Thursday 4 June 2015

Around London, a review of the Cambridge Junction proposals in Westminster

Westminster Council are consulting on changes to the Cambridge Circus junction, where Charing Cross Road meets Shaftesbury Avenue. An MCC member takes a closer look at the proposals

First of all, the practice of redesigning isolated junctions is inherently hostile to cycling. In the absence of a plan for cycling that covers the West End, it is difficult to say how changes to this junction will affect cycling. However it is possible to say that encouraging cycling will benefit pedestrians, by encouraging modal shift away from motor traffic.There are many pedestrians who would like to cycle but are put off by the road danger they witness. If the West End were more cycle-permeable, a lot of cyclists would likely avoid this junction. The point being - considering pedestrians and cyclists as separate groups, and treating a junction as if it were not affected by the surrounding environment - is flawed. Hopefully that will be clearly illustrated by the following comments.

There are a number of changes proposed to Cambridge Circus that affect cyclists and the effects of these are bizarre to say the least. The introduction of contraflow cycling on a couple of streets is welcome, until you consider that as proposed it achieves very close to nothing at all (more on that point later). What's more, one of the few streets in Westminster with filtered permeability - Moor Street - is being closed to cycling which is frankly indefensible. Moor Street is a clear desire line. While Charing Cross Road north from the junction will be restricted to buses and cycles only, this restriction will end at 7PM. So in the winter, in the evening, when it's dark, cyclists will be forced to duel with accelerating motor traffic in order to get to Old Compton Street, Westminster's proposed cycle route. And that's where it gets even worse. Old Compton Street is a tight left turn so cyclists will need to slow considerably to make the turn, and at the turn the road is narrowed by a pedestrian refuge.Note there is no traffic calming or 20 MPH speed limit, so the potential for conflict between motor traffic and cycles at this point is considerable. There is a very clear case for introducing segregation along this stretch - and there is enough roadspace to do so.

Now let us get back to the two streets that will have contraflow cycling added. The problem is that the contraflows are very short and terminate in one-way restrictions. Specifically, Litchfield Street is impossible to access from its eastern end from any route except going south down West Street. Opening up some reasonable routes that connect with Litchfield Street would not be difficult or expensive to do.

Similarly, Old Compton Street is only proposed to be 2-way to Greek Street, at which point you are forced to make a left turn back down to Shaftesbury Avenue. Why stop the 2-way cycling at Greek Street? In point of fact there is no need for a contraflow cycle lane here, only for "Except Cycles" to be added to no-entry signs and one-way signs in a couple of places. The City of London and Camden (as well as most of Europe) have been doing this for years with streets that are a lot narrower. It is difficult to think of any possible justification - economic, safety or otherwise - for failing to open current one-way streets for 2-way cycling - except if the intent is to prolong the misery and frustration of cyclists for as long as possible.

The fundamental problem in this area is that cyclists end up caught up in the Kafkaesque maze of one-way and no-entry restrictions that are primarily intended to limit motor traffic rat-running. The effect of this is that even lifelong Londoners with a good knowledge of central London find it difficult to navigate in this area. Goodness knows what tourists who rent a 'Boris Bike' make of it.

All this speaks to the first point above: the lack of alternative routes forces cyclists to use the Cambridge Circus junction. So in trying to improve the junction for all, it would make a lot of sense to open up the alternatives so cyclists can avoid the junction in the first place.

Having established that these changes do nothing to make it easier to avoid the junction, and may actually make it more difficult, let us now consider the Cambridge Circus junction itself.

You will note there is no attempt whatsoever to build a junction that aspires to Continental standards in terms of accommodating cyclists. There is no segregation, no cycle lanes of any description, in fact nothing whatsoever bar advance stop boxes, which are seriously compromised by having no lead-in lane. It is worth noting that there is a considerable amount of existing cycle traffic despite the hostile nature of the existing junction and connecting streets. This failure to safely accommodate cyclists surely is not acceptable given Westminster's current poor safety record.

There are advance stop boxes on all 4 roads entering the junction, but there is no way to safely access them. It is as if the general theme of impermeability is taken to its logical conclusion. The new danger that is introduced by the proposed design is that motor traffic northbound on Charing Cross Road must now turn left or right at the junction. This presents a serious 'left-hook' risk for cyclists attempting to go straight on. A clear danger is that with the change, drivers may fail to indicate left, reach the junction and then realize they must turn left, and in doing so cut up any cyclists on their left.

The bus and cycle-only restriction on Charing Cross Road leading northbound out of the junction only operates between 8am and 7pm. Given that the worst West End traffic is often in the evening, this seems strange. Cycle traffic doesn't start at 8am or end at 7pm, and complex restrictions like this make route planning difficult for cyclists who wish to avoid busy roads.

Lastly, it is worth noting that this junction and the roads it connects are among the most polluted in the capital. Many cyclists wish to avoid the polluted main roads, yet as noted above, they are prevented from doing so.

In conclusion, Westminster's proposed scheme will result in this junction remaining hostile for cycling, and the scheme fails to open up alternatives. The scheme actually reduces permeability and introduces new safety problems.

The City of Westminster provide details of the project here:
A consultation leaflet is also available:
The Westminster Cycling Campaign, can be visited here: