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bicycle lanes & paths

Exactly three years ago, I unveiled my vision to make cycling in London safer, more popular and more normal. My single biggest regret as Mayor is that I did not do it sooner. Our original painted lanes were revolutionary at the time. But knowing what I do now, we would have blasted ahead with our new segregated cycle lanes from the beginning.

This is from Boris Johnson, who, in 2011, famously said that “If you keep your wits about you, Elephant & Castle is perfectly negotiable.”

The quote at the top is from HUMAN STREETS: THE MAYOR’S VISION FOR CYCLING THREE YEARS ON, published just before the weekend.  I think it’s worth a read by everyone with an interest in the upcoming London Mayoral & Assembly Elections.  Boris says a number of interesting things like this:

“getting people out of cars is in fact the only way to keep London moving for essential business and commercial vehicles. Doing nothing with the roads would not return us to some never-existent ‘50s Elysium of free-flowing traffic. Doing nothing would mean that congestion gets worse than it is now.

The reason this is interesting is not because this is a radical or innovative idea, it’s interesting because this is the same man that came into City Hall talking about smoothing traffic flow, rephasing traffic lights and describing the Low Emissions Zone as ‘the most punitive, draconian fining regime in the whole of Europe’.

I don’t like the man, I dislike the bluster, and the way the way that he has talked to London Assembly Members, particularly the female members, when they have tried to hold him to account, I dislike the whole concept of a celebrity politician, which is what he is, I dislike the way that he seems to have used the Mayoralty as stepping stone to greater things, and all of the rest of the reasons that there are to dislike Boris – but I give him massive credit for changing his mind completely, and starting work on a proper network of cycle lanes.

Maybe someone can get Zac to read it, and give his comments?

 

Great to hear all the candidates present Sîan Berry (Green), Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Sadiq Khan (Labour), Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat) Peter Whittle (UKIP) say that they thought that cycling was a good thing.

Unimpressed by Peter Whittle (United Kingdom Independence Party), who not only made no specific commitments of any kind, other than saying that cycling was good, but went on to talk about arrogant cyclists mounting the pavements etc.  Sorry mate, you didn’t hear George Osborne say at any point whatsoever that his multi-billion pound road-building programme was conditional on motorists starting to observe the speed limits and keeping off their mobile phones whilst driving.  Increasing the number of people cycling is either a good thing or it isn’t.  If it is, the fact that a small minority of people do stupid things whilst on bikes is a matter for law-enforcement, in exactly the same way as it is a matter for the police that one in ten drivers in London do not possess valid insurance, rather than a reason to stop filling in potholes.  3/10

Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) asserted that cycling would grow by 400%, but totally failed to say how would he would go about enabling that.  He didn’t say that he would continue Boris’ great work, but he didn’t say he wouldn’t either.  He didn’t give the impression that he realised that cycling rates flat-lined during Boris’ first term, probably because most people found the blue paint and entreaties to ‘keep you wits about you’ unenticing, and stayed on the bus, train or in their cars.  Cycling rates only started to increase again after Boris started building segregated bike lanes, which suggests that people will only cycle if they feel safe, and that they only feel safe if segregated bike lanes, and allied measures to reduce traffic, are provided, and this will require an unequivocal spending commitment, not weasel words.  However, he did agree that reducing the number of HGVs on the road was important, and even suggested a way (micro-consolidation) to achieve it. 5/10

Sadiq Khan (Labour) pledged to increase spending on cycling, but then went on to say that that the implementation had been ‘a disaster’ and had caused ‘chaos’, which was a cheap & unnecessary shot at Boris – has he not been paying attention?  Given that he was Minister in charge of Crossrail One, as he was careful to point out at least 3 times during the show, surely he knows better than anyone that major urban infrastructure projects cause disruption, sometimes lasting years?  A major part of Soho, including a well-loved venue landmark, the Astoria Theatre, was turned into a great big hole in the ground, and St Giles’ Circus is still a major eye-sore, so a little bit of road re-allocation, which most Londoners barely noticed, is really no big deal.  On the other hand, he also talked about restricting or banning HGVs, so I give him extra credit for that. 8/10

Sîan Berry (Green Party) said all the right things, ticked all the right boxes, and emphasised how important it is that London’s nascent cycling revolution is extended to the suburbs.  Full marks. 10/10

Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrats) similarly said all the right things, and went further, making a specific commitment to spend 3% of TfL’s budget on cycling, which is what we all want to hear – concrete spending commitments, whether it’s £10 per year per head of population – vague promises often end up amounting to little more than painting some not-so-pretty pictures of bicycles in places where no-one can see them.  I also give her extra credit for endorsing the Sustrans Brunel Bridge, which makes her score 11/10.

Couple of interesting things that came out of the cycling segment of the debate – the Labour, Lib-Dem & Green candidates championing a policy (segregated bike lanes) that was initiated by a Tory mayor, with the Tory candidate equivocating, and the importance that all 4, including Zac Goldsmith, attached to traffic reduction & more generally to air quality.  Someone, I can’t remember who (apols), at the Londoners On Bikes meeting yesterday said that they thought that the big issue this time was going to be air-quality.

You can see the cycling bit of the debate here.

The other night I rode along the newly opened purpose-built segregated bike lane which runs along the route of Cycle Superhighway 5, from Pimlico to Oval.Vauxhall Bridge Bike Lane pic by Charlie Holland

The only possible criticism of the new lane is that it isn’t very long – by which I mean that out of my journey, from Marble Arch to East Dulwich, for the majority of which I followed the main roads, including Park Lane, Hyde Park Corner & Camberwell New Road, I was only in the new lane for a couple of miles out of the seven or so.  Otherwise, it’s wide enough, it’s smooth enough, it’s direct enough, it’s fast enough and it’s safe enough.

But it wasn’t made for me.   I have been riding a bike in London all my life.  I rode to school sometimes when I was a teen-ager.  Like Ben Plowden, the director of Transport for London’s Strategy & Planning (Surface Planning), who was interviewed in a recent edition of London Cyclist, I can remember when there were hardly any other cyclists around in London, to the point where, in winter, when even less people cycled, I knew virtually every other cyclist by sight.

I can’t remember ever being intimidated by the dangers of cycling – when I was a kid cycling to school, I was probably too young to be frightened, and, later, when I became a bicycle courier, I embraced the thrill of physical jeopardy, and the pure joy of riding a bike as fast as I could.

On my ride back from Marble Arch, as I mentioned, I negotiated two of the larger road junctions, and rode along a few of the busiest and widest roads in central London, heavy with large, fast vehicles, including coaches, buses, lorries, vans, taxis and the normal quotient of idiotic men using the speed of their over-engineered cars to display their notional virility.

I chose the most direct route, rather than the more pleasant, and probably safer, back street route through Belgravia, because I just wanted to get home quickly and not spend an extra 15 minutes messing about around the back of Eaton Square, dodging the Chelsea tractors and armoured limousines of the ostentatious super-rich.

It was fun – even though the whole route to Camberwell is incredibly familiar to me, it is some years since I have ridden down Park Lane, and there was a certain novelty, because, even though most of the roads haven’t changed much, apart from the new bike lane, I was riding a Brompton, instead of a ‘proper’ bike, and the unique handling characteristics of a small-wheeled, short wheel-base bike moving at around 25 – 30 kph (twitchy!) meant that I had to pay more attention to what was going on than I normally would.

There were a couple of moments where I wondered at the person that I used to be, that person that would have torn down Park Lane as fast as possible, under-taking fast moving traffic around corners, and seeking to run the lights at every opportunity, always looking for a way through, around, and over, any potential obstacle between myself and the destination.  If you want to know why bicycle couriers run lights so frequently, the reason is straightforward economics mixed with large dash of youthful bravado.  The more deliveries a courier can accomplish, the more money a courier gets.  The chances of being stopped by the police are very slight – it is a very unlucky courier that gets stopped more than once a year – and the dangers of ignoring the laws of the road are part of the appeal of the job.

I don’t believe that staying within the law, or following the Highway Code, will keep me safe from injury or death; I have read far too many analyses of collision data to entertain that thought for more than a split-second.  I also don’t believe that I have a duty to respect the rules of the road in order to prevent other people being killed or injured whilst cycling, or that I should obey the law in order to secure increased public funding for cycling.  Both of these latter two logical fallacies have been systematically dismantled elsewhere but, briefly, imagine if either of these propositions were applied to the users of motor-vehicles: no more new motorways until all motorists obey the speed limits everywhere, or that any injury or fatality of a motor-vehicle occupant is entirely deserved because plenty of motor-vehicle drivers routinely break the law – just think of how many people you see driving with mobile phones in their hands.

These days I almost always obey every regulation; if I can’t be bothered to wait for a green light, for instance at the toucan light on Cannon Street, where CS7 crosses it, I dismount and push my bike. Although technically, this is as illegal as riding across it, in practice not only have I never heard of an instance where the police have reprimanded someone pushing their bike through a red light, I can’t imagine it ever happening.  I joke that I can’t be bothered to break the law these days, as no-one is paying me to do so.

I am still, let’s say, not perfectly happy, but entirely prepared to take my chances on big roads with lots of fast-moving, heavy traffic.  I’m not stupid.  I have been riding a bike for pleasure, utility and money for a long time, and I, and many of my friends and acquaintances have suffered injury and death on the roads.  But I know that cycling isn’t inherently dangerous, and the risks are far outweighed by the benefits, and the, well, FUN!

What I am trying to say here is that I came to cycling through its utility to me: I rode a bike & made money doing it.  All the leisure and sports stuff came later, which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy cycling, but it was secondary to making a living from using a bike to deliver things.  And also that, as far as I was concerned, the more dangerous that my job seemed to outsiders, the better – a higher barrier to entry meant that I would have less competition.  I am, therefore, what is sometimes called a ‘vehicular cyclist’, often shortened to the somewhat pejorative VC, i.e. on the road I behave as if I was a motor-vehicle, mixing it with the motor-traffic, and expecting to be treated as if I was operating a ‘proper’ vehicle.

I wouldn’t say that I accepted that my friends, colleagues & I would get injured whilst cycling – but it was always something that I expected, and certainly amongst the courier community, it is seen as an occupational hazard, and, when at play, it can even be something to be embraced.

Of course there is a big difference between laughing at a friend who, as Michael Smiley did many years ago, has ridden into a stationary object whilst drunk and made a mess of his or her face – a frequent enough occurrence that I dubbed the resulting mutilations ‘Friday Night Nose’ – there’s a big difference between smashing yourself up as the result of your own stupidity, and those friends & colleagues who were injured, maimed or killed as the result of something that happened during their working day, when they were stone-cold sober, as the result of the actions of another road-user.

But none of these considerations have ever prevented me from cycling.  The only circumstance that I could imagine not cycling in London, is if I lost the use of both of my legs, and then I would probably, if I was capable, use a hand-cycle or something similar.

chelsea bridge bike laneMy entry-point into ‘proper’ cycle-campaigning was prompted by my experiences after the death of Edward Newstead, who was killed whilst working as a cycle courier.  The driver of the lorry that killed him had made an illegal left turn off Oxford Street.  I can’t remember exactly what sentence was imposed after he was convicted for careless driving, but it was a few penalty points and a small fine.  I do remember standing outside the magistrates court trying to explain to Ed’s teenage children why it was that the man whose negligence had killed their father would be able to walk out of court and continue his life without very much let or hindrance, whereas their lives had been torn apart.

Paul Gasson & Roger Geffen of the London Cycling Campaign participated in an official capacity in the memorial ride that followed Ed’s death, and I wrote some stuff in a bicycle courier fanzine about the politics and effects of road planning on bicycle couriers.  This led to other activities, including the early stirrings of Reclaim The Streets, Cyclist Have A Right to Move, other stuff, and eventually, as chair of the London Bicycle Messenger Association, in 2004, I wrote to all of the then candidates for Mayor of London asking them to consider banning lorries from London day-time.

lambeth bridge bike laneI can’t really remember when I became aware of bicycle lanes.  I was looking up the history of the GLC in the course of writing something for the Relatively Good Radio Show (3pm every Sunday on Resonance FM), and I read that the GLC had done some work promoting cycling in the late 70s & 80s, but I can’t say that I was aware of it of it at the time, and I certainly don’t recall any special provisions for cyclists, apart from maybe being able to use bus lanes, until the opening of the two segregated bike lanes in Camden, work on which only started in the late 90s, after sustained pressure from Camden Cyclists.

My only previous encounter with bike lanes had been in Berlin in the 90s, and I regarded them, like the Camden bike lanes, as inconvenient, as they weren’t in the part of the road that I preferred to ride on, that is to say, more or less down the middle of the road, and also slightly dangerous, as I always felt that they restricted my ability to avoid poor turning manoeuvres by drivers, and restricted my view and space on the road.  This was reinforced when I went to Copenhagen, and was completely disoriented by the bike lane network there.  I didn’t know where to look or where to ride and found myself being chastised by other people using the bike lanes for not following the signalling and riding conventions.  This experience was shared by other bicycle couriers from the UK and US who were there at the same time (we had all gone to CPH for the 2002 Cycle Messenger World Championships).  “I just want to ride in the road, like normal”, I remember thinking and other people saying.

I was also slightly shocked to find myself being overtaken by ‘ordinary’ cyclists, often riding much heavier bikes than mine, frequently laden with shopping.  Me, a professional cyclist!  And I kept ending up boxed in by other cyclists at the lights – it was all bit too much.

Back at home, the authorities in London were beginning to consider the benefits of having more people on bikes, and at the same time, the noughties bike boom was starting.  I think that the two phenomena were not particularly related.  I suspect very strongly that the increase in cycling had more to do with the increased awareness of cycle-sport, and the health benefits thereof, than of the utility of cycling.  Awareness of cycling’s utility, I reckon, came afterwards to most people who started cycling in the noughties.

As evidence, I would cite the type of clothing and bikes that most London cyclists wear and use, and the demographics, i.e. the sex, age and socio-economic class of the adopters – mostly young, male & above average income – most of the people cycling in London are the aggressively athletically affluent, if you will, riding bikes that look like what the pros on the Tour de France ride, and wearing clothes that look like what the pros wear in the Tour de France, not bikes like the one at the top of the page, with mudguards and two racks – this type of bike is still uncommon in London.  It is arguable that the UK bike retail trade has failed bike commuters, and society generally, by failing to supply suitable bikes for everyday use.  There’s a chapter in Grant Petersen’s excellent collection of essays ‘Just Ride’ covering exactly this topic called ‘Racers Ruin The Breed’.

There is no doubt that simply saying loudly and often to the public, as TfL and Boris have, as well as various London borough councils have, that cycling is good, and we want more people to do it – here, look, we are going to paint lots of pictures of bicycles on the roads to show that bicycles belong on London’s roads to prove it – also had an effect.  I am also sure that the fact that London’s roads are probably less dangerous than at any time in history also helps (I am certain that horse-powered traffic was every bit as dangerous as motor-powered is now, and that there were hundreds of deaths every year in London from time immemorial caused by runaway horses, whether singly or in teams).

There were other factors at play too, obviously.  The bicycle courier community had helped to popularise a certain type of bike culture, that of the fixie, which is pretty distinct from the lycra & 18 gears thing, and the growth in cycling in Hackney cannot, and is not, explained by loads of ‘hipsters’ moving into the borough, and using the London Fields bike lane for skid comps, which is the usual explanation of the anti-Hackneyise camp.  Camden & Islington did more than just paint not-so-pretty pictures of bikes on the road, and, like Hackney, saw a rise in cycle journeys.

(Causation? Correlation?  It is not possible to conduct scientifically sound experiments in city planning – unequivocal evidence of the efficacy of a particular measure does not, can not exist.)

I, on the other hand, was focused on the problem of lorries running over cyclists at junctions, and spent what time I had spare for campaigning activity on the HGV problem.  I don’t want to recap the whole HGV – cyclist KSI thing in this post, as I covered it here and on Moving Target, but large percentage of fatalities of people cycling in London were the result of a collision with lorries.  A significant minority of these collisions resulted from the lorry turning left over the path of the cyclist either proceeding straight on or also turning left.  In all of these collisions, the driver said that he (almost all lorry drivers are male) had not seen the cyclist before the collision, and that the cyclist must have been in the so-called blind-spot, the area to the front and left of the cab into which direct vision is not possible.

Sblindspoto when the authorities started painting bike lanes and Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) all over London which encouraged cyclists to take exactly this position – to the left and slightly in front – at junctions, my reaction was one of dismay and alarm, especially when ASLs with feeder lanes were painted on junctions where cyclists had been killed by collisions with left-turning lorries: Camley Street at Goods Way, scene of the death  of Emma Foa, and Upper Thames Street at Queen Street Place, scene of the death of London bicycle courier Sebastian Lukomski.

287tThe fact that the ASL at Camley Street had been painted with the support of Camden Cyclists truly outraged me.  I found it hard to imagine how any cycle campaigner could have supported something so stupid.  If you are wondering why I found it so imbecilic, compare the photo at right, taken at Camley Street a year after Emma Foa was killed, with the photo above.  The top photo was taken at a ‘Changing Places’ demo, which was aimed at showing cyclists the dimensions of the typical lorry blind-spot.  The yellow line indicates roughly the boundaries of the blind-spot.  It looks like an ASL with a feeder lane, not that unlike the one at Camley Street.  At the time (2007) I wrote “we ought to think about taking all the paint and green tarmac off the roads at junctions like these. Because to me, they look dangerously like green traps.”

My mind was pretty much made up – bike lanes were a mad, bad, dangerous idea.  In 2008 I wrote a piece for the Guardian Bike Blog outlining my opposition, finishing with the following:

Clerkenwell Road looking west towards St John Street“If one of the main obstacles to getting more bums on bikes is lack of confidence, then surely it would be better to spend the money on training so that potential cyclists will know how to handle their bikes and to recognise and negotiate hazards. This will instil confidence. And a confident cyclist is a safe cyclist.”

(The incident involving the motor-cyclist and taxi described in the article occured more or less where this photo was taken, travelling east)

I had written to the London Cycling Campaign resigning my membership in protest at their participation in a TfL public relations called “Share The Road” a couple of years before, but now my antipathy towards LCC fell to a new low after an email exchange with a member of LCC staff in which he used foul & abusive language, prompted by me publicly denounced the LCC for failing to do more on the HGV / cyclist issue.

So how did I get from there to here, that is, to the point where I am giving an unequivocal welcome to the Mayor of London’s bicycle lane construction programme, which was inspired, in large part, by the London Cycling Campaign’s Space For Cycling?

Because I now get it.  I get that if I want to see a civilised, cycling city in my lifetime, ordinary people,  people who would otherwise drive to the shops, or to the school with the kids, or get the bus or the train to work, need to feel safe on their bikes on the road, which they do not now.  They need to feel that there is a safe space in which to cycle.  Training alone will not do it.  I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard friends & acquaintances say something like, I’d like to ride, but I just don’t feel safe, or, I used to ride but stopped after I was (nearly) knocked off by a bus / lorry / car.

Under Boris’ leadership, Andrew Gilligan and his team have made a great start.  I know that all of the roadworks have been a pain, although there have been one or two upsides: we all immensely enjoyed Nigel Lawson’s assertion “that [the cycle lane construction program] has done more damage, and is doing more damage, to London than almost anything since the Blitz”.  But it’s only a start.

If we aren’t careful, this summer will mark the high-water mark of cycling advocacy in London.  At TfL the bus is king, and all this cycle-lane stuff has been, in their view, a bit of a distraction, and a bit of a waste of money, but, hey, now the box marked ‘cycling’ has been ticked, they’ll be able to get back to the real world of buses and trains.  Also, cuts to funding are looming, and that will mean it is likely to get a lot harder to get any money spent on cycling, never mind increasing it.

Cycling in London has momentum.  After several years of flat-lining, modal share has started to nose up again in the last couple of years.  The new lanes will surely accelerate the upward trend.  But the job’s only just begun.  And if we don’t carry on pushing, the vocal but statistically small anti-cycling caucus will get the airtime and the audience, and cycling will be pushed back to the margins from where it is now, virtually centre-stage in London politics.

This is written question from London Assembly Member Darren Johnson to the London Mayor Boris Johnson with the Mayor’s reply below.
I am pretty shocked by this, as London buses have direct vision cabs, which I had always considered much safer than traditional ‘high-cab’ lorries, as they do not have the same problems with seeing cyclists (or pedestrians) to their left front, and so had assumed that the bus / cyclist KSI numbers must be much better.  How wrong I was to make this assumption.  If these numbers are right, then there is something very, very wrong on London’s roads, especially given that we have always been presented the bus lane as the next best thing to a ‘proper’ segregated bike lane.
Tom Kearney has been making a fuss about what he considers negligent behaviour by London bus companies for some considerable time now.  I guess I should have been paying more attention.
Cyclists and buses
Question No: 2013/4666
Darren Johnson
Are you aware that since you became Mayor there are some years when the number of cyclists killed or suffering major injury per bus km travelled is greater than the number of killed or seriously injured per HGV km travelled? Given your direct control over how London buses perform, will you include reducing casualties as part of the bus contracts?
Written response from the Mayor
I am strongly committed to ensuring the safety of cyclists and other vulnerable roads users when sharing the road with London’s buses. I recently published my Road Safety Action Plan: Safe Streets for London. This sets an ambitious target of a 40 per cent reduction in killed and seriously injured (KSI) casualties by 2020. This covers all road traffic KSI casualties, including those involving buses and coaches.
 
TfL has an on-going programme of measures to reduce the number of collisions involving buses. This includes training and advice for bus drivers and cyclists, improvements to junction design and infrastructure, route risk assessments and a comprehensive incident reporting system.
 
London’s bus drivers are trained to consider the safety of cyclists through the bus driver BTEC module on cyclists and other vulnerable road users.  TfL and bus operators work together to increase drivers’ awareness of cyclists, how they use the road and their vulnerability, through such initiatives as the Big Red Book, the ‘Big Bus Little Bike’ DVD and Exchanging Places events at bus garages.
 
Bus route risk assessments are undertaken on every bus route and cycle initiatives, including new cycle infrastructure, are explained to bus operators to make sure they understand how to use them safely. Bi-annual audits are conducted to ensure the risk assessment process is thorough and relevant and all serious bus collision incidents are reviewed collaboratively with the MPS Collision Investigation Unit.
 
Furthermore, TfL will continue to examine collision statistics and police collision investigation reports to ensure measures are deployed where they can most effectively improve safety.

Calvin Simpson's name, painted on Stamford Street.This is the text of some words of mine that were broadcast on the Relatively Good Radio Show today on Resonance FM.

I didn’t know Mark Francis at all, really.  People said to me, yeah, yeah, you do, you know, the tall mixed race kid, he was always at the Duke of York on Clerkenwell Road on a Friday, with all the other couriers.  At the service, they projected pictures of him that people had brought along, pictures of him from his childhood, and there was a photo that had been taken a couple of months before, at a party that the London Bicycle Messenger Association had organised.  I recognised him, and thought, bastard, he still owes us £3!

He had come up us at the door, and said, can I come in, and see if I like it, and then come back and give you the dosh?  Of course he hadn’t come back. And he wasn’t going to be able to pay me now.

Sebastian Lukomski, I actually did know a bit.  He was a hard-working hard-partying Polish guy who had come to a big international courier event that I had helped organise, and, like Mark, used to hang out at the Duke of York. 

All the others, Joe Cooper, Judy Mihlenstedt, Calvin Simpson, Paul Ellis, Edward Newstead, Reidar “Danny” Farr, & Henry Warwick, all these bicycle couriers I didn’t know at all before.  I met Edward Newstead’s kids at one of the West End magistrates court, at the trial, which took place months afterwards.  After the verdict, they had questions that I couldn’t really answer.

I helped paint the names of all of these people on the road, in the road, as close as possible to the spot where the incidents happened, some of the names we painted 4 or 5 times.  It’s almost impossible to put into words how strange and unsettling it is to paint the name of a dead person you didn’t really know on a road in central London.

Yesterday, I rode my bike with Southwark Cyclists up from Peckham Rye to meet the Big Bike Ride, an event organised to publicise London Cycling’s Campaign push to get more Space For Cycling.  We stopped at Newington Butts, at the south end of the Elephant & Castle roundabout, a junction that Boris Johnson said was perfectly safe to cycle “as long as you keep your wits about you”.  The junction has been recently re-engineered.  The re-organisation was supposed to make what is more or less a dual-carriageway intersection safer for cyclists use.  

Fatima Manah & Cynthia BarlowWhen I arrived at the junction, I spotted a lady in a head-scarf, holding a bunch of lilies.  Then I noticed Cynthia Barlow, who was recently awarded an OBE for her work as Chair of Roadpeace, the charity that supports the families of road crash victims, standing next to her.  And my heart fell. Abdelkhalak Lahyani was killed last week whilst cycling through Newington Butts.  I was introduced to his widow, Fatima.

I am sick of meeting the families of people that I didn’t know, whose relatives were killed whilst cycling in London.  Mr Johnson, you said you wanted London to be the best city in the world to cycle in.  We need the right actions and infrastructure, not more words and paint.

More about the 9 London bicycle couriers known to have been killed whilst working.

Relatively Good Radio Show on Resonance FM, 18th May 2014, during which these words were broadcast.

ITV London News item about the incident, which features an appeal from Fatima for more to be done by TfL to safeguard cyclists.

Full text of Cynthia Barlow’s speech at the vigil on Southwark Cyclists web-site.

When I mentioned that I had been to the 2nd Hackney Cycling Conference, people asked me if I had enjoyed it.  Enjoy isn’t the word.  There was too much information packed into the event for me to enjoy.

A couple of the speakers were way above my head.  Dr. Adrian Davis on Bristol’s ‘Public Health & Transport collaboration’ was too dense for me (Bruce Mcvean of Liveable London was kind enough to point me at Lucy Saunders’ presentation on the website, which is a lot more digestible).  I got the principle, outlined in Professor Harry Rutter‘s illuminating presentation, that the public health benefits of cycling far, far outweigh the risks, I just didn’t really grasp what Dr. Davis was saying.  I guess because I am neither a transport planner nor a public health professional it doesn’t really matter.

I also struggled with Keith Firth‘s presentation of the nuts and bolts of redesigning junctions for increased cycling.  He took us through the process of modelling movements within the junction. During his presentation Mark Treasure tweeted that he was amazed ‘that 5 bicycles are “equivalent” to 1 car in assessing capacity, regardless of number of people in that car’ for the purposes of modelling traffic flows, which shows that I wasn’t the only one who got confused.

A lot of people responded negatively to that tweet, but Keith was merely saying that a bike occupies a fifth of the space of a car, for modelling purposes, in the same way that a bus occupies 4 times the space of a car, no matter how many passengers are carried on the bus.  The much more interesting point that I took from Keith’s presentation was that pedestrian movements are not modelled at all.

I spoke to Keith afterwards, and he mentioned that microsimulations of traffic at junctions are incredibly computationally complex, and require a huge amount of calculating power, which is probably why they don’t model pedestrian movements as well.  As an aside, Keith said that Advanced Stop Lines should be 4 or 5 metres long.  I’m pretty sure I got this down right, as I had only had one or two beers by this time, and I wrote the number down.

If this is true, then there are a lot, a huge number, of sub-standard ASLs in London, which need to be widened or lengthened.  Islington Council or TfL, whoever is the responsible authority, can start with the ASLs on the junction of Goswell Road / Clerkenwell Road / Old Street.  I see that they are trialling the ‘trixi’ mirrors at this junction, finally, but it might be more useful to repaint the lines so that cyclists can get that little bit further forward, away from the lorries.  This would possibly take them out of the blind-spot.

Another thing I took from the conference, and this won’t be welcomed by some, is that whatever infrastructure is going to be put in to support cycling in London, it will not be allowed to inconvenience bus passengers or pedestrians.  This almost certainly means no diversion of bus routes to permit the installation of segregated tracks.  Andrew Gilligan made this clear, as did Peter Wright, who is the Senior Delivery Planning Manager at TfL.  As I have said before, the bus is king of the London roads.

This explains why Councillor Vincent Stops is so anti-tracks.  He made a remark to me which reveals how seriously he takes the prioritisation of the bus.  He talked to me of the bus network having lost 6% of capacity since Boris Johnson became Mayor, in terms that made it clear what a bad thing he thought it was, and that the bus network needs to be protected from increased depredation.  I’m not suggesting that Councillor Stops has a major say in Boris’ transport policies, far from it, but I am saying that whatever changes are proposed to the infrastructure, those representing the interests of pedestrians and bus passengers will need to be reassured that they will not be delayed, diverted or otherwise pushed to the margins.

There is a problem with the way that some people on bikes are using the canal.

I participated in a workshop on pedestrian / bicycle conflicts on Regent’s Canal, led by Dick Vincent (a.k.a. Towpath Ranger on Twitter) and Rosie Tharp of the Canal & River Trust.  They presented a shocking number about the speed that people cycle on the towpath.  Although the data was collected in Kensington & Chelsea, there is no reason to believe that speeds in Camden, Islington & Hackney are  substantially lower.  The 85th percentile speed is 13.8 mph. The equivalent number for London Fields bike path is 13.4 mph.  In other words, people are riding along the canal towpath, which is narrower by roughly half for large stretches, has pinch-points under the bridges, isn’t segregated, and has a body of water on one side, faster than they do in London Fields which is straight, smooth and segregated.  This is obvious completely wrong, and needs to stop.  I personally do not understand why anyone would want to cycle that fast in a space which so inappropriate for any kind of speed.

Dick Vincent said that it’s an inditement indictment of the state of the roads that people prefer to use the canal, but I think the resurfacing work, which has made the tow-path safer, has probably encouraged higher speeds as well.  The CRT have no intention of banning bikes, but clearly people are riding too fast along the towpath.  Developing a parallel network which is as convenient and safe as the towpath is clearly one answer, but the big problem is intersections with main roads.  If you use the canal, you don’t have to stop at the main roads, whereas I imagine that any parallel route would not be given priority at Kingsland Road or Queensbridge Road, to give examples in Hackney.

In the short term, behaviour has to change, though, as the speeds recorded are far too fast.  If you want to ride at more than 10 mph, you should really be using the road, not a narrow shared space that has a body of water running along side it.

Probably the presentation that I enjoyed the most was entitled ‘Principles of Permeability’, presented by Tyler Linton.  It was designed to show what Hackney has done, and should have been retitled ‘Bollard Porn’.  It was just one shiny bollard after another, which was somehow strangely calming and relaxing.  Maybe that was just me, though.

At the top of the show was Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney.  Hackney Council deserves praise for its approach, which, even if it is not pro-cycling as some would like, is unquestionably pro-people, particularly those people that do not have access to a private motor vehicle.  Jules Pipe’s speech, in my opinion, was not Hackney Council’s finest hour for one reason only.  The target, published elsewhere as well, given for cycling modal share in 2030/31 is 15%, or just over double the 2013/14 target, which is 7%.  Call me impatient, call me unreasonable but I think that is PUNY.  This target is easily achievable, but surely Hackney should be a lot more ambitious, and going for 25% at least?

And I’m going to end there.  There was a lot of great stuff at the conference, and these events are inspiring, but there still remains a lot to be done, if a place like Hackney believes that it needs 16 years to double cycling rates in the borough.

Latest written questions and answers from the Mayor:

Cycling conditions on the Westway

Question No: 1373 / 2013

Darren Johnson

A constituent who was once diverted to cycle along the Westway during a bomb scare reports that high winds and traffic noise made cycling on it an unpleasant experience. Will TfL therefore be mitigating these problems by erecting sound barriers and wind shields when the proposed Westway cycle way is implemented?

Written response from the Mayor

The issues you raise are being considered as part of the engineering and design studies into this route. Further information will be available in due course.

This is a good question, and I am so glad that I am not the first person to ask it.  I am probably not the ideal person to pronounce on the proposed two-way, segregated cycle path that is to be built on the elevated section of the M40 motorway between White City and central London, otherwise known as the Westway. I suffer from acoraphobia, which is an irrational fear of falling off things, and it becomes especially pronounced when cycling across bridges.  Even allowing for this irrational fear, I don’t find the prospect of using this proposed lane appealing at all, and that’s not only my inbred prejudice against west London.

I’m sure the lane will be objectively safe, as it will be separated from the motorway by a substantial lump of concrete, but I’ll be surprised if it’s pleasant.  One will, after all, be riding along a concrete gulley, exposed to the elements, with motor-traffic rumbling past at 40+ mph.  Ok, there will be times when the traffic will be stationary, but row upon row of stationary cars, engines idling, is little more appealing for reasons that I won’t need to spell out for anyone that has ridden along Euston Road in rush hour.  Is it just Darren’s constituent and me that find the proposed lane to be not altogether enticing?