Saturday, 15 March 2014

Space for Cycling, Space for people arriving working and living in the town centre...

A bike which passed mine on my commute this morning bore the campaign sticker "space for cycling".

"Where and what could this space could be?" went through my head. A physical space and / or a psychological space? Private space, public space, personal space, political space, on the road, on the calendar, on the footway?

Besides parks and squares, the highway is the public realm, where we commune in the contemporary city. The highway in the inner city is a street, with a significant public realm function, and is made up of footways and carriageways. Generally, wheeled vehicles use the carriageway, whether moving, standing or parked, while pedestrians - including wheelchairs and people pulling or pushing wheeled luggage or trolleys - use the footways, sometimes including the curtilages of streetfront properties.

Proposals by Transport for London for Kings Cross are ostensibly intended to "improve safety for cyclists" while maintaining traffic flow. As the 'Highway Authority' for red routes, TfL Engineers can ignore the LBI/LBC Place Plan. The TfL engineering approach evident here is to segregate lane allocation for cycles, although the impact on safety and flow are not proven. Visible and politically significant 'space for cycling' is supposedly provided by these painted green lanes.

Whether this improves 'flow' or 'safety' - for each category of road user and footway user in the highway - cannot be measured because the 'flow' excludes cycles and is measured by numberplate recognition APRN (TfL Traffic Modelling Guidelines 2010 p 22), the 'safety' is dependent on 'motorist lane discipline'. The roadside cycle lane increases the lanes on the carriageway from two to three, with the (painted) 'mandatory cycle lane' forming a third narrow lane, combined with ASZs at junctions. In parts, the proposed cycle lane spaces is taken away from the footway space, cutting into the areas where pedestrians can currently informally cross the carriageway. Network Rail, managers of  the adjacent King's Cross Square have not commented.

Ultimately, additional lanes will create confusion for pedestrians arriving in the area from London's most cosmopolitan railway station complex, and will make the carriageway user lane allocations more complex, without providing demonstrable safety improvements for any road user. At a December 2013 inquiry into a fatal collision here, the coroner found no fault, suggesting "cycles and trucks do not mix", meaning that ultimately the carriageway would be dominated by the heavier commercially prioritised 'flow'. The inference by the distressed HGV driver in this collision at the inquest, was that a cycle lane may have made a difference. Truck drivers' blind spots were considered not unreasonable by police in the case, even where a cyclist may legitimately be crushed from behind if in a blind spot in front of an HGV in an advanced stop zone.

Just as pedestrian guardrail never provided protection from motorists, but prevented pedestrians from free movement onto the road, so lanes and ASZs are only as safe for cyclists pedestrians or any other carriageway user as the 'visually impaired' HGV drivers around them.

The Manual for Streets 2 (2010), the government's current guidance on the design of streets in built up and mixed use areas like King's Cross, states the principle that "pedestrians should be considered first" when "designing, building, retrofitting, maintaining, and improving" urban streets. This means walkable streets, clearly defined footways and with easy to cross carriageways of a minimum width and minimum speed. The TfL 'improvements' scheme for King's Cross contravenes this first principle, from the very first stage of the gyratory review scheme. The Highway authority could have a terrible effect on worsening our Town Centre.

Local MP Emily Thornberry will attend the supporters conference on 21 June in Kings Cross where we will look at the town centre gyratory. She recently asked the PM to intervene at Mount Pleasant where Mayor Boris Johnson is overriding the Local Authority - perhaps the same could be done for King's Cross Town Centre.

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