Friday, 20 November 2015

Bike backlash in London: I'm with Green Jenny Jones - We cyclists need to give Boris some love (even if it pains you)

Cycle Highway 5 at 7.30am
Here's a question for you. Have you used Cycle Super Highway 5 at Vauxhall - a one mile bi-directional cycle track that whizzes over Vauxhall Bridge and cuts through the middle of one of London's most dangerous junctions? I have. I am going out of my way each day to test it from different directions. And, with a few teething problems (cars often roll over the stop line on red, blocking the track), I think it is brilliant. It has turned areas I used to avoid into part of a route I will go out of my way to make use of.

And I don't think I'm alone. Sure, at lunchtime it's not that busy. But at rush hour, at the end of the school day and at weekends, it's incredibly popular. As the Mayor's press release stated, cycle traffic is up 29% on the route already. That's only three weeks after it opened. Nearly 40% of vehicles crossing the Bridge at rush hour are now bikes.

The school run - Vauxhall cycle track. There
are three schools here by the way
What's more, the thing is already quite busy despite not even being properly finished. In two weeks' time, there will be a consultation on upgrading the bike tracks around the remainder of the Vauxhall gyratory so that east>west bike journeys are made easier and will line up with the new track on the Bridge. Once those links are built, the thing will be even busier.

In that context, London's talk radio station, LBC, has decided to add some statistics of its own. According to LBC 'research' on the Bridge one lunchtime, 'cyclists' aren't using it and 'pedestrians' don't like it. Have a read of the transcript. It's pretty weak stuff. Still, it allows LBC's reporter to claim the Cycle Highway is a waste of time and money. This is a bit like sending a journalist to view the first section of the M25 before it went anywhere and concluding there was no point building the motorway.

The facts of the LBC report are patently rubbish. But the report is very good at selling a simple message and clearly, plenty of people lap this sort of stuff up. Shock jock radio, 10 points, useful journalism, not really.

Cycle Highway 5 in the evening. 
You might think that a deeply biased radio show on LBC doesn't really matter. And to some extent, it really doesn't.

However, what does matter is that the general hum of noise against cycling is mounting. Love him or hate him, Boris Johnson has come on a long journey with regard cycling. I was fiercely critical of the first cycle super highways. They were an expensive and dangerous fudge. But they laid the groundwork for the Mayor to eventually get his spade out and do the things properly. We are only just starting to see the results of those new cycle highways but the Mayor will have left office before his flagship East-West cycle highway opens along the Embankment.

This puts the Cycle Highways in a really risky position. I wrote earlier this week about the Labour and Conservative Mayoral candidates - there's no obvious sign that the two candidates are in love with the Cycle Highways.

So, noises against investment in cycling do need to be countered. In fact, it is the Mayor himself who has, finally come out and nailed it. Speaking to the London Assembly this week, he said this:

As the Green Party peer Jenny Jones (who has been an absolute rock on things cycling-related for many years) said: 'Boris's commitment to cycling has "made [her] respect him for the first time ever"'. Love him or loathe him, the man has delivered. He was villified by many in the cycling community at the last election (including by me, if I'm honest). But credit where credit is due. Boris has stood firm against the critics. I've seen first hand some of the pressure the Mayor came under from Canary Wharf Group and others. Like Jenny Jones, I have to say that I'm full of respect for him pushing this through and delivering. I only wish he could have applied himself with the same zeal to a host of other issues too (housing, youth issues, to name a few).

Londoners on Bikes - sign up
Put Boris's cycling achievements in to the context of the next Mayoral campaign, though, and things start to look really worrying. Zac Goldsmith told LBC today that "[The cycle] campaign groups are quite hard to deal with". They're not really. For a supposedly 'green' candidate, it really wouldn't take much for Goldsmith to win the cycling vote. But perhaps Goldsmith thinks people who cycle aren't a significant voting block. Some news for him: Just like last time, Londoners on Bikes will be swinging into gear. At the last election, this pop-up campaign group mustered over 11,000 people to vote on cycling. Given Boris won the election by a hair's breadth, that's not a mean number. There are more of us now and I expect the Londoners on Bikes campaign to deliver even bigger numbers. Can I suggest that people start to follow Londoners on Bikes on Facebook or Twitter and all will become clear over the coming weeks.


Monday, 16 November 2015

Cycling in London: Could Sadiq Khan or Zac Goldsmith be about to kill off cycling investment before it even gets started?

The Tour du Danger as we left Oval junction, November 2011
Credit @zefrog
I haven't blogged for months and months. To some extent, I have felt overwhelmed by all the new and shiny cycling things that are going on. It is exactly four years ago that many of you took part in a ride that set out from Oval, the #tourdudanger, a ride which was intended to highlight Boris Johnson's failure to create safe cycling conditions and, above all to reject his theory that cyclists just needed to "keep their wits" about them and they'd be fine. He was talking about Elephant & Castle, a junction where there was almost one serious cycling injury every week. A serious cycling injury meaning, say, a broken back. Or worse.

Clearly, the Mayor's "keep your wits about you" strategy of 2011 was a failure. And we wanted to shout that loud and clear.

Oval bike lane before (under the lorry) & building the new bike lane (right). No idea
how I managed to snap the exact same lorry twice!
Fast forward to 2015 and Oval junction is one of the first to to have been upgraded with new cycling design standards. The new design may have a couple of teething flaws (the most annoying is that motor traffic regularly blocks the cycle track as it crosses left turn lanes) but I know that TfL is aware of these issues and has ideas about improving them. The fact is that there are now people at TfL who think about this stuff. There are (relatively new) standards that they need to design to. Slowly but surely, it feels like the TfL machine has taken cycling into its head and is equipping itself to treat cycling the same way it treats the Underground - like a real and proper part of London's transport mix.

And yet, I can't help noticing that, just as TfL starts to treat cycling like a grown-up transport mode, things are stirring that might bring all this good work to a bit of a messy end.

Two weeks ago, I read a comment piece in the Evening Standard by Andrew Gilligan, the cycling commissioner, which brought some of this home. Gilligan honed in on some comments made by Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan on LBC Radio about the cycle super highways. I've had the dubious honour of paying LBC some hard-earned cash to go back and listen to those radio slots.

Zac Goldsmith talking on LBC about the Cycle Super Highways in September
On the one hand, we have Zac Goldsmith implying that he thinks cycle funding should be put into 'Quietways' and not Cycle Super Highways. I can't tell exactly what Goldsmith means here but if you'll permit me, what this seems to suggest is that the Conservative Mayoral candidate thinks cycling should be down quiet back streets, out of the way (and out of sight of voters perhaps?) with decisions taken street-by-street about whether or not to accommodate cycling. That's the planning equivalent of trench warfare: cycling ok for 100 metres, rendered dreadful for the next 100 metres and then blocked by an intransigent council or bunch of residents for the next 100. It's the sort of mess that built the vastly compromised London Cycle Network - a very patchy network of routes that can be excellent in small parts of London but are downright dreadful in most of the city because those local councils or residents didn't really want to build safe cycling streets in the first place and just pocketed the cash in exchange for a few roadsigns.

Sadiq Khan talking on LBC about the Cycle Super Highways in October

Sadiq Khan is a bit more ambiguous. He seems to suggest he likes the Cycle Super Highways but not the way TfL has gone about building them. He's also questioning "the route" - as if there was only one Super Highway. I'm not sure how else TfL was supposed to go about building the Cycle Super Highway but if you read Khan's comments carefully you might notice something. These comments sound incredibly similar to those uttered last year by both the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association and by Canary Wharf Group. Both organisations talked about 'supporting' segregated Cycle Super Highways. Both organisations, however, talked about 'the route' being wrong, by which they meant the Cycle Highway along the Embankment (and seemed oblivious to the fact there are already two segregated Cycle Highways elsewhere) and both openly criticised TfL's on 'process' issues relating to building the Cycle Highways.

Let's not forget, the LTDA still has a court case pending (early next year I am assuming), having applied for a judicial review on the grounds that TfL should have sought planning permission before beginning construction. If you read Sadiq Khan's comments in this light, it sounds to me awfully like he, the LTDA and Canary Wharf Group are talking the same sort of language.

The craziness of the LTDA case is that the Embankment Cycle Highway will basically have been built by the time the taxi drivers (may) see their day in court. What do they hope to achieve? Another year of roadworks while the thing gets dug up and more people get killed? Certainly feels that way.

But I'm more worried by Zac and Sadiq. They're not exactly expressing much love for cycling as a legitimate part of the transport mix right now.

If I were you, I'd start asking both of these Mayoral candidates much more about where they stand on cycling as a legitimate part of London's transport mix - one that needs proper funding and proper direction. And I'd be keeping a very cynical eye on similarities between how these two Mayoral candidates talk about cycling and how the LTDA and Canary Wharf Group talk about cycling too. The similarities are a bit too obvious, in particular in Sadiq Khan's case here. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Flurry of good, bad and downright ugly plans for new cycle routes on the edges of central London

All of a sudden, there is heaps of stuff going on with London's cycling infrastructure. I'm afraid this blog post isn't going to be the most exciting, but it's an attempt to provide a quick update on some of the latest schemes that need your attention.

Decent cycle track changes planned at Old Street

Firstly, it is worth noting that the City of London has recommended to its politicians that they 'accept' the East-West Cycle Superhighway. This is something of a significant milestone when you consider, for example, that The Royal Parks are not 'accepting' the need to provide protection for people using the Superhighway outside Buckingham Palace

Less encouragingly, it is still entirely unclear what the City of London is doing at Aldgate. TfL has already started building the long overdue protected cycle track from Aldgate to Bow. The problem is that no-one really seems to know what's going on at the Aldgate end. The City is removing the Aldgate gyratory, which is very welcome, but it's not clear to me, or anyone else I speak with, what the City's final plans are at the end of Cycle Super Highway 2 when the road passes from TfL control to City of London control. This has been rumbling on since 2013, when draft plans were issued, recalled, and reissued. The last plans I saw showed the protected cycle tracks stopping at Aldgate where people would be forced back into cycling in front of HGVs and coaches on narrowed general traffic lanes.

Museum of London roundabout. Follow the (green) bike-only
filter to turn left. Swing into the narrow right hand lane
with motor traffic honking at you for '
not being in the bike lane' to go straight across (red)
Also within the City, some people will have noticed the weird goings-on at the Museum of London roundabout. If you're heading south, you're now encouraged into a cycle-only left-turn filter. If like most people, you're cycling straight across, you now have to enter the right hand lane at the roundabout entrance. I find the whole thing utterly confusing and resent being made to filter into the right hand lane just to travel straight across. It's not always the easiest manoeuvre and is entirely counter-intuitive on a bike as well as for drivers who don't understand why people on bikes are suddenly moving OUT of the cycle lane (not realising the bike lane is only for left turns). It also means close overtakes on the narrowed lane on the roundabout itself. Nasty stuff. This is the fourth most dangerous junction in the City and it's hardly surprising to see why. The only upside I can see is that the City is experimenting here with a view to sweeping away the whole gyratory scheme between St Paul's and the Museum of London within the next few years. What needs to happen here is slower motor traffic speeds, better pedestrian crossings and safe space for cycling. It feels to me like here is one roundabout where there is plenty of space to achieve that with a standard Dutch roundabout layout rather than this weird mix of on-off cycle lanes.

Apparently, this is a cycle track. Shared use pedestrian / cycle crossings
and then along the pavement in front of the tube station.
Not good enough by a very long way
More interestingly, TfL has released plans for Cycle Super Highway 1, from just above Liverpool Street to Tottenham. And it's rather patchy. Most of the route follows the existing 'quiet' route up to Old Street and towards Stoke Newington rather than along the main A10 route. There are some good proposed improvements in most of the section through Hackney, notably at Old Street itself and Culford Road. But get closer to Tottenham and it falls apart. The route through Haringey would involve you hopping on and off cycle tracks with hugely complicated shared crossings. At one point, the 'super highway' will actually be a shared use pavement right in front of the entrance to Seven Sisters tube station. At another, you'll be ducking under trees placed in the middle of the bike track along Tottenham High Road. It's worth noting, however, that the TfL consultation gives a fairly strong hint that the engineers know this isn't good enough: "We welcome suggestions for alternative route alignments through Haringey. We continue to investigate alignment options including the extension of the two-way cycle track further south along Tottenham High Road". If you know the area, do take time to respond to the consultation with your suggestions.

And, finally, two more consultations to be aware of:

Cable Street - where TfL has announced some fairly sensible proposals to make this already busy cycle track (CS3) safer and simpler. The online consultation is open for another couple of weeks.

Chelsea Bridge - There is a good suggestion to extend the westbound cycle lane along the river all the way to the junction at the northern end of Chelsea Bridge but a really half-hearted attempt to install a Copenhagen-style two-stage right turn heading into London. The two-stage concept works well in Denmark but that's because it works on all four sides of a junction. I don't see why you'd introduce it going one way only (nor for that matter why you'd install an advanced stop box that negates the need for a two-stage right). In any case, take a look for yourselves and comment on the consultation.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Thanks to muddy thinking by The Royal Parks, one of Britain's most iconic buildings to be the scene of Europe's most laughable cycling infrastructure

TfL's proposal is for safe space for cycling at Buckingham Palace. The Royal Parks have vetoed this plan
Imagine cycling on London's new and impressive cycle highway with your teenage children. You're cycling along safe, protected tracks all the way through from the Tower of London on your way to Hyde Park. And then, just as you get to Buckingham Palace, the cycle tracks stop. And you and your kids will have to move into three lanes of traffic, then turn off the road onto the pavement and wait to cross SIX lanes of traffic, to get back on to the cycle track. Heading the other way, you'll just have to make it across the junction above by mixing in with all the taxis turning left as you try to cycle straight on.

That is exactly what is going to happen. Because for some reason, with no evidence I'm aware of, The Royal Parks, seems to have vetoed Transport for London's proposal to put safe space for cycling through the junction in front of Buckingham Palace.

In front of one of the world's most iconic landmarks, we will have one of the world's most laughable pieces of cycle infrastructure. The tourists who see it will compare with what's going on back at home and have to laugh at just how backwards Britain is. Or, rather, it would be laughable if it weren't so downright irresponsible of The Royal Parks and so dangerous for everyone forced to use it.

The picture above shows Transport for London's proposal and looks quite harmless to me. You can see that cyclists are given a safe space to cycle through the junction from left to right and are kept neatly away from the motor traffic. Pictured below is a map that shows what the Royal Parks wants you to do: Jump off the cycle track (in red) and into the stream of traffic through the junction. And then back off the road on to a track. As the Evening Standard put it, this create a genuine "giant gap" right in the middle of the Mayor's cycle super highway.

Proposed route courtesy of the Royal Parks. Highlighted in red: Off the cycle track, back on to the road.
Buckingham Palace is in the bottom of this map. Alternatively, wind through thousands of pedestrians
on the section in green. 
If you look carefully at the plans, you will see there is in fact an alternative to sprinting it across the front of Buckingham Palace. And that is by following the service road along The Mall and then on to the Constitution Hill cycle track by following the bit I've highlighted in green above. But that means cycling through a shared space area which is the extremely busy pedestrian tourist route to Buckingham Palace from Green Park. The Royal Parks can't seriously want to encourage people to cycle directly across the path of all those thousands of tourists? It would be chaos for everyone.

Tonight's Evening Standard. Thank you so much, Royal Parks
Let's just be clear about this. The Prince's Foundation wrote to the Mayor to support his cycle super highway plans. From what we know, the Royal household has no objection to the cycle super highway plans. But The Royal Parks does seem to object to the cycle super highway plans and is content to throw people into the middle of a very busy, six-lane road junction and force them to work their way across from one side to another over a space of 300 metres. For no tangible reason other than someone doesn't seem to like the idea of making cycling a safe form of transport.

I don't think The Royal Parks has much of a clue what they're doing with the cycle super highway. In November it wrote to the Mayor insisting that "the Cycle Superhighway routes must be entirely road based as they pass through Hyde Park".And yet it seems to be encouraging TfL to build a solution through the park that ISN'T road-based (the majority of the route will be on protected tracks) except in front of the Palace where it will be. The letter suggests that The Royal Parks is rather worried about 'more cycling' in the Park and its impact on other users. Fair enough. But nowhere does The Royal Parks seem worried about the massive volumes of motor traffic in the parks and the impact of that on other users. Bikes are the demon, it seems, but it's fine to route multiple lanes of through motor traffic through a park. Just bizarre.

Have a read of The Royal Parks's submission to the Mayor. It is truly brazen. It insists, for example, that that TfL should "indemnify The Royal Parks from any personal accident claims resulting from the use of any parts of the Superhighway route in the parks". You have to wonder whether The Royal Parks have demanded this in relation to cyclists alone or whether they also place similar demands on other roads users, car drivers for example?

The problem section hightlighted in red. Between Birdcage Walk and Constitution Hill,
thanks to the Royal Parks, you're on your own, mate. 

The latest consultation shows the route of the proposed cycle highway through the Royal Parks. There are, to be fair, some decent bits here. Much widening of existing, low-grade cycle infrastructure that could make it properly useful. That said, I have my own strong doubts about the fact that this cycle highway will be closed late at night (Hyde Park section will be shut), thereby dumping people on the hugely busy, multi lane alternatives which are Park Lane and Bayswater Road and I think that needs addressing as well. And I can see that The Royal Parks may wonder why the cycle highway can't be routed, say, up the side of Park Lane and the side of Bayswater Road.

I'd urge you to do two things.

1) Look at the new consultation and send your comments. The TfL consultation is online here.

2) But why not ping an email to the Chief Executive of The Royal Parks, Linda Lennon, The Old Police House, Hyde Park, W2 2UH - email and ask her to reconsider her position to allow safe space for cycling in front of the Palace. The current plans simply don't stand up.

Following the Evening Standard article, are The Royal Parks back tracking? 

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

WOW. TfL approves cycle super highways. But real threat still lurks. Not from taxis or the freight industry but, in my opinion, from Canary Wharf Group, which seems to have been trying to undermine the public consultation

This morning the Transport for London board met and voted to approve the go-ahead for five Cycle Super Highway projects. The vote was the result of years of work by literally thousands of people. And my initial reaction, one shared by many, was of utter relief. To be absolutely honest, I got on the tube on the way back from a meeting and let a tear or two drop. And then grinned. A lot.

Here's a map I made earlier. The green line is roughly the route of the Cycle Super Highway.
The top map shows the google maps directions.
And I have to say, Boris was on pretty fine form during the meeting. I have knocked the Mayor many times on this blog. But this time he had absolutely mastered his brief and he was taking no nonsense.

And there was plenty of nonsense.

First, let me start with the nonsense spouted by Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the National Express Group. Sir John said this: "I would say the biggest danger to London cyclists on the roads in London are actually themselves," And, I am not making this up, at the same time he made this ridiculously poorly informed statement, a National Express coach collided with someone on a bicycle at Marble Arch, closing that junction.

Armitt is practising victim-blaming at its crudest and least-informed. And I would expect more of someone who sits on the board of London's tranport agency.

He went on to say: "The way in which many, many, many of them ride one is surprised that in fact the number of accidents is not far larger because it is an entirely different way of cycling to which you see in many other cities," Perhaps Sir John needs to undertake some research into why cycling in other cities is different to London. And perhaps he might join the dots to realise that the lack of safe, protected cycle infrastructure is a big part (but not the only part) of the reason.

But in all of this, I think the bigger issue is Canary Wharf Group. As we now know, Canary Wharf Group (to borrow from The Guardian) "infamously began their lobbying efforts with an anonymous briefing paper containing a series of inaccuracies about the scheme."

Here's the email sent by the Freight Trade Association to TfL's lawyers. Strangely, the email subject line
is 'Canary Wharf Response to Cycle Superhighway Announcement".
Why is the FTA sending Canary Wharf's emails for them?
What we also learned today is that Canary Wharf seems to be playing some new dirty tricks: At one point during the board meeting Boris brought up the fact that the TfL board members had received letters objecting to the scheme which "left the Canary Wharf Group draft letter on by accident". The letter was sent to the board and is therefore a public document. And it is pretty blatant. What Boris is referring to is a letter emailed from the Freight Trade Association to TfL board members objecting to the Cycle Super Highways in which the FTA (rather foolishly) left the following email subject line: "Fwd: Canary Wharf Response to Cycle Superhighway Announcement". In other words, it looks awfully like the Freight Trade Association is sending Canary Wharf's for them. Either that or it is a rather odd honest mistake. In any case, it all feels like a repeat of the dodgy briefing paper that Canary Wharf was circulating last year.

We have also been told by one reliable media source that the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association told him their plan to seek a Judicial Review against the cycleways was likely to be funded by Canary Wharf Group. One media source is not concrete evidence that Canary Wharf Group and the LTDA are working hand in hand but it is public knowledge that Canary Wharf Group has not denied it is interested in a judicial review. And we know that the LTDA would like to pursue a judicial review.

It feels to me like what is emerging is a pattern whereby Canary Wharf Group is trying to subvert the public consultation and it appears that it may be using front-guys like the LTDA and Freight Trade Association to pursue its own agenda. If that really is the case, then the question is not really about cycling any more, it's about who actually runs London. The Mayor and the democratic structures that support him? Or Canary Wharf?

Why would Canary Wharf Group be so hell-bent on wrecking the Cycle Super Highway plans?

I have no idea. But I can point to two things:

Firstly, look at the map above. We know that Sir George Iacobescu, chairman and CEO of Canary Wharf Group lives in W1 and my understanding is he is driven to work. Look at that map. His route to work is right along most of the Cycle Super Highway.

Secondly, we know that Canary Wharf Group is in the middle of being sold to new shareholders. Could it be that the new shareholders (Qatari Investment Authority lead among them) don't want Londoners to have safe cycling infrastructure? 

It does seem that Canary Wharf Group is agitating very strongly to kill the Cycle Super Highway. And you have to ask why. Furthermore, you have to ask whether Canary Wharf Group is beginning to demonstrate excess influence on London's democratic planning processes.

Along with thousands of others, I am hugely relieved that TfL has approved the Cycle Super Highways. We're now all waiting to see whether someone will attempt a Judicial Enquiry to stop them from happening. The question is who will be funding that and whether they'll come clean about it. 

Monday, 2 February 2015

Another person needlessly killed on a bike. On Wednesday, Transport for London's board will either back safe cycling or give in to more of the same. You can attend in person and help hold them to account.

This afternoon, there has been another serious collision on a busy London road. Yet again, between someone driving a lorry and a person on a bike. Yet again, the person cycling has been killed. I'm left not knowing what to think. Every time this happens (and the last time it happened was a week ago), I think it could have been me. Or my partner. Or a colleague, or friend. And I get angry. I get angry because I think of all the people who could be doing things to stop these deaths and have done nothing. I get even angrier when I think about the people - and I count Canary Wharf Group and the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association among them - who are actively trying to keep the status quo.

On Wednesday, Transport for London's board has a chance to put things right and to vote to change things by backing the Mayor's Cycle Super Highway plans. And it would be scandalous if the TfL board voted otherwise.

On the same day as this latest fatality, Transport for London announced that cycling on main roads in London had increased 10% over last year and is forecast to grow 12% this year.  The press release proclaims that "Across the TfL road network, London's main roads...[cycling levels are at their] highest since records began in 2000".

That's all well and good. But people are being encourage to cycle on main roads with virtually nothing to protect them: No safe space for cycling, forced to mix it with fast-moving lorries and buses and with parked vans in the bus lanes. And to date, the Mayor's investment in making cycling safer has, in my opinion, been predominantly focussed on painting blue lines down these busy, main roads. As a result, as cycling trips increase, so the number of people killed and seriously injured has gone up. In other cities, the opposite has happened. They have built safe cycling infrastructure, the numbers of cycle trips have gone up but cycling has become safer.

Chairman of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association on cycling. Truly bizarre. 

But the Mayor too has changed. He has realised that blue lines simply aren't good enough. And to his credit he has persuaded the Treasury to fund meaningful investment in making it safe and convenient to travel by bike. He's taken Transport for London with him on the journey and TfL has hitched itself up, studying and learning from other cities. What's coming is a series of new cycleways that will be largely protected from heavy, busy motor traffic. The proposed network is still tiny and most people will be stuck travelling on killer roads for years to come. But it is a massive start. And a massive change.

Last week, the Mayor announced he's made his mind up. He's going ahead with the Cycle Super Highway schemes. But there are a couple more hurdles to come. The next of these is on Wednesday when the Transport for London board meets and Item 7 on the agenda is to agree the Cycle Super Highway plans. Building will get started later this month.

The TfL board is a strange set-up. Chair of the TfL finance committee is Peter Anderson, finance director of Canary Wharf Group. As we all know, Canary Wharf Group attempted a dirty tricks campaign to brief against the Cycle Super Highways. Canary Wharf's latest position is to demand that TfL build a "trial" cycle super highway rather than the real thing. Can you build a trial motorway? Or a trial train line? No you can't. And you can't build a trial cycle way either.  Canary Wharf's public positioning on this subject is a farce. From what I understand, however, the Canary Wharf finance director is still free to attend the TfL board that will decide on Cycle Super Highways, despite the stellar conflict of interest on this topic. It is quite surprising that TfL's governance procedures are so lax to allow that to happen.

Unite the Union in support of protected
The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association also has a seat on the TfL board - one of two taxi-related TfL seats. And the LTDA has been vociferous about trying to kill of the Cycle Super Highways, threatening a judicial review. They too get to sit on the Board meeting that will decide the fate of Cycle Super Highways, despite threatening to derail them (although I think the LTDA has observer-only status).

You might note, by the way, that no-one on the TfL board represents people who cycle.

What's strange about the LTDA is that its scathing response to the Cycle Super Highway consultation is sent on behalf of the London Cab Ranks Committee, which is an arm of Unite the Union. Now, Unite the Union's own taxi representative seems to be of a different opinion: Unites's taxi rep is absolutely clear that the Union wants to see protected cycle space in London, away from busy and heavy motor traffic. Employers representing thousands of union members have also written in support of the Cycle Super Highways. It seems to me that the LTDA is completely out of line with wider opinion in London. As CityMetric puts it, the taxi trade seems to be acting out of "naked self-interest". I think the same could be said of Canary Wharf Group.

So Wedneday is going to be crunch time. As Boris Johnson said last week, he's confident the full board will back the schemes later this week: "We’ll have to see but I’m confident they will.” I guess we will all see whether the TfL board gives in to naked self-interest. Or whether it acts to protect the people of London and provide them with safe routes for cycling.

You'll be able to watch the TfL board meeting live on the GLA webcast page. Wednesday 4th February, 10am. Or turn up and attend in person. It's a public meeting and open to public attendees. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Boris finally commits Cycle Super Highway plan to make bicycle as much part of the London street as a black cab or double decker bus. Minutes later - the black cab industry seeks judicial review to kill the scheme. Disgraceful.

It has been nearly four years in the making. And this morning, the Mayor finally threw his weight behind his planned "Crossrail for the Bike" - a commitment to build two protected "cycleways" running east-west and north-south through central London. This is a massive step forwards. In my view, it will make the bicycle a central part of the way people travel around London, in just the same way as they get on a double decker bus or (for those who can still afford them) into a black cab. 

Vauxhall Bridge with the planned cycleway on the left
For the first time ever, London will have two clear, protected route for people cycling through the centre of the city. It is nothing short of scandalous that there isn't a single east-west bike route through London at the moment. 

These plans will go ahead more or less as proposed, albeit with a couple of amendments that will balance concerns from some parties about possible motor traffic congestion. Provided the board approves the plans at its meeting on 4th February, construction gets going in March. 

That, at least, was the plan at the start of this morning. Minutes after the announcement, the BBC announced that the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association would be seeking a judicial review of the plans. Funny, really, because people had been worrying that Canary Wharf would be the ones to come up with this ruse. Instead, it's been left to one branch of the black cab trade to deliver this sort of dirty work. The LTDA took to twitter earlier to insist that "the cycling minority are very over represented!" My understanding is that a judicial review could hold things up for many months. Worst case, it could even kill the scheme. The LTDA would be seeking a review of the process behind the consultation. Bear in mind that this is the largest consultation TfL has ever held and you'd have thought that the taxi association is on very very weak ground on this. But let's see. 
Embankment as it will look in late 2016

Sticking with what we do know, we can tell there are very few changes to the planned north-south cycleway (from Elephant to Farringdon). On the east-west route (from Tower Hill, along the Embankment, Parliament Square and up towardds Paddington), though, there are a number of amendments. TfL's original proposal was to remove up to two motor traffic lanes at some points along the Embankment and create a four metre wide bi-directional cycle track. The track will be four metres in most places but will narrow to three metres (roughly the same width as the current Cycle Super Highway 3, as it heads along Cable Street) in some short stretches to allow TfL to retain an extra motor traffic lane. Is three metres ideal? No. Is it viable? Yes. There have had to be some compromises along the route but they are fairly short sections and if it takes a few compromises to get this thing built, well, my own view is build it. See how things change over time as more and more people start using the cycleway and pressure increases to make more space for cycle traffic. 

As some black cabs come out against safe cycleways,
UBER London made it clear that it supports them
All in all, this is starting to become something really quite substantial. London is slowly going about building a network of routes along its main thoroughfares with meaningful space for people on bikes. My understanding is that the first section to be completed will be Oval to Pimlico over Vauxhall Bridge, which should be live and kicking by October this year .The other sections will take longer: For example, the new east-west route will mean, for the first time, a simple way through Lancaster Gate, a horrid four to five lane double roundabout that is a massive barrier to cycling. Building this sort of stuff takes time. But if things go to plan, all these routes will be in the ground by late next year. 

And it is well overdue. The original Cycle Super Highway programme, launched by the Mayor when he first came to office, was nothing short of a scandal. Vast amounts of money were spent painting blue lines on major trunk roads that provided almost no tangible benefit to anyone other than the consultants and contractors who worked on them. According to TfL, in the 18 months to December 2014 alone, seven cyclists died on these and other roads proposed to be upgraded in the superhighway programme. That's just not good enough. It is not for nothing that the Chief Executives of all London's major trauma and A&E centres have publicly supported the Cycle Super Highway plans. The black cab industry has now put itself in direct opposition to London's hospitals. Not a responsible thing to be doing, I'd suggest. 

The original Cycle Super Highway
programme was nothing short of
scandalously dangerous
TfL's board will also be voting next week to approve two more schemes - Cycle Super Highway 5 from Oval and over Vauxhall Bridge and also Cycle Super Highway 1 from Tottenham down to the City. The latter scheme hasn't gone to public consultation yet but is up for approval in advance and is already being vetted by relevant local authorities. From what I can understand, the LTDA's problem is with only one of these schemes - the East-West route along the Embankment. Why particularly that route and not any of the others, gosh only knows. But I can't help noticing that Canary Wharf Group was also hugely opposed to this one route yet silent on all the others. A connection, perhaps? 

For years, the Mayor insisted his original Cycle Super Highways were a great idea. Notoriously, he insisted that the Elephant & Castle roundabout - where there have been 123 serious collisions in the last three years, half of which involved cyclists or pedestrians - was "fine" if you "kept your wits about you". Eventually, the message has got through. Massive multi-lane road systems designed to favour motor traffic rather than people traffic are not "fine". These places have to change to allow the majority of people to use them on an equal footing with the minority of people in motor vehicles. That means creating safe,  convenient routes through them on a bike. And it seems to me that the Mayor has finally understood this message. 

The wheels have finally been set in motion. Thousands of people took part in the consultation, in support of these schemes. Over 130 CEOs of major London businesses wrote to the Mayor to urge him to go ahead - big names like Orange, the Financial Times, most of London's major law firms, some of its banks, plenty of other big household brands like Unilever, Microsoft and CocaCola. 

In other words, there is a massive swell of support for these schemes. And then there are a few organisations that want to bully the schemes into non-existence. My bet is the LTDA will lose its attempt at a judicial review. More importantly, though, I think people need to show the LTDA they are out of step with what people want London to become. 

Piece by piece, London is going to turn into a city where most people can use a bike, in the same way that most people can take the bus. That has to be a good thing. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Has Boris just announced East-West Cycle Super Highway will be going ahead? But could the Royal Parks still prove an obstacle?

Earlier this week, talking on an LBC radio show, Boris Johnson had this to say in response to a caller about the planned East-West Cycle Super Highway: "It's got to be done".

As far as I can tell, that comes pretty close to Boris saying it's going ahead.

I think we'll find out fairly soon what's going on. We know that Transport for London will be deciding whether to approve the East-West Cycle Super Highway at a board meeting in February. For Boris to make this statement in public so soon before that board meeting suggests that, at the very least, his own mind is made up.

One big remaining question is whether the Cycle Super Highway will go ahead as presented in the consultation or not. In fact, it's worth reminding ourselves that not all of the scheme has actually been put to consultation yet, in particular,  the section between Parliament Square and Lancaster Gate. This section has yet to be agreed with The Royal Parks as it crosses their patch of London. I've circled in red those sections on the original consultation map which have not yet been opened to consultation.

If you look at The Royal Parks's public submission to the consultation, it is pretty clear they think bikes should be on the roads: "the Cycle Superhighway routes must be entirely road based as they pass through Hyde Park". Now, I don't know about you, but I don't much fancy having to man up and 'take the lane' on large chunks of the route through the Royal Parks and that's because significant sections of these roads are either a) damn fast, multi-lane roads, for example at the roundabout outside Buckingham Palace or b) extremely narrow but extremely busy rat-runs (for example, West Carriage Drive) where you simply can't get past on a bike when motor traffic is queuing (which is often) and where close, intimidating overtakes are the norm when motor traffic is free-flowing.

Even more odd: The Royal Parks letter sets out demands that TfL should "indemnify The Royal Parks from any personal accident claims resulting from the use of any parts of the Superhighway route in the parks". You have to wonder whether The Royal Parks have so brazenly demanded this in relation to cyclists or whether they also place similar demands on other roads users, car drivers for example.

So, when those revised plans do come out, it is going to be very interesting to see how The Royal Parks propose to manage the Cycle Super Highway through this key central London section.

Reading the letter from The Royal Parks, it seems to me that the authority is terribly concerned that building a safe cycle route through this area might lead to conflict with pedestrians. Fair enough. But I don't see any evidence that The Royal Parks understand that much of that potential 'conflict' is because they are trying to squeeze people on foot and bikes into small spaces at junctions that are absolutely mobbed by motor vehicle traffic. The elephant in the room is that there is an awful lot of motor vehicle traffic in the Parks. Why isn't The Royal Parks worrying about removing some of that, I wonder?