Tag Archives: london

Shared-use facility of the month

Riding up to Waterloo recently, I spotted a wonderful collection of pavement obstructions — roadworks signs, a fast food kiosk that takes most of the width of the footway, and A-board advertising the fast food kiosk just in case you hadn’t spotted the kiosk itself, and a fixed shared-use cycle/footway sign, designating this pavement as a place to ride your bike.

It’s not entirely clear from the sign’s position and jaunty angle whether the shared-use applies to the narrowed pavement outside the kiosk, or the even narrower pavement alongside the Charing Cross railway arches.

(distorted by ultra-wideangle lens)

The latter could be a useful route up to Waterloo (up the ramp in the distance on the left) avoiding having to go through the roundabout and bus station (beyond the traffic lights on the right), though it would make a lot more sense just to add “except cycles” to the “no entry” sign on this little-used one-way street.

But I realised later that it’s probably to take you up to those traffic lights, which control a toucan crossing allowing one to make the right turn into a quiet side-streets route without having to pull across two lanes and wait in the middle of the road for the oncoming traffic.

There are dozens of ways this could be improved, by moving the kiosk out of the way, moving stop-lines back on the oncoming carriageway and on the no-entry side-street, and having a proper bit of cycle track leading into the crossing. Just as Haarlem patched the ugliest bits of this ugly road, one can imagine a great many far superior ways to deal with this crossing.

But anything you build to serve this crossing is always going to be far from satisfactory because the entire concept is wrong. There should be no need to cross here at all because the recommended cycle route shouldn’t be meandering down little side-streets like Exton Street. If you want people to cycle, you need to give them an attractive, direct, easy to follow route, that doesn’t waste their time with constant changes of direction and checking of signs. Main roads like this need a complete rebuild — as they tend to get every few decades anyway — but with proper thought and planning. It’s not difficult to see where the space can be taken from vehicles (and kiosks) on this road of bloated traffic lanes to provide high quality dedicated space for cycling.

Until that happens, trying to route cyclists through cramped and crowded bits of pavement kinda makes TfL and Lambeth look like a bunch of idiots.

Clink Street

The afternoons are getting short and the evenings are getting long. Here’s a dark winter picture of one of those little old London streets that are “too narrow”. The solution? It’s blocked with bollards to keep the ratrunners out.

The Friday photo column is just an excuse to plug my photography stuff. Don’t you think they’d make good Christmas presents?

pavement puddle

On Old Street.

The Friday photo column is just an excuse to plug my photography stuff. Don’t you think they’d make good Christmas presents?


We reported a roadworks problem, but Boris wouldn't fix it.

This man has matched his outfit to his Boris bike... and 15 minutes before departure, the gathering crowds have gathered as far as the eye can see.

People friendly streets!

Full length of the bridge and junction, with more still to come.

Time for a U-turn.

Lots more photos were taken by zefrog.

We stand now where two roads diverge…

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one “less traveled by”—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
— Rachel Carson

I don’t think that the road we’re on is easy. I don’t think that, as Gordon Brown said of tackling climate change, “taking this path will not be easy for any of us.” Solving our problems, if done right and done early, doesn’t make austerity, it makes a better, fairer, freer, happier and healthier world.

It’s not easy, for example, to carry on building a city where people don’t want to live and work, don’t want to spend their money or raise their families. A London so choked with cars, trucks, and taxis, and the noise and fumes from them, that people give up on Oxford Street shops, West End cafes and East End markets. A London that creates no opportunities for its children, and shuts away its elderly. A London that people long to leave, and which people do leave, as soon as they can, for the south coast or the countryside.

The urban motorway we have been travelling is a road designed to induce rage in even its most pacific users, a road designed to immobilise children and the elderly, to prioritise anti-social transport over social transport, and a road designed with a high tolerance for the blood of its users.

It’s easy to imagine a better road, a calmer, safer, more egalitarian space. Here, look, the London Cycling Campaign have done just that, with Blackfriars Bridge:

I don’t even think that the LCC’s road is the best possible: the Danish-influenced design is clearly far superior to the road we’ve been on, but even the Danes haven’t quite designed streets for everybody to the extent that the Dutch have.

(And that’s why I disagree with the reason given for the Danish model — that it’s more achievable in the UK. If the Dutch model can appeal to a greater diversity of would-be-cyclists, as the demographics of Dutch and Danish cyclists suggests it does, it should be more achievable. It is true that the Danish model is less alien to us and so easier to comprehend when looking at rhetorical drawings, though.)

We’re on the road to disaster, but we could turn off at any time, build a new road to one of any number of superior designs, Dutch or Danish, they’d all be smoother than this one. All it would take is for Boris Johnson to man up, admit that he has been going the wrong way, and to stand up to the powerful few who are invested in the road to disaster.

Tell the mayor to do it, today at 5.45pm, Blackfriars Bridge.


To Deptford Bridge, my bus back when I lived in Deptford, on the rare occasions when a bicycle or train wouldn’t do the job. This week, local blogger Darryl marks the end of the 453 bendy bus. The bendy buses have been one big political pantomime, introduced as a conspicuous symbol of Ken’s commitment to public transport, and scrapped as a conspicuous symbol of Boris’s commitment to, er, taunt Ken.

The friday photo theme is just an excuse to plug my photography site.


Some videos of London

I’m on the road, rails, and waves, so here, to fill in, are some videos that caught my eye on Londonist.

Driving through Old London, 1950s:

1920s London in colour:

And 24 Hours On Rivington Street, showing how a single motor vehicle will dominate a street full of people:


There are “no cycling” signs at both ends of this route through Smithfield Market, presumably because in the early morning big trucks come through here with the deliveries of meat.  But that doesn’t stop people using it as part of a north-south alternative to the Farringdon Road — in places seven whole lanes of through racetrack, turning lanes, parked cars, and taxi ranks.  Several quiet streets with cycling permeability join Ludgate Hill to Clerkenwell Road and beyond.

On a trip down to that London, Other Aberdeen also noticed these bicycling paramedics, and in particular, the brand of their bicycles.  These are not any bicycle shaped object.  These are Smith and Wesson re-branded bicycle shaped objects.  “Oooh,” thought the emergency services.  “Smith and Wesson.  They must be good bicycles.”

That will be why Lambeth police quickly switched to Treks after they got the repair bill from Brixton Bikes.

Those who went to Bristol Carnivelo last weekend will have encountered a much better constructed police bike, chasing down the pedicabs with sirens blaring, in a park full of very jealous children.

The friday photo theme is just an excuse to plug my photography site.

Things to do

I am on the road, rails, waves, and cycle tracks, far away from the comment moderation tool. While I am away, you might occupy some of your time with these activities.

If you’re in London on Thursday 22nd, head to Blackfriars Bridge at 8am to ride against traffic fumes.

If you’re in Bristol this week, join the bike trains. Guided bike rides on tube strike days in London were an utter failure, with nobody turning up, but if enough people turn up, bike trains could make a nice little social critical mass ride.

Victim of bike theft, dangerous driving, kettling, or phone hacking? Tell the Met what your priorities for policing are.

Walk, ride a bicycle, or even drive a car? Ask your MP to keep dangerously inappropriate trucks off our streets.

Red carpet

Under the railway arches, Sclater Street market, East London.

“Shared” space on Exhibition Road

The “shared space” streetscape at Exhibition Road in South Kensington is taking shape. I’ve written before expressing skepticism about shared space — the idea that removing the road signs and kerb stones is enough to tame the motor vehicle, make drivers slow down and look out for others, and reclaims the streets for people. Exhibition Road doesn’t make me any more hopeful.

The new layout and surfaces might make for a more liveable area, where everybody takes to their family out in cargo bikes and sits around socialising on the stone ledges.

But it might just result in more of the same: large volumes of fast moving motor vehicles dominating the street.

Despite the deterrent of the road works, there were dozens of vehicles per minute coming through here on wednesday afternoon. Hard to imagine that they won’t dominate the space, pushing the pedestrians to the side — and, indeed, judging from all of the temporary signs that are in place during the construction work, pedestrians and vehicles aren’t yet trusted to get along without a little help.

Nor are motorists even expected to work out how to handle a junction on their own — they still require a subtle roundabout.

Perhaps it is unfair to judge “shared space” by Exhibition Road, given that, having taken out of the kerb stones, they have installed, er, bollards: clearly the designers of the street don’t really believe in the shared space idea themselves. Vehicles belong on one side of the bollards, pedestrians on the other, and people can’t be trusted to work that out by themselves. Same old street, different paving stones.

Plenty of free parking outside the museums.

Health and safety in the workplace demands that traffic is kept away from the workmen who fetch fresh concrete. No such luck for the people for whom the finished Exhibition Road will be a workplace.

Taxi drivers might learn to “share” the full extent of the road space, but will the tourists on foot be so bold?

Old habits die hard: crossing Cromwell Road, part of the TfL Road Network, will be by staggered light-controlled crossing, complete with a lovely new pedestrian cage.

And even the lesser Thurloe Place will break the “shared space” with a set of traffic lights and tarmac.

Finally, Thurloe Street outside South Kensington Station, has been made no-through (the old one-way system around Thurloe Street and Thurloe Place replaced with a simple two-way Thurloe Place). Again with the use of bollards to mark a footway because the motorists can’t be trusted to behave themselves. It’s nice, except that with no kerb and no signs at the end, it’s not at all obvious whether or not this is supposed to be a through route for bicycle users.

It does look nicer than it did, at least, in the bits where the vehicles haven’t yet returned. But I’m not sure it looks thirty million pounds better. We’ll see whether it works better than it did…

More about the project on the borough website, and also coverage this week on Zelo Street.

Thinking outside the box van: Birlea Furniture (@Birlea_Ltd)

The EU are currently looking at whether to allow bigger and longer trucks. Birlea Furniture put together a helpful display of a double-box lorry, CX07AXU, on Tavistock Place, showing how they can be seamlessly integrated into our towns and cities.

By driving over the kerbs and parking in the cycle track, which is designed for much lower weight loads, the driver has helpfully ensured that the road surface is kept in good condition, and that Important People aren’t inconvenicned. By forcing half a dozen cyclists each minute to swing out into the oncoming traffic, Birlea Furniture are sending an important message about the consequences that these bicyclists’ selfish choices have for fragile British business.

Well done, Birlea Furniture.

We hope that by thinking outside the box we keep you happy…

Edited to add: Almost simultaneously, Pedestrian Liberation happened to post on HGV parking and loading rules.

In which the EU nudge the coalition* to quietly save a lot of lives

To transport nerds like me and Tom, something stood out in Simon Birkett’s Street Talk about air pollution in London:

When you map air pollution levels in central London you get an only very-slightly fuzzy road map, of course. But that other thing — you see the other thing, more polluting than anything else on the map?

You can see it when you look at the whole city — three things that aren’t roads clearly stand out:

Well one of them is obviously Heathrow Airport, way out west, but those other two…

It’s those old Intercity 125s, high speed diesel trains on London’s remaining major non-electrified railways** — the Great Western into Paddington, and the Midland into St Pancras. You might also spot a lesser line, the Chiltern to Marylebone (Waterloo, Euston, and King’s Cross also still get a very small number of diesels, but not enough to leave any obvious trace on the map).

Makes one wonder how bad the air is in Bristol and Cardiff, where all the trains are diesel.

For most of the day, Paddington hosts half a dozen or more old Intercity 125s each hour from the Westcountry and South Wales. That’ll change when lines to Bristol, Cardiff and Oxford go electric over the next few years. The long distance trains will either be electric, or bizarre hybrids that will burn fuel only where the power lines run out on a few routes.

The £1 bn electrification of the Great Western lines is being sold by Philip Hammond and the DfT almost entirely as an investment to improve speed (always the obsession with speed!) and capacity — the electric trains will accelerate faster, cutting perhaps as much as a fifth from the journey time when combined with other line upgrades. (Trains to Swansea will have to be bizarre hybrids, carrying the dead weight of fuel and engines all the way from London, because the final few miles beyond Cardiff won’t be electrified on the grounds that there are other physical constraints on journey times between Swansea and Cardiff — always the obsession with speed!)

But crucial to the electrification project are EU carbon emissions and air pollution regulations, both of which are tightened again next year: they make it more expensive to build and buy compliant diesel engines, and they mean that money is thrown away on mitigation and fines, costs which seal the case for electrification. Without such regulations pushing up the cost of diesel, the current occupants of the Treasury would never have agreed to spending the money on wires.

And yet the fact that electrification will reduce the incidence of childhood asthma and horrible deaths from respiratory diseases in Cardiff and Bristol and West London doesn’t seem to be something that the government wants to boast about. To boast about solving air pollution would require first that the government publicly acknowledge the frightening scale of the air pollution problem — and then that they acknowledge that, without the EU, they never would have bothered solving it.

* After six Labour transport secretaries did nothing, the final one, Adonis, succeeded in getting electrification announced, only for an unfortunate general election to fall between the announcement and his being able to implement it.

** Yes, I know they are both electrified within London for some commuter services.

Westminster and TfL: quietly making things worse

Traffic wasn’t going anywhere fast around Picadilly Circus tuesday lunchtime. It was backed all the way from the bottom of the still one-way Haymarket up onto Picadilly Circus and beyond:

Trying to turn onto the newly two-way Pall Mall:

And up the still one-way Lower Regent Street:

It’s presumably because we’re at a half-way stage, where Pall Mall has gone two-way, Haymarket and Regent Street remain one-way, and Picadilly is half-closed and half-way transformed:

All of these works are, of course, a massive wasted opportunity. But they can’t make things any worse than they were, can they? They could, if the announced removal of traffic lights makes crossing the road more difficult for pedestrians. But the new cage-less central reservation is supposed to make it easy for pedestrians to cross wherever they like through gaps in the traffic. We’ll see about that.

But Westminster have quietly made things worse in another way. I’ve not seen any blogs mention it, and can find no note of the change from Westminster. But I am sure I do not hallucinate it.

Jermyn Street runs parallel to Picadilly a single block south. As Google Maps indicates, it’s a one-way street, westbound from Haymarket to St James Street. A quiet back street, it provides an alternative to the Picadilly bus lane, or going all the way around the system on Pall Mall. Popular with cyclists* — though perhaps Westminster wouldn’t know that, since nobody really bothers to count them.

Except that this is now the view from Haymarket looking down Jermyn Street:

You can see where once a solid white line protected a cycle lane heading west. It has been burned out because this short section of Jermyn Street between Haymarket and Lower Regent Street, marked in red on the map, has been reversed, without even keeping the cycle lane as a contraflow, thus putting an end to this route.

Why? Smoothing the traffic flow, of course. And it’s for the benefit of pedestrians, you know. While pedestrian crossing lights remain at the intersection of Regent and Jermyn Streets (not that they are either necessary or helpful when a static bendy bus has been blocking them for five minutes), since traffic can only turn into, not out of Jermyn Street, a phase of the lights can be eliminated.

You can see the previous arrangement still on Streetview: a bicycle cut through for continuing along Jermyn Street, while preventing motor vehicles using it as a rat-run. Clever of Westminster to get rid of it under the cover of fiddling with the traffic lights.

The only question for which the answer isn’t obvious is whether this work was all of Westminster’s own initiative, or whether TfL put the idea to them.

It’s probably for the best. With all the chaos on Pall Mall and Picadilly, the narrow quiet route west from Regent Street is now choked with trucks and coaches trying to break out of the endless jams around it.

* I used the route frequently on the way to events at the Royal Institution on Albemarle Street, just off Picadilly. In the early nineteenth century, events at the Royal Institution were so popular that Albemarle Street became congested with carriages. After a particularly well attended lecture by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, it was made the world’s first one-way street, all in the name of smoothing the flow of this traffic.