Wednesday, 25 April 2012

'Cycle routes, we just can't do it, it's not practical' says Addison Lee boss. He's wrong. It's plenty practical. We just need to make a proper start of it.

The young people of Samuel Lithgow Youth Centre were granted exclusive access to AddisonLee earlier this week to interview chairman John Griffin about his inflammatory anti-cyclist comments. You can watch the film they produced above.

I listened to John Griffin word-for-word. And it struck me that he genuinely doesn't have any comprehension what a civilised version of London's streets might look like.

'There's just no space' for bike routes, he says. 'It's a congested space out there'. '[Cyclists] just have to protect themselves..they've got to look out for..I could just lose concentration and it's painful for them'.

He does make some valid points about training. He even hints that cycling lessons should be part of the driving test (I agree). But his line is this: "Cycle routes, we just can't do it, it's not practical".

The thing is, it is practical. Earlier this week, Copenhagen launched its first cycle super highway. The super highway is 17.5km long and "designed to be as direct as possible and have fewer stops and obstructions than traditional bike routes". Look at the London 'cycle super highways' in comparison and weep.

Why is Copenhagen building a network of cycle superhighways? The plan is to have 50% of all people travelling to work by bicycle in the greater Copenhagen area by 2015. Why would they want to do that? Presumably for similar reasons to Cambridgeshire county council to 'support economic growth' without the need for yet more and bigger expensive roads, to reduce the costs of congestion and to make the place run more efficiently. People don't need to spend ages looking for a parking space, shops are busy on high streets because they actually are high streets rather than 'corridors' for motor traffic, people can get to jobs more efficently and cheaply than they can by car.

Griffin says that people who cycle 'have this thing in their head that everyone's on their case'. No Mr Griffin, that's not the problem. The problem is actually the exact opposite, namely that the people who run London's roads don't have cycling on their case. They are designing it out of London streets.

So, instead of designing massively widened pavements and squeezing out cyclists at brand new junctions like Euston Circus (see TfL's insane plans here), they could spend the same amount of money and make sure there is a safe and reliable way for people to cycle through this junction that keeps them as far away from heavy motor vehicles as possible.

Before and after. Southwark narrows the road. Expects cyclists
to just squeeze in with the HGVs and the cars somehow.
Courtesy Tom Chance.

Tom's pretty blunt about it: "The net effect is that there is less space for cars and buses to overtake cyclists. The council’s reasoning is that cyclists should share the road with cars here, joining the main stream of traffic instead of hugging the kerb. But the road has a 30mph speed limit. Who cycles that fast? Who is confident enough to hold up a white van man on a 30mph road? Almost nobody, that’s who. Every day I see cyclists weaving through traffic jams and putting up with cars hurtling past at 30mph."

I think he has a point. Most people don't cycle in London precisely because this sort of road design puts them off. It's designed for cars and treats people on bikes as if they are cars. They're not.

What's even more galling is that Griffin thinks that 'cycle route' equals segregated route all the way. It doesn't. It means all sorts of things, depending on the street. He cites Drummond Street as a street that hasn't got room for a bike lane. Drummond Street doesn't need a 'bike lane'. It needs to have less motor traffic or to have that motor traffic slowed down. Do that and the whole streetscape opens up to people on bikes, on foot, on mobility scooters.

When Griffin talks about forcing open London's bus lanes for his minicabs, he refers to 'quicker' journeys. He sees the streets as places people need to rush through as quickly as possible. I see the streets as places that need to benefit Londoners the best way possible. That means streets that people can use to travel safely and conveniently on foot, by bike and by car. But let the car roam free, as we're doing in London, and you force all the other forms of streetlife out of the way.

As the Mayor of Copenhagen puts it "You cannot dream up more space. You have a certain amount of square metres to divide so they benefit the citizens in the best way possible" Griffin's conclusion is that there isn't any space in London. My conclusion is there's plenty of space. It's about how we make use of it and who we prioritise: his customers or London's citizens?