TfL starting from scratch: “How many corners should a wheel have?”

I got an email today from London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon. It wasn’t personal, it was sent out to what I assume is her cycling email list.

Now, as far as I can tell, Caroline is one of the good guys when it comes to cycling. She’s chair of the Transport Committee which was behind the London Assembly’s report into cycling last year, and – while nearly everybody was saying how wonderful Boris’ cycling daydream Vision was – she was calling on the Mayor to increase funding for cycling projects, while the cycling hero Boris and his Conservative comrades were preventing an additional increase to the cycling budget.

I don’t want this post to turn into a party political broadcast for whatever party Ms Pidgeon is a member of, I merely mention these things because she seems to have been batting consistently for cycling while Boris has been making excuses over the past five years. Please let me know in the comments if I’m wrong!

Anyway, this email contained the following:

“Peter Hendy, the Commissioner at Transport for London … stated that TfL and the Boroughs lacked sufficient expertise… Their approach will be to focus on a handful of projects and learn as they go. …TfL hopes they will be able to test what interventions work…”

TfL are admitting that they lack sufficient expertise, and yet they’re planning to spend millions of pounds inventing their own cycling infrastructure?

I know I made this point before, but why hasn’t anybody from TfL been sent on David Hembrow’s study tour? Apparently they considered it but decided not to (probably because that would mean they’d have to actually do it right which might mean upsetting the motor-centric Network Assurance goons). As they’re planning to spend hundreds of millions of pounds in the next few years, I reckon a few grand and a week in Assen would be an incredibly good investment at a bargain price, all things considered.

But instead TfL would rather figure it all out for themselves from scratch. This is madness – all the research is available from the Netherlands, which went through the learning process 35 years ago (and is still improving its cycling facilities). They made the mistakes so we don’t have to.

Yet TfL will “test what interventions work”? We already know what interventions work! They’re going to play around with our money, making it up as they go along because they can’t be arsed to go see what makes roads in the Netherlands work so well.

Attempting to massively increase cycling without looking to the world’s number one cycling nation is a waste of money. TfL will inevitably spend millions of pounds experimenting with the same things that the Dutch tried in the 1970s and 1980s, before finding that they’re not good enough. Meanwhile, people will continue to die because our roads are badly and incompetently designed.

Do we want more experiments such as the untried-and-untested Cycle Superhighways which  failed so miserably – native, home-grown TfL engineering at its best? Or do we want to learn from global best practice – i.e. the Netherlands?

Why are TfL refusing to learn from the experts? Why are they seemingly so keen on reinventing the wheel and starting from scratch?

Addendum: Caroline is asking for cycling and road safety issues or questions that people would like her to put to the Mayor. You can email her at Caroline (dot) Pidgeon (at) (obviously, type it out properly, I’ve mangled it here to prevent auto-junkmail software reading it).


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14 responses to “TfL starting from scratch: “How many corners should a wheel have?”

  1. Judy

    Hi SC, the link to our Study Tour isnt working.
    Hope you can fix it, thanks


    • Hi Judy,

      I’m not sure which link you mean – I didn’t link to it from this article, but I did link to it from the “Open Letter to Aaron Rosser” article which I linked to here, but that one works fine for me!


  2. Reg Oakley

    It doesnt work from Emails you have sent to subscribers, but works OK from your web site.

  3. Jim

    For anyone who didn’t also receive Caroline Pidgeon’s email, here’s the full quote, presumably paraphrasing what Peter Hendy said:

    “TfL and the Boroughs lacked sufficient expertise to start multiple projects. Their approach will be to focus on a handful of projects and learn as they go.

    By starting with three projects in outer London, known as “mini Holland’s” TfL hopes they will be able to test what interventions work and hopefully inspire other boroughs to try similar measures. There will be a competition between the Boroughs to become one of these pilot projects”.

    This doesn’t sound like TfL are *unaware* of how the Dutch do it, more that they’re just not experienced enough at delivering these kind of schemes in the UK context, under UK laws, to immediately roll them out across London. Doesn’t sound totally unreasonable to me.

    • I wish I could share your view of TfL being competent here, but I can’t. I don’t think I quoted Peter Hendy out of context. He’s clearly saying that they don’t know what they’re doing and they will make it up as they go along. See the Ranty Highwayman’s comment for more examples of TfL’s strange attitude. Luckily in one borough we have our friend Ranty, but who knows what disasters other boroughs are cooking up?

      The proof of the pudding is in the eating, of course – I sincerely hope to be proved wrong. I guess we’ll see.

      • Yes, but I am just one small voice – plenty of politician friendly senior managers who get uncomfortable when I open my gob! I am playing it safe and have suggested that a quick win will be to review and upgrade all road closures to make them cycle friendly and to suggest a few more to stop rat running – shouldn’t be too difficult. The challenge of course is outer-London TfL trunk roads and borough main roads. Hint – don’t hold your breath. I wonder if Royal Haskoning have any jobs…

  4. The Mayor wants bids from boroughs in the next couple of months for a summer announcement for “quick wins” this financial year. Madness without an overall plan, so we will be left to try and make it up in the hope of getting it past the local politicians. Total lack of leadership again.

  5. Tim

    At the Love Cycling Go Dutch conference I attended I got the impression that the conferences were partly a vehicle for Royal Haskoning to try and rustle up some business:

    I’m not sure exactly how they fit into infrastructure design in the Netherlands, but as a company they seem to have some idea what they’re on about so it might not be a bad thing if they have some involvement? I have no issue with them making money if it means we get better facilities quicker. Perhaps someone who knows more about it than me could comment?

    And of course this in no way detracts from your suggestion that the TfL (and therefore London, and indeed anyone who follows) could benefit enormously from a few people going on Hembrow tours and seeing how it works in practice, with guidance from the expert. It’s probably the case that a few grand on Hembrow tours is better value for money for the taxpayer than huge consultancy fees.

    • some dutch guy

      Off course Royal Haskoning did it in an effort to try and get a contract to make money, they’re a company not a charity. On the other hand, they can use the “Royal” in their name which indicates that the Dutch Queen (King now) herself approved of them using it, so they’re not some upstart company made of idiots.

  6. Pingback: Conflict between lorries and bicycles | As Easy As Riding A Bike

  7. It sounds like my irate reply to Caroline Pidgeon was fairly similar to your reply – TFL are an absolute disgrace and to have the cheek to use their inability to learn from 20 years of cycle lanes in London as an excuse, these guys are meant to be the experts! Shocking waste of public money, that’s what they are.

  8. Reblogged this on Simply Green Buildings and commented:
    TFL – not fit for cycling purpose.

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