Sunday 30 September 2012

Reflections on what was said

By the end of next year, TfL plan to have made improvements to 35 priority junctions. These will be interim measures, seeking to mitigate the worst effects of a different set of priorities inherited from a previous generation. One thing to bear in mind here, according to an EU publication entitled Promotion of Cycling, is that it is vital that cyclists can be seen by motorists at junctions. This does not mean kitting cyclists out in hi-viz gear, of course, but enabling them to position themselves in the right place relative to the motor traffic.

Also by the end of next year, TfL plan to have completed the CS2 extension and all of CS5. TfL are mindful of the lessons which have already been learned during the implementation of the CS programme to date, they say. Most notable of these is the importance of developing an infrastructure which draws in many more people, and not just those from within a fairly narrow demographic. 

TfL have indicated that the next phase of the CS programme will seek to do as much as possible in accordance with the Go Dutch principles, as identified by the London Cycle Campaign. These can be summarised as follows: 

Equality: Cyclists do not have the protection that occupants of motor vehicles enjoy, so equality of transport choice means priority provision for safe cycling. 

Continuity: The everyday journeys we know many Londoners would like to make by bike need to be continuous, unobstructed, and built into a network.

Quality: Whatever their age or experience, cyclists must be welcomed by high quality, end-to-end provision. [...] The subjective experience is important, but so is a technical commitment to quality. 

Rachel Aldred said that the current TfL campaigns on cycling show images of people riding their bikes through parks and along quiet streets. Rachel is sure that this campaign has been well-researched, and this suggests to her that what the images show is what people actually want; that is, to be able to cycle in pleasant conditions, away from lots of motor traffic. And so, she says, we need to replicate those conditions wherever possible.

Rachel said that we don’t need to segregate every single road in London, but rather, segregated routes should form the backbone of a network that is friendly to people of all abilities. Karen Dee from the Freight Trade Association agreed, in a roundabout way, in the sense that she thought segregation might be the answer in some places. You’ve just got to look and see what's going on in each location, she said: where are most of the cyclists going to be? what sort of times of day? do goods vehicles need to be there or not?

This is quite interesting, actually, because at the committee hearing, Ben Plowden thought the time had come to ask what sort of road network we want. For myself, I don't believe it is possible to consider the ongoing development of a cycle network without also considering what should be happening to the road network. David Arditti and the CEoGB propose a systematic approach, arguing that you should begin by establishing what type of road it is, and what its purpose should be in both the car and bike network. The treatment of the road, be it segregation or something else, would then follow on from this automatically, as surely as a dog follows its nose. The FTA have a somewhat different but not entirely dissimilar view. They argue that it's not going to be same solution for every part of London, of course; it’s such a big place, after all. But as far as they are concerned, all of the tools that are available to us have got to be used, in the most appropriate places.  

In response to a slightly different but related question, Ben said that TfL would develop a network for cyclists in phases. Probably the first phase of building would include lots and lots of "interim measures". However, also planned is the CS2 extension and all of CS5, and these really ought to set the standard. 

I am particularly interested in the CS5 route, probably for historical reasons. 

Version 1 of the CS programme (image from

You can see that it was originally intended that CS5 should connect to Hyde Park Corner. The arguments in favour of restoring the full length of this 'backbone' route are compelling. KenningtonPeople on Bikes has recently been able to establish that the Mayor is planning a rather radical programme for Vauxhall Cross—"better than Amsterdam", apparently. And not just Vauxhall Cross, either: the whole of the Vauxhall, Nine Elms, Battersea (VNEB) Opportunity Area as well, which would suggest that TfL might also be looking at the original CS8 route, though maybe not, for the time being, as far as Kingston Vale.

It would make so much more of a difference if this route connected to other parts of the existing cycle infrastructure (which an extension to Hyde Park Corner would provide, as opposed to simply leaving the route dangling like a loose thread). As Londonneur has recently explained: "The Cycle Superhighways have been widely criticised on engineering grounds, but their design is flawed at a much deeper level. They capture existing commuter trips but fail to potentiate new journeys, because the routes do not intersect to form a network." 

Cyclists in the City recently highlighted a piece from the New York Daily News which captured this sentiment very well: 

"We need an intelligent, systemic plan [...]. This plan should connect the dots [...] with a rational network of bike lanes that not only guide cyclists between the places they want to travel to, but also along the routes that are best-suited to absorbing large numbers of bikers and interfering the least with pedestrians and motorists.

"This plan cannot be developed piecemeal, with bits of bike lanes that stop and start within one Community District (which might be more welcoming to bikers), skip the next, then start up again on some distant street that doesn’t lead bikers to where they really want to go anyway.

"Bike paths need to flow like bloodstreams: We need networks, not snippets."

In fairness to TfL, they do seem to have taken this point on board. 


Just recently, CTC's Hierarchy of Provision has come in for a bit of stick. But what would CTC's critics do instead? As one commentator pointed out at the beginning of this year: "First, we need to articulate what’s wrong with HoP and [explain] why it’s failed. Second, we need to say what we’d put in its place."  

My own list reads as follows:

1. Think in terms of a network: "the key word," Steffen Rasmussen said, “is an holistic approach.”

2. Plan the network: Ben Plowden said that TfL would be working with the boroughs to identify those routes which would complement the Cycle Superhighways.

3. Study the feasibility of the network: if TfL and the Mayor were minded to deliver a cycle network, Ben said they would first establish what would need to be done in order for the network plan to be realised. This would include an assessment of how much it would cost to implement.

4. Introduce the network: Ben said that TfL would develop a cycle network in phases.

5. Develop the network further according to priority interventions and a timetable: the key here is sustained investment. 

I will mention this just in passing. All I know about cycling in York is what I have read from Freewheeler, where he reports that the cycling modal share has stagnated, and may even now be falling back. This is almost certainly due to a lack of sustained investment; that is, the authorities (and CTC?) have failed to build on the momentum that was built up during the earlier, more formative stages. The idea, of course, is to progressively reprioritise our towns and cities in favour of pedestrians and cyclists, to create an environment which is more focused on activity, on people and places, rather than on the car. This doesn't appear to have happened in York beyond a fairly rudimentary level.

Anyway, Steffen said that research had shown that 88% of people would choose cycling if it was easy, quick and direct, not every day perhaps, but on a regular basis at least. Rachel made the point that the people who cycle in London—and the people who would like to cycle—want dedicated, safe, fast and pleasant infrastructure. They don't want a choice between infrastructure that's pleasant and infrastructure that's direct—they want both! 

Rachel thought we could create this infrastructure. "We need to be ambitious," she said. Roelof echoed this idea by saying that if we can accelerate the development of an amenable cycling environment, mainstream, then we should do it.

Rachel explained that fears about traffic chaos resulting from a reallocation of the road space are often ill-founded. People adapt. We need to have faith in that, she said. However, as Roelof also said, "Do not underestimate that you have to come a long way."

Both Ben Plowden and Richard Tracey indicated as much. We have [only just] started the journey towards a more cyclised city, Ben said, and we're doing so from a very different place than our continental neighbours. The cycling population of Amsterdam never fell below one in four, for example. As Matthew Wright has recently observed: "In the 1970s, when the Dutch began [redeveloping] their cycling infrastructure, modal share across the country was approx 25%. It had come down from over 50% in the previous 20 years. So, there was a massive voting population of active and recently active cyclists who could see the benefit of, and vote for, improvements in facilities."

Ben also made the point that we have inherited a road network from an earlier generation who, quite simply, had different priorities and different ideas. This cannot be changed with a click of the fingers. This being the case, if cyclists want routes which are meaningful and direct—and they do—then there has to be some acceptance from them that if it's going to get better, it's going to take time.

Ben told the committee hearing that the Cycle Superhighways were designed to appeal to commuter cyclists. If a cycle network is going to be developed, who would it be for? Caroline Pidgeon has said: “We cannot have a situation where more people are being encouraged to cycle at the same time as more cyclists are being killed or injured." Thus, if a wider network is going to be developed—and in particular if it is going to be developed in phases—then in the early days it clearly would not be suitable for everyone. This, I think, would need to be emphasised.

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