Tuesday, 30 July 2013

6pm on 2nd September - The London Cycling Campaign "space for cycling" ride in support of the Parliamentary debate on cycling on the same day. You really need to be there.

The 'tunnel of death'. Believe it or not, this is Boris's Cycle Way into the City of London. The bike way is underneath the lorry on the left. That lorry, incidentally, is turning right.
This morning I cycled to work, as I do most days, through the 'tunnel of death'. It's a narrow passage way created between two lanes of lorries and buses pictured above. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the main entrance to the City of London as you cycle over Southwark Bridge on one of Boris's expensively-constructed Cycle Super Highways. Bikes go straight ahead. Lorries in the left and right lanes are both turning right.

You can't hang back behind the traffic here and wait until it's safer to cycle through: A bike track spits you out into the queue of traffic, most of which is occupying the blue paint under that lorry. That blue paint is supposedly a bike lane. The thing is poorly thought-through. And it's lethal. It would also be incredibly simple to redesign this junction to work more safely but that's not going to happen for several years, if at all.

Another way for me to get to work is along Ludgate Hill, also in the City of London. Most days, that would involve cycling through the police chicane. Here's an image of the police chicane in action: The road narrows into a sort of zigzag where buses and lorries swoosh past you. If you're super fit and young, you race to try and get in front of the lorries. If not, you give up or you just get squashed by the road design, lucky you.

City of London police chicane where people on bikes are meant to 'merge' with lorries and buses 
As it happens, the City is proposing to build a brand new chicane exactly like the one pictured above as part of a multimillion redesign of the streets around Aldgate. As Rachel Aldred points out in an extremely balanced post, much of the scheme is an improvement, but the bulk of the scheme "builds in unacceptable risks for any cyclist unfortunate enough to have to use it". Her useful question, one that I bang my head against the wall on again and again is this: "How come these designs keep coming back, like Freddy in the Nightmare on Elm Street series?"

I think Rachel is absolutely right to talk about the fact that roads are being designed with 'unacceptable risk' for people using bikes as transport.

The fact is that the majority of cycle trips will be happening for years to come on roads that are not being made cycle-friendly. What's worse, many roads are actually being made worse for cycling. The Crown Estate is going ahead with its plans to narrow Haymarket and Lower Regent Street in central London which will make it even more intimidating to cycle north-south through the West End. It's true that the Crown Estate is supporting investment in an alternative route for cycling through Soho and is saying nice things about how bicycle transport is important for businesses in towns and cities but that alternative route is just a theory at the moment with no funding and no timetable.

The fact is that London's "Cycling Revolution" is still very much in its infancy and in a very fragile state. Early this year, the Mayor announced a series of initiatives. The key initiatives are:

  • Mini-Hollands in outer London - investment in a handful of areas to make cycling a strategic transport choice
  • A central London bike grid
  • A segregated cycle highway from west to east London 
  • A network of Quiet Ways for cycling in other parts of London

This is also a London cycle 'super' highway. It's underneath the coaches which park there at rush hour. Lovely to be squeezed between the coaches and the oil tankers here every day. 
Some of these things are beginning to creak into action. For example, earlier this week Hounslow published its pitch to receive funding for a mini-Holland network of better cycling and walking networks and it's pretty impressive stuff. The new, properly segregated Cycle Super Highway is already under construction between Bow and Stratford. And there a number of other initiatives under way to get the central London bike grid starting to happen.

But what's important to note is that (with the exception of the Bow cycle way) these schemes are still only concepts at the moment. None of them is guaranteed. It's not clear, for example, whether London will ever get that safe and sensible bike route through the centre of the West End (which is, frankly, embarrassing). And for those of you outside London, virtually nothing is happening. In the town I'm from, for example, the council had produced detailed plans to build a couple of miles of very low standard bike lanes (on shared use pavements) but these have recently been scrapped in a cost cutting measure.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of people have participated in protest rides at the scenes of recent cyclist deaths at Aldgate and Holborn - areas where people on bikes are dumped in to the middle of multi-lane junctions with no safe space for cycling - to insist that things really do have to change. As far as I'm aware, no-one is thinking about whether the complete dogs breakfast at Holborn needs to be redesigned. If it's not already on the list of possible Mayoral initiatives, nothing is going to change at Holborn for at least five years, possibly 10 more years. That pace of change just doesn't feel good enough for me and I think we need to show that we are impatient for change, we don't want to have to wait 10 more years for another hundred or so people to be needlessly killed because they have no choice other than to cycle through ridiculously designed road junctions. In short, we want to see meaningful change in London and elsewhere, that will allow people to chose the bicycle as a sensible form of transport.

AsEasyAsRidingABike blog put it excellently last week: "People want to ride bikes; to make short trips around towns and cities. They are being frustrated".

These are people who want to cycle. Normal everyday people doing normal everyday things. But they are being prevented from doing so by lack of initiative from government and local authorities to create conditions where this sort of thing is the norm. It looks normal, people want it to be normal, we need pressure to make politicians make this sort of thing standard, at any time, in any town. Pic courtesy AsEasyAsRidingABike

It's time to show that we're frustrated and want things to change.

On Monday 2nd September, MPs will be debating safer cycling in Parliament. The London Cycling Campaign has called for people to join a ride in support of the debate that evening to coincide with the debate. They're calling, sensibly, for 'safe space for cycling'. This is absolutely the right thing to do. If you can, please join. We need thousands of people to join the ride. We also need people to petition their MPs to attend the debate. There's a simple form to help you write to your MP on The Times's website. It takes two minutes to do.

The London Cycling Campaign Ride gathers at 6pm in Jubilee Gardens behind the Millenium Wheel (near Waterloo) for a 6.30pm departure. There will be feeder rides from all over London and the route will be well marshalled from start to finish. Please put it in your diaries and make sure to join the ride. It's critically important we show our MPs and our Mayor that this is something we're not going to let go away.

Route of the London Cycling Campaign Space For Cycling ride on 2nd September at 6pm. You should be there. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

One negligent Cycle Super Highway, three deaths. British Cycling & The Evening Standard call on Londoners to support London Cycling Campaign protest ride. Friday 6pm, Tower Hill. You need to be there

Rush hour at Elephant & Castle. Outside rush hour the bus lanes on this Cycle Super Highway convert to lanes for dodgy drivers to undertake law-abiding drivers at fast speeds. Funnily enough, no one cycles here when the bus lane hours aren't in operation 
Even the police think Cycle Super Highway 2 is too dangerous. Commenting on the third death of someone cycling on this route last week, police officers were telling the Evening Standard "it is so dangerous around here, people should be aware"

If something is 'so dangerous', people have three choices. Their immediate choice might be to avoid the danger. It's so dangerous, don't cycle here. But there's a Cycle Super Highway running right through here. You are being encouraged to use a bike here, you are supposed to be here. An alternative choice might be to wear a helmet, have lots of training on how to cycle in traffic, wear hi-viz jackets, attach hundreds of lights to your bike to make you even more visible. But, frankly, if a lorry driver overtakes you and then swerves left across you without looking in his mirrors, unless you have Bat Man-like instincts, you're stuffed, helmet or no helmet.

But you have a third option, though. And that is to call for change. You can demand that politicians and their officers change the danger; remove the danger.

As ibikelondon blog points out very eloquently, our politicians are taking an age to understand that the status quo is no longer good enough and that they need to act to change our streets. Waffle is no longer good enough. The Dutch road safety institute said very clearly in 2011, that the only way to remove the danger from roads like Cycle Super Highway 2 is to enforce a "structural separation of trucks and cyclists". We won't remove danger just by talking about it or, as the Mayor seems to think, by having more people on two wheels merrily pedalling around the lorries and buses. This is why I think the London Cycling Campaign is absolutely right to call for "clear space for cycling on our streets". What that means is safe space for cycling on our main roads, the places people want and need to go, not just on our city's backstreets. That view is backed by British Cycling which called on its members to support the London Cycling Campaign.

As the RAC Foundation highlighted today, one in six London drivers now rides a bike every week. Those of us who use a bicycle are not a fringe minority. That point is reinforced by the fact that London's main newspaper, The Evening Standard is also making clear it supports the protest ride: "In the wake of two cycling fatalities in recent weeks, one in Aldgate, the other in Lewisham, the protest ride will remind the Mayor and local councils that Londoners cycling on busy roads need dedicated space to protect them from fast-moving and heavy motor traffic."
The generous bike lane on Waterloo Bridge where Westminster Council encourages people to park their cars for free. This is late rush hour on a Friday evening (42% of rush hour traffic here is people on bikes) The bike lane, by the way, is underneath the parked cars. 

It is not a cycling campaign group but London's own newspaper saying this: "Cycle Superhighway 2 follows the A11 trunk road, a busy multi-lane road but despite being one of the Mayor's flagship commuter cycle routes, the section of Superhighway 2 from Aldgate to Bow roundabout has no dedicated space for cycling. Instead, cyclists are expected to jockey for position among lorries, cars, motorbikes, buses and taxis, with only blue paint and a few bike symbols to protect them."

Something has definitely changed. Two years ago when people first took to their pedals to protest at the woefully inadequate plans for Blackfriars Bridge (two years on, they're unchanged by the way), we were regarded by the media and London's politicians as something of a novelty . Now, calls for safe space for cycling are starting to go mainstream. But they're only going to stay mainstream if you join in and show you want to push for a solution.

We need you to vote with your pedals:

Meet 6pm for 6.15pm start at Tower Hill (where it meets Minories) http://goo.gl/maps/8Czme

The protest ride will last approximately 20-30 minutes, including a brief stop at the junction of A11 Whitechapel Road and A1202 Commercial Street to pay respects at the place where last week's victim died

The ride will be marshalled by LCC staff and volunteers, and will finish at Altab Ali Park around 6.30pm

Cycle safe.

BBC News on London's latest cycling fatality

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Second cyclist killed on Cycle Super Highway to Bow. Boris needs to sort this out now. And so does the City of London which is planning a whopping 50 centimetre wide bike lane down the road from here. That's hardly going to make things better, is it?

This is the Cycle Super Highway to Bow at Aldgate East. It is a completely negligent design. 
On Friday night, a young woman was killed while cycling past Aldgate East tube on a Boris bike. The Metropolitan police issued a statement that the cyclist wasn't wearing a helmet. The woman was killed in a collision with an HGV. Does anyone seriously think the key issue here is whether she was or wasn't wearing a helmet?

The BBC's London correspondent Tom Edwards got the message right when he reported: "The overwhelming feeling it leaves me with, is that for all the education programmes on blind-spots and millions being invested in safety, and for all the well-meaning exchange programmes for cyclists and HGV drivers - I'm afraid it doesn't seem to be working yet."

He's right. These things do help but they are only part of the answer. As the Dutch have been saying for years, "The ultimate solution for the blind spot problem is a structural separation of trucks and cyclists."

This is the second person to die cycling on Cycle Super Highway 2. The bike lane is a disgrace. It consists of blue paint and nothing else. The junctions are intimidating and difficult to cycle through, even for highly competent road cyclists. The bike lane is full of parked cars and vans. Lots of money has been spent on blue paint and PR and nothing more. It's a negligent disgrace.

What's even more of a disgrace is that lessons still haven't been learned. Last week, dozens of people attended the City of London cycling forum. The key topic of the evening was the Aldgate gyratory, ie the very area where last week's fatality took place. The room was asked to write down three things it liked and three things it didn't like about the City of London's plans to spend £12million getting rid of the Aldgate gyratory.

These are the plans by the City of London for Aldgate High Street. A one metre bike lane next to a 2.5 metre
loading bay for lorries. Spot the problem? Lorries are usually 3 m wide. That means the bike lane is actually only 50 centimetres wide. 

The feeling in the room was unanimous: The City of London's plans for Aldgate were woefully rubbish for people cycling east to west, just like the woman who was killed here last week was trying to do. What people wanted was proper, safe space for cycling. What people are going to get is bike lanes that stop, start, stop again and pavements that are massively wide. What they are also going to get is two metres of bike lane in one direction and a bike lane that is only one metre wide in the other direction. That one metre bike lane will run alongside a 2.5 m wide loading bay for lorries. Given most lorries are nearly 3m wide, that leaves 0.50 metres for you to cycle in. Oh, and the bike lane only lasts a few yards. After that you have to mix with the lorries and coaches through a police checkpoint that will be as wide as a coach but offers no safe way through for people on bikes.

There are, to be fair, some very good bits about the design: a brand new public space with a new north to south bike track is the highlight. But the scheme leaves a lot to be desired on the heavily-used east-west axis.

Detail of the planned road layout at Aldgate. Spot how the bike lanes start and stop all the time. Why? 
You can look at the City of London's Aldgate plans online and you can comment on them via the online survey. 

You can see a video fly-through of the Aldgate plans on the City of London website. It's interesting to compare them with the plans for a bus and bike lane in Manchester for reference.I know which road I'd rather cycle on.

Last night's death is horrific. And two groups of people need to do something about it. Transport for London needs to upgrade the whole of Cycle Super Highway 2 to make it safe to use because it quite clearly isn't. And the City of London needs to upgrade its plans a couple of hundreds yards down the road at Aldgate to make that area safe to use, because it quite clearly won't be under the current proposals.