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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.


My neighbour recently had her bike stolen.  She wisely decided to replace it with a 2nd hand bike (there are more bicycles than people in the UK, and most of those are in people’s sheds or garages).  Her only criterion was that the bike should be red.  Being Hackney born and bred, she did not wish to purchase another stolen bike, thus rewarding a thief for theft, so she went to Bike Works in Bethnal Green.

Bike Works sold her this beauty for the absolutely astonishing price of £295.  Not only did the lady get a piece of British bicycle history, she also got a bike which was in perfect working order.  Bike Works only sell bicycles which they have first refurbished.  In this case, that meant new tyres, tubes and cables and not a great deal else apart from a lot of love.  I suspect that this bike must have been kept somewhere warm and dry for the past 40 years, given the condition of the gear mechanisms, which are more than serviceable.

The frame wasn’t made by Claud Butler himself, it was made by Holdsworth (who bought the name in 1960) sometime between 1965 and 1976. The frame is branded ‘Electron’, and according to this excellent page on Claud Butler frames and bicycles, this model was only offered between these years.

The Claud Butler name still has some residual glamour associated to it, even though the man whose stardust rubbed off is long dead, and the exact nature of his remarkable exploits are hazy at best even for confirmed bikies under the age of 60.  Reg Harris was the first British racing cyclist to capture the public imagination, and was a household name more than a decade before Tom Simpson.  Despite not achieving the goals expected of him, 3 Olympic gold medals, he was nevertheless an immensely popular figure,  occasionally eclipsing even the football stars of the day.
Reg rode a Claud Butler, and for this reason the CB head-badge features the Olympic rings, decades after Reg won his two silver medals at the 1948 Olympics.  Even at a distance of 60 years, his lustre is still bright.  He is very much from the golden era of cycle sport, the late 40s and 50s, the era of Bobet, Coppi and later Anquetil, when the sometimes brutal heroism of the black-smiths’ and farmers’ sons of the early years of the sport gave way to the burnished charisma of the motion picture era.  Reg was a real star.  I don’t know whether he kept a comb in his jersey pocket like Koblet, or wiped his face with a cologne-scented handkerchief like Bobet, but he certainly looked every bit as polished.

My favourite of all of his exploits is his come-back at the age of 54 to win the National Match Sprint Championship.  I read somewhere that he only did it to graphically illustrate his disgust at the contemporary state of British match-sprinting.  It doesn’t really say much for the competition that they could be beaten by a man 20 years past his best, no matter whether he had been the best in the world.

Reg Harris’ obituary.

Image courtesy Hackney CyclistsHackney is now the cycling heart of London, as was shown by the 2011 census figures.  15% of Hackney residents now cycle to work, and car ownership is falling.  As always with demographic changes, there are myriad causes, as I suggested here.

But the fact that the Hackney borough group of the LCC has been so active in transport planning with the borough over the last 15 years is not just a correlation, it is causation.  As Danny Williams  (Cyclists in the City blog) says, it’s the bike-friendly policies, stupid.  Despite the Kerb Nerds insistence that the only way to increase numbers of people cycling is total segregation, and that all other policies are a waste of time, this increase in levels of cycling to around about where the Dutch and Danish were in the 70s has been achieved without great lengths of separated bike paths.

If you think I’m overstating the Kerb Nerds fervour, David Arditti came back from a trip to Copenhagen tweeting that: got to understand this: you need all to stick your Hierarchies of Provision, Quietways, Graeenways [sic], 20mph etc in the bin….Cause the solution is segregated cycle tracks on *all* main roads. That’s the only thing that gives you fun cycling for all.  UK politicians, don’t waste time, don’t bother with cycling at all if you are not interested in doing this. Over and out.

I think this is an extraordinarily blinkered view, especially the dismissal of 20 mph zones.  20 mph zones are important not just because they might encourage cyclists, but because, along with other policies like ‘Safe Routes to School’, they are accepted to have helped drive down child pedestrian fatalities in London.  So-called Vehicular Cyclists such as myself are often dismissed by the Kerb Nerds as ‘advocating only for themselves’.  I don’t how considered David’s dismissal of 20 mph zones was, but it looks an awful lot like advocacy only for himself.

As Danny says in his piece for the Standard, Hackney’s policies have focused on making sure that every scheme – whether it’s a new building or an upgrade of an existing road – improves the public realm and sense of place, not just focussing on providing separated cycle paths along all main roads.  And before we go any further, I agree that there remains a lot to do in Hackney.  I live right by the A10 Kingsland Road, on which 3 cyclists have been killed in the last 10 years.  This road desperately needs some redesigning, but not just for cyclists, for pedestrians as well.

But despite all that remains to be done, no-one can deny that Hackney Cyclists have achieved great things, and are way ahead of every other London borough.  Should you wish to Hackneyise your own borough or town, you could do worse than attend the 2nd Annual Hackney Cycling Conference, June 6th.

The following is from the Hackney Cycling Campaign:


2013 is set to be a landmark year in the UK for cycling.

High-profile media attention and campaigns, ambitious policy statements and proposed funding for London and the recent All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group report from the Get Britain Cycling inquiry have created political momentum that suggests now is the time for ambitious improvements and initiatives to encourage an increase in the number of people riding bikes.

But big questions remain about how best to achieve these changes. For example, how to translate public support for cycling as an abstract idea into support for local schemes, how to design for cycling and other kerb-side needs, and how to deal with emerging problems as the number of cyclists goes up, like conflict with pedestrians in areas of high cycle traffic.

The Hackney Cycling Conference seeks to further the debate on these issues and more by bringing together politicians, professionals, academics and campaigners from across the many disciplines and sectors that are involved in influencing an increase in cycling in the UK.

Confirmed speakers include

Andrew Gilligan, London Cycling Commissioner; Prof. Phil Goodwin, University of the West of England and author of the APPCG report ‘Get Britain Cycling’; Dr Adrian Davis, Public Health and Transport consultant at Bristol City Council

The conference is on 6th June.  Tickets etc can be found here.

As Easy As Riding A Bike is at it again – being really binary. He presents two equally possible and plausible courses of action as an either / or, a yes / no.  We are offered a choice of roads engineered to be safer for all road users, or a ban on the most dangerous category of vehicle from the roads at times when they are most likely to come into conflict with soft road-users (lorries kill pedestrians too).  We can’t have both, we must pick one or the other.

This is the conclusion that you might draw from reading his post Conflict between lorries and bicycles.

He writes in the aftermath of 3 serious crashes that have involved bicycles and large vehicles in the last month in London.  One (involving Dr. Katherine Giles) has been national front page news, one seems to have been largely forgotten (probably because the rider was neither female nor riding a Boris bike, nor had he been run over by a lorry, although the difference in effect of being crushed under the wheels of a coach, as opposed to a lorry seems very slight), and one made local headlines.  It doesn’t always lead if it bleeds.

This would be nice, wouldn't it?Yes, it would. Oh sorry, I was trying really hard not fall into the trap of asking a question and then answering it.He makes the case that unless we reengineer the roads so that these conflicts between lorries and cyclists are less likely to occur, then ‘human error’ and ‘mistakes’, as he calls them, will continue to lead to the deaths of cyclists. The kind of re-engineering that he is talking about is fairly comprehensive, viewed from the perspective of a London cyclist.  There is no junction in London, no cycle facility in this city, that I know of, that matches what AEARAB posits.  And it does look much safer, absolutely no question about it.

Let’s consider the the road on which one of these crashes happened, Old Street / Clerkenwell Road / Theobald’s Road. This is one of the main east – west axes for cycle commuters coming in from Hackney and other parts of east London. There have been at least 6 fatalities resulting from collisions between cyclists and lorries on this route in the last 10 years or so, and I know of at least another 2 in the 10 years before.  It’s getting on for a real black spot (or line, as it is nearly 2 miles long).

Clerkenwell Road, looking west from junction of Goswell Road.To make the whole of the Old Street – Clerkenwell – Theobald’s safe in the way that is described would require re-engineering at least 10 junctions and probably making Clerkenwell Road between Goswell Road and St John Street one way for motor traffic.   I’m not totally sure, but to my untrained eye this stretch would not accomodate separated bike paths, 2 footways (road engineer speak for pavements) and 2 carriageways of motor traffic. The bridge at Farringdon Road junction is also likely to be  similarly too narrow.

Where the road is not wide enough to accomodate 2 footways, 2 separated bike paths and 2 carriageways for motor traffic, one of the 2 motor carriageways has to go, and the road will then be one way for motor traffic, including buses.  To make this whole road safe for cyclists to use, this is what will need to happen.  As we know, there is no point making a road safe for cyclists right up until the point where they could really use some separation and then removing it, i.e. the big junction where lots of vehicles are turning.  Female cyclists have been killed at both ends of the narrow section of Clerkenwell Road, and at least one cyclist has been killed on or very near to the Farringdon Road junction, all by lorries, at least 2 by tippers.

Something else to think about in respect of this road is that it goes through 3 different boroughs, Hackney, Islington and Camden, which is an additional complication for whoever is planning the overhaul of this major cycling route.  I say all this not to discourage, but merely to highlight the size of the task.

AEARAB presents an alternative method of keeping lorries and cyclists away from each other, and then dismisses in the same sentence:

One way of achieving this would be a lorry ban at peak hours, which has been mooted, but this doesn’t seem to me to be particularly likely, or workable.

Personally, as a long-time advocate of a lorry ban, I wouldn’t say I have been mooting it, I would say that I have been demanding it, and I like to think that I have become increasingly stridently as the death toll has mounted.

There are a couple of different configurations of lorry ban – one is a total ban in commuting time,  I would suggest 0700 – 1000 definitely, and maybe 1500 – 1900, one is a modified ban on lorries that don’t have the right kit to be driven safely (mirrors, proximity alarms, ‘cycle-aware’ drivers).

A morning peak hour ban would work well because the overwhelming majority, let’s say at least 90%, of London lorry deaths happen in the morning rush hour from 0700 – 1000. 0 lorries on the road equals 0 cyclists killed by lorries. Think of it as another way of achieving separation in time and space between bicycles and lorries, only without all the raised kerbs and fancy coloured lights.

There’s some question about political opposition to such a ban, but if another young, bright, intelligent woman goes under the wheels of a lorry whilst the ban is being considered, given the backing of the Times and the Standard (for which, thanks!), any such opposition will melt away, in my opinion.  And there is no reason to think that in the next 12 months, whilst a ban is being considered, a young, bright, successful woman will not go under the wheels of a tipper lorry.  In fact, it’s a virtual certainty.

I’m sure it wouldn’t take long, with the political will, to enact the legislation to enable a rush hour ban.  It could happen in a matter of weeks: no more tipper lorries in London in the morning rush hour.  Imagine that.

I’m not going to get all black or white, yes or no on you and present this as an either or, or dismiss the likelihood of Old Street / Clerkenwell Road getting the reworking it badly needs, because I want to see it happen and believe that it can, and I also believe that we can have both a commitment to building better streets for people and a commitment to keep lorries off the streets when most people are using them, but I am going to say that I am disappointed by this latest manifestation of bicycling binary.

There’s a school of thought, with which I broadly agree, that insists that a bike ride is not really a ‘proper’ bike ride unless at least one night has been spent in a ditch or somewhere else equally unsuitable, such as a bus shelter.  Jack Thurston, the presenter, writer & producer of the excellent Bike Show podcast, is a man that thinks that any bike ride could be enhanced by a night in the right ditch, but not just any ditch. Jack, whilst being a hard and hardy rider, will not needlessly inflict discomfort upon himself or any companion.  He views the riding of a bicycle as the literal pursuit of hedonism, albeit ameliorated by some passing and minor inconveniences.

Jack’s approach is reflected in ‘Lost Lanes’, which is a collection of 36 rides in southern England.  Most are day-rides, none require the intervention of a motor-vehicle to transport rider & bike to the start and, as the author says, all of ‘the rides can be ridden on any bike that’s in good mechanical order’, i.e. they are rides that anyone, not only ‘proper’ cyclists, could do, if they desired.  All the rides pass by excellent pubs, cafes & restaurant, which are noted in the text.

These are rides for the pleasure of being in the countryside (mostly – one ride is entirely within urban east London), because Jack believes, and I agree with him, ‘of all the modes of travel, only the bicycle combines freedom and speed with total immersion in the surroundings’.

The format of the book is that the actual routes are downloaded (either as turn-by-turn route sheets or as GPX files suitable for use with GPS route-finders) from elsewhere, and the book is descriptions of the routes in lyrical prose, which includes topographical and historical details, and pencil-drawing outline of the route that could be transferred reasonably easily to a map and illustrating photographs.  The photographs are superb. My girlfriend’s reaction to the book was that ‘it makes England look like France’.  I think she meant beautiful and warm.  She also said the book made her want to get on her bike and go do one of the rides.

Jack has written a Tour de Horizon as part of the introduction, as well as a section on lanes and another on wild camping, which I rather like.  It really is a literal panorama – Jack describes the country we will be riding in from ‘the shingle spit of Dungeness’ to ‘Suffolk’s cluster of stunning medieval towns and villages’ and on to ‘the gently rolling landscape of the upper Thames Valley’.  He briefly covers the geology, topography and demography of the whole area, which I found admirable.

At the back of the book, he has included some suggestions for organised rides, and includes the Dunwich Dynamo, which most London cyclists are probably familiar with, and one which I have never heard of ever, the Foulness Island Bike Ride, but which I very much want to attend, having read Jack’s description of it.

I haven’t ridden outside of the M25 quite as much as Jack has, but I have ridden fairly extensively in the south east, but there was plenty in this book to inspire a jaded old hack such as myself. Like Anna, flicking through the book made me want to get on my bike and ride somewhere new.  I am looking forward to an opportunity to ride ‘The Fifth Continent’, a loop in Kent from Ashford to Rye and along to Dungeness.

Being an east Londoner, I have had to make do, for the moment, with Ride No. 28, the Eastern Excursion, which passes from Hackney to North Greenwich and south across to Charlton and back to Hackney.  I can report that the route card and the GPX file work well, and the fact that I took 3 hours to do a 2 hour ride is entirely down to my own dawdling and inability to look at the route sheet at the correct points.

If you listen to the Bike Show, and enjoy it (which I am sure all readers do), then you should buy this book.  Not least because it would only be polite to show your appreciation of Jack’s efforts, which have hitherto cost you nothing, but also because this is an excellent book from which everyone can learn something.  If you are planning to buy the book, please consider buying it directly from the Bike Show web-site, rather than somewhere else – Jack will get more money if you do.

This was Jorge Luis Borges analogy of the Falklands War.  It sprang to mind when I read a blog post on As Easy As Riding A Bike, entitled ‘No surrender’ – the damaging, enduring legacy of the 1930s in British cycle campaigning.  The writer, who normally offers well-informed, if somewhat over-lengthy, critique of current UK cycling policy, takes aim at the so-called ‘vehicular cyclists’, and seeks to apportion some considerable part of blame for the current pitiful state of cycling provision in this country on the CTC.  The thrust is more or less that the CTC has incompetent policy formulation written into its DNA, and draws on CTC policy documents from the 1930s to make a case.  The post flirts with the reductio ad Hitlerum logical fallacy popular with many amateur debaters,  saying: the Cyclists’ Touring Club was strongly in favour of motorway building; they sent a member on a delegation to Hitler’s Germany to look at autobahns.


It is a several thousand word treatise on what is wrong with the CTC, and how the CTC’s tactics, historically and currently, are undermining the efforts to get more people cycling.  

The proposition that because the CTC once espoused ‘bad’ policies, that the CTC is irrecoverably ‘broken’ as an organisation long after the main characters responsible for the policy (or policies) are dead is not really sustainable.  For instance, some years ago the London Cycling Campaign endorsed what many people, including myself, thought was a poorly conceived and executed campaign by TfL called ‘Share the Road’.  I was so disillusioned by the campaign that I resigned my membership and wrote a couple of vituperative blogs (which, I am sure, made no impact on the LCC!) about the campaign.  Afterwards I got involved in a disagreement with an LCC employee over their lack of public campaigning or even mention of HGV deaths that ended with the LCC employee using foul and abusive language in an email to me.

However, I have since rejoined the LCC because their campaigning on the HGV issue, piloted by Charlie Lloyd, is excellent and high-profile, and their other campaigns seem to be a lot less apologetic than they were 6 or 7 years ago, when they appeared to be very much the creature of TfL. Which shows that an organisation can change course quite dramatically.

A response by As Easy As Riding A Bike in the comments section of the post, replying to a suggestion that there might be other ways as well as segregation to get people cycling, citing Hackney, really got my goat.  The author dismissed Hackney as not all that significant because the 7% modal share (7% of all journeys by bike) is rather less than the author would expect, given Hackney’s demographics, i.e. lots of poor people and hipsters live in Hackney.  Oh yeah?  It’s still more than 3 times the average for London, so why so quick to dismiss?

At this point, I have to confess to being a ‘vehicular cyclist’.  A ‘vehicular cyclist’, according to the cant, is a cyclist who uses the existing road networks, and is against ‘segregation’, i.e. bike paths that are separated from the main road-way.  I sort of fit into this category, as I was a bicycle messenger for a number of years, and will ride in almost any prevailing road conditions.  I am against rubbish bike lanes , and view the majority of London’s cycling ‘facilities’ with disfavour.  I wrote an article for the Guardian’s bike blog about the bike lane on Clerkenwell Road saying that I thought it had made cycling on Clerkenwell Road more, not less, dangerous, and this on a road which has seen several cyclists killed in the last 20 years.

1992 flier promoting Moving TargetBut let me be clear – I am not against ‘segregation’.  I don’t enjoy sharing the road with motor vehicles.  I would much rather there were a lot less motor vehicles in London, as they are noisy, smelly, dangerous and are always getting in my way, which is why I distributed this poster (younger readers can think of it as a paper meme), calling for ‘universal discarmament’ in 1992.

My residence overlooks the canal in Hackney.  As well as being able to enjoy the antics of the water fowl, I can also observe how popular the tow-path is with cyclists.  Even on a snowy morning, such as many this winter, there are still people riding along it.  The reasons for the tow-path’s popularity are not hard to work out.  The tow-path doesn’t have cars on it, is direct and doesn’t have inconvenient give-ways or traffic lights.

Would I like to see cycling facilities that are like the tow-path, that is, direct & safe?  Yes, of course I would.  Do I want to see more cycling facilities like the one on the right, i.e. non-direct, not safe and not convenient?  No, especially not if they cost money, and allow whichever municipal body to trumpet their commitment to ‘making London a world-class cycling city’.  Do I think we are worse off with cycling facilities like these?  Yes, I do.  Is it fair to blame cycling facilities like this on the CTC’s Hiearchy of Provision, as AEARAB does? I think it’s a little perverse, and probably falls under Jack Thurston’s favourite aphorism ‘everyone hates cyclists – even other cyclists hate cyclists’.

Attacking cycle campaigning organisations is something that Freewheeler, the writer of Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest blog, also goes in for.  Freewheeler goes even further and on various different occasions accuses people like Roger Geffen of fiddling around the margins, and not being confrontational enough in challenging the car culture, and even betraying the cause.

I am not suggesting arson as the route to mass cycling but I do think that cyclists need to consider challenging the status quo in other ways than tea and biscuits at the Town Hall…  Non-violent direct action stunts are long overdue in British cycle campaigning.

That cycle campaigners have been too polite hitherto to be taken seriously is a quite laughable assertion when applied to Roger Geffen.  When I first met Roger, he was still at the London Cycling Campaign.  I had some dealings with him in the aftermath of the death of London cycle courier Edward Newstead.  Edward was killed in March 1992 by a left-turning lorry on the junction of Oxford Street and Holles Street.  He was the 5th bicycle messenger known to have died whilst working in London, but the first whose passing was marked in a meaningful way.

A flier (that’s a hand-bill for my north American readers) was passed amongst the courier community, announcing that a memorial ride would start from Marble Arch and go to the spot where Edward had been killed, i.e. we would all ride down Oxford Street.  The LCC heard of the ride and got in touch.  They wanted to help.

I met with Mark Paul Gasson, then the chair, and Roger Geffen, then the campaigns leader, and discussed what we should do.  I had to push back a little because I felt that a memorial ride wasn’t the correct back-drop for an overtly political campaign stunt, which is what Roger originally conceived of doing – banners, slogans etc.

Memorial ride for Edward Newstead, Oxford Street, 1992The memorial itself was not intended to be confrontational; we did, however, block Oxford Street completely for several minutes when we stopped and fixed a bouquet and sign near the spot where Edward was killed.  This prompted a bus driver, stationary and frustrated, to utter the memorable line: “you don’t know the grief you’re causing”.  As I wrote in this post, the action had little impact beyond those who were there, or read about it in Moving Target and the Daily Cyclist, but it felt important, significant, that we hadn’t just let Edward’s death pass unmarked.  Edward’s family afterwards expressed their thanks for our efforts.

At the time I saw it as an overtly political action, and said so.  The action didn’t need banners or slogans.  It was pretty clear to all on-lookers what was going on – cyclists staging a bike-in, because we were pissed off with the status quo.

Later on in the decade I came across Roger again at the M11 protests.  He had moved on from the LCC to real, proper Non Violent Direct Action.  The NVDAs in and around Wanstead, Leyton and Leytonstone were serious.  People got hurt.  At the time, I wasn’t totally au fait with the political philosophy behind NVDA, but it was very obvious that even very small scale NVDAs, routine stuff such as trying to stop lorries delivering supplies or removing spoil, almost always resulted in violent outcomes.

I saw one man, who had crawled underneath a big lorry to try and stop it, get crushed by a wheel.  Another had his arm held against a very hot exhaust manifold by security people to get him to release his grip on the underside of the lorry. Nearly everyone, including me, despite my fairly timid efforts, ended up covered in mud and the thick, cloying grease that covers all heavy machinery, and there was a lot of angry shouting, and considerable physical jeopardy for the protestors.  And this was at a relatively insignificant action, as nothing compared to what happened later at Claremont Road.

It was scary stuff, and, when I saw him, Roger was right at the heart of the action, utterly committed and fearless.  At the time, I remember thinking that Roger was a total head-banger, albeit in a hi-viz  jacket, wearing glasses and a mucky-looking pair of cords.  So I think I can be excused if I find the suggestion, implicit in the phrase tea and biscuits at the Town Hall, that Roger Geffen is a lap-dog who loves nothing better than cuddling up to the petrol-heads in charge of Britain’s roads totally wrong-headed and somewhat risible.  It’s even more laughable when considering that the M11 campaign took place entirely within Freewheeler’s patch, Waltham Forest.

I’m not accusing As Easy As Riding A Bike of being as polemical as Freewheeler, but I wonder why, at a time when the Mayor of London won’t even devote as much as 2% of his transport budget to cycling (surely not too much to expect, given a cycling modal share of 2% in London), and has recently appointed a journalist crony who happens to cycle, Andrew Gilligan, to the very well-paid post of Cycling Commissioner, bloggers are using up thousands of words on denigrating Roger Geffen and the CTC?   I’m not the most prolific blogger in the world, and a thousand words probably takes me a lot longer than Freewheeler and AEARAB, but this is surely hours spent on trashing CTC.

Which brings me back to the title.  I’m not all that familiar with the cycling politics or the politics of cycling in other countries – I guess it is human nature to feud – but for as long as there have been cycling organisations,  there have been feuds, whether we’re talking about the Clarion Clubs and the CTC, the NCU and the BLRC, hell, even the British Cycling Federation (precursor of British Cycling) was in a dreadful state 25 years ago, suffering regular allegations of corruption and incompetence.

But given the still pitiful state of cycling provision in this country, these arguments do make me think of two bald men fighting over a comb.

From Hackney Cyclists:

1st February: Cycling surges. Car ownership collapses.


Figures released from the 2011 Census this week reveal large increases in the number and proportion of London residents who use cycling as their main way to get to work. Across London as a whole, 4.3% now cycle to work, while the figure in inner London is 7%. Hackney has London’s highest proportion of people cycling to work, at 14.6% (or 15.5% if you exclude employed people who work from home).

Meanwhile car ownership is plummetting in inner London, and especially in Hackney, where the proportion of households which are car-free has risen to 64.6%, up from 56% in 2001, with just 170 motor vehicles per 1000 people, and about 4000 fewer cars owned overall, even though the population has increased by 44,000.

I’m not sure exactly what lessons can be learned from Hackney.  The difficulty with changes in behaviour is that it can be difficult to figure out what the causes are, unless credibly large surveys of road users are undertaken.  Without such surveys, what you have are correlations, rather than causes.

A tweeter suggested that the rise in cycling in London since 2000 was caused by the introduction of the Congestion Charge.  It is probable that the Con Charge was a cause, but equally I could suggest that, since the fixie craze started in the early noughties, this was a cause of the rise of cycling.  I’m not seriously suggesting that the increase in cycling in London is down to the availability of off the peg fixed wheel bicycles, and that Jan, owner of Brick Lane Bikes, and a former London bicycle courier, is a more important figure in the Hackneyisation of London than Ken Livingstone, but it is a fact that Hackney is the home turf of those pesky hipsters, whose preferred form of transport is the fixie.

I’d like to believe that the drop in car ownership and rise in cycling is caused by Hackney Council making it less economically attractive to own and operate a car, and thus more economically attractive to ride a bike, so Hackney residents have changed their behaviour over the last 20 years,  but it could also be that cycling-minded people have been attracted to come and live in Hackney, and petrol-heads have moved elsewhere, to places like Barnet, where they feel more welcome.

Either way, this is good news for Hackney, which has often been a source of bad news, so Hackney Council should be proud that it is getting something right, as seems pretty clear from these numbers.