The London Borough of Wandsworth has announced plans for London's first roundabout with segregated routes for cycling, but critics have said it does not meet Dutch standards of cycling provision and have called it "hugely complicated".
The Queen’s Circus roundabout in Battersea is being revamped as part of a plan to overhaul large sections of the street network in Nine Elms on the South Bank to prepare the former industrial area for a major increase in the residential and working population. Wandsworth Council says the long-term aim is to make Nine Elms one of the most cycle and pedestrian friendly districts in central London.
The roundabout design puts a cycle path round the perimeter of the roundabout, separated from motor traffic by kerbs and traffic islands.
Progress through the roundabout will be controlled by traffic lights. Stop Killing Cyclists co-founder Donnachadh McCarthy was one of many critics pointing out that this was not up to the standards of cycling provision at roundabouts in the Netherlands. He said: "in Dutch designs, the cyclists would have right of way."
It's this feature of the design that has that has attracted criticism, with campaigners saying the proliferation of lights is "confusing", "hugely complicated" and "like a traffic light engineer's dream".
In a blog post the London Cycling Campaign said: "London Cycling Campaign expressed serious concerns about this design when we saw them last year.
"Currently cyclists make up about a third of the morning peak hour flow on the roundabout. Often there are so many that they fill a whole traffic lane and cars give them space.
"The new design gives less space to cyclists with added delay… That can only lead to congestion and risk taking behaviour.
"While the proposals at Battersea provide segregation from motor traffic at the busiest points it is at the cost of a confusing set of signals which are likely to increase the number of times cyclists have to stop and increase the waiting time, especially for those coming out of town in the evening peak."
The LCC's Charlie Lloyd told Kaya Burgess of The Times: “Our view is that it’s far too complicated and people won’t understand it. Dutch designers would not put traffic lights on a roundabout in this position. More likely, it would work better to take out the roundabout and have a crossroads, especially because of the massive north-south flow.”
Wandsworth transport spokesman Cllr Jonathan Cook said: “This is an innovative design and we expect it will be the first major roundabout in London which separates cyclists from other traffic in this way. There will be segregated cycle lanes and the points at which riders cross the road will be controlled by traffic lights to avoid any potential conflict. We hope this will be a blueprint others can follow."
More detailed critiques of the design came from Danny Williams on his Cyclists in the City blog, and Stop Killing Cyclists co-founder Donnachadh McCarthy.
McCarthy said that making provision for cycling at all was an improvement on Wandsworth's "terrible record on cycling provision (zero segregated cycle lanes over last 4 years built)" and noted that the new roundabout design has "protected left-hand turns at all relevant points… This is the key pinch-point where trucks kill cyclists most often."
However, he said, "It is NOT a segregated cycle lane - the vast majority of it is just the usual paint on the ground and so not child friendly. If infrastructure fails the 8 year old test - it is not up to Dutch standards.
"The design at present is quite confusing, which makes it more dangerous.
"The design requires the cyclists to stop at lights, whereas in Dutch designs, the cyclists would have right of way. This could add up to one minute to a commute, which is a lot for just one junction.
"Ideally they would have removed car-access/egress from the minor roads to make the junction simpler."
Danny Williams writes: "What we have here is have a heavily-engineered and heavily-managed splurge on traffic-lights to manage motor traffic queues, with bike tracks and pedestrian crossings working around the motor flow. It feels like the traffic light people gatecrashed a party that would have worked much better without them."
According to Williams, the design's problems have their roots in the council's choice of which road users are being given most weight in the plan.
He writes: "The clue is in the Wandsworth council committee papers. Three of the five justifications for this design are related to motor traffic flow and guess which is the top priority?"
According to the committee papers: "There is limited means of managing queues that develop or ensuring equitable discharge of traffic around the roundabout."
Williams adds: "There's no getting away from the fact, this roundabout has been designed to manage motor traffic flow first and foremost. It does create significantly better crossings for pedestrians. And it does create a Dutch-"style" approach that gives space for safer cycling around the roundabout. The whole thing feels over-complicated for both pedestrians and cyclists who could have benefited better from a proper Dutch roundabout. This would have given people on foot and on bikes priority over motor vehicles."
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.