Shanghai's cycling culture hangs in the balance; but it's not just because of the motor car.

ibikelondon - 9 June, 2014 - 08:30

I was fortunate enough to visit Shanghai recently.  It's an energetic and complex mega-city (24 million residents, and counting) where modernity is meeting the old ways of Chinese living.  I'd heard before how this former city of bicycles had become enthralled to the motor car, but I hadn't expected the very fabric of the city itself to contribute to the decline in cycle culture.

Cycling rates have decreased in Shanghai in recent years, and the same problem can be seen all over China.  In decades past China was called the "Kingdom of the Bicycle" where massive populations were moved around by massive amounts of bikes.  As recently as 1998 some 63% of all journeys in the city of Jinan were made by bicycle.  By 2011 that figure had fallen to 10%.  In Shanghai, cycling rates fell by 60% over the same period.  These sobering figures are from the World Bank, who are rarely breathless about this sort of thing.I flew to Shanghai on a Chinese airline.  Every commercial on the entertainment package - without exception - was for a private car.  It was the same in the in-flight magazine.  Cars that gave you feelings of freedom, cars that helped you keep your family safe, cars that would help you reconnect with your kids after a busy day at the office, cars that would help you find (and keep) a girlfriend.  I was fully prepared to witness the reality of the idea that a rise in private car ownership had directly contributed to the decline in cycling rates.  What I discovered was something rather different.
On the streets of Shanghai, signs of an impressive-by-UK-standards cycling rate can still be seen everywhere.  There are manned bike parks outside shopping malls, deliveries of goods of every shape and size being made by bicycle, labourers plying for work from one construction site to another using bikes to get around.  Kids being collected by grandparents from school by bike, and even bottles of gas being delivered on bicycles through the tightly packed streets of the Shikumen Longtang residences; a style of back-to-back row housing famous in Shanghai.  But all the cyclists I saw were just a small percent compared to what you would have found just a few years ago.  Where have all the cyclists gone?

To say that Chinese cities are changing at breakneck speed almost seems like an understatement.  We all know the stories of entire towns and districts being built in the time it would take for us to raise a few houses.  Change builds quickly, and sweeps aside everything in its path.  Just twenty years ago Shanghai did not have a single metro line. Now it has 14, carrying roughly 6 million passengers per day.  Passengers are whisked to the airport at 430kph on a new maglev train.  The 632 metre high Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in Asia - the second tallest in the world - and popped up in just 5 years. The city has an active car ownership restraint programme, auctioning number plates to deliberately inflate their value, but this did not stop the number of cars owned in the city increasing by an additional million in just 5 years between 2005 and 2010 to 3.1 million.  In 2010, when asked if she'd like to go on a romantic bike ride, dating show contestant Ma Nuo caused an uproar responding, "I'd rather cry in the back of a BMW than smile on a bicycle." (Source: The Atlantic)

All across Shanghai densely packed Longtang housing is being cleared to make way for wider roads, shopping malls and high rise housing, each new tower fenced off from the next. In these new developments the subjective experience for pedestrians and cyclists is greatly diminished with bike lanes ripped out and new roads built without any sidewalk.  To be clear, much of the old housing is cramped, dark and with only very basic sanitation, with many people living together in conditions we would consider positively Victorian.  But on the streets there is a palpable sense of social cohesion with people sitting out the front of their homes, talking to neighbours, trading with passers by and only ever a short bicycle ride away from commerce, education or parks.  Door-to-door traders ply their wares, children play in the lanes, old people gather around tables for tea or to enjoy card games, and all in a predominantly car free environment.Traditional Longtang housing is being demolished all across the city to be replaced with high rise residential towers. As these neighbourhoods are cleared and replaced with high rise residential towers (at great profit for the people to who the formerly unowned land has been assigned), the residents who move in to the new units gain light, air, electricity and private bathrooms.  But down on the ground they loose a richly patterned street life that was sustained by the shape of the city and the types of building in it, which in turn supported high cycling rates.   Instead, people travel the greater distances presented by their new homes on the burgeoning transit system, or in cars.  As more people travel in this way, so there are fewer cyclists, and space for cyclists, and so conditions deteriorate further and the decline continues.
New developments create poor amenity for both walkers and cyclists.The idea that massive increases in private car ownership rates have led to the demise of the bicycle in China is too readily accepted by Western commentators.  We know, from the experience of successful cycling countries such as the Netherlands where there are both high cycle and car ownership rates, that the two can live together simultaneously.  The decline of the bicycle in China is more complex than at first it seems.  The World Bank says; "Conditions for both pedestrians and cyclists have been deteriorating across Chinese cities in the last few years. This is due to a combination of factors, including the lack of policies prioritising these users, cities sacrificing space for non-motorised traffic to be used for motorised traffic, the spatial growth of cities resulting in longer trips, and specific difficulties related to the big arterial roads of a typical Chinese city.""You don't know what you've got till it's gone"In short, as Shanghai strives to update itself, it risks destroying its cycling culture.  Not because some people can now afford a car or two, but because the form of the city itself is changing the way people travel.  In high towers residents are no longer able to make short trips to neighbours by bike, whilst below ground the metro waits to speed Shanghainese further and faster.  At street level the conditions for cycling are no longer pleasant or efficient enough to convince as many people to ride a bike as once was the case.  It's a cliche to quote Joni Mitchell singing "You don't know what you've got till it's gone", but for all its modern style and progress, in the case of Shanghai I'm inclined to agree.

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Being a member of an out-group, a little perspective, and the supposed dangers of mopeds on cycle-paths in the Netherlands

A View from the Cycle Path - 6 June, 2014 - 15:16
I've been a member of an out-group for one reason or another for almost all my life. I've lived as an immigrant in more than one country, by following a diet which some people felt they had a right to criticize and most of all by cycling as everyday transport as this is something people can see and form an opinion on without even having to talk to the person involved. Yes, even white men can be David Hembrow
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Friday Throwback: Ezquerra in the mountains

ibikelondon - 6 June, 2014 - 08:30
Continuing our occasional series of photographs from cycling history, this week we're going back in time to the 1934 Tour de France, when Spanish rider Fédérico Ezquerra powered his way to the top of the Galibier mountain in this classic photograph from the Dutch National Archives.
  The pace cars, bike frame and technology may have all moved on, but the cyclist's physique and look of grim determination would not look out of place in the great race today.  Two years after this photo was taken, Ezquerra won stage 11 of the 1936 Tour de France in Cannes - the only stage victory of his long career.Ezquerra died in 1986 aged 76, but you can still ride in his shadow today.  The exact spot where this photograph was taken is captured on Google Streetview and still looks like a fantastic ride, 80 years later....The Friday Throwback is our ongoing series of posts looking at images of cyclists from The Commons on Flickr. You can catch every post from ibikelondon by connecting with us online; join the conversation with us on Twitter @markbikeslondon, or give us a "Like!" on our Facebook page. Share
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Saddle up for the Smithfield Nocturne this Saturday!

ibikelondon - 5 June, 2014 - 08:30

London is lucky enough to host a number of exemplary cycling events every year, and a firm favourite is taking place this Saturday!

The London Nocturne at Smithfield Market returns for its 8th year of cycle racing at all levels; from elite road racing teams battling it out for glory, to high jinks on Penny Farthings, and folding bike races.  For the first time this year there will even be a Boris Bike Race taking in laps of the historic meat market, though whether the Mayor himself will take part on his namesake bicycle remains to be seen...

The races run late in to the night, and the atmosphere builds as darkness falls.  There's always a great crowd, the surrounding Smithfield pubs stay open late and put on entertainment, and a series of bike-related stalls offer everything from t-shirts to team kit for sale.

I think the charm of the Nocturne is grabbing a hot dog and a beer with mates and banging the boards as your favourite riders rush past, but if you prefer a few more creature comforts then grand stand and hospitality tickets are on sale too.  Wherever you stand, you're guaranteed a close up experience of the thrill of professional road racing, whilst the Penny Farthing races are a real spectacle.  In the pro races, Tyler Farrar will be riding for Team Garmin-Sharp, Chris Sutton for Sky, Ed Clancy for Rapha Condor JLT, and World Track Champion Katie Archibald will lead the way in the women's field.

Getting to the Nocturne is easy too: Barbican Underground and Liverpool Street national rail stations are both nearby, and this year organisers have plotted a series of routes to get you to the Nocturne on the best way possible: by bike (though bring a few locks, cycle parking is sometimes in high demand here, see below!)

Races kick off on Saturday with the folding bike preliminaries at 4PM, with the Scwalbe Elite Criterium crossing the finish line around 10PM. Full race listings can be found on the Smithfield Nocturne website.

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Amsterdam can send mopeds to the carriageway

BicycleDutch - 4 June, 2014 - 23:01
Amsterdam will finally be able to send (light) mopeds or scooters from the city’s overcrowded cycle paths to the carriageway. The Minister of Transport sent a letter to the House … Continue reading →
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Amsterdam can send mopeds to the carriageway

BicycleDutch - 4 June, 2014 - 23:01
Amsterdam will finally be able to send (light) mopeds or scooters from the city’s overcrowded cycle paths to the carriageway. The Minister of Transport sent a letter to the House … Continue reading →
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How about some real traffic law enforcement?

Road Danger Reduction Forum - 4 June, 2014 - 22:52

Developing a culture which opposes endangering others on the road – the core element of road danger reduction – will need the appropriate responses from the police to such behaviour. We are concerned that while claims are made about a “cycle safety crackdown” in London, in reality there was no real “blitz” on unsafe driving , and that fair traffic policing
is still not on the agenda. The cases below are mainly in London and concern cyclist safety, as this is the area that has a current high profile: but other cases are given, chosen just by what has presented itself to me recently:

1. Two cases of “dooring”.

About 8% of all cyclist Killed and Seriously Injured (KSI) casualties in London involve car doors opening on cyclists and either hitting them or forcing them into a collision (see TfL’s Cycle Safety Action Plan (p.16) . The RDRF has been instrumental in developing cycle training programmes which show cyclists how to ride outside the “door-zone” (often to the chagrin of some drivers) , and some separation is achieved by some good quality cycle facilities on main roads, but the fact remains that cyclists will often be close to car doors, and sometimes have to be.
Rule 239 of the Highway Code includes: you MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door. Check for cyclists or other traffic.

(a) Matthew Sparkes

He “has lost his faith in the Met’s ability to police our roads fairly” Read his story – it s worth reading in detail – here:


(b) GN

He is a well-known figure in the London cycle trade. Last October he was doored in an incident which left him with a broken vertebra, broken collar bone, broken rib and punctured lung. The driver confessed to having not checked his mirrors when a police officer attended – the incident happened to occur outside * Police Station in North London – but there have been no charges against him.


2. Jake Thompson

Jake Thompson was a teacher killed on a pedestrian crossing when hit by a lorry whose driver escaped conviction after police investigation errors, including failing to interview the driver for four months after the collision. This case, including the findings of the independent inquiry fought for by Jake’s parents, is described in the Western Daily PressNorthern Echo, Bristol Post and Durham Times .

As our friend Kate Cairns  (sister of Eilidh Cairns) says: “A catalogue of errors” – the same phrase eventually used (verbally and unofficially) to me. How many other cases have suffered the same? And are still doing so?
This is in the most serious case of a road death (only revealed after the persistence of action by Jake’s parents): no wonder there are questions about policing of incidents with less serious consequences, let alone rule- or law-breaking behaviour.


3. John Bowman

John is a transport planner working in west London. In this case no offence has occurred; it is, however, revealing of police attitudes at a time when a “crackdown” is supposed to be happening:
“I was cycling eastbound along Uxbridge Road in between Church Road, Hanwell and Eccleston Road, West Ealing when I was hooted at by a police van.
When I waved my arms to enquire what the hoot was for I was asked to pull over. I immediately pulled over and the officer asked me why I wasn’t wearing high visibility clothing: I explained that it wasn’t a legal requirement and they said that it was in my interests.
I asked why they had hooted at me and they responded saying I was cycling in the middle of the road. I explained to them that there was van parked on the road which resulted me in needing to be in the middle of the lane and that there was a bus in front of me which was about to stop at a bus stop some metres ahead. The police refused to acknowledge there was any bus even though a few seconds before they hooted at me, traffic came to a standstill including the police van, when the bus had to wait for oncoming traffic in order to pass the van parked on side of the road.
They insisted that I either use the cycle lane, a cycle lane which had pondings at a number of points and in which the ground is uneven pretty much along the length of it, with one officer stating that I should at least be close to the cycle lane. They also stated that I was causing delay to drivers, I questioned this reasoning as I had been delayed just seconds before by the bus in front of me needing to overtake the parked van and that cyclists on average go quicker than cars on this stretch ( I also pointed out to them that I first noticed the police van at the junction of Uxbridge Road with Dormers Wells Lane a distance of about 1 mile and I had caught up and overtaken the van in that time.)
I was doing nothing illegal and I get frustrated by car drivers hooting at me for doing nothing illegal. By having police vehicles hooting at me for doing nothing illegal gives out the wrong message to other drivers.”
RDRF Committee member Colin McKenzie suggests the following ten points that MPS officers should be trained to be aware of:
- Cyclists are not required to wear hi-vis, and there’s no evidence that doing so makes them safer
– Cyclists are not required to wear helmets, and there’s no evidence that doing so makes them safer
– Cyclists are not required to ride in the gutter, and there’s evidence that doing so makes them less safe
– Cyclists are allowed to ride on the carriageway of all roads in London except motorways
– Cyclists are not required to “get out of the way” of motor vehicles
– HGVs pose special danger, and cyclists should be discouraged from passing them on the left
– Cyclists need to use their positioning to ensure that they can be seen easily
– Cyclists should look behind frequently
– Cyclists are not required to use cycle facilities, and there is no evidence that doing so makes them safer
– No sticker on the back of any motor vehicle overrides drivers’ responsibility not to move into road space that is already occupied.


4. An incident in Chorleywood.

It is unusual, even for a transport practitioner with a special interest in safety, to witness a Road Traffic Incident from start to finish. Last autumn I witnessed someone driving with obvious uncertainty towards a junction to make right turn. Despite the obvious appearance of a cyclist approaching – and shouting a warning – she turned into his path and caused a collision, leaving him with, thankfully minor, injuries.

Eben with clear evidence, no charge was brought, and the elderly lady driver was simply required to take a “driver awareness” lesson.
There is substantial debate about the value of “speed awareness” and “driver awareness” courses. Suffice it to say that in this case, even with the cost of the course borne by the driver, this is likely to be less than the cost of increased insurance following penalty points from a careless driving conviction and the (small) fine. And this is for learning what a motorist is required to know in the first place, after an innocent third party has been injured…

These cases have not been scientifically selected. If details of one day’s collisions or near misses in just one area of the UK, and the police (lack of) response to them were recorded, the picture would be far more forceful. I do, however, think it worthwhile recording these instances to give a snapshot which I’m afraid is indicative of how far we have to go to get civilised road traffic policing in this country.


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Hold your breath, it's a ride around London like you've never seen before!

ibikelondon - 3 June, 2014 - 18:31

Cutting edge and cookey promotional videos are ten a penny these days, all hoping to have that certain quality which makes them go viral.  So when I nonchalantly clicked on a link via Twitter saying how TOTES ZOMG the following video was, I didn't have high hopes.  How wrong I was.

What happens when you take a handful of trial riders and freerunners and set them loose on a Boris Bike in central London?  This, that's what:

There's a lovely cameo from bike fix supremos London Bike Kitchen at the start, and aspects and angles of Regent Street, Oxford Circus and Trafalgar Square that will boggle your mind.  (Who even thought it would be possible to bunny hop a bike up and down on top of the lions at the foot of Nelson's Column?!)  This being London - and full of Londoners - no one bats an eyelid as someone rides a Boris Bike along the hand rail of a bridge across the Thames.

All this urban street jumping japery has a purpose, of course, and that is to promote something.  In this case it is for a new social media website called FightMe which, so far as this old fool could tell, was a repository for Nathan Barley types doing daft things with iPhones likely to come back and haunt them at later stages in their career.  But never mind all that, just enjoy the energy and skill of these incredible riders and their adventures in our city!

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Up and down the A5

Vole O'Speed - 3 June, 2014 - 16:25
The A5 is the road running from Marble Arch in the centre of London to the port of Holyhead in Wales. Much of it is very straight, and identical with the Roman road from London to Wroxeter, known often by its Anglo-Saxon name of Watling Street. When it was completed by Thomas Telford in 1826, as a Government-sponsored project to connect the capitals of England and Ireland, it was, it has been said, the first great state-funded piece of civilian road-building in the UK since Roman times. As one of the oldest roads in Britain, and one of the longest and straightest in a nation of mostly wiggly roads, it has exerted a considerable fascination on all sorts of people down the ages. More or less immediately from 1826 it became identified closely with the migration of Irish people into England in search of work, and the section of the road in London, and adjoining districts, became  the settling place of large numbers of them, in the suburbs of Colindale, Hendon, Cricklewood, and especially Kilburn, famous for its concentration of pubs along the Kilburn High Road section of the A5. Down to modern times, the Crown pub in Cricklewood (where Brent Cyclists meets in even-numbered months) was known as the hiring station early in the morning for casual labour, particularly for the building trade, traditionally Irish, but in recent decades more commonly East-European.

The famous Crown in Cricklewood Broadway, today gone quite up-market. John Betjeman praised its "terracotta shade".From Marble Arch to Edgware, ten-miles to the north-west, the A5 is intermittently known as Edgware Road, interspersed with other designations, reflecting the character of local High Street that the road acquires as it passes through the various communities: Kilburn High Road, Cricklewood Broadway, West Hendon Broadway, Burnt Oak Broadway, Edgware High Street. The late Poet Laureate John Betjeman made a classic documentary in 1968 following the road as far as Edgware, available from the BBC here. It is still worth watching; it catches some of the fascinatingly decrepit, mis-planned character of the A5 lands in London then as now. Much, and also not much, has changed since Betjeman recorded his view of the post-war A5:
It almost makes you like planning, doesn't it, for the lack of it. Look! They've put a car park on the site. They needn't have taken it down at all!(on the destruction of the Metropolitan Pace of Varieties, a Victorian music hall). He recorded his nostalgic view before the building of the concrete flyovers and gyratories on the A5 at Staples Corner, that destroyed the Old Welsh Harp pub and definitively ended the quasi-rural seclusion of the Brent Reservoir. The sign of the times that he did witness was the then brand-new office block Merit House, Colindale, from the top of which he viewed the vestigial Middlesex countryside. It is still there, a drab, unloved monument to its decade and to "planning" that dumped huge, isolated blocks in the middle of a low-rise decaying industrial suburban hinterland.

The Merit House office block that Betjeman visited in 1968 interrupts the car showrooms on the A5 in Colindale. Opposite is a building site that will soon be high-density housing.In London, most of the length of the A5 is a local authority boundary. This has been the case since at least mediaeval times; the old parish boundaries were usually taken over as borough boundaries. From the southern end of Kilburn High Road to part of the way along Cricklewood Broadway the road forms the boundary between Camden and Brent. From there north to Burnt Oak it forms the Brent–Barnet border, with the exception of the Welsh Harp "village" area, where Barnet has taken the land on the east bank of the Brent Reservoir, so holding both sides of the A5 in West Hendon Broadway. From Burnt Oak northwards, the road forms the Barnet–Harrow border. This status as a borderland has undoubtedly contributed to the generally shabby, often hostile urban environment of the A5. No planning authority really cares that much about the town centres that have sprung up along the route. Responsibility for them is divided, and a general lack of collaboration and poor planning means they have a neglected, "wild-west" character. This is especially bad for the centres that are divided three ways: Cricklewood, divided one quarter each between Camden and Barnet, and half in Brent, and Burnt Oak, divided one quarter each between Brent and Harrow, and half in Barnet, but it also applies to Kilburn, Colindale and Edgware. The nicest part of the A5 is, I think, not coincidentally, Maida Vale, where Westminster rules both sides. Away from these crumbling Victorian and inter-war shallow linear town centres, the A5 has been the urban territory to which the ugly things that make money and have to be allowed to happen somewhere in London get pushed: the retail sheds, mega car showrooms, every type of automotive servicing works, industrial buildings, waste recycling.

A view of the A5 at Burnt Oak, looking south. This is motorland; nearly every block is occupied by some motor-transport-related business. Note the vast, unused pavements and lack of space for cycling.For cycling in north-west London, the A5 is a critical artery, as it is the straightest route from all the suburbs along it to the West End, and also, due to severance by railways, bigger roads, and water features, basically the only possible route between those suburbs. As a trunk road, the A5 is completely bypassed by the A41. The A41 is the Transport for London (TfL) main route out of north-west London, and is far more suitable for lorries and coaches than the frequently narrow A5, which goes down to a total width of less than 9m (including pavements) at the pinch-point just south of the junction with Willesden Lane in Kilburn. But, of course, as nothing prevents long-distance through traffic from continuing to use the A5, despite its official "bypassing" by the A41, it is generally clogged with lorries, buses, private cars and delivery vehicles.

Notionally designated as the LCN+ (London Cycle Network Plus) 5 route by ex-Mayor Ken Livingstone's cycling development team, there is absolutely no meaningful cycling infrastructure along the whole length of the road in Greater London (unless you regard the very part-time and discontinuous bus lanes that cyclists can use as "cycling infrastructure"). There are a few blue signs giving mileages, and a few bike logos painted on the road in odd places. I spent a day, with other cycling representatives, some time about 2008, going up and down the A5 with consultants for the LCN+ and council officers, assessing what could be done to make the road better for cycling. None of our suggestions were ever acted upon. The money was wasted, or disappeared, and the project was abandoned. After Boris Johnson announced his replacement Cycle Superhighway programme, it was suggested that Cycle Superhighway 11 should be on the A5, but this was later changed to the A41 (and we still await for it to actually happen there).

Little came of the LCN+5 project on the A5 other than these blue signs. This picture, taken at the Capitol Way / Edgware Road junction, shows the demolition of the Boosey and Hawkes warehouse, opposite, the site now being developed for high-density housing.The A5 from Edgware to Marble arch remains a long series of left-hook hazards for cyclists, with junctions apparently designed to put them in as much danger as possible. The few of them that use it do so because the Roman engineers and Thomas Telford between them knew what they were doing. They built not only a very straight, but a very flat road though quite a hilly area. All other possible routes from Edgware to the centre of town are not only longer but far hillier. So for cyclists attempting to do this journey, or sections of it, there is little other option. They must trade directness and flatness for the terrible environment.

The "high street" sections of the A5 are classic examples of the kind of chaotic UK street environment where everything is attempted to be fitted in simultaneously: shopping, parking, loading, pedestrian movements, bus stops, cycling, plus heavy through-traffic including freight, and it doesn't work very well.

There was a Street Talks meeting organised by the Movement for Liveable London in April on The roles of place and movement in creating successful high streets  in which one of the contributors, Louise Duggan, of the Greater London Authority, spoke of the conflicts between the "place and movement" functions to be managed in London's high streets. I asked if there should not be, in preference to the permanent toleration of poor public spaces and a continued stream of pedestrain and cyclist casualties, a long-term policy to remove  these conflicts as far as possible. I was thinking of streets like Kilburn High Road and the other"high street" sections of the A5, where local authorities' intermittent attempts to create a better environment always seem to meet a sticky end because they cannot resolve the fundamental conflicts between the arterial, business and social functions of the road. In short, if the road continues to carry masses of heavy traffic, it cannot be a nice place to be. Ms Duggan responded that she did not think it was possible to separate out the functions of roads and streets (so she has obviously a limited knowlege of how they do things in other places), and, even more startlingly, stated that conflict that was one of the things that people liked about cities and attracted them to them. This caused some amusement, or amazement, in the audience.

Kilburn High Road (Google Earth photo) at a quiet time. The cycle logos do a lot of good.About a year ago I attended a meeting to look at some new plans, the latest in a long sequence I have witnessed over the decades, jointly put forward by Brent and Camden, in yet another attempt to "improve" Kilburn High Road. Yet again it was a proposal to mess about with kerb lines, number of lanes, and junction arrangements, with, in this case, the addition of some kind of median strip in some places. Of course, there was no dedicated space for cycling in the plans, and nothing that would actually reduce the through-traffic. The planners had come up with some curious designations for the road they were dealing with: arbitrary subdivisions of what is actually just a long, continuous slug of two, three and four lane road lined with shops. There was a "northern gateway", a "cultural area" (because there is a well known fringe theatre there, the Tricycle), a "secondary town centre shopping area" , a "primary town centre shopping area", and a "southern gateway". Nobody locally would have recognised these designations, the person drawing the plans had just made them up. I said, well, OK, if this is what we want, let's actually have these separate areas. Let's turn these sections into separate areas of street that traffic, apart from buses and bikes, cannot move between. It could be done with a combination of mode filters and one-way sections and circuits using other streets. We could eliminate the heavy through traffic. Then we could genuinely create these areas with separate character and function. But we can't do that if everything else is over-ruled by the need to have heavy car and lorry traffic thundering through night and day. That is what fixes the character of the High Road, overwhelmingly, and makes these fanciful designations, and attempts to create an improved environment, in the end, a bit of a nonsense.

Needless to say, that suggestion went no-where. The A5 is a big road for through-traffic. That's how it is, and nobody but me could conceive that that could ever be changed, within the bounds of political reality. Strangely, though, some years back, Kilburn High Road was actually completely closed to traffic for about six months (I may remember this wrongly, but it was for a substantial length of time) for reconstruction of the bridge across the West Coast Main Line. And, strangely enough, it became a pleasant, thriving and bustling place at that time (apart from the difficulty pedestrians and dismounted  cyclists had with passing through the narrow gap in the building work that was left for them), and the economy of the area did not collapse. In fact the shops appeared to do well. Most of the time there actually seem to be utility excavations on Kilburn High Road which reduce the number of lanes or cause alternate working using temporary traffic lights. Yet the idea of permanently severing the general through-traffic artery of the A5, and forcing that traffic to use the six lane A41 (which was purposely widened in the 1970s exactly to make it that principal traffic artery through north-west London), seems to be inconceivable.

So we just have an endless succession of minor schemes down the years to tweak a very ugly, and dangerous, borderland environment, that never tackle the central issue: that if we want proper town centres, if we want vibrant commercial districts and good public, social spaces, then most of this traffic cannot remain here. We get tree planting, we get benches, we get weird new lamp columns designed by the art students, we get more bollards, we get railings put in, then railings taken out (according to the fashion at the time), discontinuous, ineffective bus lanes put in, bus lanes taken out again (according to the political fashion of the time), and the environment of the A5 remains as it always has been: noisy, dirty, dangerous, shabby, and unappealing.

Cricklewood Broadway, slightly wider than Kilburn High Road but just as congested and chaotic, with sheep-pen crossing for pedestrians and a mass of railings to prevent them from crossing in wrong places. The railings, however, provide the only available bike parking. Note the roadworks, seemingly ever-present, taking out lanes on the High Road or the Broadway.Kilburn High Road is too narrow to support separate cycle tracks while maintaining the two-way general traffic flow, but it is a critical section of road which makes the point, that I am always stressing, that we need to sort out the purpose of our city streets. We can't have critical streets which have so many functions in conflict, and putting in the sort of cycling infrastructure that will support mass cycling, in the Dutch sense, requires that we tackle this issue of purpose first of all, determining where the priority cycle network, the priority bus network, and the general traffic network will be, and separating them by route in places where separation on the street is not possible, as in Kilburn High Road.

In Maida Vale it is a different story. The road has excess width, and, since Kilburn High Road is the bottleneck, space here could easily be reallocated to cycling, were the political will to do it present in Westminster Council. General traffic does not need more than one lane in either direction, as it will just come to a grinding halt again on Kilburn high Road, going north, or on Edgware road, going south. Maida Vale and the Westminster Edgware Road suffer, like all roads in Westminster, from a stupid excess of signalised junctions, which make a journey down them, by any mode, extraordinarily inefficient and tedious. The Dutch only use signalised junctions as a last resort; they close far more side-roads off than we do, to restrict and rationalise the through-traffic network and make it more efficient, with fewer delays. Westminster puts traffic lights everywhere, to cause maximum frustration to all road users and create the least efficient surface transport network possible.

Broad and elegant, the long series of traffic light delays known as Maida Vale, City of WestminsterThe chaotic character of the A5 so familiar from Kilburn High Road and Cricklewood Broadway, is soon re-established in the southernmost, Westminster section of Edgware Road, between Maida Vale and Marble Arch, where the lack of space to cycle in is compounded by the junction restrictions and one-ways which seem designed to make it almost impossible to access form the A5 areas more pleasant for cycling, such as the Hyde Park cycle paths or the Grand Union Canal. The junction of Edgware Road with the slip roads leading to Marylebone Road and the A40 (at Edgware Road tube) is the biggest hazard for cyclists on this stretch. As I pointed out before, Westminster's proposals for the "Central London Cycle Grid" absurdly try to circumnavigate this problem rather than deal with it.

Looking northwards up Edgware road towards the Marylebone Flyover. No space can be found for cycling here, obviously. The Cycling Grid proposes an impractical "Quietway" detour round the junction.South of the Marylebone Flyover, we are in the final stretch of the A5, "little Arabia", where the latest hazard I have come across, on top of all the buses, lorries, black cabs and white vans, is the inconsiderately-driven electrically-assisted rickshaws, broadcasting loud Arabic music, darting across the road unpredictably to collect passengers from the next hookah joint, particularly at night. These surprisingly powerful, fast-acellerating vehicles will catch you unawares if you have not experienced them before; you cannot outrun them on a normal bike.


Five miles to the north-west, the A5 beyond Staples Corner West, the flyover-equipped intersection with the North Circular Road between Cricklewood and Hendon, is a very different kettle of fish again. Frequently very wide, with huge acreages of excess wasted pavement filled with clutter or used for car parking, unnecessarily wide vehicle lanes, and service roads used mainly for even more tiers of parking, it could in most places easily accomodate high-grade Dutch-style cycle tracks, were the road to be totally replanned and rebuilt between the building frontages. The Space for Cycling Campaign asks by Brent, Barnet and Harrow LCC groups for the wards adjoining the A5 are uniformly, and rightly, for protected cycle tracks on the road. But with division of responsibility between the three boroughs, Brent and Harrow Labour-controlled, Barnet Conservative, what chance of such far-reaching change being achieved? It would have to be energetically driven by the Mayor and TfL to have any chance of happening. In fact they would have to take control of the process, and probably take control of the road, to ensure any uniformity of execution. There is nothing in the history of the Cycle Superhighways, TfL's recent attempts at priority cycle routes on main roads, or the Mayor's Vision for Cycling that indicates this might happen. But there is the space; it could be a show-case of what London might achieve for cycling.

Typical character of the A5 north of Staples Corner. Looking south from Burnt Oak Broadway, Merit House is in the distance. Note the huge total width of the road, the chaotic street furniture, wasted pavement space, car showrooms and betting shops (typical occupants of this stretch). This is a section which was prettified by Brent just a couple of year ago, with repaving and more bollards and trees. It's still a wasteland.Of course, any improvements to cycling either in the northern or southern section of the A5 in London would run into the conundrum of what to do with the motorway-style intersection with the North Circular Road at Staples Corner West, essentially unaltered since it was built in the early 1970s: a junction that makes absolutely no concession to cycling, as the first half of this excellent video by Londonneur tells you.

Bow Roundabout in East London has received huge publicity for its terrible design that has resulted in three cycling deaths on Cycle Superhighway 2. Staples Corner West doesn't get this publicity, though it is a very similar design of intersection, with much the same problems, because there's no cycle superhighway here, nor is there ever likely to be one, and cycling levels are very low, suppressed by the barrier of the North Circular that the video speaks of. There are few casualties, because there are not the cyclists here to get killed and injured. It is so dangerous, cycling is almost non-existent in the suburbs from here outwards. I am statistically certain of this. I often cycle into the West End on the A5, a journey of 10 miles from my house, and I place the game of counting how many other cyclists I see. In the middle of a weekday, it is usually between 12 and 20 cyclists in 10 miles, and some of these will be on pavements. Probably 17 of the 20 will be seen on the five miles of the A5 that I cycle south of Staples Corner. There's no sign of a cycling revolution in these parts, and it's easy to see why.

Pathetic, confused two-tier cycle "infrastructure" on the southbound A5 slip road leading to Stapes Corner West. The A5 flyover is to the left. The North Circular flyover overlies that. But despite being a three-level junction (four if you count the walkways), so space for cycling can be found on any of the levels.Cyclists have been campaigning for a safe crossing of the North Circular on the A5 at Staples Corner West for at least 30 years. Here is the evidence for that statement, for which I am indebted to Dr Robert Davis, now Chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, but at that time representing the West London Division of the British Cycling Federation, now British Cycling.

The letter and map above were sent by Robert Davis to the then Secretary of State for Transport as part of correspondence following the death of Eileen Leane in 1984. She was killed at Staples Corner trying to cycle between her work in Colindale and home in West Hampstead on the only possible route. It is seen that the Department of Transport, which at that time controlled the North Circular Road and the junction (now controlled by TfL), showed no interest, and refused even to attend a meeting at the site. Davis comments:
Essentially we were told to work this out with the Boroughs, and that new crossings (I don't know which ones they meant) across NCR would make things safer for cyclists.Such new crossings were never built, neither did the boroughs of Brent or Barnet ever do anything. Precisely nothing has been happening here for 30 years. Something is on the cards today,  but it's not what anyone, apart from mega-developers, asked for. Hammerson, owners of the Brent Cross Shopping centre, are pushing for the "regeneration" of a vast area of Cricklewood/Hendon south of the North Circular and east of the A5, connected with plans to enlarge their shopping centre just north of the North Circular. To get as many cars as possible into this without backing-up in large queues on the approaches to Staples Corner, they want TfL to build a huge new gyratory system uniting the Staples Corner East junction (the start of the M1 and intersection of the North Circular with the A41) with Staples Corner West. Those few cyclists who today brave Staples Corner West either cycle illegally on the tortuous pedestrian footbridges, or they use the low-level signalised roundabout that interchanges with the North Circular, or they use the Bow-style flyover on the A5, braving the high-speed merging traffic on the slip roads linking to the roundabout. Most seem to do the latter, as the most efficient option.

Southbound slip-road out of Staples Corner West, looking north. The A5 flyover is to the left, the North Circular flyover crosses over that at the top. The miserable pavement cycle track is part of a very poor east-west LCN route; there are no cycle facilities on the commuting axis of the A5.As Brent Cyclists have pointed out, the plans to create this mega-gyratory junction at Staples corner will make a terrible situation even worse, and will even further suppress cycling in outer north-west London. The possibility to take the lower-level route on the signalised roundabout when cycling southwards will no longer be present, that route will lead into the mega-gyratory interchanging with the M1, and no other credible method has been thought up by the developers or TfL of getting cyclists from one part of the A5 to the other. It will be "flyover or die" on the A5 flyover... or maybe both. Brent Cyclists wrote to the Development Director Jonathan Joseph earlier this year suggesting some possible solutions to the problem, including signalising a cycle track at surface level through the junction, tunnelling, or new clip-on cycle flyovers attached to the A5 flyover.

Brent Cyclists' concept for a cycle flyover to bypass the slip roads at Staples Corner West, and clip on to the central section of the A5 road flyover. This may not be the best, or a viable solution, but it is a constructive suggestion.

Jonathan Joseph's dismissive reply said the following:
We agree that your second suggested solution of signalling the cyclists through this junction at the lower level would not be viable due to not only the resulting significant delay to other traffic... but also lack of space at this level.

...Segregated flyovers would be less convenient for a longer distance cyclist than simply using the current road flyover. Those cyclist [sic] who are on leisure trips could leave the A5 north of Staples Corner and travel along new north south routes within the Development and re-join the A5 to the south, or vice-versa. So there is likely to be limited use of the new flyover structures which could only be provided at significant cost.  Perhaps some form of segregation over the flyover could be considered by TfL working with the London Boroughs of Brent and Barnet who share responsibility for this route and the existing road flyover.Let's leave aside the Develpment Director's complete failure to understand the need for safe and convenient infrastructure to allow ordinary people to use bikes to undertake short utility trips: for a child attending a school in Hendon to cycle there from a home in Cricklewood only two miles away, for example. It's not his job to understand transport. He has people to advise him on that, but, when it comes to cycling, they clearly do a bad job. The main point is that, once again, as for the last 30 years, those campaigning to for safe cycling on the A5 are pushed from one authority to another, from pillar to post, no-one takes responsibility, and nothing is done. In February there was some publicity from an announcement of Boris Johnson promising to "rip out 33 gyratories" including Elephant & Castle and Swiss Cottage. A closer look at the announcement shows that it is not actually a clear commitment to "rip out" anything, merely to "deliver substantial cycle infrastructure improvements at 33 locations", which could turn out to mean anything, or nothing. I'll believe any of it when I see it. "ripping out" the Swiss Cottage gyratory, on the A41, has been talked of for at least 20 years in my memory, but there has never been enough agreement between all interested parties for anything to actually happen. Meanwhile, there has been no publicity for this plan to create a huge new gyratory on the A5, that will further cripple cycling across north-west London.

If cyclists used this new gyratory, they would not only be taking a very convoluted way round, compared to using the direct and almost flat A5 flyover, they would be mixing with traffic getting on and off of the M1 and the six-lane A41 on a multi-lane system that would probably make Elephant & Castle, London's most statistically dangerous junction for cycling,  look tame by comparison. The routes through the new development, mentioned by Joseph, will not work either, as they will involve convoluted ramps to get over the North Circular, they will be very indirect compared to taking the straight line of the A5 that the Romans gave us, and they will have sections mixing cyclists up with pedestrians (yes, these are the cycle infrastructure proposals for a brand new development on brownfield land where many of the roads will be rebuilt from scratch). These alternatives will not work, and cyclists will not use them; I can guarantee you that, from having looked at the plans. Neither TfL, nor the Cycling Commissioner, nor the developers, nor the boroughs, have any credible plan by which ordinary utility cyclists will be able to cycle along the line of the A5 after this development is built. It is appalling.

Following the Brent Cross Cricklewood developers' cycling "alternative" to the A5 would take you far off your desire line for most journeys that currently use the A5, and eventually, after you had surmounted the ramps over the North Circular and all the shared-use obstacles put in your way, would dump you on the unpleasant rat-run of Claremont Road, with its congested junction with Cricklewood Lane. And you'd now be on the wrong side of the Thameslink Line, if you were trying to get to the West End or Kilburn.Appalling, of course, if Brent Cross Cricklewood is actually built in the way now envisaged. Again, redeveloping this area has been talked of for decades, with no action. The current plans have been "called in" by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Local Government, so he has the final say over what happens (though this might not be significant). I've heard talk in the GLA of "re-masterplanning" the area again, so the developers may not get what they expect at the moment. It is quite strange that TfL seem to have been so accepting of the proposals thus far, considering they will not only block cycling, but mess up the bus routes up and down the A5 (a very major bus corridor), by forcing the buses to waste minutes going round this new mega-gyratory as well. It's almost as if TfL haven't really studied the implications of what they are being asked to build. I don't expect anything to happen here in the near future.
What is happening now, however, is a huge expansion of housing on, and close to, the A5 north of Stapes Corner. Colindale and Burt Oak are earmarked in the Mayor's London Plan as major areas where new housing growth is expected, and at the same time much of West Hendon is being rebuilt, and areas of north Cricklewood along the A5 (seemingly unconnected with the "regeneration" plans). Much of the length of the A5 between Colindale and Burnt Oak town centres is currently a building site, and what is being built is huge blocks of flats, on the site of old industrial and warehouse land. This area of London, which previously consisted mainly of areas of semi-detatched housing with large gardens separated by extensive industrial and brownfield areas, is going to have a far higher population density than ever before, and yet the transport infrastructure is not changing. The Northern Line (Edgware Branch), which provides the main service for these areas into town, also known as the "misery line" because of its bad performance, low capacity, slowness, and outdated equipment, surely cannot be improved enough to cope with a greatly increased demand. In any case, it only provides for radial journeys; orbital journeys have to be made by car, bus (very slow) or bike. There seems no chance of trams or light rail coming to North London, following Boris Johnson's cancellation of Ken Livingstone's Kings Cross tram restoration scheme (which was not on this axis anyway), and campaigners have so far fought in vain to get orbital light rail included in the Brent Cross Cricklewood regeneration plans.

Huge new housing blocks currently going up on the A5 between Colindale and Burn Oak town centres: on the left, redevelopment of the former Wickes site, on the right, of the former Boosey and Hawkes warehouse.Drawing of what's being built on the site to the left of the picture aboveHow are all these people who are going to move in to the area going to get around? Even more polluting buses on the A5, stuck in the queues? More cars in jams at each signalised intersection? With no meaningful space for cycling planned, despite the obvious wasted space on the A5, and no cycle-friendly junctions, I can't see cycling growing to make any significant contribution. There's a housing plan, but no transport plan to go with it, that I can detect. We are currently building to European inner-city densities here, but without providing European-style transport solutions. The A5, axis of all this redevelopment, remains as grim and shabby as ever, a monument to borderland neglect, split governmental responsibility, market forces short-sightedness, public authority issue-avoidance, community disengagement and mis-planning.
As John Betjeman said 46 years ago,It almost makes you like planning, doesn't it, for the lack of it.Broad, shabby, little-used pavement on the A5 in the wasteland between Cricklewood and Staples Corner. Any legal cyclists on the road are squashed into narrow lanes here and passed with inches to spare in quiet times. In busy times they are stuck in queues unless they bunny-hop the kerb. 

Categories: Views

Explaining the Bi-directional Cycle Track Folly

Copenhagenize - 3 June, 2014 - 14:41

If this was 2007, I'd expect some confusion and misinterpretation regarding Best Practice for bicycle infrastructure. It was a brave, new world back then. This blog was a lone voice in the wilderness regarding bicycles as transport in cities, with only testosterone-driven, frothing at the mouth sports and recreational cycling blogs for company in the woods. Now, there is a chorus and the voices are getting louder and more harmonious day by day.

Many, many people know better now. Knowledge has spread and the message is more unified.

One thing that baffles me, however, is why on-street, bi-directional cycle tracks are actually being promoted and implemented.

For clarity, when I saw "on-street, bi-directional" I mean the creation of one lane for bicycles separated by a line, allowing for two-way traffic - on city streets. I am not referring to a two-way path through a park or other areas free of motorised vehicles.

In Denmark, the on-street, bi-directional facility was removed from Best Practice for bicycle infrastructure over two decades ago. That in itself might be an alarm bell to anyone paying attention. These two way cycle tracks were found to be more dangerous than one-way cycle tracks on each side of the roadway. There is a certain paradigm in cities... I'm not saying it's GOOD, but it's there. Traffic users all know which way to look when moving about the city. Having bicycles coming from two directions at once was an inferior design.

This was in an established bicycle culture, too. The thought of putting such cycle tracks into cities that are only now putting the bicycles back - cities populated by citizens who aren't use to bicycle traffic makes my toes curl.

There are bi-directional cycle tracks in Copenhagen. They are through parks and down greenways, separated from motorised traffic, and on occasion they are on streets with no cross streets on one side. At all times they are placed where they actually make sense, to eliminate the risk of collision with cars and trucks. Cycle tracks are like sidewalks... you put them on either side of the street, except you keep them one way.

Sure, Denmark has developed an incredibly uniform design for bicycle infrastructure, with only four types of infrastructure for bicycles that creates uniformity, easy wayfinding and, most importantly, optimal safety.

You hear the same excuses in emerging bicycle nations and cities... "But I saw them in the Netherlands?!"

Yes, you might have. But I asked Theo Zeegers at the Dutch national cycling organisation, Fietsersbond, about this issue and he said,

"Bi-directional cycle tracks have a much higher risk to the cyclists than two, one-directional ones. The difference on crossings is about a factor 2. So, especially in areas with lots of crossings (ie. builtup areas), one-directional lanes are preferred. Not all municipalities get this message, however."

Fortunately, the Dutch are used to a constant flow of cycling. They're not new at this. They also have space issues in many of their small city centres that few other cities on the planet have. The bi-directional tracks you may see there are sub-optimal solutions.

In the recently published OECD report about Cycling Health and Safety you can read much of the same. Bi-directional are not recommended for on-street placement. One way cycle tracks on either side are the Best Practice that should be chosen.

It's really not a newsflash all this.

Imagine removing a sidewalk on one side of the street and forcing pedestrians to share a narrow sidewalk on only one side of the street. You wouldn't do that to pedestrians (sure, stupid examples exist but hey) so why on earth would you do it to cyclists?

The bi-directional cycle tracks we see in emerging bicycle cities can't possibly be put there by people who know what they're doing or who understand the needs of bicycle users or who really want cycling to boom. You can also see that in the width that many of them have. Incredibly narrow, making passing oncoming cyclists a lip-biting experience and making passing cyclists heading in the same direction a bit too hair-raising.

Another excuse oft heard is, "Well... it's better than nothing" - often spoken in a defensive tone. It is a flawed argument, lacking vision, commitment and experience.

This isn't about building stuff out of asphalt. We are planting seeds in the hopes that lush gardens will grow. We have the seeds we need. They are fertile, natural and ready to grow with minimal maintenence. Instead, people are choosing bags of GMO seeds from traffic planning's Wal-Mart. Limited fertility, modified for the simple needs of visionless gardeners. Potted plants instead of gardens.

If someone advocates infrastructure like this and actually believes it is good, they probably shouldn't be advocating bicycle infrastructure.
Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

A question of speed: why you're better off by bike

ibikelondon - 2 June, 2014 - 08:30

This poster from 1915 extols the virtues of the London Underground, pointing out how fast their trains are compared to the traffic crawling along at street level up above.  Nearly a hundred years have passed, and things have changed.  Horse and carts (and barrel organs with monkeys onboard!) have become a very rare site on our streets, and the buses, taxis and motor cars of London now crawl along even more slowly...

The London Congestion Charge, introduced in 2003 by previous Mayor Ken Livingstone, allowed vehicles to begin moving more quickly again by reducing the quantity on the road, though not by enough to avoid This Is Local London publishing the immortal headline "London cars move no faster than chickens"!  

In the first year of its operation, Transport for London estimate over 60,000 journeys by car "evaporated"; moved to public transport, car sharing, and more trips by walking and cycling, against a background of growth in the city, as detailed in Tom Barry's excellent Street Talk on the state of London transport.

A decline in the volume of traffic kilometers travelled in London against a background of a growing city continues even today, as evidenced in the most recent Travel in London report from TfL.  Whether it is inside the inner London congestion charging zone or elsewhere, the distances journeyed are decreasing.  Traffic speeds during peak hours in inner London continue to hover around 15km/h (about 9.5 miles per hour, or a very gentle bike ride).

Fellow blogger Mark from As Easy As Riding a Bike has all the data that's fit to print on the fluctuations in vehicle speeds and volumes in an excellent blog post here.  

And even the motor-headed cast of the BBC's Top Gear have shown that when it comes to a race across town, the bicycle wins.

If less traffic in London means there is more space (and certainly there seems to be enough new space to justify ridiculous carriageway narrowing schemes in the City and in Westminster), then that space could be put to good use getting more people around more quickly.

The "Speed" poster from 1915 is not just a charmingly aesthetic relic from a city of another age.  It shows there have always been smarter and faster ways of getting about than by filling the city with traffic.  I'm as interested in the economics and efficiencies of cities as I am in cycling and cycle infrastructure, and it seems clear to me that not only is there latent demand for more safe space for cycling, but that it makes very good sense to introduce it: not just for the cyclist, but for the sake of the city itself.

Even if you spent billions burying half the roads in London there will never be enough space to allow many motor vehicles to be driven here at any useful speed.  But creating a city that allows people on bikes to move around quickly and safely is an easy goal to win.  As London Underground's poster shows, time is of the essence.

Categories: Views

Construction of a town to town cycle path

BicycleDutch - 1 June, 2014 - 23:45
Koen is one of my Dutch followers and he documented the construction of a rural cycle path between the villages of Leusden and Achterveld in the province of Utrecht. He … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Construction of a town to town cycle path

BicycleDutch - 1 June, 2014 - 23:45
Koen is one of my Dutch followers and he documented the construction of a rural cycle path between the villages of Leusden and Achterveld in the province of Utrecht. He … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Transport for London show contempt for danger reduction and cycling

Road Danger Reduction Forum - 30 May, 2014 - 18:14

Transport for London (TfL) has today taken its behaviour over the “Cyclists stay back” stickers farce to a new low. We believe it has shown contempt for the main cycling and danger reduction organisations who have tried to get it take a rational approach to this issue:


Stickers were issued by TfL in mid-2014, following consultation with cycling groups, for positioning on lorries where there are particular problems with drivers having difficulty in seeing cyclists on their near sides. The wording was somewhat contentious, and more importantly, they were never intended for use on other types of vehicle. Despite this, they found their way on to buses, vans, cars and even taxis.
There is a major problem of drivers not using nearside mirrors (in contravention of Highway Code Rules 159,161,163, 169, 179, 180, 182, 184, and 202 ) associated with a significant proportion of incidents where cyclists are hit by motor vehicles. Even the AA has shown awareness of this issue through a campaign encouraging drivers to look in their wing mirrors.

Accordingly representatives of The Association of Bikeability Schemes (TABS), the national cyclists’ charity (CTC), the national road crash victims’ organisation (RoadPeace), the Road Danger Reduction Forum (RDRF) and the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) wrote to TfL requesting withdrawal of the stickers from the wrong kinds of vehicle, and better wording on stickers where their use may be justified (HGVs and maybe buses and coaches).

After some months TfL gave a rather confused response – it appeared to be unaware that we were concerned primarily with the behaviour of drivers of vehicles other than lorries – to which we had to reply.


…and now

1. Transport for London have not responded to our organisations – but have issued statements to the transport professionals’ fortnightly Local Transport Today published today (30th May) The text is here:

Removing cycle safety stickers too tricky – TfL

Transport for London has no intention of asking firms in London to remove ‘Cyclists stay back’ stickers from their vehicles.
Cycling and road safety groups have criticised the stickers, saying the wording of the message is unsuitable because it implies cyclists are “second-class road users” (LTT 16 May). They are particularly unhappy that the stickers have appeared not only on HGVs – which can trap cyclists on their nearside when turning left – but on buses and vans as well.
But a Transport for London spokeswoman told LTT it would take a “substantial amount of time and money to remove the existing stickers from circulation, effort that would otherwise be devoted to improving the safety of vulnerable road users”. On the concern that stickers now appear on vans, buses and HGVs, she said: “It would be incredibly resource-intensive to differentiate between and enforce the distribution of stickers for different vehicle types.”
Ben Plowden, TfL’s director of surface strategy and planning, said: “We are not aware of any evidence that suggests the design of these stickers is reducing their effectiveness in promoting safer behaviour among van, lorry drivers or cyclists. We are always open to suggestions about how we can improve safety and we will look at whether the design of future stickers should be changed to further improve their value.”
National Express is to fit stickers for cyclists to its coach fleet. The stickers, designed with Sustrans, state: ‘Caution: blind spots, please take care’.

2. The whole issue of driver responsibility towards road users on the nearside of their vehicles is not addressed. As Roger Geffen of the CTC says:

TfL says it knows of no evidence that these stickers are changing drivers’ behaviour, but that’s only because nobody has looked for the evidence. However an inquest has been told that a deceased cyclist had failed to observe a “cyclists stay back” sticker, as if that somehow meant they were at fault. We also know of a case where a cyclist, who had been cut up and abused by a left-turning lorry driver, phoned up the company’s “How’s my driving” reporting line, only to be told that he was in the wrong because the lorry had a “cyclists stay back” sticker. If that’s how these stickers are affecting people’s attitudes, it seems pretty obvious that they will worsen people’s behaviour too.

It is ironic that Transport for London is working hard alongside CTC and others in pressing the Government to give cyclists greater priority and safety at junctions. Yet these stickers are clearly giving drivers the impression that it’s up to cyclists themselves to stay out of harm’s way. Instead of denying that there’s a problem, TfL really needs to act before these stickers cause yet more deaths and injuries to cyclists because of drivers turning left without looking properly.”

Even before considering new segregated cycle tracks – where drivers need to expect cyclists on their nearside at junctions, TfL’s own Cycle Safety Action Plan has for some years shown that not looking for cyclists on the nearside is a form of driver rule-breaking implicated in a significant proportion of collisions involving cyclists.

3. The idea that “It would be incredibly resource-intensive to differentiate between and enforce the distribution of stickers for different vehicle types” is insulting to the intelligence:
This is a car:

This is a van:


All TfL has to do through its Freight Operators Recognition Scheme is instruct its members to remove the stickers from vehicle types for which they are not intended. Explaining why this should be done would involve minimal resources and be a valuable part of education about road user responsibility.

These stickers have been around for nearly a year now. It is unacceptable that TfL is resorting to delaying tactics rather than admitting it made a mistake and taking action to correct it.

Categories: Views

New bridge in Nijmegen: ‘The Crossing’

BicycleDutch - 28 May, 2014 - 23:01
Cycling is taken into account when the Dutch undertake large infrastructure projects. Nijmegen now has a third bridge over the river Waal and it has a smooth wide cycle path. … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

New bridge in Nijmegen: ‘The Crossing’

BicycleDutch - 28 May, 2014 - 23:01
Cycling is taken into account when the Dutch undertake large infrastructure projects. Nijmegen now has a third bridge over the river Waal and it has a smooth wide cycle path. … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Is there a real “cycle safety crackdown” in London?

Road Danger Reduction Forum - 28 May, 2014 - 14:23
Mayor Johnson at launch of “mini-Operation Safeways” (Photo: Evening Standard)

Yesterday Mayor Johnson announced a reprise of last winter’s “Operation Safeway” with claims that this policing programme will increase cyclist safety.  We are very much in favour of law enforcement as a crucial element in reducing danger for cyclists and other road users – but we doubt that the “mini- Operation Safeways” announced will be it. Unless the lessons from Operation Safeway are learned – and there is no sign that they have been – TfL and MPS will continue to fail Londoners with the provision of non-discriminatory and effective law enforcement. Here’s why:

The evidence on the effect of Operation Safeway: the first two months

Operation Safeway kicked off as a result of the spate of six cyclist deaths in autumn 2013. As we said
the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, was quite correct in pointing out that this concentration of half the annual toll of London cyclist deaths into two weeks was highly unusual – but not an indicator that the death rate was increasing. It wasn’t.

In the first half of 2013, only three cyclists died in London – one every two months. In the recent spate, it was every two days. Are these same streets 30 times more dangerous than just a few months ago?

Unfortunately, Gilligan has since played the game he correctly criticises in assessing Operation Safeway. Earlier this year he said: “This operation has been hugely valuable … In the last eight weeks we have not seen one cyclist killed on London’s roads and dangerous behaviour has clearly dropped”.But it is quite expected that no cyclists are killed in two winter months. And where was the evidence that “dangerous behaviour has clearly dropped”?

The evidence on the effect of Operation Safeway: the picture now

The figures quoted by the Mayor, TfL and Gilligan yesterday are interesting. Essentially they point to a reduction in cyclist KSIs per journey in 2013. But:
(a) The 2013 reduction over 2012 cannot be due to Operation Safeway, which would only effect the last month of the year. Mayor Johnson claims of an effect due to “great work done by the police” are unfounded.

(b) Do we have good figures on the numbers of cyclist journeys taken in 2013 yet? It might be the case that there was a reduction in cyclist journeys in 2013, affected by a reduction the early months associated with the unusually cold weather in early 2013.

Both these points have been made clearly by our colleague Charlie Lloyd of the LCC.

The longer term evidence

Gilligan refers to a trend of reduced cyclist KSIs per cyclist journey in London over the last decade. We think he is right to point this out. He is also correct to point out that this has occurred simply due to the greater physical presence of cyclists, – an effect of adaptive behaviour (risk compensation) by motorists, sometimes referred to as “Safety in Numbers”.
(a) This is a long term trend starting from the increase in cycling from the beginning fo the century – it is not something which explains an alleged decline in KSI rate in 2013. You cannot seize on a figure for one year, even if it is correct. One year’s data done not indicate a trend.
(b) Gilligan refers to the very high cyclist death rate in 1989. As a somewhat long in the tooth transport professional I recall when the late John Devenport of the then London Accident Analysis Unit was required to analyse this particularly large figure. It was very high figure – which went down in the years immediately afterwards. Avoid cherry picking figures…
(c) There are other reasons for casualties of all types going down – such as a tendency towards lower levels of societal risk taking associated with an economic downturn.
(d) Advocates of highlighting the effects of risk compensation (behavioural adaptation) such as ourselves do NOT suggest that increasing the numbers of people cycling is enough for cyclist safety. We require a change in culture which supports reduction in danger at source – from motor vehicular traffic – for the benefit of the safety of all road users. That has not happened in London.
(e) Advocates of highlighting the effects of risk compensation (behavioural adaptation) such as ourselves are pointing out the effects of spontaneous behavioural change. Beneficial changes have not been due to official “road safety” efforts: whether publicity campaigns, highway engineering (of which little for cyclists’ benefit has occurred), or indeed the limited policing which has happened.
(f) For Gilligan: “The presence of mass cycling on London’s roads has changed drivers’ behaviour.” That risk compensation ‘/ behavioral adaptation effect we think is true to some extent – but while there has been a significant increase in inner London (and not really “mass cycling” in a European sense – it has not happened in outer London. This could be one of the reasons why there is a differential between outer and inner London cyclist KSIs after Operation Safeway.

What now?

To repeat, we are supporters of law enforcement programmes. But they have to be based on the right evidence and the right objectives. We do not think that Operation Safeway was indeed a “blitz” on unsafe driving. We do not think that there was a thorough programme of “getting dangerous drivers off the road”. As our next post shows, we think it was ill-informed and discriminatory.
We think that a very good and clear programme of what the MPS and TfL should do has been laid out by the London Cycling Campaign here , and we have suggested what we think should be happening here : real road safety, for the safety of cyclists and all road users.



Categories: Views

Fears about ‘kamikaze’ motorists put Cambridge road scheme on hold

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 28 May, 2014 - 11:50

News just in.

A road scheme in Cambridge, which would involve giving motorists ‘priority’ along a road, has been put on hold due to concerns about the behaviour of a minority of motorists.

Plans for a new Cambridge road scheme involving ‘junctions’  have been put on hold amid fears about safety and “kamikaze” motorists.

Members of the county council’s economy and environment committee had been due to sign off on the £1.8 million project for Hills Road and Huntingdon Road today but instead deferred their decision, calling for revised plans to be put before them in July.

They voted to defer by a margin of nine five despite a warning from officers that the Government money had to be spent by May and that there was a “risk” a delay could torpedo the whole scheme.

Several councillors’ concerns focused on the roads and the junctions, which would allow motorists to continue pass unimpeded, but would force pedestrians to cross the road.

The proposals were criticised by disability groups, who described them as an “accident waiting to happen”.

Councillors were unmoved by the suggestion of raising the ‘driving lane’ through the junctions and making it narrower, which would have slowed drivers and made it easier to cross.

Cllr John Williams, who represents Fulbourn, said: “I can’t tell you how often I see motorists disobeying red lights and not stopping at pedestrians crossings and pelican crossings.

“I don’t have any confidence motorists will give way to pedestrians moving across the junction because of what I see going on in this city with motorists. Unless we make pedestrians the priority at these junctions, I have serious concerns there will be an accident.”

The junction designs were backed by about 60 per cent of respondents in a consultation which received nearly 1,700 responses, but more residents of the streets concerned were opposed than in favour.

Cllr David Jenkins, who represents Histon, told the meeting: “I’m concerned about motorists’ behaviour. It’s only a small minority, but it’s a significant small minority of ‘kamikaze’ motorists in the city and they are intolerant of other road users, and there has to be some way of policing them. Simply allowing them to have priority means less confident pedestrians will be stranded as these motorists go past.”

Other councillors spoke in favour of the project, including Castle’s Cllr John Hipkin, who argued pedestrians could make sense of the junction.

He said: “No traffic scheme can entirely discount common sense and every traffic scheme relies on common sense to make it work. I think this is a project which, on balance, I support. I full support some of the misgiving of my residents but on balance I shall support it.”

Categories: Views

Fears about ‘kamikaze’ motorists put Cambridge road scheme on hold

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 28 May, 2014 - 11:50

News just in.

A road scheme in Cambridge, which would involve giving motorists ‘priority’ along a road, has been put on hold due to concerns about the behaviour of a minority of motorists.

Plans for a new Cambridge road scheme involving ‘junctions’  have been put on hold amid fears about safety and “kamikaze” motorists.

Members of the county council’s economy and environment committee had been due to sign off on the £1.8 million project for Hills Road and Huntingdon Road today but instead deferred their decision, calling for revised plans to be put before them in July.

They voted to defer by a margin of nine five despite a warning from officers that the Government money had to be spent by May and that there was a “risk” a delay could torpedo the whole scheme.

Several councillors’ concerns focused on the roads and the junctions, which would allow motorists to continue pass unimpeded, but would force pedestrians to cross the road.

The proposals were criticised by disability groups, who described them as an “accident waiting to happen”.

Councillors were unmoved by the suggestion of raising the ‘driving lane’ through the junctions and making it narrower, which would have slowed drivers and made it easier to cross.

Cllr John Williams, who represents Fulbourn, said: “I can’t tell you how often I see motorists disobeying red lights and not stopping at pedestrians crossings and pelican crossings.

“I don’t have any confidence motorists will give way to pedestrians moving across the junction because of what I see going on in this city with motorists. Unless we make pedestrians the priority at these junctions, I have serious concerns there will be an accident.”

The junction designs were backed by about 60 per cent of respondents in a consultation which received nearly 1,700 responses, but more residents of the streets concerned were opposed than in favour.

Cllr David Jenkins, who represents Histon, told the meeting: “I’m concerned about motorists’ behaviour. It’s only a small minority, but it’s a significant small minority of ‘kamikaze’ motorists in the city and they are intolerant of other road users, and there has to be some way of policing them. Simply allowing them to have priority means less confident pedestrians will be stranded as these motorists go past.”

Other councillors spoke in favour of the project, including Castle’s Cllr John Hipkin, who argued pedestrians could make sense of the junction.

He said: “No traffic scheme can entirely discount common sense and every traffic scheme relies on common sense to make it work. I think this is a project which, on balance, I support. I full support some of the misgiving of my residents but on balance I shall support it.”

Categories: Views

Transferring responsibility

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 27 May, 2014 - 09:14

A building in town is being renovated. There is scaffolding around the exterior, and around that is some wooden boarding, protecting the public from the building work inside.

There’s an entrance door to the site; it has a warning to the public on it – BEWARE OF DOOR OPENING.

But interestingly, on the other side of the door, the inside, there is no warning to the builders, cautioning them to beware of the public that might be on the other side of the door, when they open it.

So the warning sign here is directed at the innocent members of the public who might get hit by someone swinging a door open. Conversely, there is no warning not to do harm for the people swinging the door open in the first place.

The passive party, not posing any risk, are being told to watch out; the active, causal party, with the potential to do harm, receive no such warning.

This is, of course, deeply familiar stuff for anyone who pays close attention to the way ‘road safety’ in Britain typically works. The people at risk – pedestrians, people on bikes – are told to ‘look out’, to make themselves visible, to get out of the way, to ‘stay back’, while the warnings for the people actually posing the danger are negligible or non-existent.

Against this background of transferred responsibility, ‘balanced’ road safety messages start to seem reasonable – what could be wrong with asking both parties to be responsible? – until you actually dig down into the detail.

What do I mean by ‘balanced’? Well, this kind of thing -

Peter Hendy: “If we are going share the roads – everyone has got to look out for everyone else”

— Tom Edwards (@BBCTomEdwards) May 20, 2014

That’s the Commissioner of Transport for London there, suggesting that ‘road sharing’ relies upon people on foot, or on bikes, looking out for lorry drivers (drivers, note, not lorries).

In a similar vein, Kent Police seem to think that road safety is merely a matter of ‘playing your part’, regardless of the risk you pose.

NEWS: Have you seen our new #ThinkBike video? We want all road users to #PlayYourPart to prevent serious collisions — Kent Police RPU (@kentpoliceroads) May 23, 2014

California Police chose to launch ‘Bike Safety Week’ by suggesting that people on bikes had ‘the same responsibilities’ as motorists -

Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. #CycleSafely #BicycleSafetyMonth

— CA Traffic Safety (@OTS_CA) May 22, 2014

South Yorkshire Police chose to opt for a message of ‘mutual respect’, while Sussex Police – like Peter Hendy – evidently feel that the ‘look out for each other’ angle was the most appropriate. Preposterously, the news story for ‘looking out for each other’ is illustrated with this photograph.

That’s a man cycling on a slip road on a 70mph dual carriageway, ‘looking out’ for the man behind the wheel of the lorry bearing down on him.

All these messages amount to the same thing, memorably described by David Arditti -

The message is that “There are two sides to every story”, and its up to lorry drivers and cyclists equally to take responsibility for preventing crashes by understanding one another’s needs and behaving with appropriate caution. It implies everyone’s equally to blame when things go wrong, and the solution is shared understanding.

This completely false ‘balance’ amounts to a sloughing off of responsibility, a shifting of blame to parties who cannot possibly ‘look out’ for motorists, in the sense of preventing harm. And I suspect the ‘look out for’ message is spreading precisely because it is conveniently ambiguous.

Namely – ‘look out for’ means both ‘take care of’ as well as ‘watch out!’ (If I were to yell ‘look out for the lorry’, it’s probably quite obvious I’m not asking you to take care of it).

When Peter Hendy or Sussex Police urge cyclists to ‘look out for’ motorists, they are not urging a duty of care for motorists by those who happen to be cycling (because that would be silly) – in fact, they are simply stating that those who are cycling should ‘watch out’.

So while ‘drivers and cyclists looking out for each other’ sounds all lovely and harmonious, it actually conveys two very different messages with the same words, while simultaneously presenting an impression of ‘balance’ that resonates with the general public as one of equal responsibility.

It’s a horribly slippery concept.

Categories: Views


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