Monday, 31 January 2011

The view from the cycle lane

A typical Waltham Forest cycle lane of the sort which is going to generate 3,000 extra cycling trips in the borough every day this year, and then 3,000 more the year after, and every year after that until 2026, when the Mayor’s target of a 5 per cent modal share for cycling will have been achieved across Greater London. Won’t it?

An unfortunate coincidence

Speaking at the scene, Keith Lumley, a chief superintendent at South Yorkshire Police confirmed that the driver of the vehicle was 16, the female passenger was 15 and the male passenger was 14.

‘What we do know is that the road was cold, wet and probably icy. For some reason the driver lost control of the vehicle and it has collided with the tree across the road.

Addressing the fact that two fatal crashes, claiming the lives of six teenagers in total, had taken place in such close proximity to one another in just over a month, he added:

‘It is an unfortunate coincidence.
I don't think it is a cultural thing.

Nah, course it isn’t. The car involved was a Honda Civic. You know, same as here.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The SUSTRANS ‘Tarkovsky trail’ for sci-fi cyclists & psychogeographers

Rejoice! For the London Borough of Waltham Forest Local Implementation Plan (or LIP) has at last crawled forth into daylight. As yet the council does not seem to have made it available online. But not to worry. You could always try one of the local libraries. Like this Walthamstow blogger:

I asked if I could see “the definitive map and statement for the boroughs public rights of way” (“please”). Both ‘points’ consulted the online oracle and were equally puzzled as to what and where this document is. The librarians suggested I come back and ask some other librarians.

Much more about the LIP shortly. Crack teams of experts here at the Krapp Institute are subjecting the LIP’s stated aim of ‘encouraging cycling’ to rigorous critical scrutiny, and our report will be out in a day or so. Before that we shall expose a Town Hall car dependency scandal. But for today, as a small musical prelude to a thunderous symphony, let us consider section 3.4.7, entitled ‘Greenways and new cycle schemes’.

Waltham Forest’s LIP was developed in consultation with, among other organisations, SUSTRANS. Basically, the Sustrans ‘Olympic Greenways’, which were quietly shelved a couple of years ago, have once again been brought out into daylight, dusted down and reinvented for the LIP.

LIP funding has been obtained for ‘High quality cycle networks’ including ‘Greenways’, offering ‘convenient, predictable and reliable access to local destinations’ (p. 57)

This blog post will deal with one such ‘Greenway’ identified in the LIP, which is to be ‘developed and upgraded’ and which will ‘expand and enhance cycle infrastructure’ in Waltham Forest. And this particular one leads to the Lea Valley, wherein is to be found that distant, legendary Shangri-La known as ‘the Upper Lea Valley Opportunity area’.

But enough talk. Let us begin our epic journey down this Greenway, which is marked on the map on page 58 of the LIP.

In the east, this LIP Greenway begins at the idyllic Crooked Billet underpass (where the North Circular Road meets the A112 and the B179). What local cyclists think of this much-celebrated facility is indicated by the annual cycle counts for the period 2006-2010, which, over the period 7 am-7 pm, on a July day, are 309, 324, 294, 223 and 228. This indicates a trend. Which is a shame as there is so much to see and enjoy at the Crooked Billet. Take this intriguing structure, for example (below). A solitary running shoe amid the detritus in the foreground hints at an untold story. And what lies inside the darkness of those slightly open doors? The entrance to the magical land of Narnia? Or simply a decomposing corpse?

But now it’s time to set off down the Greenway. The first part of the Greenway runs south of Billet Road on a new cycle path which has previously been celebrated on this blog. (Since that post it's been slightly extended, by the ingenious device of painting a white line down the middle of the relatively narrow pavement.)

Follow it to the end, cross Billet Road – do remember your Green Cross Code as the drivers are going much faster than 30 mph! – and go to the end of the cul de sac to the right of the new Academy (i.e. what used to be known as The McEntee School). You will be greeted by that essential design feature of every exemplar SUSTRANS route – a barrier. But there's access in the mud at the side for cyclists, so not to worry.

Here the route really comes into its own. The suburbs fade and rural life takes over, rich with glimpses of overgrown, derelict buildings, strange motionless horses, and a supermarket cart mysteriously enclosed on all sides by metal fencing. This simply reinforces the general theory that

Tarkovsky’s Stalker seems to be a parable about the London Borough of Waltham Forest. It is set in a wilderness area full of decay, where the normal laws of physics no longer apply.

At the end of the path you meet another one, entirely lacking in direction signs. But as local psychogeographer and artist Julian Beere observes, this is not all that unusual in the London Borough of Waltham Forest:

Some of the paths appear unsigned, nameless; nowhere between somewhere or other - liminal passages.

In fact you need to turn left here, if you are following the Greenway route, which runs behind the Academy playing fields. As you can see, the width of the path here makes it highly suitable for two-way family leisure cycling shared with dog walkers. Who can doubt that this will become a veritable 'Camel Trail' for North East London?

Before long you will encounter the delightful entrance to another public footpath, this one leading off south back to Billet Road. Naturally it’s unsigned. If you plan on leaving the Greenway here please note that experience in wading through toilet seats is an advantage.

And this (below) is where this Greenway route eventually terminates, where it meets the aptly named Folly Lane.

More flytipping (the CCTV stalk nearby has the camera missing) and the entrance is coated in hundreds of tiny pieces of broken glass. This route has been identified by a top man at the London Cycling Campaign as ‘a hidden treasure’, proving once again that the LCC has a shrewd understanding of how to get more people cycling.

If you don’t fancy returning along the Greenway route there’s an alternative. Overgrown crumbling steps reminiscent of a lost Mayan temple lead mysteriously upward…

You emerge on to a lush green plateau containing this enigmatic artefact (below). Is it an extra-terrestrial taking a nap or simply her space module?

All I know is that next moment there was a blinding flash and I woke up several hours later to find myself back at the Crooked Billet, with my bike computer mysteriously frozen at the time I left ‘the Tarkovsky trail’.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

What won’t bring about mass cycling (5) vehicular cycle campaigning

People who know about cycling: London borough cycling officers meet campaigners

1. Some history

Let’s start with some history.

From 1950-1975 cycling was excluded from the government’s transport planning. Car ownership increased from half a million cars in 1960 to 4.6 million in 1981. Cycling vanished from city centre streets. Bike lanes became filled with parked cars. Proposals to put dedicated cycle lights at major junctions were resisted on the grounds of cost and that they would slow down drivers. Car use was believed to be of major economic importance. One study revealed a situation in which 83 per cent of households owned a bicycle but only one in six ever used them for utility cycling. There was a 70% modal share drop in cycling between 1950-1970.

Sound familiar? But this is a description of the Netherlands. To learn how this country reversed its car dependency and transformed itself into the most successful cycling country in the world a good place to begin is The Dutch Bicycle Master Plan, a document I suspect few British cycling campaigners have ever heard of, let alone read.

Today the Netherlands has about 29,000 km of segregated cycle path (a figure which excludes "off-road" paths) and 7000 km of on road cycle-lane, and about 120,000 km of road. Segregated cycling infrastructure lies at the heart of Dutch cycling provision but it is reinforced by a whole range of other measures, some of which are familiar to British cycling but only in a hideously sub-standard or car-centric format: permeability, contraflows, road closures, traffic calming.

The basic principle of the Dutch cycling renaissance is separation of cyclists from motor vehicles and the privileging of cycling routes over motor vehicles in town centres and residential areas. Around half of kilometres cycled in the Netherlands are on segregated cycle paths; the other half is shared with motor vehicles. However the kinds of roads where cyclists share the road have low volumes of traffic and low vehicle speeds. And of course just about every driver is also a cyclist.

Around 40 per cent of kilometres cycled in urban areas are on cycle paths. These are largely autonomous cycle paths alongside busy traffic arteries. There are also sometimes bicycle lanes. The bicycle lane has a legal status. Motorists may not stop or park on it. Bicycle lanes are often used in traffic arteries where there is no room for autonomous cycle paths.

At junctions the safety and flow of cycle traffic is a decisive factor, determining whether the best solution is lights, a roundabout, or a priority crossing. Traffic lights in the Netherlands generally have separate indicators for bicycles. A number of facilities have been introduced to increase the flow and safety of cyclists. These include detection sensors, simultaneous green lights for cyclists in all directions, and display timers giving the waiting time. 70 per cent of the delays in urban areas are caused by traffic lights, which means that other alternatives are preferred, most notably roundabouts with segregated cycle paths and priority for cyclists in built-up areas. The bicycle street allows limited access for cars but the motorist is a guest. (For more, see this)

And now let’s consider one aspect of cycle campaigning in Britain. Whereas the basic principle of the Dutch cycling renaissance is separation of cyclists from motor vehicles, this has always been vigorously opposed by Britain’s leading cycle campaign organisation, the CTC.

The first (and one of the very few) dedicated roadside optional cycle tracks was built, as an experiment for the Ministry of Transport, beside Western Avenue between Hanger Lane and Greenford Road in 1934. It was thought that "the prospect of cycling in comfort as well as safety would be appreciated by most cyclists themselves". However, the idea ran into trenchant opposition from cycling groups, with the CTC distributing pamphlets warning against the threat of cycle paths.

In 1947, in response to official suggestions that cyclists should use cycle-tracks, the CTC adopted a motion expressing determined opposition to cycle paths alongside public roads.

In 2007, official claims of safety for cycle tracks provoked a position paper from the umbrella body for UK cyclists' groups, stating "Cycle Campaign Network knows of no evidence that cycle facilities and in particular cycle lanes, generally lead to safer conditions for cycling".
[CCN was subsequently rebranded as Cyclenation.]

In 1996 the UK Cyclists' Touring Club and the Institute of Highways and Transportation jointly produced a set of Cycle-Friendly Infrastructure guidelines that placed segregated cycling facilities at the bottom of the hierarchy of measures designed to promote cycling.

Britain’s second biggest cycle campaign group, the London Cycling Campaign, has likewise never shown any serious interest in the Dutch example and remains fundamentally wedded to vehicular cycling.

When Transport for London says that segregation has never been considered for ‘Cycle Superhighways’ because cyclists don’t want to be treated differently to other vehicles it is referring to those who represent cycling as campaign organisations and as activists.

The majority of regular cyclists do not belong to cycling organisations and remain outside the consultative framework, as do the far greater numbers of non-cyclists.

TfL is not professionally interested in non-cyclists and the reasons for their non-cycling, even though these reasons have been repeatedly and comprehensively documented. TfL’s core aim and priority is accommodating motor vehicle flow and parking, to which everything else is subordinate. Within this traffic modelling framework both pedestrians and cyclists are an impediment, since their presence and activity slows down motor vehicles or may deny vehicles street space.

Vehicular cycling campaigning accommodates itself to this traffic model and seeks to humanise it, through such infrastructure as carriageway markings (Advanced Stop Lines and cycle lanes) or speed restrictions. When the CTC talks about ‘Reallocation of carriageway space’ it doesn’t mean banning motor traffic from streets or taking one lane of a multi-lane highway and segregating it for cyclists but rather bus lanes, widened nearside lanes, cycle lanes

The Dutch template simply doesn’t exist for the CTC, since ‘Cycle tracks away from roads’ is a vague term which could cover everything from a Sustrans leisure route to the classic British segregated cycle path, which is usually poorly designed and poorly maintained and a hideous parody of what Dutch cyclists enjoy. British segregated cycling infrastructure is what put me off segregation, until I learned that there are other kinds.

In the CTC’s ‘Hierarchy of Provision’ there is nothing remotely Dutch about ‘Conversion of footways/footpaths to shared use cycle tracks for pedestrians and cyclists’. Although it piously talks about ‘Traffic reduction’ as the top priority, these vehicular cycling strategies in the ‘Hierarchy of Provision’ in fact do everything to accommodate traffic. The fact that the CTC even considers rubbish, failed infrastructure like the conversion of footways for shared use is very revealing, since this is a favourite device of highway engineers who want to get rid of cyclists from the road.

Because it accepts that the cyclist’s place is among motor vehicles, vehicular cycling campaigners do not seriously seek to challenge the hegemony of the car. There’s a revealing moment in a paper by John Franklin where he writes:

widening the nearside lane on multi-lane roads can be a very useful way of giving cyclists extra space without imposing the constraints of a cycle lane or disadvantaging anyone.

I take him to mean without disadvantaging motorists.

And once you collude with a car-centric infrastructure you end up with cycling infrastructure and campaigning like this.

2. UK cycle campaigning: still in denial

A British cycling activist named Jonathan Wood has written

When we mix in cycle campaigning circles, the demographic of white elderly eccentric men does little to build confidence in the future health of cycling advocacy.

I’m inclined to agree. What I would call establishment cycle campaigning (the CTC, the LCC, Sustrans, Cyclenation) is dominated by a handful of middle-aged or elderly men, some of whom seem to have been around forever. To some extent this is also true of local cycle campaign groups, which quite often boil down to half a dozen activists, who may have been campaigning for 20 years or more. But the problem is not so much the demographic, which is perhaps inevitable within the narrow context of British cycling, but the ideology and the strategy. Ultimately it’s the intellectual eccentricity, the parochialism and the denial of failure expressed by the ideology and strategy that matters most. Outfits like the CTC, Cyclenation and the LCC do bear all the sociological hallmarks of a sect.

The orthodox British cycle campaign ideology is one of seeking small improvements for existing cyclists within a vehicular cycling environment and the strategy is both one of negotiation with decision makers and attempting to encourage non-cyclists to take up cycling through ‘soft’ measures like marketing and cycle training.

Whatever you might think about the merits of this ideology and this strategy, they have signally failed. Cycling in Britain has contracted massively over the past 60 years. In most places it is flatlining or stagnating. The brutal reality is that cycling as modal share is on a steady downward pattern.
Much UK cycle campaigning remains in denial about this, still clinging to the endlessly reiterated belief that a great cycling renaissance is just around the corner.

The optimism can at times be mind-boggling. For example, one delegate reports back from the recent cycling conference in Edinburgh that there was a definite sense that more and stronger investment in cycling lies just around the corner. Which is quite remarkable bearing in mind that the government has just slashed funding for cycling in Britain from about £1 per person to just 20p per person (In a city of 100000 people, it's 20000 pounds. That's not even enough to employ someone to think about doing something… By way of contrast, cycling in the Netherlands is funded at a rate of around 30 euros per person per year, which is about 150 times as much).

And when the new CEO of the London Cycling Campaign is reported as telling delegates that Cycling has come onto the political agenda, and is backed in high places I can’t help wondering who he means. Perhaps the new Road Safety minister? The Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond MP? Possibly the Mayor of London? Or maybe the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government? As for the LCC’s eagerly anticipated administration under a cycling Prime Minister

But leaving such trifles to one side, what of the places where cycling really is experiencing growth? Take London, which is being hyped as the great success story:

why has the increase taken place? Officially, it is because of the efforts of Transport for London and the London Boroughs (mainly funded by TfL). But there is a more likely reason for at least a large proportion of the increase.

It is one which occurs in road safety and elsewhere where professionals claim credit for changes. Known as “regression-to-mean”, it refers to a change which was due to happen anyway. With cycling modal share, we can point to a typical “underlying average” in northern European cities, including those which have not supported cycling, of some 5%. What has happened in London can at least largely be explained by a spontaneous return to this average.

a large part of the increase in cycling can be seen as spontaneous and not due to official agencies like TfL and London’s Boroughs.

But what if this is true not simply for London but also for the whole of the UK? However unpalatable this might seem, it would suggest that all the efforts of the nation’s cycle campaigners have been in vain. Where there has been a rise in cycling it owes very little to their efforts but would have happened anyway.

In any case, nowhere in Britain has achieved a significant increase in cycling’s modal share. In most British cities modal share languishes at two per cent or less.

The current campaign strategy of organisations like the CTC and the LCC is to argue that cycling is experiencing growth, that more cyclists leads to ‘safety in numbers’, and that in this environment a critical mass will be achieved which will lead to urban planners embracing the bicycle and making British cities just like Copenhagen. But in those rare places which traditionally have had a much bigger modal share (York, for example) there are no signs at all of an already existing critical mass leading to anything other than stagnation or even decline. In 1995 the CTC was quoting a modal share figure for York of 18%, today it is 12%.

But what of Scotland’s most successful cycling city, Edinburgh? At a cycling conference back in 2001 high profile campaigner Don Mathew enthused the delegates with the message “Go for growth”:

The perpetual question asked by policy makers tends to be - 'Can we increase levels of cycling?' The answer from VeloCity is 'Yes - and in widely different circumstances'. Here are some examples:

Glasgow: just starting, but journey to work already up from 0.8% to 2.5%

Edinburgh: 1980s modal share 1.9%, 1990s 3.1%
(2010 target 10%)

And now see what happened:

The modal split for Glasgow is 46 percent private cars (drivers and passengers); 25 percent public transport; 18 percent pedestrians; 9 percent rail; 1 percent cycling; and 2 percent other means of transport. Although according to another source Fewer than 1% of journeys in Glasgow are made by bike

Which is hardly surprising when you read this and this (do read the comments).

But Edinburgh is the great success story. It’s the most successful cycling city in Scotland! So was that thrilling target of 10% modal share by 2010 achieved? Er, no.

Edinburgh has a modal share of 6% compared with 2% for the rest of Scotland

But the term ‘modal share’ is here used very loosely and actually only refers to commuter cycling, which always provides the highest figure. Vehicular cycling campaigners love commuter cycling figures both because they are always the most frabjous of all modal share statistics and because they are themselves, as likely as not, commuter cyclists. But as Mikael cruelly and accurately points out the voices who speak for this form of advocacy are largely sub-cultural.

In reality, for Edinburgh, for ‘Travel as a main mode’ the figures for cycling were 2 per cent in the years 2001-2006, dropping to 1.6 per cent for 2007-2008. A slump which matches that in some parts of London:

Weekday trips per day by London residents of Outer London, by main mode.
Mode share percentage: cycling at 1.5 per cent in 1991 and at 1.4 per cent in 2007/8.

None of this sounds like health or growth to me. But not to worry. Edinburgh has signed up to the Brussels Charter target of 15% cycling share by 2020.

Having examined Edinburgh’s plans for ‘encouraging cycling’ I can confidently predict this target will not be reached. And when it isn’t reached in 2020 it will promptly be forgotten and a thrilling new target will be established for 2030, or whenever.

Cycling isn’t going anywhere in York or Edinburgh or London or anywhere else – except among that relatively tiny percentage of the population which can be persuaded to dress in luminous yellow, put on a cycle helmet, and pedal among high volumes of motor traffic or on roads where significant numbers of drivers are behaving in a careless or reckless way. The demographic indicates that the people prepared to do this are largely male and aged 25-45. The majority will be commuters.

For the non-cycling mass of the population

the thing that stops people from cycling is that they don’t want to ride on busy roads, full of motorised traffic that is going too fast and thinks it’s got the right of way and squeezes them. That’s the reason people don’t cycle.

The orthodox response of British cycling campaigners is to dismiss this out of hand. If people are afraid to cycle they must be persuaded otherwise. Cycling is safe and can be proved to be safe with statistics. Moreover, vehicular cycling campaigners are prepared to cycle in traffic and see no reason why everyone else shouldn’t too. You can cycle for 18,000 years before you get killed by a motorist, they say with an encouraging smile. Having dealt with the fears of non-cyclists scientifically, novices can then be trained to adapt to a mass motorized cycling environment through cycle training. Alternatively, non-cyclists can be derided. Their excuses are bogus. People who won’t cycle are lazy. They are a lost cause. So it’s time to tighten those helmet straps, put on the high-viz jacket, and head off down to the howling traffic on the dual carriageway to assert ‘the right to ride’.

But of course the other side of people’s reluctance to cycle in traffic is their desire to cycle on infrastructure which lacks motor vehicles.

concerns about the safety of cycling appeared to be an issue for a large number of potential cyclists. Of those who were able to cycle, a clear majority agreed that they would ‘find cycling on the roads stressful’ (63%) and that it was ‘too dangerous to cycle on the roads’ (60%) and that they ‘would cycle (more) if there were more dedicated cycle paths’ (52%).

The last, desperate prejudice of the opinionated vehicular cyclist is that there simply isn’t space on British roads for Dutch infrastructure, which is just another lazy myth.

Any British cyclist with eyes to see can find their own examples of where segregated cycle paths are possible in urban environments.

And as David Arditti has observed

The big thing that tends not to be understood in the UK about segregated cycle lanes, Dutch-style, is that their main purpose is not safety, per se, as cycling is inherently quite safe anyway, it is the prioritisation of space for cycle traffic. It is, in other words, to give the bike a competitive advantage in the struggle for space on the roads, which makes bike journeys quicker and more efficient, as well as more pleasant. There is no other effective method of preventing parking, loading, queuing, bus and taxi stopping in cycle space, and general obstruction by motor vehicles, other than physical segregation. This is why it is used so extensively on the continent. It is not that the continentals have some malign control agenda to push cyclists off the general roads.

3. ‘Splitters!’

For at least a decade there seem to have been people on the fringes of the cycling community who have pushed for Dutch cycling infrastructure as the way forward, but they have evidently always been in a small minority, with the vehicular cycling campaign majority subscribing to views like this.

But as cycling in Britain continues to languish, and as UK cycle campaign organisations and groups continue to remain in denial about their own catastrophic campaign failures, new voices of dissent are being raised.

The medium of liberation is, of course, the internet and the blog. Anyone can now set up a blog, talk about their cycling experiences, post photographs, and express opinions. The stranglehold which the CTC and the LCC have traditionally had over communication (magazines) has been loosened. And, as with the invention of printing, new ideas and new thinking proliferate in a democratic new medium to challenge the traditionalists, who in turn are quick to sniff out heresy. (Oddly enough even in the sixteenth century the English reformation was ignited by ideas in large part spread from the Netherlands, by the incendiary new medium of the printed book and pamphlet.)

I was intrigued by this comment from Carlton Reid:

when certain bloggers - Freewheeler springs to mind, and others are quite close to his/her position - accuse those organisations, and myself, of being guilty of 'crimes against cycling' there's too much Judean Peoples' Front for my liking. Splitters!

In fact the person who made that accusation was not me, though I quite like the idea of prosecution – I wish to indict Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign for fraudulent misrepresentation by including shiny photographs of people cycling in Hyde Park in their collaborative document Delivering the benefits of cycling in Outer London. Because what does off-road cycling in an inner London royal park have to do with cycling in Outer London?

Why does a document purporting to be about Outer London contain no photographs of what cycling conditions are actually like in Outer London? And why, on another occasion, when it does bother to cast its eyes on the London Borough of Waltham Forest, does Sustrans describe a cycle lane like this (below) on High Road Leytonstone as ‘cycling friendly’?

London is itself a crime against cycling - or at least it was to this visitor from the Netherlands:

I tried London 2 years ago, got pretty annoyed by traffic & the lack of real provisions for people on bikes… I thought it was just criminal how much space a dense city like London allowed for cars and how marginalized it is for people on bikes

To return to Carlton Reid’s comment, it was this blogger who uttered those words to which he takes exception – a cycling philosopher and sociologist who goes beyond the great segregation debate to address another core failing of conventional UK cycle campaigning:

I would say we’re committing a crime against cycling when people continuously talk about promoting cycling without talking about deterring driving. Because that’s what’s actually happening. We’ve got a cycling promotion industry in the UK which refuses to contemplate the act of deterring driving. It’s always promoting cycling around the edges, not seeking to dismantle the central system of mobility in the UK, which is the car.Everyone is still addicted to their cars, and if you just muck around with the edges of the transport system, you’re not actually going to achieve modal shift. If you’re saying you want to double cycling, you’re talking about modal shift. You’re not saying you want someone to ride a bike twice more each year when the sun is shining and they want to have a day out. You want people to ride bikes day in, day out, and you don’t do that by mucking around with the edges and not doing anything fundamental. Everyone who’s passionate about cycling knows that, but I get really frustrated when I see people who have got some ability to challenge a little bit more radically through their positions and just not doing it.

This seems to me true. UK cycle campaigning is a hurricane of activity but it often seems parochial, collaborationist or comically futile. It evades both its own historic failures and declines to engage with traffic modelling or the hegemony of the car. My heart sinks when I read about cycle campaigning like this:

We were recently invited to take part in a focus group to discuss polite cycling. At the invitation of the City Council's Sustainable Transport Officer, we attended a meeting along with Police, community wardens, SUSTRANS, CTC and Officers from neighbouring authorities. The purpose was to discuss the issues around the minority of cyclists who could be encouraged to behave in a more considerate manner

The ‘splitters’ that Carlton Reid has in mind are presumably those bloggers who prefer the Dutch template to British vehicular cycling, and whose influence is beginning to spread.

Very well, say the angry, trembling vehiculars. What would you do?

Calling Dave Horton a splitter might be accurate in the sense that he is a critic of orthodox cycle campaigning but is a little unfair in the sense that he isn’t doing anything to challenge it, because he is.

Elsewhere, and out of the ‘splitter’ blogging community, has arisen the new Cycling Embassy, which has a Mission Statement and a Manifesto.

The Cycling Embassy holds out the promise of a new vision for cycling which is very different to the traditional one. And I suspect when all the ideas have been shared and thrashed out they’ll boil down to this: I want what he’s got.

4. Strategy

Having a vision is one thing, putting it into practice is quite another. The strategy of traditional UK cycle campaigning is one of negotiation with decision makers, which is obviously basic to any social transformation in a society like the UK.

The problem with traditional campaigning is that it is basically collaborative rather than oppositional. The LCC and Sustrans are happy to collaborate with Transport for London in ‘encouraging cycling’ without ever facing up to the fact that TfL is first and foremost concerned with motor vehicle flow and parking and that this transport modelling is by definition antagonistic to cycling.

Except of course it isn’t if you believe in vehicular cycling. The massive growth in car ownership and use becomes irrelevant if you subscribe to more-niceness-among-road-users and ‘share the road’. If you believe in sharing the road you then start fretting about the image of cycling and trying to ‘win respect’ from motorists.

Whether or not the CTC and the LCC can be won round to a new way of thinking I don’t know. When I went on the Redbridge Skyride and went up to the CTC stall I was interested to discover that the organisation is trying to sell itself as a family-friendly cycling organisation which is just right for Skyride cyclists. A contradiction there, perhaps. I am a bit more optimistic where the LCC is concerned. I think Jim is right when he says There’s massive pent up segregationalism out there and 99.9% of them don’t even know it.

I think Roger Geffen’s presentation at the last Cyclenation conference was a tacit acknowledgement that there’s a wind of change blowing through British cycle campaigning (which the orthodox cycling establishment is naturally anxious to close the door on and suppress). And as Jim also notes, Cycling Embassy of Denmark and Fietsberaad are practically ignored by campaign organisations over here which is insane.

What’s even worse is the defeatism embedded in orthodox cycle campaign organisations. Whenever anyone has raised the subject of segregation they have been curtly brushed aside on the grounds that such a demand is unrealistic, impossible, a pipe dream. There is no desire even to ask. But as has been pointed out

Most car users are not political Motorists: they want nice livable streets too. They’ve let pedestrian zones and residential road blocks and people-friendly developments happen, and I’ve seen no evidence that they wouldn’t also let bike paths happen. It is not car users who have been vetoing the development of good bike paths.

As long as Britain’s cycling organisations and local groups remain wedded to vehicular cycling they will continue to be an obstacle to mass cycling, not enablers. This obviously presents problems for any new groups of activists with alternative visions. Here in Waltham Forest, for example, it is difficult to persuade councillors that what’s needed here is a segregated Dutch-style cycle path when on the one hand local shopkeepers believe their livelihood depends on shoppers arrriving by car, and on the other hand the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign gives the enthusiastic thumbs up to a cycle lane like this as the kind of infrastructure which is best practice:

It’s worth bearing in mind that the genuine cycling revolutions in the Netherlands and Dednmark didn’t just emerge from the kindness of traffic planners. They emerged from various kinds of struggle.

In the Netherlands, as Maarten Sneep points out,

At the start of the 70s the bicycle dropped off the radar of the ANWB. At the end of the decade angry cyclists decided that their voice needed to be heard. They started with the 'ENWB' (echte nederlandse wielrijders bond - Real Dutch Cyclists Union). The ANWB promptly sued over the name (and won), giving the new Dutch cyclists union (renamed to Fietsersbond) an amount of media attention they never could have generated on their own at the time.
(see the comments here)

Apart from dissension within the Dutch cycling community, the movement for better cycling conditions was also driven forwards by making it an issue of child safety.

In Denmark the cycling community's resistance was more confrontational:

In the 1970s, as cars got cheaper and the roads widened the bike lanes were going to be bulldozed. This was when the cyclists took to the streets marching, lobbying and yes, even burning cars.

I am not suggesting arson as the route to mass cycling but I do think that cyclists need to consider challenging the status quo in other ways than tea and biscuits at the Town Hall. Let me return to Jonathan Wood, who was enthused by his attendance at a Manchester critical mass:

Its great benefit is that it breeds cycling radicals and activists. It constitutes the opposite end of the spectrum of activism to the cycle campaigners who do the proxy work of the Institute of Advanced Motorists in their ‘Stop at Red’ campaigns. Whilst beyond the scope of this piece, I think the latter campaigning constitutes supplication; no movement for social change in history has ever achieved change by trying to make itself likeable.

Non-violent direct action stunts are long overdue in British cycle campaigning. Twenty activists sealing off one lane of a multi-lane urban highway for the benefit of cyclists – that kind of thing. Ad hoc segregation on the Euston Road, a six lane motor-vehicle choked hellhole where air pollution levels are very high and where there isn’t even a crap cycle lane. Spontaneous guerrilla actions! Protests connected to very specific aims (we want Dutch infrastructure here). The press would love it. The majority of people travelling in central London are not in cars, so why are people who choose to drive down Regent Street allowed to do so? Block off Regent Street! Reclaim it for cyclists and pedestrians!

As for the notion of splitters… Like the man said

There is a crack, a crack, in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

The religion of vehicular cycling needs a lot more apostates.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

How cycling permeability works

Gaps are provided at road closures, ensuring easy access for cyclists and helping to deter car use. Like here on Edinburgh Road E17, yesterday.

crap cycling in Bogota

Mark of ibikelondon recently attended a talk by Enrique Peñalosa, who was mayor of Bogota between 1998 and 2001.

Peñalosa’s progressive credentials are not in doubt, but a decade has passed since he was in power.

How fares Bogota today? A visitor from the cycling-friendly USA is less than impressed.

One local Bogota cycling blogger asserts that Bogotá's recent mayors not only have ceased extending the bicycle route network, but they've let much of it decay.

Perhaps not such a fantastic city for cycling after all?

I’ve no idea how representative this clip is, but if this is at all typical then any London cyclist will feel quite at home in Bogota.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Hostile cycling streets & unofficial cyclecraft

This is Glenthorne Road E17, westbound. It’s a permeability route for cyclists heading out of central Walthamstow into the Lea Valley. Glenthorne Road is a de facto one-way street eastbound because it’s NO ENTRY for motor vehicles from Blackhorse Road (A1106). Cyclists have dedicated lights at the junction and cycle access into Glenthorne Road. However, they are cycling against motor vehicle flow on this road. Traffic flows are light as this is a residential area and Glenthorne Road is not a rat run.

However, it is not a particularly pleasant road to cycle down if you meet a motorist, because I have yet to meet one who stops. They simply drive at you head-on and expect you to move to one side, so that if there isn't a gap in the parking you are sandwiched between parked cars and their ton of metal. Speeds may be low – 10 or 15 mph – but it is still intimidating. I have often wondered if some drivers realise that cyclists are allowed to go the ‘wrong’ way, since there is no signing to advise drivers, let alone any that requires them to give way to oncoming cyclists.

Contrast Glenthorne Road with Rosebank Road E17 (below).

My photo shows Rosebank Road E17 looking south. This is still erroneously marked as a two-way cycle route on the most recent published edition of the TfL Local Cycling Guide 4 (2010/2011). In fact some four years ago the London Borough of Waltham Forest decided to convert both Rosebank Road and Russell Road into one way streets. No consideration at all was given to the reality that these two streets form part of a marked cycle route connecting Walthamstow and Leyton.

Whereas cyclists were once able to cycle south along Rosebank Road and Russell Road, and then cross the A104 into Bickley Road E10, this option has vanished. An important link in the thread of a back street ‘quiet route’ has been removed, purely in order to accommodate smooth motor vehicle flow on streets which have now reached saturation point for free on-street car parking. Ironically Rosebank Road is if anything a little wider than Glenthorne Road.

Meanwhile the London Cycling Campaign and Sustrans cuddle up to Transport for London and collaborate on cycling documents which put forward the fantasy that cycling will grow in Outer London. The reality is that even at the rudimentary level of vehicular cycling things are getting a whole lot worse, and they are getting worse because both TfL and the London Borough of Waltham Forest share the same priority: putting motor vehicle flow and motor vehicle parking at the top of the hierarchy of provision.

And for those still prepared to cycle on these car-sodden streets, evolutionary strategies (i.e. subversive and unofficial cyclecraft) are required to compensate for car-centric transport planning. Like the cyclist below, who simply ignored the NO ENTRY sign and followed the route which cyclists were allowed to follow until it was stolen from them by Waltham Forest council.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Cycling, cognitive dissonance, and Waltham Forest’s ‘Local Development Framework’

‘It is intended that Walthamstow will become an exemplar for sustainable living.’

As can be seen from this exciting new traffic scheme on Wood Street, which involves converting the cycle lane to free parking bays at a cost of just £450,000. This is what’s left for cyclists.

At War With The Motorist has a good post with lots of useful links regarding London boroughs’ Local Implementation Plans. It’s well worth using formal channels when they are made available to all.

There is the cruel throwaway remark:

I also searched for Waltham Forest, for a laugh, but they too have nothing obvious available for comment so far.

Strictly speaking, that’s not true. Until 28 February anyone can comment on the borough’s Local Development Framework, which you can find out more about here:

The Core Strategy lies at the heart of the LDF and provides the strategic vision, objectives and policies for the Borough up to 2026.

There’s also this.

The LDF is not a transport document but addresses the broader issue of development, which includes transport and ‘sustainability’.

The LDF draft describes the borough and includes statements of the bleedin’ obvious, such as the fact that the North Circular road ‘creates dead ends and a disrupted street network’.

The high pedestrian flows on Hoe Street are noted but needless to say the council’s indifference to street clutter isn’t. This takes the form both of obstructive street furniture and shopkeepers’ ‘A’ boards. The council has absolutely no interest in addressing either problem and declines to enforce legislation which protects walkers. When winter comes and the snow falls the council grits roads but it does not grit pavements or off-road cycle paths including cut-throughs at road closures.

Nor does the council measure walking, so although it might be true that ‘Each year more people choose to use public transport, cycle or walk in and around the borough’ the council has no real way of knowing and the consultants provide no data in support of their bland generalisation. The borough’s population continues to expand, so there probably are more people for all transport modes. Including driving.

What’s more the consultants who produced this report plainly have no first-hand knowledge of the borough (reducing its cultural heritage to David Beckham and William Morris is superficiality of the first order).

They have also plainly interpreted Waltham Forest through a car windscreen. Ironically the ‘Core Vision’ is itself imbued with car-centrism: ‘The Lee Valley is extremely hard to access’. Not on foot or by bicycle it isn’t.

Tackling Climate Change evades transport altogether and concentrates on matters to do with buildings and property development. Making Transport Improvements naturally ignores cycling altogether and focuses only on public transport and motor vehicles. There are some empty platitudes about Sustainable Transport.

The reality as far as ‘Sustainable Transport’ is concerned is that cycling has been stagnating for decades with a modal share of one per cent. Waltham Forest’s shanty town cycling infrastructure has been comprehensively recorded on this blog. The claim that ‘Each year more people choose to use public transport, cycle or walk in and around the borough’ has to be set against the alternative reality that every year more households in Waltham Forest acquire a first motor vehicle or an additional motor vehicle.

As for walking. The council doesn’t measure walking and is contemptuously indifferent to pedestrians. The borough’s complex network of rights of way and public footpaths is comprehensively neglected and has been for years – unmaintained, unsigned, a shabby underworld of filth and abandonment.

As for public transport. The service on the Central Line is mediocre (overcrowded trains and regularly disrupted services) and the Victoria Line has gone from being one of the best tube lines in London to being the one which attracts the second highest level of passenger complaints.

There’s a total disconnect between how the council actually treats walking and cycling and aspirational eco fluff like this:

4.21 It is intended that Walthamstow will become an exemplar for sustainable living with daily needs being met within the town centre, removing the reliance on cars and increasing the opportunities for social interaction and the development of community cohesion.

Which is a crock of shit, bearing in mind that Walthamstow is a car-sodden, car-choked mess, deeply hostile to cycling, where car-centric urban planners have a limitless appetite for on-street car parking and are obsessed with ‘smoothing motor vehicle flow’ by creating scores of one-way streets which are obstructive to cycling permeability and also create one-way metal sewers where there is no safe space for drivers to pass cyclists, resulting in friction between the two road user groups.

Cycle parking is grossly inadequate and one of the commonest sights in Walthamstow is shops with on-street car parking bays for shoppers but no cycle stands. Where cycle parking is available it is not exactly attractive. This (below) was High Street cycle parking today. Is this going to entice you to use your bike to shop in Walthamstow?

There’s also the hilarious delusion that Wood Street can become a ‘growth area’, attached to some truly incredible garbage about ‘encouraging walking and cycling to and from and within the Wood Street area’. It’s as if the new £450,000 scheme to seize the cycle lanes and footways of Wood Street for car parking didn’t exist – cognitive dissonance on a truly epic scale.

‘Modal shift towards sustainable modes of transport will be encouraged and car parking will be rationalised.’

It will be encouraged through words, idle words – not budgets, infrastructure or restraining car ownership or use.

And quite what ‘car parking will be rationalised’ means is anyone’s guess. Perhaps putting tarmac over Lloyd Park and making it into a car park for a park and ride scheme.

Car-sick Waltham Forest has also cut its own throat, because just up the road, in September, in the adjacent London Borough of Newham, Westfield Stratford City is opening. This claims to be the largest urban shopping centre in Europe and it will have the kind of stores that Waltham Forest signally lacks: John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, as well as a 14-screen cinema. It will also have parking for 5,000 cars.

Westfield Stratford City will suck the disposable income out of Waltham Forest, leaving it with its true core heritage – betting shops, charity shops, discount stores selling goods at a pound each, and small independent high street shops selling goods which are more expensive than you’d pay in a supermarket. The London Borough of Waltham Forest has no cinema, no theatre and no shops anyone from outside the borough would ever bother to want to come here for. It has a rich cultural heritage which successive philistine councils have dismally failed to exploit (the demolition of Alfred Hitchcock’s birthplace to make way for a garage is very hard to beat). The council meanwhile is busily selling off public land and property for dodgy developments which have engendered furious local opposition. The council is simultaneously indifferent to green space and keen to make motoring cheaper. In short, those tens of thousands of people who use their cars to drive very short distances will continue to do so, and since the vast majority of those drivers will never have been near a bicycle they will drive in such a way that intimidates the tiny, brave minority of vehicular cyclists.

(Below) Wood Street, where the LDF has a glowing vision of ‘encouraging walking and cycling to and from and within the Wood Street area’.

The cycling mayor – latest news

Koy Thomson, until recently the CEO of the London Cycling Campaign, was widely admired for his shrewd grasp of cycling diplomacy and cycle campaign skills. Thomson looked forward enthusiastically to an administration run by David Cameron, 'a cycling prime minister', and a capital city under the control of Boris Johnson, 'a cycling mayor'. According to Thomson, with Cameron and Johnson in charge, something called 'the Copenhagen effect' was inevitable.

Yes, hasn't this all worked out wonderfully for cycling?

And here's the latest intervention by London's cycling-friendly mayor:

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the Mayor of London became the most senior Tory to date to demand a cut in motoring taxes.

“If I were the government, I would think seriously about that fuel duty stabiliser, because when it costs more to fill your tank than to fly to Rome, something is seriously wrong,” he wrote.

[It is, Boris. The failure to tax airline fuel is a scandal which shows how hollow commitments to combating global warming really are.]

As Mayor, Mr Johnson is investing heavily in charging points for electric cars.

[A totally bogus solution which is not remotely ‘Green’]

But their introduction is some way off, leaving drivers to bear the cost of what he described as an “overpriced lagoon of fossil fuel”.

The intervention from Mr Johnson, who has long been considered a rival to Mr Cameron, came as Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, sought to reassure motorists by insisting that the stabiliser was still on the Government’s agenda.

Speaking on Sky News, he said that officials were examining whether the extra cash raised from Petroleum Revenue Tax on North Sea production could be used to cut the tax paid by motorists. At the same time ministers are looking at concessions to placate hauliers including a discount at the pumps or a cut in the cost of a tax disc.

But the prospect of offering concessions to hauliers – such as a fuel discount, drew an angry response from motoring organisations.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

An Apology

Here on Wood Street E17 the council’s enlightened policy of gradually converting cycle lanes and pavements into parking bays has resulted in some unsightly plastic fencing in the roadway which is forcing some drivers to slow down to as little as 30 mph.

This inconvenience has quite naturally required the contractors to put up a sign apologising to motorists, which I must say I think is beautifully angled.

Visually impaired people tell me that when it comes to objects placed obstructively in the footway black and grey are their favourite colours!

Lorry driver does a quick shop

This parked lorry is transporting quality goods for Britain’s number one shop. But not even this fabulous commercial outlet can supply everything you need. So we must not begrudge the driver for stopping and popping off to a local shop which sells goods that cost more than a quid.

It’s not easy parking a vehicle this size, but luckily here on Hoe Street, Walthamstow, there are special parking bays called ‘bus stops’ which are strictly available only to the larger class of vehicle.

And by parking in the cycle lane the driver has also valuably helped to ensure that there is no danger of London’s most dangerous and anarchic road users ‘undertaking’ here. Well done! I think it’s such a shame when innocent lorry drivers have to endure harassment by bloggers.

Behind the scenes at Waltham Forest town hall

The administration of funds for the poor, the disposal of council property and public open space, the commissioning of consultancy work, the expenditure on council propaganda, the job application process, the maintenance of public footpaths and rights of way, the design and maintenance of cycling infrastructure, and car-centric transport schemes which promote increased car ownership and use – the council has finally come clean and put up a poster outside the town hall which admits everything.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Blaming children for being hit by cars

Because roads are for cars, not kids. And kids - it’s YOUR responsibility to watch out for motorists. They have an absolute right to drive through your neighbourhood how the hell they like. And don’t you forget it.

(Below) Crazed children hurl themselves in front of an early motorist.

Sadly, some people still persist in walking their children to school.

THE MOTHER of a six-year-old who is still in hospital four weeks after being run over outside his school, has demanded that Redbridge Council enforce its parking restrictions.

[There’s no danger of that happening. I’ve tried. And in the highly unlikely event that car-centric Redbridge Council did suddenly declare war on the motorist there would be no need to worry because help is at hand.]

Hector Beck suffered a broken leg when he was hit by a car outside Aldersbrook Primary School in Harpenden Road, Wanstead. Mum Kate, 38, was walking him to school with husband Allen, 49, and four-year-old son Bo, when a driver started reversing.

Recalling the crash, she added: “As she started reversing, in the split second before she hit Hector, my husband was banging on her window but it didn’t make any difference.

Last year parents at both Woodford Green Prep School, and at Our Lady of Lourdes Primary school in Wanstead urged the council to crack down on drivers flouting parking restrictions outside schools.

Or for another local case consider Longshaw Primary School in Chingford where pupils

called on drivers using nearby roads to slow down

The event at Longshaw had added meaning for Kathleen Sheehan, 28, of Connnigton Crescent, and her six-year-old son Sean Lacy. In February last year, Miss Sheehan watched in horror as her son was hit by a passing car outside the school as he stepped out into the road to meet her.

She said: “It was horrific. I saw the car coming so I knew it was going to happen, but couldn’t do anything to stop it.
He fell on to the bonnet and then under the car and was run over. It has been nine months since it happened and I still have flashbacks and nightmares.

“He is quite strong, but I haven’t got over the trauma of seeing my own child get run over. Both of Sean’s collar bones were broken, as was his left shoulder blade. His right leg, which was snapped in half, is still being held together by metal plates and he spent months in a wheelchair. Sean’s lung burst during impact and he was blind for five days after the accident.

And now there’s this:

An eight-year-old boy was knocked down and killed after two garage workers who were supposed to be fixing a £70,000 Porsche allegedly took it for a ride.

Ryan Fleming, from Heybridge in Essex, died after he was mown down by a silver Porsche 911 Carrera as he crossed the road with a friend.

The 31-year-old driver and 18-year-old passenger in the powerful sports car were, it is claimed, workers at Kwik Fit garage, where it had been dropped off by its owner to be fixed.

A 17-year-old who works close to the accident scene has told detectives he saw the Porsche pulling out of the Kwik Fit garage and performing a 'wheel spin' in front of another car moments before the crash.

Now let’s see what’s on Top Gear this week from the cycling-friendly BBC


If you are going to challenge the blood-drenched, victim-blaming ideology of ‘road safety’ it helps to be acquainted with key texts of the critical opposition.

The latest news from cycling-friendly York

A HAIRDRESSER who shattered her jaw after cycling into a pothole in York has won £7,360 damages from council bosses.

Lauren Wilkinson, then 17, was travelling to work at a salon in Whitby Drive, Heworth, in May 2006, when her front wheel went into the pothole, London’s Civil Appeal Court heard yesterday. She hurtled head-first over the handlebars on to the road, fracturing her lower jaw in two places. Miss Wilkinson and her boyfriend surveyed the site of the accident afterwards and found the pothole was four centimetres deep and 30cm wide.

She initially won her damages claim at York County Court in September 2009, when a district judge awarded her £7,360 damages and criticised the council’s failure to carry out sufficiently regular inspections on the road. However, he ruled Miss Wilkinson 50 per cent to blame in failing to keep a proper look-out. The council challenged the finding, insisting it should not be held responsible at all – and a circuit judge ruled in the local authority’s favour at Leeds Crown Court in February last year.

Upholding her appeal, Lord Justice Toulson said: “The obligation to maintain the highway is a fundamental obligation of very long standing.” He said the circuit judge was wrong to “interfere” with the ruling of the district judge who had made firm findings of fact after hearing the evidence. The district judge had found that the council should have carried out regular inspections on Whitby Drive at least every six months, if not every three months.

Lord Justice Toulson said: “This was a road which served a broader population. The district judge was fully entitled to conclude that
it was the sort of road for which an inspection once a year was inadequate.”

It’s a man’s life

A drunken soldier who caused three car crashes and ran over a policeman's foot has been spared prison - because he is needed to clear mines in Afghanistan.

Trooper Henry Wallace, 21, had downed a staggering 11 pints of lager and six shots in just two hours before jumping into his Mazda 323 sports car.

He was seen by police officers who tried to get him to stop but he ended up colliding with three different cars before he was arrested.

Friday, 21 January 2011

You’ve heard of the big society

Now meet the Lidl society. (Blackhorse Road E17. Today.)

Thursday, 20 January 2011

840,000 new London cycling trips (in your dreams)

Jenny Jones, one of the two Green Party representatives on the Greater London Assembly, keeps hammering away at this point

The target of a million new cycle trips by 2026 can only be achieved if we improve cycling infrastructure in outer London.

Transport for London estimates that cycle hire and cycle superhighways will produce an additional 160,000 new cycle trips per day between them.

The question is, where do the other 840,000 trips come from?

(see the Comments here)

The nineteen Outer London boroughs currently have an average modal share of one per cent for cycling (although there are some significant variations).

To meet the Mayor's target each of these boroughs would require, on average, an extra 44,000 cycling trips every day. Which might be interpreted as requiring 44,000 new cyclists.

The London Borough of Waltham Forest is a fairly typical outer London borough in so far as it has an unchanging modal share for cycling of one per cent.

These are the cycle count figures for one of the most popular routes in Waltham Forest, namely Forest Road (A503). This is a strategic commuter route.

Cycle counts 7 am - 7pm Forest Road E17 (Blackhorse Road screenline)

October 1998 183
October 2002 399
July 2006 376
July 2007 417
July 2008 452
July 2009 448
July 2010 522

(Moving the counts from October to July was plainly an attempt to improve the statistics by switching to a month which probably has one of the highest levels of cycling, since cycling rates are partly influenced by weather.)

Towards the end of last year this notice appeared in the council newspaper:

The first photograph below shows numbers 67-79 Forest Road, and the second one shows 617a-617b (the blue fish and chip shop and the yellow tile shop). The term 'parking place' in the traffic order is a little misleading as it involves possibly around 10 parking bays at the first site and possibly 4 at the second.

This photo shows the junction immediately before the planned bays at 617a-617b. (Incidentally, the council used to boast about how the red cycle lanes ran across this junction, but when they faded they were never renewed.)

The latest traffic order is simply the latest in a series of systematic reallocations of road space for free car parking, dating back to 2007. In all previous cases the cycle lane has been moved, to relocate cyclists from kerbside cycling lanes to a new position between parked motor vehicles and overtaking motor vehicles. At both the sites shown below drivers regularly exceed the 30 mph speed limit.

Motor vehicle counts taken in February/March 2005 indicated traffic flows on Forest Road ranging from 18,113 to 28,168, with 85%ile speeds of 33.1 mph, 36.9 mph and 40.4 mph at various locations, all within the 30 mph speed limit. There is no reason to believe that present day speeds are any lower.

Such are the conditions on what is one of the most popular cycling routes in the borough. The idea that cycling will significantly increase on Forest Road and that an outer London borough like Waltham Forest will generate 44,000 additional daily cycling trips by 2026 might well be regarded as optimistic. That's almost 3,000 daily trips extra every year over the next 16 years.

In one sense a shift to a 5 per cent modal share for London is a deeply unambitious target. But in another sense it strikes me as being an incredibly ambitious target if the Mayor's postulated increase in cycling is to come in outer London.

The London Borough of Waltham Forest already has what many cycling campaigners elsewhere still dream of - area-wide 20 mph zones, extensive traffic calming, an extensive network of cycle lanes, road closures with cycle access and signed 'quiet routes'. This, I suspect, is what Jenny Jones means when she talks about 'infrastructure' (she is not alluding to the Dutch template because the Green Party is firmly committed to vehicular cycling and the notion of the bicycle as a vehicle which has equality with cars, lorries etc).

But none of this vehicular cycling infrastructure in Waltham Forest is effecting a shift to cycling in any significant way.

One reason for this might be the fact that almost all local cycling has to be done in close proximity to parked motor vehicles and to moving motor vehicles. As far as moving motor vehicles are concerned, the roads have significant numbers of drivers who speed, jump red lights, emerge from side junctions without due care and attention, approach at speed on the cyclist's side of the road on narrow 'quiet routes', talk on mobile phones, and become resentful and impatient when they find themselves behind a cyclist (the resentment being expressed in various ways from aggressive tailgating to the blowing of horns, dangerous overtaking, or screamed obscenities).

Waltham Forest is also very well served by public transport. The Central Line serves Leyton and Leytonstone, the Victoria Line serves Walthamstow (which has two stations on the line), and Chingford has reasonably fast trains to Liverpool Street station in the City of London, departing every 15 minutes, and also connecting with the Victoria Line. The borough also has a very comprehensive network of bus routes.

Vehicle ownership continues to rise, both in terms of households owning more than one vehicle, and non-vehicle-owning households acquiring their first car.

The notion that cycling is going to grow substantially in a borough with substandard cycling infrastructure, on roads with high volumes of traffic, where significant numbers of drivers are flagrantly flouting road traffic law, driving without due care and attention, or are actively hostile to the presence of cyclists, strikes me as unduly optimistic, especially in a borough which also happens to be very well served by public transport, and where car ownership continues to grow.

Cycling will only increase to the extent that people can be persuaded to take up vehicular cycling in conditions such as the ones regularly illustrated on this blog. That those numbers will ever be very large seems to me unlikely. And in the case of Forest Road, a likely contender for a future 'Cycle Superhighway', even the conditions for vehicular cycling are being significantly worsened by the council's unending desire to reallocate more and more street space for free car parking.

But not to worry. When 2026 comes around and London languishes with a modal share of, at best, 3 per cent, all this will be forgotten. An exciting new target will then be set up for 2050 and everyone will be very happy.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Barriers to cycling

If you cycle north along the Orient Way cycle path in Leyton you will come to this sign, which directs you to Marsh Lane. A useful route into urban Leyton, although naturally the sign doesn't bother with time-wasting stuff like destinations or mileage.

However, if you are a funny Dutch cyclist this sign should be ignored. I am talking about people like this, who seem to be quite unashamed to be transporting their children in tubs. (I expect it’s the drugs.) Can't these people afford People Carriers like any normal British 'school run' parent?

Sadly, there are even a few Brits who have been flirting with unnatural bicycles (this, for example. Or this).

Here in the London Borough of Waltham Forest special barriers have been designed to prevent the use of funny bicycles on cycle routes like Marsh Lane.

Even normal cyclists have to stop and get off their machines.

For people with prams or buggies there is a special gate and an amusing 180 degree turn in a contraption resembling something a ruddy-faced farmer would use to guide sheep into the shearing pen. And let’s face it, a slap in the face with a branch is just what the average pampered modern child needs.

The uneven, lumpy surface has a permanent rivulet of water, lots of slime and various other crap designed to ensure that cycling is restricted to real men on mountain bikes.

Outer London - it's happening here.

Dutch photo credits: first pic taken from here; second pic from here.