In practice Hackney prioritises bus transport over cycling. Is that such a bad thing?
When I interviewed Hackney’s cycling boss Feryal Dermici last week, she told me the borough was blocking TfL’s preferred route for Cycle Superhighway 1, which goes right down the A10, from Tottenham, through Stoke Newington, and down Kingsland Road.
She gave three main objections: She didn’t want a cycle lane running around the gyratory system, a segregated lane could mean narrowing footpaths, or it could mean removing bus lanes.
Looking at these objections: A one-way gyratory shouldn’t be a problem for a segregated cycle lane; a design could just ignore the gyratory and go contra-flow. Contra flows can be found all over London – this is a bad excuse.
When it comes to narrowing footpaths: there are parts of the A10 with absolutely huge footpaths that could probably comfortably accommodate a segregated path, as this picture from Hackney Cyclist illustrates.
But at the same time, there are also areas of the A10 where the pavements are fairly narrow, and, if the council is (reasonably) prioritising pedestrians over other forms of transport, as their hierarchy of provision suggests, they probably shouldn’t touch them. (See below)
That doesn’t mean there isn’t space – those pavements are, arguably, only narrow because of huge carriageways –for most of the road there are two general traffic lanes, and two bus lanes. Which brings us to Feryal’s last objection – removing those bus lanes.
If the council was strictly following its hierarchy of provision, which puts cycling below pedestrians, but above public transport, it would have no problem removing the bus lanes.
Should they put bikes over buses, though? It’s not as clear cut as it might seem.
As anyone who has spent time in Hackney will know, it sometimes feels like the desert of tube stations. There are very few, and the area is underserved. Due to this, Hackney residents are more reliant on buses than in other parts of London.
One option that immediately appeals to me is making the road one way for general traffic, keeping the bus lanes, and using the resulting space for cycling. Penalising private motorists at the expense of cyclists is a no-brainer, surely? I’m not entirely convinced this is a bad idea, but in the context of Hackney’s overall strategy for their roads, there are problems with it.
The borough’s entire cycling strategy is about making its quiet roads very quiet – they have made a name for themselves as the home of filtered permeability, and have done this largely by steering motor traffic towards main roads and away from rat-runs.
Yes, a good chunk of the A10’s traffic would simply evaporate as driving became harder and people switched to other options; but realistically not all of it would, and you’d end up with a significant part of that traffic rat-running through the residential back-streets around the A10: hardly ideal.
Not the last word
So, actually, yes, I can understand why Hackney is resisting cycle tracks on the A10. But there is hope…
Last year, the Department for Transport announced that it was handing the railway lines from Liverpool Street to Chingford and Chushunt to TfL, to use for the London Overground. On the map, these lines look like this, next to the A10.
Yes, those lines are already there, but the Overground will bring a good service to them, and affordable fares. When TfL turned the Silverlink metro and East London Line into the first parts of the London Overground, ridership increased by 280%. Expect a similar thing to happen with these lines.
Part of the reason will be affordability: National Rail fares are currently more expensive than bus fares: an Oyster single on a bus is now £1.45 at any time. But an on-peak Zone 2 fare on the Overground is £1.60, or £1.30 off-peak, – with a Young Person’s Railcard it is still £1.00 – the Overground usually costs about the same as the bus, but sometimes can be nearly 50% cheaper.
Once these lines go Overground from 2015 onwards, the bus service going up the A10 will inevitably become much less crucial: cheaper, faster, higher capacity alternative will be available for people who want to go from Hackney town to Stoke Newington, Seven Sisters, Stamford Hill, or Tottenham. A new footbridge between Hackney Downs and Hackney Central will also give Dalston, Hackney Wick and Homerton easy access to these lines.
The new Overground lines won’t replace all journeys, but will definitely take a lot of the strain off the buses. Could it be enough to tip the balance against bus priority and in favour of better cycling provision? Hackney should definitely think about it.