Guest post by Jude from the Cycling with Heels blog.
When I read back in April that Transport for London were trialling some new cycle-friendly roundabouts and junctions, my first thought was, wow! Where do I sign up? My second thought was, it’ll never happen. They’ll be inundated with cyclists wanting to take part. I’ll never hear back from them.
And for nearly two months I didn’t. I’d almost forgotten about it when an email unexpectedly popped up in my inbox from Transport Research Laboratory, who are carrying out the trials for TFL. Upcoming junction trials – would I like to take part? Well, yes, indeed I would.
And so in early July my trusty steed and I boarded a train and headed out to TRL’s secret testing facilities. Their HQ is located on the appropriately named Nine Mile Ride, somewhere between Bracknell and Wokingham, in Berkshire. An ultra modern office building sits next door to a small network of former A-roads, now transformed into a mini test circuit. The whole complex is surrounded by woodland and is remarkably peaceful.
In other words, it’s about as different from the centre of London as you can imagine. Well, apart from a mocked up London bus stop, that is, complete with cycle path running behind it. Sadly I didn’t get to try that one out, nor did I get to have a ride on the magic roundabout. Instead I was testing some new cycle-specific traffic lights.
The design of the trial was very simple. There were eight numbered routes to follow, all of which passed through one four-way junction. As well as ordinary traffic lights, this junction had been fitted with eye-level cyclist lights on all four approaches. Each of the eight routes – two for each approach – was designed to test a different scenario: turning left, going straight on, turning right, crossing lanes, crossing on-coming traffic and approaching from a one-way street or from an ordinary two-way road.
There were eight cyclists taking part, and we each completed all eight of the routes three times in total. The first two times there were cars on the routes as well, but on the third time we were on our own. The phasing of the lights was also changed ever so slightly on each of the three sessions, to give us a head start on at least one of the run-throughs.
The final part of the trial involved completing an in-depth questionnaire. This asked us about our normal cycling behaviour – such as whether we ever run red lights and if so, why – before asking us a set of detailed questions about all eight of the routes. It’s probably the most I’ve ever thought about a single junction.
Before going to the test facility, the cynic in me had wondered why TFL was going to so much effort and spending so much money on these trials. Surely they could just look at other countries, such as the Netherlands, and copy what works there.
But once I got there, my cynicism melted away. OK, what they’re testing – or at least the bits I saw – was not particularly innovative, and much of it is already in place in cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam. But to actually see a mocked up London bus stop with a cycle lane that goes behind it, and to think that one day that’s what a real London bus stop might look like – that was genuinely exciting.
It’s probably going to be at least a few years before any of what was being tested makes it onto our streets, and there’s no guarantee that any of it will. But by carrying out these trials TFL is showing that they are committed to improving cycle safety in London, and to listening to cyclists. Far too many cycle facilities have been designed by people who aren’t cyclists, who don’t understand our needs and don’t listen when cyclists try to tell them when something isn’t safe. Now, at last, we’re getting the chance to have our say. And that has got to be a good thing.