The City of London is busy tearing up bike lanes in the Barbican tunnel to re-introduce a problem they recently fixed; have they got cycling amnesia?

The City of London are currently busy digging up one of the busiest bike routes in the Square Mile, but not to improve conditions for cyclists.

The Beech Street tunnel runs beneath the Barbican estate, connecting Finsbury Square in the east with Smithfield Market in the west. 

Until recently the westbound cycle lane stopped short of the western junction, when the carriageway split from one lane to two.  This resulted in cyclists being pinched and almost inevitably a considerable number of cyclists mounted the pavement to get ahead of stationary traffic and large vehicles waiting at the lights.  This in turn led to problems between cyclists and local residents on foot, so much so that the City of London spent a considerable sum reconfiguring the western end from two lanes of traffic to one, and creating a wide cycle lane that brings cyclists safely all the way up to the junction, where an Advanced Stop Line allows them to get ahead of traffic pulling away or turning.  (There's a great video on Youtube showing the problem before, and the solution after.)

The improved west bound carriageway, continuous cycle lane and bike box. Problem solved.

The fact that the City spent so much time, money and effort reconfiguring the western end of the tunnel two years ago, makes what they are now doing at the eastern end even more mind boggling.

See the full plans for Beech Street and Silk Street here (Opens in PDF)

The eastbound cycle lane used to run all the way through the tunnel, becoming zig zags just before the pedestrian crossing and junction with Whitecross Street. Motorised traffic often stacks up here - especially at peak times - because the pedestrian crossings are so busy.  The cycle lane got you through this safely, without having to mount the carriageway.

It's worth pointing out that in the cycle census of 2013, there were the same amount of cars and bicycles traveling westbound in the morning peak, and only a few more cars than bicycles in the evening peak (542 private cars, vs 436 bicycles)  This is also a very popular rat run for taxi drivers, with some 2316 of them traveling this route every day (compared to 1305 bicycles in total.)  Clearly, this is a popular and useful bicycle route that could benefit from the space for cyclists being enhanced, but for some inexplicable reason the City are seeking to make it worse.

The cycle lane will follow the new stone curb on the left towards the centre of the carriageway - effectively replicating the problem the City paid to elliminate at the western end of the tunnel.

In order to widen the pavement outside the Barbican cinema and to push the pedestrian crossing further east (to meet the desire line of pedestrians crossing from Whitecross Street) the pavement is being built out in to the carriageway in to the path of the cycle lane.  Cyclists will be expected to "taper" in to the carriageway, and will be expected to take the centre of the lane, from the pedestrian build out all the way past Whitecross St junction.  This may not seem so bad, it is only a few metres after all, but I can't believe money is being spent to replicate the same conditions at the eastern end of the Beech Street tunnel that the City spent money eradicating at the west end.  With traffic so often backed up here, if cyclists take the lane they will be left sitting in stationary traffic sucking on the exhaust pipe of idling taxis going nowhere fast.  In reality this simply will not happen - as was demonstrated at the western junction - cyclists will either squeeze themselves down the artificially induced tight space remaining - in close proximity to queuing traffic - or they will mount the pavement and ride along that instead.  Exactly the sort of outcome the City should be seeking to avoid.

I've written to the City asking them what they think they're playing at, and received a very polite "thank you, but we know best" note.  The project manager argued that there was already a pinch point at Whitecross Street (there is, it is a few feet, and can be navigated by getting ahead of traffic held up at the pedestrian crossing) and that the cycle lane will merge alongside the newly built out taper, which will apparently encourage other traffic to shift right to the side of the carriageway (the current existing central reservation is being removed, meaning the carriageway width will be 4m - in line with the new London Cycling Design Guidance)

I'm not convinced.  I'm not convinced the argument in favour of a few feet of extra paving outside the cinema has been shown to be more important than the needs of hundreds of cyclists who will loose safe space for cycling here.  And if the experience of Cheapside in the City of London has taught us anything, I am not convinced that narrowing the carriageway and expecting cyclists to take up the middle of the lane is anything more than wishful thinking.  And I am not convinced that the City of London is truly thinking "put cyclists first" if this is the way they go about re-designing their streets.  If anything, bicycles seem like a total after thought here.  Update at 11.55AM on 14/7/14: It seems as though the influential residents of the Barbican estate are entirely unhappy with this scheme as well, so just who exactly is it supposed to benefit?

Spot any safe space for cycling in this lot? No, me neither.  You wouldn't believe this is one of the Square Miles' busiest bike routes, the way it is being chopped about. (Pic via @HackneyCyclist on Twitter)

They could have created a simplified system of pedestrian crossings, more space for pedestrians on the south corner of Silk Street and still had enough room to create a really fantastic treatment to get cyclists safely across the Whitecross Street junction.  Instead, they're opting for some fancy paving, tapered out bicycle lanes, crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.  Once the works here are complete, I would not be surprised if cycle rates decrease, perhaps significantly.

The Beech Street / Silk Street upgrade works are just one of many being planned across the Square Mile that will have an impact on cyclists; from the Aldgate gyratory to the introduction of a trial 20mph zone and two-way cycling on key one-way routes.  The Beech Street route is part of my journey to work, but the first I knew of the plans was when they started digging the street up.  It just goes to show how important it is that as many cyclists and campaigners are involved in the street planning process as possible.

The next City of London Cycling Forum is on Thursday 31st July at 6PM in the City Marketing Suite (on the corner of Basinghall Street and the Guildhall Buildings)  An opportunity to talk informally with City Members and officers and comment on future plans will be available; I'd urge you to get involved.

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MrSheepUK said...

And let's not forget, according to the consultation a few months back, the City have proposed this as one of the few (perhaps only?) east-west quietway routes as part of the central London grid in the City.

Being required to take the lane in front of a stream of fast-moving taxis will do nothing to encourage the unconfident cyclists to use their bikes - in reality they simply won't cycle. Awful decision by the City.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks Mark, I had forgotten that this is supposed to be one of the new Quietways. Calling a space a 20mph zone and tightening up the carriageway *may* slow down the traffic, but it won't be make for a very comfortable cycling experience.

Unknown said...

Before I continue, I believe you mean Finsbury Square, not Bloomsbury Square.

ibikelondon said...

Whoops! Well spotted Kathryn, thanks for pointing that out. Typed in haste, fixed post haste.

Unknown said...

Also noticed last night that a section of the cycle lane on upper/lower (never remember which is which) approaching Tower Hill is closed off for no apparent reason. What is going on in the City of London??!

ibikelondon said...

@Kerena Bloody good question!

Dominic said...

Putting aside whether the reduction in width is necessary or not in the case of Beech Street, I would like to ask a general question about how we would ideally want this situation to be dealt with.
What is the best way of designing a road where its half width reduces from circa 5.0m to circa 3.5m, making it impossible to continue to cycle lane?

ibikelondon said...

Hi Dominic! The new London Cycle Design Standards deal with this, and say that narrowed roads should couple with slowed speeds in order to allow cyclists to take the primary position, which I think is a long way from an optimal solution especially if - regardless of speed - traffic volume numbers make this a particularly scary and unpleasant experience (see Oxford Street and the plethora of buses)

If I had my way I would discourage this sort of road narrowing from the outset. I understand the need for road narrowing to help reduce speeds, especially in places like high streets (see Cheapside) but there is more than one way to skin a cat: the 'narrow' could be achieved with a good cycle lane instead of acres of unused pavement.

Kevin Cordina said...

I was as negative as everyone at first, but I have to admit that having now ridden this route a few times it does seem to work surprisingly well. The road is still very quiet as I think most people haven't realised its re-opened, but so far the experience has been positive.

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Vr97 said...

Have you noticed that a substantial amount of people are still working from home? Wait until the schools are back and running and you will see the chockablock that this road narrowing will cause.

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