I stated quite clearly in April my belief that Boris Johnson's commitment to the London Cycling Campaign's Go Dutch principles was not sincere. However Johnson won the election fair and square, so the LCC needed to take him on his word, and just keep monitoring the situation and reminding him of his commitment in every possible way. He had a bit of a breathing space over the Olympic period, when one would have expected less focus on such long-term issues as safe streets, but that's well behind us now.
After his fist 100 days into the new term, LCC issued an assessment, which in my opinion was already a bit too charitable even at this stage:
The good news is that the mayor has made one big pledge along the path to meeting his promises to Go Dutch, namely identifying the locations of his first two flagship schemes. He also appears to have set the ball rolling for TfL to move towards adopting international cycling best-practice for Superhighways and other streets. The not-so-good news is that we still don’t have a plan, and with developments on London’s roads continuing to show little sign that the mayor’s promises have taken root, our optimism remains guarded.
True we are still only a few months into the Mayor’s four-year term, and much of that time he has been focusing on the Olympics and the Paralympics, which is a massive PR opportunity for him and the city. But by now he should have done more to convince Londoners that he has given the backing to TfL that it needs to press full steam ahead with measures to make London as safe and inviting for cycling as it is in Holland. The verdict? Boris has been saying enough of the right words to get a pass mark at 100 days, but nothing tangible has actually changed yet.It's now six months after the election, and there's still no real plan to put the Go Dutch commitment into action in any way, shape or form. As Cycalogical has noted, the review of 100 junctions to make them safer for cycling, the most concrete commitment on cycling to come out of this administration, seems to be running into the usual buffers of outdated, poor, unimaginative thinking at TfL, with its blocking obsession with maintaining peak traffic capacity at all costs.
At the fascinating Love London, Go Dutch conference in Westminster on 18 October, sponsored by the Dutch Embassy and Royal HaskoningDHV, it was proved quite conclusively how one of the highest-profile junctions under review, the Lambeth Bridge northern roundabout, could indeed be rebuilt to a Dutch pattern, in the space available, and within the requirements of UK regulations.
|Dutch design for the northern Lambeth Bridge roundabout produced at the Love London Go Dutch conference |
(More details in the Royal Hashkoning report)
Rachael Aldred of Westminster University's Department of Planning and Transport (and now also a newly-elected Trustee of LCC) analysed it perfectly in her response to TfL:
My concerns about the current design centre around providing two sub-optimal options, rather than one better option. Cyclists using the road will have less space than at present, due to the carriageway narrowing, potentially increasing conflict. (Motorists may also expect them to use the pavement). However, cyclists using the pavement facility may (a) have trouble leaving the road at a sharp angle, (b) then come into conflict with pedestrians, and (c) experience problems crossing using the zebras, including conflict with motor vehicles.At the Waterloo IMAX roundabout, another well-known blackspot, the junction review has produced "interim proposals" (why are they bothering with these – why not do it right once?) that amount to slight changes of kerb geometry and a fair amount of green paint on the road, in one place producing a cycle lane between a straight ahead vehicle lane and a left-turn vehicle lane, all completely unprotected of course. Those who know this traffic maelstrom will appreciate how inadequate all this is. (My friend Paul Gannon, ex of Camden cycling Campaign, always used to say "The faith that UK traffic engineers place in paint is truly touching"). It's more or less as far from a Dutch roundabout solution for motor traffic and cyclists as it could possibly be.
|TfL's "interim proposals" for the Waterloo roundabout|
On to other subjects, and the Mayor still has not told us clearly where or what the three flagship Go Dutch schemes that were part of the election commitment will be. He has not made good his promise to appoint a cycling "czar" or commissioner, and we have no idea what powers or influence such a figure would have, when appointed. He has spoken of some sort of new cycle link across central London to join the dangling ends of the Superhighways, which appears, from a limited press report, as if it will use the Embankment. It's being called a "super-corridor".
|All we know about the "super-corridor" (hyphenated for some reason) is what is on this plan, published in the Standard|
I remain very pessimistic. At every stage I have been proved right about Boris's lack of real commitment to Going Dutch. In a letter to LCC dated 3 October, he wrote:
Following my commitment during the election campaign, I asked Transport for London to review the London Cycling Campaign’s Love London, Go Dutch to ascertain how the principles it establishes can be incorporated into the design and implementation of cycling schemes in London, taking into account the UK legal framework and regulations, the physical characteristics of London’s streets, and the needs of all road users.Those clauses: "taking into account the physical characteristics of London's streets and the needs of all road users" sound again like a cop-out. It sounds like nothing much will happen, because he has always used this language of "taking into account the needs of all road-users", from Day One of his administration. That language has always meant a reinforcement of the motor-dominated status quo in London, with cyclists being squeezed in grudgingly, with appalling road-user experience and declining safety. The "physical characteristics of London's streets" are, of course, just a red herring. They are much the same as the physical characteristics of the streets in any major world city. And even New York seems to be doing better for bikes now, not to mention the leading cycling cities of the world, like Tokyo, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich and Copenhagen.
Boris's language: "Following my commitment during the election campaign, I asked Transport for London to review..." sounds passive and uncommitted. Boris likes Americanisms. Well this doesn't exactly sound like what the Americans would call "kicking ass". But "kicking ass" is clearly what he needs to do to bring the entrenched, conservative and isolationist TfL culture to the point where it treats cycling seriously. More concretely, Boris approves TfL's budget. The excellent London Assembly Investigation into safer cycling in London published this week notes:
Spending on cycling remains low relative to other modes and other parts of Europe. By allocating less than 1 per cent of its budget to cycling, TfL’s current business plan does not reflect the Mayor’s commitment to have a cycling revolution. The new TfL business plan should signal TfL’s intent to prioritise cycle safety in line with the Mayor’s objective to increase cycling modal share.and recommends that TfL spend 2% of its budget on cycling, £145 million per year. Of course, it's not just about the quantity of money. It's how you spend it. The same report is damningly clear on this:
TfL’s cycling budget has not been spent on the type of cycling facilities used in leading cycling cities that maximise safety for vulnerable road users.Unless this "Cycling Vision" document contains some quite stunning stuff, and TfL's next business plan, due in December, contains a commitment to a significant hike in the funding for cycling, in line with the Assembly recommendation, and we see in the next few months, certainly before May 2013, rapid, manifest progress towards implementing the "vision", I think LCC is going to have to declare that Boris has reneged on his Go Dutch promise: for its own credibility as an organisation. We'll see what political fall-out that has. We've had "visions" from Boris before, and this rhetoric is getting stale. Remember his "vision" of how "on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them"? That was the Superficial Highways, £206 million wasted on blue paint between 2008 and 2013. We've had enough "visions" while the streets of London remain much the same, year after year, or even get worse and more dangerous for cycling. We need a practical plan based on international best practice. In other words, we need to Go Dutch.
Meanwhile, meanwhile.... away from the glare of publicity of the junctions review, the Assembly investigation, the superhighways and super corridors and super whatever nonsense, apparently ignored by the Mayor and TfL, Camden Council, which pioneered Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in London a decade ago, quietly is bringing in plans to improve and extend its network.
As reported on the Camden Cyclists site, Camden Council plans to implement one-way segregated cycle tracks in both directions along the entire length of Royal College Street, Camden Town. This will mean modifying the existing two-way cycle track between Georgiana Street and Crowndale Road on the west side of the road, making it northbound only, and adding a southbound track on the other side.
|Options for the new layout of Royal College Street (more details on Camden Cyclists' site)|
I now believe the proposals will be an improvement, as:
- All cyclists will be on the expected side of the road, making junction conflicts less likely
- Cycle space will be increased from the current total of 3m for both directions to 2m each way under the "light segregation" option, meeting Dutch standards of 2m for flows of up to 150 bikes per hour, which is probably the expected level, and, most importantly,
- The protected route will be significantly lengthened as it will at last go from "somewhere to somewhere" (recalling Jon Snow's words on opening it in 2000 that it went from "somewhere to no-where"), running through the Camden Road junction up to the Kentish Town end of Royal College Street, where the road is two-way. So at last there will be a subjectively safe route all the way from Kentish Town to Euston Road.
|The current two-way Royal College Street cycle track|
The proposals are at an early stage of consultation, and not all details are clear as yet. If you wish to put views on them, you can do so through Camden Cyclists. (Incidentally, I met the engineer of this scheme at the Love London, Go Dutch conference in October, and was impressed). The proposals will need approval from councillors. But it it great that at least in one London borough there does genuinely seem to be a willingness to concretely, permanently reallocate road space from motor vehicles to cyclists, and make it work technically. I guess it helps that TfL seems to have little involvement in this project.
The big issue that Camden needs to address with its cycle tracks, however, is the absurdly congested Bloomsbury Route (Torrington Place, Tavistock Place etc.). This urgently needs to be re-implemented as it was originally designed by Camden Cyclists, at twice the current width, with one direction of motor traffic removed.
|Congestion on the Bloomsbury track during the Olympics, photo by Rob Hayles|
Even better than doubling the width of the track of course would be to remove both directions of motor through-traffic and make the corridor into a "bicycle road", a true Cycle Superhighway. This is what has been done with the Weimarsraat route in the Hague, which was the original inspiration for the Bloomsbury or Seven Stations Link route a decade ago. Weimarstraat had a two-way segregated cycle track then (wider than the Bloomsbury one), but today, in line with the Dutch practice of continual improvement on popular routes, the segregation is gone, and cyclists have the entire road. This has been made possible by the removal of the road from the through-route network for cars; cars can still gain access, as the Streetview image shows.
|Weimarstraat, Den Haag, the inspiration for the Bloomsbury route, now a second generation of cycle route where cyclists can have the whole street because through motor traffic has been eliminated|
I hear from Camden contacts that the Bloomsbury route may well be revisited in the forseeable future. I hope so. Ands I also hope for a Road to Damascus conversion from Westminster Council, to allow the route to be extended at similar quality through its streets all the way to Paddington, which was Camden Cyclists' original plan. We can but hope. We certainly need at least two east-west priority routes for bikes across central London, and this relatively northerly route would still be needed to complement the "super-corridor" along Embankment, even if that turned out to be really good.
It's critical in the coming year that LCC and all cyclists in London intensify the pressure on Boris Johnson to do what he has promised. The Assembly, with its report, has been very helpful – surprisingly so since it was issued by a committee that included all parties, including Conservative Members. Camden Council's work provides a small but useful spur, a demonstration that the quality we need can be achieved, in Boris's words,
Taking into account the UK legal framework and regulations, the physical characteristics of London’s streets, and the needs of all road users.
We need this quality rolled out on a much larger scale, and that will not happen without TfL driving it, and that will not happen without Boris Johnson doing far more.