Wednesday, 21 March 2012

County council articulates a real cycling strategy 'to support economic growth' by getting people to jobs without the cost of driving. Meanwhile, London will get new bridges for more motor traffic and only a gesture towards cycle safety.

The Times has a piece about today's Budget announcement that London will receive £15million to spend on making junctions in London safer for people cycling. The money will be spent to 'tackle some of London’s most dangerous spots for cyclists, including roundabouts at Waterloo, Elephant & Castle and Lambeth Bridge, and roads in Farringdon, Lambeth and the Oval.'

This is very welcome news. It suggests that the Mayor has been petitioning the Chancellor for cash for cycling. But as Charlie Lloyd at the London Cycling Campaign told the BBC, it's little more than 'a good gesture'.

It's still too early to say how the money will be spent. The London Cycling Campaign and other organisations (pedestrian and motoring organisations) are meeting with Transport for London and reviewing the junctions as we speak. The crucial test will be whether or not cycling can be truly fitted into these places in a way that would allow your average Londoner to think cycling is a sensible option rather than driving or taking the bus.

There's also a question about whether the junction-by-junction approach is a real long term solution or not. Cambridgeshire county council announced this week that it has seen significant growth in cycling (on an already high base). How did achieve that growth in cycling? It focussed on building routes that people felt were safe enough to cycle on. As the county council says: '£9 million was invested between 2008 and 2011 to provide 14 new and improved cycle routes.. It is these routes that have seen the greatest rise'. What's important about the Cambridgeshire press release is that the county has committed to try and continue that level of investment in the future.

Why is Cambridgeshire choosing to invest in cycling? The answer lies in this part of the press release: "Several millions of pounds [could be] invested in cycling in the Ely-Cambridge and Huntingdon-Cambridge corridors. This will help support economic growth in those areas." These corridors are pretty long distances. Huntingdon is 18 miles from Cambridge. What the county council is suggesting, is that it sees cycling as a viable commuter option over distances that most people think has to be travelled by car.

I've grown more and more fed up of the press releases that the motoring lobby has been putting out this week. All week the news from organisations like the AA and the RAC foundation has been about rising fuel prices. Rising petrol prices means people can't get to jobs, can't buy food. That sort of thing. I empathise but only to a point.

You see, what Cambridgeshire county council is suggesting is that people's transport costs can be freed from rising fuel prices if they have other options. Just imagine how much money you'd save if you had a genuine option to cycle from Huntingdon to Cambridge for work, rather than drive.

That sort of thinking hasn't reached London yet. The focus here is on resolving our (valid) safety and road design conflict issues. What we need is a Mayor who realises Londoners can be freed from fuel prices and is prepared to ignore the AA and the RAC and look to the bigger picture rather than a well-funded lobby group.

At the moment, the London Mayor's strategy is to build bridges and tunnels so that more people can travel in cars across the Thames. As the London Cycling Campaign puts it, cycling is still only a 'gesture'. I don't think there's much of a plan for cycling in London yet. At least nothing as clear and articulate as the Cambridgeshire plan. There's a very clear plan for big bridges and more motor traffic. But £15 million for a handful of junctions is only a tiny start. And it's not strategic in any way.


  1. A classic bit of special pleading by the motor lobby - which is primarily interested in high-value customers ie richer people - is the impact of increases in the cost of motoring for the rural poor. It is, however, a fair point. If you are a low-paid worker in a rural enterprise you will struggle to afford an old banger and petrol will likely represent a significant proportion of your motoring costs. Meanwhile, you don't really have any alternative - they shut down the subsidised bus route years ago and while Ely - Cambridge might be a feasible cycle commute, a similar distance in the Surrey weald or south downs is not - your average speed is hugely impacted by hilly terrain, you just don't recover slow climbs with fast descents.

    So what is needed - but will be resisted to the death by the motoring lobby because it goes straight to the heart of why or when I should use the car - is a more imaginative approach to paying for the roads. In rural areas, where congestion is low and alternatives limited, it should cost less. In city centres, where congestion is high and alternatives are all around, it should cost more.

    That means road-pricing. If you had a gizmo in your car, fed say from a GPS receiver, which "metered" your mileage, and you saw the rate climb from 10p a mile out in the country to £1 a mile or more in urban areas, you woudl start to think about your bike.

    Especially if that £1 a mile was used to service the capital cost of building some decent cycle infrastructure.

    I suspect that the technology to price driving on a road by road basis would now cost a couple of hundred quid tops if the manufacturer was assured a few million sales.

    If that is still too futuristic for our highways authorities, the good old congestion charge is established and proven technology - a fiver to enter an outer cordon, another tenner to enter the central London (including western extension) zone, every day, would soon focus your mind.

  2. - a similar distance in the Surrey weald or south downs is not - your average speed is hugely impacted by hilly terrain, you just don't recover slow climbs with fast descents -

    That's what electric bikes are for. Not glamorous, but great for long, hilly commutes.

  3. Danny, you question whether the junction-by-junction approach is a real long term solution or not. I know exactly what you mean - and thanks for making the point - but of course, in the long term, over the next thousand years or something, it's probably as good a solution as any. Indeed, as Ashok Sinha pointed out in his latest opinion piece: "In the end, it's not about how we get there, it's the destination that counts."

    Actually I think he's quite wrong about this: it *does* matter how we get there. Here are some quotes which I found on the internet:

    "Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome."

    “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

    “To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.”

    “Focus on the journey, not the destination.”

    "A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there."

    "All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination."

    "It has never been, and never will be easy work! But the road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveller than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination."

    "Reformation, like education, is a journey, not a destination."

    "The road leading to a goal does not separate you from the destination; it is essentially a part of it."

    "It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it."

    And so on, and so forth.

    Ashok makes the point elsewhere: "The Dutch approach of 'Sustainable Safety' ensures that when children move from areas where streets have been properly calmed on to busier roads, they're typically provided with high-quality, segregated bike tracks, affording them necessary safety from a young age." If that's the destination - and I very much believe it is - how do we get there?

    "All we can do," Ashok suggests, "is set our sights high, and give ourselves every chance by putting in every ounce of effort and creativity we can gather." Hmm.

    Incidentally, I have spent the best part of today changing the course of certain routes away from the quiet back streets and onto the main roads, because I understood that this was where the emphasis should be. Looking at the video above, I am not so sure now.

    Just one other thing: my own Google search has revealed that the Dutch saying Ashok quoted - "Het gaat om het spel, niet om de knikkers" - is used when people wish to justify an action or decision they have taken which has arisen out of a sense of injustice. That is to say, it's about [how we play] the game, not [who has] the [biggest] marbles.

  4. If Cambridgeshire can invest £9 in 3 years then today's Budget says that the Cameron gang are not interested in helping cyclists in London !
    Coming from the Witney area , Cameron must be aware that there is a lot more people cycling to Oxford %age wise than in London !
    Only when a Politician loses a family member will they be motivated to act ,to protect the commoners that struggle to make ends meet !

    Seem like the Politicians can't or won't read " The Times , Cities fit for Cycling Readers Stories " . Too many of those stories relate events of Death , Injury and suffering ! Of Course riding in a Police escorted Limousine removes awareness of Joe Public's plight !