Monday, 5 March 2012

Government tells local councils to sort cycling. Local councils tell government to sort cycling. Now Edinburgh to join London in staging its own #Thebigride on April 28th. Time to remind our governments and London's Mayor, this isn't good enough

Yes, it really is a donkey. And this donkey is very relevant
to safer cycling. Read on
It might seem very odd to write about a donkey in the context of a debate about the future of cycling in the UK. But this is a fairly special donkey.

Two weeks ago, the disability rights group, Transport for All, clubbed together with local pedestrian and cycling campaigners and blocked Curtain Road, a one-way dual carriageway just outside the City of London. Groups of people came on foot, on bicycles and in wheelchairs. All of them protesting the same thing:

Transport for London wanted to remove the pedestrian crossing on Curtain Road at the junction of Rivington Street in Hackney and Curtain Road. You can see the spot here.

The traffic light removal plan measured how many pedestrians pressed the button on the pedestrian crossing. What Transport for London didn't think about, however, was the fact that Rivington Street is a busy route for people cycling east>west. It also failed to think about the fact that Rivington Street has shops and pubs all the way along it. People want to cross from one side to the other. That means they need to get across Curtain Road. By removing the traffic light, TfL would have cut vibrant Rivington Street literally in half. Not good for the cycle route. Not good for pedestrians. Pretty bad for the businesses along the street. And why? Well, we mustn't hold up people in their cars, must we?

Happily, Transport for London seems to have backed down. I don't know if it was the donkey, the people in wheelchairs, the people on bikes or the people on foot. One way or the other, the crossing is here to stay.

People protesting against the Mayor's policy of pedestrian crossing removal.
On bikes, on wheelchairs, on foot. Oh, and with a donkey.
Courtesy Transport for All
The more I look at the way Transport for London designs its roads, the more I think that however many cycling standards it might have and however much it is supposed to tick cycling boxes, it simply doesn't think about this stuff yet. It seems to design London solely around maximising the flow on trunk routes for motor vehicles. If a trunk route for people on bikes or on foot cuts across a trunk route for people in cars, Transport for London almost always gives priority to the motor vehicles. Why? Well, for starters, Transport for London has more money. The councils rely on Transport for London to fund a large part of their transport schemes. I do sense that Transport for London is learning. There is some very good noise filtering out of the Mayor's 'junction review' to improve cycle safety. But at this stage it's all good noise and it will be some months before we see any real action on the ground.

Ultimately, I think London won't be a place that most people think is safe and sensible to cycle around until Transport for London changes its mindset and cycling becomes a proper part of the way that organisation thinks. Once TfL starts to think about bicycles with as much seriousness as it now thinks about motor vehicles, then we'll start to see real change. Ultimately, I think Transport for London could get to that point and it will be a massive game changer if it ever does get there.

The same goes at national level. Unless the government and the Department for Transport really start to think about cycling as a serious transport mode, we're all stuffed. Because unless that starts to happen, we won't see the money come to cycling, nor will we see the quality of infrastructure standards being raised.

In that context, it is pretty depressing to see the feeble response of Road Ministers Baker and Penning to The Times's cyclesafe campaign. The Ministers sent a letter to every council leader in the country, telling them: 'We are writing to let you know the action the Coalition Government is taking both to promote cycling and to improve safety for cyclists, and to ask for your help at the local level to further these aims.'  In my opinion, the letter said something like 'not our problem, mate. You've got all the tools you need, get on with the job'.

Then yesterday came the response from local government. The chair of the Local Government Association’s transport board, Cllr Peter Box, replied: ' Up and down the country councils have embarked on a huge range of initiatives to support cyclists, such as laying cycle paths on roads and in parks, installing bike racks in high streets....[but] resources for a vast overhaul of junction layouts and speed limit alterations are extremely stretched at the moment.’ Oh well, job done then, according to the Local Government Association.

It's pathetic. We have two Road Ministers who do nothing other than send a polite letter to the local councils. And we have the local councils who represent a view that they've already done all they can and can't do any more unless the government stumps up the cash. Result? Impasse. I can be fiercely critical of Transport for London but at least there's a hint of evidence that they are starting to 'get' cycling, albeit rather slowly. At a national level, from what I understand, there's virtually no one in the Department for Transport who 'gets' cycling. There's no government body that 'gets' cycling either

We're going to have to keep making noise. A lot more noise. What was really noticeable about the donkey protests in Hackney was the way that various groups all came together to push for the same thing. On the day, there were blind people, people using wheelchairs, people using bikes, people on foot. Oh and two donkeys. These people all represented different groups. The London Cycling Campaign is working towards Saturday 28 April, the Big Ride in support of its Love London Go Dutch! campaign. I think it's crucial that this turns out to be a huge event. We need to show this is about all sorts of people. I've noticed recently that the CTC may start to formally support the ride. But there's no point the CTC getting involved in the Big Ride unless it also swings behind the Go Dutch! campaign.

We all need to be a bit radical now and then. Especially when we're trying to change the status quo. I hope the British Cycling, the CTC and all sorts of other organisations realise now is the time to be radical together and to work on strength in numbers. There is a lot in the LCC's Go Dutch! campaign for them. We need to start showing that it's about all of us, all pushing for the same thing. In that context, it's fabulous to see that people in Edinburgh are planning a Big Ride in Scotland to coincide with the London Cycling Campaign ride which will also take place on April 28. For more information on the Scotland ride, click here.

Saturday April 28 is a good start. Central London, come and join the Big Ride. If you have a donkey or two to bring along, well, why not? And if you're in Scotland get yourself on the CityCyclingEdinburghForum and keep up to date here.