Mayor and TfL must put walking and cycling first in design and planning

This is a guest blog by Tom Harrison, the Chair of LCC's new Infrastructure Advisory Panel, which will be supporting LCC's consultation responses . All views expressed in this blog are his own.

The last few weeks have seen two strategic documents released: the Strategic Cycling Analysis (SCA) from TfL; and the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS). They set out a clear “direction of travel” for London. The Mayor has committed to ensuring walking, cycling and public transport take clear priority over cars (including taxis and PHVs). The demand for cycling is immense, and a network of high quality routes and traffic free areas is needed to meet it. The Mayor is targeting a network where 70% of Londoners are within 400m of a cycle route. And for 80% of trips to be made by walking, cycling and public transport.

These high-level policy positions are to be welcomed and show real leadership from Mayor Khan, Val Shawcross, and Will Norman. The Mayor’s Transport Strategy is probably one of the most ambitious, sustainability-literate documents ever produced by a UK politician.

However, one big barrier remains: the confusion within TfL about which modes to prioritise when designing schemes. We’ve heard TfL say “we need to balance the needs of all road users”.  If the MTS is to be followed, this sort of wording should disappear. The needs of cars are lower priority.  The trickier issue is the balance between buses and cycling.

In almost all schemes of the past few years, TfL have not given a satisfactory answer. Balls Pond Road in Hackney, Brixton Hill in Lambeth, Hampstead Road in Camden have all seen cycle tracks cancelled due to TfL’s decision to prioritise buses. The latest schemes out for consultation now all include dangerous sections, with the incorrect assumption that people "from all walks of life" ("Healthy Streets" wording) will choose to cycle when forced to mix with very busy bus routes, on Nine Elms, Waterloo Road, Lambeth Palace Road and Fiveways.

The confusion at TfL is not only unfair for people cycling, but also for the bus drivers who would much rather have cycle tracks so they don’t have to manage conflict with cyclists. At the moment, drivers are expected to meet a tight timetable. A person cycling in the bus lane invariably holds them up. Indeed, by law, drivers should give at least 1.5m-2m overtaking space. In other words, if someone is cycling in a bus lane, bus drivers are not legally allowed to overtake without going into the next lane, thereby rendering bus lanes legally incompatible with cycling. This sort of “institutional confusion” leads to risky, dangerous driving as most people cycling may well have experienced on their journey.

The inconsistency is further demonstrated by the Mayor seemingly happy to mix buses and bikes, while taking a clear stand on the unacceptability of HGVs risks, despite the fact that TfL data shows buses cause as many fatalities and serious injuries, if not more so, than HGVs

Can you imagine your friends and family cycling here with buses behaving like this?

Thankfully the Mayor and TfL do seem set to review the role of buses as part of the "Healthy Streets" agenda.

The most appropriate option will always depend on context and TfL is developing a Healthy Streets Appraisal Framework to aid decision making in this area. – SCA, 3.2.1

The Healthy Streets Approach will support buses by reasserting the priority of walking, cycling and public transport over private vehicle use, and taking an integrated approach to planning these complementary modes. It is therefore important at this pivotal moment in the future of London’s transport system that a strategic view of how the bus network operates is taken. (MTS, p 133)

These reviews will be crucial and it’s important for all us of to feed into them. To help this, it’s worth taking a look at just how confused the situation is at the moment.

The SCA makes a very strong case for the need for cycle tracks on main roads:

The strategic road network:

This analysis explores data on where cycle trips are currently being made in London. A significant proportion of these trips take place on the strategic road network. This is likely to be for several reasons:

i) a large proportion of people choose to cycle the most direct route to their destination, for speed and ease of navigation, even if this involves using a main road

ii) when cycling people will often choose roads that they are familiar with. Main roads form part of people’s ‘mental map’ of London and can be the default way of getting around

iii) trip attractors, including workplaces, shops and services, tend to be clustered around main roads In addition to the above, the data on motorised trips that could be switched to cycling shows that a third of these trips start or end on a main road. This does not include the additional trips that start or end close to main roads

It also roots its thinking in the excellent London Cycling Design Standards:

"This approach to cycle infrastructure design is described in the London Cycling Design Standards (LCDS). LCDS establishes that well designed cycle facilities should be safe, direct, comfortable, coherent, attractive and adaptable. A key factor is the balance between integration with and separation from other users."

The MTS and SCA are also impressively vociferous about the need to not just plan for the commuter, but think about children in particular. However, the options presented in the SCA for dealing with balancing bus and cycling movements need significant reworking.

3.2.1 Delivering SCA connections alongside improvements for the bus network

On some strategically important roads, high bus demand and high cycle demand may coincide. Sometimes, good provision for buses, cycles and general traffic can be offered on the same road. Where this isn’t possible, an analysis of strategic movement in the area is recommended so that good choices for all sustainable transport modes are identified and prioritised.

This section presents four options for resolving situations in which the requirements of buses and cycles overlap on main roads:

1.  Provide dedicated facilities for all modes

2.  Prioritise buses and cycles through general traffic management (reduction or removal of private cars)

3.  Provide high quality cycle provision on a nearby parallel street

4.  Adapt the bus network in the area

Option 1 is evidently fine, assuming it’s done properly.

Option 2 needs refining. In principle, it sounds good. But the example they give – Tottenham Court Road- is highly concerning. The new Tottenham Court Road is not a cycle scheme at all. In fact, the cycle route will go along Gower St. As discussed above, LCC is now very clear that buses and cycling are not compatible. The point is made in more detail and well by Rachel Aldred in her evidence to the London Assembly.  

Option 3 sounds ok in principle, but in fact, it should be removed as an option. The separation of bus and cycle networks is a common, and often successful approach in many cities elsewhere. London is different, with the possible exception of Mayfair, Marylebone, and Fitzrovia, the layout of the city means there is no suitable street arrangement where this would work.

Again, the example in the SCA is very poor. They suggest Royal College Street is a suitable "nearby parallel route" to Camden High Street. However, it is more than 400m away, thereby failing TFL's own guide for a network, which if followed would have cycle tracks on both Camden High Street and Royal College Street.

Camden High Street is a clear destination, including Camden Town Station, whose interchange with cycling the authors identify as having the most demand in London. Camden High Street is currently one way with two general traffic lanes, and a lane for parking. It could quite clearly have dedicated cycle facilities on it.  This parallel approach is a clear de-prioritisation of cycling and a failure of the network. In fact, it implies general traffic is prioritised over cycling – contrary to the Mayors Transport Strategy.

Looking at the 25 key routes identified by TfL, none of the demand lines could be met by routes parallel to main roads. The streets just simply don't exist. Try and draw them on a map (see my map here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1n2v3winiu1ZKQJQgz4amQnBRiF4&usp=sharing), and the route will be well beyond 400m from a main road and very indirect, such that few with any sense would chose it over driving. This approach should be shelved in all but a very few central london examples.

Option 4 seems to be the most sensible approach, and should really be a starting point for TfL, especially given the Mayor’s Transport Strategy’s commitment to review the bus network.

Option 4: Adapt the bus network in the area. Integrated planning of bus routes as part of the scheme following the healthy Streets Approach provides opportunities to improve overall local provision for people cycling or catching the bus.

These include:

  Adapting bus frequencies and simplifying service patterns to match projected demands and travel patterns as a result of the scheme

  Shifting some bus services to adjacent corridors where existing or potential bus priority could enhance these journeys

  Optimising stopping patterns and bus stop locations to improve kerb-side interactions, reduce bus dwell times and facilitate transfers utilising the Hopper Ticket

  Delivering bus priority on and approaching the area to improve reliability of local services

It is unquestionable that a cycle network that has gaps in it doesn’t attract people out of cars and onto bikes. The only way to achieve the modal shift the Mayor wants is by creating a dense network of routes free from all traffic which everyone feels is safe enough for them to cycle in. Slight alterations to the bus network can make a huge difference. It won’t stop people having good bus journeys, it will give people the option to choose a safe cycle journey or a safe bus journey.

Adapting bus frequency will have important impacts of safety too. As Tom Kearney has shown, TfL targets for the speed and frequency of bus journeys are too demanding, and leading to an unacceptable level of people being killed and seriously injured. The Mayor’s Transport Strategy has a adopted a “Vision Zero” approach to such loss of life. This will require moderation of the speed of buses.

The example given is a good one showing the value of rerouting a bus by 450m to enable cycle infrastructure and improve the environment around Bank station for pedestrians.

Another excellent example is Lea Bridge Road in Waltham Forest, where the council are building a flagship cycle route made possible by removing bus lanes. Given the loading, parking and other barriers there anyway, the bus network is not expected to be impacted significantly. Space for buses is not essential for the good running of their service. Space for cycling is essential if we are to achieve the transformation the Mayor and Londoners want. 

The idea of prioritising the cycling network first makes a good deal of sense.

As Leon Daniels, Managing Director of Surface Transport, TfL, said in January this year: “People who were on public transport are now walking and cycling. It is good for them, good for their health, takes the pressure of the system and improves air quality. That is good.” (Evidence to transport Committee, 11 January 2017)

Indeed TFL estimate that across London, 82% of bus journeys could be cycled (London Travel Demand Survey). The opportunity to improve health and save people money is huge.

Unless the Mayor gives the direction to TfL to a) under no circumstances merge people cycling with high frequency buses, and b) prioritise cycling when allocating road space, we will continue to see poor schemes that will not get people out of cars and onto bikes.

Take a look at LCC's first thoughts on the MTS and join the disscussion on Cyclescape.