Sunday, 2 September 2012

The army wants protected bike lanes in its garrison town; now the AA is calling for them and British Cycling too. It's time for London to get serious about cycling. And you need to help. Here's how.

Ceci n'est pas un bike lane.
Cycle super highway 7 at Clapham.
Where's the bike lane?
Last week, I wrote about the fact that British Cycling – the body which is responsible for the emergence of cycling as a winning sport in the UK – has decided to throw its weight behind the sort of cycling infrastructure you see in Denmark and the Netherlands: “We must have a set ofdesign guidelines for road and cycling infrastructure that are in line withthis international best practice and the political will to fund and implementit consistently throughout [London]."

Impressive stuff.

Even more impressively, Edmund King, the president of the Automobile Association followed up with a message of his own. In an editorial sent to every AA member, he wrote this:

There’s plenty I don’t fully agree with in Edmund King’s piece but I do agree with the general tone and I think the fact that the President of the AA is making such a bold statement about cycle infrastructure is very significant.

The point about cycle infrastructure really came home to me over the weekend when I travelled through an army town in North Yorkshire – Catterick Garrison. I spend a lot of time in North Yorkshire these days but not much in Catterick. Outside of Catterick, provision for everyday, utility cycling is essentially non-existent. What you have is lots of incredibly fast, winding roads, plenty of space for a cycle track but you have to grin and bear it, mixing with lorries and people speeding to work and back. Not at all fun. 

Amazingly, though, Catterick is criss-crossed by a grid of wide, protected bike tracks that take you places you actually want to go. There’s even a two mile off-road route along a disused railway to Richmond - the nearest big town. It's more direct than the narrow, fast and winding main road that is the alternative route. 
Bike track nips behind a bus stop in Catterick.

Copyright Oliver Dixon and licensed for reuse under this
Creative Commons Licence
The bike tracks in Catterick have traffic signals to help people cross major roads on their bikes. There are separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists, even separate pedestrian and cyclist bridges. There are (mostly) proper Dutch-style bike tracks that cross side roads as well. North Yorkshire council at one stage even toyed with the idea of closing some rural roads around the town so that they are no longer through roads for motor vehicles but only for bikes and pedestrians. This is the sort of thinking that is normal in the Netherlands and almost unheard of in the UK.

Later that evening, I spoke with someone from Sustrans who helped designed the bike grid. The army wanted its people to get about by bike, so it ‘sliced through problems’, he advised, and paid for the bike grid, with a little bit of help from North Yorkshire County Council and with advice from Sustrans. The result? Over 15km of properly protected bike tracks that connect residential areas with shops, schools and the rest of the garrison.

Clearly, with the right will and the right funding, the army has bashed heads together and made a proper, safe, protected cycle grid.

Boris plus bicycle. Shamelessly borrowed
from the excellent, new TwoWheelsGood blog
What’s particularly interesting about all this is that I’m hearing more and more (fairly concrete) rumours that Boris Johnson is serious about creating proper, safe cycle tracks in London. According to Two Wheels Good blog: “There is strong support from Mr Johnson for putting segregated lanes onmajor carriageways in Kensington and Chelsea”. I’ve heard similar (very well-sourced) noises about segregated cycle tracks in other parts of London as well.

No surprise there. Westminster MP Mark Field and Kensington MP Malcolm Rifkind are seemingly very unsupportive. What’s good enough for the army isn’t good enough for their Conservative voters, it seems. In that respect (just to show I’m not being party political about it, my own local Labour MPKate Hoey is almost toxically anti-cycling).

I think the likes of Rifkind, Hoey and Field are living in the past. I’m going to make a prediction that within five years, there will be a couple of high-quality, long-distance protected bike tracks in central London along major carriageways. But we might need the single-mindedness of the army to ‘slice through problems’ and bash together the heads of reactionary, conservative (of any political party) councillors and local MPs who want to subject Londoners to more motor cars, more noise, more pollution, more road deaths, fewer chances to cross the road and dying high streets choked with cars.

It’s time London started to change. I’m starting to think it might just get there. If Boris Johnson can bash the heads of these MPs and councillors together, I’d be very impressed indeed. But it’s still a very big ‘if’ at this stage.

What’s going to help, whatever your political views, is if everyone who reads this article writes to their MP and their councillors. And if you keep on at them (politely) about sorting out your neighbourhood to make it a place where people can cycle and walk or play in the street. It’s easy. Just click on Writetothem’s website and fire off an email to the list of councillorswho pop up against your postcode. Good luck.