Key ingredients to encourage cycling are to make cyclists’ journeys direct, fluid and safe. Learn more about why historical high streets have an important role to play, why it is essential to make them safe and why cyclists shouldn’t be pushed aside.
Create safe space for slower mode of movement
Tip B. KEEP CYCLISTS (SAFE) ON MAIN ROADS AND HIGH STREETS
While there are many residential streets that are safe to cycle, main roads and high streets often remain dangerous for cyclists to use, due to the volume and speed of traffic. They are essential to promote easy cycling though because they are – unlike Cycle Superhighways and Quietways – the natural and most direct ways to move around in London and they have many local facilities and shops that cyclists can successfully use and support.
London Cycling Design Standards suggest that busy streets should have mandatory cycle lanes. These busy streets are defined as having a traffic distribution of more than 500 vehicles per peak hour or a speed limit above 20mph, which is the case of many London high streets. Unfortunately, most of them have currently no lanes. In the Netherlands, all busy roads include bike lanes with as minimum red paint and white stripes. Discover below how a high street in Highbury would look like in the Netherlands.
Context. A busy High Street
Our example is located on the highest point of street ‘Highbury Park’ aka A1201. Like a lot of High Streets in North London, it is both a district centre with housing, local shops, restaurants and facilities and, one of the major vehicular links between the North Circular Road and London centre, including a frequent bus route. Highbury Park is, at this specific location, 14 m wide, has sidewalks on both sides and a bus stop on one side.
|Street name||Highbury Park (Islington, London)|
|Street type||Main Road (M3/P2) and High Street (M3/P1)|
|Road type||Primary A road – A major road intended to provide large-scale transport links within or between areas.|
|Urban uses||Housing, shops, restaurants, school, church, bus stop.|
|Building height and density||3 Floors in average, low urban density.|
|Street width||About 14 m wide.|
|Street typology||Fences > Sidewalk 1 (1.7 m) and kerb > Edge marking > Carriageway including a centre line > Edge marking > Kerb and sidewalk (2.30m) > Fences.|
|Street ‘attendance’||On a Saturday afternoon, every 10 minutes: 6 buses, about 110 motorised vehicles but buses, 70 pedestrians, 7 cyclists.|
|Speed, noise and pollution||The speed limit is 20 mph/30kmh. This is not respected and the average speed is closer to 30mph/50kmh (Source: Android App Speed Gun). The street is noisy at all times (70db = level of a phone ringtone or vacuum cleaner – Source: Android App Sound Meter). The air quality is fair but the amount of polluants is noticeable (67 on the Air Quality Index – on a scale between 0 and 100 with 100 the best air quality possible – Source: Android Apps Breezo Meter and CleanSpace).|
|Road condition and markings||The tarmac is still in good condition but markings are fading away. The edge markings stand for a limited allowed waiting time: only possible 20/40min in the evening between 6.30pm and 8am (so not to drop kids to the near school) and on Sunday. The centre line in the middle stands for a 2 way street where vehicle can overtake others if safe.|
Highbury Park characteristics
The Problem. Cyclists feel like pedestrians without sidewalks
Whereas this is an essential route for the many residents living in Highbury and up to the North Circular to go to London centre, there are currently about 7 cyclists per 10 min only, against about 70 pedestrians and 110 car or motorbike drivers (on a Saturday afternoon – slightly more in the morning and evening over the week). A lot of people consider it is too dangerous to cycle on such a busy major street with so much traffic and so many buses. Unfortunately, there are no parallel quieter streets to use. Moreover, it is not good for the local economy to push cyclists away from High Streets.
How would it look in the Netherlands?
We have found a location that is rather similar to Highbury Park. Landsmeer is located in the near surroundings of Amsterdam (20 min away from the centre) and has a similar urban setting (a narrow street, medium urban density, bus route and town centre uses). What can we see on the Google Street View of Landsmeer centre? There are glowing red (always red, that’s a national code!) bikes lanes giving priority to cyclists, a few bike racks as well and user-friendly bus stops (including for the disabled)! Doesn’t it look nice and practical?
Questions & answers. Is this applicable in London?
1. Is the street in Landsmeer wider than in Highbury to be able to do that?
No, it is also 14 m wide but has really large sidewalks. Highbury Park could fit 2 bike lanes of 1.50 wide each, which is the minimum required. There would be 6 m used for the carriageway because of the bus route, plus 2 and 3 m for the sidewalks because of the bus stop. That makes a total of 11 m only, so there are 3 m left for bicycle lanes. But anyway, that could work on a narrower high street as well as you can see in Landsmeer.
2. But cars and buses drive on cycling lanes too?
Why not? In the UK, cars even park on bike lanes unfortunately… Plus, cyclists help to calm the traffic as motorised vehicles need to slow down and drive at low speed (which is normal anyway in a town centre where there are lots of pedestrians).
3. Why mark the bike lanes if bikes and motorised vehicles share the street in the end?
In the Netherlands, pedestrians and cyclists are recognised as weaker road users. (There will be an article about the ‘Law of the Weakest’). They are therefore, more important to protect than drivers – protected by their vehicle already – and motorists need to be the most careful. By marking bicycle lanes visually, it gives a clear message to all, that cyclists are not only entitled to use the carriageway but even have the priority!
4. Why do they have the priority over motorists?
Since 1973, the Dutch government is committed to help people cycle rather than drive. That is to give everyone a better environment to live (cleaner, quieter, safer). Watch this inspiring historic video here.
5. Alright but that’s in the Netherlands, what about the UK government’s rules?
There are only design recommendations in the UK, no design rules as you might have realised seen the many ways (confusing!) bicycles lanes are marked in London. Though the Highway Code specifies how to drive/ride/walk on the road and what road markings and signs mean.
The design applied in London.
Convinced? Below is how the solution would work in Highbury. Bare in mind this is to give an impression of what the street could look like. Vehicles need to ride/drive on the left and further studies would be required. The ideal design when the road include bus stops is to set bus stops on islands and set bicycle lanes behind them. Because this is a rather narrow street, this could potentially work if the street was made one-way street for motorised vehicles.
The benefits of the design? The street gets a human scale where slow traffic is prioritised and encouraged. How?. There’s a lot of space for pedestrians. Small trees, street furniture – such as bike racks on large sidewalks for school children and nearby church visitors – create soft edges and are calming elements. Lanes for cyclists are clear and dominant with red being the national code for bike lanes in the Netherlands. Striped lines make it clear that vehicles can drive on lanes if required. The bus stop is elevated to help wheelchairs and strollers to get into the bus. With vehicles driving slower, noise and pollution are reduced. In terms of material and colours, see how the pavement is permeable to let water enter ground and how the red colour catches the attention, gives a warm atmosphere while matching with the local character brick-buildings.
A step further to this solution could be slowing down the traffic on the High Street to create a real shared space for bikes and buses with obstacles/chicanes on the road to slow the traffic. Alternatively, another longer-term strategy would be to keep the same speed limit, but reduce the vehicular traffic. Keeping the same speed could be necessary if – in the future – P+Rs (Park+Rides) were installed all around London including on the North Circular Road, to allow drivers to leave their cars on the outskirts and take public transport to go to the centre of London, just like it is done in Amsterdam. In that case, a solution would be to make the street a one-way bus route (the route in the other direction would be located on another main and parallel street) whilst still offering two directions for cyclists and pedestrians.
Quick Win. A little bit of paint will do.
Next time markings are to be painted again, shall we use simple striped lines and fill in the lane with red paint as first step to create a safer environment such as the one on Landsmeer High Street?
Constraints. Impossible is impossible, sorry
Councils say they have no money to make these improvements? We think that by using simple markings and crowdfunding, everything is possible. There are now lots of examples of people crowdfunding or realising cycling projects themselves so this can’t be considered as a constraint anymore. But also, it might be time to change heavy Council processes as well.
According to an Islington officer, changes as little as adding an ‘Except Cyclists’ sign under a ‘No-Entry’ sign – on a one-way street, currently heavily used by cyclists in both directions – require the following to happen: Several feasibility studies, key stakeholder consultations, road audits, public consultations, the approval of the Head of Public Realm, a Traffic Management Order, etc. As a result, this little sign would cost £20,000.
Well, officers, councillors, shall we not truly do everything we can to accelerate all of this? Using such paralysing processes – instead of setting once for all an easy process and compulsory design standards regarding bike lanes – could be considered by many as a failure to meet our responsibilities; a failure currently costing cyclists’ lives and the planet’s health. The ball is in our court to facilitate the transition. Let’s play wisely!
Let us know what you think!
(Remember this is a satirical website about serious cycling stuff)