Wednesday, 31 August 2011

"A route system that just works" is reserved for motor vehicles in the UK. The same people simply aren't taken seriously if they want to cycle

So speaks a former Surrey resident, recently moved to Holland, about his experiences of using a bicycle in the Utrecht.

Former unfriendly cycle route

The funny thing is, the UK's road engineers and town planners know exactly how to create conditions like those described in Utrecht. 

Flicking back to Surrey, here's an example in the town of Woking. Pictured left is a rutted canal-side route as it used to look.  

Thanks to funding from the now defunct Cycling England, the route now looks like this.

Money was spent to give the route a better surface and provide clear signage. Importantly, says the council, the route connected to the places where people lived to the town centre and business centres.

And hey presto, Woking saw a 200% increase in cycle volumes along this signficantly cycle-friendlier route.

It's not a huge surprise. Give people good quality routes that go places they want to go. Keep them apart from motor traffic. And more often than not, they start to cycle or walk on them.

I was never really convinced by Cycling England. It always seemed somehow too small and too insignificant to make much of a difference for people who want to cycle in England. And it had a pre-occupation with creating routes with names like 'Pluto' and 'Moon' which always struck me as plain weird. You wouldn't admit to using the 'Pluto route' down the pub.

But now that it's gone, we're left with something called the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, a policy that "grants to provide local authorities the freedom to develop the targeted transport packages that address the particular transport problems in their areas".

The fact is that a lot of local government is either pretty spineless when it comes to the 'transport problems in their areas'. Faced with a population who drives, it would have to be a fairly bold and confident local government that stands up and really tries to give people alternatives for getting about their local area. 

Let's take the canal route pictured above. Part of the route included a humble pedestrian / cycle island to assist walkers and cyclists crossing the a main road. The traffic island gave them a chance to cross the road. It didn't give them priority but it allowed them to continue 'as seamlessly as possible'. Forward-wind and "opposition to the scheme from local drivers in Brookwood resulted in a petition to remove the island. A counter petition was submitted to retain the island, but the Local Committee decided to remove the island which was carried out 12-months after its installation". (the story is rather complex. Google 'fishwick island cycling' and you'll see what I mean)

Alternatively, look at another Surrey town. Farnham proposed two routes for non-motorised traffiic. Both were intended as "a continuous, attractive route for pedestrians, cyclists and those with disabilities that will link the main amenities of Farnham. These include the hospital and health centre, numerous clubs, Waverley Council offices and the station. It is intended for both commuter and leisure use and will be mostly traffic-free. Where roads need to be crossed, vulnerable users will take priority over motor traffic. The new route is designed to make Farnham a more pleasant centre for shopping, eating and entertainment and make it more attractive to tourists. By enabling cyclists and walkers to bypass some of Farnham's worst congestion it will encourage some to switch from cars to healthier and greener ways of getting round the town."

Blimey, I thought. That sounds exactly like the sort of thing that the chap in Utrecht was describing. Safe, convenient, clear routes that give the same sort of status to pedestrians, cyclists and people with disabilities that are already given to other people in motor vehicles. All of a sudden it sounds like here's a council wanting to create conditions that people in Utrecht might recognise. After all, as Vole O'Speed blog points out, it's not impossible for cycle facilities to have priority in the UK. He shows plenty of worked examples here.

But I spoke too soon. "Both schemes have had money allocated either from the Surrey County Council Highways budget or from Section 106 'planning gain'. Unfortunately progress has been minimal and it is looking increasingly likely that these funds will be lost." Surrey County Council has just helped push for the completion of a £371million tunnel not far from Farnham.  There's plenty of money for transport infrastructure projects. But not for cycling.

Brighton's Preston Road. Cycle
route designed to speed up
bus lane not a safe or
convenient cycle route

It seems our local government bodies simply don't think that cycling offers options to all sorts of people and brings its own economic benefits: Many of those same people can be going to many of the same places they go to in motor vehicles for exactly the same purpose.

The reality is that the 'sheer pleasure of riding a machine that just works on a route system that just works' is reserved in the UK for the motor vehicle. Cycling is fitted around the motor vehicle, generally made to move people on cycles out the way of motor vehicles and putting people into third-class facilities that are often dangerously designed.

The cycling route system in the UK very rarely works. It's a route system for motor vehicles with a few patronising tweaks added to give the appearance of a cycling route system. It is by no means a system that works to make it safe, convenient or more sensible to cycle than to drive. And I don't see that changing for a very long time yet. Not, at least, unless movements like the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain really start to pull us cycling types together fast and loudly.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Olympic cycle route update - a sham of PR and utter inaction on the ground.

I wrote yesterday to show the route to the Olympics for people arriving from the north by cycle.

This is the route expressly suggested in his blog by Leon Daniels, the man in charge of London's roads.

Here's what someone who cycles here frequently has to say about the route that Mr Daniels suggests is a sensible way for people to cycle to the Olympics:

See for yourself what the conditions are like on part of the A11 that runs to the Olympics. Imagine cycling here on a cycle hire bike. Or with your young family. Frankly, imagine cycling here wearing anything less than body armour:

The head of London's roads specifically suggests we use the A11 gyratory to cycle to the Olympics. This is part of that route. With thanks to the Grumpy Cyclist blog

I think it's also worth reading about who the Grumpy Cyclist is on this link. I think this is hugely revealing.

"Several years ago I drove everywhere in London. After one ticket too many, I decided there had to be a better way. I dusted off the cycle, and discovered a completely new and convenient way to travel around town. However, the more I cycled, and the more I read about cycle provision from our local councils, the more I realised that the cycling experience should be so much better, and that our local authorities are spouting eco-fluff instead of actually improving matters."

There must be tens of thousands of people like this who drive but could or would cycle if they felt conditions in London for cycling were better and safer. He's completely right that many of Londons authorities spout eco-fluff and fail to deliver. You feel it every couple of minutes on the roads when you're cycling. The problem is that it's our lives and our safety that gets ignored.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Simply unbelievable. Man who runs London's roads for the Mayor thinks this is a family-friendly route to cycle to the Olympics.

View Larger Map

Transport for London's head of roads thinks this is where people should cycle to the Olympics. With their children, I imagine? 

Writing this blog, I have had moments of frustration and moments of optimism. But absolutely nothing has shocked me more than something I came across at the weekend. 

Leon Daniels is the man responsible for London's roads. A big man in the bus world, Mr Daniels joined Transport for London earlier this year. He is responsible for all surface transport in London,including the cycle hire scheme. 

I have profiled Leon Daniels before. He has asserted several times in correspondence that he sees no reason to give people sufficient space that they might feel safe enough to take up cycling on London's roads.

He also writes a blog. Last week he posted the following blog entry:

"One of my correspondents stated recently that there is no provision for cyclists at the Olympic Games. This is not true! Here is the real situaion! [sic]"

Among other suggestions, he talks about how you should access the Olympics by cycle from the north:

"Head south on A11 through Stratford town centre gyratory, onto Stratford High Street, left onto Cam Road and onto Channelsea Path to Abbey Lane.  Onto Rick Roberts Way and into the southern spectator transport mall."

Pictured above, the A11 through Stratford town centre gyratory. Six lanes of motor traffic. To manoeuvre around this junction, you might need to magic your way across no less than four sets of fast-flowing motor traffic. On a bicycle. Perhaps with your twelve year-old daughter. 

Remember, this is the same man who sees no need for cycle lanes to be wide enough to cycle in safely.

I'm so stunned, I don't even know where to start. We might as well give up cycling, get in our cars and add to London's congestion.

It simply defies common sense to believe this could ever be a scene where families should cycle to the Olympics. I believe Leon Daniels's suggestion that this is the way people should cycle to the Olympics with their sons and daughters is so dangerous it is almost immoral. 

My own feeling is that cycling in London is dead and finished if this is what the Mayor's most senior advisers truly think.  


If anyone from East London knows these streets better than me, I'd be very interested to hear your own thoughts on the full text of Mr Daniels's article about cycling to the Olympics.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

New or extended cycle hire docking stations coming to City of London shortly

View New Square Mile docking stations in a larger map

The City of London has received planning applications for new or extended cycle hire docking stations for a number of new locations. I've popped these on to a google map and you can click for further details.

For those of you who'd rather see this in list form, the proposed changes are as follows:
  • Cheapside near King Street (already built, bikes are in the docking points, might be available to use)
  • Gresham Street near Old Jewry)
  • Stonecutter Street (on the other side of the road from the existing site)
  • King Edward Street (just north of Angel Street)
  • Houndsditch near Stoney Lane
  • St Bride Street
  • Fore Street Ave (extension)
  • Queen Street (extension)
  • Moorfields (extension) – dependent on Crossrail works
All good news although still leaves some patches of the Square Mile strangely free of cycle hire bikes, notably in the eastern part of the City.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Consultation starts on new two-way streets for cycling in the Square Mile. Needs two minutes of your time to support.

The City of London first approved a number of one-way streets becoming two-way for cycling back in 2009.

At the time, the media and motoring organisations predicted veritable anarchy on the streets of London. 'Illegal' cyclists would mow down pedestrians, was the concern raised by the president of the AA. Which is odd, really, because the AA president has tended to be quite balanced in his views about people cycling and cycles himself. Looking back, I wonder if the press was slightly misrepresenting his views.

Fast forward to October 2010 and all the dire warnings are proved completely groundless. A report by the City of London showed that cycling has increased 60% in one year on the first routes to be made two-way for cycling. And what's more, the City Police were delighted with the success of the schemes: "There have been no reported collisions involving cyclists in the six months since the changes were implemented. The ability for cyclists to avoid busy streets will be a contributing factor in improving road safety in the City."

It's fantastic to see the City is now planning to open a further 17 streets to two-way cycling and a map of those streets is below.
Consultation on streets to be made two-way for cycling

There's plenty more information on the City of London website here.
There's also one key way you can help.
The City is consulting on these plans until 8 September. No doubt a number of people will write in with concerns and criticisms. I think two-way routes for cycling are hugely important. Some of these planned changes will open up ways to avoid nasty junctions or simply make some routes massively more direct than they are at the moment. So if you recognise any of these roads, please take a couple of minutes to write a quick email to and voice your support and explain how you think these plans will make your journey safer or easier.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

TfL tells 36% of rush-hour traffic to dismount and walk at Blackfriars. Time we all got off our cycles and ambled slowly through the junction to prove a point.

Get off your cycle and walk. Blackfriars this morning.
Not content with a scheme that is designed to be as anti-walking and anti-cycling as possible, Transport for London today added some more salt to the wound at Blackfriars by adding a 'Cyclist Dismount' sign

Some 36% of traffic passing this point at rush-hour consists of people on cycles. During the entire day, that's 16% of the total traffic volume. TfL's contractors are telling thousands and thousands of people who cycle here that they are supposed to stop, get off their bikes and walk.

But where exactly are they supposed to walk with their cycles?

There's about a metre between the hoarding and the side of the Lever Building pictured on the left in the picture above. And with the eastern side of the street closed that leaves a lot of pedestrians wanting to walk on that narrow bit of pavement in both directions. Even if you could access it, no room to walk with your cycle here.

This one picture is jsut a tiny example of what's to come at Blackfriars. And a tiny sample of how I feel TfL and its contractors casually disregard people on its roads unless they are in motor vehicles.
Put bluntly, what the hell are you supposed to do when you come to this sign? Are thousands of people supposed to stop in the middle of the road and walk their way through the junction?

Interesting to see what the Department for Transport has to say about the Cyclist Dismount sign at roadworks like this:

Maybe we should do exactly that just to prove that Transport for London hasn't a clue how to handle people on cycles on its roads. Jump off our cycles at the lights and walk slowly through the junction.

So much for a transport authority that really thinks about how to handle people using its roads who just happen to be on cycles.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Does Jeremy Clarkson also think the Lord Mayor of London is anti-banker? Cycling starts to come of age in the Square Mile

Lord Mayor of the City of London gets behind his
bicycle. See pic top left.
The City of London has invited me to a charity event later this year dubbed City Cycle Style. I will be delighted to attend.

The flyer includes this image shown on the left. Boris Johnson is a familiar face. Less familiar to many will be Alderman Michael Bear, Lord Mayor of the City of London. He's featured here with a rather plush bicycle in the top left of the image.

If this picture is anything to go by, I wonder if Jeremy Clarkson believes the Lord Mayor of the City of London is a propaganda weapon in the war on capitalism and banking? From all the evidence I hear, he's a keen cyclist. He is going to host a cycling event focussed on the Square Mile to raise money for charity. And good on him.

So far so good, then. I've been banging on for months on this site about the fact that ordinary people use bicycles to get around. And to make the point that normal people would like to feel they have the choice to use cycles to get around.

Full marks, frankly, to the Lord Mayor and to the City of London for standing up and doing their bit to show that people who use cycles are not the anti-capitalists or the anti-bankers that Jeremy Clarkson might have us believe.

Is stylish cycling even possible yet? Or are you
more concerned just to get through this road
layout and stay alive?

But here's the rub.

Pictured left is Cycle Superhighway 7 pictured this morning at 7.45am on my way to work as I enter the City of London over Southwark Bridge. This was the scene at rush-hour this morning. The superhighway is the bit in blue. As you can see, the cycle lane is full of HGVs, buses, white vans. There's a group of people on cycles waiting at the traffic lights just in front of the bus.

This is a 'ghost cycle lane'. Some blue paint to encourage people to cycle between HGVs in order to get to the junction. I think ghost lanes are a disaster. They fail to create a safe space to cycle in. And they confuse motor drivers.

But what most people don't realise is that ghost cycle lanes like this are the result of a policy decision by Transport for London. It is a deliberate policy not to create safe space for people to cycle in. In this particular case, I don't think there's much the City of London can do about it - it's a project designed for and paid by Transport for London. An authority that reports to a different Mayor - Boris Johnson, Mayor of London.

Only when Transport for London realises that London's streets need to be usable by a 12-year old on a cycle independently of an adult, something that is perfectly normal in other cities in Europe, only then will the Lord Mayor of London really be able to say that cycling is an 'enjoyable, stylish lifestyle choice that need not involved specialist sports cycling clothing or high speeds'.

I'm delighted the City of London is starting to get behind cycling and bringing the issue of cycling into the mainstream. But I feel quite strongly that it's not purely about style. It's about creating conditions on our streets that enable people to cycle and feel they are doing something normal. That means giving people space to cycle in safely.


City Cycle Style exhibition

P.S. Good luck finding somewhere to park your bike nearby...!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

New route connects Barbican to Cheapside. Wood Street EC4 goes two-way for cycling

Wood Street EC4 new two-way for cycling
And finally some good news.

Wood Street (click here to see location map and cycle links) has gone two-way for cycling.

A further 17 streets are up for consultation in September with a view to these becoming two-way for cycling. Opening those streets would offer up some invaluable new routes through the Square Mile and ways to avoid some of the nastier main routes and junctions.

For the time being, though, Wood Street is a good first step. It allows a more or less straight line down from the Barbican, useful if you 're heading down from Islington for example, all the way through to Cheapside. And it removes the frustration of getting lost in a warren of one-way streets in the area between Cheapside and London Wall.

The link on CycleStreets shows how you used to have to turn left into Gresham Street and wiggle your way towards King Street. You'll now be able to continue straight down to Cheapside and then head in either direction, east or west. Or continue straight on through Bread Street on the other side of the road down to Cannon Street.

Some of the other proposed two-way workings will open up some other much-needed routes through parts of the Square Mile and I'll update on those as soon as we know more.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Mayor needs to stop bumbling. Whether that's at Blackfriars or on the streets this week. Is he simply letting London get on without any real leadership?

Last week, the government and the Mayor decided to hand the London Olympic village site to a Qatari sovereign wealth fund to sell off or rent the housing built there. The Qatari bid won against a rival pitch by the Wellcome Trust to develop a large science research centre and social housing base here. As Ian Birrell reports at the Guardian, the Mayor turned down "something with potential to transform east London and provide long-term benefits for Britain" in favour of a quick buck. The Wellcome Trust decried the Mayor's decision to reject a "compelling vision for the future of the Olympic Park, going beyond bricks and mortar to focus on driving up economic growth and prosperity for the people of East London".

The Olympic village decision feels terribly familiar. I feel it links to the events of this week in London and to other policy decisions by the Mayor, such as Blackfriars Bridge.

Handing the Olympic site to what is essentially an estate agent suggests that quick money is more important to the Mayor and our politicians than a sustainable, long-term vision for the people of London. Frankly, it feels like short-term cash beat a plan that would reap its rewards slowly and carefully. Specifically it feels a decision to have 'more of the same'. More housing owned by private landlords rented out at high rates to people, no sense of pulling people together and creating opportunities for them.

It may seem a bit tangential but decisions about how the Mayor plans London's streets in places like Blackfriars feel very similar to this- all the justifications used by Transport for London and the Mayor are based on 'more of the same'. They consistently fail to talk in a language of what things could look like and promise more public spaces designed as motorways to allow more people to travel around by motor vehicles, to rush through as fast as possible.

I was thinking about Blackfriars while I was away last week on several work trips. At Blackfriars, the Mayor knows conditions aren't safe for cycling. So it's shocking to see works now going ahead that make it even less safe and much less convenient for people on foot and on cycles. On my trips last week, I remembered how I'd seen a bridge in Stockholm that links the two main islands in the centre of town.

Stockholm's main bridge. Motor lanes removed for people
On the left is a picture of that bridge with its bike lane. Last time I was here, the city was putting finishing touches to this new bike lane, completely separated from the motor vehicle lanes. What's happened is that the city decided to remove two lanes from motor vehicles, to create space for people walking and on cycles, kept safely away from motor vehicles.

I was also in Tel Aviv last week. Not a place that might strike you as a haven of cycling. And yet look at this poster. A lane for motor vehicles is  being removed and given to create space for people on cycles.

 Here's a picture of the bike lane being built, stretching from the very north to the very south of the city. And completely separated from motor vehicles.

How very different from London.

My point is this. We have a Mayor who knows there's a problem at Blackfriars. He's an intelligent man. He even understands exactly what the problem is. And he's perfectly aware that other cities are solving problems like Blackfriars using radical means to change their cities. And yet he does nothing. He isn't setting a vision for what Blackfriars should look like. He's simply letting his transport authorities pursue a policy that will mean nothing really changes. More cars, basically.

And this is where I think there's a link to the Olympic village and to this week's events in London. There's no leadership from the Mayor. He's failing on both issues to set a vision of what things will look like under his leadership. Instead, I feel all we're hearing are bumbling media statements and a lack of a vision that people can follow.

Anyone who uses cycles and walks the streets in London and isn't stuck in a motor vehicle understands there are plenty of disillusioned people who hang out on London's streets. The Mayor knows there's a problem. At the Olympic site, he had one chance to make a difference to people who need alternative opportunities and to chose something radical like the Wellcome Trust bid. But he ignored that opportunity and let the culture secretary decide to opt for a quick buck. What we have is the Mayor simply opting yet again for 'more-of-the-same' without raising a finger to lead Londoners to something radical that might make a real difference to people's lives.

It's the same at Blackfriars. He knows the problem, he understands the problem. And yet I feel he choses to ignore it and let his advisors just carry on doing whatever they're already doing.

The Economist hints at the same problem. Last month it published a piece saying that "Until London decides what it wants its roads to do, Mr Johnson’s measures will only offer limited lubrication." I don't think the Mayor knows what he wants London's roads to do. That's why he's letting his transport authority carry on offering people more of the same instead of stepping in and really making things change.

I think Boris Johnson has shown a complete failure of leadership over Blackfriars. And I think he's shown a lack of leadership over events in London this week. Just as he did with phone hacking, he showed up too late and he chose to simply let the machine get on with it.

Sadly, I think the same is true for the Olympic village. And I worry the same will be true in how he handles the events of this week. I feel that the Mayor doesn't know what he wants London to be. Whether that's on matters of road and transport policy, at the Olympic village or on the streets. He's consistently failing to set a vision and to take people with him.

That's not good enough and I think either the Mayor needs to wise up fast. Or London needs to realise it deserves better.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Blackfriars: The time has come for a much bigger protest about conditions for cycling and walking in London and the UK

Blackfriars - entire lane full of people on cycles. Thanks to ITV and ibikelondon blog
On Friday night, people took to Blackfriars Bridge to protest at Transport for London's anti-cycling and anti-walking agenda.

Although there has been plenty of coverage of the event itself, I think the most telling image is ITV's aerial news coverage (with thanks to ibikelondon) - an entire lane of the bridge taken up with people on cycles, all making their point. Possibly as many as 2,000 people.

What struck me was just how normal the people were on this ride. If you look at my pictures from the event, you can see people in suits, people in jeans, a few serious racing cyclists. But mainly men and women of all ages. And a couple of dogs.

Jeremy Clarkson likes to paint people who use bicycles as 'lycra louts' or even 'anti-capitalists'. But there was no evidence of either on this bridge. Some taxi drivers think that road space should be allocated according to "commercial importance" and give people on cycles zero points for commercial importance. Try telling that to the people wearing suits on this ride who were cycling from their jobs in the City. The very same sorts of people who cycle to work also often use black cabs to get about.

The concept of people who cycle as 'lycra louts' is getting very old and stale, I think. People who cycle are, well, just people who cycle. That's all there is to it.

But one thing set me thinking on the Blackfriars ride. You see, everyone who participated in the ride on a cycle knew why they were there. And thanks to the BBC, Evening Standard and ITV, people who watched or read that night's news knew why as well. But most people aren't quite sure what we're complaining about.

My own view is that the issue is not just Blackfriars. Blackfriars is a useful case study for how Transport for London gets it so utterly wrong on cycling. But it's about how TfL and the boroughs think they can simply throw scraps at people who cycle to work or to the shops or in their leisure time and how they design cycling out of London's streets, in favour of designing in speeider, easier streets for people in motor cars.

To borrow just some every day examples, look how pedestrians and cyclists are crammed into narrow cow-pen crossings at Vauxhall. There's not enough room for all these people to get to the crossing and that results in a conflict between people on foot and on cycle, all of whom are squeezed into a narrow crossing, with very long waits between green phases. That's because what counts here are people in motor cars, not people on foot or cycles. Motor vehicles have up to six lanes in each direction at Vauxhall, they have overwhelming superiority in terms of green light phases. TfL's mission to 'smooth traffic flow' is meant to apply to all users of London's roads - on foot, on cycle or in a motor vehicle. But on the ground, it's clearly only motor vehicles that count.

Or take a look at how even brand new road schemes simply don't think about people on cycles. In fact, they often actively design safe and convenient cycling out of our streets. Here on Oxford Street, the road has been narrowed forcing cycles to sit in a tiny gap next to HGVs and buses. A perfect recipe a) for warding people off cycling in London in the first place and b) for risking far more serious collisions. It's the same all over London, whether in the Square Mile or in Bloomsbury.

There are plenty of much worse examples than these. And they are all over the country, not just in London.

It's not because the UK is incapable of building safe and convenient routes for people to cycle and walk. We are very good at deciding what should and shouldn't have prioity - only last weekend, for example, the Embankment was closed for a cycle triathlon event. No cars allowed and no protest about it either.

But the fact is there is absolutely no political will to make it safe and convenient for people to choose to cycle or walk instead of drive. As I said last week, the policy makers, the politicians, the transport authorities don't want to give people a choice not to drive. And they make this explicit by designing streets that don't work for people who would like to cycle or walk. Instead, they design our streets solely around the priorities of the motor vehicle in the misguided belief that people are less valuable on foot or on a cycle than in a motor vehicle (I kid not, see this link). The fact is that people who choose (or would like to have the choice) to walk or cycle are no more or less valuable than people who choose to use a motor vehicle. But we have policies that design those choices out of our streets.

I think it's time that people who cycling and walking to have equal status on our streets start demanding that things change. That our streets start to be designed to give space and time to people who cycle and walk. In 1982, the House of Lords debated congestion. A view put forward in that debate was that the only way to defeat motor congestion is to "make motoring short distances in London so disagreeable and expensive that people stop doing it." And the unfortunate truth is that means taking some space away from motor vehicles. Or at the very least, slowing motor vehicles down enough to create streets that start to feel safer to cycle and walk on.

If we're going to get there, it needs more than a small private army of a couple of thousand people on bikes on a Friday afternoon. It needs tens of thousands of people to make the point. Again and again. So that everyone realises they know people like them who agree and think this should be done.

I think that a major push by people who want cycling and walking to have equal status in our towns is coming. And I look forward to participating in it.