John Griffiths: Sorting out Hammersmith Bridge for Cyclists and Pedestrians

JohnByRockCropA guest post from John Griffiths, Chair of hfcyclists

Suppose your family are all fairly confident cyclists. You are happy cycling down King Street for example. You decide to go for a picnic in Richmond Park. You set off and approach Hammersmith Bridge.

Suddenly you go into panic mode. The lane ahead narrows to just over the width of a bus and you have to merge with the traffic expecting to go at 30mph. And this happens not once but four times as you go across the bridge. And there is no way out. On the return journey you use the footway.

The recommended way for a cyclist to deal with a narrow lane is to “take the lane” so you can not be overtaken. However it is very scary to do this when other traffic may be going at 30mph.

The Council put new markings on the roadway of the Bridge early in 2014. The philosophy behind these was that the onus was placed on the cyclist to “take the lane”. I would have expected the cycle logos warning motorists and guiding cyclists to be placed at or close to the centre of the lane.

hfcyclistsUnfortunately the logos were placed as far to the left of the running lane as they could be. Hfcyclists, the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign, have been monitoring the effects of these new markings. 141 people have responded to our survey from cyclists’ email lists, leaflets given out near the bridge and from the Hammersmith Today website and newsletter.

Amongst the results:

  • 32% thought that the logos meant they are expected to ride so that drivers can overtake.
  • 95% wanted a 20mph speed limit put on as soon as possible.
  • Of 60 cyclists who described themselves as confident cyclists, happy on most main roads, 20% said they would not ride on the roadway of the bridge.
  • 85 cyclists answered the question “Any comments on the new markings?” This produced a wide range of views. Many call for signs saying “Do not overtake cyclists”. Some are particularly terse. The answers can be seen here.

To me it is fairly obvious. To make the bridge work for motorists and all cyclists it should be like the rule of the sea – the powered vessel gives way to sail. The onus must be on a driver to give way to a cyclist.

For this to happen there has to be notice given to drivers that they must not overtake cyclists at the pinch points. There is no room to overtake safely but motorists do and come dangerously close and are threatening to cyclists.

There is no need for cyclists to dominate the bridge all the way across. In the wider parts vehicles can safely pass slower cyclists who keep to the left. But if cyclists are going to merge and have priority at the pinch point it is essential that drivers do not expect that they should be travelling at 30mph. So a 20mph speed limit on the bridge is necessary.

The Department for Transport Circular 01/2013, Setting Local Speed Limits, at s30, sets out what will be important factors when considering what is an appropriate speed limit:

Road Geometry is one factor. Hammersmith Bridge probably has the worst road geometry for cyclists of any 200m section of straight road in the whole of Britain

The Composition of road users including vulnerable road users is another factor. On the bridge 30% of the northbound morning peak traffic comprises cyclists [by vehicle] and this may be expected to increase phenomenally if the bridge is made cyclist friendly.

That section also states that the impact on community and environmental outcomes should also be considered. A cycle friendly bridge would encourage cyclists to use the roadway rather than the footways. Some car users would switch to cycling and ease the congestion and pollution in Hammersmith.

On 20 July 2014 almost the entire City of London is going 20mph, including trial 20mph limits on Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge, over which TfL has control. The 20mph speed limit is expected to be self enforcing. Let’s be positive, we can do it too.

How do we want the Council to handle the bridge? We are calling for a complete package that would make the bridge safe for cyclists and remove any sense of threat or perception of danger.

This should also reduce the number of cyclists using the footway.

This package comprises

a] A sign before each pinch point stating “DO NOT OVERTAKE CYCLISTS” putting the onus on drivers to give way rather than on cyclists to be courageous.

b] A speed limit of 20mph on the bridge

c] A marking on the road centred on the narrowed lane before each pinch point showing

d] Markings on the roadway at each pinch point saying: “This is for when the traffic on the bridge is stationary” – so that cyclists could always get through.

I know the Council does not like clutter on the highway. But the signs saying “DO NOT OVERTAKE CYCLISTS” can be made with reflective white lettering on a background of the green of the bridge. If you read the 85 responses to our survey you will see that something more than mere trust in a motorist not to overtake is needed.

With this complete package the speed of traffic is likely to be self regulating. If one vehicle crossing the bridge goes at 20mph then those following have to. Bus companies could ensure their drivers obeyed the limit. The possible presence of cyclists in the traffic stream ahead will also limit traffic speeds.

A driver may find it slightly slower crossing the bridge. However as a driver often has to wait at the following signal, the time for the overall journey may not be affected at all.

These changes will not be expensive to implement. A Council with a CAN DO attitude could make these things happen. It wants to see a quantum leap in the number cycling. The bridge is due for further repairs in the months ahead and now is the time to plan these changes. Let it reopen as a fully cycle and pedestrian friendly structure.

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