This posting is part 2 of my account of the setting up of the Camden cycle tracks at the turn of the century. Part 1 outlined the background to the gaining of political support for project from the point of view of one of those who campaigned for the cycle routes. Here I want to emphasise that this was a ‘team effort’ and several members of Camden Cycling Campaign attended endless committee meetings and site visits over a prolonged period. Without that commitment the project would not have succeeded.
This posting gives some details of the two cycle tracks, a couple of other projects related to my time in Camden and, finally, a few words about more recent developments.
‘Seven Stations Link’
The ‘Seven Stations Link’ was first proposed to Camden council at the beginning of 1998. This paragraphs that follow are based on extracts from the original documents proposing the route, dated January 1998 and September 1998.
The first proposal was for a substantial network linking Paddington and intervening railway stations (Marylebone, Euston, St Pancras, Kings Cross, Thameslink) with Liverpool Street, thus getting the name of the ‘Seven Stations Link’. The connection with the rail stations was not the primary purpose of the network, but it pointed to the broader outlook, linking it with an ‘integrated transport vision’. The primary objective of the proposed cycle route was to provide a high-quality ‘backbone’ network that could be used as a ‘distributor’ link to locations in Central London, given that the route ran from north-west Central London to east Central London. The emphasis was put on a continuous route that tackled all problems, especially at junctions.
The route of the proposed Seven Stations Link
However, the full Seven Stations Link stepped well beyond the boundaries of the borough of Camden. Neighbouring Westminster and Islington boroughs were not interested in cycling schemes, so the proposal became confined to suggesting to Camden council build its section of the link, running east-west across the borough. We also proposed a ‘feeder’ link on Royal College Street (part of the ‘Somers Town’ cycle route) running parallel to the heavily congested Camden High Street.
From the Camden Cycling Campaign proposal:
“The proposal is for a dedicated bicycle network in North Central London with a ‘backbone’ route and ‘feeder’ routes serving seven major rail stations, residential areas of ‘Inner London’ as well as routes in ‘Central London’. The proposal addresses the question of how in increase cycling as a mode of transport in Inner and Central London. In terms of distance and topography London is an ideal city for cycling, however, the main retarding factor is the conditions faced by cyclists on the road.
The backbone is intended as a catalyst for wider bicycle route provision in London. It must have its own growing network of feeder and links to other network routes in London. It is also intended as a ‘showpiece’ development setting the trend for the imaginative and effective measures that will be needed to ensure a significant increase in cycle use in London.
The proposal is for a network that encourages cycling by ensuring widespread network reach and an implementation that makes cyclists feel safe. The actual and perceived dangers of cycling are the main reasons why people are reluctant to take up or continue cycling. This implies that a dedicated or ‘segregated’ network is needed if cycling is to be stimulated. Implementation of such a network would be a clear statement from the authorities in London that cycling does have a significant role to play by according it its own space.
The full route links Paddington and Hyde Park to Liverpool Street by reallocating road space for a dedicated ‘backbone’ link and ‘feeder’ links. The proposed backbone offers a realistic way of increasing cycling in London, of improving the urban environment, and aiding the provision of improved facilities for pedestrians and public transport user. Additionally, by linking seven major railway stations the backbone and feeder network will be a major contributory factor in increasing use of rail transport.”
Seven Stations Link – the campaign
I first presented the idea for a two-way segregated track in the ‘Bloomsbury’ district in 1997 to a meeting of the Camden Cycling Campaign in a upstairs room of a pub on Chalk Farm Road on a hot summer’s evening. It received immediate and enthusiastic support from members and was adopted for policy presentation to the council.
It would be tedious to go through all the meetings and lobbying that went on, but it is essential to say that the council, at the suggestion of Councillor Gerry Harrison, set up a liaison committee for cyclists, pedestrians and residents to talk to the council about environmental and street improvements. This liaison committee backed the cycle route proposal, thus giving it wider community support outside the cycling lobby. This channel of communication was critical to the success of the project.
There was another important feature throughout the campaign for these cycle tracks – ‘ordinary’ people, who never imagined that they could conceive of themselves cycling on London’s streets, recognised that this style of cycle track could attract them onto the saddle, thus we received very wide support. This gave the councillors who backed the project further faith and encouragement.
Building alliances and gaining support in the wider world has long proved a tough challenge for the inward-looking cycling lobby, but with this plan this was not a problem because people could see that this was a practical and realistic way of getting more cyclists.
The most effective opposition to the proposal within the council came from a few Labour councillors who were firmly set against doing anything to promote cycling and indeed, in one or two cases, actively wanted to impede progress and see less cycling on London’s streets. One councillor in particular argued that increasing cycling would reduce demand, and thus fare revenues, for public transport. As this councillor lived in Central London, he didn’t need to use the tube or buses in rush hours and thus did not understand how awful it is to be crushed into the overcrowded tube. Nor did he appreciate that cycling could reduce overcrowding pressures on the tube system – there are frequently so many people wanting to use to get into main tube stations during rush hours that they have to queue outside and wait for access to the overcrowded platforms.
The most effective public transport improvement that could be made in London would be to provide effective cycle routes.
The council had justified restricting the hours of operation of the ‘Bloomsbury’ LCN painted cycle lanes by arguing that they were ‘necessary’ for servicing businesses. We argued that, this in effect meant that there could never be any full time cycle lanes in Central London and in many other parts of Inner London. Physical segregation, however, allows the continued servicing of businesses – without disrupting the cycle track.
From the Camden Cycling Campaign proposal document for the ‘Seven Stations Link’ 1998:
1 – if properly designed, provides a safe and continuous route over a sustained distance
2 – provides a feeling of safety that attracts new cyclists and ‘return’ cyclists
3 – provides a quality of journey that will be attractive to both experienced and current cyclists
4 – does not become inoperable because of restricted hours of use or because of the parking problems common to painted cycle lanes
5 – provides uninterrupted facilities for ‘servicing’ businesses for deliveries, for residential user parking, bus stops etc.
6 – cheaper than two one-way segregated tracks
7 – the most effective use of space, especially for routes with heavy commuter cycle traffic
8 – provides opportunities for improvements for pedestrians and public transport; for traffic calming or through motor vehicle traffic reduction and for general environmental improvements such as providing public seating and planting trees
9 – provides a high-profile statement of the commitment of the local authority to improved cycling facilities by effective re-allocation of roadspace
1 – two-way cycle tracks can present problems at poorly designed junctions
Royal College Street i
The proposal for the main backbone cycle track, the Seven Stations Link, was accompanied by a suggestion for a cycle track along Royal College Street, forming a ‘feeder’ link between commuters’ homes in Camden and beyond and their work or study places in Inner London.
Royal College Street is part of the one-way ‘gyratory’ system that dominates the roads of the whole of Camden Town. Royal College Street itself was one-way northbound and made no allowance for cycling except for two short sections (each approximately 20 metes long) of cycle track near the northern and southern ends of the road. These short sections of cycle track were part of the ‘Somers Town’ cycle route introduced by the Greater London Council in the 1970s. On the main section of Royal College Street, however, the cycle route was diverted to twist and turn down back streets. Southbound access to the cycle route involved cycling down a parallel one-way road, also part of the gyratory system, St. Pancras Way.
Royal College Street, before, looking north
Part of a cycle route installed by the GLC in the 1970/80s; the route turns off Royal College Street to twist down some back streets to the right, view to the south
The Camden Cycling Campaign proposal was for a two-way cycle track to run on the left side the road (facing north) linking up the two short sections of existing cycle track at either end. As Royal College Street was a long straight and wide road with plenty of room for parking on both sides, as well as two lanes of motor traffic, the plan was so obvious that it gained momentum very quickly and was implemented before the Seven Stations Link.
Implementation was not without problems. The council’s first effort was ridiculously narrow – too narrow even for a one-way cycle track, let alone a two-way system. Also the traffic planners wanted to insert ‘cyclists give way’ signs at every junction. We argued fiercely for a wider track and for retaining cyclist priority at junctions. With backing from Councillor Gerry Harrison we were able to get these principles established (the original ‘give way’ signs are visible in the photo below). The idea of giving cyclists priority at junctions is fairly unusual in Britain and the Camden tracks are among some of the very few examples of cyclist priority on cycle tracks in the country (which is standard on continental European cycle tracks).
Royal College Street looking north; note the painted over ‘give way’ markings of the council’s first implementation for a junction just out of the picture
However, we expended a lot of our ‘political capital’ on these battles, thus we were forced to compromise on other issues. In particular, we lost the battle to get one fast ‘rat-route’ through a housing estate to be closed and for through motor traffic to be diverted on the main roads. Also the design at junctions and on St. Pancras Way was severely inadequate.
Royal College Street ii
The photo below show the newly implemented two-way cycle route running along Royal College Street. It was an immediate success, with a threefold increase in the number of cyclists using the route (according to surveys organised by the government’s ‘Transport Research Laboratory’, TRL).
Royal College Street, looking south; the lower picture shows the same places as shown in the image of the GLC route above
It is most unlikely that this immediate increase in cycling numbers represented an influx of new cyclists, but rather that existing cyclists switched from other routes to the new cycle track. This idea is given added weight by TRL findings that a significant number of the users of the new route cited the track as their main reason for using that route.
Since then user numbers have grown so the track has successfully attracted both existing and new cyclists.
Unfortunately, the level of attention to detail in design was not adequate and there are a few problems at a couple of junctions. The old habit of doing as little as possible dogged the design process – see the last two photos on this page for an example of lazy design work.
In the past couple of years Camden has undertaken the expansion of the track and there are now two one-way cycle tracks on different sides of the road. While this development is highly encouraging, there has been some controversy over the council’s decision to remove the segregating kerbs and replace them with ‘planters’ and ‘armadillos’, to create a look of ‘segregation lite’. Such techniques could allow the implementation of protected cycle routes much more cheaply than using more expensive kerbs. However, continual damage to the planters and armadillos from motors has to be monitored to see if they offer ‘segregation effective’ – which is the primary aim and which should not be compromised.
Royal College Street re-design with one-way cycle networks on either side of the road with planters and armadillos as separating technique
Bloomsbury and the London Cycle Network – before
The painted London Cycle Network route through Bloomsbury was introduced in 1997 using painted lanes – which were ‘operational’ only during rush hours. There was immense dissatisfaction among Camden Cyclist Campaign members with the pointless painted cycle lanes as they made absolutely no difference whatsoever to cycling conditions.
Bloomsbury route – before
Bloomsbury and the London Cycle Network – after
The Seven Stations route would have involved several boroughs, including Westminster, Islington and the City of London Corporation, as well as Camden. As Camden alone took up the idea, we dropped the Seven Stations Link name and the Camden section of the route is now sometimes known as the Bloomsbury cycle route (or as LCN route 0).
The photos on this page illustrate the Bloomsbury track after implementation. It forms the basis of a key part of the present day cycle network in London – and is the most popular cycle route in central London, earning great praise from cyclists. There are serious design failings in the route, but it has demonstrated beyond doubt that segregated tracks are immensely popular. Use has increased steadily since the track was first introduced and several hundred cyclists use it during the morning rush hour.
Bloomsbury cycle route – after
The opportunity was also taken to introduce significant changes to one part of the route, Byng Place, where traffic calming and pedestrian crossings were introduced. This transformed Byng Place from a fast, wide mass of tarmac into a much more calm place with motor vehicles driven quite slowly thanks to the pedestrian crossings and traffic tables. Regrettably the Byng Place section of the segregated cycle route was removed when, for a period, Camden was run by a Conservative/LibDem coalition on ‘aesthetic’ grounds, reintroducing aggressive driving through the place.
We also campaigned for pedestrian facilities to be improved all along the route, such as re-working junctions so that pedestrian priority was enforced by raised tables for motors to cross the pavement, but this idea was rejected by Camden council. It is, however, a key feature which cycle campaigners should lobby for when introducing cycleways. Not only is it vital in London for something to be done to improve pedestrian crossing at junctions, but it also strengthens the cycling/pedestrian case and there is much that unites us in looking for changes in the priority given to different transports modes in our cities, towns and villages.
As with Royal College Street, there were vigorous debates between us and the council’s designers over numerous points. The initial implementation used a painted line on the approach to the junction with Gower St. We managed to get this changed (and also another ridiculous design for the junction with Tottenham Court Road), but these successes lost us political credit for other issues.
Bloomsbury cycle route, Torrington Place, initial implementation using painted separation – this had to be replaced as soon as possible
Problems have arisen where the original design standards were compromised, most notably at the junction with Gordon Square where there are lots of black cabs heading to and from Euston station, crossing the track, using a junction without any traffic lights. A simple diversion of this traffic onto a signalled junction and a parallel route would solve this problem. This was part of our original proposal.
Also the design at the eastern end of the track is sub-standard. But as one commentator, David Hembrow, has observed: “One of the reasons why the infrastructure continues to improve in the Netherlands is that people continue to complain about what they have and continue to strive to make it better. There is no complacency and no celebration of having ‘finished’ anything. To stop making improvements would mean starting to slide backwards. Therefore, progress is continual.”
When the first phase of the Bloomsbury track was put out to local consultation it received considerable support from local residents and businesses alike. The tracks have also proved immensely popular with cyclists and the number of cyclists using the track has risen steadily.
However, the anti-cycling lobby was soon stirred into action.
After the first phase of the route was introduced covering the eastern side of the borough discussions took place over the route to reach the eastern boundary of the borough. This was highly controversial and the local MP, Frank Dobson, played a significant role in preventing the use of the most suitable route. This involved passing Coram’s Field playground. Mr Dobson went as far as threatening to lie down in front of the bulldozers (though of course such bulldozers were a figment of his self-indulgent imagination). He argued that it would be dangerous for children to have to use a playground near a cycle route. Obviously, in Mr Dobson’s understanding of the world, it is safer to have speeding motor vehicles alongside the pavement than slower moving cyclists.
It also seems he lacks the capacity to imagine that inner-city children would benefit enormously from being able to cycle to and from the playground safely. Instead he exerted undue influence on Camden Labour Party to use a sub-optimal route – and to keep the children penned in by fast-moving motors.
There was also opposition from the cycling lobby’s core activists. This derives from the view adopted by the Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) way back in the 1930s, when it decided that it was against cycle tracks. This attitude has been passed down the generations and it is necessary to subscribe to this view for anyone hoping to become a core activist. However, it is an attitude confined to a small number of activists. When the London Cycling Campaign recently (2011) conducted a membership consultation the members’ choice was to support a campaign for London to ‘Go Dutch’.
For some unknown reason, no qualitative research has been done to test the views of cyclists (and pedestrians) about their views of the Camden cycle tracks despite their quantitative success. However, TfL (Transport for London) has conducted a lot of research for some of its (absurdly overinflated named) ‘Cycle Superhighways’. The research questions are biased towards the ‘painted lane’ philosophy of the Cycle Superhighways project, not offering respondents to comment on the need for segregated tracks. However, the message inevitably seeps through. As the report notes: “The qualitative research found that the space separation from other road users and high visibility of the Cycle Superhighways were key factors in improving how safe cyclists feel.”
Also, it is noticeable that CS3, which has a long segregated stretch, does better in just about every aspect of the study: a high proportion of people use it because it ‘feels safer’ or is ‘more pleasant’, more people say it improves reliability and journey time predictability, it also scores higher on most route quality indicators and it has a lower maintenance cost (see ‘Updates from CCC’ page).
Meanwhile, cyclist death and serious injury rates are on the rise. Even the national press and TV has picked up on the terrible toll of cyclists’ lives on London’s manic streets.
The two most important recent developments, however, have been overwhelmingly positive.
First, there has been an upsurge in activity by people wanting proper space to be made available for people to cycle in London. Imaginative actions like ‘die-ins’ outside TfL’s headquarters and ‘flash-rides’ at junctions where fatal collisions have taken place have combined with effective organization through the combined use of ‘social media’ and traditional methods of campaigning. London Cycling Campaign’s upper echelon was devoting its attention to the critical issue of whether the organisation should change its name to London Cyclists or similar just when this upsurge of activity was happening and almost got left behind, though fortunately it was saved by the membership who had joined to campaign for better cycling facilities, not for a better name for the campaign. The vibrancy of the new campaigning means that the cycling lobby, for the first time in decades, is setting the agenda.
The second reason for optimism is the proposals for east-west and north-south backbone network links for bicycles from the current mayor of London. If these routes are implemented as projected, then they will fit the concept we proposed in Camden 15 years ago for ‘rolling out’ a network of backbone links in London. These proposals will meet with immense opposition – the Corporation of London (which controls the City of London) is raising obstacles as is Canary Wharf Group (another private organisation carrying out governmental duties in the Docklands area). Within TfL opinion seems to be against the proposals, but they must follow the political lead and are rather reeling from the powerful ‘die-ins’ outside their headquarters and other actions such as ‘flashrides’ at junctions where TfL has been reluctant to do anything to deal with designs that lead to fatal, for cyclists, collisions, such as at Kings Cross. Also a lot of employers and businesses in the private and public sector have voiced support for the proposals, whereas the opposition had mainly come from lobbying bodies citing anonymous companies. And a recent opinion poll showed 63% of Londoners supported proposals.
Whatever happens to these proposals in the immediate future, the idea that London should have high-quality cycle network links is now firmly on the agenda and it is clear that sooner or later these proposals will get the go ahead. Then a much bigger and more bitter battle will start – to ensure sufficiently high-quality of design, continuity and implementation. Boroughs such as Westminster and Kensington will no doubt do their best to nullify the routes that touch on their fiefdoms. But at long last the opening battle – to get the idea of high-quality cycle networks on to the agenda – has been won.
The new cycling lobby faces two challenges in addition to ensuring approval of the cycleway proposals: first, planning now to deal with the battle for quality of design and implementation; and second, thinking now about how to expand the network as quickly as possible as successful implementation of the cycleways will only increase demand from people to cycle.