Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Brand new cycle facility in Harrow...

...brand new crap.

A contraflow was needed in College Road, Harrow, to help cyclists avoid the busy and unsuitable ring road system around Harrow town centre, and was campaigned for by Harrow Cyclists. Cyclists were using this section of wide footway anyway, to avoid a short one-way stretch of road which prevented direct cycling from west to east across the town centre, and were getting fined for it. It was a sensible and easy move for the council to put in a contraflow here, and, after a lot of campaigning, which included a publicity stunt where Harrow Cyclists laid a section of fake green, cycle track, they agreed, and earmarked £15,000 to be spent on the scheme.

Publicity stunt by Harrow Cyclists in 2010 showing what they wanted: the excess pavement width used for a legal contraflow for cycling in a section of College Road
This is the result, just completed, which I photographed, unfortunately, at night. I really don't want to carp, but here we have a narrow track painted on the pavement with thick raised lines which goes through a sharp 90º turn to eject cyclists directly into the path of buses passing the bus station in College Road, when all they need is to continue in the same direction along the road. Why must implementation of such facilities always be so incompetent?

Exit of the new cycle contraflow in College road, Harrow
There really should be no excuse for this kind of thing. We know that UK highway engineers seem often to lack any understanding of the requirements of cyclists, but there are guidelines for them to follow even if they don't personally know one end of a bike from the other. Sometimes these guidelines are inadequate themselves, but too often they are far better than what is actually delivered.

The London Cycle Design Standards document (Transport for London 2006) Appendix C contains a drawing of how a cycle lane at carriageway level can be turned into a cycle track at pavement level and back into a cycle lane at carriagway level (Drawing C4). Here it is:

This is absolutely clear and sensible. It also corresponds to the sort of thing I encountered on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain study tour in Assen and Groningen last year, where we often saw Dutch cycle routes that would swap from segregated to unsegregated style because of changing road constraints, but always maintaining a high degree of continuity and smoothness for the route. Cycle routes in dense cities with many pre-existing street constraints are always going to have to adapt in this fashion, so it is critical that the transitions between on-road and off-road paths are got right.

Strangely enough I have come across an example even in the Borough of Harrow where a track-to-lane transition has been done correctly. This short facility, which can be found in Whitchurch Lane, Stanmore, at the junction with Marsh Lane, actually works effectively (probably quite by chance) to allow cyclists to bypass the queue of traffic at these lights.

Transition from on-pavement path to cycle lane in Whitchurch Lane, Stanmore
To get the path to road transition right in College Road would have not have required any extra thought or research, it would have just needed the existing TfL guidelines to be followed. It would have required more digging, as possibly a phone box and some other street furniture would have needed to be moved, and a larger section of footway reconstructed. Whether this could have been done for the £15,000 allocated, I don't know. But you do have to actually do things to create properly-engineered cycle routes on existing streets, not just paint lines on pavements, put up signs and put in the easiest possible dropped kerb. Isn't it worth councils spending enough that their attempts at the simplest cycling infrastructure do not turn out as absurd fodder for the Cycle Facility of the Month website?

Come on Harrow, if you are serious about encouraging cycling, you should be able to do better than this.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The success of Kingsbury town centre

This post is a counterpoint to my last, on Edgware town centre, and its Portas Pilot. These two outer north-west London town centres do form a nice counterpoint for me, as I live between them, a mile south of Edgware and a mile north of Kingsbury.

Kingsbury and Edgware town centres have many similarities. They are both centres of 1930s suburbs where people live mostly in detached and semi-detached houses. They both have tube stations (but Kingsbury has no bus station, and rather fewer buses). They both consist essentially of a single main shopping street, which is also an important through-road (in Kingsbury, the A4006 Kingsbury Road, which links the A5 to Harrow). They both have considerable off-street parking provision, as well as parking on the main road and side roads.

But while Edgware town centre is considered to be doing sufficiently poorly to require a bid to the government's "Portas fund" to revive it (what anybody thinks this £80,000 odd will achieve I am not sure), Kingsbury town centre has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country at only 1.1% empty shops, and appears to be prospering.

Kingsbury Road is thronged with shoppers on a weekday afternoon
So I think people looking at centres that are doing less well, like Edgware, rather than producing a lot of opinions about what is wrong with them and what needs doing, that may or may not have much basis in fact, should look at what is right, very near by, in Kingsbury, and why that centre is doing comparatively well.

Here are what I think are some of the important things that are right in Kingsbury town centre, that are differences with Edgware: you will see that my focus is on street design and the environment.

The shops in Kingsbury are really rather functional: food shops, banks, travel shops, Asian sweet shops, Asian clothes shops, and cheap hardware shops are noticeable. There is nothing particularly chic and nothing conspicuously "smart" about Kingsbury town centre. There are some pubs and restaurants, but no "café culture".

The pavements in Kingsbury Road are extremely wide. The original service roads in the 1930s street design have been filled in, with either pavement, or segregated cycle track, on the stretch to the east of the tube station.  These wide pavements allow the shops to spill out onto the street, while still allowing ample space for pedestrians to circulate and meet, and there is plenty of room for the street furniture and street trees.

The road is narrowed by the parking down to one narrowish lane in either direction, and, east of the shopping centre, by Roe Green Park, where parking does not have this effect, the council (Brent) narrowed the previously four-lane road to two lanes using islands and central hatching, so controlling the speed at which vehicles enter the shopping stretch. (This was a highly controversial move locally, introduced by the previous Lib Dem–Conservative coalition administration). Vehicle speeds on Kingsbury Road are now mostly quote moderate.

The road has been supplied with crossings at good intervals, and at these points, the road has been narrowed further. (As these narrowings just replace the parking, cyclists are not presented with a sudden constriction in the road at these places – though cycling conditions are not particularly good.) The crossings are one stage for pedestrains (c. f. the staggered "pig-pen" crossings of Edgware's Station Road), and the green man appears very fast – five to ten seconds after the button is pushed.

Crossing of Kingsbury Road: quick to use, but a pity about the guardrailing
The side-road crossings of the footway are good. They are kept narrow, with a tight geometry, and the carriageway has been raised to pavement height, which is very convenient for the disabled. Give-way chevrons have been painted to the side-road side of these speed tables, obliging motorists to give way to pedestrians. These junctions contrast with the flared, two-branched side road junctions that Barnet Council has favoured in Station Road, Edgware. Those give priority and space to cars, these give priority and space to pedestrians.

Side road treatment in Kingsbury Road
There is a large and pleasant open space on the north side of Kingsbury Road, Roe Green Park, which is well-supplied with activities for both children and young people. The park is a combination of playing fields, playgrounds, and planted garden areas. Brent has not cut back on the maintenance of its open spaces to the extent that Barnet has (though the swimming pool that was promised for Roe Green Park was cancelled as part of the current budget cuts). There are several schools around the park, including the very large secondary Kingsbury High School, and, via the park, a lot of young people are naturally conducted to Kingsbury Road, adding to its level of activity.

Playground for young children in Roe Green Park
Play equipment for older children in Roe Green Park, with Kingsbury High School in the background.
There is some prominent cycle infrastructure in Kingsbury Road. I have discussed this provision before, in one of my earliest posts in this blog, just about a year ago. It is not very good, because it is not coherent (like most UK cycle infrastructure). A two-way cycle track, that was taken out of the huge pavement space on the south side of the road, goes along for a distance west of Roe Green Park at footway level, generally walked upon by pedestrians, before terminating illogically at a Toucan crossing, where the route turns into advisory cycle lanes on both sides of the road, painted in the "door zone" of parked cars. On the westbound side, the route goes on to the pavement again, west of the tube station, this time between the road and service road, to terminate at a zebra crossing of the A4140 Fryent Way, where cyclists I presume are expected to dismount, as cycling on a zebra crossing is illegal. 

Illogical end-point of the two-way cycle track on the pavement of Kingsbury Road
However, faulty as this provision is, and quite poor as cycling conditions in Kingsbury are, there is at least a conspicuous attempt to encourage cycling in the streetscape design, and to provide a facility safe for children to cycle on. There is nothing for cyclists in Edgware, save a few racks, because Barnet Council has long been anti-cycling. (Though we might note, with a small "hurrah", that the odious Brian Coleman no longer controls transport in Barnet, having been forced out of his Barnet Council portfolio job last week, following his defeat in the London Assembly election.)

In Kingsbury, in addition, there is useful cycling, for both children and adults, on the paths in Roe Green Park, allowing them to access the town centre and the too-brief two-way track. Though all cycling is actually against Brent's parks by-laws (dating from 1906!), the Parks Department do not enforce this ban (as they have few staff to do so, and no interest in doing so provided no nuisance is being caused), and in fact some paths in Roe Green Park are marked as permitted routes on Transport for London's Cycle Guide 3.

Young children cycling in Roe Green Park
The most important differences between Kingsbury town centre and Edgware town centre are, however, I think, the following. Kingsbury has no large supermarket. It only has small and medium-sized shops. Generally, the major chains are conspicuous in Kingsbury by their absence. There is a smallish Boots the Chemist, and a Tesco Local was built recently by Kingsbury Circle, on the site of a pub (pubs have been decimated in north-west London in recent years). 

Shopping in Edgware is dominated by the Sainsbury's in the Broadwalk covered shopping centre, with its massive car parks both at ground level and on the roof of the centre. Kingsbury has nothing like the Broadwalk Centre, packed full of chain stores, including Sainsburys and M&S, the only businesses usually that can afford the rents in such places. Kingsbury has an off-street car park, but a relatively small and hidden one with narrow access, not one that motorists are obviously directed into, and it has about the same amount of on-street parking as Edgware.

In Edgware, the Broadwalk Centre has drained the life away from Station Road and the High Street, many shoppers arriving at its easy-to-use car park, walking straight into the centre, and not venturing further. Similar has not happened in Kingsbury. The high-capacity motor vehicle access provided to the Broadwalk Centre car park has made Edgware's Station Road far less walkable. Planning and design decisions taken for Kingsbury Road have kept it walkable. There is also no equivalent of the A5 Edgware Road in Kingsbury severing the shopping area into two parts.

The two centres look architecturally different, mainly because Edgware in blighted by the cheaply-thrown up Premier House office block and other pieces of nondescripness, while Kingsbury retains a certain uniformity and low-key dignity with its redbrick with cement decoration 1930s shopping parades, never rising above three stories. Kingsbury had lower pretensions than Edgware to start with, and has never been treated as a major centre, so has been spared out-of-scale developments. Or, perhaps, Brent Council has prevented them. The new flats above the Tesco are the worst example in Kingsbury, at six stories high.

There are things that are not great about Kingsbury Road, apart from the incoherent cycle route. The new Tesco Metro, with its own car park between the pavement and the store, causing a lot of vehicle movements across the footway, was a retrograde planning step. The maintenance of the service road on the south side between the station and Kingsbury Circle is hard to explain. That should have been done away with, along with the rest of the service roads, to increase pavement space there as well. Most importantly, Kingsbury Circle is a very dangerous obstacle for cycling, a poorly-designed multi-lane roundabout with five wide geometry exits. As a fast and experienced cyclist I can negotiate it, but a lady cyclist I know, who goes everywhere locally on her bike, will not do so, but crosses the roads as a pedestrian, and I can fully understand this. It is certainly not negotiable by children and novices.

Some will no doubt point to the unpopular method of charging for on-street parking introduced by Brian Coleman in Barnet as being a factor in Edgware's problems. Coleman got rid of the ticket machines and made people pay using mobile phones. But I don't see how this can be particularly relevant, as, if you look at the on-street parking in Kingsbury and Edgware, you see it is mostly occupied during shopping hours in both places. And it is also obvious, looking at the numbers of people shopping in Kingsbury Road, that most of them cannot have cars parked on the street.

Broadly, I think what the comparison between Kingsbury and Edgware town centres shows us is that car parking is not the issue. The issue is design and planning that emphasises and strengthens the social function of the street and makes it easy to use by those on foot and bicycle (though the latter are a tiny minority here). This goes with maintaining a sensible scale of development, and keeping activity on the street by not setting-up an alternative indoor focus that is most easily accessed by car. People do not now need to go to shops at all if they don't wish to, and all shops are feeling this effect. But they still need public spaces to serve a social function, and where this happens, the businesses around benefit.

Many of the right planning decisions have been taken by Brent Council at Kingsbury, and it is quite apparent looking at the scene in Kingsbury Road that the street is serving a strong social function, despite the still quite considerable volume of motor traffic passing through. It's not a quaint picture-postcard scene; it's not a historic town square. It's plain, suburban, and middle class. But it's also varied, cosmopolitan, busy and active, and it works quite well. Those towns and suburbs with failing centres, take note. More parking and glitzy, covered shopping malls are not what you need.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Edgware town centre's Portas Pilot piffle

Edgware is a suburb of north-west London centred 11 miles from Marble Arch, up the A5 on the way to St Albans. It is divided between three boroughs: 50% in Barnet, a bit less than 50% in Harrow, and a small part in Brent. I live in the Brent part, one mile from Edgware town centre.

Apparently Edgware town centre is suffering a decline. I say "apparently" as I don't know, as I almost never go there, because it is horrible, and there is nothing there of sufficient interest to draw me to make the not very nice (by any method) journey there.

I think Edgware town centre has long had problems. The suburb grew entirely due to the construction of the Northern Line of the London Undergound in the 1920s, of which its station formed the terminus of one branch, and, with efficient, direct connections to both the West End and the City, it was always predominantly a dormitory. The so-called High Street, part of the A5, is nothing like a high street, except at the war memorial, with a few slightly villagey-looking shops and restaurants surrounding it. Most of the High Street consists of car showrooms, car maintenance businesses, warehouses, and storage sheds, with a few seedy shops and "cafs".

Edgware's "High Street" on the A5. Yes, it really does look this miserable. (Google Earth)
Development of the High Street, my neighbour (who has lived in the area all of his 88 years) tells me, was aborted by the development of Station Road, the road in which the Underground and bus stations are located, when the Northern Line came. Station Road became the main shopping street of Edgware, its affluent middle-class intentions signalled in the somewhat grand redbrick 1930s architecture of some of the shops and flats above them, and featuring one big, impressive pub, the Railway Hotel, built in mock "Stratford-upon-Avon" tudor style. The Railway Hotel is a suburban icon that now stands empty, falling-apart and uncared for by anyone, it would appear, including the Borough of Barnet. The prosperity of Station Road was, in its turn, usurped by the construction of a covered shopping mall off of it, in the 1990s, now called the Broadwalk Centre, including a Sainsburys supermarket and a massive car-park.

The boarded-up Railway Hotel in Station Road, Edgware (Google Earth)
The spiritual and public centre of Edgware should be the crossroads of Station Road, the High Street, and Whitchurch Lane (which leads to the church of St Mary, where Handel once played the organ and rehearsed his works). By this crossroads stands the parish church of St Margaret of Antioch. But this crossroads is dominated by through-traffic on the A5, and another massive 1930s pub – a very ugly one this time, the Masons Arms, and dismal, cheap 60s or 70s concrete architecture housing betting shops and fast food joints.

The "Masons Arms" crossroads at Edgware town centre (Googe Earth)
One big office block was built in Edgware, I guess in the 1970s: Premier House in Station Road, which at one time was the HQ of the Green Shield Stamps empire (who is old enough to remember licking those for their mum?). But it doesn't seem to have brought much benefit to the area. Just beyond this, going up Station Road, is the pedestrian entrance to the Broadwalk Centre (they ban bikes, one reason I do not go there), and then the bus station, cramped onto a very unsatisfactory site which means that buses have to go in and out on the same narrow road, making a tight right-angle turn off Station Road, the in and out flows of buses crossing over within the bus station. The bus station also has the habit of playing excruciating mock-baroque "easy listening" music to anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck waiting there, apparently to deter the "yoof" loiterers.

On weekdays during the rush hour, Station Road suffers from massive congestion, with extra pollution from the large number of buses using it and the bus station. It is a very poor walking environment, with staggered two-stage crossings with islands and cages for pedestrians to negotiate, and walking-unfriendly, wide-mouthed side road junctions at roads such as Manor Park Crescent and Edgwarebury Lane, plus a profusion of pedestrian "safety" barriers (because pedestrians can't be trusted to cross in the "right" places, and cars can't be trusted to stay on the roads). The worst place is between the A5 crossroads and Premier house, where the road in and out of the Broadwalk car park interrupts pedestrian progress on Station Road with an utterly inappropriate five lanes of traffic at a signalised junction where  it seems to take forever to get the green man to get across. Needless to say, there is no safe or appropriate way to cycle into this car park, though there is a bit of cycle parking there. There is a narrow, mal-designed cycle lane which skirts the inbound lifting barriers, but, as pedestrians also seem to have no properly-designed route from this part of Station Road to the car park, they walk here, understandably. There are several narrow pedestrian footpaths that also lead into the car park from other directions, but they all ban bikes.

Churchway, Edgware, the dismal place where five lanes of traffic in and out of the Broadwalk car park meet Station Road.
Edgware epitomises, in my view, much of what has gone wrong with British town centres, which are now failing, with their confusion between the transport and social and commercial functions of roads and streets, and their enslavement to planning for people in cars. There is no attempt at what you see in Dutch towns as the core of planning policy, the separation of "roads for movement" from "streets for communities". Edgware has a by-pass, has long had it, the A41 Edgware Way dual carriageway. This has no shops on it, is almost parallel to Station Road – running only, at minimum, 500m north of it – and so should carry all the through-traffic. But in the normal British way, the construction of the bypass was not accompanied by the removal of the town-centre from the through-traffic system. So every road is clogged by cars, parked and moving, which have multiplied to fill all the space allocated to them, with short, unnecessary car journeys facilitated at almost every point by the planning decisions that have been taken.

So when I found, though the Barnet Council website, this video about Edgware, entitled Portas Pilot: Station Road, Edgware, I was intrigued to know what it would suggest for improving the area. Having watched it, I have to say I am none the wiser as to what this "Portas" vision is.

If you view this on the YouTube site you discover that there is a whole gentre of these Portas Pilot videos, from all over the country, including one from Sussex entitled, slightly amusingly, Seaford Shags Portas Pilot bid. There seems to be a small industry of producing these videos. Well, I can't see how the production of these videos is going to save one failing town centre.

The Edgware video gives quite a good impression of what the place is actually like, and shows most of the features I have mentioned above. But there is no planning or public policy solution here, just well-intentioned, but empty, blather and piffle from a variety of people. In fact, worse, it contains just more of the same historically-failed thinking as before, coming from the policeman, who thinks it important that it is made easier for people to park to access the shops that are not in the Broadwalk Centre, while we see, behind him, a Station Road full of parked cars.

I won't go here into all the evidence that shows that, even in apparently car-dependent places like this, most journeys to shops are not by car, and most expenditure in local shops is not by people arriving in cars. I won't go into the lack of evidence that  exists for the slightest relationship between the provision of car-parking, its cost, and the success of shopping centres. A good post was provided on this subject on At War With The Motorist – see also many other relevant posts on that superb blog.

All I'll say is this: People who wish to drive to a shopping centre, park in a huge free car park, and wonder round a covered mall, have ample opportunities to do such, and good luck to them. There are huge roads provided for them to get to these places, and they use them, in this area to access the Brent Cross Shopping Centre (which certainly has played a major part in undermining NW London centres like Edgware over the last 40 years), Westfield at White City, Westfield at Stratford, The Harlequin in Watford, St Anns Centre in Harrow, and so on – maybe even Bluewater in Kent.

Other people want something completely different. I mean, completely different, as an experience, and will look for where they can find it, or satisfy all their shopping needs from a comfortable keyboard at home, and their social needs in other places.

Edgware town centre, only one mile from my house, will not be seeing much of my custom in the foreseeable future. What would it take to get me there? Well, if the boroughs or Transport for London built me a convenient and safe bike route to get there, that would be a big thing. What that would have to mean in practice would be Dutch-style segregated cycle tracks along the A5, which is amply wide enough to take them. What else? Pedestrianise Station Road, at least during business hours. Demolish the ugly buildings and restore and care for the nice ones. Use the vast area allocated to car parking better. Create more intelligent access arrangements for the buses, and allow cycle access everywhere.

Without these measures, I am sorry, but I have to say:

Edgware town centre, Portas Pilot you may be, 
You are still the weakest link, so it's goodbye from me.

The A5 Edgware High Street. No room for segregated bike tracks, or course. (Google Earth)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Dressed for war: cause and effect

Boris Johnson was returned as Mayor of London on 3 May with a 3% lead over his nearest challenger, Ken Livingstone. Two prominent Conservative Assembly Members and allies of Johnson lost their seats: Brian Coleman, who represented Barnet and Camden, and had been Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, and Richard Barnes, who represented Ealing and Hillingdon, and had been Deputy Mayor. Cyclists will be pleased at the removal of Coleman, who was famously anti-cycling. (Unfortunately for cyclists in Barnet, he remains Barnet Council's Cabinet Member for Environment.) Things did not go so badly for Conservatives in the assembly election as it had been thought they might, and, with nine Conservative seats on the Assembly, more than one third the total, Boris Johnson should still get his budgets through for the next four years (and the activities in the Assembly will be essentially irrelevant).

I'm therefore not expecting any major changes in roads policy in London over the next four years. The first test of intention will be the outcome of the reviews of "50 key junctions" on the existing Cycle Superhighways and "150 major junctions" on the other roads controlled by Transport for London. The kind of changes to the roads that these reviews come up with, or do not come up with, will show whether there is anything at all in Johnson's endorsement of LCC's Go Dutch campaign. The timetable for the reviews remains worryingly unclear, and "any junction improvements will be delivered after the 2012 Games". The exception is Bow roundabout (where two cyclists died on Superhighway 3 within weeks of one another last year), where unknown (to me) "improvements" will be carried out before the Games. So the first indication of the character of Johnson's new-found Dutchness will be seen at Bow. Indications are it won't be "Dutch" at all.

But here's something that amused me, because like the best satires, it is about 70% true: a cartoon drawn by Bianca Ansems, a Dutch artist who is living in England, but who dares not cycle here. She's tried but she says she's been honked at and hit by cars despite following all the rules – well, welcome to the club. She captioned this picture In England, cycling is not leisure...IT IS WAR!!

Cartoon by Bianca Ansems
Yes folks, this is how the typical British cyclist looks to a Dutch person. And it's pretty accurate, down to the little details: note even the almost-LCC cycle campaigner's badge. And I don't blame British cyclists one bit for looking like this. They look different to Dutch cyclists because the conditions they experience are totally different. The gear is a rational and correct response to the environment. You need the folding bike because space for full-sized bikes is so short on our trains, and non-existent on other public transport, and there is so little secure parking, and so much theft. You need the maintenance equipment because friendly bike stores that will fix you up in a trice if you have a puncture or other fault are fairly few and far between, and our roads and cycle paths are strewn with glass and full of holes, thus giving bikes a hard time. You need the noise-making gadgets to counter the army of the "cyclists are the silent foe" pedestrain brigade, who don't bother looking left and right when crossing the road if they cannot hear a motor. You need to be brightly visible to the ridiculous "Nth degree", because the Highway Code suggests this, and if you are unfortunate enough to be knocked down and injured, you need to minimise your chances of being told by a stupid old judge that "you had only yourself to blame for not being conspicuous enough" and that therefore you deserve to have your injury compensation sum decimated. A similar argument goes for the helmet. You join a campaiging organisation and wear its badge because conditions are so atrocious, but you can see how they could so easily be much better with slightly different public policy, so you want to spread that message. The knee pads are going a bit far: I don't see many London cyclists wearing these, but then satire has to be about 30% untrue to be funny.

So it is important to understand that the way our cyclists look, and behave, is a consequence of, and a reaction to, the conditions in which they find themselves, not a contributory cause of those conditions.

There is a blogger known as Amcambike*, who lives in the Netherlands, and writes about cycling. He does not let his true identity be directly known, but I believe him to be a British or Irish expatriate, as his written English is perfect, showing no trace of foreign inflexion. I believe him to be the same person as "Paul", to whom I referred in this post last July. There is correspondence from "Paul" there, whose nonsense I grew tired of trying to contradict, and thereafter I have not published his comments on my blog (one of only two people I have taken that decision over). "Paul", or "Amcambike", appears to be actually one Paul Treanor, whose politico-philosophical writings are to be found here, because Paul Treanor's suggested cycle routes in the Amsterdam area are the same as Amcambike's. You venture into Treanor's politico-philosophical writings at your own peril (amongst other crazy things, he argues that sustainability is wrong, and art should be destroyed).

In his Amcambike blog, his mission is to convince us that there is no point in us in the UK, or other countries, trying to emulate Dutch cycling policies, because he believes they will not work, and he believes they have not worked in the Netherlands either. He often quotes my writings (in order to contradict them), and his posts have in the past gained approving comment from a prominent member of London Cycling Campaign, who opposed the adoption of Going Dutch. He tends not to publish comments from those who disagree with him, but Cyclefisk has rebutted him on a couple of occasions.

Amcambike rarely ventures into direct commentary on events in the UK, but he did put up a post on 30 April attacking the riders on the LCC Big Ride, saying that, through how they dress, and the type of bicycles they ride, they bring about the hostile cycling conditions in London. This is of course like saying that umbrellas cause rain. After that, Joe Dunckley (@steinsky on Twitter) commented how amusing it was that Amcambike, in attacking the totality of London cyclists, was attacking even the cyclists who look to him for confirmation of their views, the anti-Dutch-infrastructure brigade. Amcambike subsequently deleted that blog post. He has replaced it with another one published on May 5, again featuring The Big Ride, this time slightly less stridently attacking London cyclists for the way they dress:
Even allowing for the fact that it was a demonstration, and that some people got dressed up for the occasion, cycling clearly means something different in London. It is treated as an urban sport or fitness activity, rather than a means of transport. That is ironic, because the Big Ride was intended to promote Dutch-style cycling policies.
Of course this is the most total rubbish.  Most of the cyclists on the Big Ride were not "dressed up for the occasion", they were dressed in rainwear, because it was raining. Most of the rainwear sold to cyclists in the UK is yellow or orange. That's a choice of the manufacturers and a consequence of the culture described above: it is reflected in the Highway Code, a government document having the force of law, which strongly encourages cyclists (and pedestrians, horses and dogs) to be dressed like this: part of the perverse culture of so-called "road safety" as opposed to "road danger reduction". It has little or nothing to do with how cyclists want to look and seem. So nothing on The Big Ride was showing that "cycling clearly means something different in London [compared to Amsterdam]". It doesn't mean something different. What does cycling "mean" anyway? For someone who writes on political philosophy, Treanor makes a remarkable number of category mistakes or semantic errors.

The Big Ride showed the reverse of what Treanor claims, that London cycling "means something different" or "is a different type" to that found in Amsterdam. It showed the huge demand for good conditions for transport cycling in London from cyclists, and people who would like to ride bikes regularly, of all types. It thus showed the demand for conditions more like those Dutch cyclists enjoy. Treanor's final stupid comment is:
It is hard to imagine a demonstration of this kind in Amsterdam. It is also hard to understand the relevance of Dutch cycle infrastructure for the type of cycling which appears to be common in London.
It is even harder to imagine a demonstration by thousands of cyclists in Amsterdam calling for "Cycling to be made as nasty and dangerous as it is in London".  But in the parallel universe of Amcambike, perhaps even this is not too strange a possibility to contemplate.

*Update: following publication of this post, on 9 May 2012, the Amcambike blog was deleted by its author.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Open letter to Boris Johnson

A guest post by Helen Vecht

Dear Mr Johnson

Thank you for turning up at The Times Cyclesafe hustings on Monday. I didn't think you'd bother. You have form for failing to show, so well done for attending!

You don't 'get' cycling at all, do you? You ride a bicycle, true, but you seem blind to many of the issues that confront cyclists and totally ignorant of why most of the population remain non-cyclists.

As Mayor of London you really ought to know better.

You state that you do not conform to the stereotype of a cyclist. But in fact you are a typical cyclist. The average London cyclist is a white, well-educated, high-earning, middle-aged man. I believe such a description fits you perfectly. Children, women, old people and those from ethnic minorities cycle much less than people like you. You have not explored the reasons for this, much less addressed them.

Truth is, cycling in London is dangerous and scary. Only the brave bother to cycle in London. Most parents and some headteachers will not allow their children to cycle to school. All the training in the world will not deflect a motor vehicle whose path strays into that of a cyclist.

Several people in Monday's audience had lost loved ones to motor vehicles, through no fault on the cyclists' part. Punishment for those who kill cyclists is minimal, leaving the bereaved with no sense of justice or closure. There is also little deterrent effect to other motorists, which makes chancing with other people's lives appear to be a worthwhile gamble.

The legislation is, in many cases adequate; the problem is that enforcement is poor and attempts to improve this are seen as 'a war on the motorist'. As Mayor, you could make life on London's streets safer by improving traffic law enforcement. This would need more traffic police to reduce speeding, phone-use whilst driving, and dangerous parking.

You have removed traffic lights and pedestrian crossings 'to improve traffic flow'. This would suggest you do not seem to care for the safety and convenience of those who are not in a car on the main road. Well, they are people too and they have a right to move around without losing their lives crossing the road.

Cycling should be for everyone: old, young black, white, male and female. Until you make road conditions more favourable for those who are NOT like you, we will never have the modal share of our continental cousins.

Cyclists need time and space on our streets. If you are not prepared to give this to us, we are not prepared to give you our vote.

Helen Vecht

Last Saturday's LCC Big Ride, as witnessed by The shining ones who dwell/Safe in the Dorchester Hotel