Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ken Livingstone - Transport Policy - Cycling

This is the second in my series of posts looking at Ken Livingstone's transport policy document
and I'm looking at the implications for cycling. After all, this is a cycling blog...

Ken's previous terms as Mayor have seen money spent on cycling throughout London, but cycling has remained a niche transport mode particularly in outer London. Where I live, cycle provision is a mess. There are some great facilities, but they're not connected into a network. It's not possible for a child to cycle from my house to any of the nearby schools without encountering dangerous junctions and problematic traffic conditions. While this is as much the fault of the local Council and central government as it is the fault of Ken or Boris, in my view Ken has not historically had a vision that will create mass cycling by overcoming the safety fears of parents for their children or of inexperienced adult cyclists.

Boris's approach by contrast has focused cycling spending on his two high-profile schemes: cycle hire, which was first proposed by Ken, and Cycle Superhighways. While this seems to have met with some success mainly centred around central London, and it has generated lots of publicity, there's less money for outer London. Boris talks about a 'cycling revolution', but these schemes don't amount to anything that will generate significant amounts of new cyclists.

So, onto the detail:

"Our long term aim must be to continue to shift the balance of transport from cars to public transport and, with even more emphasis than in the past, to cycling and walking. In the context of the current financial situation, this is both the most cost-effective and environmentally responsible method of increasing transport capacity."

The questions here are how long-term and what level of shift? Boris's goal is a modest 5% modal share by 2026.

"I have been convinced for many years of the need for 20 mph to be the default speed limit in residential areas...20mph speed limits could also reduce cycling deaths and injuries. In a place like London where many trips involve crossing the river, bridges are the one place that cyclists can’t avoid the traffic. It is estimated that reducing the speed limit to 20mph on central London bridges would reduce casualties by a third."

This is a good idea, but 20MPH needs to be enforced for it to make a difference. And even with enforcement, there will still be enough aggressive driving to intimidate cyclists. Reducing casualties is a good thing, but it won't bring about a perceptible shift to cycling.

"I will work to make it possible for more children and their parents to walk and cycle to school – supporting ever more necessary moves to tackle childhood obesity."

You could argue that it's possible today for children to cycle to school, but they don't, partly because driving is also possible, and more convenient. To get kids to cycle to school, you need to deter driving them to school AND  take away the safety concerns that surround cycling.

"Cycling can help solve so many of the problems of the modern world ... and at relatively little cost to either government or the individual. Spending on cycling remains a tiny fraction of the Mayor’s transport budget. While money is short, cycling looks like an even better investment."

That sounds like a commitment to increasing cycling spending. Which is good, provided it's spent on the right things...

"Safety remains the critical barrier to more people taking up cycling, which is why schemes like the cycling ‘superhighways’ won’t work unless the difficult decisions are made that sort out dangerous junctions and stop vehicle parking along the routes."

All junctions are dangerous, albeit some more than others. Vehicle parking is also a serious safety issue, as are the bits where the blue lanes disappear altogether. However, just getting the casualty figures down isn't enough to get people to take up cycling. The route needs to be subjectively safe, which means that traffic needs to be  separated from the cyclist.Without measures, in the form of physical segregation, it's difficult to get a route that is what most non-cyclists or occasional cyclists regard as safe.

"And the next big obstacle to tackle is the provision of safe cycle parking...every major public building should have good cycle parking. I would also work with businesses to gain the same standard of cycling facilities in the private sector"

That's a good aim, although more than that is needed. To get people cycling to work you need changing/showering facilities, and to get more cycling in general, you need more cycle parking, and it needs to be secure. It's also essential that the police stop regarding cycle theft as not worth pursuing. There's been some success recently with the Cycle Taskforce, and this should be expanded.

"we have to focus on outer London...most of the potential for further increases in cycling will come in outer London"

"I want to expand the cycle hire scheme to every suburban town centre that wants it"

I'm not so sure about that one. I think every borough will want it (depending on who pays for it), and the problem then is the massive scale and therefore cost of the build-out. Central London has high demand, a lot of visitors who come in by train or tube, and a compact geography. Somewhere like Merton is very different: it's mainly residential. I could definitely see people using hire bikes to get from South Wimbledon tube to Wimbledon town centre, up to the village, or to Wimbledon Common, but how much demand is there? I think a decent, subjectively safe local cycle route network would be a better investment. 

"as well as creating a network of safe backstreet routes and good cycle parking in outer London"

Another issue is that backstreets are under the control of the local Council: there's the need to persuade them to do it, and do it right.

"I will aim to integrate the cycle hire scheme with the Oyster card"

This would simplify life, but at what cost? While it's a good idea, I wonder if the money would be better spent on something else. A lot depends on whether it's a software-only solution, or if all the docking stations will need an Oyster reader.

"I will make available relevant Transport for London data so that we see an explosion in smart phone apps for cyclists"

All good.

"And I would reverse Mayor Johnson’s short-sighted decision to cut ring-fenced funding for ‘greenways’ – safe cycling and walking paths along rivers, canals and parks, which are four-times more likely to get people cycling than cycle lanes on roads."

Absolutely critical. However, this should not just be a leisure network: it needs to be possible for people to cycle along a continuous network of off-road, segregated and very-low-traffic (i.e. subjectively safe) routes. That's the key to mass cycling.

"We need to put the shift from the car to public transport, walking and cycling back as the focus of what we do."

The $64,000 question is whether this actually means relegating traffic flow and parking into second place, behind subjective safety of cycle routes. What's most important in my view is that cycling isn't left in the hands of a motor-centric organization like TfL. The culture and the organizational dynamics are all wrong, and it has a history of failure. Ken needs to get in experts from countries that have succeeded in transforming cycling into a mainstream transport mode. The other challenge will be working with boroughs. Enlightened boroughs may go along with this approach, should Ken choose to take it, but there's a danger we end up with a patchwork quilt where some boroughs have an excellent, safe cycling network and others don't. There's a limit to how much commitment Ken can give at a manifesto level without the 'war on the motorist' charge being raised. However, one good thing Boris has done is to put cycling centre-stage, so the political environment for cycling is probably as benign as it's ever been.

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