One small step for in Hackney: improving Regent’s Row

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)).

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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.

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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).

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In need of some love and fewer rat-running drivers.

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.

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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…

Quietway 2 – an embarrassment to all

Quietways always sounded pretty rubbish.  I use the vestiges of the London Cycle Network frequently – as with so much cycling in London, as a least-worst option – and I never cease to resent the wiggly routes it takes me on and the rat-running drivers I have to contend with in amongst the parked cars.

I thought Quietways might be a step up.  I’ve always seen them as a cop-out, avoiding TfL’s and the boroughs’ responsibility to provide safe space for cycling on main roads.  But at least I thought I might be able to get around the indirect and inconvenient routes safely and comfortably.  Here’s what TfL promise:

Quietways will complement Superhighways by providing a network of cycling routes through less heavily trafficked streets…  They are aimed at new cyclists who want a safe, unthreatening experience.

(London Cycling Design Standards)*

London Cycling Campaign, rightly, expected something clearer than this:

To actually be ‘quiet’ the routes need to restrict through motor traffic (rat-running) and provide separation where required (where speed limits are above 20 mph or traffic volumes are high).

(LCC)

So to Quietway 2

This is a pilot route, being delivered by Camden, Islington and Hackney, with the assistance of Sustrans.  I should probably have seen the writing on the wall when Camden consulted on the Guildford Road section – a choked rat-run and taxi route with car parking space – in which they promised a speed table or two and some painted signs.

Looking through Islington’s Consultation document (and let’s take a moment to note that it’s in nineteen separate pages, such that only really interested people are going to bother), I was disappointed, initially, to note no filtering, just some signs and some new road humps.  Sadly, the next page offered the same.  I got to the third page, and there were some more signs and new road humps…  You get the idea.  Nothing.

Here’s a fairly standard extract, showing the extent of what is to be done:

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Signs and raised entry humps on side roads.

 

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the route as it stands – notably whoever designed it, let me take you down it.  This was yesterday on the way to a meeting – a random Tuesday morning – so unfortunately, some bits which are often horrible and choked were less so.  On the other hand, I got close-passed in an area which is usually fine, so it balances out.  This post focuses on Islington, with two exceptions, but I’ll start with something nice:

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Filtering in De Beauvoir Square – good for skateboarders too.

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Welcome to Islington!  The driver on the left is stationary, of course… (Northchurch Road)

The route takes a dog-leg diversion in the wrong direction and back on to the main road, which I didn’t bother to follow.

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This isn’t on the Quietway, this is the direct route. But it shows you the number of vehicles going down these back roads (and on to Prebend Street, which is on the Quietway). Drivers aren’t happy either – you can’t hear the driver on the right of the picture tell someone on the left to ‘F–k off’ as he passes (Basire Street meeting New North Road)

Back on the proposed ‘Quietway’ route.

 

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Lots of rat-running drivers. (Prebend Street)

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Lots of rat-running commercial drivers (Colebrooke Row)

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Four more rat-running drivers queued up behind people on bikes (Margery Street)

 

 

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See those drivers queuing up opposite – that’s what you’ll be joining to make it here from Camden’s side (Calthorpe Street)

At this point, my camera ran out of battery – which is fine, because this is the borough boundary.

My point is that these routes were all busy.  It’s probably true to say they are “less heavily trafficked streets” but only because the main roads are so heavily ‘trafficked’.  It’s certainly not true that they will offer a “safe, unthreatening experience” as the driver of 7861H was kind enough to demonstrate Middleton Road.

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What happens when you have lots of drivers mixing with people on bikes at a range of speeds? Close passes. And collisions. And injuries. And deaths. 

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Risk dooring or risk being knocked down – not a choice I’d ask a child to make.

[This part of the route, where I was close-passed, may be modally-filtered – although the works notifications have gone up in Hackney Today before we see any plans for this, which makes me nervous].

This new route won’t make it any safer or more pleasant to cycle, because it won’t provide any new space for cycling which isn’t already busy with drivers.  The only people it will help will be people unfamiliar with the route, due to the signs.  But why would anyone else bother with a  round-about route which is neither safe nor pleasant?

There are excellent parallel routes which drivers are free to take.  Islington is encouraging and continuing to allow rat-running commercial drivers to use these back, residential streets.  De Beauvoir shows what could be done here.

At the moment, we are looking at more money spent for absolutely no gain.  TfL can claim they have succeeded – these streets are “less heavily trafficked” – but only by comparison tot he main roads.

Thankfully, Islington claim they are willing to listen.

I would urge everyone reading this to oppose this scheme outright.  The money will be wasted and we will benefit not at all.

In contrast to the consultation plans, the consultation response is very simple.  To finish by the 17th May.

* I’m not even going to get into the ridiculous idea that new cyclists and existing cyclists want different kinds of infrastructure.

Why I joined Hackney People on Bikes

A big reason why I moved to Hackney a year ago was it’s status as the *best* borough to cycle in in London.  But I knew really, that best really meant *least worst*. I’d like to see that change.

I’d previously lived in Haringey and Tower Hamlets: when I say ‘best,’ Hackney was way better than their utterly forbidding or completely inconvenient cycle routes.  There were filtered streets without cars, through which I could patch a route away from through traffic.  There were parks, easy to cross.  There was always the canal.  I used to cross from the Wild West environment of Tower Hamlets backstreets into Goldsmiths Row with a sigh of relief.

But, the longer I’ve lived here, the more it’s felt like *least worst* is the more accurate term.  There is no journey I can make across the borough without at some stage fearing for my life or limbs.  While I can ride through London Fields, De Beauvoir Town or some of the back streets, in relative safety, no journey avoided main roads entirely (the clue’s in the time).  I spend a lot of time visiting friends in Haringey: I could choose direct routes like the A10, among speeding cars and buses, weaving around the parked cars; and others like Mare Street, or slightly quieter roads like Well Street, parking on both sides, drivers zooming past, often far beyond 30mph.  Or I could use the true backstreets – often with rat-runners squeezing past me as fast as they dared, taking far longer and never quite getting me where I wanted.  I appreciated small things like the 100m of safe space in Goldsmiths Row, but I realised Hackney was no better than the other boroughs for end-to-end journeys or for genuine safety.

I thought about joining the Hackney Cycling Campaign, but they seemed to want the opposite of what I wanted.  I hoped that Cycle Superhighway 1, up the A10, would finally bring safe segregation, separating me from drivers.  I found out that they had campaigned against this – returning the route to the inconvenient, dangerous backstreets of London Cycle Network Route 10.  I read that HCC felt there was no space for segregation: but I looked at the streets around Victoria Park introduced parking controls and saw acres of space in unused parking spaces – and yet the one-way system so fast and busy that almost everyone I saw cycling was on the pavement.  I read that they believed sharing was fine: but I found myself frequently terrified – many drivers are kind, considerate and careful.  But it only takes one to end my life or at least my career.  Reading that Hackney was in the top five boroughs for hit and runs suggested that my own experience was not unusual.  And seeing the construction of great infrastructure in Camden and on the new cycle superhighways, I felt sad that Hackney would be left out.

But I couldn’t face starting a one-man campaign, given the apparent determination of a few people in the borough and Hackney Cycling Campaign to ensure people on bikes mixed with people in vehicles.  When Hackney People on Bikes came along, I jumped at the chance to contribute to something which would make the borough safe enough that I (and children, and old people, and everyone) could cycle around it and feel safe.  The popular reaction has been amazing, from individuals telling us what a difference this would make to them, to gaining almost 250 followers in three days.  It’s clear this campaign has widespread support.

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Hackney People on Bikes are taking this message to the Hackney Cycling Campaign at its monthly meeting on 3rd December (7.30, Marcon Court Estate community hall).  I hope that a strong showing of people will help to evidence the demand for change in the borough.  This is just the start: they have more plans afoot to help ensure the council and TfL make the borough safe and pleasant for everyone.

Hackney People on Bikes letter to Hackney Cycling Campaign can be found (and signed) here.

Hackney Cyclists has chronicled a good deal of Hackney’s problems here.

Here’s another reflection on the stance of Hackney Cycling Campaign from the Alternative DfT.