Why Kings Cross plans shows Transport for London MUST try harder

There isn't a cyclist in London who would describe riding around Kings Cross as a pleasurable experience.  The scene of numerous collisions, it's a mini-gyratory where the heaving traffic of the A501 north circular is squeezed round the smaller roads surrounding Kings Cross station.  Harried passengers dash for space, taxi drivers chase fares blasting their horns, buses splutter and fume as construction traffic roars through, heading for the massive redevelopment area behind the station.  It's long overdue for an overhaul and safety improvements, but plans from Transport for London fall far short of providing safe space for cycling.

A ghost bike at the sport where Min Joo Lee was killed.

It was here in 2011 that 24 year old student Min Joo Lee was struck and killed by a construction lorry whilst riding to college, in front of horrified rush hour onlookers.  Three female cyclists - Madeleine Rosie Wright, 27, Wendy Gray, 42, and Min Joo Lee, 24, were all killed by lorries within a few hundred metres of one another over the space of 5 years on this stretch of the A501.  A 4th cyclists, Emma Foa, was killed by a left turning cement mixer just up the road in 2006.  All of these deaths share similar tragically predictable elements; a lack of safe space for cyclists interacting with very large vehicles, whose drivers are unable to see vulnerable road users all around them.

Last year, at an inquest in to Min Joo Lee's death, the Coroner heard how a report commissioned by TfL in 2007 described future casualties on this site as "inevitable".  In another report, transport engineers Colin Buchanan noted that cyclists made up 20% of casualties on the site but specifically excluded pedal cyclists from their modelling of the junction at the request from Transport for London, in order to assure the smooth flow of traffic.

Speaking in 2011 and referring specifically to the death of Min Joo Lee, TfL's Leon Daniels said "Any fatal road collision is one too many. The Mayor and TfL will work night and day to reduce that number."

 TfL's plans - hardly exemplary

But the latest plans for the Kings Cross area fall far short of being either safe or inviting for cyclists.

Dribbling a chain of minor improvements in to the existing roads, TfL's plans do include some wider and mandatory cycle lanes, and a little protected space.  However, there is much more which is wrong with their ideas.  This is where their proposed "north - south" cycle superhighway will intersect with the North Circular, bringing thousands of additional riders to the area, yet there are no protected cycle lanes or safe passage through the junction in every direction.  There's also considerable risk of left or right "hooks" from turning vehicles - especially lorries - risking repeat deaths like those of the cyclists who have already been killed there.  Their plans also include putting cyclists on pavements (rather than ceding any road space to them) in some of the busiest pedestrian space in central London, yet the entire surface of all the carriageways in the redevelopment area will be resurfaced - all on the back of the cycling budget.  That is to say, you might find yourself on a terrible pavement cycle lane soon, whilst motorists glide smoothly past on beautiful new tarmac paid for with money set aside to supposedly make you safer.  

You couldn't make it up.  As London Cycling Campaign point out "it will not possible to go through the junction in any direction without being exposed to unacceptable levels of danger. Some sections do not even meet the old cycle design standards set out a decade ago."  Indeed, Twitter has been awash with reports of how a 17 year old Sixth Form student from Kent has done a better job than TfL's engineers with his own proposals for Kings Cross (follow @maidstoneonbike, check out his plans, and maybe chuck him a few quid for his RideLondon plans to say "Chapeau!")

The consultation on these "improvements" closes today (Monday 24th March) and the LCC are encouraging everyone to write to TfL to tell them to go back to the drawing board.  I'd urge you to do the same, even if you miss the consultation deadline by a few hours.  Maybe then the people whose job it is to design streets that are supposed to keep us safe will be made aware of just how badly they are failing.

I think the designs at Kings Cross open wider and more worrying questions about the pace of the Mayor's so-called cycling revolution programme.  We've all been enticed by the images of protected cycle lanes and the mock ups of cycle tracks yet to be built, but when it comes to proposing actual work this is what we are met with.  The plans for Kings Cross are so bad at first I assumed the 1st of April had come early, but the safety of riders in this area is no laughing matter.  It's time for Transport for London to start listening to the Cycling Commissioner, and to cyclists themselves, and to start proposing plans that really make a difference.  

Click here to go to the Transport for London King's Cross consultation page.

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David Hembrow said...

It's disappointing isn't it. They've come up with a design for cycling around Kings Cross which is actually worse than the design of the most dangerous junction in the Netherlands, a gyratory in Groningen which is long overdue for renewal.

Instead of learning from mistakes made elsewhere and avoiding the problems created, London is seeking to repeat mistakes, and indeed to make worse mistakes.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks for your comment David, and the link to the "dangerous" junction in Groningen. Just goes to show how far we have to go to match our reality on the ground against all of the hype.

Jamie @ Moving to London said...

It's definitely sad to realize how dangerous this corner is and that it seems like there's nothing that can be done about it. I'm hoping and praying that no more blood will be shed here. Also, it's not good for bikers around London to get this kind of news. We ought to encourage bikers in order to lessen pollution around the city.

Anonymous said...

In London, the motorist comes first, he/she always has and always will. They pollute the air we ALL breath, they kill and seriously injure others and they burn up the planets natuaral resources yet somehow TfL can't seem to get enough of them.

Dave H said...

Emma Foa was the second cyclist killed by a left turning truck at Camley Street/Goodsway. I suspect your figures would show an even worse situation if you looked at the junction and its approaches - for example the deaths on Pentonville Road/Rise.

I use the junction regularly and note that the lane widths are seriously sub standard, although 2 lanes feed the stop line at Grays Inn Road-York Way you'll only manage to get 2 cars side by side, and immediately they enter York Way there is a 'negotiation' for priority in the dingle lane available.

The TfL proposals are crap and clearly have not even observed cyclist and pedestrian behaviour in this area. I'll make some notes if I get time.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous "In London, the motorist comes first, he/she always has and always will."

The last part of that statement isnt true. Vehicular traffic will not ALWAYS take priority as long as most of the upper management of the Surface Traffic department within TfL are sacked.

They have a mantra that nothing must affect traffic flow, they use models that blatantly do not work as they do not predict correctly issues that might arise, yet continuously refuse to abandon them and seek out new ones.

The mayor is a damp squib as he refuses to deal with pollution because he can only deal with broad concepts, not details.

If people in London want a liveable city then forget thinking asking nicely is going to get you jacksh!t.

We experienced that with Blackfriars Bridge, we've experienced it for years with asking for better cycling provisions.

The only way you're going to get better provisions and a liveable city is to stop asking for it, start demanding it and back it with direct action: shut down dangerous junctions, block major arterial roads, close down the worst polluted areas.

Anonymous said...

"The only way you're going to get better provisions and a liveable city is to stop asking for it, start demanding it and back it with direct action: shut down dangerous junctions, block major arterial roads, close down the worst polluted areas."

I totally agree with you but the problem is we're British and we don't do that sort of thing and TfL know this. So I guess we just have to accept that when we're riding out bikes in London that we're second class citizens and get used to it.

Good jobs 'cyclism' isn't a race or religion eh? I'm sure the outcome would be very different if it was.

ibikelondon said...

Thank you for taking the time to comment all. I agree with David that these latest plans from TfL are indeed shocking, especially when it feels like we have made progress with the rhetoric - clearly the design knowledge and will lags behind.

Regarding protesting again and again, unfortunately we work in a cynical central London environment. There are only so many times you can hold up a junction with a protest and expect London's media to turn up. Without them, no one hears about your action and the Mayor and TfL can dismiss you outright. It really is a question of the message having to come from as many people as possible....

Lastly, I like the last anonymous commentator's remark about "cyclist" vs other types of prejudice. We touched on this subject in 2011 with this post about what the gay rights movement could teach cycling. I hope you'll find it interesting: http://ibikelondon.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/bike-pride-or-what-gay-rights-movement.html

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