Thursday, 27 February 2014

"Sixties relics" to be ripped out and made safe for cycling. Major funding announced to make 33 of London's nastiest junctions safer.

Map of the 33 inner London junctions (mainly) to be made safe for cycling
In 2011, together with my cycling partner in crime Mark Ames of ibikelondon blog, we set off with several hundred people on a “Tour duDanger” – a bicycle tour of central London’s most dangerous junctions for cycling. We had only expected a few dozen people to turn up. In the end, we were joined by London Assembly Members, MPs, film crews and many hundreds of people who simply wanted to say they'd had enough of these terrible junctions.

The point behind the ride was to highlight the insanity of the large junctions dedicated only to the fast movement of motor vehicles that are dotted all around inner London. People are largely an afterthought in these environments and yet 10s of thousands of people have to cross these junctions on foot or on a bike every day.

At the time, we were met with fairly little sympathy. The Mayor, notoriously, stood up and proclaimed that the horror of the twin Elephant & Castle five lane roundabouts was just fine thank you very much, telling us that “Elephant & Castle is "fine [to cycle around]...if you keep your wits about you”. Serious numbers of people are seriously injured each year trying to cross the road or pedalling around these junctions on a bike. And most of these junctions act as a huge barrier – people look at them and think that driving or taking the bus is going to be a much more sensible way to get across them than walking or biking. Don’t forget, for example that the twin roundabouts at Elephant used to be a nightlife hub for the whole of south London. Now they are just giant areas for moving motor traffic where most people would rather bus or drive than cycle or walk.

I’ve seen the initial designs for a couple of these “relics”, for example at Oval junction and they’re not bad. They need a bit of tweaking but the stunning thing about the latest Oval plans is they could just about make this place workable for your 14 year old to bike to school without having to fling themselves across multiple lanes of accelerating motor traffic. My bet too is that by redefining spaces like Oval junction, the Mayor can help turn some of these areas from urban wastelands (frankly, that’s what many of them are: no shops; no one really wants to be there except people who have to be there; barriers between communities) into proper nodes where people want to be again.

This has all come about as something of a change of heart at TfL. The original plan was to tinker with over 100 junctions all around London. And the original plans for those junctions were pretty rubbish – some white lines and a few signposts here and there. The schemes that were originally proposed at Oval were absolute junk, to be honest, and that was a result of not enough money to do the job properly. Whether the final list of 33 junctions is the right one or not, I think the philosophy is absolutely spot on: Rather than tinker with 100 or so junctions and get it wrong, pile proper resources into 33 junctions and get them right. If you can really (and I mean really) sort out the windswept grimness of Vauxhall or the choking misery of Marble Arch and make them places where your average person actually feels that cycling looks safe and sensible, then, in my view, you’ll have achieved a load more than some flimsy advisory bike lanes would ever do.

I’m really encouraged by this news but I’m also impatient to see real facts on the ground. We’ve been promised snazzy cycle tracks at Vauxhall for over a year. It may be another year, or who knows, even two more years, before the diggers move in. Likewise, I notice that the announcement avoids making any commitment to a delivery timetable. 

Proposed changes at Kings Cross 
For example, this week, TfL announced some very half-hearted plans to make cycling a bit easier in twodirections around Kings Cross. Elements of this new scheme aren’t bad but, overall, it’s pretty weedy stuff. The new Kings Cross plans hint at great future changes to come (which are confirmed in the 33 junctions announcement) but there’s no indication of when this massive road system is finally going to be sorted out and made to work for people and not just for motor traffic.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

30 years ago, GLC video promised 1,000 miles of safe cycle network in London. Don't let this fail to happen all over again.

Cycle up towards Royal College Street from St Pancras?
You might recognise this bike track (it's green now)
I was 10 years old when the Greater London Council filmed "Cycling for London" in 1984. It is a fascinating video. It shows cycle schemes across central London that I have used every week since I moved here; cycle schemes that - for the most part - are still exactly the same as they were 30 years ago.

The film also shows people in normal clothes on bikes, no helmets and little hi-viz in action. Tellingly, it shows scenes with lots of children pedalling about the place - something that is non-existent in central London these days.

And the film shares a tonne of language with the language we still use today. It criticises urban street design where "pedestrians were funnelled underground, cyclists were ignored altogether & often forced to compete with fast-moving traffic". The same could be said of most UK towns and cities today. The GLC representatives promise that "we won't just be advising cyclists to wear bright clothes at night; we'll be dealing with safety problems on the roads and creating 1,000 miles of safe cycle routes". Similar sorts of promises are making the rounds these days as well.

You should watch the film. It is both fascinating to see familiar cycle route landmarks 30 years ago; to see what people are wearing and how gently they are cycling about. It is also unbelievably sobering to hear how people are talking about 'cyclists' and 'cycling' in such similar terms to the terms people are using today.

All of which set me thinking about our current Mayor's "Vision for Cycling". There are four sets of initiatives all gently easing themselves off the design tables: more super highways; 'quietways' in outer London; 'mini-Hollands' in some outer boroughs and a central London bike grid. All of these things are at a different stage of evolution but it's fairly clear now that we won't see all of these initiatives on the ground until the early 2020s - almost 40 years since this video was produced.

Proposed central London cycle grid

The progress towards the new Vision for Cycling feels painfully slow. Just take a look at the back and forth with a few dozen local residents who oppose the construction of a new cycle track through the Vauxhall gyratory. Over a year after TfL announced plans to build a bike track through the centre of the gyratory (to give people a safe, direct route, rather than having to send them around a massive multi-lane one-way system), negotiations are still going back and forth with a few noisy residents who are trying to stand in the way of something that would improve conditions for thousands of people.

I know that some of the schemes in other boroughs have already stalled. It just needs a few vocal residents (most of the time these seem to be wealthier residents, by the way) and a new cycle scheme gets the chop.

Elephant & Castle cycle bypass in action in 1984
Now part of the 'cycle super highway'
My huge fear is that in 30 more years, someone will be looking back at these blog posts in the same way I'm looking at this GLC video from 1984 and wondering why none of these ambitious schemes ever happened.

And I think there is a risk of that. It's a risk exacerbated by 'noise'. Plenty of people are making 'noise' opposing cycle schemes. Not enough people are making noise in support of them though.

At the moment, there's one thing that really needs some focus. And that is the Central London Bike Grid. Now, officially, the deadline for submissions was apparently on Friday. But my understanding is that TfL will accept comments for a few more days.

The Grid people really need to hear from you. And all you need to do is ping an email to and give your comments on this central London plan. VoleOSpeed blog has written a brilliant summary of some of the issues which you can use as a guideline. But if I can summarise, I'd say there are some big issues to address:

Royal Parks - make the bike tracks 24 hours, not just daytime and early evening routes

Westminster - its plans are way too wiggly. It doesn't seem to think it needs to do much other than puts some signs up. Westminster needs to either actively reduce the amount of or the speed of motor traffic on its proposed routes. And it needs to de-wiggle the routes where it has them running all around one-way systems.

Kensington & Chelsea - why isn't there a route between Notting Hill Gate with Kensington High Street?

Lambeth / Southwark - Roads like The Cut and Southwark Street are both on the Grid. Frankly, I think The Cut is rubbish for cycling. It's too narrow, the kerbs wiggle in and out and it makes for tricky cycling, creeping up the inside of taxis queuing for Waterloo. Likewise, the junction at Lambeth North needs sorting out. It's a complete joke trying to follow Lambeth's quiet cycle route 3 as you pull from the left handside bike lane on Baylis Road to turn right into Hercules Road - you have to literally shove your way in front of the traffic.

Take a look at VoleOSpeed blog if you can and please try and send your thoughts to as quickly as possible. I think your views still count provided you get them in by Monday next week. It should only take you 10 minutes. Please do it.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Central London cycling grid - first positive signs of progress. Mayor's previous policies are seeing bus use in decline; private car use on the increase and bike use flatlining

Royal College Street bike path in Camden. Soon to be extended both north and south

I'm starting to hear some fairly interesting noises about the central London cycling grid, a proposed network of "routes for people who want to cycle slowly, in their ordinary clothes, away from most of the traffic". Phil Jones, the councillor responsible for transport in Camden council (and a great protagonist of the recently-launched Royal College Street cycle way pictured above) announced on twitter that the Royal College Street scheme will be extended next year (I believe up towards Kentish Town and down into central London). He also hinted at restrictions to motor traffic on Tavistock Place - the hugely popular east-west bike route across Bloomsbury. That bike route is operating way above the capacity it is built for with big queues of people cycling in the morning along very narrow and weirdly-laid-out bike tracks. By reducing through motor traffic here, the council can provide much better infrastructure for cycling and enable greater capacity of bikes than the route can currently handle.

Map of the proposed central London bike grid

Also in Camden, cycling will be finally be allowed on the contraflow bus lane that leads between Theobolds Road and New Oxford Street. This is really overdue. The changes should come into effect in the New Year. As Voleospeed blog points out, cyclists already use the bus contraflow because it is safer than having to fling yourself around the madness of Holborn gyratory but they are consistently being fined by the police for doing so. This is practically the only section of bus lane in London that is out of bounds to people on bikes as well and it is completely ridiculous it was ever allowed to go ahead on this basis in the first place given there are near identical road layouts elsewhere where bikes are allowed (think London Road near Elephant & Castle). It is good that Camden and TfL are finally rectifying this insane situation.

It seems to me that, within some boroughs at least, the cycle grid will be quite good. And what I mean by 'quite good' is that it will adhere to a new policy requirement adopted by the London Cycling Campaign that was suggested by Rachel Aldred. In a nutshell, that "policy is designed to ensure that we campaign for a dense network of streets that have either low-speed motor vehicles in low volumes, or protected space for cycling, including through junctions." (If you want to understand the policy in detail, read Rachel's post)

As I've stated in previous posts, however, it is by no means clear that this sort of thinking is going on in all the central London boroughs. Many parts of the grid that go through Westminster are a bit of a shambles and wiggle around complicated one-way systems. Worse than that, though, is the fact that Westminster quite clearly states it won't be building anything like the standards that the London Cycling Campaign is calling for. In fact, Westminster makes very clear that it will not consider implementing anything that makes it 'harder' for other types of vehicles to get around. In other words, people will end up having to cycle down taxi and white van ratruns in Westminster but they'll be able to cycle on calmed streets in Camden that don't allow through motor traffic and are therefore much less busy. What's more, Westminster makes it pretty obvious that it thinks kerbside deliveries are more important that protected cycle lanes on busy main roads.

Cycling mode share in London is beginning to flat line. 

This situation has to change. If you look at the figures releases last week, cycling in London has suddenly begun to flatline. It's well worth having a read of the review in AsEasyAsRidingABike blog. The latest stats also show by the way is that the number of bus journeys is suddenly in decline for the first time in over a decade and private car use is beginning to actually increase in outer London. I have to think that these are the result of policy decisions by the Mayor.

It is absurd that bus use is declining and private car use increasing while bike use is flatlining. Our city is getting more and more crowded as its population grows. A transport policy that discourages highly efficient use of roads by bus transport and bike transport while increasing car use is bad for congestion, bad for pollution, bad for business and, ultimately the result of short-sighted policy-making in the recent past. That needs to change. And local authorities like Westminster can't be allowed to pursue policies that further privilege motor traffic at the cost of bus and bike.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Needs your feedback: Westminster council publishes a cycle strategy designed by a drunk spider. Some of this is fairly decent but a lot of it is really second-rate. Please fill out the online survey (link at the bottom)

Believe it or not, the pink line is meant to be a direct and convenient bike route. Call me stupid? 

Westminster council (or, rather, the City of Westminster as it calls itself) has this week released its draft cycling strategy. You can comment on the strategy on Westminster's website.

The strategy is to deliver what Westminster calls a network of 'well-signposted, direct and continuous cycle routes' through central London. Pictured above is one of those 'direct and continuous cycle routes'. The Jubilee Line will take you from St. James's Park, up Bond Street to north of Oxford Street. Now, the big and positive thing about this is that you will - by the looks of it - be able to bike north up Bond Street and that is a big deal indeed. But just look at the insane amount of back and forth you'll have to do to line up with the stretch on Bond Street. No-one in their right mind is going to use this is they face a literal maze of one-way streets just to connect with the clear stretch along Bond Street.

Or take a look at the stretch north of Oxford Street along New Cavendish Street. This route links with the main east-west bike track on Camden's streets across towards Bloomsbury and ultimately Islington. This looks like wiggle central. If you're in a car you can storm down three-lanes of New Cavendish Street but it looks to me like Westminster wants people on bikes to take the least direct, most convoluted route possible. Why not create space for cycling along the more direct route here, namely along New Cavendish Street and then in to George Street?

And what is critical, of course, is to actually make space for cycling. Some of these streets are already part of the London Cycle Network within Westminster. But the carriageway is filled with parked cars and with multiple lanes of fast-flowing motor traffic. Some of these routes aren't going to work unless that changes and they'll be nothing more than highly windy, convoluted ideas that no-one uses.

In balance, some of these routes look pretty encouraging. The planned 'Victoria Line', through Soho is one of those. It would shoot up (and down) Wardour Street and was first mooted with support from the Crown Estate back in April. That would then link to a route towards St James's Park and Vauxhall Bridge. It, also, seems to link, however to a Victoria Non-Line, namely to a long stretch where you'd presumably have to get off and walk your way to the other end of Green Park, having walked down a one-way road and crossed Piccadilly.

I'm also not at all sure what is going on a Trafalgar Square. You'd have to come up the Mall, do a left a right, a left, a right and right again, all to wiggle around and get yourself aligned with Whitcomb Street. Pretty messy if you ask me.

I'm sure it must be a mistake but the bike track through the middle of Hyde Park Corner disappears on this map, replaced instead with a jolly ride around a six lane gyratory. It's a bit like publishing a map of London and putting the M4 down the Grand Union Canal towpath.

I'd urge people to take a look at the map and look for similar crazy routes. Where you see a dotted line route and a full-line route, assume that the dotted line is an alternative proposal.

Once you've had a look at the map, please have a go at completing the online survey and making sure Westminster knows what you think. Some of this is downright rubbish and we need to make sure the council knows about that. Please post any comments on this blog as well and I'll wrap those up into an email to the council when I've got sufficient feedback.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Five cyclists, three pedestrians killed this week. Boris turns it into a debate about whether those dead road users are law-abiding or not. Unimpressed.

This was meant to be a 'cycle highway' not a 'danger road'

I've had to do a bit of soul-searching before writing this. The past 10 days have seen eight people killed on London's roads: three pedestrians and five people on bikes.

Speaking on radio, Boris Johnson's response to the cyclist deaths was to say: "There's no question of blame or finger-pointing. That doesn't work in these circumstances...But unless people obey the laws of the road and people actively take account of the signals that we put in, there's no amount of traffic engineering that we invest in that is going to save people's lives."

Now, my understanding is that in one of the five cycling deaths, the person killed may possibly have been on the wrong side of the road at the time.

But that doesn't excuse the fact that the Mayor seems, in my view, to have missed the point. The point is that precious little of Boris Johnson's "traffic engineering" is going on at the moment. At least, precious little is happening on the ground.

Let's get the facts straight here.

When the Mayor came to power, he scrapped investment in the London Cycle Network. The network was never the most impressive but it did provide a mechanism for councils across London to build decent routes for cycling along quieter roads. After several years of studies and consulting projects, the scheme was due to get an upgrade. That was scrapped in favour of the Cycle Super Highways.

Cycle Super Highway 7 in action in Clapham. The bike lane is under the red car. 

The idea at the time was to provide more direct routes for people to cycle. And I can see some merit in that policy. The Cycle Network was often disjointed, down dark, quiet (and sometimes downright scary) streets and it kind of shoved cycling out of sight, through industrial estates and along railway sidings. Instead, we would see cycling on London's main roads, it would be quicker and faster and easier. In theory, it should also have been safer.

The reality is that the Cycle Super Highways were complete and utter junk.

The reason they were complete and utter junk was simple. The Mayor has consistently backed a road planning team within Transport for London that sanctifies traffic flow of motor vehicles above all else. This policy, 100% supported by the Mayor meant that before they even got started, the planners of the Cycle Super Highways were hopelessly unable to deliver safe cycle routes. It meant that instead of designing the sorts of safe, semi-segregated bike routes you see springing up all over cities in the USA, all we got was expensive blue paint.

What this meant was that at Oval, the cycle lane is just some blue paint between three lanes of trunk road traffic, half of which is turning left directly across the cycle lane, which turns right at the same point that motor vehicles are turning left. At 40-50mph.

What this meant was that at Kings Cross, the scene of numerous cyclist and pedestrian deaths, TfL's solution was to suggest some mirrors, rather than a road layout that kept cyclists and HGVs apart.

In short, cyclists were supposed to cycle like they were cycling a car. On a trunk road. With vehicles at speeds of 40-50mph.

Slowly, we have begun to see the Mayor change direction. He should be quite rightly proud of the very newest section of Cycle Super Highway 2 to Stratford. It is by no means perfect but it is a step change better than things that have gone before it. And the Mayor's cycling vision is also impressive. The plan is for all new Cycle Super Highways to be segregated or at least semi-segregated from fast-moving, busy traffic on trunk roads.

Good. But what I fail to understand is what is taking so long. The East-West cycle highway has been on the cards for nearly a year. The route has been more or less agreed. But the first invite-only consultation on this new cycle highway is still several months away.

Cycle super highway at Oval - down the middle of the trunk road

Then there are problems with some local authorities to deal with as well. Westminster council is more or less sticking two fingers up at the Mayor as far as I can tell, refusing to play ball with the Mayor's plans to build a network of cycling quiet ways. I don't get that information from the Mayor, by the way, but I get that from a whole host of people connected with the programme who are watching with disbelief as Westminster council sinks deeper and deeper into the 1970s.

And then we come to the Mayor himself.

He could, had he chosen to, have spent time spelling out on LBC that he has serious intentions to get things right for cycling. That he is building a network of segregated highways. In fact, he could have admitted he screwed up and that he's starting again. I watched an excrutiating interview with the Mayor on the BBC, where he was interviewed by the political correspondent who asked him that exact question. Did the Mayor think he'd built the Cycle Super Highways on the cheap, he questioned. No real answer.

Every time the question of cycling comes up, the Mayor seems to flounder something about cyclists running red lights, not riding with lights, not riding according to the rules. He could choose instead to focus on the vision. Instead, it's like something kicks in his brain that says, hold on, most of my voters are in outer London and drive everywhere, they don't care about these cyclists all that much, so I'd better not sound too much like I'm pro-cycling.

It strikes me the Mayor is being a coward. He has a vision. It is, slowly but surely coming together. But he won't stand up for it. If he won't stand up for it in public, there's a risk it will never happen. And I think that the fact his Cycling Vision is taking sooooo long to be implemented is linked to his public lack of consistent support for his vision.

The Evening Standard put it spot-on in an editorial this week:

"This is a question of political will, not physical road space: other changes to our roads once branded unthinkable, such as bus lanes and the congestion charge, are now accepted parts of the system. London is a working city with a multiplicity of road users — cyclists, pedestrians, car and lorry drivers. Yet it should be possible for all of us to share the roads, given decent provision and mutual consideration. We can be a cycling city to rival any other in Europe: we just have to want to make it happen."

A previous Mayor implemented the congestion charge. People on phone-in radio stations whinged about it for ages in advance. But now it's accepted. If the Mayor stood up and said for once and for all, 'right you lot, this cycling stuff is going to change, because it has to change and I'm going to build these Cycle Super Highways properly and that means taking some space away from motor traffic and giving it to cycling', people would whinge. And, just as they did with the congestion charge, they'd get used to it. But he's not saying that. He's flip flopping from launching new cycle highways to blaming people killed on his cycle highways. And he risks failing to lead London to a better future on its streets.

Not good enough.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Mayor launches 'major step forward' with new cycle highway plus announces new segregated cycle highways and upgrades to existing routes. It's not before time.

New look Blackfriars Road? I hope so, but let's see
He is the third person to be killed on this negligent piece of non-infrastructure.
Also yesterday, a male cyclist was hit by a coach on Southampton Row (a road controlled by Camden council rather than the Mayor directly) at 7pm and suffered extremely serious injuries. This is the third person to suffer life-changing injuries while riding a bike across this junction in five years. Two people on bikes have also been killed here in the same period.
This is a bike and pedestrian only route. The barriers went up last week. There were none here for over a decade.
Pic courtesy Cycalogical blog
Earlier in the week, on a smaller scale by far, some chicane fences went up on extremely busy (and supposedly flagship) Lambeth local cycle route 3, between Ovaland Stockwell. The fences make this bike and pedestrian-only route near impossible to use during rush hour, encouraging people instead to use busy,fast, narrow roads instead: The sorts of roads where bikes, buses and lorries are forced to share space. Not smart. So far, TfL: and Lambeth councillors all agree that the chicanes are insane. No-one’s even sure who put them there. Was it a TfL contractor? Is it the housing association that owns the land? Let’s see.
And today, the Mayor rode for the first time along his new,seriously sexy Cycle Super Highway 2 Extension (CS2 X to those involved with the planning) that leads into Stratford from Bow roundabout. CS2X is a major shift for London. It is the first time that TfL has removed a motor traffic lane and installed a pretty decent, high quality bike track instead. The only problem is that it runs out at Bow roundabout and dumps you into the killer stretch of Highway 2 that was built a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, the London Cycling Campaign is right in its verdict that CS2X is a "major step forward" for cycling in London

You can see a review of the new Cycle Super Highway on this excellent and well-balanced BBC news report. 
The Mayor has also today admitted that the whole Cycle Highway scheme needs an upgrade. Earlier today, Transport for London announced that it intends to build a segregated bike track running from Kings Cross to Elephant & Castle in the south. It also releases new images of the proposed East-West track along the Embankment. If these two tracks get built, they will be a game changer, a serious central London cycle link heading in all four directions with a massive cycle cross roads at Blackfriars Bridge, where bicycles already account for 43% of all vehicles in the morning rush hour. 
Updated perspective showing planned bike track along The Embankment. Truly amazing, assuming it does happen.

This is serious stuff. If it happens. For the first time, there is some reason to believe it just might happen. According to today’s Evening  Standard, Transport for London will be hiring “128 new posts within its cycling division with new opportunities for designers, engineers and traffic modellers”. That would be very significant and would, at last, start to give cycling a serious seat at the table within TfL.
For the very first time, there are signs that CS2X and the recently announced plans for new Cycle Super Highways through central London might at last mean the Mayor starts delivering on that 2009 election promise. And it’s not before time. This is what he should have done the first time around, instead of delivering high-cost, seriously low quality routes lined with blue paint.
There are also promises to upgrade some of the other Cycle Super Highways, including route 7 to Balham and Tooting, which is little more than a bit of blue paint that is normally filled with parked cars. Cycle Super Highway 7 is utterly unusable outside of rush hour. Strangely enough, no-one cycles on it outside of rush hour. If we want people to switch to cycling, we need routes that work all day and all night. 
CS2X is the start of something that resembles a real commitment to infrastructure for people who want to pedal from place to place. Don't get too excited, though. The Embankment won't look like this until at least 2016. I don't know if there's a date for the north-south link or not (and my understanding is that the developers along Blackfriars Road are quite opposed to the bike lane for goodness knows what reason). Either way, there's still a lot of time for things to change. We have to keep the pressure up but we also have to acknowledge that, at long last, the Mayor has delivered a couple of miles of decent cycle highway. Which is exactly what he should have done several years ago.