Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The improved Central London cycle grid on Whiston Road

Last October Hackney Council consulted on improving a section of the Central London cycle grid along Whiston Road, and I wrote about it here whilst the consultation was still open. This section of road was historically known as LCN+ route 16 but is now referred to as the Central London Grid, which forms part of the 'wider quietway route'.

The Central London Grid is a matrix of safe, connected quietway routes and is aimed at new cyclists and people who like to cycle away from heavily trafficked roads. The CLG network will provide continuous and connected routes for cyclists linking key destinations. The intention of the CLG quietway routes is that they will follow direct back-street routes, through parks, along waterways or tree-lined streets. The routes will overcome barriers to cycling, targeting less confident cyclists who want to use low-traffic routes, while also providing for existing cyclists who want to travel at a gentler pace.

However Whiston Road is also a busy road as there are no restrictions for motor traffic and so many drivers use it as it is the most direct and fastest route from Hackney Road or Broadway Market through to Pitfield Street (Cycle Superhighway 1) or New North Road and is also the preferred route for sat nav and mobile phone navigation apps for East-West drivers in the area.

These cycling improvements along Whiston Road were fully funded by TFL, at a cost of £640,000, as part of the Mayor of London's vision for cycling in London programme but were designed and implemented by Hackney Council.

The first section of work to be carried out here was in January, when low level traffic lights were installed at the crossroads junction at Queensbridge Road, which included early release lights 'giving cyclists extra time to clear the junction and making it safer for cyclists to cross the junction'. Yet despite a complete replacement of lights on all four arms of the junction, with some very much welcome pedestrian countdown signals also added, no early release lights were installed on Queensbridge Road for cyclists travelling from North to South. In fact the whole junction was resurfaced and repainted without even an ASL installed to assist anyone wanting to get onto the cycle grid by bicycle from Queensbridge Road

The Queensbridge Road / Whiston Road junction, before and after improvements funded by TFLs "vision for cycling" budget

The early release signals also only allow about three seconds head start. A slight improvement but not enough time to 'clear the junction', especially for less physically able cyclists. This is not the case on CS2, which I use daily, where the early release for cyclists is about double the length of time as it is here.

As the pavements along Whiston Road were repaved and pinch points added temporary provision was provided for pedestrians, as it would clearly be unsafe for school children to mix with fast moving motor vehicles on foot but, for some reason, perfectly acceptable to do so whilst on two wheels

For a week at the beginning of March it was very pleasant to cycle along Whiston Road due to the fact that it was closed whilst resurfacing was carried out and kerbs replaced on the repaved pavements; all motor traffic, including buses, were diverted elsewhere

Once the resurfacing was completed and the car parking spaces were repainted it was clear to see just how wide this road is with all the parked cars removed and how there was easily the space available for protected cycle tracks

However Philip Glanville, the Mayor of Hackney, declared that the road "wasn't suitable" for cycle tracks as Hackney has to "balance the needs of all road users"

The improved Central London cycle grid in Hackney, a dedicated quietway targeting less confident cyclists who want to use low-traffic routes, except that we have to balance the needs of all road users and ensure that four lanes remain for the use of motor vehicles, including lorries taking short cuts to avoid main roads
Before and after cycling improvements on the Embankment in Central London, a road that now does genuinely balance the needs of all road users with dedicated space for motor traffic, cycling and walking

Hackney's road user hierarchy puts cyclists second in their list below pedestrians but way above private motor traffic. This hierarchy has not been used in this scheme and to even suggest that the council would place cyclists above buses is nonsense 

Most of the buildings have been completely regenerated along both sides of this road over the past few years but it seems a missed opportunity that a complete redesign of the road layout did not also take place. 

The same spot on Google street view in 2008 and last week. The space either side of the road has been transformed but there are barely any changes to the road itself except for some resurfacing, improved pavements and also that it is no longer a tree-lined street!

New car parking has been created for residents, both under the new apartments and on the three new through roads that were also built off Whiston Road

Moving parking off the street into the newly created side roads and large parking garage should have been an opportunity to free up valuable space on the carriageway for safer cycling on this dedicated cycling route

A quick browse of the Councils website shows the price list for the resident parking space on Whiston Road, and for those vehicles with the largest engines it costs £265 per year or just over £5 per week to store your car here 24/7 all year round. Most cars with "normal size" engines will pay just over £2 per week and the greenest vehicles with no local emissions pay £10 per year or 19p per week, although a £10 discount is applied if you apply online or by post, so I assume it then becomes free to park here. Prices don't really increase at all from September and actually slightly decrease in a few cases

A cycle hanger is available for cyclists just off Whiston Road, one of two hangers along this section of Whiston Road

The installation of cycle hangers in locations across the borough  is something that Hackney Council can be praised for and, as you can see from this map, they are one of only a handful of councils who have been really committed to this scheme. However it costs £30.00 per year to store a bicycle here and whilst that is subsidised by the council it is three times the costs to store an emissions free motor car, despite the fact that a cycle hanger fits six bikes, takes up less than one space of a car and also uses no on carriageway space. 

The CLG will contribute to Hackney's core strategy by improving accessibility and safety for cyclists by improving cycle facilities to encourage cycling in favour of car use thereby decreasing congestion.

The only sections of Whiston Road that weren't resurfaced were the speed cushions at both ends of the road. Below you can see how they remain in place at the Eastern end of the road but due to the car parking cyclists have to travel directly in the middle of the road to avoid both them and the door zone, assuming it is safe to do this if no traffic is coming the other way. Motor vehicles avoiding them will often drive directly on the other side of the road to avoid them too, pretty daunting if you're cycling in the opposite direction.

The crossing area outside the playground was narrowed to 'make it easier for children to cross the road'.

But it unfortunately creates a pinch point for people cycling. There is easily the space here to create a cycle bypass, whilst improving the crossing distance as suggested by myself in this blog in October, and also by the Hackney Cycling Campaign in their consultation response. The response from the Council officer to this was that "Existing parking bays are located on the approach to the proposed build outs, therefore cyclists would be in the primary position when approaching these build outs reducing any risk of conflict with traffic following behind." So any children wanting to cycle to this playground simply need to "man up" and cycle in the primary position in front of lorries. This is something I attempted to do whilst cycling along here to take pictures last week, which the car behind took exception to inflicting a close pass punishment on me in return

I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable expecting my child to cycle in primary position along this "improved quietway"

before and after the cycling improvements on Whiston Road. The Hackney Council officer is wrong; this schoolchild is not in the primary position here as they approach the narrowed crossing but is cycling on the pavement, as almost all children  will continue to as the road just is not safe enough

The crossing is an improvement for pedestrians of course, as is the new build out that finally allows those in a wheelchair or with a pushchair to finally be able to pass the tree, five years after the yard outside the new apartment block was built which caused this blockage

Raised entry treatments have also been installed on all the side roads, another slight improvement, but again I don't understand why the council won't experiment with continuous pavements so it is made clear that pedestrians have clear priority at these sides roads, rather than motorists, as is standard in the Netherlands and being installed in the neighbouring borough of Waltham forest. As with CS1 it seems pedestrians have got more value out of the vision for cycling budget allocated to Hackney than people cycling have.  

Will this child continue to cycle on the pavement or will he now cycle in primary position on the road through this pinch point in front of the council refuse truck? I watched the refuse truck drive directly from one end of Whiston Road to the other, far exceeding 20mph without stopping, using this route as a cut through like most motor traffic here does
A distributor road in Breda, the Netherlands. The distance between the buildings on this street is actually narrower than on Whiston Road above but here they have managed to keep car parking along both sides, along with a bi-directional cycle track to allow safe cycling conditions for parents with their young children. The carriageway for motor traffic  is much narrower than Whiston Road instead, despite this also being a bus route, leading to slower vehicle speeds overall

In their recent cycling plan Hackney council stated that their aim was to have 5% of primary school children and 15% of secondary school children in the borough cycling to school by 2024. I can't see how they expect to achieve that with this scheme unless they expect all of those journeys to be made on the pavement. In the cycling plan the council also stated that they "provide all year 5 and 6 pupils with national standards cycle training delivered by a training provider so that they can develop the skills, knowledge and confidence required to cycle to school safely using the roads. This training is important for pupils cycling anywhere in Hackney, and can go a long way towards changing people's perceptions of the safety of a road, giving them the confidence to cycle safely without needing segregated cycle tracks" Whilst bikeability training can increase confidence there is no evidence to suggest it leads to more children cycling to school. Two million school children have received bikeability training in the last ten years (including every schoolchild in Hackney) with little or no increase in cycling levels to school recorded

Hackney Council on the limitations of the cycle training they provide
A queues of cars along the "improved" Whiston Road towards the junction with the A10, at the spot where Niniam Donald was killed whilst cycling in 2007 by a lorry turning into Whiston Road

This scheme offers only very little improvement for anyone who already cycles here, I've used it several times in recent weeks and it it still unpleasant to use. A much better route exists slightly further north, adjacent to the canal and it is farcical to suggest that 'this route will overcome barriers to cycling, targeting less confident cyclists who want to use low-traffic routes'. 

I like Philip Glanville as he is clearly a nice guy and I hope he'll do a decent job as Mayor of Hackney. However housing is his specialist subject and he doesn't seem to get cycling. He did buy a bike, as that was a mayoral election pledge of his, but doesn't seem to have used it yet. I hope he does use his new bike and tries out some of the boroughs dedicated cycling routes like Whiston Road. I also hopes he looks to other countries to see how we can make Hackney a place where everyone can cycle by improving our roads, making better use of the cycling budget and truly putting people at the top of the hierarchy

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A new road in the Olympic Park

I first wrote about the Olympic Park back in July 2013, a year after the games had taken place and just after the Northern section of the park had reopened to the public. I revisited the park again with another post in 2014, just after the Southern half of the park reopened, followed by another post in 2015 to mark two and a half years since the end of the Paralympic Games. It was always my intention to revisit the park and write about it this summer, in order to mark five years since the games took place. However a new road is currently being constructed in the park, so that'll be interesting for everyone, I thought.

Currently in the very early stages of construction on the Western edge of the park, on the other side of the River Lea from the stadium, is Sweetwater; a new community consisting of around 650 homes, a primary school, two nurseries, a library and a health centre. Sweetwater will be located in the small area of the park that lies within the London borough of Tower Hamlets. No sporting activities took places here in the Summer of 2012 but it did contain the worlds largest McDonaldsthe London 2012 Megastore (which is where I bought my Team GB hoodie from, and which still gets the odd wearing to this day). It also served as the space where Gary Lineker and others presented the BBC coverage from the top of a stack of shipping containers along with a storage space for games vehicles to park up behind the Megastore and McDonalds. Prior to the Olympics, up until July 2007, this area was home to the Bow Industrial Park and the Carpenters Business Park, sandwiched between the River Lea and the Lee Navigation.

The two industrial estates as they were before demolition in 2007, taken from Google earth. I've drawn a red line to indicate where the main road ran through the Bow Industrial estate, from Carpenter's Road down to the old Planet 24 building behind the old Big Breakfast house / TV studios
The same view during construction of the park. The former road through the industrial park is now part of the main orbital road used by construction vehicles and buses ferrying workmen between the various sites. Note the two new bridges over the River Lea at the end of this road, one temporary for construction vehicles and a wider one alongside, designed for a post games park. 
The same view again, this time during the summer of 2012, just before the games began. This road is now part of the orbital service road, used to ferry athletes, journalists and other officials between the various venues, broadcast centre and Olympic Village. Note also the new footbridge halfway down the red line
Following the Olympics this area remained a vast empty site, fenced off from the public. Below is a picture I took in the spring of 2014 looking down the former Bow Industrial Estate Road from Carpenter's Road through a gap in the barriers, with the view looking much the same as it did during the Olympic Games

This road was then reconstructed shortly afterwards

with the final layout pictured here, in the summer of 2014

The road shifts to the left instead of continuing straight on, as it used to, in order to accommodate a canal park and an elevated bank at the end of the pedestrian footbridge mentioned above, which had been constructed prior to the Olympics but simply ended in mid air for several years. Despite the vast space available no dedicated cycling infrastructure was constructed, the roadway remained narrow with all the space being spent on a mammoth pavement, which almost everyone now cycles on. Here is an image of the service road during the Olympic Games, taken from Google Streetview 

and a view of the same location, taken last weekend, below

I'm really not keen on the current trend of wasting space on colossal pavements and then expecting people to cycle on the road directly in front of motor vehicles. So wide is the pavement here you can even see it from space on google earth

The same area as it is this year, captured by Google Earth
After passing the new footbridge leading onto Fish Island the road then curves again at a right angle to rejoin its old course alongside the edge of the water, a lightly used section of road that usually contains many more parked cars than those being driven and was often dominated by people cycling instead, especially at weekends

However this section of the road passes through where a new Primary school is due to be located and so, just before Christmas, as the builders moved into start work on the new school, the Highways engineers also moved in to alter the course of the road. The entire site was fenced off and so I could only get a look at the start of the new road, by the Fish Island footbridge

and the end of it, at the back of the old Big Breakfast House near to the bridge over the River Lea

The southern end of the new road, note the construction site of the new Primary school alongside
It was quite clear, even at this stage, that this new road was not going to be wide enough for any segregated cycling infrastructure. The pavement alongside is probably about three to four times the width of the road and so I hoped to come back and see the engineers constructing a lovely new smooth cycle track between the road and the pavement for future generations of children to use to get to school. I returned last weekend to see how progress was coming along and despite witnessing some very poor road schemes built within the park in recent years even I was surprised at what I found

Advisory cycle lanes. Useless.
The road is still fenced off and so, as tempted as I was to sneak through and takes pictures from within the site, I had to make do with taking pictures either through gaps in the fence or over the top of it instead.

The road is pretty narrow here. Whilst two motor vehicles could pass each other side by side they would certainly both have to drive in the cycle lanes

Further ahead and the cycle lane pauses for the yellow zig zag lines outside where the school entrance will be, before continuing in the door zone of a lay by

and then pausing again for a zebra crossing and a pinch point where the road narrows

and then a fun looking slalom where I'm not sure I'd trust any speeding motorists to not swerve into the opposite cycle lane as they overtake someone in the cycle lane

taking us back to the Fish Island footbridge

The gigantic pavement which remains has been a well used cycling and walking route since this area reopened to the public nearly three years ago (known as Marshgate Terrace) and here is a picture from Summer 2015

and a view from the same area this weekend

Hopefully you can just about make out those narrow advisory cycle lanes in the background! Another view from 2015:

and the same view now:

Here is another view at the end of the route two years ago, it was fenced off back then directing you onto a now closed path leading to the towpath on the Lee:

With a view from the same angle last weekend:

There is easily enough space for the four teenagers on bikes to cycle side-by-side with room to spare, and that is still with half the pavement area fenced off. Soon they'll be expected to cycle in single file on that narrow advisory lane to their right! Of course that is unlikely to happen, the vast majority of people here will cycle on the pavement, just as they do further north already. It is, of course, entirely possible that some kind of cycling infrastructure will appear on the pavement here, which is crap for everyone

Two Tier cycling provision in another area of the Olympic Park. A cycle track on the pavement which gives up at every junction and becomes a shared use pavement with "cyclists dismount" signs, alongside an ASL on the road
A cycle track along the new Chobham Manor development opposite the Velodrome, safe for children to use but it is narrow, gives way at side roads and you are meant to dismount at the pedestrian crossing to get to it. Note the lone adult on the bike (understandably) using the road instead

Another reason that many cycling here will use the pavement is that, despite the double yellow lines, it is likely those cycle lanes will be filled with parked cars during the school run. This is exactly what happens every morning and afternoon at my daughters primary school in Hackney and also in the other school already open in the Olympic Park

Home time at the Chobham Academy, many cars parked on double yellow lines and on the pavement

Imagine if there was a network of cycle tracks in the Olympic Park that were as well designed and linked together as seamlessly as the road network in the park does.

Young children on the outskirts of Nijmegen, able to get around very busy roads on cycle tracks through junctions that are designed to a high standard, just as the roads are
Who wouldn't want to live in a new development where anyone can cycle to wherever they want to go to in safe conditions?

A new development called Groote Wielen on the outskirts of Den Bosch I visited in the Netherlands last year. Most children will use a bike to get to school, visit friends and will have the freedom to safely get around a city independently
A new development on a former industrial area of Nijmegen. The cycle track has already begun, planned as part of the entire project. You can see where it will be extended as building of apartments is complete, set back from the carriageway at that side road. Why wasn't something similar planned in the Olympic Park?

Primary School children exit a school in Beuningen, the Netherlands, directly onto a cycle track, despite their young age they will be able to cycle home alone safely in motor free conditions, even if they have to use main roads. 

The Olympic Park does have some cycle tracks on the main roads but they don't generally link up, or they suddenly end forcing you back into traffic. However where they exist they are well used by families. 

Meanwhile the pedestrian bridge leading to Fish Island, which I mentioned at the start of this post and crosses that new road with its advisory cycle lanes, is also a well used by local families getting about by bike

I use it all the time with my daughter, either with her  on my bike or her pedalling alongside, it is a safe and handy route for me to use to get to the swimming pool or Westfield Shopping Centre 

Teenagers cycling on the bridge last weekend - a regular sight
Unfortunately the London Legacy Development Corporation plan to tear down this bridge (which has been open less than three years) to create yet another through road for motor vehicles to enter the Olympic Park

Separate provision for people walking yet the visualisation shows someone cycling having to do so on the road with motor vehicles, something only a small percentage of the population are willing to do
It is already possible to drive directly into the Olympic Park to use its network of roads via White Post Lane in Hackney Wick, Eastway (and directly off the A12 right alongside), Temple Mills Lane, three roads off the A112 alongside the Olympic Village and three roads off the A11 Stratford High Street.  I really don't understand why another vehicle route into the park is needed, at the expense of a route that already exists for people walking and cycling. The new road bridge will link Monier Road, in Fish Island with the park

The Carpernter's Wharf development alongside the bridge on Fish Island. In the visualisation everyone is travelling by bike, skateboard or on foot. The visualisation is in accurate as it does not show that the 120 year old Chimney Shaft will be demolished this year for a new road carrying an estimated 950 motor vehicles per hour into the park.
Fish Island is currently a naturally filtered area as you can only get in or out of it in a motor vehicle via one road. This means it is dominated by people walking or cycling due to not having any through routes for motor traffic. I feel safe cycling here with my daughter, just as I do in De Beauvoir Town, due to the pleasant, quiet, traffic free streets. Most of Fish Island is currently a building site as new developments are underway, nearly 600 homes are due to be built in the huge Fish Island Village scheme alongside the Hertford Union canal

Ah, roads that are currently 66% full of parked cars will suddenly become like the Netherlands, filled with parents on bikes, this is despite the creation of new through routes for motor traffic right alongside
Along with developments along Monier Road itself

Whilst people do currently cycle side by side on Monier Road due to the lack of motor traffic, I can't see that happening when thousands of motor vehicles a day begin to use it
I really can't see why this road needs to be built, there are already enough roads into the park and far too many roads within it. For the small amount of people that want to get from Monier Road to the park in a car it isn't exactly a lengthy journey 

Motor vehicles in the area can already access the park via a bridge 250m away

The LLDC should not be constructing this new road, if anything they should be turning other roads leading into the park into filtered roads, enabling them to be used by pedestrians and cyclists only, whilst redesigning cycle tracks along the main roads that do already exist. How many second chances do they need? Most of the Olympic Park has been designed around cars, not people and I find it astounding that well used pedestrian and cycling routes that already exist are about to be destroyed for a new road network. The Olympic Park should be designed to encourage walking and cycling by building routes that make it attractive and convenient for people to do so. We aren't going to tackle London's air pollution crisis by making it easier and more convenient for people to drive than to cycle. I already have the rare opportunity to be able to cycle to the swimming pool, shopping centre or into the Centre of Stratford with my daughter without the danger of maxing with cars, buses and lorries. That luxury is soon to be taken away from me, as well as many other current local and future residents. How it that part of the sustainable Olympic legacy? The Mayor should urgently review this decision by the LLDC as it goes completely against his commitment for cleaner air. If he does not act now then a peaceful and safe route for children to travel in and out of the park will soon be lost forever.