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.


  1. Danny, what is it that we would like to see happen to the cycling environment? If we would like to see the development of a coherent cycle network, rather than piecemeal 'solutions' (such as at Bow, welcome though this is), then we should ask for this, surely. Because if we don't take care to get what we like, we'll be forced to like what we get, as the saying is.

    Starting from the basis of expecting equal rights to safety (and convenience) for all is a very worthy aspiration, which I heartily endorse. It is my experience that certain routes are more useful to cyclists than others, and applying this principle on these routes would be very desirable.

    I agree, by the way, that the space is there: in many cases it is not being used properly (that is, thoughtfully). I know this to be true because I have spent a long time looking.

  2. When Boris claims that the answer is "very often" education, I don't imagine for one second that he actually believes this. Boris is a wily politician. Wily politicians are like conjurers - draw your audience's attention away from where you are really working. (I can think of a less flattering analogy as well - pickpockets)

    What better way of ducking an issue he doesn't want to face, than to deflect the attention onto aspects of the issue which he is totally powerless to influence?

    The Mayor of London has no remit to introduce or amend rules on the design of vehicles, or the training, licensing or supervision of their drivers, or influencing their behaviour or attitudes. Those largely belong to Westminster, Brussels, and the Lord Almighty respectively. When he fails to achieve anything here he can then plausibly deny responsibility.

    The one thing he can change is the physical layout of roads in London. He has got away with his "prestidigitation" for too long, but hopefully is now being found out.

    That is a good start. Sure, we need to know what we want, articulate it well, and show some coherence as a community, but one step at a time.

  3. I am pro cyclists 99% of the time. But an hour ago at Vauxhall Cross I watched a concrete mixer lorry scream to a halt to avoid a cyclist who had sailed obliviously through the red light at the south end of Vauxhall Bridge. No apology from the cyclist, and the incident just disappeared. But you can be sure had the cyclist been hit or killed the concrete driver would have been vilified on this and other blogs. So I say to cyclists, clean up your act. Respect is earned.

    1. I lost count of the number of motor vehicle drivers jumping red lights and using the telephone that I've seen today, and that was just in an hour of cycling. Had to slam the brakes on for a bus that pulled out right in front of me from a side turning, had 2 cars nearly left hook me both without indicating, saw at least 10 cars waiting in ASL boxes, avoided a couple of people who just walked into the road without looking. Wow you saw one bit cycling.

    2. bit of bad cycling!

    3. I really enjoyed reading this post. I am not a Londoner, but I have visited - I did a trip to a few places in Europe last summer with my folding bike. I had read about cycling in London before arriving of course, but I was surprised at the congestion - in the city, I really didn't end up cycling as much as I thought I was going to be able to. I did wind up with my bike on various forms of public transit though, and once in the back of a cab, when I felt I just wasn't comfortable taking on the traffic.