Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Cycle deaths on Boris Super Highways - My view: Piecemeal interventions and a few scraps for cycling is utterly irresponsible and killing people

Catriona Patel courtesy Stockwell News blog
"My name is Anish Patel and I am the husband of Catriona. On Monday 29th June 2009 at around 08.20, Catriona died as a result of a collision with a green Tipper lorry at Kennington Park Road, at the junction with Harleyford Street."

This event happened around the corner from my house. I have to pass the spot daily. Several times a day sometimes. 

A few months later, Boris Johnson's Transport for London turned the very spot where Catriona Patel was crushed by a tipper lorry into part of Cycle Super Highway 7 from Tooting to the City. 

The junction design was almost identical after Boris Johnson had launched this Cycle Super Highway as it had been before: Some lane markings were changed. The kerb was changed slightly further up the road. And lots of blue paint was added. That was all. It's still horrible to cycle through and the number of hazards at this junction are just too numerous to mention. It's crap for pedestrians, it's downright dangerous for cycling and it's not particularly easy for drivers either who have to undertake dozens of people cycling - completely exposed to motor traffic on both sides - down the middle of a three lane race track here. 

Then earlier this week, a man in his fifties was killed on his bicycle at another Cycle Super Highway in Bow. Diamond Geezer blog has written an excellent profile of this junction and just how dreadful it is for pedestrians and cyclists alike. And he hits the nail on the head when he says this: "TfL's overriding priority at the Bow Flyover roundabout is clearly vehicular traffic...This is a key London road junction, and the queues that could be caused by a succession of button-pressing pedestrians might have gridlock repercussions. I can fully understand why TfL are quite so reticent, because a significant number of travellers would be disadvantaged by a Bow Flyover slowdown. But the priority surely ought to be safety, rather than piecemeal interventions that deliver merely partial solutions."

A few months ago, I showed how Transport for London is planning yet more of the same at Vauxhall and Victoria. The list of changes is fairly similar to what changed at Oval: A few tweaks of kerbs, a few moves of white lines and some blue paint. The Super Highway planned for Vauxhall is frankly scandalous. It replicates directly the sort of conditions that are killing people at Oval and Bow. 

When you drive, you have a relatively consistent road experience. When you cycle in London, though, what you get is partial solutions, piecemeal interventions, and you're supposed to be able to react immediately to completely inconsistent road conditions that veer between utterly terrifying and semi-sensible every 20 or 30 metres. It's completely insane.

Diamond Geezer is absolutely right: TfL is dealing with cycling through 'piecemeal interventions'. Those piecemeal interventions are wrong. Morally wrong, in my view.

And here's the real rub. I think lots of people at Transport for London knows what needs to be done at junctions like Bow and at Oval. But their voices aren't being heard. 

None of these junctions need particularly complicated solutions. These junctions need solutions that give cyclists and drivers ways to flow through them without coming into direct conflict with each other. At Bow, in particular, there's plenty of space to make that happen. There's plenty of space at Oval and Vauxhall too. But Transport for London is repeating the mantra of 'traffic flow' and concerns about gridlock for motor traffic and using that justification to design high-speed junctions designed for motor vehicles, that do virtually nothing for cycling or pedestrians, in my view.

Can you imagine cycling with your children to school through Oval junction, or Bow flyover or Blackfriars Bridge? Not really. So, from my perspective, that's a massive fail. 

Motor traffic does need to get through London relatively smoothly. But I think Transport for London is prioritising motor traffic in its streets while also encouraging more people to cycle. But it is not taking any serious steps to make its roads safe enough for someone to cycle with their children to school. The marketing message will continue to promote cycling as a safe, convenient way to get around and there will be more investment in cycle training and in fluffy marketing to promote cycle trips. But the reality is cycling will remain a niche category, quite literally squashed in among motor vehicle, unless and until Transport for London starts to make its roads and its junctions the sorts of places that PEOPLE can travel through safely, not just people in motor vehicles. A mother with two kids needs to look at Oval junction and feel safe enough to cycle through it with them. Until that happens, TfL, I reckon you've completely and utterly failed. 

The recent cycle deaths are just the start, I fear. The plans that TfL has for its future Cycle Super Highways suggest that things are not going to change in the near future. And what's worse is that TfL doesn't even seem to be  engaging with how to make roads work for Londoners unless they're in motor vehicles.

That's why some of us are organising a ride around the 10 junctions that are most dangerous for cycling in central London on November 12th. If you live in London and you want to cycle, you have no choice but to get through most of these junctions at some point. We're riding to highlight the need for change and for proper interventions not tiny piecemeal changes here and there. Cycling needs to be made an experience that is consistently safe and sensible. Do that and more people will take to two-wheels. Don't do that and more people will die each year than need to.

I pay for Transport for London. But it doesn't represent me. Not yet. 


  1. Has anyone asked Barclays what their comment is on the cycle superhighways? You'd think that they'd want to see best value out of their sponsorship ie positive response in media and from users, rather than being attached to schemes where comments/observations made on the CS's before their installation are now coming to pass... It would be interesting to hear their views and understand what sort of due diligence/review process they went through, before plowing cash into cycle schemes that were widely commented on by cycling stakeholders ahead of implementation.

  2. What are you complaining about - TFL does loads for cyclists -

    We just need to buy a lightweight waterproof and use the ASZ's (if we can get to them through the non-existent feeder lanes and they're not blocked by vehicles).

  3. The focus of TfL seems to be exclusively on the commuter (and not the cycling one), ignoring completely the fact that if you design your system to be safe for CHILDREN, it is safe for everyone. Currently there is a sign on a school near where I live that says "WoW", part of a campaign to get kids to WALK to school once a week. This is London, most of the kids will live no more than 2 miles away, yet the best we can do is have them walk ONCE a week? The fail in there is so massive it has its own gravitational pull.

  4. This is what its like travelling south over Blackfriars Bridge at the moment.

    Watch for the disappearing cycle lane...another accident waiting to happen

  5. Good point, anonymous 1. Maybe they're not aware of all the bad press. How could we bring it to their attention?

  6. Taking a protest to Barclays would be a new twist, but their office is on the Canary Wharf estate - it's all a bit stazi over there.

  7. Barclays: Talk to our media team

    If you are a journalist you can contact the Press Office on +44 (0)20 7116 4755.

    I wonder if they'll talk to bloggers? Worth a try, perhaps?

  8. To be honest, there is a little bit of irony here in that the Tour of Danger is something of a piecemeal intervention itself.

    We should take inspiration from the current global wave of protest and go all out for change. Occupy TfL.

  9. well, we could certainly occupy the blackfriars junction for more than ten minutes.

    how long is long enough to get noticed?

  10. I think a mass demonstration of cyclists lying prone on the ground with scattered bikes all over the place outside Barclays HQ, along with press present for photos etc might be very newsworthy and might rouse them to demand some action from TfL..

  11. Maybe a few gallons of fake blood thrown around as well. It certainly gets PETA enough publicity.