Thursday, 1 November 2018

The evolution of Westfield Avenue in the Olympic Park

Westfield Avenue is less than a third of a mile long and runs from Waterden Road to Montfitchet Road within the Olympic Park. Built on former railway sidings it opened in 2011 and was constructed with six sets of toucan crossings along its length

all of these were originally staggered, and so required a couple of stages to cross most, with up to six stages to cross from one side of the road to the other at the crossing by International Way

The section between Waterden Road and International Way was, I think, unique in London by having a bidirectional cycle track on both sides of the road. The cycle track on the north side is completely useless, linking nothing together and almost always full of obstructions

the cycle track on the south side is more useful and one that I use on a regular basis. It joins up with a continuous and, fairly decent, cycle track on Waterden Road but immediately decreases in quality once Waterden Road turns into Westfield Avenue. It vanishes at each of the pedestrian crossings and also, when initially constructed, for a bus shelter

It then used to run all the way down to Montfitchet Avenue in order to join up with the cycle track there, although on the opposite side of the road via another set of staggered crossings

Whilst it was a useful route to get to Westfield Avenue both it, and the footway, did not go anywhere else that was useful up until 2014 when the Southern section of the Olympic Park was finally opened up to members of the public, following almost two years of post Olympic conversion works. It was then that the cycle track giving way to both pedestrians crossing and pedestrians waiting to cross became an issue

The pedestrian crossing here was staggered with a narrow pen to wait in which proved problematic when there were a lot of visitors to the park, especially as this was a toucan crossing; trying to cross with a bike (or indeed a pushchair), could be very difficult

The staggered crossing captured by Google streetview in 2014. You can imagine how difficult it was to navigate by bike on busy days

With four wide traffic lanes and acres of space to play with it was obvious that this type of road design should not have any place in a modern city, especially in a new development, and so plans were being drawn up very quickly to change this road, released back as far as 2015

The first opportunity to do this was in late 2014, when construction of the 30 and 17 storey Glasshouse Gardens twin apartment towers began. Both the footway and cycle track were removed from the crossing through to Montfitchet Road, along with most of the younger-than-three-year-old trees and lane one of the westbound Westfield Avenue

Then in the summer of 2015 International Quarter office construction work commenced alongside Glasshouse Gardens with the main pedestrian and cycle access route from Westfield / Stratford station into the Olympic Park closing. The main entrance to the park was moved further west to the next crossing along, close to John Lewis, which was reconfigured from staggered to a direct crossing just before this occurred

Which made it much easier for the crowds of families visiting the park to cross on foot, with pushchairs or on bikes.

Although most of the cycle track was removed as the footway was reconstructed, leaving what must be the shortest cycle track in existence in London

The bus shelter was also removed but the bus stop remained, so waiting bus passengers now had no where to sit and people cycling on the shared footway to access the cycle track further along still had to navigate around them

In Early 2017 the Glasshouse Gardens apartment towers were competed, so the stretch of Westfield Avenue outside was opened up again. Although lane one of the main carriageway was reinstated to restore the dual carriageway, the cycle track was removed and replaced by car parking

Westfield Avenue in 2013
Roughly the same location on Westfield Avenue in 2017

In between the two apartment towers is a short waiting bay which can fit no more than three motor vehicles, yet both narrow side roads leading into and out of here have been equipped with pedestrian crossings, both of which even have countdown timers

The office block alongside, the first in the Olympic Parks new business district to be completed, has been leased entirely by Transport for London and was completed in late 2017. Pedestrians and cyclists using the shared footway again have to cross a side road leading to it, rather than a continuous footway (although this time without a countdown timer). Although a reinstalled cycle track does at least resume after this side road

Below is the same location in 2013

The side road that has been constructed here leads to 50 car parking spaces for TfL staff, which takes up the majority of the ground floor of the building

The layout is not so convenient for those cycling to TfL's new headquarters, with cycle parking located on the first floor, accessed via a staircase, making it an impossible task for those on adapted bicycles

On the Westfield Avenue side of the new TfL building are some new much needed bicycle stands, specifically requested by the management team at Westfield shopping centre who have at least recognised that removing all of their cycle parking at the most popular entrance for people on bikes was a bad idea

The very popular former cycle parking at Westfield, removed near to the end of 2017
Westfield Christmas shoppers had to make do with finding their own cycle parking last year 
Whilst this is a welcome move by Westfield there are unfortunately still not enough stands here to cater for demand, especially at peak times. I've noticed fewer people on bikes parking near Westfield over the last year and must admit I find myself going there less than I used to. Since the changes to the road layout and cycle parking I'm finding it much less convenient to visit.

In early 2018 the main toucan crossing was rebuilt, this time as another direct crossing to replace the previous staggered crossing, although I noticed the old "green light" for pedestrians and cycles has been replaced by one just for those on foot so I think this technically is now not a toucan crossing, although plenty of people on bikes still use it of course.

Lessens have not been learnt as the reinstated cycle track was built to the same design as the previous track, with people on bikes again having to once again give way at this crossing. This will surely be more of an issue now as thousands of employees based in the new office buildings make their way to and from work

The main walking and cycling route from the Olympic park into Westfield and Stratford station was also reopened at this time and renamed "Endeavour Square", with cyclists dismount signs initially installed

Thankfully these were quickly removed but were replaced by large rows of hedges in planters, presumably to slow people cycling down, with the added advantage of being able to attach posters reminding you that you are on private property where the rules are only available by emailing or phoning.

In reality these stupid planters are just an obstruction and cause more conflict by pushing people walking and cycling into tight spaces

So much so that it is actually better to visit now when West Ham are playing or other major events are on in the park as the planters are always removed on these dates to allow more space for the crowds but annoyingly put back the following day. Endeavour Square is very wide and so it is a shame that a cycle track wasn't included when the entire area was rebuilt and paved earlier this year, rather than a shared space approach

Alongside the TfL building is another newly completed office block, with more bicycle stands and a cycle track outside This cycle track gives way to a service road named Turing Street

Above - the same location a few months apart earlier this year, with a new service road cutting through the cycle track
Turing Street isn't even open for all motor vehicles but has solid security barriers

 I've never seen a motor vehicle use it and most vehicles tend to park in lane one of the two lane Westfield Avenue alongside (or sometimes on the cycle track)

Literally everything about this is terrible; the cycle track and footway giving way, the radii of the corners, the change in kerb height, I could go on. For the moment it doesn't matter as the newly opened cycle track has been closed

All the way down to International Way, as the next phase of International Quarter is constructed

Normally I would welcome the opportunity to rebuild the cycle track here and construct a proper bus stop bypass but this is the London Legacy Development Corporation and so I expect any changes to the road layout will be for the worse, at least if you're on a bike.

These construction works should have provided the perfect opportunity to reconstruct Westfield Avenue as a single lane road, with cycle tracks along both sides, along with plenty of cycle parking. There is an argument that through motor traffic could be removed from this road altogether as traffic is already fairly light here. It does not serve any car parks or service areas of Westfield and does not go anywhere particularly useful as the railway lines and Stratford station form a barrier, meaning a lengthy drive on Montfitchet Road to get anywhere useful. I find it depressing to see the changes along here over the years at what was a wasted opportunity to create an Olympic legacy, especially when you compare it to new developments elsewhere. Another opportunity missed.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Five years of the Goldsmith's Row cycle counter

August 2018 marked five years since a cycle counter was added onto the newly reconstructed Goldsmith's Row and so it is time for my annual update on the numbers of people cycling along this bicycle only road

2017 to 2018 was a tale of two halves, separated by a malfunction. The end of 2017 continued as the previous months had - a significant lower number of people cycling along Goldsmith's Row. Fewer than 100,000 cycled along here in September 2017, the first time it had dipped below 100k in any September and down from over 122k in September 2014. October was another record low and November was down on last year but still the second highest number of users in any of the five November's so far. December saw just over 56,000 bicycle trips, down from over 74,000 in December 2015 and setting a new low record as the first time less than 60,000 bicycle trips have been recorded in any calendar month.

2018 began in much the same fashion with the lowest number of bicycle trips in any January and the first January to see less than 80,000 trips. February saw just over 70,000, down over 10% on the year and down from a record 87,000 in February 2016. The "beast from the East" hit the UK at the end of February

and this was reflected with less than 1000 cycle trips on February 28th (when the average weekday number would normally be over 3,000) and then just 542 cycle trips on March 1st. The cold weather must have affected the sensor buried in the roadway as the cycle counter then stopped working for over a month and a half, which unfortunately means I will have to completely remove March and April from this years' count.

This coldwave was followed by a heatwave and the figures for the rest of the year reflect this warm weather. May saw 109k trips, the second highest May total, June saw 115k (third highest June), July had 125k trips (up over 13% on last year and second highest month of all time) and August saw 106k trips.

There is no change to the highest daily totals with no days in the past 12 months making the top ten, which is surprising given the very hot weather we experienced:

Ten highest daily totals:

03/06/14 6624
09/07/15 6380
20/08/13 5825
19/07/16 5817
21/08/13 5785
17/09/13 5778
13/09/16 5706
06/08/15 5643
20/07/16 5630
01/07/15 5490

although we do now have a new record low with just 251 cycle trips made on Boxing Day last year. Christmas Day 2017 also just made the top ten lowest totals with 372 cycle trips:

Ten lowest daily totals:


The grand total for the year is also a record low of just over 1 million trips, however this is with almost two months of missing data and so is not an accurate figure. The same applies for the total number of cycle trips for the five year period, which officially stands at 5,861,429 but is likely to be close to 6 million.

Hopefully the sensors will continue to work for the next 12 months so we can see if the decrease in numbers or people cycling along Goldsmith's row is a blip or a long term trend.

Chart created by Al?

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Visiting new developments in the Netherlands

For the fourth year in a row I spent a week this summer cycling around the Netherlands. I'll share my experience of some of those cycle rides between cities later in the year. One thing I have made an effort to do on the last couple of visits is to visit new residential developments, which are usually located on the edge of cities. Today I will write about two of those developments I visited this year and try, as best I can, to show you what these are like. Bear in mind I visited both of these places at the weekend and my visits were short, therefore I only saw a brief snapshot and did not see many daily activities such as the school run, or use routes that might look great to me but actually cause issues for local residents.

The first place I visited was Stevenshof, home to around 12,000 people located on the outskirts of Leiden, which I visited within a few hours of arriving in the country. Whilst it could be argued that Stevenshof is not really a "new" development, as construction started in 1982 with the district completed in the mid-1990s, it is still a modern planned development. It is also a good example of how cycle infrastructure was planned from the outset, along with the road network which is laid out to ensure that, whilst all properties can be accessed by car, driving through or within the development is made very difficult, whilst riding a bike is the quickest and shortest transport mode to use. The architecture is very 1980s, certainly nothing like the Dutch-postcard-looking narrow houses in the centre of the city. Most properties here are houses, often with gardens, and it felt very much like a place for families. All streets in Stevenshof are named after well known Dutch women.

Stevenshof. Click here to see it on google maps

Stevenshof is bordered to the East by the Old Rhine river, to the north by the A44 motorway, to the south by the railway line, and with the countryside forming a border to the west. Entering Stevenshof by car there are only two entrances from the East, one bridge at the very north with a separate bidirectional cycle track alongside

and to the south one bridge to carry motor vehicles with a separate bridge alongside accommodating a very wide cycle track

Both of these are linked by the main road, Stevenshofdreef, which runs north to South through as the main distributor road

Stevenshofdreef, viewed from a walking and cycling bridge which spans the road linking two residential areas 

There is also another route in from the East via a cycling and bus only bridge, which motorists cannot use

The prioritisation of both cycling and public transport is also evident to the south; the only route under the railway by car is via Stevenshofdreef, but at the local railway station, De Vink, an underpass only for buses and cycles can also be found

It also has ample cycle parking on both the north side

and to the south

Cycling away from the train station into Stevenshof there is a pedestrian and cycle crossing over the main road

To access a residential area via a cycle track opposite the station

Or over a bridge to a cycle route directly through housing (with access only roads for cars on the opposite side)

to a six way junction, but only for bikes

I stood here for a while watching numerous families cycling by (click here for a panorama of this junction via Bertram Bourdrez). Below you can see the different routes you would have to take from the station to this junction if you were on a bicycle or driving

These cycle routes are spread throughout the town, linking different residential areas and amenities together

running directly through housing

out to the outskirts of Stevenshof

they even continue around the edge of the development, just like a ring road but only for bikes

with the routes coming back in again at various points, such as between housing (with direct access to people back gardens)

and also alongside football pitches or basketball courts

and playgrounds too, giving children safe routes to cycle here together with friends after school, as well as back home alone afterwards

In a few places I found these cycle tracks continued to also run alongside the residential roads

This was despite the roads being access only by motor traffic with very low levels of people driving here

these roads are only accessible for cars going to or from housing on this street or a few surrounding streets but the continuation of the cycle tracks made it much easier to continue cycling, with direct safe routes and it was clear and self-explanatory of where to go. The cycle track above went past a primary school, with the next road alongside also filtered to through traffic

Click here to see this cycle track, filtered road and primary school entrance on google streetview
A cycle track running between a canal and homes, with access only cul-de-sacs on the opposite side. Walking and cycling bridges linked the cycle tracks and residential areas together but with very few bridges for cars - they would have to take the long way round

The main park, Stevenspark, is located directly in the middle of the development, with cycle routes through it. Although important to point out that people don't have to divert to the park to use this "quietway" - there are quiet cycle routes all around it too!

These routes are also suitable for all

Opposite the park is the main shopping centre. This is accessible by car via Stevenshofdreef, with a large car park (with a cycle track along Stevenshofdreef too of course) but there was also another entrance on the other side, which could be reached only on foot or bike.

I saw many people, of all ages coming and going by bike here, some carrying large bags of shopping home in their baskets or panniers

For those that need to visit more shops then the centre of Leiden is just a couple of kilometres away, with most cycling along the southern bridge I mentioned earlier

via a very busy (access only for cars) service road alongside the main road

and then via a pointless bicycle roundabout and protected cycle tracks all the way to the main shopping street. Access to local leisure facilities is much closer, by turning right directly after the underpass under De Vink railway station to cycle less than a kilometre through parkland

Out to a Hockey club, which was being well used by dozens of local teenagers (if you've visited the Netherlands you'll know that teenagers cycling with hockey sticks is a regular sight)

a small section of cycle parking outside the Hockey Centre 
With also a local swimming pool, again with ample cycle parking available outside. There is also a car park but anyone driving from Stevenshof would have to do so by driving twice the distance (and only via main roads, which also have separate cycle tracks)

The other new development I visited was Stadshagen, a new suburb of Zwolle. This development is newer than Stevenshof, with construction beginning in the mid-1990s, the shopping centre opening in 2004 and, with over 17,000 residents already living here, construction continues on new housing at the edge of the development. Stadshagen will eventually have between 30,000 and 40,000 residents.

Stadshagen. Click here to see it on google maps

Just as with Stevenshof, Stadshagen is separated from Zwolle by water and so only has a few connections via bridges. Mastenbroekerbrug to the north, which is open to motor vehicles with a cycle track alongside

Further south is Twistvlietbrug, which is only only open to cyclists and buses

with bus gates either side of it

To the very south access is via Voorsterbrug, a dual carriageway with a wide separate cycle track

Which then leads onto the Westonholter Bridge, which Mark Wagenbuur has previously written about here

although that actually leads into Westenholte. The cycle track splits just before the bridge with the main route into Stadshagen running under the bridge, where the photo below was taken
Although residents in Westenholte can easily cycle to Stadshagen via a bicycle underpass underneath the railway station and road alongside
which is much quicker than driving a car between the two areas

From this underpass the cycle track runs directly past a primary school (with ample cycle parking outside) and then service roads alongside the main road

Which have several barriers which ensure they are only used to access a small number of properties but continue as cycle routes with priority over side roads

The cycle track then runs on a bridge over water, alongside the road

With a large shopping centre (with apartments on top) to the right

The shopping centre has only been open for 14 years but the cycle routes to it are still being upgraded, it was originally just painted cycle lanes, as seen here on google streetview

the cycle track then leads directly to the shopping centre, or splits off to the West to access the residential areas to the north of the shopping centre

via a bus gate to reach the access only (for private motor traffic) residential streets

This is because, whilst there are plenty of North-South cycle routes through Stadshagen there are no routes that allow you to drive from South to North or vice-versa. All motor traffic is directed via the ring road along the very edge of the development.

Back at the shopping centre there is plenty of cycle parking within the car park - just under 200 cycle parking spaces, 40 of them covered. Alongside this cycle parking the exact same space fits in 18 cars.

Cycling with your young child and a brand new barbecue? No problem on a normal Dutch bike with a basket

As well as the cycle parking in the car park there are over 70 heavy duty cycle stands on the footway directly outside, providing parking for (at least) 140 bikes

There is also underground car parking, although a continuous footway crosses the car park entrance, giving pedestrians priority

Compare it to this supermarket in Tottenham, London, built in 2013, nearly a decade after this Dutch shopping centre, where pedestrians must wait for the green man before they cross the car park entrance

Below is a map of the area surrounding the shopping centre where I have attempted to highlight how much easier it is to navigate this area by bicycle (or on foot) than it is by car. The green routes are cycle tracks or walking and cycling only bridges with the main access routes by car highlighted in black. You can also see bus gates in red to the North and West of the shopping centre, and also over Twistvlietbrug in the Southeast corner of the map (the bridge and main cycle route leading into Zwolle I mentioned earlier)

Note how the residential areas have just one or two access points for motor traffic but people cycling and walking have many different routes to choose from. Whilst it is possible to access all areas by car you cannot drive West to East or North to South through the area; cars must take the longer route and so cycling or walking is always the most convenient option.

Cycling to the outdoor car park at the shops

Driving to the outdoor car parking at the shops

A quick look at those East - West cycle routes. The one north of the shopping centre and park runs along a canal

Seven bridges connect it to the houses north of the canal (you can see one in the distance on the picture above). Only two of these can be used by motor vehicles. It runs directly past a primary school, located directly in the middle of the park surrounding it

No roads serve this primary school so the only way to reach it is on foot or by bike. You could drive but would have to park some distance away and walk. As this cycle route crosses a road it is continuous and has priority

On the opposite side of the canal a road does run parallel to the canal but it is only a through route for buses and people cycling, whilst being access only for motor traffic

The other, much busier, East - West cycle route runs south of the shopping centre and park and connects to Twistvlietbrug, the cycle and buses only bridge I mentioned earlier, so is one of the main routes between Zwolle and Stadshagen for those on bicycles.

The park lies to the north of this route, with residential housing to the south. It links up with the residential streets via filtered cycle streets

and also links to the back of the shopping centre via a bridge

To more cycle parking. I rode behind this girl, who could not have been older than ten years old, as she cycled to the shopping centre on her own

It then crosses the North - South route between the underpass and the shopping centre I mentioned earlier

before heading north as a fietstraat to the residential area further north

 Some cycle only routes cross it, such as this cycle track below, crossing from a primary school to the right of the picture, on the opposite side of the water

The next road to cross it is restricted to buses and cycles only

cycle tracks lead off it to housing at the side of this route

In the picture below you can see a school to the right and a sports centre to the left. This must be a very busy cycle route during the school run!

And finally a look at the North of Stadshagen. The main distributor road, Mastenbriekeralle, runs through here and, as you can see from this google streetview link, it has wide grass verges between single carriageways so it is not possible for cars to overtake each other. Every junction is a roundabout, the safest type of junction design for cyclists, with separate cycle tracks and priority for people on foot or bikes at all of them. Some of these roundabouts are only three arm junctions for cars with an exit only for people cycling

Once again all the residential neighbourhoods are easily explored on foot or bike but the streets are designed to deter through motor traffic using them wherever possible. Below is one example:

A cycle track runs along the Eastern edge of the development

and through the middle

With almost all the horizontal streets filtered to cars 

For those that need to travel into the centre of Zwolle it is just a couple of kilometres away, either via the cycle and bus only Twistvlietbrug, quiet direct low traffic streets and cycle tracks along main roads, with underpasses to ensure crossing main roads on the way is quicker and safer

Or via Voorsterbrug and cycle tracks all the way to the centre of the city. It even has this bridge over a road junction, built in 2015 to make crossing the main road safer and to eliminate the inconvenience of being delayed by traffic lights 

Mark Tresaure has written about it here

I've also visited new developments in Amsterdam, Utrecht, s'-Hertgenbosch, Zoetermeer and a few other areas of the Netherlands; they are all very similar to what I have tried to show here. The design of these developments ensures that walking and cycling is not only safe but also very convenient. Every area can be safely and easily reached by bicycle, meaning even primary school aged children can cycle to their school and back home again. The networks of where people drive and where they cycle are completely different; through traffic is kept away from the residential areas, which only have one or two access points. If you're cycling it is the exact opposite; cycle routes go through the neighbourhoods. 

It's not just about the bicycle of course, with cycling being made so convenient the share mode of people driving is low and cars are kept away from the neighbourhoods leading to quieter, less polluted streets for residents. Young children can not only cycle anywhere they want to but can also play in the street directly outside their homes. This is something you often see in the Netherlands

I found it deeply depressing to cycle through the Olympic Park in London near my home less than 48 hours after cycling through Leidsche Rijn, a new development in Utrecht. In the Olympic Park driving is made the most convenient way to get around by default with many new wide through roads constructed or in the planning stages. There are many different routes drivers can take, rat running directly through residential areas, despite there being main roads right alongside. 

Cycle routes are not planned and cycle tracks are laid down as an after thought, often with obstacles in them making them unusable. Walking is not convenient; in some places you have to use five separate crossings and wait in four pedestrian pens just to get from one side of the road to the other. It is a real shame that with a blank canvas the Dutch can create truly liveable neighbourhoods, but in the UK we don't. There are many examples of how to do it and the benefits it can bring, right on our doorstep. I wish we'd take notice.