Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Crap cycling on Markhouse Road, Walthamstow

As you'll see from the sign above, located on South Grove E17 close to the junction with Markhouse Road, what you are about to see is a recommended cycle route to Leyton.

You've no sooner started cycling along Markhouse Road then you encounter this. (Below) Why is the driver of the first car in the cycle lane? Because the driver has no other choice. The Council has built a new pedestrian refuge in the middle of the road. The carriageway is far too narrow for a cyclist and a car driver to share the space that's left over, but that doesn't deter the geniuses in highway engineering, who have painted some lovely white lines.

(Below) Cyclists then encounter a second new pedestrian refuge, where vehicles are once again forced into the cycle lane. And it's cleverly positioned just before a bend, ensuring that speeding drivers remain by the kerb. The cycle lane fizzles out beyond the bend.

Note that that one of the KEEP LEFT signs has already been smashed away by a vehicle colliding with it, and the remaining sign is askew, after a minor collision. Hardly a safe environment for pedestrians to wait in the middle of the road.

See what effect the refuge has on these two buses.

(Below) Just after the junction with Queens Road E17 there's another new pedestrian refuge. And once again high speed vehicles are forced into the cycle lane.

(Below) And notice that on this pedestrian refuge one of the signs has also already been demolished by a driver not in control of their vehicle.

This road has recently been "improved" to benefit cyclists and pedestrians. I would argue these improvements actually make the road more dangerous for both walkers and cyclists.

Markhouse Road is a perfect symbol of what's wrong with transport policy in London, and why cycling and walking are currently going nowhere. The first problem which has to be dealt with here is that of speed. These so-called improvements do nothing to address reckless risk-taking drivers. This is supposedly a 30 mph limit in a dense residential area, close to two schools, but there is nothing to slow down speeding drivers, not even a solar-powered flashing advisory speed sign. And because Markhouse Road is an A road, Transport for London would not permit it to be made into a 20 mph zone, even if the Council wanted to. And yet a 20 mph limit is the first essential step in humanising this road.

Secondly, the refuges are stupid and useless. Who wants to be stranded with small children between a pair of concrete pancakes in the middle of two lanes of high density fast-moving traffic? Much better to replace all these islands with zebra crossings. But of course TfL would not allow this, because vehicle flow is a greater priority than the safety and convenience of local residents who walk.

Thirdly, the cycle lane is a useless farce. It should be blacked out. It might as well not exist. It makes cycling more dangerous by giving drivers the illusion that it supplies an adequate space for cyclists. And as we know, cycle lanes encourage drivers to come closer than they would otherwise. I shall not be unduly surprised if a cyclist is killed or seriously injured by a driver colliding with her as she is passing one of these new refuges.

Fourthly, there is the basic problem of car dependency and driver attitude. The volume of vehicles makes this a very unpleasant road to cycle on. How many of these drivers are going on journeys of less than five miles? Quite probably most of them. Yet their transport choice is given priority.

The other problem is that many drivers will overtake you at the very last moment, desperate to get past the concrete island before the cyclist. Those who don't cycle in London because they are fearful of their safety are quite right not to. Cycling on Markhouse Road can be unnerving and dangerous, and the rest of your life can be in the hands of some moron driving a 4X4 while texting.

London is currently trapped in a vicious circle of pampered car dependency, spectacular and widespread driver lawlessness, and a reluctance at all levels to create the safe and convenient infrastructure that will encourage people to walk and cycle.