Andrew Gilligan versus TfL’s love for motor vehicles

You know what? This Andrew Gilligan chap might not be half bad. I went to a talk last week at which he was the main event, and I went in full cynical miserable sod mode as usual, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Now, all the excitement about the Mayor’s cycling “Vision” has died down and is giving way to more sober scrutiny, although I wonder why we cycling campaigners weren’t cheering for Caroline Pidgeon rather than Boris all those weeks ago. (We have a voice in the London Assembly who has seen the Vision and is calling for more! Surely we should be behind that 100%?)

Having said that, I do like a lot of the language in the “Mayor’s Vision” document, which was written by Gilligan. There’s lots of bold statements about doing things right and about treating cycling as a proper mode of transport, all of which is very pleasing to the cycle campaigner’s eye. At the talk he told us that he accepts that installing cycle paths will sometimes increase journey times for motor vehicles – something which was heresy at TfL a couple of years ago, and probably remains so in certain quarters.

He was also very blunt about some of the crap cycle infrastructure which has been installed in recent years (yes, he used the word “crap”), openly admitting that much of what’s been done, and what continues to be done, simply isn’t anywhere near good enough.

But there’s also some rather less bold statements, about shared bus-and-bike lanes for example (Will motorbikes and taxis still be allowed in them? Is it fair that 50 bus passengers have to wait behind me as I ride at a casual 8mph?), and a strange faith in the power of mandatory cycle lanes (“which motor vehicles cannot enter” – ha!), but still, things seem to be pointing in the right general direction at least.

I was rather disappointed by Gilligan’s target of 5% cycling modal share by 2020, which I consider to be rather unambitious, but at least he did explain his reasoning behind this, which is that it’s a larger increase than anywhere else has managed, so a higher target is very unlikely. (Though I wonder if he’s taken the awfulness of rush-hour public transport into consideration – surely Londoners would flock to a safe, free alternative to the Central line?). I may disagree with the figure, but at least he put some thought into it unlike Edinburgh city council which picked a number out of thin air before deciding not to bother.

So even though I don’t agree with everything he says, I do like the way in which Gilligan comes across (though I suspect that’s one reason why he got the job in the first place). I think this might be because he’s a journalist and therefore skilled at communication, but also because he’s not a politician. He didn’t have to make any promises to a braying public in order to get the job, and he’s not chasing any votes in the future, so he doesn’t have to sugar coat bad news or slither his way around tricky questions. I found his honesty and candour to be quite refreshing, and I was impressed to see that he didn’t rush off immediately afterwards but instead stayed behind discussing things with attendees without even a hint of wanting to be somewhere else.

So I want this post to be read in the spirit of constructive criticism, rather than just whinging. I’m also aware that I covered this topic in my last post, but I’m going to talk about cycle paths along main roads again anyway.

Quietways should be secondary routes

At the talk on Monday there was much discussion of the Quietways and the obstacles which will need to be overcome. One big problem is that the local borough councils control most of the roads, and therefore TfL will need their co-operation (and the co-operation of residents) to implement the Quietways.

When Gilligan was giving hypothetical of the new routes which will roughly follow tube lines, he said something like “for example, you could take the Bakerloo superhighway to Baker Street then get on the Circle Quietway to Kings Cross” as he waved his hand to the south, rather than out of the north-facing window towards the wide, thundering, TfL-controlled clearway of Marylebone Road which lay right outside the building we were in.

I understand that was just an example and that he wasn’t giving us any hints about a probable route for this part of the network – he was very careful to not make any announcements like that yet – but I got out my map anyway and looked for a possible route from Baker Street to Kings Cross which didn’t involve riding along the terrifying but conveniently direct urban motorway which is the A501 (AKA Marylebone Road and Euston Road).

The Mayor’s Vision document says that “unlike the old London Cycle Network, Quietways will be direct” but it’s just not possible here. The best I could find was the red line shown below:

A map showing two routes from Baker Street to Kings Cross in London. The direct route on TfL roads, and the complex wiggly route on local council roads.

Dangerous but direct route (in blue), or safe but slow Quietway (in red)? The dual network awaits your selection!

In his introduction to the Vision document, Boris Johnson says: “Cycling will be treated not as niche, marginal, or an afterthought, but as what it is: an integral part of the transport network, with the capital spending, road space and traffic planners’ attention befitting that role.”

Sounds great, but that red line doesn’t look like an “integral part of the transport network” to me.

The Vision’s promise of direct Quietways simply isn’t physically possible here. I strongly suspect that if the only option was a back-street Quietway, most of those hardened commuter cyclists who already cycle from Baker Street to Kings Cross will simply continue to do so along the A501. So who is the Quietway for? Surely we’re not talking about the ridiculous “dual networkagain?!

Why would TfL continue to prioritise motor traffic while keeping cycling hidden on the back streets?

Perhaps it’s because of London’s narrow medieval road system – after all, the A501 only has seven lanes for motor vehicles here and a central divider (how quaintly 10th-century!) so I guess the bike users will have to slum it where they don’t get in the way of all that very important burning of fossil fuel:

A photograph of Marylebone Road in London, which has six lanes for traffic and one parking lane.

“London doesn’t have wide roads like New York City” (Pic: Google Maps)

If Boris is telling the truth, then the only option is to take space from Marylebone Road/Euston Road and turn it into cycle path. Otherwise we’re just prioritising motor vehicles yet again (“Driving from A to B? Take the straight, direct road! Cycling from A to B? Turn right, then second left, then a dog-leg at the next lights, then left, then third right…”).

The nice thing about this is that it would join up with the much-lauded Westway bike paths and – if you’ll permit me a moment of fantasy – from Kings Cross they could easily tackle Farringdon Road, Blackfriars Bridge and Road… Sort Park Lane out too, and we have a central London circular cycle route!

This is a problem which the Quietways will come up against time and time again – very often, the only direct routes between popular locations are the big, busy roads. It’s a problem which will become particularly acute anywhere near the Thames, as nearly all the bridges are heavily used by motor traffic. Unless Gilligan has a big enough budget for two-dozen new bridges along the Thames then bikes will have to be accommodated on the existing bridges, and this can only be done by taking space from motor vehicles (or the footways – this isn’t an anti-car thing – on the western side of Blackfriars Bridge where the footway is extremely wide, for example).

It’s not an insurmountable problem, but creating safe, clear space for cycling will require the cojones to take space away from motor vehicles, which I hope Andrew Gilligan has.

A focus on Quietways means the LCC’s “Go Dutch” campaign failed

Without being prepared to put bike paths on main roads such as the A501, the Mayor’s Vision is not what we wanted. David Arditti’s Go Dutch option won the LCC’s campaign vote by a huge majority, and subsequent events have shown how popular the Dutch concept is. Even after LCC’s yellow-bellied mangling of the wording, there’s only one thing that “Go Dutch: clear space for cycling on main roads in every borough” could possibly mean – Dutch-style cycle paths along main roads. (They weren’t suggesting we all speak Dutch while being tailgated by a bus, were they?)

But that’s not what the Quietways concept is.

Don’t get me wrong – the Quietways are a hugely important addition to a proper segregated network of cycle paths, but on their own they’re not the cycling revolution we’ve been promised. They shouldn’t be the primary cycling routes.

Maybe I’m being impatient here, but I worry that the Quietways is yet another attempt at providing cycling routes without adversely affecting motor traffic in any way, and which will therefore ultimately doomed to die an obscure death on the back streets.

And maybe I’m getting ahead of myself too – Gilligan didn’t give any details about the route, perhaps even the phrase “Circle Quietway from Baker Street to Kings Cross” was just a throw-away example. Perhaps they really are cooking up something exciting for the A501. I really hope so.

I really don’t want to sound down on Gilligan, as I think he gets cycling in a way that nobody of influence at TfL has done before. But by going after this seemingly easy option of the wiggly back-street routes he runs the very real danger of repeating the mistakes of the LCN and LCN+, despite aims and promises to the contrary.

Does Gilligan have the power and influence to change decades of motor-centric culture at TfL, or is he there to use his journalistic skills to put a positive spin on lacklustre efforts?

Perhaps the real battle isn’t the one which Gilligan is prepared to enter with the boroughs, but the fight with a much bigger foe, which is long overdue. I speak of every liveable London and safer streets campaigner’s worst nemesis: TfL’s Network Assurance department.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Andrew Gilligan versus TfL’s love for motor vehicles

  1. Had a meeting in work this week about what we shall be bidding on for the Mayor’s cycling pot (car-centric outer-London Borough) and I cautioned on Quietways – unless they are direct. Trouble is, Mayor wants projects built this year as “quick wins” even though boroughs have not yet made bids and they won’t be agreed by the Mayor until the Summer. Why cannot he wait a year to get proper local plans drawn up. I will do my best!

  2. davidjbates

    “Maybe I’m being impatient here….”

    Maybe part of the problem is that we’ve all been too patient and too reasonable. I’m with George Bernard Shaw on this one:

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

    Although this being the 21st Century I’d probably substitute the word “person” for “man”.

    We’ll always get less than we want, so if we make “reasonable” demands what we’ll get is useless “solutions”. If we’re sufficiently unreasonable, maybe we’d get something approaching adequate!

  3. On a slightly different topic, you can see on this map that I have transferred onto Google maps all the route information contained in the Ipswich Cycle Route map [pdf].

    When I had first finished drawing all the lines, I sat back to see what it looked like, and my initial thought was: Oh bother! I’ve missed out a load! But no, this is just a cycle route map, and not a cycle network map.

    The next thing I am going to do is lay compass colours over the top. It is far from certain that in this instance I would be able to successfully apply all of the five rules that I have imposed upon myself (as identified towards the end of this blog), but this is what I do, so I am going to have a go.

    If I am able to create a sufficiently elegant network design, I will submit it to the local authority for their consideration. If they accept it, my hope is that, once they had finalised all their plans and whatnot, they would begin by “introducing” the network, so that, if nothing else, it “functions”. Essentially this would entail doing as much as possible at least bureaucracy first, including the laying down of repeat markers on roads. I can already imagine the response from the cycling community:

    “No, not good enough. Sorry. No good for children. The only thing we would accept is something really snazzy.” The local authority might reply that this is not possible at the moment, and that in any case, it would take time to deliver: these markers are simply part of an ongoing programme. “No,” the cycling lobby will reply, “there’s something else wrong with this approach, which we can’t quite put our finger on just now, but give us a moment, and we’ll think of something.” “Right,” the local authority will answer, “so we’ll just do nothing then, shall we?” “No, not nothing,” the response will come back. “Just bits and pieces.” “But this is not regarded as a prudent course to follow.” “Prudence schmudence!”

    In 2006, a consortium of five boroughs agreed to study the feasibility of my proposed network (proposed study area). If the network would have been introduced back then, we knew that, over the years, it would get further developed. Alas! this was rejected by TfL “in light of the views expressed by the London Cycling Campaign”.

    And now it is time to meet Hobbins, Registrar of Deeds, and what account shall we give of ourselves? More than one hundred people have been killed on their bikes since 2006, and I would be interested to know how the development of an amenable cycling environment has been advanced during this period. Have we not budged an inch since then?

    Just a couple more points, if I may. You mentioned that Andrew Gilligan gave a “hypothetical” of the new routes, which we are told will roughly follow tube lines. He said something like: “For example, you could take the Bakerloo Superhighway to Baker Street then get on the Circle Quietway to King’s Cross”

    Given that King’s Cross is our hypothetical destination, and given that we are hypothetically starting our journey somewhere on the Bakerloo Superhighway, let’s keep it regal and use a hypothetical start point of Queen’s Park. The most direct route (B413 – A5 – A501) is 4.12 miles. An alternative route (local – G4 – C2 – R4a – O8) is 4.27 miles, that is, just under 4% further. But you get a little bit of greenery along the way, and of course much less pollution.

    I can only speculate what course the official routes would take, but it is highly probable that the Circle Quietway would be based on the old Seven Stations link. Again, I don’t know how it is intended that this would connect up to the Bakerloo Superhighway, but I have made a reasonable guess at this. The route I have identified is 4.93 miles, which is about 20% further (map).

    We know that cyclists will tolerate diversions of up to about 10%. The hypothetical route would take cyclists too far out of their way. Since the route is not direct, it is not likely to be useful; and since it is not useful, it is not likely to be used (in this particular case, at any rate).

    What will most likely happen is that people would use the quality routes where it suits them, and do their own thing where it doesn’t. But I don’t think it needs to be this way. We know that cyclists need connectivity, and we know that cyclists need density. We also know, as things currently stand, we are not going to get this.

    This leads me on to my second point. David Bates quotes Bernard Shaw. I have thought long and hard about this quote, because it seems to me that what I am suggesting is entirely reasonable. (Please feel free to controvert me!)

    During the most recent BBC Sports Personality of the Year, a retired couple were honoured with something like a People’s Award after their tireless efforts to get a Sports Centre developed in their local town. The wife referred to this quote, and told people that they should also be unreasonable!

    It occurred to me afterwards that the development of a Sports Centre in a town which hasn’t got one is not unreasonable. However, in order for this couple to make “progress” with this initiative, it required all the “unreasonable” men and women to get out of the way with their cobwebs, and their petty fault-finding, and their Naysaying. In other words, progress depended on the unreasonable men and women only insofar as they were prepared to step to one side.

    Back in 2005 Darren Johnson undertook a study of the LCN+, and concluded that unless there was a change of gear in delivering the network, it may not be completed until 2016 – seven years behind schedule. Despite this, a year later, when a few boroughs gathered together and submitted a bid for just £60k to undertake a feasibility study of a much more extensive, though less heavily engineered network, LCC told TfL that their priority was for TfL and the boroughs “to complete LCN+ by 2009/10″.

    To paraphrase Henry Thoreau, If one were to judge the LCC wholly by the effects of their actions and not partly by their intentions, they would deserve to be classed and punished with those mischievous persons who put obstructions on the railroads.

  4. Pingback: TfL must surely be running out of options now | The Alternative Department for Transport

  5. Pingback: Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies | The Alternative Department for Transport

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