Hackney is the most successful cycling borough in the UK. This is because it has taken an holistic approach to cycling, walking and the public realm whilst recognising the crucial role of mass transit - the bus. As Jan Gehl describes it, Hackney seeks to create a better balance between pedestrians, cycles and motor vehicles. Uniquely in the UK, Hackney has more commuters who cycle than travel by car!
Over the years, with its local cycling community, Hackney has sought to bend funding pots to best effect. Route based funding has been used for schemes which improve cycling, of course, but also benefit local pedestrians and create a better public realm. The Pitfield Street roundabout scheme (on CS1) is the best example. The changes there were entirely driven by the cycling community, but benefits accrued to local residents and pedestrians as well as to people who cycle.
|The Pitfield roundabout has been transformed into a crossroads benefitting both cyclists and pedestrians.|
Drawing lines on maps, declaring them cycle routes and investing heavily along the route seems to capture the imagination of cycle planners and some campaigners, even though hardly anyone cycles such a route from end to end. Some of the investment that comes from such route-based planning will be good cycling value for money. However, instead of spending all this money on CS1, there are numerous other locations in the borough where investment would have been better directed. Improving these other locations, rather than using a large pot to titivate, and not substantially make things better for people cycling would certainly be better value for money, in terms of improvements to cycling.
In Hackney, in contrast to the route-based approach, the most innovative recent work has been the creation of a Bikeability map which assesses all of the borough's streets, regarding them as a network. Incrementally improving this network, particularly where there are historic clusters of collisions, will provide the best value for limited cycle and road safety funding. Sometimes improvements may be made opportunistically.
|Hackney's Bikebility map - cyclists want to use all Hackney's Streets|
The proposals have many positive elements
Nevertheless, Hackney Council has to be congratulated for getting so much value from the Cycle Superhighway process. There are some great schemes that have been developed as part of the process. For example, Hackney Cycling has campaigned for a generation to close Pitfield Street to through traffic and it seems this may now happen. This section of the scheme also has potential for a new public space. Secondly, the Boleyn Road / Crossway junction is to get signalised pedestrian crossings. In addition, there will be two other useful road closures which will reduce rat running through residential streets, to the benefit of both cyclists and pedestrians. There are also many side road entry treatments, improvements to junctions and traffic calming that is all welcome along with the resurfacing of the route.
All of the three proposed road closure are beneficial to cyclists and pedestrians but exactly where the point closures are implemented is important. Point closure (or filtered permeability) is an area wide intervention, which affects the network. It isn't just one to provide a traffic free route. An example can be seen at Palatine Road where one closure has transformed the entire area east of Stoke Newington High Street. Road closures should be introduced away from a junction in order that drivers treat the junction with the same level of care as they would do a traditional junction.
Two locations need reconsideration. The most important of these is the crossing of Old Street and Great Eastern Street. At present there is significant pedestrian, cyclist conflict as cyclists weave their way across the pavement. Although it is not an easy location the pedestrian, cyclist conflict needs resolving. The scheme as proposed does not resolve this conflict. The scheme as presented also makes the right turn from Pitfield Street onto Old Street more problematic than it is at present, as the scheme primarily favours north to south cycle movement. The scheme also removes a useful cycle facility - a westbound bus lane from Old Street.
The junction layout below would be simpler, more self-explanatory and generally a more understandable road layout (and therefore safer) than either the present or proposed configuration. My suggested configuration below could possibly allow pedestrian crossings along pedestrian desire lines.
|The safest road layouts are understandable and self-explaining.|
The second location with a poor scheme proposed is on Balls Pond Road. Balls Pond Road is one of the UK's busiest bus corridors. As east London develops over the next 20 years, this corridor will become even busier. Therefore proposals to signalise a side road junction, remove the bus lane and narrow the effective lane widths is an approach that is damagingly casual with London's bus priority network. The measures proposed will inevitably introduce delay and unreliability to bus journeys not just on this section of route, but for passengers along the entire route.
Both of the Balls Pond Road proposals prioritise north to south cycle journeys over east to west cycle journeys! The separated cycle track proposal moves the existing pedestrian crossing and will inhibit informal pedestrian crossing by the introduction of kerbs into the carriageway. With the exception of making the bus lane operational 24/7 (with loading allowed) and enforcing the 20mph limit, by camera, doing nothing at this location would be the best all round solution.
In conclusion Cycle Superhighway 1 through Hackney is a good thing overall, however as discussed, it is a lot of money to put into a route-based scheme, rather than considering the network as a whole. The proposals for CS1 would benefit from reconsideration of the crossing of Old Street and Great Eastern Street as this is the most important location of the entire scheme. The proposal at Balls Pond Road is too narrowly focussed on north to south cycle movements and substantially disadvantages all other users including people cycling East West. The point closures should be moved into the centre of the area to be filtered, and away from the junctions.