Thursday, 2 June 2011

How nothing has changed since Ken Livingstone in 1981 and why Boris's policies will never make London a cycling city. Part 1

What has Ken Livingstone in GLC days
got to do with today's cycling investment?
Answer: An awful lot. See below.
(source BBC)

The BBC splashed recently that a whopping £4million would be going to outer London boroughs alone to focus on cycling. The BBC quoted how this would help those 13 outer London boroughs make the physical improvements to make cycling safer and more convenient. It neglected to say that the £4million pot was to be spread between those 13 boroughs over three years. I make that a tantalising £103,000 per borough per year. Which will buy you about 10 sets of road signs. 

Let's look at some more whopping numbers from the Mayor Boris Johnson's Cycling Revolution. The Mayor is proud of some initiatives - there's money going into the Cycle Hire scheme, into the Superhighways scheme, into training and promotion. So no-one could say nothing's happening for cycling. And plenty of people gawp at the statement that, taken all together, a record £116m is being invested in cycling in 2010/11. It sounds like a large amount of money, doesn't it?

But let's put that in context. First off, let's consider that much of that £116million never quite happened the way you think it might. Jenny Jones of the Green Party has some excellent analysis where she shows that the Mayor may have underspent the planned cycling budget in previous years and simply spent the big money in one go.  If you average out the figures spent in the last three years on cycling by this Mayor, according to Jenny Jones, you get a total £217.8million. In other words £72 million a year. Let's run with that number for a while.

Now, I know these figures are a bit rough and ready, but the Transport for London budget in 2009/10 was £9.2billion and was designed to fund the delivery of a series of major transport improvements as part of its multi-billion pound Investment Programme. That includes the Tube, buses, roads, walking and, of course cycling.

So, using some slightly back-of-a-cigarette-packet statistics, let's use those figures as a rough guide. If Jenny Jones is right, then cycling - which represents only about 1.7% of all journeys in London, admittedly - gets about 0.78% of the total transport budget allocated by Transport for London. Or to put it another way, TfL spends £9.35 on cycling for each London resident (excluding the hundreds of thousands of people who travel into London every day and also need to get about the place).

Swing over to the Netherlands and the small town of Assen. We know lots about Assen because David Hembrow writes an excellent blog here in which he usefully compares how the Dutch think about their towns and cities versus how our politicians and planners think about our towns and cities.

And in Assen, a town of only 62,000 people, the cycling budget is €5.7 million over two years. In other words, approximately €83 per person per year, or roughly £73.

A small Dutch town spends nearly eight times more per person on cycling each year than London in the height of its so-called Cycling Revolution. 41% of all journeys in Assen are by bicycle.
 London's Mayor has set a target that 5% of all journeys in London shall be made by bicycle by 2026. But while Assen spends £73 per person per year to achieve a 41% share, London is talking about only £9.35 per year. Assen has been spending at similar rates for years and years. And, if you believe the TfL press releases, London is only now gearing up for the bicycle and only now is it spending serious cash on sorting out cycling in London.

Except that's simply not true.

Let's just recall my cigarette-packet calculations: In 2011, roughly 0.78% of Transport for London's budget goes towards cycling. Let's compare that with 1981, newly elected leader of the Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone, stood on the steps of County Hall in front of 1,200 cyclists. According to the report in New Scientist magazine, he committed £2million, or 1% of London's transport budget to cyclingDonning the red cycling T-shirt of the London Cycling Campaign, he then allowed his transport spokesman to imply that 1% was the minimum they should expect.

The cycling campaigners of 1981 were demanding that cycling get a fair share of the road transport budget. Even the Conservative party backed the demands, if you believe the report.

Forward-wind to 2011 and you once again have cross-party support to give cycling a fair share of the roads. This, in an era, where cyclists are now the biggest single users of many of central London's bridges in the rush-hours.

And in 2011 we have a cycling mayor who is vocal about cycling and his support for increasing cycling levels by 400% over the next 15 years.

And yet, if you look at the numbers, nothing much has changed since 1981. In 1981, cyclists rightly demanded a fair share of the road budget and Ken Livingstone committed to a 1% share. In 2011, you can assume that cycling is getting less than 0.8% share of the London transport budget. My numbers aren't going to be exact but when have you ever read a press statement that gives you completely truthful numbers to work from?

Cycling's share of the road hasn't increased in 30 years. And in that time, although it might not feel this way when you're at the traffic lights on Clapham Road, even Transport for London admits (and you can read a lot more detail on this on Crap Waltham Forest's blog here) 'there were no more cyclists riding bicycles in Greater London in 2008 than there were seven years earlier'. As Crap Walthamstow states very eloquently, London's cycling revolution never happened.

I'd go one further than that: London's cycling revolution is never going to happen. Because, proportionately, cycle funding seems to have gone backwards since 1981. And behind the smoke and mirrors, it doesn't look like cycling is going to get a bigger proportion of funding in the near future either. At least not under this Mayor's plans.

I'd focus your attention on the New Scientist issue from June 1981: "I'm quite happy to give you one percent. You're being a bit modest at one per cent. Cycling has got to make up for lost time for the years when millions of pounds were spent on pointless road schemes".

So it's a shame that our current Mayor seems - if you believe my numbers - to be spending even less than one per cent.


  1. "'there were no more cyclists riding bicycles in Greater London in 2008 than there were seven years earlier'"

    It's worth being clear on exactly what this means, because - as usual - Freewheeler puts the most negative spin possible on the numbers. TfL are counting 'cyclists' as someone who ever cycles, no matter how infrequently. What they are saying is that the proportion of people who ever cycle has not changed very much, but that when you look at that group of 'cyclists', they are on average cycling more frequently than before. Or as TfL's report puts it, there has been "an increase of only 3 per cent in the number of people who ever cycle between 2005/6 and 2008/9 but an increase of nearly 50 per cent in the proportion of cyclists who cycled frequently".

    Call me crazy, but that actually sounds like relatively good news to me. I really don't know why cycling campaigners should be focused exclusively on the proportion of people who *ever* cycle, as Freewheeler seems to be. Shouldn't we be at least somewhat interested in whether infrequent cyclists are turning into frequent cyclists? And isn't that exactly what this TfL report shows has been happening?

  2. I’m not quite sure why Jim is so put out. As he concedes

    “What they are saying is that the proportion of people who ever cycle has not changed very much, but that when you look at that group of 'cyclists', they are on average cycling more frequently than before.”

    I think that’s a sensational admission by TfL because all the positive cycling spin of recent years, eagerly participated in by the CTC and the LCC, is that there has been a ‘cycling revolution’ with a 100 per cent or more increase in cycling in London. It was naughty of TfL to conceal the fact that this referred to trips on 29 selected main roads rather than numbers of new cyclists.

    Jim says: “I really don't know why cycling campaigners should be focused exclusively on the proportion of people who *ever* cycle”

    I don’t think they are. But that aspect is important in that people who never cycle but who drive cars do not necessarily know how to behave around cyclists (see copious YouTube helmet cam footage). Two thirds of British drivers never cycle.

    The report acknowledges that “cyclists are atypical of the population as a whole” and that
    “Frequent cyclists are typically white, male, between 25 to 44 years old, and on a higher than average income.”

    You can regard more frequent cycling by an atypical group as a cause for celebration if you want to but my point was that this does not amount to a revolution, nor does it create the foundations for a surge in cycling among the population of Greater London.

    The TfL report simply underlines the way in which cycling’s appeal in London remains a very restricted one.

    To return to the theme of the above post: “London's cycling revolution is never going to happen.” It’s not simply the risible budget allocation. It’s the infrastructure. Cycling in London at present is only going to grow among people prepared to cycle in traffic, whether frequently or infrequently, and all the evidence suggests that those numbers are always going to be relatively small. Not much cause for celebration there.