Thursday, 28 March 2013

Amsterdam announces plan to create separate priority networks for bikes, parallel to priority networks for public transport and for motor vehicles. Ditches current priority of journey "speed".

German television broadcast an interview (in English) last year that I've only just noticed and I'm posting it on this blog because it's the clearest articulation I've heard in quite some time about why cities should design themselves around cycling and how to do it. What I particularly like about the interview is the way that Klaus Bondam, a former rightwing politician in Copenhagen simply pulls no punches and tells a few home truths that local authorities around the UK would do well to heed. 

His first comment seems quite obvious: "In medieval cities, there's a limited amount of space, so you have to have a discussion about what the space should be used for...Right behind us there are loads of parked bikes, just imagine how much space that would take up if it was parked cars." 

Yup, spot on. You have to discuss cycling and private cars on an equal footing. This is a concept that is still nascent in the UK. But the same sort of thinking is going on in the Netherlands: Amsterdam this week published its new "Action Plan for Mobility". The document talks about how "Until now the guiding principle for almost every [street layout] reorganisation has been to guarantee the accessibility of all the functions for all modes of transport."

Traffic counts (units) at a major central London
junction in the morning rush hour. Bikes make
up 37% of the vehicles. 
That sort of thinking is very much the case in the UK. You have town planners trying to squeeze in buses, bikes, motorbikes, taxis, white vans, lorries, pedestrians. It's a fairly hapless task.

I was looking at the traffic mix at a central London junction earlier (graph pictured left. I can't tell you which junction I'm afraid). As you can see, there's a mix of all sorts of vehicles and people on bikes make up 37% of the traffic. The approach to designing a junction like this in London is, broadly speaking, 'let's keep everyone happy' and make the junction work for everyone (which is something of a misnomer as the reality is that motor vehicles always predominate).

Amsterdam has decided to throw that sort of thinking in the bin. Rather than "guarantee accessibility for all modes of transport", the city planners have decide to prioritise different modes of transport on different streets. It will create "Plus Networks" that prioritise just one type of transport.

Map of proposed Amsterdam priority routes. Green routes
will have bicycle priority. Blue will be public transport, red is
private motor vehicles. Yellow is pedestrian priority. 
Out goes 'smoothing the traffic flow' on all streets (currently the dominant thinking in London, for example). In comes something quite different. There will be one network that prioritises private cars and vans; one network that prioritises public transport; and a network that priorities people on bikes. And these networks are not the same roads. They are different networks that run in parallel. You can see an image of the proposed networks on the left. 

This sort of thinking is well advanced on anything in the UK, where these discussions are still in their infancy.

I find it fantastic that Amsterdam is planning a bike priority network that is separate and different to, say, public transport or pedestrian networks. It puts bikes and walking on equal footing with motor cars, something you can't say for UK towns and cities. 

And this is where Denmark's Klaus Bondam has some home truths to share: "All cities have to discuss where should we allow the car in the city," he says. That is exactly what Amsterdam is considering, namely de-prioritising cars in some parts of the city but prioritising them in other parts.

This is what streets look like when you prioritise all forms
of transport. See, even Amsterdam can be rubbish for cycling
sometimes. Source: Plan Amsterdam 2013
Bondam also points out in fairly frank language: "It is a strange thing that [some cities] think only people driving in cars buy things or contribute or go to work". Too true. It's all about treating bicycle transport as an equal. This is a real problem in the UK. For example, in the City of London's recently published draft Local Plan, the City of London talks repeatedly about "responsible cycling" rather than just "cycling" and never refers to people getting about by motor transport having to be "responsible" as well. To me, that reads like the local authority is happy to treat people on bikes differently to people in, say, cars or taxis. That sort of thing is not on. Especially when you realise that 37% of vehicles crossing into the City at one particular junction are people on bikes. Why should only 37% of road users be 'responsible' and not the others?

Denmark's Klaus Bondam debates this dynamic in the video: If you want to encourage people on bikes, he says, "you have to tell people we really like the contribution you're making as a citizen" by not driving a car. That sort of language is still not happening in the City of London or many other local authorities.

And this is what streets look like
when you prioritise different
forms of transport differently.
Source: Plan Amsterdam 2013
Bondam is also extremely critical of one policy that is very in vogue in London, in particular in the City of London, and that is shared space that is used by cyclists and pedestrians: "It is a big, big, big mistake, mixing pedestrians and cyclists....It's error number one - walking and cycling are two completely different ways of transporting yourself. You create a conflict between two weak forms of transportation. It's a total mess." Amsterdam's new policy is more or less the same - it's about creating priorities for each form of transport on different networks.

Just compare what Amsterdam and Denmark are telling us with this assertion from the City of London: "Shared space is now used in preference to other measures such as separate or segregated cycle lanes. Segregated measures were found to encourage excessive cycle speed and, in the City lead to cyclists and pedestrians being less considerate towards one another." As Bondam says "It's a total mess... A big, big, big mistake" to make this assertion.

I'll leave with one more quote from the video. It's so true but I can't imagine any UK politician standing up and saying this: "I mean, it's healthy if people bike: they don't get so fat". Very blunt. Very true. 

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Cyclists are 20% of the traffic and 47% of all serious injuries. The City of London is going to have to either ban cycling or sort out its schizophrenic love-hate relationship going on with 'cyclists' if it wants to reduce its appalling road safety record.

Cheapside. Bikes and HGVs are now
meant to share extremely narrow lanes. Fancy
cycling to the Museum of London with your
kids and this lorry up your backside? 
Local authorities around London seem to be in love with road narrowing schemes at the moment. Narrower streets seem to be spreading like a rash all around inner London. The latest plan is to narrow Bethnal Green Road, neatly profiled by ibikelondon blog

In the City of London, Cheapside - which is the road between Bank junction and St Paul's - was narrowed a year or so ago. According to the City's latest data, 47% of all collisions where someone is killed or seriously injured on its roads are cyclists. Bicycle traffic now makes up 20% of the total vehicle movement in the City of London. It is fairly appalling that people who make up less than a quarter of the City of London's traffic should account for nearly half of the serious injuries on its roads. 

To the City's credit, it is now working on an impressive road danger reduction plan and, to the best of my knowledge, I think it is having a serious look at how to make its road network safer and more efficient both for people on bikes and on foot. 

But let's look at Cheapside by way of an example of what's going wrong in the City. The City's draft Road Danger Reduction Plan contains this chilling and, in my view, dangerously inaccurate statement:

Note how the van is overtaking
the chap on his bike with maybe half a foot
to spare between elbow and metal
Let's have a look at these "behavioural issues" shall we, and see how well they're working? Pictured above, an HGV taking up the entire lane on Cheapside. As you can see, the other lane is filled with stacking motor traffic. Stick a bike in front of this HGV and what you have is a) one impatient lorry driver b) one hugely intimated person on a bike with a giant lorry stuck behind them. It's a recipe for winding up all road users. 

At it's most dangerous, though, this kind of dynamic can breed horribly dangerous situations. 

The second picture shows a van overtaking a chap cycling down Cheapside. If you look carefully, you can see he's cycling more or less in the gutter. What's more, the white van is overtaking him with approximately half a foot distance between the van and the man on the bike. This is insane road design that actively creates situations where human skin and bones is either in the path of or, directly next to, faster-moving, bigger metal motor vehicles. Just look, by the way, at how wide the massively widened pavements now are. 

New bike logos on Cheapside. These
are meant to encourage cycling
down the middle of the road. They
simply don't work And never will. 
As I pointed out last month, the Transport Research Laboratory - the former government quango and now private outfit that designed London's traffic light operating system and tests road designs for safety - has conducted plenty of research that says most people will find narrow roads intimidating to cycle along and will tend to hug the kerb. Only one-third of people will ever feel sufficiently confident to 'take the lane' by cycling, a means by which you can (in theory) prevent dangerous and close overtakes by physically putting yourself in front of the vans and buses and hoping they don't try and squeeze past you. 

The City has clearly recognised that Cheapside isn't working as planned: A couple of weeks ago they painted some bike logos running all the way down the middle of the road. The idea is that the bike logos will (mystically) encourage people to cycle down the middle of the lane. 

That's never going to happen. As the Transport Research Laboratory says, when you install lanes like this, people just stop cycling. Or find another route. Or they cycle on the pavement because they feel safer there. Not surprisingly. 

Pictured left, the new bike logos in action. Also pictured left, a chap on a bike. As the Transport Research Laboratory research warns, he is cycling in the gutter and allowing motor traffic to squeeze past him. You can see how he's looking at the van to make sure he won't get squashed. 

Cheapside bike lane. Can you spot the
bike lane? It is now underneath the
During the morning peak, cyclists now account for 30% of the traffic on Cheapside. Yet, when the roads are busy, the road narrowing means that Cheapside is practically unusable on a bike. There simply isn't anywhere to go. Pictured left, Cheapside at rush hour. The bike logo is underneath the red taxi. You're supposed to scrape along the inside of the taxis. Again, direct conflict between metal and flesh is being encouraged here for absolutely no good reason. 

I've moaned about Cheapside a couple of times before this post. But that's because I always hoped the City might learn from its mistakes and adopt a more forward thinking approach towards its cycling policy. The fact is that the City is still publishing official correspondence to the politicians in the Square Mile who are asked to approved these designs that Cheapside is 'good' for cycling and 'good' for cyclist safety. Pretty much everyone I've asked (at all sorts of official and non-official levels) disagrees. 

And yet there's something even worse going on. In publishing its plans two turn Gresham Street (north of Cheapside) back into a 'rat-run' (the City's own report admits this is now the case, by the way, and uses the exact same word) there is this magic sentence:

City of London: Cyclists killed or seriously
injured in the Square Mile 2000 -2011
Source: City of London 
I find this statement truly perverse. Can you actually think of any examples of 'segregated cycle lanes' in the City of London on which this statement could be based? I can't. There is one tiny stretch of segregated lane on Southwark Bridge (partly in the City) and the reality there is that cycle speeds tend to slow down not speed up. Reason being that people need to slow down to cycle with each other in the space. Oh, and I have never ever seen cyclists and pedestrians being less considerate to each other around proper, segregated bike tracks.

The City of London would do well to remember this comment by Mikael Colville-Anderson, bicycle advocate from Denmark "'Badly-behaved' cyclists are usually just cyclists with inadequate infrastructure. Blame your city's planners." Same goes for car drivers too. 

Cheapside would just about work if two things happened: a) speed tables were introduced along the road to keep everyone (bikes and motor vehicles) at roughly the same speed and b) if through motor traffic was banned with the exception of buses. The City refused to do either of these things and instead paints white bike logos in the vain hope of 'influencing behaviour' through soft means. You can't influence behaviour through soft means, you have to force good behaviour on people on the roads. 

So, in the case of Gresham Street here you have the City of London saying it will enforce good behaviour among cyclists by slowing them down. But to date, will do nothing to enforce good behaviour on motor drivers that forces them to slow down and behave well around cyclists as well. 

City of London. Has the worst record in the entire country
for fatal and serious road casualties per 100 miles of
local authority road. And the number of casualties is
increasing as it decreases nationally.
Source: Department for Transport data
For a local authority in which 47% of KSIs are cyclists, this is despicably two-faced behaviour. Cyclists must be made to slow down and mix carefully with pedestrians. HGVs and taxis, however (which cause the majority of serious injuries or killed in the Square Mile) are free to squeeze past people on bikes and nothing is done to make them slow down. 

If the City of London wants to reduce the number of cyclist casualties on its streets it has two options:

Entering the City of London on Cycle
Super Highway 2. Remember, the
City doesn't want segregated bike lanes
because of 'excessive cycle speed'. But
it encourages cyclists to cycle BETWEEN
a van and an HGV, that's just fine. 

a) Ban cycling in the Square Mile


b) Create a network of quiet routes that interlink and on which motor speeds are reduced by physical means that force drivers to slow down and create one or two cross-City routes where people can cycle across the Square Mile at faster cycle speeds and where they are kept as separate as possible from heavy, fast-moving motor traffic. 

I truly dislike being this critical of the City of London because, as a rule, the authority is making some incredibly good progress on installing bike parking and on developing a series of two-way streets for cycling that are one-way for motor vehicles. The Square Mile is also, to be fair, discussing whether to make the entire City a 20mph zone. There are truly good things happening in the City of London for cycling. But there is an almost schizophrenic love-hate relationship going on with cycling on the City of London's streets. And that love-hate relationship is creating a two tier road system where motor drivers are considered exempt from the duty of care to which only cyclists are expected to adhere. It's not an acceptable state of affairs, I'm afraid. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

As London announces its own massive investment in cycling, Berlin takes things even further and aims for 20% of all journeys by bike by 2025. Oh, and a riposte to Eric Pickles MP who thinks "cyclists" wear "rubber knickers".

Cycling in Berlin. Look, no helmets, no hi-viz.
When Boris Johnson was announcing his plans earlier this month for London to become a truly cycling city, another major announcement almost escaped my notice.

That announcement was the publication by the local government in Berlin of its new Bicycle Strategy. 

In Berlin, 13% of all local journeys are already made by bike (1.5million trips daily). The government wants that number to increase to 20% by 2025. In London only 2% of journeys are made by bike and Boris Johnson is aiming for a 5% target by 2020. It is extremely likely that we'll get to 5%, provided his plans for cycle highways with proper segregation and local Quietways.

The city is planning to have a 830km bike network in place by 2020 to include 12 radial routes and eight routes running into and out of the centre. London, by contrast, will have 12 super highways (running into the centre) and it's fairly unclear what we'll end up seeing in terms of radial routes.

Low tech but highly functional. New Berlin bike tracks
Probably the most astonishing feature of the Berlin plan is the "Pedelec Corridor" out into the suburbs (note these suburbs are outside Berlin, which means joined up thinking with the neighbouring government). The plan is to build a fast bike route, specifically designed to attract long-distance cycling on electric-bikes. It's simply astonishing to hear just how advanced this sort of thinking is in Germany. There are already over a million e-bikes in Germany and there is serious money being spent to encourage people to swap from car to e-bike. Berlin's transport minister told journalists that "many commuters will be able to reach their workplaces in Berlin better by e-bike than by car." He thinks this will mean cheaper journeys to work and less need for expensive car parking spaces in town. The Pedelec Corridor will be up and running by 2015 - before London even gets its first serious long-distance bike track in 2016.

The support for e-bikes comes all the way from Federal government. The policy is a) to encourage more older and less mobile people to use e-bikes and to encourage more people to travel longer distances by bike so that they become less reliant on cars.

Smiley TNT Post man delivering 'freight'
in inner London. You see these bikes all over
central London now, replacing former white vans.
The policy even talks about a new freight strategy. Some 13% of all London traffic is white van traffic, a good deal of it is "freight". I have never heard anyone in London discuss seriously the potential for freight to switch from white vans to bike. This, despite the fact that companies like TNT Post are already doing exactly that, with their fleet of orange bikes having replaced battered orange vans all over central London. Hop over to Berlin, though, and the city strategy is to encourage "last mile" deliveries to switch from van delivery to bike delivery. This sort of thinking is sadly still absent in London and the rest of the UK.

It's also interesting to see the Berlin authorities have a very different view of what their cycling revolution is about. Over 25% of car trips in Berlin are what the authorities call "free time" or "leisure" trips and the majority of those trips are relatively short. The next biggest trip generator is car trips to the shops. Berlin thinks the biggest potential wins for cycling are to get people out of their cars and on to bikes for leisure trips and for trips to the shops. So, it wants to build "bicycle-friendly shopping streets" with easy routes to town centres, good bike parking and bike servicing facilities, as well as bike trailers you can pick up in the shops to take your shopping home. Just compare that with the 1970s thinking displayed by Britain's Mary Portas and Local Government minister Eric Pickles who want to encourage more car trips to town centres - the very thing that will further kill off town centres.

Not everything in Berlin is rosy. The government realises it has a long way to go on cyclist safety on the roads. It also recognises that it hasn't hit its previous spending targets and needs to improve its investment plan. But the dialogue in Berlin is a whole different league to London. It's inclusive, it's about all sorts of people, all sorts of ages doing all sorts of things, just doing more of it on a bike and less in a car. Impressive stuff.

You can download the entire document (in German I'm afraid) or review some of the plans on the Berlin transport website.

Oh, and this is a bit sneaky.

But let's have a quick compare and contrast:

Can you spot the similarities and the glaring difference between these two:

Germany's Environment Minister Altmaier leaving his office on his bike
Picture courtesy

Britain's Local Government Minister, Eric Pickles, the man who thinks "Not all of us can pedal up and down in rubber knickers you know". Picture courtesy BBC

Looks to me, Eric Pickles, like Herr Altmaier doesn't wear "rubber knickers". I suggest you change your vocabulary and your prejudices.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Building proper bike infrastructure is right thing to do for London's economy, competitiveness, health & road safety says report by industry giant Siemens. Meanwhile engineering group Arup asserts: "We are going to see the most successful cities in the world return to the bicycle". This is about everyone in London, not just "cyclists".

Typical London bike route in Tower Hamlets.
Bike route sign points towards City of London. No Entry
sign bans you from using the bike route. 
Earlier this week, the industrial giant Siemens published a report written by Professor David Begg who is, among many other things, publisher of Transport Times, a non-executive director of BAA Limited and First Group - big names in the UK transport industry.

Siemens's report is entitled "London’s Transport: Progress and Future Challenges" and it has a lot to say about cycling. Most noticeably, this:

"If [Boris Johnson] wants to go down in history as one of the world’s great radical Mayors then he must make bold decisions on how he wants to allocate road space. The litmus test will be how he responds to his Roads Task Force which will report shortly. If he wants to make London a city which is more associated with walking and cycling, with an urban realm to be proud of, then he needs to support a roads hierarchy whereby walking, cycling and buses are prioritised over cars at appropriate locations."

Meanwhile over in Cannes, at the world's largest property conference, engineering group Arup was saying pretty much the same thing: "I think that we are going to see the return of the old-fashioned bicycle in the most successful cities in the world, moving forward."

All this in the same week that our populist and behind the times Local Government Secretary is calling for free-for-all car parking in our high streets (oh dear), the winds in London suggest that the Mayor should be going the other way.

I am a member of the Roads Task Force that the Siemens report refers to and one of three people specifically representing cycling, the others being from Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign. And David Begg is absolutely right that the next 'litmus test' for Boris Johnson will be how he responds to the recommendations of the Roads Task Force which will publish later this year.

Forecast for cycling to work. According to SteerDaviesGleave, 20%
of people in most inner London boroughs will bike to work by 2021
This is important stuff. At the moment, says the Siemens report, the Mayor still "rules out a roads hierarchy which prioritises non-car modes of travel."

Thousands of us were making this exact same point two years ago when we protested on Blackfriars Bridge and joined the London Cycling Campaign's "Go Dutch" ride. Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the LibDems on the London Assembly was also making this point in 2011 when she accused the Mayor via Transport for London of "smoothing the traffic flow for motorists and worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists." She was right. The Blackfriars Bridge design came about because the data models and the thinking behind London's roads all favoured maximising the flow of motor vehicles.

And that's the rub. Eric Pickles is championing free car parking and more car use because he thinks it's a popular thing to do. It's easy to champion car driving because most people are used to driving around in cars. But I think that would be a highly irresponsible thing to do and I'm deeply underwhelmed by Eric Pickles's short-term but populist car agenda. The  reason is very simple. As Lord Adonis (Former Secretary of State for Transport) puts it in the Siemens report, "In the light of an extra 1.5m Londoners and 700,000 extra jobs in London over the next 20 years, I consider capacity to be the biggest challenge facing transport in London. it is important that fares are kept down while continuing to invest in significant extra capacity.” What that means to someone like Eric Pickles is that we have to create capacity by building a hell of a lot of new roads and car parks.We'd probably have to rip up half of London to create the vision that Eric Pickles has in mind for future generations and replace it with roads and car parks.

What a bike lane should not look like. Complete jumble of
lorries, motorbikes, taxis, bikes. Blackfriars Bridge brand new
road layout
So we are going to have to find alternative was of creating capacity for people to get around in our cities. Some of those solutions will be about more train lines or express bus routes. Some may be about new roads or changes to existing roads. But some of those now needs to be about cycling. For the simple reason that cycling infrastructure is cheap to build and is a very efficient use of increasingly limited space. As the League of American Bicyclists puts it, you can build 600 miles of bike track for one mile of motorway. 

The Siemens report comes to a similar set of conclusions: "The inherent conflict between road users fighting for constrained road space should be addressed by pursuing a policy based on most efficiently using the space available, which means re-allocating space away from cars and allowing adequate space for cycling (as well as walking and bus use)."

To some extent, that is already beginning to happen. The Mayor's announcement earlier this month that he intends to build a segregated bike 'Crossrail' from Canary Wharf to Hillingdon is one example. And there are plans for segregated bike tracks to Stratford and between Victoria to Oval later which will be built this year

The Siemens report is pretty clear that this is exactly the sort of thing the Mayor needs to be doing. Building a proper, safe bike network, says the report, "would have the biggest and most tangible impact on safety, the biggest barrier to a wide uptake of cycling. If the Mayor is to fulfil his ambition of presiding over a cycling revolution in London, he must be bold enough to change his present political priority of smoothing traffic flow across the city: this ultimately means higher traffic speeds which are not conducive to safe and enjoyable cycling. Political leadership on segregated cycle lanes, speed reduction, shared space and junction design is the only way to encourage proper cycling permeability from all Londoners, regardless of age, background and ability."

Amen to that. In particular to that final sentence. The Roads Task Force is due to report on its findings about London's road network in a couple of months time. What the Task Force has to acknowledge is that we're no longer talking about building bike lanes for cyclists. We're talking about building a bike network for "all Londoners, regardless of age, background and ability," exactly as the Siemens report suggests. And we have to build that bike network because it's about increasing London's ability to compete on a world stage, about improving traffic safety and about making the right economic investment in the face of overwhelming pressures. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Major strategy shift: Transport for London admits that investing in cycling makes transport cheaper and more efficient for everyone. Also confirms Cycle Super Highway launch dates and some significant changes to the originally published plans

Cycle Super Highway 2 Extension visualisation.
Now known as "CS2x"
Transport for London earlier this week confirmed the launch dates of two new Cycle Super Highways later this year. The first of this is Cycle Super Highway 2 Extension (or CS2x as it is now known) to Stratford and Cycle Super Highway 5 between Victoria and New Cross.

First things first: CS2x is targeted to launch in August and CS5 in October 2013. Construction of both should start in just over a month.

The Transport for London document came to light thanks to an announcement that the cycle highways will be built by the London Highways Alliance.

And there are some major indicators in the document which have not yet been formally announced by TfL:

First of these is very welcome indeed. Vauxhall Bridge is likely to feature new two metre-wide bike lanes in both directions (as the result of one bus lane being removed). Either end of the Bridge will feature a "dedicated green light phase to allow cyclists to wait ahead of other traffic before crossing the junction". This sounds much more constructive some of the previous plans.

Cycling at Vauxhall as it looks now.
This will be the route of the new
Cycle Super Highway 5
CS5 was originally intended to run north from Vauxhall Bridge up Vauxhall Bridge Road. There's a possibility that might change: "The Cycling Commissioner has commented on the design of both new and existing Cycle Superhighways. Specifically, comments have been made regarding the proposed design of CS Route 5 to make improvements – mainly relating to the section between Oval and Victoria, where an alternative route is proposed off Vauxhall Bridge Road and additional segregated cycle lanes are proposed on Vauxhall Bridge and around Vauxhall gyratory". Sounds extremely sensible to me given the fact the design for this stretch was relatively compromised in order to fit bikes, cars, buses and vans in relatively narrow lanes.

At Oval junction, it is also now confirmed there will be mandatory cycle lanes on Camberwell New Road.

Probably the most fascinating element of the TfL report, though, can be summed up in this one paragraph:

"Cycle Superhighways need to be considered within the context of the overall cycling and traffic management portfolio. While incremental quantified business cases for cycling may be finely balanced in the short-term, the aggregate cycling infrastructure and behaviour change projects proposed within the new TfL Business Plan will contribute to the overall five per cent modal share target – with a likely ‘tipping point’ between now and 2026 where the aggregate benefits start to outweigh negative impacts on other modes."

In shorthand: investment in cycling projects takes time to deliver bang for your buck. But, over time, investment in cycling delivers more benefits to more people wanting to travel around London than disbenefits. 

What's even more significant is that the report also makes a tacit admission that funding for cycling has traditionally been hard to obtain because the business cases used by Transport for London have not measured the benefits to all Londoners that come from investment in cycling infrastructure. This is very important stuff: "TfL's business case analysis tools are not generally well set-up to quantify the benefits of cycling projects", says the document.

This is what you get when you do the maths properly.
New High Speed Cycle Route in the Netherlands.
Courtesy Bicycle Dutch blog
This is really important because it implies that TfL may have justified not investing in cycling until now in part thanks to a flawed business case methodology. I am 100% sure that the same could be said of councils and highway agencies all across the country. They measure benefits and disbenefits, see that a few motorists will be inconvenienced in the short term and then decide cycling isn't worth the investment. But TfL is telling us, publicly, that those measures of benefits and disbenefits don't count cycling properly. And, moreover, that having more people cycling benefits more people more often over time than not investing in cycling.

This is a crucial admission because it paves the way for investment in cycling to be measured properly and for funding to therefore be applied properly as well.

This sort of business model thinking has been the norm for decades in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands. In both of these countries, they invest in cycling because it makes economic sense. And it makes economic sense because they account for cycling properly: The Cycling Embassy of Denmark pointed out last year that the country "saves approximately £0.30 per cycled compared to per driven kilometre". If you base your business case on that sort of statistic, then investment in cycling flows just like any other transport investment, not as a sort of unloved last minute add-on. If, as in the UK until now, you base your business case on short term benefits and disbenefits that don't count cycling properly, you get virtually no investment in cycling.

More scenes from the F-35 High Speed Cycle Route
Courtesy BicycleDutch blog
What you get when you do the maths properly is something that looks and feels very different to the UK, where we design our transport systems based on flawed business case models. In the Netherlands, one regional government is building the F-35 High-Speed Cycle Route. It is 37 miles long and runs parallel to the A35 motorway route. 

Why is the local government building a 37 mile bike route? Simple really. Yes, it's very nice. It is an 'attractive alternative to the car'. But there is sound economic sense behind it. The business plan sets out with these ambitions:

As I said earlier. Who could disagree with these ambitions? This isn't about 'cycling' any more. This is about sensible investment and sensible returns on those investments for the towns and regions that include cycling in their plans. 

Transport for London has just announced the first step in getting the UK to accept that cycling is about sensible investment that makes transport cheaper and more efficient for everyone.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

"Quietways": If you want to know what Boris's cycling plans for London look like, take a look at what's rolling out right now in Camden, Hackney and the City of London. There's going to be a lot more of these sorts of streets coming soon.

Warren Street in central London. Formerly a rat-run to the Euston Road.
Not any longer. Courtesy Fitzrovia News
Last week, Camden council completed the final piece in its area-wide plan to make Fitzrovia a better place to walk and cycle. And to make it a better place for residents and businesses in the area.

Camden set out to address a problem that is common all over central London and especially so in neighbouring Westminster: "Most of the time the area experiences relatively light traffic...delivered at least in part by the one way systems throughout the wider Fitzrovia area that are designed to discourage through traffic. Unfortunately this also reduces the permeability for cycling, despite many of the streets being ideal quiet roads within central London." Part of Fitzrovia is in the City of Westminster. Westminster's streets are rat-runs for motor vehicles and plagued by one-way systems that make it near impossible to cycle through. Those exact same streets in Camden are now massively nicer places for walking and cycling than their equivalents in Westminster. Thanks to borough policy.

I've cycled around Fitzrovia a lot recently and been hugely impressed by the work Camden has rolled out. The area takes up most of the block north of Oxford Street and west of Tottenham Court Road, as far as Great Portland Street, where car domination courtesy of Westminster council kicks in. Across the entire zone, the council employed a number of strategies:

It has removed several traffic lights and replaced these with zebra crossings on speed tables. This makes it easier for motor vehicles to get through without constant stop-starting. And it makes it easier to cross the road as the cars are going more slowly and you don't have to wait for a green man to cross the road.

Former car parking, now bike parking in Fitzrovia
It has installed bike parking throughout the area, replacing a handful of car parking spaces with dozens of bike parking spaces. (Meanwhile, neighbouring Westminster says it can't find space for bike parking. On exactly the same streets)

It has turned a maze of one-way streets into streets that are almost all two-way for cycling.

And last week, it closed Warren Street to motor vehicles to stop taxis and minicabs using the street as a ratrun to avoid the junction at the top of Tottenham Court Road.

These are policies that have been used to great effect already in Hackney. Vincent Stops, Chair of the Planning Committee on Hackney council has explained very neatly in his new blog that Hackney's policy has been about "incremental change on Hackney's streets to: create a better balance between pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. There has been an equality of esteem for both movement and, crucially, urban design. Almost every intervention on Hackney's streets has improved its public realm and benefitted both cyclists and pedestrians." I'd urge you to read Vincent's blog post. It captures in a nutshell what's been happening in Hackney over the last decade and the Camden philosophy seems very similar indeed.

Former one-way street in Fitzrovia, now two-way
for people on bikes. 
Fitzrovia is not now a car-free nirvana. But compared to 10 years ago, the place has changed hugely. When you cycle through most of the streets here, you now feel like you're on equal status with motor cars. Not on every street, but on a serious slice of them. Frankly, it's quite uplifting to cycle here knowing that you're no longer the underdog on the streets.

Camden council is going to roll this same strategy out in Camden Town in the area between the Royal College Street bike track and Camden High Street. This is a zone of one-way impenetrable streets that makes it nigh-on impossible to cycle from the bike track into the centre of Camden. Same plan as Fitzrovia: fewer traffic lights; more two-way streets for bikes; some roads closed to through traffic.

Hackney has been doing this for nearly a decade now. And it clearly works. As Vincent Stops points out "With just a few road closures a whole area has become cycle, walk and play friendly while still allowing residents to drive to their homes."

Tellingly, this is exactly the same sort of thinking that is now emerging in Boris Johnson's cycling vision for London, where his cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan describes the network of Quietways planned between neighbourhoods all around London. In that document he promotes the Hackney model as one to watch:
"With just a few road closures, whole area has become cycle, walk and
play-friendly. And you can still drive to your home"
Courtesy Vincent Stops, Hackney council
"Permeability means not completely separating bikes and cars – there is very little full segregation in Hackney – but making the existing streets join up better for cyclists (and pedestrians) than they do for cars. It means blocking rat run-type streets as through-routes for motor traffic, while still allowing through journeys by bike. It means making bike journeys easier and more direct by removing one-way streets, gyratories and complicated crossings of 

big roads."

Boris's document slightly misses the point that this strategy isn't just about cycling. It's about creating a better neighbourhood for everyone. Bye bye to unnecessary traffic lights, hullo to calmer streets and less rat-run traffic. If you link streets like this together, you end up with a really useful cycling network. For example, Hackney's Pitfield Street route takes you the whole way from behind Moorgate in the City of London all the way to Dalston on streets that have been made calmer and easier to cycle on than anything I can think of in west or south London.

Stonecutter Street, City of London, is now a bike-only street.
Courtesy Countercyclical
Even the City of London is catching up with this same model. Earlier this month, the City shut Stonecutter Street in the heart of the Square Mile. Or rather, it didn't shut the street. It just blocked the street to rat-running motor vehicles.

The City of London was very clear about why it wanted to shut the street to through motor-traffic: "The dominant use of Stonecutter Street is as a cut through route for traffic moving south-eastbound from Holborn Circus to Farringdon Street. This conflicts with the character of the road, the local activities, and the interests of pedestrians and cyclists." The City is expecting the number of people cycling and walking here to continue growing at pace and needed to find a way to make the area safer and more appealing to walking or cycling than driving. Hey presto. Two bollards popped up at the end of the street. Bicycles and pedestrians only.

The City is making a sizeable number of its one-way streets bi-directional for cycling or pedestrian and cyclist only. Again, similar to Hackney. What the City isn't doing yet with quite the same success is linking those streets up so that they become a network, like the Dalston to Moorgate link that Hackney has built along Pitfield Street. That needs to happen.

Compare and contrast. This is Westminster council's main
bike route through Covent Garden. A complete and utter joke.
All the more so when you compare with the City of London
or Camden council's equivalents
What also needs to happen is that Transport for London needs to work with the boroughs to alleviate obstacles on this Quietway routes. The routes all too often become unstuck when they reach a main road and - in the words of the fantastic Bella Bathurst in The Guardian this week - "At present, there are a small number of wonderful cycle routes joined together by a lot of very big city and however cleverly you dodge and weave through the backstreets, eventually everyone ends up being spat back on to the dual carriageways. If you're an experienced cyclist, that's fine. If you're not, then you ride scared, and if you ride scared then you're dangerous." Hackney's Dalston to Moorgate route is one of those "small number of wonderful cycle routes". Get to Moorgate, however, and you're on your own, dodging and weaving along four lanes of motor traffic on London Wall. Not impressive.

The City of London and the City of Westminster are both crucial to the future of cycling in London. Because once you arrive at Moorgate, you shouldn't be dumped into car-choked race tracks and left to fight it out on your own. You should expect a similar quality of cycling experience from end-to-end. And that needs the boroughs to play nicely with each other and with Transport for London.

That's not happening yet. The City of London's strategy for the area around Liverpool and Moorgate, for example, would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. The policy is (genuinely) to "Review the current hierarchy of cycling routes, and explore the possibility of encouraging alternative routes through the quieter streets of Hackney and Islington."

I have to hope that Andrew Gilligan will focus minds in the boroughs and encourage them to build a network of routes that maintain a similar quality from end to end, regardless of which borough they're in and regardless of main roads which get in the way.