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.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Transforming cycling and walking in Hackney

More people cycle in Hackney than any other London borough. A previous post described some of what Hackney is doing to improve cycling, walking and its public spaces for public life. To recap, Hackney is engineering incremental change to its streets to create a better balance between pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles.  

This post focusses on what might be done in the medium term to transform Hackney's streets further and get many more people cycling and walking. 

It is to be hoped that Hackney will continue to implement further great schemes like those described previously on the streets that it controls and will continue to engineer slower speeds, as opportunities arise. For example there is an exciting scheme planned for the south of the borough. The proposal creates a large, shared, public square that cyclists and motor vehicles are invited to use, but which is clearly a people place for public life.

A great place scheme scheme that will benefit pedestrians and cycles
at the junction of St Paul Street and Leanard Street. 
(Drg taken from Hackney website)

However the interventions described previously can only go so far. What more is to be done? What are the barriers to cycling in Hackney? What might a vision for cycling and walking look like in Hackney? 

Traffic speeds and roads policing

It is axiomatic. A reduction in road speeds will reduce both the number and severity of casualties. The single most effective, area wide, population wide, intervention that could be made to get more cycling and walking would be to reduce road speeds on those roads where most of the collisions happen - the main roads! Enforcing road speeds of 30mph would reduce road traffic casualties. However enforcing a 20mph on Hackney's main roads would be transformational. 
The police share the same casualty reduction targets as Hackney council. They know road speed is a factor in collisions, but as a matter of operational policy, in practice, do little speed enforcement, almost none below 30mph. Changing this stance is work in progress.

But there is more to roads policing than simply reducing speed. A few years ago the Met and TfL undertook operation FOIST, which operated in Hackney, one of three east London boroughs in which a quarter of motor vehicles failed to stop after a collision. The operation meant that uninsured and unroadworthy vehicles were taken off  London's roads on an industrial scale! The results were remarkable and well worth a read. There is a similar lower key operation (CUBO), but this removes fewer vehicles than FOIST did. And, of course, more roads policing of all the transport modes is needed in order to foster and embed a culture of more considerate use of our streets.

Traffic volumes and congestion

In the absence of road user charging traffic volumes and congestion will grow in east London.

The volume of motor vehicles on Hackney's roads is the second significant barrier to increasing cycling and walking in Hackney. Half of all London's new homes will be built in east London and 100s of thousands of new jobs are planned. The result will be a rise in the demand for road space. This is compounded by policies and interventions which are  focussed on keeping the [motor] traffic moving rather than radically favouring modal switch to cycling, walking and bus which are so much more space efficient.

A classic photo demonstrating the space efficient modes

The effect of traffic volume plays out in two ways in Hackney. Those streets that do not have the benefit of parking controls are rammed with vehicles. If you try to implement cycle and walk friendly schemes they are resisted by motorists concerned about the loss of parking. It is no coincidence that all the great public realm schemes in Hackney have been undertaken in the areas of the borough where the parking has thinned out following the introduction of controls.

The photos below demonstrate the difference that can be made by the implementation of controls. To the east of Hackney demand for parking was so high that vehicles were permitted to park on the pavement. With the introduction of controls demand for road space decreased dramatically and  has been reclaimed for pedestrians. Cycling has become more pleasant and safer and there are now opportunities for public realm improvement.

Frampton Park Road before controls.
Pavement parking was legalised.
Two buggies couldn't comfortably pass by.

And after. Better for pedestrians and cyclists.
Now with a potential for public realm improvement

The second impact of traffic volume is that it is impossible to fundamentally redesign road junctions to reduce risk and make them cycle and walk friendly.  Most, if not all Hackney's major road junctions will be too busy to re-engineer to make for safer cycling and walking. In Hackney the recently designed junction of Dalston Junction and Queensbridge Road is an example of the designer's dilemma -  if you reduce motor vehicle capacity you increase queue length and vehicles seek rat runs.

High volumes of motor traffic inevitably lead to poor design
for cycling and walking.

To deal with these issues, the answers today are the same as when they were first asked 50 years ago by the DfT's Smeed reportThe only way to manage congestion in dense urban areas is by permit or price. If this nettle is not grasped it is fanciful to believe that substantively better junctions are deliverable.

 Hackney's dreadful gyratories and junctions

The third barrier are those awful gyratories and junctions. They have all been engineered to accommodate high levels of motor vehicle traffic. Re-modelling them for cycles and pedestrians and taking account of movement and urban design together, would create a great, liveable borough. Below are some of the worst.

The Victoria Park (A106) one-way system, the Wick and Lea interchanges make the east of the borough seem inaccessible. Buses cannot operate sensibly, passengers find the services illegible. Cyclists find the one-way roads hostile due to speeding traffic and resort to the pavements to avoid long detours. For pedestrians, it's a hostile environment and causes community severance. This complex one-way system and motorway style interchanges need to be addressed as part of a package of measures to deal with the traffic issues of the east of the borough.

Stoke Newington High Street is inaccessible to cycles and buses and creates community severance. One can cycle there from the south, but is unable to return without a long diversion. The opposite is the case coming from the north of the borough. All road users are diverted from the high street. By bus it's worse.  As an illustration access to Stoke Newington from Hackney Central on the 276 is easy. But the return journey is via 1/2 mile hike to Stoke Newington Common. The local community complain of the difficulty of crossing the street. The High Street needs a regeneration led scheme to create a two-way street to develop a similar look and feel to that accomplished recently at Dalston Kingsland.

Dalston Kingsland has recently had a makeover - wider pavements,
better crossings, less clutter, loads of cycle parking
Hackney Central, the jewel in Hackney's crown, has been regenerated over several years and is now undergoing further renewal. However it still suffers from all day congestion. Schemes exist to radically reduce the levels of through traffic and introduce two-way bus movement out of the Narroway. Work in Progress!

Additionally there are five junctions that need remodelling for safer cycling, easier crossing and the creation of a sense of place, rather than a sense that the car is king!

The Pembury Circus Junction is the worst of the junctions on the roads Hackney controls, though as part of the Strategic Road Network TfL will have to be persuaded to make changes. There is some hope that monies secured from the adjacent car-free development could fund radical change.

A proposal to greatly improve the Pembury Circus junction.

The Dalston Lane / Graham Road / Queensbridge Road junction described earlier needs further change. The other awful junctions are at Stamford Hill Broadway, Well Street / Mare Street and Shacklewell Lane / Amhurst Road.

In conclusion, Hackney has and is creating a better cycling and walking environment, but to maintain this positive direction the borough should further change in a consistent and incremental way.

Next time a tale of two local shopping centres and a rebuttal of the Mary Portas orthodoxy.

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.