Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gearing Up

Gearing Up is the title of the London Assembly's investigation into safer cycling in London.

This has been generally well received by the cycling blogosphere: Cyclists in the City described it as "compelling reading...packed with common sense and with the facts and data to back up that common sense".

Cycalogical broadly agrees that it's a useful document, well-researched and showing that at least some London politicians finally 'get it'. But it's just paper and ink...or bytes, if you read the PDF version. And the first thing you need to know about this report is it has very little relevance in the real world. That's because the London Assembly has very little relevance. It has no actual powers, beyond the ability to produce reports like this one and to ask questions of the Mayor. It has no real ability to force the Mayor to do anything, or to prevent him from doing anything, except with regard to the budget and certain strategies, and even then a two-thirds majority is needed. In the words of Andrew Boff AM, “The Assembly’s job, to hold the Mayor to account and raise issues of interest to Londoners, is all very worthy, but largely futile."

I'm not going to dissect the whole report here, because there's nothing actually groundbreaking in terms of concepts. It's all stuff you could have read on this blog and others for years. Instead let's look at what the Assembly are recommending, and focus on the recommendations directly related to infrastructure.

"The Mayor should establish a new target for cycling in his 2020 Vision statement due in December 2012. In the statement, he should bring forward his target of 5 per cent cycling modal share from 2026 to 2020. He should also establish a new target of 10 per cent cycling modal share by 2026 to reflect the Mayor’s ambition to create a ‘cycling revolution’ in London."

Yeah right. But the point is action, not targets. Targets are as pointless as words like "cycling revolution",  if you can't meet them, and the proven ways of increasing cycling modal share are:
a) decent, subjectively safe infrastructure;
b) crashing the economy into the ground and raising transport fares so people can't afford to get around any other way.
So one box ticked then. Onwards...

"The Mayor should appoint a Cycling Commissioner to champion cycling and realise his target to increase cycling. The Cycling Commissioner should be responsible for the publication of a biennial London Bicycle Account to inform Londoners of what TfL is doing to improve cycle safety, increase investment in cycling, and encourage more Londoners to cycle."

Not a bad idea to have singularity of leadership. Or to have more accountability. But without real power to force local boroughs like Westminster to do things, or a real budget, or the will, knowledge and ability to force TfL out of their time capsule when it comes to road design, will the Commissioner really achieve anything?

"Doubling the amount of funding for cycling"

There is a lot of talk in the report about how much money is spent on cycling. But the report fails to identify the incredibly lousy value for money we get from what is currently invested. The report acknowledges that London's cycling spend is half that of the Netherlands, but doesn't link that to the fact that London has about  tenth of the cycle journeys. Therefore our windmill-loving, tulip-growing Continental neighbours enjoy five times better value for their money. In fact - almost unbelievably in these straitened times -neither the word "value" nor the phrase "value for money" occurs anywhere in the main report. I don't know what the Tory members were doing when this report was being written - after all, they style themselves as the defender of the poor old taxpayer. Maybe they were quietly snoozing at the back?
There is no point in doubling the spend, if it just doubles the amount of crap, narrow, advisory lanes that quit when the going gets tough. There's no point in doubling the number of superficial road makeovers on which cyclists continue to be injured. There's no point in doubling the number of reports written about cycling, or doubling the number of advance-stop-boxes full of motor vehicles. We need more money, but we must recognize what we shouldn't be spending money on, as well as what we should be spending money on. In other words, we need a vision.

"Consider the case for a dedicated cycling fund as part of the Local Implementation Plan (LIP) process. This fund could be matched by boroughs."

Well it is certainly true, as was predicted by this blog waaay back in 2010, that getting rid of ring-fenced funding for cycling has been disastrous. But it is also true that most boroughs are utterly ineffective at creating worthwhile, value-for-money cycle schemes. The last thing we should be doing is giving boroughs any money without telling them exactly what they must do with it. There needs to be a single, London-wide vision of a network of quality, subjectively safe, Continental-style infrastruture, and not a penny should be spent on schemes that are not aligned with that vision.

"The junction review should be able to demonstrate substantial and innovative changes to the space and protection given to cyclists at the junctions. The changes should take account of best practice in Denmark and the Netherlands, and be in line with the Mayor’s commitment to Love London Go Dutch."

No argument with that. However the report fails to point out something this blog recently said: there is little point in having quality junctions that don't have decent links between them. Isolated spot treatments are not part of Continental best practice, for the very good reason that a route is only as safe as its most dangerous part. And it's got to feel safe to attract people who don't currently cycle because of fear of traffic. Busy roads with pinch-points, multiple traffic lanes and the odd narrow advisory lane punctuated frequently by parking bays will sound familiar to anyone who currently cycles in London, and simply don't hit the mark.

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

Maybe we should keep one or two, just so we don't forget why we got rid of them.

"Mayor and TfL should examine the case for introducing 20mph limits at more junctions."

Pointless if unenforced. Traffic police in London are more endangered than polar bears...and with the Coalition going cold (geddit?) on speed cameras, a 20MPH limit is about as effective an ashtray on a motorbike. The report does ask TfL to report on how 20MPH is to be enforced, but it doesn't make any recommendation.

"Review TfL’s use of traffic modelling to judge the effect that protected space for cyclists would have on cycling and other traffic."

But the point is not to model the status quo. We know from international experience that people adapt their travel habits to what's convenient and available. To develop policy, we should be using an holistic model of a 21st century city. We should be modelling public health and quality of life, and pollution, and noise, and community cohesion, and road danger, as well as traffic, in the knowledge that London's economic success depends on being a city people want to live, work and play in. Historically, roads policy has been determined as if London's sole purpose was to shift as much motor traffic as possible as fast as possible, and that is wrong. The report does touch on some of these issues, but the Assembly has failed to make a clear recommendation that will stop traffic modelling being used to obstruct safety.

"The Mayor’s Roads Task Force should identify locations where TfL could pilot temporary protected cycle routes in 2013. It should draw on lessons from trialling changes to road layouts in New York and operation of the Games Lanes during London 2012."

We don't need to pilot anything. Quality cycle infrastructure has been done before in other cities. There is nothing new that needs to be trialled or evaluated. There is no merit to doing anything temporary - this will just waste time and money. While we do nothing, people die - both in collisions and as a consequence of a sedentary lifestyle. The point is to change London into a cycle-friendly city as quickly as possible.

"Mayor and TfL should publish the revised London Cycle Design Standards by February 2013. The revised standards should include the Love London Go Dutch design principles"

The report alludes to the fact that the current standards are not standards at all, but guidelines that are frequently ignored by highway engineers who are following a different agenda. There is no point in having standards that are not mandated, whether they contain Dutch principles or not. The standards need to be part of an overall vision.

"The Mayor and TfL should provide the Committee with information on the cycling infrastructure measures it is reviewing in the International Benchmarking exercise by February 2013."

If you're wondering what the benchmarking exercise is, it is comparing London infrastructure with Copenhagen. Stop laughing. Anyone who cycles in London doesn't need a benchmarking exercise to tell them how crap it is.

"The Mayor and TfL should report to the Committee by February 2013 on TfL’s plans for the Mayor’s proposal for a new east-west route. The Mayor and TfL should provide details on the proposed length and location of the route, how it will be built to Go Dutch standards, the timetable for construction, and estimated costs."

I refer you to my previous post on this subject.

"The Department for Transport (DfT) should introduce legislative changes to traffic regulations to enable TfL to use new cycle safety solutions. TfL should also write to the DfT to renew the case for transport authorities to install internationally-proven cycle safety measures."

It's interesting that David Cameron recently accused Whitehall officials of being 'risk-averse'.Not when it comes to cyclists. They are quite happy to see immense risks being heaped on riders if it means the DfT don't have to get up off their backsides. The idea that we need to have trials of measures that have been proven to work for decades on the Continent is ridiculous, when you think the alternative is the lethal cocktail of car-centric regulations and road design we have today. The DfT probably wouldn't call the fire brigade if their house was burning down, because they're more worried about their curtains getting water damaged.

 In summary, the Report makes a lot of valid points and represents a shift towards the vision of a cycle-friendly city that this blog has been campaigning for. But its recommendations are too circumspect, and it fails to make the crucial point that cycle infrastructure is not about spot treatments and standards and isolated interventions: we need to start by defining the desired end-state: something like the successful Continental cities, where motor traffic flow isn't an issue because people get around by bike as much as possible. Given that vision, you take steps towards it, building individual routes up to the required standard. There will be some pain along the way as people adjust and change transport mode, but not as much collective pain as thousands of people watching thousands of loved one die of preventable diseases caused by pollution and inactivity.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Super Duper Corridor

If Boris generated as many decent cycle routes as he does headlines, we'd all be a lot happier. This blog called his cycle lanes in the sky proposal for the BS it is back in September. In that same post, I made the rather rash claim that:

"If there's one thing the Olympics has proved is that London's road network can carry essential traffic plus lots of extra Olympics cars and still be fairly empty. In other words, TfL's standard excuse for doing nothing for cyclists - that every motor journey is essential and traffic flow is paramount - has been shown to be a lie."

Keep a browser tab open on that post; I shall refer back to it in a minute. Meanwhile, the Standard reports TfL head honcho of surface transport Garrett Emerson as saying:

“Potentially there are things you can do to change the road physically and the lesson from the Olympics is you can make an appreciable difference to demand by asking people to use the network differently such as changing times they travel.” 

I wonder if Gazza has been secretly reading this blog? Well maybe so, because the Standard article also talks about creating a cycle route - sorry, "Super Corridor" - along Embankment:

 "A radical plan to create an east-to-west cycle corridor within four years — inspired by road-use innovations during the Olympics — will be included in the Mayor’s “Cycle Vision” strategy, to be published this month."

Now flip back to your browser tab with my other post in, and you'll see I asked:

" where could you put segregated lanes at street level on London's busy streets, where we are continually assured there is no space?

How about here, on Victoria Embankment?... there is a wide central reservation, whose main purpose is to enable motorists to exceed the 30MPH speed limit in safety. Reallocate that space and you have a decent cycle lane.The road also has parking for coaches, which could quite easily be reallocated to nearby streets - there are plenty that are wide enough. This embarrassment of under-used and misallocated space runs all the way from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge and would yield plenty of room for a good segregated lane,  even without reducing the number of  general traffic lanes.  Why doesn't Boris do this? Perhaps because it's a lot more boring than putting cycle lanes in the sky?"

So this "Super Corridor"is potentially a rare piece of good news. It is also a predictable piece of deja vue...a cycle lane was recently added to the Embankment, but it is the usual intermittent, advisory crap, liberally sprinkled with parking bays and with 2 lanes of speeding HGVs in unpleasantly close proximity. When will TfL realise that it's cheaper to get it right first time? (Or is this a City Hall job creation scheme?)

The question, as with the Junction Review, is whether this new "Super Corridor" is more than a marginal improvement. To be so, it needs to be a properly segregated, Dutch-style effort. Will such a commitment be in the "Cycle Vsion"? I'll keep the champagne on ice. Meanwhile it's worth pointing out that making the Embankment safer won't solve the problem that is Westminster Council. Until they are forced by central government to take cycling seriously, anything TfL do will have decidedly limited effect.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review of the Junction Review

Cast your mind back to about this time last year. Two cyclists were killed at the Bow Roundabout, and in response to the ensuing protest, TfL announced a review of London's most dangerous junctions.

Ever since then, the gap between the aspiration for a transformation in the quality of London's cycle infrastructure and TfL's actions has been growing. Kulveer Ranger's promise:

"The Mayor’s desire is that reviewing these junctions leads to a step change in the way engineers think when planning road layouts",

is looking more and more broken by the day.

The original Bow Roundabout improvements showed TfL were at least trying, although the result was at best a partial success, no thanks to the DfT's red tape that requires all signals - including those exclusively for cyclists -  to be full-height, leading to a confusing Blackpool-illumination-like forest of similar-looking lights.

Subsequent junction review plans have been looking less and less ambitious and more and more like TfL returning to its discredited strategy of putting traffic flow before safety, and cyclists a distant third behind motorists and pedestrians.

I commented recently on the plans for the Millbank Roundabout, which was summed up by Dr Rachel Aldred of Westminster University Department of Planning and Transport thus: "Cyclists using the road will have less space than at present...however, cyclists using the pavement facility may... come into conflict with pedestrians, and experience problems crossing using the zebras, including conflict with motor vehicles."  Hardly a ringing endorsement.

The proposal for the Tower Bridge Road /Abbey Street junction involves banning the left turn into Abbey Street (except for cycles). However, the diversion to avoid the banned left turn takes motor traffic down Bermondsey Street, which is guess what...an LCN route. So the traffic that can no longer left-hook cyclists at Tower Bridge Road/Abbey Street junction will just come into conflict with more cyclists on Bermondsey Street. And both roads are wide enough to accomodate segregated paths, which of course aren't on offer despite evidence from every developed country that this is the only approach to cycling infrastructure that actually works .

TfL's plans for London Road, Morden, while not part of the junction review, are equally disappointing. On-road parking bays continue to obstruct cycle lanes, at other places lanes run between parked cars and fast-moving traffic, and the cycle lanes themselves are only provided "where possible" - which in practice means no cycle facilities at all where the hazards are worst.

Finally, the IMAX roundabout plans do little to ameliorate one of the most dangerous places in London for cycling. The roundabout is still an old-style deathtrap, although one lane has been removed leading into York Road. That won't stop vehicles continuing to weave between the multiple lanes at high speed. Neither will the nominal 20MPH speed limit due in 2013: we all know that won't be enforced and without traffic calming, speeds will stay exactly as they are today. The cycle lanes are still only advisory, and could encourage cyclists to get into the wrong position on the road. This is only an interim proposal, but even bearing this in mind, it's under-ambitious. Why not provide a continuous, mandatory cycle lane all the way from Waterloo Road into York Road?

One thing is for sure: the only way any of these half-baked excuses for redesigns will save any lives is by keeping the roads intimidating enough to scare people away from cycling. And they will consequently cost many more lives as people retreat further into sedentary lifestyles. And there'll be just as much congestion and pollution on the roads as ever before.

Consequently, each and every one of these schemes is a monumental waste of taxpayers' money. There is little point in investing money in facilities that only appeal to existing cyclists. That is because the target market is small, so the investment cost per journey is high - and there's few new journeys being added. As CambridgeCyclist puts it:

"Why spend money on facilities to encourage me to do something I'm doing anyway? I'm not the target audience for such facilities; you won't increase cycling modal share by being nice to me. You'd have to physically bar me from the roads to keep me from riding on them."

These redesigns don't significantly improve safety at junctions, and the links between the junctions remain as intimidating as ever. Given the shortage of money, we need to be getting road design right for at least the next 10 years. Remember why the junction review is happening: having created the Cycle Superhighways, which consisted of blue paint and very few actual safety improvements, it became clear within less than 2 years that they weren't fit for purpose. Now TfL are spending yet more taxpayers' money reviewing junctions they should have got right in the first place. Yet they are clearly in danger of repeating the same mistake of trying to design safety improvements around the extremely limiting constraints of existing motor traffic flow. It didn't work last time, and it won't work this time. Cyclists will still die and be injured in significant numbers on the redesigned routes. Many more will die due to lack of exercise and due to air pollution caused by motor traffic. London will continue to suffer the economic blight of congestion, and the blight on communities of road danger caused by too much traffic. To be fair, TfL are now saying things like "changes would cause some increase in queuing"  and removing traffic lanes, which we would not have seen before. This is to be applauded, but it's not enough to cause any significant modal shift to cycling. TfL are changing, but at a glacial pace. Meanwhile, more and more people are finding themselves in transport poverty, unable to run a car but having no affordable alternative. TfL need to react to the changes in the economy by opening up cycling to a wider cross-section of society, because cycling is the most affordable transport mode. Currently for most people, cycling simply isn't an option, perceived as being only for the fit and the brave.

Two years ago, I posted about how New York was starting to take cycling seriously. Cyclists in the City reported recently how decent bike lanes are transforming that city:

"1st and 2nd Avenues 'bike ridership' is up a whopping 177% since the protected bike lanes went in. 'Injury crashes" are down 37% in the same period on these streets, down 35 and 58%, respectively on 8th and 9th Avenue...retail sales along the protected bike lane on 9th Avenue are up 49% compared to before the bike lane went in.' "

For a city in the USA, the most car-dependent nation in the world, to be embarrassing London in terms of the quality of its cycling infrastructure is the most damning indictment of TfL policy imaginable.