Saturday, 29 October 2011

Picking cherries and other low-hanging fruit

There are plenty of videos on the internet showing large numbers of people cycling in high-cycling towns and cities. Here's a nice example from Copenhagenize, showing morning traffic on Nørrebrogade – allegedly the busiest cycle street in the world.



There always seem to be people of a certain persuasion, writing on the internet in English, who react to these videos with the cry of cherrypicking. You are creating a distorted impression of the scale or nature of cycling in these places, they claim, picking deliberately unrepresentative locations or times at which to make these videos.

Of course anybody making any kind of political point cherry-picks what they present. When the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain decided to go on a study tour this year, we cherry-picked the nation of the Netherlands to visit. We did not pick Russia, or Berkshire, or Los Angeles. And there was a reason for this. And, strangely enough, a staff team from the London Cycling Campaign soon after cherry-picked the Netherlands to go to, to study cycling policy as well. Coincidentally – nothing to do with me. Surprising?

The point about cherrypicking surely is this: one can only do it where there are cherries to be picked. The sort of cherry seen in the Copenhagen video can only be picked in a couple of countries in the western world. There is nowhere else this could have been filmed, that's the point. There is something special going on here, that those other countries, where this could not have been filmed, need to understand.

One needs to look for what is common to those countries, regions and cities, where this sort of scene can be witnessed at all. I've stressed this before, but it seems to be one of those things that needs saying again and again. So here is the graph again, a few years old, it has to be admitted, courtesy of CTC, "The UK's National Cyclists' Organisation".

From CTC's Safety in Numbers
It's a pity I can't find a more up-to-date presentation, and one that includes Germany and Switzerland, which have both developed their cycling cultures in the last few years. But here we see how the Netherlands and Denmark stand out "by a mile" (or 1.61 km) as Europe's leading cycling nations, despite being not all that culturally similar. We see how the other Nordic countries, plus Austria and Italy, cluster far behind, but still significantly ahead of the others.

And we note that what these high to moderate-level cycling nations all have in common, across major cultural differences, and differences of climate and physical and human geography, is the provision of networks for cyclists separate from motor traffic. Cycle paths and cycle tracks, as you see in the video. And we see there is a perfect correlation. The Netherlands and Denmark have far more cycle-specific infrastructure than the other countries, and they have far higher cycling rates, and genuinely safer cycling. The cluster of nations further to the left all have a significant amount of quality cycle infrastructure, but far less than the Netherlands and Denmark. The nations on the left of the graph have hardly any proper cycle infrastructure (though the city of Paris at least seems to be making some progress on this).

The CTC wanted to demonstrate in this graph a relationship between cycling safety and numbers of cyclists, which clearly does exist, but they have largely ignored the most important lesson of this data, which leaps out from it: that you get safety and high cycling numbers simultaneously from high quality dedicated cycle infrastructure. Their document from which this graph is taken has nothing to say about infrastructure!

I can't cherry-pick a scene in London to video, comparable to the bicycle rush-hour on Nørrebrogade . The closest I can get is this scene in Bloomsbury, which I have shown before. And, funnily enough, the infrastructure in this picture, exceptionally for the UK, looks a little bit like Dutch or Danish cycle infrastructure.



But, such rare exceptions notwithstanding, the UK, by and large, continues on a strange cycling path of its own, a path of trying to "promote" cycling rather than actually accommodating it. Here's some "low-hanging fruit", that I snapped in my garden in June:

Low-hanging fruit in Brent
What's this got to do with anything? Well, here's another picture from this summer. It shows a slightly sad stall that Gerhard Weiss of London Cycling Campaign was manning for Transport for London at the Gladstonbury Festival in Gladstone Park, Brent.

"Catch up with the bicycle", Gladstone Park, Brent, London
The family-friendly bikes and bike attachments on display here are things not often seen on the streets of Brent. I didn't see them getting much serious interest from locals either. When I asked Gerhard what the purpose of this was, he replied that TfL were paying LCC to take this stall round various community festivals in London, particularly in the outer London Biking Boroughs. TfL's purpose here was to target families with children in these suburbs as "low-hanging fruit", as they chose to put it: people who needed just a little nudge, perhaps as little as being shown the existence of the right type of family-friendly gear, to get them cycling.

Well, with no criticism intended to Gerhard or the other staff of LCC, but plenty of criticism intended for TfL, I have to say I think this is utter bunkum. When bureaucrats come up with crappy phrases like "low-hanging fruit", you know you are in fantasy-land. They should have taken cognisance of what Griet Scheldemen of Lancaster University said, commenting on the  Understanding Walking and Cycling study of which she was a part:
Regrettably, we did not find this mass of people on the threshold of change, who only needed a little push to start cycling as a daily means of getting around...
For the truth is there is no way that many families are ever going to cycle the main roads of Brent with their kiddies in these cycle trailers or child seats, without an infrastructure revolution in London of which there is absolutely no sign. There is no way these families using these contraptions will "take the lane" through the deadly concrete tunnel in Neasden under the North Circular Road, or ride on the equally terrifying motorway-style flyover across the North Circular at Staples Corner: the junctions on that road that lie immediately to the north and west of this park. And, if they want to go the the areas of Brent to the north and west of this park, if they live in Neasden, Wembley or Colindale, these two roads are where they are going to have to cycle. Because there are no other crossings of the North Circular Road for miles in either direction that you could get these bike trailers through.

Staples Corner
Because the only other crossings of the North Circular near here are a footbridge that you are not allowed to cycle over, between Kenwyn Avenue and Neasden Recretion Ground, and a preposterous "shared" pedestrian/cycle tunnel at Neasden Lane. Here is the first of these:

The approach to the footbridge across the North Circular Road at Kenwyn Avenue
It wouldn't be legal, but just try cycling your bike trailer loaded with its precious cargo round the tight square bends on the ramp up to that footbridge. Just try to get your bike and trailer there in the first place, round those (perfectly legally) parked cars which thoroughly block access to the ramp from the road. And if you do manage to get across, and you land up on Neasden Recreation Ground on the north side, try getting anywhere else from there without cycling on pavements. You will find you get sucked into the Neasden northern roundabout, a nasty place, of which more later.

Here's the second off-road option I mentioned, the horrible Neasden cycle/pedestrian underpass. Try getting your Bakfiets or Christiana round those barriers and corners. The lady with the pushchair is having enough trouble.

The pedestrian/cycle underpass of the North Circular Road at Neasden Lane
If you just have a normal bike, which you can squeeze past these barriers, and you try to access this underpass from the south, from Neasden shopping centre, you find you have to cycle the wrong way along a stretch of slip road coming off the North Circular, as in this picture. The entrance you are aiming for is marked by the archway in front of the white house.

One-way slip road at Neasden shopping centre that makes it impossible to legally cycle to the official bike underpass of the North Circular
If you take this route, by illegally cycling on the pavement, or wheeling your bike, or ignoring the no entry sign and hopping a kerb, and negotiate the barriers, curly ramp and steep slopes, you end up in this delightful tunnel. The pink slippery tiling is the part specially reserved for cyclists (the part you see all the pedestrians on). I met a woman who had broken her shoulder through a fall from a bike in this tunnel, as the paving is treacherous when wet.

The shared pedestrian/cycle tunnel under the North Circular at Neasden
Supposing it is not too wet and you make it through here without injury or collision with pedestrians, what do you get when you emerge from this tunnel on the north side of the North Circular  Road? You get this:

The Neasden cycle/pedestrian underpass exit into Neasden Lane North
You can't rejoin the road here because (1) there is no dropped kerb, (2) there is no way to cross this busy section of Neasden Lane North, which feeds southbound traffic from Neasden Lane North on to the North Circular eastbound and eastbound traffic from the North Circular off it in various directions, and, (3) if you did cross the road and tried to go north you would immediately be fed on to the northern Neasden roundabout, a terrifying, fast, multi-lane gyratory, seen here in a view from the north, with Neasden Lane North and the underpass exit in the distance. 

Neaden northern roundabout
There is a theoretical alternative to all this, indicated with short green and purple lines on the TfL London Cycle Guide No. 3, which is to take another leg of the the underpass diagonally under the Neasden Lane North–North Circular junction, and then a footbridge to a small road called Vicarage Way, which at least gets you on the correct side of the Neasden northern roundabout, though you still end up very close to fast heavy traffic, to its left. But (wait for it) there are a couple of problems with this: (1) you are not allowed to cycle into and out of this exit from the underpass, as shown by the sign in the view below, and, (2) you are not allowed to cycle on the footbridge leading to Vicarage Way.

Exit from Neasden cycle/pedestrian underpass on the west side of Neasden Lane North
In any case, with your tagalong child bike, or Christiana, or Bakfiets, that you have bought, inspired by the TfL Catch up with the Bicycle display, I'll wager you won't be able to negociate any of this pathetic "infrastructure". You'll HAVE to use this road, that we are looking down on to here. THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE.

The Neasden North Circular Road underpass , looking north-west
This is the view looking from the non-cycling footbridge into what Brent cyclists call "Death Valley": the vehicle route, the A4088, under the North Circular at Neasden for all traffic heading north-west from the Willesden area. The picture was taken with a good camera in good daylight, but look at the motion blur on those vehicles. Do you fancy keeping to the right of the traffic turning left on to the slip road with all your family in tow? And, by the way, there is another slip road that merges from the left, coming off the North Circular, at the other end of Death Valley. And, if you are going this way, cycling north or west from Gladstone Park, Neasden Station or Willesden, this is not the first barrier you will have encountered, for to get to Death Valley, you first have to negotiate the southern Neasden roundabout, seen in the background in this view, looking the other way from the same footbridge.

Neasden's "Death Valley" looking towards the southern Neasden roundabout
If you make it through the southern roundabout, and Death Valley, with its slip roads, in one piece, you are then led onto the next section of Neasden Lane North, where you are crammed into two narrow lanes of heavy traffic:

Neasden Lane North junction with Verney Street
To continue north-west to Wembley or Kingsbury you carry on over the River Brent, where this road becomes Blackbird Hill. This is another route to which, in Brent, the borough of infrastructural Thatcherism, there is no alternative. For this is where the tiny stream of the Brent (plus the Grand Union Feeder Canal) is first bridged downstream of the Brent reservoir, and this bridge, Kingsbury Bridge, which has stood here since Saxon times, and was last widened for the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 (for which the old Wembley Stadium was built), still carries all the traffic between the north and south parts of the borough: another great environment to cycle in with your kids on their tagalong bike.

Blackbird hill, the meeting-point of Neasden, Wembley and Kingsbury
And beyond that... well, "the world's your oyster". As you would expect from Brent, there are a few nasty junctions and viscious mini-roundabouts at the top of this hill where routes fork between Wembley to the west and Kingsbury to the north, but I think that is enough of this safari, you'll have got the idea by now. And that ideas is: 

It is not the slightest bit surprising that families cycling with children are seen round here less frequently than UFOs.

Much less frequently, in fact. If anybody wanted further explanation of why, as mentioned in my last post, the wards of Brent to the north of the North Circular have true cycling mode shares probably below 0.5%, here it is. When TfL come up with this crap about just needing to put a bike trailer under the noses of their "low hanging fruit" of Brent parents who are just dying to cycle their kids on these monstrous roads, or trying to negotiate these impossible, crappy, tenth-rate cycle "facilities", I have to despair.

What the Dutch and the Danes teach us is that, with cycle facilities, you have to engineer for everybody to make it work for anybody. You have to build your cycle infrastructure to a quality that works safely and efficiently, simultaneously, for 8 year-old children on their own and fit young adult commuters and for everybody inbetween, including every kind of bike and bike trailer. If you under-engineer, or try to cheaply adapt already inadequate pedestrian facilities with just a bit of lining or surfacing, or try to get away with something that some idiot in the council thinks might be "OK for slow cyclists or novices or those afraid of the traffic", you just get unusable rubbish. If TfL can't get together the money and political resolution to implement sensible, safe cycling infrastructure, they should stop trying to promote cycling at all with these ridiculous tents at community festivals. For doing so is simply a waste of money.

The Dutch do not seem to waste their money in this way. They actually build things. They are strange, like that. The nation of dyke and dam and sluice builders and drainers of polders actually build stuff all the time. While the infrastructure of Brent, and most of outer London, seems frozen in a time-warp as it was left by the road and flyover builders about 1972, with seemingly all further change impossible, or impossible to afford for the UK, the eighth richest nation in the work, apart from putting in the odd stainless steel anti-cycling barrier, or putting down of two colours of slippery paving in a narrow, wet, horrible pedestrian subway, the Dutch constantly build high-standard bridges, tunnels and underpasses everywhere, from one end of their country to the other, to separate cyclists from motor vehicles and pedestrians and let cyclists travel in safety, speed, and style, to all the places they could want to go. If the North Circular Road were in the Netherlands, cyclists would go under it like this:

Dual carriageway and two-way cycle track go under a motorway in Assen, Netherlands
Or they would be taken over it like this:

Cycle bridge over a motorway in Groningen, Netherlands
But, to end with, I'll indulge in a little fantasy. Maybe we could soon get a decent crossing for cyclists of the North Circular Road in Brent: something the Dutch would recognise as cycle infrastructure. Because the North Circular Road–A5 junction at Staples Corner is due to be rebuilt – and not with public money. The developers of Brent Cross Cricklewood have to pay for a total rebuild of this junction, as part of their new out of town shopping centre regeneration scheme. The main company behind the Brent Cross Cricklewood scheme is Hammerson PLC. Hammerson's Development Director during the planning of this scheme was Michael Bear, who now has been elected Lord Mayor of London. (That's the largely ceremonial Mayor of the financial "square mile" of the City, not the post held by Boris Johnson, for my foreign readers.) And he seems to have got quite keen on cycling.

So are Hammerson going to give the cyclists of north-west London something like this? I'm afraid I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, 21 October 2011

The cycle of decline in outer London

Stag Lane, Edgware, north Brent
I shouted at my partner Helen, the other day, "I've seen a female cyclist in Stag Lane". This is a thing we do. We comment every time we see a female cyclist cycle pass our house. Helen could not remember the last time we saw one. I reckon it was not within the last few months. I reckon we see one, between us, about once every six months. We live in the city of Boris Johnson's much-trumpeted Cycling Revolution. We are not on the outer edge of that city. Oh no, starting from here, there are about 3 more miles of suburbs and one mile of green belt before you reach the border of Hertfordshire. And as neither of us go out to work, we spend quite a lot of time looking out of the windows here. And Stag Lane is a very busy road. It has two bus services (three on another section). It is a significant artery connecting the suburbs of Edgware, Burnt Oak, and Kingsbury. Peak vehicle flow I estimate at 2000–3000 per hour. The road has a lorry ban (not always observed). And we seem to see one female cyclist on this road every six months (not the same one).

This is all as subjective as you could get, but the Brent Biking Borough report, produced by MVA Consultants, confirms the extraordinarily low level of cycling in this part of London. It lists, amongst many other things, the cycling modal share for journeys to work in the all the wards of Brent, based on the 2001 census. This ward, Queensbury, has 0.7% journeys to work by bike. This is not quite the lowest in Brent: adjacent Fryent and Kenton wards get 0.6% and 0.5% respectively (though, at this level, these differences are probably not statistically significant). And remember these are cycling to work rates. Cycling normally gets a higher proportion of work journeys than of all journeys in low-cycling places. Commuters are the easiest group to get cycling, as they tend to be fit adults. The Brent cycle to work average is 1.6%. (The highest cycle to work ward is affluent Queens Park, adjacent to Westminster, with 4.2%.) But Transport for London's Travel in London report (2009) reports a mode share for cycling trips of 1% for Brent. So we can be sure the mode shares are lower than the cycle to work numbers, probably by about one third.

Further information in the same report tells us that the London Travel Demand Survey 2006–9 found that in Kingsbury NW9, about 40% of people had not used a bike at all in the last year, the highest non-biking rate in Brent listed. (They didn't do Edgware HA8. Stag Lane is divided between Kingsbury NW9 and Edgware HA8.) The area is also very Asian (about 50%). The LTDS found that of Asians in Brent, 90% never cycle, compared with 74% whites, 78% other and mixed, and 85% black. I feel that caution is needed in relating ethnicity to cycling rates, however. It may not be that Asians as a group are disinclined to cycle. It may be that they just live in the areas of Brent where cycling conditions are least attractive. I think this is probably the case to a considerable extent.

The report does not break down cycling to school rates by ward, but tells us that, for Brent as a whole, it is 0.3% (same for secondary schools as primary). It also, very unfortunately, does not tell us cycling rates by sex. This is a lamentable omission, because of the strong relationship, that I have pointed out before, between cycling rates and gender equality in cycling. As cycling rates get lower (in developed western countries) so the gender split becomes more unequal, with fewer and fewer women cycling. Only in the highest cycling country, the Netherlands, do more women cycle than men. So I don't actually know, but it would appear to me that, of the tiny number of people cycling in this part of Brent, a very low fraction are female. Hence the "once every six months" observation.

I don't want to be excessively gloomy here. People sometimes accuse me of "talking down" cycling. But I want to tell it as it is. I am not in what David Hembrow (or a friend of his) called the "Everything is good committee" The fact is that, in part of a so-called Biking Borough, in a city which, according to its Mayor (who came up with the Biking Borough phrase), is undergoing a "cycling revolution", cycling, all cycling, is at an almost vanishing low level. And for women, children, and old people, it is practically extinct: virtually unheard of.

Jim Gleeson, of the excellent, data-focussed blog (Drawing) Rings Around The World, has extracted census data showing how cycling has changed in outer and inner London 1971–2001. Here it is:

Courtesy Jim Gleeson
We see that as cycling grew more popular in inner London, it continued its long-term decline in outer London. How this would look if 2011 data were included we don't yet know, but I would guess that there will have been a large rise in inner London cycling to work and little change in outer London, or a small drop.

Jim Gleeson calls this "the urbanisation of cycling in London", and wonders what the reasons for it have been. I have little doubt about those reasons. They seem obvious to me: they are all around you as you cycle in north Brent. Here is another picture of Stag Lane, showing how, typically for this area, the front gardens of the houses have been paved over, and are almost invariably occupied by three cars.

Three car standard household in north Brent
If there are not three cars on the forecourt, there will be two there and one parked on the street. Or there will be three parked on the forecourt and one parked on the street. The three or four car household is absolutely standard in this solidly middle-class area. But the houses are quite modest, and the street width they occupy small, so there is a problem in fitting all these cars in.

Another Stag Lane view
The cars, as you see, are parked everywhere. Jutting out of properties, crossing the pavements, both sides of the narrow road. The whole environment of this minor, but busy, road is utterly dominated by, and cluttered-up with, cars. This is typical of north Brent. The road is 30 mph, but speeds of up to 45 mph are normal, particularly on the straight downhill stretch between the Holyrood Gardens and Beverley Drive junctions. There is no traffic calming on Stag Lane except for a table at the junction with Princes Avenue (which is a 20mph zone). The reason for this is that the council say it cannot be traffic-calmed as it is a priority route for emergency vehicles.

If you try to cycle on this road, you find you are in the way of very impatient motorists and white van drivers who have no understanding of cycling whatever and who will overtake dangerously all the time with insufficient room. You find you are constantly having to pull out to pass parked vehicles, which gives no room for the stream of traffic behind you to pass the opposing stream. You have to "take the lane" and risk the incomprehension or aggression of the motorist behind. You need nerves of steel to cycle on a road like this, far more so than to cycle on a main road like the largely parallel A5, where there is at least space, and I avoid cycling on it, even though I live on it, preferring to go round a different, longer way, via the 20mph zone of North Way and Princes Avenue, for most journeys. 


But this is a minor suburban through-road, a yellow road on the Ordnance Survey Landranger maps. On roads like this, there is virtually no cycling (except on the pavements) because there simply is no room for the bikeAnd there is virtually no cycling in the whole area because for most journeys there are no alternatives to roads like this.

On the straight section of Stag Lane cars typically travel at 30 mph plus, and this is where you have to cycle
Let's compare another street in this area, Mollison Way, with a street I photographed in Assen, on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain study tour in September with David Hembrow, Vredeveldsweg. Mollison Way is another very typical street for north Brent and Harrow. In fact, it forms the part of the boundary between these two boroughs.

I am comparing these two streets because they are so similar. They have similar total width between property boundaries, similar amounts of green space in the streetscape, similar trees, similar size houses, similar pavement and carriageway widths. These streets are both typical for their areas. The pictures were taken with the same camera at the same focal length. Spot the difference.

Mollison Way, Brent & Harrow
Vredeveldsweg, Assen
It's the cars. People do own cars in the Dutch street, and they do park them on public land, but the Dutch do not allow the total chaos of parked cars everywhere that you get in the London suburbs. The residents of Mollison Way have cars parked on their own paved-over front gardens, on the driveways where they cross the grass verges, and on the street as well – narrowing it down to a narrow canyon so that two cars cannot pass easily, and any cyclists will certainly have an awkward and intimidating experience.

Vredeveldesweg has cycle lanes on both sides, done with nice paving. Parking is not allowed in Dutch cycle lanes at any time. It also has very mild traffic calming (that is not a problem to cycle over). There is one central, undivided lane for cars. Cars that pass in opposite directions might overlap onto the cycle lanes, but this is not a problem if there are no cyclists there. If cyclists are there, one car would have to wait. Likewise, cyclists would not be confined to the cycle lanes in the absence of cars. The speed limit in Vredeveldsweg is 20km/h (18.5 mph). The speed limit in Mollison Way is 30 mph.

Note also a fine detail of good Dutch design not significant to cycling, but to pedestrians: the way the driveways slope to the road. They only do so in the last section, so the pavement is flat, for walking and wheeling wheelchairs on. On the other hand, the London driveways slope continuously from the property boundary to the road, so forcing pedestrians and the disabled to walk or wheel on a slope much of the time. Overall, the Dutch suburban environment is simply of far higher design quality than the London one. It encourages walking and cycling, which the London environment certainly does not.

What has happened in outer London, over the period that Jim Gleeson has graphed, is that a cycle of decline has been allowed to operate whereby people have acquired more and more cars and been allowed to store them everywhere on the streets, so making those streets more and more difficult for walkers and cyclists. At the same time, of course, traffic levels have soared. The cyclists that there were in the 1970s, over time, have been squeezed-out, and given up, and then acquired cars themselves, which have been added to the pool, making things even worse. A couple of generations have grown up with no experience of cycling whatever, and so no understanding of what treatment cyclists on the road need, so they give them scant consideration when driving. That hostility has forced most of the few cyclists who were still on the roads off them. The culture of cycling has been wiped out almost entirely.

Cycling to school has disappeared (the 0.3% is a Brent average and is likely far lower in Queensbury ward). Children are constantly ferried around in cars by their parents or older siblings, not only for school, but for all their after-school and weekend journeys. A huge number of the journeys in our suburb are accounted for in this way, I know for a fact. Those parents are then relieved from this duty by the obligatory graduation of the children to driving themselves, getting their own cars at age seventeen. This has become entirely normal and expected.

So huge numbers of cars have to be accommodated, parked and moving, and more and more space becomes unavailable to pedestrians and cyclists. So the standard of the street environment declines, and the decline in cycling continues. With essentially no enforcement of speed limits or driving standards, and very large numbers of aggressive young men behind steering wheels, a significant number uninsured and unlicensed, very few are prepared to take on the hostile environment on two wheels. Most of those who are prepared to do so are young men. Nobody would want their granny to cycle in this environment, and no-one would allow their 12-year old child to cycle on their own.

How can we start to reverse this cataclysm for cycling? The Brent Biking Borough report came up with this list of recommended measures:
  • 20 mph zones
  • Review and removal of restrictions and bans on cyclists
  • Improved cycle parking
  • Improved wayfinding and cycle signage
  • Bike and ride at rail stations
  • School cycling initiatives
  • Further roll out of Greenways
  • Maintenance and advice clinics
  • Cycle training
  • Targeted interventions such as information in homebuyers' packs and information for employees and those with health issues
  • Events and challenges
  • Cycling on prescription
  • Cycle try-out schemes
  • Bike recycling schemes
  • Awareness training for cyclists and goods vehicle drivers.
"Oh dear!" is all I can say to that lot. The (now much missed) "Crap Waltham Forest" blogger Freewheeler analysed this report as well, and I cannot do better than his scathing summary:
This MVA Consultancy report does a professional job of identifying the poor condition of cycling in Brent. However, it doesn’t diagnose it because it is incapable of understanding the reasons for it, and therefore its cures for the condition are rather like medical cures of the pre-modern era – a mixture of quackery and superstition. All the traditional cycling folk remedies are here – cycle training, signposting, promotional activities, recycling old bikes – and none of them will save the patient.
More recently, TfL's chief Peter Hendy said this:
But while it's one thing to pedal round Hyde Park Corner or the Vauxhall gyratory in the rush hour, in outer and suburban London, there are plenty of quiet roads and routes that could be developed to help people leave their cars at home. 
This is why we also have the innovative Biking Boroughs Scheme to really try to develop local cycle hubs in places where the potential for a shift to cycling is greatest and resources can be targeted. These cycle hubs will become beacons of cycling excellence in outer London and act as catalysts for change in these areas. 
In pursuit of this, earlier this year, thirteen councils across London made successful bids for a share of £4 million funding after pledging to put cycling at the heart of their local transport plans. The money will be used to install more cycle lanes and other cycling infrastructure. So residents of these boroughs will benefit from measures to make cycling safer and more convenient: Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Croydon, Havering, Redbridge, Brent, Ealing, Haringey, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Bromley, Kingston and Merton.
So what is a "cycle hub"? Sorry, I haven't got a clue, and I don't think Hendy has either. This is a patent load of waffle, that, like the MVA report, totally misses the point and displays no comprehension of the problem. It is utter rubbish to say that:
In outer and suburban London, there are plenty of quiet roads and routes that could be developed to help people leave their cars at home
If you actually live and cycle in these places, you know that all the really quiet routes are no use because they lead nowhere. All the useable minor through-routes, like Stag Lane and Mollison Way, whatever colour of road they may be on the map, are choked with parked and moving cars, and most of them are bus routes as well. This reminds me of something Kevin Mayne, Director of the CTC, said some years ago when he was invited to talk to Camden Cycling Campaign. He laid stress on what he called the "white roads" (from their colour on OS maps), and the fact that 90% of them (or something like that) were in towns, and claimed that utilisation of these was somehow the "solution" to UK urban cycling (as opposed to the outlandish concept of Dutch-style cycle tracks that CCC was exploring at that time). These ideas can only be produced by people who have no idea of the true on-the-streets reality of the UK suburbs, and also no idea of the standard of environment, demonstrated by the street in Assen, and thousands of other streets in the Netherlands, that is actually required to generate a mass cycling culture.

So what is to be done?

It seems to me that we will not get much more cycling in the London suburbs until the typical street (Mollison Way) looks a lot more like the Dutch street (Vredeveldsweg). But how can we possibly get that? We can't just take all those cars away from people in a democracy. We can't tell them they can't own and use all those cars. No politician could say that; it would be electoral suicide, when people's whole current lifestyles are bound up so intimately with use of those cars. And we can't magic up more space. People need a viable and attractive cycling alternative first, before we can start to reduce car use and car ownership. But it's the cars that are preventing people cycling. This seems like a chicken-and-egg situation. Where do we start?

It seems to me we have to first throw out all that stuff from the Biking Borough report and all this fantasy about using "quiet roads". We have to start by doing what the Dutch did at first. They were in a not entirely dissimilar situation 40 years ago, when they first started to invest heavily in cycling infrastructure. They never had such a bad situation as us, they never allowed it to go so far, so it is not an exact parallel. But it is the best parallel. The video on this posting from Mark Wagebuur explains it. The Dutch did succeed in turning a not totally dissimilar situation around. They de-cluttered their once car-dominated urban environment and made it safe and attractive for cycling. From having higher car-ownership than the UK, the Dutch reversed this position.

Assen town square in the 1970s  (courtesy David Hembrow)
Assen Town square today (courtesy David Hembrow)
I think the new LCC campaign, Going Dutch,  has it right, which is why I have been supporting it. The start of a real cycling revolution in outer as well as inner London must be to create "clear space for cycling" (as this campaign words it) on main roads. The main roads are the routes people actually need to use to get to the places they need to get to. They are in general the most direct and useful routes and the roads which have space that could be be reallocated with least political pain and most obvious gain. Like the A5, Burnt Oak Broadway, at the north end of Stag Lane. Here, a huge width available between building lines means that, with a proper re-design of the whole width of the road, it could easily include Dutch-style, high-quality, protected cycle tracks, plus good pavements, plus two lanes of general traffic in both directions, plus some parking for the shops. If it was all designed correctly, on Dutch principles, neither the parking nor the bus stops would interfere with the cycle tracks, which would have signalised priority at junctions.

Burnt Oak Broadway junction with Stag Lane, Edgware: a huge width available for cycle infrastructure
This is the kind of thing the Dutch and Danes did at first. They put in the really useful cycle facilities in the places people really needed them on the main roads. They established the primary cycling network. That is the thing that really gets cycling up at first, and establishes in people's minds the viability of the cycling option, with quality, high-profile provision.

Quality Dutch-style cycle infrastructure can be achieved on main roads in London: Royal College Street, Camden.
The next step in Going Dutch is to deal with the minor residential through-routes like Stag Lane and Mollison Way, that at the moment do so much to hinder cycling. With the political goodwill towards cycling generated by the success of the high-profile main road routes, it becomes possible to alter the function of these roads.

At the moment in these suburbs we have far too many residential through-routes. If I decide to drive, or get a taxi, from my house to, say, Stanmore, Harrow, or one of the other local suburban town centres, there are probably 50 different routes the car could take. A few of them are on main roads, and the rest are rat-runs, threading through the network of residential streets. To get Dutch-type cycling conditions on minor roads, this has to be changed.

LCC did a good job, years ago, of mapping all the recommended minor-road routes in London for cyclists, and these now appear on the TfL Cycle Guides as the "yellow routes". But in my area, all these yellow routes are also open to cars, so they are rat-runs, and they do not, in reality, offer significantly better cycling conditions than the main roads.

What the Dutch have done, in their towns and cities, with extraordinary comprehensiveness, is to ban all the rat-runs. The minor road routes between local centres are only available to cyclists. This has been achieved through a combination of road-closures with cycle access, and strategically-planned patterns of one-way streets, with cycle exceptions. This latter option is very general as it is very cheap to implement. The patterns of one-way streets force cars to use main routes while maintaining all necessary motor access, while good design, plus the 20 km/h limit (or lower limits in Woonerven or "Play Streets"), keep speeds down. Residential areas are broken down into discrete "cells", that cars use residential roads to get in to and out of, but travel between on major roads. Few choices of route are open to them, while cyclists have more options, and, usually, more direct routes.

One-way residential street in Assen with cycle exception: the standard pattern for Dutch streets of this type
There are a couple of objections to doing this on our residential roads which need to be addressed. One is the dense grid of bus routes we have in outer London on the residential roads, like Stag Lane and Mollison Way. Another is emergency vehicle access. But these needn't be problems; the solutions to them can be similar. One solution that has already been used in some UK towns (I have seen it in Cambridge and the London Borough of Camden) is the electronic rising bollard that can be used to let buses and emergency vehicles through, but block other motor traffic. But here is a simpler solution I saw in the Netherlands: an obstruction in the road which only allows through wide vehicles, i.e., usually buses.

Device on a road in Groningen that only allows wide vehicles through
Then a third class of measure which is integrated into the mix in the Dutch paradigm is the off-road "green" cycle path. These are always seamlessly and safely linked in with the main road cycle tracks and the minor road routes, with minimal interaction required between cyclists and motor traffic. There is huge potential for such paths in the outer London boroughs, including Brent. Not far from the locations I have shown you, we have Fryent Country Park, a large open space between Kingsbury and Wembley, with no usable cycle paths, but a 40mph main road, the A4140, bisecting it.

Fryent Way through Fryent Country Park, Brent
The paths you can see in this picture are footpaths, and cannot legally be cycled on. Cyclists are expected to share those narrow carriageways, with all that hatched-out space wasted in the middle of the road, with 40 mph (if drivers obey the limit) heavy traffic. See how easy it would be to create high-quality Dutch-style cycle paths here, on both sides, between the road and the footpaths. You can even see exactly where they should go, between the lamp posts and the line of trees, nicely separated from both cars and walkers.

Using these three main classes of measure: segregated, high-quality infrastructure on the main roads, elimination of through-traffic from minor residential streets through closure and one-way patterns, and "green", off-road, cycle paths, cycling can be made viable again in the suburban environment, and the cycle of decline can be put into reverse. The use of cars can be brought under control, and then the street environment can start to be de-cluttered. The quality of the residential roads can then be improved, and streets like Mollison Way will start to look like Vredeveldsweg. Then cycling in the suburbs will really have come back, and pedestrians will have hugely benefited too, as will anybody who cares about the quality of the environment.

All this would clearly take a long time to achieve. But the sooner we start, the sooner we will get it. What we need is the political will and the money. The money should not be difficult. The UK is a wealthy country. If the Dutch can afford it, we can too. If we can afford the third biggest defence budget in the world, we can afford cycle infrastructure. But we need to be realistic about money. The Brent Biking Borough allocation from TfL is £294,500 for the next three years. That's about £100,000 per year, which is about 3% of the sum one state-run corporation, the BBC, spends on subsiding car travel by its employees ever year, or approximately the same as TfL spend on subsidising their own employee's car trips every year. This sum is a joke. It is 38p a year for each Brent resident. And the adjacent boroughs, Harrow and Barnet, just as needful of cycling infrastructure, are not Biking Boroughs, so they get nothing from this fund. Dutch expenditure on cycling is about €30 per head of population per year.

So Dutch expenditure on cycling is two orders of magnitude higher. At this rate, to build what the Dutch have built in 40 years, it would take us 4,000 years. Can we afford to wait that long? And of course, as David Hembrow always says, cycling infrastructure is cheaper to build than not to build, in other words, cheaper than paying the costs of the alternative, in terms of road deaths, ill-health, traffic congestion and pollution. But that message has not yet sunk in with UK politicians. The current government wants to spend £897 million on new roads for cars.

It depends in the end on what sort of society we want. We can't rebuild the suburbs of outer London, but we could alter them radically, with the correct, directed investment, over a long period, and they could be really cycle-friendly places once again, as they were when built in the 1930s. We have fallen a long way, to the point where a fraction of one percent of Brent's children travel to school by bike. In Assen, virtually 100% of children get to school by bike. In Amsterdam, the figure is 60%.

Here's a picture to end with: young children cycling home from school on their own, in Assen. If we start now with the right measures and a sensible level of investment, in a few decades we will be able to take a picture like this in Edgware, Kingsbury, Harrow or Wembley. How much is that worth?


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Another woman under a lorry survives

Photo by Neil Hammet, 18 October 2011
Witness Neil Hammet took this picture yesterday by London Bridge Station. This is the junction of Joiner Street with Borough High Street. He reported on the London Fixed and Single Speed Forum, subsequently re-reported on Londonist,
Suddenly people started shouting "Stop! Stop!" and I could hear a rapid crunching/popping noise.
Turning round I saw an articulated lorry, driving toward the bridge.
On her back, knees bent and feet on the front bumper, was a lady who was being pushed along the ground by the lorry - her bike was just going under the front wheel which was the crunching/popping noise.
The driver was looking around him at all these people shouting "Stop! Stop!" and shrugging - his reaction was "they cannot be shouting at me", so he kept going.
It was probably all over in seconds, but it seemed to be a long time before he finally decided that the people (including myself) who were waving/pointing at him, the lady and shouting, did mean that he should stop.
The lady cyclist probably got pushed 2-4 metres, hard for me to judge and I'm wary of exaggerating.
When he stopped lots of people rushed over and escorted the lady to the side of the road, she was fine, just shocked, she said that she thought she had made eye contact with the driver at the lights, but then he'd just driven straight into her/over her bike.
She then went to sit down on some steps as a PCSO ran over.
The truck driver was out of his cab by now, and circling his vehicle taking photographs.
Not once did he approach the cyclist, didn't speak to her at all- he must have taken from her ability to walk that she was ok.
Maybe he is under orders not to apologise for accidents lest it be taken as an admission of fault, but still-  if the cyclist had not had the presence of mind (amazing, under the circumstances) to get her feet on the bumper the driver would have been standing there having killed her.
So it's happened again, another female cyclist in a miraculous lorry escape. On 11 July a woman went under a lorry, with her bike crushed, on New Bridge Street, Blackfriars, but escaped almost unharmed. The lorry crossed her path turning left into Queen Victoria Street. I recall seeing a photo of that incident as well but can't find it now. In that case I think the woman got trapped under the high part of the lorry trailer and got out before her bike went under the back wheels.

This latest incident follows hard on the heels of the death of Min Joo Lee at Kings Cross on 3 October. Olaf Storbeck predicted this death in April 2011. From the Islington Gazette report:
Min Joo Lee, a 24-year-old fashion student from Korea, was pronounced dead at the scene after the incident at 11.40am on Monday.
She is the third cyclist in five years to die at the junction, which joins Euston Road, Pentonville Road and York Way.
The driver of the heavy goods vehicle, a man in his 60s, was treated for shock at hospital.
The woman is believed to have become caught under the wheels of the truck.
Dr Odeh Odeh, 32, a surgeon at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, who witnessed the aftermath, said: “I saw a mangled bicycle lying in the road with a body next to it. It was a horribly graphic scene – many people were staring in shock. It is not something you ever expect to see.
In 2006, Emma Foa, 56, died after her bike was in collision with a cement mixer lorry at the same junction. [Slightly incorrect: it was nearby, at the junction of Goodsway and Camley Street]. Cyclist Madeline Wright died in 2007 near King’s Cross Station after a collision with a lorry.
A spokesman for Transport for London said: “We are extremely sorry to hear of the death of the woman following a collision with a HGV in Euston Road. More needs to be done to prevent serious harm befalling London’s cyclists, and TfL is working with other organisations across London to tackle this serious safety issue.”
The spokesman said it was the 13th cycle death in London in 2011 compared to 10 last year.
The other 12 deaths have been, courtesy of Olaf Storbecks's tabulation:
  1. Gary Mason: Sandy Lane South, Wallington, killed by van
  2. Daniel Cox: Dalson Junction, killed by lorry
  3. Tom Barrett: A40 at Northolt, killed by van
  4. David Poblet: Tanner Street, London Bridge, killed by lorry
  5. Paula Jurek: Camden Road, killed by lorry
  6. Gavin Taylor: Mildmay Grove North, Islington, died after colliding with parked car
  7. Female cyclist: Queen Caroline Street, Hammersmith, killed by lorry
  8. Thomas Stone (age 13): Bell Farm Avenue, Dagenham, killed by car
  9. Male cyclist age 62: Layhams Road, Bromley, killed by car
  10. Paul McGreal: Hackney Road, killed by lorry
  11. Johanna Bailey: Cavendish Road, Lambeth, killed by van
  12. Sam Harding: Holloway Road, killed by bus after getting knocked off by car door

As the TfL spokesman says, more certainly "needs to be done to prevent serious harm befalling London's cyclists".

There are clearly massive problems at the major junctions around all London's main rail stations for a start. These are places lots of cyclists go. We needs an urgent, concrete and comprehensive action plan to tackle these. Not more contemptible weasel words from TfL about "balancing" or "reflecting the needs of all road users".

Why do we make no progress on the issue of lorries and cyclists in London down years and decades? As I have said before, it is because we have a hold of the wrong end of the stick. The (main part of the) answer is not educating lorry drivers and cyclists to be better aware of one another. It is separating cyclists and heavy vehicles, whose drivers can't necessarily see them, by design. Designing so that drivers and cyclists don't take risks, or when they do take them, the consequences are slight. Prioritising the movements of pedestrians and cyclists. The Dutch concept of sustainable safety.

Unfortunately such thinking seems to be as far away as ever in London. TfL's latest cycling-related idea seem to be to effectively pay people for cycling, in an inducement scheme. As Croydon Cyclist says,
It gives two pictures, on one side TfL want to make the traffic flow for motorised vehicles as quick as possible, but on the other side they want to get people out of their cars and onto the streets which they have just put fast-moving and dangerous traffic on to.
I think, unfortunately, this scheme could work. People are quite inclined to accept material inducements to do dangerous things, particularly in difficult times. We'd better get ready for more tragedies.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

On Southwark Bridge, for a change

This is a sort of postscript to my last piece, on the third Blackfriars Bridge flashride. After the flashride, some of us went to the bar above the Young Vic, to discuss Danish versus Dutch cycle engineering and such fascinating topics, and after that, I needed to find my way back to Blackfriars Station. Not having a clue about the roads of London south of the Thames, particularly the SE quarter (did you know, by the way, that there used to be S and and NE London postcodes as well?), and not inclined to consult maps and iPad, both of which I was carrying, I got lost, and, happening upon Cycle Superhighway 7, decided to follow it to the City, which I had never done before. This took me across Southwark Bridge, which I had not cycled across in recent times. I was impressed, and those who read this blog regularly will know that I am not often impressed by London cycle infrastructure.

Southwark Bridge, photo by Alan P
For Southwark Bridge now has concrete kerb-segregated cycle tracks on both sides painted Superhighway blue. These have narrowed the carriageway to one not very wide motor lane in both directions, which should limit motor speeds. The pavements have, I guess, not been altered from how they always were, and are generous.

This all looks very progressive to me, almost "Dutch". Now a little bit of searching of photos on Flickr has shown me that the concrete segregation was in place before the blue CS7 markings were put down, so I don't actually know when the segregation was done and if it was part of  the Superhighway plan. Certainly in 2004 all Southwark Bridge had was very narrow painted advisory bike lanes, with two motor lanes northbound and one southbound. This image suggests the segregation might have been built in 2007, well before the Superhighways programme started.

Discussion of this subject on A Grim North has suggested that the segregation was not put in primarily to benefit cyclists, but to reduce the capacity of the bridge to lengthen its life. This does not seem to make too much sense, as the bridge previously had a reputation as "the car park bridge" as, according to Wikipedia, coaches used to park there. This parking was presumably in the inside northbound lane, and on top of the advisory cycle lane, reducing the bridge to two lanes: all the old photos I have seen show double-yellow lines in the southbound lane. If the parking was evenings only, and the bridge really operated as three lanes during the day, then, yes, the segregated cycle tracks could have reduced its capacity during the day. So this would be a case of, as so often, the best cycle facilities in the UK coming about accidentally, for reasons other than the desire to create good cycle facilities, as with the Cambridge Guided Busway.

In this case, it does not matter. The result has been to create the best crossing of the Thames for London cyclists, and it made sense to direct CS7 this way. At the north end of the bridge Queen Street is closed, and motor traffic has to turn right or left onto Upper Thames Street, as shown below. Cyclists on CS7 thus have a clear run into a largely traffic-free Queen Street, and then King Street, via another bollarded road-closure, right up to Gresham Street, in the heart of the City: altogether one of the best bits of cycle route in London. This is very much a Dutch city-centre pattern of combining segregation, in places where there is no sensible alternative, with strategic closures of other streets to motor vehicles (sometimes termed filtered permeability for cyclists), or use of one-way street networks, with cycle exceptions, to provide almost traffic-free cycling on the remainer of a route.

Looking from Southwark Bridge towards Queen Street, photo by Alan P
Now again, none of this really came about through strategic planning for cycling. The closure of Queen Street to motor vehicles was part of the Ring of Steel response in the City to Irish republican terrorist attacks in the early 1990s. Again, the best stuff for cyclists in the UK was not done specifically for them. But the combination of this and the segregation of Southwark Bridge did make this the best route for CS7, though, foolishly, the superhighway officially stops at this junction, and the blue lanes do not continue into Queen Street. For this combination of reasons, this is the best-implemented and most attractive part of Boris Johnson's sorry, rather less than half-hearted, Cycle Superhighway project.

In further discussion on A Grim North, it is commented that the segregation on the bridge is poor, with high, unforgiving kerbs, and the tracks too narrow to allow overtaking of slower cyclists. I would say that it would be possible to overtake another cyclist on these tracks, particularly if you rung your bell and got them to move in as far as possible, but it is certainly true that the kerbs could have been done better. Here is a new cycle track in Assen, which I photographed on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain study tour in the Netherlands in September. I have referred to this one before: it is the secondary cycle track, for the benefit of which Assen moved the canal two metres sideways. Being new, I take it to represent the state-of-the-art of Dutch design. You do see slightly different designs all over the Netherlands.

Track along the south side of the Vaart canal, Assen
The fact that this is a two-way track is not relevant here. The outer kerb is in fact fairly high, and vertical, but the inner one is low and chamfered, allowing a possible run-over on to the pavement. This, incidentally, also makes the track usefully permeable to disabled buggies and the like. Accommodating the needs of the disabled is a significant, and generally overlooked, purpose of Dutch cycle infrastructure. Clearly this is not a very similar environment to central London; nevertheless, lessons can be learned. Note the shiny new lifting bridge on the canal in the background. The Dutch are always building bridges. There are loads of bridges across the canals of Assen, and all of them have cycle provision. Either they are cycle-only bridges, or they have cycle lanes or tracks. And you never get parking on Dutch bridges. The Dutch have twigged that space on bridges is too precious to devote to parking.

Despite the general wateriness of the Netherlands, crossing water on bikes there is now never a problem. It has been a problem in the not-so-distant past: here is Mark Wagenbuur's intersting video on the history of the Berlagebrug in Amsterdam. In 1984 Dutch cyclists had to fight for cycle provision on this bridge. They won.



One thing that comes up repeatedly in discussions of Dutch cycle infrastructure by British cyclists is that they don't understand how very new it is. This means that those who last visited the Netherlands perhaps 20 or 30 years ago really don't have much relevant knowledge (another reason to suggest they go on a study tour). Virtually all Dutch cycle infrastructure has been replaced, or radically improved, in the last 30 years, and David Hembrow suggests that most Dutch cycling is now done on infrastructure that is less than 15 years old.  The Berlagebrug incident was perhaps a turning point from which the modern Dutch infrastructure-driven cycling renaissance can be dated. The incident also shows that this renaissance, in its early days in the 1980s, was far from secure. The Berlagebrug didn't recieve cycle lanes until 1982, but they were threatened by a change in political fashion only two years later. The cyclists in Amsterdam stood up to that threat. This is a salutary lesson to the cyclists of London today: it shows how similar our situation is with Blackfriars Bridge now.

It may be that TfL don't think good cycle provision on Blackfriars Bridge is necessary, because they have done CS7 and Southwark Bridge. This is a mistake, because cyclists need a dense grid of safe routes if mass cycling is to come about: this was a vital lesson the Dutch learned in the 1980s. It doesn't all need to be kerb-segregated (Berlagebrug is not), but it does all need to join up properly, cycle space needs to be uninterrupted by parking and taxi and bus stopping, and all the junctions need to be safe, all factors conspicuously factor lacking at Blackfriars and throughout London. There are few enough Thames crossings as it is, and none dedicated to bikes. Boris Johnson could have spent £60 million on a cycle bridge across the Thames, but he chose to spend it on a ridiculous cable-car project instead. The city of Amsterdam injected a fair amount into the London economy by getting London architects to design the magnificent Nescio Bridge across the Amsterdam-Rhine canal, possibly the longest dedicated cycle bridge in the world (which, surprisingly, only cost £6.5 million in 2005 – how do they do huge infrastructure so cheap when it seems to cost us thousands to put in a few cycle stands?). It's a pity that our talented people are not able to exercise their design abilities on cycle bridges for our city, which so pointedly needs them – and not just across the Thames, but also across the Rivers Lea, Brent, and many rail and motorway corridor barriers.

But I wish to end on a positive note. Cycle Superhighway 7 at the City end is a little blue oasis in the general cycling inferno that is London. It is a start. It gives a glimpse of what we could do and what we could get. The key elements are there: dedicated, uninterruptible space for cycling, sensible junction and signal design*, and integration with de-trafficked streets. We need to keep pressing at all levels of government pointing out the good examples like this, showing how removal of motor vehicle space and motor through-routes have improved, not impoverished, the city where they have been implemented, and explaining that the Cycling Revolution requires this sort of streetscape to become the norm, not the exception, and that this would be good for all Londoners. The odd historical reasons we have got here notwithstanding, we have here a start.

*Post-script: OK, in my desire to end on a positive note, I was too positive here. As Cyclists in the City points out today, the junction at the north end of Southwark Bridge is a nightmare at busy times (compare the picture he has used with the one I used). Though not as bad as what is proposed for Blackfriars, it is still poorly designed, with masses of blue paint, but vehicles still allowed and encouraged into the left hand-lane, allowing no space for cyclists.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A new kind of protest for politicians to understand

The third Blackfriars flashride gets going from Upper Ground on the south bank 

The Blackfriars Bridge protest ride on Wednesday has already been excellently covered by ibikelondon, Cyclists in the City, and the London Cycling Campaign blog, so I need not repeat too much of what has been written and pictured there. Zefrog produced an excellent set of photos of the event despite the technically-challenging low light conditions.

Suffice it to say that the organisation by LCC was exemplary, as was the facilitation of the event by the Metropolitan Police. Between 2,000 and 2,500 people took part, making it the largest cycle demonstration ever held in the UK. I have no doubt that, were LCC to call a repeat, even more people would take part next time. The word is spreading more and more; more and more cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users are understanding how regressive are Transport for London's policies for its roads, at Blackfriars as well as all over London, prioritising motor vehicle throughput at virtually all costs, and those people are willing to stand up for an alternative vision of "safe streets for people": a demand merely that our main streets be designed in a way that would be regarded as standard and uncontroversial in virtually any other Western European capital.

On a gloomy London autumn evening, colourful flashriders fill the bridge. Photo by Joe Dunckley.
Politically, the most important aspect of Wednesday's demonstration was the presence of senior representatives from all four main political parties. These included two mayoral candidates: Brian Paddick for the Liberal Democrats and Jenny Jones for the Greens. Ms Jones' commitment to cycling is well-known. Ex-police chief Paddick did not have a particularly striking policy emphasis on sustainable transport last time he stood for Mayor, but, as the Bible says, "There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repenteth..." Also present were Assembly Members Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem), Val Shawcross (Labour, vice-chair of the Assembly Transport Committee), and Andrew Boff (Conservative).

Boff's position is perhaps the strangest of all of those involved in this. He is supposedly the Mayor's (Boris Johnson's) awkwardly-titled "Ambassador for Championing Cycling in London" (though he does not call himself this on his current profile page on the GLA site). Boff has already expressed his opinions on the Blackfriars situation at length, and I have criticised them at length. Now here he is, the man who is supposed to be advising Boris Johnson on promoting cycling, publicly protesting against the cycling infrastructure decisions of TfL, which is run by his boss. So what is going on here? Either Boff is giving Johnson advice which is being ignored, in which case, I think he should resign from this strange non-position as "Ambassador etc." (has he already done so, without telling anybody?), or, TfL are ignoring Johnson, in which case Johnson is a failed Mayor and TfL is out of control, which is very serious for everbody. Perhaps Boff just trying to be everything to everybody. He certainly does not endear himself to me when I read this elegant prose on his Twitter feed (11 October, the day before the protest):
The LibDem evisceration of the best part of the localism bill shows that we're in coalition with a bunch of statist shits. Role on 2015.
However, this is off the point. My point here is that this is a kind of protest movement that is new. Here is a phenomenon with which it may take politicians and civil servants some time to catch up: what I might call a technical protest. That is not to say that it is about anything trivial or minor. Far from it, these are lift-and-death issues, and that is why they stir passion. But what I mean is that environmental protest in the past has been very much "Stop that", Down with the other", "Not in my back yard", etc.: rather black and white, crudely and simplistically for or against something, with demands that are easily captured in a sound-bite. But here were 2,500 people protesting on the very technical subject of road design. They don't like the design that Transport for London want to implement, and they want something else, and they know what they want. They are not arguing simply for lower speeds, not simply for segregated cycle lanes, but for a whole design package: one that includes these things, but also better streetscape, more pedestrian space, fewer lanes of motor vehicles, better design of junctions and cleverer signal systems to get cyclists, pedestrians and motorists safely through them. This is complicated stuff. This is not like the roads protests of the past, which were either attempts to block the construction of bypasses, or generalised demos against everything to do with car-culture (as in the "Reclaim the Streets" movement).

This is  new phenomenon which can only have come about in the internet age. It depends on a spreading of knowledge of detailed, technical aspects of the design of public space in a way that is comprehended by a large number of non-specialist people, though pictures, descriptions, animations. This may make the professionals in the fields affected very uncomfortable: they may resist being taken to task by amateurs who they feel lack the understanding of the subject that they have trained long and hard to gain. Or, alternatively, they could embrace the far higher level of public dialogue that this promises on the aspects of urban design which are so crucial to our environmental wellbeing.

It is because we now have websites like that of the LCC, like View from the Cycle Path, like the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, and others, that people can be mobilised to support particular detailed visions, future projections of what British public space could look like, when they see that what is being suggested would be so much better than what they are being offered by politicians and professional planners. I think this is really the case: I don't think those at Blackfriars, on Wednesday, in general, were just "anti-car". They were protesting positively for something very particular: a new settlement of space and priority in the city vis-a-vis walking, cycling and driving. Part of my evidence for this is the considerable number of people who have seen LCC's Blackfriars design and said they are joining the campaign because of it. They were not conviced before that the campaign was doing anything particularly effective, but this has convinced them.


As I say, one likely first reaction from transport professionals to the emergence of such a technical protest movement is the negative one: a blank refusal to engage, and a closing of professional ranks. We see this with the response to Cyclists in the City's letter to Network Rail, asking them to look at the LCC design. Simon Kirby, the Director of Investment Projects at Network Rail, a state organisation, and one of the chief drivers for the Blackfriars changes, replies first by talking down, telling our correspondent a series of suck-eggs things of which he is obviously already aware:
As you’re aware we’re currently rebuilding Blackfriars railway station to provide for growing passenger numbers, longer trains and more frequent services. 
The coming years will see substantial growth in the number of people using Blackfriars station, and changes need to be made to the road network around the station so that it can cope with an increased volume of pedestrian traffic. 
The road junction north of Blackfriars bridge is owned and maintained by TfL. As such they have taken the lead in designing and delivering a new road layout to accommodate all road users over the coming decades.
And then by simply shutting the door on discussion:
We’ve worked closely with TfL to ensure their road layout is compatible with our station designs and we fully support their plans.
And that, insultingly, is it. Simon Kirby and Network Rail obviously have not looked at the LCC plans, or in any way considered such alternatives. He makes no attempt to justify the current TfL and Network Rail plans for the streets on any grounds whatsoever. He makes no attempt to explain how these plans are better for rail passengers than LCC's alternatives. He would have a tall order trying to do so, because they are obviously far worse. So Network Rail is here opposing the interests of rail passengers and refusing to enter into any discussion of the street design around their station. This is simply a professional closing of ranks, insulting the intelligence of the public, and hoping that these annoying people will shut up and go away.

Successful politicians of the future will have to wise-up to the new reality of technical protest in regard to the streets and other aspects of the environment. They will have to realise that large numbers of people can now understand the need for sophisticated solutions to complex problems. It's now no longer a case of the technocrat, or politician, telling the people who are baying for some crude solution that "It's not that simple". It's the other way round: the well-informed populace explaining the details to the politicians: a clear new phenomenon of the Information Age. The successful politician of the future will not necessarily understand all the details themselves; Boris is clearly no grasper of technical detail. But they will be able to sense when their "experts" need to be told that they must listen to others who know a thing or two about their subject as well.

The cyclists of London have thrown down a gauntlet with the Blackfriars protests. And whatever happens at Blackfriars over the next months and years, this is not going to go away. For of course Blackfriars is only a symbol, and only at beginning. As LCC sys:
Throughout the summer, we've been keen to emphasise that the campaign over Blackfriars is part of a bigger, more widespread push for a people-friendly London.
And in the New Year, the London Cycling Campaign will be officially launching our Go Dutch campaign, voted for by our members, which will be pressing all the mayoral candidates to take London along the pathway towards safe and convenient cycling, and a truly people-friendly urban environment.
This means addressing every bad junction and every busy road, so they're safe and convenient for Londoners of all ages and experiences who want to cycle.
In the coming days and weeks, we’ll be fleshing out the principles for what this means for London’s main roads, and in the New Year we’ll be publishing more exciting graphics and designs, showing what fantastic public spaces so many major locations in London could be.
So TfL will know that whenever it plans to revamp a road or a junction in its old style (and the next example is likely to be the King's Cross junction, where cyclist Min Joo Lee was killed on 3 October): they can expect lots more of the same trouble. They can expect their designs to be challenged in a high-profile way. They can expect bigger and bigger protests, more people questioning the competence of their designers, more politicians coming over to our side. It may not happen with Blackfriars, and it may not happen with Kings Cross, but at some point they will be forced into the 21st century. Cyclists and pedestrians of London, now that you have a clear strategy, you will win, as the cyclists and pedestrians in the Netherlands did in the 1970s. Keep it up.