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.

1 comment:

  1. I thought your assessment was very good. You even use the 'n' word, I notice.

    Just recently I posted a comment on Rachel Aldred's latest blog. I said that if I had to boil the advice contained in Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities down to the bare bones, I would say:

    (i) "The essential tools are a person or a unit responsible for the pro-cycling policy, and a committee" (p.55).

    (ii) "Studying the feasibility of a network is of a similar importance to setting up a cycling unit or appointing a cycling coordinator" (p.57). "Only by studying a cycle route network will it be possible to truly grasp the situation" (p.40).

    I suggested that everything else follows on from this starting point.

    1. You ask, "Will the Commissioner really achieve anything?" It just depends. Cycling: the way ahead says, "All projects should be submitted to the Commissioner as a matter of course, and his or her approval should be made compulsory for all projects in the areas of town planning, transport and public works."

    You hit the nail on the head a little bit later on, when you say, "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."

    So the standards are very important, and it would be down to the Commissioner to ensure that these standards are kept.

    2. You write: "There needs to be a single, London-wide vision of a network of quality, subjectively safe, Continental-style infrastructure, and not a penny should be spent on schemes that are not aligned with that vision."

    I agree with this, but I remain to be convinced that this needs to be paid for out of a dedicated pot. What is the case for this?

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

    Why? As long as cyclists can use the one-way (to motor traffic) sections in both directions, as pedestrians can, there are arguments in favour of maintaining these one-way systems.

    I agree with pretty much everything else you have written. Nice one.