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

CycleSuperHighway: CS2 Super Junction Opens

Cycling home this evening up Mile End Road, I came across TfL and police officers issuing advice to people on bikes…

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TfL’s rep informed me that something a little different had opened…

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Cyclists approach the junction down this segregated lane, to the outside of left-turning drivers (picture looking back up the road)

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So this is how things line up for the race off the lights…  Three lanes of drivers, one of people on bikes – as it was before…

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But the race off the lights never happens.  People on bikes, and drivers going straight on get green, while drivers turning left are held on red (you can just about see the car in the centre with its left-indicator flashing not moving; the cyclist turning left (right of this picture) has made it around the junction in safety…).    

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You are also free to wait where the cone is in the middle of the junction for a two-stage right turn; if doing this, you get a four-second head start (dodgy proposition, but it’s a start…).

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Most people on bikes weren’t using it yet – it only opened at 12 today.

Brilliant news!  Well done TfL.  Much safer and more pleasant (and now operating in both directions).

Two acute problems with the route, obvious from the start (see my consultation response on CS2) now rear their ugly heads again.

Why aren’t people using it already?  Answer, because the preceding track isn’t there yet.  But unfortunately, it never will be.  This is the part of the route where TfL caved in to traders’ objections (led by the then mayor, but that’s another story).  So people on bikes will be rounding buses at that stop and dodging the various kerbside activities conducted along the road – loading, unloading, rubbish clearing – all in the usual company of taxis, buses and motorbikes.  There will be more casualties in this stretch of road until TfL sort it out.

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My earlier picture showed a person on a bike turning north up Cambridge Heath Road.  Having two good east/west cycle routes in Tower Hamlets makes the complete absence of safe north/south routes (except Regent’s Canal Towpath) even more noticeable.  This is Cambridge Heath Road, two hundred metres north of the other pictures.  Four lanes wide (five further north), and lacking any space for cycling.

TfL is doing great work on CS2.  But a safe, attractive journey runs door-to-door.  Finally making CS2 safe begs huge questions about the dismal, dangerous roads which surround it.

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Quietway 2 – a sneak preview

If you cycle – or you’d like to but are scared to start – you’re probably looking forward to all the new cycle infrastructure being built around London.  I’ve shared pictures of the first stretch of upgraded Cycle Superhighway 2 and now I’m delighted to be able to show what one stretch of Islington’s Quietway 2 will look like when it’s complete.

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Margery Street as it will look when the Quietway plans are complete.

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Another impression of how the street will look once Islington’s promised improvements are completed.

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This picture shows the safe space for cycling which will be available at this junction once the scheme is completed (Islington will be working alongside TfL and Camden to achieve this)

How can you know what the Quietway will look like before it’s finished (or even started)?

By looking at Islington’s plans.  Below is the stretch of road shown in the three pictures above.  When travelling west, the Quietway proposals for this road are: “New sinusoidal speed hump”

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So these pictures are exactly what we will see when the Quietway is complete – because Islington Council (and TfL, and Andrew Gilligan, London’s Cycling Commissioner, and the mayor himself), propose to do absolutely nothing to improve the road beyond that single speed hump.

Although I wrote about the Quietway 2 plans when the consultation was a out, I have had the misfortune to have to cycle this route a number of times since during rush hour.  I have been astonished at the amount and weight of drivers using this road as a rat-run – particularly heavy construction vehicles with which no person on a bike should have to share road space.  (The road is also heavily used as a rat-run by Royal Mail vehicles).  I wanted to share these pictures because they show how this road will continue to look if Islington go ahead with its rubbish plans: no safer, no more inviting, no better for cyclists, current or potential.

Islington have not yet responded to the consultation.  I hope that they will take this opportunity to remove this rat-running traffic, which clearly should not be on minor, residential roads like this, and make the area safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

(Islington Council could look a few hundred yards across the borough boundary to Camden: although its approach to Quietway 2 is equally dire, the new scheme in Tavistock Place is truly promising and show a council which appears to understand cycling, care about its residents’ and visitors’ safety and be willing to allow them the choice of cycling safely.  I hope Islington councillors are taking note).

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.

CS2 upgrade – people on bikes voting with their wheels

This was the scene on Mile End Road outside the Royal London Hospital, heading into town at around 9.15 this morning.

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I cycled through the gap.  The drivers in the right-hand lane were going nowhere, and I didn’t fancy choking on coach fumes, the coach stuck behind the bus in front, for the next few hundred metres.  The two people on bikes behind me did the same, slightly to my surprise.

This was the scene half a mile further down the road, at around 2.30pm on my way home (going away from town):

CIMG9097There may be scope to encourage people to walk on the pavements a little more – although I guess at busier times of day, they’re more likely to do so voluntarily.

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People are voting with their bikes about where they’d rather cycle.

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Since it was 2.30 – outside the six hours a day during which the bus lane operates – until recently I’d have been cycling on the outside of these cars.  (The drivers appeared to be managing whatever their ‘kerbside activity’ was unhindered.CIMG9102

It ain’t perfect by a long chalk – this LCC post covers the pros and cons of this stretch pretty well here.  But honestly, what would you prefer:

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Segregation – finally on the way.

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.