Thursday, 1 October 2015

A wasted underpass

The photo above is the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain's current Good Cycling Facility of the Week - an underpass in Zwolle. It reminded me of a recent trip I made to Redbridge in the north-east of London, so here's a quick post about a couple of their underpasses.

The underpass above is a far cry from a typical British underpass - this one in Redbridge, where the A12 and A406 North Circular connect, is quite a generous one by our standards.
As you'd expect, there are 'No Cycling' signs on the approaches from the other direction (and, as you'd also expect, an informal track defeats the metalwork).

That underpass is just off the bottom of this map and no roads cross the A406, which runs top to bottom  in this photo, until the A:406/A1400 intersection at the top of this photo.

There is however an underpass just above the red line I've drawn, with a pedestrian route connecting the community on the left of the A406, towards Snaresbrook railway station, and the community on the right, which includes the private Spire Roding Hospital and Tesco Woodford Green Superstore.

This is an underpass of Dutch proportions!

Wouldn't it be great to provide a verdant, attractive and truly functional walking and cycling route through this underpass to connect the two communities. This is how it looks now:

Heading east of the underpass, a failing path, unlit at night, to the first of two narrow bridges
and on to the second narrow bridge - mind the join:
The second narrow bridge
A tight turn
 to the ramp that takes you down towards the road
 The other side of the A406 has a path by a playing field, with the usual UK deterrents against use. It also has a typical variety of surfaces, generally poor
 Is it any wonder, given walking and cycling infrastructure like this between local communities, that people choose to drive the long way round to cover short distances? And isn't it tragic that the really expensive part - a quality underpass of a major road - exists.

I suppose we should be thankful that a road hasn't been run through here as I suspect such a large underpass was provided to allow for this.

If only funding was available for proper walking and cycling infrastructure in places like this. Kindly don't mention the Garden Bridge.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Quietway 5 Waterloo to Croydon - Larkhall section thoughts

Some Lambeth sections of Quietway 5 from Waterloo to Croydon are being consulted on currently - deadline 5pm on Sunday 4th October. Please comment on them. 

It's 8.15am on Friday on the wide and straight Larkhall Rise between Clapham and Stockwell. Primary school children are en-route for an 8.30am start, and secondary pupils for 9am. Commuters make their way to work, by foot, cycle and car. The waste collectors are already hard at work. Motor traffic is significantly lighter than on the close and parallel A road alternatives (Wandsworth Road and Clapham Road) thanks to measures installed when this became part of London Cycle Network route 3.

But there can still be a fair few cars and vans during rush-hour. The line of cars you see below, queuing at the lights, stretched back further than shown in the photo, and most will turn left.

While most drivers turn left, most cyclists go straight on at this junction, and there is a cycle lane and ASL.

Last election time, Lambeth Cyclists suggested some changes to Larkhall Rise as part of London Cyclists' 'Ward Asks'.

One proposal was to remove the traffic lights in the photos above at the junction of Larkhall Rise/Lane and Union Road. The intention is to lessen journey time, and the energy demand of stopping and starting, for cyclists using the historic LCN3 / soon to be Quietway 5, helping make it a more attractive alternative to the A-roads.

A second related proposal was to further reduce motor traffic through an additional filter. Currently motor traffic can only go one-way across a bridge at the top of Larkhall Rise (below). Since at present the traffic must return via an A-road, why not filter the bridge in both directions, so drivers use the A-road in each direction?

The Quietway plans being consulted on do not include further filtering of motor traffic, but do include removing the traffic lights. This is the design being consulted on. 

Travelling from the south-west (bottom left), compare the diagram above with the photo below of how it looks now: Past the car parking there will be cycles painted in 'primary' position - the centre of the lane. After the parked cars, approaching the junction, cyclists are provided with a kerb-side advisory cycle lane, but due to the zig-zag lines leading to the Zebra crossing this cannot continue across the junction. Under expected new regulations the zig-zag will however be able to continue the line of the cycle lane, as shown. 

Without traffic lights the traffic will flow more freely, rather than being bunched at the lights, perhaps similar to the photo above. Adults and children cycling downhill will be guided from the centre of the lane to a cycle lane to the left of the predominantly left-turning motor traffic, where the cyclist is in the photo above, then the cycle lane markings will be replaced by a zig-zag at the junction. 
Bikeability trainers will be advising pupils of the risk of a driver cutting across them here and suggesting that staying in primary position may well be a safer option. This begs the question as to whether this is an adequate Quietway design? 

Let's consider pedestrians too, crossing Union Road here to continue along Larkhall. Currently the crossing in light-controlled, albeit not exactly on the desire line.

Despite most traffic turning left here, there is no Zebra proposed across Union Road, though there is a Zebra across Larkhall.

What would I do here? 

a) I'd spend more time observing here (I'm an occasional rather than a regular user of this route and seldom at rush-hour - maybe my experience on Friday was totally unusual); secondly, I'd talk to existing cyclists and pedestrians here; particularly parents and pupils on their way to school (I saw no children cycling on the road, two on the pavement); thirdly, I'd arrange a cycle/walk about with the local cycling and walking groups well before putting schemes out to consultation.
b) I'd review the previously installed filtered permeability for this area to see what improvements could be made to further reduce the amount of traffic on this proposed Quietway, ensuring people can access their homes but need to make journeys on the A roads. For example, on both Clapham Manor Street and Edgeley Road you could install filters so that motor traffic can enter by one and exit by the other, but not travel from Clapham Road to Larkhall Rise and vice-versa. Within the filtering I'd seek to reduce the distance people can drive along this wide, straight road. 
c) I'd want to get rid of the traffic lights, but ensure that cyclists and pedestrians have the upper hand at the junction. With more motor traffic filtered out and distances to speed along reduced, I'd narrow Larkhall, particularly at the junction, with attractive planting (couldn't Larkhall Rise make a brilliant Linear Park?) and not have a cycle lane. I'd either have a Zebra crossing or continue the pavement, Clapham Old Town style, across the mouth of Union Road.
d) If due to traffic volume or speed a cycle lane is needed, I'd prefer a separate track to run along each side for the length of Larkhall, something like this:

What would you do?

The red box below shows the junction, the yellow shows existing filters (e.g. no-entry except cycles)

a) Motor traffic on Larkhall Rise cannot go southbound over the railway bridge (though cyclists can), nor can motor traffic continue north beyond Jeffrey's Road.
b) Most of the roads between Larkhall Rise and Wandsworth Road have 'No Entry except cyclists' off Larkhall Rise, or are dead ends.

As the name suggests, Larkhall Rise is a gentle hill. It descends from the bridge over the railway line to the junction with Union Road.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A better alternative for Lambeth North junction?

You only have until this Friday 31st to respond to Lambeth's consultation on plans to improve Westminster Bridge Road around Lambeth North station, and I urge you to do so if you can after skimming through this blog post.

Much of what is proposed is good in my opinion - making the railway bridges more appealing to walk through; a better junction between Lower Marsh and both Upper Marsh and Carlisle Lane. In particular the proposal to filter Hercules Road and stop it being a rat-run is good.

However I'm not convinced the proposal for the junction outside Lambeth North station, where Westminster Bridge Road meets Baylis Road and Kennington Road, is good enough.

Things to note include:
a) Baylis Road - Kennington Road - Hercules Road is currently LCN+3 and will be a Quietway - the plans need to work for near market cyclists such as secondary school pupils.
b) Westminster Bridge Road is likely to become more appealing to cyclists when the East-West Cycling Superhighway turns Parliament Square into a better place to cycle. TfL also have plans in development to improve Westminster Bridge and the 'unroundabout' at this end, most likely including segregated lanes/tracks. This plan needs to fit into that development.

Here's a more detailed plan (with added working scribbles from me) than that shown on the consultation website

The intention is to retain Advanced Stop Lines but give cyclists setting off from Baylis Road or Kennington Road a five-second head start on motorised traffic. My principal concern is that this may leave cyclists at risk of being left-hooked if they are not starting at the ASL but instead are still approaching the junction. Those in the red circle should be fine, but what about those in the blue circle, especially if they are approaching in a new nearside cycle lane rather than where they are shown? Bear in mind that this a Quietway so, given Lambeth's 1 - 100 aspiration, it needs to be suitable for children as well as adults
The plan under consultation retains two lanes of traffic setting off from the lights to go into one lane on the other side, so there will still be traffic jostling and beeping its way through the junction, making for a stressful and noisy place.

Wouldn't it be better to keep the cyclists in a lane to the side of the traffic and have one motor traffic lane going smoothly away from the lights into one lane on the other side? No need then for motor traffic to wait five seconds for some of the cyclists to set off, and there's no conflict with them. If there is an impact on junction capacity, it is worth asking why we should prioritise the handful of drivers in the largely otherwise empty cars above over the safe movement of adults and children walking or cycling, given that both Lambeth and the DfT place cars lower in the road user hierarchy.

There are more advantages than quietness to pedestrians if one lane feeds into one lane. The woman here has started crossing on a pedestrian green light, trying to cross two lanes of vehicles that are jostling to get into one lane
 Half way across the Pedestrian Light has gone red and she's in a vulnerable position.
With one lane of motor traffic it would be far easier for her to get across, and she would be more likely to be able to influence a driver to wait short of the pedestrian crossing line (as the Range Rover driver has done).
Two lanes of traffic fighting to get into a single lane is a cause of the clogging up pictured here.

I had to wait through three phases of lights before I was able to walk across Westminster Bridge Road this morning shortly after 9am, and I chatted while I waited with this person who told me it can take her up to fifteen minutes to cross the road to make her delivery.

At least the proposed scheme gets rid of the two stage crossing with this convoluted manoeuvring in the middle

Is there a better way forward? How about something like this (with the proviso that the hatched space for islands is likely to need to be shuffled to suit traffic light placement):

Cyclists set off from a 3-metre wide cycle lane in 18m wide Kennington Road towards Baylis Road at the same time as motor traffic going straight ahead to Baylis Road. Traffic wanting to turn left into Westminster Bridge Road is held. At the same time cyclists and motorists are setting off in their own lane (3m wide each) from Baylis Road to Kennington Road. There's plenty of pedestrian green time for pedestrians to cross the full width of Westminster Bridge Road (north and south of the junction) in one go,  rather than two at present.

The straight on traffic is held. Now cyclists and motorists turning left from Kennington Road to Westminster Bridge Road go, along with the motorists turning right from Westminster Bridge Road into Kennington Road, and the cyclists from Westminster Bridge Road who are turning right, going straight on to continue down Westminster Bridge Road, or turning left into Baylis Road. Pedestrians are likely still to be able to cross Baylis and Westminster Bridge (south side) Roads.

It is now the time for Westminster Bridge Road traffic to go straight on, though cyclists heading south have to wait (limitations of a 1.5m lane due to restricted width and three motor traffic lanes). Pedestrians gain a green phase long enough for them to cross Kennington Road or Baylis Road in one go.

I've left in the central pedestrian crossing included in the consultation drawing. It requires traffic from all four directions to be held on red. I think that my plan, which includes a 'straight over in one' crossing over Kennington Road and Westminster Bridge Road both of which currently have a two-phase, staggered crossing, may mean that a central pedestrian crossing is not required. There's a significant gain in pedestrian crossing ease in my plan, alongside no risk of cyclists being left-hooked by motorists and child friendly junctions. If the planned all-red pedestrian phase is not needed that is to the benefit of motor traffic capacity.

Bus lanes remain in place, the bus gate on Kennington Road remains, and it may be worth adding as similar one of Westminster Bridge Road approaching the junction from the south. The provision of wide cycle lanes away from motor traffic is likely to encourage more people to cycle, in time reducing the need for so many buses (though without reducing the need for a regular and frequent bus service). It may also give confidence to some to switch to a less space intensive form of personal transport than the car.

If you think a scheme such as I've outlined above makes sense to explore please say so on the online consultation form (and, I suggest, tick that you support the Hercules Road point closure and floating bus stops on Baylis Road) at this week.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Should these streets be reopened to through motor traffic?

There have been two articles written in the past few days that are pertinent to Lambeth where a decision to undertake a six month trial on measures to prevent traffic rat-running in the Loughborough Junction area has been called in. The borough wants to be the most cycle friendly borough and has a lower level of car ownership but how can progress be made when there's hesitation to even trial a scheme?

The first article in the June edition of Highways Magazine outlines the benefits of 'taming' streets by closing them to through motor traffic. Access is retained for motor vehicles while calm, convenient and safe through routes are created for people of all ages walking and cycling. 

Within Kennington check out the little enclave of streets around Walcot Square; a child-safe place because motor traffic has been prevented from cutting through via Brook Drive. Likewise Cleaver Square is enhanced by a motor traffic barrier onto Kennington Park Road that prevents cars and vans cutting through to and from Kennington Road. 

The second article, 'Trying it out', on the As Easy As Riding A Bike blog, questions why Councils don't try temporary closures to help them decide whether a street can permanently have through motor traffic filtered out. Change is challenging for people and even a temporary experiment may lie beyond the comfort zone of some politicians.

But what happens when there are long-running temporary closures for other purposes? 
Can the politicians and the council use this experience to assess whether there are benefits in reopening the street to through motor traffic?

There are three of these long closures in north Lambeth and I really hope the authorities won't just reopen the streets without really determining whether doing so is beneficial.

Newport Street has been shut for at least two years for the creation of Damien Hirst's new gallery.

Newport Street forms part of the Missing Link, the green trail from Vauxhall to the Garden Museum by Lambeth Bridge - a continuation of the new Linear Park between Battersea Power Station and Vauxhall. Why re-open this to through motor traffic on a green trail when it's been shown not to be necessary for two years? After all, taxis and coaches can drop gallery visitors off at the Albert Embankment, rather than fouling up the green trail, leaving it fantastic for adults and children walking or cycling.

Nearby there's St Oswald's Place, a minor one-way street which could usefully be two-way for cycles except that there's a narrow part on a blind corner at the junction of Tyers Street. This junction been closed for months now as a building is constructed.

 It could be reopened as a two-way walking and cycling junction if motor traffic is filtered out. It's working now, why not keep this option? St Oswald's Place links to a useful Toucan crossing over Kennington Lane. A great improvement for cycling while retaining motor vehicle access.

Finally St Agnes Place / Bolton Crescent, at the back of Kennington Park, has been shut for over two years while some housing is built.

It is a quiet cycle route to Foxley Road and down to Loughborough Junction. There is an improved green walking and cycling link being created through Kennington Park just beyond the closure below. Why not keep the closure to motor vehicles, which wouldn't prevent access to the new homes but would stop drivers taking a short cut through this street. The two year closure shows this is practical, and the benefits for people wishing to get around on bikes are clear. Why re-open the street and risk the new residents not permitting their children to cycle to school?

Monday, 29 June 2015

Are so many taxi journeys really needed?

Many streets in Waterloo (such as The Cut) swarm with taxis, frequently making their empty way to the station and I wonder why so many space wasting, air polluting vehicles are needed. Especially on a sunny day like today when a burst water main has caused major congestion in the area.

I decided to spend half an hour between 5.10 and 5.40 pm looking at people walk up to and get into cabs at the Waterloo station rank. The line of cabs stretched back from the rank as usual, round the corner and down to the mini roundabout on Spur Road. The drivers kept their cabs' diesel engines running even though they were stationary for minutes at times - certainly long enough to read an article or two in a paper. Given the high temperatures, the price of fuel, and the harm that the emissions cause to people and the planet I'm amazed the drivers don't switch their engines off while stationary.

During the half hour I looked for:

People for whom a taxi was clearly a sensible option:
a. Those with a heavy burden of luggage - 6 taxis (though a benefit-of-the-doubt call in two instances)
b. People with a clear lack of mobility - 2 taxis

Total: 8 taxis

People for whom an alternative mode of transport seemed to be a reasonable option:
a. solo passengers - 28 taxis (18 female, 10 male passengers)
b. two passengers - 5 taxis
c. three or more passengers - 6 taxis

Total: 39 taxis

Within those 39 taxis there may be people for whom a tube or bus and/or a short walk is not feasible, but I'm guessing that for the great majority it was just a choice, and I'm interested in how they could be persuaded not to choose to take a congesting, polluting taxi.

None of the people looked in a desperate hurry. Some were clearly tourists and some people seemed habitual taxi users here.

For the tourists a carefully positioned desk and interception on the approach to the taxi rank by an official Travel Adviser (similar to the inmidtown scheme) may switch many people to a tube, bus, walk or cycle hire.

I think such a scheme should be trialed by TfL or the local borough(s) as a congestion busting measure, though I am aware that it flies in the face of a capitalist system that doesn't expect entrepreneurs such as taxi drivers to pay the full external costs of their business.

That thought led me to consider how the public transport system is sold here currently - I hope, firstly, that Oyster cards are promoted and sold on the Gatwick Express and other services from airports and ports, with onward public transport advice available - including promotion of relevant apps etc.

In the station itself; as you exit the platform you are met by this sign:

Taxis and Cars are prominently placed; Buses and Travel Information are non-existent.

There is no Travel Information or Tourist Information desk at Waterloo. You go to Victoria for the former, Leicester Square for the latter.

There is however a Rail Information desk - hardly an intuitive place as you leave a railway station to seek bus information, and indeed no bus maps etc. are available there, though a tube map is.

Tourists may well prefer to use an Oyster card rather than try swiping a debit card, but an Oyster card cannot be bought here - you have to go down the escalator to the tube station to buy an Oyster card then come back up to exit the station to catch your bus.

On the approach to the cab rank there is currently this poster on the wall, but is a lengthy walk really the preferred option for someone with a compact wheeled case - and anyway, where's the accompanying map or Legible London signpost?

A public transport map board with an Oyster card machine also seem sensible options to have just by the taxi rank, though I think a Travel Adviser is also needed to really sell more civilized options than city clogging, belching taxis for people leaving the station.

Finding a way to switch even as little as 10% of taxi journeys in London to smarter modes would make such a difference in the centre of London. Let's hope a way can be found to do it.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

How can Wakehurst Place increase admission-paying visitors?

How could better promotion of public transport and active travel help turn around the declining number of visitors to Wakehurst Place in West Sussex?

Owned by the National Trust, Wakehurst Place is a country estate that is let to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and houses the Millennium Seed Bank.

The BBC reported on 9 April 2015 that the number of people visiting has nearly halved since the introduction of parking fees last April, saying,
Visitor numbers reached 315,000 in 2013-14 but fell to 164,000 in 2014-15, after the charges were brought in.
The parking charges were brought in as measures to tackle a £1.4m deficit.
National Trust members have free entry to the gardens, but have had to pay for parking since last year.
Parking costs £10 a day to those entering Wakehurst Place free using their National Trust membership, which costs £60 for annual adult membership.

Parking is included free for the day for non-National Trust members within their admission ticket (£12.50 per adult), and for Wakehurst Season Ticket holders (£25 for unlimited visits per annum, including a bonus free £15 ticket to Kew Gardens) and for Friends of Kew (£72 per annum, gives unlimited free admission for you and a person from your family to both Kew and Wakehurst).

The Royal Botanic Gardens are clearly trying to get some more income from free-entry National Trust members many of whom, it would appear, are instead choosing a location with free parking. Frequent visitors may decide to buy a Wakehurst Season Ticket, but one-off visitors are going elsewhere. While the lower attendance won't lower ticket income, it will dent cafe and gift shop takings. Of course, if there is a non National Trust member in the car, they'll have to pay £12.50 admission which gets the day's free car parking.

The challenge for Wakehurst Place, just 35 miles from central London, is to increase the number of paying visitors. Given that Inner London has a population of 3.2m but 58% of households here don't have a car (2011 census), can Londoners who don't own cars and aren't National Trust members be tempted?

How is public transport promoted currently?

On the Royal Botanic Gardens Website no information is immediately visible but if you scroll down the 'Getting Here' page you see that there is a train station six miles away with no bus service on Sundays or Bank Holidays. No suggested travel times, indicative price information, local cycle hire, taxi service or walking information is given.

I'll decide not to travel on Sunday or a Bank Holiday, but on a Saturday instead, and start checking bus information using their link. I'm taken to the Metrobus home page and have to refer back to the Royal Botanic Gardens website to check the bus number and insert that, then open a timetable PDF, to discover that I can take a bus in the morning only at 9.42 or 11,42, returning at 14.42, 16.04 or 18.07.

Now, let's check the prices - open a new PDF on the Metrobus page and I see that tickets cost a complicated amount:

But it may be cheaper if Wakehurst Place is within the local Plusbus area, so I go to their website to find out - it has this unhelpful area map:

 How hard would it be for the Royal Botanic Gardens to put the few bus times, the prices, matching rail times and journey duration from London and indicative prices on their website?

Or to include the fact that there's a station just four miles away, on a direct line from London Victoria, that has a footpath to Wakehurst Place if you're coming on a Sunday or Bank Holiday?

And that's almost as far as I go without being paid a consultancy fee to show the Royal Botanic Gardens or National Trust how to do this kind of thing properly - happy to oblige: tweet me @kenningtonpob.

But before I sign off, the National Trust website doesn't even give the bus number

and gives a link to the following Public Transport website

Finally, as far as I can tell, neither the Kew website or the National Trust one offers a discount to Wakehurst Place if you come by more planet friendly public transport (except of course that you can park your non-existent car for free).