Wednesday, 21 November 2012

London politicians have done us proud: All four political parties call on Mayor to double spending and create "protected" cycle network to make London a city where 10% of journeys are made by bicycle. Report notes most cyclist collisions in London result from motor vehicles passing too closely to cyclists

Cycling as it should be. This is a TNT post man
delivering parcels in the City of London
last week. Normal bike, normal clothes, normal smile
Something quite extraordinary has happened this week. Early this morning, the six Labour, four Conservative, one Green and one Liberal Democrat politicians who make up the Transport Committee on the London Assembly published their first report on the future of cycling in London.

The report doesn't pull its punches. The Committee's chair, Caroline Pidgeon puts it quite clearly: "Many Londoners do not think London is an inviting place to cycle, and they want to see the Mayor and Transport for London build infrastructure that offers physical protection to cyclists." Amen to that.

The report is compelling reading.

Boris Johnson claimed earlier this year (in response to a question by Jenny Jones) that "The number of casualties per cycle trip overall in London has been coming down in spite of the very considerable increase in cycling."

The Assembly crunches the numbers and the facts speak for themselves: The Mayor is wrong on just about every count. Yes, the number of casualties per cycle trip in London decreased from 2001-6. But ever since then, cyclist casualty numbers have been on the up. The risk of injuries to cyclists has been increasing on a per trip basis ever since 2007. In real terms, the number of people slightly injured increased from 2,857 in 2001 to 3,926 last year and serious injuries up from 444 in 2001 to 555 last year. In Copenhagen, the report points out, the number of journeys by bike grew by 50% between 1995 - 2010 yet the risk of cycle casualties dropped four-fold in the same period. In London, there has been a small increase in the number of cycling trips yet the risk of becoming a cycling casualty has also increased whereas when the number of cycling trips increased in Denmark, the risk of becoming a cycling casualty decreased. The report is quietly damning about this: "The Mayor believes the 'safety in numbers' effect will improve cycling safety in London but this is not currently evident". Too true.

Why has the risk of becoming a cycling casualty increased in London when it decreased in Denmark and in other countries? Well, a big part of the problem is that the Mayor is spending not enough money to make cycling safer and the money he is spending may not be going to the right places, says the London Assembly report.

The reality of cycling in outer London. This is supposed
to be a bike route in Newham (Barking Road). Looks
like a very wide pavement (no cycling allowed) and a dual
carriageway to me (go play with the lorries)
The report points out that a whopping 50% of the Mayor's cycling budget has been spent on cycle hire (between 2010-13) and 25% on the Cycle Super Highways. The total spend on the Cycle Super Highways to date is £62million. How on earth the Mayor has spent £62million on what was largely a) either already there a decade ago or b) is literally just blue paint inside bus lanes beats me.  But the really telling thing is just how little money is being spent elsewhere. A whopping £3million has been spent over the last two years across the entire area of outer London. Enough to buy you, well, not very much at all.

The report puts this spending in context: "In the last four years TfL has spent more money than before on cycle infrastructure.... but the budget has not been spent on the type of cycling facilities that maximise safety for vulnerable road users." Exactly. Denmark spent its cycling money on making cycling facilities that are safe enough for everyone to use. The number of cycle trips went up. The chance of becoming a cycling casualty went down. Same thing happened in Paris, the same thing is happening in New York and the same thing happened in the Netherlands. What the London Assembly is saying (but doesn't quite say it loudly enough) is that the Mayor is spending money on the wrong things. He's wasting money on poor quality cycling infrastructure and denying any serious money to cycling outside zones one and two.

The result of this rather rather odd pattern of spending is that London's "cycling facilities are inconsistent between boroughs, and it is often not possible to find continuous safe routes." Politely put but very true. What's even worse is that due to changes in funding put in place by the Mayor: "cycling has been de-prioritised in some boroughs" (My own view is that boroughs like Westminster, Richmond and Newham have utterly failed cycling).

The London Assembly thinks the Mayor should change this. It recommends that Transport for London should spend 2% of its annual budget to improve cycling (currently London spends about 0.8% of its annual budget on cycling, of which over half goes on the cycle hire scheme and hardly any goes on meaningful cycle route infrastructure). The Assembly notes that Edinburgh is to spend 5%.

Believe it or not this is a bike lane. Cyclists hate it, pedestrians
hate it. This is the City of London's main south-north cycle route 
Most importantly, the report says that the Mayor should wake up and smell the coffee. The money should be spent on building proper cycle route infrastructure. The sort of thing that other cities all around the world have done but London has completely failed to do.

The majority of cyclist collisions in London, according to the report (quoting data from TfL), "result from motorised vehicles passing too closely to cyclists, turning across the path of cyclists or opening a car door into the path of a cyclist".  The politicians call loud and clear for "protected space for cyclists" to protect against exactly these problems. Cycling facilities should be built "to accommodate mistakes by cyclists or other road users", in particular to accommodate children and the elderly.

The report is literally packed with common sense and with the facts and data to back up that common sense. But the real issue is whether the Mayor will listen and act. The London Assembly is very clear. It concludes: "Political will is needed to make cycling a mainstream form of transport that is supported by high quality, safe cycling routes. There could, and should, be more segregated cycle space in London. Currently, decisions to give cyclists protected space are often turned down because there is a lack of political will to take space from motorised traffic."

The thing is, it's now up to the Mayor to show he has the political will to make this happen. Either that, or it's up to Londoners to make sure they pressure the Mayor or vote for a Mayor who will make this happen.


  1. It's great news, let's just hope it can be turned in to real physical changes, I wish we had 150m for cycling in Liverpool! It does seem from the document that they have taken the time to listen and understand the real problems, I suppose it is up to Boris to do the same now.

  2. I can tell you now that a large proportion of the £54m spent on the cycle superhighways (sic) has been spent on consultants' fees or recharges of internal costs (e.g. the mayor's own time; and overheads). The actual physical costs of laying down blue paint would be a small fraction.

    1. I suspect you are right. When we examined the City of London's application of LCN funding from TfL over the last 3-4 years of its life, we typically found that you could break down the costs into three roughly equal parts. One was concrete/asphalt/men in hard hats, the other two were consultants' reports and a contribution to the City of London's highways dept salary costs. Quite how the bureaucracy element could eat up so much money defeats me.

  3. A great report and a good write up too. And I imagine Boris will say he agrees with their recommendations but end up changing nothing. So what can we do to make him listen this time?

  4. Some of the spending might go to providing the means to get major construction site materials moved in and out of the City by rail (1000-1500T per trains) and river (2000T per barge/barge string as far upstream as Battersea) In Paris supermarkets and retailers are getting containers in and then making short transhipment trips from Seine to stores.

    Removing the trucks from the street (totally removing the risk) is a higher level of intervention than providing mirrors and other devices that you hope will be used (mitigating the risk). there are added benefits to this - less damage to the road from the most damaging traffic (4 axle tipper & skip trucks), massive reduction in carbon/emissions footprint, fewer trucks needed to move material to rail or river - big cost savings for developers.

    South Bank development threatens 300 trucks per day (10,000T) Elephant & Castle sites will deliver equal or larger number of truck movements for many months, this won't disapper if only road design changed - we need radical move to get this freight moved in to city by rail and river, and that also frees up the roadspace for cycling.

    1. Yes indeed. The current clutch of developments next door to Blackfriars Bridge - Kings Beam House/Sea Containers House, Kings Reach House and One Blackfriars Road - are all right on top of the Thames embankment. If the first of these had used the river to ship in materials and ship out spoil, it would not be necessary to close Upper Ground cycle route NCN4 and send cyclists on a dangerous magical mystery tour around Stamford Street

    2. And I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice just how many extra lorries there are on the road lately. The sheer number of building works, amount of roadworks and extra lorries has made my journey to work considerably less pleasant and more dangerous lately.

  5. I downloaded the document and will enjoy it with a glass of Calvados in front of the fire over the weekend, but meanwhile I assume that the report slightly pulls its punches so as to maintain unity between the diverse political groups and avoid pushing the Conservatives into a minority report. I was intrigued to see that the Tory participants did not include the most cycle-friendly Tory AMs, James Cleverley and Andrew Boff, but did include names like Victoria Borwick and “Dick” Tracey, which I do not associate with converts to the cycling cause. In that light I imagine the tightrope must have been even thinner.

    If it really spoke its mind, I imagine it would say the following:

    - The improvement in road safety for cyclists and pedestrians all occurred during the incumbency of the last mayor. Since Boris took over, the trend for both has been relentlessly upwards. Given that Livingstone was hardly up there with the new Sustrans Mayor of Bristol in terms what you might expect for cycle promotion, this contrast is all the starker
    - Boris has squandered huge sums on vanity projects instead of on the largely unnoticed (by non-cyclists) and unglamorous mass of small incremental improvements, like junction design, which actually makes a difference. The cycle hire scheme is certainly welcome but it has cost an inordinate amount of money and has not been taken up to the extent anticipated. It has also apparently been used in ways not envisaged when it was conceived, eg by longer distance commuters for the final leg of their journey to work. The “super”highways are just blue paint which at best conveys no priority to cyclists and does not guarantee, for example, not to be obstructed by parked cars, and worst leads cyclists directly into places of danger
    - The fundamental reason why conditions are getting worse for cyclists, with more danger and more unpleasant conditions, is that Boris and TfL are totally in thrall to the motoring lobby, and pursue their agenda almost to the exclusion of all else, through the concept of “network assurance”, otherwise described as “journey time reliability” or “smoothing traffic flow” which in practical reality seems to mean “cram as many motor vehicles as possible through as fast as possible”. This policy has also made things much worse for pedestrians, through changes to traffic light phasing which increase the green phase for vehicles by reducing the green phase for pedestrians to cross, through “SCOOT” software designed to optimise traffic flow, not pedestrian flow, and removal of pedestrian crossing altogether.

  6. There's a rather negative report of this on the BBC News website today ( In the "Analysis" section it seems to put blame on bloggers with too high expectations. I suspect the journalist is not a cyclist and he doesn't understand the issues well. I guess we need to educate these people too.

  7. I agree with the headline statement that vehicles pass too close to cyclists. There is definitely a culture of "squeezing past" in the UK. At least every 2 or 3 days I make a mental note that a vehicle is just too close to me, and about once a week it really is just too close for comfort. It kind of stems from the first unwritten rule of motorised road use... "Though shalt never be held up by a cyclist", the corollary of which is rule #2 "I must always overtake a cyclist, and do it at the earliest opportunity". Let me know if you want to see what the other rules are :-)

  8. I work for a borough highways department and we charge "fees" for our work on all schemes. It does mean there is a bit less to spend on works, but if we did not self-fund in this way, we would have staff cut and so would either do less or farm work out (pay higher fees to consultants). Many boroughs operate this way as a legacy from years ago when the Tories made internal services bid for their own work. Still, at least the "communications" and "regeneration" teams are funded rather than fee charging!

  9. Robert Peston was on Radio 4's PM the other day (19th November) in connection with the Prime Minister's assertion that Britain is faced with the economic equivalent of a wartime foe:

    "If the UK is to vanquish economic stagnation and improve the country's productive potential, the government has to take the kind of risks embraced by Churchill in the Second World War. Only this time, David Cameron implied, it's the enemy within we have to defeat, such as the civil servants who take months and years to assess the economic and environmental impact of a new runway or a high-speed railway. [...] But is a culture of dotting the i's and crossing the t's in Whitehall really the cancer claimed by David Cameron? Was it, for example, too much attention to detail by officials that botched the West Coast rail franchise bidding process [...]? The billions wasted on trying to make the NHS more efficient by improving its IT: was that because Whitehall was not gung-ho enough? [...]

    "There's an alternative explanation for why Whitehall is so poor at promoting and organising the economically important modernisation of British infrastructure, which is that ministerial and official thinking is often not rigorous enough, and individual ministers and civil servants are often too scared to take personal responsibility for their actions. True risk taking of the war-time sort, some would say, is about analysing risks with great care but to a tight timetable. It's not about ignoring risks. [...]

    "The main flaw in the government's approach to stimulating important investment in road, rail and other job-creating, productivity-enhancing investments," Robert Peston had been told by many people at the recent CBI conference, "is that the Treasury is refusing to assume any of the serious financial risks that these projects will go over budget. The point is that billions of pounds of insurers and pension-funds capital is ready to be invested in Britain's future, if only the Chancellor would underwrite some of the associated risks. Perhaps the Prime Minister should remind the Treasury of one this government's earlier catch-phrases that evokes the Blitz spirit: we're all in this together. That suggests public sector and private sector need to pull together if we're to get out of this mess."

    The Mayor, who was listening to this report, thought it very good, and agreed with every word. He said, "There is a massive opportunity here in London, and indeed throughout the rest of the country, to get things going pretty fast, and I'm not just talking about building hundreds of thousands of homes."

    The Northern Line extension to Battersea and Nine Elms, for example, "is literally shovel-ready: you could start it tomorrow, more or less [...] but it's just taking a very long time to get going. What is needed," he said, "is for the Treasury to say, Yup, we love it."

  10. I find it extremely frustrating that the Mayor can say he is "particularly interested in LCC's proposals for a Tube-style map", given that all they did was rip off my idea.

    I find it extremely frustrating that, according to the Transport Committee report: "The Mayor has also expressed interest in [...] the ‘Sky Cycle’ concept – a network of elevated cycle tracks running above railway lines or suspended from bridges," given that this idea was laughed to scorn by virtually everybody else.

    I find it extremely frustrating that my proposal - which Professor John Parkin from LSBU has described as "technically flawless" - which is supported by many boroughs - which would not in any way be constrained by the planning process and is, therefore, "literally shovel-ready" - which is mainly concerned, to quote Paul M (above), with the "unglamourous mass of small incremental improvements" - which lends itself to private investment through sponsorship - which Ben Irvine from Cycle Lifestyle has identified a hundred reasons in favour of, and which nobody else has found a single reason against (at least not one they are prepared to repeat) - which was "one of the judge's favourite innovations" at the GeoVation Challenge - which is supported by more than 1750 signatories, of which more than 40% are female - which is comprehensive and city-wide - and which would (as we are hoping to prove very shortly) reduce the number of serious and fatal incidents among cyclists - as I say, I find it extremely frustrating that my proposal is basically ignored.

    The headline of this article, for example, calls on the Mayor to create a network of "protected" routes. Now, just on a point of fact, in the GLA report the word "protect/protected" is mentioned 22 times, the word "segregated/segregation" nine times, and the word "separate/separated" four times (not including all the small print at the end). However, the word "network" makes only 14 appearances, as follows:

    Road network: 4
    Transport for London Road Network (TLRN): 2
    Network capacity / resilience: 2
    Olympic / Paralympic Road Network: 2
    Network Rail: 1
    Sky Cycle (a network of elevated cycle tracks): 1
    LCN+ (barriers to completion): 2

    We can see where the emphasis of the report lies, which is odd when you recall that the key word, according to Steffen Rasmussen, is an "holistic" (0 times) approach and then a separation of functions.

    We need "joined-up" (0 times) thinking and a "strategic vision" (0 times) if London is truly to become a cyclised city. Instead, what we are likely to get - certainly if this report is anything to go by - is bits and pieces, or snippets.

    "Say you have a business appointment a mile from Norwich station," Norman Baker said in late 2010. "At the moment, people don't know how to get a mile beyond the station, so they drive all the way."

  11. Just a note on the picture: this looks remarkably like the postmen in NL, up and until the design and the logo on the bikebags. I did think TNT was originally something dutch. That would be a nice export.
    DHL even copied it here in NL: delivering by bike (bullits for DHL) is faster and therefore cheaper in the city centers. Because the streets are too narrow..... (there is thus not enough space for cars and vans)

  12. It's interesting that in this country, we say that the streets are too narrow, and that therefore there is not enough space for people on bicycles; whereas in Holland they say that the streets are too narrow, and that therefore there is not enough space for cars and vans.

    And they have the happiest children in the developed world and we have the least happiest ... go figure.