Tuesday, 8 October 2013


Hackney has been branded the Capital of Cycling. The recent All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group report noted Hackney's "extraordinary progress".  However, whilst recognising what Hackney has achieved, some bloggers and cycling campaigners, mostly outside Hackney, say that Hackney must nevertheless change. It should not continue to pursue the policies which have contributed to this progress: road danger reduction, speed management, public realm improvement and permeability for cycles amongst others.

They promote a strategy of 'Going Dutch' with dedicated space for cyclists being introduced along Hackney's busiest streets. Surely, proponents of separated cycle tracks say, if you give cyclists a protected lane they will feel safer and more of them will cycle. They say it has had an effect in Holland; Holland has a lot of cyclists. Quod erat demonstrandum.  

However it is not happenstance that has led to the adoption of policies in Hackney to incrementally create a better balance between pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles; permeability for cycles; speed management and road danger reduction. These are pragmatic policies for a borough which regards cycling as important, but also wants to see more walking, great streets and great public spaces and has a huge proportion of its residents who are reliant on numerous, good bus services. In these multiple aims, Hackney is supported by its organised cycling community who also recognise that a liveable borough is not just about cycling.

Space for buses
Almost 50 bus services operate on Hackney's streets (more than in the whole of Amsterdam). Many carry more passengers than some light rail systems. The bus is, and will continue to be, the number one public transport mode (by a very long way) that residents of Hackney use to get around.  And to keep these buses moving Hackney has to provide priority for buses on its streets. There is also an obligation on boroughs to do this from a wider, strategic London perspective. It is not just Hackney residents who use these buses and who benefit from priority, it is bus users along the whole route. Bus lanes have been a huge boon to cycling, and of course cyclists also use the bus. 

Hackney has some of the best bus priority schemes in London, like the one below. Hackney has also removed obstructive parking on bus routes to speed them up, which in turn benefits cyclists on busy streets.

Hackney has some of the busiest bus services in London. The stretch of bus lane and bus gate on Amhurst Road protects 100 buses an hour from the effects of traffic congestion and provides protection for cyclists.
However, bus priority and bus infrastructure take road space and buses need access to the kerb. There are now two novel approaches to providing dedicated space for cyclists at bus stops. One approach, developed by Camden (Royal College Street ) directs cyclists into the path of boarding and alighting passengers. The second, developed by TfL and Newham on Stratford High Street directs cyclists behind the bus stops. Neither of these novel approaches is appropriate for Hackney's streets with its high cycle, pedestrian and bus passenger volumes.

The bus stop being built out presently at Stratford may well be acceptable where the pavement is wide and pedestrian and passenger numbers are very low it is inconceivable that it could be introduced generally on Hackney's streets with high footfall and bus passenger volumes.

Space for pedestrians
Like most others, Hackney council has adopted a transport hierarchy for its streets that puts pedestrians at the top, followed by cyclists and bus users. It wants to see a fully accessible, inclusive, public realm.  Urban design is as important as movement. 

Hackney has done much to improve its streets for public life. It has widened the pavements and improved the look and the feel of public spaces in its key centres of Stoke Newington Church Street, Hackney Central, Shoreditch, Broadway Market and Dalston. It wants to do the same along Stoke Newington High Street. 

Pedestrians feel most comfortable on wide, clear and continuous pavements. In Hackney Central policies to widen the pavement and remove highways obstructions (A boards) have been welcomed by pedestrians.

The same census 2011 results that have shown cycling to have risen so dramatically also demonstrate the success Hackney has had in increasing walk trips to work. Almost doubling from 7,811 to 14,054 in 10 years.

Some bloggers have suggested introducing cycle tracks into what are, for the footfall using them, quite narrow pavements. One campaigner suggested reducing the pavement at Dalston Kingsland to two metres in precisely the location at which the pavement has been recently widened to accommodate increasing numbers of pedestrians! It is even suggested that one-way gyratory systems should be left in place to allow for cycle tracks! These systems are hopeless for pedestrians and bus services.

Pedestrians are most comfortable on a wide, clear, continuous pavement. The last thing they want is the introduction of cycles onto the pavement as evidenced by the high number of police Community Advice Panels (CAPs) which have tackling pavement cycling as a priority.

Space for public life
In Hackney, the UK's second most dense local authority area, great streets and public spaces are vital components of the quality of public life whether for getting around, shopping, play or just enjoying watching the world go by. Hackney's economy and attractiveness as a borough is, in part, down to its great streets and street life. This is important as it is increasingly being recognised that successful economies have also to be great places for public life.

Dalston Kingsland where it is suggested the pavement is reduced to accommodate a cycle track is presently the location for trading and street life.

Space for business loading
Whilst there is a case for removing parking on Hackney's busier streets, businesses will continue to need access to the kerb in order to load. Presently this is accommodated by the use of bus lanes and general carriageway out of peak hours.  Introducing separated cycling tracks must make business loading more difficult.

The problem with kerbs
At the heart of the cyclecentric, separated space campaign is a desire to see additional kerbs installed to "protect cyclists from motor vehicles" or for cyclists to be diverted onto the pavement in tracks, for example around the back of bus stops as illustrated above.  This is said to benefit cyclists, but ignores the problems that will be caused to pedestrians, particularly older people and the visually and mobility impaired. Pedestrians (whom hitherto transport planners have put at the top of the transport hierarchy) want to see wide, level, continuous and clear pavements and to be able to cross the street at will. Pedestrians do not want additional kerbs and complexity introduced into the street. Pedestrians do not want to have to look out for cyclists on the pavement, nor do they want to have to cross a cycle track and perch on a foot wide kerb before crossing the carriageway.

The introduction of kerbs and the paraphernalia of separated tracks flies in the face of years of work to establish that our streets are not there simply to cater for movement, but are also places for public life. Just at the time that walking policy has made a shift towards reduced segregation - for example by  the removal of guard railing etc. - and more shared space some cycle bloggers and campaigners want to shift cycling provision towards more separation.

The separated cycle track on Pitfield Street serves a cycling function, but by no stretch of the imagination can this be described as an attractive and walkable street. For able bodied pedestrians it's horrible to cross, for older people and disabled pedestrians it is un-passable. It is poor urban design.
And what of resources?
Whatever focus there is on cycling, money will always be in short supply and it needs to be spent to best effect. In my view limited resources should be targeted at the junctions which are most problematic for both pedestrians and cyclists: the Pembury Circus, Lea Interchange, Dalston Lane / Queensbridge Road, Stamford Hill Broadway, Old Street / City Road.  Also on a list of priorities would be the one-way systems which reduce cycling and bus permeability at Stoke Newington and Hackney Wick. Can separate cycle tracks down Kingsland Road ever compete for funds against tackling these locations?

Where would the space come from for cycle tracks on Hackney's main streets? 
The last time I looked, Hackney's main streets were being used pretty intensively. The footways are wide, but often heaving with pedestrians, the carriageways vary in width, but where possible bus priority has been installed . Much of the kerbside space is used either  for bus stops, alternates with bus lanes as part-time loading bays or is a single carriageway width.

One could i) reallocate road space from the bus, ii) narrow the pavement for cycle tracks. But If buses are vital to the borough and one wants great streets for pedestrians then one would want more bus priority, not less. Where it is possible pavements would be widened not narrowed. 

One could also iii) remove parking or iv) reallocate space from general traffic; to provide cycle tracks, but, this would only be possible on a few short sections of Hackney's busy streets.

Very few of Hackney's streets are of uniform width throughout. and all have many demands on them. Adopting a 'Go Dutch' approach would mean implementing the odd length of separated lane, often at the expense of pedestrian space or bus priority, and then have to stop the lane intermittently, because to do more was simply unfeasible - this is not much of a strategy.

The busiest section of the A10 in Hackney at Dalston Kingsland. This has a nine meter wide carriageway, pavements recently widened and still very busy. Described as perfect for cycling by Hackney Cyclists. Where would separated cycle tracks go?

Space for cycling
There may well be some very busy arterial roads across London where it would make sense to implement separate cycle tracks. There is a need for more and better account to be taken of cycling on Hackney's busier streets, but I can't see that translating into separated tracks because there are too many competing priorities. Cycling is only one of these. Any monies available to be spent on these busier roads would be better spent tackling problematic junctions and improving permeability for cycles and buses by tackling Hackney's one-way systems.

The single most pragmatic thing to do to provide more space for cycling along Hackney's busier streets would be to upgrade bus lane operational times to 24/7, widen them to 4.5 metres where they can be and thin out the parking further on the streets where inside lane widths are less than 4.5 metres. And of course there is much that can be done to manage speed, both with engineering measures and enforcement.

Looking longer term, roads pricing is the answer to calls for more space for all the sustainable modes.

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