New lights give cyclists four-second head start over other traffic, and TfL also introduces bigger ASL zone

New cyclist-only traffic lights were switched on yesterday at Bow Roundabout, the interchange in East London where two cyclists lost their lives last autumn. The traffic lights give cyclists a head start of four seconds over other traffic and have been introduced specifically to minimise the risk of riders being killed or injured by lorries, particularly those turning left.

The cyclists killed at Bow last year, 58-year-old Brian Dorling and Svitlana Tereschenko, aged 34, were both struck by lorries, their deaths, and other fatalities in the city, leading to pressure being put on Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Transport for London (TfL) to redesign junctions throughout the capital to help ensure the safety of bike riders.

In the wake of the two deaths at Bow it was revealed that TfL had ignored recommendations in a report it had commissioned from independent consultants about making the junction safer before the installation there of one of the Barclays Cycling Superhighways, with similar calls also being made by the London Cycling Campaign (LCC).

Besides the cyclist-only traffic light phase, which TfL claims is the first of its kind in the UK, the new road layout at Bow roundabout also includes a 12-metre long advanced stop line (ASL) zone, while there is also a raised kerb between main carriageway and the blue-painted lane of the Barclays Cycle Superhighway as it approaches the junction.

There was little fanfare ahead of the lights being switched on – there’s no press release on the TfL website, for example – and it’s unclear whether the body is still pressing ahead with other potential improvements previously announced at the junction such as cycle lanes on the flyover. In March, however, TfL did release a video of a CGI simulation of the traffic lights in operation.

Speaking to The Times, which launched its Cities fit for Cycling campaign earlier this year after one of its reporters, Mary Bowers, suffered serious injuries and was left in a come after she was hit by a lorry while riding to work, TfL’s head of capital development, Nigel Hardy, revealed yesterday that early signs were that the new layout at the junction was working.

“The junction has been completed in terms of traffic layout and the lights have been switched on,” he said. “This is the first of its kind in the UK. We’ve been making a few tweaks to the phasing during the day, but it has worked well with the morning traffic today.”

Engineers will be assessing the junction over the next week to see whether any tweaks may be needed – one already identified is to shorten the length of the kerbed section to prevent large vehicles from clipping it.

According to The Times, the new traffic light system enabled cyclists to get through the junction safely, although it added that some did appear to find the new layout confusing – an issue that could perhaps be addressed by traffic engineers through clearer signage.

According to Mr Hardy, other junctions in in the capital could also see cylist-only traffic light phases introduced, with The Times saying that Blackfriars Bridge could be one location to benefit.

Commenting on the Bow scheme, Mr Hardy said: “If drivers comply with the new layout and cyclists comply with the red lights, then we have eliminated the left-turn conflict at Bow Roundabout.”

Some might see that as a bold statement to make, given that risk cannot be completely designed out of any situation involving moving traffic, and there are circumstances where the head-start traffic light phase might actually increase the risk.

A rider hurrying up the left-hand lane towards the lights on the cyclist only phase, for example, could be put in danger as the other traffic lights change; all it takes is one lorry driver who assumes, wrongly, that any cyclists have already ridden off.

The new lights were, however, welcomed by Mr Dorling’s widow, Debbie, who told The Times: “The TfL guys did talk me through it and it does sound good. Anything to make it safer and to stop the conflict between motor traffic and bicycles and stop lorries turning left into cyclists has got to be good.”

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.