Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Never thought I'd say this. It might almost be time for a flashride to support Boris Johnson's cycling plans. Meanwhile, we urgently need you to fill out TfL's Crossrail for Bikes online survey. The time is now and you need to play your part, otherwise cycling is sunk.

Tower Hill with new planned cycle track on the right

This morning, Transport for London issued the detailed consultation plans for two planned Cycle Super Highways running East to West and North to South across inner London. And, unlike when the Mayor announced plans for his original Cycle Super Highways, this time they really have the feel of being proper Cycle Highways. They are almost entirely segregated. They have priority over side roads, just the same way that other traffic does. And, at points, they are pretty impressive.

Shockingly different. Cycle track along the River (to the bottom right of the picture) with a link up
on to Blackfrairs Bridge (up the hill in the background) where it meets the north-south cycle link.
This is serious stuff - taking a whole slipway and reassigning it to people on bikes. The bike track to Tower Hill continues through the underpass.
One route will take you from just north of Elephant & Castle through to Farringdon and over a radically redesigned Blackfriars Bridge. One route from Tower Hill (where it will join the track to Canary Wharf) along the Embankment, through Parliament Square and then up to Hyde Park Corner, through Hyde Park and then up past Paddington.

Cycle track replaces a motor traffic lane
on an underpass in Montreal. This
is something radically new in London.
Other cities have been doing this for years
All along the route, things have been made better for pedestrians as well, with new or improved pedestrian crossings. There are some impressive new features, such as a bike track through the service tunnel that runs parallel to Upper Thames St (near Cannon Street) and a stonking new bike interchange (pictured above) where the two Cycle Highways will meet at Blackfriars. There is a cycle track planned through Parliament Sqaure, and pedestrian crossings so that people can actually access the Square properly for the first time. And once you're on the tracks, there is a consistency that means I would - for the first time ever - be able to get my mum on a bike with me in central London. Something I never ever thought would be possible in this country.

There are, however, some clear flaws. The routes are almost entirely made of bi-directional tracks, rather than tracks in the same direction as the traffic flow. I think this is a shame as it creates additional complexity for road users, cyclists included. It also means that getting on and off the tracks can be quite cumbersome at points. There are, at some points, far too many traffic lights for my liking as well, so you have a slightly stop-start experience in places rather than a gentle flow.

I am planning to do a fairly detailed review of the plans over the coming weeks, section by section. They are simply too large and spread over too great a distance to do justice to them in a single blog post.

New look New Bridge Street (just north of
Blackfriars Bridge) with cycle track
Yet, in itself, that is what is incredibly exciting. For the first time ever, here we have plans to create a meaningful infrastructure for people on bikes in inner London. This time, it isn't about putting down blue paint and hoping that people won't mind cars parking in the bike lane or expecting people to fling themselves across multiple lanes of fast-moving motor traffic. This time it's about building infrastructure that anyone can use. It is about reallocation of a small number of inner London's streets away from choking, motor vehicle-centric race tracks towards being places that allow people to get about under their own steam. All sorts of people, all sorts of ages and all sorts of abilities.

In short, this isn't about "cyclists" any more. It is about making inner London a place where anyone feels they can use a bike to travel from place to place. And it's about making streets that work for people, not just for people in motor vehicles.

I can find plenty of faults and niggles in the detail of these plans. And I'm going to come back and address these over the coming weeks. But my key concern right now is to make sure people are aware the plans are out there and that people realise just how much noise these plans are likely to create.

All sorts of groups are likely to be try and derail these plans. From what I understand, the Canary Wharf group fears that various "masters of the universe" in its big gleaming towers will have slower journeys to Heathrow as they won't be able to whisk along the river on as many lanes as they do at the moment. This, despite the fact that the Embankment is almost always a quagmire of crawling motor vehicles; that the lanes being removed are generally used to park coaches for teenage students from France and Germany at rush-hour; and despite the fact that Crossrail will soon whizz such ultra important beings from Canary Wharf to Heathrow in a fraction of the time.

The Motorcycle Action Group has already announced its opposition to cycle tracks and - bizarrely - justifies that by saying they will give cyclists higher rates of prostate cancer (there are too many levels on which that is simply plain weird).

Even London Travel Watch - the body which is supposed to represent all public transport users as well as cyclists - has been making hysterical and unsubstantiated headlines opposing cycle tracks.

In Boris's first term, this is what counted for a Cycle Highway.
The bike lane is underneath the bus. Just terrfiying
The RAC Foundation - bless them and their horrendously one-sided views - have already told the BBC that the money being given to cycling 'could be better spent on other transport schemes'. This from a wealthy organisation that lobbies for billions to be spent on more roads and more motor vehicles and is objecting to a tiny amount of money being invested in something other than what it stands for. The RAC is pushing the point that only 4% of people in London cycle to work, so why invest in it? Too stupid for words. As Brent Toderian pointed out last year, when people like the RAC ask "are bike lanes warranted here?" remember it's hard to justify a bridge by the # of people swimming across a river."

Oh, and the business lobby group London First has announced that bike lanes have the "potential to damage business & create traffic jams" How on earth would they know that, given the traffic management data hasn't been released to them or the public yet? Scare-mongering in the extreme.

On a more positive note, the plans have been welcomed so far by the London Cycling Campaign and also by the London Health Commission.

Take it from me. The forces for 'no change' are many and plentiful. And many of these people have the ear of politicians and will seek to bend things their way. Many of them, such as the RAC and London First, have deep pockets too. Deeper than you or I.

The current Cycle Super Highway
at Aldgate (blue paint).
Chillingly dreadful
Yet, the fact is that tens of thousands of you took part of Flashrides. Thousands of you took part in letter writing and emailing. Thousands more took part in influencing the way cyclists voted in the last Mayoral elections. You demonstrated that you wanted "space4cycling".

And I'm asking one more time, now is the time for you to support this and to make sure the voices for change outweigh the hard and tough lobbying that the anti-cycling forces will be throwing at this.

It will take you half an hour. But you need to to to the TfL consultation page. This is the link for the North-South Cycle Super Highway and this is the link for the East-West Cycle Super Highway. Click on the Online Survey and then look at each section, one by one. You can view the specific plans for that section. Take time to look at them and then send your comments. But, above all, tick that you support the plans, even with your criticisms. Because there are plenty of people who think their voices are bigger than yours and they will be opposing these plans.

By the way, you can also download a PDF of all the plans East-West and North-South.

On a related note, I have been a vocal critic of the Mayor's cycling schemes to date. But on this, Boris Johnson deserves credit where it is due. If the volume of opposition from entrenched organisations like the RAC and London First gets too much, then I think we may be in a position where we need to stage another Flashride.

This time, we should Flashride in support of Boris Johnson's plans for cycling. Because we need to show that many people simply do not agree with the scare mongering put out by the RAC and London First. What do people think?