Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Bloody cyclists! Tough luck if you get killed. Essentially, today's Conservative position on cycle safety. Do we want political party that supports laissez-faire on the roads? Your fault if you get killed?

Why's that bloody cyclist in my way? Boris's 'smoothing the traffic flow'
policy is why that bloody cyclist is in your way. Totally insane. 
Pictured left, a cyclist in the middle of the road. The road in question is Queen Victoria Street, just off the Blackfriars northern junction.

Bloody cyclist! Why's he in the middle of the road?

Well, that's because the junction has been designed that way. Just ahead of the cyclist, the road narrows significantly. So he has no other choice.

The taxi driver right behind him must be getting royally pi88ed off that he can't get past. That's because he's also had to sit behind the bike all the way through the junction. Again, because of the way the junction is designed. Understandable, frankly.

I wrote yesterday about the removal of the key pedestrian crossing at Blackfriars (an issue I first addressed in February 2011 here) Earlier today, Labour Assembly Member John Biggs issued a press release saying he would write to TfL to ask why they had committed such a 'monumental error' in removing the crossing. Transport for All, a charity that campaigns on behalf of older and disabled Londoners has also chipped in, stating on twitter: "Disabled ppl esp visually impaired ppl will be put in danger by Blackfriars pedestrian crossing removal"

What gets me about all of this is that the politicians are siding in two completely opposing camps. After one of their Assembly Members (Brian Coleman) walked out, the Conservatives did actually stick around today for a debate at the London Assembly that agreed a motion (introduced by Jenny Jones of the Green Party with strong support from Labour and LibDems) to review dangerous junctions for cycling in London. While that's all well and good, I don't feel too confident it means very much. The Conservatives actually helped structure a very strong motion last summer with the Green Party about Blackfriars Bridge. Six months on, nothing whatsoever has happened.

The Big Smoke website summarises today's motion incredibly succinctly:

"The conservative line appeared to be that focusing on junctions where people had lost their lives risked was “arbitrary” (Cleverly) relying  on “coincidences” (Boff). They felt that the focus should be on “tipper trucks” vehicle design and driver training as they appeared to be responsible for a disproportionate number of cyclist deaths.


There seemed to be little explanation as to why reviewing junction safety was incompatible with looking at dangerous heavy vehicles."

And that's essentially the problem.

The London Conservatives don't seem to think that road design has anything whatsoever to do with London becoming more dangerous for cycling (see Green Party candidate Jenny Jones's excellent analysis on that topic here). They seem to think it's just tough luck.

This week, I've now had a number of black cab drivers contact me on twitter saying it's time to make space for cyclists, that we shouldn't be shoved between two HGVs or buses. They probably also want us out their way at junctions like Blackfriars above. And good on them, frankly. The road has been designed to wind up that cab driver as much as possible by using the cyclist as a kind of rolling speed hump. It's a travesty of road design.

Another 'bike lane' designed under Mayor's 'smoothing traffic' policy.
 Conservatives implied today this is good
design as it makes you safer on a bike. How exactly? 
But the London Conservatives are sticking with the line that the Mayor's 'smoothing the traffic flow' policy is a good thing. Andrew Boff, who has otherwise been quite sensible on this stuff, even stood up to state (with no evidence) that it actually made cycling safer. He tweeted later 'smoothing isn't speeding'. No-one's talking about speeding. We're talking about road designs. Like this one on the left. This is a bike lane designed to maximise traffic flow. Problem is the only place to cycle is between the HGVs. Or just not at all, to get off and walk.

Smoothing is about stacking traffic into giant queues like this. It's about trying to shove cyclists into the queue along with everyone else. That's the exact same situation at Bow roundabout. It's the same at Kings Cross. There's plenty of space for a bike lane but it's not going to happen, it seems.

Transport for London is still safe saying it will only ever look at incremental improvements to junctions where people keep getting killed and not create safe space for cycling. Because it might get in the way of the smoother traffic flow. It's also why TfL is removing pedestrian crossings at Blackfriars and all across London (it hasn't happened yet but I promise you, hundreds are on their way out soon). Pedestrians get in the way of the smooth traffic flow you see.

So, the Blackfriars design has now alienated a) cyclists b) pedestrians c) a charity representing older and disabled Londoners d) is starting to get on the nerves of cab drivers too.

You start to wonder why the Mayor and his party are sticking to the Blackfriars design, let alone the overall policy. Do most Londoners want to vote for someone who thinks that old people shouldn't be able to cross the road? Or that people who get killed on the streets brought it on themselves, possibly because they didn't have their 'wits about them' (quoting Boris's suggestion that you just need to keep your wits about you and suggesting it's fine to take your kids through Elephant & Castle on a bike, let alone to cross the road here).

I've met several of the Conservative London Assembly Members. They're mostly (not all) smart, switched on, and wanting to do good. But they're painting themselves into a corner. Not as the 'nasty party'. It's more like laissez-faire gone mad. Your fault if you get killed. Nothing to do with us.

I disagree with laissez-faire on the roads. It kills people. I think deep-down they do too. I hope so.