Wednesday, 21 November 2012

London politicians have done us proud: All four political parties call on Mayor to double spending and create "protected" cycle network to make London a city where 10% of journeys are made by bicycle. Report notes most cyclist collisions in London result from motor vehicles passing too closely to cyclists

Cycling as it should be. This is a TNT post man
delivering parcels in the City of London
last week. Normal bike, normal clothes, normal smile
Something quite extraordinary has happened this week. Early this morning, the six Labour, four Conservative, one Green and one Liberal Democrat politicians who make up the Transport Committee on the London Assembly published their first report on the future of cycling in London.

The report doesn't pull its punches. The Committee's chair, Caroline Pidgeon puts it quite clearly: "Many Londoners do not think London is an inviting place to cycle, and they want to see the Mayor and Transport for London build infrastructure that offers physical protection to cyclists." Amen to that.

The report is compelling reading.

Boris Johnson claimed earlier this year (in response to a question by Jenny Jones) that "The number of casualties per cycle trip overall in London has been coming down in spite of the very considerable increase in cycling."

The Assembly crunches the numbers and the facts speak for themselves: The Mayor is wrong on just about every count. Yes, the number of casualties per cycle trip in London decreased from 2001-6. But ever since then, cyclist casualty numbers have been on the up. The risk of injuries to cyclists has been increasing on a per trip basis ever since 2007. In real terms, the number of people slightly injured increased from 2,857 in 2001 to 3,926 last year and serious injuries up from 444 in 2001 to 555 last year. In Copenhagen, the report points out, the number of journeys by bike grew by 50% between 1995 - 2010 yet the risk of cycle casualties dropped four-fold in the same period. In London, there has been a small increase in the number of cycling trips yet the risk of becoming a cycling casualty has also increased whereas when the number of cycling trips increased in Denmark, the risk of becoming a cycling casualty decreased. The report is quietly damning about this: "The Mayor believes the 'safety in numbers' effect will improve cycling safety in London but this is not currently evident". Too true.

Why has the risk of becoming a cycling casualty increased in London when it decreased in Denmark and in other countries? Well, a big part of the problem is that the Mayor is spending not enough money to make cycling safer and the money he is spending may not be going to the right places, says the London Assembly report.

The reality of cycling in outer London. This is supposed
to be a bike route in Newham (Barking Road). Looks
like a very wide pavement (no cycling allowed) and a dual
carriageway to me (go play with the lorries)
The report points out that a whopping 50% of the Mayor's cycling budget has been spent on cycle hire (between 2010-13) and 25% on the Cycle Super Highways. The total spend on the Cycle Super Highways to date is £62million. How on earth the Mayor has spent £62million on what was largely a) either already there a decade ago or b) is literally just blue paint inside bus lanes beats me.  But the really telling thing is just how little money is being spent elsewhere. A whopping £3million has been spent over the last two years across the entire area of outer London. Enough to buy you, well, not very much at all.

The report puts this spending in context: "In the last four years TfL has spent more money than before on cycle infrastructure.... but the budget has not been spent on the type of cycling facilities that maximise safety for vulnerable road users." Exactly. Denmark spent its cycling money on making cycling facilities that are safe enough for everyone to use. The number of cycle trips went up. The chance of becoming a cycling casualty went down. Same thing happened in Paris, the same thing is happening in New York and the same thing happened in the Netherlands. What the London Assembly is saying (but doesn't quite say it loudly enough) is that the Mayor is spending money on the wrong things. He's wasting money on poor quality cycling infrastructure and denying any serious money to cycling outside zones one and two.

The result of this rather rather odd pattern of spending is that London's "cycling facilities are inconsistent between boroughs, and it is often not possible to find continuous safe routes." Politely put but very true. What's even worse is that due to changes in funding put in place by the Mayor: "cycling has been de-prioritised in some boroughs" (My own view is that boroughs like Westminster, Richmond and Newham have utterly failed cycling).

The London Assembly thinks the Mayor should change this. It recommends that Transport for London should spend 2% of its annual budget to improve cycling (currently London spends about 0.8% of its annual budget on cycling, of which over half goes on the cycle hire scheme and hardly any goes on meaningful cycle route infrastructure). The Assembly notes that Edinburgh is to spend 5%.

Believe it or not this is a bike lane. Cyclists hate it, pedestrians
hate it. This is the City of London's main south-north cycle route 
Most importantly, the report says that the Mayor should wake up and smell the coffee. The money should be spent on building proper cycle route infrastructure. The sort of thing that other cities all around the world have done but London has completely failed to do.

The majority of cyclist collisions in London, according to the report (quoting data from TfL), "result from motorised vehicles passing too closely to cyclists, turning across the path of cyclists or opening a car door into the path of a cyclist".  The politicians call loud and clear for "protected space for cyclists" to protect against exactly these problems. Cycling facilities should be built "to accommodate mistakes by cyclists or other road users", in particular to accommodate children and the elderly.

The report is literally packed with common sense and with the facts and data to back up that common sense. But the real issue is whether the Mayor will listen and act. The London Assembly is very clear. It concludes: "Political will is needed to make cycling a mainstream form of transport that is supported by high quality, safe cycling routes. There could, and should, be more segregated cycle space in London. Currently, decisions to give cyclists protected space are often turned down because there is a lack of political will to take space from motorised traffic."

The thing is, it's now up to the Mayor to show he has the political will to make this happen. Either that, or it's up to Londoners to make sure they pressure the Mayor or vote for a Mayor who will make this happen.