Saturday, 30 July 2011

1934: The moment it all went wrong for cycling in the UK

Cartoon from the CTC Gazette about 1934 (?). Photograph: CTC
David Hembrow has an interesting article on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website on Why the Netherlands is important for British cyclists. In it, he notes the close cultural similarities between the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, how their climates and geographies are similar, and how closely intertwined their histories have been.
The two countries are adjacent to each other. If not for the North Sea, a storm in which devastated areas of both countries in 1953, they would share a border.
He mentions how both countries had  powerful cycling cultures in the first half of the 20th century: in 1949 British people travelled further by bicycle than they did by car, in total. But in the second half of the 20th century, the Netherlands and the UK diverged incredibly in their cycling cultures. The Netherlands became the world's highest-rate cycling nation, the UK one of the world's lowest. 

Why did this happen? Exactly when did this start? Who was responsible?

I think some of the answer is provided by the cartoon reproduced above. I took this from the Guardian's Bike blog. The cartoon shows how an element of the British cycling community before the Second World War – and, it turned out in the fullness of time, the most influential element, whose thinking was to dominate British cycling policy for the next 75 years – regarded British attempts to emulate the dedicated cycle provision that was being developed in the Netherlands and Germany at that time.

This cartoon, though not drawn for the Cyclists' Touring Club, was published by them in their Gazette, but I am not certain when. The Guardian's blog links this cartoon, however, with the construction of the double cycle tracks on the new A40 in West London. The opening of these tracks in 1934, by the then Minister for Transport, Leslie Hore-Belisha, is documented in a fascinating Pathé newsreel. In this newsreel we see the width and quality of these tracks, which allowed cyclists to ride three abreast on both sides of the road, one-directionally on tracks on the appropriate side of the road, logically, separated from both motorists on one side, and pedestrians on the other, with a grass separating strip between the road and the cycle track and another one between the cycle track and the footpath, much as in equivalents that can be seen today on main roads throughout northern Europe – except in the UK. And these cycle tracks on the Western Avenue were continuous for 2.5 miles. Belisha, in his very brief speech, rightly cites the reasons for the provision of the tracks as being the safety and convenience of cyclists – the twin reasons that lie behind all quality dedicated cycle provision.

But others saw it differently, including the author of the cartoon. The cartoon satirises the concept of separating out different types of traffic on the roads, with lanes (in the sky) for "fire engines and ambulances only", "perambulators only", and "pedestrians only". Other elements in the satire are the ironic "Safety first" poster on the bus, and the poster for "Skids tyres", while pedestrians absail overhead, and the motor traffic is depicted as travelling at high speed, unencumbered by the need to accommodate cyclists on the road and pedestrians crossing at surface level.

And this satire is perfectly understandable in the context of the times. Up until recently, the motor car had been a rarity: a plaything of the rich, peripheral to transport. The few cars there had been had "shared space" on the roads with bicycles, horse carts, handcarts, Hackney carriages, motor buses and trams. To have separate provision on the roads for each of these vehicle types would indeed then have seemed an absurd idea to reasonable people, on the assumption that the future would not look very different to the past. But things were changing at an alarming pace. Henry Ford and his imitators had now given the car to the middle classes. The suburbs of West London, that the Western Avenue was built to transmit traffic through, were expanding exponentially, as were the suburbs of every city, being built on a pattern and scale that, for the first time, assumed car ownership for ordinary families. Cars were starting to drive all other traffic off the roads, by their sheer numbers as well as the danger they posed to other road-users. In London, 11 cyclists a week were being killed by cars, 1,324 deaths nationally in 1934. Hence the case for tracks for the "safety and convenience of cyclists".

Note how the cartoonist shows a cycle track absolutely packed with cyclists. His assumption would have been, I suspect, that the popularity of cycling was a fixed quantity, and that the result of cycle paths would be to force those cyclists into an inadequate space. What he could not foresee was that, in a very few years, without separation from cars, bikes would be almost completely forced off the road by the volume, speed and aggression of motor traffic. Or, rather, their riders would be "driven" into cars or buses, and that that driving of cyclists off their bikes and into motor vehicles would become a feedback loop, itself increasing further the volume of traffic on the roads, and making cycling conditions even worse, so that soon cycling would become, to all intents and purposes, a thing of the past in Britain.

The caption under the cartoon, "Special paths for cyclists are the thin end of the wedge", appears in fact not to be part of the original cartoon, with is captioned in bigger letters "We'll all go our own way home", but the addition of the CTC Gazette editor. What did the editor mean by this? He could have meant just that cycle paths were "the thin end of the wedge" in driving though the mad, super-traffic infrastructure that the cartoon depicts. Or he could have meant that they were "the thin end of the wedge" in terms of the eventual elimination of cyclists from all roads. Chris Peck of the CTC, quoted in the Guardian article, gives his impression, gleaned from the CTC archives:
I'm afraid that in 1934 the CTC was dead against cycle tracks of all kinds, even this one. We were still very much of the mind that we should try and recapture the roads from the motorists, so the construction of cycle tracks was seen as defeat. Indeed, the CTC suggested an alternative, "motorways" – built only for cars – leaving the rest of the road network for cyclists to continue to use. The CTC eventually got its wish: the motorways were built and led to a flood of more cars onto the old roads, making them even more hostile for cyclists.
Peck's analysis is accurate. One problem was that "the thin end of the wedge" argument against cycle infrastructure just kept being used, and used, and used, doggedly, by British cyclists, long after it had become irrelevant. Long after thick or thin wedges or wedges of any description had been rendered totally irrelevant by the fact that cycling had been virtually eliminated from the roads anyway, British cyclists kept talking like this – and some still do.

When I posted my Cycling is dangerous post here, a commenter told me that by writing this phrase, I was likely to get cycling banned – the same old thinking. I had to reply that, well, perhaps he hadn't noticed, but cycling is banned already in the UK – has been for years. Its 1% modal share of journeys shows it has been banned more effectively than could ever have been achieved by legislation. As I told him, he government bans travelling at more than 70 mph on motorways, and at more than 30 mph is towns, but most motorists do these things. The government bans narcotic drugs, but more than 1% of people take them. The government bans tax evasion, but lots of people engage in that. People do not stop doing things because they are banned from doing them legally, they stop doing things because those things are made very unpleasant and inconvenient – which is what has happened with cycling.

The resistance to cycle-specific infrastructure displayed by British cyclists, and particularly by the CTC, as the largest body representing their interests, during the mid-20th century, proved a spectacular own goal. As cycling numbers dwindled and pressure to create more space for motor traffic grew, the fact that cyclists did not seem to want their own space proved very convenient for politicians. Cyclists did not want the tracks such as the ones on the A40, or so the CTC told the government. So they were eliminated to make more space for cars. Some time after the Second World War (no doubt someone can tell me exactly when, but I guess it was in the 1960s), a third lane was added to both sides of the A40 over the top of the old cycle track and grass verges. The pavements remained, but of course were little-used, on what had become an urban motorway. When policy changed again, and "promoting cycling" became fashionable again at the end of the century, those pavements were divided in half, to carve out the cycle paths on the A40, marked in brown on the Transport for London Cycle Guides, that we have today.

Apart from being far narrower than the Belisha's tracks, these present-day paths also differ in being, illogically, on the insides of the pavements, and not separated from them, so engendering the cyclist-pedestrian conflict which was carefully avoided in 1934, and also, illogically, they are two-way on both sides of the road, a pattern you tend not to see in Europe. Having two-way paths on both sides emphasises the total barrier that the road has now become, no longer a conduit for cyclists, but a wall to them. And these pavement cycle paths are now not continuous for 2.5 miles, but interrupted by numerous major junctions and small side-turnings, at all of which cyclists have to give way, or take long detours round, sometimes involving tunnels.

One of the Western Avenue cycle paths today, in Park Royal, Borough of Ealing (From Google Streetview)
Looking the other way from the same point, showing one of the many interruptions to the cycle paths
So in 1934, in the UK, we were getting cycling infrastructure right, but it then all went downhill. There have been several changes of political fashion since, where cycle facilities have been introduced, then taken away again again (as cycle lanes installed only in the 2000s in the Borough of Barnet have been taken away again by the current administration there). But the quality trajectory has always been downhill, as the cycle lobby voice has been weak, due to lack of cyclists, and the pressure for space for moving and parked vehicles so intense. 

The Netherlands has had these policy swings as well. Cycle paths had already been built in Amsterdam by 1906. But by the 1970s, the roads there had become almost as motor-dominated as in Britain, and some of the earlier cycle paths had been removed to widen roads, as in the UK. The main change of policy in the Netherlands began occurring in this decade. From the Dutch Bicycle Master Plan of 1999:
Bicycle use in Amsterdam began increasing gradually from around 1977. At the same time, there was an increase in attention to bicycle traffic, fueled to an important extent by the activities and notions of local parties, including neighbourhood groups and the local branch of the Dutch Cyclists' Union. Policy-making officials continued to study different possibilities for mixing and separating the various types of traffic. A proposal was made as early as 1972 to create separate routes for bicycle and moped traffic. This resulted in a bicycle traffic plan, in which the feasibility of segragated bicycle infrastructure was confirmed.
But, as the Masterplan also details, the modern high-quality routes only started appearing in the 1980s, and developments acceleated in the 1990s, with the Masterplan itself appearing at the end of that decade, synthesising and standardising, at a national level, various developments in best practice that had evolved separately in the various cities and regions of the Netherlands. So Dutch cycle infrastructure is mostly very new, and so is the culture that goes with it. The same can be said of the cycle-friendly cities of Gemany and Switzerland.

It seems, from the quote above, that the Dutch Cyclists' Union, the Fietersbond, was closely involved with the infrastructure developments of the early period of modern Dutch cycle expansion. This Fietersbond was actually a new organisation. From the Masterplan:
In 1975, the Dutch Cyclists' Union enfb was established, initially as a counterpart to the ANWB (Royal Dutch Touring Club), which no longer promoted (solely) bicycle interests, and was therefore originally named the Enige Echte Nederlandse Fietsersbond ("The One and Only True Dutch Cyclists' Union").
So the Fietersbond, at the time that policy started to shift towards the bicycle, was not a historic, tradition-bound organisation with fixed views like Britain's Cyclists' Touring Club, but a new participant in a process of researching effective cycling policy in conjunction with government. The Fietersbond, indeed, had arisen because, as this quote states, an older organisation which had had the function of promoting cycling was not seen to be appropriate to this task anymore, as its brief included representing motorists, and there was now a realisation that these functions in one organisation were not compatible. 

A kind of parallel development in the British context had taken place way back, in a different world, in 1906, when the High Court had refused the CTC permission to rename as "The Touring Club" and admit all tourists, i.e. motorists, the judge in the case perceiving that these two modes of transport were so different that one organisation could not represent both. So the motoring organisations of the UK, the AA and RAC emerged, and the CTC continued to represent only cycling. So in the late 20th century, when UK government policy moved back towards cycling, there was not seen to be any need for a new organisation to represent cyclists, with new thinking, in the way that had occurred in the Netherlands, other than at a local level, where such groups as the London Cycling Campaign emerged, which tended to have a different, and more modern outlook, than the CTC, rooted more in the "green" movement, and treating cycling more from the point of view of a transport mode than a leisure activity.

Another influence on developments in the Netherlands was the campaign began in 1973 Stop de Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder). This campaign became a significant influence on the Dutch government, in persuading them to promote cycle infrastructure as a way of reducing the number of child deaths on the roads. In 1973, 3,264 people had been killed on Dutch roads, and in 1973, 450 deaths were of children. Once again, we see the interesting fact that a parallel development in the UK had occurred much earlier. The rhetoric of "road murder" had actually been used in the UK to change policy long before. Let us go back to Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Anglo-Jewish Conservative transport minister, he of the Western Avenue cycle track. From Wikipedia:
Hore-Belisha was appointed Minister of Transport in 1934, coming to public prominence at a time when motoring was becoming available to the masses. All UK speed limits for motor cars had controversially been removed by the Road Traffic Act 1930 during the previous (Labour) administration. 1934 was to see record GB road casualties with 7,343 deaths and 231,603 injuries being recorded, with half of the casualties being pedestrians and three-quarters occurring in built-up areas. Hore-Belisha described this as 'mass murder'. Shortly after being appointed, he was crossing Camden High Street when a sports car shot along the street without stopping, nearly causing him 'serious injury or worse.' He became involved in a public-relations exercise to demonstrate how to use the new ‘uncontrolled crossings’.
Hore-Belisha's Road Traffic Act 1934 introduced a speed limit of 30 mph for motor cars in built-up areas. This was vigorously opposed by many, who saw the new regulations as a removal of 'an Englishman's freedom of the highway.' The earlier 20 mph speed limit had been abolished in 1930 because it was universally flouted. A large backlog of court cases had made the law unenforceable. In addition, The Automobile Association (AA) and the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) had frequently been successful in defending their members against evidence from primitive speed traps.
Hore-Belisha rewrote the Highway Code and was responsible for the introduction of two innovations which led to a dramatic drop in road accidents: the driving test and the Belisha beacon, named after him by the public. On his retirement, he was made vice-president of the Pedestrians' Association [now Living Streets] and to this day the logo of the organisation includes a Belisha Beacon [no longer the case, I believe].
See that the level of road deaths in the UK in 1934 was very comparable to that in the Netherlands in 1972, bearing in mind the UK then had about twice the population that the Netherlands had 40 years later. As in the case of cyclist representation, we see that important changes on road safety in the UK happened much earlier than they did in the Netherlands. I think this is a significant fact. The death rate in the Dutch Kindermoord year was very like the death rate in Belisha's year of "mass murder", to which his reforms were a reaction. But these reactions occurred 40 years before their equivalent in the Netherlands, at a time when cycling was still strong in the UK.

Belisha made the UK's roads relatively safe, and established a new relationship – a new peace, or truce – between motorists and what we now call "vulnerable road users" – a tremendous achievement. And this truce lasted a long time – his standard speed for traffic in urban areas is still our standard. But because it predated the main expansion of motor traffic and motor-centric urban planning, that only really got going after the war, Belisha's truce did not do enough to prevent the decline of cycling and walking in the longer term. And when there was a final realisation that ever-expanding motor traffic was not a desirable objective, Belisha's truce meant the safety pressures were not so strong in the UK as they became in the Netherlands. There was never, at any particular moment, the same conjunction of social forces in the UK as there was in the Netherlands in the early 1970s, where the oil price shocks, the Kindermoord campaign, the setting up of the Fietsberad, and the beginnings of the green movement, with the realisation that motor-dominated transport was unsustainable, all came together to push the government to start re-planning the Dutch environment to prioritise cycling.

I am sure that much more could be found out about why cycling diverged so much between the UK and the Netherlands in the 20th century, and it is a subject that I am not aware anybody has researched comprehensively. Here would be a good subject for someone who wants to do a useful PhD in social and political history.

The year 1934 was the high-water mark of British cycle infrastructure development. The hostile attitude of many UK cyclists, and particularly the entrenched attitudes of the CTC, towards cycle-specific infrastructure, coupled with the pressure from the explosion of motoring, meant that the British cycle infrastructure of the inter-war years withered, never to be properly restored. Cycling in the UK declined catastrophically, to become a mere sub-culture, guarded over by the CTC, who doggedly continued to defend a "right to ride" on the roads that had become merely theoretical to the vast mass of people. At the same time, pedestrians remained relatively satisfied with Belisha's truce, even canonising his beacon in their logo, and continued to be relatively satisfied with the post-war "road safety"culture, which re-emphasised the domination of the motor vehicle on the streets, because most of them had become motorists as well. The interests of the few, hardy, mostly adult male, remaining cyclists were never seen as coinciding strongly enough with an imperative to make the roads safer for all, particularly children, for there to be the kind of street design revolution that occurred in the Netherlands, and, to a lesser extent, in Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

Yet I will refer to one more snippet from the Guardian blog article. It says that one A. Lancaster Smith wrote to the Guardian in 1934 to say that:
I believe that in Holland these tracks are laid down beside a great number of roads. What one nation has done another can do.
The statement remains obviously true. The Netherlands was ahead of the UK then, and today, if we measure from the Kindermoord year, they are about 40 years ahead. Yet similar nations do often do similar things at very different times. That 40 year interval is the same period as elapsed between the Belisha's year of "mass murder" and the Kindermoord. The story tells us it is never too late to catch up, and, indeed, never too late to get ahead. As Hembrow says, ringingly, of the success of the Dutch pattern of cycle planning:
The gift to the world that is offered by the Netherlands is the demonstration that all this is possible. It is possible in a comparatively rich, democratic, Western European country where people can afford to own and use cars. What’s more, it is affordable. The Dutch have repeatedly shown that investing in cycling is not only good for the physical and mental health of the nation, but also that it’s an effective fiscal measure. The cost of building the world’s best network of the world’s best quality of cycling infrastructure is less than the cost of not building it.
It is indeed a gift to the world, just as the British invention of the railways was our gift to the world in the 19th century. It may be worth remarking that, in May 2011, the Netherlands was ranked as the "happiest" country in the world by the OECD. How much of this happiness can we put down to the cycling infrastructure? If cycling makes people "happy", as I firmly believe it does, the answer must be "quite a lot".

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the best way we could thank the Dutch for their demonstration of what is possible for cycling, and maybe even happiness, in our type of society would be, even after all these years, for us in Britain to imitate them again, and to pick up where we left off in 1934.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Video time again

In a drive to get more members to vote on its four campaign options for the next mayoral elections, which I discussed previously in this post, London Cycling Campaign (actually Gerhard) has produced a video in which various people try to "sell" the different options. The poll actually ends on Monday, so any members who have not yet voted, you should do so now. The video features "Yours Truly" promoting the option entitled Go Dutch. This is the second of the segments, after the CEO has had his say. I must say I would not have used that music. Enjoy, as they say, but don't have the volume on full.

Call for an ongoing Blackfriars protest from Friday


All cyclists who wish to protest about Transport for London's outrageous, high-handed and undemocratic action in proposing to commence their re-engineering of Blackfriars Bridge this weekend in a way that will be massively damaging to cycling, and put cyclists' lives at risk, involving raising the speed limit from 20 to 30 mph and adding extra vehicle lanes, should join London Cycling Campaign's Flashride protest on Friday 29 July 2011 at 6pm, starting on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge, outside The Doggett's pub. The ride will be a go-slow across Blackfriars Bridge and will probably then proceed to Waterloo Bridge before returning to Blackfriars. This ride will incorporate and replace the Critical Mass ride normally held on the last Friday of the month.

There are likely to be further Flashrides at times and dates to be announced. It now appears that TfL's works on the bridge will take several months, and we need to keep doing this to need to make sure Transport for London understands that this is not going to go away. So be ready to take part again next week, or whenever.

As well as the London Cycling Campaign, all the well-known cycling bloggers are advertising these protests, as is the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and hundreds of Twitter feeds. Do not worry that you may be part of a small, fringe, ragtag bunch. These protests will be huge, and consist of all types of cyclists from all walks of life. They will show how mainstream cycling has become in London, and that the authorities cannot ignore our legitimate fight for decent treatment any more. They could turn out to be a turning-point for cycling in the UK, if we all play our cards right.

It is not exactly clear what TfL do plan to start building this weekend. Jenny Jones of the Green Party suggests that they might be going to implement their original plan with no cycle lanes at all. That would mean that all the lobbying and writing to TfL over the past six months by hundreds of cyclists, plus the campaigns of LCC and the bloggers, have been totally ignored – a waste of time. And of course the interventions of the London Assembly and even the minister for cycling have also been ignored.

Please come on Friday and subsequent dates and give the Mayor and Transport for London something they cannot ignore.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Blackfriars: have we run out of democratic options?

I have been following on this blog what I have called the Battle for Blackfriars, though not so extensively as has the wonderfully-industrious Danny on his Cyclists in the City blog. As I wrote before:
The "Battle for Blackfriars" has become totemic of the struggle to establish decent treatment for pedestrians and cyclists in the way that major roads in London are engineered. If the campaign on Blackfriars fails, TfL will probably try to impose the same engineering style on all the Thames bridges, and, by extension, all other major road junctions in London under their control.
The state of play now is that the London Assembly has finally managed to take a vote on the Blackfriars plans. The first attempt to debate the issue, on 8 June, using a motion proposed by the doughty Green Assembly Member Jenny Jones, which called for retention of the existing 20 mph limit, was scuppered by a Conservative walk-out in protest over an unrelated issue. The fury this aroused from transport campaigners seemed to take the Assembly Conservatives by surprise, with their spokesman, Andrew Boff, forced on to the defensive. The result was, last week, an even better outcome than could have been predicted in June. Jones re-tabled her motion for 20 July, but Boff negotiated a re-wording as follows:
This Assembly notes the decision to revert to a 30 mph speed limit on Blackfriars Bridge. We also note the recent decision of the Corporation of London to consider plans for the whole of the City of London to become a 20mph zone, and understand that if they take this decision they would be likely to ask Transport for London to agree to make TfL roads 20mph. This Assembly asks that the Mayor instructs TfL to implement a full review investigating the practicalities, advantages and disadvantages of a 20mph limit on Blackfriars Bridge . The review should include previous TfL reports, such as that on 20mph speed limit on London's Thames bridges and also the effect of such a change on all road users (including pedestrians) north, south or on the bridge itself. Meanwhile, TfL should keep under review the decision to revert to a 30 mph speed limit on Blackfriars Bridge. We also urge the Mayor to revisit the plans for the bridge with particular attention to cyclists making right turns when exiting the bridge at either end.
Amazingly, in a tremendous victory for people-power, a vindication of a determined campaign by the London Cycling Campaign and others, the assembly voted unanimously to support this motion. Andrew Boff came up trumps by bringing all the Conservative AMs with him in supporting the motion. Though the motion only mentions cyclists at the end, the press release issued by the Assembly, in quotes from Liberal Democrat spokeswoman Caroline Pidgeon, and Boff, lays heavy emphasis on the desire of the Assembly to see a new Blackfriars that caters properly for cyclists. Pidgeon:
A third of the peak time traffic across Blackfriars Bridge are cyclists and we already know that they are at significantly more risk when travelling across bridges than they are on similar city roads. That’s why we want Transport for London (TfL) to take a robust look at the safety of all users on Blackfriars Bridge and for the Mayor to use the facts to put safety first.
And Boff:
I am staggered that so many cyclists use Blackfriars Bridge, if it was on my commuting route I wouldn’t because it is too dangerous. I hope a full review of the new layout and speed limits on the bridge and the publication of all the relevant data will result in a sensible solution that will address the needs and safety of all users.
Boff is a cyclist who clearly understands how the danger issue is at the base of the problem we have in promoting cycling to Londoners. His reworded motion, that was passed, is perceptive in its recognition that there is not only an issue with speed, but with the fundamentals of the engineering of major roads like this, and their junctions. Dr Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners and an experienced cyclist, was badly injured attempting the right turn at the northern junction even with the current 20 mph limit in force. So clearly 20 mph, though perhaps a convenient campaigning rallying-cry, cannot be the main solution for making our main roads and junctions cycle-friendly. As I have argued before, cyclists need to be campaigning clearly for a total physical re-design of the road space and junction arrangements in places like Blackfriars, preferably on Dutch models, not asking for painted scraps of space.

While the Assembly has no power to make the Mayor do anything on this issue, it would seem to be hard for him to ignore the wishes of all his party in the Assembly. Only a couple of weeks ago, Johnson was arguing, incredibly, that since average peak hour motor vehicle speeds were already below 20, a 20 limit is not needed – totally missing the point that it is out of peak hours when the traffic speeds up that cyclists and pedestrians need the most protection. But in the same speech, Johnson also hinted, delphically, that he did not think everything was fine with TfL's current plans, stating that his observation as a cyclist using Blackfriars was that:
more work needs to be done on cycling over Blackfriars Bridge and the accessibility of cycling over Blackfriars Bridge.
So that would seem to be opening a space for a rethink, and the vote by the entire assembly, including his party members, for just such a rethink would appear to give him exactly the opportunity he needs for calling the plans in again, while in no way losing face.

So that was the relatively rosy way things looked up until Monday, 25 July. At least rosier than they had looked for some time. Until a press release appeared on TfL's website. This talks about the large increase in pedestrian traffic expected from the opening of the rebuilt Blackfriars Station, and the goes on:
The new design accommodates the huge increase in demand from pedestrians whilst improving facilities for the estimated six per cent of people who travel through the junction by bicycle.
That has been achieved without severely affecting other modes of travel, such as the bus and taxi passengers who will account for around a fifth of those using the junction (11 per cent and eight per cent respectively).
Analysis by TfL shows that usage by cyclists through this junction is predominantly for travelling to and from work and is therefore concentrated during traditional 'rush hour' periods, particularly in the morning heading northbound and in the afternoon heading southbound.
Vehicular speeds are predicted to be at their lowest through the junction during peak time, at an estimated speed of just 12mph, creating a much improved and safer environment for cyclists to pass through.
From the evening of 29 July to the early morning of 1 August one lane northbound and one lane southbound will be restricted, with work continuing throughout the night to complete the works as quickly as possible.
So TfL really are not listening. Really. They are not listening to anyone but themselves on this. They are not listening to the Mayor, who is their boss, they are not listening to the London Assembly, they have not listened to the 600 people who have written in to complain about their plans, mostly from a cycling perspective, they have not listened to a peaceful physical protest by cyclists on the bridge itself, and they have not listened to the LCC's petition presenting photos of 2000 cyclists.

Despite the fact that Conservative Assembly Member James Cleverly, a particularly close colleague of Johnson, having been his Ambassador for Youth, has said that it will now be “very difficult” for the Assembly motion “to be ignored or thrown out by TfL or the chair of TfL (the Mayor)”, that is exactly what Johnson seems to be doing. He is doing nothing, despite his statement of 13 July that "more work needs to be done on cycling over Blackfriars Bridge". What the hell is going on here? Does Johson think that that "more work" should be done after TfL have changed the bridge according to their current plans? If so, he is being utterly neglectful of his duty to ensure public money is spent responsibly and efficiently. 

What appears to be going on is that while Johnson vaguely, and in the briefest manner, hints on this issue in directions to please all parties, while, as Cycle of Futility points out, he is probably much more taken up with the extent to which he could be mired in the police–News of the World affair, as effective chief of the Met as well as a peripheral member of the Chipping Norton Set and
once a dodgy News International journo himself, being fired by The Times for manufacturing a quote
as well as more vexed by the increasing competing pressures of satisfying the International Olympic Committee and keeping London moving in 2012 – while all this goes on, TfL's bureaucrats are just getting on with what they wanted to do all along at Blackfriars, as fast as they can, working all night over this coming weekend, in order to make the whole job a fait a complet before anything else can happen.

I have a part-remembered quote in my head, from Shakespeare, I suspect, about bad things happening under cover of darkness, but I cannot authenticate this now. Anyway, this is the point: on Blackfriars we seem to have run out of time, and run out of democratic options. What are we going to have to do? Lie in front of the bulldozers? Have one last protest ride on Friday? Lay some wreathes on the bridge in memory of dead cyclists?

I really don't know.  I hope that whatever happens, there will be two things in the future: firstly, a new-found unity in political campaigning in the cycling community, and secondly, a realisation that getting lower speeds is not necessarily the politically easiest nor the most effective thing to do for cycling. I think many cycling campaigners are a bit fixated on 20 mph because they see it as an "easy win". Just stick up some signs saying "20", OK – what could be easier? But perhaps it is not that easy. As Cycle of Futility says:
Unlike Tower Bridge, the road layout at Blackfriars lends itself to driving much faster than 20mph, which people will do. Enforcement of the limit will be rare, and as I saw today, consequences in those cases where it is enforced minimal. We need to stop devoting our energy to tinkering around the edges like this and start campaigning for proper infrastructure – yes segregated cycle lanes, but this as part of a package of properly designed streets, not huge urban motorways.
I note from both the comments of Boff and Johnson that, interestingly, some cyclists on the right of the political spectrum seem to have an inkling that this is correct. They are not convinced that campaigns on speed in itself, in isolation, will take the wider public along. They can see that the real issue is road design. Redesigning roads to re-humanise them should be a campaign that can win the favour of pro-cycling politicians of all parties.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The problem with assertive cycling

From Cycle of Futility:
I cycled down Queen Victoria Street towards Blackfriars Bridge: [picture] At this narrow point, I decided to “take the lane”, as I’ve been overtaken by buses here before and it’s a little close for comfort.
A black cab driver behind me became very angry, aggressively revving and trying to squeeze past. At the end of this section (about 15 seconds after the beginning of it), he leaned out his window as he overtook me and said, “Who do you think you are? I’ll slit your fucking throat.”
There was a police car stopped at the next set of traffic lights. I knocked on their window, reported what the taxi driver had said, and one of the two officers within asked both me and the driver to pull over.
PC Jeffreys then told me that I should not have been cycling in the middle of the road and that both parties were in his view in the wrong. He said that in future if I felt intimidated by a taxi driver behind me, the correct action would be to pull over to the side of the road, dismount my bicycle and wait until I no longer felt at risk.

All very routine stuff for this city of vehicular cycling, except for the involvement of the police. Outside the tiny area of the City of London one would have been unlikely to find any police with the time to get involved in an incident like this.

This account points up a major problem with the UK's officially-promoted doctrine of "assertive cycling", or "Cyclecraft-style cycling", or "Bikeability-style cycling", or whatever you want to call it. This problem has been noted before, in this perceptive piece on As Easy As Riding A Bike:
And this brings me to the other problem I have with the ‘primary position’. No-one seems to have told U.K. drivers about it. Putting yourself out in the middle [of the] road can, in my experience, appear to some drivers as an act of deliberate provocation. They don’t have a clue what you are doing.
Exactly. The problem with assertive cycling and the primary position is that they are techniques that are understood as correct and sensible road behaviour only by a tiny minority of road-users, those cyclists who have been trained in them. Nobody has told motorists about them, nobody has told police about them, and, in the unlikely event of an incident coming to court, nobody has told magistrates about them. They are not mentioned in the Highway Code, nor mentioned in the driving test. They are against "common sense" and against the expected norms of the road to the vast mass of road-users, who are likely to regard cyclists applying these principles as either obstructive, bloody-minded, "superior", or suicidal.

There is a fundamental difference between driver training, as in the driving test, and Bikeablilty. The driving test teaches people to obey road norms which are generally understood. Bikeablilty and
Cyclecraft teach people, at least in some respects, to try to go against the norms of the road. They are therefore based on a kind of lie. Because there is no point in society training one minority set of people to do one thing, while not having the guts to impose on everybody else the duty of allowing that minority set to do that thing. It is a glaring inconsistency, and just a recipe for conflict and aggression. As the blogger mentioned above puts it, assertive cycling is just a scheme that puts UK cyclists using it "between a rock and a hard place". Really, it is no way to promote cycling.

The phrase "primary position" itself embodies a dishonesty. The phrase, I believe, originally came from motorcycle training. But as applied to cycling, it doesn't make the same sense as it does in motorcycling. The "primary position" cannot be the primary position for cyclists on roads where the speeds are almost always far in excess of most people's top cycling speed. Some fit, young cyclists can cycle at 20 mph on the flat, but few of our roads have a 20mph limit, and in the more normal 30-limit urban areas, typical speeds are up to 45, in reality, where the roads can take it. So even fast cyclists stand little chance of maintaining the primary position most of the time. A more normal cycling speed, even with the current cadre of cyclists, would be 10–15mph. For them, in being sold this "primary position" theory, they are clearly being sold a lie. And this is to say nothing of the currently largely-excluded groups that we want to get on bikes: children, the unfit and the elderly, who are not going to do more than about 8 mph.

I'm not trying to discourage people from cycling on the roads – far from it. And I am not trying to encourage people to cycle "in the gutter", or to be overly deferential to motorists, or to put themselves in the dooring zone, if they can possibly avoid it, or put themselves in the position of being dangerously overtaken, if they can possibly avoid it. People should cycle on the roads using some of the techniques drawn from Cyclecraft and Bikeability, and using their own experience, judgement, and common-sense, and try to keep as safe as possible. I am not criticising anyone for cycling in any particular way, or for training anyone to cycle in any particular way. But I am pointing out, as many bloggers have pointed out before, that we have a big problem with the way we are trying to get people to cycle on the roads, trying to fit them in around a driving culture that is, in a basic way, not compatible with any type of cycling, assertive or otherwise.

For the risks are never entirely within the control of the cyclist, no matter in what style they cycle. Cycling in primary position reduces the chance of dooring incidents, and many junction incidents, but it increases the chances of being hit from behind, which are not negligible, and, in preventing some dangerous overtakes, increases the likelihood of aggressive behaviour from many motorists when they are encountered elsewhere on the journey.

One result of the aggression and hostility they encounter on the roads is that too many people give up cycling, whatever training you give them. The effects of promotion and training are offset by recidivism. A report from Transport for London published in December 2010, Analysis of Cycling Potential, drew attention to this (p. 44):
Evidence suggests that the growth in cycle travel between 2001 and 2008 was largely caused by cyclists increasing their cycle trip-making. There is no evidence of a net increase in the number of cyclists overall, although this disguises a level of "churn", so that some people stop cycling whilst others start. LTDS [London Travel Demand Survey] showed an increase of only 3 per cent in the number of people who ever cycle between 2005/6 and 2008/9 but an increase of nearly 50 per cent in the proportion of cyclists who cycled frequently. A very small number of cyclists account for a large proportion of trips – recent analysis of LTDS found that around 2% of London residents cycle as their main mode of travel to work, yet this group accounts for around half of all cycle trips made in London (for all trip purposes). So, although many people have taken up cycling in the past decade, a similar number have stopped cycling - i.e. there has been "churn" but no change at an aggregate level.
The report further noted, on p. 45,
Research exploring the barriers to cycling and the factors which would encourage people to cycle more found that frequent cyclists were more likely to be put off by their experiences with traffic and other road users and to mention practical barriers, such as a lack of suitable parking or shower facilities (TfL Cycling Behaviour Survey 2010). For all groups, including frequent cyclists, safety was the most significant barrier to cycling in general and for specific trips. This suggests that, in order to realise the remaining potential from existing frequent cyclists, practical measures to increase safety and improve the provision of facilities will be the most effective.
So even "frequent cyclists", whom one would suppose would be the "hardened" ones, are "put off by their experience with traffic" and need "practical measures to increase safety and improve the provision of facilities".

I would agree with all TfL's report says, and only question why TfL and Boris Johnson are not doing more to put into practice what it so clearly says about the need for "practical measures to increase safety and improve the provision of facilities". But we do need to stop pretending that Bikeability-style training, trying to fit cyclists in around the dangerous behaviour that is the norm on the roads at the moment, is any real solution. 

The theory that training people in assertive cycling techniques can play any significant part in reviving cycling in the UK is in error in a similar way to the ideas around Shared Space that I have criticised quite a bit on this blog. The thing in common is that word I used (or coined, as it is not recognised by my computer's dictionary), ahistorical: meaning that the theory holds little water when viewed in the context of historical change, and the reasons for that change. The recent history of cycling in the UK, and many other western countries, is that cyclists have been driven off the roads by the increase in volume, speed and power of motor vehicles and aggression of their drivers. The claim that cyclists themselves can undo this damage merely through changing the way that they cycle – cycling assertively, as compared with however they used to cycle in the "golden days" of cycling – which is, in the end, what the claim is, that underlies the push for ever more Bikeability-style training, is decidedly far-fetched.

It is so far-fetched as not to be credible. And it is not backed-up by the evidence, which is that, as TfL's report says, there has been no change in the actual number of people cycling, despite the big training push of the last decade. However you try to train cyclists to deal with traffic, the frequency of the type of incident with which this post began means that most people will continue to give up under current conditions. The answer, as we know from extensive international experience, is the provision of facilities that separate cyclists from fast and aggressively-driven motor traffic. Training cyclists to pretend to be motorcyclists is not the answer.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

London's aggressive road culture

Goodge Street junction with Tottenham Court Road, London W1, evening
London's aggressive road culture gets to everybody, however many wheels they have, including none, and whether they are private, commercial or public service vehicle drivers. The purpose of a stop line? A thing to be ahead of at the moment the signals go green. And that bus must have gone through a red light. The shabby patched, depressed road surface and pathetic narrow advisory cycle lane (which is parked on just behind the camera's viewpoint) contribute their elements to the scene.

I don't blame the drivers and I don't blame the cyclists. I don't think the problem is the size of London or its poverty. London is a rich city. I think in the end it comes down to problems with democratic structures, which lead to failure to invest efficiently (not heavily, but efficiently) in the urban realm, for the benefit of all. I was struck by a paragraph in David Hembrow's blogpost From cycle path to cycle route, describing the creation of a cycle route in 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands:
While the streets had to be redone completely, the city took the opportunity to also change all the sewer pipes, the telephone, data and electricity cables and the water and natural gas pipes. This is the usual thing to do in the Netherlands. There is good coordination between all the companies responsible for all these systems under supervision of the city or municipal authorities. This dates back from the time (not so long ago) that all these services were run by the councils themselves. Since all cables are underground in this country [as they are in central London] it is a very good thing that there is this coordination. You wouldn't want streets to be dug up separately by all the different companies.
You certainly wouldn't. Ha ha. Tell that to Eric Pickles, right-wing Tory Euro-sceptic Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Give people a messed-up, basically incompetently administered urban environment, poorly planned and worse maintained, and having minimal law-enforcement, and they'll bend all the rules they can to get through it as quickly as possible. London's aggressive road culture is an expression of a poor environment.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

What happens to justice in the ultimate car-centric society

It goes bonkers:
Enter the Marietta, Georgia, case of 30-year-old Raquel Nelson, which has been bandied about in the comments section the last few days. Last April, Nelson was crossing a street with her three children when her 4-year-old was struck and killed by a car. She was crossing at an intersection, but was apparently not in a designated crosswalk. The driver who killed her had been drinking, taking painkillers, and was blind in one eye. He also has two prior hit-and-run convictions. Nelson and her daughter were also struck and injured. Residents of Nelson’s apartment building have complained to the city about the intersection. The nearest crosswalk is a half mile away.
If we have as little to fear from overly aggressive prosecutors as supporters of Caylee’s Law claim, we could expect the prosecutor in this case to show some discretion and mercy for Nelson, right? Yes, she admits to jaywalking. Yes, she erred, and subjected her kids to unnecessary risk. But she just lost her son. It’s hard to fathom a more punishing, heartbreaking sentence. Moreover, the underlying “crime” here was a misdemeanor, one most of us commit every day. So mercy, right?
Of course not. Nelson was charged with second-degree vehicular homicide. Which is insane. She was convicted last week. When she’s sentenced later this month, she could spend more time in jail than the man who struck and killed her son.
Interestingly, the perspective of the "radical" US website from which this snippet is taken, though critical of this case, is not really critical on the grounds that I think UK and European readers of this blog would be. The "radical" US perspective is to see this as about "justice" that might be tempered by "mercy" in the case of an "accident", not about apportioning blame for deaths in a transport culture where the rules have been written by and for motorists: "She erred, and subjected her kids to unnecessary risk," says even this apparently "left-wing" US commentator, seemingly oblivious to where the actual blame for the death lies. And we don't read anything clear about what happened to the driver. But elsewhere we can discover:
Jerry L. Guy, the driver who admitted hitting the child when pleading guilty to hit-and-run, served a 6-month sentence. He was released Oct. 29, 2010, and will serve the remainder of a 5-year sentence on probation....
Guy was originally charged with hit and run, first degree homicide by vehicle and cruelty to children. Charges were later dropped to just the hit and run charge.
Court records show that Guy was previously convicted of two-hit-and-runs on the same day, Feb. 17, 1997.
The first hit-and-run also happened on Austell Road, but when Guy fled from that scene he hit another car, seriously injuring that driver and passenger, records show.
Guy pleaded guilty and received a two-year prison sentence, but was out in less than a year.
There are major cultural and legal differences between the UK and the USA. In the UK, thankfully, there is still no legal concept of "jaywalking" (though many British people have picked this term up from US sources, and use it, incorrectly). In the UK it is, at least in theory, legal to walk on roads and to cross them at any point (excepting motorways), though it is against the Highway Code to cross on zig-zag markings near zebra crossings. In the UK we are a long way from parents being prosecuted for negligence for allowing their children to cross the road in an unwise place, though the argument of negligence is often used in such cases by the lawyers for insurance companies to try to reduce civil damage claims (as they also try to paint cycling victims as "negligent" for not wearing helmets).

It seems to me to be bizarre that both Labour and Conservative UK governments seem to have been fixated with the idea of importing justice and law-and-order related concepts from the United States. From the United States of all places! The United States, which has 0.74% of its population imprisoned! The latest example of this is David Cameron's plan to put elected Police Commissioners in charge of fighting crime in the localities of the UK, a very American concept – an idea which risks the populism, inconsistency, illogicality and political reversibility that characterises US crime-fighting. It is not in the British tradition to elect, on an individual, personal basis, those involved with the administration of the justice system, nor is there the slightest argument for it. There is no more argument for it than for electing who should be in charge of the armed forces. These roles should be independent, professional ones, supervised in a general way by national and local elected politicians.

So far, that (occasional) repository of wisdom the House of Lords has blocked the elected commissioners idea, but the government is still saying it wishes to overrule them, and press ahead with it. This is a not very high profile political issue which is nevertheless of the highest importance. It is an issue people should agitate on, both on grounds of general good-sense, and on grounds of the possible effects on transport justice – with the possibility under elected commissioners of an even more populist, unfair treatment of road crime that gives even less justice to vulnerable road-users.

We don't want the UK going further down the law-and-order basket-case trail blazed by the USA. We don't want mothers imprisoned for having let their slaughtered children cross the roads.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Cycle infrastructure: fighting over scraps

I have mentioned before the work that Westminster and Transport for London are doing which will return two-way working to Piccadilly and Pall Mall. LCC's Westminster group have been doing what they can to get the best cycling deal out of this, in the face of both Westminster and TfL's well-known reluctance to provide cyclists with road-space. Here is the correspondence that has resulted, courtesy of Colin Wing.
Westminster CC: Why are advance stop lines not provided for cyclists at all signal-controlled junctions?
Westminster: The City Council's policy is to only provide advanced stop lines along signed cycle routes at junctions with conflict turning cycle movements. There are also some safety concerns associated with HGV drivers' blind spots.
Westminster CC: Why are the traffic lanes not wide enough to allow a bus to overtake a cycle safely and vice versa?
Westminster: With the existing site constraints and to achieve a balance between pedestrian and vehicular traffic with the provision of central medians to provide perch points for pedestrians to cross along the whole length of these roads, it means that the ideal lane widths could not be achieved.
Westminster CC: Why is the lead-in lane to the advance stop line at the exit from Old Bond Street on the left when most cyclists will want to turn right immediately after the compulsory left turn into Piccadilly?
Westminster: The lead-in lane for cyclists in Old Bond Street is correctly positioned on the left hand side of the road to assist cyclists to turn left in the bus lane in Piccadilly and to use the right turn lane into Duke Street St. James's.
Westminster CC: Will westbound cyclists be able to reach Piccadilly directly from Shaftesbury Avenue? 
Westminster: There is insufficient capacity in the bus lane between Shaftesbury Avenue and Piccadilly, and also at the signalised junction at Piccadilly Circus, to permit cyclists to use the westbound bus lane.
Westminster CC: Will cyclists be able to turn right from Marlborough Road into Pall Mall? 
Westminster: Cyclists are prohibited from turning right into Pall Mall from Marlborough Road, along with all other traffic, due to the expected volume of traffic wishing to turn right from Pall Mall into Marlborough Road and the conflict this would cause. The residents and businesses in the area are concerned that allowing this turning movement would increase 'rat running' traffic. There would be safety concerns if cyclists were given an exemption to this restriction.
Westminster's re-constructed Piccadilly in an artist's impression. Westminster will not retreat from the total lack of cycle facilities planned.
Now I don't want what follows to be taken as, in any way, a criticism of Colin Wing, who has been doing fantastic work campaigning for better cycle provision is a very unrewarding political set-up in Westminster for more years than I can remember, and, additionally, organising rides and all sorts of events to keep a good profile for Westminster Cycling Campaign. But I think this "little list" shows a good example of a problem that cycle campaigning in the UK urban environment tends to get into. It tends to become a fight for little scraps of road-space: an advanced-stop area here, a lead-in lane there etc. We often just seem to be spending all our time fighting for poor scraps dropped from the Big Man's table – the Big Man, being, of course, the hegemony of the motor car. Here is a huge scheme of digging and completely rebuilding a large area of road in central London costing, according to Westminster, £14 million (and I bet it is really going to turn out to be far more than that) – the type of scheme that, in a more enlightened country, could not conceivably be carried out without at the same time building in comprehensive cycle facilities. But here, LCC has to fight for a few token bits of paint on the road that it looks like we aren't going to get anyway – in Boris Johnson's "Cycle-ised city".

And the actual efficacy of some of these "scraps" I have my doubts about anyway. I used to think, 15 years ago, when we had very little cycle infrastructure in London, that advanced stop areas were a great thing, but now I have come to see them more as the symptom of a problem – the problem of this mad, nerve-wracking rush of all road-users to get ahead of each other in the same space the moment the lights go green, or slightly before even – rather than a proper, civilised solution to how cyclists should be treated at junctions. I've not seen advanced stop areas in the cycle-friendly cities on the continent. In the British context I think they can sometimes lure the inexperienced vehicular cyclist into more danger. I often hang a couple of places back in queues at lights rather than risk an unexpected move up the left into an advanced stop area, when things could start moving at any moment. This is also the problem with lead-in lanes on the left. The idea of having a lead-in lane to the right of lanes of motor traffic to facilitate a right turn by cyclists is also, I think, not a very advanced idea. As David Hembrow explains in this post, the Dutch used to do this sometimes, but now they have, in general, progressed to better solutions which don't involve cyclists having to cross-over potentially fast-moving lanes of motor traffic in order to make a right (left in The NL) turn.

It may be that lobbying for some of these "less advanced" or "intermediate" cycle engineering solutions for UK roads is still a good idea, however, if they represent some improvement on what we have, and are politically achievable (though, judging from Westminster's replies, nothing is a achievable there). I have certainly done my share of lobbying for small-scale, "scrap-type", improvements to London roads, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, and, again, I am not criticising anybody for following this approach.

Nevertheless, it is very hard to enthuse people about campaigning for these scraps which will only ever make a marginal difference, at best, to the experience of cycling in heavy, aggressive, London traffic. Therefore I think campaigners also should never loose sight of a bigger picture. They should have a much grander vision as well. They should also be thinking about, and working on, designs that would completely transform our roads.

In this blog I have written a lot about the London Borough of Camden's segregated cycle tracks. This is partly because no-one else had done so, and partly because I think they represent a very good example of this alternative approach in cycle campaigning. The designs for these very successful schemes did not come about from Camden Cycling Campaign's members responding to designs foisted upon them by local government, and making a few tweaks to them here and there to ameliorate their car-centredness. They did not come about through the "fight for scraps". They came about through taking a step back from the "immediately achievable", or the "politically prudent", and considering: what do we really need, not just for ourselves, but for the many people who would like to cycle, but refuse to do so on these roads as they are now? If we assume we can re-design this entire road-space, what is the optimum solution for cycling?

I know that, on the other hand, it is going to seem pointless, and a frustrating waste of effort if campaigners spend a lot of effort producing beautiful plans for completely re-designed, cycle-friendly roads, if there seems not a bat in hell's chance that such designs will ever be realised. I think something Ken Livingstone, ex-Mayor of London and Labour candidate to be the next mayor, said recently is worth considering in this context. Livingstone mostly seems to be thinking about trams here, but I think we should consider it more broadly, as an expression of a principle:
"At my first meeting with Ed Miliband after he got the leadership and I got the mayoral nomination, his opening question was 'What will you do if you win?'
"I said: 'We'll start working on infrastructure projects and housing plans so that when you're elected and we get the go-ahead to do them, the plans are all ready.'
"From the moment the election is over we'll get officials at Transport for London starting to work up the [Cross River Tram] scheme again, so we are ready to go as soon as a Labour government is prepared to start a programme of investment in public works. Clearly both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls see that as the plan B."
Livingstone, an old-hand at the political game, is saying that you have your big plans prepared in advance. You use your time in the political "wilderness" to formulate them. The day might come when, quite suddenly, the landscape of the "politically possible" changes. On that day, somebody in power might just say: "We've got money to do stuff. And we agree with you now – we should be building a people-friendly city. What do you think we should do?" If, at that stage, you already have your plans ready, you have a compelling vision for how the streets could be made far better, and, additionally, if you have already shown that vision to lots of other groups, including those nothing to do with cycling, and enthused them for it as well, because you have had plenty of time to do so, then you're in there. But if you're still running around saying, "Well, we're not sure, we need to spend a lot of time discussing it", then you're not. And if you just say, "Lets have an advanced stop line there, there and there," nobody is going to be very impressed.

Agreed, it is a tall order for cycle campaigners, who are often only small groups of people, to be thinking about the immediate, small-scale "possible" things, plus the big, remote picture. People have a limited amount of time, they do what they can. But the ambitious stuff should not be neglected. There are plenty of clever cyclists with computer design skills, cyclists who are graphic artists, designers, architects, even traffic engineers! They may be people who do not like sitting in meetings discussing how many centimetres of bus lane width TfL is prepared to give. They may be people with no interest in producing a newsletter saying how many community festivals such-and-such cycling campaign has attended, or in teaching the lads on the local council estate to mend punctures. But they may be just the people to be radically re-designing the streets of London from scratch, in their spare time. I think they should be producing state-of-the-art cycle, pedestrian and public transport designs for Blackfriars Bridge, for Piccadilly and Pall Mall, for Elephant and Castle, for Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street, for Oxford Street, for Swiss Cottage, for Brent Cross, for wherever we can think of.

For one reason for all his forward-planning is merely contingency, as suggested above: to be prepared. But another, of course, is that planning for a change of culture  itself helps to bring about that change. The more commonplace and widespread these "alternative" ideas about how to organise the city's roads become, the more people who see them and are involved with them, the less whacky they will start to seem, including to politicians. The radical idea can become the obvious one, the lunatic fringe can become "just common sense".

And it doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to be faultless, there are always going to be problems with any design that are not immediately obvious, and nothing is ever going to be implemented exactly as campaigners wanted. The Camden cycle tracks certainly were not. But if the thinking is not radical enough at the start, the ultimate compromises that will be necessary will probably land you with something that isn't worth having. So one should be bold, and not worry about every detail, because it's not the responsibility of campaigners to get everything right. Campaigners are not government, and so do not have ultimate responsibility. They should be thinkers who "push the envelope".

Ten years on, I still think the Camden cycle route schemes were the most successful ever implemented in the capital, because they were the most radical: the biggest departure campaigners in London ever made from "fighting over scraps" and responding to other peoples' agendas.

One other episode of cycle campaigning from Camden comes into my mind as well, from much further back. From before the London cycle Network was started – I think it must be getting on for 20 years ago, and it was one of the first campaigning events I attended, long before I knew anything about Dutch cycling infrastructure. It was a day-long meeting on cycling organised by Camden Council in the Town Hall. It was one of those events featuring lots of sandwiches and drinks, with cyclists and officers and councillors all being terribly polite to each other, and so full of sufficiently vague promises or expressions of intent that, depending on mood, you could easily think "We are getting somewhere here", or, "What a farce". And I remember one man who I didn't know, but I think he was the editor of a cycling magazine. He was a small man with, I think, long hair and a beard. What I recall is that at a certain point, having had enough of all the polite non-discussion of the real issues, this hitherto quiet man sort of exploded, saying something like, "You people have no idea. You are just not in the right ballpark. I have seen what the have in Holland, and you just haven't got a clue about the sheer scale of the changes you need to make here if you want to get people cycling."

I never saw that man again, and, as I don't know his name, I don't know if he had any subsequent influence on cycling in the UK. But he made an impression on me, and, I suspect, some of the councillors present, who, some years later, approved the segregated Somers Town Cycle Route and Seven Stations Link.

So I think the main lesson cycle campaigners in the UK need to learn is to stop being too diplomatic, and to ask for what we really need to make cycling a mass phenomenon, not for what they think is politically achievable in the short-term. They need to learn to shift the culture more, to move the goal-posts. Otherwise, as in Westminster, they will keep asking for scraps, and keep getting told: "No."

Saturday, 16 July 2011

A little bit of Amsterdam in London

The Velorution website, advertising my history of the London Borough of Camden's segregated cycle tracks, had this to say:
It is quite embarassing to show a visitor the Central London Cycle Guide and explain that the brown bits are the segregated cycle lanes. A few seconds of silence follow as the visitor scans the map, with incrudility spreading over her face: “Is that all?” she asks pointing to the Torrington-Tavistock Place stretch, the only brown bit of any significance.
Being in the Bloomsbury area last Wednesday with a little bit of time to spare, I though I would video the traffic on Torrington Place, London WC1 for four minutes. Here is the result. This was taken at 18:50, so not peak commuting time, but a moderately busy time nevertheless.

This is the junction of Torrington Place with Huntley Street, looking east. The marked cycle route, LCN+ 0, runs eastbound from Maple Street, west of Tottenham Court Road, on a one-way segregated track, on to on University Street, east of Tottenham Court Road, for one block, also on on a one-way segregated track, then southwards on Hutley Street, where it is not segregated, but this road is very quiet, to turn left, eastwards, at this junction, to join the two-way track. The westbound route runs along here towards the camera, turns right into Tottenham Court Road, where it is with the main traffic flow, then left on to another one-way segregated track on Howland Street. It hits the Camden-Westminster border at Cleveland Street, and continues unsegregated on New Cavendish Street in Westminster. Some cycle traffic also continues southward down Huntley Street right across this picture, and goes into Chenies Street and then southwards on Gower Street. Some northbound cycle traffic on Tottenham Court Road turns onto this section of track using the facility photographed below. Torrington Place is one-way westbound for motor traffic, so motor traffic on Tottenham Court Road (one-way northbound) cannot turn right.
Filter for cyclists turning right from Tottenham Court Road into Torrington Place
Torrington Place is the best-implemented section of Camden Cycling Campaign's Seven Stations Link route, because here the road was made one way for motor vehicles. Further east, looking into the video picture, beyond Gower Street, due to lobbying from the Black Cab drivers, Camden Council retreated from the original plan, and allowed two-way motor traffic in Torrington Place, Byng Place, and the section further east. This caused the track there to be built far too narrow, and allowed conflicts with traffic turning across it into Gordon Square. But here, at the Torrington Place–Huntley Street junction, there are no conflicts, as can be seen, as all the motor flows are one-way. A car in the video seen emerging from Huntley Street does give way to the cycle track, as it has to, by the design and road markings. But there is little traffic on Huntley Street anyway. In Torrington Place the track has not been messed-up by Terry Farrell, a it has been in the very short Byng Place section.

The track clearly should have been built wider here as well. There is a clear waste of space: most of the carriageway is not used or needed. Technically, parking is allowed off-peak adjacent the the segregating strip (single yellow line), although it doesn't seem to happen much. It is clearly not needed and shouldn't have been allowed. Then the track could have been built twice as wide. A certain amount of cycle congestion and conflict-cum-negotiation between the Huntley Street and Torrington Place cycle flows is apparent in the video. Where else in the UK can you find cycle congestion?

I have attempted to count the vehicles going through in all directions in this 4m14s of video. I make the totals:

Cars: 14
Taxis: 8
Vans: 1
Motorcycles: 2
Bikes: 45

Clearly, the space here that has been allocated to bikes is nowhere near their proportion of the total traffic. There is, on average, one bike every 5 seconds, but only one motor vehicle every 10 seconds. The short total distance of the Bloomsbury segregated cycle route means that it cannot have much impact overall on the cycling culture of London. Nevertheless, despite its defects of implementation and maintenance (you would not see a patchy surface like that in The Netherlands, nor such a narrow two-way track, nor, probably, those obstructing bollards) this route is an overwhelmingly obvious success. It is a hit with cyclists, and has been for nine years now. As Paul Gannon, who conceived this scheme, wrote all those years ago,
Give them the opportunity and current cyclists will vote with their wheels for segregated facilities.

Commenting (critically) on my post Cycling is dangerous, both "Paul M" and "Idle Boy" said, in more or less the same words,
We need more bums on saddles, passionate about improving their experience, pressing their elected representatives for change.
While I, of course, do not disagree with that, what they really seem to be claiming, when their critiques are read in full, is that the sequence in cycle promotion is that you first persuade by propaganda more people to take up cycling, and then you use the weight of the numbers you gain to press politically for better conditions. All my experience, not just of cycle campaigning, but of life, and I am probably more than half way through mine now, tells me that this is not how it works. This view lands you in the Catch 22 situation that the CTC see themselves in, where you can never improve the environment because you can never persuade enough people to take up cycling in a bad environment, so nothing changes. I know, from all my experience, that it works the other way round. The Torrington Place track is part of my evidence for this. To get the numbers, you have to build the infrastructure first. "Build it, and they will come", as they say. Camden Cycling Campaign persuaded Camden Council to build this facility when cyclist numbers in London were much lower than they are now. Yet they did it, they achieved this "outrageous scheme", as the Velorution website calls it.

As I keep saying, achieving high cycling levels it is a solved problem. We know what works. This is it. As Paul Gannon, when he returned to London in the late 90s, after having lived in The Netherlands, told us it would be. As the Understanding Walking and Cycling study by Dave Horton of Lancaster University has this year told us again. As the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, a newly-founded national cycle campaign organisation claims. As so many cycle bloggers agree. As the London Cycling Campaign now agrees.

What we need in our towns and cities are strategic networks of high-quality tracks like this (one-way and two-way) on direct, priority routes. Not on every street. Cyclists who fear losing the right to cycle on the roads need have no fear there is the slightest prospect of that ever happening. Such a segregated network would not, could not, exist on any but a tiny proportion of the streets. If some cyclists wish to continue cycling with motor traffic, there is really no prospect that there would ever be any shortage of opportunities for them to do so. The shortage of opportunities at the moment is for those who don't wish to cycle with motor traffic. Building a strategic network of segregated tracks would even this provision of opportunities up. Notice that a couple of cyclists in the video (a very small minority of the total 45) do chose to cycle westbound (towards the camera) in the carriageway, as they are perfectly entitled to do. But I suspect they would not have chosen to do so had the carriageway been narrowed by one car-width, and the track been built twice as wide, as it should have been.

The generation of a popular cycling culture is, in technical terms, a solved problem. If only other social or economic problems were so easy to solve. If only the solutions to unemployment, or the budget deficit, were so simple!

But of course, it's not so simple in political terms, even if it may be relatively simple in engineering terms (it's certainly not the proverbial Rocket Science). There are two other things necessary: campaigners have to convince politicians to find the money for this stuff, and they have to convince politicians to sacrifice some road space, which might otherwise be used for moving or parked motor vehicles, to fit these tracks into our streets.

Now I don't think the first of these, the money, is the significant one. We are always rebuilding roads anyway, messing about with kerbs, putting in traffic-calming, digging up for utilities, resurfacing, etc. It would be quite easy, if we could organise it, to schedule the building of cycle tracks in with these changes, just as they do in The Netherlands. It really wouldn't require much extra expenditure on the streets – so long as money were kept out of the pockets of the type of waste-of-time "consultants" who have tended to eat up most of the cash allocated to cycling provision in the UK in the past. If the money were actually spent on building stuff, rather than on producing reports (the usual UK local government way), it would go far enough.

So that leaves the problem of persuading the politicians to give a little less space to the car. This blog is doing its bit towards that. As are plenty of other people. Some politicians are listening – though not yet, perhaps, fully-convinced. But the time may soon be right for London's breakthrough as the World-class Cycling City it could so easily become. Look at the photo below, taken so near the spot the video was taken. London does have the space.

Tottenham Court Road looking south from the Torrington Place junction (with my friend Laurence). There is vast under-used road width available here potentially for a high-quality two-way segregated cycle track that would intersect with the Bloomsbury route and form the basis of a high-capacity central London Bike Grid.

Friday, 15 July 2011

"Cycling is dangerous" comments now closed

I have closed the comments on my post Cycling is dangerous, because they had gone on long enough, many of them were rude, personal and insulting, and I felt that that correspondence had become a distraction that would achieve nothing more. I will not allow comments on this post either, contrary to my usual practice. I am, however, leaving the comments that were made on that post there, exactly as they were submitted, as a kind of permanent memorial to the extraordinary anger and vitriol that is unleashed from certain parts of the cycling community on a cyclist who breaks one of the great shibboleths of modern British cycle campaigning, and announces that he believes that, actually, cycling on UK roads is unacceptably dangerous, and the failure of campaigning to acknowledge this is a problem for cycling making more progress.

For my statement would, I expect, seem totally uncontroversial and unremarkable to at least 99.5% of the population. And yet to some cyclists who responded to my post it made me a traitor, and perhaps disqualified me as a "cyclist" altogether. I was told I had "forgotten to enjoy life and cycling". I was told I was scaring people off from cycling, and I was called "blinkered", and an "idiot" who was somehow making it more dangerous for those who choose to cycle. I really don't get that one. Here I am, cycling (cautiously) round NW London, campaiging with my local groups of the LCC to improve the lamentable cycling provision in these parts, and writing a little blog that comments on cycling and transport policies in London, and somehow I am making cycling more dangerous! Me, who doesn't even own a car!

One of my critics (they are, of course, all anonymous, while I am a known person posting under my real name) though that, the way I was going on, I was likely to get cycling banned! Well, we have heard that one many times before, and the phenomenon has already been amusingly blogged upon on War on the Motorist:
I now realise that many of our venerable vehicular cycling campaigners are thinking about cycling bans every second of the day. Everything they see and do, the first question they ask themselves is: will this lead to cycling being banned in any way? They can’t get out of bed in the morning without first contemplating what effect such an action might have on the likelihood of a cycling ban.
The problem is that many of our more hardened cycling campaigners seem to be in a state far beyond vigilance: they are absolutely paralysed with fear, too afraid to do anything at all that might fix any of the massive problems faced by cyclists and would-be cyclists just in-case doing so might somehow trigger cycling to be banned in some way. 
Perhaps the most disturbing comment was the one that compared me to Dr Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister. But, in reflecting on the concept of "propaganda", I think one comes to an appreciation of what all the furore is about here.

What all these critics of my Cycling is dangerous post have in common is an extraordinary belief in the power of propaganda to change how people behave: in this case, whether or not they cycle. I, perhaps because of my training in the physical sciences, instilling a belief in the far greater power of environmental conditions, a belief in the ultimate deterministic forcefulness of physical reality, do not share this belief in the power of propaganda. Now Transport for London definitely does. This is the only way I can explain how it thinks it a good idea to have a PR budget that is seven times the expediture on physical improvements for cyclists on the road in the form of the "Cycling Supehighways". TfL clearly think that its much trumpeted "Cycling Revolution" will be achieved largely through propaganda telling people how great cycling is, rather than by actually make it safe and pleasant to cycle.

I have criticised this institutional attitude towards cycling in the UK before, indeed, doing so is my stock-in-trade. This attitude is the idea that what they call the "soft measures" are more important than the "hard" ones, that is, the infrastructure. Why this nomenclature? Well, perhaps, because the "hard measures" are not only hard in these sense of being made of materials like granite, which score highly on the geologists' Mohs' scale of hardness, but hard in the sense of being politically difficult to do – not without political cost for a politician like Boris Johnson, who thinks most of his votes come from motorists. But some of the more fashionable of these cycling PR gurus have now taken to calling the soft measures "smart" instead. Presumably the word "smart" is to be taken in an Orwellian sense here, not a sartorial one. After all, that really would show Boris up.

What is perhaps more surprising is how many individual cyclists, a shown by the comments on my Cycling is dangerous post, also have this belief in the power of propaganda above that of physical reality in determining the amount that the population cycles. How else to explain this strange idea that someone writing on a blog, read by a few hundred people, the headline Cycling is dangerous, is actually damaging cycling, and, even more mysteriously, making cycling more dangerous? 

I made a journey of 3.5 miles between Edgware and Stanmore, Middlesex, yesterday, with my partner Helen. We have to make this journey using a cab, as she is disabled. We saw no cyclists on the route, which would be typical for this area. I asked her, "Where do you think all the cyclists have gone? Have they read my blogpost and decided it is too dangerous to cycle?" She didn't think so. She thought there had never been any. Not in the last 20 years, anyway, and she has been living in the area longer than that. Blogs have not been around for as long as that.

Now, I do not totally discount the power of propaganda in determining how large-scale events unfold in society and history. The work of Goebbels was indeed important in propelling the Nazis to power. But much more important were the social conditions in Germany in the 1930s, and the simple fact that the Nazis were able to get hold of a lot of guns. The physical factors were more important than the psychological ones. The propaganda merely chimed-in with, and supported, the other, decisive factors of economics and fear. And propaganda, more or less by definition, never really alters human beings' beliefs, if the facts of their environment are blatantly contradicting what the propaganda is saying. A regime like Gadaffi's in Libya may be putting out plenty of propaganda telling the people that they are living in a free "peoples republic", but do they believe it? Do they hell.

So I stand by the wisdom of that controversial posting on this blog one hundred percent. I explain again, for anyone who has not yet understood, that the point of it was to say that if we, as cycling campaigners, are "banned" from talking about the excessive danger that is inherent in the UK system of having bikes share roadspace with large volumes of fast motor traffic, for fear of "scaring potential cyclists off", then that undermines our ability to campaign for the danger reduction that we really need to make cycling a mass activity in the UK. "It's safe already", a politician like Boris Johnson will say, "What's the problem? Just follow me on my bike into this maelstrom of traffic on Blackfriars Bridge". And cycling in London will remain stuck on its 2% modal share.

I agree with Dr Robert Davis, of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, as quoted on The Bike Show:
By only responding to data on crashes, Dr Davis says we ignore the adaptive behaviour that is going on among vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians. We are presented with the apparent paradox that a road can be dangerous for cyclists yet be declared ‘safe’ since there have been no crashes involving cyclists. This is because cyclists have simply decided not to ride on that road.
Cycling casualties do not measure the danger inherent in cycling: my point, essentially. Except that where Davis, I think, is only comparing one location with another, I am extending the principle logically to different groups of people, claiming that the cycling casualty rate is skewed downwards by the people who exclude themselves from cycling under current conditions. So the number of casualties does not indicate the true danger level. So the "Philospher's Stone" that we need to find in cycling is the infrastructure that broadens (greatly) the demographic of cycling, while simultaneously reducing the danger to those new groups (such as most women, the elderly, and children) who now, under this new regime, choose to cycle. To find that Philosopher's Stone, we need to look no further than the other side of the North Sea. Or if that is too far to look, try Torrington Place, London WC1. Cue my next post.