Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Building proper bike infrastructure is right thing to do for London's economy, competitiveness, health & road safety says report by industry giant Siemens. Meanwhile engineering group Arup asserts: "We are going to see the most successful cities in the world return to the bicycle". This is about everyone in London, not just "cyclists".


Typical London bike route in Tower Hamlets.
Bike route sign points towards City of London. No Entry
sign bans you from using the bike route. 
Earlier this week, the industrial giant Siemens published a report written by Professor David Begg who is, among many other things, publisher of Transport Times, a non-executive director of BAA Limited and First Group - big names in the UK transport industry.

Siemens's report is entitled "London’s Transport: Progress and Future Challenges" and it has a lot to say about cycling. Most noticeably, this:

"If [Boris Johnson] wants to go down in history as one of the world’s great radical Mayors then he must make bold decisions on how he wants to allocate road space. The litmus test will be how he responds to his Roads Task Force which will report shortly. If he wants to make London a city which is more associated with walking and cycling, with an urban realm to be proud of, then he needs to support a roads hierarchy whereby walking, cycling and buses are prioritised over cars at appropriate locations."

Meanwhile over in Cannes, at the world's largest property conference, engineering group Arup was saying pretty much the same thing: "I think that we are going to see the return of the old-fashioned bicycle in the most successful cities in the world, moving forward."

All this in the same week that our populist and behind the times Local Government Secretary is calling for free-for-all car parking in our high streets (oh dear), the winds in London suggest that the Mayor should be going the other way.

I am a member of the Roads Task Force that the Siemens report refers to and one of three people specifically representing cycling, the others being from Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign. And David Begg is absolutely right that the next 'litmus test' for Boris Johnson will be how he responds to the recommendations of the Roads Task Force which will publish later this year.

Forecast for cycling to work. According to SteerDaviesGleave, 20%
of people in most inner London boroughs will bike to work by 2021
This is important stuff. At the moment, says the Siemens report, the Mayor still "rules out a roads hierarchy which prioritises non-car modes of travel."

Thousands of us were making this exact same point two years ago when we protested on Blackfriars Bridge and joined the London Cycling Campaign's "Go Dutch" ride. Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the LibDems on the London Assembly was also making this point in 2011 when she accused the Mayor via Transport for London of "smoothing the traffic flow for motorists and worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists." She was right. The Blackfriars Bridge design came about because the data models and the thinking behind London's roads all favoured maximising the flow of motor vehicles.

And that's the rub. Eric Pickles is championing free car parking and more car use because he thinks it's a popular thing to do. It's easy to champion car driving because most people are used to driving around in cars. But I think that would be a highly irresponsible thing to do and I'm deeply underwhelmed by Eric Pickles's short-term but populist car agenda. The  reason is very simple. As Lord Adonis (Former Secretary of State for Transport) puts it in the Siemens report, "In the light of an extra 1.5m Londoners and 700,000 extra jobs in London over the next 20 years, I consider capacity to be the biggest challenge facing transport in London. it is important that fares are kept down while continuing to invest in significant extra capacity.” What that means to someone like Eric Pickles is that we have to create capacity by building a hell of a lot of new roads and car parks.We'd probably have to rip up half of London to create the vision that Eric Pickles has in mind for future generations and replace it with roads and car parks.


What a bike lane should not look like. Complete jumble of
lorries, motorbikes, taxis, bikes. Blackfriars Bridge brand new
road layout
So we are going to have to find alternative was of creating capacity for people to get around in our cities. Some of those solutions will be about more train lines or express bus routes. Some may be about new roads or changes to existing roads. But some of those now needs to be about cycling. For the simple reason that cycling infrastructure is cheap to build and is a very efficient use of increasingly limited space. As the League of American Bicyclists puts it, you can build 600 miles of bike track for one mile of motorway. 

The Siemens report comes to a similar set of conclusions: "The inherent conflict between road users fighting for constrained road space should be addressed by pursuing a policy based on most efficiently using the space available, which means re-allocating space away from cars and allowing adequate space for cycling (as well as walking and bus use)."

To some extent, that is already beginning to happen. The Mayor's announcement earlier this month that he intends to build a segregated bike 'Crossrail' from Canary Wharf to Hillingdon is one example. And there are plans for segregated bike tracks to Stratford and between Victoria to Oval later which will be built this year

The Siemens report is pretty clear that this is exactly the sort of thing the Mayor needs to be doing. Building a proper, safe bike network, says the report, "would have the biggest and most tangible impact on safety, the biggest barrier to a wide uptake of cycling. If the Mayor is to fulfil his ambition of presiding over a cycling revolution in London, he must be bold enough to change his present political priority of smoothing traffic flow across the city: this ultimately means higher traffic speeds which are not conducive to safe and enjoyable cycling. Political leadership on segregated cycle lanes, speed reduction, shared space and junction design is the only way to encourage proper cycling permeability from all Londoners, regardless of age, background and ability."

Amen to that. In particular to that final sentence. The Roads Task Force is due to report on its findings about London's road network in a couple of months time. What the Task Force has to acknowledge is that we're no longer talking about building bike lanes for cyclists. We're talking about building a bike network for "all Londoners, regardless of age, background and ability," exactly as the Siemens report suggests. And we have to build that bike network because it's about increasing London's ability to compete on a world stage, about improving traffic safety and about making the right economic investment in the face of overwhelming pressures.