Westminster Bridge bus stop bypass, revisited

In case you had forgotten, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust spent over £10,000 of NHS funding in an attempt to prevent ‘floating’ bus stops being built on Westminster Bridge (a detail uncovered by Tom Kearney).

This was part of an orchestrated campaign against the bus stop bypasses from hospital management. They sent out press releases to the Evening Standard, with quotes from their chairman –

Sir Hugh Taylor, chairman of Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS trust, said: “We believe that TfL’s plans for cycle lanes and so-called ‘floating’ bus stops on Westminster Bridge pose risks to both pedestrians and cyclists. We are particularly concerned about the impact on patients and carers, especially the elderly, disabled, and families with children in buggies and wheelchairs coming to Evelina London Children’s Hospital.”

They started a petition against the bus stop bypass design – garnering just over 1,000 signatures. They added news items on their website. They organised protest events.

Further FOI requests revealed this entire strategy may have originated with the local MP Kate Hoey, who wrote to the Trust in April 2016 suggesting a campaign against the bus stop bypasses would be

‘a great opportunity’.

Those same FOI requests contain a hilariously revealing admission from the Trust’s Secretary and Head of Corporate Affairs –

‘I don’t think we’ve any evidence [floating bus stops] are unsafe – even though we think they are’

Despite not having any evidence, this same individual was simultaneously claiming that 

‘The Trust is very concerned that Transport for London’s plans for the cycle super highway and “floating” bus stops on Westminster Bridge are dangerous’

The whole curious affair is covered in detail by both Cyclists in the City and by Paul Gannon.

Fast-forward a year to 2017, and it turns out that Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust…. aren’t actually opposed to bus stop bypasses at all, and drop their high court challenge. Construction started in the summer of that year, with zebra crossings across the cycleways at the bus stop islands. The official opening of this southbound section (in front of the hospital) was in the autumn.

That means these bus stop bypasses have been running more-or-less normally for around eight months now. Has the predicted danger and chaos ensued? To give a flavour of how these stops operate at busy times, I filmed them earlier this month, at 5pm on a Wednesday. I stood here for forty minutes (until my phone battery ran out). The following video shows every single person who cycled (or scooted) past the bus stops between 5 and 5:40pm – around 100 people. The cuts don’t hide anything – they’re simply those periods when nobody was cycling past.

As you’ll see if you watch the entire video, it is very, very mundane. The vast majority of people cycling past do so without any interaction whatsoever – when interactions do occur, they are at slow speed and involve negotiation. This is hardly surprising. People cycling have an interest in not colliding with other human beings – they will injure themselves in doing so. While filming these clips I kept on having to remind myself that an NHS trust objected so strongly to something that is frankly pretty boring.

Nevertheless there are some moments that are worth commenting on.

  • The very first clip (0:13) shows someone overtaking someone slower, by using the bus stop island. There was nobody standing on the island at the time, so nobody was put in danger, and I doubt this manoeuvre would have been attempted otherwise. This is, however, one reason why I think it was a mistake to build the cycleway so narrow (1.5m, and with high kerbs) – it prevents overtaking, and more importantly it removes ‘negotiation space’ as people step onto the zebras, or accidentally step into the cycleway. In a misguided attempt to slow people down, I think the narrowness of the cycleway here actually makes matters worse.
  • From 4:38 onwards there’s a good example of some interaction on the zebra crossing.
  • 7:14 – probably the fastest cyclist of the clip.
  • At 7:25 a woman looking at her phone accidentally steps into the cycleway and stumbles. The man cycling seems to have anticipated this happening and is already steering around her.
  • From 9:16 we see an elderly woman in a hospital chair being wheeled across the zebra, to the island, to a waiting taxi. (Incidentally the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association claimed in their consultation response that “segregated cycle lanes will make it difficult to load people in wheelchairs and other mobility impaired people – this will be a particular problem outside St Thomas’ Hospital.”)
  • From 9:26 there is a minor near miss, as a woman steps into the cycleway without looking. A collision is avoided by the man cycling anticipating, and stopping. (There were a number of other minor incidents like this with people stepping into the cycleway without looking, but none were anywhere near as close as this).

I don’t think we can learn too much from all of this because I was only here for forty minutes. I know that Transport for London have been conducting more extensive rolling video surveys of the new zebra crossings on CS6 and on CS2, which will provide much more comprehensive analysis. However, this was a busy period of the day, at a time when lots of people were coming and going to get on buses. Just under a hundred people cycle past in this period too.

The design is not perfect. As I’ve already mentioned, I think the cycleway is too narrow, which will create problems. The bus stop islands seemed to cope with the number of pedestrians at this busy time, but they could (and should) be wider. To my mind the road here is still ridiculous wide – four lanes, with hatching, and an island – and I really think some serious consideration should have been given to narrowing the road to three (or even two) lanes, and indeed restricting the types of motor traffic allowed to use the bridge to buses and taxis only, which already dominate the traffic composition in any case. That would have allowed much more space for pedestrians, for people cycling, and for bus users.

But even with these problems, it is hard to see what all the fuss was about. My video shows forty minutes of pretty benign interaction (or non-interaction), and even when things go wrong and people behave badly or make mistakes, there are no consequences. Perhaps most importantly of all, the whole video shows buses and cycles flowing freely, without coming into conflict with one another, or impeding each other. Both modes benefit. It’s a stark contrast to the previous situation, where anyone cycling on the bridge had to mix it with these large vehicles.

The footway on the left here was also ‘shared use’, with people allowed to cycle on it, so the new arrangement is yet another improvement in that respect, clarifying where people cycling should be, and where they are expected.

It does seem extraordinary to me that these proposals received so much attention and outright hostility, while the road network across London remains such an unpleasant, dangerous and pedestrian-hostile environment – where ‘green man’ pedestrian signals still do not exist at busy junctions (and are blocked (in 2018!) on the grounds of modelled delay); where zebra crossings are so scarce; where people face massive delay and staggered crossings trying to cross even one arm of a junction. My hope is that as more and more of these types of bus stop are built, so the evidence base will build too, and we (and NHS Trusts) can start to focus our attention on the more pressing problems instead.

Source: aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com

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