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.


  1. I think the next 'Blackfriars' or Tour Du Danger-type mass protest has to target Boris. 2 or 3 thousand cyclists turning up to publicly shame him when he next has a cycling-related photo-op.

    And yes, Ken has been utterly silent - expect no better from him.

  2. Another HGV / cyclist collision death. This time at Bermondsey.

  3. Re Ken L, he intended to make helmets compulsory.

    Utterly clueless.

  4. I don't know how much more of TfL's pathetic excuses I can take before I explode. I feel like just lying in the middle of the road in protest.

    It's criminal how far behind other cities we are in terms of concrete infrastructure and, perhaps more importantly, an acceptance and consideration for cyclists. As a result, we get superficial, sub-par amendments to road layout, which in the case of cycling superhighways, actually make things worse. It's clear both Boris and TfL just don't give a damn about cyclists.

    I think we need to shout more loudly, more often. I'd be willing to protest every week if it meant pissing off TfL enough to make them take notice.

  5. @mk
    Yes, I feel just as angry. Ask a cyclist, and he/she is probably pretty clued-up on all the other costs of car-mania - the air pollution, the ill health and obesity, the flash flooding, the energy deficit and carbon costs, and of course the rising accident rates. Why do we elect such short-sighted spineless idiots, who wouldn't know 'leadership' if it punched them on the nose ?
    They're sitting on Jan Gehl's report, and those of other better-informed consultants, while people are dying almost weekly because of inertia, laziness, bad design, vested interests, paucity of vision - take your pick.
    Even more car-centric cities like Chicago, New York, Melbourne can put people and liveability before whatever is stopping a sane solution here.
    This goes beyond cycling - it's a real existential crisis, and there is absolutely nobody of genuine substance even in the running to change this.
    I was in Shanghai earlier this year, and even a city that has a policy of driving cyclists off the roads feels more safe than London.

  6. This is hugely depressing. all the more so because the _only_ really major portfolio that the mayor has in his power is transport. what exactly do we pay him and his staff for?

  7. I think you are all being too hard on guy. It's even possible Boris is the cyclists champion.

    Remember, as he himself said: "...there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters". So what if a few cyclists are killed on the superhighways and at some junctions. There are going to be opportunities in it somewhere for someone!

  8. I can't quite work out whether the Mayor's and TfL's reposnse indicates a refusal to change (perhaps) or is about a more mundane consideration - liability, and the intervention of m'learned friends.

    Most cyclists, who are also motorists, will be familiar with that leaflet they get when they renew their car insurance, "what to do in the event of an accident". Just about the first things it says after making sure everyone is safe is "never admit liability". We see the same mentality in hospitals responding to bereaved relatives' accusations of clinical negligence - they refuse to apologise, to the great distress of the relatives, because they fear that to do so is to admit liability.

    From what we can so far glean about Bow, and indeed about Kings Cross and many others, is that TfL took expert professional advice on their design, which they then ignored when it didn't fit with their obsession with traffic flow. In effect they took a decision to accept pedestrian or cyclists casualties as a necessary evil in the pursuit of their aims. This must surely imply a reasonable case for a civil action by the relatives for damages, if not something more dramatic like a corporate manslaughter charge.

    Their response therefore doesn't surprise me in that sense - their rebuttal of the Bow claims by reference to its lack of accident history and their 'professional opinion' on Blackfriars seek to distract from the apparent conclusions that they took expert advice on their design and then wilfully ignored it, taking a risk which in the case of Bow has caught them out and in the case of Blackfriars may very likely catch them out in future.

    That doesn't bode well for geting them to change - for to channge is to admit they were wrong before.

  9. Tragic.....
    Don't be too hard on old Red Ken.... The superhighways were his idea which Boris cocked up in the implemation. Hire bikes too... a ken proposal

  10. In the meantime, John Biggs has also been in correspondence with Transport for London about Blackfriars Bridge.

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