Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Significant change in tone from City Hall on cycling but proof is in the pudding: Tottenham Court Road junction is a litmus test for Mayor's new strategy on cycling in London

TfL's proposal for Euston Circus - top of Tottenham Court
Road. Nirvana for cycling? Err, no.
Back in January, Transport for London issued its proposed re-design of Euston Circus for consultation. This is the junction at the top of Tottenham Court Road. 

It's a place with six lanes of motor traffic and virtually no safe, sensible bike access either north- or southbound. Not unless you like playing hopscotch with buses and lorries. 

So, you might wonder, what is TfL proposing to do here to make the junction safer for everyday Londoners to get on their bikes and hop over the Euston Road into town? Well, it proposes making the road narrower, with half as many lanes. Each lane will be nice and narrow. But don't worry, there'll be a small feeder lane for bikes. So, if you're very lucky, and there aren't any queues of motor traffic, or dozens of buses on this heavily bus-trafficked route, you might be able to squeeze yourself up to the junction and avoid being squashed by a lorry turning left. I exaggerate slightly but the fundamental truth is that, once again, Transport for London is mistakenly going about trying to make London a cycling city by squeezing people on bikes on to ever narrower roads and making them play human speed hump with the buses and lorries. 

This is not how they'd do it in New York. Or Copenhagen. 

The consultation period for Euston Circus ended back in February. What happens now is anyone's guess. But my assumption is that Transport for London is having a good old think about all the feedback it's received. It will either go ahead with its original scheme or it will amend it and come up with something that actually includes the sort of cycling infrastructure you'd let your kids cycle down to, say, the British Museum. 

Here's how Transport for London normally
designs bike lanes at junctions. Lambeth Bridge. Can you
spot the numerous danger spots deliberately designed
into this road layout? 
And I seriously hope that TfL considers doing the latter. Bournemouth council came out this week and announced it plans a network of cycle tracks that are "'Dutch style' cycle paths on a main road..suitable for primary aged children to cycle on." 

The new deputy chairman of Transport for London, Isabel Dedring, went even further, explaining that she wants to see a more standardised approach to junction design, similar to that being rolled out in New York, suggesting that people on bikes should expect a standard sort of treatment at a junction where it is clear "what level of protection they have, what their rights are, what they can expect motorists to do, and all those kinds of things."She's absolutely right to flag these things.

I reckon the plans for Euston Circus are exactly the sort of junction that Transport for London needs to get absolutely right this time. 

They have the money. They have plenty of space in both north and southbound direction. They have a large and dangerous junction. And they have an entire cast of politicians and their senior TfL leadership suggesting they need to get junction design right. 

I'd like to see a junction here that is suitable for my mum to cycle through. Or my young niece. Question is, whether Transport for London will get it right this time. It has had plenty of time to put its thinking cap on. And it has no excuse not to. Mr Hendy, here's a junction where you can prove you've learnt that, as cycling increases, you had better design it in the best way you can for cycling. Your words, not mine. 

Monday, 28 May 2012

Conservative council wants its kids to cycle to school, boost local economy and reduce congestion. Plans three Dutch-quality cycle highways. Shame this is Bournemouth we're talking about, not London.

Cycle highway under construction in Brighton
courtesy: Lo Fidelity bike blog
Last week, the Department for Transport announced it would hand money for investment in various local 'sustaintable' transport initiatives. One of these is in Bournemouth. Bournemouth is a lousy place to cycle. It has a couple of tiny stretches of decent bike track and (except for the summer) you can bike along the seafront.

The rest of the town is utterly car-sick with various 1960s motorway-style roads. Bournemouth has bred a culture where people are so tied to their cars that 48% of work trips under two kilometres are made by car. That's led to a townscape where the car is king and the local paper is up in arms about investment in anything other than more roads and 'unwanted' cycle paths (see here). It has also led to a culture where people are too scared to cycle. For good reason: "Bournemouth consistently ranks in the worst 7 authorities for pedal cycle casualties (per 100,000 population), frequently being the worst in England".

Bournemouth's Conservative council reckons that the town faces a choice. The road network 'is already overloaded', there are problems with traffic congestion, childhood obesity, gridlock on the school run, high road casualty rates. The list goes on.

However, rather than just build more roads, Bournemouth reckons it will get more bang for its buck by adopting a policy to reduce the number of cars on its road, while growing its population and its workforce. It plans to achieve that by getting people out of their cars on to their bikes. Instead of building roads so that people can more easily travel two kilometres in their cars, it is proposing a network of (initially) three cycle highways. What's more, the council has now raised the money to go ahead and, unlike London's cycle super highways, these sound like the real thing:

"The cycle highway will be segregated where possible from traffic but will have priority at side roads and junctions. It is not a footway conversion.The design will be...a 'Dutch style' cycle path on a main road which is suitable for primary aged children to cycle on."

The (initially) three cycle highways will be safe enough for children to ride on so that they can start cycling to school  What's more, these cycle highways actually go somewhere useful, which means people are going to want to use them. This is a very similar strategy to the one being rolled out in Brighton, where a new, segregated bike track is being built explicitly to help kids get to school safely.

And just like in Cambridgeshire and in Wales (which both announced similar cycle infrastructure investments recently), the council reckons that it can use these bike routes to increase economic growth and to increase mobility around the town to work and schools much more cheaply than any other mode. If half of your population is driving less than two kilometres to get to work, frankly, you clearly have a good chance of getting them off their backsides and onto a bicycle. Provided, of course, the infrastructure is good enough.

What's more, the council is very clear that it wants to reduce congestion for car drivers too. The plan is to increase the number of people cycling and thereby reduce the number of people who feel they need ro drive a paltry two kilometres. Result? Less traffic and therefore less congestion.

It's very refreshing to see a Conservative council understand the basic message that it can reduce congestion, make people's journeys faster, improve quality of life and - crucially - improve its economic growth prospects by building proper, meaningful cycle infrastructure. All at a fraction the cost of yet more roads exclusively for faster car journeys.

It's all the more irritating, in that context, to see the Conservative London Assembly Member for Havering opine on his website last week that none of this is relevant for London. Roger Evans thinks the Dutch model isn't 'compatible' with London. He says on his blog here that we might as well look to Littlehampton for leadership. To be fair to Roger Evans, though, he has put much more thoughtful opinion in his responses to comments on his blog. In his original piece, he implies indirectly that the 'cycling' agenda is not compatible with the Mayor's smoothing the traffic flow strategy. The fact is, as Chicago shows us, there's nothing wrong with smoothing traffic flow. Provided you don't use it as an excuse to trample facilities that enable safe cycling. Chicago has got this right by meshing its anti-congestion policy with its pro-cycling policy. London hasn't. You can read more about that here.

I think Mr Evans's original post is fairly misinformed. No-one's asking for Dutch cycle highways all across London. They're also not trying to thwart the Mayor's efforts to reduce motor congestion. They're asking for safe routes and safe junctions to be given EQUAL status to traffic congestion policies, just like they are in Chicago and now in Bournemouth too.

To give him credit where it's due, however, Roger Evans has been much more intelligent in his subsequent comments. He has added comments to his blogpost that I would broadly agree with, including this point: "Personally I am in favour of greater segregation where we can do it. Separate cycle paths remove the understandable fears which come from sharing road space with larger vehicles. This should also be the case at dangerous junctions."

Good. That's one Conservative council getting it right down in Bournemouth. And that's one Conservative Assembly Member getting it right (after some initially awful soundbites) in London. Maybe, after all, things might just be starting to change?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Chicago joins London and promises to smooth traffic flow for car drivers. But unlike London, Chicago puts in safeguards to protect people and strikes precisely the right balance.

Chicago protected bike lane, courtesy koonce on flickr.
Late last year, Chicago opened the first of its new protected bikeways. People who cycle on the bikeway are protected from moving motor traffic because they cycle on the inside of parked cars. They also benefit from traffic lights specifically designed for people on bicycles. Again, the aim is to keep people in motor vehicles and people on bicycles well apart from each other.

By the end of this year, Chicago will have built 25 miles of protected bikeway. You can see what the Chicago protected bikeways look like below. Each mile costs £175,000 to build. London has spent up to £2million per mile on vastly inferior bike routes. The London bike routes are, for the most part, blue paint painted on the inside of bus lanes and car parking spaces.
This month, Chicago's Mayor announced his transport plan. And it's a massive piece of work.

What's very revealing about the plan is that, just like his London counterpart, Chicago's mayor promises to "Improve the reliability and consistency of workday auto travel times on monitored major streets."

London's mayor has a near-identical strategy to "smooth traffic flow [which] will mean less stop-start traffic, more predictable journey times and fewer obstacles for pedestrians."

I've never had a problem with the concept of 'smoothing traffic flow' for its own sake. My issue with Boris Johnson's policy has been the way London's Mayor puts smoothing traffic flow as his absolute key transport objective for London's streets without building any of the safeguards that are needed to prevent a bloodbath. The way that Boris Johnson has implemented 'smoother traffic flow' has been wholly irresponsible so far. Can't cross the street? That's because traffic lights have to be removed to smooth traffic flow. Can't build a protected bikeway like Chicago? That's because we can't take away any space from the motorist because it might disrupt traffic flow. And so on.

And this is where Chicago gets it radically different to London. In fact, Chicago gets it radically right. Yes, the Mayor of Chicago wants to make for more reliable motor journeys, just like London's Mayor. But unlike London's Mayor, Chicago stresses that the primary goal of its Transportation Department is "The safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and motor vehicle drivers, shall be accommodated and balanced in all types of transportation and development projects and through all phases of a project, so that even the most vulnerable – children, elderly, and persons with disabilities – can travel safely within the public right of way.”  

How London designs a Greenway cycle track
Pathetic isn't it?
Courtesy Crap Walthamstow blog
Almost all of this sort of thinking is unique to Chicago (and Paris, and New York and Copenhagen and Amsterdam). You won't see any of it coming from Transport for London, even though, technically, the Act of Parliament that gives TfL its powers is very specific about doing exactly what Chicago is doing. Boris Johnson is just choosing to ignore that point.

When TfL released its road casualty numbers last year, it boasted of a "dramatic fall in road casualties in London", showing a 49% drop from the mid 1990s to "only" 126 road deaths in 2010.

The plan in Chicago? "Eliminate ALL pedestrian, bicycle, and overall traffic crash fatalities within 10 years".
How Chicago designs a Greenway cycle track
One that looks usable and practical
Courtesy Grid Chicago blog

A total of 93 people were killed on London's streets last year while walking or cycling. That is to say nothing of those that were severely injured.
In my opinion, Chicago is addressing issues to make life easier for people that feel they need to drive in the same way London is. But unlike London, Chicago is building a moral and responsible framework around that policy that will enable all of its citizens to get about the city safely and conveniently. That means building specific interventions for people travelling by bike or on foot. London is building the car smoothing part of the strategy. It seems to have forgotten it has a responsibility to its citizens when they're not in their cars.
Put bluntly, the plan in Chicago is to build a city where everyone can travel safely within the public right of way. The plan in London is to build a city where the public right of way is enhanced for the benefit of motor traffic, which means that the public is increasingly losing access to the public right of way unless they're in a car. I would far rather live in a city that is puts as its number one priority a reduction in road deaths to zero than a city that simply shrugs it shoulders and prioritises smooth traffic flow above all other priorities.

You can read more about the Chicago plan at Grid Chicago blog here.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Urban routes with proper cycle infrastructure 6x more efficient and cost less. Time for the Mayor to ask why we're investing in a more expensive and more congested road network than we need?

Last year, I blogged about the new junction that Transport for London was building at Blackfriars Bridge. What shocked me was the fact that Transport for London was spending over £1million building a brand new junction and that, despite the fact that over a third of rush-hour traffic there consisted of people on bicycles, the junction (which was already pretty hairy) was going to be made more dangerous to cycle through.

Bryggebroen RedThis bothered me for two reasons:

Firstly, because when roads are being dug up for other reasons, it seems an excellent opportunity to change the road’s design to make it safer to cycle through at very little extra cost.

Secondly, because, London was supposed to be experiencing a 'cycling revolution', as promised by Boris Johnson. In fact, he promised to 'transform the experience of cycling'. To achieve that, people needed to feel that the Mayor was doing everything he could to make cycling was a secure way of getting around. If people don’t feel secure on a bike somewhere, they will either take the long way round or simply not bother getting on a bike in the first place.

The thing that I found truly insulting at the time was the way in which Transport for London did neither of these things. Instead of planning to use the re-build of this junction to make it safer to cycle through, Transport for London spent a lot of effort justifying why it was choosing to pitch 'cyclist' traffic against motor traffic and pedestrian traffic in a way that made clear motor traffic was more important than either of the others.

Somewhat jaded by the experience of dealing with Blackfriars Bridge, I decided to look at how the Danish looked at a similar situation in Copenhagen, Bryggebroen Bridge - a 200 metre bridge for pedestrians and cyclists. Just like their counterparts at Blackfriars, the Danes ran a cost/benefit analysis on their investment. But this is where things diverge. In London, the focus was essentially 'how much motor traffic can we fit through this bridge in return for our investment and make the motor traffic flow better'. In Denmark, the measure was completely different, it was based on a measure of 'profit to society'. According to a report by the Cycling Embassy of Denmark: "The bottom line is that the bridge has yielded an expected profit to society of Dkr 33 million and a return rate of 7.6%".

Profit to society? What's that?

According to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, the Danes calculate investment in cycling based on a cost / benefit model that calculates the total cost and total benefit to its citizens. So, in economic terms, a journey is considered as a combination of costs like fuel but also the cost of time, air pollution, noise, road attrition, congestion  and so on. The calculations show that per kilometre, the 'cost to society' of one urban bike journey is one-sixth an equivalent journey by car (in Danish kroner 0.60 per cycle kilometre vs Dkr3.74 per urban car kilometre). According to the Embassy, society saves approximately £0.30 per cycled compared to per driven kilometre.

In London, almost all of the dialogue around Blackfriars Bridge was based on a measure of "traffic flow", specifically motor traffic flow and how - in order to make the junction safer for cycling - other people making journeys by motor vehicle might have very slightly longer journeys. In other words, in London, the goal of the investment seemed to be that a more efficient motor traffic solution might equal some sort of economic benefit to someone. But it is anyone's guess who or how society benefits from this more efficient motor network because no one measures the return on investment that way.

If Blackfriars had been modelled using the Danish system, though, I think the end product would have looked very different indeed. In fact, I'd go one step further and say, not only did Transport for London fail to seriously integrate safer cycling into its new junction, it may - by encouraging motor traffic at the expense of cycle traffic - be charging London taxpayers an extra £0.30 per kilometre travelled over the Bridge. That's an awful lot of taxpayer money being wasted.

To be fair, I'm stretching the facts slightly by assuming the average additional 'cost to society' of each urban motor vehicle journey in the Danish model and applying it to each motor journey over Blackfriars Bridge. But I think the point stands: Blackfriars is emblematic of the fact that our transport officials are spending hundreds of millons to make our city centre road network more efficient for motor traffic. But this comes at a significant cost to all of us and it's a cost that we shouldn't have to pay for. Each urban motor vehicle journey costs society as a whole much more than a bicycle journey, just as the Danes say it does, because of increased pollution, road deaths and injuries, time wasted in congestion and so on.

I think it's time to change the model so that the true costs and benefits of the different modes of transport are calculated on a level playing field. London would not only start to look and feel very different if that happened, it would also have a more efficient transport network that works better for all of us and costs taxpayers much less than the current system.

The Mayor wants London to get back to business. Maybe he could start by looking at the way he allocates his road budget and adopt a cost/benefit model more like the Danish version.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Welsh government and Cambridgeshire council announce investment in cycling infrastructure to reduce motor traffic congestion & support economic growth. I'm not sure London knows why it should invest in cycling. London needs to make its mind up.

Cycling into the City of London to work  Blackfriars Bridge
"No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power - on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them. That should transform the experience of cycling - boosting safety and confidence of everyone using the routes and reinforcing my view that the bike is the best way to travel in this wonderful city of ours." Boris Johnson in a press release in 2009.

The Mayor went on to say there was "real excitement about cycling building in the city, and the Cycle Superhighways show we are serious about delivering real positive changes that will benefit us all."

And to be fair, there was real excitement. Here was a Mayor who promised big things for cycling, something of a first for London. Ken Livingstone promised big things back in 1981 - 1% of the total transport budget, in fact. It never really happened, though. Neither did Boris Johnson's 'transformation' of cycling, though.

Boris's statement is full of useful soundbites about 'transforming' cycling and 'wonderful way to travel'. All very nice.

But what's missing from this statement in 2009 is why he wanted to bother investing all this money in cycling in the first place.

Hop to over to Cambridge and the story is quite different. Cambridgeshire council has just completed the upgrade of a path that connects the city with a commuter village three miles away. The council has bought land alongside an existing shared space path (not ideal but...) to make it wider and easier for more people to cycle along. It has even added night-time cats eyes to provide some sort of lighting at night. Why is the council investing all this money in cycling? Simple really: The council wants to "attract extra commuters to cycling, helping to reduce traffic congestion in Cambridge". In fact, the county council wants to build a ring of bike routes to neighbouring towns, some as much as 15 miles away. It wants to do this because it believes cycling can help cut traffic congestion and also to "support economic growth". Cambridge went one step further and stated in February: "This council recognises the...importance of cycling for the economic prosperity of the area"

Flick to Wales, which this week announced it intends to legislate, making it a legal requirement for local authorities to plan “fully integrated transport networks”. Talking to The Times newspaper, the Welsh government's Transport Minister said that the Bill would: "improve public health, reduce emissions, boost tourism and provide an economic benefit in deprived areas".

There we have it: Wales and Cambridgeshire see cycling infrastructure as part of a plan to reduce traffic congestion and to support economic growth.

These are discussions that London is missing out on. I've sat in meetings about the Mayor's plan for a junction safety review, I've met several London assembly members and more recently met Transport for London officials and some of the senior advisers working with the Mayor. What I sense from those meetings is that we're all busy talking about improving safety for people on bikes, and rightly so. But what's lacking is a real understanding of why we're doing this and what the 'cyclists' are complaining about. My own view is that London hasn't yet put a stake in the ground and declared that cycling should be a a serious part of the transport mix, that can reduce motor traffic congestion and has a meaningful economic contribution to make.

It's about time London woke up to the fact that cycling is part of the transport mix and that it has a part to play in creating and sustaining jobs. After all, Cambridge has a booming economy and the city is growing like wildfire. It has clearly thought about why it wants to include cycling as part of that growth story. London needs to do the same.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Boris Johnson. I'm still hugely critical of his smoothing the traffic flow policy. But I feel he is starting to get serious about putting cycling at the heart of his decision-making in his next term. The cycling 'lobby' needs to work with him if he wins.

This morning's The Sun. Appealing to white van men but
from the saddle of a bicycle. Unifying or divisive?
Yesterday, Andrew Gilligan, correspondent in The Telegraph argued that the debate around cycling in this year's Mayoral election has become too party-political: "Cycle lobbyists need to put themselves in the heads of a non-cyclist or politician most of whose voters aren’t cyclists, asking why we should arrange the streets for the 2 per cent who cycle rather than the 98 per cent who drive or take the bus. (I’m not saying I agree with this view, by the way, but that is the political reality we have to consider.) The way to win arguments is to stress what better cycle facilities can do for London as a whole – reducing crowding on the Tube, for example – rather than just for cyclists, who are not the world’s most popular people." He went on to criticise charities like Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign for 'endorsing' political parties that they regard as being pro-cycling.

Andrew Gilligan's conclusion seems to be that the 'cycling lobby' isn't ready to play a mature role in London's future. He says that if Boris Johnson is re-elected, as all the polls suggest, "he might reasonably think what’s the point of trying to please these people if all they do is ignore, or misrepresent, my record?"

I think Gilligan is wrong to criticise Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign for having an opinion on the cycling policies of the political parties. I think that is part of their job.

But I do agree with him that the cycling movement needs more clearly embrace people who don't yet cycle and that it must also embrace politicians across all political parties. Look at other movements, say the gay rights movement, which lobbied across all political parties for years, in some cases having to hold its stance as part of a very heated and sometimes toxically nasty political debate. In fact, in the first Mayoral election, it was a Conservative candidate, Steven Norris, who forced positive debate on the issue as part of his candidacy.

People cycling to work in the Square Mile. Look
left-wing to you? Or right-wing? Or neither?
My own experience is that many in the cycling lobby are slightly left of centre. But that doesn't mean that 'cyclists' are left of centre. The fact is that 'cyclists' are just people who may or may not be left-wing or right-wing. The reality is that they are just people living in London and trying to get about on bicycles.

My other observation is that the cycling agenda has changed hugely in the last couple of years. The Guardian asked yesterday whether we are seeing the birth of the "cyclist vote" in these elections. The BBC has also noticed the shift with an excellent report here which remarks on the fact that this is the first time cycling has ever been a serious topic for debate in an election.

To some extent I think Boris Johnson has actually helped accelerate the development of the 'cycling vote' in the first place. I disagree with the headline of an article in the Daily Mail which states: "The Cycling revolution? How Boris courted and then lost the ever-growing cycling lobby". I'm not sure Boris Johnson ever really courted the cycling lobby. I think Boris Johnson has very publicly supported the idea of the bicycle as transport mode. And in doing so, he has helped create a debate around what cycling should look like on our streets. That's not the same as courting the cycling lobby.

During The Times's cyclesafe hustings this week, Boris Johnson committed to a some initiatives that he hadn't mentioned in public before. British Cycling is the only cycling body I'm aware of that has reported these points in detail, here. He talked about the fact that he is already lobbying the Department for Justice on tougher sentencing for road crimes. That is a significant move and something that cyclists should support him on. It could have repercussions for Londoners as well as cyclists all over the country. He talked too about the creation of a "cycling commissioner" and about cycling being represented on his proposed London Roads Taskforce. Although he stopped short of having a permanent cycling representative on the board of Transport for London, these measures do suggest he is putting cycling at the heart of the decision-making process about London's streets, in a way that it has not been represented in his first term, or in previous Mayoral regimes.

He is also going full-steam ahead with his Junction Review. I am involved in the workings of that Review and sworn to confidentiality about it. What I've seen so far is a serious effort by Transport for London to implement some real and meaningful changes to some of London's main road junctions in a way that would make them not quite Copenhagen standard but would certainly be a huge step in the right direction. I'll caveat that positive comment by warning that we still haven't seen what solutions Transport for London will ultimately choose (will we end up with the cheap and quick road schemes or with the ones that could really change our streets?) and it may be a year or even three years before some of these things are ever implemented.

In summary, I'm still very critical of the way that the Mayor allows Transport for London to implement his 'smoothing the traffic flow' agenda. I agree with his opponents that the implementation of this policy means more road casualties and that it means nastier and more aggressive streets. I fundamenally disagree with him that places like Elephant & Castle are fine to cycle around. If you're youngish, fit and (probably) male, then you might think you can chance it. If you've got your kids to worry about or you're a bit older or you simply don't fancy having to cycle at 20mph, these environments simply aren't 'fine' to cycle around. What's more, I think that Boris Johnson is failing to set ouf a vision of what London might look like with less motor traffic, less congestion and less pollution. He clearly doesn't feel that's an option. I think he's wrong and he should be planning ways to reduce London's unnecessary dependence on motor traffic.

Please don't read this as an endorsement of Boris Johnson. Or as an endorsement of any other candidate.
But if Boris Johnson is going to win this week's election, then the cycling 'lobby' (as Andrew Gilligan calls it) must not position itself as anti-Boris Johnson. I disagree very strongly with some key tenets of his road policies. But I also think it's important we acknowledge, as British Cycling has done, that Boris Johnson has committed to some good and positive cycling initiatives in his campaign, ones I would very much like to see happen. If Boris Johnson does win, then the 'cycling lobby' will need to work with those initiatives and help to make them happen, not line itself up against them.


If you're undecided how to vote tomorrow, the following organisations have summaries of the cycling manifestos of each candidate:

Londoners on Bikes

London Cycling Campaign

British Cycling