Thursday, 7 March 2013

Game-change for cycling: Boris Johnson announces a 'Crossrail for bikes'; a central London 'bike grid'; a number of 'Mini Hollands' in outer London. And the Westway made into London's bicycling Hi-Line. 9 out of 10 for the concept. Now it's the implementation that matters. And this matters for everyone, not just for "cyclists" . Even the president of the AA calls them "great plans overall".


Coming to London soon. Transport for London's vision of Victoria Embankment. Better for everyone. 
More space for pedestrians. Fewer obstructions for motor vehicles.


Early today, the Mayor will announce “an Olympic legacy for all Londoners”, in the form of a dedicated and meaningful commitment to creating a city where people feel they have the choice to use a bicycle instead of driving. There are six key planks to the plan:

- A Crossrail for bikes from way out west to the east London
- A re-think of the Junction Review to focus on getting fewer junctions right, rather than lots of junctions half-right
- A bike grid of safe routes in central London
- A network of Quietways, to upgrade routes on borough roads
- A series of Mini-Hollands - big investments in cycling in some outer London boroughs, rather than lots of boroughs sharing small amounts of cash
- A slight re-think (in a good way) on the planned Cycle Super Highway 5

It's very impressive stuff.

Bear with me before I get to the detail of the new announcements:

Background to Boris Johnson's "cycling revolution" since 2008

Boris Johnson’s first stab at encouraging more Londoners to cycle was, in my view, ill thought through and much of it felt like style over substance. The Mayor promised a “cycling revolution”. The reality was that he built a series of poor quality cycle super highways at vastly higher cost than their higher quality counterparts in other countries. The new cycle highways did virtually nothing to make people feel their journeys by bicycle were safer.

In the meantime, as the number of bicycle journeys increased, the number of people killed and seriously injured grew even faster. This situation was unique to London; In other major cities, the number of trips by bike has been growing but the number of casualties has been in decline. Something was clearly going very wrong in London.

Victoria Embankment today.
Hardly invites people to cycle here rather
than drive. 
The reality of this first phase of Boris’s cycling revolution was that he invested most of the money not in making safer routes for cycling but in the cycle hire scheme, which swallowed two-thirds of the cycle budget. The cycle revolution was, in other words, a fig leaf that was never backed up by sufficient funding to make it happen. To put London’s cycle hire scheme in context, go to Montreal. London’s Boris bikes are made in Montreal.Cycling has been booming in Montreal and some 37% now cycle weekly. Unlike London, Montreal built (and continues to expand) a large, coherent cycle network comprised of routes safe enough for children, older people and everyone in between to use. That hasn’t yet happened in London.

What Boris Johnson has achieved with some success, however, is to promote the idea of biking as a sensible form of transport.

And despite my criticisms of his policies to date, I can see why his cycling policies have been realistic, even if I haven't always agreed with them: When the Mayor came to power, cycling was already on the increase but it was only just on the cusp of becoming mainstream. In 2006, more people drove over Blackfriars Bridge in the rush hour than cycled. By 2010, however, 36% of people were cycling over the bridge, more than were crossing the bridge in cars and taxis combined. By 2013, the Deputy Mayor for Transport was referring to 40%. It would have been extremely difficult to talk about designing Blackfriars junction around cycling when it was being designed in 2005/6. By 2013, it is simply common sense to design a junction like Blackfriars to include cycling.

2013: The time is right for the Mayor's step-change in his "cycling revolution"

The Mayor’s announcement today marks a complete break with the thinking of the past and, in my view, is a timely and impressive re-start for his "cycling revolution'. Let's call it Cycling Revolution 3.0.

“I want more of the kind of cyclists you see in Holland, going at a leisurely pace on often-clunky steeds”, he writes in his plan.

That’s a pretty clear statement. It might well be the case that 15% of Hackney residents bike to work but only 7% of them bike to work in Hammersmith. And hardly anyone bikes with their kids to school. Let alone to the shops or back from a night out. If we're going to get people cycling the way they do in the Netherlands, we're going to need people to feel they want to cycle to school or to the shops. I believe this is the sort of thing Boris Johnson has in his sights.

And to achieve that vision, says the Mayor, he will "create a variety of routes for the variety of cyclists I seek...Cycling will be treated not as niche, marginal, or an afterthought, but as what it is: an integral part of the transport network, with the capital spending, road space and traffic planners’ attention befitting that role. "

Victoria Embankment. There is a bike lane here already. It's underneath
the (legally) parked coach
This is really big stuff.

And it gets bigger:

The Mayor continues: "At the last mayoral election, cycling policy united the political right, who applaud the freedom and individualism it embodies, and the left. In my second term, changing London to make it friendlier to cyclists is one of my most important goals."

That's a very major statement. And that is why I think the Mayor is absolutely on the button to say that this isn’t solely about ‘cyclists’. This is about making London function more efficiently for everyone. It is a call for a coherent, long-term commitment to encourage people to use bikes as a form of transport wearing everyday clothes for everyday journeys. Boris’s speech today is the sort of call that the government should be making and which recognises that the bicycle is not a fad but is a way to improve London for everyone. And, that being the case, that the bicycle needs coherent standards, coherent infrastructure and meaningful money to back it up. This is the sort of vision I'd like to see the government adopt for the whole country. For now, though, Boris is setting the pace. The government is way, way behind.

The question now is whether Boris Johnson can deliver on his vision. Boris’s cycling strategy gives us some clear detail on what to expect although much of the commitment is understandably unclear at this stage as some of the detail still needs thrashing out. Other parts are well on track, however. Here's the detail of what the Mayor intends to deliver:

Crossrail for bikes

First on the agenda is a segregated bike track between Parliament Square and Tower Bridge along Victoria Embankment. This has been mooted before and now appears to be a near-certain commitment in the plan. The plan suggests that this track will route its way towards Hyde Park and over towards the Westway and form a 15 mile segregated route between White City to Canary Wharf and Barking. It will head west along the Westway itself, where a motor vehicle lane will be removed and include a new bike and pedestrian bridge crossing the West Cross Route (currently a giant barrier for everyone who's not in a car). This is gob-smackingly bold stuff. I have to admit that the Westway bit is slightly, how shall I put it, courageous stuff. I love the concept, I do worry slightly that the Westway element in its own right might prove a bit of a tricky sell to the "motoring" community.

But delivering a segregated east - west route for cycling is essential. And the motoring lobby must have no truck opposing it (pardon the pun). The time is right for this to happen:

Here's what a proper bike lane looks
like. Montreal underpass 
I cycle the Victoria Embankment route several times a week. I am one of the tiny number of people I see who cycles here in a suit rather than on a road bike (although I do that too fairly frequently). And I have to say that although the Embankment works fine if you’re cycling at a fast pace, it completely fails for your average person on a bike. The reality is that none of the other west-to-east routes through central London work well either. The Strand is a nightmare to cycle through, so is Oxford Street. And Westminster Council has done its best to make every other available route impenetrable or to fill it with parked cars and narrow, fast-moving one-way streets. London lacks a single end-to-end bike route through the centre of the city and it needs one. So, thumbs up for this.

And it makes sense too: As Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor’s cycling commissioner, puts it, the Embankment Cycle Highway will have capacity of the equivalent of four District line trains per hour. Get these sorts of numbers off the tube, and you free up capacity for everyone, not just for cycling.


The bike grid

The plan commits to a central London “Bike Grid” of "high quality bike routes". It's not quite clear exactly what form the Grid will take but it sounds like a mix of some segregated routes and some other routes being made calmer and less intimidating to cycle along. London is crying out for decent routes through the centre of the city. Try taking a bike anywhere in central London and you’ll get caught in traffic engineering hell. The streets of Westminster are designed to create a maze for motor vehicles so that people don’t want to drive through areas like Mayfair and Bloomsbury. But they create an unpleasant environment for everyone else with fast rat-runs of one-way motor traffic charging down residential and shopping streets. Look at Bond Street and ask yourself if you honestly think this is a premium shopping environment with its three lanes of roaring traffic and narrow pavements?

Most people look at these streets and don’t see a way through on a bike. My understanding is that various London boroughs are working with Transport for London on the shape and size of the Bike Grid. And good luck to them. If the boroughs don’t play ball (and there is no evidence that some of them are disposed to yet), the Bike Grid is sunk.

Quietways

Bike lanes for normal folk, wearing
normal clothes. Just happen to be travelling
by bicycle not by car or bus. 
The idea of Quietways is also a sensible one. London has a network of quiet routes already, in the form of the London Cycle Network. In some boroughs, notably Hackney, Southwark and Camden, some of these LCN routes work fairly well thanks to consistent investment. But other boroughs, including Westminster, Tower Hamlets, Hammersmith & Fulham and Wandsworth have largely ignored their Cycle Network with precious little investment.

The Mayor will need these boroughs to work with him to make the Bike Grid work. In some cases, that will mean upgrading existing LCN routes but some routes will be completely new. Provided they are done methodologically, these sorts of initiatives can create meaningful links between communities that are much more attractive and just as useful as main road routes for a lot of local journeys.

Building "Mini Hollands" in outer London

I'm also quite struck by Boris’s concept of “Mini Hollands” in outer London. The idea has been championed by Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor’s new cycling commissioner. The intention is to provide major funding (we're talking tens of millions) to a limited number of areas where "the main focus will be on replacing short car trips within the target borough". The plan talks about "substantial redesigns of the main town centre, to show what is possible when roads and spaces are built around cyclists" and a network of bike routes linking the centre to where people live.

Funding for cycling in outer London has been risible to date. The Mayor has committed a measly £3million for cycling to the entire outer London area over three years. Bear in mind that the majority of car journeys in outer London are less than two miles. These journeys could easily be bicycle but they’re not. In part, I think that’s because cycling has been made a downright miserable experience in many outer London boroughs. In part, because driving has been made easier and easier. This plan talks about providing genuinely significant amounts of money to cycling in outer London and focussing it on a maximum of three areas where it can make a real difference. Imagine taking an area like Richmond or Croydon (although I can’t see either of those happening as both boroughs seem utterly unable to think strategically on behalf of their constituents) and building a series of bike tracks so that people can bike their kids to school and then cycle off home or to the station to lock up their bike and commute into town.

Major junctions

Map showing percentage increase/decrease
in people cycling to work.
Courtesy Drawing Rings blog
My sense from the document is that the Mayor’s current Junction Review will also get a re-write. The Junction Review was announced last year and was designed to reduce the number of casualties at the most dangerous junctions in London. But many of the schemes I’ve seen to date have felt slightly confused. It’s not clear how they really help people negotiate some of London’s biggest barriers to cycling more safely than they can at the moment. Take, for example, Waterloo roundabout. The junction review has delivered some changes to the white lines on this roundabout and may deliver a lower speed limit. But Waterloo roundabout is still as intimidating as hell to negotiate on a bike. The plan suggests that the Junction Review will pivot towards a ‘less is more’ strategy: Some junctions (including some that have already been announced) will be chopped. Instead, the plan is to get some big junctions like Aldgate, Vauxhall and Swiss Cottage right and do them properly, not just some white lines. Other junctions in the review will go back to the drawing board. This is the right thing to do.

Cycle Super Highway 5

My understanding is that Cycle Super Highway 5, which is due to launch late this summer, will also see something of a review and that the scheme may be rolled out in phases. The idea is to provide a better quality route from end-to-end. And, if I've understood correctly, to link it to Lewisham (currently planned to end at New Cross). It's a bit like the way we built the motorways. The M1 wasn't built in a single dash. It was built section by section, all to the same quality. I'd far rather that Transport for London built the Cycle Highway properly and took a couple of years over it, then it dashed out a mish mash of segregated lanes and then rubbish blue paint just when things get dangerous. By the way, I also believe that the section from Victoria to Oval will see a serious upgrade on the current plans and that should be built by the end of the summer. Other Cycle Super Highways (and Highway 5 included) may take different routes to the ones published in the past, in order to optimise the routes as much as possible. Again, this makes a lot of sense.

This is a long post. And deliberately so. I have never seen a commitment to cycling as ambitious as this in this country. I’ve read countless plans by councils and by other cities and I’m familiar with the strategies adopted in other countries.

Boris isn’t promising to bring Copenhagen or Amsterdam to London. But he is promising to bring about a better London. And I think that’s the right thing to do. London excels at many things it does. Our bus network is world-class. Our tube network, while some people might grumble, is pretty much world-class. It’s time our streets became first class too. And cycling is going to have to be part of that. A very significant part.


60 comments:

  1. Incredibly exciting news - thank you (as always) for a very informative post.

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  2. Awesome! Thanks so much for the analysis! You rock

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  3. Well, I'll believe it when I see it. in principle this sounds amazing and a huge leap forward, but I have the nagging worry that it is very easy for the mayor to announce big schemes, but their realization depends on getting the boroughs to buy into it and to play ball.
    My partner works for a borough council (outer borough) and their budgets have been slashed over the past few years, with more massive cuts on the horizon. All of this is going to put huge costs on the boroughs, both in terms of building infrastructure and managing the process. I doubt that central funding will cover these costs adequately.

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    1. Our borough's main excuse for poor cycle facilities is "TFL insists on our maintaining traffic capacity". If Boris can make cycling a priority money would be less of an issue.

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  4. As the Evening Standard said yesterday, we need to thank you, the two Marks, and the two Davids for this important document.
    We still need you to ensure proper implementation. You guys will be coaches and referees, because there is much more expertise, understanding and common sense amongst you than at TfL

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  5. I cant wait, i really hope they are implemented well!

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  6. Outer borough mini Holland nomination goes to High Barnet.

    1 - As it's Barnet and they need to get cycling.
    2 - A woman was killed there last year
    3 - The layout of the town makes avoiding the centre hard.

    Adam

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  7. My initial reaction was cynicism - where have we heard all of this before?

    Having gone through the TfL doc, and the various commentaries tweeted over the last couple of hours, I think I have moved to scepticism. Not over Boris' committment to cycling - I have always believed he was sincere about that because he does actually put his money (or his pedals) where his mouth is. He does actually travel around London, on business, on his bike and he does so in a suit and in "continental" (ie not re-enacting the TdF) style.

    My two areas of concern are firstly that the motorists' lobby will inevitably fight hard and dirty to stop this happening if it involves any reduction of capacity for them - and I just don't see how a cycling revolution can be achieved at the same time as maintaining "network assurance" - and secondly that much of what is needed will have to come from boroughs. We all know that some are currently ahead of TfL in their thinking but others are definitely behind - whether the dinosaurs at Westminster can be dragged out of the pre-jurassic era is something I won't be betting serious money on.

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  8. You have given a clear picture of what is right and what is wrong. Probably London will get it right.

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  9. Oh, come on - surely people aren't going to fall for this kind of thing again? We've seen so many hollow promises on various things from Mayor Jolly-good-fun now that surely everyone knows to treat his big announcements with a massive pinch of salt?

    For example, haven't we had a number of years where TfL/GLA have actually underspent on the 'promised' cycling budget. So how much of this 'promised' £913 million do we think will actually end up being 'actual' money spent on cycling?

    And take note that this is a ten year plan - how many seriously think that Boris's long term agenda involves still being mayor in 2023 to see this out?

    Not convinced, try taking a look at Boris's record on previous pledges, such as those made on greener buses for London and you see how he quietly drops these once they've gone off the media radar.

    Or take a look at how much money has been wasted on things like the cable-car, which was supposed to be self-funding, the bike-hire scheme which was supposed to be self-funding, and the Orbit - supposedly fully paid for by sponsors, except none of them have been in the end.

    Boris was only dragged to the table on reviewing junction safety in order to head off a massive anti-Boris cyclist vote at the last election. And where are the results of these first junction studies, where are the urgent works on the first ten junctions that were supposed to have been finished by the end of last year? Are they delayed, or have they been quietly shelved? The only thing I know is that they haven't happened as originally promised.

    No, I've had my fill of Boris flim-flam - give me a call when something actually happens.

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    Replies
    1. Totally agree. Campaigning must be stepped up as there is a danger that we take our feet of the pedals prematurely.

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  10. Do we have the interim dates for these plans? I'm sceptical, though I'd love to see it happen.

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  11. In the past I would have agreed with anonymous above - The mayor gives with one hand but takes with the other, giving him some newsworthy soundbites while leaving us with empty promises. However... there is some serious scope here that something may actually happen - the Barclays hire bike scheme has been a great success in terms of usage numbers (if not funding), bike use has finally overtaken car use in Hackney commuting statistics and the existing blue CSHs have at least got the public ready for more bike usage. Given the ability of London to get things done for the Olympics I am finally hopefully that lasting change is coming...

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  12. There is one really good hand that can be played here.

    Show retailers what happens to their takings, in other cities around the world, when a cycle friendly route runs past their premises. Some proprietors are repoting increases in business of up to 200%.

    If I was a retailer, I'd definately want to have a cycle route come my way.

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    Replies
    1. And property values could rise in the mini-Hollands - great for existing residents!

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  13. All looks very promising, as my job sees me moving about offices all over the capital my cycle route can vary week to week. It will invariably involve using at least the section of CS7 to/from Morden to at least Stockwell and sometimes Elephant and Castle and I can say that needs s big overhaul. I arranged to meet a mate for the ride home earlier in the week and I stood by the gates of Kennington Park right by the turn off for the A23 where CS7 carries straight on. I witnessed so many terrifying passes as cars tried to turn off and cyclists wanted to head straight on....
    Here's hoping this plan does actually go ahead and we remove these previously engineered in conflict points.

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  14. Great summary.

    Lots of concerns about borough councillors and The Damned Network Assurance arm getting involved.

    We all need to keep lobbying and blogging and if this moves, it will give local authority engineers the boost they need - we are crying out for the challenge before we are all outsourced...

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  15. I'd like to point out that if it wasn't for the likes of you and other committed people and organisations this huge transition may never have happened. Thanks and please keep up the fantastic work.

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  16. A lot of this route goes through Westminster. There is going to be a battle royal between the anti-cyclist Westminster City Council and TFL/Boris. Let's hope that Bozzer isn't relying on that to prevent having to deliver as well as promise.

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  17. The present cycle super highways are clearly more about Boris's self publicity.
    We need, and always have, access only routes throughout London.
    When a 5 year old can cycle safely in London is when we have addressed the problem. Before then, the Co2 target ignoring authorities, are simply not taking cycling seriously.

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  18. This will be great for tourism as well. What better way to see a city?

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    1. I might actually give in to my son and come2visit. Now I haven't the guts to go with him (less motorskilled than average) into the london traffic (and the city is too large to walk it all). Amsterdam is already rather stressful for him - and bikes won't leave as much as an impression on a body after a crash compared to a car....

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  19. That mocked-up picture on the front of the proposal did make my jaw sag open for a good few seconds. I'd be amazed and delighted if I see that in my lifetime (I'm 34).

    I'd also like to second the other comments about the constant pressure, advice and knowledge that you and others have been throwing TfL's way - please keep it up, for all our sakes, and know that there are thousands of slightly less vocal (but just as keen, and vaguely optimistic) cyclists right behind you.

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  20. There is a certain irony in claiming that this will create a cyclists Crossrail, when the TfL and Crossrail policy on the actual Crossrail currently fails to deliver any more that a woolly statement that cycle carriage will be a matter for the operator to sort out (and implied thinking that we don't really want to have bikes on the trains under London) This looks bad when you realise that Crossrail will take the trains currently running in to Paddington from towns along the Thames Valley to Maidenhead and send then through a tunnel that starts at Acton. 17% of the peak hour passengers who arrive at Paddington and head for Knightsbridge do so by bike, outside the peak times I and other travelling on these local trains have done spot counts, and consistently find between 8 and 10% of the passengers on the train taking a bike with them. The detail repeats widely across London, and for weekend leisure rides where a group of up to 20 riders might catch a train out of Central London, figures of 60-70% of the fare paying passengers on a train are not uncommon.

    There is a lot to table on integration. For a start the report paid for by TfL and delivered in 2007 which recommended opening up Croydon's trams for cycle carriage, especially as both the old and the new trams are in use elsewhere and carry bikes, often without restriction.

    In the US BART has followed Washington Metro and NYC PATH and Subway, in allowing cycles on board at all times of day, with a protocol driven by common sense, and guess what - it works.

    River crossings too could be opened up to connect North and South of the Thames - the 108 bus can get you through the Blackwall Tunnel between Maze Hill and Bow, the DLR could carry bikes between Greenwich and Mud Chute, and several other opportunities.

    One detail you haven't picked up and one I feel is significant, is that London Boroughs won't get funding unless they address the issue of making their HGV fleet (and that specified for their contractors) as safe as possible for interaction with cyclists. It could mean that they will only specify trucks with walk-in or low level driving positions, for every task where this is possible. Look around and you will see trucks with low-down drivers who you can look directly in the eye, when alongside on a bike. You be able to see the driver from the top of their head to the seat of their trousers, and they won't need a huge array of mirrors the fudge the fact that they cannot directly see what is happening immediately beside their truck. It ain't impossible those trucks are available now, along with systems to govern the top speeds - if the trucks are never used outside a 30mph limit then why have a speed setting higher than 30mph? One bus company did this for a London Buses contract, and it delivered less driver stress, and fewer minor crashes as measurable results.

    Loads more to say but most important is when can we get started?

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    1. I think one should assess TfL's new cycling plan & the issue of carriage of bikes on trains in the context of 'Go Dutch'. The Dutch railway company will charge you a lot to carry a bike on a train - so much that it is only if you're doing a once-in-a-while journey with your bike that you would consider carrying it on the train. Instead the Dutch provide plenty of bike parking facilities and good cheap bike hire at stations (very cheap indeed if you have a train ticket). This makes sense in a mass cycling environment. Carrying bikes on trains demands lots of space and is not feasible in a mass cycling environment. Concentrate on bike parking & a Dutch style bike hire system.

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  21. Any thoughts from other west London residents about the proposed section on the Westway from White City to Paddington? If I'm going into central London at the moment I'll go over the roundabout at Shepherds Bush and up to the Bayswater Road to Hyde Park. I don't think I'd divert north to use the westway as it would take longer. I'd rather see improvements on the narrow lane dual carriageway on Holland Park Avenue. If you're coming from further north (Willesden/Queens Park)is this what you've been crying out for?

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    1. I hate riding up there so I get off, park my bike, and take the Central Line at Shepherds Bush.

      While I would also prefer they stole a lane from Holland Park Ave/Bayswater Road as it's more direct, if they give me a segregated route via the Westway I could live with that too.

      I'll be interested to see if it actally does take longer. With no traffic lights and a clear run it might be surprising.

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  22. Is Gilligan really the right person to take this forward? He is not a transport expert, but has a track record of creating a huge amount of puff about a 'gamechanging' transport project for London that then comees to nought (he was the main spokesman for a heavily promoted report on how to increase travel on the Thames a few years back).

    But, most telling for me, is that he talks about getting people off the Tube onto their bikes. Surely for a project which reallocates road space like this one, the primary aim needs to be to get people out of cars?

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  23. Absolutely bloody brilliant.

    So, Boris was a secret David Hembrow fan all along! His Foreward puts most cycle campaign "vision documents" to shame.

    All we neeed to do now is make sure it actually gets built. Count me in on a protest ride at the first sign of backsliding.

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  24. I just wonder: this sounds wonderful and fantastically ambitious. What can bloggers and/or the cycling community do to help Boris archieve all/some of this?
    Naming & shaming via blogs and reports, research on how situations are so boroughs take more knowledgable decisions, rallying,.....? I don't know exactly, but considering just the fact that boris has published this plan might mean that bloggers and/or the cycling community have impact. Let's continue with that then!

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  25. Truly ambitious - there's a mass of good stuff in that document.

    Criticism coming for the 'Crossrail' route in particular but I think it needs to be seen as a standard bearer. I can imagine going out of my way to use it for a km or so to get the same degree of pleasure and relaxation (and freedom from motor vehicles) that comes from cycling across Clapham Common or Battersea Park. The more provision we have like that the more than will be demanded.

    My hat is tipped to Danny and co for finally giving cycle campaigning the kick up the arse it needed to have the confidence to ask for ambitious change rather than apologetically asking for sticking plasters (I'm looking at you Chris Juden and the CTC)

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  26. Well done everybody for your efforts. Not just our amazing bloggers, but also those who wrote in for the consultations, attended the mass rides or otherwise waved the flag for cycling funding and improvements.

    It's certainly exciting, and if he actually delivers what is in this document then I have difficulty seeing how the momentum could be stopped.

    But... there's always the but... is this REALLY going to happen? I can't quite bring myself to believe it. Everybody please sustain your efforts. As a mass of people, we need to keep filling in consultation feedback forms, writing to our MPs and making ourselves heard. We can't let this die now!

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  27. Very exciting, and it's useful to have your take on it - thank you. Will definitely be watching developments with interest, from distant Sydney Australia.

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