Friday, 20 December 2013

Being fair to the idea

Details of the central London bike grid have been published now, and looking at the proposals positively, I think there are some excellent routes, and some excellent plans for these routes. In terms of laying a solid foundation, I think it represents a fairly decent start.

The problem is – as TfL acknowledge – that the routes don't cohere properly, for one thing, and they don't necessarily provide good access to some key destinations, for another thing. But these are not insurmountable problems.

What would need to be done in order to "introduce" a much denser network? I can show you what I think would need to happen in Westminster, and before too long I should be able to show you what I think would need to happen throughout the rest of the central London area.

View larger-scale map

It is too late to change it now, but the map above was prepared before the details of the central London grid were published. When the time comes for me to draw up the next incarnation of the map, there are already some things I am planning to do differently. I think the main thing to bring to your attention now is the omission of a CSH route through Regents Park. It didn't appear in the Westminster map, and wasn't therefore included above.

The animation sequence starts with Westminster's plans. Obviously I want to use as many of the officially-proposed routes as possible, but some of them are only properly useful for local journeys, and I am looking at this strictly from a strategic point of view. In any case, I need to be able to assign a colour to every route which features in my design. By necessity, therefore, I have to be selective.

The next frame in the sequence shows those routes from Westminster's plans which I have been able to find useful. And last of all there is the latest version of my design. It goes without saying, but I apply the same caveat which accompanied TfL's plans, namely that the proposed routes are not fixed and unchangeable. Indeed, until very recently, I had incorporated a route along Vauxhall Bridge Road. Such is the flexibility of compass colours, however, that it is possible to shift things around a little bit without diminishing the quality of the overall design in any way.

In terms of the main roads, as Val Shawcross explained to the Commons transport select committee, "There is relatively little mystery and a lot of consensus in London around what does need to be done."

I think Doug Gordon, author of the website Brooklyn Spoke, has it exactly right when he talks about the need for "clarity of design".

90% positive, 10% negative (Image from peopleforbikes

Speaking about the cycleway pictured above, as characterised by coloured paint and physical separation, Doug says that these designs don't take very long to process. He said, "It's – Oh, I go here. You don't even have to think about it."

He explained that when you're cycling down a street, you don't always have very long to make complicated decisions. "You just want those choices to be made very, very clear for you," he added.

Sam Saunders of Bristol takes a similar view. "The development of a settled culture of city transport will depend on consistency, predictability and regular physical cues," he remarked. "Consciously wondering what rules or possibilities are likely in a given situation, while trying to find a route or deal with an immediate problem, overloads the attention span, increases anxiety and increases errors – for all."

The question remains, however, until such time as high-quality infrastructure can be installed, what can done to make all the various rules or possibilities "very, very clear" for people?

View Westminster non-functioning bits in a larger map

Excluding the routes through green spaces or alongside canals, the map above shows all of the non-functioning bits of an extended network (i.e. not included amongst the works already proposed).

View Westminster in a larger map (Circular route not shown)

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Westminster's major road network

Each year, the Department for Transport calculates the total volume of traffic (for each junction-to-junction link) on the major road network. This is separate to the studies carried out by Transport for London and the London boroughs, incidentally.

The Annual Average Daily Flow (AADF) figures show the number of vehicles that use a given stretch of road on an average day of the year. The busiest road in Westminster is not in fact the Westway (77 798), as I had supposed, but Park Lane, with an average of just over 100 000 vehicle movements a day.

Anyway, I am looking at Westminster's proposals for a central London bike grid. As things stand, what the Westminster network amounts to is a couple of CSHs, some back street routes, some routes through parks, and a route alongside the canal.

Now I'm a big fan of these 'quietway' routes. Whenever I cycle in London, I try to use nothing else. But there are certain journeys I need to make from time to time which it is simply not possible to make other than by the main roads. In any event, there is much more to it than this.

Key:  Red—Yes   Blue—No

The map above shows all of the junction-to-junction links on the major road network with an average of more than 750 bicycle movements per day. In red are those sections which it is proposed be incorporated into the bike grid; in blue, not.

To be clear, the DfT study is mostly concerned with what's happening on the major road network, and so it is no surprise that parallel routes do not feature in the map above. Even so, there is quite a lot of blue on this map, and not very much red, as you can see.

Actually I was a little taken aback to see Park Lane on this map (912 cycle journeys per day). Clearly some people regard being able to go quickly as preferable to most everything else. Be that as it may, there are something like five thousand cycle movements a day on the parallel route in Hyde Park (source). Given that it is simultaneously direct and pleasant, improving the quality of this route would very much be my priority.

With only limited funds available, should the red-coloured
routes be developed before the black-coloured routes?

The black-coloured routes shown above featured in the first map that we looked at. These routes are already functional, and fairly popular with cyclists.

The red-coloured routes are not yet functional, not in their entirety, at least. Even so, would you please take a moment to consider this perspective from Mark Syndenham of the Edinburgh Bike Station:
"Most people view a place through the prism of their usual journey, which is generally made on the main roads. Maps contribute to this world view. Any regular map of a town will show the main roads in bold, and these effectively become the 'skeleton' of the town, with everything else seemingly built around them. This elevates them to a status that they don't deserve. Why is an A road any more important than a B road or a path across a path? It is all viewed from the perspective of the motor car, and it constrains how people think and view their surroundings, and therefore pre-determines how they travel from A to B." 
The point is that if alternative routes become available, people can decide for themselves which routes suit them best. That is to say, give people all of the necessary route information, and then let them make their own minds up which way they want to go.

It is very important to bear in mind that, for this strategy to work, it is essential that there is both density and connectivity of routes. If not, there really isn't a 'choice' at all.

Another thing to bear in mind is that there are instances when the back street route is not able to serve as anything like a viable alternative. One such case in point is Quietway 19.

Three ways of going from A to a

Going from the 'A' of the A308 to the 'a' of Soho Square is 2.7 miles by car (the black-coloured route).

Via the green-coloured route, it is 0.91 miles from the 'A' of the A308 to the point where Quietway 19 starts. The length of the 'quietway' route is 2.45 miles. From A to a, then, the journey distance via the green-coloured / 'quietway' route is 3.36 miles. This is about two-thirds of a mile further than the main road route.

With the green-coloured route, the journey-distance from A to a is 2.77 miles, or about two-and-a-half per cent further than the black-coloured route.

Coming back the other way, from a to A, the journey distance by car is actually 3.23 miles, and via the Quietway 3.51 miles (both routes not shown). The return journey via the green-coloured route would also be a bit further, but only by something like an extra 150 metres.

The DfT data shows that cycle traffic on Piccadilly makes up nearly 6% of the total traffic between Hyde Park Corner and St James Street, and over 18% of the total traffic between St James Street and Piccadilly Circus. Moreover, according to the Levenes cycle injury map, there have been just three serious incidents on Piccadilly since 2005 (each involving children, remarkably).

More than 2 000 cyclists a day use Piccadilly, and for this—no doubt very experienced—group of people there is no practical or realistic alternative route available. Does, therefore, a route along Piccadilly feature in Westminster's plans for a central London bike grid? No, it does not.

View Westminster cycle traffic in a larger map
Key: Green < 1000 light blue < 1500 dark blue < 2000
Yellow < 3000 Orange < 4000 Red > 4000

But why not? The main reason, surely, must be that there remains irreconcilable disagreements amongst the various stakeholders as to what sort of 'cycle infrastructure' should be installed.

"Perceived safety is the barrier that still matters." (Michael Andersen)

It upsets me, frankly, that an organisation which purports to be "The voice of cyclists in London" has so little to say on behalf of the people in the middle. For most of the time that I have been trying to deal with them, they have mainly been concerned to represent the interests of the commuter cyclist (the Strong and Fearless). Indeed, it was only a couple of years ago that the London Cycling Campaign were seriously considering changing their name to 'London Cyclists'.

Just in time, however, the Chief Executive was changed instead. Picking up on the mood of the bloggers, the LCC then radically shifted tack and began to speak up for the kind of cyclist who needs "proper provision" (the Interested but Concerned). However, given where we are now, and how far we need to go, ensuring that this group is properly provided for can only realistically be undertaken as part of a long-term plan. In the short-term, it is the Enthused and Confident group which holds the key.

After Katja Leyendecker gave evidence to a Commons transport select committee, she later wrote: "If anything, the point I did not make strongly enough at the Committee hearing was about the importance of leadership in assessing risks and hazards. Sounds boring? It's not. Laying firm foundations by getting the things right that have a big impact (policy, strategy, plans and engineering road design and layouts) is vital."

"But you were literally here." (video)
Considering where the repeat markers have been positioned, it seems reasonable
to insist that the cyclist should indeed have been riding in the gutter.

Another one of those "vital" things is that cyclists are visible at junctions. Essentially what this means is that cyclists need to be positioned in the right place relative to the motor traffic.

It is also necessary to caution against giving people the wrong impression. One of the problems with the CSH routes, says a report in The Atlantic Cities, is that they provide "the illusion of safety". Thus (says Cycling: the way ahead):
"According to its specific features and its resources, each town will have to choose its priorities or specific actions to take. Reproducing apparently effective action taken elsewhere could have negative consequences if the concerted and coherent programme on which such actions have been based is not taken into account. On the contrary, it is preferable to draw inspiration from known examples with due caution."
It's going to take time. Even with all the will in the world, it's going to take time. Mark Treasure reported that earlier this year he cycled around Utrecht and Amsterdam with Mark Wagenbuur (bicycle dutch) and Marc van Woudenberg (amsterdamize):
"They were at pains to point out to me the bad bits of their cities, the areas that haven’t got around to being changed yet. These are quite ‘British’ in their appearance, with no cycle infrastructure to speak of, or that disappears when you need it, or with parked cars that have to be negotiated out and around, and relatively fast motor traffic in close proximity. Principally, these were main roads."
If you haven't yet had a chance to read Mark's report in full, it is well worth a look. But my overwhelming sense, both from this blogpost and the video which inspired it, is that deciding is the hardest part. I would also add that this decision was almost certainly easier to make in 1970s Holland than in modern-day Britain.

Closing remarks

Johan Diepens of the Dutch Cycling Embassy has said that in planning for cycling, the critical thing is to design your network correctly. "Everything else is trivial," he said. There doesn't seem to be any controversy about this issue now. It is therefore necessary to ask why roads like Piccadilly have not been incorporated into the central London bike grid.

Surely it cannot be because installing ASLs at junctions and laying repeat markers on the road surface would be more trouble than it's worth, is it?

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


An article on this morning's Today programme, which I pass on without further comment:

Children aren't doing enough exercise, and the reason is that there isn't a national plan to encourage them. Now, some academics and supporters, including the West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, are saying that the consequence isand I quote them"child neglect", because they're not being told of the risk of chronic disease that comes as a result of lack of exercise. Well, is that true? Dr Richard Wheeler, a consultant in sport and exercise medicine at University College Hospital in London has made that claim in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (he's also the club doctor, incidentally, at West Ham). Tim Lawton is the former Children's Minister, and I spoke to them both, Dr Wheeler first.

We believe that what we found is that there has been a persistent failure from this government and former governments to meet child's basic physical and psychological needs which are likely to result in serious impairment of a child's health and development.

Let's take it as agreed that children could do with more exercise, and that people who take more exercise when they're young are likely to avoid some potential major health problems later in life. Let's just assume that for the sake of this argument. What do you think government can and should do? because that is where some people will take issue with you.

I can understand that. You know, children don't choose who their parents are, they don't choose what they do at school, they don't choose which school they go to, they don't choose their socio-economic class, they don't choose what access they have to facilities. The bottom line is, is that children go to school, there's a massive opportunity at school to do something about this, and to improve the physical literacy and physical education of our children. At the moment there's no statutory obligation for schools to even provide physical education and physical literacy, and Ofsted don't monitor it. At the moment its importance is utterly neglected. And when you compare that against the risks—if we agree that there is no debate there in terms of the risks of continuing to do this—it meets the government's own definition of child neglect. And the level of finance is pitiful.

Tim Lawton, what do you make of it?

I don't know whether the British Journal of Sports Medicine is trying to promote a Christmas Special, but this sort of sensationalist story is really unhelpful. I agree, we need to do much more for kids and sport, making it a part of their growing-up, something they want to do, because it's fun and enjoyable as well as being good for them. But child neglect is a persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and psychological needs resulting in serious impairment of health. That is a world of difference from kids not doing enough sport at the moment. And to put it in these terms—and this finger-wagging—which actually Dr Wheeler in articles himself has countered against in the past—is really unhelpful. The majority of kids who are taken into care in this country are for reasons of neglect, so is Dr Wheeler suggesting we should be taking millions more children into the care of the state? because that's not the solution.

I really don't agree with that at all. The government has a responsibility to do something about this, policy-makers have an opportunity to do something about this; they are aware of the harms. There are children as young as seven now that are developing Type-II diabetes. We've got one-fifth of children that enter primary school are obese; levels of children that are actually meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity to confer basic health benefits are pitifully low; we rank very, very poorly in this country in terms of child health behind most of our European counterparts. To focus on sport and not physical activity I think is very na├»ve and short-sighted, and it demonstrates a lack of understanding of child's health, well-being and their development. There's an opportunity to do something here. What else is there that we can do—unlike physical activity—that helps improve the grades of children, that improves their behaviour at school, that can improve their happiness, and it reduces the risk of numerous diseases ranging from Type-II diabetes to cardio-vascular disease and to various types of cancer? There is no other "best buy".

Hang on, hang on, you've had a good go there, I just want to bring Tim Lawton in. Leaving aside the question of whether "child neglect" is the appropriate phraseyou've made your views plain on that. As far as the effect of a lack of exercise or a bad diet on the future of the children is concerned, where do you think government does have a responsibility?

I agree with most of the diagnosis that we've just heard from Dr Wheeler, I just don't agree with the solution. And absolutely we need to have more sport and physical exercise, and that is the job of schools, but it's also the job of parents. I've got three very sporty children, because they've had schools that have pushed sport—

But Dr Wheeler made the point earlier that children can't choose their parents, and there are many children who don't get that opportunityand no doubt you encouraged your kids in sport, you know, lucky thembut there are many children who don't get that encouragement and, on top of that, are stuck with a dietnot their choicethey're fed junk foodwhich does them potentially quite a lot of harm in the long-run.

And that's why it's about educating the parents as well as educating the kids themselves. This does start at home, but we also need to make sure that schools are giving more space and more time for kids to be able to do more physical activity, and sport and competitive sport—and that's why the government's introduced these school games, which have been a tremendous success. But finger-wagging, accusing the government of mass neglect of children just deeply undermines the seriousness of this problem. The way you don't do it is by making physical activity and sport at school another mandatory activity that you do whether you like it or not, and you put kids off from a very early age from actually engaging in sport, enjoying sport, and wanting to do it because its fun as well as for all the benefits that brings as well as sociability and physical and health as well, and this really is alarmist and unhelpful.

Tim Lawton, Dr Richard Wheeler, thank you both very much indeed.

Small steps closer

Westminster’s Commissioner for Transportation, Martin Low, has argued that the city has to overcome some unique challenges when it comes to cycling. “It’s extremely difficult in Westminster to try and cater for the needs of all road users," he told The House, "so a balance has to be struck.”

Mr Low cites “a huge amount of kerbside activity”—in particular hotel taxis and business deliveries—as one of the main things standing in the way of widespread cycle lane provision. However, he also accepts that changes need to be made to the way in which Westminster provides for cyclists.

The council welcomes the Mayor’s proposed new east-west route, he said. It has also used its new draft cycling strategy to lay out its initial thoughts as to how it might make a contribution to the Mayor’s 300km central London bike grid.

Westminster's design for a central London bike grid. The primary routes
and alternative routes are both shown. 

At least on paper, the council seems to making a good deal of effort to comply with the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling. If that plan were fully implemented, says Mike Cavenett of the London Cycling Campaign, the capital would be a significantly better place to cycle.

"We recognise it’s going to take time," Mike acknowledged. "But that vision, from a policy point of view, is a very strong document.”

Julian Huppert MP shows a similar cautious optimism: “I think the Mayor’s Vision is very good. We need to make sure it’s delivered and actually becomes reality. There’s more to do, and there will always be more to do, but it’s good to see that there is some real drive.”

Ultimately, only the coming months and years will tell whether planned improvements make the jump from blueprints to concrete. Until that happens, Westminster’s cyclists would do well to follow Boris Johnson’s advice on riding around some of the capital’s nastier roads: “Keep your wits about you”.

* * *

First off, I very much welcome the way that Westminster is approaching this. I like what Martin Low is saying as well. Secondly, the proposed bike grid is not nearly as weak as I had initially supposed. Danny Williams' blog has identified pretty much all of the rickety bits, but I don't think it would take a lot for these to get sorted out. Thirdly, it looks like a denser network could quite easily be "introduced". I say this because with the currently-proposed programme of works, it would appear that there are already plans in place to deal with most of the difficult non-functioning bits.

The non-functioning bits of an extended network are shown in red and green.

Danny says: "The strategy is to deliver what Westminster calls a network of 'well-signposted, direct and continuous cycle routes' through central London."

Now we can measure whether a route is direct or not by considering the alternatives. If a route is not direct, then, as Michael Robinson pointed out on Danny's blog, it "will need to be really good, or else people will just ignore it".

The map on the left shows in red the route proposed by Westminster, and in green an alternative route.

Actually, the officially-proposed route is a combination of a couple of routes, but no matter.

The red-coloured route is nearly half-a-kilometre (0.29 mi) further than the green-coloured route.

The problem with the green-coloured route is the one-way section on Praed Street / Chapel Street.

Two views of Praed Street, looking north-east and back the other way (Google StreetView)

Does London want to have two-way cycling on streets like Praed Street? That cyclist in the photo on the right evidently thinks it already does!

On streets like Praed Street, the issue is not so much safety, but access. I would emphasise that it makes precisely no difference to me personally whether a route goes this way or that way. Truly, no difference at all. But this said, when planning the network there are certain criteria which it is very important to hold on to. Most important of all, I would suggest, is encapsulated in this quote from LTN 2/08:
Networks should serve all the main destinations, and new facilities should offer an advantage in terms of directness and / or reduced delay compared with existing provision.
The thing about it is, actually, the authorities could easily facilitate two-way cycling on streets like Praed Street, and here's how. Firstly make the speed limit 20mph, and secondly sort out the junctions at either end.

A view of Praed Street on the left, and Chapel Street on the right.

All right, all right, sorting out the junctions might be relatively quite a difficult thing to do, but the point I am working towards is that this task doesn't need to be nearly as difficult as the 'segregati' would make it. Westminster have taken some big steps in the right direction, and I think it is incumbent upon everybody who is interested in making London a more "cyclised" city to go and meet them, wherever it is that they actually are now.

Surely this would be a far more productive thing to do, than to remain sitting at the top of some sacred mountain or other.

As the ever-informative Jan Gehl said about the City of Copenhagen: "They never put out a big master plan: let's make a lot of pedestrian space, let's make a lot of bicycle lanes, let's take a lot of parking out of the city, let's narrow all the traffic streets. Never. Because if you did that in one plan, you will lose the election right now, because nobody would believe it would work. What they've done in this city is that they've taken a little step every year for forty years; and there is a fantastic difference between what it was then and what it is now."

In the case of the routes shown on the map to the left, both have been proposed by Westminster.

In terms of distance, there's nothing much between them: the red-coloured route is only about 65 metres further.

Danny Williams says of this route: "the big and positive thing about this is that you will—by the looks of it—be able to bike north up [New] Bond Street, and that is a big deal indeed."
As the photo below left shows, if the route along New Bond Street is to be made two-way for cyclists, this would likely require the removal of at least one lane of motor-traffic. Whereas, as the photo below right shows, if the route along Harley Street is to be made two-way for cyclists, almost nothing would need to be done in terms of engineering (except probably at the junctions). For the record, I could code one or both routes using compass colours (e.g. here).

The red-coloured route is only 0.05 mile further than the green-coloured route, but as things currently stand, it's a good deal more fiddly.
The red-coloured route is only 0.08 mile further ...

Hannah Cagney says on the Cyclists in the City blog that there seems to have been little thought given to linking the grid to possible routes in other boroughs. In Hannah's view, the grid "poorly coordinates with river crossings, particularly at Chelsea Bridge, Lambeth Bridge, and Waterloo Bridge." I agree. I might also add that the so-called Central line route appears to end as abruptly as it starts.

I am going to take a look at the missing bits of an extended network in my next blog.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Investigation into cycle safety

This week has seen a Commons transport select committee investigation into cycle safety. Writing in The Guardian, Sarah Champion MP felt it gave "the panel the opportunity to refute common myths and prejudices and really explore the issues as they unfold." Not everyone saw it that way, however. Indeed, for some it was the quality of the questions which rattled cages, rather than the quality of the answers.

Is there a war ongoing between cars and bikes? Should cyclists be obliged by law to wear helmets? Should cyclists be licensed? Should cyclists be required to contribute financially to the upkeep of roads?

The answer to all of these questions is—no. But in a democracy—a democracy which is largely indifferent to the appeal of the bicycle, it must be said—probably it is necessary that these questions be asked. (Besides which, these questions were answered well and with good humour, so no harm done.)

The reaction of the media put me in mind of an episode of The Now Show from several weeks ago. Steve Punt noted how people have a tendency to jump to extremes very quickly. You can see this, he said, if you look at Twitter during a big football match. The other week, for example, first-half ...
England rubbish as usual!
Embarrassing, boring England! #snore
But then, second half ...
Brilliant! Loving it! Come on! Three lions!
Yes, Rooney! Bring on Brazil!
Punt went on to explain that the news is negative regardless of the story. If, say, the government gave everyone in the country a choc-ice, the headline in the papers would be:
Government hand-out encourages obesity, critics warn. 
If the government announced they were going to build every family in the country a heated swimming pool, it would be:
Pool scheme increases drowning risk, say experts.
The thing is—as then newsreader Martin Lewis got pilloried for pointing out years ago—only bad news is news.

And he was right. This warping of perception has a name. Psychologists call it 'availability error'—as in a tendency to base judgments on information available to us—and it has a profound effect.

And this is important because when governments decide policy, they have to take into account that voters have completely wrong ideas about lots of things.

As Hetan Shah, the executive director of The Royal Statistical Society, put it:
How can you develop good policy when public perceptions can be so out of kilter with the evidence?
Or to rephrase that in more technical language:
How can the government not talk bollocks when the voters know precisely sod all about anything? 
The answer is, they can't. So what happens is that governments constantly say one thing and do another, or they say one thing to one audience and another to another, and it's not because they're liars or hypocrites, it's because they're constantly balancing between facts and the random guesswork that passes for facts among us voters.

Would you say that it's safe to cycle in London?

Ashok Sinha: In general, yes. I would still say to people that with care and attention it is a safe way of getting about. But I think my answer would need to be nuanced. I think there are places in London at times in London where you are not protected as well as you should be as a cyclist, and you will face real risks, such as at major junctions. I advise people that it is safe to cycle in London, but at the same time, I am very wary about my children cycling in London, because I know that a mistake that can easily be made by a young person could lead to their death and serious injury.

So my answer has to be nuanced. I would say to people, "Yes, keep cycling, it is a safe way of getting around; but there are dangers in particular places and particular circumstances."

Is it better to cycle where there are lots of cyclists, or is it safer where there are fewer?

Ashok Sinha: Again, it depends. There are lots of cyclists crossing London's bridges during the rush hour these days, and there is, I think, a Safety in Numbers effect, where motor-vehicles see lots of cyclists together crossing those bridges and realise this is actually a normal mode of transport, people are just going about their business, going to work, and give them a wide berth. There are also places where it's safe to cycle, such as back streets, where there may not be very many other cyclists around, but the motor traffic levels are relatively low. So again, the circumstances will very much determine the level of safety that you experience.

Do you think there has been a panic about the recent spate of deaths and accidents in London, or is it a cause for real concern?

David Davies: I think it has certainly come to the forefront of everyone's attention. The Evening Standard has put each death on the front page [...] The Times campaign 'Cities fit for Cyclists'—so it has certainly come to the media's attention. If you look at it in a wider context, over a longer period of time, as I'm sure you know, this year there have been tragically fourteen cyclists' deaths, that is the same number as there was last year. And it is also worth pointing out that in London, and across the UK as a whole, there were considerably more pedestrians, considerably more motorcyclists, vehicle occupants as well, who die. So the number of cyclist deaths, although it's had huge attention, is quite a small minority. It's very welcome that cycling is getting this safety attention, but in some ways it's a shame that every time a pedestrian is run over in London, it doesn't merit similar attention.

How safe do you think cycling is in London compared to walking around the streets or actually going in a car?

David Davies: If you measure it in terms of casualties per mile travelled, then walking and cycling is broadly comparable, which perhaps shows walking is not as safe as people think it might be.

The health experts tell us that you will absolutely live longer on average if you are a cyclist than if you are inactive, so that public health benefit is very strong. There are different ways of looking at safety, though. The government monitors how many people consider it safe to cycle on the roads, and actually that figure went down last year, from 50% to 48% across the UK. If you compared that with Copenhagen, apparently 75% of cyclists considered it safe, and only 5% considered it unsafe. So we do not have a safe system, and I very much agree with Mr Sinha that you have to be competent, and you have to take care, and the safety record in London does depend on the skills of the road users, rather than segregation and the system.


How would the London Assembly encourage people to wear a helmet whilst riding a Boris Bike?

Val Shawcross: In fact the London Assembly transport committee—although it's done two reports now on cycling, Pedal Power and Gearing Up, and we're about to take our third look at cycling—didn't take a particular view on helmets, because I think there are arguments either way. Personally I would very much prefer people to wear helmets, and I think the head injury charities feel that too, but in terms of the cycling accidents we've had, and safety issues on cycling in London generally, I don't think it is the crucial issue. I think the crucial issue is very much more about road layout and space for cyclists.


I would just like to ask, to start with, the kinds of questions that actually perhaps sit with us having five different voices here today. This is a very hot topic, it's current, it's controversial, there is advice either way floating around, multiple arguments about the kind of engineering or education or enforcement that we need around cycling. It is also highly emotional, with fatalities recently. What in your view is the way to get a unified, and then persuasive, and then action-packed campaign from this situation?

Ashok Sinha: If I may offer a suggestion. I think first if I may clarify my comments. David, I do believe that user-behaviour can only go so far, and actually the greatest dangers that cyclists experience on the roads are presented to them by the poor quality of infrastructure and the poor quality of—sometimes driving standards. As I say, somebody makes a perfectly innocent mistake, and our infrastructure lets them down, and the net result is somebody being killed or seriously injured.

So any campaign of the kind that you describe has to look at the root sources of danger. Now, we don't have to re-invent the wheel. They've done this in other countries: they've done this in the Netherlands, they've done this in parts of Denmark and Copenhagen, they're doing it in Berlin, they're doing it in Seville, New York, elsewhere. And they've said, "What are the principal sources of danger?" And they've identified:
  • poor quality cycle lanes, and these need to be offering proper protection to cyclists along busy and fast roads;
  • the lack of access to good routes away from major thoroughfares, that cyclists can use, that are quiet and convenient;
  • speeds that are too high—motor-traffic speeds that are too high—that don't give people enough time to react to the situation that they're experiencing or react to unexpected circumstances. And of course the high speed of motor traffic means—simple physics means—that the collision is likely to cause more damage;
  • too much through-traffic in residential areas—by cutting out through-traffic in residential areas you can make it much more attractive and safer for people to cycle.
So this is not to say that we shouldn't be looking at behaviour and we shouldn't be looking at training. I myself have had cycle training. But we do need to look at where the root causes of the danger come from and ameliorate them.

Miss Shawcross, do you want to say something?

Val Shawcross: Yes, if I can take one small step back and comment on the issue of the statistics and the dangers in general ... (The data shows that cycling and walking has become more 'dangerous' over recent years.)

I feel that there is relatively little mystery and a lot of consensus in London around what does need to be done, and I would certainly agree with colleagues from London Cycling Campaign that road infrastructure, particularly the treatment of junctions, speed, the presence of HGVs which may not be properly [...] fitted and could be—that kind of issue are the things that need to be dealt with.

And I think looking back over the period of time where we've had the latest programme—since the current Mayor has been in City Hall—of trying to promote the cycling revolution—for which there is great enthusiasm in London—I mean, this is seen as an enormously positive thing for our health and environment. But I think the early infrastructure was poor and was weak, and did not offer the appropriate levels of protection in the most dangerous environments. So I think we're on a journey ...

When you say cycling infrastructure, do you mean the cycling superhighways?

Val Shawcross: I do mean the cycling superhighways in particular ... (The reaction of cyclists to the first two cycle superhighways shows that many of them did not feel safe enough: the lines of blue paint disappeared at the most dangerous points. The point is also made that the design of the CS2X probably represents the type of infrastructure that should have been installed in the first place.)


I think the issue—if you're asking me to put my finger on the issue—it has been the issue of the balance of interests in sharing the road space. London is a congested city, we have a medieval road pattern in the centre of London: the issue has always been who gets the space on the roads, and who gets the time at the junctions? And I think if we are to achieve a cycling revolution, a safe cycling revolution, and the two go together [...] for the broader demographic to pick up, for women, for older people to pick up cycling, it will need to be much safer, and that's how we're going to achieve a cycling revolution.

May I just close with the same consensus campaign question, but with a non-London perspective.

Katja Leyendecker: I think—having listened to what people are saying here—I think the question might actually be a completely different one, and not so much about safety at all. I think it's about the future of our cities, and how we want to run our cities. We were talking beforehand about education and enforcement—I think we've done that. We've done that in London, and we've done that outside of London, and it's actually the engineering bit that is missing. It has been done in bits and pieces, but not in a continuous, and certainly not in a holistic look at the city—or at the city of Newcastle, for example.

Mr Davies.

David Davies: Having been involved with cycle infrastructure for quite a long time, I think as Val Shawcross said, it's not really a matter of the costs of the extra kerb, it's very much about the balance of interests, and it is not easy for local authorities to simply say, "We will have a continuous cycle route and ban parking all the way along this route—or take out a whole lane of traffic." These are really tough decisions for local politicians and the officers working for them. The technical designs are there, probably the money is there, but you've got to weigh up the pros and cons.

If I could say another thing. I think there's not been—I would say—emphasised enough so far. I think we have a very specific problem, certainly in London, and I think wider than that, in that it is large vehicles that have been responsible for most of the deaths in London this year, and there are opportunities to tackle that through the design of vehicles, the cabs, through the training of drivers, and a whole range of measures focused very much on that. And if you were to take out the deaths in London which involved large vehicles—tripper trucks specifically—so I think there are some very specific problems, and they could be tackled, and there are some discussions going on in Europe about the design of lengths and weights of large vehicles that could be—as an opportunity to modify these things.

Have we given the Cycle Superhighways too elaborate a title, and given people the impression that they are something more than they are? Which vehicles present the greatest danger to cyclists, and therefore make that the priority focus of doing something about it?

Ashok Sinha: David is quite right. If we look at the number of—let's say deaths—focussing on those rather than on serious injuries—which are of course terrible and awful. About half of the deaths in London are due to collisions with HGVs, most of those being collisions with tipper trucks. I am sure there is a lot that can be done to improve vehicle design. We ourselves published about a year ago a sort of concept design for lorries that would make them safer on London's streets, that was produced by our senior campaigner, who is a former truck driver of many decades' experience.

But I go back to the point that even with the best equipped trucks—and of course the best trained drivers, who are obeying the rules and not driving for too long, and aren't tired, and so on—there will be occasions—especially around junctions and intersections—there's a possibility for collisions between cyclists and these large vehicles. And that is where you also need an engineering solution, especially at those locations.

But even more broadly, imagine trying to take your children to school. Do you really want to be mixing it with the lorries on the main road, even if you knew they were the best equipped lorries in the world? You probably don't, or you would probably be fairly wary of doing that.  So it goes back in a sense to what Katja was saying: what kind of city do we want to have? And if we want to encourage a cycling revolution—and I think we all do on this panel and around London—then we also have to look at enabling people to be less fearful and [more] confident about their cycling experience.


Mr Sinha, you spoke of a number of black spots in London. When you speak to the local authority, and no doubt make recommendations about engineering modifications, what sort of response do you get?

Ashok Sinha: Oh, I'm very glad you asked that question. We're often told that when we suggest that international best practice should be adopted for the re-engineering or re-modelling of those junctions—which are often not safe enough for pedestrians and cyclists to get across—we're told that that kind of re-modelling is not feasible because of the negative impact that would have on traffic flows. Essentially there isn't enough capacity on the roads for that to be permissible. We're told that, because the modelling work that is undertaken by the traffic authorities says that London will go into gridlock. But first of all, these models are poorly validated, from everything that we can establish. Secondly, countries around the world—I go back to the examples on the continent—put safety first, and find out actually that the behaviour of people on the roads adapts, so with well-designed schemes you don't get gridlock. And thirdly, of course, there's modal shift. The better the facilitation for cycling and walking, the more people will walk and cycle and then the fewer people will drive for short distances. So we feel there's a straw man being put up against, high-quality, safe re-modelling of our urban spaces, and that straw man is the idea that London will grind to a halt, and I don't believe that to be true.

Would you say that it's safe to cycle in London? What in your view is the way to get a unified, and then persuasive, and then action-packed campaign from this situation? Have we given the Cycle Superhighways too elaborate a title, and given people the impression that they are something more than they are? Which vehicles present the greatest danger to cyclists? Tell us how we can protect cyclists.

About half of these questions were not even answered!

I got the sense that Ashok, Katja, Val, even Peter, would probably have preferred it if the select committee had gathered to talk about a cycling revolution. How do we encourage more people to take up cycling?

But this was an inquiry into cycle safety. Specifically, what can be done now to make cycling safer?

I like this recent comment from the aseasyasriding blog: "Why does it really matter anyway if people give up cycling? We’ve got more people cycling in London at the moment than we have had for decades and we still have totally crap infrastructure. Increased cycling levels don’t mean better cycling facilities. It just means more bereaved families. Let’s get the facilities first before we insist on persuading vulnerable people onto the roads by pretending we live in a fairyland where cycling is a wonderful dreamy experience."

Mr Gilligan, is it safe to cycle in London?

Andrew Gilligan: Yes it is safe. We've seen a dramatic fall in the number and the proportion of cyclists dying on the roads. In 2002, there were 118 million cycle journeys in London, of which twenty ended in death; last year there were 209 million cycle journeys of which fourteen ended in death. So the death rate per journey has more than halved. Serious injuries have come down as well. One journey in every 299 000 ended in serious injury in 2002; it's one in every 320 000 last year.

But I think there's two issues here: there's actual safety and there's perceived safety. On actual safety as I mentioned things are relatively encouraging, with one important caveat, which is that the serious injury rate has started to rise again. That is not to say, of course, that we couldn't and shouldn't do more, and we are doing a great deal more. We've invested a billion pounds in a major cycling programme: new roads, new junctions. But that's actual safety.

Then there's perceived safety—the issue of fear—and that is much more of a problem, we saw the poll today. Even though the figures I've quoted you objectively show that cycling is substantially safer than it was, 68% of Londoners do not believe the roads are safe. And the problem with that is that perceptions are much less in our control, than are, for instance, the physical state of the roads. We can do something about the roads, perceptions are largely in control of others, such as the media and cycle campaigners.

I'm worried about the debate on safety. We need to strike a balance between the understandable anger and concern that people feel about these deaths, and also the risk that we are scaring people away from cycling, that we are giving succour to those people who want to discourage cycling, and also that we are deterring future politicians from getting involved in this. One of the slight frustrations is that my boss, the Mayor, is actually probably doing more than any other politician in Britain for cycling, and yet he also gets more criticism than any other politician in Britain for cycling. And he doesn't mind that—neither he nor I mind that—we've both been in plenty of media storms in our time. But I think the risk might be that future politicians might say, "If that's the reward you get for spending a billion pounds, what is the point in getting involved in this area?"


The intention in this all-consuming focus on deaths we've seen recently is right: people want to create pressure for action to get more people cycling. But the execution is at risk of causing the opposite.

So in view of what you've said, where each of the fourteen deaths of cyclists in London this year is a great tragedy for every family involved, but you don't see it as a trend—in view of what you've said, what do you think the Mayor ought to be doing now in relation to cycling safety?

Andrew Gilligan: He needs to be doing what he is doing, and that is—we have a gigantic investment programme—it's, I think, two-and-a-half times bigger than the government is spending on the whole of the rest of the country put together. It £913m over ten years, it's front-loaded in the first three or four years, it includes a very large programme of segregated cycleways, superhighways, including two right across the heart of central London [...] and there's going to be a whole load of upgraded superhighways which are also going to be built to a much higher standard than the current ones.

The other thing we're doing is a lot about junctions, because essentially 85% of accidents resulting in injury or death happen at junctions in London, and we've just rolled out a new template cycle-segregated junction. We've issued pictures and drawings of it—ironically enough on the very day that the first of these spate of deaths happened [...]

Mr Fitzpatrick.

Jim Fitzpatrick MP: Mr Gilligan, you make some persuasive points about perception, and I certainly agree that Mayor Johnson's raised the profile, and some of the criticism he does get is unfair. But we wouldn't be seeing the pace of change that we are seeing now if it hadn't been for the recent—over the past two, three years—the recent deaths and injuries. And sad as that is, that's what's given the momentum to the changes, and the roundabout at the Bow flyover is a classic example ...

The Jubilee line route (shown in blue) is over 70% further 
than the direct route (shown in red). Why? Andrew Gilligan
and Ashok Sinha both think cycling is safe in London.

The other thing to have happened this week is that Westminster have launched their draft Cycling Strategy. Their 'vision', seemingly, is "to make Westminster a national leader in cycling provision, making it safer and more attractive for a greater number of people, from all backgrounds, to cycle more frequently." This is very encouraging.

Closing remarks

The difficulty that I have with cycle campaigners is not so much that they are unduly influencing the public's perception of cycling. As another commentator on the aseasyasriding blog has noted: "The actions of us lot campaigning rarely reaches anyone outside the cycling bubble to any significant degree."

No, the difficulty I have is that within the cycling bubble, these cycle campaigners have a great deal of influence.

I have spoken to two cycling officers based outside of London who have never even heard of Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities. Never even heard of it! The only publication out of Europe to answer the question how to begin, and they've never even heard of it!

This book "suggests some simple, inexpensive and popular measures, which could be implemented immediately." Sure, the impact of these measures is not likely to be massive. However, according to Cycling: the way ahead, "it will be real".

Had these cycling officers heard of Space4Cycling? Oh yes! It's all anyone talks about!

I can very well see how Space4Cycling excites campaigners' passions. It's a very compelling theme after all. In comparison, a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network introduced to a minimum level of functioning must sound utterly mundane. No, it's worse even than that. As more or less everyone within the cycling bubble will tell you, all that stuff has been tried before.

Except that it hasn't. At least, there isn't a town or city in this country which has a functioning cycle network.

One of the main features of the network-first approach is in fact the improvement of cyclists' safety. In the short-term, this is based on the implementation of 'soft' (easy-to-deliver) measures.

Comparatively, one of the main features of the Space4Cycling approach—maybe even the most important feature—is the development of a cycling environment which would encourage more people to cycle. This is based on the implementation of 'hard' (difficult-to-deliver) measures.

I don't know for certain, but my sense is that the main reason cycle routes such as the wiggly bit of the Jubilee line continue to be proposed is because it is just too troublesome for the authorities to "introduce" this route to a minimum level of functioning.

I hope not to have misunderstood Katja Leyenbecker when she says: "Laying firm foundations by getting the things right that have a big impact (policy, strategy, plans and engineering road design and layouts) is vital, because only then should we wonder about the small stuff (and that's where the current debate is stuck in a vicious victim-blaming circle)."

Monday, 2 December 2013

Why the bicycle?

It is likely that the potential for increasing the number of cycling journeys in your town is very much greater than you might suppose. Whilst daily cycling may yet be a long way off for many of your fellow citizens, it is nevertheless a mode of transport which has the facility to play a significant role in mobility management.

Why have towns which are similarly situated to yours taken up the challenge of providing for the bicycle? As part of programmes to improve the quality of life, and to increase the appeal of public transport, what sort of role does the bicycle have to play in your town?

Benefits for the community

The list of presumed or proven advantages which would result from an increase in the number of people who cycle regularly is difficult to quantify precisely. The pertinent factors are both numerous and complex. For the economic and ecological benefits in particular, there is simply no reliable method of calculating all the various savings which would accrue from the widespread use of the bicycle.

Nevertheless, these advantages are known, and can be grouped together under the following headings:

Economic benefits such as a reduction in the number of working hours lost due to traffic jams; lower healthcare costs due to the positive effects of regular exercise; and a boost to the household budget, with more money being available perhaps to spend on things other than the upkeep of a car.

Political advantages gained from lessening our dependence on non-renewable energy supplies.

Social advances such as the democratisation of mobility, making all facilities more accessible to both young and old, and also affording them greater autonomy.

Ecological impacts with a distinction between local, short-term effects—where the emphasis is on "the environment"—and non-localised long-term effects—where the emphasis is on "ecological balance".

Benefits for municipalities

As far as towns are concerned, the advantages of the bicycle are mainly linked to the quality of life, the quality of the environment, and the long-term savings made through the following:
• A reduction in the amount of traffic congestion, directly because one-time motoring commuters have changed their preferred method of transport, and indirectly because the use of public transport is made more attractive to commuters, thanks in part due to a combination of public transport and the bicycle. 
Appeal of public transport: Having to switch modes
is a distinct disadvantage to public transport
passengers, given the discomfort of waiting and the
wasted minutes hanging around. Bicycles are an
effective answer to this problem.
• Better fluidity of traffic, which is indispensable, with lower pollution levels.
• Space savings on the road, which would ultimately result in a reduced expenditure on the highways. There is also the added possibility of using certain public spaces more imaginatively, thereby increasing the attractiveness of town centres.
• A general improvement in the quality of life (air pollution, noise pollution, public places, children’s safety), whilst residential areas become more attractive, particularly for families. 
• Less severe deterioration of historical monuments and reduced maintenance costs (less frequent cleaning, for example).
Basically healthy individual choices should not be discouraged

Even if we only stick to environmental considerations (pollution), without necessarily going into the details, or without trying to calculate the economic impact of the respective benefits and drawbacks of the various modes of transport, it is still reasonable to accord cycling the attention and funding it deserves. Any suggestions that facilities for cycling need to be compromised in some way can only be taken seriously with this in mind.

It should be entirely normal for planners and engineers to take regard of the bicycle during redevelopment projects, say, alongside cars and public transport and pedestrians and so forth, rather than trying to squeeze in the bicycle as something of an afterthought. The minimum, therefore, would be to make at least as much effort, comparatively, for bicycles as for the other modes, account being taken of the potential of each mode of transport. In this way, a mode of transport which is largely inaccessible to most people today would, over time, cease to be discouraged.

Benefits for the individual

Jonathan from the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign has come up with ten reasons why you should consider cycling.

Many of the reasons he gives—freedom, it's quicker, it's fun, it saves you money, it helps you get fit, it helps you to live longer—are expressed in the images above.

Benefits for the private sector

It is quite clear that, as a result of heavy traffic, the private sector is less productive. Goods deliveries, commuters and business travellers all lose time stuck in traffic. The cost to business of road congestion has been estimated in the UK at £8bn (source).

As people who cycle regularly are in better form physically and indeed psychologically, they tend to be able to get more done at work. The benefits of the bicycle for the private sector go much beyond a more productive workforce, however.

For example, the international company Novartis has been encouraging its staff to come to work by bike for many years now. As part of one initiative, the company gave a free bicycle to every one of its employees who relinquished their right to a parking place in the company car park. Novartis is very well aware of what it gets in return: it saves on parking, it largely eliminates traffic jams in the immediate vicinity, it projects a more positive image to local people and the authorities, it offers better mobility to its employees, and it cuts down on the number of days lost each year through illness.

Benefits for the High Street

It is very far from the case that the vitality of commercial enterprises is dependent upon a High Street which is easily accessible to motorists. The contribution made by customers who arrive by public transport, bicycle and on foot is greatly underestimated, as indeed is the negative impact on our town centres in particular, and on the urban environment in general, as a consequence of providing for the car.

A study carried out in Bern, Switzerland, established the ratio between the value of purchases made and the parking area used by each customer, expressed as an annual average. The results showed that the ratio of profitability to parking was highest in the case of cyclists: €7,500 per square metre. Motorists came next with €6,625 per square metre.

On the face of it, this would seem paradoxical given that cyclists have no boot in which to put their purchases, meaning they are thus constrained by how much they can carry home. However, a separate study carried out in Munster, Germany, reaffirmed that motorists are not in fact better customers than cyclists. Indeed, in most situations, cyclists actually make for better customers. Because they tend to buy in smaller quantities, cyclists go to the shops more regularly (11 times a month on average, as opposed to seven times a month for motorists).

(Just to add, Cllr Tim Ward told Cambridge News: "Retailers want people coming in spending two to three hours shopping." Little surprise then that the council is investing much more on cycle parking.)

It must be stressed that what the High Street values most is activity. It would therefore be more accurate to say that the vitality of commercial enterprises is much more closely linked to the quality of the environment (rather than to the ease with which the town centre is accessible by car).


In the urban area, every trip made by bicycle rather than by car generates considerable savings and advantages both for the individual and for the community, such as:
• no detriment whatsoever on the quality of life (neither noise nor air pollution);
• preservation of monuments and planted areas;
• less room required both for moving and for parking, and therefore a more profitable use of the public space becomes possible;
• less deterioration to the road network;
• a reduced need for new road infrastructures;
• an improvement in the attractiveness of town centres (shops, culture, recreational activities, street life);
• fewer traffic jams and the economic losses which they entail;
• increased fluidity of car circulation;
• increased appeal of public transport;
• greater accessibility to typically urban services for the entire population (including adolescents and young adults);
• parents freed from the chore of transporting their children (more time and money to spend on other things);
• considerable time-savings to be had for short- and medium-length journeys;
• the need for a second car is no longer so pressing (and hence an increase in the household budget becomes possible);
• etc.

The foregoing is an adaptation of Chapter 1 of Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities. See also Safety: a responsibility (chapter 4), Daring to redistribute space and means (chapter 5), and What needs to be known (chapter 6).