14 December 2009

Is this the right way?: The City's new contraflows

New bike contraflows with custom signs are all the rage in London these days. Permeability is the new black. Two-way cycling is the new Twitter. Being shouted at by a taxi driver who thinks the street is still one-way is the new rock and roll.

The City is the latest borough to unveil a set. Five opened today, in West Smithfield, Cloth Fair, Salisbury Court, Creechurch Lane and Finsbury Circus. (Fann St, a purported sixth, doesn't count as it's two-way for traffic.)

Last week I discussed Kensington and Chelsea's contribution to the counter-directional cycling movement. Taking advantage of relaxed new government guidelines on signing such things, they show the entrance to a contraflow with the hitherto illegal combination of 'no entry' sign plus plate saying 'Except cyclists'.

The City, of course, like doing things their own way. Not for them the bully-boy tactics of the Met Police, for instance, arresting cyclists for going down a deserted pavement when cars flagrantly ignore ASLs on the adjacent road. No. They have their own force, the City Police, for arresting cyclists for going down a deserted pavement when cars flagrantly ignore ASLs on the adjacent road.

So no surprise that the City have their own approach to signing: for them it's the 'stunt motorbike' sign (above right), of a powered two-wheeler vaulting a car, denoting 'no motor vehicles' - so, by implication, allowing cycles. They paint a mini-give-way line with a bike, and hey presto, there's your contraflow.

At the other end, they warn incoming drivers of oncoming cyclists with a sign we rather like. It says ONCOMING CYCLISTS (right). To us, that concisely informs drivers that there may be cyclists oncoming. It's often reinforced with one of those blue signs that looks like a bike taking a ride down in a lift.

There's also a temporary sticker mounted on the kerbside saying LOOK BOTH WAYS (right). It's very well-designed, in an eye-catching yellow and blue. I nearly ran over two people who were staring at the sticker while walking across in front of me.

Anyway, I explored the five new contraflows this morning. Some are so new they were still having the finishing touches from the construction crew. They're all rather shorter and more obscure than you might expect from the coverage they've had in the press.

Salisbury Court (pictured right, and very top right) is being touted as now enabling a continuous backstreet alternative to going up New Bridge St, north from Blackfriars Bridge. In practice nobody will be able to find it until this notional route is signposted; it'll be a useful, though very minor, aid to permeability, when commuters eventually manage to find it.

West Smithfield makes it now possible to cycle away from Carluccio's if you've been eating there, instead of having to push your bike 20m.

Cloth Fair (right and second-top right) smooths and shortens the way for cyclists going north from say St Paul's to the Barbican (along the satisfyingly named Little Britain).

Finsbury Circus is useful for cyclists going to, well, Finsbury Circus. There must be some of them I suppose.

And Creechurch Lane's southern end, thrillingly situated at the foot of the Gherkin, provides a bit more permeability for those going south through the City, enabling a faster escape for bankers keen to spend their Christmas bonus before the lynch mobs arrive.

I was the only cyclist using all of them. As ever in the city, all of them had parked delivery vehicles, meaning quite a bit of squeezy-pasty stuff when I was using the contraflow and a vehicle was coming the other way. But, as ever in the city, drivers waved cheerily with their fingers, indicating I was the first cyclist they'd seen using the new facility, or perhaps the second. Nah, seriously, I didn't have a problem. It seemed like they'd not only seen the signs but actually understood them. Unlike the Copenhagen Summit.

In sum, it's not much. But it's a start. As they say, 'Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, before the City Police stop you and ask why you're taking photographs'.


  1. Expect it only to be a matter of time before motor vehicles start going the wrong way down these streets. Motorists are used to seeing the "LFM" sign in the context of "Except for Access", so they ignore it.

    This is what happened in Cambridge (see www.camcycle.org.uk/newsletters/79/article3.html). As a result there has been a hell opf a fuss kicked up by anti-cycling councillors (even though it's the motorists breaking the rules!) and as a result it is now vastly more difficult to persuade anyone that they should enthusiasitcally open up more streets to two way cycling.

    Only the No Entry works. See also the gallery of "illegal" signs at http://cambridge.cyclestreets.net/galleries/41/

  2. Hey - I just think it is all bonkers. It's cool that the authorities are finally waking up and most sensibly allowing us to cycle against the traffic. But what a waste of time and money putting up all these extra signs. I dont think it makes anyone safer it just feels like local councils covering their own arses.

  3. The blue contraflow signs with the red warning plates certainly are more visible than just the blue ones on their own -- probably made some poor grammar there. I'm also from Cambridge: our central streets are a mess with the amount of signage we enjoy; half of them have been turned 'round the wrong way and the rest seem to blend into the University buildings. Not sure how, though; the University's nearly always gone with a beige render.

  4. It's a step forward at least.
    The Finsbury Circus one is good as it allow you to avoid Eldon Sstreet or London Wall which are both full of agressive taxis and buses.
    The rest aren't on my normal routes, so not sure about them.

    The city are ahead of most boroughs on this.