To my regret, I’ve not had much positive to say about conditions for people walking or on bikes in my home borough. In fact, things look pretty terrible, whether it’s the apparent overall strategy of the borough, or the inexplicably dreadful Wick Road plans. So it’s nice to be able to recognise somewhere Hackney Council are doing things right: this post celebrates a small but important improvement.
Regent’s Row was one of the many foetid little rat runs, full of drivers rat-running at speed, which run parallel to Regent’s Canal. I don’t much like cycling down the canal and avoid it at all costs at the weekend when it’s too busy to get anywhere on a bike, but I hated cycling down this road more: it’s about as wide as a vehicle, and its high kerbs left nowhere to escape when facing (or chased) by hurrying drivers.
What have Hackney done?
The first part of the scheme removed the fencing that run all along the canal and created three access points for people on bikes (or in wheelchairs, with pushchairs, etc.). They have also put in planters, which will no doubt be lovely once filled (and if looked after).
More importantly, a gate at the junction with Marlborough Avenue makes the road access only. (There was never any reason to do otherwise, since there are two busy parallel roads within a couple of hundred metres in either direction (Pownall Road and Whiston Road)).
Another thing that made the road unpleasant to cycle down was the cobbles running the whole length. These have been removed (although little attractive rows remain which presumably have a speed reducing effect.
Overall, Regent’s Row has gone from unpleasant rat run into an attractive parallel stretch for people on bikes, leaving more space for families (and joggers) on the canal towpath itself.
So what next?
1) How can we make Regent’s Canal better?
This weekend, a petition cropping up asking Google Maps not to show Regent’s Canal as a cycling route. I’m no fan of the existing situation along the towpath (and I walk down the towpath more than I cycle) but this seems entirely the wrong way to go about things. When cycling, if there were any viable traffic free alternative, I would be happy to take it – but there isn’t one, This is a small start of a few hundred yards, but perhaps its time Hackney, Camden, Islington and Tower Hamlets got together and created a genuinely traffic free, desirable alternative parallel route (with the help of the Canals and Rivers Trust). (It’s always worth creating an attractive carrot before reaching for the stick).
2) How can we make Hackney better?
There’s a lot of pride in Hackney about the filtering of roads to create safe space for pedestrians and people on bikes. This is a fantastic example. Yet unfortunately it can occasionally feel as though pedestrian and cycling campaigners are criticised for their ingratitude if they demand more or faster improvement to Hackney’s streets. Firstly, let me say, again, this is great.
But it’s not enough. This (to my knowledge) is the only filtering scheme that will go in this year among the hundreds of streets Hackney manages. (The Middleton Road filtering that was promised as part of Quietway 2 has been delayed, with no firm date, until after the Quietway launches). Given that filtering is frequently referred to as one of Hackney’s great achievements, it would be great to see a plan which categorised every access road in Hackney as such (using the same principles as the Dutch CROW manual) and then planned to filter them and remove rat-running drivers from every single one, at a rate of dozens per year.
So, a small step forward – time for a big leap.