Monday, 12 September 2011

Biking Boris' Blue Lanes

There are a couple of posts I have been meaning to write. The first concerns the reports on cycling facilities around Stratford by the BBC and others. There appears to be disquiet on the state of the roads local to the Olympics - particularly in relation to getting people cycling to the "greenest" Olympics.  TfL, however, appear to believe all is well with cycling on these roads. Those of us who have tried, and not had our brains removed, realise that this is optimism of such as huge magnitude one can only assume that TfL have either never cycled the routes or have been binging on industrial quantities of Prozac. To be honest, each time I start a post on this subject I get worked into a frenzy of indignation that is neither good for my blood pressure or coherence. But one day I will manage it...

The other post was to relay my experiences whilst using the Boris Blue Lanes - Cycle SuperHighway 2. This is also taking some time since I start composing the post and simply run out of ways to say "OK-ish" and "how much did you say this cost?!". But I shall try to put down some thoughts below.

NE London is yet to be graced with blue-tarmac; the only Cycle Superhighway going near is the CS1 which is not due until 2015. However, the CS2 has been completed from Aldgate to Bow, and I have had cause to use the A11 Mile End Road several times in the last couple of weeks. This was my first foray into Boris' Blue cycling utopia...

Firstly, it would be very easy to be cynical and sarcastic about the whole thing. But I want to be more constructive and positive - before being cynical and sarcastic.

So on the positive side - the ASLs appear to be deeper and bigger than anything I normally see outside a Cycle Superhighway. And cars seem more reluctant to simply ignore them - presumably because they are such a gaudy colour and so large. So there is more space at traffic lights, and the left feed-in lanes aren't the tiny tight-ropes of paint often seen elsewhere. It is lucky there is more space, because I think the CS2 has more cyclists than before. Although I infrequently used the route in pre-CS2 days, it feels like there are more cyclists on the road, and this is a good thing. Certainly drivers seem more aware of cyclists, and often give way to them on left turns - something I have only seen in Copenhagen before. The signs are really clear - no missing the "CS2" boxes on the road, or indeed the extra signs along route. There are trixi mirrors on major junctions - not sure if they help lorry drivers with spotting cyclists, but they cannot hurt.

Now the not so good stuff.Clearly TfL - probably in the name of "traffic smoothing" - didn't want to reduce the space available to cars, yet the cycle lane had to go somewhere and be 1.5m wide. So, instead of removing a lane, they kept both when the road is multi-lane, but reduced the width. Most normal drivers stick to the outside lane, leaving the narrower one for black cabs and other "important road users" to squeeze up and undertake the traffic - often at speed and always close to cyclists. This is really disconcerting - the lanes aren't often wide enough to hold two lanes of traffic and a cyclist in parallel in comfort so the whole road becomes a huge elongated pinch point. When traffic is heavy, paradoxically, this isn't so bad as even the ones undertaking are slowed by other cars, but when traffic is flowing at 30mph on the outside lane, the inside lane is the preserve of idiots wanting to break the speed limit and not caring too much about other road-users.

To illustrate my point, see below.

The traffic in the outside lane is moving, but the Golf driver decides to undertake them. Unfortunately there is a hold up with someone turning left into the petrol station so he loses most of the ground he has gained, but this is driving - rationality doesn't come into it..

And then there is this

The black taxi driver has several cyclists in front of him, and one is overtaking the other cyclists - at a fair rate, I might add. Sensible people would temper the speed, pull in behind the audi and then overtake in the far lane. But the taxi driver decides to go right up to the cyclist and beep his horn before pulling in behind the audi and overtaking in the far lane.

So, the two lanes encourages those less predisposed to cerebral activity that they can undertake at speed and squeeze through. Clearly not ideal.

There are, of course, other issues with the Super Highway. It stops and starts for parking bays. When needed most it tends to become shy and only show itself as a CS2 logo on the street. I could go on.

What is really disappointing about the SuperHighway though is that this kind of road treatment is the least we should expect from cycle infrastructure on our streets. The fact that it is an improvement on the other facilities is a damning indictment on cycle infrastructure in general, not a reason for thinking the blue lanes constitute anything one could realistically term "Super". The fact is that, for something truly "Super" for cycling - indeed for walking as well -  these roads need the be fundamentally rethought, with their purpose being considered outside trying to squeeze as many vehicles through the gaps as possible.

But probably the real Achilles heel to Cycle Super Highways is what happens when they end. CS2 ends at Bow roundabout in a fairly undignified manner, spewing the unsuspecting cyclist into the edge of a really unpleasant roundabout system with little indication of what to do next, and absolutely no priority. Alternatively one could decide on the Bow Flyover (which many cyclists use) and end up enjoying the cycling facilities laid on in that cycling nirvana  hell called Newham. Hands up all those who can imagine young families and novice cyclists using this to get to the Olympic park?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this one. Impressed that you managed relative balance about these routes - given the videos, don't think I could have!

    Also, forget novice and inexperienced cyclists, there's no way I'd cycle over the Bow flyover.