Thursday 19 June 2014

To gyrate, or not to gyrate?

There seem to be no hard and fast rules as to when a roundabout becomes a "gyratory system", or a "gyratory system" becomes a "one way system";  it seems to be a matter of opinion, but I think we all know what a gyratory is. It is a big system of traffic that circulates in one direction, often so big that there are many buildings in the middle. It is also fair to say that gyratory systems are widely hated by cycling and pedestrian campaigners and assorted other environmentalists and urbanists: associated, in their UK application, as they usually are, with heavy traffic flows, speeding motor vehicles, inconvenient pedestrian crossing arrangements, hellish cycling conditions – where cyclists have been effectively just "thrown to the lions" and told to fend for themselves, with no facilities – pollution, noise, decay, alienation, an un-human, bad-scale environment, and general awfulness.

But then again, we may wander, or sedately pedal, around some of the environmentally best-organised cities in Europe; what about Amsterdam, Utrecht, Copenhagen, Bruges, Münster? We find them to be largely free of this nastiness: clean, easy to traverse, quiet and sociable. But look! Actually, so many of the streets we are traversing are one-way for motor vehicles (two way, of course, for bikes, and often also for buses and trams). And, examined on a larger scale, we will see that these streets are often organised as gyratory systems. So what's happening here? Are gyratories intrinsically bad, or is it just their normal UK application?

This subject has been covered in a very good blog post from last year by As Easy As Riding A Bike, with plenty of pictures of examples from the UK and the Netherlands. I recommend study of this, and I won't repeat what he says, but I'll try to relate it here to some current discussions over gyratory systems in London. The general point is that gyratory systems are just tools of planning which may be used to create very different types of environment, depending on what the intention is. If the planner is determined to force a maximal volume of traffic through a junction, or district of streets in a city grid, they can use an appropriately-designed gyratory system to accomplish this. If they wish to prevent motor traffic from using streets as through-routes, or if they wish to reduce motor traffic in an area of a city to an essential minimum, or if they wish to make space for wider pavements, segregated cycle tracks, or bus lanes, or do a combination of these things, then a system of appropriately-designed one-way streets and gyratory systems is also the way in which to do it. It is the intention behind the planning that matters, not the number of directions of motor travel on any given bit or road. Importantly, one-way and gyratory systems can be designed to give motor vehicles longer, slightly less convenient journeys, and cyclists direct, convenient journeys, and can thus be used to bias travel patterns towards the bike.

I came to understand, way back at the end of the last century, that one-way traffic systems are not necessarily evil creations that cycle campaigners should be on principle opposed to. Paul Gannon, when he started campaigning with Camden Cycling Campaign, had returned from living in the Netherlands, where he had noted the constructive use that was made there in introducing one-ways in narrow grid-pattern city streets to create the space for cycle facilities and block through motor traffic from large areas. I described the campaigns of this period before, in this blog post, where I explained that the Seven Stations Link cycle route through Bloomsbury that we planned was predicated on creating new one-way streets to make space for two-way cycle tracks. (This pattern was common in the Netherlands in this period, though it has become less common since, as such streets tend to have been closed entirely to through motor traffic in more recent schemes). The reason the Bloomsbury cycle tracks are so narrow and compromised now was that Camden Council did not do what we wanted, but attempted to fit two-way tracks into the space that should have been used for a single direction. The tracks were planned to be twice as wide, but lobbying by the black cab drivers, who wanted to preserve their two-way back-street rat-run between Euston and Kings Cross, foiled the plan, amid changes at the council which removed the people who might have had the determination to see the proper scheme through.

The Seven Stations Link in Bloomsbury: half the width it should have been, because the road was not made one-way for motors.
More recently, I observed, and David Hembrow explained, on his excellent study tour of Assen and Groningen, how carefully-worked out one-way systems, with merely signed cycle exception, are the entirely standard, non-intrusive, low-engineering model used in Dutch towns to minimise traffic in small residential streets, which become excellent routes for cycling and walking in consequence. In another type of environment, the one-way system of Camden town, with its many bad features remaining, is at least such that it allowed Camden to progressively reduce the single direction of motor traffic on Royal College Street from three fast lanes to one slow one, which has allowed the construction of the (fairly) successful cycle tracks there, part of the Somers Town route from Camden to Euston Road, give or take a few planters demolished from time to time.

Standard Dutch residential street, where a system of one-ways, with signed cycle exception, minimises through motor traffic while allowing easy access to all properties.

Whereas I used to think, at one time, that roundabouts were necessarily anti-cycling, and that they should be all replaced by signalised crossroads, I've come to realise that this was a simplistic idea, and really quite wrong. Lots of signals are the last things we need on the streets, if we wish cycling to be an efficient, pleasurable and competitive mode of transport. The Dutch and Danes show us how roundabouts properly designed for cycling are an excellent replacement for signalised junctions, reducing delays and congestion for both cycle and motor traffic, enhancing safety, reducing pollution (due to idling traffic waiting in queues), and making the cycling experience easy and smooth. Classic (and usually correct) cycle blogger Freewheeler noted, somewhere that I can't find now, that though removal of London's bad gyratory systems and replacement with normal junctions would make conditions a little better for existing cyclists, it was in no way a prescription, or even part of the prescription, for the conditions for mass cycling, Dutch-style, which requires almost total separation of cyclists from heavy flows of motor vehicles (both for the reason of subjective safety, and the because it is the only practical way of making space for really large-scale cycling).

We've seen the recent disastrous example of Piccadilly and Haymarket, where the return of these streets to two-way working, heralded by the Mayor as a great public realm project for his Olympic city, has resulted in conditions (on Piccadilly) no better for pedestrians than they were before, a hellish cycling environment, as much congestion as before, if not more, as much pollution, no improvement, so far as I can see, in bus service or convenience, and no improvement, so far as I can see, even in conditions for taxi drivers and other motorists.

The dismal sink of the two-way Piccadilly where you hardly see anybody cycling
So I think the subject of what to do about London's anti-cycling, and generally bad, gyratory systems deserves careful consideration, and not dogmatic position-taking. I think there are cases and cases; there are probably cases where the best cycling and walking environment can be most easily got, at minimal expense and reworking, and with minimal opposition, by keeping gyratory systems, for private motor traffic and taxis, as they are, but introducing changes for other road users. There are other cases where the best and easiest solution is the abolition of the gyratory system. I'll raise here two current cases of discussion which I think are examples of both these situations.

I last discussed Tottenham Court Road (in what has become, surprisingly, the second most popular post on this blog), in August 2011. I pointed out then that Camden's plan to transform this road (the northbound arm of the one-way system that also includes Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street) was the best opportunity so far presented of usefully extending Camden's still slight segregated cycle network, that had remained unexpanded since the completion of the Camden section of the Seven Stations link around 2002. I criticised the plans produced at that time by the council, which showed a dishonest artists' impression of a future Tottenham Court Road, two-way and reserved for buses and cyclists, in which cyclists and pedestrians happily thronged. I pointed out that successful cycling systems do not mix cyclists with buses in the same space, that Camden, on past form, would be unlikely to be able to prevent black cabs from using the route, and that the result would probably be very like the environmental sink of Oxford Street, one of the most polluted streets in the world.

These things grind excruciatingly slowly, and three years on, still nothing has happened, but there is a new, supposedly more definitive plan for these streets being put out by Camden, with a consultation, under the title "West End Project", which you can read all about (or all about to the not very high level of detail that has been provided) here. On this page you may see the new dishonest artists' impression of the future Tottenham Court Road.

Camden's current envisioning of the future Tottenham Court Road
This is similar to the 2011 version, except it is slightly better, as there is no fashionable "median strip" to trap cyclists next to the wheels and exhausts of buses a la Piccadilly. But it still has no protected space for cycling, it doesn't show the situation when cyclists get trapped between buses,  or have to pull out around stopped buses into the path of other buses (as the simple, standard Dutch and Danish expedient of the island bus stop with a cycle track passing behind it seems to be regarded as an impossibility here, for some reason, even by the erudite back-room boys and girls at Camden Cycling Campaign), and, importantly, it is a part-time and incomplete vision. Even assuming Camden succeed in banning black cabs, which I still doubt, the road will only be reserved for cycle and bus through-travel between 8am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday, not Sunday, and even between those times, 
Local access for cars, taxis and loading would be allowed on short sections of Tottenham Court Road via side roads. 
So this whole thing is really not how it is presented in the sunny artists' impression. (Funny how they are always sunny, isn't it?)

The other main part of this plan is the design for Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, which are proposed to go two-way for all traffic. This is where, under the current concept, cyclists get some semi-protected space. This will be in the form of one-way cycle lanes on both sides of the street protected by rubber armadillos, similar to those used in Royal College Street. Differences with that street design will be, however, the lack of planters (which have not proved too successful), and the lack of parking. In Royal College Street, parking outside the armadillos protects sections of cycle track from moving motor vehicles. It seems to me that in the Gower Street design, the cycle lanes protected only by armadillos will be highly vulnerable, in a very pressurised traffic space, far more so than Royal College Street, to getting driven and stopped upon by taxis and loading vehicles.

Royal College street, with planters and armadillos. The line of residential parking, there most of the time, protecting the track, is, I feel, a critical feature of this facility, which will be absent in Gower Street
Unfortunately, the details for the design of Gower Street as given on Camden's site are very poor. There is this image, not produced at any proper resolution, for the northern section, and a similar one for the southern, which contain no dimensions, and in no way explain how the cycle routes northbound and southbound are meant to work. There are, incomprehensibly, loading bays shown within the armadilloed cycle lanes at two points. There are lots of advanced stop areas, features which have nothing to do with Dutch or Danish cycle design for highly-trafficked roads, and which smack of a "dual network" concept (not all cyclists using the cycle facilities, in other words, because the are not good enough).

My understanding is that the "protected" cycle lanes will be 1.5m wide. This is just about wide enough for overtaking in, but not generous, for a main cycle route. I am therefore slightly confused as to what the route concept really is here. I am not sure there is a coherent concept at all. The street that offers the most obvious north-south high-capacity cycle route option through the area remains Tottenham Court Road, as I said in 2011. It connects with Hampstead Road, to the north, and Charing Cross Road, to the south. Though Gower Street offers a route southwards towards Covent Garden and Waterloo Bridge (a currently highly unpleasant route, not all of the problems of which, by any means, would be solved by these plans), the north end of it is not accessible, except via the intimidating racetrack lane system on Euston Road, which is not proposed to be changed. Furthermore, there will be no northbound route on this alignment north of Grafton Way. These look like a pretty fatal flaws in the plans to me.

The most detailed graphic (not very) from Camden's site shows that the protected lanes on Gower Street go no further north than Grafton Way, that there's no further route north on this alighnment, and that access from the north is only from Euston Road via unpleasant high-speed slip lanes. These are really bad flaws in the route design.
As a gyratory-removal scheme, too, note that it is only partial. The northernmost part of Gower Street remains only southbound for motor vehicles, for the same reason as for cyclists: there are no changes to the Euston Road system (suggesting there is no collaboration between Camden and Transport for London, who control Euston Road). So, instead, the Camden plan creates a mini-gyratory system at the north end, via Grafton Way, which I submit is an inappropriate, small side road to take this main flow of traffic.
Gyratory removal? Actually, a mini-gyratory where one does not exist now is created in the Camden plans on Grafton Way, an inappropriate street.
It seems that the concept is that cyclists will only use parts of the Gower Street corridor, connecting with it via the side streets, which are promised to have permeability improvements (i.e. more of them will be two-way for bikes) according to Camden Cyclists. On the other hand, on the obvious, continuous and straight north-south route, Tottenham Court Road, for most hours of the week, cyclists will be mixing with general two-way traffic, so the situation is likely to resemble how Piccadilly is now. At the better times of the week cyclists will only be mixing with heavy flows of buses, and cars and lorries on certain stretches. And I'm assuming perfect enforcement of the complicated and part-time restrictions. Does all this sound like a very cycle-friendly plan? I think not. I hear, incidentally, that the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan is none too impressed with the scheme either, and is refusing to contribute to the costs from his budget, though he cannot stop Camden doing what it wants on its own roads.

I think Camden Council has got obsessed by this idea of "gyratory removal" and is not thinking radically enough about how the whole area could be optimised for buses, cyclists, pedestrians, and, indeed, businesses. I think a far better result could be got for cycling, and no worse for buses and pedestrians, probably better, by retaining the one-way system, but reducing the capacity of it by having only one general traffic lane lane northbound in Tottenham Court Road and one southbound in Gower Street. I would put a dedicated bus lane all the way down Gower Street and a full kerb-segregated cycle track there as well. These would be southbound only. In Tottenham Court Road I would put one-way kerb-segregated cycle tracks in both directions. In the northern, wide section of Tottenham Court Road I would put a dedicated northbound bus lane, expanding out from the single motor traffic lane in the narrower southern part, and I would have it separated by bus boarding islands from the northbound cycle track at the stops. There would be loading areas for lorries in appropriate places outside the cycle tracks.

My scheme would seriously reduce general motor capacity, and I think this is a good thing. It is what is needed. The trouble with the Camden scheme is that it is more or less capacity neutral. It is another Piccadilly and Haymarket: it is not really prioritising cycling, it is just shifting the deckchairs around a little, pushing flows in certain directions from one street to another. My scheme would instead seriously reallocate road space and seriously protect cyclists, while allowing the other essential functions in the street to continue, and it would do this by retaining the one-way system, making it more like a Dutch city-centre one-way system. The environmental benefits to everybody, cyclist or not, would be enormous.

Gower Street now. I would reallocate these lanes by making the left one a wide cycle track with kerb segregation, making the middle one the bus lane, and keeping the outer lane as it is. All would be southbound. This fits with the traffic system at the northern end as currently configured, which only facilitates the southbound route.
Tottenham Court Road, north of Goodge street, now. I would reallocate this space by getting rid of the rubbish in the middle of the road and creating wide, kerb-secgregasted cycle tracks running in both directions, plus a bus lane and a separate general traffic lane running northbound. Bus stops would be on islands.
Tottenham Court Road, south end, now. I would reallocate this space to wide, kerb-segregated cycle tracks running in both directions, with one northbound lane for all other traffic. Taxis could still have their waiting area, outside the contraflow cycle track, and there would be spaces for loading for shops outside the track.
The benefits of my plan would not only be motor traffic reduction: it is also simpler. The current motor flows are not altered and there is no need for any large junction changes. There is no small gyratory system inappropriately routed via Grafton Way. The current cycle route towards Covent Garden and Waterloo Bridge is maintained and made far better. The Charing Cross Road to Camden Town route via Tottenham Court Road is made safe and pleasant for cycling, and the exact direct reverse route becomes possible, and just as easy and pleasant. This scheme would really open the West End up for cycling and give us a taste of a proper transfer of Dutch principles to central London. Importantly, it would be the same all the time: no time-dependence, no uncertain enforcement. It would be self-enforcing all the time.

Here is the biggest problem with Camden's proposals: for most hours of the week, between 7pm and 7am, and all day on Sunday, they are making Tottenham Court Road a free-for all, no bus lanes, no prioritisation at all, opening it up to all traffic, in both directions, as it is not open now. This is an utterly retrograde step. This is the aspect of the plan that neither Camden's consultation, nor the commentary from Camden Cyclists, nor that from Cyclists in the City dwells on. So I draw attention to it, and I invite you to think about it. This is going to be a massive opening up of the West End to new motor traffic movements, making many car journeys in the evenings, at night, and on Sundays, in central London easier and more convenient. This is the exact reverse of what Camden should be doing.

I said I would mention an example of a gyratory which I think should be removed. So I'll briefly describe another Camden scheme, where it looks like they might actually be getting it right. This is at an early stage, and there is no consultation yet I can point you to, and no clear official plans yet, but I have seen proposals for the removal of the Swiss Cottage gyratory, and these look like a thoroughly good thing – subject to details, not yet present, being got right. This is connected with Cycle Superhighway 11, which on current plans will run round the Outer Circle, up Avenue road, and into Finchley road via Swiss Cottage. The gyratory removal plan is a crucial part of this, and it has support from Andrew Gilligan. 

One option that I have seen sketched out by Camden involves making the main general traffic route up the A41, Finchley Road, continuous, with a signalised junction with the west end of Adelaide Road (to the south of the Odeon Cinema on the current gyratory island). The part of Avenue Road outside the library, the current east side of the gyratory, would be taken out of the traffic system, and only used for buses and bikes, which would have a direct signalised route through to the part of Avenue Road south of Adelaide Roads, and to Finchley Road, to the north. The connection of the A41 with Fitzjohn's Avenue (B511) would be closed off, thereby cutting traffic through into the leafy residential streets of Hampstead on this axis off in one stroke.

Map of Swiss Cottage, for orientation, for those unfamiliar with the area
Cycle Superhighway 11 would run in some sort of segregated or semi-segregated format up Avenue Road, and would cross into the bus-bike section by the library with signals. There would be ample space here to segregate it from bus traffic and to put the bus stops on islands. It would go on northwards into Finchley Road via more signals.

The critical advantage of making the main A41 route continuous on Finchley Road is that we would loose the circulating system that pushes so much traffic from the north down into Avenue Road (B525) and through to Regent's Park. The design of the gyratory at the moment encourages this totally inappropriate flow. Traffic from the A41 semi-motorway from the outer suburbs just goes bombing into this narrow, leafy road, with its big new schools on the left hand side, and ends up at the Outer Circle. Though there will still be a connection between the northern A41 and Avenue Road, in the new plan, it will involve a left signalised turn at the Adelaide Road / Finchley Road /Hilgrove Road (B509) junction, and then a right signalised turn at the Avenue Road junction. It will no longer be an obvious route, the obvious route will become the A41 Finchley Road down towards Baker Street. The traffic in Avenue Road should be massively reduced, and there will be space for a decent Cycle Superhighway there.

This is the pint at which narrow, residential Avenue Road becomes, inappropriately, the obvious route for traffic heading from the north towards central London. The abolition of the gyratory would end this situation.
As I say, these are early days on this scheme, and I wouldn't get my hopes up too far that it will be as good as this. People have been talking about removal of the Swiss Cottage Gyratory for decades, and nothing has happened. But hopefully we will be able to get agreement between TfL, the Cycling Commissioner, and Camden, on a scheme along these lines that I have described, and, if we do, it will be a thoroughly good thing that the widely-hated Swiss Cottage Gyratory goes. So, with gyratories, there are cases and other cases, as I said at the beginning, to be judged on their exact details.

I the meantime, what can be done bout Camden's poor "West End Project" plan? There is a consultation, which can be filled in here.  In addition, Camden Cyclists are organising a public meeting, at the YMCA, Indian Student Hostel, 41 Fitzroy Square W1T 6AQ at 7pm on Monday 30 June. Camden councillors officers will be present to explain their scheme and take questions. I suggest people attend this and make their views known there as well. Register for the meeting here.

There has been a tone to the commentaries so far published by cyclists that the Camden West End scheme should probably be supported, as it will be an improvement on what we have now, and there is no hope of getting anything better, or no-one can come up with anything better. Camden Cyclists say:
We have concluded that we will support the Camden proposal unless some much better alternative comes up. However, we feel that it will not do much to encourage new people to cycle, although the increase of permeability will allow those that want to to escape via the side streets. But being able to escape isn't really the main function of a cycling street, particularly one that is likely to be part of the new Central London Cycle Grid.
I would much rather see this scheme happen than see nothing happen, as is the case in other parts of London. Space4Cycling should be better than this. But this is better than what's there and better than nothing. It's all a bit of a damp squib, really.
I say, this is all rather weak. It's not difficult to come up with a better, more radical plan, and I've done so. The critical step is letting go of the idea "evil gyratory system must go". My plan, to reiterate, is to keep the general traffic system as it is now, but to make a radical reduction in general motor capcity through having only one general northbound lane on Tottenham Court Road, and one general lane southbound on Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street. There would be a dedicated southbound bus lane in Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, and a dedicated northbound bus lane in the wider, northern part of Tottenham Court Road. There would be segregated cycle tracks, southbound only on Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, and in both directions on Tottenham Court Road. There would be island bus stops so buses would never cross the paths of cyclists. The whole system would be full-time. You can call this the Voleospeed West End Plan if you like. You can refer to it in the consultation and at the meeting, and direct Camden Council and others here.

I suggest we lobby for this Voleospeed West End Plan. What have we got to lose? As I think Schrödinger's Cat recently asked, rhetorically, are we afraid that what crumbs there are for cycling in the current plans will be removed from the table if we object, and that we will get something even worse? I hardly think that's likely.

What is likely is that Camden will do what they have already decided to do anyway, or they will make some minor modifications to their plan. But if everybody makes enough of a noise, with pressure from Andew Gilligan and parts of TfL as well, perhaps they can be forced to go back to the drawing board. I certainly don't believe we will be sitting here in a few years' time, thinking "If only we had not objected to that West End Project as proposed by Camden and not proposed our own silly, impractical, too-ambitious plan to make London WC1 really look like Amsterdam, then we would not have got this horrible thing that doesn't even have the half-hearted cycle facilities that Camden was offering us then". In my two decades of cycle campaigning experience, I can't recall a case that has ever unfolded like that. We have never regretted scuppering a half-hearted plan because we asked for something better. Either we suggest the best and lobby for the best, and get something a bit worse, or we moan a bit, let the planners do their own thing, and we get the crumbs that they offer. Let's have a bit of courage about this. 

Keep the Tottenham Court Road gyratory gyrating for motor vehicles, and civilise it for cyclists and everyone else.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Waiting at bus stops is dangerous

I'm not sure if this post might be interpreted as being in poor taste following on closely from a real death, but here goes. It's just that an incident that actually occurred yesterday has caused me to reflect on the risk of different transport modes, again.

I was cycling from Edgware to Willesden Sports Centre yesterday evening, when, almost there, I came across a police cordon preventing access to Harlesden Road. Both road and pavement were cordoned off. I managed to get through to Donnington Road by going round via the southern part of Harlesden Road. This was cordoned as well, but not across the pavement, so I wheeled my bike, and a policeman acknowledged me. I could see that a part of a tree had broken off and hit the bus stop in Harlesden Road near the Donnington Road junction. When I went back at 9:45pm, all was clear again and the tree was removed.

I learn from the Brent and Kilburn Times and Evening Standard today that a 57-year old woman was killed by the tree, and a man was seriously injured. Both were waiting at the bus stop.

The last cycling death in Brent that I know of was in 2008. So at least as many people have been killed in Brent waiting for buses as have been killed cycling in six years. There is risk of death in all transport modes. However, I don't think this latest incident will cause many people to stop using buses in Brent. It will lead to calls for better safety inspections of trees, probably, and that would be sensible, though clearly risk due to falling trees will never be eliminated. The risks associated with using buses, waiting for them, and walking on the pavements are randomised in such a way that no-one in good mental health is going to seriously worry about them, and be put off from those activities by statistics associated with them. If you have a concept of "Acts of God", then this fatal incident is close to that. It might have been preventable, but not obviously so.

The risks around cycling are totally different. They are far more predictable and they are connected, by and large, with the design of the roads. This is why those risks put most people off from cycling. Their systematic quality means that you can minimise them, as the statistics show most people who cycle in Brent minimising them, by diligence, alertness, tactics and behaviours designed and learned to diminish risk in an active, constant, dynamic manner. This is a two-edged sword, however. It creates statistical safety, but the fact it has to be done erects a giant behavioural and mental barrier to cycling that the vast majority of the people in Brent are not willing to scale most of the time (Brent's modal share for cycling is between 1 and 2%). Willesden Sports Centre contains travel advice printed on the foyer wall in big letters, telling users, amongst other things, what a good idea it is to cycle there, for all sorts of reasons. But even given the fit and healthy population who will be frequenting the centre, a small minority do so. The centre boasts about 20 bike stands, and a car park that will contain hundreds of cars.

Donnington Road, the road giving access to the Sports Centre, is a road where the engineers at Brent Council have tried really hard to reduce vehicular speeds and increase road safety. But they've done it in  all the wrong ways, and made it a trial to cycle on.

Donnington Road, looking east, on the approach to the sports centre, which is the next turn-off to the right (Google Street View)
You can see that in this Google Streetview image of Donnington Road just approaching the sports centre from the west. The engineers have radically narrowed the lanes on an already narrow road with frequently-placed islands. Between the islands, road space is wasted with hatching. They've put speed tables at the islands. What perhaps you cannot see in this picture is that there is a significant uphill gradient going east. Also you do not see how the road surface has deteriorated at the speed table edges since this view was imaged in July 2012.

The problem is that Donnington Road remains a significant motor-traffic through route, as well as giving access to a school and the borough's largest sports centre. It's a useful cut-through for traffic between Harlesden and the Queens Park and Brondesbury Park area. So there's plenty of traffic, and if you are riding up that road, and riding defensively, or assertively, however you choose to put it, you will be putting yourself in the middle of that narrow lane for a long way, trundling slowly uphill, negotiating the decaying surface and hitting the sharp speed table edges, and choosing to act as a "rolling speed bump", holding up any traffic (including buses) behind you, exactly as Brent's traffic engineers intended. The result is not actually dangerous. It's just not a nice experience. It's the kind of experience that puts people off cycling in Brent.

Going back home I use an obscure route via the small pedestrian bridge over the River Brent off Lawrence Way, in Neasden, to avoid the giant gyratory systems in Neasden, that I have described before, and then get into Barnhill Road, and attempt to use the cycle facilities (that I actually originally requested and drew the first design for) between there and Old Church lane, Kingsbury. There's a nice cycle gap through the closure of Barnhill Road (or it would be nice if it wasn't so frequently blocked by the local inconsiderate car parkers), but the crossing on Blackbird Hill, used to reach the cycle contraflow in Old Church Lane, to head towards Kingsbury, is about 50 metres up Blackbird Hill from the Barnhill Road junction.

Looking north-west up Blackbird hill from the Barnhill Road junction, Google Street View
The planners' intention was that cyclists do a left turn at this junction, into the narrow inside traffic lane, on this road full of buses and lorries, then negotiate round any buses stopped at the stop you see in this view, then do a quick left up a short dropped kerb, just beyond the bus stop, on to a stretch of pavement designated "shared use", to do a "jug handle" manoeuvre to aim for the Toucan crossing, where you press a button, and wait a long time, and have to take care to avoid conflicting pedestrian flows.

This is all totally standard stuff, straight out of the Department for Transport's best cycle infrastructure advice, as in Local Transport Note 2/08. But in terms of convenience and effectiveness for cycling, it is all Professor Brainstawm amateurishness in design in action. It is an unacceptable risk to ask cyclists to take to join a hugely congested, fast road, with absolutely no space to cycle in, joisting with huge lorries, only for a few metres, before asking them to dive onto a pavement and shared crossing and asking them to play nice with children and parents and small dogs while performing a 270 degree turn on a sixpence. The result will be cyclists cycling on the pavement, and behind the bus stop that you can see, annoying people waiting at the stop. Or it will be people who don't want to risk their lives, or risk being a nuisance to pedestrians, and getting hated, just not cycling. If you have to keep walking stretches with your bike, that's not cycling. You might as well choose another method of transport. On this occasion, as I did this manoeuvre, as required by the design, as safely as I could, trying to avoid conflict with people at the bus stop, I got honked by the driver of a police car, not apparently on an emergency call, who didn't want to let me on to the road. "Why bother to try to cycle legally?" I asked myself.

This place could have been so much better, if there was integration between transport planning, and building planning, in Brent. Since this image was taken, Lidl have rebuilt their car park, at a higher level. They would have needed permission for this; it was major work. This planning permission should have been linked to a compulsory public land-take alongside this pavement; just 4 metres would have been enough, enough to build a cycle track between Barnhill Road and the crossing and put the bus stop on an island between the track and the road. This was a known issue. It is a pinch-point that has been flagged-up in (forgotten) Brent cycle network consultation exercises and rides that i have taken part in. It would not have soleve all the cycling problems in Blackbird Hill, but it would have been a big step forwards. But this sort of joined-up planning just does not exist in London's local government.

So the problem was not solved, and now, with the construction of a sort of castle wall around the car park, it is likely never to be solved, short of reducing Blackbird Hill from three lanes to two, which seems very unlikely.

The "castle wall" being built around the new, high-level Lidl car park last year, making the problem of lack of space for cycling on this critical corner even more permanent.
It's not the statistical danger of cycling in Brent that causes it to be such an unpopular activity. It's the feel of it – the feeling that you are always in the way, doing something strange, something not properly accommodated by planning, something not really understood by anyone else on the roads. Waiting at bus stops is at least as dangerous, but doesn't have these characteristics. And, of course, the old and vulnerable wait at bus stops in Brent, they don't cycle. As I pointed out before, that skews the statistical risks. The risks of cycling are minimised by the fact the activity is done by the people with the fitness, skills, alertness and agility to minimise them. They don't reflect true environmental safety; far from it. Cycling here is done by the sort of people who go to sports centres, or, actually, by a small sub-set of those people. In the Netherlands it is done by everyone.

Another man at the activity I go to at the sports centre told me that, to get fitter, he was thinking of starting cycling there. I told him that, in all honesty, I could not recommend it.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Up and down the A5

The A5 is the road running from Marble Arch in the centre of London to the port of Holyhead in Wales. Much of it is very straight, and identical with the Roman road from London to Wroxeter, known often by its Anglo-Saxon name of Watling Street. When it was completed by Thomas Telford in 1826, as a Government-sponsored project to connect the capitals of England and Ireland, it was, it has been said, the first great state-funded piece of civilian road-building in the UK since Roman times. As one of the oldest roads in Britain, and one of the longest and straightest in a nation of mostly wiggly roads, it has exerted a considerable fascination on all sorts of people down the ages. More or less immediately from 1826 it became identified closely with the migration of Irish people into England in search of work, and the section of the road in London, and adjoining districts, became the settling place of large numbers of them, in the suburbs of Colindale, Hendon, Cricklewood, and especially Kilburn, famous for its concentration of pubs along the Kilburn High Road section of the A5. Down to modern times, the Crown pub in Cricklewood (where Brent Cyclists meets in even-numbered months) was known as the hiring station early in the morning for casual labour, particularly for the building trade, traditionally Irish, but in recent decades more commonly East-European.

The famous Crown in Cricklewood Broadway, today gone quite up-market. John Betjeman praised its "terracotta shade".
From Marble Arch to Edgware, ten-miles to the north-west, the A5 is intermittently known as Edgware Road, interspersed with other designations, reflecting the character of local High Street that the road acquires as it passes through the various communities: Kilburn High Road, Cricklewood Broadway, West Hendon Broadway, Burnt Oak Broadway, Edgware High Street. The late Poet Laureate John Betjeman made a classic documentary in 1968 following the road as far as Edgware, available from the BBC here. It is still worth watching; it catches some of the fascinatingly decrepit, mis-planned character of the A5 lands in London then as now. Much, and also not much, has changed since Betjeman recorded his view of the post-war A5:
It almost makes you like planning, doesn't it, for the lack of it. Look! They've put a car park on the site. They needn't have taken it down at all!
(on the destruction of the Metropolitan Pace of Varieties, a Victorian music hall). He recorded his nostalgic view before the building of the concrete flyovers and gyratories on the A5 at Staples Corner, that destroyed the Old Welsh Harp pub and definitively ended the quasi-rural seclusion of the Brent Reservoir. The sign of the times that he did witness was the then brand-new office block Merit House, Colindale, from the top of which he viewed the vestigial Middlesex countryside. It is still there, a drab, unloved monument to its decade and to "planning" that dumped huge, isolated blocks in the middle of a low-rise decaying industrial suburban hinterland.

The Merit House office block that Betjeman visited in 1968 interrupts the car showrooms on the A5 in Colindale. Opposite is a building site that will soon be high-density housing.
In London, most of the length of the A5 is a local authority boundary. This has been the case since at least mediaeval times; the old parish boundaries were usually taken over as borough boundaries. From the southern end of Kilburn High Road to part of the way along Cricklewood Broadway the road forms the boundary between Camden and Brent. From there north to Burnt Oak it forms the Brent–Barnet border, with the exception of the Welsh Harp "village" area, where Barnet has taken the land on the east bank of the Brent Reservoir, so holding both sides of the A5 in West Hendon Broadway. From Burnt Oak northwards, the road forms the Barnet–Harrow border. This status as a borderland has undoubtedly contributed to the generally shabby, often hostile urban environment of the A5. No planning authority really cares that much about the town centres that have sprung up along the route. Responsibility for them is divided, and a general lack of collaboration and poor planning means they have a neglected, "wild-west" character. This is especially bad for the centres that are divided three ways: Cricklewood, divided one quarter each between Camden and Barnet, and half in Brent, and Burnt Oak, divided one quarter each between Brent and Harrow, and half in Barnet, but it also applies to Kilburn, Colindale and Edgware. The nicest part of the A5 is, I think, not coincidentally, Maida Vale, where Westminster rules both sides. Away from these crumbling Victorian and inter-war shallow linear town centres, the A5 has been the urban territory to which the ugly things that make money and have to be allowed to happen somewhere in London get pushed: the retail sheds, mega car showrooms, every type of automotive servicing works, industrial buildings, waste recycling.

A view of the A5 at Burnt Oak, looking south. This is motorland; nearly every block is occupied by some motor-transport-related business. Note the vast, unused pavements and lack of space for cycling.
For cycling in north-west London, the A5 is a critical artery, as it is the straightest route from all the suburbs along it to the West End, and also, due to severance by railways, bigger roads, and water features, basically the only possible route between those suburbs. As a trunk road, the A5 is completely bypassed by the A41. The A41 is the Transport for London (TfL) main route out of north-west London, and is far more suitable for lorries and coaches than the frequently narrow A5, which goes down to a total width of less than 9m (including pavements) at the pinch-point just south of the junction with Willesden Lane in Kilburn. But, of course, as nothing prevents long-distance through traffic from continuing to use the A5, despite its official "bypassing" by the A41, it is generally clogged with lorries, buses, private cars and delivery vehicles.

Notionally designated as the LCN+ (London Cycle Network Plus) 5 route by ex-Mayor Ken Livingstone's cycling development team, there is absolutely no meaningful cycling infrastructure along the whole length of the road in Greater London (unless you regard the very part-time and discontinuous bus lanes that cyclists can use as "cycling infrastructure"). There are a few blue signs giving mileages, and a few bike logos painted on the road in odd places. I spent a day, with other cycling representatives, some time about 2008, going up and down the A5 with consultants for the LCN+ and council officers, assessing what could be done to make the road better for cycling. None of our suggestions were ever acted upon. The money was wasted, or disappeared, and the project was abandoned. After Boris Johnson announced his replacement Cycle Superhighway programme, it was suggested that Cycle Superhighway 11 should be on the A5, but this was later changed to the A41 (and we still await for it to actually happen there).

Little came of the LCN+5 project on the A5 other than these blue signs. This picture, taken at the Capitol Way / Edgware Road junction, shows the demolition of the Boosey and Hawkes warehouse, opposite, the site now being developed for high-density housing.
The A5 from Edgware to Marble arch remains a long series of left-hook hazards for cyclists, with junctions apparently designed to put them in as much danger as possible. The few of them that use it do so because the Roman engineers and Thomas Telford between them knew what they were doing. They built not only a very straight, but a very flat road though quite a hilly area. All other possible routes from Edgware to the centre of town are not only longer but far hillier. So for cyclists attempting to do this journey, or sections of it, there is little other option. They must trade directness and flatness for the terrible environment.

The "high street" sections of the A5 are classic examples of the kind of chaotic UK street environment where everything is attempted to be fitted in simultaneously: shopping, parking, loading, pedestrian movements, bus stops, cycling, plus heavy through-traffic including freight, and it doesn't work very well.

There was a Street Talks meeting organised by the Movement for Liveable London in April on The roles of place and movement in creating successful high streets  in which one of the contributors, Louise Duggan, of the Greater London Authority, spoke of the conflicts between the "place and movement" functions to be managed in London's high streets. I asked if there should not be, in preference to the permanent toleration of poor public spaces and a continued stream of pedestrain and cyclist casualties, a long-term policy to remove  these conflicts as far as possible. I was thinking of streets like Kilburn High Road and the other"high street" sections of the A5, where local authorities' intermittent attempts to create a better environment always seem to meet a sticky end because they cannot resolve the fundamental conflicts between the arterial, business and social functions of the road. In short, if the road continues to carry masses of heavy traffic, it cannot be a nice place to be. Ms Duggan responded that she did not think it was possible to separate out the functions of roads and streets (so she has obviously a limited knowlege of how they do things in other places), and, even more startlingly, stated that conflict that was one of the things that people liked about cities and attracted them to them. This caused some amusement, or amazement, in the audience.

Kilburn High Road (Google Earth photo) at a quiet time. The cycle logos do a lot of good.
About a year ago I attended a meeting to look at some new plans, the latest in a long sequence I have witnessed over the decades, jointly put forward by Brent and Camden, in yet another attempt to "improve" Kilburn High Road. Yet again it was a proposal to mess about with kerb lines, number of lanes, and junction arrangements, with, in this case, the addition of some kind of median strip in some places. Of course, there was no dedicated space for cycling in the plans, and nothing that would actually reduce the through-traffic. The planners had come up with some curious designations for the road they were dealing with: arbitrary subdivisions of what is actually just a long, continuous slug of two, three and four lane road lined with shops. There was a "northern gateway", a "cultural area" (because there is a well known fringe theatre there, the Tricycle), a "secondary town centre shopping area" , a "primary town centre shopping area", and a "southern gateway". Nobody locally would have recognised these designations, the person drawing the plans had just made them up. I said, well, OK, if this is what we want, let's actually have these separate areas. Let's turn these sections into separate areas of street that traffic, apart from buses and bikes, cannot move between. It could be done with a combination of mode filters and one-way sections and circuits using other streets. We could eliminate the heavy through traffic. Then we could genuinely create these areas with separate character and function. But we can't do that if everything else is over-ruled by the need to have heavy car and lorry traffic thundering through night and day. That is what fixes the character of the High Road, overwhelmingly, and makes these fanciful designations, and attempts to create an improved environment, in the end, a bit of a nonsense.

Needless to say, that suggestion went no-where. The A5 is a big road for through-traffic. That's how it is, and nobody but me could conceive that that could ever be changed, within the bounds of political reality. Strangely, though, some years back, Kilburn High Road was actually completely closed to traffic for about six months (I may remember this wrongly, but it was for a substantial length of time) for reconstruction of the bridge across the West Coast Main Line. And, strangely enough, it became a pleasant, thriving and bustling place at that time (apart from the difficulty pedestrians and dismounted  cyclists had with passing through the narrow gap in the building work that was left for them), and the economy of the area did not collapse. In fact the shops appeared to do well. Most of the time there actually seem to be utility excavations on Kilburn High Road which reduce the number of lanes or cause alternate working using temporary traffic lights. Yet the idea of permanently severing the general through-traffic artery of the A5, and forcing that traffic to use the six lane A41 (which was purposely widened in the 1970s exactly to make it that principal traffic artery through north-west London), seems to be inconceivable.

So we just have an endless succession of minor schemes down the years to tweak a very ugly, and dangerous, borderland environment, that never tackle the central issue: that if we want proper town centres, if we want vibrant commercial districts and good public, social spaces, then most of this traffic cannot remain here. We get tree planting, we get benches, we get weird new lamp columns designed by the art students, we get more bollards, we get railings put in, then railings taken out (according to the fashion at the time), discontinuous, ineffective bus lanes put in, bus lanes taken out again (according to the political fashion of the time), and the environment of the A5 remains as it always has been: noisy, dirty, dangerous, shabby, and unappealing.

Cricklewood Broadway, slightly wider than Kilburn High Road but just as congested and chaotic, with sheep-pen crossing for pedestrians and a mass of railings to prevent them from crossing in wrong places. The railings, however, provide the only available bike parking. Note the roadworks, seemingly ever-present, taking out lanes on the High Road or the Broadway.
Kilburn High Road is too narrow to support separate cycle tracks while maintaining the two-way general traffic flow, but it is a critical section of road which makes the point, that I am always stressing, that we need to sort out the purpose of our city streets. We can't have critical streets which have so many functions in conflict, and putting in the sort of cycling infrastructure that will support mass cycling, in the Dutch sense, requires that we tackle this issue of purpose first of all, determining where the priority cycle network, the priority bus network, and the general traffic network will be, and separating them by route in places where separation on the street is not possible, as in Kilburn High Road.

In Maida Vale it is a different story. The road has excess width, and, since Kilburn High Road is the bottleneck, space here could easily be reallocated to cycling, were the political will to do it present in Westminster Council. General traffic does not need more than one lane in either direction, as it will just come to a grinding halt again on Kilburn high Road, going north, or on Edgware road, going south. Maida Vale and the Westminster Edgware Road suffer, like all roads in Westminster, from a stupid excess of signalised junctions, which make a journey down them, by any mode, extraordinarily inefficient and tedious. The Dutch only use signalised junctions as a last resort; they close far more side-roads off than we do, to restrict and rationalise the through-traffic network and make it more efficient, with fewer delays. Westminster puts traffic lights everywhere, to cause maximum frustration to all road users and create the least efficient surface transport network possible.

Broad and elegant, the long series of traffic light delays known as Maida Vale, City of Westminster
The chaotic character of the A5 so familiar from Kilburn High Road and Cricklewood Broadway, is soon re-established in the southernmost, Westminster section of Edgware Road, between Maida Vale and Marble Arch, where the lack of space to cycle in is compounded by the junction restrictions and one-ways which seem designed to make it almost impossible to access form the A5 areas more pleasant for cycling, such as the Hyde Park cycle paths or the Grand Union Canal. The junction of Edgware Road with the slip roads leading to Marylebone Road and the A40 (at Edgware Road tube) is the biggest hazard for cyclists on this stretch. As I pointed out before, Westminster's proposals for the "Central London Cycle Grid" absurdly try to circumnavigate this problem rather than deal with it.

Looking northwards up Edgware road towards the Marylebone Flyover. No space can be found for cycling here, obviously. The Cycling Grid proposes an impractical "Quietway" detour round the junction.
South of the Marylebone Flyover, we are in the final stretch of the A5, "little Arabia", where the latest hazard I have come across, on top of all the buses, lorries, black cabs and white vans, is the inconsiderately-driven electrically-assisted rickshaws, broadcasting loud Arabic music, darting across the road unpredictably to collect passengers from the next hookah joint, particularly at night. These surprisingly powerful, fast-acellerating vehicles will catch you unawares if you have not experienced them before; you cannot outrun them on a normal bike.


Five miles to the north-west, the A5 beyond Staples Corner West, the flyover-equipped intersection with the North Circular Road between Cricklewood and Hendon, is a very different kettle of fish again. Frequently very wide, with huge acreages of excess wasted pavement filled with clutter or used for car parking, unnecessarily wide vehicle lanes, and service roads used mainly for even more tiers of parking, it could in most places easily accomodate high-grade Dutch-style cycle tracks, were the road to be totally replanned and rebuilt between the building frontages. The Space for Cycling Campaign asks by Brent, Barnet and Harrow LCC groups for the wards adjoining the A5 are uniformly, and rightly, for protected cycle tracks on the road. But with division of responsibility between the three boroughs, Brent and Harrow Labour-controlled, Barnet Conservative, what chance of such far-reaching change being achieved? It would have to be energetically driven by the Mayor and TfL to have any chance of happening. In fact they would have to take control of the process, and probably take control of the road, to ensure any uniformity of execution. There is nothing in the history of the Cycle Superhighways, TfL's recent attempts at priority cycle routes on main roads, or the Mayor's Vision for Cycling that indicates this might happen. But there is the space; it could be a show-case of what London might achieve for cycling.

Typical character of the A5 north of Staples Corner. Looking south from Burnt Oak Broadway, Merit House is in the distance. Note the huge total width of the road, the chaotic street furniture, wasted pavement space, car showrooms and betting shops (typical occupants of this stretch). This is a section which was prettified by Brent just a couple of year ago, with repaving and more bollards and trees. It's still a wasteland.
Of course, any improvements to cycling either in the northern or southern section of the A5 in London would run into the conundrum of what to do with the motorway-style intersection with the North Circular Road at Staples Corner West, essentially unaltered since it was built in the early 1970s: a junction that makes absolutely no concession to cycling, as the first half of this excellent video by Londonneur tells you.

Bow Roundabout in East London has received huge publicity for its terrible design that has resulted in three cycling deaths on Cycle Superhighway 2. Staples Corner West doesn't get this publicity, though it is a very similar design of intersection, with much the same problems, because there's no cycle superhighway here, nor is there ever likely to be one, and cycling levels are very low, suppressed by the barrier of the North Circular that the video speaks of. There are few casualties, because there are not the cyclists here to get killed and injured. It is so dangerous, cycling is almost non-existent in the suburbs from here outwards. I am statistically certain of this. I often cycle into the West End on the A5, a journey of 10 miles from my house, and I place the game of counting how many other cyclists I see. In the middle of a weekday, it is usually between 12 and 20 cyclists in 10 miles, and some of these will be on pavements. Probably 17 of the 20 will be seen on the five miles of the A5 that I cycle south of Staples Corner. There's no sign of a cycling revolution in these parts, and it's easy to see why.

Pathetic, confused two-tier cycle "infrastructure" on the southbound A5 slip road leading to Stapes Corner West. The A5 flyover is to the left. The North Circular flyover overlies that. But despite being a three-level junction (four if you count the walkways), so space for cycling can be found on any of the levels.
Cyclists have been campaigning for a safe crossing of the North Circular on the A5 at Staples Corner West for at least 30 years. Here is the evidence for that statement, for which I am indebted to Dr Robert Davis, now Chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, but at that time representing the West London Division of the British Cycling Federation, now British Cycling.

The letter and map above were sent by Robert Davis to the then Secretary of State for Transport as part of correspondence following the death of Eileen Leane in 1984. She was killed at Staples Corner trying to cycle between her work in Colindale and home in West Hampstead on the only possible route. It is seen that the Department of Transport, which at that time controlled the North Circular Road and the junction (now controlled by TfL), showed no interest, and refused even to attend a meeting at the site. Davis comments:
Essentially we were told to work this out with the Boroughs, and that new crossings (I don't know which ones they meant) across NCR would make things safer for cyclists.
Such new crossings were never built, neither did the boroughs of Brent or Barnet ever do anything. Precisely nothing has been happening here for 30 years. Something is on the cards today,  but it's not what anyone, apart from mega-developers, asked for. Hammerson, owners of the Brent Cross Shopping centre, are pushing for the "regeneration" of a vast area of Cricklewood/Hendon south of the North Circular and east of the A5, connected with plans to enlarge their shopping centre just north of the North Circular. To get as many cars as possible into this without backing-up in large queues on the approaches to Staples Corner, they want TfL to build a huge new gyratory system uniting the Staples Corner East junction (the start of the M1 and intersection of the North Circular with the A41) with Staples Corner West. Those few cyclists who today brave Staples Corner West either cycle illegally on the tortuous pedestrian footbridges, or they use the low-level signalised roundabout that interchanges with the North Circular, or they use the Bow-style flyover on the A5, braving the high-speed merging traffic on the slip roads linking to the roundabout. Most seem to do the latter, as the most efficient option.

Southbound slip-road out of Staples Corner West, looking north. The A5 flyover is to the left, the North Circular flyover crosses over that at the top. The miserable pavement cycle track is part of a very poor east-west LCN route; there are no cycle facilities on the commuting axis of the A5.
As Brent Cyclists have pointed out, the plans to create this mega-gyratory junction at Staples corner will make a terrible situation even worse, and will even further suppress cycling in outer north-west London. The possibility to take the lower-level route on the signalised roundabout when cycling southwards will no longer be present, that route will lead into the mega-gyratory interchanging with the M1, and no other credible method has been thought up by the developers or TfL of getting cyclists from one part of the A5 to the other. It will be "flyover or die" on the A5 flyover... or maybe both. Brent Cyclists wrote to the Development Director Jonathan Joseph earlier this year suggesting some possible solutions to the problem, including signalising a cycle track at surface level through the junction, tunnelling, or new clip-on cycle flyovers attached to the A5 flyover.

Brent Cyclists' concept for a cycle flyover to bypass the slip roads at Staples Corner West, and clip on to the central section of the A5 road flyover. This may not be the best, or a viable solution, but it is a constructive suggestion.

Jonathan Joseph's dismissive reply said the following:
We agree that your second suggested solution of signalling the cyclists through this junction at the lower level would not be viable due to not only the resulting significant delay to other traffic... but also lack of space at this level.

...Segregated flyovers would be less convenient for a longer distance cyclist than simply using the current road flyover. Those cyclist [sic] who are on leisure trips could leave the A5 north of Staples Corner and travel along new north south routes within the Development and re-join the A5 to the south, or vice-versa. So there is likely to be limited use of the new flyover structures which could only be provided at significant cost.  
Perhaps some form of segregation over the flyover could be considered by TfL working with the London Boroughs of Brent and Barnet who share responsibility for this route and the existing road flyover.
Let's leave aside the Develpment Director's complete failure to understand the need for safe and convenient infrastructure to allow ordinary people to use bikes to undertake short utility trips: for a child attending a school in Hendon to cycle there from a home in Cricklewood only two miles away, for example. It's not his job to understand transport. He has people to advise him on that, but, when it comes to cycling, they clearly do a bad job. The main point is that, once again, as for the last 30 years, those campaigning to for safe cycling on the A5 are pushed from one authority to another, from pillar to post, no-one takes responsibility, and nothing is done. In February there was some publicity from an announcement of Boris Johnson promising to "rip out 33 gyratories" including Elephant & Castle and Swiss Cottage. A closer look at the announcement shows that it is not actually a clear commitment to "rip out" anything, merely to "deliver substantial cycle infrastructure improvements at 33 locations", which could turn out to mean anything, or nothing. I'll believe any of it when I see it. "ripping out" the Swiss Cottage gyratory, on the A41, has been talked of for at least 20 years in my memory, but there has never been enough agreement between all interested parties for anything to actually happen. Meanwhile, there has been no publicity for this plan to create a huge new gyratory on the A5, that will further cripple cycling across north-west London.

If cyclists used this new gyratory, they would not only be taking a very convoluted way round, compared to using the direct and almost flat A5 flyover, they would be mixing with traffic getting on and off of the M1 and the six-lane A41 on a multi-lane system that would probably make Elephant & Castle, London's most statistically dangerous junction for cycling,  look tame by comparison. The routes through the new development, mentioned by Joseph, will not work either, as they will involve convoluted ramps to get over the North Circular, they will be very indirect compared to taking the straight line of the A5 that the Romans gave us, and they will have sections mixing cyclists up with pedestrians (yes, these are the cycle infrastructure proposals for a brand new development on brownfield land where many of the roads will be rebuilt from scratch). These alternatives will not work, and cyclists will not use them; I can guarantee you that, from having looked at the plans. Neither TfL, nor the Cycling Commissioner, nor the developers, nor the boroughs, have any credible plan by which ordinary utility cyclists will be able to cycle along the line of the A5 after this development is built. It is appalling.

Following the Brent Cross Cricklewood developers' cycling "alternative" to the A5 would take you far off your desire line for most journeys that currently use the A5, and eventually, after you had surmounted the ramps over the North Circular and all the shared-use obstacles put in your way, would dump you on the unpleasant rat-run of Claremont Road, with its congested junction with Cricklewood Lane. And you'd now be on the wrong side of the Thameslink Line, if you were trying to get to the West End or Kilburn.
Appalling, of course, if Brent Cross Cricklewood is actually built in the way now envisaged. Again, redeveloping this area has been talked of for decades, with no action. The current plans have been "called in" by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Local Government, so he has the final say over what happens (though this might not be significant). I've heard talk in the GLA of "re-masterplanning" the area again, so the developers may not get what they expect at the moment. It is quite strange that TfL seem to have been so accepting of the proposals thus far, considering they will not only block cycling, but mess up the bus routes up and down the A5 (a very major bus corridor), by forcing the buses to waste minutes going round this new mega-gyratory as well. It's almost as if TfL haven't really studied the implications of what they are being asked to build. I don't expect anything to happen here in the near future.

What is happening now, however, is a huge expansion of housing on, and close to, the A5 north of Stapes Corner. Colindale and Burt Oak are earmarked in the Mayor's London Plan as major areas where new housing growth is expected, and at the same time much of West Hendon is being rebuilt, and areas of north Cricklewood along the A5 (seemingly unconnected with the "regeneration" plans). Much of the length of the A5 between Colindale and Burnt Oak town centres is currently a building site, and what is being built is huge blocks of flats, on the site of old industrial and warehouse land. This area of London, which previously consisted mainly of areas of semi-detatched housing with large gardens separated by extensive industrial and brownfield areas, is going to have a far higher population density than ever before, and yet the transport infrastructure is not changing. The Northern Line (Edgware Branch), which provides the main service for these areas into town, also known as the "misery line" because of its bad performance, low capacity, slowness, and outdated equipment, surely cannot be improved enough to cope with a greatly increased demand. In any case, it only provides for radial journeys; orbital journeys have to be made by car, bus (very slow) or bike. There seems no chance of trams or light rail coming to North London, following Boris Johnson's cancellation of Ken Livingstone's Kings Cross tram restoration scheme (which was not on this axis anyway), and campaigners have so far fought in vain to get orbital light rail included in the Brent Cross Cricklewood regeneration plans.

Huge new housing blocks currently going up on the A5 between Colindale and Burn Oak town centres: on the left, redevelopment of the former Wickes site, on the right, of the former Boosey and Hawkes warehouse.

Drawing of what's being built on the site to the left of the picture above

How are all these people who are going to move in to the area going to get around? Even more polluting buses on the A5, stuck in the queues? More cars in jams at each signalised intersection? With no meaningful space for cycling planned, despite the obvious wasted space on the A5, and no cycle-friendly junctions, I can't see cycling growing to make any significant contribution. There's a housing plan, but no transport plan to go with it, that I can detect. We are currently building to European inner-city densities here, but without providing European-style transport solutions. The A5, axis of all this redevelopment, remains as grim and shabby as ever, a monument to borderland neglect, split governmental responsibility, market forces short-sightedness, public authority issue-avoidance, community disengagement and mis-planning.

As John Betjeman said 46 years ago,
It almost makes you like planning, doesn't it, for the lack of it.
Broad, shabby, little-used pavement on the A5 in the wasteland between Cricklewood and Staples Corner. Any legal cyclists on the road are squashed into narrow lanes here and passed with inches to spare in quiet times. In busy times they are stuck in queues unless they bunny-hop the kerb.