Thursday, 10 March 2016

Lower Clapton Road

Transport for London are consulting on changes to the Lower Clapton Road / Urswick Road junction in Hackney with the proposal to remove all traffic signals and replace the junction with an 'informal roundabout' and 'informal pedestrian crossings' along with some fancy paving. TFL state that the reason they are making these changes is due to a higher rate of collisions at this junction compared to similar roads, especially among pedestrians, and also due to congestion to motor traffic.

The proposed layout looks very similar to the recently redeveloped "shared space" Frideswide Square in Oxford, directly outside the main railway station. Despite the large amount of space available here the local council seem to have gone down the same route as Hackney Council have in recent schemes and created mammoth pavements with people cycling on the road having to do so in primary position, acting as a traffic calming measure on a narrow carriageway.

Frideswide Square in Oxford
I just happened to have a meeting in Oxford a few days after the square had officially reopened shortly before Christmas and spent a few minutes stood there observing the traffic. I'd asked the minicab driver to drop me off near the square rather than at the railway station itself for this very reason and asked him what he thought of the scheme. He claimed it was "wonderful" as before you could be stuck at the traffic lights for ages but now it was possible to drive straight through the junction without being delayed. He then proceeded to beep his horn at a cyclist using the informal roundabout right in front of us confirming my suspicions that travel time was higher on his agenda than road safety.

It was an early afternoon when I stood at Frideswide Square and I was not there for very long but it really did not impress me at all

Some traffic did slow down, however some cars and trucks blasted through at fairly high speed. Either way I found myself darting across the informal pedestrian crossings quicker than I would at a zebra crossing and it did not look like a comfortable place to be on the bike. Cycling through here is probably fine for many young adults who are willing to mix it with traffic on busy main roads either side of this square but this layout is totally unsuitable for the vast majority of the population and I would be surprised to see any young children or elderly people cycling here, at any time of the day.

"I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve nearly knocked off somebody on a pushbike"
 As a rough guess I would say about 20% of the people cycling through the junction whilst I was there were using the pavement, rather than cycling on the carriageway

A lady cycling on the pavement, not wanting to informally cross this tankers path 
Two people cycling on the enormous pavement giving a good visual guide of exactly where segregated cycle tracks should have been built in Frideswide Square as part of this £6m redevelopment
I was intrigued by some of the quotes in this article on the Oxford Pedestrians Association's study of Frideswide Square. They found that whilst every single bus driver slowed down for pedestrians to cross the road only a third of drivers did with most driving straight past people waiting to cross, including a gentleman in a wheelchair. Even if traffic was very slow or stationary drivers would still block the pedestrian crossings rather than wait and allow people to cross. The group also witnessed three taxi drivers blasting their horns at cyclists in front of them on the roundabout, just as my own taxi driver did. This is something local councillor Colin Cook has also experienced whilst cycling here and so he thinks that "that there is still room for drivers to show more courtesy and respect for other road users". Or perhaps the council should have built zebra crossings and some cycle tracks in the vast space here, rather than a gigantic underused pavement and mixing bicycles with large motor vehicles on a narrow, busy carriageway?

I was only here for a few minutes so have not seen what this area is like during the rush hour and also haven't used the junction on a bicycle (and wouldn't particularly want to) but there are some strong similarities to the proposal at Lower Clapton Road.

One major difference between the Oxford scheme and the proposal in Clapton is that at Frideswide Square the carriageway has been reduced to one lane on approach to the junction but on Lower Clapton Road the proposal is to keep it to two lanes on two of the three entries to the roundabout

I have my reservations on vulnerable pedestrians using the informal crossings at Frideswide Square but here they are expected to use the informal crossings to cross over up to four lanes of traffic. It is almost exactly five years to the day since an elderly woman was killed at this junction after being run over twice on signalled crossings. I'm not sure how this scheme helps reduce injuries to vulnerable pedestrians, bar forcing them to cross the road somewhere else due to feeling too intimidated.

Having two lanes on approach to this junction southbound is seriously flawed as it means traffic travelling from Lower Clapton Road into Urswick Road will have little incentive to slow down, a potentially dangerous scenario for anyone cycling East to South across the junction. Although as I said on twitter the visualisation of children happily cycling through here side by side to get to school is preposterous
I wasn't quite sure why the mistake had been made in the other visualisations of someone cycling along the central reservation until I read that this was, astonishingly, part of the design.

"The flush central reservation strip on the north side would also allow cyclists to use the middle of the road if they so choose, something which they are currently doing."

Or perhaps people cycle along the centre of the road because the southbound carriageway of Lower Clapton Road is clogged up with motor traffic all day long wanting to turn right and this is the only way you'll get to the front of the queue on a bike

Lower Clapton Road, taken from Google maps street view
The junction under consultation is a very busy bus route with nine different bus services operating through it, including bus route 38 which is the most frequent bus service in London with 59 buses an hour at peak times (although around half of these services start and terminate at Hackney Central rather than at Clapton Pond, presumably due to the congestion at this very junction). I've had a look through the bus timetables of these nine services and a rough calculation concludes that on a weekday morning between 07:00 and 08:00 a total of 166 buses are scheduled to travel through this junction. Obviously that is a rough estimate and will change day to day based on road conditions in the area but 150-200 buses per hour or roughly three buses per minute sounds about right.

Live departures on a bus stop in one direction on Lower Clapton Road during this evenings rush hour
As for the total number of all motor vehicles using this route the Department for Transport traffic flow data reveals that over the five year period from 2010-2014 in excess of 12,000 motor vehicles travelled through this junction in an average 24 hour period, although that is down from the 16,000 from ten years earlier in the year 2000. In each of those five year traffic counts between 7 and 8% of vehicles travelling through this junction per day were bicycles, roughly in line with mode share of trips by bicycle in Hackney of 7%. Transport for London released the modelling results with this consultation which shows journey times being quickened up by 40 to 50% for "general traffic" through the junction post implementation of this scheme. This will surely only make the route more attractive to private motorists and help push the figures back up to millennial levels of 16,000 motor vehicles travelling through here in no time.

Despite the claims from TFL I see little benefit for people cycling or walking here at all. This scheme is all about increasing the amount of traffic using the junction whilst completely ignoring the needs of the 7% of people who currently cycle through here and the many more who might well like to but don't feel it is safe enough. The only people who would benefit are motorists and those who enjoy playing table tennis alongside main roads.

If TFL were serious about improving safety for pedestrians and people cycling they would instead propose something like this, safe cycle tracks and formal pedestrian crossings
This scheme is likely to be expensive to implement and expensive to maintain

The "Dutch Inspired" Shared Space Leonard Circus in Hackney now looking very sorry for itself after every single tree cage has been crashed into, all replaced within the last few weeks. Will the "Gateway Features" be replaced with the same design when they are crashed into or can we expect traffic cones instead?
An informal crossing in Poynton crumbling under the weight of thousands of motor vehicles using it per day (picture via Mark Treasure

A pedestrian crossing installed outside a nursery in Farringdon intended to reduce traffic speed. Now patched up and mostly replaced with tarmac after numerous daily visits from the lorries serving Smithfield Market and Crossrail

This consultation deadline has been extended and now closes on Sunday 20th March, please respond before then and ask TFL to instead provide a scheme which provides better conditions for people walking and cycling.


  1. I also thought a proposal for such an incredible busy junction to remove traffic lights got to be a joke? Or an extremely brave experiment. Cyclists aside the car traffic alone will totally choke this junction with cars blocking each other in all directions. Don't they run computer simulations first to see if a that narrow round about would work with the hundreds of cars lining up in each direction?

  2. Most of these recently installed outcrops of pavement in Hackney, most of which could have been or were used for 'space for cycling', have turned into 'space for parking' and/or 'space for street drinking'. Let's be honest, Hackney talk about streets being 'not just about movement, but also about place', but the only way you could possibly endure sitting on a bench adjacent to heavy traffic is if your senses have been blocked by drink or drugs - and that's precisely what happens. I can just see that ping pong table in Lower Clapton Road covered with empties. A triumph of ideology over common sense. Please Hackney Council, bring this nonsense to an end and start building cycle infrastructure again - the experiment is well and truly over.

  3. The north arm of Lower Clapton Road has no "informal" crossing point - this is pushed way north and is not on the pedestrian desire line at all. People with mobility or visual impairment are being discriminated against in my opinion.

    The multi-lane approaches (in places) will end up with slow traffic in one lane and pedestrians getting masked as they crossed.

    For people cycling, well, they are not even considered.

  4. 4th picture above the bottom with the Dutch roundabout, where is that? I know that non priority crossings exist in city centres, or rather just outside of the 30 km/h city centre zone, but I don't know where.

    Also, I suggest looking at this particular blog post from David Hembrow to see some good ideas:

    Why are there 2 lanes for motor vehicles on those approaches? That does not seem to make sense given the volumes. There could easily be a traditional pedestrian zebra crossing along with a non priority for cyclist crossing at 60-10 metres of distance from the roundabout itself with a tight circle.

  5. Looks like it's designed to allow multi lane exit on at least 1 arm as well. Has anyone checked if you could fit a segregated roundabout here? It's possible that it's not big enough.

    Given how far they've got with this the main thing to focus on might be the multi lane entry, difficult to see why this is required at those traffic volumes which aren't actually that high for inner city. Lotsa buses though.

  6. The consultation is extended online until 20th March now