Monday 18 November 2013

Mini Holland? Maximum Scepticism.

(Caution : Posting contains rude words)

I haven't posted anything in a long while. I got to the point where I was no longer amazed or angry at the vast disparity between the stated intentions of local road planning organisations and the results, and that pointing out the various ridiculous statements and idiotic cycling schemes was somehow getting tedious.

Then a couple of things happened.

1) Cyclists started dying on "cycle superhighways" - on roads that I use regularly and have been flagged more than once by cycling organisations as deeply unpleasant or unsafe. Junctions such as Bow where cyclists have been dying since 2011 yet it seems that "nothing can be done". This has made me less grumpy and more fucking angry. But I will leave Boris and his unpleasant and disingenuous remarks for another post.

2) I get through the local Waltham Forest propaganda sheet a few months ago which has a big article on how Waltham Forest council are creating a cycling revolution on our streets. There are many more people cycling in Walthamstow but for the council to claim credit is chutzpah of the highest order. Then I get through a "consultation" on improvements to Hoe Street and Forest Road. And finally I see that Waltham Forest are urging people to support their mini-Holland bid for some money for cycling in greater London. And all these things, I feel, need comment because the gulf between what the council say is happening and what is actually happening is now so wide that I think they must just be doing this crap for a fucking bet. So I thought my first post in nearly a year should concentrate on my old favourite - the bollocks that Waltham Forest manage to spout whilst - at best - managing to be completely ineffective for cycling.

I shall start off with the "improvement" plan for Bell Corner and the adjoining roads - Hoe Street and Forest road. For those unfamiliar Google view below gives an idea of the current state of this junction

View Larger Map

Note the three lanes of traffic. Note the incredibly narrow pavements and the tiny strip of cycle lane neatly running down the left side of the left turn lane.

Now traffic regularly speeds down this road. And Forest Road has a bad reputation for accidents.

There was a cyclist killed in a hit and run at Bell junction in 2007. Another cyclist was killed in a hit and run in 2008 a few hundred metres away near Winns terrace. Also in 2007 a motorist was speeding and was killed when his car hit the kerb at the Bell junction and hit the traffic lights. In the same year a car smashed into the wall of Lloyd Park. Last year a car overturned when it hit the pedestrian crossing outside the park just down the road from the Bell junction. In 2009 a motorist was killed when he hit the Bell pub on the corner of the junction. From memory, around 2011 a moped rider was seriously injured near Ruby road at the same spot that I remember at least 4 cars in the last 4 years hitting the central pedestrian refuge, normally late at night and presumably speeding much above the 30mph judging by the aftermath. The other month the road was closed further towards Blackhorse road due to an accident which wasn't even reported upon. And finally, a couple of months ago a child got hit by a car and had to be taken via Air Ambulance to hospital. Luckily he  made a full recovery, but it does focus the mind to witness a child about the same age as my daughter lying motionless in a road. But even this incident didn't manage to make it to the local paper.

All this might make you think that those in charge of these roads would pause to think about making it much more pleasant and safe for pedestrians and cyclists and to try to slow down drivers to something like the speed limit.

And, indeed the road layout is changing - with the plans below

This is from a consultation document that majored heavily on how the changes will help cyclists and pedestrians and improve the streetscape. It mentioned that Hoe Street would become 20mph. It mentioned that traffic would be slowed near the entrance to a popular park and museum just down Forest Road.

What it didn't mention was that the narrow pavements seem on google view were going to be unaltered and the biggest change at this junction is actually represented by the yellow lines on the map. Which are - of course - added parking bays.

So, for cyclists, the current situation on Forest road is that you have a very narrow cycle lane which encourages cars to left hook you as they turn into Chingford Road. The new layout will have a very narrow cycle lane which encourages cars to left hook you as they turn into Chingford Road and the added bonus that you might now also get doored in the cycle lane by people getting out of parked cars. Presumably this is what the council class as spearheading a cycling revolution.

So what about Hoe Street? This is quite a narrow road with shops either side and multiple side roads adjoining. On a Sunday it becomes a nightmare because the parking restrictions on the road are lifted and the buses on the numerous routes down there have to squeeze past cars parked by drivers who prefer to park like fuckwits instead of walking a few metres. Most traffic goes around 20-30mph but it is downhill towards the lights and there will always be the odd genius who decides to floor it to the next red light.

Hoe Street will become 20mph. But seeing as 20mph limits are completely unenforced on all other 20mph roads, I doubt this will make a blind bit of difference to any driver who wants to speed. It looks like they will rip out a zebra crossing to replace it with a light controlled crossing. Which is presumably helping pedestrians by making them wait for the light sequence as opposed to being able to take priority on a zebra. Which sounds very much like the sort of "help" the council also metes out to cyclists. And, of course, the biggest change is, again, the fact that the road is going to be narrowed to add on street parking.

Waltham Forest have form for fucking over cycling in preference to car parking. They did it at the other end of Hoe Street near Bakers Arms where they narrowed a road specifically to allow pavement parking. So now, you can either cycle right next to the parked cars, risking dooring whilst the traffic overtakes you so close they brush you with their wing mirrors, or you can decide to take the lane and have motorists hanging off your back wheel.

On the plus side it looks like there will be more cycle parking, but on closer inspection I am slightly sceptical that even this is what it seems. Some of those locations already have a stand, so it may be more a case that they will remove a stand to replace it later on. I suppose I should be grateful, at least they are not making matters worse..

This type of road layout change to increase parking whilst spouting bullshit about how they are improving life for pedestrians and cyclists is really Waltham Forest's modus operandi. So I think I am allowed to be somewhat sceptical when I see a request for residents to fill in a survey explaining how excited they would be if Waltham Forest got some of the money allocated to make certain Greater London areas into "mini Hollands". The survey says:

The Mayor of London has allocated £100m to improve cycling infrastructure in Outer London, as part of the Cycling Vision's Mini Holland programme. Waltham Forest is through to the final eight shortlisted boroughs, but only four will be selected to share the £100m. 

A successful bid would result in a step change for cycling conditions in Walthamstow town centre and across the borough, as well as reducing congestion for other road users. Proposals include a network of 'Quietways', a Cycle Superhighway along Lea Bridge Road, a new Dutch-style cycle roundabout at Whipps Cross along with widespread greening and environmental improvements.

Waltham Forest is competing with other boroughs for the Mini Holland funding. We'd like to show Transport for London that our residents back our bid, so please pledge your support below.

Sounds marvelous. Lea Bridge road is a popular cycle route but is horrible and is possibly worse than Forest Road for cycle accidents. Whipps Cross roundabout is less of a roundabout and more of a free-for-all gyratory with drivers able to speed at will.

But judging on previous form, I am so deeply sceptical about what might be implemented in the name of cycle improvement that I don't think I should sign anything that may encourage the council. The phrase "reducing congestion for other road users" makes me suspicious for a start. How would this be achieved whilst making conditions easier for cycling? Are they thinking that more people cycling = less cars, which is probably too rational for them, or is it, as I suspect, that they will use the opportunity to rework junctions to improve traffic flow? Whipps Cross roundabout did have plans to be removed and replaced with a more cycle friendly lights junction - the huge amount of space available should allow implementation of something really cycle and pedestrian friendly, but I believe this was shelved. The last plan I saw for "cycle friendly" roundabout was a horrid scheme which I blogged about here; I have reprinted the plan below.

The red line shows that, whilst a driver going south on LeaBridge Road would have three light controlled junctions, a cyclist using the offroad lanes would be stopped at junctions 8 times. And conflict with pedestrians on narrow pavements.

Finally, quietways sound great in principle, but - like the LCN implementation beforehand, they will usually be on narrow roads which quite often act as rat-runs for drivers, they will often be badly signposted and circuitous with crossings at major roads that are probably more difficult and dangerous than just using the main road. I used to use the quiet roads signed when I first started cycling. I found I was pushed to one side on narrow double parked streets by angry motorists who had become incensed that I had slowed up their rat-run. I also found that the signs would be so small as to be useless and when you saw them they would often be turned the wrong way or simply confusing. I gave up on back roads and used the main roads -my policy even to this day.

I can find no reference to plans for the supposed improvements planned so who knows what is in the minds of the road planners? All I would say is that the "improvements" to Forest Road and Hoe Street are now underway and the first change was that two zebra crossings were removed with no temporary facility for pedestrians. This included one crossing on Forest Road used extensively by parents with children going to the local schools. Presumably whilst the works are ongoing those of us needing to cross the road are expected to invent some kind of teleportation device or jetpack to allow safe passage across the road. Traffic flow hasn't been impeded at all.

So the question is - why should I trust this council with any cycling funds?


  1. 1. I like your style. Please consider joining WFCC and helping us push the council further, harder. Email me for more details!

    2. Your images are a bit out of date as is your info. Current state of play is

    A. Bell junction is not covered in current works - waiting on mini Holland.

    B. Car parking on Hoe Street is largely out at the mo. Still fighting that one, but hell of a lot better than it was.

    C. Speed control on Forest Road outside park and How Street to cinema is via raised tables.

    D. The plan for Whipps X is a Dutch style roundabout a la current TRL test one.

    E. Quiet ways may actually become the far more exciting Home Zones or some other name for semi-Wonerf. Entire residential areas of Walthamstow closed down to through traffic but permeable to cyclists.

    Most of those wins have come from WFCC pushing hard and resisting plans. And we now have a council cabinet and some officers actively listening.

    Its not nirvana, far from it. But the council has made a dramatic shift in our favour. It just takes a long long time to get it right and work through entrenched attitudes.

    WFCC is waiting to see the final mini Holland bid before we formally endorse. We are pushing for it to be made public if it can be too.

    Anyway, again - we need critical but engaging people to help push things forward. You in?

  2. It sounds like I am being too harsh. After the events in London in the last few weeks I am pretty angry and maybe somewhat irrational.

    So it sounds like my consultation document is now out of date? Looking at the works it seems that parking bays are being constructed on Hoe Street between Ruby Road and the Bell - but I assume now that parking on Forest Road near the junction is out?

    The home zones are very exciting. This is realistically the way to get pedestrians and residents engaged as well. No-one wants to live on a rat-run. My experience with LCN has been some poor signage on narrow through roads - but intention for home zones would be very welcome. Walthamstow layout lends itself to home zones.

    What happened to a potential cycle lane up the hill on Forest Road? It actually looked somewhat reasonable and wide but it sort of disappeared off the plans I saw.

    If you need critical, grumpy, (possibly belligerent) people then I think my CV would be ideal...I will send you an email.

  3. Critical grumpy people ideal. But no sign of email... psimonk at gmail dot com

    A. Will have a look at Hoe St tomorrow, but last I heard, there were no parking bays due to be in, if I remember correctly.

    B. Forest Road ones may or may not be in, but whatever happens, all should change if mini-Holland goes ahead or whenever council gets together money for Bell junction - it's a big one and they recognise they've got to do better with it.

    C. Parking bays one of our big sticking points currently w council.

    D. Cycle lane up Forest Road hill should be in. Whether it will be - as plans keep on changing all over - is another matter. We have argued that generally speaking, we'd rather have a good wide mandatory lane uphill and nowt much downhill than two tiny/dangerous advisory lanes. But we're also pushing for segregated lanes on most of the main roads where this applies anyway.

    E. Glad you feel as I do re: Home Zones. They're also cheap - which helps our cause with the council no end!

  4. Hi Grumpy, Hi Simon - as a cyclist I've been happy with the changes to quiet roads throughout Walthamstow though I often feel like I'm in the minority, as I hear a lot more people complaining than happy about the reductions in vehicle traffic on many roads. The village is positively bouncing at weekends, which has to be good for business. I'm also very happy with the first part of the Lea Bridge Road improvements - roll on the rest, I say, as being segregated feels so much healthier and safer. What are your perceptions of how things are going? Am I being too optimistic?