Tag Archives: london

Daddy, the cars aren’t stopping

My 4 year old wanted to go to “the dinosaur museum” and with this month’s Street Talks subject being “shared space”, a post on Exhibition Road seems in order. Many local authorities are looking at this in the hope that it can offer some relief from what I will call the “inter modal tension” on our streets.

We took the tube to South Ken and joined the throngs of tourists and families heading north over Cromwell Road toward the museums.

I should say right up front that my impression is that the scheme is very poor. Here’s why:

It’s not really Shared Space
My understanding is that there are many other measures that should be in place for shared space to be effective. Pedestrians and cyclists should dominate the space. Through motor traffic should be eliminated or greatly reduced. The fact that Exhibition Road remains a major through route, combined with all the parking spaces rather negates any positive effect that the design might create. A typical London half measure.

Ugly Ugly Ugly
The whole space has been clad in grey granite. Those of you who have been to Aberdeen will be familiar with the effect. There is a diagonal grid of lighter stone which is supposed to represent and reinforce the pedestrian “desire lines” but ends up looking like a giant Argyle sock laid down the road. The pattern looks totally out of place and does not relate in any way to the magnificent Victorian architecture that surrounds it. The chance to do something beautiful with all that contrasting stone, has been lost in favour of what looks a rather lazy design decision.

poor amenity
Does this look like a nice place to sit with your children after a museum session? Where is the shade? In the height of summer this is going to be like an oven. Why is there a seat right next to parking? It’s not really a bench is it….? The doctrine of removing street clutter says that you shouldn’t use bollards. However, sometimes you need them. The bench is doing the job of a bollard and in doing so, compromises its function as a bench. This is dishonest… people before traffic!

I love the smell of deisel in the morning!

There were many chauffeur driven cars just stopped anywhere waiting with their engines running. The absence of road markings makes this perfectly legal. My 4 year old and I don’t want to sit right next to idling cars! Crap design.

It doesn’t work
Fail!The marking on the road surface does have an effect on behaviour… My son kept running along the lines, straight into the path of the taxis and vans! The whole experience was very stressful for me as he had no idea where he was supposed to walk. My boys know to stay on the pavement and we walk to school/nursery daily without problems.  But here in this new “shared” environment, I couldn’t relax for a second. That is exactly how Shared Space is supposed to work…!  Shame no one told the drivers who consistently failed to slow or stop as my little one wandered out. The council know that it’s not working too as they have had to put up signs telling motorists to give way. Those aren’t working either.

The surface is poor for cycling
The stone is slippery when wet and has already resulted in a number of cyclists falling. To be fair, the stone is faced with a rough pattern but this will wear away in time with all the heavy vehicles. I also doubt that the stone sets will remain flush and flat over time… we’ll see.

A massive missed opportunity
Oh what could have been….! All that cash to clad one of London’s most historic streets in granite and er… that’s it. Where are the trees? Where are the kiosks? Where are the fountains? Where is the “place” for all the people who come to this street? It could have been a really lovely place to hang out before/after going to museums or the Albert Hall. There is ample space to have provided two way traffic AND a really pleasant place to be. Think the Ramblas in Barcelona but with cars down one side. As it stands, it is really a car park with the odd unsheltered bench to demarcate the ends of the parking bays. But that is not the greatest tragedy… Where is the cycle lane? This was a golden chance to put in a cycle lane, extending the route that crosses Hyde Park to South Ken and beyond. Amongst the many flaws of the Cycle Superhighway scheme is the fact that the inner ends of the routes do not join up. Any chance to begin to create those connections should not be wasted. Obviously, one can ride down the road but it’s just another fast London road… where is the improvement for cycling?

Is it all bad?
Not at all… What has been done IS an improvement but the part of Exhibition road, to the south of Cromwell Rd., gives a better taste of how these schemes should work. The absence of parking and the fact that the through route to South Ken has been closed, means that this area is working much better. Pedestrians dominate and the two shopkeepers I spoke to said they loved the massive increase in footfall.

Some remain confused, like this driver who got “lost” in the uncertainty of it all and ended up having to get back onto the road via a ped crossing but overall this area felt better.

What is clear is that Shared Space doesn’t work without the raft of other measures that complement it. Principally that motor traffic must be limited or removed for the scheme to work. Local authorities are attracted to the concept but fail to implement the wider changes needed. Ultimately, the way to reduce the negative effects of heavy motor traffic is simply to reduce its access. There is just no getting around the fact that there are too many private cars in our city.

If you want to hear a pompous urban designer enjoying a totally uncritical fluffing from a supposed science journalist, you may enjoy this. Apparently, pedestrians are “natural Pythagoreans” who always favour the hypotenuse… Hence the Argyle sock pattern. What a knob.

If you think a thoughtful critique is more up your street, I recommend:
Waronthemotorist and Voleospeed

My 4 year old put it well as we tried to cross the road outside the Natural History Museum, “Daddy, the cars aren’t stopping!”



Tour du Danger 12/11/11 – The most “fearless” ride in London

Firstly, I want to thank Danny at Cyclists in the City and Mark from ibikelondon for putting this together. If you want to know all about The Tour Du Danger, please check out the Press Release.

This ride has tapped into a  deep desire to have a more pleasant city to work and live in. It’s not just about cyclists…that’s why there was such good support on the day. People get it.  It means looking at the way the car dominates the urban space and taking some of that space back for other uses. The  Mayor, Boris Johnson needs get his act together with respect cycling provision.

We want better choices Boris! We want the roads made safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

A quiet moment for those who died recently at Bow roundabout

Our Mayor, Boris Johnson, thinks that one just needs “to keep your wits about you” to be able to use our road system safely by bike. In other words, since cycling is growing in London and is actually getting safer, per TFL’s stats, why do we need to do anything?

Now, leaving aside the distasteful victim blaming, that suggests those killed or injured whilst cycling did not “have their wits about them”, I can almost see his point…. almost. After all, I am someone with over three decades solid experience of riding in London. I work full-time as a National Standard Cycle Instructor, averaging over 5500 miles/year in the city. I “have my wits about me” and can easily navigate any junction I choose. I’m sure, Boris Johnson is just as able. But what about everyone else? He is supposed to represent us all not just those who are like him. “I can do it so you should be able to do it too”, is a pretty poor position from one who is supposed to be working for ALL londoners.

Oi Boris, if your cycle polices were any good, do you think cyclists would be protesting?

Mayor Boris is very keen to grow cycling or so he says… but does his professed enthusiasm stand up to any examination? Over the last few years, I have met and trained hundreds of adults who want to start cycling for utility purposes. The overwhelming feeling from them has been that they are “scared of traffic”. I help them with that and by the time I am through, they will be able to go where they please without fear. But for every trainee I see, I know there are very many who will never take that step because their fear of traffic stops them. Telling them the “fact” that the roads are actually quite safe to use, is of no benefit at all. The roads need to be made into a friendlier place if we genuinely want to see sustained growth in cycling.

But Boris has done loads for cycling, I hear you say…. what about the Superhighways?

On my way down to Oval for the Tour Du Danger, I found myself on one of the Cycle Superhighway (CS) routes that approaches Oval from the west. I had never ridden on one before as there are none in North London yet. I have read the critical reviews from the cycling community but tried to keep an open mind. Frankly, the CS design is  utter nonsense. They have been pulled apart enough and I have no intention of repeating that here. Suffice to say that I would advise any trainee of mine to ignore most of what was there. A “superhighway” ought to feel, well….. Super. They don’t. They feel like all the rubbish cycle facilities that have gone before.  Boris needs to own it too, since he changed the plans for the CS from those inherited from his predecessor. What we have today is a badly compromised design that fails to produce any space or real priority for cyclists beyond what they would have anyway… hardly super. The CS should be wide and fully protected from the motor traffic in the Dutch style. Now that would have been SUPER! He has wasted the investment on something mediocre at best and at worst, deadly.

At Bow roundabout, scene of two needless deaths in under a month, the CS runs from the left edge of the lane ACROSS an exit. This sets up a collision in the event someone (like a HGV driver) needs to exit across the CS lane. It’s a terrible design… an accident waiting to happen. No National Standard instructor worth his or her high-vis, would tell a trainee to ride the line that the CS is taking here. It’s the wrong way to go straight on at a roundabout. I am certain that Boris would not stay on the CS at this point; he is too experienced a rider. TFL were warned about all this and I really hope that some of the corporate manslaughter cases that are being discussed (re. Kings Cross) make it to court. Boris and TFL own this nonsense. They have repeatedly ignored warnings given in their own internal reports and from the cycling community about the CS and the junction treatments they seem to favour.

Bow Roundabout - The scene of two tragic deaths within three weeks

When I look at the proposal for Blackfriars Bridge, I see it as part of a wider policy that favours those who choose to drive. Traffic flow is all important and all you lot who aren’t driving will just have to wait or be marginalised into the gutter. The recent redesign of Henley’s Corner, in Barnet, is another example. I will be making a fuss about it in due course but suffice to say that TFL, Boris Johnson and Barnet council have greatly worsened conditions for cyclists at this junction. There will be a fatality there as a result of this redesign. TFL take note.

This pattern is being repeated all over the city and calls into question how genuine Boris/TFL are about their desire to grow cycling. My personal view is that TFL are conflicted about this issue. Cycling measures do not generate much positive cash flow for them (like bus fares). Although cycling measures are highly efficient in cash terms, the benefits are indirect and accrue in other organisations, like the NHS. Put simply, it’s hard for TFL to do something which might lessen the Oyster take if the savings don’t go to TFL too. That is where the Mayor should step in to provide direction that looks to London’s future overall. It’s his job to see beyond the conflicting interdepartmental agendas and provide guidance in London’s best interests. Growing cycling now, helps with air quality, health, congestion and yes… social equity. We all pay for the roads! We want our share of the pie! If you want something to happen, you allocate resources. Come on Boris!

But what about the cuts? Can we afford all this engineering? For cyclists?

We spend a fortune on the roads now. Can we afford that? It’s a question of equity. At any budget level, the question is about how you allocate funds or indeed how you allocate space. Here is one way of looking at it:

Choose a statement –

  • Cycling is good and is to be encouraged
  • Cycling is neither good nor bad – do it if you wish
  • Cycling is bad and is to be discouraged

From this there follows –

  • Provision should lead demand (social engineering)
  • Provision should try to match demand (libertarian)
  • Provision should trail demand (social engineering)

Cycling makes up a significant percentage of London traffic. By any measure, we are massively discouraging cycling by the level of investment. Even if TFL were only trying to match demand, they should be spending well over 5% of their total budget on various forms of cycling provision. A genuine request is always accompanied by a wheelbarrow full of money you know. If they really want to encourage cycling how about 20%…?  Dream on Londonneur!  😉

So yes, there is plenty of money for whatever facilities we can dream up. There is also plenty of space… if we reallocate some of it away from its current use. There is a democratic issue here. Many Londoners want to ride their bikes. We want our money spent on that, not on making things worse for us, as at Blackfriars or Henley’s Corner and elsewhere.

The fact is that this can be a good thing for all road users, even the taxis! London just has too many vehicles on its roads. I have seen it get worse and worse for years to the point now where it is just a huge car park in many areas. It just seems too nasty out there for many people to feel comfortable riding their bikes despite the fact that cycling is far from a hazardous activity . If it looks inviting, many people will ditch their cars and ride a bike. If it looks safe, many people will let their children ride to school. Imagine easing the school run congestion or having cleaner air to breath. For those who drive for a living, the absence of a load of motor commuters can only help.

I’ve been riding all these “dangerous” junctions for years without problems but I know that I am somewhat unusual. I have gotten used to managing the various risks dynamically as I go. I am highly assertive to the point that I don’t even know I am doing it. But, unlike our Mayor, I can see that not everyone can just, be like me. Cycling should be an easy choise available to all.

Hear me Boris! You know we are right on this. Do what your heart is telling you.

On the Tour Du Danger, the truth is, it felt so much better to just relax and have space that was just for us on these roads… Without fear.


Another hugh thanks to the organisers and everyone who came! I hope you enjoy this video of the day