THE PERMEABILITY principle Left and page right: Before and after photos of some of the work that won the Best Facility Award for Hackney at last year’s London Cycling Awards
A long-running Hackney Cyclists campaign has helped make the borough’s streets more cycle-friendly. Trevor Parsons explains how it was achieved s a self-powered mode, cycling works best when you can go as directly as possible to your destination. Diversions are a waste of energy that you feel in your lungs and muscles. The odd wiggle might be acceptable for a six-mile commuter, but for the type of cycling we most want to encourage – the two-mile trip to school, shopping and the surgery – sending people around the block can be a deal breaker. Ten years ago, Hackney Cyclists published a proposal for a permeability project. The idea was that our council should map all the physical and legal restrictions to cycling – one-way streets, road closures lacking cycle gaps, banned turns, etc – and remove them so as to restore hundreds of lost route choices. I say “restore” because most of these obstructions have been superimposed in the last half century or so onto a fine-meshed street pattern created by and for walking and horse-drawn traffic. Widespread motorisation, coupled with the largely successful resistance against plans to criss-cross London with motorways, left the authorities with a problem: how
do we squeeze all these cars onto old streets while minimising the impact on people’s quality of life? The consensus which emerged was to make residential streets awkward for motors to pass through, while adapting the larger streets to high volumes of motor traffic. Unfortunately the deterrent techniques have unfairly been applied to cycle traffic as well, at first because cycling was considered irrelevant, and more recently for a variety of reasons including undue safety fears and the sacred status of car parking. Whatever the reason, the results are the same: you are forced to cycle further than you need to, and to use busy streets that you might prefer to avoid.
THE TIDE TURNS
Left: Murray Grove N1 – why can’t I cycle home along this street?
Like everywhere else, Hackney acquired its share of one-way systems large and small, road closures without cycle gaps, and housing estates dumped down across the old street network. Fortunately, pockets of permeability have been restored over the years. Long before Transport for London (TfL) scrapped the Shoreditch gyratory, Hackney town centre had its own gyratory system, mercifully abolished 20 years ago. Back in the 1970s, residents of De Beauvoir, Hackney’s first conservation area, succeeded in setting up a system of road closures that stopped through traffic while retaining access for motors, all done without imposing one-way working. This made it relatively easy for the Maurice Hope Cycle Route, now LCN+ Route 8, to be pushed through in the mid-’80s simply by opening the road closures to bikes, creating an area of ‘filtered permeability’ where walking and cycling are the dominant modes. The borough’s first cycle contraflows on residential streets appeared in 1995 when a pair of parallel streets were due to go one-way to accommodate growth in car parking. A letter-writing campaign by LCC members ensured that we kept the right to travel in both directions. Since then, we’ve had two-way cycling, and even full two-way working (which we prefer), restored in maybe a dozen streets, mostly by stressing the principle that LCN+ routes should always be on a single alignment. A couple of years
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