Blackfriars Bridge - Cyclists slam pavement plan

... Quick Links :: Cyclists :: Pedestrians :: TfL's Errors :: Next steps ...

In May 2004, swift action was promised by the Mayor and Transport for London on Blackfriars Bridge. Over one year on, cycling is still not safer and serious concerns are growing about the proposal TfL still refuses to drop. It would:

  • Halve the width of the pavement for pedestrians
  • Make cyclists on what is London's second busiest cycle route stop up to two times - when at present over two-thirds of the time you can cycle straight over the northern end of the bridge - and wait up to a minute and a half
  • Slightly increase delays to drivers

Not only is it bad for all forms of transport except buses (which may have a negligible benefit), worse still it does not allow for an increase in cycling and walking in line with the Mayor's targets. Various cycling groups have rejected the proposals in strongly worded letters in January 2005 yet TfL has decided to proceed. Groups representing pedestrians or disabled people (other than the London Transport Users Committee which represents everyone "in theory") have not been consulted at all.

Montage of proposal

Photo montage of how the plans would look. While there will be a slight difference in level between the new cycle track and pavement (not shown here), experience elsewhere in London suggests this will not prevent pedestrians needing to step off what would become an increasingly congested pavement.

Quick Links

  • Past: background, including media reports and information about the two tragic deaths that led to Blackfriars Bridge being the most famous example of Britain's failure to provide for cyclists
  • TfL Plan of June 2005 (550kB, pdf)
  • Future: City Cyclists alternative proposal for the bridge and northern junction, see also short term proposals

Impact on cyclists

By providing a cycle track, cyclists will be expected to use it even if it is less convenient for them. Those who do not will face speeding drivers and may be held liable for any "accident" they are involved in. Particular problems here will include:

  • The new set of traffic signals mean that cyclists will always have to make one stop, sometimes even two when cycling from the bridge to the northern junction. At present most of the time they do not have to stop at all.
  • Pedestrians suddenly stepping off the narrowed pavement onto the cycle track to pass each other
  • An increased number of pedestrians crossing on the surface due to the shortening of guard railing and using the pavement track to do so
  • Faster cyclists being held up behind slower cyclists climbing up the gradient or braking when going down.

This is a classic "road safety" scheme which makes cyclists and pedestrians pay for the danger on roads from drivers rather than a "road danger reduction" scheme which reduces road danger and delay to them.

TfL have no proper guidance for working out capacity of facilties for cyclists and had to do what they called a manual count. They admitted they have failed to consider both the target increase of 100-300% on London Cycle Network routes and the linkages with proposed City local cycle routes so there is a real risk that the cycle track, if used, will lead to cyclists overflow onto the pavement or the carriageway. The new London Cycling Design Standards say that where cyclists make up more than 10% of the traffic, a cycle lane of 1.5m may be insufficient. While Blackfriars Bridge is the second most used cycle route in London as there is a lot of motor traffic cyclists do not make up 10%, though on a quiet single carriageway road in the City they may make up 20% of the traffic but as overall traffic levels are low a 1.5m cycle lane would still be adequate. The guidance is clearly daft, TfL were told so by LCC members and pointed to continental guidance but TfL officials refused to even answer this point.

Bridge linkages

TfL have so far only considered cyclists going along the north-south route despite many wanting to turn at either end of the bridge. This diagram shows the importance of not just Blackfriars Bridge but also the junctions either side. The purple local cycle routes may not seem important but the one leading to Mount Pleasant provides a quiet backstreet link to the Stations Circular route leading to King's Cross, Paddington etc. while the Smithfields route leads to LCN 7 taking you to Finsbury Park and the Queen Victoria Street route takes you to Bank. The National Cycle Route 4 is incomplete here and official maps tell cyclists to dismount and walk on the pavement however TfL's masterplan for the south side still fails completely to solve this.

Impact on pedestrians

Walking over one of central London's bridges is one of the most pleasant experiences of being a pedestrian in the capital. Unfortunately the junctions either side of the bridges leave much to be desired. There are far more pedestrians using the narrower pavement on the eastern (downstream) side of the bridge as the western side where the cycle track is due to be dumped on has very poor access at either end. On the north side pedestrians are expected to use a subway known as "London's longest toilet", so many understandably try to walk around guard rails on the surface. On the south side there is no signalled crossing of Stamford Street.

If surface crossings were put in then pedestrian flows would increase dramatically but even on current levels halving the pavement width would drastically reduce level of service for pedestrians. There would not be space for two people walking abreast to pass two other people walking abreast without one going behind the other or more likely,someone stepping onto the cycle track. TfL claims that this is not an issue since the flows do not exceed the guidelines in their glossy Streetscape Guidance Manual. In fact the guidance is vague in the extreme with such scientific terms as "low" pedestrian flows.

Guide dog and woman on bridge pavement

The section at the northern end where pedestrians are shoved between the bridge parapets and new guardrailing will be particularly unpleasant though having cyclists whizzing past at up to 20mph centimetres away on the rest of the pavement will not be desirable. Just as cycling groups were not consulted about the original controversial bus lane plans, so groups representing pedestrians and disabled people have not been consulted as, going on TfL's mentality, this only is a cycling scheme.

... Quick Links :: Cyclists :: Pedestrians :: TfL's Errors :: Next steps ...

TfL's series of errors

TfL were heavily criticised in the aftermath with the judge sentencing the driver telling them to "cut through superfluous bureaucracy". They commissioned a report from the Transport Research Laboratory to look at their practices which produced some serious criticism: see LCC press release. Amazingly however they managed to dodge the central issue, "the scandal of our deadly cycle lanes" as the Observer put it, and this issue was left to be dealt with by TfL producing the London Cycle Design Standards. These still ignore continental best practice and even common sense and cop out of qualatitive judgements as to provision for cyclists.

The LCC wrote to TfL days after the second fatality telling them that the key problem was the northern junction. TfL then spend over half a year working out ten different options for the bridge itself, none of which involved changing the northern junction despite admitting that this was "significantly affected" what could be done to the bridge. In January 2005 LCC and others told TfL that their proposals were completely unacceptable and raised the junction point once again. It took until April 2005 for TfL to commission a study on the northern junction claiming they "had only just realised" it was an issue. When they were reminded of the previous correspondence the bureaucrats turned defensive and told LCC that "in the context of the immediate" LCC could either agree to TfL's scheme or nothing would be done at all.

Yet again and now contrary to the recommendations of the TRL report which TfL dubiously claims to be "aggressively pursuing" there was no consultation with cyclists as to the brief for the study and it took a month of repeated requests for LCC to be emailed a copy of the brief. To make matters even worse TfL have forgotten to include key information in the brief including the London Cycling Design Standards, London Cycle Network aims, location of other proposed cycle routes.

Next steps

There is widespread agreement both that something needs to be done now but also that major changes to the junction will also be needed though these may take a couple years as complex engineering and modelling will be required. In August, the research commissioned by TfL on a 20mph speed limit should be ready while in the following month the study on the northern junction which will include quick fixes as well as medium term proposals for radical change.

Therefore City Cyclists are proposing that the scheme should be put on hold until the results are available. As a short term fix we propose only implementing the part of the TfL scheme that involves adding a new concrete separator as most cyclists will ignore the track anyway.

... Quick Links :: Cyclists :: Pedestrians :: TfL's Errors :: Next steps ...

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