Saturday, 23 March 2013

Cyclists are 20% of the traffic and 47% of all serious injuries. The City of London is going to have to either ban cycling or sort out its schizophrenic love-hate relationship going on with 'cyclists' if it wants to reduce its appalling road safety record.

Cheapside. Bikes and HGVs are now
meant to share extremely narrow lanes. Fancy
cycling to the Museum of London with your
kids and this lorry up your backside? 
Local authorities around London seem to be in love with road narrowing schemes at the moment. Narrower streets seem to be spreading like a rash all around inner London. The latest plan is to narrow Bethnal Green Road, neatly profiled by ibikelondon blog

In the City of London, Cheapside - which is the road between Bank junction and St Paul's - was narrowed a year or so ago. According to the City's latest data, 47% of all collisions where someone is killed or seriously injured on its roads are cyclists. Bicycle traffic now makes up 20% of the total vehicle movement in the City of London. It is fairly appalling that people who make up less than a quarter of the City of London's traffic should account for nearly half of the serious injuries on its roads. 

To the City's credit, it is now working on an impressive road danger reduction plan and, to the best of my knowledge, I think it is having a serious look at how to make its road network safer and more efficient both for people on bikes and on foot. 

But let's look at Cheapside by way of an example of what's going wrong in the City. The City's draft Road Danger Reduction Plan contains this chilling and, in my view, dangerously inaccurate statement:

Note how the van is overtaking
the chap on his bike with maybe half a foot
to spare between elbow and metal
Let's have a look at these "behavioural issues" shall we, and see how well they're working? Pictured above, an HGV taking up the entire lane on Cheapside. As you can see, the other lane is filled with stacking motor traffic. Stick a bike in front of this HGV and what you have is a) one impatient lorry driver b) one hugely intimated person on a bike with a giant lorry stuck behind them. It's a recipe for winding up all road users. 

At it's most dangerous, though, this kind of dynamic can breed horribly dangerous situations. 

The second picture shows a van overtaking a chap cycling down Cheapside. If you look carefully, you can see he's cycling more or less in the gutter. What's more, the white van is overtaking him with approximately half a foot distance between the van and the man on the bike. This is insane road design that actively creates situations where human skin and bones is either in the path of or, directly next to, faster-moving, bigger metal motor vehicles. Just look, by the way, at how wide the massively widened pavements now are. 

New bike logos on Cheapside. These
are meant to encourage cycling
down the middle of the road. They
simply don't work And never will. 
As I pointed out last month, the Transport Research Laboratory - the former government quango and now private outfit that designed London's traffic light operating system and tests road designs for safety - has conducted plenty of research that says most people will find narrow roads intimidating to cycle along and will tend to hug the kerb. Only one-third of people will ever feel sufficiently confident to 'take the lane' by cycling, a means by which you can (in theory) prevent dangerous and close overtakes by physically putting yourself in front of the vans and buses and hoping they don't try and squeeze past you. 

The City has clearly recognised that Cheapside isn't working as planned: A couple of weeks ago they painted some bike logos running all the way down the middle of the road. The idea is that the bike logos will (mystically) encourage people to cycle down the middle of the lane. 

That's never going to happen. As the Transport Research Laboratory says, when you install lanes like this, people just stop cycling. Or find another route. Or they cycle on the pavement because they feel safer there. Not surprisingly. 

Pictured left, the new bike logos in action. Also pictured left, a chap on a bike. As the Transport Research Laboratory research warns, he is cycling in the gutter and allowing motor traffic to squeeze past him. You can see how he's looking at the van to make sure he won't get squashed. 

Cheapside bike lane. Can you spot the
bike lane? It is now underneath the
During the morning peak, cyclists now account for 30% of the traffic on Cheapside. Yet, when the roads are busy, the road narrowing means that Cheapside is practically unusable on a bike. There simply isn't anywhere to go. Pictured left, Cheapside at rush hour. The bike logo is underneath the red taxi. You're supposed to scrape along the inside of the taxis. Again, direct conflict between metal and flesh is being encouraged here for absolutely no good reason. 

I've moaned about Cheapside a couple of times before this post. But that's because I always hoped the City might learn from its mistakes and adopt a more forward thinking approach towards its cycling policy. The fact is that the City is still publishing official correspondence to the politicians in the Square Mile who are asked to approved these designs that Cheapside is 'good' for cycling and 'good' for cyclist safety. Pretty much everyone I've asked (at all sorts of official and non-official levels) disagrees. 

And yet there's something even worse going on. In publishing its plans two turn Gresham Street (north of Cheapside) back into a 'rat-run' (the City's own report admits this is now the case, by the way, and uses the exact same word) there is this magic sentence:

City of London: Cyclists killed or seriously
injured in the Square Mile 2000 -2011
Source: City of London 
I find this statement truly perverse. Can you actually think of any examples of 'segregated cycle lanes' in the City of London on which this statement could be based? I can't. There is one tiny stretch of segregated lane on Southwark Bridge (partly in the City) and the reality there is that cycle speeds tend to slow down not speed up. Reason being that people need to slow down to cycle with each other in the space. Oh, and I have never ever seen cyclists and pedestrians being less considerate to each other around proper, segregated bike tracks.

The City of London would do well to remember this comment by Mikael Colville-Anderson, bicycle advocate from Denmark "'Badly-behaved' cyclists are usually just cyclists with inadequate infrastructure. Blame your city's planners." Same goes for car drivers too. 

Cheapside would just about work if two things happened: a) speed tables were introduced along the road to keep everyone (bikes and motor vehicles) at roughly the same speed and b) if through motor traffic was banned with the exception of buses. The City refused to do either of these things and instead paints white bike logos in the vain hope of 'influencing behaviour' through soft means. You can't influence behaviour through soft means, you have to force good behaviour on people on the roads. 

So, in the case of Gresham Street here you have the City of London saying it will enforce good behaviour among cyclists by slowing them down. But to date, will do nothing to enforce good behaviour on motor drivers that forces them to slow down and behave well around cyclists as well. 

City of London. Has the worst record in the entire country
for fatal and serious road casualties per 100 miles of
local authority road. And the number of casualties is
increasing as it decreases nationally.
Source: Department for Transport data
For a local authority in which 47% of KSIs are cyclists, this is despicably two-faced behaviour. Cyclists must be made to slow down and mix carefully with pedestrians. HGVs and taxis, however (which cause the majority of serious injuries or killed in the Square Mile) are free to squeeze past people on bikes and nothing is done to make them slow down. 

If the City of London wants to reduce the number of cyclist casualties on its streets it has two options:

Entering the City of London on Cycle
Super Highway 2. Remember, the
City doesn't want segregated bike lanes
because of 'excessive cycle speed'. But
it encourages cyclists to cycle BETWEEN
a van and an HGV, that's just fine. 

a) Ban cycling in the Square Mile


b) Create a network of quiet routes that interlink and on which motor speeds are reduced by physical means that force drivers to slow down and create one or two cross-City routes where people can cycle across the Square Mile at faster cycle speeds and where they are kept as separate as possible from heavy, fast-moving motor traffic. 

I truly dislike being this critical of the City of London because, as a rule, the authority is making some incredibly good progress on installing bike parking and on developing a series of two-way streets for cycling that are one-way for motor vehicles. The Square Mile is also, to be fair, discussing whether to make the entire City a 20mph zone. There are truly good things happening in the City of London for cycling. But there is an almost schizophrenic love-hate relationship going on with cycling on the City of London's streets. And that love-hate relationship is creating a two tier road system where motor drivers are considered exempt from the duty of care to which only cyclists are expected to adhere. It's not an acceptable state of affairs, I'm afraid.