Wednesday, 30 January 2019

An upgrade to Quietway 2 on Queensbridge Road

Quietway 2 runs between De Beauvoir Town and London Fields via Middleton Road. One of the obstacles of this long popular cycling route has always been crossing the busy Queensbridge Road, which usually involved a wait for a gap in traffic to cross, and often a risky manoeuvre between two streams of moving traffic. There was a pedestrian crossing just south of the junction and so this did help, providing a pedestrian pressed the button, although I've also witnessed people cycling down to the pedestrian crossing via the footway on occasions, to cross there instead.

Middleton Road (quietway 2) running East / West across Queensbridge Road

A year ago Hackney Council ran a consultation on installing traffic lights at these crossroads, following eleven recorded collisions over the previous five year, four of them involving cyclists. The consultation also included some changes to Queensbridge Road just south of the junction, with all of these changes carried out in 2018.

Hackney Council have been looking at installing protected cycle tracks on Queensbridge Road for some time now. It's an obvious road to choose as it is very wide road

Queensbridge Road in 1983, via Alan Denney on flickr 
The same location on Queensbridge Road today, with the Holly Lane Estate demolished and a wide road remaining. The houses on the left and Queensbridge Primary school in the distance, remain

Queensbridge Road remains wide all the way down to Hackney Road (with the exception of where it crosses the Regents canal) and so suffers from motor traffic (including lorries) travelling at high speed and making it an unpleasant road to cycle on

Queensbridge Road further south from the Middleton Road junction 

Therefore Queensbridge Road is an easy target for Hackney Council to upgrade as creating the space for cycle tracks could be achieved with no reduction in motor traffic capacity, as well as maintaining car parking, trees and street furniture. Another advantage is dealing with cycle tracks at the bus stops, as it carries just one bus route, the lightly used 236 to Hackney Wick, along the northern section of the road, with no buses at all using the southern end of the road.

In the consultation last year Hackney Council correctly described Queensbridge Road as a "busy distributor road" with "above average wide lanes, high traffic speeds and volumes for a 20mph road" and took the opportunity to create changes to a small section of it at the same time as upgrading the Quietway 2 crossing. This involved extending the pavements outside Queensbridge Road Primary School to "create a quiet space"

Before and after the changes on Queensbridge Road
I'm not sure how extended the footway slightly helps to create a quiet space, as the road remains just as busy as it was before. Very little extra space has been added for pedestrians as most of the space taken from the roadway has been reallocated to "greenery"

Which makes Queensbridge Road much worse if you're on a bike, as you now have to negotiate pinch points as you approach the school and are pushed closer towards lorries on the road 

It wasn't so long ago that there were four lanes of traffic outside this school so it seems a real wasted opportunity that this space was not instead used for protected cycle tracks to allow children, and their parents, to cycle safely to school here. A wide road still remains and children and most parents instead cycle on the pavement, rather than alongside lorries

Before and after: a child cycles on the pavement on one side of the road and visible in the distance is a parent cycling on the pavement  on the other side of the road, with a child on the back of their bike. I don't blame them. 
Even with the extended pavements the road does still remain wide, showing how there was ample space to create protected cycle tracks here 

In the delegated powers decision documents Hackney Council claimed that:

"narrowing the road will help change the nature of the road from a busy distributor road to a calmer road with reduced speeds but this might not be the ideal situation for cyclists"

Narrowing the road could have been achieved by creating protected cycle tracks of course, which actually could have resulted in an even narrower road here as the proposals:

 "were designed with minimum lane widths of 4.0 metres and meet the minimum requirements of the London cycling design standards. These were changed to 4.2 metres at the detailed design stage"

The consultation also states that the road was 11.8m wide before the narrowing, so instead of designing an 8.4m wide carriageway to accommodate cyclists on the road the vehicle lanes could have been 3m wide in order to create a 6m wide carriageway (the same width as Old Shoreham Road in Brighton). This would have left nearly 6m to create cycle tracks on both sides of the road, with a buffer or even some added greenery between the cycle tracks and the roadway

Hackney Council also claim that:

"an overall cycling level of service for Queensbridge Road would achieve a high level of service of 70+ if the proposed Central London Cycle Grid scheme is implemented"

Which is a different scheme entirely, for a much larger area, and hasn't been consulted on yet. The kerb build out was raised as an issue by members of the public in the consultation who were concerned about the future implementation of segregated cycle lanes here, and the council responded that

"this section will be traffic calmed and this rules out future segregated cycle lanes"

Which I'm pleased to hear the Mayor of Hackney disagrees with, but it does seem an odd decision to implement a narrower carriageway with these kerb build outs if they are only going to be demolished at a later stage to build protected cycle tracks. Surely the sensible option would be to build the cycle tracks here and then extend them the entire length of Queensbridge Road at a later date?

In their 2014-2024 ten year cycling plan Hackney Council stated that they want it to be second nature for anyone to cycle, no matter what their age, with a target of 5% of all school children cycling to school by 2024. We're now halfway through that plan and I don't see how Hackney will get anywhere close to that target with terrible schemes like this, directly outside a school, or how this fits in with creating "clear safe space for cyclists"

On Queensbridge Road Hackney Council have deliberately created poor road design in an attempt to force people cycling into a position very few people want to cycle in (also known as "primary position"). Children will not and should not be expected to cycle on narrow roads with thousands of drivers per day

As for the Quietway 2 crossing, it is now much safer and more comfortable to have a dedicated crossing over Queensbridge Road. However it was fantastic for several weeks last year, when these changes were being put in place, as Middleton Road was closed both sides of Queensbridge Road, resulting in a very quiet quietway

Since Middleton Road has reopened and the traffic lights have become operational I've been a regular user of this route and the main downside is just how busy Middleton Road is. Usually several motor vehicles will overtake you, only for you to overtake them at the Queensbridge Road traffic lights to get to the ASL (which are heavily favoured towards the busier Queensbridge Road meaning if you're on a bike you almost always seem to get a red light). Only for the same pattern to repeat itself over the second half of Middleton Road until you then have to overtake all the same vehicles again once you get to the lights at Kingsland Road. In an ideal world Middleton Road would have remained closed to motor traffic to allow a tiger crossing to be built over Queensbridge Road, giving cyclists priority

A cycle route I used in Zoetermeer, the Netherlands, which has priority over the main road, with a cycle track on the main road as well. 
On the whole though, this is a much improved crossing on Quietway 2 and probably the best that could have been achieved at this location at the present time. It's encouraging to see Hackney Council continue to make improvements to Quietway 2 and they should be applauded for this. However the changes on Queensbridge Road are baffling and a real step backwards if you use this road on a bike

This was an opportunity to enable more children in Hackney to be able to safely cycle to school and improve a small section of Queensbridge Road. I look forward to future proposals to create this along the rest of the road but this is an opportunity missed to create safe space for cyclists.

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Greenway is now Quietway 22

The Greenway is a footpath and cycleway running for nearly five miles from Old Ford to Beckton, located on top of the Northern Outfall Sewer, which was built in the mid to late 1800's. Recently this five mile stretch has been renamed "Quietway 22", at a cost of £4.5m, and I suspect that TfL are declaring this upgrade as part of their "we've doubled the amount of protected space delivered under the previous mayor" claim.Whilst that would be a very dishonest thing for them to do there have been some improvements to the Greenway recently as part of the re-branding.

I first cycled on the Greenway back in 2003 when the section from Old ford, which currently cuts through the Olympic Park, went through the Marshgate Lane industrial estate instead. Back then this section was just a narrow shared path, in a pretty poor condition and littered with burnt out mopeds. Fast forward a few years and construction of the Olympic Park began, with the Greenway freshly resurfaced as it was used as a route for construction workers to access the park via Pudding Mill Lane DLR station, as well as a destination for people to view construction of the park, with a cafe built out of shipping containers opening in late 2009. During the Olympic Games there were plans for the Greenway to form two of the entrances for spectators to the games; for those on bike coming from Victoria Park and also for people coming via underground from West Ham station. Therefore in preparation the entire stretch from Old Ford to West Ham was upgraded prior to the Olympics, with separate paths for those on foot and on bike

As part of Quietway 22 lightning and CCTV has recently been installed to allow this route to be used 24 hours a day

The Greenway is dissected as the Great Eastern Railway and DLR lines cross it, this used to require a short diversion down to Marshgate Lane, before rejoining the Greenway immediately after the railway bridge

Marshgate Lane at the bottom of the Greenway in 2007
Marshgate Lane at the bottom of the Greenway in 2019

However this section of the Greenway, from Marshgate Lane to Stratford High Street, has been closed since 2009; initially for Olympic Park construction works, Crossrail then kept it closed and now Thames Water have taken over, meaning this stretch will soon notch up a decade of being closed, with no reopening date in sight. A new ramp was built several years ago from Marshgate Lane to the Greenway but remains fenced off

Prior to the closure of this section of the Greenway there was another barrier at Stratford High Street, literally barriers in the middle of a six lane road, meaning you had to cycle on the shared use pavement to Abbey Road to use the staggered crossing and return on the pavement on the other side of the road. The Olympic transport planners really wanted spectators to travel via West Ham and walk to the park along the Greenway, rather than use the Central or Jubilee line and risk overcrowding at Stratford. Therefore the West Ham route was heavily publicised, with the green sections of the greenway completely covered in asphalt and a new footbridge installed over Stratford High Street (visible on Streetview here) as well as a brand new direct pedestrian crossing underneath for those in wheelchairs or other mobility problems. A real shame then that the footbridge and direct crossing were only there for a few weeks of games time. The bridge was moved to the former coach park alongside for a few months before being dismantled and the direct crossing was reconfigured as a staggered crossing. Whilst a crossing does now exist for when the Greenway reopens at Stratford High Street, it'll take quite a bit longer to cross than it did during the games

I feel it is a missed opportunity that the bridge here was not constructed as a permanent walking and cycling bridge, as has been achieved over Eastway, between Hackney Marshes and the northern section of the Olympic Park. On the bright side Stratford High Street does now have protected cycle tracks on it, constructed in 2013, extended to Aldgate in 2016 and currently being extended into the centre of Stratford 

The (rather narrow) separate cycling and walking paths continue to West Ham station, with green mostly restored

Shortly before West Ham station the steps at Abbey Road have been replaced with a ramp

Leading to a new toucan crossing which links up with a resurfaced Channelsea path, on top of the culverted Channelsea River, which (almost) links up with Stratford High Street

Back on the Greenway and the separate cycling and walking paths stop as soon as you pass the steps and long ramp to West Ham station and the Greenway looks very much the same as it did when I first cycled here over 15 years ago, except with lightning added and the odd "Q22" sign added to the light columns

And a new ramp down to the path through rugby pitches and the Plaistow memorial recreation ground

We then come to Upper Road where a toucan crossing greets us, after negotiating the various barriers designed to keep motor vehicles out

Most people don't bother to push the button and wait for the green man, instead opting to cross this not-very-busy road unassisted. It isn't a main road so a disappointment that as part of the quietway upgrade a tiger crossing wasn't installed, giving pedestrians and cyclist priority over motor vehicles.

A tiger crossing on the much busier Lower Clapton Road in Hackney, as part of Quietway 2
500m later we cross Balaam Street, where barriers force you to cycle a short distance along the pavement to reach the crossing, which is very mush favoured towards motor traffic on the road rather the pedestrians and cyclists on the greenway, so a lengthy wait can ensue

A helpful local resident has felt the need to install warnings that you might well be mugged at knifepoint here, a reminder that quietways are not always the best solution and why protected cycle tracks are required on main roads nearby also.

200m later we have to cross Barking Road, quite a busy road, again requiring you to cycle a short distance on the pavement to reach the crossing

and less than 200m on we have to cross Prince Regent Lane, our 4th signalled crossing in less than a kilometre

The route does then continue for the next 2km to the A13 junction at Beckton, where it meets Cycle Superhighway 3, obstruction free, except for one road crossing on a bus only route to Newham General Hospital, so a very quiet road but I still think priority should be given to the Greenway here, rather than the road.

Another new ramp has been constructed down to Lonsdale Avenue 

The new ramp under construction in the summer of 2018, now complete
Queitway 22 ends at the A13 Beckton Junction (although the Greenway continues onto Beckton sewage works) so connects up with Cycle Superhighway 3, which runs alongside the A13. This can take you to Barking heading east and to Canning Town if going west (or even as far as Paddington if you're willing to mix it with traffic on Poplar High Street). Unfortunately it'll take you some time to reach it as you have to stop and wait at seven different shared crossings to get to the other side of the road

The ideal solution here would be a walking and cycling underpass linking the Greenway and CS3 under the A13 and also under Woolwich Manor Way, which would improve conditions for those on CS3 as well. An expensive solution but one that would be a routine upgrade for a junction like this in the Netherlands

Quietway 22 has brought a few small improvements to the Greenway, especially the lightning. However the lack of priority over roads and shared pavement facilities at Beckton and on Wick Lane at either end are a disappointment.

A safe, convenient traffic free walking and cycling route? Yes, the Greenway has been that for decades.

An increase under the Khan administration of the amount of protected space for cyclists, comparable to major road transformation projects such as those on Embankment, Whitechapel Road or Vauxhall Bridge under Boris Johnson? Absolutely not.