Thursday, January 21, 2010

Biking Boroughs

So there is this new initiative from Boris called Biking Boroughs. Under the Livingstone administration, cycling funding was somewhat ring-fenced, but the new arrangements mean that boroughs have more freedom and could in theory spend more, or less, or nothing at all on cycling.

The first step in the programme was that boroughs had to apply to become Biking Boroughs. 12 of these boroughs, Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Haringey, Havering, Hillingdon, Kingston, Merton and Redbridge, have been given £25K each to fund a 'study' to identify how to improve cycling provision.

My reaction to this is: firstly, £25K is a fair amount of money especially multiplied by 12. Do we really need studies to tell us what we already know is wrong with cycling in London?

Secondly, it seems unlikely the the Councils will pay someone to tell them what a crap job they've done in the past and what a pile of money they have to spend in the future to fix the mess they've created. It's more likely that the studies will say how marvellous cycling is and recommend just enough projects to use up the budget they've previously allocated. And the projects won't piss of local residents or cause motorists to be inconvenienced in any way. Everyone gets to keep their job or get re-elected and it's champagne all round.

No! If we're serious about cycling, we need less bureaucracy, not more. Too many projects get mired in the planning process and end up compromised by non-cycling interest groups. You end up with cycle lanes that are advisory (not mandatory), too narrow and where parking is allowed. You get cycle paths that effectively go from nowhere and to nowhere. In planning terms, it is easier to build a new runway at Heathrow, or a nuclear power station, than a cycle route worthy of the name. If City Hall and the government are serious, there needs to be a London-wide strategy that will deliver a proper network of attractive, safe cycle infrastructure that takes people where they want to go. There needs to be a mandate to do this and there needs to be a way to cut through the planning bureaucracy to deliver it without endless public enquiries. There needs to be the authority to reallocate roadspace, put in traffic control and parking measures, do whatever needs to be done.

The thing is, it can be done. Because of Boris's manifesto pledge to deliver the Cycle Superhighways, Wansworth borough are pulling out all the stops to solve in 12 months what were previously considered insoluble problems. Because they know if they screw up and delay the launch of the first Superhighway, Boris will kick their sorry butts from here to Timbuktu. Compare and contrast this attitude with the 10-year struggle to get cycling permitted over Wandsworth Common, involving 2 public enquiries. I'll bog about that later.


  1. Nicely written piece with a sound analysis of the underlying politics. But please check spelling of bureaucracy.

  2. Oh cr@p - I thought it was one of those words like 'derailleur' that you could spell how you liked. :)

  3. Pedants paradise, the Internet. You can download a dictionary (e.g. as add-on to Firefox) which automatically highlights such errors. Then you just have to watch out for 'your' for 'you're', 'there' for 'their', 'its' for 'it's', etc.

  4. Oops, that should have been "pedants' paradise".