Monday, 9 January 2012

Swept under the carpet - TfL promised minimum safety standards for cycling in 2005. So why has it ignored those standards ever since? Is the Mayor negligent?

Peter Hendy, TfL commissioner
commits to cycling standards he
then erased from reality
Credit: Camden Cyclists
Last month, Andrew Boff, Conservative Assembly Member explained via a comment on the Evening Standard's website that he wants TfL to; "Prepare and publish a design guide to inform and instruct all future [road] schemes." His idea is that TfL should apply minimum cycle safety standards.

The thing is, London already has minimum cycle safety standards. And in 2005, Peter Hendy (then managing director of surface transport, ie head of London's roads and now TfL commissioner, ie the big cheese) wrote a letter about those cycle standards.

In that 2005 letter Peter Hendy said this: "all new TfL-funded schemes will comply with these cycling standards."

I am hugely grateful to the hard work of the people at Camden Cyclists (and if you live in Camden or work there, get involved with them) for keeping an original version of that letter, which you can see at the top of this post.

'These cycling standards' are the snappily-named London Cycling Design Standards, the result of several years work and a vast amount of money. They're not amazing and they are inferior to current American or European standards but they are London's own standards all the same. They're still there, lurking in a dark and dusty corner on TfL's website and you can have a peek at them here. But they've never been applied. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that since Boris Johnson came to power, TfL has built schemes that consistently contravene its own cycling safety standards.

But ever since he committed to these minimum cycle safety standards, the man who is now in charge of TfL day-to-day has, in my view, completely ignored them. And my belief is the current Mayor has encouraged that to be the case.

Kings Cross website shows how TfL is breaking
 its own safety rules
Take Kings Cross, for example. The website Kings Cross Local Environment has been out with a tape measure and looked at the roads here. What the website found is pretty damning:

"TfL with  the vast resources available to it has been managing a junction for years that does not comply with its own design guidelines, despite stark warnings about safety in reports TfL itself commissioned.  This reinforces my calls for a proper investigation of TfL under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act"

Or let's take a look at a brand new TfL junction in Barnet. Take a look at this excellent before and after video of this brand new junction. You can see that slip roads have been added and that they make this junction considerably more dangerous to cycle through. What do the London Cycle Design Standards say about this? "To reduce the distance where cyclists are vulnerable, the slip lanes should be removed completely by re-configuring the junction or, where this is not feasible, reduced..." In other words, the brand new, hugely costly TfL scheme shown in this video blatantly ignores the London Cycling Design Standards. 

Let's look at a few more. 

"If a junction is to remain of the priority type then the choice of which movements have priority should be reviewed to optimise cycling movement, both in terms of waiting times and safety". In other words, at any newly-designed major TfL junction (say, Blackfriars for example), cycling should be given safe and convenient routes through the junction. Someone, somewhere has decided to ignore this part of the document as well. In fact, the Mayor's re-election team consistently boast how he is rephasing traffic lights in favour of more and more cars on the road, not in favour in pedestrians, old people, children or people on bikes. 

"Where appropriate and feasible priorities at cross roads should be changed so that cyclists on a cycle route do not have to give way" In other words, you should be able to cycle without giving way to small side roads. If can think of only one tiny side street where that's actually happened, I'd love to know of another one. I can't think of any at all. 

None of this has happened. Someone, whether it is the Mayor or whether it is someone senior at Transport for London, will have taken the decision to ignore the cycle safety standards and just swept them under the carpet. 

Which leaves the obvious question - Who took that decision and when?

What is clear is that since the current Mayor came into power the minimum London cycle safety standards have simply not been applied. 

I find it very hard indeed to trust the Mayor will really deliver on his cycle safety review. It appears to me that he had a perfectly usable cycle safety document in his hands when he took office that he not only ignored but he failed to replace with anything else. The Mayor's office has now belatedly promised a review of London's roads to make them safer for children, older people, office workers, mums, dads, grandparents to consider cycling as a sensible option. His Director of Environment, Kulveer Ranger says this:

We've had one set of standards to make cycling a safe and sensible alternative for Londoners already. I'll believe Boris's standards if and when he ever builds them. For the time being, I think cyclists would have a good case to claim Boris Johnson has been negligent with their lives.

UPDATE - A lot of people will be gathering tonight at Kings Cross to protest about the Mayor's intransigence on cycling safety. You can read about what's happening in today's copy of The Independent here. 6pm Kings Cross, supported by Green party candidate Jenny Jones.


You can sign up for email alerts about the Mayor's cycling safety plan on this page here