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.


  1. I remember reading another article about the removal of a pedestrian crossing at the north end of London Bridge with TFL showing their research into people using the button and actually waiting for the lights to change. Having used a few sets of pedestrian crossing when I'm not aboard my bike I have to say I could understand why, sometimes it takes ages for the green man to appear. Of course then in these cases I'm going to cross if/when a clear section comes up before the green man...It doesn't mean the crossing is un-needed if only a small % of people do wait for it, it could be those people who NEED the green man phase such as young children, the elderly or the disabled. You can't expect these groups to chance it just because you reckon the crossing is un-needed and those precious few seconds the green man is up (which you have reduced anyway!!) may hinder traffic flow.

    Maybe if TFL could look at other forms of traffic such as foot and bike then we might get a fairer road system, but to be honest I'm not going to hold my breath.

    1. TfL have a programme to increase pedestrian/ cycle waiting times at crossings to the maximum of 90 seconds. Then they use the fact that few people wait for the green light to justify removing the crossing. Very cynical and worthy of a Private Eye article.

  2. This is a very timely argument about the need for wide collaboration on improving roads for all. Intelligent campaigning for cycle-friendly highways, I believe, can rightly claim to be a campaign that suits all transport modes.

    I think you might be doing local authorities a disservice though. Legally and financially they are subordinate to Westminster and they genuinely do lack funds and authority to do any more then meet their current statutory obligations. As I said to someone yesterday, they are not passing a buck - they haven't got a buck to pass. My own limited experience of two city authorities (Leeds and Bristol) is that many officers and members are already persuaded of a need to improve things. They simply don't have the budgets or the powers to do big strategic things. A lot of energy is taking up "bidding" for funds whose purposes are tightly defined and whose time scales and policy goals are unrealistic.

    Just as cycling groups need to (and do) talk to other transport groups, we also need to talk to those parts of local government who have shared goals. I don't think it advances the cause to be dismissive of their efforts or critical of their shortcomings.

  3. I'll join the chorus agreeing that cycling groups need to form wider alliances, with pedestrians', residents' the elderly and disabled, poverty, youth, students’ and children’s groups - in fact everyone who for one reason or another can't gain access to a car or, where they can, is in this respect looking at the issue through non-motoring eyes. There will be occasions when that actually works to the disadvantage of cyclists - shared space and the blind for example - but in the vast majority of scenarios all but the Franklin/Forrester brigade have a community of interest.

    “Localism” is of course a complete bust. It permits national government to pass the buck to local authorities when in fact they have kept a stranglehold on local decisions through the only thing which really matters – money. Local authorities are not however completely in hock to national government over transport initiatives. If I understand correctly, money raised from parking cannot legally be used to prop up the general finances of the council, despite the mendacious claims of the Evening Standard about Westminster’s intentions vis à vis its council tax and the extension of on-street parking charges. It can however be used to fund other transport projects, and this can be seen in the City of London where the revenues from parking on-street or in the City’s own off-street facilities is considerable.

    Boosting parking revenues would have two benefits, it would fund parking enforcement and other transport initiatives, and it would adjust the balance in individual’s choices of car or alternatives to make a journey. If for example commuters found that on-street parking close to, say, Oval tube station was no longer free but cost £5-6 a day, they would have to adjust their driving habits and look seriously at the alternatives which provide public transport from door to door.

    This won’t be easy though. Surrey County Council is involved in a scrap with residents of various boroughs in the county over increases in off-street parking charges and introduction of on-street charges which are essential simply to ensure that parking enforcement is fully financed – a few years ago the responsibility for parking enforcement rested with the Police, and that responsibility was removed from them without any immediate back-up plan in place. Total lack of enforcement led to chaos with cars parking with impunity in all sorts of places which caused obstruction or inconvenience to buses, deliveries, emergency services etc. The Counties now have the responsibility and have taken on traffic wardens (mainly through private contractors) but Surrey is one example where the service is not self-financing. Their proposals to introduce on-street charges in specific locations, mainly close to railway stations for commuter parkers and in town centres where paid-for off-street parking is in abundant supply, have met with howls of outrage from residents – not the residents of the affected streets, you understand, but residents who are slightly further afield, and who, in my view, could just get off their fat a*ses and walk to the shops or station if they don’t like the idea of paying for parking.

    So, they face entrenched, and very noisy, opposition from self-interested people who already enjoy considerable privileges – “baby boomers” in a sense, who have enjoyed various benefits like free higher education, final salary pension schemes and the era of cheap housing financed with cheap and available money, leaving the younger generation to pay for it. Roads and transport are just part of the problem, but one on which cyclists should be able to find common cause with many others.

  4. I'm very happy the crossing is saved.

    Slight correction: "one-way dual carriageway" doesn't make sense. The road is single-carriageway, two lanes, one way.

  5. Well done Brenda and Hackney Living Streets for seeing off this reactionary proposal. It's a sign of how things have slid backwards that campaigners are having to scramble to preserve what already exists, let alone aspire for better.

    Nevertheless, Transport for London's humiliating retreat does give us the opportunity to remind ourselves -- and them -- of the promised second phase of the Shoreditch Trangle traffic reforms, in which through motors were going to be removed from Curtain Road completely.

    Newcomers to the area may not remember, but ten years ago the main streets of Shoreditch formed a huge one-way system. Cyclists and bus users were forced to go on diversions of half a mile or more on racetracks up to five lanes wide. In December 2002, after a successful and united campaign by local residents and groups like Hackney Living Streets and the London Cycling Campaign in Hackney, most of Shoreditch was returned to two-way working, releasing huge benefits to walking, cycling, and public transport users, and helping to revitalise the local economy.

    Curtain Road, however, was 'temporarily' kept as a one-way diversion for A10 northbound private motor traffic, due to the reportedly prohibitive cost of relocating fibre optic cables which were preventing the removal of a pinch point in Shoreditch High Street. This would all be put right in a future 'phase 2', we were told.

    A decade on, the next step is way overdue. One of these days, when the tide turns again to the optimism and progressive policies of the early days of TfL, A10 traffic will go back onto the High Street, and Curtain Road will once again be a pleasant two-way walking and cycling street (with motors permitted for access only), forming part of a green link from Hoxton the City.

    Roll on phase 2!

  6. I've just come back from a week in Paris and I was amazed at the cycling facilities there. It really puts London to shame and our "cycling mayor" ought to be embarrassed given what they have achieved.

    On major roads cyclists generally have either their own segregated cycle lane (and it is properly segregated by a concrete kerb) or share a bus lane (also segregated) which feels wider and safer than London ones.

    On minor roads there is some segregation but even when riding in traffic you are given space and left alone. Cars don't try and edge past you when there is not enough space and instead wait behind until it is safe. I'm not sure what the speed limit is but traffic felt slower and cars didn't accelerate quickly away from lights. Many one way streets have a cyclist-only contraflow: in Montmartre there was a tiny street where the contraflow was even completely segregated.

    Another thing I liked were the markings at junctions. It is an almost continuous line of bike symbols and chevrons and your eyes are drawn to them (e.g. These are also painted onto one way streets to highlight the cycle contraflow and I think they're much better than the markings in the UK.

    During the day on Sundays they close the major roads next to the Seine and open then up for pedestrians/cyclists/skateboarders.

    I came back to earth with a crash though: Back in London on my first Boris Bike trip along Southwark Street (the road surface is awful here, I have cycled on smoother off road tracks) I get beeped by a tour bus driver who then points to indicate I should be riding further in the gutter. Such a shame.