Thursday, March 15, 2012

Where Did All the Money Go?

With £200M, you could make a serious difference to cycling in London. Hundreds of miles of segregated routes, safe junctions, the whole nine yards.


Well, it might surprise you to learn that Boris Johnson claims to have spent exactly that sum on "cycling safety of one kind or another" whilst in office.

Where did it all go? Even if you count the Cycle Superhighways that comes to nowhere near £200M. And they are so inadequate in terms of safety that although the blue paint has barely had time to dry, they are already subject to a safety review.  Johnson cancelled much of the remaining LCN+ work, and the CSHs to date have cost about £40M if memory serves. So what has he got to show for the other £160M? Cycling has got more dangerous over recent years, on an absolute and a per-trip basis, after a long downward trend in casualty figures (see here).

Boris has in the past accused Ken Livingstone of wasting money. In my book, Boris has wasted £200M. Not only has improved safety not been delivered in terms of casualty rates, the infrastructure doesn't feel any safer, and I'm really struggling to think of any improvements on the roads I ride that have been made in the last four years. Except the new layout of Lambeth Bridge, but that was done at the same time as the bridge was resurfaced, involved nothing more than different white lines, and therefore cost close to nothing if you don't count design costs. Well, closer to nothing than £160M, anyway.

Which leads me to one conclusion. Somewhere in London, there is a cycle lane that's paved with gold and studded with diamonds. Let me know if you see it.


  1. I readily accept that a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network developed to a minimum level of functioning, AS A FIRST STEP, is not going to do anything very much to minimise the risk of dangerous junctions, but at least such a network could be implemented quickly and cheaply. It would also provide a solid base from which to build for the future, and enhance the value of any flagship developments (as and when they get built, that is).

    Everyone keeps talking of Going Dutch (note the verb tense), and yet most people, apart from the boroughs, seem to regard doing as much as possible at least cost first as a sort of backward step. Not so. This approach is, says 'Cycling: the way ahead', "the prudent course to follow".

    In her book 'Car Sick: solutions for our car-addicted culture', Lynn Sloman makes the point that to begin with, "The focus of our attention should switch from a few grandiose engineering schemes to thousands of small initiatives." The existence of a network would obviously increase the effectiveness of each of these small initiatives "by the mutual consolidation of the various measures taken or features installed" (says 'Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities', under the header, Thinking in terms of a network).

    The point is also made here that, "the worst enemies of the bicycle in urban areas are not cars, but longheld prejudices." Those prejudices have much diminished over recent months, of course, but it does at least help to explain how TfL have been able to spend something like half-a-billion quid over the last ten years with almost nothing to show for it, a few thousand hire bikes notwithstanding.

    The case is, high-engineered solutions demand costly consultations. For this reason, no doubt, 'Cycling: the way ahead' "suggests some simple, inexpensive and popular measures which could be implemented immediately." Do we know better than they do that we can afford to ignore them, as though the experiences of the last ten years have taught us nothing at all?

  2. 200 million pounds is quite a lot of money. It's not far off what the Dutch would spent annually for London's population of 8 million (NL spends €487 million per year for a population of 16.5 million).

    One of the major money eaters in London is the bike hire scheme. Remember that this has eaten at least 140 million pounds, with little to show for it.

  3. A few of us got hold of an analysis of how the City of London spent its LCN grant money from TfL over a period of recent years, extracted from the papers presented to the City’s Planning & Transportation Committee and Streets & Walkways Subcommittee.

    What we found was that, in a general way, the budget had been divided into three roughly equal parts and sent off in three directions. Firstly, to men in hard hats with barrows of asphalt and tins of paint, about one third. Secondly, to independent consultants for various studies, about one third. (Independent? These consultancies only survive by the patronage of the local authorities!) Finally, to subsidise the overhead cost of the City’s own Planning and Highways departments, salaries etc, one third.

    In one year we found that in fact almost the entire budget had been spent on consultancy without a shovel being wielded in anger. Another year, we found that the entire budget had been spent on those concrete super-kerbs on Southwark Bridge, behind which lurk a couple of cycle lanes. Great, you think – a proper segregated cycle facility, except of course it had nothing really to do with cycling. The concrete blocks had to be that high because their true purpose was to narrow the road (and the kerbs clearly could not be mounted by a vehicle of any size), so that coaches could no longer park on the bridge, which is apparently not considered strong enough to support them. The cycle lanes were a purely incidental benefit, as can be clearly seen from the way you are chucked back into the lion’s den as soon as you emerge from the other ends.

    Whatever money has actually been spent on the road surface, even on smurf paint, it would be interesting to know how much of the £40m to date and £150m to completion is actually spent on engineering, and how much is spent on the usual coterie of consultant hangers-on which has exploded since the Blair years, or on propping up the occupants of the Palestra building.

  4. Paul Gasson wrote a brief history of the Camden Cycle Route Network in 1999, which is still available online. Talking about the current network status he writes:

    "In common with most boroughs, Camden Council maintains that an LCN route is implemented [only] when it has been through the design/consult/build phases.

    "This blind adherence to procedural bureaucracy instead of common sense led to an outcry from the Campaign during 1997/98 when the 1.5 km West Hampstead LCN route along Mill Lane was implemented at a total cost of [£x]. The facilities which actually appeared on the ground comprised 10 metres of advisory cycle lane and 3 metre section of mandatory lane in the centre of the road (to help cyclists negotiate a junction). 95% of the cost was acounted for by the consultant's fees and a public consultation ..."

    It has been suggested to me that developing a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network to a minimum level of functioning has been tried before, and shown not to work. As the above account makes clear, this is simply not true.

    The current LCC strategy demands that politicians and planners commit to having decent cycle facilities integrated into all future projects (as didn't happen at Blackfriars Bridge, for instance). This "strictly pragmatic and ad hoc approach" (to quote 'Cycling: the way ahead')would certainly help to keep costs reasonable, but it is possible to "go much further" than this, and for not a great deal of money.