Thursday, 28 June 2012

Outrageous: 36% increase in serious bike rider casualties, massive leap in pedestrian deaths. Growth in casualties rising faster than number of bike trips. Casualties among car drivers dropped in the 1960s when traffic grew and politicians took action. When will Boris Johnson act to reduce the cyclist casualty rate?

This is not a bike lane. Brand new cycle super highway in London.
Pointless, frankly. 
I've known about these figures for months but I couldn't talk about them because they hadn't been published officially. And now they have. And they're more shocking than I realised.

Last year, 16 people were killed cycling in London. An increase of 60% on 2010. A further 555 were seriously injured, up 21% on last year. What's more, the serious injuries are up 36% on the long term trend 2005-9. What's a 'serious injury'? Well, it's someone like Mary Bowers, the journalist at The Times who is still in a coma, months after being hit by someone driving an HGV.

And only last night, the Mayor of London, was telling an audience at a debate broadcast on radio that cycling was getting safer. Yet, even Transport for London admits that the cycling casualty numbers are 'statistically significant'.The TfL announcement points out that the number of people cycling on London's trunk roads has increased 173% since 2001, so a 36% increase in serious casualties is represented as an improvement. As one commentator points out below, the likely increase in cycle trips in 2011 vs 2010 is probably around 5-6% (the official figures haven't been released yet) against a slightly smaller increase the previous year. Whichever way you look at it, the rate of serious injuries to people riding bikes seems to be growing faster than the growth rate in trips made by bike.

What's more, London's roads are getting worse for everyone. Unless you're in a car. There were 2% FEWER casualties among car occupants in London last year versus the previous year. Look at the figures for pedestrians, though, and the change is shocking. 77 pedestrians were killed on London's roads last year, up 33% on 2010. That's outrageous.

I've no doubt that Boris Johnson will pitch up in the media this week or next and say that the rate of growth in cycling means these statistics are less horrific than you might otherwise believe. But let me point out this: In 1965, the government limited speeds on motorways and introduced tough drink-driving laws. Motor traffic increased 4% the next year but accidents decreased 9% in the same period. Bike traffic in London has increased. By approximately 4-6% per annum. And yet the casualty rates have not decreased. They've increased too - seemingly far faster than the growth in the number of bike trips. I think a large part of that is because the roads aren't fit for purpose. It's simply not good enough for Boris Johnson to say there are more bike rider casualties because there are more people using bikes. It wasn't acceptable for motor car drivers in the 1960s, nor should it be for bike riders in the 2010s. For more analysis of the numbers, have a read of DrawingRings blog.

That said, one thing we should absolutely condemn is the fact that pedestrians injured by people on bikes has increased 13% to 178. This is reprehensible and the cycling community should take note. However, cyclist collisions with pedestrians are still minute compared with goods vehicles up 9% to 446 and other motor vehicles which account for over 5,000 casualties.

This is the Mayor who has:
  • Only recently, said that the majority of people injured while cycling are law-breakers and have only themselves to blame. Even the Daily Mail wrote an article decrying his comments as patently unbelievable. Last month he repeated his assertion that you simply need to 'have your wits about you' to not be killed or crushed on London's roads.
Frankly, Mr Johnson, a meek and mild 'evolution' is not enough.

I do not want to become a statistic to the fact that you have ignored every warning, you have ignored best practice from cities like New York and Chicago and Montreal.

Spot the brand new cycle super highway. It's UNDERNEATH the Lexus
I'm going to acknowledge here and now that many people who use bicycles are not making friends with other Londoners. Riding through red lights is antisocial in the extreme and, frankly, it p-sses people off. But that's not a reason to say, oh well, cyclists are to blame. I love cycling on my road bike in lycra. When I do that, I'm a 'cyclist'. But the rest of the time, I just want to get to work or out and about, in my normal everyday clothes. I'm just someone getting about on a bike. I'm not anti-Boris. I'm not pro Labour or Green or LibDem. I voted for the man in 2008. But he's let me and many many others down massively with his irresponsible lack of attention to detail on his cycling policy. He's encouraged more and more Londoners to cycle and he's not bothered to really understand why he's failing to make it any safer to do so.

This isn't about being a 'cyclist'. It's about being a responsible user of the roads and expecting the Mayor to be responsible and make the roads safe enough for people to use bicycles.

You need to rip up your policy book, Mr Johnson. And you need to start again.


I think it's time we call for another flash ride. Tomorrow (Friday) perhaps? 6pm. South side of Blackfriars Bridge. What do people think? 


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

London Cycling 2.0: has Boris Johnson rather subtly announced an 'evolution' of his cycling revolution? Or will it just be more bridges over the Thames for cars and nothing for cycling?



47% of the Montreal bike network looks like this.
The city is adding 25km of protected cycle
tracks a year. London is pathetically far behind

Boris Johnson, June 2012: "What has become clear to me is that we are now seeing a step-change in both the way that people choose to travel, and also in the way that cyclists are viewed on our streets. In response to this, I firmly believe that we must evolve our thinking and actions on cycle safety."

He also says: "The objective of the [Cycle Safety Action Plan] is to reduce the number of collisions on London’s roads involving cyclists. In particular, by providing safer infrastructure and taking action against irresponsible and dangerous road user behaviour and action to reduce collisions with HGVs."


This was Boris Johnson's written response to a question in the London Assembly last week. And a very telling response too.

So far, Boris Johnson's 'cycling revolution' has been very underwhelming. I rather naively voted for Boris Johnson back in 2008 (I'll finally admit). Why? Because he promised to build cycle super highways and to take cycling seriously. One of them goes 5 metres from my front door straight to where I work. And it's rubbish.

I thought what Boris meant was something like the picture on the left which shows a typical part of the massive protected bike network in Montreal. When I say massive, I mean massive, compared to London. 47% of the Montreal bike network looks like this. The network is over 600km long. By 2015 it will be 800km long. London has a few tiny sections of similar cycle network but they are nothing compared to Montreal.
While Montreal and New York build real cycling networks,
London has built this world-class route to the Olympic Park
Source: AsEasyAsRiding blog

What I didn't expect was that the Mayor would spend millions of pounds on blue paint that looks like, well, just some blue paint inside a bus lane or underneath a row of parked cars. AsEasyAsRiding blog has written a compelling account of just how utterly pathetic the Mayor's new cycle superhighway is that runs out to the site of the London Olympics. Cycle it if you dare....

The sort of protected cycle track that Montreal is building is being copied by cities all over the world. Most recently by Chicago and New York. New York is installing mile after mile of the stuff across Manhattan and into Brooklyn.

Why is Montreal doing this? The city's strategy is to improve mobility for its population and to enhance its economic potential. And it wants to do this by reducing people's need to drive in private cars. Montreal's strategy is almost identical to the strategy in New York, in Chicago, in Paris and in Frankfurt. All these cities want to reduce private car use, reduce congestion, reduce pollution and make their cities more mobile and more competitive. London and the UK government are unique in bucking the trend and building roads for more and more private motorists - almost the exact opposite of every other major economy.

The most telling difference between the Mayor's cycling strategy and that in places like Montreal and New York is that these cities believe people will only start using bicycles when they get proper bicycle networks. And in Montreal, the figures bear that out. Some 37% of Montreal residents now cycle more than once a week, up from 20% in 2005.

Why's that? Well, the city has added over 300km of cycle network since 2005, nearly half of it in the form of  protected bike lanes.

Why is Montreal building bike lanes and London isn't? Well, Montreal actively wants people out of private motor cars. And so it's taking space and re-allocating it so that people feel they can swap from car to bike. In a city like London where more than 50% of car journeys are under two miles, you can see why it would make sense to get people off their car seats and on to their bicycle seats.

Montreal has studied its 'cyclists' very closely. The city points out that only 10% of the people who cycle use the existing road network. However, 84% of them use the protected bike network. And 87% use quiet back streets. What's the message here? Simple, really. Most people don't like cycling in and around heavy, fast moving motor traffic.

Londoners don't have that luxury. To get anywhere in London, you need the confidence to cycle in multiple lanes of motor traffic through fast-moving junctions and to blend with HGVs, buses, taxis and cars. The conditions of the roads make you feel that you need need hi-viz, helmets plus a significant amount of cycle training. In Montreal, that simply isn't the case. You put on your normal clothes, you get on a bike, you start cycling. End of story.

That's what a 'cycling revolution' really looks like. Yet London's own cycling revolution is dominated by commuter cycling, not by mums, dads, older people or people with a disability. Boris Johnson notes there has been a 'step change in the way that people chose to travel'. Yes, there has if you consider a relatively small group of Londoners. But to really bring about a 'step-change in the way people chose to travel', you need mums, dads, older people and people with a disability to feel included and for them to feel they want to travel by bike. And most of those sorts of people, if you use Montreal as a case study, only travel by bike when there's a protected bike network.

In that context, I was slightly shocked to see the Mayor announce, through a question in the London Assembly, that he thinks the time has come to review cycle safety in London. So I'm going to take him at his word this time. His answer to the London Assembly suggests he thinks it is time to 'evolve' the way London's authorities think about cycle safety. Part of that solution, he says, is about 'providing safer infrastructure'. Montreal's been doing it for nearly a decade. New York City is copying Montreal. Isn't it time London did the same?


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The London Assembly is conducting a review of cycling safety in London. You can find out more about the review and send them your thoughts about what should be done in London by emailing transportcommittee@london.gov.uk

Monday, 25 June 2012

Using a Boris bike in Montreal - safe, easy and refreshingly normal. Boris Johnson bought the same hire bikes but forgot to build the bike lanes. Why has he left Londoners to go play with the motor cars?

This is how to do it. Underpass in the city centre. One
car lane removed, protected bike lane added.
I spent the weekend in Montreal last week. A lot of that time was spent on a bike. Montreal's cycle network is fantastic. It consists of dozens of protected routes through the city, some of which stretch for tens of miles. 


What's fascinating about the Montreal bike network is that everyone uses it - serious road bikers, parents and children and lots of people using mobility scooters or wheelchairs. And it seems to work for everyone. 


The routes are well sign-posted and they really do stretch for mile after mile after mile. 


What's more, this is the home of the Boris bike. The London cycle hire bikes are from Montreal. They use the same bikes here, dubbed 'bixi'. So you can literally compare like for like. The only difference is that cycling exactly the same bike in Montreal is a complete breeze compared to London.

Not everything is perfect. This is not a Dutch-quality cycling experience. And the bike lanes aren't much use in the depths of a Canadian winter. But this is a high quality network that has been built massively more cheaply than the blue paint of London's cycle super highways but to a much higher specification that actually works.


Bike lane approach to junction

Pretty much every time you come to a junction on the main bike routes (the subsidiary bike routes are admittedly less impressive), you're segregated from motor vehicles. Here's a typical junction, pictured left. No bicycle traffic lights, like at Bow. No masses of sign posts. Plain and simple. Bikes get priority over motor vehicles at the junction. Cycling straight on? No problem (usually), because motor vehicles turning right (ie across your path) have to give way to you. And they do. Minimum infrastructure, minimum fuss, less congestion and obstruction for everyone on the road. And it works.

You see signs dotted about reminding drivers to give way to people on bikes. And the result is a network that really does work for people - pretty much all sorts of people. You see serious road bike racers using the bike lanes. And you see plenty of people using their wheelchairs, including these two chaps using their hand-propelled wheelchairs. And of course, you see lots of people on Boris bikes - except they're a different colour and have different sponsors here.

And that's exactly how things should be. Kids, mums, dads, grans, fit, unfit, sporty. Everyone and anyone was up and about using their bicycles.

It's particularly interesting to compare Montreal's bike lanes with the set-up in London and to look at London from North American eyes.


Bike lanes good enough for wheelchair users

Last week, the Seattle Times newspaper carried an article about cycling to the Olympics in London. I think the article summed up London's cycling infrastructure absolutely perfectly. This is what the Americans had to say about the London cycling network:

"Like a runner or a swimmer, you would need to be physically fit. Like a goalie or a boxer, you should be prepared for close calls. But if you are coming to London's Summer Olympics - and you have what it takes - using a bicycle could be a great option in a city bracing for gridlock."


Compare and contrast. In Montreal, you have a network that encourages literally everyone to get on a bike. Yet when a US newspaper takes a cool-headed look at cycling in London, what does it conclude? If you're an average mum or dad, don't cycle here. If you're a child, don't cycle here. If you're old or infirm, don't cycle here. The exact opposite of what's happening in cities like Montreal. 


Boris bikes at home in Montreal - home of the
Bixi bike. Same bike, different sponsors

The Seattle Times interviewed an official at Transport for London: "In some ways, a bike riding novice in London is like a beginning skier in the Alps, according to Lilli Matson, an official with Transport of London - they need to be careful. She suggests that newcomers practice riding in safe zones such as London's flat Hyde Park." Lilli Matson is the head of delivery for the aptly-named 'Better Routes and Places' team at Transport for London. Her comment is just so so wrong. And yet she's absolutely right. Cycling in London is like beginning skiing in London.

And that's the problem. It shouldn't be like learning to ski. It should be like Montreal, where everyone can cycle and pretty much all shapes, ages and sizes do seem to cycle. London is turning cycling into an extreme sport - complete with hi-viz and helmets. Meanwhile, people in Montreal just happen to get about using bicycles. No helmets (or very few), no hi-viz. Most people didn't use lights at night, I noticed.

Motor vehicles: give way to people on bikes please
Another US magazine has also been talking about cycling in London recently. The headline described cycling in London as "hell on two wheels". Using a bike in London is "like Darwinism" and that "only the fittest survive". The article in Atlantic Magazine is pretty straight-talking and it verges at points on the offensive. But both this piece and the article in the Seattle Times are hinting at the same thing. London has got its cycling culture really wrong. With the notable exception of a few small patches in, say Hackney, cycling in London is either commuting at speed or on Sundays when the streets are quieter. It still hasn't broken through to become something that literally everyone and anyone does just to get around.

And for that, I blame the Mayor and Transport for London. We are still designing cycle super highways that operate only at peak hours and are woefully inadequate when you compare them with what's being built in New York or Montreal.

London has exactly the same cycle hire bikes as Montreal. And now New York is launching its cycle hire scheme. Exactly the same bikes. And both cities are building extensive cycle networks with big, protected cycle lanes, priority for people on bikes at junctions. They're doing it right. London bought the bikes and then left Londoners to go play with the motor cars. I think that's wrong.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Day before AddisonLee bus lane court judgment, its minicab drivers say: "I feel so vulnerable on a bike". How many more people need to say this before Boris updates his cycling strategy?

Addison Lee 8

AddisonLee driver looking nervously at a white van: Part of a group of minicab drivers testing new cycle training for drivers, courtesy sk8dancer

A couple of months ago, the chairman of AddisonLee made some unbelievably irresponsible comments about people who use bicycles. In the media storm that followed, AddisonLee's chairman, John Griffin promised to consider cycle training lessons for his minicab drivers.  

Now, several months on, John Griffin has been true to his word and put a small group of minicab drivers through a pilot cycle training lesson. You can read about the lesson on the London Fixed-gear and Single-speed forums. According to skydancer, the training was a 'pilot lesson attended by drivers and AddisonLee training people to assess its value for the company'. I genuinely hope AddisonLee implements compulsory cycle training for all of its drivers - it is the corporately responsible thing to do and could change London's road culture in a very significant way. 


What really fascinates me about the cycle training are the comments of the minicab drivers, carefully recorded by skydancer:



"Now I realise why cyclists ride in the middle of the lane sometimes"

"I feel so vulnerable on a bike. I'll be more patient and give them more space"

"Some cycle lanes are crap. I get why some riders don't use them and I wont hoot them"

I think these statements more or less sum up two problems in London: There's a complete lack of understanding between road users, depending on whether they're behind a wheel or on a bike. But more than that, here's a bunch of blokes who normally whip around town in high-powered minicabs, dashing from job to job. Yet, take the motor engine away from them and, hey presto, all of a sudden they seem to understand that London's streets are intimidating to cycle on. Why's that? Because they're on bicycles and they suddenly feel rather vulnerable.
The fact that a bunch of AddisonLee drivers find London's roads intimidating to cycle on seems to fly in the face of the fallacy maintained by Boris Johnson that you 'just need to keep your wits about you' when you're cycling around some five lane gyratory. I bet you, that if you quoted this Boris theory of safe cycling to one of these minicab drivers, they'd tell you that he's bonkers.

Tomorrow, the High Court will rule on a judgment whether to allow AddisonLee minicabs access to London's bus lanes. In a letter in today's The Times, John Griffin says the 'judgement will have huge consequences for millions of Londoners'. Too damn right it will. If AddisonLee gets to use bus lanes, you can kiss goodbye to safer cycling on London streets. Even his own cab drivers might understand why allowing minicabs (and it will be all minicabs, not just AddisonLee cabs) access to the bus lanes would deter people who might otherwise use them to cycle in. I've long felt that the bus lanes are the nearest thing London has to a bike network. Pathetic isn't it but kind of true.

Addison Lee 5

AddisonLee minicab drivers and staff start their cycle lesson

Back in January, Olympic cyclist Nicole Cooke issued a statement aimed squarely at the Mayor: "I certainly wouldn’t fancy riding across Vauxhall Cross or Elephant and Castle in rush hour, and those are only two examples. If we want more people to ride their bikes, we can’t have parts of the city where cyclists feel like they are taking a big risk just crossing a junction — it just shouldn’t be that way." It seems to me that AddisonLee minicab drivers might agree with her now they've done their training. 

The thing is, Boris isn't budging. At least not yet. Only last month, he repeated his insistence that Elephant & Castle is 'perfectly negotiable'. Yes, Elephant and Castle is perfectly negotiable. In the daytime, when it's not raining, when you're confident and hyper-well trained, provided you're prepared to cycle like an Olympic athlete to accelerate through the junction and you have every fibre of your being honed to make sure no-one accelerates or drifts lane into you. Boris seems to think we can turn London into cycling paradise by training more road users so everyone can play nicely with everyone else on roads like this. 

The thing is, not a single mayor in a single other major metropolis agrees that Boris Johnson has the right strategy. Neither do our Olympic athletes. And my tuppence worth is that those AddisonLee minicab drivers don't agree with him either now.  

Mr Mayor: Yes, we have responsibilities to ourselves and to others on the road. Some of us can negotiate places like Elephant. But all of us know our friends and family don't cycle in London for the same reasons these AddisonLee drivers don't. It can be extremely intimidating. And that's an issue you are responsible for solving. 

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By the way, in case anyone thinks I'm having a love-in with AddisonLee, I'm not. They need to make this cycle training compulsory for all their drivers. The weekend before last, I was cycling back from Bow roundabout on Cycle Super Highway 2. I was dangerously cut up by...you've guessed it. AddisonLee minicab LT59 0HB who was happily chatting on his mobile phone as he cut me up in the bike lane with a couple of centimetres to spare. He even wound down his window to talk with me when I remonstrated with him. And carried on talking on his mobile, in his right hand. 


If you're looking for some cycle training for yourself, you can take lessons for free in most boroughs. Check this TfL website for more details. 

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Bank Junction - The City of London lacks the foresight to copy what New York has done with Times Square. More motor traffic, wider pavement, no safer for cycling.

Cycling at Bank junction. I wonder why most people don't like
cycling here? 
Back in November, I posted a that the City of London was conducting a consultation of Bank junction, right next to the Bank of England. I'm delighted to see that hundreds of people took part in the consultation. The City says that it would normally expect 300 or so people to respond to these sorts of consultations. In this case, nearly 900 of you responded. Good stuff.

In the City of London's own words: "Bank junction has one of the poorest road safety records in the City, particularly in relation to injuries to pedestrians and cyclists and the junction does not work well for any mode of transport."

I can't disagree.

The City of London states that nearly a thousand people pass through this junction on bicycles in a single hour (8-9am) at rush-hour every week day. Thousands more pass through on foot, in buses and rather a lot in taxis.

The results of the consultation are now in. And the conclusions are pretty accurate, in my view:
  • There is too much traffic congestion in the Bank area leading to conflict between its different users
  • There is inadequate provision for pedestrians in the Bank area including a lack of space, crowded footways and poor crossings
  • Bank junction doesn’t work well for any mode of transport
  • There is not enough provision for cycling/cyclists"
Spot-on. People who cycle here responded that the junction should be improved for cycling AND for walking and that there should be less motor traffic here.

What's less spot-on, though, is the the strategy that the City of London thinks it should adopt here. It plans to:
  • To reduce conflict and improve road safety for all modes of transport;
  • To improve the function of Bank junction for all modes of transport;
  • To accommodate future growth, ensuring that the area functions well and provides a suitable environment that contributes towards maintaining the City’s status as the world’s leading international financial and business centre;
  • To improve the pedestrian environment, create more space for pedestrians and ensure that streets and spaces are inclusive and accessible to all


Spot the bike lane. This is what previous City of London
attempts to make the Square Mile more 'accessible'
look like. Cycling is excluded as a practical transport choice
 I get worried when the City talks about making more space for pedestrians. I completely agree that there should be more space for pedestrians. But what that usually means is that cycling is shut out. Picture some recent City of London 'more space for pedestrians' developments on the left and see if you can spot the bike lane?

If you read the City of London Bank strategy very carefully, though, you'll see that one of the key themes of the consultation has been quietly dropped from the City's strategy. The City has decided to ignore the fact that a significant proportion of respondents think 'there is too much traffic' at Bank junction.

The City wants to make Bank junction more efficient and 'inclusive', whatever that means. But it looks like the City won't consider taming the amount of motor traffic here. I'd go so far as to say that I think someone senior in the City of London is fixated with the idea that you mustn't ever reduce the amount of motor traffic, even if that would improve the flow of motor traffic flow for everyone else or if it would lead to a busier Square Mile on foot and on bike where people and goods can get about faster, more efficiently and more cheaply.

Broadway bike lane goes through Times Square
Funnily enough, the City's biggest competitor - New York City - thinks it can and should reduce the amount of motor traffic in order to make the city more efficient. The New York City transportation commissioner is explicit that she wants to: "reduce private auto use in the most crowded parts of town ... to make more room for cycling and for buses".

New York had similar issues to Bank junction at a rather more iconic junction: Times Square. Too much traffic, high road casualty rates, horrible pedestrian environment, even worse cycling environment. Like Bank junction, it is surrounded by law firm and bank offices. And it's a major retail and nightlife spot. Funnily enough, the City wants Bank to become a bigger retail and nightlife area too.

New York closed some road arteries to motor traffic. It installed meaningful bike lanes through the Square. It also gave a lot of space over to pedestrians. The result is a much nicer square where more people walk, where the shops are doing better business, where motor traffic flows better and which is now way easier to cycle through. For a whole series of before and after photos of the Times Square project, look at this NYC Department of Transportation's slideshow.

It seems to me that the City of London is having none of this. What it's done is come up with a strategy that ignores the obvious - it can make the junction more efficient and safer but it won't do that simply by giving more space to pedestrians. It needs to reduce the amount of motor traffic here too. That's what New York City has done.

More space for pedestrians is good but not if it simply means narrower roads, no space for cycling and the same amount of motor traffic congestion as before. The City should be thinking how to reduce the amount of motor traffic, how to reduce congestion here, how to give some space to cycling through the junction and how to improve crossings and space for pedestrians. Instead, I think we'll get wider pavements, just as much motor traffic, just the same traffic queues and no space whatsoever for safe, sensible cycling through the junction.

My own view? The City should close Cheapside to all motor vehicles except buses and allow people to cycle through. Then it needs to close one route on the east side of the junction except for buses and bikes (and possibly taxis). Can easily be done but I bet the City fathers don't have the guts to try. New York tried. It tested the concept and it worked. And now it's made Times Square's new look very permanent indeed.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Bow roundabout: Transport for London "wants conversations with the Department for Transport" to build proper Dutch-style bike traffic lights. This could be the start of something quite significant.

The new segregated bike lane and traffic lights
at Bow roundabout
I spent an hour today watching the new segregated bike traffic lights at Bow roundabout. So did several police officers. The police are there to monitor and advise people how to use the junction.

First impressions? Really tough. This is a hopeless junction. I've driven through it plenty of times and it's incredibly frustrating: slow crawl up the junction followed by hyper-aggressive manoeuvring through the junction itself. It's rubbish for cycling. And it's simply appalling for pedestrians who can only cross by running across the motorway slip roads. It should never have been built like this in the first place. The whole thing is unpleasant or irritating whatever form of transport you're using. But it's only on a bike or on foot that it's truly dangerous.

Transport for London has built a new segregated cycle lane here, complete with bicycle traffic lights on one approach to the junction (pictured left). A similar structure will be built in the opposite direction after the Olympics.

The new cycle lane is a bit of both worlds. On the one hand, it does separate people in motor vehicles and people on bicycles, which is very welcome. But then it throws them together through the junction in a very clunky way. It involves multiple and confusing traffic lights some of which are for people on bikes, others for people in motor vehicles, but they all look the same. The biggest issue, though, is that the scheme fails to match the basic rule of the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research (SWOV) that: 'The ultimate solution for the blind spot problem is a structural separation of trucks and cyclists."

Getting to Bow roundabout is made
unnecessarily dangerous on a bike because
TfL has plonked two car parking
spaces and a bus stop that fill entire
 bike lane just before the roundabout.  
Having observed it for over an hour, my sense is that TfL's new cycle lane at Bow is very compromised. But it is undoubtedly a slight improvement on what was there before. The three police officers agreed, as did the woman filming the junction for a student research project.

I spoke with a contact at Transport for London late last week to ask about Bow in more detail. TfL told me that since it implemented the original design a week ago, it has monitored the junction non-stop and looking at how people actually use the bike lane, TfL has made a number of changes. It has moved both the motor and cycle stop lines, moved the traffic lights, added an extra traffic signal, changed  the appearance of the advance stop area for bikes and modified some of the segregated kerb.

Some people have criticised TfL for making these changes but I think it's only right that TfL should amend the junction in response to what's actually happening. You have to remember that TfL has said from the outset this would be a trial scheme and rather than just leave the  scheme unaltered, at least it's trying to make the best of the job. I think they deserve some credit for that at least.

But my fundamental issue with Bow roundabout remains: It will only ever be friendly for people on bikes if they're kept properly apart from people driving cars. That's the sort of thing the Dutch would do here, for example.

So I was stunned when, having talked through all of the aspects of the new junction, my contact at TfL said something truly extraordinary. Transport for London would like to upgrade the junction further, I was told. Specifically, I should understand that: "Transport for London is keen to have conversations with the Department for Transport about implementing European-style bike traffic lights at Bow".

Dutch bike traffic light. Coming to London soon?
What I understood that to mean is that TfL is considering rolling out proper bike traffic lights, like  you see in Holland, Germany, France, Denmark, Spain and now even all over the US. My TfL contact suggested this would mean a traffic light that could involve:

a) A red light with a bicycle logo (instead of the 'all traffic' red light with no bike symbol as we have in the UK at the moment)
b) A bike traffic light at eye-level for people on bikes not up in the air like they are currently
c) A bike traffic light would be much smaller than normal traffic lights (and therefore much cheaper to install) and could probably fitted on to the traffic pole, in the same way as they are in the Netherlands.

Basically, something not dissimilar to the standard Dutch bike traffic light pictured on the left.


Blimey.

One bike traffic light will not make Bow roundabout a Dutch style junction.

Most of Cycle Super Highway 2 looks like
this. Blue paint and massive pavements.
But what is clear is that this could be the start of something very interesting. London needs proper bicycle traffic signals and it needs proper bicycle infrastructure. If Transport for London really is considering Dutch-style bike traffic lights, that means they are starting (albeit slowly) to think about how they embed cycling into their corporate thinking. And that can only be a good thing because if cycling becomes part of Transport for London's DNA, we might eventually start to see London building world-class bike infrastructure.


And London needs that infrastructure. As I cycled along Cycle Super Highway 2 this afternoon I was struck by just how truly awful it really is.

Most of it is a lethal line of blue paint, similar to the picture above, that serves virtually no purpose.

A tiny section of London's Cycle Super Highway 2
shows what the rest of it should look like
But there is an unbelievable amount of space to build a world-class cycle highway along this route. There's even a tiny stretch where Transport for London has done just that (pictured left) and built 20 metres of separated bike lane. Which then evaporates and turns into just more blue paint.

Whatever happens next with Bow's cycle traffic lights, I spy a fight coming up. And a good fight. The Minister for Road Safety (Mike Penning) recently made some unbelievably naive and contradictory comments about bicycle-only traffic signals. Either Transport for London is going to have to convince him to change his mind or it's going to have to ignore him and go build something the DfT won't technically allow on London's roads.

For my part, I hope Boris Johnson sticks two fingers up at Mr Penning and let's his officials build their bike traffic lights. And I hope that Bow will continue to evolve. The junction has been made slightly safer and easier to use but it's still horribly compromised. And that's not going to change until a significant cultural shift takes place within Transport for London. My sense (and it's very early days) is that the bike traffic lights symbolise the beginnings of that cultural shift. There's a long way to go.

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BBC Sunday Politics show on Dutch-style cycling

This morning's episode of BBC's Sunday Politics show had a fantastic debate about what Dutch-style cycling is all about and why the UK has a lot to learn about making cycling a normal form of transport for everyone. 

Alternatively, you can see the clip below and wonder why they've chosen a retired racing driver to talk about what urban streets should look like.


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

US government backs Dutch-style cycling as a real American transport choice. Makes Mayor of London & England's transport ministers look anti-motorist as well as anti-cyclist.


Green Lane Project from Bikes Belong on Vimeo.

The US Department of Transportation has just announced its support for the Green Lane Project, a "new effort that works closely with six U.S. cities to help them build world-class cycling networks on city streets. These are cities poised to make significant progress over the next two years in installing cycle tracks and related improvements, which we’re calling 'green lanes.'"

Compare and contrast with the UK where the government in England has recently scrapped Cycling England, the only government body (and a very small and weak one at that) dedicated to bringing best cycling practice to English towns and cities.

The US scheme is mind-blowing when you compare it to what's happening in the UK.

Chicago, for example, will build 25 miles of segregated bike lane every year. That's a city with less than a third the population of London, building more segregated bike lane per year than London in the last decade.

Wherever you look, the US is beginning to make the UK approach look utterly isolated. Over in Silicon Valley, the city of San Jose is building protected bike lanes. It doesn't simply want to reduce motor traffic on its street network, it wants to slash motor traffic - down from 80% of commuter traffic to 40% - and grow cycle traffic from 1% to 15% by 2040. Compare that with the lukewarm words of Boris Johnson who is planning to a) increase motor traffic and b) only expects 5% of journeys to be made by bike by 2026. Wow.

Why has the US fallen in love with the bicycle? Simple really. The US Department of Transportation has decided that cycling is a "smart, quick and inexpensive way for everyone to get around". The Department of Tranportation and the Federal Highway Administration "like traffic-separated lanes because they increase safety. And bicycle infrastructure is much less expensive to build and maintain than either transit or roadways, so communities get a bigger bang for their buck...And, the more people who choose to ride instead of drive, the less congestion motorists experience as they make their way through town. Green lanes even benefit pedestrians and children; by inviting more bicyclists, we reduce the burden of tailpipe emissions on the air we breathe."

As the US Department of Transportation says, cities can cut congestion and improve transport for everyone by encouraging more cycling but it can only achieve that by building proper cycle infrastructure - a network of "green lanes —inspired by decades of experience in European cities and adapted to meet the unique needs of American streets."

Meanwhile, over in London, over 50% of all car journeys in outer London are less than two miles. So what's London doing? It's planning to build for more motor traffic by making motoring easier. No sign from the Mayor that he realises why the US is building hundreds of miles of segregated bike routes this year.

Cities in the US are doing this to reduce motor traffic, reduce congestion and get some of those people who are currently driving two miles off their backsides on to bicycles. The Department for Transportation is explicitly saying it wants to encourage cities to use Dutch, Danish and European experience in cycle infrastructure design and blend that with its own experience to make cycling a truly American way of getting around its cities. By implication, it is saying that Dutch-style cycling infrastructure is the only thing that gets normal Americans on their bikes. And it's doing this to get people moving to jobs more cheaply and more efficiently than by car. Which is good for everyone. Less congestion, less pollution, less cost to taxpayers.

Boris Johnson's view on all of this? Ambiguous at the moment. See his comment below to a question posed during a live twitter chat last week:


What does that mean? No space for bike lanes? How come Amsterdam managed it on its network of medieval streets? And what does 'watch this space' mean? Something sneaky and exciting in the pipeline? Do bicycles not 'keep the city moving'? They seem to do just that in the opinion of the American transport secretary but not in the opinion of the Mayor of London. Let's see...

When you compare what's happening in the United States with what's happening in England, it becomes increasingly apparent that cycling's going nowhere in this country.

If you have time, watch the video above by the US Department of Transportation. Then have a listen to some of the obfuscation and sheer ignorance about cycling displayed by the UK goverment's (technically only with responsibility for England on this issue) transport ministers Mike Penning and Norman Baker. If the video gets too frustrating for you or you don't have time, you could have a quick read of this spot-on synopsis written by Cycalogical blog. As Cycalogical puts it so well: "What was David Cameron thinking when he appointed Mike Penning minister for road safety? He might as well have appointed Harold Shipman minister for the care of the elderly".

For more background on the US announcement, see Carlton Reid's piece in Bike Biz.


Monday, 4 June 2012

Cycle-specific traffic lights coming to Blackfriars Bridge: Transport for London drops another big hint new road layout on its way

Bow roundabout bike lane goes in. Courtesy DiamondGeezer
Late last week, Transport for London opened its new 'bicycle-friendlier' junction at Bow roundabout. The solution is (unbelievably) quite radical for London - a segregated bike lane approaches the junction and people on bikes get a (slightly) separate traffic light phase.


In any other country, Transport for London would be able to make use of dedicated bicycle traffic lights and bicycle traffic phasing all over London. But not in the UK. As TfL puts it in a comment to The Times: "the new design incorporates the full extent of what can be installed 'within current Department for Transport regulations'".


For once, I'm not going to knock Transport for London about this. Instead, I'm going to knock the Department for Transport. TfL is absolutely right to point out that this solution incorporates the full extent of what the DfT will allow it to do. And the Department for Transport seems very, very confused about cycling. A couple of months ago, the Minister (Mike Penning) responsible for road safety was asked about whether the UK would ever seen bicycle-only traffic lights, the sorts of things you see in every single other developed country. He'd keep an 'open mind' he said but he didn't want to see one set of rules for people on bikes and another for people driving cars. And then in the very same sentence he talked about people on bikes needing to be ahead of people driving motor vehicles at junctions 'because of the disparity of speed'. On the one hand, Penning believes there should be one set of rules for all people on the road, regardless of whether they are leg-powered or engine-powered, on the other he acknowledges people don't have the same acceleration on a bike as they do when they're driving a car. 


In other words, the UK will have to keep using traffic lights designed for motor cars to organise people on bicycles because the Minister can't make his mind up whether he wants one set of rules or two. And that means the Department of Transport will sit on its hands and do nothing. Unless, of course, organisations like Transport for London start saying that the rules need to evolve. I think, in a very subtle way, that's exactly what Transport for London is saying to The Times. The comment made by TfL seems to suggest that TfL wants to push the Department for Transport to set rules that more reliably match reality as far as cycling is concerned. At least I hope that's the case. 


Blackfriars Bridge northbound. To turn right from here, you
have to try and force your way across three lanes of
motor traffic as it accelerates off the lights.
Bike traffic lights coming soon?
What's very encouraging is that Transport for London has also confirmed again that it is considering bike-only traffic lights at Blackfriars Bridge. I first wrote about this back in April when TfL hinted at a possible bicycle-only filter for people cycling over the Bridge and trying to turn north east into the City of London. According to The Times "cyclist-specific lights could be trialled elsewhere in London, with the northern side of Blackfriars Bridge likely to be one of the next sites."


This would be a great result and would significantly change the dynamic of this junction. Something like 10,000 people cycle through this junction every day and their existence was more or less ignored in the original plans for this new junction. After much protest, some small improvements have already been made: The bike lane pictured above, for example, was meant to be half the width it is now. A small improvement but worth fighting for, I think). Making it safer for people to turn right on their bikes would be a big improvement. All sorts of people head over this junction at the moment - folk on Boris bikes in suits, speedy road racers, you name it. There's no obvious or safe way for those heading into the City to turn right through the junction and so you end up with a sort of weaving of bikes in an out through the entire length of the junction. It's daft for cyclists and it's equally daft for drivers who have to watch out for the cyclists. I've watched lots of people just chicken out of turning right altogether, especially at night when there are fewer people about on bikes. They end up trying to turn right and then dashing for the pavement instead and crossing on the pedestrian crossing. 


My suspicion is that whatever ends up being built at Blackfriars will still look and feel relatively clunky compared to easy-to-use equivalents in the US or in Europe. And why's that? Well, a good part of it is down to intransigence on the part of Transport for London a couple of years ago. But now that TfL seems to be thinking about how to incorporate cycling as a genuine mode of transport, I think a real barrier to simple and safe cycling facilities here and elsewhere in London is the Department for Transport with its out-of-date thinking about cycling. I'm pleased that Transport for London is starting to make the right sorts of noises. I'll be even more pleased when I know my journey to work on a bike involves one less hold-your-breath-and-go-for-it junction. Then there are many, many more junctions to resolve. But at least it's a start.