Keeping it in the room: health, happiness and living in Berlin
Transport for London has a difficult job. They need to balance a number of competing – some would say opposed – means of getting around. They’re responsible for all of London’s major roads, as well as for planning bus, train and tram services.
A number of recent new road schemes have drawn controversy. Bicycles have been given the short straw compared to cars (and where I say cars, I also mean all the other types of motorised traffic – buses, lorries, vans etc).
At Blackfriars Bridge, a new train station is being built by Network Rail, and with it comes a new road layout. TfL’s new road includes three lanes of traffic in both directions (from one lane at the moment) and reducing the cycle lane to the legal minimum of 1.5m, despite over 35% of Blackfriars commuter traffic (northbound, mornings) being on bicycles. TfL say that “it is necessary to provide three southbound traffic lanes on the bridge,” and that they need to “remove a short section of the cycle lane to meet the significantly increased demand from pedestrians.”
At Elephant & Castle, a new road layout combined with a replaced roundabout and new pedestrian crossings has replaced the scary subways – but the advanced cycle stop boxes are so badly positioned, it’s almost impossible for car drivers not to stop in them. There’s also a very short (about 15m) section of cycle lane southbound, along the widest section of Walworth Road, which stops as soon as the road narrows, leaving cyclists vulnerable at the point at which they need most protection from motor vehicles.
And a new cycle superhighway is proposed for Vauxhall Cross, a five lane gyratory system which is currently little less than a motorway, where car drivers suddenly find themselves able to speed along for a short distance. A cycle path currently along the left of the road, where cycles are usually in the wrong place for where they need to be, is to be upgraded – which seems to be little more than painting it Barclays blue.
Rarely a week goes by in which we don’t hear of a cycling fatality , usually caused by a lorry squashing a cyclist as they turn a left corner. But TfL seems committed to their need to “keep London moving”.
TfL’s priorities seem to be to increase the amount of space provided for cars, to keep them moving, while removing facilities to keep cycles safe where they’re needed most – at busy, narrow junctions. Blackfriars Bridge’s cycle facilities were improved in 1996, following a bike fatality, but now the new layout threatens to undo those improvements; and at Elephant & Castle, a busy south London traffic intersection, cycles are provided for only where they need the least amount of protection: at the widest section of road.
The more junctions are redesigned, the more opportunity there is to make space for the growing number of cyclists that could use them; and the wider the cycle lanes, the safer cyclists will feel. The central London cycle hire scheme, known locally as borisbikes, is improving and an increasing number of users are taking advantage of up to half an hour’s free travel across town – which is essentially from one side of central zone 1 to the other. But this increase will only continue if users feel safe; replacing one lane of cars with three, and removing a cycle lane, won’t help that. And painting advanced stop boxes where people can’t avoid stopping just makes cyclists feel like they don’t matter.
It’s time cyclists were started to be taken seriously. Most car journeys in outer London are less than two miles – which, on a bike, should take no more than 10 minutes (a mile takes about five minutes to cycle). This is on page 24 of Cycling Revolution London, which also states that they’re hoping for a reduction in cycling casualties, with a particular focus on reducing the risk of collisions between cyclists and HGVs. Removing cycle lanes at critical junctions will only make cyclists feel more vulnerable, and endanger more people.
TfL needs to lose the extra traffic lanes, and increase the size of the cycle lanes. Few drivers expect their journey through London to be unimpeded by traffic; and when they have a free road, they tend to speed – why else would we need speed cameras? It’s time they started thinking about cyclists, and planning for them, before more are killed or injured.
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