2nd Hackney Cycling Conference: a biased & subjective report

When I mentioned that I had been to the 2nd Hackney Cycling Conference, people asked me if I had enjoyed it.  Enjoy isn’t the word.  There was too much information packed into the event for me to enjoy.

A couple of the speakers were way above my head.  Dr. Adrian Davis on Bristol’s ‘Public Health & Transport collaboration’ was too dense for me (Bruce Mcvean of Liveable London was kind enough to point me at Lucy Saunders’ presentation on the website, which is a lot more digestible).  I got the principle, outlined in Professor Harry Rutter‘s illuminating presentation, that the public health benefits of cycling far, far outweigh the risks, I just didn’t really grasp what Dr. Davis was saying.  I guess because I am neither a transport planner nor a public health professional it doesn’t really matter.

I also struggled with Keith Firth‘s presentation of the nuts and bolts of redesigning junctions for increased cycling.  He took us through the process of modelling movements within the junction. During his presentation Mark Treasure tweeted that he was amazed ‘that 5 bicycles are “equivalent” to 1 car in assessing capacity, regardless of number of people in that car’ for the purposes of modelling traffic flows, which shows that I wasn’t the only one who got confused.

A lot of people responded negatively to that tweet, but Keith was merely saying that a bike occupies a fifth of the space of a car, for modelling purposes, in the same way that a bus occupies 4 times the space of a car, no matter how many passengers are carried on the bus.  The much more interesting point that I took from Keith’s presentation was that pedestrian movements are not modelled at all.

I spoke to Keith afterwards, and he mentioned that microsimulations of traffic at junctions are incredibly computationally complex, and require a huge amount of calculating power, which is probably why they don’t model pedestrian movements as well.  As an aside, Keith said that Advanced Stop Lines should be 4 or 5 metres long.  I’m pretty sure I got this down right, as I had only had one or two beers by this time, and I wrote the number down.

If this is true, then there are a lot, a huge number, of sub-standard ASLs in London, which need to be widened or lengthened.  Islington Council or TfL, whoever is the responsible authority, can start with the ASLs on the junction of Goswell Road / Clerkenwell Road / Old Street.  I see that they are trialling the ‘trixi’ mirrors at this junction, finally, but it might be more useful to repaint the lines so that cyclists can get that little bit further forward, away from the lorries.  This would possibly take them out of the blind-spot.

Another thing I took from the conference, and this won’t be welcomed by some, is that whatever infrastructure is going to be put in to support cycling in London, it will not be allowed to inconvenience bus passengers or pedestrians.  This almost certainly means no diversion of bus routes to permit the installation of segregated tracks.  Andrew Gilligan made this clear, as did Peter Wright, who is the Senior Delivery Planning Manager at TfL.  As I have said before, the bus is king of the London roads.

This explains why Councillor Vincent Stops is so anti-tracks.  He made a remark to me which reveals how seriously he takes the prioritisation of the bus.  He talked to me of the bus network having lost 6% of capacity since Boris Johnson became Mayor, in terms that made it clear what a bad thing he thought it was, and that the bus network needs to be protected from increased depredation.  I’m not suggesting that Councillor Stops has a major say in Boris’ transport policies, far from it, but I am saying that whatever changes are proposed to the infrastructure, those representing the interests of pedestrians and bus passengers will need to be reassured that they will not be delayed, diverted or otherwise pushed to the margins.

There is a problem with the way that some people on bikes are using the canal.

I participated in a workshop on pedestrian / bicycle conflicts on Regent’s Canal, led by Dick Vincent (a.k.a. Towpath Ranger on Twitter) and Rosie Tharp of the Canal & River Trust.  They presented a shocking number about the speed that people cycle on the towpath.  Although the data was collected in Kensington & Chelsea, there is no reason to believe that speeds in Camden, Islington & Hackney are  substantially lower.  The 85th percentile speed is 13.8 mph. The equivalent number for London Fields bike path is 13.4 mph.  In other words, people are riding along the canal towpath, which is narrower by roughly half for large stretches, has pinch-points under the bridges, isn’t segregated, and has a body of water on one side, faster than they do in London Fields which is straight, smooth and segregated.  This is obvious completely wrong, and needs to stop.  I personally do not understand why anyone would want to cycle that fast in a space which so inappropriate for any kind of speed.

Dick Vincent said that it’s an inditement indictment of the state of the roads that people prefer to use the canal, but I think the resurfacing work, which has made the tow-path safer, has probably encouraged higher speeds as well.  The CRT have no intention of banning bikes, but clearly people are riding too fast along the towpath.  Developing a parallel network which is as convenient and safe as the towpath is clearly one answer, but the big problem is intersections with main roads.  If you use the canal, you don’t have to stop at the main roads, whereas I imagine that any parallel route would not be given priority at Kingsland Road or Queensbridge Road, to give examples in Hackney.

In the short term, behaviour has to change, though, as the speeds recorded are far too fast.  If you want to ride at more than 10 mph, you should really be using the road, not a narrow shared space that has a body of water running along side it.

Probably the presentation that I enjoyed the most was entitled ‘Principles of Permeability’, presented by Tyler Linton.  It was designed to show what Hackney has done, and should have been retitled ‘Bollard Porn’.  It was just one shiny bollard after another, which was somehow strangely calming and relaxing.  Maybe that was just me, though.

At the top of the show was Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney.  Hackney Council deserves praise for its approach, which, even if it is not pro-cycling as some would like, is unquestionably pro-people, particularly those people that do not have access to a private motor vehicle.  Jules Pipe’s speech, in my opinion, was not Hackney Council’s finest hour for one reason only.  The target, published elsewhere as well, given for cycling modal share in 2030/31 is 15%, or just over double the 2013/14 target, which is 7%.  Call me impatient, call me unreasonable but I think that is PUNY.  This target is easily achievable, but surely Hackney should be a lot more ambitious, and going for 25% at least?

And I’m going to end there.  There was a lot of great stuff at the conference, and these events are inspiring, but there still remains a lot to be done, if a place like Hackney believes that it needs 16 years to double cycling rates in the borough.

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5 comments
  1. Andrea said:

    The stretch of Regent’s Canal in Kensington and Chelsea (i.e. from Harrow Road, West) cannot be compared with the one in Hackney: the former has no narrow bridges, is wider and has far fewer people walking.

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    • People have been posting average speeds of 20+ mph on a section of the canal in Mile End. Strava.

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  2. michael said:

    Only used the tow path once – I certainly didn’t race it, but found it too clogged with pedestrians to be worth the bother so found a (shorter) route along roads.

    Why not just fill in the canal and turn that into a dedicated cycle path, leaving the tow path to pedestrians! Do we really need a canal? Boats must have an even lower modal share of trips than bikes do. Perhaps fill in long stretches of it and put up signs saying ‘boatists disboard and carry boat’.

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    • Best. Suggestion. EVER.

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  3. Simon said:

    People do go too fast on the towpath (I cycle it every day). If I were a pedestrian I’d be scared and annoyed when people whizz past without ringing a bell. There should be clear signs indicating that pedestrians have priority, and you should ring your bell when overtaking one. I’d be all in favour of saying you can only use the towpath if you’ve got a bell.

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