Is campaigning for a London lorry ban a distraction?

photo by Selim KoryckiI see from some of the tweets from the Guardian Live cycling event that Andrew Gilligan thinks that campaigning for lorries to be banned from London, is an ‘unnecessary distraction’.  This is presumably on the grounds that we, the cycling community, have such limited resources that we can only effectively focus on one thing at a time, and at this time, that focus should be on improving the cycle network.  The lack of progress on the Quietways, when compared with the Cycle Superhighways, could probably be cited as evidence of this.

Obviously, given my campaigning background, I completely & viscerally disagree with this.

It is perfectly possible to successfully put energy into both making lorries safer, and building a comprehensive network of cycle lanes, as has been shown by the London Cycling Campaign in the 2012 London elections.  And, in my view, it is helpful, tactically, to keep pushing for a lorry ban, in exactly the same way as Andrew Gilligan initially proposed taking two lanes from motor traffic on the Embankment – he told us on Monday at the LCC Policy Forum seminar that he always intended to give one lane back, in order to appear to have listened to objections and compromised.  Push for a total ban, and then relent, and allow lorries with a direct vision cab to use London’s roads.

And for all those of you that say than banning big lorries from London is wildly impractical, Paris operates a day-time lorry ban (ok, the actual nature of the ban is a little opaque, but read this primer by Kieron Yates if you want to know more).  And Mary Beard confirmed that Julius Caesar instituted a similar ban on heavy goods vehicles in Rome, which was never repealed (ok, I’m pretty sure that Caesar didn’t have the safety of Roman citizens uppermost when he did it, but still, it’s a fun fact, isn’t it?)  I’m also disappointed to hear cycle-campaigners, who, for years & years, have listened increasingly impatiently to people saying that it was impossible to build a segregated cycle-lane network in London – the streets were too narrow, it would cause too much congestion, it would cost too much money, no-one would use it etc, etc, say that a London lorry ban is unrealistic, impossible, impractical etc, etc.

In my experience, it’s only when, to paraphrase Che Guevara, you start being unreasonable and demand the impossible, that people start to take you seriously.  And there is no better proof of this than in the lorry campaign.  Apologies if you have heard or read all this before, but it was only when I wrote to Ken Livingston and all the other candidates for Mayor of London in 2004 demanding a day-time lorry ban that serious action began on the problem of lorries killing cyclists in London.  Don’t take my word for it, ask Alastair Hanton, a long-standing LCC campaigner.  He said this to me on more than one occasion.

After all, a great deal of pressure was successfully applied, rightly, to the Mayor of London by cycling advocates using media coverage of cyclist lorry deaths, media coverage which would not have existed if it wasn’t for the continuing campaigning efforts of the LCC, Roadpeace and others.  As has been proven in the Netherlands, Denmark & Germany, well engineered cycle lanes will help to significantly reduce injury and fatalities from collisions with lorries, by making junctions safer (almost all serious collisions occur at junctions), but will NOT eliminate them.  In my view, to pretend otherwise is wrong.

Sorry, Mr Gilligan, under Boris’ leadership you have achieved great things, but on this you are wrong.

  1. You write: “We can only effectively focus on one thing at a time, and at this time, that focus should be on improving the cycle network.”

    And also: “It is perfectly possible to successfully put energy into both making lorries safer, and building a comprehensive network of cycle lanes, as has been shown by the London Cycling Campaign in the 2012 London elections.”

    The LCC’s campaign demands for the 2012 elections (here), and indeed for the 2016 elections (here), do not mention the word ‘network’ even once. When you say that the focus should be on improving the cycling network, which network are you talking about?


    • Well, what would you call the Cycle Superhighways? I know that there aren’t that many of them, but at this point, I think they can be called a network of segregated bike lanes.


      • A network, by its very definition, is joined up (that is, naturally or logically connected, forming a unified whole). Whatever the Cycle Superhighways are, they are not joined up.

        The thing is, Bill ….

        In 2008, David Hembrow reported on some research carried out in the Netherlands, the purpose of which was to find out which interventions for cycling were effective (here). One of the conclusions reached is that good quality cycle routes are of almost no use if they are not close together.

        In 2012, the LCC reported how Seville had Gone Dutch (a href=””>here.They quote Ricardo Marques Sillero, who said: “Isolated cycle paths are almost useless if they’re not connected, making a network from the beginning.”

        Finally, the National Institute for Transportation and Communities in Portland, Oregon, undertook a landmark study of protected cycle lanes in 2014 (here). It notes that the most important goal of protected cycle lanes is to get a load of people riding who aren’t. However, it says that, without a network, protected cycle lanes can’t do this.

        So that’s three different pieces of research, from three different countries, all basically saying the same thing: isolated cycle routes, no matter how high the quality, are not effective.


      • Are you saying that I shouldn’t be using the word network yet, even though the North – South and East – West CS are about to open, and will intersect each other, or that we shouldn’t be campaigning for a network at all?


  2. Bill, I am not looking for an argument, I just wanted to know which network you had in mind.

    “No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well at last as the truth. This alone wears well. For the most part, we are not where we are, but in a false position. Through an infirmity of our natures, we suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and hence are in two cases at the same time, and it is doubly difficult to get out. In sane moments we regard only the facts, the case that is. Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe. Tom Hyde, the tinker, standing on the gallows, was asked if he had anything to say. ‘Tell the tailors,’ said he, ‘to remember to make a knot in their thread before they take the first stitch.’ His companion’s prayer is forgotten.” (Henry Thoreau)


  3. Joe said:

    Hats off to Bill and the cycling community for the progress that has been made, and continues to be made. Che Guevara’s take is bang on. The reasonable man cannot make progress.



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