De Beauvoir Improvements: A great opportunity – missed?

De Beauvoir Town has some of the loveliest streets in London.  Since the 1970s, half a dozen roads have been accessible to pedestrians and people on bikes – and blocked to rat-running drivers.  Now, residents have the chance to extend this area of safety and tranquility to cover almost all of De Beauvoir.  It’s not yet clear whether they will take it…

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Lawford Road – Image: Chris Whippet

When planning for ‘Cycle Superhighway’ 1, Hackney Council and Transport for London decided not to tackle the A10 – the main North-South route through the borough, the road on which most shops and services are located, and the current main site of casualties for people on bikes.

Instead, the route was put along the existing ‘London Cylce Network’ alignment through De Beauvoir.  They may be safer than the A10, but these roads attract a lot of rat-running drivers, and certainly do not meet the criteria for a safe and desirable route on which ordinary people, aged 8-80, will willingly cycle.  Hackney Cycling Campaign and Hackney People on Bikes requested filtering to create a worthwhile route which met the needs of people who cycle, and who might in future.

Separately, a large number of residents organised themselves to petition their councillors calling for filtering.  These streets can be very busy with fast-moving drivers and are not fit for pleasant residential use.

The result from TfL and Hackney is an admirable and thorough plan to remove through traffic from the area.  Building on the existing excellent filters in the bottom left of the map below, this area would see through traffic only on the main roads along the edge, and through Englefield Road in the middle.

CS1 closures

While the money has come from TfL’s ‘Cycle Superhighway’ 1 pot, it is primarily a neighbourhood improvement project: cutting out through traffic, reducing noise, pollution and danger.  This is an area which has seen a number of crashes over the last ten years, shown below – a danger and an unpleasantness which local people now have the chance to avoid.

When I attended a Ward Forum on the topic of the closures, I was disappointed to find that many of those attending were hostile to the closures (they numbered perhaps thirty-five or forty, but made up in heat what they lacked in numbers).  While almost almost everyone seemed to recognise the negative effects of large number of outsiders driving through the area, many seemed minded to object to the proposals.  In a meeting which was at times exceptionally unpleasant as attendees shouted over one another, council officers (and me), a number of strange arguments were made: the dangers of people cycling were brought up, ‘Will the council put a police officer on the junction of Culford Road’; the undesirability of restricting rat-running drivers, ‘it’s better to have ten cars go down ten roads than down one’ and of course ‘road tax’.

There were many strong, positive voices too.  Local residents attended who had knocked on one another’s doors to gather support for the plan.  One lady noted that she was on crutches and wouldn’t be able to cycle, but we must do more for people who do – and that she can hardly get her car out of it’s parking place on Ardleigh Road owing to the weight of traffic.  Another lady noted that she was willing to be inconvenienced by a slightly longer route when she needed to drive, because it would be good for the area and for local people.

I very much hope that those in favour of these excellent proposals will make their voices heard too.  If you want to see a safer, nicer De Beauvoir, be a good citizen and respond to the consultation – you have until the 18th November.  All you have to do is click this link, choose ‘yes’ and write your name on the next page.  You can add a reason and additional details about yourself if you like.

There are two additional consultations for closures further up the ‘Superhighway’ route – please do support these too:Wordsworth Road Consultation
Broadwater Road Consultation

We want Wick Walk

It’s worth going back to Hackney’s transport strategy, and thinking a bit about the competition here.  Hackney promise us:

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Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 20.13.52Councillors have suggested that there is ‘no chance in the next decade’ of getting all the money to sort out the Victoria Park one-way system properly.  So we have to get this road right now, not wait for possible changes we may not live to see.

At the very minimum, there is no reason to remove the current segregated cycle track.  We would like to see this track extended the length of Wick Road (from Morning Lane to Kenworthy Road).

However, why stop there?  Wick Road is an unusual road with amazing potential:

1) It has several parallel routes dedicated to taking large numbers of motor vehicles.  (At its narrowest points, the Victoria Park one-way system has one westbound lane (Cassland Road) and two eastbound lanes (Victoria Park Road and Wick Road)- a clear imbalance).

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Cassland Road

 

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Victoria Park Road

2) Large lengths of the street does not need motor vehicle access.

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Not a single door way in sight

3) The road is exceptionally wide wide.

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Three lanes, a lane of parking and two generous pavements. For a road which narrows to a single lane for moving traffic at the far end…

Introducing Wick Walk

We are calling for the closure of Wick Road as a route for through-traffic, to be replaced by a linear park – Wick Walk.

Initial discussions with residents have elicited excitement about including:

  • a cafe
  • tables to play chess

But we’re in the earliest stages of our planning and are open to ideas.  What would you like to see in the park?  Please add your ideas in the comments at the bottom.

But what about…?

What about the money?

The council are proposing spending £700,000 creating more space for drivers (most of whom don’t live in Hackney).  That money could be better spent on a park for local people.  There is also £1 million available to be spent for the community within Wick Ward.

What about traffic?

The single most important thing to remember is that cars are like work – they expand to fill the time available.  If we make more space for people to drive through, more drivers will use it.  If we reduce the space, drivers will choose to use other roads (like Mile End Road and Commercial Road – massive dual carriageways designed for through traffic).  And some people will choose to cycle and walk, now that they can do so safely.

This idea is brilliantly explained in this TED talk which shows that people will stop driving, and won’t even notice they’ve changed their behaviour.

The other key thing to remember is that most local people don’t own cars.  People driving from Essex to Central London don’t care whether they’re taking Mile End Road, Commercial Road or the Limehouse Tunnel or the North Circular – if Wick Road is closed, they’ll go elsewhere.

What about access?

We would maintain access to all off-street parking and houses along access roads – a solution which works well in areas around Well Street Common.

What about local businesses?

What could be better than a wonderful attraction encouraging the local community out.  Whether buying food for the barbecue or ice cream, businesses can make money out of this.

What about buses?

Buses would be best served by the provision of bus lanes where there is space down Cassland Road (most of the length of that road) and Victoria Park Road.

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Ample room for a bus lane on Victoria Park Road

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This is a two-lane road – ample room for a bus lane on Cassland Road

 

 If New York can do it…

New York was far more car-dominated than Wick Road is.  What they proved was that it is possible – easy even – to close off space to drivers, and make room for people to enjoy the streets.

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Image credits

 

To see how, try this TED Talk from Janette Sadik-Khan, who led this effort.

If New York can knock out four lanes for drivers in its biggest square, surely Hackney, seeking to be an ‘exemplar for sustainable urban living’, can knock out one lane?

How do we get Wick Walk?

Crucially, we are simply ordinary residents asking for something better.  There will be many questions and issues as we create Wick Walk, and we look to work with professional architects and designers and the community to make this work.  But the first step is to make it absolutely clear to the council that we want a better solution than what we’ve been offered.

There are three levels of support available – choose what you can do:

1) Bronze support

Complete the consultation saying:

  1. I oppose the current scheme – it’s damaging for the area.  Please mention you’d like to see the cycle track stay and be extended!
  2. I wish to see a feasibility study into the creation of Wick Walk linear park.
  3. The feasibility study must include a three month experimental traffic order closing Wick Road to traffic, from the junction with Barnabus Road to the west.

2) Silver support

  1. Tell three other local residents about the plan, and ask them to respond to the consultation.
  2. Email our local councillors, Christopher Kennedy (christopher.kennedy@hackney.gov.uk), Nick Sharman (nick.sharman@hackney.gov.uk) and Jessica Webb (jessica.webb@hackney.gov.uk), to ask them to support Wick Walk.
  3. Leave a comment on this post saying why you support the park.

3) Gold support

Get in touch (use the comment section below or tweet) to help us build Wick Walk.  We particularly need people with time to pass on the message, people who can help us with visualisations, and local businesses keen to get involved.

Hackney Council: making Wick Road worse?

Wick Road is not an appealing environment.  It’s designed for people in cars.

It’s probably not very appealing in a car either.

I’ve got any number of photos like the one below, but let this represent all of them.  Wick Road is a fast, wide race track, with parking on one or both sides of the road.  It’s extremely unattractive for pedestrians (there’s a reason you can only see one in this picture) and has nothing at all for people on bikes (unless they want to either share the road with dangerously fast drivers, or cycle on the pavement).

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Last week, Hackney brought out proposals to change Wick Road.  I was excited to see how they promised to make it better for people living here.

I was disappointed.

The last thing I’m going to do is defend the current design.  Yet Hackney managed to offer something which will make Wick Road worse.  The details can be seen here, but the key thing is that the council want to make the road two-way.  In doing so, they will:

  • remove some parking (fine, no one uses it since the Controlled Parking Zone came in)
  • remove an off-street cycle track giving a safe route across the road (see below) – people on bikes will have to use the main road
  • add a lane for drivers (at the moment, the road narrows to one lane near the eastern end of the road; this will make it two lane, two way in either direction)
  • and so – allow lots more rat-running drivers to pass through Wick Road – now in both directions, not just one.

I don’t think this is good enough.

Why are the council doing this?

It’s not very clear from the consultation (there are no statistics about casualties, speeds, or the number of drivers using these roads at the moment).  But the council begin their ‘Background: section of the consultation by saying:

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But this scheme mostly seems to be about people in cars and commercial vehicles having more options to drive.  (In explaining this, I refer a lot to Cassland Road.  It’s parallel to Wick Road, a couple of hundred metres south.  At the moment, Cassland Road is one-way westbound (and Wick Road is eastbound).  So any drivers who go down Cassland Road at the moment will be able to use Wick Road instead.  So Cassland Road gives a fair indication of what Wick Road will be like once it’s two-way).

(At the bottom of the post, I’ve listed all the Hackney Transport Strategy policies I don’t think this follows, for any readers who are really interested).

Let’s consider the claims from the leaflet one at a time:

“Promoting sustainable forms of travel such as walking”

Paradoxically, while it’s unpleasant, it’s not that hard to cross Wick Road at the moment.  In the mornings, it’s solid with drivers who can hardly move, so you can cross – carefully – between them.  Not fun or safe for families, but not terrible by Hackney standards.

In the afternoons, drivers move far too fast, but there are long gaps between them speeding through, in which people can cross easily.

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4pm on a weekday. I stood in the road for a good 30 seconds before some more drivers zoomed down the road.

Two-way traffic will make it harder for people living here to cross the road, as at any time of day they’ll have to look two-ways, and the road will be much busier.  Putting in a couple of extra arms of pedestrian crossing and an ‘informal’ crossing point won’t help people cross where they want.

“Promoting sustainable forms of transport such as… cycling”

Lots of drivers will choose to come down Wick Road instead of Cassland Road, so we can guess at what things will be like from what Cassland Road looks like.

The photo below shows part of the ‘Greenway’ from Finsbury Park to the Olympic Park (you can just see the blue cycle route sign on the lamp post).  You’re meant to share the road with all these jammed in drivers.  Too narrow to overtake safely, too busy to feel safe.

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One hundred metres further west, you can see what the road is like when vehicles are able to moved: people on bikes are meant to share space too narrow to feel safe, with vehicles like this.

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Giving these drivers additional space on Wick Road means either:

  1. Traffic speeds up and people on bikes are in scary spaces like that with the lorry above, too narrow to be overtaken safely, too slow for impatient drivers to wait.
  2. Traffic clogs up like the first photo and people on bikes are left trying to squeeze past along narrow lanes.

(Obviously, 2 is much more likely, given induced demand).

The council also plan to remove this little bit of cycle track here:CIMG9160

Again, it’s not amazing, but it does mean people on bikes can get from one side road (Barnabus) to another (Bradstock) without going on the main road.  That won’t be possible any more.  I find this a bit strange, as the pavement is massive and I don’t really see why you’d force people onto the main road with all the drivers.

“Promoting sustainable forms of transport such as… public transport”

The council want to run the 30 bus down Wick Road.  This is what 4pm on a Wednesday during half term looks like on Cassland Road.  Two buses, trapped among the massive number of rat-running commercial drivers.

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If the council want to increase the use of public transport, they have to help buses move faster.  If people on buses are stuck behind people driving, they can’t go faster.  If the council make space for rat-running drivers, that won’t work.  They would have to block the road to cars and only allow buses down it if they wanted to help public transport.

Conclusion

This scheme offers a couple of extra pedestrian crossing points.  But primarily Hackney Council want to make it easier to drive around Homerton.  The people who will benefit will be the drivers cutting through Homerton each way from outside the borough.  This is what we’re told Hackney Council are aiming for:

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This scheme is a step away from all of these supposed promises.

I would urge everyone to oppose the scheme and demand something better.  In my next post, I will set out an idea of what this ‘something better’ might look like.  We can create a Wick Road which is an ‘exemplar for sustainable urban living’.

How to create a better Wick Road

  1. Come back and read my next post, on what we could create with this space next week.
  2. Get in touch to say you’re interested and support the campaign.  Comment below, or tweet me (@hazzer2001) and Hackney People on Bikes (@hackneypob) who are leading the campaign.
  3. Attend the consultation event this Tuesday (2nd June, 6pm-8pm; Gascoyne Community Centre) and tell the council it’s not good enough.
  4. Respond to the consultation (you can do it very easily in two minutes online).  Demand a better solution from the council.
  5. Watch for the answer to my Freedom of Information request about the costs and data behind this scheme.

 Appendix – Hackney’s Transport Strategy

For the seriously interested, here are a list of policies from the Draft Transport Strategy for Hackney, with a quick comment from me on each one.  Bizarrely, the only thing on the council’s main website is the 2006-2011 strategy, but these quotations are taken from the draft of the 2014-2024 strategy:

“C22 Pursue a policy of ‘clear space for cyclists’ when designing public realm and traffic schemes on busy routes and where there are high vehicular traffic flows.”

This is a very busy route, but there is no clear space for cyclists, even though the road is massive!

“C22 Look to progress and complete the removal of the network of one-way systems in South Hackney during the lifetime of the strategy.”

I’ll come on to this in my next post, but there is no proposal for the other bits of the one-way system!

“C37 Work with Tower Hamlet [sic], Islington & TfL to create a high quality, direct & safe cycle route between iCity/Olympic Park and Shoreditch/TechCity and onto the West End”

This could be on that route, if the council were willing to allocate space to people on bikes, not just to people in cars.

“C42 Undertake area wide traffic reviews in neighbourhoods still subject to rat-running and consider options for reducing traffic flows, such as filtered permeability cells.”

Unfiltered streets in Homerton are full of dangerous, rat-running drivers.  Wick Road should be tackled as part of an area-wide scheme to address this.

“PT16 Improve bus journey times and reliability through new bus priority measures – completing missing gaps in the network and reviewing bus lane hours.”

This could be a bus priority scheme.  It’s not what I’d prefer for the area, but it could be.  An opportunity missed.

“LN1 Increase the tree canopy coverage in the borough from 18.5% to 25% by 2024.”

New trees aren’t the priority, but still…

“LN9 Restrain the levels of external traffic cutting through the borough and look to reduce the number of trips made by commercial vehicles on our roads.”

This is the crux of it I reckon.  These roads are full of external traffic, but Hackney want to make more space for these drivers!  Rather than taking it away from them.

“W22 Seek to create 10 new public spaces and pocket parks through road space reallocation by 2024”

This is a golden opportunity to put wasted road space to use for people, not for drivers.  But don’t worry, local residents have a plan…