Vole O'Speed

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Mostly about cycling in the
"Biking Borough"of Brent
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Devo max is not on the ballot paper

17 September, 2014 - 16:47
As the title indicates, this post is intended mostly for my Scottish readers. If there are any.

This post is not about cycling, except, in a way, it is related.

I've always thought that the general lack of progress on improving Britain's environment is bound up with a democratic and constitutional failure. It is notable that the most democratic countries in the world tend to have the best-manged environments, and the most dictatorial, the worst. The UK has always fallen somewhere inbetween, but not very close to the best.

I view the Scottish referendum as an opportunity to force some constitutional change on the UK establishment. I think the result of a 'yes' vote would, in the long run, probably, be a better, more modern and more democratic, Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, that looked after their people and their environments better.

If, as looks likely, there is a narrow win for 'no', I expect little to change. Cyclists, more than most, will know how promises made by politicians at the point of an election disappear like Scotch mist after they have won. The 11th-hour commitment by the main Westminster parties to devo max in the event of a 'no' vote is deeply unconvincing. The British establishment is extraordinarily resistant to fundamental constitutional change that would break down its powers and privileges. We have been let down on this front by the Coalition, and in particular the Lib Dems, who did not use their bargaining power effectively to gain reform. We had a referendum on changing the voting system for Westminster, but that was meaningless as it did not offer the real reform of proportional representation that constitutional progressives want. The promise to reform the house of Lords has been broken. Promises of devo max I am certain will also be broken in the same way.

The party leaders in Westminster cannot deliver devo max because there would not be support amongst English MPs for an even more asymmetrical devolution arrangement that is even more unfair on England. There is no overall, final constitutional solution being proposed here, because the party leaders haven't been able to think of one that is in the least bit probable or stable. The 11th hour pledge is a transparent panic measure that has not been thought-through. It would, indeed, be the duty of English MPs to vote against some elements of the bribe that has been proposed to try to stave off the Scottish independence bandwagon.

The referendum debate should never have focused so relentlessly on the currency, which is actually not that fundamental an issue. Scots after independence could use the Pound, or the Euro, or their own unit, or whatever currency was found to be most convenient and beneficial for Scotland and all her main trading partners, including England, Ireland, and the rest of the EU,  through international negotiation, the results of which cannot be predicted before independence, because so much would change afterwards.

The focus should be on democracy, on representation, and on systems. If the parties in Westminster had been interested in a federal UK, they could have proposed one by now. But the problems are deep. England would be too dominant in a federation, if kept as a unitary governmental entity, yet England has been a united entity for so long that it cannot now be broken down in any obvious way into provinces that should appropriately have a similar level of devolution even to Wales, let alone Scotland.

My feeling is that the Union has served its purpose, a long and honourable and historical one, and it is time to move on, for Scotland (and indeed Northern Ireland as well, but that is an altogether knottier problem). We have so many international institutions that have an effect of partially pooling sovereignty that did not exist when the Union was founded: the EU pre-eminently, of course, but also the Commonwealth, the UN and NATO. Borders have effectively been broken down between all EU states now. The Union is a level of cross-border organisation that, though there was great justification for it between the 17th and 20th centuries, has now been rendered fairly surplus to requirements.

I think only a 'yes' vote by Scots will deliver the kick needed for real constitutional, democratic, change, leading to long-term social and environmental progress,  in any of the nations of the current UK. The next opportunity, should this one be missed, will be a long time coming.
Categories: Views

Protest at 6pm tonight at Kings Cross

12 August, 2014 - 15:21
I don't have time to keep this blog up to date with developments much anymore, but historically I did cover, and try to promote, the "flashride" (originally called "flashmob") cycle protests that started in London on 20 May 2011 at Blackfriars Bridge. These did a lot to move cycle safety up the London political agenda, and were more effective than many years of organising petitions, letter-writing, and polite diplomacy from London Cycling Campaign, although the immediate objective, a safe design for Blackfriars Bridge and its junctions was not achieved, and has still not been.

Despite this rise in the political prominence of the cycling issue, there is still very very little tangible progress on the ground in London. The Mayor's Vision for Cycling was published 17 moths ago, and a greeted it quite enthusiastically, but with substantial concerns and caveats. These now seem to have been very well-founded. Since then, no cycling infrastructure, resulting from that vision, of any substance, has been built at all. One wouldn't have expected things to start at once, of course; plans need to be laid, people put in place, and things need to be done in a sensible order. But that should only have taken about a year. The summer is when things are built on the roads: if much was ever going to happen, we would expect it to be happening right now, in a very obvious way. It isn't.

I'll have to do a longer post on what appears to be going wrong with progress on implementing the Vision at some stage soon; however, my purpose now is to note that there seems to have been no fundamental change in attitude at Transport for London towards bicycles as transport. There are certainly some good people working at TfL,  and I don't doubt the sincerity of Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, but it is clear that the message of the Vision just hasn't got through in practice to most of the people to whom it needed. So we still see consultations on major schemes for junctions and stretches of roads controlled by TfL where fundamental design change is needed in favour of safe cycling, and where TfL is deluged with informed and precise responses from lobbyists for cycling telling them exactly what they need to do, and yet these demands are swept aside much as they would have been 10 or 20 years ago.

The Kings Cross junction is a high-profile case in point. This should have been one-of TfL's highest priorities for installation of high-grade cycle infrastructure, whatever the effect on motor vehicle flows, because of the number of cycling fatalities that have occurred there. There is indeed a scheme on the table for significant and expensive and disruptive remodelling of the junction. For cycling, however, it amounts to a pretty old-style feeble paint job that does not provide the physically separated space and separate, direct signal phasing we need for truly safe and inclusive cycling through this horrible junction.

TfL's proposals
As the estimable maidstoneonbike says,
There are some improvements to the current situation. For example, a widened cycle lane, the addition of ASLs in some places, and a tiny bit of segregation. But while these are improvements, these will only improve conditions for vehicular cyclists, and will not attract new cyclists.He has his own worked-up plans for a proper, high-quality inclusive cycling alternative design, which you can see on his blog.

So once again, London cyclists need to take direct action to show the powers-that-be that progress on safe cycling in London for all is too slow, too half-heated, and that we can't accept this green lipstick on a pig at King's Cross and similar junctions. Tonight's protest has been organised independently from LCC, but I have no hesitation in supporting it, and I will be there. It starts at 18:00 on Kings Cross Square, and sets out at 18:15 on this route.

There is more information on a Facebook page. If you can get there, please respond to this late plea, and do add your presence on foot or on bike to help us make an impact. If Transport for London discovers that they get disruptive, media-savvy and politically challenging protest every time they approve a scheme like this that falls so lamentably below the aspirations of their own Mayor's Cycling Vision, maybe that will have an effect. I can't guarantee it, but it is the best I can suggest until we have the next election for Mayor.
Categories: Views

More on Camden's West End Project

10 July, 2014 - 17:42
In my last post I spent some time discussing Camden's West End Project to change the traffic system in Tottenham Court Road, Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, coming out against Camden's plan as inadequate for cycling, and suggesting an alternative system that, by leaving the gyratory system in place but reducing the number of motor traffic lanes, created sufficient space for high-quality cycle tracks, while preserving sufficient space for pedestrians. About the same time Rachel Aldred published a post which I highly recommend reading, in which she alludes to the various different designs that have been considered, and also comes to the conclusion that Camden's design is not good enough, for excellent reasons, which are worth quoting at length: With colleagues I’ve been analysing English Census data from 2001 and 2011 and I was shocked to see how limited our ‘cycling revolution’ is. I thought places with increases in cycling would see some increased diversity among cyclists. This turns out to be wrong. The gender balance of cycle commuting in Inner London has barely shifted and the age balance has tilted further towards the young. The data suggest even where cycling is rising, cycling conditions still disproportionately exclude women, older and disabled people. Rises in cycling are also skewed towards richer areas. It's as if we’ve still been building cycle routes aimed at a minority of adults who are younger, middle-class, able-bodied, fit, and male. Ironically those tend to be groups with good access to alternative modes (e.g. cars) and less need of cycling’s health benefits than those excluded. So I would argue for inclusive design for equity reasons, but also, it’s the only way we will ever achieve mass cycling, with all the associated benefits for our city. And first this means space for cycling, away from fast or heavy motor traffic (although of course, not only that). I think alongside the other laudable objectives of the West End Project, building for mass, inclusive cycling needs to be an explicit priority.Neither TCR nor Gower will provide safe and inviting cycling under the current plans. Ways of getting there are (a) high-quality segregated infrastructure or (b) filtering to very low levels of motor traffic. My suggested compromise is (b) on Gower Street (close it to through motor traffic) while retaining bus priority on TCR. But if that’s not on offer, I’d want proper segregation from high volumes of buses or other motors, the approach the Vole argues for. Both have pluses and minuses, but I note that Vole’s and my plans both involve reducing and restricting private motor traffic. They don’t hit other sustainable modes to boost cycling, but offer more radically liveable solutions.And a contribution to the debate on the As Easy As Riding A Bike blog Designing for existing mode share puts the general question that Camden's whole approach here begs: should existing flows of various types of traffic be allowed to constrain designs so that we cannot redesign to accommodate a new balance of traffic which would be preferable for many environmental, economic and health reasons? In other words, because lots of people travel by bus, private car and taxi here now, should we say "We have insufficient space for proper cycle tracks because we have to accommodate these existing flows, or something very close to them, in the redesign", thus falling into an apparently self-prepetuating trap of being unable to in practice alter which modes we prioritise?

On Wednesday 2 July Camden Cyclists held a public meeting at which the arguments were aired. Cllr Phil Jones of Camden Council introduced the scheme, which was then, however, largely explained and defended by two of his officers. The most telling moment for me came when one audience member, a woman, stated that she was not a cyclist, that she found London's roads too terrifying, that she wouldn't cycle on Tottenham Court Road amongst the heavy flows of buses as proposed, and that Camden's scheme whole not encourage her to cycle. A well-known LCC member then pointed out that the road would have a 20mph limit, and asked her how slow the buses would have to go for her to feel safe cycling with them: a question that I thought spectacularly missed the point of what she was saying, accurately representing how most non-cyclists feel about sharing road space with big vehicles.

Cllr Phil Jones of Camden presents the West End Project to the meetingA fellow campaigner who was present at the meeting has written a letter to Cllr Phil Jones, which I think points up the core issues very well, and, with his permission, I am publishing it anonymously here, as it deserves wider circulation.
Dear Phil, Thanks for coming to present the West End Project to us last Monday.

I noticed, as you and [Camden officer] were describing the design process, that there's a persistent lack of consistency between your stated policy, and the way you have been making design choices – and I think this means you're ending up with a project that's much less good than it could be. I thought it might be useful to clarify where the problem lies, and how it might be corrected.

In your own 'Prioritising Sustainable Transport' document, you give the first three core objectives of Camden's transport strategy:
  1. Reduce motor traffic levels and vehicle emissions to improve air quality, mitigate climate change and contribute to making Camden a ‘low carbon and low waste borough’.
  2. Encourage healthy and sustainable travel choices by prioritising walking, cycling and public transport in Camden.
  3. Improve road safety and personal security for people travelling in Camden.
and you give a 'road user hierarchy' (repeated on Monday) of:
  1. Pedestrians
  2. Cyclists
  3. Public transport
  4. Taxis
  5. Powered two-wheelers (motorcycles) and private cars
  6. On-street parking
  7. Freight (including loading and unloading)
This is a great policy.Its underlying intuition is that people have a choice of transport modes, and that making certain modes easier to use than others will affect those choices. It recognises that allowing people to make better transport choices by making some choices relatively easier has significant both individual and social benefits, in terms of public health, pollution, congestion, severance, road safety etc. It also recognizes that design can (and should) lead user choices.

It also recognizes that, although giving incentives to move from private motorised transport to public transport is valuable, giving incentives to move from motorised transport (either public or private) to active travel is again (socially and individually) valuable (lower pollution, health effects, less road danger, less subsidy, lower costs to individual, etc) When you, John, and Sam described the various options you'd considered for the West End Project, and your reasons for rejecting them however, you appeared to be working with a model that assumes everyone is locked into their existing choices, and has no possibility of changing them. (I think this is because your only quantified information here comes from a TFL traffic flow model that takes no account of user choices) This, in turn, seems to be forcing you to make design choices that lead you to, essentially, rearrange the status quo – and lose all the benefits that could come from allowing users a better set of choices.

There's no accounting, anywhere in your comparison of the various designs, for the different choices users could make within these designs, or the value of these choices. (and, oddly enough, when Tom Harrison asked about your quantifying of the value of movements of bus trips to bike trips (as your own policy advocates), you suggested he was 'attacking buses'. ) The only way your policy of 'prioritising walking and cycling' can be properly incorporated in design decisions is if you actually attempt quantify the benefits it can give, and make the decisions on that basis. So, for example, rather than saying, 'we can't build an inclusive cycle route because it would involve unacceptable cuts to motor traffic', you might want to say 'we estimate that an inclusive cycle route here will promote significant modal shift and attract 20,000 cyclists a day, and will have such and such health/environmental/congestion/road safety benefits' - and 'we won't be able to allow private motor traffic here because we need to prioritise cycling to get these benefits'. etc. Part of the process of quantifying the benefits of removing barriers to active travel will be an attempt to forecast (and target) usage. This can't be just a matter of 'build something and see' – in part because usage is endogenous. If you build very high-quality cycle tracks, many more people will use them. A starting point should be the Mayor's target of 400% increase by 2026 – but I suspect the many existing barriers to cycling on this route are suppressing demand sharply, and it would be good to engineer for at least twice that. It would also be good to know the demand for cycling to school. I think it would be useful at this point to return to the main options that were considered, and re-work the assessment process according to Camden's own policy, using a model that allows for users choices (and the possibility of improving those choices) – and attempts to quantify, within each scheme, the real gains from traffic reduction and modal shift (as well as, if you like, whatever real gains from two-way working, and running two-way buses on one street).

It would also be useful to re-think the narrative you're giving to stakeholders. 'Giving better choices to all, for a better environment for all' is a better aim 'than 'balancing the needs of all user groups', which assumes people don't make choices, and leads you back to the status quo. Because high-quality cycle routes need to have a consistent standard from beginning to end, and bus routes need to be logical, it would also be useful to have in hand at least an idea of how the rest of Camden should look in the future - where the bikes should go, where the buses should go, where the private motor vehicles should go. To get the West End Project right, we need to know approximately what we will want to do at Holborn, and on and around the High St, in particular. I realise this is a lot of work - but given this is a £30 million scheme in the heart of London, (and that, once that money is in Camden's account, it's public money) it seems to me that we should ensure that it's spent for the maximum possible public benefit. I know there has at least been a start in forecasting and quantifiying the benefits of increased walking – someone did this for the Cobden Junction scheme. In terms of cycling I know the TFL cycle superhighways team has done some work on both estimating demand and making a business case – perhaps they could be asked to help out? Just as an example, here's how one might start thinking about putting together a scheme following Camden's priorities. (I've no idea whether this would be the best arrangement of the several that have been suggested – one would need to quantify benefits to know.)To prioritise pedestrians, one could remove all motor traffic from Tottenham Court Road. This would reduce pollution, motor traffic danger, and the obstacle of crossing the road. It would also hugely benefit business, by transforming TCR from a 'route' into a 'place.  To prioritise cyclists, one could make TCR a pedestrian and cycle through-route. Cyclists don't pose the same danger to pedestrians as motor traffic, they don't get in the way of my place-making, and they'll benefit from a safe, high-capacity north-south route. One could also close Torrington Place/Tavistock to through traffic to make a safe east/west route.  To prioritise buses, one could make Gower St buses only. It migh be useful to widen the pavements to accommodate more people waiting for buses.  So here, we've prioritised modes as Camden suggest - and it turns out there's plenty of space for buses, bikes and pedestrians to co-exist. Now we can add in delivery and services, at off-peak hours so as not to delay buses.  Finally, there's taxis and private cars. If we can let some on, for access only, that's great. In terms of access further south, for now, that's via Woburn Place. We end up with one N-S route with high/quality bike/pedestrian priority, one N-S route with bus/pedestrian priority and one N-S route with private vehicle priority. That seems to reflect Camden's priorities at least a little better than the current design. So there's two key points here: 
  • If you prioritise walking, cycling, and public transport here, there's plenty of room for all three, without conflict. It's when you bring in private motor traffic/taxis as well that there begins to be a conflict with buses. So, as in many places elsewhere, the supposed bus/cycle conflict only exists if private motor traffic has priority. 
  • If you bring Woburn Place into the mix, the balance of modes looks very different. Does south Camden need more than one main N-S route for private motor vehicles?
Thanks again for taking the time to come to talk to us.Yours etc.-----
As the meeting with Phil Jones went on, I personally became more and more convinced the West End Project is actually a bus priority scheme with some minor walking and cycling improvements tacked on around the edges. There was, as the letter above states, a disconnect between the stated hierarchy and the actual proposals, and a failure to try to model or estimate what the effects of proper cycle infrastructure would actually be on the balance of modes that the streets needed to accommodate. We heard a lot about "massive bus use", but had no information about the average length of those bus trips, so no idea of how many of them would be highly cycleable if conditions for cycling were optimised. Similarly, there was a lot of talk about the need for expanded pedestrian space due to the opening of the Crossrail Station at Tottenham Court Road, but no recognition of the fact that these pedestrians might not need to be delivered by train, many of them might be able to cycle in when (and if) The Mayor's Vision for Cycling really starts to take hold and we have a network of high-quality routes in Central London and beyond. Then the need for pedestrian space versus bike space would look different. Forcing people to use trains and buses because the cycling alternative is so poor is not very environmental.
On the subect of buses, again, there was a contradiction between what the officer said about the huge, and expected increase, uptake of bus travel, and the fact that he claimed the "system was not working for bus users", because of the need to catch north and south-bound buses from different, closely-adjacent streets. I just can't see this. If such large numbers of people are using buses here, they are not being put off by having to walk a few yards to the next street, and I can't see why they should be in general. There are loads of other places in London where bus routing in opposite directions is on different strteets. On the other hand, people are certainly not cycling here in "huge" numbers. People, like the woman we heard from at the meeting, really are being put off from cycling in a massive way by the cycling system, that "just doesn't work" for them. So very different standards of service are being applied to the bus mode and the cycling mode. This is clearly discriminatory, and linked both to the majority/minority status of these modes, and also, I suspect, subliminally, to the way that cycling is perceived as a sporty, athletic activity for tough people who can be expected to put up with a lot of obstacles thrown in their way. There is no thinking on how your 80-year old aunty might be expected to cycle on a Boris Bike up Tottenham Court Road.
We also found out there are severe objections on practicality grounds to Camden's scheme. There will be general motor traffic on sections of Tottenham Court Road during the hours of operation of the restrictions, 8am–7pm Monday to Saturday, making E–W journeys, connecting between side-streets, and it will flow at a different time to the bus and cycle N–S traffic on the road because of the phasing of signals. But there will be nothing to physically force that traffic to turn off where it should. There might, we were told, be louvred signs, that change their aspect between "No entry" and something else depending on the time of day. But nothing will physically force general traffic to make those turns off Tottenham Court Road road, and not to continue up it. There was talk of enforcement cameras. But one still wonders how enforceable all this is going to be, as only a part-time scheme.
The scheme that I have suggested is far more practical, because it involves no basic change to the traffic system for taxis, buses and other motor vehicles, just a reduction in the number of lanes. It fits in with the existing engineering of the junctions with Euston roads, which Camden's scheme does not. But I can see that the alternatives proposed above by Rachel Aldred and our corespondent to Phil Jones, which involve one whole N–S street stripped of motor traffic, are very attractive as well, in that they would transform one of the roads even more radically. (Though I can anticipate that one might never get agreement on which road that should be, because one has to balance the commercial significance of the activity on Tottenham Court Road with the cultural significance of the activity on Gower Street – both being able to justify excellent claims for motor traffic-free status.)
Another option that was thrown into the mix at the meeting by Camden Cyclists was the possibility of essential doing the Camden scheme, but having segregation on Gower Street for cycling on both sides in the style of Brighton's Old Shoreham Road (or indeed most main streets in Copenhagen), that is, using half-height cycle tracks with a step up from the road and a step up to the pavement. This would make slightly better use of space than the armadillos proposed by Camden, but I think there isn't much in it really. I still think the pressure for stopping of taxis and delivery vehicles on this space will be overwhelming, and that this form of segregation will be too weak, and will get obstructed in this loction. In any case, there is no way that as much dedicated space for cycling can be made using this basic model, of a two-way Gower Street and TCR, as can be made under my one-way model, as I've taken out more general traffic space.
Half-height cycle tracks on Brighton's Old Shoreham Road. A good solution in Brighton, but I doubt the workability for the more pressurised space of Gower StreetThe attachment to the concept of undoing the one-way system for motor traffic on the part of the proponents, and vague 'semi-supporters', one might term them, of this scheme, seems to me irrational and a bit dogmatic. There's no reason why a one-way system can't be even better for pedestrians and cyclists than the best two-way system for general traffic, and I think it might well be. In my model for Tottenham Court Road, pedestrians are separated and protected from all motor traffic by the buffer of the cycle tracks. The larger volume of cyclists encouraged would automatically civilise the street, as well as reduce the demand and need for buses and taxis. Pollution would be reduced, and my scheme would be full time, as opposed to the most-hours-of-the-week free-for-all of Camden's scheme. There's been lots of talk recently about Oxford Street, with it's throbbing red wall of buses, being possibly the most polluted street in the world. This is probably not true, however, it is certainly not a nice destination, a fact recognised by the businesses there. Why would Camden want to even risk reproducing the Oxford Street phenomenon on Tottenham Court Road? Why do these 'semi-suppoters' want it? I can't get my head around that. And were Mark Ames states:
Two way working on Gower Street will significantly improve what - as Londoners - we all deserve to enjoy as one of our most beautifully built streets, full of interesting institutions and seats of learning– a claim continually made by Phi Jones and other proponents of the scheme as well at the meeting, that there is some property of two-way streets that makes them automatically better for all than one-way streets, I ask for the evidence. I claim that if you look at how things are done elsewhere, you find you can do one-way streets just as badly, or just as well, as two-way streets. Similar claims for how much better Piccadilly would be were made before its conversion to two-way working. The reality proved totally different. Mark Ames, in the same post, also rather implies that those who are asking for a better scheme for cycling than the one Camden is offering are too cycle-focused and not properly considering the needs of pedestrians, or not thinking enough about the demands that the Crossrail station is going to make.

Well, I'd like to draw attention to the following facts. Quite independently of all of us, the Greater London Authority has studied the various options, and, in documents I and other LCC members have seen, and an extract from which which I reproduce here in public for the first time, The GLA's transport experts have concluded that Camden's favoured scheme is not the best for pedestrians.

Extract from GLA briefing on the West End Project"Scenario C" here is "Existing one way-system maintained, introduction of segregated northbound cycle track on east side of TCR, introduction of segregated southbound cycle track on west side of Gower Street": a very similar scheme to mine, this was judged by the GLA to be the best option for pedestrian comfort. (Scenarios A and B were both variation on the two-way conversion, A being essentially the scheme that Camden are consulting on, and B having instead of the cycle tracks on Gower Street, a two-way segregated cycle track on the east side of Tottenham Court Road.)
The GLA analysis was presented in a meeting at Camden's offices that included London's Deputy Mayor for Transport Isabel Dedring, senior officers of the GLA, Cllr Phil Jones, plus Camden and TfL officers. It makes clear that Camden are significantly at odds with the GLA (and possibly TfL) over this scheme, and that the GLA is trying to do something better for both cycling and walking, which Camden is resisting. I am not sure why Camden have taken this line, but this is important background to know for those considering whether to basically support the Camden plan, with maybe small modifications, as the semi-supporters suggest, or to basically oppose it, and demand something quite different, as I and Rachel Aldred suggest. This is why I have taken the step of publishing the extract from the briefing above.
It seems to me, if anybody is not really considering properly pedestrian needs and the implications of the opening of the Crossrail station, it is Phil Jones and the supporters of Camden's part-time scheme. For, as I pointed out in the meeting, they are proposing, between the hours of 7.00 in the evening and 8.00 in the morning, and and all day Sunday, the opening up a whole new route to the heart of the West End for unrestricted general motor traffic from the north side of London, on the biggest roads, via Hampstead Road and Tottenham Court Road – a route that does not exist now. This route will be in operation during the evening, when the West End throngs with restaurant, cinema, club and theatre goers. It will bering this new stream of traffic right down Tottenham Court Road, bang into the space at St Giles Circus where the new station opens out, bang into collision with all the pedestrian, cycle and bus activity that will be there. To me, this seems crackers. Who has lobbied for it, I'd like to know? Who is Camden actually listening to? In whose interests is this new access stream for general traffic in the evenings and on Sundays down to St Giles Circus? For all its faults, this is one problem that even the current traffic system does not create.
The consultation is now open until 1 August.
Categories: Views

To gyrate, or not to gyrate?

19 June, 2014 - 17:53
There seem to be no hard and fast rules as to when a roundabout becomes a "gyratory system", or a "gyratory system" becomes a "one way system";  it seems to be a matter of opinion, but I think we all know what a gyratory is. It is a big system of traffic that circulates in one direction, often so big that there are many buildings in the middle. It is also fair to say that gyratory systems are widely hated by cycling and pedestrian campaigners and assorted other environmentalists and urbanists: associated, in their UK application, as they usually are, with heavy traffic flows, speeding motor vehicles, inconvenient pedestrian crossing arrangements, hellish cycling conditions – where cyclists have been effectively just "thrown to the lions" and told to fend for themselves, with no facilities – pollution, noise, decay, alienation, an un-human, bad-scale environment, and general awfulness.

But then again, we may wander, or sedately pedal, around some of the environmentally best-organised cities in Europe; what about Amsterdam, Utrecht, Copenhagen, Bruges, Münster? We find them to be largely free of this nastiness: clean, easy to traverse, quiet and sociable. But look! Actually, so many of the streets we are traversing are one-way for motor vehicles (two way, of course, for bikes, and often also for buses and trams). And, examined on a larger scale, we will see that these streets are often organised as gyratory systems. So what's happening here? Are gyratories intrinsically bad, or is it just their normal UK application?
This subject has been covered in a very good blog post from last year by As Easy As Riding A Bike, with plenty of pictures of examples from the UK and the Netherlands. I recommend study of this, and I won't repeat what he says, but I'll try to relate it here to some current discussions over gyratory systems in London. The general point is that gyratory systems are just tools of planning which may be used to create very different types of environment, depending on what the intention is. If the planner is determined to force a maximal volume of traffic through a junction, or district of streets in a city grid, they can use an appropriately-designed gyratory system to accomplish this. If they wish to prevent motor traffic from using streets as through-routes, or if they wish to reduce motor traffic in an area of a city to an essential minimum, or if they wish to make space for wider pavements, segregated cycle tracks, or bus lanes, or do a combination of these things, then a system of appropriately-designed one-way streets and gyratory systems is also the way in which to do it. It is the intention behind the planning that matters, not the number of directions of motor travel on any given bit or road. Importantly, one-way and gyratory systems can be designed to give motor vehicles longer, slightly less convenient journeys, and cyclists direct, convenient journeys, and can thus be used to bias travel patterns towards the bike.
I came to understand, way back at the end of the last century, that one-way traffic systems are not necessarily evil creations that cycle campaigners should be on principle opposed to. Paul Gannon, when he started campaigning with Camden Cycling Campaign, had returned from living in the Netherlands, where he had noted the constructive use that was made there in introducing one-ways in narrow grid-pattern city streets to create the space for cycle facilities and block through motor traffic from large areas. I described the campaigns of this period before, in this blog post, where I explained that the Seven Stations Link cycle route through Bloomsbury that we planned was predicated on creating new one-way streets to make space for two-way cycle tracks. (This pattern was common in the Netherlands in this period, though it has become less common since, as such streets tend to have been closed entirely to through motor traffic in more recent schemes). The reason the Bloomsbury cycle tracks are so narrow and compromised now was that Camden Council did not do what we wanted, but attempted to fit two-way tracks into the space that should have been used for a single direction. The tracks were planned to be twice as wide, but lobbying by the black cab drivers, who wanted to preserve their two-way back-street rat-run between Euston and Kings Cross, foiled the plan, amid changes at the council which removed the people who might have had the determination to see the proper scheme through.
The Seven Stations Link in Bloomsbury: half the width it should have been, because the road was not made one-way for motors.More recently, I observed, and David Hembrow explained, on his excellent study tour of Assen and Groningen, how carefully-worked out one-way systems, with merely signed cycle exception, are the entirely standard, non-intrusive, low-engineering model used in Dutch towns to minimise traffic in small residential streets, which become excellent routes for cycling and walking in consequence. In another type of environment, the one-way system of Camden town, with its many bad features remaining, is at least such that it allowed Camden to progressively reduce the single direction of motor traffic on Royal College Street from three fast lanes to one slow one, which has allowed the construction of the (fairly) successful cycle tracks there, part of the Somers Town route from Camden to Euston Road, give or take a few planters demolished from time to time.
Standard Dutch residential street, where a system of one-ways, with signed cycle exception, minimises through motor traffic while allowing easy access to all properties.
Whereas I used to think, at one time, that roundabouts were necessarily anti-cycling, and that they should be all replaced by signalised crossroads, I've come to realise that this was a simplistic idea, and really quite wrong. Lots of signals are the last things we need on the streets, if we wish cycling to be an efficient, pleasurable and competitive mode of transport. The Dutch and Danes show us how roundabouts properly designed for cycling are an excellent replacement for signalised junctions, reducing delays and congestion for both cycle and motor traffic, enhancing safety, reducing pollution (due to idling traffic waiting in queues), and making the cycling experience easy and smooth. Classic (and usually correct) cycle blogger Freewheeler noted, somewhere that I can't find now, that though removal of London's bad gyratory systems and replacement with normal junctions would make conditions a little better for existing cyclists, it was in no way a prescription, or even part of the prescription, for the conditions for mass cycling, Dutch-style, which requires almost total separation of cyclists from heavy flows of motor vehicles (both for the reason of subjective safety, and the because it is the only practical way of making space for really large-scale cycling).
We've seen the recent disastrous example of Piccadilly and Haymarket, where the return of these streets to two-way working, heralded by the Mayor as a great public realm project for his Olympic city, has resulted in conditions (on Piccadilly) no better for pedestrians than they were before, a hellish cycling environment, as much congestion as before, if not more, as much pollution, no improvement, so far as I can see, in bus service or convenience, and no improvement, so far as I can see, even in conditions for taxi drivers and other motorists.
So I think the subject of what to do about London's anti-cycling, and generally bad, gyratory systems deserves careful consideration, and not dogmatic position-taking. I think there are cases and cases; there are probably cases where the best cycling and walking environment can be most easily got, at minimal expense and reworking, and with minimal opposition, by keeping gyratory systems, for private motor traffic and taxis, as they are, but introducing changes for other road users. There are other cases where the best and easiest solution is the abolition of the gyratory system. I'll raise here two current cases of discussion which I think are examples of both these situations.
I last discussed Tottenham Court Road (in what has become, surprisingly, the second most popular post on this blog), in August 2011. I pointed out then that Camden's plan to transform this road (the northbound arm of the one-way system that also includes Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street) was the best opportunity so far presented of usefully extending Camden's still slight segregated cycle network, that had remained unexpanded since the completion of the Camden section of the Seven Stations link around 2002. I criticised the plans produced at that time by the council, which showed a dishonest artists' impression of a future Tottenham Court Road, two-way and reserved for buses and cyclists, in which cyclists and pedestrians happily thronged. I pointed out that successful cycling systems do not mix cyclists with buses in the same space, that Camden, on past form, would be unlikely to be able to prevent black cabs from using the route, and that the result would probably be very like the environmental sink of Oxford Street, one of the most polluted streets in the world.
These things grind excruciatingly slowly, and three years on, still nothing has happened, but there is a new, supposedly more definitive plan for these streets being put out by Camden, with a consultation, under the title "West End Project", which you can read all about (or all about to the not very high level of detail that has been provided) here. On this page you may see the new dishonest artists' impression of the future Tottenham Court Road.
Camden's current envisioning of the future Tottenham Court RoadThis is similar to the 2011 version, except it is slightly better, as there is no fashionable "median strip" to trap cyclists next to the wheels and exhausts of buses a la Piccadilly. But it still has no protected space for cycling, it doesn't show the situation when cyclists get trapped between buses,  or have to pull out around stopped buses into the path of other buses (as the simple, standard Dutch and Danish expedient of the island bus stop with a cycle track passing behind it seems to be regarded as an impossibility here, for some reason, even by the erudite back-room boys and girls at Camden Cycling Campaign), and, importantly, it is a part-time and incomplete vision. Even assuming Camden succeed in banning black cabs, which I still doubt, the road will only be reserved for cycle and bus through-travel between 8am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday, not Sunday, and even between those times, Local access for cars, taxis and loading would be allowed on short sections of Tottenham Court Road via side roads. So this whole thing is really not how it is presented in the sunny artists' impression. (Funny how they are always sunny, isn't it?)
The other main part of this plan is the design for Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, which are proposed to go two-way for all traffic. This is where, under the current concept, cyclists get some semi-protected space. This will be in the form of one-way cycle lanes on both sides of the street protected by rubber armadillos, similar to those used in Royal College Street. Differences with that street design will be, however, the lack of planters (which have not proved too successful), and the lack of parking. In Royal College Street, parking outside the armadillos protects sections of cycle track from moving motor vehicles. It seems to me that in the Gower Street design, the cycle lanes protected only by armadillos will be highly vulnerable, in a very pressurised traffic space, far more so than Royal College Street, to getting driven and stopped upon by taxis and loading vehicles.
Royal College street, with planters and armadillos. The line of residential parking, there most of the time, protecting the track, is, I feel, a critical feature of this facility, which will be absent in Gower StreetUnfortunately, the details for the design of Gower Street as given on Camden's site are very poor. There is this image, not produced at any proper resolution, for the northern section, and a similar one for the southern, which contain no dimensions, and in no way explain how the cycle routes northbound and southbound are meant to work. There are, incomprehensibly, loading bays shown within the armadilloed cycle lanes at two points. There are lots of advanced stop areas, features which have nothing to do with Dutch or Danish cycle design for highly-trafficked roads, and which smack of a "dual network" concept (not all cyclists using the cycle facilities, in other words, because the are not good enough).
My understanding is that the "protected" cycle lanes will be 1.5m wide. This is just about wide enough for overtaking in, but not generous, for a main cycle route. I am therefore slightly confused as to what the route concept really is here. I am not sure there is a coherent concept at all. The street that offers the most obvious north-south high-capacity cycle route option through the area remains Tottenham Court Road, as I said in 2011. It connects with Hampstead Road, to the north, and Charing Cross Road, to the south. Though Gower Street offers a route southwards towards Covent Garden and Waterloo Bridge (a currently highly unpleasant route, not all of the problems of which, by any means, would be solved by these plans), the north end of it is not accessible, except via the intimidating racetrack lane system on Euston Road, which is not proposed to be changed. Furthermore, there will be no northbound route on this alignment north of Grafton Way. These look like a pretty fatal flaws in the plans to me.
The most detailed graphic (not very) from Camden's site shows that the protected lanes on Gower Street go no further north than Grafton Way, that there's no further route north on this alighnment, and that access from the north is only from Euston Road via unpleasant high-speed slip lanes. These are really bad flaws in the route design.As a gyratory-removal scheme, too, note that it is only partial. The northernmost part of Gower Street remains only southbound for motor vehicles, for the same reason as for cyclists: there are no changes to the Euston Road system (suggesting there is no collaboration between Camden and Transport for London, who control Euston Road). So, instead, the Camden plan creates a mini-gyratory system at the north end, via Grafton Way, which I submit is an inappropriate, small side road to take this main flow of traffic.Gyratory removal? Actually, a mini-gyratory where one does not exist now is created in the Camden plans on Grafton Way, an inappropriate street.It seems that the concept is that cyclists will only use parts of the Gower Street corridor, connecting with it via the side streets, which are promised to have permeability improvements (i.e. more of them will be two-way for bikes) according to Camden Cyclists. On the other hand, on the obvious, continuous and straight north-south route, Tottenham Court Road, for most hours of the week, cyclists will be mixing with general two-way traffic, so the situation is likely to resemble how Piccadilly is now. At the better times of the week cyclists will only be mixing with heavy flows of buses, and cars and lorries on certain stretches. And I'm assuming perfect enforcement of the complicated and part-time restrictions. Does all this sound like a very cycle-friendly plan? I think not. I hear, incidentally, that the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan is none too impressed with the scheme either, and is refusing to contribute to the costs from his budget, though he cannot stop Camden doing what it wants on its own roads.
I think Camden Council has got obsessed by this idea of "gyratory removal" and is not thinking radically enough about how the whole area could be optimised for buses, cyclists, pedestrians, and, indeed, businesses. I think a far better result could be got for cycling, and no worse for buses and pedestrians, probably better, by retaining the one-way system, but reducing the capacity of it by having only one general traffic lane lane northbound in Tottenham Court Road and one southbound in Gower Street. I would put a dedicated bus lane all the way down Gower Street and a full kerb-segregated cycle track there as well. These would be southbound only. In Tottenham Court Road I would put one-way kerb-segregated cycle tracks in both directions. In the northern, wide section of Tottenham Court Road I would put a dedicated northbound bus lane, expanding out from the single motor traffic lane in the narrower southern part, and I would have it separated by bus boarding islands from the northbound cycle track at the stops. There would be loading areas for lorries in appropriate places outside the cycle tracks.
My scheme would seriously reduce general motor capacity, and I think this is a good thing. It is what is needed. The trouble with the Camden scheme is that it is more or less capacity neutral. It is another Piccadilly and Haymarket: it is not really prioritising cycling, it is just shifting the deckchairs around a little, pushing flows in certain directions from one street to another. My scheme would instead seriously reallocate road space and seriously protect cyclists, while allowing the other essential functions in the street to continue, and it would do this by retaining the one-way system, making it more like a Dutch city-centre one-way system. The environmental benefits to everybody, cyclist or not, would be enormous.
Gower Street now. I would reallocate these lanes by making the left one a wide cycle track with kerb segregation, making the middle one the bus lane, and keeping the outer lane as it is. All would be southbound. This fits with the traffic system at the northern end as currently configured, which only facilitates the southbound route.Tottenham Court Road, north of Goodge street, now. I would reallocate this space by getting rid of the rubbish in the middle of the road and creating wide, kerb-secgregasted cycle tracks running in both directions, plus a bus lane and a separate general traffic lane running northbound. Bus stops would be on islands.Tottenham Court Road, south end, now. I would reallocate this space to wide, kerb-segregated cycle tracks running in both directions, with one northbound lane for all other traffic. Taxis could still have their waiting area, outside the contraflow cycle track, and there would be spaces for loading for shops outside the track.The benefits of my plan would not only be motor traffic reduction: it is also simpler. The current motor flows are not altered and there is no need for any large junction changes. There is no small gyratory system inappropriately routed via Grafton Way. The current cycle route towards Covent Garden and Waterloo Bridge is maintained and made far better. The Charing Cross Road to Camden Town route via Tottenham Court Road is made safe and pleasant for cycling, and the exact direct reverse route becomes possible, and just as easy and pleasant. This scheme would really open the West End up for cycling and give us a taste of a proper transfer of Dutch principles to central London. Importantly, it would be the same all the time: no time-dependence, no uncertain enforcement. It would be self-enforcing all the time.
Here is the biggest problem with Camden's proposals: for most hours of the week, between 7pm and 7am, and all day on Sunday, they are making Tottenham Court Road a free-for all, no bus lanes, no prioritisation at all, opening it up to all traffic, in both directions, as it is not open now. This is an utterly retrograde step. This is the aspect of the plan that neither Camden's consultation, nor the commentary from Camden Cyclists, nor that from Cyclists in the City dwells on. So I draw attention to it, and I invite you to think about it. This is going to be a massive opening up of the West End to new motor traffic movements, making many car journeys in the evenings, at night, and on Sundays, in central London easier and more convenient. This is the exact reverse of what Camden should be doing.
I said I would mention an example of a gyratory which I think should be removed. So I'll briefly describe another Camden scheme, where it looks like they might actually be getting it right. This is at an early stage, and there is no consultation yet I can point you to, and no clear official plans yet, but I have seen proposals for the removal of the Swiss Cottage gyratory, and these look like a thoroughly good thing – subject to details, not yet present, being got right. This is connected with Cycle Superhighway 11, which on current plans will run round the Outer Circle, up Avenue road, and into Finchley road via Swiss Cottage. The gyratory removal plan is a crucial part of this, and it has support from Andrew Gilligan. 
One option that I have seen sketched out by Camden involves making the main general traffic route up the A41, Finchley Road, continuous, with a signalised junction with the west end of Adelaide Road (to the south of the Odeon Cinema on the current gyratory island). The part of Avenue Road outside the library, the current east side of the gyratory, would be taken out of the traffic system, and only used for buses and bikes, which would have a direct signalised route through to the part of Avenue Road south of Adelaide Roads, and to Finchley Road, to the north. The connection of the A41 with Fitzjohn's Avenue (B511) would be closed off, thereby cutting traffic through into the leafy residential streets of Hampstead on this axis off in one stroke.
Map of Swiss Cottage, for orientation, for those unfamiliar with the areaCycle Superhighway 11 would run in some sort of segregated or semi-segregated format up Avenue Road, and would cross into the bus-bike section by the library with signals. There would be ample space here to segregate it from bus traffic and to put the bus stops on islands. It would go on northwards into Finchley Road via more signals.
The critical advantage of making the main A41 route continuous on Finchley Road is that we would loose the circulating system that pushes so much traffic from the north down into Avenue Road (B525) and through to Regent's Park. The design of the gyratory at the moment encourages this totally inappropriate flow. Traffic from the A41 semi-motorway from the outer suburbs just goes bombing into this narrow, leafy road, with its big new schools on the left hand side, and ends up at the Outer Circle. Though there will still be a connection between the northern A41 and Avenue Road, in the new plan, it will involve a left signalised turn at the Adelaide Road / Finchley Road /Hilgrove Road (B509) junction, and then a right signalised turn at the Avenue Road junction. It will no longer be an obvious route, the obvious route will become the A41 Finchley Road down towards Baker Street. The traffic in Avenue Road should be massively reduced, and there will be space for a decent Cycle Superhighway there.
This is the pint at which narrow, residential Avenue Road becomes, inappropriately, the obvious route for traffic heading from the north towards central London. The abolition of the gyratory would end this situation.As I say, these are early days on this scheme, and I wouldn't get my hopes up too far that it will be as good as this. People have been talking about removal of the Swiss Cottage Gyratory for decades, and nothing has happened. But hopefully we will be able to get agreement between TfL, the Cycling Commissioner, and Camden, on a scheme along these lines that I have described, and, if we do, it will be a thoroughly good thing that the widely-hated Swiss Cottage Gyratory goes. So, with gyratories, there are cases and other cases, as I said at the beginning, to be judged on their exact details.
I the meantime, what can be done bout Camden's poor "West End Project" plan? There is a consultation, which can be filled in here.  In addition, Camden Cyclists are organising a public meeting, at the YMCA, Indian Student Hostel, 41 Fitzroy Square W1T 6AQ at 7pm on Monday 30 June. Camden councillors officers will be present to explain their scheme and take questions. I suggest people attend this and make their views known there as well. Register for the meeting here.
There has been a tone to the commentaries so far published by cyclists that the Camden West End scheme should probably be supported, as it will be an improvement on what we have now, and there is no hope of getting anything better, or no-one can come up with anything better. Camden Cyclists say:We have concluded that we will support the Camden proposal unless some much better alternative comes up. However, we feel that it will not do much to encourage new people to cycle, although the increase of permeability will allow those that want to to escape via the side streets. But being able to escape isn't really the main function of a cycling street, particularly one that is likely to be part of the new Central London Cycle Grid.Cyclists in the City says:I would much rather see this scheme happen than see nothing happen, as is the case in other parts of London. Space4Cycling should be better than this. But this is better than what's there and better than nothing. It's all a bit of a damp squib, really.I say, this is all rather weak. It's not difficult to come up with a better, more radical plan, and I've done so. The critical step is letting go of the idea "evil gyratory system must go". My plan, to reiterate, is to keep the general traffic system as it is now, but to make a radical reduction in general motor capcity through having only one general northbound lane on Tottenham Court Road, and one general lane southbound on Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street. There would be a dedicated southbound bus lane in Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, and a dedicated northbound bus lane in the wider, northern part of Tottenham Court Road. There would be segregated cycle tracks, southbound only on Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, and in both directions on Tottenham Court Road. There would be island bus stops so buses would never cross the paths of cyclists. The whole system would be full-time. You can call this the Voleospeed West End Plan if you like. You can refer to it in the consultation and at the meeting, and direct Camden Council and others here.
I suggest we lobby for this Voleospeed West End Plan. What have we got to lose? As I think Schrödinger's Cat recently asked, rhetorically, are we afraid that what crumbs there are for cycling in the current plans will be removed from the table if we object, and that we will get something even worse? I hardly think that's likely.
What is likely is that Camden will do what they have already decided to do anyway, or they will make some minor modifications to their plan. But if everybody makes enough of a noise, with pressure from Andew Gilligan and parts of TfL as well, perhaps they can be forced to go back to the drawing board. I certainly don't believe we will be sitting here in a few years' time, thinking "If only we had not objected to that West End Project as proposed by Camden and not proposed our own silly, impractical, too-ambitious plan to make London WC1 really look like Amsterdam, then we would not have got this horrible thing that doesn't even have the half-hearted cycle facilities that Camden was offering us then". In my two decades of cycle campaigning experience, I can't recall a case that has ever unfolded like that. We have never regretted scuppering a half-hearted plan because we asked for something better. Either we suggest the best and lobby for the best, and get something a bit worse, or we moan a bit, let the planners do their own thing, and we get the crumbs that they offer. Let's have a bit of courage about this. 
Keep the Tottenham Court Road gyratory gyrating for motor vehicles, and civilise it for cyclists and everyone else.
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