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.


  1. Those proposals for Pembury junction look great. When are we likely to hear when/if they'll actually happen?

  2. Anonymous. No timescale, but on radar with good amount of funding from the nearby development.