Thursday, 16 June 2011

Blackfriars - TfL simply isn't listening. We're still stuck in 2004. Can a two-minute Stop Cycling Friday every week change that?

Blackfriars Bridge - not the 2011 flash ride but 2004. Time to try
something different, I reckon....
In 2004, this post appeared on the Indymedia website. 700 people on cycles took to Blackfriars Bridge to protest the death of Vicki McCreery killed cycling here. The author spelt out exactly who he felt was to blame: "Another cyclist was killed on the same spot in February 2003 yet the transport authorities still refused to listen to local cycling groups. Their attempts to cater for the surge in cycling following congestion charging have been token gestures of their incompetence and ideological commitment to keeping more motor vehicles moving".

Fast forward to 2011 and once again, cyclists take to Blackfriars Bridge in protest (the full timescale of events is here). The wording may be different (this time the terminology is about 'smoothing the traffic flow') but the issue is the same. Cycling and walking is marginalised by an ideological commitment to keep more motor vehicles moving, as quickly as possible. This despite the fact that, once again, cycle use is surging on this bridge and cycles are now the largest single type of vehicle on the bridge at both rush hours.

To prove just how little Transport for London is listening to people who want to cycle and walk here, you might want to follow this exchange of emails between one cyclist via his Assembly Member (Conservative, as it happens) and Leon Daniels, the man who is the boss of London's roads. And the man who suggests there is no safety benefit in giving cyclists space and room on London's roads.

Very simply, I don't think TfL has a clue what cyclists are worried about. And this edited response shows why:

Question: "turning right into Queen Victoria St, northbound, or onto Victoria Embankment southbound involves filtering across two lanes of fast-moving traffic. It's a dangerous and difficult manoeuvre on a bike, and most people will just avoid doing it."

Initial answer from Leon Daniels, head of surface transport at TfL: "Taking all users into account we believe the proposals are equitable and safe. Dominic comments on the safety of the right turn for cyclists - this is in fact one of the key features of the scheme and they are protected by traffic signals when they do this."

Mr Daniels is talking here about the newly installed filter allowing people to cycle up from the Embankment and turn right on to the bridge, which he describes as a 'key feature'. In other words, on a first reading, he hasn't even realised that very few cyclists make that manoeuvre and that very many more are concerned about a different crossing, namely where thousands of them turn towards Bank junction and into the City of London, not away from it and over the bridge. By adding an extra motor traffic lane will make it terrifyingly difficult to turn right into the City. After nearly 600 individual letters to TfL, motions in the London Assembly, a petition of 2,000 further signatories, he doesn't seem realise this is one of the key issues with Blackfriars.

Later that morning, Mr Daniels does realise his mistake and now refers to the actual issue in question. He sends a further email, stating:

"In these cases [turning into Queen Victoria Street] the manoeuvres do involve some filtering with the traffic which is not uncommon of course but we are providing Advance Stop Lines across the width of the road to give cyclists an opportunity to get into position safely.

I should also have said that at peak times the average speed across this junction is below 20mph anyway so hopefully ensures all users are properly respecting each others' requirements."

Firstly, there is no Advanced Stop Line on the plan at this point. Secondly, even if there were, it would be inaccessible to cyclists unless they want to cycle down the centre of a newly installed middle lane of traffic accelerating away from the bridge. And third, his response implies, if you're not commuting at the office hours we deem to be commuting time, you'll just have to play chicken with the fast-moving traffic.

Dozens of people contacted me after my post yesterday and the comments on yesterday's article all suggested one thing: That lots of people are fed up with playing second-fiddle to people in motor vehicles who want just as much right to the road as those people in motor vehicles. And that they don't think the Mayor is listening. No-one's an 'anti-motorist'. This isn't a war against the motorist. It's a battle to have an equality of right to the road and a battle to feel that the Mayor and his transport authority attach the same amount of importance to the safety and convenience of people walking, cycling, using mobility scooters or wheelchairs, as they do to people using motor vehicles.

Andrew Boff, Conservative Assembly Member put it better than me last week when he said "it's not just about recognising the [private motor vehicle] capacity of the road any more. It's about the thought that goes into the people using that junction, it's about how people use that junction."

TfL doesn't seem to agree.

A lot of cyclists are very passionate about this junction as a symbol of all that's wrong with TfL's policies. They took to the streets in 2004. And again in 2011. I felt very ambivalent about the Flashride on Blackfriars a few weeks ago and stated so. I'm not a great fan of blocking other people on their way to work, just because they're on a bus. I don't have a particular beef against taxi drivers or private motor vehicles. My beef is with the Mayor and TfL, not the bloke trying to get to work in his van or the woman on the bus. I'm also left feeling a bit flat by the idea of yet another petition. If the last one, plus 600 letters, plus countless communications with Assembly Members hasn't worked, then another petition feels a bit jaded.

So my suggestion is a bit different. It's called Stop Cycling Fridays.

It's simple. On Friday mornings, every Friday morning, cyclists should stop cycling for two minutes, pull to the side of the road and spend two minutes in silence. They shouldn't put themselves or anyone else in danger, nor block the carriageway. Simply stand in silence for two minutes at 8.30 every Friday morning starting 1 July and think of the people killed and maimed in London by traffic. And they should think of how Transport for London is choosing to design London's streets in a way that makes them more dangerous and less convenient for walking and cycling while making them faster and more convenient for motor vehicles. Think of how those policies feel to people knocked from their bikes, the pedestrians and cyclists run over by cars, driven at by aggressive or speeding motor vehicles. It's not about being anti-car. It's about paying respect to those people and about making a statement that is open for anyone to join, whether they're on a cycle, on foot or simply curious.

So how about it? Stop Cycling Fridays. Starting 1 July. Every Friday. Wherever you are, pull off to the side of the road and remember. At 8.30am. In honour of those people killed and maimed on London's roads. And in the hope of forcing our Mayor and TfL to drop their insatiable desire to keeping more motor vehicles moving faster, in favour of making it just as safe and convenient to cycle and walk on London's roads as it is to sit in a motor vehicle.

That's the ultimate goal: To get the Mayor and TfL to drop their transport priority of 'smoothing the traffic flow' and to replace it with treating London's streets as places for people to get about on cycle or on foot just as safely and just as conveniently as they can by car.

I'll be stopping on Blackfriars Bridge, 8.30am, 1 July. For two minutes by the side of the road at a point where I know there are hundreds of cyclists. If I'm alone, it might be time to declare TfL has won the battle and the war. If people stop for two minutes wherever they are - ideally in a spot where they know there are plenty of other cyclists - perhaps we'll lose the Battle of Blackfriars but we might start getting our point across instead.

Perhaps I'm being utterly naive. I don't really know but I'm very interested to know if other people want to try and change things by participating.