Saturday 23 October 2010

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Last week, Cycalogical wrote an article concerning the London Assembly transport meeting about the new Bike Hire Scheme and Cycle "Super" Highways.

Waltham Forest's Principle Transport Officer, Gina Harkell, was on hand to grill TfL on the adequacy or otherwise of  the CSH scheme. It would appear that she is not impressed, and neither should she be - in my opinion it is a reasonable idea made useless by lack-lustre implementation.

But there is something uncomfortable about a representative of Waltham Forest pontificating about these cycling schemes. I would say that it feels like the lunatics taking over the asylum, but it is more like the lunatics have taken over the asylum, have formed a "centre-of-excellence" committee and are now part of an advisory team for other asylums.

For instance, cycalogical reports her saying  that the CSHs are not giving that much more space to cyclists. Cyclists are not given priority at junctions, or special signals; there are parking and loading problems. Some of the opportunities to make the routes really safe are not being taken.

Hmmm.... remind anyone of anything?

Some interesting points were raised. Gina Harkell was concerned that the 500k per year grant for cycling wasn't going to be ring-fenced and thus "lost" in the general funds and cost cutting in boroughs. This is a valid point for Waltham Forest who seem to take losing track of money to the level of an art form. £500k barely covers the "golden bye-bye" payment to former Chief Executives

To put this yearly grant in context, the car-centric redesign of Tottenham Hale is estimated at costing £45M. So it is hardly a lavish payment, but I would still like to know where it is being spent - after all, the last time Waltham Forest were given extra cash for cycling measures it appeared that they were contemplating using it for extra car parking. I would be willing to wager a small amount of money that even this pittance went to "cycling" measures that were less about cycling and more about meeting "sustainable" targets or controlling car flow.

Take, for example this marvellous piece of infrastructure in Leyton.

This one-way street has two cycle lanes on either side. The road is long and wide and is cursed with speeding drivers. One would think that the council want cyclists going left to be in the left lane, and those turning right, to be using the right cycle lane. But look!

The right turn cycle lane ends abruptly in what might be termed a water feature.

So here, the cyclist diligently using the cycle lane provided is left on the outside of the road with his back to a blind corner whilst cars speed around and up the inside. By using this "facility" the cyclist has been put in the most dangerous position at the most vulnerable point. I assume the council think that cyclists should give up and just push their bicycle around the rest of the gyratory at this point.

This road is well used by cyclists, and I have never seen one use this right hand cycle lane. We all just have no sense of adventure.

So assuming that the borough don't want to actively maim and kill cyclists, why would they put in a facility that is useless at best and plain dangerous at worst? A look at the whole road may give a clue.

It is my opinion that the cycle lanes were implemented primarily to make the road appear narrower and discourage cars speeding. In which case the cycle "facility" isn't designed for the safety and convenience of cyclists, but for the control of motor traffic. Call me paranoid, but why would the cycle provision just end around the corner where junctions slow down the cars?

If this is the case, it doesn't even work - in the time I took these pictures, several cars used the cycle lanes as an extra lane to undertake slower moving right turning traffic. One car actually slowly went over the traffic island at the end to short cut around the gyratory.

If the £500k is being used to implement these type of lethal facilities then we are better off if the council loses the money anyway.

Finally, one of the questions raised was why TfL don't implement traffic lights for cycles that prioritise cycles and make junctions on the CSH more safe. The answer was that the DoT regulations don't allow it. Which begs the question as to why the regulations cannot be changed to implement Copenhagen type cycle provision in London? However, based upon local experience any cycle traffic lights would be hooded for over a year anyway due to "conflict" with motor traffic, and be the only cycle facilities in the world where there are signs for the cyclists to push their cycles instead of ride.

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