Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Changing Times - "War on Britain's Roads"

This time last year, I didn't think I'd be praising a Murdoch newspaper, or Transport for London. I also didn't think I'd be lambasting the BBC.

The Times's excellent Cities fit for Cycling campaign rolls on, with added poignancy this week with the start of the trial of the truck driver accused of seriously injuring Times journalist Mary Bowers. This crash was the trigger for the campaign.

Meanwhile, Transport for London's latest plans for the Bow roundabout "genuinely impresssed" the Cyclists in the City blog.

Not so impressed with the BBC's "War on Britain's Roads" documentary. This has attracted widespread opprobrium, from people ranging from Ian Austin MP, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, who branded it “stupid, sensationalist, simplistic, irresponsible nonsense”, Telegraph motoring journalist Chris Knapman, British Cycling, Chris Boardman, and AA head Edmund King . In fact, to call this a documentary is stretching the definition of the word beyond its elastic limit. It's a sloppy, irresponsible piece of journalism unworthy of the Daily Mail at its most cyclophobic, let alone the BBC. A lot of the footage is lifted straight from YouTube. In that sense it's a bit like a piece of GCSE media studies coursework - but no A*. Must do better. The passage about red-light-jumping cyclists merges straight into the bit about cyclist crashes, victim-blaming by implication. And no statistics to set the record straight. Nothing from the Highway Code either, to tell the talking-head cabdriver or the viewers how much room to leave a cyclist when overtaking, or why cyclists 'take the lane'. Then a six-year-old film of an alleycat race. No footage of illegal car racing on roads, of course, as if that would ever happen.
The fact is there is no war on Britain's roads. A war is an armed conflict where both sides go out to harm each other. Deliberate attacks with a motor vehicle are quite rare, and with a cycle, pretty much unheard of (you're more likely to injure yourself than someone else unless you know what you're doing). While aggression and dangerous driving are undoubtedly a problem, cyclist collisions are not usually caused by the extremes of recklessness on the part of either 'mad' drivers or cyclists that the film tries to portray. The more prosaic truth is it's mainly ordinary motorists, distracted by mobile phones, driving a little too fast for conditions, not looking or looking but not seeing, lacking in the skill to expect the unexpected or to anticipate what's going on in front of or around them. Unskilled cycling plays a part, but much more it's crap cycle infrastructure, which fails to protect cyclists from harm and demands an extremely high degree of skill and vigilance on the part of the rider. If the film does one thing well, albeit unintentionally, it is to illustrate how important segregated lanes are. No coincidence that a significant amount of the footage seemed to have the Cycle Superhighway blue lanes in - which tells you all you need to know about Boris's paint-and-PR scheme.

In the BBC's recent high-profile disasters connected with journalism on the Savile affair, no-one died. I predict that people will die as a result of this film, which encourages people already leaning that way to view cyclists as irresponsible, selfish and slightly unhinged. Of course, the programme won't appear as a 'cause of death' on any coroner's report, but it will add to the fog of misinformation, victim-blame and demonisation of cyclists, which feeds into animosity and a lack of tolerance and consideration, that ultimately leads to fatalities. I wonder how the film-makers sleep at night. Maybe the BBC should take a few lessons in journalistic ethics from News International.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gearing Up

Gearing Up is the title of the London Assembly's investigation into safer cycling in London.

This has been generally well received by the cycling blogosphere: Cyclists in the City described it as "compelling reading...packed with common sense and with the facts and data to back up that common sense".

Cycalogical broadly agrees that it's a useful document, well-researched and showing that at least some London politicians finally 'get it'. But it's just paper and ink...or bytes, if you read the PDF version. And the first thing you need to know about this report is it has very little relevance in the real world. That's because the London Assembly has very little relevance. It has no actual powers, beyond the ability to produce reports like this one and to ask questions of the Mayor. It has no real ability to force the Mayor to do anything, or to prevent him from doing anything, except with regard to the budget and certain strategies, and even then a two-thirds majority is needed. In the words of Andrew Boff AM, “The Assembly’s job, to hold the Mayor to account and raise issues of interest to Londoners, is all very worthy, but largely futile."

I'm not going to dissect the whole report here, because there's nothing actually groundbreaking in terms of concepts. It's all stuff you could have read on this blog and others for years. Instead let's look at what the Assembly are recommending, and focus on the recommendations directly related to infrastructure.

"The Mayor should establish a new target for cycling in his 2020 Vision statement due in December 2012. In the statement, he should bring forward his target of 5 per cent cycling modal share from 2026 to 2020. He should also establish a new target of 10 per cent cycling modal share by 2026 to reflect the Mayor’s ambition to create a ‘cycling revolution’ in London."

Yeah right. But the point is action, not targets. Targets are as pointless as words like "cycling revolution",  if you can't meet them, and the proven ways of increasing cycling modal share are:
a) decent, subjectively safe infrastructure;
b) crashing the economy into the ground and raising transport fares so people can't afford to get around any other way.
So one box ticked then. Onwards...

"The Mayor should appoint a Cycling Commissioner to champion cycling and realise his target to increase cycling. The Cycling Commissioner should be responsible for the publication of a biennial London Bicycle Account to inform Londoners of what TfL is doing to improve cycle safety, increase investment in cycling, and encourage more Londoners to cycle."

Not a bad idea to have singularity of leadership. Or to have more accountability. But without real power to force local boroughs like Westminster to do things, or a real budget, or the will, knowledge and ability to force TfL out of their time capsule when it comes to road design, will the Commissioner really achieve anything?

"Doubling the amount of funding for cycling"

There is a lot of talk in the report about how much money is spent on cycling. But the report fails to identify the incredibly lousy value for money we get from what is currently invested. The report acknowledges that London's cycling spend is half that of the Netherlands, but doesn't link that to the fact that London has about  tenth of the cycle journeys. Therefore our windmill-loving, tulip-growing Continental neighbours enjoy five times better value for their money. In fact - almost unbelievably in these straitened times -neither the word "value" nor the phrase "value for money" occurs anywhere in the main report. I don't know what the Tory members were doing when this report was being written - after all, they style themselves as the defender of the poor old taxpayer. Maybe they were quietly snoozing at the back?
There is no point in doubling the spend, if it just doubles the amount of crap, narrow, advisory lanes that quit when the going gets tough. There's no point in doubling the number of superficial road makeovers on which cyclists continue to be injured. There's no point in doubling the number of reports written about cycling, or doubling the number of advance-stop-boxes full of motor vehicles. We need more money, but we must recognize what we shouldn't be spending money on, as well as what we should be spending money on. In other words, we need a vision.

"Consider the case for a dedicated cycling fund as part of the Local Implementation Plan (LIP) process. This fund could be matched by boroughs."

Well it is certainly true, as was predicted by this blog waaay back in 2010, that getting rid of ring-fenced funding for cycling has been disastrous. But it is also true that most boroughs are utterly ineffective at creating worthwhile, value-for-money cycle schemes. The last thing we should be doing is giving boroughs any money without telling them exactly what they must do with it. There needs to be a single, London-wide vision of a network of quality, subjectively safe, Continental-style infrastruture, and not a penny should be spent on schemes that are not aligned with that vision.

"The junction review should be able to demonstrate substantial and innovative changes to the space and protection given to cyclists at the junctions. The changes should take account of best practice in Denmark and the Netherlands, and be in line with the Mayor’s commitment to Love London Go Dutch."

No argument with that. However the report fails to point out something this blog recently said: there is little point in having quality junctions that don't have decent links between them. Isolated spot treatments are not part of Continental best practice, for the very good reason that a route is only as safe as its most dangerous part. And it's got to feel safe to attract people who don't currently cycle because of fear of traffic. Busy roads with pinch-points, multiple traffic lanes and the odd narrow advisory lane punctuated frequently by parking bays will sound familiar to anyone who currently cycles in London, and simply don't hit the mark.

"The Mayor and TfL should prioritise the removal of remaining one-way gyratory systems in the junction review."

Maybe we should keep one or two, just so we don't forget why we got rid of them.

"Mayor and TfL should examine the case for introducing 20mph limits at more junctions."

Pointless if unenforced. Traffic police in London are more endangered than polar bears...and with the Coalition going cold (geddit?) on speed cameras, a 20MPH limit is about as effective an ashtray on a motorbike. The report does ask TfL to report on how 20MPH is to be enforced, but it doesn't make any recommendation.

"Review TfL’s use of traffic modelling to judge the effect that protected space for cyclists would have on cycling and other traffic."

But the point is not to model the status quo. We know from international experience that people adapt their travel habits to what's convenient and available. To develop policy, we should be using an holistic model of a 21st century city. We should be modelling public health and quality of life, and pollution, and noise, and community cohesion, and road danger, as well as traffic, in the knowledge that London's economic success depends on being a city people want to live, work and play in. Historically, roads policy has been determined as if London's sole purpose was to shift as much motor traffic as possible as fast as possible, and that is wrong. The report does touch on some of these issues, but the Assembly has failed to make a clear recommendation that will stop traffic modelling being used to obstruct safety.

"The Mayor’s Roads Task Force should identify locations where TfL could pilot temporary protected cycle routes in 2013. It should draw on lessons from trialling changes to road layouts in New York and operation of the Games Lanes during London 2012."

We don't need to pilot anything. Quality cycle infrastructure has been done before in other cities. There is nothing new that needs to be trialled or evaluated. There is no merit to doing anything temporary - this will just waste time and money. While we do nothing, people die - both in collisions and as a consequence of a sedentary lifestyle. The point is to change London into a cycle-friendly city as quickly as possible.

"Mayor and TfL should publish the revised London Cycle Design Standards by February 2013. The revised standards should include the Love London Go Dutch design principles"

The report alludes to the fact that the current standards are not standards at all, but guidelines that are frequently ignored by highway engineers who are following a different agenda. There is no point in having standards that are not mandated, whether they contain Dutch principles or not. The standards need to be part of an overall vision.

"The Mayor and TfL should provide the Committee with information on the cycling infrastructure measures it is reviewing in the International Benchmarking exercise by February 2013."

If you're wondering what the benchmarking exercise is, it is comparing London infrastructure with Copenhagen. Stop laughing. Anyone who cycles in London doesn't need a benchmarking exercise to tell them how crap it is.

"The Mayor and TfL should report to the Committee by February 2013 on TfL’s plans for the Mayor’s proposal for a new east-west route. The Mayor and TfL should provide details on the proposed length and location of the route, how it will be built to Go Dutch standards, the timetable for construction, and estimated costs."

I refer you to my previous post on this subject.

"The Department for Transport (DfT) should introduce legislative changes to traffic regulations to enable TfL to use new cycle safety solutions. TfL should also write to the DfT to renew the case for transport authorities to install internationally-proven cycle safety measures."

It's interesting that David Cameron recently accused Whitehall officials of being 'risk-averse'.Not when it comes to cyclists. They are quite happy to see immense risks being heaped on riders if it means the DfT don't have to get up off their backsides. The idea that we need to have trials of measures that have been proven to work for decades on the Continent is ridiculous, when you think the alternative is the lethal cocktail of car-centric regulations and road design we have today. The DfT probably wouldn't call the fire brigade if their house was burning down, because they're more worried about their curtains getting water damaged.

 In summary, the Report makes a lot of valid points and represents a shift towards the vision of a cycle-friendly city that this blog has been campaigning for. But its recommendations are too circumspect, and it fails to make the crucial point that cycle infrastructure is not about spot treatments and standards and isolated interventions: we need to start by defining the desired end-state: something like the successful Continental cities, where motor traffic flow isn't an issue because people get around by bike as much as possible. Given that vision, you take steps towards it, building individual routes up to the required standard. There will be some pain along the way as people adjust and change transport mode, but not as much collective pain as thousands of people watching thousands of loved one die of preventable diseases caused by pollution and inactivity.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Super Duper Corridor

If Boris generated as many decent cycle routes as he does headlines, we'd all be a lot happier. This blog called his cycle lanes in the sky proposal for the BS it is back in September. In that same post, I made the rather rash claim that:

"If there's one thing the Olympics has proved is that London's road network can carry essential traffic plus lots of extra Olympics cars and still be fairly empty. In other words, TfL's standard excuse for doing nothing for cyclists - that every motor journey is essential and traffic flow is paramount - has been shown to be a lie."

Keep a browser tab open on that post; I shall refer back to it in a minute. Meanwhile, the Standard reports TfL head honcho of surface transport Garrett Emerson as saying:

“Potentially there are things you can do to change the road physically and the lesson from the Olympics is you can make an appreciable difference to demand by asking people to use the network differently such as changing times they travel.” 


I wonder if Gazza has been secretly reading this blog? Well maybe so, because the Standard article also talks about creating a cycle route - sorry, "Super Corridor" - along Embankment:

 "A radical plan to create an east-to-west cycle corridor within four years — inspired by road-use innovations during the Olympics — will be included in the Mayor’s “Cycle Vision” strategy, to be published this month."

Now flip back to your browser tab with my other post in, and you'll see I asked:

" where could you put segregated lanes at street level on London's busy streets, where we are continually assured there is no space?

How about here, on Victoria Embankment?... there is a wide central reservation, whose main purpose is to enable motorists to exceed the 30MPH speed limit in safety. Reallocate that space and you have a decent cycle lane.The road also has parking for coaches, which could quite easily be reallocated to nearby streets - there are plenty that are wide enough. This embarrassment of under-used and misallocated space runs all the way from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge and would yield plenty of room for a good segregated lane,  even without reducing the number of  general traffic lanes.  Why doesn't Boris do this? Perhaps because it's a lot more boring than putting cycle lanes in the sky?"




So this "Super Corridor"is potentially a rare piece of good news. It is also a predictable piece of deja vue...a cycle lane was recently added to the Embankment, but it is the usual intermittent, advisory crap, liberally sprinkled with parking bays and with 2 lanes of speeding HGVs in unpleasantly close proximity. When will TfL realise that it's cheaper to get it right first time? (Or is this a City Hall job creation scheme?)

The question, as with the Junction Review, is whether this new "Super Corridor" is more than a marginal improvement. To be so, it needs to be a properly segregated, Dutch-style effort. Will such a commitment be in the "Cycle Vsion"? I'll keep the champagne on ice. Meanwhile it's worth pointing out that making the Embankment safer won't solve the problem that is Westminster Council. Until they are forced by central government to take cycling seriously, anything TfL do will have decidedly limited effect.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review of the Junction Review

Cast your mind back to about this time last year. Two cyclists were killed at the Bow Roundabout, and in response to the ensuing protest, TfL announced a review of London's most dangerous junctions.

Ever since then, the gap between the aspiration for a transformation in the quality of London's cycle infrastructure and TfL's actions has been growing. Kulveer Ranger's promise:

"The Mayor’s desire is that reviewing these junctions leads to a step change in the way engineers think when planning road layouts",

is looking more and more broken by the day.

The original Bow Roundabout improvements showed TfL were at least trying, although the result was at best a partial success, no thanks to the DfT's red tape that requires all signals - including those exclusively for cyclists -  to be full-height, leading to a confusing Blackpool-illumination-like forest of similar-looking lights.

Subsequent junction review plans have been looking less and less ambitious and more and more like TfL returning to its discredited strategy of putting traffic flow before safety, and cyclists a distant third behind motorists and pedestrians.

I commented recently on the plans for the Millbank Roundabout, which was summed up by Dr Rachel Aldred of Westminster University Department of Planning and Transport thus: "Cyclists using the road will have less space than at present...however, cyclists using the pavement facility may... come into conflict with pedestrians, and experience problems crossing using the zebras, including conflict with motor vehicles."  Hardly a ringing endorsement.

The proposal for the Tower Bridge Road /Abbey Street junction involves banning the left turn into Abbey Street (except for cycles). However, the diversion to avoid the banned left turn takes motor traffic down Bermondsey Street, which is guess what...an LCN route. So the traffic that can no longer left-hook cyclists at Tower Bridge Road/Abbey Street junction will just come into conflict with more cyclists on Bermondsey Street. And both roads are wide enough to accomodate segregated paths, which of course aren't on offer despite evidence from every developed country that this is the only approach to cycling infrastructure that actually works .

TfL's plans for London Road, Morden, while not part of the junction review, are equally disappointing. On-road parking bays continue to obstruct cycle lanes, at other places lanes run between parked cars and fast-moving traffic, and the cycle lanes themselves are only provided "where possible" - which in practice means no cycle facilities at all where the hazards are worst.

Finally, the IMAX roundabout plans do little to ameliorate one of the most dangerous places in London for cycling. The roundabout is still an old-style deathtrap, although one lane has been removed leading into York Road. That won't stop vehicles continuing to weave between the multiple lanes at high speed. Neither will the nominal 20MPH speed limit due in 2013: we all know that won't be enforced and without traffic calming, speeds will stay exactly as they are today. The cycle lanes are still only advisory, and could encourage cyclists to get into the wrong position on the road. This is only an interim proposal, but even bearing this in mind, it's under-ambitious. Why not provide a continuous, mandatory cycle lane all the way from Waterloo Road into York Road?

One thing is for sure: the only way any of these half-baked excuses for redesigns will save any lives is by keeping the roads intimidating enough to scare people away from cycling. And they will consequently cost many more lives as people retreat further into sedentary lifestyles. And there'll be just as much congestion and pollution on the roads as ever before.

Consequently, each and every one of these schemes is a monumental waste of taxpayers' money. There is little point in investing money in facilities that only appeal to existing cyclists. That is because the target market is small, so the investment cost per journey is high - and there's few new journeys being added. As CambridgeCyclist puts it:

"Why spend money on facilities to encourage me to do something I'm doing anyway? I'm not the target audience for such facilities; you won't increase cycling modal share by being nice to me. You'd have to physically bar me from the roads to keep me from riding on them."

These redesigns don't significantly improve safety at junctions, and the links between the junctions remain as intimidating as ever. Given the shortage of money, we need to be getting road design right for at least the next 10 years. Remember why the junction review is happening: having created the Cycle Superhighways, which consisted of blue paint and very few actual safety improvements, it became clear within less than 2 years that they weren't fit for purpose. Now TfL are spending yet more taxpayers' money reviewing junctions they should have got right in the first place. Yet they are clearly in danger of repeating the same mistake of trying to design safety improvements around the extremely limiting constraints of existing motor traffic flow. It didn't work last time, and it won't work this time. Cyclists will still die and be injured in significant numbers on the redesigned routes. Many more will die due to lack of exercise and due to air pollution caused by motor traffic. London will continue to suffer the economic blight of congestion, and the blight on communities of road danger caused by too much traffic. To be fair, TfL are now saying things like "changes would cause some increase in queuing"  and removing traffic lanes, which we would not have seen before. This is to be applauded, but it's not enough to cause any significant modal shift to cycling. TfL are changing, but at a glacial pace. Meanwhile, more and more people are finding themselves in transport poverty, unable to run a car but having no affordable alternative. TfL need to react to the changes in the economy by opening up cycling to a wider cross-section of society, because cycling is the most affordable transport mode. Currently for most people, cycling simply isn't an option, perceived as being only for the fit and the brave.

Two years ago, I posted about how New York was starting to take cycling seriously. Cyclists in the City reported recently how decent bike lanes are transforming that city:

"1st and 2nd Avenues 'bike ridership' is up a whopping 177% since the protected bike lanes went in. 'Injury crashes" are down 37% in the same period on these streets, down 35 and 58%, respectively on 8th and 9th Avenue...retail sales along the protected bike lane on 9th Avenue are up 49% compared to before the bike lane went in.' "

For a city in the USA, the most car-dependent nation in the world, to be embarrassing London in terms of the quality of its cycling infrastructure is the most damning indictment of TfL policy imaginable.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Horseferry Road Collision

Very nasty looking aftermath of a collision on Horseferry Road at the junction of Dean Bradley Street. My thoughts are with the victim.

A likely reason a cyclist would be here in the first place is to avoid Parliament Square. People take the quiet roads round here to avoid the multi-lane gyratories, but the drawback is that you have to negotiate junctions like this one, on busy roads where the priority is against you. You will find a route on the official TfL London Cycling Guide (#14) along John Islip Street and crossing into Dean Bradley Street at this point. There is nothing whatever to moderate traffic speed or help cyclists cross here except a rather useless, very narrow strip in the centre of the road. It typical of the kind of junction that is dangerous - very dangerous in fact -  but not dangerous enough to get into the TfL junction review.



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Taxman

Locking my bike up in the car park the other day, I noticed a car arriving, which contained one of my colleagues. "I didn't know you drove in, " I said. "Yes," he replied. "It's quick and comfortable." His journey is only 5 miles or so, and he's in an area served by a direct tube journey.

I don't really understand this "comfort" idea, to  be honest. I don't really like being in boxes. We're not on this earth for long, and after that time is over, we spend plenty of time in a box. I don't actively seek discomfort, and I'm not above leaving the bike at home if it's absolutely pouring down with rain. There's not much better than a bike ride on a sunny day, but there is also something invigorating about a crisp frosty morning, and there's nothing to make you appreciate home comforts more than being out in the rain and the cold.

But each to his own, I suppose. My friend likes the inside of a car, and he is not breaking any laws by choosing to drive in, as long as he pays his congestion charge.

However, it did occur to me that TfL will place a much higher value on his journey than on mine. TfL prioritize the speed and safety of his journey over mine. But without good reason. We are both professional people, working in the same commercial organization. And it so happens that while I actually create products, his job is to minimize the tax the company pays. He doesn't create anything, and he doesn't make the company more efficient. He doesn't even reduce costs, if you consider the whole economy, because tax is a zero-sum game. The government need to raise a given amount in tax every year from all sources, so every £1 he saves us in tax will need to be paid by some other business or individual who can't afford to employ someone like him to avoid it.

Now I don't bear my colleague any resentment because of his job. He's like a traffic warden or an estate agent. People wish they didn't exist, but they perform a function that is necessitated by the way the world is. Our competitors employ tax people, so we have to, otherwise we'd go out of business. But it remains a fact that tax people make a net zero contribution to the economy. It also remains a fact that they are paid a lot of money - witness the fact that my friend can afford a fancy car and the £9/day congestion charge. And because - and only because - he drives a car, and I ride a bike, TfL values his journey above mine.

Compared to a motor journey, my cycle commute is far less damaging to the environment, far less dangerous to other people, far less wasteful of roadspace, and imposes far fewer costs on the taxpayer. The purpose of my journey is to get to a job - same as someone commuting in a car, or by taxi, or for that matter someone going to a job in a van. Now, it could be argued that a plumber a builder can't get to a job without a van, so their journey is truly necessary. But TfL lumps all motor journeys together - whether or not they are necessary, whether or not a viable public transport alternative exists, and regardless of value - and puts the safety, speed and convenience of every one of these journeys above anyone on a bike. That cannot be right.




Thursday, October 25, 2012

Road Safety - A "Better Way"

Cast your mind back to when the Conservatives were telling us all that there were more effective road safety tools than speed cameras. How these devices were "cash cows" that trapped honest drivers and damaged the credibility of law enforcement. They told us that it would be a better idea to go after the really dangerous drivers, who tailgated, who took drugs, who used mobile phones and didn't look where they were going. There were, Theresa Villiers assured us, "other better ways to keep our roads safe: like education, like vehicle activated signs, like traffic police".

What they didn't tell us was that you need lots of  real, live police officers (or f***ing plebs if you prefer) if you want a surgical approach to traffic law enforcement, and that is both extremely expensive and completely impossible if you're cutting police numbers.

In Devon and Cormwall, road deaths have risen from 42 in 2011, to a total so far in 2012 of 50, with 2 winter months and the Christmas drink-driving season yet to come. How is this possible, with the Government's new "better ways to keep our roads safe"?

Well apparently, the Devon and Cornwall police traffic department no longer has its own set of officers. Instead, there is a single, integrated 'response' team, and guess what, their first priority is dealing with urgent 999 calls, rather than hanging around the roadside waiting to catch errant motorists.

Sergeant Nigel Rabbitts, chairman of the Police Federation in Devon and Cornwall, said "there is very little enforcement going on...roads policing is a secondary tasking and they just don't have the time to do it." As for a causal link between lack of traffic policing and increasing fatalities, Rabbitts said, "I do think there's a correlation between the two...It is too much of a coincidence and that is what our members are telling us".

And of course, now the Government aren't funding or promoting automated law enforcement (speed/red light cameras), people are dying.  Aside from the human tragedy, deaths are very, very expensive, what with the lost earning power of the deceased, lost taxes, benefits paid to dependents, the police and justice costs of clearing up the collision scene, investigating the incident, inquests and prosecutions. The economic cost of each death runs into millions. Which rather leads to the conclusion that saving money by cutting traffic law enforcement is costing us a fortune.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Doing the Lambeth Bridge - 70s Style

Are you old enough to remember the seventies? The golden era when flared trousers and prog-rock were in fashion, and highway engineers designed magnificent elevated motorways and multi-lane roundabouts? When racism, homophobia and sexism flourished, and celebrities could fiddle around with young girls and boys without fear? Ahh, it was a happier, more innocent era, before political correctness put a stop to all the fun.

While we’re reminiscing about the good old days, it strikes me that for cyclists the Millbank Roundabout (the junction of Millbank, Horseferry Road and Lambeth Bridge) is a little bit like Jimmy Savile’s dressing room (if recent allegations are to be believed). If you go there, there’s a good chance you’ll be touched inappropriately, or even taken from behind, by an intimidating person in a position of power. And if you are brave enough to complain, the authorities will turn a blind eye – despite the rumours, it's all perfectly fine - and the police won’t be interested in investigating. It’s your fault really – you shouldn’t really be there in the first place, you were asking for it by wearing the wrong clothing and not protecting yourself properly. You can’t expect red-blooded people in cars to control themselves. And we certainly can’t do anything about molesters who are well-respected, important, and fundamentally generous and good people – think of the money they willingly donate to the economy – all that could be taken away if you make a fuss. How's about that then?


We’re reliably informed that TfL people have a penchant for changing out of their skinny jeans and hoodies when they get to work, into spangly flares and polyester shirts with collars so wide you can go hang-gliding in them. They just love the Seventies. They can’t bear to part with their old clothes - or their old road designs. Take a look at their new design for the Millbank Roundabout. Looks exactly like the old one! I’m only surprised there isn’t a disco ball in the middle of it!

On a more serious note for a moment, let’s take a quick look at what’s wrong with this ‘Ashes to Ashes’ design. The main ‘changes’ are: they’ve raised the existing zebra crossings to pavement level in a bid to reduce approach speeds, and put in some ‘shared use’ pavements. Other than that, it's the same old multi-lane roundabout, such as you'll find at most of London's most dangerous junctions. Now, I use this roundabout every day on the way to work, so I know a bit about it. Approach speeds aren’t actually a particular problem most of the time, because the roundabout is very busy. The problems come from speeds of vehicles actually on the roundabout, and trying to time your entry so you avoid conflict with vehicles around you and vehicles already on the roundabout. The changes won’t fix any of that. The shared pavements won’t work, for the following reasons. There are too many pedestrians and bikes, and the two will come into conflict, as surely as if you put a minibus-load of 70’s showbiz personalities into a youth club. By law, you would have to dismount to cross on the zebra crossings. Of course, some cyclists will either be unaware of this or will consider it a trifle unnecessary - after all, why, for goodness sakes, have shared-use pavements if the crossings aren’t shared use? So this will cause a concoction of confusion, conflict and collisions, as motorists are often not keen to give way to people with bikes (legally walking or illegally riding – it’s difficult to tell at a distance) on zebra crossings, pedestrians don’t like mixing with bikes, and vice-versa. Of course, there will be some die-hard vehicular cyclists who selfishly spurn the shared spaces and cycle on the road, and some motorists will ask themselves, “What are they doing there, when there’s a perfectly good cycle track?” Hardly a recipe for mutual respect and tolerance. Which leads to the other problem with these shared pavements. Currently, there are hatched areas on the road junction corners that can act as handy de-facto cycle lanes if you’re turning left. Motors tend to keep out of them. The one leading onto Lambeth Bridge if you’re turning left from Millbank is particularly useful. But the pavements are going to be extended into these areas, so if you stay on the road, you’ll have less space and be even more vulnerable to a left-hook than you are today.

Unfortunately, TfL’s attitude to road design is looking rather like Jimmy Savile’s alleged sex life. It’s just not acceptable in the 21st century to treat vulnerable people this way.

You might care to let TfL know what you think about their ‘new’ roundabout. Just don’t mention the Sex Pistols.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Narrow-Minded

I reported recently on Richmond Borough's plan to eliminate cycle lanes in Twickenham town centre, while widening pavements. Freewheeler reports on similar schemes in other parts of London, and Cyclists in the City on plans to widen pavements, thereby shoehorning a lot of cyclists and motor vehicles into even narrower lanes in the City of London.

Now, let us be absolutely clear about what is going on here, in terms of what the Highway Code regards as safe and legal. According to the Highway Code, when passing a cyclist, you should give them "at least as much space as you would a car". There's even a helpful picture illustrating what that means. What it means in practice is, it is only safe to overtake a cyclist if you can allow 2M of space. Which in turn means that each lane on a road needs to be at least 4.0M wide to allow for safe overtaking by a car, and wider (4.5M) if we're talking about buses or larger goods vehicles. Obviously, it's possible to execute a safe overtake by moving into the oncoming lane, but only if there is no oncoming traffic, which is rarely possible in London traffic conditions. These are not numbers I have pulled out of a bodily orifice by the way; the come from the London Cycle Design Standards, (Figure 3.1).

So, if you narrow road lanes below 4.5M or 4.0M (if there are no larger vehicles), you are effectively saying that no overtaking of cyclists is safely possible. It then follows that, if you are creating conditions in which safe overtakes are not generally possible, you must ensure that drivers do not attempt them. Unless you ban cycling, of course. Because you cannot rely on drivers excercising restraint. Every regular cyclist knows there are a significant number of drivers who believe, in the words of Jane Austen, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a bicycle must be in want of an overtake". They just can't stop themselves. They see a bike, they've just got to overtake it. Never mind if there's no room, or a traffic island coming up, or a red light in 20 yards, or they're going to immediately have to cut in to make a left turn, they just have to do it. They belong in front, the cyclist belongs behind, because the cyclist is slower - and a cyclist being in front of them is an perversion of the natural order of things. As a cyclist, you're expected to get out of the way, and God help you if you don't. Anyway, back to my main point: how is a local authority, having created a situation in which overtakes are not safe, going to prevent them? In practical terms, the answer is they aren't going to bother.

It is surely morally indefensible to wilfully create conditions in which cyclists and drivers are foreseeably forced into dangerous conflict, given what we know about driver overtaking behaviour. Especially set against a backdrop of escalating cyclist casualty rates. One of three things will happen:

1. Cyclists will 'take the lane' and we'll see incidents of 'road rage' and 'rear-end' collisions;
2. Cyclists will ride in the gutter, and we'll see collisions because that's the most dangerous place to be;
3. Cyclists will stop riding on these roads.

The government need to take note: This is the kind of reckless endangerment of cyclists that is happening at a local level. This is what you get if you push responsibility for cycling down to local authorities for whom cycling comes somewhere below CPZs, cutting the grass and dealing with dog mess in the list of things they are concerned about. They don't have the priorities, knowledge, processes, expertise or resources to come up with road schemes that don't kick cycling into the long grass.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Definition of Irony

(The hazard sign says "Low sun central islands")

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Who Killed the High Street ?

I love shopping. Doesn't everybody? I love expressing my individuality by buying goods mass-produced in Chinese sweatshops in characterless, mass-market outlets.

Whenever shops and roads are in the news, the subject being reported is usually car parking. Not enough of it, or too expensive. But the reality is that shopping and cars do not mix. The New West End Company, who represent 600-odd central London retailers, know this, which is why they're campaigning for car-free days and pedestrianised streets. Shopping areas need to be places where you can linger, move around freely, maybe stop and relax with a coffee at a pavement cafe. And look - there's a friend or neighbour! Stop and have a chat? Why not!

Sadly, this idyllic vision is somewhat spoiled when you're squeezed onto narrow pavements, forced to run the gauntlet of multiple lanes of traffic or wait interminably at sheep-pen crossings. The roar of traffic doesn't make for relaxing conversation, and even if there were room for cafe tables on the pavements, who wants a serving of diesel smoke with their skinny latte? These kind of noisy, polluted conditions are probably what those Chinese workers making those shoes you just bought have to put up with. They probably don't even have lattes there, let alone skinny ones. In the words of the Mary Portas Review of high streets:

"Out-of-town centres create an environment where the shopper comes first, with wide footways and pedestrianised streets, and good public transport links such as free buses. This has taken business away from our high streets. In order to be places that people want to visit, high streets need to be accessible, attractive and safe...badly planned transport infrastructure can make high street shopping an inaccessible and unpleasant experience for pedestrians. And small and cluttered pavements, as well as busy roads, can make high streets unsafe for family shopping."

Yet councils don't seem to understand this. Their idea of a high-street makeover is to do anything rather than address the fundamental problem. I've posted before about the 'new' Wimbledon Broadway, in which the pavements are slightly wider, the station concourse is now car-free, but other than that the experience is unchanged in all major respects. In fact, the only compelling evidence of change is the sizeable bill for digging up the roads.

Is Richmond council any more enlightened? They have a proposal to "improve Twickenham Town Centre and reduce the impact of traffic". How are they going to do that? Clearly, people have to get to the town centre. According to the oxymoronically-titled Action Plan, "all new developments, environmental and transport improvements are designed to be sustainable" and "transport proposals positively enhance the street scene". Which can only mean better cycle facilities, right? Wrong. According to the Action Plan leaflet, there will be "limited widening of eastern footway in London Road through removal of cycle lane". You read that right - they were intending to remove cycle facilities, not make them better. That is the only occurrence of the word 'cycle' or 'cycling' in the whole document.

Unsurprisingly, the people who cycle around Twickers weren't too happy about the removal of their cycle lane, crap though it is, and objected. This prompted the Council to put out a statement saying they were "considering installing advisory cycle lanes", but then decided that they wouldn't bother.

You're not going to reduce traffic levels if you treat cycling as an afterthought, or if under all the greenwash is the telling statement "Transport proposals will be subject to further detailed testing to ensure that they do not have an unacceptable impact on the highway network." It is quite clear that Richmond Council are quite happy for Twickenham to be somewhere to drive through on the way to somewhere else.

Yet, if you look at the 'artists impression' on Page 6 of the Action Plan leaflet, it looks like they've reduced 4 lanes of traffic down to 2 on King Street. Separating the two lanes, there is a wide central area with cycle stands. This width could be used to provide a separate cycle track, but that idea obviously didn't occur to the Council. They're evidently happy for people to park their bike here,  as long as they don't want to take the piss by, say, riding it there in the first place.

This is the worst kind of local government profligacy: spending huge amounts of taxpayer's money putting lipstick (expensive paving slabs) on a rather unattractive pig. Sustainable transport strategy? That's filed under 'unachievable'. And these are the people that the Coalition are trusting to deliver on cycling: people who clearly have no interest in it or understanding of it. Let's end this post with a quote from Richmond Council's cycling champion:

"Sometimes campaigning to improve safety is counter productive. It puts potential new cyclist off. Is that what you want to do...Can we please have RCC [Richmond Cycling Campaign] encouraging people to cycle not putting them off." 

Put people off cycling? Richmond Council are clearly doing a much better job of that than Richmond Cycling Campaign ever will.


Monday, September 24, 2012

DfT Think! Campaign

The DfT have launched a campaign aimed at cyclists and drivers, to try to improve the UK's dismal record on cycling safety...here's the advice aimed at drivers:


  1. Look out for cyclists, especially when turning - make eye contact if possible so they know you’ve seen them
  2. Use your indicators - signal your intentions so that cyclists can react
  3. Give cyclists space – at least half a car’s width. If there isn’t sufficient space to pass, hold back. Remember that cyclists may need to manoeuvre suddenly if the road is poor, it’s windy or if a car door is opened
  4. Always check for cyclists when you open your car door
  5. Avoid driving over advanced stop lines – these allow cyclists to get to the front and increase their visibility
  6. Follow the Highway Code including ‘stop’ and ‘give way’ signs and traffic lights

I'm going to suggest another one:

7. When you're planning to make a right turn at a junction, don't accelerate towards the amber light, making the turn too fast, collide with a bollard and flip your car on its side.

This might seem obvious, but it happens with alarming regularity at the junction between Worple Road and Wimbledon Hill Road. As I have said before, I really, really hate being an 'I-told-you-so': I've already blogged about this particular bollard twice before, and it seems the message STILL isn't getting through to some Wimbledon drivers. Local residents report this kind of thing happens at least once a month.

It is clear that drivers and bollards are equally responsible for these kind of accidents, so by way of balance, here is Cycalogical's advice to bollards:
 
  1. Position yourself positively, decisively and well clear of the kerb – look and signal to show drivers what you plan to do and make eye contact where possible so you know drivers have seen you
  2. Avoid getting on the inside of large vehicles, like lorries or buses, where you might not be seen
  3. Always use lights after dark or when visibility is poor
  4. Wearing light coloured or reflective clothing during the day and reflective clothing and/or accessories in the dark increases your visibility
  5. Follow the Highway Code
  6. THINK! recommends looking like a policeman's helmet, and being securely fastened to a traffic island that conforms to current regulations

Remember, Bollards and Drivers - Let's Look Out For Each Other!!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Electric Car Update

I really hate to say "I told you so". And I really hate to say I told you "I hate to say I told you so".

In 2011, in a post that started with the words I hate to say "I told you so"I wrote:

if the average EV buyer is a typical 2-car household, the good old taxpayer giving massive subsidies to help some of the wealthiest, most car-dependent and most polluting households continue pretty much as they are but feel less guilty about it. Is this really the Government's idea of progress in reducing our national carbon footprint? Oh - and I nearly forgot - an EV is just as bad for congestion as a fossil-fuelled car.

And guess what, the Transport Select Committee has spotted that my prediction has come to pass:

So far, Department for Transport expenditure on plug-in cars - some £11m - has benefited just a handful of motorists.
"We were warned of the risk that the government is subsidising second cars for affluent households; currently plug-in cars are mostly being purchased as second cars for town driving."
...
"Far more work is required to ensure that this programme is a good use of public funds."

Far more work? The thing is broken. People are using the electric car to pick up the sun-dried tomato hummus from Waitrose, then getting in their Range Rovers and driving to their second homes in the country.

Here's an idea the Transport Select Committee and the Government might want to get a hold of. Instead of this socialism for the rich, spend the money on decent Continental-style cycling infrastructure instead. That has a proven, positive rate of return in terms of health benefits, reducing transport costs/subsidies, congestion, and environmental damage. It benefits people from right across the social spectrum, and will reduce CO2 emissions far more per unit of investment than the electric car scheme ever will. It'll also generate British jobs.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

CSH 2 Extension

LCC reports TfL as promising that CSH #2 will be extended to Stratford, and will *gasp* take account of Go Dutch principles.

TfL have seconded a Danish infrastructure expert to share knowledge with UK counterparts.

Just one problem: the language barrier. Although no doubt this Dane will speak good English, there are no English equivalents in TfL's vocabulary for the following expressions:

"god cykel infrastruktur" - the nearest equivalent would be 'blue paint'.

"segregeret cykel lane" - the nearest equivalent would be 'car parking'.

"cykel prioritet" - the nearest equivalent would be "motor traffic flow".

"cyklist" - the nearest equivalent would be "highway obstruction".

 However, we live in hope.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ride London

Ride London is the latest post-Games legacy wheeze from Boris Johnson. He enthuses, "I urge every Londoner and cycle fanatics from all over the country, if not the world, to mark the weekend of 3 August 2013 in their diaries for what I believe will become one of the world’s number one cycling events.”

Other bloggers have questioned the value of such an event. It is true that two days of limited traffic-free routes a year is no substitute for proper infrastructure. However I'm quite confident that sport-cycling does convert into commuting and utility cycling (and vice-versa), helps rescue cycling from a "wierdy-beardy knit-your-own-hummus" image and ultimately helps generate favourable political winds for cycling. However, a festival such as Ride London needs to get it right.

Ride London consists of four events. The first is the "Freecycle". This is basically indistinguishable from what was known as the Skyride and before that Hovis Freeride. (They'll run out of names soon.) It's a short circuit in central London, free of motor traffic, but absolutely chock-a-block with cyclists. If you're unlucky and the weather is fine, it's ridiculously busy. Iit is painfully slow, but also quite dangerous, as there are lots of kids weaving around. If you've been on one, this will sound familiar. It's nice to experience London free of motor traffic, but that apart, it's one of the least pleasant rides I've ever been on. Also, no roads are closed apart from the central circuit, so to get there and back you'll be going through less lovely experiences like Victoria or the Vauxhall Gyratory or the Millbank Roundabout, just to give a contrast and remind you what cycling in London is really like. This is the Disneyfication of cycling: an enclosed, controlled area in which there are crowds of happy kids, crowds of less happy parents, nothing is real, the rides aren't too scary, and you're reminded that (feel free to sing along)
somewhere over the rainbow there's a land that I heard of once in a video:
where bike safety counts for more than traffic flow.

The second Ride London event is the Ride London 100. This is a Sportive-style event on a 100km closed-road circuit. Sounds great eh? There are just three catches. The first is the event is limited to 20,000 riders. "It is anticipated that the event will be over-subscribed and that a ballot will be held to allocate places in the event," says the website. The second is the £48 entry fee although you may get a free entry if you raise minimum sponsorship for a charity. Now there is nothing wrong with charity fundraising, but why, in an event that should be encouraging more people to ride bikes, are these barriers to entry being put up? For less than £48 you could join a club like Kingston Wheelers or London Dynamo and get a year's cycling, instead of just a day's. And you won't  be queueing up behind 20,000 other cyclists at every hill. Unless I miss my guess, 20,000 sounds far too many for a sportive, and it risks turning into something like the London to Brighton. But if it's a cycling carnival rather than an endurance challenge, why charge £48 and why restrict the numbers at all?
The third catch is: you may have to start the event at 6:00AM - which for a lot of people will mean getting up at 4:00AM. This is only necessary because they are trying to cram the Ride London Classic race on the same course on the same day.

To complete the Ride London programme, there is a 'Classic' professional one-day race run on the same circuit as the Ride London 100, and in addition criterium racing which will "showcase the Olympic cyclists of the future at a series of junior events, celebrate the capital’s Paralympic legacy with hand-cycle racing and offer a superb opportunity to witness and support professional women’s cycle racing". Sounds great - although the problem with a 1.3-mile criterium circuit is it won't have much room for spectators.

In summary, it is certainly a lot better than nothing, and it's more ambitious than the old Skyride. I'm sure it will attract lots of people and be a success. But  it could be a whole lot better. It is more like preaching to the converted than evangelising. That's because Freecycle needs to address the problems of actually getting to the centre of London: most parents will be wary of letting their kids make the journey into town even with a led ride. The solution (of course) is to have permanent low-traffic/segregated routes that could be used by commuters as well as for a once-yearly event. Also the Freecycle circuit needs to be a lot bigger than it is, to reduce the sardine-tin feel. To that extent, it would make more sense to open the Ride London 100 route to all cyclists.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Boris - Pie in the Sky?

You gotta love Boris. He really is the master of the improbable, not to say stupid, vision. Airports in the sea. Roads underground. And now, cycle lanes in the sky!

The Times reports that Boris "is considering proposals for a raised cycle network between mainline stations in London" similar to the High Line in New York. The difference being, High Line is a linear park along a disused railway (and interestingly, the park rules prohibit bicycles, skateboards, skates or scooters), whereas Boris is proposing putting cycle paths alongside existing, working, extremely busy raised railway tracks.

Now, unless I miss my guess, there isn't a huge amount of spare room on the elevated tracks in London. It's not like they were built with a wide strip of surplus land on each side. (That's the great thing about railways - they are extremely compact in terms of space used per passenger journey.) You can't have cyclists riding a foot away from trains whooshing by at 60MPH, for the same reason you're advised to stand back from the platform's edge at a station, although Boris would probably tell you that it's perfectly negotiable if you keep your wits about you. I suppose you could have some kind of cantilevered arrangement to hang a cycleway off the side of existing viaducts and bridges, but that would be very complex and cost a fortune. Some parts of the railway do have enough spare land to form a cycle track, but there are so many bridges and points where the spare width isn't sufficient. A further problem is that you will need regular points of access, so that people can join and leave the railside paths. If the track is elevated by, say, twenty feet, you would need ramps of 400 feet in length to give a reasonable 5% gradient.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all in favour of original ideas and creative solutions. But wouldn't it be a lot easier and cheaper to stay at street level most of the time? Building cycle flyovers or tunnels to take cyclists safely through junctions wouldn't be a bad idea, connected to proper segregated cycle paths, of course. Or we could just do what the Dutch do, which is proven to work and is (now this really beggars belief) mainly at street level. If there's one thing the Olympics has proved is that London's road network can carry essential traffic plus lots of extra Olympics cars and still be fairly empty. In other words, TfL's standard excuse for doing nothing for cyclists - that every motor journey is essential and traffic flow is paramount - has been shown to be a lie.

But where could you put segregated lanes at street level on London's busy streets, where we are continually assured there is no space?

How about here, on Victoria Embankment (below):

 As you can see, there is a wide central reservation, whose main purpose is to enable motorists to exceed the 30MPH speed limit in safety. Reallocate that space and you have a decent cycle lane.The road also has parking for coaches, which could quite easily be reallocated to nearby streets - there are plenty that are wide enough. This embarrassment of under-used and misallocated space runs all the way from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge and would yield plenty of room for a good segregated lane,  even without reducing the number of  general traffic lanes.  Why doesn't Boris do this? Perhaps because it's a lot more boring than putting cycle lanes in the sky?



Thursday, August 16, 2012

Compare and Contrast: Olympic Cycling and Ordinary Cycling

The Olympics is over, and the UK is the best nation in the world for cycling. Sport cycling at the elite level, that is.

We’ve dominated the Tour de France and the Olympic medals table.

Meanwhile,  for athletes who have to train on public roads, for club cyclists, tourists who want to enjoy a bike ride, for commuters and people just doing the shopping by bike, UK cycling is among the worst in the world. If cycling is growing as an activity it is not because the environment for cycling is improving – it patently is not – but because alternative modes of transport are becoming less attractive, and perhaps also because people are being inspired to get on their bikes by the success of our high-achieving competitive riders.

Why is the UK so successful at Olympic-level cycling? Why have we gone from a nation where we barely registered at the elite level of cycling, to a position where we dominate the world? Good organization, science, targets, the pursuit of marginal gains. Targets are set, progress and performance constantly measured. We consult experts in each relevant field. Evidence is gathered and alternatives to improve performance evaluated. Changes are made and their effects measured. Gains are pursued without compromise in every area, on the basis that small improvements in many areas aggregate up to big improvements in overall performance. If something doesn’t work, it’s changed for something that does work. Problems that are holding back performance are identified and fixed. We invest money wisely. And when we host the Olympics at home, we over-deliver.

Why do we have wooden-spoon performance when it comes to ordinary cycling? Why does cycling modal share remain stubbornly, embarrassingly low despite politicians being united in their stated belief that it’s a good thing and should be encouraged and promoted? Because we’re taking the precise opposite approach to that we’ve taken to achieve elite-level performance. We organize badly: there is no unified vision and responsibilities are split so there is no overall control or accountability. We don’t use science. We don’t pursue gains in any organized manner. We constantly set targets and fail to meet them. We measure lack of progress and fail to act on it. We ignore experts, both safety experts (as at the Bow Roundabout) and cycling infrastructure experts from countries with a record of success. Evidence, such as surveys constantly saying that people don’t cycle due to fear of motor traffic, is ignored and instead of picking alternatives to improve cycling, we pick alternatives that favour motor traffic. We make changes based on political whim rather than science. We make small improvements in very limited areas, and ignore problems in important areas. If something doesn’t work (like narrow, on-road, advisory lanes where car parking is allowed), we pretend it does, or we ignore it, or we just try the same thing again. Problems that are holding back performance are not identified or fixed. And we both under-invest and waste much of the little money we have to spend on cycling - how did the near-useless Cycle Superhighways cost £10M each to deliver, when they are little more than paint? And when we host the Olympics at home - an opportunity to get spectators to use active travel to get to events, and build a legacy of great infrastructure, we deliver close to nothing at all.

Back in 1997, we created a single ‘quango’, UK Sport, to oversee investment in high-performance sport. It has a clear remit and a no-compromise philosophy, to provide the best possible support for athletes. That organization has delivered in spades.

Since 1997, we’ve had a plethora of organizations, from local authorities, central government, the justice system, quangos, charities, Transport for London and so on, involved in everyday cycling, with no clear remit, a lack of any coherent philosophy, and seemingly dedicated to compromising cycling out of existence and providing an almost complete lack of support for ordinary cyclists.

To promote cycling to encourage ordinary people to be more physically active (which is a goal of the 2012 Legacy plan), could we learn from the elite sport of cycling, and try something that works for a change?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Olympic Lanes - Day 2

Another relatively quiet day on the central London roads in this morning's rush hour. The Standard yesterday was reporting congestion at the A40 Hanger Lane, the A13 Canning Town and the A12 Green Man, but everyone I've spoken to has said that traffic on their routes was quieter than usual.

I took a slightly different route in today.

Lambeth Bridge roundabout (South side) was busy, but no more than usual and traffic was moving.

On Lambeth Bridge itself there were queues, but certainly no worse than a normal weekday.
Outside Parliament, traffic was very light - not a single motor vehicle in this picture:

Parliament Square was like yesterday, far quieter than usual, and once round it you see that Whitehall is closed to motor vehicles other than buses and there's a gentleman whose job it is to tell non-Games drivers to clear off:
So Whitehall is a pleasure to cycle along (I never thought I'd write those words), with only the odd bus for company:

They've messed up the Trafalgar Square end with an unnecessarily narrow lane making it difficult to get to the front of the junction:

Trafalgar Square itself was quieter than usual, although The Strand westbound was its usual congested self.


In summary, cycling in central London has actually become much more pleasant experience as a result of the road changes brought by the Olympics -  but it is worth pointing out that this entirely by luck rather than design. There has clearly been very little consideration of cyclists gone in to this project - the roads restrictions generally don't have exemptions for cyclists; there's been no attempt to make provision for cycling through St James's Park for example, and the banned turns and no-entry signs don't have cycle bypasses. All of which is at least consistent with the general lack of any attempt to encourage cycling that's the hallmark of the London Games, as Vole O'Speed documents.

So enjoy central London while you can. It'll be back to the same old crap come September.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Olympics Lanes - Day 1

I don't think I've ever seen Central London quieter. Even in the middle of the night you get more traffic than I saw today, the first day of operation of the Oympics 'Zil' lanes.

It's quite interesting to see the bizarre treatment given to CSH#8.

Above you can see they've blacked out all trace of the CSH barring the blue paint along Millbank. Here the lane markings were only advisory, so it was completely unnecessary to remove them.

Above, you can see the Games Lane actually comes to an end, but they've still pointlessly blacked out the CSH markings.

And above, they've even gone as far as to black out the CSH logos in the middle of the road. Presumably so that the 'Games Family' don't have to think about cyclists at all.

Above, as we go past Victoria Tower Gardens towards Parliament Square, there is 'Bus and Games Lane' stencilled on the carriageway in big letters, but no lane markings, so it's not clear what to do here. However it's on the nearside so bikes would be allowed in it - if it existed.

Above: Believe it or not, this is Parliament Square. The bikes dominate the motor traffic for a change.

Above, Victoria Embankment. And there's an actual Games car in the Games Lane. Again, this road has never been quieter.

Now, we know that there are a lot of people avoiding driving in Central London because of the Olympics. But if journeys are really necessary, people presumably still have to drive. You can't deliver goods or fix boilers without a van. Maybe some of these essential journeys are being put off, but even allowing for all that, there was still a very small amount of traffic compared to normal, considering we're always being told about the absolute imperative of maximizing traffic flow. Maybe we're being kidded about the number of essential motor journeys in London?



Monday, July 23, 2012

If the things that were bad for you, were actually good for you

When you have kids, you have these surreal conversations: "Dad", said my little one, "Wouldn't it be wierd if the things that are bad for you, were actually good for you? And the other way around - the things that were good for you were actually bad for you?"

That got me thinking...

The unhealthy effects of sport would need to be counteracted by, say, major sporting events being sponsored by healthy things like burgers and soft drinks.

You'd need a fleet of taxis to drive round the streets of central London, to top up the air with life-enhancing particulates, and save people from all that unhealthy walking around.

You wouldn't ban cycling just because it's unhealthy - after all, this is a democracy not a nanny state - but you'd do everything you could to make it as unpleasant and unattractive as possible - you'd make cyclists share the road with fast-moving motor vehicles, and you'd make sure there were as few dedicated places to cycle as possible. You'd want to scare cyclists into making healthier transport choices, by setting up major road junctions to cause as many 'near misses' as possible. And where there's a collision between a cyclist and a motorist, you would want the law to favour the motorist. After all, if people will indulge in unhealthy pursuits, it's their own look-out. You'd probably want a prime-time BBC TV show to promote motoring as a cool way to get around.

It would be the duty of the government to tackle the epidemic of emaciation caused by too little saturated fat and too much exercise. So you'd want to encourage people to use their cars as much as possible, to promote a healthy sedentary lifestyle. You'd reduce fuel duty, and make public transport more expensive - those walks to the bus stop and train station really add up to a considerable amount of dangerous exertion. You'd make sure parking was permitted whereever possible, and you'd allow parking in cycle lanes to reduce the amount of unhealthy cycling. You'd make sure there were plenty of fried food outlets on every high street so people can get enough fat in their diet. And you'd only want healthy food to be advertised, such as pizza, burgers, chips, ice cream and soft drinks.


That's what Britain would look like - if the things that were bad for you, were actually good for you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Copenhagen vs London

I defy anyone to watch this film about Copenhagen and tell me with a straight face that London makes better use of its public spaces.

The film documents Copenhagen's transition from a traffic-dominated city to one oriented towards people. Car parks were converted into public squares, and streets were pedestrianised. The architect Jan Gehl comments, "when these people-friendly schemes go in, the businesses actually thrive". When the pedestrian areas were first proposed, retailers were against the idea, but after, it became clear that these had become the best commercial locations in the city.
Unfortunately, in today's London in this age of austerity, the priority has to be creating jobs, not doing fluffy things that stifle enterprise like pedestrianising places like Parliament Square. Or is it? In order to create jobs, you need enterprises to set up shop in your city. And for that to happen, your city has to appeal as a place to live as well as a place to work.

In this research, Red Associates, a strategy consultancy, discovered that "the future of a city is no longer exclusively dependent on low taxes. The new trend is to sell a city on its people and their lifestyle."
"Copenhagen is a place that trumps many others when it comes to quality of life", they claim. "It’s expensive and cold but it’s so clean that you can even swim in the ocean by the airport and happily raise a family without many financial constraints."
Quality of life in a city is clearly important for corporations seeking to relocate employees and their families on long-term assignments. And Copenhagen ranks 9th on Mercer Consulting's Quality of Living index. London is 38th.

Boris needs to take note. Maximum motor traffic flow and quality of life do not go together. Copenhagen proves there is another, better, way - better for people, and better for businesses.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Local Sustainable Transport Fund: Putting Cycling Last

News from the valleys: Traffic-free routes for pedestrians and safe cycle lanes will be developed across Wales to connect sites such as hospitals, shopping centres and schools as part of the Active Travel (Wales) Bill.

Meanwhile, in Belfast, the Roads Service plan to drive cars out of Belfast city centre, in a plan endorsed by Sustrans.

Even Glasgow has been getting in on the idea of decent-quality cycle provision, according to Joe Dunkley at War on the Motorist.

Only England stands alone against the onslaught of Continental-style active travel. While Boris has signed up to the LCC's Go Dutch principles, we have yet to see what his plans for Vauxhall and Greenwich will involve. Vauxhall in particular already has off-road provision - it just happens to be crap. You're expected to share pavements with thousands of commuters on foot, crossings that take ages to negotiate: the whole gyratory is basically a road scheme with cycling belatedly tacked on as an afterthought. And once through the junction you're spat back onto busy roads such as South Lambeth Road. How many parents do you think let their kids cycle in these conditions?

One chink of light, the government would have us believe, is the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF). This is supposed to promote cycling as well as public transport. But are the bids actually favouring cycling - and do the bidding local authorities know what they need to do to deliver more cycling, or will they steer towards the usual cycle facilities that upset no-one, and are used by next-to-nobody, because they stop when there's a tough decision to be made that might slow down a couple of motor vehicles?

Let's take a look at one successful bid, from Slough. I've picked it more or less at random, partly because I have some knowledge of the town, but not because I believe it to be better or worse than any of the other bids. Slough is a pretty typical English town, where the car is king. Only a tiny percentage of trips are made by bike. 40% of journeys to and from school are by car and that accounts for 20% of traffic between 08:00 and 09:00. With a few well-placed, well-designed cycle routes, you could make a dent in that, you would think.

So what are they actually doing?

"We will therefore carefully target funds to make tactical improvements to the safety, security and
connectivity of the walking and cycling networks to make it more attractive to travel short distances to work and school on foot and by bicycle. For example, we will improve links to and from the trading estates, town centre, A4 corridor and surrounding residential areas such as Britwell, Chalvey and Langley."

No reference to minimum standards, segregation, Continental approaches, or any of the stuff that is proven to work, you'll note.

The bid as a whole looks pretty car-centric to me. Over 75% of the supposed benefits are accounted for by "reduced congestion, improving journey times and journey time reliability". It consists of the cycle network improvements, 'behaviour change', which means cycle training, help with journey planning, and so on, and SCOOT. The only purpose of SCOOT is to push more motor traffic through junctions, so how that counts as 'sustainable' I don't know. We know from experience that if you increase capacity for motor vehicles, more motor vehicle journeys will result, as sure as night follows day.

Now turn to Section C1 in Slough's LSTF bid. The bits in blue on the map are the new infrastructure that is resulting from the LSTF. There looks to be considerably less than a kilometer of new route, and two 'junction improvements'. There is a new east-west cycle route planned, but that's not part of the LSTF bid (except for the very small sections illustrated), and crucially, it is not clear whether this will be segregated from traffic. It needs to be, because it will pass through the industrial estate area, which will see heavy traffic at commute-times, unless I miss my guess.

So let's summarize what's going on in Slough. They are spending £10M on "sustainable" transport projects, of which £4.5M is the LSTF contribution, and the rest is locally-funded. They are building under 1km of new cycle infrastructure, while at the same time increasing motor traffic flow and reducing motor journey times. Yet Slough's Cycling Strategy Document identifies the domination of motor traffic as a major problem for cycling. How is making motoring quicker and easier going to fix that? Unfortunately although this Cycling Strategy Document does a reasoable job of identifying the problems, it is pretty clueless when it comes to solutions. "Segregation" doesn't even appear in the list of "best practice". It notes that "insufficient confidence to ride on heavily trafficked roads) is also restricting accessibility to cycle travel", yet without a trace of irony it criticises the Local Access Forum (whose job is to "encourage people to walk or cycle") for being "pre-occupied with pressing for off-carriageway provision for all non-motorised users including cyclists. This contravenes current Government advice."
Slough is typical of local authorities who shut their eyes to the experience of European countries that have a track record of success in promoting cycling, and cling to policies with an uneviable, uniform and uninterrupted record of failure.As a result, Slough has as much chance of a local cycling revolution that I have of winning the Tour de France.

This is localism in action: a government with no strategy on cycling giving money to people who have no idea how to spend it to good effect, even if they had the inclination.



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Higgs Boson and Climate Change. It's Science, Stupid.

Apparently some blokes in Switzerland have discovered something very, very small and shortlived using lots of magnets and wires and a rather long tube. It only took them 45 years. And it all sounds a bit fishy...

"They claimed that by combining two data sets, they had attained a confidence level just at the 'five-sigma' point - about a one-in-3.5 million chance that the signal they see would appear if there were no Higgs particle."

All sounds very unlikely doesn't it? This combining two data sets trick? One data set wasn't enough for them, so they went and got another one, which they might have just made up.

"However, a full combination of the CMS data brings that number just back to 4.9 sigma - a one-in-two million chance."

One in 3.5 million chance down to one in 2 million? Make up your minds! How about "no chance at all" ?

"We have a discovery - we have observed a new particle consistent with a Higgs boson. But which one? That remains open. It is a historic milestone but it is only the beginning."

They don't even know what they've discovered! "Its only the beginning" ? Yes - the beginning of a massive job-creation scheme for scientists, paid for by your tax dollars. Higgs boson is a myth. No-one has ever seen one, because like the Emperor's new clothes, it doesn't exist. It's a massive money-making conspiracy. There's no evidence you can discover anything that small.




The above is what I imagine people like James Delingpole would make of the obscure and complex science that is going on at Cern, if their attitude to science is consistent. Strangely enough, the BBC hasn't asked Delingpole for his opinion on Higgs Boson. And why would they? He isn't a scientist, and knows nothing about sub-atomic physics.

Yet for some reason, the BBC does want to ask him about climate science, a discipline of which he is similarly ignorant. On the Daily Politics, Andrew Neill had the aforesaid climate change denier pitted against Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth. For some reason best known to the BBC there were no scientists at all present in this debate about science, although there was a second science-denier, Peter Hitchens. However, Hitchens does ride a bike and has said he wants to "plough up all the motorways in the country, and rebuild the rail network that Beeching trashed. Motorways are a horrible idea. They have ruined our countryside and our cities, and it’s no surprise to me that Adolf Hitler liked them so much." So we'll cut him some slack.

Anyway, back to the Daily Politics. Andrew Neill set the participants a challenge: to make the case for or against the idea that the planet had warmed since 1995.

To make such a case, all you need to do is refer to the BBC's own  science reporting, which said in June 2011, "Climate warming since 1995 is now statistically significant according to [Dr] Phil Jones...[the temperature dataaset] HadCRUT shows a warming 1995-2010 of 0.19C - consistent with the other major records". The report goes on, tellingly, to inform us that (with my emphasis) "nothing has emerged through mainstream science to challenge the IPCC's basic picture of a world warming through greenhouse gas emissions."  And that "a new initiative to construct a global temperature record, based at Stanford University in California whose funders include 'climate sceptical' organisations, has reached early conclusions that match established records closely."

Delingpole, inexplicably, chose not to refer to the work of any scientists in his submission. Except for the work of Dr Phil Jones, whose comment on the subject I've quoted in the above paragraph, which confirms that warming is happening. The rest of his argument is classic denial - it seems to rest on the datasets not being "reliable and trustworthy", or the temperature not "being measurable with any accuracy". But again, my previous paragraph shows even a climate-sceptic-funded study confirms the accuracy and reliability of the data. Perhaps Delingpole's response would be that the BBC itself has been taken over by "warmists", as he terms supposedly rational people who are cruelly misled by  "evidence" and "facts".

You can argue about matters of opinion, such as whether gay marriage is right, or how best to fund the NHS, or whether Coke is better than Pepsi. Climate change, on the other hand, is science, and as such is not a matter of opinion - it's a matter of fact, at least by any reasonable test. Delingpole, instead of setting reasonable tests (which he is incapable of doing, being too ignorant of the science), attempts to attack science with mockery, with baseless assertions, denials, or personal attacks, like someone trying to win a chess match by punching his opponent. See here for his attack on Sir Paul Nurse, the Nobel-prize-winning scientist, also known for making Delingpole look a prat on television. (Delingpole has thus far escaped the gaze of the Nobel committee).

Why is it easy to attack science? Scientific research exists at the boundary between the known and the unknown. At this point, competing theories, conflicting data and divergent streams of research give the impression of a world in which no-one can agree on anything. Add into that the intagible nature of the phenomena being studied - like particles no-one can see, or temperature fluctuations of a fraction of a degree - and the use of advanced statistical techniques to make sense of seemingly random patterns - and the whole thing looks impenetrable. But science exists to make sense of the apparent chaos, contradictions, inconsistencies and uncertainty that we observe in the world. If you take the science away, all you have is the apparently random phenomena that you observe with your senses. And human senses are remarkably selective and unreliable, so you are able to establish very little for certain, and you're back to the pre-enlightenment age of superstition and witch-hunting. That's what the science-deniers want, because they don't like the message that science is delivering, and they can't engage with it on a rational basis. Yet most climate-change-deniers aren't sceptical about science when it suits them - they own mobile phones, computers and cars, all goods that could not exist if it wasn't for some very unlikely-sounding science.

The theories of electromagnetic waves and semiconductors that underpin today's gadgets and enable us to play "Angry Birds" and tweet while driving a car, were once cutting-edge science. And similarly, thoeries that are currently novel will become tomorrow's facts. Science-deniers would have you believe that scientists are incredibly gullible, and any wild-ass theory just passes into the domain of accepted science overnight. That, of course, is not the case - novel  theories are repeatedly challenged and reviewed by other scientists, using new data and diverse approaches. As Sir Paul Nurse puts it, "You make your reputation in science by overturning [theories]". Only those theories that repeatedly prove sound establish credibility and pass into consensus, which is constantly renewed as old theories are overturned and more sophisticated ones take their place. In this way, the body of established science has been accumulated over centuries. One person alone could never derive all this knowledge from first principles, but one person can build upon it knowing it is a sound foundation. This is what Isaac Newton described as "standing on the shoulders of giants" - a phrase you can find on the edge of a £2 coin.

Climate science deniers could be described as "squatting on the toes of dwarves, in a deep, dark hole, into which the light of knowledge cannot penetrate". You could write that (in very small letters) on the edge of a 1p coin, which is worth rather more than the total of their work.