Friday, 22 March 2013

Two university cities: Cambridge and Münster

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, in collaboration with Cambridge Cycling Campaign, will be going on an Infrastructure Safari ride in Cambridge tomorrow, Saturday 23 March. Full details here. Everybody is welcome; bikes can be hired at Cambridge Station, or you can bring your own. It promises to be an interesting (but cold) day out. Thanks to CCC members for offering to show us around their city.

I know Cambridge pretty well, as I lived and cycled there for a year 26 years ago. I've been there for the odd day on more recent occasions, the last time two years ago, but not re-explored extensively. It will be interesting to see if this ride can show me that much has changed in the last 26 years. My impression, from my more recent visits, is that is has not, unfortunately. As with other British towns, in stark contrast to Dutch and German ones, the infrastructure changes only extremely slowly. There seems to be a general problem we have in the UK in changing our environment for the modern world, which, it seems to me, it does not bode well for either our environmental or our economic future. The level of investment in our infrastructure and environment is just too low to keep it up both working efficiently and up to date. This manifests itself at the level of the obvious crumbling of our road surfaces, that everyone can see, the poor performance of our rail network, and of the London Underground, as well as at the strategic, policy level that causes, to a Dutch or German person, our cities to look just like theirs, but 50 years in the past, in terms of the way that the roads and public spaces are used.

David Hembrow has written about Cambridge, and I agree with his conclusions. While the Cambridge cycling infrastructure is probably slightly better than the average for a similar-sized town in the UK, compared to towns in the Netherlands and Germany, it is non-existent. The relatively high rate of cycling in Cambridge, probably the highest in the English-speaking world (the actual rate is hard to pin down precisely, but it is probably between 15–20% of all journeys, as 18% commuting to work is reported by the 2011 census) is clearly dependent on special factors, which as Hembrow emphasises, cannot be replicated anywhere else. The main one is that the University and City of Cambridge, by an agreement between them, actually prevent students from keeping cars in the city. I also agree with Hembrow, from my experience of living in Cambridge, about cycling there being very much a gown-versus-town thing. It's intimately connected with the university, and the motoring townspeople remain as hostile to cycling and cyclists as those anywhere in the UK (or at least they did 26 years ago, and reports on blogs suggest not much has changed recently). In fact, I'd say that 26 years ago they were more  hostile than Londoners to cycling, as the usual British "war on the roads" was overlaid with the Cambridge-specific, permanent, "war on the students". I worked at government offices in Cambridge, and few employees there cycled to work. They mostly lived in the suburbs of Cambridge and outlying villages, and they all drove, and wouldn't have conceived of doing anything else, as Cambridge people. Cycling, along with many other activities of students, was regarded as pestilential, something the city should do its best to stamp out. It certainly seemed to be trying at that time.

I had the good fortune to visit, in 2008, Germany's top cycling city, Münster, in North Rhine-Westphalia. Münster makes a good comparison to Cambridge. I was struck by how close the similarities are, in fact, in atmosphere, and architecturally. (Münster was very badly damaged by bombing in 1944, but has extensively rebuilt its old buildings, such as the cathedral, university, and the Rathaus, or City Hall, in which the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648.) Münster has the third-largest university in Germany, with 50,000 students. It is a much larger city than Cambridge, and less isolated, having itself a population of 270,000, and being the centre of the Münsterland semi-urban area, with a population of over two million. However, it has a tight historic centre very reminiscent of Cambridge, with a large market square, the Domplaz, surrounded by small streets which are encircled by the ring defences of the mediaeval city. The mostly post-war suburbs are arranged around straight arterial roads heading out of town. It is flat, it is full churches, pubs and restaurants, and it is full of cyclists.

Over the past two or three decades Münster's leaders have made a deliberate, explicit effort to make it the greenest city in Germany, and indeed the most liveable city in the world (an accolade they received in 2004). Contributors to this status are the beautiful and well-maintained public spaces and facilities, including the many parks, and the excellent public transport, but the most obvious part is the cycling. Cycling accounts for 38% all journeys made in Münster, up to the levels in the highest-cycling Dutch towns. You see all kinds of people cycling in Münster, for all kinds of purposes, in specialised clothes and in ordinary clothes, on all kinds of human-powered vehicles: parents transporting young children, children cycling to and from school on their own, people moving goods with cargo bikes, bikes used as tourist taxis, people racing around on recumbents, elderly people out for a social ride. It looks quite different to the Cambridge cycling profile, which is still mostly, to my observation, just the students.

Münster rush hour; schoolchildren cycling home in the background
Old gentleman with bike and child trailer in a Münster park
The reasons for this massive cycling culture and wide demographic are not hard to see. Münster has a well-developed network of segregated cycling infrastructure on main roads, supplemented by home zones, where motor speeds are kept down and most motor traffic is kept out, Fahrradstrasse or bicycle streets, where cyclists have priority and may not be overtaken, bike exceptions on the many one-way streets in the old city, shared spaces (with pedestrians and buses) in the city centre, where motor traffic has been eliminated apart from essential deliveries, and wide paths through the parks, separated from the pedestrian paths.

Shared space in Münster's Domplaz: inessential motor traffic has been eliminated from the city centre
One-way cycle track with junction treatment on the main road northwards out of the centre of Münster. There is a cycle phase to the signals which is simultaneous with the straight-ahead phase for motor traffic on the parallel road, so there is no loss of priority compared to cycling on the road, but traffic crossing the track must give way (and it does).
The (rather insecure by UK standards) bike parking at the station
General character of the cycle tracks on the arterial roads in Münster, showing bus stop treatment. They are not typically as wide as Dutch tracks, and are often at pavement level, but separated from the pavement by different surfacing and a line of street furniture or trees. They are, however, fairly continuous, and form a coherent network.
Another style of segregation, where the road is narrow, getting out into the Münsterland countryside
Excellent signposting on the parkland cycle routes, showing also the general separation from pedestrians
Probably the most important of Münster's cycle facilities is the ring route round the old moat surrounding the ancient city. Where this crosses roads it has priority. Here you see the width of the path, and the Dutch-style utility bikes which are common here.
Here, by the beautiful lake, the Münstersee, a Fahrradstrasse, a cycle path, and a path for pedestrians only all run in parallel
It is important to note that Münster lacked a significant cycling culture until recent times. It was developed newly, in a pre-existing urban environment, from the 1980s, through good infrastructure and planning, which owes quite a bit to the Dutch model, the Dutch border being only 40km distant. However, the cycling infrastructure in Münster is not up to Dutch standards of convenience and capaciousness, it is not as continuous, and sometimes it shows design flaws and problems of enforcement that you would not see in the Netherlands.

This short section of cycle track, introduced only at a major junction, cannot legally be reached by the cyclist because entry is blocked by queueing traffic, so he has to ride on the pavement
Cars have been parked on the cycle track
The very high cycling level in Münster is clearly a result of the combination of the demographic character of the place and of the infrastructure that has been supplied there. It has more cycling than some Dutch towns with superior infrastructure because of the exceptionally young demographic. You see the same effect in some Dutch cities, where, for example, the university city of, Groningen, reputedly the highest-cycling city in the world (though it is difficult to confirm this claim), has infrastructure that is not as good as that in many other places in the Netherlands. However, Münster's cycle infrastructure, less good than Groningen's, it is far beyond the quality of that which you see in Cambridge. All these three cities have the big student demographic factor, all have dense mediaeval centres highly suitable for (in fact demanding) prioritisation of the bike and of walking, and all three are flat, but Cambridge is the one that lacks cycle infrastructure to speak of, the principles on which the roads and streets are operated being much as they are in the rest of the UK. Hence Cambridge has less than half the cycling of these continental university cities (on a generous estimate), and a much less inclusive cycling profile. In the case of Cambridge, the student factor must be over twice as great as it is in Münster, as about 1 in 4 of Cambridge's population are students, compared to only about 1 in 10 of Münster's population. The high (for the UK) cycling level in Cambridge comes to be seen as much less of an achievement when you notice these facts.

This lack of relative cycling achievement in Cambridge is, as I say, down to the lack of proper cycling infrastructure there. You might have expected that with the highest "natural" cycling level in the UK, Cambridge could have developed a cycling campaign powerful enough to demand and get the changes required, but this has not happened, probably because of the transient nature of the student cycling population, most cyclists not being committed to the place on a long-term basis, and because of the town-gown split. So we find that Cambridge has no network of segregated cycle tracks on main roads, it has only poor provision in parks, poorly integrated with provision on the roads, there is little motor traffic exclusion in the suburbs, connections between suburbs and estates are poor, there are no subjectively safe routes connecting the city to the surrounding villages and towns (apart from the new one provided "accidentally" as a result of the guided busway project), and even the city centre, which should be a cycling mecca, leaves a lot to be desired in terms of its cycling environment.

The first thing you see, arriving in Cambridge by train, is the mess of bikes outside the station. I believe this is soon to be improved with Dutch-style multi-level parking, and it will not be before time.
The second thing you see is the pathetic semi-provision on Station Road: the usual UK illogicality, with an advisory cycle lane just running out at a totally arbitrary point
Heading into town, on Hills Road, the half-hearted provision continues, with an advisory lane shared with buses
On Downing Street we find this absurdly narrow bike contraflow entrance
In the centre, at St John's Street, cyclists are not excepted from a no-entry that they need to use. There is therefore law-breaking and general ill-feeling.
On Madingley Road we see the confused, ineffective philosophy of different levels of cycle provision operating side by side, with a shared pavement next to an appallingly narrow on-road cycle lane. What is needed here is is a proper rebuild, replacing both of these with a pavement plus a quality cycle track.
Elsewhere on Madingley Road we find this insulting less than 1m wide track, that regularly floods, doing dutry as both cycle and foot path.
And yet elsewhere on Madingley Road, where the driving can be terrifyingly fast,  an advisory cycle lane gradually emerges, parts of it being little wider than the double yellow lines and the drain cover

Madingley Road provides access to major departments of the University at the Cavendish Laboratory and Institute of Astronomy. Here is the terribly-planned entrace to the former, where heavy traffic is encouraged to cut across a cycle lane at a shallow angle
More design confusion reigns at the entrance to the Intitute of Astronomy opposite, where everybody seems to need to give way
These photos of Cambridge were taken a couple of years ago, and there may have been some changes since. I have shown some bad things, that I just happened to come across, and which seemed typical, and not gone out of my way to find good facilities. It did seem that very, very little had changed since I lived there in 1987. It will be interesting to see what the Embassy tour is shown by the Cambridge cyclists, and I will report on that in due course. My overall message, however, which I think is unlikely to be disproved by what we are shown tomorrow, is that cycling provision in the highest-cycling city in the UK is pretty dismal when compared to that in highly comparable cities on the continent, and that this accounts for the narrow demographic of Cambridge cycling, the failure of the city to create a mass cycling culture of "everybody doing it", that you see in places like Münster, and the resulting "them and us" situation with continuing local political and media hostility to cycling in Cambridge.

Münster, and the cycling achievements of other German cities, remain surprisingly little-known and little-understood in the UK. Cyclists in the City covered Berlin's aspirations for 20% cycling in the next decade yesterday, but nobody has bothered to translate the Münster Fahrradstadt Wikipedia article into English.

I hope to see some readers on Safari tomorrow, and to find out how the Cambridge cyclists think their city can progress.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

'The Mayor's Vision': Can it work?

I said in my introductory words on The Mayor's Vision for Cycling in London (subtitled, importantly,  An Olympic Legacy for all Londoners – we were all criticising the lack of any legacy plan in the immediate aftermath of the games) that my reservations about the Vision were not going to be fundamental. This is the overwhelmingly dominant point in all that follows. This marks the Vision out as a radical break with the past. This has never happened before. For as soon as the Cycle Superhighways project was announced, it was totally obvious to me it could not work, and I said so (this was before I started this blog) to those at the top of London Cycling Campaign, as I wrote to the the then CEO of LCC in August 2009:
I think we should not be co-operating with this project as the information with we have been supplied, particularly the presentation from last week's meeting at LCC, indicates that both the funding and the conception behind these routes is so calamitously inadequate to the task that they will be a total waste of time and money, and, worse, will attract inexperienced cyclists onto main road routes that have not been made any safer than they are now, with junctions that are still highly dangerous and unsuitable for all but the most skilled with-traffic cyclists.
So there I am, four years ago, predicting that the Superhighways, in the form that they were proposed then, would lead to more cyclists on the roads, and more deaths. This was at a time when everybody else was saying that having more cyclists on the roads always lead to safer cycling. Of course, I was right.

The original Superhighways concept was clearly "calamitously inadequate" because it failed to give cyclists their own space. The routes were envisaged as being superimposed, by and large, on bus lanes, and bus lanes that were mostly part-time, at that. So the cycle routes were full of buses to start with, at the best of times, and most of the time they were parked over. So this was clearly all just spin and blue paint: it was no real change to the conditions that cyclists endured already. And worst of all, of course, cyclists were being encouraged to cycle on routes with a number of particularly dangerous junctions that were hardly altered, or altered badly, for the Superhighway implementations. So we had the all too predictable tragedies at Bow.

The pattern for the consultations on the Superhighways became clear shortly after I wrote that in August 2009. Long-winded CRISP (Cycle Route Implementations Study Plan) documents were put together by private consultants, often duplicating exactly work that had earlier been done on the LCN (pre-GLA establishment London Cycle Network) and LCN+ (Ken Livingstone's mayoralty) routes. LCC borough groups often dutifully co-operated with the compilation of these, attending CRIMs (Cycle Route Inspection Meetings) with the consultants, making their demands, which were in virtually all cases rejected in the CRISP reports as "conflicting with the maintenance of [motor traffic] capacity" or the "physical constraints of the roads". In other words, the consultation process with cyclists (or stakeholders as they were always called) was a farce and an insult.

And even when the consultants did recommend significant change to junctions, their recommendations seemed to get ignored or watered-down in the actual implementation, most notoriously in the case of Bow roundabout, where what TfL built was not the signalised, off-cariageway route recommended by their consultants, Jacobs Babtie, but something fatally superficial that claimed two lives in quick succession in almost identical incidents. In north-west London, the A5 (Edgware Road) was originally proposed as a Cycle Superhighway, and I, with the local LCC groups, lobbied to get the Superhighway taken off that route, because (for one reason) we could see no way in which the Staples Corner West intersection (very similar to Bow roundabout) could be made safe using the methods TfL were wedded to at that time.

Delving still further into the past, the LCN and LCN+ schemes were mostly conceived of as being on minor roads. But there were no answers to the simple observation that the minor roads are minor because, in general, they are not the most useful through-routes to anywhere that people need to go. Cycle route planning does need to start from the recognition that cyclists, or, should I say, people on bikes, are normal human beings who need to do the same things that everybody else needs to do: go to the same shops, schools, offices, stations, that are all linked, most usably and efficiently, by the main roads. Forcing an invariable, inevitable compromise between directness (and priority) and safety was never going to be a route to success. As I have said before, fundamentally, cyclists no more belong on the minor roads than do motor vehicles or pedestrains, and successful route planning in both the Netherlands and Denmark, to my knowledge, has been based on the procedure of looking first at where cyclists go already, and then providing saffe infrastructure for them in those places: quite the reverse of the LCN approach.

The general failure of the LCN and LCN+ was compounded by the fact that the minor roads chosen were in general not made much nicer to cycle on than they had been before, because in few cases was much through motor traffic actually removed (rare exceptions to this, such as the route on King Henry's Road and Gloucester Avenue in Camden, and the route on Northchurch Road and Middleton Road in Islington and Hackney, did actually become quite successful), and by the fact that all the difficult junctions (Swiss Cottage being a classic case) into which the minor road routes inevitably discharged at some point, because they were minor road routes which do not fully run through, were left unsolved when the schemes were finally abandoned after Boris Johnson became mayor.

I've drifted into ancient history (history BG:  before Gilligan) because I needed to make sharply plain, to those who might not know all this already, the profound transformation of approach represented by the Mayor's new Vision announced last Thursday. Essentially, both the rhetoric and the substance is now right. Read the introduction, penned by Boris himself, and after some characteristic whimsicality:
Hundreds of thousands of people have discovered that their transport future is lying in their garage under a pile of disused barbecue equipment.
He says what we all want to hear:
Cycling will be treated not as niche, marginal, or an afterthought, but as what it is: an integral part of the transport network, with the capital spending, road space and traffic planners’ attention befitting that role.
before like a latter-day Roman Emperor declaring:
I today announce that the main cross-London physical legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games will be a proper network of cycle routes throughout the city, a substantial increase in cycling, and all the benefits – fitness, enjoyment and easy travel for millions, cleaner air and less traffic for all – that will follow.
And as it goes on, there's already a fundamental departure from all previous British "cycling plans" from time immemorial, but you are not going to notice it unless you are thinking about this, thinking about what's not there, about the dog that did not bark in the night: it's not about cycle "promotion", it's all about enabling cycling, about changing the city to make it easy to choose the option of cycling. We've never, ever had this before. Even the Cycle Superhighways and Biking Borough schemes from Johnson's first attempt at cycling policy actually involved spending a high percentage of the total budget on so-called Soft Measures:  promotion and training, in other words. In all British cycling policy from the 1930s onwards the emphasis has been on promotion and the training of cyclists, not on changing the environment. But in this document, we are no longer in that world. This is a shift that should not be overlooked. It's almost as if Boris had been reading the list of blogs in the right-hand side panel of this site:
I want cycling to be normal, a part of everyday life. I want it to be something you feel comfortable doing in your ordinary clothes, something you hardly think about. I want more women cycling, more older people cycling, more black and minority ethnic Londoners cycling, more cyclists of all social backgrounds – without which truly mass participation can never come.
Yes, he has definitely been reading that list of blogs. And it seems that Peter Hendy, head of TfL, has been doing likewise. In his foreword that follows Boris's:
In urban transport, cycling is now at the cutting edge. Across the western world, from Paris to New York, from Edinburgh to Dublin, forward-thinking cities are investing hundreds of millions of pounds in the bicycle, knowing that well-designed schemes can deliver benefits far greater than their relatively modest costs. Because transport is not just how you get around. It is part of what shapes a city, for good and for ill. Cycling shapes a city – for all its people, cyclists or not – in ways that are almost always good.
Pretty amazing to read. It's the new pragmatism around cycling, which Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, was keen to emphasis at the launch of the strategy, pointing out that the case for an east-west cycle link (the "Crossrail for the Bike") was economic: it could take the equivalent of three extra trains per hour on the Central Line, at vastly less cost than any kind of tube upgrade. That's the point of view that it's always been my impression the Dutch principally had in developing their cycle networks; it wasn't about "being green", or doing anything for pollution or health, it was just sensible and economic: a very effective way of increasing mobility while reducing congestion and using available city space better, at low cost. It seems TfL have at last "got it". Hooray.

But enough of the warm words: is the money enough to achieve the transformation Boris proposes? In round numbers, it's going to average £90m a year for 10 years, on current proposals. A future Mayor, of course, if Boris is not re-elected, or does not stand for election in 2016, could increase or decrease the allocation, or the London Assembly could change it with a two-thirds majority (as it tried to do last week). I've stated before that for the whole country, just to start getting cycle infrastructure up to a sensible standard, we need to be spending a billion a year. London has around 15% of the population of the UK, so we should be spending £150m a year just in London, which is about what the opposition parties in the Assembly tried to obtain last week. So this funding is not enough to cover what's needed for the whole of London. But, judiciously applied, it could make a big difference over much of the capital. And it does make sense to work from the centre outwards, from the areas currently that have the highest cycling levels, to build political momentum and minimise the objections. The funding is greatest in the first four years, then tapers off. Gilligan, one got the impression at the launch, was very much hoping that this would not be the final settlement, and that once the projects started to be seen to work, there would be public pressure for more, and it would become possible for a future mayor to increase the funding beyond current plans after the initial phase. We've got to start campaigning on this now, if the whole of London is to see a cycling revolution, that could spread to other parts of the UK.

The funding looks un-generous for Outer London. Page 16 of the Vision:
Cycling in Outer London is mostly low, with great potential for improvement. We will increase cycle spending specifically dedicated to Outer London from £3m to more than £100m.
It's low all right. Around 0.5% of journeys to work in some wards of North Brent are by bike. And of school journeys across the whole of Brent, only 0.3% are by bike – shockingly few. And cycling has been flatlining, or on an actually downward trajectory in much of Outer London over the past decade, as census figures show. So there is a mountain to climb.

It seems that the £100m is to be spent on three "Mini-Hollands" in Outer London, but also,
All suburban boroughs will benefit from the increased investment in our Quietway and Superhighway programmes, both of which will extend far into Outer London.
So I take it that that part, as it applies to Outer London, is extra to the £100m, which will be about £33m per chosen borough. Suppose in those chosen boroughs there are some really major infrastructural barriers, as we have in Brent, that will require major engineering to get high-quality cycle routes across them: like new bridges or underpasses for the North Circular Road, the West Coast Main Line, or the Metropolitan Line corridor. I can see those structures, and associated changes needed to the roads, easily coming to £5–10m each. Say you have three or four of them, as we would need in the Wembley to Neasden area of Brent to even start to create a satisfactory network there, that's going to eat up perhaps £20m of your £33m to start with. Then if you are creating fully segregated routes on main roads, that's easily going to cost £500,000 per mile, in complicated cases, which most will be, including the junction and signal changes needed. So you are not going to get many miles of cycle route within these budgets.

I'm not trying to be pessimistic, I'm trying my best to estimate the real problems here. It is possible that with the larger scale of planning and procurement that the new investment will bring about, costs for the individual infrastructure elements will be reduced to lower levels that they have been at in the past, when things were all done as a one-off (as when it cost Camden £1 million for 1 km of the Royal Colllege Street segregated track in 2000). Cycle bridges could be made to a standard pattern, for instance, reproduced in several locations. Bureaucratic costs, such as those associated with Traffic Orders, are also reduced when bigger projects are carried out. But the costs of solving the problems of the existing layouts in Outer London are not to be underestimated by any means.

Here (above) is a rough-and-ready attempt to illustrate these barrier problems in the Wembley to Neasden area of Brent. Wembley Stadium is the white oval slightly left of  centre. For scale, the stadium is 300m wide. I've put red lines on all the railways which have no minor road crossings: that is, they are only crossed by busy A and B roads with only one lane in either direction on the bridges, making them all nasty, hostile pinch points for cycling. There's only one exception to this rule I can see in this area, the tiny Taylor's Lane going under the North London freight line in Harleseden, marked with a T. This does not create a particularly useful route, because that road soon hits the North Circular, the A406.

The railway crossing points in the map above all (with the exception of the six-lane North Circular) look pretty much like this: East Lane at North Wembley Station.
Note how long some of the distances are between crossing points of the railways. Along the Metropolitan line corridor (marked M), it's about 1.5km from the A406 (not really a cycleable crossing for those without a death wish) to Bridge road at Wembley Park; along the Chiltern Line (marked C) it's a similar distance between Great Central Way (another nasty narrow uphill road full of lorries heading for the Wembley Park industrial estate) and the A479 Wembley Hill Road; it's a very slightly shorter distance along the West Coast Main Line (W) between the A406 at Stonebridge (where there is a kind of a cycle road) and the A404 Wembley High Road.

You'll note how Wembley is multiply cut-off from all directions by these railways, with only very infrequent and hostile main road crossing points, particularly from the point of view of commuting towards central London, towards the lower right of the map. This is compounded by the massive barrier of the A406 North Circular Road, which I have also put red lines on. This only has five legal crossing points for bikes on the area of this map (which work as routes in both directions), numbered from right to left. These are:

  1. The Neasden motorway-style intersection (AKA "The Valley of Death, show above, the only legal crossing of the North Circular that works in both direction in the east centre of the borough)
  2. Brentfield Road and Drury Way, which leads into the aforementioned lorry-plagued Great Central Way and the Wembley Park industrial estate with its hostile one-way race track roads
  3. Harrow Road, a relatively good crossing for skilled vehicular cyclists
  4. A proper cycle bridge between Stonebridge Station and Abbey road, well-built, but unfortunately rather hard to access from most points of origin
  5. The Grand Union Canal aqueduct, by far the nicest crossing, and a lovely piece of engineering, where the canal passes over the A406.
Could be Holland with left-had driving: the Stonebridge cycle bridge across the A406. Unfortunately, it doesn't connect to a viable cycle network.
The last red line on the map is the River Brent (B). I've included this tiny stream as a barrier because, strangely, it is, in the stretch between the reservoir and the A406 and West Coast Main Line nexus. It is crossed only at the very hostile Neaden Lane North (NNN), at an obscure and tiny path at Bridge Close (BC) which takes a lot of negotiating on a bike, at the aforementioned, horrible, Great Central Way (GCW), and then on a couple of bridges in the linear Brent River Park, which, to their credit, the borough has improved in recent years.

So the important point about the geography of Wembley and Neasden that I am pointing out is that there are no possible minor road routes to anywhere of any use. The Quietways concept expounded in the Mayor's Vision is not going to work here without some real new building. The only places routes could go at the moment would be the main roads, where full segregation would be needed to make the cycling experience attractive, and there is actually not even much space for that at many of the pinch-points. There is no grid of streets here that can be converted, say in the way that the street grids in Bloomsbury and Hackney can, and in many places, have been, converted, so that cyclists have a defined route through side-streets with mode-filters (road closures allowing cyclists through), while other roads in the grid are left open to take the through motor traffic. The pattern of development in Brent and many other places in Outer London is the "broccoli" style. The railways were built before the suburbs were built-up, and only allowed crossings at infrequently-spaced main roads. Infill development in the broccoli style later occurred, closing up the gaps and making it mostly impossible to build new crossings because the housing or industrial development became continuous. 

It was all rather badly-planned, and now we're stuck with it. The only real solution is to take every opportunity where redevelopment occurs (as it will in Wembley Park) to build new connections, and, in many places, public land acquisition will be necessary, and extensive rebuilding. This will be expensive, hence my calulations above for what facilities the Mayor's new money is likely to be able to buy in this sort of area. I'm labouring this point, even to the extent of drawing a scrappy map, because it's my experience that these problems in Outer London are often not understood, not only by policy-makers, but also by campaigners in less problematic areas, who've got hold of some over-simple ideas as to what measures might be necessary to create a quality cycle network in an old urban environment. Such problems are not unique to Brent; one can find areas of East and South London where they apply similarly, though I am not convinced that there is any other case quite so bad, from the severance point of view, as mid-Brent, though someone could try to convince me otherwise.

The old LCN and LCN+ concepts of the back-street routes, and even the newer Sustrans Greenway concepts, could not address these problems, and made no headway in areas like this. (A recently-proposed Sustrans-surveyed route across Brent north to south proposed going under the Metropolitan line at a tunnel for pedestrians accessing Northwick Park Station that is 1.2m wide: hopeless!) The new strategy does better because it is far more ambitious, and recognises that things really might need changing in a significant way – that it's not just a matter, as was often naively imagined before, of putting up signposts on residential roads:
We will use judicious capital investment to overcome barriers (such as railway lines) which are often currently only crossed by extremely busy main roads. Subject to funding, land and planning issues, we will build new cycling and pedestrian bridges across such barriers to link up Quietway side-street routes. (Vision, p. 14)
Clearly, the money on offer currently for Outer London isn't going to go far in doing this, which is why there is the sensible idea in the Vision of concentrating investment in only three demonstration areas (though how large these areas will be is not made clear). It would seem sensible, even so, for the chosen boroughs to try to augment this new money with funds from other sources, such as the Community Infrastructure Levy on new developments (a partial replacement for the old Section 106 funding schemes), and the public health budgets for which they are now responsible, if they wish to make the most of this "Little Hollands" concept.

And that brings me to another big question mark hanging over the Mayor's Vision: the attitude of the boroughs. There was a lot of good mood-music about this at the launch of the Vision, Gilligan telling the audience that he had spoken to all the boroughs, except for Greenwich (who had never got back to him), and that they were all going to be behind the plan. He specifically mentioned that Westminster, so long a bête noire to cycling campaigners, were now prepared to allow two-way cycling on one-way streets (though one suspects they still are not prepared to allow parking to be removed, or relocated, in order to build cycle tracks, so the Camden tracks in Howland Street and Maple Street will still come to a dead stop at Cleveland Street, at the Westminster border). The Vision says:
With the boroughs’ agreement, we will seek to open up a number of central one-way streets for two-way cycling, creating direct, easy, lower-traffic routes through the City and West End. Experience from the City and Kensington and Chelsea, who have brilliantly led this process, shows that it can be accomplished without traffic or safety impacts.

We will not be asking boroughs to remove traffic or, in the vast majority of cases, change parking on the two-way cycle streets, unless they want to. (p11)
I feel this is a pragmatic formulation to avoid "frightening the horses" of Westminster Council and the City Corporation. It would be a step forward from what we have, but on some busy routes it may become apparent that it is not enough, that contraflow cycling simply proves to be unsafe when squeezed between double rows of parked cars and a heavy traffic flow, and I'm not sure what will happen then. It's a reasonable enough formulation for truly quiet streets, of which there are some in the West End and City.

The fact remains, and this fact has been somewhat pushed into the background with all the good mood-music, that the boroughs control almost all the roads in London, and they can stop anything they don't want, coming out of the Cycling Vision, on their roads. They may be attracted to co-operate by the large sums on offer, even if they are not very convinced of the cycling agenda, for the purpose of achieving the objectives well-set out at the end of the Key Outcomes:
Our policies will help all Londoners, whether or not they have any intention of getting on a bicycle. Our new bike routes are a step towards the Mayor’s vision of a ‘village in the city’, creating green corridors, even linear parks, with more tree-planting, more space for pedestrians and less traffic.
But what will actually happen in less enlightened (mostly Outer London) boroughs when push comes to shove on the Quietway programme, when, to create these quiet routes, rat-run roads actually need closing to motor traffic? I am reminded, by a recent post about rat-running by The Alternative Department for Transportof conversations I have had with officers in Brent (not one of the most anti-cycling boroughs), relating to roads in the south of the borough (the easier part to make cycle-friendly), who still really do feel that it is a legitimate function of minor residential streets to be taking some of the motor traffic pressure off the main roads, and that closing rat-runs is neither politically nor practically possible. There's going to have to be a sea-change in attitudes here, amongst councillors and officers, to make the Quietways work. Overall, the Quietways are the aspect of the Vision I am least sanguine about. I feel this project could easily run into the same political quicksand that the LCN and putative Sustrans networks did, without very determined leadership from the Mayor and the Cycling Commissioner.

It may be thought that the only "little local difficulties" for the Vision may come from stick-in-the-mud Conservative-run outer Boroughs like Barnet, but I do wonder who will actually be getting in the way of it most. It seems that influential elements in vocally pro-cycling Hackney do not like the sound of much of it. Councillor Vincent Stops is the Chair of Hackney's Planning Committee, and shortly after the Vision launch, he put out some extraordinary tweets apparently criticising the whole approach:
Boris cycling plan. 9 out of 10 for vision. 5 of 10 content. Best bit-the quietways. Worst-lack of commitment to sorting one-way systems.
Boris cycling plan. Reasonable grasp of Hackney philosophy. Segregation generally not practicable, will go same way as LCN -into sand.
and most bizarre of all:
How many miles of trip hazards is Boris going to install. I'm sure Hackney will continue to focus on what's important for cycling and peds.
Councillor Stops has now written a blogpost to explain his views on Cycling and Walking in Hackney further:
Hackney has also reinvented its public realm, its streets and public places. At least ten years of consistent and high levels of investment from the local authority has built on congestion charging and has changed the borough's streets out of all recognition. There have been numerous complementary, 'soft' measures, to promote cycling and walking. There has been major and very subtle changes to street design and there has been a supportive town planning regime - most new housing development in Hackney is car free or car capped.

Hackney's approach is essentially simple and takes much from the work of Danish urbanist Jan Gehl. Hackney has seen an incremental change on its streets to: create a better balance between pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. There has been an equality of esteem for both movement and, crucially, urban design. Almost every intervention on Hackney's streets has improved its public realm and benefitted both cyclists and pedestrians. In Hackney we think about cycle journeys, not cycle routes.
This is all great, but I'm sorry to say, Hackney ain't the Netherlands. Or even Copenhagen. There are some good cycle routes and good spaces for cycling in Hackney (particularly Victoria Park), and some limited pleasant cycling experiences are possible in Hackney, but Hackney's main roads, that of course you cannot avoid for most practical journeys, are hell to cycle on, they are no better than Brent's, and they cripple cycling in the borough and will continue to limit it to a very small subset of the population until continental segregation methods are adopted on them. It is a telling fact that, in Hackney, only 3% of children cycle to school, whereas 33% want to. That's ten times better than Brent's 0.3%, but it's twenty times worse than Amsterdam's school cycling rate, and that's only half the Dutch average of 89%. By those standards it's pathetic, and represents a total failure to make the borough truly cycle-friendly, as children (along with old people) must be regarded as the "canaries in the mine" for a really breathable cycling atmosphere, not the hipsters on their fixie bikes around Broadway Market. So I think Cllr Stops should stop lecturing us, in other boroughs, about what cycle-friendly policies actually look like, and engage with the new agenda for truly inclusive cycling being propounded in the Mayor's Vision.

The essence of this Vision is around the recognition that cyclists need segregation on main roads. The kind of thing that Cllr. Stops seems to think everyone will trip over. I've been on about segregation for years, decades indeed, of course, boring people to death about it. Because (not to go over all the old stuff again), though I am fully aware that the successful continental cycling policy approaches include many other elements, including filtered permeability, 20mph (and slower) zones, bicycle streets, quality universal cycle training, and all the rest of it, I have constantly held the segregation on main roads to be the keystone of the arch, without which all other measures intended to create mass cycling will always fail, and that the substantive absence of this measure in the British environment was the essential explanation of the failure of all past political attempts to revive cycling in this country.

This demand for segregation on main roads, that the membership of LCC voted overwhelmingly for, was the origin of the LCC's Go Dutch campaign, and though the campaign became wider, was always at its heart. When the London Assembly Transport Committee held its enquiry into cycling safety, all the "expert" organisations asked to contribute, from the cycling side, the LCC, CTC, Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, and British Cycling, all were unanimous that cyclists need segregating from fast and heavy traffic on the roads. The point was emphatically made in the committee's report, as it had to be, with the observation that the efforts of Transport for London thus far to engineer a "cycling revolution" in London had missed out this critical detail. This criticism I believe had an effect on the Mayor and TfL, and in the Vision we see the result. The Vision mentions "segregation" 12 times and "segregated" 23 times, and those words were constantly mentioned by those presenting the strategy at its launch. A segregated "Crossrail for the Bike", segregated Superhighways and other segregated sections, as parts of the Central London Grid of routes and of the Quietways, are all now promised. The cover of the Vision document portrays the projected segregated route along the Embankment, and Camden's segregated Royal College Street (which was independent of the Mayor's plans), and the segregated proposed CS2 extension, form the first infrastructure illustrations in the body of the document.

For decades it was almost impossible to mention segregation in the world of UK cycle campaigning. It was "too controversial". It stirred people up too much. The word had to be avoided, on pain of ostracism. People searched for other ways to same the same thing: they talked of "separated", or "dedicated" infrastructure. They had to tiptoe around the linguistics. LCC's Campaigns Committee came up with the strange, fudged wording of "clear space for cycling on main roads" to cover the concept, without specifying it properly, when the options for the policy vote, that eventually led to the Go Dutch campaign, were decided upon.

The word segregation, for so long a dirty one in British cycling, has now been decontaminated. This is an essential breakthrough that comes with the Mayor's Vision. Nobody in British cycling ever will be afraid of talking of segregation again. Nobody will ever be ridiculed or ostracised for supporting segregation again. Those battles are fought and are now over. There could be a lot of things wrong with the Vision, and I would forgive them all for this. Now there are some things wrong with it. Some of it is too vague, and some of it already seems too compromising. Here's a problem passage:
Where it is not possible to segregate without substantially interfering with buses, we will install semi-segregation: shared bus and bike lanes, better separated from the rest of the traffic with means such as French-style ridges, cats’ eyes, rumble strips or traffic wands in the road. The lanes will also be wider, where space allows. (p13)
This is baffling. Shared cycle and bus lanes are possible, if they are wide enough for buses to overtake bikes with good clearance, but if they are not wide enough, separating them off by the means stated would be a disaster, as cyclists and buses would not be able to get past one another, and the result would be frustration for bus passengers and intimidation for cyclists. The real point about the interaction of buses and cyclists is they must not cross over at the stops; the bikes must always be able to undertake at the stops, whatever the arrangement on the links.  This is the only way to prevent conflict and furstration in the relationsahip between buses and bikes, because the two go at about the same average speed, but cyclists need to keep their momentum up to be efficient, while buses need to keep stopping. We must keep a consistent principle of cyclists being to the left of buses, as they do in the Netherlands (where it is to the right, obviously), whether the lanes are shared or separated. We have examples of the undertaking at stops arrangement already in London, for example at Royal College Street, and even at obscure places (but known to me) in the suburbs, like Kingsbury Road, Brent, and Imperial Drive, Harrow. The idea has not proved problematic wherever it has been tried, and TfL are now proposing it (in places) on Superhighway 2 in Stratford. This trend must spread, and it must become the default procedure.

The Waterloo Bridge bus and cycle lane is wide enough for both, and there would be no advantage, and considerable disadvantages, to segregating it off. But it fails at the stops, where cyclists have to pull out into a fast lane of traffic.
Another passage in the Vision document that I really worry about is this one:
[On the Quietways] Barriers and ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs will be removed as far as possible. Quietways will be particularly suited to new cyclists (p. 14)
Barriers will be removed "as far as possible"? What good on earth is that? We don't have through-roads and motorways where the barriers to the passage of cars are "removed as far as possible". This is idiotic. But the "particularly suited to new cyclists" phrase is the strangest part. It implies that other elements of the vision, the Superhighways and Grid routes, perhaps, will be less suited to new cyclists. This suggests those routes will still, in places, have poor standards of subjective safety. It suggests a compromised vision from the start, and the whole of that sentence, with the "so far as possible", and the "new cyclists" (for "new", maybe read "nervous", or "slow", or "child") suggests, nastily, a reversion to the two-track thinking about cycling provision that has been such a disaster since it became a common idea amongst UK street designers a couple of decades ago, formalised in later Department for Transport guidance, in Local Transport Note 2/08 and Local Transport Note 1/12. Such a reversion to two-track, or multi-track, thinking is also suggested by:
We will grade routes so people know what to expect (p 16)
Two-track, or multi-track, planning for cycling leads to indirect, obstructed, impractical routes for "beginners" that will put them off cycling, and, on the other side, unsafe provision for "confident cyclists". It simply has no role in the Dutch approach to cycle provision. The Dutch build everything up to a common standard, a standard equally suited to use by a 7-year old child and by a 60-year old veteran racing cyclist. There are no routes for "beginners" (though there are extra fast routes, as Bicycledutch tell us).

I don't wish to harp on too much about this, as other phrases in the Vision suggest that the lessons of the compromised route planning of cycle networks in London of the past have been learned. But I think we will have to be very vigilant about the whole Quietways concept implementation. Whereas Cllr Stops thinks the Quietways are the best part of the vision, I think they are the most dubious, having most potential to go wrong again, and to me the talk of "routes suited to beginners" and "grading" is the most worrying part of the whole Vision. But I may be over-analysing a few words here.

What seems to have least potential to go wrong is the headline project, the "Crossrail for the Bike", on the north bank of the Thames. This is very largely under the control of TfL, and I see no reason why they can't get on with it rapidly, and finish it in under two years to a high standard. Certainly Boris stands to benefit enormously from seeing such a high-profile facility built quickly and efficiently. The Superhighway programme, currently limping along painfully slowly, needs to be accelerated, along with having its standards radically raised, as the Vision promises, otherwise it continues to have the potential to embarrass Boris. With the co-operation of Camden and Islington (very likely), and Westminster and the City (more dubious), good progress should also be possible on the Central London Bike Grid in a couple of years.

I am worried, with As Easy As Riding a Bike, about the lack of detail in the Vision as to how junctions on the various networks will be managed. This is one area on which campaigners will need to keep the closest eye. But this essay has gone on far too long already, so I'll not get into junctions now. I also wonder whether putting part of the "Crossrail" route on the elevated Westway can actually work. I have my doubts; it's politically daring, but it doesn't sound like it will make for an attractive cycling experience. But I'll have to leave that for now as well.

When I first saw the headlines in the Vision I was 95% optimistic about it. Now, having read and thought about the detail, and having seen everybody else's thoughts, I am about 75% optimistic. Yes, we know that paths of the standard of what is proposed on the Embankment already go everywhere in the Netherlands. So, David Hembrow implies, what's so great to make a song and dance about here?  But they don't in the UK. That's the point. We have to start. A start in the very heart of London is quite momentous. I welcome the start, and I welcome the transformed language, and apparently transformed ambition, of the Mayor's Vision. I'll be the first, or one of the first, for there are many eagle, critical eyes in the London cycling community, to find fault with the implementation of the Vision, to criticise any backsliding in the ambition, and to attack any attempt to conceal, mislead, or pull the wool over our  eyes over funding, or push hype over substance and claim as adequate standards when better should have been achieved. It could all go wrong, and we could be back much were we are now in ten years' time. But I don't think so, not this time. In the past, as I said at the start, the vision was fundamentally, obviously flawed from the first. This time it is not. It could just work this time. It's now down to everybody, everybody in the entire city of Greater London, to make it work. The people of this city deserve it.

Friday, 8 March 2013

A Vision of Change

It was at the end of November that I last blogged specifically about cycling policies from the Mayor of London.

I reflected there that I had
Stated quite clearly in April my belief that Boris Johnson's commitment to the London Cycling Campaign's Go Dutch principles was not sincere.
and noted
It's now six months after the election, and there's still no real plan to put the Go Dutch commitment into action in any way, shape or form.
[Johnson] has not made good his promise to appoint a cycling "czar" or commissioner, and we have no idea what powers or influence such a figure would have, when appointed. He has spoken of some sort of new cycle link across central London to join the dangling ends of the Superhighways, which appears, from a limited press report, as if it will use the Embankment. It's being called a "super-corridor".
According to the Standard article, Boris is going to publish some sort of a "Cycling Vision" document this month, which will explain all.
I remain very pessimistic. At every stage I have been proved right about Boris's lack of real commitment to Going Dutch.

Well the Standard got it wrong, because the "Cycling Vision" document did not come out then. It came out yesterday, 7 March 2013. We got the Cycling Commissioner in January: journalist (and cyclist) Andrew Gilligan was appointed to the post. Gilligan blogs through the Daily Telegraph site, and it soon became clear that he was aware of what the cycle blogging community was saying about him and his position. On Twitter I called his initial statement on taking up the post "short but promising", continuing that, while I could appreciate the argument that some had made for a technician or engineer to be given the job,
[I] have time for Gilligan and I'm willing to give him a chance. It's a highly political job and he might just be the right man.
That's all I have said on the subject thus far. It looks, in retrospect, as if the delay in launching the "Cycling Vision" must have been due to negotiations between Johnson and Gilligan, and possibly others in City Hall or Transport for London, Gilligan getting bedded-down in the job and taking over the strategy, and further thought and development on it so it could be launched to his satisfaction, in a form that was not likely to raise a chorus of criticism or disappointment from bloggers, the London Cycling Campaign, and the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.

Gilligan today succeeded in this. The details of "The Mayor's Vision for Cycling in London" were released at a meeting in City Hall at 11:30am yesterday to which I, and many others on the London cycling scene, were invited with less than 48 hours notice. (Actually the details were released slightly before this and were already appearing on websites and news reports earlier in the morning.) The document that we were given can be read here. It's already been well covered by Cyclists in the City, who has described the plan as "game-changing", ibikelondon, who has described it as "a bold and ambitious document", and LCC, who described it as "ground-breaking". I would not dissent from these descriptions at the present stage. It seems, from what we have seen now, that I was wrong to describe Boris' Johnson's commitment to the Go Dutch principles to which he signed up before the mayoral election as "insincere". He was sincere, he was just taking his time to develop the details, and I owe him an apology, which I will give to him in person if he invites me round (he was not present at the launch of his "Vision", it was launched by Deputy Mayor Isabel Dedring, along with Ben Plowden, Director of Intergrated Programme Delivery at TfL, and Gilligan, on whom the limelight mostly was.)

In case you haven't yet seen the headlines, they are that TfL intends to double cycling in London in the next 10 years, and the key measures they intend to deploy are:
  1. A new network of cycle routes in central London This is the "Bike Grid" originally proposed by LCC, which will consist of "high volume, high-quality routes, using a combination of segregation and quiet shared streets."
  2. A Crossrail for the bike This will be a segregated cycle highway east-west across London from the A40, which will get improved cycle tracks (back to something like they were in 1934?), to Canary Wharf and Barking.
  3. Better Barclays Cycle Superhighways "Delivered to much higher standards, closer to international best practice"
  4. New Quietways Routes created from low-traffic back streets, using filtered permeability techniques, and using other spaces, such as parks. "Unlike the old London Cycle Network, Quietways will be direct. They will be better-surfaced... They will not give up at the difficult places... We will build new cycling and pedestrian bridges across barriers [such as railways] to link up Quietway side-street routes"
  5. "Mini-Hollands" in the suburbs "We will chose between one and three willing Outer London boroughs to make into mini-Hollands, with very high spending concentrated on these relatively small areas for the greatest possible impact"
And here is the video for the "Crossrail" concept for the Embankment. This is by-now an obligatory part of any blogpost on this subject.

It looks great, and the bones of the "Vision" look great too. There is a lot to pick over in these bones, and I cannot do so now. That will be for future blogposts, to consider in more detail how the five headline initiatives might, or should, work, what the possible pitfalls will be, where we need more concrete details to understand and make up our minds, and to mention any ideas in the vision that I might take issue with or have reservations about. But I can say now that these reservations will not be fundamental. The Mayor and Transport for London have clearly moved on decisively in producing this plan, taking into account virtually everything that this blog, many other vocal blogs and commentators, the LCC, and other campaigners have been saying about the problems with the earlier stages of the Johnson administration's cycling policy. It's vital that we don't let them off any hooks, and keep pressing for the highest standards, and criticising and protesting, if necessary, about any backsliding or unsatisfactory compromises in the delivery of the vision.

This change has been born of criticism and public protest, I am certain of it. If we can trace it back to a point in recent history, within the lifetime of this blog, it would be to the first "flashmob" protest organised by LCC at Blackfriars Bridge on 20 May 2011, which was one of the first campaigning events I reported on this blog. We had never had a mass protest by cyclists of this type, on a specific issue, in London, before. These protests continued, culminating on the flashride on 22 February 2012 in Westminster to coincide with the parliamentary debate on cycle safety inspired by the Times's Cities fit for Cycling campaign. I wrote on 4 March 2012, slightly over one year ago,
A rubicon was passed on the night of 22 February 2012. The vast ship of public indifference to cycling safety and cycling conditions in the UK, that campaigners have been pushing and shoving at for decades, getting nowhere, had started moving. Almost imperceptibly, over the winter of 2011–12, it had started to slide down the slipway into the river. The Times campaign had given it a welcome shove, but their effort was dependent on those of many others who had toiled away long before.
There was another absolutely critical element to the story, apart from protest, though. This was campaigning clarity and vision. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain was formed almost contemporaneously with the start of this blog, and they started a campaign – initially without me, I only found out about them after their first meeting – with a crystal clarity of purpose, namely, to make known, and campaign for the import to the UK of, the world's best practice in engineering safe and attractive cycling environments, from wherever that best practice might be found. This changed the cycle campaigning landscape nationally, despite the fact the Embassy was, and remains, only as small group of activists, with a much larger group of supporters. And the London Cycling Campaign changed tack. It had had a lot of varied and complicated, sometimes even contradictory, campaigns in the past with no tremendously clear vision at its heart of what a "world-class cycling city", in one of the buzz-phrases, would actually look like. It had not had a sufficiently clear or consistent critique of where the Johnson administration (and the Livingstone one before that) were going wrong in their cycling policies. Its methods were highly diplomatic (despite not being an "Embassy"), and public statements and actions sometimes rather weak.

Change was initiated by a new, highly-focused CEO, Ashok Sinha, and other key campaigners such as Mustafa Arif, Campaigns Chair, who, in addition to being willing to confront TfL and the Mayor more directly with the mass cycling protests, openly organised by LCC, decided to run a huge campaign for the 2012 Mayoral election based on one campaigning headline, chosen by the whole membership in a vote, a thing the organisation had never done before, its methods and policies of old having been determined by a small coterie of committed activists. The vote, in July 2011, was on the following options:
1) Start Right: getting 100,000 children cycling regularly to school
2) Love Thy Neighbourhood: double the number of local journeys by bike
3) Go Dutch: clear space for cycling on main roads in every borough
4) Unwind: replace the 10 worst gyratories with cycle-friendly junction
I fronted the campaign to get the membership to choose Option 3, with a performance in this video, filmed at the Torrington Place segregated cycle track in Bloomsbury. Option 3 won by an overwhelming margin. Option 3 developed into the Love London, Go Dutch campaign that culminated in a petition which gathered 40,000 signatures, a ride in which 10,000 cyclists took part in, in pouring rain, to press the Go Dutch demands onto the mayoral candidates, and a public debate organised by The Times just before the electionat which Johnson acquitted himself none too well. As a result of that, most cyclists that I know were campaigning against him being returned to City Hall. But he did join Ken Livingstone, Brian Paddick, Jenny Jones and Siobhan Benita, mayoral candidates all, in endorsing the Go Dutch demands – much to my surprise, but not to the surprise of Mustafa Arif. So that was another occasion when I mistook Johnson.

In the "Vision" published today we see a serious attempt to incorporate the principles of Go Dutch into the planning and management of London over the next 10 years, backed up by credible political leadership and credible (but by no means over-generous) funding commitments (getting on for £1 billion over ten years so far promised). The Vision accepts the central premise of the Go Dutch campaign: that for cycling to develop into a mass phenomenon in London (and anywhere else) it must be made subjectively safe, pleasant and easy, with its own protected, dedicated spaces.

Of course, long before the Go Dutch campaign, David Hembrow was blogging from the Netherlands in his trenchant manner to explain exactly what a subjectively safe, attractive cycling environment that generated a mass cycling culture looked like. His blog was an enormous influence on most of the people who drove both the Cycling Embassy and the Go Dutch campaign. But long before he was blogging, Camden Cycling Campaign was campaigning, successfully, for Dutch-style, segregated cycle infrastructure in central London. And that started off, I recall, because a chap called Mick Hamer, who wrote for New Scientist and cycling publications,  and had experienced Dutch cycle infrastructure back in the 1970s, had an angry outburst in a meeting in Camden Town Hall that I attended, when I was very new to cycle campaigning, in the mid-1990s. The campaign for Dutch-style infrastructure in Camden was later driven forwards by Paul Gannon, Paul Gasson, and others in Camden Cycling Campaign, resulting in the tracks we have today that are soon going to start getting upgraded.

I've written about the Camden campaign, and the infrastructure that resulted, warts ands all, a few times. And one of my my central themes has been that to get it, we had to demand it, in an optimistic spirit of it being possible, not go around saying "It'll never happen in Britain, everything is wrong here, it's pointless, the culture is wrong, everybody is against us, it can't be done". Demanding top-quality cycling infrastructure does not, of course, guarantee getting it, but unless you demand it, you cannot get it. On a London-wide basis, we've now demanded it, and we've had, yesterday, the response.

I'm not complacent in any idea that we are inevitably on the way now to a cycling nirvana in London. London is currently, by and large, a pretty abysmal pace for cycling, with 98% of all journeys not by bike, for excellent reasons. It's going to take a true revolution, on any definition of the word, to turn that around. So far we only have promises. We've had plenty of those before. But the signs are very good. I believe that, if Johnson, TfL and Gilligan can carry through the policies they have now outlined, truly, without compromise, they will easily achieve far more than the stated objective of doubling cycling in London in a decade. They will revolutionise transport in the United Kingdom. Watch this space.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Getting cyclists "out of the way of cars": is it wrong?

This post is related to a marvellous post on As Easy As Riding A Bike, which discusses the traditions of cycle campaigning in the UK, and, in particular, the "No Surrender" (of the right to use the highway) attitude which originated in the 1930s and continues to be a major force in determining attitudes of British cycling organisations today towards cycling provision, good and bad. I urge you to read it, if you haven't already done so. It's long, and if you have even more stamina, you can read the comments as well. The second most popular post on the present blog, 1934: The moment it all went wrong for cycling on the UK from 2011, was on a similar theme.

What concerns me in this post is the argument, related to the "No Surrender" one, that we should not be aiming to "get cyclists out of the way" of motor vehicles. This has gone down the ages. As Easy As Riding quotes The Times from 1934 reporting a conference on road safety:
The Cyclists’ Touring Club stated that the provision of cycle paths at the side of any of the main roads would not be with the object of giving cyclists a good path on which to ride, but to remove them from the road in the interests of motorists.
So we have the from this stage association of "the interest of motorists" with the convenience, safety and relaxation of traffic-free cycle paths, as if the former were an undesirability so huge that it necessarily trumps the latter. The sentiment is effectively: "A cycle path might be lovely for cyclists, but it might also help motorists to go faster, so we can't possibly have that".

Taking this theme up to date, see, for example, CTC's recent campaigners' briefing on Cycle Friendly Planning & Design (that I have quoted before). On Page 3, under "What cyclists want", it says that, according to the results of CTC's survey, one of the things they they want is:
To feel valued, not "kept out of the way of the traffic"
So again there is this opposition being set up between benefiting cyclists and benefiting motorists. If cyclists are valued, then they will not be "out of the way". And when I have heard Roger Geffen, the author of this document, talking about the results of this survey, this has been a point he has always emphasised: "yes" to segregated cycle facilities, in the right places, if they are good enough, but "no" to  just "getting cyclists out of the way" of motorists.

The trouble is that the one effect of constructing segregated tracks on main roads, where segregated paths are most needed, must be to "get cyclists out of the way" of the motor traffic flow. But why is this seen as such a big deal? Why is it seen as wrong?

It's partly a matter of language, of course, of phrasing, the way the situation is expressed. Deliberately negative language is being employed by the cycle advocates quoted here. One, more constructive, way of thinking about the segregation of modes is to say that we are "segregating cars away from people". And there is always a pro-safety argument to segregation, for any of the modes segregated, foot, bike or car. If you make each flow uniform in terms of speed and momentum, as nearly as you can, which can never be achieved when mixing modes, then you reduce the change of serious damage occurring as a resault of accidents. This is one of the principles of Dutch philosophy of sustainable safety

If motorists do not have the worry of how to negociate around bikes, vehicles with very different characteristis to their own, it takes one stress away from them and one source of unpredictability in their enviornment, a thing that they might well welcome, and a thing that might actually be beneficial even to their safety. But does that make it wrong? Are cycle advocates supposed to be so opposed to motor culture in all its forms that anything that is done that might make life easier or safer for motorists must be opposed whatever possible benefits it might also have for cyclists? And yes, if we get cyclists "out of the way" of cars, then, on some roads, in some circumstances, that might cause cars to go faster. It might result in smoother journeys, and these might be more fuel-efficient. Lesss pollution might be generated by a road traffic composition which allows drivers to cruise rather than have to break behind cyclists and then accellerate to overtake them. Is all this wrong?

Now, in the early stages, the period of the 1930s in Britain discussed above, I think part of the driver for the "don't get cyclist out of the way of cars" attitude was the frequently poor quality of the cycle path alternative that was on offer: though whether there was or was not generally a more fundamental philosophical objection behind this, such that no quality of cycle path would have been good enough for the leaders of cycling, it was the "principle of the thing", is open to debate. And of course the quality of cycle facilities continues to be the big issue in the UK, as this blog has continually pointed out from the first. But we do see the same objection raised, weirdly, even when the quality of the provision for bikes is world-class, and the results massively successful in transport policy terms.

Here's the example which actually prompted this post. Mark Wagenbuur posted on his blog Bicycledutch a piece about a new flyover for bikes that has been constructed at Enschede. It looks rather good. It allows them to cross a main road without interaction with the motor traffic at all, replacing what used to be a signalised crossing. It allows more capacity for bikes, because they don't stack up at the lights, and it takes away a delay (replacing it with a slightly longer journey as cyclists have to cycle a curved ramp to get up to the flyover). Of course, there are equivalent benefits to motorists. Because the crossing is eliminated, the capacity of the road is increased, motorists' journeys are speeded-up, and their journeys are likely to be more fuel efficient, because they do not have to stop here anymore.

So basically here you have major infrastructure dedicated to cycling, constructed at great expense, to totally separate cycling form the motor flow. Something you get a lot in the Netherlands, the word's most cycle-friendly nation: there are other good examples on the same blog. So, to quote Anna Soubry, Health Minister, giving evidence to the all Party Parliamentary Cycling Group Enquiry yesterday, "What's not to like?"

Well, something, apparently, for some cycle capmaigners in the UK. It's the old "we don't want to be got out of the way of traffic" thing again, isn't it? Richard Mann, cycle campaigner from Oxford, advertised the post about the brige in Enschede on his Twitter feed in this way:
Cyclists given a long looping ramp in Enschede so they don't hold up traffic … >Hmm
And in the three letters of that "Hmm" lie a distillation of a century of "attitude" in the relationship between cycling activists, motorists, and infrastructure in the UK. The example here is a slightly new type, as this is not the old business of objecting to the "pushing off" of cyclists on to paths, the paths were already there. Now the Dutch are going further, as they are increasingly doing all over their country, and  separating by level to completely divorce the cycling experience from the motoring environment, rather than relying on the old methods  (old for them, but still not much adopted in the UK) of signals to share space at different times on the level road crossings. The objection now seems to be that this is taking away some "function" of cycling in limiting or controlling traffic or "civilising the environment", and you see this very often in British and American writings on sustainable transport.

I have actually changed my position on this one. I used to be very sceptical of the idea of engineering mode separation by level, particularly in cities, because I associated it with the kind of community severance I see in north London, near where I live, riven by the North Circular Road, dominating the landscape, that pedestrians, and cyclists if they can manage it, given the total lack of specific provision for them, must burrow under in dank holes, or fly over on windy walkways, to cross. And London and other British cities are full of this kind of thing. I wrote in my article about a successful German cycling city, Münster's Cycling solution, published in the April/May 2009 edition of London Cyclist, the following:
Cyclists [in Münster] are treated as a proper flow of traffic, integrated into signalised systems. There are generally not multiple levels of transport infrastructure, as beloved by British traffic engineers. Space is shared at surface level, and cyclists and pedestrians are not inconveniently forced up and down over bridges or through underpasses. Motor traffic is made to give way as necessary to give the sustainable modes enough priority.
So, like many now, at that time I was uncomfortable with the idea of accommodating flows of cyclists, pedestrians and motor traffic in cities through separation by level. (I heard this model of urban planning described recently by an LCC activist as "the last refuge of the scoundrel".)

What changed my opinion was seeing just how well the Dutch are doing this now, and what it can do for the cycling environment. I didn't believe, before I went on the study tour in Asssen with David Hembrow, how totally it is actually possible to separate cycling and motor flows, and how nice that makes the cycling experience, by removing almost all the delays you get in other systems, and even removing quite faint, but significant, environmental impacts on the cycling experience from the motor flows, like the noise, the smell from exhausts when cars are held at signals, the tension of judging timings at intersections, and the agitating effect of having heavy machines at speed pass you by not very far away, even when you have segregated tracks. The Dutch are increasingly taking all this away from the cycling experience, and the effect is that everybody wants to cycle in the environment so created. So, whereas four years ago I would have argued that problems like the North Circular Road crossings should optimally be solved with surface-level crossings to reunite the severed communities, now I would prefer to see this kind of thing that we saw in Assen:

A recent innovation in Assen: where there was previously a level intersection between the motor trunk road and the cycle road, there is now no contact between them. The road is elevated and isolated behind noise barriers.
The Dutch model, make no mistake, has been the most fantastic success in achieving very high cycling levels, around 20% of all journeys, in a country where most people can afford cars. It's a success that is not totally dependent on the technology of bridges, underpasses, roundabouts, signals and tracks, but that is a very large part of it, as anyone who has experienced it, or read the blogs  Bicycledutch and A View From The Cycle Path will know. But, at least in the UK, and probably elsewhere, we have a strand of opinion that wants to reject this technology for other reasons. We see it very strongly in the writings of Bob Davis, founder of the Road Danger Reduction Forum. Much of what Bob says on that site I actually heartily endorse, and many of his writings have been very influential on my thinking in the past. But Bob's interventions on the As Easy As Riding A Bike blogpost are classic of this "Not out of the way" strand of thinking.

It's like there is another agenda going on behind this cycling thing. You may have thought that when you get on your bike, you are just using it as a cheap, efficient and fun way of getting from A to B with minimal invasion on the pleasure and convenience of anybody else. But no, in a fundamentalist "pro-integration of all forms of traffic" world-view, what you are doing is serving a higher function. You and your bicycle are helping to control the motor traffic. You are making it go slower and you are "civilising the street". No matter that you didn't ask for this job, it is YOUR JOB, as a sort of Holy Responsibility, to sort the whole world of transport and the urban environment out, and "civilise the street" by getting on your bike. You are just the instrument of this method of civilisation of the city. YOU are The Martyr.

The thing is, most people just want to ride their bikes, and not have to interact with motor traffic, and they don't think it's their job, when on two wheels, to "get in the way" of cars and slow the traffic. Many British traffic planners seem to think it is, witness the rash of road narrowing schemes in London, where a stated objective is often deliberately to allow insufficient space for cars to overtake cyclists in the narrowed lanes, so cyclists regulate the speed of traffic. I am one with many other cycle bloggers who think this is a terrible policy that will do nothing for the attractiveness of cycling.

Now, don't get this wrong, I do believe we should have slower, more civilised city streets. I do believe we should have more genuine "sharing" of space on streets between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. But doing that, I think all the successful European models conclusively show, involves reducing motor traffic to a bare minimum on streets (as opposed to roads for movement, of which the road in Enschede with the cycle bridge and the road in Assen with the cycle underpass were examples), and enforcing very low speeds through both policing and design. So achieving that "sharing" and that "civilisation" is mostly about actually removing motor traffic, in practice, and what that means is the deployment of the technology of segregation in its various forms, providing routes round urban centres that are specialised to take the heavy through-traffic from one place to another, with suitable alternatives for pedestrians and bikes, and unravelling modes so that the streets you want to be civilised in town centres are actually dominated by human traffic. To get that dominance, you have to allow safe and pleasant mass cycling, cycling for all, regardless of determination or willingness to act as "human traffic calming" or "street civilising material". For that you need all the apparatus of segregation, of low speed limits, of preferential treatment and priority for cycle traffic. You need quite a lot of engineering. All the experience of cycling systems the world over shows this.

The trouble is in part that people have different agendas, and campaigns for more or safer cycling can get wrapped up in all kinds of other political objectives. I take the view that the car is here, with us, to stay, for a long time yet. We can't abolish it, but we can get people to make smarter travel choices, and only use it when it really is the most sensible mode for the purpose, and walk, cycle and take trains at other times, for the vast majority of their journeys. We need to employ the best methods we can to do this, and we need to do the things that have been actually shown to work to get people on bikes in societies similar to our own. We can't solve all the problems of the world and of the environment in this one step, and we can't get rid of private motorised transport. We can engineer its environment so that it is less intrusive on our cities and countryside and less obstructive and less discouraging to the sustainable modes.

It may well be, indeed it is the case, that sometimes, in the history of debate on these things, the most rabidly petrol-headed of commentators or law-makers has been in favour of the construction of cycle paths ands tracks principally in order that cyclists should be got out of the way of their motorised activities. But that is not an adequate reason to go on opposing proven solutions which demonstrably can create a better transport environment for all, more inclusivity of mobility, and innumerable health and social benefits. That is a simplistic politics of reaction – "My enemy thinks it is good, so I must oppose it" – not reason, that we need to move beyond.

For ultimately the "not out of the way" mentality is a motor-centric one. We don't think it unreasonable to keep bikes and pedestrians "out of the way" of trains or aircraft. Why not? It's that this "not out of the way of cars" concept depends on the thinking that "in the way" is necessarily "where the cars are at". In other words, the contention is that the roads that cars are presently occupying are the basic, central social territory that other transport modes must not cede to them. But it doesn't have to be regarded this way.

The Netherlands show us another model, one that's actually workable in an advanced industrialised society much like ours. Cars can be pushed out of our towns, and out of the residential and social areas of our cities, if we wish it, to a considerable extent, and their principal arteries, while recognising they need to continue to exist, can be made irrelevant to cycling and walking by parallel provision. Clearly we are a long way from this in the UK right now, but so were the Dutch 40 years ago. (This in a way was what British motorway-building was all about, though that didn't solve our problems because of other policy failures.) The argument about getting bikes "out the way of cars" can be made irrelevant, because "where the cars are" is no longer critical territory for everyday non-motorised living, any more than the railway lines or canals or docks are. There's a paradigm shift in thinking that I'm alluding to here. But if cycle campaigning continues to obsess about "not getting us out of the way" of the cars, we'll continue to be be stuck in the same old loop.