Note: The post below makes much the same point as this post on ‘As Easy as Riding a Bike’, and he mentions some stuff that I haven’t, so both posts are worth reading. I suspect we were typing simultaneously!
I thought we were making some progress. I was feeling pleased with the good-natured discussions with Roger Geffen, the Campaigns & Policy Director of the CTC. I was really happy to see the CTC officially announce that they would be supporting good quality Dutch-style infrastructure.
Well, today they had a chance to offer their support to a campaign which is demanding good quality cycle infrastructure, and they fluffed it.
When I read CTC’s response to TfL’s dreadful proposals for the roundabout on the Westminster end of Lambeth Bridge, my heart sank. I didn’t want to have to write another piece criticising the CTC (well, not yet, anyway) but I have to call them out on this one.
The problem is this:
Our preferred option in this situation would be to redesign the layout of the roundabout along ‘continental’ lines – that is, with a single lane roundabout and small curve radii single exits and entry lanes. Such a design is recommended in the London Cycle Design Standards.
So the CTC – who, let’s remember, recently declared support for quality segregation – are telling TfL that their design choice would be simply to reduce the roundabout approaches and exits to one lane each way, to be shared by cyclists and motor vehicles. To my mind, that is not “support for quality segregation” but more of the same “marginal improvements for existing cyclists” ethos.
What they’re suggesting here is a solution which is fine for vehicular cyclists who can hold the lane and ride in a primary position (i.e. those who have the balls to get in right in front of the buses and taxis) but it will do absolutely nothing to attract people who don’t currently cycle.
When my partner read the CTC’s solution, her first words were “I still wouldn’t ride there,” and I can’t argue with that. Most people don’t want to ride amongst motor vehicles. That’s an entirely reasonable and rational decision to make.
So if we can’t even make it easy for bike riders to turn right at a fairly simple junction like this, then why would anybody who doesn’t already cycle on the road choose to use this route? Will the CTC’s design be attractive to those who don’t currently cycle? The Dutch solution is good for everyone – hardened VC commuters included – whereas CTC’s preferred solution merely improves conditions for those who are brave or stupid enough to cycle there anyway.
The odd thing is, the very next paragraph goes on to acknowledge the vastly superior Dutch-style proposal which everyone else wants:
Whilst we understand that the London Cycling Campaign have proposed fully segregated cycle tracks around the roundabout, we feel this is sensible only if priority over entering and exiting traffic can be provided to cyclists. This could be achieved by extending the zebra raised table to the mouth of each exit and entry way, enabling priority cycle crossings to be provided in accordance with TfL and DfT guidance. Dutch guidance on the provision of cycle tracks at roundabouts is clear that cyclists must have right of way in these circumstances.
Well yes, of course right-of-way is an important part of the Dutch-style roundabout! So you can now put this as your preferred solution, right? No need to suggest some sort of half-measure as your favourite.
The CTC are still doing much better than they would have in years gone by – at least the Dutch design is suggested as a second-best option, and with a reasonable caveat too. Maybe there are internal politics at work in the CTC and this two-tiered statement is a reflection of behind-the-scenes tussles for power. (If there is someone there who tried to get the Dutch-style roundabout as the preferred option then I salute you, keep up the good work!)
A ‘continental-style’ gift to Boris
Oddly enough, the LCC said pretty much the same thing about a ‘continental-style’ roundabout. You can find it at the end of this article (although it was their second choice, not their preferred solution).
Why on earth would they do that? Why give Boris the chance to say “what-ho chaps, we installed the roundabout that cyclists wanted, both the LCC and CTC asked for it!” You know he will. And when the first cyclist is killed at the new roundabout TfL will tell everyone that the design was recommended by the LCC and it was the CTC’s first choice.
However, if everyone asked for the proper, high-quality design – no watered-down “continental” roundabout – then they could at least say to the press, “we told TfL it was dangerous, but they refused to install the safe, proven design we asked for.”
We campaigners need to stop asking for half-measures like this. Suggesting compromises is what TfL will do anyway, so let’s not offer them up on a plate. Would you go into a job interview and immediately say “I’d like £30,000 per year but if that’s too much then I’ll accept £15,000″? Because that’s what the LCC and CTC have done here.
But the thing is, everyone else is asking for the good-quality Dutch-style roundabout. I’m pretty sure that readers of this blog (I love each and every one of you, by the way) have also read this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and I’m sure there’s others. It seems to me that on this specific issue pretty much all cycling campaigners are united, while the CTC still say that they’d prefer cyclists to stay on the road, thanks very much for asking.
Yet Roger Geffen (who seems pretty decent) tells me about 1996, when the CTC were working at getting the government to invest in cycling: “At the very moment when we needed to focus on securing funding … the cycling lobby instead broke into a big argument about segregation. This merely provided Whitehall with a perfect excuse to allocate no funding to cycling – “if cyclists can’t agree what they want, what’s the point of funding it?” In other words, we allowed ourselves to be divided and ruled… and we’ve been living with the consequences ever since. … Will we now learn from history, and work together to mobilise the political support we need for cycling to flourish – or are we condemned to repeat it?”
Based on their Lambeth Bridge roundabout statement it seems that the CTC are the ones who haven’t learned from history. Theirs is the voice which will cause the government to ignore real improvements for cycling. Currently, there is near-unanimous agreement about which is the best option for the Lambeth Bridge roundabout, and the CTC is the odd one out asking for more of the same old vehicular crap.
Taking a step back
Why are we campaigning? Who are we campaigning for? Do we only want marginal improvements for current cyclists, or do we want cycling to become a simple and safe transport option for the whole population?
Asking for better vehicular cycling conditions is not going to induce more people to ride a bike – those of us who already cycle do so despite the conditions. We need improvements to infrastructure so that many more people will take up cycling because of the conditions; because it will be an appealing transport option.
Demand the best, and who knows, we may even get what we want one day.
It’s not all bad, however. They “strongly disagree with the proposal to deposit cyclists onto a ‘shared use’ footway before and after the roundabout … very few of the current users are likely to use such a fiddly and inconvenient means of negotiating the roundabout” which is spot on. (Though I’d love to know if TfL used the CTC’s very own advice to justify these shared zones, as they’re a perfectly acceptable option according to the Hierarchy of Provision.)
They’ve also pointed out the weakness of TfL’s “cyclists can use zebra crossings” line (which is obviously a sop to try and placate us): “Current regulations do not permit cyclists to use zebra crossings. Although TfL’s observations have previously found drivers do give way to cyclists on zebras, we do not think it acceptable to use these as priority crossings for cyclists until regulations change to formalise this approach.”
They’re right to point this out – to me, the “bikes on zebras” thing is a cynical ploy by TfL to get cycling campaigners to accept their design, as it looks like you can ride around the roundabout with priority, of sorts. But once the dust has settled and the Met stops a cyclist from riding over the zebras, TfL will say “sorry we didn’t realise, we’ll look into it” and we’ll be pushing our bikes over the zebra crossings for the next five years while we wait to hear back.