Sunday, 6 March 2016

Cable Street CS3 Consultation

I haven't really used any of the fantastic looking new superhighways that have recently opened or are nearing completion in London. I have used Cycle Superhighway 1 in Hackney, quite a lot as it happens, and that is pretty awful but then it is only a superhighway in name as it has virtually no dedicated cycle infrastructure on it and also runs mostly on busy rat runs so can't really be classed as a quietway either. It is, in the main, just a very busy road that has been resurfaced and is now actually a busier rat run in places as turning Pitfield Street two way has opened up more routes for motor vehicles to use. I haven't used CS5 in South West London as I've had no need to be there but did use CS2 between Bow and Stepney Green on one occasion and whilst the finished section of it was marvelous the section where the construction work is taking place was a very unpleasant place to be on a bike. After sharing such a narrow space with lorries within the construction works I vowed that I would not cycle on CS2 again until the works were finished and the superhighway was fully open. I did happen to take a detour (on foot) to look at the very first section of  East West superhighway on the Embankment between Northumberland Avenue and Westminster Bridge whilst it was under construction but have not yet cycled on any completed part of it. One reason for this is that I'd really like to cycle all the way from Tower Hill to Hyde park on the completed superhighway, and enjoy it once it is complete without having to navigate through tight restrictions sharing space with lorries at construction works.

One activity I plan to do once I've tested the East West superhighway out on my own is to take my three year old for a ride along it as well. I've only ever cycled with her on my bike once on the Embankment before (or indeed anywhere close to Central London as I tend to mostly stick to either Victoria Park or the Regents canal) and that was on the Ride London event of 2013 when she was just a year old. I'm fairly lucky to live where I do as it allows me to be able to cycle with her through Victoria Park and from there take the traffic free Regents canal to Limehouse Basin, and then a short, almost traffic free route to Cable Street which has a 2km long direct and continuous segregated cycle track all the way to Tower Hill. After cycling this route three years ago it was then a joy to cycle side by side with her mother along a closed embankment, chatting away for a good couple of hours and taking pictures of our daughter in front of the House of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and various other landmarks that are usually surrounded by speeding motor vehicles. I have not been with her on a bike in Central London since then as there simply isn't a safe enough route to allow us to be able to do so and we therefore tend to stick to shopping in Westfield by cycling through the traffic free routes in the Olympic Park instead.

I've been watching the construction works slowly complete and various sections open on both twitter and the Transport For London traffic cameras with excitement and had already begun planning several family trips to Central London this summer now that a safe, comfortable and continuous cycle route will be available to allow us to enjoy days out in the West End on our bikes. I was therefore pretty shocked and dismayed to recently see that Tower Hamlets Council are planning on making changes that mark the end of the two way cycle track along Cable Street.

A map showing the proposed changes to Cable Street
Cable Street is an extremely popular cycle route, the most popular road to cycle on in the UK in fact. In a way it is a victim of its own success as this was an old LCN+ cycle route which was built back when commuter cycling trips in Central London were much lower than they are today (and then painted blue around six years ago). The bi-directional cycle track is quite narrow in some places and therefore it can get heavily crowded at peak times. However it is still a mostly pleasant route to use and much safer than cycling along The Highway or the A13, both a very short distance to the South and North of it respectively.

Tower Hamlets council make clear that they are proposing these changes for several reasons:

  • To make the area more pleasant for residents and visitors to the area by cutting down on rat running traffic as 76% of motor vehicles using Cable Street are passing through the area.
  • Pedestrian cyclist conflict at Watney Street and at the three zebra crossings at this stretch, and in particular the zebra crossing outside Blue Gates Fields Infant School.
  • Cyclists find the two-way cycle lane uncomfortable as it is too narrow for peak demand

This is not a very detailed consultation leaflet at all with only the one visualisation and virtually no detail on the designs or traffic flows post filtering. However lets look at the changes from East to West as detailed in this consultation.

The end of Cable Street at the junction With Butcher Row
The right turn for motor vehicles will be closed here forcing traffic to turn left into Butcher Row northbound; this is designed to stop people diverting from The Highway onto Cable Street to use it as a rat run to get to the Limehouse Link Tunnel. However as we can see from the proposed map above traffic will still be able to use it as a shortcut from the Highway onto the A13 by using this route. There is no detail on what will replace the space created by removing the right turn here but hopefully it'll mean widening the very narrow cycle track used to access Cable Street from Butcher Row southbound. The blue painted cycle lane in this picture will now only be used by westbound cyclists with people cycling east using the main carriageway instead. As many of these cyclists will want to continue along CS3 through St. James Gardens I hope a proper cycle crossing is also designed that helps prevent cycle collisions as the two streams of cyclists pass each other. It would also be a huge bonus if the council could take this opportunity to upgrade the superhighway here. At present cars drive on the superhighway to reach a space reserved for six car parking spaces - this would make a nice public space if the parking spaces were removed with an upgraded cycle track (perhaps similar to the one at Angel). An upgraded Tiger Crossing over Butcher Row that actually links up with CS3 in St. James Gardens would also be a huge improvement, rather than the current set up 

The cycle track passing Cranford Street
The cycle track west of Butcher Row will remain but will only be used by westbound cyclists, people cycling east will have to do so on the narrow main carriageway

The Cable Street crossover between Pitsea St and Stepney Causeway
The comfortable, good quality cycle track only lasts for a little over 100 metres before this right angle crossing appears, something which is almost impossible to actually use and would never be employed on a highway for motor traffic weather it was classed as super or not! Most people cycling here do not use the crossing as intended and instead tend to cycle into the road into the oncoming traffic before accessing the cycle track on the other side of the road a little further on. As the consultation states that westbound cyclists are to stay on a "mandatory cycle lane" beyond this junction with eastbound cyclists on the main carriageway I assume that this crossing is due to be removed, with a new cycle lane up the left hand side of the road and the main carriageway presumably moved slightly to the north where the cycle track currently is. I'm worried about the mandatory cycle lane; how wide will it be? What is to stop people from being able to park in it? Will it be watered down to just some painted bike symbols on the road?  The consultation lacks these kind of, fairly important, details.

Cable Street at the junction with Broadlove Lane
As can be seen by the painted arrows on the main carriageway this is where Cable street switches it's one way direction and at the moment traffic coming out of Broadlove lane can turn either way but will, if these proposals go ahead, only be allowed to turn right, where it can then freely rat run to the end of Cable Street to quickly access Commercial Road when The Highway is heavily congested. A closure for motor traffic will go in here, presumably between the Zebra crossing and Broadlove Lane although it is unclear if the zebra crossing will stay or go once this section can only be accessed by people cycling or walking. This is the point where the #space4cycling is planned to switch direction with the mandatory cycle lane ending westbound and the eastbound cycle track ending and becoming the main carriageway. There is a potential issue for motor traffic turning right out of Broadlove Lane which will have to give way to cyclists on the westbound cycle lane coming to the right of them and then, hopefully, also give way to eastbound cyclists to their left at the point where the eastbound cycle track becomes the main carriageway. Clearly this will be a tricky junction to design, with limited space, to ensure the current priority for cyclists remains and conflict is designed out as much as possible. This junction is currently very safe for people cycling so I'm concerned at how the new layout will turn out.

Cable Street between Davenport Street and Glamis Road
The cycle track remains here but only used by people cycling east, with westbound cyclists on the main carriageway. I assume that the car parking remains and so the advice will be to "take the lane" and to cycle out of the door zone in the middle of the road to stop any possibility of being "doored". Unfortunately both Davenport Street, Glamis Road and Sutton Street remain fully open to two way traffic so are prime roads for drivers to use as a shortcut between the A13 and the Highway. Taking the lane here and risking harassment with motor traffic directly behind you might be acceptable for many of those who already cycle but not for most people who would like to take up cycling, especially children or the elderly, who will surely find it very intimidating. The most sensible solution here would be to remove the car parking to make space for cycle tracks along both sides of the road, similar to the proposed layout at Tavistock Place. This has been a public highway for at least 250 years so not sure why it is being used to store peoples personal possessions in a ward where 62% of households have no access to a car.

The current layout past King David Lane and Sutton Street
The proposed layout past King David Lane and Sutton Street
So this is the only visualization in the entire consultation. As can be seen the plan is to rip out the cycle track and guardrails to create a road with some bicycle symbols painted on it. King David Lane will have a bus gate (with CCTV enforcement) so only buses will be allowed to access Cable Street from it with the consultation stating that vehicles will be "forced to use the Glamis Road Junction".

When I stood here earlier this week there was constant movement of motor vehicles and most of that movement was traffic coming up King David Lane and then accessing Sutton Street, including all the vehicles in this photo.
All of the traffic that currently uses King David Lane will just switch to Glamis Road, the next road along, to access Sutton Street. However to do this they'll have to drive 200 metres along Cable Street; a very worrying proposal as people cycling along here will have to do so on the main carriageway, acting as a traffic calming measure for all the motor traffic that will still use this route, including large commercial vehicles. A huge step backwards.

Cable Street outside Shadwell Overground station
This section of Cable Street is where pedestrian activity is highest and the road here will be access for residents only and through traffic for buses, cycles and emergency vehicles. The two buses that will use this section of Cable Street are route 100 and route D3. Bus route 100 is a six mile journey, which takes one hour and six minutes at peak times if on schedule (about the speed of a chicken). With eight buses an hour travelling up Glamis Road from the Highway and then driving around 600 metres before terminating at bus stop B just before Cannon Street Road. This is the same stop is starts at again before turning left onto Cannon Street Road towards the Highway. Bus Route D3 is a ten mile journey, which takes one hour and 12 minutes at peak times if on schedule (about the speed of a donkey). With six buses an hour although it only travels via Cable Street going from the Isle of Dogs to Victoria Park and misses it out in the other direction. So that is roughly one bus every four minutes using this stretch of road and the London Cycling Campaign are quite clear on their policy regarding buses:

1. Where the core cycle network coincides with a bus route, usually the 'protected space' test will mean we need to separate bicycles from buses, at route level or at street level.
2. Separation at route level can mean re-routing buses (for example, to create a cycle-only street, as in The Narroway, Hackney), or re-routing the core cycle network. If the second option is chosen, this must maintain network density and directness, and access to key destinations.
Clearly these two bus services should be re-routed; Bus route 100 could terminate on the Highway instead of on Cable Street, considering The Highway is only 150 metres south at this point. As bus route D3 does not serve Cable Street in one direction I don't see how not serving it in the other direction would be a huge issue; again it can stop on the Highway very close by. This would allow this section of Cable Street to become a bicycle only road, with wider pavements. Lets also not forget that if the DLR or Overground is suspended through Shadwell then rail replacement buses will also use this road with a bus running potentially every minute or two. Sharing this stretch of road with buses is fine for me but if I'm with my daughter I'll probably be cycling considerately on the pavement. I wouldn't expect many young children to cycle along here in front of buses either and many will opt for the pavement if they do decide to cycle at all, hardly an improvement for pedestrians. The Tower Hamlets cycling strategy states that "we want to encourage cycling for all, from 8 to 80 years old and remove the barriers that stop people cyclingand that "our target is to achieve 12% of all children cycling to school [by 2025] and our aspiration is for 20%taking people off a segregated cycle track and putting them onto the main carriageway directly in front of buses is not the way to increase cycle to school rates.

Cable Street between Shadwell Overground station and Cannon Street Road
The wide cycle track will remain for eastbound cyclists with people cycling towards Central London using the main road here again mixing it with buses. If buses were rerouted then cycle tracks could be built on both sides of the carriageway here.

Cable Street west of Cannon Street Road
And that is where the consultation ends. No mention of what happens at or after Cannon Street Road. Will the two way cycle track remain here? If so how will cyclists access it from the main carriageway? If not will they be forced to use the main carriageway directly in front of motor traffic rat running from the A13 to the Embankment? Again there is a lot of car parking along her so clearly the space for cycle tracks on both sides of the road.

The reason Cable Street is the most popular route for cycling in the UK is precisely because of this cycle track. Yes, it is imperfect in places but people go out of their way to use it. Yes, it can be slow and busy at peak times but people still use it in huge numbers as they don't have to dodge parked cars, take the lane in front of lorries or squeeze up the inside of buses to get to the ASL. If you build segregated cycle routes, even if they're not perfect, the cyclists will come. I'm sure that, just like Tavistock Place, many people in London started cycling because of the cycle track along Cable Street. I used to go out of my way to use this cycle track if I ever needed to be in the Limehouse / Canary Wharf area just as I used to go out of my way to cycle down Tavistock Place if I had to be in the West End. It is an interesting to compare the Tavistock route with the Cable Street route; two examples of segregated cycle tracks that became so popular and have attracted so many users that they ended up being way over capacity.

Lets revisit the reason for these changes:
  • To make the area more pleasant for residents and visitors to the area by cutting down on rat running traffic as 76% of motor vehicles using Cable Street are passing through the area.
If 76% of motor vehicles are rat running then this area absolutely needs some traffic filters or an altered one way system to make it impossible to use Cable Street as a through route if travelling in a motor vehicle
  • Pedestrian cyclist conflict at Watney Street and at the three zebra crossings at this stretch, and in particular the zebra crossing outside Blue Gates Fields Infant School.
Again as I've suggested rerouting buses here and making it a bicycle road with larger pavements and pedestrian priority would be a good solution
  • Cyclists find the two-way cycle lane uncomfortable as it is too narrow for peak demand
Just as on Tavistock Place the cycle track could instead be doubled in capacity by the existing track becoming a wider one way track and building a new track on the opposite side for westbound cycles. This would be possible to do along most of the route, if car parking were to be sacrificed. However there would not be the space available to do this towards the eastern end of Cable Street so again a bicycle road might be a possible solution as all of the side roads in this area can be accessed from either the A13 or The Highway. There is plenty of capacity on these two roads to take the displaced traffic from Cable Street. If this is not possible then another solution could be cycle tracks on the A13 and on the Highway; along with the soon to be completed CS2 cycle tracks this would lead to a huge increase in capacity for cyclists travelling East West through the borough, leaving the Cable Street cycle track as a lighter used more "local" option for people in the Shadwell area. Usage of Cable Street will likely decrease soon anyway as people living closer to the A11 switch to using CS2 rather than divert to CS3. I'm sure usage will drop dramatically if these plans go ahead and people are kicked off the cycle track into the road!

There are some very nice places to cycle in Tower Hamlets, such as along the Regents and Limehouse Cut canals, alongside the River Lea and River Thames, through Mile End and Victoria Park, the Greenway and parts of the Olympic Park. However most of the main road network is terrible for cycling, which is probably why only 3% of journeys in the borough are made by bike, shamefully low for an inner London borough. This is the flattest borough in London, with the City of London at one end and Canary Wharf at the other; it should have a much larger number of trips being made by bicycle. The fact that despite the low cycling rates it contains the road with the highest number of cycle trips in the UK in it shows that the demand is there, we just need the required infrastructure to allow it to fulfill that demand.

The council say all the right things in their cycling strategy:
Over the next 10 years the population is expected to increase by an additional 20%, to reach more than 320,000 residents by 2023.  Sustainable growth needs a sustainable transport system and Tower Hamlets’ vision is for cycling to play a central role in the borough’s growth in order to relieve congestion on the roads, buses and train systems. We want Tower Hamlets to be one of the easiest and safest places to cycle in London and to make cycling the natural choice of transport for most people. 
A map of the future cycle network in Tower Hamlets
Much needed upgrades to current cycle routes along the Grove Road / Burdett Road and Cannon Street Road / Vallance Road routes should, if they are built to a decent quality, form a real backbone of cycle routes in the borough and link CS2 and CS3 together and with the north of the borough. However there is nothing planned at all for Bethnal Green Road, a very wide road and an essential route for people cycling from Bethnal Green into the City. The council did once try to build some cycling infrastructure here but so bad was it that it was removed within a few days.

There is a lot of work to do in Tower Hamlets to make cycling a safe, inviting and convenient mode of transport for all, however Cable Street should be near the end of a very long list

I will be emailing Tower Hamlets council to ask them not to go ahead with this plan as detailed in this consultation. It closes on March 14th, respond by emailing



  2. Once again, a very readable and well-researched piece. Thank you.

    What do you think of the cycling network planned for Tower Hamlets? I understand that routes alongside the canal are used for utility as well as leisure purposes. I understand as well that considerate cycling should *always* be permitted on the canal towpath, with pedestrian priority. From my point of view, however, the cycling network should be for cycling, and if it it is necessary to share the path / pavement with pedestrians, there should be plenty of room. What do you think about that?

    Putting the canal routes to one side, what is left? You mention the routes along Grove Road / Burdett Road and Cannon Street Road / Vallance Road, but what do you think about the other north-south routes?

    Do you think this network would link in well with neighbouring boroughs? You criticise the omission of a route on Bethnal Green Road, but Hackney Road and the two CSH routes aside, what do you think of the other east-west routes?

    I have prepared a map which shows a slightly different version of the strategic network in Tower Hamlets (here). The parts in red show some of the more obvious omissions. As you can see, these are few are far between. Perhaps you have some ideas about this yourself?

    1. Thanks. I use the canal network a fair bit in both Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Perfectly fine for taking the little one to the park or school or slowly exploring the quiet Three Mills area but pretty much unusable on a bike on busy sunny days, especially in Mile End Park / Broadway Market area.

      There are not a huge amount of other roads that could attract cyclists on through routes North / South. Same goes for East / West. Cycle track on the A13 and The Highway are needed. LBTH talk about Hackney Road in their cycling strategy, it is joint managed with LBH but they are leaving it to Hackney to upgrade so I expect wider pavements and worse conditions for people cycling to emerge.

      Interesting Map. I think high quality cycle tracks East West and North South on the main routes I have described should be the priority. After that introduce filtered roads in residential areas to not only create natural "quietways" but more importantly a route door-to-door that is safe for people to cycle from home to work or school, along with quieter and safer neighborhoods where people live.

  3. Maybe you could prepare a form letter for people to send in response to the consultations?

  4. You are correct that Tower Hamlets have produced a poor quality consultation paper, with far too many unanswered questions.
    Re your suggestion about re routing buses. The reason the D3 uses Cable St (Crossharbour to Bethnal Green direction) is because the right turn off the Highway (by the petrol station) is too difficult for buses - the turn is so sharp that the back of the bus would swing out and hit other vehicles. The turn For eastbound buses is possible because the bus can use both lanes to get through the turn. That's what the D3 doubles back east as it leaves Wapping then heads into Cable St.

  5. Great to read comments very insightful. I provided feedback on this consultation and did so positively, I didnt have time to take into account all your ideas which shed much more light than the council documents did.

    Key I think is that Cable Street urgently need works the recent round of upgrades was woefully bad and there are several very dangerous junctions which remain, such as at Sutton Street which need to be fixed urgently.

    Interesting to using your map of TH in general to see how bad cycling provision is. I think the A13 is glaringly terrible for example the huge junction at West / East India Dock Road and Burdett Road which is pure hell for cyclists.

  6. Did this just sink without a trace, then?