Wednesday, 29 June 2011

What do other parents think of this Conservatives official response? Parents with young children would be penalised if cycling is made safer and more convenient. The mothers of Guildford disagree.

I wonder why more people don't cycle with their
children here?
I wrote last week about how the Conserative party in London does not want to favour cycling or walking by giving those people who travel on foot or on a cycle any greater priority than they have at the moment. I talked about how many people who cycle and walk think that London's roads are not fit for purpose unless you travel in a motor vehicle. I also talked about how the Conservatives and Transport for London are making the roads more motor vehicle-friendly and less friendly for walking and cycling. They're doing this in Richmond, where TfL refuses to give people protected space to cross the road on foot or on a cycle; they're doing this at Elephant & Castle where keeping fast motor speeds is considered more important than escalators for tube passengers and a safer and more business and people-friendly square could be built if it weren't for the obsession with not upsetting the 'motorist'; and, of course, they're doing this at Blackfriars.

Several people wrote to Richard Tracey about why the Conservatives would take such a strange view of London's roads. Richard Tracey is the Conservative group transport spokesman.

He sent a considered response, the full text of which is below. For now, I want to focus on a couple points that he raises in that response. Leaving aside his assertion that "Motorists already more than pay for roads through road and fuel tax" (they don't. For an excellent demolition of that fallacy, read this), the following points stand out:

Mr Tracey states quite correctly that: "If people are given the choice between cycling and driving, a great many people will choose the former." Absolutely true.

However, he then states something very curious indeed, namely this:

"Whilst we strongly support those who have the choice choosing to cycle, there are those for whom cycling is not feasible. The introduction of a road user hierarchy penalises those, such as parents with young children, whose personal circumstances might be less suited to cycling."

What I think this implies is that parents of young children are unable to cycle their children to school or to the shops or to the nursery and would be penalised by better facilities for cycling and walking.

I asked my sister, a mother of two young children, what she thought. She asked her friends. Her friends drive SUVs. They live in Guildford, hardly a bastion of left-wing alternative thinking and a city where cycle use has entirely flatlined for a decade (see appendix 3)

They couldn't disagree with you more Mr Tracey. Their personal circumstances are perfectly well-suited to cycling. They can afford to cycle and many of them have time to cycle. And a lot of them would actually prefer to cycle. But the thing is they don't and they won't. Why not? Because the roads don't feel safe enough to cycle on. That's why cycling has flatlined in their city. And they're dead right not to cycle there.

Mr Tracey concludes by saying "In opposing the introduction of a road user hierarchy [whereby roads are designed to prioritise safety for people on foot or cycle rather than the de facto reality of current practice which is that London's roads are prioritised for the speed and convenience of people in motor cars], we believe that the best approach is largely to allow the facts and the many advantages of cycling to speak for themselves."

As another Londoner put it to me what Mr Tracey doesn't acknowledge is this: "In central London we currently have a road-user hierarchy. It’s one in which a disproportionate amount of road space is given over to people who choose to use motorised vehicles as their primary means of transport, as opposed to lower-impact forms of transport, such as bicycles, motorcycles, buses, the Tube and their own feet. To protect the status quo is in effect to protect an illogical and unfair hierarchy that offers a slower, dirtier and less safe experience to a majority of users of the road network (including pavements and road crossings)"

I read this letter as saying one thing very clearly. Cycling is for people in lycra who can keep up with motor traffic and don't mind ducking and weaving between HGVs. We, the Conservative party, believe in freedom of choice in how you travel around the capital but we will not make significant strides to give normal, everyday people the choice to travel by cycle to do normal, everyday things because that might mean denying some people who travel by motor vehicle a little bit of their freedom to choose the car. And if you're a mother with children, we are telling you to travel by car please. We're not going to make it possible for you to cycle your kids to school.

I'm very curious to know what other parents think about this. If you felt the journey was safe enough, would you like to be able to cycle your children to school rather than get in a car every morning?

Letter from Richard Tracey, Conservative group transport spokesman, London Assembly.

"Thank you for your e-mail. As the Conservative Group's Transport Spokesman, I am replying on behalf of my colleagues.

The numbers of people cycling in London has increased markedly under Boris Johnson. Since this has come on top of strong growth under his predecessor, this is a superb and very welcome achievement. By measures such as the introduction of Boris Bikes, Cycle Superhighways and an increase in the provision of cycle parking, more Londoners are cycling than ever before. There is certainly more that can be done. However none of these improvements has come about via a policy of deliberately hobbling other road users. Rather, they have been successful by making it easier and more convenient for people to choose to cycle.

If people are given the choice between cycling and driving a great many people will choose the former. Indeed the number who choose to cycle is increasing all the time. For the vast majority of cyclists the decision to do so is informed by a simple cost benefit analysis. Cycling to work is cheaper than any other option bar walking, it will often be quicker than the alternatives and it has the benefit of being fantastic exercise. Our view is that the more people consider the various alternatives in those terms, the more people will conclude that cycling is the best way to travel in London .

However it is important to be clear that many Londoners do not have unlimited choice over which mode they use to travel. Whilst we strongly support those who have the choice choosing to cycle, there are those for whom cycling is not feasible. The introduction of a road user hierarchy penalises those, such as parents with young children, whose personal circumstances might be less suited to cycling.

The Conservative Group strongly believes in localism and allowing decisions to be taken as close to the people they affect as possible. In many cases, this will mean that individuals themselves should be free to decide how they wish to travel around our city. In others this means that local councils should be free to make decisions within their own borough. It is important to remember that London is a vast city and a report such as this has to reflect that. The very size of London also means that different parts of it will benefit from differing approaches. What is right for Bromley or Barnet, may well not be right for Westminster or Southwark.

In opposing the introduction of a road user hierarchy, we believe that the best approach is largely to allow the facts and the many advantages of cycling to speak for themselves.

On road user charging, there is little to add to the paragraph in the report. Motorists already more than pay for roads through road and fuel tax. Whilst the concept of giving people the option of paying to travel on a faster road – such as the M6 toll road – may make sense, road user charging penalises those who need to drive. Richer Londoners may be relatively unaffected by charging, but poorer Londoners are literally priced off the road. In addition to this, charging has a negative effect on small businesses within any charging zone. A great many businesses within the Western Extension Zone (WEZ) closed as a direct result of the zone’s introduction. Finally it is worth noting that when the previous Mayor consulted on the introduction of the WEZ a majority opposed its introduction. Ken Livingstone then ignored the consultation and introduced the WEZ anyway. When Boris Johnson became Mayor he promised to hold a fresh consultation and abide by the result. The consultation showed an overwhelming desire to scrap the WEZ. As we made clear in our dissenting paragraph, unless there is strong local support for a local charging zone then road user charging should not be considered."

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Conservatives: Mayor shouldn't favour people who cycle or walk because it might slow down people who drive.

Conservatives suggest more of this. No priority for people when they're
cycling because it might slow down other people when they're driving 
Finally, the Conservatives in London seem to be calling a spade a spade. Today, the London Assembly released its report, The Future of Road Congestion in London. The report makes various recommendations about London's road transport plans. In particular, it recommends that the London Plan, which is the strategic plan for London's economic, environmental, transport and social framework over the next 20-25 years, make explicit that walking and cycling are given precedence by transport planners.

What the London Assembly is saying is that priority should be given to waking and cycling over private car use.

That doesn't mean banning cars. It simply means that obstuctions to walking and cycling should be removed. It means that London's roads should be made fit-for-purpose for cycling and for walking and that these forms of transport should be given priority over private car use. It also means that people who cycle should be given greater protection on London's roads.

If you don't do this, you end up with schemes such as Blackfriars. Blackfriars will get two more lanes for motor vehicles and an increased speed limit. This will make it harder and more dangerous to navigate both for people on cycles and on foot but make it easier and faster for people in private motor cars.

In 1982, the House of Lords debated this exact issue. They asked how it would be possible to reduce motor congestion. The most telling comment in that debate was this one, by Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge: "When it comes to too many cars and solo drivers, there is only one way to deal with that; namely, to make motoring short distances in London so disagreeable and expensive that people stop doing it."

The Conservative Assembly Members don't agree. They have specifically added an appendix to the Assembly's report that flatly rejects any form of priority for people on cycles or on foot. Have a look at page 42 on this appendix "Neither the Mayor nor the Government should impose an artificial road user hierarchy as this inevitably has the effect of effect of deliberately slowing down some users. Further to this, the Mayor should encourage cycling by emphasising that it is cheap, healthy and quick, not by worsening conditions for other road users."


There is already an artificial road user hierarchy. It is that the bigger and faster you are, the more you have priority on the roads. If you're on a cycle or on foot, the Conservatives appear to be suggesting you should keep out of the way of people on the roads who have faster or bigger machinery. And this, so that you don't slow down those people in private motor vehicles. Cycling, it seems, ought to be encouraged through marketing alone.

So there you have it.

The nub of Blackfriars is all contained in this one paragraph. It's nothing to do with safety or with traffic models. In complete contrast to previous indications that creating greater protection for cycling might be sensible, the Conservatives are stating they do not want to give priority to people who cycle or walk because that might mean other people (who are no more or less important than those people walking or on cycles) might have to drive slightly more slowly. And they think that some glossy messaging is all that's needed for people to switch from driving to cycling.

It brings a chilling new meaning to Transport for London's policies. TfL states: "all road users have to be considered with equal weighting". If that's the case, then London's Conservatives have declared the death of London as a place where cycling will ever reach 5% share of the traffic (which, coincidentally is the Mayor's policy). Because, if you don't believe that a person on a cycle or on foot needs prioritising and protecting on London's roads, there's only one way to have 'equality' on the road: If you walk or cycle, the only way you have equal weighting to a person in a private motor vehicle will now be to become as big and as fast as them. The rules of the road simply don't allow for anything else.

I think it may be time for cyclists to group together. Not for a go-slow. But to create multiple trains of bicycles all over London's roads. Each moving politely en masse in the same direction, a group of people on cycles, taking as much space as a motor vehicle, creating as much congestion and as much noise. And making it exceedingly obvious why cycling and walking need greater priority.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

St Paul's bike event. Pre-work bike breakfast tomorrow morning and chance to talk cycling with City police and officials

I have very mixed feelings about the efficacy of Bike Week events. It's useful to sit in the cab of an HGV and see just how invisible a cycle looks from inside. But I can't help resenting the fact that our road culture burdens vulnerable road users with the responsibility for keeping themselves out the way of dangerous vehicles. I think it leads to insanities like the Department for Transport telling children to "wear reflective gear to make sure you can be seen in car headlights" at night and makes something as normal as cycling or walking into a hi-viz activity rather than what it is, just walking or cycling.

In my view, our transport planners and law makers should be doing more to give people on cycles or on foot greater protection from those motor vehicles, rather than foisting the responsibility almost entirely on the person walking or cycling. Fortunately, the City of London is slowly starting to say likewise.

Despite my reservations, though, I am going to spend some time out the front of St Paul's Cathedral tomorrow morning and I hope some of you do too.

The reason is that the City of London will be holding its annual bike week breakfast. I'm not going for the free coffee and breakfast (nod to the sponsors) or for the HGV (another sponsor) but because a number of City Police and City of London road officials will be there. And because I think the more people pester them about the conditions they face on the City's roads, the more they talk about the utter madness of what Transport for London is proposing at Blackfriars, the more people who cycle are perceived as, well, just normal people going about their business, the better.

The bike breakfast is out the front of St Paul's Cathedral from 7.30 to 9.30am tomorrow 22 June. More details here. Hoping to maybe meet some of you there.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Jeremy Clarkson still thinks we're anti-capitalists. His own newspaper disagrees. Sunday Times: cyclists now outnumber motorists on busy commuter routes

Today's Sunday Times featured two big pieces on cycling. The first, an editorial from Jeremy Clarkson. "Cycling is seen now .... as a frontline propoganda weapon in the war on capitalism, banking, freedom, McDonald's..." you get the idea. 

Except that a much larger and more balanced piece featured large on page 11.  "Cyclists have for the first time outnumbered motorists on some of the country’s busiest commuter routes during the rush hour," splashed the Sunday Times news feature. You can read the article below.

Jeremy Clarkson thinks these cyclists in the Square
Mile are anti-capitalists. How little he knows...
You see, Mr Clarkson. Those cyclists aren't a front line against capitalism. If anything, as your own newspaper asserts, those cyclists are hurrying to jobs in the City of London and Canary Wharf. Far from being the warriors against banking that Mr Clarkson thinks they are, a sizeable chunk of London's cyclists actually are bankers. If you don't believe me, take a look at this picture here which proves the point quite neatly. In fact, let's continue the theme. Pictured left, the bike park of another large, very capitalist company in the Square Mile. I don't see many 'anti-capitalist, anti-banker' cyclists here. Even if these people were anti-capitalist, why on earth should that matter? These are just people going about their business. And happen to be using cycles to get about. 

The Sunday Times news feature, however, takes a very different view to Clarkson's column. According to the Sunday Times:

"On Cheapside, a street in the City of London, cycles make up more than 50% of the commuter traffic, according to official data, and account for up to 42% of traffic on Southwark Bridge across the Thames. In one Bristol suburb more than one in four people cycle to work....Since Bristol was designated a “cycling city” in 2008 under a government scheme the proportion of cyclists on some of its roads has trebled. In the suburb of Ashley a quarter of people now bike to work."

If you're interested in more examples of how much cycling has grown in London, you can see more detailed statistics here and here.

Now, one very decent idea crops up in Jeremy Clarkson's piece on cycling. He talks about the fact that: "Nobody in their right mind believes that a bit of yellow polystyrene could possibly keep a head intact should it be run over by the rear wheels of an articulated lorry. So get rid of them." He goes on to talk about how cycling should only be allowed in what he calls 'home clothes'

So, it's relevant to link that comment to one made by Iain Simmons, the City of London’s assistant director for planning and transportation in the Sunday Times news feature saying this: 'He believes there is a new breed of fairweather cyclist “who wears a suit instead of biking gear and is a little less experienced on the roads” — who need greater protection'.

Kensington & Chelsea "our approach to cycling is to
encourage a safe mix with other traffic". Would you cycle
here with your family? I think not...
People are starting to cycle in 'home clothes', Mr Clarkson. But as Iain Simmons point out, planners need to provide those people who cycle in 'home clothes' with safe spaces to cycle. Which is exactly what transport authorities like Transport for London are failing to do at Blackfriars, for example. Or in Kensington & Chelsea which encourages those people in their home clothes to play chicken with motor vehicles: "Our approach to cycling is to encourage a safe mix with other traffic"

Transport for London believes that creating fast-moving, multi-lane motorways for motor cars is the right way to encourage people to don their 'home clothes' and get on their bikes without helmet, Mr Clarkson. 

Iain Simmons at the City of London is right. Cyclists need better protection. In that assertion, he joins the ranks of London Assembly Members from all the political parties and the President of the AA. In a strange sort of way, I think Jeremy Clarkson may have accidentally stumbled on to something too, namely that people will take to their cycles in normal clothes to do normal things. But only if they're offered the right sort of protection from motor vehicles when they do. 

I was kindly sent a copy of the article by its authors. I've posted most of it below and you can read the remainder here

Sunday Times 19 June 2011

Commuting cyclists outnumber cars for the first time

Transport for London claims that peak-time cycling on the blue lanes has doubled and there is a similar phenomenon outside the capital

Jonathan Leake and Robin Henry

Cyclists have for the first time outnumbered motorists on some of the country’s busiest commuter routes during the rush hour.

On Cheapside, a street in the City of London, cycles make up more than 50% of the commuter traffic, according to official data, and account for up to 42% of traffic on Southwark Bridge across the Thames. In one Bristol suburb more than one in four people cycle to work.

Now cyclists are trying to exploit their strength in numbers to force motorists to stop hogging the road. They want transport officials to give a lane from dual carriageways to cyclists, widen existing cycle lanes, impose 20mph limits in city centres and have busy junctions redrawn in their favour.

The surge in the number of people switching to two wheels is likely to be even greater than the new figures suggest.

Most of the data was compiled before July 2010, when 5,500 rental bikes were introduced and the first two “cycle-superhighways” — distinctive blue cycle lanes — were opened by Boris Johnson, the mayor of London.

Transport for London claims that peak-time cycling on the blue lanes has doubled and there is a similar phenomenon outside London, stoked by investment in cycle lanes by Cycling England, a now defunct quango.

Since Bristol was designated a “cycling city” in 2008 under a government scheme the proportion of cyclists on some of its roads has trebled.

In the suburb of Ashley a quarter of people now ride bikes to work.

In York, which received more than £3.6m in cycling city funding, the number of cyclists has increased by 20%, while in Cambridge more than a fifth of the population now travel regularly by bike.

In the space of four years the number of commuter journeys taken by cyclists on the UK Cycle Network — which includes long-distance and tourist routes — has risen by 16m to 73m trips a year.

Cycling campaigners say provision for them has not kept up with their growth in numbers. The London Cycling Campaign accused local authorities of being too narrowly focused on preventing congestion to consider giving cyclists more space and priority treatment.

Mike Cavenett, the campaign’s spokesman, said: “There needs to be more sensible planning, which gives cyclists the appropriate road space, provides safer junctions and reduces the speed alongside cycle lanes to 20mph.

“We have these huge motorway-style dual carriageways in the centre of London, which are completely unnecessary.Instead there should be a lane for cars and a lane for cyclists.”

Sustrans, the green travel charity, agrees. Malcolm Shepherd, chief executive, said: “Reallocation is the best option in urban areas where there’s often not enough space to provide off-road routes.”

While handing over whole lanes may be popular with cyclists, councils are wary. York city council is reviewing its 2009 decision to convert a stretch of road into a cycle lane after drivers complained it has added to their journey times.

In London’s Square Mile the roads are too narrow to hand over lanes to cycles, so the Corporation of London is instead considering lowering the 30mph zones to 20mph.

Iain Simmons, the City of London’s assistant director for planning and transportation, said cyclists “now dictate the speed of traffic”, and added: “Monitoring shows that on some roads such as Cheapside, cycles account for more than 50% of the traffic and these numbers are going up and up every year.”

He believes there is a new breed of fairweather cyclist “who wears a suit instead of biking gear and is a little less experienced on the roads” — who need greater protection.

The remainder of this article is available at

Saturday, 18 June 2011

TfL talks of 'equality on the road for cycling' but its 'current useless traffic models' don't count cycling as equal and risk killing people.

My post this week about how cyclists might react to the latest developments at Blackfriars triggered a flurry of responses. I want to thank everyone who's commented on those thoughts about how people who cycle can get the message across about Blackfriars junction. 

What's becoming clearer to me is that a lot of people are increasingly fed up of the Mayor's policy of increasing speeds for people in motor vehicles to the detriment of people who cycle and walk. As War on the Motorist blog puts it, Londoners are finding their way towards serious and significant protest on these points. Even here, says the blog, 'big things are beginning'. And those issues are becoming mainstream.

What hasn't yet reached the mainstream are the technical issues that sustain Transport for London's insistence on 'smoothing the traffic flow'. Some new developments this week make those issues much much more relevant. 

Transport for London has been responding to freedom of information requests about the traffic models behind the Blackfriars junction. In May, TfL stated that "the complexity of the design has meant that all road users have had to be considered with equal weighting". 

In which case, you might think, Transport for London might have developed a bridge scheme that looked something more like this scheme on the left, rather than the high-speed motorway it is building instead. Something like this would give space for all sorts of people to safely get through the junction with equal weighting. Cyclists would be able to turn right into Queen Victoria Street (heading north) or on to Victoria Embankment (heading south) safely, without having to filter across what will soon be three lanes of fast-moving motor traffic. That is something I'd understand as equality on the road.  

So it's very revealing to see another FOI response sent by Transport for London to a fellow cyclist this week. This response explains the 'traffic modelling information' used for Blackfriars. And although we're still waiting to see a few more bits of the data (arriving by CD in the post, no less), everything suggests that Transport for London has used a traffic planning scheme at Blackfriars that defines one cycle as only 20% of a car. Yes, when you're on your cycle, you count as 0.2 PCUs, or 20% of a Passenger Car Unit. Assuming we've understood correctly, Transport for London may know the traffic modelling tool it has used here may not meet its legal obligations. That's because ""Where the volume of cyclists exceeds approximately 20% of the traffic volume on any one approach [remember, cycles represent 37% of traffic in the rush-hours here] they may have a disproportional effect on modelling results and their influence may need further attention. For this reason it is encouraged to ensure classified traffic surveys explicitly include cyclists." Val Shawcross, Labour Assembly Member, has tried again and again to ask the Mayor whether the traffic models at Blackfriars 'explicitly included cyclists'. Strangely enough, Transport for London hasn't responded to her questions yet. 

So, I asked the question of Andrew Boff, Conservative Party Assembly Member. His comment: "The data [at Blackfriars] isn't terribly good....we just didn't have the data."

It seems that everyone involved with Blackfriars knows something that Transport for London isn't admitting. If they're right, then Transport for London is selling us a scheme at Blackfriars that gives each person on a cycle utterly unequal weighting to a person in a motor vehicle. Put bluntly, if all these indications are correct, then TfL appears to be actively prejudicing against people if they are on a cycle rather than in a motor vehicle. That is simply wrong.

Last week I quoted Andrew Boff on this one point, when he told me: "[The broader issue] is that it's not just about recognising the [private motor vehicle] capacity of the road any more. It's about the thought that goes into the people using that junction, it's about how people use that junction."

He's absolutely right. And this is exactly what TfL is not doing, by all accounts. 

So, I asked a traffic engineer close to the Blackfriars scheme what he thought. This is what he told me:

"I can't see anything changing with TfL until they change their view on what their network management duty involves, i.e., that the expeditious movement of traffic doesn't mean expediting motor vehicle traffic, it means expediting the movement of all traffic, including pedestrians and cyclists.  That in turn won't change until they have traffic models that can cope with the more fine-grained, less predictable movements of pedestrians and cyclists rather than ploughing on with their current useless traffic models on the basis that that's all they have."

Everyone who knows what's really going on here is starting to say the same thing, namely that Transport for London's models don't count cycling and pedestrians properly. The Mayor's agenda for smoothing the traffic flow is therefore deeply flawed. And it is people on cycles or walking who will be dangerously exposed on London's roads as a result.  

Labour is hinting loudly that they know this, the Greens likewise. The LibDems are stating it blatantly, the Conservatives are starting to do the same. The AA President acknowledges it. TfL's own data is now revealing the reality and traffic engineers close to the Blackfriars scheme are starting to break ranks with the official Transport for London line.  

I said a few weeks ago that "TfL is the enemy". I think that's true. There are plenty of good and competent people at TfL but everyone who knows what's going on at Blackfriars seems to suggest there's something going deeply wrong with 'smoothing the traffic flow'. The results are no laughing matter. As more and more people in London take to cycling, it wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say that TfL's traffic models are killing people.  

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Blackfriars - TfL simply isn't listening. We're still stuck in 2004. Can a two-minute Stop Cycling Friday every week change that?

Blackfriars Bridge - not the 2011 flash ride but 2004. Time to try
something different, I reckon....
In 2004, this post appeared on the Indymedia website. 700 people on cycles took to Blackfriars Bridge to protest the death of Vicki McCreery killed cycling here. The author spelt out exactly who he felt was to blame: "Another cyclist was killed on the same spot in February 2003 yet the transport authorities still refused to listen to local cycling groups. Their attempts to cater for the surge in cycling following congestion charging have been token gestures of their incompetence and ideological commitment to keeping more motor vehicles moving".

Fast forward to 2011 and once again, cyclists take to Blackfriars Bridge in protest (the full timescale of events is here). The wording may be different (this time the terminology is about 'smoothing the traffic flow') but the issue is the same. Cycling and walking is marginalised by an ideological commitment to keep more motor vehicles moving, as quickly as possible. This despite the fact that, once again, cycle use is surging on this bridge and cycles are now the largest single type of vehicle on the bridge at both rush hours.

To prove just how little Transport for London is listening to people who want to cycle and walk here, you might want to follow this exchange of emails between one cyclist via his Assembly Member (Conservative, as it happens) and Leon Daniels, the man who is the boss of London's roads. And the man who suggests there is no safety benefit in giving cyclists space and room on London's roads.

Very simply, I don't think TfL has a clue what cyclists are worried about. And this edited response shows why:

Question: "turning right into Queen Victoria St, northbound, or onto Victoria Embankment southbound involves filtering across two lanes of fast-moving traffic. It's a dangerous and difficult manoeuvre on a bike, and most people will just avoid doing it."

Initial answer from Leon Daniels, head of surface transport at TfL: "Taking all users into account we believe the proposals are equitable and safe. Dominic comments on the safety of the right turn for cyclists - this is in fact one of the key features of the scheme and they are protected by traffic signals when they do this."

Mr Daniels is talking here about the newly installed filter allowing people to cycle up from the Embankment and turn right on to the bridge, which he describes as a 'key feature'. In other words, on a first reading, he hasn't even realised that very few cyclists make that manoeuvre and that very many more are concerned about a different crossing, namely where thousands of them turn towards Bank junction and into the City of London, not away from it and over the bridge. By adding an extra motor traffic lane will make it terrifyingly difficult to turn right into the City. After nearly 600 individual letters to TfL, motions in the London Assembly, a petition of 2,000 further signatories, he doesn't seem realise this is one of the key issues with Blackfriars.

Later that morning, Mr Daniels does realise his mistake and now refers to the actual issue in question. He sends a further email, stating:

"In these cases [turning into Queen Victoria Street] the manoeuvres do involve some filtering with the traffic which is not uncommon of course but we are providing Advance Stop Lines across the width of the road to give cyclists an opportunity to get into position safely.

I should also have said that at peak times the average speed across this junction is below 20mph anyway so hopefully ensures all users are properly respecting each others' requirements."

Firstly, there is no Advanced Stop Line on the plan at this point. Secondly, even if there were, it would be inaccessible to cyclists unless they want to cycle down the centre of a newly installed middle lane of traffic accelerating away from the bridge. And third, his response implies, if you're not commuting at the office hours we deem to be commuting time, you'll just have to play chicken with the fast-moving traffic.

Dozens of people contacted me after my post yesterday and the comments on yesterday's article all suggested one thing: That lots of people are fed up with playing second-fiddle to people in motor vehicles who want just as much right to the road as those people in motor vehicles. And that they don't think the Mayor is listening. No-one's an 'anti-motorist'. This isn't a war against the motorist. It's a battle to have an equality of right to the road and a battle to feel that the Mayor and his transport authority attach the same amount of importance to the safety and convenience of people walking, cycling, using mobility scooters or wheelchairs, as they do to people using motor vehicles.

Andrew Boff, Conservative Assembly Member put it better than me last week when he said "it's not just about recognising the [private motor vehicle] capacity of the road any more. It's about the thought that goes into the people using that junction, it's about how people use that junction."

TfL doesn't seem to agree.

A lot of cyclists are very passionate about this junction as a symbol of all that's wrong with TfL's policies. They took to the streets in 2004. And again in 2011. I felt very ambivalent about the Flashride on Blackfriars a few weeks ago and stated so. I'm not a great fan of blocking other people on their way to work, just because they're on a bus. I don't have a particular beef against taxi drivers or private motor vehicles. My beef is with the Mayor and TfL, not the bloke trying to get to work in his van or the woman on the bus. I'm also left feeling a bit flat by the idea of yet another petition. If the last one, plus 600 letters, plus countless communications with Assembly Members hasn't worked, then another petition feels a bit jaded.

So my suggestion is a bit different. It's called Stop Cycling Fridays.

It's simple. On Friday mornings, every Friday morning, cyclists should stop cycling for two minutes, pull to the side of the road and spend two minutes in silence. They shouldn't put themselves or anyone else in danger, nor block the carriageway. Simply stand in silence for two minutes at 8.30 every Friday morning starting 1 July and think of the people killed and maimed in London by traffic. And they should think of how Transport for London is choosing to design London's streets in a way that makes them more dangerous and less convenient for walking and cycling while making them faster and more convenient for motor vehicles. Think of how those policies feel to people knocked from their bikes, the pedestrians and cyclists run over by cars, driven at by aggressive or speeding motor vehicles. It's not about being anti-car. It's about paying respect to those people and about making a statement that is open for anyone to join, whether they're on a cycle, on foot or simply curious.

So how about it? Stop Cycling Fridays. Starting 1 July. Every Friday. Wherever you are, pull off to the side of the road and remember. At 8.30am. In honour of those people killed and maimed on London's roads. And in the hope of forcing our Mayor and TfL to drop their insatiable desire to keeping more motor vehicles moving faster, in favour of making it just as safe and convenient to cycle and walk on London's roads as it is to sit in a motor vehicle.

That's the ultimate goal: To get the Mayor and TfL to drop their transport priority of 'smoothing the traffic flow' and to replace it with treating London's streets as places for people to get about on cycle or on foot just as safely and just as conveniently as they can by car.

I'll be stopping on Blackfriars Bridge, 8.30am, 1 July. For two minutes by the side of the road at a point where I know there are hundreds of cyclists. If I'm alone, it might be time to declare TfL has won the battle and the war. If people stop for two minutes wherever they are - ideally in a spot where they know there are plenty of other cyclists - perhaps we'll lose the Battle of Blackfriars but we might start getting our point across instead.

Perhaps I'm being utterly naive. I don't really know but I'm very interested to know if other people want to try and change things by participating.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Mayor's report: Everything's rosy in the garden. Blackfriars is all sorted. Cyclists' report: No it absolutely is not

The Mayor sends a monthly report to the London Assembly. The latest edition (from this morning's meeting) gives an interesting description of the Blackfriars situation. Click here to view the document on the Mayor's website and scroll to page 10 if you want to see more detail. 

In summary, the Mayor is claiming "Cyclists’ concerns accounted for in revised plans for Blackfriars junction"

The full text is below. In short, the Mayor is stating that the junction is now safe for every user. 

There is a constant drip drip of utterly false good news coming from the Mayor's office and from Transport for London about Blackfriars. 

I've created a link here to the timeline of 'everything Blackfriars'. Reading the headlines on that page alone should give you a potted summary of what's happened and what's wrong with this scheme. The latest position is that LibDems, Labour, Green and now Conservative party members of the London Assembly all think the Mayor's assertion that 'cyclists' concerns have been accounted for' are complete balderdash. Not only that, even the President of the Automobile Association is asserting that "cyclists need safer conditions on Blackfriars".

I would say to Transport for London, yes, some concerns have been addressed. But the scheme still increases motor vehicle lanes by 30%, making a lot of manoeuvres on this junction far more dangerous. It increases the speed limit from 20mph to 30mph. TfL asserts insanities such as this one here where it claims that it's fine if motor vehicles speed across this bridge and the junction because there aren't that many cyclists outside of rush hour. They utterly fail to comprehend the reason that there aren't that many cyclists outside of rush hour (as pointed out brilliantly here) is precisely because too many motor vehicles speed over the bridge and through this junction, rendering it useless for anyone on a cycle who can't keep up with a volley of 30-40mph motor vehicles behind them.  

At this sorry stage, I can suggest two immediate courses of action:

1) Keep writing to your Assembly Members and copy in the Mayor. You can find the link of Assembly Members and a form to use to contact them here

Quotation from the Mayor's report this morning:

"Cyclists’ concerns about proposed changes to the junction outside Blackfriars station have been addressed in revised plans released by Transport for London on 18 May.

Changes need to be made to the junction to take into account an increase in people using the area later this year when improvements being made by Network Rail are complete and the station reopens. The views of cyclists who were concerned by the original plans have been taken into account in a new design that will allow every road user to navigate the junction safely.

Transport for London reconsidered the plans on behalf of Network Rail’s consultants and concluded that changes could be made to the layout that would safely allow the northbound cycle lane outside Blackfriars station to be widened to 2 metres and retain the 1.5 metre southbound cycle lane outside Blackfriars station.

I am very pleased that Transport for London has taken the feedback from cyclists who use this junction into account and used their comments to deliver the best scheme possible. The changes they have made support my desire to improve the facilities for cyclists right across the Capital.

The junction at the north end of Blackfriars Bridge is extremely complex and a lot of work has gone in to try and balance the needs of all road users to ensure they can pass through the junction safely.

Transport for London, working on behalf of Network Rail, will begin work on the changes in June 2011 ahead of the reopening of Blackfriars station at the end of the year."

Monday, 13 June 2011

Tories finally 'get' what Blackfriars is about. All five parties in the Assembly plus the AA understand the issue. TfL doesn't. Time for the Mayor to tame the beast?

Last week, my instinct reaction to the Conservative party walk-out at the London Assembly was to accuse them of failing to engage with the issue of creating safe and convenient ways for Londoners to get about on foot and on cycles. I went further to point out here how I felt that failure was probably something of an own-goal in the way it works against their core voting constituency - including the tens of thousands of people who cycle to work in the City and Canary Wharf.

Until now, it has been left to the Green party, Labour and the LibDems to make the point that Transport for London is interpreting its duties as being exclusively about making London's roads more convenient and safer for private motor vehicles and less convenient and less safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

It's increasingly encouraging to see that the alliance against Transport for London's naked obsession with smoothing traffic flow for private motor vehicles is not some left-wing conspiracy against the motorist.

Last week, even the President of the Automobile Association chipped in "Blackfriars needs to be improved for cyclists"

It's almost unbelievable, but Transport for London's obsession with making the roads more convenient for private motor vehicles may even mean that tube passengers may not get the escalators needed at Elephant & Castle underground station as TfL doesn't want to give up road space needed to cope with the expansion and increased passenger volumes in the underground station. What's more, TfL's objection could mean that 170 acres of prime zone 1 land won't be able to be redeveloped around Elephant & Castle because TfL seems to think a motorway roundabout is more important.

It almost defies belief that even ignoring the tube station, the strategic travel priority of TfL seems to directly work against the local economy. You might argue that if facilitating motorists is preventing economic benefits, never mind social and environmental ones, then what is the point?

I keep pointing out that I think TfL's intepretation of its role on London's roads is wrong. It defies common sense on so many levels - it makes life harder for people who want to walk and cycle. It's even pitting TfL against tube passengers and, potentially, against private developers.

It's good to see that the Conservative party in London is also beginning to realise just how poisonous Transport for London's obsession with 'smoothing the traffic flow' is turning out.

Had the vote gone ahead in the London Assembly last week, then according to Victoria Borwick, a Conservative Assembly Member, then several Tory politicians would have voted for 20mph here. According to Victoria Borwick:

"On a free vote which is what we had planned I know Andrew, myself and others would have probably voted for the 20 mph and addressing the turning across the traffic which does need to be resolved."

Andrew Boff went further when I talked with him late last week. Andrew is a Conservative Assembly Member based in Hackney. Talking about the initial Blackfriars scheme, he commented "[TfL] just hadn't thought about cyclists. You have got to have an obvious route to go safely".

Boff's wider point was something I agree with whole-heartedly: "[The broader issue] is that it's not just about recognising the [private motor vehicle] capacity of the road any more. It's about the thought that goes into the people using that junction, it's about how people use that junction."

My own summary of that comment is that people who walk or cycle, should feel they have just as much priority on the roads and at junctions like Blackfriars or Elephant & Castle (my words not Andrew Boff's but I think we agreed on the general idea). The fact is that, at the moment, they don't. If you're 12 and you're on a bike, there's no way you will feel you have the same right to cross Blackfriars junction (or Oval junction for that matter) as the bloke in a van revving through the junction behind you. Frankly, if you're a fit adult like Dr Clare Gerada, knocked off her bike and injured here a couple of weeks ago, you'll also find yourself dangerously exposed on the new Blackfriars junction. Or on the Elephant & Castle roundabout. To name but a few examples.

My feeling is that Transport for London's obsession with smoothing the motor traffic flow means it is designing out opportunities to help Londoners walk and cycle more. Now the Conservative party is gently showing that it also has issues with these sorts of ideas. That puts it in the same ranks as the Automobile Association President but also the LibDems, Labour and Green party politicians in London.

My question is, is Transport for London's road surface team turning into some sort of monster obsessed with private motor vehicle speeds? And if so, is it time the Mayor stood up and tamed the beast?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Elephant & Castle is the latest TfL Blackfriars battle. Now TfL decides cars are more important than tube passengers as well as cyclists and pedestrians

Elephant & Castle: Woman cyclist crushed by HGV as she
turns left: Source Evening Standard
For some time, I've been writing about the evils of Transport for London's obsession with "smoothing the traffic flow" and how it marginalises people on cycles and pedestrians on London's roads in favour of smoother flowing motor traffic.

Many people have wondered why I'm so critical of the Mayor's agenda for 'smoothing the traffic flow'. Put quite simply it's because that agenda seems to over-ride all other concerns on London's roads. Two weeks ago, it lead the man in charge of London's roads to tell cyclists that there's no safety benefit in having a two metre bike lane and that 1.5 metres would do just fine. His statement flatly contradicts all international and UK government recommendations and even contradicts Transport for London's own guidelines. Frankly that statement was in direct contradiction of common sense as well. There's no way a cyclist can feel safe in a narrow strip next to two lanes of HGVs in equally narrow lanes. Leon Daniels should realise this.

One of the problems with talking about cycling infrastructure is that most Londoners don't cycle. So it's tough to explain to most Londoners what the impact of 'smoothing the traffic flow' means to them. Unless you've tried cycling through some of the dangerous schemes that TfL is designing and unless you've seen first-hand how the 'smoothing the traffic flow' agenda consistently makes conditions more dangerous and less convenient for cycling, you might well think, oh well, it's fine, there aren't that many cyclists and why does it matter?

Well believe it or not, 'smoothing the traffic flow' matters to people who use the tube too.

Last week, Transport for London told Southwark Council it was blocking plans to create a public square at the north side of Elephant & Castle. The reason, according to Eleanor Kelly, deputy chief executive of the Council "[TfL] can't allow that [square] because it would interfere with the traffic flow too greatly". According to LondonMoving blog, Southwark's director of regeneration: "Even within the TfL family there are competing views as to what the transport priorities should be at Elephant & Castle". 

My opinion is that TfL knows exactly what its transport priorities are and they are the motor vehicle above all other types of transport. That includes the tube, the buses, cycling and walking.

Elephant & Castle tube station is busy and about to get busier if the Northern Line extension to Battersea goes ahead. TfL's tube people think that the station needs escalators (rather than the current lifts) to manage the flow of people using the tube station properly That means taking a bit of space away from motor vehicles on the northern roundabout, so that there's enough room for the escalators at ground level. But TfL's road people evidently think that fast flowing motor vehicle speeds are more important than the flow of people. They are saying that, if the tube station escalators and the civic square are installed, that will take away too much space from motor vehicles. Elephant used to be a major nightlife spot. My nan still talks about how she used to love coming here as a young adult. But now it's a motorway roundabout. And TfL's road people want to keep it that way.

This is exactly the same situation as Blackfriars. At Blackfriars, cyclists and pedestrians are being fed a drip drip mantra about how creating safer cycling and pedestrian facilities would have a negative effect on smoothing the traffic flow. TfL's first plans for the bridge made conditions for cycling considerably worse than they are at the moment and used the excuse that there simply wasn't room to give cyclists a safe way through this junction because it would impede the smooth flow of the traffic.

It took nearly 600 people to write to TfL for our traffic bureaucrats to actually work out whether their smoothing the traffic flow agenda was right or not: "We explored [only after considerable media coverage] whether it would be possible to retain the southbound cycle lane without causing significant congestion, and...[now] believe that we could do so".

From the perspective of the average Londoner, it's beginning to feel that Transport for London may be interpreting its obligations to keep London moving solely in favour of fast-moving motor traffic. This is very much the Mayor's agenda. My own view is that TfL's road bureaucrats may be interpreting their powers in a way that is not entirely legal. Their obligation is to make London's roads safe and convenient for all road users. My opinion is that TfL makes the roads convenient for motor traffic and then tries to shove some last minute safety compromises into those schemes where enough people protest. What a mature transport authority should be doing, of course, is treating road junctions in a way that recognises the way all sorts of people use that space, whether they're in a motor vehicle, on foot or on bicycle and to build schemes that make cycling, walking or using the tube just as convenient as driving a car. Not less convenient.

Blackfriars and, now Elephant & Castle are about making car use more convenient and public transport, cycling and walking less convenient.

The facts on the ground are this. If you cycle, walk or use the underground, I think TfL's road surface team consider smooth-flowing motor vehicles more important than you. And I believe Mayor is giving his transport authority complete freedom on this issue. Is it time that all sorts of Londoners started to make the Mayor realise enough is enough?

Friday, 10 June 2011

The picture that shows why the Tories don't understand London's cycling and road transport issues

New Amsterdam: This shows just half of the cycle parking provided at one very well-known company in the Square Mile. This week. On a rainy day

Earlier this week London's Conservative Assembly Members walked out on a motion by Jenny Jones, Green Party AM, to retain an existing 20mph on Blackfriars Bridge. The purpose of her motion was to make the bridge and its junctions safer for pedestrians and cyclists, cyclists now being the largest single group of vehicles using the bridge at rush hour.

The motion was important to those of us who think safety on the roads should be just as important whether you're in a car or on a bicycle or a pedestrian. There was some excellent analysis of the walk-out on

"If the Conservative members share the apparent majority opinion of the Assembly that the current road agenda puts congestion unduly ahead of safety – which certainly some have said they do (notably Andrew Boff, who has been supportive of a 20mph limit in the past), this is a very odd way of showing it"

The wider issue is this. The picture above is not Amsterdam or Berlin or Copenhagen. This is the City of London. On a Friday. It's raining outside. And despite that, there are hundreds and hundreds of cycles in this office of a very large, very well-known City institution (the picture shows only half the facilities for cycle parking. There are more than twice as many cycles as you can see here)

When I have met Conservative opinion leaders and politicians and when I have sat down banging my head on the table (virtually) opposite the many conserative (smaller c) councillors in the City of London, they have tended to type-cast cyclists as left-wingers, not part of their core constituency, not 'people like us'.

What I think neither the Conservatives in the London Assembly nor most of the Members (councillors) in the City of London realise is that their transport agenda is alienating a sizeable slice of people you might consider to be the Tories's core constituents: People who work in the Square Mile, who might live in the more prosperous parts of London and might own an SUV or two. These are the same people who book black cabs to get home after a gruelling deal into the middle of the night.

So, by walking out of the Assembly this week, whatever the political legitimacy of their issues, I think the Conservatives scored an enormous own-goal by striking at all Londoners.

I'm also making this point becuse after my posts this week, a number of people have insinuated I might be in the pay of a particular political party. In no way am I in the pay of, or frankly interested in, any of the political parties. I'm also not trying to turn cycling into a rich person or poorer person agenda. My agenda is simple: the Mayor's transport advisors don't understand that Londoners of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds want a choice in how they get about on London's streets. And many of them want to cycle (58% according to TfL) but feel denied that choice by Transport for London. For the simple reason that Transport for London puts 'traffic congestion' as its number one priority, above all else, and doesn't stop for one minute to consider this:

A majority of car trips in London are under two miles. Give people the choice to cycle, make it more convenient and make it feel safer. You might kill two birds with one stone, the same way other cities have all across Europe, and make it safe to cycle and less congested to drive. TfL, it's time to switch off your blinkered obsession with traffic congestion. You've been trying the same strategy since 1982. It still won't work.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

AA President agrees: "Blackfriars needs to be improved for cyclists". TfL versus everyone who thinks London needs better road transport?

Last night I profiled how Transport for London was happy to imply that it's fine for motor vehicles to whizz through the Blackfriars pedestrian and cycle crossings however fast they feel like it. I tried to show how I think Blackfriars is a deeply hostile junction for cyclists and pedestrians.

For me, Blackfriars is simply one scheme that bears all the hallmarks of how Transport for London has been going about turning London's streets into places that are ideal - to my mind - for boyracing in fast cars cutting and weaving in and out of bus lanes and which are deeply hostile to anyone who isn't in a car. Whether that's walking to the pub or the shops or cycling through one of London's many traffic-choked junctions. Actually, anyone who drives around London will have horror stories of how some of London's main roads are nasty places to drive too. Where I live, there are loads of kids. But only the 17 year-olds play in the street. Why's that? Because my residential street is a rat-run where people feel they can cane it down my road at whatever speed they like. That's no space for children. Or for older people either, to be honest. It's not just about cycling, believe it or not.

So I asked the AA President on twitter what he thought. "Blackfriars Bridge really needs to be improved for cyclists" came the response.

So that's London's cyclists, London's Green Party, Labour Party, LibDems, one independent Assembly Member all lined up against Transport for London. And now the AA. Oh, and some of London's Conservatives as well: Andrew Boff has been tweeting tonight that he thinks Blackfriars should be 20mph if the City of London wants to go for 20mph.

I don't believe the Mayor is a die-hard anti-cyclist. He can't be. He uses one of the things himself. I've seen him out on his bike often enough.

But I do believe TfL is increasingly out of touch with how a sizeable chunk of Londoners think about transport. Making conditions better for cycling and walking is not about being anti-car. Done right, it's about giving people a choice in how they get about on the surface of the capital. Because most people don't think they have that choice, largely because they're too scared to get on our roads on a bicycle.

And I for one think that's because TfL interprets its duties as being entirely about keeping cars moving as fast as possible. Which might explain why cycle funding seems to have gone down and down since 1981. Legally, TfL isn't allowed to be this focussed on keeping motor speeds high. But for an insight into how TfL thinks try this article or this. I don't think TfL will ever manage to bring London's traffic under control or make it flow nice and smoothly for everyone the way it thinks it can. I believe it's got entirely the wrong strategies. And I think that's to the detriment of everyone in London, whether they walk, cycle, drive or take the bus. Crap Walthamstow blog is completely right:

If you make driving by car fast and convenient, and make cycling slow, unsafe and inconvenient, people who can afford to choose between the two will generally prefer to use a car. 

That is exactly what TfL is doing. And is exactly why London is so unpleasant to drive around and even more unpleasant and downright dangerous to walk or cycle around.

And it's rather encouraging to see a motoring organisation that, on Blackfriars Bridge at least, they see the sense of what people who cycle are talking about.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

ITV news report. Did Transport for London really just say that? Implies that it's fine for cars to speed through pedestrian and cycle crossings so long as it's not in rush-hour

ITV's London Tonight had an excellent and well-balanced piece about Blackfriars Bridge on its evening broadcast last night. The clip is here on ITV's site.

One interesting point was made by Ben Plowden, Transport for London's Director of Integrated Programme Delivery. What Ben Plowden implied was that speed isn't an issue on the bridge. His words were "the design means that in the rush hour...traffic will be at or below 20mph anyway."

A few thoughts spring to mind:

There's a school at the northern end of this bridge. So, if a 14 year old wants to cycle over the bridge on the way home from school, by Mr Plowden's logic, then the speed of motor traffic here 'isn't an issue' because it's outside commuter times. 19% of school children in the borough of Southwark, on the south side of this bridge want to cycle to school and state it's their number one preference. But they don't Mr Plowden, because TfL only designs a very limited number of (I think very poor) cycling facilities for young, fit, healthy adults who can keep up to speed with motor cars.

What he doesn't say in this clip is that TfL is actually adding lanes for motor vehicles. So, if you're a cyclist, you have to leg it across multiple lanes of traffic to turn through this junction. Which is exactly how Dr Clare Gerada - - tyre marks now showing on her legs -  got knocked off her bike last week thereby putting a local GP, who happens to also be chair of council at the Royal College of General Practitioners out of action for several months. Under TfL's new plans, there will actually be one ADDITIONAL lane added here for motor vehicles, making it even more dangerous.

Oh, and then there's the question of speed. TfL's own road safety unit recommended that the bridge be made a 20mph zone across its entire length. Why might they have said that? Well, it's because in the evenings, traffic whacks across this bridge at way, way over the 30mph speed limit on two, soon to be three, lanes of traffic. Great for trying to turn right on your bike if you want to cycle towards Waterloo heading south, or into the City heading north. A really easy, safe manoeuvre.

I know this all sounds like it's about cycling. But it's not. Some of the pedestrian crossings are going as well. And if you think the pedestrian crossings on the south side of the bridge aren't much good, then that's because everything here links back to TfL's models for transport flows. The reason you get shoved into a very narrow cattle grid when you want to cross the road on the south side of the bridge or the reason you don't actually have any pedestrian traffic lights at all at the junction with Stamford Street are all to do with those traffic flow models.

It feels to me like there's something very fishy going on with those models. But whatever it is, the reality on the ground is that the models clearly result in fast motor traffic flow at the expense of safe or convenient crossings for pedestrians and cyclists. And if you think that's a good way to design the centre of a city where most people are cycling and walking, then you'd have to disagree with me and agree instead with Mr Plowden in this ITV video instead.

I know the LibDems aren't very popular right now but Caroline Pidgeon, vice chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee put it perfectly:

"[TfLfavours smoothing the traffic flow for motorists and worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists." Her words, not mine.

London's Conservatives declare war on pedestrians and cyclists? Why I don't want to be a second-class citizen on London's roads

Updated Thursday morning, even the AA President thinks Blackfriars needs to be improved for cyclists, see updated post here.


This might sound a bit far-fetched. But at today's London Assembly, the Conservative party Assembly Members actually walked out of the debating chamber and thereby made it impossible for the Assembly to debate Jenny Jones's motion to make Blackfriars Bridge a 20mph zone.

The motion was by no means perfect. But it was a step towards civilising this deeply unpleasant junction. A space that is as nasty on foot (or in a wheelchair) as it is on a bicycle.

The London Cycling Campaign has provided an excellent analysis here of what Blackfriars signifies. As the LCC puts it: "The vote about no less than the future direction of London's transport policy." I'd urge you to read the LCC review. It sums up the opinion of many cyclists and walkers.

The Conservatives seem to have decided they don't care about London's transport policy, at least not as far as pedestrians and cyclists are concerned. They can't even be bothered to debate it  in this instance.

In my humble opinion, the Conservatives have declared they are utterly indifferent to walking and cycling. It's not just about Blackfriars. It's about Richmond and it's about Finchley. And in my view, not only have they slapped walkers and cyclists in the face, but they haven't even waited around to be slapped back.

A cabbie contacted me after this post and said this: "If pedestrians only crossed at red [sic] lights and cyclists kept to the cycle lanes there wouldn't be a problem at all". In a soundbite kind of way way he's right. But that's not the issue. The issue is there are no cycle lanes. And where there are, they're almost useless. All over London. And likewise, the issue is that if you want to cross many of London's main roads, you often have to worm their way through several cattle pens.

When I started this blog, I did not do so to be political. I'm not a Tory-basher any more than I'm a Labour, Green or LibDem fan (or basher, for that matter). But today, I feel like I trusted the political process to debate a serious issue about my safety on a bicycle in London. It's my first foray into politics and I naively trusted that the Tories would listen to the Jenny Jones motion with the same seriousness that encouraged hundreds of people to write to TfL about making Blackfriars less anti-cycling and less anti-pedestrian.

It's largely because of that naivety that I have ended up feeling the Conservative Party in London showed that they don't give a damn about me or people like me who walk and cycle more than we drive. I drive too but I want to live in a City where I can walk and cycle and not feel like a second-class citizen on our roads. That is exactly what the Conservative Party is suggesting it thinks I am.

I understand perfectly well the Conservative party has other issues around today's debate. And in fact, James Cleverly has done a good job of trying to explain some of those issues on his blog here and Andrew Boff has been quite rightly pointing to issues around the voting in of the Assembly chair on twitter. And I don't have any issue with what they're trying to defend. My issue is that we expect our politicians to represent us. Not to focus on which motions they want to support and to walk out when things don't go their way. Because, actually, that just feels like low-level and very transparent politicking rather than dealing with the matters at hand.

I wonder if it's time cyclists and walkers of London united and made the point a little more loudly that they want and deserve better?

If you are represented by a Conservative GLA member - all of whom were absent from the Assembly chamber when the 20mph motion came up so as to prevent Blackfriars being discussed - please consider writing to them to express your shock and concern:

Reactions from today's events:


Green Party reaction:
At today's plenary meeting, a motion in Jenny Jones's name, which called for the 20mph limit on Blackfriars bridge to stay, was tabled. Unfortunately, this did not get discussed because some members left the chamber making the Assembly meeting inquorate, and thus unable to pass or reject any motions.
We recognise that this is an unfortnate outcome for cyclists. We hope there will be a possibility for this motion to be tabled for a future meeting. In the meantine, Jenny will continue to actively lobby TfL and the mayor on this issue.

Labour Party reaction:
Conservative members of the London Assembly today walked out of the plenary meeting in order to prevent a motion on a 20mph limit for Blackfriars Bridge from being debated. The walkout left the plenary inquorate and the Chair had no option but to abandon the meeting.
Local London Assembly member, John Biggs said: “It is absolutely outrageous that Conservative members of the London Assembly cannot even be bothered to debate this very important issue. Only last week there was another accident on the bridge. Conservative members should not play games where the safety of vulnerable Londoners is concerned.”

Local London Assembly member, Val Shawcross said: 'The motion was simply focused on cyclists concerns about safety on London's road crossings and it's unbelievable that the members of the Conservative group apparently found this issue unworthy of debate'

LibDem reaction
A bad day for cyclists, for London’s environment and for democracy -

Pidgeon and Mike Tuffrey
Commenting on the decision by Conservative Assembly Members earlier today to leave the chamber in City Hall before the key issues of air pollution and cycle safety on Blackfriars Bridge were discussed at a full meeting of the London Assembly, Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group said:
“It is shameful that the Conservative Assembly Members have played student politics today and by walking out of the chamber have sabotaged democratic debate
“Today the London Assembly could have sent out a clear message about the need to ensure that Blackfriars Bridge is made safer for cyclists. Due to the actions of Conservative Assembly Members that key opportunity has been denied. I hope every cyclist who cares about this issue will take note of their actions.

Mike Tuffrey, commenting further on his motion on air quality also being sabotaged said:

“Air pollution is one of the biggest public health issues facing the capital and in a year’s time this capital is supposed to be hosting the greenest Olympics ever held. Sadly it would appear that the view of Conservative Assembly Members is that these issues are not even worthy of debate.”

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

TfL won't release any data to support today's Conservative claims that 20mph will cause congestion on Blackfriars. Are the Tories being sold up the river by TfL?

Blackfriars northern junction. How a normal
city might design this space to give 'equality' to
pedestrians, cycles and motor vehicles.
And in that order
Earlier, I wrote about how three Conservative Assembly Members are stating that 20 mph should not be retained on Blackfriars Bridge. All three letters that I have seen from Conservative Assembly Members parrot the same wording "the key is to ensure a balance for all road users" and then refer to 20mph or safer cycle or pedestrian crossings creating a threat to 'traffic flow'.

This is very similar wording to TfL's new head of surface transport who justifies how TfL can't make conditions better for cycling or walking because it has a 'duty' to give equal priority to all users:

As the responsible highway authority Transport for London (TfL) has a ‘Network Management Duty’, as defined by the Traffic Management Act 2004, to ensure all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, bus passengers and general traffic, have equal priority in using the road network. 

My understanding is that TfL's obligation under the Traffic Management Act 2004 is to: Ensure the expeditious movement of traffic on its own road network; and Facilitate the expeditious movement of traffic on the networks of others

What I am beginning to feel is that TfL and the London Conservative Assembly Members may be re-intepreting the Traffic Act and talking about 'traffic' as exclusively motorised traffic. Which is odd, really. Because as Mr Daniels states, the Traffic Management Act is very clear that TfL's obligation is to create an efficient network for everyone, including pedestrians. In fact, the Act states very clearly that “traffic” includes pedestrians.

Furthermore, TfL's own guidance on its obligations under the Act states that:

"Where the volume of cyclists exceeds approximately 20% of the traffic volume on any one approach they may have a disproportional effect on modelling results and their influence may need further attention. For this reason it is encouraged to ensure classified traffic surveys explicitly include cyclists."

In the morning and afternoon peaks, 37% of vehicles on the Blackfriars junction are people on cycles. So, let's see if TfL has ensured that it has taken those cyclist flows into account, as its own obligations insist it must:

First attempt to see if TfL has included cycling in its modelling for Blackfriars junction was a Freedom of Information request in March:

"TfL is not obliged to supply this information to you.......TfL recognises the need for openness and transparency but considers that the public interest favours maintaining this exception as disclosure of incomplete modeling work could give a false impression of the impacts of the scheme. TfL considers that the public interest is better served by allowing TfL to complete and audit the modelling in line with changes made to the scheme."

Only yesterday a TfL information officer told one of my colleagues that "the safety audit should be fully signed off by the end of the week. Discussions are ongoing with Signals regarding the modelling". In other words, it seems the modelling for cycling and pedestrians still hasn't been done. If that's the case, then claims by London's Conservative Assembly Members about the potential down-sides of retaining 20mph on Blackfriars are based on complete and utter fiction.

But let's just be sure about this:

Second, third and fourth attemps to see if TfL has included cycling or walking in its models for Blackfriars junction were questions posed to the Mayor by Assembly Members that relate to cycling and Blackfriars Bridge at Mayor's Question Time sessions and which were not answered at the time:

Question by Valerie Shawcross

‘The number of bicycle casualties occurring on the Thames Crossings has continued to rise under this administration. Can the Mayor please provide an update on its work with the DfT on performance led innovation at traffic signals? Does the Mayor feel that an advanced green phase for cyclists on the Thames Bridges would provide a safer environment for those crossing the river, for example by giving cyclists the time needed to cross several lanes of traffic?’

Answer by Boris Johnson

Officers are drafting a response which will be sent shortly.

Question by Valerie Shawcross

There is a 20mph limit on Tower Bridge. Will the Mayor consider imposing a limit of 20mph on other river crossings such as Blackfriars Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge?

Answer by Boris Johnson

Officers are drafting a response which will be sent shortly.

So, Transport for London won't release information about whether or not it included cyclists or pedestrians in the models for Blackfriars junction. Then TfL fails to give the Mayor answers to three fairly straightforward written questions at Mayor's Question time about whether or not they have looked at their own easily accessible data about cycle volumes over central London's bridges.

Is it me, or is something fishy going on? We have three Conservative Assembly Members all on record saying it is "important to ensure that all traffic flows at a reasonable rate. My fear is that creating a 20mph zone would run the risk of causing excessive congestion on this busy crossing" but TfL either doesn't have or won't supply any data to either prove or disprove this point. In other words, the Conservatives in the London Assembly are being asked to defend a political decision about Blackfriars that seems to have no factual or statistical backing. At least, not using statistics that can be made public.

You can't help but feel that TfL's first and second schemes for this junction simply try to shove cycling in as an after-thought. And it certainly doesn't feel to me like TfL is creating the safest, most efficient scheme that specifically takes into account the high cycle volumes here and builds a scheme around them, rather than exclusively around for motor vehicles.

As one cyclist put it to me, could this be a case where TfL does what it likes, when it likes, and then uses legislation to protect itself from scrutiny? And if that is the case, why are the London Assembly Conservatives proposing to back something at tomorrow's London Assembly motion on Blackfriars when TfL won't release information about that modelling to the public at large?

(As a follow-up, you might want to see almost exactly the same policies in action over in Richmond where local cyclists and pedestrians say: "We think it’s disgraceful that people, cyclists and pedestrians, are brought to the edge of a busy road and given no help to cross by TfL: why not?" Sound familiar?)