TfL must surely be running out of options now

What changes will Transport for London make at the Aldgate East junction, where Philippine De Gerin-Ricard was killed just over one week ago?

What changes will be made at Holborn, where another person was killed by a lorry today?

They’ve tried “encouraging” cycling, they’ve tried ignoring it, they’ve tried propaganda, they’ve even tried lying to us about it.

They’ve tried doing tiny bits of good stuff, they’ve tried doing long stretches of crap stuff, they’ve tried fiddly back streets many many times (though they never really got even that right, so are determined to give that failed concept yet another go anyway).

What else can they try? Surely TfL have exhausted the list of things which may or may not make cycling safe and attractive. They’ve certainly exhausted the list of cheap, ineffective and motor traffic-neutral interventions.

There’s only one thing left to do: Bite the bullet and do what the Dutch did.

Five years too long

Boris Johnson was re-elected as Mayor over one year ago now and has been the “cycling Mayor” for five years, yet progress has been glacial over this time. Is London significantly better for cycling than it was five years ago? The appointment of Andrew Gilligan as part-time Cycling Commissioner has moved things on a bit, as he seems to be eager to do good things and prevent bad things from happening.

But despite all the fine words, there have still been few firm plans, let alone any concrete changes on the ground (though the CS2 extension was due to be started a few weeks ago, I don’t know if it has yet). I’d settle for some plastic changes – and by that I mean trials of new road layouts.

One of the many things Andrew Gilligan said at the LCC seminar in April (three months ago already!) was that he’d like to trial removing a lane here, adding a cycle track there, by using temporary measures. I’d really like to see this happen now. Set up some bollards and some temporary lights, let’s see how a separate green phase for bikes affects things.

We’ll almost certainly discover that it works just fine, as Leicester did.

All hail the Mayor (of Leicester)!

Earlier this year, Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby closed one lane of Newarke Street to see what effect it would have on congestion. (See local news articles before, at the start, during, and after the experiment.) Despite Newarke Street being a busy thoroughfare and part of the city’s inner ring road, the council wanted to see if some of the three-lane one-way carriageway could be reclaimed for walking and cycling. After a four-month trial, they concluded that the road worked just fine with two lanes, and the extra lane will be used to extend the footpath and install “a separate cycle lane, surfaced in red asphalt” – aah, bliss! I can’t wait to see it (don’t mess this up, Leicester!).

So that’s how easy it is. But you know what? I reckon Leicester could have gone one step further and instead of coning off the lane to all vehicles they could have created a temporary cycle path to see whether more people chose to cycle along there when protected from motor traffic. Sturdy plastic and concrete barriers are available, which would remove the risk of a motor vehicle driver careering through a row of flimsy cones.

Put the roads on a diet

There’s plenty of space to try this on our over-wide highways. Look at Holborn, the location of today’s corporate manslaughter:

A photograph of Holborn in London, the scene of today's death. Four wide lanes for motor vehicles, two reasonable footpaths, nothing for cycling.

Physical evidence that our government prioritises motor vehicles over all other forms of transport

Is there really no room for a cycle path here? Is there really nothing that can be done? Nothing that can be tried? Just fast-moving heavy vehicles day after day, killing some by force and killing thousands by suffocation and fear.

Andrew Gilligan recently told us that we can’t expect change overnight. In his case I guess that’s fair enough, it’s a part-time position and he’s only been in the job a few months.

But what about Boris Johnson? He’s had five years to sort this out and yet has spectacularly failed to do so. Most of London’s roads are no-go areas for cycling as far as I’m concerned. (And millions of other Londoners feel the same way – 30% of people would like to cycle but don’t, and the main reason is fear of motor traffic.)

Boris and TfL: it’s time to stop talking and start taking space from our bloated roads, because without doing that London will remain a dangerous smog-filled mess.

Update: Of course, it’s not just TfL who need to up their game, but the local London councils too. Most roads (even a large chunk of the ‘main’ roads) are controlled by the councils, not TfL. So this post is really aimed at them too, just as much.


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7 responses to “TfL must surely be running out of options now

  1. Paul M

    I’m afraid it is not just Boris and TfL. No doubt they set the tone, and it is the Mayor’s Transport Strategy which each borough had to have in mind in drawing up their Local Implementation Plans, but much of what needs to be done is in the hands of boroughs.

    The road you show, ie Holborn between Procter St and Kingsway/Southampton Row, is the responsibility of Camden, as it is not a red route. The same is true of the obvious alternative, the bus-only lane at Bloomsbury Way where cyclists have been ticketed by the Met Police recently. David Arditti observes that TfL is influential regarding bus lanes but I don’t think it can ultimately enforce itself on bus lanes outside red routes. The permisison for motorcycles to use bus lanes for example technically only applies to red route bus lanes, and only a handful of boroughs have followed suit. In the City of London, bus lanes are for buses and bicycles only – not even taxis (except when they need to pull over to pick up or drop off). They won’t even pull over so you can hop out and use a cash machine for example, as I have learned to my cost.

    Camden is of course a relatively enlightened borough – it has one of the very few dedicated cycle tracks in central London, around Torrington Place – Tavistock Place. Surely it could open up Bloomsbury Way to bicycles, whatever TfL might have to say? But why does it tolerate the Holborn/Kingsway junction?

    And why are the Met Police so supine in dealing with motor vehicles driving or parking in bus lanes, but so keen to FPN cyclists on just about the only stretch of bus lane in London which is forbidden to them?

  2. “but so keen to FPN cyclists on just about the only stretch of bus lane in London which is forbidden to them?”

    I’ve been struggling to answer this one since I saw cyclists being ticketed there in February 2012. Fining cyclists appears to be largely a PR exercise to address the “cyclists are a menace, riding on pavements, running red lights” brigade but pedestrians are unlikely to be aware that cyclists are even banned there. I’ve used it myself – you get to that section and think “I wan to be over there”, why would i go round that horrible dangerous gyratory? So cyclists who’ve made a rational decision that the bus lane is safer than the gyratory are being ticketed there ‘for our own safety’? How is this a good use of resources?

  3. GareThugHowell

    Hi! I sometimes wonder about cycle route campaigners priorities. The picture listed in Holborn is certainly dodgy for a cyclist, but they are pushbikes and the sidewalk is available to anybody who pushes his bike.
    Last time I used that section, I recognised the risk, got off and pushed… on the pavement.

    If you are saying that a cyclist should have a clear run to work, if not better than the motorist, without getting off his pushbike, then that is a different matter entirely.

    • Matthew W.

      Not better just equal to the motorist.

    • Chris Juden

      I think what we are saying is that people deserve the option of using a bicycle as a bicycle is meant to be used. Make cycling less safe and/or convenient than it has the potential to be, and you make it so that only those with an extraordinary motivation to cycle, be that sporting or political, will make it part of their everyday lives.

      The idea that cyclists can always get of and walk is what makes ‘cyclists dismount’ perhaps THE most common cycling roadsign in Britain. Despite having cycle-toured many thousands of km in northern Europe: ‘Radfahrer absteigen’ is a sign I have only seen a handful of times and is so rare in the Netherlands that I don’t even know what it would be in Dutch!

      The unique benefit of cycling, is that it smuggles healthy exercise into the lives of ordinarily lazy people like me. It does that by being just (or almost) as convenient as walking, but quicker – and then some! For cycling has a trick up its sleeve. Running is also quicker than walking but involves a change of gait that marks an abrupt transition from easy and strenuous excersise. Nobody runs to work unless they’re a fitness freak or in danger of missing their bus! But with cycling, easy segues seamlessly with strenuous. Nothing changes except that each little bit more effort delivers a bit more speed, which is very satisfying and tricks any normal person into breathing more deeply and working their heart just a little bit harder.

      A few people get such a thrill from the feel of cycling at speed that they put just as much effort into the pedals as it takes to run, arriving at work likewise in a muck sweat and need of a shower! Most people do not, but are nevertheless tricked into working their bodies a little bit harder than they might have, were they walking, and much harder than sitting on a bus or train! In order that these health benefits may be realised by many people, it is essential that easy-paced cycling be made as convenient as can be to compete with public transport. Otherwise only the poor and the eco-freaks will do it – in addition to the strenuous and risky cycling done by fitness-freaks. And that, of course, is situation normal UK. All that’s changed lately is a simultaneous slight increase in all three extreme motivations to cycle, due to the triple coincidence of declining real incomes, rising eco-political consciousness and national sporting success. But none of this will be enough to get more than a sligtly increased minority onto bikes IMHO.

      • Jitensha Oni

        “I think what we are saying is that people deserve the option of using a bicycle as a bicycle is meant to be used.” Are we? If you mean without being killed or seriously injured, you’re right, but you are not explicit about that, for some reason. And I at least don’t recognise a “slightly increased minority” as referring to Central London, which is what is primarily being discussed, and is enjoying a substantially increased modal share at the moment, and which needs desperately to be nutured, or what you say might well come to pass.

        There’s a problem though. If the authorities (insert your favourite) get HGVs driving with due care around large numbers of cyclists (well what a surprise – if I were an HGV driver the last thing I would expect is lots of cyclists in London) and fix the junctions as priority, they’re admitting they are unsafe. If they don’t fix the issues as as priority they are admitting they think they’re safe enough for the time being. Well a few squished cyclists here and there don’t matter, really, in the grand scheme of things, do they? They’re probably, as you say, just a couple of poor people, eco-freaks or exercise junkies. Lets be realistic, all we need is more cyclists on the road and everybody to behave like the good little road users they really are and all will be fine. Won’t it?

        Well, authorities, you’ve put yourself in a position that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Which is it to be? You’ve simply left it far too long for any response to have any credibility, and the Mayor and Gilligan seem to be going the same way. Other major cities that profess to want to grow cycling are installing joined up protected cycle lanes and modifying junctions, and seeing the benefits. Some have been doing it for years, even in the US. And this week we learned from Portland to Portland riders that US drivers are far more considerate than UK drivers. But it’s not just about cycling. The standards enjoyed in an increasing number of locations around the world with administations that are trying to increase the share of active travel and make cities more liveable, are just not being met in the UK even if the rhetoric implores us to believe so.

  4. Andy

    No-one can disagree with the article or the comments. What I am amazed at is the expectation that the incompetent apparatchiks who run this country will ever do anything sensible for anyone but themselves. More than my job’s worth sir. So lip service, half-baked compromises and dirty expedience from top to bottom. But, line my pension nest egg sir ? That’ll do nicely.

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