A short cycle to Covent Garden illustrates what I don’t get about transport planning

I’m definitely not an urban planning expert. I know this, because my neighbours are studying it and whenever they get in to a heated debate about it, my eyes glaze over.

However, on a short bike ride to Covent Garden there are a number of things that as a cyclist, simply don’t make sense to me.

Cutting across traffic

This is the junction on Euston Rd that I have to take to head towards Covent Garden. For any cyclists who are not Olympic sprinters or red light jumpers, this is a tough junction.

Option 1, involves moving across two lanes of traffic after the traffic light changes. This is not easy, as there is a lot of fast moving traffic that wants to proceed straight ahead (even though it makes more sense for them to take the underpass).

The second option, which I always choose, is to filter to the right lane of traffic at the red light. This inevitably means you are a few feet in front of the traffic light as there is no advanced stop box.

There must be a better way. TfL realise this and will soon be spending 11 million to redesign it. Despite this, their provision for cyclists remains negligible. As Camden Cycling Campaign have suggested, this would be an ideal location to showcase Dutch style infrastructure. Separate traffic lights for buses and cyclists could mean they could safely move through the junction.

More experienced cyclists and Boris Johnson may argue: “but I’m fine moving through that junction”. That’s all well and good but this isn’t a junction I’d like to have to navigate if I wanted to pedal to Covent Garden with an inexperienced cyclist – for example, my sister.

Space for a cycle lane

The next section of my route places me down Gower St. The A400 has two lanes for general traffic and a bus lane. It travels near many of the university buildings.

There’s room along this route for a segregated cycle lane, if you remove a small amount of pavement and narrow the lanes. The ultimate solution, and I’m almost afraid to type the next sentence, would be to remove a lane of general traffic.

To London’s transport planners and the Mayor of London this seems like a preposterous idea. Hand over valuable space in the heart of London from vehicle traffic to cyclists? Take this blogger in to the psychiatric ward!

Their untested fear is that this will mean backed up queues of traffic and drivers bitterly complaining about the war on motorists. The mayor fears it could cost him votes and his re-election.

This fear has paralysed any innovative thinking when it comes to London’s transportation and environmental future.

I believe Boris Johnson’s worst fear is unfounded. What is most likely to occur, is that less people will choose to drive as the route takes longer. A little like the effect of the Olympics, where everyone believed driving in London would be a nightmare, so they avoided it.

In the mean time, the benefits are many. This route suddenly becomes more pleasant for pedestrians, cyclists and anyone in the buildings surrounding the road. If you choose to look at the very big picture, this means a benefit to society as a whole. More cyclists and pedestrians, mean less pressure on an overburdened public transport system, that is subsidised by the government. The area becomes a more pleasant place to live and study. The lower pollution means less health problems and therefore a lower NHS bill for the country.

Parking in central London

Moving swiftly on, we arrive at the next section of my route to Covent Garden. This pleasant little street is Endell St. It has some really nice restaurants with outside seating areas – I thoroughly recommend the fish and chips from here!

I don’t even believe a separate cycle lane is necessary here as the speeds are so slow and there’s barely any room for a car to overtake. Also, this road is rarely used by traffic.

However, a contraflow cycle lane would be great to extend the benefits of this side street to cyclists travelling north. To provide it, you’d have to remove some of the parking provision.

The benefit would not just be to cyclists but also to local businesses and people visiting the area. On a nice day, you often see people pouring out on to the street in to empty parking spaces which creates a great atmosphere. Parked cars really detract from what is a very people friendly street.


Another place where there’s already room for a contraflow cycle lane is the final section of my route.

I simply don’t buy the argument that London’s roads don’t have enough space for cycle lanes. I’m sure on your daily routes you can spot similar changes. Unfortunately, it seems that the moment the asphalt was first laid down, we gave away any chances of improving things for the better. Boris Johnson should focus TfL’s attention on making real changes to roads that cyclists already use.

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15 Responses to A short cycle to Covent Garden illustrates what I don’t get about transport planning

  1. Cyclestrian 21/08/2012 at 12:17 pm #

    Great article. More of this please, blogosphere.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could use blogs and open mapping tools to crowdsource a redesign of our capital’s streets? That would give everyone a real vision of how things could be.

    • Andreas 21/08/2012 at 7:40 pm #

      Definitely – The London Cycling Campaign were on to the right thing when they crowdsourced where new bike parking should be added. I’ve not heard much about it since so I’m not sure how far this has gone.

      • Kathryn 24/08/2012 at 11:45 am #

        love that idea!

      • Rob 16/10/2012 at 9:53 pm #

        I am totally frustrated trying to park in Covent Garden, Chinatown, Leicester Square.

        Leicester Square redevelopment was recently completed at several gozillion pounds (OK, I have not done my research!) succeeds in removal of banks of cycle racks either side of the Half Price Theatre Ticket Booth, and installation of precisely zero cycle racks in the whole Square. Railings removed from the mid-road divding strips up Haymarket and Regent Street compound the problem. Bikes are haphazardly tied to trees, scaffolding etc messing up the aesthetics and hindering pedestrians.

        Why was there not a policy to add a few racks to each bank of Boris Bike stands?

        What is the best way to get action on bike parking?

  2. aethelthryth 21/08/2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Much of the problems in London come from fractionated responsibilities. For example, short little Endell Street interacts with no fewer than 3 highway authorities: Westminster (who are notoriously poor at providing for anyone on less than 4 wheels) at the southern end, Camden for the upper stretch, and TfL at the top end of the street since it feeds into a traffic-light controlled junction.

    In fact, most of your route isn’t under TfL’s control (Euston Road and signal-controlled junctions excepted). Gower Street is a borough road, as in fact are *all* of the roads between Euston Rd, Farringdon Rd, Victoria Embankment and Park Lane. In so many cases, TfL can only ask, propose, cajole, suggest, request, collaborate, and sometimes offer funding… But if any of the necessary partners aren’t on board – which is often down to recalcitrant individuals within the council as much as a council-wide political approach – there’s really not much that can be done. One central London council even turned down completely free funding for cycle parking (from TfL underspend coffers) at the end of the last financial year!

    With sympathies from an equally frustrated transport planner…

    • Andreas 21/08/2012 at 7:42 pm #

      Thanks for a well informed comment – it made interesting reading – you can begin to see some of the complexities of this issue beyond my simple minded view of “it doesn’t make sense for me as a cyclist”.

  3. barton 21/08/2012 at 2:27 pm #

    I think your ideas have merit, and would work AND call the bluff on those who believe losing a lane of traffic would make things inifitely worse. This is especially true of the narrow lanes that shouldn’t be used as main arteries/cut throughs, but so often are (Upper Brook St comes immediately to mind for me).

    But I really dislike contra-flow lanes. I think it is because I have experienced so many examples of cyclists just going the wrong way in the existing lanes (a real, “the rules don’t apply to me” mentality). And I don’t trust fellow cyclists (of the mentality mentioned previously) to adhere to lane assignments if given two-way options. And, by providing an contra-flow lane you are changing the whole flow of the road, which will also confuse drivers and pedestrians (and cause all of those “look left/look right” notices on the pavement to be re-done). If it is one-way, it should remain one-way: but there should be a road NEARBY that is the opposite direction set up the same way, and I find this not to be the case in London or elsewhere.

  4. sm 22/08/2012 at 8:21 am #

    Agree with Barton re contra flows. Dangerous for all concerned and not a good solution. Given how unsafe you feel on these roads I assume you’ve looked for less direct but quieter alternatives? I used to work at the University of London and there are a few a alternatives depending on your direction of travel.

    • Big Softy 22/08/2012 at 2:03 pm #

      Quieter alternatives?
      That sounds a bit like “back of the bus” mentality to me.
      Why should we allow ourselves to be limited to the roads we can use? Roads that our taxes pay for.
      I’ve been through the second class citizen crap before, and I ain’t doing it again.

      Own the road. You paid for it!

  5. Waz 24/08/2012 at 12:34 pm #

    Good points Andreas
    What I don’t get is why traffic planners, traffic engineers and elected decision makers have so little interest in learning from others e.g. Why aren’t more givernments trying the Dutch Sustainable Traffic approach.
    I am really interested in what the reasons are and of any positive examples of where good ideas have been copied succefully.

  6. Dave H 24/08/2012 at 1:07 pm #

    What is required to take posession of a parking bay – if you pay for an hour’s parking on a string of bays can you use them for other purposes – like a cycle lane?

  7. Helen 25/08/2012 at 1:07 am #

    I have to agree about contraflows – I find them really dangerous unless they’re physically segregated as on Tavistock place. If you’re mixed in with traffic driving the other way cars just aren’t expecting to see you – I’ve had some near misses on really quiet contraflows (where me and the car were the only things on the road). I shudder to think what one on a busy road would be like.

    I cycle round elephant and castle and blackfriars every day, but you wouldn’t catch me on a contraflow!

  8. peter walford 25/08/2012 at 1:13 am #

    I think the Danish solution to your Euston rd junction would be to go straight ahead (eastwards) across the the lights and immediately stop, then set off southwards when the lights change. In Copenhagen it’s a very common and safe way of making a left turn at junctions, which is equivalent to our right turn.

    • Alan Moore 30/08/2012 at 12:24 pm #

      Yes I’ve done that – even to the extent of turning left then immediately doing a U-turn. Works a treat on major junctions.

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