Tuesday, 7 December 2010

It’s just another day…

An action shot from the front line of Outer London cycling. Yesterday. A bit blurry but I was shaking from the freezing temperature, laced with everyday anxiety at cycling among dense traffic on the A112 (High Road Leyton). The A112 is the major north-south route running through the heart of the borough, from Chingford, through Walthamstow, into Leyton, and then on into Stratford.

The cycle lane was blocked by vehicles and the traffic was backed up ahead for 200 metres or so. The kind of everyday conditions which will always discourage the majority of people from cycling. The only practical and lawful way round traffic jams like this is to get round to the white line in the middle of the carriageway and head towards oncoming traffic. There’s usually space to get past but it requires very strong nerves.

Less assertive cyclists take to the pavement to get round vehicles in the cycle lane. They do it, of course, because the main advantage of cycling in a dense urban environment is speed and convenience. You can travel short distances much faster than in a car. But when you treat the bicycle as a vehicle, and a vehicle which is moreover subordinate to more important vehicles with engines, then the bicycle vehicle simply gets stuck in the traffic jam along with the cars, buses and lorries. A cyclist also experiences the added bonus of inhaling the fumes spewing from the exhaust pipe of the vehicle in front.

Situate a scene like this in the context of a document published in February this year, Delivering the benefits of cycling in outer London:

Outer London boroughs have great potential for increasing levels of cycling says sustainable transport charity Sustrans - part of a partnership that has launched guidance this week on how to make it happen.

Currently, around half of all car journeys in the outer London boroughs are less than 2 miles, a distance that could easily be walked or cycled by most people.

'Delivering the benefits of cycling in outer London' published by Transport for London, Sustrans, London Councils and the London Cycling Campaign, will give local authorities in outer London advice on how to give people more choices about how they make those shorter journeys.

The report usefully diagnoses the car-sick condition of Outer London:

Half of all car trips in Outer London are less than two miles in length.

Most cycle trips in Outer London (70 per cent) are undertaken by young males under the age of 40

There is considerable potential for cycling in Outer London if the barriers can be overcome.

One in five people say they wish to cycle, but the choice is not open to them because of actual or perceived barriers

Around 32 per cent of households in Outer London are without a car.

And what measures did the authors of this report propose to turn round car dependency in Outer London? Firstly, ‘soft’ measures, such as

Cycle training

Travel awareness campaigns help to highlight cycling as an alternative to the car and provide information to people who want to cycle

Boroughs can tie in with TfL campaigns such as ‘Catch up with the bicycle’ and ‘You’re better off by bike’

There are also vague suggestions such as

Develop and promote quieter routes and off-road cycle lanes to less confident cyclists

‘Develop’ how precisely?

But wait! A success story!

It will take time to achieve a significant shift away from car use in Outer London, but progress can start towards this goal. Positive trends have already been seen in areas such as Sutton where the Smarter Travel Sutton programme has contributed to a 75 per cent rise in cycling in the three years of the programme; and at a time when cycling levels in Outer London overall remained virtually constant. These results have been achieved through a comprehensive package of measures including personalised travel planning, promotion and training programmes.

The fly in that ointment is the statistic. What exactly does ‘a 75 per cent rise in cycling’ mean? According to TfL, cycling’s modal share in Sutton (by residence) 2006/07 to 2008/09 average, Seven-day week, is one per cent.

Curiously, the Sutton Smarter Travel site also promotes car dependency.

When it comes to ‘hard’ engineering measures this is as good as Delivering the benefits of cycling in outer London gets:

Increasing permeability through infrastructure

• Three main ways to improve permeability, include:
- Returning gyratories to two-way operation
- Returning one-way streets to two-way operation or making one-way streets two way for cycling
- Improving cycle access, for example, by dropped kerbs or cycle gaps

It’s not enough. Neither the soft measures nor the hard measures will significantly alter cycling’s very low modal share in Outer London. Nothing is on offer except vehicular cycling on car-saturated streets.

To find out how you turn round car dependency and achieve a significant rise in cycling you have to refer to a document which is of absolutely no interest to Sustrans, the London Cycling Campaign, London Councils or Transport for London. By that I mean The Dutch Bicycle Master Plan.

But, hey! - let’s not be too negative. According to 'Delivering the benefits of cycling in outer London'

There were 2,178 visitors to Carshalton’s Give Your Car the Day Off event and 227 pledges made.