Wednesday 3 February 2010

What’s wrong with the London Cycling Campaign?

The cycle lane on Lea Bridge Road, part of Waltham Forest's prize-winning cycle lane network.

Below: a section of the glorious London Cycle Network (B159 in Leyton). This lane is advisory and may be used for car parking. Which it is, every day!

The London Cycling Campaign strategy document 2008-2013, entitled One in Five by 2025, ends with an uplifting celebration of

a collective vision bounded by four words: culture, leadership, design and inclusion

In other words, management-speak and empty platitudes.

In the past ten years the champions of cycling in London have increased cycling budgets, strengthened cycling arguments and raised political commitment at the highest level. The result has been a huge increase in cycling and a glimpse of what London could become.

It depends what you mean by ‘huge’ I suppose. It’s worth remembering that we’ve been down this road of delusional optimism and exaggerated expectations before.

Who now remembers the glorious visions set forth for London cycling at the end of the twentieth century? The targets for cycling set out in the Cycling Strategy for London were

4% modal share by 2004 and 10% by 2012. These targets were fully endorsed by all political parties in the run-up to the 2000 London elections, and have also been accepted by London’s boroughs

Crikey, we’re just two years away from having ten per cent of all journeys in Greater London made by bicycle!

It hasn’t happened, of course. Those targets were every bit as delusional and fantastic as this one:

Over the next five years we wish to ensure that we are on track to getting one in five Londoners cycling regularly by 2025 - ‘One in Five by 2025’

Come back here in fifteen years time, dear reader. Because you can be quite certain that one in five Londoners will NOT be cycling regularly by 2025 – at least not if the strategies favoured by the LCC are pursued.

The hard reality is that cycling’s modal share in London was 1.2 per cent in 2000. It has since risen to 1.6 per cent. (source)

Those are risible figures but you won’t often hear them from cycling campaigners, in the same way that collective amnesia is the LCC cycling community's response to the catastrophically failed Cycling Strategy for London.

Cycling’s low modal share in Greater London reflects the failure to build a safe and convenient cycling infrastructure, and the continuing dominance of the car at every level of financing and transport planning. This culture has not changed and is not changing, and schemes like bike hire and the laughably-named ‘Cycle Superhighways’ do not in any way address it. The future projected rise in cycling in London is supposed to take place more than anywhere else in outer London, and yet in an outer London borough like Waltham Forest cycling is not simply comprehensively a crap experience (QV all the photos on this blog) but is about to get worse.

There are some 1,300 streets in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, and on not one of those streets is the cyclist dominant. Every one of those streets is dedicated to the supremacy of the car. Cycling basically boils down to a choice of using main roads or residential streets. Main roads often have cycle lanes 1.5 metres wide. These roads cyclists have to share with high volumes of motor traffic including heavy goods vehicles and buses. The cycle lanes are ‘advisory’ and can be entered at any time by drivers. They are often obstructed. The Advanced Stop Lines are ignored by by drivers to a staggering degree. The streets are full of drivers chatting on mobile phones.

The other alternative is residential streets, which usually involves cycling down a road lined on both sides with parked cars. So-called ‘quiet routes’ are often more unnerving than main roads, because drivers pass closer and sometimes become impatient and angry at being slowed down by a cyclist. Neither kind of road presents an attractive environment for cycling, and many cyclists adapt to this cycling-hostile environment by riding on the pavement or passing through red lights, because this may be safer or more convenient. One-way streets and gyratory systems add a further obstacle to safe, convenient, direct cycling.

Personally I’m sick and tired of hearing about targets which are both entirely unrealistic and which are safely and evasively located in the distant future. Instead I want to see infrastructure – real infrastructure that puts the cyclist before the car and begins from the position that car travel is not a sensible way of moving around cities. In other words, infrastructure on the Dutch model, not the crap British version, which involves narrow on-road ‘advisory’ cycle lanes and Advanced Stop Lines which motorists flout with impunity. Integrated cycling has failed and will continue to fail, though the message hasn’t yet got through to Britain’s two main cycling organisations.

With others we will build on this success. What we are attempting is visionary. The transformation of a major world city has simply not been done before.

Oh, please. Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands all have cities where cycling’s modal share is vastly greater than London, and this wasn’t achieved by pursuing the timid and half-baked facilities which the LCC promotes.

Groningen isn’t a major world city but it’s the sixth largest in the Netherlands and it’s the city which has achieved the highest rate of cycling in Europe, so it might be worth considering why and how. The basic answer is that the city massively curbed use of the car and put cycling first. It was achieved through radical restraints on car parking and use in the city centre and segregated cycling infrastructure further out, not the kind of feeble on-road infrastructure the London Cycling Campaign identifies with. The LCC has no policy on restraining the car. Even on something as rudimentary as parking enforcement, the LCC is mute:

6.1 Other road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists groups were written to for their views on parking enforcement. No evidence was received from the first two groups, however three submissions were received from the motorcyclist (powered two wheeler – PTW) lobby.

The LCC is a collaborationist organisation, not a radical campaigning group prepared to challenge the status quo. It colludes with the transport status quo and urges cyclists to adjust to it:

consider wearing hi-visibility clothing or adding reflective material to your bike.

jumping red lights is illegal ... Don’t do it!

And this is a particularly incandescent pearl of wisdom:

you can also win more support for cyclists by waving or otherwise acknowledging when someone has been courteous to you.

I find it utterly bizarre and symptomatic of a lack of principle and radical consciousness that the LCC website carries advertising from the AA, an outfit which is part of the road lobby and is an anti-cycling, anti-walking organisation committed to the dominance of the car.

The LCC website also boasts a range of cycling-friendly corporate supporters including the Met Police and the BBC.

Yet the Met has massively reduced traffic policing, refuses to enforce Advanced Stop Lines, and is contemptuous of laws designed to protect vulnerable road users. The BBC is a rotten car-supremacist organisation, which marginalizes road violence, endlessly constructs lawless drivers as mercilessly persecuted by speed cameras and parking wardens, and throughout 2008-2009 didn’t mention a single lorry/cycling fatality on BBC London News. If British Nuclear Fuels gave LCC money, we would no doubt be informed that it was a cycling-friendly environmental organisation.

The LCC has become part of the establishment and is, in my view, part of the problem. (It’s interesting and revealing, I think, that 70% of its budget goes on staff salaries and that the search for more funding is seen as an important LCC goal.)

The LCC acknowledges, rightly, that

Concerns about safety represent a significant barrier to increased cycling in London.

So, build a safe segregated infrastructure on the successful Dutch model? Er, no. Instead LCC colludes with establishment ‘road safety’ crap:

Recommendation – TfL London Road Safety Unit should work with LCC and boroughs to identify and develop new campaigns to raise awareness of safety issues among cyclists and drivers

This is just the usual victim-blaming garbage in which cyclists are held responsible for being run down (the cyclist was wearing dark clothing, the cyclist was not wearing a helmet), while drivers who flout speed limits, drive using mobile phones, and break numerous other traffic laws, are asked nicely if they could please raise their awareness.

Or as the LCC strategy document puts it, in promoting

our belief that cycling is safe, our focus has emphasized the beneficial effects of cycling and how these far outweigh any purported risk. In this strategy we will address this risk and work towards policy changes that promote road danger reduction. This will emphasise the role that motorised vehicle drivers have to play in ensuring the safety of others, rather than making vulnerable street users responsible for their own safety by ‘getting out of the way’ or just getting cycle training.

But that puts the safety of cyclists in the hands of drivers, who must be educated about the role they have to play. As a strategy this is doomed to fail, given the failure to restrain bad driving even at the rudimentary level of traffic law enforcement. Much better to seize road space currently devoted to on-street car parking and separate cyclists from motor vehicles on the Dutch model.

No need to ask what’s right with the LCC, of course. Its website is packed with activity. But when the LCC invites us all to celebrate 30 years of campaigning this to my mind raises the question: why, after thirty glorious years of LCC achievement, is cycling in London such crap? Even something as rudimentary and non-contentious as cycle parking is a joke in London. After thirty years of LCC campaigning, cycle parking even in somewhere like Regent Street is, shall we say, inadequate. But then it's a sign how backward and barbaric the London transport culture is that anyone is still free to drive down Regent Street, Oxford Street and all around the West End in a private car.

I was interested by this comment, in relation to an Evening Standard story about crap cycle parking at stations in the five Olympic boroughs:

Tom Bogdanowicz of the London Cycling Campaign said: “If we want the Olympics to be watched by active spectators we have to provide proper cycling facilities or the whole thing becomes a joke. I think the Olympics ought to be a beacon of best practice and I'm disappointed that the Standard has found so little provision for cycle parking out there.”

‘Out there’ in remotest Greenwich, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Newham – places where the complacent and insular LCC leadership evidently never ventures.

Quite why Tom Bogdanowicz should be surprised and disappointed is a mystery. Cycle parking provision in London is total crap everywhere, whether it’s railway stations, hospitals, theatres, courts, council offices, post offices, shopping centres, or average streets with average shops. It’s either non-existent or patchy and incoherent, and collectively grossly inadequate. And yet cycling parking provision is cheap and politically non-contentious. After 30 years of glorious campaigning the LCC has dismally failed to deliver on even this pathetically miniscule aspect of cycling. I wouldn’t mind if the LCC owned up to failure, but it won’t. And in pretending that everything is fine and dandy I think the LCC is simply repeating the failures of the past.

There are signs of hope. Public policy guidance is changing.

claims the LCC cycling strategy document. Oh really? Public policy documents emphasizing the need to promote cycling and walking have been pouring from the presses since the 1980s. At the same time more and more pavements have been seized for car parking, car ownership and use have rocketed, and cycling has failed to expand in any significant way.

The recent National Obesity Strategy and National Institute of Clinical Excellence guidance on physical activity and the environment all recognise the need to put people and planet back at the centre of transport and spatial planning.

Ah, yes – NICE. I’ve come across their work locally along with other wholesome cycling promotion initiatives.

At a borough level we must build both the capacity to engage more systematically and build on existing ways of working with partners (including London Councils, individual local authorities, Primary Health Care Trusts and so on) which generate the ultimate reward for volunteer activists, meaningful change.

In the London Borough of Waltham Forest, 75 per cent of Primary Health Care Trusts buildings used by the public have no cycle stands. Some partner for change.

The LCC gushes

There are signs of change. Top managers and Council leaders are starting to understand the significance of cycling to their priorities

What top managers and council leaders? No examples are given. It plainly doesn’t include the boroughs I know best, Redbridge, Newham, Haringey and Hackney, where cycling and walking are as marginalised as they are in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. LBWF, four times winner of LCC awards, is a car-centric local authority, and if you believe otherwise you can’t do much cycling or walking around these parts.

The neglect of London’s existing cycling infrastructure during the recent snow was a very visible symbol of the absolute indifference to cycling among London’s local authorities, but instead of howling in protest the LCC simply trilled that you’d be more likely to find an empty cycle stand, and it had some advice for cycling in snow.

The LCC is an organisation obsessed with image not substance:

In the media, cycling must become associated with success and status.

That’s froth - not infrastructure. There is no gimmick, no matter how fatuous and frothy, that the LCC will not eagerly embrace –crap like this, for example.

It’s reciprocated at a local level:

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

That’s right. Car Free Day in Walthamstow on Orford Road cost £10,000 and eight years later Orford Road, at the heart of Walthamstow Village, the place where some of Walthamstow’s best restaurants and pubs are, lacks even one single cycle stand. This is the perfect example of how cycling campaigners damage the potential of cycling by embracing gimmicks over infrastructure.
And then there’s this sort of thing:

Novice riders loved the BikeTube guided rides organised by LCC and Transport for London (called Cycle Fridays), inspiring new cycle commuters.

Polly, who was a regular participant on the Brixton ride said "These rides are great for me. One leaves from near my house and drops me at my office. I've decided to buy a new bike and ride much more often."

The literature of religious sects and fringe political organisations also often contains personal testimonials to lives transformed by sudden enlightenment. This doesn’t necessarily make them representative.

Adam Bienkov calculates that

the real number who took part could be as little as 93.

And with the total cost of the scheme thought to be £30,000, that works out as the most expensive commute it's possible to make.

While eagerly embracing gimmicks and pointless money-wasting initiatives (ironically the LCC leadership welcomes the strategy that its branch in Merton rejects), it is anxious to promote cycling on the cheap. There’s a revealing moment in the LCC’s response to the mayor’s transport strategy:

A touchstone for new developments will be how child-friendly they are: can children play safely, or walk and cycle safely to school, friends, facilities or shops? These goals can be achieved without heavy capital investment.

On the contrary, creating an environment where children can safely cycle to school involves restructuring London’s roads, getting rid of parking bays, and building top quality cycle paths physically separate from motor traffic. It won’t be cheap and it will involve major political battles with the road and car lobby. But that isn’t on the cards for the LCC, which is a timid organisation with a stunted and impoverished vision of what’s possible. Although the LCC doesn’t acknowledge it, the reality is that The number of cycling trips made by children and young people [in London] declined between 2001 and 2006/07.

The LCC talks about how to ‘Improve London’s cycling infrastructure’ with the exciting new concept of permeability:

Permeability refers to the process of improving streets for cyclists by providing safe, direct routes that encourage drivers to leave their cars at home.

It can refer to making one-way streets two-way for cyclists, or having cycle-only cut-throughs on junctions.

Because permeability isn't always an easy concept to convey, LCC is producing a project to document and photograph the best examples already in London.

In other words, infrastructure on the cheap, infrastructure which is barely infrastructure at all, and infrastructure which is just a cosmetic add-on to a car dominated environment.

We’ve had permeability in Waltham Forest for years, and the Manor Road example which incorporates both aspects of permeability admirably conveys its comprehensive crappiness. (If you really want more crap examples take a peek at Pretoria Avenue and Queen Elizabeth Road)

Read the LCC strategy for 2008-2013 here.

Let me leave you with this. Firstly (above), the impoverished vision of the LCC, as expressed by this representation of a road supposedly made more cycle-friendly so the risk, and the perception of risk, are both significantly reduced.

Then ask yourself whether you’d rather cycle in an urban environment like that, or one like this: