Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Here's a picture of Merton's best cycle route.

Unfortunately, as you can see, it is not in an ideal state to encourage mass cycling. The surface looks like a mixture of aggregate, sand and clay, and hasn't been well-constructed. There is no proper camber, and shallow depressions have formed all the way along and across the surface, which isn't very porous. The end result is more like a canal than a cycleway. When it rains, the surface is about 90% puddle, 10% slippery mud, and it stays that way for days afterwards. If you ride along the path when it's in this state (which it was about three-quarters of last year) your clothes will be mud-spattered and your drivetrain will last about as long as an X-factor-winner's career. Even the best of mudguards are no match for these conditions, however slowly and carefully you ride.

The other effect of the WWI-like conditions is people create their own alternatives:

This is a little shortcut that cuts off two sides of the triangle as you approach the tram tracks just before Morden Hall Park. It started off as a narrow foot track. Then people on bikes started using it because it was often more usable than the official trail. But as the track got more used, it became muddier and more eroded, so people started walking and riding on the grass by the side. As you can see, this process has destroyed the vegetation and we've ended up with something reminiscent of Glastonbury in a bad year.

This is what happens when you create sub-standard infrastructure. If instead of using 'natural' (read unsuitable) materials for the track they'd used tarmac, a lot more people would use it and there would be no damage to the vegetation surrounding the trail. There counter-argument is that tarmac isn't natural and therefore unsuitable for parkland. I don't buy that. No artificially-constructed trail is, or looks natural, even if it's made of mud. You can make tarmac unobtrusive; it is possible to create a path that is fit for purpose without ruining the natural ambience. What is really ruinous of the city environment is the idea that cyclists need to be relegated to this kind of crap, while motor traffic is free to intimidate them off even the most residential of roads. It would relieve a lot of stress on parks if people could enjoy a pleasant walk or cycle in their local neighborhood, instead of every square centimeter of streetscape being used for wider, faster roads or car parking.

I like the Wandle Trail, I really do. But it's constructed as a leisure route, not suitable for general transport use. The fact that it's a rough track wouldn't matter if it were not for the lack of alternatives suitable for those without sideburns. As it is, the alternatives are so unpalatable, the trail is pressed into service for all kinds of journeys by those not suffering from hydrophobia, while people who need to arrive at their destination without requiring a change of clothes and a new chain, are put off cycling altogether.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Commissioner Gilligan

The big news last week was that the journalist Andrew Gilligan will shortly be appointed Cycling Commissioner for London.

Various people within the cyclosphere and political circles have criticised the appointment, accusing Boris Johnson of cronyism, and questioning Gilligan's qualifications, experience and credentials. Others have been more supportive.

As far as qualifications are concerned, there must be very few people in the UK with an actual track record of designing and delivering quality cycle infrastructure in the UK - for the simple reason that there isn't any. And let's face it, the people we've had hitherto in charge of cycling, appointed by all parties including those critical of Gilligan's appointment, haven't exactly covered themselves in glory.

I don't think this job is an engineering post. It's not as if you have to design or dig up the roads yourself. It doesn't require deep transport expertise either. In fact being historically responsible for the state of the UK's highways could be a stain on your credibility. The job is, or should be, about getting the actual transport and highway experts doing the right things - being able to put together and sell a vision, and being able to understand what is needed to make cycling mainstream. And it helps if you actually ride a bike for daily transport in all conditions (as opposed to driving to a trail at the weekend with a bike on your car, or posing by a bike for a photo opportunity). That is the only way to understand the problems that cyclists face.  And by this measure, very few people charged with delivering cycle infrastructure in the UK are qualified, which could be a clue as to why it is so uniformly woeful.

Cycalogical is independent and not affiliated to any corporations, campaigning organisations or political parties. We do not get free holidays at anyone's villa in Tuscany, and no-one buys us dinner at The Ivy. So we're free to criticize and upset anyone.

We've been critical on this blog of Gilligan in the past for his weak grasp of safety statistics, but we're prepared to give him the benefit of any doubt. He seems to say the right things: The Times quotes him thus:

"I believe that the way to win arguments is to stress what better cycle facilities can do for London as a whole – reducing air pollution and crowding on the Tube, for example – rather than just for cyclists." 

and in 2010 he wrote:

"Twenty years ago, Berlin's cycling rate was not much more than London's now. The city authorities raised it five-fold with a concerted programme of building segregated bike lanes, bike stands and special traffic lights to get cyclists across difficult junctions. By the standards of a rail scheme, it cost virtually nothing. Safety is would-be cyclists' number one fear, a mostly undeserved one since the number of accidents has fallen even as the number of cyclists has soared. The segregation gave Berliners confidence to overcome that fear."

So Gilligan should get our full backing, provided he makes as much noise as possible in support of mass cycling, thumps the table at recalcitrant politicians, civil servants, local officers and car-centric highways engineers, confronts the anti-cycling lobby, and shows up the hypocrisy of those who claim to support cycling but do nothing about it while Britain slides into an epidemic of ill-health caused by our sedentary lifestyle. It's a shame the post is only part-time.

Let's not forget that while Labour are happy to criticise this appointment, and to talk up cycling while in opposition, the party's record while in power has been underwhelming. While they cannot be held entirely responsible for the current situation where there is a presumption against cycling built into the roads and justice systems, they failed to do anything meaningful about it during 13 years, and in some respects made it worse. The Traffic Management Act 2004 - which introduced the 'network management duty' used by TfL to justify the Blackfriars Bridge anti-cycling scheme - was Labour Government legislation. They messed around with the Road Traffic Act, but failed to tackle the loopholes that continue to allow killer drivers to escape with a small fine and a hard stare from the judge. On infrastructure, Labour spent a lot of money with little return in terms of enabling ordinary people to cycle.

However, any cycling commissioner has dark forces ranged against him (or her). Anyone who takes any notice of local politics will know the tsunami of opposition that greets any attempt to restrict parking or driving no matter how marginal the actual effect. That aside, there are still many barriers that make it very difficult, time-consuming and expensive for even well-intentioned and motivated local authorities to put in place decent infrastructure, such as the need to obtain a Traffic Order (a veritable orgy of bureaucracy) just to put a mandatory cycle lane in place. And then there's the problem that no-one's in overall charge. No one body or individual is either required or empowered to make decent cycle routes a reality. Responsibility for roads is split between different authorities: central government, TfL, the 30-odd London boroughs, and there are also organizations like Sustrans in the mix, so the buck tends to just get passed around. Hopefully the all-party inquiry which gets under way tomorrow will throw all that into focus and trigger action,  legislation and funding. All parties need to get behind cycling, because it will be just too easy for cynical politicians to take advantage of nimbyism on issues like parking to derail progress, and condemn us to another 20 years of car dependency, traffic congestion, obesity and transport poverty. We live, as ever, in hope of infrastructure rather than inquiries, and of cycling rather than commissioners...

Friday, January 18, 2013


We don't normally do stories about injustice on this blog, because it would be a bit like writing about punctures. There's just too many of them.

This story about the bloke who took his 4x4 up Mount Snowdon caught my eye though. His abortive ascent got him a 22-month jail sentence, for "dangerous driving".

Dangerous, it seems, has the opposite meaning in a court of law than it does in everyday life. If you destroy someone's life with a large truck while using a mobile phone, that's not dangerous. If you kill someone by opening a car door, that's not dangerous. But if you drive a car up a mountain, at night when there's no-one around, and in the process no-one gets killed or injured, that is dangerous.

At Cycalogical, we don't want to encourage people to drive 4x4 vehicles anywhere, except if you're a farmer or othewise have legitimate business off-road or in conditions where 2-wheel drive vehicles can't be used. 4x4s are extremely dangerous when used irresponsibly, for example driving to the shops in London, because of the high carbon emissions which will endanger future generations in the shape of climate change. That's not illegal of course, it's just immoral. But there are plenty of road users who are committing crimes that result in death and injury, and are dangerous by any reasonable definition of the word, but don't seem to meet the impossibly high standards of the UK law's definition of "dangerous".

Time for those in charge of the criminal justice system to buy a dictionary?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Doing the Lambeth Walk - In Berkshire?

This blog lampooned TfL's bizarre proposals to tart up the Lambeth Bridge/Millbank roundabout back in October, and encouraged readers to make their views known via the consultation process. Well, it looks like a lot of people did exactly that, and the recently-published results of the consultation do not make comfortable reading for TfL. However, credit where credit's due, they are abandoning the original proposal and looking at a roundabout with segregated cycle facilities. Hooray!

The consultation report says:
"Some of the measures suggested by respondents, such as a segregated cycle track around the outside of the roundabout with cyclist priority at slip roads, would be new features on London’s roads, and therefore require off-street trials. We have started building the infrastructure for these trials at the Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire, and we will work with our stakeholders to ensure their views are considered as part of this work."

This is nonsense. Cycle-friendly roundabouts have been around for a while now on the Continent. We do not need to re-invent the wheel: and people do not cycle differently on the Continent (except they are rather more relaxed and less fearful. And they're on the other side of the road). So here's an idea. Given that this idea obviously works in practice, why not build it in London instead of Berkshire?

The existing roundabout is deadly. While the TRL are trialling something safer in a field out in the sticks, cyclists will continue to be at risk here in the smoke. Given the choice between something that is crap, and something else that has been proven in another country not to be crap, why would you want to put up with the crap for another year or two while a bunch of boffins in a lab prove that the new stuff  that isn't crap, is not crap, and spend a lot of your money doing so?

One other issue from the consultation report arises from the following sentence:

"we will concentrate our resources on developing more substantial improvements that meet the expectations of Westminster Council and other stakeholders"

Given Westminster Council's record on cycling, that statement is profoundly worrying. What exactly are their expectations? The opposed the shared space, like almost everyone else, but what else do they oppose? We should be told.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Happy Birthday to the Tube, which is 150 years old and showing its age. The Standard reports Mike Mike Brown, head cheese of London Underground, is out with the begging bowl. And he's not after 150 candles to put on a cake. "Without an additional £12 billion to pay for a gap in funding for upgrades to Bank, Monument and Holborn stations and the modernisation of the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, the reliability of the Tube will be compromised and money wasted on repairs", he wheedles.

So let's get that straight - this is not much more than just keeping the existing system running.

Let's consider what we could do with a tenth of that money spent on cycling - £1.2bn. Even at an average cost of £1M/mile, you could build over 1000 miles of Continental-style cycle infrastructure. It wouldn't all be segregated tracks - we'd also have filtered permeability and offroad routes. And maybe one or two cycle bridges. No-one in London need be out of range of a quality cycle route. Kids would be able to cycle to school or to the park. Pensioners would be able to cycle to the shops. Ordinary people without sideburns or an Olympic medal could cycle to see friends, or even to work! And I mean ordinary people - people with a suggestion of muffin-top or man-boobs who today use cars to go everywhere, because a quality, subjectively safe cycle network would guarantee no more 'taking the lane' against HGVs, or having to cut across 3 lanes of fast-moving traffic. No more lycra, no more hi-viz, no more helmets. And no more cycling on the pavement.

It's not unrealistic to expect that with this investment we could end up with Continental levels of cycling, so instead of having maybe 2% of journeys made by bike, we could have 10%. Or even 20%. Londoners would be healthier, with lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and all the other maladies associated with lack of exercise. That alone would likely save in excess of £1.2bn from the NHS budget. There would be less transport poverty, with journey costs massively reduced with cycling replacing expensive public transport and car travel. Many Londoners would likely no longer need to keep a private car, using taxis or car clubs for occasions where motor journeys are necessary. And with fewer cars and car journeys, we'd have quieter, more peaceful, less dangerous neighborhoods, no more parking problems (and fewer parking fines). Motor journeys would be quicker due to less congestion. We'd also have a lower carbon footprint and reduced pollution. Local authorities could sell off surplus car parking for house-building, raising revenue and easing the housing crisis. Building the cycle infrastructure would generate jobs of course.

It all sounds a bit too good to be true, doesn't it? Maybe we'd be better off sticking to the tried-and-tested formula of congested, dangerous roads and overcrowded, massively-subsidised but still expensive public transport.