grinding down the barriers to cycling

Sunday April 27th found the junction of Broad Lane and Tottenham High Road bustling with men in fluorescent pyjamas.

A couple of years, ago on arrival in my new neighbourhood, I noted that the local the junction of St.Annes, Hermitage and North Grove…

…local junction was ripe for a redesign.
Imagine the surprise – on Monday 28th April 2014 – to find a gap cut neatly in the guard-rails blocking the southern end of North Grove?

 The footway is already designated ‘shared use’, and level with the carriageway, so riding deferentially across it is now easy and legal; happy days.

I don’t know who undertook the small but important task making the northern arm of the junction permeable for cycle-traffic? Despite some big talk in the comments of a previous post, suggesting guerrilla action…

…it seems most likely – and most optimistic – that this small step, toward bicycle paradise was undertaken by contractors working under instruction of the London Borough of Haringey.

I’ve sent a note of congratulation to the council member for that ward, who also happens to be the ‘cycling champion‘ for the LBHaringey. Acknowledging good work is always polite and politic.

This is not the only good news from N15. The small hours of Sunday April 27th found the junction of Broad Lane and Tottenham High Road bustling with men in fluorescent pyjamas. Helpfully these industrious munchkins had fired up a portable LED matrix to inform passers-by what they were up to.

I thought about hanging around to become the first person through when they moved the cones, but my bed was calling, so – in traditional random push-bike style – contented myself with being one of the last naughty riders to go East on Broad Lane illegally.
Transport for London – who administer these trunk roads – have allowed their contractors a long time to return the roads of the Tottenham Hale one-way system to a default setting. This is customary. Works that involve changing the highway pattern almost always drag on for months and years, even though it’s possible – when deemed necessary – to make extensive changes at very short notice. Older readers may remember the famous ‘ring of Lego‘ that went in – pretty much overnight – twentysome years ago in response to Irish Republican bombs in The City of London.
There’s a conspiracy theory that suggests works like these are deliberately allowed to drag on for months so that anyone disadvantaged by the changes forgets what it was like before the prolonged digging and re-jigging started. The theory suggests that, if the works last long enough, relief when they do finally end will be enough to obliterate any nostalgia for the old system; that months of cones, congestion and temporary traffic lights will obscure the difference between the past and the future. Blurring this distinction also inhibits those who much prefer the new arrangements from demanding more civilisation. When people notice change it reminds them that how things are is not how they’ve always been, and not how they always have to be. For clock-watching traffic engineers that may smell like trouble.
Conspiracy theories are always over-optimistic – they contain the idea that somebody somewhere knows what they’re doing – but they can be a useful tool of analysis. With their unenviable task, resolving conflicting demands and aspirations within finite space and green-time, it’s not really surprising if highway engineers, planners and politicians endeavour to keep the focus on technicalities. How, and for whose benefit, we organise our public space is a political question, but it suits those who plan, build, maintain and administer our highways if this truth remains obscure.

How streets are laid out, how people are encouraged to use them can be treated as a technical problem with solutions. It’s also useful to think of it as a political contest with winners and losers.

The excellent ‘space for cycling’ campaign is currently releasing lots of energy. Enabling many people to make small efforts is more productive than stakhanovite labours by a few. If you haven’t yet taken the time to fill in the boxes and alert your local candidates do it now. It only takes a couple of minutes.

I have a small quibble with ‘space for cycling’ as a slogan. Does it reinforce the popular misconception of cycling as a problem, yet another demand on public space? As arguments against engineering the World to accommodate and encourage motor-dependence become better understood and more popular there’s a reactionary tendency to see cycle-traffic as another interest group at odds with ‘motorists’, or ‘pedestrians’, or ‘bus passengers’.

On roads subject to motor-traffic congestion – in urban and suburban Britain that currently means pretty much all roads – cycle-traffic produces space. When you’re riding along and somebody with a potentially higher speed is being momentarily delayed by your presence – when you’re presence is producing a convergence between their maximum speed and their average speed –  you’re releasing capacity. Bursts of speed waste space.

If you want to travel by bike gyratory systems are a nuisance.

They mean you have to…

  • …travel further
  • …deal with junctions with more lanes and higher traffic speeds.
  • They encourage the operators of motor-vehicles to go faster and take less care.
  • They make navigation more difficult.

Research showing busy one-way roads, roads carrying heavy flows of motor-traffic, are less convivial places to live dates back to the 1970s.

Getting rid of one-way streets…

  • …is good for residents and traders.
  • …means finding bus stops is simple.
  • …is good for bus passengers.
  • …make it easier to cross roads on foot.
  • …is good for local motor-traffic.

Getting rid of one-way systems is good for everybody except the people who manifest as through-motor-traffic, who contribute nothing to the local environment and economy but noise, severance and toxic polution.

Cycle-traffic is not another dish on the menu it’s the mainstay of a whole new cuisine. Building broad alliances against one-way operation marginalises those still clinging to the unrealisable fantasy of universal personal mobility via motor cars.

It’s too early to assess the value of the new two-way Broad Lane, it will take six months for things to settle down and folk to get used to it. It used to have three traffic lanes in one direction, now it has one in each. The 20 mph speed limit is unenforced except by fat grandads on bikes who don’t mind being used as traffic calming. However when I was spinning along it yesternight I had to ring my bell at a young fellow crossing the road while reading his smart phone.

Happy Days.