Wednesday, 3 October 2012

City of London proposes to 'encourage' people NOT to cycle in the Square Mile and to cleanse it streets of bicycles by sending people through Hackney and Islington instead. Space for people on foot. Space for people in taxis. No space for people on bicycles?

Leadenhall Street as it looks now. Not particularly pretty
but at least there's room for people to cycle here. 
The City of London has published some 'Area Strategies' recently that have been sitting in my inbox for a couple of weeks. I should have looked at them sooner. 

These Area Strategies represent sizable chunks of the Square Mile. 

And they look, to me, like a recipe to eliminate cycling from the City of London. 

As I say this, I should point out that I  have to be slightly careful. I am meeting the new team responsible for the City of London's streets in a few days' time. From what we've discussed so far, they do genuinely intend to create conditions to make cycling safer and easier through the City of London. On the one hand, I don't want to alienate those City of London officials. But on the other, the scale of what's proposed is so ghastly, that I feel I have to bring these points to wider attention.

The reason is that the Area Plans read as if cycling is to be simply removed from the City of London. 

Leadenhall Street after the refurbishment. The cycle lane is
now underneath that tree. You'll share the very narrow lane with
lorries and taxis that can't get past you, nor you past them. 
What makes me think that? Very specific, really. The City of London plan for the area around Liverpool Street is to "Review the current hierarchy of cycling routes, and explore the possibility of encouraging alternative routes through the quieter streets of Hackney and Islington." Yes, you read that right. The City of London Area Plan - and remember that these schemes all involve spending millions of pounds - is to bump cyclists off into other boroughs to deal with. 

Still not convinced? Let's look at Moorgate. What's the plan here? The plan is to "Widen pavements and consider ways to rationalise vehicle, cycle and bus traffic within the roadway in order to create a calmed environment for all road users and pedestrians". 

Here's one they made earlier. Cheapside. Note how the van is
scraping past the chap on a bike, now that the lanes are nicely narrowed
No harm in that, you might think. Moorgate is a horrible street to walk along. It's deeply deeply horrible to cycle along too. The reality, though, is that this means it will be virtually unusable on a bicycle - the road will be too narrow to get safely past the stacks of buses and taxis that clog this street every rush hour. There simply won't be anywhere to go. 

What's the plan at Bishopsgate? Yes, you guessed it: "Review the allocation of space to the footways, bus stops, roadways and central reservations, considering the current dangers for cyclists and the congestion caused by buses, both on the carriageway and around bus stops outside Liverpool Street station." Fair enough, perhaps. The road is horrible for pedestrians. But it's a downright death trap to cycle along. Earlier this year, a well-respected, hugely experienced cycle courier was killed cycling here. 

All of this information comes from the City of London's Area Plan consultation pages. The City is asking for feedback. 

This is what it now looks like when you
cycle along Cheapside. Where there used to
be space to cycle in, now there is none.
If you have time and patience, you can trawl through around 50 different PDF documents and then politely point out why you think these schemes aren't positive news for safer cycling. Personally, I don't suggest you bother. 

The tragedy is that I do agree with the City of London's plans to make conditions more agreeable for pedestrians. There is massive pedestrian footfall here. 

But I fundamentally disagree with closing the Square Mile to people who want to travel from A to B by bicycle by narrowing all the main roads and by not providing useful, direct, safe alternatives. 

The Liverpool Street Area Plan talks of the need to 'Review the current hierarchy of cycling routes'. Yes, spot on. 

But there is no such thing as a current hierarchy of cycling routes in the City of London.  

If there were a decent network of cycling routes through the City, then it would make sense to prioritise some routes for pedestrians, some for cycling, others for motor vehicle throughput. But the Area Plans lack a vision for cycling in the City of London, other than a vision which shunts cyclists into Hackney and Islington, and do not (yet) propose any sort of cycle network through the Square Mile. 

As such, each of these Area Plans will come together with the combined effect of making it near impossible to cycle safely and directly through the City of London. 

That is, unless the City of London plans to create a network of routes where cycling is prioritised above through motor traffic. 

There are tiny stretches through the City where these routes almost, exist. Such as the quiet route from Smithfield Market to Blackfriars. But they don't join up. And no-one in the City of London looks at them and even realises they have the beginnings of a cycle network to build on. 

The City of London needs a network of safe, direct routes for people to travel from A to B by bicycle that head east to west and north to south. 

My fear is that the Area Plans as they stand, take absolutely no account of routes that people want and need to cycle along. And as such, combined with a philosophy of 'encouraging' people not to cycle in the City of London, we can kiss goodbye to safe, direct routes for people to cycle. 

There are tens of thousands of people who cycle into or through the City of London every day. 

Some of those 'cyclists' are fairly senior people. 

It's time that some of those senior City of London folk started to stand up for cycling. Whether they like it or not, cycling has become a political issue in the Square Mile.