Saturday, 31 August 2013

Parliament Square Protest Ride - Monday 2nd September - 6pm, Jubilee Gardens - Are you coming?

On Monday 2nd September the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) are holding a Protest Ride starting in Jubilee Gardens which will loop around Parliament Square in order to highlight the pitiful state of cycling in this country and this capital.

The LCC have the full details available here on their website. However, in brief, everyone is meeting at Jubilee Gardens (located next to the London Eye) at 6pm for a 6.30pm start on Monday 2nd September in order to coincide with the Parliamentary debate on the Get Britain Cycling report that evening.

It is vitally important that as many people come as possible. Politicians are only going to act to make cycling safer if they think there are votes in it; if they can see big public support for making cycling safer and easier to do. The way to convince them of this is for 10,000 people to take over Parliament Square on their bikes, creating ample video and photo opportunities which will ensure widespread press coverage of not only the protest, but also, and more importantly, the reasons behind it. This protest perhaps changes little in and of itself, but it does provide a platform for the very real dangers inherent in cycling around London (and the rather straightforward solutions that cycling advocates want to fix them with) to be rang out loud and clear in the local and national media.

This is why everyone needs to come along on Monday 2nd September. Would you rate your chances of survival if you were regularly cycling around the King's Cross gyratory, where this ghost bike is placed to remember the life of Min Joo Lee who was killed here in 2011? I wouldn't. These gyratories need to be removed from London, and we need to show politicians that it will be politically advantageous to give us real, safer changes to our street design, not just empty promises.
Moreover, I will be leading a 'feeder ride' from St John's Church on Ladbroke Grove in Notting Hill Gate and it would be fantastic to meet as many fellow cycling enthusiasts as possible. A map of the various feeder rides being organised is available here. If there's one departing from near where you live/work then why not join it? And if there isn't, why not email the LCC and volunteer to guide your own? It's always safer (and more pleasant!) to cycle in a group with other people rather than by yourself.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

'Share The Road' campaigns reinforce irrational prejudices, rather than addressing them

Given how gob-smackingly awful the recent, Scottish 'Nice Way Code' campaign is, this latest declaration from Bike Delaware on the other side of the Atlantic seems quite apposite. They have asked their state department of transportation to discontinue the use of “Share the Road” signs (often favoured in the UK by DfT, TfL, and motoring organisations/lobbyists/enthusiasts). Here's their explanation:
As a traffic control device, motorists and cyclists interpret [Share the Road] in different, and sometimes diametrically opposed, ways. Many motorists see it as an admonition to cyclists not to ride in the centre of a travel lane. Many cyclists see it as a message to motorists that, if they are riding in the centre of a travel lane for one reason or another, that faster-moving motorists should cautiously and patiently manoeuvre around them.As a marketing campaign, the phrase’s ambiguity also invites conflicting interpretations.

Many motorists believe that “sharing” means giving up part of something they believe is rightfully theirs while cyclists tend to think of sharing as referring to a commonly owned asset that belongs to them just as much as it does to motorists. This confusion causes motorists and cyclists to trade pointless and time-wasting accusations back and forth.
As a preferable alternative, Bike Delaware have urged their department of transportation to use the “May Use Full Lane” sign, below:


With thanks to Streetsblog New York City for picking this up.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Gilligan Gets It Wrong

Andrew Gilligan wrote last week in the Evening Standard that, 'there's something about cycling that seem's to destroy people's sense of proportion'.

He then directly compared the fact that 6 cyclists have been killed already this year (i.e. in 8 months), with the fact that 9 pedestrians were seriously injured last year (i.e. in 12 months), and argued essentially that both were low figures. This juggling of the numbers by Gilligan is designed to do exactly what he excoriates others for: destroy your sense of proportion.

For a start, only one of these figures is an annual total, the other - the number of cyclists killed this year - could well rise significantly before the end of 2013. For another, the number of cyclists killed each year of London's roads is too low a figure to be statistically reliable (as Gilligan himself admits later in the article). Two far better statistics to compere would be these:

Number of pedestrians serious injured by cyclists in London in 2012: 9
Number of cyclists seriously injured by motorists in London in 2012: 657 (an 18% increase on the previous year)

These are far more proportionate figures to compare, and they tell a very different story to Gilligan's spin. They show that someone on a bike in London is more than 70 times more likely to be seriously injured by a motorist than to seriously injure a pedestrian. Now we can see clearly that those ranting about the dangers cycling possesses to pedestrians are indeed stark, raving mad. Those with a 'sense of proportion' are, like The London Cycling Campaign and The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, bravely seeking to address the very real, and often fatal, dangers that mixing motor traffic and cycling poses to those on bikes. Andrew Gilligan is trying to blind the public to this danger with mismatching figures, rather than face up to the reality, and enormity, of the challenge facing him as London's Cycling Commissioner as he attempts to reverse an 18% yearly increase in the number of those on bikes maimed by drivers in Britain's capital.


Postscript: Gilligan also repeats in this article what he had said elsewhere, namely that:
we can’t do what some in the cycling community want, and rush through in a few weeks the cycle changes we’re planning. Have no doubt, those changes will be major — and you’ll start seeing the first fruits in about two months — but they have to work for both cyclists and pedestrians, and if they’re not thought through, they mightn’t be safe for either.
Well, again, this is, to quote Gilligan's 'boss', baloney (or twaddle). There is are at least two changes that could be rushed through immediately and would categorically work for both cyclists and pedestrians:

  1. An immediate London-wide 20 MPH limit excluding certain major roads. And, this was even recommended by Boris Johnson's own Roads Task Force, back in July this year. Still being ignored by Gilligan though. That needs to change. 20 MPH limits are the norm in Amsterdam, Berlin, Zurich, Copenhagen, Paris, and Munich. They could very quickly become the norm in London too.
  2. The instant removal of motorised through-traffic from a huge number of residential streets by simple measures such as bollards or a gate placed at one end of the road. This is usually called 'filtered permeability' (i.e. the roads are permeable to those on foot or bike, but not to those trying to rat-run in cars) and is already being used by the councils of Hackney, Camden and Islington to make their streets both objectively and subjectively safe.

Andrew Gilligan is clearly working very hard to make cycling in London safer, but masking the extent of the problem by pretending cycle safety advocates lack 'a sense of proportion' is not going to make his job any easier.

Friday, 16 August 2013

David Cameron and Patrick McLoughlin's 'Cycling Announcement': amount pledged is pitiful, but politically striking to see them directly associate themselves with cycle advocacy and the segregation of cyclists from pedestrians and motor vehicles

On Monday 12th August 2013 David Cameron and Patrick McLoughlin (Minister for Transport) announced a total of £148 million 'new' funding for cycling between now and 2015 (that's £77 million per annum). It was heartening to see this get such substantial, in-depth coverage from the BBC, especially the comment from Chris Stewart, their Look North Chief Reporter who castigated authorities for building 'cycle lanes' alongside 70 mph dual-carriageways that forced those on a bike to risk their lives crossing 70 mph slip roads at right angles.

However, as Christian Wolmar (who is seeking the Labour nomination for 2016 mayoral election) and Mark Ames of the ibikelondon blog have pointed out, the total funding we're getting is only getting about £17 million a year more than we got every year until 2010 with Cycling England, a quango that distributed £60 million per annum to cycling projects. Why was this money cut off in 2010? David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and the Coalition immediately cancelled it, of course, when they came to power. So the government now is, in fact, woefully trying to make up for three years, and £180 million, of missed investment in cycling with a pitiful £77 million a year. That's a joke, if you ask me.

So, the total funding announced for cycling by our national government is, we can all admit, an insultingly small amount. There are, however, are a few rays of light for cycling advocacy in the UK. The first is the language that this new spending announcement is couched in. In the government's own press release the word 'segregated' occurs three times, including 'a new segregated Super Highway from east Leeds to Bradford City Centre'. This is a substantial improvement on the situation even three years ago, and will hopefully prevent large amounts of government money being wasted on schemes that do a negligible amount to promote cycling (such as the £500,000 travesty that is Scotland's Nice Way Code). Moreover, the use of the key word 'segregated' will help stop local authorities getting away with putting blue paint in the middle of a general traffic lane which Boris Johnson choose to use for most of his largely useless 'Cycle Superhighways' (which were even lambasted by his political ally and new Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan).

Given that there are still significant numbers of 'cycling advocates', especially in organisations like CTC (The National Cycling Charity), who neither understand nor support the segregation of cyclists and motor traffic – nor cyclists and pedestrians – it is in many ways remarkable that a largely Conservative government is in a small way helping establish segregated cycle lanes as the 'gold standard' that local councils should be aiming for. The fact the government has embraced segregation (at least in name) is a testament to the effectiveness of The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (which formed partly in response to the ongoing opposition to segregation in existing cycling advocacy groups like CTC), the London Cycling Campaign's 'Love London, Go Dutch' campaign, The Times' 'Cyclesafe' campaign, and Andrew Gilligan and Boris Johnson's 'Cycling Vision for London', published in March 2013, which implicitly established segregated routes as the ideal road-layout to ensure cycle safety and high rates of cycling.

Another significant element of Monday's announcement is the extent to which David Cameron and Patrick McLoughlin have publicly associated themselves with cycling. (Patrick McLoughlin even wrote a comment piece for The Times in support of it! Hard to imagine Philip Hammond, the previous Minister for Transport, doing the same.) This public association of key politicians with cycling not only helps further normalise it as a majority mode of transport, but also makes the government more accountable for future cycling deaths. When someone dies because of using a form of transport which you have actively 'sponsored' and encouraged, you are more responsible that if someone dies using a form of transport you have completely ignored for the last 3 years (as the Coalition has done). With Monday's announcement the Conservative majority of the Coalition has started a conversation about cycle advocacy which they were refusing to engage in, even last year. This is surely a good thing.

David Cameron cycling in opposition. He's largely ignored it since. As has the rest of his party, excluding Boris Johnson and Dr Sarah Wollaston MP. Might this be about to change?
The personal contributions of specific politicians and parties also opens the arena for cycling to become a truly political issue, in the sense that different politicians may well begin to actively compete with each other to show they are representing the interests of those that cycle better than their competitors. This hasn't happened an awful lot in this country yet. But we got a taste of what could become quite common with Maria Eagle's (Shadow Minister for Transport) spot-on comments following the announcement:
No amount of cynical spin from David Cameron will make up for the fact that, immediately on taking office, he axed Cycle England, the Cycle Demonstration Towns scheme and the annual £60m budget to support cycling that he inherited. 
Since then he has axed targets to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads, reduced traffic enforcement, cut the THINK! awareness campaign and allowed longer HGVs. 
Only last month the prime minister set out plans for Britain's roads that failed to include a single commitment to the investment in separated cycling infrastructure that is the best way to boost cycling and make it safer.
I couldn't have put it better myself. Admittedly Maria Eagle's actions in office might not match up to her comments in opposition, but she is bang-on the money here, especially in regard to the government's £12 billion a year road building scheme that makes a few million spent of cycling pale into insignificance. The fact that David Cameron is attempting to spin himself as being pro-cycling opens up 'cycling' as an area of competition between Labour, Conservative, and Lib Dems which will hopefully create an 'arms-race' (if you will) on cycling policies as each party seeks to capture the ever-increasing cycling vote. Similarly, in terms of the London Mayoralty, Boris Johnson has been largely unchallenged by any major politicians over his cycling policies (though Jenny Jones AM [Green] and Caroline Pidgeon AM [Lib Dem] have been fantastic over the last few years on the London Assembly). Nor has Boris had any challenge from within his own party as a 'cycling-champion'. I believe this political wasteland is what has allowed him to push through policies that are extremely damaging to cycling (such as blue-paint cycle superhighways or scrapping the pedestrianisation of Parliament Square) without losing his image among the wider-public as someone who does his best for cycling because he's got no competitors in terms of promoting it. Hopefully this will change, and awful policies will be exposed for what they are not only by cycle campaigners, but by politicians and political parties looking to gain an advantage on rivals (e.g. Cameron vs. Johnson, etc.).

Ultimately this announcement by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Transport is a recognition of the political strength of cycling advocacy in this country (especially following the recent and impressive sports success in cycling). However, in their championing of 'segregation' this government is helping to unify advocacy groups on the issue, thus making the cycling voice stronger and more uniform. Moreover, by entering into a dialogue about cycle safety the government have made themselves far more accountable for cycling deaths in the country, as Boris Johnson is increasingly finding himself to be for anyone killed on a bike in London. It's an insultingly small amount of money, but the announcement itself is big news.

Friday, 9 August 2013

BBC Newsnight excellent reporting on cycling in Holland + #cyclesafe + #space4cycling; a few crucial points they missed.

For those that missed it, a couple of days ago BBC Newsnight did a rather excellent report on cycling in Holland. Here's a copy of it on YouTube; very well worth a watch:

However, there were a few crucial points that the programme either skimmed over, or missed entirely, and deserve far more substantial coverage.

  1. Massive NHS saving potential from cycling, due to obesity etc. (~£7Bn/yr) [we're the fattest country in Western Europe]
  2. Saving to individuals from cycling, due to high cost of transport in London (£,000's/yr)
  3. Studies have shown that 'one mile on a bike is a $.42 economic gain to society, one mile driving is a $.20 loss.'
  4. Putting in cycling lanes instead of car-parking significantly increases the amount spent in local shops, thus boosting the local economy. This has been proved in New York where there was a 49% increase in retail sales following the installation of a properly segregated cycle lane.
  5. As Danny Williams writing in the Cyclists in the City blog has pointed out, humans cannot adapt the roads they are forced to use to how they want to cycle, but they can adapt how they cycle to the road that they are forced to use . It's all very well for Boris Johnson to say that the Dutch cycle culture is far less aggressive and more inclusive than London currently is. But this culture is simply a reflection of the roads that Londoners and Hollanders find themselves on. An advertisement campaign is going to have no effect on this. People cycle aggressively in London because Boris Johnson himself is forcing them to navigate four-lane gyratories (mostly TfL owned) like the one in Holborn that killed Alan Neve. Dutch people have a much more relaxed 'mentality about cycling' (to quote Boris Johnson) because they have a system of segregated cycle lanes and are not being forced to have to gamble their lives at impossibly dangerous junctions like Bow Roundabout where both Brian Dorling and Svitlana Tereschenko were killed by motor traffic in 2011.
  6. Andrew Gilligan is wrong. There is plenty of road-space in London for Amsterdam-level cycling facilities. It's simply that at the moment we're choosing to use that road space for the aforementioned multi-lane killer-gyratories such as Holborn, Swiss Cottage, Elephant and Castle, Victoria (where Dr Katherine Giles was killed in 2013), Aldgate (where Philippine De Gerin-Ricard was killed in 2013), and Archway (where Dr Clive Richards was killed in 2013). Or we're choosing to use that road space on super-scary roundabouts such as Parliament Square (which Ken Livingstone was going to pedestrianise before Boris Johnson came to power in 2008 and crassly cancelled the scheme), Hyde Park Corner, Elephant and Castle, Old Street, Marble Arch, Charing Cross, and Shepherds Bush. Or we're choosing to use that road space on urban motorways like Euston Road, Park Lane, the Westway, and Vauxhall Bridge Road. Or we're choosing to use that road space on idiotic road-narrowing schemes such as Cheapside, Pall Mall and the new Aldgate and Haymarket plans. [these lists are in no way comprehensive]
  7. A key part of 'Going Dutch' is having 19 mph (30 kph) limits as default. This isn't just the case in Holland. You also find 19 mph limits as default in Paris, Berlin, Zurich, Bern, Basel, Copenhagen, Tokyo, and Munich. 20 mph limits in London are currently seen as abnormal, aberrant, and sometimes abhorrent. They need to become default, as Boris Johnson's own Roads Task Force recommended. These means 20 mph becoming the standard speed-limit in London which can be lowered and adjusted as circumstances warrant (e.g. the Euston Road might be retained at 30 mph if a completely segregated Cycle Superhighway was built alongside the motor-traffic lanes). It should be intuitive to anyone with half a brain that if you lower the speed limits to 19 mph, Londoners will feel much less threatened by motor traffic close-passing them at 30 mph and adjust their cycling habits accordingly.
  8. 'Presumed Liability', as proposed recently by the Lib Dems, would also be a good idea. This puts the puts the burden of proof on the insurance company of the driver in all civil claims involving a cyclist or a pedestrian. While not affecting criminal law's 'innocent until proven guilty', it would provide a financial incentive to drivers and insurance companies to reduce the appallingly high number of Brits on bikes killed or seriously maimed by motorists on our roads every year (3,222 in 2012). The UK is one of only 5 countries in the EU – along with the notably bike-friendly countries of Romania, Cyprus, Ireland and Malta –  not to have some form of this law already. Appalling.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Easy to use definitions of "Cycle Superhighway" and "Quietway" for Andrew Gilligan, TfL, and local council officials

At the City of London Cycling Forum last month the City officials told us that they had already had a few meetings with Andrew Gilligan, but that these meetings had not been spent discussing any actual cycle lanes. Instead, they had used the time to discuss the definition of the words "Cycle Superhighway" and "Quietway" (which are used in the Mayor's Cycling Vision). It's great to know that our public officials are spending their time so efficiently, but I thought I'd try and make their lives even easier by defining these words myself.

Cycle Superhighway = completely physically separated from motor traffic + wide enough to accommodate the amount of Londoners who would want to use it.

(Using this definition Cycle Superhighway 2 is not a 'Cycle Superhighway' because it is not segregated from motor traffic; which helps explain why 3 people have been killed on it. Nor is the segregated track on Tavistock Place a 'Cycle Superhighway' because it is too narrow to easily contain all those that seek to use it, making it often dangerously busy.)

Quietway = a well-surfaced road with no through-traffic + a 20mph speed limit.

(Using this definition there would be a few 'Quietways' currently existing in Hackney and Islington, but somewhere like Soho which has through-traffic hurtling through narrow one-way systems at 30mph would be anything but a 'Quietway'.)

I know these definitions are somewhat stringent, but they could be used as a template for those at TfL and local councils trying to design and build cycle routes. The relative quality of a Quietway or Cycle Superhighway could be extremely quickly measured by looking at how much of it's route matched up to the two simple criteria.

Cycle campaigners could then use these definitions very effectively to criticise deficient parts of a proposed or build cycle route. One could say for instance that, "this Cycle Superhighway is nothing of the sort because only 50m of it is segregated", or, "this Quietway isn't fit for purpose because most of it contains fast-moving, dangerous through traffic that isn't capped by a 20mph limit. I'd be mad to let my child cycle to school along this route unless the through-traffic was removed and a 20mph limit put in place".

It's not that all roads in London need to be designed along the aforementioned guidelines, but that a route is simply not 'quiet', in any sense of the word, if there are taxis constantly rat-running it at 30mph. It's just a road with a sign on it. Similarly a route is not a 'cycle superhighway' if you're sharing a motor-traffic lane with HGVs. It's just a road with some blue paint on it.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Suppressed Demand for Cycling demonstrated by RideLondon this weekend and the tragic killing of *another* Londoner on a bike this morning by an HGV driver

More than 80,000 people took part in various events for RideLondon last weekend, including a traffic-free FreeCycle on Saturday which allowed people to cycle around a closed loop in Central London without worrying about being killed by idiotically designed pinch points or irresponsible drivers.

Mark Treasure, who writes AsEasyAsRidingABike as well as chairing The Cycle Embassy of Great Britain, has recently written about the 'suppressed demand' which events like Skyride show, and I can't help agreeing with him.

Parliament Square flooded with cyclists for FreeCycle on Saturday. Photo via @redeader.
If you close the roads, even just from 9am-4pm, tens of thousands of people will want to cycle on them. This is partly a measure of just how popular cycling in this country now is; it's a surprising figure, but we now buy the fifth most bikes per head of any country in Europe.

Photo via @AsEasyAsRiding.
However, the huge popularity of closed road cycling events (which only actually started in this country in 2007) is also a sign of just how grim and dangerous our roads are to cycle on. Even on Cheapside, which was redesigned in 2011 (!), the new pinch points and narrow lanes make it hell for those on two wheels.

Would you ever let a child cycle on this road if it was open to motor-traffic? The painted cycle sign is absolutely useless. There is no excuse for not providing a proper, continuous, segregated cycle lane here. Photo via @AsEasyAsRding.
Despite being fifth in Europe in terms of bikes bought per head, Britain is tenth when it comes to cycle safety. And given this, and the atrociously bad layout of most of London's roads, it comes as little surprise that another Londoner was killed by a lorry driver this morning while cycling along Archway Road.

We need segregated lanes to stop this happening, and we need them now. 

Events like RideLondon do not make it any safer to cycle around our capital on the following Monday, but they do show that if international-standard segregated cycle lanes were built in London (rather than further road-narrowing idiocy as on Cheapside and as planned for Haymarket), these cycle lanes would be full to bursting with Brits who just want to be able to ride their bikes without having to worry about a driver ploughing into the back of them. Close the roads and they will become. This weekend showed that to be the case. Build segregated cycle lanes which are, in essence, like mini closed roads where motorised vehicles can't drive, and they will surely come too.

As Mark Treasure argues:
the whole concept of Skyrides unintentionally serves to demonstrate the abysmal state of cycling in Britain. Children and their families can cycle pretty much anywhere, at any time, in towns and cities in the Netherlands; in Britain, by contrast, they have to make do with a small closed road loop event that occurs once a year.
There couldn't be better evidence for the potentially overwhelming popularity of safe segregated cycle lanes in cities like London than the fact people will literally drive their bikes into Westminster, in order to cycle on a traffic free road once there.

There couldn't be better evidence for the fact many of London's roads are very dangerous to cycle on than the fact that another person a bike was killed this morning, bringing the total number of Londoners killed on bikes since Boris Johnson took office in 2008 to 70.

Clearly Britons do not feel it is safe enough to cycle on normal roads to closed roads events. This is because we don't have safe, continuous segregated cycle lanes; as in the rest of Northern Europe. Photo via @MadCycleLaneMCR.
Saying that we don't have the space to build safe, continuous segregated cycle lanes in London because of 'narrow roads' is just specious rubbish.

Barely room for six lanes of motor traffic here on the Cromwell Road outside the Victoria and Albert Museum. Hardly space for a safe cycle lane.
Another one of London's famous 'narrow medieval roads' with no space for proper cycle lanes. This boulevard in Holland Park looks right out of the 11th century.
I strongly feel that in the wake of a sixth cyclist being killed in London this year alone, the London Cycling Campaign should organise another Protest Ride before their planned ride on 2 September. RideLondon has put cycling into everyone's minds and achieved comprehensive news coverage. A Protest Ride in response to yet another Londoner being killed by an HGV driver (the fourth this year) would put the woeful state of London's roads into the public consciousness too, and make everyone realise the desperate need for real road-design change in order to stop the continual killing of Londoners on bikes. I personally feel that Haymarket would be the perfect place for such a Protest Ride, given that Westminster Council and The Crown Estate are spending £8 million making the area worse for cycling (and it's already atrocious).