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 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:
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 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:
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.
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?
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.