Thursday, 29 November 2012

Transport for London plans upgrade to Bow roundabout junction: Genuinely impressed by these proposals and first sign that TfL is beginning to "think bicycle". But why has the rest of the Super Highway route been ignored?

TfL's proposal to upgrade the junction approach for cyclists
travelling through Bow roundabout. More details on
TfL's website.
Earlier this week, Transport for London published its plans to upgrade the westbound cycle super highway at Bow roundabout.

Astonishingly, they're rather good.

TfL has clearly listened and come up with plan that is several times better than the solution it built earlier this year on the other side of the roundabout heading eastbound. You can see my review of what the eastbound scheme looks like in this post.

The eastbound junction features a standard cycle super highway lane (some blue paint) leading up to a small section of segregated bike track that is a few metres long. The bike track leads to an advanced stop box where cyclists can wait and then (in theory) move off slightly earlier than other road traffic, which is held on red for a whopping three more seconds behind the cyclists.
Approaching Bow roundabout heading eastbound.
The car is parked perfectly legally in the
bike lane, which makes it difficult to
actually get to the protected bike track.
No improvements planned on this side of the
roundabout. Oddly.

The reality of cycling eastbound is somewhat different. You can see one of the problems in the picture on the left: It's almost impossible to actually get into the segregated bike track because the road space in front of it is either filled with cars waiting for the traffic lights or cars parked (legally) in the entrance to the bike track. The second problem is that the advanced stop box is so small, it's often filled with cars and it doesn't provide any time for cyclists even get moving into the junction before the lights change for the cars, who race to overtake (and sometimes overtake and cut directly in front of) the cyclists.

This new proposal for the westbound section of the roundabout is quite radical for TfL. It addresses quite thoroughly the two issues described above. By giving cyclists their own segregated bike track behind the bus stop, people will be able to cycle to the roundabout without having to weave in and out of parked or idling motor vehicles.

And the advanced stop box will be made much larger than the eastbound one - 18 metres in total. That means people should have enough time to get away from the traffic lights on their bikes before the cars behind them get a green light.

Cycle Super Highway 2 - most of the route is an utter joke. Literally,
just some blue paint along the road. This isn't a cycle track.
Picture courtesy: AsEasyAsRiding blog
The only obvious question is why on earth TfL hasn't sought fit to upgrade the eastbound cycle lane at the same time. It could apply an almost mirror-image version of this westbound scheme on the other side of the roundabout, instead of the current low-quality solution is has put in place.

Equally, given there is space along the entire length of the super highway, why isn't TfL applying this sort of thinking (protected bike lane, enough time to get across junctions without having to dodge the cars) along the whole stretch of the Super Highway all the way from Whitechapel. You can read a thorough review of the whole super highway route on AsEasyAsRidingABike blog.

TfL is also looking at a further junction along this route (at Burdett Road junction) but the solution there is less than impressive. Basically, wider footpaths, squeezing motor and cycle traffic together. Why can't a similar high-quality approach be adopted at this junction as well rather than a wishy-washy compromise that doesn't really make things better for anyone ?

Overall, this proposal at Bow is the first time I've seen Transport for London come up with a design that really understands how a cyclist approaches a junction and how the needs of that cyclist are different to the needs of someone in a motor vehicle. It's the sort of design (almost) that you might expect in Denmark.

But if cycling is ever going to take off properly in London, what it needs is consistency. What Bow roundabout shows is that Transport for London is capable of developing high-quality proposals that will make it safer and easier for everyday journeys to be made by bike. But I question why TfL is not upgrading the eastbound approach to the roundabout to make it the same quality as this new westbound proposal or why TfL isn't building the same quality just a mile up the same stretch of the Cycle Super Highway at Burdett Road. This suggests to me that there's a real problem with providing a consistent degree of quality for safer cycling.

TfL is consulting on the Bow junction now. Please take two minutes to comment on the online questionnaire and add your thoughts.

You can find out more about the scheme on TfL's website.