A step change, hopefully without a dismount

originally posted on nuttyxander

Today saw the unveiling of the London Mayor’s (revamped) Vision For Cycling In London. Launched by one Andrew Gilligan (yes, that one) freshly appointed as the Mayor’s £38k a year two day a week cycling commissioner.

The main item being focussed upon in the Evening Standard is the proposed ‘Crossrail for the bike’, a fifteen mile route from Hillingdon to Barking designed to be continuous and largely segregated. In particular people are focussing on the proposed change of use of a lane on the Westway from cars to cycles, it appears my blog was ahead of the curve on this!

Just imagine it, take all the money you’d spend on something like Crossrail (£12bn+?) and for maybe £1bn we could have a suspended cycleway running east to west

My Kinda Westway, February 2008

It might be tight in London, but that shouldn’t mean we can’t find the space for a single dedicated East-West route for bikes. And if we really can’t, why not take the vision of Crossrail into another mode and make something elevated or tunnelled if we must. Cyclists aren’t going to go away.

Lucky Seven, February 2012

This was idle talk five years ago, it was hopeful talk one year ago – it’s a heavily promoted part of a plan today. However, we are not talking about an entirely elevated route such as that mooted as the Skycycle or that I first mentioned. Instead this would reuse an existing part of the Westway which has seen a reduction in motorised traffic and hence space is available for reuse.

The front cover of the vision, a city of brightly coloured cars ands proper bike lanes. Utopia?
The front cover of the vision, a city of brightly coloured cars ands proper bike lanes. Utopia?

However, the primary mock-up being used to promote the route is that of a reworked Embankment just down from the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. It is a decent vision, but nothing is yet being said about how junctions will be handled other than better. It must be understood that the eccentric nature of this route is due to the reality of who controls which roads in London. The only way to build a continuous route under Mayoral control is to heavily use TfL network roads.

The TfL Road Network
The TfL Road Network – TfL roads are highlighted in red, borough boundaries in black
The proposed 'crossrail' cycle route map
The proposed ‘crossrail’ cycle route map

There are other proposals contained in this document. There are large scale changes to the cycle superhighways programme. The standard of these is to be improved to ‘closer to international best practice’. It is likely that superhighways will themselves be either semi-segregated or fully segregated from traffic. The superhighway network is to be complete by 2016, perhaps looking something like this map.

The London Cycle Superhighway Map, last sighted in 2012 rarely published by TfL at the moment...
The London Cycle Superhighway Map, last sighted in 2012 rarely published by TfL at the moment…

The intent is for superhighways to be faster routes, with the implicit idea that they are for faster more confident cyclists, especially commuters. Ordinary cyclists are to be expected to start on the Quietways – routes along backstreets using filtered permeability, two way cycling on one-way streets and consistent signage to deliver what the original London Cycle Network (LCN) and LCN+ failed to. There are good commitments as part of that on p14 and p15

Barriers and ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs will be removed as far as possible

The Thames bridges are some of the few main roads that are completely unavoidable for cyclists. We will improve provision for cyclists across them, including segregration on some bridges.

An important difference in approach for the Quietways is that these will not focus as much on segregation but rather permeability and a clear straightforward way through London’s many villages. Here is the only commitment to remove gyratories. These are set to start in 2014 with announcements of routes as boroughs agree to them.

There is a concept of mini-Hollands, which is jargon by now impenetrable to all but the hardiest of cycle campaigners. In essence this is the improvement of local town centres in London to make them places that embrace the bike. This is where understanding David Hembrow’s blogs on places like Assen is likely to be most instructive as to what is possible.

There is a strong commitment to making the newly developed routes connected and easily understood. This is about mapping and naming. Routes could be named after bus routes, tube routes and well known roads. This is to be applauded, we shouldn’t need a cabbie’s knowledge to know how to navigate our cities. I know I find it a complete chore and I’ve lived here for almost nine years now. Navigable cycle routes are non-trivial and this will be very hard to get right. The Legible London strategy and elements of the superhighway signage point the way.

For me a telling comment is this (p28/29)

We will do our best to improve some new schemes, such as the Olympic Park, that were given planning consent under previous regimes with insufficient provision for cycling.

That’ll be the olympic park that was originally planned as a Velopark and heavily funded by British Cycling. This is a reminder of how little has ever been delivered, and how poor any cycling ‘legacy’ is in London to date.

A great example of it going wrong - cylists directed first to dismount then into a narrow space with pedestrians at Holland Park Roundabout, February 2013
A great example of it going wrong – cylists directed first to dismount then into a narrow space with pedestrians at Holland Park Roundabout, February 2013

An interesting commitment just after is that (p29):

We will monitor roadworks and building schemes to avoid unnecessary disruption to cycle routes. Following the standard set by the Crossrail works at Farringdon, we will try to ensure that even when a road is closed to motor traffic, passage is still provided for bikes.

When it comes to safety there are two key areas of focus. One is junctions, where in fact this proposes a complete rethink of the junction review. The issue with junctions is that 75% of cyclists deaths happen here. A strategy for cycling in London which merely speeds more cyclists between the junctions without changing them will lead to an increase in deaths, and arguably already has. The proposal here is to spend rather more, but to focus on fewer junctions bringing them to a higher standard. I think this portion of the vision is insufficiently detailed to take a proper view on, at best I can say the intentions are good but I’ll need to see some reworked junctions to judge.

The second area of focus for safety is lorries and other heavy vehicles. It is sad that Boris twice had election campaigns which loudly commented on the danger of Bendy Buses (which never killed a single cyclist) and yet ignored the construction vehicles and HGVs which cause the majority of London cycle casualties. TfL has over time, along with London councils been particularly strong in this area. Crossrail has taken good safety measures, but several other construction projects have not. The idea here, supported by a current LCC campaign is to use the purchasing power of local government to improve standards. This is slightly odd, really this is something for EU and UK standards to deal with. However, it is welcome and right for local government to take responsibility and many councils of many hues are already doing well at this. TfL is proposed to help push this by making cycling funding dependent on councils signing up to stronger safety standards for lorries. Enforcement by funding rather than governance, but could that mean boroughs who don’t support cycle safety actually get even worse? It’s a strange tactic.

An interesting commitment here is the funding of eight full time Metropolitan police officers (bottom of p20) to investigate HGV collisions with cyclists. This is an approach aimed at enforcement and hopefully will ensure that the guidelines on lorries are much more than mere commitments.

It is vital that this does not become another report where a lack of money or willpower to implement the details destroys the overall vision. And in that, there is much detail that Gilligan, TfL and the local councils of London (all 32 of them!) and others must provide.
Boris’s foreword states on p6:

I do not control the vast majority of London’s roads, so many of the improvements I seek will take time. They will depend on the co-operation of others, such as the boroughs, Royal Parks, Network Rail and central government. I do not promise perfection

Undoubtedly some of the responsibility here lies with us all as citizens. We must pressurise, suggest, cajole and criticise. It is not enough to just read blogs like this and nod, none of this is a given until it is delivered, maintained and a part of London for good. I think the Royal Parks in particular have a long way to travel in accommodating cycling.

It is interesting having reviewed the proposals that this is very much an exercise in politics as the art of the possible. To my view it is a good example of why devolved power in London should be different. Perhaps we’d have seen this earlier if the Assembly had power rather than merely the Mayor. And perhaps splitting responsibility between 32 boroughs and the City of London doesn’t help with consistency. Democracy is always hard though, and it will always be somewhat ungainly. It may well not be popular. There is a lot more in the full document, and it’s well worth a read.

Some say that a number of strong voices in the London Cycling blogging community have made a difference, and I agree. My involvement in London campaigning started due to the vigil in December 2011. I was blogging about cycling, but I wasn’t doing anything. I still feel like I don’t quite do enough, but I do enjoy being part of my local cycling campaign.

So how can you help make this happen, or have it changed more to your liking? Get involved in your local cycling campaign, in London or wherever. Take notice of your local council’s consultations. I’d encourage you to help improve the conditions for cycling as part of making our cities more liveable for everyone; this is not something that’s just for cyclists to do.
In the words ascribed to Boris on p5 he says:

I want cycling to be normal, a part of everyday life. I want it to be something you feel comfortable doing in your ordinary clothes, something you hardly think about.

and the report’s final key outcome is summed up as:

Cycling will transform more of our city into a place dominated by people, not motor traffic.

The very point of this is to improve the fabric of the communities in which we live so that we can all live happier and healthier lives. You may only end up riding into work on a nice day, or taking the kids down to the shops but remember the choices you don’t take because of the fears you already have and confront them. We can all live in utopia, and maybe (partially segregated) cycle tracks will abound there. This report doesn’t do everything – it is a vision, not an implementation plan – but I think it has just cut a few years off the time it will take to make London that utopian dream.

If you want to read some other people’s views I’d heartily recommend these blogs:

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