Will Camden deliver the UK's best urban planning scheme (with HUGE benefits for cyclists)? 48hrs to tell them to DO IT!

Back in June we explored Camden Council's exciting plans to improve the Tottenham Court Road area with their West End Project.  The plans for cyclists have been made better following the public consultation. Now it is time for Camden's Cabinet to make a decision on what is ostensibly the boldest urban realm scheme proposed by a local authority in Britain today.  But not everyone is happy about the scheme, which is why it is important we tell them to "Just do it!".

Tottenham Court Road will become a primarily pedestrian route, with safer and easier crossing of the road, 20mph speeds and bus priority.  Cycle-specific provision will be supplied on parallel Gower Street.

So, what are the plans? Some £26million pounds will be spent removing the one-way gyratory which currently ensures speeds are much too high on Tottenham Court Road and condemns Gower Street (which should be one of London's finest Regency-era streets) to exist only as a traffic sewer filled with three lanes of buses and speeding vehicles. The area is currently described as one of the worst in the borough for collisions, with 259 casualties in total in the last three years, of which 36% involved pedestrians and 27% involved cyclists. 

You can view the amended plans in full here.

Some would argue that we could save a lot of money leaving the roads exactly as they are today, but in a few years Tottenham Court Road Crossrail station will open, flooding the area with pedestrians.  We should not underestimate the effect this will have; the new rail line will add 10% capacity to the entire London Underground network.  By 2018 Tottenham Court Road train station will be used by 200,000 passengers a day, rising to 306,000 a day by 2026 according to latest predictions.  Some 38,000 people an hour will use the station during week day peaks.

 The new pedestrian plaza proposed around Tottenham Court Road station.

It was for this reason that I explained why I thought it would be a bad idea to keep the one way system whilst running a two-way cycle path up Tottenham Court Road, a suggestion proposed by other campaigners.  I felt then, and still believe today, that at TCR's narrowest point there would be so many pedestrians in the area that the track would be swamped, rendering it useless.

Instead, I encouraged readers to support the principles of the plan and to push for more space for cycling on Gower Street, where Camden had proposed 1.5m bike lanes in each direction, separated from the main carriageway by using rubber armadillos.  The good news is that Camden have listened, showing why it is so important people respond to consultations.  They've found more space by planning to build Copenhagen-style stepped cycle tracks instead of using armadillos, which will be wider; between 1.75m and 2m wide in each direction.  Where loading bays overlap with the stepped cycle tracks and cyclists will have to re-join the carriageway, exposure will be limited by introducing a timed delivery control scheme so that the loading bays are only occupied outside of the busiest times.  This is not perfect, but I think reasonable, and still an improvement on cycling provision on Gower Street at present.

Gower Street in its current form: "beautiful bones, terrible skin".

The latest plans also include a trial to improve conditions for cyclists on the hugely popular and over-subscribed two-way Torrington Place cycle track.  By making the adjacent road one-way for vehicles (vehicular access is still necessary to allow taxis to reach Euston Station) there will be room for wide separated cycle tracks on each side of the road on this key route, which currently carries over 1,000 cyclists an hour.

In total, the West End Project will provide some 4km of separated cycle paths, will increase bus priority for passengers on Tottenham Court Road, will improve the public realm on both Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street, and also make room for significant new public space - including the first new park to be built in the West End in over a century.  It will also allow two-way cycling on an additional 15 streets in the area.  

I've looked at the proposals wearing two hats; that of a cyclist and that of a Londoner who often comes to this area by tube and walks.  I believe that this scheme is the best for everyone, is exceptionally bold for a local authority, and deserves our support.

Not everyone in London feels the same way.  In order to provide priority to buses and to keep traffic levels low on Tottenham Court Road, taxi drivers will only be able to access sections of the road by traversing it from east to west - they will no longer be able to drive "up and down" the full length of the road from Monday to Saturday during the daytime.  Over 50 people responded to the consultation complaining about this element of the plans.  Others claimed that the plans went too far for cyclists who should not be prioritised over other road users.  A number of respondents questioned whether cyclists "deserved" Camden's attention due to our perceived poor behaviour on the roads.

I don't think the plans are perfect, but London is not a perfect city by any stretch of the imagination, and I can appreciate just how complex the needs of differing road users in this area are.  I'm also aware that these plans have taken about a decade to get this far, and as we discussed in my latest post there is a "policy lag" between the aspirations of cycle campaigners then and now.  I don't think the proposals for Gower Street do enough to protect cyclists at junctions.  Camden's Cabinet won't be looking at details but instead making a "stop" or "go" decision on the plans.  With the money secured, the opening of Crossrail approaching and workable plans ready to go, now is not the time for us to tell Camden to go back to the drawing board.

The current plans for Gower Street around the UCL - nice tracks, but could do better at junctions.

Those who are disgruntled with the plans will be writing to the committee and making deputations at the planning meeting on Wednesday, which is why we need to ensure that supportive voices are heard.

Some influential local residents and a number of taxi drivers plan to speak at Wednesday's Cabinet meeting, which takes place at the Council Chamber on Judd Street at 7PM.  If you would like to speak at the Planning Committee meeting you must request to do so 48 hours before so by emailing the Cabinet Services coordinator

In the meantime if you want to see this scheme go ahead, I would encourage you to email the Cabinet before noon on Wednesday making the following points:
  • The principles of the plan are ambitious and should be applauded.  Camden should be proud for leading amongst other London boroughs in aiming to create a safe and attractive urban realm, most especially for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • The timed exclusion of taxis on Tottenham Court Road is essential to ensuring the area has sufficiently low traffic volumes to be reasonably safe for pedestrians and for cyclists.  It is important to distinguish that taxis can still make kerb-side drop offs on TCR, but will be restricted from traversing the full length of the road.  Without this timed control, TCR will become like another Oxford Street with traffic volumes increasing by 24%, which would compromise the fundamental principles of the plan.
  • The timed loading control scheme proposed for the area must be implemented in full to ensure the cycle tracks on Gower Street which intersect with loading bays do not make the road more, rather than less, dangerous for cyclists.
  • The trial scheme for Torrington Place is much needed and well overdue to relieve dangerous over-crowding on the Torrington Place cycle track, and will help to ensure many more people are able to switch to making safe cycle journeys.
  • The increased space for cycling that has been found by using stepped tracks instead of "armadillo separators" on Gower Street is welcome, however there must be more focus on providing safe navigation through junctions for cyclists on the route to ensure maximum safety and comfort.
  • The Cabinet should vote for "Option 1" and proceed with their plans promptly.
Please send your emails of support to the Cabinet at the following addresses:

Councillor Sarah Hayward 
Councillor Theo Blackwell  
Councillor Patricia Callaghan  
Councillor Julian Fullbrook 
Councillor Abdul Hai 
Councillor Angela Mason  
Councillor Phil Jones  
Councillor Sally Gimson 
Councillor Georgia Gould  
Councillor Jonathan Simpson  

Responses to the consultation written by people like you and I have already seen massive improvements in the plans in the shape of the Torrington Place trial and the stepped cycle tracks on Gower Street.  Now it is time we see this key plan for unlocking the West End through to delivery. Please write today! 

*This article was edited at 10.30PM on Tuesday 20th January as the window in which to contact the cabinet had passed.  In order to protect them from spam, I have removed the email addresses of the Cabinet Councillors.  The rest of this article remains for our archive.

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Unknown said...

I'm assuming you did not see or read the professional drivers report on the consultation.Perhaps you can tell me how private hire picks up disabled or elderly passengers or indeed the ill from the many hospitals in the area.Where in your mind do working vehicles go with these stupid plans other than already over congested roads and lastly do you think that the racing Rider will use the cycle highway or the road space for vehicular traffic which will be smaller when they are riding faster than the majority of law abiding riders.Do you think this will cause more accidents.Importantly too what are Camdens projections for extra emissions in the area or are they just passing the buck to Westminster.

ibikelondon said...

Hello Simon,

As a minicab driver I can understand your concerns. I have read the Professional Drivers report on the consultation, but I do not agree with much of what it says. I note that the majority of consultation responses were supportive.

You will not be banned from picking up directly from hospitals in the area - you will be able to access those buildings in much the same way as you do now.

On Gower Street, you will see that stepped tracks are now being used instead of armadillos. This means that the curb line will be higher, making it easier for people in wheelchairs to get in and out of cars. If you need to pick someone up who is in a wheelchair, you pull up alongside the kerbed cycle track - you will find that people will stop and let you do your thing. Cyclists are not total monsters!

I expect fast and slow cyclists will want to use the cycle tracks on Gower Street as they will provide a more comfortable alternative to what is there now. If a few also wish to use the carriageway because they are so fast, this will be no different to what you contend with now and indeed if they are so fast they will probably be going faster than you anyway.

Regarding emissions, excluding general traffic from Tottenham Court Road will reduce emissions on it. Considering it frequently exceeds its NOX2 emission levels, this is a good thing.

Lastly, please note that this post does not refer to the Cycle Superhighways, which is a Transport for London scheme - the West End Project is a Camden Council initiative.

Anonymous said...

I am not convinced by the light segregation proposed for Gower Street. My experience from the same infrastructure on Royal College street is that it is fine during rush hour but when I work early or late shifts the lanes are often blocked by parked vehicles. And that is ignoring the fact that most of the planters have been damaged, three are missing from outside the Prince Albert pub and have been since November.
Let's have proper segregation, like the lane that used to run down Royal College street.

ibikelondon said...

Hi BillG, I'm not a massive fan of the planters on Royal College Street either, though I suppose they are effective in putting in quick and cheap solutions.

The segregation on Gower Street will not be like Royal College Street but will be stepped cycle tracks like you'd find in most of Denmark or on Old Shoreham Rd in Sussex.

Anonymous said...

Jumping kerbs on and off a cycle track to get around an obstacle isn't so safe, particularly on a bike loaded with shopping, or children.There's a real risk of falling off into traffic. I'm very surprised you're supporting this.

Anony Ms

David Arditti said...

The inclusion of a loading bay in a cycle track drives a coach and horses through the whole concept of dedicated cycle infrastructure. I can't see how anyone interested in inclusive cycling can support this.

Additionally, you again lay great stress on this flood of pedestrians that is going to be produced by the Crossrail station. No-one has yet been able to explain to me how the creation of an entirely new southbound motor route for general traffic during the evenings and at weekends right through St Giles Circus is consistent with providing for these pedestrians. This point has consistently been evaded in all discussions I have had with promoters and supporters of this scheme. The existence of these extra pedestrians seems therefore to be being exploited arbitrarily in the arguments against cycle infrastructure but not against motor traffic lanes. It seems cycling is again being relegated to the bottom of the pile in Tottenham Court Road. I don't think cycle campaigners should support these plans.

ibikelondon said...

Hi @Anony Ms, thanks for your comment.

Just like you I do not think that the stepped cycle track with the loading bay in it is an optimal solution. I would much rather see it outside of the cycle track completely, and hope in the future there may be room for flexibility and getting this element of the scheme altered.

However, I understand from talking to Camden that the stepped track will be ramped at the loading bay, allowing bikes (especially cargo bikes or bikes with heavy loads) to transit on and off the track safely. This would be similar to passing around a parked vehicle at present; not something I like doing but workable. I also think Camden have taken a sensible approach to creating a loading control scheme (something which is streets ahead of most other boroughs) which will ensure that at the busiest times when there are the most cyclists using the track the loading bays will not be parked in.

I don't think this solution is perfect, but at this very late stage in proceedings I think it is workable and workable enough to get built. I don't like all of the elements of the plan, but I am trying to be pragmatic in the face of a fair amount of opposition to ANY cycle improvements.

ibikelondon said...

Hello @David
Regarding the loading bay, I don't disagree that it is far from perfect, as highlighted in my comment above. But do I think not supporting these plans at all is a wise move? No.

The "flood", as you put it, of pedestrians is coming, and there is no amount of cycle campaigning which will stop it. As I highlight above, retaining your preferred one way option and installing a two way cycle track has its own problems. 2-way tracks have their own issues as you know, and your proposal would lead to less space for pedestrians leading to a higher likelihood of pedestrians filling the cycle track, rendering it unusable.

I do not agree with your argument that returning the street to two-way will not be beneficial for pedestrians. You only need to try and cross Gower Street in its current fast moving form to know that slower speeds with two way working and narrower carriageways will be much better for those on foot.

I can sense your frustration with the project and the processes behind it, but on this occasion I am afraid we disagree.

Andrea said...

Can you please explain:
1. How is someone cycling South on Gower meant to turn right, say into Torrington Place? The Copenhagen turn is pretty much unknown in this country; how are people supposed to understand that that is what they are meant to do?
2. I don't see the protected lane on Torrington Place, East of Gower; is that an omission in the drawing, or I have not understood well?
3. Why are there ASLs on Gower going North at University St and Grafton Way? Indeed why are there ASLs going South? Is that for the more confident cyclists? Is Camden still married for this double provision rubbish?
4. Does the Northbound cycle track disappear after Grafton Way?

David Arditti said...

Thanks Mark for your reply.

This is an important point: "Your proposal would lead to less space for pedestrians leading to a higher likelihood of pedestrians filling the cycle track, rendering it unusable."

I really don't see how this follows. Camden's proposal is for two lanes of motor traffic here. My proposal is for only one lane. it is surely clear that a two-way cycle track could be fitted into the same space as one of these lanes. Alternatively, two slightly substandard mandatory cycle lanes or stepped tracks could be fitted in, if we went for wide mono-directional segregated tracks for the rest of the road. The quality of provision possible on this short section where the width is restricted should not place the limit on the quality of provision for the rest of the very wide TCR, in my view.

The ramped 'solution' to the loading bay issue on Gower Street is not merely 'not ideal', it sets a terrible precedent. in my view cycle routes need to work to the same standard 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the only route to reliable, inclusive cycling conditions.

I actually think no provision on Gower Street would be preferable to such a nasty compromise, ejecting cyclists into a heavy stream of traffic in an odd way surprising other road-users.

Without the bay, we would probably get some illegal stopping and loading on the track – you see this sometimes in the NL and Denmark, but typically the track doesn't get totally blocked. The bay will convey the idea to drivers that it's a sensible idea to park right across the track. It will completely undermine it.

Anonymous said...

On the loading bay issue, surely it makes more sense to put this in the road (even if this involves widening the road slightly and narrowing pavement and bike tracks for a short distance)? It's a wide two way road. Cars have space to drive around parked cars. Bikes don't.

Anony Ms

Anonymous said...

Also, should point out that it won't be at all like passing a parked vehicle. When you do this you pull out well beforehand, at a safe point of your own choosing, not where someone has kindly left a ramp. This is more like pulling out of a side road. Stop, wait for a gap in the traffic. Etc.

Anony ms

ibikelondon said...

I think it is worth reminding ourselves what tomorrow's Cabinet meeting is about: it is about voting for - in the face of some fairly vocal opposition - a costed, fully planned, workable scheme for Camden. Unfortunately David, your proposal is not even on the table, so we might as well save our breath.

As I have explained in my post above, I *don't* think the plans are perfect. But what I think is easier and more realistic is this: campaigning for the scheme to be built, and then campaigning for the problematic parts to be fixed, rather than campaigning for an entirely new scheme to be conjured up.

That's my campaigning approach on this project, and I'm sorry if you think that is less pragmatic and realistic than telling Camden to shove off.

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