Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How to Fix the Northern Line

I have a friend John (not his real name) who has a bike (or had, until it got nicked a few months back). He's talked in the past about cycling to work but never quite got round to it.

John lives in Tooting. A couple of weeks back, he was walking back from the tube station, and happened upon the aftermath of a cycle collision, on CSH#7. An ambulance was in attendance. "The guy wasn't moving", he told me. "It didn't look good".

John is exactly the kind of person TfL are desperately trying to encourage to get on a bike to relieve congestion on the Northern Line. The BBC reported "Travellers are being asked to avoid getting on the Northern Line between Tooting Bec and Clapham North between 0800 GMT and 0845."  They are advised to walk or cycle instead.

Unfortunately for TfL, their advice to cycle might be heeded more if they hadn't made such a mess of implementing CSH#7 - which closely follows the Northern Line for much of its route. CSH#7 is exactly the wrong way to encourage anyone to cycle: almost everyone I know who uses CSH#7 has witnessed a collision on it.

CSH#7 follows the same basic design principles as the first phase of CSH#2, recently described "as an accident waiting to happen". Those principles can be summed up as follows. "Paint a blue stripe, and don't worry too much about major or minor junction safety, and don't do anything that might impact car parking or traffic flow. (Motor traffic,of course, is there any other kind?)"

The cheapest way to increase Northern Line capacity is to get people off it and onto other transport modes. Unfortunately, the most obvious alternative - buses - are already creaking at the seams. Val Shawcross wrote in the Guardian:

"Over the past 10 years, London's population grew by 80,000 a year and the number of bus kilometres by 109m. But over the coming decade, the population is forecast to grow by 100,000 a year while bus kilometres covered will increase by just 20m. This means more overcrowding on buses, and more people left behind at bus stops. London's buses are already frequently overcrowded. A quarter of those responding to our passenger survey said their bus was overcrowded and yet TfL has no plans to significantly increase services."

The underlying problems are twofold:
1. Failure to manage road congestion. Congestion slows down buses, making them an unattractive, slow, unreliable option, and forcing people to take the tube.
2. Failure to prioritize cycle safety. Failure to prioritize cycle safety ensures that most people don't consider cycling as a transport option.

What this all boils down to is that on the roads, TfL treats every road journey with equal priority: the least necessary journeys and the least efficient transport modes in terms of passengers per square metre of roadspace (private cars and taxis) have the same priority as the most important journeys and the most efficient modes. In the congestion charge zone the incentives are a little more logical but the fact that taxis and private hire vehicles are exempt from the congestion charge means that those vehicles are prevalent, and congestion is still widespread.

TfL also treats every road user as if they had equal safety requirements. TfL behave as if there were no such thing as a vulnerable road user, and as a result would-be cyclists are scared off the roads. (And it's not cycle campaigners or bloggers scaring people off cycling: surveys have been listing fear of traffic as the #1 reason people don't cycle for many years.)

So if people felt safe cycling, how many bikes could you accommodate on roads if you actually tried? Studies show the saturation flow for a single 1-m (3.3 ft) to 1.2-m (4-ft) bicycle lane appears to be between 1,500 and 5,000 bicycles/hr with a majority of the observations falling between 2,000 and 3,500 bicycles/hr. So for two-way flows based on a 10-hr day at maximum capacity, that works out at about 18M journeys per year. The London Underground Major Regeneration Scheme aims to add capacity of 500M extra journeys per year, at a cost of £39bn (2008). The pro-rata cost of 18M journeys per year (our nominal numbers for a 2-way cycle lane) works out at about £1.5bn. The segregated CSH#2 extension cost £2M/mile, and the refurbished, segregated CSH#2 about £20M. CSH#2 currently only carries about 400 cyclists/hour at peak times, which works out at maybe 1M journeys/year, but that's because it's currently unsegregated and therefore reflects the London-wide 2% cycling modal share. Continental infrastructure should bring Continental levels of riders: 2% modal share could turn into 20%, so you can see how levels of 10M journeys/year are not out of reach on CSH#2.  And at costs per journey getting on for 2 orders of magnitude lower than the tube upgrade. As a side benefit, more people would use London's under-used cycle hire scheme, bringing more revenue to TfL.

Now, you'll notice that the above numbers are very rough indeed, but even if you water the assumptions down to very conservative levels, they still indicate that cycling capital investment is incredibly cheap compared with upgrading train capacity. They also indicate the opportunity cost associated with the lack of investment in cycling in London. The Mayor is proposing to spend £913M over the next 10 years on cycling, averaging £91M/year. That is nowhere near enough to built a significant amount of infrastructure to the standard required to actually attract significant numbers of users, and as a result, London will have to spend far more accommodating those users on other forms of transport. Additionally, health experts recently told a parliamentary enquiry that "the NHS spent about £5 billion a year on obesity-related conditions...health services could make £4 of savings for every £1 invested in cycling".

Instead of forecast numbers, lets instead consider some real ones. Since 2006 Seville has increased the number of daily cycling journeys from 5000 to 72,000, bringing modal share from  0.5% to around 7%. The cycle network cost €32m. Compare that with the city's underground system which cost €600 million and carries 40,000 people daily. It's interesting that Seville appears to have spent so little ( €400K/mile) building 80 miles of decent-quality infrastructure in so little time (the first 50 miles built in less than a year), compared with the CSH cost of £2M-£4M per mile, for what can charitably be described as dangerous crap.

If ever there was a cast-iron business case, it is to invest in cycling. Unlike the shaky, wildly-optimistic and naive economic cases that are used to justify road and rail investments. On the plus side, Boris seems now to understand that segregated, decent-quality, Continental-style infrastructure (as opposed to blue paint) is needed to get cycling modal share out of the doldrums, and is finally proposing and planning such routes. Unfortunately, London government (and here the blame falls partly on local government and City Hall, but mainly on central government) have not collectively realized that the massive benefits to be had from cycling - including health-related savings, air pollution reduction, displacement from far more expensive transport alternatives, a more liveable city - cannot be done on a shoestring. Until they realize this, we'll instead be spending far more on massive taxpayer subsidy of public transport that also has some of the highest fares in the world.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Operation Safeway - Waste of Money ?

In the wake of the recent cluster of cycling fatalities the Met Police - accountable to Mayor Boris Johnson - has launched Operation Safeway, which involves the deployment of up to 2500 officers at the capital's most dangerous junctions (not supermarkets, despite the name). It will be reviewed at Christmas.

When I see a bunch of public servants standing around not doing much, which is what I've witnessed so far during this "safety" operation, my first instinct is to wonder to what benefit my road tax is being put. Oh I forgot - I'm a cyclist, so I don't pay road tax. Except I do because I have a car. But it's a low emission car so I don't pay much more than it costs the Government to collect it. Oh, but the Met isn't paid for out of road tax, it's council tax and I do pay a lot of that. Well, anyway...paying highly-skilled crime-fighters to hang around on street corners like a bunch of high-visibility hookers doesn't strike me as a particularly good use of public funds.

Apparently, they've dished out 2000 fines in three days, which is a bit less than 700 a day. That is less than 1 ticket a day per officer. If the intent is to deter, this operation is clearly failing. But maybe finding lawbreaking road users is harder than we expect. To test this theory yesterday, I went for my usual lunchtime stroll around the West End, and in 15 minutes I saw 2 drivers entering an advance stop box illegally, 3 drivers using handheld mobile phones, and one cyclist on the pavement. So maybe my comparison with hookers was a bit unfair - there's clearly plenty of business out there to be done, but the police are unaccountably shy. According to some reports, they've been acting a bit like Gok Wan, advising people on what not to wear.

The Met budget is £4bn/year, and employs around 32000 sworn police officers. So the cost of 2500 officers half-time for 4 weeks works out at around £13M. They don't seem to be doing this full-time, but even for 2 hours in the morning, another 2 hours in the evening, plus the logistics of getting them to and from the relevant locations still adds up to a good chunk of a working day. The Met claim the operation isn't costing extra money, but that's false economics - if they weren't doing this, they would be doing other things, which presumably do have value. The question is, whether this operation has significant value. In my opinion it doesn't, because it is starting from the position that the main cause of cyclist casualties is lawbreaking, which is a false premise. There is nothing uniquely lawless about British drivers or cyclists. People have an equal tendancy to break road laws in other European countries, but the Continental approach has been to build quality cycling infrastructure - infrastructure that removes incentives for cyclists to break the law, and keeps them away from lawbreaking drivers. If all drivers and cyclists respected the law all the time and never made mistakes, the roads would be safer, but I cannot see how a short, localized operation with little deterrent effect is going to reverse the effects of decades of complacent tolerance of motoring offences. With the exception of drink-driving, we simply don't regard traffic violations as "real crime". According to the RAC, 21% of drivers admit to using mobile phones at the wheel, 65% break the motorway speed limit, 36% break 20MPH limits, yet 92% of us consider ourselves to be law abiding drivers!

So I doubt very much if this operation will have any lasting effect. There is clearly no real appetite at any level of government to permanently ensure better compliance with traffic laws. Whereas, if you were to spend that £13M cost on decent segregated infrastructure or quality junctions...you would permanently protect cyclists from the consequences of bad driving and cycling.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Vauxhall St Lane Blocked - Lambeth Fail Yet Again

Yes, another story in my Lambeth Fail series. Sorry to other London boroughs for favouring Lambeth again, you'll just have to try less hard.

Now, you really couldn't make this one up. Up until recently, the contraflow lane on Vauxhall St (which is one of the few examples in London of that critically endangered species, the segregated cycle facility) was blocked along with the pavement, and there was a "pedestrians please use other footpath" sign.

At that time, my fearless and redoubtable fellow-blogger Charlie (Kennington People on Bikes) sent a pic of the blocked lane to Lambeth's cycling officer. who responded thusly:

I have been sent the attached photos of Vauxhall Street. They show that the contraflow cycle lane is completely  fenced off, forcing people on bikes into the narrow lane of oncoming traffic. Not only is it dangerous, especially to children using the route,  it is also inconvenient and increases journey times for people cycling.
Given our road user hierarchy, our approach in this situation should be to maintain the pedestrian and cycle routes and close the road to motor vehicles except for access to the supermarket and estate. 
We've been criticised in the past for our lack of consideration of cyclists at roadworks (Akerman Road; Baylis Road; Greyhound Lane) but I thought we had begun to remedy that. There are lots of examples of good practise regarding cycling at roadworks  across London which we could learn from, for example recently on Union Street outside Palestra.
Will you look into this urgently? It is important that we sort it out quickly as the current situation is unacceptable and I expect we will receive many more complaints.

A week later, the lane's still blocked, and - get this - a "cyclists dismount" sign has been added. So, Lambeth's idea of remedying danger and inconvenience to people cycling is...to stop them cycling. Perfect. No doubt soon they'll have a police officer ticketing cyclists having the temerity to ignore the dismount sign and ride around the obstruction.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Roads Crackdown - If Only...

The head of traffic enforcement for London's police defended an operation in which officers have been stopping dozens of highway engineers and politicians to advise them on safety, in the wake of a recent cluster of cyclist casualties.

"If I'm truly honest, what we're trying to do here is our best to save lives and keep people safe, both from serious and more minor injuries. Quite honestly, some of these traffic engineers haven't got a clue. They have no idea how to design safely. It's high time they were registered and made to take a test. "

"Some of the cases that we've seen in the last few days really make your heart bleed because you can see that politicians have taken decisions that really did put road users' lives in danger. While deaths are not always the designer's fault, if they don't follow the rules there's no amount of good behaviour by cyclists that is going to save people's lives".

In the operation, 2,500 officers are being deployed to enforce good road and junction design in the capital's most notorious accident blackspots.

There is evidence of a high level of offending by highways engineers in terms of design defects. In one previous operation, 99% of designs were found to have at least one serious defect, including the failure to separate HGVs from cyclists.

Politicians are also being warned not to wear headphones. "This kind of behaviour can only isolate you from the reality of the road environment in a dangerous way...Call me illiberal, but it makes me absolutely terrified to see them bowling along completely unaware of Continental good practice and disconnected from reality."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Oval Barriers - Lambeth Succeed - Sort Of

Well, yesterday evening, the controversial new anti-cycling barriers at the Oval, lambasted in my previous post, were gone.

So thanks are due to whoever acted swiftly to get rid of them.

I dare say Lambeth taxpayers won't be so grateful when they realize they've paid for barriers to be erected and then taken down again, but it's one way of stimulating the economy.

Unfortunately this minor victory is massively overshadowed by the fact that 4 cyclists have been killed in the last 8 days in London. If only those in charge would act to prevent the carnage from continuing with a similar degree of alacrity to Lambeth's action on these barriers...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cycle Hire - Is it Safe, Really?

Sir Peter Hendy, recently-knighted Transport for London big cheese, has suggested that Boris Bikes are super-safe because they are big, slow, and have flashing lights.

Firstly, are they actually that safe? Well, the first year produced 6M journeys and 100 collisions. That works out at a rate of slightly less than 17 collisions per million journeys, compared with a rate of a bit more than 20 collisions per million journeys for general cycling in London in the same year. So the safety of the Boris Bikes appears a bit better than the background numbers, but not spectacularly so, and the difference could be explained by many factors, such as user demographics, journey time of day, routes, the hire journeys being shorter and concentrated in the central London area. Another possible explanation is that drivers assume you are clueless if you're on one and make allowances.

It is certainly a stretch to say that a big slow bike is safe. While riding slower may help you avoid some types of collision, it will make you more vulnerable to others. When pulling out into a stream of traffic, you are best advised to accelerate to the speed of the other road users, which is difficult on an under-geared bike weighing 23kg. Riding slowly makes you more vulnerable to left-hooks and badly-timed overtakes by impatient motorists.

The other factor Hendy won't be telling you about is the brakes on the blue barges are crap. Dangerously so in some cases, in my experience.

As for flashing lights, most riders in London use such lights after dark. The lights on the Boris Bikes are quite low-powered and mounted low down at the back. They are better than nothing for sure, but of very limited benefit in daylight, and a lot worse than a well-positioned modern high-powered set-up at night.

The one fatality involving a cycle-hire bike was on TfL's CSH#2, recently branded "an accident waiting to happen". And that fact pretty much sums up cycling safety in London. It really matters very little what kind of bike you ride, when the roads are as woefully dangerous as they are. London cyclist KSIs rose by 18% last year, a number that clearly indicates TfL is not doing its job properly. To suggest that it's the fault of cyclists not using lights is a bit of an insult really. Ironically, the one solitary factor that likely has benefitted cycle safety over the past 15 years is the invention of the high-intensity LED light, but the failure of TfL and London boroughs to implement safe cycle routes, the cynical prioritization of traffic flow over safety, and the failure to police the roads properly has more than offset any benefit and meant that KSIs have resumed an upward trajectory.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Oval - Lambeth Fail Again

I promise you this blog doesn't have a vendetta against Lambeth. It just seems at the moment Lambeth, in contrast to the claims in their Cycling Strategy, has a vendetta against cyclists.

The latest piece of nonsense is the installation of a chicane barrier at the junction of Meadow Road LCN3 route and Kennington Oval.

The last thing that is needed on this bit of cycle route is a barrier. There is considerable cycle and pedestrian traffic at peak times here and a significant problem is the already-inadequate amount of space. So you'd have to be completely nuts to want to compress all that traffic between two metal barriers thus:

Another unfortunate consequence of this is cyclists will emerge on the right-hand side of the crossing, which is the wrong side given that most will be turning left. So they will be turning across the path of pedestrians - resulting in conflict. Altogether more sinister still is the 'return journey' turning right off the Oval towards the camera in the above picture. This is a very dangerous turn where sight-lines for drivers are impaired, and it is not safe to wait in the carriageway to turn right. With the barrier in place, the right-turning cyclist's options in terms of speed and direction are reduced, making a dangerous situation even worse.

I have no idea why Lambeth have spent what must be a considerable amount of taxpayers' money on this crap. Maybe there was some minor, or possibly major incident, the response to which is, via some unfathomable logic, to increase the amount of unnecessary street clutter, reduce the amount of usable space, increase potential conflict, and make cycling just a little less safe and pleasant. This small area of Harleyford Road around the Oval is dangerous, inadequate for both cyclists and pedestrians, and Lambeth have now made it just a little bit worse.

Nice job.

(It is worth noting that Kennington Oval will be on the route of CSH#5, which hopefully will sort out some of the problems at this junction, but it's not going to be helped by the complete lack of joined-up thinking that is manifest here. More evidence then, as if any were needed, that London's processes for providing cycling infrastructure are broken by design.)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Turret Grove, Clapham - Lambeth Fail

Lambeth have finally got around to resurfacing Turret Grove. This residential street has been a patchwork of potholes for some years now, so cyclists will be looking forward to a nice, smooth ride on billard-table-like tarmac.

Unfortunately, they will be disappointed.

The road surface itself is smooth enough, but they've put new road humps (above) that are even more severe than the ones they replace. They are so upright the effect is like hitting a kerbstone, and the impact at any speed is likely to dislodge your lights, luggage etc.

A cycling-friendly council would have used sinusoidal profile humps, which are effective at limiting motor vehicle speeds but much more comfortable to cycle over.

They also could, and should have taken the opportunity to change the priority at the Rozel Road junction (below).

Rozel Road is a very quiet road but as it currently has priority over the cycle route, you have to slow down and be prepared to give way. I can't see any issues with changing the priority to favour the cycle route.

Above: at the junction with Rectory Grove, if you're turning right into Turret Grove (towards the camera) you have to execute a very sharp right turn to go left of the island into the narrow cycle bypass. This is dangerous because you have to slow down, risking a rear hit as the sight lines at this point are poor. The logical thing to do would be to remove the island. But they didn't

You might remember back in June there was a lot of noise about Lambeth's new Cycling Strategy. In it, they claim: "Work has already been done to change the formula for road resurfacing to give extra priority to roads used by cyclists." That is welcome, but what's happened here is they've resurfaced the road but, almost unbelievably, actually made it worse for cyclists.

So what went wrong? It looks like Lambeth is still a typical council, where cycling is the responsibility of (if you're lucky) one or two under-resourced individuals very low down the slippery pole of the management hierarchy. For everyone else in Highways, cycling is an unwelcome distraction from the day job of getting proper motorized vehicles moving efficiently. Cycling is only something considered on the rare occasions when there's a "Cycle Scheme"; at all other times (road resurfacing, new parking spaces etc.) it's ignored. 

If Lambeth councillors are serious about putting the warm and encouraging words in their Cycling Strategy into action, they have got to make cycling a responsibility of every officer in Transport and Streets.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Advance Stop Lines

One of the very, very few commonplace cycle infrastructure features in the UK is the advance stop line.

The principle behind it is as follows. Cyclists are enabled to get to the front of a queue of traffic at a light-controlled junction, and wait in a box in front of the queue, where you're visible to motorists, instead of getting in the blind spots of HGVs, which, as we all know, isn't such a terribly good idea. Simple eh? Not to the UK justice system, which conspires to make it both complex and crap.

It wasn't so bad in the old days when the police didn't bother enforcing them. If there were vehicles in the advance stop box, which there usually were, you would just go ahead over the stop line and wait in front of them. Not that big a deal. Against the letter of the law, yes, but the whole point of ASLs is to enable you to be seen and get a head start rather than be mixed up in HGV blind spots. Your personal safety is a greater moral imperative than a technical breach of the rules, especially bearing in mind that you're forced into this minor infringement (usually) by the motorist breaking the law in the first place.

Unfortunately, such moral considerations seem to butter no parsnips with the Met Police, who ticketed a London cyclist for just such an offence. Unsurprisingly, fellow riders have rushed to contribute to a defence fund to mount a legal challenge.

When you drive a car, you will almost always stay safe if you stick to the letter of the law. That's because the law, and the roads, are designed with you in mind. On a bike, the situation is rather different. You continually have to make potentially life-or-death decisions that balance your safety and your speed against staying legal. You have to think about road positioning, your visibility to other road users, parked vehicles, and of course what other moving road users are doing, or might do, or what might happen if they don't do what they appear to be intending. You have to think ahead and analyze every possible move of every road user in a complex, continuous game of chess. You have to look at every approaching vehicle and try to figure out if they are about to overtake you or turn across you, and whether you are better off taking an assertive position to discourage a dangerous manoeuvre, or just let them get on with it. You also have to consider whether they are actually aware of you, or texting their mate instead.

Now, you might say that breaking the law to expedite your journey is not acceptable, but the fact is that being stationary or slowing down can often put you in considerable danger of a rear hit or a left or right hook. Loss of momentum can be fatal. So cutting a corner or going the wrong side of a bollard can be a better option than waiting in the middle of the road, trusting that drivers in front and behind are paying attention, driving cautiously and aware of the fact that there might be a cyclist in front that they can't yet see.

On this blog, we don't condone stupid cycling that endangers other road users, but we also don't condone stupid laws that endanger cyclists, and the fact is the ASL is governed by an embarrassingly badly-drafted, Friday afternoon-after-a-liquid-lunch piece of legislation. Logic would tell you that the advance stop box should behave like a yellow box junction, but it doesn't: it's legal for a vehicle to wait in the ASL if it crossed the first stop-line when the light was green, which makes it very difficult to enforce. There's also considerable confusion about when and how a cyclist can enter the box. According to the CTC:

"the legal position of ASLs has not been clear in the past, either through legislation or case law. So far, ASL layouts have required an approach cycle lane, long enough for cyclists to bypass the traffic queue (though what that meant was not entirely clear). When the lights are red, cyclists may only enter the reservoir via the cycle lane, not by crossing the stop line. 

This legislation raised a question over the legality of not having a cycle lane - without one, it has been technically illegal for a cyclist to enter the ASL box in the absence of a green light. Several authorities sought to overcome this by leaving a 1.2m break at the nearside end of the main stop line, possibly with a token length of cycle lane, or tapered feeder lane. The legality of this approach, however, has been unclear (see also 3.c. ‘Omitting feeder lanes’ below). 

A question also arose over whether the regulations were too prescriptive on how cyclists are expected to use ASLs with, say, a single feeder lane but two traffic lanes. For example, if a central feeder lane is provided between two lanes of traffic, the legislation requires left turning cyclists to use that lane to access the ASL, even if there is space for them to filter past traffic in the nearside lane, with obvious dangers if the lights change before they get there. "

It seems there should be a fix for this in the upcoming revision of "Traffic Signs and General Direction Regulations" in 2014, but that almost certainly won't fix the problem of what a cyclist is supposed to do if the advance stop box is occupied.

The fundamental problem is with the whole Highway Code, which lumps cyclists in with all other traffic and subjects them mostly to the same laws and regulations. Yet most of the highway code is advisory, so many of the most dangerous driving behaviours are committed on a daily basis with no fear of prosecution. As a result, dangerous driving has become the accepted norm for many: A TRL survey of drivers convicted of careless driving revealed "57% claimed they were driving how they often or normally drove at the time of the incident, and 75% said they were surprised to be convicted".  Furthermore, we have a legal system in which it is very difficult to get a meaningful punishment or even a successful prosecution for dangerous driving (drivers can plead 'momentary inattention'/pressed the wrong pedal/uncharacteristic error/didn't-see-you, etc. etc.), yet very easy to prosecute a cyclist who acts to preserve his/her own safety, endangering nobody else, but happens to contravene the letter of a car-centric law.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Merton High Street

Merton Council have been busy putting cycle facilities on Merton High Street.

Let's see what they've been up to. A word of warning first: don't get your hopes up.

Above, looking east just before the Savacentre, you can see it's not so much cycle lanes as car parking. Why not make the lanes mandatory? Because, as on the CSH7 which starts a little bit further on at Colliers Wood, car parking is deemed more important, so the lanes are only any use for a few hours on weekdays. (Now it is worth pointing out that this is not necessarily all Merton's fault, because this is a TfL route and changes to parking restrictions would be subject to a traffic order and signed off by them. So TfL have some responsibility as do the Coalition for not abolishing this red tape. But ultimately this is Merton's scheme, so in my view the buck stops with them.)

Moving a little further east, just behind the grey car in the first picture there is the bus stop for Savacentre, pictured above. Here, the westbound cycle lane disappears.

East of the Savacentre, at the approach to the dangerous junction at Colliers Wood, there are no cycle lanes at all in either direction. This is actually where you most need them.

Things improve a little at the Haydons Road junction westbound. Here there is an advisory lane that leads into a lane on the pavement and it seems this will enable you to bypass the lights. This is the highlight in an otherwise pretty useless scheme.

Above, on the eastbound side of the same junction though, there is nothing. The twin traffic lanes are retained, and you'll notice there's a guaranteed left-hook if you stay to the left. There's an ASL but no lead-in lane, which is pretty useless.

At Nelson Road, you'll need the courage of the great admiral because the cycle lane swerves around some parking spaces, and the lane is right in the dooring zone so you're best advised 'taking the lane', where you'll no doubt get honked at by motorists who can't figure out why you're not in the perfectly good cycle lane paid for by their taxes.

On the other side, at Pincott Road, the pavement lane gives way to a side street: after all, motor traffic is more important so must get priority.

Above, the pavement lane continues past a crossing. You'll notice the pavement is obstructed here by some street furniture so there's potential for conflict with pedestrians.

Above, a little further west the pavement lane ends, well before the dangerous South Wimbledon junction, requiring you to merge into two lanes of westbound traffic. This really hasn't been thought through.

On the opposite side there is a lane, but it is narrow and alongside car parking, so unless you fancy a 'dooring' you're best off in the main carriageway.

So in summary, there is clearly not much joined-up thinking going on at Merton Council. This scatty, ill-conceived scheme might have been par for the course a decade ago, but given that Merton is bidding for the 'Mini Holland' cash, it simply isn't good enough. Narrow, intermittent, part-time advisory lanes right alongside car parking endangers cyclists and does not help them. Segregated paths are great, but not when they give way to side streets and spit you out into fast-moving traffic.
The only thing to be said for this scheme is the lanes do something to help keep space free for cyclists to pass on the left of the congestion which is commonplace on this road. But it won't attract any new cyclists, or do anything to improve the safety of the junctions. So as such this scheme is a waste of money. Money that could instead have been spent on Dutch-style infrastructure that people will actually use. Instead we've got something from the palette of discredited solutions that is out-of-date as soon as it's been built. Something that doesn't speak well of Merton's understanding of cycling and will do it no favours with the judges of the Mini-Holland bids.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sir Chris Hoy Fails

Reported in The Times, the government have turned down Sir Chris Hoy's offer to become a national cycling tzar.

A government spokesman commented, "Sir Chris is completely unsuitable as he has a long track record of delivery and success at a world-class level, and this is not aligned with our ambitions for cycling".

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Tale of Two Collisions

An interesting juxtaposition of stories in the Standard today.

First one: Nicole Kidman beeing "KO'd by a pavement cyclist" in New York. By which they mean knocked down - Kidman is not reported as sustaining any injury. She is reported as being "shaken up" by the experience. A 19-year-old cyclist had been issued with "three summonses for riding a bike on the sidewalk, riding a bike with no helmet and reckless endangerment".

Second one: Cyclist Chrishan Mathias, 28, was hit by a minicab. He "was pulled under the vehicle and had one of its wheels run over his head when it shot across a junction and veered into his path as he cycled home from work." He suffered suffered a dislocated ankle, broken sternum and ribs, bruised lung and lacerated liver, spent 5 weeks off work and is still undergoing physiotherapy. But for his helmet, which was broken in two in the collision, he might well have died. The report says (now get this), "police are due to decide in the New Year whether the minicab driver should be charged with a driving offence." The incident does not seem to have been reported at the time it happened in March, and it appears that it has been picked up by the Standard after being revealed by the London air ambulance team, who attended the stricken rider.

You might want to sign this.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this, it has been reported that the 'cyclist' in the Kidman story was actually a paparazzo photographer. Which makes the predictable anti-cyclist rants in the Standard troll-comments section seem a bit lame.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Speed Does Not Cause Accidents

This is the bombshell headline reported by the BBC in its report on  this debate on the Today progamme between Prof. Stephen Glaister of the RAC Foundation, a respected transport research organization, and Claire Armstrong, who does not represent a respected transport research organization - at least, not if your definition of "respected transport research organization" includes the willingness to subject your research to peer review by others in the field or get it published by relevant academic journals. She represents "Safe Speed", who are, it appears, an organization  representing people who simply don't want to believe that speed causes road collisions, makes them more likely and makes the consequences of them worse. According to George Monbiot, it is a "a lobby group claiming to stand for one thing [road safety], but in reality standing for its opposite [the removal of both speed limits and their means of enforcement]"

Such people, it seems, are prepared to indulge in all manner of cherry-picking of evidence and bad science to "prove" that "speed does not cause accidents", when there is a positive tsunami of evidence not just from this country but from all around the world that the opposite is the case. In the debate, Armstrong parroted "regression to the mean" as if this alone means that 2+2 actually equals 3. Glaister pointed out that the RAC's report does take account of regression to the mean (as you'd expect from any statistical analysis worth its salt).

Armstrong also suggested that speed was a factor in only 6% of accidents. The Transport Research Laboratory dispute this, according to this source:

"The factors involved [in collisions] include, as TRL have pointed out to ABD and others on numerous occasions, more than one causation which would relate to speed. For example, Loss of control of vehicle, Failed to avoid vehicle/object in carriageway, the top two 'precipitating factors', will both be strongly influenced by speed."

I deconstructed Safe Speed's website a couple of years ago in a series of posts:


If anyone at the BBC is reading this I suggest you take a look before you invite these people onto your programmes and give them equal billing with someone who has any more credibility on the subject of road safety than Donald Duck. How much is the license fee again?

Friday, August 9, 2013

60MPH Rural Tracks

Joe Wilkins was a family man, a firefighter, a father of two, and by all accounts a universally well-liked man.

He was killed on his bike, by a Ford Focus travelling at 60MPH, on an unrestricted (60MPH) road, Eaton Road, near Appleton in Oxfordshire.

Here is an image of the road:

View Larger Map

As you can see this is a narrow country road. The collision happened at 9:20PM on May 24th 2012. Sunset would have been at 9PM, so there would likely still have been some natural light. It appears Wilkins' bike had no lights or reflectors. The exact point the collision occurred isn't stated in the reports I've seen.

At 60MPH, things happen pretty quickly. You do not have much time to see and react to any hazards, such as pedestrians or cyclists, who may be hidden temporarily from view. For example, in the image above, there is a slight right-hand deviation in the road that limits visibility. It is roughly 350 feet from the speed limit sign to the limit of visibility. The stopping distance for a car in the dry from 60MPH is 240 feet. So that leaves 110 feet - that's just over a second at 60MPH - spare. With a typical flashing cycle light, it will probably take a couple of flashes for even an alert driver to register the presence of a cyclist, so there really is very little margin for error, even under ideal conditions. Now consider that these figures may be optimistic. If a cyclist is travelling towards the driver at 20MPH, not unlikely with a fit rider on a level road, the distance in which a driver would have to react and stop is significantly reduced.

It seems pretty clear to me that driving at 60MPH on this type of road even on a well-lit day is not safe. At night, while eating a sandwich, that's got to qualify as dangerous, doesn't it? Well, in the UK justice system, apparently not.

In 2010, 49% of UK road deaths took place on single-carriageway rural roads with a 60MPH limit. According to Ralph Smyth, chair of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, "It seems strange that you've got minor roads, often that are just tarmaced tracks, that have a speed limit of 60mph - just 10mph less than the motorways."

We agree.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Half of Londoners say Roads are Too Dangerous

According to a survey for London Councils reported by London24, half of Londoners would cycle more if road safety were improved.

In other news, bears crap in the woods, the Pope is a Catholic, and Eric Pickles enjoys the occasional pie.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Gospel

1. In the beginning there were Roads, and there were Bicycles. And the Bicycles dwelt on the Roads. And there was peace in the land.

2. Then unto the Land came Motor Vehicles. They went forth and multiplied, and became strong in number, and mighty, and spread throughout the Land.

3. And the anger of the Motor Vehicles was terrible to behold. The Motor Vehicles slew many men, and the women and children were sore afraid.

4. The people did hunger and thirst after justice.

5. There came forth into the land Prophets, who did offer to banish the evil of Cycle-Death from the land. They painted Lines upon the Road. But the people saw the paint did not protect them.

6. There came forth into the Land other Prophets, and counselled the People to disguise themselves in silken raiments of many colours and ride amongst the Motor Vehicles. But the worshippers of the Motor Vehicles mocked the people, and drove them from the land.

7. Still the women and children were sore afraid, and the people did hunger and thirst after justice.

8. There came forth a Prophet named Boris. He promised to lead the People upon a True Path called Superhighway.

9. Boris declared that the colour of the Superhighway should be blue and would have great powers of healing and protection between the hours of 7AM and 10AM and between 4PM and 7PM excluding the Sabbath, which should be a day of rest.

10. Boris addressed the people. "Cycle in Numbers and in thy Numbers, there shall be Safety. Be not afraid, and keep thy wits about thee!"

11. But the people, especially the women and children, saw the power of the Motor Vehicles was still great in the land, and was not diminished, and they were still sore afraid, and they saw the blue paint did not protect them.

12. There came forth into the Land many Wise Bloggers. The Wise Bloggers wrote many scriptures about the promised land of Holland, and they called Boris a false prophet. They commanded that the people no longer worship painted idols.

13. The people gathered in great numbers, in the place that is called Embankment, and spake unto Boris. "Lead us to the promised land of Holland, if you are a true Prophet." Boris saw that the Wise Bloggers spoke the truth, and he again addressed the people. "I will lead you to the promised land of Holland, where possible".

14. Boris did summon Andrew of the tribe of Gilligan. On the first day, Andrew spoke with many powerful men. On the second day, Andrew made many plans. On the third, fourth and fifth day, he rested.

15. Er, that's it. We're still waiting...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Red Light Jumpers

As a rule, we don't get all holier-than-thou on this blog about RLJing.

However, there is a difference between on the one hand riding carefully with full awareness of the hazards around you, and respect for the safety of others but with a "relaxed" interpretation of the rules, and on the other hand, putting other road users in danger.

On The Mall this morning:

Above, you can see the lights are red and there's a lady waiting to cross. If you really have to jump the light, at least steer over to the middle of the road and give her plenty of room. Not like this:

And certainly not like this, when she's actually stepping into the road, and you have to swerve to avoid her, because you haven't got a clue what's going on beyond the end of your nose:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Three deaths of cyclists in the space of three weeks. Grim reading, and an indictment of the lack of progress in improving safety on the highways of this city.

In general we are supportive on this blog of the Mayor's plans for improving the experience for cyclists. But the problem is that the delivery of even the first of those plans is still some way off. Even the most optimistic of observers would struggle to conclude that we won't have to wait decades before we have anything approximating to  a London-wide safe cycle network. And in the mean time, cyclists have to put up with a road network that in parts is designed as if no-one cycled in London.

So it follows that there needs to be a short-term plan in place to mitigate the worst excesses of existing car-centric highway design. And one of the worst examples of this is Holborn, where Alan Neve was tragically killed on Monday.

The stretch on which this fatality took place is 4 lanes wide and one-way as you can see from the picture. The left and right lanes are left and right-turn-only respectively, so if you want to go straight on, you need to get right in the middle of the traffic. When the lights change, it's a racetrack, and you'll have vehicles passing you left and right. There is no advance stop box, no cycle lane and no bus lane. (The road is usually full of traffic of course, which you can't see from the picture. You will however notice a female cyclist, on the pavement, no doubt deciding that the chance of a fine is a worthwhile tradeoff to avoid a chance encounter with a construction lorry).
To make a bad situation a lot worse, along with the multiple lanes, the Holborn gyratory is also surrounded by a network of one-way streets. In the immediate vicinity, the following roads are one-way (working around the points of the compass from North):

Queen Square
Old Gloucester Street
Boswell Street
Harpur Street (status not clear. Some signage indicates one-way).
Theobalds Road
Old North Street (has a cycle contraflow)
Red Lion Square (all sides)
Dane Street
Catton Street
Southampton Row is effectively two one-way streets at this point.
High Holborn
Whetstone Park
Lincoln's Inn Fields (2 sides)
Newman's Row
Portugal Street
St Clement's Lane
Keeley Street
Kean Street
Drury Lane
Parker Street
Macklin Street
Newton Street (has a cycle contraflow)
High Holborn (west of Kingsway)
Southampton Place
Bloomsbury Square
Vernon Place

View Larger Map
In fact, it would have been a lot quicker to list the streets that aren't one-way. Unless you have a map-like knowledge of the back streets, it is very difficult to avoid the dangerous thoroughfares in this area.

Next we have to ask why all these streets are one-way. Quite simply, the area gets very congested, and to avoid motors trying to rat-run their way around the pinch-points and creating increased road danger followed by total gridlock, it's been necessary to close off the side-streets one by one precisely to make the main roads impossible to avoid. Because the planners didn't consider the effect on cyclists, who don't create congestion or significant road danger, bike-riders are caught in the same fine-meshed net as other traffic and forced onto roads that don't have any provision for cycling, and furthermore are designed in a way that presents the maximum possible danger to vulnerable road users as a side order. Only two of the 27 one-way streets listed above have a cycle contraflow and there appear to be no exceptions for cyclists.

Getting rid of one-way restrictions for cyclists is an easy and cheap thing to do. I also do not believe it is beyond the wit of man to devise a clearly-signposted set of routes along the backstreets in this area, perhaps with a couple of strategically-placed crossings to enable safe passage across the major roads. All this could be done within the space of a year, probably less if we treated the issue as a something that could result in unnecessary loss of life.

This time last year, a Westminster Council spokesman asked:

"Why should cyclists all of a sudden get investment ahead of motorists?"

The answer to this question is in Holborn. In the past, we invested in motoring to the exclusion of other modes. Not only was cycling not invested in, it was deliberately designed out and marginalized, on the basis that cycling was an old-fashioned and unsatisfactory way of getting around, obstructed the free flow of motor traffic, and everyone would soon be able to drive everywhere. That policy failed, and we need to fix the consequences. To say that Holborn needs investment in cycling is a bit like saying Hiroshima needed investment after the second world war.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ride London - A Bridge Too Far?

Ride London is a weekend of cycling, including:

"Freecycle" - don't make the mistake of thinking this is a car boot sale, it's what was previously known as Skyride, and before that Freewheel, and before that Prince.

London-Surrey 100 - this is a 100-mile ride, billed as the "largest charity fundraising cycle event in the world", but still not big enough - limited to 20,000 riders and massively oversubscribed.

There's also a pro road race along the London-Surrey 100 course, and some criterium racing.

You could say that anything that raises the profile of cycling is a good thing. To Cycalogical, it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. The London-Surrey 100 is going to result in the closure of Tower Bridge, Southwark Bridge, Westminster Bridge, Lambeth Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, Chelsea Bridge, Albert Bridge, Putney Bridge, Chiswick Bridge, Kingston Bridge and Hampton Court Bridge.

That's a lot of bridges, and a lot of disruption. There are some spoilsport myopic car-dwellers who will moan that cyclists are getting everything for nothing, considering they don't pay any road tax (whatever that is). The irony is that to take part in the London-Surrey 100, you do have to pony up £50 or so, which is a lot more than a day's congestion charge and more than a year's road tax for quite a lot of modern vehicles.

If you're not one of the lucky, £50-poorer cyclists, but still want to ride your bike, then tough luck. It looks like you won't be allowed on the London-Surrey 100 course, and you may well be affected by the knock-on effects of the road/bridge closures. If you want to go up to the Freecycle event on the previous day, it will be the same story as previous years - once you get out of the cordoned-off central London section, you're back into the crap, hostile London environment that delivers the worst air quality of any European capital and one of the lowest cycling modal shares. There's been no attempt to provide any road closures or any kind of traffic-limited environment to get there and back. And once you're in central London, the route is about the same length as it was for previous Skyrides, which proved inadequate for the numbers who actually turn up, resulting in a very slow-moving queue.

RideLondon seems to be delivering a lot of the disruption of a traffic-free day, but with none of the advantages. One of the Mayor's cycling champion Andrew Gilligan's main complaints is that cycling needs to be broadened out of it's MAMIL/young-fit-men niche, yet what the London-Surrey 100 is doing is the precise opposite. If we're going to close a lot of London's road system for a day, let's do a proper job and give ordinary people a taste of liveable streets. Let them hear birdsong, experience tranquility, sniff clean air and perhaps even pootle around slowly on a bike.

And what about the other 363 days of the year? It makes no sense to pull out all the stops for one rather exclusive annual event that encourages cycling, yet presents cyclists in their daily lives with an environment that makes them feel as out-of-place as a British woman in the second week of Wimbledon.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Long Way to Go - Cycle Superhighway 5

It's good to know that TfL is not deaf to the comments of cyclists in respect of the CSH#5 plans. For those of you who didn't see the original plans, they were good in parts, and a lot better than the original quit-when-the-going-gets-tough approach taken by TfL on the original CSH#7 and CSH#8.

But they were still quite a way short of Continental best practice.

The response to the consultation shows a bit of movement in the right direction.

"The redesigned proposals for the central London – Oval section of the route will also contain a greater degree of full segregation."

Well that's good news, although we'll have to wait till later in 2013 to see exactly what this means. The key point is that a cycle route is only as good as its worst part. Having bits of full segregation is no use if it's punctuated regularly with dangerous junctions or loading bays.

"Improved shared crossing and extended footway opposite Meadow Road"

This is great news. Meadow Road is where the existing LCN#3 route crosses Harleyford Road, and a right dog's breakfast of a junction it is too. Going north, you have to emerge from the crowded pelican crossing and hope that a driver lets you into the right-hand lane. You then have to make an right turn unprotected by any traffic island or right-turn reservoir, where the sight-lines for drivers coming from in front of you and behind are impaired due the bends in the road. You're at real risk of a rear-end or head-on shunt here, and it's a miracle no-one's been killed here yet.

"Semi-segregation of New Cross Gate – Oval sections – during 2014"

The construction has now been planned into phases stretching from 2013 to end 2015. We'll have "semi-segregation" on this section, although exactly what that means even TfL don't know. They say it will involve "cats’ eyes, rumble strips, traffic wands or similar, or a combination thereof". Cats eyes? Traffic wands? It all sounds a bit Harry Potter doesn't it? Maybe the traffic will magically evaporate?

It all sounds a lot better than what we're used to, but the fact remains that even after these changes we're still left with only "semi-segregation" and "a greater degree of full segregation" on what will be the one of the newest and best cycle routes in London - the benchmark against which all the other crap can be measured. If you were a glass-half-empty kind of person, you might call it "partial semi-segregation".  It's not Holland. It's more like standing in Felixstowe and dipping your toe in the North Sea.

Meanwhile, Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor's cycling champion has been writing in the Standard about how TfL are actually planning to enforce the advance stop line law. The only reason ASLs are necessary is because most junctions in London have been engineered in a seriously cycle-hostile way. Bikes should never be mixed up with multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic turning in different and conflicting directions. ASLs are a half-baked excuse for a solution to this problem. Getting to the advance-stop-box is usually a hit-or-miss business: often the approach lane is blocked by traffic, and of course there's always the chance of the lights changing before you get there, leaving you trying to filter between lanes of drivers, any one of which could be on a mobile phone, looking at a sat-nav, or reading the paper.

Ticketing drivers for encroaching on the stop-box might free up a few square metres of roadspace (and raise a handy couple of quid), but the fact is most junctions are broken by design, and in the majority of cases,  motorists creeping over the ASL are the least of your problems.

Last piece of news. When the "London Cycling Awards" edition of London Cyclist dropped through my letterbox this month, I eagerly thumbed through to page 31 to find out which piece of Dutch-style infrastructure had won the "Best Borough Cycling Project". I had a feeling it wouldn't be Merton, because there is hardly an embarrassment of decent cycle engineering around here. I was right. The joint winners were -wait for it - Camden and the City of London, for converting one-way streets to two way. To give you an idea of how underwhelming that is, consider this. These are the best projects in London this year (in LCC's opinion at least). Three or four years ago I visited Brussels, and I noticed that almost all the one-way streets there have cycle-exceptions. Brussels is nowhere near the top of the European league in terms of cycling modal share or quality infrastructure. So in a couple of the most enlightened boroughs in London, we are starting to get to where low-achieving Brussels has been for some time.

Let's face facts. There's been a lot of talk about "going Dutch" recently, and while the car-centric tide may have turned, we still have a long way to go. The fact that two-way cycling, ASL enforcement and partial semi-segregation (sometime in 2014) are hailed as major achievements speaks volumes. If the goal is, in Andrew Gilligan's words, to "attract more women, older people, more slow cyclists and lower the overall testosterone level",  then we just hit the corner flag.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Westminster Cycling Strategy?

The City of Westminster is working on a cycling strategy. This in itself is a step forward, because until very recently Westminster regarded cycling as an inconvenience to motorists rather than a transport mode. According to Westminster Cyclists, the election of Philippa Roe to lead Westminster Council, "marks a turning point in Westminster's transport policy".

Westminster is currently a pretty grim prospect for cycling. You're confronted with traffic-choked roads and an impermeable network of streets with lots of one-ways, no-entries and banned turns, very few of which have cyclist exceptions. It's not that there is nothing at all in Westminster for cyclists, (see here for Westminster Cyclists' list of good practice) but what little there is has been designed in a piecemeal and incoherent way. For example, Long Acre between Bow Street and Drury Lane has a contraflow lane, but Long Acre between Drury Lane and St Martins Lane is one-way with no contraflow or cycle exception, despite it having low traffic levels, as you can see in the following pic, taken on a weekday lunchtime:

Similarly St Martins Lane itself is one-way and has very little traffic going south from the Long Acre junction. It is plenty wide enough for a decent contraflow lane, but this fact has escaped Westminster's highways people. Again, a weekday lunchtime picture below illustrates the lack of traffic:

When I took this picture I actually saw two cyclists 'salmoning' up the street in the 'wrong' direction. No surprise when the alternative is the deeply hostile, traffic-choked Charing Cross Road.

The above pictures illustrate that while Westminster has made some effort to reduce the permeability of the road network for motor traffic, it hasn't been matched by a corresponding effort to increase the permeability for cycling. So the result is roads that were originally designed around cars, but are largely unused. Given that land in Westminster is more expensive than almost anywhere else in the world, this is a waste. The Tories are fond of pointing the finger at others for wasting public money. In this instance, they need to look in the mirror.

Anyways, back to the Strategy. There is some promising material in it:

Fear of injury is the most commonly cited barrier to cycling, particularly amongst non cyclists, and there are early indications that the number of cyclist casualties on Westminster's roads is set to rise (although to a lesser extent than the corresponding growth in cyclist numbers). The Council will therefore aim to deliver a range of improved routes... Dangerous junctions and sections of road will be improved and the Council will work with the Mayor to deliver his vision for a Central London Cycling Grid.

This is a good start. The acknowledgement that safety is a problem is really key.

Other encouraging snippets:

Appendix 4 is positive about the idea of  permeability - although it doesn't talk about filtered permeability, which is crucial. Without filtering motor traffic levels down, routes will not be subjectively safe to persuade the average person that cycling is a viable way of getting around.

 In Appendix 1 (Policy and Strategy Context), the following policy is mentioned:

the City Council will seek to increase the use, integration and development of public transport,cycling and walking as viable alternatives to motor vehicles and reduce the use of private motor vehicles, particularly, but not exclusively, through and commuter traffic. It will adopt the traffic reduction targets set out in the Mayors Transport Strategy and the London Plan.

Sounds good, eh? Only problem is this policy dates from the Council's 2007 Unitary Development Plan. While you can see in the pictures above there are instances where the council has somewhat reduced the roadspace that is used by motors, there has been no strategy to turn this roadspace into something usable by cyclists, and no focus on subjective safety. Not only are cyclists caught up in the maze of one-way streets and banned turns intended to control general traffic, but cyclists are also caught up at the pinch-points created by funnelling traffic onto the major roads. Take a look at this picture of The Strand on a typical weekday:

The problem with The Strand is it has very narrow lanes westbound, and a central divider, which makes it next to impossible for cycles to filter past the permanent traffic jam.

Elsewhere in the document there are sinister undertones:

The Council will therefore aim to deliver a range of improved routes for cyclists of different abilities,whilst recognising the needs of other road users and avoiding changes that place unacceptable additional pressure on the road network and kerbside. Any changes will be subject to full consultation with the local community. 

This wording implies that safe cycle routes are an additional luxury and a burden that cannot be allowed to displace the vital nature of everything else that goes on today on the roads. The fact is that today there is unacceptable pressure on the road network, and that pressure is from one source - unnecessary motor journeys. Cycling is part of the solution to that problem, not an additional problem. The local community - let alone the cycling community - were never consulted on the changes that accumulated into the current mess. However it is those who have most interest in the status quo that are likely to protest most about change. Will there been any voice in this consultation for those who are damaged most by the current setup: children who cannot cycle to school or who suffer from asthma worsened by London's polluted air, those who suffer from the diseases of a sedentary lifestyle, and of course the London taxpayer who gets to pick up the tab for treating all these preventable diseases?

Anyhow, back to the Strategy, where the reactionary tone continues:

The narrow, historic nature of many of Westminster's streets, means that providing separate space for each road user on every street is simply not feasible and a balance needs to be struck. 
Westminster's roads serve a vital function and it is imperative that congestion is minimised and access to the kerbside managed so as not to hinder the large volume of people travelling on buses and to ensure that deliveries are made in a timely fashion to maintain London's economy.


The fact is there isn't a balance being struck at the moment. The current arrangement is that most roadspace is separated for the use of one dominant mode - motor traffic. While cyclists and pedestrians are technically allowed to use the roads, they are actively discouraged by the danger and intimidation caused to non-motorized travellers by the ubiquitous presence of fast-moving traffic. If Westminster want to insist that there isn't space for segregated cycle facilities, then it needs to do something about the fact that motor traffic isn't sharing the road with anyone else in any equitable sense.

There is not much indication that Westminster intend to re-balance the dominance of motor traffic. The implication in the above quote is that cycling is a threat to this dominance. The Strategy conflates essential motor journeys - buses and vital deliveries - with all the other non-essential motor journeys into one transport mode, as if stopping a Range Rover from parking on a side-street were equivalent to delaying thousands of bus passengers.

I know a number of people who drive into work in central London. They don't need to; they are not disabled and they have access to perfectly good public transport alternatives that are used by other Londoners. There are also a large number of people who get cabs everywhere when they could use public transport. Of course there are occasions where private motor transport is needed, but those cases are a relatively small subset of the journeys we actually see in the West End today. So why should these unnecessary journeys that make extremely inefficient use of roadspace be allowed to exclude more benign alternatives? What balance is being struck there?

 The fact is that 'striking a balance' is not the same has having a free-for-all. It is about recognizing that some journeys are more important than others, and some transport modes are more benign and more resource-efficient than others. But the Strategy shows no sign of recognizing this.

Let's take a look at some typical weekday pictures of 'congestion being minimized' in Westminster:

Above: A stationary Henrietta Street.
Above: Statuesque traffic on Bedford Street.

Above: A glacial pace on William IV Street.

These pictures are typical and put the lie to the idea that congestion is minimized or that deliveries can be made in a timely fashion. The fact is, Westminster's road system is badly broken. And cycling didn't break it. Bikes are in fact conspicuous by their absence. The idea that introducing cycling facilities is going to break something that is currently working well - which seems to be the picture being painted by the Strategy - is a false one.

Cast your mind back to last year during the Olympics. We saw then that Westminster functioned perfectly well with a fraction of the motor traffic. An guess what - congestion was minimized by reducing traffic volumes, not by trying to continue to accomodate the existing unsustainable volume.

Some infrastructure designed to help cyclists, such as cycle lanes and cycle parking requires a reallocation of footway, kerbside or road space, which is not feasible in some locations due to the need to keep pedestrian and traffic flows moving. 

Once again, the Strategy portrays a battle for resources between greedy cyclists on the one hand, and everyone else. Again, it conflates traffic flows and pedestrian movements. How is a threat to 'traffic flow' a threat to pedestrians? This is nonsense. In fact, the opposite is the case. The less motor traffic there is, and the slower it is, the easier it is for pedestrians to cross roads and get around. And the less unnecessary car journeys there are, the faster buses will move. With faster bus services come lower bus running costs and a better-functioning economy as people spend less time getting around.

Alongside a renewed focus and investment in cycling, there must in parallel be a renewed focus on considerate behaviour of all road users. There is a need to encourage all road users to show greater consideration for one another and share space in a safe and responsible manner, enabling safer integration and shared routes rather than a presumption for segregation. This will be achieved through training programmes, enforcement, education and campaigns targeted at both cyclists and non-cyclists,whilst recognising that many people are now becoming more multi modal in their travel characteristicsand should therefore start to demonstrate a greater appreciation of one another's needs. 

In other words, in Westminster's view, we are all one big happy family, and have to get along together. Unfortunately, this vision of motor traffic and cycling rubbing along together is a fantasy. And it is a fantasy that is only sustainable if you ignore much of the rest of the document, which identifies repeatedly that fear of traffic and busy roads is the number one reason people don't cycle. While there are undoubtedly inconsiderate cyclists, they don't put people off driving or walking. Inconsiderate and dangerous driving by contrast, both kills and injures many people directly, and indirectly as the health benefits of cycling are denied to people who are scared off.

In summary, Westminster have produced a document that is about 20 years out of date in a lot of its thinking. However, this is actually a considerable step forward, which tells you a lot about Westminster's shameful historic record on cycling.
But let's not forget one thing: there have been many cycling documents, both good and bad, produced over the years, and none of them so far have been worth the considerable amount of paper they've been written on. This document doesn't actually matter. It is action that counts. Westminster needs to come good on the Central London Cycling Grid. It's just possible that the Mayor, supposedly converted to the benefits of investing in decent cycling infrastructure, cooperating with a council of the same political colour, could deliver something worthwhile.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wandle Trail

Riding in this morning I saw a couple of blokes with theodolites. That can mean only one thing - someone cares if the improved trail will be flat or not!

(We're always first with the global breaking news.)

On another note, I get the distinct impression more people are riding bikes this season. Someone who gets in before me started taking my usual parking spot in our work car park a month or so ago. Now a bunch more bikes have started turning up before me in the morning so I've been relegated to my fourth-choice spot. Maybe more cycling isn't such a good thing after all...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

News from the States

It's not just in Portland., Oregon, that Americans ride bikes, it seems.

Some statistics:

Chigago: cycle commuting up 200% since 2005.
New York: commuting rate doubled between 2007 and 2011.
San Francisco: bikes make up 66% of inbound traffic on Market Street, a major transit artery.

And in this well-argued piece  in "The Atlantic Cities",  Henry Grabar questions why cyclists get ticketed as if they were motorists.

On balance, cyclists' illegal behavior—like that of pedestrians—adds much, much more convenience to life than danger. Aggressive enforcement of traffic laws could upend the fragile system of incentives that leads thousands of people to undertake a long and sweaty commute each day...Why should people riding 20-pound bicycles obey laws designed to regulate the conduct of 4,000-pound cars, to say nothing of accepting the same penalties? In terms of the damage we can cause and sustain in an accident, cyclists have more in common with pedestrians than cars and should be treated accordingly.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Wandle Trail Upgrade

Reports are reaching us that the Wandle Trail is to be upgraded, including completion of the "Bridge to Nowhere", with a grant of nearly £500K from Transport for London.

It is as yet unclear exactly what the improvements will consist of. Regular users will be familiar with the overgrown vegetation encroaching onto paths that are already too narrow, the standing water and slippery mud that await you in wet weather and the dust that coats you and your drivetrain in drier conditions. Hopefully a durable, smooth all-weather surface that actually sheds water will be on the shopping list? We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Get Britain Cycling: Branson Pickles for Cameron?

The ‘Get Britain Cycling’ Inquiry has published its report. The All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) inquiry heard from many experts, and the report has generally been well-received in the cycling blogosphere. Cyclists in the City described it as "massively impressive work".

Celebrities such as Lord Sugar and Sir Richard Branson have been endorsing it,  and you can too. You don't have to have a business empire or a title, and you don't have to have to go through a 12-week job interview consisting of contrived tasks at the end of each someone gets melodramatically fired - just sign the online petition, and make sure your friends and family do. Nearly 52,000 people have done so at the time of writing. Hurry now - don't be disappointed!

If only fixing cycling were as simple as writing a report or signing a petition. People have been doing both those things for decades and all we've got to show for it is, well, lots of reports and petitions.

Could things be different this time? Cameron said at Pee Em Queues: “The report has many good points...We should be doing much more in our country to encourage cycling...I hope local authorities can follow [London Mayor Johnson's] lead and do more."

Hmm. Cameron clearly hasn't read the report very thoroughly, because it says

"the Government needs to set out an action plan for more and safer cycling with support from the Prime Minister down."

Yes, the Government - your government, Mr Cameron. And 'Prime Minister' means you. As this blog has pointed out several times in the past, the fact that responsibility for cycling is split between too many different organizations with no strong central vision or leadership is in many ways the most serious obstacle in the way of progress on cycling. Just pushing the responsibility onto local authorities - the same local authorities, presumably, that are implementing massive cuts and have no spare cash for cycle infrastructure - is going to achieve nothing. Local authorities don't have the political will. Local politics is dominated by parochial concerns such as parking and dog poo. There are few votes in cycling at a local level, and lots of political risks associated with allocating roadspace away from precious parking spaces and unrestricted car use.

Cameron's problem, perhaps, is that his party is split between the more enlightened elements, who 'get' cycling, such as Boris Johnson and Sarah Wollaston, and the reactionary wing who never really bought into Cameron's green agenda (such as it is) and cling to the outmoded 70's ideas of roads being exclusively for cars and bicycles a reluctantly-tolerated obstacle to the motorist rather than a transport option. Eric Pickles, for instance, never misses a chance to promote more parking and the 'war on the motorist' agenda.

There are, however, widely-reported plans that the Government is about to launch an 'Office for Active Travel', with a substantial £1bn budget. The announcement could coincide with the next spending round at the end of June. Of course, such a body would need to have significant powers to make things happen in different deparments (including Pickles' Communities and Local Government) and at different levels, from the DfT to TfL to local councils.

So, will Branson or Pickles win the day? Will Cameron get his OAT?