London’s Bank junction closed to most traffic as part of new safety scheme | Environment

Bank junction, one of London’s most dangerous intersections, was closed this week to all but buses, and people on bikes and foot, from 7am to 7pm on weekdays, in an 18-month experimental scheme that could be as ground breaking as New York’s Times Square or Paris’s Left Bank.

In 2015 Ying Tao was hit from behind by a lorry and killed as she cycled across the six-armed crossroads. Cyclists make up to 50% of Bank traffic during peak times, and from 2010-14, 46 cyclists were injured at the junction, six seriously. There were also eight serious pedestrian casualties in that time.

Early on Monday morning a small group of the City of London’s senior officials, some of whom have been the subject of personal abuse, gathered to see the fruition of 25 years’ work, along with a handful of campaigners.

Iain Simmons, head of road safety, transport and traffic management at the City of London Corporation, has been trying to improve Bank for 25 years. A project in the early 90s was shelved after IRA bombings forced the reallocation of resources to what was known as the Ring of Steel, a new version of which was proposed in December.

Bank’s closure was first conceived in 2010. After years spent trying to get more traffic through the junction, traffic modelling revealed that by rerouting motor vehicles around it, journey times through the area would actually improve.

The junction is just too complex to be efficient, Simmons says. “There are six arms of traffic, and they all get a little bit of time, but that’s not enough.”

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By giving traffic around the junction longer green light phases, the City estimates it will take seven minutes to go around Bank, as opposed to seven and a half through it.

The main motivation though, is safety. Simmons said: “The danger comes for pedestrians because there just isn’t enough space or capacity for them, and the danger comes for cyclists because the space is so indeterminate – cyclists don’t know where to position themselves on the road in relation to the vehicles.”

There were more than 100 collisions at Bank from 2010-14, 75% of them between 7am and 7pm, with people on foot and bikes the main casualties. The most commonly injured were pedestrians.

That said, a lot of people did not want the scheme to happen and tempers have, inevitably, flared. Christopher Hayward is the chair of the City of London Corporation’s planning and transportation committee. He admits he has been the subject of personal abuse because of the scheme.

“It was a tough decision because nobody likes change, and clearly we have been lobbied hard by those who don’t believe the scheme will work. Our first priority is public safety, though. The option to do nothing is not an option.”

Taxi drivers have staged several protests against the changes, which they feel are targeting them unfairly. However, extrapolating from past collision data the City estimates that allowing taxis through the junction could result in eight extra cycling casualties and two pedestrian casualties over four years.

“The idea is ultimately to reduce collisions, save lives,” says Hayward. “It is not designed to be in favour of a particular group. This is about public safety, not about saving one road user.”

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“The personal abuse is something else, though,” he says. “That has been hard.”

Donnachadh McCarthy of Stop Killing Cyclists says this is a turning point in prioritising city streets for the huge numbers who walk and cycle in the capital – or want to cycle but can’t.

Traffic at the junction before the introduction of the scheme



Cyclists at the junction before the introduction of the scheme. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Green London Assembly member Caroline Russell adds: “It is not inevitable that so many lorries, buses and cars fill the streets. If we are innovative and creative we can actually make a city that works for people, and works as a place to do business.”

On Monday morning, despite 84 signs in and around the junction warning of the changes, more than 70 vehicles crossed the junction in the first seven minutes. By the end of Tuesday, however, prohibited traffic had dropped from a stream to a trickle.

At first, drivers using Bank at banned times will receive a warning letter. It will then be a £130 fine for each infringement.

On Tuesday afternoon the space was transformed. In the sun, the huge volumes of pedestrians spilled off pavements on to the road. Conversation was audible. The air had lost its customary acrid taste.

One man got off his bike to take a photo. “It’s brilliant,” he told the Guardian. “I had to stop to savour the moment.”

He’s been cycling through here since September, in which time he’s had two crashes; one involved a van driver who hit him in the centre of the junction and simply drove off.

The City is monitoring the situation, and there is a public consultation on the changes. One option on the table is the removal of buses, something the London Cycling Campaign welcomes. The LCC’s Simon Munk says: “This is an opportunity to reshape Bank as a public space for the huge numbers of pedestrians and people cycling – to enable it to become a public square, not a junction. The heritage of the buildings could be celebrated, and people can move about in a much more human way.

“Just two days in, we are seeing dramatic change. Traffic on surrounding roads doesn’t seem to be that bad. Now pedestrians are calmer, people are cycling more slowly. People are smiling.”

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