Thank you to @SaveBloomsbury for taking time to lay out the reasons for your dislike of the ‘Taviplace’ cycle scheme.
To start, I should declare an interest in the matter in that I was responsible in the late 1990s for coming up the idea for the Taviplace cycle route and that on Royal College Street, which introduced to Inner and Central London the use of ‘segregated cycle tracks’ using two-way cycle traffic physically separated from the motor traffic lanes.
The reason for introducing segregated cycle tracks is that cycling mixed with motor traffic, because of the inherent speed differentials, is unattractive to people in general and to women, to older people and to younger people (or their parents) in particular. Those countries which have adopted widespread use of segregated cycle networks have much higher rates of cycling, a balance of genders in the cycling profile, more young people and more older people cycling. Of course, to achieve this effect it is necessary to have extensive, inter-connected networks, something that is only slowly being worked towards in London in particular and the UK in general.
I won’t go into detail of the reasons why governments and local authorities want to increase cycling levels, but in outline, cycling ‘ticks all the boxes’ of tackling congestion, eliminating pollution in terms both of air quality (particles) and greenhouse gases, reducing the strain on the NHS and social care budgets, being cheap for the individual and for government bodies to implement and run, flexible, etc. The need to address congestion, pollution, casualty numbers, etc is being recognized on a global scale and all over government bodies are looking at bringing more balance into the public realm by lessening the traditional dominance of urban space by motor vehicles. This is the context in which Taviplace should be viewed.
However, since it was introduced, as I’m sure you know, the Taviplace two-way track has attracted increasing numbers of cyclists and it soon became clear that the initial implementation was under-resourced. This led to the trial of the present system with two one-way cycle tracks and which Camden Council has confirmed will be made permanent. It was, and as far as I know still is, the intention to re-design the street layout to ensure that the new system radically improves the aesthetic look of the route.
I asked you to layout your reasons for saying in a tweet that, “Nobody contests that the scheme has had benefits – to cyclists. What about everyone else?”
I will tackle your points but in a different order from yours which begins by arguing that the traffic circulation layout “means travelling by car is ridiculously convoluted”. This is to reflect the adoption of a new hierarchy of design ideas that reverses the 20th century view that placed the motor vehicle as the top priority of urban street design. This new view puts ‘vulnerable’ road users first, and starts with pedestrians.
It was always recognized that ‘taming’ the area, between Tottenham Court Road and the eastern border of the borough of Camden, by introducing the cycle track(s) would also bring benefits to pedestrians. I was surprised that you didn’t include any issues with the scheme for pedestrians in your points. When I prompted you about this you responded by saying that “I’m not sure it really makes any difference to pedestrians. If anything the unpredictability and general aggressiveness of cyclists makes the streets far more dangerous at rush hour. But at other times there’s little difference.”
I actually take it as a good sign that pedestrian issues hadn’t occurred to you. No doubt if you or others reported issues you would have brought them up without needing to be prompted.
Here we reach my first point of difference with you. There is no doubt that cycle tracks provide for more predictability, not less. This is well attested by research and, as predictability in general is an important factor in road safety, I dispute your view that the scheme is now “more dangerous” than before. So at the top of our design hierarchy the scheme is doing well, as suggested by your unawareness of any problems until prompted.
My own experience is that it is enormously better walking through the area (as I often do going between Euston station and Tottenham Court Road) than it was before the cycle track was installed. As the area is heavily used by pedestrians going to work, college, hospital, shops, cinemas etc., the motor traffic reduction aspects of the scheme alone would mark it out as one of the most important and welcome recent developments in Central London.
It is worthwhile noting that Torrington Place is effectively a main road running through the centre of a university campus; a crazy concept when you think about it. Students began campaigning about this since the 1950s as this video, unearthed by @cycleoptic, shows. I’m greatly heartened to say that the cycle route scheme has achieved so much in this respect – even if the level of motor traffic outside Waterstones remains excessive.
The second level in the rebalanced hierarchy is cyclists. I can certainly agree your comment that “Nobody contests that the scheme has had benefits – to cyclists.”
The ever increasing number of cyclists using the route demonstrates how much the facilities, despite a number of less than perfect points, is welcome to people who want to be able to cycle in safety and in that respect the scheme meets its primary objective of stimulating cycling levels in a previously hostile urban environment. As you found no fault with the scheme as far as cycling is concerned we can move on to deal with your points relating to motor traffic.
The refuse collection issues should by no means be unsolvable. Cycle tracks are widely used throughout many parts of continental Europe and solutions to any problems can be devised given goodwill, if necessary by adopting good practice from our former EU partners.
My own preference would be for refuse trucks to use the motor lane to ensure that cycle traffic is not badly disrupted especially as the number of users grows apace. This would only delay motor users for short periods and would be no different from the situation found in many narrow roads found throughout our now sovereign realm. An alternative would be for the trucks to use the eastbound cycle lane as this would not necessitate cyclists to have to advance head on into oncoming motor traffic as this is obviously particularly dangerous.
As for the “no stop” zone, I think the problem is less severe than you imply. It doesn’t arise from the junction with Gower Street through to the junction with Woburn Place as side road deliveries/servicing is applicable to all the businesses as far as I can see (for example the Tavistock Hotel is fully serviced from side streets with only guests using Tavistock Place and arrangements have been implemented here). Similarly it’s not clear that any businesses on the northern side of the road are badly affected. On the southern side of the road and east to Marchmont Street and on to Judd Street, businesses can be serviced from side roads at short distances. In special cases where unusually large loads are involved special arrangements can be made.
We should note, in contrasts, that there can be many benefits for businesses that spot how to make cost-savings and efficiencies thanks to the cycle route. We can see this happening with the growing number of ‘cargo bikes’ being used in the area.
I spoke to the cyclist with the cargo bike seen in the upper photo. He told me he works for a small chain of coffee shops who have a couple of outlets in the area. Previously deliveries to the shops from one point were made by van, but now can be done with the cargo bike. The cost-savings of having a bike (no VED, no MOT, low insurance, enormously cheaper maintenance, much cheaper parking – perhaps eliminating parking costs by leaving the bike inside one of the shops overnight – & importantly healthier, fitter & happier staff) over motor transport are significant. Go ahead businesses finding real gains in many different business sectors.
Regarding “traffic circulation problems causing huge delays in journey times for emergency services”, I am not aware of any specific reports of delays due to the circulation pattern. The underlying determinant factor with delays is the same as it has been for some decades – primarily by excess motor traffic and secondarily by all manner of road and utility works.
The introduction of two-way working on Tottenham Court Road, restricted to buses and cycles during the day (plus taxi access), should offer a pretty unobstructed run for emergency vehicles on that road.
It is often the pattern of revised road layouts that any ‘losses’ (in the sense of longer journey times) are offset by ‘gains’ (i.e. shorter journey times) in different directions, thus making an overall ‘net neutral’ effect.
The same applies to the first point you raise, and which in the hierarchy, comes further down, private motor traffic. Any inconvenience in terms of longer ingress routes is likely to be balanced by shorter egress routes.
Obviously for people who rely on cars in inner city areas there will often be issues of restricted mobility, though for many residents those issues are offset by the many great advantages of having the facilities of that city close to home – whether it be University College Hospital, University College of London, the British Museum, Tottenham Court Road, etc., etc.
Another important factor in this area is that car ownership levels are among the lowest in the borough and in the city as a whole given the closeness of many facilities. It is well established that car ownership is also lowest among the less affluent and the young; it also drops off with ageing. It is all too easy to overlook these aspects of society given the visual effect of the presence of lots of cars which take up lots of public space while serving a minority of people.
Figures show that Bloomsbury and Kings Cross wards have 0.2 cars per household (i.e. 1 in 5 households own a car and 4 in 5 don’t), compared with 0.5 in Camden borough as a whole and 0.8 in London as a whole. It’s also interesting to note that Bloomsbury has extremely good access to public transport, calculated as 8.0 for the ward (Kings Cross 7.8), compared with 5.7 for the borough and 3.8 for the whole city. These figures underline the need for the rebalance of the public road space following several decades of providing primarily for the minority that uses private cars to get around the inner city.
Some friends stayed in the Tavistock Hotel for a few days in the summer of last year. They live in a pretty quiet rural area and were worried whether they would find it hard to sleep in noisy Central London. However, they were overjoyed to find that they could even leave the window open (yeah, these hardy rural types, eh!). They said there was a constant background roar of noise from the direction of Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road – but not enough to prevent sleeping, and comparatively quiet immediate area. They were delighted and refreshed and spent a petty sum in local restaurants and shops given the unexpectedly peaceful environment of the area. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like if all night there had been cars and vans running up and down the road outside the hotel – we would never have slept,” one said to me.
As city dwellers we may find it easy to overlook this, but studies show that, even if one can ‘switch off’ to continuous loud noise, it does still have a deleterious effect on one’s long-term mental well-being. It is all too easy to overlook such benefits brought by large-scale traffic-calming schemes such as this cycle route – indeed as easy to overlook as the great advantages the scheme has brought to pedestrians and adaptable businesses as well as to cyclists.
Finally, I need to comment on some misapprehensions you hold that are evident from your remarks. You say, “you might say that ‘anyway shouldn’t everyone be walking or cycling?’ We have an ageing population in Bloomsbury and King’s Cross with mobility issues and also blind people visiting the RNIB. For them there is no choice but to use vehicles.”
This is a very common argument but it is a ‘straw man’. No one has ever said that everyone must walk or cycle. It is blindingly obvious to all that some people cannot do either and must be catered for (though it is important to note that they are more likely to be in households without a car). But, just as no one would argue that not everyone can drive, therefore there should be no roads, it’s is illogical to argue tht not everyone can cycle, therefore there should be no safe cycling facilities or that not everyone can walk therefore there should be no pavements.
It is also important to acknowledge that, maybe not many, but some blind people – admirably brave souls one must say – do venture to travel by public transport and we should do all to help encourage such independence. I find it is inappropriate to make a jibe about blind people cycling as you did in one tweet.
Similarly, in greater numbers for sure, many elderly people can and would like to be able to stay active and independent. Many people in the Netherlands carry on cycling well into their late 80s and numbers have risen considerably with the availability in recent years of e-bikes, and it is very important with our ageing demographic to give people all the help they want and need to stay active and thus healthier. The provision of safe, calm cycle tracks is again the key here. Indeed we are already seeing local residents use teh cycle route for the ‘school run’.
Of course, let it be repeated, not everyone wants to or can cycle, even with safe cycle tracks, and we must ensure that people in this situation must be able to maintain mobility in whatever ways they need. But you are completely wrong when you say that an ageing population is an argument against the cycle scheme.
To conclude, we may continue not to see eye to eye about it, but I hope I have explained the wider thinking and the multi-layered nature of what we are trying to achieve. I do ask you to consider that the inconvenience of slightly longer journey times can be balanced out by the great benefits to everyone in general and even, to you as you get used to the scheme, bringing benefits to you too that you currently haven’t thought about, such as quiet nights, cleaner air, calmer streets and happier, healthier people. Thank you for your attention.