Guest blog: Bus lane rules and death on Holborn by Andy Waterman

"The idea that that bus lane is too narrow is hokum."

by   July 17, 2013  

High Holborn (copyright Andy Waterman)

Andy Waterman is editor of Privateer magazine. On Monday he was held up on his way to work by the road closure in the wake of the death of Alan Neve. This is his take on one of the possible causes of that crash, that cyclists are forced to take a dangerous route along High Holborn instead of being allowed to use the bus lane on Theobalds Road.

This morning a cyclist died on Holborn, just outside the tube station afer being crushed by a lorry. When I came into work late, the police still had the area on lockdown, as can be seen in the photo above.

As I rode past Cycle Surgery onto Holborn a police woman told me to look after myself.

Thanks, I will, I thought. But what are you doing to help?

I’ve only just started working in this area, so I’m learning the roads and my route to the new office. Last Wednesday was my first ride in. I came along Theobalds Road, and where the traffic turns left down to Holborn, I carried straight on in the bus lane, heading towards Bloomsbury Way. I waited at the lights at the crossing of Kingsway, where a fine fellow spoke to me to warn me that the police were waiting across the junction fining cyclists riding in the bus lane. This bus lane runs contra to the main flow of traffic, but is only about 200m long, and the fastest, safest way to get towards Oxford Street. I thanked the man, got off and walked across the junction.

Sure enough, the cops were waiting on Bloomsbury Way fining cyclists.

Another pedestrian pushing a bike (like me) stopped to ask why they were doing it. “It’s busses only” they said. But why? we asked. “Because it’s too narrow for a bus to pass cyclists safely, you have to go round.”

Going round involves dropping onto Holborn and negotiating four lanes of traffic. I’ve done it every day since and it makes even me, an experienced cyclist nervous. Motorbikes buzz you, taxis rush red lights to get through and huge trucks obliterate the view. It’s hellish.

So it was sad but unsurprising to find a cyclist was killed there this morning. Stupid road planning is to blame, as are the police for enforcing a rule that prevents cyclists using the safer bus lane along Bloomsbury Way.

The idea that that bus lane is too narrow is hokum: A - show me any bus lane in the land that allows busses to pass cyclists with the amount of space recommended in the highway code; B - it’s only 200m long, even a slow moving commuter on a Boris bike won’t hold the bus up too long in such a short space.

The fact the police were targeting cyclists on this stretch only five days ago smacks of money grabbing opportunism, the real world safety of the issue be damned. If I wasn’t so resigned to the fact that we are second class citizens, useful only as a cash cow to prop up dwindling tax revenues, I’d probably be furious right now. As it is, it’s just another depressing day for London cyclists.

This article originally appeared on Andy Waterman's blog.

18 user comments

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Great to see this blog getting headline placement here and cross promotion of such a serious issue. I hope Boris is pouring over casulty maps right now to see if cyclists are being diplaced into harms way by bad road layouts.

David Bowie agrees with me

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1048 posts]
17th July 2013 - 12:51

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Excellent piece, thank you

posted by kitkat [182 posts]
17th July 2013 - 12:55

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Great challenge to the planners...thank you

posted by brackley88 [47 posts]
17th July 2013 - 13:13

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very good piece Andy, and I agree with every word.

posted by Karbon Kev [652 posts]
17th July 2013 - 14:55

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The reason they don't allow cyclists down there is because it's a contraflow. Either road user trying to pass each other (bus vs bike and bike vs bus) would require the overtaking user to pass by going onto the other side of the road. Which is something that is best avoided with a contraflow.

A good solution would be to remove the one way system with 4 lanes in each direction and make all the roads two way, have each one with bus lanes and add traffic calming measures to slow down drivers.

There is enough space to add cycle lanes on these roads and add bollards to keep vehicles out of them but this would mean taking space away from the motorists and TFL is very unlikely to do that.

I would like to think that what they say about adding more roadspace doesn't make traffic move faster it just adds more traffic is something that is reversible. Remove roadspace and it will put people off from driving in london, which really is something we should be striving for.

posted by cyclegaz [3 posts]
17th July 2013 - 14:58

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Poor road planning in my opinion is also behind the recent death at Aldgate East. Take 3x lanes of traffic and no segregated space for bikes at all. Add in a blue line on the road encouraging even the most inexperienced cyclist to ride there, mix with traffic at a standstill with buses, coaches and HGVs everywhere, and recent tragic events were inevitable. Pity no one at TfL or City Hall seem to care either before or after.

posted by Austin316 [7 posts]
17th July 2013 - 18:52

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Any comment from Andrew Gilligan on this yet? Oh, he only works 2 days a week so perhaps not. He's the guy who must explain how such a ludicrous situation can exist and be allowed to endanger lives. It's an opportunity for him to speak out and show himself to be a friend not only of the cyclist, but also of common sense.

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posted by Low Speed Wobble [137 posts]
18th July 2013 - 7:28

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I've never experienced London commuting cycling but showed more interest after my brother got knocked off by a left turning coach on the Edgware Rd (he's OK now and back on his bike after some lengthy treatment). I'm used to heavy city traffic but it usually doesn't travel much more than 20mph so you can move about in it relatively safely. I was in London recently (in a cab) at 6PM and really noticed the volume of cyclists. One thing that caught my attention was that on main routes they have improved flow by using one-way and not allowing parking. At each set of lights (or turning) it seemed like the cars (with all the cyclists mixed in) all screamed off at break-neck speed only to be stopped at the next set of lights and the whole thing repeating itself. If you're on a bike and trying to move lanes then its 'best of luck to you'.

Shades

posted by Shades [118 posts]
18th July 2013 - 12:56

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who cares if it is contraflow or not. there is a solid white line between bus and oncoming traffic. solid line = do not cross. eg no overtaking. so bus stays behind bike, or more common in my world, bus is too slow and bike stays behind bus.
its only 200m for gods sake, so who cares if its a 60 second delay!?!!?!?! Crying

Feel the fear and do it anyway

hood's picture

posted by hood [99 posts]
19th July 2013 - 13:03

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Most of the cycle routes in the Bloomsbury area are death traps. I often use the cycle lane at Tavistock Place and can't believe that no one has fallen victim yet. Whoever designed that part of the cycle route is an idiot. It consists of a two way cycle lane that runs alongside a two way road, so any car turning off Tavistock Place has to look for a gap in the oncoming traffic and two busy lanes of cyclists. They resort to edging out in the hope that the cyclists give way. Also, when the lane enters Byng Place you're suddenly cycling across a pedestrianised area on an unmarked cycle lane. It's nuts! At Wits End

Get off the computer and onto the bike.

www.flickr.com/photos/woolner/

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posted by boywoolner [17 posts]
19th July 2013 - 18:11

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Err... Make the buses go on to Holborn as they can't get crushed too easily by a lorry?

I have to say in that instance I'd have risked the fine, put it to the wall and smashed it past the Police as fast as I could.

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posted by Municipal Waste [190 posts]
21st July 2013 - 9:15

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boywoolner wrote:
Most of the cycle routes in the Bloomsbury area are death traps. I often use the cycle lane at Tavistock Place and can't believe that no one has fallen victim yet. Whoever designed that part of the cycle route is an idiot. It consists of a two way cycle lane that runs alongside a two way road, so any car turning off Tavistock Place has to look for a gap in the oncoming traffic and two busy lanes of cyclists. They resort to edging out in the hope that the cyclists give way. Also, when the lane enters Byng Place you're suddenly cycling across a pedestrianised area on an unmarked cycle lane. It's nuts! At Wits End

The worst part about this cycle lane is where it meets Tottenham Court Road, and during the course of a right hand turn, the cycle lane switches from right-hand side to left-hand side. So you weave across turning traffic.

Absolutely no fun on either bike or car.

posted by jstreetley [54 posts]
21st July 2013 - 19:35

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It is time to change the name of the "Bus Lane" to "Cycle Lane" or "Shared user lane" or whatever any Saatchi type bod wants to come up with a name for. However, Bus Lane is unacceptable because it gives bus drivers the mistaken idea that they own it.

Paint the bloody lane blue.

posted by Tom Amos [201 posts]
21st July 2013 - 19:40

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Sadly this sort of illogical and uncoordinated thinking by the authorites does not surprise me. They really couldn't find the hole in their arse with a diagram! Unfortunately it take a death or two before these over paid retards ....... you can guess the rest!
Angry

Endorphines going up and adrenaline going down, who needs drugs?

posted by banzicyclist2 [149 posts]
21st July 2013 - 20:24

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I wonder whether Alan was going along Holborn as a new route after being stopped by the police a few days' earlier. :-\

posted by purplemadwoman [15 posts]
22nd July 2013 - 13:20

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I have to admit that I look at the junction of Kingsway and Holborn and think it is prime for a cycling disaster. And so it has befallen.

I don't really take your view point on the traffic routing as it doesn't happen where the flow is at its most dangerous, which is basically from Theobalds Road down to the CycleSurgery. After that Holborn is a regular sort of road (two-way, single lane). You may have a beef with road
lay-out, but it is not why this gentleman died, as he appears to be on the regular section - if it was as you suggest, manoeuvring the multi-lane it would likely have happened on the A40 section or earlier.

What we have at the point of where he was impacted is traffic lights and traffic backed up. I expecting he was trying to move through traffic and got himself into a blind spot, which is what I recall them reporting. I'm not saying I'm a fan of the road traffic layout, but the thing I see all the time on the roads of London is that cyclists are very unaware of what is going on around them. It is often what leads to them going into places which are just dangerous - the urgency to move through traffic is often misplaced.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [977 posts]
6th August 2013 - 1:15

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hood wrote:
who cares if it is contraflow or not. there is a solid white line between bus and oncoming traffic. solid line = do not cross. eg no overtaking. so bus stays behind bike, or more common in my world, bus is too slow and bike stays behind bus.
its only 200m for gods sake, so who cares if its a 60 second delay!?!!?!?! Crying

That's the key argument for me. Keep life in perspective. How much time is it worth saving by threatening the life of a fellow human being?

posted by paulfg42 [355 posts]
15th August 2013 - 13:46

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It's bad road planning but it is not safe for cyclists to use Vernon Place as long as there continues to be a right turn for opposing traffic into Southampton Row, as well as not enough room for buses and bikes. You can see in the evening how many cyclists want to pass this way and some provision needs to be made for avoiding holborn on the way in in the morning. But it's not Vernon Place.

posted by droshky [8 posts]
4th September 2013 - 15:46

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