Stop calling them “car bans”

Some cities and boroughs are starting to make modest changes to residential streets to enable socially distanced travel, but they face a battle because of the language they use.

Faced with the dilemma of how to ease lockdown without overcrowding public transport and resuming spread of the disease, or else seeing their cities grind to a halt as everyone clogs them up with single occupant cars, (some) councils are realising that they need to take urgent action to enable walking and cycling.

Most are realising that the best action you can take in an emergency, when things need to be done quickly, cheaply and effectively, is filtering through motor traffic out of residential streets that are used by motorists as ratrun shortcuts. Modal filters can be as quick and cheap as dumping down a concrete block, forklifting in a flower planter, or concreting in a bollard.

What’s stopping them being used more widely, or installed more quickly, is people kicking up a fuss about them, and telling councils that they don’t want them. Often even it’s the people who have the most to gain from these actions who are objecting. Not just the residents who will benefit from walking and cycling being enabled for them and their neighbours. The local business owners who stand to benefit from a population who enjoy walking and cycling to local businesses rather than feeling they have little choice but to get in their cars, at which point they may as well take the easy route to the big barn store with the big car park on the ring road. The professional drivers who will otherwise face being stuck with everyone else in the gridlock that will cripple us if people have no alternative but to drive everywhere.

Those people should be allies in clamouring for quick action. Instead, they fight it. Because they’ve misunderstood what it is and how it will impact them. And you can’t blame them for doing so. The media might be slightly to blame for misrepresenting filtering, but they’re really just reflecting councils and campaigners who make the same mistakes when promoting the intervention.

Don’t close the roads

The most obvious mistake is talking about “car bans” and “closing roads”. It’s entirely understandable that people run away with the idea that they won’t be able to drive a journey that they can only imagine themselves driving if you’re talking about a car ban. It’s understandable that people will assume that they won’t be able to access their own house — even if they are disabled, or have a van for work — when you tell them you want to close their road.

Bristol, to take just one of many examples, is working on pedestrianisation of a few more narrow shopping and cafe streets in the old city centre. Those streets were already very low traffic thanks to a clever system of opposing one way sections; 99.9% of residents of the city will never have driven on any of them anyway; and those who do have legitimate business doing so will still be able to get access. But somebody got overexcited and oversold what is happening as a “car ban”. Opponents were able to turn it into a scare story for suburbanites and a battle in some sort of culture war. But lots of people with no such malicious intent heard the words “city centre car ban” and had perfectly understandable questions about hospital access, people with mobility needs, and goods and trades. Questions with easy answers, but questions that wouldn’t have needed answering if the proposal had been described more accurately. The project’s going ahead, but a bunch of effort and political capital was wasted on what is really a very small and timid change, because it was sold as something radical.

Don’t try to convince people they can cycle

A subtly different manifestation of the same phenomenon can be found all over social media. Twitter these days has sadly transformed from being a network for discussing with friends and colleagues to being a place where strangers who don’t understand one another, because they have entirely different frames of reference, shout at eachother.

So a random on the internet hears about a “car ban” or a “road closure” and raises an objection.

“What about the disabled? What about the elderly?”

And they get bombarded with strangers telling them about the amazing people who cycled into their 90s, and the normal folk who happen to use bikes and trikes everyday as mobility aids because they have difficulty walking. Tweets pile in full of pictures of old people cycling on strange foreign Dutch cycle paths.

“What if I have to carry boxes of heavy tools and equipment to do my trade? What if I need to buy a washing machine? How will I do the weekly shop?”

And they get bombarded with strangers talking about cargo bikes and sharing pictures of fully loaded PedalMe trailers and washing machines on giant Dutch trikes. Tweets pile in full of people stuffing their panniers with the weekly shop, and talking about how cycling has reunited them with their local butcher and baker and they now make smaller shopping trips 3 times a week.

“What about the hills? What about the rain? How will I visit my distant relatives?”

All the questions and objections will be met by hundreds of strangers tweeting: actually, it’s fine, you can cycle, try it, you’ll surprise yourself. And they’re usually correct, but they are never going to convince anyone that cycling will be for them in a tweet.

When see these questions, because I’m a sarcastic twat who has the urge to wind up people I don’t like online as much as the next sarcastic twat, I want to reply:

Well what if I’m not elderly?

Well what if I don’t need to carry a fridge?

Well what if my journey isn’t to visit distant relatives?

(In the end, I don’t, because I know that to somebody with such an alien frame of reference, it would be interpreted as callous disregard for their needs, rather than as a commentary on their own disregard for the needs of others.)

Because the point we need to get across is that modal filters do not make any journey impossible. A modal filter doesn’t prevent driving for the elderly, the disabled, trades, goods, anyone else who has a legitimate need to drive, or for that matter, anyone who just has a preference for driving. “What about X?” What about it? Just continue doing what you do now, if you like. Chances are, your journey will be identical to how it is now, or at most, you’ll need to take a short detour that adds a minute to your journey.

What the filter does do is give people who aren’t elderly, don’t need to carry a fridge, and aren’t making a 250km journey, the option to not make their journey by car. They create choice for a lot of people, without taking any choice away from anybody.

So much of this discourse is people screaming about their choice being taken away from them, when the exact opposite is true. No option is being taken away from people. Nobody is being banned from driving by a bollard in a back street. But some people are being given an opportunity to make journeys by means other than a car, where previously that option just wasn’t realistic.

And yes, often the people doing the screaming are awful, entitled people who are inventing excuses, protecting their privilege, and pretending to care about the disabled and elderly people whose needs they don’t actually understand because they’ve never asked.

But just as often it’s people who have genuine questions, because they’ve heard that the council’s going to close their road, and that sounds an awful lot like they’re going to be banned from using their car. Piling in on them on twitter to tell them that, actually you can cycle with a disability, you can cycle with a fridge, you can cycle long distances, is only going to entrench their misunderstanding and their opposition.

Tell them it’s OK: they can still drive all their journeys. Nobody’s banning cars. Nobody’s closing the road. They’ll work out the cycling by themselves later.

Slapdash signals

I tweeted a little clip of something from a commute of a few months ago. It was the police making a couple of annoying, potentially very dangerous, and entirely understandable mistakes.

First, the police driver has blocked an advance stop box. I imagine probably the lights were green when they entered it, but a traffic jam ahead of them prevented them continuing on their way before the lights turned red.

It’s a common problem. Blocking ASLs is the least of it. Blocking pedestrian crossings and entire junctions happens all the time too, because motorists know they can try their luck and just keep bumper hugging in slow-moving traffic without worrying about whether they’ll be able to see when the lights turn green again. Aggressive motorists can nudge forward through red lights and pedestrian crossings, ready to floor it when they see their light turn green.

My thesis is that this behaviour is not merely accommodated by repeater traffic lights on the far side of junctions, but over time it has been slowly, creepingly encouraged by it. Those who have driven or cycled outside the UK will have noticed that having multiple signal heads to display the same signal strewn about a junction are quite a British peculiarity. They’re not unheard of elsewhere, but it’s far more normal to have just the one signal — in most countries, always situated at the stop line (but in some, always situated directly opposite on the far side of the junction).

And they exist purely to accommodate drivers who have overshot their stop line. I guess at some time, somebody identified that there was a niche problem: occasionally a driver accidentally stopped over the line, or had to make an emergency stop for some reason, and then couldn’t see when lights changed. And they invented far-side repeaters as a solution, and in doing so have created a far more ubiquitous and pernicious problem.

But this isn’t the only danger created by far side repeater signals. The second, equally excellently demonstrated by the police in the original video, is that they turn junctions with the slightest complexities into a dangerously confusing mess. The police driver clearly sits in the advanced stop box watching a signal on the far side of the junction, and shoots off when they see it turn green. Only to realise that they’ve been watching one of the many independent signal heads that is associated with an entirely different stop line in the junction complex. Luckily on this occasion there wasn’t anybody in the pedestrian crossing, and they correct their mistake before hitting the traffic that actually has the green light.

Far side repeaters have also created ample opportunity for the opposite kind of confusion: people who are making a turn will ignore any red light in the street they’re turning into, because they’ve been trained to assume that such lights must be far side repeaters aimed at traffic waiting in the perpendicular arm of the junction. So we get people who are making turns shooting through pedestrian crossings because they’ve been trained that when you’re moving through a junction, it’s normal to see red lights that don’t apply to your flow and which you can safely ignore.

This is just one specific, but excellently illustrative example of two more fundamental flaws in how we design and manage our streets:

  1. The motoring industry has successfully defined “road safety” as being accommodating the bad behaviour of motorists and making sure that the dangerous situations they create don’t end up with them killing themselves, rather than about preventing them creating those dangerous situations.
  2. We have lots of lengthy and precise regulations and design guidance which get prescriptive about lots of detail that isn’t really very important (giving councils plenty of opportunity to say improvements are impossible because the technical guides say no) while remaining silent on lots of big stuff that has a massive effect on the usability of our streets, allowing councils to create all kinds of confusing slapdash rubbish.

This latter point is perhaps more perfectly illustrated by this deadly pedestrian crossing in Sheffield, which last I checked had not been fixed because it follows the strict and detailed regulations and design guidance perfectly, while being utterly and fatally incomprehensible to everyone who has to use it.

Anyway. That’s my pitch. The campaign to ban far side repeater lights is open.

 

 

In which we Make The Lane

This is just a notification for those of you who aren’t already following on the twitter (@steinsky). Because all the cool kids are apparently vlogging instead of blogging these days:

Like I say, I might do some more of these, focusing on showing some of the positive things that people are doing, and what good looks like. But only if it looks like there’s an appetite for it and people actually watch these things. So I’d love to hear your thoughts on that, and subscribe to the channel if you do want to see more.

Why are we still waiting? Regent’s Park needs action NOW

Westminster Council have been playing games with the mayor, putting improvements for walking, cycling, public transport and one of our greatest parks in jeopardy. It’s time for Sadiq Khan to get a grip and deliver, before it’s too late.

In December 2016, Sadiq Khan announced construction of CS11, from Swiss Cottage to the West End, would start in 2017. Since then, nothing has happened — and now the whole project is in danger.

CS11, for those unfamiliar, should provide some desperately needed improvements to north London neighbourhoods in Swiss Cottage and Primrose Hill, and even more so to Regent’s Park. Nominally a “Cycle Superhighway” scheme, most of the improvements it makes are somewhat mediocre for cycling — like “semi-segregated” cycle lanes on Avenue Road, and cycle tracks on Portland Place that would probably prove too narrow and soon need upgrading.

Really, CS11 is a set of important improvements to the general environment of the places and neighbourhoods along the route, and that’s where its value lies.

In Swiss Cottage it will remove the vast gyratory of speeding traffic that severs neighbourhoods and suppresses the potential of this local hub. It will transform the public transport interchange here, and provide bus priority to cut journey times on most of the bus routes.

In Primrose Hill and St John’s Wood it will halt the otherwise relentlessly rising tide of ratrunning traffic that is taking over residential streets.

And most importantly of all, in Regent’s Park it closes the gates on the habitually speeding motorists that race through this place of recreation, destroying the peace and polluting the haven of our parkland.

This is a scheme which has huge benefits for residents, park users, public transport passengers and cyclists — for everyone except the drivers who think they should be able to take a short-cut through parks and residential streets. Which is why so many people supported it in the first place, during the consultation stage.

Time is running out and Sadiq Khan needs to get a grip

I have no party allegiances. I’m not anti-Sadiq. He got my (second preference) vote. I like a lot of what he says. And he’s not even the villain here.

The Conservatives of Westminster City Council are the villains. They’ve been playing games with CS11 — and playing games with the Mayor. They’re causing trouble, muddying water, in order to introduce delays until time runs out on the project.

Westminster have introduced an alternative proposal for Regents Park, watering down the changes to the point where they become entirely useless. They suggest closing a token couple of gates for token couple of hours a day, leaving it no less full of speeding traffic and pollution.*

Their proposal is a wrecking amendment: it is obviously useless, and therefore obviously unacceptable to all the other stakeholder organisations at the table. But it will tie everybody up arguing about details it until it’s too late.

Because it seems the rest of the route is now on hold until the park question is resolved. And I’m told that if work doesn’t start on the northern sections of the route soon, it will be too late to complete it before other major construction works are scheduled to begin nearby. Fixing the ever-growing problems blighting the people of Swiss Cottage and Primrose Hill will be off the cards for years.

A walkover in the park

But on this important issue, it’s Sadiq Khan who is not delivering on his pledges and not showing the leadership of the mayor of a great city.

Closing the gates and restoring Regent’s Park should be such an easy, quick win. It’s popular. It’s cheap. It needs no lengthy or disruptive construction or preparation. It has already been consulted on and received wide support. The gates are shut from midnight to 7am every night anyway — it is literally more effort to open them every day than to keep them shut. If a leader can’t deliver this, what can they deliver?

A clean park, a fresh air haven in the centre of the city, could have been a fantastic, highly visible signal from an incoming Mayor that he’s taking air pollution seriously and leading with practical action.

Instead we’re nearly half way through this Mayoral term with nothing to show for it.

Sadiq Khan criticised his predecessor for his cavalier style, for pushing schemes forward without doing enough to address all the concerns raised by everybody affected. The professed approach of Khan, and his deputy for transport Val Shawcross, is to “take more time” and work through problems to make sure everybody’s happy.

Westminster’s Tory councillors have seen this and they have walked right over him.

Westminster are taking the piss, and eventually a leader has to stand up to that and not allow themselves to be played so easily.

A beast is stirring

Half way through Boris Johnson’s first term, people started getting tired of his bluster. Johnson made grandiose promises about the scale of his cycling programme which were visibly lacking in substance on the ground. He thought the constituency of people who cared strongly about this stuff was small.

Then some things started happening.

It began on Blackfriars Bridge. It was the tiniest of things really. A plan to revert a 20mph speed restriction, and replace a mandatory cycle lane with an advisory one, upon completion of the new Blackfriars Station.

A mediocre speed limit change and a rubbish bit of paint. Hardly quality infrastructure worth fighting for. But symbolic of a mayor who was so ineffective that he was letting things slide backwards — even the things that should have been so ludicrously easy to achieve.

It turned out there were a lot of people who cared. Thousands turned up to flashrides and rallies, and began making their voices heard.

It ended five years later, with that junction at Blackfriars transformed beyond recognition.

The people who got angry, and got organised, at Boris Johnson were placated when he finally delivered, and when Sadiq Khan was elected with a pledge to continue — and accelerate — the progress.

But once again, we’re half way through a mayoral term. Once again there has been a lot of talk and not much to show for it.

I feel the beast is getting restless.

*To really take the piss, and really slow things down, they even propose an entirely new change — to make Hanover Gate entry only — which nobody yet seems to have noticed is another one of those turning restrictions which actually facilitate increased motor traffic throughput. Dressed up and paid for as a cycling project of course.

Why doesn’t [population x] cycle?

I wrote this thing a year and half ago but never quite got around to shaping it into anything I was quite happy with. Well, since the BBC have come around with yet another “what is stopping women cycling?” story, I figured I’ll never finish it and may as well get rid of it…

Another tweet scrolled past me this evening asking why a segment of the UK population doesn’t cycle.

It’s certainly an admirable exercise, trying to address inequalities in access. And there are certainly inequalities to address. But there is little to learn about what the inequalities are, or what the solutions to them might be, by comparing current cycling rates between different populations, or by asking the question “why don’t x cycle?”.

Because it’s not just x who don’t cycle. Black and minority ethnic populations don’t cycle, but neither do white populations. Women don’t cycle, but neither do men. And the number one reason all of these populations don’t cycle is the same.

That’s not in any way to say there aren’t inequalities of access, or to dismiss the additional barriers that women and minorities face, or to belittle the diverse ways that different people and populations can experience the same barriers. Only that when it comes to “why don’t people cycle”, the biggest concerns by far are the same for everyone.

Here is an entirely hypothetical society that we can imagine, with some entirely made up data for different populations in that society:

Compared to population X, 4 times as many population Y cycle. And 3 times as many again population Z cycle. When you only look at the few who currently cycle, these populations look vastly different in their propensity to cycle. But look at the many who aren’t cycling and you see they’re not very different at all. Almost nobody in any of those populations cycles. Clearly they live in an environment which is very hostile to cycling.

Some of the people would never ever cycle, no matter what the environment for it were like. But for the vast majority of people in all demographics, there are circumstances in which they would happily cycle, were the environment different. There are barriers stopping them, but they are only barriers in the context of the prevailing environment.

Indeed, in our hypothetical society, while Xs are currently substantially less likely to cycle than Zs, if you radically change the environment to shift the cut-off point to the left, the proportion of Xs to Zs converges until Xs slightly outnumber Zs.

Perhaps in our hypothetical society, Xs on average actually make more of the types of short journeys to which cycling is inherently the most suitable form of transport — but compared to Zs are typically burdened by this society with other duties, expectations or threats to their safety which make cycling extra unattractive in the prevailing conditions.

Understanding the burdens Xs face may be a worthwhile exercise in itself. But they’re not the answer the question “why don’t x cycle?” — and addressing them alone won’t change the fact that, just like everyone else, they overwhelmingly don’t.

New road safety campaign calls for greater visibility on the roads

As the nights draw in and the clocks go back, it’s time once again for the perennial road safety campaigns to call for cyclists and pedestrians to take their share of responsibility by making sure that they’re visible.

But today I’m delighted to announce another important new road safety campaign.

Because every day when I look around on our streets it is clear to me that it’s not just cyclists and pedestrians who are failing to do their bit by making themselves visible. There is another group of road users who are all too often failing to do their bit.

That’s right, I’m talking about fluorescent yellow illuminated retroflective plastic ‘keep left’ bollards.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

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All of these fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollards should have made themselves more visible.

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This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

These fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollards should have made themselves more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

These illuminated retroreflective bollards should have made themselves more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

These illuminated retroreflective bollards should have made themselves more visible.

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This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

These fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollards should have made themselves more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

 

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

One of these fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollards should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

These fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollards should have made themselves more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

https://twitter.com/adventuresofrob/status/887372941691932673

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard still should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

This fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective bollard should have made itself more visible.

It’s time fluorescent yellow illuminated retroreflective plastic ‘keep left’ bollards took their share of responsibility on the roads and made themselves more visible.

Lambeth Bridge shows us that TfL still needs a fundamental shift in design philosophy

Catching up with the latest TfL consultations, I was a combination of delighted and exasperated to see the proposals for Lambeth Bridge.

Delighted, because they reveal the political will to provide for cycling and walking, even if it means sacrificing a tiny bit of motoring capacity at these junctions.

Exasperated because even when the will is there, the technical capacity clearly isn’t. Just look at it.

Click to download fullsize diagram from TfL (PDF)

Look at that splurge of tarmac.

TfL had a blank canvass here. They’re completely rebuilding the junction, which is currently a roundabout. The kerblines are going, the trees are moving, the drainage will have to be redone. It’s not like any compromise is being made to work within the constraints of what’s there now.

It reveals a lot about how TfL’s designers are approaching these problems. They had a blank canvass and they filled it with tarmac. Then they asked where they needed to fit some kerbs into it. Walking and cycling is still being designed to fit around the edges of motoring, which remains the natural rightful state of our streets.

And look at the absurd mess that has led to.

Look at the entry to Lambeth Bridge. They’ve painted an arrow on it to tell motorists to get out of the cycleway. How on earth did that happen? According to the diagram, there is only ever one lane of traffic able to head onto the bridge at any time. How did they get themselves into a situation where people might be driving in the cycle lane and need to be told to get out of it?

Look at the entry into Albert Embankment. What is that lane merge arrow painted on that grossly distended carriageway space for? Again, there is only one lane of traffic entering this street at a time.

These kinds of tarmac oceans, with arbitrary shifting kerblines and unclear routes through them, are why British junctions are confusing, stressful and dangerous — whatever mode of transport you’re using. There is a large area of tarmac here that in theory should never ever be used, even by the largest and longest vehicles, because there are no legal manoeuvres that would use the space, or at least, that wouldn’t normally and more safely and sensibly be performed using some other space. But what that tarmac does do is provide opportunities for people to make mistakes, to perform illegal manoeuvres, or to behave dangerously. The gaping wide entries into Lambeth Bridge and Albert Embankment do nothing for a law-abiding motorist except create confusion about where they’re supposed to be, but they do invite idiots to use the turn lanes and cycle spaces to jump queues or to make illegal turns.

What might this junction look like if designed with a less motor-centric philosophy?

Instead of washing an undercoat of carriageway all across the blank canvass, you’d start from the opposite default. The canvass is blank and the only carriageway you add to it is the carriageway that’s needed to accommodate the manoeuvres that are possible here. Who are the users who need to move through the junction, and where do they need to move from and to? Draw the paths that they will need to take through the junction.

Draw the paths that motorists would take through this space if following the turn restrictions and if following the most rational routes. Work out how you’d cycle around it, and how you’d walk around it. The result looks a lot like Dutch crossroads do.

Click to embiggen. (This is just a 5 minute scribble, exaggerated in places, to illustrate the concept. Please don’t tell me the turning circles are too tight for HGVs or the cycleways too narrow or there are white lines in the wrong place, I’m not trying to propose this as a working plan for the contractors.)

This kind of design enables all of the same turns that TfL’s design legally allows, and has exactly the same number of motor traffic lanes feeding into and out of each arm of the junction. Capacity for legal manoeuvres should be the same (but the illegal turns, lane misuse and simple mistakes encouraged by TfL’s original design become much more difficult). I’m not saying necessarily that this is what I’d want the junction to look like, because I wouldn’t necessarily accept the same demands of motor capacity as TfL, but if you do accept the demands TfL are working to, this is roughly how the junction would work if cycling were properly designed for.

The one impact I haven’t addressed with my crayons is that they would have to address turn conflicts across the cycleways — something that wouldn’t be an issue if we had normal priority rules. But there are multiple options available to solve that problem TfL could call upon — indeed, they already solve it in their own design, for traffic/cyclists exiting Albert Embankment, with a separate turn signal.