Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Brexiters' dream is a post-Imperal delusion

As we draw to the end of this very unpleasant referendum campaign, it is worth, I think, recalling why we are where we are. It essentially goes back (as do so many things in modern Britain) to Mrs Thatcher. It was her volte-face on Europe that split the Conservative Party, the split that ultimately led this referendum to be called. After being strongly pro-European in the early part of her premiership, continuing the tradition of pervious Conservative leaders (including Edward Heath, who took the UK into the EEC, as it then was), including signing the Single European Act (the Luxembourg Treaty) in 1986, which gave the first real powers to the European parliament, she did a 180 degree turn on the subject for reasons best known to herself. Half the Conservative Party follwed her, and half continued allegiance to the older conservative pro-Europe line. The next leader, John Major, was bedevilled with this problem, and could not solve it, though he got the Maastricht Treaty, which created the modern EU, through. David Cameron's solution to this same, ongoing problem of the bitterly-divided Tory party was to call this referendum. The nation overall did not want it: it is important for our European friends to understand this.

The European Union was actually proposed by a British Conservative Prime minister in the first place: Winston Churchill. But it was always unclear whether he saw Britain as part of that future entity or not. Probably, he did not: he shared the romantic Victorian-Edwardian attachment to the dream of some future theoretical and impractical 're-union of the English-spaking peoples' (presumably including the USA, Canada, Australia and so on) that would then separate us from Europe. A similar transatlantic-gazing viewpoint is it the root of the views of many of the current Leavers: that we can somehow go on to exploit our cultural and economic attachments with those anglophone parts of the world more thoroughly if only we can leave the EU behind. Unfortunately, in the real world, as opposed to that of Rudyard Kipling's and Arthur Conan Doyle's fiction, we can't.

There are of course some on the radical left of UK politics campaigning for 'Leave'. Some of these are people for I have great respect. Baroness Jones (Jenny Jones, former Green London Assembly Member) is one of these. I attended her leaving party at City Hall before the May election to congratulate her ( and her colleague Darren Johnson) on all they had done for cycling in their time at City Hall. Nevertheless, I'd like to take her to task on her pro-Brexit position (which is at odds with the majority opinion in her party). This essentially amounts to: 'THe EU is broken and undemocratic. There's no chance we can fix it, so we should leave'.

I find this a very strange position for anyone of an internationalist disposition to take. So if the EU is 'broken', we leave, and what? We leave 300 million people in a 'broken' institution, and we give up any influence in trying to improve it or reform it? That can't be right. I can only imagine the rationale is that she (and others like her) hope that the EU will simply fall apart in reaction to Brexit. I have to say I find this a deeply improbable proposition. The UK leaving the EU will not have that much effect on the citizens of the rest of the Union, or on their politicians. The EU will be able to adapt and continue. The supposed fragility of the EU and its institutions has been consistently overplayed by our media. We've heard nothing about the Euro (ever) except 'It's on the brink of collapse'. Except that it hasn't collapsed. It's had a rocky time, but basically, this project, to place under a monetry union the economically diverse and divergent nations from Portugal to Austria and Finland to Crete , this incredibly improbable and ambitious project, has succeeded. It's not going back.

Similarly, if the UK leaves, there's going to be no shortage of new nations wanting to accede to the EU, and there's going to be no domino effect of old members wanting to leave. The EU is going to continue, grow, and strengthen as an entity, without us. We'll have to negotiate a new deal with the EU over trade and labour movement, and it's going to have to have many of the characteristics of the deal we have now. If we cease to pay into the European budget we're going to lose all influence over how the rules are set up, but we're basically going to have to continue to abide by those rules to trade. There's not going to be the free lunch the Brexiters want. We're going to have to accept freedom of movement if we want to be within the trading block on anything like reasonably advantageous terms. Or, maybe we'll be offered a deal whereby we pay to be out of the agreement on freedom of movement but within the trading area. In either case, we're not going to get what the Brexiters claim we might get. The EU has to defend itself, ultimately, in response to  defection. It obviously can't offer an ex-member state a deal so advantageous that it might tempt others to secede. There has to be a punishment for leaving the club. That punishment will surely be felt in the purse of ever UK citizen in a Brexit world.

An anonymous cartoon gleaned off Twitter which crudely but effectively summarises the problem with the Brexit position

The world of science and the world of the arts both thrive on international co-operation, and their representative organisations are uniformly sending out the message that Brexit would be a scientific and cultural disaster: see for example the press release from the Royal Astronomical Society, or this piece by, extraordinarily, Jenny Jones's ex-GLA Green colleague, Darren Johnson and champion of cycling in Outer London (with whom I got drunk in a south London pub not long ago), now turned music journalist. The response of the Brexiters, that the EU is 'not a magic money tree' really doesn't cut it. It completely misunderstands what the experts in these fields are saying, what they know. As the RAS puts it:
Participation in trans-national programmes... has more impact than those carried out by single countries, even if they are funded at the same level. The coordination of projects across the European continent prevents duplication of effort, and allows scientists to more effectively share resources.
Much the same goes for the arts, for which freedom of movement is hugely important. And anyway, the Brexiters aren't saying the money we would save from EU membership would be spent on science and the arts. They seem to have committed that money to building more hospitals. Or something. But we won't have the money for hospitals if our science base, on which our high-tech industries depend, collapses.

In fact the Leavers have no coherent economic plan, and little understanding of why the EU is there in the form that it is in the first place. It was a response to a Europe almost destroyed by a century of war between major powers (if you date that century back to the Franco Prussian War of the 1870). The EU has made the Europe that generated those wars an unimaginably remote history to all who are young today.

The 'democracy' arguments trotted out by the Bexit side make no sense. None of them seem to have noticed that the UK is still dominated by a monarchy and a hereditary aristocracy and that two-thirds of our law-making parliament is unelected. The European Parliament, elected by proportional representation, is the most democratic layer of government England (outside London, which has the GLA) has got. The Council of Ministers consists of people appointed by the Westminster government and its equivalents in the other member states. There is a huge range of public bodies in the UK that wield great influence over citizens' lives that are far less democratic. I don't hear the Brexiters in general talking about removing the undemocratic influence of mediaeval bodies within the UK like the Corporation of London, the Royal Parks Agency or the Verderers of the New Forest.

Of course the EU is deeply imperfect in its democratic structures. But it is misrepresented as some sort of monster developing in its own way beyond the control of the citizens of its constituent states. Most of the nonsense claims of the Brexit side in this respect are simply knocked out by the observation that our government and parliament have had a veto over every significant change in the powers and operation of the EU over its history since we joined. We have agreed to it all: our Prime Ministers, cabinets and parliaments from Heath to Cameron have agreed to it all. We could have stopped anything we didn't want, and in fact we did stop lots of things. Other provisions, like the Shengen agreement on open borders, and monetary union, we opted-out of, for better or worse. The veto we had over treaty changes, plus the influence that being one of the biggest economies and biggest contributors made us, ensured that the UK influence in the development of the EU was always huge. We created the EU, with others. For us to leave it now would be like a person abandoning a house they had built, and into which they had sunk all our resources, with no realistic prospect of finding another remotely as comfortable or accommodating.

The EU is not a superstate, and is not heading to be one. There's a simple economic reason it can't be one. It's central administration takes only about 0.5% of the member nations' GDP. Its bureaucracy is on the scale of that of an English county council. I've seen it. I've been to Brussels to talk to the Transport Committee Chair of the European Parliament about cycling (who was then an English MEP). Such a small organisation with that level of funding can never take control of Europe in the manner of the Federal Government of the United States. It would take a massive change of policy on behalf of all the governments of the member states, acting unanimously, to start heading it in that direction. That ain't going to happen. And as for Ever closer union, that famous phrase, what doea it mean? I think it is correctly interpreted not as a vision of a superstate; I think it means rather an ever-closer spiritual and cultural union, an evolution towards a state of cooperation between the European peoples that makes conflict between them ever less conceivable. I believe this is what the founding fathers of the EU meant by that phrase. Then again, perhaps it doesn't mean anything at all.

I could go on and on on this subject, but I had better not. I haven't mentioned environmental legislation, worker's rights, so many other aspects of the story of why the EU is a worthwhile institution that has done the its peoples good. And I haven't touched on the how a UK vote to leave the EU will almost certainly herald the break up of the UK, through triggering another Scottish independence referendum, as Scotland will certainly vote to remain. Even more serious are the likely consequence for Northern Ireland and peace in the Island of Ireland, where the existing post Good Friday Agreement consensus, of devolved provincial government within a UK that is united with the Republic within the EU, will be broken. And, in case you are one of those worried by immigration (I'm not, like most people in London and other big cities who are used to everyone being immigrants from somewhere) I haven't touched on the fact also, that with less co-operation from EU member states and France in particular, we'll probably get more illegal immigration and asylum claims to deal with.
YouGov's map of voting intentions by local authority. Scotland will vote 'remain' and the UK cannot survive Brexit.
For cycling, the usual topic of this blog, the freedom of movement we have enjoyed since EU accession I am convinced has contributed to the cultural and information-exchange process that has allowed us to reach the point of importing some of the best pro-cycling policies Europe has produced into at least some British cities. For example, if we hant't had freedom of movement, would the Hembrows have settled down in Assen and provided us with the information and cross-cultural Dutch translation that we needed for the Go Dutch campaign in London? Such questions are unanswerable, and I need to get this blogpost out in time to make, I hope, one or two undecided voters to think in some new ways.

England was deeply part of cultural Europe until the reign of Henry VIII, the break with Rome, and the destruction of most English art by his henchman Thomas Cromwell. Our focus was more on remote territories for the next four centuries, but our attention was forced back to Europe by the wars of the twentieth century and the loss of our empire. The accession to the EEC was an important, defining event for those of my generation, too young to vote in the 1977 referendum called by Harold Wilson (whose Labour cabinet was divided over Europe), but brought up, post-decimalisation and post-metrication to think, at least to some extent, of ourselves as European citizens, with our maroon European passports. I am a product of the wider Europe, coming from a family on my father's side of wandering, Sephardic Jews, traders between the Christian and Moslem worlds, who had come from Spain at the time of the Inquisition, and spread across Europe, North Africa and the Near East, to Morocco, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, France, arriving in my great grandfather's time in England in 1898; while on my mother's side I am a descendent of  mid-european Catholics, inhabitants of a mountainous and fiercely independent region, the South Tyrol, fought over by Papal, Napoleonic, Hapsburg, and Italian armies for centuries, and still not really, comfortably settled into one of the states of modern Europe (though now forming a largely German-speaking Italian province with a high degree of autonomy from Rome).

I am one of those people whom Boris Johnson claims don't exit: who feel an 'underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe', that is, feels 'European'. I think there are a lot more of us. I think there may be enough of us to swing this divisive and dividing referendum against the old England post-Imperial delusionists on Thursday. We will see.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

A crossroads

As we approach the Mayoral election tomorrow in London, and the end of Boris Johnson's eight years in office, so the builders race to finish his principal legacy to London before he finally vacates the chair. Not the bus that gets too hot, not the cable car that only has one regular passenger, not the quite pointless two-way conversion of a few streets around Piccadilly that were one-way, not, for God's sake, the preposterous, as yet unbuilt, Garden Bridge. No, his principal legacy is the four segregated Cycle Superhighways, and principally the East-West Superhighway (which it would appear now will be eventually designated CS3, continuous with the existing CS 3 to Beckton), and the North-South superhighway, which has been designated CS 6. These meet at the crossroads of Blackfriars Bridge north side. The system is not yet fully open, but it seems likely to be so within weeks or even days.

Cyclists waiting at the signals at the interchange between the two Superhighways at Blackfriars (via @London_Cycling)
This blog started with articles covering the cycle protests at Blackfriars towards the end of Johnson's first term in office, at which stage he had done little for cycling except paint meaningless and dangerous blue 'Superhighway' markings on some roads. The protests were against this lack of progress, the danger at major London junctions controlled by the mayor for cyclists (and pedestrians), the cycle deaths that had occurred at Blackfriars and elsewhere on account of poor or non-existent cycle infrastructure and terrible, antiquated motor-centric road designs, and against a scheduled rebuild of the Blackfriars junction that promised to make it no better for cyclists and pedestrians. Blackfriars was where all this started.

I reported on the cycle hustings, organised by The Times, in 2012, where Boris appeared to lose his temper with the cycle activists and insulted us with silly remarks about 'morally superior' cyclists and 'brown skinny legs'. I reported:
It appeared to me that Boris made no concessions to the campaigns of the last year at all. He did not admit that his Cycle Superhighways have been very poor and have not lived up to the initial promises he made for them. He did not agree that cycling casualties per mile are increasing. He several times referred to people who want a cycling infrastructure "ideal world" which is unachievable, implying that talk of giving cyclists proper, protected space on London's main roads, in other words, Going Dutch, is not really possible. Towards the end of the meeting he seemed to be implying that the cyclists in the room were all greeny unrealistic lefties, wanting to see the back of all motor traffic in London, saying, in a bizarre improvisation on words, that it was not possible to "Pasturise [or should that be Pasteurise] London".
Well, what we didn't know at that moment was that Boris had already agreed, by the time that meeting started,  to sign the LCC's Love, London, Go Dutch pledge to build proper cycle infrastructure in London. The die was cast. Cycle lobbying had become a significant political force in London, which he had to realistically acknowledge. This may have been a cynical move for him at that moment, as I believed in 2012, it is hard to tell, but the evidence now is that he came to believe late, but sincerely, that Go Dutch was a good policy.

Fast forward to last Friday, and we had the second Times cycle hustings, this time badged as The future of London transport: a recognition (perhaps) of the way cycling has been moved, by campaigners and enlightened politicians, from a niche subject associated with sport and fitness to one that is regarded as having major economic and social significance in the likely future development of the city.

Ashok Sinha, CEO of London Cycling Campaign, introducing The Times cycle hustings last Friday
At this hustings, we had none of the Boris-style rancour. In fact it was almost bland, with all the mayoral candidates (with the exception of the UKIP one) having signed-up to the LCC's demands this time round (due to another fantastic effort by campaigners, not just in LCC, but in Londoners on Bikes and Stop Killing Cyclists) and a general agreement that cycling has become mainstream transport policy, that future growth in the capital is anticipated and to be catered for, and that the infrastructure developments started under Johnson must be continued. This, at least, was the general rhetoric of the meeting.

On the other hand, none of the candidates were themselves regular cyclists, with the exception of the Green candidate Sian Berry. Boris always had that going for him. He definitely knew what it was really like on the streets. There was a lack of real passion from the Labour and Conservative candidates, Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith on the subject that may ring warning-bells. Formally they all seemed to be saying the right things: Khan talked about making London a by-word for cycling, 'On a par with Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin'. (The inclusion of that last city will raise eyebrows for anyone who has a first-hand knowledge). Goldsmith promised to spend £100 million per year on cycling if elected. This would potentially keep the infrastructure building programme going at its current rate, though might not be enough to achieve LCC's demand of a tripling of the length of segregated Superhighways, plus a mini-Holland scheme in every borough that wanted it. Khan refused to be pinned down on money, while Berry promised 15% of the TfL budget, which would be almost four times as much as Goldsmith's commitment.

Johnson's margin of victory in 2012 was only 62,000 votes. With the polls close again, and with certainly at least 100,000 regular cyclists in the capital, and enough others interested enough in the subject to be willing to vote primarily on the basis of this issue, or be strongly swayed by it, and with the level of organisation of the cycle lobby, it is clear that candidates now have to court it, as has been noted even on BBC news.

Goldsmith should have been the easy winner of the cycle vote. He came with a track-record of supporting 'green' causes, unusually for a Conservative MP, and he was a one-time editor of The Ecologist magazine. And as a Conservative successor to Boris, sharing many similar views, he might have been expected to want to continue his legacy. But from the beginning of this campaign he has blundered and fumbled about this issue. At every opportunity he has seemed to want to talk up electric cars as being the future of personal transport in the city, almost as if he were in the pay of the manufacturers. He even suggested in an early interview that they might be allowed to use bus lanes, which would of course be disastrous for the many cyclists who still depend on bus lanes for some small measure of protection and priority where cycle lanes do not exist, should electric cars actually become popular. Later he became known for a quote in an LBC interview where he commented that if cycle highways did not work and were shown to increase pollution he would 'rip them up'. When this caused consternation, he claimed he was being 'hounded' by cycle campaigners.

He tried to clarify and distance himself from these earlier comments in the hustings last week, claiming he had been misrepresented, and that he had only been stating a common sense position that if any piece of transport infrastructure were shown not to be working, one should consider removing it. But I think that emotive, unforgettable phrase, 'rip them up' is going to be inscribed on the tombstone of his campaign to become Mayor of London. Of course I'd agree that if a cycle facility isn't working, and isn't attracting cyclists, and isn't facilitating their progress in a safe manner, it should be removed. But, heres the point: it should then be replaced with a better facility. Goldsmith doesn't say this second part. He has never said that. He also seems to not understand that a piece of cycle infrastructure cannot 'cause pollution'. It is the motorists who are doing that. Goldsmith has repeatedly adopted the rhetoric of the 'bikelash' anti-cycle lane campaigners: the bizarre idea that cycling schemes force motorists to pollute.

He may promise to spend money on cycling, but when it comes to all specific cycling issues, Goldsmith has been found wanting. He has repeatedly criticised the consultation process for the Superhighways and mini-Holland schemes, and repeated this criticism at the hustings. This criticism mirrors that of the 'bikelash' campaigners who want consultations re-run indefinitely to try to achieve a different result: consultations that typically have seen about two-thirds backing for the cycle schemes, after a huge response and a hugely expensive public engagement exercise. Goldsmith always comments that the Walthamstow and Enfield mini-Holland schemes have had poor consultation and been unpopular (not true), while, according to him, the scheme in his constituency, the Kingston mini-Holland, has been well-consulted and has been popular, and he states he 'hasn't received a single letter of protest about it'. But he doesn't seem to have noticed that the other mini-Holland schemes are far more ambitious, particularly the Walthamstow one, which has achieved a far greater change in a short time.

Part of the Enfield mini-holland scheme: Orford road, a town centre street transformed for walking and cycling
There is always going to be more resistance to more ambitious and more effective cycling and walking schemes. Goldsmith has shown he lacks the backbone to stand up to the short-term, short-sighted reactions of those who initially feel threatened. He has stated that he would waste TfL money and waste time by re-running the consultation on CS 11, decisively supported by a two-thirds majority. He has clearly allied himself with the opponents of effective cycling schemes. We've all noticed that. He was the last to sign up to Sign for Cycling of the major candidates. He waited for Khan to sign first. His attempt to re-establish his cycling credentials in an interview with the estimable Chris Boardman (that Boardman had to pretty much hound him to obtain) came too late. And still he comes out sounding wrong. In an interview for the Evening Standard today, Wednesday 4 May, headlined I'd be the greenest Mayor: pledege to clean up air with tax penalty on gas guzzlers, there's no mention of cycling in 25 paragraphs. With the East-West Superhighway likely to open tomorrow, election day, and under a headline on air pollution, he doesn't feel the need to mention cycling. He's not going to get many cyclists' votes.

His Labour rival, Sadiq Khan, has wisely avoided commenting on specific current cycle schemes, by and large, apart from one odd interview in which the expressed an idea that some of the new cycle tracks were too wide: a comment greeted with incredulity in a city famous the world over for having ridiculously narrow cycle lanes and tracks. But he has repeatedly emphasised, and did so again in the hustings, the need for more segregated  cycle tracks. Goldsmith has not done this, preferring to talk about Quietways (which have failed) and min-Hollands. Khan's manifesto commitments to cycling are more complete and convincing than Goldsmith's, despite his refusal to be specific on the money he would spend. Khan's comment that he would not yet be happy with his close family members cycling in London doesn't say to me he is talking down the potential of cycling, it says to me he understands the real safety issues that still prevent most Londoners who would benefit from cycling from using it as a daily means of transport. As the son of a bus driver, associated with the bus lobby, he doesn't seem the best politician to continue Boris's cycling legacy. Nevertheless, he seems a far better bet than Goldsmith.

Anyone who takes up the mayor's chair and tries to promote cycling will experience a backlash from some of the old guard officials at Transport for London: we know that. There are people there who think they have now 'done' cycling, and with the opening of Boris's cycle tracks, they can get back to more serious business. The new mayor has to face them down and tell them, 'Sorry son, we've only just started on this'. We have to judge whom of the main candidates is most likely to do this. Cycling commentator Bill Chidley attended the meeting on CS11 that Goldsmith organised in St John's Wood, and commented:
My own impression... was that Zac is nice but dim, but entirely lacking in stomach. At one point, he said that he didn't believe in "imposing grandiose schemes on local communities" - which is exactly what the Mayor is mandated and obliged to do.
And an observer from Camden Cyclists commented on the meeting on how  
He visibly shifted in response to sentiment in the room. [Most of the attendees were from the noisy minority of car-centric NW8 residents opposed to the Superhighway]
At least Boris wasn't afraid to appear unpopular in a meeting. He wasn't afraid of that at the 2012 cycle hustings, but we've also seen in a video of a TfL board meeting how he personally pushed the E-W Superhighway project along against prevarication from other Board members. Would Goldsmith do this? It looks very unlikely. London is at a crossroads, and it looks like a Mayor Goldsmith would turn in a different direction. The London 'cycling revolution' would be in severe danger with Goldsmith in charge.

The London Green Party has consistently been the most in touch with cycling issues over the past four years, with Green Assembly Members Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson consistently asking pertinent questions of the Mayor, compiling relevant papers and reports, and actually getting out on bikes on the roads in all parts of London to find out what cycling conditions are actually like there: not just in Westminster and the City, but in remote car-dominated suburbs too. I showed Jenny Jones round the appalling Neasden gyratory system on one occasion (which she said was the most depressing experience she had had on her cycling survey of London), and this (and this blog) influenced a valuable report on cycling in Outer London produced by the London Greens. Very recently I showed Green Assembly candidate Caroline Russell around the Brent Cross area and the A41 Hendon Way, where TfL seem to have abandoned plans for an outer section to CS 11, but where safe space for cycling is desperately needed.

Retiring Green Assembly Member Jenny Jones and Green Assembly candidate Caroline Russell studying the awful cycling environment around Brent Cross in Barnet with me this April (Photo by Jonathan Briggs)
The Greens have been engaged in the issue beyond other parties, pushing Boris every step of the way, though there has also been sterling work by Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat Assembly Member and mayoral candidate. I'm therefore going to be voting for Sian Berry for Mayor as my first preference. I'd like to vote for Pidgeon as well, but the system means that the second preference vote must go to the candidate who can stop the worst candidate, who is Goldsmith. So my second preference vote will be for Sadiq Khan. I recommend all those who give their first preference vote to Berry or Pidgeon to give second preference to Khan.

In the vote for London-wide assembly members, I recommend a vote for 'Green' for the reasons given above. The two Green Assembly members (who are both retiring) have been critical to ensuring London has progressed this far in creating a cycleable and walkable city, and their successors I am certain, from personal discussion, will carry on that work. The more of them that are elected under the proportional London-wide ballot the better.

The vote for Constituency Assembly members is a 'first past the post' system. For those in my constituency, Brent and Harrow, I recommend a vote for the sitting Labour Assembly Member, Navin Shah. He has also worked hard on behalf of walking and cycling, persistently asking the mayor awkward questions, particularly about Barnet's proposed ugly, car-centric Brent Cross Cricklewood development. At a recent meeting in which I personally questioned him, he affirmed his support for more segregated Superhighways and a mini-Holland in every borough, and said he believed CS 11 should go ahead as planned. For those in the Barnet and Camden constituency, I recommend a vote for Andrew Dismore, again the sitting Labour Assembly member, as he has also been helpful.

Things have moved on so far from when I first started campaigning, decades ago, when cycle schemes were so insignificant and below the public radar as never to be discussed even by senior councillors, and were hardly known to anyone except some sad campaigners and equally sad junior council officers, who were never promoted. We're in a different world today, with national-level politicians forced to answer on exactly what they will do for those wanting to travel on two wheels, and knowing that their answers will matter for their future. London is at a crossroads on its journey to become a people-friendly city. The opening of the Superhighway within hours of election day will be apt and rather symbolic. If you have votes in this election, please use them carefully to ensure that journey continues.


Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Antisemitism in Labour

Disclaimer: I'm not a member of the Labour Party, or a registered supporter. I'm not Jewish, but I have a Jewish background and live with a Jew.

The business of 'antisemitism within the Labour Party' is basically nonsense. The affair is clearly constructed to undermine Jeremy Corbyn by his opponents both inside and outside the party and fed off by an uncritical press. There's just no evidence for the accusation of real antisemitism being a significant trend in the Labour Party (unlike various types of racism being significant trends in several other major parties).

The worrying thing to me is that the very terrm is losing its meaning. People are forgetting what real antisemitism is. There appears to be an attempt by some to define critical comment on Israel as 'antisemitic'. This is an affront to freedom of speech and is illiberal.

Indeed, it should be possible to argue even against the existence of the state of Israel in its current form – that is, in favour of a completely different political settlement for all the peoples in that region of the Middle East – and not be accused of antisemitism. (I am not going to do that here, but it should be possible, according to the supposed maxim of Voltaire I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.) The states of the world are artificial creations and we must be able, in free and liberal debate to question, not merely the actions and policies, but the existence of any of them, or to argue that the world would be better not organised into independent states at all, but in some other way. After all, the way states cut across ethnic and religious divides is a problem all over the world, not just in the Middle East. It's wrong to try to shut down such debate with accusations of various kinds of racism. Racism, hatred and prejudice based on race, of which antisemitism is a special case, is nothing to do with this, indeed it lies at an opposite, irrational, pole of discourse.

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone is not a racist in any way and I don't believe he is an antisemite. He does very make ill-judged comments. As has been pointed out in a perceptive piece by Adam Ramsay, though it is true that Hitler did at some stages of his career propose transporting Jews to Israel, to mention this is the flippant way he did, just before mentioning 'Zionism', risks, without much more detailed clarification, recalling a truly antisemitic conspiracy narrative of 'Zionists being being in league with Hitler'. I doubt Livingstone was aware of this, but he should have been aware of the fact that,  as Ramsay writes,
The speed with which conversations about anything relating to Jewishness in politics return to something relating to the man who murdered the parents or grandparents of many of the Jewish people around today must be deeply hurtful for huge numbers. It's generally not appropriate to turn such conversations to Hitler and Nazis without a very compelling reason.
Saying in his next sentence Hitler had 'gone mad' in order to kill six million Jews (and many others) compounded the problem because 'madness', or insanity, is an argument used to try to reduce culpability for those accuse of murder and other heinous crimes: it is a legal defence that barristers try to use to diminish punishment for those accused. Nobody argues that Hitler was 'mad' in that sense, and I don't think Livingstone meant that, he was talking casually. But his words could be misinterpreted as an attempt to 'clean up' Hitler, which is actually the last thing I believe he was trying to do.

Livingstone's later attempted clarification of his remarks tended to make matters worse. Speaking on BBC Two he said:
A real antisemite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate their Jewish neighbours in Golders Green or Stoke Newington, it’s a physical loathing.
Clearly if you 'hate the Jews in Israel' you are an anti-semite, full stop. And racism may not be a 'physical loathing'. It may be just a vague background framework of attitudes. But to build a case on the basis of these remarks for Livingstone himself being 'antisemitic' is loading far too much meaning on to flip comments and slips like the preposition in that sentence 'just'. I predict that Labour's investigation into him will end up exonerating him of the charge of antisemitism,  cautioning him to speak more carefully in future, and re-instating him to party membership.

There are bad eggs in every basket, but the Labour Party has actuially been fantastically hot at investigating all claimed cases of racism, including antisemitism, in its ranks, unlike other parties. This is in its tradition and nature. But we see, simultaneously, Conservative candidate for London mayor Zac Goldsmith running a thinly-veiled anti-Islamic campaign against the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan (A campaign which, I predict also, will do him very little good in this cosmopolitan city.)

Livingstone has often made silly and insensitive comments on various topics. They should be ignored and people should move on. This is not antisemitism. It's a storm in an anti-Corben and Conservative teacup.

I hope to return to London cycling matters shortly. In the meantime, I agree wholeheartedly with the voting recommendations (and rationale) of Londoners on Bikes.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Demo on CS 11 tomorrow: show support for a cycle highway for NW London and a tranquil Regent's Park

When 'The Regent's Park' was laid out by John Nash and his associates in the early 1800s, the Outer Circle road was created, to quote a contemporary document, 'for the purpose of exercise'. At the time, this meant walking and horse-riding. When the villas around the park were built, it also provided access to them. When the wealthy who lived there aquired motor cars in the 20th century, of course they started using those on the Outer Circle. Because the Outer Circle remained connected to the roads around, via seven gates, it became a convenient cut-through for anyone using a motor car. There was no way to separate the cars of those who lived there from people passing through. Though the gates were closed late at night, and signs were put up banning commercial vehicles (but taxis were never banned), the Outer Circle became a rat-run, a dangerous and unpleasant barrier within the park, that greatly reduced its effective area, both through the noise and pollution experienced near the road, and because the road cut off the circle of the park outside it from the main body.

I've been campaigning to reverse this undesirable situation, with many other local people and groups, since around 2004. Note that I have not so far mentioned cycling. Though the traffic does make cycling on Outer Circle a far less pleasant experience than it should be, and it is not at all a suitable environment for family cycling, as this video demonstrates, and Camden Cyclists have been campaigning for the removal of through-traffic from the Outer Circle for many years, the argument has never been primarily about cycling. It has been to restore the Outer Circle and park to its rightful and proper purposes, as laid out by John Nash: an area for recreation and exercise, not traffic. An area free from noise and pollution. A park. The Outer Circle is needed for motor access to car parks, the zoo, to premises around the park, but it is not nededed as a through-road. It is closely paralleled by other roads that through-traffic should be using instead: Park Road (A41), Marylebone road (A501), Albany Street (A4021) and Prince Albert Road (A5025).

Finally, we now have a solid plan that will achieve our goal. The plans for Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS 11) from Portland Place to Swiss coittage, though falling short of the route we were previously promised, all the way to Brent Cross, at least in this phase, solve the problem of Regent's Park traffic to a considerable extent. They propose the closure of four of the gates: Macclesfield Bridge (Avenue Road),  Hanover Gate, York Gate and Park Square East and West, for most of the day, as shown below.


The other major element of this plan is a proposal to completely re-design Swiss Cottage gyratory system. This is another thing that so many in the borough of Camden and beyond have looked forward to for a very long time. All routes to the south of Hampstead and West Hapstead converge on this junction, with has long been a barrier to creating a decent cycle network in Camden. The plan for this horrible, filthy 1960s sea of traffic isolationg the famous Swiss Cottage pub and the Odeon Cinema is that it should be removed entirely. The bulk of the traffic will be taken down an A41 made continuous, and two-way, on the west side of the current gyratory, while the eastern side, outside the Hampstead Theratre, the theatre school and the library, will be turned into a bus-only road, with wide pavements, trees down the middle, and segregated cycle tracks. This will be a massive environmental transformation of the area, and one for which many people have fought hard for a very long time.

How the CS11 plan will replace a sea of traffic with an oasis of calm at the north end of Avenue Road
The section of Avenue road south of Adelaide Road will not be car-free, but it will become far less convenient a route for general traffic, as to reach it traffic from the north will need to turn left from Finchley Road and then right. Furthermore, for most of the day, it will not give access to Regent's Park or towards the West End. It will represent a legely pointless detour for those who do not have specific business in Avenue Road or adjacent residential roads. We will see an end to so much traffic from the north, Finchley Road and Fitzjohn's Avenue, bombing past Swiss Cottage and into Regent's Park via Avenue Road. That traffic will largely stick to the A41, where it belongs.

The scheme is far from perfect in my view. We need the closures of the gates to be full time (there is an exception betwweren 11am and 3pm) and we really need the southern part of Avenue Road more fully closed to traffic (traffic can still turn left or right into Prince Albert Road under these plans) as there is only room for painted (mandatory) cycle lanes on the southern part of Avenue Road, not for segregated tracks, as we have seen on other recent Cycle Superhighways. However, this scheme gives so many of the big wins that campaigners (not just cyclists) have been looking for in this part of London for so long, we all need to support it. It represents a brave move by Boris Johnson, Transport for London, and Camden Council.

But the forces ranged agains CS 11 are strong. There has been a major campaign against it mounted by NIMBYs and those wedded to motor vehicle domination of London, with its attendent epedemics of pollution, isolation, exclusion and inactivity. 2400 people have signed a petition agains CS 11:


Furthermore, local papers have uniformly been reporting CS 11 negatively, in terns of 'howls of protest' supposedly emanating from many and various quarters: to give a flavour of the nonsense that's being spread here's extracts from some articles:

Clive Beecham, chair of the St John’s Wood High Street association said the plan to restrict vehicular access to Regent’s Park from 11am-3pm would create “traffic chaos” as drivers looked for alternative routes.

He said: “By redirecting traffic through St John’s Wood what you are doing is storing up traffic chaos for the next ten to 15 years. 
“If they shut off Avenue Road it will be a complete nightmare. As residents we should have the right to use the route through Regent’s park.
 He added: “It’s also going to be the worst possible thing for the High Street because the impact of traffic in one area is like a domino affect on others. As a community we need to rebel against it.
------------- 
Stephen Lewis, who lives in Lyttleton Close, Swiss Cottage, said bicycles could be like “cholesterol clogging up London’s arteries”. 
“If London were a human body, it would be facing an invasion of cholesterol which threatens the arteries,” he said. “In this case, for cholesterol read cyclists. We are slowly being strangled by measures implemented to facilitate the journeys for cyclists but at the cost of slowly squeezing out other road users.”
Swiss Cottage resident Ian Braidman said: “St John’s Wood and Primrose Hill, to the east and west of Avenue Road and Finchley Road, will become a rat-run for cars endeavouring to escape the traffic congestion this is designed to create.”
------------- 
Actor Tom Conti, who is campaigning against the project, told the West End Extra: “It will cause mayhem. The whole area will be destroyed – but it will not happen. We are going to make this a national issue. A bike lane from Portland Place to Brent Cross will be absolutely massive. There will be a solid queue to Hatfield. Cyclists should be made to pay road tax. If they want a special road, they should have to pay for it. 
“This is the beginning of some kind of Soviet idea to ban all vehicular traffic from London.”
---------

There's loads more like this, and it's not just the reporters on the local press, or fossilised white males breathing petrol fumes who are opposed. A group calling itself 'NW8 Mums; a community for all our mums' (seemingly without irony) has published this exhortation:
We cannot understand how this scheme was ever even thought of, let alone that it might be allowed to go through. We must all work hard and together to make them see sense and drop it, before all our lives are ruined.' 
Worse, Westminster Council seem to be doing all they cvan to stop the plan. They have organised higly biased 'public meetings' where offiers have briefed against TfL's plans and have given no real platform for the supporters of CS11, who have been howled down by angry mobs. Westminster's Councillor Robert Rigby has said at one of these meetings, as reported by my correspondent (and this is likely to be the official view of Westminster Council):
· Residents do not believe the results of modelling [TfL modelling that demonstrates little increase on traffic on other local roads]. 
· The Outer Circle can accommodate all road users. 
· If a cycle track can be created along Birdcage Walk, despite heritage considerations, something could be done for cyclists on the Outer Circle [Note he doesn't explain what]. 
· Pollution will get worse, both on main roads and on side roads. 
· No account has been taken of HS2. 
· Closing the park gates is a step too far.
Local politicians are hearing the noise and nonsense arguments from the opponents of CS 11 too loudly. This has to be challenged, or the scheme will fail. London Cycling Campaign, Camden Cyclists, and the others who support CS11 and  traffic-free Regents Park, including Camden Friends of the Earth, the Canal and River Trust, and Westminster living Streets, have decided enough is enough, and we are organising a protest to make some noise in support of cycling, CS11, a clean, green park, and less domination of NW London by motor traffic.

The protest and ride is at 6:00-7:0pm tomorrow, Friday 11 March, starting at Park Square East. Everyone is welcome on bike, foot, wheelchairs, or mobility scooters. Bring banners ands make a noise. We will be riding slowly a circuit including Park Square East and West, Outer Circle and Marylebone Road.

If you can come, and also if you can, be absolutely sure to fill in the consultation by 20 March. Don't only to only tick the overall/first section “support” button, but also tick Swiss Cottage support, gate closures, Portland Place segregated tracks etc., support specifically. More responding hints from LCC here.

We know that proper, serious, cilty-changing cycle schemes are massively popular: witness the 60-80% approval ratings for the consultations on vareious sections of TfL's East-West Cycle Superhighway, currently cutting a dramatic swathe through Parliament Square. But they also create fear, noise, and misguided panic in a place that has been so long in thrall to the car and the concept of engineering the environment around it, rather than around people on foot and bike.

Protest, ride, write to the papers, lobby your councillors, answer the consultation, and help make London a little bit more like the clean, civilised New Renaissance city that visionary architects and planners of the past, like Nash, and Christopher Wren before him, dreamed of. Please support CS11.

Here comes Madge!* Cycling infrastructure and roads reclaimed from motor traffic help all those who are excluded by a motor-dominated transport system, not just 'cyclists'.

*She may not really be called that.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Pavement parking and weak campaigning

There have been legislative moves afoot to try to change the absurd situation in the UK (outside London) that parking is generally legal on pavements, though driving is not. (So obviously all the cars parked on pavements must have landed there from the sky.) A Private Member's Bill was proposed that would bring the law in England generally into line with that applying to London; that is, parking on pavements would be made illegal except where the Local Authority has put up signs and painted markings showing where it is permitted.

Typical legal pavement parking in the London Borough of Brent (Village Way, Neasden). It's OK because signs allow it on the right-hand side. But note the illegal double parking on the left-hand side, where the bays are marked on the road, but parking is doubled up on the pavement as well. This is typical of what happens when you erode the concept of the footway in this way.
The Private Members Bill has now been withdrawn following a commitment from the Government to look at the issue, MP Simon Hoare said:
Following detailed discussions, I have withdrawn the bill today following The Minister’s commitment to convene a round table and undertake a policy review. 
This response demonstrates the Government’s commitment to improving access for all pedestrians including disabled and vulnerable people. A government examination of the current issues gives us the best opportunity of securing Government backing for legislative change.
Apparently the Govenment need to "undertake a policy review with stakeholders to examine the legal and financial implications of an alternative regime and the likely impact on local authorities".

This sounds rather fancy, when a simple-minded person like me might think it is absolutely clear that pavements are there for walking on and cars should not be parked on them.

A coalition of charities including Guide Dogs and Living Streets was backing Simon Hoare's bill. However, his bill in no way proposed a blanket ban on pavement parking, he said:
The bill will simply enable local authorities to deal with problem areas in an efficient way. It just provides another tool in the armoury for local government.
The thing that strikes me about all this is how it's a classic example of weak campaigning. There's an extraordinary kow-towing to motordom here, everyone apologetically and oh so 'reasonably' trying to accommodate the convenience of selfish car derivers at the expense of the majority. The campaign should be to sweep away all parking on pavements, pure and simple. But no-one in the political mainstream or 'civil society' is saying this. Yes, these worthy organisations say, let's have Simon Hoare's feeble bill, or something even weaker the Government might come up with after a few years of consulting with 'stakeholders' (who will include such statutory loonies as the Alliance of British Drivers), in order to make the pavements of Burslem and Basildon just as delightful for walking as the cracked-up, routinely obstructed pavements of Brent. Plus ça change.

When I was a member of Camden Cycling Campaign, we had a clear line on pavement parking, which we held to in all discussions with Camden Council. This was that pavement parking is wrong: it messes up the environment, produces shabby streets, and obstructs pedestrians. If it was felt that there was insufficient parking for demands, and there was excess pavement (not common in Camden), then we said the Council should rebuild the kerbs to provide clear, dedicated parking bays that were not part of the pavement. This was the line that was repeatedly put to the council's Walking, Road Safety and Cycling Advisory Group, consisting of councillors and representatives of community organisations. The pedestrian campaigners and residents' associations seemed to back this line, and, as a result, Camden has to this day very little pavement parking. Faced with a choice between expensively rebuilding kerbs, and not giving in to the pressure to provide more parking, the council unsurprisingly tended to go with the latter option – which is why the kind of mess you see in the Brent street pictured above is uncommon in the neighbouring Borough of Camden.

How Camden has organised parking in Russell Square, WC1. This is a good example: the parking is not on the footway, but on a designated, differently-paved area.
There is something a bit attractive for cycle campaigning in the notion of pavement parking, because it means that on minor roads, such as the one pictured above, a clearer space on the road is created and cyclists are less likely to get squeezed and intimidated by car drivers trying to pass them. However, the real answer for streets like these is to follow the Dutch paradigm and remove them from the through-traffic network. When narrow, parked-up streets are no longer rat runs, and motor traffic is reduced to essential access only, the problem of 'squeezing' is largely eliminated, even with substantial permitted on-strteet parking. If there is still a problem of accommodating the parking, because the street is very narrow, it really should be made one-way for motor traffic (not for cycling). This won't work for cycling in the normal UK paradigm, where a lot of through-traffic is still allowed, indeed encouraged, on narrow one-way streets, but arranging the one-ways to eliminate through-traffic will create streets with adequate capacity for all, that are spacious enough and have sufficiently little traffic to be an unthreatening cycling environment.

A minor one-way road in Assen, Netherlands
This type of environment is where the much-abused concept of Shared Space rightly belongs, in minor roads whose design should be orientated to those who live and play in them, and sometimes need to park cars as well.

An example of a 'home-zone' street in Groningen, Netherlands
David Hembrow has a blogpost with further pictures of how car parking is treated on Dutch residential streets, where it is often removed from the carraigeway, but given a distinct space that is not in the way of pedestrains and cannot damage the surface on which they walk. These Dutch designs do not look like the half-on, half-off, painted-lines-with-blue-signs London-type pavement parking messes.

In the UK it seems the general thinking is that parking on the pavement is a legitimate part of a 'settlement' vis-a-vis motoring and walking whereby motorists are allowed to park on the pavements when they feel like it, or it appears to be necessary so as not to obstruct the flow of traffic, but pedestrians are always free to walk in the road, as we have no concept of 'jaywalking' in our law. This is obviously pretty unsatisfactory to anyone of limited mobility or particularly vulnerability, such as the blind, or the mother with a pushchair. It mirrors the attitude to cycling, which is to allow it everywhere on roads, except on motorways and in a few other places, but to accept that as sufficient 'payment' to cyclists and therefore exonerate the authorities from needing to provide for cycling properly as a mode in its own right. Both of these 'settlements', the walking one and the cycling one, short-change the vulnerable road users and cement the domination of the car, though they seem very free and fair, from a certain traditional anglo-saxon point of view. 'We don't need any of those fussy foreign rules about where you are allowed to walk and cycle, you're free here', said John Bull, maybe. Yes. Free to be run over anywhere.

I've linked a few times here to David Hembrow's blog on Dutch cycling, and he also has view about campaigning for the right things, and not those that seem like 'achievable goals' or a 'first step'. I've consistently advocated that UK cycle campaigners should not ask for inadequate solutions, but think big. This message seems to have got through, and cycle campaigners have been making much bigger demands than they used to, in the days when the earlier posts on this blog were written, with striking success in some places. As my previous post about London's emerging segregated cycle network showed, we've started to get the ambitions things, that really make a difference, that we demanded, because of an adherence to clear, justifiable principles and an unwillingness to compromise over them.

It seems to me that pedestrian campaigning is still at an earlier stage, the stage where cycle campaigning was decades ago. It's not political enough, not clear enough in its demands, it's too polite and too compromising, and not asking for the right things. For example, you'll search in vain on the Living Streets website for any reference to the inadequacies of UK traffic law and the Highway Code in relationship to the how pedestrians are treated at junctions. There's no campaign to bring the UK into line with the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, the failure to apply which makes the difference between UK signalised crossroads, where any pedestrian attempting to cross without a specific signal risks getting run over (and blamed for it), and the equivalent in most of continental Europe, where the pedestrian automatically gets priority over turning traffic (often re-enforced with zebra markings). Just to bring this into UK law and practice would far make more of a difference to walking here than all Living Streets' favoured issues such as ice, the time zone (yes, really, that's trying to make pedestrians safer, not by controlling danger, but by making us do things at a different astronomical time), and the (rather more sensible) 20mph campaign.

The current pro-pedestrain campaigns won't make the real difference they needs to, like the weak cycle campaigns of yesteryear, with their reliance on asking for mutual respect and poor but uncontroversial infrastructure like Advanced Stop Lines. Pedestrian campaigning should be virtually one with the cycling movement in demanding a complete re-design of our physical transport environment and re-thinking of the balance of rights and responsibilities accorded to motorists and vulnerable road users. The pro-pedestrian, pro-cycling, 'urbanist' and 'better streets' campaigns should all be virtually identical in their demands, and mutually supporting, and would be so much stronger if that were the case. But it is hard to see a transition to this situation when the largest part of this potential coalition is as reluctant to challenge the motor-centric status-quo as standard pedestrian campaigning in the UK still seems to be.

Friday, 20 November 2015

A tour of London's emerging cycle network

This Sunday I will be leading a pre-emptive tour of some of the most promising cycle infrastructure currently under development in London. It's pre-emptive because much of it is not yet finished. Therefore it won't be as particularly pleasant ride because in parts we will have to cycle outside not-yet-open cycle lanes tussling with the motor traffic. However, I think it is worth seeing what is going on and assessing it at this stage. Some of the infrastructure is open and can already be enjoyed.

There are three start points, starting from near my house and working in though Brent. They are:

11:00 am Kingsbury tube station
11:45 am Gladstone Park railway bridge (at the south end of Parkside NW2)
12:05 pm Queens Park Station car park

If you'd like to join somewhere else on the route described below, tell me and I'll see if it can be arranged.

Under-construction segregated cycle tracks. Larger map here.
This map shows approximately (not exactly) the recently-completed and under construction segregated cycle tracks in London. It also shows the location of Brent's not-yet-approved Carlton Vale scheme. This was the starting concept for planning the ride, to take in as many of these locations as possible. (But starting from the north-west suburbs, it proved necessary to leave out Cycle Superhighway 3 and the east part of the East-West Superhighway).

There's no infrastructure to speak of on the ride before reaching Queens Park, though just past Gladstone Park a pile of stuff is encountered in Park Avenue North, which I suspect is the first sign of construction of Quietway 3 in Brent.


Quietway 3 will run from Regent's Park to Gladstone Park in its first phase, with hopefully an extension across the north Circular towards Wembley and Harrow later (though that will be in the lap of the next Mayor).

Near the final pick-up point at Queens Park Station we will pause to have a look at the Brent section of Carlton Vale, with a copy of the plans for semi-segregated cycle tracks that I have in my possession. These have not yet been put to public consultation, so this is a good stage to feed suggestions for improvement back to the Brent Council.

The next objective of the ride is to look at the location of the future East-West Superhighway in Hyde Park. Unfortunately to get there is to try to pass through a terribly bike-impermeably part of London, through the need to cross the Westway, Grand Union Canal and Paddington railway corridor. There is no legal way through here north-south for cyclists between Royal Oak (Lord Hill's Bridge) and the Edgware Road, both of which are most unpleasant roads – a gap of 1km. If the East West Superhighway is extended to the A40, as planned, and if Westminster build their Quietway network, this barrier might one day be surmounted. But it is not clear to me how it will be, or if the planners of the grid have realised what problem this is.

The best that we can do on Sunday is to get off and walk. After passing through the pedestrain-only underpass at Porteus Road, we reach the newpedestrain-only bridge across the Grand Union Canal at the Paddington Central development.


That such a poor piece of pedestrian infrastructure was created so recently in such an important place is quite shocking. Forget about not being bale to cycle across it: how could a wheelchair user negotiate a corner like this?


Proceeding via the pedestrain-only waterside and primitively-cobbled path leading to London Road by Paddington Station, we will cycle to Hyde Park. There we see signs of action.



The E-W superhighway will go via the West and South Carriage Drives, which we will follow. This routing is clearly intended to take pressure off the shared (separated) paths Rotten Row and Broad Walk, though I doubt how successful this strategy will be, as Broad Walk and North Carriage Drive will represent a shorter route. We will then follow an old London Cycle Network route, sadly under-engineered, which was originally known as the Ambassadors' Route when created in the early 1980s (it features prominently in this film). This takes us to Pimloco where we can discover what has been built of the north end of Cycle Superhighway 5 in Vauxhall Bridge Road. This is where things start to get impressive.


This sets the pattern for what we will see on the rest of the ride. Here we have a 4m wide two-way cycle track separated by low kerbs from both pavement and road, clearly set-out. We'll be able to observe how, for example, the pedestrian crossings like this one work. This continues to the crossing of the Thames at Vauxhall Bridge.


On the south side of the river the passageway is clear and safe, though not always so wide, through the previously-notorious Vauxhall Gyratory system and under the railway into Waterloo. Segregation continues at the standard shown above to Kennington Oval, whereafter CS 5 reverts to the old-style painted blue blobs. We, however, will turn left to join CS 7 on Kennington Park Road. This is not particularly impressive until one gets near Elephant and Castle, where what appears to be a temporary arrangement takes us, very clearly signposted, through a churchyard and via some minor streets, on to the new CS 6 on St George's Road (previously know as the North-South Superhighway).


Though this is not on the most direct route between Elephant and Castle and Blackfriars Road, the cycle track is again impressively implemented. It leads into similar engineering still being built on the west side of Blackfriars Road, via a signalised crossing of the St George's Circus roundabout. We will be able to judge the efficiency of these junctions for cyclists. My impression was that they are good. By this stage in the ride we have already seen probably more of the low-level cycle signals than has anybody else in the UK. These fantastically sensible features have only just been approved for use, and Transport for London are rolling them out on these tracks.


The track is not yet constructed on Blackfriars Bridge or the slip road off it, but we can see where it will be. The Thames was looking quite choppy when I took these photos on Wednesday.


We will then find, I hope, that we can then cycle a substantial section of the Embankment Superhighway going westwards that is not yet officially open. Here are the works between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges.


And here is the section already in use, approaching Westminster Bridge, with the wide segregating island designed so that coach parties can congregate on it without spilling into the track, and chamfered kerb to minimise the chance of pedal-strike. This has already become an 'iconic' view of London, to those of us of a kerb-nerd disposition.


Parliament Square is as awful as always; work on the cycle crossings here has not yet started. We will head up now through the West End, as best we can, showing where is another of the serious gaps in the infrastructure that is in the City of Westminster's court to solve. Charing Cross Road is a disaster-area that desperately needs complete re-planning including Space for Cycling, or most of the traffic removed. It is a disaster equally for those on bikes as those stuck in the permanent queues in buses and taxis. It just doesn't work as it is.


We reach more civilised territory as soon as we cross the border into Camden. The Borough of Camden deserves huge credit for, over the last twenty years, rationally re-planning and upgrading its traffic network, particularly in the south of the borough, with an emphasis on removing unnecessary traffic from residential (and some business) neighbourhoods, and facilitating cycling. I have covered the history of Camden's cycle network extensively on this blog. Particularly deserving of credit is the Camden Cabinet Member for the Environment, their roads supremo, Councillor Phil Jones, who has lead a serious expansion of the segregated cycle network in the borough (which was already the only one deserving the name in London), using the money made available by Transport for London under  Mayor Boris Johnson's cycling programme, and, particularly, has bitten the bullet and ordered the doubling of capacity of the east-west segregated cycle link through Bloomsbury (the old London Cycle Network route 0, or the Seven Stations link), so brining to the originally-intended standard the link planned and lobbied for by Paul Gannon, Paul Gasson, myself, and other members of Camden Cycling Campaign in the early 2000s. I need also to mention that the current members of CCC have campaigned energetically for this outcome.

We will see on our ride how this work is progressing. The original two-way cycle track on the north side of the road is being converted to a one-way track eastbound within the same width, and a new westbound track is being constructed using semi-segregating Orcas (already used in Waltham Forest and planned for use on Carlton Vale in Brent). Hence the cycle capacity of this incredibly popular link is being doubled, through a whole lane of motor traffic being removed and the whole of the corridor being converted to one-way operation for motor traffic. Moreover, the motor flows are being opposed on opposite sides of Gower Street, so removing the corridor as a rat-run alternative to Euston Road entirely. This is exactly how the Dutch so frequently use one-way working for motors in dense city centres to eliminate through traffic, and it is great to see a London borough applying this concept. The reduction in traffic on the corridor and simplification of the whole system should remove the junction problems that have existed on this route in its previous layout. The separation of the eastbound and westbound flows of cyclists will remove the risk of cycle-cycle collisions in the old confined space. Pedestrian facilities are being improved as well. It's a win all round.


There is a major backlash (mostly from the black cab lobby) against the scheme already and it is important that Camden Council recieves lots of support for the scheme. As Camden Cyclists state on their website,
If you like the scheme when you have tried it, tweet about it with #taviplace or send an e-mail to Camden Council: torringtontavistocktrial@camden.gov.uk to help ensure that the supporting voices outweigh those of the objectors – who will undoubtedly be many. ‘Winning the peace’ also entails all who use the new scheme riding legally and courteously so as to maintain the respect of local residents.

Not everything Camden has done for cyclists in recent years has been quite so clever. After experiencing this (unfinished) project we head up to Kings Cross and St Pancras, and one curious thing we experience is the Pancras Road tunnel under the railway (below) where the cycle lane is the bit bewtween the solid white line and the segregating island, coming into collision with the left-turning stream of traffic. The bit between the segregating island and the pavement is... wait for it... a taxi lane! And the taxi drivers have the nerve to be ungrateful to Camden now over Tavistock Place!


In the northern part of Pancras Road Camden are doing better, with new stepped cycle tracks, which we will also experience, before finding our way to the northbound Royal College Street cycle track, which has had some subtle improvements since I last posted about it when first it opened. We will then follow the route along Pratt Street and Delancey Street that will be going ahead for upgrade to two-way cycling in the next phase of Camden's Cycle Grid programme. From there the old LCN route on Gloucester Avenue and King Henry's Road takes us towards Swiss Cottage (this notorious gyratory also programmed to be reformed for the construction of CS 11 up the Finchley Road next year), and thence back towards the ride's starting points in Brent.

I think the ride will give a good overview of how a proper cycle network for London is now starting to emerge, after many years of hard campaigning for it by a great many people. For me, as I explained recently in a long, personal post, the story began in the late 1990s with the campaign in Camden for the original Royal College Street segregated cycle track (now replaced), a pioneering feature in London then, and then the campaign for the Seven Stations Link. These pieces of infrastructure I believe established and demonstrated in London for the first time the principles that we are now seeing rolled out on a much larger scale in the new Superhighways. Boris Johnson recently commented in the London Assembly that 'Virtually every cabinet member has ticked me off for the Cycle Superhighways', and I think this shows what a fundamentally unpopular course in the British political culture he has chosen to follow here, and how much credit he deserves for doing something really rather good, that will undoubtedly be the major legacy of his mayoralty. Also deserving of credit is his Cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, for pushing recalcitrant officials and recalcitrant boroughs into action on the Mayor's cycling programme. When he was appointed in 2013, many wondered if, as a journalist,  if he was appropriately-qualified for the job, but I commented at the time that his skills as a propagandist might just be those most needed in the role, and I think I was right.

It's a fragile legacy. The next mayor has it in his or her power to get on with the programmes, fill in the worst gaps (for example north-south across the West End), connect up all the segregated Superhighways, extend them into all the outer boroughs, build more mini-Hollands like the successful Walthamstow one, break the major barriers in Outer London like the North Circular, and enhance the quality of the Quietways. Or he or she has it in their power to effectively abort the programme and leave the lovely pieces of engineering that we are now seeing in their glistening newness as sad stubs and monuments to what might have been, a transport revolution never delivered. As Cyclists in the City has recently commented, though the Green and Liberal Democrat candidates for Mayor in 2016 (who are not likely to win) seem highly committed to continuing the cycling programme, the commitment of the Conservative and Labour candidates, Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Kahn respectively, is really not very clear from what either of them has said so far. It's going to be another close race for Mayor in 2016, and the vote of cyclists is going to make a difference. I invite the two of them to commit clearly now to completing the current programmes and thereafter to further major expansion of high-quality cycling infrastructure, maintaining at least the current level of expenditure on cycling in London.

In the shorter term, I invite you, if you can make it, to my tour of London's developing cycle network on Sunday.