Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Crossrail for Bikes - Dave Hill gets it Wrong ?

Generally we like Dave Hill's insightful and reasonably balanced journalism. But in his piece about the Crossrail for Bikes, we think he's got it a bit wrong.

"A political railroading exercise", is the picture he paints.

He starts by stating:

"some of these concerns [about the east-west cycle route] were aired for the benefit of the policy committee of London Travelwatch, the official watchdog representing all - repeat, all - transport users in the capital."

First, London Travelwatch does not have a good record of representing cyclists in the Capital, in our opinion:  they don't really 'get it' and have been laggards in the debate about what place cycling should have in the transport mix.

"[London Chamber of Commerce and Industry's] problem with the superhighway is a 'lack of almost any information at all' about its possible effects on the workings of London’s economy. "

This is a strange point. TfL are not economists and it is not their job to make economic predictions. And in any case, economists don't have a great track record of predicting macro effects, let alone effects on this small-scale level. There are all sorts of changes to traffic patterns happening on a daily basis, caused by all manner of things from events like the Olympics to roadworks and construction projects, but we don't do detailed analysis of possible effects on the economy. It is not the Mayor's job to keep London's businesses in a bubble, sealed from all possible ill effects. It is up to businesses to adapt to changing conditions. More successful businesses will take advantage of opportunities arising for more cycling. Many sectors, from the bike industry to tourism, will benefit. There will be business opportunities for freight consolidation and deliveries by pedal-powered vehicles.
And let us not forget: it is the job of businesses to serve London, not the other way around. There is no way that quality of life in this city should be sacrificed to make life a little bit easier for businesses who can't or won't adapt to what Londoners want from their transport system and street environment.

"London First has also raised the problems the superhighway could cause pedestrians."

This is ridiculous. Problems for pedestrians have been caused by fifty years of motor-centric planning and traffic-flow prioritization, not least by the current Mayor. To suggest that better cycle facilities will cause pedestrians problems is a bit like saying giving chemotherapy to a cancer patient will make them feel unwell. Cycling is a far more efficient use of roadspace than private cars or taxis, so is part of the solution, not part of the problem. And what is more, 'improvements' for pedestrians have often involved endangering cyclists, as carriageways are narrowed while no attempt is made to provide for cyclists, to control traffic speeds or volumes, or enforce against dangerous driving.

"[City of London's] Michael Welbank has described the superhighway plans as 'too narrowly focussed on the needs of cyclists' "

Well, it is a cycle scheme. And set against a background where virtually every single change to London's road system in recent history has ignored the needs of cyclists. So to take this scheme in isolation is to skip by the fact that London has an enormous amount of catching up to do in terms of cycling provision. To draw a causal link between lack of priority for pedestrians and this scheme is bogus.

" The superhighway, [Iain Simmons] thinks, could add another 20 or 30 seconds to these [pedestrian crossing wait] times."

The presence of cycle superhighways doesn't determine anything. With or without cycle superhighways, it is up to TfL how signals prioritize pedestrians- they didn't start to relegate pedestrians down the pecking order with this project, and there is no reason why they should continue to do so. The fundamental problem is that TfL have tried to squeeze far too much traffic into London's narrow streets. During the Olympics, we had reallocation of roadspace and a massive reduction of traffic. Did London's economy collapse as a result? Not that you'd notice. Which puts the lie to the idea that every journey made today is absolutely necessary. Other cities cope well with less traffic. And we certainly don't see anyone arguing that the city would be better off with more traffic - and more pollution, more congestion, noise and degradation to the street scene and urban environment.

"The common theme is that all concerned want cyclists’ lot improved, but worry that Johnson’s plans are being pushed through far too hurriedly. "

Are you sure about that, Dave? Are you sure there isn't a hidden agenda? We've spent a long time getting to the point where the debate about cycle infrastructure is settled. It is now the consensus that more cycling won't happen without decent segregated routes. So if you are against this project, you are against cycling. Period. But it isn't politically expedient anymore for organizations and lobbyists to directly oppose the plans, as to do so would associate them with continued death and injury to cyclists, so their only weapons are delay, procrastination and obfuscation. And it is not really credible for people to claim that the building of segreagated routes is a surpise. Dutch-style routes were in the Mayor's manifesto, and supported by all major parties. Businesses have had years to think through the implications, and do economic analysis if they so chose.
"Pushed through far too hurriedly?" Why not slow down a bit and let more cyclists die, you mean?

But here is the real point: London voted for this. It would be an affront to democracy for plans for decent segregated routes to be degraded into...well, the kind of crap that has hitherto been the calling card of cycling 'investment'. What's more, it would be a gross waste of taxpayers' money - the benefits - economic, public health, pollution, environment, liveability etc. etc., only come if ordinary non-lycra-clad people start cycling - and we know they won't if the routes aren't up to a consistent standard throughout.

"Arranging this triumph is the mission of his part-time cycling adviser Andrew Gilligan, a pushy media chum with no experience in transport planning."

We've had decades of transport planners making a total mess of cycling in the UK. It's not up to Gilligan to design or plan the routes - that's the job of the engineers - it is up to him to make them happen. And frankly, being 'pushy' is a required attribute, as is understanding communication and the media. At least Gilligan rides a bike, which makes him a lot more qualified than a lot of people at TfL. He is doing what he was hired to do - and the general impression is, he is doing a half-decent job.

Sorry, Dave. We think that better cycling provision will be good for London, for its people, its economy, its businesses, its health and its environment. And there is plenty of evidence for this. It is up to businesses to adapt to the changes and opportunities this positive change will throw up. Sure, there are details that need to be worked out, but the fact is that roadspace must be reallocated to cycling, and there will be consequences (both positive and negative) to that. For example, on the plus side of the ledger, Victoria Embankment will go from being an urban motorway to having the cycle track as a buffer between the riverside pavement and the motor traffic. The riverside will go from being an unwelcoming, unattractive, noisy and polluted place to somewhere people might actually want to linger. Yes, some journeys may take longer. On the other hand, a whole new transport mode, cycling, will be opened up to people who currently aren't prepared to mix it on a bike with heavy traffic. People might take a Boris Bike rather than a taxi, and their journey could well be quicker. Don't forget that taxis are responsible for a lot (about 30%) of central London pollution (according to Darren Johnson based on TfL figures).

"The 'Crossrail for bikes', is scheduled to be complete just before the mayor’s second term is due to end in May, 2016. It would be hailed as the crowning glory of his much-trumpeted “cycling revolution”....TfL would like the time to do its job with the thoroughness this ambitious project merits. That, though, might clash with the career interests of the mayor - and they, of course, must always come first".

Again, this project can't come quickly enough. The idea that the Mayor shouldn't push ahead with a great scheme because that might be perceived as good for his career prospects is completely illogical. There are very few projects that wouldn't benefit from a bit more time and a bit more money, but in case you hadn't noticed, we have a public health emergency in this country. The consequences of sedentary lifestyles is threatening to bankrupt the NHS. Decent cycle infrastructure can't come soon enough, and making Boris look good is surely a price worth paying.