Thursday, 28 July 2011

The bulldozers move in on Saturday. This could be a turning point for cycling in the UK. Two protest rides tomorrow need your support.

Vole O'Speed says it better than me:

"Do not worry that you may be part of a small, fringe, ragtag bunch. These protests will be huge, and consist of all types of cyclists from all walks of life. They will show how mainstream cycling has become in London, and that the authorities cannot ignore our legitimate fight for decent treatment any more. They could turn out to be a turning-point for cycling in the UK, if we all play our cards right."


Join the London Cycling Campaign on Blackfriars bridge on the south side, outside The Doggett's pub, from 6pm. I'll be there.

The LCC's demand: "TfL needs to show they have listened and tell us what they are going to do in regards to the unanimous political support and public clamour for a review of cycling provision at Blackfriars"

Or join the Critical Mass ride that will gather as normal outside the British Film Institute from 6pm, southbank underneath Waterloo Bridge. CM tends to start gathering from 6 and moves off somewhat more slowly, so might not get going till 6.45/7ish. You could fit in both rides if you're so inclined.

Here's my own rationale:

Blackfriars - despite thousands of petitions, the vote of the entire London Assembly, even with the Mayor commenting something needs to be done, TfL is going ahead with its original plan. The building work starts on Saturday.

If Jenny Jones is right, that means no cycle lanes, extra traffic lanes, none of the even tiny and hard fought for gains people thought they had won for cycling. Even the Conservatives want things to change here.

Meanwhile, over at London Bridge, it's Blackfriars 2.0. Network Rail is simply culling the route to Bermondsey. That's it. It's gone. If you live in the south east, you'll have to get off your bike and walk through the station concourse. No more bike route. One week for the folk in Southwark to try and get a protest registered with the Council. Even the Olympics is a complete farce. Here's the Olympic cycle route covered in Cyclists Dismount signs.

I cycled to work this morning, with my 15-year old cousin. She'd never ridden in London before and she's coming for work experience. We got all the way to the southern end of Blackfriars okay. One look at Blackfriars and "I'm not cycling on that".

TfL is preventing people from having a choice in how they use London's roads. In my view, it does that by designing roads that can't be used by 15 year olds on bikes. Dead simple. TfL doesn't want 15 year olds to be able to choose cycling.
We've been terribly polite. We've talked to the politicians. We've won over every one of the political parties. It's taken months and months. And nothing is going to change. If anything, TfL is even less inclined to do things that might London a city that isn't car-sick.

I'm not prone to protest. But I've had enough of TfL and its behaviour. I've tried the political approach. And I think TfL has just stuck two fingers up at the politicians as well as me.

Blackfriars isn't just about the bridge. It's about how I feel TfL ignores cycling all across London. But the Bridge itself is a focal point. And from Monday morning, you can start to say hullo to a new motorway in the middle of town.

I'll be there tomorrow night. And my beef is with Blackfriars and London Bridges. But really it's with the Mayor. For promising one thing, then letting TfL do the exact opposite. For ignoring the calls of the entire, unanimous London Assembly. And with TfL above all else for banning my cousin from using her bike.
Altenatively, join Critical Mass at 6pm starting outside the British Film Institute underneath Waterloo Bridge.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

If you care about Blackfriars, go to Critical Mass on Friday at 6pm. TfL is going ahead with its original plan this weekend, completely ignores cyclists. And at London Bridge it's even worse. This Friday's Critical Mass should loop on Blackfriars

Blackfriars - a 24 hour view of the mix of traffic


I posted yesterday how Leon Daniel's, head of London's roads, was saying that cycles will make up only 6% of all users of the junction at the top of Blackfriars Bridge.

What I hadn't seen was this outrageous statement by TfL that had been published earlier this week.

Jenny Jones pointed out in a tweet earlier this week that what this means is TfL is going ahead with its original plans for Blackfriars Bridge. Next week. If she's right, then that means no bike lanes, no safe way to get through the junction, none of the hard-fought but pathetically tiny improvements that TfL had promised.

That's despite the entire London Assembly voting to improve conditions for cycling here. That's despite the Mayor stating that he recognises the need to make cycling safer here.

Cycle of Futility blog may be right.: Either TfL knows something we don't or Transport for London has just stuck two fingers up at the Mayor, the entire London Assembly, the hundreds of cyclists who wrote to consultation, the thousands who signed petitions.

The pie chart above shows the mix of traffic using Blackfriars Bridge across a 24 hour period in 2010 using TfL's own data. Cycles make 16% of the traffic across the whole day. That rises to nearly 36% of the traffic in the morning rush hour. Private cars are 32%, motorbikes 10%, goods vehicles 18%, buses 3%. And taxis a whopping 22%.

I use these figures to contrast some comments made by TfL in its latest press release. TfL claims that "usage by cyclists through this junction is predominantly for travelling to and from work and is therefore concentrated during traditional 'rush hour' periods, particularly in the morning heading northbound and in the afternoon heading southbound." Well, it's true that cycling is particularly high in the rush hour, yes. But cycling is actually 16% across the entire day. Therefore the speeds across this bridge do matter and they matter all day, not just at rush hour.

But let's leave that aside for a moment. 22% of vehicles crossing the Bridge are taxis. TfL's press release implies as loudly possible, without making it absolutely explicit, that because taxi passengers make up a larger percentage of what it calls the 'people' using this junction, they matter more than people on cycles.

The real scandal is that it's happening all over again over at London Bridge. According to the London Cycling Campaign, the main cycle route to the south east is for the chop. Riders will be able to “walk bikes through the 24/7 part of the concourse". Network Rail's representatives told us: “Cyclists will use alternative road routes. These have not been defined. There is no provision to cycle through the new station concourse."

Once again, there's an impossibly tight period (until 5th August) to respond to the planning application.

The thing is, this happens again and again. It seems to me that cycling is simply not even given scant regard by our transport planners. Can you imagine the uproar if a main artery for motor vehicles was simply removed in the way Network Rail intends to remove the link through London Bridge. It simply couldn't happen. Can you imagine anyone at Transport for London believing the Blackfriars scheme would be safe for their kids to use on a cycle?

I think TfL has declared war. In my view it has declared war on the London Assembly; on the Mayor and on people who cycle. The Mayor is proving quite slow at noticing the war on his doorstep, though. So perhaps it's time we took the war to him.

This Friday is Critical Mass, a cycle ride that starts at 6pm from underneath the south side of Waterloo Bridge by the river. For a whole host of reasons, Critical Mass is not normally for me. But this Friday, I'll be there. And I for one hope that Critical Mass decides Blackfriars is a suitable destination, in both directions, all evening long. Because as I've been saying for months, this isn't just about Blackfriars. It's about making our transport authority take cycling seriously.

I hope to see you there.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Time for the Mayor to grasp the nettle. Cycling is getting worse not better. TfL is running out of excuses and it's time to call a spade a spade.

Blackfriars - the other junction just the other side to the bridge:
Look how the pedestrians have to  walk in the carriageway and
then cross the motorway slip road.  This is what TfL wants more of.
When the new Blackfriars station is at full capacity, over 24,000 pedestrians will enter and exit during the morning peak," says TfL in a new letter sent on behalf on Leon Daniels, head of London's roads last week. "This will be a ten-fold increase in the number of pedestrians using the surface entrance, compared to the situation in 2008".

The letter asserts that pedestrians will make up 58% of the total number of people going through this junction at peak hours, up from only 14% in 2008.

As a result, says Leon Daniels, "The new design accommodates this huge increase in demand from pedestrians whilst improving facilities for the estimated 6% of people travelling through the junction by bicycle. This has been achieved without creating conditions which would severely disbenefit other modes, including bus and taxi passengers, who will account for around a fifth of those using the junction."

Funny that, really. Because TfL didn't properly measure the numbers of people walking or cycling here when it modelled the junction in the first place. It used data that was wildly out of date, didn't properly take into account the number of people cycling, and then tried to pretend everything was rosy.

But can you seriously imagine any other European country where this would be an issue? Where it would be possible to design out cycling simply because, 4,000 people cycling through the junction in the morning rush hour just isn't a very big percentage (even if people on cycles represent over one-third of the total vehicles on the road here)? By TfL's logic, perhaps we should we be considering giving 58% of the junction over to pedestrians and vehicles only get 42% of the space here?

If TfL really is so worried about creating space for pedestrians, how does it explain the presence of this motorway slip road, just the other side of that very same junction (pictured above). Thousands of pedestrians will be walking here from Blackfriars towards Mansion House. To get there, they will have to either burrow down into the underpass. Or like most people, they will walk in the carriageway, on the outside the railings you can see on the right and then across this motorway slip road, dodging fast-moving traffic.

And furthermore, if TfL really thinks pedestrians deserve more space at Blackfriars, then what is it doing giving motor vehicles an additional lane in each direction in the new scheme and why isn't it giving that space to people on foot or cycle?

David Arditti wrote a piece on his new but excellent blog yesterday. He wrote about how cycling campaigns are reduced to fighting over scraps. "I think the main lesson cycle campaigners in the UK need to learn is to stop being too diplomatic, and to ask for what we really need to make cycling a mass phenomenon, not for what they think is politically achievable in the short-term"

I think he's dead right.

Two months ago, I wrote a blog entry describing TfL as 'the enemy'. I wrote that at the time in response to another letter crafted on behalf of Leon Daniels that described how there was no tangible safety benefit to creating space that is safe to cycle in. Again and again, TfL changes the goal posts. Until recently it was saying that there were too many motor vehicles going through the junction to allow safe space for cycling. TfL's initital comments about the junction design were that it couldn't create safer space for cycling or walking because "Reducing the number of lanes on the bridge would greatly restrict traffic movement and lead to significant queuing, potentially over a wide area" (an excuse that is used again and again whenever TfL designs new road layouts). Now it's saying that it can't create space for cycling because there are too many pedestrians. But that avoids the fact that it's not creating any more space for people on foot either.

TfL means things are getting worse not better
(Thanks to Crap Waltham Forest)
I'm fed up with Transport for London. And I don't think I'm the only one. The London Assembly took an amazing stand last week at saying enough is enough on Blackfriars. But ultimately, the Mayor has to realise that his policies mean TfL is getting away (literally) with murder. If you cycle or walk in London, TfL will find every excuse, it seems to me, to make you less important than someone else in a motor vehicle. And it hides that fact by tweaking a little bit here, adding a little bit there, so that it makes it look like it's doing something to encourage people to cycle and walk.

But the truth is, wherever you look in London, whether it's Russell Square or Redbridge, Crap Waltham Forest is completely right too. Things are getting worse not better. And things are never going to change unless TfL stops feeding scraps to cycling and dressing them up as something much much better than they are. And they're also never going to get better unless the Mayor wakes up and does something about it. The London Assembly seems to realise this. Time for the Mayor to grasp the nettle.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Amazing result: Conservatives join the Green party and force TfL re-think about Blackfriars Bridge

The other Blackfriars Bridge. Just for a change. Because it seems
the London Assembly is making changes happen.
Earlier today, in a motion tabled by Green party Jenny Jones and then re-written by Andrew Boff from the Conservatives, the London Assembly voted for a motion calling for a full review of Blackfriars. According to Jones, the vote was unanimous. Andrew Boff brought the entire Conservative party with him. As Jones commented on her twitter feed: "He brought the Tories with him, which was fairly amazing & means much harder for Mayor to ignore".

As I understand, Boff was instrumental in beefing up an earlier motion by Jenny Jones that was then supported by Labour and LibDem. The original motion pushed solely for a 20mph limit. Reports on the SE1 website here suggest he amended the text about 20mph, pushing instead for a "review" of the speed limit and also this: "We also urge the Mayor to revisit the plans for the bridge with particular attention to cyclists making right turns when exiting the bridge at either end."

A few people have complained this is a watering-down of the original motion, which you can see here. Frankly, my own view is that a motion with cross party support, voted for by the entire London Assembly, that demands a speed limit review AND a review of the junction design, is a considerably more powerful statement than a motion for 20mph supported only by three of the four main parties. As Jenny Jones says, it's fairly amazing and much much harder for the Mayor to ignore.

I have to say, some Assembly Members have really stood out on this. Jenny Jones, Green, Val Shawcross and John Biggs, Labour, Caroline Pidgeon, LibDems and now Andrew Boff and James Cleverly, Conservative.

Thank you all. I couldn't have said it better myself.
The London Assembly press release issued later this afternoon is here

The full text of the motion below:

“This Assembly notes the decision to revert to a 30 mph speed limit on Blackfriars Bridge. We also note the recent decision of the Corporation of London to consider plans for the whole of the City of London to become a 20mph zone, and understand that if they take this decision they would be likely to ask Transport for London to agree to make TfL roads 20mph. This Assembly asks that the Mayor instructs TfL to implement a full review investigating the practicalities, advantages and disadvantages of a 20mph limit on Blackfriars Bridge . The review should include previous TfL reports, such as that on 20mph speed limit on London's Thames bridges and also the effect of such a change on all road users (including pedestrians) north, south or on the bridge itself. Meanwhile, TfL should keep under review the decision to revert to a 30 mph speed limit on Blackfriars Bridge. We also urge the Mayor to revisit the plans for the bridge with particular attention to cyclists making right turns when exiting the bridge at either end.”

(with thanks to Jack Thurston and for more background see this page here from the London Cycling Campaign)

Monday, 18 July 2011

Blackfriars road safety auditors recommend: "Ensure [cycle] lane widths are appropriate". TfL does not accept the recommendation but Boris implies change may happen.

Following several Freedom of Information requests, Transport for London has finally released its road safety audit relating to the junction design at the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge. You can download the initial road safety audit here and TfL's responses to the audit here.
If one thing stands out in this report, it is this comment by the road safety audit team and the subsequent TfL response:

Ensure [cycle] lane widths are appropriate to safely accommodate the expected usage.

CLIENT ORGANISATION RESPONSE (ie, Transport for London's response to the audit team:
Recommendation not accepted:

There are too many cables under the pavement, apparently, and therefore TfL can't accept a recommendation by its road safety team to make the cycle lanes an acceptable width. 

What this shows is that TfL knows that it should have more space allocated to cycling here. But tellingly, TfL thinks that space for cycling can only be created by narrowing footpaths (which in this case is not an option). There's no effort whatsoever to reduce the amount of space given to motor traffic, just an obsession with making people on foot or cycles fight among themselves for what little space is left after TfL has added more space for motor vehicles.

But here are some other issues:

In my opinion, the audit report:

- completely fails to consider the safety of cyclists making the right turn into Queen Victoria Street. In fact, it acknowledges that this design may "lead to users inadvertently entering the opposing lane, potentially resulting in ‘head on’ type collisions

- as the London Cycling Campaign highlights here on its site: "Alignment through the [Blackfriars] junction may result in increased cycle collisions. The proposed build-out between the off and on slips for Victoria Embankment effectively pushes northbound cyclists 0.5m closer to the nearside running lane and may result in increased conflicts ..."

- completely fails to consider the impact of increased numbers of people cycling (the data used seems to be that from 2007) and though it talks about the risk of drivers cutting in to the narrow cycle lanes, it doesn't consider that the lanes are so narrow at some points that cycles have no choice but to spill out from the cycle lane, particularly of the segregated bit just north of Watergate. The number of cyclists is a big issue because the volume of cyclists doubled between 2007 and 2010 and will no doubt be higher still in 2011. Incidentally, that coincides roughly with the period that a 20mph limit has been in force.
- completely ignores previous cycling studies undertaken here, ignores the cyclists on bridges safety study done for TfL or the report done by TRL for TfL on TfL's procedures following the last fatality
- removal of New Bridge St pedestrian crossing: TfL rejects the safety recommendation saying its not an issue due to its clever software modelling then later on says that the software has only 'been used to forecast the most frequently used desire lines for the station', i.e. seems to have missed out this crossing.
The London Assembly will meet again on July 20 to vote for the motion to retain 20mph at Blackfriars. You can sign a petition in support of 20mph on the London Cycling Campaign website.

Last time they met to vote on this motion, the Conservatives walked out of the chamber, nullifying the process. Then, last week, Boris Johnson made a very clear statement rejecting 20mph but stating 'more works needs to be done on cycling over Blackfriars Bridge'.

Let's see what happens this week.

Friday, 15 July 2011

City of London politicians ask 58% of people on foot to wait for 2% of people in cars. How car-sick have we become?

Next week, the City of London Streets & Walkways Committee will vote on whether or not to replace the zebra crossing in front of St Paul's with a traffic light.

You can just spot the belisha beacons of the zebra crossing just in front of St Paul's in the picture on the left.

Why are the politicians of the City of London wasting their time looking at this pedestrian crossing? Guess why? It's because a few people in cars want to make this a junction where cars have priority. This is what the report states: "criticism has focussed upon the perceived impact of the crossing in terms of the delay it is thought to cause to motorised traffic due to the pedestrian priority"

In other words, some people who use motor vehicles want to install a signal here because they think they shouldn't face delays and that those delays should be suffered by other people who are not in motor vehicles.

Fortunately, the officers of the City of London have done their homework. They recommend not installing traffic lights here and leaving the pedestrian crossing.

They recommend leaving the zebra crossing because a whopping 58% of people at this junction are on foot. A further 30% are in buses. Only 2% are in private cars, 6% in taxis.

In other words, the politicians have asked their officers consider whether or not to prioritise 8% of people in motor cars (cars and taxis) versus 58% of people on foot.

Installing a traffic signal here would result in the following:
It would be an utter scandal if the City's politicians voted in favour of a signal crossing here just to enable the tiny minority of people in motor vehicles to face slightly less delay.

Frankly, my own view is that it's farcical that the politicians are able to waste their officers time even researching this issue. The junction was last review in 2007. It's obvious to anyone who isn't in a motor car (98% of people) what the reality of this junction is and it can only be someone with no understanding whatsoever of the Square Mile who can think otherwise.

However, at least the City of London has the good sense to hire officers who look at congestion and consider its implications for people as a whole. According to this report, a person has equal right to avoid delays whether on foot, on a cycle, in a bus or in a taxi.

This is the exact opposite of what the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is allowing Transport for London to get away with on London's main road network. On the main roads, Transport for London is doing all it can to marginalise walking and cycling and to give priority to the private motor vehicle.

Let's hope the politicians in the City of London see the sense of sticking with their officers' recommendations and see that a person should not be prioritised just because they happen to be in a private car. The zebra crossing reprsents the best interests of the vast majority of people at this junction and it would be a scandal if the City votes to remove it.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

"Improving safety for cycling" results in treacherous road. Why is the City designing roads like this?

Cheapside new design. Look how the van passes the chap on a cycle
Late last year, the City of London agreed a project to "[improve the] safety and convenience of the travelling public, especially those in buses and those on pedal cycles". 

Pictured left, the results of that project. If you look carefully, you can see that the pavements have been widened, resulting in a much narrower road. The intention was to Reduce motor vehicles dominance and traffic speeds and to make it safer and easier to cycle and walk here. 

So, let's take a look at what happens when the City of London designs a street that 'reduces motor vehicle dominance':

Look at the picture above. You can see a van literally brushing past the chap on his cycle, giving him a few centimetres of space. 

Why might he do that? Because instead of creating a space for cycling, the City has narrowed the road, encouraging motor traffic to scrape past people on cycles. Which is exactly the same as happening in St. Paul's Churchyard, just south of here, effectively turning the two main east-west routes through the centre of the City in to streets where there is simply no space for cycling. 

It's all rather depressing. And happening all over London. And even more depressing that this is happening in the name of improving conditions for cycling.

Boris Johnson: No to 20mph but seems to suggest Blackfriars Bridge needs reviewing from scratch. Things may not be quite as they seem?

Yesterday, Boris Johnson clearly opposed a 20mph speed limit across Blackfriars Bridge and other London bridges. To do so, he said, would not allow the 'traffic' to flow smoothly. In this context, I think what he means by 'traffic' is motor traffic.
"Smoothing the traffic (read motor traffic) flow" is one of the Mayor's two transport policies. I've used this quote once or twice before but as Caroline Pidgeon put it, "smoothing the traffic flow [is] for motorists and worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists".

Traffic but not as we know it. Elephant & Castle as my
grandparents knew it when they lived here.

Earlier this week, Val Shawcross also accused the Mayor of putting his smoothing the traffic flow agenda ahead of plans to replace the miserable northern roundabout at the top of Elephant & Castle. A move that will deny tube passengers better access to the Northern Line, deny developers the chance to re-invigorate an area that was once a thriving business environment, deny people on foot and on cycle better access to south London. Shawcross is quoted as saying: "It looks like TfL thinking is going down the route of continuing to have a roundabout with a traffic island in the middle."

During his defence of his anti-20mph policy, which you can watch in the video above, he often refers to advice given to him by his expert transport advisors. Let's just remember who these people are: In June, the man who is head of London's roads told us that there is no safety benefit to giving people two metres of space to cycle in, to protect them from larger motor vehicles. In saying so, he contravenes the Department for Transport and he also contravenes the guidelines prepared by his employer, Transport for London.

So far, so Boris Johnson. Anti-walking, anti-cycling, anti-tube users, even anti-developers. All in the name of 'smoothing the traffic flow'.

Or is it?

Almost all the commentary on Boris Johnson's statements yesterday has pointed out how dismal the future looks if you want to get about London in any other form than the private motor car.

But listen very carefully to the start of Boris Johnson's comments in the video. Among the first points he makes: "what I do think is that more work needs to be done on cycling over Blackfriars Bridge and the accessibility of cycling over Blackfriars Bridge”. So, he doesn't support 20mph. But is he implying that he knows Transport for London' design will condemn people on foot or on cycle to dodging multiple lanes of fast-moving motor vehicles in the heart of the City? We know that the City of London hates the plans Transport for London has designed but won't say so publicly.

When this rubbish scheme was first made public back in February I posted this article criticising the design of the scheme. Nearly 600 people took pen to paper and wrote to the Mayor to criticise the scheme. I've seen a large number of those letters. Most of them criticise the layout of the junction as well as the speed limit issue.

That volly of complaint resulted in some changes back in May. But note, I really only mean a handful of changes. You can review those amendments here.

Boris is not backing 20mph. But I can't help wondering if he's playing a political game here. In the first few seconds of this video, Boris sounds like he is seriously suggesting that he knows the layout of the junction is still dreadful and hinting that he's going to do something about it. And then we spend several minutes on the 20mph and the smoothing the traffic flow issues.

However, if the Mayor is seriously suggesting that Blackfriars and its junctions need a serious re-design and that the designs we have in front of us are not up to scratch, then I for one, would support that view wholeheartedly.

But he needs to come out and say it more loudly and he needs to show he understands the context. Yesterday's grilling looked to me like a man who's been very badly briefed by Transport for London. Feels to me like Transport for London is running the Mayor on this topic. And very poorly at that.

If he doesn't come out and make a case for re-designing the urban motorway that TfL is planning here, then I agree with Crap Waltham Forest: It's war.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Meeting London's Conservatives: “I absolutely agree that where there is a safety case made, 20mph zones are a very good idea.”

Kingly St, Westminster. Recently made free from  motor
vehicles. Cycles also banned though. Another example
of how Wesminster actively designs against cycling

'I absolutely agree that where there is a safety case made, 20mph zones are a very good idea.' Guess who made this statement last week? A man whose comments I have pillioried a lot on this blog recently, that's who: Richard Tracey Assembly Member, Conservative.

What's good about this comment - made last week at a Sustrans Question Time event - is to see a Conservative Assembly Member stating publicly his support for 20mph. Much less good is that enormous caveat: "where there is a safety case made". I feel that caveat makes the statement completely meaningless. It's a kind of nod in the right direction to both sides of the debate, pleasing everyone but pleasing no-one all at the same time.

As it happens, a case for 20mph was made very clearly by Transport for London itself on Blackfriars Bridge. And yet, when it designed the new junction at Blackfriars, another arm of TfL chose to ignore that safety case. The London Cycling Campaign this week published a damning critique of how Transport for London's procedures completely failed cyclists at Blackfriars Bridge. Situations like Blackfriars show why it's not good enough for Richard Tracey to sit on the fence about 20mph because Blackfriars is a perfect example where there was a clear safety case made for either 20mph or for a radically slower, safer junction design. But it was completely ignored by TfL. I think our politicians need to start giving TfL a much clearer line on these issues. Statements like Richard Tracey's that contain caveats about road safety only being applicable 'in clear cases' blur that line. And they give Transport for London a free hand to ignore its duty to people's safety and to its obligations to help them get around London whether they are on foot, on a cycle or in a motor vehicle.

Compare Richard Tracey's caution with the absolutely emphatic support of Jenny Jones, Green party:

"I get letters every day from people saying they’re too scared to cycle. We have to remove that fear and that danger, and make the roads safer. 20mph would be one measure."

I couldn't agree more with the general direction of Jenny Jones's statement. Even those of us who cycle daily have moments when we're scared on the roads. By contrast, I've rarely felt scared cycling in a whole host of other cities.

I think the reason for that is that other cities have designed cycling in to their roads. In London, we have a transport authority that seems to simply pay lip service to cycling and then abandons us to just get on with it on London's streets.

So I was extremely curious to meet two Conservative Assembly Members this week, James Cleverly leader of the Conservative Group and Andrew Boff who has been fairly active commenting on this blog in defence of the Conservatives' decision not to back a wider call by the London Assembly to support a road user hierarchy. Both of them, incidentally, cycle to work.

I didn't minute the meeting but I took some clear messages out of it. Yes, the Conservatives are opposed to a road user hierarchy. And I get the feeling they're not hugely keen on 20mph either. But their main thrust was that the Conservatives aren't anti-cycling. In fact, I suspect that they could - just possibly - become very pro-cycling. But I got a real feeling that they don't feel enough Londoners are saying clearly enough that they want to cycle. Yet.

Although people like me and many who read or contribute to this blog agree with Jenny Jones's statement, I felt the Conservatives were saying to me that they feel that not enough people agree with her yet. At least, not enough to start making systemic changes to London's streets.

I think we can take that one of two ways: We could chose to get very glum. Or we could decide we need to make more noise.

I've put a picture of Kingly Street at the top of this article. Kingly Street is a small street parallel to Regent Street. And Westminster council - a Conservative council - has banned cycling along the street for absolutely no obvious reason. Kingly Street ought to provide a neat way for people on cycles to avoid the buses and taxis on Regent Street. But when Westminster pedestrianised this street, they also banned cycling. Even the City of London, which is only just getting its head around cycling, has created a number of new pedestrian areas in the Square Mile in the last couple of years. But unlike equivalent streets in Westminster, these areas are for pedestrians AND for people on cycles.

Kingly Street is just one tiny example of how a Conservative council is actively 'designing out' cycling. One of hundreds of similar examples across London that is designed to be as anti-cycling as possible.

As I stated earlier this week, I think something's changing. The Sunday Times is starting to get it. The Evening Standard is starting to get it too. I'm taking the Conservatives' conservative attitude as a challenge. Over time, I think we need a majority of people to start saying it is unacceptable to 'design out' cycling, not just say it is unacceptable for those of us who already cycle. To achieve that, we either need a revolution or we need to keep filling politicians postbags again and again.

I think we've got to change the discourse and make ALL politicians realise that a large number of us want things to change. All too often, I've noticed that people are happy to write or petition 'friendly' politicians about cycling. By contrast, only a handful of people have ever shown me correspondence with London's Conservatives. Perhaps we need to start engaging seriously with all of London's politicians on an equal footing, not just those who we think already 'get it'.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Cycle infrastructure by accident rather than design boosts Tesco sales. Cyclists are worth just as much, or more than, other road users.

Tesco Clapham Road after work. 10 people in the
shop. Six came by bike
Last month, I profiled the huge difference between how politicians and Transport for London perceive people who cycle and the reality of who those people are in London. We seem to float between being perceived as politically left-leaning and being somehow 'less valuable' than, say, taxi passengers.

Try telling that to the tens of thousands of people who cycle to the City of London or to Canary Wharf to work. Even the Conservative's Assembly Member, Andrew Boff commented to me last month that Transport for London needs to start realising that a Londoner isn't more or less valuable just because they sit in a motor vehicle

So it's interesting to see how Britain's biggest retailer handles cycling. Pictured above, a new Tesco Extra on Clapham Road. This particular store is located on one of the new Cycle Superhighways and is brand new, in an equally brand new development. Despite the fact that thousands of people cycle past each day, there are no dedicated cycle parking facilities here. 

What there is, though, is an indoor ramp leading into the store. One night last week I popped in and there were six bikes parked on the ramp. I spotted a total of 10 people shopping in the store at the time (around 8pm). So 6/10 shoppers had reached the store by cycle. Each of them has parked their bike inside, chained to the ramp.

Sustrans Report. How do people get to the shops?
What retailers assume vs reality %

A couple of years ago, Sustrans, the cycling charity, undertook research into shopping trends in Bristol.
The report showed that retailers in an area of Bristol vastly over-estimated the number of shoppers travelling by car. By a factor of 2:1 in fact. Retailers assumed that 41% of shoppers came by car. In reality, only 22% came by car. It's not a huge surprise therefore that retailers named their absolute top priority for attracting more customers as 'more car parking'.

As the Sustrans report claims "This disparity between the traders’ preferences and those of their customers replicates findings in other cities. It may lead traders to push for transport planning decisions which are not in their best interest."

What's true of Bristol certainly seems to be true of Tesco on Clapham Road. I suspect that there are two factors causing the large percentage of shoppers arriving by cycle a) location next to the Cycle Superhighway and b) Tesco has provided its customers with hugely convenient cycle parking: It's indoors, it's fairly secure, it's right next to the shop.  But this cycle parking is entirely by accident rather than design. By pure fluke, Tesco seems to have stumbled on yet another example of build it and they will come.

Monday, 4 July 2011

"I just don’t understand why, when cycling, I must be treated like a cockroach"

Outside a bank HQ in the City. Is this man really an
'anti-capitalist' just because he uses a bicycle?
Writing this blog has its ups and downs. The ups, for me, are when I feel that things are changing. Like last week when the Evening Standard had a major two page feature on cycling. "There are more of us, even in poor weather; more riders in ordinary work clothes and fewer in lycra" says the Standard. 

This from London's main freesheet newspaper, which not so long ago took a vehement anti-cycling stance. The Sunday Times has also traditionally kept its cycle-themed articles to such topics as "Beware, iPod zombie cyclists are on the rise" or classics such as "Urban cyclists raise their risk of heart disease". Until last month when the Sunday Times featured a Jeremy Clarkson rant about people who cycle being 'anti-capitalist' but countered this with a major feature about how London needs to consider providing greater protection for those people who cycle.

The Evening Standard points out that there is a 'big trend' taking place as more and more people 'in ordinary work clothes' get on cycles and start using them to get places.

Unfortunately, many of our politicians haven't seen the trend yet. In a letter I published on this site last week, Richard Tracey, transport spokesman for the Conservatives pointed out that: "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." For an excellent analysis of just how many own-goals this statement scores, take a look at AsEasyAsRidingABike blog. As the author of the blog states: "it is your party that wants to maintain that car dependence, Mr Tracey. Cycling is ‘not feasible’ because of your policies."

Slowly, more and more people are realising that the reason people don't cycle is the result of road policies that design out cycling in favour of private motor vehicles. Most people don't take up cycling to be healthier or greener, as Mr Tracey implies. An increasing number of people simply want to feel they have a choice to cycle. To do that they need roads that are fit for purpose for cycling. London's roads simply aren't fit for purpose.

What's encouraging me is that this view is becoming more and more mainstream. Last week, I was contacted by the managing director of a City banking institution. The sort of person that Jeremy Clarkson might deride as an 'anti-capitalist cyclist' perhaps. And this is what he had to say:
"Hi Danny,

I just chanced upon your blog, and it touched a nerve.  I’ve worked in the City for >20 years and I still live in London.  Some years ago, some keen younger guys in my office inspired me to cycle to work every day, and that’s what I’ve done happily for seven years.  I also got turned on to cycle sport, joined a club along with my young sons and I’m trying to bring my boys up to be confident and wise London cyclists. 

So I’m in my fifties, married with children, committed to living in London, would I imagine be regarded as affluent.  I’m not an anarchist, I don’t wave placards or go on marches, and I am also a motorist.  I just don’t understand why, when cycling, I must be treated by taxi and lorry drivers like a cockroach who they would squish if they could get away with it.  I know or have come across so very many people who say they would cycle in London too, if they thought it was safer to do so.

So, I’m on your side.  Let me know what I can do to help."

And then also last week, the chairman of let's call it a very large City company also contacted me and asked what he could to do help. His son cycles to work in the Square Mile and he's worried about his safety on the roads.

Slowly, slowly, cycling is becoming mainstream. The tide is going to take a very long time to turn but I do feel it's starting to move in the right direction. Now all we need do is start dragging our politicians and planners with us.  

Friday, 1 July 2011

I can't get used to the idea that I am worth less than a car. Why we need to make cycling a vote-winner

Zurich - city where people have equal value, whether on a cycle, on foot,
on a tram or in a car
"With politicians and most citizens still largely behind them, Zurich’s planners continue their traffic-taming quest, shortening the green-light periods and lengthening the red with the goal that pedestrians wait no more than 20 seconds to cross. “We would never synchronize green lights for cars with our philosophy,” said Pio Marzolini, a city official. “When I’m in other cities, I feel like I’m always waiting to cross a street. I can’t get used to the idea that I am worth less than a car.

How refreshingly different to London this New York Times review sounds. How often do you have to wait more than 20 seconds to cross the road in London? When I use one particular joint pedestrian/cycle crossing in Lambeth, the lights take up to three whole minutes to change, depending on the time of day. The reason for this is that London's transport authority insists on pushing as much motor traffic through the streets as quickly as possible. For a brutal analysis of what this means in reality, see this blog here which analyses Transport for London's own data about our new pedestrian crossing countdown indicators that shows: "Pedestrians are more rushed and more at risk...[and that] TfL are pushing a project to decrease vehicle delays at the expense of pedestrian safety."

I lived in Zurich for 18 months. When you sit on a tram in Zurich, the traffic lights flick in favour of you and people in motor vehicles have to wait. Everywhere you go, the city makes it absolutely clear that people on foot, on cycles and on public transport have priority over private motor vehicles. So I'm not at all surprised to see a Zurich town councillor saying that he can't get used to the idea he's worth less than a car when he's in cities like London.

Compare that to a councillor from Westminster I met late last year: "If you don't think [the cycling facilities are good], you should drive." Now, this comment was made in a social environment and off-the-record so I don't feel too comfortable identifying who said it. But let's just say that this is a Conservative councillor who is very involved in what Westminster calls 'parking and transportation'

Zurich has plans for a cycling revolution. As many streets as possible, including all pedestrian zones, should be made two-way for cycling; on main roads, bicycles should be kept well apart from motorised traffic and should only mix with the traffic on roads with a 20mph speed limit. The entire old town will be made 20mph. The cycling plan actually includes a strategy for taxis as well, to ensure taxi drivers don't get cheesed off.

Our own Mayor has a plan for a cycling revolution too. He talks, quite rightly, of having "cycling embedded into the way our city is planned and run". And I want to believe that is going to happen.

But again and again, Transport for London and Boris's own party in London keep showing that they don't understand how to embed cycling into the way our city is planned and run. The talk at Party-level or at Transport for London is about 'equality' for all road users. Andrew Boff, a Conservative Assembly Member, posted a comment on this blog last week where he stated:

"It is true that we [the Conservatives] are, by instinct, anti-hierarchical and I agree with you that we should be making decisions to accommodate people’s choices not what we think their choices should be."

The councillors of Zurich take the exact opposite view. They positively favour cycling, walking and public transport. And in doing so, they have convinced generations of their citizens to switch from private motor vehicle (motor vehicle use has decreased unlike in London) and created a safer and much more people-friendly city. And you can't acuse the Swiss of being anti-conservative. Having lived there, I can vouch for the fact that an extremely conservative vein runs through the place.

I think my objection to Andrew Boff's comment is very similar to that taken up by others. By supposedly not supporting a hierarchy on the roads, the Conservatives are supporting a natural hierarchy instead. Namely, the bigger and stronger your position on the road, the more you have priority. That's the reality on London's streets and that is the reality that TfL and the London Conservative party seem to advocate.

In a way, though, I think none of this matters. My instinct is that the Conservatives don't back a policy of prioritising cycling, walking and public transport because they worry it's not a vote winner. In fact, I'd hazard a guess they think it's actually a vote loser.  

I'd like to back Boris Johnson and his push to embed cycling into the way London is planned and run. But I'm not sure I trust his lieutenants to support him.  

Perhaps it's time we found a way to prove to conservative politicians (and they are not all Conservatives by any means) that cycling is a vote-winner