Sunday 10 March 2013

Cycling and walking in Hackney

There has been a lot of the vision thing from the Mayor of London, the bloggers and journos about cycling this week and so maybe its time for a bit about delivery, on the ground.

Census 2011 reports that 15.4% of those that travel to work in Hackney do so by bicycle. That's 17,312 cyclists, up from the Census 2001 figure of 4940. Of all those that cycle in London 10.7% reside in Hackney. The map below illustrates just how Hackney's bicycle to work statistic has changed over ten years,

Hackney has done best of all the London boroughs in growing bicycling commuting

Some will say, and they do, that this is all down to an influx of hipsters, the absence of a tube and the geographical location of Hackney. All that may well be true (though there is now the London Overground), but it's also down to numerous interventions by local and regional government over the last decade and more, in partnership with London's most sophisticated organised cycling community, the London Cycling Campaign in Hackney.

Hackney is on the north eastern edge of the central London congestion zone. Congestion charging has been the single most important change to traffic management in London in the last ten years. There is no doubt that congestion charging was the start of the rapid rise in cycling in London.

Hackney benefitted from congestion charging and the complementary changes that accompanied it. More buses and more bus lanes (great for cycling) and a large swathe of controlled parking bordering the zone.

Hackney has also reinvented its public realm, its streets and public places. At least ten years of consistent and high levels of investment from the local authority has built on congestion charging and has changed the borough's streets out of all recognition. There have been numerous complementary, 'soft' measures, to promote cycling and walking. There has been major and very subtle changes to street design and there has been a supportive town planning regime - most new housing development in Hackney is car free or car capped.

Hackney's approach is essentially simple and takes much from the work of Danish urbanist Jan Gehl. Hackney has seen an incremental change on its streets to: create a better balance between pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. There has been an equality of esteem for both movement and, crucially, urban design. Almost every intervention on Hackney's streets has improved its public realm and benefitted both cyclists and pedestrians. In Hackney we think about cycle journeys, not cycle routes.

The changes at Britannia Roundabout on Pitfield Street demonstrates the philosophy better than most. It's a scheme that was 100% driven by the Hackney Cyclists group, but 95% of the benefits accrue to the local residents and pedestrians in terms of a better street environment.

Britannia Roundabout, before
Britannia junction, after.
A cycling scheme with 95% of the benefits for pedestrians.

Goldsmith's Row is another great scheme. Its the best and cheapest piece of cycle infrastructure in London. Essentially a cycle, walk and play only street has been created for the price of two bollards. Of course there have also been street works which have much improved the look and feel of the street. Crucially these works were made possible by the implementation of parking controls at the time of congestion charging which allowed Hackney to remove the cars which had previously been legally allowed to park on the pavement of Goldsmith's Row.

Goldsmith's Row. The best and cheapest cycle infrastructure in London

20's plenty

These are two examples of larger projects and though there are a number of them it is the schemes that you don't see which are just as important. The widespread introduction of 20mph zones, now on almost every residential street followed the concerns about road safety from a Tory councillor, Eric Ollerenshaw, in 2003, which led to a cross party commission of councillors recommending the wide scale introduction of 20mph zones.

Filtered permeability (or road closures to you and me)

Predating most of the cycling and walking campaigners now in Hackney was the De Beauvoir Town road closure scheme. Promoted by the local residents' association, fed up with rat running traffic, it is now the best example, in Hackney, of a large area wide scheme that is great for cycling. With just a few road closures a whole area has become cycle, walk and play friendly while still allowing residents to drive to their homes.

The simplest and cheapest way to transform an area for cycling.
Overlay parking controls and 20mph and you have
cycling, walking and playing space reclaimed for people.

Entry treatments, speed tables, tighter junction radii and yellow lines at junctions

Along with 20mph zones,  road closures and controlled parking the above are the bread and butter measures that Hackney has implemented over the last decade to slow the traffic and civilise its streets for the slow modes. Many will not notice, but being able to see at junctions and slowing turning vehicles down is really important and underestimated. The humble 10 yards of yellow line at junctions, implemented as per the highway code to allow pedestrians to cross safely and for cyclists to see the oncoming traffic, should be the cornerstone of the good management of London's roads. Some authorities just don't get it, believing 2 meters of yellow line is enough, and maximising parking the priority.

Controlled parking

Possibly the single most difficult issue in local government, but one which has a significant impact on all of this. Without parking controls many of the great schemes which have been implemented in Hackney would not have been possible, because a pre-condition is that the parking is thinned out. You can't do meaningful public realm improvement in streets rammed full of cars. It's not a coincidence that all of the great public realm schemes have happened in the controlled areas of the borough. Additionally, controls reduce local congestion.

Bus lanes

Hackney's main mode of transport is the bus and it will probably remain so for the next decade. The introduction of widespread bus priority, including one of London's best bus priority schemes along Amhurst Road has had the unintended consequence of providing great protection for cyclists from general traffic - probably the most significant protection that can be achieved on most of London's heavily trafficked streets, given all the other demands for road space.

Hackney's commercial centres

Shoreditch used to be dominated by movement. The 60s solution to the growth of private cars was the gyratory system. Great for through traffic, hopeless for bus, cycle and pedestrian traffic. The then head of TfL streets, Derek Turner, implemented what, to this day, is London's best traffic system remodelling scheme - the reversion of the Shoreditch gyratory system to two-way operation. Now it is still a very busy road network, but infinitely better than before and is now known, not for the speeding traffic, but for the cycling (walking and lingering) Hackney Hipster.

Hackney Central is now the best commercial and cultural centre in Hackney, but it has not always been that way. Public realm improvement along Mare Street has made a massive improvement to the look and feel of the town centre. A workmanlike scheme implemented over a number of years started in 2006 with the widescale removal of guard railing, conversion of staggered pig pen crossings to single stage, direct ones, some footway widening with quality materials, side road entry treatments and tighter junction radii. All had the effect of improving the feel of the street and calming the traffic. This was followed by road closures behind the town hall. This scheme has been a great success given the traffic volumes and scale of bus movements along Mare Street.

Stoke Newington Church Street benefited from the active role of Living Streets volunteers and local councillors. Again, nothing too dramatic, mainly minor footway widening, better pedestrian crossings and side road entry treatments. The result has been a much slower, people-friendly street. All this on the route of one of London's most frequent bus routes, the No. 73.

Dalston Kingsland, said by Hackney cyclists to be a perfect cycling scheme, is primarily a regeneration scheme. The footways have been significantly widened, but crucially the carriageway width of 4.5 metres allows cycle to pass vehicles and vehicles to pass cycles. Shorter crossing distances are encouraging of - guess what - crossing! Plenty of cycle parking, decluttering, the omission of a white centre line, wider crossings to handle all the  pedestrian visitors Dalston gets. There is also a novel rumble surface. All in all a great vibrant space as busy at night as it is during the day.

Another workmanlike, understated,
regeration scheme with huge benefits for cyclists and pedestrians.

Broadway Market was almost impassable ten years ago, even by cyclists, because of parked and dumped cars. The introduction of parking controls enabled the street to be properly managed. The rest, as they say is history. The local market pioneers moved in and, supported by the council, transformed the space to be one of Hackney's best public spaces where cycle on cycle collisions are more likely than motor on cycle. An ongoing, very high quality refresh of Broadway Market is partially complete, taking out a side road and converting it to pedestrian space. A little further away on Westgate Street another public realm scheme that will also tighten turning radii at a junction significantly and thereby benefit cyclists by slowing traffic speeds, but also pedestrians with a place to sit and shorter road crossing distances.

Public Places, Public life

Jan Gehl's contribution to London's development was his seminal work Towards a fine city for people, 2004,  which promoted the active creation of places just to stop and linger and enjoy. Public space, for people to enjoy. In Hackney there are now many of these. Road space has been reclaimed for people. The skateboarders and ping pong players have moved in. More of this another time.


  1. Very good news! (But "Filtered permeability (or road closures to you and I" should read " you and me.")

  2. Are you (the blog author) are involved with Hackney Cyclists? Or perhaps you are you a council officer writing anonymously?

  3. And there's the 10 years of hackney promoting adult and schools cycle training which really helps people overcome their fear of riding as well as all the excellent physical interventions. Hackney has also been delivering according to Road Danger Reduction philosophy though the borough could go further with this with the creation of a RDR officer (like Lambeth).

  4. nice blog and nice information