Sunday, October 17, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: London Assembly Transport Committee - Cycle Superhighways

For some reason the second half of the London Assembly Transport Committee meeting on 12 Oct 2010 hasn't been widely reported, so I'm claiming an 'exclusive'. The first half of the meeting dealt with the Cycle Hire scheme. The second half, which I will cover here, deals with the Cycle Superhighways.

The meeting allowed various groups interested in the Cycle Superhighways to give feedback to the Committee. I'll give you highlights of what happened, then some analysis.


Cyclists were given some things to look forward to: 25% of CSH#8 will be mandatory cycle lanes, and Southwark are "looking at a 20mph zone" along CSH#7.

Gina Harkell, who is the cycling officer for Waltham Forest and representing the Borough Cycling Officers' Group, landed some telling blows. She said that routing of the CSHs is a big issue: boroughs are very concerned about the routes and feel local knowledge is not being used. She continued, saying that the CSHs are not giving that much more space to cyclists. Cycists are not given priority at junctions, or special signals; there are parking and loading problems. Some of the opportunities to make the routes really safe are not being taken.

TfL gave a couple of examples of where they had given roadspace over to cyclists or improved the existing route (Kennington, Stockwell, Cable St). Oliver Schick of LCC countered, saying "Cable St is not by any stretch of the imagination a high-quality cycle route. It is a one-way rat-run". Jenny Jones (Green Party) also weighed in saying Stockwell is still an extremely frightening junction especially if you’re not in the ASL – you have to cross 2 lanes of traffic to get to the cycle lane.

Jenny Jones pointed out that to get to 5% share (the Mayor's target), 1.5M journeys/day are needed, and based on TfL's figures, we won’t get there with CSH and cycle hire. Outer boroughs are no longer getting ring-fenced money. Gina pointed out that the boroughs had been getting 500K/year for a long, long time, but "that [investment] will stop now – the ring-fenced money was absolutely crucial to it...When it comes to the crunch, a lot of boroughs will not prioritize cycling.”

TfL said they didn’t bring the CSHs into central London because there is a huge dispersal of journeys in the centre. The are not taking the bike grid idea any further at this stage.Gina said “If we want to get up to 20% cycling trips as in Holland, we need to think in a much more open, different and radical way. It would be really nice if one of these routes could offer a serious alternative to the motor car."

Post-Match Analysis

Listening to the meeting, you get the distinct impression that TfL think they've done a great job, and really gone out of their way to accomodate cyclists. What is really telling is that the three examples they gave of their largesse (Cable St, Stockwell, Kennington) were attacked by other speakers as being not nearly good enough.

TfL used the words "where possible" repeatedly, and talked about the need to 'balance' transport modes. At that word - balance - I'd heard enough. The word 'balance' implies a compromise between two conflicting priotities. Cycling gets fitted in if there's space left after the other modes have been accomodated. As soon as there are tough decisions to be made, cycle facilities disappear. That's why at junctions you'll find a small, very narrow advisory cycle lane which is too short and usually blocked, and an ASL that is often blocked. I struggle to think of anywhere in London where the safety or convenience of cyclists has ever taken priority over motor traffic, except at the Stockwell Gyratory where they removed one general traffic lane. Yet despite this being the jewel in TfL's crown, Jenny Jones pointed out they've not even solved the problem, which is that the junction is still dangerous and intimidating in both directions, although slighly less so northbound.

My view is the route of CSH7 is the about worst you could pick. It is one of the busiest and most polluted roads in London. Motor traffic can't be routed off it and there is no chance of widening it. Fixing this road to be safe for cyclists is impossible without reallocating roadspace. Why not pick quieter roads? Even where TfL could have benefitted cyclists without major changes, by extending parking, loading and bus lane restrictions, they've failed to do so. They've failed to put in mandatory cycle lanes, they've mostly failed to put in junction treatments. Yet the CSHs are supposed to be spearheading a cycling revolution. CSH7 is better than it used to be, but it's not good enough and it's certainly not £10M better.

For me, LCC's contribution was disappointing. I was expecting Oliver Schick to come armed with a bandolier of "what's wrong with the CSHs" and give TfL both barrels. Thankfully Gina Harkell had a bit more ammunition.

It is pretty clear that TfL don't accept they have a problem. They are institutionally car-centric. Listening to them protest about what good they've done for cycling is like listening to an alcoholic say they don't have a drink problem. They don't know what they're doing. They don't understand that a cycle route is only as safe as its most dangerous part. If you fix one part of the Stockwell Gyratory, that doesn't make CSH7 safe any more than putting on lipstick makes me Miss World.

Listening to this meeting was rather like watching England play football at the world cup. A bunch of players with not enough commitment just about scraping through the first round, only to get soundly beaten (in terms of modal share) by the Germans. We can't even aspire to compete against the Dutch.

Which brings me on to my 'Player Ratings'.

Gina Harkell (Steven Gerrard). Committed and enthusiatic, ignored the boss's orders. Not afraid of a tackle.
TfL (Wayne Rooney). Poor attitude. No end result. Too many other interests. Can't understand why the fans are moaning.
Jenny Jones (Ashley Cole): At times threatening on the attack.
LCC (Frank Lampard): Occasional attacking spark, but overall, much too quiet. Disappointing.
(Not much of a contribution from the other players.)

Here is the link to the video of proceedings.


  1. An interesting round-up. I think it's telling that a rate of 20% of trips by bike "as in Holland" is seen as beyond aspirational when in reality, any city with such a low rate is seen as somewhat backward in NL. Over 30% is normal, and over 40% is required before a city thinks of itself as somewhere which has really achieved something for cyclists. 5% is a ludicrously low target. Unfortunately, while the borisbikes have gobbled up a huge amount of the available funds, they have a capacity of less than one tenth of even that low target.

    Unfortunately it seems little has changed in the last ten years. Being a cycling officer in the UK remains a difficult job, done by good people who have a hard time in achieving what they would like to achieve due to a lack of support and understanding from the councils and the public that they work for.

  2. I suspect freewheeler at crapwalthamforest will be very interested in this.

    Especially the attitude of TfL.

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