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.