Tag Archives: LCC

Camden’s West End Project: Compromise or Capitulation?

So after last year’s debate about Camden’s plans for a thorough re-do of Tottenham Court Road and surrounding area, the council has come back with some finished plans.

David Arditti covered it twice, Rachel Aldred analysed it, and Danny of Cyclists in the City questioned the merits of the scheme. MaidstoneOnBike presented his own plan for Tottenham Court Road. Mark of the iBikeLondon blog has been largely in favour throughout, but I really couldn’t disagree more.

The essential problem with the scheme is that Camden continue to prioritise motor vehicles, at the expense of people on foot and on bikes.

During the day, cycles and private motor vehicles will all be funnelled onto Gower Street, and it doesn’t really fit. Well, it does, if the footways are trimmed back a bit, and nobody ever wobbles, but only just. It will never be a pleasant ride, even when the cycleway isn’t being used for parked vans.

Meanwhile, the spacious Tottenham Court Road will be turned into a copy of Oxford Street, i.e. end-to-end buses, with all the dangers that entails and air so thick with pollution you can almost chew it.

To describe the planned Tottenham Court Road as “a primarily pedestrian route” is pure hyperbole, considering that for 13 hours a day it will be open to all traffic in both directions (opening up new motor vehicle routes that currently don’t exist).

Camden's drawing of how Tottenham Court Road will look. Pure propaganda.

The sun will always shine, the buses will be invisible, people will walk wherever they please, the lion will lay down with the lamb…

Where are all the buses in this photo? What will it look like at 5 past 7 in the evening, when it’s open to all traffic in both directions? The photo is pure propaganda.

The stepped cycleway on Gower Street is a compromise in itself, the bare minimum that we should accept, both in width and design (it should be wider and better separated). Yet now we’re expected to also accept vans parking on it right in the middle of the day (10am to 2pm) – a compromise upon a compromise.

Do you know how annoying it is to find someone parked in a cycle lane? Well, now imagine that to ride past it you have to hop down a kerb into the general lane, then hop back up once you’ve passed. (Or, more likely, people will hop up onto the footway, causing more conflict there instead.) That’s what’s being planned on Gower Street – In 2015! By intentional design! – and I don’t think it’s an acceptable compromise.

A van parked on a cycleway, blocking it.

Coming soon to London! Camden’s boldest urban design scheme yet, so ambitious, great for cycling! (Photo: Car Sick Glasgow)

While any sort of cycleway can seem like a miracle in London, the planned Gower Street cycleway feels like such a token effort to me. It only exists in short, intermittent lengths between junctions, where it will become a painted lane with an ASL at the end.

Camden's plan for Gower Street and Grafton Way junction.

The brown areas are raised carriageway, so there will be just painted lanes, no physical separation. There’s a lot of this on the Gower Street plans.

The junctions themselves offer no protection, just at the point where it’s most needed. Apparently these painted lanes and ASLs are “to make it safer for cyclists”! Someone at Camden Council has got a very dark sense of humour.

Is this what we campaigned for? Is it even remotely suitable for all ages, all abilities?

I’m clearly not the only one who feels this way, judging by the comments on London Cycling Campaign’s news article about the plans.

But don’t just take my word for it, have a look at the plans yourself. There’s a lot of cycle lanes and ASLs on them.

There comes a point at which compromise becomes capitulation, and to praise these plans is to cross that line.

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Flailing limbs: LCC and its famously anti-policy branch

London Cycling Campaign is a funny beast. It seems to be the vague head of a loose collective of local cycling groups scattered around London, of varying sizes and levels of activity.

I call it a “vague head of a loose collective” because the local branch campaigns seem to be free to say and do almost anything they want, even if they go entirely against the campaign’s stated goals.

After decades of failure, LCC members have voted, passed the motions, and at long last the LCC has started to become a modern cycling campaign which is asking for the right things.

But isn’t it time to make sure the local branches are following suit?

Most famously – and I’m not the first to notice it by a long shot – the Hackney branch is known for its adherence to what might be called the Franklin and Forester view of cycling: The proper place for it is on the road, mixed with cars, lorries and buses (or at best meandering around the back streets) and anything else is pure namby-pamby devilment. They’ve been this way for many years.

Hackney Cyclists claim to support LCC HQ’s “Space for Cycling” campaign, yet at least three committee members are firmly against some of the campaign goals – co-ordinator Trevor Parsons, long-time LCC member Oliver Schick, former Hackney councillor Rita Krishna, to name the three whose public comments I’ve used in this post.

While the group does support the cycle-friendly intervention of removing through-motor-traffic from minor streets by means of modal filtering (a worthy and important goal), they adamantly refuse to support – and actually work against – the biggest single intervention to enable mass cycling: cycleways on main roads.

How does someone follow LCC’s democratically-approved AGM motions while describing bus stop bypasses as meaning “bus users being done over and having to dodge cyclists“? What sort of cycle campaigner considers cycleways to be “attacking bus users“, and London’s first half-decent attempt at providing for cycling as “the emperors new clothes“?

How is the Space for Cycling manifesto remotely compatible with the belief that that “cyclists and cars want to share” on a vast, fast, six-lane road? And how can a cycle campaigner believe that everyone who uses a bike should be held responsible for the actions of anyone else using that same mode of transport?

The belief that Dutch-style cycleways won’t work in central London is surely in opposition to “Space for Cycling”, which calls for far bigger road changes than merely insisting two-way streets are all that’s required to make cycling safe and inviting for all. (As if having cars and buses moving both ways at Aldwych would make me ride there – ha!)

Apparently “Dutch police shout at people for cycling on smooth, empty carriageways. We don’t want that over here.” That’s not my experience of riding a bike in the world’s best country for cycling. Hackney Cyclists don’t want “tokenistic, and in the long term potentially dangerous, engineering solutions such as cycle lanes and tracks.”

Instead of copying a proven method to gain a mode of transport which is safe and appealing to everyone, cycle training will solve all problems, as “a well-trained and assertive bicycle rider will in any case take the primary position when approaching a narrowing such as this pre-signal, to ensure that the driver of the vehicle behind him or her is not tempted to pass too closely.”

How is any of this compatible with the LCC’s policy of pushing for physical separation of motor and cycle traffic on busy roads?

I don’t see how the LCC can allow Hackney Cyclists to bear their name and logo when so many of the leading lights believe the very opposite of what the campaign stands for.

Hackney LCC also have close links with Hackney Council, not just former councillor and party activist Krishna, but also her husband, councillor Vincent Stops, who describes Hackney Cyclists as “the most sophisticated cycling campaign group in London“, considers Dutch-style cycleways to be “trip hazards“, and sees bus stop bypasses as “terrifying pedestrians“.

Councillor Stops also claims that Hackney Cyclists consider Kingsland High Street is “perfect for cycling” – though it has since been revealed that this was merely the personal opinion of Hackney Cyclists committee member Schick.

This is Kingsland High Street:

Kingsland High Street in Hackney, London. A bus is stopped, and a lorry is overtaking it. A cyclist dressed in high-visibility clothing follows the lorry, and a bus follows the cyclist.

“Perfect for cycling”

Does this road look “perfect for cycling” to you? Do you believe someone who said this really has LCC’s Space for Cycling principles at heart?

I don’t even want to debate the actual views held here – madly wrong as I consider them to be – everyone has the right to believe whatever they want.

And of course not everyone in the LCC is going to agree on everything. I’m not suggesting that the LCC becomes some sort of Stalinist one-party state which allows no dissenting voices. Open debate is good, there needs to be room for a wide range of views.

But when a local branch is dominated by beliefs which are clearly at odds with core campaign objectives, it makes no sense for it to be part of the campaign any more. London Cycling Campaign is now, in policy, a campaign which believes in separation of traffic modes along Dutch lines, yet one of its branches works against the LCC’s goals in their area.

At what point does LCC HQ decide that such views aren’t compatible with the campaign’s core objectives and take action?

For example, Special Resolution 3 was voted on at the AGM, committing the LCC to opposing discrimination on any grounds, which I have heard was introduced to prevent people with extremist political views from gaining positions of influence.

I don’t know the finer details of the matter, but it seems that if the LCC is willing to say that a person’s political views (which may be distasteful, but unrelated to cycling) are unacceptable, then surely advocating road designs that aren’t safely usable by less-able people is also discriminatory and unacceptable, and in a way that’s extremely relevant to the campaign.

I’m not even sure why these take-the-lane addicts and bus exhaust sniffers are even active members of the London Cycling Campaign any more, considering that the Dutch model of modal separation has been overwhelmingly approved by LCC members now. I wouldn’t want to be a member of a campaign that opposes everything I believe in.

I’m glad that Special Resolution 3 was passed, as I consider advocating Vehicular-Cycling-as-an-end-goal to be discriminatory (VC is fine as a danger mitigation method in car-sick areas, but it should not be a campaign target, and we shouldn’t be creating roads designed for it). Is a wheelchair or handbike user really expected to “take the primary position when approaching a narrowing” to control the bus behind them? Isn’t advice like that, offered as a reason why cycle infrastructure isn’t required in that location, discriminatory against those who don’t have that option? An anti-discriminatory cycle campaign needs to campaign for infrastructure which is accessible to all.

The London Cycling Campaign needs to either make sure that its Hackney branch is following the charity’s democratically-chosen principles, or it needs to strip the current group of affiliation and allow a new group to be formed – one that actually believes in safe, pleasant cycling conditions which are suitable for everybody.

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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.

 

 

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Another death at Bow roundabout. Are we angry yet?

The article below is a call to attend a protest at Bow roundabout from 6pm tonight.

I’ve previously criticised these things for being too mild, for not causing the kind of disruption – and grabbing the kind of headlines – that the Dutch did in the 1970s.

If a “die-in” is to occur then tonight is probably as good a time as there ever will be.

A black-and-white photo of hundreds of people and their bikes laying on a wide road in Amsterdam

Safer streets campaigners stage a die-in outside Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum in the mid-1970s.
Taken from Mark Wagenbuur’s video “How The Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths“, which I insist you watch now. (I don’t know where the original photo is from.)

If it hadn’t been for the people in the photo above doing what they did, the Netherlands wouldn’t have the great cycling conditions it has today. Now it’s our turn.

 


 

The details of today’s cycling death at Bow roundabout are not clear yet. All we know is it involves a left-turning lorry (again).

But one thing which is very clear is that TfL’s changes to the layout here are sub-standard. They are not good enough, and they were warned about this.

Despite the addition of blue paint and a bit of kerb, the primary function of Bow roundabout is to handle a huge number of motor vehicles. Anything else must be fitted around this core premise. This must change.

Even walking around this area on foot is awful, as there are no pedestrian crossing signals. You merely have to guess the best time to cross, hoping that the traffic lights are red and won’t change while you’re in the middle.

How are people expected to get around here? Clearly it isn’t suitable for someone who can’t move fast, as even on foot you have to stay alert and nimble.

The message is clear: if you want to travel here, get a car. Are we surprised that two thirds of motor journeys in London are under 3 miles long?

Today’s death is a shock, a wake-up call, a headline-grabber.

But what of the thousands who die due to air pollution caused by all those easily-cyclable motor vehicle journeys? (See here, here and here.)

What about the pensioners who don’t leave their homes because it’s too stressful to get around?

What about the mothers who don’t let their children play outside for fear of an “accident”?

What about Britain’s high rate of childhood obesity and heart disease caused by lack of activity?

This is about more than just cycling. This is more than just a “cyclists” protest.

For every shocking collision there are thousands of untold stories of harm caused by our motor-centric towns and cities. It’s a tragedy on a national scale.

The way we’ve designed the areas we live gives most people little choice but to use a motor vehicle, as the alternatives are too unpleasant or unsafe to consider. This must change.

Another “always stop” cycle light at Bow roundabout won’t cut it. We need to create safe space for cycling, and safe space for walking, and safe space for prams and pushchairs and wheelchairs and Zimmer frames and tartan zip-up trolley bags.

We need space that isn’t subservient to those using motor vehicles, space which allows and encourages other modes of transport.

So please do come down tonight. It’s a sad day, but also an angry one.

As the Dutch might say, “stop de moord”.


 

It turns out that iBikeLondon was writing a similar post, which includes more details of tonight’s protest. He rightly points out that we’ve been hearing promises from the Mayor and his associates for far too long. The time for action is now.

 

 

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Space for Cycling and Childhood Freedom

I think that the London Cycling Campaign’s Space for Cycling message is spot-on for a cycling campaign.

Note the end of that sentence: it’s spot-on for a cycling campaign. It’s exactly what a cycling campaign should be saying to the government.

In a nutshell: separated cycle tracks on all main roads, slow down and remove through-traffic on all non-main roads. In other words, “Go Dutch”.

It’s great because the LCC is saying to the government: “We want you to create safe space for cycling, protected from motor vehicles” (as opposed to earlier campaigns with similar names, which said to drivers: “please drive carefully around cyclists” and was clearly never going to work).

But ‘Space For Cycling’ is never going to get the wider public’s support, and if you think it is then you don’t live in the real world.

A short visit to Earth

I myself don’t live in the real world but I do drop in occasionally to see how they’re getting on, and I can tell you this: these humans haven’t a clue about transport. They just do whatever is easiest, or whatever other people are doing. All that stuff we talk about every day – filtered permeability, modal shift, etc. – they haven’t the faintest idea that any of it exists.

Even when you think people understand what you’re saying, they very often don’t get it. While driving along New Kent Road towards central London recently, a close friend who has listened to me talk about all this stuff for the past 18 months suddenly said “there’s plenty of space for an extra lane here, that would end the traffic jams” and I realised: he hasn’t understood a thing I’ve been saying.

I expect he’s not alone. While my partner’s mum has been sitting and nodding at my long diatribes, she still thinks cyclists always go through red lights and ride on footpaths.

My friend who drives half a mile to the supermarket considers me to have strange and very unlikely ideas about how to get around.

And although my sister has been shown countless photos of children riding their own bikes to school in the Netherlands, she wouldn’t even consider it an option for her own daughter.

(I don’t blame any of them for thinking this way: they all live in Leeds, the motorway city of the 1970s. Actually, I’d be terrified if my sister announced that they were doing the school run by bike.)

Ah, but what about those sophisticated Londoners?

Even friends in London who use a bike often don’t understand. I find that Mayor Johnson’s just keep your wits about you mentality thrives among those who cycle in London.

And those who do support separate infrastructure very often don’t get it. When talking about Space For Cycling with a bike-riding friend, he agreed with the concept, adding “there’s plenty of space because cycle paths only need to be about a metre wide.” And this is someone who rides a bike for transport!

Okay, so I’ve laboured my point: the Space For Cycling campaign is great, but it has limited scope for wider support.

In other words, Space For Cycling is not Stop De Kindermoord.

So what’s the answer?

In short, children are the answer. Almost everybody is a parent or a grandparent, or an uncle or aunt. Everybody wants the best conditions for the next generation.

But the way we lay out our roads and streets is killing us in many ways. It’s restricting freedom (warning: Daily Mail) and causing physical harm, through collisions, poor air quality and the health risks that come with inactivity.

To get the general public on board, a campaign needs to speak to them and be something that everyone can empathise with.

What is needed is the Campaign for Childhood Freedom. I won’t witter on about it here, follow the link to read more.

I’m not criticising the LCC’s Space For Cycling campaign here, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I do think that Space For Cycling – although I support it fully – is too niche to have wide public support, and that’s what is required for the changes we all wish to see.

It’s not easy to convince people to support the curtailment of their freedom to rat-run anywhere and everywhere, and harder still to get people to see the bike as a suitable mode of transport for local journeys. But, framed in the context of the health and well-being of children, such changes may well become seen as a sacrifice worth making for the next generation’s sake.

That’s the direction which campaigning must take to reach the wider public.

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Addendum: As often happens, a commenter has hit the nail on the head so squarely that it’s worth adding to the article. Farnie has tweeted: Need to get away from the ‘campaigning for cyclists’ thing. It’s for everyone and also commented below: “Make it an issue for parents, because they are a much more powerful lobbying group than any local cycle campaign.”

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