Monday, 27 February 2012

A view from the cycle path

Unfortunately David Hembrow has deleted from the net his famous blog A view from the cycle path. This breaks many links within this blog, so I apologise for that, but it will probably not be possible to fix them. It would not make much sense to try, as I referenced his writings so often, so good were they, that trying to expunge the references would reduce the sense of past posts.

David's explanation for his action is here. It is, however, extremely hard to see what he expects to achieve with the deletion of a blog which was widely referenced by cycling websites worldwide. Far better would have been to simply end work on it, close it to comments and leave it on line – as was done to another famous cycling blog, Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest, when its author decided to give it up.

All on-line content runs a risk of plagiarism, mis-quoting and malicious distortion. This is a fact of the net with which we have to live. But it is a marginal fact of the net. Most re-use of material on blogs like this is done respectfully, with acknowledgement, and in a constructive spirit. It is particularly sad that A view was deleted just as the ideas in it were gaining a wide acceptance and understanding amongst cyclists, non-cycling opinion-formers, and even some policy-makers in the English-speaking world, as shown in The Times's Cities fit for cycling campaign, and last week's parliamentary debate – of which more anon – and also shown by many smaller snippets all the time, for example, this one from the Southern Daily Echo, where the editor of a provincial newspaper has picked up on A view and treated it as an authoritative source on cycling in the Netherlands – which is was. Few blogs attain this status. It attained this status because it was so well-written, so concise, and presented the issues so clearly and logically, and it was so well-researched and factually accurate.

The good news is that Mark Wagenbuur, who contributed quite a bit of material to A view in recent times, has set up an new blog, Bicycledutch, and reinstated some of his also excellent and enlightening material, originally published on A view, there. Unfortunately, though, Wagenbuur's contribution was only a small one, the vast bulk of the material on A view was David Hembrow's, which is now unavailable unless he decides to re-publish it in some other form.

I would still like to appeal to David publicly, here, for him to reconsider, and reinstate A view from the cycle path as a an open resource, even one that is never updated again.

If he does not, well, I will continue to campaign for Dutch-style, high-quality cycle infrastructure in the UK, as I, and others, did long before A view form the cycle path appeared, and made our job a bit easier. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, in particular, will continue with this work. It was in large part inspired by A view, and I am sure it will continue to grow as a campaign and gain more influence. The current London Cycling Campaign Go Dutch campaign for the mayoral election was also strongly influenced by A view, and though we can all argue until the (Friesian) cows come home about the details of exactly what cycle engineering we are promoting, and I will continue to discuss these details here, and criticise LCC where I think it sensible to do so, the fact is, this campaign is on the right lines, as are other, smaller local campaigns around the country, in a way that such campaigns were not a few years ago. Much of this is down to A view from the cycle path.

So we continue to work away at it.  I think it is not necessary for cycling campaigners, or those for more liveable cities, to constantly set their cause back by falling out amongst one another. It is not necessary for successful campaigns to self-destruct, and it is not necessary for the promoters of more and better cycling in the UK, or anywhere, just as they are winning the battle for public opinion, to seize defeat from the jaws of victory.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Response to "Cities fit for cycling" from Barry Gardiner MP

Our household has received a reply from Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North (Labour), to our letters on The Times's Cities fit for cycling campaign. This is not actually a reply to my letter, but to one from my partner, which she sent after mine, but seems to have got a reply first.

It says:

Thank you for your letter regarding cycling safety in London.
I agree that much needs to be done to make the UK's roads safer for cyclists. With public transport charges increasing and London's pollution problems continuing, cycling is both responsible and economical. The Government should look to support those who wish to cycle at every available opportunity, whether it be improving road layout and signage or educating drivers and cyclists themselves.
It is a real concern to me that the numbers of cyclists being killed or seriously injured is going up. It is not good enough for the Road Safety Minister to dismiss as 'rubbish' the concerns that his government's decisions have made our roads less safe for cyclists. It was reckless of the government to cut road safety budgets and funding for speed cameras while abolishing  Cycling England, allowing longer HGVs on our roads and ending national targets to cut deaths and serious injuries on our roads.
I have recently written to the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, about the issue of cyclist safety and the Times' cycle safer campaign in particular. I will, of course, forward any response as soon as I receive it.
In the meantime, if there are any other matters you wish to bring to my attention, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Yours sincerely,
Barry Gardiner
Member of Parliament for Brent North

I would say this is a good and substantial reply, though one senses that our Barry perceives an opportunity to make political capital from attacking the current government on this, when the situation we are now in is the result of a long-term historic failure by governments of all parties to treat cycling properly. He does seem to have a grasp of the issues, stating things in the correct order, giving "improving the road layout" as the first priority for supporting "those who wish to cycle" (who are not necessarily "cyclists"), before "signage or educating drivers and cyclists themselves" (though I am not sure what signage is supposed to have to do with it). But I note no commitment to signing EDM 2689, which he has still not done (67 MPs have, as of today), and no commitment to attend tomorrow's debate.

If you are in London, don't forget to come to the flashride outside Parliament today: 6:15 Duke of York Steps. A big turnout in the rain will be even more convincing.

Why is cycling party-political in the UK?

The list of MPs who have signed Early Day Motion 2689 supporting The Times's Cities fit for cycling campaign (58 at time of writing), analysed by party, shows clearly the strange, and perhaps unique way, in which cycling is a party-political issue in the UK.

Here is the breakdown of signatories, as a proportion of party numbers in the Commons:

Lib Dem 17/57 = 30%
Labour 31/256 = 12%
Conservative 5/305 = 1.6%
DUP 2/8 = 25%
Plaid Cymru 1/3 = 33%
SNP 1/6 = 16%
SDLP 1/3 = 33%

Of course cycling is political, in general sense: it must be, since deciding what to do to facilitate it involves taking decisions over taxation and resource allocation that advantage or disadvantage different people. That's politics. But with a Labour MP 7.5 times more likely than a Conservative MP to sign this motion, and a Lib Dem 19 times more likely, it is clear that cycling must be a party-political issue in the UK.

This is very sad, as there is no reason that cycling should intrinsically be associated with the political left, and it does not appear to be so, generally, in other countries. In the Netherlands, so far as I can see, it appears to be agreed pretty much uniformly across the political spectrum that cyclists should be made as safe as possible. Why is this not the case here?

It was a surprise that a right-of centre, "establishment" newpaper, The Times, should come out with the highest-profile pro-cycling campaign yet seen in the British media. And yet it should not have been, because there is no obvious association between cycling and the "big state", or with philosophies of social democracy or socialism. There is, indeed, an intuitive converse association, the bicycle being a facilitator of personal independence, industry and individualism, every person on a bike being, in a sense, a single unit of free enterprise. And the rhetoric of Conservative politicians has often recognised this, most famously in Norman Tebbitt's "He [his unemployed father] got on his bike and looked for work", often misquoted as the motto "Get on your bike".

So what has happened here, and can it be changed? The Conservatives, in a sense, do support, must support, the individualism, the personal freedom of the "man on the bike". But they have got more involved, historically, with the freedom of the "man in the car". As the party most associated with the upper classes, as those classes graduated, in the early years of the 20th century, from the fashion of bikes to the fashion of cars, so the Conservatives moved with them, and the bike became more associated with the "working man", who was naturally represented by the Labour party. And yet this was not a simple, nor a uniform story. It was the Labour Government that removed speed limits in 1930, and a visionary conservative  Minister of Transport, Leslie Hore-Belisha, who reintroduced them in 1934, together with the driving test and other road-safety measures, and promoted probably the best cycle facilities the UK ever had.

But, broadly, in the post-war period, the Conservatives came to regard the motor car ever more as a symbol of personal freedom and individual life-success, and while not anti-bike, probably thought of the bike, if at all, as something that had just been left behind in the technological march of history, like the horse-drawn plough. Conservative mentions of cycling came mostly in backward-looking idealisations of Britain, as in John Major's re-quoting of George Orwell's "Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist". When an "ecological left" arose at the radical edge of politics in the 70s and 80s to take up a space previously occupied by a state socialism widely regarded as discredited, it took up the bike and thus, by repulsion, pushed right-wingers further from it. In the new century, the appearance of prominent Conservatives, notably Boris Johnson and David Cameron, who, on the surface at least, seemed to espouse cycling, for a combination of traditional Conservative reasons and a desire to get in on the Green bandwagon, led some rashly to suggest that when these men took power, the roads status-quo would shift. They were sadly disappointed.

The practicalities of the accommodation of personal transport in the public space of our dense, old cities are clear to all. There is a certain amount of space, and to re-prioritise the bike means that space must be gained from somewhere, and the big area from which it can be taken is the space currently used for moving and parked motor vehicles. The extent to which this must reduce the space for cars is generally exaggerated, because space is typically used very inefficiently on our roads at the moment, and there is much wasted space in over-wide traffic lanes that could be reallocated, when combined with the complete redesign of streets from one side to the other, in a way that in fact does not reduce motor vehicle capacity very much. Likewise, there is no need to decimate car parking in redesigning cities to be cycle-friendly. The Dutch have not done this, and their car ownership rates remain high. It is the space at junctions that is at a premium. At junctions, cars generally spread out into multiple lanes to fill the space, and this squeezes cyclists out. It is the space and time at junctions that cyclists need that will always be the biggest source of contention.

But contention for space on the roads there is, and a major factor here is that the political right has convinced itself that motor traffic is inextricably associated with economic growth, and hence prosperity, and hence quality of life. The negative influences of motor traffic on that quality of life may be apparent to them as well, in terms of pollution, ill-health, noise, ugliness and alienation, but these are weighed-up as being less important in the end. These downsides are, in their minds, associated with the complaints of those hair-shirt prophets of doom who have always been, in the past, proven to be wrong, and the best interests of the majority do seem to them to be tied up with continuing to prioritise motor traffic.

There is also the geo-political aspect: British Conservatives are heavily influenced by the American social paradigm, which the policies of Eisenhower, after the Second World War, inextricably linked to personal motorised independence and economic dependence on the roads, though the urban sprawl and despoilage of the countryside that this entailed in a small country like the UK certainly upset a traditional shire Conservative faction. On the other hand, as the main examples of advanced industrialised countries that have re-habilitated the bike are on the continent of Europe, in countries that have espoused more left-leaning social market systems than the UK, and in some, though not all, cases, are closely associated with the European integration project, this also makes Conservatives mistrustful of the idea of the state siding more with the cyclist.

Can things change? The statistics on EDM 2689 suggest they are not changing very much. One change has been apparent for a number of years, which has been the increasing number of middle-class commuting cyclists in London, associated mostly with the financial, legal and media industries. This, indirectly, has given rise to The Times's campaign, as one of them, their journalist Mary Bowers, was nearly killed by a lorry. Danny, the Cyclists in the City blogger, is always pointing out how big cycling has become now amongst employees and bosses of the City's financial institutions, and how this is clearly having an effect, at least on the local roads policies of that staunchly conservative (with a small c) body, the Corporation of London.

But Cameron, strikingly, never took the cycling thing forward after he became PM, indeed he seemed to have ditched it much earlier, and he put the primitively pro-car and pro-big-lorry Philip Hammond in charge of transport, replacing him, for extraneous reasons, with the possibly marginally more enlightened Justine Greening late last year. And Greening still has to work with a Road Safety Minister, Mike Penning, who hasn't the slightest clue about either cycling or road safety.

The cycling portfolio is held by Lib Dem Under-Secretary of State Norman Baker, whose achievements cannot be said to have been conspicuous. Yes, he has made it easier for local authorities to change by-laws forbidding cycling in parks, and there has been a change of policy on the (entirely common-sense) idea of allowing cyclists to contraflow on one way streets where signs are put up to allow this. But this government's sustainable transport initiatives have failed to target cycling, mixing it up, in the funding competition, with bus and tram schemes. Because facilitating cycling always involves taking difficult political decisions, if you don't give it its own pot of cash, but make it compete with other so-called "sustainable" modes, it will always loose. Boris Johnson did exactly the same in London, abolishing specific cycling funding to the boroughs, replacing the category with obtuse "corridors" and "neighbourhoods" labels for pots of money that allowed councils to back away entirely from the difficult choices around cycling, going for spending the money instead on general street-prettifying schemes, labelled "public realm improvements", that have no effect on modal split. And Boris Johnson's personal association with cycling comes across as rather more a manifestation of a traditional English eccentric type than as part of any real political shift of the right towards cycling.

And yet cycling should not be "of the left". Cycling is free enterprise. It needs facilitating by infrastructure the state must provide, it is true, it always has needed this, it is dependent on proper roads or cycle paths, but motor transport is similarly dependent, and, of course, far more cash-hungry. Facilitated, cycling becomes a prominent component of transport in economically successful and advanced societies, as wealthy cities across the world, from Geneva to Copenhagen to Tokyo, testify. The associations between cycling, freedom, efficiency and free enterprise can never be entirely submerged by the Anglophone right's concept of "roads for cars". The right is opposed to a "nanny state": but creating the conditions where children could again realise the transport independence through cycling they once had in the UK would be a massive de-nannying liberation for our kids, and their parents. Then there are the purely economic arguments, that building cycle infrastructure is cheaper than not building it. And of course, Conservatives are supposed to want a strong, independent state. The state is less independent if it dependent on imported oil.

The best way into the cycling agenda from a Conservative perspective would seem to be an emphasis on allowing people more transport choice. The status-quo makes people feel they have no choice but to use their cars for many inappropriate journeys. Allowing people more choice over all aspects of their lives is supposed to be a Conservative principle. Choice is not a simple matter, however. The investment choices that the state makes affects the choices people can make on a daily basis. The state has no choice whether to invest in transport, it has to. But it has a choice in how it divvies up the cash. At the simplest level, that's all The Times campaign is pointing out.

It is easy to argue for investment in cycling from a Conservative perspective, indeed, The Times is doing just that, but the list of signatories to EDM 2689 show that few of our current crop of Conservative politicians have grasped this point, preferring to remain, if one notes capitalisation, more conservative than Conservative. A political opportunity if ever there was one?

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

And the next cycle protest...

The next protest, for your diaries, should be a major one. This Wednesday, 22 February, a "flashride" will take place in Westminster, to hopefully increase awareness amongst our MPs, the evening before their debate on The Times's Cities fit for cycling manifesto, of the strength of feeling on the subject of cycle safety. We hope to show MPs how many people are highly dissatisfied with the past performance of parliament and successive governments on the issue.

Meet at the bottom of Duke of York Steps (between Waterloo Place and The Mall) at 6:15pm for a 6:30pm departure. The ride will go via Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Parliament square, Lambeth Bridge, Westminster Bridge and Birdcage Walk before returning to Duke of York Steps. It is being supported and promoted by London Cycling Campaign, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, and all the major London bike blogs. It will be an orderly ride and protest, with the collaboration of the police, and will be safe, non-confrontational, and fully-marshalled. The media should be there. Do try and come. The more people we have, the bigger the impact. Particularly if you don't cycle regularly, if you would like to cycle in London but are too worried by the conditions, come and add your presence. We want people of all types, ages, and walks of life, to send a message to our MPs that we want cycling to be normal. And if it is to be made normal, it has to be made safe.

Come, preferably, in ordinary clothes. Don't let non-cycling MPs get the impression it just them again: a separate breed, other people, in funny clothes and plastic hats. I reckon cycling protest will make more impact the more ordinary the cyclists look. But that's just my idea. Come however you like; just come. Help keep up the momentum generated by The Times campaign. Even if you think they haven't got their campaign exactly right (few cyclists would agree they have, though probably few of those same cyclists would be able to agree on what an "exactly right" campaign would be), support the protest (and write to your MP as well if you have not already done so) as the best chance for many years of getting some change for the better for UK cycling. The symbolic media and photogenic impact of a Parliament Square filled with cyclists should not be underestimated.

As others have pointed out, the last time MPs debated cycling properly was 1996, when there was supposed to have been established a National Cycling Strategy which would get 10% of journeys by bike by 2012 – this year. The strategy totally failed, of course, as cycling is currently at about 1% modal share nationwide – slightly lower than it was in 1996. The reasons for that failure have been extensively analysed on this blog before. We may see failure again, of course, but somehow things look more promising to me this time round. There is a much wider understanding now of exactly what the problem is (it's subjective safety), and what the solutions are: thanks to better availability of information, better campaigning, by the organisations mentioned above, and just experience. And there is greater imperative from the high cost of fuel, the high human and economic cost of casualties, and the costs of an obesity epidemic. There also seem to be more influential people cycling than there were in 1996, though this is largely an inner-London phenomenon.

Meanwhile, it is reported that
David Cameron will hear radical ideas for making Britain’s cities safer for cyclists at a Downing Street conference tomorrow.
Architects, planners and designers from around the world will suggest ways to improve overall city design.
Sounds good. But the report continues:
The urban design conference will serve to underline the appreciation inside Downing Street for Scandinavian policymaking in general and Danish popular culture in particular.
Speakers include Bjarke Ingels, a Danish architect whose innovative designs include the “8 House” development in the Danish capital, built in a figure eight, with a cycle path and pedestrian walkway that winds up to the 10th floor.
Carlo Ratti, an Italian architect and engineer and senior Fulbright scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will talk about the “Copenhagen wheel”. The device, fitted to the back wheel of a bicycle, stores electricity when the cyclist brakes and releases it to help to climb hills. Connected to a smartphone, it can also tell the rider about traffic and pollution.
Oh dear. A lot of geewhizzery. OK, there may be some value in these ideas, but they remind me of a phrase (to change subjects totally) near the beginning of Gordon Jacob's classic textbook for composers Orchestral Technique: "We are more concerned here with what might be called the roast beef of scoring rather than the confectionary". Unfortunately it sounds like this urban design conference will be about the "confectionary" of its subject rather than its "roast beef". It sounds like it may not be sufficiently concerned with the basic, mundane, established urban design principals that have allowed cities across Europe, led by those in the Netherlands, to open up a huge gap with those in Britain over the last 40 years in terms of their cycle and pedestrian-friendliness.

What the conference should be about is the kind of straightforward stuff that As Easy As Riding A Bike covers today, in an excellent explanation of how the Dutch signalise segregated cycle tracks at junctions to completely separate cycle and motor traffic flows. They've been doing this for decades, but almost nobody in the UK seems to understand it. Even "the UK's National Cyclists' Organisation", to judge from this page on their site, is thoroughly clueless in this area. I don't think we particularly need the futurism of some fashionable Danish architects if we are to get Cities fit for cycling, we need the boring, basic Dutch past first.

Dutch "simultaneous green" junction for bikes and pedestrians, Assen

Monday, 20 February 2012

Today's Bikes Alive protest

I merely quote their press release, putting in links:
Bikes Alive, the recently-formed network of cyclists who are taking non-violent direct action to defend themselves against traffic violence, returns to the lethal road junction outside Kings Cross station at 6.30pm on Monday evening, 20 February ... as Transport for London (TfL) starts work to change the junction for the worse. Cyclists and pedestrians will enforce another one-hour go-slow at the junction outside Kings Cross station.
Work to re-align some kerb lines and remove a traffic island will increase the flow of motor vehicles through a key part of the junction, introducing new dangers for cyclists. (For more detailed information on this, see the discussions on these two web pages.)
Bikes Alive - which works with other vulnerable, non-motorised road users - is pledged to continue to take action until the balance of power on London's roads is changed. Current policies of Transport for London (TfL) prioritise the speed and volume of motor traffic over all else, even though many of the cars on London's roads are there for no reason other than the selfishness of the driver.
Councillors from both boroughs which cover Kings Cross (Camden and Islington), and well as local cycling campaigns and community groups, have been calling for safety improvements at Kings Cross for years. The London Assembly has repeatedly called on mayor Boris Johnson - who is in charge of TfL - to act. But all to no avail. Hence the need for cyclists to take direct action to defend ourselves.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Letter to my MP

There is still just about time for you to write to your MP to encourage them to support The Times's Cities Safe for Cycling campaign by asking them to sign Early Day Motion 2689 and attend the debate on 23 February. MPs do tend to take notice if they receive more than a few letters from different constituents on the same topic, particularly if they are individually-composed. The easiest way to write to your MP is to use this form.

Here is my letter to Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North, making some points specific to his constituency. I'll tell you if I receive a response.

Dear Barry Gardiner,
I would like to strongly encourage you to sign EDM 2689 supporting The Times's "Cities fit for cycling" campaign. I would also be very grateful if would would be able to find the time to attend the debate on cycle safety in Westminster Hall scheduled for 23 February.

I feel this is an incredibly important subject for the people and economy of Brent. Cycling could and should be an obvious method of making short journeys in Brent for a wide spectrum of people. It is cheap, efficient, and non-polluting. More cycling would reduce congestion, noise, pollution, and pressure on public transport, and help local shops and local economies, as well as improving public health, through giving people an easy way to exercise, and increasing the independence of children, and others who cannot drive.

Yet cycling in North Brent is seriously held back by the state of our road network and a general lack of safe cycle infrastructure. To most people, cycling feels far too dangerous for them to contemplate in North Brent. Our major through-roads are hostile to cycling, with virtually no cycle lanes, or very badly-designed ones. They pass through unavoidable junctions (such as the particularly bad examples at Staples corner, on the A5, and Neasden, on the A4140), designed purely for speed and throughput of motor traffic, that present a level of danger that puts off all but the most determined cyclists. Where alternative routes for cyclists have been provided, as at Neasden town centre (the shared cycling-pedestrian underpass), they are poor adaptations of unsuitable existing 1960s-70s infrastructure that give cyclists inefficient (and still dangerous) journeys, and introduce unnecessary conflict with pedestrians.

Brent Council is aware of many of these problems, but, like other local authorities, simply does not have the funds, nor the necessary guidance from central government, to make the scale of changes that would be required to make our roads attractive for cycling. This is why the parliamentary debate on The Times “Cities safe for cycling” manifesto is so important. That manifesto calls for a serious level of funding for cycling infrastructure (2% of the Highways Agency budget), redesign of dangerous junctions, and other necessary measures to make urban areas like Brent into attractive cycling environments for all types of people.

People in North Brent want to cycle, I am certain, but most do not feel they have that choice, because of the perceived and actual danger of our roads. I am not very old, yet I can recall a time when British children commonly cycled to school. Only 0.5% of journeys to Brent schools are now made by bicycle, a shocking statistic. I would like to see government policies that start to turn this situation around, so I would like you to support The Times campaign.
Yours sincerely,
Dr David Arditti

Neasden crossing of the North Circular Road: poor adaptation of unsuitable existing 1960s-70s infrastructure that gives cyclists inefficient (and still dangerous) journeys, and introduces unnecessary conflict with pedestrians. But this is all cyclists get in Brent

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Inverted snobbery, "dangerising", and change at the CTC

The Times Cities fit for Cycling Campaign grows more impressive. You can still read all the stories relating to the campaign, without paying, via this link. I think it is absolutely admirable that The Times has removed their paywall for so much material, to conduct this campaign, and I hope they get some more subscriptions out of it. And do pledge your support, if you have not already done so.

There was some disapproval by cycling campaigners on Sunday of a graphic about "dressing to be seen" in specialised cycling clothes in bright colours. I think it is easy to get too worked up about this kind of thing. There have always been specialised cycling clothes, more or less since the invention of the bike. Making cycling practical in ordinary clothes is a great idea, and must be an objective, part of the Dutch-style mass culture of everyday cycling to be worked towards, and the article accompanying the graphic does make this point, but there is a danger of an "inverted snobbery" which says that you can't be part of a transport cycling revolution and still wear lycra. This would be silly. We have to face the fact that, as the UK environment is configured, many commuting cycling distances are going to be quite long, and some rides a bit hilly, and dressing for a 10 mile ride in such a way that you do not get overheated, and remain comfortable and unencumbered, is quite sensible, and there is nothing wrong with The Times featuring and advertising this garb.

The focus of The Times campaign remains bang-on, in my view, firmly on the subjects of lower speeds, safer road infrastructure, and how it should be paid for. Though some of the infrastructure they have suggested is on the whacky side, with futuristic cycle highways in tubes, how about their interactive graphic of suggested infrastructure at a roundabout? Here is thinking far ahead of that of Transport for London or other UK highway authorities, demonstrating continuity of networks, segregation on busy roads, cycle paths away from roads, and a cycle flyover – most of what you could want to "Go Dutch", in fact. The same graphic also shows the hazards resulting from the typical unsafe arrangement we have at the moment. Brilliant!

And they do keep banging on about the need for a dedicated fund to pay for cycling infrastructure. They have hit the nail totally on the head here, in my view.
Last year, funding for infrastructure in 12 Cycling City and Towns members was also stopped. Withdrawal of the £43 million came before final analysis could be made on whether the scheme was encouraging more cycling.
Critics argue that there is no central fund to build cycle schemes. Local authorities have access to a £560 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund until 2015, but early schemes appear to have prioritised improvements to bus and railway stations, smart-card ticketing and park-and-ride schemes, as much as cycling.
Mike Penning, the Roads Minister, said that 38 of 39 successful bids to the fund contain a cycling element. He was wary of calls for a new funding mechanism harnessing the Highways Agency budget. “Most cycling will be on local government roads so you are taking the budget out of national infrastructure into local government roads,” he said. “But like anything, if anybody has ideas they can be looked at.”
Penning isn't getting it yet. Until recently he seemed to think that cyclists were not allowed on the national roads infrastructure (trunk roads) at all. He is still not understanding the problem that there are not direct, efficient, and safe cycling alternatives, in general, to the big roads, and that this is a problem with the national infrastructure, which is his responsibility.

So The Times is plugging away at the real, core issues, and they have even got the AA to support almost blanket 20 mph in towns. Nobody seems to want to argue with this campaign! Nobody half sensible, anyway.

There has been the usual complaint from a few old-style cycling campaigners about The Times "dangerising" cycling. This is idiotic. The Times campaign is overwhelmingly a force for achieving the changes cyclists want. The Times did not dangerise cycling, just as I did not dangerise cycling when I wrote my piece Cycling is dangerous. The policies of successive governments dangerised cycling. A lot of people involved with cycling on a day to day basis seem to loose a basic grip on this danger issue, and I can see why. If you spend an hour or more a day in the saddle, on the streets of a major British city, and you (hopefully) do not come to any harm, you may easily start to believe that cycling in this environment is not dangerous.

This is an illusion borne of use, and there are a few ways to get back to reality. One is to spend some time cycling in an environment which is much safer. The best option is to go an a study tour with David Hembrow. If you do not have the time or money to do this, you can look at at some videos on YouTube. One of the best is this one from David's Hembrow's collaborator, Mark Wagenbuur: What defines Dutch cycling?

The point here is absolutely clear. This is a video of people doing daft things on bikes: things that they could only do in a really safe environment. You don't see British cyclists going along with umbrellas open, or cycling with dogs in tow, or people leaping on and off the back of their friend's bike, or people having conversations while riding side by side on city streets. Not often anyway. As Mark says, these are habits that only become normal in an environment which is really safe, where the constant anxiety arising from the need to share the road space with potentially lethal motor traffic is gone. Seeing how far were, generally, in the UK from the environment that allows these habits, gives you the measuring stick for how much underlying danger we are really coping with, despite the truth that UK cyclists are not being killed left, right, and centre.

The CTC, largest cycling organisation in the UK, have traditionally been prone to the "Don't dangerise cycling" tack, disliking ghost bikes and anything else of a publicity or campaigning nature that they feel might frighten people (as if they haven't noticed that what really frightens people is being passed with inches to spare by huge lorries). Blogger Cycalogical recently labelled this practice danger denial.

This brings me on to the fact that CTC have a new Chief Executive. This is a big change in the UK cycling world, as the last Chief Executive, Kevin Mayne, was in post for 14 years. Kevin Mayne was without doubt a hard worker for the interests of UK cycling, as he saw them, and without doubt a significant influence on the policies of CTC over a long period. In 2003 he told me that he didn't think that segregated cycle tracks on roads were a good idea. His argument was that you could never have them everywhere, and, because of that, if you introduced them anywhere, you would put cyclists elsewhere, on the normal roads, more at risk. He thought that creating tracks would attract cyclists to them (which I agree with), and that this would lessen the density of cyclists on other roads, which would make those roads more dangerous for the cyclists who chose not to use the tracks, in part, because they would get more harried and disrespected by motorists who thought they should not be on the roads.

Like many of the CTC's policy positions down the decades, unfortunately, this was just an argument for "no change". If you can never start to build a segregated cycle network, for fear of those consequences, then you are just stuck with the road network as we have it, possibly with the addition of a few bits of different-coloured paint, Boris-style. You remain in the situation of having only a tiny minority of people cycling, and with cycling in a politically very weak position. The very persecution of cyclists on the roads of the UK that Mayne worried about happened already, as things were, because of that political weakness. Inaction on the infrastructure issue was a prescription to keep that weakness permanent. Andreas Rohl, the bike chief of Copenhagen, drums the point home, in perhaps the most important words in all The Times's coverage:
From A to B there has to be quality before you can expect people to get on a bike. If you want to make cycling mainstream you have to separate bikes from cars and buses. It’s essential.
Ironically, Kevin is going on to a job with the European Cyclists' Federation, based in Brussels. I wonder if daily experience of that city, which does have a developing segregated cycle network, will cause him to modify his opinions. Anyway, I wish him well there. I wonder if the new CTC Chief Executive, Gordon Seabright, will be able to take advantage of the fair wind of The Times campaign to re-position his organisation as a more positive participant in debate about good cycling infrastructure and how to achieve it. My feeling is that if he did, a great many of his membership would back him.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Some more comments on The Times manifesto

In an earlier post post I welcomed The Times's campaign for Cities fit for Cycling. I also gave their 8-point manifesto, which I believe strongly is worth supporting. Here it is again:
  1. Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.
  2. The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.
  3. A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.
  4. Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.
  5. The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.
  6. 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.
  7. Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.
  8. Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.
I am sure (in fact I know) the journalists considered and consulted upon this manifesto for some time, realising that specifying precise measures to be called for to make cycling safer is a controversial area. My list would not be precisely the same as theirs, of course, but I think they have got a lot right here. Here are my points of difference.

I would not have ordered the list this way. They don't seem to have the most important things first. They have put first the measures that occur most obviously in connection with the lorry danger problem, and this is understandable, bearing in mind that the spur for this campaign was the crash with a lorry that left their colleague Mary Bowers fighting for life (and still in a coma). But the important demands are 4 and 6, referring to the creation of quality cycling infrastructure, and 20 mph on all roads where cyclists are not segregated from motor traffic. These are the really big demands.

No. 4 shows that they have understood that the critical difference between UK roads and those in the Netherlands and Denmark is that money has been spent there on properly safe cycling infrastructure. The demand for 2% of the highways budget is on the low side (but this is a right-wing newspaper which is loathe to advocate big state spending). This would raise around £100 million a year, £2 for every person in the UK, which is less than a tenth of what the Netherlands spends on cycling infrastructure. However, they do also suggest that this money should be augmented from the private sector, in their point no. 7.

No. 6 is hugely ambitious, as it is not politically likely that highway authorities will agree to many main roads being made 20 mph. This implies that all such roads would get cycle lanes – and they mean "segregated cycle lanes" – they do say this explicitly on one page, but not in the listing of the 8 points. Because this point is so important, but not clear in the list, I have screen-grabbed it to show its presence on this page, in case it disappears:

This of course is in perfect agreement with the policies of the London Cycling Campaign, who are calling for "clear space for cyclists on London's main roads", and those of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, which believes in the "principles of separation and sustainable safety". But I've never heard the UK's largest cyclists' organisation, CTC, calling for anything like this. It's time they caught up, in my view.

To have mentioned "cycle lanes" or "segregated cycle lanes" first in the list in the sixth point down, and then as a negative, is infelicitous. They should have laid out what they were talking about at first, by making an early, or the first, demand for "Segregated cycle lanes on all roads with speeds over 20 mph, and all busy 20 mph roads as well". The second part of the prescription is necessary because, even on road with slow speeds, traffic above a certain level makes them hostile to cyclists, or blocks cyclists' progress because of congestion, particularly near junctions, forcing or encouraging cyclists into less safe road positions or manoeuvres.

To expand on this: I do quite a lot of cycling on 20 mph roads, in a 20 mph zone that the Borough of Brent, to their credit, have introduced round some schools. But few others do the same, and virtually no school children, because merely being a 20 mph zone does not make it feel very safe. This is essentially because the rat-runs on these residential streets are still in place, and in the narrow, parked-up spaces, substantial volumes of 20 pmh traffic (assuming they obey the speed limit) trying to overtake and negotiate around cyclists, and blocking junctions up, will be enough to prevent most people attempting to cycling on these roads. In the Netherlands and Denmark, they either separate cyclists from motor vehicles, or they remove most of the motor vehicles from the street. Low speeds are not enough.

This is demonstrated in the Danish separation criteria diagram, showing speed against vehicles per day. We see that at 19 mph they recommend cycle lanes at flows over 5,000 per day (3 per minute) and cycle tracks (segregated lanes) at flows over 10,000 per day (6 per minute). Note that these flows are rather low compared with the sort of motor volumes cyclists are used to mixing with in UK cities, even in residential areas.

This concept of separation criteria is not alien to the UK. There is a similar diagram in the London Cycle Design Standards (Chapter 4) published by TfL in 2005.

There are two problems with this TfL version, unfortunately. The first is that it sets the transitions to protected infrastructure at much higher speeds and volumes than the Danish diagram. At 20 mph it only recommends cycle lanes, not tracks, definitely, above 10,000 vehicles per day, the volume at which the Danes are certain tracks must be used. For segregated tracks at 10,000 vehicles per day, the TfL criterion is that the 85 percentile speed should be above about 38 mph. The second, more important problem, is that TfL have never attempted to apply even their weaker separation criteria on any of their roads. OK, the road network in London is big, and I don't expect them to be able to bring it up to these standards overnight. But it is seven years since they published this diagram, and I would have expected them to have started, by now, to apply the principles enshrined in it, to at least the most dangerous roads. They have not. Something to do with Boris Johnson perhaps?

It is clearly the case that on most 20 mph roads, which will be residential, there is not going to be enough width for segregated cycle tracks. There is not in the Netherlands either. The Dutch approach is to remove the through-traffic from those roads, by making them non-through roads for motors, so that only access traffic is present, moving the road to near the bottom of the separation diagram: a "shared quiet road".

I've strayed away from my topic, which is The Times manifesto, into a tangential explanation. To go back: they start their list with the familiar litany of lorry safety measures, sensors, mirrors, and the rest. Some of these, or all of them, could do some good, but they are not the real solution to the lorry danger problem. There is the danger of overloading lorry drivers with too much information, too many mirrors that they have to check. Audible sensors do seem a very good idea. But basically we do need lorries to be able to get around and make deliveries, often on the same roads that cyclists need to use. The real answer is to separate cyclists and lorries (and other large vehicles: the latest London fatality was due to a coach) in space and time through junction design – something the Dutch have been working on for a long time. Unsurprisingly, the Dutch road safety institute, SWOV, agrees with me on this:
In SWOV’s opinion, the ultimate solution for the blind spot problem is a structural separation of trucks and cyclists. How this must be organised and what the economic consequences will be, requires further study. For the time being, the solution can be found in separating cyclists and trucks at intersection, both in time and position. Furthermore, it is important to make both the truck driver and the cyclist more aware of the hazards. For drivers this means that it should be an automatism to carry out an “after check” to see if the road is clear when they pull up. This is a task for the driver training. The front view system is important here and SWOV recommends to make this also compulsory for trucks manufactured before 2007. Although several warning systems are being developed to warn drivers that cyclists are  present, it is not yet clear whether these systems will be sufficiently reliable.
The traffic mirror, also known as black spot mirror {or Trixi mirror], is mounted on the pole carrying the traffic lights to provide truck drivers with a better view of cyclists at the right-hand [UK: left] side and front of their vehicle. This mirror has been found to barely influence truck driver behaviour and is only effective while the truck is stopped in front of the mirror. Therefore, the mirror is not effective at the location where the driver has to carry out the after check.
So The Times's Point 2 is rather more relevant than their Point 1: redesign of junctions and changes to signals are more important for solving the lorry problem than the provision of mirrors and sensors.

In point 4, the grading of local authorities on their cycling provision is an excellent idea. But this has been done before. Kind of. Cycling England did it some years ago. I do not have an exact reference to this episode because it was shrouded in some secrecy. Cycling England decided  not to publish a national league-table of the results, because they did not want to embarrass the bad councils! Their idea was that the gradings would be used internally by local authorities to improve their performance. They were for "information only". Fine. Except not, because this approach missed the fact that the worst councils were positively opposed to cycling, and did not want to do anything to encourage it. So those councils (and it is rumoured that the Bikeless Borough of Barnet was at the bottom of the table) did not care less how Cycling England graded them. And the fact that the grades were secret meant that campaigners could not use them to name and shame their local authorities. So the grading exercise was useless, undermined by Cycling England's timidity. (Not that this timidity did it any good in the longer term, as it was abolished by the coalition government in 2010.) So, yes, Times, grade councils on their cycling performance, but make it public, and have sticks ready to punish the bad boys.

I suppose my biggest difficulties with The Times's list come in their Point 6: "training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test". This is all very well to say, but exactly what training are we talking about?

To treat the driving test first, it seems to me a far-fetched idea that any major improvement in cyclist safety is going to come about through changing that. The driving test teaches drivers to do all sorts of things, like stick to speed limits, and stop at amber lights (if safe to do so), and give way to pedestrians crossing a minor road into which they are turning, that they all go out and immediately stop doing the moment they have passed the test. I don't see how concentrating more on cycle safety in the test will be any more effective. What could be effective is more (or even some) police enforcement of the Highway Code, but The Times manifesto doesn't go down this road. My experience of Dutch drivers is that they are not really that much better behaved towards cyclists on the roads than their UK counterparts. The much higher profile and uptake of cycling in the Netherlands hasn't reformed the basic instincts of people behind a wheel. It is the Dutch infrastructure that makes cyclists there so much safer.

The issue of cyclists' training is even more problematic, because as soon as you talk about that, Road Safety Minister Mike Penning's cherubic face will light up and tell you that the Government is paying for lots of cycle training, so that's all right then, isn't it? Training for cyclists is what government wants to pay for when it doesn't wish to challenge the basic hierarchy on the roads, with cyclists at the bottom of the pile: it becomes the responsibility of the "better-trained" cyclists to sort the situation out for themselves, to deal with the unacceptable risks single-handed. It put all the responsibility on the weakest road-users.

Moreover, the cycle training that we use in this country, Bikeablity, concentrates on the development of an assertive riding style designed to minimise risks to the cyclist in a car-dominated cycling environment, that is quite irrelevant to cycling as it is practised in the bike-dominated cycling environments of the Netherlands and Denmark. It cannot be part of the long term solution to cycling, as the majority of the population will never have any interest in riding assertively (which really implies "fast" as well), in the way that Bikeablity seeks to teach them. The other problem with Bikeability is that it can be regarded by its proponents (such as some of those working in the largely state-funded industry that delivers it) as the correct way to cycle, rather than as what it is, a stop-gap mitigating measure for an incorrectly designed environment. In this sense, Bikeability-style, Government-approved, training and bad cycling conditions become a self-perpetuating, symbiotic ecosystem. This ecosystem is one that needs to be broken out from if we are ever to achieve mass cycling on the European model.

We do need cycle training. Every child in the Netherlands gets cycle training (and a practical test at the end of it). But their training is more about cycling in the allowed places, and obeying all the rules of the road, than it is about assertiveness. Dutch cyclists do not need to assert themselves in front of streams of hostile traffic. The cycle training that we have in the UK at the moment is problematic in the same way that cycle helmets are: both provide safety benefits sometimes for some people, but both are really symptoms of the problems with the environment that neeed addressing for us to move on from these temporary "solutions", and achieve the mass cycling culture where they will be redundant. My cycling manifesto would not call for more cycle training, but I can see why many other people's would.

The Times's final manifesto item, cycling commissioners for every city, "even those without an elected Mayor", is again sensible. I don't quite follow the "even those without an elected mayor" bit, as it implies that cities without elected mayors have less need of cycling commissioners than those with. I suppose if all elected mayors were as regressive as Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, this would be the case. These commissioners would have to have far more power, and be far higher up in the council hierarchy, than the current generation of council cycling officers, who are, of course, well-intentioned, but lack authority, budgets, and political support.

Localism is all very well, but the UK is a totally centralised state, in terms of how public money is collected and distributed, and the manner in which the spending priorities for that money are decided upon. Local authorities have little freedom to differ from what Whitehall expects. So any cycling revolution in the UK as a whole is going to have to start in Whitehall, with the ministers and civil servants there. Local authorities need the powers and the cash and the incentives to change their city streets for the better, but Parliament also needs to change many laws (for cyclists are not even properly recognised as a category of road-user under English law, being still treated as "carriages" under the Highways Act 1835), and the Department for Transport needs gain a whole new mindset, if The Times campaign is going to lead to real change anywhere in England (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have more freedom).

One example of what needs to change concerns the land needed for inter-city cycle routes. So far, where these have been constructed, they have been on old railway courses, the most famous example being the Bristol to Bath cycleway. We have more or less run out of these disused railways. If we are to go further, county councils will need to be able to compulsorily purchase wide strips of land at the side of existing main roads to build well-separated cycle tracks. This is what happens in the Netherlands, routinely, and has been happening for decades, which is how they have acquired their splendid inter-urban cycle route network. It is not controversial there, it's a thing that needs to be done. But I have never heard of a local authority compulsory purchase of land on which to build a cycle track or path in the UK. This has to change.

Even in the centres of cities, the continuity of cycle routes is often frustrated by problems of land ownership. A prime example is the south bank of the Thames in central London, where, despite years of effort by many parties, a decent, continuous route along the river embankment still has not been bought about, because of the swathes of private land it needs to cut through. This would be a difficult area for The Times, traditionally a supporting organ of the land-owning classes, to broach. But it needs to be tackled somehow.

I have used The Times's campaign as a peg here on which to hand my own discussion of a number of issues they raise. But, make no mistake, basically I think theirs is a splendid campaign that has got the approach very largely right, and  I urge everybody to support it by signing up. They have researched the subject, and not come up with the easy, obvious, but wrong demands. It would have been easy for them to come up with a campaign based around pushing helmets for cyclists, and bright clothing, and fines for cycling through red lights, and number plates for cyclists, and licenses for them, and all the usual rubbish. Mike Penning still believes all that old rubbish. But, hopefully, less people will do so now as a result of The Times campaign. They have correctly identified the design of the roads infrastructure as the critical issue for cyclist safety. Cities fit for Cycling, not Cyclists fit for Cities. It has taken a long, long time for this realisation to become mainstream in the UK. A watershed has been passed.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Livingstone on cycling

Cyclists in London wondering how to vote in the mayoral election this year will have been waiting for Ken Livingstone to make some clear statement of his policies with regard to cycling. As the Londoners on Bikes website put it, transport is the one thing the Mayor of London really controls. One of the few things that is really in the power of the Mayor to deliver is better conditions for cyclists, particularly on the main roads directly controlled by Transport for London, of which the Mayor is Chair.

The closest Ken has come so far to a comprehensive statement of his policies on cycling appeared in the Guardian last Monday. So this preceded the new political momentum for safer cycling generated by The Times Cities fit for Cycling campaign, a fact which should be borne in mind. I cut-and-paste here the whole text, by reporter Andrew Sparrow, relating to cycling:

Cycling in London

Q: We got a lot of questions about cycling. This [from babybat] is typical: "I'd like to know how you plan to make cycling safer - specifically, will you be investing in proper Dutch-style segregated bike lanes as proposed by the London Cycling Campaign?

A: We had a plan which we were about two-thirds of the way through, the London Cycling Strategy, which was putting in, in some places, separation. In some places you can put in separation. Most of our roads are wide enough to do that. And we got a long way with all the boroughs that were sympathetic towards this. Johnson scrapped that and went for this "paint a bit of blue down the road" [the cycle superhighways].

Q: Would you keep the blue down the road?

A: At the moment it is most probably more dangerous than safe, because people come into the blue lane and they assume there's some sort of safety. The regulations on it vary from here to there. Suddenly it stops and starts on the other side of the road. Two cyclists who were killed at the Bow roundabout junction – there's a classic example of what's wrong. Transport for London spent ages negotiating with local cycling groups to put in cycling safety measures. Those went up to the mayor's office. TfL specifically said this will not be safe for cyclists without these measures. The reply was: "The mayor's priority is traffic flow." Now they are in a great panic because of the police investigation.There could be a charge of corporate manslaughter. That's the worst example.

Q: Someone [benbro] raised this on the blog. He wants to know if you think there's a strong case for a corporate manslaughter charge.

A: I think there is. It's more obvious with the captain of the Italian cruise ship, but here Transport for London officials told the mayor's office cyclists would be at risk if they didn't put these measures in. They were turned down in order to prioritise – when Johnson says traffic flow, he means more speed for cars.

What we'll do, we'll get Jenny Jones, who was my cycling adviser and Green assembly member and she's a candidate for mayor, she'll be on this. She'll be in charge of driving forward the cycling agenda. The TfL board is going to be chaired by deputy mayor, Val Shawcross. And we will prioritise putting in the safety measures that Johnson has put out.

Q: Would you keep the "Boris bikes"?

A: When I started this in July 2007, my instruction to TfL was simply go to Paris, take the Vélib' scheme and bring it to London. For some reason, they did not take the Vélib' scheme and they've gone for this much more expensive one that Boris has brought in. I would like to see the bike scheme London-wide. But the cost per bike and docking frame is £12,000. So any major extension starts running into hundreds of millions of pounds. You've got to get it cheaper. The manufacturer may back off and cut the price if they're told if they don't do this, we will bring in another operator to do it.

Here are my comments:

It's nice to know they got a lot of questions about cycling. Cyclists are a small minority, but, by and large, an intelligent, vocal and politicised one. Well done, cyclists, on the lobbying. Also it's good to see that LCC's Go Dutch campaign is having an impact on the debate, even before it is officially launched.

It seems that Livingstone, despite not being a cyclist, has done his homework, and knows what cyclists (and the press, and GLA) have been talking about, with regard particularly to unsafe junctions.

Now I will criticise Ken's attempt to rewrite the cycling history of his last administration. I don't particularly remember this "London Cycling Strategy" of which he speaks, and I was closely involved with cycling when Ken was mayor. What I do remember is the network scheme that was ongoing at that time, the "London Cycle Network Plus". This made very little progress, having little political backing, and being mainly on borough roads where the Mayor had no direct control. It embodied a confused strategy, with some of the routes being convoluted, up-and-down backstreet affairs inherited from the original LCN (such as the slalom-like route just east of Finchley Road in Hampstead) that no commuter would use, and other routes being entirely theoretical ones on main roads with dangerous junctions, like the A5, which TfL was unable to get cycle-hostile councils like Barnet to do anything about.

Money was spent on signposting the incredibly convoluted and hilly "Finchley Road alternative route", seen here at Netherhall Way NW3, part of the LCN+ project, a legacy of Ken's last time as Mayor, and the avoidance of the issue of cycle safety on the main roads then.
Since the LCN+ strategy was basically not about segregation, or even road-space reallocation, there was no coherent picture
 to put to councils, be they pro or anti-cycling, of what was supposed to be put in place on proposed main road routes like LCN+5 on the A5, and in the end it became a strategy just to spend the money somehow. The money for the A5 route just got spent on a few blue signs, cycle logos on the road, and speed tables on side-roads in Brent – none of which did anything to make cycling no the A5 any better. 

Not a cyclist himself, and not having really absorbed the importance of cycling, Livingstone took a hands-off approach (like his successor) and allowed the LCN+project to drift into a mire of inaction well before he was defeated at the polls. He was not "about two-thirds of the way through it" as he claims now: it was years behind schedule, only the easy (back-street) bits had been done (badly), the difficult (but critical) stuff on the main roads and junctions and bridges and pinch-points in the network had all been left till later because nobody knew if Ken genuinely backed prioritising cycling, or if he was prepared to take on recalcitrant boroughs, and the project had essentially run into the ground by the time Boris took over. I am not sure that any segregated (or separated, as Ken put it) routes were created as part of LCN+. The only one that might have been is the Cable Street route. This suffered from many design flaws. The better-designed segregated tracks in Camden were not part of LCN+, their construction preceded Ken's mayoral term.
Having set that part of the record straight, I think we can see that Ken is responding here to a changed mood and greater determination amongst more people in London to get cycling provision taken seriously now. He is not talking about the "cheap back-street routes" any more, which used to be his main cycling theme. He is directly contradicting Boris in claiming that "most roads are wide enough for separation [segregation]". He must be talking about main roads here, otherwise the statement would not make sense. So he seems to be accepting the Go Dutch principle: "Clear space for cycling on London's main roads". When he was last mayor there was no such concrete model of a cycle-friendly cityscape being campaigned for by LCC, only ill-defined rhetoric about wanting a "Word-class cycling city". Campaiginng has changed, and that has influenced him. That's good.

He is talking about putting Jenny Jones and Val Shawcross in charge of his cycling programme, two politicians who definitely do know something about cycling, even if he doesn't.

One can't guarantee, on the basis of past performance, that Ken would make a better fist of cycling policy than Boris. We have to make a judgement on the information we have. I'll be keeping my eye out for any further statements Ken, Boris, and the other candidates make, particularly now The Times has greatly raised the profile of cycling issues. Cyclists need to keep the pressure up to secure clearer commitments from the candidates. The best ways to do this are to keep asking the questions of candidates at every opportunity, to support the LCC's Go Dutch campaign, the Cities fit for Cycling campaign, and Londoners on Bikes, to attend protests such as Bikes Alive, and particularly to turn up at the huge protest ride planned by LCC for 28 April. Details for this are not available yet, but set the date aside.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Hundredth post: support The Times Cities Fit for Cycling campaign

This is the one hundredth post to be published on this blog. It has had about 64,000 page views since September 2010, but it only started concentrating on cycling issues in May 2011. In that time, less than a year, the cycle campaigning landscape in the UK has transformed. I'll refer below to a few of my earlier posts which now seem prescient.

Today sees one of the most important events to have occurred for UK cycling in that time. The Times, the UK's "establishment" newspaper, if there can be said to be such a thing, has launched a major campaign on cycle safety. This is called Cities Fit for Cycling, and I urge everyone to support it. (On Twitter, use the hashtag #cyclesafe). It comes directly out of the critical injuring of Times journalist Mary Bowers in a cycle-lorry crash on 4 November. But it has also been boiling up for a long time. It has become hard for anyone living or working in London to ignore the jump in cyclist deaths in London to 16 last year, so many of them under the wheels of lorries.

The Times does a huge splash on this campaign today, and they have made all the relevant pages free to view through the link above – an extraordinary move which shows the personal commitment of the staff involved. Their coverage of the issue is, for a generally Conservative-supporting newspaper, striking critical of the Government, and also of the Mayor of London. Some choice quotes:

As a point of comparison: since 2001, 576 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq; 1,275 cyclists died on British streets. The latest data shows there were 1,850 deaths or serious injuries in the first half of 2011, a 12 per cent rise on the year before. Britain leads the world in competitive cycling; it is time that we did the same for the cyclists on our streets.
“As a trauma surgeon — and as a cyclist — I can see that asking cyclists to share the Embankment with heavy goods vehicles on a cold, rainy night is going to end in horrible mistakes. London is a city where one tiny mistake as a cyclist can cost you your life because cyclists are given so little room.”
A cyclist in Britain is three times more likely to be killed than one in the Netherlands and twice as likely as a cyclist in Denmark or Germany. 
Jenny Jones, the Green Party’s mayoral candidate, said: “The truth is uncomfortable for all of us who want London to be a cycling-friendly city. The mayor has failed to make roads safer for vulnerable road users and he is fast becoming the big barrier to the future expansion of cycling in London.”
As one Whitehall source put it: “One of the reasons we have had quite good results on cycle safety is because people are too scared to get on their bikes.”
Critics argue that coalition policies including cuts to road safety budgets, an end to casualty reduction targets, reduced funds for speed cameras and hints of a rise in motorway speed limits have created an environment that is hostile to road safety. The Government abolished Cycling England, the body charged with enticing millions of motorists to take up cycling, along with its £60 million annual funding for cycle schemes. Cuts to police and highways maintenance budgets are putting lives at risk, campaigners say. 

I think it is great that The Times has come out saying these things, and I really hope the Government sharply takes notice. These are all points that have been made amongst campaigners, and in the left-wing press, many times, but here we have a real shift of these issue to the centre-ground of British politics. Here is The Times's 8-point manifesto for cities to be made fit for cycling:
  1. Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.
  2. The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.
  3. A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.
  4. Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.
  5. The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.
  6. 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.
  7. Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.
  8. Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.
I'll write some more on these points in a future post, but at the moment, I will just say that I fully support the manifesto, and urge everybody to do so too by signing up on the campaign page, and also writing to their MP about it. I'll even urge you to by the paper itself, as the campaign will be continuing over the next few editions.


Many of the one hundred posts I have published on this blog have been very long, so that number of posts represents an awful lot of words. One of the longest posts, and the most popular of all, was 1934: The moment it all went wrong for cycling in the UK. There, I said this, comparing the post-war histories of cycling in the UK and the Netherlands:
Belisha's truce [the pre-war road safety measures introduced by Conservative transport minister Leslie Hore-Belisha] meant the safety pressures were not so strong in the UK as they became in the Netherlands. There was never, at any particular moment, the same conjunction of social forces in the UK as there was in the Netherlands in the early 1970s, where the oil price shocks, the Kindermoord campaign, the setting up of the Fietersbond, and the beginnings of the green movement, with the realisation that motor-dominated transport was unsustainable, all came together to push the government to start re-planning the Dutch environment to prioritise cycling.
and later:
The interests of the few, hardy, mostly adult male, remaining cyclists [in the UK] were never seen as coinciding strongly enough with an imperative to make the roads safer for all, particularly children, for there to be the kind of street design revolution that occurred in the Netherlands, and, to a lesser extent, in Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
Maybe The Times mainstreaming of the cycle safety issue is a sign that we now do have an appropriate "conjunction of social forces" in the UK to push through a revolution in the cycling (and walking) environment – a conjunction of greater numbers cycling (particularly women, who always attract more sympathy than men), pushing cycle safety up the political priority list, a recognition that something needs to be done about the obesity epidemic, a recognition that children need to be freed from car-borne dependence on their parents (which people across the political spectrum can agree on), and the need to reduce fossil-fuel dependence and reduce pollution-related deaths – all of which feed into an economic imperative to make the economy more efficient in a time of economic crisis.

The Times campaign talks, rightly, a lot about the unacceptable danger faced by cyclists on our streets. The rhetorical framework in which the danger of cycling is discussed by many existing cyclists seems to have transformed in the short time that I have been writing this blog (though I had been writing in a similar vein in other places long before that) and I claim some credit for this happening. When I wrote my piece Cycling is Dangerous last July, I attracted a huge amount of abuse for, as some in the cycling world often put it, "dangerising" cycling. But I have no apologies over this or similar pieces. I have not "dangerised" cycling, our road environment has none that. I have merely told the truth about the danger – as The Times is now doing.

It never did cycle campaigning any good, I have kept saying, to downplay the danger issue. It just made cyclists seem more like a species apart from ordinary people, who would never dare to ride on our roads as they stand. It just marginalised cyclists more within the psychology of our nation. Within the London Cycling Campaign I used to be reviled for talking in this way. An edict at one stage went out in the LCC for campaigners "not to used the D word", lest we put potential new cyclists off. I never saw it that way. 

Since I wrote Cycling is Dangerous, others have written in similar vein, such as MCR Cycling and As Easy As Riding A Bike, we have had an LCC-supported Tour du Danger of the most dangerous junctions in London, numerous other protests explicitly about danger, and now few in the LCC seem to bat an eyelid at using talk of the danger of cycling, particularly in reference to blackspots such as Bow, Blackfriars and Kings Cross, as a campaigning tool. This is a real change, one for which I claim some credit. There is a widespread recognition of a point I have always maintained, that the "Whitehall source" quoted in The Times puts as:
One of the reasons we have had quite good results on cycle safety is because people are too scared to get on their bikes.
Or to put it more precisely, the nature of the dangerous environment on our roads for cyclists limits cycling to a tiny demographic slice who can mitigate the danger by their own efforts. That doesn't make cycling in the UK genuinely "safe", either relatively or absolutely.

But let's come back to the topic of the press, and, specifically, the Murdoch press. I wrote a post in June on The press and political will, which was prompted by some articles in The Sunday Times, one very pro-cycling, one anti, in the same edition. I wrote:
The writers in a given newspaper do not all have to have the same outlook on a particular subject, but they usually do. This is therefore interesting as it shows The Sunday Times, and probably therefore the whole Murdoch stable of papers, which are very influential, at a turning point in their attitude to cycling.
I pointed to a huge change in attitude to cycling that had occurred in the London Evening Standard as cycling levels had risen in London, and said:
Because it is the habit of the press to simplify issues, it is characteristic of their attitude to a particular issue or group that when it shifts, it tends not to shift slightly, it flips totally, almost overnight.
And I leave you with a final point from that blogpost:
In the internet age the influence of the printed news media is not as great as it was. But the attitudes of the papers are still a good bellwether of wider opinion, and of political will. Here I come to the point of my post. As cycle campaigners, we are constantly wondering, "How can we generate the political will to put into place the measures that we know will achieve a mass cycling culture?" In the UK at the moment, this seems a world away. But, like the attitudes of the papers, political will tends to be all-or-nothing. Like trying to push a vast ship down a slipway into the water, once it goes, it goes.
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Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Are cyclists allowed in the Games Lanes or not?

About the middle of last year, it was extensively reported (see for example) that the "Games Lanes", on the Olympic Route Network (ORN) in London, would be, in no uncertain terms, out-of-bounds for cyclists, transgressors facing a £200 fine, the same as for unauthorised drivers. Where these reports came from I cannot tell, for I don't see anything clearly saying this on the Transport for London website. What TfL do say, unhelpfully, is:
These lanes, which will be clearly marked, will only be open for accredited vehicles and on-call emergency vehicles. They will typically operate between 06:00 and midnight, and only be used on multi-lane roads so there will always be at least one lane for general traffic. You could receive a Penalty Charge Notice if you drive in a Games Lane if you are not an accredited vehicle.
It's so like TfL to word a statement as if the only people entitled to use the road are driving, not riding – it shows how they really think about the roads.

When, however, a recent LCC borough group newsletter went to press, with an item warning cyclists, in passing, that they would not be allowed to cycle in the Games Lanes, a council officer closely connected with the Olympic preparations contacted the group co-ordinator in question to say that this was wrong, that cyclists could use the lanes. When read out the paragraph above, that I have quoted from the TfL website, he stated that it was "misleading", and that he would ask TfL to correct it.

I have done some further study of the detailed documents on the TfL site describing the Games Lanes. There are diagrams for every borough. For example, this diagram covers part of Camden including Euston Road, and the Upper Woburn Place to Kingsway corridor. It shows clearly that the Games Lanes in Euston Road are the inside lanes, and that they are for "Official Games vehicles only". (But could a bike be an Official Games vehicle? I leave that question hanging in the air.) However, the lanes on the north-south corridor are all over the place on the road, they are very fragmentary, and the northernmost section, in Upper Woburn Place, is marked "Official Games vehicles and cycles only". Does this yellow caption bubble apply to all the bits of yellow lane down this corridor? This is unclear to me. But another fragment on Euston Road is marked similarly.

A sample section of the Games Lanes plans: complex, confusing and discontinuous, truly a classic TfL production
The thing that strikes me about these plans is that, leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the whole thing,  not only is TfL incapable of conceiving of continuous, effective bike lanes, or bus lanes, as we know from long experience, it has proved no more capable of imagining continuity when told by the IOC to create this network. How one earth are they expecting this itsy-bitsiness to work in practice? Who is going to enforce it, bearing in mind the negligible level of enforcement there is of all other painted carriageway demarcations, e.g. cycle stop boxes and hatched junction boxes? Who is going to understand this complexity, with some Games Lanes being 24 hour, some not, and some allowing cycling, some not? Is this really policeable? It looks like a classic British fudge. I wonder what the IOC will think when they see it.

I also wonder how much of the time Official Games vehicles will actually be using these lanes, and how many of them there will be. If cyclists really are to be permitted in some of these lanes, or all of them, as the council officer seems to believe, then, with the numbers of cyclists there are in London already, combined with a special upsurge for the games, combined with the fact that cyclists have few dedicated lanes of their own, maybe cyclists will prove to be the dominant users of these lanes. Maybe these lanes will provide the real "cycling superhighways" to the games, and to elsewhere, that TfL so conspicuously has not provided under its actual Cycle Superhighway programme. What will the IOC think of that?