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.