Monday, 31 December 2012

Boris "We're not going to let the motor car let rip in outer London". Good. A member of the Mayor's Road Task Force (i.e. me) asks whether Boris Johnson can get outer London on its bikes.

People using bikes in London. Lycra, Boris bike, matching bike and red belt, hipster.
There is no such thing as a 'cyclist'. We are Londoners. And we come in all shapes and sizes
"We mustn’t let people run away with the idea that we’re going to let the motor car let rip in outer London". So said Boris Johnson in response to a barrage of questions from London Assembly Members at Mayor's Question Time on 19 December last year

What was fascinating about this exchange was the way that the Mayor stuck to this one central theme and repeated it several times: When asked whether he would support more people driving in from outside London to outer London shopping centres he said yes to more shoppers but no to more motor traffic "We don't want to cause an increase in traffic congestion that it becomes frustrating". He quoted the recent census data which shows a massive decline in car ownership in inner London and talked about the need to bring "mass transit" to outer London to replace the private car. 

A two mile car trip would take less than 10 minutes on a bike. If London could replace half of those two mile car journeys with bike journeys, it would be a major game changer for the quality of life of everyone in this city. But Boris didn't say he plans to bring about mass cycling in outer London. He talked about replacing the car in outer London with 'mass transit' - that means trams, better buses and light rail. As a side note, it's worth noting that the Mayor has twice cancelled plans for mass transit in south London - notably in the form of the tram extension to Crystal Palace. 

Cycle super highway planned for Stratford. Source
Evening Standard
Some of you who know me personally may be aware that, since the middle of last year, I have been a member of the Mayor of London's Road Task Force. I sit alongside the likes of the pro-cycling President of the AA, Edmund Kind and the smart and - surprisingly - measured Chairman of the RAC, David Quarmby.

If you look at the list of members of the Task Force, you'll see three people representing cycling - there's the London Cycling Campaign, Sustrans and me.  From sitting on the Task Force, I know that there's a huge debate going on within Transport for London and within the Mayor's office about what London's roads are for. At times, that debate turns into something more approaching an argument. But the fact of the matter is that the debate is very real and I have to credit the Mayor for including a decent number of people who use bicycles. 

That said, I'm very aware that the purpose of the Task Force is to deliver a strategy for London's roads. And for my part, I want that strategy to shift towards some actual facts on the ground, in particular towards a meaningful shift in favour of cycling as a normal, sensible way for people all across London to travel from A to B.

London might finally catch up with the
Netherlands where bike lanes like this are standard.
Courtesy: AsEasyAsRidingABike blog
There are some very gentle hints of change coming out of the Mayor's office. Some (but by no means all) of the proposed Cycle Super Highway from Victoria to New Cross looks promising, for example. Promising, mind you, not game-changing. 

Slightly better plans seem to be emerging in east London. In the week before Christmas, the Evening Standard ran a piece about the planned extension of Cycle Super Highway to the Olympic Park where several miles of "segregated cycle lanes will be created along the A11 between the Bow roundabout and the Stratford gyratory, notorious for its fast-moving traffic." For an excellent review of those plans, see As Easy As Riding a Bike's blog post.

These are both positive steps. But they are by no means enough to make cycling something that most Londoners see as normal and everyday transport. 

What we need is for the Mayor to start talking about normal people from all over London getting on bikes. He seems to have abandoned any discourse of normal, everyday folk getting on bikes to go to the shops or to visit friends and family. Bicycling in London is heavily focussed on fit, young men (mostly) getting to work quickly along main roads. Cycling is not being sold to Londoners as something that everyone could and should be doing for those short trips. In short, my concern is that Boris Johnson is building a 'cycling revolution' for the people who already use bikes, not for the majority of Londoners who could and probably should be using bikes. 

Contrast that with the Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr: who told the New York Times recently "We need to make biking part of our DNA... “I’m trying to build a city for the people who will be running it 5, 10, 15 years from now". 

Bicycling in Memphis, says the Mayor's office is about using 'bike lanes as an economic development tool, setting the stage for new stores and enhanced urban vibrancy'.

My question to Boris Johnson is: Does he see cycling in the same way as the Mayor of Memphis? Does Boris have the foresight to build a cycling culture in London that helps make our city function better, serves London's economy better and that strives to make this fantastic city even better in five, 10 or 15 years time? 

Friday, 14 December 2012

My heart and my mind are both struggling to understand how the law and the court system have today so completely failed two young Londoners who happened to be on bicycles.

This lorry driver chats away quite happily
on his mobile phone. Rush hour on cycle
super highway 7 last week
Last year, Sam Harding was killed as he cycled his bike in Holloway. He was riding in Holloway Road when Kenan Aydodgu opened his car door. Sam fell into the road and was crushed to death by the bus that was behind him.

Mr Aydogdu, says the BBC "had the windows of his car coated with a dark plastic film which reduced visibility in and out of the car to 17%". I understand that it is not legal to apply this sort of window tinting to your car.

Today, Aydodgu was found 'not guilty of manslaughter'.

To me, that suggests I can go and cover my car in tinted black plastic. That, as a driver, I can throw away my responsibilities to other road users and get away with it if anything goes wrong.

If you think that's shocking enough, wait until you read about today's other London court case.

And this case relates to Mary Bowers. Mary Bowers is a journalist at The Times. Mary was knocked from her bike by an HGV in Wapping last year. She has since been in a coma.

Her colleagues have pursued an unwaveringly diligent campaign to change the way Britain thinks about cycling. All of us who take to two-wheels, all of us who would take to two-wheels if we felt safe enough - we all owe the journalists of The Times (and in particular its editor until this week, James Harding) a debt of gratitude.

We should also be grateful to Ross Lydall, a columnist at the Evening Standard, who has been in court this week covering the Mary Bowers case with sensitivity and compassion. You should read Ross's excellent piece in this evening's edition as he describes how, in his words "12 jurors backed the lorry driver - to the judge's obvious dismay". 

The lorry driver, who came to the UK a year ago and "has previously admitted a series of tachograph offences, including driving a lorry for 20 hours in one day when the maximum is 9 hours" was "engrossed" on his hands-free mobile phone at the time of the collision.

"The court had been told that Ms Bowers placed herself alongside another cyclist in an advanced cyclists' box in front of the lorry as they waited at traffic lights in Dock Street.

Beiu was giving directions on a hands-free phone to a colleague and failed to spot Ms Bowers despite her being "in direct sight" through his windscreen for at least 10 seconds before pulling away and turning left across her path.

He jumped from his cab after hearing "bloodcurdling" screams but forgot to apply the handbrake allowing the lorry to continue rolling over Ms Bowers. He even failed to realise there was a cycle lane on his near side, the court was told. Beiu also lied to the police by claiming he had not been on the phone at the time of the collision."

A jury decided this afternoon to convict the lorry driver of "careless" driving.As Ross Lydall points out on twitter: "Jury never saw pictures of Mary Bowers or heard her family's victim statement. Case centred on lorry driver not Mary's appalling injuries".

As British Cycling points out, many people feel there has been a downgrading of charges around careless and dangerous driving. It has called for a review of the law. This is why: The concept of  causing death by "careless driving" was introduced in 2008. In 2008, only six people were charged with causing death by 'careless driving' and 715 of causing death by 'dangerous driving'.  The numbers of people being charged with ‘causing death by careless driving’ have since risen dramatically, despite the numbers of people killed on the road decreasing, and the numbers of people charged with ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ have dropped in that time as well. As British Cycling points out, this suggests there is confusion over the appropriate charges and ‘causing death by careless driving’ is being used far more than was originally intended.

British Cycling struck exactly the right note this afternoon: "There was no other sensible conclusion than that [the lorry driver's] driving was dangerous, not careless. These failures send completely the wrong message about how we expect people to behave on our roads."

Mary Bowers has been locked in a coma for 13 months. As her father told the Evening Standard this evening "Mary is in effect dead. If it's possible to be worse than dead then she is."

Regardless of the technicalities around the law and around the decision taken by the jury, my heart and my mind are both saying the same thing: It is clear to me, when I look at these two sentences, that the court system has failed utterly to apply sentences that match the circumstances that caused the deaths of Sam Harding and Mary Bowers. The man who tinted his car windows and opened his door, resulting in the death of Sam Harding, will be back on the road tonight (in the same car perhaps?). The man who drove into and then subsequently allowed his lorry to run over Mary Bowers could, if he chose, be behind the wheel of an HGV again by next September.

The reality is that in both cases the verdicts may indeed be the correct verdicts given the law and the court system as they are today. But the question is whether the law and the court system are correct. In my view, when it comes to cycling, they are not.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The census data is absolutely undeniable: Massive rise in car-free households, now the majority all across inner London. Yet London borough councils persist in designing our roads for cars not for bikes and public transport, in direct conflict with what's actually happening.

Evening Standard is absolutely right.
Time for local councils to react to demographic change
& give cyclists their fair share of the road
I've spent some of this evening reviewing the 2011 census data published earlier today, comparing it to the results from 2001 (see part 2 on ONS website)

It makes for a very interesting story. In fact, it's a primetime, can't-miss-it kind of story. And that is, that as far as inner London is concerned, the private car is well and truly on its way out.

In 2001 in Southwark, 51% of households had no car or van. By 2011, that number was up to 58%. In Hackney, the story is even more dramatic - 65% of households are now car-free, up from 56% in 2001. Lambeth - 58% of households are car-free, up from 51% in 2001. Even in a car-centric borough like Wandsworth, 45% now have no car, up from 41% in 2001. And Westminster, the borough which brings you free car parking all weekend and which is viciously anti-cycling, a whopping 63% of households don't own a car, up from 57% in 2001. In Lambeth, it's now 58% car-free households, up from 51% in 2001. Even Kensington & Chelsea households are now 56% car-free, up from 51% in 2001.

The data is absolutely blatant. Inner London is ditching the car. All over inner London in fact. Both the rich parts and the poor parts, the Labour-voting, LibDem-voting and Conservative-voting parts. You simply can't miss the fact that inner London is going car-free.

And yet London councils, like Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea are clinging on to the mistaken belief that London needs to be designed around the private motor car.

Kensington & Chelsea issued a local transport plan in late 2010 that proposes its streets should be designed almost exclusively around the needs of private car ownership: "Our approach to cycling is to encourage a safe mix with other traffic – our busy road network and densely populated area mean that it is not practical to allocate road space specifically to cyclists. Instead, we focus on providing a smooth, debris–free riding surface, cycle parking and increasing the permeability of the local road network." Get that? The majority of Kensington & Chelsea households are car-free yet the council still regards it as "not practical" to devote space to cycling instead of driving and promotes an ideology that would have lorries, buses, taxis and people on bicycles all jostling for position on four lane highways.

I think what the census data is showing is that being 'car-free' is not a left-wing thing, it's not a right-wing thing. It's not a Labour borough issue. It's not a LibDem or Conservative borough issue either. It's happening all across inner London. Households are going car-free. And most of the boroughs are way, way too slow to realise that their residents are looking for alternatives.

The bicycle is one of those alternatives. It is one that has been woefully underfunded for decades. As a transport form, it needs an injection of concerted effort by local boroughs. Those boroughs are running out of excuses and they need to create networks for people to travel by road but not by private car. Especially in places like Westminster and Wandsworth where the provision to cycle instead of drive is pathetic and has been largely ignored by anti-cycling councillors for years.

That has to change. The demographics say as much.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Plans for cycle super highway 5 published: Vauxhall gyratory plan gives more space for cycling, a more direct route for cycling and shows TfL is clearly 'getting' cycling. However a couple of concerns where the scheme really needs improving.

TfL proposal for protected cycle track through Vauxhall gyratory
Transport for London has submitted its plans for Cycle Super Highway 5 for public scrutiny. And there's an awful lot to take in. Super Highway 5 will run from Victoria to New Cross Gate. 

First things first: When TfL first drew up plans for its Cycle Super Highways, there was no public scrutiny at all. In fact, I was lucky to be given some drawings of the original plans for the scheme back in 2011. And they were truly useless. You can see some of the 2011 plans on this post and you can admire how TfL's teams had originally planned for a super highway around Vauxhall gyratory that was - well, no different at all to what's there at the moment. It would have meant that cyclists going from Harleyford Road into the bus/bike lane towards Vauxhall Bridge needed to filter across five lanes of motor traffic (usually moving at way over 40mph). Twice. A complete and utter joke.                       
TfL has now come up with something much more interesting. The basic principle of the plan is actually really good. The bus lane heading from the Oval towards Vauxhall would be extended up to the traffic lights at Durham Street (currently, you have to jostle for position with a dozen white vans here) and a segregated bike track would lead you under the station, in a straight line to Vauxhall Bridge. The route is much more direct than currently and it actually follows what a lot of cyclists already do (albeit not legally). 

In other words, Transport for London has looked at what cyclists already do and given cyclists a more direct route through the gyratory, it has taken a lane away from motor vehicles and given it to the cycle track. Instead of having to cycle around two sides of the gyratory in each direction, you'll be able to pedal straight through the middle of it. Which is actually pretty impressive and shows TfL is beginning to 'get' it. Full marks on that front. 

This section to become a protected bike track.
Heading east on Kennington Lane
I hate cycling on this bit at the moment
One problem, though, is the link between the bike track and the Oval. See the map above and the blue box entitled 'Road widening to allow cycle access'? AsEasyAsRidingABike blog points out quite correctly, that is an advanced stop line. You're supposed to cycle up from the Oval, wait to cross at the ASL on to the island, then wait again to cross traffic turning right from Durham Street and get yourself on to the bike track. It could work. But it would mean having to wait twice where cars wait only once. It's also not clear how you're supposed to actually get on to the bike track without pacing it across two lanes of traffic all trying to rush through the green light.

AsEasy blog is quite right to say there's a risk that "Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so a cycle route can be rendered pointless if there are difficult gaps in it". Will people stop and wait in order to use it? Possibly. At the moment, the set up involves waiting here anyhow, then waiting twice more nearer to the station in order to get through that same tunnel. This new scheme means you still have to wait at three traffic lights to get to the station tunnel, just different ones to cars.

The other issue I can see is that the pedestrian island (which is already a busy shared use pavement/bike space) can be very busy at times. If the bike tracks are going to work then those bike/pedestrian crossings look way too narrow to me. They're about the same size as the current crossings and you'll often see half a dozen people on bikes plus a dozen people on foot all penned in waiting to cross on the narrow toucan crossing.

The other major proposal here is Vauxhall Bridge itself. The Bridge is a complete travesty at the moment. Cyclegaz produced an excellent video of the terrifyingly dangerous bike 'infrastructure' that is in place on the southbound side of the Bridge.

TfL's proposal here is quite radical. Back in 2011, TfL had planned to do almost nothing here. The idea was to simply rub out the bike lane and let cyclists play chicken with the lorries. Now, TfL has something quite quite different in mind - It suggests either: a protected bike track running the entire length of the Bridge and a separate bike traffic light at the southern end or moving the bus lane to the left hand side and having bikes and buses share. In theory, either of these options sounds like a massive improvement on what's there at the moment.

TfL plan for  southbound Vauxhall Bridge. Protected bike track
and cycle traffic lights. 
But look in more detail and the protected bike track is pretty disappointing. It would be only 1.3 metres wide (ie barely wider than what's there at the moment) and would lead to a bike-only traffic light that PedestrianiseLondon blog describes as a 'cyclists-always-have-to-stop' traffic light. My preference would be a proper bike track and traffic lights that don't mean always having to wait longer than cars have to wait. If that's not possible, then my money's with the widened bus lane, to be honest.

I have to say that, as far as Vauxhall gyratory is concerned, I think Transport for London has shown some really fresh and clever thinking.

But there are a number of compromises that need addressing. And these revolve around the fact that bicycle must still cede to motor car.

This is London's inner ring road in action. It is the road that skirts the central London congestion charge. And I can only just imagine the hoops TfL has to jump through to fit meaningful bike infrastructure in to this horrible junction.

Exiting Vauxhall Bridge southbound at the moment
This is what it looks like at rush-hour most days
Cyclists squeezed in a 1metre wide gutter
I think TfL deserves a thumbs-up for fitting some pretty decent bike infrastructure into this area. But it really needs to address the links between those better bits of infrastructure and optimise them.

I'm going to review other parts of the super highway over the coming days. There's an awful lot to read through. If you have time and inclination, you can see all the details on TfL's consultation hub pages.

If you use Vauxhall gyratory, you should tell TfL what you think by filling out the relevant sections of the TfL Cycle Super Highway 5 online survey. 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Transport for London plans upgrade to Bow roundabout junction: Genuinely impressed by these proposals and first sign that TfL is beginning to "think bicycle". But why has the rest of the Super Highway route been ignored?

TfL's proposal to upgrade the junction approach for cyclists
travelling through Bow roundabout. More details on
TfL's website.
Earlier this week, Transport for London published its plans to upgrade the westbound cycle super highway at Bow roundabout.

Astonishingly, they're rather good.

TfL has clearly listened and come up with plan that is several times better than the solution it built earlier this year on the other side of the roundabout heading eastbound. You can see my review of what the eastbound scheme looks like in this post.

The eastbound junction features a standard cycle super highway lane (some blue paint) leading up to a small section of segregated bike track that is a few metres long. The bike track leads to an advanced stop box where cyclists can wait and then (in theory) move off slightly earlier than other road traffic, which is held on red for a whopping three more seconds behind the cyclists.
Approaching Bow roundabout heading eastbound.
The car is parked perfectly legally in the
bike lane, which makes it difficult to
actually get to the protected bike track.
No improvements planned on this side of the
roundabout. Oddly.

The reality of cycling eastbound is somewhat different. You can see one of the problems in the picture on the left: It's almost impossible to actually get into the segregated bike track because the road space in front of it is either filled with cars waiting for the traffic lights or cars parked (legally) in the entrance to the bike track. The second problem is that the advanced stop box is so small, it's often filled with cars and it doesn't provide any time for cyclists even get moving into the junction before the lights change for the cars, who race to overtake (and sometimes overtake and cut directly in front of) the cyclists.

This new proposal for the westbound section of the roundabout is quite radical for TfL. It addresses quite thoroughly the two issues described above. By giving cyclists their own segregated bike track behind the bus stop, people will be able to cycle to the roundabout without having to weave in and out of parked or idling motor vehicles.

And the advanced stop box will be made much larger than the eastbound one - 18 metres in total. That means people should have enough time to get away from the traffic lights on their bikes before the cars behind them get a green light.

Cycle Super Highway 2 - most of the route is an utter joke. Literally,
just some blue paint along the road. This isn't a cycle track.
Picture courtesy: AsEasyAsRiding blog
The only obvious question is why on earth TfL hasn't sought fit to upgrade the eastbound cycle lane at the same time. It could apply an almost mirror-image version of this westbound scheme on the other side of the roundabout, instead of the current low-quality solution is has put in place.

Equally, given there is space along the entire length of the super highway, why isn't TfL applying this sort of thinking (protected bike lane, enough time to get across junctions without having to dodge the cars) along the whole stretch of the Super Highway all the way from Whitechapel. You can read a thorough review of the whole super highway route on AsEasyAsRidingABike blog.

TfL is also looking at a further junction along this route (at Burdett Road junction) but the solution there is less than impressive. Basically, wider footpaths, squeezing motor and cycle traffic together. Why can't a similar high-quality approach be adopted at this junction as well rather than a wishy-washy compromise that doesn't really make things better for anyone ?

Overall, this proposal at Bow is the first time I've seen Transport for London come up with a design that really understands how a cyclist approaches a junction and how the needs of that cyclist are different to the needs of someone in a motor vehicle. It's the sort of design (almost) that you might expect in Denmark.

But if cycling is ever going to take off properly in London, what it needs is consistency. What Bow roundabout shows is that Transport for London is capable of developing high-quality proposals that will make it safer and easier for everyday journeys to be made by bike. But I question why TfL is not upgrading the eastbound approach to the roundabout to make it the same quality as this new westbound proposal or why TfL isn't building the same quality just a mile up the same stretch of the Cycle Super Highway at Burdett Road. This suggests to me that there's a real problem with providing a consistent degree of quality for safer cycling.

TfL is consulting on the Bow junction now. Please take two minutes to comment on the online questionnaire and add your thoughts.

You can find out more about the scheme on TfL's website.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

City of London approves plan to investigate imposing a 20mph 'environment' on all its streets, notes considerable number of people driving through Square Mile way over the speed limit

People cycling to work in the City of London during the summer
Pictured Queen Victoria Street - two lanes in each direction, no bike lanes

In the last fortnight, the City of London has released two sets of figures that independently suggest there are two key issues around road user behaviour in the Square Mile.

The first of these is speeding drivers. In the 10 months to October 2012, City of London Police recorded 5,839 vehicles exceeding 30mph and issued 2,063 penalties for speeding. And this is the important bit: In an area packed with people on foot and on bikes, the average speed of those fined for speeding was 40mph.

What's interesting about the number of people speeding is that speeding is NOT one of the City of London Police's priorities.

The second issue is cyclists jumping red lights. In nearly all wards in the Square Mile, local people have asked the police to focus on cyclists, in particular those cyclists who jump red lights. This is understandable. There is heavy footfall at crossings in the Square Mile. Lots of people crossing the road feel that cyclists are taking liberties at red lights. I watched last week as one guy on a road bike charged through a red light sending three women who were crossing the road scattering out of his way. That's not on, frankly. It's downright pig-headed, arrogant and selfish cycling.

In the same period, to end-October 2012, City of London Police issued a total 2,188 non-endorsable fixed penalty notices. The majority, but not all, of these are to cyclists jumping red lights. If we use the more detailed statistics from the Police report at the Barbican, it looks like around 80% of those penalty notices are for cyclists jumping red lights. That suggests that slightly fewer than 2,000 people have been stopped and fined for cycling through red lights in the whole of the Square Mile this year, which compares with 2,063 stopped and fined for speeding.

Given the fact that the Police have been asked to prioritise "law-breaking" cyclists, I think it's quite telling that even more people have been stopped for speeding through the Square Mile's streets. It suggests that driving way above the speed limit is endemic in the City of London and it seems that speeding drivers are just as much, if not more of a menace in the Square Mile than red-light jumping cyclists.

In that context, I have to commend the City of London which earlier today approved a budget to investigate the benefits (or 'disbenefits' as the report calls them) of applying a 20mph speed limit across the whole of the Square Mile.

What is particularly interesting about the investigation is that the City intends to review a broad but important range of possible outcomes. These include:

  • The impact on average and maximum journey times for all users (so far so expected)
  • The impact on the frequency and severity of road traffic collisions (again, fairly expected)
  • The impact on air and noise quality from various types of emissions from motor vehicles (as above)

But then, interestingly, the City includes a couple of categories that go slightly beyond these usual measures:

The City officers say that they would like to measure the impact of 20mph on enabling people to shift from private motor vehicles to cycling, walking or public transport. Very specifically, in other words, the Square Mile is trying to work out whether by creating a 20mph environment, it can create a space in the centre of London that actively encourages more walking, more cycling and more use of public transport. The City expects to see "continuing strong growth in the numbers of pedestrians and the numbers of cyclists; and therefore in the proportion of City road traffic that these groups comprise".

This is quite an interesting approach. The theory being that if motor vehicle speeds are lower, more people might feel the streets are safer to cycle on, which in turn might lead to fewer motor vehicles on the streets in the first place.

The City's investigation will rumble on until next summer when the first results will be published. I think it will be very interesting to see how the City handles this topic and whether it manages to find a balanced perspective on all these issues.

Monday, 26 November 2012

"Safe" diversion during Upper Ground closure means getting off your bike and walking across junctions. We should be using road safety audits to design risk out of cycling not to design cycling out of the streets.

This is the 'safe' diversion built for cyclists
by Southwark Council. So safe, you have to
get off your bike and push. Insane.
Stamford Street via @jamiewallace
Over the weekend, Southwark council closed Upper Ground - which is the bike route between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge. A cycle count last month showed 700 people on bikes used the route in just one hour 8am - 9am. So, we can assume this is a route for between 2-3,000 cycle trips every day.

The council closed the Upper Ground route last weekend and set up a cycle route diversion. Pictured left, part of that diversion as snapped by twitter user @jamiewallace. You can see a map of the original route and the diversion that Southwark council has implemented. The diversion consists of little more than some diversion signs.

Unbelievably, if you follow the diversion route, you're told to get off your bikes in order to turn right at a traffic light on Stamford Street.

What is so incredible about this whole scheme is the obvious irony of Southwark council investing in a safety audit, marshals and in closing the safer Upper Ground route for the benefit of cyclists' 'safety' during a construction period. But then encouraging people to cycle along a busy, fast-moving alternative route that is potentially so dangerous people are asked to dismount and push their bikes to follow the diversion. Can you imagine if we designed the railways like this? Trains would have to stop at every level crossing and then creep across. The journey from London to Exeter would probably take three times as long. It just wouldn't happen.

On the railways, we would have fleets of people designing out risk, creating safe passage for train passengers.

But when it comes to the way this cycle scheme has been handled, no such thing. The approach to the safety of people using bicycle transport on this route seems to me to come down to minimising the danger of conflict for lorry drivers and car drivers. In other words, let's make the route safe by banning cycling, or by making people get off their bikes to keep them out of harm's way.

It can be done. Crossrail worked with TfL
to install this temporary bike contraflow
during 9 months of building works on Farringdon Rd
Pic courtesy @Johnstreetdales
It seems to me that cycling is simply ignored by a lot of highway authorities and then made to fit around what's convenient for everyone other than people cycling.

A notable example of where that isn't the case is about half a mile up the road from Upper Ground on Farringdon Road.

Crossrail has a massive building site at Farringdon. It has had to make Farringdon Road (normally a four lane road) one way for motor vehicles for at least nine months.

Working with TfL, Crossrail has built safe cycling into its roadworks and proven that it is possible to put cycling into the heart of road schemes and road closures.

"For cyclists, a southbound cycle-lane will be put in place in the closed section of Farringdon Road. This contra-flow lane will be segregated from northbound traffic. This means that cyclists will not need to use the diversion route."

The diversion would have meant people cycling an extra one mile around the site, and would have involved a number of very hairy right turns across several lanes of traffic. In other words, Crossrail has built a solution that avoids exactly the problems that Southwark Council has created with its half-hearted cyclist diversion at Upper Ground. What's more, Crossrail hasn't asked anyone to get off their bikes and walk.

It's not rocket science, it just needs relevant highway authorities to think about cycling with the same foresight they give to other road users. It's good to know that these things are possible, though, if people  in the position to make things happen come together and make them happen. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

London politicians have done us proud: All four political parties call on Mayor to double spending and create "protected" cycle network to make London a city where 10% of journeys are made by bicycle. Report notes most cyclist collisions in London result from motor vehicles passing too closely to cyclists

Cycling as it should be. This is a TNT post man
delivering parcels in the City of London
last week. Normal bike, normal clothes, normal smile
Something quite extraordinary has happened this week. Early this morning, the six Labour, four Conservative, one Green and one Liberal Democrat politicians who make up the Transport Committee on the London Assembly published their first report on the future of cycling in London.

The report doesn't pull its punches. The Committee's chair, Caroline Pidgeon puts it quite clearly: "Many Londoners do not think London is an inviting place to cycle, and they want to see the Mayor and Transport for London build infrastructure that offers physical protection to cyclists." Amen to that.

The report is compelling reading.

Boris Johnson claimed earlier this year (in response to a question by Jenny Jones) that "The number of casualties per cycle trip overall in London has been coming down in spite of the very considerable increase in cycling."

The Assembly crunches the numbers and the facts speak for themselves: The Mayor is wrong on just about every count. Yes, the number of casualties per cycle trip in London decreased from 2001-6. But ever since then, cyclist casualty numbers have been on the up. The risk of injuries to cyclists has been increasing on a per trip basis ever since 2007. In real terms, the number of people slightly injured increased from 2,857 in 2001 to 3,926 last year and serious injuries up from 444 in 2001 to 555 last year. In Copenhagen, the report points out, the number of journeys by bike grew by 50% between 1995 - 2010 yet the risk of cycle casualties dropped four-fold in the same period. In London, there has been a small increase in the number of cycling trips yet the risk of becoming a cycling casualty has also increased whereas when the number of cycling trips increased in Denmark, the risk of becoming a cycling casualty decreased. The report is quietly damning about this: "The Mayor believes the 'safety in numbers' effect will improve cycling safety in London but this is not currently evident". Too true.

Why has the risk of becoming a cycling casualty increased in London when it decreased in Denmark and in other countries? Well, a big part of the problem is that the Mayor is spending not enough money to make cycling safer and the money he is spending may not be going to the right places, says the London Assembly report.

The reality of cycling in outer London. This is supposed
to be a bike route in Newham (Barking Road). Looks
like a very wide pavement (no cycling allowed) and a dual
carriageway to me (go play with the lorries)
The report points out that a whopping 50% of the Mayor's cycling budget has been spent on cycle hire (between 2010-13) and 25% on the Cycle Super Highways. The total spend on the Cycle Super Highways to date is £62million. How on earth the Mayor has spent £62million on what was largely a) either already there a decade ago or b) is literally just blue paint inside bus lanes beats me.  But the really telling thing is just how little money is being spent elsewhere. A whopping £3million has been spent over the last two years across the entire area of outer London. Enough to buy you, well, not very much at all.

The report puts this spending in context: "In the last four years TfL has spent more money than before on cycle infrastructure.... but the budget has not been spent on the type of cycling facilities that maximise safety for vulnerable road users." Exactly. Denmark spent its cycling money on making cycling facilities that are safe enough for everyone to use. The number of cycle trips went up. The chance of becoming a cycling casualty went down. Same thing happened in Paris, the same thing is happening in New York and the same thing happened in the Netherlands. What the London Assembly is saying (but doesn't quite say it loudly enough) is that the Mayor is spending money on the wrong things. He's wasting money on poor quality cycling infrastructure and denying any serious money to cycling outside zones one and two.

The result of this rather rather odd pattern of spending is that London's "cycling facilities are inconsistent between boroughs, and it is often not possible to find continuous safe routes." Politely put but very true. What's even worse is that due to changes in funding put in place by the Mayor: "cycling has been de-prioritised in some boroughs" (My own view is that boroughs like Westminster, Richmond and Newham have utterly failed cycling).

The London Assembly thinks the Mayor should change this. It recommends that Transport for London should spend 2% of its annual budget to improve cycling (currently London spends about 0.8% of its annual budget on cycling, of which over half goes on the cycle hire scheme and hardly any goes on meaningful cycle route infrastructure). The Assembly notes that Edinburgh is to spend 5%.

Believe it or not this is a bike lane. Cyclists hate it, pedestrians
hate it. This is the City of London's main south-north cycle route 
Most importantly, the report says that the Mayor should wake up and smell the coffee. The money should be spent on building proper cycle route infrastructure. The sort of thing that other cities all around the world have done but London has completely failed to do.

The majority of cyclist collisions in London, according to the report (quoting data from TfL), "result from motorised vehicles passing too closely to cyclists, turning across the path of cyclists or opening a car door into the path of a cyclist".  The politicians call loud and clear for "protected space for cyclists" to protect against exactly these problems. Cycling facilities should be built "to accommodate mistakes by cyclists or other road users", in particular to accommodate children and the elderly.

The report is literally packed with common sense and with the facts and data to back up that common sense. But the real issue is whether the Mayor will listen and act. The London Assembly is very clear. It concludes: "Political will is needed to make cycling a mainstream form of transport that is supported by high quality, safe cycling routes. There could, and should, be more segregated cycle space in London. Currently, decisions to give cyclists protected space are often turned down because there is a lack of political will to take space from motorised traffic."

The thing is, it's now up to the Mayor to show he has the political will to make this happen. Either that, or it's up to Londoners to make sure they pressure the Mayor or vote for a Mayor who will make this happen.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Five killed in less than three years at Elephant & Castle . This is why you should sign the petition calling on the Mayor to make the roads in this area safer.

Hichame Bouadimi - the latest person to be killed on the road
at Elephant & Castle. He was only five. Source, Evening Standard
Around about now, a group of people will be standing around Elephant & Castle roundabout collecting signatures.

Before we look at why they're doing this, let's look first at who they are. It's an impressive list:

Members of Southwark Living Streets; parents of Friars School; members of the Walworth Society; Friends of Borough Music School; members of Southwark Cyclists; parents and children of the Borough Babies group; Jacobs Island Residents Association; British School of Osteopathy Student Union; parents of Toad Hall Nursery; residents of Octavia Hill Residents Association; parents and teachers of Charles Dickens PTA; the congregation of Southwark Salvation Army Community Church. The list goes on. 

What's noticeable is that this is a list of parents, teachers, communities and residents. All of whom have to endure living and going to school at Elephant & Castle. 

Map of collisions with people on bikes at Elephant & Castle.
Source Levenes solicitors
And when I say "endure", what I mean is this: In the past two and a half years, almost 300 people have been  injured on the roads in and around the Elephant & Castle. Since Christmas 2011, four pedestrians have died including most recently five year-old Hichame Bouadimi

According to Southwark Living Streets: "The danger to all but most clearly to pedestrians and cyclists is endemic and long standing owing to the domination of the area by motor vehicles which move too fast and have too much space."

It seems that local people have had enough. 

The figures tell a different story. The table below is prepared by Southwark Living Streets and shows all casualties between 1 January 2010 and 30 June 2012. What this data doesn't show is the number of people killed cycling here, because those incidents pre-dated January 2010. For example, Meryem Ozekman, 37, a fitness instructor from Southwark, crushed by a lorry in 2009 on the Elephant and Castle roundabout.

Fatalities and injuries at Elephant & Castle (30 months from 1 January 2010)

% all Casualties
Pedal Cycle

Powered 2 Wheeler

Bus/Coach/ Goods Vehicle


And if that's not enough to convince you, how about the comment by Nicole Cooke, Olympic cycling champion: "I certainly wouldn’t fancy riding across Vauxhall Cross or Elephant and Castle in rush hour"

Five people killed in 30 months, 38 serious injuries. 33% of all casualties here are cyclists. 80% of the deaths since 2010 have been pedestrians. 

The petition is simple. You should sign it:


We call on Transport for London to make the main roads in and around the Elephant & Castle safer and, 

1) introduce enforced 20mph speed limits on all of these roads, 

2) improve cycle safety on the Northern Roundabout, 

3) create more pedestrian crossings and 

4) narrow carriageways on St George’s Road and Newington Causeway.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Road safety audit at Blackfriars expects 700 cyclists per hour to get off their bikes, cross the road three times and then carry on cycling towards Waterloo. This time, I can't blame Southwark Council but our entire road culture, which allows safety auditors to get away with inadequate recommendations that don't bear resemblance to reality.

Stamford Street - 700 more cyclists per hour will be heading along
here at rush hour from December
In a couple of days time, Southwark Council will close a stretch of Upper Ground - a road that makes up a crucial low-traffic route between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge. I'm quietly predicting an outcry when the closure does go ahead. Southwark is proposing to re-route cyclists via Stamford Street.

I've expressed some grave concerns about the re-routing, not least of which are safety concerns - the biggest of these being the fact that people who normally cycle here can avoid the highly intimidating junction between Blackfriars Bridge and Stamford Street.

Southwark Council and one of the contractors working near the site have kindly sent me a copy of the road safety audit that was commissioned after cyclists protested at the closure of the route.

First some facts. The auditors note that 700 people cycled along Upper Ground between 8-9am on the day they monitored the route in October. Somehow they conclude that means only 1,850 cyclists every 24 hours, which strikes me as a hugely conservative forecast. When I cycle through here most days at 7.30am, it's almost just as busy as it is at 8.30am and my guess is the volume of cyclists is at least 2,500 per day, probably higher. Those 700 people per hour make up a fraction of the thousands of people who cycle across Blackfriars Bridge every rush-hour.

We're talking about quite significant flows of people on bikes here.

Let's assume that the 700 people per hour who use this route use it because they prefer a quieter, safer, less intimidating route to cycle to work than the alternatives on parallel roads - that are narrow, fast and quite unpleasant to cycle along. In the terms of the auditor's report, there's an implication that these 700 people per hour are 'less confident' cyclists. I'm one of those, apparently. I prefer quieter, slower, safer routes to work. I'm not an 'unconfident' cyclist, I just find this route easier and safer to negotiate than other routes.

The report is pretty detailed. Some of it isn't too bad, if I'm honest. It suggests, for example, that Transport for London should paint an advisory cycle lane along Stamford Street. It also suggests carrying the cycle lanes into the filter lane from Stamford Street to Blackfriars Bridge I don't yet know whether TfL has looked at this recommendation.

But two things shock me about the report.

The 'more confident cyclist' can get in to the fourth
lane and use the advanced stop line. Yeh, right.
Picture taken from the fourth lane coming off
Blackfriars Bridge.
Firstly, the total absence of measurable 'cycle standards': The report suggests that Stamford Street should have an advisory cycle lane "in similar vein to those on Blackfriars Bridge Road". The cycle lanes on Blackfriars Bridge Road are worse than useless. They are less 1 metre wide - the sorts of things that mean many impatient motor drivers try to force you into the bike lane but where the bike lane is little more than a dangerous extension of the gutter. The fact that the Mayor of London has a) yet again delayed London's cycle design standards and b) never actually enforced those standards in the first place means that 'road safety auditors' can get away with making recommendations to councils like this that are (in my view) almost immoral.

Secondly, I feel that the report almost entirely bows out of dealing with one of the most pressing issues: the right turn from Blackfriars Bridge to Stamford Street. To cross this junction, you need to swing out over four lanes of motor traffic driving fast off the Bridge. Or, you take the cycle filter left, wait for the lights and then cross the main road and make your way down Upper Ground, thereby avoiding the nasty junction. Here's what the road safety audit has to say:

"The more confident cyclist is likely to use the traffic signals to turn right with the general traffic and use the advanced stop line". Pictured above, the advanced stop line in action. Yes, when it's not dark or raining and when I can look in the eye of the rows of drivers behind me, I'll turn right with the general traffic. When it's dark (e.g all winter), I am much less happy swinging out across four lanes of traffic, unable to second-guess whether the cars behind me will slow down. At least once a month, a driver won't slow down. They'll simply change lane and swerve around me, cutting me up from the inside.

So, what do the road safety auditors recommend? They recommend this: "Less confident [sic] cyclists can leave the carriageway at the toucan adjacent to Upper Ground travel south down the central reserve and dismount to use the pedestrian crossings to cross both Blackfriars Bridge Road and Stamford Street, remounting (on Stamford Street)".

In other words, the auditors seriously expect 700 people per hour to wiggle down a central reservation on their bikes, cross the road three times in total (one of the crossings has no pedestrian green phase by the way) and then pedal off again. That's plainly nonsense.

This isn't a criticism of Southwark Council or of the contractors who engaged this road safety audit. But I think the fact that a road safety audit can present such an inadequate series of recommendations reveals some major flaws in the way our entire road culture works.

The whole industry needs to take a look at how it goes about designing roads that include cycling, rather than treat cycling as a minor irritation. The road safety audit sets out to "ensure the safety of all road users". All well and good. But it prescribes methods that simply don't resemble reality.

My own view? Many 'less confident' cyclists, aren't 'less confident'. They just want decent, safe conditions that demonstrate someone has thought about them as cyclists. When you're a train passenger, you know someone has thought about how to minimise danger during your journey. Same when you're driving. When you're a cyclist, though, it seems you're on your own. Or you're "less confident" because you don't like trucks skimming past you or you don't like crossing four lanes of motor traffic to turn right. Who does?


You can read more about this in yesterday's Evening Standard in an excellent editorial piece. Evening Standard; Give London's cyclists their fair share of the road. If you haven't read it yet, you should. It's a must-read piece.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Councils need to learn how to design for safe cycling and Crossrail is showing the way: Southwark council installs hopelessly dangerous cycle diversion south of Blackfriars Bridge. Meanwhile, Crossrail to close Farringdon Rd, just north of the Bridge. But not for cyclists.

Pictured left, this morning's edition of Metro newspaper. The front page entitled "Put cyclists first". I never thought I'd see the day.

What's so ironic about this front page is that Southwark Council has just sent me a copy of its plans for the closure of the main cycle route along the Thames. The council admits 'not enough consideration was given to cycling'. It's worse than that. Just wait till you see the diversion plans, which I've shown below.

The picture below is a map showing the area just to the south of Blackfriars Bridge.

Many thousands of people cycle over this Bridge every rush hour. A good chunk of them cycle between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge along Upper Ground which is a busy but quiet cycle route parallel to the river. It is part of the National Cycle Network and people use it to avoid cycling along the  dangerous and fast alternatives, where there are several lanes of motor traffic.

The map shows the cycle diversion planned by Southwark Council that will come into effect later this month and last for 10 months. As you can see, the council expects people to cycle on Stamford Street rather than along the quiet parallel route.
Plan of the road closure at Upper Ground and the 'Diversion' route

Last month, a group of us from Sustrans, Living Streets and Southwark Cyclists met with the contractors responsible for new buildings going up around this cycle route. The meeting was coordinated by Southwark Council in response to anger at its decision to close the cycle route without notice.Well done to the Council for organising the meeting. Unfortunately, the results of that meeting are less than impressive:

At that meeting, we agreed that a temporary closure of Upper Ground makes sense. There are going to be dozens of lorry movements every hour in and out of some fairly tight spaces here. Something that is not compatible with hundreds of people on bikes.

But we agreed this closure made sense only on the basis that suitable alternatives would be put in place.

Pictured above, is what Southwark Council together with help from Transport for London seems to think is such as suitable alternative route.

Upper Ground cycle route in action. This is the stretch being closed
for nearly a yar.
Those of you who know this area will know that this alternative;

- will force people heading towards Waterloo to turn right across four lanes of motor traffic coming off the Bridge
- will point people towards Waterloo roundabout, one of the 10 most dangerous junctions for cyclists in London
- will see hundreds of people cycling along Stamford Street, a relatively narrow, fast-moving thoroughfare, shared with the dozens of lorries heading to sites on Upper Ground and further along this route at London Bridge.

In short, the council seems to be putting up some signposts. It seems to be putting up some 'diversion' signs. And that seems to be it. My own view is that this simply isn't acceptable.

Councillor Barrie Hargrove, responsible for making Southwark a safer place to cycle, wrote last week to one of his constituents:

"Can I start by saying that I agree with you. Not enough consideration at the early stage was given to the impact that closure of Upper Ground would have on commuter cyclists....We have been working with TfL with cycling safety as an absolute priority. This is why the decision to close Upper Ground to through traffic was reluctantly taken. I acknowledge that Upper Ground west to east is a national cycling route; however, sadly it has proven to be just not possible in that location to create an alternative cycling route to the standard of Upper Ground."

Fine. The Council has admitted it ignored cyclists on this busy national cycle route. But you would have to be insane to think this diversion is a safe and sensible alternative.As one rather influential cyclist put it to me last night "the irony is that Southwark is closing Upper Ground for safety reasons but the alternative they're suggesting is ten times more dangerous".

We haven't seen the road safety audit that was commissioned and which we understand was used to inform these diversions.It may be that there are some sensible suggestions on that audit. But none of them seem to be showing on this map.

I think the council is playing roulette with people's lives. It's not 'putting cyclists first'. It put the safety of its significant population of residents, workers and visitors who use bicycles last at Upper Ground and this diversion plan is nothing more than a bunch of signposts. Deeply unimpressed.

Meanwhile, slightly further up the same road, please be aware that Farringdon Road is going to close between Clerkenwell Road and Charterhouse Street from 12 November 2012 to April 2013.

But not for cyclists!

"Southbound motor traffic will follow a signed diversion from Farringdon Road along Rosebery Avenue, Gray’s Inn Road, High Holborn, Holborn Circus and Charterhouse Street.

For cyclists, a southbound cycle-lane will be put in place in the closed section of Farringdon Road. This contra-flow lane will be segregated from northbound traffic. This means that cyclists will not need to use the diversion route."

Crossrail has pulled this off fantastically. The building project has sought to move as much waste as possible by rail, rather than by lorry. (Southwark could have insisted on delivery via the river at Upper Ground but it just caved into the developers and allowed lots of lorry movements instead). What's more, Crossrail has insisted all lorry drivers using its sites have cycle training. And now, Crossrail has built a cycle contraflow instead of forcing cyclists on a diversion with the cars and trucks. And why? Because Crossrail gets cycling. From what I understand, senior people in the Crossrail team are cyclists, care about cycling and 'get' cycling. It makes Southwark look completely illiterate.