Friday, 12 July 2013

London Flashride at Tower Hill today

I bring this blog out of aestevation (the summer equivalent of hibernation) to urge readers to take part in the flashride organised by the London Cycling Campaign today. The meeting is at Tower Hill at 6pm for a 6:15pm start, and the ride will go to Aldgate. Slightly earlier, at 5:30pm, there will also be a vigil at City Hall in memory of recent lorry deaths of both pedestrians and cyclists. The two sites are only five minutes ride or 10 minutes walk apart across Tower Bridge, and the vigil will only last 15 minutes, so it will be possible to attend both events. But the ride is the one which will make the big statement, that I urge everybody with an interest in safer streets in London, particularly for cycling, to attend.

The pressure for another cyclists' protest has been bubbling up in London for a long time. The first London flashrides were at Blackfriars Bridge, the first taking place on 20 May 2011, covered in the third post on this blog, the second on 5 August 2011, in which 1000 cyclists took part, and the third on 12 October 2011, in which 2,500 cyclists took part. Of a similar type was the ride preceding the Cities Fit for Cycling parliamentary debate on 22 February 2012, in which 2000 cyclists took part. All this led up to the ride organised by LCC in support of the Love London, Go Dutch campaign on 28 April 2012, one week before the mayoral election, when 10,000 cyclists turned up in appalling weather to let the candidates know that a vast number of Londoners want change in the way our streets are managed. By the time of the poll, all the main candidates had endorsed the campaign.

And so we have been waiting, waiting to see what happens next. In the mean time cyclists have continued to die unnecessarily, on unnecessarily dangerous roads. Last Friday 20-year old French student Phillipine Degerin-Ricard became the third cyclist to die under the wheels of a lorry on Barclays Cycle Superhighway 2. I covered the first two deaths on that route in this post. Changes were subsequently made to the Bow roundabout, where those fatalities took place, but nothing was done to the route between Bow and Aldgate. I wrote in November 2011:
Fixing the Bow roundabout would not fix Cycle Superhighway 2, which I cycled on my way back from the vigil on Friday. The rest of it is a travesty of safe cycle infrastructure as well. The blue lane, marked intermittently in the inner half of the bus lane, does nothing to remove conflicts between cyclists and buses and conflicts at other junctions. This lane has no legal force, not being a mandatory cycle lane (not bounded by a white line), and it gives cyclists no protection in law, nor in practice. The A11 is a horrible road with a peculiarly aggressive "Gotham City" feel to it as you cycle towards the huge, overbearing towers of mammon of the City of London, looming up ahead. The implementation of this Superhighway, of all of them, was uniquely disappointing, as the space for creating proper, segregated cycle tracks on both sides of this road was so clearly present, even without alteration of the current vehicle lanes. The road is enormously wide, with much unused pavement space.

Bow Road, the A11, photo by Oxyman, taken before the implementation of the Superhighway. Plenty of space here for a wide segregated cycle track.
Basically, the Superhighway here, as with all of them, was done quickly, on the cheap, and with no coherent thinking on what it was actually supposed to do, save for waymarking a route which was obvious anyway: it is, after all, just the main road, the one that anybody cycling from the City to Stratford has to follow.
That was 2011. Now a start has now been made on building an extension of Cycle Superhighway 2 beyond Bow that should be of far higher quality, and I welcome that. But why is the existing part of the route being allowed to remain in this primitive state at the same time? This is unacceptable, especially as a higher-quality extension, with better, but temporary, subjective safety, will attract more novice cyclists on to the route. They won't be made safe just by having larger numbers of cyclists on the route. More of them will die unless the whole route is radically improved. This snails' pace progress towards even acceptable, let along "international standard", cycle infrastructure in London is not good enough. It has become unacceptable to a great number of cycling, and non-cycling, Londoners now, and that is why I confidently predict a very large turn-out at today's protest.

Furthermore, the City of London has just announced plans for the remodelling of the Aldgate Gyratory, the traffic maelstrom into which cyclists have hitherto been dumped at the City end of Superhighway 2.  But these contain nothing resembling international best-practice cycling infrastructure, as both As Easy As Riding A Bike and Cyclists in the City have reported. The changes, if built, will ensure cyclists are crammed up against huge, lethal lorries in extraordinarily tight and heavily-used spaces.

So the protest will be about this as well. The message will be that London's authorities have got to get their act together on cycling. We cannot go on like this with schemes coming out that are still in the transportation dark ages, with no concept of separating out vulnerable road users from the biggest threats to their safety. We've heard some great noises from Boris Johnson, and his Cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, about their Vision for Cycling in London, but the Vision isn't going to come to much, if we, and they, can't get schemes like Aldgate, and the forthcoming changes to Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street and Elephant & Castle right for cycling this time. And getting them right means not just catering, with difficulty, for current levels of commuter cycling, with the current clientele, but future-proofing them for the much higher levels of everyday cycling the Mayor says he wishes to see, critically, making them also suitable and safe for the much wider spectrum of people on bikes he says he wishes to attract.

We're in a different world now to the first flashride. At that time, May 2011, I wrote:
In my opinion, LCC, despite being quite clear about what it does not want in places like Blackfriars, is still a bit ambiguous about what it does want on busy roads like this, and this is not helping its campaigning. I don't think the focus on the 20mph limit ("Keep it twenty" was a chant head at the flashmob) is the right one. Even with low speeds, large volumes of aggressive motor traffic tend to push cyclists out unless they have protected space.
This all changed with the LCC from early 2012 agreeing to campaign on the theme of "clear space for cycling on main roads". The demand for protected space for cyclists on main roads is now pretty universal and uncontroversial. But we still don't have any in London; certainly none of any decent standard in central London. We've only got some nice photoshopped graphics. It's vital to keep the pressure on Boris Johnson, and on the Corporation and the boroughs, so that they realise that this issue is not going to quieten down, and we are not going to let them backslide, faff, or delay with the changes we know are needed to our roads. And further afield, we need to send a message to the nation, and to the national government, that the old roads order, with cycling pushed to the margins and allowed to struggle on in an environment designed entirely against it, is no longer acceptable to a very large number of people.

I reported from Copenhagen in May, where their history of the great cycle protests of the late 1970s and early 1980s is now treated as a revered episode, that led to the freedom and good conditions that Danish cyclists now enjoy. The Dutch had their cycling revolution slightly earlier, from 1974, when the Stop de Kindermoord campaign turned the policies of the national government around. Are we finally going to catch up, and is this the equivalent moment for Britain? If so, then London's cyclists must lead the movement. I hope to see readers on the ride. The hashtag is #space4cycling, appropriately enough.

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