Monday, 2 February 2015

Another person needlessly killed on a bike. On Wednesday, Transport for London's board will either back safe cycling or give in to more of the same. You can attend in person and help hold them to account.

This afternoon, there has been another serious collision on a busy London road. Yet again, between someone driving a lorry and a person on a bike. Yet again, the person cycling has been killed. I'm left not knowing what to think. Every time this happens (and the last time it happened was a week ago), I think it could have been me. Or my partner. Or a colleague, or friend. And I get angry. I get angry because I think of all the people who could be doing things to stop these deaths and have done nothing. I get even angrier when I think about the people - and I count Canary Wharf Group and the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association among them - who are actively trying to keep the status quo.

On Wednesday, Transport for London's board has a chance to put things right and to vote to change things by backing the Mayor's Cycle Super Highway plans. And it would be scandalous if the TfL board voted otherwise.

On the same day as this latest fatality, Transport for London announced that cycling on main roads in London had increased 10% over last year and is forecast to grow 12% this year.  The press release proclaims that "Across the TfL road network, London's main roads...[cycling levels are at their] highest since records began in 2000".

That's all well and good. But people are being encourage to cycle on main roads with virtually nothing to protect them: No safe space for cycling, forced to mix it with fast-moving lorries and buses and with parked vans in the bus lanes. And to date, the Mayor's investment in making cycling safer has, in my opinion, been predominantly focussed on painting blue lines down these busy, main roads. As a result, as cycling trips increase, so the number of people killed and seriously injured has gone up. In other cities, the opposite has happened. They have built safe cycling infrastructure, the numbers of cycle trips have gone up but cycling has become safer.

Chairman of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association on cycling. Truly bizarre. 

But the Mayor too has changed. He has realised that blue lines simply aren't good enough. And to his credit he has persuaded the Treasury to fund meaningful investment in making it safe and convenient to travel by bike. He's taken Transport for London with him on the journey and TfL has hitched itself up, studying and learning from other cities. What's coming is a series of new cycleways that will be largely protected from heavy, busy motor traffic. The proposed network is still tiny and most people will be stuck travelling on killer roads for years to come. But it is a massive start. And a massive change.

Last week, the Mayor announced he's made his mind up. He's going ahead with the Cycle Super Highway schemes. But there are a couple more hurdles to come. The next of these is on Wednesday when the Transport for London board meets and Item 7 on the agenda is to agree the Cycle Super Highway plans. Building will get started later this month.

The TfL board is a strange set-up. Chair of the TfL finance committee is Peter Anderson, finance director of Canary Wharf Group. As we all know, Canary Wharf Group attempted a dirty tricks campaign to brief against the Cycle Super Highways. Canary Wharf's latest position is to demand that TfL build a "trial" cycle super highway rather than the real thing. Can you build a trial motorway? Or a trial train line? No you can't. And you can't build a trial cycle way either.  Canary Wharf's public positioning on this subject is a farce. From what I understand, however, the Canary Wharf finance director is still free to attend the TfL board that will decide on Cycle Super Highways, despite the stellar conflict of interest on this topic. It is quite surprising that TfL's governance procedures are so lax to allow that to happen.

Unite the Union in support of protected
The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association also has a seat on the TfL board - one of two taxi-related TfL seats. And the LTDA has been vociferous about trying to kill of the Cycle Super Highways, threatening a judicial review. They too get to sit on the Board meeting that will decide the fate of Cycle Super Highways, despite threatening to derail them (although I think the LTDA has observer-only status).

You might note, by the way, that no-one on the TfL board represents people who cycle.

What's strange about the LTDA is that its scathing response to the Cycle Super Highway consultation is sent on behalf of the London Cab Ranks Committee, which is an arm of Unite the Union. Now, Unite the Union's own taxi representative seems to be of a different opinion: Unites's taxi rep is absolutely clear that the Union wants to see protected cycle space in London, away from busy and heavy motor traffic. Employers representing thousands of union members have also written in support of the Cycle Super Highways. It seems to me that the LTDA is completely out of line with wider opinion in London. As CityMetric puts it, the taxi trade seems to be acting out of "naked self-interest". I think the same could be said of Canary Wharf Group.

So Wedneday is going to be crunch time. As Boris Johnson said last week, he's confident the full board will back the schemes later this week: "We’ll have to see but I’m confident they will.” I guess we will all see whether the TfL board gives in to naked self-interest. Or whether it acts to protect the people of London and provide them with safe routes for cycling.

You'll be able to watch the TfL board meeting live on the GLA webcast page. Wednesday 4th February, 10am. Or turn up and attend in person. It's a public meeting and open to public attendees.