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The Case for Baking Bike Infrastructure Into Vision Zero Projects

Is the grass just greener? London's planned cycle superhighways. Image: Transport for London

One of the major new bikeways in the works in London. Image: Transport for London

London is surging ahead with big plans for protected bikeways that span the city. By comparison, New York’s bike plans, while moving forward incrementally, feel piecemeal. Has safe cycling infrastructure become an afterthought in the city’s Vision Zero program?

The question came up yesterday during a seminar on cycling policy hosted simultaneously in the two cities, organized by New London Architecture with the Forum and Institute for Urban Design.

“Our goal is to get more people cycling, more safely, more often,” said Sarah Burr, senior strategy and planning manager for surface transport at Transport for London. “We know we’re not going to reach the targets we have for cycling by getting existing cyclists to cycle more.”

She highlighted three initiatives in London key to improving safety and broadening the appeal of bicycling for everyday trips: “cycle superhighways” made of protected paths on major streets, “quietways” akin to bike boulevards, and “Mini-Hollands,” which are transforming three of London’s 32 boroughs into models for cycle-friendly design. To make those plans a reality, London mayor Boris Johnson has committed to tripling spending on bicycle infrastructure, to almost £1 billion over a decade.

Burr’s counterpart in New York, DOT Assistant Commissioner for Street Improvement Projects Josh Benson, gave an overview of Vision Zero, covering lower speed limits, increased enforcement, the Right of Way Law, and street redesigns. He walked through three projects, one of which included bicycle facilities.

“The impetus behind Vision Zero is looking at how we can make the most progress towards zero, and I think it’s pedestrians. Pedestrians are, unfortunately, the majority of people killed and injured in traffic,” Benson said after the event. “I think in the early stages of Vision Zero, that has to be the focus. You have to look at where the problem is most severe.”

Noting that fatality rates per mile are higher for biking than for walking, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White argued that bike infrastructure shouldn’t be compartmentalized. “It’s incumbent on us here in New York to make bike lanes much more baked-in to Vision Zero than it is now,” he said, “because for risk exposure, it’s much more dangerous to ride a bike.”

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Just in From London: Congestion Charging’s Street Safety Bonus

Figure-4-from-London-paper-by-Green-et-al.-_-10-March-2015

After London’s congestion charge took effect in 2003, traffic crashes dropped much more sharply than in other U.K. cities. “Treatment” line denotes the charging zone. Control line is weighted average of 20 other urban areas, with data normalized to match pre-2003 crash data for charging zone. Graph: “Traffic Accidents and the London Congestion Charge”

Add street safety to the list of benefits from congestion pricing. That’s the takeaway from a new “working paper” analyzing traffic crash rates in and around the London congestion charging zone by three economists associated with the Management School at Lancaster University.

Traffic Accidents and the London Congestion Charge” slices and dices the monthly changes in crash frequencies since the 2003 startup of London’s congestion charge in nearly every way imaginable: daytime vs. nighttime (the charge is in effect 7 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.); weekdays vs. weekends (no charge during the latter); within both the 8-square-mile charging zone and each of two “spillover regions” two and four kilometers outside the zone; for charged and exempt road users; for fatal and serious injury crashes and all crashes; and vis-à-vis a control group of 20 other British urban areas. (The comparison group is necessary to control for declining crash rates throughout the U.K.)

The bottom line: Traffic crashes are significantly lower with congestion charging — by as much as 40 percent within the cordon zone. Crashes are down in the spillover regions as well; they declined not only for autos and trucks but for “uncharged” vehicles like taxis, buses, motorbikes and bicycles; and the improvement registered during non-charge times as well as the hours when the congestion charge is collected.

Here are key findings:

  • Traffic crashes within the charging zone are down by approximately 400 per year, relative to ongoing trends, corresponding to a 38-40 percent decrease — a reduction several times greater than the drop in vehicle miles traveled.
  • Within both spillover zones, crashes are 13-14 percent less than in the control cities, belying fears that rerouting of journeys and/or destinations would merely relocate traffic conflict and danger to areas outside the zone.
  • Even with considerable mode-shifting from cars to bicycles, motorcycles and taxis, crash rates for “uncharged” vehicles within the zone are 12 percent below those for the same vehicle classes in the control cities.
  • Crash rates inside the zone during non-charge hours are also significantly less than in the control cities, i.e., gains in safety haven’t been confined to the 55-60 hours a week in which congestion is charged but are spread across all 168 hours per week.
  • The congestion charge has led to an estimated 46 fewer serious and fatal crashes within the charging zone each year, including 4-5 fewer fatalities per year.

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Streetsblog USA
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Outer London’s Huge Bike Plan Could Break the Cycle of Bad Suburban Transit

Kingston’s rail station would become a “major cycle hub” under London’s plan to pour tens of millions of dollars into biking improvements in three of its suburbs.

pfb logo 100x22

Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

You may have heard that London has just approved a spectacular crosstown protected bike lane. But another part of its plan has, ironically, gotten little press in the United States.

As London’s regional government begins what may be the biggest municipal bicycling investment in the history of Europe, it’s setting aside $140 million for the suburbs.

“Cycling is, I think the secret weapon of suburban sustainable transport,” says Transport for London Director of Surface Strategy and Planning Ben Plowden. “It is much more like car travel than transit is.”

It’s almost impossible to build car-lite suburbs with transit alone

In the United Kingdom as in the United States, efforts to reduce car dependence have relied mostly on the biggest tool in the shed: transit.

In London and New York, transit reigns supreme. The cities’ woven grids of bus and rail lines carry the overwhelming share of non-car trips in each city.

But in smaller cities and suburbs, transit needs help. With further to walk to each bus stop, fewer people ride. With fewer riders, buses run empty and it becomes cripplingly expensive for agencies to run them frequently. With infrequent buses, even short transit trips can take hours.

It’s a situation familiar to anyone who’s ridden transit in a U.S. suburb or small city — let alone tried to balance the budget of a suburban transit agency.

“You’re not going to have a $125 an hour bus with 43 seats coming through all these cul-de-sacs,” said David Bragdon, a former New York City sustainability chief who now runs Transit Center, a transit-focused policy nonprofit. “It just doesn’t work.”

That’s why London, working to stave off congestion as its population keeps climbing, is looking hard for better ways to improve suburban transit. And that’s what led its transport agency to the bicycle.

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Streetsblog USA
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Boris Johnson Commits to a Protected “Cycle Superhighway” Crossing London

London's "crossrail for bikes" will be the longest protected bike lane in Europe. Image: London Evening Standard

London’s “crossrail for bikes” will be the longest urban protected bike lane in Europe, according to the London papers. Image: London Evening Standard

London Mayor Boris Johnson is showing cities what it looks like to commit real resources to repurposing car lanes for high-quality bike infrastructure.

Yesterday, Johnson announced the city will begin building a wide, continuous protected bike lane linking east and west London when the weather warms this spring. When complete, it will be the longest protected “urban cycle lane” in Europe, according to Metro UK, carrying riders through the heart of the city and some of its most famous landmarks. The bike lane will be separated from vehicle traffic by a curb, London-based design blog Dezeen reports.

While bike infrastructure is cheap, London is devoting serious resources to ensuring that this bike lane is as safe, spacious, and comfortable as it can be. The central portion of the bike route, about 5.5 miles, will cost £41 to construct ($62 million).

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Streetsblog USA
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Removing Center Lines Reduced Speeding on London Streets

Traffic speeds slowed after London removed center lines. Image: Transport for London

Traffic speeds slowed after London resurfaced three streets and didn’t restore center lines, even though resurfacing alone was shown to increase average speeds. Graphic: Transport for London

On some streets, getting drivers to stop speeding might be as easy as eliminating a few stripes. That’s the finding from a new study from Transport for London [PDF].

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell about 7 miles per hour after centerlines were removed. Image: Transport for London

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell after center lines were removed. Photos: Transport for London

TfL recently examined the effect of eliminating center lines on three London streets. The agency found it slowed average driving speeds between 5 and 9 miles per hour, after taking into account the effect of resurfacing. (All three streets were also repaved, which has been shown to increase driving speeds.)

The experiment was performed last year on three 30 mph roads that had just been resurfaced, where center lines were not repainted. A fourth street was resurfaced and had its center lines painted back to serve as a control.

Researchers found that drivers slowed down on all the three streets without center lines. On Seven Sisters Road, for example, after the resurfacing, northbound speeds dropped 2.5 mph and southbound speeds fell 4.1 mph.

Those changes appear to understate the impact of removing the center lines. When TfL observed traffic on the control street, motorist speeds had increased an average of 4.5 mph. Apparently, the smoother road surface encouraged drivers to pick up the speed, making the reductions on the three other streets more impressive.

Researchers suggested that the uncertainty caused by the removal of center lines makes drivers more cautious:

A theory is that centre lines and hatching can provide a psychological sense of confidence to drivers that no vehicles will encroach on ‘their’ side of the road. There can also be a tendency for some drivers to position their vehicles close to a white line regardless of the traffic conditions, believing it is their ‘right’ to be in this position. Centre line removal introduces an element of uncertainty which is reflected in lower speeds.

When it comes to center lines, TfL notes, “most traffic engineers prescribe them by default without questioning the necessity.” London appears to be reevaluating this assumption after a 2009 directive from Mayor Boris Johnson to eliminate as much clutter from the roadways as possible.

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Citi Bike Carries More Riders on Fewer Bikes Than London Bike-Share

The gray and black lines represent Citi Bike average weekday and weekend ridership, respectively. The red, orange, green and blue lines represent different years of Barclays Cycle Hire average daily ridership. Image: Oliver O'Brien

Five months after its launch, Citi Bike is already moving more people than its larger, more established sister program in London, according to an analysis by University College of London researcher Oliver O’Brien.

Using data feeds from Citi Bike and Transport for London, O’Brien calculated the average number of trips taken on both systems during weekdays and weekends each month. New York, which pulled even with London’s peak usage in July, has been ahead since August, despite having fewer bikes available. Citi Bike, which by O’Brien’s count has approximately 4,500 bikes in circulation (counting bikes out of circulation, the system has about 5,700), is smaller than Barclays Cycle Hire, which O’Brien estimates has 7,600 bikes in circulation.

This means Citi Bike is clocking about seven trips per bike per day. O’Brien speculates that London might once again pass New York during the winter, which tends to be milder in London — but we’ll let the numbers be the judge of that.

Bike-share ridership isn’t the only place where New York is ahead of London: After a number of cyclist deaths on its modest “cycle superhighway” routes, Mayor Boris Johnson has shifted gears and begun installing physically protected bikeways. He dedicated the first of London’s new protected bike lanes this week.

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The Heart of London Adopts 20 MPH Speed Limit

The City of London, the square mile in the heart of Greater London that is home to the city’s finance sector, is resetting the speed limit to 20 miles per hour on all streets.

In New York, this would be the equivalent of, say, lowering the speed limit in Manhattan south of the Brooklyn Bridge — not exactly earth-shattering, but noteworthy for a number of reasons.

Cyclists accounted for 47 percent of all road fatalities in the City of London in 2011. Other 20 mph zones in London have seen injuries and fatalities drop by nearly half. A person struck by a vehicle traveling at 20 mph has a 95 percent chance of surviving the collision.

All other surrounding boroughs (the equivalent of City Council districts) have already adopted a 20 mph limit — eight of Greater London’s 32 boroughs have lowered speeds or are considering doing so, according to the 20’s Plenty for Us campaign, suggesting a domino effect. Finally, police support the change, and have called for additional speed cameras and other resources as needed.

“The City of London joins Paris and Tokyo in recognizing that 20 mph limits are better for business and health,” said Jeremy Leach, 20’s Plenty for Us London coordinator, in a statement.

There is high demand for 20 mph “slow zones” in NYC neighborhoods where locals live in fear of reckless drivers. Speeding was the leading cause of traffic deaths last year, and speed enforcement is virtually non-existent.

Bill de Blasio has called for more slow zones, and says he wants to dramatically reduce traffic deaths and injuries. Neither Bill Thompson nor Joe Lhota has a detailed traffic safety platform. No candidate has suggested lowering the speed limit to 20 mph on a broad scale, though City Council transportation chair James Vacca has endorsed the idea.

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Words of Wisdom From London’s Bike-Share Chief

London launched its bike-share system in 2010, and it looks like New York’s experience so far isn’t so different from theirs. Animal New York went straight to the source to speak with Nick Aldworth, general manager of London’s Barclays Cycle Hire, who offers some words of wisdom for New Yorkers adjusting to Citi Bike.

“I’ve read some of the things that have been said in New York, and I recognize them from when we were doing the same thing,” he said, recalling London’s own NIMBY opposition to station placement in historic neighborhoods and overblown concerns about safety.

Citi Bike’s first days have seen some technical problems with glitchy docks and stations, and some distribution problems — early reports suggest that Midtown tends to have pronounced bike shortages at times. Aldworth says London is no stranger to the occasional un-docked Barclays bike, and that the greater challenge is managing the distribution.

“Redistribution is the key,” he says. “Once you have thousands of thousands of people cycling around, I think the negativity will quickly go away, but that challenge of redistribution won’t.”

Bike redistribution is an ongoing task for bike-share systems in the U.S. as well. In Boston, the Hubway system uses three Sprinter vans carrying 22 bikes each to move bikes between the system’s 108 stations, with staff working two shifts from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Hubway general manager Scott Mullen told Streetsblog that as more people use the system over time, usage patterns begin to emerge. “Because you know what’s going on, you can set the system up for success,” he said. “You’re not putting out fires.” Mullen added that sometimes, a station is nearly empty or nearly full intentionally, because Hubway staff will move bikes in advance of rush hour or a big event.

DOT announced today that Citi Bike had passed 100,000 trips in its first ten days. As more people use the system and it expands to more neighborhoods, rebalancing will become even more important.

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Bike-Share Works Just Fine in Historic London, Boston, and DC Neighborhoods

Sumner Place in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has homes dating to the 19th century, luxury SUVs built in the early 21st century — and a bike-share station sponsored by a multi-national bank. Photo: Google Maps

While polls have shown that upwards of 70 percent of New Yorkers support bike-share and DOT engaged in a multi-year public process for station siting, a vocal minority in Fort Greene is objecting to public bike stations in the landmarked district. At least one extremist has gone so far as to tar newly-installed stations with wheatpaste posters decrying the Citibank-sponsored kiosks. In response to the neighborhood chatter, Council Member Tish James has scheduled a community meeting about bike-share for tonight.

The historic preservation arguments simply fail to hold any water. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has signed off on the stations. Take a stroll in Boston or Washington, and you’ll see that other cities have managed to introduce bike-share stations on historic residential streets without harming their architectural legacy. And a quick glance at historic Fort Greene will reveal that its residential streets and sidewalks already have commercial activity in the form of bus shelter advertisements, newspaper boxes, and ice cream trucks.

One of the arguments against the bike-share stations is that sponsorship from a multi-national corporation like Citi has no place in historic neighborhoods. This, of course, conveniently overlooks the Coca-Cola logo on a Fort Greene storefront or the brightly-colored cars with BMW and Volvo logos parked throughout the neighborhood, which have failed to attract the ire of the anti-bike crowd.

It also doesn’t account for Boston, a city full of historic neighborhoods where the Hubway system is sponsored by footwear manufacturer New Balance, and London, where the bike-share system is named for another financial giant, Barclays Capital.

In fact, some of London’s most historic neighborhoods, including pricey West End districts like Mayfair, Kensington, and Chelsea, have Barclays-sponsored bike-share stations on residential streets. When the stations were first installed in 2010, neighbors raised an array of bizarre objections, from bird droppings to human rights violations — and yes, historic preservation.

But as the system has rolled out and proven to be a big success, the objections have waned. As the later phases of the system have come online, elected officials who had accommodated the initial complaints by slowing implementation have been less likely to give serious attention to the dwindling NIMBYs. “The administration was considerably less sympathetic to concerns that were purely subjective and hampered the roll out in phase one,” London bike blogger Danny Williams told Streetsblog.

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London Cycling Group Proposes a Safer Urban Truck

Images: London Cycling Campaign

In the last few weeks, truck drivers have taken the lives of at least two NYC pedestrians: a 6-year-old child and a 60-year-old woman. Though the physics of the crashes were different — one driver was turning, the other accelerating into a crosswalk — in both cases the driver was said to have hit a person he did not know was there.

NYC is not the only world city that suffers truck-involved pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. In London, trucks account for some 5 percent of vehicle traffic, yet their drivers are responsible for approximately half of all cyclist deaths, according to the Guardian. Most of those crashes involve construction trucks, with many resulting from a driver failing to see a cyclist while making a left turn.

At present, half the cycling fatalities in Greater London involve lorries, and about three-quarters of those vehicles are from the construction industry. A large proportion of pedestrian fatalities also involve lorries. Tellingly, the most frequent response from lorry drivers after a fatal collision is to say they didn’t see the victim in the moments leading up to the crash.

The London Cycling Campaign has proposed a new design for the urban truck — one that is lower in height, puts the driver closer to the street, and replaces “blind spots” with windows. The design is based on existing trash trucks, which are built with the safety of refuse collectors in mind.

“Already a common sight in town and city streets, these vehicles have the same low driving position and high-visibility cab seen on our Safer Urban Lorry,” write LCC staffers Charlie Lloyd and Mike Cavenett. “All we’ve done is to marry this type of cab with a lower chassis from a construction lorry.”

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