Thursday, 26 July 2012

Southwark Bridge protected cycle lane appears, disappears, reappears. A case study in how London's bureaucracies fail to 'get' cycling.


Southwark Bridge on a normal morning
You'll have to bear with me a little bit on this. This is the story of Southwark Bridge and its new protected cycle lane. A story over three days.

Most of the time this junction looks pretty daunting to someone on a bicycle. Lorries, vans and buses take up two lanes heading north. And there's a cycle super highway (in blue) that runs underneath the queuing motor vehicles. Several thousand people cycle over this bridge every morning and have to squeeze in and out of the motor traffic to get themselves safely to the junction.  It's completely bonkers.

Imagine my suprise when Transport for London installed a temporary protected bicycle lane to allow people on bikes to cycle safely into the City of London. The measure is only temporary, for the Olympics. Motor vehicles are banned from turning right, people on bicycles can carry straight ahead (motor vehicles can normally turn left or right but not straight ahead). The protected bicycle lane isn't perfect but it's a million miles better than what used to be there.

Southwark Bridge - new temporary protected
bicycle lane
I was looking forward to using the new protected bike lane during the Olympics. As were thousands of other people. You can get a sense of how many people use this junction on bicycles by looking at the queue of people below. On a normal day you can't really tell how many people are also cycling through here because they're surrounded by far fewer people in cars and vans who take up all the road space. But you get the idea.

All in all, I thought, wow! Finally, the City of London gets its first semi-decent protected bicycle lane. Even if it's only for a few weeks, it's an idea of what could and should be done here.

But oh no, I spoke too soon. By 8am yesterday, some bright spark had decided that the crossing wasn't safe. So they barriered off the crossing, except for a one foot gap. In other words, they corralled approximately forty people per traffic light sequence into the protected bicycle lane. And then tried to force them (in both directions) through a one foot gap in three seconds. Needless to say, it didn't work. At one point, the whole junction was blocked off. Every 30 minutes, the signs would change. Left turn only. Bikes must turn left. Bikes can carry straight ahead. Bikes can't carry straight ahead.

This is the main crossing for people cycling into
the City of London
Apparently, what was happening was that TfL had designated the route as a dedicated and protected bicycle lane. But people at City Police and the City of London weren't given clear instructions and nor, in fact, were the people on the ground from Transport for London. So the junction changed designed literally minute by minute during yesterday's rush hour.

 The net result was that people like me were left stranded in the middle of Upper Thames Street with four lanes of motor traffic honking and bearing down on us. Meanwhile, the pedestrian crossing to the left of the picture is also shut. Which means pedestrians were also trying to get through the same ridiculous gap.

This shouldn't happen.

Can you imagine Transport for London designing a road this way for motor drivers? No, I can't either. It would cause mayhem. But it seems it's absolutely fine to be this disorganised when it comes to people on bikes or on foot. If you're on a bike or on foot, TfL will wilfully put your life at risk. Quite literally. Whereas if you're in a motor vehicle, it might inconvenience you a little but is unlikely to leave you completely exposed in the middle of the road on your own.

Cycle crossing blocked at Southwark Bridge
Photo: courtesy @martincampbell2 on twitter
I'm happy to report the junction is more or less working this morning. The official word is that "Transport for London have moved the infrastructure to provide a proper gap for cyclists but not removed the tape from the pedestrian crossing...[we] suspect that pedestrians will try to use the same gap as the cyclists [which is indeed what's happening]".

Well done, City of London for bashing heads together. But not well done London. There are four (I think) police forces in London deciding what is the right approach to road safety. 36 different boroughs decide what's right for their roads. And TfL decides what's right for its roads. The same road will have competing voices all with their own opinions on what's right for cycling. And most of the people taking those decisions will not have set foot on a pedal in London. As you can see at Southwark Bridge, when three different parties with different reporting lines are trying to make their minds up about what makes for a safe road layout for cycling, the result is pretty shambolic.

It wouldn't happen like this for motorists - the thinking would be joined up. I see Southwark Bridge junction as a microcosm of what's wrong with the way London's bureaucracies think about cycling. Good intentions re-intepreted along the way by people with different agendas, each of whom has the authority to alter those good intentions, which delivers massive compromises along the way. No-one's necessarily 'wrong', no-one's necessarily 'to blame' but ultimately, it makes it incredibly difficult to implement a safe, sensible and consistent environment for people to cycle in.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Westminster council media spokesperson: "Why should cyclists all of a sudden get investment ahead of motorists?" Time to help Westminster councillors think seriously about bicycling.

Rush hour into the City of London. Spot any women
in this line up? No? That's fairly normal in London, sadly
A fascinating storm emerged on twitter last night, fed by someone who has cycled to work for the last nine months. And who happens to be a media spokesperson for Westminster council.

I first noticed this particularly eye-catching comment: "Why should cyclists all of a sudden get investment ahead of motorists?" made by Nick Thompson "an athletic press officer for Westminster City Council and former sports reporter" Nick Thompson made the comments in an exchange with the author of As Easy As Riding A Bike blog

There were plenty of people engaged in the conversation and for each question put to him, Nick Thompson found a way around it.

He put the point to one person on twitter that Amsterdam's cycle lanes are irrelevant to London because it's not a 'world powerhouse'. So I chipped in that he could perhaps look to New York as an example of good cycle infrastructure. Not good enough. "Just yellow taxis n traffic," he responded, "Straight lines only difference". Bicycle lanes only work in straight lines?

The list goes on. The road space is 'limited' in London, he says. The picture below shows the High Street in Leytonstone compared with a eerily comparable Dutch High Street. Note how the Dutch street has a bicycle lane along the left side and compare that with the rudimentary and dangerously-located Leytonstone equivalent. For plenty more examples of British streets compared with their Dutch equivalents, see David Hembrow's excellent collection. The point is that there's plenty of space. It's what you chose to do with it that matters.

London's road space 'is limited' apparently -
Same road, completely different layout. Cycle lane in
the Netherlands above, cycle lane in London below.
This and many more, courtesy Hembrow Cycling Holidays
On the idea that slower car speeds on residential roads might benefit residents or increase safety not only did he ask 'where's the evidence?' but also stated 'but drive at 30/40/50 and see how much more you concentrate? All relative. Av speed in central London is already below 10mph'.

Transport for London used to say rubbish like this. It would talk about 'average speeds' in central London, completely ignoring the fact that motor speeds at night or on bridges can be unbelievably intimidating for people cycling or walking. There's also something slightly sinister about a press officer implying that driving at 50mph down a residential street might be something London should aspire to.

You might wonder why this one twitter exchange bothers me.

In part, it's because this is the voice of someone close to Westminster council. I've always found large parts of Westminster incredibly hostile to cycling. When the council implements new road schemes it rarely seems to think about how it could improve things for cycling or make them safer. In fact, it seems regularly to try and achieve the exact opposite.

Another part of me is simply astounded that Nick Thompson might think that cycling in London is fine as it is. He's not had a problem in nine months' cycling and he thinks everything's fine. He seems not to recognise a conclusion reached by The Economist magazine which states that although "More people are riding bikes...cycling is stuck in a niche". That niche is white, young, more affluent than average men. Men like Nick Thompson in other words.

Waterloo Bridge controlled by Westminster.
40 people got off their bikes in front of me, walked
along pavement, got back on bikes. Why no bike
lane and full of parked cars? Sort it out, Westminster
In that context, I don't think it's acceptable to say the equivalent of, oh well, I'm alright cycling in London, therefore everyone else should be too. As The Economist puts it, the reason more people don't use bicycles in London is personal safety: "62% of people think it is too dangerous to cycle, and around 75% of women do. Accident rates have been falling in London, but 16 people died cycling last year. Cyclists insist that junctions like Elephant and Castle are life-threatening, especially when filled with heavy lorries, which account for many cycling deaths."

I think The Economist makes some good points. Paris, unlike London, has stressed that its cycling revolution is about getting people using bicycles to pedal calmly around the capital. In London it's all about fit young men like Nick Thompson and most people are 'cyclists' rather than your average Joe or Jane just getting about by bicycle. Paris has built infrastructure to enable everyone to get around by bike. In Copenhagen more women use bicycles than men - the exact opposite of London. New York is building infrastructure to enable pretty much anyone to get around by bicycle. The list goes on. 

What frustrates me about Westminster is that there are only a handful of attempts to improve conditions for people to cycle there: Soho and Mayfair are a maze of one-way streets designed to disincentivise motor traffic but insanely complicated to use on a bicycle; Waterloo Bridge has a bicycle lane that is utterly useless most of the time because Westminster lets people park all over the bridge; the excellent Camden bicycle track through Tavistock Square takes you westwards into Westminster. As soon as you cross the boundary, the bike lane turns into a row of parked cars and you find yourself cycling between parked cars, two-lanes of fast-moving one-way motor traffic and a further lane of parked cars. The list goes on. Westminster hasn't even done the easy bits to make cycling a safer, more practical option than driving. You almost get the feeling that Westminster council doesn't want people to cycle. 

I can't tell if Nick Thompson was simply trying to encourage debate or wind people up. But he concluded his twitter conversation with this statement: "...keep the suggestions coming, I assure you they do find the right ears. Thanks for the input."

So, let's take him at his word:

If you're on twitter, send your suggestions for making Westminster less of a cycling desert to:  @NickPJThompson  

Alternatively, email your local councillors by entering your postcode at Writetothem or look up your councillor on Westminster's website

A more direct route might be to simply drop a line to the chief executive Michael Moore and to the director for the built environment Rosemarie Macqueen copied to Barry Smith, director of city planning

Let's see if Westminster council wants to take bicycling seriously. I'd love to hear if they get back to you.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A post in praise of Transport for London but in criticism of more stupid cycling comments by Boris Johnson. Now, there's a rare thing.

Coming to London soon. TfL confirms Dutch-style
traffic lights for bikes on their way
Last week Transport for London issued a press release that is probably the most refreshing official announcement I've seen about cycling in London. 

The release, written by a senior official in TfL's 'surface transport' team provides some details about the scale and timetable of the Mayor's junction safety review programme and about the future of the much-maligned cycle super highways. It is backed up by an internal report that I have seen and that provides more detail than has been released publicly.

I have fewer good things to say about yet more blatantly populist, irresponsible comments by the Mayor Boris Johnson on Sky News yesterday. Talking about his cycle super highways, he told Sky; "They're for indicative purposes"only. He wanted to make the point that people can drive in them if they want to. If that's the case, why even bother spending £100million (the numbers keep changing) on them in the first place? 

But back to TfL:  Not everything about this press release is perfect. There is, for example, a supernatural belief that mirrors on top of traffic lights will save people's lives - something that the Dutch road safety institute studied for several years and concluded won't work: "Truck drivers do not make the best possible use of the different mirrors [and] cyclists insufficiently take account of the fact that trucks have a limited visual field." So true. 

That aside, this press release contains some pretty major news. The news sounds, at first glance, like bad news. TfL has announced that next year it will build a new cycle super highway from Lewisham to Victoria. It also announced that it will extend the super highway from the City to Bow so that it continues through Stratford. 

The bad news is that three other cycle super highways that were originally planned for 2013 are nowhere to be seen - routes from Hounslow, Muswell Hill and West Hampstead are all off the list. On the surface, then, less investment in cycle super highways? 

No more of this please. A standard issue London Cycle
Super Highway. As good as useless. In fact, worse than useless.
Courtesy AsEasyAsRidingABike blog
But TfL's use of language is interesting: "These new superhighways will reflect and incorporate lessons learned from the junction review." The press release talks of 'lessons learned'. I can only hope it means that TfL has learned that the new cycle highways must be better than the current crop that expose people to highly dangerous manoeuvres, to squeezing alongside lorries at junctions and having to dodge parked cars, parked legally smack bang across the cycle highway.

Provided they do it well, I'd far rather see one and half really decent cycle highways built in London next year than four utterly mediocre ones, that are just as dreadful as the majority of the existing Super Highways. Provided, of course, that's the plan. And we're not sure yet if that's the case or not. 

That said, I've seen draft plans for some of the 35 junctions TfL plans to implement next year. And I can support TfL's claim that: "Improvements at these locations will include widening junctions to allow more space for cyclists, creating more segregated cycle lanes and installing innovative 'early-start' traffic signals to allow cyclists to move through the junction ahead of other traffic."

I haven't, however, seen the final plans and not all of the schemes are perfect. But the notable point is that Transport for London is, for the first time, admitting it needs to create dedicated space for people on bikes on London's main roads. And that it can achieve that by widening junctions. This is in direct contrast to most new schemes in the last five years which have seen the carriageways narrowed and made more dangerous for people on bikes. Clearly something is getting through. At last. 

You can see a map of the junctions under review on the London Cycling Campaign website, which also confirms something I've mentioned in this blog several times - that TfL intends to review the road layout at the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge. This is an issue dear to my heart as I negotiate the right hand turn into Queen Victoria Street most mornings, flinging myself across three lanes of traffic. Easy on a road bike. Completely miserable on a Boris bike. 

It can be done. Not perfect but in the right direction
By the looks of things, junctions to get the review treatment include: Stockwell; Kennington Cross; several junctions along the existing Cycle Super Highways. As the London Cycling Campaign put it to The Times last week: "the devil might be in the detail" but at least things seem to be moving. 

The press release also confirms something else I've mentioned before: TfL intends to test proper Dutch-style bike traffic lights. Low level bike lights with a red signal featuring a bicycle logo. And TfL also announces it intends to promote cycle design standards across London (bear in mind most of London's roads are operated by the boroughs not by TfL) and - shock, horror - will integrate 'design concepts from European highway authorities'. 

This is a massive change in tone from Transport for London. For the first time, I get the sense that the organisation is trying to make cycling work in London. I'm certain there will be some big disappointments still to come but you can't deny this sort of language and this sort of commitment to meaningful infrastructure for cycling is very different to the aggressive and somewhat insulting tone that Transport for London was using a year or so ago. 

I sense that Boris Johnson may be steering these changes behind the scenes. I've been fiercely critical of Boris Johnson's failure to get cycling right in his first term of office. Now that he's in his second term, the proof really will be in the pudding. But at least TfL seems to be thinking about the right ingredients. At last.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Truly bizarre: City of London votes to reject The Times campaign forsafer cycling a week before the House of Commons committee formallysupports the campaign and Transport for London finally gets seriousabout cycling infrastructure

The scene at Bishopsgate after a cyclist was killed here early this year
Source: The Times (Matthew Lloyd)

There have been two massive announcement this week that will have longterm significance for people in London who use bicycles as transport.

The biggest of those announcements is the hugely welcome update from Transport for London on its plans to build safer junctions around the city. I'll cover that announcemtn in more detail in a future post.

The second announcement is a bit more gobsmacking - namely, the news that the City of London's policy & resources committee has voted - in direct contrast to the recent initiatives by the Mayor of London and in complete isolation from last week's House of Commons Transport Select Committee report on road safety - not to pass a resolution in favour of The Times's #cyclesafe campaign. I can't decide if the move smacks of arrogance, ignorance or complacency. Or possibly all three.

A quick summary of what's happening in the City of London first. After consulting on its local transport plan, the City did an extremely good job of listening to people's concerns and reversed some investment strategies that were, frankly, deeply hostile to safer cycling and walking.

One of the City's many committees - the Streets & Walkways committee - followed up on this work. In April it met to agree to support The Times's #cyclesafe campaign and to 'to support the growing number of cyclists on the City's roads'. In May, the committee also voted to recommend to the City of London Policy & Resources committee (ie the group of politicians who decide the City's strategy and where the money goes) "to indicate, in principle, support for [The Times's] campaign and to seek advice from the [Policy] Committee as to whether it would be appropriate for the City to join the campaign."

What did the City of London Policy & Resources committee think of all this? It met on 5 July (the notes are not yet available online but were handed out to the public at the committee meeting) and said this to its Streets & Walkways colleagues:

"From Policy and Resources Committee
The committee considered a resolution of the Streets and Walkways Sub-Committee, together with a report of the Director of the Built Environment concerning the Times Cities Fit for Cycling Campaign.
Discussion ensued on the merits of the City Corporation adopting the campaign. Members noted that a number of projects were already being adopted to address safety at the City's busy junctions and were therefore of the view that there was no need to adopt the campaign.
RESOLVED- That the resolution and the content of the report be noted and that as a number of projects were already being adopted to address safety at the City's busy junctions no further action be taken."

I can't work it out. The City of London seems to be saying a one-step approach to consider some junctions (and by the way, I'm not aware of a single junction that the City is looking at in any serious manner to make it safer for cycling) is all it needs to do. This coming two weeks before a House of Commons Transport Select Committee lambasts government and local councils for failing to do enough to make space for cycling on our streets.

Last week, the government announced plans to make it easier for local authorities to impose 20mph zones on their streets to improve road safety (and the City of London does NOT have a good road safety record). Then earlier this week, even that bastion of motor-centric transport Eric Pickles MP issued a report that promotes restrictions of motor traffic speeds to "reduce noise and pollution, improve safety and offer a more tranquil social environment."

Yet, from what I understand, the Policy committee is also now trying to backtrack on a commitment within its transport strategy to consider a 20mph zone across the Square Mile. It won't say so in public but everyone I speak with knows that the City of London is talking in public about support for a 20mph zone but won't really commit to implementation.

Meanwhile, earlier today, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson announced a significant number of serious and meaningful investments into London's road network to create safe space for cycling at key junctions and along certain corridors which I will explain in a future blog post.

In short, just as the rest of London and the UK starts getting behind cycling and starts to swing behind slower motor traffic speeds for the benefit of everyone (not just cyclists of course), the City of London's grandees seem (in my opinion) to be going into reverse - despite the very fine work of its Streets & Walkways Committee members who actually think about these issues in some detail. I think the City of London's Policy & Resources committee either hasn't got its ears to the ground or there's someone very senior who has a very strong bias against people doing things that don't involve driving through the Square Mile. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Watch this space. Automobile Association, Institute of Advanced Motorists, House of Commons Transport Select Committee & British Medical Association. All calling for cycling infrastructure

New York's First Avenue - cars turning left
must wait for people cycling straight ahead. Separate
traffic lights for cycle & motor vehicle flows
I'm in New York this week for work. New York is building meaningful bicycling infrastructure everywhere you look. Segregated bike tracks run along many of the avenues and here they're called 'buffered bike lanes'. Rows of parked cars provide the buffer between the moving motor vehicles and the rather more fragile people bicycling in the bike lane. When you get to a junction, the bike lane goes all the way up to the stop light. If you're cycling straight ahead, you get a green light and cars turning into a side street are held on red.

In other words, New York is building bike infrastructure that separates the flow of people on bicycles and people in motor vehicles on its very busy avenues.

This is the sort of thing London seems to find really hard to do.

Brand new TfL junction. Insane design forces people on bikes
into stupidly dangerous road position & winds up motorists too
If you look at most bicycle infrastructure in London, it tends to  leaves you to your own devices at junctions. Take Embankment just at the junction between Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge. I took a picture of this brand new re-designed junction last week in the pouring rain. What you can see is that people on bikes are encouraged to thread their way between three lanes of motor traffic up to the junction itself. Then they are meant to sit in on the hatchings between two lanes until the traffic starts moving when they have to dodge the traffic island, getting directly in to conflict with people driving behind them.

In my mind, danger is designed into this junction because it is designed solely for motor vehicle use and ignores the fact that people on bikes need to approach the junction differently. It's bad news for people on bikes and it really winds up motorists too. For reasons that are easy to see. This junction is a recipe for conflict. And that conflict is designed into the road layout because the layout ignores the fact that people on bicycles exist.

The Department of Transport also seems to think people on bicycles don't exist. In the DfT's submission to the Parliamentary report on road safety published this week, the Department doesn't mention bicycles once. Get that? The number of people being seriously injured on bikes is increasing all over the UK - a 16% increase last year, according to The Times. And in its submission to the cross-party House of Commons review, cycling is not mentioned a single time. I think that's pathetic, frankly.

New York City - 'buffered' bike lane in action. People on bikes
protected from fast-moving traffic by a row of parked cars & vans
Thankfully, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee seems to think that's not good enough. The MPs note "the first increase in road fatalities since 2003, despite there having been no overall increase in road traffic" and they quite firmly blame government policy. Chillingly, the report concludes: "there does not appear to be a defined action plan to reduce cycle casualties". The MPs criticise a 'lack of leadership' from government on cycling safety and they focus in particular on the need to improve infrastructure so that it is designed for use by people on bikes.

Very tellingly, a number of influential voices are starting to say the same thing. The Institute of Advanced Motorists told MPs that it thinks the government should more seriously "look at cycling infrastructure". There wasn't much in the response by the Automobile Association about cycling infrastructure so I asked the AA President on twitter what he thought. Interestingly, he seems to be of a similar view to the IAM:

 Yes; do support AA stance. Time for AA to start talking cycle infrastructure though?
  Watch this space....lots going on here both in London and nationwide regarding cycling

All of this is coupled with a report issued last week by the British Medical Association on UK transport and its impact on our health, which speaks volumes:

"The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany all have large numbers of cyclists. Research suggests that these high numbers result from the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections, combined with traffic calming of most residential neighbourhoods." Yup, that's right. But the BMA goes even further. It notes that investment in cycling infrastructure in the UK has been witheringly small and states that "without improved facilities and infrastructure", people aren't going to swap from their cars to bikes. Simple, really. And completely correct.

If you want less traffic congestion, if you want people to have healthier lifestyles, if you want to really give people the option to cycle not drive, then you need to ensure the infrastructure works for people on bikes, not just in cars. New York City has worked that out. London is still dithering about it. 

Friday, 13 July 2012

Neil Turner, killed cycling to Oval - start of the Tour du Danger. A tube driver, Mini fan, Millwall supporter, father and soon-to-be husband. An all-round Londoner killed, in my view, on a road designed in a way that makes deaths unavoidable.

Tour du Danger at Oval

Hundreds of people setting off from Oval tube station to protest for safer roads for cycling last year, courtesy @zefrog This is where Neil Turner was cycling to when he was killed on his bike

The Evening Standard has written an incredibly poignant piece about Neil Turner, killed cycling to work in Mitcham on a road where the cycle infrastructure is so scandalously awful, it's really no surprise that people have been seriously injured and now killed here. Ross Lydall's piece talks in heart-felt detail about Neil Turner - born and bred in London, a tube driver, fan of Minis, supporter of Millwall, a father and soon-to-be husband. In short, an all-round Londoner - RIP.

Three things stand out to be about the killing of Neil Turner.

Firstly, the road where he was killed.

As demonstrated by CycleGaz on his blog, the road is designed in a way that exposes people on bikes to maximum possible danger, both from fast-moving overtakes and from people opening car doors. You're meant to cycle along in a narrow bike lane, being squeezed by lethal 'pinch points' (traffic islands to drivers, zones of imminent threat to people on bikes) immediately next to parked cars. If this road was in New York or Rotterdam, the bike lane would be INSIDE the parked cars, not outside. 

Mitcham Road killer cycle lane - Courtesy CycleGaz
This bike lane should be INSIDE the parked cars,
not the other way round, inside the 'door zone'
Second point, the total lack of funding from the Mayor:

Transport for London knows this road is dangerous, as does Croydon Council. What's the council going to do about it? Well, not a lot. Boris has given the council a few hundred thousand pounds to spend on cycling over the next three years. So the council will build some bike parking. Fat lot of use that will be to help people actually make safe and easy journeys by bike. And literally 'chicken feed' from the Mayor for Croydon's bike infrastructure.

And the third point is that Neil was cycling to work at Oval tube station, one of the most dangerous junctions in London if you're on a bike 

It is precisely at Oval tube station that hundreds of us gathered last winter for the Tour du Danger - a ride around the most dangerous junctions in central London in order to give a clear message to the Mayor that we can't avoid intimidating and dangerous junctions like this and to say: We don't want to be casualties casualties of a systemic, killer culture of laissez-faire at Transport for London that completely ignores people on bikes. Oval junction is one of the most dangerous junctions for people to cycle through in London and we wanted to mark it as a place that needs to change, to make it safe for people to cycle through, not just drive through.

Yet London still seems to be limping around, trying to work out whether or not to make cycling safer. The evidence around the London Olympics is that nothing is being done to make cycling part of the mix yet. I think the chief executive of Sustrans put it extremely well earlier this week when he talked about Google's new online bicycling maps. As he put it: "Google has given cycling equal status to driving and using public transport – we need our politicians and local councils to do the same."

Neil Turner, tube driver, Mini & Millwall fan, father, Londoner
RIP. Courtesy Evening Standard

The facts are pretty simple. Serious injuries of pedestrians and cyclists in London rose dramatically last year. The number of people killed cycling also rose dramatically last year. By all accounts, it looks like the number of people being killed on bikes will be higher yet again this year. And the Mayor is still saying that everything's fine, you just need to 'keep your wits about you'. My bet is that Neil was keeping his wits about him. But he wouldn't have stood a chance on a road like this, designed to put him in the most vulnerable position possible.

The wife of Brian Dorling, killed last year at Bow roundabout made this point: "Whoever designed the superhighway on that roundabout is completely negligent."

It shouldn't be like this. We have world-class roads and motorways and we have skilled and hard-working road engineers behind them. But the money and the design is only for motor vehicles. People on bikes are expected to somehow fling themselves down roads like this and survive.

It's not good enough. It's time we had world-class routes for people to use on bikes, instead of exposing them quite deliberately to fast-moving, intimidating roads where the likelihood of being injured is TEN-TIMES higher per mile cycled than it is in countries like the Netherlands.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Two more London cyclists killed this week. One-third of those killed aged under 18. Meanwhile, Transport for London to temporarily close bus lanes and ban bikes from Olympic Lanes. Why not just ban bikes entirely?

This is a junction on a new cycle super highway in junction this morning. Shared with tipper trucks like this one. We are
the only global-scale city in the world designing new cycle infrastructure this badly

Earlier today, the BBC confirmed that another two people have been killed cycling in London over the last week - one man by the driver of (yet another) tipper truck in Ealing late last week, another man was killed by a car driver in Mitcham this morning. Horrifyingly, the Paralympic cycling gold medal hopeful Rachel Morris was also driven into by a car driver while training near Guildford at the weekend. She is unlikely to recover in time to make the Games. Can you imagine anything more horrific than enduring a nervous system malfunction and having the guts and the courage to fight it and become a Paralympic champion, only to be run over by someone driving a car into the back of you while training? It is to British Cycling's credit that the organisation is not only backing her but also calling for far a far tougher approach by the criminal justice system on behalf of all road users.

It's worth noting that at this point in the year, ONE THIRD of all people killed on bikes in London this year have been aged 17 or under. A horrifying statistic. A 17 year old cyclist killed by a hit and run driver. A 9 year old boy killed on his bike by a hit and run driver. And a 10 year old boy hit and killed on his bike by a black cab driver.

Also today, the Guardian picked up on a press release by the Environmental Transport Association which notes that, during the Olympics, London cyclists will be banned from using many of the city's bus lanes (in many places the bus lane won't be in operation and will be filled with general traffic, so no safe cycling there) and simultaneously banned from overtaking queuing motor traffic that is using what used to be bus lanes by using the Olympic Games Lanes (which will be on the right hand side of the defunct bus lanes). Try to get out of  a hairy situation in a cramped, narrow general traffic lane or attempt to get past queues of stationary lorries and you'll be slapped with a whopping £130 fine. As I understand it, there will be police stationed all along the Olympic routes to catch miscreants.

As the Association puts it: "More than nine out of ten Games Lanes are situated on the outside of traffic queues, but cyclists will not be allowed to enter these ‘offside’ Games Lanes for what are described as ‘safety reasons’ – a policy at odds with national standards for cycle training and one described as potentially highly dangerous by the ETA."

The Environmental Transport Association goes one step further and accuses a Transport for London director of "suggesting that cyclists should sit in traffic queues rather than overtaking slow-moving traffic". I think the TfL director in question should try using a bike in London. I suspect he hasn't.

Over at Hyde Park, meanwhile, one twitter user noticed: "Without warning and with no signs the cycle lane and advanced stop line that crosses Park Lane from Hyde Park into Upper Brook St/Grosvenor Square has gone". Bye bye the only safe west to east cycle crossing of Park Lane - a 10 lane motorway. 

And, as many of you already know, the safe routes for cycling around the Olympic Park itself are gone, closed for the duration of the Olympics. You can add your voice to "Open Our Towpath" campaign by signing up your support on their facebook page.

New Olympic Lane being installed on the Embankment
This is supposed to be the "greenest" Olympics ever. You might have thought cycling would be a part of that. No chance. Pardon my French, but cycling has been well and truly shafted by the London Olympics. The roads - already woefully lacking in any meaningful cycle infrastructure - are being made even more dangerous for people to cycle on. You're being discouraged from driving. Now you're also being discouraged from cycling. 

But at least one Conservative councillor thinks people are just being pessimistic. The councillor responsible for cycling in the borough of Richmond has issued a press release that almost beggars belief: “If we want to encourage more people to cycle", says councillor Katharine Haborne. "maybe we should stop going on about how dangerous it is because, frankly, it isn’t and we’re just putting people off."

I couldn't disagree more. What's putting people off is that cycling in London has become a preserve of only those fit enough, fast enough and brave enough to play with the tipper trucks. And even then, most of us only cycle to work and back and don't risk cycling at times when we can't use the bus lanes.

That's nothing to do with 'going on about how dangerous it is', councillor Haborne. People aren't stupid, they can see for themselves how cycling is simply ignored as legitimate form of transport in London. So they drive. Want to change the cycling culture in this city? Then change the infrastructure. And the culture of the roads. Don't want 'cyclists' jumping red lights? Then build infrastructure that encourages all sorts of people to use bicycles and watch as the majority pedal along nice and quietly in every day clothes.

Clearly not enough space for a bike lane here.
Via AsEasyAsRiding blog
And please don't start insisting that 'there's not enough space' for bike lanes. Councillor Harborne would do well to read a fantastic blog post over the weekend by AsEasyAsRidingABike in which he points out pretty conclusively just how much space there is to install cycle infrastructure in London. The only thing that's lacking is political will. As Mark puts it: "The real issue in London is not ‘physical constraints’ or ‘a lack of space’ but rather how that space is allocated. In other words, how those ‘other road users’ might be affected. In many places, they needn’t be affected at all, because the amount of space is vast. But I think Boris has to grasp the nettle and recognise that space will need to be reallocated if he is going to ultimately solve the problems of congestion in London."

And if the Olympics are any sign of what's to come, space is going to be reallocated. But it's going to be taken away from people on bikes and given over to people in BMWs. I'm excited about the Olympics coming to London, I'm happy to accept some disruption as a result. But it's evident that, outside of a few small teams, Transport for London has systemically failed to even think about cycling as a legitimate transport form. And that bodes pretty badly for the future, after the Olympics are behind us.

Cyclegaz has written an excellent post about Mitcham Road, where a man was killed cycling yesterday morning. Cyclegaz was also knocked off his bike on this road. He puts the blame squarely on the road layout. I agree with him.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

"I'm in my fifties: It will take radical redesign of cycle routes to keep me in the saddle much longer or to persuade potential cyclists to join me". Have your say and put pressure on the Mayor to take cycling more seriously

Cycling with the traffic. Vauxhall. Not a solution
for most people in London. 
I've been contacted a lot recently by people copying me on letters and emails to their MPs and their London Assembly Members. Some of this is in response to the London Assembly, which is holding an investigation into cycling in London. Everyone is free to send their thoughts and comments to the Investigation and, unusually, the Assembly is inviting people to turn up on the day (10am July 12th) to help shape the formal questions that the Assembly will put to the Mayor and Transport for London later in the year. 

The London Assembly transport committee consists of politicians from the Conservative, Labour, LibDem and Green parties. I'd urge you to spend five minutes sending them an email by writing to: 

Whether that's about the insane new design of Camden Parkway - recently made unfit for bicycle traffic at vast expense by the council - or whether you have broader thoughts and issues, everything is valid. 

The Assembly is looking specifically:

I thought I'd share with you one of the several emails I've been copied on and that resonates with a lot of themes I've addressed in this blog:

In case you've forgotten, the old layout on
Blackfriars Bridge was even worse than now. Courtesy Ralph Smyth
"I have worked in central London all my working life, since 1977, and in the EC4 postal district since 1988.  Initially I lived in London but since 1986 when I moved out to South West Surrey I have been commuting into Waterloo.  For most of that time I walked from station to office but I started to cycle from Waterloo, and between my home and local station, in 2006 once the Blackfriars Bridge cycle lane was sorted out following the death of Vicky McCreery – I would definitely not have contemplated it before.  I had owned a Brompton since 1988 and at this stage I dug it out again from the corner where it had been gathering dust for several years.  Since then my interest in cycling as a leisure or exercise activity has also revived.

From the timeline you can no doubt work out that I am in late middle age.

It took a radical redesign of a critical component of my daily ride (ie Blackfriars Bridge) to convince me that cycling might actually be safe enough to try.  Having started, I did find that for the most part cycling in London felt neither unpleasant nor unsafe, even where there was no specific provision for bicycles.  An early accident at Hyde Park Corner, when a car jumped the lights as I was crossing the pedestrian crossing, did not discourage me – I went out and bought a new Brompton to replace the one the motorist had wrecked.  Since then I have had a further three collisions with vehicles, all taxis, all “left-hooking” me in their hurry to take a corner before the lights changed.  The last one got closest to finishing me off – I have had two operations, one as an inpatient, and months of physiotherapy to largely recover from the effects.  The cabbie, by the way, drove off without stopping and no-one managed to get his plate.

Quality taxpayer money being spent. Typical cycle lane
at Vauxhall Cross. Give way in three directions, including
behind you, dodge the bollards and signpost, rejoin the
bike lane for two metres past the road, then
rejoin the carriageway. Bonkers.
However, things are subtly changing.  I have never been a sprinter, and a Brompton doesn’t make an ideal road-race bike anyway, but in the early days I had confidence in my ability to accelerate my way out of trouble, and to “take the lane”  at sufficient speed that following vehicles in the congested central London environment had no good grounds for objecting.  Now, having recently celebrated my 57th birthday, I can sense that I am slowing down.  I can also sense that I am becoming more apprehensive about traffic conditions as I either can’t or don’t wish to engage in a time trial or dragster race to filter into gaps at roundabouts, change lanes to make right turns etc, and I am just becoming more plain nervous.

In addition to my journey to/from the office, for which I generally change out of a suit and into everyday wear or waterproofs, I try as often as I can to travel to meetings on my bike, suited and booted and cycle-clipped.  This is only feasible if you adopt a much more sedate pace so you keep fresh and don’t impose your sweaty odour on your hosts when you arrive.

Trouble is, many London streets are simply unsuitable for cycling in “normal” clothes or a business suit, or for cycling at a sedate pace.  Survival demands 360 degree vision, the hearing of a bat, nerves of steel, and more acceleration than a Ferrari.  Oh, and “keeping your wits about you” – I shouldn’t forget that one. In wet conditions, everyday clothes would soon be filthy from road splatter kicked up by vehicles passing too close. Sure, many journeys are possible, but it is often if not always the case that you have to divert off the obvious desire lines to find quieter roads, routes through the parks etc, which can add significantly to the distance covered.  If you just want to enjoy the ride that is fine, but if you are maintaining a timetable or charge your clients by the hour, that is not efficient.

Want to cycle to the shops dressed like this when you're older?
Make sure the facilities for cycling are suitable first. Otherwise, no
chance you'll be on your bike. Courtesy BicycleDutch
The examples of streets which simply don’t work for cyclists, and should, are too numerous to list, but here are some examples:

·         The Strand – narrow lanes either side of a central median which seems to be entirely unnecessary given the low speeds attainable on that road.  Large numbers of buses and HGVs take up almost the entire lane width and make this one of the most unpleasant cycling experiences in the city.  Sadly, we are seeing other major streets go the same way – Pall mall since it reverted to 2-way, for example.  Piccadilly, and Ken High St.  I have even heard that the highways architects responsible for these schemes see cyclists as traffic calming measures – “rolling speed humps”.
·         Parliament Square – a shooting gallery par excellence
·         Just about any road on the TLRN
·         Just about any bridge over the Thames.  All my four accidents were on TLRN roads and/or bridges

Brand new London cycle infrastructure.
Taxpayers money spent on blue paint. Southwark Bridge
Road. What's the point of any of this? 
In addition to my own accidents, I  have seen dozens of events in which cyclists have been hit by motor vehicles.  I can thank providence that so far I haven’t seen a serious injury, although it is only a matter of time, and I have seen many mangled bikes.  I can imagine that in a few years time, if conditions do not change, I will be put off cycling in London entirely.  I will then join the significant percentage of society who would cycle, but can’t/won’t, and are frustrated by that fact.

To repeat, it took a radical redesign of a critical part of my cycle route to persuade me that cycling was an option in the first place.  I predict it will take radical redesigns of quite a few more stretches of road, bridges or junctions to keep my in the saddle for much longer, or to persuade many potential cyclists to join me."

Says it all, in my view. And please add your comments by sending them to before July 12th. Feel free to copy me as well Good luck.