Kingston have unveiled the next phase of their Mini-Holland programme for consultation. Except it’s not Mini-Holland. A rebrand has resulted in this being branded Go Cycle. The cynical observer might suggest that this is because none of these schemes would be considered worth implementing in the Netherlands, but let’s keep an open mind and look at the schemes first. (Hint – they’re dire).
The schemes can all be found on Kingston’s website here. Following the farce of the Portsmouth Road consultation, where the original proposals were panned and required a hasty rework, one might have thought that the council had learnt from their past experience. Not a bit of it. These are crap. Shared space abounds, room for vehicles is frequently expanded and cyclists get a mix of separated space (good) and scrapping for space at junctions (awful).
It should be pointed out that none of the problems we encounter in the proposals is especially difficult for a skilled town planner to overcome. This is not rocket science. TfL have produced a guide for providing cycle infrastructure (hopefully now beyond draft status) that gives decent guidance which has evidently been ignored here.
It is worth looking at these schemes with some principles in mind. I plan to look at each scheme, then publish sample responses. Two of the schemes are examined below; I hope to have the remaining two up later this week. (update: added link)
Shared Space (cyclist and pedestrians)
TfL’s guide states:
Cyclists and pedestrians should not be forced together where there is space to keep them apart, creating unnecessary conflict which can only increase as the number of cyclists rises.
This conflict is built into several of the designs. One of the schemes has several junctions and shares space at each of these. At best this will be slow for cyclists, at worst it will introduce conflict, setting cyclists against pedestrians. It is also confusing: it makes cycling on the pavement illegal on most pavements except where the council have stuck a bollard in the ground with a bicycle sign. Having had pedestrians inform me to “get off the bloody pavement” in one such scheme in Kingston, I have reason to not welcome more of the same.
In particular, Shared Space makes things harder for the blind and partially sighted. They can’t see cyclists and can’t hear them either. While collisions may be rare, these don’t feel subjectively safe. This is important. People with vision problems shouldn’t be afraid of being knocked over by a cyclist when walking: for a council to propose solutions with this built in conflict is appalling.
Properly done bike infrastructure benefits pedestrians: simpler junctions, more distance from motor traffic and ultimately lower pollution as more people choose to leave the car behind.
Mixing with Traffic
Bicycles and cars are very different in size, power and potential for lethal injury. This is fairly obvious but needs to be stated because some planners do not seem aware of it. Subjectively, while I’m confident riding my road bike at 20mph on roads around Kingston, I much prefer riding away from traffic when taking my son swimming on the back of a utility bike. As he gets too large for the child seat I’d love to let him use his bike; however, while he can ride competently there simply isn’t sufficient safety offered by Kingston’s intermittent bike routes.
This is why mixing bikes with traffic doesn’t work: separate routes are not catering for those who ride anyway; they are for the greater number who wish to ride but won’t. Incidentally, despite confidence in traffic I’m still very happy to use the just-opened separated route along Portsmouth Road. Not having to worry about the single idiot out to punish you for being on a bike is rather enjoyable.
Considering the Needs of all Road Users
This has emerged as a requirement when the first mini-Holland scheme was announced. Apparently changes from the TfL-funded for bikes scheme should not be to the detriment of car users (quotes from Cllrs Hudson and Cunningham). This is a nonsense argument: decades of change have favoured motor traffic to the serious detriment of both cyclists and pedestrians. Mini-Holland / Go Cycle should be about redressing the balance, righting the wrongs of decades of favouring motorised transport above all else.
With these thoughts, onto the schemes.
Fountains Roundabout, New Malden.
Let’s start with these. Here are the images sold to TfL (both swiped from Kingston’s original mini-Holland proposal)
And here’s the proposal.
Yes, that’s correct. The roundabout, with it’s separated cycle lanes, is gone. In its place we are offered an increased number of motor traffic lanes to the current situation. Both cyclists and pedestrians suffer, being shoved together in a shared space bodge.
This would be a bad scheme anytime; doing this with funding intended to improve conditions for cycling is brazen cheek. The stated objectives claim to wish to improve walking and cycling: the shared space section above should show that this is not the way to achieve this.
Frankly, it feels that cycle safety funding is being used to provide traffic management and improve the area around this rather run-down area. Not the ideal use of this funding.
To detail the objections:
- The route for the cycle path cuts across the exit from the bus stop. Anyone who’s observed how bus drivers move will know that they’ll happily pull out and block the entrance to the cycle path
- The cycle path is shared space. This doesn’t work for either pedestrians or cyclists.
- The crossings are all shared between pedestrians and cyclists. Observation of the shared space outside Kingston Station will show that this is dangerous: pedestrians and cyclists get in each other’s way as they try to scramble across the road
- A right turn for cyclists requires two crossings of a junction. There appears to be no option for all cyclists or pedestrians to be able to turn right in one go, as will be the case for motorists. This does not appear to be balance for all users.
- What happens to cyclists who wish to travel south along Malden Road? Does the current crappy paint job continue or will something adequate be put in place?
To summarise, this is piss-poor. It lowers subjective safety for the less-able pedestrian; creates conflict points between cyclists and pedestrians; and increases motor traffic lanes using cycling funding. Appalling.
Now this should be good. Putting in a cycle route through Kingston’s urban motorway is a no brainer and there’s plenty of space. This route is five lanes wide in points and the centre divider serves to increase speed as motor traffic races and jostles to get to the Bentalls car park first. As a pedestrian it’s horrible to be near (particularly past Tiffin Boys’ Grammar School), as a cycle you hope to be quick. Or ride on the pavement.
So what have we got? Well, the proposal doesn’t touch the route past the Grammar School for a start. The obvious safe(ish) route from the Fairfield bike route to Richmond Park would be past Tiffin Boys and along Canbury Park Road. But you’ll still have to use the pavement for that.
Instead, this focuses on the lower section of the urban motorway, from College Roundabout to the station.
The consultation starts with a picture that doesn’t look much different to today’s situation. A cyclist in the road down Eden Street, so my son still won’t be cycling to swimming lessons. But there is a bright part: the Borough has already consulted on what we want. The top three concerns listed are:
- separating bicycles from general traffic
- improving the quality of public spaces
- reducing congestion, motor vehicle noise and speed
So why the picture of a cyclist in the road?
Anyway, onto more positive things. The main proposal has a two-way segregated cycle route. Woohoo! The plans are unclear whether the current dividers between traffic directions will be removed. It is to be hoped that they are; if the motons wish to drive their designer crumple zones at each other, fine. But I bet speeds would lower if only magic paint was separating them from oncoming traffic.
However… the shared space around every crossing is crap. For all the reasons stated earlier, this is simply unacceptable. For a start, why would any faster cyclist use the separated path if they had to slow every junction while motor traffic had a green light? There are four incidences of this shared space bodge along the route. That’s four areas of conflict and four reasons for faster riders to ignore safer facilities.
The 20mph zone is commendable, but how will these be enforced? Villiers Road is currently a wide 20mph road observed very much in the breach. I suspect that the centre divider and wide road (two lanes each way) will also not appear to be a sensible 20mph road to most drivers, who will ignore the limit. If this zone is intended to be observed, the street layout must be changed so it feels like 20mph is appropriate.
So to summarise:
- The separated cycle route is to be welcomed, however…
- The junction detail needs work. Cycle traffic should not be treated like second class citizens at every junction; this will not encourage cycle takeup, nor use of the facilities.
- Pedestrian areas should be kept separate from cycle traffic. These crossings are busy, particularly near Old London Road where the pedestrian phase of the lights barely copes with foot traffic
- The plantings used as lane dividers need to be removed. If this is to appear as a 20mph zone, there should be nothing more than paint between the motor lanes.
- Pedestrian crossings should cross all four lanes in one go with adequate time to make the journey. The current system of forcing a wait on pedestrians for each direction (no matter how long since the previous use) clearly favours motorists rather than pedestrians.
- A zebra crossing should prove adequate for pedestrians crossing the cycle route. This can be reviewed over time.
- In particular, the moved pedestrian crossing outside the library removes the ability to cross Fairfield Road knowing that no traffic is coming off the one-way system. The lights are present before the junction; this moves them to after the junction. Not good for pedestrians or drivers wanting to leave Fairfield Road safely.
- The new pedestrian crossing at Old London Road is to be welcomed. However, the lack of separate space for cyclists is shoddy.
- One benefit of this scheme is that there is now a link from Old London Road to the station; this removes the need to use Eden Street (fighting buses), Castle St and Fife Road. So maybe I’ll forgive the lack of cycle route down Eden Street.
- Loading bays and taxi bays must be clearly distinct from the pavement on Clarence Street. Parking on pavements is not to be encouraged; this must be clearly marked and strictly enforced.
- Is the “unsignalised crossing” at the top of Clarence Street a zebra crossing, or an ambiguous mess?
This covers two of the four schemes. One is appalling, the other has promise but serious flaws. Both of these schemes need a lot more work before being acceptable.
After the farce of the Portsmouth Road scheme, one might have thought the council would have taken this seriously. This is clearly not the case: to Kingston council cycling is still a joke and they treat it like one.