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Life in the (temporary) fast-lane

TfL have been working at eye-popping speed on many roads in London to deliver temporary but high quality cycle facilities and extra social distancing space for pedestrians.

The need for improved and new routes to enable people to cycle more has meant we’ve been working around the clock on kilometres of Transport for London Road Network (TLRN) and Borough roads.

Existing routes have been improved, such as Cycle Superhighway 8, running from Chelsea Bridge to Lambeth Bridge. Mandatory cycle lanes have been widened and enhanced with traffic cylinders providing physical separation to traffic lanes. We have floated parking bays to create bypasses for people to safely cycle past. Turns have been banned at junctions to remove potential conflict points between traffic and people cycling. All of this retrofitting has given the route a much-needed revamp in anticipation of more people cycling along the corridor.

It is not just existing routes that we have had the pop-up treatment. Brand new routes are opening across the TLRN and Boroughs. One that started life as a sketch in Engineering and is now on street connects Camden Town with Tottenham Court Road, via Hampstead Road. Here we have installed new cycle lanes, supported by traffic cylinders and where space has been restricted, improved 24-hour bus lanes. Another example is the Park Lane two-way track, created from a five-lane carriageway and now home to dedicated cycle space and temporary bus stop bypasses.

And while one team has been busy leading the post COVID cycle renaissance, another team of engineers have been putting in extended hours to provide social distancing measures across our network. This started in early May at Stoke Newington High Street, where footways were widened to accommodate queues at supermarkets, pharmacies and banks. Next stop was Brixton, where bus stops were reconfigured and the footway built out to provide 300m2 of new space at a known network pinch point. This was kindly decorated by the good people of Lambeth, bringing some colour to our asphalt creation, and has been used as a best practice example for transport operators across the UK and Europe.

Since then, we have gone on to deliver benefits at over 28 locations (and counting), providing over 13000m2 of additional space. Measures have ranged from lane removal and widening footways to building out bus stops and provision of ‘Bus Pads’ to ensure relocated bus stops can be accessible to all. Locations ranged from town centres in Dalston, Tottenham, Camden and West Wickham, to interchanges at Angel, Victoria and Holloway Road.

The scale and speed of change has been quite something – all previous constraints on our network have been challenged under these new emergency powers; lane removal became feasible and getting measures on site as soon as possible is the new priority. In many respects the change was refreshing, with the ability to implement in a matter of days rather than years. Since the first sites were rolled out we have learnt as we have built, taking lessons from the first sites to incorporate and adapt as more were rolled out. Where we take these schemes next is the big question – with ongoing monitoring as London opens up we’ll inevitably scale back some sites as the demands for loading and access increase. Others we’ll look to see if we can make a more permanent change, potentially converting barriered space to buildout to prioritise pedestrians for the long term, in line with our Healthy Streets agenda.

Our expedited assurance process has brought together all engineering disciplines to review, challenge, solve, and approve schemes that then appear on our network in a matter of days and weeks. We’ve had to think laterally, working with our delivery teams and suppliers to come up with solutions to issues, such as how we build new traffic islands and buildouts quickly, safely, and robustly.

Next steps are to monitor how the new cycle routes and social distancing measures are being used and make appropriate tweaks, and then a larger evaluation piece to consider which sites may be good candidates to make permanent.