Monday, 8 August 2011

An anniversary

This blog is four years old today.

A big, big thankyou to our sponsor, Waltham Forest Council. This blog would not have been possible without its dedicated commitment to crap cycle lanes, inadequate cycle parking provision, feeble or non-existent maintenance of cycling infrastructure and public footpaths and rights of way, not to mention its ongoing partnership with Transport for London, its traffic section’s commitment to ‘smoother traffic flow’ and car-centricity, as well as its installation of pinch points, one-way streets, useless and dangerous traffic calming, and parking bays alongside cycle lanes.

And the vision that was planted in my brain still remains…

A cycling success story

Let’s be upbeat and celebrate success, because let’s face it there’s a feeling we’re entering, or perhaps even in, a golden age of riding.

The statistics prove what golden times we live in.

I am referring to a London borough which experienced a 30 per cent increase in cycle trips between 1996 and 2002 and an 83 per cent increase in cycling in the eight year period 1998-2006, showing a success rate even better than Mayor Livingstone’s target of an 80 per cent increase in cycling in the period 2001-2010.

By 2005 this borough had achieved a modal share of around 2 per cent on most roads and was aiming for 4 per cent modal share for trips within the borough. This borough has won no less than four awards from the London Cycling Campaign, as well as a Bike to School award and a London Transport award. This borough is rightly proud that ‘the number of cyclists is increasing as the new facilities are being introduced’ and is not ashamed to assert the exciting possibility that in this cycling wonderland, cycling might even become as popular as in Holland. Yes, this is irrefutably one of the leading local authorities in London in its commitment to introducing cycling facilities

And in the last golden age of London cycling (circa the year 2000) there was this good news on modal share:

The aim of Waltham Forest Council policy is to meet the LAPC target of increasing the number of cycle trips from 2% to 10% by 2012.

So all in all it’s a bit of a mystery why the borough’s 2011 Local Implementation Plan revealed that after year upon year of these brilliant successes and massive percentage increases in cycling trips, cycling’s overall modal share was 0.8 per cent, one of the worst in London.

This is disappointing when so much effort has been put into encouraging cycling.

Car Free Day in Walthamstow in 2002 and Leytonstone in 2003/4/5 included a demonstration of unusual recumbent bikes and a cycle obstacle course attracting over 100 participants. These events gained good publicity in the local press.

For those who like good infrastructure, there are lots of vehicular cycling solutions here (yes, come to Waltham Forest and try out conditions on those ‘green tick’ infrastructure pages).

Of course we all know that the borough has a sarcastic, negative cycling blogger (who need not be mentioned!) but luckily the LCC’s Cycling Development Officer is prepared to step forward and set the record straight. And who can deny that the Coppermill Lane ‘cycle superhighway’ route is indeed a rip-roaring success? The council’s monitoring figures speak for themselves. In 2002 there were only 181 cycle trips on this route over a 12 hour period on an October weekday. In 2006 the council decided to switch the monitoring month to July and the results were much, much better. There was a more than 100% increase on this route! Let’s look at the figures. 431 in 2006, 444 in 2007, 465 in 2008, 422 in 2009 and 415 in 2010. So this ‘cycle superhighway’ has achieved a net loss of six cycle trips over a five year period. Truly super. It would have been interesting to know what the numbers were for 2011 but sadly the council has stopped counting.

(Below) Conditions on the Coppermill Lane ‘cycle superhighway’ – a road which is lined on both sides with parked cars, which has rubber speed cushions which both fail to deter speeding drivers and encourage drivers to steer round them, which has pinch points with free parking bays but no separate cycle access, and where all oncoming drivers are on the cyclist’s side of the road but who invariably fail to slow down or give way.

Elsewhere in the borough there are more success stories. For example, in response to those suggestions for segregated cycle tracks put forward by that Lancaster sociologist, the CTC’s Campaigns & Policy Director was quick to point out that this would be expensive, and anyway now is not the time to ask for it, and
Actually, on most urban streets, the solutions don't require a great deal of funding – we just need to introduce 20mph speed limits. Even in the most cycle-friendly countries such as the Netherlands, most urban streets simply have a 30kmh limit, perhaps with some nicely-designed traffic calming, and no cycle-specific provision whatsoever.

And here, too, the London Borough of Waltham Forest is at the cutting edge of this new thinking. Here is a street in a local area-wide 20 mph zone with extensive traffic calming, on a marked London Cycle Network route, which exactly matches the CTC’s winning formula for encouraging cycling, and I think you’ll agree the resemblance to any street in the Netherlands is remarkable:

The great thing about Waltham Forest is that it manages to find a balance between different road user groups. The council is keen to encourage cycling, but it also recognises the need to encourage motoring. Local shops depend on people driving short distances to them, and shopkeepers have always been keen to call for more parking bays and more free parking.

Happily, the council has found a perfect balance between free car parking bays in shopping centres and high quality cycle lanes.

When the M11 Link Road was built through the heart of Leytonstone and Leyton, local residents were promised a traffic-free High Road Leytonstone. Over the years successive administrations realised what a pie-in-the-sky idea that was, and the council’s latest ‘£2.8 million project to transform Leytonstone High Road’ will continue a great tradition. Pedestrians, too, can benefit from the judicious balancing of environmental improvements, as shown here on this fabulous urban gateway to the Olympic Village.

Another success story is Ruckholt Road. Back in 2002 this major commuter route registered only 284 cycle trips over a 12 hour period on an October weekday. By switching to July there was soon proof of an increase of nearly 300%. Yes, by July 2006 the figure had risen to a stunning 764, with 837 trips recorded the following year. Sadly there has been a bit of slippage since those glory days and the figure for 2010 was 708.

For some context bear in mind both motor vehicle flow and cycling infrastructure. As far as motor vehicles are concerned

The 2005 count for Ruckholt Road is 31,516. This is an increase of over 13,000 vehicles per day in only 4 years.

And this is the cycling-friendly cycle lane (another section of the fabulous London Cycle Network) on Ruckholt Road.

And now enjoy the video. Cycling in Waltham Forest.

Walthamstow today

Broken glass is nothing new to Waltham Forest cyclists. It’s just that it's normally in the cycle lane…

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Crap cycling & walking in York

(Above) Cycling in car-sick York

York is a very compact city:

With less than three miles - or around 18 minutes by bike - between the outer ring road and the city centre, getting around York by bike is fast and easy.

However, modal share figures for the period 2007-2009 indicate a growing rise in the number of York children who travel to school in a car. A report entitled A Sustainable Travel to Schools Strategy for York commented:

Detailed research is required to ascertain why children and young people do not walk or cycle in York.

Successful promotion of sustainable modes of travel to schools will contribute towards reducing traffic

Detailed research is not necessary. York is a car-centric city with a grossly inflated reputation as a cycling- and walking-friendly city. In fact its transport planning is little different to that of Transport for London or that found elsewhere in the UK. York’s transport planners prioritise ‘smooth traffic flow’. If you want to reduce motor traffic you have to inconvenience motor traffic and make it less convenient and attractive than walking, cycling and public transport. But York is like everywhere else, a grossly hypocritical highways authority which prioritises the private car while simultaneously ‘encouraging’ walking and cycling with empty words and smiley-smiley slogans.

Infrastructure for walking and cycling in York is subordinated to the convenience of drivers and motor vehicles. On busy streets pedestrians get sheep-pen crossings, which require two separate green phases just to cross the road. Cyclists get crap cycle lanes. Where infrastructure does exist that benefits pedestrians and cyclists, it is widely flouted. Drivers enter Advanced Stop Lines at red. They park across cycle lanes. They drive over crossings when the lights are green for pedestrians. They rat run through the pedestrian zone, unhindered by any enforcement. York’s crap council doesn’t even have dropped kerbs as a basic universal feature of the walking environment. Everywhere you go in York you encounter unlawful pavement parking and hundreds of shattered flagstones. York’s car-centric police are not interested in enforcing basic road traffic laws and neither is the council; York council could obtain the power to enforce footway parking but hasn’t done so.

There is no mystery why most people don’t cycle in York. It’s the infrastructure, stupid. If you make driving convenient and smooth, with lots of handy car parking, many people will choose to drive into and around city centres. If you make cycling subjectively unsafe, don’t enforce even minimal traffic restrictions and don’t supply enough parking, or supply parking with a high rate of theft, most people won’t cycle.

In the last ten years of the twentieth century York lost one third of its cyclists. No one who writes about York and cycling ever seems to mention that fact, but then most writing about cycling is at the default buoyant optimism setting. In place of a demand for infrastructure that works are substituted appeals for more promotion and marketing and cycle training and trying to make drivers behave responsibly. If you market a product that is crap people might be persuaded to buy it once, but after that they won’t.

York City Council has still not restored the level of cycling that existed in 1990, nor is it likely to as things stand. People cycle in York despite the infrastructure, not because of it. York ought to have an absolutely massive modal share for cycling, bearing in mind that it is a very compact city and also has a large student population. In reality York has dismally failed to build on its traditionally high modal share. Incredibly, the council (rather like TfL and the London Borough of Waltham Forest) is pursuing even more car-friendly policies. The pedestrian zone is being nibbled away at the edges for more car access. Here’s a traffic order I spotted on a lamp post last year:

York’s much-promoted pedestrian zone is a car-sick joke. This (below) is the heart of the pedestrian zone. Drivers rat-run through it all day along, undisturbed by York’s indifferent police and indifferent council. Blue badge owners are legally permitted to enter the zone and park there. Cyclists are banned. York’s pedestrian zone is a total farce. Only a nation with an utterly impoverished vision of civilised urban centres would regard York’s joke pedestrian zone as iconic.

And now let’s revisit York’s famous ‘magic roundabout’. Would you want to send your child to school on cycling infrastructure like this? The three photographs below show the A1036 leading north-east out of York towards the roundabout. Cyclists who want to go straight ahead at the roundabout (up Stockton Lane) or right (along Heworth Road) have to get into the cycle lane between two lanes of motor vehicles, as shown in the third photo. Remember that this is nominally a 30 mph road, though many drivers are plainly exceeding the limit.

(Below) The 'magic roundabout', heading south back into York. Note the closeness of the car to the narrow cycle lane. Then look at the wider context in the next photograph.

The design of the so-called 'magic roundabout' is astonishingly mediocre and comprehensively car-centric. The potential for complete separation of cyclists and motor vehicles on approach roads to the roundabout and on the roundabout itself is glaringly obvious. Get rid of that parking for two side-by-side cars and put in a segregated cycle track. That's the solution to York's cycling stagnation, here and elsewhere in the city.

(Below) Continuing south from the roundabout we come to this. Who would want their child to cycle to school on a cycle lane like this? York, like the London Borough of Waltham Forest, thinks putting a narrow cycle lane alongside parking bays is a brilliant idea.

(Below) The cycle lane stops before a junction. And a cyclist is overtaken by a driver signalling a left-turn.

(Below) Beyond the junction the cycle lane begins again, then soon comes to a sudden halt. Parking bays take priority. Yet York Council has the gargantuan nerve and hypocrisy to claim that private car users are at the bottom of its road hierarchy, with cyclists taking precedence.

If you keep going you soon come to Foss Bank and more iconic cycling infrastructure.

For more about York’s magic roundabout see this 2003 CTC article here (pages 6 and 7), which I wasn’t aware of when I wrote my original critique. Also check out As Easy As Riding a Bike’s very interesting follow-up piece.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Cyclist killed today on Holloway Road

A cyclist has been killed in a collision with a bus in north London.

Police were called at about 13:10 BST to reports of a bus having collided with a cyclist on Holloway Road, near the junction with Jackson Road, in Islington.


A new report implies this might be a case of ‘dooring’:

The 25 year-old died at the scene.

Investigators said initial reports suggested the cyclist had collided with an open car door prior to hitting a single decker bus. The driver of that car, an Audi, was arrested and is in police custody tonight.

Olaf Storbeck takes a special interest in London cycling fatalities and his blog will no doubt supply much more information in due course.

Driver who killed cycling RAF Commander is charged

A MAN has been charged with causing death by careless driving after a cyclist from Beaconsfield died in a road accident.

Group Captain Tom Barrett, 44, died in a collision on the A40 in Ruislip on March 10.

The dad-of-two, who lived on Amersham Road, was the station commander at RAF Northolt.

Cycling casualties still rising

The latest road casualty figures are more bad news.

The new figures underline what is starting to look like a trend. The one road user group where casualty figures are rising – and rising in all categories (light injuries, serious injuries and fatalities) is that of cyclists. Pedestrian casualty figures (which are often worse than for cycling) continue to fall.

What is striking about the latest set of figures is that they occur both in the winter months, when there are fewer cyclists around, and against a background of falling car use. Recessions are usually good for road casualty figures, because people drive less. But cycling is dangerous.

Bus driver news

Bus drivers in the news: here, here and here.

The photo above shows Selborne Road, Walthamstow. Apparently a bus driver knocked someone down. The police didn't put up this sign until three weeks after it happened and details of what exactly happened remain sketchy.

A Stella career

The latest issue of Private Eye has a disgracefully cynical critique of Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow. I must urge you all not to rush out and buy this scurrilous rag. There is enough sarcasm and negativity in the world already. Please, I beg you, just ignore this issue, the one with Piers Morgan and Rebekah Brooks on the cover, which is available from all newsagents, and even Sainsbury’s!


On November 23 I photographed this fly-tipped heap of plaster, presumably dumped by a white van man builder. It’s just off Walthamstow High Street, on Buxton Road.

Nine months later it’s maturing nicely.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Waltham Forest Council abandons ALL cycle monitoring

Until 2005, Waltham Forest Council carried out annual screenline cycle counts on twelve major routes in the borough.

The raw data for these routes is available in section 3.6 of the Waltham Forest Cycle Action Plan (2005, with subsequent updates).

The council then reduced its counts to ten routes, dropping monitoring on Grove Green Road in Leyton and Hoe Street in Walthamstow.

These counts were very valuable, and I was looking forward to seeing the July 2011 figures. I duly sent off a Freedom of Information request and with commendable speed and efficiency the council has responded. I am informed that the Transport Planning Team has been subject to severe budget reductions during 2011, as a consequence of which no cycle counts have been taken this year.

I confirm therefore that there is no cycle monitoring information for 2011.

I’d be interested to know if other London boroughs have also abandoned their cycle counts. If you live in one, do ask.

How to tell if a cyclist is going too fast

A 24-YEAR-OLD driver who knocked down a cyclist has appeared in court and claimed the man on the bike was travelling too fast.

Matthew Gosling, of Royal Sussex Crescent, appeared before the town’s magistrates on Friday morning (July 29) and admitted driving without due care and attention on April 16. The court heard Gosling was turning right into Moatcroft Road from The Goffs, Old Town, when he hit the cyclist causing him to be thrown in to the air.

When interviewed about the incident, Gosling said he felt it was the cyclist’s fault. He told the officers he had not seen the cyclist and suggested he may have been on the pavement and then switched to cycling on the road shortly before the accident.

However, another motorist at the scene said the cyclist was clearly on the road and she was waiting for the bike to pass before she made her manoeuvre.

In court, Gosling represented himself and told the magistrates he felt the cyclist was travelling too fast because there was considerable damage to his car following the impact. He also said the sun was in his eyes at the time.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A tale of three cyclists

Russell Square. Obviously there wouldn’t be room on a narrow footway like this for a separate cycle track…

I must admit when I took a look recently at the ‘improvements’ to the south side of Russell Square I was very surprised. The old right-turn lanes into the Square have been blocked off and transformed into footway. You can see the line of the old kerb in the photograph above. This is very good news for pedestrians. It is bad news for cyclists, however, because now you have to wait a little further down the road, and make a sharp right turn.

What is absurd about the new design is that it could so easily have accommodated a cycle track. To be viable, however, it would also require lights with a dedicated ‘cyclists only’ green phase. As things stand, Russell Square remains a fundamentally car-centric location, and the so-called ‘improvements’ have actually made cycling worse – less safe, less convenient, more off-putting to all but hardcore cyclists. It didn’t have to be like this. And apart from the grotesque absence of cycling infrastructure on the Dutch model, the Square should have been humanised by blocking it off to through traffic. It would be perfectly easy to close the Square to through traffic by strategically-placed road closures which still permit access to essential traffic while deterring rat-running.

(Below) Let’s swing the camera round and look at the south side of Russell Square, facing west. The so-called ‘improvements’ involve a major narrowing of the carriageway, with parking bays for buses and coaches on one side and parking bays for cars and other vehicles on the other. Cyclists are squashed closer to motor vehicles. This is a truly incredible scene when the possibility of a wide, safe, segregated cycle track is blatantly obvious. It’s another testimony both to the lack of vision of London transport planning and its parochial ignorance of cycling infrastructure on the Dutch model which supplies a proven model of spectacular success.

(Below) Look carefully and you will see two cyclists in these photographs. Both want to turn right into Russell Square (south side). One is an elderly male cyclist, who obeys the rules. The other is a much younger helmet-clad male. The younger cyclist swings out into the fast lane of north-bound traffic coming from Southampton Row, which is empty of traffic because it is held at a red light on the other side of the junction. He jumps the light and cruises into Russell Square. He is not at risk from drivers, because all lanes are held at red. However, this involves passing over the pedestrian crossing at green. In this instance there is no conflict since the cyclist passes behind the one pedestrian who is crossing.

(Below) The elderly cyclist, now stationary, positions himself correctly to turn right. He gets some protection from having a right-turning motorcyclist behind him, otherwise he would be even more isolated and vulnerable, trapped between two lanes of large vehicles. The driver of the massive oncoming Dutch articulated lorry has to move over to his left to avoid the rear end of the lorry hitting the cyclist, then straightens up. The Dutch lorry is a left-hand drive vehicle, which means the driver is on the other side to the cyclist.

(Below) With a gap in the traffic, the elderly cyclist is at last able to turn into Russell Square. Take a look at what is happening in the background: a blue car and a cyclist travelling north on Southampton Row, towards the camera, both approach the junction.

(Below) Note that in the background the blue car is now travelling parallel with the cyclist, both moving at the same speed.

(Below) A near miss. The driver of the car turns left into the path of the cyclist who is going straight ahead. My photo catches the moment the cyclist swerves away and glances in surprise at the driver, who brakes.

Left-turning drivers at this location (above) may be misled into thinking that a cyclist is also turning left because the road lay out here involves the road widening by the Square, with the north lane turning into two lanes. Cyclists move slightly to the left to go into the slow lane.

(Below) The cyclist (doubtless a little shaken by the experience) continues on his way, while the car turns into Russell Square.

The moral of this sequence of events? For a cyclist, jumping a red light can sometimes be a lot safer (and quicker and more convenient). And it is pointless condemning such behaviour when the road network is built for the convenience of drivers, without safe and convenient infrastructure for cycling, and where rules designed to protect cyclists are not enforced. Darwin would have understood contemporary cycling behaviour in Greater London.

The death of a cyclist: some anomalies and ambiguities

A “NATURAL roamer” who travelled the country on his bicycle was hit by a car and killed on the A34.

Motorists were shocked to see Alistair Bettis pedalling along the southbound carriageway near Pear Tree in the dark, an inquest heard yesterday.

Witnesses said they struggled to make out the 59-year-old as he cycled on the edge of the slow lane in the dark, although one driver said he may have been carrying a red LED bike light.

This is the first ambiguity. Either the cyclist was displaying a light at the rear or he was not. A competent police investigation of the crash scene should have arrived at a conclusion on that point.

Nicola Gibson, who was travelling south on the dual carriageway having left work in Summertown, told Oxfordshire Coroner Nicholas Gardiner she had no time to react after the cyclist veered into the inside lane.

This is the second ambiguity, since the deceased appears to have been in the slow lane all the time. The killer driver’s assertion that the cyclist ‘veered’ is contradicted by her next assertion that she didn’t see the cyclist until ‘a second before the impact’:

The motorist, who was travelling well below the speed limit, struck Mr Bettis as he was 1.7 metres inside the carriageway, crash investigator Andrew Evans said.

Ms Gibson, who was exonerated by Mr Gardiner, said: “About a second before the impact I could see him. (It was) not until my dipped headlights saw the back of his tyre, and I just put the emergency brakes on.
“He seemed like he was right in front of the passenger side.”

The incident took place at about 7.15pm on November 30.

But ‘in front of the passenger side’ is exactly where a cyclist should be riding. And what does ‘travelling well below the speed limit’ actually mean? It could mean 60 mph, if the limit was 70 mph. But speed limits are often a red herring, since the duty of a driver is to drive in a manner appropriate to the road conditions. You can be below the maximum speed limit for the road you are on and still be driving in a reckless and dangerous manner.

Unfortunately bald newspaper reports like these raise far more questions than they answer.

In the comments ‘Quentin Walker, Oxford’ writes

I'm surprised not more cyclists are killed on our roads. Many of them do not have the self-preservation instinct and ride in dark clothing, which can be difficult to see even in daylight.

It is time it became mandatory for all cyclists to wear hi-viz clothing

Such comments are symptomatic of a society in which driving without due care and attention is institutionalised at all levels, to the detriment of pedestrians and cyclists.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

a death site revisited: Vernon Place

Vernon Place, eastbound. Three lanes wide at the junction with Southampton Row. Absurdly, the third ‘fast lane’ can legitimately be used for drivers going straight ahead as well as making a right turn. This generates conflict with right-turning cyclists, especially those unable to get into the fast lane because of speeding traffic or obstruction of the Advanced Stop Line (ASL).

Spot the cyclist in the second photo. You can’t, though there is one present here in this three-lane-wide wedge of packed motor vehicles

Vernon Place (London WC1) is a junction where two women cyclists have been killed in recent years, one in 2008 by a left-turning lorry, another in 2009 by a right-turning bus. I blogged about the last fatality here and there was more commentary by Olaf Storbeck here.

More recently I blogged about conditions for cyclists as you approach the junction

(Below) I photographed the ASL after the lights had gone to red and waited to see if any drivers would flout it.

(Below) By a strange quirk of fate the first vehicle which came along was a number 98 bus – the same service which killed Dorothy Elder. The light had been red for some time before this bus arrived, and the driver had no excuse at all for doing what he did, which was to wilfully and deliberately drive into the ASL reservoir for cyclists.

(Below) While he was waiting at the lights the driver of this bus switched his attention from driving to reading some papers in his cab. My photo captures the moment that the lights change, with the driver still staring down at whatever he was reading, oblivious to what was going on around him. He didn’t even notice me taking photographs of him. In other words, Metroline drivers of number 98 buses are still driving in a criminal and reckless way at a site where one of this company’s drivers killed a cyclist.

Olaf Storbeck also wrote about the death of cyclist Jayne Helliwell, killed nearby by a bus driver on Oxford Street remarking I urge Metroline and TfL to take responsibility for Jayne’s death. Fat chance, I’m afraid.

Ironically, the next sight I observed was a number 8 bus in the fast lane coming into conflict with a right-turning cyclist (below). The number 8 bus was going straight ahead. The right-turning cyclist had evidently not had the confidence to get over to the right when approaching the junction. This was potentially another fatal collision scenario. However, it happened in broad daylight (whereas the two fatalities occurred here during the hours of darkness) and the bus driver was attentive to the cyclist’s manoeuvre, and braked to allow the cyclist to pass in front. This episode simply underlines what a catastrophically dangerous junction this is for cyclists. The only safe solution here is to separate cyclists from motor vehicles on all four arms of the junction – segregation is perfectly viable in terms of available road space – and to give cyclists a dedicated all green phase. Needless to say TfL isn’t thinking in such terms; sadly, neither are many cycling campaigners, who prefer to focus on confidence building and cycle training, conspicuity, and changing driver behaviour through education, enforcement or new legislation.