Friday, 31 October 2014

The Mayor's Vision for Cycling in London: 18 month assessment

I last wrote extensively on The Mayor's Vision for Cycling in London shortly after it was announced, in March 2013. We are now 18 months on, so I thought I would try to assess 'how it is going'.

A reminder: the Vision is aiming for a doubling of cycling in London over 10 years, achieved mainly through these four programmes:
  1. Cycles Superhighways (Including the E-W "Bike Crossrail")
  2. The Central London Grid
  3. Quietways outside Central London
  4. Outer-London mini-Hollands
About £900 million was earmarked for spending over 10 years on these, but only £370 million was expected to be spent by May 2016, the rest of Boris Johnson's tenure as Mayor, with the rest being dependent on the wishes of whoever is elected to replace him.

Now the first thing to say is that the rate of progress has been disappointing. Summer is the usual time for spades to be put in the ground for major work on the roads.  I thought a year would be adequate for Transport for London to put their plans in place and assemble the correct staff, and that we would probably see something happening this summer. But summer passed, and nothing much happened, except a draft of the much-delayed, and in the event exceedingly lengthy and somewhat un-focused London Cycle Design Standards document was released for consultation. (See the excellent Cycling Embassy response on this.)  The Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, has been giving talks everywhere, and press releases have been common, but there's been no spades in the ground. What has been built in the last 18 months was either in train before (as was the Cycle Superhighway 2 extension), or the result purely of a borough initiative (as was the rebuild of the Royal College Street cycle track).

On the other hand, though it is getting going painfully slowly, there are signs of a seriousness to the project that go far beyond what we have been used to seeing before in the politics of UK cycle provision. I have, for example, actually watched (sad, benighted creature that I am) the examination of the chief officers of the project, including Gilligan and Lilli Matson, TfL's Head of Delivery Planning, by the GLA's Budget Monitoring Subcommittee. It is very clear if you watch this that we are in a rather different world to the borough Town Hall meetings of old where a 'Cycling Officer', a rather unimportant council employee who happened to be quite keen on cycling, would turn up before a few pretty uninterested councillors in a dirty yellow lycra suit and explain how he proposed to spend a few thousand pounds on painting some lines on pavements. Now, we have people establishing the serious business case for the expenditure, monitoring and auditing by actual outcome, of how many cycle journeys are generated, for hundreds of millions of pounds spent across a city of 10 million people. This is a hard-headed world which is little to do with wanting to 'look green' or create a bit of good PR with 'cyclists', but everything to do with keeping a major city moving and keeping it in business, and spending public money sensibly and effectively.

So what of the four programmes? In brief, if you haven't got time to read further, I'd say this: The Cycle Superhighways are now looking quite promising as the standards, programme and timetable for them is becoming clear. The timetable, nature and likely ultimate success of the Central London Grid is much less clear, and that is because TfL doesn't control most of it, the boroughs do. The programme for the Quietways is becoming slightly clearer, but the standard of implementation is in doubt. There seems to be a problem with people understanding the nature of the Quietways; Andrew Gilligan seems to have to keep explaining it again, and that must be his fault for not being clear enough from the start. The mini-Hollands still have not progressed sufficiently to draw any conclusions.


According to Gilligan at the budget subcommittee, around half of the total budget for Superhighways (£209m) is scheduled to have been spent by May 2016. The initial four superhighways that were created by painting the road blue – CS2 from Stratford to Aldgate, CS3 from Barking to Tower Gateway,  CS7 from Merton to The City  and CS8 from Wandsworth to Westminster are promised to be re-engineered 2016. However, the only one for which we have seen plans is the notorious CS2. These are being consulted on currently (ends 2 November), and look worth supporting, containing a large element of segregation, though the solution for Bow Roundabout is still sub-optimal, and a further round of improvements here is promised at a later date.

Then there are the two 'new' un-numbered Superhighways, known as the East-West (previously 'Bike Crossrail') from Tower Hill to Acton, and the North-South from Kings Cross to Elephant & Castle. These are due to be completed by May 2016, except for the Westway section of the East-West. They are being consulted on now (here and here). You should act quickly to respond, if you have not already done so: consultation closes 2 November. The plans have been well-received by campaigners and bloggers, being again for mostly segregated tracks achieving a generally high standard of provision and capacity. These new Superhighways also meet two of the main criticisms levelled at the original Superhighways plan: that the routes didn't go into the centre, and they didn't connect up. These two Superhighways will cross at Blackfriars north junction, though they will be at different levels there. They will be connected by a major junction remodelling, converting one of the current slip-roads off the bridge into the connecting two-way cycle track. Construction of all this will mark the final success of the Blackfriars campaign that this blog covered extensively in 2011.

What LCC demanded in 2011

What is now being offered. Sustained campaigning and protest by thousands of people put this on the table as a realistic possibility.
The plans for the East-West and North-south Superhighways are really not complete at all. The North-South, in particular, seem not to deserve its name, as it is just a 'stub' compared to the far more important East-West, and most of what has been planned is south of the Thames, further emphasising the Superhighway network's already very strong south-of-the-Thames bias. Far from getting anywhere near 'north' London, it peters out in the backstreets of Clerkenwell's existing Seven Stations Link (London Cycle Network Route 0) in the Ampton and Cubitt Streets area, seemingly baffled by the King's Cross Gyratory. It could connect with Camden's proposed route on Midland Road up towards Camden and Kentish Towns ultimately, but still it seems disappointing in concept compared to the East-West route: we might have expected a high-profile main road route up at least as far as Kings Cross. However, let's not be churlish: with a good segregated cycle track on Blackfriars Bridsge, we could finally declare the Battle for Blackfriars won.

There are still big gaps in the East-West plan, mostly concerned with the Royal Parks. What to do at St James's Park and in front of Buckingham Palace still has not been decided, though the suggestion of replacing the horse ride by Constitution Hill with a cycle track is a good one. Andy why, at the chaotic Wellington Arch, why do TfL propose 'a larger shared space to replace sections of grass to provide more space for pedestrians, cyclists and horses'? Why not just have clear dedicated routes so everybody knows where they are? Using the Carriage Drives in Hyde Park is a good plan, as they don't get disrupted by the park's frequent commercial entertainments, but these sections have not been designed yet. Different options are given in the Lancaster Gate area, and the idea for using the elevated A40 Westway to Acton seems still sketchy: further consultation on this is promised in 2015.

On the other hand, the plan for The Embankment, Bridge Street and Parliament Square is a clearly-defined game-changer: a high-capacity, high-profile two-way cycle track driven right past the Houses of Parliament and across the formerly intimidating and hostile gyratory of the Square. For this section alone the plans would deserve massive praise, and the scale and ambition of the East-West and North-South Superhighway concepts overall demand that all who are interested in the environment of the city and its transport network, whether they cycle or not, show their support.

Of the other Superhighways, CS5 Belgravia to New Cross is supposed to be finished by the end of 2015, and there may then be an extension east of New Cross. The plans for extensive segregation of the inner section, Belgravia to Oval, were consulted on this Summer, and look quite good. The outer section will use semi-segregation, we are told, but the exact character of this does not seem to have been decided.

CS1 City to Tottenham will not be on the roads originally planned, it will be on smaller roads, and possibly built by Autumn 2016. CS11 from Regents park to Brent Cross is also due to be finished by Autumn 2016. It depends on Westminster and the Royal Parks agreeing to the closure to through-traffic of the Outer Circle. It will thence run up Avenue Road, Finchley Road and Hendon Way, but we have see no plans for this so far.

CS4 Tower Bridge to Woolwich is supposed to be finished by 2017, and a new (so far un-numbered) Superhighway is planned on Lea Bridge Road in connection with the Waltham Forest mini-Holland project. CS9 which should have gone from Hyde Park to Hounslow has run into opposition from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It looks like TfL will only be able to progress the sections in Hammersmith & Fulham and Hounslow, and the timetable for these is currently unclear.

That's a total of twelve Superhighways, the number originally projected, though they are not all in the originally projected locations. The original CS12 Angel to Muswell Hill and CS10 Hyde Park to Park Royal have been abandoned. CS10 is supposedly replaced by the East-West route on the A40, but this means, with the original CS11 alignment having been moved east, from the A5 to the A41, that Brent, quite an inner borough (though technically an Outer London one) will have been completely left out of the Superhighways programme.

I have to say I take all TfL's projected completion dates with a massive bag of salt. We were told, after all, in late 2012, that CS5, 9, 11 and 12 would be launched in 2013. Well, clearly the rethink on the whole nature of the CSHs after LCC's Go Dutch Campaign and the appointment of Gilligan as Commissioner caused that three-year delay. But the longer timescale is for the best if what we get is actually good. The designs we are seeing now show a step-change in quality from what we were offered before. Problems tend to come at a few places at big junctions where there is slightly too much emphasis on mixing and sharing with pedestrians: we need separation and clarity to allow flows of both cyclists and pedestrians to continue to grow and co-exist in harmony. We need efficient cycle routes and we don't want pedestrians to get intimidated. But the basic battle for space and separation from heavy flows of traffic seems to have been won.

Central London Grid

The Grid is the name given to the combination of Superhighways and Quietways in Central London. We have a map of the Grid, and we have the Superhighway plans so far as they go, and we have solid proposals for some of the Camden routes, but that seems about all. We have little indication of the standard that the boroughs other than Camden will apply to the Quietway routes. We have had one Quietway proposal from Southwark (QW2) in detail, and this has been criticised in detail elsewhere, with suggestions for how it could be better. It seems likely to fail LCC's criteria of vehicle flows below 2,000 PCU per day and speeds under 20mph with the design that has been proposed. It seems that the problem is political will from the borough to cut the minor-road rat-runs (like Tabard Street, which is parallel to the A2 and should not be a through-route), and it looks very likely that this kind of issue with the Grid Quietways will be repeated more widely unless Boris Johnson and his aides can somehow bring more persuasion to bear on these boroughs.

Current Central London Grid plan
I've written about the inadequacy of many parts of the Grid plans before. The problem is basically one of the Mayor trying to promote changes on roads he doesn't control. One answer would have been for him to have included more TfL roads in the Grid. Kensington and Chelsea is most obviously not playing ball, and Westminster's commitments remains very vague, which is deeply worrying since, as can be seen, much the largest part of the Grid is in Westminster. The general lack of concrete plans by the boroughs for implementing the non-Superhighway elements of the Grid at the moment makes it look very likely that little of the Grid will have progressed beyond the paper stage by May 2016.

Quietways outside Central London

The Quietways beyond the Grid area are a separate funding stream for TfL, and this also is the only source of funds for new routes (or upgrades of old ones) for the boroughs that lack mini-Holland funding (that is, most of the outer boroughs). Sustrans was put in charge of doing the initial planning of these Quietways, and immediately there seemed to be divergences of opinion over what the scheme really was about. The emphasis in the Mayor's Vision for the Quietways was on 'low traffic back streets and other routes', but it also stated:
Where directness demands the Quietway briefly join a main road, full segregation and direct crossing points will be provided, wherever possible, on that stretch.

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.
This was always going to be a prescription that was hard to apply in many places in Outer London, where 'low-traffic back routes' are not very available or useful, and therefore the joining of main roads might not be so 'brief'. I pointed out last year how the level of funding allocated to these routes did not suggest that many intractable problems that require heavy engineering solutions, such as the mess of railway and main road corridors that makes the centre of the Borough of Brent quite impenetrable by bike, could actually be solved within the limits of this programme. It soon became clear that Sustrans and some people in the boroughs were interpreting the Quietways as being necessarily, and thus limitingly, on quiet roads, and being necessarily low-intervention, which is, of course, what the name does suggest. However, Andrew Gilligan had repeatedly said that where no satisfactory back-street route exists on the desired alignment, Quietways can be on main roads, and they can be high-intervention, i.e., physically segregated. This raises an unanswered question of how bad the backstreet route has to be before the backstreet idea is abandoned. The other question which remains unanswered is the same as for the Grid: how prepared will local councillors be to actually cut the rat-runs to make back-street routes attractive?

The planning for the Quietways, so far as it has got, seems to have been rather secretive, and LCC has only with difficulty managed to compile this plan, low-res version below, of roughly where the first routes are currently proposed to go.

It appears that this map shows the very most that will be achieved by May 2016. It will be seen that Andrew Gilligan's early concept of naming routes after tube lines that they follow has been abandoned, except for the Jubilee Line Quietway. This one seems a poor shadow of what he promised last year, when he spoke of a route from Central London to Wembley. Here is is shown stopping short of the North Circular, at Dollis Hill. The fact that there is a serious intention to extend it beyond the North Circular is indicated by an announcement of funding for a new cycling bridge over the A406 in Brent (and also another in Redbridge), but the timescale for these larger Quietway interventions seems to be beyond this mayoral term.

The Jubilee Line route, like CS11, depends at its southern end on the Royal Parks and Westminster agreeing to the closure of Regents Park to through-traffic. Through Camden the route, oddly, is only one or two blocks away from CS11, and then it follows an old LCN route in Brent, which requires more mode-filters and reversal of priority at junctions with other minor roads if it is to be made much more attractive than it is now. There's no guarantee of local councillors agreeing to measures like this, and little the Mayor can do to make them. So the worry is about standards. It's all very well to draw these lines on maps, but if the routes are fiddly to use, and traffic levels remain as they are at the moment, and on many roads, such as Maygrove Road and Chapter Road on the Jubilee route, cyclists just get squashed into tightly-parked narrow corridors with cars trying to get past them, then the Superhighways will prove far more attractive to all cyclists, of whatever level of experience, than the Quietways, which were supposed to be the routes 'particularly suited to new cyclists'.

Chapter Road, Brent, as it is at the moment, part of the the proposed Jubilee Line Quietway.
Perhaps the most serious problem for the inner Jubilee Line route occurs where it meets West End Lane, West Hampstead, which it has to follow for a short while to connect between side-streets, because there is no other way to cross three railways. Traffic on this road is far above a 'quietway' level, but there is also no space for segregated lanes, and no realistic political prospect of closing this quite important local through-route to motor vehicles. Sustrans' proposal for this location has been a fanciful 'shared space' repaving, rejected by Camden Cyclists, rightly, as quite beside the point. This situation points to a fairly deep conceptual problem with the Quietways. Andrew Gilligan wrote in the Mayor's Vision that the Quietways would exploit London's 'matchless network of side streets, greenways and parks'. Where are the links in this network, exactly, and how should conflict be resolved at places like West End Lane?

Again, the most advanced of the Quietway plans seems to be CS2 in Southwark and Greenwich, which Gilligan has indicated will be delivered by 2016 subject to planning permission for a new path along the railway past Millwall Football ground. Bits like this could prove to be good and could justify the name 'Quietway", but examination of the map above will show that, in general, Sustrans have not succeeded in identifying the apocryphal 'matchless network of side streets, greenways and parks', because, of course, it is not a continuous network, and could never be made into one within the constraints of the funding offered, not to mention the realities of local politics. The concept is not entirely without merit: it is not that different to the orbital Green Routes plan of Copenhagen that I covered in my blogpost on that city. The political climate there, however, is sufficiently different, through cycle culture being sufficiently established, that the complete removal of traffic, parked and moving, from minor streets, and their conversion to genuinely green pathways does really occur. It is hard to see that happening immediately in many places in the London suburbs.

On a pessimistic assessment, it looks like the Quietways could become just a third attempt at the London Cycle Network (following Ken Livingstone's failed LCN+ project), on very similar routes: a byword for complex, inefficient, out-of-the-way routes that most cyclists will avoid and which will not significantly encourage cycling in Outer London, where encouragement is most desperately needed. What I would really have liked to have seen would have been a far better-funded equivalent of the Superhighways project specifically targeted on strategic main road sections in Outer London that would often be orbital, not radial routes. There are one or two projects coming from the boroughs that do approximate to this: there is currently a consultation out from Hounslow on possible cycle tracks on Boston Manor Road, the A3002, with proposals that look really rather good. I think this kind of thing, solving specific outer borough link problems, is likely to prove a more effective expenditure of funds than the very distributed low level of funding not achieving consistent high quality that is possibly emerging as the pattern for the Outer London Quietways.


Three mini-Hollands were selected this spring: Enfield, Kingston and Waltham Forest. The following description is taken directly from the TfL site:
A major cycle hub will be created and the plaza outside Kingston station will be transformed. New high-quality cycling routes will be introduced together with a Thames Riverside Boardway - a landmark project which could see a new cycle boardwalk delivered on the banks of the river. 
The town centre will be completely redesigned with segregated superhighways linking destinations, three cycle hubs delivered across the Borough and new greenway routes introduced. 
Waltham Forest
A semi-segregated Superhighway route along Lea BridEnfge Road will be developed as well as a range of measures focused on improving cycling in residential areas and creating cycle friendly, low-traffic neighbourhoods.
These are funded to the tune of £30 million each. The Enfield project seems to have proved most locally controversial, with shopkeepers mobilising against it, and the Enfield Cyclists organising a counter-campaign of demonstratively spending money in shops to try to prove the power of the 'pedal pound'.
The most actual action so far has been seen in Walthamstow, where a series of temporary experimental road closures were put in and then taken out again. This is like the '20 bollards' game, where you have only twenty bollards to distribute around your town, and you need to position them to most effectively reduce rat-running traffic to create useful new cycling and walking routes and enhance local life. Again, reaction has been mixed, but there seems a lot of positivity around the Waltham Forest mini-Holland, and campaigners seem to think it has a good chance of being accepted by the community, and forming a good template for other Outer London town centres in the longer term. But broadly, because the selection process took so long, not enough has actually happened in the mini-Hollands yet to write much about them. 

The selection procedure itself, the holding of the competition, was I think one of Andrew Gilligan's aims, successfully completed. It did get some previously pretty cycle agnostic, or even hostile, local authorities to start seriously thinking about radical change to kick-start more cycling in Outer London, lured by the cash promise, and the fact that the subject seemed to be suddenly in fashion, and that this was the project of a Tory mayor, potentially outflanking the Left on a 'green' issue. It remains to be seen whether anything from these unsuccessful mini-Holland bid plans will see the light of day; Gilligan has promised in letters to the boroughs that some projects will be pursued, and has budgeted for a number of mini-Holland 'consolation prizes' to finance the best ideas that came out of the competition in the non-winning boroughs, including the two new bridges across the North Circular I have already mentioned. Implementation of these however seems to be beyond 2016.


How to summarise? It has been difficult writing this post. I have started several times, and had to rewrite because of new developments and announcements. The Mayor's project is now gathering pace. A couple of months ago I would have made a much more negative, perhaps slightly bitter, assessment of where it had got to, compared to the promises of the Vision document. But now we have seen more of the new Superhighway designs, we can see that our campaigning over the last four years or so has been a success: it has produced a mind-shift in the ambitions of the people tasked with designing cycle facilities in London. The mind-shift of course has not spread to many local politicians, who have direct control over most of our roads, and therein lies the rub. There is plenty more campaigning that needs to be done, in fact, there will never be an end to it, as David Hembrow points out from the example of the apparently miraculous Netherlands. LCC had exactly the right idea with its Space for Cycling Campaign for the local elections: taking very specific demands for each ward right to each local ward councillor and candidate. This did have an effect, rather like the mini-Holland competition process, of making a few more people think properly about the issues, or at least start listening to the arguments, for the first time, though I don't expect miraculous results from it of all the ward 'asks' actually being delivered in the next few years. It was a stage in a process.

London's cycling revolution will certainly spread from the centre outwards, and the Superhighways will carry it to the suburbs. In the foreseeable future it will remain quite limited, though. The target of 5% mode share by 2025 might well be achieved, but this would still leave most Londoners out from the benefits that cycling can provide, which is rather sad, and it will also limit the success of the city overall. We've see a tremendous reaction from business leaders to the Superhighway proposals, and it's been found that a vast majority of ordinary Londoners support them as well. I always expected this kind of reaction to visionary, transformative proposals for our streets; I have said repeatedly in this blog that this is what would happen if you put to people a striking, coherent vision for change. I said this was why we in the cycling world should stop messing around asking for scraps that nobody really could see the point of, and should start to think far bigger, about what a real cycling and linked quality of life revolution would look like in London. There is now a growing realisation that London needs to compete with other world cities in terms of the quality of life it offers to a highly mobile skilled workforce. Competing on salaries or low levels or either personal or corporation tax is not enough. It is this economic driver that is increasingly recognised, and will increasingly be recognised, as the impetus for change.

This should encourage Boris Johnson and his aides and officials to become even more bold in laying down the infrastructural basis for the cycling revolution before he leaves office. We need all the other Superhighway plans quickly, and we need top quality maintained at the difficult places with many competing demands. We need better control and more up-front leadership over the Central London Grid and the Outer London Quietways to prevent any money being wasted on cosmetic projects which fall short of the best standards. We need the Royal Parks Agency, the Corporation of London, the City of Westminster and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to come unambiguously on board and we need to find ways to put pressure on the from every angle, from residents, businesses and commuters, to do so. We need flexibility over the definitions of the various projects, so it is clear to all that we can have segregated tracks funded on long stretches of main road in Outer London, and this in fact becomes a thing that is expected. We need the major essential linking infrastructural elements such as the new North Circular crossings delivered more quickly. We need more funding for Outer London and plans for a second round of mini-Hollands after 2016 to start to develop a real usable cycling grid outside the centre. Finally, the Mayor and GLA need to get a grip on miscellaneous 'third-party' development projects, such as, in my part of London, Brent cross Cricklewood, and Old Oak Common, and ensure that everything built in them meets the Cycling Level of Service  in the London Cycle Design Standards. There should be no question of more major road junctions being rebuilt in London without high-quality cycle provision.

There is progress, but the gap between London and the best places for cycling in world continues to grow. We continue to lose further generations of children to cycling. We continue to see illegal levels of pollution in our city, and massive levels of pollution-related disease. We need to be sober. Cycling appears quite popular at certain places and certain times in London, but we're really still in the remedial class of world cities for cycling. Cycling still hasn't made the breakthrough to become the obvious method for most people to consider for short, routine journeys. Our roads still feel, and, are, far too dangerous. We need to continue to demand far more. We can't let up.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

While focus is on the Mayor's Superhighways, Camden plans to double its length of segregated track

I wrote a post about two years ago entitled While Boris so far fails to 'Go Dutch', Camden quietly gets on with it. This is something of a 'second round' of that. Today, there is somewhat more sign of Boris Johnson trying to make a permanent mark on London before his mayoral term ends in May 2016 by building some good-quality cycle routes. Though what he will have achieved still looks likely to fall well short of the commitments he made before the 2012 election in response to London Cycling Campaign's Love London, Go Dutch campaign, in particular, he will not have completed the Cycle Superhighway programme to an adequate 'Dutch' standard on all its routes (nowhere near, in fact), the plans for the East-West and North-South superhighways are a substantial advance and have generally been welcomed by campaigners, business, the public and the media, while plans for Cycle Superhighway 5 in south-west London and the long-demanded upgrade to Cycle Superhighway 2 in east London look pretty good as well.

I'm planning to make a more general assessment of where the Mayor's Cycling Vision has got to, 18 months after it was announced, in another post, although attempts to write that keep getting overtaken by relevant events. However, I will to draw your attention here to the fact that, as coverage has been concentrated on the plans above, the Borough of Camden, pioneers of the on-street segregated or semi-segregated cycle track in London, have been continuing to 'get on with it' in a manner that, though it is not above criticism, must be said is not being replicated by any other borough.

When the rebuild of the Royal College Street cycle track was announced in 2012, replacing the two-way track on one side of the street, which had had an intractable collision problem at two junctions, with two one-way tracks, I supported the scheme because it was linked to a commitment to extend the track northwards to Kentish Town Road, making it go from 'somewhere to somewhere', to adapt the words of Jon Snow when he opened the track in 2000. Since then, this has developed into a plan to extend the route southwards as well, down Pancras Road and Midland road, forming a more main road and direct alternative route to the Kings Cross area than the existing back-strteet Somers Town Route (one of the oldest cycle routes in London, dating from Ken Livingstone's GLC era, before 1986).

The consultation on the northern extension closed earlier this month, and the response from Camden Cycling Campaign can be seen here. The gist of the scheme is that Royal College street will become two-way for bikes all the way, the bike space generally protected by rubber armadillos, and in places by car parking on the east side as well. The cycle tracks bypass bus stops and loading bays on the inside. The southbound approach to the Camden Road junction is not protected, and this is a concern, though the northbound is protected.

The southern extension to the route is now being consulted on. The consultation runs to 14 november, and I encourage people to respond. This will be an enormously important pice of infrastructure, linking residential areas in Camden with the big employment growth areas around Kings Cross and St Pancras, with the new Google headquarters, the Francis Crick Institute opening in 2015, and much else. Argent, the developers of Kings Cross Central, say that their site will eventually be home to some 30,000 office workers, 5,000 students and 7,000 residents. It looks as if, at last, we have some cycle route planning in London that is coming at exactly the right time. This route will link southwards into the existing east-west Seven Stations Link segregated cycle route across Bloomsbury   (which itself needs major improvement of course, to cope with the high number of cyclists it already attracts), and that will link to the Mayor's North-South Superhighway at Clerkenwell. We will have the beginnings of a functioning, continuous segregated or semi-segregated network on the streets of central and north London.

It is of credit to officers at Camden that they are conceiving part of this Royal College Street route extension also as the beginning of an east-west route across Camden Town. Ultimately this should run along Crowndale Road to Oakley Square and Hampstead Road. It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that the stage after that should be the construction cycle tracks on Hampstead Road to connect with Tottenham Court Road. This is consistent with the overall Central London Cycle Grid plan.

The part of the Pancras Road plan that would also form the beginnings of the East-West Camden Town route. I would oppose the advance stop areas, which suggest confused thinking about where cyclists should be on the road. I also think it would be better if the north/west-bound route was on Goldington Crescent, merged with the Somers Town Route, approaching Royal College street via the existing bicycle signals.
More southerly section of Pancras Road scheme. The bus stop bypass looks a bit substandard, and having been set back behind the stop, the cycle track would be better continuing its setback across the Chenies Place junction.
The overall network is being developed in stages, and the current consultation goes down south to the Pancras Road / Midland road junction (the tunnel under the railway lines). This junction was consulted on in August, along with a plan for a 2m wide kerb-segregated cycle track on Midland Road northbound (in the contraflow direction), from Brill Place. This plan showed southbound cycling on Midland Road with taxis segregated to the left (there are lots of these serving St Pancras) but only a painted advisory cycle lane separating cyclists from the general (heavy) traffic flow. The Camden Cycling Campaign response called rightly for this design to be improved.

Curious proposal for Midland Road: the caption misleadingly suggests there are 'kerb segregated cycle lanes' on both sides, but the two sides are actually the opposite of one another. Also the central cycle lane on Pancras Road (section under the bridge) is a poor solution. (North is to the left)
The plans for Pancras Road, currently being consulted on, are for armadillo-separated lanes on both sides, which will be 2m wide for most of their length (actually 2.5m wide for 105m, 2m wide for 375m, 1.5–2m wide for 34m, and 1.5m wide for 30m). There is no parking on this stretch, but there will be bypasses for the bus stops.

The existing Royal College Street cycle tracks seem to be popular and working well, except that the planters have in many cases been bashed out of shape by motor vehicles colliding with them. Camden are looking to find out specifically why this occurs. There are no planters planned in the future schemes. Camden quote, from their surveys, a doubling of cycle traffic on Royal College Street since the rebuild of last year.

If all goes well, by the end of this year Camden should have almost doubled its length of segregated or semi-segregated cycle track compared to 2012, and that means they will have increased the total length of on-street cycle track in London by a considerable fraction, as the other boroughs have little. This is being done for very small sums of money compared to what will be absorbed by the Superhighways – hundreds of thousands of pounds rather than millions. It will be paid for out of the TfL's Quietways funding for the Central London Grid.

Whatever detailed comments and criticisms of Camden's current plans may be made, and I am making a few as you can see, and whether the schemes meet the optimum Go Dutch standard, which they probably do not, it needs to be strongly noted that of all the boroughs involved in the Central London Grid, Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Lambeth Southwark and the City, only Camden is making clear and rapid progress towards realising its section of the Grid to any useful standard at all, genuinely planning for broad-demographic 'eight to eighty' cycling on a grid of major and semi-major roads. For this, Camden councillors and officers deserve credit. I urge you to write in support of the Pancras Road scheme.

TfL's indicative map of Central London Cycle Grid routes, Camden section

Friday, 17 October 2014

Harlesden's regressive town centre 'regeneration'

Thursday was the day, if you lived in Harlesden (which I do not). It was the day the Harlesden Town Centre regeneration scheme, four years in the planning, more years than that in the discussion, came to some sort of conclusion, with the new traffic system being 'switched on'. However, a final element of the new street design, the partially pedestrianised Harlesden High Street, will take another month before it opens for business.

In case you don't know it, Harlesden is on the southern edge of the borough of Brent in north-west London, on the boundary between Inner and Outer London, but only three miles from the West End. It is highly multicultural, residential, but on the edge of large industrial areas, rather scruffy, and mostly notable for having a major rail interchange, Willesden Junction, which, curiously, is not in Willesden, but Harlesden. This area has always been a blockage to cycling, consisting of a large gyratory system that interrupts the continuity of the A404 Harrow Road, which is a major cycling desire line, as it has, further west, really the only safely cycleable crossing of the North Circular Road for miles. As a cyclist the gyratory tends to push you a long way off your desire line and mix you with a lot of lorries and buses in constricted spaces. It is also an area where the streets all crazily seem to lead off in directions different to what you expect initially, if you are not very familiar with it, as if the road grid got knotted up by unknown geological processes at some time in the distant past. The impenetrability of the area is increased by the severance caused by the extensive railway wastelands attached to the West Coast Main line just to the south, and the Grand Union Canal corridor. Harlesden High Street is part of this hard-to-comprehend gyratory system, and has always been a merry, chaotic, somewhat down-at-heel mess.

A great play has been made of the new street layout and design having been selected by, or designed by, the local residents and businesses, in the form of the Harlesden Town Team. A study of the area was commissioned by  Brent Council and Transport for London in 2010, produced glossily by a firm called Urban Design Skills, on behalf of the council and the Town Team. I have it here. It is signed (in print) by all the members of the Harlesden Town Team, and contains the usual consultants' guff about 'vision', 'renaissance', 'pillars', 'themes' , 'gateways', 'public realm project areas', etc. I am not sure how much it all cost, but I recall a figure of £2 million just for the studies and preparatory work, from a previous Brent Local Implementation Plan.

And, the result of all this is they are replacing a confusing gyratory system whose design never made any concession to those who wish to travel by bike with... another one. With semi 'shared space' style paving in places. And lots of bollards. And narrower carriageways, that will either squash cyclists into the gutter, with dangerous overtakes by wide, heavy vehicles, cause intimidation if cyclists decide to 'take the lane', or block their progress entirely if traffic is queued up, and force them on to the pavements.

traffic flow changes

The 'star feature' of the Harlesden scheme is the partial pedestrianisation of the High Street, with no motor vehicles allowed except for loading and buses. Cycles will be allowed, but they will not be excepted from the one-way used by the buses. So north-west bound cyclists will be able to cycle in a relatively traffic-free environment, briefly, on the High Street, before joining the merry rat-run between rows of parked cars in Craven Park Road. Going the other way, they will have to throw themselves round the gyratory system, via again narrow corridors parked-up on both sides, which I expect to have just as much of a hostile rat-run character as they do now, full of buses and heavy goods vehicles. There are no exceptions to the one-ways for cyclists in this new system, and there are also numerous minor streets off the main roads, not shown in this diagram, that are one-way.  I expect there to be widespread infringement of the design by cyclists, for their own safety: either going the wrong way down one-way streets, or cycling on the pavements.

The changes from the previous gyratory system are that while the whole of Manor Park Road was one-way before, now only the part north of Tavistock Road (the leftmost of the two one-way cross streets in the diagram above) is, and while the whole of Harlesden High Street was one-way, now only the semi-predestiranised section is. The semi-predestrianisation may be viewed as A Good Thing for pedestrians, but why wan't it continued further north into Craven Park Road, to the junction with Manor Park Road? This would have made sense, as it is all a continuation of the shopping centre.

The answer is that this wider section was wanted to accommodate parked cars on both sides, so couldn't be pedestrianised. Hence the gyratory had to be pushed on to Tavistock Road feed cars into the Craven Park Road shopping area. But note this town centre already has a huge off-street car park – you can see it in the aerial view in the angle of Manor Park Road and Tavistock Road. So clearly a principal driver in the redesign was the maximisation of car parking, and the idea that this has to be right outside shops. This is, of course, a consequence of the faulty idea that shopkeepers often have, that their trade comes mostly by car, when in a place like Harlesden, it does not, it comes predominantly by foot, bike and public transport. But those customers, the majority, are not encouraged by dangerous, unpleasant and polluted car-centric environment. This is one reason why centres like this are failing.

I took some photos of the nearly-completed streetscape of Craven Park Road, effectively the wider, northern part of the High Street, in August.

The scheme is not finished in these photos, but you can see where the kerb lines will be, the general style of it, and also the very large amount of car parking built into the streetscape. I fear the pious hopes of a renaissance of this town centre on the back of this rebuild will come to very little. The system overall certainly does not create a set of streets where parents would be happy allowing their children to cycle. It seems that such a possibility never entered the heads of those designing it.

For the Harlesden Town Centre scheme in the light of today looks like an astonishingly regressive piece of urban planning. With the Mayor of London proposing wide, segregated cycle tracks on main roads in central London, and the neighbouring Borough of Camden putting in cycling exceptions to most of its minor one-way streets, or building contraflow and with-flow semi-segregated tracks to keep cyclists safe on its gyratory systems, here we have a massive, expensive rebuild of a town centre only a couple of miles west that focuses on providing space to park cars, provides unnecessary wide pavements that will themselves almost certainly get parked on as well (because of the low kerbs), and makes no concession to transport cycling on a major commuting desire line except for a few token advanced stop lines at junctions.

I don't blame the members of the Harlesden Town Team for this. They are no doubt good people within their fields of expertise, but they are not urban planners or traffic engineers, let alone experts in sustainable transport. Not having been involved in the process myself, I can only surmise that what happened was that they were given various options by Brent's planners, or by the consultants, all of which would have been rubbish for cycling, and they just chose one. Which we have now got.

Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, did keep warning us, after the launch of The Mayor's Cycling Vision in March 2013, that there would be lots of old-style traffic schemes continuing to come through the planning system on London's main roads, and continuing to get built, even though they were completely inimical to the Cycling Vision. He said he couldn't prevent that, that it takes a long time to turn a supertanker around. One of those schemes was clearly this one.

I criticised the Borough of Camden, in previous posts, for their West End Project, still under discussion, in which they have been seeking to undo a gyratory system (Tottenham Court Road, Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street) merely because it is fashionable to think that doing so will somehow make the streets automatically better for walking and cycling, but without putting in first-class cycling provision, which I thought the Cycling Vision had promised us on these streets. However, perhaps Brent deserves even more criticism for not following fashion, in this case, and leaving a bad old gyratory system almost perfectly intact, after spending a great deal of TfL's money on it,  perpetuating dangerous, parking-sodden streets, which will not encourage people to shop here, providing zero meaningful cycle facilities, and, to top it off, creating the farcical situation of one-way cycling in a near-pedestrianised high street. It's just clueless – as if the the exhaust fumes in the air of Brent prevent people from imagining any different way of arranging things.

What I think they should have done in Harlesden is actually rather on the lines of what Camden are proposing for their West End gyratory (and for which, paradoxically, I have criticised Camden). They should have made the whole of Manor Park Road two-way, and put all the general traffic on the A404 corridor down that, reducing the parking to one side to make it wide enough for the job. Then Harlesden High Street (from the Jubilee Clock junction northwards) and Craven Park Road (to the junction with Manor Park Road) could have been the two-way bus and cycle route (allowing deliveries also at certain times) with wide pavements, done in a fully shared-space style. Alternatively there could have been cycle lanes on the wider parts of Craven Park Road, but this is not Tottenham Court Road, the concentration of buses is far lower, and I think a shared space street, without cars, would have been fine, and it would have looked far nicer, and have been a far more pleasant and safe environment than what we are going to get. This could have formed a 'ready-made' section of a Cycle Superhighway along the A404, so badly needed with the complete neglect of north-west London by the Superhighways programme so far.

For sooner or later we are going to need the A404 Harrow Road converted into a decent cycling highway, and all this work that has been done will have to be changed again.

When I was taking the photos in August, a woman, I surmise a shopkeeper, came of of a shop. The conversation went like this:
"What are you taking photos of?" 
"The street." 
"Because I am interested in street design." 
"This is the worst designed street in London
"Do you think it will be better or worse after these changes?" 
"Much worse. They should have left it how it was."
I think they should not have left it how it was. They were right to try and change it. But, in the end, streets should be redesigned by people who know what they are doing, and who genuinely take the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and bus passengers into account, in that order, as well as the need for a flow of general through traffic on a main artery, and the need for some car parking. The dangers with the "DIY streets" idea (hyper-local consultation and decision-making) are that groups can get excluded (as in this case cyclists clearly were), and that more strategic interests bearing on local streets are not taken into account (for example their place on the city-wide cycle network). In any case, the results can only be as good as the expert advice being given to the community supposedly taking the decisions, and that often leaves a lot to be desired.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Motion on buses and modal share in Central London

I've got a motion with my name on it in the London Cycling Campaign AGM tomorrow, so I thought I would say something about that (to practice the arguments, as it were). Here it is:

Buses and modal share in Central London
Proposed by David Arditti, seconded by Tom Harrison and Mustafa Arif
  1. The history of cycling campaigners supporting provision for buses as beneficial for walking and cycling (by reducing demand for private car use).
  2. Figures published by the Greater London Authority showing that buses now cause more cycling KSIs per km travelled than HGVs. Reference: "News from Darren Johnson AM: Buses as dangerous as lorries for cyclists, but not as fatal", 11 April 2014,
  3. Figures published by the Greater London Authority in the Mayor's Air Quality Strategy (December 2010) showing that buses are a significant, and growing (as a percentage of total particulates) source of air pollution in Central London.
  4. Recent road schemes in Central London, such as Camden's proposed West End Project have sought to justify inadequate provision for cycling on the need to improve or maintain provision for buses and existing bus and cycling modal share.
Defining 'Central London' as the area within the "Inner Ring Road", LCC resolves to:
  1. No longer automatically assume that increasing, or even maintaining, provision for buses in Central London is beneficial for walking or cycling. Nor to automatically accept that such provision for buses is a legitimate reason to accept poor provision for cycling.
  2. Campaign for TfL and London boroughs, in every Central London road scheme, to actively consider opportunities for modal shift from buses to cycling, through the provision of high quality 'Space for Cycling'. Highway authorities should design cycling provision for the modal share likely when there is high quality provision, not based on current modal share, which is suppressed by poor provision.
  3. Seek integration of tube and bus fares (including daily Oyster / Contactless price-capping and Travelcards) with TfL Cycle Hire so as to eliminate the financial incentive that commuters have in choosing to get a bus over hiring a cycle for the final part of their journeys into Central London.
So what's the background to this? Do I not like buses or something? Actually, I do quite like buses, and use them quite a bit. I often use them for journeys when I am transporting equipment which would be impossible on a normal bike, such as the 100mm aperture telescope and motorised equatorial mount that I take to the public astronomy events organised in Regent's Park by the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, and at Ruislip Lido by West of London Astronomical Society. It wouldn't be worth me having and housing a cargo bike for these occasional needs, and such journeys on the London cycling infrastructure as it stands would be very difficult on a cargo bike. My partner, who is disabled, and cannot get far without a wheelchair, also benefits from buses. She gets free travel on them (also on the tubes, though, of course, most tube stations still lack lifts, so that's largely academic) and with help from an able-bodied person can use them to get wherever she wishes. (One major success of Transport for London in the last 8 years has been to get the bus companies to actually maintain their wheelchair ramps properly so they now work about 97% of the time, whereas, before, it was about 50% of the time.). No, I recognise that the buses are a hugely important element to London's transport infrastructure.

However, I have a pretty clear view of what cycle campaigning should be about, and what it should be doing, as well. Cycling campaigns should promote cycling. They need to start from the view that cycling can and ought to be be a major component of the transport mix, and that a a large transfer of journeys currently made by all motorised forms: trains, tubes, trams, cars, taxis and, yes, buses, to bikes is possible and desirable. The people involved in them need to have the courage needed to articulate this as a serious point of view and to be able to picture what it would actually mean. Dave Horton (one of the authors of the important Understanding Walking and Cycling sociological study) put this point clearly:
Meetings about cycling inevitably involve different agendas and compromise. But is our struggle to make cycling mainstream so difficult because we – it’s strongest advocates – still haven’t learned how to speak about it? Are we yet to find our voice? If so, other people, understandably, would struggle to hear it. So perhaps ‘people don’t get it’ because we’ve yet to tell them?
When proposals are put forward that look like they would really make a difference to the urban environment, people react strongly (as they are doing now to the Mayor's Central London Superhighway proposals). They will like them, or they will hate them. They will get involved, and lobby one way or another. The lobbying process and the public debate will throw up arguments that will be had, taken-on, and resolved, and, as I believe the case for mass cycling, and the infrastructure necessary to make it so, is unanswerable, will lead to progress towards the vision, if, that is, as Horton points out, we have the boldness to articulate it clearly in the first place.

How the bus system would look in a cycle-ised London (to use a phrase even Boris Johnson has used) definitely has to be considered, and built into our visions of what a future cycling London would look like. It would, no doubt, still be very extensive, but it would not have to bear the large burden of short trips that it now does. A cycle-ised London would involve a conversion not only of some general road space to dedicated cycle space, but of some bus space as well. However, this should not negatively the bus experience if we also at the same time succeed in reducing the general chaos and congestion on the roads. I think it would actually impact on buses positively. They would no longer be slowed down by cyclists.

To me, there is nothing particularly stunning in the motion. It is just saying that London Cycling Campaign is a cycling campaign. Full stop. It's not a campaign for less cars, and it's not a campaign for less buses. It's not a campaign for 'active travel', and it's certainly not a campaign to 'reduce the need to travel' (whatever that could possibly mean: the need to travel is fundamental to the human species, and indeed locomotion is one of the defining features of all animals). It's just a campaign for more cycling, achieved through transfer from all other modes. And more cycling that's an extra to all existing modes, if you wish, as well (in other words, more leisure as well as utility cycling). And when I say 'all other modes', I include walking as well. You do see this, in cycle-friendly places like the Netherlands and Denmark, that cycling takes a lot of the very short journeys that are walked in the UK, because it is so easy to cycle. It actually becomes the lazy person's option.

Part of the recent background to this motion is Camden's West End Project (but there have been other similar but smaller and less-high profile examples) where, in a planned major rebuild of several streets in central London, the need to enhance bus provision was given as a reason to provide only somewhat half-hearted cycle provision. I discussed this extensively before, and some LCC members did not agree with the line I articulated. As Easy As Riding A Bike (who had a similar view to mine on the scheme) mused on this as follows:
What is quite fascinating to me is how cycling campaigners – people who think that cycling can and should play a significant role in making our towns and cities more attractive places – are often happy to sacrifice the quality of the transport mode they want to see more of, in the interests of wider scheme objectives. This isn’t necessarily a comment about the Camden scheme in particular; it’s more an observation about how cycling campaigners almost expect themselves to be selfless. 
I can’t imagine pedestrian user groups arguing something along the lines of ‘well, the pavements in this scheme are a bit awful, and not suitable for children. But bus users get a great deal – let’s support it!’ 
But effectively that’s what’s happening with this scheme, and has happened many times in the past. It’s almost expected. People wanting to see more cycling will defer to those wanting to see improvements in the bus network (for instance) in a way that would never happen in reverse. 
Of course a large part of this is due to existing mode shares in London, and other British towns and cities. It seems unreasonable to demand more for a mode of transport that, while increasingly visible, and on the agenda, doesn’t really exist, at least compared to bus travel and walking.
He hits the nail on the head here. It's Dave Horton's 'vision thing'. It only makes sense to argue for great conditions for cycling if you believe that they really will work, and really will lead to a modal shift that will post-hoc justify the decision by reducing the need for capacity on other modes. It's a leap of faith. But if it's a leap of faith that dedicated campaigners are not prepared to make,  then we have no chance of convincing anyone else either, and the status quo remains.

I can see where campaigners for improved, or at least maintained, bus provision, like Hackney councillor Vincent Stops, are coming from. I can see that they are very sincere in what they think. They view the bus, collective public motorised transport, as the transport of the disadvantaged: the poor, the sick, the disabled, the very young and very old, as a good instrument of socialism, and a social leveller. Hence the more buses the better. Why should fit people on bikes have the right to inflict damage on the system that these people depend on?

Of course, the answer to this is to look at how it actually works in the most bike-friendly cities in the world. Nobody has in these cities been disadvantaged by the extensive allocation of street space to bicycles (apart from possibly the most die-hard 'I have the right to drive door to door everywhere petrol-heads, and actually, this 'attitude' seems to die out largely in these environments). On the other hand, vistas of transport, for exactly those groups the bus campaigners see themselves as defending, vistas of independence and mobility, have been opened up which are undreamed of here. Cycle infrastructure is great for those in wheelchairs and mobility scooters, and of course enables inclusive cycling, ages 'eight to eighty', as they say, including those with a vast range of physical and mental disabilities.

Far from being some true manifestation of socialism, the argument of the radical bus promoters is a conservative one, with a small c. We have big inequalities in our society, and big inequalities in transport access. We have these problems now, with the large emphasis that London's politicians have laid on buses at least over the 14 years since Ken Livingstone first entered City Hall. Is the answer to just do more of what we have been doing, with the risks to road safety and air quality that this entails, or is to rethink the street balance afresh, from an actively pro-bicycle perspective?

We'll always need buses, or something like them (though maybe trams or trolley buses would be more comfortable and efficient in the long term), and I am sure a comprehensive bus system can co-exist with a comprehensive, safe and effective cycling system (because I have seen it). But the latter just won't happen unless cycle campaigners actually make the case for it. We have to point out that getting people cycling is better in so many ways than getting them on buses: better for road safety, better for both physical and mental health, better for the atmosphere, better for noise and stress levels, better for the planet. That means that cycle provision has to have a higher priority than bus provision, which should itself have higher priority than provision for private motor traffic, taxis, lorries and vans. Most of the London boroughs already claim this is their policy, but in practice cycling has in very few cases ever been genuinely prioritised. We may be seeing a start now on doing this on a significant scale with the proposed Central London Superhighways, and Cycle Superhighway 2 and 5 proposals. I think this progress has been brought about by effective London-wide campaigning for proper, safe, dedicated, practical space for cycling.

Motion 4 doesn't really say anything different about that campaigning. It is simply a reminder of a principle. While not wanting to make any unnecessary enemies, we are what it says on our tin. We are believers in the greater good of cycling over all motorised transport modes for the quality of city life. We are explicit about that, and we need make no apologies for it.