Blackfriars: Don’t let Boris Johnson’s TfL send cycling back to 2006

In the recent discussions about the proposed 80mph motorway speed limit, I was reminded on twitter of an article by Jeremy Clarkson, where he says,

“People go with the flow. We drive as fast as traffic conditions allow. We use public transport when it’s better than taking the car. We use an umbrella when it’s raining and wear a jumper when it’s chilly.”

Clarkson is right. I love driving – but I always cycle or use public transport to commute in London. It makes sense.

Expanding on Clarkson’s point (words I don’t write often) is that as well as people shifting between modes of transport, they also shift routes within those modes, according to what makes sense at the time.

This effect seems to be present if we look at cycling levels at Blackfriars Bridge over the last 10 years – and it shows just how harmful TfL’s changes will be if they go ahead.

Blackfriars in 2004 (image from LCC City of London)

The magnet effect

Blackfriars Bridge has seen a greater than threefold rise in cycle commuters since 2000. But this increase has not been constant.

Prior to 2006, cycling over Blackfriars changed at around the same rate that cycling increased overall on London’s main roads. Since 2006 the number of cyclists over Blackfriars has more than doubled – far outpacing the overall cycling rise.

Increase in rush hour cycling over Blackfriars compared with increase over London's main roads: since 2006, the popularity of Blackfriars has skyrocketed.

What is interesting is that we have not seen the same increase in cycling on the bridges which neighbour Blackfriars: Waterloo to the west and Southwark to the east.

In fact, rush hour cycling on both those bridges between 2006 and 2010 actually decreased – although cycling in London increased by around a third.

Cycling rates over three bridges, 7-10am northbound, 2000-2010. 100 = average in 2000 over all Central London bridges.

Why did commuters old and new (the total number of people crossing all three bridges still increased) suddenly choose Blackfriars over the other bridges?

I may be misinformed, but I don’t believe London’s office space all moved between 2006 and 2010.

What did change was the deaths of two cyclists in 2004 over Blackfriars Bridge. Transport for London resurfaced the road, adding a wide cycle lane.

Blackfriars post 2006 – resurfaced after the deaths of two cyclists with a wide, mandatory cycle lane, no longer between two lanes of traffic.

This wasn’t perfect – the northbound junction was still a problem – but a wide clear space, largely separate from the bus lane, suddenly made this route cyclable again, at least relative to the neighbouring bridges.

The lane won the London Cycle Campaign’s award for best cycle facility of the year in 2006.

The increase in cyclists supports the argument that cycle bloggers have been making for a long time: what really bikes on streets is not marketing (competition in public services has not yet led to each bridge advertising its individual benefits to prospective consumers) – it’s feeling safe.

Going backwards

Jenny Jones, the Green Party London Assembly Member said last week that London’s cycle revolution is losing momentum.

At Blackfriars, TfL’s plans to narrow the northern cycle lane, remove the advanced stop box and addition of an extra traffic lane, are all clear signs that we’re now moving backwards.

I don’t want cycling to return to 2006 levels at Blackfriars – or at Elephant and Castle, Finchley, Richmond, Vauxhall or anywhere else that Boris Johnson’s TfL is making regressive changes to London’s streets.

That’s why I’ll be at Blackfriars on Wednesday October 12th at 5.45pm, for a flashride to show the Mayor which direction London needs to be moving. See you there.

Get the data.

7 Responses to “Blackfriars: Don’t let Boris Johnson’s TfL send cycling back to 2006”

  1. Futilitarian Says:

    I feel compelled to add as a sort of pre-emptive response to the inevitable comment about Southwark Bridge’s infrastructure: it did not get the seperate cycle lane until 2008 (

    After 2008 there is an increase in rush hour cyclists (although not to 2006 levels – presumably because Blackfriars still seems a tenable option). If the Blackfriars works go ahead, it will be very interesting to see the 2012 screenline data.

  2. aseasyasriding Says:

    Good points. I would add that the Waterloo and City line was closed for some time in 2006, which may have given a push to some commuters (who had previously used the tube) to get on a bike and use Blackfriars Bridge. That may account for some of the increase.

  3. i b i k e l o n d o n Says:

    Great article. I agree with @aseasyasriding – Blackfriars Bridge is the Waterloo & City line for bikes. I think if you looked at bikes coming out of Waterloo at peak AM you’d see a similar rise over the same time.

    It just goes to show that the majority of people are just seeking out the easiest way to get to work. Make Blackfriars difficult and dangerous to ride on again and lots of those cyclists will dissapear back Underground.

    I’ll be there on Blackfriars Bridge on the 12th!

  4. Paul M Says:

    I have been crossing Blackfriars Bridge daily since 29 February 1988, when I started a new job in offices just by the station. Until 2006 I walked, and I used to look at the ground-beef sandwich excuse for a cycle lane and think “you’d have to be insane to use that”.

    I started cycling the route almost as soon as I saw the new cycle lane and the other changes to the layout, the widening of the pavement and reduction from three general traffic lanes to one plus a bus lane. The environment on the bridge itself was thereby massively improved, although not perfect due to the deterioration again once you make landfall again to the north. (There are by the way no plans to narrow the lane on the bridge proper, or indeed to make it non-mandatory – the issues are with the northern junction layout.)

    Southbound has always been less satisfactory, although the narrower advisory lane gets some protection from the bus lane, once you get that far. Then it all goes to hell on the south side, and for as long as I remember the conditions for pedestrians also have been scandalous.

    By the way, the Southwark Bridge cycle lanes, behind the concrete bunds either side of the road, were not conceived as cycle lanes initially – although the City raided the TfL LCN grant to pay for them. They were actually introduced to prevent the bridge being used as a coach park.

  5. Simon Parker Says:

    You raise some very interesting points, specifically why cyclists are using Blackfriars Bridge rather than Southwark Bridge.

    Assuming, for the sake of argument, that someone wants to get to Bank, from Vauxhall Cross, from St George’s Cross, and from Waterloo Station, the distance one would need to travel is more when using Blackfriars Bridge than when using Southwark Bridge (respectively 2.87 mi vs. 2.64 mi, 1.48 mi vs 1.36 mi, and 1.56 mi vs 1.48 mi).

    The routes linking to Southwark Bridge are, comparatively, more pleasant, i.e. less trafficky, but because they use more of the back streets, the routes themselves are not always functional in both directions.

    Putting this right can be remarkably easy. In certain cases, you just need to put up an ‘Except cyclists’ sign underneath the ‘No entry’ sign.

    We saw in Times Square how they had set about making the minimum change for the maximum effect. All the guttering remained where it was; they just painted some lines about the place, planted a few trees here and there and then laid out the chairs and tables. I presume the day will come when they will revisit that site, but until then, it’s an obvious improvement on what it was before.

    Oliver Schulze also remarked that utility cyclists should not expect to use every single road in the city, particularly for non-local journeys. Obviously, then, it’s a case of identifying those roads and paths which cyclists can use, and joining these up to form a coherent and simple-to-use network.

  6. thereviewer Says:

    Clarkson is right, for a change.

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