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. 


  1. I seem to be getting a bit of stick from people for one thing or another - some of which I find to be quite aggressive - but I would just like to be clear about a couple of things. Firstly, developing isolated bits of quality infrastructure where they’re most needed (junctions, fast/busy roads) is best done within the framework of a functioning cycle network. And secondly, installing markers on the road is only intended as a stopgap - and a cheap and quick one at that.

    Also, could I please encourage people to check out my latest blog, which is entitled 'Safety: a responsibility'. Many thanks.

    1. Hope you're not feeling aggression coming from this blog, by the way? I think the points you raise in your blog are well worth a read. Here's the link for others

  2. Your previous complaints about Cheapside made sense - but I rarely use it. It was only a month back, when, while 'taking the lane', I had a bus run along beside me as fast and as close as possible, that the lunacy of this particular stretch of road became clear to me. When I remonstrated with the bus driver, telling him I was meant to be in the middle of the road, he laughed and said he'd 'heard it all now'. Complaint still pending with TfL - but it reinforces the stupidity of a scheme that relies on the kindness and patience of people in motor vehicles, rather than designing for safety.

  3. The width that was taken out of the road on Cheapside, and given to the pedestrian path, would have been a good amount for a dedicated, separated, cycle path at road level.

    I used to commute along Cheapside sometimes, although more often Queen Victoria Street, and it's always been unappealing. But now it's far worse.

  4. Ban cycling in the City??! Have you done a tally on the extent top which city workers are cycling to the office, and just how much cycle parking is tucked away in those corporate HQ buildings. I gather that ABN has over 600 cycle parking spaces, and DeLoitte converted a car park in their Finsbury Gardens campus. On reason here of course that the city is not knee deep in bikes chained up to street furniture, is that those bikes are parked in secure off-street company facilities.

    Riding through the City during the day I seem to spend most of the time passing the motor traffic as it queues/crawls along, by riding down the right hand side. Am I doing this wrong?

    BTW I took a friend from the North to LMNH for food the other day, and we got the bar seats at the window. Even at 8pm she was gobsmacked at the number of bikes flying past on Old Street, which is nothing like the volume at peak times.

    1. The 'ban' was deliberately provocative. It's to point out how the City needs to change and truly accommodate cycling

  5. Bethnal Green Road - is that what they're doing? !! I saw them working on it today and stupidly thought they were putting in a narrow cycle lane alongside the pavement.....

    Bethnal Green Road is already a death trap along most its length for people on bicycles. There are two lanes of parking and two lanes of traffic, so anyone cycling along this fast moving road has to cycle in the centre of the lane to avoid the door kill zone from the parked cars. Vehicles stuck behind you tend to get frustrated at not reaching the next red light quickly enough and (especially taxis) rev their engines, tailgate and honk and then squeeze past with mm to spare shouting and swearing. Then at the traffic lights they push into the advanced cycle box and roar past so they can swing in front of you to get past the pedestrian island chicanes before you do..... It's just a horrible horrible place to cycle - and easily solved by taking out the car parking and replacing it with a cycle lane or a shared cycle/bus lane (ideally without taxis).

  6. The section of Bethanl Green Road that they are narrowing on both sides is going to be very bad. It's on a bend and is section where cars and lorries speed up after a section of crossings. The council seem to be using the road narrowing as an excuse to also add more car parking. And this I think is the real point of narrowing. There's a patina of nonsense about reducing speeds for vulnerable road users, etc bla bla bla. But what road narrowing allows is the creation of parking spaces. It happened on Cheapside and it's happening on Bethnal Green Road.

    1. Whilst I sincerely doubt there is any collusion between cycle trainers and traffic engineers, I certainly believe there is an unwelcome synergy between them; namely that, by having various grades of Bikeability which are by extension applied as "difficulty ratings" to various roads, traffic engineers can justify cycle-hostile designs on the basis that a Level 3 cyclist should be able to use it.

      This is effectively what we are seeing throughout the country with these ill thought out schemes which aim to use cyclists as human traffic calming and absolutely fail to grant any physical or strategic priority to cycling. These councils are failing cycling - they are giving peanuts with one hand and taking with the other, although I'm sure some of these schemes will have a tick box ASL somewhere.

      Instead of talking about the skill level a cyclist needs to use a stretch of road, we must instead talk about how well the various physical qualities and traffic dynamics of a given road serve (or, more likely, fail) a cyclist, so that a "level of service" grade can be given. There are tools in existence that can give a level of service grade from A to F with some basic information. An intimidating environment which requires extensive training as a coping strategy would inevitably score far lower than one with low volumes of traffic and/or a degree of separation that allows for a margin of error in accordance with Sustainable Safety principles.

    2. I think also we need to stop talking about 'the cyclist', and instead talk about 'people on bicycles' or 'bicycle riders' or 'people travelling by bicycle'

      - as roads should be suitable for everyone to ride on, including a 70 year old granny going to the shops, and a 13 year old girl returning home from school.

      Unfortunately the word 'cyclist' evokes an image of a fit man in his 20s or 30s who is experienced and brave and aggressive enough to survive cycling along Bethnal Green Road without getting either knocked or intimidated off...

    3. That as well. Even if we could be transported to a utopia where everybody keeps their distance from cyclists, road narrowing schemes would still fail to give any advantage to somebody cycling, so most people would probably continue driving or riding the bus. It would be like a nightclub announcing that they were going to keep their guestlist, but they would no longer have a separate queue - road narrowing attempts to make cycling pointless in terms of journey speed.

  7. Really? They're adding parking spaces? They should be getting rid of them - there's no place for parking on such a fast and busy road.

    Tower Hamlets really are the worst council in London. Did you see that their new budget has £100k put aside for 'cycle safety' and £1m for repairing religious buildings. Judging by the huge new mosque on Whitechapel Road, and the fancy frocks the pope wears, I'd say religious corporations don't need taxpayers' money, but the people whose lives are being put in danger by bad road design do. Their priorities are all wrong.

  8. "Pictured left, the new bike logos in action." Picture: empty taxis clogging the entire road. Loving the gentle sarcasm, Danny.

  9. "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."

    Where does the City come up with this absolute rubbish?!!!!

  10. I'm not quick to jump on City of London planners but I must challenge their assertion that segregated facilities encourages cyclists to cycle faster.

    Absolutely not true - it is in fact the opposite, as long as the segregation is complete from the traffic (i.e. physically and completely segregated). The reason for this is that if I'm cycling with traffic I speed to keep up with it for my own safety and to meet the expectations of motor traffic around me. With physical segregation I am no longer trying to get ahead of traffic for my own safety at junctions.

    If the City of London creates proper physically segregated tracks I automatically will cycle in a more relaxed way and at slower speeds as I no longer need to keep up with traffic. I feel less stressed which will affect the speed at which I cycle. It really is that simple.

    I hope the City planners read this.

  11. You can see here, in similar though much more accidental circumstances, how cyclists instinctively feel about road-narrowing schemes. (The cycle bridge on the left of picture is not very 'on-and-offable'.)

  12. "bike logos on Cheapside ... meant to encourage cycling
    down the middle of the road. "

    This seems to be the same vague concept as 'sharrows' in the USA.

    The same marking centred in the lane tends to mean 'take the lane' : off-centre it means 'split the lane !

    Very confusing.

  13. Providing information related to this is quite impressive.Encouraging cycling opposite bike is fantastic.