The London Borough of Southwark are consulting on a redesign of the big double roundabout at the northern end of Crystal Palace Parade.
This is a complex junction, carrying traffic between a number of the area’s biggest roads. Fountain Drive is one of the most popular cycle routes in the area – on account, perhaps, of offering one of the more relaxed gradients up and down the 300ft hill.
Currently, there is a double roundabout with no cycle or pedestrian facilities whatsoever. As a pedestrian entering or leaving Crystal Palace Park or the caravan site via Old Cople Lane, or catching a bus from the east side of Crystal Palace Parade, there is essentially no way to cross here – crossing safely requires a detour of several hundred metres. Southwark’s ambitious plans create no less than five new crossings, and a Dutch-inspired off-carriageway cycle track circulating the edge of the junction.
What follows is a somewhat lengthy view, from my experience using this junction most days for several years as a cyclist and pedestrian. TL,DR; it’s a good scheme and worthy of support – have your say here – but not without significant room for improvement.
If you’re planning on replying to the consultation, feel free to take inspiration from what’s below. Thank you Arnout van Meer, Francis Bernstein, Tom Chance and Kristian Gregory for constructive comments on various mailing lists, and to Jessica Ellery for clarifying the priority rules on the hybrid bike/zebra crossings.
Part 1 – things falling within the scope of the scheme, to consider addressing before its construction
1.1 Priority and raised table at Old Cople Lane
Old Cople Lane is an access road to the Caravan Club and Transmitter, and carries virtually no traffic (two or three vehicles per hour at most, typically traveling at less than 10mph). The footway and cycle lane should be extended across its mouth on a raised table, with traffic in and out of the lane giving way.
1.2 Old Cople Lane & Westwood Hill to Fountain Drive and Sydenham Hill
The cycle crossings have been dubbed “Zoucans” (a cross between a Zebra and a Toucan), and will follow Zebra-like priority rules. That is to say, under normal conditions for the junction (free-flowing high volume traffic) cyclists will wait at the crossing edge for traffic to stop before proceeding. It is therefore desirable to keep the number of crossing stages in any direction to a necessary minimum.
Per the design, cyclists from Old Cople Lane to Fountain Drive are expected to turn left, cross Crystal Palace Parade at the western end, turn right and then merge on to Fountain Drive – fewer crossing stages (2 vs 3) but a significant detour. Cyclists from Old Cople Lane to Sydenham Hill and Westwood Hill are supposed to go all the way to the westernmost end, and then all the way back – four or six crossing stages instead of a potential two.
Worse still, cyclists from Westwood Hill wanting to turn right on to Sydenham Hill are supposed to go all the way along to Crystal Palace Parade, cross at the CP Parade crossing, then cross Fountain Drive and cycle all the way back to Sydenham Hill.
I simply don’t see it being used this way in practice – cyclists, like pedestrians, are inclined to see a desire line and use it – meaning crossing the central crossing “against the flow” and then turning right (for Sydenham) or left (for Fountain Driver). Making the central crossing – and potentially some of the tracks – two-way in operation would mitigate that. While such a change would compromise the simplicity and purity of the design, it seems better to design for how people will actually use it than how engineers might like them to.
The volume of cyclists using this junction is high by the standards of the area, but not so high as to make limited two-way operation impractical
1.3 Fountain Drive and Crystal Palace Parade to Old Cople Lane
A similar issue here – cyclists wanting to get to Old Cople Lane are expected to go all the way around – if you use the central crossing (correctly) or the western crossing (incorrectly), either way you’re stuck at the wrong end of a one-way track. Even if the western crossing remains one-way, the stub of track from the mouth of Old Cople Lane to the central crossing should be two-way, allowing access from the crossing to the lane.
1.4 Shared space on Westwood Hill corner
An ugly fudge to an otherwise elegant design. The council should consider purchasing a small sliver of car park land from the hotel (which is empty most of the time) and do this right. The other option might be to take a traffic lane from Sydenham Hill and build out the footway, but that’s likely to make congestion worse and exacerbate problems elsewhere. Better to spend the money and do it right.
1.5 Geometry and public realm on Fountain Drive entry
The plan to narrow Fountain Drive’s ridiculously wide flared exit is very welcome indeed – it makes it much easier for pedestrians to cross the road and for cyclists using the carriageway to get in to the correct position – but the entry geometry encourages needlessly high speed on a 20mph road. The splitter in the centre of Fountain Drive should be narrowed at its southern edge, and the western side planter built out to create a tighter geometry and encourage compliance with the 20mph speed limit on this road. Overall the public realm treatment on Fountain Drive needs to communicate unambiguously that this is a minor residential road and important cycle route, and not an “A” road. The corner should be smooth enough to allow a refuse truck or single decker bus to turn left, but no smoother.
1.6 Cycle lane south/west bound on Crystal Palace Parade
The decision to continue this cycle lane as far as the start of the bus lane is a really nice touch, with one snag: it merges right before a bus stop (just to the left of where the plans end). This presents an obvious problem when a bus is stopped there. This could be addressed by one of the following:
– Extending the bus lane closer to the roundabout & ending the cycle track earlier, giving cyclists a chance to build up speed before passing a stopped bus. The disadvantage is that this might disrupt general traffic flow through the roundabout.
– Moving the bus stop further from the roundabout, again giving cyclists some room to accelerate. However, it’s less convenient for bus stop users – most of whom will cross Crystal Palace Parade at the first crossing – as they’d have further to walk.
– Have the cycle lane continue further along Crystal Palace Parade, bypassing the bus stop and rejoining the carriageway further down, entirely removing the need for cycles to pass buses on the outside. There’s some potential for conflict with this approach, but as the bus stop is not all that heavily used, it can probably be managed OK.
Overall, the latter seems like the best approach – aside from anything else, it allows for a future extension of the cycle lane all the way along Crystal Palace Parade. More on this below.
1.7 Cycle lane entry / exit geometry
The geometry of the entry and exit to the cycle facilities have come in for some criticism elsewhere; it’s worth recognising that we have two different types of entry/exit which perform different roles. Those at crossing points require cyclists to stop – and so the relatively sharp angles are not a bad idea. However, those where cyclists join the carriageway require smooth geometry to allow them to merge in to the rest of the traffic.
Most of the entries / exits have just one function or the other, but some are dual-purpose – Fountain Drive southbound, Westwood Hill westbound and Sydenham Hill northbound. These need some fine tuning so as to meet the need of both crossing and merging / filtering users.
2 Future improvements in the area beyond the scope of this scheme
2.1 Crystal Palace Parade segregated cycleway
Crystal Palace Parade is an enormously wide road carrying high volumes of buses and HGVs – and is the only road in Southwark, as far as I know, to be exempted from their imminent Total 20mph Zone. Pedestrian volumes on the eastern side are very low indeed from Fountain Drive all the way to the park entrance opposite Bowley Close. The Crystal Palace Parade cycle lane on the south-eastern side of the junction could reasonably be continued as far as this park entrance. South of the park entrance, pedestrian volumes are too high for that to work, but cyclists could be diverted in to the park at that point (around the back of the bus station).
2.2 Upgrade park access at Old Cople Lane
Old Cople Lane’s status as access to / from the park is unclear. It’s there, it works, but it seems quite unofficial and is used by only a handful of cyclists (mostly mountain bikes) and dog walkers. Upgrade it to a higher standard (see this post) by improving the surfacing and replacing the fire gate with a bollard and it could be the start of something great.
2.3 Fountain Drive traffic volume reduction
Fountain Drive carries a relatively high volume of cyclists and is a legitimate access road to the Kingswood Estate – but it’s also used as a rat run together with Kingswood Drive to bypass congestion on the A2199 Dulwich Wood Park – traffic volumes/speeds are too high on the upper section of Fountain Drive for it to be viable as an 8-80 cycle route. Measures should be taken to prevent rat running on this route & Kingswood residents canvassed as to their preferred solution.