Thursday, 26 December 2013

Central London cycling grid - first positive signs of progress. Mayor's previous policies are seeing bus use in decline; private car use on the increase and bike use flatlining

Royal College Street bike path in Camden. Soon to be extended both north and south

I'm starting to hear some fairly interesting noises about the central London cycling grid, a proposed network of "routes for people who want to cycle slowly, in their ordinary clothes, away from most of the traffic". Phil Jones, the councillor responsible for transport in Camden council (and a great protagonist of the recently-launched Royal College Street cycle way pictured above) announced on twitter that the Royal College Street scheme will be extended next year (I believe up towards Kentish Town and down into central London). He also hinted at restrictions to motor traffic on Tavistock Place - the hugely popular east-west bike route across Bloomsbury. That bike route is operating way above the capacity it is built for with big queues of people cycling in the morning along very narrow and weirdly-laid-out bike tracks. By reducing through motor traffic here, the council can provide much better infrastructure for cycling and enable greater capacity of bikes than the route can currently handle.

Map of the proposed central London bike grid

Also in Camden, cycling will be finally be allowed on the contraflow bus lane that leads between Theobolds Road and New Oxford Street. This is really overdue. The changes should come into effect in the New Year. As Voleospeed blog points out, cyclists already use the bus contraflow because it is safer than having to fling yourself around the madness of Holborn gyratory but they are consistently being fined by the police for doing so. This is practically the only section of bus lane in London that is out of bounds to people on bikes as well and it is completely ridiculous it was ever allowed to go ahead on this basis in the first place given there are near identical road layouts elsewhere where bikes are allowed (think London Road near Elephant & Castle). It is good that Camden and TfL are finally rectifying this insane situation.

It seems to me that, within some boroughs at least, the cycle grid will be quite good. And what I mean by 'quite good' is that it will adhere to a new policy requirement adopted by the London Cycling Campaign that was suggested by Rachel Aldred. In a nutshell, that "policy is designed to ensure that we campaign for a dense network of streets that have either low-speed motor vehicles in low volumes, or protected space for cycling, including through junctions." (If you want to understand the policy in detail, read Rachel's post)

As I've stated in previous posts, however, it is by no means clear that this sort of thinking is going on in all the central London boroughs. Many parts of the grid that go through Westminster are a bit of a shambles and wiggle around complicated one-way systems. Worse than that, though, is the fact that Westminster quite clearly states it won't be building anything like the standards that the London Cycling Campaign is calling for. In fact, Westminster makes very clear that it will not consider implementing anything that makes it 'harder' for other types of vehicles to get around. In other words, people will end up having to cycle down taxi and white van ratruns in Westminster but they'll be able to cycle on calmed streets in Camden that don't allow through motor traffic and are therefore much less busy. What's more, Westminster makes it pretty obvious that it thinks kerbside deliveries are more important that protected cycle lanes on busy main roads.

Cycling mode share in London is beginning to flat line. 

This situation has to change. If you look at the figures releases last week, cycling in London has suddenly begun to flatline. It's well worth having a read of the review in AsEasyAsRidingABike blog. The latest stats also show by the way is that the number of bus journeys is suddenly in decline for the first time in over a decade and private car use is beginning to actually increase in outer London. I have to think that these are the result of policy decisions by the Mayor.

It is absurd that bus use is declining and private car use increasing while bike use is flatlining. Our city is getting more and more crowded as its population grows. A transport policy that discourages highly efficient use of roads by bus transport and bike transport while increasing car use is bad for congestion, bad for pollution, bad for business and, ultimately the result of short-sighted policy-making in the recent past. That needs to change. And local authorities like Westminster can't be allowed to pursue policies that further privilege motor traffic at the cost of bus and bike.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Needs your feedback: Westminster council publishes a cycle strategy designed by a drunk spider. Some of this is fairly decent but a lot of it is really second-rate. Please fill out the online survey (link at the bottom)

Believe it or not, the pink line is meant to be a direct and convenient bike route. Call me stupid? 

Westminster council (or, rather, the City of Westminster as it calls itself) has this week released its draft cycling strategy. You can comment on the strategy on Westminster's website.

The strategy is to deliver what Westminster calls a network of 'well-signposted, direct and continuous cycle routes' through central London. Pictured above is one of those 'direct and continuous cycle routes'. The Jubilee Line will take you from St. James's Park, up Bond Street to north of Oxford Street. Now, the big and positive thing about this is that you will - by the looks of it - be able to bike north up Bond Street and that is a big deal indeed. But just look at the insane amount of back and forth you'll have to do to line up with the stretch on Bond Street. No-one in their right mind is going to use this is they face a literal maze of one-way streets just to connect with the clear stretch along Bond Street.

Or take a look at the stretch north of Oxford Street along New Cavendish Street. This route links with the main east-west bike track on Camden's streets across towards Bloomsbury and ultimately Islington. This looks like wiggle central. If you're in a car you can storm down three-lanes of New Cavendish Street but it looks to me like Westminster wants people on bikes to take the least direct, most convoluted route possible. Why not create space for cycling along the more direct route here, namely along New Cavendish Street and then in to George Street?

And what is critical, of course, is to actually make space for cycling. Some of these streets are already part of the London Cycle Network within Westminster. But the carriageway is filled with parked cars and with multiple lanes of fast-flowing motor traffic. Some of these routes aren't going to work unless that changes and they'll be nothing more than highly windy, convoluted ideas that no-one uses.

In balance, some of these routes look pretty encouraging. The planned 'Victoria Line', through Soho is one of those. It would shoot up (and down) Wardour Street and was first mooted with support from the Crown Estate back in April. That would then link to a route towards St James's Park and Vauxhall Bridge. It, also, seems to link, however to a Victoria Non-Line, namely to a long stretch where you'd presumably have to get off and walk your way to the other end of Green Park, having walked down a one-way road and crossed Piccadilly.

I'm also not at all sure what is going on a Trafalgar Square. You'd have to come up the Mall, do a left a right, a left, a right and right again, all to wiggle around and get yourself aligned with Whitcomb Street. Pretty messy if you ask me.

I'm sure it must be a mistake but the bike track through the middle of Hyde Park Corner disappears on this map, replaced instead with a jolly ride around a six lane gyratory. It's a bit like publishing a map of London and putting the M4 down the Grand Union Canal towpath.

I'd urge people to take a look at the map and look for similar crazy routes. Where you see a dotted line route and a full-line route, assume that the dotted line is an alternative proposal.

Once you've had a look at the map, please have a go at completing the online survey and making sure Westminster knows what you think. Some of this is downright rubbish and we need to make sure the council knows about that. Please post any comments on this blog as well and I'll wrap those up into an email to the council when I've got sufficient feedback.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Five cyclists, three pedestrians killed this week. Boris turns it into a debate about whether those dead road users are law-abiding or not. Unimpressed.

This was meant to be a 'cycle highway' not a 'danger road'

I've had to do a bit of soul-searching before writing this. The past 10 days have seen eight people killed on London's roads: three pedestrians and five people on bikes.

Speaking on radio, Boris Johnson's response to the cyclist deaths was to say: "There's no question of blame or finger-pointing. That doesn't work in these circumstances...But unless people obey the laws of the road and people actively take account of the signals that we put in, there's no amount of traffic engineering that we invest in that is going to save people's lives."

Now, my understanding is that in one of the five cycling deaths, the person killed may possibly have been on the wrong side of the road at the time.

But that doesn't excuse the fact that the Mayor seems, in my view, to have missed the point. The point is that precious little of Boris Johnson's "traffic engineering" is going on at the moment. At least, precious little is happening on the ground.

Let's get the facts straight here.

When the Mayor came to power, he scrapped investment in the London Cycle Network. The network was never the most impressive but it did provide a mechanism for councils across London to build decent routes for cycling along quieter roads. After several years of studies and consulting projects, the scheme was due to get an upgrade. That was scrapped in favour of the Cycle Super Highways.

Cycle Super Highway 7 in action in Clapham. The bike lane is under the red car. 

The idea at the time was to provide more direct routes for people to cycle. And I can see some merit in that policy. The Cycle Network was often disjointed, down dark, quiet (and sometimes downright scary) streets and it kind of shoved cycling out of sight, through industrial estates and along railway sidings. Instead, we would see cycling on London's main roads, it would be quicker and faster and easier. In theory, it should also have been safer.

The reality is that the Cycle Super Highways were complete and utter junk.

The reason they were complete and utter junk was simple. The Mayor has consistently backed a road planning team within Transport for London that sanctifies traffic flow of motor vehicles above all else. This policy, 100% supported by the Mayor meant that before they even got started, the planners of the Cycle Super Highways were hopelessly unable to deliver safe cycle routes. It meant that instead of designing the sorts of safe, semi-segregated bike routes you see springing up all over cities in the USA, all we got was expensive blue paint.

What this meant was that at Oval, the cycle lane is just some blue paint between three lanes of trunk road traffic, half of which is turning left directly across the cycle lane, which turns right at the same point that motor vehicles are turning left. At 40-50mph.

What this meant was that at Kings Cross, the scene of numerous cyclist and pedestrian deaths, TfL's solution was to suggest some mirrors, rather than a road layout that kept cyclists and HGVs apart.

In short, cyclists were supposed to cycle like they were cycling a car. On a trunk road. With vehicles at speeds of 40-50mph.

Slowly, we have begun to see the Mayor change direction. He should be quite rightly proud of the very newest section of Cycle Super Highway 2 to Stratford. It is by no means perfect but it is a step change better than things that have gone before it. And the Mayor's cycling vision is also impressive. The plan is for all new Cycle Super Highways to be segregated or at least semi-segregated from fast-moving, busy traffic on trunk roads.

Good. But what I fail to understand is what is taking so long. The East-West cycle highway has been on the cards for nearly a year. The route has been more or less agreed. But the first invite-only consultation on this new cycle highway is still several months away.

Cycle super highway at Oval - down the middle of the trunk road

Then there are problems with some local authorities to deal with as well. Westminster council is more or less sticking two fingers up at the Mayor as far as I can tell, refusing to play ball with the Mayor's plans to build a network of cycling quiet ways. I don't get that information from the Mayor, by the way, but I get that from a whole host of people connected with the programme who are watching with disbelief as Westminster council sinks deeper and deeper into the 1970s.

And then we come to the Mayor himself.

He could, had he chosen to, have spent time spelling out on LBC that he has serious intentions to get things right for cycling. That he is building a network of segregated highways. In fact, he could have admitted he screwed up and that he's starting again. I watched an excrutiating interview with the Mayor on the BBC, where he was interviewed by the political correspondent who asked him that exact question. Did the Mayor think he'd built the Cycle Super Highways on the cheap, he questioned. No real answer.

Every time the question of cycling comes up, the Mayor seems to flounder something about cyclists running red lights, not riding with lights, not riding according to the rules. He could choose instead to focus on the vision. Instead, it's like something kicks in his brain that says, hold on, most of my voters are in outer London and drive everywhere, they don't care about these cyclists all that much, so I'd better not sound too much like I'm pro-cycling.

It strikes me the Mayor is being a coward. He has a vision. It is, slowly but surely coming together. But he won't stand up for it. If he won't stand up for it in public, there's a risk it will never happen. And I think that the fact his Cycling Vision is taking sooooo long to be implemented is linked to his public lack of consistent support for his vision.

The Evening Standard put it spot-on in an editorial this week:

"This is a question of political will, not physical road space: other changes to our roads once branded unthinkable, such as bus lanes and the congestion charge, are now accepted parts of the system. London is a working city with a multiplicity of road users — cyclists, pedestrians, car and lorry drivers. Yet it should be possible for all of us to share the roads, given decent provision and mutual consideration. We can be a cycling city to rival any other in Europe: we just have to want to make it happen."

A previous Mayor implemented the congestion charge. People on phone-in radio stations whinged about it for ages in advance. But now it's accepted. If the Mayor stood up and said for once and for all, 'right you lot, this cycling stuff is going to change, because it has to change and I'm going to build these Cycle Super Highways properly and that means taking some space away from motor traffic and giving it to cycling', people would whinge. And, just as they did with the congestion charge, they'd get used to it. But he's not saying that. He's flip flopping from launching new cycle highways to blaming people killed on his cycle highways. And he risks failing to lead London to a better future on its streets.

Not good enough.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Mayor launches 'major step forward' with new cycle highway plus announces new segregated cycle highways and upgrades to existing routes. It's not before time.

New look Blackfriars Road? I hope so, but let's see
He is the third person to be killed on this negligent piece of non-infrastructure.
Also yesterday, a male cyclist was hit by a coach on Southampton Row (a road controlled by Camden council rather than the Mayor directly) at 7pm and suffered extremely serious injuries. This is the third person to suffer life-changing injuries while riding a bike across this junction in five years. Two people on bikes have also been killed here in the same period.
This is a bike and pedestrian only route. The barriers went up last week. There were none here for over a decade.
Pic courtesy Cycalogical blog
Earlier in the week, on a smaller scale by far, some chicane fences went up on extremely busy (and supposedly flagship) Lambeth local cycle route 3, between Ovaland Stockwell. The fences make this bike and pedestrian-only route near impossible to use during rush hour, encouraging people instead to use busy,fast, narrow roads instead: The sorts of roads where bikes, buses and lorries are forced to share space. Not smart. So far, TfL: and Lambeth councillors all agree that the chicanes are insane. No-one’s even sure who put them there. Was it a TfL contractor? Is it the housing association that owns the land? Let’s see.
And today, the Mayor rode for the first time along his new,seriously sexy Cycle Super Highway 2 Extension (CS2 X to those involved with the planning) that leads into Stratford from Bow roundabout. CS2X is a major shift for London. It is the first time that TfL has removed a motor traffic lane and installed a pretty decent, high quality bike track instead. The only problem is that it runs out at Bow roundabout and dumps you into the killer stretch of Highway 2 that was built a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, the London Cycling Campaign is right in its verdict that CS2X is a "major step forward" for cycling in London

You can see a review of the new Cycle Super Highway on this excellent and well-balanced BBC news report. 
The Mayor has also today admitted that the whole Cycle Highway scheme needs an upgrade. Earlier today, Transport for London announced that it intends to build a segregated bike track running from Kings Cross to Elephant & Castle in the south. It also releases new images of the proposed East-West track along the Embankment. If these two tracks get built, they will be a game changer, a serious central London cycle link heading in all four directions with a massive cycle cross roads at Blackfriars Bridge, where bicycles already account for 43% of all vehicles in the morning rush hour. 
Updated perspective showing planned bike track along The Embankment. Truly amazing, assuming it does happen.

This is serious stuff. If it happens. For the first time, there is some reason to believe it just might happen. According to today’s Evening  Standard, Transport for London will be hiring “128 new posts within its cycling division with new opportunities for designers, engineers and traffic modellers”. That would be very significant and would, at last, start to give cycling a serious seat at the table within TfL.
For the very first time, there are signs that CS2X and the recently announced plans for new Cycle Super Highways through central London might at last mean the Mayor starts delivering on that 2009 election promise. And it’s not before time. This is what he should have done the first time around, instead of delivering high-cost, seriously low quality routes lined with blue paint.
There are also promises to upgrade some of the other Cycle Super Highways, including route 7 to Balham and Tooting, which is little more than a bit of blue paint that is normally filled with parked cars. Cycle Super Highway 7 is utterly unusable outside of rush hour. Strangely enough, no-one cycles on it outside of rush hour. If we want people to switch to cycling, we need routes that work all day and all night. 
CS2X is the start of something that resembles a real commitment to infrastructure for people who want to pedal from place to place. Don't get too excited, though. The Embankment won't look like this until at least 2016. I don't know if there's a date for the north-south link or not (and my understanding is that the developers along Blackfriars Road are quite opposed to the bike lane for goodness knows what reason). Either way, there's still a lot of time for things to change. We have to keep the pressure up but we also have to acknowledge that, at long last, the Mayor has delivered a couple of miles of decent cycle highway. Which is exactly what he should have done several years ago. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Guest post: Two people killed at the same spot in City of London. Sticking plaster solutions suggested, yet again.

Last week, Transport for London published a consultation on plans to improve conditions for people cycling and walking on Upper Thames Street. I asked a colleague who works in one of the offices on Upper Thames Street what he thought about the plans. These are the comments of @KristianCyc

Yet again, some small changes planned to make Upper Thames Street a tiny bit less dangerous

Things are looking up for safety on Upper Thames St. The City of London is consulting on changes to this road, focusing on the junction leading to Southwark bridge road, where cycle super highway 7 terminates. This is important, because this is a popular route for cyclists and it is not a safe place to cycle. Sebastien Lukomski was killed here in February 2004

Following this tragedy, the City of London made changes to the road to make it safer for cycling, introducing feeder lanes and ASLs. 

Clearly, the changes implemented did nothing to address the problems at this junction, and in 2008 Nick Wright was killed just a few metres from where Sebastian Lukomski suffered the same fate. Just a few weeks ago another man escaped with his life but suffered severe leg trauma. Now the junction is to be changed again, perhaps it would be safe to assume that they will be extra keen to get it right this time? Sadly, history is repeating itself. 

Approaching Upper Thames Street from the south. The blue is a bike lane, apparently. Vehicles in the left hand lane are turning both left and right; people are generally cycling straight over the junction

Upper Thames St is an intimidating and unpleasant place to cycle even for the most hardened cyclists. The consultation alludes to the possibility of Andrew Gilligan’s “Crossrail for bikes” project being routed along this road. Serious levels of investment would be required to truly change the road and make it safe, pleasant and suitable for people of all ages and abilities. However, the route is not finalised and changes would not be finished until 2016 anyway. In the interim, Transport for London has proposed some measures that are worth having a look at. 

There are some good bits:
a straight across pedestrian crossing (current situation is people having to wait twice at a staggered crossing)
extension of the traffic island to prevent motor vehicles turning right into the car park on the south side and a) holding up the traffic and b) risking collision with cyclists (plenty of occasions that this has happened). Although if this reservation wasn't there, they'd be plenty more room for safer cycling.  

But there are some clangers that need addressing:
1) For cyclists continuing westbound on Upper Thames St, there is a significant left-hook risk from vehicles turning on to Southwark Bridge.
2) For pedestrians travelling east or west across Southwark Bridge, there is no pedestrian light or phase. Pedestrians are forced to guess when it is safe to walk across, and run for their lives if they get it wrong.
3) For cyclists travelling along Upper Thames St, cycle lanes are too narrow for HGVs in the next lane to overtake safely or are inconsistent, at one point simply merging with the next lane.
4) For cyclists joining Upper Thames St from Southwark Bridge, there is a left hook risk from vehicles turning left onto Upper Thames St, plus the confusion and conflict that invariably comes from the fact that vehicles in the left lane can also turn right.
5) Cyclists heading westbound on Upper Thames St and turning north at the junction have to cross two lanes of traffic to do so, which will be moving traffic if the light is green when the cyclist arrives at the junction

Of these most significant risks, two appear to have at least been identified. With regards to point (5), the plans introduce a waiting area for cyclists making this manoeuvre, suggesting that they see this as a problem. However, nothing has been done to solve the problem of crossing two lanes of traffic first. An earlier version of this plan included a Copenhagen-style right turn: Cyclists would have been able to turn left into the northbound carriageway on Southwark Bridge and then wait for the green lights to cross into the City of London. That seems to have been considered too difficult, so instead, you have to play chicken with two lanes of HGVs instead. 

TfL does seem to have identified the inconsistency of the cycle lanes along here (they narrow and widen like crazy), particularly when heading eastbound from the junction, at the point where the cyclist who suffered severe leg trauma was hit. At this location they intend to remove some of the pavement so they can continue to squeeze 1.5m of advisory cycle lane through the tunnel. Encouraging HGVs to overtake cyclists here with only 1.5m of cycle lane to occupy is a dangerous idea, and best considered by reading about how one person who witnessed CCTV footage of Nick Wright being killed reported on the incident:

Without sufficient separation between HGVs and cyclists there will continue to be a serious risk of this type of collision repeating itself. Experienced cyclists will ignore the new cycle lane, hold the traffic lane and deal with the subsequent aggression. Less experienced cyclists will be left at great risk. This is not acceptable. Please respond to this consultation and make it clear to the City of London that this isn’t good enough. These 5 risks should have been identified and they must be addressed in the new design.

With particular thanks to Bill Chidley whose past coverage of these incidents was invaluable in piecing together the history  on Upper Thames St.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Local roads in London: up to 75% of peak traffic is now people on bicycles and yet there is no consistent policy for making those roads safe for cycling

Here's one we don't have. Protected bike lane down the centre of Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC.
US Senate in the distance. 
Back in June, Transport for London issued the results of a detailed central London bicycle census. The numbers showed that during the morning peak, 24% of all vehicles inside the congestion charge are bicycles. Average that out across an entire 24 hours and you get 16% of all vehicles.

For some reason, however, TfL never published the full results at the time.

Handily, I have now obtained those results and the more intrepid among you can delve into the data yourselves. I've uploaded the morning peak data and the afternoon peak data.

For those of you who don't want to trawl the data, here's the morning rush hour data in summary. I was fairly stunned to see the numbers on Kennington Park Road, a route I use most mornings. The percentages are also fairly stonking. But what's just astonishing is to see figures in the high 50%+ range even outside the congestion charge area on places like Chelsea Bridge or, in fact, Kennington Park Road. Just as staggering are the numbers at places like Parliament Square which is downright hostile for cycling. The entry roads are all designed in a way to actively suppress cycling (in my view) and yet people have to cycle here and do so in huge numbers.

Morning peak - cyclists between 7 - 10am at various sites
Most of the streets listed above are fairly sizeable roads. It is equally telling to look at quieter streets on local roads. Streets like Black Prince Road in Lambeth where people on bikes are 65% of the traffic in the mornings; Paul Street in Hackney (75%); St John's Street in Islington (54%).

What is so damning about all of this is that even on local roads where the number of people on bikes is more than 50% of the peak traffic, the quality of the experience for cycling is utterly random.

Bike counts on local roads in London, rather than main roads, during the morning peak

Black Prince Road is a residential street with one bus route. Apart from a few elephants' feet road humps which do nothing to slow the traffic, motor traffic can roar down here as much as it likes. Paul Street, however, is 'filtered' so that motor traffic can't blast through the entire street, it only really makes sense to drive here if you're going somewhere on this street. St John's Street has a laughable bike lane filled with parked cars despite the massive width of the street. It is to London's shame that routes that are dominated by bike-traffic are so utterly inconsistent and the experience for cycling on these bike-dominated routes is made deliberately haphazard in a way that would never be acceptable for driving.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Absolutely crazy: Cycling is being deliberately suppressed by five new schemes in London all of which squeeze out safe, sensible cycling. Thames crossing review identifies massive need for cycle crossing but only offers people the chance to stick their bike on a £4 cable car

It started with a trickle and then it turned into a flood: London is being swamped with crazy road narrowing schemes on major cycling routes; the worst of which will see two lanes out of four turned into pavement and yet even there, the only provision for cycling will be advisory bike lanes that stop and start along road space that is made deliberately narrow. These schemes will be in place for at least the next 20 years, in most cases.

Goldhawk Road now. Will be reduced from four lanes to two but with only intermittent, advisory bike lanes. 
In Tottenham, TfL is proposing to remove part of a gyratory. It will also remove one lane of motor traffic AND remove the existing segregated bike track. Now, the bike track itself could do with an upgrade. But why on earth is TfL ripping up bike infrastructure and creating acres of paving space, rather than using the masses of new space it is creating and making a decent bike-friendly link in this part of Tottenham? Rachel Aldred blogs about this in brilliant detail, declaring that the engineers simply haven't thought about cycling here. You can comment on the scheme on TfL's website but even if you do, TfL only wants your views if you're either a "resident; business; bus user; or motorist". Screw the cyclists. In any event, I'd urge you to read Rachel's blog and comment on the website.

Plans for Goldhawk Road. See that blue bit? That's not a bike lane, that's road space that will be taken and given to trees. 

Meanwhile, just west of Shepherd's Bush, TfL and Hammersmith and Fulham council have designed schemes on Goldhawk Road, Uxbridge Road and others, to narrow the carriageway and plant lots of trees. The schemes, as they say, have been designed by "residents and businesses and further consultations with local businesses, schools, the police and London Buses". Note, no consultation with people who think and care about making cycling safe and convenient here. You can see the schemes and respond to the consultation online here. 

According to Hammersmith & Fulham Cyclists: "The overall plan is for what was two lanes each way to become a 3.5m wide lanes and a 2m wide cycle lane each way. This does mean that a bus lane is being relinquished and cycle lanes are replacing them." Sounds great, doesn't it. The problem being the bike lane turns into bus stops at regular intervals, randomly narrows here and there due to extra pavement widening and disappears entirely at major junctions. It's definitely a step in the direction of cycling but a real missed opportunity to deal with some major problems. This review by H&F Cyclists is well worth a read. 

If you want to see something really bonkers, though, look at this scheme in Lewisham. Over in Ladywell, the countil plans to remove trees on one side of the street to create parking spaces. And then build NEW trees on the other side of the street that completely and utterly block the cycle track along this main street. 

There is something systemically wrong going on and a complete failure by councils and TfL to properly secure safe space for cycling in these new schemes. The money is being spent to remove space from motor traffic but instead of some of that space being given to make cycling a safe option, instead it is going to trees and making cycling even less appealing in most of these examples.

Here is what London's main high streets won't be looking like for the next 20 years. Pic courtesy Streetsblog
To top it off, this is what sums up what is going on: Transport for London has decided to go ahead with building a new crossing of the Thames, east of the Blackwall Tunnel. TfL's review concludes: "[It is] clear that there is a strong appetite within the public and stakeholders for TfL to consider crossing improvements for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users". 

Great, you think, TfL is going to make it possible to cross the river by bike, not just by car. Except that's not the case. Read the report in detail and this is what is promised to make it easier to cycle from south of the river if you live in SE London: "Cyclists and pedestrians are not permitted to use Blackwall Tunnel, for safety reasons. We anticipate that Silvertown Tunnel would not be accessible to cyclists and pedestrians for the same reasons. Pedestrians and cyclists can use the Emirates Air Line cable car, which links the same places as the proposed Silvertown Tunnel."

Cable car??? What's the point in a review that declares 'cyclists need somewhere to cross the river' and concludes 'cyclists won't get anywhere to cross the river'?

It's completely insane. I feel like the Mayor is doing great things to put cycling on the map. He has a great vision, plans for some really good quality schemes on certain routes. But at the heart of Transport for London, precisely nothing has changed. Cycling is being ignored on 90% of new road investment in London. And that's because the TfL machine is massive and only has a handful of people worrying about cycling. How come London buses get to advise and agree every single new scheme in London but London cyclists don't, for example?

Something has to change.

Friday, 20 September 2013

The "wrong type" of cyclist: Whether you're in London, Manchester, Birmingham or Edinburgh, we have to rally around #space4cycling and make the message much, much clearer to our politicians

One council leader asked me why we can't have cyclists like they have in the Netherlands. Here's a relentlessly normal image of cycling there via AsEasyAsRidingABike
Last night, along with Ashok Sinha of the London Cycling Campaign, I was invited to a party hosted by the Evening Standard to be nominated as one of London's 1,000 "most influential" people. Naturally, I went by bike. I'm only aware of two others who did so and one of those was the Mayor.

During the night I met the leaders of three councils: Southwark, Wandsworth and....drum roll.... Westminster. I had the chance to talk cycling with each of them. And what fascinated me was just how differently each of them engaged with and understood why people have been out on their bikes protesting for better conditions.

First some good news. I had a good chat with Peter John, Labour leader of Southwark Council. He told me in clear terms that the council had scrapped its plans to go-it-alone with slightly crazy Cycle Design Standards that would have meant the council officially opposed segregated bike tracks like the ones pictured above. They've been put in the bin, he told me, and Southwark will be signing up to the new London Cycle Design Standards that are currently in draft form on tables at Transport for London. That's a huge relief. I got the impression that Mr John understood 'bicycle' = rational form of transport which can be used by all ages and people with varying levels of fitness. I had the impression he does want Southwark to become somewhere where the bicycle is catered for as a legitimate part of the transport mix.
Birmingham Flashride earlier this year, pic roadcc

Peter John then introduced me to the Conservative leader of Wandsworth Council, Ravi Govindia. Now, Wandsworth has slowly started to re-embrace the bicycle. This is a borough that did some good things a decade ago and then decided to utterly ignore bicycles until very recently. What Mr Govindia told me, though, did get me thinking. He made two points: Firstly, he explained that he wants to see normal people out on bikes doing normal journeys. He said that the bulk of people using bicycles in his borough are commuters - fit, young, speedy. And he's probably right.
Edinburgh 'pedals on Parliament'
Photo courtesy of Richard Cross. See this site for more details
My point to Ravi Govindia was that if he wants people to use bikes rather than cars (and remember, the majority of car journeys in outer London are under 5 miles, therefore hugely easy by bike), he's going to have to build Safe Space For Cycling. Simple really. If you want to see mums, dads, older people, kids, normal, average people out on bikes, you need to build for it. And that means creating SPACE that is sensitive to the needs of people on bikes. The only way I know of crossing the centre of Wandsworth east to west on a bike right now, for example, is through the massive Wandsworth gyratory. That means pedalling across five to six lanes of fast-moving traffic, several times in a row. It's horrific.

And then we came to Westminster's leader who made nice comments about wanting to do more but struck me as not really seeing this as a particularly pressing issue.

Ravi Govindia also made another point that I thought very useful. He mentioned that he found it difficult to engage with cycling groups because (and I paraphrase) "they seem to want everything". Here's a man who is extremely busy and for whom cycling is an issue but only a very small one in the scheme of things. He needs to hear one single message, and one alone.
And now Manchester pedals to protest for Space for Cycling
So it struck me yesterday, that there is a single message. It is the message of Safe Space For Cycling. It only dawned on me yesterday that four cities have now stood up, got on their bikes and said more or less the same thing. Birmingham pedalled in September, followed later that week by the London Space4Cycling ride on Parliament. Edinburgh pedalled in May on Holyrood, and in a week's time, Manchester will pedal on the Conservative Party conference. All of us in our own way pedalling to demand #Space4Cycling.

My point is pretty simple really. It is four years ago that I sat in a room with the London Cycling Campaign and one of their best campaigners coined the campaign term 'Space 4 Cycling'. It has taken four years to get to the point where people who use bikes are starting to talk about demanding 'Space 4 Cycling'. It will take more years before our politicians, people like Ravi Govindia of Wandsworth, actually start to hear what we're all calling for. We have to rally around a single message and we have to keep pushing that message home. Again and again and again. Until we're sick of it. Only then can we expect that our politicians will have started hearing our message for the very first time.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

City of London votes near-unanimously for 20mph zone to cover entire Square Mile; City of London Police 'supportive'

Excuse the graphics. We firststarted talking about this several years ago
The City of London earlier today voted more or less unanimously to support "the adoption of a 20mph speed limit in all City streets, including those managed by Transport for London".

The City rightly notes that, with the exception of Westminster (a borough where public realm and transport planning are both stuck in the 1960s), "all other London Boroughs surrounding the City have adopted a 20mph limit".

The difference in the Square Mile, however, is that all streets within its boundaries (with a possible exception of Victoria Embankment), will become 20mph, including traffic-filled sewers like Farringdon Road and, I expect, much of Blackfriars Bridge as well. In other boroughs, you have 30 or 40mph main streets but 20mph quiet streets. In the Square Mile, the whole lot will be going 20mph.

As the only London local authority with its own police force, it is also worth noting that the City of London Police 'support the introduction of a 20mph speed limit'. 

Why is the City doing this? Well, the number one reason is to reduce casualties on its roads. The City of London (like Westminster, which unlike the City is doing nothing whatsoever about it), has a poor road safety record. On the City's roads "a disproportionately high number of cyclists and pedestrians are involved in collisions". When it comes to people on bikes, in fact, they make up 20% of the traffic in the Square Mile but a stunning 47% of the people seriously injured in road collisions. And the source of that danger (in my mind) is two-fold: bad road designs and too much motor traffic.

And the City is aware that by creating a 20mph zone, it creates a meaningfully better environment for doing business - it is more likely to remain a place that people want to be; to do business and to locate their offices.

Provided it is policed properly, and in particular at spots like Blackfriars Bridge and Holborn, where people tend to drive at excessive and intimidating speeds, this vote could make a significant difference for the vast majority of people in the Square Mile who get about on foot and for those of us on bikes.

City of London wants you to plonk yourself in front of the motor traffic on Cheapside

It's an impressive change of heart for the City of London and a welcome development. Certainly much more welcome than the patronising 'fun film' about 'sharing the streets safely' video that the City has just launched to try and change user behaviour on Cheapside - a road that the City has made so horribly narrow it is now a nightmare for cycling. As I've said again and again, this road is now so narrow, motor vehicles try to brush past you with inches to spare. Most of the day, the street is so jammed with queues of motor vehicles, that the only way to cycle here is to overtake on the wrong side of the road, cycling into the oncoming traffic. 

AsEasyAsRidingABike blog calls it exactly right about Cheapside and this video: "Nobody riding here wants to have to place themselves directly in front of motor traffic to prevent dangerous overtakes, yet this is what you have to do" and he notes that "This is not a consequence of the ‘medieval street pattern’. It is a consequence of the City creating a deliberately narrow carriageway." Exactly right.

The City of London wants us to all treat other road users 'like eggs' on Cheapside. It should be building roads that work, not roads that cause conflict the way that Cheapside does. 

The City wants you to 'use the full width of the lane', to do exactly what hardly anyone wants to do on this road. Some people in the City think that they can encourage people to do this, even though they admit in private that isn't what is actually happening on the street.

The reality is that people are intimidated into the side of the carriageway by aggressive driving and because they don't want to put themselves in the way of a massive truck, bus or taxi. And, frankly, why should they. What the City should be doing on Cheapside is creating "Safe Space for Cycling". Very simple. Thousands of people took to the streets a couple of weeks ago to demand exactly that. Instead, the City is living in a sort of mythical denial and hoping to encourage people to treat each other like 'eggs' (?!?!) Somehow, everyone will just rub along nicely then. That's never going to happen. What needs to happen on a road like this, which is busy, congested (and now overly narrow) is a flow for people on bikes, for people on foot and for people in motor vehicles.

The City of London needs to listen to this message, not prattle on about 'eggs'

See for yourselves what you think. I think it's patronising, misguided and completely misses the point that on busy, main through routes, local authorities need to build 'Safe Space for Cycling'. End of story.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Freight Trade Association declares war on people cycling. Seems to lash out at people who use bikes for the fact that lorries are killing people instead of calling for safe space for cycling on London's streets; tarnishes other responsible freight associations in the process

West Dulwich today - pic courtesy Evening Standard
Earlier today a woman cyclist was killed in West Dulwich. By a lorry. Last night, a guy was airlifted to hospital at a junction near Tower Bridge after a collision with.... a lorry.

This morning, the Mayor and government transport minister Stephen Hammond MP jointly announced plans to fine HGVs that lacked appropriate safety gear. The Mayor's point? "I have long been worried that a large number of cyclist deaths involve a relatively small number of lorries which are not fitted with safety equipment.” The moves are supported by the government which notes: "a small number of vehicle types – particularly those operating in the construction sector - are exempt from fitting certain safety equipment. The rising number of such vehicles in London’s building boom present a risk to the growing number of cyclists, who now make up almost a quarter of all rush hour traffic in the centre." Those vehicles operating in the construction sector are responsible for a disproportionate number of people being killed or seriously injured in London. Not just cyclists, pedestrians too.

As the Evening Standard points out today: "HGVs have been involved in 53 per cent of London cyclist deaths in the last four years, while accounting for only 4 per cent of traffic. Of the 14 fatalities last year, five  involved HGVs that would not meet the new standard."

What did the Freight Trade Association, the body that represents HALF the UK freight fleet have to say on the matter? This, believe it or not, is what the Association's Director of Policy, Karen Dee (I've met her and she said pretty similar stuff in public) had to say:

“We need to see cyclists taking responsibility for their actions, obeying traffic regulations, giving space to HGVs making manoeuvres and generally riding responsibly. Unless you also improve the behaviour of cyclists, the problem will not improve in the way that everyone wants.”

"FTA now calls on government and cycling groups to work together in order to ensure that current and future cyclists obey the rules and share the road co-operatively and responsibly."

She continues: "if London is to be declared a safe cycling zone, then tougher standards for cyclists’ behaviour should be introduced"

A responsible lorry-driver on his phone in the middle of the A3 at Kennington, next to the Cycle Super Highway
The last time that I had a horrible near-miss experience on my bike was on Super Highway 8. Cycling in from Wandsworth, there were parked cars on my left and in the middle of the road, a traffic island. At exactly this point, an articulated lorry decided to overtake me. The lorry would certainly hit the back of my bicycle and send me flying. My only option was to bail off the road. So I did. I bailed into a parked car. A shocked pedestrian came to help me.

The Freight Trade Association is right that road users must ride or drive responsibly. Yes, there is a problem with some cyclists not obeying some traffic regulations.

However, every single time the police conduct tests on lorries in London, they find a swathe of the industry content to regularly break the law - overloaded, dodgy tachometers, dodgy safety features. When the City of London conducted spot checks on lorries in 2008, 100% (yes, that's right, 100%) of the lorries stopped at random were breaking the law in some way. Spot checks in Wales recently found 80% of all HGVs were breaking the law.

Or, let's just remember Mary Bowers, The Times journalist hit by a lorry in 2011. The driver was on the phone (hands-free) at the time and then "and then failed to put the handbrake on when she was trapped under his wheels". The driver had previously admitted a series of tachograph offences, "including driving a lorry for 20 hours in one day when the maximum is 9 hours". Jurors concluded he had been "too engrossed in a telephone conversation with a work colleague, on a hands-free mobile kit, when he knocked Ms Bowers off her bike". He then tried to deny he'd even been on the phone in the first place and subsequently pleaded guilty to (again!) "driving in excess of the permitted hours". 

The pendulum of responsibility swings both ways, Ms Dee, and if you're going to start throwing stones about the place, you'd better be sure your own glasshouse is made of stronger materials.

The Freight Trade Association could, and should, be supporting the moves to create safe space for cycling. Instead, it is victim-blaming in the extreme. Instead of calling for ways to magically make hundreds of thousands of people cycle as if they were in motor vehicles, it could join the current thinking, displayed earlier this week at the London Cycling Campaign ride to Parliament: Create Safe Space for Cycling. That's the only way to keep lorries and people on bikes apart. And it's the only thing that's going to work. Victim-blaming is immature, irresponsible and makes dialogue an impossibility. The Freight Trade Association should know better.

Boris Johnson and Stephen Hammond MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, earlier today. No thanks to the Freight Trade Association

Maybe the FTA could take a leaf out of someone else's book: the Mineral Products Association. The MPA is insisting its lorry drivers receive "vulnerable road user training"; it has a policy of encouraging safety equipment. Frankly, well done the Mineral Products Association. We welcome your policies and your responsibilities.

Let's take the conflict out of our transport networks. Let's encourage all road users to act responsibly but let's also look at how the transport network works for different types of people who need to use it. Let's not resort to pathetically juvenile and extremely irresponsible victim-blaming of the sort that the Freight Trade Association has just displayed.

British Cycling called earlier today for lorries to be banned from central London during rush hour in the same way that HGVs are banned in Paris and in Dublin. If the Freight Trade Association is going to play so casually with people's lives, then I think that British Cycling has a serious point. Let's encourage responsible organisations like the Mineral Products Association but let's insist that the Freight Trade Association is shunned until it learns to behave in a mature and responsible fashion.


It's also well worth viewing the BBC's take on this and watching the illegal lorry driver who's been pulled over by the police criticising cyclist behaviour. 

You can contact the Freight Trade Association:

Karen Dee, director of policy

James Hookham, managing director

Monday, 2 September 2013

1 mile long - thousands of people come out on bikes to protest for "safe space for cycling" and to support MPs who voted unanimously in support of the Get Britain Cycling Report

Space for Cycling ride, London, 02 September 2013
Westminster Bridge this evening. Pic courtesy zefrog 

Earlier tonight, more than 60 MPs attended a back bench debate about whether to support the Get Britain Cycling report, published by the All Parliamentary Party Cycling Group. After a whopping four hour debate, they voted unanimously to support the Report. One MP think that maybe 100 of his colleagues passed through the Chamber in total, which is an amazing number for a debate like this. (You can read more details on bikebiz)

Meanwhile, as the MPs debated, a one-mile long queue of people on bikes threaded their way past Parliament to show their support for the MPs and asking them to think bold and deliver bold. You could see people in the flashride leaving Westminster Bridge as others had already crossed Lambeth Bridge further upriver.

And we need the government to be bolder. As Maria Eagle, the shadow transport secretary rightly said in the debate, the Government's support for cycling has hitherto been very lacklustre. She spelt this out last week in an eight point plan that is well worth a read.

Normal folk out on bicycles just being themselves this evening. This is what cycling should be like all the time. And it could be if the government acted on it. 
The problem with the vote is that it doesn't really mean anything at this stage; it is (as far as I understand) no more than a statement of support. It doesn't compel the government to actually do anything. The government has at last started dribbling some money towards cycling after killing off the cycling budget in its bonfire of the quangos a couple of years ago. But it is patchy money, limited to a handful of locations that will benefit less than 10% of the population for about two years. As Chris Boardman of British Cycling put it so eloquently (as is his usual skill), we have a government that has committed over £15billion to road widening and new bypasses for the next 10 years. But it has only committed £159 million to cycling and even then only for a couple of years' worth of funding. To coin a phrase from Boris Johnson, cycling is getting 'chicken feed'.

Probably the best two announcements to come from the government in relation to cycling are a) a review of the sentencing guidelines around what constitutes 'dangerous' vs 'careless' driving and b) an admission that police should be able to enforce 20mph speed limits. All very car-centric, albeit important.

To be fair to the Mayor of London, London is actually starting to get serious about bicycle transport at last. Later this summer, our first European-style cycle highway opens between Bow and Stratford. And some serious money has been hard fought for and won by Boris Johnson. In all honesty, he should have done this five years ago, but he has now genuinely stuck his neck out for cycling in my view and we'll start to see real changes happening over the next couple of years.

But the rest of the country gets virtually nothing. We have, in the Department for Transport, a government ministry that has been institutionally anti-cycling for decades. We have in the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, a government minister who thinks cycling equals "people who wear rubber knickers" and is wilfully blind to the idea that bicycle transport could help revitalise communities across the country (because it's not yet popular enough among the majority of people?). And we have endless big budget road building schemes and same old thinking from government (both this one and the last one to be honest) that will force people to be ever more dependent on private cars.

My view on Westminster Bridge earlier this evening. At least 8,000 people came out to support the Get Britain Cycling Report. 

Compare that with Germany. In Berlin over 25% of motor vehicle trips are what the authorities call "free time" or "leisure" trips and the majority of those trips are relatively short. It's more or less the same in the UK. The difference is that Berlin (and other cities in Germany) want people out of their cars for these sorts of journeys and on bikes (especially electric bikes) instead. And they're building for it, with electric bike corridors, 'bike-friendly' shopping centres and so on. We, on the other hand, have a government obsessed with clunky, space-wasting, inefficient, expensive private motor cars for every trip. Our government seems incapable of realising the massive inefficiency of encouraging everyone to use a car for almost every journey. It is political populism and wilful ignorance of the alternatives in the extreme.

BBC London report on #spaceforcycling. It's a fairly shocking but important report

People came tonight for a whole host of reasons. Some wanted to say that the Mayor of London wasn't doing enough (and my view is that he is starting to do the right thing, and is starting to do it well but way, way, too late), some to say the government isn't doing enough. And an awful lot of us wanted to pay thanks to the MPs who are championing change, not least among them the members of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and in particular Julian Huppert MP (LibDem), Ian Austin MP (Labour), Sarah Wollaston MP (Conservative) under the watchful eye of Lord Berkeley (Lab).

And if you need further reminding of why so many people came out tonight, I suggest you watch one of the two news clips from ITV or the BBC. They're both pretty shocking and they justify why many people were out on their bikes this evening:

BBC: London Boris Bike crash cyclist says victims need more help

ITV: Cycle Protest Underway

Friday, 30 August 2013

Cycling in the UK: 90% of people get nothing. Small urban areas get some clunky, indecisive funding. Not good enough, HM Government

Rush-hour in the City of London earlier this week. All 'elitists' because they're not driving, apparently. 
I'm beginning to feel sorry for Norman Baker MP. Baker is Parliamentary Under Secretary for Transport and the man who stands up to announce the government's plans for cycling. He isn't getting a very good press. Earlier this week, Baker headlined the Department for Transport's long-delayed response to the Get Britain Cycling inquiry. It's a fairly hapless document that announces things we already know about - a bit of funding for a couple of years for a handful of UK cities and national parks and some limited further commitments. Nothing much.

And that's kind of the problem. Baker has done some good things. He has focussed money on a number of cities and regions where it might have a chance of doing some good. And he has started to create an environment within the Department for Transport that is finally responding to really basic changes that need to happen (such as enabling "No Entry except cyclists" signs).

That said (and I am not completely certain but I get a strong feeling), Baker didn't have anything to do with securing the significant funding for cycling in London that Boris Johnson prised from the Chancellor earlier this year.

And that's the problem. My sense is that Baker is doing what he can for cycling within the narrow confines available to him. But his ability to manoeuvre is tiny. Tiny amounts of money. Tiny (but significant in their own way) amendments to road regulations to enable things like cyclist-friendlier road signs.

As a rule, I get the feeling he's doing his best within a government that simply doesn't think bicycles are important other than in areas like inner London where it is faced with a significant and vocal number of people who want to incorporate the bicycle into our city and where the Mayor (to give him credit) was prepared to demand proper funding. At a national level, however, there is absolutely no-one making big demands for big money for cycling or for big changes in regulations to support real change. Instead, as Peter Walker argues very powerfully in The Guardian we have the likes of other big brand politicians like Eric Pickles who seems to bully his way into the media and wants to encourage "roads full of cars speeding to copious and cheap parking spaces".

Ultimately, though, I think Pickles and his obsession with filling our towns with cars is an irrelevant distraction. He's just playing a populist card and it's very boring and predictable stuff.

There are very many people who want to see towns where kids can play outside; where high streets are full of people not cars; and where it's easier to bike two miles to drop your kids at school than to drive. Those of us who see this sort of future need to focus on the attributes that will make that achievable.

Waiting to cross the road outside Battersea Park. People have priority when they're in cars; never give way to children.
Eric Pickles seems to think that's the right way to be. Not pleasant

Maria Eagle, the (very impressive when I met her) shadow secretary for transport seems to understand what's needed. Writing in the New Statesman, she notes: "When nearly a quarter of all car journeys are less than a mile, making cycling a more attractive option has a huge potential to cut congestion and boost the economy; and is a good way to reduce the impact of rising fuel costs on the household budget". She also points out, correctly, that we have road and rail budgets established to 2020/21 but cycling budgets are only defined for the next two years.

The truth is that bicycle transport is only just starting to be taken seriously in this country in those handful of places where a large number of people already cycle and where there is political backing to boost it. In reality, I reckon that encompasses less than 10% of the population at most.

So, we are stuck with having to support Norman Baker and his tiny cycling budgets because, for the time being, that's all we're going to get. But we know that it is inevitable bicycle transport will grow in other towns and cities over time and that Eric Pickles is a man on the wrong side of history. And we owe it to ourselves to keep pushing the government and encouraging other people to realise that life in the UK doesn't have to revolve around crap town centres filled with free car parking and empty shops; that parents don't have to be permanent taxi drivers to their children; that older Britons don't have to get about only in cars; that we can have a much better quality of life for all of us if we start changing the transport mix available to us.  Our job is to encourage more and more people to start seeing the alternatives and encourage them to demand the same.

I'll be at the London Cycling Campaign #Space4Cycling ride on Monday in order to make these points. There will be feeder rides coming in from all over London. You have no excuse not to join us. 6pm Monday by the London Eye. Or join one of the many feeder rides coming in from around London. 

Feeder rides to the #Space4Cycling ride on Monday. More details at London Cycling Campaign.