Thursday, 11 September 2014

Big business starts throwing its weight around, will obstruct Boris's cycle super highways. Work for a big employer? You really do need to get involved before we get pushed back to 1970

Today's Evening Standard says that big businesses in London are 'in revolt' about plans for the London Cycle Super Highways. It quotes an unnamed CEO of an unnamed company (why so shy?) who says big business will consider legal action against the plans. They support the idea of cycle infrastructure, they claim, just not the way that the Mayor is going about it, he or she says.

There is a similar sort of message coming from London First - an organisation that represents a lot of London's banks, property developers, housing trusts, universities, law firms and accounting firms. Take a look at this list and you might find that you work for one of their member companies. You might be surprised that your employer signs up to a charter that opposes these cycle super highways. The list includes banks like HSBC, Merrill Lynch and Barclays (who sponsor the old cycle highways) but also organisations that should know better - Edelman PR, J Sainsbury, John Lewis, The Peabody Trust, even The Ministry of Sound, KPMG, EY and PwC, Eversheds, Allen & Overy, Thames Water. Go see for yourself. The list is long. Firms like Deloitte and Freshfields have large HQs on the route of the cycle tracks. Hundreds of their employees bike to work. Yet they are represented by an organisation that opposes making their staff's journeys safe and convenient by bike.

Both London First and the London Chamber of Commerce are saying (in broad terms) that they welcome investment in cycle infrastructure but not any version that slows journeys times or doesn't 'benefit all road users'.

It's kind of curious really. Because if you look at New York, which has been building tracks like these for years, the city has just published real and meaningful data which shows a) that traffic speeds have increased on roads with protected bike lanes b) that retail takings on roads with protected bike lanes have increased faster than on roads without and c) that road collisions for all road users have decreased on those roads with bike tracks. 

Data released in New York last week. Bike tracks equal faster motor vehicle trips


My own view? This is a purely personal view but I think the London Chamber of Commerce and London First are promoting subjective opinions about these cycle tracks before they (or anyone else) has had time to understand the data. TfL has always said, by the way, it intends to provide further data on the proposals tomorrow. But given the headstart made by these two organisations, I wouldn't be surprised if a major media push emerges to push those anti cycle-highway opinions in a way that will sink the cycle super highway initiative and render it so toxic that neither this Mayor, nor the next, will ever build a cycle track anywhere in inner London.

Now, I don't particularly want to encumber other road users. But I do firmly want to make cycling a more convenient option for all sorts of journeys. And I would like to live in city that is less polluted, where people have more space on the streets, where journeys are easier and quicker. Investment in cycling has a big part to play in all of that. The majority of journeys in outer London, for example, are less than five miles. Most are made by motor vehicle. Very many of these could easily be replaced by non-motor vehicle journeys. But that's only going to happen if cycling is made more attractive, more convenient than other modes of transport. And if it feels safer to people, as well.

This is a view that is well made by David Hembrow's blog. There's no need to be anti-car. There is a clear need to make cycling more attractive than driving, though, Do that and the rest falls into place.

This is why the particular style of noise coming from a couple of big business groups is not helpful. It seems to suggest more of the status quo and that isn't going to make anyone's live's any better. Worse than that, both organisations are making noises that suggest investment in cycling = bad for business. London First, for example, has its media release on a page with the URL "london-cycle-plan-could-put-business-at-risk". 

A more helpful stance from these two organisations might be to suggest what they do think would work for cycling as well as for business.

For example, in a private email exchange, London First told me they are concerned the cycle tracks will impede deliveries. Really? Will rolling carts with some boxes on them an extra two metres over a cycle track instead of just over a pavement have a massive impact on London's economy? No.

In this useful shot by AsEasyAsRidingABike, deliveries can easily made across a cycle track. 
Hardly rocket science. 

Do the London business organisations think that the current use of, say, the Victoria Embankment is sensible? At rush hour, one lane in both directions on this road is used to park coaches to let school kids amble around on the river. Two whole lanes. The proposal is to use some of this space to create safe space for cycling and move the coach parking around the corner. Is this going to have a noticeable impact on traffic? Yes, it will enable more people to have more convenient, safer journeys than a coach park would.

The list goes on. Do these business groups object to cycle tracks on Blackfriars Road? A road so wide, and so windswept you can easily slot a bike track in each direction with negligable impact on traffic capacity.

What's more, as TfL has said right from the start of the consultation, the data on traffic flows hasn't even been published yet. It comes out tomorrow.

I've already encouraged people to respond to the consultation, which you can do by filling out the (quite detailed) online survey for either the East-West highway or the North-South. Alternatively, you can email consultations@tfl.gov.uk

Or, here's another thought. Maybe you work for one of the big businesses that is represented by a group that opposes these cycle super highways? That's you if you're an employee of HSBC, Citibank or Merrill Lynch. Or if you work at J Sainsbury, John Lewis, M&S or even the Ministry of Sound. Or perhaps you work for a London university or college. Or maybe you work for the NHS. You could even work at Allen & Overy, or Deloitte or EY or KPMG. If so, get your pens out and get writing. You can either write in as an individual or maybe as a bicycle user group, or ideally, encourage your corporate social responsibility team or board members to write in. I know plenty of firms and companies that have done this in the past. Time to do so again, I'm afraid.

You can email a letter to the consultation address. Or you can write to the Mayor. Just remember to mark any letters 'for inclusion in the East-West or South-North cycle superhighway consultation'. 

We need to show support for these super highways is widespread. And we need your help.