Monday, 30 April 2012

Today's cyclesafe hustings: It felt to me that Boris Johnson either doesn't understand why he hasn't got the cyclist vote or he thinks the anti-cycling vote is more important. That could cause all sorts of problems if he wins this week.

The Mayoral candidates at today's The Times & Sustrans
#cyclesafe hustings
The Times newspaper and Sustrans hosted a hustings of five Mayoral candidates in London this afternoon.

I think the surprise of the day was Brian Paddick who came out fighting on the issue of safe walking and cycling for families, stressing that this must be a prioirity over 'speeding' motor traffic. Ken Livingstone was more articulate and better informed than I had expected and seemed to know his stuff on cycling issues. It may have been a throwaway comment but I was interested to hear Ken Livingstone suggest cycling should make up 10-15% of all road journeys in London. That is significantly more than rather vague 5% target by 2026 goal set by the current Mayor.

What really threw me, however, was just how badly Boris Johnson misjudged the room. The Times summarised the mood with this killer paragraph:

"Despite a Leader in The Times on Saturday which affirmed that cyclists “are not a special interest group. They are you, and us, and everybody,” Mr Johnson said: “I can humbly say to you, I may not conform to your idea of a stereotypical cyclist: I do not have whippet-thin brown legs or dreadlocks, I do not charge around in lycra, I do not jump lights […] but I ask you to recognise that I have cycling in my heart. I love cycling I think it is a wonderful and I will continue to invest in cycling.”

The editor of The Times happens to use a bike too, as do I. I'm not sure I have whippet-thin brown legs, would love to have dreadlocks (but don't) and only charge around in lycra at the weekends. The rest of the time, I'm zipping to work in a shirt. On a bike.

So where on earth did this sudden cyclists-are-lycra-toting-red-light-jumpers rant come from?

Boris Johnson could quite easily have wooed the cycling crowd at today's hustings. He did slip in one piece of good news - a commitment to create a cycling commissioner role at Transport for London. But he could have explained how, for example, London is slowly learning to build cycling into the fabric of the city (and my sense is that process is slowly happening. It's not perfect but Transport for London is certainly starting to make the right noises) He could have talked with real passion about the on-going junction review for which he personally secured £15million from the chancellor. Or he could have talked in more detail about the cycle hire scheme, how and where he plans to extend it. Last week he even came out in full support of the London Cycling Campaign's three GoDutch initiatives.

But he didn't go into detail on any of the potential positives for cycling in his campaign. Instead, he spent the whole hour on the defensive, explaining (fairly poorly) his policy of 'smoothing the traffic flow', a policy which Brian Paddick has described as 'killing people'. He talked a lot about how Ken Livingstone would deny London the investment it needs for transport infrastucture (valid point but it took up way too much of his argument). And he rejected a return to a 'road user hierarchy' - a Ken era policy that placed pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users above private motor vehicle users.

At no point did Boris Johnson seem to realise that he had a room full of people who would love to get behind a cycling Mayor, someone who could enable, say, London's family to cycle their kids to school rather than drive. I had the impression he still genuinely believes the statement he made last year when he said that cycling around somewhere like Elephant & Castle is '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."

Boris Johnson is clearly passionate about using a bike. But I had the distinct sense today that he really only understood cycling in the context of himself. He didn't show that he understood why ten thousand people took to their bikes in the rain on Saturday to show support for safer cycling in London. I almost wondered if he realises that cyclists come in all shapes, sizes and political colours. And that they want a Mayor who better understands why they want to cycle instead of drive. They're not anti-car, they're just people who want the choice not to have to use their cars as much.

I'm fairly certain that Boris Johnson will win the Mayorlty this week. He has the opportunity to use his junction review, extension of the bike hire scheme and the new cycle super highway plans to shift things up a gear or two. But he needs to come down much more clearly on the side of people who use bicycles. He failed to achieve that at The Times's hustings and came out instead with something more like a rant than a coherent message that shows he really believes cycling is a serious mode of transport in London. That's a shame. Because if he does win, we need him to continue to support cycling, not switch off the cycling agenda. My sense today was that Boris Johnson doesn't understand why he hasn't got the cyclist vote. We will have to hope he doesn't decide to abandon the cyclist vote if he wins this week.

You can watch a summary of the debate on this well-balanced BBC report here. Watching it made me wonder whether Boris Johnson wasn't deliberately winding up the cyclist vote to try and appeal to a wider non-cycling audience. It certainly feels that way when you watch the clip.  

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The status quo is no longer good enough. It's time to make London a city that's designed for people to cycle instead of drive.

London politicians line up at The Big Ride
Yesterday morning as I lined up in the rain for London Cycling Campaign's The Big Ride, I had a chance to speak with the politicians who came along for the ride. Pictured left, Brian Paddick and Caroline Pidgeon (LibDem), Jenny Jones (Green) and then a less familiar face, Daniel Moylan, deputy chair of Transport for London, and Conservative councillor in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. On the right, Murad Qureshi (Labour).

I was pleased to see Daniel Moylan on the ride. All the more so because he was wearing a flat cap, wax jacket and sturdy corduroys. In other words, here was the deputy chairman of TfL on a bike wearing exactly the same clothes he might wear to head to the shops or down to the pub on a Sunday afternoon.

And that's exactly the point.

The majority of car journeys in London are under five miles. In other words, exactly the sorts of journeys people could do by just jumping on a bike in the clothes they want to wear at their destination. But they don't. Because, for most people, London doesn't feel like the sort of place that invites most of us to get about by bike.

Please can we see more of this on London's streets
In fact, I reckon that the majority of Londoners aren't that fussed about 10,000 people pitching up on bikes in the middle of the capital. What they're worrying about is the fact that there's a massive tail back on the A4 this morning because the Hammersmith flyover is closed. 

Local MP Mary Macleod (Conservative) has been on twitter this morning pointing the finger at Transport for London for the transport chaos around Hammersmith and Chiswick caused by the closure of the Hammersmith flyover. And then without realising the sheer irony of her next tweet she asks her twitter followers: "Let me know if you think parking in Chiswick is an issue. What do you think should be done to support local shops and local traders?

I think what would help support local shops and local traders is less traffic so that people can more easily nip to their local stores. But you can't have it both ways, Mrs Macleod. You can't have more car parking and less congestion in the same breath. You have to actively chose to give people the option not to drive, make it easier for them to get around their neighbourhood and stop at local shops.

So, my challenge to Daniel Moylan is pretty simple. Mr Moylan, will you let politicians like Mary Macleod beat you up for not providing enough car parking and for causing congestion? Will you think that is what really matters to Londoners? Or will you give Londoners the option to ditch their cars and to cycle around London's streets instead? Because most Londoners don't think cycling is an option at the moment. That's because the roads are designed almost entirely for people to drive. It's time to make London a city that's designed for people to cycle instead of drive.

The Met Police confirmed that over 10,000 people came out on their bikes in the pouring rain yesterday. Each of us was making the point in our own way. We want to be able to cycle around London rather than drive. And we want the same for our families and friends too. The status quo is no longer good enough. It's time to make this happen. 

I think that The Times summed up the mood perfectly. Editorial in The Times Saturday 28 April 2012:

Easy Riders

Today may see Britain’s largest ever protest on two wheels

Anybody who still considers cycling to be a niche pursuit should step out today in the centre of Edinburgh or London.
In protests organised by a collection of disparate but single-minded groups, thousands of cyclists will be putting foot to pedal. In Edinburgh, thousands are expected to be out enjoying the sunshine. In London, where the hope is that it will at least stay dry, many thousands more will move along traffic-free streets between Hyde Park and Blackfriars Bridge.
As a group, cyclists have long lacked a coherent voice, for the simple reason that they are not really a group at all. As a collective, they have no more in common than people who eat pasta, or wear trousers, or drive cars. Yet this lack of lobbying power has taken a toll. Two cyclists have died on roads in the Edinburgh region this year. In London, five have. The youngest was Ali Nasralla, aged 8, struck by a taxi in Kingston upon Thames.
No child should have to risk death cycling home from school, and no driver should have to risk being the person who hits one. As this newspaper’s “Cities fit for cycling” campaign has been arguing for many months, British cities cannot continue to be places in which the needs of cyclists are an afterthought. A bike-friendly infrastructure is a must.
These protests take place shortly before regional and mayoral elections. Next week, London’s five major candidates will take part in a bikefocused debate, hosted by The Times and the Sustrans charity. Britain’s cyclists are finding their voice, and politicians will continue to ignore them at their electoral peril. They are not a special interest group. They are you, and us, and everybody.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Boris Johnson joins four other Mayoral candidates to endorse London Cycling Campaign's push for Dutch-style cycling in London. But can London cyclists trust him to genuinely deliver his promise this time after the huge compromise of the Cycle Super Highways?

Cycle superhighway in action as a car park. The 4x4 parks here every night all night for free.
He runs the takeaway stall just by the side of the road and gets free workplace-parking in the bike lane.
News just in: Boris Johnson 'is fully committed to' the implementation of Dutch-style cycling in London. Brilliant news. This means that all four Mayoral candidates from the leading parties in next week's Mayoral elections plus independent Siobhan Benita have backed the concept of Dutch-style cycling as championed by the London Cycling Campaign. Unsurprisingly, UKIP and the BNP are not supportive.

My interest for much of the past week has been tuned to the minicab company AddisonLee. Its boss John Griffin has a truly bizarre sense of reality when it comes to bicycles. Last night there was the astonishing news that his company has lost its contract to supply minicabs to central government.Tonight's Evening Standard says (in an excellent report) that this is "due to the minicab company’s decision to break the law by driving in the bus lanes". A good number of companies have closed AddisonLee accounts because their directors and their staff use bicycles as well as minicabs. As far as I'm concerned, AddisonLee is now a no-go. I will refuse to get in one of the company's cars (coaches too) unless Griffin changes his views on how London's roads should work.

Tonight's big news, is rather different. Boris Johnson has committed in writing that he "is fully committed to meeting the three key tests" of the London Cycling Campaign GoDutch initiative. Those three commitments are:
  • Implement three flagship Love London, Go Dutch developments on major streets and/or locations.
  • Make sure all planned developments on the main roads that they controls are complete to Go Dutch standards, especially junctions.
  • Make sure the Cycle Superhighways programme is completed to Love London, Go Dutch standards. 
Ken Livingstone, Jenny Jones and Brian Paddick have all given their commitment to deliver the London Cycling Campaign goals. And now Boris Johnson as well.

This is great news and is the result of serious and intelligent work by the London Cycling Campaign.
My only anxiety is whether Boris Johnson really means it this time. Does he genuinely mean that it's time to draw a line under the sort of road design that has brought us Bow roundabout, Blackfriars Bridge and the truly awful Henlys Corner? The BackBoris campaign is hugely proud of Henlys Corner describing how it 'makes crossing the road significantly easier for pedestrians and cyclists'. That's rubbish. The scheme is like a giant wall from east to west for everyone who isn't in a motor vehicle. Too many of the brand new schemes delivered under his offices are supposedly 'cycling-friendly' but in reality are truly awful for cycling.

My own view is that it's time to start again. The President of the AA said this week "that in many cyclists’ view the roads are not fit for purpose....Many of the things highlighted in the survey [in The Times newspaper] show that particularly on major roads in and around urban areas we need a fundamental review of road design and junction layout.”

Tomorrow morning I'll be at The Big Ride, with thousands of others. And the point I want the Mayor to realise (whichever Mayor wins) is that what we've seen for the last four years is not Dutch-style cycling. The AA President is right: We need a fundamental review of road design and junction layout. Building rubbish like Henlys Corner, Blackfriars or the Cycle Super Highway out to Bow is not something any Mayor of London should be proud of.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

'Cycle routes, we just can't do it, it's not practical' says Addison Lee boss. He's wrong. It's plenty practical. We just need to make a proper start of it.

The young people of Samuel Lithgow Youth Centre were granted exclusive access to AddisonLee earlier this week to interview chairman John Griffin about his inflammatory anti-cyclist comments. You can watch the film they produced above.

I listened to John Griffin word-for-word. And it struck me that he genuinely doesn't have any comprehension what a civilised version of London's streets might look like.

'There's just no space' for bike routes, he says. 'It's a congested space out there'. '[Cyclists] just have to protect themselves..they've got to look out for..I could just lose concentration and it's painful for them'.

He does make some valid points about training. He even hints that cycling lessons should be part of the driving test (I agree). But his line is this: "Cycle routes, we just can't do it, it's not practical".

The thing is, it is practical. Earlier this week, Copenhagen launched its first cycle super highway. The super highway is 17.5km long and "designed to be as direct as possible and have fewer stops and obstructions than traditional bike routes". Look at the London 'cycle super highways' in comparison and weep.

Why is Copenhagen building a network of cycle superhighways? The plan is to have 50% of all people travelling to work by bicycle in the greater Copenhagen area by 2015. Why would they want to do that? Presumably for similar reasons to Cambridgeshire county council to 'support economic growth' without the need for yet more and bigger expensive roads, to reduce the costs of congestion and to make the place run more efficiently. People don't need to spend ages looking for a parking space, shops are busy on high streets because they actually are high streets rather than 'corridors' for motor traffic, people can get to jobs more efficently and cheaply than they can by car.

Griffin says that people who cycle 'have this thing in their head that everyone's on their case'. No Mr Griffin, that's not the problem. The problem is actually the exact opposite, namely that the people who run London's roads don't have cycling on their case. They are designing it out of London streets.

So, instead of designing massively widened pavements and squeezing out cyclists at brand new junctions like Euston Circus (see TfL's insane plans here), they could spend the same amount of money and make sure there is a safe and reliable way for people to cycle through this junction that keeps them as far away from heavy motor vehicles as possible.

Before and after. Southwark narrows the road. Expects cyclists
to just squeeze in with the HGVs and the cars somehow.
Courtesy Tom Chance.

Tom's pretty blunt about it: "The net effect is that there is less space for cars and buses to overtake cyclists. The council’s reasoning is that cyclists should share the road with cars here, joining the main stream of traffic instead of hugging the kerb. But the road has a 30mph speed limit. Who cycles that fast? Who is confident enough to hold up a white van man on a 30mph road? Almost nobody, that’s who. Every day I see cyclists weaving through traffic jams and putting up with cars hurtling past at 30mph."

I think he has a point. Most people don't cycle in London precisely because this sort of road design puts them off. It's designed for cars and treats people on bikes as if they are cars. They're not.

What's even more galling is that Griffin thinks that 'cycle route' equals segregated route all the way. It doesn't. It means all sorts of things, depending on the street. He cites Drummond Street as a street that hasn't got room for a bike lane. Drummond Street doesn't need a 'bike lane'. It needs to have less motor traffic or to have that motor traffic slowed down. Do that and the whole streetscape opens up to people on bikes, on foot, on mobility scooters.

When Griffin talks about forcing open London's bus lanes for his minicabs, he refers to 'quicker' journeys. He sees the streets as places people need to rush through as quickly as possible. I see the streets as places that need to benefit Londoners the best way possible. That means streets that people can use to travel safely and conveniently on foot, by bike and by car. But let the car roam free, as we're doing in London, and you force all the other forms of streetlife out of the way.

As the Mayor of Copenhagen puts it "You cannot dream up more space. You have a certain amount of square metres to divide so they benefit the citizens in the best way possible" Griffin's conclusion is that there isn't any space in London. My conclusion is there's plenty of space. It's about how we make use of it and who we prioritise: his customers or London's citizens?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

AddisonLee: should London be a place where bully-boy 'gangs' get their way on the roads. Or is the AA president right that the roads need to change? Time for the Mayor to come off the fence?

John Griffin, chair of Addison Lee and his 'gang' confront cyclists
and black cab drivers last night. Is this the 'gang' he
wants Londoners to join? Photo courtesy Tom Foot
Is it me or is there something very unpleasant about this image?
One of the statements made by John Griffin, chair of AddisonLee, to cyclists last week was this: "You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up".

Pictured left, John Griffin's 'gang talking to cyclists and the black cab drivers who came to support them at last night's cyclists 'die-in' outside the AddisonLee offices.

I'm not having anything to do with Mr Griffin's 'gang' thank you very much.

And the same goes for a lot of Londoners. Tongue firmly in cheek, it took none other than the Daily Mail to write this about John Griffin's 'gang' yesterday:

"Mr Griffin, which ‘gang’ are you talking about here? The gang of inconsiderate, aggressive commercial drivers who can make using London’s roads such a joyless experience for us all? The nasty, red-faced, overweight and geographically clueless minicabbers shrieking at anyone who dares to get in their way (until they decide they need to double-park, switch their hazard lights on and block the road for everyone else)? Is that the ‘gang’ you have in mind?"

Astonishing words from the Daily Mail, I thought. But there's a lot of truth in them. There's a sense among a lot of road users that Mr Griffin represents something quite nasty on London's roads. As puts it: "Mr Griffin, who doesn’t seem like someone who shies away from a scrap – if anything, he's more likely to start one." My feeling is that the same thing goes for the way he encourages his drivers to illegally use bus lanes, for the way he intimates that his drivers have more 'rights' to London's roads than other users.

John Griffin is opposed to 'grannies' on bikes
'wobbling to avoid a pothole'
And this is really the crux of the problem. The real question seems to be who is our city for and how should it operate? Should it be a place where people - all people - can get around efficiently and safely? Or should the city be a place where bully-boy tactics supported by 'gangs' get their own way on London's roads?

I think Boris Johnson (or whoever is Mayor from May 4th) needs to set the tone on this. At the moment, Boris Johnson is trying to have it both ways. Last week, his press team slammed AddisonLee's boss for 'irresponsible and unacceptable' comments about cycling. But Boris is also still sticking to the line that London's road are fine for cycling as they are. Last year, for example, he told cyclists that Elephant & Castle roundabouts are fine for cycling 'if you keep your wits about you'. Nicole Cooke, Olympic cycling champion, stated her complete disagreement in an article in The Times in February. And then today, The Times issued the results of its enquiry into the worst places to cycle in the UK which it will present to today's Transport Select Committee. Top of the list? Elephant & Castle roundabout. You can read more about it here.

Even the President of the AA has come out and made the very clear statement that "It would be fair to say from these findings from 10,000 people that in many cyclists’ view the roads are not fit for purpose,” he added. “Many of the things highlighted in the survey show that particularly on major roads in and around urban areas we need a fundamental review of road design and junction layout".

The Times has nailed the issue on the head. In particular, I take my cap off to the President of the AA. He's right. We need a fundamental review of road design. Boris Johnson still seems to be on the fence. Question is, will he support Mr Griffin and his black shirt gang, or will he side with the AA President and others like him?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Boris Johnson condemns AddisonLee 'irresponsible and unacceptable' about recent comments on cycling. Time for Barclays and other major corporate clients to do the same. Cyclists and black cab drivers to stage protest Monday 6pm, Euston.

The car park of one of the largest AddisonLee business account clients in London
One of the first rebuttals that John Griffin, chairman of AddisonLee, made last about the widespread reaction to his vitriolic cyclist-hating comments, was that this was just a twitter storm.

I don't think that's the case any longer. Over 60,000 people read about his irresponsible attitude to safer roads on this blog alone on Friday. Pretty much every single national paper has followed the story over the weekend. The Times took a very clear line: "Minicab chief: cyclists have to expect to be hurt on roads," it thundered. The Telegraph followed suit, saying that "There is only one way to cure this small-minded cyclophobia – get on your bike." The Road Danger Reduction Forum quite rightly dubbed Griffin's comments "a factually inaccurate and victim-blaming rant about cyclists".

Boris Johnson's media team issued a press release on Friday saying:“John Griffin’s actions are irresponsible and unacceptable, and Boris Johnson does not agree with his comments on cycling.” Then early today even the Daily Mail chimed in, calling the remarks by AddisonLee's boss 'dangerous words'.

Meanwhile, users of the AddisonLee iPhone app (used by many Londoners to order the company's minicabs) have started ditching it in favour of alternatives like Hailo, tweetalondontaxi and Green Tomato cars. CarltonReid has written a wonderful summary of the comments people are leaving on the AddisonLee iPhone app. So far, 500+ people have left reviews on the iTunes store about AddisonLee along the lines of: "this company has a dangerous approach to other road users...deleted app, won't ever use again". Or this one: "Used to use AddLee app but since hearing all about this, using this Hailo app...Well, I'm converted, just what London needed".

The company updated its smartphone app over the weekend to try and bury the bad reviews. Clever move. But as Carlton Reid points out, there's only one of them and tens of thousands of customers who are seriously angry. If you haven't done so already, add your review of the AddisonLee app to the itunes store or facebook site. I've already deleted the app so I had to re-load the updated version, review the updated version on iTunes and then press delete.

This is not, as the Guardian called it, a Michael O'Leary moment. The Ryanair boss is good at making eye-catching public statements but his comments always relate to his own product and his service. I've met his marketing director, the guy is funny and smart and cares about his business. I think that John Griffin has over-stepped the line because his comments insult and abuse his customers even when they are having absolutely nothing to do with his company. That's very different to Ryanair.

One comment that really caught my eye, though, was written by Kenneth Tharp OBE, director of the contemporary dance institute The Place in Kings Cross: "After...the callous remarks of the company’s Chair, I’m determined that The Place will cancel our business account with Addison Lee and find an alternative. After all, a dance organisation should know how to vote with its feet."

AddisonLee app gets a roasting on itunes
Courtesy Carlton Reid
I know of two large AddisonLee customers, both of which are looking into the issue and considering whether to ditch the firm. I very much hope that they proceed. I have also heard from two separate (and sufficiently well-connected in these matters) sources that Barclays may be considering the nature of its contract with the firm. And rightly so. Barclays has committed a lot of money to the Barclays cycle hire scheme and - love them or hate them - the cycle super highways. Barclays is funding the cab company to help it expand in the run up to the Olympics and is a major AddisonLee customer. If I were on the Barclays board, I'd be asking some serious questions right now about quite how Mr Griffin was using the money my bank had lent him. Is Barclays lending money to AddisonLee so that he can encourage law breaking and increased danger on our roads? And how does that square itself with Barclays's significantly larger commitment to cycling in London?

My own view is that large AddisonLee account holders should look very seriously at their contracts with this firm. I would not let my own staff use a company that deliberately breaks the law, that encourages danger on our roads and that holds me and my staff in such low regard if we happen to be on bicycles.


Around 500 people have confirmed on Facebook that they will attend a 'die-in' outside AddisonLee's London offices near Euston on Monday 23 April at 6pm. Several black cab drivers have suggested they will join in support of the cyclist action. I think we can safely expect 1,000 people to turn up.

The 'die-in' will meet at the junction of Stanhope Street/William Road then head to their office to deliver a letter to John Griffin of Addison Lee and stage a 'die-in' by lying down outside the office to highlight the real danger his drivers pose to cyclists and pedestrians. It's short notice, but this is an event that's happening now, so acting quickly is important!”

For more details, see Facebook here and for a map of Stanhope Street click here.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Simply unbelievable. If AddisonLee wasn't worrying you before, it will be once you've read this. I'm shaking after reading it.

AddisonLee in-house magazine. The chairman speaks. Courtesy Graham Lehr on twitter

I'm not sure what to say. I wanted to assume this is a spoof. But it's not. This is the chairman's comment page in the latest edition of Add Lib magazine, distributed in Addison Lee cars to its customers. You can read the text on's website here

The man is suggesting not only that his minicabs should break the law and drive in bus lanes (the Guardian has more on this here). He seems to be hinting that motorists should have no obligation to slow down or pay attention to what happens around them as far people on bikes (or pedestrians, one assumes?) are concerned because they may be new cyclists and they may not be trained and they may not have paid for a motor vehicle or for (non-existant) "road tax". He is suggesting people should not have rights to cycle on public roads until they become 'one of us' - fully trained and paid up.

The fact is, it's not just novice cyclists who have to swerve to avoid drains or potholes. All cyclists may have to, even fully trained cyclists. Which is why we (backed by the Highway Code) ask drivers to leave enough room when passing. And furthermore, if an AddisonLee driver sees a granny wobbling down the road, he should slow down and give her plenty of room. Frankly, why shouldn't a granny be able to wobble down a road in London on her bicycle in any case? Why shouldn't London's older residents want to get on bicycles and make the city 'thick with bicycles'? 

I will say one thing. John Griffin is right that London's cyclists are 'throwing themselves on to some of the most congested space in the world'. The thing is, most of the hundreds of thousands of us who do so each day in London reckon it would be a lot less congested if more of that space was made cycle-friendly to encourage people not to drive but to cycle instead. Mr Griffin, it would suit both our purposes: Space for safe cycling and space for your business too.

I'm not sure if I'm more outraged by his comments on cycling or by the fact that he links cycling solely with the Green party. I think Jenny Jones has made all the right noises about cycling. But 'cycling' is not the stuff of 'green' politics. Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes and all sorts of political beliefs.

City of London headquarters - just half of the cycle parking here
In all honesty, Griffin is making some points that do need discussing. But he's making them in a way that I think is irresponsible for a man in his position who has just announced his intention to have minicabs drive in bus lanes - the nearest thing London has to bike lanes.

Griffin could have chosen to use this article to call for safer cycling infrastructure or for better tolerance between different road users. But he didn't. He calls for cyclists to get trained.  Fair enough. But what's all this about 'paying up'? Does he mean cyclists should become car drivers?

For now, I shall leave this article with one image. This is a picture I have posted before, of just half of the 'car' park of a City of London headquarters. The people who use these bikes use AddisonLee on a contract basis during the day. Because their employer has a contract with Mr Griffin's company to do so. I wonder if they like being labelled with the terms used in Mr Griffin's editorial comment? I wonder if they like the fact that AddisonLee's chairman seems to suggest it is alright that they might be run over because one of his drivers might not need to feel he needs to look out for cyclists?

I would point AddisonLee to last weekend's Financial Times or last week's Telegraph. I think AddisonLee hasn't woken up to the fact that its customers are cyclists. Plenty of them too.

If you're not angry yet, I suggest you look at this blog post by Diamond Geezer, in honour of the truly noble family of Brian Dorling, killed last year at Bow roundabout. Mr Griffin, should Brian Dorling have "paid up" as well, do you think? I think he has already. And his widow just as much.

Time to make a noise, I think. Saturday 28th April. Hyde Park Corner. 11am. Be there.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

AddisonLee: There's every chance that minicabs might win bus lane access. Could this spell a very rapid end to London's "cycling revolution" or is it finally time for people who cycle to play hardball?

London bus lane, masquerading as a 'cycle super highway'. Soon to be a minicab express lane as well?
There have been lots of rumblings this week about minicabs in bus lanes. Specifically, AddisonLee minicabs in bus lanes.

I want to get one thing clear. Minicabs freak me. When I'm a passenger (rare but it does happen), I find that nine times out of 10, we're whizzing along at the fastest possible speeds, cutting other people up. Why? Because the guy driving the cab wants to get on to his next job.

When I'm on my bike, they freak me out even more. Precisely because I'm at the receiving end of the minicab driver who wants to get his job done. If AddisonLee gets its way, 50,000+ minicabs will soon be racing up London's bus lanes. I can't think of a single thing that would put me off cycling more than sharing bus lanes with London's minicab fleet.

If I put my cycling cap aside, I think AddisonLee is being very clever. John Griffin, AddisonLee's founder, comes across as an articulate man who has a clear vision of where he wants to be. You can hear his thoughts in this news footage on ITV. From the perspective of someone who runs a (much much smaller) business, I think full marks to him for trying.

But from the perspective of someone who cycles, I regard bus lanes as almost the only safe patch on London's main roads. And that's a statement I make with some major caveats. As Mike Cavenett of London Cycling Campaign says: "It's a measure of the poor quality of cycling provision in the capital that many cyclists see the bus lane network as a safe haven, even though it's shared with buses, black taxis and motorcycles." I couldn't agree more.

Outside of bus lane hours, though, I often find bus lanes are intimidating places to be. Cycle down Super Highway 7 towards Clapham at 11pm on a Friday night and it's either a) filled with parked cars or b) turned into a sort of minicab express route with drivers jostling you at 40-50mph to undertake motor traffic in the main lane. In short, it can be an extremely uncomfortable place to cycle. South London bus lanes seem worse than North for some reason.

What's striking is that none of the major London news outlets has realised the bus lane story isn't just about buses. There's almost no public comment on the fact that bus lanes are the nearest thing London has to bike lanes. Listen to Leon Daniels, Managing director of the London road network on ITV news here. His criticism of AddisonLee relates solely to bus passengers, not a word about cycling. So much for the head of TfL's roads looking out for people on bikes.

Full credit, however, to The Times for pointing out: "The [AddisonLee] edict spread concern among cyclists who have grown wary of the branded cars and people carriers on London’s streets" The thing is, as Cavenett points out, it's not like those of us who cycle have many other options.

Labour politicians are, led by John Prescott on twitter, are framing a story around 'cabgate', as he calls it, and talking about the large cash donations that John Griffin has made to the Conservative party and links to cabinet ministers' road policy decisions. There may or may not be something in that.

The black cab taxi trade has some very legitimate points to make about the AddisonLee manoeuvre without needing to resort to questions about party funding. But I've begun to realise black cabs are a bit like cyclists: A broad range of very different individuals with some loose trade bodies to make noises on their behalf. The black cab trade needs to ditch the mud slinging that's cropped up on twitter this week and coalesce around core issues on this topic, rather than get too bogged down in party politics.

But my own sense is that Addison Lee might well win this battle. And my concern is primarily this: Will this make cycling even more marginalised and will it turn cycling along main roads from something that is a viable option (at least, viable during peak hours when the bus lanes operate) into something that only those prepared to stand up to race track conditions on the street are prepared to undertake?

At some point, the Mayor (who has been silent so far) will have to decide who he thinks the roads are for. At the moment, though, I don't hold out heaps of hope that he'll side with cycling. He's working on assumptions of 43% motor traffic growth (despite the fact that these sorts of insane forecasts have been fundamentally kyboshed by non-political trade bodies). Both Boris and Ken have been pretty pro-car in their electoral mandates. As Christian Wolmar put it in yesterday's Standard: "Cities such as, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Bordeaux, Munich and even Paris have grasped the nettle, creating extensive facilities for cyclists and putting them at the heart of urban planning. They have strived to make their cities liveable as well as accessible. In the process they have sometimes had to make short-term, unpopular decisions to bring about a long-term improvement. In London, it seems, we have a pair of conservatives who can’t think beyond getting re-elected."

I think Wolmar is spot-on. I would like London to be liveable as well as accessible. John Griffin said he wants minicabs in bus lanes so his passengers can make 'quicker' journeys. We have to decide if speed and more motor traffic are the only defining factors in our streets.

Or do those same passengers actually want streets where their kids can cycle to school, where they can drop into the shops, where their older relatives can easily cross the road, where there's less congestion and less pollution? That's not an anti-car agenda but it's an anti-speed agenda and also pro a more 'liveable' city.

You could get an awful lot more people moving much more efficiently around London if you allocated more of the street to people on buses and people on bikes. But my sense is that sort of debate isn't even on the table. TfL's response to the AddisonLee challenge says it all: Maximising motor traffic is all this is about.

If AddisonLee is going to play hardball on bus lanes, so be it. I think it's time cyclists played hardball on cycle lanes. Proper cycle lanes. Not blue paint. You have two ways to influence this. First, sign the London Cycling Campaign petition NOW (please). Second, you have no excuse whatsoever not to turn up to Hyde Park Corner, 11am Saturday 28th April. And let's get at least 10,000 of us out (on motor-traffic free roads no less) pushing the point. Make London somewhere anyone and everyone can get on a bike and use it as normal transport.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Minicabs claim 'discrimination' to seize access to London's bus lanes. Addison Lee says its minicabs deserve "quicker journeys" than everyone else. I think the 'discrimination' is against bikes, walking and bus users in favour of more space for more & faster car journeys. Come and protest April 28th at The Big Ride

 This weekend, the Financial Times carried a story on page three: "Square Mile workers swap Porsches for Pinarellos".

I read all about this in the FT on the way back from a surprise trip to Copenhagen. Where cycling looks rather different. There were plenty of folk dressed in lycra this morning pedalling down the city's bike lanes on their fancy road bikes.

But for the most part, people cycling around in Copenhagen looked a bit like these chaps on the bike path crossing over one of Copenhagen's bridges (pic on the right).
Cycling about in Copenhagen

I was cycling right behind them and couldn't help thinking how different this Copenhagen bridge looked to the bridges in London where cycling looks a bit more chaotic. The contrast is shocking.

I hadn't been to Denmark for a few years and so I'd forgotten some of the detail. What struck me this time was that Denmark isn't so different from the UK. There are plenty of drivers racing about, doing what people do when they drive. But the real difference is that there is real bike infrastructure almost (but not entirely) everywhere.

Cycling about in London
Instead of having to squeeze into a few spare centimetres alongside moving cars, you spend a lot of your time cycling well away from fast-moving motor vehicles, like the folk in these pictures. As you move about, you realise that someone has thought about how to get you safely from A to B whether you're on a bike or in a motor vehicle. 

Compare and contrast. Where would you rather cycle?
The question of who are streets are for is going to take a new turn in London this week. The founder of AddisonLee has apparently instructed his minicab drivers to take to London's bus lanes, claiming that keeping minicabs out of bus lanes "denies the public freedom of choice as journey times in the bus lanes are much quicker that those outside the lanes." This morning on BBC Breakfast, Addison Lee described its exclusion from bus lanes as 'discrimination'.
One way of another, Addison Lee has hit the nail on the head. The question Addison Lee is asking who are London's streets for? Are they for the benefit of 'people, urban life, and shops', as Denmark's Mayor thinks they are? Or are the streets meant to be places where people can travel 'quickly', the way Addison Lee describes them? I have a feeling Addison Lee might have put its finger on a much bigger issue than it realises. 

For my part, I think the people being discriminated against on London streets are people in buses, on foot and on bikes. Bus lanes are being shortened so that we can fit more private motor vehicles through junctions and investment in bus lanes is being cut. Bike lanes are, for the most part just blue paint. Pedestrian crossing times are being reduced so that we can move more private motor vehicles around the city more quickly.

I certainly don't see why people in minicabs should get more of London's roads given to them, nor why they should be given more priority than people in buses or on bicycles. I also don't see why London streets should be designed simply for 'quicker' journeys for people in private motor vehicles.

I think London streets should be places where everyone can make journeys safely and conveniently, whether that's by bike, on foot, in a bus or by car or van. But if you make the streets places where minicabs get priority to travel fast, you reduce the ability of everyone else - bus users, people on bikes, people crossing the road - to go about their own business safely and conveniently. 

I'm fed up of being intimidated on London's roads by drivers weaving in and out of traffic, cutting me up on my bike. And minicab drivers, as far as I'm concerned, are the absolute worst of the bunch. Fundamentally, I don't have an issue with minicabs being given access to bus lanes. But not until people on bicycles get proper infrastructure that keeps them well away from speeding minicab drivers on a mission to get around London as 'quickly' as possible. Not until pedestrian crossings are weighted in favour of pedestrians, not in favour of minicabs and private motor vehicles to make 'quicker' journeys. And not at the expense of bus passengers and their journeys.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Number of children cycling to school in London decreases since 2006. Not a huge surprise. That's one reason I'll be joining The Big Ride on April 28th.

Would you let her cycle to school in London?
No? Join the Big Ride April 28th to change that.
The government issued a report today about cycling to school. The statistics in London show a 0.1% decline since 2006. I'm not hugely surprised.

Over in Denmark, 55% of children cycle to school. On their own. Would you let your child bike to school alone in London? Probably not.

Back in the UK, the government has just announced that it will continue to invest in cycle training for children for the next three years. The plan is to ensure young people are "prepared with the skills and confidence to ride safely and well on modern roads". It thinks more training will get more kids cycling to school. As David Hembrow puts it so succinctly on his blog today, the reality is: "More training, less cycling".

Don't get me wrong. I think cycle training is a very valuable thing. I remember being taken on my bike around roundabouts and dual carriageways as a teenage Scout and having cycling road sense drilled in to me.

But the thing is, cycle training alone is not enough. Frankly, the roads have changed beyond all measure in the last 10 or 20 years. For starters, there are more and bigger roads but there are also millions more and much bigger and faster motor vehicles.

The result is a road environment where the Prime minister admits you need to 'take your life into your hands' to cycle in most of our cities and Boris Johnson Mayor of London says that cycling around big junctions like Elephant & Castle is simply a matter of 'keeping your wits about you'.

Percentage of people cycling to work. Source Jim Gleeson
That sort of thinking leads to an environment where only the fit and the very confident take to two wheels. So, the good news is that 10% of inner London residents now cycle to work (almost despite the road conditions?). But the more sobering news is that hardly any children cycle to school. Over in Hackney, 1.8% of children regularly (sometimes?) cycle to school. A whopping 66% would prefer to cycle to school, according to Sustrans.

Clearly, school kids and their parents look at David Cameron's and Boris Johnson's comments on cycling, look at the reality of the roads and think, nope, not doing that.

One council is having a real go at cracking this latent demand for safe cycle routes to school, and that's down in deepest, darkest Brighton. Jim Davis is doing a great job of tracking the installation of a new bike track on Old Shoreham Road. To shrieks of protest from some drivers, the road was closed in its entirety for a few weeks so that contractors could lay down the basic foundations of the route. The purpose of the new bike track, says Jim, is "an attempt by the Council to link schools and colleges along the route"

It's a really brave move, in particular given the vocal protest of a few die-hard motorists. But, as Copenhagen's Mayor points out: "[When Copenhagen first installed proper bike tracks] this generates protests. At first! But now, most people see the advantages – because it is not just to the benefit of cyclists but of people, urban life, and shops. But there is resistance. And those kinds of decisions take political courage.”
Brighton is busy building this bike track
to link up journeys to school

I reckon the shrieks of protest in Brighton will die down soon enough. But in London, the reality is that our Mayor still expects people to fling themselves on bikes around large junctions and down main roads designed to prioritise motor vehicle flows. He's backing off from antagonising the 'motorist' and the result is that he's trying to build bike routes that are full of compromises.

At some point, if London's Mayor really wants to minimise congestion and to improve the cost and quality of life for Londoners, he might have to properly address the way our roads are prioritised and he'll need to face down a lobby of vocal 'motorists'. As Copenhagen's Mayor put it this week: "You cannot dream up more space. You have a certain amount of square metres to divide so they benefit the citizens in the best way possible. In Copenhagen, we have gone against the tendency ... for cars to be automatically allotted most of the space in the city. But if you want to extend the cycle tracks, you need to cut somewhere else.”

I want the Mayor to stop cutting corners when it comes to cycling. And I'd like my neighbourhood to be the sort of place where kids can safely cycle to school. There's no reason that couldn't be achieved in London. As Copenhagen's Mayor points out, our own London Mayor needs to show 'political courage' if he's ever going to generate his promised 'cycling revolution'. So far he's shown he wants to support cycling but he's riddled that revolution with far too many compromises, sinking it before it even really gets afloat. I think it's time to address cycling properly, whichever Mayor we have in London from May 4th.

Tens of thousands of people think likewise. The London Cycling Campaign has notched up nearly 30,000 signatures to its LoveLondonGoDutch campaign which argues for exactly this sort of thing. (If you haven't already, please sign the petition here). And it is expecting 10,000 people to come to central London on April 28th for the largest (non-sponsored) mass bike ride to protest for safe cycling as a real transport alternative in London. The Campaign now has feeder rides coming to Hyde Park from every corner of London - from Havering, Wanstead, Camden, Lambeth. You can see the list of feeder rides here. There are dozens of them. A whole host of roads in central London will be closed off especially for the ride. You can find out more on this page here.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Jeremy Clarkson admits he loves Copenhagen-style cycling and implicitly rejects Boris Johnson's cycling strategy, as fourth transport organisation slams Mayor's transport policies. Why are London's Conservatives so out of touch on cycling as a normal, safe, everyday mode of transport?

Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times. Copenhagen, a city 'that works' because of cycling

Last week, as the campaign for the new London Mayor become a debate about income taxes, a number of organisations published their verdicts on the Mayoral candidates' policies - notably their cycling policies,

I mentioned last week how the Chair of the Transport Planning Society - traffic forecasters - had declared that the plans on which Boris Johnson is relying (more traffic, more congestion, more cars) are 'no longer realistic'. The previous week, Sustrans, the national cycling charity also slammed Boris Johnson's manifesto saying there was "not a single commitment to additional funding for cycling or walking. It seems that Boris is intent on bringing the capital to a standstill."

The London Cycling Campaign issued its own line-by-line analysis of the cycling plans of the four main candidates. The Campaign concludes rather damningly that: "None of the candidates’ manifestos makes concrete commitments in terms of funding for cycling provision, nor do they set targets for increasing the proportion of journeys by bike."

The London Cycling Campaign ranks each of the Mayoral candidates' policies. The scorecard gives much more strongly delineated results than I'd have expected. Jenny Jones (Green) comes first, followed by Ken Livingstone. Boris Johnson and Brian Paddick both fail dismally. Johnson is singled out in particular and scores 0/10 on some cycling issues.

Brian Paddick and Caroline Pidgeon (LibDem) join Val Shawcross (Lab)
and Jenny Jones (Green) at the third cyclist protest on Blackfriars Bridge
Photo courtesy zefrog
I'm slightly surprised by the low score for Paddick. Although I think Paddick himself is a rather new 'convert' to the cycling message, he has at least been out on Blackfriars Bridge protesting for better facilities (seen here on a Boris bike), and his transport spokesperson Caroline Pidgeon, has been consistently supportive of cycling measures. Pidgeon is one politician who I think does genuinely understand the issues.

Over the weekend, another transport organisation issued its verdict. Boris Johnson's transport policies, says the Campaign for Better Transport, 'mark a return to 1960s' transport planning'. The report states that the Mayor's policy has "helped speed up car journeys at the expense of the safety and convenience of cyclists and pedestrians". This is the same thing that several London politicians have been saying all year.

What I find interesting in all of this is that Boris Johnson is someone who has made a lot of noise about cycling. The fact that he has recently secured money to make junctions safer for cycling is very positive news indeed. Yet, it's not really a cycling strategy, it's just a one-off project.

What's even more interesting is that the Mayor seems to be increasingly out of step on the issue of cycling. I'm not going to take this as evidence of a wholescale change of heart but I was stunned by a piece written by Jeremy Clarkson in this weekend's Sunday Times. Cycling in Copenhagen, says Clarkson is "fan-bleeding-tastic. And best of all: there are no bloody cars cluttering the place up. Almost everyone goes almost everywhere on a bicycle." You can read more about the article on's website here which has most of the text or in a summary (free) on The Times's website here.

Even more tellingly, Clarkson points out that in Copenhagen cars and bikes do not share road space. Sharing road space, he says, "cannot and does not work". In making this statement, Clarkson is just the latest in a string of high profile figures to completely reject Boris Johnson's mantra that people should just hurtle themselves through massive road gyratories on their bikes. Earlier this year, Olympic road cyclist Nicole Cooke slammed the Mayor (implicitly) for saying that people should just 'keep their wits about them' and pedal furiously through junctions like Elephant & Castle roundabout. Now Clarkson is suggesting similar.

I've never understood why London's Conservatives don't 'get' cycling. If you look at last week's Mayoral transport hustings, what seems to be happening is that Labour, LibDem and Greens are all converging on policies that are about giving more choice to Londoners to walk or cycle. Often, that means giving people the chance to cycle where the roads are made calmer and less intimidating. Sometimes that means separate   flows for motor vehicles and for people on bikes. Sometimes that means quieter, traffic-calmed routes. Either way, there seems to be growing consensus that things need to change on London's roads. Unless you're in the Conservative party. The Conservative line (represented at the hustings by Richard Tracey) seems to be 'cyclists ride on pavements'. And that seems to be the end of the debate. It's a view that completely and utterly misses the point. Imagine a political party that refused to take car driving seriously because some drivers speed or use mobile phones when they're driving.

The thing is, if Jeremy Clarkson can 'get' cycling, then Boris Johnson's party ought to 'get' cycling as well. But so far, they're completely and utterly failing to do so. The Mayor's road transport policy has alienated Sustrans, the national cycling charity; it has the thumbs-down from the London Cycling Campaign; the Campaign for Better Transport has dismissed the Mayor's policies as 'unsuccessful' for motorists as well as being anti-cycling and the Transport Planning Society (not a particularly political body, as far as I can tell) doesn't seem to think much of Boris Johnson's plans either.

It's going to very interesting to hear how the candidates handle this topic in a few weeks' time when they're grilled by the editor of The Times, just before the election. My own view? I'm not all that impressed by Ken's cycling credentials but agree with the London Cycling Campaign on their relative merits. I'm certainly not impressed by Boris's plan to turn London into a place full of road building and fast cars. I'm looking for the candidate who will deliver what's best for Londoners who want to use their bikes safely. 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

New York spells out you can't keep 'smoothing' motor traffic unless you want to stop people cycling. Meanwhile, Transport planning chief attacks London motor traffic forecasts. So why is the Mayor still clinging to a policy of more roads and more motor vehicles?

Which way to turn for cycling?
When I started this blog, I tried very hard to make it non party-political. What I've realised since then is that writing about cycling need not be party-political but it is a hugely political isue.

Some of that politics is now going mainstream. The Times newspaper and Sustrans announced today that they will be hosting a live debate of the four main Mayoral candidates for ninety minutes where they will talk only about cycling. Gosh.

Cycling cropped up as an issue yesterday on LBC radio when Ken Livingstone suggested that Boris Johnson's focus on 'traffic flow' was deliberately putting the lives of people on bikes at risk. Livingstone made the claim slightly clumsily but I think he has a point.

Under the current Mayor, it seems that there simply isn't room for a London in which motor traffic isn't going to grow and grow. The rest of us will just have to move out the way so that those extra motor vehicles get 'smoother' conditions.

Last month, the Department for Transport issued a report suggesting that London will need to plan for 43% motor traffic growth by 2035. This might seem like just another statistic but it's very important because, as the Transport Planning Society points out: "these forecasts are used to underpin decisions on what transport infrastructure we build". And lo and behold, how did the Mayor respond? He announced a plan to invest in more roads to smooth yet more traffic flow, which you can see here.

Compare London's response with New York. In New York, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan says that 'traffic flow' must be about: "reducing private auto use in the most crowded parts of town ... to make more room for [cycling and for buses]". None of that in London. Not from either of the two main candidates, in fact.

I cannot say loudly enough how wrong I think Boris Johnson's 'smoothing the traffic flow' agenda is for Londoners. The reality of this doctrine is massive junctions to speed as many cars through as possible; it means high streets turned into race tracks and it means pedestrian crossings removed all over London. Soon it will mean road building, more neighbourhoods plagued with lorries, noise and pollution. Above all, though, it means that proper, safe and sensible cycling infrastructure will always come second to motor traffic. And that means cycling will never be considered a normal mode of transport.

The cycling charity Sustrans warned this week that Boris Johnson's road building plans "put the car right back at the heart of transport policy, yet nearly half of Londoners don't have access to a car. Expanding roads, ruling out congestion charge expansion and putting up fares will only see more traffic on our roads...It seems that Boris is intent on bringing the capital to a standstill."

This is not a 'cycling revolution'. New Cycle Super Highway
in action. Spot the bike lane?
And yet, the Mayor seems quite genuine about his plans to improve junctions for cycling. There was the hint last week at reviewing Blackfriars Bridge and there are signs that the Junction Review announced by Transport for London in February has real money behind it. I have to acknowledge that Boris Johnson has ultimately put some money behind cycling and started (albeit rather late) to realise he needs to 'do' cycling properly.

Ken Livingstone is also promising safer junctions and safer cycle super highways. In my view, though, the only two politicians who have consistently 'got' cycling and really made noises about it (dare I say before it became a bit more 'fashionable) are Jenny Jones (Green Mayoral candidate) and Caroline Pidgeon (LibDem) who was the first Assembly member to stand up and say clearly that the Mayor "favours smoothing the traffic flow for motorists and worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists."

My sense is that whichever politician becomes Mayor, safer cycling is now more firmly on the agenda than it was at the last election. That's good. But neither of the two main candidates is really addressing the key issue as clearly as New York's transportation commissioner. The message in New York is that you can't keep planning for more and 'smoother' motor traffic growth unless you want to prevent people cycling or switching to other modes.

What's more, Boris is selling us a fallacy. Even the head of the Transport Planning Society says that planning for increased motor traffic in London is "no longer realistic" Both the lead candidates should head that message but Boris needs to hear it more loudly. Boris is finally stepping out for cycling in a meaningful manner and his commitment to finding the money to sort out some of London's worst junctions is good. But his obsession with more and more motor traffic and 'smoothing the flow' risks killing off cycling as a legitimate mode of transport. He needs to decide whether he's going to take cycling seriously or simply clog up London with more motor vehicles.