Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Policing is here to stay but infrastructure for bikes doesn't feel quite so certain.

Some of us attended a meeting with the City of London last week about cycling.

It was an interesting meeting and I'll be writing up more about it over the coming few days.

One key topic that came up was the issue of cyclists being killed or seriously injured in the City (KSIs). That is a statistic keenly watched by the City. And rightly so. The number of cyclists killed or seriously injured within City boundaries has been on the up since 2003 (with a slight dip in 2007), rising to  19 last year. The City's view is that in percentage terms things are actually getting slightly better. That is because the number of cycles on the move is considerably higher than 2003. The City calculates 24,000 people passed through on cycles between 7am - 7pm on an average weekday last year, versus 7,600 or so per day in 1999. In our meeting, City officials acknowledged that this year the numbers could be in the low 30,000s. So, in terms of total cycle volume, KSIs are down and, wahay, the number of people cycling in the City is well and truly on the up.

So far so good.

And what's more, this year, the number of KSIs to date is only five.

That's a record low. And what's interesting is what the City is thinking about why that's happening.

What became abundantly clear in that meeting is that the City thinks road safety policing is the primary contributor to that drop. And it may well be.

So far this year, City Police have ticketed 1,667 cyclists for what they call 'illegal' cycling. 1,304 of those are for red light jumping. A new trick, by the way, is to have a plain clothes officer spotting RLJers and radio-ing a uniformed colleague further along the street. To be fair, this is being applied to all traffic, not simply cyclists.

To be honest, we can't really object to policing of the highway code so long as it's fair.

However, this is where I wonder if things need to be thought about a little more.

Take a look at this document: Cycle Safety Action Plan

What's abundantly clear about this plan, is that the City favours policing as a way of improving its KSI statistics because it doesn't result in a direct cost to the City coffers. To quote from the report:

"Financial and Risk Implications

4. None"

Fine. But what about infrastructure? The City is planning to spend millions on fancy paving slabs around the Barbican and St Paul's. In terms of its own hard cash, the City was talking last week about putting a whopping £20,000 into cycling infrastructure next year. Yes, it's also trying to raise money from TfL for projects but when it comes to putting its own plentiful resources where it's mouth is, £20,000 is what cycling gets. At best, that's a handful of one-way streets reverting to two-way for cycling. (By contrast, I am sure I remember numbers floating around about the newly installed and renovated kitsch Victoriana fountain at the end of CarterLane near St Paul's costing £0.5million of City money.)

The City knows its junctions are where most of the cycling KSIs take place. But it's policy is going to be to police those junctions rather than make them safer by changing what George Bush might call 'facts on the ground'.

" All of these activities are focused on casualty hot spot areas and junctions, including Bank, London Wall/ Moorgate, Holborn Circus, Ropemaker Street/Moorgate, Aldersgate Street/London Wall."

As a case in point, the new plans for the Barbican area include lots of nicely designed and widened paving areas. This may possibly lead to narrow, therefore slower traffic speeds. And that is probably a good thing for cycling, to be honest. But the City is not including any plans in its Barbican scheme to improve the Beech Street / Aldersgate junction for cyclists despite the fact that it knows it has a problem here. Cyclists are stuck behind two lanes of traffic here and often resort to cycling on the pavement. A not very virtuous circle ensues: cyclist cycles along Beech Street cycle lane which suddenly stops before the traffic lights heading west; cyclist stuck behind lots of traffic; cyclist hops onto narrow pavement; cyclist upsets pedestrians also on narrow pavement; pedestrians vocalise their anger very efficiently at City Police or City resident meetings. Ergo, the City sees the cyclists as a problem. So its money is going to pedestrian space not cycling and pedestrian space. To be fair, the City did try to raise funds to sort out this junction in its superhighway/cycle hire funding for this year but TransportforLondon denied the funding. What's upsetting is that the City seems to have given up attempting to resolve the problem and clearly won't attempt to do so with its own street landscaping money.

I'm not sure what to think. There is some good in some of these street landscaping projects. But the signs are that safer cycling facilities in the City aren't a priority because it's much cheaper to get the same results using police patrols rather than by improving infrastructure. I think I'll cycle home now and feel like things are never going to get much better in London.