Last week I attended the 2015 City of London cycling forum, an annual open meeting that provides an opportunity for the City of London’s officers and elected representatives to discuss cycling with the public. I’d been to one in 2013 when the designs for the Aldgate junction redesign were launched and had found it a useful and informative event, so was looking forward to more of the same. They date back to lobbying by campaigners in 2005 and first started in 2006.
First from Steve Presland on CLOCS and other work on reducing the danger of larger vehicles as employed by the City of London and others within Greater London.
This presentation gave some progress in areas such as direct vision and noted progress by the City on their own vehicles. Beyond CLOCS they noted their work to get contractors to meet FORS Bronze (something that ranks as an earlier London Cycle Campaign demand, but Charlie Lloyd was very clear in questions that he felt they could go further). Additionally they have worked to add a road danger element to the Considerate Contractor [Constructor?] scheme. They summarised their position as follows:
- City of London CLOCS champion.
- Main contractors are CLOCS compliant.
- Safety measures extended to smaller vehicles.
- Over 250 trained drivers.
- Embedding work-related road risk in future contracts.
- New Considerate Contractor Award introduced.
The most substantive cycling element from Steve I felt was actually a short comment about work with TfL on how to keep superhighways cleaned and maintained. This focussed on avoiding grit and using brine solutions in cold weather and looking for “effective, mechanised kit” to keep them clean as well. This in particular sounded a welcome development, I’d have loved to see a whole presentation on it. Maybe next year?
Second was Craig Stansfield which looked after some of the statistics on cycling in the city looking at the past five years on collisions. Reviewing the statistics is always a good idea, but the fact that statistics vary a bit from year to year is pretty unsurprising, given the small numbers involved, as Craig himself noted. If you look closely at the bottom of the slide you can see the most worrying statistic of fatal collisions. Where 2012 and 2013 saw 1 death each, 2014 saw 3 in the city, but again the issue of small numbers being poor indicators comes into play. I would have been very keen to see the collision statistics accompanied by comments upon the numbers of cycle journeys and their modal share in the City.
Then there was a bit of statistics on 20mph. They presented it with the following points as something of a success.
- Driver awareness of the 20 mph speed limit has increased from 62% in the first week after introduction of the new limit to 82% in June 2015.
- Average motor vehicle speeds at the 46 monitoring sites are 1.5 mph lower than before the new speed limit was introduced.
- The number of sites where average speeds are above 20 mph has reduced from 16 (38%) to 7 (15%).
- Department for Transport guidance indicates that a 1 mph reduction in average speeds is likely to result in a 6% reduction in casualties.
That last statistic is referring to a 6% reduction in all road casualties, and the original paper makes no comment on the outcome for cycling as a mode. It would help if there was a bit more of a cycling focus on these statistics. “Is speed a factor in recorded collisions with cycles?” is but one question I had in my head.
The points above reflect a reality that at 7 sites in the City of London they continue to measure average speeds above 20mph. London Wall was named as one of these 7 sites and that further measures may well be taken to bring those average speeds down.
Craig noted they had been late to working on contraflows but now had a lot of coverage. My experience in using them is that I have no idea where they go and oncoming traffic so often treats me as an obstacle to push against that I use them pretty rarely. In questions later I suggested the City work with utilities companies to use contraflows for cycling at roadworks to help those on bikes remain on quiet roads they are used to.
There was a look at (I think) the most substantial cycling provision change at any junction in the City of London purely worked on by the City, that at the roundabout around the Museum of London’s rotunda which went in during January. This was called “more traditional road safety analysis looking at hotspots” The following slide shows the hotspots rather clearly in the red locations where there was 11 of 14 casualties at this roundabout in a single stretch under a bridge where sight lines and change in light levels were felt to present an issue. Craig was at pains to stress that they know this change is not yet perfect and that it is by no means a complete scheme.
It is a peculiar scheme with a lot of striping to narrow the roundabout then dedicated separate space for left turns on two entries along with cycle markings at the left edge of the ahead lane. This doesn’t seem to really match how the most confident or assertive use the roundabout and encourages some poor passing where lane widths reduce to a single vehicle width on entry (especially from the north on Aldersgate Street). Full details of these plans are on the City of London website. The designs don’t comprehensively treat the potential dangers at the roundabout (by means of an audit) but instead focus upon where existing collisions have occurred. The approach now starting to be used elsewhere to cater for mass cycling is to consider all potential risks and to mitigate them.
Initially the entry from London Wall reduced to a single lane. That single lane entry and the accompanying exit onto Aldersgate was removed with a second traffic lane reinstated after concerns about queue lengths about a month or so after it went in.
This is a video of my typical northbound journey through the roundabout when the full set of measures were in place.
The cones from this video have also gone, leaving a paint separation that is often flouted. I was rather surprised that Craig didn’t cover the removal of elements of the original design and it felt very much like we were told what the City had decided to do, not being asked to comment upon it. My comment would be that in the space available a far more developed design with genuine safe space for cycling possible.
Craig then handed over to Iain Simmons for as he termed it the “main event” to look at the Quietways work. Hearing words like that made me fairly optimistic we’d see something new.
Iain kicked this section off by showing the familiar map of the Central London Grid for completion by the end of 2016. Not all blue or purple paths are equal on this map. They superhighways (blue) range from the wide and protected provision of the new East-West and North-South routes all the way down to the paint of the existing CS7 and CS8 or the back roads route of CS1. The quietways for the grid will be even more varied. Camden appears keen on raised tracks and is perfecting their design already with early schemes whereas Westminster are mostly tweaking or raising quality with minor efforts. What changes would the City propose on their own roads?
Iain then zoomed this in a little to look at the sections within the City of London itself. This was also quite familiar. The blue are superhighways, the purple are agreed superhighways.
Those in dotted lines are under another borough (if purple) or TfL (if blue). The red is what’s not coming. The big warning sign flashing in your head is that this shows there will be no link delivered by 2016 between the East-West superhighway, Superhighway 1 and Superhighway 2. Iain did say that the link from CS1 to CS2 had foundered first when a landowner refused use of their land for a cycleway and then again when TfL refused a reduction in road space on Bishopsgate to provide for cycle lanes. The link between the East-West superhighway and CS2 is a shorter requirement and it was clear from discussion between Gilligan and the City referred to in the room that TfL/Gilligan had send the City away again to consider how to link the East-West superhighway and CS2. Those superhighways are meant to be complete in April so I’d be amazed if any link was complete in time for those openings.
I was expecting that we would see some detailed drawings or a clear run-through of the proposed quietway routes that were at least in that magical purple. But alas, no. Many weeks before a report went to the City’s Streets and Walkways committee. For now these are the only details we have.
If you look carefully at the difference between these two maps, you’ll see the one shown in the meeting has sections in red “to be deferred” but the version distributed at the council’s own meeting that signed these off said they were “to be abandoned”. In questions Iain was challenged about this difference and said it was due to a junior member of staff.
In other questions later it became clear that the more detailed proposals shared in that committee paper were really outline proposals as marked and nothing more. During the meeting there was no attempt made to use them as the basis of what may come next and in questions it was made plain that officers and politicians felt unconfident to share plans before they knew what they were getting approved by TfL and the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner. I can’t see why they couldn’t just have ditched their original proposals, shown a few key junctions and asked some detailed questions, but if you’re interested here’s those outline plans.
Essentially we’re looking at a mix of road narrowing, low level cycle signals, tightened corners, removal of some existing painted lanes and a reduction in traffic on a single street already low in use that is unlikely to affect volumes elsewhere. Even if this is only indicative it does not show commitment to much change. Iain himself tried to treat the audience as ignorant of the design requirements of quietway and didn’t respond clearly to comments from the audience questioning how such minor changes could turn this into a genuine link for the grid.
Additionally in the draft minutes for this meeting there was the following…
Assistant Director of Local Transportation advised that bidirectional segregated cycling lanes had recently become less popular due to safety concerns with pedestrians and interaction with other vehicle
… which must presumably have been in response to a question on why either earlier plans for a bidirectional lane on Queen Street (proposed by consultations in about 2005 according to Ralph Smyth) weren’t being carried forward or that the City wasn’t adopting the style of provision used on TfL’s routes for the East-West and North-South superhighways.
Iain was very proud that the City was green on Time, Cost and Quality. Andrew Gilligan then got him to read out the note that linked this report (from July) to consultation commencing on four of their five schemes in August (which has not happened!). Andrew Gilligan noted that he felt the City was behind other boroughs. Several people in the room stared at the detail on the other boroughs, but I’d be surprised if anybody learnt much more about the plans from this.
But not exactly illuminating. And it became terrifyingly clear that this was all they had to show us on the quietways. Given that they had billed the sessions as being about them I didn’t feel that happy for giving up an evening to see four slides on the quietways, none of which really told me anything I hadn’t already known.
What really got me about Iain’s section (though not all of this came from him) was that the City was displaying a rather confusing mix of emotions and opinions. It feels pride and delight at working with TfL on the superhighways and emphasis that there is a deep and functional relationship there that is delivering space for cycling. Then it feels some anger and frustration at the way the central london grid is working with some linking quietways, where it has a relationship with TfL again but doesn’t see it working. It felt really somewhat uncomfortable at times watching the clash of views between the City and Andrew Gilligan in the room especially on the issues around linking the quietways that reach the City of London.
There were some smart questions, and I did get a good opportunity to meet and say hello to a few friendly faces in the London cycling community along with the City’s officers, but it felt a rather disappointing evening. Someone asked for more detail about the reasoning for the current extent of the City’s lorry ban. The City runs a 7.5 tonne lorry ban which came in with the “ring of steel” in 1995 after a series of terrorist bombings. Officers made clear that it could be reviewed and extended east of Fleet Street, commenting that it may well not extend as far to the east due to newspapers still being in Fleet Street but that was speculative.
Clearly there are exemptions to this ban for vehicles such as construction traffic given that tipper trucks have been responsible for fatal collisions at Bank this year. On those officers said no construction traffic should need to cross Bank and that they had checked and rechecked signs for the ban and further enforcement action was in place since the fatality.
There were some reworked plans for Aldgate High Street they shared in response to a question, which show that since the interesting debate between Gilligan and the City’s officers at the 2013 meeting some cycle lanes have appeared in the project, at long last. Apparently set to have semi-segregation used on them, probably orcas. I’m not convinced that’s the right treatment for a high traffic road at all, but it is still a (slight, but sadly notable) improvement beyond designs that were entirely focussed on people on bikes taking the lane.
My mind also turns over endless possibilities for how I would use two hours of people’s time if I could talk to them about cycling if I ran a council. I’d be keen to share statistics not just of collisions, but also of traffic data and how that varies for motor vehicles and cycles. Perhaps sharing some videos of the tougher junctions and throwing the floor open to look at those areas with danger and even being willing to hear from people where they now find gaps in cycle parking or cycle contraflows. The City has a good thing in this Cycle Forum (and it’s rare for a London borough) but attendance was disappointing on the night, and the content felt thin. Perhaps they should return to using guest speakers, but I think they definitely need to confidence to discuss with us in detail and in open dialogue how their streets might be better for all.
Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the event that Marianne Fredericks was promoting that happens this Friday launching the Women’s City Cycle Network. She also said we should feel free to go to the meeting of the committee she chairs when they discuss the quietways, so keep an eye out for that. If the project plan is right that will be in January.