Saturday, 31 December 2011

Kings Cross & HGV deaths. TfL suggests trixi mirrors and bike stop boxes - Dutch road safety institute suggests these solutions should be rejected. Why can't TfL implement real solution NOW?

TfL: No space for a safe bike lane here. because 'it  would cause delays for road users'
Space for car parking on the right though... Courtesy Camden Cyclists 
Last week, LibDem London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon popped up on ITV news. She has been pushing Whitehall to change the rules and allow Transport for London to put ‘trixi’ mirrors on more junctions. These are the mirrors that allow HGV drivers to more easily see people on bikes around them.

Caroline Pidgeon strikes me as someone who ‘gets’ cycling. A year ago, she quite rightly slammed Boris Johnson’s mayoral pledge to ‘smooth the traffic flow’ saying that he was prioritising speed for car drivers at the expense of inconveniencing and endangering everyone else.

However, I can’t help but think that trixi mirrors are just sticking plaster. Holland's Institute for Road Safety Research published a report last week showing that when these mirrors were introduced, there was a small decrease in HGV drivers colliding with cyclists but this was due largely to promotional activity. In 2008, the Institute ran an extensive study into these mirrors and concluded: "The visual field is still insufficient...Truck drivers do not make the best possible use of the different mirrors [and] Cyclists insufficiently take account of the fact that trucks have a limited visual field."

The Dutch Institute concludes: "The ultimate solution for the blind spot problem is a structural separation of trucks and cyclists."

This is exactly NOT what Transport for London proposes at Kings Cross. It has told Camden Cyclists (the hyper-active team that got you the proper Dutch-style bike lanes along Torrington Place. You know, the one that turns into a car park as soon as you enter Westminster's roads) that the creation of a cycle lane here 'would cause delays for road users'.

Several cyclists have been killed at Kings Cross. As local resident Caroline Russell points out, the father of a friend was killed cycling here by an HGV in exactly the same spot as Deep Lee. Several more people  pedestrians and cyclists - have been killed here in recent years. 

TfL is belatedly proposing to review the junction and make it safer for cycling. It claims "the study will consider how all road users, especially vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists, travel along the TfL and local borough road network around Kings Cross." TfL will also review whether it's possible to remove the whole gyratory system around Kings Cross. 

Caroline Pidgeon in purple - LibDem Assembly Member who 'gets'
cycling at Blackfriars Bridge with politicians Brian Paddick (Lib),
Val Shawcross (Lab), Jenny Jones (Green), courtesy LCC
In reality, though, that review is at least a year off and no-one has any idea if anything might actually happen here. Aldgate gyratory was 'reviewed' five years ago with a mind to removing the gyratory. A couple  of months ago, the City of London told me that TfL has announced another review of Aldgate next year. Nothing's happened in seven years. So why believe TfL at Kings Cross?

In the meantime, TfL's proposal? Some advance stop boxes for cyclists and some trixi mirrors. You can read about the proposals and a very good critique of the scheme that TfL is going ahead with on Camden Cyclists’ site here. Essentially, the 'improvements' won't make things any easier or safer for cycling here. They are largely cosmetic changes and include all the things the Dutch rejected back in 1980 because they weren't good enough for the job.

What's so galling is that there are routes all around Kings Cross that would allow cyclists to avoid much of the junction by implementing two-way working of one-way streets, some cyclist traffic lights to get through some of the hairy parts and decent signage. Has TfL considered them? No. Could they be implemented within a few months? Yes. Will anything happen? No. Why not? TfL has the Olympics to worry about. Everything is already set in stone for 2012. A few more deaths won't matter.

Camden Cyclists is pushing for proper, Dutch-quality cycle infrastructure through this junction. And I support them. But they also recognise that - given it may be 10 years before TfL pulls its finger out - the opportunity to create alternative routes around the horrible gyratory is a possible interim solution. Frankly, I think Camden Cyclists are being incredibly pragmatic, flexible and just want to get things done. They're faced with a Mayor and with TfL who are starting to make at least some of the right noises but are promising jam tomorrow without even offering bread today. It's a pretty poor sales pitch, in my view. 


You can contact Camden Cyclists here

Friday, 30 December 2011

'Four cyclists have died in the last two years within a two-minute walk of my house'. Labour's response to this situation in Southwark is utterly irresponsible.

Welcome to Southwark. Four lanes for motors. Err, none for cycling
Last week, a LibDem councillor in Southwark council stood up and said this:

"My ward has been the scene of too much tragedy. Four cyclists have died in the last two years within a two-minute walk of my home"

That councillor is Mark Gettleson of Bermondsey. The debate was about the environment and talked specifically about cycling safety.

Gettleston added this point: "This is not a party issue, but it does require political bravery, responsibility and vision." He was highly critical of the fact that Hackney borough has cycling rates of 10 per cent and called Southwark 'utterly pathetic' for having a vision of increasing cycling from 3 to 4% of road trips by 2016.

In fact, that even puts Southwark behind the City of London which expects 10% of people to cycle to work by 2020.

I think that the 'bravery' he is referring to, is the bravery that our councillors need if they ever hope to change the way London's streets work. I have spent much of my free time over the last year meeting politicians all across inner London. All of them feel that cycling is a good thing, that it can solve all sorts of transport and health issues. But my opinion is that the politicians are scared of calling for safe cycling and for safer streets. It's a kind of weird we-know-that-you-know-that-we-know situation. The politicians I have met - and that includes London Assembly Members, Westminster MPs and local politicians from four political parties - have all backed safer cycling and proper bike infrastructure. But only one or two has been prepared to call publicly for radical change to the way people get about London. So far. (I can think of one huge exception to this statement and he's a politician in Newham.)

In that context, I wasn't at all surprised by the backward-looking and feeble response of Peter John, Labour leader of Southwark council who defended his council's extremely poor cycling targets and by Councillor Barry Hargrove,  saying that rather than build proper bike infrastructure the council will focus on "equipping cyclists with the skills to interact with other traffic rather than building a network of segregated routes."

Cycling training is good and sensible. But it won't encourage mums, dads, kids, grandparents, workers, doctors and the public in general to get out on their bikes.

Councillor Peter John - will your policies encourage these kids
to bike to school? No chance. Will it increase road deaths? Quite possibly.
In what other walk of life is it acceptable to close your mind and say, oh well, let's just get the cyclists to wear helmets, wear hi-viz, have more training, make the HGVs have warning alarms, add HGV mirrors at traffic lights. At what point do we stop adding ridiculous sticking plaster to the problems? The problems are many - congested streets, polluted air, children who can't walk or bike to school, old people can't cross the street, shops give up on our high streets because they've been turned into traffic corridors. I'm not suggesting cycling is the sole solution to these issues but it certainly has a large part to play in inner London.

I have one message to say to Southwark council. And it's very simple. Rather astonishingly, this is a message that was carried by columnist Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday a couple of weeks ago.

"I think our roads are statistically safer largely because soft targets, particularly child cyclists, have almost entirely retreated from them. But the roads are not really safer. It’s just that people have learned to avoid them unless they themselves go out in armour, and have narrowed their lives as a  result."

Labour councillors in Southwark: you are preparing your borough for more car-ownership, for more pollution, for more congestion, for an increase in the number of road deaths. And you worsen all of our lives as a result. You are preparing a Southwark in which the roads will be safer because you are making people retreat from them. Harsh but, I think, true.

As Councillor Gettleson implies, I fear that the Labour councillors in Southwark lack political bravery, responsibility and vision. 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Please sign our letter to the Women's Institute to reject its call for compulsory helmet laws and to focus instead on creating conditions in which all members of society will feel safe and comfortable riding a bicycle

 "The health and environmental benefits of cycling are very much in line with past and current Women's Institute mandates and compulsory helmet wearing may encourage more people to take up cycling, whilst improving the overall safety of cyclists." So says the Women's Institute.

The following is the text of a motion being discussed by WI members which, if passed, will form the basis of the organisation’s campaigning and awareness-raising activities in the future: "The Women's Institute urges Her Majesty’s Government to make the wearing of helmets when cycling a legal requirement."
Do you want to have to dress like this to cycle to the pub, to church
to the cinema, to work, to school? Women's Institute motion wants this
to be so.
The WI appears to have worked closely with the brain injury charity Headway whose position on cycle helmets is: "To initiate activities and campaigns to reduce the incidence of brain injury." And who could disagree with that? Well, I don't disagree with the overall ambition. I strongly disagree, however, with the means by which Headway is trying to go about this.

I do not believe that the Women's Institute should pass this motion.

I say this not because I think helmets are in any way 'wrong'. Although I note Norman Baker, Transport minister has stated publicly: "I don't wear a helmet when I cycle." Boris Johnson and David Cameron didn't used to wear helmets but Boris has suggested an element of bullying forced him to put a helmet on.

I'm opposed to this motion because I feel it focuses debate on the wrong issues and because it would be a dreadful way for the WI to attempt to support the 'health and environmental benefits of cycling'. Along with the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, with Mark of ibikelondon blog and with the good people behind This Big City blog, we have set out our thinking in the letter posted below. The nub of our argument is this point, repeated below:

The motion could imply that the WI objects to people who
look like this on their bikes
"We believe that safe areas for people to walk and cycle should be created, particularly in populated areas where people live and go to school or work or the shops. At present approximately 75% of all regular cyclists in the UK are men; we believe that focusing on creating attractive and safe conditions for riding a bicycle have a much larger possibility of enacting positive change within society - most especially for women and families - with all the wider benefits that increased riding will bring (less congestion, less pollution, fitter population etc)..."

"The undersigned call on the Women's Institute to reject Resolution 6 calling for compulsory helmet laws and to focus instead on creating conditions in which all members of society will feel safe and comfortable riding a bicycle"

I think the WI is a fantastic organisation and does an awful lot of positive things. But this is a pernicious motion, one that could do a lot of harm, much as means to do a lot of good.

Please join with us by adding your name to the letter which you can do by signing this online form here.

"Dear Womens Institute"
We are writing to you today with regards to the 2012 proposed resolution (6) which the Women's Institute is current considering regarding bicycle helmet compulsion.

We at the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain welcome the fact that the Women’s Institute is taking an interest in the safety of cyclists. Far too many bicycle riders, young and old, are killed and injured on the UK's roads every year.  
Many more will never even contemplate something so simple as riding a bicycle - or have tried and given up - through being too scared to mix with heavy and fast traffic on Britain's main roads. We do not believe that the way to remedy this situation, and to increase cyclist's safety, is through compulsory helmet laws.

As is stated in the summary of your resolution in the pros and cons, the focus of the resolution as it stands is currently very narrow and is likely to put people off cycling; something we have already seen happen in Australia and New Zealand. Both countries adopted compulsory bicycle helmet laws in the 1990s and both now see almost a third less cyclists on their roads. Recent research published by the Health Promotion Journal of Australia found that 1 in 5 adults would start cycling, or cycle more, if such laws weren’t in place. In 2008, the New Zealand Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven publicly acknowledged that such laws are putting people off cycling. Urban cycle hire schemes in Melbourne and Brisbane have struggled to find an audience, with Auckland’s equivalent folding after failing to cover its costs. This whilst equivalent schemes in Paris, Barcelona, Montreal, Toronto, Washington DC, Mexico City and London (to name but a few) have seen huge success with hardly any accidents. London’s accident rate is a minute 0.002%. It can be argued that the consequence of a compulsory helmet law is a greater risk to public health than making cycling safer in other ways.

With fewer people engaging in everyday exercise like cycling, as in Australia and New Zealand, the risk of obesity and the many associated health problems increases. Even if cycle helmets protect against head injuries - and it is imperative that the Women's Institute is made aware that there is no conclusive evidence or academic consensus that they do - compulsory cycle helmet laws bring with them their own negative health repercussions. Obesity cost the NHS an estimated £4.2 billion pounds in England alone in 2007, with the NHS themselves expecting a £50 billion annual cost by 2050 should current trends continue. Any motion which encourages easy, everyday exercise like cycling should be applauded, but there is not one single example of a compulsory helmet law increasing rates of cycling.

We at the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain believe in prevention rather than cure. Cycle helmets do not prevent accidents from occurring the first place and we believe it is more effective to reduce cyclist's exposure to danger rather than try and mitigate against being exposed to it.

Whilst there are opportunities to improve training for cyclists and drivers, too often it is the design of our roads, particularly our junctions, which bring bikes into conflict with larger, heavier vehicles. Many of the high-profile deaths of cyclists, particularly in London, have been women riders who were wearing a helmet, and who were experienced - neither factors which saved them when they got hit by an HGV. We believe that safe areas for people to walk and cycle should be created, particularly in populated areas where people live and go to school or work or the shops. At present approximately 75% of all regular cyclists in the UK are men; we believe that focusing on creating attractive and safe conditions for riding a bicycle have a much larger possibility of enacting positive change within society - most especially for women and families - with all the wider benefits that increased riding will bring (less congestion, less pollution, fitter population etc)

Mandating helmet use for those who are comfortable cycling in our present road conditions, whilst not considering those who would like to cycle but are too afraid is not the way forwards for a safe, successful and equitable society.

A lot of us are able to remember that when we were children, our bikes were our passports to freedom and independence. There is no reason why this cannot be the case for current generations. There are cities and countries who already achieve safe mass cycling rates; we should look to their successful examples rather than countries, like Australia, where mandatory helmet laws have been disastrous. In the Netherlands, children are still free to go to school unaccompanied, on their bikes, on average from the age of eight. That is because their roads and towns are designed to make cycling safe for all ages, from children with stabilisers all the way up to grandparents and great grandparents. The result is civilised streets and happy children. In a 2007 UNICEF study, the Netherlands came top for safest roads and child wellbeing. The UK came 21st.

Whilst levels of cycling dropped by almost a third in Australia, obesity increased dramatically. Australia now has the fastest growing obesity rates of any developed country, with 1 in 2 people overweight. Additionally, since introducing mandatory cycle helmet laws, neither Australia nor New Zealand has seen a reduction in head injuries beyond the general trend for the population at large.

Traffic safety in the Netherlands is the best in Europe, and obesity is among the lowest of any developed country in the world. We believe that with pragmatic problem solving at the root cause, and hopefully a bit of imagination, the UK could achieve the same.

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is a newly formed organisation campaigning for just that. We'd be thrilled to have the WI on our side on this. Your resolution shows that you've the interests of cyclists and their safety at heart but we hope that you'll be able to think wider than just helmets and training to infrastructure based on the Netherlands model that has had proven success giving freedom of movement and empowerment to all. We'd be delighted to give you more information, or come and talk to your groups in person about the wider issues at stake. Above all, we would be honoured for you to join us in a proper cycling revolution

This letter is from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. It comes to you with the support of the campaigning group Cyclists in the City of London and the websites This Big City and ibikelondon. The undersigned call on the Women's Institute to reject Resolution 6 calling for compulsory helmet laws and to focus instead on creating conditions in which all members of society will feel safe and comfortable riding a bicycle

The undersigned call on the Women's Institute to reject Resolution 6 calling for compulsory helmet laws and to focus instead on creating conditions in which all members of society will feel safe and comfortable riding a bicycle:"

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Mayor of London's office confirms a 'step change' is coming that will make our streets safer for cycling. More 'computer says no', or will cycling safety finally get some teeth?

Tottenham Court Road will soon look like this. Awful for
cycling. Almost impossible in fact. Courtesy: AsEasyAsRidingABikeblog 
Over at Euston Circus (top of Tottenham Court Road), Transport for London is planning some junction changes (click here to see the StreetView image of the junction as you approach it)

There is much wrong with the new scheme. Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street will both go from one-way to two-way. There will be a strip down the centre. This will turn both into roads like Pall Mall or the Strand - where it is almost impossible to cycle unless there is no motor traffic.

AsEasyAsRidingABike blog has a very detailed critique that explains how this sort of layout makes cycling significantly more difficult and less safe. 

TfL is also planning changes to the junction over the Euston underpass. Basically, nothing much will change there. Six+ lanes of motorway-style conditions over the junction with a couple of Advanced Stop Lines for bikes.

At a site visit with Transport for London, a representative of Camden Cyclists, pointed out that TfL's own design requirements mean that proper and separate bike facilities must be installed through this junction.

Guess what the Transport for London officer at the site visit had to say about that point?

The TfL officer told Camden Cyclists that inserting any sort of cycle lanes at the Tottenham Court Road junction would require the loss of one of four vehicle lanes 'and that if the modelling does not allow that, cyclists won't have any cycle lanes'. 

Transport for London knows that its own cycle safety standards mean it must install proper, safe cycle infrastructure at this junction. Unless it has been in hiding in recent weeks, TfL knows that London politicians agreed a unanimous and firmly-worded motion last week that makes the same point on a more general level. And yet, Transport for London's officers are refusing to consider installing the bare minimum cycle requirements at this junction. Because the computer says no?!

This is the cycle stop box at Bank Junction - the most
dangerous spot for pedestrians and people on bikes
in the City. Feel that taxi is a bit close? That's normal. 
The following day, Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor's Director of Environment issued a blog post on the Greater London Authority website, confirming that the Mayor is undertaking a full review of the way that Transport for London designs major road junctions to make them safer for cycling. Ranger states that: "The Mayor’s desire is that reviewing these junctions leads to a step change in the way engineers think when planning road layouts." 

Specifically (in this related letter to Jenny Jones, Green mayoral candidate), Ranger commits that the junction review will include these actions:

He also points out that, quite correctly, that it is important the process has appropriate governance and management processes. Quite right. 

I think the review deserves a cautious welcome. The risk, of course, is that the junction review is just that. A review and nothing more. There's no mention of whether these designs will ever be implemented. They will be recommended but who knows if they will ever be implemented. 

My sense is that some very good people at Transport for London have drawn up decent minimum standards for cycle safety already. The issue is that no-one's paying any attention to them.

So, I welcome this review. But it needs to hurry up. And it needs to have teeth. Otherwise, Mr Mayor, please don't bother. You'll just end up building things like the junction at Tottenham Court Road - downright bad for cycling.


There will be Christmas vigil on Tuesday at Kings Cross. Relatives and friends of many of the cyclists and pedestrians killed - we think unnecessarily - on London's streets in 2011 will lead a vigil supported by the London Cycling Campaign, RoadPeace and Living Streets. Please join us from 6pm, Kings Cross, Tuesday 20th December. It seems a fitting way to let 2011 go and to wish for a better 2012. 

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Xmas Vigil on Tuesday: Why should it be made harder for older and disabled Londoners to cross the street? Why should Londoners accept they are more than 2x more likely to be killed cycling in London than Amsterdam? Join us next Tuesday after work to protest Mayor's street policies

Please join me, Mark of ibikelondon, The London Cycling CampaignRoadPeaceLondon Living Streets (formerly the Pedestrian Association), and other prominent bloggers. We are joining with the friends and families of several of the far too many pedestrians and cyclists who have been killed on London's roads this year.

We are inviting all Londoners to join us beside one of the city's most dangerous junctions where one cyclist has been killed this year. A spot where several others have been killed in the last three years and where large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists have been seriously injured.
The point of the protest is to make the Mayor realise it is not acceptable to:

a) Simply tell cyclists it is safe to cycle around some of London's most dangerous roads and expect them to get on with it. It is even less acceptable to claim London's roads are suitable for his 'cycling revolution' - one of his only two Mayoral promises from the last election that relate to the roads. He has blithely told Londoners they just need to 'keep their wits about [them]' and they could easily cycle around the Elephant & Castle roundabout - a place where 89 people have been injured in 24 months and one cyclist killed. Would you cycle there unless you didn't have a choice? Would you cycle there with your children? Would you let your kids cycle to school through the roundabout?

b) When the cyclists protest, he tells Londoners that it's all the fault of drivers, HGV drivers in particular. Let's just get this straight for once. London's cyclists are not blaming drivers. Boris is blaming drivers. London's cyclists are blaming the Mayor - not drivers - for the increase in deaths on London's roads. You are more than twice as likely to be killed cycling in London as Amsterdam. The number of people killed cycling is increasing, the number of people being seriously injured cycling is increasing. The number of pedestrians being killed outstrips the number of cyclists being killed.

c) It is not acceptable for the Mayor to have an election campaign that boasts about removing traffic lights and pedestrian crossings and shortening the amount of time that people have to cross the road. At Blackfriars, he's removed the main pedestrian crossing. You can see what's happening at that crossing here since he removed the crossing last week - people are now reduced to running over the road at this massively busy spot. Hardly fair if you're older, younger or at all infirm. This, and schemes like this, are about to roll out all over London.

Why should it be acceptable that a bike lane should look like this?
Millions were spent to make it this awful
We're calling for the Mayor to make changes; To realise that there is plenty of space to give pedestrians time to cross the road safely; To allow young, elderly and disabled Londoners enough time to get from place to place and to cross the road; To allow cyclists to get through junctions safely and along main streets without having to weave in and out of cars. Cycling shouldn't be like that. It should be something that is safe, normal and pleasant to do. Even on some of our busier High Streets.

Please join us on Tuesday 20 December from 6pm outside Kings Cross with the relatives of many who's loved-ones have died as a direct result of the Mayor's street policies and to hope the Mayor will make it his resolution to shake up his thinking and to shake up Transport for London and start to change things in 2012.

Exact location will be announced Monday. For more details, see this page here. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Bloody cyclists! Tough luck if you get killed. Essentially, today's Conservative position on cycle safety. Do we want political party that supports laissez-faire on the roads? Your fault if you get killed?

Why's that bloody cyclist in my way? Boris's 'smoothing the traffic flow'
policy is why that bloody cyclist is in your way. Totally insane. 
Pictured left, a cyclist in the middle of the road. The road in question is Queen Victoria Street, just off the Blackfriars northern junction.

Bloody cyclist! Why's he in the middle of the road?

Well, that's because the junction has been designed that way. Just ahead of the cyclist, the road narrows significantly. So he has no other choice.

The taxi driver right behind him must be getting royally pi88ed off that he can't get past. That's because he's also had to sit behind the bike all the way through the junction. Again, because of the way the junction is designed. Understandable, frankly.

I wrote yesterday about the removal of the key pedestrian crossing at Blackfriars (an issue I first addressed in February 2011 here) Earlier today, Labour Assembly Member John Biggs issued a press release saying he would write to TfL to ask why they had committed such a 'monumental error' in removing the crossing. Transport for All, a charity that campaigns on behalf of older and disabled Londoners has also chipped in, stating on twitter: "Disabled ppl esp visually impaired ppl will be put in danger by Blackfriars pedestrian crossing removal"

What gets me about all of this is that the politicians are siding in two completely opposing camps. After one of their Assembly Members (Brian Coleman) walked out, the Conservatives did actually stick around today for a debate at the London Assembly that agreed a motion (introduced by Jenny Jones of the Green Party with strong support from Labour and LibDems) to review dangerous junctions for cycling in London. While that's all well and good, I don't feel too confident it means very much. The Conservatives actually helped structure a very strong motion last summer with the Green Party about Blackfriars Bridge. Six months on, nothing whatsoever has happened.

The Big Smoke website summarises today's motion incredibly succinctly:

"The conservative line appeared to be that focusing on junctions where people had lost their lives risked was “arbitrary” (Cleverly) relying  on “coincidences” (Boff). They felt that the focus should be on “tipper trucks” vehicle design and driver training as they appeared to be responsible for a disproportionate number of cyclist deaths.

There seemed to be little explanation as to why reviewing junction safety was incompatible with looking at dangerous heavy vehicles."

And that's essentially the problem.

The London Conservatives don't seem to think that road design has anything whatsoever to do with London becoming more dangerous for cycling (see Green Party candidate Jenny Jones's excellent analysis on that topic here). They seem to think it's just tough luck.

This week, I've now had a number of black cab drivers contact me on twitter saying it's time to make space for cyclists, that we shouldn't be shoved between two HGVs or buses. They probably also want us out their way at junctions like Blackfriars above. And good on them, frankly. The road has been designed to wind up that cab driver as much as possible by using the cyclist as a kind of rolling speed hump. It's a travesty of road design.

Another 'bike lane' designed under Mayor's 'smoothing traffic' policy.
 Conservatives implied today this is good
design as it makes you safer on a bike. How exactly? 
But the London Conservatives are sticking with the line that the Mayor's 'smoothing the traffic flow' policy is a good thing. Andrew Boff, who has otherwise been quite sensible on this stuff, even stood up to state (with no evidence) that it actually made cycling safer. He tweeted later 'smoothing isn't speeding'. No-one's talking about speeding. We're talking about road designs. Like this one on the left. This is a bike lane designed to maximise traffic flow. Problem is the only place to cycle is between the HGVs. Or just not at all, to get off and walk.

Smoothing is about stacking traffic into giant queues like this. It's about trying to shove cyclists into the queue along with everyone else. That's the exact same situation at Bow roundabout. It's the same at Kings Cross. There's plenty of space for a bike lane but it's not going to happen, it seems.

Transport for London is still safe saying it will only ever look at incremental improvements to junctions where people keep getting killed and not create safe space for cycling. Because it might get in the way of the smoother traffic flow. It's also why TfL is removing pedestrian crossings at Blackfriars and all across London (it hasn't happened yet but I promise you, hundreds are on their way out soon). Pedestrians get in the way of the smooth traffic flow you see.

So, the Blackfriars design has now alienated a) cyclists b) pedestrians c) a charity representing older and disabled Londoners d) is starting to get on the nerves of cab drivers too.

You start to wonder why the Mayor and his party are sticking to the Blackfriars design, let alone the overall policy. Do most Londoners want to vote for someone who thinks that old people shouldn't be able to cross the road? Or that people who get killed on the streets brought it on themselves, possibly because they didn't have their 'wits about them' (quoting Boris's suggestion that you just need to keep your wits about you and suggesting it's fine to take your kids through Elephant & Castle on a bike, let alone to cross the road here).

I've met several of the Conservative London Assembly Members. They're mostly (not all) smart, switched on, and wanting to do good. But they're painting themselves into a corner. Not as the 'nasty party'. It's more like laissez-faire gone mad. Your fault if you get killed. Nothing to do with us.

I disagree with laissez-faire on the roads. It kills people. I think deep-down they do too. I hope so.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Main pedestrian crossing at Blackfriars removed. Mayor sold this scheme as being all about pedestrians. Doesn't look like it now his press team is boasting about removing pedestrian crossings

Blackfriars - this was a pedestrian crossing until last
week. TfL has removed it. Ostensibly to 'improve'
conditions for pedestrians
Both the Mayor and Transport for London have insisted again and again that the main reason they are building the death-trap junction at the end of Blackfriars Bridge is to accommodate higher pedestrian numbers.

Pictured left, some of those pedestrians pictured today at lunchtime. These pedestrians are crossing New Bridge Street towards Unilever House.

As you can see, a lot of people cross the road here. And, until last week, there was a pedestrian crossing here. Then, over the weekend, TfL removed the crossings. You now have to take a circuitous loop and wait three times at separate traffic lights to cross New Bridge Street.

Either that, or you take your chances and you cross in a straight line and just hope there's no traffic coming round the gyratory (you can't see it and it can't see you) and run across the now wider (extra lanes) and faster (TfL has raised the speed limit) road.

Transport for London has removed the most obvious route for people to cross the road - a route that is clearly very popular. I don't think that's been done to make life easier for pedestrians. I think it has been done to make life easier for 'traffic'. The Mayor bangs on and on about 'smoothing traffic flow'. This is smoothing traffic flow in action. It's not just bad for cyclists, it's pretty crap if you're a pedestrian too.

At a very basic level, Boris Johnson has encouraged Transport for London to make it harder, more dangerous and less pleasant for everyone to get around. Unless they're in a car. To the extent that the Mayor's press team now regularly boast in their pre-election pledges about how many pedestrian crossings they are removing to make it easier to drive your car instead.

Boris Johnson's campaign team is proud of talking about the Mayor 'reducing congestion'. It pops up all the time in BackBoris2012 tweets and campaigns. Things like this:

'Traffic lights have been re-phased, I have noticed a great improvement, allowing quicker, better journeys in between the main roads.' ie, it's easier for me to go faster down rat-runs which are the streets where other people live and have to put up with more and more motor traffic?

I think this is a Mayor who wants to claim 'I have made London less congested' as a major campaigning point.

Firstly, it's a bit of a moot point whether he has or hasn't. But what he certainly is doing, is making London's roads faster, nastier and more dangerous - with increases in cycling and pedestrian deaths and serious injuries starting to show in the statistics.

As Brian Paddick - LibDem mayoral candidate - pointed out in an interview with London SE1 website week: One of Boris Johnson's first acts at City Hall was to tear up the old road user hierarchy which placed the needs of those on foot or bike above those of motorists. Paddick is unambiguous about what his approach would cannot have a roads policy that puts people's lives at risk. We are seeing a significant increase in fatalities, particularly of cyclists".

After yet another woman was killed on a bike at Kings Cross recently, Leon Daniels of Transport for London told the Evening Standard that TfL would change the road junction here to make 'appropriate improvements for all road users'. That language is code for saying that TfL is going to add some advanced stop lines and not a lot else. AsEasyAsRidingABike blog completely and utterly demolishes the plans for Kings Cross on his site here and points out "Transport for London have chosen minimizing queueing times for motor vehicles over the safety – indeed, the lives – of vulnerable road users on their network." TfL has done that because the Mayor has told them to reduce congestion by making roads more efficient for motors.

Now, he could have reduced congestion by getting more people feeling safe enough to cycle. The majority of car trips in London are under two miles (TfL stats). There's no reason some of that couldn't switch to cycling instead. But that will never happen on roads where people feel threatened by increasing volumes of faster and faster motor vehicles. Compare that with Utretcht in the Netherlands which actually removing an urban dual carriageway and turning it into a canal. Because they don't need as much road space any more. The traffic's still there. But it consists of people walking and cycling instead of driving. 

I think that Boris Johnson's policies are killing and maiming more people. And I seriously doubt they will make much difference to congestion at all.

Leon Daniels is quoted in another Evening Standard article, talking about the site where Ellie Carey was killed on her bike a couple of weeks ago: "we will examine whether there are measures which could be incorporated to address any cycling issues highlighted by this incident". You couldn't be more weasel-tongued if you tried. What this says is that the Mayor and his transport authority know this is a danger spot but will do absolutely nothing about it other than tweak a few little 'appropriate' interventions here and there. Little tweaks that may or may not have any impact but will make it look like TfL is doing something. When in reality it's doing nothing. Nothing must come in the way of reducing congestion.

A couple of weeks ago, the Mayor announced he would conduct a formal review and consider how he could change London's road infrastructure to make our city a safer and more convenient place to walk and cycle. He announced an immediate review of cycling facilities at all major schemes planned (ie future plans not existing junctions) and all junctions on Super Highways (ie on a handful of roads).

What I can't understand is why that review is so complicated. In my mind, it's quite simple. Create safe space for people on bikes, keep them away from lorries and buses, especially (but not exclusively) at junctions. Make it easy to navigate through big junctions in particular. I've mentioned previously how TfL knows all this stuff already. They've studied it for years. They're just choosing to ignore it at the moment.

While the Mayor faffs about his new review, look at what's happened at Bow, where two people have already been killed cycling this year. As DiamondGeezer blog points out, a nice sign has gone up. He rightly says: "there's a heck of a lot still to be done to make this interchange safe for cyclists and pedestrians alike. Erecting signs at a death trap doesn't actually improve anything, it merely highlights how bloody dangerous the design was in the first place."

Drivers Look Out

Once again, here's a Mayor who is sticking two fingers up at Londoners. If you're killed because the Mayor thinks it's important to remove pedestrian crossings or because he doesn't have the balls to install proper, safe cycling crossings, then all you'll get is some big words from Transport for London. A few weeks later, a couple of signs will pop up. And hey ho, everyone will continue as if nothing's changed. Because the Mayor must be seen to make it easier to drive around town.

The fact is that I think the Mayor doesn't give a toss about Londoners on his roads unless they are suffering from motor congestion. His sole policy is to make it easier for Londoners to get around in their cars faster. And to then throw a few scraps in the direction of everyone else (incidentally, in the direction of the majority of Londoners who don't own cars)

Which is why we're seeing more people who are cycling or walking being killed and seriously injured on London's roads.

As one black cab driver put it to me on twitter earlier this week:

"Unilever circus (ie Blackfriars), how long before a major [road traffic accident] happens Who designed the new layout, stevie wonder". Bit crass but it makes the point. He carried on: "reckon tfl have a sweepstake on what day the first [road traffic accident], be careful out there". Cab drivers get it, cyclists get it, pedestrians are starting to get it. Anyone else needed before the Mayor rejoins the rest of the planet?

This review of the Cycle Super Highways had better be good. Because it is going to have to make a massive break with what's being done in the Mayor's name at the moment. Otherwise, he might as well not bother.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Tories and former British National Party Assembly Members walk-out again and delay discussion about what London's roads should look like. The real issue is that the Mayor is letting Transport for London carry on with policies that are killing people

Safe road design for cycling, London-style. Spot
the cyclist?
Almost unbelievably, London's Conservative Assembly Members have once again walked out on a motion to express the point that dangerously-designed road infrastructure is killing Londoners on bikes. The Conservatives were joined by former British National Party (now independent) Assembly Member Richard Barnbrook.

The motion stated that: "some cyclist deaths and injuries could have been avoided if the road network designs for the locations where these deaths and injuries occurred had been safer".

The walk-out has brought a withering attack from Ross Lydall in The Evening Standard: '16 cyclists dead but Tories refuse to debate road safety'  and from cycling website

From what I understand, the Tory walk-out was related to their belief they are under-represented on various London Assembly Committees. There was a similar walk-out, ostensibly for similar reasons, in June when the Tories walked out and prevented a debate about Transport for London's plans for Blackfriars Bridge.

Jenny Jones tweeted earlier today that she has some sympathy with the Conservative position on under-representation. And they may well have a point. But the fact is that they, and the ex-BNP Assembly Member - have now stalled issues relating to road safety twice in a row.

It is galling that the Tories keep doing this. 16 people have been killed on their bikes so far this year, double the number killed in 2008. And I suspect more of us will be killed before the end of the year.

However, what is even more galling is the total failure of London's politicians to work out what to do about London's roads.

All of them.

Montreal - home of the original Boris bike.
A Mayor that makes space for cycling. Very
different to London's Mayor
After the Blackfriars walk-out, something quite amazing happened. The Conservatives came back to the issue and worked with the Green party to table a revised motion that secured all-party support to make Blackfriars Bridge safer for cycling. 

The thing is, absolutely nothing has happened since. In fact, Transport for London has simply stuck two fingers up to London's politicians, declaring last week that a safer scheme for Blackfriars couldn't possibly work. Because it might impede 'traffic flow'. Yes, that's right. It might encourage people to actually take up cycling instead.

According to Andrew Boff, the Tories did also table an amendment to this second London Assembly motion. He writes on Ross Lydall's blog that the Conservatives proposed the following motion and that Jenny Jones may have rejected the revision to this new motion to:

Publicly engage with cyclists and the London Cycling Campaign on a review of all future major schemes on the TLRN (main roads) 
Review the design of the major junctions on the Cycle Superhighways and publish the findings;
Ensure that raw accident data is made publicly available;
Prepare and publish a design guide to inform and instruct all future schemes.

London Assembly did vote against this.
Transport for London has told them to sod off
That's all well and good. But the fact is, as I pointed out here, Transport for London has already consulted publicly with tens of thousands of cyclists and the London Cycling Campaign. It spent years doing so. The Mayor scrapped the work that was being done at the time and has utterly ignored the findings.

The one and only thing that will make any use in London is to publish Boff's suggestion of a design guide for all future schemes. But even that will work only if Transport for London is told to change its obsession with 'traffic flow'. And the only way that will ever happen is if the Mayor steps in. So far, he's made clear he's not going to. Hence, Transport for London can do what the hell it likes and screw the London Assembly.

Earlier this week, Transport for London sent a letter to Conservative Assembly Member, Richard Tracey. Andrew Miles, TfL Government Relationship Manager said this:

"Dealing with the competing demands on our road network is not straightforward, but we believe it is possible to improve road safety and to provide enhanced facilities for cyclists or pedestrians, whilst maintaining traffic flow.  The reality is that we must ensure both objectives are accommodated within our scheme designs across London.  While we are not complacent and recognise that there is more to do, the reality is that significant progress has been made to improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists over the last few years, as demonstrated by the growth in walking and cycling and the improving safety picture."

In other words, Transport for London is trying to have its cake and eat it.

London Cycling Campaign design for Bow
roundabout cycle tracks
It wants maximum motor traffic on the roads. And it wants safer cycling and walking facilities. The fact is that this contradiction means we will never ever have safer cycling and walking facilities in London. Pictured left, is design by the London Cycling Campaign for a safer junction at Bow roundabout that is to international standards.  This sort of design is impossible if you maintain that you can provide enhanced facilities for cyclists AND maintain traffic flow.

No, Mr Miles. The 'reality' is not that you must ensure 'both objectives are accommodated'. At some point you need to actually encourage people to cycle and walk. And to achieve that, you need to make the roads work properly and safely for people on bikes. You can't do that if you're busy designing schemes to maximise fast motor traffic.

I've given up feeling that the London Assembly can do anything. Transport for London is simply ignoring them because the Mayor seems to be ignoring them too.

Sadly, our Mayor hasn't got the balls to act on this. He thinks we should all just man up, keep our wits about us, and feel more confident cycling on the roads. I think he's wrong. And I think that his duplicity with TfL on this topic is killing people. 

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Transport for London letter last week rejects safer Blackfriars scheme, claims killer roundabout at Bow is not a risk for cycling & walking. Mayor now completely out of step with most other cities?

The Mayor promised to review the junction here in
March. Still hasn't happened. Courtesy
London Cycling Campaign
Yesterday, another woman was killed by an HGV driver while cycling her bike. At another junction identified as dangerous for cycling. The same day another serious injury occurred in the same street. And, as I understand it, a woman journalist who works for The Times is still fighting for her own life, weeks after she was knocked from her bike by an HGV driver. If this goes on, the Mayor will have presided over a doubling of the number of people killed cycling since 2010. Something has got to change.

Yesterday the Labour Assembly Member John Biggs issued a press release: "Boris Johnson agreed to report back on what immediate actions they intend to take [at Bow roundabout - where two people have been killed on their bikes in the last couple of months]..and to report back within a week".

Three weeks later, he points out, the Mayor still hasn't agreed any actions whatsoever at Bow roundabout.

In the meantime, John Biggs has also been in correspondence with Transport for London about Blackfriars Bridge. The results of that correspondence are extremely depressing.

Talking about Bow junction - a place where pedestrians have to sprint across multiple lanes of a motorway exit road to get across the junction and where two cyclists were killed recently Transport for London has responded with the following letter to John Biggs. The author's name has been removed but here's what TfL has to say:

TfL seems to have rejected this in a letter
to John Biggs, Assembly Member

"[The] suggestion that TfL has deliberately created dangerous cycling conditions at Bow…is not acceptable: prior to the collisions there was no indication within the collision history of the roundabout to suggest cyclists or pedestrians were more at risk using it."  So says TfL.

I don't know what this makes you feel, but it makes my blood boil. Who gives a sod about TfL's 'collision history' models? The point is these are bloody horrible places for anyone unless they're in a car. People feel scared crossing the road or cycling here. Transport for London doesn't think that matters.

Talking about Blackfriars Bridge, TfL makes a statement about the London Cycling Campaign's suggestion that TfL re-design Blackfriars junction as a double T junction. Let's just remember, that it was Transport for London's own safety auditors that recommended this design several years ago. They explicitly stated that a double T junction was the way to make this a place where pedestrians and people on bikes could most safely cross the road and get through the junction

TfL under the Mayor's current strategy no longer seems to think that is the case: "The suggestion for a Double T [junction] at Blackfriars is not workable in TfL's professional opinion". Ah yes, what professional opinion is that? The same paragraph reveals it all. It is only sensible in TfL's 'professional opinion' to make Blackfriars a safe and usable place for pedestrians and people on bikes 'where we test the impacts of a scheme on traffic flow'.

There you have it. TfL's own people recommend a double T junction to make the area safe and easy for people to use on bike and to cross the road. TfL agrees to go ahead with that design several years ago. TfL then scotches all such talk because it now feels that traffic flow of motor vehicles is more important. It backs that change of heart up by some film flam about its 'professional opinion'. I don't know about you but when people write letters that assert their 'professional opinion', I tend to feel they're using that wording to hide the truth.

I think the Mayor and his senior staff at TfL should be hanging their heads in shame. And yet I still don't think they take any of this seriously.

When the Mayor announced a full review of the cycle superhighway scheme, it came tucked in as a sort of after-thought. Most of the Mayor's comments to date have been about blaming everyone other than himself or Transport for London.

First, he told people they should just 'have their wits about them' when they cycle across junctions like Elephant & Castle. This is precisely why most people don't cycle. They understand that their wits aren't enough to keep them feeling safe against four or five lanes of HGVs and buses all bombing it at 40mph.

Second, he had the temerity to say it grieved him how people blamed Transport for London for what's happening on London's roads (i.e. he seemed to blame cyclists for having the temerity to criticise TfL and his own policies)

Then he told Londoners that it's all the fault of the HGV drivers. They need better educating he said. There is certainly an issue around skip lorries - lorry drivers are paid on results. They need to drive fast to make good money. This is wrong. But the Mayor is wrong to blame the education of HGV drivers. That particular issue is about how the construction industry pays its workers. And it is about a health & safety culture that is focussed entirely on people on construction sites, that completely ignores what those people do when they're not on site.

Another blogger puts it incredibly well: "TfL are currently reviewing the superhighways, something which has been marketed as super and safe to use. Unfortunately two cyclists have found out that they aren't safer than other roads, RIP".

He goes on to contrast the London Mayor's Cycle superhighways with new Cycle Superhighways in Chicago. Unsurprisingly, he finds the London scheme hugely lacking. And there's one thing he focuses on: "[In Chicago], the space for cyclists is clearly laid out and is 'protected' from other traffic.'

Just listen to this video and compare and contrast how Chicago is talking about bike lanes with the language coming out of the Mayor and TfL: "We wanted to pay a lot of attention to where motorists and cyclists interact at intersections". Hear that, Boris?

And that's exactly the point that the Mayor misses again and again. The Mayor has singularly failed to admit that London needs 'space for cyclists that is clearly laid out and is protected from other traffic'.

There are no excuses.

But the Mayor is refusing to change the debate. He's refusing, so far, to tell his transport people to make London a place where people can cycle and walk safely.

The truth is that Boris Johnson is still failing to identify what the Mayors of every other cycling city have identified. Chicago, New York, Utrecht, Berlin, Paris, Frankfurt - you name the city. All of them understand the need for 'space for cyclists that is clearly laid out and is protected from other traffic'. Except for our Mayor who is going it alone by implying that cyclists who are killed or injured don't have their wits about them and by blaming HGV drivers for their lack of road education.

I'm not saying that Ken Livingstone is any better on this topic (see the Camden New Journal for the only utterances I've so far seen from Ken on cycling during this campaign). But I am saying this. There are upwards of 500,000 cycle journeys in London every day, according to TfL. That's an awful lot of us when it comes to the Mayoral election. I think it's time everyone who cycles thinks carefully about how they exercise their vote at the election next year.