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. 


  1. normal, everyday, boring, just-get-on-a-bicycle-and-go-to-the-shops mode.

    With you there - apart from the 'boring' bit ;>D

    Normal, everyday just get a bicycle and go to the shops mode cycling is the most relevant case to argue for with campaigning - it's that kind of cycling that makes a difference on the AA's 'roads for living in'.

    It may help reduce the number of single occupant cars driving a mile here & there never getting warm enough to come 'off choke'. It's worth a shot anyway - high fuel prices aren't having much of a visible effect!

  2. I'm afraid you have it wrong about BC. See for why.

  3. I do see a dichotomy in the images that BC finds itself having to promote - the sport with full special kit and those dreaded lids against cycling being just like driving (where you jump in a car without really thinking about how you are dressed).

    One detail I did notice yesterday is how we are not getting a co-ordination to work down the risks. Riding round Central LondonI see several developmant sites all moving in vast tonnages of concrete, steel, and other material and all moving out vast tonnages of spoil. One site has closed a whole section of the LCN cycle route - with no diversions signed nor any really effective statutory signage (Chapter 8 as required by law?) so that the husge fleet of tippers (30-40 working this site alone every day) plus concrete jiggers, plant deliveries, steel deliveries etc can completely block a lane of Midland Road and some more. The tippers are strung out every 150-200m aolng the roads out through East London to tip the spoil in Pitsea! Each truck probably manages 3-4 trips per day and the whole exercise must cost a fortune in haulage, as well as dmage to the city's roads, and increased risk from the large heavy vehicles moving though the congested city streets.

    Under 0.5Km away from this site is a disused double track railway solum and a single bulk materials unloading siding but for one site to pay for and co-ordinate removal by rail in trains that would take 100-150 truckloads in one bite is not something an individual project could viably support. Equally the delivery on direct routes to the River - about 1Km away would need a pier that might double up as a heavy freight transfer point and a passenger facility, if carefully laid out to keep the berths and movements separate. But again this really calls for a TfL or even City of London initiative to mitigate this damaging and high risk road traffic, and its impact on the quality and asfety of life for the bulk of city traffic which is moving around on foot, and increasingly for longer trips, by bike.

    So there's a call for those riding around to get some idea of just how many sites in London are running how many trucks to shift the spoil out and materials in and how much could be moved on to rail or water if we actually had a stronger and easier to connect with heavy haul freight plan and infrastructure for London, presumably coming from TfL.

  4. I don't cycle in the city at the moment, but I used to, so usually agree with most of the thoughts on this blog.

    But I take issue with the red light jumping. I, like many others, include a long walk in the city as part of my commute. I basically cross the square mile twice a day. From Liverpool Street to beyond St Pauls.

    I have never seen a car/lorry/motorbike deliberately jump a red light. Yeah, they may speed up and go through on amber, but see a full blown red and drive through.

    However, I regularly see bikes do it. Usually at every of the six or seven traffic lights I pass twice a day. In the same way that cyclists want to be recognised on the road, so do pedestrians. We have the right to cross the road on a green man in complete safety.

    I suggest that Cyclists in the City promotes a code of conduct for its readers. Bad practice should be scorned by all other cyclists because it damages your cause. As discussed above, the media cannot wait to berate what cyclists do wrong, so don't give it the chance.

    More crucially, I can't help but feel that it is only a matter of time before I see a pedestrian seriously injured by a cyclist whizzing through a red light. After all, you often can't hear a cyclist coming.

    And the damage could be serious. A few months ago I saw a pedestrian stupidly walk in between cars at a red light to cross the road. A cyclist was overtaking the queue quite quickly and quite within his rights. (Let me be clear, the pedestrian was totally at fault.)

    However, the impact was horrific. The girl was thrown backwards, cut her head very badly and, in my humble first aid opinion, was suffering from concussion or some other head injury.

    Again, let me be clear, the pedestrian was at fault. Indeed, I stayed at the scene after the ambulance had left to offer my help to the cyclist's defence as the police questioned him. And I gave the cyclist my details to help protect him from a potential civil case. But I bring this up to say that cyclists can do very real damage to pedestrians.

    Jumping a red light to save ten seconds in a commute isn't worth the risk. I encourage this blog to start a voluntary code of conduct.

    Nick P

    1. It strikes me you have been remarkably lucky to have seen no motor vehicles going through red lights. I would say I typically see one or two go AFTER amber has changed to red. Perhaps the light was amber while they could actually see it, but they carried on in the sure knowledge that it would be red by the time they drew past.

      The statistics on penalties issued to cyclists and motorists flatter motorists because, as a rep of the City Police admitted the other day, FPNs are generally issued to cyclists who jump lights not so much to punish them as to incentivise them to take a safety awareness session - if you attend the session and do the "changing places" thing sitting in the HGV cab, the FPN gets waived. It is however quite a bureaucratic exercise to deal with the waivers, and it is apparently not doable in the same way for motorists because FPNs come also with licence endorsement points, and that is a much tougher proposition to waive.

      Either way, the result is that the impression on RLJ by cyclists as compared with motorists is greatly overstated by the FPN statistics, which just goes to show, as Mark Twain said, there are lies, damn lies, etc.

    2. Errr, Nick P, take your point, but it really does depend on your perspective. Motor vehicle RLJ happens all the time (you're just not tuned to notice it).

      For example, look at motor vehicles entering ASLs on red - now, this is a real problem; it causes no end of grief for cyclists entering or approaching ASLs. I'm sure this kind of RLJ has contributed to more than the 'odd fatility' (for peds too). Like I say, motor RLJ happens all the time.

      If you don't believe me, just randomly select a busy City junction and view it through Google streetview; you'll see no end of examples.

    3. Admittedly, my thoughts are purely anecdotal.

      Maybe I'm wrong on motor vehicles jumping reds. (Although I still don't believe cars would approach a full red that has been red for some time and decide to jump it anyway - something I see cyclists do often.)

      It is interesting that neither of you have defended cyclists jumping reds though. And that's the crucial thing. If cyclists set an example on this issue, it would surely help? At worst it would be better than tit for tat arguments.

    4. "If cyclists set an example on this issue, it would surely help?"

      Not sure, tbh. I don't jump reds regardless of my mode of transport (like most cyclists, I drive too). On my bike, I get the same hassle from people who watch me scrupulously observing the Highway Code as anyone else on a bike seems to (I'm a commuter in Manchester, however, we don't seem to have much cycle RLJ, at least, not at the times I ride).

      As to relative prevalence, at the crossroads by Picadilly Station (London Rd/Fairfield Street) red light jumping by motor vehicles seems to be rife. During the winter, I was there for one change of the lights most evenings, and the days when fewer than one car jumped the red (on, or slightly before the pedestrian phase) were the rarities. I've seen busses and vans scatter crossing pedestrians a number of times there.

    5. Nick P, how can you get cyclists to set an example? Is there a magic communication device that can contact all cyclists and ask them to stop jumping red lights?

      That's like saying let's make motorcyclists set the example for not speeding on the roads. Individuals jump red lights, individuals choose to break the speed limit. They do it regardless of their mode of transport.

      The point is you are singling out cyclists for breaking the highway code/law and ignoring the fact that that there are users across all modes of road transport that break the rules.

      Why should it be cyclists to be the ones to set the example?

    6. But Nick P, motor vehicles RLJ all the time. They deliberately (perhaps not maliciously) roll into ASLs on red ALL THE TIME. They even do it when cyclists are already in the ASL. Frankly, this is terrifying. Deathdifying if it's an HGV.

      Can you spot the source of the problem yet?

      Which problem should we solve first? Motor vehicle RLJ, which I contend is a real problem, contributing to death on a regular basis, or cyclist RLJ, which results in actual death, oh, I fact, can't remember the last death, can you?

      Don't get me wrong, both RLJs are awful, but which one should we have our Police force focus?

      This may surprise you, but my view is we shouldn't focus on either of them.

      Designing the conflict out of major junctions, now that's where it's at. Conflict is the real reason why we have RLJ in the first place.

    7. I wouldn't defend cyclists riding through a red light because I don't think it is necessary. As soon as you step out of the saddle and start walking along, pushing your bike, you have become a pedestrian again. You can do whatever a pedestrian can do and get away with. (Crank v Brooks, 1980 RTR 441).

      I don't think I have often seen cyclists go through a light which has turned red, while I have seen any number of motor vehicles do that - the risk is simply too great for most people. What I do see is cyclist who anticipate the light turning green and go before amber, perhaps just in a rush but rationally to place distance between themselves and the pushy impatient motorist who is invading their ASL space right behind their chuffs. As I say, you can do this legally, by walking the bike through the junction before remounting and riding off.

  5. I have some sympathy with the AA comment on roads for living/roads for movement (although not having been there, I don't have the context of their remark) but it seems to me that is only part of the story about how we want our streets (living) and roads (movement) to develop. As cyclists we presumably want streets to function as places where we live, as well as where we walk to the shops or bus stop, cycle and, from time to time, drive. I think it is inevitable that some roads will be exclusively for movement, and so will either have to have segregated cycle paths or possibly no cycle provision at all, because it is not necessary – I have absolutely no doubt that most Dutch Autowegs don’t have parallel cycle tracks because in practice there are better or more direct routes for cyclists to take to get from the same points A to B.

    Aside from distributor routes which would need a proper cycle provision, there may indeed be more appealing routes for cyclists and pedestrians which ignore such roads altogether. I recall seeing an example where residential street design created a series of culs de sac with pedestrian/cycle gaps so that a walker or cyclist could travel from A to B in more or less a straight line while a car would have to drive via points C, D and E. The marginal influences over choice of car or bike were thus pushed towards bike, and as amcambikes put it, residents would choose based on factors like whether it was raining, or icy, or they had a large load to manage, and not on safety or convenience.

    No doubt there will be some situations where barriers are insuperable. Thinking of the layout of inner city streets in places like Camden, Brixton/Streatham, or indeed Portsmouth, there are residential streets which end abruptly as they abut a railway line or a canal. Possibly it would be feasible to build a pedestrian/cycle bridge across the obstruction, but it would cost a fair bit, (albeit a lot less than a motor road bridge would). On the other hand there are plenty of examples where a cul de sac has relatively easy access to another cul de sac across a park, some private land, or even just a small car park. It might require nothing more than some dropped kerbs and bollards to make an uninterrupted cycle route there. There are numerous examples of through streets which could, and should, be cul-de-sacked with a cycle gap in a large-scale filtered-permeability scheme, just by building a kerb, dropped kerb and bollards across a street somewhere along its length so that cars can go in or out, but not through. You could even try it out to see how residents feel about it – some may be suspicious at first – by depositing temporary barriers or planters for a trial.

    One thing this debate has brought out, which as a relative outsider I have not seen before, is sympathetic experts in road engineering. I gather that some of these were at yesterday’s discussions, notably one guy who claims authorship of guidelines on the UK equivalent of Woonerfs, and possibly someone who similarly claims co-authorship of the Manual for Streets. (I’m not doubting their claims, it’s just a way of identifying their relevance). They sound – broadly – sympathetic to the notion of design for people above cars, and are probably more useful to the debate than people who can only report or observe, however comprehensively, on the best examples of design already implemented.

    1. Filtered permeability is not always an easy sell - there was a debate in my local area a few months back. A new housing development being built created the opportunity for pedestrian permeability to be created between several residential cul-de-sacs. Unfortunately the older residents were overwhelmingly against - underlying reasons being fear of crime, noise, more unfamiliar faces in the street.

      Apparently they'd rather have to walk alongside a fast, busy main road to the shops half a mile away (or, more likely, drive) than create a pleasant walking & cycling route along quiet residential streets. Talk of safe routes to school, kids being able to cycle etc., was met with the usual victim-blaming.

    2. Hmmm. Older residents (or at least the better-off ones) are, quite frankly, going to be problem in more ways than one. We moved away from a nice house on a nice private estate, primarily because my other half was going crazy about the attitudes of our neighbours, who had been young parents when they moved in but were now not-so-young grandparents. They had developed a sense of ownership and entitlement which did not tolerate change, for example they complained if you mowed the lawn on a sunday (what are you supposed to do if you work all week, as they no longer did?). We came to the conclusion that the affluent elderly are a right royal pain in the a*se.

      They might do well to reflect on the fact that their final salary pensons at age 60, state retirement at 60-65, free higher education, low-cost entry to the housing market way back when, etc, all paid for by public borrowing which the younger generation is now expected to repay, may have enabled them to live in leafy estates and drive a new car every three years but simultaneously they have paupered their own children and grandchildren so they will have to make do with the buses and the bike routes which they don't want to pay for now.

      Frankly, in my view the views of younger residents should take precedence every time. And I say that from the perspective of late-middle age.

  6. There are two major issues with road safety in this country, one is to do with road design and the other is the culture of the sacred driving license. Until we tackle both things are not going to improve, hopefully the times they are a changing and finally this is coming on to the political radar. Our job is now to keep it there.

  7. I disagree with Nick P having just been nearly hit by a car whilst I was crossing a Pelican crossing, the green man was on the lights had been red for 30 secs and the driver made no effort to slow down! This is not uncommon, either.

  8. I suggest that cyclist RLJs are not always impatient or deliberate law breakers, but it often feels safer to pick your moment on an empty junction rather than get embroiled in a standing start race with heavier vehicles.
    The answer, of course, is more priority for cyclists at traffic light junctions so that it feels safe to go with the traffic. Perhaps 'cycle only' green lights similar to pedestrian lights.

  9. There's RJLing, and RLJing. If there aren't any cars or pedestrians then I will go through a red light every time. But if there are pedestrians then they clearly have priority. This morning I saw a guy on a bike speed through a couple of red lights, swerving to avoid a car and pedestrians. I thought: "what a tawt". This is different, in my mind, to going through a red light where no-one is crossing.