have my sincere thanks for sticking with me. I should also give a shout out to my most popular post of all time which is still Kerb Your Enthusiasm. Clearly, there is an army of kerb nerds out there.
In my head, I have an idea of getting to 500 posts and then maybe doing something else, because a weekly blog does sometimes take a great deal of time and effort, but that's nearly two-years away and let's think about the now. It's very fitting to look at Lea Bridge Road, because as I wrote in my "five years of blogging" post in 2017, one of the inspirations for this blog was "Crap Cycling & Walking In Waltham Forest"; the place has changed beyond all recognition.
I left you last week at the Whipps Cross junction which is at the eastern end of Lea Bridge Road and in my film, I was cycling west away from the junction on a one-way cycle track which is the approach from the main part of the street; I say street because we are moving from the "road" territory of Whipps Cross into a place where people live, go shopping, go to work and basically get about.
I essentially cycled just over 3km to the junction with Argall Way/ Orient Way and then headed back east on the other side with occasional stops to look at different design features. In fact, it was such a joy to cycle, I had to remember to stop to look around, although I have the whole thing on video (there's a link at the end of this post).
By way of a recap, I'll start at the junction with Wood Street which is where westbound cycle traffic coming from Whipps Cross Road needs to cross Lea Bridge Road to continue west. As you can see in the photograph below, those leaving the crossing have priority to get out of the road.
The A104 Lea Bridge Road forms Cycleway 23 which runs from Whipps Cross to the boundary with Hackney. Lea Bridge Road carries on into Hackney. The westbound cycle track is proposed to continue to the Lea Bridge Roundabout and the eastbound cycle track will connect with an improved cycleway along the edge of Millfields Park. I've no idea what's happening to this, although the consultation ended in December 2019.
Lea Bridge Road is also one of those streets that we struggle with in the UK. It is an A-road so performs an important movement function, it carries lots of bus traffic, but it's a place where many people live, it has lots of shopping parades as well as local centres and it is a connector to lots of residential streets on either side. It is therefore a very challenging place to change.
Anyway, back to my cycle along the new layout. The footway is stepped above the cycle track and along this section, it is Danish-style with no buffer between the cycle track and the carriageway. The prevailing speed limit for general traffic is 20mph. Personally, I prefer one-way tracks for the simple reason that people need to stop and visit places; 2-way tracks on one side of the street make this more difficult.
The first minor junction is with Halford Road. Just before the junction, the cycle track narrows and it drops slightly at across the junction, but it's continuous as is the footway. The use of elephant feet markings across the junction is unlawful (they are reserved for signalised situations and parallel zebra crossings), but despite the cycle track being continuous, they have been used by Waltham Forest to further give a sense of priority. I would prefer an Entrance Kerb solution, but this style has been adopted across the borough for some years now, so presumably the designers have undertaken an assessment and made this decision (and it seems to work OK!)
Halford Road is 2-way, but it's a no through route for motor traffic and this means that the junction can be dominated by people walking and cycling. This theme will come up along the whole route.
The first signalised junction is with West End Avenue/ Eastern Road which has been redesigned for cycling. The cycle track remains narrow because a right turn lane has been provided for motor traffic. Eastern Road is a bus route and so this will be a compromise for bus reliability. It is all rather squeezed and a bit annoying; but perfectly usable, despite having to press a button to cross (this should have been set well back from the stop line).
Left turns onto West End Avenue are not permitted, so if you lived there, you would need to turn left at the next junction and enter from the other end of the street through a modal filter (officially). Most people will just be careful and turn left anyway.
There is a parallel signalised crossing a little further on which allows people cycling to make a U-turn to access to the area to the north via a modal filter at Western Road. In other words where there are compromises because of motor traffic capacity, there's generally a separate cycle network solution to compensate. It's not perfect but in London, there is a push to ensure that buses are not affected and we see some of this along Lea Bridge Road.
Of course, if only we could significantly reduce motor traffic overall, then there's a chance to go back and reclaim more space. This is, I'm afraid, the reality of these projects and I know there are people who expect utopia, we are very much getting beyond the chicken and egg stage here - we need to give a good quality alternative to driving in order to get traffic down and Waltham Forest has created that opportunity.
A little further west, there's another parallel signalised crossing (below) which provides permeability to more areas which are accessed by car the long way round. I think this is a little squeezed in and lacking height change between walking and cycling space. This also shows another criticism I have and that's the almost complete lack of radius kerbs on the route - you'll see some bus stop bypasses which have angles with the change in direction later rather than smooth curves - it does create the risk that people will catch these corners with their wheels and it's harder to navigate on three or more wheels.
Below shows some retained car parking outside a parade of shops. The space for the cycle tracks has been claimed from the previous hatched centre marking and a very narrow section of the wide footway (the gully would have been at the old carriageway edge). I have seen comments complaining about loss of footway space for the cycle track. It's slightly disingenuous because the compromise is the retention of parking which in turn is to appease those convinced it is needed.
Again, though, some compromise has meant the scheme is built and this can be revisited. The parking is short term and paid for and ends at a loading bay. You can just see the bus stop in the distance here the cycle track passes behind the waiting area.
The buffer of light paving blocks is another detail which is often seen along Lea Bridge Road and it's designed to push people cycling out of the "dooring zone" where people get out of their cars (but it's at the same level as the cycle track). The photograph below is another compromised situation where the asphalt of the cycle track is down to 1.1 metres wide and the footway and cycle track are on the same level. The layout has swapped a cycle lane in the driver door zone for a cycle track in the passenger door zone.
Soon after the parade of shops, the cycle track is a little wider and there's a section where everything has been squeezed in, but it works OK. You'll see more in my film linked to at the end.
Beyond the Hoe Street/ High Road Leyton junction, we can breathe out because the cycle track is wider. A bit further on and we're running next to a bus lane.
The next major junction is with Markhouse Road/ Church Road. It's a Dutch-style signalised junction where cycle traffic has free left turns from all directions, cycle traffic proceeds around the junction orbitally in a clockwise direction, pedestrian crossing points are floating and people walking and cycling proceed together on an all-round green stage (the Markhouse Lane arm has a little bit of shared space).
The photograph below is the junction with Seymour Road which is one-way for motor traffic into it which creates a part of another set of filtered one-way streets. Unfortunately the streets are not 2-way for cycle traffic, but that could be easily changed. Here we see the continuous footway and cycle track treatment and in this case, there is a buffer to the right of the cycle track having just passed a bus stop.
I'm aware that there have been concerns raised by visually impaired people on the lack of tactile paving on each side of these continuous footways. On the one hand, it's a standard treatment in many countries, but on the other hand, people are asking for some pretty basic help and the layout makes the addition of tactile paving simple without detracting from the continuous principles. The woman in the pink coat is chatting away on her mobile phone which is a great demonstration of how safe cycling feels here.
The extent of my westbound cycle ended at the junction with Orient Way/ Argall Way which is another Dutch-style junction, although the cycle crossings are two-way because of how they connect to some of the approaching cycle tracks. The woman on her phone continued to feel safe!
I U-turned at the junction, which I could easily do in one green-stage which means right turns are a doddle in one go. I headed back east. For this part of the trip I actually stopped a little more to look at other features after having got into the flow of cycling westbound without stopping enough!
The photograph above shows a bus stop just east of the Orient Way junction and it's similar to many along the route. The cycling area is squeezed by the creation of a "bus stop boarder" which is essentially somewhere for people to step on when they board or alight from the bus. You'll see that in the carriageway there are two traffic lanes which head towards the junction and the bus stop is in a partial layby to allow drivers to overtake buses (preventing queues back into the junction). I can certainly understand why some people will be unhappy with it, but it is very much a compromise from maintaining traffic capacity and that's where the complaints should lie.
The photograph about is at Sanderstead Road looking back at Lea Bridge Road. It another example of thought having been given at the network level which means that in general if all movements of cycle traffic cannot be met at a signalised junction because of motor traffic capacity, there is an alternative. Those riding through the area won't notice this subtlety, but locals will soon create a new mental map in their minds.
This is a real-world application of the Dutch Sustainable Safety principles and it shows that we don't actually need cycling infrastructure everywhere (noting of course that most of this is actually motoring infrastructure). In this case, the real work is being done by the three bollards and the place where I took the photograph from is quiet and so safe to walk and cycling in. Lea Bridge Road still has plenty of motor traffic and so people walking and cycling need protecting.
Here's another filter at Avondale Road (above). It's a bit constrained, but my guess is that this is to encourage people cycling to proceed slowly and the use of tactile paving suggests to me that as it's within a shopping parade, footfall is higher and so this helps visually impaired people. The lack of radius kerbs is yet again a bit annoying.
At little further east and I was back at the junction with Hoe Street/ High Road Leyton. The photograph above is the north side at Hoe Street and for reasons I cannot understand, the cycle route on this corner is picked out in a subtle change of paving. It simply doesn't work. I also couldn't tell if people cycling can access Hoe Street. Perhaps as we've seen before, people cycling will make use of a different route to bypass the junction.
The photograph above is Western Road which runs parallel to Eastern Road which I described earlier. So here's the evidence that we have a separate cycling network here (with a crossing of Lea Bridge Road) to get around the problem of space at the Eastern Road junction.
The photograph below is an example of the bus stop boarder in action here. First, I was watching people get on the bus from the buffer area.
Then, I saw this man cycle through (below). The bus shelter and bus stopping position means people are generally facing traffic. The buffer area is only used for immediate boarding/ alighting rather than waiting and potential conflict remains transient. There probably is a little more space to be grabbed here, but this means getting down to 3 metre wide traffic lanes which in my experience is resisted by TfL Buses.
The last photograph to share with you is Whitney Road where yet another modal filter has been installed, but beyond that, a beautiful pocket park has been created. Yes, a handful of bollards would have done the traffic management job, but it's these little surprises which are found throughout the area which add to the joy of cycling around.
I've pointed some issues and compromises within the Lea Bridge Road scheme, but the powerful thing is that there is nothing which is a critical problem. There may be a few things that need adjusting, but what Waltham Forest has achieved is breathtaking. They have created a fully functioning cycling spine route over 3km in length across a whole section of the borough which is pretty much boundary to boundary. To this spine, they have connected countless residential streets and intersections of routes running north-south - in short, a functioning cycling grid.
I don't know anywhere in the UK which has undergone such a transformation and it allows local people to make short trips by cycle, it has improved the walking experience with additional crossings as well as the filtered streets and it has the potential to allow people to access jobs and services beyond the borough boundary.
People often say the Dutch have gone through steps to get where they are today and that we should simply avoid the early steps to copy them. This is easier said than done because until we give people alternative transport choices they cannot change but people won't change overnight and so they will keep using cars - you'll see glimpses of this in my film with lots of parking in side streets. There are hints of behind the scenes discussions between TfL's bus and signals teams as well as having to reasonable keep traders on-side even though we know they overstate the need for parking.
In the long term, people will be able to give up cars and over time this will allow more space in the side streets to be given back to people and as traffic volumes decreases on Lea Bridge Road, then there's the chance to go back in with small schemes to widen cycle tracks or to convert parking spaces to pocket parks. I really hope Waltham Forest can carry on with its amazing transformation. What a treat for my 400th post!
I'll leave you this week with a film of my visit.