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. 


  1. Very true but all 3 parties including Lib Dems in Southwark have been poor (with very honorable exception of GLA Green Party Mayoral Candidate Jenny Jones) on cycling but the current Labour Cabinet member for cycling Cllr Barrie Hargrove has been dreadful.
    "The oouncil's response under him to our submission on safe cycle lanes was as follows:
    number of means including loan bike schemes, cycle training, through operating a pool
    bike scheme and through local promotion.
    The Transport Plan advocates road users interacting and only in exceptional
    circumstances would a provision of a physical barrier between cyclist and other forms of
    traffic be supported. We feel that by segregating cyclists this can encourage an increase
    in vehicle speeds and, by default, reducing safety, however this is viewed on a case by
    case basis. For the same reason, the council have decided not to focus on a 'network' of
    cycle routes, but to make all roads safe and attractive to cyclists."
    In response to the war being waged on cyclists by Southwark Council an action group has been set up on Facebook: Stop Murder of Cyclists - Cycle Lanes Now!

  2. Hackney, of course, has achieved 10% while positively avoiding cycle tracks on main roads.

    The ambition of making all roads safe and attractive for cycling is a sound one. It will require main roads to be adapted, but that might well be more about taming than about segregation.

    1. Hmmmmm. Hackney may not have cycle lanes on main roads, but it does have lots of places where people can cycle without being on the roads (Victoria Park, canals, the greenway, London Fields and surrounding back-streets that are blocked to through-traffic etc). There are many roads that are a nightmare in Hackney, which would really benefit from proper segregated cycle lanes.

    2. yes - hackney has done some of the right things (by blocking off minor roads to through traffic) - but it has also benefited from the hipster fixed gear fashion thing - they'll still be stuck at 10% if they don't deal with the main roads. and there, it's not just a matter of traffic calming. hgvs, buses and bikes just don't mix well. you need some degree of separation.

    3. Hackney may be going backwards. TfL are planning to chop this cycle route in half:

  3. I only really cycle in Southwark to get to the LCC in Bermondsey St and it might have as much to with unfamiliarity as anything else but I have to say I find it generally either frightening or frustrating, beyond how I feel about, say, the City or Westminster. There are some honourable exceptions, such as the contraflow along Union St, but you have a choice between some very unpleasant two-ways like Southwark Bridge Rd, Tower Bridge St, and a cat's cradle of one-ways which are really quite wide enough, and quiet enough, to accomodate a cycle contraflow but don't have one. You are reduced eventually to ignoring the no-entry signs if you want to avoid long, complex and difficult to navigate detours.

    None of this suggests that the local authority gives a rat's arse about cyclists. So what else is new? For all their bluster, I don't see any real political will from any of the three main parties.

    Fact is, none of them are willig to stick their necks out against the powerful commercial lobbies which want the car economy to march ever onwards and upwards. For all their occasional pious declarations, those interests see any other form of transport as a threat, and are determined to squash it.

  4. The fact is, unless cyclists learn to cycle confidently and properly on the streets, no amount of segregated infrastructure is going to increase safety. In fact, the more you put in, the more accidents will happen, because segregated infrastructure encourages lazy cycling practices and increases collisions at intersections.

    Segregated facilities work in the Netherlands because Dutch people use them more as faster pedestrian ways than as road transportation, and because drivers are more attuned to where cyclists are likely to be (because almost everyone in Holland is a cyclist), and because city road speeds are so much lower in the Netherlands than in England. If you just plonk down a blue stripe in London and assume it'll work as well as it does in Amsterdam (which is what TfL is doing) the result will be carnage.

    The only way to preserve the British mode of cycling and to make cycling as safe as possible is to do away with this cycling facility folly/fiasco and integrate cyclists into traffic. You do this by reducing speed limits and educating cyclists and drivers to use the road properly. Until this is done, more and more cyclists will die on bike facilities because bike facilities only make cyclists 'feel' safe.

    1. I'm not sure what the British mode of cycling, but if it's incompatible with Dutch-style facilities then I have no interest in preserving it whatsoever.

      I too see cycling as something like "faster walking" and it's great - a friendly, relaxing, efficient and fun activity. Riding a bike does not have to be a sport and I think the vast majority of people are more likely to do it if it's not portrayed as such.

      I have no desire to be integrated into traffic and I would imagine that most of those who DON'T currently cycle feel the same way! Forcing them to do so guarantees that they will never become cyclists, in my opinion.

    2. @Ian Brett Cooper

      That's plenty of opinion. Where's your evidence?

      Segregated facilities work in the Netherlands because, unlike the 'blue stripes', they're actually well-designed, and properly segregated.

      The Netherlands have 1/4 the deaths and serious injuries of the UK, per km cycled. They have fast cyclists, and slow cyclists too.

      Education has been tried extensively here - proper separation there. Look at which country has the highest cycling modal share, and lowest casualty rate.

    3. @Ian Brett Cooper

      It would not surprise me if pedestrians took less care on pavements than on single track country lanes. Likewise, drivers are probably less careful on motorways than on narrow dirt roads. Is this therefore an argument against providing these facilities?

      Of course I am capable of cycling "ve-hic-ularly", but sometimes, even in the UK, cycle / pedestrian routes make things more convenient. If I were to drive a car from my student accommodation to the supermarket, I would travel 1.7 miles. If I cycle, I travel 0.5 miles. Obviously the fact that the toucan crossing I use is slightly narrow and in two stages makes the shared use facility a worse option than using a three lane roundabout to make a right turn...

      I am not pretending there aren't issues with the infrastructure that exists. I realise that ASLs are basically the same area as the blind spot of an HGV; we therefore need better solutions at signalised intersections, such as, at the largest and busiest intersections, a separate cycle track with a separate phase to turning traffic (this avoids the problems at intersections, and allows cyclists to bypass congestion without filtering, which you seem to think is a tactic of the devil even though advanced motorcycle training covers it).

      Likewise, the obvious reason that the Superhypeways aren't like Amsterdam is because it's just paint in bus lanes and parking bays, that stops at bus stops. You wouldn't get shit like that over there, certainly not on a brand new flagship scheme.

    4. I have no desire to be integrated into traffic either. I and other women (along with our children in tow) would like protected cycle lanes everywhere on main roads, because no matter how slow an HGV, coach or bus drives, it's still a hazard to us regardless of which side we pass. We are still getting crunched into the ground and into railings. It doesn't matter whether you pass a bus on the right or the left you'll get mullered on the roads.

      Protected cycle lanes all the way. Like this: