Tag Archives: london

The cycle lobby: Andrew Gilligan messes it up

Andrew Gilligan accuses “the cycle lobby” of thinking only of themselves and not “putting themselves in the heads” of non-cyclists. In-fact, failure to think as a non-cyclist is exactly why the policies of Boris Johnson are such failures.

Despite the “cycling mayor” image he encouraged early on, after four years in City Hall, Boris has been getting a beating from folk who cycle in London. His flagship scheme for cycling was meant to be the Cycle Superhighways, intended to “transform” London, “boost safety” and — independently of all other initiatives — contribute to modal shift to the tune of 120,000 more daily journeys:

“I’m not kidding when I say that I’m militant about cycling, and these Superhighways are central to the cycling revolution I’m determined to bring about. No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power – on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them. That should transform the experience of cycling – boosting safety and confidence of everyone using the routes and reinforcing my view that the bike is the best way to travel in this wonderful city of ours.”

Kulveer Ranger, said: “Cycle Superhighways form a key part of the Mayor and TfL’s target to increase cycling in London by 400 per cent by 2025, compared to 2000 levels. From cycling the proposed routes myself, and speaking to a whole range of cyclists, I’m sure that these routes will prove a hugely welcome addition to London’s cycling infrastructure – giving many more people the confidence to ride”.

But this hyperbole soon backfired on Boris when it turned out that the Superficial Cycleways were, except for sections of existing dedicated infrastructure taken over on CS3, little more than £100 million paint on the road — paint that dances and dodges around petrol power, does nothing to transform the experience of cycling on the capital’s busy arterial roads, and does nothing to boost the confidence of the would-be and wanna-be cyclists that Boris claimed would be attracted by the novel hued bike lanes. Although TfL have been able to claim that there has been a large increase in bike traffic on the Superhighways, they don’t really appear to be doing much to enable or encourage non-cyclists: at most, some existing cyclists have been tempted out of the backstreets and onto the main roads; few new cyclists have been created. The most common question Londoners have about the Superhighways is: are they joke?

Since people started dying on his Superhighway at the Bow junction on the East Cross Motorway, Boris has taken the emphasis off the dozen radial routes which were once “central” to his cycling revolution, and when he does talk about them these days he will tell you that the blue paint is a navigational aid — no mention of excluding “petrol power”, boosting safety, or transforming experience. What were originally sold as part of a cycling revolution which would enable and encourage people to take to their bikes have turned out to be, at best, something to help existing cyclists find their way to the square mile.

This is why Boris has failed on cycling: he’s trying to drive a cycling revolution — more people cycling for more of their journeys — by providing for existing cyclists. Hilariously, Gilligan is so clueless about the substance of the disagreement between Boris and “the cycling lobby” that he attributes this problem exactly backwards:

“Cycle lobbyists need to put themselves in the heads of a non-cyclist or politician most of whose voters aren’t cyclists, asking why we should arrange the streets for the 2 per cent who cycle rather than the 98 per cent who drive or take the bus.”

Go Dutch, and The Big Ride, are precisely the product of the London Cycling Campaign “putting themselves in the heads of non-cyclists”, and calling for streets to be arranged for the 98 per cent who currently would never dare to cycle on them. The Go Dutch campaign was squarely pitched at the non-cyclist, showing everybody how, with a determined leader, London’s busy roads could be transformed into places where anybody and everybody can use a bicycle, and share in all the benefits that come with cycling. Gilligan seems to think that the campaign and ride was a demand by existing cyclists that they must be pampered and privileged in their niche activity. Far from it. The point that The Big Ride made was that the “cycling revolution” that Boris Johnson promised will not be delivered so long as he continues designing cycling policies and “Superhighways” for the 2 per cent who already cycle. Indeed, many of those who rode with us on Saturday are, on any normal weekday, part of the 98% themselves.

As part of the two per cent willing to — no, no, as part of the one per cent happy to — cycle on the streets of London as they are, Boris is the last person who should be appointed to lead a “cycling revolution” aimed at enabling the 98 who don’t cycle to take it up. He boasts that “scooting down Euston underpass” and around Hyde Park Corner are “no problem” when you’re “used to it”, and his now infamous comments about the Elephant and Castle being “fine if you keep your wits about you” tell you everything about how far he has penetrated the minds of ordinary non-cycling folk.

Boris’s “cycling revolution” seems to be designed around the premise that there is a large population of Londoners who are just on the cusp of taking up cycling and who just need lessons in “keeping their wits about them”, or blue paint and hire bikes to help them to “get used to it”. Boris understands how his 2% cycle so he designs policies for more of it. But the conclusion of last year’s Understanding Walking and Cycling project (admittedly primarily based on research in England outside of London) was that there is no such substantial section of the population just waiting to take up cycling in traffic, ready to be nudged in by one cheap and simple little thing. The Understanding Walking and Cycling project — which has informed and given urgency to infrastructure campaigns like Go Dutch — “put themselves in the heads of non-cyclists” and found that the 98% will not cycle so long as they expected to keep their wits about them and get used to the Euston underpass. There are very few waiting to join the 2% cycling in heavy and fast traffic: if you want a cycling revolution, you have to try something new and different. The 98% look at the policies of the Cycling Mayor and see irrelevant “Superhighways” which they presume must be good for Cyclists but on which they would never dare to cycle themselves. They look at Go Dutch and see civilised dedicated space on which they might. And Gilligoon thinks it’s the latter who are out of touch and appealing to the minority on cycling.

Boris even came close to showing signs of understanding all this when he talked of not having to “dance and dodge around petrol power”. But like so much about Boris, that turned out to be all waffle and no substance.

The problem with Boris and his cycling revolution, and the many reasons why he has messed it up on cycling, obviously go far far wider and deeper than his inability, as a contented member of the 2%, to understand why the 98% are so reluctant to join him. But I’m not sure I can bring myself to write about, or even think about, it any more. Please, just make it stop.

Rolling back shared space in the East End

Brick Lane

Brick Lane by stevecadman on flickr (cc by-nc-sa)

As the builders move out of the newly completed £30 million “shared space” on Exhibition Road, their next job might be the polar opposite project: rolling back shared space from Exhibition Road’s geographical opposite street. Tower Hamlets council, with £300,000 from TfL, have announced that in the next few weeks they will be replacing the bricks of Brick Lane with a standard issue asphalt carriageway.

I don’t know if Brick Lane has ever actually been claimed as “shared space”, but from my recollection of its construction (and it’s the best part of two years since I was last there, so recall is assisted by flickr and Streetview) it certainly falls within the spectrum of “shared space” that Stuart Reid described at last month’s Street Talks. Though it is not without signs and bollards, and even a bit of guardrail outside a school, it does have features that encourage mixing more than conventional road design. There is delineation between footway and carriageway but it’s blurred, with no kerb and with only a slight difference in the style and colour of the block paving. I don’t know the street well enough to know whether this really gives users the feeling that pedestrians own the street, but that did seem to be the case on those few occasions that I’ve been there (though I know that construction of the East London Line extension closed the top end to traffic for a while, and it might still have been benefiting from that effect last I was there).

It’s not clear whether the works will reintroduce the kerbs, but the council reveal a lot when they say that the reason for replacing the paving with a conventional surface, apart from the fact that the paving is looking “scruffy” (is it?), is to “help to distinguish space for pedestrians from traffic”. That is, this is an explicitly anti-shared space move, intended, perhaps, to put pedestrians back in their place.

I’ve written several pieces critical of shared space. In high-profile cases it has been applied in inappropriate places — to big and busy through routes like Exhibition Road, where traffic will dominate and drive everybody else out simply by weight of numbers. Its True Believers at the extreme “naked streets” end of the spectrum emphasise their discredited hypothesis that giving motorists a free reign will make them more cautious and courteous, and so shared space is often applied in a way that allows motorists to bully their way to dominance. And unrealistic claims are made about the benefits of shared space for pedestrians and cyclists, usually involving anecdotes about crossing the road while walking backwards with your eyes closed.

I can now redress the balance and defend the weaker form of shared space at Brick Lane. Brick Lane is a far more suitable candidate for shared space than most of the high-profile schemes. It is already a narrow single-lane one-way street with a high pedestrian to vehicle movement ratio — a high place status, in the jargon, and little importance as a transport route. And there is none of the “increasing motorist freedom is good for pedestrians” pseudoscience in Brick Lane’s current design, just a few features that help to slow drivers down and make things easier for pedestrians.

Caution infernal traffic
Brick Lane by duncan on flickr (cc by-nc)

(If traffic volume is a bigger problem than I remember then more can be done to discourage non-essential traffic from using the street. Reversing the direction of the one-way traffic south of Hanbury Street, perhaps, so that it can not be used as an inter-arterial rat-run all the way from Whitechapel Road to Bethnal Green Road. And of course, the while lot should be two-way for bicycles. It would also be nice if there weren’t quite such a vast amount of (often illegally) parked cars.)

Brick Lane is exactly the kind of narrow city street — important place for people but unsuitable for and unimportant as a transport route — where shared surfaces could be beneficial, and where, in my (very limited) experience, they’ve been working better than in most of the high-profile shared space schemes. Spending £300k rolling back shared space here while spending £30m installing it on the other side of town seems daft.

Tower Hamlets have been promised a lot of money for all sorts of public works and events, having completely missed out on the Olympics to neighbouring boroughs. You’d have thought that a scruffy inner-city borough like Tower Hamlets would have been able to come up with a long list of worthwhile public works. This one just looks like construction for the sake of construction, with some silly rationalisation.

Can road loveliness be found in shared space?

This week, science writer Angela Saini introduced Radio 4 listeners to “shared space” in Thinking Streets.

The premise was that there is currently a “war” between the different users of streets,* that the way to create peace has puzzled policy makers for a long time, but that new research points to shared space as the solution.

The conflict on our streets is real. But I think that’s about all that is correct about the story. How to create peace is not a puzzle: policy makers know how to do it, and have known for decades. And new research doesn’t point to shared space as the answer. There’s really very little of what a scientist would recognise as research in shared space — not because streets are not something that lend themselves to the scientific method, but because, despite the importance of streets to our health, wealth and happiness, the budgets and expertise required for proper research are rarely turned to the topic.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a powerful group of people who have convinced themselves that shared space is the revolutionary solution to the problems with our streets. The programme was largely devoted to the now familiar routine of these shared space evangelists, but there are a number of important things missing from the evangelists’ routine — things that I think would have been interesting to hear about in the “street science” narrative.

The first thing that is missing is the full story of the wider differences between the streets of the UK and those of the evangelists’ preferred example, the Netherlands. The second is the full story of the history of risk compensation on the roads. And the third is the full story of how the UK came to be transforming streets into “shared space”.

The first story is one that readers of this blog will now be familiar with. The Dutch have a far more advanced system of roads and streets than we have in the UK. We just pour asphalt everywhere, preferably in a configuration that allows people to drive fast, sometimes put a footway on the side, and then let people drive cars and trucks anywhere and everywhere.  The Dutch, meanwhile, take care to distinguish between roads, streets and lanes, build them differently, and have clear and widely understood differences in the expected use of and behaviour on them. And they build them following the principles of “sustainable safety”: ensuring that users share space only with other users who have roughly similar kinetic energy and direction.

That last point should have been made when introducing what the programme calls “home zones” (though British “home zones” have never fully replicated the Dutch woonerven). Woonerven apply the sustainable safety principle that you only mix users who have roughly similar energy — by banning heavy vehicles, and cutting the speed of the remaining motor vehicles to a crawl. “Shared space” may share some of the superficial characteristics of woonerven, but the crucial one for making people safe and comfortable is the equality of energy.

These wider differences between the UK and the Netherlands are important. They mean that Dutch drivers already understand streets differently to British drivers. And they mean that the Dutch have a vastly different proportion of journeys made by bicycle. The demands for, purpose, effects, and success of novel street designs are therefore going to be different in the Netherlands than equivalent changes in the UK.

The second story that was missing from the programme was about risk compensation. The evangelists told the usual story to explain how shared space is supposed to work: “an environment that overtly keeps us safe makes us behave less cautiously, whereas a shared space makes us more sensible.” Motorists, the story goes, will see the unfamiliar shared space street scene, with its jumble of different users and lack of signs to tell them what to do, and their automatic response will be to slow down and pay more attention. Pedestrians and cyclists, meanwhile, will respond to the increased sense of danger and discomfort by pricking up their ears and keeping their wits about them. Risk compensation, the story goes, means that in shared space everybody will become friendly, with drivers giving way and letting pedestrians cross.

This is little more than a just-so story. Even in the Netherlands, the evidence that it actually happens this way is weak and far from scientific. In Britain, though, it can be outright contradicted by ten minutes hanging around any shared space street. Taxi drivers still speed up Exhibition Road (if there isn’t a traffic jam already blocking the street). Traffic still completely dominates the seafront at Blackpool, and the blind and disabled now stay away from it. There’s not much friendliness from the white van men at Seven Dials. “Where once you would feel crazy walking on the carriageway…,” they say of Exhibition Road. Well, observations of the scheme so far suggests that pedestrians and motorists alike will view anybody on foot who casually “shares” the carriageway — walking outside of the clear pedestrian “safe zone” — to be crazy, and will shout and blast their horns at such people.

Saini observes that in the Netherlands cars “just stop” for pedestrians trying to cross the shared space. London cabbies and commercial drivers on a deadline don’t stop for red traffic lights, let alone mere pedestrians trying to get in their way. That Dutch drivers do is less a product of the shared space environment and more to do with the fact that the Dutch recognise a fundamental difference between “roads” and “streets” and how people are expected to behave on them.

Risk compensation theory is legitimate science, but in shared space the theory is applied to explain a phenomenon that, at least in the UK, just doesn’t exit: motorists becoming more cautious and friendly. In fact, the results of risk compensation can be seen all over British streets, and risk compensation on the roads has been a powerful force shaping our behaviour, built environment, and health and wealth for almost a century. But with the exact opposite effect of that claimed for shared space.

The Rt Hon JTC Moore-Brabazon recognised the existence of risk compensation when he said, in objection to the introduction of speed limits in 1934:

“It is true that 7000 people are killed in motor accidents, but it is not always going on like that. People are getting used to the new conditions… No doubt many of the old Members of the House will recollect the number of chickens we killed in the old days. We used to come back with the radiator stuffed with feathers. It was the same with dogs. Dogs get out of the way of motor cars nowadays and you never kill one. There is education even in the lower animals. These things will right themselves.”

When people feel unsafe and uncomfortable, they stop doing whatever it is that makes them feel that way, or stop going to the places where they feel unsafe. It is entirely true that, as the programme says, “an environment that overtly keeps us safe makes us behave less cautiously, whereas a shared space makes us more sensible.” The environment that overtly keeps us safe — and which has kept us more safe with every technological innovation and toughened standard — is the interior of the motor car. In the safety of the motor car people behave without caution. The result is that everybody else feels less safe and compensates by getting out of the way. We walk less and less, bundle kids into SUVs for the school run, and most people will now never consider using a bicycle. JTC Moore-Brabazon recognised this process of risk compensation in the 1930s.

The shared space/risk compensation hypothesis is not simply a just-so story. It’s a just-so story that ignores all of our previous experience of streets. When pedestrians and cyclists felt uncomfortable and threatened by the rise of motor traffic on their streets, they compensated by getting out of the way. They went somewhere else, or swapped the bicycle for a car of their own. So when the programme says that, statistically, Dutch shared space is at least as safe as the traditional streets that it replaces (it’s probably not (p10)), far from being proof that those streets are working because “everyone becomes aware of each-other”, it is in fact just another consequence of the most vulnerable road users staying away from those streets. The increased risk of collisions and injuries on these streets is compensated for by those people who are most likely to get injured — the pedestrians that schemes like Exhibition Road are supposed to attract — staying away.

The final story that is not properly explored is why Britain is building shared space streets and other “road loveliness”, as the programme puts it, such as the scramble crossing at Oxford Circus. The programme’s only comment on this was that we are now designing places for people instead of merely designing places for cars. In fact, designing successful places for people has been going on for a long time. To create them, you first get rid of cars. In his 1995 Reith Lecture, “The Sustainable City”, Richard Rogers described all the opportunities that came from removing motor vehicles from places, and listed some of the top priority places in London that needed the treatment. The terrace in front of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square was one, and this was implemented in 2003, creating a largely pedestrianised zone between Trafalgar and Leicester Squares. One side of Parliament Square almost followed, but the plans were cancelled when Boris came to City Hall, and our politicians now seem determined to keep Parliament Square as an isolated and desolate traffic island forever. A riverside park in place of the Embankment road from Parliament Square to Blackfriars Bridge was the most radical of the suggestions, and the one that politicians wanted least to do with. And then there was Exhibition Road:

Albertopolis – the collection of major museums and universities in South Kensington, including the Albert Hall and the Victoria and Albert Museum – could be connected across the road into Hyde Park. Exhibition Road could become a pedestrianised millennium avenue, part of a network of tree-lined routes.

Exhibition Road has been transformed because the case for transformation was overwhelming. The need to make a more attractive environment and the opportunities and benefits of a place for people were obvious. But shared space is a miserable compromise. Shared space on Exhibition Road is not an alternative to the old four-lane highway layout, a layout that everybody already agreed could not be allowed to stay on such an important street. It is an alternative to the much needed and long called for removal of the motor vehicles, which will now continue to dominate the space, continue to separate Albert, perched in the park, from Albertopolis, and continue to choke South Kensington with pollution.

Far from being a case of people reclaiming the streets from cars, Exhibition Road and Oxford Circus are examples of places where traffic has succeeded in clinging on to its ownership and dominance of streets that so obviously needed to be properly reclaimed. None of the great economic and cultural opportunities that Richard Rogers described have been enabled by the changes. No modal shift, no health or environmental benefits will result from them. It was built — for £30 million — but they won’t come for fancy paving alone.

(I don’t think the programme makers can be blamed for failing to discuss these points — the fault lies with the shared space True Believers. Shared space is currently very trendy in a field that doesn’t have much experience with scientific skepticism. There are a lot of people who desperately want it to work and so have convinced themselves that it must work — as one person tweeted, if Jeremy Clarkson is a critic, it must be a good thing. Steve Melia is one of the few academics to have tried to introduce some of the much needed scientific skepticism — and I imagine the publication of his paper came too late for the programme.)

Shared space is the topic of next week’s Street Talk: Stuart Reid, Director of Sustainable Transport and Communities, MVA Consultancy, will talk about Creating successful shared space streets, followed by a chance to raise questions. As usual it’s upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8PN at 7pm (bar open 6pm) on Tuesday 10th January.

* illustrated by broadcasting sound bites that included the sort of massacre fantasies that would, with any other kind of weapon, result in arrest, but for some reason never does when the weapon is a motor vehicle.

Street greenery

Lining the pavements on Holborn last new year.

London’s next big blackspot

New Bridge Street, with traffic proceeding onto Blackfriars Bridge. As part of the reconstruction of the junction, sold as “improvements” for pedestrians using the new mainline station, the pedestrian crossing has been removed from New Bridge Street. But apparently a sign saying “crossing not in use” is not enough to make it so. Pedestrians don’t know that TfL have modelled a junction in which well-behaved pedestrians either take a 250 metre detour up New Bridge Street, or push four buttons, wait four times, and take an only slightly shorter detour to use the remaining marked crossings at this junction. Who could possibly have guessed that removing a pedestrian crossing would not stop the large number of pedestrians who are on one side of the road and who want to be on the other side of the road from trying to cross it? It’s not like we have sixty years of experience and research on the subject or anything.

People are going to die here, and  TfL will have to choose between pleas of incompetence, indifference, or malice.

The Rt Hon Lieut-Col JTC Moore-Brabazon MP, commenting on the 1934 bill which proposed speed limits, said:

“It is true that 7000 people are killed in motor accidents, but it is not always going on like that. People are getting used to the new conditions… No doubt many of the old Members of the House will recollect the number of chickens we killed in the old days. We used to come back with the radiator stuffed with feathers. It was the same with dogs. Dogs get out of the way of motor cars nowadays and you never kill one. There is education even in the lower animals. These things will right themselves.”

The principle of educating the lower animals by a process of natural selection seems to be a key ingredient in TfL’s smoothing the flow programme.

While hanging around filming things, I heard a couple of young women who had just run across the road commenting on the loss of the crossing. The word “Boris” was used, amongst a selection of Anglo-Saxon monosyllables, as one explained to the other that it was the Mayor’s policy to remove pedestrian crossings in favour of faster motor vehicles. Clearly the consequences of Boris’s policies are more widely understood than he would like.

Tour du Danger: Waterloo

This is part of a series gathering thoughts on what is wrong with London’s road junctions.

If the junction of the A301 Waterloo Road/Waterloo Bridge and the A3200 York Road — the BFI IMAX roundabout — were just a roundabout it wouldn’t be very interesting. It probably wouldn’t be quite so dangerous for people on bicycles, either — not that the standard British design three-lane large-radius roundabout is at all safe or inviting, it’s just that this junction is made extra special by the Waterloo Bus Station beside the railway arches:

The bus station is on the northbound side of Waterloo Road, and the northbound section of the roundabout is, perhaps uniquely, split in two, both in space and time: the buses exiting the bus station have their own phase of the lights, and their own dedicated carriageway for this quarter of the roundabout. In amongst the sprawling traffic traffic lanes and bustling bus station, a few scraps of stop-start “cycle facility” are provided.

Heading north on a bicycle on Waterloo Road, when past the left-turn into the bus station, one is given the option of a tight-left turn into a narrow fully segregated unidirectional cycle track (best illustrated by this architect’s drawing of a hypothetical bus shelter). There is no such cycle track for bicycle users entering the roundabout from any of the other arms, but they are provided with a way into this cycle track once they have negotiated the roundabout all the way past the Waterloo Road arm. Except that by then the cycle track has already run out and instead become, for the final few yards, an on-street cycle lane, within the bus station, on the right-hand side of the buses. That leads you up to the advance stop box and the traffic lights in this video.

I can’t think of any reason why anybody would use this facility, except out of cautious lack of familiarity with the road, in the mistaken belief that a cycle track will safely lead them to where they need to go. The timing of traffic lights on the roundabout and on Waterloo Road are such that if you chose to use the facility then the traffic lights for the exit from the bus station will almost always be turning red a few seconds before you reach them, and if they’re not, well, that’s even worse — you’re deposited in a narrow and soon to expire lane on the wrong side of a line of buses all racing to get through the short cycle of the lights.

And see how they race! In fact I observed a few rounds of the lights before I erected the conspicuous camera and tripod, and I’m sure the drivers must have noticed when they were being filmed, for, before the camera was set up, on every single round of the lights a bus would crawl all the way to the front of the advance stop box and the drivers, clearly intimate with the signal timings and watching the behaviour of the neighbouring traffic streams, were experts in setting off a full second before their own light turned green — every time. You wouldn’t want to be the on a bicycle directed up the narrow lane on the right-hand side of those.

There are several fundamental problems with the ideas behind this junction. One is that it’s good to put bicycles and buses together. British engineers are told by the DfT’s cycle infrastructure guidelines that cyclists like sharing with buses and so engineers should plan them into the bus spaces. But to say that cyclists like sharing with buses is either a misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the research — a survey which found that existing cyclists preferred lanes where they only had to deal with buses over general traffic lanes where they had to deal with buses and fast cars and big trucks. (The same survey also found that cyclists and bus drivers have a low opinion of one another.) Bus lanes are less awful than no bus lanes; that doesn’t mean that most people like riding bicycles in them or that they can bring about mass cycling, and it certainly doesn’t mean that a bus station, where a lot of buses are stopping, waiting, and pulling in and out of tight spaces, is a safe, sensible or attractive cycle route.

But the most fundamental issue is perhaps that both the cycle facility and the bus station is weird cheap improvised one-of-a-kind crap stuffed in where it won’t get in the way of the very important people who drive cars and hire cabs in central London. The de facto hierarchy and prioritisation of motorised modes is a familiar problem, to the point that it is barely interesting when considering this junction. Rather, it’s the cheap improvisation that makes this one stand out. These weird ad lib facilities, which stop-and-start, merge and diverge, and abandon you in unexpected places, apart from being unattractive and unlikely to be much help in bringing about mass cycling, make everybody’s behaviour unpredictable, and that leads to mistakes being made.

Certain British cyclists look at the Netherlands, see it all working smoothly, and conclude that the laws must be beating everybody into good behaviour — the fear of insurance claims under “strict liability”, perhaps. But they’re overlooking the many ways that the Dutch control behaviour through engineering — not merely physically preventing bad behaviour by designing out speed, but also engineering out mistakes by making things obvious and predictable. Roads are built differently to streets and lanes, for example, and it is therefore obvious which you’re on and what is expected of you. Roundabouts in particular are made to be predictable places: there are few designs, with minor variations between them. People on bicycles get their own dedicated space, everybody understands that this is so, and it is made very obvious where bicycles and motor vehicles could come into conflict and which gets priority in those places.

British roundabouts follow no such rules. Some of them are a single lane, some of them two, three, four, or even five or six, depending on how much space the engineers had to play with. Sometimes there are lane markings, sometimes these are concentric circles that you veer across as you proceed, sometimes they spiral around to carry you all the way to your exit, and sometimes lane markings come and go several times in the course of your gyration. Sometimes there are traffic signals on the roundabout, sometimes there are traffic signals only on the entrances, and sometimes a roundabout will have a mix of signalised and non-signalised segments and entries. Sometimes there are signalised pedestrian crossings, sometimes there are informal traffic-island crossings, sometimes there are zebra crossings set back by the statutory distance, sometimes there are underpasses, and sometimes there is nothing and nowhere for people on foot. The huge variety comes from the obsession with eking out every last drip of traffic flow capacity at the expense of safe and intelligible standardised layouts. And the result is confusing and stressful enough for users, even without their having to worry about what sort of bizarre ad hoc cycle facility hack has been woven around the edges.

If you want people to ride bicycles where there are big, fast, complicated roads like this, you need a cycle track, but a proper one, put in the right places, continuous and predictable.

Under Ken Livingstone, when street space was still being reclaimed in the post-CCharge introduction period, a new design for the IMAX roundabout was proposed.  There was one of those world-of-their-own architect’s mockups, big on shared space, which imagines that a stone surface makes trucks disappear and leaves a big plaza full of happy pedestrians (and, even more bizarrely, imagines a totally new IMAX building). South Bank organisations are still promoting the plans (passively, at least, through a website last updated two years ago), but there can’t be any chance of anything changing here with Boris in city hall.

Do you have any observations of the Waterloo junction to add to the Tour du Danger dodgy junctions dossier?

city corridor

Langham Place / Regents Street from the roof of Broadcasting House. I’m surprised they allowed the nice curving footway outside All Souls Church to stick out so far — you’d have thought TfL and Westminster Council would have spotted the opportunity for stuffing in an extra traffic lane by cutting a few feet from the footway…

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