Super cycling in Peckham

In April 2012 I joined 10,000 soggy cyclists in the rain to call for a big change to our streets, so whoever won the imminent Mayoral elections would ensure our streets would be safe and pleasant for cycling.

In response to months of fantastic campaigning, and not wanting all the cycling votes going to the Green Party, Boris Johnson duly signed up, telling cyclists: “I am fully committed to meeting the three key tests of LCC’s ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ campaign”.

Eight months later, TfL began to consult on the plans for Cycle Superhighway 5, from New Cross Gate to Victoria via Peckham, Camberwell and Oval. Here was a golden opportunity for Boris to “make sure all planned developments on are completed to Go Dutch standards, especially junctions”, one of those three key tests he signed up to.

Months of consultation and roadworks later, this is what we got:

Super cycling in Peckham

Does that look fun to you? Does Boris really think lots of people are going to rush to buy a bicycle to enjoy that?

This road has a 30mph speed limit. TfL refused requests from Southwark Cyclists and Southwark Living Streets to reduce it to 20mph, given how many homes, schools and shops front this busy road.

It’s gets worse, though. Here’s a before-and-after photo of a stretch of Peckham High Street:

Super cycling in Peckham

That’s right. TfL removed an advisory lane that ran the whole way across the junction, and replaced it with a couple of blocks to indicate cyclists might be expected.

It’s not as though Boris and TfL were unaware of problems with their designs. Last October, Jenny Jones, with whom I work, brought one example to the Mayor’s attention and asked him to look again:

In that exchange, if you can’t make it through, Boris promises to look at the plans again and to do his “level-headed best to make it as safe as [we] possibly can”.

Here are TfL’s plans for the relevant stretch of the Cycle Superhighway, with a big red arrow pointing to the junction Jenny was talking about . You can see how the route going each way along this stretch of Peckham Road changes from a mandatory lane (dark blue) to an advisory lane (mid blue) then no more than a bit of blue paint as you go past a junction:

going-super-3

Here is what that junction looks like now that the ‘super’ highway has been implemented:

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On the left, there is finally some good news, with a nice wide mandatory cycle lane painted onto the road. Before that soggy day in April 2012 I would have described that as a very good bit of provision for cyclists. But the ‘Go Dutch’ campaign the Mayor signed up to raised the bar, and that lane no longer clears it. There is no segregation – no protection from the traffic – and no attempt to route cyclists around the back of the bus stop so they don’t get squashed or held up by buses.

In the middle and right-hand photos we can see the promised unbroken line of blue paint replaced with a couple of squares. There is absolutely no protection here for cyclists against motorists cutting across to head north on the rat-run Southampton Way. Nothing.

And there we have it, folks. Two years after our “cycling Mayor” signed up to “make sure all planned developments on are completed to Go Dutch standards, especially junctions”, we have more millions spent on another bungled Cycle Superhighway that would embarrass any qualified Dutch road engineer.

Traffic reduction in Crystal Palace and Anerley

One of my top priorities for the Crystal Palace and Anerley area would have to be traffic reduction. Every day on my way home from work, walking back from the station or cycling down the hill, this is what I see:

Traffic in Crystal Palace and Anerley

The crawling queues are similar around the Triangle and down the other main roads in the area. This is bad news, if only because it’s annoying to be stuck in traffic! Plus, it snarls up buses and makes them less reliable.

Here is another pair of pictures, this time showing air pollution in the area.

anerley-road-pollution

The map on the left shows the quantity of deadly nitrogen dioxide emitted by vehicles each day, and in case you’re wondering the dark blue along Crystal Palace Parade is about the same as the Strand in central London, while the pollution down Anerley Hill is similar to that on the roads leading north from Kings Cross and Euston. The map on the right shows the stretches of road that are predicted to still exceed legal health limits for nitrogen dioxide in 2020, and the bus stops near them.

The main cause of all this pollution is traffic, particularly vehicles idling in queues. We have to walk along these roads to catch a train, wait there to catch a bus, sit out next to it on a sunny day with a pint down the pub. It retards lung development in children, increases the chance of asthma and makes the symptoms worse, and can exacerbate heart conditions. After smoking, it’s the second biggest cause of premature death in London.

So less traffic would mean healthier, more pleasant streets with more reliable buses.

Solutions

So how do we reduce traffic?

The first solution is to give people a good alternative to driving. That’s one reason why I support the Space for Cycling campaign. Besides making the area safer and more pleasant for cyclists, and we could also remove pavement clutter and improve the streetscape to making walking nicer (as the Anerley Regeneration Project are doing). Bromley also needs to embrace car clubs – there are parking bays scattered across surrounding boroughs, but they disappear when you come into the wilds of Tory Bromley. Fewer people would need to own a car if there were more club cars.

A lot of the traffic isn’t even local, we’re just a through-route for people, so we also need TfL to get back to thinking about traffic reduction. Since he was elected, Boris Johnson has actually scrapped or reversed policies that were supposed to reduce traffic. From 2000 to 2012, traffic actually fell across Greater London despite the population growing by one million people and the economy (mostly) booming. Now TfL expect traffic to start rising again.

Finally, we need to block development that encourages even more vehicle traffic. That means stopping the crazy proposed hotel and conference centre in the park, making sure new flats are built with minimal car parking. Some people worry this will cause parking problems, but with the above policies it doesn’t need to. More than half the households in this area already don’t own a car.

Without a clear vision like this, we’ll just drift into ever increasing congestion and pollution.

Space4Cycling in Crystal Palace

I’m supporting the Space4Cycling campaign in the Crystal Palace ward, where I’m standing for the Green Party.

I often cycle up and down Anerley Hill on the way to work. It’s a steep bit of road, difficult for those of us who aren’t zipping up to Cadence every weekend on expensive road bikes. Cycling uphill without wavering a little is hard work, so providing some protected space at the expense of a little car parking makes perfect sense.

Of course some people who currently park their cars there will lose out. But I want to see streets in Crystal Palace, London, the whole of the UK transformed to serve the needs of people on foot, bike and public transport, and this can only happen at the expense of cars because we have limited road space.

The alternative is to leave almost 20,000 vehicles a day trundling along Anerley Hill, creating peak hour traffic jams. This level of traffic is responsible for illegal levels of air pollution, which will remain until at least 2020 if we don’t do something drastic. Find out more about this here. If you walk down to Anerley Road on a school day, you’ll see dozens of children buying fast food, but very few on bikes. Designing roads for cars at the expense of bikes is unhealthy and bad for the environment.

I would also like to introduce 20mph limits on far more roads in the area, particularly for rat runs like Thicket Road, introduce ‘filtered permeability’ to more roads to reduce traffic, and fix the various barriers, potholes and speed humps that make cycling through Crystal Palace Park confusing and unpleasant.

I want to make it easy, safe and pleasant for everyone to cycle in Crystal Palace, whether they’re an 8 year old going to school in the morning, or a fit 80 year old heading up the hill to the shops.

Some thoughts on the Space4Cycling campaign

I think this new campaign from the LCC and all the local cycling groups is brilliant. It is showing yet again that cyclists can be mobilised to make their voices heard in the democratic system, and I only hope it has a big an impact on local councillors as their lobbying of the London Assembly has had.

I also hope that councillors elected in May honour their promises. I do wonder at the Labour councillors signing up in Southwark, a borough I used to live in and cycle through every day. The council has spent four years doing next to nothing for cyclists, while scrapping the London Cycle Network from its Transport Plan and actually removing cycle lanes from busy roads.

As the Stop the Killing campaign found, many other councils are just as bad. Are all these candidates honestly going to push for the cyclists’ proposals having failed to do so in the past four years? One can only hope.

My one other reservation is that it is difficult for smaller parties and independent candidates to get onto the site. For those who have never fought an election, I can assure you that it’s a huge challenge for small parties dependent on volunteers with full-time jobs just to get all the paperwork in to the returning officer, let alone get a list of candidates out to anyone who asks and respond to lots of lobbying requests.

This campaign web site has been live for some time now, and while very well organised parties can get their candidate lists out nice and early, many others won’t have a final list until nominations close next week.

At the moment, the web site gives a very poor impression of the Green Party, for example, even though we have consistently been the most pro-bike party in the capital. That isn’t just my biased opinion, it was also the view of the Londoners on Bikes campaign in the 2012 elections.

So at the time of writing over 12,000 people will have contacted an incomplete set of candidates, and might think the missing candidates and parties have nothing to say about cycling. I hope you, dear reader, will bear that in mind and hold off sending your lobbying email for a couple of weeks.

Mapping for pedestrians

One of the odd things about contributing to OpenStreetMap is that you have no idea who is using the maps and the data. You spend hours, weeks, months, years even building up a wonderfully comprehensive database of geographic features in the area, all because it’s fun, because you believe in the project’s ideals or you need the data for your own project. But does anyone else use it? It would be depressing if the answer was “no”.

So I get cheered every time I see documents like this:

That’s an excerpt from a presentation by Southwark Living Streets. They took the Mayor of London’s transport advisor around Elephant & Castle to show how unfriendly and dangerous the area is for pedestrians, and illustrated the whole thing with OpenStreetMap. The chap who made this loves OSM, he told me he realised how useful it could be when he noticed we had put in all the footpaths through estates, making OSM the only map that reflects the reality for pedestrians in the area.

It was our coverage of footpaths that led to OpenStreetMap being used by parents challenging a school’s decision that they were outside the catchment area.

I also regularly see OSM used by cycling campaigners, for example this presentation on a cycling campaign that’s also about the Elephant & Castle area.

Then there was my collaboration with residents local to the Heygate Estate who wanted to map the trees that under threat from the redevelopment of the estate. That, I’m happy to say, has resulted in many of the mature trees being protected in the new plans.

So we have useful maps, and powerful tools for community campaigns if there’s an OSM expert about to help out.

But as I wrote last year, there’s a whole other world of data we could be adding, especially for groups concerned with streets that are designed for pedestrians and cyclists.

ITO have been beavering away on lots of amazing maps that show off this kind of data. These are two maps showing the “walkable city” on the left (the blue lines show footpaths and pavements broken up by black roads) and speed limits on the right (green is for 20 mph, orange for 30 mph).

Here are a few in an area I’ve done some work on, just to show what’s possible:

With a few tweaks to the Potlatch 2 editor on the OpenStreetMap homepage, anyone could easily add all this metadata to streets. There are presets for speed limits and surfaces, but not – yet – for sidewalks. If we could get them in – here’s the enhancement request – I think all those community campaigners already using screenshots of OpenStreetMap might just get interested in contributing data.

How great would it be if Southwark Living Streets could print out a special “walkable city” map of Elephant & Castle for their next presentation to the Mayor of London’s transport advisor?

Routing around pollution – any help?

While we’re benefiting from all this rain in London, which keeps air pollution at bay, I’ve been wondering about including pollution data in OpenStreetMap-based routing engines. The trouble is that I lack the technical skills to implement this, so I’m writing this post in the hope that somebody might be inspired to give it a go.

Another hazy air pollution episode in London

Air pollution is the second biggest cause of premature deaths in the UK after smoking. Here’s a little league table of nasties taken from Department of Health data:

Smoking – 87,000 premature deaths per year
Air pollution – 29,000
Alcohol – 22,000
Obesity – 9,000

The main pollutants in cities are particulates (PM10, PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO). Unlike the pea souper fogs of years gone by, these are invisible to the human eye but very deadly. They’re most concentrated on busy congested roads and around airports – so unsurprisingly in central London, around Heathrow and City airports, and in congestion hot spots dotted around the rest of London. We have some of the worst air pollution in Europe.

Long term exposure to these critters is obviously a bad thing, so it would be nice if we could find routes to walk or cycle without being affected. To some extent it’s just a matter of avoiding main roads, but some are much worse than others and in central London there are plenty of non-A roads that should be avoided as well.

WalkIt has a neat little feature that lets you choose a “low pollution” route. This basically tries to avoid roads with high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide. But it doesn’t cover the whole of the city, it doesn’t take account of nitrogen oxide or particulates, and it’s only for pedestrians.

So… who fancies taking the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory maps, delivered in 20m grid shapefiles, and plugging them into one of the various OpenStreetMap routing engines to provide a walking & cycling “avoid polluted roads” option for London?

Bonus points could go to anyone who uses live data from the London Air Quality Network and Defra’s air quality monitoring web site (with its latest readings from a few monitoring stations) to give more or less priority depending on conditions.

Southwark’s cycling revolution

Those who are inclined to compromise can never make a revolution – Kemal Ataturk

Every day I set off on my bike for a pleasant three mile commute to work. I love cycling around London, it’s cheap and fun, and I particularly enjoy the spring when lots of “fair weather cyclists” swell our ranks along cycle routes.

Much of London is crap to cycle around, but politicians of all colours claim to support a “cycling revolution”. To achieve that, you’d need to make people from all walks of life feel safe – the number one barrier – and make cycling seem pleasant.

Southwark Council did an audit of their roads recently and found that it was impossible to get further than a few hundred metres without using a road requiring “advanced” cycling skills. You need to be happy using “busy roads” with “complex junctions and road features” to cycle to school, to the shops or to work. Not much good, is it?

For a graphic illustration, watch this BBC journalist’s video cycling around Peckham.

The manifesto for a revolution

If we really want a “cycling revolution”, in which grannies and kids and beginners and road warriors all feel happy cycling around London, we need the right roads. Southwark cyclists have drawn up some great policy on road design. They state, right at the top, the need for:

Safe cycling on main roads, whether Transport for London’s roads or borough roads, by wherever possible, segregated and protected cycle lanes which are at least 1.5 metres wide but preferably wider; where not possible, because of road widths or other factors, maximum traffic speeds of 20 mph, well enforced by speed cameras or otherwise, or other safety features endorsed by a reliable road safety audit; and bicycle friendly junctions.

In other words, make it possible to get around on less busy roads, or to get around well protected on busy roads, with road junctions and features that an inexperienced cyclist could navigate.

So you would imagine a council committed to a cycling revolution is putting in cycle lanes, reducing traffic speeds and making sure junctions are friendly for cyclists, particularly on major cycle routes. Sadly, recent decisions by Southwark Council are making things worse.

Peckham Rye west, heading north

This is a stretch of road I use every day heading north into Peckham town centre (map link). It’s not quite on the London Cycle Network route 22, but a lot of people use this main road coming up from Honor Oak, Forest Hill and East Dulwich towards town. It had a 30mph speed limit and no cycle lanes, so obviously needed some work to fit with Southwark Cyclists’ policy.

The council recently carried out some road works here. Can you spot the difference?

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They have widened the pavement on the left hand side of these pictures. That’s it. The net effect is that there is less space for cars and buses to overtake cyclists.

The council’s reasoning is that cyclists should share the road with cars here, joining the main stream of traffic instead of hugging the kerb. But the road has a 30mph speed limit. Who cycles that fast? Who is confident enough to hold up a white van man on a 30mph road? Almost nobody, that’s who. Every day I see cyclists weaving through traffic jams and putting up with cars hurtling past at 30mph. My wife, a recent convert to the bike, hates this stretch of road.

As for the pavement, it’s a lightly used stretch that was already comfortably wide enough. If anything, the council could have taken the decision to introduce safe cycle lanes on this road. I would even have supported them nipping a thin strip off the common if needs be, because there is no safe and pleasant space for cyclists on this main road.

Peckham Rye east, past Scylla Road

Cyclists heading south towards Nunhead and Crofton Park get to stay on the London Cycle Network route 22 the whole way down this road (map link). Cyclists heading that way used to face a useless little bypass that separated them from the stream of traffic for a few metres when the road diverged with its east and west branches. Heading west (off the right side of the picture) you’d get cars cutting across you thinking you were going east the same as them. Heading east down the little bypass you’d emerge for a few metres only to find cars cutting across you to turn left into Scylla Road (the so-called “left hook”).

The council decided to improve this by moving the bypass onto the pavement and making it much longer. For me, heading west, it at least makes it obvious that if I’m on the road I’m heading west. People heading east are probably going to use the bypass. I thought it sounded like a good solution. But…

Here you have it. They have made the bypass longer – great – but made it virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the pavement. Can you see a cycle lane? What’s worse, you now come off this lane straight onto a junction with Scylla Road with no clear priority – are you supposed to wait for cars turning into Scylla Road, or can you move off and make them wait? Every evening cyclists and cars get into a pickle with this one. You can just make out a cyclist in this photo, who had to suddenly brake as a small 4×4 pulled right across her.

Long gone is the cycle lane across the mouth of Scylla Road giving cyclists clear right of way.

Peckham Rye east, heading south

This final stretch of road is just a few metres further down from the Scylla Road junction. It used to feature a nice dedicated cycle lane, breaking only for the bus stop further down the road. A pro-cycling council would have removed that car parking and put in a safe cycle lane for people heading north on this cycle route, right?

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Sadly, wrong. The council have removed the cycle lane, even though there is ample space, and left the car parking intact. They now expect cyclists to head down a 30mph road without any safe dedicated space.

Apparently most people supported this

In their report to councillors, officers stated that 93% of people supported the changes. This is because the consultation asked for an agree/disagree view on all the positive changes. Several people – myself included – naively said we liked the proposals subject to some changes but these views were simply reported as “agree”.  Their headline figures disguised the amount of disagreement with the details, and with the wider problems people experience.

I put in a Freedom of Information Request asking for the full responses, and got it remarkably quickly. Here are a few excerpts:

There is a major problem with the proposals for junction of Peckham Rye East and Scylla Road. The cycle bypass cars turn left onto Peckham Rye East and then immediate left onto Scylla Road straight across the cycle lane, without properly checking for cyclists. These proposals do not solve this. Cars should be prevented from using Syclla Road and Old James Street as a cut through to Nunhead Lane.

I believe that this is the wrong way to tackle this danger and unlikely to be effective.

I think it is worse for pedestrians that the road will be 2 way at that point with no island, as I think islands make it a lot easier to cross.

We would like to ensure that this scheme seeks to calm these sections of road to 20mph. Given the ambition of the borough for its roads to become 20 mph and especially the borough roads which it controls, we are concerned that there is insufficient calming.

The current designs could make the rat run, speeding and dangerous left hooks more common, onto a road with a church and a primary school.

The designs miss the opportunity to create a more coherent network of cycle lanes along roads that form part of a strategic London Cycle Network route. Currently they stop and start, sometimes with dashed lines and sometimes mandatory solid lines. This creates a confusing and unpleasant environment, particularly for less experienced cyclists.

The lead officer very kindly debated the merits of the scheme via email, and met Southwark Cyclists on site to make some last minute changes that improved the scheme. But the underlying problems in the area, and the tendency to compromise on cycle safety and pleasantry for the sake of cars, were never up for debate.

It’s council policy, so please change it

Since these works were carried out Peter John, the Leader of Southwark Council, wrote a blog post responding to The Times’ safer cycling campaign. He said:

I recognise that if we are going to persuade people to cycle and really increase the number of journeys made by bike, we need to make the routes for cyclists around the borough as safe as possible.

The trouble is that the council’s own Transport Plan includes the very policies that led to these crazy decisions on Peckham Rye, decisions that are being replicated in other parts of the borough. Their rejection of cycle routes and cycle lanes in the Transport Plan even led to the London Cycle Network being airbrushed out of draft local planning policy for the Peckham and Nunhead area.

Until Peter John amends his Transport Plan to reflect Southwark Cyclists’ policies, and delivers similar changes to this planning document, his pledge to “make the routes for cyclists… as safe as possible” will ring hollow. The revolution will continue to be stymied by compromise for the sake of cars.

Getting speed limits into OpenStreetMap

I’ve started trying to add speed limits data to roads in my patch of Southwark. Two things made me start looking at them…

First, I go everywhere by bicycle, which means speed limits and London congestion are of very little relevance to my journey times. But I noticed that journey planners like CloudMade’s offer wildly optimistic journey times for cars. Even ignoring congestion, I thought, they can’t be taking account of speed limits, which across London are lower than the national assumptions. For example, most main roads have a 30 mph speed limit and a growing number of roads, residential and main, have a safer 20 mph limit.

The second reason is that speed limits have been a big issue for cyclists recently, featuring in campaigns around issues like Blackfriars Bridge and Southwark’s Transport Strategy.

So here’s a snapshot of our data around Peckham and East Dulwich after a few sessions on my evening commute, using ITO’s excellent tool:

Orange roads are 30 mph, green are 20 mph or lower, grey are main roads without any data; all the minor roads without speed limit data just show through from the background. Getting more roads down to 20 mph will make them much calmer, more pleasant and safer for people on foot and bike.

Not a bad start, but we have a long way to go! I could probably get data out of TfL and Southwark Council. But I’m interested in seeing what I can actually find on the ground, both because the two sometimes don’t match up and because it made me aware of just how varied the signposting is.

With some roads it’s very obvious – it’s a short residential road with a signpost and a huge “20 mph” painted onto the road. On other roads you could easily miss it. Walworth Road has a 20 mph limit, but if you missed the single signpost going either north or south past endless distracting shops, signposts and shoppers, and buses that often block your view, you could be forgiven for assuming it’s 30 mph like most other roads.

Back to OpenStreetMap, it would be good to get better coverage of speed limits. I notice that some parts of the country like Norwich are very well mapped, while London – with the exception of my experiment, Islington and a little bit of Tower Hamlets – barely has any.

One for a winter mapping party, Harry? Or maybe another good reason to get cycling and pedestrian groups interested? I’ll talk to the Southwark campaigners…