Friday, 28 September 2012

Southwark Council hints it will review Upper Ground closure but Richmond Council completely fails to deliver road safety for cycling. Time for Richmond council to engage meaningfully with its cycling residents.

London Road Twickenham cycle lane. It's pretty poor already and Richmond council
intends to make things worse. Courtesy Richmond Cycling

I wrote last week about Southwark Council's decision to close - for a whole year - the main cycle thoroughfare between Waterloo and the City of London.

Some good news for a change: Southwark has agreed to convene a meeting onsite with advisors from Transport for London, from Southwark Cyclists and I'll also be there. This is a positive step. Southwark Council has been trying to get cycling right over the last few months. But it clearly has not yet reached a stage where cycling is part of the planning ecosystem within the council.

This meeting will look at options for a safe route to cycle along this route around the building works. But it will take place only one week before the barriers go up, blocking the route. The fact is, cycling simply hasn't been considered at all in the planning mix, despite the fact that this is a) a National Cycle Network route and b) is one of the busiest commuter routes in London. It's a case of better late than never. But it highlights a dangerous lack of consistency in Southwark council's approach to cycling that needs addressing.

The issue of consistency is a real barrier to cycling in London. For all the faults of the Cycle Super Highways, they do at least make an attempt to create a consistent experience for people along the length of the route. It's not a great experience but it at least makes a start. Compare that with the protected bike track through Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia. As soon as the track leaves roads that are controlled by Camden and enters roads that are controlled by Westminster, the cycle track disappears and turns into car parking spaces. The government is pushing more and more responsibility for transport on to local government.

People waiting to use the cycle crossing into
Upper Ground - Bad enough as it is, soon to be
rendered almost useless
All of which means that decisions taken at borough council level are incredibly important. If the borough council doesn't have its house in order (as it doesn't in the case of Southwark at Upper Ground), then nothing is going to get better for cycling. To give Southwark credit where it's due, however, the council very actively fought to make sure that another one of its roads remains safe for cycling. This is Churchyard Row, part of the Elephant & Castle cycle bypass, and part of the Cycle Super Highway from Tooting. The council has ensured that lorries being used to transport material to and from building sites around this location will be diverted well away from the Cycle Super Highway. Ten points to Southwark for doing this at Elephant & Castle, zero points for failing to think the same way at Upper Ground.

At least Southwark is thinking about cycling at all.

This is in sharp contrast to Richmond Council, where the borough spokesman for cycling seems to believe that to make cycling safer on borough streets you just need to make cycling sound like it's safer. In a recent statement, Richmond council's cycling representative states: "If we want to encourage more people to cycle let’s stop saying it isn’t safe". That seems to be the start and the finish of the strategy - don't make the roads safer, just make people think and feel happy thoughts about cycling and all will be well.

The fact is a) her strategy is deluded and b) it's not even true. As The Times wrote in a hard-hitting article today, the rate at which cyclists were killed or seriously injured rose sharply last year.

According to The Times:

"Measured as a proportion of distance pedalled the rate rose by 9 per cent in 2011 compared with 2010 and was the third consecutive year in which it increased.

The data undermines government claims that it is becoming safer to cycle as increased numbers of cyclists take to the roads."

In that context, it seems all the more astonishing that Richmond Council has recently indicated that it intends to remove one of the few stretches of protected cycle path in Twickenham town centre. During the consultation phase, 67% of people who took part said they were not in favour of the cycle lanes being removed from London Road.

The council rightly points out that the cycle lanes in the town are 'currently disjointed and only cover part of London Road."

So what does Richmond borough council propose? Does it propose making high quality, safe, usable cycle facilities through Twickenham town centre?

No it doesn't. The council is proposing this instead:

"The Council are now considering installing advisory cycle lanes throughout the town centre in King St and London Road in both directions. In peak periods vehicular traffic would use these lanes but for the greater part of the day they would be used by cyclists. These cycle lanes would increase cycle safety throughout the town centre and would also help to encourage cars and other vehicles to stay in the central lanes in off peak periods, therefore keeping their distance from pedestrians."

The local cycling campaign group is made of reasonable, intelligent, professional people. The Richmond Cycling Campaign has suggested that "rather than removing the cycle lane, [the council] should have improved it, putting in a proper physical division to stop encroachment ...[and] improved the connection to the railway station."
However, Richmond council doesn't seem to be listening to its local cycling group:

"The council is convinced this is an improvement, completely misunderstanding why people do not choose to cycle in the borough. The reason why the share of cycling as a mode of transport is relatively high in the Borough is because of the large number of off road cycle routes – along the Thames, through the parks. This demonstrates the need to have safe cycle infrastructure."

It strikes me that Richmond Council is in an awful muddle about cycling. Rather than try to encourage cycling and do something to combat motor traffic congestion, it's proposing a cycle lane solution that will be filled with cars during rush-hour, rendering it unusable for everyday cycling from A to B.

The tragedy is that the council knows what the problem is. It's right there in the statement: "the cycle lanes are currently disjointed and only cover part of London Road." Absolutely correct. But a solution that paints a few lines across a narrowed street and is only usable outside rush-hour, is as good as useless. Richmond needs to find people it can work with and start treating cycling as a serious part of its transport mix. If it doesn't, it will simply mean more congestion, more pollution, more of all the things the council says it's opposed to. Perhaps it could start by engaging with its existing cyclists rather than trying to deliberately alienate them.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Waterloo to Square Mile bicycle route - It gets worse: Is Southwark Council deliberately putting cyclists at risk by allowing the developers to simply close a national cycle network route?

Plan of the traffic scheme to be placed around the development site along Upper Ground - spot the cycle route? Nope, there isn't one. (Upper Ground is the road marked red at the top of the plan)

Last week, I wrote that Southwark Council has agreed to close a section of Upper Ground for 12 months to enable construction works at Sea Container House, along the river. Upper Ground is a part of the National Cycle Network. It is used by thousands of people daily to cycle between the City of London and Waterloo. It is popular largely because it is quieter and safer than the alternative road, Stamford Street, which runs parallel and is part of the London trunk road network. It is also popular because a dedicated facility to allows people on bikes to cross from Blackfriars Bridge towards Waterloo without having to pace across four lanes of motor traffic as it accelerates off the Bridge. If you're not familiar with the location, you can see the section of road that will be closed on this map. 

Pictured above is the detailed plan of the site. It shows how the developers will block Upper Ground with a barrier. What it also shows is that the developers have a plan to let motor traffic around the site. But that the developers have not though even one minute about how two-wheeled, pedal vehicles (of which there are considerably more than motor vehicles) should get around this site. They will have to duck and weave around the main roads and just get on with it. 

 Upper Ground cycle route shut for a day this year.
Soon to be closed on a whim. By a large barrier.
For at least a year. 
My understanding is that the closure will go ahead in two weeks' time. Furthermore, I now understand that Southwark Council has recently asked Transport for London whether TfL will build a contraflow diversion for cyclists on Stamford Street to the south of the construction site. Southwark Council is responsible for Upper Ground, which will be closed, and TfL is responsible for Stamford Street. I understand that the council hopes that the cycle lane will be on the pavement of Stamford Street, at the bottom of the map pictured above, thereby parking its problems on to TfL. 

So, just think about this a minute. 

It seems like several months ago, Southwark Council may have agreed to close one of the busiest cycle links in central London.  It also seems like months ago, the developers worked out a detailed plan for handling motor and pedestrian traffic around the site. 

Yet we find out literally two weeks before the closure, that the council is asking Transport for London to help sort out some last minute diversions for cyclists. It certainly feels like the council has simply gone ahead with what suits the developer here and completely and utterly ignored the fact that it is closing a major cycle route. Not only that, it seems like the council is still trying to work out, at this very late stage, how to get the thousands of people who cycle through here every rush hour safely from one side of the junction to the other. 

I'm not sure what's more frustrating - the diversion itself or the fact that the council seems to have simply ignored the fact that this is a national cycle network route used by thousands of people.

Minicabs illegally parked in the Upper Ground contraflow cycle lane 
(courtesy CycleStreets)

What's particularly disappointing about this whole episode is that Southwark Council really is beginning to get its head around cycling. Last week, it broke ground on a new cycle link that will provide a fantastic new cycle link to Rotherhithe and the Council is working closely with local groups on an encouraging plan to create a sensible network for cycling throughout the borough. 

On this occasion, I feel that the council has badly let people down. Southwark is rightly proud of its plans to 'make Southwark one of safest for cyclists in the next three years'. But if we're going to make Southwark a safer place to cycle, then it's not acceptable for Southwark to simply close a national cycle route at what appears a whim for a whole year. As one commentator put it to me: "We won't change habits and get masses cycling if the attractive routes arbitrarily come and go." I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. 

If we're going to have cycle routes, especially national cycle routes, then they need to be available consistently. Couldn't the Council have asked the developers to put a protective cover over the road and allow people to continue to cycle along Upper Ground? Or couldn't the council have asked the developers to provide a lorry access plan, so the route stayed open during peak hours and the evenings? 

How the Dutch might handle it. Construction in
Rotterdam: cycle diversion running through the middle
courtesy: & @cyclinstructor on twitter

The Council did none of these things, it simply shut the cycle route. I commend Southwark Council for the work it's doing to make cycling safer in the borough. But there's no point Southwark Council committing to a bold new plan to encourage cycling only to shut such a heavily-used safe cycle route on a whim. 

I have been copied on a number of emails to Southwark Council written by people angry with this complete lack of foresight. As one email put it: "The proposed alternative route, requiring, for cycle riders approaching across Blackfriars Bridge, a filter across three lanes of traffic, and then a right turn off Stamford Street, which I can say from direct experience is often also extremely intimidating because of the volume of motor traffic on Stamford Street, and frequently aggressive driving behaviour. Of course I hope it is not the case, but I am truly fearful that one consequence of the proposed closure would be serious accidents involving cycle riders."

I agree completely. Southwark should not be letting this happen, I'm afraid. 


I'd urge you to send a quick email today to Nicky Costin in Southwark Council's road management team at Or better still, why not email the head of the council Peter John and let them know what you think of the cycle lane closure.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Southwark Council to close one of London's busiest cycle commuter routes from the City to Waterloo for a year. Use this route? Email your objections to Southwark today.

Upper Ground national cycle network. About to close completely
for at least a year. Not to improve the cycle route. But to allow the developers
of this hotel better site access.
I almost couldn't believe this when I saw it earlier today. One quick-eyed reader noticed an announcement in today's edition of Southwark News. From October, the developers of the new buildings popping up along the southern side of Blackfriars Bridge will have the right to shut Upper Ground to all vehicles. For an entire year. Starting on October 5th.

For those not familiar with Upper Ground, this is the section of National Cycle Network that goes between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge. If you're heading south over Blackfriars, you can duck onto the cycle crossing and head over the road down Upper Ground for a relatively leisurely ride to the station. The alternative is to signal right and cross four lanes of traffic coming off the Bridge and to head along Stamford Street.

I find it almost impossible to believe that a council like Southwark which is trying relatively hard to get its cycling strategy right could simply shut one of the busiest cycle commuter routes in central London for a year. Unless I'm reading Southwark's intentions wrongly (and you can read below a copy of the notice in today's Southwark News) it's pretty clear  that the national cycle network from Waterloo to Blackfriars (and on to London Bridge) is simply going to be closed to all traffic, including bicycles, for a year.

Public notice re closure of Upper Ground
The notice in today's Southwark News informing people that the cycle route will be closed for a year, courtesy London SE1 

There are four separate development schemes going on around this junction. Two along Upper Ground and two new developments on the other side of Blackfriars Road. I know that Transport for London - which is responsible for the main crossroad junction at the end of the bridge is considering ways to make the junction easier and safer to use on a bicycle.

Upper Ground closed? Don't worry, you can
take your chances and turn right in the right hand
lane here instead. Oh, and notice the Welcome to
Southwark sign on the left hand side while you're dodging
the four lanes of motor traffic. 
Southwark's traffic order suggests that cyclists should take a diversion for the 12 months that Upper Ground is closed. That diversion is to head south over Blackfriars Bridge, then turn right across four lanes of traffic into Stamford Street, then turn right again into Hatfields with queues of impatient taxis trying to get past you, then carry on down the quiet route to Waterloo.

My own view? This is one of the busiest commuter routes in central London (you can get a sense of how busy just by looking at Oliver O'Brien's maps of cycle hire usage data, which shows the high number of people who use this route). It is the only relatively safe route for the thousands of journeys (especially Boris bike hire journeys) from Waterloo to the City. And Southwark council is literally chopping the route in half.

The dedicated cycle crossing from Blackfriars Bridge into Upper Ground is already fairly haphazard. The right turn from the Bridge with the main motor traffic flow can be downright terrifying at times (particularly later at night). I think Southwark's move to sever the national cycle network route to Waterloo is a recipe for disaster, especially for slower cyclists, people using Boris bikes and for everyone (and there are many thousands) who use the quiet route, rather than dodging the cars on the main road.

Use this bike crossing to turn right at the
bottom of Blackfriars Bridge? Sounds like
this will be closed from October 5th.
What's more, this sort of thing simply couldn't happen in countries where cycling is taken seriously as a form of transport. In the Netherlands, for example, diversions and traffic lights would be installed to allow large volumes people to cycle safely. Here, Southwark seems to be saying to people, just get on with it and enjoy cycling with the lorries.

It may be too late to object. But if you use this route, I think you should flood Southwark Council with your thoughts.

I'd urge you to send a quick email today to Nicky Costin in the road management team at Or better still, why not email the head of the council Peter John

Southwark is doing a lot of good work around cycling. I have to hope this is a horrendous oversight. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Former Conservative Transport Secretary: "Cycling should be encouraged as a ..way of getting around". Yet on September 5th alone, four people were killed cycling in the UK. That's simply not good enough. It's time for the current Secretary of State to act.

"The long-term paucity of proper cycling infrastructure
has forced many cyclists onto busy roads,
where they are bound to come into conflict
with drivers of cars"
Earlier this week Malcolm Rifkind MP wrote an article about people using bicycles to get from A to B in London. The article was the front cover piece in the Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle.

Frustratingly, the Chronicle chose a deliberately provocative headline: "Let's encourage cyclists who obey laws of the road" it screamed. To my mind, that headline deliberately attempts to equate cyclists with lawbreakers.

The irresponsible tone of the headline was rightfully parodied by the cycling website bikebiz with its own spoof article: "We won't build more roads until motorists start behaving, says Gov't".

The thing is, however, that the actual article itself has a lot to commend it. If you read it carefully, you can see that here we have a senior Conservative MP who is the former Secretary of State for Transport standing up and saying this:

"Cycling should be encouraged as a healthier, cheaper way of getting around that can serve our city’s wellbeing and provide relief to our public transport infrastructure."

He even goes one step further and refers to the lack of infrastructure to support bicycle transport when he says that "the long-term paucity of proper cycling infrastructure has forced many cyclists onto busy roads, where they are bound to come into conflict with drivers of cars". Hard to disagree with, I think.

There are certainly elements of the article that I disagree with and I think the headline is grossly misleading. But the thrust of his argument is fairly balanced: Better behaviour by all road users would be good; cycling is a positive force for change in our cities; to encourage bicycle transport, we need proper infrastructure.

London bike infrastructure. The lorry is turning
left. You're supposed to duck down the lefthand
side of the lorry and cycle straight ahead.
Not simply conflict, it's actually insane. 
And the reason we need that infrastructure is pretty simple: The Times points out today that on September 5th alone, four people were killed cycling in the UK. The newspaper believes the number of people likely to be killed this year will be more than last year. Tellingly, it notes that "Britain has the fifth worst record for reducing cycling fatalities" in the EU. 

Rifkind points out that there is "bound to be conflict" between cyclists and drivers of cars on London's streets. The thing is, there doesn't have to be conflict. As he says, proper infrastructure could help to reduce the level of conflict on our streets.

Another blogger agrees. Talking on the Cyclist No.1 website, Fi Wilson visits Amsterdam and concludes: "There are no battles between car drivers and bikes". Why? Because Dutch politicians have encouraged a 'cycling culture'. Talking about London in particular, she continues: "Things have improved, says the , but the argument so often cited for the lack of a network here is that Britain just ‘isn’t a cycling country’. It is difficult to believe that Holland was once like Britain, but it’s true. They decided to create a cycling culture and now it has towns with over 60% cycling rates...But it takes political bravery. Car drivers are voters, and to side with cyclists is seen as creating an embattled state."

And that's really the crux of it - cycling is political. And people need to show their local politicians that cycling matters to them.

In a funny way, I think Boris Johnson was actually quite brave in backing the growth in cycling. The problem is that he hasn't (to date) been brave enough and the reality is that cycling in London is growing faster than the blue paint on his cycle super highways can dry. The result is that we've ended up with the horrific compromises of Cycle Super Highways that are simply not good enough for safe, everyday cycling. And we have horrific new junctions being built in the name of safer cycling that are anything but safer for cycling.

Typical scene on Cycle Super Highway 8 at rush hour.
The bike lane is normally filled with coaches and taxis as well.
Woefully third-rate infrastructure.
Yet, when politicians like Malcolm Rifkind start talking about infrastructure for bicycle transport, you get the sense that slowly, slowly things are beginning to change.

But what scares me is that at the moment all these good soundbites are simply that and nothing more. Let's take a look at the House of Commons Transport Select Committee - a cross-party group that scrutinises the Department for Transport. Earlier this year, the House of Commons was deserted as 77 MPs joined a debate about cycling safety in the Palace of Westminster next door. And several months later, the Transport Select Committee published a very punchy report calling on the Government to take a much stronger lead on road safety and, in particular, safe cycling.

In that context, it was extremely disappointing to read the minutes of the Transport Select Committee last week when it met the new Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick Mcloughlin. The questions ranged from aviation, to rail transport to road building. But at no point did anyone on the Select Committee ask a question about bicycles as transport.

Which is odd really. Because whether the motoring lobby likes it or not, transport by bicycle is not going away. In today's Financial Times, the chief executive of Tesco said this: "as fuel prices have increased, shoppers are less inclined to travel to out-of-town stores". Rifkind makes a similar point in his article too. Getting about by bicycle is simple and above all it's cheap. The demand is there to make bicycle transport a normal part of our towns and cities. We all need to keep pressure on our politicians to make sure they push for governments (Westminster is only responsible for England's transport these days, Edinburgh and Cardiff have their own challenges) to supply the rules, the funding and the connectivity to make it easier for people to start pedalling.

In England, at least, what really needs to happen is that the current Transport Secretary needs to get behind cycling with real money, real legislation, real regulations and real infrastructure. So far, there's absolutely nothing to suggest that's on the agenda.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Fantastic news: TfL confirms extension of Cycle Super Highway 2 to 'GoDutch' standards. Rather worrying news: Once you get to Bow roundabout, the rest of the road is just blue paint which is 'essentially useless'. Let's have a bicycle transport network but any chance we could do it properly?

TfL confirms more protected bikeways like this
to head out beyond Stratford and that it will
involve Danish road engineers
Earlier this month, Germany issued its new National Cycling Plan 2020. The fact that Germany even has a Cycling Plan is already something of a step ahead of the UK.

And the plan is incredibly bullish. The German government expects bicycles to become an increasingly serious part of the national transport mix. The government is backing e-bikes in particular and thinks electric bikes offer a serious alternative to car trips up to 15km. It is also getting behind cargo delivery by bicycle. It is planning to build infrastructure and systems to support cycling so that 15% of all journeys are undertaken by bicycle by 2020. It expects that number to be slightly higher in towns and cities (16%) and slightly lower in rural areas (13%). Some cities will see radically bigger percentages: 25% of all journeys will be by bicycle in Berlin by 2025, 18% in Hamburg. 

To put that in context, the Mayor of London is planning 5% of all journeys in London should be by bicycle. But not until 2030. London doesn't seem to think that cargo can be delivered by bike and is making no serious steps to reduce the rapidly growing number of vans on its streets. Germany is. London, meanwhile, is going to choke on more and more motor traffic while Germany builds its economy by freeing people from the costs of running a car and frees its economy from ever-worsening congestion and pollution.

The German National Cycling Plan talks clearly about the need to have an all-emcompassing 'system' around bicycle transport. That should include funding and infrastructure but also support in the form of cycle parking and hire bicycles. The most important requirement, though, is 'safe, convenient and comfortable bicycle infrastructure'. That cycle infrastructure should be "consistent and free of barriers". So, the German government is saying something that the UK government is only just beginning to realise: To make bicycle transport a realistic option, you need proper cycle tracks, consistent quality and without barriers.

An article in today's New York Daily News says more or less the same thing:

"Bike paths need to flow like bloodstreams: We need networks, not snippets.... [They] cannot be developed piecemeal, with bits of bike lanes that stop and start within one Community District (which might be more-welcoming to bikers), skip the next, then start up again on some distant street that doesn’t lead bikers to where they really want to go anyway."

The problem is that TfL doesn't propose to do anything with
the rest of the route, which is 'essentially useless' for bicycle
transport (Picture courtesy AsEasyAsRiding blog)
Welcome to the reality of London. A city in which bike lanes like the protected bike path through Bloomsbury comes to a complete halt as soon as the road crosses into Westminster. Westminster prefers to use its road for car parking, not for safe bicycle transport infrastructure.

In today's edition of The Times, four Olympic cycling champions all said more or less exactly the same thing. Victoria Pendleton commented: “I think cycle lanes should only be cycle lanes,” she said. “I get really p****d off with people parking in cycle lanes and forcing you to move out into traffic. Cars shouldn’t be allowed in them at all. They shouldn’t be there for effect or aesthetics; they are there for a purpose.” Jason Kenny "said that he took up cycling on the roads after becoming sick of paying for parking. 'Bike lanes are nice to get you away from the traffic,' he said. 'I prefer ones that don’t make you get off and on again.'"

In that context, it is fantastic news to hear from the London Cycling Campaign that Boris Johnson is planning to extend Cycle Super Highway 2 from the City of London out all the way beyond Stratford. It is even better news to hear that Transport for London is considering a Danish approach this time, possibly with proper protected bike lanes.

There's plenty of room for protected bike lanes along here as you can see in this excellent profile of this ghastly street on AsEasyAsRiding blog.

In fact, there's plenty of room for protected bike lanes along the whole length of cycle highway 2. And they should have been built in the first place. AsEasyAsRiding blog calls the existing Cycle Super Highway 2 "essentially useless". I agree.

The risk is that the Mayor might be about to build a spur of really good Danish-style bicycle transport infrastructure from beyond Stratford to the dreaded Bow roundabout. But once you reach Bow on your way to the Square Mile? Nothing. Just blue paint in the bus lane or under the car parking.

In other words, the Mayor's very positive step to improve Cycle Super Highway 2 could end up as an isolated 'snippet' (to coin a phrase from New York) rather than part of a network that could make a real difference. There's a risk that good quality, safe, consistent bicycle transport between Ilford and Bow roundabout could throw users on to the hopeless and dangerous blue paint between Bow roundabout and the Square Mile. Same road, same people, totally different bicycle infrastructure.

So, good on the Mayor for committing to real bicycle transport infrastructure along Cycle Super Highway 2. But let's hope he means to see the Cycle Highway go from end to end, not just as far as Bow roundabout and then you're on your own.

New York, Germany and the UK Olympic team have all flashed out loud warnings this week. If you're going to build a bicycle transport network, then build it propely. Don't just stick on snippets here and there.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Boris bikes to extend south of the river. This is a very good thing. Not just for people on Boris bikes. "If you put cycling and walking at the centre of your transport plan, you improve the whole system for everyone, including drivers".

No idea who he is, but this chap took to a Boris bike and paced
along the Olympic road cycling route, seen here at
Hyde Park Corner. 
Last night Transport for London issued a press release announcing 5,000 new docking points for cycle hire bikes which will extend for the first time into southwest London, notably Lambeth, Wandsworth as well as Hammersmith and Kensington & Chelsea.

Earlier this week, Peter Hendy, TfL Transport Commissioner told the London Assembly that there were 47,000 cycle hire trips alone on July 26th this year. During the Olympic fortnight, over a million people got about using the Boris bikes. That's in addition to several hundred thousand other trips made by bike in London every day. To put that in context, the total number of all cycle trips into and out of central London in 2003 was only 63,000 per weekday. Hendy also mentioned that motor traffic was down 10% in central London during the Olympics. Conversely, according to DrawingRings blog, TfL sources have suggested cycle traffic across the central London bridges may have increased 22%.

London during the Olympics. Fewer motor
vehicles around, people take to two wheels
Slowly but surely, it seems to me, that with these sorts of numbers of people using bicycles to get about, cycling is becoming something much more "normal". You get hints that more and more people are 'coming out' as cyclists. And I use the term deliberately. If you saw Chris Boardman's appearance on BBC Breakfast last week, you'd have heard the BBC presenter Louise Minchin pipe up "I'm a cyclist too... I use it for transport to get from A to B". It sounded part apologetic, but also part proud.

My own view is that is a very good thing indeed. For one very simple reason. The more that people use bicycles, the more other people start to see people just like them using bicycles.

Why does that matter?

I think it matters because there is still a tendency in London to assume 'cyclist' equals 'other people'. And the more I sit in meetings with people from Transport for London and with local politicians, the more I realise that if cycling is perceived as something 'other' people do, it is not a vote winner.

Two London Conservative Assembly Members hinted at this exact point when I met them in summer 2011. What I wrote then was: "I get the feeling the Conservatives aren't anti-cycling. In fact, I suspect that they could - just possibly - become very pro-cycling. But I got a real feeling that they don't feel enough Londoners are saying clearly enough that they want to cycle. Yet."

Cycling in London is growing of its own accord. But my feeling is that by extending the cycle hire scheme, the Mayor is slowly changing London. My sense is that his 'strategy' may be to get momentum behind cycling in terms of people on pedals. Once you have sufficient numbers of people cycling, it becomes easier to get other people to support more investment in cycling.

And something happened this week to reinforce my impression of that strategy. The London Assembly held a fascinating debate on the future of cycling in London. It invited - among others - Steffen Rasmussen, Head of Traffic Design, City of Copenhagen and Roelof Wittink, Director of the Dutch Cycling Embassy to explain how they have built cycling into the fabric of their cities.

London cycle super highway. The bus is about to turn right (ie to the left
of the picture) across all of these people on bikes (heading straight ahead)
This is not how you design a junction to make it safe for cycling
It was an enormously interesting debate. Among other key themes, Rasmussen made it very clear that cycling has been made 'enormously competitive when it comes to short trips', at least compared to driving. In London, it is driving that has been made enormously competitive when it comes to short trips, not the other way round. The majority of car journeys in outer London are under two miles. They would be easy by biycle, if the facilities were there. He also made clear that "segregation of cycle & motor traffic is really important". By separating the flow of cycle and motor traffic, he says, ""We saw reductions of nearly 50 or 60% in casualty and road incidents after we redesigned junctions"

His key message, though, was this: "If you put needs of pedestrians & cyclists at centre of your transport plan, you improve whole system for everyone, including drivers".

This was a message that Richard Tracey, Conservative Assembly Member for Wandsworth didn't seem to want to hear. He spent much of his time asking the representatives from the Netherlands and Denmark whether bicycles should be licensed and deliberating and whether in fact Birmingham is bigger than Amsterdam. He also spent considerable time wheeling out his one single objection to people on bicycles - the conflict between people on bicycles and mothers with prams. This is something of a pet theme for Mr Tracey, one that I first wrote about in November.

Personally, I am delighted that the Mayor is going ahead and extending the Boris bike scheme. And I am particularly delighted that the Mayor is installing cycle hire docking stations in Wandsworth - Mr Tracey's patch.

I am less delighted that politicians like Mr Tracey can get away with claiming that there is conflict on the streets between people who cycle and people who are pedestrians. As Chris Boardman said in his interview on the BBC last week: "In Denmark...they changed the law. If there's an accident between a bike and a pedestrian, then the bike is at fault, unless it can be proved otherwise. If there's an accident between a car and a bike, then the car is at fault. It creates a duty of care all the way up the chain."

I think Boardman is absolutely right to focus on the idea of a "duty of care" on the roads. But I think Richard Tracey is wrong to victimise people who cycle. The "duty of care" belongs to all road users. Tracey seems to think the onus is entirely and exclusively on cyclists. He's wrong.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Have the Daily Mail & Evening Standard published a fake article about cyclist road behaviour to call for compulsory cycle licences? Even if it's true, I think they're missing the point. We should be presumed at fault if we cycle into a pedestrian, yes. And we should be presumed at fault if we drive into a pedestrian or cyclist too. Licences won't change things, changing the environment will.

Daily Mail wants this little person on a
bicycle to have a licence. Would Petronella Wyatt
call her a 'lycra lout'?
Over the weekend, the Daily Mail published an article about cycling by Petronella Wyatt. The Evening Standard quoted that article in its Monday morning issue.

The article in the Mail is deliberately provocative:

"The majority [of cyclists] are safe – but not all. There are rogues: Lycra louts whose intentions are as low as the meanest hit-men. In 2012, I had my handbag stolen by a gang of youths on bikes....I have seen cyclists on the pavement and on the wrong side of the road. Others fail to signal, overtake on the inside and ignore traffic lights." And so it goes on.

The Evening Standard has re-purposed much of the article in today's edition that calls for obligatory licensing for people who ride bikes. It claims that Wyatt's mother was knocked down twice in one month.

The thing is, in my opinion, this article is fake. The reason I say that is simple. In February 2010, the Daily Mail published an article also by Petronella Wyatt that is almost identical to the 2012 article. According to this weekend's Mail on Sunday, Wyatt's mother was run over by a cyclist on 16 August. According to the Mail she was also run down in 2010. According to the Standard, she was hit twice last month alone. It's not clear if her mother has now been knocked down once, twice or possibly three times (Once in 2010, once or possibly twice in 2012).
It is possible (albeit dreadful if true) that her mother was indeed struck twice by a 'lycra lout'. But something makes me feel this is all a bit fishy. You see, if you run the two articles side by side, you'll see the wording is almost verbatim:

In 2012 Wyatt writes: "I could hear a convulsion in his voice. It sounded like stifled laughter. He could not repress a gurgling sound before he managed to compose himself to express sympathy and shock. 'Again? How awful!'"

What's wrong with this picture? This is supposed
to be a cycle highway. Poor street design encourages
poor road user behaviour at junctions like this
In 2010 Wyatt wrote almost the exact same text: "The inevitable convulsion took place in the nerves of my friend's face. She looked as if she was going to laugh. She could not suppress a gurgling sound before she managed to compose her features into the correct position of commiseration and shock, and say: 'How awful!'"

And so it continues - the same text amended ever so slightly.

Let's assume that Wyatt's mother was indeed hit twice by someone on a bicycle. That would be truly awful. Awful enough that a good journalist ought to be able to write about it convincingly and from the heart. But Wyatt hasn't done that. She (or someone else in the organisation) has taken old copy and rehashed it. I'm afraid that leads me to question the veracity of her claims.

I disagree with the tone of Wyatt's article. Her facts are also wrong, especially the points about who's to blame for collisions involving people on bikes.

178 people were injured when walking in London last year by people riding on bikes. Wyatt's mother therefore makes up between 0.55% and 1.7% of those incidents. Let's also remember that 77 people were killed in collisions with motor vehicles when walking in London last year (none of them by people on bicycles and yet plenty of people are killed or seriously injured by motor vehicles on the pavement, not only on the road), up 33% on the previous year. The number of people seriously injured on our roads while cycling has also jumped 36% over the long term trend.

It's worth noting that a significant proportion of the people killed cycling on London's roads this year have been children. I'm not sure if Wyatt proposes licensing 'lycra lout' children or not.

But rather than dwell on those issues, I think we should be reframing this debate. Wyatt calls for compulary cycle licensing. In all honesty, that's hadly going to make a difference. Have driving licences prevented 77 people being killed while walking in London this year? No.

I think the issue is about how our streets function. For everyone. And London in particular has a real issue on its streets.

Chris Boardman on BBC Breakfast calling for a change in the street environment. For all of us.

London pedestrians often feel intimidated by people on bikes. Londoners on bikes feel intimidated by people in cars and in particular by people driving minicabs, vans and lorries. The result is that our streets are places where the fittest or the toughest or, frankly, the biggest take precedence and everyone else has to jump out of the way. That can be seen at pedestrian crossings where there's often not enough time to cross the road or where some people on jump the lights on bikes. But it can also be seen in the street when people drive through red lights (happens much more than the press would like to have you think), on mobile phones, undertaking other drivers at speed. We have created a street environment which stinks. And we're all the worse for it.

And I'll be frank. Some people in London cycle like jerks. They cut other people up, they jump lights, they behave badly to other road users. Equally, some people in London drive like jerks. They undertake, swerve because they're on their phones, cut up pedestrians and cyclists. I despair when I see people cycle like antisocial idiots. But I've become so used to people driving like antisocial idiots that I almost don't notice. Unless I'm on my bike, when they pose a serious threat to me.

As I mentioned in this blog last week, I think that our streets have been actively designed to generate more conflict between different road users, not less. And it's time for that to change. For all of us, whether we're walking, cycling or driving.

Blaming cyclists alone is not the answer. I'm going to leave with the words of Chris Boardman on Radio5 live last week:

“The emphasis shouldn’t be just on the cyclist. We’re creating a symptom without looking at the cause. If someone gets shot on the street, the answer isn’t that everyone should wear body armour. You say – ‘hang on a minute, maybe we need to look at the reasons behind this?’.”

Boardman's interview on BBC Breakfast was even better. You can view it above.

We need more voices like Chris Boardman's to come forward and less knee-jerk reactionary re-hashing from the like of Petronella Wyatt.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Unbelievable editorial in The Richmond Magazine: 'The only good cyclist is a dead one'. Councils are still actively creating road user conflict, which legitimises disgusting views like this.

My video of Blackfriars Bridge late rush hour last night. More people on bikes than in cars. Guess who the road is designed for? The people in cars, obviously.

Earlier today, Richmond Cycling Campaign published a copy of the latest issue of The Richmond Magazine on its website.

Richmond Cycling Campaign has has a hard enough time battling a council that seems utterly disinterested in anything other than more and more cars on its streets. The council is proposing removing one of the very few half-way decent bits of cycling infrastructure in Twickenham

The Richmond Magazine is one of those glossy free magazines filled with estate agent adverts that normally witters inconsequential nothingness about the local area. But not this time.

This time, its editor Richard Nye saw fit to write about the Olympics, in particular about cycling at the Olympics. And he said this:

"After years of a sullen rage against the cycling fraternity - as a daily driver on busy roads, I tend towards the temperate view that the only good cyclist is a dead one - I suddenly found myself experiencing strange feelings of attachment towards the pedal stars of Team GB"

The cycling comments are pretty dreadful. His comments about 'care in the community' aren't much better, to be frank.

Look at the way the road narrows just where the
lorry passes the cyclists. Road user conflict designed
by the council?
The reality is that a lot of people think thoughts that aren't too different to the ones written in The Richmond Magazine. I wrote a few months ago about the young driver at Vauxhall gyratory: "I HATE cyclists the way they swarm my car like the plague, they have no awareness of sharing the road", she said.

The thing is, I can completely understand why some drivers (especially those that have never ridden a bike as an adult) 'hate' cyclists.

Pictured left, a lorry driving along Cycle Super Highway 7. Look carefully. The lorry is passing through a 'pinch point. There's a traffic island in the middle of the road. And on the left of the lorry, there's an advertising bollard on a bit of pavement that sticks out and takes all of the left handside of the carriageway. In other words, all these cyclists and the lorry are forced to share a bit of road that is the same width as the lorry. The reality is a) this must be unbelievably stressful for the lorry driver having to sum up all the bikes and the narrow road b) it's unbelievably stressful but with added risk for people on bikes. Often, when I cycle here, I have to either force my way through the gap, confidentally 'taking the lane' and hoping the lorry will slow down or I wimp out and give way to the lorry which is behind me but which is clearly not going to slow down.

My point is this: This conflict between cyclists and motorists is actively designed into the street layout.

The sheer ignorance of the need to separate the flow of cyclists and large motor vehicles on our roads is what results in ridiculously dangerous street layouts like the one pictured above.

And it's exactly this sort of ridiculous street layout that causes conflict. As a cyclist, I hate cycling through this gap and 'hate' the fact that most motorists don't give me space to cycle through it safely. When I drive here, I 'hate' trying to second guess how the cyclists are going to respond to the street layout.

It's a lose-lose situation. And I think it explains to some extent why the editor of The Richmond Magazine feels it is legitimate to 'hate' cyclists in the way he does.

A lot of people tell me that 'if only cyclists didn't run red lights' that they might deserve proper cycling infrastructure. Or they seek to victimise me as a 'cyclist' in some form or fashion. The fact is that, in most of the UK, we compete for space and for our lives far too often on infrastructure designed for motor vehicles, with road laws designed for motor vehicles.

I'd like to see the infrastructure and the rules start to change. And that, in time, will cause people to see idiotic views like those of editor of The Richmond Magazine, as socially inacceptable. I'd also like to see that same editor out on a bicycle, in Richmond. And see how he likes feeling like a vulnerable road user, rather than a superior, car-wrapped road user.

If you want to contact the publisher directly, use this link for relevant contact details.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The army wants protected bike lanes in its garrison town; now the AA is calling for them and British Cycling too. It's time for London to get serious about cycling. And you need to help. Here's how.

Ceci n'est pas un bike lane.
Cycle super highway 7 at Clapham.
Where's the bike lane?
Last week, I wrote about the fact that British Cycling – the body which is responsible for the emergence of cycling as a winning sport in the UK – has decided to throw its weight behind the sort of cycling infrastructure you see in Denmark and the Netherlands: “We must have a set ofdesign guidelines for road and cycling infrastructure that are in line withthis international best practice and the political will to fund and implementit consistently throughout [London]."

Impressive stuff.

Even more impressively, Edmund King, the president of the Automobile Association followed up with a message of his own. In an editorial sent to every AA member, he wrote this:

There’s plenty I don’t fully agree with in Edmund King’s piece but I do agree with the general tone and I think the fact that the President of the AA is making such a bold statement about cycle infrastructure is very significant.

The point about cycle infrastructure really came home to me over the weekend when I travelled through an army town in North Yorkshire – Catterick Garrison. I spend a lot of time in North Yorkshire these days but not much in Catterick. Outside of Catterick, provision for everyday, utility cycling is essentially non-existent. What you have is lots of incredibly fast, winding roads, plenty of space for a cycle track but you have to grin and bear it, mixing with lorries and people speeding to work and back. Not at all fun. 

Amazingly, though, Catterick is criss-crossed by a grid of wide, protected bike tracks that take you places you actually want to go. There’s even a two mile off-road route along a disused railway to Richmond - the nearest big town. It's more direct than the narrow, fast and winding main road that is the alternative route. 
Bike track nips behind a bus stop in Catterick.

Copyright Oliver Dixon and licensed for reuse under this
Creative Commons Licence
The bike tracks in Catterick have traffic signals to help people cross major roads on their bikes. There are separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists, even separate pedestrian and cyclist bridges. There are (mostly) proper Dutch-style bike tracks that cross side roads as well. North Yorkshire council at one stage even toyed with the idea of closing some rural roads around the town so that they are no longer through roads for motor vehicles but only for bikes and pedestrians. This is the sort of thinking that is normal in the Netherlands and almost unheard of in the UK.

Later that evening, I spoke with someone from Sustrans who helped designed the bike grid. The army wanted its people to get about by bike, so it ‘sliced through problems’, he advised, and paid for the bike grid, with a little bit of help from North Yorkshire County Council and with advice from Sustrans. The result? Over 15km of properly protected bike tracks that connect residential areas with shops, schools and the rest of the garrison.

Clearly, with the right will and the right funding, the army has bashed heads together and made a proper, safe, protected cycle grid.

Boris plus bicycle. Shamelessly borrowed
from the excellent, new TwoWheelsGood blog
What’s particularly interesting about all this is that I’m hearing more and more (fairly concrete) rumours that Boris Johnson is serious about creating proper, safe cycle tracks in London. According to Two Wheels Good blog: “There is strong support from Mr Johnson for putting segregated lanes onmajor carriageways in Kensington and Chelsea”. I’ve heard similar (very well-sourced) noises about segregated cycle tracks in other parts of London as well.

No surprise there. Westminster MP Mark Field and Kensington MP Malcolm Rifkind are seemingly very unsupportive. What’s good enough for the army isn’t good enough for their Conservative voters, it seems. In that respect (just to show I’m not being party political about it, my own local Labour MPKate Hoey is almost toxically anti-cycling).

I think the likes of Rifkind, Hoey and Field are living in the past. I’m going to make a prediction that within five years, there will be a couple of high-quality, long-distance protected bike tracks in central London along major carriageways. But we might need the single-mindedness of the army to ‘slice through problems’ and bash together the heads of reactionary, conservative (of any political party) councillors and local MPs who want to subject Londoners to more motor cars, more noise, more pollution, more road deaths, fewer chances to cross the road and dying high streets choked with cars.

It’s time London started to change. I’m starting to think it might just get there. If Boris Johnson can bash the heads of these MPs and councillors together, I’d be very impressed indeed. But it’s still a very big ‘if’ at this stage.

What’s going to help, whatever your political views, is if everyone who reads this article writes to their MP and their councillors. And if you keep on at them (politely) about sorting out your neighbourhood to make it a place where people can cycle and walk or play in the street. It’s easy. Just click on Writetothem’s website and fire off an email to the list of councillorswho pop up against your postcode. Good luck.