Friday, 20 September 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 September 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

You can contact the Freight Trade Association:

Karen Dee, director of policy

James Hookham, managing director

Monday, 2 September 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ITV: Cycle Protest Underway