A tale of two consultations: Proof Westminster Council want to undermine cycling

Two major TfL consultations are out today. Both involve key strategic roads which have to be made safer for the large (and ever-growing) numbers of cycle commuters they carry from South London to work in Central London. One has some very promising ideas, though a few tweaks could help. The other continues the same welcome attitude forward as far as the Embankment – and then stops, abruptly. TfL’s second proposal is fatally compromised by the anti-bike attitude of the council they have to work with.

That’s right: Westminster City Council have shown, again, that they don’t understand or care about the safety of the cycling journeys their own policy aims to promote. The best indictment of their involvement is the first proposal, so let’s have a quick look at that…

The good

The first proposal concerns the ‘Oval Triangle’ junctions – the junction of two extremely busy key routes at Oval – northeast from Stockwell to Central London / Waterloo (the A3); and west from New Cross / A2 to Central London / Victoria.

Both routes are major arteries for motor traffic as well as cycles: the A3 / A202 continuation of the A2; and Cycle Superhighways CS7 (built) and CS5 (planned). As you’d hope, TfL have treated cycling as a serious, essential part of the transport infrastructure. There are lots of great aspects including segregated space and advanced early-start traffic light phases to separate cycles in both space and time from other road users:

Artist’s impression of segregated cycle tracks at Oval. Copyright: TfL

There are a few niggles. A few motor left-turns that create danger for straight-ahead cycles (left-hook risks) disproportionate to the number of motorists actually using these routes have been banned, without provision for cycles to turn left themselves. One of these (A3 junction with Harleyford St) does so without segregated space for cycling – I suspect some motorists may ignore the no-left-turn prohibition and turn left anyway, so this cycle lane needs protection to be safe. But overall these plans are a massive improvement on the status quo ante, so TfL and Lambeth Council should be proud.

The bad

The second proposal effectively picks up one of those routes (Cycle Superhighway CS5 / A202) – northwest from Camberwell to Victoria – where the first left off. The contrast couldn’t be more stark. As far as the north end of Vauxhall Bridge the physical segregation of cycle traffic introduced at Oval is continued, and there are some promising ideas for the lethal Vauxhall Cross gyratory. Not perfect, but much better than before, and probably near-to-acceptable with some tweaks:

Detail of the proposed CS5 round Vauxhall. Copyright TfL.

But once cyclists cross the Thames, into Westminster City Council territory, they’re shepherded safely as far as the junction with the Embankment at CS2, and then left abruptly in the lurch. This is because instead offering segregated cycling along the obvious, direct, desirable route to Victoria – Vauxhall Bridge Road – TfL and Westminster have elected to shove cycles down a back street hundreds of metres from there. In fact, rather than picking the one obvious route and working to improve it, they’ve offered three circuitous ones, for us, the public to prioritise – all of which are irrelevant to commuter journeys west from South London.

Three ‘options’ to get from Vauxhall to Victoria. All of them pointlessly indirect. Copyright TfL.

The stated destination of this route is ‘Belgravia’ but a majority of cycle journeys along the rest of CS5 are to Victoria (rail) station (not many cyclists commute on coaches…) or onwards to Hyde Park Corner. So surely this route has to have these trips in mind?

EDIT [10th July 2014]: I’ve realised readers may not be familiar with the history of CS5, which cycle groups – and TfL – originally hoped would follow the obvious, sensible, direct route past Victoria on Vauxhall Bridge Rd. Westminster blocked this too – Mark Treasure has a good summary history.

Instead these pathetic back routes are chosen for the convenience of Westminster Council – whose cognitive dissonance on cycling issues is now impossible to ignore – and not commuters.  Indeed, the map (schematic) doesn’t make clear quite how far out of anyone’s way these routes would go, since the actual distances are distorted:

This is like needing a coffee, but being offered tapwater, drainwater, or urine. What is ‘ambitious, transformative, innovative’ about this? What part of ‘direct, coherent and safe’ don’t they understand? Why have they ignored the Mayor’s vision of direct, coherent, safe, child-friendly routes laid out in his Vision for Cycling, which other central London boroughs have embraced with concrete, ambitious but sensible schemes of their own?

The ugly

We can’t be sure, but given the strength of these TfL proposals south of the Thames, and the ludicrous options north of it, we have to assume that Westminster successfully blocked whatever TfL came up with on their patch (I suspect this is so from the fawning comments about Westminster’s cycle policy in the proposal notes). More than a decade ago, they torpedoed sensible plans for a cross-London network linking major rail stations (Camden went ahead anyway, with the isolated, but still useful Tavistock Square link). Now they’re at it again, and in a 21st-Century London council this is unforgivable.

Many inner London councils, including Lambeth, Camden, Hackney and my own Southwark, are on-board with cycling because they recognise it’s a logistical, not just political, necessity. Given their location, Westminster’s involvement in delivering a truly useful and safe cross-london cycle network is vital. I’m left wondering whether Westminster’s apparent stranglehold on planning for cycle infrastructure is down to deliberate malice, not incompetence.

This is not a political point

At present, these roads are unsafe, some lethally so. But they don’t need to be – there is space, and money, to improve them. But if Westminster City Council don’t start building for bikes, then to my mind, they’ll be culpable for the inevitable deaths that will occur.

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  • fred

    I am not entirely in agreement with this. It’s true that Westminster are no fans of cycling (or of restraining motor traffic in any way. The council like their borough noisy, polluted and dangerous..) – but the Vauxhall Bridge Road route is difficult not because of the road itself, but because of the complicated gyratories around Victoria (if one wants to go any further). Options 2 & 3 are a bit daft, it’s true – but option 1, on Belgrave Road, could be sensible (it actually allows direct access to the station), if it’s done with care. The key problem with this option is it just stops at Belgrave Sq, rather than connecting with the bike routes (and, in particular, the new ‘crossrail’ superhighway) in Hyde Park.

    • David Robjant

      Certainly the gyratories around Victoria are an obstacle to a leap in cycling modal share here. One possible inference -of a sort that might be drawn if you want to see less pollution and more liveable cities that are easier to get about for all age groups: alter these complicated gyratories, or abolish them.

      • … and the first proposal I mention – the Oval one – as well as the Vauxhall Cross element of CS5 prove that TfL are prepared to do that where the local borough are supportive!

    • Hi Fred – and thanks both of you for weighing in – I agree that the gyratory at Victoria is the main source of risk, but the current approach is *meant* to be, according to Gilligan, taking on difficult junctions, not shirking them because they’re hard. So I suppose you could interpret that to mean fixing Victoria is essential to a ‘proper’ CS5.

      I used to commute daily from Camberwell, along ‘CS5’, and up past Hyde Park, so I know this route well. Even a few years ago cyclists on the main route outnumbered – massively – those on Belgrave Rd; they were voting with their wheels, for a route which was convenient over one which was (slightly) safer. A key aspiration of the new London cycle network is meant to be directness and I just don’t see how these plans assist that.

      And I would call Option 3 – nearly as far off the desire line laterally as the length of the route itself – more than just ‘a bit’ daft 😉


  • David Robjant

    It is a very political point. It’s not a Party political point, but that doesn’t blunt your spear any.

    One appropriately silly way of approaching the problem would be for the other boroughs to deploy bollards at the border and have done with it.

    On the other hand, if you would rather NOT sink to Westminster’s levels of cussed obstructionism, it becomes harder to know what pressure can be exerted on a Rogue State by civilised nations.

    Removing some borough powers by primary legislation does rise somewhat up the agenda somewhat -not the first time Westminster has courted this.