Tuesday 6 July 2010

A classic example of how London cycling is being made more dangerous and more unpleasant in a car-centric city

My photograph shows one of the newly constructed chicanes on Beacontree Avenue E17 (looking north). They have been installed to slow traffic and form part of the council’s so-called Bellevue Road Area Improvement Scheme. The final design is a little different to that shown on the original plan but it’s still one hundred per cent crap.

Chicanes, pinch points and kerb build-outs (the terminology is loose and overlapping) come in various forms but they are all bad news for cyclists. The Department for Transport once commissioned some research, which everybody now prefers to forget:

The research found that most drivers were prepared to overtake cyclists within, or close to the narrowings, and virtually no drivers gave way to oncoming cyclists at pinch points.

As Waltham Forest cyclists know, perhaps the deadliest local road for this phenomenon is Markhouse Road E17, which is an important commuter cycling route. However, it can be found anywhere where road narrowings exist, such as Mission Grove E17 or Selborne Road E17 westbound.

Because of how drivers behave to cyclists at pinch points the Department recommends Where possible a cycle bypass around the chicane should be considered.

Or to put it another way

As traffic calming measures are predominantly aimed at reducing motor vehicle speed, it is usually appropriate to provide a means for cyclists to circumvent them where practicable. In the particular case of features which narrow the road, a cycle bypass will not only reduce potential hazards for cyclists, but it also allows the designer to choose a more effective width in terms of speed reduction. Cycle bypasses are particularly beneficial at chicanes.

Hence even within the terms of vehicular cycling as understood by the Department for Transport, these chicanes are a design disaster. It’s curious that traffic calming which flouts even the rudimentary guidance of the DfT gets the stamp of approval from the London Borough of Waltham Forest, in an ‘improvement scheme’ designed in collaboration with Transport for London.

Of course the real solution lies just to one side of Beacontree Avenue. The biggest chestnut in the nut collection of the beady-eyed vehicular cycling squirrels is that there simply isn’t room for segregated cycling infrastructure in London. In reality there is, everywhere, but vehicular cycling campaigners are just too pig-headed or too ignorant to acknowledge it. Indeed, when knowledgeable people in Amsterdam and Copenhagen point out their own local successes and contrast them with the proven failure of the vehicular cycling strategy, the vehicular brigade explodes with indignation and wrath (see this and the comments to this).

At the site shown in this photograph there is ample scope for wide, high quality cycle paths linking a number of strategic local routes. But no one either centrally (at TfL or the Mayor’s office) or locally here in Waltham Forest is remotely interested in the Dutch and Danish example of how to achieve mass cycling – not the local transport planners, not the Council under a leader who believes in more car parking, cheaper CPZ permits and who thinks that local regeneration is best accomplished by encouraging people to drive to their shopping centres, and not even the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign, even though its own survey showed that local cyclists much prefer off-road cycling to vehicular cycling. And so, street by street, Waltham Forest goes ever backwards.

Beacontree Avenue, incidentally, is in affluent ‘Upper Walthamstow’, where many houses have off-road parking and multiple car ownership is common. It is not in a Controlled Parking Zone, so road space is allocated for additional car parking absolutely free. It’s yet another symptom of the unsustainable, insane and lavishly subsidised nature of London car dependency.

(Below) The same road from the other end, looking south, before the chicanes were built.