Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The City's transport plans are too timid. Get ready to help persuade the City to take cycling more seriously.

This is my first reading of the City's plan for cycling in the City of London over the next few years, as represented by the local implementation plan here. This is a first comment. Following on from this posting I'll be doing more analysis.

Some of us are also planning to meet soon to decide how to encourage as many people as possible to respond to the City and push for better than this. Full details on that coming soon.

However, if you're interested in coming along to meet and discuss in more detail, please message me at cyclistsinthecity@gmail.com. We're hoping to meet on Monday next week after work.

And so to the plan and, first of all, the good news:

The City "is anticipating a significant increase in the numbers of cyclists in the City. Provision for them needs to to be planned for now or unacceptably poor condition will result or intensify. Standards that were possibly acceptable when cycling was a minority activity, such as narrow cycle lanes, shallow or non-existant advance stop lines and minimal levels of employee and visitor parking provision will not be adequate." All good stuff.

So, cycling is very definitely on the agenda. The City recognises that cycling has the best chance of any transport form to meet some of the Mayor's objectives of reducing congestion, increasing the health of Londoners and all sorts of other targets.

It talks of a "step-change increase in cycling" being essential to improve the City s transport objectives. And the numbers it waves around are fairly honourable. The number of cyclists in the City of London has increased from 7,664 per day in 1999 to nearly 25,000 this year. The City is expecting that to grow to 36,000 by 2013 but then for the growth rate to contract rapidly and increase to nearly 63,000 by 2020. Let's just put that in context though: In the hour 5 and 6pm on an average weekday, there are 4,500 taxis prowling the streets of the City. On that basis, 63,000 bicycles in an entire day at some distant point in the future is not enormous. What the City is talking about is an increase in cycling from 2.4% of journeys to and from the City (including walking) at present to a 'potential' 10% by 2020.
With all this in mind, you'd expect the City to now start saying it's time to prioritise the bicycle. But let's look at the City's chief transport goal in detail. Here we go:

It is to: "make the City's streets safe and accessible for all road users , engender considerate behaviour, function effectively, feature exemplary design and maintenance and, where practicable , meet the needs of the City s communities. There is however not the capacity to give all road users the space and facilities that they want." I fear that means, there's no space for cycling facilities on the City's streets.

And, lo and behold, that's indeed the case. Here's a classic indication that nothing much is going to change:
"Projects implemented within the cycling revolution programme will nevertheless be designed with the needs of all road users in mind." What that last bit means is cycle infrastructure squashed into motor traffic lanes and bicycle traffic put on pavements as at Queen Street. It means continuing to wobble over to the right hand lane on Blackfriars Bridge while a large proportion of the motor traffic whizz past at 45mph. It means some tiny alleyways being technically cycle and pedestrian zones but in reality not really usable by bikes. If you want to see what 'the needs of all road users' looks like in reality, then look here, If you want to encourage your kids to cycle to school in the City, your mother to cycle with you to the Museum of London or your boyfriend, wife, husband or girlfriend to take up cycling to work, then this plan isn't going to help you encourage them.

Let's compare the City's plan with Paris for a moment. In Paris, the plan is to prioritise the bicycle over and above other road users. The mayor of Paris states that absolutely explicitly here. There is none of this balancing the needs of everyone on the street. It's clear that Paris is saying it wants cycling to have priority over other transport forms.

The City of London's plan simply feels to me like a fudge. The plan is littered with references to lack of capacity to create space for cycling. Yes, there are positives. For example, there is good reference to increase permeability in the City, which will mean more contraflows. And there is talk of more cycle parking, cycle training and nebulous reference to other smarter travel initiatives.

But there s nothing about the issues that will actually encourage people to feel safe cycling in the City s streets. Nothing at all.

Let s just remind ourselves of the key issues that came out of our poll here of 140 people who cycle in the City. The priorities are a) routes through the City that allow people to cycle on safe, direct trajectories where they have a consistent degree of space away from the motor traffic b) more cycle hire docks and c) completely segregated cycle lanes (which is basically a different interpretation of the first point.

People highlighted the lack of consistent, clear, safe routes for cycling through the City with particular focus on bridges and at junctions but also lamented the fact that routes stop and start. What that comes down to for many people is road design - removal of pinch points, ability to access junctions without having to duck and weave between rows of non-moving motor vehicles, safer design at the end of bridges to facilitate turns across several lanes of traffic and also slower motor traffic, in particular on the bridges.

But none of this looks likely from this plan. Yes there is some positive noise in the plan. There are definitely some positive statements. But where's the commitment to reducing traffic speeds with a 20mph zone across the City? Actually, the plan commits to no change in average car speeds. Where's the commitment to clear routes that prioritise cycling? Non-existant. What about safer bridges to cycle in and out of the City? No comment. Segregated cycle lanes, away from motor vehicles? None of that either.

Perhaps the most positive clause in the documentation is this one: The City is "anticipating a significant increase in the numbers of cyclists in the City. Provision for them needs to to beplanned for now or unacceptably poor condition will result or intensify. Standards that were possibly acceptable when cycling was a minority activity, such as narrow cycle lanes, shallow or non-existant advance stop lines and minimal levels of employee and visitor parking provision will not be adequate"

It's hard to disagree with the statement. But read between the lines and what this plan suggests is more of the same. Some more contraflows. Some more bike parking. Some bicycle training. A few better-designed advanced stop lines.

I think we're going to have to shout very loudly if we think cycling needs something better than that. And if the City wants 10% of journeys to be by bicycle, then this plan isn't bold enough. It delays that reality to 2020. A decade away.

Some of us are working on a summary of the local implementation plan. We're going to highlight key things to object to. And we'll give you details on who to write to. And we're hoping as many people as possible will write in.


  1. I agree with your take on all this, just a couple of quick comments, some of which are just backing up what you've already said.

    First, it seems the City is assuming that there is a built-in trend of increased cycling, due perhaps to growing time-and-money costs of alternatives, which will more or less deliver its growth target without any need for significant intervention. This may actually be true, but it suggests that extra interventions can deliver much greater increases.

    Second, I definitely support highlighting that currently City cyclists are overwhelmingly young or youngish men. The relative absence of women and the complete absence of children and older people both suggests huge pent-up demand and highlights that cycling is perceived as dangerous.

    Third, the investment proposed to continue the 'cycling revolution' is tiny in monetary terms. Is it possible to express these figures in per-cyclist terms and contrast them with other modes?

    Fourth, I think I'm right in saying that their mode share figures focus on journeys across the City boundary, but there are surely many more cyclist journeys and vastly more walking trips within the boundary. This might be worth highlighting, along with the fact that cyclists make up a much higher proportion of *road traffic* than of total transport including rail & Tube, so we actually should have a greater than 2.6% say in what happens to the roads.

    Fifth, the targets for reductions in numbers killed and seriously injured look very low. This could also be critiqued and pro-cycling interventions promoted in terms of the wider costs of accidents (see recent DfT research on this).

  2. Sorry, one more thing! I'm sure I'm like many 'City cyclists' in that my journey goes through the City but doesn't actually terminate there (in my case it's Islington to Tooley Street in Southwark). Conditions in the City therefore have a significant impact on transport choices in other boroughs, particularly its immediate neighbours, and on their ability to achieve more sustainable transport systems. Interventions that promote cycling in the City will promote it across Inner London. The City (and TfL) need to take account of this strategic role.