I was working in Portugal last week.
Initially I was reluctant to go – it felt too far for what was essentially a one-day workshop. But when João Bernardino, who’d invited me, offered use of a bike whilst I was there, and told me Lisbon’s community of cycling activists would like to meet me, it became much more attractive.
It was a fantastic experience, the hospitality of everyone I met truly exceptional.
Ana Pereira greeted me at the airport. Ana is one of the founders of Cenas a Pedal – which is not ‘just’ a bike store or workshop, but a more total project striving to sell everyday cycling in a place where such cycling is still rare. It’s the kind of pioneering place which every city needs, and which will multiply and prosper as cycling’s popularity grows.
Ana rode a pedelec –the sort of bike perhaps most likely to democratise cycling in a hilly, low-cycling city such as Lisbon. She guided me out of the airport and along some big and busy roads to the city’s 1998 Expo site, and from there into a fierce wind along the Tagus River to the ferry at Cais do Sodré where we met João.
A true gentleman, João rode his wife Filipa’s bike and gave me his own. From Cacilhas on the Tagus’s other side we rode south towards the remote monastery where the workshop was to take place. The roads were full of cars; the dedicated cycling infrastructure was sometimes good, but too discontinuous to be really useful.
The Arrábida Monastery sits high above the Atlantic Ocean on the wooded slopes of the Arrábida Natural Park to the south of Lisbon. It’s a stunning place which feels a world away from the capital.
With a free day to explore before the workshop’s opening dinner, I rode east along the coast to the port city of Setúbal. I set out in thick fog but the road was quiet, it was a lovely ride, and the air cleared as I dropped towards the sea. It was the first time since October I’ve ridden without gloves, and the warmth made me impatient for spring – alas my first ride back home saw me battling through a blizzard!
The workshop was part of a European project investigating the long-term future of transport. We were discussing and developing scenarios based on the ‘mega-trends’ considered likely to shape people’s mobile lives over the next half century.
One ‘expert’ amongst others from different fields and from around the world, I felt like ‘the cycling guy’. I suppose it’s important that cycling’s represented in these kinds of spaces if it’s to have hope of moving in from the margins, so it was good to be there and I was happy to play that role.
But the highlight of my trip was Friday night; the workshop over, I shed my suit and had some fun!
From my hotel Hercules, Ana Santos, João and I rode to Cenas a Pedal where we met more people and rode together – “a mini-Critical Mass!”, as Ana from Cenas a Pedal described it – to the book store, Ler Devagar, where I was to speak. This is a vast anarcho-dream of a place – evidence of its former life as a printworks is everywhere, bicycles dangle from above, books of course are piled high, and then there’s beer, wine, coffee, music, and abundant indications of the space’s centrality to alternative social and political networks; to me it felt like heaven!
Ana Pereira began the evening’s conversation by explaining the work of MUBi, the Portuguese association for urban cycling.
MUBi advocates urban cycling as an ordinary means of moving around. Car ownership and use has exploded across Portugal over the last generation, and whilst it is on the up, levels of utility cycling remain very low. Mário Alves of MUBi told me that the proportion of commuter trips made by cycle in the city is currently 0.6%.
There is some dedicated cycling infrastructure, and some of it looks pretty good, but it’s woefully disjointed and there’s too little actual cycling for that dedicated space to be consistently recognised and respected by pedestrians. On the roads cars dominate, and whilst I was frequently impressed by the patience of drivers, it felt a harsh and unforgiving environment through which to ride. As I rode through the city I thought how, like many places, to ride here you have to be either committed or desperate.
This is the context in which MUBi is working, and – with minimal resources – doing an extremely impressive job.
But besides MUBi’s various projects aimed at promoting cycling, MUBi campaigners themselves – some of whom I was privileged to meet on Friday night – are crucial to the struggle for cycling. Passionate about the bicycle and clearly recognising the difference more cycling would make, they are cycling’s keepers, continuing to shine a light through the darkest days of automobility, actors of the greatest importance to future life.
This bears on one topic of my talk at Ler Devagar. We need strong sub-cultures of cycling to sustain our favourite practice through the darkest times (though from a sub-cultural perspective these can also of course be the best of times too). And as cycling’s staunchest advocates we’re the ones who are best placed to speak and work for more cycling. From what I saw MUBi is clearly doing a magnificent job on both these counts.
But there may come a time – and probably Lisbon is still a long way from it, and in the UK we are much closer – when activists might do well to look at their strategies for popularising cycling, and ask whether those strategies result from the identities they’ve developed in order to sustain cycling through bleak times, and whether they might at some point come to stand in the way of –rather than facilitate – making cycling a more normal practice in which identity is a less central factor.
As I say, I think cycling’s current marginality in Lisbon society makes such questions remote. And MUBi is well equipped to deal with them when the time comes. I know some people disagreed with what I said at Ler Devagar, but their willingness to hear, and to respond so constructively and respectfully sent shivers up my spine.
Wherever I go, I’m really struck by how cycling’s in such safe hands.
I’m a lucky man to be made welcome in strange places. In particular I have to thank João Bernardino for inviting me to Portugal in the first place, and also Ana Pereira, Ana Santos and Mário Alves for their extraordinary hospitality whilst I was there. Ana Santos and Mário are organising this year’s International Cycling History Conference. It was an honour to be in their company for the evening, and to get a taste of Portugese social life. Such community is our strength, and power.
Hey! I returned home to the clearest news yet of the urgently needed paradigm shift away from the car and towards the bicycle as an urban mode of transport. As an unrepentantly critical sociologist I’ll always find problems, but the promised changes to London over the coming decade are good news indeed (and reassurance to many of us that perhaps we’ve not been so idealistically deluded after all!).
As my new friends in Lisbon might say, “Viva a velorution!”
While giving praise where it is due: I continue this in-depth analysis with some more Problems:The Boroughs
Mayor Johnson: “I do not control the vast majority of London’s roads, so many of the improvements I seek will take time. They will depend on the cooperation of others, such as the boroughs…”.
Indeed. After all, 95% of the roads in London are owned by the boroughs. This not just an excuse – although I believe TfL could apply more pressure on the boroughs to carry out a pro-cycling programme.
Regrettably, the boroughs do have to come under this list of Problems in assessing the likely effects of Mayor Johnson’s “Vision for Cycling in London”
There is a long history of local authorities in the UK that are not interested in cycling, or don’t “get” cycling in any meaningful way. This generally does not involve any specific hostility. But it does involve an agenda of prioritising motor vehicle use – well before “smoothing the traffic” became TfL’s mantra – in a way which will disbenefit the prospects for cycling. They have a history of embracing “road safety” ideology, as opposed to the handful of Councils in London taking road danger reduction seriously instead, with all the associated problems for cyclists that flow from it.
And that’s just the specific departments concerned with transport policy. Officers concerned with “Regeneration” frequently have agendas based on accommodating or increasing motor traffic, as do housing departments. Even where some Councillors are committed to cycling, they have short terms of office in which to contend with others, even in their own political bloc who may oppose them. They then have to work through the labyrinthine complexities of a Council bureaucracy. Even where senior officers are committed, it is quite usual for others in the hierarchy to impede their efforts.
There are particular problems relating to Cycle Training, Smarter Travel initiatives, and of course, “road safety” education, which I address in the next post.
But here I will list just a few instances of the kind of issues which come up in the boroughs which relate only to the everyday problems of those officers trying to progress cycling. These are based on conversations with fellow officers with whom I have discussed the current situation in the last few weeks. They are all in Boroughs which claim to have a commitment towards supporting cycling – I haven’t even bothered with those with a reputation for being anti-cycling (like Barnet, Newham, and Westminster). Identity is withheld to protect the innocent.
Borough A: There is no dedicated cycling officer because the official policy is “multi-modal” and cycling is supposedly included in it as a serious mode of transport. In principle this could be the right approach, but it does mean that the policy does have to be genuinely non-discriminatory when it comes to cycling – and this is not so. My colleague has installed some segregated cycle facilities and wishes to continue doing this – but his/her boss is making this conditional on there being no loss of car parking spaces. This rather puts the damper on his/her ideas: so much for an equitable “multi-modal” approach.
Borough B: A “Biking Borough”, no less.
Borough C: The officer allocated with a cycling brief is subject to continuous dismissal by office colleagues of the idea of cycling as a form of everyday transport. Cycling is not considered viable because (a) Women can’t do it because they will be sexually assaulted when cycling, and not just at night; (b) Motoring is far more accessible and always will be – and it is the duty of the Council to provide as much car parking and road space for cars as desired in order to accommodate it; (c) Cyclists are always riding on the pavement and through red lights so deserve what they get.
Elsewhere there are regular tales of difficulties in removing car parking from obstructing safe cycling (in cycle lanes or otherwise), a general opposition to any notion of sustainable transport policy, and ignorance or confusion about highway design guidelines. The London Cycle Design Standards are disseminated in seminars which a handful of Borough officers have attended. The fashion for extended footways with narrowed traffic lanes is hardly discussed in terms of its effects on cyclists.
I could go on. And on. I am not trying to be negative, but this is the background which colleagues will find recognisable, and which members of the public will not generally be aware of.
Of course, some Boroughs have a genuinely positive attitude which can win through – but even in these cases it will be a struggle. It all means that, if the enthusiasm evident from many commentators on the Vision is to be rewarded, that change needs to occur within the Boroughs.
A moderate suggestion
How could this change happen? There is rather more to the relationship between TfL and the boroughs than the fact that TfL does not control the roads in them. TfL give some £100 – £150 million every year to the boroughs in Local Implementation Plan settlement. While this money is for the boroughs to spend, TfL can, in principle, have an effect on the kind of spend which happens.
Indeed, a notable feature is how TfL has so far been likely to oppose measures which are seen as possibly reducing motor traffic capacity, even when a borough (for reasons such as increasing pedestrian signalled crossing time) has wanted to do so. And we see in the Vision that:
“We will not be asking boroughs to remove traffic or, in the vast majority of cases, change parking on the two-way cycle streets, unless they want to”.(p.11).
How about changing that to encouraging steps necessary to support cycling – which may well include reducing road space for motor traffic and car parking?
My suggestion is that, apart from assistance to a small proportion of Outer London boroughs (the “mini-Hollands”), which will only affect at best 15% of the part of London which is least attractive to cycling, that TfL actually restrict support to those boroughs that are not sufficiently supportive of cycling. It should be quite possible to reduce LIP settlements and other supporting programmes for boroughs if they don’t have a properly audited programme of support fro cycling. After all, support for cycling has been part of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) since the Livingstone mayoralty, with the aim of 5% modal share by 2026 continued in mayor Johnson’s MTS 2.
In my view, if there is any chance of putting a positive vision for cycling into practice throughout London, this kind of change is going to have to happen.
If you say the word ‘gyratory’ to anyone who cycles regularly around cities or large towns in Britain, they’ll probably shiver involuntarily and start to sweat a little. In their mind, they will almost certainly be picturing scenes like this -
Gyratory removal is unsurprisingly very popular with cyclists, and is starting to happen across London. The one-way system around Piccadilly was restored to two-way working recently (with, in my opinion, mixed results for cycling), and there are plans afoot to remove the Aldgate gyratory [pdf], among others.
The Mayor’s promising new Vision for Cycling also talks of
making bike journeys easier and more direct by removing one-way streets, gyratories and complicated crossings of big roads.
and argues that
Removing one-way streets and gyratories will cut the incidence of cyclists travelling the ‘wrong’ way or on pavements
Well, I’m not quite so sure gryatories are such a bad thing (bear with me). I think that in many places we actually need them, and that they can be highly beneficial for cycling, and for public transport.
The reason why is hinted at in this sentence from the same Vision document -
We will put Dutch-style segregated lanes on several one-way streets where the bus stops are only on one side of the road, such as part of Harleyford Road in Vauxhall.
The broader point, hinted at here, is that segregrated tracks, running in both directions, are more possible on one-way roads. Keeping roads one-way for motor vehicles only allows space to be allocated specifically for cycling. By contrast, restoring current one-way gyratory systems to two-way movement for motor vehicles would clearly impinge on the amount of space that can be given over to bus lanes and cycle tracks.
So – if we are serious about prioritising bicycle use in London and other cities across Britain, I think gyratories (of a particular form) should be here to stay, and indeed should actually be introduced in places where they don’t currently exist. According to the Vision for Cycling document, Transport for London are sacrificing their commitment to a comfortable cycling experience where bus lanes currently exist. There is not the space between buildings for cycle tracks, and for keeping bus lanes, and for keeping two-way motor vehicle flow.
The answer in some places would be create gyratories, for motor vehicles only; to reallocate the space used for two-way running to bicycle tracks, while keeping bus lanes. I’ll come to some Dutch examples of this kind of design in a moment, but first we can take a look at Piccadilly, which is an interesting example of how this might have worked. Here’s the old arrangement, looking west from close to the Royal Academy.
A bus lane in each direction, with three motor vehicle lanes heading east. If you were driving on this street, and you wanted to get to Hyde Park Corner, you would actually be substantially disadvantaged, having to progress all the way around a giant rectangle formed by Haymarket and Pall Mall.
And now the current arrangement at the same spot, courtesy of Streetview -
Now you can drive west (heading away from us). The bus lane going west has disappeared, as have a good number of the eastbound vehicle lanes, to make way for a westbound carriageway. Instead of three lanes heading east, we now have one or two in each direction. Eastbound capacity for private motor vehicles has been sacrificed.
My point is that, ideally, this eastbound capacity reduction should have occurred without the introduction of a westbound carriageway; that space instead could have been allocated to cycle tracks running in both directions. In so doing you would have made driving in central London as difficult as it was before (and not slightly easier), and you would also have made cycling along this road a more comfortable and pleasant experience (instead of having to fight your way through motor traffic, particularly heading east).
In short, the gyratory for motor vehicles should have been kept, and the space used to create two-way motor vehicle movements should instead have been allocated to cycling. Precisely the same is true at other horrible gyratories across London. I don’t want to see two-way roads for motor vehicles all around King’s Cross, because that would use up valuable space, and valuable signal time, that could be allocated instead to cycling and public transport. Keep the gyratory for motor vehicles; make them continue to go around the houses, so that their journeys are inconvenient. This can be achieved while making bicycle journeys comfortable, direct and straightforward (indeed, keeping one-way running for cars makes this even easier).
Gyratories are a significant feature of Dutch towns and cities, and they go a long way towards explaining why they are so pleasant to cycle around. They make driving inconvenient by comparison with cycling, and they also allow space between buildings to be used for public transport, walking and cycling instead, in ways that would not be possible with two-way flow for motor vehicles.
A simple example to start with. This street is part of a complex one-way system in a residential area just to the north-east of Utrecht city centre.
One-way for cars (towards us) but, as you can see, two-way for bicycles. This street would be substantially worse for cycling if it was two-way for motor vehicles. The one-way system has the additional advantage of discouraging driving through this area, and you can see that it works. Not much driving. It even seems to have made the Google Streetview drivers quit in disgust, as this area is barely mapped at all.
Elsewhere in Utrecht, there exist ‘virtual’ gyratories; gyratories that only exist for motor vehicles, but not for bicycles or public transport. Try driving into the centre from the east – you will be forced to take a ludicrous detour around your own gryatory.
Looking west. A two-way bus lane in the middle, and a cycle track on the right. No way through for motor vehicles; only a one-way road towards us on the left.
This is what gyratories in London could begin to look like if we decided not to dismantle them entirely, but to keep one-way running for motor vehicles, and use the space we might have allocated to two-way flow specifically for public transport, walking and cycling. Conversely, it’s often very hard to allocate space in this way if you are intent on unwinding a gyratory for all modes.
Believe it or not, this is another gyratory, in the centre of Amsterdam.
Motor vehicles can only travel around the one-way system, away from us (indicated by the small blue arrow towards the right of the photograph). The rest of the space is for pedestrians, a two-way tram route, and two-way cycling. Would you want to dismantle this gyratory and install two-way running for motor vehicles? I hope not.
A similar example, further out into the suburbs of Amsterdam.
The van is driving around a gyratory, while bicycles can travel in both directions, on cycle tracks. The grassy area is a two-way tram route. Again, this allocation of space would not be possible with two-way flow for motor vehicles.
Finally, here’s a video of a gyratory in Groningen.
The cars are flowing on a one-way system all of their own, while bicycles can travel in all directions. These are private gyratories for motor vehicles, created to allow safe, comfortable bicycle travel in all directions.
Before we start dismantling our own gyratories and restoring them to two-way running, perhaps we should think more creatively about how we can use the space that they occupy.
The emerging competition for space between bus lanes and cycle tracks in London can be greatly reduced if we keep one-way running for motor vehicles, and indeed if we introduce gyratories of this kind in other places across the city.
Let’s not consign gyratories to the dustbin just yet.
I blogged recently (as did several others) about the Mayor of London’s new Vision for Cycling document, which, while short on detail, appears to represent a new approach towards cycling in London; responding to the concerns and needs of the vast majority of Londoners who do not consider riding a bicycle to be an attractive or appealing prospect.
The Vision recognises that cycling in motor traffic is not something that most people want to do, and proposes policies that should make cycling a comfortable and pleasant experience in London – separation from traffic on major routes, and the removal of through traffic on quieter residential streets, to form ‘Quietways’.
One of the groups who stand to benefit most from this new strategy, if successfully implemented, are children and young people; a child on a bicycle is, in my experience, an extraordinarily rare sight in London, certainly away from the pavement. Even in London’s best-performing borough, Hackney, just 3% of children cycle to school, while 33% want to. I expect a similar, if not worse, picture across the rest of London; a massive amount of suppressed demand for cycling amongst the young.
As it happens, at precisely the same time the Mayor’s Vision is being launched, Transport for London are also consulting on a document entitled School and Young Person Delivery Plan: Setting our future direction which has the intention of, amongst other things, ensuring that Transport for London meet the needs of young people.
The foreword acknowledges that
Young people are significant users of the capital’s transport network; whether it is for their journey to school or college, meeting friends or family or going to work…. Using the transport network is incredibly important to young people and to enable them to get the most of London we have an important role to ensure travelling in London is a happy, healthy and safe experience.
This is very important because TfL estimate that there will be over 3 million people aged under 25 in London by the year 2031. TfL aim to promote, in their words, active, safe and responsible travel for these millions of youngsters. Cycling clearly should represent a solution here, given that
TfL faces a number of challenges on the transport network as the population of London grows, impacting on existing levels of congestion and air quality. Coupled with this, obesity levels are rising and so TfL has a role to play in encouraging Londoners to be physically active when travelling around the city…. TfL wants to encourage young people to choose active travel modes, such as walking and cycling, and ensure that they can travel in a safe and responsible way
So how does this consultation document fare on the matter of cycling for young people in London?
There are a variety of sections that tangentially relate to cycling, and unfortunately all are very disappointing. The section on ‘Community and Personal Safety’ is entirely about safety from crime. This is obviously important, but not the only way in which children can be put into danger.
The section on ‘Casualty Reduction’ is even worse. While stating that reducing child casualties are an essential part of TfL’s aim to reduce all casualties by 40% by 2020 (compared to 2005-9 average), and that
TfL wants to ensure that young people travel safely on London’s roads, whether they are young drivers, cyclists, motorcyclists or pedestrians
the strategy aimed at keeping these young pedestrians and cyclists safe seems to revolve entirely around education and training, and has nothing to say about making London’s road environment safer. Here are the ‘Objectives’ -
And that’s it. Pretty miserable stuff, not just because of a failure to address creating safer streets, but also because all this ‘education’ and ‘encouragement’ is only directed at children themselves. There is nothing in this strategy that talks about getting drivers to behave better, or ‘educating’ them to drive more carefully around children. Nothing. It’s victim-blaming of the worst kind.
How many of those 1,181 children were completely blameless, or were hit by speeding motorists, or motorists who ‘lost control’? The assumption on the part of TfL seems to be that, because children under 16 form 22% of all pedestrian casualties, this must be due to something that children themselves are doing; the strategy is focused on improving their behaviour, through campaigns like this -
But a disproportionate number of pedestrians will be children in the first place; they can’t drive, so will be walking to school, or walking to catch the bus, unlike adults, many of whom will be driving instead. TfL don’t seem to have taken this into account, and have simply assumed that children forming a high percentage of pedestrian casualties is because they are ‘behaving badly’, rather than because they a relatively large percentage of pedestrians will be children. It’s quite blinkered.
Later in the document, this thinking is again in evidence, in TfL’s ‘engagement’ with young people. Here’s one of the strategies -
The response to some boroughs having high numbers of teenage casualties is to ‘raise awareness of road safety and encourage responsible behaviour’ amongst teenagers in these places – no assessment of how and why these teenagers are being killed, whether driving standards might be lax in these boroughs, whether the streets are dangerous to cross or walk along, or whether there might simply be more teenagers out on the streets here.
TfL might, of course, be doing these things elsewhere, but why is this kind of rational approach completely absent from this document? Why shouldn’t higher driving standards, safer street design, or lower vehicle speeds be put forward as policies to reduce child casualties? Amazingly, it’s not in this strategy document. There is nothing about making junctions safer, or providing safe cycling routes separated from motor traffic. Nothing. Of the ten ‘initiatives’ TfL are proposing to increase child safety, every single one involves training or educating children. There’s no mention of reducing environmental danger.
The same ‘educating’ and ‘training’ strategy is employed by TfL in ‘encouraging’ young people to walk and cycle, in the section of the document specifically on ‘Active and Independent Travel’. There’s a nice picture of some children engaged in cycle sport, strapped onto brakeless track bikes on a velodrome – obviously completely irrelevant for any child attempting to cycle to school or around their neighbourhood, not even useful training.
This is not transport!
The focus of the strategy in this section is almost entirely on ‘workshops’, ‘education’ and ‘training’, and encouraging schools to get more of their pupils to walk and cycle through accreditation schemes. Again, there’s nothing on making the roads and streets themselves attractive or inviting for walking and cycling.
I’m assuming this document was drafted in isolation of the Mayor’s new Vision for Cycling – it certainly reads like it. It might be wise if TfL ditched this consultation and came back with a new one that incorporated the eminently sensible strategy advice outlined in that new document, because it’s simply not up to scratch, certainly as regards cycling. We need safer, more pleasant streets for our children to walk and cycle one, and for a document about encouraging walking and cycling in these age groups to fail to even mention improving the streets themselves is quite scandalous.
The consultation runs until 27th March. Do have your say.
The letter below was published in the Guardian
• Some of your correspondents (9 March) appear to regard such antisocial behaviour as trivial, deserving of “a fine and a wigging from the beaks”. Hardly an effective deterrent when Mr Huhne’s previous driving conviction and three-month ban didn’t appear to have much of an effect. Perhaps this case will encourage drivers to be more careful, and to avoid wriggling out of their obligation to accept minor penalties on the rare occasions they are caught.
Dr Robert Davis
Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum
In fact it was quite heavily truncated: the main points I was trying to make were:
If you are a motorist and want to avoid this kind of Huhne/Pryce scenario:
Nearly two years ago I quoted the Mayor of London stating that
In many places, the existing layout of roads and buildings means that there is simply not enough space to provide segregated cycle lanes without adversely impacting other users.
One of my biggest problems with the attitude towards cycling in London is that it is all too frequently seen as something ‘extra’ that has to be accommodated alongside motor traffic and pedestrians; the reference to ‘other users’ in this statement from the Mayor suggested that ‘cyclists’ are another group of road users that have to somehow be fitted in to the existing streetscape.
There did not seem to be the recognition that creating safe, comfortable and direct space for bicycle use was an effective way of reducing the demand on the road network. Make the bicycle a suitable alternative, for all, for those short car trips – to school, to shops or to work – and you massively improve the capacity of London’s roads for all users, as well as making them substantially better places. A car user could become a bicycle user, rather than a bicycle user being fitted in at the margins alongside car users.
It was barely a year ago that Transport for London were suggesting that installing a cycle lane at a location where someone had just died would lead to ‘considerable queues’; the implication being that reallocating road space not just to prioritise cycling but merely to keep cyclists safe from harm was a lower priority than the length of queues of motor vehicles. Around the same time Boris Johnson was also making statements like
It is not possible to put in dedicated cycling infrastructure without disrupting the flow of traffic
and in doing so apparently forgetting that bicycles are a mode of traffic, and one that can improve the flow of traffic for all users.
So, while I think we should wait for more detail about last week’s announcement actually entails before passing serious comment (about which more below), I am very pleased to say that, if the Vision for Cycling in London [pdf] accurately reflects the opinions of the Mayor and those with responsibility at Transport for London, then, if nothing else, the language and the attitude has changed. I have been critical of both Boris Johnson and Transport for London for their failure to come out with the right language and attitude, so it is only fair to acknowledge when they say the right things, even if they haven’t started to deliver yet.
The most exciting thing for me about the Vision document is the recognition that the bicycle is a solution to London’s transport problems; instead of having to ‘accommodate’ cycling on main roads with half measures like blue paint, the Vision recognises that, done properly, with a continental-style approach, cycling infrastructure makes life better for everyone. Instead of claiming that putting in bicycle infrastructure will ‘impede the flow of traffic’, the Mayor and TfL are now suggesting precisely the opposite, that proper bicycle provision will help the flow of traffic.
Even right before last year’s election – in what was fairly universally accepted as a disastrous performance on the subject of cycling – Boris was pitting ‘cyclists’ against ‘motorists’, presenting the former group as slightly weird environmentalists who ‘want to ban cars’, and who think they are ‘morally superior’. All this in front of an audience composed mostly of serious journalists wearing suits, who happen to ride bikes in London. On the basis of that performance and what it implied, I said that Boris would probably be a ‘disaster’ for cycling in London.
Of course, nothing has been delivered yet, but if we consider merely the attitude exhibited in the Mayor’s new Vision document, I have to say that I misjudged Boris. He and his advisors have listened, and responded in a serious manner, and taken on board the criticism.
Naturally, we have heard words before; this, for instance, is from the Mayor’s 2o1o Cycling Revolution document [pdf] -
I’m determined to turn London into a cyclised city – a civilised city where people can ride their bikes safely and easily in a pleasant environment.
But that document was very short on detail of how that ‘pleasant environment’ might be achieved, talking mostly about ‘encouragement’ and getting people to obey the rules of the road.
I think it is correct to describe the new Vision document as a ‘step change’ from that approach, because it engages much more seriously with the Dutch and Danish method of catering for cycling, something that London Cycling Campaign have very successfully been demanding, along with the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, and other campaigners and bloggers.
The focus, throughout the document, is on making cycling a pleasant thing to do; while the Vision is not especially clear about how this might be achieved in practice, the shift in approach, particularly from the initial Superhighways (which were about ‘routefinding’ and making drivers ‘more aware’ that they might encounter cyclists), is remarkable.
As I have already said, the Vision recognises that cycling is a solution to London’s transport problems, not something that needs to be fitted in alongside existing modes. My impression is that TfL have known this themselves for a long time; Peter Hendy writes in his foreword about the pressure of population growth and their inability to build new roads, or to widen existing ones, to deal with that growth. They have reached the limit of accommodating private motor traffic on the existing road network, and something had to change.
What was required was the political impetus to start to tip things in the right direction, and I think the Go Dutch demands supplied that. This is why Isabel Dedring, Ben Plowden and Andrew Gilligan were so seek to praise the people who had been criticising them, often angrily, at the Stakeholder launch of the Vision, because it gave them the political room to adjust TfL’s strategy (Dedring has been saying this for some time). Whether Boris grasped this already while making motor-centric noises before the election, or whether TfL and campaigners have managed to persuade him to see the light, I don’t know, but the message in the Vision is clear – more cycling can help the motorist. According to Boris
at the very heart of this strategy is my belief that helping cycling will not just help cyclists. It will create better places for everyone. It means less traffic, more trees, more places to sit and eat a sandwich. It means new life, new vitality and lower crime on underused streets. It means more seats on the Tube, less competition for a parking place and fewer cars in front of yours at the lights.
Just as importantly, the document recognises that this fundamental shift away from motor traffic, necessary to relieve demand on the network and to make life better for all users, will not happen in significant numbers without a change of approach. Namely, the Going Dutch that London Cycling Campaign and others have been demanding, focusing on the needs and requirements of that vast majority of the population who do not feel comfortable cycling with motor traffic.
So it was very pleasing to read, on the very first page of the document, Boris writing
we must now greatly increase our provision for cyclists – and, above all, for the huge numbers of Londoners who would like to cycle, but presently feel unable to.
before going on to state
I want [cycling] to be something you feel comfortable doing in your ordinary clothes… I want more of the kind of cyclists you see in Holland, going at a leisurely pace on often clunky steeds.
As many have commented, this is something that could be lifted straight of the Cycling Embassy’s manifesto, or from the London Cycling Campaign’s Go Dutch agenda.
The Vision states that
There will be more Dutch-style, fully-segregated lanes and junctions; more mandatory cycle lanes, semi-segregated from general traffic; and a network of direct back-street Quietways, with segregation and junction improvements over the hard parts.
This is addressing, head on, the central issue that prevents most people from cycling; perception of safety, and fear of motor traffic.
Where there is conflict between modes (which there often isn’t) we will try to make a clear choice, not an unsatisfactory compromise. We will segregate where possible, though elsewhere we will seek other ways to deliver safe and attractive cycle routes. Timid, half-hearted improvements are out – we will do things at least adequately, or not at all.
Separating cyclists from motor traffic is now the stated priority of Transport for London; whether this actually happens or not, the language is remarkable. Even where ‘full’ segregation might not be possible, the Vision suggests ‘semi-segregation’, using mandatory lanes where cyclists are kept separate from traffic by rumble strips or ‘ridges’.
The issue, of course, is whether this will actually happen, and whether the fine words about reclaiming space and not fitting in cycling around the margins will amount to anything once actual conflict for space emerges. I am cynical, but I’m prepared to withhold judgement until these issues actually arise. The scheme to separate cyclists from motor traffic along Stratford High Street is a promising early signal that the willingness is there. So we should wait and see.
My principal concern is actually junctions. The junction review currently being undertaken by TfL is – with the exception of the decision to test something ‘Dutch’ for possible approval at Lambeth Bridge north – very half-hearted and weak. The current TfL strategy of ASLs and ‘early start lights’ (as currently in operation at Bow roundabout), while well-meaning, is not good enough, certainly not as good enough as full separation of modes, and the full removal of turning conflicts. Yet this seems to be the only intervention in their toolbox at present, and there is no detail in the Vision about any other potential designs.
This is something that is going to have to be addressed. The cover of the Vision shows cycle tracks approaching the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Bridge.
Not timid ASLs that you are not permitted to enter while motor traffic is flowing, and that merely let you depart a few seconds earlier.
So I hope that Transport for London are willing to adapt, and to learn how these Dutch junction designs work. Rather than going to Paris (which with the best will in the world is not brilliant for cycling, and certainly does not cater anywhere near as well for cyclists at junctions as Dutch cities do) why not book a trip to the Netherlands? Take a look around for yourself, and then let David Hembrow fill you in.
The language of the new strategy is very welcome, but the approach has to match it.
I’ve come across a strange collation that is probably more conjecture than science, but that I think is interesting anyway.
Countries that have low levels of cycling have traffic signals with repeater lights, and those with more cycling do not have repeater lights.
Really? As I said, there’s no scientific data behind this bold claim, just the observations of a transport geek, but maybe there’s something in it.
So what is a repeater light?
In the UK, traffic lights appear next to a stop line. This stop line is a thick solid white line that stretches across the carriageway and that can only be legally crossed when a green light is shown at one end of the line. In some countries the lights themselves are the marker to stop at (I’m looking at you France), but here we make it nice and simple and have a big white line to show exactly where you have to stop.
This the best picture I have of UK traffic lights, as you can see the repeater lights opposite the junction allow vehicles to encroach into the junction.
Because of this line and the fact it is the stopping point, we can have something that other countries can not, extra traffic lights that are not where you have to stop but are just there to make sure you see the lights. These are repeater lights. They repeat the intention of a light at a stop line to add more impact and make sure we notice that stop light when we’re busy looking the other way.
The UK has repeater lights, so to does Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, the countries in North America (although sometimes they just hang a single light in the middle of the junction, but it’s still beyond the stop line), whereas the other countries of Europe (you know the ones, the ones with more than 2% cycle modal share) all have traffic lights only on the entrance to traffic controlled junctions.
And this the best picture I have of Dutch traffic lights. The lights are positioned a cars length in front of the stop line meaning you have to stop behind the line to be able to still see the lights.
So why could this correlation be? Who knows? It’s probably just a coincidence, however that’s not to say that there’s not something in repeater lights being a bad thing. Let’s look at the facts…
Repeater lights allow you to still see the lights even once you’re beyond the stop line. Whether you are motorist or cyclist, the repeater light allows you to happily stop within the pedestrian crossing (or ASL, although the less we talk about them the better) and still know when the lights have changed. My experience of driving in countries without repeater lights is that everyone (yes everyone without fail) stops behind the stop line, simply because if they run past it they then can’t see when to go, get beeped by the car behind and feel like a bit of a prat.
So perhaps my point is that it’s not the drivers/cyclists fault that they sometimes progress over the stop line, perhaps it’s the design of the lights themselves.
The 1960’s overzealous requirement to think for the motorist by filling their entire vision with red lights to such an extent that many don’t see the stop line at all, we’ve all seen the poor chap whose somehow managed to get confused and stopped at the repeater light on the exit of the junction much to the mirth and anger of his fellow travellers stuck behind him.
So perhaps it’s time for a change in rules. Now we have LED light technology which removes the possibility of bulb failure, we could do away with the confusing, ugly, cluttering repeater lights and make our traffic controller junctions just that little bit safer for everyone?
This is the biggest current story for anybody interested in sustainable transport policy. As the ever sensible Chris Boardman correctly commented: “This is the most ambitious cycling development and promotion plan in the UK in living memory, perhaps ever.” However, you don’t have to be a cynic for the excitement of first part of that sentence to be somewhat cooled by the “in the UK” part of it.
As a London cyclist of 35 years standing, campaigner for most of those years and transport professional in London for 25, here is my assessment of what the “Vision for Cycling” may – or may – not mean for London.Reactions
Reactions are as may be expected: praise from campaigners CTC “breathtakingly ambitious” , the London Cycling Campaign “ground breaking” , and the Guardian: “bold thinking”. Even the response from opposition politicians in the Green and Liberal Democrat parties is mainly along the lines that the Vision – specifically with regard to the increase in funding and programmes for Outer London Boroughs – is good, but just not good enough.The Good News
To start off with, here (in no particular order) is what looks good:
Normalising cycling: “I want cycling to be normal, a part of everyday life. I want it to be something you feel comfortable doing in your ordinary clothes, something you hardly think about”. This is part of the third outcome devoted to increasing cycling: “We will ‘normalise’ cycling, making it something anyone feels comfortable doing”. Elsewhere this is described as “De-Lycraification”. The cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan, has specifically talked about cycling being something that doesn’t require helmets and hi-viz. At the launch Chris Boardman went helmetless, as has the Mayor on so many of his cycling appearances.Photo:Guardian
I think this is crucial, and indeed a critical part of Mayor Johnson’s legacy is his own habit of everyday cycling wearing normal office clothes.
Andrew Gilligan: Obviously Gilligan is not just a “Johnson crony”: he is plainly committed to supporting cycling as significant form of transport.
More money: Although previously announced, this funding is ringfenced for cycling and stands at a level higher than ever before.
The right kind of vision: the following kinds of phrase are welcome: “Cycling will transform more of our city into a place dominated by people, not motor traffic” .(Better places for everyone). And in the Mayor’s introduction: “Cycling will be treated not as niche, marginal, or an afterthought, but as what it is: an integral part of the transport network, with the capital spending, road space and traffic planners’ attention befitting that role.” Nobody supporting cycling can complain about this kind of statement being made so clearly.
Outer London: After the (to put it very kindly) minimal success so far of the Biking Boroughs project, we have a promise of £100 million targeting the least favoured part of London ”… very high spending concentrated on these relatively small areas for the greatest possible impact. In many ways, this will be the most transformative of all our policies.”
Replacing car use? : There is a definite suggestion that cycling will replace car use. The illustration of the Victoria Embankment flagship scheme – on the cover of the document – shows a road currently with five lanes of general traffic reduced to three for motor traffic. Cycling is stated to be the desirable alternative for car journeys of short distances to town centres in Outer London.
All of this is undoubtedly good news. As a practitioner, I have been excitedly preparing for the bidding process for the extra funding since it was first flagged up some weeks ago. I am not denying the potential benefits of the Vision. But that does not stop me having to analyse exactly what it might – and might not – mean for actual and potential cyclists in London, and the possibilities of a sustainable transport system. We have, after all, had supposed “step changes” and “sea changes” before – older readers will remember the Star Routes, London Cycle Network, London Cycle Network Plus, CRISP studies, Biking Boroughs …The problem with visions is that they really need to become good quality realities.
So we need to have a critical analysis of what is on offerThe problems The role of infrastructure
Most discussion of cycling has revolved around highway infrastructure types. I have my doubts about exactly beneficial constant reference to continental types of highway layout actually is – even if the best are somehow imported wholesale into the UK context. (Take a look at the interventions by myself and Carlton Reid here ). Let’s see what is on offer:
These are interesting, but lets’ not forget that they will cover no more than some 2% of London’s roads when completed in 10 years’ time, with what appears to be a facility primarily for the already dominant demographic of middle class commuters.
What this means is that a small minority of the highways that cyclists have to use will be on one of these programmes. This is a classic problem with looking at the problems for cycling in terms of highway design – most of the highway network inevitably gets missed out. But , as both the Green and Liberal Democrat parties have pointed out, particularly with the “most transformative” mini-Hollands, the vast majority of actual or potential London cyclists in Outer London will miss out. And that’s if the design standards employed actually meet the requirements of cyclists.
This is particularly obvious with the case of some of the junctions crossing the trunk roads in London, particularly the North Circular. These have been commented on as major barriers to cycling for some time – but they are not specifically addressed in the “Vision”, not even in the one to three “mini-Holland” Boroughs. There are also, of course, problems with gyratories in Inner London – such as Hackney – which continue to be unaddressed.
Finally, a big change – following the deaths of two cyclists in quick succession at Bow roundabout – has been the TfL Junctions Reviews. These have raised various alternative options (with varying degrees of complaint) at some key junctions on TfL controlled roads. The Vision intends to continue this process – but at fewer junctions. Quality is to be emphasised over quantity. But why not both?
All of this suggests that the schemes with their various brand names will be addressing only a minority of the places people cycle in, and with yet to be determined quality.Money, money, money
As ever, the amount of funding has been questioned, by the Greens, Liberal Democrats and LCC . An increase in funding would certainly allow for more junctions in the Junctions Review, and more Outer London and gyratory schemes to be financed.
As with many TfL funding arrangements, considering the amounts to be spent can become somewhat complex. I’ll just raise some issues: How much is Barclays to put into the Cycle Hire and CSH schemes which give it a substantial advertising impact? How much will back up LIP (Local Implementation Plan) funding to Boroughs which should already be supporting cycling?
Without being greedy, the amount allocated really does need to be seen in the context of TfL’s budget of £5 billion per annu. Cycling is at some 2.5 – 3% modal share with a 5% target over ten years – some £150 million per annum rather than £90 million would seem appropriate. Of course, s mentioned, LIP funding is supposed to benefit cycling. But this is questionable and the relative benefits of cycling compared to public transport in terms of health and sustainability are higher. And this is without raising the issues of “external costs” which could be paid by drivers through road pricing.
I’d also raise a question which few consider: why should “cycling money” be used to treat junctions designed in ways which endanger and/or inconvenience them? Why shouldn’t that money come from general highways budgets like LIPs? All in all, even given the mantras about austerity, there is a case for substantial increase in the funding.
But of course, it would have to be spent properly. And here we are looking at a whole new lot of issues.
In amongst all the fuss about Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London, the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry , the pressure from motorists’ organisations to cut fuel duty (well, there should be a fuss about this) one important item has slipped under the radar – apart from for those genuinely interested in the safety of all road users.
This is the 30th anniversary of a move successfully lobbied for by the “road safety” lobby, which –although it took them 26 years to admit it – led to “a clear reduction in death and injury to car occupants, appreciably offset by extra deaths among pedestrians and cyclists (my emphasis) So, how many cyclists and pedestrians is it alright to kill in order to protect car occupants from bad driving? Other issues apart from the moral one are revealed by this episode, so do read on:
When I have raised this, many colleagues simply don’t want to discuss the matter. It’s all over, forget about it. Now, I have to admit to wearing a seat belt on those infrequent occasions when I travel by car. And I don’t seriously advocate banning seat belts and replacing the steering column with a sharp spike – although it would dramatically improve the care taken by drivers.
So here are some reasons why it’s important:
Just in case anybody thinks this means that RDRF does not care about the safety of car occupants – nonsense! As we have made clear from the start, we believe in safety for all road users, which is why it is on our mast head. As we said at the time of seat belt legislation there were (and of course still are) numerous ways in which car occupants can be protected. These measures are based on reducing danger at source – from the inappropriate use of motor vehicles – which would protect all road users. Sadly, the idiot-proofing of the car and highway environment, of which seat belt use is a key part, has impeded the prospects of achieving this.
Finally, I re-iterate comments made before:
“The seat belt law experience is highly relevant today in respect to matters other than cycle helmets: however much eyes may roll at the prospect of statistical analysis of a law passed decades ago, this matter is highly pertinent.