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British Cycling & Sustrans in favour, but LCC says more measures needed - and one campaigner says riders should jump red lights if safe to do so

Transport for London (TfL) has unveiled its low-level traffic lights for cyclists at Bow Roundabout, aimed at making the notorious junction safer for people on bikes – but cycling organisations and campaigners are divided on their effectiveness, with one saying that cyclists should consider jumping red lights to remain safe.

TfL plans to install similar lights, which are positioned at the rider’s eye level and give the same signals shown on the existing “early start” lights installed at the junction in summer 2012, at other locations throughout the city, subject to Department for Transport approval.

The early start lights, together with a new kerbed cycle lane on the approach to the roundabout, were installed after two cyclists, Brian Dorling and Svitlana Tereschenko, were killed by lorries at the junction in autumn 2011.

Last November, a third rider, Venera Minakhmetova, lost her life there, also killed by a left-turning lorry.

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “'Innovative measures such as this are just one of a number of new safety initiatives we've been pushing for as part of my vision for cycling.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the government on many more measures to help make cycling even safer, more attractive and convenient for Londoners.”

Representatives of both British Cycling and Sustrans were also quoted in the TfL press release announcing that the traffic signals, which had been trialled off-road at the Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire, were now operational.

Martin Key, campaigns manager at British Cycling, said: “We are pleased to see low level traffic lights being brought into use at Bow Roundabout.

“They have been used successfully across Europe and make it easier for cyclists to know when it is safe for them to ride through the junction.

“These lights and other cycle friendly measures should be available to use not only in London but across the whole country over the next couple of years.

“Anything that can be done to improve the experience of cycling on busy roads can only be a positive move and it's fantastic to see Transport for London leading the way.”

Matt Winfield, Sustrans London’s deputy director, added: “It's great to see the wheels turning on new and innovative cycling infrastructure.

“Low level lights offer a range of advantages for cyclists, of which improved safety is paramount.

“Investing in cycling infrastructure provides great value for money and offers the fastest turn around for expanding the provision of urban transport.

“We now need to build on this success and get the green light on other important developments such as 'Cycle Zebras' and 'Early Green-Phases' as soon as we can so that cyclists can clear junctions swiftly and avoid mixing with heavy goods vehicles.”

But Ashok Sinha, chief executive of the London Cycling Campaign (LCC), said the group was in favour of the lights but maintained that other measures needed to be taken to make Bow Roundabout safe for cyclists.

Quoted on the LCC website, he said: “We support the principle of Dutch-style low-level traffic lights, which are a useful addition to the tools that junction designers can use, but these lights alone aren't enough to make a dangerous junction safe.

"The presence of low-level traffic lights or otherwise doesn't remedy the major flaw of this junction: that many cyclists can't progress safely across the junction without motor traffic catching up with them, and potentially putting them in grave danger by turning across their path."

Gerry Matthews of Tower Hamlet Wheelers said that there were fundamental issues with the design of the junction that created danger for cyclists, despite the measures taken to improve their safety.

Making clear that she was speaking in her personal capacity rather than representing the views of the borough’s cycling campaign group, which is affiliated to LCC, she told ITV London News that cyclists should “jump the lights” if it was safe to do so, pointing out that it was motorists ignoring traffic signals that cause much of the danger there.

“Cyclists tell me regularly that their major problem here is when it’s green for them on these lights, motor vehicles are still moving here,” she said.

“Now given that this is not being enforced, that the phasing on here has not been addressed on the motor vehicle lights, I would say if I was a cyclist using this, for my personal safety without compromising the safety of anyone else – I’m not saying to dash in front of a lorry – I’m saying to be safe, get here, wait for a sensible gap, move off as though this was a junction without the lights.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

13 comments

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Mikeduff [24 posts] 2 years ago
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I wonder why Gerry Matthews didn't suggest riding over the flyover, which a) is legal, and b) avoids the dodginess of the Bow Roundabout she is pointing out.

It really boggles my mind that the powers that be don't adopt the solution that is hiding in plain sight. You only have to stand there for a few minutes to see a huge proportion of cyclists riding over the flyover. The new kerbed cycle lane on the southern side of the A11 approaching the roundabout from the East now makes it harder to cross traffic to get up onto the flyover. I have also now been yelled at by motorists, suggesting to me that I am "supposed to be in" the cycle lane, not on the flyover.

There is no need to send cyclists through the roundabout - they cannot turn north or southbound, since the A12 is too big a road, and the cycle path under the roundabout takes care of these turning movements. The flyover handles the remaining East and West (A11) movements.

The only issue I can see is successfully getting cyclists across the lane of traffic at the take-off point of the flyover bridge, and the issue of accessibility to all cyclists - as the flyover may not be an easy climb for all cyclists. It is a 4-5% gradient, and probably some 200 meters long.

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fluffy_mike [98 posts] 2 years ago
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@Mikeduff You answer your own question. The flyover is very intimidating for people who aren't used to cycling on motorway-style roads. Don't forget, not everyone riding through Bow is a 30-something male roadie who does 100 miles a week. There are inexperienced people on bikes who go this way too. Even getting on the flyover is tricky, and getting off is too.

The sensible solution to making this junction safe clearly involves stopping the cars while people on bikes go safely through the roundabout. It'll get done in a few years, probably when 4 or 5 more people are dead, and the next mayor decides it's a national embarrassment.

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antigee [336 posts] 2 years ago
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"The presence of low-level traffic lights or otherwise doesn't remedy the major flaw of this junction: that many cyclists can't progress safely across the junction without motor traffic catching up with them, and potentially putting them in grave danger by turning across their path."

I'd like to see the junction design in mainland Europe were they work - here in Melbourne, Aus my experience at 2 junctions I regularly use that have advanced cycle specific green lights is that left turning cars consider they have the right to cross your straight ahead path when "it is there turn" so if you arrive at the junction during the main green phase they make the junction very much more dangerous not less

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movingtarget [144 posts] 2 years ago
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In downtown San Francisco, due to heavy vehicle traffic combined heavy pedestrian traffic, they've instituted a change in the stop lights where the first 15-20 seconds is red for cars in all directions and green for pedestrians allowing them to cross in any manner including diagonally and then the rest of the light cycle it's green for cars and red for pedestrians. It allows for more cars to be able to make turns without having to wait out the interminable lines of pedestrians crossing and it makes it safer for pedestrians because they're not crossing when the cars have a green light. I wonder if a similar sequential light delay would work here for cyclists although besides the initial learning period which was scary with the San Francisco lights there is also the fact that at an intersection you can see who's allowed to go while your champing at the bit waiting (making people less tempted to turn on red) and that doesn't necessarily happen at a roundabout.

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Paul_C [464 posts] 2 years ago
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are there any actual photographs of these lights in use at that junction. So far, all I'm getting on SKC is someone quoting an old article claiming they're not an improvement and are effectively designed to always stop cyclists then go green to allow them into the ASL. As I understand it, these lights should be positioned at the cyclists stop line for those cyclists ALREADY in the ASL to get a head start on the vehicles behind them.

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Rouboy [91 posts] 2 years ago
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Low level lights normal hight lights varying priorities for who goes next cycle pedestrian or motorist these are all fab ideas but no good if all or some of those using them don't abide by the rule. And that is where we are at now.

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CarlosFerreiro [107 posts] 2 years ago
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Why all the love for "innovation" when there is established best practice? Surely not the cost of doing a truly safer layout?

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zanf [838 posts] 2 years ago
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CarlosFerreiro wrote:

Why all the love for "innovation" when there is established best practice? Surely not the cost of doing a truly safer layout?

The first thing I SMH at when reading the article. Johnson claims to be all for pushing innovative ideas but ignores completely best practices that have already been established. The guy is such a showboater that London is going to be in such a shit state when he finally goes off to pursue his tory party leader ambitions.

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GlennR [2 posts] 2 years ago
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"I'd like to see the junction design in mainland Europe were they work - here in Melbourne, Aus my experience at 2 junctions I regularly use that have advanced cycle specific green lights is that left turning cars consider they have the right to cross your straight ahead path when "it is there turn" so if you arrive at the junction during the main green phase they make the junction very much more dangerous not less"

If you arrive at the intersection and moving cars in front have their left indicator on then you are legally obliged to let them turn left before you continue straight ahead.

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teaboy [311 posts] 2 years ago
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Paul_C wrote:

are there any actual photographs of these lights in use at that junction. So far, all I'm getting on SKC is someone quoting an old article claiming they're not an improvement and are effectively designed to always stop cyclists then go green to allow them into the ASL. As I understand it, these lights should be positioned at the cyclists stop line for those cyclists ALREADY in the ASL to get a head start on the vehicles behind them.

How these lights ACTUALLY work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4SMQut9Wfs

As you see, the 'main' light at the front of the ASL goes amber-red. The 'early start' light then goes green, moving cyclists into the ASL to a red light.

No early start, just guaranteed stop.

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jason.timothy.jones [294 posts] 2 years ago
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to me it looks like the Bike Red/Orange comes on when the Main light is green, so if a cyclist stops, a car trying to beat the amber is going to go right over the top of the bike, or am I mission something here

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hairyairey [298 posts] 2 years ago
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There are plenty of occasions when you can justify going through a red light - one example - lights triggered by the presence of a car. I will ride over the line so that a car coming up behind can trigger the lights. In law I've gone through a red light but if I stopped before the line we would be waiting a very long time for the lights to change.

Then there's weather, abusive motorists and simply when there's no other traffic around to have priority.

Such a pity we don't have our lights set to flashing on off-peak so that everyone can treat them as a give way sign.

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Matt eaton [742 posts] 2 years ago
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I've watched the video but I'm still not sure I get it. Is it like a light-enforced ASL?

If so, you still have the problem of drivers trying to push past on the actual junction with the potential for left-hooks as a result. Isn't this the problem that needs to be solved?

Sorry if I've missed a trick; I'm not a Londoner and don't know the junction well.