Thursday, 29 September 2011

Boris Johnson - doing nothing for London's transport. Doing even less for cycling. Why I'll be at Blackfriars Wed 12th October after work. I hope you'll join us.

Boris Johnson's so-called cycling revolution in action
This picture pretty much sums up why I don't think the Mayor's Cycling Revolution adds up to anything much. Pictured left, the Cycle Super highway on Southwark Bridge as you enter the City of London.

It also sums up why I will be at the cycling Flashride on Blackfriars Bridge Wednesday 12 October at 5.45pm.

Click here for more details about the Flashride planned by the London Cycling Campaign for thousands of people in two weeks' time.

(Update on Friday morning: London Assembly Members Val Shawcross, John Biggs and Jenny Jones have all indicated they hope to join the Flashride. So now you have no excuse not to. I don't feel this should be party-political. But I do feel it is a political issue, after all every single Assembly Member voted that this scheme is a disgrace)

The Super Highways were supposed to be efficient routes for people to cycle and to feel they had some sort of safe space away from motor vehicles. Routes where there would be safe and sensible junction designs. Not routes where you have to leg it across several lanes of fast-moving motor traffic just to keep going. Then the Mayor realised that he wasn't really ready to deliver quality cycle infrastructure after all. So the wording got changed and the focus was switched to providing clear, signed routes for people to follow when they cycle. Lots of paint, lots of money. Little action.

Like so much of the transport policy of Boris Johnson, it feels like a lot of waffle and a lot of media-savvy soundbites. But not much happens on the ground. The Evening Standard wrote yesterday about the new Routemaster bus planned by the Mayor: "The bus was a key 2008 election promise of Mr Johnson's and is likely to be one of his few self-generated transport achievements in his four years as Mayor, alongside the introduction of Boris bikes."


I am not a huge Ken Livingstone fan. But he 'got' transport. You might not like some of what he achieved but he was fairly radical, investing hugely in London's buses, in the London Overground, implementing the congestion charge, the list goes on.

When I get around London, I have the overwhelming sense that Boris Johnson just doesn't care about transport very much. He's announced a cones hotline and he's announced a cable car. Oh, and he's going to try and glue pollution from exhaust pipes to the road. And stick up a 'green wall' on a tube station. Nothing that's really serious about sorting out London's transport issues.

Boris Johnson has two tranport policies: a 'cycling revolution' and 'smoothing the traffic flow'. The first, a feeble-funded exercise in splashing blue paint on the road. The second boils down to what officials within TfL call "getting traffic moving". Nowt wrong with that, you might think. And in theory it sounds great. Except what I feel has happened is that the Mayor has given TfL carte blanche to speed up the flow of motor vehicles through London and sod the consequences for everyone else, they're irrelevant. All that matters is faster journeys for people in motor vehicles.

No space for cycilng here, clearly....
In other words, if you cycle, the Mayor is saying sod off. People in motor vehicles deserve more priority than you. You will get only scraps of concessions in road schemes. The majority of households in London own one or more cycles. Hardly any of them get used. Know why? Most people are too aware of fast-moving juggernauts just inches from their shoulders to want to consider cycling here. Even if they do cycle, it tends to be to the office and back but not to the shops, in the evenings. The Mayor and his top officials at TfL don't, in my opinion, care to change that.

If you mainly walk around London, you can expect less time to cross the road and fewer pedestrian crossings as these are gradually removed. So, once again, the Mayor is saying sod off.

If you mainly take the bus, the officials I meet at TfL all confirm that funding for bus routes is cut, so you too can expect longer and less reliable journey times. Tube or rail? Should I mention fare rises?

Funny, though. If you look at traffic patterns on London's streets, you'll quite often see that  the number of taxis (and mincabs) is on the increase. And although overall car usage is on the decrease, the Mayor's over-riding strategy is all about getting those motor vehicles moving through London faster. But if you drive around London, you will (perhaps fairly) think the roads are full of road works, pavements are being widened and filled with blue cycle lanes (however ineffectual) and that you're bearing the brunt of the Mayor's road policies.

The Economist put it very politely a few months ago "Until London decides what it wants its roads to do, Mr Johnson’s measures will only offer limited lubrication."

I think the point is actually this. Boris Johnson has to decide what he wants London's roads to do. And to date, I think his priority has been to make London's roads faster, noisier, more dangerous places to be by prioritising the private motor vehicle at the expense of everyone else.

I first realised this when I became involved back in February in Transport for London's cloak and dagger approach to re-designing the junction at the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge. When, despite hundreds of letters, thousands of people protesting, London assembly members all voting on the issue and even the Mayor commenting that he realises the junction is dangerous, nothing has changed.

It feels to me that Transport for London is just ploughing on, junction by junction, street by street, turning London into a place designed exclusively around the private motor vehicle. Cars have a place. But in the centre of London, that place shouldn't be at the top of the tree.

It feels to me that Boris Johnson has decided what he wants London's roads to do. And that is to be fast-moving gutters filled with more and more motor vehicles. Even in the very centre of the City where there's little need for them.

I'm going to be at Blackfriars Bridge on my bicycle on Wednesday 12 October at 5.45pm. Not because I want to block the traffic. But because I am the traffic. And I want the Mayor to give me the same right to get around London by bicycle and on foot as he is giving to motor vehicles. I want him to stop faffing around with cable cars, pretty buses and green walls on tube stations. And focus instead on decent bus travel, decent tubes and rail and decent fares too. And frankly, fewer cars would be nice to see too. And I say that as a driver. Becuase it would make for easier driving too. That's simply not happening at the moment. And it's time that changed.