Thursday, June 30, 2011

Road Deaths at Record Low

The number of people killed annually on the roads in the UK has fallen for the seventh consecutive year. 2010 saw 1,857 deaths, 16% lower than the 2,222 in 2009.

It's not such a rosy picture if you're a cyclist though - the number of cyclists killed rose for a third consecutive year by 7%, to 111 up from 104 in 2009. The number of cyclists rose by just 0.5%, which means cycling is getting significantly more dangerous. Mike Penning, Road Safety Minister, commented that the Government is "looking at how we can improve cycle safety." Oh yeah? Let me take you to Blackfriars Bridge, Mike, and I'll give you a few ideas. You might want to stop taking down speed cameras as well.

Roger Geffen's take on it reflected the CTC's vehicular outlook. "We still have only a tiny fraction of our residential streets covered by 20mph while hostile roads, bad driving, and weak law enforcement remain serious barriers to getting more people cycling."
The trouble is, it's unclear how the CTC think we can create a Britain in which more people cycle. They seem to reject the experience of countries that do have high levels of cycling, which is that segregation from traffic is necessary to give your average person confidence to cycle. Without segregation, you have a problem. It only takes one or two inconsiderate or inattentive drivers to turn a cycle ride into a unpleasant experience; unpleasant enough that a new cyclist will quickly turn into an ex-cyclist with a story they'll tell to anyone who's thinking of taking up cycling. It only takes one or two inconsiderate or inattentive drivers out of the hundreds of drivers you're likely to interact with on even a relatively short journey. Today, the majority of drivers admit to breaking speed limits, and 27% of drivers admit to using a handheld mobile whilst driving. With that real-world starting point, how do the CTC propose we can create a world where all drivers are skillful, alert and attentive, they know, understand and respect the law, no-one is in a hurry, everyone is nice and considerate, says please and thank-you, and goes to church on a Sunday (though they have no sins to confess)? The fact is, people are not perfect. In or out of a car, from time to time they do stupid things; they lack skill and judgement; they get angry; they bend the rules for selfish gain. More law enforcement won't change that, neither will 20MPH limits. The point is vulnerable road users need to feel protected from inattentive, inconsiderate and otherwise delinquent motorized road users. That's why we have pavements. Cyclists feel just as vulnerable as pedestrians, so it follows they need a safe space that's guaranteed to be free from motor vehicles.

The other disturbing aspect of the 2010 road casualty figures is that the effect of the Coalition's road safety cuts and 'War on the Motorist' agenda won't yet have kicked in. So, as the RAC Foundation's Stephen Glaister put it, "there is a danger these figures could mark the bottom of the casualty curve."

Wimbledon Tennis - No Room for Cyclists

Above you can see Woodhayes Road SW19, which runs towards Wimbledon Common. Normally it's parked up on both sides, and hence just a little too narrow for two motor vehicles to pass. For the tennis, temporary parking restrictions are in place. I wonder where all the parked cars have gone? Given the Wimbledon Championships last 2 weeks, it's safe to say that it is possible for the car owners to make alternative arrangements, which rather suggests that the world wouldn't end if the parking restrictions were made permanent, at least on one side of the road. Then you'd have enough space for a segregated cycle lane. But as we all know, there's not enough room for such things in the UK.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wimbledon Tennis Traffic

I thought I'd go out for a little ride, bust a few red lights and scare some pedestrians, like we cyclists do. My circuit today took me past the All-England Club. For 50 weeks of the year, it's quieter than a graveyard at night, but right at the moment it's a magnet for tennis fans the world over.

Above you see Church Road at the junction with Victoria Drive. In the middle of the day, this is normally very quiet. The police are directing traffic to give some order to the chaos, and doing a reasonable job, but it's not stopping a considerable tailback along Church Road towards Southfields. The people on the two buses in this picture have to wait in the queue with the cars.

Now imagine this scene repeated at various venues all over London, only on a considerably larger scale. Imagine further that one lane on key routes is exclusively reserved for the limousines of the sponsors and other big cheeses, further adding to the chaos.

Around the All-England Club, various people have set up their front gardens as parking lots, and charging twenty quid a pop - a nice little earner. Luckily, Wimbledon Tennis is an established yearly event and almost all the fans arrive by public transport. But you can't stop some people from driving. At the Olympics, with the prospect of sweaty, packed-out tube trains and buses stuck in traffic jams, some people will try to drive and you can't blame them. I'm sure there'll be plenty of impromptu parking lots set up by enterprising east-enders to cater for them, even if they can't park at the venues. And it won't take many extra car drivers to turn normally-congested roads into total gridlock.

8 months for a Hit-and-Run

Elizabeth Beach-MacGeagh, 20, was knocked down as she crossed a street in Barnet by a BMW doing 45mph in a 30mph zone. The driver, Aryeris Angelis, sped off without stopping.

Tellingly, almost without exception the comments on this Standard article are incredulous about the light sentence.

The simple fact is that at 45MPH you may not even see someone step into the road before you hit them. At 30MPH you'll see them and have time to brake. 15MPH is the difference between a near miss and a fatal collision. Yet speeding is treated almost as a human right by the Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, who thinks speed cameras are part of a War on the Motorist. Now it could be argued that fixed speed cameras are not the best way of enforcing speed limits. But if you take that view, you have to come up with a better way, and you have to give a clear message that speed kills and speeding is not tolerated. Hammond has failed to do either of those things, and the result is that more motorists think it's OK to speed because the Government doesn't take it seriously.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Insurance Scams?

Jack straw is on the warpath, after no-win no-fee ambulance chasing lawyers, who are apparently buying lists of collision victims from insure, recovery firms and even the police.

There are two aspects to this. If the victims are being encouraged to exaggerate their claims or claim for injuries that don't exist, that's fraud. If there's commissions being paid, it needs to be transparent.

However, the motoring lobby have for years managed to externalise the true cost of road collisions. So it's long overdue that victims are increasingly  getting realistic compensation for their physical and injuries, mental anguish, time and ongoing losses.

Many people get knocked off their bikes, and that's enough to put them off cycling for good. If you're the victim of such a collision, the fact that you can no longer cycle will mean you'll be paying tube and bus fares for the rest of your life, and maybe paying gym membership to replace the free exercise you were getting. If you sustain serious injuries, your ability to do your job, or any job, may be lost. Yet in the UK we have no strict liability law. That means that in the absence of witnesses it's very difficult to prove you didn't swerve into the path of a car, or jump a red light, and without such evidence making a claim may be impossible.  The result is that you and the good old taxpayer end up footing the bill for someone else's bad driving. And even if you do have a claim, it's still the taxpayer, rather than the errant driver, who pays for any NHS hospital treatment. It is wrong that the law assumes that all road users are equally liable, even though some bring far greater danger to the roads than others, and those same road users are far better protected  from the risks that they create.

Then there are the societal costs. Road danger takes away the freedom of choice from people who'd rather not use their cars all the time. Adults are afraid to cycle. Kids aren't trusted to walk or cycle on their own, and are ferried around in cotton-wool lined SUVs. The resulting sedentary national lifestyle has an increased incidence of a wide range of associated diseases, from obesity and arthritis through to diabetes and cancer, keeping the NHS busy, and it's all paid for by - guess who - the good old hardworking taxpayer.

The fact is, if car insurance premiums actually paid for all the consequences of the harm that road collisions cause, both at an individual and a societal level, they'd be a lot higher than they are. If the over-marketing of junk food at kids was treated with the same zeal as the over-marketing of personal injury services to adults, we might be paying less tax to fund the NHS.

Dirty VW

VW is Europe's least green carmaker according to Greenpeace. The German auto group's performance is summarised in the Independent:

It puts its most efficient engines in only 6 per cent of its cars and inflates their price by more than their cost, deterring the wider adoption of greener motoring. VW Group has made less progress on fuel efficiency than rivals such as BMW and Toyota and is actively seeking to thwart EU plans to reduce climate-change emissions by 2020.

David Millar Laps Richmond Park

Cycling Weekly reports that David Millar set an unofficial time trial record for a circuit of Richmond Park, clocking 13 minutes and 35 seconds around the 6.7 mile circuit, which averages just shy of 30MPH. It's a little better than my personal best which is a sedate 21 minutes, but I have a couple of years on Mr Millar, my bike has a couple of kilos on his, I've never taken any performance-enhancing drugs (other than a couple of strong espressi and some Night Nurse), and I don't try too hard down the hills. I think that accounts for the seven-minute difference.

You may be aware that, like other parks, Richmond Park is intended for leisure pursuits. Rather than salute this sporting achievement, the killjoys at the Parks authorities, it seems, have got the BBC to take down the video of this, as Millar exceeded the 20MPH speed limit. In a recent Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson drove from dusk to dawn to cross the width of Britain, from Land's End to Lowestoft ("Car vs God"). It wasn't clear if he had to break any speed limits to do so, but he certainly had to put in a very long shift at the wheel. The Highway Code has a couple of things to say about this:

"avoid undertaking long journeys between midnight and 6 am, when natural alertness is at a minimum"
"plan your journey to take sufficient breaks. A minimum break of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving is recommended"

Now it could be argued that Top Gear is an entertainment show and the whole thing was fictionalized. But that is certainly not clear from the programme. So why is it OK for Top Gear to conduct an apparent motorised time trial on public roads, in breach of the Highway Code, but not for the BBC to film a cyclist doing the same thing?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

CSH8 Update

There's been a bit more work going on at Chelsea Bridge for Cycle Superhighway 8. Let's see what the TfL elves have been doing:

Above you can see the blue symbols have been added to the outside lane as you approach the north end of the bridge. Unfortunately they start too late. Cyclists will already be starting to move over before this point in a lot of cases, so there needs to be time for motorists to see the symbols and react to them. For cyclists going straight ahead or filtering on the inside, there's a narrow-ish mandatory lane provided.

Below: It's still difficult to filter on the outside because the island restricts access to the advance stop box. However, you don't want to stay on the outside because you're on the wrong side of the motors to get into the cycle lane on Grosvenor Road. The best plan may be to try to cut in between the two lanes but that can be tricky to achieve and may be dangerous if the lights change on you at an inopportune time.

 Below: they've added a cycle reservoir in the middle of the junction where you can wait to make the turn into Grosvenor Road. I'm not very convinced by this. For a start, it's too small, and it's too narrow at the front, just when faster cyclists will be overtaking slower cyclists.

These are all improvements, but they don't address the fundamental problem of how to get into advance stop box and get into a good position for the right turn. Cyclist are being forced into dangerous positions on the road for no good reason. It is not beyond the wit of man to design a junction that is more cycle-friendly than this one, and given that this is a critical junction on London's newest and most expensive cycle facility, there really is no excuse for getting it wrong. If this is the best TfL's engineers can do, they need to quit and let somebody else (perhaps somebody Dutch) have a go.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cycle to the Olympics

While Britain's olympic cyclists are truly world-class, the same cannot be said of our olympic cycle routes so far, with no route serving the Wimbledon tennis venue. Will things change with the unveiling of the circular Jubilee Greenway route from Buckingham Palace to the Olympic venues?

Now the usual meaning of 'greenway' is an off-road, or at least segregated route suitable for less 'confident' cyclists. That would be far too boring - which is why the Jubilee Greenway takes in some more entertaining sections like Lambeth Bridge, where there are busy roundabouts on both sides and a cycle lane the width of a cigarette paper, and Parliament Square, where you can weave in and out of three lanes of traffic. Freewheeler also points out that the route heading west from Becton terminates at the High Street, Stratford (due to Crossrail works) before it gets to the Olympic site.

Don't worry about feeling lonely either - on the Regent's Canal towpath, you can look forward to pleasant chats with pedestrians as you slowly - very slowly - squeeze past them.

The other miraculous thing about this world-class cycling route is you won't have noticed any roadworks going on during its construction. That's because they haven't built anything. In the words of Jim Walker, director of the Jubilee Walkway Trust, "We have worked out there is already a route you can follow - it's not something we have had to build." Awesome.

Of course, there aren't any connecting 'green' routes to the west or south of London. We do have a couple of Cycle Superhighways, of course, and they'll be great for getting to events - during commuting hours only of course. After 10AM they'll be full of parked cars, so we'll just have to get up early.

Now remember that ALL spectators are supposed to be getting to the Olympic venues by public transport, walking or cycling. Public transport will be a tad busy, one would suspect, so to cater for people who don't fancy the sardine-can experience of  a non-air-conditioned tube train in midsummer, you would think the 2012 organizers would have used the momentum of the Olympics to build some decent quality cycle paths that would serve as a great legacy after the medals have been won. So they built the Velodrome. That's a cycle path - what more did you expect?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Congestion in London

The London Assembly Transport Committee has published its report on congestion, "The Future of Road Congestion in London".

It can be best summed up by this statement on P11:

"the Committee concluded that a road user hierarchy, enshrined in the Mayor’s London Plan, and prioritising walking, cycling and public transport over private car use, would help to ensure the Mayor’s modal shift targets are met"

However, the Conservative group inserted an additional, dissenting paragraph:

"Roads should be thoroughfares which enable all users, whether they are cyclists, motorists, pedestrians, bus passengers, van drivers, taxi passengers or motorcyclists to get from A to B as swiftly and as safely as possible. Neither the Mayor nor the Government should impose an artificial road user hierarchy as this inevitably has the effect of deliberately slowing down some users. Further to this, the Mayor should encourage cycling by emphasising that it is cheap, healthy and quick, not by worsening conditions for other road users."

A couple of bloggers have interpreted this along party political lines, so, ever the contrarian, and as a purely academic exercise, I am going to propose an alternative spin. Labour has a record of talking a good game on cycling, but getting cold feet when it comes to actually doing things that disadvantage motorists. The Livingstone era in London consisted mainly of spot improvements for existing vehicular cyclists, and while cycling rates did increase during this period you'd have to work pretty hard to attribute the increase to improvements in road conditions. Parking in cycle lanes didn't start with Boris Johnson, neither did the replacement of proper crossings with cycling-hostile 'pedestrian refuges'. The Traffic Management Act 2004 - which introduced the 'network management duty' currently being used by TfL to justify the Blackfriars Bridge scheme - was Labour Government legislation. Labour had a clear run of 13 years and plenty of cash to fix cycling, and the end-result is decidedly underwhelming. I don't know anyone who started cycling in the 'noughties' because they thought it had become safe - however I do know people who started cycling because public transport (courtesy of Mr Bin Laden) had become more dangerous.

The Tory statement has elements that we can all agree with. "Roads...that enable all get from A to B as swiftly and safely as possible", for example. From this statement, any change to the road system that enables an aggregate improvement in journey times would be a good thing. So, if you could improve the journey time of 8 cyclists by a minute each, that would be acceptable if one motorist was delayed by 7 minutes, because there is an aggregate gain. Given that cyclists occupy about a tenth of the roadspace of a car, and are much better at exploiting available roadspace, it follows that it's pretty easy to improve cyclist journey times significantly with fairly minor improvements. Furthermore, encouraging cycling equals fewer motors which equals everyone gets from A to B faster. So this statement is by no means incompatible with better cycling conditions.

Is it necessary to have an 'artificial' road user hierarchy? I suggest not, given that we've had one that favours cycling in the official guidance for a while and it's been widely ignored. In fact, there are an awful lot of 'artifacts' that favour motors over cyclists - such as gyratory systems, one-ways, and so on. Furthermore, there are many cases where junction priority and safety has been determined solely by considering motor traffic, and ignoring the effect on cyclists.

Now it is pretty obviously a stretch to read Appendix A (the Tory paragraphs) as pro-cycling, given that there's clearly an underlying political agenda linked to Philip Hammond's 'war on the motorist' philosophy. On the other hand, if you take it literally, the idea that cyclists actually get equal treatment, particularly in terms of safety, would be a massive step forward. However, freedom and equal treatment for all road users is not the status quo, and the Tories need to acknowledge this, if they expect to be taken seriously by cyclists.

The Problem with Bus Lanes

Bus lanes are great when they are in force, but for some unknown reason, outside peak hours, a lot of bus lanes revert to general traffic lanes. Which means that a motorist can drive in them, and park in them.

However, most motorists don't use bus lanes at any time. Partly it's because with all the other street clutter, they don't notice the signs giving the hours of operation. Partly it's precautionary, so they don't accidentally get a ticket when they didn't read the hours of operation, or the current time, correctly. And very rarely, it might be out of concern that a cyclist might be using the bus lane.

As a result, you get an empty bus lane that is an invitation to aggressive drivers to undertake. "The other cars should be in the bus lane", they reason. "I would be overtaking them on the right if they were where they should be." I've seen this behaviour many times. It's common on the Morden Road in Merton, and I've seen it on South Lambeth Road approaching the Vauxhall Gyratory. This kind of undertaking is potentially lethal. It's often done way in excess of the speed limit, and the speeding car is hemmed in by the traffic in the other lane on one side and the pavement on the other, so has no chance of swerving to avoid a cyclist. Sight lines are often poor, so the driver may not see a slow-moving cyclist at night on a wet day until it's too late.

I've never quite figured out why all bus lanes aren't 24-hour. It can't be parking demand. Most businesses are closed by 7PM, so there's no great need for customer parking or loading. Parking restrictions in side roads often end at 7PM in any case. Residents won't habitually park in bus lanes because they come in to force earlier than most people will move their car in the morning.
As far as traffic flow is concerned, outside peak hours, a single lane gives enough traffic capacity to avoid congestion, and if it didn't you'd need to enfore the bus lane to avoid the buses getting caught up in traffic jams.

The justification put forward for not having 24-hour restrictions on the bus lanes on CSH7 is that the CSHs are for "commuting cyclists". As if no-one commutes after 7PM. But here's the paradox. In commuting hours, speeds are usually lower and there are plenty of cyclists around - being noticed isn't so much of a problem. The time a cyclist most needs a dedicated lane is at night, when visibility is poor, motor traffic speeds are higher, and there's less 'safety in numbers'. This is also the time when there's less demand for roadspace, so it should be easier to provide dedicated space.

Helmet Camera Conviction

Hat-tip to Manchester police who secured a conviction against Michael Stewart of Congleton, who pleaded guilty to to common assault and driving without due care and attention.

He got off the more serious charge of dangerous driving, but he received a £200 fine and £200 court costs. His licence was endorsed with five penalty points. He was also given a six-week community order with a four-week evening curfew.

Stewart is a "television sound recordist". I wonder who he works for? I hope I'm not paying his wages through my license fee.

It's almost unknown to see a prosecution, let alone a conviction, for bad driving where there's not been a collision, unless the police actually witnessed it. Yet it must be one of the most common offences. I daresay had there been no assault, the incident would never have been investigated or prosecuted, even with video evidence. The justice system puts a lot of barriers in the way of anyone wishing to get bad driving punished. To report an incident, you need to go to a police station, queue up for 15 minutes, get a 19-page form, fill it in, queue up again, hand it in, and it'll probably be ignored. No wonder most people don't bother. You can report incidents online, for example at Roadsafe London. Previously, I recall that website had wording to the effect that incidents you reported would not be prosecuted, but now there's a slight change of emphasis:

If you wish to report bad driving with a view to prosecution, and we consider this is an appropriate way to deal with the incident, you must be prepared to attend a police station in person, make a statement and attend court and give evidence.

It also says:

Occasionally, as well as reporting something to us, people post video footage in the public domain e.g. YouTube or similar sites. In the course of dealing with your information we may direct others to any material that has been openly posted, to raise road user awareness and to promote safety.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Driving in Decline?

The RAC have been out with their clipboards again surveying drivers' opinions.

48% are cutting back on journeys for financial reasons. Four out of 10 rural drivers and 32% of urban ones said they were cutting back on short journeys, while 34% of rural drivers and 23% of urban ones were reducing long trips.

Meanwhile, The Scotsman reports that used car prices are tumbling as people get rid of second cars, or even  their only cars.

So it seems that people are driving less, at the very time Transport for London are assuring us that every spare square inch of Blackfriars Bridge is needed for more traffic lanes.

The RAC's motoring strategist Adrian Tink said,  "UK drivers want action from the Government. They already pay the highest duty and tax on fuel in Europe. At the very least, we are calling for fuel duty to be frozen and scheduled inflationary rises to be scrapped."

It happens that UK petrol prices are not out of line with those in mainland Europe. It's not clear who Mr Tink expects is going to pay for his proposed largesse - effectively it would be a transfer of tax onto those who can't afford or choose not to drive. In any case, over the last couple of weeks we've seen the Brent Crude price oscillate between $110 and $120/bbl, which illustrates how powerless the Government is to do much about the price of fuel. Ordinary people are solving the problem, taking action by driving less, changing their driving style and even getting rid of their cars altogether.

At Cycalogical, we think it would be best to assume that oil is going to get more expensive and plan accordingly, by making it easier for people to use alternative transport options and to live car-free. Otherwise, we'll end up with an oil-dependent economy, vulnerable to oil price fluctuations we cannot control, and each year paying an increasingly larger share of our GDP to unsavoury regimes in the Middle East and North Africa.

They're Starting to Notice Us

Some of the mainstream media channels have picked up on the fact that cycles are starting to outnumber motors at peak times on an increasing number of central London streets.

The Sunday Times had an article last Sunday, unfortunately behind the paywall but you can see the full text at Cyclists in the City.

On Monday's BBC News, Paraic O'Brien (himself a cyclist) reported from the City about the very large peak-time volumes of cycle traffic in London's centre. He quizzed town planner Brian Whitely, who I think is from the cycle-friendly borough of Newham (you know, the one that won't have a Cycle Superhighway). Whitely gave every impression that he was completely blindsided by the idea that there should be a fundamental shift in street planning to accomodate increasing numbers of cycles. "Planners are trying to give them priority where they can already", he waffled. As well as being patently untrue, it is oxymoronic. If you are trying to give priority to cycling where you can, it implies that where there's a conflict something else (let me guess, motor traffic) has a higher priority, and therefore cycling isn't the priority. And here is the attitudinal problem. Planners, highways engineers and politicians are trying to pass off anti-cycling choices as if they were imperatives. Cycling can be a priority, given the will.

The question now is whether changing attitudes in the media in response to what's happening on the streets will lead to changing attitudes from politicians. If that happens, will today's highways engineers and planners be able to cope with a prioritizing a transport mode that's been marginalized for decades? Is 'motor traffic flow' so entrenched in their mindset that they are incapable of leading the change?

Cycle Hire - It's Gone Critical

The Standard reports that Serco has been put on a critical improvement plan by TfL.

The report claims that since the cycle hire scheme was launched in July last year 14,937 people have received refunds for access or usage charges. Last month almost 600 people had money withdrawn from their bank accounts for journeys they had not taken. The Mayor commented, "It is important to note that over five million journeys have been taken on scheme cycles, meaning refunds have been issued for some 0.3 per cent of all journeys."

How do they know this is not the tip of an iceberg? How do they know that it's not 3% wrong charges rather than 0.3%?  If you use the bikes infrequently or irregularly, chances are that you'll have forgotten exactly which days you used a bike by the time your credit card statement comes through. Unless Serco know the cause of the incorrect charging, we won't know if it's safe to go back to the docking stations. What should we be looking out for? How many of these 15,000 refunds are due to bikes failing to release, or bikes failing to re-dock properly, or any other cause?

Jenny Jones also pointed out "the biggest complaint seems to be the failure of bikes to release and people having to walk ages to find one that works." This is a problem that this blog has identified in the past. It's not only that the bikes don't release, it's that there's no indication why. You don't know if your key is faulty, or the bike is faulty, or the dock is faulty, or the whole system is faulty.

The most important thing now is to restore public confidence in the system. We need to be sure that Serco know what's gone wrong and have fixed it. We also need proper diagnostics on the individual bikes and docks. It should be immediately obvious to a user when a bike or dock is faulty, so that we don't have to try five different bikes before we successfully release one.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wardour Street - Car Free

I'd noticed that Wardour Street was closed for roadworks and was being resurfaced in granite block paving. It turns out that from mid-day onwards, the street is closed to motor vehicles.

Westminster Council is usually in Crossrider's cross-hairs, but on this occasion deserves some recognition for closing what was previously a pretty busy street. However, they still get a broadside for banning cycling - in their usual cycling-hostile manner they've used a 'no vehicles' sign rather than 'no motor vehicles'.

Strangely enough, this little area of London seems to have a spread of street closures, including Trafalgar Square north side, Leicester Square and its connecting streets, and Gerrard Street. Even stranger, this dreadful virus doesn't seem to have brought economic ruin - in fact, quite the contrary - this is a vibrant area with massive footfall and successful businesses.

Network Operating Strategy - Consultation

As has been pointed out elsewhere, TfL have a consultation on its new Draft Network Operating Strategy. Yes, that's 'draft', not 'daft', although you might think otherwise after reading it. What is a Network Operating Strategy? It's quite simply, how TfL run the road network, which is, from a cycling point of view, not very well, and the new strategy does nothing to improve a woeful record. It's written, one gets the impression, by people who've cut-and-pasted a few 'green' paragraphs from other places but whose mindset is stuck in the 1980s 'predict-and-provide-more-urban-motorways' school of thought.

Remember that the City of London's LIP received 110-odd comments, most of which were from cyclists, and TfL were deluged by cyclists' complaints about Blackfriars Bridge. It does make a difference. It is essential that you comment here before 15 July and let 'em know we're out there.

The document acknowledges that cyclists are the least satisfied road users. That matters because the Mayor wants to increase cycling, which could be rather difficult if all other transport modes are more satisfying. Although in a couple of places the document talks about promoting walking and cycling, and modal shift, there is very little in the strategy to actually achieve this: it talks the talk, but quite literally doesn't walk the walk or indeed ride the bike.

The strategy measures journey times, but it ignores the journey times of cyclists, who make up more than 30% of traffic on certain routes at peak times. It completely ignores the cyclist's perspective on how good the road network is - it does not measure subjective safety. It does not talk about using lower speed limits or other traffic-calming features to make roads less intimidating. In fact, throughout the document it not only doesn't mention speed limits, it exclusively refers to 'speed' as a positive aspiration and not once does it refer to excessive speed of traffic as a problem. The tone of the document is almost all traffic flow - that is - more, faster motor traffic. There's no acknowledgement that encouraging cycling would be good for traffic flow as it would take cars off the road.

The document does not acknowledge that there is a conflict between measures that make cars go faster and the interests of cyclists. This document effectively allows TfL to continue to ignore cyclists, because there is nothing in the strategy that requires them to consider cyclist safety or even cycle journey times when designing roads. In short, this is a recipe for more Blackfriars Bridge junctions, rather an attempt to fix the historical strategy which has been an attempt to create urban motorways whereever possible.

Olympic VIP 'Zil Lanes' - Cycles Banned

Not content with failing to create decent cycle lanes to the Olympic venues, TfL are now banning cyclists from the ‘Zil lanes’ created to ferry VIPs to and from the Olympic venues, Ross Lydall has revealed. Cabbies are also banned from the lanes, along with everyone else.

Cyclists are used to being treated as VUPs (Very Unimportant People), but who are these ‘VIPs’, and why do they need special lanes? The athletes should be staying near to the venue for their sport, as should all the hangers-on. If anyone wants to stay in central London, they can get up early to miss the traffic. Or they could take the tube or even cycle. The only indispensible, very important people in the Games are the athletes.

As Brian Coleman commented last year, “The exclusive Olympic lanes on Euston Road and Southampton Row are only being created because the international media is staying in swanky Bloomsbury hotels."

Cabbies are planning a protest – maybe cyclists should join them – after all, your enemy’s enemy is your friend. On the other hand, congestion is also often the cyclist's friend, so if parts of London get seriously gummed up by these lanes, and the tubes are full of ticket-clutching sports fans, it could leave cycling as the only practical way of getting around...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Blackfriars Poem

(after McGonagall)

Beautiful Blackfriars Bridge o'er the Silv'ry Thames
Alas! I am sorry that Tory AMs
All of them were taken away
On June, 2011, the eighth day,
And prompted a blogger to pen a rhyme

(Which will not be remembered for a very long time)

They did not debate twenty miles per hour
And vacated the London Assembly with a glower.
'Twas because of something Ken Livingstone said
That the Conservatives retir'd home to their bed.
What has 20MPH to do with Mladic's war crime?
Which will be remembered for a very long time?

Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv'ry Thames,
I must now conclude my po-em,
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your cyclists would not have been taken away,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had the traffic travelled at 20MPH or less,
At least many sensible men confess,
For the slower we our roads do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

Blackfriars Bridge Walkout - the plot thickens...

Following the Conservative walkout which effectively stopped the debate on retaining a 20MPH limit, there has been communication that the issue may not be dead after all.

Reportedly, an email from Richard Tracey, AM,  claims:

"The Conservative Members did not walk out to avoid the Blackfriars debate and we are
still in direct discussion with the Mayor and his Transport advisors
about the situation...

We walked out of the Chamber because Labour and Green Members refused
after several invitations to condemn and disown Labour candidate Ken
Livingstone, who last week described, in a most offensive and
unacceptable way, Edward Lister, the Mayor's Chief of Staff and former
long-time Leader of Wandsworth Council, as "the Radko Mladic of local

However, the BBC reported Andrew Boff as saying:

"This is part of ongoing action that the group is taking in response to the Labour, Lib Dem and Green party groups voting en-block to prevent Conservatives from taking up the proportional number of committee chairmanships"

Cycalogical's view is this. If you walk out of a debate, you cannot dodge responsibility for the consequences of doing so by putting the blame on a totally unrelated issue. Or issues. Ken Livingstone is not a member of the London Assembly, and he's free to insult Edward Lister, or Ratko Mladic, or anyone else. If he's overstepped the mark (and personally I think he has) then he will have to take the consequences. That's the rough-and-tumble of politics. It's not as if no Conservative has ever stooped so low.

If the Conservative Assembly Members are genuinely trying to press the Mayor to retain the 20MPH limit, and are successful, then I don't much care if there's a debate or not. But if this is just obfustication, then I don't much appreciate that the Tory AMs have chosen to play politics with an issue that affects people's lives.

Lastly, they might take note of the following paragraphs in the 2010 Cycle Safety Action Plan:

The vast majority (98.7%) of cyclist casualties occurred on roads with a 30mph speed limit.

...the following interventions have been identified to improve cycling safety in new infrastructure for the future:

Work to ensure that all new road infrastructure contributes to improved safety of cyclists, including speed reduction measures, junction improvements, and awareness of cyclists’ needs.

Speed reduction measures. You got that now? Would you like me to write it bigger and in red?

Identify ‘high risk’ locations on the road network for cyclists and advise on and implement site specific preventative measures.

Blackfriars Bridges collision record puts it firmly in the 'high risk' category by any reasonable standards.

Support those Boroughs that wish to implement speed reduction measures such as 20mph zones in line with MTS.

Speed reduction again.

Work with London’s engineering community to provide practical experience of cycling in London for engineers.
...Yet they continue to come up with schemes like Blackfriars Bridge

Electric Bike Hire in London

Hertz are proposing to offer electric bikes for hire at twenty quid a day at Marble Arch. Twelve bikes will be initially available. They plan to roll out the scheme, if it's successful, to "other cycling friendly cities such as Amsterdam".

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Blackfriars Bridge - Tories Walk Out

Reports indicate that the Conservative London Assembly members have walked out of the debate about Blackfriars Bridge safety, rendering the meeting inquorate, thus ensuring the debate did not happen.

The walkout is apparently a tactic they've used before, on ticket office staffing. Somewhat ironic, considering they don't like Tube workers walking out of their jobs.

Presumably the Tories have gambled that taking their ball home is less politically damaging than losing the match (which they were going to do), the consequence being that Boris would've had to go against the Assembly's recommendation. It's now up to people who want Blackfriars Bridge to stay 20MPH to ensure that the issue is brought back into play as soon as possible.

Blackfriars Bridge Collision

The woman injured in a collision a few days back turns out to be a senior doctor, and has spoken out against Boris's proposal to restore the 30MPH limit on Blackfriars Bridge. The London Assembly vote on the issue is today, and it's expected to go in favour of retaining the 20MPH limit. However, this is not binding on the Mayor so likely won't change anything. However, this has become something of a cause celebre, so perhaps LCC will be organizing another protest on the issue.

It's less important whether this issue is won or lost than a marker is put down indicating that both TfL and the politicians will be hauled over the coals in a very public way if another similar cycling-hostile scheme goes through on the nod.

London Cycle Hire

The BBC's Tom Edwards writes on cycling and transport issues. On more than one occasion however his articles seem to uncritically parrot stuff he's been told, without any balancing analysis or opinion. I've criticised this before in relation to parking issues.

This time it's Cycle Hire he's posted about.

"Insiders have also told me that the current model doesn't work, especially around mainline train stations where docking stations empty straight away.
They said that the only way for the system to work and for docking stations to be refilled by users is to charge more at rush hour to limit demand."

This, for anyone who knows the first thing about Cycle Hire, is a bizarre statement. It's always been acknowledged from before the scheme started that the system couldn't possibly meet demand around the main rail termini. That doesn't mean the scheme doesn't work. To some extent the system is self-regulating: users who are prepared to walk far enough from the station will eventually find a docking station with bikes in and others will take the tube or bus.

The Paris Velib scheme rewards users for returning their bikes to an 'unpopular' dock (that is, one that is unpopular as a destination and so typically gets starved of bikes). In the same way, it might be worth exploring the possibility of giving an incentive to users who ride from an outlying dock to, say, King's Cross in the morning, and the opposite way in the evening.

Simply charging more at rush hour won't create more bikes in the right places. If you make the tariff more expensive, or more complex, you will simply confuse and put off users, and given the scheme is operating generally below capacity, this would not seem a sensible idea from any point of view.

The issue that Tom Edwards should be looking into is that many potential users are put off by hostile cycling conditions on the road network. A lot of people are prepared to cycle round Hyde Park, but for some strange reason you don't see too many cycling round Marble Arch. If more people were prepared to cycle in on Boris Bikes from the outlying areas, this would generate more revenue and may get more bikes to popular docks.

There are some clever people looking at the Boris Bike flows. I've not yet seen any of them proposing raising rush-hour tariffs to improve bike availability.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Olympic Duathlon

It appears that although the London Cycle Hire scheme will be expanded out east in time for the Olympics, it won't go far enough east. The nearest dock to the main stadium or velodrome will be Victoria Park, requiring a 20-minute walk...which rather defeats the point I would have thought.
I guess when they say they are "making improvements to a network of eight walking and cycling routes", and they will "use the power of the Games to get more people walking and cycling", they really did mean "walking and cycling"...

TfL gets tough with Serco on Cycle Hire

I've pointed out before that London Cycle Hire users have put up with some poor service from service provider, Serco, including the cardinal sin of billing errors, and that this should result in some tough questions being asked of the service provider, Serco.

According to the Metro, TfL has thumped the table and issued Serco with a 'critical improvement plan'. Not sure what that involves exactly but it sounds impressive.

However, the thing about financial errors, crap websites and irritating call centres is that, barring stress-induced heart attacks, nobody dies. You cannot say the same about London's roads being so crap for cycling. Maybe TfL should issue itself a 'critical improvement plan'. If cycle hire users shouldn't put up with poor back-office support, they're also entitled to a better deal where their tyres meet the road. TfL's responsibilities don't end when the bike gets released from the docking station. Poor route signposting, car-centric road layouts, and a generally hostile and at times downright dangerous environment are not good enough.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Barry Mason Dies

Barry Mason of Southwark Cyclists has died suddenly whilst on holiday. This sad news has prompted many tributes all over the cycling internet, which is surely testament to his influence and achievements. One in particular stood out on LCC's site, from nununoolio: "The world needed lots more people like Barry, not one less".

Western Congestion Zone Increased Traffic

It used to be the Congestion Charge Western Extension Zone (WEZ), but now it's the Western Congestion Zone, after Boris's abolition of the charge in this area. "Business starts to boom after C-Charge zone axe", is the Standard headline. Traffic is up 8%, and small businesses report increased takings. Boris said: "I am glad I gave the people a say and thrilled that the initial results suggest there has been no significant downside in removing the zone".

No significant downside to increased traffic? Maybe its because no-one's measured the downsides yet. I bet Boris Johnson's neighbours wouldn't thank him if he increased traffic levels in his street. That's in part because they paid good money for their homes and don't want local house values being dragged down by increased traffic volumes. Anyone who has their journey disrupted by increased or more frequent congestion is experiencing a "downside". Increased congestion will also mean increased rat-running, and a less pleasant environment for the residents of the "rat-run" streets and a less pleasant environment for walking and cycling.

The Standard's assertion that "business is up" is not based on anything more scientific than hearsay. Maybe it's only a few business owners who've felt a boost. Maybe the change is due to general economic factors rather than the congestion charge abolition. Maybe the boost to businesses in the zone has been offset by a decline in sales outside the zone, as drivers change their shopping habits but not their overall spend.

I'm not convinced that the WEZ was without its problems, but I'm a lot less convinced that increasing traffic is a good thing.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Blackfriars Bridge Collision

Talk on Twitter of a female cyclist being hit by a van yesterday on Blackfriars Bridge. Would that be the same Blackfriars Bridge where TfL want more traffic to be flowing faster? The very same.
Sounds like the cyclist mercifully wasn't badly hurt.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cycle Commuting Tips

A few handy commuting tips:

1.    You can commute on anything. Well, pretty much anything as long as it has a couple of wheels and a chain (and no motor, electric or otherwise). Anything too new and you look like you’re just trying it out or feel guilty about your empolyer buying you a 'cycle-to-work' bike and will probably quit within the week. Take a new bike out for a couple of long rides in foul weather to make it look worn-in. Or just discharge a shotgun at it. Supermarket bikes are also worth avoiding as you’ll probably want to quit within a week – it’ll be heavy, the gears and brakes won’t work right and it’ll be less comfortable than a Mexican prison. Anything too trendy or expensive is likely to attract the wrong kind of attention (see #8) and you’ll be in danger of looking like you’re trying a bit too hard. You’ll need to be able to fit mudguards, so make sure there’s eyelets and clearance – you’re in England, remember (see #10). Bromptons should really only be used if you’re coming in from Southampton on the train; otherwise it looks like you’re not very committed (see #15).

2.    Components. Knobbly tyres are a no-no. You’re in a city, remember. Swap ‘em for some slicks or semi-slicks instead. Not too skinny, mind, remember it’s not a race. Full-sus is also verboten; a sus fork you'll get away with as long as you lock it out: no-one wants to see you pogo-ing down the road. However, don't fall into the trap of replacing your sus fork with some ostentatious rigid carbon affair: that's trying too hard. Don’t think you need hundreds of gear ratios: an 8-speed drivetrain is plenty good enough (or 7-speed if you’ve not had your bike nicked for 15 years). Or just the one speed, but be careful you don’t look too fake. Weight is a secondary consideration behind reliability – don’t think you’re impressing anyone with your 16-spoke wheels. Don't replace any components until they're properly worn out - this is not a club run, no-one cares, and fancy upgraded components will just get your bike nicked (see #8).

3.    Clothing has to be fit-for-purpose if you’re going any distance, but this is not a fashion show. You might as well accept you’re going to look a bit stupid, but that’s no excuse for over-doing it. You don’t want to look like you were in a bike race and got lost, and teaming beachwear such as board-shorts with bicycles is way off-limits. High-viz is generally OK (except in Hackney), but only in the standard highway-maintenance colours of yellow or orange - no lime green please. Pink if you're a girl is accepted, but not on blokes except for those T-Mobile jerseys. You want to be visible but you don’t want to draw too much of the wrong kind of attention – envy, malice or ridicule - to yourself. Football kit is just about OK, but there’s always a risk of encountering a van driven by a supporter of a rival team. Anything liable to get caught in your chain or spokes is of course unwise. Suit with trouser clips is OK (think Boris). Turned-up jeans are only OK on a single-speed or an old racer, but don’t look like you planned it all too carefully. Flat caps and tweed is OK but only if your age is greater the sum of your total spoke count and your total gear ratios.

4.    Pashleys are exempt from #3 and have their own dress-code involving straw hats and Liberty prints. Then again, if you are a proper Pashley owner, you won’t have a job so you won’t be commuting – you’ll be going for tea at Fortnum’s or something. Boris Bikes are also a sartorial class apart: only ordinary office  clothing is permitted - the main advantage of a Boris Bike being you don't look like a cyclist so fewer people hate you. Don't spoil it.

5.    Do not endanger yourself or anyone else. It’s not a race. However, there's no point in slacking either: the idea is to get to work as fast as you can. If you go past a few people, that’s OK. Pashleys are of course exempt from this.

6.    Luggage. The more the better, but keep it strictly business-related: no tents, stoves, bed-rolls, sleeping bags or the like. What to put your stuff in? Rear panniers are good, and the bigger the better as they give your ride 'road presence'. Front panniers are also OK although they do shout ‘tourist’. A reasonably small backpack is acceptable, but anything too large (>30L) and you’ll look like a squaddie and feel extremely top-heavy. On a Pashley you’re limited to what you can get in the basket of course - definitely no rucksacks or panniers allowed.

7.    You can go past any motor vehicle at any time (although note #5), but observe strict protocol with other cyclists. No pushing in front, cutting up or jostling for position. Pashleys are exempt provided any manoeuvre is conducted in a sufficiently regal and stately manner. Oh, and no jumping red lights to gain advantage (again, Pashleys are exempt).

8.    Do not get your bike nicked. You’ll be supporting organized crime, putting up everyone else’s insurance premiums and wasting the police’s time. Got that? The net weight of all bikes is the same – you either have a 15kg bike and 5kg of locks, or an 8kg bike and 12kg of locks. For sacrificial protection, lock your bike next to a bike that is a) nicer-looking and b) less well-secured.

9.    Do not get knocked off. You’ll be making cycling look like it’s unsafe, you’ll upset your mum, your other half and your kids, you’ll waste the police’s time and take NHS beds away from car-driving couch potatoes with myocardial infarctions. If you do get knocked off, it's your fault for not seeing the crash coming. Hone your awareness: you should have seen other road users, pigeonholed their vehicle into one of the standard stereotypes (see #16), memorized their numberplate and found out their name, address, favourite colour and mother's maiden name before they've seen you.

10.    Mudguards. You’re not in Italy, you know. We eat potatoes, not pasta, which is why the weather has to be wet. So you’ll be needing mudguards: proper ones that keep the rain off, not the ones that do nothing of the sort and just add weight and air-resistance or make it look like you didn't take all the packaging off when you got the bike.

11.    No scaring pedestrians, children, dogs or people on Boris Bikes. No getting tickets either: that means you’re not paying attention.

12.    No quitting. It never gets too cold to cycle in the UK, and there’s no weather events extreme enough to keep you off a bike. Buy some gloves and a jacket and toughen up. If you feel cold, it means you're riding too slow.

13.    Enjoy. If you’re not enjoying it, you’re doing it wrong or you have the wrong attitude. You’re making a pleasure (riding a bike) out of a necessity (going to work). Enjoy the freedom, the sights and sounds of the city, the changing of the seasons. Enjoy the achievement of doing something most people won’t ever do because their characters are simply too weak. No whingeing about a ‘terrible ride in’ under any circumstances. Your colleagues will have taken the tube, so it’s akin to moaning about your 'flu to someone who’s got cancer.

14.    Keep your bike in good order. Look after it and it will look after you. Mechanicals do happen however, so, as you’d take a condom on a date, take a spare tube, a pump and a toolkit and make sure you know how to use them. As on a date, no fumbling around in the dark getting the tube the wrong way round or using the wrong tool. As on a date, phoning your other half to get picked up is forbidden and likely to result in a row. Flagging other riders down for assistance is permitted in exceptional circumstances, but accepting such assistance requires you to smilingly tolerate derogatory remarks about your unpreparedness.

15.    Vary your route. Sticking to the same roads makes you mentally lazy. Extra points for extending your route to get your weekly mileage up. This is especially necessary if your ride is short (<15 miles each way), otherwise your fitness and strength of character will suffer.

16. Standard stereotypes of vehicles that you will encounter on the road, and strategies for dealing with them:
         White van. Unpredictable. Avoid. Un-sign-written ones are worse because you can't rant at their employer and possibly get them sacked.
         Private hire (minicab). Unpredictable. Avoid. Especially those grey-import-from-Japan Toyota minivans.
         Black cab. Unpredictable. Avoid.
         HGV. Unpredictable. Can't see you. Avoid.
         Bus. Usually predictable, but avoid them anyway.
         Motorcycle. Unpredictable and faster than you are. Avoid.
         Scooter. Even more unpredictable than motorcycles. Avoid.
         Car. Unpredictable. Avoid.

Morden Road Crash (another one)

Some errant motorist has managed to demolish no less than 3 pieces of roadside furniture on the Morden Road, SW19. You can also see part of a silver bumper that's been thrown into the pub car park, and various bits of bodywork in the gutter. This road, assisted by TfL is doing its best to hold its position in the list of Merton’s most dangerous streets. No mention of the crash in the press, so it’s likely we’ll never know what happened; however from the angle at which the poles are bent it looks like they were hit by a vehicle that crossed the carriageway from the other lane. While this is likely at the extreme end of the dangerous driving spectrum, you don’t have to stand for long at the side of Morden Road before you witness speeding vehicles weaving between lanes and undertaking other drivers. Such drivers won’t be looking out for cyclists or pedestrians, you can bank on that. However, TfL’s approach to the management of roads like this one is to tolerate all manner of bad behaviour if it’ll help traffic flow. They don’t seem to understand that smashes don’t help the flow much, and in aggregate account for massive costs across the economony due to the delays caused, as well as significant demands on police time clearing up the mess.

Of course, if you’re on foot or on a bike, your journey time doesn’t matter. TfL have neglected to provide a pedestrian crossing at the junction of Dorset Road and Morden Road, despite there being a clear desire line. I saw a woman on a bike attempting to cross the road at that point today, and it took several minutes before a gap in the traffic allowed her to cross.

Olympic Cycle Routes

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has been talking to the Standard about how all the spectators are going to get to the Olympic events next year. Apparently, the transport upgrades required for the Olympics will enable 100% of spectators to travel to the Games by public transport, walking or cycling.

The tennis events are being held at the Wimbledon All-England club as you’d expect…unfortunately, as far as I have been able to ascertain, not a penny has been spent on putting in new cycle routes to the tennis venue. Take a look at the Olympics site “Travel to Wimbledon” section, and you’ll find not a sausage in terms of advice on how to cycle there with, say, a couple of younger tennis fans. The main road past the site is Church Road, which is a fairly busy road. It has a 30MPH limit, with ‘speed cushions’ - the kind of traffic calming that causes cars to swerve around cutting up cyclists in order to pick the most comfortable line between the humps. The road is narrow enough to make safely overtaking a cyclist impossible with oncoming traffic, but that doesn’t deter some ‘press-on’ car drivers from trying. There are 'pedestrian refuges' which cause more entertainment, with cars attempting to overtake cyclists into the pinch-point. A few weeks ago the missus cycled with the kids from Wimbledon to near the All-England club, following the official cycle route, and swore she’d never do it again, it was that unpleasant.

Back in 2007, there was talk of putting in ‘greenways’ from various directions towards the All-England club for the Olympics, and Sustrans put together a feasibility report which you can view here. However, not much of it has come to pass. For example, the railway path from Wimbledon to Raynes Park has been started – which is the best thing that Merton Council have done for some time – but they’ve run out of money. Other problems the ‘Greenways’ plan has faced have come from all sides. Wimbledon/Putney Commons Conservators opposed routes across those commons being upgraded. Wandsworth Cycling Campaign opposed a segregated path along Magdalene Road. The status of Richmond Riverside precludes cycling, and the labyrinthine bureaucracy associated with a change of status represents a huge barrier.

So there you have it. In London, we’re capable of putting a winning Olympic bid together, building a massive programme of stadia and other venues, and upgrading public transport – but we’re not capable of doing the easiest and cheapest part – putting decent cycle routes in place that are usable by ‘less confident’ cyclists. Why? Partly because there’s no-one in charge at the highest level, and it’s left to a body with no statutory powers – Sustrans – to negotiate their way round bureaucratic obstacles and recalcitrant elected and unelected officials. There was nowhere near enough money available from the humungous Olympic budget, despite the fact that cycle routes would leave a valuable legacy and a big return on initial investment (which can’t be said of a lot of other Olympic spending). Finally, lukewarm support for segregated paths from LCC, with its preference for vehicular cycling, can’t have helped.

There must be quite a few tennis fans living between 2 and 5 miles away from the Wimbledon tennis venue, but unless they're members of the very small minority of regular London cyclists, I doubt many will be tempted to cycle.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011