Friday, 29 October 2010

"Fit and sexy"? Or "helmet and hi-viz beside a lorry"? You choose.

Thanks to Copenhagenize for pointing this out.

Germany's going all out for getting people out of cars and on to bikes.

Here are some choice examples.

"Why don't you burn a few calories instead of petrol?"
 "The only car you need to go to the shops" (Play on words here. Shopping 'trolley' in German is a 'shopping car'.)
"You look bloody fit/sexy from down here. All that cycling's clearly worth it, isn't it?"

Let's compare with the messaging in London. Lots of cyclists. In hi-viz. Wearing helmets. Dressed up defensively against the street conditions. Not very sexy, really, is it? I don't know about you, but I look an idiot in a helmet with luminous clothing. I'd much rather be zooming about looking just like anyone else.

Yes it's stupid to cycle up the inside of a lorry. But if you look at our roads and the lousy cycle infrastructure that's been designed on them, that's exactly what the street designs force most cyclists to do.

Oh, and it's all the cyclists' faults if they get squashed by a lorry. Where would you rather be cycling? Germany or London?

Why one van sums up cycling for the next five years

This picture speaks volumes about why cycling is hardly a mainstream activity in London.

The van parked in the advisory bike lane was there for around 10 minutes this morning. For some reason I decided to stand and watch for a while as a number of police passed it and left it alone. By my reckoning, it shouldn't be there, given the double yellow lines. And the fact that the police were conducting 'Operation Atrium' around the corner, stopping 'illegal' cycling.

But it also highlights two other issues:

The first is that I'd never realised there's plenty of space for a proper cycle lane at this point that could easily be the width of a van. That coach could still get past and it would make no difference to motor traffic whatsoever.

But instead, we have the second problem. Just look at the width of the advisory lane.

I often cycle down Cannon Street. And there are very often intercity coaches heading into the City along here. Cycle down this lane though, and you come to the Mansion House junction where you can either turn left or carry straight on.

The unwitting cyclist heading straight on will wobble down this narrow gutter space and come directly into conflict with the coaches and lorries that are turning left across his or her path.

So, we have an institutionalised left-hand lane for cycles that are going straight on and therefore have to cross right in front of the path of coaches that are, for the most part, turning left immediately next to them. Guess who's going to win.

The infrastructure is rubbish.

But is it just the infrastructure or do the rules need to change too? Coaches and motor vehicles often assume priority because they're big and because they're fast. Do we need to balance the power on our streets so that pedestrians and cyclists can claim back equal rights to the street? There's an interesting piece by Charlie Holland on his blog here about whether or not the rules about priority need to change in the UK. He could go a lot further on this topic but he has a point. There's definitely a case for proper infrastructure. But there's also a case for equalising who has priority on our streets.

Why do I think this is something to worry about? This is why:

The main causation factors of the accident data attributes “turning right”, “changing lanes”, “opening vehicle doors” and “undertaking of large vehicles turning left across cyclists path”.

and this

Of particular concern in the City are pedal cycle and pedestrian KSI casualties. Both of which are unlikely to meet the 2010 casualty target. Pedal cycle casualties had been increasing since 2002 until a fall in 2007.

Which makes it all the more demotivating to read things like this coming from Peter Hendy, head of Transport for London yesterday.

He singles out the Lips – local implementation plan money – which is currently £150 million. "You can expect the Lips to decline," he says. It means less cash for boroughs to spend on encouraging cycling and walking, improving road safety and so on

What's depressing is the overall direction. In the week the government describes its new road-building plan and not a single mention of improvements to cycling or walking, we're left with non-motorised transport having to compete for a few little scraps here and there while new bypasses get built around the country in small towns so people can continue using their cars. No one ever seems to consider that if we got the infrastructure right, a lot of people would switch from car to bike. And that for a fraction of the price, we'd get just as much economic output.

What bugs me is that once upon a time, I lived in Germany. I worked in a factory in a small town in the south. And I lived in a smaller village still. Because that's all I could afford. And I cycled 10 miles to work each day. Along a segregated bike track the whole way. As did most of my colleagues. Because it made economic sense to do that. I could afford to do the job because I didn't have the money to pay for a car or a nice, more centrally-located house. And in the long run, that allowed me to save money to get myself to London.

If I'd been in an equivalent town in the UK, I'd have been forced to buy a car, I suspect. And pop would have gone my savings. And my ability to climb out of the factory would have been limited by the outgoings I needed to spend to get to work.

The government's banging on about 'get on a bus' to get to work. And it's talking about investment in infrastructure 'to develop a competitive economy through [...] investment in transport enhancements". It's just that the Treasury and Department for Transport understand transport enhancements equal bypasses and motorways. And that means transport infrastructure for 4x4s. They simply don't understand the concept that cycling could be a decent alternative for most people in most parts of the country. And could help people get to jobs cost-effectively. If the infrastructure was there. Funny how when it was Lord Tebbit's turn, the mantra was 'get on your bike' and nowadays we've evolved to 'get the bus'. Not much point getting on a bike in most of the country. The roads are too fast, too full of cars and too darn dangerous for that. Pack up now folks and buy more cars. Oh dear.

A slightly wittier review of Mr Hammond's transport plans on the LoFidelity Bike Club pages here. At least I know I'm not the only one thinking this way.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Cheapside: We're 20% of the traffic

 "During the morning and evening peak hours, cyclists represent about 30% of the traffic (370 cyclists per hour), and 20% of the traffic throughout the whole day (7am to 7pm)."
  Cheapside in the City is undergoing a major refurb. In fact, tomorrow sees the launch of the new mega shopping mall at One New Change. And it's to that end that the City is piling a lot of money into redesigning the street.

On paper, it sounds really encouraging.

"The existing transport provision and public realm in Cheapside is generally poor. Cheapside has an overly generous carriageway width, which tends to increase the dominance of motor vehicles.
This makes the street more dangerous and difficult for pedestrians to cross, and the safety and convenience of the travelling public, especially those in buses and those on pedal cycles, needs to be improved."

Wow. We're part of the travelling public. And motor cars aren't. And the road needs to be made more convenient to cycle along. An interesting and encouraging choice of words.

Even better, take a look at this list of priorities.

The main objectives of the Cheapside Area Strategy are, therefore, to:-

i. Reduce motor vehicles dominance and traffic speeds
ii. Improve road safety
iii. Create an attractive environment by improving the street scene
iv. Create an inclusive and vibrant area
v. Improve pedestrian convenience
vi. Improve cycling facilities
vii. Improve accessibility
viii. Facilitate retail opportunities
ix. Provide places to rest
x. Encourage vehicles to service buildings off-street; and
xi. Facilitate street functions.

In short, I'd agree whole-heartedly with all of this. Reducing the dominance of the motor vehicle is what  it's all about. Great. Happy days. We can sit back and watch as pedestrian and cycling magnificence  starts to climb out of the backwaters and reassert itself against the dominance of motor vehicles in our cities.

What I'm not so sure about is this part of the report:

"The proposals would greatly benefit cyclists, the largest single user group of Cheapside. The number of people cycling in Cheapside continues to grow. During the morning and evening peak hours, cyclistsrepresent about 30% of the traffic (370 cyclists per hour), and 20% of the traffic throughout the whole day (7am to 7pm). Given this high number, confining them to a narrow cycle lane does not accommodate them well nor does it address their occasional need to overtake each other. This proposal would limit cycle lanes to the approaches to traffic signals as these help facilitate movement past queuing motor vehicles and is considered to be of high value to people who cycle. Appropriate levels of cycle parking provisions would be incorporated in the scheme."

It sounds great, doesn't it? Cyclists are the largest single form of traffic using Cheapside, soon to be one of the busiest high-end shopping streets in the capital. The scheme really considers options for cycling and tries to make the urban realm better for cycling, rather than cars.It will also allow cycles to turn right off Cheapside into Queen Street and on to Southwark Bridge. Currently something that's not permitted.

Cycling gets stuck behind the bus on the new Cheapside?

But I have nagging doubt it's not quite going to be cycling nirvana. Take a look at the first finished section. Two happy cyclists stuck behind a bus. Why's that then? It's because the lanes are now so narrow, there's nowhere to overtake or undertake the bus. And although I can't find it now, I'm sure I recall that some sections of the new street layout will have a concrete barrier down the centre of the street, preventing cycles or anyone else overtaking on the opposite lane. The same as The Strand, which is hardly cycling nirvana itself.  

Please tell me I'm being too cynical but look at the layout up at the top of this article. And focus a moment on those pedestrian islands in the middle of the carriageway. And then look at how the road narrows, so that motor vehicles (and I'm thinking buses and delivery lorries to all those stores) basically pull directly in front as you cycle along.

The proof will be in the pudding, really. The final scheme sounds brilliant in theory. Motor vehicles tamed. Cycling and walking prioritised. But I'm worried what it really means is a much narrower road space, dangerous pinch points, undertaking spaces at junctions and a wasted opportunity that fails to create a proper cycle space.

QV Street. Plenty of room for bikes. Soon filled with coaches
What's more, there's going to be a sort of displacement effect from this scheme. An extension of the scheme is the St Paul's area project which will see the closure of the coach car park next to the cathedral. The coach parking will be displaced to Queen Victoria Street instead. Queen Victoria Street is a race track with motor vehicles using it to zoom from one end to the other. It's a wide street, with plenty of space for wide, segregated cycling space. But oh no, let's use that space for coach parking instead. You can enjoy cycling between the parked coaches and the traffic instead.

Oh, and let's guess what one major attraction of One New Change is going to be? And this is a real winner in competing with the West End: The City of London is a free car parking zone all weekend and evenings. To be fair to One New Change, they don't mention parking anywhere on their website.

Maybe all this cycling stuff is making me cynical.....

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Two-way streets for cycling. Significant new development officially approved today.

I spent a fascinating early lunchtime sitting in the public gallery of the City of London Planning and Transportation Committee today. Something quite new to me.

And the purpose was to listen to the Committee formally approving a report noting that “the outcomes of the cycle permeability improvements have been positive” and to “encourage officers to deliver further safe and convenience improvements of a similar nature, as funding opportunities and processes allow

This is stonkingly good news.

The City first approved a number of one-way streets becoming two-way for cycling a year ago. The AA warned of all sorts of dangers, including 'illegal cyclists' hitting pedestrians. Commentators in The Evening Standard warned of dire consequences. And the City authorities had to jump through endless numbers of hoops to obtain approval for these first contraflow streets.

As one City official put it this morning: ‘At the time, considered rather brave’, before adding, somewhat astonishingly ‘we [the City of London] are perhaps lagging a bit behind the rest of London'. Astonishing words. The City of London seems, just occassionally to really get its head around this stuff.

The report noted that:

"Overall, there has been a significant increase in the number of cyclists that use the new facilities. This increase was measured at greater than 60% (180 cycles compared to 111 in a single hour)" with Fann Street and West Smithfield seeing the biggest growth.

The report notes the complete support of the City of London Police. And, guess what: "There have been no reported collisions involving cyclists in the six months since the changes were implemented. The ability for cyclists to avoid busy streets will be a contributing factor in improving road safety in the City."

No reported collisions. This report basically states that, despite all the outcry when these schemes were first implemented, there is pretty much nothing to report.
Back to this morning, then. The report was discussed by the various members of the committee in the chamber. I say 'discussed' but what really takes place is that each member pops up and voices an opinion. It's a little like watching a debate in the House of Commons. Only more polite.

And this was fascinating to observe.

We started with one member of the committee banging on about 'illegal cyclists' and blathering about issues that were about badly behaved cyclists in general. Nothing to do with the issue at hand, really. “One consequence is cyclists now think they can cycle in any direction on any street and any pavement at any time", he opined and then spent some time talking about one particular cyclist proceeding in a northerly direction along a pavement and his sense of outrage.

I'm not condoning cycling on the pavement. I'm also not suggesting cyclists are perfect. But if we spent our days deciding whether or not to widen the M25 based on whether a single motorist flouts the Highway Code, then Philip Hammond would never have got today's road-widening schemes on the agenda.

And so it proved to be at the City of London.

I was all set to have to endure a session of listening to our elected members berate cyclists and beat us up for our manners, our road behaviour, our simple presence on the street.
But, no. I was proven to be far too cynical.

With thanks to Real Cycling blog
‘These facilities without proper enforcement can lead to the inevitable,’ retorted a City official, setting the scene for another member to give his view. Now I happen to know this particular elected member was a vociferous opponent of the two-way cycling schemes when they were first discussed. And he admitted as much this morning. "In practice, my reservations have been proved unfair". What he was saying was that he was a convert from flatly opposing two-way cycling to believing it was a success. In fact, he continued to narrate a story of how the only person he'd witnessed contravening the new road layout was a motorist driving the wrong way down a one-way streets for motor vehicles who seemed ignorant of the meaning of the so-called 'flying motorbike' signs.

And then came the most entertaining moment. Up stands an erudite and, dare-I-say, slightly portly member. Who promptly 'outs' himself as a passionate Boris biker, a man who uses the bikes every day to journey to work and a man who one might not have necessarily expected to be a 'cyclist'. In fact, he's not a 'cyclist'. He's a man who happens to go to work on a bicycle. As do I and many of the people I work with.

In any case, he briskly takes the committee to task on two issues that directly impact his journey to work. Firstly, the quality of the road surface, potholes and that can be dangerous for cyclists. And then talked about how he found a particular junction in the City badly designed for people on bikes. He expressed how the design actively made people like himself have to dodge between idling cars stuck at the junction and how this created conflict and unnecessary danger.
Blimey, I thought.

I know this blog can be a little cynical about how the authorities perceive cycling. And there is an awful long way to go before people actually think cycling from the perspective of what it's like to be on a bicycle instead of implementing poorly thought-out road schemes designed by motorists. It's also going to be years before we actually secure any real and decent money for cycling.

But something's afoot. I saw it in the City of London's debating chamber this very morning. And I was proud of the place for the first time in a long while.

Blackfriars bike parking - early signs of progress

Baynard House bicycle parking is on its way.

Those 75 bike stands will be going in just down the car park entry ramp, directly in front of you as you cycle into the car park. Original article here.

The scene this morning wasn't exactly humming with activity but at least these signs have gone up and a small area has been roped off.

Six bays = 75 bike parking spaces.

Perhaps if we applied the same logic of providing proper cycle infrastructure on our over-crowded streets, they might become less choked with idling motor vehicles. At a ratio of 6:75, that's quite some space-saving.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A whole host of new stuff in the City

Lots of good news to report.

First mentioned here back in August, the first new bike stands in the Baynard House carpark on Queen Victoria Street should be going in this week. A total of 75 new bike stands are due. There wasn't much evidence of building work when I popped my head in to the carpark this morning but if anyone sees them, then please let me know. It's great to see a mass cycle park opening in the City like this and I'll post more details as soon as we can see them. More details here for the timebeing.

What's really interesting is the lack of glitz and razzmatazz about this. The bike stands are simply going in place. No big announcement of a parking Hub or waste-of-money branding and shouting about it, just plain, straightforward and sensible bike stands. Very mature and sensible stuff. Please spread the word because the more people show they are using these stands, the more we can push the fact that more are needed elsewhere in the City. It would be a crying shame if people don't use them and I'll make sure to announce them as soon as they're fully functioning.

In the meantime, a further 20 or so bike stands have also popped up along Cheapside near One New Change which opens this week.

I have my doubts about how cycle-friendly Cheapside is going to be once the streetscaping works are complete and I'm working on a full review which I'll publish here soon.

More good news over at Moorfields. The promised link across London Wall from Coleman Street mentioned in August is going ahead 'any day', according to the City. This is a TfL project and, apparently, initial drainage work has already taken place. Again, if anyone spots it before I do, please let me know and I'll whizz round and take pics.

This will create a legitimate north-south route parallel to Moorgate, avoiding the narrow main street that is packed with buses and taxis. It creates a proper (albeit some one-way diversions still in place at the Islington end) north-south route between Bank and Islington, provided you have good City navigation and can locate how the streets all link up. There's a map of the future new route options here.

And before I forget: Please fill out our poll here. We're on 90 votes and counting. I had originally hoped to reach 100 votes but my new goal is 250. I'd really appreciate your input. Thanks

Friday, 22 October 2010

POLL: What do you think the City of London should do to improve cycling?

Every few months, the City holds a forum for cycling in the City of London.

At the last of these, the chair of the forum made it clear that they want to hear from people who use bicycles in the City what we think they need to do to make cycilng a nicer experience here. It isn't an invitation to spend lots of money. And it's not a promise that anything will happen. But it is a statement that the City is willing to listen.

Now, I have my own ideas about what I think needs to happen in the City of London. But I'd really love to pool a collection of views and push that back to the City in the new year. I'm hoping that a number of people might even be willing to get involved.

For starters, I'd like to run a poll and gather votes for different concepts. Running a poll makes me nervous because I hope enough of you might consider spending five minutes filling it out to make it credible. If we could get 100 votes, I'd be over the moon. So please spread the word and please take some time to fill this in.

The poll isn't hugely scientific. I've probably left out some pretty obvious issues. If I have, please shout about them and I'll add them in.

And here it is. I'd be really grateful if you'd take some time to have a go at this:

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Leadenhall Market area - closed to cycling soon?

There's a meeting of the City planning team next week that some of us will be attending.

I've just spotted one agenda item relating to the back streets around Leadenhall Market where the City is proposing to close the street to all vehicles, including cycles. I don't understand why the route couldn't be left open to cyclists. If anyone uses this area, could you get in touch and let me know your thoughts so I can represent them next week?

Alternatively, bash a note to your local alderman listed here. The relevant wards (I think) are Langbourn, Lime Street and Cornhill. Select the relevant ward and you'll get a list of people to contact. Even if you only travel through and think this route should be pedestrians and cycles, then please let someone know about it, otherwise it's for the chop. If these streets were made two-way for cycling, for example, they'd make a very viable alternative north-south route to Bishopsgate.

For a google map of the area, click here

The details are listed below:

Lime Street/Cullum Street public space: A new pedestrian-only public space would be created at the junction of Lime Street and Cullum Street. Individual seating would be introduced which is in great demand in the area, and planting would soften the space and maximise the amenity and attractiveness. The public space would be paved with a combination of black granite edging, plain York stone and York stone with a sandblasted pattern finish depicting a Roman floral wall plaster discovered from the ruins of a high status building in Lime Street thought to be from the 2nd Century AD. The new space would deliver a 20m x 10m pedestrian-only space, increasing the pedestrian area by 91sqm.

The perils of the word 'integration'

Did you know the City of London has a Strategic Cycle Network? I cycle within and through the City almost every day. It's news to me.

Over the coming months, we'll be evaluating each of the routes on the Network and reporting back.

In the meantime, though, here's how the City of London described that network in 2003:
"The Corporation is keen to promote cycling as a more sustainable mode of transport and is committed to implementing a pedal cycle route network and also integrate cycling requirements with traffic management schemes."

This is from the 2003 Draft City of London Cycling Plan. A largely internal document for City politicians and planners. Note the fact that the City chose to market cycling to its internal audience as 'sustainable' but also note that magic work 'integrated' with traffic management.

Roll on a few years to October 2010 and here's that integrated cycle network in action as seen yesterday morning outside City Thameslink, heading west on Ludgate Hill. A friendly road for cycling, as I'm sure you can see. In fact, it's so integrated, that as you cycle along, you can use your bike as a sort of extension of the bus if you like.

Now let's take a little look at a city that isn't trying to fob its electorate off with lots of meaningless 'sustainability' and 'integration'. It simply seems to be getting on with it. And here's the way that Paris describes cycling:

"Pour se déplacer en ville ou dans les bois de Boulogne et de Vincennes, la Ville de Paris aménage des espaces dédiés au vélo pour favoriser et faciliter l'usage de ce moyen de déplacement calme et écologique."

I'm not going to translate word-for-word but I'm going to focus on the overall message. Yes, the 'sustainability' concept is still there ('écologique') but let's focus on the key concept that Paris is trying to convey: Paris is committed to developing spaces where cycling is prioritised over and above other forms of transport because Paris wants people to get about the city calmly and sustainability.

No mention of integration.

You could rightly ask, so what? It's just a word. But the fact is that word underlies the massive difference between why London is getting it so wrong and why just about every else (New York, Paris, Berlin for starters) seem to be getting it so right.

Paris has a strategic cycle network as well. Here's a map of the main routes. And bear in mind that every single one-way street (with some obvious motorway exceptions) is now two-way for cycling as well, so they don't need to mark those routes out as somehow special in the way the odd two-way cycle route is in London. That's just accepted as the norm now.

And here's what a cycle network looks like when it's not 'integrated'

Compare and contrast with the City of London, anyone?

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The City of London and one of its motorway junctions

This is the scene at Queen Victoria Street where a two-lane slip road leads vehicles on to Upper Thames Street.

This junction is a nightmare for two reasons.

Travelling east to west along Queen Victoria Street by bike, you get cut up by motor vehicles that overtake you as they leave the 'ring of steel' chicane and then swing left in front of you into the slip road. (actually, I've had a lengthy email correspondence with Redwing coaches about this junction after two of their coaches nearly ran over me near this point. Hats off to Redwing though. Their operations officer was absolutely engaged, took the issue very seriously, has promised to instigate proper cycle-awareness training etc). Anyhow, I digress. This slip road is classic left hook territory. Why on earth there is a motorway-style slip road in the middle of the City of London just next to one of the main train stations beats me.

If you're a pedestrian coming from Blackfriars and heading towards the Millenium Bridge, you're faced with either tunneling through a subway under this slip-road or you do what most people do, you walk around the side of the metal railings, actually in the street. There are a couple of people doing exactly that in this picture. And then you leg it across the slip road while the motor traffic accelerates to 40-50mph on this nasty stretch of race course slalom.

Funnily enough, this junction never comes up at City of London meetings about transport or walkway problems. That's mainly because most of the elected politicians don't seem to care about cycling or walking.

What they do care about is this zebra crossing opposite St Paul's on Ludgate Hill. Several times, I've heard City politicians and planners complain about this crossing and refer to it as a problem. Guess what the 'problem' is? Simple: the problem is that City politicians don't like the fact they have to wait in their taxis in a queue of traffic while pedestrians have the extremely rare right of way.

And the only reason this crossing hasn't been replaced by a traffic light is because the City planners think traffic lights in front of St Paul's might be ugly and they can't think of a better solution.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Beware of the cyclist!

This is the first time I've seen one of these. A sign warning drivers to watch out for cyclists.

There's a building site right behind the sign here (the new Heron tower at Barbican) and the road is too narrow for a car to pass a cycle safely.

I think these signs are all something to do with the Mayor's push to make cycling something that contractors have to consider when they lay out roadworks. Hats off to the City for being one of the boroughs to implement the scheme.

Funny language, though. It's a very wordy signpost. I think the 'Drivers Beware! Cyclists Using Road' has potential for lots of comedy interpretations. Sadly, I think most drivers who don't cycle (and that makes most of the population) don't expect/want cyclists in the road space. In fact, I'd hazard a guess that most of them think people don't deserve to use the road space at all unless they're in a car. Which is the semi-comical / semi-tragic undertone of these signs, after all.

Sadly, these sorts of signs should be all over London. Notably at pinch points like the one on Holborn Viaduct opposite City Thameslink where the street engineering forces cycles into the main traffic flow at a fairly sharp acute angle and through the funnel in the 'Wall of Steel' where it simply isn't safe for cars to overtake bikes. And yet they do. Especially taxis. That like to intimidate less daring cyclists and play chicken with them at just these sorts of stupidly-designed pinch-points.

But then, of course, we people who chose to travel on a bicycle don't deserve proper, safe instrastructure, do we now?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Westminster and the bicycle

Over the weekend, I was invited to a party in a fashionable space in east London.

Lucky me.

Anyhow, who should be there but one of Westminster's Conservative councillors. He shall remain nameless because he was a nice chap. Until we got to the topic of cycling.

His personal view on cycling and TfL's superhighways and cycle hire: "You lot are getting more attention than you deserve."

And then switching slightly, we talked about why Westminster is so doggedly anti-cycling. Now admittedly, the tone was slightly alcohol-infused at this point and this was banter at a party rather than official speaking. At no point did he specifically state this is council policy but he inferred pretty clearly that this is how Westminster tends to think about cycling. He described cycling as being a 'should' and 'should not' issue. Something like this:

"You should be allowed to cycle but you shouldn't need anything from us to help you do it"

"If you don't think [the cycling facilities are good], you should drive."

Fabulous. So a Tory councillor representing the heart of a city where the Tory mayor is trying to create a 'cycling revolution' believes that cycling doesn't require any specific infrastructure and that people should drive around the borough. I tried to point out that he should have tried cycling around Hyde Park Corner before the cycle crossings were put in and see if he, a cycling novice, still believed that there's no need for cycling-specific infrastructure. He wasn't having it.

I'm not sure which of his comments concerned me the most. I think, probably his point about 'us lot' getting more attention than we deserve. If that's the case, something's going very wrong. I don't think most people who cycle rate London's cycling facilities particularly highly. But if our local politicians feel that we are getting a disproportionate amount of the money when things are tight and don't support that focus, then we're in for a rough ride. All the more so, since it's the local politicians who will be deciding the fate of cycling through their new money pot, the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, the supposed vehicle for things cycling-related.

I don't know about you, but almost none of the people I know who use bicycles are using them to be more 'sustainable'. They're using them because they make sense as a way to get around.

I think Mark over at ibikelondon is right: Start your engines, folks. If you want things to improve, you're going to have to shout about it.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Crossrail = squashed cyclists

"Public spaces outside Crossrail stations will be made safer, more attractive and pedestrian friendly after Crossrail announced it has finalised a Memorandum of Understanding with local authorities, Transport for London and Network Rail.

Around every station Crossrail's urban design team, working with the local authority, will work to create new and improved public spaces that integrate with existing transport services.

The new Crossrail stations offer great opportunities to improve public areas at street-level - whether it is by bus, cycle or foot."

Happy hi-viz cyclist heading towards Smithfield
Hooray. Cycling gets a mention.

So, let's take a look at some nice improved cycle infrastructure proposed for the City of London at the new Farringdon station.

Here's a view by the new Crossrail staton at Farringdon's Smithfield exit. Happy cyclist heading west towards the market:

Oh dear. The cyclist gets squashed.
But now let's see what this street scene looks like when you add a car into that impossibly narrow lane heading west. And hey presto, the cyclist disappears. Squashed by the car. Because funnily enough that lane isn't wide enough.
Images like this from Crossrail really get on my nerves. Because they make politicians and transport planners think that the lovely new streetscape will be a harmonious place where cars, pedestrians and cycles will all mingle with plenty of space for everyone.
But that's never going to happen. That car on the right is somewhat fraudulently placed way over into the corner of the image, creating an illusion of space, and a sense that there will be plenty of room for cars heading west to pass that hi-viz cyclist. But that's clearly never going to happen.
For another example of happy shared space where cars, pedestrians and cycles all have equal priority and a reasonable allocation of space on a City of London road, let's have a look at one we made earlier. This is Queen Street junction with Cannon St. A classic, architect-designed shared space where people have to squeeze between motor vehicles to cross the road. This crossing is actually the main cycle route into the City of London, emerging directly from the end of Cycle Superhighway 7.What you get is a load of barricades, some shared space made of appallingly slippery and broken fancy brickwork and a lot of traffic lights, which give priority to motor traffic heading east to west across the route. No wonder people jump the lights or cycle fast across these junctions. They simply get fed up with the fact it takes about five minutes and four sets of traffic lights to cycle about 500 yards and that they have to slalom across the dangerous brickwork.

Mind you, if you cycle along the road (pictured here with the queue of non-moving vans) itself you'll find yourself squashed in a less than 1.5 metre cycle zone between a lorries, coaches and a couple of taxis as you wobble towards the newly (and thumbs up to the City here) redesigned Mansion House junction.

This is on the day before the government scraps Cycling England. Apparently local authorities know more about how to design good cycling facilities than this cycling-focussed body: "Norman Baker, the Under Secretary of State for Transport, told BikeBiz that scrapping Cycling England was part of a move to give more power and responsibility to local authorities, saying “We want to give more power and more flexibility to local authorities as we strongly believe that they know best what is right for their communities.”

I fear that those local authorities really really don't get cycling. Sorry Norman.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Abandoned bicycle action

Spotted last week in the Baynard's House car park cycle parking zone.

It's good that City Police are doing this. There are only 10 very well-used bike racks at the moment so it's encouraging to see the police clearing abandoned bikes.

More spaces coming soon, though!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The joys of Holborn Viaduct

A Lambeth Cyclist, Vivian, has recently posted various movie shorts of her cycle trips around London including a chunk along Holborn Viaduct.

I’m posting it for a couple of reasons

Firstly, it’s quite fun. The music goes rather well with the sense of using a bike to zip past the stationary traffic and then slows down fabulously when Vivian's out of the traffic. That's exactly how I feel when I cycle around. Adrenaline rush in the traffic. Phew, calm, slower riding when I'm out of the traffic.

Vivian’s posted this to highlight the benefits of cycling vs. sitting in a traffic jam in central London.

Secondly, a good chunk of it is in the City. Between Cheapside and Holborn Circus as it happens.

When I first started to get interested in cycling, Holborn Viaduct was a particular bugbear of mine. The road is part of the City’s so-called ‘strategic cycle network’. In essence, that means there are parts of this route that have some cycle markings that keep the motor traffic slightly away from bikes. But then there are daft features. For example, the fact that the west-bound route narrows to a pinch-point outside City Thameslink station where there is a massively wide pavement. As a cyclist, you’re forced to cut into the traffic flow. I brought this up with someone very senior at the City once. The response was to send an engineer out (brownie points for that) and then report that no-one could see the problem (groan). That’s probably because none of the City traffic engineers has ever tried to cycle along this stretch at rush-hour.

My second bugbear at this point is that just as you come to Holborn Circus, you have absolutely nowhere to go. You’re either stuck trying to find a space for yourself in a stinking queue of traffic or for your own safety, you take your chances by overtaking both lanes of non-moving traffic. Vivian does exactly that. And I can’t blame her.

Head west on this stretch and you’ve got an insane gyratory system to deal with if you want to carry onto Cheapside.

If some of our City officials took a look at this video, they might just maybe get a sense of how hopeless the bulk of their strategic cycle network is. And they might also get a sense of the pleasure of cycling when things are a bit calmer when you’re away from motor traffic.

Or maybe they could just read the sorts of comments that Vivian’s received:

“What a horribly realistic picture of what it feels like to cycle in London! If you weren't already a London cyclist it would put you off for life. Can you imagine anyone wanting their children to find themselves in such close proximity to so many moving vehicles? My dad wanted to persuade me to stop cycling in London to the day he died - I was fifty by then.”
“watched the film but found it kinda scarey...”

I asked Vivian what she thinks about Holborn Viaduct. In her own words: "I avoid it like the pest! That place is not cycle friendly at all"

The City wants us to celebrate cycling as a fashionable form of transport. And it wants us to cycle safely. All well and good. Except that with conditions like those on Vivian’s video as the norm, I’d rather dress assuming that I have to defend myself against the motor traffic and dress to maximise my safety than to exhibit my fashion sense.

Moral of the story? Give us infrastructure that makes for a pleasant and safe cycling environment and you might be surprised. I bet you’ll see more cyclists, cycling more slowly and securely and, I don’t doubt, dressed in elegant outfits like their Copenhagen counterparts, instead of just a swarm of us pedaling for all we're worth to dart out the way of the traffic and togged up in specialist cycling kit.

Monday, 11 October 2010

"English streets are too old and small for bike tracks"

You hear this kind of claptrap spouted all over the place in the UK. Since when did Germany not have old roads? Or narrow roads? The City of London is particularly keen on telling us how its narrow streets can't be changed and how that impedes better solutions for cycling and walking. It's complete rubbish, of course.  

Here are two people cycling down a road in Goerlitz. You'll notice that because it's in Germany, the road is both brand-spanking new and extremely wide. Apparently. What you won't notice is there are no cars, of course. Nor will you notice that the road is probably a 'Fahrradstrasse'. They exist all over Germany. Drivers are usually allowed to drive motor vehicles on them if they live there but not if they don't. Don't live here, don't drive here, basically. But you can walk or cycle. And, if you're eight years-old or under, you must cycle on the pavement. You might notice one of the cyclist doesn't have a helmet. Our Guardian reader quoted above thinks we people on bikes should pretend we are like motorcycles. My grandmother used to cycle about in a skirt when we were in Germany together. She wasn't very fast. Actually, I'd say she' was about as fast as a very small hamster, or thereabouts. I don't think she was pretending to be a motorbike. But she liked it that way. In fact, she  used to cycle in England too. But then again, so did all her friends.

Funnily enough, she never liked to cycle in England in her later years. Precisely because in England, people expected her to behave like a motorbike. She thought helmets daft. She also resented having to dress up like a belisha beacon just because our streets feel like 'spaghetii junction' (her words not mine). I think she saw herself as, well, herself. Just an old lady on a bicycle. And, frankly, her revs weren't what they used to be. So the chances of her pedalling along at the same speed as a Ducati were fairly slim.

The point is, that it's not about the roads being old or narrow.

It's about how the politicians set an agenda that enforces safer and, frankly, more pleasant urban environments for people who happen not to be inside a motor vehicle at the time but might be on foot or on a bike, or in a shop or office. It's nothing to do with the age of the road layout or the width of the roads. Germany's roads are no different to the roads in the UK.If anything, the massive investment our last government put into roads makes our road network probably more modern and swish than large parts of Germany's in my view.

But let's have a look at some of London's narrow, old streets and compare a typical London scene with Berlin. Here's London's Victoria Embankment again. Two or three lanes and a spot-the-bike-lane intelligence test.

Compare and contrast London vs Berlin. Here a two-lane road plus clearly indicated bike lane heading towards Alexanderplatz. I cycled along here a few weeks ago. It's not the best bike lane on the planet. But it works. You don't need to sit behind some giant HGV and worry about whether it might crush you because you have your own road space to make use of. And the HGV knows it must keep out of your biking space. Nothing like the Victoria Embankment, which is a similarly-sized street to this one in Berlin.

Meanwhile, let's remind ourselves what a typical old and narrow road might look like in the City of London. London. Far 'too old' and far 'too small' for safe and secure cycle infrastructure. No space at all in fact.

View Larger Map

Friday, 8 October 2010

Public bike pump - you heard it here first

Stockholm last week: A public bike pump
Coming our way soon, a public bike pump in the City?

It's not confirmed. It's still a bit of a rumour. But apparently one may be coming to the streets of the City of London soon.

See, we don't get proper real bike infrastructure, that's true. But fun stuff like this might just be on the cards. At least the City sometimes gets it. That's a step in the right direction.

By the way, see that bike track to the side? That used to be a lane for motor vehicles. It's not quite a finished work yet but what Stockholm's doing is removing lanes for motor vehicles and replacing them with segregated bike tracks. Funnily enough, that means people are switching from cars to bikes. Funny that. Congestion for everyone else goes down. Network assurance goes up. Our mayor, our transport secretary, our highway engineers, our highway authorities and our borough (can you call the City of London a borough?) don't get that at all. Not one of them seems to realise you can reduce congestion, and make London a nicer, safer and calmer place to get around. I reckon give it a decade before they retire and we get a crop of officials who are a little more clued-up. After all, London is so massively different to Stockholm. Or Paris. Or New York.

Oh, and while we're about it, new bike parking in Queen Victoria Street car park near Blackfriars. We reported on it back in October. Around 100 new bike stands should be going in some time in October. Fingers very crossed. We'll report back live from the scene...!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Cycling - the money's not there and it's not coming our way

It's funny. The more time we spend seeing people in the City of London about things to do with cycling, the more we realise that the money available for cycling is chicken feed. And yet we still go along and push and prod and hope to at least influence new road schemes. But the reality in the City of London is that cycling isn't taken seriously. By almost everyone. That's why we're talking about a junction here, a junction there, a few bike stands. No-one's talking about a plan. They're just talking about the odd bit of poorly-applied sticking plaster.

Take a look at the plans for St. Paul's or the Barbican. At best, cycling is mentioned as an after-thought as part of some fairly major plans to re-design the streetscape. What we get is airy-fairy nods to things like sustainable transport or improving road safety. And road safety doesn't cost our highways authorities (City of London or Transport for London) much because they've chosen policing rather than proper bike infrastructure. What I hear from people who use bicycles (and I'm avoiding the word 'cyclist' because in my case I'm a cyclist, motorist, pedestrian and sometimes like to fly a plane) is that they are hoping for proper routes to work or to play that feel safe using their chosen form of transport. They don't necessarily cycle to be greener, or more sustainable, or more fashionable. They just want to use a sensible mode of transport and they want to feel they have an equal status on the roads, to feel safe at busy junctions, to feel like they are not making a social or political statement just because they are on a pedal cycle.

And so it fills me with gloom to read on the same day that I post about why Transport for London isn't building cycling into its DNA| an excellent post by the Crap Cycling in Walthamstow blogger who inspired me to get involved in trying to do something about cycling. That post bemoans exactly the same thing: Cycling, as seen from the perspective of someone on a bicycle, is not being taken seriously anywhere in outer London any more than it is in the centre.

And we're not even mentioned at a national level. I don't want to stray into politics per se but just look at this from our Transport Secretary Philip Hammond this week, quoted on the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club blog:

“…….. let’s not forget that over 80% of all journeys are undertaken by car and Britain’s roads represent our greatest investment in transport infrastructure. Clearly, while motoring was synonymous with carbon production, it couldn’t be a major part of Britain’s future transport plans.

But the idea that the only solution is to force people out of their cars is pessimistic, outdated, Labour dogma. This Government is supporting the ultra-low emissions technologies that will see the carbon output of cars plummet over the next two decades.

Drawing fuel, not from petrol pumps, but from an electricity grid which Chris Huhne is determined to make one of the greenest in Europe. The Coalition has signaled its commitment to de-carbonising motoring by confirming, ahead of the spending review, grants for R&D and generous consumer incentives for every ultra-low emission car sold.

Putting our trust in technology, and our country at the forefront of the green-motoring revolution. The first new-generation electric cars will appear on Britain’s roads early next year and the first volume British-built electric vehicles will roll off the production line in 2013.

So motoring can again become part of our future transport planning, as the greening of the car saves it from extinction and that means we can end Labour’s indiscriminate war on the motorist as we focus on the real enemies – carbon and congestion.”

I think thecyclingjim says it so well, I'll simply point to his comments with which I concur:

"These words are as astounding as they are absurd (and I’m sure many blogs today will be picking them apart) but the worst aspect of his speech is in what he didn’t say - You may be wondering where walking and cycling feature in all this. They are after all the most cost effective, clean, easily available forms of transport we have. The fact he made no reference to these transport modes at all in his speech (supposedly extolling the virtues of sustainable transport) is as telling as it should be alarming."

The thing is, we're all busy ranting and raving. And we're trying to change opinions. And, yes, opinions are slowly shifting, but if Hammond's vision is what we're stuck with for the next few years, then cycling is going nowhere fast. So my question is, here we are in the City of London and surroundings and does Hammond really represent the city we want to live and work in?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

City Cycle Style - the video. How fab is this?

The City of London held its Cycle Style event last month with more than 600 attendees and over £12,000 raised for the charity Re~Cycle. More information here. Here's hoping for a bigger and better Cycle Style next year too.

Transport for London and the City – Why Boris doesn't want cycle-friendly streets

Network assurance at its best: A TfL bike lane

There’s been some chatter recently over at the London Cycling Campaign about the Transport for London Road Network. Basically, these are London’s red routes and main roads. According to TfL, five per cent of the roads in London are TLRN but they carry about a third of London’s traffic. And the problem for cycling in the City is that TfL's understanding of "traffic" equals "motor vehicles". Cycles aren’t part of the traffic, apparently.

The debate at LCC is really interesting. For all the pressure campaigners put on the local borough, it’s actually TfL that operates these roads. And the traffic lights. And a whole host of other things. Broadly speaking, if you think London Bridge or Victoria Embankment aren't nice places to cycle, it’s TfL that you have to thank for the road design and not the City. The City wanted to implement some more two-way streets for cycling recently. It was TfL that prevented this.

When it comes to urban road and street space, TfL seems a bit stuck in the dark.

Clare Neely is a regular contributor to the various London Cycling Campaign forums and a passionate cycling campaigner and I’ve asked her permission to quote from one of her recent email posts on this blog.

Clare spends a lot of time talking about something that seems painfully dull at first but vitally important if you want to understand London’s streets and how to make them better for cycling. And that is Transport for London’s understanding of “network assurance”. I’ve quoted Clare’s email in full in the previous blog entry but I wanted to highlight a few points that I think merit wider circulation to those of us who aren’t experts in the field of road engineering.

Network assurance is the current buzzword for capacity for things to get around and across the network, including at many junctions, such as Bank or Moorgate. I say ‘things’ because some of us view London streets as places where people need to get about whether on foot, on a bike, in a car or on a horse. Clare’s beef is with the fact that TfL’s understanding of network assurance is entirely about capacity for motor vehicles. And that has a significant impact on how Transport for London plans pedestrian and cycle access to its road network.

TfL’s understanding of its road network is heavily focussed on network assurance. That means designing junctions and road spaces which in TfL’s case seems to mean motor vehicles first and foremost, then everybody else if you’re lucky. If you ask TfL why a junction can’t be made safer, more convenient or more practical for cyclists, pedestrians or anyone not inside a motor vehicle, you will quite often see a response not unlike this one at Mayor’s Question Time which relates to a pedestrian scheme in Lewisham: “Detailed work has been undertaken but the options developed so far have all raised serious concerns about the impact on traffic movement and congestion in an area where extensive queuing and delays already occur.” And a further and more revealing comment: “simply taking time out of this junction [ie for motor vehicles] to provide for pedestrian facilities will have an unacceptable impact on an already congested network”.

Clare sums this attitude up neatly:

The priority given by TfL to Network Assurance for motor vehicles to the detriment of TLRN highway development for cycling

Quoting Clare in full:
"LCC & Lambeth Cyclists are currently working with TfL on the next stage of the Cycle Superhighways in Lambeth. We have obtained schemes in a reasonable time for detailed comment, however it is unlikely that LCCs main requirement which is to provide more direct routes through Vauxhall Cross, essentially removing that gyratory, will be implemented. The reason given by TfL will be because of network assurance. Network assurance, junction capacity, the name has changed over the last 20 years but not the reality."

And this is the real crux of the problem, according to Clare. TfL is basing all its decisions about junctions and road layouts on models that only account for cars. If people switch from cars to bikes or to walking, well, that doesn’t count. What Clare writes below completely sums it up for me. TfL is putting money into cycling. But it doesn’t care enough to really make the leap that would get people out of their cars and into cycling or walking. And as a result, nothing much is going to change. Cycling will continue to be a bit part of London’s transport infrastructure, always playing fifth, sixth or 10th fiddle to motor vehicles. To quote:

“… as part of the development of any highway, a combination of one or both of macro and micro computer modelling of the scheme takes place, predominantly only the motor vehicle traffic is modelled. The macro model currently used by TfL was developed by the GLC, so is using data from the 20th century and though there are more recent area based models they are not widely used. The macro model purports to tell TfL, as the highway authority for the TLRN, what will happen in Bromley if development on the TLRN takes place at Vauxhall. A micro model of a scheme will probably also be used. The data collected to input into these models is taken during a midweek rush hour. The predictions of the models are not tested post implementation of a highway scheme.

Modelling of Vauxhall Cross in 2000 for the proposals to develop the TLRN in that area for bus priority predicted that congestion would cause the area to seize up. This has never happened. Probably the modelling of the Oval on the CS7 showed that measures to remove the danger to cyclists from left turning vehicles and current modelling of the junction with the gyratory removed for direct Cycle Superhighway routes through Vauxhall Cross show something similar.

The data collected to input into these models ... [does not consider]people who are currently driving but could walk or cycle or use public transport.

It only considers a static number of motor traffic movements not what real people can and will do."

TfLs own figures confirm that over 40% of people whose journeys finish in Lambeth are driving 2 milesor less. Other research by TfL concludes that 1 in 5 people currently driving would cycle.

If as part of the CS development the gyratory was removed at Vauxhall or the dangerous left turns for cyclists at the Oval, how many of those people driving 2 miles or less would cycle? We won’t know as it has not been done at the Oval and it is unlikely that TfL will reduce highway capacity to remove the gyratory at Vauxhall. If you leave the same amount of highway for people to drive on, those people driving 2 miles or less are very unlikely to change their behaviour.

..Network assurance could be achieved by all those people driving 2 miles or less walking or cycling, but nothing in the CS3 or CS7 works or current highway proposals for CS is likely to encourage [highway engineeers] to do this.”

I think Clare's post says it all. If Boris wants a cycling revolution to take place in London, he's going to have to change the way his highway authority thinks about its streets. It's all well and good pitching up at press events and talking cycling. That has merits in itself. But to really make a difference, we need the engineers to think bike. Or to think pedestrian. Or to simply stop looking at London's road space as something that is entirely modelled around car use. We're never going to get people out of cars and onto their bikes if the only measure of success is how much impact a scheme has on motor traffic.

Even Surrey County Council, home of the die-hard car-owning classes and of Philip Hammond, our petrol-head transport minister, seems to have realised it can't just build its way out of motor congestion. It is accepting a pile of cash from BAA, operators of Heathrow airport, to force modal shift from cars to feet instead of building underpasses for cars to avoid level crossing downtimes that will result from a new rail link to Heathrow:

"Travel planning, web pages, walking/cycling improvements/footbridges in the vicinity of the Egham level crossings. 60% of journeys across the level crossings are less than 5 km and would be partially replaced through increased walking and cycling. The measures would also improve safety at junctions affected by Airtrack to encourage modal shift."

If we want to have a City of London where people walk and cycle more and use motor vehicles less, we're going to have to build it. And that involves TfL. But neither TfL nor the City really gets the point that it's how we plan and build our streetscape that has to change.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Evolution of the Cycle Lane from New York to London

"A commitment to cycling is a commitment to sustainable transport, congestion reduction, safer streets, increased recreational opportunities and above all, a heightened quality of life." City of London Cycling Plan 2005


So let's compare cycle infrastructure across the globe to see how the City compares for cycling. A selection of snaps from some recent travels. I've tried to look at how main thoroughfares differ from city to city on a couple of recent trips.

We start with New York's Third Avenue. Segregated bike track. Parked cars are kept well away from the track and other moving traffic is beyond the cars. Cars actually have to wait at a red traffic light to cut across the cycle track if they're turning left, while cycles are allowed to progress straight ahead.

And look! A 'no cars' sign. I look forward to seeing a no cars sign in London. Lots of no cycle signs about but this would be a truly amazing sight.

And so to Paris. A route that straddles all of central Paris from the town hall to the peripherique. Off-road all the way on a recently-installed, segregated cycle track with well-designed and easy-to-use junctions. Cycle along this at night and there will be a line of little red lights ahead of you from Velib users pedalling into the distance and very few cars on the road.

The City is the financial hub of Europe. It is a pretender to the throne of the leading places in the world to work and live. And we're certain that our City of London can out-trump New York and Paris. So let's take a peek at the City's latest high-tech bike infrastructure. We're on Victoria Embankment here and technically this is a Transport for London road so we can't criticise the City of London 100% for this one. The new bike route was installed a few weeks ago on a street that is certainly busy but by no means much busier than the examples shown in New York and Paris above. And, to be fair, it starts off well-meaning: The white line (no expense spared compared to Paris or New York here!) just about creates a space to cycle in. And cars more or less observe that segregation. Unless it's busy in which case they blatantly ignore it. But if you look carefully, you'll see our new bike lane actually emerges directly out of a carparking space. Cycles have an amazing ability to travel directly through parked cars and emerge in one piece out the front to carry on their merry way down these new cycle tracks.

But lo! What do we have here? The same bike track as above, only a few yards further along as we head towards Westminster. And where's the magic white line? It has gone. Replaced by a sea of cars. And further along, by a sea of parked coaches too. We're straying into Westminster here so not strictly City of London.

Our capital is safe, crowned as the most advanced, the most sophisticated, the most forward-thinking environment for cycling with the best quality of living when it comes to getting around. Paris and New York know nothing similar.