A new road junction layout at Charlotte Street, Howland Street and Fitzroy Street has no traffic lights. But it is missing other things, too.
By Linus Rees
Camden Council are in the process of changing some of the road junction layouts in Fitzrovia. Work has been ongoing since the beginning of February and will continue until May. A 20-miles-per-hour speed limit is to be introduced on some roads as well as cycling contra-flows along some one-way streets. Railings have been removed, cycle parking has been provided, raised road tables have been built, zebra crossings painted and in some cases traffic lights have been removed. Camden Cycling Campaign and residents groups expressed some concern during the consultation about the removal of traffic lights at some of the busier junctions but welcomed most of the alterations.
On Sunday 26 February I went to look at the new junction at Charlotte, Howland and Fitzroy Streets which has been opened to traffic. This is quite a busy traffic intersection from Monday to Friday and Howland Street has a segregated cycle lane along it. Previously the junction had traffic lights and there was a separate set of lights for cyclists wishing to go straight ahead to protect them from left-turning motor vehicles. The traffic lights have now been removed as part of the “improvements”, but so have a few other things.
I made three videos to explain what is going on.
Howland Street is a one way street travelling from east to west, but there are now no signs at the junction which indicate this. So on Sunday I got on my bike and — just to prove a point, don’t try this yourselves — cycled north up Charlotte Street, then turned right into Howland Street. I obeyed the Highway Code by riding on the left, looking out for road signs that give instructions and gave way to other vehicles when instructed to do so. But nothing told me that I could not cycle east along Howland Street.
I then approached the junction from Fitzroy Street travelling south and turned left to head east along Howland Street. Again, there were no traffic signs that indicated that this was not a good idea.
At all three entrances to the junction there is a red sign which states: “new junction layout ahead”. So as far as I was concerned, I was welcome to use the road as I saw fit, never mind what was there before. And without any signs to the contrary it was perfectly ok (and legal) for me to cycle east along Howland Street.
However, I strongly suspect that this is not the intention of Camden’s traffic engineers.
The reason that there are no “no entry”, “no right turn” or “no left turn” signs is because there are no traffic lights. The one way signs were fixed to the traffic lights. When they took the lights away someone forgot to put up one way street signs. And they allowed the road to open and let all sorts of traffic use it without checking.
At 9.00 on Monday morning I returned to the junction to see it during the morning rush. Still no signs to indicate Howland Street traffic direction. During the time I spent at the junction on Sunday and Monday I did not see anyone actually turn into Howland Street and travel east.
While there were a few near collisions between cyclists and motor vehicles turning left off Howland Street into Charlotte Street (the above video shows a cyclist and car driver negotiating the junction), the junction did seem to be working well. I was a bit concerned about large vehicles turning left off Howland into Charlotte Street as some of them went over the pedestrian paved area. As the tarmac is the same level as the pavement there is little to prevent motor vehicles encroaching on to the pavement. I was standing on the street corner at one point talking to two people on Sunday and we had to suddenly move out of the way as a large vehicle ran over the pavement by a nearly half a metre.
Update: Tuesday 1.30pm. The same has now been done for the junction of Fitzroy and Maple Streets. The traffic lights were removed but the “no right turn” sign was also removed.
This time after taking the photos I spoke to the men working about this and they agreed there was a problem with missing signs so quickly went to their pile of assorted temporary traffic signs and deployed them.