Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Two-way streets for cycling. Significant new development officially approved today.

I spent a fascinating early lunchtime sitting in the public gallery of the City of London Planning and Transportation Committee today. Something quite new to me.

And the purpose was to listen to the Committee formally approving a report noting that “the outcomes of the cycle permeability improvements have been positive” and to “encourage officers to deliver further safe and convenience improvements of a similar nature, as funding opportunities and processes allow

This is stonkingly good news.

The City first approved a number of one-way streets becoming two-way for cycling a year ago. The AA warned of all sorts of dangers, including 'illegal cyclists' hitting pedestrians. Commentators in The Evening Standard warned of dire consequences. And the City authorities had to jump through endless numbers of hoops to obtain approval for these first contraflow streets.

As one City official put it this morning: ‘At the time, considered rather brave’, before adding, somewhat astonishingly ‘we [the City of London] are perhaps lagging a bit behind the rest of London'. Astonishing words. The City of London seems, just occassionally to really get its head around this stuff.

The report noted that:

"Overall, there has been a significant increase in the number of cyclists that use the new facilities. This increase was measured at greater than 60% (180 cycles compared to 111 in a single hour)" with Fann Street and West Smithfield seeing the biggest growth.

The report notes the complete support of the City of London Police. And, guess what: "There have been no reported collisions involving cyclists in the six months since the changes were implemented. The ability for cyclists to avoid busy streets will be a contributing factor in improving road safety in the City."

No reported collisions. This report basically states that, despite all the outcry when these schemes were first implemented, there is pretty much nothing to report.
Fabulous.
 
Back to this morning, then. The report was discussed by the various members of the committee in the chamber. I say 'discussed' but what really takes place is that each member pops up and voices an opinion. It's a little like watching a debate in the House of Commons. Only more polite.

And this was fascinating to observe.

We started with one member of the committee banging on about 'illegal cyclists' and blathering about issues that were about badly behaved cyclists in general. Nothing to do with the issue at hand, really. “One consequence is cyclists now think they can cycle in any direction on any street and any pavement at any time", he opined and then spent some time talking about one particular cyclist proceeding in a northerly direction along a pavement and his sense of outrage.

I'm not condoning cycling on the pavement. I'm also not suggesting cyclists are perfect. But if we spent our days deciding whether or not to widen the M25 based on whether a single motorist flouts the Highway Code, then Philip Hammond would never have got today's road-widening schemes on the agenda.

And so it proved to be at the City of London.

I was all set to have to endure a session of listening to our elected members berate cyclists and beat us up for our manners, our road behaviour, our simple presence on the street.
But, no. I was proven to be far too cynical.

With thanks to Real Cycling blog
‘These facilities without proper enforcement can lead to the inevitable,’ retorted a City official, setting the scene for another member to give his view. Now I happen to know this particular elected member was a vociferous opponent of the two-way cycling schemes when they were first discussed. And he admitted as much this morning. "In practice, my reservations have been proved unfair". What he was saying was that he was a convert from flatly opposing two-way cycling to believing it was a success. In fact, he continued to narrate a story of how the only person he'd witnessed contravening the new road layout was a motorist driving the wrong way down a one-way streets for motor vehicles who seemed ignorant of the meaning of the so-called 'flying motorbike' signs.

And then came the most entertaining moment. Up stands an erudite and, dare-I-say, slightly portly member. Who promptly 'outs' himself as a passionate Boris biker, a man who uses the bikes every day to journey to work and a man who one might not have necessarily expected to be a 'cyclist'. In fact, he's not a 'cyclist'. He's a man who happens to go to work on a bicycle. As do I and many of the people I work with.

In any case, he briskly takes the committee to task on two issues that directly impact his journey to work. Firstly, the quality of the road surface, potholes and that can be dangerous for cyclists. And then talked about how he found a particular junction in the City badly designed for people on bikes. He expressed how the design actively made people like himself have to dodge between idling cars stuck at the junction and how this created conflict and unnecessary danger.
Blimey, I thought.

I know this blog can be a little cynical about how the authorities perceive cycling. And there is an awful long way to go before people actually think cycling from the perspective of what it's like to be on a bicycle instead of implementing poorly thought-out road schemes designed by motorists. It's also going to be years before we actually secure any real and decent money for cycling.

But something's afoot. I saw it in the City of London's debating chamber this very morning. And I was proud of the place for the first time in a long while.