Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Boris Johnson's cycle revolution. I don't see how a single London cyclist could vote Boris after watching his performance today.

UPDATE: A review of the cycling Tour du Danger yesterday. Why we're doing this and what it's about


The London Assembly questioned the Mayor, Boris Johnson about cycle safety earlier today. You can see some of the session on the clip above where Green Party mayoral candidate Jenny Jones asks some very sensible and well-informed questions.

The London Cycling Campaign has responded extremely firmly to the Mayor. Its chief executive asking “Does the Mayor really not believe in redesigning bad junctions?...Is the answer that traffic speed is more important to the Mayor than the safety of vulnerable road users?"

I think that just about summarises the Mayor's attempts to wriggle out of some serious questions about road safety. Not shown on this clip but raised elsewhere in the session, Boris Johnson stated: "Elephant & Castle  fine. If you keep your wits about you, Elephant & Castle is perfectly negotiable. I want people to feel confident. The cycle superhighways are about building confidence."

There have been 89 cyclist casualties on the Elephant roundabout in the last two years. And the Mayor thinks everything's fine. Jenny Jones's put-down was very to the point: "The Mayor, as an experienced cyclist, wants roads that are safe for him to cycle around, I want roads that are safe for a twelve year old to cycle on."

At 2.47 minutes into this clip, the Mayor talks about how it 'grieves me to see the way that [Transport for London] is blamed' when there are cycling accidents. Hear that again? Yes, he grieves for Transport for London. Not for the dead cyclists but for his transport authority.

Other lowlights from the debate:

Boris Johnson - "I sometimes don't think physical streetworks are the answer...the answer is often to educate HGV drivers and to educate cyclists." Right. Try telling that to a 12 year-old cycling to school. Don't worry, just trust the HGV driver. Perhaps like this one, the man who drives an HGV, has defective eyesight, whose truck ran over and killed cyclist Eilidh Cairns two years ago and is now being questioned about hitting and killing a pedestrian last month. 

Mark of ibikelondon blog kept up a running commentary on the debate this morning and you can see some of the more irresponsible comments made by the Mayor on his twitter page here.

Gems like this:

Mark, quoting Boris: "'It is not possible to put in dedicated cycling infrastructure without disrupting the flow of traffic(!)' Has he been to Vauxhall?"

or - "BJ: The answer is not in physical interventions but in educating HGV drivers. < Where did he get this idea from?! We need both."

New York - normal bike lane
The fact is, road design does matter. There are insane road schemes all over London, crap junctions like Elephant that are terrifying to cycle through. Some of us can manage them. But most people look at them and think, no chance, I'm not cycling around that. So they don't. They drive, take the bus or walk.

Physical interventions are in place in every civilised city. Like this picture here of Third Avenue in New York - bike lane kept well away from motor vehicles.

There's plenty of space in London to get junctions and main roads right. They don't all have to look like this one in New York  but they do need designing to take cycling into account. At the moment, London's roads are designed for motor vehicles. Cycling and pedestrians are sort of shoe-horned in at the last minute. The whole farce at Blackfriars shows that in very clear detail.

But the Mayor of London has now denied that junction improvements are key to improving cycling safety. Or to increasing the number of people who cycle instead of drive.

Transport for London -
normal bike lane
I have to hand it to several Assembly Members who really do 'get' cycling. Caroline Pidgeon (LibDem), Val Shawcross (Labour), Andrew Boff (Conservative) and John Biggs (Labour) have all worked hard to campaign for safer cycling. They asked sensible, intelligent and useful questions today. Jenny Jones of the Green Party has been extremely clear and focussed on this topic to make cycling a major campaign issue.

You can see more of the debate on the BBC, whose transport correspondent Tom Edwards, has covered matters in an extremely measured way on tonight's news coverage.

After watching the Mayor today, he's lost my vote completely. Someone else said it better than me. Writing on her Rosamundi blog: "Let me remind you that this is supposed to be a “safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city [which] could be your best and quickest way to get to work...Cycle Superhighway 2 is desperately, appallingly dangerous and pretending not to be."

Boris Johnson is exactly the same. He's pretending that his cycling revolution is safe, fast and more direct. But I think he's forgotten the safety bit and he is pretending that some lessons for HGV drivers is all it takes. It doesn't. It takes proper design of London's streets to put cycling into our streets, not just feed a few leftovers to the people on bikes.

I can't bring myself to vote for Boris after watching this and I don't see how a single London cyclist could vote Boris after watching his performance today.


If you want to get involved:

I'd urge you to join us for our Junction Flashride to protest for safe junctions for pedestrians and cyclists. All around London. Things have got to start to change. 

This Saturday. Departing at 10.30 from 
St Mark's Church, The Oval, Kennington, SE11 4PW. Saturday 12 November for a 10.30 prompt departure. 

I'd also suggest that you think about joining the London Cycling Campaign. We need a voice that can talk for us all. 


  1. I agree the Mayor is guilty of letting his own feelings as an experienced cyclist reduce his sensitivity to less experienced cyclists and Jenny's put down on this point is very good. But overall this exchange is reasoned and balanced. The Mayor is in a difficult position, and striking the right priorities is very, very hard. Your passionate campaigning is fantastic and makes a real difference, but I would rather vote for a Mayor who cycles than one who doesn't. There are no mayoral candidates who can or would even try to turn London into Amsterdam. Boris Johnson is right to emphaise his achievements, just as we are right to demand more. Join LCC, read Cyclists in the City, but don't let this clip stop you considering supporting a Mayor who does actually cycle over Blackfriars Bridge.

  2. @amjb

    Actually, striking the right priorities isn't hard at all. Boris and Peter Hendy are just wrong when they say that 'streetworks' wouldn't prevent accidents like the ones we've seen this year. Dutch junctions design out left hooks by HGVs, by separating traffic flows, and using cycle lights. At a rough estimate, TFL could reduce cycle deaths and injuries by half, at least, through better design. They're choosing not to do that because it would reduce motor traffic capacity. The fact that they're reducing cycle traffic capacity (by creating the barriers to cycling that are unsafe streets and junctions), preventing modal switch that might reduce congestion, and will certainly reduce pollution, and killing people in the process, doesn't seem to worry them.

  3. As a cyclist, I would sooner vote for a non-cyclist who shows commitment to improving safety for vulnerable road users than for a cyclist who just believes in the Law of the Jungle.

    In any case, Johnson is not the only cycling candidate. Jenny Jones cycles and Brian Paddick was seen on a bike at the Blackfriars Flashride.

    Vole o'Speed

  4. Jenny Jones and Brian Paddick are great people, but they are not going to win. The choice is Ken or Boris. We have seen both their track records, Ken is a tube user, Boris cycles.

    I think saying Boris believes in the Law of the Jungle is overly harsh, and Ken has yet to come out with a truly cycle friendly plan.

    I am a cyclist first, and a reluctant motorist or taxi hailer second. I would not want my children to ride into London if they had to do it in the confident, assertive way that I do. Our roads are a long way from being cycle friendly.

    That said, my route has improved immeasurably since I starting commuting (five days a week, eight miles from SW London to centre). CS 8 is now on half my route, and it is a big improvement.

    We all agree what we want. Personally I think progress towards what we want is also success. Without blogs like this though, demanding the highest of standards, we wouldn't even make that progress.

  5. amjb - I am not a Ken supporter, but
    1) AFAIK the superhighways and bike share scheme were Ken's ideas, which he didn't manage to implement
    2) Boris is riding on a wave of increase in cycling which has a lot to with a lifestyle trend and travel costs and not with the measures he implemented - when I started cycling I didn't even know about CSs, also I began cycling just before CS3 has been built and apart from paint I didn't see anything being redesigned -so what's the point?

    Boris displays a very typical British cyclist approach - "if I can do it every one can, you just have to be brave and have your wits about you, and be careful at all times, but it's really not that dangerous" (lot's of contradictions there, no?). What bothers me more is the fact that this is supposed to be a democracy - if 2.5k people are telling you that the Blackfriars design is wrong, you can't just tell them - "it works for me, sod off". This is called autocracy. It's not the kind of mayor that I want.
    I mean seriously I'd pay "Cycle track tax", got a licence and a plate if this means that I get the same kind of road infrastructure that cars get, only for bicycles.

  6. amjb, yes the realistic alternative to BoJo is probably only Ken, but with the voting system in London you can send a strong message by putting pro-cycling candidates first, without harming the chances of kicking Boris out or keeping him in, should that be what you want to do.

    Although there are issues I disagree on with Ken, at least he did "get" public transport, and focussed on getting that sorted, then started to promote cycling but did not have the time to implement most of it. There is no question that for him London is the priority (no cushy column with the Telegraph), whereas the vibe given by Boris is clearly that he wants to be PM and London is just a stepping stone for him.

    At the end of the day, I'd rather vote for someone who gets public transport, has gotten the ball rolling on bike hire and cycling superhighways, and lives a relatively normal London suburban life (he lives round my area, you can bump ito him regularly on tube, bus, walking...) rather than a "man the f*** up" cyclist who thinks £250k a year is chickenfeed.

    As far as I can see Boris' "achievements" so far have been taking credit for his predecessor's policies ("Boris bikes", really?), erecting a metal tower near the Olympic park and stringing balls across the Thames (at great cost to the train maintenance fund). Not impressed.

  7. "Jenny Jones and Brian Paddick are great people, but they are not going to win"

    Cyclists will be able to exert more influence by voting for Jenny Jones. The candidates who come first and second will look at how they could win votes from smaller candidates.

  8. Joining the chorus here, saying that you'd sooner vote for a cyclist is like saying you'd vote for Franklin or Forrester - they're both "cyclists" but I'd sooner vote for a non-cyclist who "gets it".

    Ironically, "Red Ken" was actually quite popular with the London business community eg London First, precisely because he promoted the interests of ordinary Londoners. Why? Because, perhaps this seems cynical, it is ordinary Londoners whom the business community need to perform all the support services that the city slickers need to function, and if you don't make the city habitable for them they will vote with their feet, and then "you just can't get the staff these days".

    Boris may have lent his name to the CSs and the hire bikes but both were conceived in Ken's mayoralty. All Boris can come up with on his own is a cable car. Seen any ski slopes around Greenwich?

  9. I'm a cantankerous early middle aged lycra lout who'll not back down from a confrontation. My kids, on the other hand, are not. The cycle superhighways are not about building confidence, they are about a little bit of (slippery when wet) blue paint that makes it looks as if Something Has Been Done.

    I want my kids to grow up being cyclists. I want London to grow up and recognise what needs to be done.

    I want to vote for a Mayor who'll make a difference to ordinary people just trying to get around who'd rather not have to make a political point while commuting. I want my kids to be able to use the same roads that I do.

    Boris has lost any confidence many people might have given him. TfL is worse than a laughing stock.

  10. Dear Boris, here's some facts. Elephant & Castle roundabout, with its 3 lanes of fast traffic is a nightmare even for very experienced cyclists, worse than the very 'bad dreams' of Vauxhall and Hyde Park Corner, hence the high rates of accidents at all such locations. Road layouts and motorists's speeds there and throughout London are off-puttingly terrifying (and worse, dangerous) for all cyclist. As figurs show, and you already know large lorries, though only 5% of London traffic, already cause 50% of cyclist fatalities and 80% of injuries, yet you propose to allow even longer ones on the streets as a "10 year experiement" (!). It is obviously illogical for you to state that road layout has little effect on safety. Please revise your senseless views if you genuinely want to encourage safer roads for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

  11. Jenny Jones is a twit. I too want a city where everyone is safe and no one gets hurt. I also want world peace and a cure for cancer. I desperately hope father christmas brings me a new bike and that I win the Euromillions. Sadly, we live in the real world and it's never going to be completely safe for anyone, let alone 12 year olds to cycle around one of the busiest road junctions in the world. In the meantime, if we have our 'wits about us' and take responsibility for our own actions, we can reduce the likelihood of getting hurt. Like, taking a different route, or using the cycle superhighway which completely avoids the hellish E&C roundabouts.

  12. There is another issue here, which is the democratic deficit in the governance of London. Why do we have a London Assembly, each of whose 25 members is paid about £53k pa, plus all the cpsts of their PAs, research assistants, expenses, offices etc, when hey evidently have absolutely no influence over the mayor who is for all practical purposes an elected dictator? Presidents and prime ministers of democratic countries the world over have to carry their parliaments or congresses with them. If the London Assembly were given some teeth of its own, I am sure Boris and TfL would be reined in.

  13. I'd love to be able to avoid my own particular hellish roundabout (Bow flyover). Unfortunately, I can't. All my wits can't magic up another route, a cyclist/pedestrian bridge, or even some pedestrian lights. I have no shame, I would quite happily get off and walk at that junction, if doing so didn't put me at even more risk than being on my bike does.

    It is the only way out of Stratford if you're heading west (or into Stratford if you're heading east), which doesn't require a diversion of some miles or crossing a bridge that is so steep that it's all but impassible in icy conditions with a bike.

  14. @James said...

    So the Elephant has a narrow, slow, convoluted bypass with lots of traffic lights... brilliant!

    Hasn't anyone told the mayor that cyclists use their muscles to travel, so sending them on long detours is a bad idea.

    And what about the Bow roundabout, or Kings Cross, or Vauxhall... or any of the other un-bypassed killer junctions in London

    You've clearly never visited the Netherlands, which actually is 'safe for everyone'. They're the ones living in the real world, and they have done for 30 years, since they realised that car-centric road design destroys the quality of urban areas, not to mention lives

    One day, we'll have a Mayor that's serious about giving Londoners the choice to ride or walk without fear of death or serious injury

  15. @Nico - if you are going to criticize Boris's implementation of the SuperHighways then you must give him credit for the implementation of the CycleHire scheme hence BorisBikes. Assuming credit is due of course, BorisBike is not quite a badge of honour during the peak periods.

    Ken said he'll set out a cycling policy closer to the election. I really don't know given the bad rap that cyclists get because of pedestrian conflicts, how this issue should be presented. I feel just saying make it better for cyclists won't get many votes. Reduce pedestrian conflict, reduce congestion, reduce air pollution (all outcomes of cycling policy) might work better.

  16. I think Boris needs to understand that many outside of London are watching this and knowing that it will have effects on cycling policy in other cities and districts, it is also watched by potential visitors to the city who may have been tempted to use the Borisbike.

    I don't think this is as much about "Amsterdamizing" London, but actually providing safe passage for the many cyclists and pedestrians who have suffered and preventing death.

    Is Boris subsidized by Automotive related firms or something?

  17. I'm amazed that any of this is a surprise to anyone. Boris does ride a bike, but other than that, his policies amount to pretty standard Conservative fayre; i.e. every man for himself and survival of the fittest/most powerful. And don't upset big business, whatever. His primary interest is in becoming Prime Minister and therefore, he's not going to do anything remotely controversial that might raise eyebrows with the right wing press and all those elderly suburban Tories who he relies on to get elected. The lack of leadership from either the Mayor or Central Government (the Transport Secretary was, until the other week, a millionaire car enthusiast) just gives TfL traffic engineers the excuse to do what they do best; sit in their bunker and tinker with their computer models and traffic flows. I've met some of these people and in some cases, they're exactly the same people who spent years in the boroughs impeding any progress towards safer, more attractive cycling. They're not going to change.
    Ken Livingston has limited interest in cycling itself, but as a maverick, with no political ambitions beyond the London job, was prepared to be radical to change the approach to transport in the capital and improve urban spaces and the general street scene. His cycling policies didn't go far enough, but at least he wasn't just perpetually blocking progress towards a more civilised city.

  18. Thanks for sharing this information. I envy u for having this discussion in the parliment. We dont even get a hearing to discuss this in Singapore.

  19. The advice to cyclists, 'Keep your wits about you', is essential advice on London's roads. But coming from Boris, it's tacit admission that London's roads are dangerous for cyclists. Instead of offering advice, Boris and TfL need to make the provision for cyclists and pedestrians safer, much safer. It appears that Boris' recipe involves more motor-vehicles, and increased danger for vulnerable road users.

    Cyclists need high quality safe infrastructure, that provides an environment that doesn't threaten sudden violent death for even experienced cyclists.