Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Dangerous Legacy

Sixteen people have died on bicycles in the capital in 2011.

Two of the most recent have been young women, at the start of their work career. The scale of the human cost is easy to appreciate. Friends and family facing a lifetime of grief. Parents having to bury their children, and denied grandchildren that will now never be born. At a societal level there are consequences too: years of education will not now bear fruit as a productive career. And all the people who have been touched by these deaths will likely think twice about cycling themselves.

In fact, young women make up a very small proportion of cyclists - TfL's 2008 report says that females under 25 account for just 2% of bike riders. This says a lot about how appealing London's roads are for cycling: you see plenty of young women cycling in European cities.

Young people right now are getting a pretty raw deal from society: education is becoming massively more expensive while employment opportunities are more limited. They are disproportionately bearing the costs of an economic mess they had no hand in creating. And older generations have burned all the cheap oil and ignored the threat of climate change, leaving a toxic and expensive legacy. Thanks, Mum and Dad!

Nowhere is this inequity between young and old more apparent than in London's car-centric road design. It's clear that the roads are set up to favour motoring, but that's choice that many young people are denied. They can't afford to drive, being saddled with debt from student loans and tuition fees, and expected in due course to pay back the national debt accumulated by their profligate forebears. Some young people who cycle are paying with their lives because traffic flow is deemed more important than safety; many more who might prefer to cycle, particularly as we've seen young women,  are denied that choice because conditions are so hostile - a dangerous legacy dating from the time when people believed that motoring would free us all. It's been clear for decades that motor vehicles bring a huge number of problems to large cities - causing physical danger, environmental and aesthetic damage, and dominating huge amounts of space - yet in London, there's been only a glacial retreat from the values of the 'golden age of motoring', in contrast to many other cities. Here, the car still dominates and excludes other more benign forms of transport.

If cycling is a choice being denied, there's always public transport. Buses would get around a lot quicker were it not for congestion, caused by the unrestricted freedom enjoyed a small number of the better-off to drive or use taxis. And London public transport fares are rising (and they're already the highest in Europe), again as a result of the economic crisis that youngsters had no hand in creating.

Youngsters don't have the closed mindset and fixed transport habits of some older people. Getting them onto bikes is not difficult. They might keep the cycling habit into later life, making them healthier, and additionally they'd enjoy the low costs and freedom of cycling: in short, a lifetime of benefits.  But the grey-haired car-dependent establishment don't cycle and don't want to cycle. They see cycling as a risky activity undertaken by marginal elements in society; an activity that can't be made safe, at least not without doing the unthinkable - slowing down motor traffic.

Friday, November 18, 2011

All Cycle Superhighway Junctions to be Reviewed

A couple of days ago, after the news that the design of Bow Flyover Roundabout, scene of two recent fatal collisions, was to be reviewed, this blog commented:

"It's important that everyone realises that Bow is the tip of a very considerable iceberg. Fixing Bow, if TfL is minded to do it, won't fix any of the other more dangerous junctions."

Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor's director of environment is today reported as saying:

"Work is beginning on how London gears up to move to the next level of cycling infrastructure and continuing to improve safety for cyclists. This includes a commitment from TfL to review all major schemes planned on TfL roads as well as to review all the junctions on the existing cycle superhighways."

Sounds like good news! After all the protests and news coverage, finally a result? Don't count your chickens just yet folks. Getting TfL to do something for cycling is like trying to get a teenager to tidy their room. With a lot of threats and cajoling you may be able to get them to make a reluctant effort if you stand over them while they do it, but you'll face exactly the same struggle next time, and the time after, until at some time in the future the scowling youth internalizes the need for tidiness and understands that it's not an optional part of life. Right now, like the teenager, TfL is much more interested in fast cars.

What exactly does "review all the junctions" mean? A quick look at CSH#7 on Google Maps reveals there are approximately 135 junctions between the start at Colliers Wood and the Stockwell Gyratory junction. I've counted all the minor road junctions. Are they going to review every single one? Well they should, because over that same stretch, there have been 41 serious or fatal incidents involving cyclists between 2000 and 2008 that didn't occur at the major junctions, and only 10 at major junctions (5 of those at the Stockwell Gyratory). And my personal experience of riding the route (which is I suggest rather more extensive than TfL's) suggests that the minor junctions represent very significant hazards, with motorists emerging from side-roads without looking, or turning right into minor roads across two lanes of motor traffic without being able to see cyclists coming up the blue lane.

Second, what does "review" actually mean? Is this "review" in the sense of a "review" of the Blackfriars Bridge scheme, where nothing much changed? In point of fact, there is less a need for reviews, than for TfL to stop ignoring its own experts. The BBC's Tom Edwards has revealed that there was a report produced for TfL highlighting the problems of CSH2 that said of the Bow Roundabout:

"Toucan crossings should be installed on the north and south sides of the roundabout. And "off-carriageway cycle lanes" should be provided around the roundabout, to "encourage less confident cyclists to use the route".

As Tom points out:

"someone made a decision to ignore the advice of TfL's own traffic consultants"

I wonder who that someone was, and if they sleep soundly at night? And I wonder if that someone will be involved in the "reviews"?

Quite simply, TfL cannot conduct the CSH junction reviews themselves. There is a clear conflict of interest: they cannot lead an impartial review of safety, when they know that the outcomes may well (and jolly well should, in my humble opinion) raise awkward questions of their individual and collective conduct and competence.

I pointed out a couple of days ago, the Bow junction, and indeed the other dangerous CSH junctions, are not the way they are because someone screwed up. They are that way because of TfL's priorities and approach to highway design. So it's not just the Superhighway junctions that need a review - it's TfL itself. There needs to be a change of agenda. The "traffic flow" imperative can no longer be allowed to trump "safety" in every critical decision. This is as much a cultural issue as an engineering issue, and it is very difficult to see anything changing while TfL is structured as it is and while the same faces remain. Anyone got a new broom?

Lastly, it's not reviews we need. It's action. As yet, there's been no commitment to actually doing anything about the dangers, and no indication of the terms of the reviews. The CSHs are broken by design, and it's going to take a considerable amount of investment to fix them. Boris is in a tight spot. On the one hand, if he tries to wriggle out of doing anything having blinked over the Bow tragedies, he will look like a ditherer, cynically trying to whitewash the blood off the road. On the other hand, if he commits to substantial changes, he is open to the charge of having misconceived and mismanaged the original CSH project, in doing so having wasted at least some of the near £40M spent so far.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Box Hill Cyclists

The police don't really know what to do about cyclists in the lovely Surrey Hills. The car-dependent locals don't much like being held up by cyclists, and are not shy of venting their frustrations with the local police. Hence the appearance of a police leaflet, which read:

"INCONSIDERATE RIDING: If a person rides a cycle, on a road, without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road, is guilty of an offence. [sic] £1,000 FINE"

This generated a tirade of angry comments on the Cycling Weekly site from riders such as Kevin Blackburn:

"This smacks almost of harassment of cyclists - the Police have obviously had some complaints from held-up motorists, and decided to intimidate/encourage cyclists to stay away. £1,000 fine for cycling inconsiderately - how many times could that be applied to every car driver that cuts us up, doesn't indicate, gives us less than the EU regulation 1.5m passing, infringes the 'cycle advance' box at junctions, parks and drives in cycls lanes - I've complained and taken photos of cars in cycle lanes, and had it explained that they are only adbisory - no, any continuous white should not be crossed on a road!....and so on. Its not until a cyclist is hit that police do anything about car drivers, but here they appear to be being pro-actively undermining cyclists rights to ride as per the highway code."

Scroll down the comments, and Inspector Terri Poulton, writes:

"Hello, I am the local Neighbourhood Inspector for the Mole Valley area and thought it would be a good idea to touch base with you all about this.

I would like to apologise about the wording of the attached card which was produced by a local officer who genuinely thought it would be helpful. We live and learn!

Whilst I support the message about road safety - this extends to all road users; I have been very clear through the Cycle and Drive SMART initiatives in the local area that we want to support everyone in enjoying our area รข€“ cyclists, drivers and pedestrians. You can hear me speak about Cycle SMART at

An increase in cyclists is putting more pressure on the local roads network but I want to focus my efforts on targeting the minority of poor drivers and cyclists. I hope this message is received as intended - an apology for the blunt, inappropriate card - but also a plea for understanding. Safety and tolerance is the key message and, above all, we want everyone to enjoy our beautiful area."

Tolerance - and  grammar - are clearly not the strong suits of the "local officer" concerned. It's quite interesting to click through the YouTube link, because there's rather more talk in the piece about inconsiderate driving than cycling. Kay Hammond of Surrey County Council says,  "It all started about 10 months of the biggest issues facing Surrey residents was antisocial driving." Tom Arthur of Surrey Police continues, "We need people cycling sensibly, we need them being considerate, but we also need drivers to be tolerant, and realise that it's a road for everybody." Andy Wright of the National Trust cousels against overtaking on the hill: "If you're following some cyclists up the hill, it literally takes you another 3 or 4 minutes to get's [about] tolerance on all sides."

Fast-forward 2 months, and the BBC reports :

"Tensions between drivers and bike riders using the 2012 Olympic cycling route through Surrey have prompted extra police patrols...Residents near Box Hill, which will form part of the London Games' cycling road race course, said the extra riders were causing a nuisance...Surrey Police said there had been a "significant" increase in cyclists along the A25 and at Box Hill. 'We are taking any community concerns very seriously,' said Sgt Andy Rundle."

I wonder if Sgt Rundle is taking any compaints by cyclists seriously? What happened to "drivers being tolerant" ? It so happens I have been known to venture outside the smoke down to the Surrey Hills. And I can confirm that there are a lot of cyclists down there. I've not personally seen much inconsiderate cycling, although I'm sure there's the odd incident: the clubs don't tend to cycle in large pelotons and tend to break rides down into smaller groups. However, I'm not sure why there is such a difference in some peoples' minds between a group of cyclists and a line of traffic. It's all traffic, it's a pain, it's in front of you, and the only way of getting it behind you is by overtaking it, which should only be attempted when it's safe to do so. Some motorists don't think that way. These aggressive types believe that common sense requires them to overtake all cyclists, whether alone or in a group, immediately, regardless of blind bends, speed limits, narrowness of the road or oncoming traffic. This kind of behaviour can be seen regularly, is highly dangerous and illegal. But you won't hear of the police clamping down on it or educating motorists as to the finer points of the Highway Code in this regard. As the report says:

"Residents told the BBC some cyclists...were aggressive to drivers trying to overtake."

Aggressive's generally what you feel when someone storms past forcing you to swerve into a pothole or a hedge. And bear in mind the Box Hill zig-zag road has traffic calming. From the highway code [my emphasis]:


Traffic-calming measures. On some roads there are features such as road humps, chicanes and narrowings which are intended to slow you down. When you approach these features reduce your speed. Allow cyclists and motorcyclists room to pass through them. Maintain a reduced speed along the whole of the stretch of road within the calming measures. Give way to oncoming road users if directed to do so by signs. You should not overtake other moving road users while in these areas."

The BBC didn't interview any cyclists about dangerous overtaking. Maybe they were afraid they might be too aggressive. Anyway, the report continues "Many [riders] are from local organised clubs whose riders cycle frequently around Surrey but there are also thought to be many from out of the area."

Outside the area? They're probably illegal immigrants. Better let the Daily Mail know.

"Mr Rundle said there had been a dedicated car and bicycle police patrol at Box Hill for a number of weeks.
'This isn't an issue solely of cyclists but an issue of increased visitors to Box Hill full stop,' he said.
'We are stopping motorists and cyclists and making sure that all road users are mindful that they are likely to encounter increased numbers of cyclists. It is a challenge the local police have to rise to and make sure that everyone is considerate of every other road user.'"

Goodness me. That sounds almost as if cyclists have an right to use these roads, and equal treatment under the law.That could actually encourage cycling...and then where would we be?

Alright, enough joshing around. In general I welcome more police, particularly if they're on bikes as they'll quickly find out what us civvies have to put up with. And there are a fair few coppers who are leisure cyclists. Hopefully the enlightened PCs outnumber the dinosaur officers like the one whose leaflet is at the top of this post. But there's something seriously wrong when an increase in cycling is greeted as if it's mainly a problem with cyclists, rather than a problem with drivers not tolerating cyclists and ignoring the Highway Code's guidance about how to drive when there are cyclists in front of them. If I write to my local police compaining about an increase in drivers or speeding and aggressive driving, I know the response won't be increased police patrols. It will be incredulous laughter, or protests that the police don't have the resources to enforce 20MPH limits. And probably a proposal to widen the road, legalise parking on the pavement, and a host of other measures to ensure traffic flow. While there are some cyclists taking risks and riding inconsiderately, they're very unlikely to kill anyone except perhaps themselves. If only the same could be said about risk-taking, inconsiderate drivers.

If it's a nice day this Sunday, I might just make a nuisance of myself and see if I can beat my PB up Box Hill. That'll show 'em.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bother for Boris in Bow

To paraphrase Joseph Stalin, the death of one person is a tragedy; the deaths of thousands is a matter of statistics. So it is that two tragic deaths at the same location in less than a month is sufficient to generate a flurry of media stories about the Bow Flyover roundabout. Statistically, two deaths so close together in location and in time is an anomaly as this location isn't even in the top 10 most dangerous junctions.

However, it does encourage journalists to ask serious questions of TfL about its whole Superhighways strategy. The approach is to route cyclists along the capital's busiest roads, and through its most dangerous junctions, while asserting that it's impossible to put in proper provision for cyclists at those junctions because it would have too much impact on traffic flow. Transport for London (TfL) director Ben Plowden promised to look "very closely" at the Bow junction. Why? TfL knew perfectly well how dangerous these junctions - fast, multi-laned affairs with a good sprinkling of HGVs - are for cyclists. Nothing has changed. TfL knew it had the choices it made didn't ensure cyclist safety, and it must have known what the consequence of that would be. It is easy for TfL and its ultimate boss Boris Johnson to maintain the the Blackfriars Bridge redesign has to sacrifice cycle lanes on the altar of traffic flow, given that it's not killed anyone yet, but it's not so easy to defend the Bow Flyover design in the face of the bereaved families and friends of the victims.

It's therefore important that everyone realises that Bow is the tip of a very considerable iceberg. Fixing Bow, if TfL is minded to do it, won't fix any of the other more dangerous junctions, and more people will die at those locations. There must be an acceptance that the two recent fatal collisions at Bow were not accidents. This was not one rogue road designer, an isolated error or a failure of process. The Bow junction is the way it is precisely because the designers followed TfL's rules and guidance on road design, prioritizing traffic flow and ignored the protests of London Cycling Campaign about the clear dangers. If these deaths are not to be in vain, TfL must accept that it has an institutional problem, a systemic problem, and to address it, it needs to push cyclist safety to the top of the priority list.

Fuel Prices - They Still Don't Get It

It's a while since I last wrote about fuel prices, and not much has changed, but the campaign to lower the petrol price seems to have got even better organized. Unfortunately, they've still not addressed the fundamental problem at the heart of the matter.

When I last wrote, the oil price was at $98.45. I noted there were problems with the Alaskan pipeline and Norwegian oilfields that were interfering with supply. Since that time, the Libyan conflict has been and gone, and the European economies are forecasting lower growth - all factors that should either increase potential supply or reduce demand. Yet today (15 Nov 2011) a barrel of Brent crude will cost you $113.22. Pump prices are still hovering around the £1.40/litre level for diesel.

There will be a Commons debate about fuel prices today. What will they talk about? The fact that the Government changed the tax regime in the last budget, and that spectacularly failed to fix the problem? The fact that the relative tax take has been going down for a while: for every pound drivers spend at the forecourt, about 60p is now going to the Treasury compared to around 80p in every pound between 2001 and 2003? The fact that in the USA where fuel taxes are low, people are much more affected by underlying changes in the oil price (and complain about it a lot more) ? According to the debate's sponsor, Robert Halfon MP, families are being "crucified" by high petrol prices, and are in "fuel poverty" as a result. But I can't see much difference between "crucifixion" by petrol prices, and "crucifixion" by rail fare increases, or VAT increases, food price inflation, losing their job, or any other combination of price inflation or wage stagnation. It's all poverty at the end of the day. You would think a Tory would expect people to help themselves, as many people (and businesses) are doing by driving less and adopting lower-carbon forms of travel. Again, some people have no choice but to drive, and petrol price increases, along with electricity, gas and food price increases, are giving rise to real hardship. There's certainly a case to be made to help people in poverty, but it doesn't follow that a general cut in petrol tax is the best way of doing that, especially considering it will benefit rich car owners more than the poor. I've not seen much evidence that it's the best way to help the economy either. It will benefit businesses that use a lot of fuel. What about businesses that have invested in a lower-carbon business model, making the correct assumption that oil prices will continue rising? Why move the balance away from businesses that are succeeding? Why give the signal that if you're oil-dependent, you'll get bailed out by the government?

Lowering fuel taxes may give a small amount of temporary relief to motorists who have no choice but to drive and are spending a lot of their income on fuel, but it will also disproportionately benefit motorists who are not very hard-pressed, choose to drive big thirsty cars and can well afford to fill them up. Also, taxes will have to rise elsewhere to compensate, at a time when there are calls to lower them to stimulate the economy.

Instead of debating the cost of fuel, which is largely out of the control of the Government, we should be debating how we manage down the use of fuel. Oil dependency is the underlying problem, and it's what is delivering blows to the economy every time the underlying price of oil goes up. That's why a US military thinktank is saying that America needs to cut its oil use by 30% over the next decade.  "I don't really see myself as a treehugger in any way. I look at it as an issue of national security," said Howard Snow, former deputy assistant secretary of the US Navy.

Whingeing about the pump price won't solve anything. Lowering fuel tax will cause people to think they don't need to change their driving habits, and we'll be having exactly the same debate come the next budget. Instead, we need to help businesses and individuals to use less fuel. Done correctly, this will have a much greater positive effect on the economy, because it will have a long-term effect and cause more cash to stay in the UK rather than going into the coffers of oil-producing countries.

Friday, November 11, 2011

TfL and Cyclist Safety

Sometimes it's best to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. So it is with TfL and cycling safety. No doubt in response to a stream of negative stories, they've countered with a press release that purports to show how with its "huge range of practical measures", TfL is really spoiling us. Unfortunately, the box of Ferrero Rocher is pretty much all gold PR foil.

"I implore cyclists to stay safe, don't stay next to a HGV," says Boris, although he's not telling HGV drivers not to stay next to cyclists.

"While every collision is regrettable, it is encouraging that the proportion of cycling collisions on TfL roads that result in fatal or serious injuries has declined since 2008, indicating that the severity of collisions is falling."

Statistics served with a lot of backspin, it could be argued, since the London cyclist KSI casualty rate has in fact been rising for a few years now.

Let's take a look at the "vast array of improvements" TfL boast about.

"Additional guidance for highway contractors is currently being produced by TfL on providing sufficient space for cyclists at roadworks. This new guidance will ensure better consideration is given to vulnerable road users while street works are taking place across London and forms a key part of the Mayors new Roadworks Pledge"

Space for "Cyclists Dismount" signs, I think he means. Let's hope this is a U-turn from TfL's attitude up until very, very recently: "It is necessary to request that cyclists dismount between the peak [hours] as our works at these times take in a greater proportion of the carriageway at these times. This narrows the space available for vehicles and cyclists to share beyond the point that can be safely accommodated. We ask that cyclists dismount in order to ensure that they can safely pass through the area affected."

 "A £100 million investment during 2010/11 in cycling schemes, which included a range of safety action such as the provision of cycle lanes"

Lanes that are often narrow and/or advisory, sprinkled with parked cars, and become "ghost" lanes or disappear altogether at the trickiest junctions, when you need them most.

"blind spot safety mirrors at key locations along the Barclays Cycle Superhighway" 

...which are necessary because TfL gave up on the  idea that the CSHs should be "safe and continuous" at those key locations.

"advance stop lines at traffic junctions across London"

Ah yes. The advance stop box. Like a box of cheap chocolates, it's very likely to contain something you don't want. Like the one after Admiralty Arch at the Trafalgar Square roundabout. Another of London's most dangerous junctions. Often the approach lane is blocked. If you can't get to the ASL you'll be stuck on the inside of vehicles that may 'left hook' you. Go round the outside and your chances aren't much better, and don't think you can rely on vehicles letting you back in the queue if the lights change when you're trying to filter. If instead you just wait in the queue, there'll likely be someone behind you who'll be trying to overtake just at the most hazardous point. Even if you can get to the advance stop box, there is a good chance the box will contain a taxi or a car or both. All of which makes the advice that "Cyclists should take a visible position well in front or well behind a vehicle at traffic lights" seem rather Marie-Antoinette.

"encourage [HGV operators] to sign up to TfL's Freight Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) "

FORS is rather limited in what it can achieve. To be a FORS member, your drivers don't have to have any more training than the legal minimum, and can have as many endorsements as you like as long as they still have a licence. From the specification, killing a cyclist won't get you kicked out, (although there will be a benchmark to get to the Silver level of membership). To give you an idea, Thames Materials is a Bronze member.

As for enforcement against dangerous or intimidating driving by professional drivers, forget about it, unless you've been seriously injured. Report it to the police and you'll likely get a polite letter saying they don't prosecute unless there's a realistic chance of a conviction (and the bar is pretty high, believe me). According to the FORS specification, there is no mechanism to complain about a FORS member's drivers, and the Public Carriage Office, which regulates black cabs and private hire, will also ignore complaints about cab drivers. In short, Boris's exhortations to 'share the road' and 'look out for cyclists' are backed up by nothing but his winning smile, and have as much chance of being taken seriously as Silvio Berlusconi at a feminist's convention.
Now don't get me wrong. FORS is a good thing and we should encourage it, but  it will mainly help good operators get better. Without legal sanctions, it will still be too easy for irresponsible companies to take advantage of the lower operating costs that come from dangerous practices and taking chances with peoples' lives.

"help fleet operators identify and compare different HGV safety technologies...a new Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) training module specifically written for freight drivers in London...worked with the Freight Transport Association to develop a Cycling Code for its members"

In other words, it's all good, but it's voluntary. It will be ignored by the cowboys, who will be able to speed about their business unmolested by the diminishing number of traffic police.

The fundamental problem with TfL's approach is that they don't adequately tackle the problem of keeping drivers, especially bad ones, away from cyclists. In fact, at the most dangerous junctions, where cycling collisions are most likely,  they completely give up, reasoning that traffic flow is a higher priority than safety. Even good drivers have lapses of judgement and observation, especially on dark wet days, and if cyclists are mixed up in the general traffic flow those lapses can be fatal. In simple terms, TfL are putting up the curtains while there's still no roof on the house. The point is to generate more cycling, because it's good for the economy, good for the environment and good for public health. There is no way you can do that by training HGV drivers (worthwhile though that is). Even if 95% of drivers had a high standard of skill and a good attitude, the remaining 5% would be enough to put most ordinary people off cycling. What TfL are doing is making the roads marginally safer, but doing it in a way that is very costly and time-consuming. Which is nice for the few people who are actually happy to cycle on-carriageway, but hardly tempting to the large number of people who would like to cycle but don't feel it's safe.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Westminster Parking Charges

Westminster Council don't win much approval on this blog, but the extended car parking charges and restrictions which will be imposed in the early 2012 gain a qualified nod. Westminster are doing the right thing - discouraging motor traffic - for the wrong reasons - to make money. Even though the policy is attracting considerable well-organized opposition, the Council are seemingly sticking to their guns although they have dropped plans to introduce the charges before Christmas.

Effectively, from January there will be no more free parking on Westminster-controlled streets at any time.

Westminster claim that the charges are necessary to deal with increasing night-time congestion. Which is interesting, coming from a council that opposed the London Congestion Charge. At Cycalogical, we're happy to forgive the sinner that repenteth, although we're a tad suspicious that the move has more to do with filling a hole in the Council's budget that any concern for the adverse impact of motor traffic on the capital.

By Westminster's own admission, this is a congestion charge. Unlike the actual congestion charge however, the proceeds won't go to improve public transport - they will go to keep council tax down for Westminster residents, many of whom are a lot more well-heeled than the average Londoner. Yet many more Londoners will be affected by the policy, which raises serious questions of democratic accountability. Most Londoners don't drive much into central London, so the effect will be broadly positive for them - less congestion equals faster bus journeys and a hopefully a better environment for pedestrians. On the other hand, people who have no option but to drive at night or on Sundays will be paying to park - a considerable sum for night workers. There will likely be displacement of car parking into neighbouring boroughs and possibly also onto TfL roads.

Businesses aren't happy with the policy. They see only the downside: the prospect that car-based trade will evaporate. In reality though, will it be that big a deal?  Some erstwhile car-bound customers will switch to using public transport or cabs. Some will simply swallow the parking charges. Some may switch to nightlife outside Westminster. However, because this isn't a policy oriented to making the West End better for visitors (and therefore the businesses that depend on them), the Council don't have a good answer to the charge that new parking fees will kill trade. The policy would make more sense if Westminster acknowledged that congestion is just one unpleasant symptom of car dependency. If the streets of central London were more pedestrian-friendly, if there were more streets oriented towards dining, drinking, shopping and outdoor enjoyment rather than the passage of motor traffic, this would likely generate a lot more trade than would be lost as a result of parking or congestion charges. Indeed, it's businesses themselves that are calling for such a policy in Oxford Street and Regent Street. As it stands though, Westminster are opposed to cycling, opposed to 20MPH speed limits, opposed to traffic reduction or calming schemes, and ideologically opposed to anything that interferes with private motor traffic...except when they can make a couple of quid out of it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Going Dutch - The Fightback Begins?

LCC has at long last come around to the idea of segregated space with its 'Going Dutch' campaign. It was only a matter of time before there was a counter-campaign by those whose vehicular cycling outlook until recently held sway. Hence a post by Matthew Wright in the Guardian's cycling blog.

Wright doesn't go all-out to say that segregation is a bad idea. He starts by pointing out that in Holland "cycling facilities were so good that their use was obligatory and enforced by police". This is an allusion to the well-worn argument that the provision of segregated paths will whittle away at the cyclist's right to use roads. Fair enough if you like cycling on roads, but most people don't, which is why almost no-one (except me and you, dear readers) cycles in the UK.

He attacks segregated paths by casting doubt on their safety credentials:
"The safety of having separate lanes has often been questioned. Though there are many variables, and conclusions are contested, most studies suggest that separate paths, if anything, make cycling more dangerous, because junctions – where most accidents occur – are more complicated."

Are separate paths more dangerous? The research cited appears to be quite old, and any research done in the UK is based on the narrow, badly-designed, badly-maintained, badly-surfaced tracks, regularly punctuated with driveways and side-road junctions, and featuring jaywalking pedestrians, dogs, and the odd parked car. I'm not going to pick through every study because that would be futile - if the Dutch road system with its extensive use of segregated paths has the best safety record, there can't be too much wrong with segregated paths as such.  But the reality is, it doesn't matter. Go to Richmond Park on a weekend, and you'll find thousands of people cycling on those dangerous off-road paths, and these are largely people who wouldn't dream of cycling on those safe, fluffy roads because for some bizarre reason they think they're too dangerous. Even if you showed them the statistics, they wouldn't believe you, because there is something inherently sphincter-spasm-inducing about being passed by a 3-tonne van with a couple of inches between its mirrors and your elbow. Nothing short of mass hypnotism will persuade most people to cycle on UK roads, because it feels dangerous, and it's gut feel, not statistics or probabilities, that people rely on to tell them whether something is safe or not. In the simplest possible terms, even if roads are safer than segregated paths, UK road conditions are the biggest deterrent to cycling there could possibly be. And it's UK road conditions that are pushing people into the car-dependent, sedentary lifestyle that is far, far more dangerous than cycling on a segregated path could ever be.

Wright then quotes Amsterdamize's Marc van Woudenberg as saying "Segregation is just one (important) part of bicycle policies in the Netherlands, complemented with integral spatial planning, traffic calming, bike facilities and effective traffic laws." Wright continues: "in reducing the Dutch approach to being mainly about paths, LCC is misrepresenting it. Their campaigns for a 20mph speed limit (widespread in the Netherlands), and the crucial issue of strict liability would make a more sensible centrepiece for Go Dutch."

So there you have it. Put the word 'Dutch' in front of all the UK cycling campaigns of the past couple of decades that have failed to deliver meaningful growth in cycling, and they will magically succeed and deliver a cycling culture. I live on a 20MPH road, and I avoid cycling on it whenever I can because no-one drives at less than 28MPH unless there's something seriously wrong with their car. 'Integral spatial planning' in London to most people means being able to park your car. Strict liability? Drivers don't go out intending to crash. They already know that a prang will push up their premiums. Read much more about why strict liability is irrelevant here. As David Hembrow (a Dutch-based cycling blogger that Wright doesn't quote, but I will) says: "[Dutch] Strict Liability came only after the majority of people cycled, and when there was already a very high degree of segregation and planning around bicycles."

Wright then points out, "LCC's emphasis on 'London's main roads' is also strange...why would you want to cycle in such noise, danger and pollution, when there are faster and more pleasant routes through back streets, parks and towpaths? This kind of route requires only some intelligent planning"

Back-street routes are what we have with the London Cycle Network. Even if you weren't perpetually getting lost on the LCN, it can hardly be described as 'fast'. There are hazards from frequent junctions (and the priority is usually against you), parked cars, and there's significant rat-running traffic to contend with. The phrase 'only some intelligent planning' seems to imply that a couple of weeks work by some contractors will sort it out. But I digress. Why emphasise main roads? Because it's very hard to avoid main roads if you want to follow a reasonably direct route, and you need segregation where there is significant motor traffic. Where traffic levels and speeds are low enough, you don't need segregation. That's how the Dutch do it. If you only use filtered permeability, 'home zones', and greenways to construct a cycling network, you end up with very compromised routes. It is not a vision of mass cycling: it's a vision of mitigation that isn't going to inspire anybody.

Wright then wraps up by saying:

"the biggest barrier on the road to creating a widespread cycling culture in the UK is tackling speed limits and a pro-motorist legal bias."

This is a real chicken-or-egg argument. The reason that speed cameras, speed limits and indeed any restrictions whatever on car use are unpopular in the UK is because we are so car-dependent as a nation, and as a consequence there are a lot more voters who are motorists than there are voters who cycle. Lower speed limits and cycle-friendly traffic laws are consequences of a cycling culture, not prerequisites. It is also a false argument. The biggest barrier to creating a UK cycling culture is the fear of traffic. This is demonstrated in survey after survey. Vehicular campaigners have been trying to civilize motoring for decades, successes have been few and far between, and there's no evidence that fear of traffic has become any less. Freewheeler has already documented why.
What is most toxic about opposition to Going Dutch is the fact that if cycling campaigners cannot present a single, compelling vision about how mass cycling can be achieved, then we won't convince the politicians or the public. And the fact is, the public understand segregation: I speak to many people who say they would cycle more if there were cycle paths away from traffic. It almost seems like it's only cycle campaigners who don't 'get it'.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Low Emissions Zone - Don't Breathe Easy Just Yet

The next phase of London's Low Emissions Zone will start at the beginning of 2012. This was delayed by Mayor Johnson, but the threat of EU action has made the move inevitable.

The current LEZ covers larger commercial vehicles, but 2012 will see the emissions requirements extended to cover smaller commercials. However, it's interesting to see how some vehicles are more equal than others. Older minibuses belonging to schools and charities will fall foul of the rules, no matter how low a mileage they do. Similarly, pickups and vans belonging to businesses in outer London, which may cover few miles and operate away from the worst pollution hotspots, also get caught. Even private camper vans aren't exempt.

Now this would be fair enough if there were a no-exceptions, zero-tolerance attitude to pollution. But taxis - the class of commercial vehicle that is responsible (according to TfL) for 30% of central London's particulate emissions - are exempt. This is a bit of a choker for small businesses and charities that need vehicles but don't drive huge mileages. It's also a bit of a choker if you attend a school in inner London and you suffer from asthma, or if you're one of the estimated 50,000 people who die early as a result of air pollution in the UK.

Boris Johnson's air pollution strategy is simple. Try glueing it to the road, soaking it up with plants; anything rather than reduce it at source by forcing the taxi industry to clean up its tailpipe emissions, or by promoting alternatives to motor traffic.

Johnson said in answer to Jenny Jones' questions about the use of dust suppressants around air pollution monitoring stations, "It makes sense to deal with the [pollution] hotspots". This is nonsense. It's Johnson's attempt to dodge EU fines without dealing with the main underlying problem - too many high-emitting vehicles. People don't die from air pollution only near the monitoring stations. The high numbers from the monitoring stations simply give a picture of what emissions are like all over London. It's not like the monitoring stations are the only places to worry about, and 50 yards away the air is like a forest glade and vehicle exhausts are purer than a mountain stream. If the taxi fleet is emitting large amounts of particulates, then no matter where you happen to be, when a taxi accelerates past you, you'll get a couple of lungfuls of dirt.

The only way that Boris Johnson's air pollution strategy makes sense is if you consider that dead people don't vote, but taxi drivers do.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Uninsured Drivers

It's good to see one of the first things the new Met Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, has done is crack down on uninsured drivers. Uninsured drivers are 5 times more likely to be involved in collisions than the rest of us, and are likely to have criminal convictions. It should be easy to take them off the road with ANPR technology linked to the insurance database. What's more, there are a lot of vehicles that are technically insured, but their drivers have lied about modifications to the car or about their personal history. Stop any car with blacked-out front side windows (and there are plenty of them around) and the vehicle insurance is likely to be invalid, because it doesn't conform to the construction and use regulations. No insurer would insure such a car.

The Met Police yesterday organized a crackdown with 1000 officers targeting uninsured vehicles. Different news sources have reported betwen 300 and 500 vehicles being seized. That doesn't sound like a very good hit rate to me, given that 1 in 7 drivers are estimated to be uninsured in London. To give you an idea, if you stand by a busy road like Kennington Park Road, you'll have in excess of a thousand vehicles passing you in an hour, of which over 140 will be uninsured. (That's assuming uninsured drivers clock up the same sort of mileage as other motorists and that they use the same routes, but even making pessimistic assumptions, it should be like shooting fish in a barrel.) Yet the Met achieved less than 1 vehicle impounded per officer per day. No-one in the mainstream press has questioned this hit-rate. I'd like to know what's going on. Did it take a day to file the paperwork on every car? Did they let off a lot of drivers with a caution and a friendly 'Mind how you go now' ? Did they spend a lot of time at the burger van on Clapham Common ? Or maybe there's something about nabbing one car in every seven that is a lot harder than it looks? Are there loopholes that enable drivers to slip through the net? I'd really love to know.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

TfL Chief Speaks on Cycling

 It might surprise you to know, given Transport for London's less-than-stellar record on cycling, that its current Commissioner, Peter Hendy, rides a bike. Hendy recently delivered a lecture to the Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics about cycling, which was part of a launch of a resource for planners on cycling  called The Hub. The Hub is apparently largely stuff looted from the now-defunct Cycling England.
I'm going to take a quick look at some of the things Hendy said in his lecture:

"London has undoubtedly been the engine of growth in Britain and is where cycling has really taken off – up 150% since 2000. Nearly 150,000 people per week cycle on the 6,000 hire bikes through the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme. But while it's one thing to pedal round Hyde Park Corner or the Vauxhall gyratory in the rush hour, in outer and suburban London, there are plenty of quiet roads and routes that could be developed to help people leave their cars at home."

Well, that pretty neatly sums up the problem in London, where very few people cycle in comparison with Holland, Germany or Scandinavia. Hyde Park Corner and the Vauxhall Gyratory both figure in the Top 10 most dangerous junctions for cyclists, which is testament to TfL's failure to get to grips with the problem of cycle safety on main routes. Meanwhile, 'quiet' routes are still dominated by motor vehicles which is why people don't cycle there either - they desperately need 'development'.

Hendy's solution?

"...The Biking Boroughs Scheme to really try to develop local cycle hubs in places where the potential for a shift to cycling is greatest and resources can be targeted. These cycle hubs will become beacons of cycling excellence in outer London and act as catalysts for change in these areas. In pursuit of this, earlier this year, thirteen councils across London made successful bids for a share of £4million funding after pledging to put cycling at the heart of their local transport plans."

That's right. Money being dished out to boroughs like Merton, which really has very little clue about cycling. And of that already cheese-paringly small £4M slice of London's massive transport budget, Merton will receive £100,000. Over 3 years. To put that amount in perspective, one Government department, the Treasury, spent nearly £100,000 just on taxi fares last year.

So what's the £4M going to be spent on?

"more cycle lanes and other cycling infrastructure"

Ah yes - no doubt the kind of lanes that are usually blocked by parked vehicles and stop abruptly when TfL decide that 'traffic flow' is more important that cyclists' safety.

"This growth [in cycling] is driven by a number of factors. Across London, there are many more cycle lanes than there were 10 years ago and measures such as cycle zones at traffic lights together with safety mirrors give cyclists more confidence "

Confidence?? Gimme a break! Hendy obviously doesn't cycle in London very often, or he wouldn't be able to say any of that with a straight face. 'Cycle zones' at traffic lights are more often than not blocked by motor vehicles, assuming you can get to them in the first place. Quite often there is no lead-in lane, at other times the lead-in lane is blocked, and you can end up in the most vulnerable position on the left side of a queue of vehicles, any one of which may left-hook you without warning.

"Here in London, the London Cycle Network has carefully paved the way for today's cycling environment for over a decade."

That's about right - today's cycling environment is a pretty good indication of why so few Londoners cycle. The London Cycle Network is a random collection of difficult-to-find small blue signs directing you down roads where little or no effort has been made on cyclists' safety or reductions in motor traffic. There is almost no segregation from motor traffic. The routes are full of hazards just to make a cyclist's life interesting - pinch points created by pedestrian islands, speed cushions that cause traffic to swerve around whilst trying to overtake you, lines of parked cars that make you risk a 'dooring', or alternatively, the brave decision to 'take the lane' may elicit a friendly musical accompaniment of blaring horns from your fellow road-users. Hendy is obviously under the impression that the LCN is the reason more people are cycling in London. This is nonsense. The Wife used the LCN to take the kids to Wimbledon Park and was scared out of her wits by the behaviour of drivers, as a result I'm under strict instructions to avoid that route. The reasons more people cycle in London are: 1) Osama Bin Laden; 2) Sweaty, unreliable, expensive public transport; 3) 4 years of recession squeezing household budgets. LCN has improved conditions on parts of some routes, but as a network it sstill falls well short of what an average person would judge 'safe enough to cycle'.

"Safety is improving too: casualty rates are falling, from 60 per billion kms in 1980 to less than 25 today - still too high of course, but moving in the right direction."

Interesting use of statistics there. 25 is 41% of the 1980 figure (60). Comparing the total fatalities across all modes, in 2010 - 1857 - is 31% of the 1980 figure of 5953. So cycling has got relatively more dangerous compared with other modes. And what's worse, the absolute numbers of cycling casualties have gone up over the past two years, not down, despite the 'safety in numbers' effect that should be making cycling safer.

"In short, while more can and is being done to encourage cycling and improve provision, cycling is truly a serious mode that offers real benefits for the 21st century travel planning."

I guess by 'improved provision' he means schemes like Blackfriars Bridge? Anyway, let's cut to the meat and potatoes of the speech, which is where Hendy sets out a series of steps that could make this a 'Century of Cycling':

"1. Further improvements to cycle safety such as cycle lanes and traffic safety mirrors, cycle zones at traffic junctions;

2. Much more cycle training not only for cyclists – adults and children - but also PCV and HGV driver training to help reduce the 40% of cycling accidents that involve a heavy goods or passenger carrying vehicle;

3. Investing in more cycle parking conveniently located in towns and near bus and railway stations and providing easy to access journey/route planning information for cyclists;

4. Workplace and school travel planning to get the cycling culture ingrained into daily commuting and school runs;

5. Making cycling itself more attractive means overcoming come challenges such as: improving its 'reputation'; removing barriers to cycling; challenging misperceptions of 'danger'; using more green spaces to make more attractive cycle ways to encourage people to use the bicycle for leisure and commuting; and increasing the understanding of cycling design considerations amongst professionals and ensuring these are adequately reflected within scheme designs – particularly in road schemes.

6. Continuing with Sky Rides and similar schemes, not just in London but on a localised basis across the country to introduce and encourage cycling – around 400,000 people have taken place in these since their introduction in 2009."

Here's why none of the above will work. Cycle lanes and advance stop boxes don't work if they're of the low quality that's typical in London. Lanes need to be segregated - a word that Hendy doesn't use once. There's not much point in training people who aren't going to cycle - and the reason they don't is fear of traffic...which Hendy dismisses as a 'misperception'. That's right - when you get cut up at a junction, or a car passes you a cigarette paper's width away, you're deluded - it's actually perfectly safe. School travel plans? We've already got those, and they don't work, for the simple reason that most parents won't let their kids cycle to school when they've no choice but to mix with fast-moving traffic. Using green spaces? Great idea - until you consider what happens in Richmond Park at the weekend. People are perfectly happy to cycle in large numbers on the quiet segregated paths, but on the busy roads nearby that are devoid of decent cycle facilities, the numbers unaccountably fall off. And it's the same story with Sky Rides. People love cycling when there's not the constant threat posed by motor traffic. But if they cycle back through the Victoria gyratory system, they get a taste of the reality that commuting cyclists face every day - and they don't like it. So the bike goes back in the shed until next year's Skyride.

What next?

"Britain has a reputation for being a laggard in cycling in international standards: the Dutch, Danish and Germans are certainly well ahead of us at least in ridership for local journeys, but in at least two of those countries, their topography and quieter roads greatly incentivise cycling."

This is completely disingenuous. London is mainly flat, and the weather in Holland and Denmark is no better than in Britain. The UK really has no excuse for being behind other North European countries. As for quiet roads - the reason they're quieter is because people cycle. In any case, with segregated paths, traffic isn't the massive disincentive to cycling that it is in the UK. Segregation really is the elephant in the room that Hendy's very careful to avoid eye-contact with.

Hendy does have a parting shot:

"cycling is now part of transport planners' 21st century lexicon of solutions for improving urban spaces - giving town and city centres back to the people as shared and green space, instead of more roads for more cars, 'bringing the village back into the city'. "

Wow. Gimme some of that. I hope he's told his underlings at TfL. Maybe we can look forward to Parliamemt Square being pedestrianized?

Now I don't want to be too hard on Peter Hendy. The state of cycling in London can't be blamed on one person, even if that person is the head of the organization in charge of - er - the state of cycling in London. Hendy has political masters who are scared stiff of upsetting the status quo with any bold moves. On the other hand, if you look at Blackfriars Bridge, at King's Cross, or at any of the other cycling causualty blackspots, you see a pattern of cyclist safety being pushed aside to make way for more, faster motor vehicles. Even TfL's best efforts for cycling - the Superhighways - are in a different league to facilities on the Continent (the Blue Square Premier league, perhaps?), with little attempt to provide safe passage past side roads or through junctions, or even to consistently keep cyclists out of the traffic flow. Hendy's attempts to take credit for increases in cycling are particularly wince-inducing. I don't know anyone who's started cycling because they thought it had become safe. Some people feel safe on the Superhighway blue lanes, but that's in comparison with other cycling conditions in London, and the blue lanes disappear when you most need them, and only operate 6 hours a day, in what is increasingly a 24hr city.
I have no reason to believe that Peter Hendy is not a perfectly charming person - but he's in charge of an organization that has proved itself to be institutionally anti-cycling. Until we see signs that TfL takes cycling seriously, I won't be taking seriously anything Peter Hendy has to say about cycling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

King's Cross - Who's to Blame?

The road system around London's King's Cross Station claimed the life of another cyclist recently. Fashion student Min Joo Lee died there on 3rd October.

The layout of the road system is the classic 'urban motorway' - fast, multi-lane roads with totally inadequate cycling facilities. It's a grim story of sheep-pen crossings and generally second-class treatment if you're on foot as well. - which is a general community website that covers all local issues, not just cycling or road safety - has some interesting history behind the current road layout. William Perrin writes that TfL commissioned a report on the King's Cross road system around 2008, and then tried to bury it. Perrin FoI'd the report, and summarised it thus:

‘road markings are faded and the crossing space is no longer clear'

‘it is notable just how aggressive vehicles are at this point’ 

‘auditors felt that casualties were inevitable...auditors felt that vehicle speeds should be reduced..the carriageway surface was uneven’ 

‘the key crossing location at the southern end of York way should be redesigned

The report called for ‘proper traffic calming measures’ and ‘enforcing/revising speed limits’ ... 'reduce traffic speeds around the junction by installing traffic calming measures'

So, in the TfL-commissioned report's words, Min Joo Lee's death was 'inevitable' given the existing layout, yet they did nothing about it.

It's not just TfL at fault however, it's also the labyrinthine system of bureacracy that means that different bits of this particular road system fall into the jurisdiction of TfL,  Camden Council and Islington Council.

Fragmentation of responsibility and the absence of integrated policy at a city-wide level mean changes to even very localised road systems can be impossible to manage given the need to coordinate between multiple organizations, fund from different budgets and fit to different political priorities, plans and electoral timeframes. The result is that solutions have to be designed within the bureaucratic and political constraints, and without cooperation between authorities that are often of different political colours, nothing can happen. That's one reason the Cycle Superhighways don't work well: TfL have planned them along roads they control, which are often not the most sensible cycle routes. It's the reason why the cycle facilities stop when you get to cycle-phobic Westminster. It's also why local councils can't put in pedestrian crossings to help people cross busy roads.

It's difficult to escape the conclusion that the system of control for maintaining London's roads is broken by design. However, TfL can't wriggle out of ultimate responsibility for the mess that King's Cross currently is, because they didn't even try to sort it out. And we know from Blackfriars Bridge that TfL care little for pedestrians or cyclists, so the current layout of King's Cross might be one they actually prefer.

UPDATE: There was a report on BBC London News this lunchtime from Tom Edwards covering this story. TfL responded with talk of revisions to the junction for the 2012 Olympics...which will take into account "the needs of all road users". That sounds uncannily similar to the TfL-speak that I and others got in response to letters about Blackfriars:

"the safety of the proposals were assessed from the perspective of all road users including cyclists"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The End of Growth?

One thing that both the Coalition Government and the Labour opposition have in common in terms of economic policy is the pursuit of growth (anyone remember what that is?), and the assumption that we'll somehow be able to grow our way out of the current mire. With the Government, it's the private sector that will magically take up the slack from public sector layoffs. With the opposition, it's more about stimulus - VAT cuts while still keeping half an eye on deficit reduction.

There are a few problems with that thinking. First, we've had no significant growth in the Western economies since the credit crunch, despite quantitative easing and Keynsian stimuli. Second, many economists are warning that there may be no meaningful growth for some years and that we're headed for a double-dip recession. Third, the growth that occurred prior to the credit crunch was in part fuelled by debt, meaning that the period of anaemic 'real' growth goes back further than headline growth figures suggest.

What exactly is economic growth? One definition is "the increasing capacity of the economy to satisfy the wants of its members. Economic growth is enabled by increases in productivity which lowers the inputs (labour, capital, material, energy, etc.) for a given amount of output. Lowered costs increase demand for goods and services."

Let's look at those enablers of growth for a second. Labour costs have been lowered over the past decade by the increasing relocation of labour-intensive work to low-wage economies. As countries like India and China develop, the cost of their labour will likely increase. Energy costs are also likely to increase, partly because of increased demand from emerging economies, and partly because of peak oil - the increasing cost of extracting oil, and the problem of supply being limited and starting to diminish. Material costs similarly will rise with increasing demand from emerging economies both for raw materials like copper. The cost of the ultimate raw material - food - will rise as the world population expands and as the emerging middle classes in China and elsewhere increasingly eat a meat-rich Western diet. The cost of capital is raised by the need to recapitalise the banks, and the banks' current unwillingness to lend.

That's set the scene. I hope I didn't scare you too much. I'm suggesting that even in the more optimistic scenarios that don't involve sovereign debt defaults or banks going bust, we're all going to have to tighten our belts and consume less for a good while. Indeed, former Prime Minister John Major said so recently on the Andrew Marr show. In very simple terms, in all likelihood we can't grow our way out of the current economic mess. Growth is at an end.  That means that the traditional assumption of goods and travel becoming cheaper and available in larger quantities to more and more people needs to be ditched, and instead we need to start planning on conservative stewardship of our resources and a retreat from consumerism.

So what are we going to consume less of? Everyone has to eat, pay rent or mortgage and heat their home, and cutting down in those areas will be tricky. Travel is one area where discretionary journeys can be cut down, and people can travel less by combining essential trips, working from home more, and so on. Where public transport is an option, people can go car-free, taking advantage of car clubs for trips that really do require a car. And of course, this being a cycling blog, you would expect me to suggest that people use bikes. Now, the important thing is, this is already starting to happen. Petrol and car sales are declining, and bike sales are increasing. But as usual the Government is behind the curve.

The transition to lower car use needs to be supported by policy. But current policy still has the built-in assumption that more and more people will be driving further and further. We're building more roads . The Government still aims to convert us from fossil-fuelled cars to electric cars that actually cost more to run, despite the abject failure of that policy so far. They also want us to increase our travel costs by driving at 80MPH! Meanwhile TfL are still trying to increase traffic flow rather than turn roadspace over to the increasing number of cyclists.

It's time politicians of all parties stopped reading the public bedtime stories about how everything will get back to normal and there'll be a happy ending, and start planning on people having to do more with less. A good place to start is by moving away from our increasingly-unaffordable dependency on cars.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Isn't politics strange! It didn't occur to me that the affair of Defence Secretary Liam Fox's ill-advised advisor/best man/lobbyist could turn out well for transport. Fox's departure has resulted Philip Hammond being reshuffled into Defence and Justine Greening being appointed Transport Scretary. Which surely has to be good news - no-one can be worse than Hammond...can they? A quick Google turns up very little past form on Greening. She's only been an MP since 2005, and her website lists campaigns against Heathrow expansion and on improving the District Line. So far so good. She's even met Wandsworth Cycling Campaign in passing, it seems. Will she prove as green as her name? At Cycalogical we're not counting any chickens (geddit?) just yet...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Walk to Work

The Government is suddenly concerned about the obesity crisis, and is suggesting we all walk to work. "The idea is to get off the bus or the Tube a couple of stops early and walk," said Anne Milton, Public Health Minister and former nurse. In other words, take your medicine, it's good for you, and don't complain about the nasty taste. If you work in London, you work in a city where most of the public space is specifically set up to benefit the least healthy forms of transport and discourage walking. Since Boris was elected, TfL has been busy re-timing traffic lights and re-designing junctions to get as much traffic flowing as possible and getting pedestrians out of the goddarned way. The capital's pavements are often narrow and crowded, and you're walking next to noisy, fast-moving traffic - hardly a pleasant experience. As an additional disincentive, London is one of Europe's most polluted cities, as a result of a long-standing reluctance to tackle emissions standards and traffic levels. In fact, walking in London is often so unpleasant you'll be wanting a large cappucino and a doughnut to cheer yourself up when you arrive.

Walking is a fine thing, but I suspect the Government don't have much idea of the real world of commuting. Walking is slow. Walking for a mile or two will make your journey take considerably longer, and with a public transport system that's dogged by delays, many commuters can't afford the extra time. Also, while walking is better than sitting down, it's also not the best way to burn calories.

I wonder why Anne Milton isn't pushing cycling instead? Cycling is a lot quicker than walking, it's quicker than public transport for a lot of journeys, and will save you money, which walking won't in most cases. Cycling a 5-mile journey will burn a lot more calories than taking the tube for 4 miles and then walking the remainder. But once again, it's the conditions of the public realm that put people off. Roads are set up for motor vehicles, and cyclists and their safety is an afterthought, if it's thought of at all.

One of Cameron's big ideas was to set up a 'nudge' unit to try to make things like exercise and healthy eating an easy choice. The fact is that London, along with most other UK cities, is set up to 'nudge' people the other way. It's all very well for Anne Milton to say "Londoners need to take responsibility [for getting more excercise]". It's about time the Government took responsibility and started creating the conditions in which active travel becomes the default choice for shorter journeys. The economic benefits of a healthier population will far outweigh the costs of the infrastructure. It's been done in Holland, so it can be done here, given the political will.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Decline of the Car - Again

The mainstream press have been turning out more articles about the fact that the British, and Londoners in particular are driving less, and fewer of us have licenses. Andrew Neather is the latest, in the Standard. Cycalogical picked up the story in May from an Independent article.

There's more evidence just lately: various sources report petrol sales declining by 15% since the credit crunch, and more gloomy news from the car industry that September sales were down 0.8% on the same period in 2010 - which was itself hardly a vintage year. Crucially demand from private buyers fell 9.3 per cent. On the other hand Halfords, one of the few businesses to have a horse in both races, reported a decline in car-related business being compensated by robust bike sales.

And it ain't about to end any time soon. Although oil prices have taken a battering just recently, approaching the $100/bbl level earlier in the week before ending just over $106 today, the dollar has been rising in value which will negate some of the benefit to UK consumers. And the most optimistic scenario for the world economy seems to be low growth for some years, while the worst-case is complete armageddon, so consumers are unlikely to rediscover their profligate pre-recession spending habits for a while.

 So the question seems to be, how long will the Tories persist in gearing their transport policy around the motor car, if more and more people are looking for lower-cost ways of travelling?

Greenwich Cable Car

The BBC reports that the estimated construction costs of the Thames cable car have been revised. Again. Upwards. The estimate has gone from £25M initially to £60M, and it will be paid for partially out of the rail budget.

It occurred to me that the point of this cable car is rather unclear. If it's being paid for out of the rail budget, then it must be a transport project, and on that basis it must stand comparison with other transport projects costing £60M. On the other hand, if it's simply a tourist attraction, then why is it being paid for out of our already stretched transport budgets?

To pass muster as a transport project, it has to deliver as many people as possible as fast as possible where there is demand for travel. The fares need to be reasonable, and you need connectivity.

I'm not an expert on cable cars, but a bit of googling indicates it's not the fastest mode of transport (gasp!). The world's longest cable car system, in Vietnam, achieves an average speed of around 20km/h over about 5km. The Thames cable car will run from North Greenwich to Royal Victoria Dock. That'll be handy if you live in North Greenwich and work near the Royal Victoria Dock, or vice versa, but it seems a safe bet that there's not a huge market for that particular journey. Will it be any use for other journeys? It seems unlikely. For any other journey you will end up changing at one or both ends, and the Jubilee Line stops at North Greenwich and crosses the river nearby giving a faster, better-connected option. I suspect there are very few journeys that will be faster given that the cable car run is a slow 1 km plus a walk at either end. On the other hand, the view will be better. That brings us onto the tourist attraction aspect. For tourism, you can set the fares rather higher, but for regular transport you can't charge much more than the cost of a bus fare for such a short journey, given the presence of alternatives. If the cable car is going to attract more tourists than people using it as transportation, which I expect it will, should it be subsidized or paid for out of transport budgets?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Another Cyclist Death

Another woman, another HGV. Rest in peace.

It seems that the details were so horrific that the original Standard report has been redacted and is now a succinct statement of her name and the location of the collision. The original said "witnesses tell of haunting images". There's a bit more here.

She is the 13th victim this year, and we're barely into the dark evenings. Statistically it's impossible to say if London is really becoming more dangerous for cyclists because there have always been considerable variations in deaths from year to year. However, it is possible to say that it isn't getting any safer, because TfL are doing nothing about redesigning dangerous junctions so that HGVs can't run over cyclists as appears to have happened in this case. Instead, they are trying to push more traffic through the Capital's streets, by cramming more lanes in (see the Blackfriars redesign for an example of this).

They are also altering traffic light timings. I've observed the danger of this recently at both Trafalgar Square and Lambeth Bridge (south side), which are both light-controlled roundabouts. The light timings are such that you regularly see vehicles coming round from your right even if the lights are green in your favour. This is partly because when the lights go red, the leading vehicle, and even the vehicle behind, often jumps the light. But it's also because TfL are so obsessed about getting as much traffic through the junction as possible they don't leave enough time for vehicles to clear when the lights change. This is particularly problematic for cyclists, because you will normally be at the front of the traffic queue in the advance stop box (if it's not occupied by taxis or motorcycles), and your safety relies on your ability to get away quickly in front of the general traffic and through the junction without getting overtaken, undertaken or cut up. If there are vehicles failing to give way, you have no choice but to cede passage, whereas larger vehicles can be more aggressive. The result is often you get sandwiched between vehicles entering the junction from two directions.

Multi-lane junctions roundabouts and gyratories are dangerous enough for cyclists by their very nature. Chuck in ASLs that are occupied by 4-wheelers, approach lanes that are blocked, as many lanes as possible, as much traffic moving as fast as possible regulated by super-aggressive lights phasing and you have a lethal cocktail of factors that are guaranteed to lead to tragedy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Westminster - Congestion and Growth

West End stores have called for a traffic ban in Oxford Street and Regent Street every Sunday, after seeing how well a similar scheme in Times Square has worked. The New York trial scheme has reportedly been so successful it has been made permanent and retail rents have soared along with visitor satisfaction.

Westminster Council have been playing around with the roads in the West End for a while now, returning some to two-way working and widening pavements, but it's all sticking-plaster stuff, and they remain full of traffic. That's because Westminster is ideologically opposed to doing anything effective about congestion or striking a balance between transport modes based on a vision of a city whose streets are attractive to visitors rather than simply attracting traffic jams.

Westminster Council's car keys will only be prised from their cold, dead hands. It doesn't matter that unrestricted driving is making shopping streets a place not to linger, or that it's increasing TfL's bus running costs and damaging bus journey times.

The Chair of the New West End Company, representing the retailers, said:

"Tackling these priorities could prove to be the deciding factor in the mayoral elections in May 2012. Other cities around the world have dealt with their traffic congestion. London can do the same."

Now isn't that interesting. Boris was elected on a ticket of tackling congestion by playing around with traffic light timings. It clearly hasn't worked too well in the view of these retailers - and remember these are business people, not environmental campaigners. It's time the Tories were honest with the public: the price of unrestricted car use is congestion. If you're not prepared to treat roadspace as a valuable resource that needs to be conserved and used sensibly and productively, the result is unpredictable journey times and streets where people don't want to be. Businesses increasingly understand that. It's time the Tories did too.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

80MPH Limit

Philip Hammond's crowd-pleaser for the Tory conference is a proposal to raise the motorway limit to 80MPH.

"the motorway speed limit nearly 50 years old, and out of date thanks to huge advances in safety and motoring technology"

Unfortunately drivers abilities or reaction times haven't advanced much, and the laws of physics haven't changed. If you raise the limit to 80MPH, those drivers who are doing 80 today will be doing 90 instead. That's 30MPH more than that HGV that just pulled out into the middle lane...oops! Hammond had previously indicated that the 80MPH limit would be rigorously enforced, but somehow I can't see that lasting long, especially with the Government's police cuts and war on speed cameras.

"Increasing the motorway speed limit to 80mph would generate economic benefits of hundreds of millions of pounds through shorter journey times. So we will consult later this year on raising the limit to get Britain moving."

Let's see if we can tease out the flaws in that argument. Businesses value predictability of journeys rather than duration. HGVs will still presumably be doing 60MPH, so they won't benefit from the higher limit. But a lot of congestion is due to collisions. A higher limit will likely mean more collisions, and collisions between faster-moving vehicles will tend to be more severe. So any economic benefits from some faster journeys may be neutralised by increased congestion, less predictable journeys and the costs of more casualties.

Even ignoring collision-related congestion, faster journeys won't necessarily result from a higher limit. It may simply mean that drivers get to the next bottleneck quicker and spend more time queueing. That after all is why the M25 variable speed limit works - if people drive slower, they actually travel quicker. Traffic flow may suffer from the increased speed differential between vehicles - drivers wishing to pull out into another lane will have to allow a bigger gap, and drivers will need to keep a greater distance behind the car in front to be able to stop safely (something not all drivers bother much about). If the prospect of faster journeys attracts more drivers, that will mean more congestion.

Then of course there are the environmental considerations. Higher speeds mean considerably higher emissions. Philip Hammond pointed out on BBC TV news that transport emissions must be reduced but there's more than one way to do that - and suggested that rolling out ultra-low-emission cars would solve the problem. Maybe he's not been reading this blog, which has pointed out that the public are for good reasons about as enthusiastic about electric cars as the Pope is about gay marriage. And an 80MPH limit would actually make electric cars less attractive, as 80MPH in an electric vehicle will drain the battery faster than you can say 'lithium ion technology'. It's those outdated laws of physics again, you see. Maybe Philip Hammond should change them, which should be easy enough as he seems to spend a lot of time in fantasy-land.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Reduce Congestion

Here's a poser. You have to reduce traffic congestion, but you're not allowed to build any roads or introduce road pricing. That's the question that's been asked of the all-party Commons Transport Committee. Let's see what they've come up with.

But first, a couple of thoughts. Building roads generally leads to more congestion, not less, as removing one bottleneck makes driving easier and, quicker, attracting more motorists until the dynamic equilibrium of the system is restored and you're back where you started. So that won't work. Road pricing by contrast seems to be the one solution that experts agree would ease congestion. It's only politicians that don't fancy their chances in convincing the electorate, which is why they've kicked it into the long grass.

The first idea the MPs have put forward is a tougher driving test.

"The overwhelming view from the evidence we received was that aspects of poor road user behaviour led to increased directly causing incidents and accidents, often linked to safety issues; and secondly, by inappropriate road use, which is not necessarily unsafe, but which adversely affects the flow of traffic."

Quite right. Only problem is that if you make the driving test tougher, you don't tackle the bad habits of existing drivers. Instead you make it harder - and therefore more expensive - for young people to get a license. On the one hand, this is grossly unfair on a generation who is expected to pay massively more for their education, for housing, and now will be able to get fewer jobs that require them to drive, thus adding to the already large percentage of them that are unemployed. On the other hand, in terms of outcomes it's a great idea. Transport habits are cemented at a young age, so giving young people who aren't on a footballer's wage no option but to take the bus or use a bike would be a good thing for congestion and for the environment. And young people (young men in particular) are in general dangerously crap drivers, concerned with impressing girls, recklessly exploring the outer limits of their cars handing and speed capabilities, and generally learning by trial and error. So the fewer there are of them behind a wheel the better.

So what about those older drivers who passed their test when it was as difficult as scratching your butt and know as much about the Highway Code as Wayne Rooney knows about Baroque counterpoint?

"The MPs said motorists did not always keep up with updates to road signs and the law after they had passed their tests."

No kidding? Astounding!

"Changes to the Highway Code could also be placed more clearly on the DVLA website when motorists renewed a driving licence and be included in a leaflet with tax disk or licence renewal letters... "

I can see that going straight in the recycling...

"A free Highway Code mobile phone application is another way standards could be improved."

What, like Angry Birds?

Sorry, but improving your driving takes time, effort and commitment, and most people think their driving is good enough thanks very much and have no aspiration to make it better. The only thing that will change that, I suggest, is financial incentives and other rewards. For example, an advanced driving test, with the study and examination fees subsidized. An advanced test would likely lead to lower insurance premiums, and the Government could require professional drivers working in the public sector and all its suppliers to hold the new qualification. Other incentives such as the right to use the outside lane on motorways, differential speed limits (i.e. non-advanced drivers limited to 60MPH), and so on could be extended to advanced drivers.

Another suggestion the MPs made was this:

"the government to publish an assessment of traffic flow on the M4 in London since the bus lane was scrapped last November...the bus lane should be reinstated if evidence showed that, taking into account all travellers, it contributed to faster traffic movement."

About a year ago I predicted that closing the M4 bus lane would make journey times worse.

Roads Minister Mike Penning said "We will consider the committee's report carefully and respond in full in due course." We can't wait!

Friday, September 23, 2011


I got a lovely email from Boris Johnson today, informing me of his new initiative to tackle badly-managed roadworks, including a website where you can snitch on the contractors that are making your life hell.
He says (with grammar not befitting a journalist):

I have just introduced new, tighter standards for roadworks and making it easier for you to tell us when you spot sloppy examples so we can take action to sort it out. You can report sites that don’t come up to scratch at

This rather smacks of the failed 'cones hotline' from the 1990s, and it's a rather desperate last throw of the dice by a Mayor that promised to sort out roadworks and, like everyone before him, has found out that actually doing it is a lot harder than talking about it. But at least it's a pleasant surprise to see that TfL have actually considered pedestrians and cyclists: the blurb at the website pledges that roadworks should:

Be tidy and safe with a clutter-free site so it is safe for pedestrians, cyclists and other road users 
Take up as little road/pavement space as possible with a compact working area and eliminating the unnecessary use of cones, safety barriers and storage of materials 

Crikey. It's a bit of a shame that TfL's own roadworks don't come up to scratch rather too often. I wonder if TfL are aware of how much contractors rely on cycle lanes as a repository for signs, cones and materials. They're probably expecting the website to get most of its traffic from taxi drivers and other important road-users, rather than troublesome cyclists whose journeys don't really matter. Browsers at the ready, folks!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Today's serious collisions

Two crashes involving cyclists and large vehicles today, a bus and a refuse truck, at two of the most dangerous locations in London.

Reports say the first was at Vauxhall Bridge, and involved a cycle courier being rear-ended by an HGV. Police closed roads for investigation purposes (causing widespread chaos) which indicates it was serious, and the victim was initially described as in a critical condition.

The second was at Aldwych, where reportedly a cyclist undertook a bus that was pulling into a stop. The injuries were described as 'life-changing'.

What these locations have in common is  large, multi-lane road system with relatively high traffic speeds and vehicles jostling for position - and poor provision for cycles. At Vauxhall, there is some off-carriageway provision but it's fairly unsatisfactory - you can end up in conflict with pedestrians as there really isn't enough space allocated to pedestrians and cyclists, and there are many crossings which make your transit a frustratingly slow experience.

Aldwych has a toxic mix of a one-way set-up, between three and five lanes, a bizarre taxi rank right in the middle, and four roads on the left. With all the roads leading onto it, the many lanes and the bus stops, vehicles are always changing lanes. Speeds can be high, and there really is no safe line for a cyclist, and no cycling provision whatsoever.

You might choose to draw your own parallels between these locations and the new, redesigned Blackfriars Bridge.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cycling is Fashionable

Well, judging by the new Debenhams advert, which contains 10 seconds of jolly-fun-looking flowery Pashley-type action in a 40-second ad. No helmets, lycra or sweaty armpits in sight.

Friday, September 16, 2011

National Planning Policy Framework

I was going to write a post lambasting the government's latest U-turn-in-the-making, the National Planning Policy Framework. But the Telegraph (along with countless others from right across the political spectrum) has already done a pretty good job, pointing out that with weak planning laws the UK could end up with urban sprawl like Ireland or Los Angeles.

And with urban sprawl you get more car-dependency because public transport doesn't work with low-density housing. It's bad enough in subsurban areas like Merton.

Paradoxically, it's car dependency that also eats up prime development land in towns and cities. In central Wimbledon there are two large Council-run car parks, plus ones at Centre Court and Sainsburys. The council car parks would be worth millions as development sites, and could provide housing located ideally for the town's public transport links.

The other effect is car-dependency creates areas where people don't want to live. Busy roads not only consume land for the carriageway, they also form a blighted corridor where noise, road danger and pollution mean people don't want to live or shop there. That's why the urban motorway of central Morden is such ghost town.

Yet a lot of the time car parking isn't even used. Above is a picture of the Kenley Road car park in Morden, taken on a Monday lunchtime. A handful of cars. Yet the council, rather than looking at under-used assets like this, want to extend Dundonald School onto a much-loved local park (Dundonald Recreation Ground), into the teeth of local opposition, in an area hardly blessed with a surfeit of green space.

Councils and the government need to wake up to the fact that there is usable urban land, but it can't be wasted on cars to the extent it is. It would be great if we lived in a country where there was plenty of cheap land and plenty of cheap oil, on a planet where a bit of CO2 would just warm things up nicely without causing extreme weather events, famines, and so on. Then we could build enough houses and lots of roads and drive everywhere. Unfortunately we live on a small, crowded island where land is in short supply, where oil is expensive, on a planet where climate change is a grave threat.

With that in mind, we have to ask ourselves whether we put housing first or cars first. Car parks do not pay their way in social terms, or even in terms of narrow economics: given the potential market value of a central Wimbledon plot, drivers are being massively subsidised.

The alternative is pretty simple. Communities that rely on public transport walking and cycling and less on cars enjoy a better local environment, have higher housing density yet feel less cramped and less urbanised, and are greener than car-oriented developments. Plus they are safer and healthier places because people get more excercise as part of daily life, and are exposed to less road danger and pollutants. They are also likely to be stronger communities.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wimbledon Station Redevelopment

Merton Council have an ongoing project to tart up the streets around the mainline station.

Let's be clear: this development was not undertaken to make Wimbledon cycle-friendly. Merton don't see cycling as a transport mode so it doesn't get much if any consideration in these kinds of schemes. That's why the revisions contain nothing for the less confident cyclist and won't attract new cyclists.  won't make it easier for local people to cycle to local shops, and anyone wanting to cycle with their kids to central Wimbledon won't find conditions improved. It would make a lot more sense when planning expensive street-scene  developments like this to take an holistic view of transport, and plan for the next 15 years - which is after all the duration of the LIP2, and a period in which Merton claim they hope to increase cycling. And 'hope' is the operative word - there's no strategy.

However, within the limited scope and terms of the station forecourt development, there are worthwhile improvements for active modes of travel - mainly pedestrians, but also for cycling. I hope with the above rant your expectations have been set at a low level, but you might want to lower them a couple of notches further just so you aren't too disappointed....

(Above) Cycling past the station towards Centre Court (south-east-bound), you notice the two narrow lanes that were there before have been reduced to one wider lane. There's no cycle lane marked, but it's a lot easier to filter and the traffic is likely to be slowed although TfL think there should be no.impact on traffic flow. There's a layby with parking spaces just past the station forecourt.

 (Above) In the other direction on the same piece of road, there's a central island, but the kerb is flush with the road surface and the island has a gentle camber, so this will enable you to cycle over it and filter past on the right-hand side of the queue of traffic. There's a kerb at the crossing however so you have to cut in at that point.
(Above) More of the same; the 'virtual island' enables you to overtake the queue on the right, and on the left at this point there's a lead-in lane. (below)

(Above) Continuing north-west up Wimbledon Hill Road, there's a single lane rather than the previous two lane arrangement (you can still see where the previous markings have been erased). Hopefully this setup will calm the traffic somewhat.

(Above) The cab rank has been moved to the side of the station together with the disabled bays...

(above) ...and the station forecourt has been completely pedestrianised, with a bank of sheffield stands on the left there, which on a Saturday was loaded with a full complement of bikes (below). In other words, there's not nearly enough of them.

What else? The pavements have been widened and there's going to be a diagonal crossing (Oxford Circus-style) at the Alexandra Road junction.

In summary, the new road layouts do make it a bit easier to get through this area of central Wimbledon on a bike, but you still have to be a confident cyclist. You've still got large volumes of fast-moving traffic going past you in close proximity. There's more chance of snow in hell than of more girls cycling along this road to get to the nearby Ricard's Lodge school. And bear in mind this might be the last major work done here in the period up to 2026, by which cycling should have increased 400% to meet the Mayor of London's decidedly under-ambitious target. What's more, Merton's LIP2 aims to more than triple cycling over 2010 levels by 2015. You might have spotted the disconnect between Merton talking a good game on cycling, and what they're doing on the ground...