Tuesday, 9 April 2013

London's cycling commissioner sets out in detail what he expects to see happening on London's streets over the next three years. All the right noises but now the questions are all around delivery.

The room votes for the motion that "cycling is getting better", at least
getting better than it was looking this time last year.
Picture courtesy Rachel Aldred
Last night I chaired the first London Cycling Campaign Policy Forum, a meeting organised by Rachel Aldred  of the University of Westminster who is also leading a new informal academic cluster, the "London Cycling Research Group".  Lead speaker was London's new Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan.

The last time I sat in a room with a lot of cycling folk and a range of political folk was in April 2012 at the London Mayoral hustings where Boris Johnson put in an angry and bellicose defence of his cycling policies  and Ken Livingstone provided some pretty weak bluster that showed he had just about (but only just) grasped some of the strategic issues. The mood in the room was very definitely a mood of anger.

The mood last night was extremely different. I asked the audience at the end of last night's discussion whether they felt things since that date were looking up for cycling in London or whether they felt things were about the same (or, worse, going nowhere). I reckon 95% of hands shot up to say they felt things were getting better. All good stuff.

We learned quite a lot last night:

Gilligan was keen to stress that we are still going to see a lot of rubbish coming off the cycling production line; projects like the Olympic Park, which were agreed six to seven years ago and, he warned, will be way below standard in terms of cycling provision. It is a pretty tragic admission that the Olympic Park regeneration is going to be a cycling failure. But I can understand how he can't be held to account for a major piece of urban planning that was agreed well before his, or the current Mayor's, tenure.

Some more classy bike infrastructure at Vauxhall Cross.
Mixing it with buses.
If that's the case, what should we measure Boris Johnson's delivery on?  Boris set out his updated vision for cycling back in March. It consisted of a number of specific new measures and Gilligan provided a good deal of detail on some of these.

Gilligan made clear that he expects to see a much improved Cycle Super Highway 5 through Camberwell and out to New Cross in place this year as well as the Cycle Super Highway 2 Extension to Stratford. As he points out (and he's right to say this), Super Highway 5 is not going to be at the levels of international best practice. But it is going to be a darn sight better than the utterly hopeless designs that were first touted for this route and which I reviewed a couple of years ago (original plans available here). He indicated quite clearly that several of the planned Cycle Super Highways will be re-aligned (including Cycle Super Highway 5, for which the final route is still not decided) but wouldn't be drawn on details.

The first genuinely new deliverables are still a couple of years off; the first "Quietway" routes will launch in 2014 with a focus on orbital routes. One of those, he hinted, might be a route parallel to the south circular. Boris's headline-grabbing segregated bike track from west London, along the Westway towards Tower Bridge is not likely to be in place before 2016, he confirmed. Gilligan also provided some updates on the plans for "Mini-Hollands" - creating cycle-friendly boroughs in outer London. He stressed that "Not all of the outer boroughs are interested in cycling; some are actively hostile," but confirmed that he is expecting to award funds to between one and three outer London boroughs from a pool of seven that have confirmed they want genuinely to embrace cycling as a form of transport.

Cycling in the Netherlands. I can't see this being reality
in London for decades to come, I'm afraid. Source
AsEasyAsRidingABike blog
The topic of outer London merged seamlessly into discussions about the fact that children won't and don't cycle to school and a blunt admission that cycle to school rates are tumbling: "We spend a lot of money on cycle training", he pointed out, "yet the proportion of children cycling to school in London has fallen". Compare and contrast with the Netherlands where Dutch kids (and especially teenagers) seem to have been granted massively more independence than their UK counterparts, in part thanks to safe, easy-to-use bike infrastructure. Still, I think Gilligan's admission is important in itself - it is the first time I've heard a senior political figure (if that's a fair description?) admit that the policies of encouraging children to cycle to school in London and the rest of the UK have largely failed due to lack of safe routes to schools.

Two things worried me, though, and both are inter-related. It's extremely clear that Transport for London is going to be hugely dependent on local boroughs to implement London's new cycling vision. TfL has the cash and, to some extent, has a big juicy carrot with which to attract the boroughs. As Gilligan kept pointing out, they run 95% of the roads. He explained how the boroughs have formed a senior level working group that will coordinate the planned central London "bike grid" and some of the Quietways. It sounds good but Gilligan consistently repeated one slightly worrying mantra: "touch car parking and you die". He wanted to stress that the boroughs, as a rule, are loathe to move or remove car parking. In places like Westminster, where cars are free to park the length of the Waterloo Bridge bike lanes; along both sides of most of the borough's very poor quality bike routes, and where the borough is encouraging more and more car parking, this could be a real barrier to success. That said, boroughs like Camden are already demonstrating a clear ability to think more pragmatically about this sort of stuff, by simply moving car parking so that it's slightly more out of the way, rather than abolishing it entirely. Some of the parking schemes in Camden and Hackney are really grappling this problem and taking positive incremental steps to improve things. More of this across London would be a good start.

Hopeless cycle infrastructure in the City of
Westminster on one of its London Cycle
Network routes. I mean, why even bother?
Can design standards change this, though?
Gilligan's final piece of news was a confirmation that London will finally get its new London Cycle Design Standards this summer. This is significant. stuff. London's first Cycle Design Standards were published in 2005. And then consigned to the rubbish bin. They were weak standards and have been entirely ignored ever since. Gilligan is promising a significant upgrade when the new Standards are published. But the important thing will be whether those standards are followed through.

And that's where I worry that an organisation like Transport for London has a long way to go. Over 3,000 people work in the Surface Transport team at TfL, delivering changes to London's streets. Inculcating a real understanding of what London needs to make it a great city to cycle in will take time. We need cycling to pervade the thinking of every single one of those 3,000+ people. Cycle Design Standards are just the start of that process. What really needs to happen is that people within TfL have to feel a responsibility for making London a cycling city. And they need to push that responsibility into the boroughs. If cycling is treated as just a niche for a couple of years, that's not going to happen.

Things do genuinely seem to be on the move as far as cycling in London is concerned. And as one member of the audience from Cambridge Cycling Campaign put it, big noises coming from London can help change the debate all across the country. The real challenge now, though, is that we need to move from debate to implementation. That alone is what matters at this stage. Everyone can play a role in helping make London a better place for cycling. We need to be extremely vigilant to borough developments and to flag them loudly and clearly to Transport for London and the cycling commissioner, especially if things look like they're going wrong. And, importantly, we also need to keep tabs on the Mayor and his cycling commissioner as well to make sure that these good vibrations turn into good things on the ground.


  1. Do we know which outer London boroughs have expressed interest in the "Mini-Hollands"? And conversely, which are being hostile?

    1. I bet one not interested is Barnet.

    2. Greenwich has refused to speak to Gilligan, full stop.

    3. I thought Boris had announced Greenwich to be one of his 'God Dutch' testing grounds.

    4. As far as anyone can find, Boris simply made it up off the top of his head, and TfL has interpreted that as Greenwich town centre rather than the wider borough.

      Here's the latest: http://853blog.com/2013/02/13/go-dutch-in-greenwich-boris-bats-it-back-to-the-council/

      Gilligan referred to Greenwich's refusal when he launched his policy document; I couldn't get to ask him about it (and what locals can do about it) but it seems nothing has changed.

      It may well be that Greenwich deals with TfL rather than Gilligan directly, but there's well-grounded suspicions of political interference from the council's leadership, which doesn't really go in for co-operating with London-wide schemes.

  2. Any word on the pedelec hire bikes? The Mayor's Vision for Cycling outlined the possibility of:

    "A trial in different locations to the Barclays bikes, in areas which are particularly hilly or far from a tube station."

    Keen to see this up in my neck o' the woods. 300 feet above sea leavel and the nearest Underground station a full three miles away at Brixton.

    1. Yes, there was. Gilligan confirmed that e-bikes would be trialled on a hire basis in some boroughs. My recollection was he suggested these would be in outer London.

  3. On the subject of hostile boroughs, I gather Westminster was not mentioned.

    Things have advanced a long way in central London in recent years, with even the City making a number of improvements, particularly with filtered permeability schemes (Breams Buildings, Cursitor St, and most recently Stonecutter St), contraflows (another ten or so this year) and the promise to review a City-wide 20 limit, including red routes if TfL's arm can be twisted. Other boroughs are already ahead of that, with Camden's Torrington Place scheme operating at saturation, and Hackney being *almost* as brilliant as its councillor Vincent Stops claims.

    Westminster remains in the dark ages - nasty narrowing schemes like the Strand and more recently Piccadilly/Pall Mall, a warren of one-way streets with virtually nil cycle contraflow, huges issues over car parking.

    I suspect the latter - car parking - is a significant contributor to al the other issues. WCC has done its damnedest to turn its streets into linear car parks by making them all one-way and using half the road width for cars. It has worked hard to eliminate free parking wherever they find it - much to the fury of the Standard and its billionaire restaurateur cronies - primarily by charging for it instead, although to be fair they have also cracked down on parking near junctions or across dropped kerbs, also to the fury of the ES, Richard Caring, and a couple of antediluvian church groups.

    Why? I don't suspect honourable motives here. WCC is reputed to make over £30m pa in parking charge surplus, which must come in very handy in delivering one of the lowest Band D council tax precepts in the country - a shibboleth which WCC clings to like ivy. Given that a large proportion of the street parking is no doubt taken by visitors rather than resident permit holders the policy is not politically or economically neutral to them, but it screws the street environment for everyone else.

    The City by contrast has been steadily eliminating car parking capacity, mainly on-street but also off-street, with the Shoe Lane NCP (capacity 220 cars) being closed with the redevelopment of the International Press Centre, and not to be replaced.

    It would be a good start if WCC could be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century to permit cycle contraflow, but ejecting mass car parking in favour of cycle lanes should be a longer term aim. Presumably Gilligan has no power to achieve that.

    1. Agreed - now you mention it Westminister has some of my least favourite places to cycle, unfortunately I work there. However the NCP carpark is probably not a council matter, and also they knocked down NCP Covent Garden - I think there is a Cyclesugery there now :-)

  4. "touch car parking and you die"

    Obviously there's little Gilligan or cycle campaigners can do about this but I'm quietly hopeful that with time public opinion will change. 20 years ago it would have unthinkable to ban smoking in public places but now it is almost as unthinkable for someone to attempt to smoke in a pub. Perhaps we will see a similar change with car use in urban areas becoming increasingly seen as an anti-social, anti-societal, and unnecessary activity except for those who are mobility-impaired.

    It appears the Strand and other arterial central London streets will be closed next Wednesday for Thatcher's funeral with barely a week's notice. I presume there will be heavy parking restrictions in place around this date, wiping hundreds of cars of Westminster streets.

    If inner city motor traffic capacity can be drastically cut this easily and with this little notice one has to wonder is it really necessary in the long term either?

    1. I agree - the Sacred Cow of Parking puzzles me a bit, especially on high streets with decent capacity car parks nearby. Most of my car owning friends / family don't stop in high street parking if there's offstreet or supermarket etc. parking nearby, mostly because you can never be sure of getting a space on the high st, also because, well, what's the harm in walking a couple of hundred metres.

      On residential roads in places where there's no room for private off-street parking, sure, it's a genuine need, but clogging up an entire high street for a small amount of actual parking spaces for shoppers doesn't make sense. And on more spacious residential roads, people with the land to do so should be expected to store their property on it rather than on the public highway.

      I know some people are just plain lazy, but I don't think even the majority of suburban car owners in London are like that. Right out of town where the ratio of space to cars is more favourable, that's different, but any reasonable driver would surely agree that on-street parking should be a lower priority than getting everybody - pedestrians, cars, buses, bikes - through the street safely and efficiently.

    2. Isn't it motorist residents - a small minority in zone 2 - who are clogging up the side streets near local shops, discouraging pedestrian and cyclist movement with their "people carriers" forming metal walls?

      Why not remove resident cars from a 100 metre radius of shops, and permit visitor parking only by the tiniest micro-cars and electric cars, thus also encouraging more sustainable driving choices while minimising streetscape impact? Unless of course those in power hate small shops, and themselves store their cars on street near shops...

    3. I wonder if there is better to come on parking. By 2018 we should have both Crossrail and the full Thameslink scheme up and running. Crossrail adds 10% capacity to the whole London underground network, Thameslink not as much. Both schemes will suddenly make it vastly easier to cross London by train and link to the tube. This should trigger a further reduction in traffic in central London. At what point does that trigger "peak parking"? By that I mean a point at which demand for parking, especially by those driving into London, declines to the point where Westminster start to see a real decline in revenue and car parking spaces can be given over for cycle lanes. Will Westminster dare oppose the future Prime Minister?

    4. I should probably have said "the future Prime Minister allegedly!" Just there is a lot of speculation that Cameron may not survive.

      Mind you we might then get Lord Gilligan in charge of national cycling!

  5. Glad that there is progress. I really enjoyed Renting the Barclays bikes when I was a tourist in London in 2011,

  6. Everything I heard was very positive, especially on enforcing ASLs. The worst offenders here seem to be commercial drivers - taxi's and buses - so I think education on them for commercial drivers would be useful.

    But a weakness on challenging parking is very disappointing.

    Bethnal Green Road is a busy, fast-moving A-road. It has four lanes, but two of them are taken up with parking.

    This leaves a narrow and obstacle-filled gap down the middle for bicycles to navigate. We have to take the lane to avoid the door kill zone, and this causes drivers behind us to become impatient and angry - to tailgate, honk, rev, shout, and then push through with mm to spare. This antagonism is caused by the road infrastructure - specifically the unnecessary car parking along both sides.

    Yet, Tower Hamlets council, instead of taking out parking, are putting in more parking on the only safe stretch of road - http://ibikelondon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/busting-myth-that-road-narrowing.html

  7. I'm a mid-30s man, have been cycling since before I could walk, and cycling in London for 16 years. So I'm very confident on the bike...

    But Bethnal Green Road has beaten me into submission. It's the only realistic way into the centre of London from where I live, but with all the drivers pushing past and swerving towards me along there I tend to take the tube now.

    I used to cycle everywhere and I miss it. I've even been thinking about moving to another part of London to escape that road and get back on the bike again.

    1. Cycle in the middle of the lane so you have somewhere to go if swiped. (Almost) always go to the outside at junctions and stay in middle until you change lane. People will beep but just give them the finger. Safest way.

  8. To summarise …

    We are still going to see a lot of rubbish coming off the cycling production line.

    CS5 and CS2X will be in place this year (the specific course of the CS5 route is still to be determined).

    CS5 is going to be a darn sight better than the utterly hopeless designs that were first touted for this route, but it is still not going to be at the levels of international best practice.

    The first "Quietway" routes will launch in 2014 with the focus initially on orbital routes. One of those might be a route which runs parallel to the South Circular.

    The ‘Crossrail’ route is not likely to be in place before 2016.

    Plans for "Mini-Hollands" look promising.

    The Cycling Commissioner admitted that the policy of encouraging children to cycle to school through training is failing.

    The boroughs have formed a senior level working group that will coordinate the planned central London "bike grid" and some of the Quietways. TfL are not going to insist that any on-street car parking be removed as part of either programme.

    The new London Cycle Design Standards will be published this summer, and they’re going to better than before.


    Disappointingly, route information is still incredibly scanty, with no details at all as to how the various programmes – Cycle Superhighways, central London “bike grid”, Quietways, and mini-Hollands – are going to fit together.

    If TfL did publish the details of these plans – even provisionally – this would enable us to get a sense of the bigger picture. But I don't suppose it's going to happen this way, and this probably explains why, as you have suggested, you need to be "extremely vigilant".

    Finally, you reported that about 95% of the people at the meeting felt things were looking up for cycling in London. It put me in mind of a story concerning Einstein, who was asked what he thought about a publication entitled '100 authors against Einstein'. He replied: "Why a hundred? If I was wrong, one would be enough."

  9. I thought Andrew did well and also gave a dose of reality medicine. The usual comments about drivers behaviour popped up, but Andrew didn't give it much time. A lot of smaller incremental improvements are on the table, and Andrew knows which battles are worth fighting and which aren't. It's a shame that there _are_ some boroughs who really don't want to talk to him, and to me this is one of the problems - dealing with 33 London boroughs, all doing something slightly different, in a slightly different way.

  10. Like the idea of a parallel route to the South Circular.

    1. Yes, I like the idea of parallel routes as well, but in this case, I am sorry to say, the prospects do not look encouraging.

      When trying to identify strategic routes which avoid the main roads, one of the biggest problems to have deal with is railway lines. You can see from this map that I have coded both the A205 (South Circular) and the A2 in green. In between, coded in blue, are the various crossing points over two separate railway lines. Straightaway you can see that the options are limited.

      If you click the 'terrain' function, you will see another problem associated with the use of back streets, i.e. hills.

      In red is just one of about seventy routes which make up my proposed design for a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network. Personally, I do not regard this one as any more 'important' than the others. After all, cyclists need connectivity, and they need density (as well as safety and comfort and so on).

      What is the point in introducing just one route at a time? Why do we think this represents the best way ahead?

  11. I moved out of London nearly a year ago as I got fed up with the traffic in London and the scariness of it. It really irks me when some cycle campaigners don't see why I don't like cycling in London. I feel I need to have a handlebar camera and use segregated cycle tracks so that there is some protection from motor vehicles.

  12. One of the most positive comments was that TFL could "take a hit" on capacity for an important cycle route. For the TFL road network he is not dependent on Boroughs and they often have fewer junctions. The A316 has good cycle tracks in some parts , OK in others. Some junctions have toucans but a few suggest "we gave up here" .

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