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?