Monday, 24 June 2013

Boris Johnson's cycling commissioner: "Cyclists may make up 24 per cent of the traffic across central London, but they still get much less than 24 per cent of policy-makers’ attention". That's no longer good enough.

Blackfriars Road - new 'vision' from Southwark Council. Where's the bike infrastructure on this massive avenue? There isn't any. 
Earlier today, the Evening Standard published new data from Transport for London that shows a massive boom in the number of people cycling. In 2011, the number of people cycling over Blackfriars Bridge made up 33% of all vehicles. Now, according to TfL, bikes are 42% of all vehicles on the bridge in the morning rush hour. Those numbers represent 15% of all people going through the junctions at either end of the Bridge. Interestingly, those 42% of vehicles only take up 12% of the vehicle space on the Bridge.

The numbers are impressive. On major commuter routes, bicycles are now THE dominant vehicle by far with bicycles making up 64% of all traffic on Theobolds Road coming in to the West End from Islington and Hackney and make up 57% of all vehicles on Kennington Park Road (the blue painted Cycle Super Highway 7 route in to the City of London from Clapham).

During the morning peak, 24% of all vehicles inside the congestion charge are bicycles. Average that out across an entire 24 hours and you get 16% of all vehicles. Those are pretty impressive statistics.

What these numbers show, in my view, is that it is now time for London to take the bicycle seriously.

What that means is that developers and local authorities need to plan for the bike. Pictured above is the latest plan from Southwark Council that shows how it intends to redevelop Blackfriars Road, just south of Blackfriars Bridge. If you look carefully, you can see a tiny painted blue line for some bikes. Other than that, what you get is wide pavements and lots of shops. Happy developers get tonnes of new pavement space and better yields on their new buildings. If this image is to be believed, cycling gets pretty much nothing at all. This, despite the fact there is a desperate need for proper space for cycling along this massively wide, empty and desolate road.

What Southwark council could be doing at Blackfriars Road but isn't. This example from the New York City Department of Transportation

Compare that with cities all around the world where there is meaningful progress on building proper bike infrastructure. Pictured above, an image from New York City's Department of Transportation that shows one of the city's many protected bike tracks. What the image also shows is the boost to road safety these lanes have generated. They have also massively boosted retail sales along the route. Get that? Bike lanes = better retail sales.

To be fair to Southwark, its planning document for Blackfriars Road does spell out that the council and Transport for London need to work together and "make it easier to get around by walking and cycling" on this road. (You can download the detailed planning guidelines from  Southwark's website). However, Southwark is ambiguous about what that might mean in practice. A supplementary document indicates the council might be proposing something more meaningful than blue paint, however: "The generous road width along Blackfriars Road means there is space for all users. Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians’ needs can be satisfied without compromising each other." I have to hope that means more than the tiny strip of blue paint suggested in the architect's image that accompanies the detailed plans.
What Blackfriars Road should look like but isn't planned to look like. Many thanks to Alternative Department for Transport

Key issues that the Evening Standard didn't address is that the cycling boom in central London - despite the fact that the headline numbers are hugely impressive - is still very much confined to office worker-only rush hour times, and that cyclists in London are still disproportionately young and male and fit.

Cycling is clearly a hugely efficient way of getting people around inner London (second only to buses, as it happens) and is equally cost-effective. And yet, too many councils seem to think that promoting half-baked plans are going to get more people cycling. They're not. If we want London's roads to work more efficiently, we're going to need to create conditions for everyone to get on a bike at any time of day, not just at rush hour and not just those of us brave and fast enough to fling ourselves down fast roads that are optimised for motor vehicles.

It's time to create conditions that optimise cost-effective, more efficient use of road space in London. That means creating space on our roads for the whole range of Londoners to get on a bike. If the plan for Blackfriars Road really is just some blue paint, then that really isn't anywhere near good enough any more.

As Boris Johnson's cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan said today: "Cyclists may make up 24 per cent of the traffic across central London, but they still get much less than 24 per cent of policy-makers’ attention". That's not good enough any longer.