Wednesday, 21 March 2012

County council articulates a real cycling strategy 'to support economic growth' by getting people to jobs without the cost of driving. Meanwhile, London will get new bridges for more motor traffic and only a gesture towards cycle safety.

The Times has a piece about today's Budget announcement that London will receive £15million to spend on making junctions in London safer for people cycling. The money will be spent to 'tackle some of London’s most dangerous spots for cyclists, including roundabouts at Waterloo, Elephant & Castle and Lambeth Bridge, and roads in Farringdon, Lambeth and the Oval.'

This is very welcome news. It suggests that the Mayor has been petitioning the Chancellor for cash for cycling. But as Charlie Lloyd at the London Cycling Campaign told the BBC, it's little more than 'a good gesture'.

It's still too early to say how the money will be spent. The London Cycling Campaign and other organisations (pedestrian and motoring organisations) are meeting with Transport for London and reviewing the junctions as we speak. The crucial test will be whether or not cycling can be truly fitted into these places in a way that would allow your average Londoner to think cycling is a sensible option rather than driving or taking the bus.

There's also a question about whether the junction-by-junction approach is a real long term solution or not. Cambridgeshire county council announced this week that it has seen significant growth in cycling (on an already high base). How did achieve that growth in cycling? It focussed on building routes that people felt were safe enough to cycle on. As the county council says: '£9 million was invested between 2008 and 2011 to provide 14 new and improved cycle routes.. It is these routes that have seen the greatest rise'. What's important about the Cambridgeshire press release is that the county has committed to try and continue that level of investment in the future.

Why is Cambridgeshire choosing to invest in cycling? The answer lies in this part of the press release: "Several millions of pounds [could be] invested in cycling in the Ely-Cambridge and Huntingdon-Cambridge corridors. This will help support economic growth in those areas." These corridors are pretty long distances. Huntingdon is 18 miles from Cambridge. What the county council is suggesting, is that it sees cycling as a viable commuter option over distances that most people think has to be travelled by car.

I've grown more and more fed up of the press releases that the motoring lobby has been putting out this week. All week the news from organisations like the AA and the RAC foundation has been about rising fuel prices. Rising petrol prices means people can't get to jobs, can't buy food. That sort of thing. I empathise but only to a point.

You see, what Cambridgeshire county council is suggesting is that people's transport costs can be freed from rising fuel prices if they have other options. Just imagine how much money you'd save if you had a genuine option to cycle from Huntingdon to Cambridge for work, rather than drive.

That sort of thinking hasn't reached London yet. The focus here is on resolving our (valid) safety and road design conflict issues. What we need is a Mayor who realises Londoners can be freed from fuel prices and is prepared to ignore the AA and the RAC and look to the bigger picture rather than a well-funded lobby group.

At the moment, the London Mayor's strategy is to build bridges and tunnels so that more people can travel in cars across the Thames. As the London Cycling Campaign puts it, cycling is still only a 'gesture'. I don't think there's much of a plan for cycling in London yet. At least nothing as clear and articulate as the Cambridgeshire plan. There's a very clear plan for big bridges and more motor traffic. But £15 million for a handful of junctions is only a tiny start. And it's not strategic in any way.

Monday, 19 March 2012

London expects 43% growth in motor traffic. Berlin expects 15% decline. Car saturation on its way. Why can't Londoners be given the choice not to drive?

Last week, the Department for Transport announced that it expects road traffic in London to increase 43% by 2035. 'Traffic' of course means motor traffic, not people on bicycles. In Berlin, the figure for motor traffic is minus 15% by 2025 as more and more people use bicycles and public transport instead.

Vehicles crossing Blackfriars Bridge morning peak
Those of us who cycle in zones one and two have seen motor vehicle numbers falling over the last few years. Take a look at this graphic that shows vehicles crossing Blackfriars Bridge in the morning peak in percentage terms.

But recent moves by the Mayor have started to undo those changes. Transport for London reckons that motor traffic inside what used to be the western extension of the Congestion charge increased 7% after the extension was removed.

The folk up in Barnet know first hand what cycling looks like when motor traffic is left to its own devices. Barnet Cycling Campaign is organising a 'Great Divide' ride on Sunday 25th March to highlight the formidable barriers that Transport for London and Barnet council erect to stop people cycling and force them instead into their cars. Even brand new infrastructure ignores cycling.

Just have a glimpse at this video (courtesy of the excellent londonneur blog)to see how intimidating these streets are to cycling and you can all to easily understand why most people don't bother. They just jump in their cars instead.

Barnet seems a bit far out to many Londoners. But it's really not all that far away. Even more significantly, what happens in Barnet is a portent of what's coming to all sorts of London neighbourhoods (think East London with the new Thames crossings).

You see, London doesn't have to drown under more and more motor traffic. Cities like Berlin or Copenhagen show that you can reduce car use by encouraging people to use other forms of transport, whether that's public transport or cycling. Given that the majority of journeys in outer London are under five miles (and easy to cycle), the option is there to make cycling a reality. But there's absolutely no evidence of the fundamental shift in investment that is needed to make cycling a sensible option for most people.

That's why Barnet is very relevant to everyone who wants to cycle in London and who wants the choice not to drive. That's why it's also hugely encouraging to see the London Cycling Campaign announce no less than 14 feeder rides to its 'Big Ridge' on April 28th in central London. Huge credit to the Campaign. It has secured streets all the way through central London that will be completely free of motor traffic. And it has feeder rides coming in to Hyde Park for the start from Wanstead, Sutton, Kingston, Hounslow, Richmond, Bromley, Stratford and Barking. You can read more about The Big Ride and the feeder rides on this page here.

I wouldn't want to cycle around some of the places in the Barnet video. They're almost actively designed to make cycling feel like a minority pastime for people with a death wish.

Our streets shouldn't be like that. Barnet isn't very far away. You can cycle up there pretty quickly. But people are going to opt for their cars every time if the only choice is streets that look like the ones we're building. With the government expecting nearly 50% growth in motor traffic in London, there's just going to be more and more of this to come.

If you want a future that doesn't mean London coming to a polluted, noisy, slow standstill, now's the time to start coming out on your bicycle and asking for it.


Barnet Great Divide Ride:

London Cycling Campaign The Big Ride and 14 feeder rides:

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Olympics boss: main traffic-free cycle route to Olympics will be shut during the Games. Another Olympic boss: cycling parking in new homes at Olympic Park is 'PC'.

Cycling to the Olympics along these nice
green routes. Or not....
Pictured left, is TfL's map of the cycle routes to the Olympics. In the bottom of the picture is the roundabout at Bow where two people were killed on their bikes late last year.

One way to cycle to the Olympics will be along that same Cycle Super Highway marked in blue. Last November, a TfL director actually told the BBC that cyclists should avoid using this route. At the time, I pointed out how unbelievable it is that TfL could build a bike route to the Olympics - a route that it considers so dangerous it advises people not to use it.

To be fair, TfL has committed to installing safer cycle infrastructure into this roundabout and will have built that in time for the Olympics. That still won't make the rest of the blue paint route particularly safe, let alone pleasant, though.

So, your other option might be to use the quiet route marked on this map in green, along the river and nip under the roundabout and the motorways for safe, easy access to the Olympics. There's even a brand new floating towpath along the river so you can cycle uninterrupted and away from the traffic. Last year, Leon Daniels, the man responsible for London's roads, told cyclists on his blog that the towpath would be an excellent route to cycle to the Olympics park.  From the south, he said, 'us[e] the access ramp onto the floating towpath in the north-west corner of the roundabout [and] head back under the flyover/roundabout using the new floating towpath.' The towpath route is a brilliant new asset to people who want to cycle north to south without having to cycle along, err, a six lane motorway. It's a great leisure route and it's a fabulous thing, provided you're cycling during daylight.

The thing is, it's going to be shut during the Olympics.

Yesterday, at the Olympic Transport committee in the London Assembly. So the man responsible for London's road, Leon Daniels, was wrong to say cyclists should cycle along the floating towpath because it's not going to be an option.

This emerged yesterday at a Transport committee meeting of the London Assembly when Green mayoral candidate Jenny Jones asked Hugh Sumner, Director of Transport Olympic Delivery Authority:

"Jenny Jones: I'm glad you've mentioned the Greenway because you've actually made life much much harder for cyclists to get there by closing  - apparently the underpass, the canal underpass under Bow roundabout is being closed May to September which is fairly drastic isn't it when you imagine a lot of cyclists would use it and you've also closed the Greenway route from Wick Lane 

Now those two things mean that cyclists are going to have to use the Bow Roundabout which will not be at its best - it certainly won't be to the level of safety that we've all discussed. You're actually forcing cyclists off of Greenways onto dangerous roundabouts.

Hugh Sumner. Errm I don't agree with that......... "

There's plenty more that you can watch in his response on cycling issues here on the London Assembly video (watch out for the unbelievably clunky video) from minute 56 onwards. 

I don't think matters are quite as apocalyptic as Jenny Jones makes out. You'll still be able to get to the Olympic park from the south but I imagine you'll have to detour and cross the six lane motorway also known as Stratford High Street. But Jenny Jones does have a point.

New towpath link to Olympics. Will be shut during the Games
Image courtesy London Cycling Campaign
I don't know the people behind the Olympic organising team. But they really don't seem to 'get' that cycling is a legitimate form of urban mobility. Back in February, at another London Assembly Committee, Kathryn Frith, who is the Chief of Design for the Olympic Park Legacy Company (ie this is the woman responsible for a master plan for the Olympic Park to cover the next 20 years) described bike parking as 'PC'. PC?! This is a 20 year master plan. Does she expect London will be full of even more cars by then?

I'm glad that Transport for London is implementing a new scheme to make it safer for people to cycle east to west across Bow roundabout. But I think it's tragic that even the one tiny piece of cycling infrastructure that was put in place for the Olympics is actually not for the Olympics at all. It's only going to be useful after the event. As usual, if you want to cycle to the Olympics, you can expect to take a detour, dismount from your bike, cross the motorway, may be you'll be able to get back on your bike again after that.

But I find it profoundly depressing how we're completely failing to build cycling into this massive scheme. Here was a one-off chance to get cycling right. Brand new urban environment, real opportunity to build cycling as a sensible, safe urban mobility option for everyone. And what's happened? A bit of a tow path, a bit of a greenway, a bit of retro-fitted infrastructure on a killer roundabout but only after thousands of people protested.

I managed to buy tickets for the Olympics. I'm quite excited. And I'd like to cycle there. But I'm not going to bother cycling. It seems like too much hassle, frankly. I'll take the tube. Or I might drive instead. Because the Mayor of London is letting people make London a city for driving in. The thing is, the Mayor also wants to make London less congested. He knows there are more and more people and they can't all drive their cars all the places they want to without the whole thing coming to a halt. At some point he needs to lead his cycling revolution from the front. And that means telling people in the various Olympic authorities that they're not up to scratch just as much as it means he can't get away with just slapping blue paint around the place. 

Monday, 12 March 2012

Vauxhall Cross - Two more cyclists seriously injured this week. Look forward to even more people being killed and maimed so the Mayor can maintain all-important 'traffic flow' (which he calls 'improvements for all road users')

Aftermath of yet another car driver colliding with a bicycle rider
near Vauxhall
Cycling home last week, I stopped at a junction just off Vauxhall gyratory (corner South Lambeth Road, Fentiman Road). This is a cross-roads with no pedestrian green phase. Cars race off the Vauxhall gyratory down South Lambeth Road and it's a hairy place for everyone who's on foot on on a bike.

What happened in this case is the cyclist seems to have been turning right. A car coming the opposite way sped to beat the lights (the cyclist was turning on green) and hit the cyclist, sending the guy flying, then careered down the road a bit and took out some signposts on the way.

Over the last couple of years, I've seen the traffic lights here hit quite a few times. I've only seen one car upside down so far but one other ploughed into the pavement. Two pedestrians have been killed on this same junction in the last five years alone. And why? Because this perfectly simple cross-roads is designed to maximise the number of cars racing to or from Vauxhall gyratory. That's why there isn't any pedestrian phase on the lights and you can cross the road here but only when cars have a green light as well. That would be fine if cars gave way to pedestrians crossing. But they don't, they just honk you out the way.

Last night, another cyclist was sent flying from her bike on Vauxhall gyratory. Details are a bit sketchy but the woman seems to have been very badly hurt. Two similar Jaguar cars were stopped near the scene. One observer wondered if they had been racing around the gyratory. It wouldn't surprise me. You see people racing their cars around here every time the lights change. It's something to do with the way the road is laid out. The road design positively encourages people to floor it around the gyratory, which even has reinforced metal crash barriers around it. Not just a fence, real double-height crash barriers on top of extra thick brick barricades.

Pictured above - road casualties and deaths at Vauxhall gyratory 
These are not an accident, I think they are by design.

When I came across the collision pictured above, I talked with number of the witnesses. A woman who lives in the same street came along to enquire what was going on. 'You see cyclists jumping all these red lights' she said.

Yes, you do see some cyclists jumping the red lights. But at this junction in particular, red light jumping by motorists is endemic. Which makes it fairly challenging to cross the road (which, incidentally is right next to a park and to a children's day care centre). And in the neighbouring area, in and around Vauxhall gyratory, fast accelerating, excessive speeding and intimidating car use is the norm. So it's curious that the first thought of a local resident is to blame all cyclists for jumping all red lights, upon seeing a person lying injured on the pavement and a smashed-up car.

My feeling about Vauxhall is that the design of the thing blights a whole neighbourhood. People come off the gyratory thinking they're in some game of Super Mario Bros (apologies to the licence holders). They let rip as they come off the gyratory and speed down the nearby roads. And the nearby roads are designed to encourage them to do that. The roads are designed with wide, sweeping curves and pedestrian crossings are kept to a minimum (try walking from Tesco on Kennington Lane and crossing the road here for example. You can't cross in any direction at this point on the gyratory because you might upset the traffic).

Last week, two coroners – one in West Yorkshire, the other in Northamptonshire – who presided over separate cases involving the deaths of cyclists have called on highway authorities to amend road layouts that they believe were a factor in those riders losing their lives. My own view is that the road layout is a factor in the high number of deaths and serious injuries at Vauxhall Cross.

Last week, the leader of Lambeth council committed to "create a proper town centre in Vauxhall and remove the physical barriers, like the gyratory, that make this difficult". Unsurprisingly, Boris Johnson thinks keeping the traffic flowing is more important. He calls this policy: 'proposals to improve Vauxhall gyratory for all road users'. Looking at the collision data, I'd argue that Vauxhall Cross is a place that kills and maims predominantly pedestrians and cyclists. Why isn't it being redesigned in their benefit, not in favour of 'all' road users?

Let's look forward to adding more names to the list of people killed and seriously injured at Vauxhall then.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Southwark Council swings in to gear on cycling and local cycling group sets ultra-clear vision of what safe cycling in London should look like. Now the government needs to do likewise.

Southwark News honed in on the positive
change in thinking at Southwark's Labour
Early last week, the Department for Transport held a preliminary meeting to discuss issues around safer cycling. The AA, Sustrans, Cyclists Touring Club, British Cycling, London Cycling Campaign and others all turned up. I understand that no permanent staff from the Department itself actually attended and the Minister didn't so much as pop his head round the door. As one attendee put it (and I've spoken with several), 'it would have been nice to know there was a clear channel to the Minister but that seems to be lacking at the moment'. On the same day, the Department for Transport issued a press release about a 'satnav summit' it was holding. Clearly, England's road ministers had better things to do than sit and listen to cycling safety issues (Scotland and Wales and to an extent London have devolved responsibilities. In a way, you could say Boris Johnson is London's transport minister).

There will be a follow-up meeting later this month. And let's hope that the DfT and the Minister actually pitch up and show some leadership next time. From what I understand, the meeting was very consensual. Just like a similar meeting the week before, where Labour's Shadow Transport Minister convened a cycling summit that included motoring, freight trade, cycling and other groups. The Labour summit was astonishingly consensual too. At least the Shadow minister bothered to turn up and she not only listened but she had clearly got her head around the issues.

Another Labour administration has been on my mind lately, that of Southwark Council. A few weeks ago I honed in on Southwark's new cycling strategy. The plan, said the council, was to make all of its roads safer for cycling by lowering speed limits and 'integrating' people on bikes. Pictured below is what happens when you 'integrate' people on bikes and people in HGVs. This isn't some place you'd let your child use a bike, I suspect. Southwark also set a cycling target that would have seen a reduction in the growth rate of cycling. Not a good strategy, in other words. And a shocking one at that, given the council's previously strong record on this sort of stuff.

Ever wondered if people in Holland have to deal with this sort of
 road infrastructure on their bikes? 
Last week, the leader of Southwark Council, Peter John, invited me to meet him and three of his senior colleagues. By the time I attended the meeting, it was already clear that the plan had changed. Southwark Council had already issued a press release in conjunction with Southwark Cyclists committing to the development of 'safe, cycle routes free of intimidatory traffic for those who travel across the borough by bike'. And that is exactly spot-on. Heavy, fast motor traffic is intimidating. It is the number one reason people think that cycling isn't a normal thing to do.

Southwark Cyclists has published an incredibly impressive plan for what it hopes to see happen in the borough. You can see the plan here. The core of it revolves around three requirements:

  • Attracting the 45% of Southwark residents who say they would like to cycle - ie they would cycle but are put off by conditions;
  • A network of 'Green Routes' - ie routes along streets where speeds are slow and you don't feel threatened by motor vehicles. You can see the routes that Southwark Cyclists suggests here
  • Protected cycle lanes on main roads - ie proper infrastructure 
What's clear to me is that Southwark's Labour council has realised that it does need to create a network of cycle routes across the borough. I think the best judge of Southwark's decision to invest in a proper cycle network will reflect this one statistic: The council says that 30% of its school children want to cycle to school but fewer than 3% of them do. The cycle network needs to be safe enough for those 30% of children who want to cycle to school to do so. 

Peter John told me in the meeting that he hadn't been on a bike for decades. He promised he'd get on two wheels and find out for himself what the borough's roads are like for cycling. And I very much hope he sticks to that promise. 

He subsequently talked at length with the local paid-for newspaper Southwark News. In what I can only describe as really high quality journalism, the latest edition of Southwark News examines the council's previous policy and its change of heart. The newspaper points out that the council has only allocated £800,000 over three years to fund its cycling ambitions, out of a total £32 million for road transport. That number, says the paper, isn't good enough. They're right to draw that conclusion. 

As Southwark Cyclists points out, the council can afford to be more ambitious. In nearby Hackney, 4% of journeys are made by bike. Southwark's target is 5% by 2026. Hackney's aiming for 15% by 2030. 

I'm pleased that Southwark has realised where it was going wrong. I got the impression they really had taken the issues to heart and were starting to understand what they could do about them. But I also got the sense that this was an issue they didn't yet fully understand. Which is why, for example, only recently, dozens of people had to write in and protest that Southwark was planning to remove a cycle lane on Heygate Street (near Elephant) and make cycling here considerably worse.

It has been very noticeable until now how far ahead the Lib Dem councillors in Southwark have been on cycling issues. You can read about how the LibDems view the issue here. Last night, local Lib Dem London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon and local LibDem councillors held a very well attended cycling safety summit. The Labour council has now got its head in the right place but has some catching up to do. My own view is that Southwark's management team will only really understand what it's like to cycle across the borough once they get out there and see what it's like for themselves. After all, it should be as easy as, well, riding a bike.

I think Southwark's Labour leader has made a good effort at pressing the re-start button and it will be interesting to see how things develops over the coming months.
Now all we need is the government to start following Southwark's lead and do something similar but on current evidence, I'm afraid that the government isn't really taking this safer cycling stuff very seriously yet.


By the way, if you haven't done so already please add your name to the London Cycling Campaign's petition to the London Mayor: "I want the mayoral candidates to pledge to make London more liveable for everyone by making our streets as safe and inviting for cycling as they are in Holland" Click here Takes less than a minute.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Department for Transport announces cycling infrastructure funding. Sadly it's still peanuts. But there are glimmers of something more positive emerging over the next few weeks. You can help by adding to The Times's #cyclesafe map

Every collision with a cyclist 2005-10. Courtesy Levenes Cycle Injury lawyer folk...
Each dot is a person. Yellow = slight injury, pink = serious, red = fatality.

Pictured left is every single collision with a person on a bike in and around the City of London from 2005-2010. Yellow dots are slight injuries, pink are serious injuries and red are deaths. The map is courtesy of Levenes, cycling injury lawyer folk and you can drill down into any part of Great Britain here.

I think what shocked me was the actual number of incidents on each stretch. Taking my favourite bridge, for example, 14 collisions on Blackfriars Bridge. But then 31 collisions at the junction at the northern end of it, 38 in the 200 metres or so between that junction and the next one at Ludgate Circus, 56 just up the road at the crossing with Clerkenwell Road. If you cycle from Southwark tube station to Clerkenwell Road in a straight line over the Bridge and up Blackfriars Road, you'll pass 201 collisions with cyclists on that 1.3mile stretch, so around 31 collisions per mile per year. Head from Old Street to Red Lion  Square at Holborn (1.5 miles) and you have 33 collisions with people on bikes per year. Seems to me like 30+ collisions per mile per year is the going average, or one every 11-12 days.

Blackfriars this morning. 20 people on bikes per green light,
20 people in motor vehicles. Guess who has priority?
But I reckon that under-represents the actual issue. I know that I've had people drive into me on my bike and never bothered to report those incidents even if one involved a hospital trip the next morning. I've reported one such collision but not reported two others. I don't know if that's representative or not but it indicates the problem may be significantly bigger than these maps suggest.

Earlier today, The Times launched its own #cyclesafe map which you can see here. What's important about this particular map is that the results may be used as evidence in a parliamentary Transport Committee, in essence a parliamentary inquiry into safer cycling, to take place next month. I assume in England only, given these matters are handled by national governments in Scotland and Wales and devolved the Mayor of London in the capital. Within hours, there were over 1,000 points on the map. I'd encourage you to add your own danger points.

What strikes me is that there is no such things as a just one danger spot, though. When I cycle up Blackfriars Road, I can think of three really dangerous elements in the road design within about 50 metres. These are things you'd only find dangerous on a bike and probably wouldn't notice if you were driving a car (incredibly narrow bike lane; pavement newly changed so it juts out at a bus stop, forcing you into main traffic flow; bus lane so rutted you have to weave around the potholes rather than stick to a straight line). I suppose my point is that it's not really about one danger spot or another, it's about how we design our streets and how our road culture functions.

Top 20 cycle collision spots in
central London. Courtesy Levenes.

The Times also points out that the Department of Transport has held a preliminary meeting 'to devise a national plan to promote safer cycling'. I have to hope that the emphasis will not be entirely on the responsibility of the cyclists to cycle 'safely' and that the DfT realises it has a big role to play. At its simplest, things like the fact that traffic wardens aren't able to ticket people for parking in mandatory bike lanes.

My own view is that Department needs to show councils and the Highways Agency that it is serious about cycling and that it will put its money where its mouth is. The Department for Transport announced a number of schemes today to encourage cycling to stations. The total sum announced was £15million. There are some very worthy schemes in here, although I notice very few of them involve proper safe infrastructure for people to cycle along.

Just to put that in context, a town I'm fairly familar with in North Yorkshire is petitioning the DfT for a bypass. It's not a particularly busy town. By south-east of England standards, the traffic is incredibly light. That one bypass is going to cost £42million. So, £42 million for one bypass that is at-best almost pointless versus £15 million for some bike parking and literally a handful of bike routes. Don't get me wrong, the bike routes are great. My point is the money is hardly meaningful in context. As Maria Eagle, the Shadow transport secretary pointed out on twitter today: 'Government's £15m one-off cycle fund only restores a fraction of the £60m annual support lost when Cycling England was stupidly abolished'.

I think the good news is that things are moving. The DfT meeting was the first of two. And the opposition is doing its job. It is putting pressure on the government to think about cycling.

But I have to hope The Times is right when it comments that it "understands that the [Department for Transport's] plan will consider ways of building better infrastructure, improving the behaviour of cyclists and drivers, reducing the speed of motor vehicles and better law enforcement on the roads. Signatories hope that it will be put into action within weeks."

All of these things are needed. And bragging about £15million for cycling infrastructure (only a fraction of which will actually go on infrastructure) is peanuts in the context of what's needed.

You can add your danger points on The Times's Cyclesafe map here

Monday, 5 March 2012

Government tells local councils to sort cycling. Local councils tell government to sort cycling. Now Edinburgh to join London in staging its own #Thebigride on April 28th. Time to remind our governments and London's Mayor, this isn't good enough

Yes, it really is a donkey. And this donkey is very relevant
to safer cycling. Read on
It might seem very odd to write about a donkey in the context of a debate about the future of cycling in the UK. But this is a fairly special donkey.

Two weeks ago, the disability rights group, Transport for All, clubbed together with local pedestrian and cycling campaigners and blocked Curtain Road, a one-way dual carriageway just outside the City of London. Groups of people came on foot, on bicycles and in wheelchairs. All of them protesting the same thing:

Transport for London wanted to remove the pedestrian crossing on Curtain Road at the junction of Rivington Street in Hackney and Curtain Road. You can see the spot here.

The traffic light removal plan measured how many pedestrians pressed the button on the pedestrian crossing. What Transport for London didn't think about, however, was the fact that Rivington Street is a busy route for people cycling east>west. It also failed to think about the fact that Rivington Street has shops and pubs all the way along it. People want to cross from one side to the other. That means they need to get across Curtain Road. By removing the traffic light, TfL would have cut vibrant Rivington Street literally in half. Not good for the cycle route. Not good for pedestrians. Pretty bad for the businesses along the street. And why? Well, we mustn't hold up people in their cars, must we?

Happily, Transport for London seems to have backed down. I don't know if it was the donkey, the people in wheelchairs, the people on bikes or the people on foot. One way or the other, the crossing is here to stay.

People protesting against the Mayor's policy of pedestrian crossing removal.
On bikes, on wheelchairs, on foot. Oh, and with a donkey.
Courtesy Transport for All
The more I look at the way Transport for London designs its roads, the more I think that however many cycling standards it might have and however much it is supposed to tick cycling boxes, it simply doesn't think about this stuff yet. It seems to design London solely around maximising the flow on trunk routes for motor vehicles. If a trunk route for people on bikes or on foot cuts across a trunk route for people in cars, Transport for London almost always gives priority to the motor vehicles. Why? Well, for starters, Transport for London has more money. The councils rely on Transport for London to fund a large part of their transport schemes. I do sense that Transport for London is learning. There is some very good noise filtering out of the Mayor's 'junction review' to improve cycle safety. But at this stage it's all good noise and it will be some months before we see any real action on the ground.

Ultimately, I think London won't be a place that most people think is safe and sensible to cycle around until Transport for London changes its mindset and cycling becomes a proper part of the way that organisation thinks. Once TfL starts to think about bicycles with as much seriousness as it now thinks about motor vehicles, then we'll start to see real change. Ultimately, I think Transport for London could get to that point and it will be a massive game changer if it ever does get there.

The same goes at national level. Unless the government and the Department for Transport really start to think about cycling as a serious transport mode, we're all stuffed. Because unless that starts to happen, we won't see the money come to cycling, nor will we see the quality of infrastructure standards being raised.

In that context, it is pretty depressing to see the feeble response of Road Ministers Baker and Penning to The Times's cyclesafe campaign. The Ministers sent a letter to every council leader in the country, telling them: 'We are writing to let you know the action the Coalition Government is taking both to promote cycling and to improve safety for cyclists, and to ask for your help at the local level to further these aims.'  In my opinion, the letter said something like 'not our problem, mate. You've got all the tools you need, get on with the job'.

Then yesterday came the response from local government. The chair of the Local Government Association’s transport board, Cllr Peter Box, replied: ' Up and down the country councils have embarked on a huge range of initiatives to support cyclists, such as laying cycle paths on roads and in parks, installing bike racks in high streets....[but] resources for a vast overhaul of junction layouts and speed limit alterations are extremely stretched at the moment.’ Oh well, job done then, according to the Local Government Association.

It's pathetic. We have two Road Ministers who do nothing other than send a polite letter to the local councils. And we have the local councils who represent a view that they've already done all they can and can't do any more unless the government stumps up the cash. Result? Impasse. I can be fiercely critical of Transport for London but at least there's a hint of evidence that they are starting to 'get' cycling, albeit rather slowly. At a national level, from what I understand, there's virtually no one in the Department for Transport who 'gets' cycling. There's no government body that 'gets' cycling either

We're going to have to keep making noise. A lot more noise. What was really noticeable about the donkey protests in Hackney was the way that various groups all came together to push for the same thing. On the day, there were blind people, people using wheelchairs, people using bikes, people on foot. Oh and two donkeys. These people all represented different groups. The London Cycling Campaign is working towards Saturday 28 April, the Big Ride in support of its Love London Go Dutch! campaign. I think it's crucial that this turns out to be a huge event. We need to show this is about all sorts of people. I've noticed recently that the CTC may start to formally support the ride. But there's no point the CTC getting involved in the Big Ride unless it also swings behind the Go Dutch! campaign.

We all need to be a bit radical now and then. Especially when we're trying to change the status quo. I hope the British Cycling, the CTC and all sorts of other organisations realise now is the time to be radical together and to work on strength in numbers. There is a lot in the LCC's Go Dutch! campaign for them. We need to start showing that it's about all of us, all pushing for the same thing. In that context, it's fabulous to see that people in Edinburgh are planning a Big Ride in Scotland to coincide with the London Cycling Campaign ride which will also take place on April 28. For more information on the Scotland ride, click here.

Saturday April 28 is a good start. Central London, come and join the Big Ride. If you have a donkey or two to bring along, well, why not? And if you're in Scotland get yourself on the CityCyclingEdinburghForum and keep up to date here.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Labour's cycling summit at the House of Commons - incredible level of consensus from all sorts of industries. Of particular interest, the fact that British Cycling seems to be taking concerted steps to support people making everyday trips on bikes. It's not just about Olympic athletes any more. Good.

The reality of cycling in London. It really shouldn't have to look like this 

Maria Eagle (Labour, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport today hosted a Cycling Summit at the House of Commons. I was impressed that the summit was taking place so promptly in light of The Times's on-going #cyclesafe campaign.

Several Labour councillors attended from around England, including Bristol, York and - closer to home - Hackney. The event was chaired by Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) and other Labour MPs Meg Hillier (Hackney) and Ian Austin (Dudley) both pitched up

No surprises so far.

What struck me was that none of the Labour politicians seemed to be grandstanding their party. In actual fact, the politicians spent the vast majority of the time just listening. When they did talk, it was about making it safer, easier and, frankly, normal to use a bicycle and stressing that this should not be a party-political issue. I agree.

The entire summit felt astonishingly consensual. Representatives from the freight industry, the AA and the construction industry added real value to the discussion and there was significant overlap with many of the comments being made by representatives of the cycling community. The only statement I took issue with was one by the AA who talked about 'roads for living in and roads for movement'. I kind of understood where he was coming from but, in my experience, roads are for people to move, not just people in cars. My sense was that the AA man's world view implied a town of quiet cul de sacs where people live and massive 'roads for movement' in between those quiet streets. That, of course, would deny people the chance to move from the quiet patch where they live to the quiet patch where friends or family live without getting in a car. Not a vision I, or many other people, share.

The one cycling group that really stood out at the summit was British Cycling, which released a statement today calling for tougher sentencing in cases where cyclists are killed and injured on the road. Martin Gibbs, British Cycling's Policy & Legal Affairs director talked about how feeble sentencing "send[s] the wrong message about how we as a society value human life and the rights of people to safely cycle in an environment of mutual respect.” The organisation went a step further and said 'Light sentences for drivers undermine confidence in the justice system'.

I think British Cycling's statement that light sentencing undermines confidence in the justice system is spot on. 

The night before last, I was sat in a meeting with some senior police officers who explained to the room why it is difficult to stop people from jumping red lights if they're driving a car but easy to stop someone if they're on a bike. The room acknowledged that people jump red lights. Drivers and cyclists. But it's only the cyclists that get talked about, abused in newspaper columns and generally denigrated. Jump a red light in your car and you'll get off fine, mate. And you certainly won't get pilloried in the media, in the way you would if you were on a bike.

The topics at Labour's summit went much wider than policing and the justice system. There was a sense (shared by pretty much everyone) of a need to better legitimise cycling and to build the infrastructure both on the ground and in the legal and policing frameworks to support that.

I'm pleased British Cycling is picking up on these themes. I dimly remember that British Cycling was involved the first (and only) time I signed up for a 'Skyride' - the one day of the year that the Mayor of London shuts a few roads so that Londoners can use them to cycle on without fear of aggressive motor traffic. I remember at the time thinking it seemed a bit strange that a sporting organisation like British Cycling was branding a Skyride - all hiviz, helmets and families wobbling about in central London.

And it only really permeated through my (sometimes slow) brain today why British Cycling represents something important. Cast your mind back a few weeks to this:

Nicole Cooke, Olympic cyclist and star of British Cycling, talking about Elephant & Castle junction in The Times last month:

"I certainly wouldn’t fancy riding across Vauxhall Cross or Elephant and Castle in rush hour, and those are only two examples. If we want more people to ride their bikes, we can’t have parts of the city where cyclists feel like they are taking a big risk just crossing a junction — it just shouldn’t be that way."

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London on Elephant & Castle junction late last year:

"Elephant & Castle fine. If you keep your wits about you, Elephant & Castle is perfectly negotiable. I want people to feel confident. The cycle superhighways are about building confidence."

It might not look like it, but can this man
help my young niece cycle to school? Maybe....

I can't help but wonder if British Cycling and Nicole Cooke in particular were more than fully aware of Boris Johnson's foolish and blase attitudes to safer cycling and whether her comments about Elephant & Castle were a deliberate but polite rebuttal of the Mayor's stance on the safety of Londoners on bicycles. What Cooke was saying (and by extension, British Cycling) is that even Olympic cyclists think places like Elephant & Castle junction are not safe or sensible places for cycling. In other words, Boris Johnson, if you want a 'cycling revolution', it's not good enough to simply tell people to fling themselves around the Elephant roundabout (my words, not British Cycling's of course).

I also noticed this: British Cycling President Brian Cookson last week wrote an open letter to 2012 mayoral candidates, urging them to put cycling high on the priority list of sustainable transport planning. Here was British Cycling, the home of full-facial helmets and skin suits getting behind the London Cycling Campaign's Love London Go Dutch campaign. Go Dutch! implies (to me at least) hopping on your bike in normal clothes, using your bicycle to do utterly normal things.I browsed around a bit more and then discovered British Cycling is recruiting for a campaigns manager, specifically to 'mobilise member, public and political support for action at a national and local Government level to achieve the desired changes to legislation and the cycling environment.' (By the way, if you're interested in the job, you can find out more here) I think it can only be good to have more voices putting real money behind these issues.

Don't get me wrong, I think the London Cycling Campaign is doing amazing things again these days (I think it lost its way a few years ago, to be honest). But for the bicycle to gain legitimacy, we're going to have to do both the traditional campaigning stuff and also start to move beyond it with different voices that don't come from such a campaigning background. And all of those voices are going to have to work out how to sing from a fairly similar hymn sheet. In summary, I see a lot of sense in British Cycling having a growing voice. I'd never really put two and two together before but watching British Cycling in action today, I realised that their presence is a very useful step in the journey of cycling in the UK from campaign mode to normal, everyday, boring, just-get-on-a-bicycle-and-go-to-the-shops mode. I think that's probably a good thing.