Friday 10 August 2012

Barmy Bow Bollards

I felt that there was little that could be done to the Bow junction that could possibly make matters worse. All the check boxes had appeared to have been ticked : cycle superhighway covered in vehicles? Tick. Motorway style exits allowing cars to speed far in excess of 30mph? Tick. Zero policing of speed? Tick. Cyclists deposited on roundabout against left turning traffic? Tick.

The new scheme at the roundabout lights made matters slightly better if one could work out the meanings of all the light phasing - for instance not asssuming that a green cycle light meant proceed onto the roundabout. And that drivers didn't jump the lights or encroach the ASL. Or take off so quickly from the lights that they catch up, and left hook, the cyclists. And cyclists didn't mind waiting twice the number of phases as cars. But the scheme is a testimony to the fact that TfL view traffic flow above cycle and pedestrian safety. As if anyone by now didn't know this.

So, imagine my surprise, when I was cycling up to the Bow Flyover (the roundabout was a mess of traffic as per normal) during the Olympics to find this.

Whoever had decided to put these cones in had done it! They had exceeded my expectations on how unpleasant they could make Bow for cyclists!

For the Olympics the inner lane of the flyover has been coned off. As I approached it I suddenly felt with dread that I would have to either retain primary on the available lane and suffer the consequences of drivers frustrated that I was delaying them, maybe by seconds, to the next traffic lights, or hug the cones and have them pass within inches of me at the typical law breaking high speeds found on this flyover. A cyclist in front of me chose the latter option and it looked utterly terrifying. A van shot past and how it missed him is a mystery to this day. Presumably the advice would be to claim the lane but this is only good if you have a strong constitution for angry motorists.

Then, I realised that there was a little cycle roundal and a tiny gap in the cones which appeared to indicate that cycles should enter the coned area. I popped in there, although the signs were so unclear I wasn't certain that I wasn't going to meet roadworks or something nasty over the top of the flyover. When I crested the flyover I realised all was OK and proceeded down the other side. To the end where there was a tiny exit and a give way sign. Frankly, you need all the speed you can get to negotiate the slip road traffic travelling at 40mph+, and this scheme makes you slow down to slalom through the tiny gap whilst attempting to swivel your head around 180 degrees to check for traffic. Which has no idea that cyclists may be merging since there are absolutely no signs or indications aside from a lonely "give way" sign for the cyclists and a tiny gap in the cones.

Having done this route several times now, I realise that it is intended for cyclists to dive into the coned area and then patiently wait for a gap in the traffic to exit onto the road to the outside lane. It is like a scene from Mad Max except slightly more dangerous.

The question I have is why? Why do this? Why have the entrance to the coned area for cyclists so small and positioned such that you need to get into the outside lane to access? Why have the exit at the bottom of a steep slope where the signs are so confusing and the cyclist is left with absolutely no priority to merge with two streams of fast moving traffic?

The answer is because the coned area has nothing to do with cycle safety or convenience. It is so that traffic merging from the roundabout can do so without having to give way to traffic coming off the flyover. And then someone decided to stick an access point for cyclists so they didn't get in the way of the cars. Absolutely no thought has been given to how cyclists will use this road layout, or whether it is easily followed, safe or convenient. I would very much doubt anyone involved in this little scheme has ever cycled it. It is, again, symptomatic of the fact that cycling considerations and infrastructure are a very poor relation to traffic smoothing.

To say these things are an afterthought is unfair - it indicates that some thought went into the plan for cyclists in the first place.

It does, however, indicate a couple of interesting things

1) The Olympics, as fine as they are, will have absolutely no positive effect on moderating local roads to become more conducive to cycling. The Olympics are a boost for cycling due to the heroic efforts of Bradley Wiggens and the cycling teams on the track, but the local transport bodies will not be delivering any help to create a legacy that helps people make the transition to using cycles instead of cars.

2) Bow flyover is massively underutilised by vehicles. This is obvious, even at standard rush hour most traffic goes off to the A12 link roads and leaves light local traffic to speed off over the flyover. Reducing the flyover capacity for vehicles has had no appreciable effect on traffic flow at all. There is a whole load of tarmac on the flyover that could be used for other things - such as a really nice cycle lane and it wouldn't even have any effect on the traffic. Yet I suppose that when the Olympics end, the configuration will be reset and cyclists choosing the Bow Flyover instead of the horrible roundabout will still have the exciting prospect of trying to gauge whether that speeding driver coming up the inside lane behind them has spotted them or is too busy texting / chatting / eating.

3) To make the current arrangements a bit more obvious and friendly to cyclists would cost next to nothing. A bigger sign to show cyclists that they can use the inside lane. A slightly different arrangement of the cones to let cyclists enter the coned area without slaloming into the outside lane. Some signs maybe at the end of the coned area to tell motorists to watch out for cyclists merging into the lanes. Hell, they could go wild and put down some road markings to show that cyclists may be merging, possibly even a rumble strip or two to encourage motorists to moderate their speed to something closer to 30mph than warp factor 7.

The last point strongly indicates to me that consideration to cycling isn't just being horribly compromised by "traffic flow" and lack of funds, but also by a complete lack of understanding of how cycling works. Whoever designed this little coned section should have been someone who had cycled it. The flaws become apparent immediately if you actually use it.

The Olympics have been a fantastic. The cycling at the Olympics has been a triumph with gold medal after gold medal. But cycling to the Olympics has been a farce. At a time when cycling makes more sense than ever, when the profile of cycling is higher than ever, we need people new to cycling to be doing it at least in part because of the road planning, not in spite of it. Because with the current state of the roads, many of those enthused by the Olympics to cycle for transport or leisure will give up and return to their cars after a couple of weeks. And that would be a very sorry legacy indeed.


  1. I cycle this route every day and for sure it is crap. I wait to be killed. x

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.