Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Converting roundabouts into crossroads

Last year The Times newspaper published a map of the most dangerous road junctions for cycle collisions in the UK. At the top of this list was Stratford High Street where it meets the Warton Road junction, which is where the extension to Cycle Superhighway 2 was built in 2013. Various vocal opponents of segregated cycle facilities used this article as an opportunity to criticise the route, with Hackney councillor Vincent Stops the most prominent at doing so again and again. This was despite it repeatedly being pointed out to him that this section is actually not segregated at all and had been widely criticised after the CS2 extension was opened by both cycle campaigners and the London Cycling Campaign. What I have not yet seen Vincent Stops do is mention that, according to the same report, the seventh most dangerous junction in the UK for cycling is located in the borough of Hackney and is on the route of the soon-to-be-renamed Cycle Superhighway 1, at the junction of Pitfield Street, Hyde Road, Whitmore Road and Hoxton Street. This road junction was a roundabout for many years and the Hackney Cycling campaign were calling for it to be turned back into a crossroads as far back as 2005, with nearly £600,000 spent doing so in 2011.

Before and after images from google earth
This being a Hackney Council led scheme the carriageway was, despite the space available and both roads assigned as cycle routes, not provided with any dedicated cycle infrastructure and was rebuilt as a very narrow road forcing people to adopt a 'vehicular cycling' middle-of-the-road position, with the remodelled pavements becoming absolutely bloody enormous. Even though this is a junction where the LCN+ cycle route 10 and LCN+ cycle route 16 cross there are no restrictions for motor traffic on all four roads in the immediate area so it is a very busy junction with motor traffic continually crossing all four arms of the junction. It is especially busy with cars going east-west, using this as a rat run between the A10 and New North Road, whilst most cyclists want to go north-south using this as a route between the North of the borough and Central London. The changes were widely criticised at the time with accusations that the junction was now more dangerous and a collision occurring within a month of the new layout opening with the local tenants association blaming the new layout for people jumping the give way and shooting across the junction. This is backed up by the person who leaves a comment at the end of this Loving Dalston piece with similar remarks from another person here. I have to agree and have witnessed several near collisions right in front of me whilst cycling along here and I was also struck by a car myself  recently (although at very low speed) who failed to give way as I travelled north to pick my daughter up from Nursery. Confirming, if I ever needed it to be, that I will never, ever cycle along Cycle Superhighway 1 with her, as this road is simply far too dangerous.

A lot of cars don't even bother to slow down as they cross East to West across Pitfield Street, despite the give way markings

Hackney Council recently responded to a freedom of information request on road traffic collisions in the borough and the data provided confirms The Times report about this being the most dangerous junction for people cycling in Hackney. In the three year period from the beginning of 2012 (nearly a year after the roundabout was removed) to the end of 2014 there were 14 casualties for cyclists at this junction, the highest amount by quite some distance, more than double the amount of cycling casualties than any other junction in the borough. It was also the fourth most dangerous junction in the entire borough for collisions of all types.

I've also had a look through the details of the cycling casualties occurring at this junction since the new layout and they tell a similar story, here are a sample of them:

  • 04/07/2012 10:53 - Car and Cycle. V1 FAILED TO GIVEWAY AND CROSSED PEDAL CYCLIST V2'S PATH. Casualty Reference: Male, 34
  • 06/07/2012 08:00 - Van or goods <3.5 tonnes and cycle. V1 FAILED TO GIVEWAY AND HIT PEDAL CYCLIST V2. Casualty Reference: Female, 30
  • 23/07/2012 18:20 - Motorcycle and cycle. MOTORCYCLIST V2 FAILED TO GIVEWAY AND HIT PEDAL CYCLIST. Casualty Reference: Male, 30
  • 16/07/2013 11:00 - Cycle and car. V2 MOVED ACROSS JUNCTION AND COLLIDED WITH V1. Casualty Reference: Male, 25
  • 29/01/2014 16:15 - Car and cycle. V1 NOT LOOKING PROPERLY PULLED AWAY AND COLLIDED WITH V2. Casualty Reference: Female, 24
  • 26/03/2014 06:36 - Car and cycle. V1 FAILED TO GIVEWAY AND COLLIDED WITH V2. Casualty Reference: Female, 29
  • 08/05/2014 08:00 - Car and cycle.  V1 MOVED OFF AT JUNCTION ACROSS PASSING V2'S PATH. Casualty Reference: Male, 24
  • 08/05/2014 13:30 - Van or goods <3.5 tonnes and cycle. V1 FAILED TO GIVEWAY AND CROSSED JUNCTION COLLIDING WITH V2. Casualty Reference: Female, 28
  • 15/05/2014 07:54 - Car and cycle. V1 MOVED OF AT JUNCTION ACROSS PATH OF V2 CAUSING COLLISION. Casualty Reference: Male, 48

The chair of the Hackney Cycling Campaign at the time of these changes, Trevor Parsons, responded to criticism of this scheme in a local councillors blog defending this scheme, although with some odd comments about a bakery and a pub previously being at this location. Several local residents and users of this junction responded that in their opinion this scheme did not make conditions safer at all.

The same junction in Victorian times when it wasn't even a crossroads. It had a pub, a post office and a bakery but, more importantly for road safety, no white vans racing through at high speed. 

Here is what Vincent Stops had to say about these changes in his blog
 In Hackney we think about cycle journeys, not cycle routes.The changes at Britannia Roundabout on Pitfield Street demonstrates the philosophy better than most. It's a scheme that was 100% driven by the Hackney Cyclists group, but 95% of the benefits accrue to the local residents and pedestrians in terms of a better street environment.
So, 100% delivered by the local cycling campaign group and the result is a junction which is the more than twice as dangerous for people cycling than any other junction in the borough and the seventh most dangerous junction to cycle through in the entire United Kingdom.  In the draft vision for Shoreditch the call was for the Old Street roundabout to be replaced by a crossroads, something which will not now happen although it will still be significantly improved with more space for pedestrians and safe protected cycle tracks through it. Whilst the vision talks about 'new development on the corners of the crossroads', 'new public space', demolishing 'poor quality buildings' and even narrowing Old Street east of the crossroads to 'release more land for development' it doesn't once mention any actual provision for people cycling. Just as Trevor Parsons focuses on wider footways, trees and seating areas at the Pitfield Street crossroads it seems some cycling campaigners have public realm very high in their thoughts but don't always consider looking at creating cycle specific measures which could improve the safety of people cycling.

One thing that struck me during my trip to the Netherlands last year were how much of a joy it was to use roundabouts. I almost always had priority so no slowing down taking me out of my stride and I always felt safe using them. I was often surprised when using the google maps street view feature to look at junctions I had cycled on to find that many of the roundabouts I had used had recently been built to replace a crossroads.

Just one junction of many I passed through that had been hugely improved by replacing the crossroads with a roundabout. Priority and safe conditions for people walking and cycling, improved public realm and five lanes of motor traffic reduced to two lanes.
This is something the Dutch have been doing for several decades due to the increased safety of roundabouts, as detailed in this post from Paul James and his version of what a Dutch style British roundabout could look like would have been a much better design for Pitfield Street

Dedicated cycle tracks with priority for pedestrians and cyclists across all of the arms of the roundabout at all times, with single exit and entrance for vehicles on each arm as well. This would have been a much safer design for this junction, particularly as both roads are cycle routes and one of them a "cycle superhighway". We could have even kept the sculpture in the middle of the roundabout!

A cycle track in Amsterdam at a junction I stopped at last year, a similar treatment would have been a much better solution at a roundabout at Pitfield Street. Clear priority for pedestrians and a level, easy to cross cycle track . No trip hazards here! 

Proposals in some of the draft vision for Hackney documents and some of the "ward asks" from the Hackney Cycling Campaign in 2014 are for roundabouts to be replaced by crossroads and turning the Lea Bridge Roundabout into a signalled crossroads may well be a big improvement, as long as it has protected space for cycling. However in other areas it may well be more beneficial to either keep a redesigned roundabout in place or even convert some crossroads into roundabouts, based on classic Dutch roundabout design, to increase safety for people walking and cycling whilst also improving public realm. One thing the Hackney cycling campaign should never do again is campaign to spend over half a million pounds replacing a busy junction without ensuring safety for cyclists is a priority, especially if space is available for dedicated cycle tracks. Simply calling for roundabouts to be removed is not an adequate measure if the junction is to remain the most dangerous junction in the borough and in the top ten of the most dangerous junctions for people on bikes in the UK.


  1. Really interesting blog. Thanks for the research. What is weird is the desire to strip out roundabouts here, but put a new one in at Lower Clapton Road (disguised as 'shared space' haha)

  2. Another excellent article by Hackney Cyclist. CS1 is a disgrace compared to the other Superhighways. I'm yet unaware of the decision on its crossing of Balls Pond Road - but I suspect the Stops'/Parson's et alia's anti-segregationist dogma will prevail and the route remain severed. Children are the main victims of Hackney's archaic, non-inclusive cycling policy. All the surrounding boroughs now have or are planning segregated facilities and Hackney, quite honestly, is slipping down the cycling pan. Will Jules and the other Councillors wake up and put an end to what appears to be back seat driving of Hackney's Streetscene? Regime change is required.

  3. I cross this junction W-E and back again daily and a big problem is, as you say, the sheer amount of rat running traffic on this route, both E-W and N-S. Hackney's more fundamental problem is a reluctance to deal with rat running sufficiently almost anywhere in the borough.

    The problem is encapsulated with the E-W route across this junction that is a supposed cycle route that avoids using the adjacent canal to get from Angel to Broadway Market and beyond. Presently motor traffic can use this route as a short cut all the way from Bethnal Green to New North Road. Needless to say, it's not a pleasant route to ride in busy periods.

  4. Some excellent research there. Really shocked at how high the incident rate is, and particularly in relation to other junctions. Any news on whether the council have plans to introduce modal filtering in the area?

  5. Anyone know why these principles wouldn't work with roads?

    "The system in Europe for ensuring aviation safety is mainly based on a set of rules that is overseen by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and National Aviation Authorities, which have been developed after years of experience. This reactive system was effective for many decades in delivering not only a very good safety record for aviation in Europe but also one that has steadily improved.

    However, as the aviation system has grown more complex, regulatory compliance as the mainstay of safety has reached its limit. To maintain the current low level of air accident fatalities, the European Union must ensure that the rate of air accidents continues to decline in order to match the continued growth in number of flights.

    Both at international and European level, the need was recognised for moving towards a system that is evidence-based and proactive and provides for a systemic approach to safety; in other words, the introduction of the 'Safety Management' concept.

    Safety management systems’ requirements have been introduced in EU law and cover most aviation domains. In addition, the EU has regulated the reporting, analysis and follow-up of aviation safety occurrences, which is an essential component of a proactive and evidence-based safety system.

    Reporting, analysis and follow-up of occurrences in civil aviation

    Aviation accidents are often the result of a chain of events, meaning that often they cannot be attributed to a single cause. However, this also means there are multiple opportunities to prevent them before they occur and if any link in such a fatal chain is removed, then an accident may be avoided.

    Therefore, beyond accident investigation, the crucial element in preventing aviation accidents is reporting and careful analysis of all events and failures, even the smallest, in daily operations, which may indicate the existence of potentially serious safety hazards that may lead to accidents if not corrected.

    Occurrence reporting takes a system-wide and data-driven approach to accident prevention and recognises that moving beyond blame, except in certain defined situations, is essential in enhancing safety in a proactive way – these notions have been confirmed through decades of safety and human factors research."


  6. I wouldn't trust British drivers with giving cyclists priority. Given low enough volumes, under 1500 PCU/h on any individual arm, with a median refuge in the middle of the two directions, single lane per direction crossings and with 6-15 metres of distance between the roundabout and the cycle crossings, the non priority design is just about as convenient, maybe very slightly less convenient (then again, having a crash isn't very convenient) but far safer, with less than a 6th of the injuries and crashes at a priority roundabout. Many rural roads can be quite busy and with even higher approach speeds but yet cyclists are fine. The roundabout slows the traffic, the single lane and the median refuge ensures that you cross as little car road as possible, the low enough volume ensures that you have gaps which you can use to cross with, the sightlines ensure that you have lots of reaction time regardless of mode, the slower and easier to react pedestrians get zebra crossings, and it's all very convenient. Cyclists have the ability to cross when they know it's safe, rather than just riding out and hoping for the best, as they so often do with they have priority, especially with the annular roundabouts,even with 6 metres of a verge.