What must be done to make Aldgate and Holborn safer and why it's shocking it hasn't happened already
- By London Cycling Campaign on at 08:55am 18 Jul 2013
- Posted in: Blog
- Tagged with: aldgate, love london go dutch, holborn, Cycle Superhiw
Two cycling fatalities in the space of 10 days prompted thousands of Londoners to join the #space4cycling protests in Aldgate and Holborn (photo portraits here).
So why exactly are we so angry about these fatalities, and why are we adamant that these deaths, and earlier ones, were avoidable?
The problem is that those who design London's roads and traffic management schemes have ignored the safety and comfort of cyclists for years, with the result that cyclists now have to contend with dangerous street layouts around Aldgate and Holborn, as well as so many other places.
Holborn area one-way streets
Theobalds Road, running east to west just north of Holborn underground station, is London's busiest street for cycling: during in the morning rush hour cyclists make up an astonishing 64% of westbound vehicles on this street.
Yes, that's correct: we didn't mean to write "cyclists are 6.4% of traffic"; they genuinely make up nearly two-thirds of all the people using this road at peak times, according to figures from City Hall.
With such a vast quantity of cycling traffic, you might imagine there's an enormously wide segregated bike lane here – a bit like this street in Amsterdam:
There isn't: there's no dedicated space here for cycling.
The fact is that none of the nearby side roads are quick or direct enough for commuters, and parallel main roads are even more unpleasant.
Londoners cycle along Theobalds Road in their droves because, using their chosen mode of transport, this route is the best of a bad bunch to travel from East London to the West End.
Nastily, for all those people, the western end of Theobalds Road heads south into a horrendous one-way system comprising multi-lane roads that are busy with fast-moving and heavy vehicles often cutting across from right to left, or left to right.
Cycling down Procter Street is dangerous and unpleasant – indeed, if you choose to cycle this route, you'd better have "your wits about you", as Boris Johnson might quip.
No-one knows what happened to cause the fatal crash last Monday morning, but the complete lack of separation of bicycle and lorry traffic on this busy road means a minor error from any road user can become fatal to anyone on a bicycle.
The fatal crash happened at the point where Procter Street joins a one-way section of High Holborn, which is five lanes wide with nothing to make navigating by bicycle safe.
There's so much space here, but every square inch is prioritised for motor vehicles, with those who cycle here expected to jockey for position with cars, motorbikes, buses and lorries – a lot of them, often going quickly.
The dangers in this area are nothing new, and we highlighted them most recently in 2009 for the study of London Cycle Network Link 50 (PDF download).
At the time of this consultation, a westbound bus route was being planned to keep buses (including the very busy number 38 route) away from the Holborn one-way system via a contraflow bus lane on the western section of Theobalds Road and into Bloomsbury Way.
We supported the contraflow bus lane, but were alarmed that the plan excluded cyclists, who would continue to have to navigate the treacherous one-way system.
Our suggestions were ignored in the interests of speeding up bus journeys by a few seconds, and a minimum-width bus lane was put in place with a ban on cycling.
Recently, the police have been ticketing those cyclists who use the bus lane illegally because they think it's safer than cycling around Proctor Street and through Holborn.
The police argue they're doing cyclists a favour because they prevent them overtaking buses on the contraflow in a risky manner by cutting into the eastbound traffic flow.
In truth, both routes are dangerous because of a failure to design anything here to benefit cycling.
An immediate solution could involve putting a temporary barrier down Vernon Place and Bloomsbury Way, wide enough to allow cyclists to pass buses in the contraflow bus lane when they're stopped.
Doing this would take away some road space from eastbound motor traffic, which is exactly what's required to start providing safe space for cycling.
Andrew Gilligan has expressed an interest in putting in temporary separation for cycling to experiment with road layouts, and this is a prime opportunity to take action in the wake of someone's death.
Making the contraflow bus lanes safe and accessible to cycling is something that could be done tomorrow, but the reality is that the whole one-way traffic system should be abandoned.
This one-way system is a relic of 1960s road design, which has no place in a modern city, especially in the heart of the metropolis, in an area packed with shops, offices, cafés and residential properties.
A relatively small amount of motor traffic is allowed to create unacceptable danger for the far higher numbers of cyclists and pedestrians that pass through the area.
By allocating so much road space to motor vehicles, the street design stifles demand for other modes and encourages more motor traffic journeys, creating the congestion it's intended to prevent.
If the Mayor is serious about delivering his Love London, Go Dutch promises, work should start today to provide safer passage for cycling through the contraflow bus lane, and plans should drawn up to remove the one-way system and create a genuinely people-friendly environment in Holborn.
Aldgate East and Whitechapel High Street
After the death of Philipine de Gerin-Ricard at Aldgate, we felt tremendous anger and frustration that our concerns over the design of Cycle Superhighway 2 (CS2) are still being ignored.
CS2 starts (or finishes) at this very spot, in the middle of the Inner London ring road.
The only safe way to provide for cycling on a street that is this busy with motor traffic road is to separate cyclists from those motor vehicles.
This absolutely requires separate cycle tracks and dedicated signal controls allowing cyclists to cross junctions without fear of being hit by motor vehicles, often lorries.
From the moment we saw the designs for this "superhighway" back in 2011, we pointed out that it was desperately flawed, and that advisory blue paint – over which motor traffic is directed to drive – is worse than useless.
It's worse than useless because it can create a false sense of security for those very people who are being encouraged by the Mayor to take up cycling, and take advantage of the "new, safe routes" for cycle commuters.
The Mayor appears to be a believer in the 'safety in numbers' principle, and can often be heard telling the media that all we need is 'more people on bikes' and our streets will get a lot safer.
Ms Gerin-Ricard took the Mayor's advice to cycle in London, and was crushed to death by a lorry soon after.
Since it was built, CS2 has never been a place of safety, and tests the abilities of even the most experienced London cyclists.
As well as calling for CS2 to be built to a much higher standard, we've also lobbied in the past for the one-way motor traffic system along the inner ring-road to be removed.
Cyclist safety was given zero consideration in the original design of these roads, yet as the number of cyclists has increased dramatically in the last decade, a major redesign of the entire road system has become an urgent priority.
Despite the recent deaths, the number of people using bicycles is likely to go up and up.
The benefits of inexpensive, fast, convenient, healthy urban travel is too great for Londoners, and they rightly choose this mode of transport above others.
This is why the Mayor must go back to the drawing board and redesign the entire route of Cycle Superhighway 2 from scratch.
There is space along the entire length for high-quality Dutch-style segregated tracks.
Most sections of the route will present very few problems because there's so much roadspace.
Removing space from motor vehicles and providing it for safe cycling is likely to increase the capacity of this route by creating thousands more bicycle journeys every day, and reducing the number of unnecessary motor journeys.
Designing a route around Whitechapel market will require some thought, but the positive economic regeneration caused by having a safe and convenient bicycle route should be more than enough to keep market traders onside.
By signing our Love London, Go Dutch campaign in 2012, the Mayor promised to give safe space for cycling the highest priority in the Superhighways programme.
It's up to the Mayor to give the direction for this: many years ago he borrowed a phrase from ourselves when he called for a "cycle-ised city".
Now it's time for him to deliver one, to the best Dutch standards.