Why we need more than quietways in London

In a guest blog, Andy Isitt explains why he would love a safe way to cycle into central London - and why the proposed quietways network is not the answer.

I live in the London borough of Ealing and I ride daily, commuting to work, and using the bike for leisure trips. I rarely cycle into central London, even though I would like to do so, because there are no obvious safe routes.

LB Ealing in relation to central London

For last August's Prudential Ride London family ride I joined a supported ride into central London from Brentford. It was for people of all abilities. It was the most excruciatingly slow and convoluted route, taking more than two hours - and included pushing our bikes for about 100 metres around Holland Park somewhere, to get access to Kensington Gardens.

We decided to return from the day under our own steam, using a direct route through Bayswater, Holland Park, Shepherd's Bush and Acton.

"Direct" route from Prudential Ride London start point to Ealing

 

It was not a journey for the faint-hearted. Pulling out around stopped buses on Holland Park was like dicing with death, and it was always touch and go whether faster cars would let you out to overtake. Our small group very quickly got split up as some made it and some got stuck.

Notting Hill Gate looking west

Holland Park Avenue

The approach to Holland Park / Shepherds Bush roundabout

 

Holland Park roundabout and negotiating Shepherd's Bush Green were little short of horrendous. Fast traffic and the need to cross lanes don't make for a relaxed experience.

Map detail showing Shepherds Bush Green and Holland Park roundabout

The Shepherds Bush exit

The exit from Holland Park Roundabout onto Shepherds Bush Green. Get all the way to the right so you can access:

The Shepherds Bush exit

...the cycle track running around the inside of Shepherds Bush Green. Or, as it was last summer:

Shepherds Bush Green, bike and pedestrian paths closed for construction

So I am fully supportive of efforts to make London more cycle friendly, but in my view the quietways network is a cop-out. It will not achieve the ideal of safe routes for 8 to 80-year-olds, it is not convenient, and needs a complete re-think.

On my regular commute to work in Hayes, Middlesex, along the Uxbridge Road, I encounter some painted advisory on-road cycle sections of mixed quality and a section of decent wide segregated cycle path which is reasonably continuous. The advisory lanes are completely useless where there are no parking restrictions, and they're being taken away completely on Southall Broadway under the Southall Big Plan.

I always breathe a huge sigh of relief when I reach the segregated cycle path, and I can feel my shoulders relax. My wife commutes to work daily by bike to Hounslow, mostly using the A4 cycle paths. These are not perfect, especially since they disappear when most needed, but they get her to work reasonably safely.

Where we live, the residential streets have no cycle infrastructure but would fit the definition of quietways. In practice, they are anything but quiet. They have heavy flows of traffic and because they are parked up on both sides, are too narrow to let cars pass safely. Very often you feel intimidated by cars driving too close behind, revving their engines, and generally hassling you to get out of the way. The 20mph limit is routinely exceeded with no risk of enforcement. This does not make for a relaxing experience.

To have a London network based upon such routes will not encourage non-cyclists, particularly women and children, to get on their bikes. It does not fit the 8-80 ideal.

Add a fragmented network, especially in Hammersmith and in Kensington & Chelsea where the councils are not supportive of cycling infrastructure. The proposed network kow-tows to the idea of smoothing traffic flow on main arteries whilst making cycling routes contorted and inconvenient. It will not achieve the stated aim of getting more people on bikes.

It would certainly not be proposed in Amsterdam, or Seville, or Copenhagen, or New York, or Portland, or San Francisco, not even in car-dominated Los Angeles. In all of these cities, they are making great strides to install segregated, convenient, direct cycling infrastructure. They are doing it rapidly, and frankly they are leaving London trailing badly, like a wheezing asthmatic in a marathon - apt as London appears to still be in thrall to the car and the air pollution it causes.

I'm afraid I have to give the proposals a resounding thumbs down. It would be better to do nothing at all and save the money, rather than waste taxpayer's money on half-hearted measures. London needs cycling infrastructure, but it needs to be world-class. In the past 12 months I have cycled in the Netherlands, Seville and Copenhagen, and I have seen first-hand how they have achieved safe cycling for all ages. In every case it involves segregating people on bikes from vehicular traffic. It works.

All that's needed is to copy best-practice from those cities and put it into action. Then when the Mayor next visits New York and asks Bill de Blasio what he thinks of London's cycling infrastructure, the reply won’t be "Meh!"

Andy Isitt / @robertsclubman

Comments

You have said exactly what I feel, but much better and more clearly than I could. I'll forward this to as many people as I can think of, and like it, wherever I can ....

 

Irena

When you say decent quality segregation on Uxbridge Road, it has plenty of flaws. I can see why you use it, it's much better than most of the UK, but please don't call it decent; we don't want more of this substandard and arguably dangerous infrastructure.

This is really too narrow. Look at the huge width of road given over for motoring while those cycling have this track that's just too small. It must be uncomfortable when there are two bikes in opposite directions.

Crappy bus stop. It could easily fill up with bus passengers, blocking people cycling. Anyone on foot would be blocked too. The bus layby also has to give way to the torrent of cars coming out of this busy junction, it's bad for everyone.

Posts right next to the narrow cycleway just make it worse. If there was someone coming the other way I would probably stop to avoid the risk of hitting them or a post, and then the toucan would go red. Grr.

Bad sideroad. I think we can all see how dangerous this is. It should have been moved back to the service road with the houses, and the service road given clear priority over the sideroad at some distance from the main road.

We have a similar thing in Southend, a kerbed cycle track that's uncomfortably narrow when you have two bikes going in opposite directions. Iit has pointless dangerous railings too considering how narrow it is. I measured the Southend track, it's 2.0 metres. The Dutch have 4.0m recommended (3.0 minimum) for a reason.

At least it has kerbs (only on some stretches, sigh) and toucan crossings at major junctions (unlike in Egham where I previously lived).

(oops, double post, deleted)

My commute brings me almost daily down from Notting Hill to and across the Shepherd's bush roundabout. That place could indeed use a proper fix. Just today cycling past it, I thought about how a perfect solution would be to completely separate cyclists (and pedestrians) by providing a level below car traffic, like the "Berekuil" roundabout in Utrecht, The Netherlands (see the video from approx. 7:30 here). I’m afraid that solution is out of reach though…