Monday, 26 November 2018

The removal of the Stoke Newington Gyratory

Transport for London are currently consulting on the removal of the Stoke Newington Gyratory, having worked with Hackney Council on the plans for over a decade. They state that the main aims of this scheme are to remove a barrier to cycling, create new traffic-free public spaces and creating a more attractive and less traffic-dominated environment for people.

The proposal is to create a shared bus and cycle lane southbound on Stoke Newington High Street, which is currently one way (northbound) for all vehicles and also to create a cycle track northbound. The cycle track is needed as most people would be unwilling to cycle on this road if it were open to all motor traffic; any children currently cycling here usually do so on the pavement, rather than mixing it up with buses and lorries on the main road

However no cycle track is proposed on the southbound carriageway, with a "bus and cycle lane" planned, even though it appears there is plenty of space along the southern half of this road to accommodate cycle tracks along both sides of the road

It seems that there is ample space to provide two lanes for motor traffic, including space for loading, whilst maintaining two cycle tracks and wide pavements, which already exists

Creating this bus and cycle lane will ensure a more direct and shorter journey for those who already travel south on the A10 by bike, as well as giving direct access to the shops on the high street for those coming from the north to visit Stoke Newington via bike. However expecting the majority of people to cycle with buses in a bus lane is a misconception and will do little to encourage more people to shift to cycling, especially children, families cycling together, or the elderly. Cycling with buses in a narrow bus lane would be uncomfortable and more dangerous than having a separate cycle track, as well as less convenient for bus passengers, who would surely be delayed by cyclists in the bus lane, especially at peak times.

The Northbound cycle track does appear to be adequate and it is good to see a floating bus stop, although is inconsistent with regards to its treatment to loading bays, being routed behind one and in front of the other, with vehicles crossing the cycle track to get to the loading bay. I see no reason as to why the cycle track cannot go behind both loading bays.

Whilst buses currently have their own bus lane northbound with two lanes for general motor traffic all of this will be reduced into a single lane, which will surely increase delay to buses. Instead it would surely be more beneficial for both bus passengers and pedestrians in the area if private motor traffic were excluded from this stretch of road and sent onto Rectory Road (the current southbound route for all traffic) instead, with some exceptions for some vehicles, or at certain times

Why should all this private motor traffic continue to be allowed to use this stretch of road north but not south? The most recent DfT traffic counts show that nearly 75% of all vehicles traveling along this road were cars  
Batley, Hollar and Tysen Roads are also planned to be closed at the A10 and whilst calling them "pocket parks" may be a slight over exaggeration it will create better conditions for pedestrians as well as some space for seating, trees and cycle parking.

The cycle track briefly pauses at Brooke Road and I'm unsure why, as it seems there is space for it to be continuous without hindering buses turning onto the road

The space available then narrows from here to Stoke Newington Church Street, approximately 140m away. The space is currently used for three lanes of motor traffic (some of which contain loading bays) and narrow footways

A northbound cycle track is planned here, roughly where the people are cycling in the picture below, with one lane northbound for motor traffic and a bus & cycle lane southbound  

However the loading bay is to remain here, located on the cycle track, with loading only allowed to take place from 7-10am. Whilst the logic behind this can be appreciated (as most people currently cycling here in the morning peak will be travelling south, towards Central London) this excludes many of the kind of people TfL are hoping to switch to cycling from other modes. In particular children cycling to school, instead of being driven there. I also remember being informed that the planned protected cycle track on Cycle Superhighway 2 alongside Whitechapel Market would not be going ahead but loading for the market would be restricted to 20 minutes at a time. Well everyday I cycle past Whitechapel Market (the worst stretch of CS2 by far) and the same vans are parked in the same places, hour after hour, day after day. I suspect enforcement of this cycle track would be similar with vehicles parked in it at all hours of the day.

I appreciate the difficulty TfL and Hackney council have encountered here but I do think there could be space for stepped cycle tracks and bus only lanes along here, with loading moved further south or north where the carriageway is wider. A similar example can be found on Nobelstraat in Utrecht

Nobelstraat in Utrecht
Stoke Newington High Street in Hackney 
 This street isn't ideal, both for people on foot or cycling, but it does provide safe conditions to cycle into the centre of Utrecht for people of all ages

This is also a busy bus route and it would be unthinkable for the many young children who use this road on a bike everyday to cycle in the same lanes as buses.

The road is also restricted to buses only in one direction and as an exit from the City Centre from certain routes to other motor traffic, reducing any delays to buses who almost always have a clear, empty road to drive down. Interestingly Nobelstraat also used to be one way for motor traffic as part of a gyratory system, which you can read more about here by Mark Wagenbuur.

The added advantage of a tight bus road also means buses would proceed at a slower speed at this particular section, increasing safety for all. The footways along this stretch are already very narrow so perhaps having the street lamps strung between buildings, as is the case on Nobletstraat, would free up footway space.

There still might not be the space for stepped tracks and a bus only road of course and The Ranty Highwayman has suggested in his blog that buses could pass each other via a single track road. It certainly sounds like a radical proposal but would actually return the road to how it was a century ago, when trams did exactly that for a short distance on this narrow street

A similar layout can be found today on Leidsestraat in Amsterdam, although the Dutch have since removed the private motor traffic from this street! 
Once past Stoke Newington Church Street (which would see a drastic reduction in motor traffic if Stoke Newington High Street were to be turned into a through route for buses only) the cycle track disappears, with bicycles expected to go around a loading bay and a bus stop, rather than inside them

Clearly a floating bus stop would be possible if the bus stop were located in the carriageway, which would provide continuous cycle tracks the full length of Stoke Newington High Street and be in keeping with Hackney's road user hierarchy

Meanwhile on the eastern side of the gyratory, currently southbound for all traffic, Northwold Road is to be closed to traffic westbound and replaced by a bidirectional cycle track, at least for part of the way before cycles and pedestrians are expected to share a gigantic footway, or "public realm improvements" as the consultation calls it

I really don't understand why, with all the complaints of pavement cycling that exist, that the cycle track does not simply continue all the way to the toucan crossing, providing clear separate space for people on foot and on two wheels, reducing the chance of conflict

There is an awful lot of space to play with here, as was evident when the carriageway and footways were hidden under water during the burst water main flooding almost exactly two years ago
And finally the plans for Rectory Road are two way single lane carriageway with median strip, designed so people cycling do so in primary position, in the middle of the carriageway. The most recent DfT traffic counts showed that nearly 17,000 motor vehicles used this road per day southbound with less than 700 of those buses. Clearly cycling along here with this design would be horrific and if the central median is to stay then perhaps a bidirectional cycle track could be constructed alongside the road

This consultation has been a long time coming but unfortunately looks unlikely to achieve the Mayor of London's  Vision Zero target or his promise to make London a byword for cycling. It does not put people walking or cycling at the top of the transport Hierarchy and provides far too much space for the private car to enable healthy streets or a less traffic-dominated environment for people.

The consultation closes this Friday 30th November. You can respond here.

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.