Tag Archives: TfL

Boris Johnson is an arsehole

If you want to show your anger to the Mayor and TfL, please join the Stop The Killing campaign, which is rapidly growing into a campaign to improve our roads for everyone, however they choose to get around.

Though this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you, I’ll say it anyway:

What a complete and utter turd the current Mayor of London is.

Allow me to explain why I feel this way.

People’s deaths are not a call-to-action for him, but an opportunity to distract the population from discussing the real issues.

Just when it seemed everyone was talking about how the roads are dangerously designed and how much better they could be, Boris sees that this is making himself look bad, so he throws a dead cat on the table.

I’ll allow the Mayor himself to describe the ‘dead cat’ manoeuvre:

“Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case.

“Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre described as ‘throwing a dead cat on the table’.

“Everyone will shout ‘Jeez, there’s a dead cat on the table!’

“In other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

And that is exactly what he has done by talking about people wearing headphones while riding bikes after being asked about the many recent deaths while cycling.

What an absolutely shitty, cynical, cold-hearted thing to do. Tarnish the names of the recently deceased to save his own political skin. Classy.

Suddenly, all the focus is on those bloody cyclists, endangering themselves and everyone around them. It’s almost as if they want to die!

Of course, Boris wants to make clear that he’s not accusing the recently deceased of cycling dangerously. Oh no, perish the thought! But then by launching into some bullshit about headphones, what’s the average person in the street meant to think? Of course people will put two and two together, and are now happily blaming the victims.

And now he’s got hundreds of police standing on street corners stopping Londoners on bikes and giving them dubious “advice“. What does this look like to Denise Driver and Barry Busrider? “Ah, thank goodness something’s being done about those bloody cyclists!”

Anyway, the point of this post is to show you that we can’t trust a word the Mayor says. Promises are made but then conveniently forgotten about. Today he’ll be your best friend, but when you look back in six months you’ll see that he was actually your worst enemy all along.

It’s hardly headline news that the original section of Cycle Superhighway 2 is well beyond crap. But I wanted to do a post comparing the Mayor’s rhetoric with the delivered reality, so that’s probably a good place to start.

All the quotes are from this 2009 press release announcing how great the Cycle Superhighways were going to be. I guess the lesson is not to believe anything that the Mayor says, his words are meaningless.

Boris Johnson quote: "The Cycle Superhighways show we are serious about delivering real, positive changes that will benefit us all." Below, a photo of cars parked on a Cycle Superhighway, and a bike rider forced outside.

The real, positive change here is visible below the cars on the left, clearly benefiting us all.
(Photo: Mark Treasure)

 

Boris Johnson quote: "On these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them." Below, a photo of Cycle Superhighway 2 in action. A large van is loading on the left, a taxi is driving on the Superhighway itself, and cars are queued in the outside lane. A lone cyclist squeezes between the van and taxi.

Clear as mud, that is.
(Photo: Mark Treasure)

 

Boris Johnson quote: "No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power." Below, a photo of a bike rider overtaking a stopped bus while cars pass on the right.

This one is so false it’s beyond parody.
(Photo: Mark Treasure)

 

Boris Johnson quote: "The bike is the best way to travel in this wonderful city of ours." Below, a photo of a closed bike lane, with no alternative route provided, only "dismount" signs

If you enjoy being made to feel like subhuman scum, that is.
(Photo: Mark Treasure)

 

Kulveer Ranger quote: "I'm sure these routes will prove a hugely welcome addition to London's cycling infrastructure." Below, a photo of a large cycling protest, flowers laid on the Cycle Superhighway to mark someone's death.

Far from being “hugely welcome” the Cycle Superhighways were so bad that they drew large protests after a series of deaths.
(Photo: Caroline Allen)

 

David Brown quote: "The routes will provide safe, fast and direct routes into central London." Below, a photo of the aftermath of a fatal accident, with police in addendance.

Transport for London continue to claim their Cycle Superhighways are safe, despite many near-identical fatal collisions.
(Photo: Martin Donkin)

 

 


I wasn’t the only one thinking this way: Two Wheels Good blog on victim blaming, Operation Safeway and the dead cat.

 

 

16 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A very British protest

I’ve taken some time away from cycle campaigning stuff these past few days, partly to get on with some real work, and partly because I was annoyed at myself.

I went to the Bow roundabout vigil/protest on Wednesday evening, after having written the article calling for civil disobedience at the event. But once there, I found I didn’t know how to start it. There seemed to be few opportunities to change the planned course of events.

The hundreds of people there rode around the roundabout (which had been closed off by the cops for us) and had a minute’s silence. Then after a few megaphone-amplified words from an LCC bod, we were asked to leave as quickly as possible to minimise disruption to the roads.

That really annoyed me. I should have shouted something then. I should have yelled out that I was not leaving. What’s the point in turning up to mourn and protest a needless death if we leave without making a fuss?

But the moment passed and the crowd was moving away. Looking back, I know I’d have got at least a few voices of support from the crowd. Hindsight is always 20/20.

I hung around afterwards there at Bow junction, living the 1960s dream for quarter of an hour or so. The traffic jams cleared within minutes and Bow junction was soon flowing normally.

The protest was a kitten’s meow, not a lion’s roar. Most of the drivers in the queues probably weren’t even aware of what was happening, or even that anything was happening at all.

It’s clear that I’m not the only one who feels frustrated by the polite meekness of these protests. Enough with the British reserve, at long last someone has organised a protest with some growl.

A die-in at TfL’s headquarters opposite Southwark tube station on Blackfriars Road has been organised for 5 to 6.30pm on Friday 29th of November.

The event page on Facebook already has over 700 people claiming they’ll attend. Even if half this number show up, it stands a good chance of being a successful and highly visible, headline-grabbing protest.

I am not a cyclist, I’m just riding a bike

I do think that the protest can be about more than just “cyclists” (there’s that toxic word).

In TfL’s world, everybody who isn’t currently in a motor vehicle comes second to those who are, and this movement could easily widen out to include people with disabilities, parents with prams and pushchairs, elderly people who can’t walk fast, people with asthma and other respiratory problems.

Do we want to live in cities where everyone drives everywhere, places where walking or cycling is dangerous and deviant? Or would we prefer pleasant communities with a wealth of transport options, breathable air and an absence of death-horror-crash stories in the newspaper?

It’s not just TfL, of course – our government is hell-bent on locking us all into our cars and forcing Britain to drive everywhere for everything, all the time. They are predicting that cycling as a mode of transport will stagnate, and will plan accordingly to create the conditions to fulfil their predictions.

Perhaps the Friday 29th protest is just the starter, a catalyst that starts a wider campaign off. I’d love to see a broad amalgamation of people who are angry at the way our cities, towns and villages are all subservient to the dictatorship of the petroleum.

I’ll be there, and I really do hope it’s the start of something big.

 


By the way, I’ve had nothing at all to do with organising the die-in protest outside TfL HQ, despite rumours to the contrary. I’ll be tackling the “Nazi” thing in a separate post, in case you were wondering.

 

 

14 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The new Mornington Crescent junction design is an insult to us all

I was alerted to TfL and Camden Council’s plans for Mornington Crescent by Rachel Aldred’s recent article about it.

Usually when someone else writes about a subject I leave it, as there’s little point in covering the same ground, but the design for this junction is so appalling I thought it was worth writing a brief article myself.

I encourage everybody to respond to Camden’s consultation about this design, which ends on Tuesday. Ignore their leading questions, none of which involve cycling (just say “no”), and tell them exactly what you think in the comments box at the end.

Let’s take a look at it, shall we?

TfL and Camden plans for Mornington Crescent / Cobden Junction. The usual 1990s arrangement of advisory cycle lanes, ASLs and lots of space for motor vehicles.

What, no #space4cycling?

Now, it’s being touted as an improvement on the existing arrangement, but it isn’t really. It’s mildly better in some respects, especially that there are fewer crossings required when walking, but in almost all other respects it’s no better. (I’m sure it’s better for driving, somehow.)

So what do we have? Despite the tons of space available, the cycling “infrastructure” consists of narrow advisory painted cycle lanes and ASLs. That’s it.

Certainly, from a cycling perspective I fail to see how this design works at all. It doesn’t even approach the Mayor’s “Vision”, which is turning out to be more and more blurred with each passing day. (Perhaps this is one of those already-in-the-pipeline “crap designs” Andrew Gilligan warned us about?)

It’s a hymn to motoring, a design straight out of TfL’s Network Assurance department’s textbook. I don’t cycle there now, and I wouldn’t cycle there if this was installed. Would you be happy for your children or your parents cycle here?

Would those responsible for this scheme be happy to cycle there with their nearest and dearest? I sincerely doubt it.

Consultation Schmonsultation

While I’m on the subject, am I right in thinking that these online consultations are rigged? These yes/no questions ask about all the good stuff, and then you find yourself at the bottom of the page having agreed with everything they’re doing.

“Do you think more trees are nice”? Yes, course!

“Do you think the wider pavement will be better”? Sure!

“Aren’t kittens adorable?” Certainly!

“Thanks for completing our survey and giving your 100% support for our plans to drive a motorway through the neighbourhood.” What?! Hang on!

So don’t agree to anything. Just fill in that box at the bottom telling them that their plans are really crap, and they’d better think again.

Do it now!

 


Update, 1st October 2013: On the Cycling Embassy‘s forum, user ‘iBikeDream’ has posted a version of the plans with Dutch-style cycle tracks. Great work!

A re-worked version of TfL's plans, but with high quality cycle paths suitable for everyone.

Now this is more like it!

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

An open letter to Aaron Rosser and TfL

I wrote this a few days ago, but I thought it might become irrelevant after the big announcement on Thursday.

But I see now that this message is actually more relevant than it was before.

To Aaron Rosser, TfL Cycle Superhighways project manager, and all at TfL who are involved with designing facilities for cycling:

Hello Aaron (and others at TfL),

We don’t know each other, but in my life as a transport campaigner I meet many people with whom I discuss transport issues. (Some of them even know my secret identity as the writer of this blog!)

Not too long ago at a road safety event I met someone who told me they’d had a good conversation with you about the Cycle Superhighways project. Don’t worry, my source was quite complimentary about you!

I’m told that you were very happy to discuss any aspect of the new CS designs, and that you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your work, which is great to hear. Of course, you have to work within restrictions beyond your control, from both inside TfL and out, which can limit your options. I was also told that you’re mildly embarrassed by the grandiose name for the project — it certainly gives you a lot to live up to!

Apparently, if you were given a blank cheque you’d go nuts with great cycling infrastructure all over London. I’m very pleased to hear this, if it’s true. You sound like a great person for the job.

But then one little morsel of information shocked and disappointed me: You haven’t been to study the infrastructure in the Netherlands?!

Please say it ain’t so! I really don’t see how anybody can be considered a suitable person to design cycling infrastructure if they haven’t studied the Netherlands, any more than someone could be considered an expert on Elvis Presley without ever having listened to his records.

Apparently, you’re planning a trip to Paris to see what’s going on there. This is good – Paris is a large city which has already begun responding to calls for better cycling infrastructure. But this, to stick with my Elvis analogy, is a bit like our supposed expert listening to the Pet Shop Boys’ version of You Were Always On My Mind without having heard Elvis’ recording.*

I’m sure TfL would like a trip to New York too – why not! As a London tax-payer, I endorse it. Please do visit New York, to see how they have transformed Times Square from a motorway into a pleasant space by removing motor traffic — then come home and do the same to Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus. But visiting New York to study bike facilities is like listening to Gareth Gates’ version of Suspicious Minds instead of the definitive rendition.*

What I’m getting at is this: If you want the real deal, you’ve got to go to Graceland to see The King – by which I mean go to the Netherlands and see David Hembrow. I can’t recommend this guy highly enough. He’s had an enormous influence on the thinking of many UK cycle campaigners, many of them undergoing an epiphany which changed them from committed Vehicular Cyclists into dedicated Infrastructuralists (that is a word now!).

He’s had this effect in two ways. The first is his blog, A View From The Cycle Path, in which he calmly and clearly explains why Dutch infrastructure works so well. He deals with many of the myths and rumours about the Netherlands and shows why the country’s success can be replicated elsewhere. The blog has been hugely influential.

The cycling infrastructure movement in the UK would be nowhere near as strong as it is today — and I sincerely doubt that the Mayor would have been making any announcements about cycle paths — had it not been for David’s work.

Many dedicated people have been campaigning along these lines for years, some since the 1990s, but David’s blog showed thousands of us what good cycling infrastructure looks like, and how great it can be to live somewhere where cycling is a normal, every-day transport option for everyone.

The second way in which David has influenced many people is his Dutch cycling infrastructure study tours of Assen and Groningen, explaining how it all works and why it works — something which is difficult to fully understand unless you can see it in action, and see how everything joins up. Reading the blog is great, but the study tour gives you the real detail you’ll need if London’s investment in cycling infrastructure is to be spent wisely.

He is the right person to go to, because he was an active cycling campaigner in Cambridge for many years until he had his own ‘road to Damascus’ moment and emigrated to the Netherlands about five years ago. As a British cycling expert living in the world’s top cycling nation, he has a uniquely clear viewpoint which you are unlikely to find elsewhere. Like many cycle campaigners and urban planners, I have been on the tour and I can honestly say that it is time and money well-spent.**

I returned to London with a fresh set of eyes — I can see how the decades of poor design continue to harm the city, and how it could be massively improved. It would be a wise investment for TfL to send a team on a study tour with David.

Now, my source says that you’ve been provided with details of the study tour, but I’ve asked David and he says that nobody from TfL has been in touch. I have to ask: why? Is it too expensive for TfL to afford? Is the Netherlands not as glamorous as Paris?

You might think that a town such as Assen and a small city like Groningen have few lessons for London, but that would be a short-sighted view. Assen in the 1970s was just like many UK towns still are today, with streets full of parked and queued cars and “no space for cycling”, and yet it has been transformed into pleasant, safe, liveable place. With the London plans including the excellent concept of specific areas designed as “mini-Hollands” the lessons of Assen and Groningen are very relevant to London.

If you do want a big city experience with a wide river and skyscrapers, spend a day or two in Rotterdam. The conurbation stretches the equivalent of Ealing to Greenwich, and Holloway to Tooting. But this is merely a suggestion for further research, it is not a substitute for David’s thorough and information-packed three day tour.

If you’re going to do your best work then you really need to arrange a study tour with David. It’s a scandal that you hold this position and yet have never studied Dutch cycling infrastructure. That your bosses gave you the job with such a gaping hole in your CV, and haven’t even sent you to see the Netherlands, shows their lack of knowledge of what’s required in London over the next few years.

I’m not trying to be horrible to you here, I’m really not. I’m just trying to underline how much you’re missing out on. I think your own personal career, and London’s future, can benefit greatly from a few days with David in Assen and Groningen – so do it for yourself, but most of all, do it for Britain!

You can get from London to Rotterdam in under 4 hours with Eurostar via Brussels, or it’s a relaxed 9 hours or so by train then ferry, through the day or overnight, and there are flights too, of course. The Netherlands, which is #1 for cycling however you measure it, is right next door! There’s no excuse for not going to see it.

And if TfL’s really that skint, we’ll have a whip-round.

All the best,

S.C.

 


*Okay, so Elvis wasn’t the first to sing these songs, but you know what I mean. One thing I’ve learned while writing this article is how many of Elvis’ songs were cover versions!

**I hope David Hembrow isn’t embarrassed by the flattery here, but I’m telling it like I see it. I have no financial interest in selling study tours! My only goal is to improve Britain’s streets and roads.

23 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

How to suppress bike riding #2: Bus stops (and also, the solution)

I wrote much of this post ages ago, but never got around to finishing it. Events have somewhat overtaken me in the meantime, with TfL announcing plans to implement this very solution! (Update, ten months later: Sadly, they botched it.)

This type of design have also been recently covered at As Easy As Riding A Bike, and David Hembrow has previously discussed this Dutch bike-friendly bus stop design too. I recommend following those two links to see excellent Dutch designs.

If you require physical, concrete proof that the authorities don’t care about cycling, take a look at a bus stop. The design will almost certainly give priority to private motor vehicles, with public transport a poor second and bikes a very distant third.

Consider this fairly standard bus stop design (although it’s lacking the yellow ‘bus stop box’ markings).

What will happen when the bus pulls in?

A bus about to pull into and therefore block the cycle lane, so that cars can pass freely

A bus about to block the bike lane so that cars can pass freely. (Source: Google Maps)

The bus pulls in and blocks the cycle lane, so that cars can pass freely.

A photo of a bus pulled into a bus stop, which blocks the cycle lane but keeps general traffic lane clear.

The bus has pulled in to the bus stop, which blocks the cycle lane, enabling those very important cars to pass freely.

Any bike riders must wait behind…

A photo of a bus from behind. The bus is stopped on the road, blocking the cycle lane but keeping the motor traffic flowing.

Come on children, take the lane! Do it for the Cycling Revolution™!

…or pull out to pass the bus. (Note to any VC evangelists reading this: NORMAL PEOPLE FIND THIS TERRIFYING AND WON’T DO IT, HOWEVER MUCH YOU TELL THEM IT’S SAFE.)

A photo of bus blocking a cycle lane, and a bike rider overtaking the bus which is about to pull out.

People riding bikes must either wait behind the bus, or pull out to overtake it. (Overtaking a bus while riding a bike is something most people don’t ever want to do.)

This is the contempt with which the UK authorities see cycling — and buses are given second-rate status too. For not only do people riding bikes have to pull out to pass the bus (a terrifying place to be for most people) but when the bus is ready to set off it has to wait until there is a gap in traffic before it can pull out itself!

There, in one pithy design, is proof that the private car comes above all else. And it’s the standard design for bus stops in the UK, and it’s one reason why ‘normal’ people don’t ride bikes for transport. The constant leapfrogging between bikes and buses is a terrible way to organise traffic flow.

Go Dutch, go behind the bus stop

Returning back to the top photo, here’s a better alternative:

An alternative bus stop design, the likes of which are being suggested by TfL. The bus stops in the carriageway next to a 'bus stop island' allowing bike users to continue without having to overtake the bus.

An alternative bus stop design, the likes of which are now being suggested by TfL.

This design enables people riding bikes to pass buses without having to ride around the outside of the bus in the flow of traffic. (Remember, dear Cyclists: normal people aren’t willing to do that. Like the woman calmly riding while drinking a coffee there.)

Note the shallow, angled kerbs. I’m a big fan of these. If you’re using a wheelchair or pushing a pram, they’re easier to roll across. If you’re riding a bike, running into them will cause you no harm. They’re often called ‘forgiving kerbs’ (and known as ‘splay kerbs’ to those in the trade) and they’re a tiny change which makes a big difference. (One of the major flaws of the Torrington cyclepath in central London is the high, straight kerbs which mean that you must ride well away from the edge. Making these into shallow, 45º kerbs would enable the full width of the path to be used… but that’s another post!)

But that’s just version one. The bus stop island is too narrow for my liking, but because we’ve moved the bus stop and ticket machine onto the island there’s now space on the pavement available to move the cyclepath across, so we can make the bus island wider:

A version of the previous 'bus stop island' design with a wider bus island

Plenty of space for people to get on and off the bus

There’s no loss of space to pedestrians, as the cyclepath would run over where the bus stop is currently located (i.e. you can’t walk there anyway due to the bus stop, ticket machine and bin). In fact, add the footpath and the bus stop island together and there’s actually more space for people on foot because the part of the road which was previously covered in stripes of paint is now the bus island!

TfL sees the light

I never thought I would praise TfL, but that is what we must do, for they have finally seen the light and realised that nearly everyone doesn’t like riding bikes amongst motor traffic. (Seems fairly obvious to me, but there you go.) Congratulations to whoever got this new design through!

More specifically to this article, they’ve realised that people don’t like overtaking buses while riding a bike. (Except for these selfish bastards, of course, but they’re extreme sports fanatics and adrenaline junkies, so we really shouldn’t base transport policy on their desires any more than we should design roads for boy racers.)

So it’s great that TfL are now planning this kind of design for the extension to Cycle Superhighway 2, and it’s the kind of thing which is normal in the Netherlands, and it works very well. Once you’re already dealing with a separate cyclepath it makes sense to put the bus stops on islands between the cyclepath and the road.

Here’s TfL’s artist’s impression of a bus bypass:

TfL's artist's impression of a cyclepath with bus stop bypass

TfL’s artist’s impression of a cyclepath with bus stop bypass. Note their fast Cyclist, no doubt about to collide with those innocent pedestrians.

It’s good but not quite right for me. Note the 90º kerbs and typical London Cyclist (capital-C intentional) complete with helmet, dropped handlebars, lurid jacket and probably gritted teeth (though he’s facing away so we can’t see that). (The Cyclist looks a bit too big to me too, but never mind.)

Here’s my slightly modified version:

My amended version of TfL's design featuring forgiving kerbs and female casual bike user!

My amended version of TfL’s design. I also changed the cyclist to a lovely middle-aged woman who isn’t going to run anyone over. “Please, go ahead.” “No, after you!” “Why, thank-you!” “You’re welcome. Have a nice day!” Etc. etc.

Nicer kerbs for starters – really, these are essential in any modern cyclepath design. I’ve also got rid of TfL’s Cyclist and replaced him with a middle-aged female who is merely using a bike for transport. (She doesn’t know anything about bikes, nor has she ever watched the Tour de France. She’s just going down the pub.)

I’m still not keen with how the cyclepath crosses the footpath – who has priority here? For me, this could be clearer.

If pedestrians have priority then can’t we add zebra-stripes to the cyclepath, or at least a ‘pedestrian’ icon on the surface? If bike users have priority then the surface should remain blue throughout the crossing area, which will make it clear to pedestrians that they’re crossing a cyclepath. (Also, maybe the footpath should lower to the cyclepath level rather than the cyclepath rising to footpath level as in the images above.)

While you’re here…

While I’m on the subject, here’s what the Cycle Superhighway looks like at the southern end of Southwark Bridge in London:

The bike lane at the end of Southwark Bridge in London stops suddenly and turns into a bus stop. Bikes are meant to pull out into the road to overtake.

TfL’s current solution: pull out into the stream of cars and vans to overtake the buses! (Photo: Alan Perryman)

That’s really dreadful, isn’t it? Expecting people to pull out into a lane of traffic which will be overtaking the bus? And we wonder why cycling is dominated by fit young men! (And I’m not going to talk about the awful pinch point in the distance there…)

So what would be better? Something like this:

A redesigned Southwark Bridge, where the bike-path continues and the bus stop is on an island between the bike-path and the road.

A better way to handle buses and bikes at Southwark Bridge.

The bikepath runs along where the bus shelter was, and the bus shelter has been moved to where the bus stopping area was. The bus stop markings are now in the main carriageway, which means – shock, horror – that cars have to wait behind stopped buses while people on bikes can ride past.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about bus stops for now.


 

If you like the sound of this you should respond to TfL’s consultation telling them how much you love this design.

 

28 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Truth and propaganda

I’ve got lots of half-finished posts which for one reason or another I never got around to completing. This one covers old ground – many bloggers have tackled TfL’s “encouragement” of cycling already, as have I. But I like the propaganda parallels between TfL with the GDR, so I’m putting this out there anyway. (Though it’s not my intention to trivialise the situation of GDR citizens back then, or suggest that TfL are as bad as the SED or anything.)

In May 1989 the citizens of the GDR (East Germany) voted in national elections. This was the result:

East German ruling party-owned newspaper Neues Deutschland reports election results, May 1989. 98.5% voted for the incumbent government!

East German ruling party-owned newspaper reports the election results of May 1989

98.85% of votes cast were in favour of the government candidates – that is, almost everybody voted for the ruling dictators.

Six months later, this happened:


Elections in the GDR were not anonymous, and anybody voting against the government’s list of candidates would find themselves receiving attention from the feared secret police.

The government-run newspaper report didn’t show the truth.

Although it would be silly to compare life in the GDR to life in London, I think there are some similarities in how the government provides us with information:

TfL's "Freedom" campaign poster

(Photo credit: sludgegulper on Flickr)

This is also a lie.

The truth looks like this:

Bikes, motorbikes and cars – not a pleasant cycling environment

Some citizens keeping their wits about them, recently.

What makes TfL believe that yet another propaganda campaign is going to increase cycling rates? They can tell the public about how great cycling is (or, indeed, that the government has the support of the majority of the population) but everybody knows that it’s false.

The thing about the “Freedom” campaign which made me laugh is how desperate it is, showing a cycling environment which simply doesn’t exist in the UK (outside of a few small areas, at least). For most people, the scenes shown in the posters have no relevance to the world they live in – just like the newspapers of the GDR. It feels like the authorities have given up actually trying to improve conditions, and have instead resorted to insisting that things are fine when they’re really not (like the GDR government did).

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Freedom, Easy, Fun, Family Time – A Fair Description of Cycling in London?

Today, this leaflet landed on my doormat:

Front cover of TfL cycling leaflet, "Freedom"

“Catch up with the bicycle” while the taxis and lorries speed past

I’d already seen posters with the same image dotted around the motor-dominated roads around here and had planned on whinging about them, but the leaflet means I don’t have to take the camera outside, and it provides more food for thought. There are four images of bikes throughout, with the frames arranged to read “Freedom” (on the cover), “Easy”, “Fun” and “Family Time”. Do those words come to mind when you’re riding a bike in London?

On the first page is a message from our Dear Leader, Boris, which gives me some hope that he’s slowly coming around to my way of thinking:

“More and more people are choosing to cycle to work or to the shops. It saves money, and can be quicker than driving or taking public transport. Cycling, though, is more than a great means of getting from A to B with a bit of a work-out en route. There’s no better way to explore your local area and the rest of this fantastic city of ours and, best of all, cycling can be fun, for everyone.”

He gets it! He finally understands that cycling should be for everyone, and for every-day tasks! So surely it follows that he wants to install Dutch-style infrastructure, which makes it safe, fast and convenient for kids to ride to school, or for granny to pop to the shops?

Unfortunately, he seems to think that things are fine as they are – despite riding a bike in the UK being 30 times more dangerous than driving a car – and instead of getting the job done properly he seems to believe that yet another poster campaign and a few words of encouragement will turn London into a great cycling city.

“London is a great place to ride a bike. If you already cycle in London, you don’t need me to tell you that. If you’ve yet to start, there’s never been a better time to give it a go.”

Seriously, Boris? I already cycle in London, and “great” certainly isn’t the first word that springs to mind. Sure, occasionally it really is great – around 3am when the back-streets are mine alone, it often feels great – but I don’t think that’s what anyone has in mind when we talk about building mass cycling.

“This leaflet is packed full with useful information to get you on your wheels.”

So, let’s have a look at this useful information which will convert London into a New New Amsterdam. Its five pages of content can be summed up:

  • Use the TfL online cycle journey planner. But fingers crossed there isn’t an arbitrary closure with no diversion, or a van parked in the cycle lane!
  • Use the cycle hire. A good idea, as long as you’re not one of those poor bastards who lives outside the cycle hire area, i.e. the vast majority of Londoners.
  • Use the Cycle Superhighways! The less said about these the better.
  • “Be prepared” Training and maintenance sessions are cheaper than roadworks…
  • Use the back streets. Because we know the main direct routes are hellish to ride a bike along.
  • Use a map. You’ll need one, because the route will be badly-signed with lots of turns through back-streets.

The whole leaflet-and-poster campaign idea is such a half-arsed effort. I don’t doubt the good intentions behind it, but it’s really an admission of failure and defeat. If the conditions were right, there would be no need for leaflets and posters encouraging cycling – people would do it anyway, they would want to do it, because it would be the cheapest, fastest, easiest way to get around.

And it really could be the best way to get around. Even on a clunky hire bike I can ride from Waterloo to Kings Cross in about 20 minutes – and that’s taking a complex (but fairly quiet) route of back streets. That’s faster than the tube or bus, and about £10 cheaper than a taxi.

So if riding a bike is so great, why do so few Londoners do it? Are they all blind to the wonderful world of cycling for transport? Why will this leaflet and poster campaign fail to increase cycling rates by any measurable amount? Is it because people are stupid, or haven’t seen the light?

Or, maybe it’s because while it can sometimes be okay (and even “great” under very special conditions) riding a bike in London contains too many hazards and worries, too many nasty moments, and too many unwelcome surprises from vehicles and the authorities alike.

“There are lots of things to think about when you first get into cycling…”

Damn right TfL – there are lots of things for you to think about if you really want people to take up cycling. We can’t ignore the elephant in the room and pretend that all we need is a can-do attitude, or maybe the real cycle-resistant just need to go on a heart-shaped bike ride (no, really, I’m not making this up). So this whole campaign seems to me like TfL is saying “we’ve failed, we’re out of ideas, we know our infrastructure is substandard and hostile but these leaflets are cheaper than tarmac and concrete, and it’ll have to do.”

Why are there no leaflets or posters recommending people take their car? (“Catch up with the car: Freedom, Easy, Fun, Family Time” – I can see it now!) The reason is because when people look at the streets around them, it’s obvious that the car is the most important mode of transport. It’s obvious that the country has been built around the car. It’s obvious that the car comes before all else in the UK, and therefore a car is the obvious choice for transport.

To turn that around we need a sea change in the way roads are designed in this country, and until we have it, all the posters and leaflets in the world aren’t going to make any difference.

I know this post is just a rant, but I’ll get around to making some positive suggestions soon!

13 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized