Go Dutch goes East

LCC campaigners Charlie Lloyd and Mike Cavenett cast their critical eyes over the newly-built extension of Cycle Superhighway 2 from Bow to Stratford.

2m-wide cycle lanes protected by kerbs provide a safer and more comfortable experience than driving among fast-moving heavy traffic

The extension of Cycle Superhighway 2 from Bow to Stratford is the first tangible piece of infrastructure built in response to our 2012 mayoral election Love London, Go Dutch campaign. So it’s quite justifiable that we had high expectations when the Mayor opened it in early November.

The heavy rain that delayed completion of the works continued through to the launch event and set a dismal scene alongside the news that two London cyclists had been killed the previous evening, one on the older much-maligned section of CS2 at Mile End.

The news got worse when, in the following week, there was another cycling death in outer London, and then Venera Minakhmetova was killed in a lorry crash on CS2 at the revised Bow roundabout junction. Despite the ‘upgrade’ put in place by Transport for London a year ago (which we said wasn’t safe enough), the latest fatal crash happened in the same location where Svitlana Tereschova was killed two years ago. Five days after Ms Minakhmetova’s death, Khalid al-Hashimi died in a crash with a double decker bus at Aldgate East, a few metres from where Philippine de Gerin-Ricard died in July. These deaths highlight the desperate need for the very best space for cycling in London. 

So has the new CS2 extension delivered the promised high-quality Dutch-style cycle routes to east London? Let’s look at what’s there…

How do you access the new route?

The new route runs for a mile from Bow to Stratford, but how do you get to it? The answer is, at its western end, via the failed Bow roundabout. We pointed out the flaws in the ‘early start’ (or ‘guaranteed red’) traffic lights when they were installed at Bow a year ago, but our advice was ignored. The traffic lights are confusing to motorists and cyclists, provide no safety for pedestrians, and don’t give cyclists enough time to escape the left-hook danger. The recent fatality, involving a left-turning lorry, shows that this junction must be completely redesigned with a separate traffic light phase for cyclists and pedestrians.

It’s a measure of the failure of the Bow roundabout that a large proportion of cyclists choose to avoid the roundabout altogether, instead mixing it with the fast-moving motor traffic going over the Bow flyover. At the eastern, Stratford end of the CS2 extension, the route disappears at a pedestrian crossing. Careful examination of the signage shows that you could cycle on the pedestrian track to Stratford station or ride over the crossing which leads to an unfinished route aimed at, but not quite reaching, Romford Road. This end of the route needs urgent action to provide safe onward journeys, including protecting cyclists from the dangers of the Stratford town centre one-way system.

What’s the quality of the route itself?

Fortunately, the experience riding the lanes in between the two poor-quality end-points is better than what’s offered at each end. The cycle lanes consist of 2m-wide strips of blue lane that are separated from motor traffic by a solid kerb, which provides an experience that feels much more safe and comfortable than what was there previously. We’ve now ridden the route many times and are preparing a detailed post-implementation appraisal to give to TfL. 

A delivery van and an Addison Lee taxi parked illegally in the cycle lane.

Overall, we found there have been real improvements, even though the new section still has problems. Our previous qualitative survey of this route graded 92% of it as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. Now it scores much better, with 38% of the route being ‘good’ or ‘very good’. However, that still leaves over half the route with a ‘poor’ rating. Most of the new lanes are separated from the main carriageway by a 15cm-high kerb island, except for the first 300m going east, including the first bus stop. It’s not clear why this section is untreated and on our first visit there was a minicab parked in the lane and buses cutting across the cycle lane to reach the bus stop. From then on the wide blue lane is inviting. Most of the cyclists we encountered were happy with the improvements, including those going west in the eastbound lane.

Two-way cycle lanes

If this were a truly Dutch design, there would be two-way cycling on each side of the dual carriageway. However, this would have required a significantly wider lane than 2m. On large sections of the route the pavement next to the cycle lane is shared use cycling on the pavement. There is no safe crossing of the main road on the western third of the route, therefore two-way cycling is essential to access Marshgate Lane, Cooks Road and the Lea Canal towpath from the Greenway and all points further east. A flagship cycling scheme introducing wide separated lanes shouldn’t require high levels of pavement cycling.

The permission for pavement cycling mainly exists on the northern side of Stratford High Street, but when the new housing and shopping developments are realised along the south side, there’ll be a similar need to provide for safe cycle access both ways.

Why are the junctions badly designed? 

Junction design is critical to the safe operation of any route. At junctions, people on foot, on bikes and those in cars all cross each others’ paths. If these conflicts aren’t skilfully managed, there’s a high risk of collision and injury to the most vulnerable. Dutch design principles require junctions to be simple to understand for everyone and ‘forgiving’ of mistakes by any road user. They reduce the number of possible conflict points and reduce speeds so that crashes are low impact.

The red arrow shows how the road marking encourage drivers to take the corner at speed; the green arrow shows a slower, more desirable line.

On CS2, at about a dozen intersections there is a worrying risk of cyclists being hit by left-turning motor traffic. The physical separation of the cycle lane ends some 12m to 20m before each junction. There is a section of continuous white-painted lane marking, which cars and lorries are not meant to cross, but the marking’s appearance is likely to make drivers believe there is a wide sweeping curve into the junction allowing them to go round without slowing down to a safe speed. And this situation is very common. In one case, we saw a cyclist looking over his shoulder and having to brake hard as a succession of cars cut across his path, forcing him to stop to prevent being hit.

The Highway Code is clear (rule 183) that left-turning vehicles should give way to the cyclists, but we only saw this happen on the odd occasion. A number of traffic experts have suggested there is a high risk of serious casualties because of these flawed junction designs. The worst example is at the Warton Road/Rick Roberts Way intersection where there is a high volume of motor traffic heading to Westfield shopping centre.

Poorly implemented two-stage right turns

At the same junction there is a ‘two-stage right turn’. This idea has been around for a long time, known as a ‘jug handle’ (because of its shape) or a ‘Copenhagen left’ (the Danish left is equivalent to a right turn in the UK). However, in the CS2 implementation, the turn has been massively over-complicated: a sign 3m in the air directs people turning right to cycle through the junction, then one’s expected to turn left on to the pavement, to go across the pavement back on themselves, and then left again on to the side road to wait for the traffic lights to change.

Cyclists making a two-stage right turn at Rick Roberts Way are spared the danger of crossing multiple lanes of fast-moving motor traffic, but the implementation is confusing and indirect.

This implementation is very confusing, poorly signed and we saw no-one use it, while other cyclists struggled to make right turns mixing with fast traffic. The principle of a protected right turn is sound — giving cyclists a means to turn right without having to cross multiple lanes of fast-moving motor traffic — but we need a ‘London right’ that’s safe and direct.

High kerbing increases risk of pedal strike

Throughout the route the use of 15cm-high kerbing is unfriendly for cycling, with a risk of hitting your pedals. This means that 10% of the lane width is wasted, which is an expensive mistake. The Dutch use an angled section kerb, which reduces the risk of pedal strike and increases the useable width of the cycle lane.

High and unforgiving kerbs.

There’s also a lack of dropped kerbs at -several points. For example, if you want to cross the High Street at Abbey Lane, you either wait in the bike lane blocking other people or lift your bike on to the pavement and then lift it down when the lights go green. This problem is repeated at many locations. It affects access to the Newham Greenway and several of the other links to the canal network and quiet cycleways.

Bus-stop bypasses danger to cycling

A feature of the CS2 extension we welcomed when the plans were first published are the -cycling bypasses. Up until now, these have rarely seen in London and they caused some controversy before the route opened. Having visited the Netherlands and seen these in trouble-free action at tram and bus stops, we have been highly supportive of the principle because they reduce potentially lethal conflict between cyclists and buses.

Even at Dutch locations with high cycling and pedestrians flows we’ve rarely seen conflict between people on foot and on bicycles. The principle is sound, although TfL has made them narrow, which means there’s an avoidable risk of cyclists crashing here.

The bus stop bypasses are a great idea but are too narrow and the kerbs are too high.

Final thoughts

CS2 is a short cycling facility, which is difficult to reach safely, features inadequate junction -treatments and dodgy kerbing. And yet, it is still a significant improvement on what went before and a major step in the right direction. We’ll work with TfL to make these lanes better.