Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A response to Westminster's Cycling Strategy

The City of Westminster has published its cycling strategy. The first draft of this, which came out in May, was reviewed very badly by leading cycling blogs Cyclists in the City and As Easy As Riding A Bike. Arguably, having been prepared while Andrew Giligan was preparing the Mayor's Vision for Cycling in London, which was worded far more ambitiously, it could be seen to be falling short, as it was out of phase with the programme the Mayor was promoting.

This month a new draft of Westminster's Cycling Strategy came out (I wonder how many they need), with an online consultation form. Most significantly, this draft was published with a plan of the proposed Central London Cycle Grid for the borough, as had been promised by Gilligan in the Mayor's Vision, the first time this had been seen. Last week, the full plan of the Grid, including the parts in the Boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Southwark and Lambeth, was published by Transport for London. This is another "draft for engagement", and seems to correspond to Westminster's plans.

TfL's proposed "Grid"

The production of the Grid has been a long-term demand of London Cycling Campaign; they suggested the concept in 2009 (though no doubt many others had suggested similar plans going far back into the history of campaigning: see for example this bit of documentary from 1974, kindly transferred to YouTube by Carlton Reid). LCC's reception of the grid plans says exactly the right thing, welcoming the concept but stressing that high standards for the actual cycling conditions need to be applied if it is to work in any way at all:
The Grid must provide genuinely safe and convenient conditions throughout, particularly at junctions, with routes that have either protected lanes or low motor traffic volumes and speeds.
The actual standards that have to be met we know, and I covered these recently: in a pithy phrase, they are: 20mph and less than 2000 Passenger Car Units per day. If roads on the grid do not meet these standards, we will not accept that the grid has been provided.

I'll have a lot more to say about the Grid in future, but for now I will return to Westminster's Cycling Strategy. Cyclists in the City and, even more comprehensively, Rachel Aldred hve already put a lot of effort into analysing what is still wrong with Westminster's whole approach to the subject of accommodating cycling, so I don't need to reproduce their excellent points. They amount, in Rachels's words, basically to the fact that
Westminster needs to start seeing cycling as a solution, not a problem.
Instead I'll encourage you to comment on the strategy using their form, reproducing here my responses, to give you ideas.

Many of the questions involve selecting options, and I leave those out, and just give you the text that I filled in where it was requested. How you fill in all the options where they ask you to rank the importance of measures like "refurbishing abandoned bikes", "developing apps", "running events", "establishing a network of champions", blah blah blah, is of no importance. That the authors of the strategy are so off-beam in their grasp of what the actual problems are with cycling in Westminster, that they think that these ideas could possibly be of any significance whatever, speaks volumes. As usual in UK cycling strategies, there's the fixation with the idea that they need to be "promoting" something that, in truth, the vast majority of people literally, physically just can't do unless there is a massive re-enginnering of the street environment to accommodate it, such as the Dutch and Danes achieved. Since that re-engineering seems, politically, too frightening for them as a thing to fight for, so they grasp on to all these other candyfloss flim-flam "soft measures" as a drowning man to a basket of sponges, and with similar results.

But enough of the invective against local authority officers: it's Christmas. They've got a difficult balancing-act to perform, trying to be progressive, while not risking a Conservative-controlled council voting down their strategy. Let's try to help them to do the right things. There are a lot more things that could be said about the Grid route plans, but I've tried to be positive and constructive. Here are my answers to the survey:

Westminster cycling consultation response 
(Multiple choice questions omitted)

3. What would you say are the main barriers to you cycling more regularly?

Inconvenient one-way systems, poorly-designed routes through parks that don't connect up with the road system conveniently, dangerous junctions such as Hyde Park Corner where the cycle routes are inadequate and poorly-designed, excessive and obstructive parking on minor roads, inconvenient, inefficient phasing of traffic lights for people travelling at cycling speed, poor road surfaces, disruption of cycle routes by roadworks and developments.

10. Do you have any comments on how the council can make the roads safer for cyclists?

The council needs to define a network of direct, priority, safe routes for cyclists. On these routes motor traffic either needs to be reduced below 2000 PCUs per day, by means of road-closures or one-ways for motor vehicles, allowing two-way cycling, or segregated cycle tracks need to be constructed, with parking, loading and taxi and bus stopping taking place on the outside of these tracks. These tracks would be appropriate on larger roads; smaller roads on the network would have traffic reduction measures applied plus 20mph speed limits. Junctions on the network need to be treated so they are safe for cycling, with dedicated cycling phases at traffic lights that separate cycle movements from the movements of motor vehicles turning across the path of cyclists.

11. What are your thoughts on the proposed cycle routes?

There are some very good ideas here. Particularly beneficial would be to make the Grand Union Canal towpath route continuous east of Harrow Road, by allowing cyclists to use Blomfield Road both ways, bypassing the Maida Hill tunnel. However, there is still a major gap in locations where the canal and the A40 can be crossed, between Westbourne Terrace and Cosway Street. There needs to be something between these. The Jubilee line route connecting from St James's Park to Bond Street is far too indirect, and needs to be straightened-out by taking it via St James's Street. If there is to be a route via Exhibition road, that road needs re-engineering as the latest changes have made it a very poor cycling environment. If the “Central Line" is to go via Grosvenor Square, most of the traffic needs to be removed from Grosvenor Square, as it is currently highly dangerous, or segregated cycle tracks with priority traffic lights need creating. Hamilton Terrace is also unpleasant for cycling because of the high volume of parking narrowing the road. This needs completely re-designing if there is to be a satisfactory route here.

13. Do you have any other comments on how the council could help road users get on well together?

The main method of getting "road users to get on well with one another" would be to provide suitable space and facilities for cyclists, who are currently made to make do with a hostile and dangerous environment where they cannot compete well with aggressively-driven motor vehicles. Road users will "get on" when cyclists are given the space and priority they need to make progress safely and at their own speed.

15. Do you have any other comments on how the council could support residents to own and maintain their own bikes?

The council doesn't need to "support residents to maintain their own bikes". Westminster has lots of bike shops that can maintain bikes, and most residents can afford to pay for these services. Residents do need places to store bikes, however. If they cannot store bikes, then they can use the TfL hire bikes. We need more stations in Westminster for the Barclays hire bikes.

17. Do you have any other comments about the consultation, or how the council could encourage more people to cycle?

The consultation seems obsessed with the idea of "encouraging people to cycle". This is misguided. People don't need to be "encouraged to cycle". They are desperate to do so; they would love to do so. They need to be enabled to cycle by changes to the roads to make them objectively and subjectively safe to cycle on. It's very simple. If the roads are made safe, a lot of promotion is not necessary.
Happy Christmas from the Vole.

The Vole and friends. Yes, the knitted doll is wearing a CTC cycling jacket.

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