Monday, 30 January 2012

Southwark Labour council sets out a strategy to shrink current growth in cycling, that also runs counter to Ken Livingstone's cycling policy.

I posted at the weekend how Southwark councillors are looking to make the borough’s roads safer for people to cycle on. What I didn’t realise was that in doing so, I had stepped into a political rift between different political parties within the council. 

The Labour leader of Southwark Council Peter John was in touch straight away after I posted about his cycling strategy at the weekend and has offered to meet and discuss his views. I look forward to meeting him. All the more so now that Ken Livingstone has come out and stated definitively that he believes there is space in London for proper bike infrastructure. He told the Guardian yesterday: "In some places you can put in separation. Most of our roads are wide enough to do that". Southwark now seems seriously out of step. 

Southwark recently published its investment plan for transport in the borough. There is a lot that is worthy in that plan. For example, it is admirable that Southwark is standing up to Boris Johnson’s number one road policy, which is to allow more car traffic to travel through London as quickly as possible. Southwark states that the Mayor’s policy may increase the share of motor vehicles on London’s roads and ‘therefore reduce cycling levels’. It proposes to challenge Johnson’s policy by ‘prioritising cycling’ when it designs street improvement schemes.

Reading the detail of the Southwark plan, however, I was surprised that the council’s strategy targets a significant reduction in the growth rate of cycling. In 2006/7, cycling accounted for 2.9% of all journeys starting in Southwark and is expected to increase to 4.0% by 2013/4. For some odd reason, the plan is for that rate of growth to collapse after 2014 and to only shuffle towards a piffling 5% by 2025/6. In other words, the rate at which more people take up cycling is expected to slump in 2015 and continue to slump thereafter. This seems like a serious lack of vision from the council.

Cycle Super Highway in Southwark
What’s more, the Southwark plan suggests the council has significantly lower expectations than its northern neighbour, the City of London. The City authorities anticipate 10% of all people working in the Square Mile to bike to work by 2020. That compares with Southwark’s plan for only 5% of its residents to cycle by 2025.

Furthermore, the City of London has committed very clearly to the creation of high-quality routes through the Square Mile where people will be given greater priority if they travel by bicycle.

The Southwark plan is commendable for making clear that it intends to prioritise cycling. However, close reading of the Southwark investment plan is that ‘prioritisation’ will consist primarily of training and educational events. In other words, it neglects to commit the council to creating clear and meaningful routes where people are given greater priority if they travel by bicycle.

Southwark believes that 47% of trips on its roads could be made by bicycle. I don’t believe that a commitment to education and a general statement about investment priorities is anywhere near enough to generate the conditions that would amount to 47% of trips being made by bicycle.

It seems that, deep down, Southwark’s politicians know this too. The Southwark plan asks itself this killer question (I hope not literally):

To me the answer is very clear. I wouldn’t send my child out on Southwark’s roads and nor would most head teachers want me to (see this excellent post by Kennington People on Bikes for more on that). They feel too dangerous.

And we can see just how dangerous. Although cycling accounts for only 2.9% of all trips originating in the borough, 20% of the people killed or seriously injured on Southwark’s roads are cycling. What’s more, Southwark knows how risky its roads are:

What this map shows is that to get pretty much anywhere in Southwark, you need to be trained to bikeability level 3 (and personally, I would question some of these ratings. Some of these roads are considerably tougher than that.). In my view, this is like asking your kids to pass exams equivalent to the Advanced Institute of Motorists just to get to school.  

I'm exaggerating slightly but to make this point: Southwark is asking children and their parents to fling themselves around multiple-lane gyratories, to have confidence tackling right hand turns, often against four lanes of motor traffic. Southwark is also implying that, in order to cycle from one neighbourhood to the other, people must be trained to a significantly higher degree than to do the same journey by car.

The fact is that Southwark’s pro-cycling rhetoric is completely and utterly undone by the facts on the ground. The council wants to encourage cycling. It believes 47% of all trips could be made by bicycle on its roads. It believes there would be huge benefits for its residents and business in the borough were that to happen. But it has very little on offer in order to make that a reality.  

I don’t believe that should be the case.

Karl Cracken does an excellent job here of describing, very succinctly, the three basic essentials that might genuinely encourage people to opt for a bicycle trip instead of a car trip. He says that people need safe, convenient and direct routes. If their bike routes meet these three criteria, they will more likely cycle than drive. I don't see any of these three must-haves in the Southwark transport plan. 

It is a crying shame to see a council that has been, in the past a true leader in cycling, set itself on a trajectory that will do very little to encourage more people to cycling and that, I believe, will do equally little to bring down the borough’s poor record on cycling safety.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

'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'. The response to this situation in Southwark by its Labour council 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 only 4% of road trips by 2016.

In fact, that puts Southwark behind even 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, 26 January 2012

It's not the cyclists cutting out motor traffic lanes at Tottenham Court Road. It's Boris's plan. But he's not offering you any alternatives either. Want to cycle down from Camden instead of driving? Forget it.

Pictured above. the junction at the top of Tottenham Court Road. Transport for London is about to spend £10million redesigning this junction.

The plan above, is the version designed by a bunch of people with bicycles over at Camden Cyclists.

What TfL wants to do is something completely different. Something that will look amazing to designers but will be pretty much useless and downright inconvenient for most people. And probably downright dangerous for people on bikes. 

TfL wants to spend lots of money here to make less space for cars and buses. It will reduce 5-6 lanes at the top of Tottenham Court Road down to three. And it will squeeze in an advisory bike lane (in one direction only). You can see the detailed TfL plan here on this page.

Not only do motor vehicles get less room but there's also nothing here for people on bikes. How on earth are you supposed to encourage people to cycle instead of paying for the bus or to park their cars in the centre of London, if you constantly 'forget' to include the cycling infrastructure? It's not even as if you'd need to spend any more money. Or as if you'd need to restrict any more lanes for cars. You're doing that already. You just need to actually add the bike lane bit.

But here we go again. No bike infrastructure whatsoever. 

Transport for London has issued a consultation (good, at least there is a consultation this time) on its website which shows its own plan. You can add your comments on that plan and I'd encourage you to spend two minutes filling out the form.

Tfl will narrow the road and make cycling conditions that look like
this. Fabulous. What a waste of effort.
Once again, it's taken some keen cycling folk to point out what a complete waste of time and effort this latest TfL scheme is.

The scheme proposed by the Camden Cyclists folk is actually designed for the people who live, work, walk, cycle and take the bus or drive here. It is designed to benefit people by making things work better so they can choose to use a bike rather than the bus (saves them time and money) or they can choose to bike rather than drive (also saves them time and money). But this scheme does nothing for anyone. 

I'm sure the TfL plan looks lovely on the desk of an architect. But it's no good if you're on the bus. And it's not going to encourage you to swap a short car trip (51% of London car journeys under two miles, remember) down from Camden or Kentish Town. They're just shafting (pardon my French) the motorist and doing pretty much nothing to allow you to cycle instead.

I'm fed up of poring over Transport for London plans. That's not my job. It's their job to design London for Londoners. But what they're doing is designing Londoners out of London in favour of drawings that look lovely on paper and are a right pig for everyone who has to use them.

Thanks Boris. We all pay for Transport for London through the top-up tax you charge us on our council tax. Time you started telling your team (who report directly to you, remember) to start taking Londoners seriously when it comes to the roads you control. 

If all of this groaning hasn't put you off, comments please to the poor folk at Transport for London who are going to get caught in the middle of this. Click here to open the online comment form.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Tottenham Court Road - Boris announces a 'world class cycling city' in Davos today and builds a 'worst class' cycling city on the ground. Send in your comments now. Six motor lanes reduced to three and still 'there's no room' for cycle path. Even Boris Johnson's 'fiddly thing' is cut off at its tip

TfL's plans for Euston Circus - top of Tottenham Court Road/Warren Street
Today, Boris Johnson told world leaders at Davos that London will host a 'world class two day festival of cycling next year'.While Boris makes London sound like a world-class cycling city, his officials are busy getting on with designing a worst-class cycling city on the ground. One that alienates cyclists and manages to wind up drivers simultaneously. Here's how:

Talking about the bizarre bike paths at the top of Tottenham Court Road Boris Johnson said this: "You get to that bit where you come to the underpass, and then the cycle route takes you on a sort of fiddly thing, where you go over… there’s a path, and you’ve got lots of oncoming pedestrians, and then you’re invited to cross at a traffic light, and so on and so forth."

He's kind of right. There is a sort of fiddly thing. It's that green squiggle that is the bike lane (shown above) which you can use to come off the Euston Road, then cross two lanes of motor traffic and then hop into an advance stop box at the top of Tottenham Court Road. 

And pictured above is the new plan that TfL proposes here. Keeping Boris Johnson's 'fiddly thing' in pride of place. Although they chop off the end of it and dump you in that bicycle box at the end of Tottenham Court road so you can't cycle westbound any more. So, they've chopped off the end of Boris's 'fiddly thing' and made it look and feel an awful lot worse.

What's really happening here is that five lanes (six if you include the slip roads) are being reduced to three. And there's still apparently 'no room' for a decent bike route through here. Which is complete bunk and they know it.

Plenty of space for this sort of thing at Warren St junction.
Clearly no space for a bike lane though?!
Head south and the slip road that turns left towards Euston Road is going. But there's no bike path to get you past the queues of stinking buses and motor vehicles clogging up the road, waiting for the traffic lights. There's plenty of space for a bike path all the way up to the junction here but the road space is used for white lines instead that take up the middle of the road. Similar to these white lines down the middle of the road here. Lots of room to create a bike lane. But no, let's just put some hatchings down the middle of the street instead. 

Want to head south from Camden? Take the two lane dual carriageway into Gower Street with its gentle race track curves and then pace for what your worth down this charming urban race track - Another 1960s gyratory but with wider pavements and cycling infrastructure benefits from some, err, advanced stop boxes. 

There are some merits. Less slip road and simpler paths through the junction. That is probably going to calm the place down a bit. The removal of the slip roads is good. But why not make this a space you could cycle through with your kids to the shops or into the West End? Not going to happen. Oh well. 

What's happening is that the roads are being made narrower for all vehicles - motor cars, buses, HGVs and bicycles ALL get to share less space. Pavements get made wider. And there is suddenly 'no space for a bike lane'. 

This is exactly what's happened on streets like Cheapside in the City of London. As I said a few months ago, I can think of no better way to simultaneously wind up car andd bus drivers AND make cycling less pleasant and more dangerous in one sweep. 

It's deeply depressing. Boris Johnson has announced a complete review of cycling and safety in London (to replace the one he has been ignorning since 2005, in fact) The point is people have to feel that it's safe enough for them to opt to take a bicycle. Those of us who already cycle kind of put up with it. But even Transport for London admits that very significant numbers of people would cycle instead of driving or packing on the bus if they felt safe enough (depends on the question but numbers vary between 27% and 51% of all Londoners saying they would cycle here and would like to cycle more if they felt safe enough). This sort of scheme will do nothing to achieve that. And that's my problem with it.
Cycling will always be a minority activity if it looks and
feels like this. More of the same coming to Tottenham Ct Road
There's one difference this time. Transport for London is actually consulting on the plans. TfL completely ignored 650+ letters asking it to change its design at Blackfriars and ignored two London Assembly votes as well as three mass flash mob protests attracting 2,500 people to protest. But I can just about summon up the energy to write a strong response. 

My tone will be broadly: It's better than it is now. But it falls very short of what I think would encourage me to cycle here with a 12 year old. Or with my mum. 

There is a page on the Transport for London website for your comments. Enter your comments on this page here

For more background, see this TfL page here

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Add your comment: Missing east-west bike link could connect Holborn Circus to Threadneedle Street - neat route that avoids Bank junction congestion and danger spot

New east-west bike link opening at St Paul's - avoids Bank junction eastbound
I received an email early this week from the City of London asking for comments on a proposed experimental cycle scheme, that would allow cyclists coming from Holborn Circus to access a fairly direct east-west route from St Paul's gyratory towards Moorgate or the north of Bank. What's neat about it is that it opens up a parallel route to Cheapside that would allow people to avoid Bank junction and cycle to the north of the Bank before carrying on east-wards. I've drawn the new route in the map above (thank you

If you're not too familiar with the area, here's a link to the google map.

You'd cycle through the bus/taxi/bike-only Angel Street which skirts the north side of the BT building at St Paul's, hop on to the extremely wide pavement via a new dropped kerb, head north for a few metres and then into Gresham Street.

So, on the positive side, a cheap, quick win for cyclists that opens up a new west-to-east route that avoids Bank junction.

However, there's a number of negatives in my view. I'd be very grateful if other people familiar with these junctions could add their thoughts and comments by emailing either me directly at or commenting below. 

Pictured below is a detailed technical drawing of the link as planned. Basically, by opening up the pavement area to cycling, the City can fill a missing link for cyclists who want to head from the St Paul's gyratory into the quieter streets north of Cheapside. Importantly this allows you to avoid Bank junction which is often extremely clogged up and is the scene of more car-on-bike collisions than any other junction in the Square Mile.

Here are some issues that stand out to me:

  • The hop onto / off of pavement bit: It's really badly signposted. Lots of people walking along here will wonder why the hell a bike is hurtling at them. At the very least, some bike logos should be painted on the ground as you enter and exit the paved area.
  • Unless you're hyper-familiar with this junction you won't know where you're supposed to head to when you cycle on to the pavement area, so those bike logos are important for cyclist navigation as well. I also feel there should be some marking across
  • Gresham Street itself is a challenge. Until very recently, the entrance into Gresham Street was bicycle-only. There's a cafe on the corner, much loved by black taxi drivers. For some reason, the bike entry was converted a few months ago into a temporary all vehicle entry. This scheme would formalise that two-way working at this junction. So, yes, bikes get a new access route. But so do the dozens and dozens of taxis that want to use this as a rat-run and avoid Cheapside and Bank. What this means is a) cyclists get a quieter, alternative route along Gresham Street that avoids Cheapside and Bank but b) the new two-way working means that Gresham Street - which has always been a quiet local access road - will become a fairly busy rat-run.  
  • The fact that Gresham Street will be a busy two-way junction means that the bike crossing (which is after all directly across a fairly fast two-lane gyratory) will be a fairly tricky manoeuvre. At the very least, bike footprints should go across the road here.
What's slightly irksome about this experimental scheme is that it sort of matches the City's recent and very positive rhetoric about cycling. But then undermines it completely. The City of London published its local transport plan last week. In the plan, it states its intention to:

"The continued creation of more pedestrian and cyclist shared routes and more pedestrian zones that permit access for cyclists, i.e., the selective exclusion of motor vehicles from some local access streets, at all times or only at some times of day."

This scheme is definitely a case where the City is adding new and meaningful access for cyclists. Good.

But it's failing to exclude or limit the number of motor vehicles in this particular local access street. Bad.

It's also debatable whether this is a 'quality' cycle route (something else in the City's recent rhetoric. After all, it's not at all clear whether people will even realise this is a legitimate bike route or not, there doesn't look to be any signposting, any obvious markers that tell you where to go. I know my way around the City's back streets but plenty of other people wouldn't have a clue where this heads to.

The cycle crossing needs more detailed thinking about to make it a) findable b) safer c) clear what you're supposed to do and where you're supposed to go when you're perched on your bike on the pavement.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, this scheme is experimental. But I fear it means Gresham Street will switch permanently from being a quiet local access road with one-way for motor vehicles (two way for bikes) to a busy two-way rat-run.
If this experiment were ultimately to lead to a proper, clearly-marked cycle track (one that also lead north of here so that you could come west along Gresham Street and then head north towards Islington), then great.

But there's no indication whether or not that's part of the plan yet.

So, on the plus side, hooray, the City of London is looking at ways to give more people better options for cycling through the City. On the negative side, err, it means shared space on the pavement and shared space in Gresham Street which will no longer be a local access road but becomes a rat run instead. However, if this is the start of a proper cycle track that allows you to enter and exit Gresham Street in either direction and becomes something that people want to use as an alternative bike route and want to make better over the next year or two (more money to be found for that), then it's a good start. What do you think?
Do send me your thoughts to or comment below email subject 'Gresham Street Consultation' by 29 January please.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Evening Standard: 'It is hoped pedestrians will hurry' out of the way of motor vehicles in London. The cyclists are going out again at Kings Cross on 23 January to protest. This time, it's not just about cycling.

Boris Johnson: is suggesting something like this:
 'Assume there will be more traffic, fewer crossings and you will
have to hurry across the road and not upset the motorists'
At a recent residents' meeting I attended, the talk was about the new housing development around the corner - a development of several hundred apartments and terraced houses.

That specific development is mentioned in a strategy document by Transport for London here:

The road in question is Clapham Road - four lanes between Stockwell and Oval. Everyone at the meeting disagreed with TfL: there isn't a safe way to cross the road here unless you take a 400 metre detour via the traffic lights. Transport for London says the road lacks pedestrian demand. In the eyes of the people that live and work there, it is by no means clear how TfL measures 'demand'.

Last week, I spotted something similar in Kidbrooke: Developers are building a new residential 'village'. According to the local blog KidbrookeKite, Kidbrooke Park Road will continue to be a 'formidable divide running through the centre of the community'. A crossing is a 'fundamental' requirement, say the developers. No, says Transport for London. That would compromise motor traffic. Once again - a new residential development, designed so that people who don't live there can get through the area by car. Not designed so that the people who do live there can walk to the shops.

New houses going up on the right. TfL is not going to
build any crossings for pedestrians on this road.
Source KidrookeKite
The policy of removing or reducing pedestrian crossings has been going on since Boris Johnson took office. Back in 2009 the Evening Standard reported that pedestrian crossing times would be made shorter. Why? 'To cope with increased traffic when the Mayor abolishe[d] the western extension of the congestion zone'. We now know that motor traffic has increased 8% in the area since the congestion charge was removed. The Evening Standard headline at the time was: "Hurry up and cross..." Says it all really. 

Two years on, Boris's anti-pedestrian policy is growing. There are 58 pedestrian crossings for the chop in the next couple of months. They will be replaced with nothing - not a zebra crossing, just nothing.

Let's take a few examples. Curtain Road in Hackney is losing its traffic lights. There is a new east-west cycle link along Rivington Street that crosses Curtain Road right here. You'll have to wait for a gap in the traffic and hop across. Older or infirm? Want to get from the shops on one side of Rivington Street to the other? Zebra crossing? No can do. Take a detour. 

At the top of London Bridge, another crossing is for the chop. Several more in Westminster, Richmond, Croydon, Barnet. You name it. 

This is all part of a deliberate policy by the Mayor to favour the motorist over everyone else in London. At any cost, it seems. 

The thing is, Londoners either haven't noticed or simply don't care. My reckoning is that Boris Johnson will still be Mayor in 2013. And I suspect most people think he's doing a good job. They think about how he is fighting off roadwork congestion, how he is removing congestion charge 'taxes', how he has battled Westminster council's parking charges. What they don't seem to have noticed is that comes with a cost. The cost is higher road casualties; more congestion as more people drive;  the fact that it's more difficult and more dangerous to cross the road; the fact that pedestrian crossing times are being made shorter. As someone who cycles more than he drives, I'm particularly irked that cycling seems to be getting shunted out the way of schemes that favour motoring instead and that people are being refused the option not to drive.

But my sense is that the Mayor thinks he's on the right course. Because he is pandering to a populist agenda - I want or need to drive, I want to do so cheaply and to park where and when I want. That agenda seems to be trumping alternatives. And when you look at other cities (New York, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen), you'll see the exact opposite. Mayors in those cities are making it easier and cheaper to cycle or walk or take public transport. Our Mayor is making as easy and cheap to drive as his powers allow him. The alternatives are being shrunk not expanded. It's very strange that we are the only place busy going backwards.

When 2,500 people took to the streets to protest against exactly these sorts of policies at Blackfriars last year, the Mayor ignored them. Even when people are killed - for example at Bow roundabout - as a direct consequence of these road policies, the solution is to offer up something to the cyclists but nothing whatsoever for pedestrians. Two people were killed on their bikes at Bow in late 2011. Three people have been killed crossing the road near Bow in the last three years. What does the Mayor want? A half-hearted facility for cyclists. And nothing for the pedestrians. Why? They might get in the way of motor traffic. 
It seems to me that being polite and lobbying for change to these policies isn't working very fast. The letter-writing and the polite protests are shifting the debate a little bit. But Boris isn't really listening. His agenda is about making it easier for Londoners to drive around London. Not about reducing pollution or about offering Londoners cheaper and more convenient alternatives to the car, such as cycling. And I sense that the Mayor thinks road collisions are just one of those things that happen to people 'who don't have their wits about them' (to quote the Mayor talking about cycling London's most dangerous junctions).

What the Guardian didn't spot was the number of pedestrians also taking part. And it also failed to notice the very mainstream charitable organisations and lobbyist groups that were there on foot - watching, listening and learning about the Mayor's anti-people road agenda. 

BikesAlive is going out again on Monday 23rd. Once again, it will be making the point that the Mayor's policies are unbalancing London's streets, that the policies are not equitable. To some extent, that the Mayor's road policies are immoral.

And this time, I sense the pedestrians will be there in greater numbers as well. And I imagine it won't be too long before some very big names start to join in with the protests.

Old people, young children, disabled people can't just hurry across the road, the way the Mayor wants them to. And nor should they. 

Monday, 16 January 2012

Why can't we have a 'turbo roundabout' at Bow? Not only sounds amazing but it's better for drivers, better for people on bikes, better for people on foot. Puts Mayor's plan in the shade.

Last week, the Mayor announced plans to make Bow roundabout - a key junction on the cycle route to the Olympics - safer for cycling. The announcement follows the tragic deaths of two people killed cycling across this horrible junction late last year.

My initial reaction last week was to welcome the change of heart and the extremely encouraging noises coming from Transport for London. For the first time, there was a sense that TfL might implement a scheme that gives safe and sensible cycling equal importance to safe and sensible driving choices.

I fear I spoke too soon.

This is a place that is supposed to be setting the standards for a new future-proof London. It is a place where a world-class urban design firm is working on a massive residential neighbourhood right next door. The only problem is those residents won't be able to cross the road.

As the local blogger Diamond Geezer puts it in a comment on this blog: "And there's *absolutely nothing* here for pedestrians. We continue to have no safe way across the roundabout whatsoever, which isn't just an opportunity missed, it's criminal neglect."

What happened last week was interesting: TfL announced its plans via an embargoed press release on Wednesday night. Someone had clearly put a lot of thought and time into the scheme. Videos, diagrams, all sorts of things have been added to Transport for London's website to make this scheme look like there is something really fundamentally different going on. For the first time, proper infrastructure for people on bikes looked like it was getting the same sort of attention that is given to other forms of transport - the sort of attention that cycling deserves, in my view. My initial reading of the press release I wrote about it on Wednesday night was one of cautious optimism.

During Thursday and Friday, TfL added more information to its website, including a number of videos that make it crystal clear how they see this junction working. You can see one of those videos above.

Seeing those extra details, my optimism turned into something much more critical.

I think TfL is presenting Bow as a real benefit to people on foot and on bikes, when in reality all that's happening is they are making people on bikes fit around the priorities of motor vehicles and doing nothing whatsoever for pedestrians. As another blogger puts it: "Correct me if I’m wrong, but this really doesn’t look like a dedicated green phase for cyclists that allows them to travel ahead of other traffic. It just looks like a dedicated green light that lets them into the advance stop box, where they’re held on red and then cyclists and other traffic just go for it like usual. "

It's a farce. It's tick box road safety that does nothing for pedestrians and, as Pedestrianise London blog points out, will be ignored by people on bikes too because it simply doesn't represent the reality of what happens on the ground.

Dozens of people commented on my initial post. Dozens more have emailed me directly. The general view is that TfL has presented a scheme which has no disruption on motor traffic but slots a few rudimentary but utterly unrealistic devices into the road layout that will make things seem safer. But it is very much a motorist-designed scheme.

Bow - plenty of capacity for motors and people on bikes & on foot
This is what it should look like. Courtesy: Pedestrianise London blog
Pretty much anyone who has ever ridden a bike or walked here is saying the same thing. As another blogger puts it: "You’ve gone for the grand gesture which, on first sight, pays lip-service to the idea of cyclist safety but doesn’t actually do anything, and still makes no provision for pedestrians to get safely across the junction."

The Mayor's big fear is upsetting the 'motorist'. He simply can't be seen to suggest that people should come first. He thinks tackling congestion should come first. And his way of dealing with that is to pump more cars through the junction faster and more efficiently.

The result? Nasty urban spaces that are not only unpleasant but downright lethal for pedestrians and people on bikes.

Interestingly, even Transport for London suggests that if it could get more people cycling (and it reckons that 23% of all journeys in London could be made by bicycle, not so different to Holland or Denmark), then more cyclists would 'relieve pressure on the road network'. TfL's words, not mine.

But, whether we like it or not, we have to face the fact that sort of thinking is a long way off and that the Mayor simply doesn't see bicycles as a genuine way of solving congestion. Not yet. And nor, frankly, do most Londoners.

If there is no political will from the Mayor to reduce capacity for motor traffic (in fact, the political will in London at the moment is to INCREASE the capacity for motor traffic and reduce it for everyone else), then how do you put in safe cycle facilities and places for people to cross the road?

Well, in my view, one man has summed it up perfectly on his website here. His is a suggestion that could actually increase the capacity for motor traffic at the junction AND install proper, segregated facilities for people to cycle through and for people to cross the road. You can see some of what he's suggesting in the diagram higher up this page.

The Dutch call it a 'turbo-roundabout'. We know it works, in fact. It could give people on bikes and on foot equal priority to motor traffic without reducing capacity for motor vehicles. It could possibly even increase capacity for motor vehicles. There's a full description of what a turbo roundabout is and how it works here.

What I want to know is why the Mayor and Transport for London can't imagine a junction that works like this, rather than a junction designed for motor traffic that entirely excludes pedestrians and that pretends to make things safer for cycling but simply makes people on bikes wait for the people in cars. It even sounds marketable. Who wouldn't want a turbo roundabout? Turbo for cars, turbo for bikes, turbo for people on foot. Yes please, I'll have one of those.

TfL needs to stop building London around motor vehicles and excluding people on bikes and on foot. We're all 'traffic' and we all have equal right to safe, convenient access across London.


If you want chapter and verse on what a Turbo roundabout is and how it works, there's a detailed technical document here with plenty of examples.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Boris Johnson says London's roads are fine for cycling as they are. City of London says cycling standards will 'not be adequate' as they are and commits to safer streets for all; to cyclable streets. It's not perfect but I doff my cap to the politicians of the City of London.

City of London rush hour - welcome to the bicycle
It's taken a year. But something quite monumental has just happened in the City of London. 

A year ago, the City issued its draft Local Implementation Plan. Some of you, reading this blog at the time, took the time to read the background and got stuck in. You sent letters, petitions and intelligent comments to the City's politicians and told them their plan just wasn't good enough. 

You argued in particular, that the Square Mile's worsening road safety record was no longer acceptable. You argued that conditions for cycling were inadequate and you pointed out that it was not right to spend money for cycling on squeezing in a few scraps for cycling on the condition that this was 'designed with the needs of all road users in mind'. In short, you agreed with the article in last week's Local Transport Today that: "Cyclists' inclusion in carriageway design should start from the basis of expecting equal rights to personal safety for all road users. If this has an effect on other users then that must be accepted". 

And then, last Friday, the City of London announced that Boris Johnson and Transport for London had signed off on revisions to that Plan. The City of London has committed to change how it thinks about its streets. Specifically, it has revised its local implementation plan to include these commitments:

I think this an amazing result and a serious 'chapeau' to the City of London's politicians. The process has been slow and cumbersome. But it has been debated, discussed, argued about and consensus reached. 

The City of London expects that by 2020, 10% of all people travelling into or through the Square Mile will do so by bicycle (Boris Johnson, Mayor of London is planning on only 5% of all trips and not until 2030 - handily). And then it makes this astonishing statement:

In this one statement alone, I think the City of London sets itself ahead of London's Mayor Boris Johnson. Here is the very heart of 'old' London saying that people on bikes deserve more of a place in London's future.

The Times: 20 December 2011, comment by the Sports Editor
In December (December 20 2011), the sports editor of The Times wrote an opinion piece. He declared Boris Johnson's efforts to promote cycling 'a pathetically little measure'.

By contrast, the City of London has recognised there is a need for real change. In doing so, I think the City has set a statement that the future is a different place, arguably that the future aspires to less pollution, to safer roads, to less congestion and to include people on bikes as a serious part of that future. By contrast, London's Mayor is singularly bad at making such bold commitments for fear he might upset a hardcore of voters, perhaps. He is at least consistent in claiming that London's streets are just fine for cycling as they are. The thing is, Boris Johnson's wrong. And the fact that the City of London is prepared to say that current cycling standards will not be adequate for long is a sign that things are beginning to turn against the Mayor on this point.

I'll be reviewing the City of London documents in more detail over coming weeks. But for now, my thanks to everyone (and there are many of you) who wrote, who petitioned and who talked with the City of London. And above all, my thanks to the politicians and the officers of the City of London who listened, who argued, who often disagreed. But who found enough consensus to move things forward. 

Friday, 13 January 2012

If you're a Londoner, you pay directly for London's roads. Yet if you’re a Londoner who cycles, you don't have much of a place at the Mayor’s table. Sign up and help send a message that cycling wants its place at that table.

Yesterday I spoke with a friend of mine. He is a colleague of Mary Bowers, knocked from her bicycle by an HGV in Wapping late last year. From what I understand, Mary is not in a good way. And I don't mean she has a broken leg. It's far, far worse.

Meanwhile, early this week, another HGV collided with a man cycling near Victoria. The HGV driver was working for Crossrail. Crossrail has taken cycling awareness seriously and makes sure its HGV drivers are fully trained.

Boris Johnson's solution to these sorts of things is this: "The answer is very often to educate HGV (heavy goods vehicle) drivers and cyclists." But you see, these people are trained. And still they maim and kill.

I don't blame HGV drivers. I do think there's something very wrong about the fact that HGV drivers are paid according to how quickly they make their deliveries. It's the same with minicabs. Flat fare equals fast driving equals higher road deaths. So I think the Mayor may have a point in asking Transport for London for an 'independent review of the design, operation and driving of construction industry vehicles'.

But this really isn't enough.

As the Dutch road safety institute points out to English-speakers: ""The ultimate solution for the blind spot problem is a structural separation of trucks and cyclists." It is the solution that New York has opted for, that Paris has opted for, that Copenhagen applies, Amsterdam, Berlin...the list goes on. But not London.

We are seeing some signs of change over at Bow roundabout. But in general, Boris Johnson doesn't seem to believe that structural separation is the way to go. Back in 2009, he stated very clearly: "road space restrictions on London's roads preclude the possibility of segregated provision for cyclists in many cases" 

The thing is, it's not true. There is plenty of space. But if you make your priority the "smooth flow of traffic", that means as much room as possible for cars, and forget about bikes, pedestrians, old people, disabled people, children and their safety. We just eat the crumbs left by the juggernauts.

There's a fascinating picture-piece here about how Boris Johnson thinks that people should cycle through underpasses and around gyratories. My mum wouldn't. My sister wouldn't. My dad wouldn't. My niece wouldn't. My partner wouldn't. They'd drive instead.

A piece in this week's Local Tranport Today (a thrilling read normally) spells it out exactly right: "Cyclists' inclusion in carriageway design should start from the basis of expecting equal rights to personal safety for all road users. If this has an effect on other users then that must be accepted". The comment is spot-on, in my opinion. And it's particularly important that the people who design our roads start to see and think about this sort of message.

Now, what strikes me about London is that when you look at your council tax bill, you notice a good chunk of your taxes go directly into paying the Mayor and Transport for London. In other words, if you're a Londoner, you pay for these roads and the people who plan them not only through your income taxes but also more directly through the additional council taxes you pay straight to the Mayor.

A typical car park in the City of London. These people
deserve more from London's Mayor
Londoners on bikes are paying for road and transport infrastructure no less than car drivers or tube and rail commuters. It is time we demand a real seat at the table where priorities are set and where the social contract for transport is hammered out.

The Guardian's Peter Walker spotted this last week when he said: "This is significant enough to make the treatment of cyclists – something I've never heard mentioned in the national political debate – a genuine issue in the upcoming mayoral election." Exactly right.

And that's why I'd encourage you to sign up to Londoners on Bikes. It's a test site at the moment that will launch properly in February, but you can take a look at the soft launch and can sign up for email alerts. The point behind this site is very simple:

On the 3rd May 2012 we Londoners choose a new Mayor. Transport is the one thing the Mayor really controls:

"We believe Londoners on bikes have the potential to make a significant political impact by coming together as a block vote - the cycling vote. We want to make the Mayoral candidates take our concerns seriously and make electoral commitments to a safer future for London cyclists."

This isn't party political. It's not 'anti-Boris' or 'pro-Ken' or pro-Green or pro LibDem. It applies equally to any Mayoral candidate. But it is about making cycling a political issue. One that won't go away.

As I said, the site is still in development. But go, take a look and add your name via twitter, facebook or email. I think these folk are up to something very interesting indeed and I look forward to seeing how this develops.

And if, like me, this is something that really bothers you day in, day out, then do offer to support and help spread the word. It's time that people found a voice to lobby politically. After all, there are enough lobbies ranged against safe, practical bicycling.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Mayor announces two options at killer Bow roundabout. Some signs of positive change. Is this the start of something new or a one-off?

TfL still can't decide if this is the right option
Courtesy London Cycling Campaign
Transport for London last night issued a press statement saying:

"TfL has announced proposals to improve the safety of cyclists using the busy Bow roundabout in east London."

This being the main cycling route to the London Olympics and the scene, tragically, of two cyclist deaths late last year.

Massive hats off to London Cycling Campaign (cautious welcome given to the announcement which you can see here) and in particular to Tower Hamlets Wheelers for pushing things this far but also to the very many people and organisations who have worked with like-mind folk to make the Mayor wake up. The press release is a a good start but it is, in my view, no more than a start at this stage. It's also utterly useless for pedestrians and contains one option that is downright bizarre.

Most important. TfL wants to hear your views. You have one week (I understand). Go to this page, click contact us at the bottom and let TfL know your thoughts (feel free to add here too)

Let's look at the detail

The proposals are defined as being one of TWO options, namely -

"1) Creating an innovative cycle “early-start” phase at the traffic signals on the eastbound and westbound entrance to the Bow roundabout, which would provide cyclists with a dedicated green light phase to allow them to travel around the roundabout ahead of other traffic."

This bit of the press release is encouraging. And so is this: "Transport for London also proposes to install new dedicated cycle lanes on the east and westbound approaches of the roundabout, allowing cyclists to approach the advance stop lines at the junctions without the need to filter through traffic."

All extremely good news. I've never seen cyclist-specific traffic lights in the UK that let bikes get away safely at junctions. They're normal in most other countries but this could be something of a first for London if it's done right. I remain slightly sceptical, though. I have seen plenty of bike traffic lights that force cyclists to wait three minutes and then let them sprint off for 10 seconds before they have to give way to all the motor traffic again. Something along those lines would simply reinforce the sense that motor vehicles must always be given priority over everyone else.

The TfL release then peels off into an alternative that could work but could well be completely insane:

"Option 2) Reducing the existing flyover across Bow roundabout from two traffic lanes to one in both directions, with new dedicated cycle lanes. Traffic signals could also be installed at either end of the flyover to make safe access easier for cyclists."

TfL is preparing to tell cyclists this is where they should cycle
Courtesy London Cycling Campaign
I can't quite believe it. Even with a cycle lane, would you want to zip up this incline with your kids? Cycle up here on a Boris bike? I'm not so sure.

The note to editors released last night goes on to say that traffic signals and dedicated cycle lanes might be installed to open the flyover up to cyclists 'helping to create a safer cycling environment'. Here's the flyover pictured left.

Overall, my reading of this release:

Proper cycle lanes will lead to the Bow roundabout whatever happens, keeping motor vehicles and people on bikes slightly apart from each other. Good. And traffic lights *might* be installed to get cyclists onto the flyover. Frankly, there would need to be traffic lights here, otherwise you'll have to cross one or two lanes of extremely fast-moving traffic to get on the flyover and back off it in the first place. 

Personally I would like a Dutch/Danish/New York option, which would see the flyover kept for motor (or bike) traffic and one lane taken out on the roundabout (or some of the vast pavement space removed and turned into cycling space) with decent cycle space in the approaches plus traffic lights at the junction. That is the sort of solution proposed by the London Cycling Campaign and which you can see at the top of this post. It was discussed and agreed with TfL inspectors when they first reviewed this junction. According to the London Cycling Campaign, the Cycle Superhighway Implementation Plan acknowledged from the outset that: "traffic signals specifically for cyclists and pedestrians (toucan crossings) and separate cycle tracks should be installed."

Fancy crossing the road here? Courtesy
DiamondGeezer blog
Why do you think pedestrians can't be included in the scheme? It's because of this, rather ominous statement: "Initial traffic modelling showed that the knock-on disruption to all road users, including cyclists". In other words, pedestrians, you'll have to wait for the bus to get across this junction.

The fact that there are two options is because Transport for London says it wants to consult. And it wants to do so quickly.

Whatever people might think of the relative merits of both options, this does seem like a genuine change of tone. It is the first time that I've seen Transport for London even dare to discuss concepts that Londoners deserve at major road junctions like this, and at other junctions such as Kings Cross and Blackfriars.

The fact that the press release commits to proper consultation with local and cycling groups is good news. In the past, TfL has paid lip service to consultation. It claimed, for example, to have consulted at length with cyclists at Blackfriars. The reality was that some plans were sneaked out on a Friday for consultation by the Monday. And despite several thousand people protesting on the Bridge, despite hundreds of letters and despite numerous motions passed - unanimously - in the London Assembly, Transport for London just charged on regardless.

We've seen TfL leap into action once before to make cycling safer at one junction. At Blackfriars Bridge in fact, in 2004. It took a matter of weeks after a series of deaths there and the subsequent public outrage to force  a semi-decent bike lane back in 2004. And then everything fell silent again. TfL went back to its bad old ways and, if anything, things got much much worse.

Transport for London must get Bow right. But it must get London as a whole right for people when they're not in their cars, not just this one junction. After all, everyone who lives in London pays for TfL directly. Not just through our income tax but also through the levy the Mayor puts on all of our council tax.

We all have a right to request that those funds are spent properly, on the basis of equal rights to personal safety for all road users. As an article in this week's Local Tranport Today (a thrilling read normally) puts it: "Cyclists' inclusion in carriageway design should start from the basis of expecting equal rights to personal safety for all road users. If this has an effect on other users then that must be accepted". The comment is spot-on, in my opinion.

This is a very welcome announcement. But what London needs is systemic change. One junction could be the start of that. Let's see what happens next.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Swept under the carpet - TfL promised minimum safety standards for cycling in 2005. So why has it ignored those standards ever since? Is the Mayor negligent?

Peter Hendy, TfL commissioner
commits to cycling standards he
then erased from reality
Credit: Camden Cyclists
Last month, Andrew Boff, Conservative Assembly Member explained via a comment on the Evening Standard's website that he wants TfL to; "Prepare and publish a design guide to inform and instruct all future [road] schemes." His idea is that TfL should apply minimum cycle safety standards.

The thing is, London already has minimum cycle safety standards. And in 2005, Peter Hendy (then managing director of surface transport, ie head of London's roads and now TfL commissioner, ie the big cheese) wrote a letter about those cycle standards.

In that 2005 letter Peter Hendy said this: "all new TfL-funded schemes will comply with these cycling standards."

I am hugely grateful to the hard work of the people at Camden Cyclists (and if you live in Camden or work there, get involved with them) for keeping an original version of that letter, which you can see at the top of this post.

'These cycling standards' are the snappily-named London Cycling Design Standards, the result of several years work and a vast amount of money. They're not amazing and they are inferior to current American or European standards but they are London's own standards all the same. They're still there, lurking in a dark and dusty corner on TfL's website and you can have a peek at them here. But they've never been applied. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that since Boris Johnson came to power, TfL has built schemes that consistently contravene its own cycling safety standards.

But ever since he committed to these minimum cycle safety standards, the man who is now in charge of TfL day-to-day has, in my view, completely ignored them. And my belief is the current Mayor has encouraged that to be the case.

Kings Cross website shows how TfL is breaking
 its own safety rules
Take Kings Cross, for example. The website Kings Cross Local Environment has been out with a tape measure and looked at the roads here. What the website found is pretty damning:

"TfL with  the vast resources available to it has been managing a junction for years that does not comply with its own design guidelines, despite stark warnings about safety in reports TfL itself commissioned.  This reinforces my calls for a proper investigation of TfL under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act"

Or let's take a look at a brand new TfL junction in Barnet. Take a look at this excellent before and after video of this brand new junction. You can see that slip roads have been added and that they make this junction considerably more dangerous to cycle through. What do the London Cycle Design Standards say about this? "To reduce the distance where cyclists are vulnerable, the slip lanes should be removed completely by re-configuring the junction or, where this is not feasible, reduced..." In other words, the brand new, hugely costly TfL scheme shown in this video blatantly ignores the London Cycling Design Standards. 

Let's look at a few more. 

"If a junction is to remain of the priority type then the choice of which movements have priority should be reviewed to optimise cycling movement, both in terms of waiting times and safety". In other words, at any newly-designed major TfL junction (say, Blackfriars for example), cycling should be given safe and convenient routes through the junction. Someone, somewhere has decided to ignore this part of the document as well. In fact, the Mayor's re-election team consistently boast how he is rephasing traffic lights in favour of more and more cars on the road, not in favour in pedestrians, old people, children or people on bikes. 

"Where appropriate and feasible priorities at cross roads should be changed so that cyclists on a cycle route do not have to give way" In other words, you should be able to cycle without giving way to small side roads. If can think of only one tiny side street where that's actually happened, I'd love to know of another one. I can't think of any at all. 

None of this has happened. Someone, whether it is the Mayor or whether it is someone senior at Transport for London, will have taken the decision to ignore the cycle safety standards and just swept them under the carpet. 

Which leaves the obvious question - Who took that decision and when?

What is clear is that since the current Mayor came into power the minimum London cycle safety standards have simply not been applied. 

I find it very hard indeed to trust the Mayor will really deliver on his cycle safety review. It appears to me that he had a perfectly usable cycle safety document in his hands when he took office that he not only ignored but he failed to replace with anything else. The Mayor's office has now belatedly promised a review of London's roads to make them safer for children, older people, office workers, mums, dads, grandparents to consider cycling as a sensible option. His Director of Environment, Kulveer Ranger says this:

We've had one set of standards to make cycling a safe and sensible alternative for Londoners already. I'll believe Boris's standards if and when he ever builds them. For the time being, I think cyclists would have a good case to claim Boris Johnson has been negligent with their lives.

UPDATE - A lot of people will be gathering tonight at Kings Cross to protest about the Mayor's intransigence on cycling safety. You can read about what's happening in today's copy of The Independent here. 6pm Kings Cross, supported by Green party candidate Jenny Jones.


You can sign up for email alerts about the Mayor's cycling safety plan on this page here