Saturday, 16 June 2012

Bank Junction - The City of London lacks the foresight to copy what New York has done with Times Square. More motor traffic, wider pavement, no safer for cycling.

Cycling at Bank junction. I wonder why most people don't like
cycling here? 
Back in November, I posted a that the City of London was conducting a consultation of Bank junction, right next to the Bank of England. I'm delighted to see that hundreds of people took part in the consultation. The City says that it would normally expect 300 or so people to respond to these sorts of consultations. In this case, nearly 900 of you responded. Good stuff.

In the City of London's own words: "Bank junction has one of the poorest road safety records in the City, particularly in relation to injuries to pedestrians and cyclists and the junction does not work well for any mode of transport."

I can't disagree.

The City of London states that nearly a thousand people pass through this junction on bicycles in a single hour (8-9am) at rush-hour every week day. Thousands more pass through on foot, in buses and rather a lot in taxis.

The results of the consultation are now in. And the conclusions are pretty accurate, in my view:
  • There is too much traffic congestion in the Bank area leading to conflict between its different users
  • There is inadequate provision for pedestrians in the Bank area including a lack of space, crowded footways and poor crossings
  • Bank junction doesn’t work well for any mode of transport
  • There is not enough provision for cycling/cyclists"
Spot-on. People who cycle here responded that the junction should be improved for cycling AND for walking and that there should be less motor traffic here.

What's less spot-on, though, is the the strategy that the City of London thinks it should adopt here. It plans to:
  • To reduce conflict and improve road safety for all modes of transport;
  • To improve the function of Bank junction for all modes of transport;
  • To accommodate future growth, ensuring that the area functions well and provides a suitable environment that contributes towards maintaining the City’s status as the world’s leading international financial and business centre;
  • To improve the pedestrian environment, create more space for pedestrians and ensure that streets and spaces are inclusive and accessible to all


Spot the bike lane. This is what previous City of London
attempts to make the Square Mile more 'accessible'
look like. Cycling is excluded as a practical transport choice
 I get worried when the City talks about making more space for pedestrians. I completely agree that there should be more space for pedestrians. But what that usually means is that cycling is shut out. Picture some recent City of London 'more space for pedestrians' developments on the left and see if you can spot the bike lane?

If you read the City of London Bank strategy very carefully, though, you'll see that one of the key themes of the consultation has been quietly dropped from the City's strategy. The City has decided to ignore the fact that a significant proportion of respondents think 'there is too much traffic' at Bank junction.

The City wants to make Bank junction more efficient and 'inclusive', whatever that means. But it looks like the City won't consider taming the amount of motor traffic here. I'd go so far as to say that I think someone senior in the City of London is fixated with the idea that you mustn't ever reduce the amount of motor traffic, even if that would improve the flow of motor traffic flow for everyone else or if it would lead to a busier Square Mile on foot and on bike where people and goods can get about faster, more efficiently and more cheaply.

Broadway bike lane goes through Times Square
Funnily enough, the City's biggest competitor - New York City - thinks it can and should reduce the amount of motor traffic in order to make the city more efficient. The New York City transportation commissioner is explicit that she wants to: "reduce private auto use in the most crowded parts of town ... to make more room for cycling and for buses".

New York had similar issues to Bank junction at a rather more iconic junction: Times Square. Too much traffic, high road casualty rates, horrible pedestrian environment, even worse cycling environment. Like Bank junction, it is surrounded by law firm and bank offices. And it's a major retail and nightlife spot. Funnily enough, the City wants Bank to become a bigger retail and nightlife area too.

New York closed some road arteries to motor traffic. It installed meaningful bike lanes through the Square. It also gave a lot of space over to pedestrians. The result is a much nicer square where more people walk, where the shops are doing better business, where motor traffic flows better and which is now way easier to cycle through. For a whole series of before and after photos of the Times Square project, look at this NYC Department of Transportation's slideshow.

It seems to me that the City of London is having none of this. What it's done is come up with a strategy that ignores the obvious - it can make the junction more efficient and safer but it won't do that simply by giving more space to pedestrians. It needs to reduce the amount of motor traffic here too. That's what New York City has done.

More space for pedestrians is good but not if it simply means narrower roads, no space for cycling and the same amount of motor traffic congestion as before. The City should be thinking how to reduce the amount of motor traffic, how to reduce congestion here, how to give some space to cycling through the junction and how to improve crossings and space for pedestrians. Instead, I think we'll get wider pavements, just as much motor traffic, just the same traffic queues and no space whatsoever for safe, sensible cycling through the junction.

My own view? The City should close Cheapside to all motor vehicles except buses and allow people to cycle through. Then it needs to close one route on the east side of the junction except for buses and bikes (and possibly taxis). Can easily be done but I bet the City fathers don't have the guts to try. New York tried. It tested the concept and it worked. And now it's made Times Square's new look very permanent indeed.