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

1 comment:

  1. It wasn't so many years ago that Hackney Council was in the vanguard of cycling provision. My, how times have changed. They've since stripped out more cycling infrastructure than they've put in. It's such a shame we don't have any Councillors or a Mayor that can stand up to the dogma that currently pervades the streetscene department. And as regards Whiston road, TfL should ask for their money back; misappropriation of funds, pure and simple. If you want to live in a Borough building proper, inclusive, cycling-friendly streets, go to Waltham Forest. As far as cycling concerned, Hackney should now be twinned with Westminster.

    Andy Clarke