Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cycle Superhighways - 'Pedal Power' Report

When the motorways were first built, they were not designed with single lanes, a 40MPH speed limit, roundabouts and frequent poor-quality junctions. That's because the vision was to provide a new, safe, fast means of travel that would accommodate increasing demand for some years into the future.

That's why the Cycle Superhighways are so disappointing. They sound like cycling's equivalent of a motorway. The reality is more like a badly-planned B-road.

The Transport Committee of the London Assembly have issued their report on the Mayor's headline cycling schemes: cycle hire and the CSHs. I'm going to concentrate on the CSH section of the report and pick out the juiciest, most flavoursome bits. Some of the material has been covered before in my report on the Transport Committee meeting here.

"The Committee’s review shows users of the cycle superhighways are experiencing various problems. In some places the blue cycle lanes are too narrow, occupied by other vehicles, disappear at busy junctions or are covered by parked vehicles...The Committee has found far less enthusiasm from new cyclists for the cycle superhighways. Many are concerned about safety and a lack of respect from other road users when using the cycle superhighways...There is a need to modify the approach to developing the future routes and to improve their features to ensure they are much safer and more attractive for new cyclists."

Yes, we know this already, and it was all so predictable. Leaving aside the tendency of some motorists to occasionally break the Highway Code, why would anyone expect motorists on some of the busiest roads in London to change their behaviour if they're not required to by law? Why shouldn't they park or stop where it's permitted? Why shouldn't they drive where it's legal to do so? In many places, all we have is blue paint with no legal status. While many motorists behave with consideration, it only takes a few selfish drivers to cause enough intimidation to make cycling very unpleasant.

"there are virtually no measures to reduce motor traffic volumes or speeds."

This point highlights exactly why the choice of route was so poor. By picking the A24, TfL set themselves a difficult problem, but I suspect it wasn't even a problem they had any intention of solving. For CSH7, I suggest TfL never intended, and still does not intend, to reduce traffic volumes. Therefore, it was set up to fail from the start. There's simply too much traffic on the A24.

Sustrans has highlighted that the greatest barrier to Londoners cycling, or cycling more, is fear of traffic yet the cycle superhighways generally follow busy arterial roads and provide no or minimal segregation from traffic. It therefore concludes that in their current form the cycle superhighways have limited scope to facilitate an uptake in cycling, particularly by new cyclists.

Exactly. Now it would be fair enough if the CSHs goal was simply to make existing cycle routes safer for existing cyclists, but it's failed even to do that. To spend £150M+ on measures that don't significantly increase total numbers of cyclists, and simply move the existing ones around a bit to a different route, is grossly profligate.

TfL has reported on lessons learned from the pilot cycle superhighways. These are largely about ensuring the features of the cycle superhighways are put in place more quickly. They include allowing more time to implement traffic orders to ensure more mandatory cycle lanes and considering suspension of parking and loading during peak hours on some parts of the routes.

Note the weasel words: "considering suspension of parking"; "some parts of the routes". They still don't get it. Any route is as good as its worst part. Without a firm commitment to minimum standards, the routes will fail to attract new cyclists.  Now, TfL have some justification in complaining about the ridiculous bureaucracy involved in traffic orders. But their response, it appears, has been to silently given up. It could (and should) have complained loudly that traffic orders take too long to chase through the system, put the traffic orders in to remove parking spaces and implement parking/loading restrictions, and wait for them to get rubber-stamped. But instead, it's left the parking spaces there and put in advisory lanes. Does TfL have any follow-up plan to correct these problems? I suspect not, and to my knowledge they have not claimed otherwise.

[TfL said it] had to be pragmatic and practical. It needed to deliver the cycle superhighways in good time, at reasonable cost, whilst balancing the needs of all road users. It would never satisfy everybody.

Wait. 99% of London's roads have no cycle facilities worthy of the name. The Cycle Superhighways were supposed to be the "balance". They were specifically to satisfy cyclists, who are a group who are not satisfied anywhere else. But whenever TfL came to a tough decision on the CSHs, with one or two exceptions, they opted to maintain motor traffic priority and flow at the expense of cyclist priority and safety. That is not balance. Note that on many parts of CSH7 at peak times, the number of cycles approaches or even exceeds the number of motor vehicles. Given that a cycle is a much more efficient use of roadspace than a car, the logical "balance" would be to favour cycles. But for TfL, cycling is more of an irritation than a transport mode. The "real" transport mode is motor traffic, and its flow must be preserved at all costs. This would be defensible if all motor traffic were essential journeys that cannot reasonably be undertaken using another mode, but a lot of it is simply able-bodied people in private cars and taxis. And, of course, there would be fewer people taking their kids to school in cars or driving to work if there were safe cycle routes they could use.

The Committee would like to hear from the Mayor and TfL on any further steps that could be taken to develop the cycle superhighways. They should explore the scope to develop a ‘Bike Grid’ which could join together the cycle superhighways in central London by providing improved conditions for cyclists on some central London roads... TfL has reported that it has not linked the cycle superhighways in the centre because of the huge dispersal from the routes.

This "dispersal" idea is disingenuous. No road system takes the user direct from their starting point to their destination by the most direct line. The point is to provide a reasonable density of safe routes that take cyclists from the CSHs to each part of the central area. This is not an impossible task. Central London is full of minor roads that would be ideal for cycling if they weren't set up as one-way labyrinths and used as rat-runs by motor traffic. This is partly Westminster's fault of course, but rather than recognising the fact there is a great need for safe cycle routes in the central area, TfL seem to be in denial about it.
In any case, the "dispersal" notion is actually false in the case of CSH8. This ends at the Lambeth Bridge roundabout. The majority of users will be continuing on toward the West End and the City, through the nightmare gyratories of Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square. It's obvious that CSH8 should continue to Waterloo Bridge and beyond.

In summary, TfL take a lot of criticism from this report, and so they should. Bear in mind the Transport Committee are hardly a bunch of revolutionary zealots. Virtually from the word 'go', there have been attempts to lower expectations of the Superhighways, but even in relation to these unambitious goals they've failed to hit the mark. The Mayor has bet the farm (and £150M+ of public money) on the CSHs doing something 'revolutionary' for cycling, and the public have a right to expect results. So far, it's not looking good...

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