Monday, 28 February 2011

Leyton Library, cycling, & the great Waltham Forest ‘spatial planning’ fraud

If you want to understand everything that’s rotten in the planning and transport strategies of the London Borough of Waltham Forest, look no further than the re-vamped Leyton Library.

With charactereristic grey fleet cognitive dissonance, the car-centric planners gush about a truly sustainable community for all of us to enjoy to the full.

What the ‘spatial planners’ of Waltham Forest know about sustainability could be written on the back of a postage stamp and you’d still need an electron microscope to read it.

Naturally, being Waltham Forest, the great ‘spatial planning’ confidence trick requires consultants

Waltham Forest is a car-sick, anti-cycling borough with a cycling modal share which aptly reflects the car-centric priorities of everyone involved in urban planning in the borough. The planning officers of Waltham Forest understand nothing about cycling, but this doesn’t really matter because no matter how much cycling stagnates or declines no one wants to talk about failure and no one is accountable.

The exterior of the newly refurbished Leyton Library represents everything that’s wrong about planning in Waltham Forest.

The footway has been carved up for parking bays. For a local library! Why everyone at TfL pretends to be baffled by the spectacular levels of car dependency in Outer London never fails to surprise me. When the entire transport infrastructure is centred on catering for the needs of people who drive short distances, what do you expect?

The top priority outside Leyton Library is car parking. Moreover, the provision of these parking bays is detrimental to cycling on a major route (High Road Leyton, A112) because it sandwiches cyclists between parked vehicles and overtaking vehicles, with the threat of 'dooring' if you stay in the cycle lane, or verbal abuse and horn-blowing if you cycle outside the lane.

The nearest parking to the library is not bike parking but car parking.

And here’s the nearest bike parking, beyond the white car shown above. A solitary stand with a bike which has been abandoned here for weeks. Someone had their back wheel stolen and evidently just gave up. That’s one less cyclist. And a current modal share of 0.8 per cent following on from a modal share of 1 per cent might be interpreted as signifying that one in five cyclists in Waltham Forest has recently given up cycling. If so, who can really blame them?

By the library this multi-purpose bin (litter plus dog turds) is sensitively located directly in the path of the footway studs for the visually impaired and in front of a bench for those who want to relax and stop awhile to inhale the bracing odour of faeces.

And now it’s time to head off along cycling-friendly High Road Leyton. Can you spot the cycle lane?

Sunday, 27 February 2011

What’s so magical for cyclists about York’s ‘magic roundabout’?

The so-called ‘magic roundabout’ at Heworth Green, north-east of York city centre, was created in 2001 and is widely regarded as a beacon of good practice. The CTC is enthusiastic about it and the photograph reproduced above is one of a number of views of it which are posted here.

The logic behind the design is explained by York City Council’s transport planners:

Continental-style roundabouts (also known as compact roundabouts) have tighter geometry than the typical UK roundabout and are more cycle-friendly as motorists are unlikely to attempt to overtake cyclists on the circulatory carriageway due to its limited width. An overrun apron around the central island can offer a tighter geometry for cars by increasing the island’s effective diameter, while still allowing larger vehicles to use the junction.

The innovative roundabout at Heworth Green (the ‘magic roundabout’) should be emulated where many cycle routes meet at a common roundabout. These should feature wide cycle lanes, a reduced circulatory carriageway width, tight geometry, and a smaller outside diameter than conventional roundabouts. The lanes only position a cyclist close to the perimeter when he or she intends leaving at the next exit – otherwise, the cyclist is positioned away from the perimeter.

(extracted from this document)

What’s more

 The junction accounted for 25 per cent (18 accidents) of all accidents in the Heworth area between 1994-1998.

 Accidents at the junction have been reduced by 80 per cent.

 Average speeds through the junction are down from 18mph to 12mph .

The ‘magic roundabout’ has even been given a Prince Michael International Road Safety Award. (That's the same Prince Michael who has a string of convictions for motoring offences, including speeding.)

York's magic roundabout sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

But to my mind the magic roundabout is very far from being the enormous success which it is touted as being. It’s just another piece of vehicular cycling infrastructure – an attempt to make things better for cyclists without in any way seriously affecting the volume and presence of motor vehicles.
 Take a look at the photo above. The cyclist is, quite reasonably, ignoring both cycle lanes. The cycle lanes are too narrow and in any case unrealistically require cyclists to take the curving perimeter rather than the most direct route. It’s hardly surprising that some cyclists choose to ignore the infrastructure altogether. That’s what I’d do on this roundabout. Stick to the cycle lane and you risk being cut up by a driver. The cycle lanes also bring you closer to drivers entering the roundabout, which is where most collisions occur involving cyclists.

Much better to ignore the crap cycle lanes and take the primary position, preventing any driver from cutting you up.

This is how it appeared to a journalist writing a feature in 2004:

The students are on their bikes and are negotiating a formidable obstacle known locally as the Magic Roundabout. Cyclists have priority here, but it looks fiendishly complicated and the car drivers are all in a hurry.
 In 1994 cycle flow to and from the magic roundabout site on the Malton Road screenline was 300 a day, in both directions. This was prior to the re-design of the roundabout. By 2001 it had crept up to 325.

Then the ‘magic roundabout’ opened to a great fanfare and cycling numbers surged to 470.

Bear in mind that when you measure two-way flow over the course of a day you probably have to halve that number to arrive at the number of actual cyclists using the route, because on a major route you will register cyclists going to their destination and then returning later in the day. So perhaps the most cyclists who have ever used this route in one day are 235. Not an impressive figure for a route which serves a large suburban residential area just one mile (1.6 km) from York city centre.
Presumably cyclists decided that this fabulous facility was not quite as good as it was supposed to be, because flow slumped dramatically to 340 in 2003.

By 2008 numbers had crept up to 414 – still less than the first year after the magic roundabout opened. (Figures extracted from here)

From an orthodox British campaign perspective you could release party balloons and issue a press statement boasting of a 90% rise in cycling since the magic roundabout opened. This is a statistic which, in isolation, is perfectly true. But to understand what’s going on here you need a wider context.

For a start you’d expect to see a few more people cycling in a city like York, which has a growing population and an ever-expanding student population. At the time of the 2001 UK census, the City of York had a total population of 181,094, which has since risen to around 195,400 in 2008.

There’s also one other trifling detail which might just be something to do with the failure of cycling to significantly develop on this route. Since the magic roundabout opened

Traffic flows have increased with 2,000 more vehicles per day going through the junction.

What percentage increase that represents is not identified because the earlier rate of vehicle flow is not given. York has more recent data and I asked for it weeks ago but though I was promised it, it hasn’t been sent to me. York also counts cyclists on Heworth Road, which also feeds the roundabout, but is coy about releasing any data.

This is why looking at cycling statistics in isolation from any wider context can often provide a deeply misleading picture of what’s actually going on. And what’s going on in York is, to my mind, perfectly simple. Cycling is under strain and failing to develop. The figures go up, then they go down, then they go up. But current modal share in the city appears to be less than it was in the 1990s.

The reason, I think, is perfectly simple: the conditions of vehicular cycling in York are simply not attractive enough to persuade people to swap their cars for bicycles. Travel by car remains fast, simple and convenient and the conditions for motoring remain more attractive than the conditions for cycling. York’s credentials as ‘a cycling city’ are seriously exaggerated and the city council is not seriously challenging the hegemony of the car, no matter how progressive it might superfically appear. It’s a mark of how little seriousness is attached to cycling that the city is unable to supply modal share figures on a year-by-year basis for either general cycling or commuter cycling.

Spin over substance and a basic unwillingness to address the hegemony of the car – the old, old story of British cycling infrastructure.

two more Hackney women cyclists knocked down

photos: Hackney Gazette

clothes and shoes are scattered on the tarmac on the east side of the roundabout.

A large ‘for hire’ construction truck is parked nearby.

Paramedics treated the cyclist after the crash, which happened shortly before 7.45am.

The 39-year-old, who lives in the Homerton area of Hackney,
suffered a fractured ankle and severe facial and shoulder injuries and is being treated at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel.

This is the second major accident in the vicinity within the past week.

Last Wednesday (16 February), another female cyclist was injured at the junction of Baldwin Street and City Road.

Cyclists must be presumed guilty though innocent

There were two PCSOs walking in the same direction. As I passed them, one of them stopped me and said, "You can't ride on the pavement - you can get done for that".

"I am aware of that", I replied.

"You just jumped off," he responded.

This was untrue. I'd got off at the start of the pavement. He couldn't have known whether I had or hadn't, as he'd had his back to me.

I don't appreciate being accused of something I haven't done.

And now read about someone who dismounted at a red light, walked their bike across the junction then got back on their bike and rode off. All perfectly legal. At which point

I was given a Fixed Penalty Notice (£30) by a police officer in the City of London for “failure to stop at a red ATS” (red traffic light).

Saturday, 26 February 2011

New TfL guidance for cyclists

This short film offers useful tips on what to do if you encounter hostile Westminster Council/ 'In Mid Town' enforcement officers, as well as guidance on how cyclists can discover their own ‘permeability’ routes in urban areas.

Waltham Forest: pedestrian areas are for buses

A while back I saw a Youth Bus parked in the Town Square, Walthamstow. It was completely empty apart from one adult. I had no idea what a Youth Bus was but I did notice that it was parked there with its engine throbbing, spewing out exhaust fumes across the piazza. It was still in this condition when I passed by an hour later.

And now here’s the back story.

Another regular visitor, all the way from Hackney, is this double-decker bus (environmentally friendly?), which brings opportunities, among other things, for Waltham Forest children to enjoy drawing, gluing, printing and crafts like model and mask making. It is not at all obvious who is paying the bill for this pavement-parked service.

Stourbridge Cyclists slam car-centric Dudley Council

CYCLISTS are furious after claiming new road markings at Shell Corner island will cause chaos and crashes.

The new markings for cyclists on Long Lane and Nimmings Lane were branded ‘dangerous’ by the Stourbridge Bicycle Users Group.

Russell Eden, from the group, which has over 260 members, said: “Though these markings have been put down for cyclists they are outrageous and dangerous for cyclists. This is a classic case of Dudley Council doing something from the car drivers point of view and not what any sensible cyclist would want.”

Mr Eden has attended meetings of the Dudley Cycle Forum but believes they are a waste of time.

“We come up with suggestions and explain what needs to be done across the borough but council just disagree with everything we say.”

Thursday, 24 February 2011

TfL, London Streets and ‘competing demands for road space’

Transport for London (TfL) has a subsection called London Streets, with a mission statement that reads as follows:

Our job is to make the safest and most appropriate use of London's busiest roads.

There are often competing demands for road space, which include:

• People who want to drive, walk, cycle or use public transport
• Freight and essential service traffic
• Places for Londoners to live, work, shop and sustain local communities

Our role is to carefully balance those competing demands to provide a well-designed, sustainable and accessible road network, sympathetic with the particular characteristics of each street.

And haven’t they done well on High Road Leytonstone? Here you can find British cycle lane design at its finest as well as a sympathetic balance between pedestrians, drivers who want to park on the footway, and people travelling very short distances by car to their local shops.

Yes, High Road Leytonstone is so good it has even had a thumbs-up from SUSTRANS, which described this street as ‘cycling and walking friendly’ in its original ‘Olympic Greenways’ document.

It’s so good, in fact, that it forms part of the London Cycle Network and there are lots of lovely little blue signs attached to lampposts to remind any cyclists who might have foolishly not realised they are enjoying iconic cycling infrastructure at its very best.

And look who is in the traffic jam on High Road Leytonstone! (Well you really can’t expect anyone from TfL to go around on bicycles, can you?)

‘cyclists are free to use the roads as long as they behave themselves’

The BBC brushes off complaints about Clarkson’s cyclophobia.

Adrian Short corresponds with Transport for London

The Freedom of Information Act is a very useful tool for extracting data out of local authorities and other accountable institutions.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

How TfL puts car parking before buses, cyclists and pedestrians

(Above) Soon, this bus lane will be filled with parked cars. High Road Leyton (A112)

The chutzpah of people like Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor of London’s Transport Advisor, is breathtaking. Like other functionaries at Transport for London (TfL) he has the nerve to come out with stuff like this:

it’s in outer London that the greatest scope exists to increase the number of people travelling by bicycle. It’s staggering that half of all car trips in outer London are less than two miles in length, a distance you can cover on a bike in around 10 minutes.

There’s nothing ‘staggering’ about it at all. TfL’s own traffic modelling is based on the fundamental principle that motor vehicle flow is the greatest transport priority of all. Funding for driving infrastructure is on a vastly greater scale than that spent on infrastructure for cycling. (Before anyone swoons with excitement at news of an extra £4 million for cycling in Outer London take a look at this.)

Back in 2007 it was pointed out that

Traffic levels over the past decade have grown in outer London, in some boroughs by as much as 15% – in sharp contrast to most inner London boroughs, which have reduced their traffic

• 87% of all car journeys by Londoners end in outer London

• Only 13% of trips in outer London are made by public transport

Two things are urgently needed. The Mayor must put in place policies to reduce traffic in outer London and get a grip on reducing carbon emissions. And Councillors must support progressive measures.
Tackling the traffic problems where two-thirds of Londoners live is vital.

No one at the Mayor's office, at TfL, or in local government, took the slightest notice of these ‘urgently needed’ projects. Car dependency wasn’t combated one iota. And matters weren’t subsequently helped by this.

And now here we are in the second decade of the 21st century, still going on as before. Incredibly, Outer London’s streets are STILL being carved up to serve the interests of motorists. Here are recent scenes from the London Borough of Waltham Forest, showing how road space is reallocated for car parking – in every instance in partnership with TfL. Cognitive dissonance on a truly epic scale.

(Below) Crownfield Road E15. An area of high deprivation. Car owners on this street are very probably in the minority. But this road is being dedicated to car use and car parking. The footway is just one long car park. This forms part of a LIP scheme, done with the approval of TfL.

(Below) Three scenes from Wood Street E17, where the council has recently seized both the cycle lane and the footway for parking bays – in partnership with TfL.

(Below) The Forest Road Corridor Scheme (A503). Seizing the footway and cycle lane for free car parking bays (cost: £10,000 each bay) and forcing cyclists closer to overtaking traffic on a section of highway where cars travel at 42mph in what is ostensibly a 30 mph zone. A partnership scheme with TfL.

(Below) High Road Leyton. Two cars legally parked in the bus lane, which only operates restricted hours. As far as TfL is concerned, allowing two drivers to park and shop is more important than the passage of people on buses, or for that matter the safety and convenience of cyclists. There’s one cyclist in this photo, incidentally – can you spot him? If you can persuade an extra 3,000 people to cycle in conditions like this every day each year up until 2026 then Waltham Forest will be playing its part in creating a cycling modal share of 5% by 2026. But if you think that a grand total of 45,000 extra cyclists can be persuaded to cycle in traffic conditions like this I’d call you an incorrigible optimist.

Finally, take another look at that first photo above. It shows the southbound A112 in a one-way section forming a mini-gyratory with Grange Park Road and the A1006. This section is four-lanes wide, yet it is totally devoted to the motorist. Two lanes, including the part-time bus lane, are devoted to car parking, and the other two lanes to motor vehicle flow.

This entire gyratory system is deeply hostile to cycling. It could all be so different. The bus lane could be a 24 hour bus lane, and there is ample room for a segregated two-way cycle path built to Dutch standards which would keep cyclists away from two lanes of motor traffic and allow northbound cyclists to avoid the gyratory altogether. That is the kind of infrastructure change you need to make if you seriously want cycling to grow significantly in Outer London.

‘Build it and they will come’ applies just as much to motoring as it does to cycling or walking, and the streets of Outer London continue to be re-engineered for motoring (including next door in ‘Biking Borough’ Redbridge). To pretend that these phenomenal levels of car dependency are not rooted in Transport for London’s own transport priorities is, well, staggering.

Or to put it another way:

There are some pretty stark choices facing us in London. Right now, there are few controls on low-occupancy, large-footprint vehicles, and London is a congested city because of them. The ubiquitous presence of motor traffic is sufficiently intimidating to force many people not to cycle, which puts a greater burden on the bus and tube network.

But buses are made slower and more expensive by congestion. In an ideal world, with unlimited space and money, we could build more roads and everyone could drive everywhere.

In the real world, we've got a choice between allowing the choices of a very few people to damage the smooth, efficient running of the city's transport, or to start making the best use of the resources and roadspace we've got.

Motor racing news

A typical Grand Prix fan

Speaking before reports of security forces opening fire again on protestors in the capital Manama on Friday, Ecclestone said: "Our people there say: 'It's quiet, no problems'.

"I'm more hopeful today. I hope we don't have to do anything. Let's hope this all blows away. In these parts there's always been skirmishes. Perhaps it's a bit more than that."

Yes, just a teeny bit…

The Bahrain Grand Prix has been called off because of anti-government protests in the Gulf kingdom.

BBC F1 commentator Martin Brundle told Sarah Holt in Barcelona the decision was inevitable, but remains the right call.

"The Crown Prince has a lot of things under consideration at the moment,
a lot of decisions and discussions - not just around Formula 1," said Brundle.

It’s a shame when fast car fun is spoiled innit.

The other worry is will this unrest also affect exports.

how to pedal a bicycle

Unsure how to place your feet on the pedals? Would your friends laugh at you if you asked their advice? Luckily, help is at hand.

Here, top cycling expert Carlton Reid explains the correct way to pedal a bicycle.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Cycling and the Waltham Forest ‘grey fleet’ scandal (Part 2)

Horror strikes at Waltham Forest council offices on High Road Leyton...

The reasons for the very low rate of cycling in Outer London aren’t simply a matter of the barriers to cycling. They are also connected to the attractiveness of car travel. Part of that attraction is perceived low cost. Free workplace parking makes car use for short journeys very attractive. If, in addition, your use of a car for work purposes is regarded as ‘essential’ and you are financially rewarded for using a car, why on earth would you want to cycle? After all, Transport for London’s ‘Network Assurance’ traffic modelling is all about ‘smoothing traffic flow’ at the expense of safe and convenient cycling and walking.

The local paper is on to the Council about its ‘grey fleet’ profligacy. The Council still refuses to admit how much it has been spending on subsidising staff using their private cars. Simply switching Waltham Forest mileage allowances to the standard rates allowed by the Inland Revenue will save the borough half a million pounds, which is remarkable when it now emerges that in the London Borough of Havering during the 2009/10 financial year the total paid out to 'grey fleet' council staff was £380,600. So it seems entirely possible that Waltham Forest council officers have been rewarding themselves for their car use by well over £1 million a year – perhaps even as much as £3 million. We really won’t know until the officers can be forced to disgorge the figures, which at present they appear very reluctant to do.

The case for the ‘grey fleet’ was put by one commenter on the local paper website:

I have regular dealings with a number of council officers who are run off their feet with the amount of work they are having to do because staff have already been cut. Many of them have several appointments at all four corners of the borough virtually every day.

I believe it would be totally impractical for them to keep appointments using public transport and, as for cycling, they are not all super-fit people capable of all that cycling every day.

Is it really the case that council officers are engaged in this kind of urgent travel? I have my doubts. Let’s have some transparency – who is using their cars, where, for what purpose, how often.

The London Borough of Waltham Forest is a relatively compact neighbourhood, some 6 miles from north to south, and 3½ miles from east to west, roughly oblong-shaped. But those figures are misleading in so far as tracts of the borough are woodland, parkland and a tranche of the Lea Valley. The urban areas where council offices are located are concentrated in a much smaller area than might be indicated by the borough boundaries.

You hardly have to be ‘super-fit’ to cycle from the Town Hall to Leyton or Chingford. And the borough is well served by bus routes: 20, 34, 48, 55, 56, 58, 66, 69, 97, 123, 145, 158, 179, 212, 215, 230, 257, 275, 308, 313, 357, 379, 385, 397, 444, W11, W12, W13, W14, W15, W16, W19, plus a few others.

Gerhard Weiss of the Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign is not convinced:

This sums up everything that’s wrong about Waltham Forest Council and cycling. Its own officers responsible for highways matters prefer to drive the ridiculously short distance from their offices on South Access Road to the Town Hall – a distance of about a mile and a half – to discuss cycling matters with local activists. And their fossil fuel addiction is subsidised as ‘essential car use’.

One recent cycling employee of Waltham Forest Council is less than pleased to learn about the existence of the ‘grey fleet’ subsidy. Step forward local blogger Julian Beere:

I have worked for the Community Learning and Skills Service (LBWF) and so I can give an (ex)employee's response. I worked part-time on a sessional basis at several of the service's learning centres and used my bike to commute. One of the centres, Chestnut House, has no proper facility for securing bicycles. Indeed (cycling) staff and learners used to lock bicycles to a fire escape.

At another centre, Friday Hill House, there was no cycle stand either. I used to lock my bike to a drain pipe close to the car park at the side. I worried that it did not seem too challenging an opportunity for a cycle thief to engage with and so I imagine other cyclists might have been effectively discouraged.

I cycled to and from there (and other centres) frequently heavily loaded with tools and materials for group arts and crafts activities. I did not mind doing this; the point I am getting to is that
at no time was this contribution to the service recognised and encouraged let alone 'rewarded'.

I have put in some very specific Freedom of Information requests to the council about its ‘grey fleet’.

To be continued…

Sunday, 20 February 2011

What won’t bring about mass cycling (7) 5% plus modal share in a vehicular cycling environment

Cycling-friendly York ( Gillygate)

I often come across this argument on cycling discussion threads. Don’t ask for the impossible (i.e. Dutch cycling infrastructure) but rather continue in the traditional UK cycle campaigning fashion of seeking small-scale improvements to the vehicular cycling environment. This approach, it is argued, is drawing more and more people to cycling, and this will result one day in a critical mass being established, after which it will then become realistic to ask for what at present is an impossible dream:

At some point (say above 5% modal share) it will be possible to demand large scale reallocation of road space in favour of people on bikes.

But where’s the science behind that often-cited magical figure of 5% plus? If you look at those few places in Britain where modal share is higher than 5 per cent, sometimes very considerably so, this hasn’t happened. Look at Cambridge. Look at York. Both cities have high modal share and active cycle campaign groups, but in neither city is the local authority inclined to engage in large scale reallocation of road space in favour of people on bikes.

Look at Edinburgh, where commuter cycling modal share has crept up to 5% (or by some accounts 6%). Edinburgh has signed up to the targets of 10 per cent general modal share and 15 per cent commuter cycling modal share by 2020. Those are incredibly ambitious targets to achieve in the next nine years, particularly when recent figures indicate a decline in utility cycling in this city. You could certainly achieve those targets if you re-engineered Edinburgh on the Dutch model. But take a close look at Edinburgh Council’s plans for achieving those targets. They strike me as fragmentary, disconnected and unwilling to address the hegemony of the car in Edinburgh. I don’t believe for a moment Edinburgh will come anywhere near to achieving those targets.

Closer to home, take a look at the extraordinary state of affairs on Blackfriars Bridge in central London. Danny has discovered that at rush-hour, 35.6% of the traffic heading north through the junction consists of cyclists, whereas cars plus taxis make up only 31.9%. The congestion charge and the recession have both deterred private car use in central London.

Yet how has Transport for London reacted to this reality? By designing a new road lay-out which is deeply detrimental to cycling and entirely rooted in classic car-centric ‘smoothing motor vehicle flow’.

Danny deconstructs the TfL plan in detail, noting among other things that

There's loads of space for a proper 2.5m wide cycle lane. But it's being used for cars instead.

It’s also anti-walking:

As a pedestrian, you won't be able to cross from the Blackfriars pub over to the other side of New Bridge Street any longer (at Watergate). That's an incredibly busy pedestrian crossing.

So in other words, this is classic TfL Network Assurance.

My reading of this plan is that it's designed to allow cars to travel faster through the junction on more lanes. To make it less convenient for pedestrians. To make cycles part of the traffic flow, where they have to leg it across multiple lanes of relatively faster moving traffic than now.

It's going to turn something that is currently a fairly slow-paced junction where it is not impossible to get across the lanes into something that is frankly worse than it ever was before. TfL has designed an urban motorway here, it seems to me.

For a bridge where the majority of rush-hour traffic consists of bicycles not cars or taxis, this is just vandalism. I'm sorry to be so frank but it really is.

It’s really just another version of the vandalism which Transport for London has vigorously promoted in the London Borough of Waltham Forest on two direct routes for cycling - Forest Road and Wood Street.

The bizarre example of Ken Kifer

I can’t believe that people are still writing stuff like this:

Ken Kifer Bike Pages If you’re worried that bike commuting to work will do something harmful to your health, think again. This site breaks down cycling fatalities and the risks bike commuters face daily. Once you see the minuscule percentages that bike commuting can do, you’ll be ready for a ride.

Once again it is the solemn duty of the Krapp Institute to spoil the party.

The car-centric BBC

The recent death of a cyclist in Hackney, killed by a left-turning lorry whose driver was subsequently arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving, was not reported on BBC London News.

No surprise there. I am not aware of a single case in recent years of a London cyclist killed by a lorry driver which has been reported on BBC London News. But journalism, as we know, is all about priorities. And here is a recent story which was so important it was on the BBC National news, on BBC London news, and on other local news sites – truly a story of massive importance.

The sayings of Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow

Stella Creasy as a Waltham Forest councillor.

This blog has a passing interest in Stella as she’s both a cyclist and a passionate environmentalist.

As a cyclist she signed the petition I Stop At Red (see it here).

It was therefore deeply shocking and troubling to witness this paragon of virtue disregarding road traffic rules.

And recently there was disturbing evidence of a link between Stella and unlawful flyposting in central Walthamstow.

And now, to add to the indictment, Stella has been a little economical with the actualité during the course of sisterly debate.

Take a look at this statement:

It is partly a question there of the huge amount of time you are expected to put in. I was a local councillor but I stepped down after one term. It was impossible to combine with real life.

Stella presents a touching picture of a hard-working feminist, who decided voluntarily to step down in order to spend more time with her family.

Which is not quite how some local Labour Party members remember it, though their choice of language in their assessments of Ms Creasy could not possibly be reproduced on a wholesome, family-friendly site like Crap Cycling.

Or to put it another way

In 2005 she was mysteriously de-selected by party colleagues as a Labour councillor in Waltham Forest before she rebuilt her political career.

Incidentally, I pray that Private Eye never comes across Ms Creasy’s contribution to this debate on Labour Party sisterhood, as there is some infelicitous and easily misunderstood phrasing at the end, which might well provoke coarse public schoolboy sniggers if crudely wrenched from the surrounding context.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

a demonstration of Waltham Forest cyclecraft

Cycling in the London Borough of Waltham Forest requires special skills which are not available in conventional cycling guides.

Here in six easy-to-understand stages are the special skills which anyone can learn to cycle in Waltham Forest.

1. Cycle round bend and suddenly spot ‘Riney’ plastic fencing across cycle lane

2. Spot sign saying CYCLE LANE CLOSED and dismount.

3. Spot gap in plastic fencing and attempt to get through it with bicycle.

4. Discover gap is not wide enough and start wrestling with plastic fencing.

5. Continue to attempt to get bike through gap.

6. Having successfully pushed fencing aside, pass through gap.

You may now continue your journey along the footway in a traffic-free environment and proceed safely to your destination. And remember. When pedestrians jump out of your way and shout ‘Sorry!’ a friendly smile and a wave of acknowledgement is always appreciated.

This blog post has been specially sponsored by JH Riney as part of its ongoing Bringing Red Plastic Fencing to Waltham Forest Cyclists project.

‘As a non-car owning resident of Waltham Forest’

An interesting comment to this story:

As a non-car owning resident of Waltham Forest I am absolutely sick to death of pavements being reclaimed as car-parking spaces. It is so chronic that on many streets you are forced to walk single file just so people can accommodate their heaps of metal outside their house. Time to reclaim the pavements for people not cars!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Talking ’bout my regeneration

It’s started! The ‘regeneration’ of High Road Leytonstone, Gateway to the Olympic Village.

What the Waltham Forest town planners call ‘enhancing the public realm’ with new lamp posts. And where better to site them than by bike stands?

'Waltham Forest – it’s happening here!'

Bringing diversity to footway obstruction

Visit The London Borough of Waltham Forest to encounter illegal obstruction of the footway in all community languages. (High Road Leytonstone)

The number of shopkeepers prosecuted by this crap council for illegal obstruction of the footway by ‘A’ boards in the past year: nil.

Waltham Forest Council only enforces with extreme reluctance laws to protect pedestrians, and then only minimally. It turns a blind eye to footway obstruction on a spectacular scale. It’s a car-sick council run by grey fleet officers who cycle nowhere and who can just about manage to waddle from their reserved parking bays to their offices. Bah!

more unsafe cycling in Hackney

Two female cyclists have been injured in collisions with large vehicles on the streets of the London Borough of Hackney within 24 hours.

The borough’s mayor, Jules Pipe, said: “In recent years, Hackney Council has gone to great efforts to improve safety for cyclists, including free cycle training to people living, working or studying in the borough.

“We also host a local safety working group, where the council and its partners meet up to discuss ways of improving cyclist and pedestrian safety around heavy goods vehicles.
As a council, we support any additional efforts to try and create a safer environment for cyclists in Hackney.”

Any? Obviously anyone who asked for Dutch-style infrastructure, the removal of parked cars from the kerbside, and the introduction of segregated cycle paths, would be pushing at an open door, with cycling-friendly Cllr Pipes in charge. It’s a shame that no one appears to be asking.

Personally I think Hackney is a crap place to cycle, as car-sodden and car-centric as anywhere else in London. Cycling is under strain in Hackney, as is indicated by TfL’s modal share figures. Having reached a modal share of 8 per cent, it then slumped to 3 per cent and has now crawled back up to 5 per cent.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

TfL’s ‘Network Assurance’: a massive obstacle to cycling and walking in London

Smooth traffic flow. High Road Leytonstone (‘Cycling-friendly’ – SUSTRANS), yesterday. All the vehicles in this photograph are legally parked. No cyclists were available for this photograph.

London Travel Watch recently pointed out a fundamental contradiction between its own aspirations for better streets for pedestrians and Transport for London’s number one transport priority.

TfL’s network assurance regime often works against Better Streets initiatives. We would welcome a review of that regime to allow more walk friendly initiatives to be implemented or at least the network assurance regime should be more transparent.

‘Network assurance’ is less than transparent (it would be interesting to know what proportion of London’s transport campaigners have ever heard of it) and it seems not to have been subjected to any kind of radical critique by campaign organisations

As London Travel Watch point out

The emphasis on keeping traffic moving as opposed to traffic reduction will limit the scope to rebalance the use of London’s streets in favour of the pedestrian.

Or for that matter cycling.

This is what ‘Network Assurance’ means: prioritising motor vehicle flow above all other considerations. Infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists is rejected out of hand if it seriously conflicts with that priority.

Network Assurance rules London:

I am writing to seek your approval to upgrade the junction of Notting Hill Gate and Linden Gardens to provide improved pedestrian facilities.
The scheme will then need TfL Network assurance approval before implementation to confirm that there is no adverse effect on traffic flow on Notting Hill Gate.

Traffic flow is the number one priority, irrespective of the constituents of that flow. Half of all car trips in Outer London are less than two miles in length. The situation is not so very different closer to the centre of the capital. Over 40% of people whose journeys finish in Lambeth are driving 2 miles or less.

TfL’s own transport modelling is responsible for this state of affairs, since its number one priority is not making those short car journeys more difficult but rather making them as easy and convenient as possible. The CTC’s Hierarchy of Provision states Consider first: traffic reduction yet TfL is institutionally committed to traffic accommodation, not traffic reduction.

‘Network Assurance’ traffic modelling is duplicated by all London councils, in the form of ‘smoothing traffic flow’ (a term you will probably encounter in every Local Implementation Plan in Greater London).

Smoothing traffic flow has other ramifications, because the basic planning model of accommodating and making life as easy as possible for those who choose to drive cars for short journeys is paralleled by the policy of accommodating all residents who choose to buy cars but have nowhere to park them but the street.

Historically, the massive growth in car ownership in London’s suburbs has been achieved by
(i) allowing more or less unlimited free parking on residential streets
(ii) where on-street car parking creates difficulties for other motor vehicle users, the footway is re-allocated from pedestrians for car parking
(iii) as residential streets reach saturation point they are converted to one-way, which in principle discriminates against any cyclists who live on those streets or who use them as cycling routes. The creation of additional one-way streets alongside others results in gyratory networks which obstruct direct cycling routes.
(iv) saturation parking results in the creation of Controlled Parking Zones, designed to exclude non-residential parking. However, in privileging residential parking no London council charges the true cost of parking a vehicle in the carriageway. In the London Borough of Waltham Forest the charge for unlimited parking of a car in a residential street is £30 a year, which represents a massive subsidy for what is effectively the rental of street space. There are no restraints on multiple vehicle ownership. As modern cars get bigger and as more people acquire 4X4s the pressure for street space grows, leading to the creation of even wider parking bays on footways, reducing the available space for pedestrians to as little as one metre, sometimes even less. This is well below all national guidelines for pedestrians, let alone pedestrians with a mobility handicap, but even the last refuge of the pedestrian – the footway – is reallocated for car ownership. This occurs even on streets where every household has off-road car parking; the acquisition of second, third or fourth vehicles is treated as a greater priority than the right of pedestrians to expect the footway as to be exclusively for walking.

So to recapitulate: transport modelling across London, by both Transport for London and London Councils, is designed to promote and prioritise both car ownership and car use.
 Now let’s apply those twin realities to a document like Delivering the benefits of cycling in Outer London, a collaborative document put out in the name of the London Cycling Campaign, Sustrans, the Mayor, Transport for London and London Councils.

It correctly identifies many of the barriers to cycling in suburban London, not least that at an individual level (i.e. fear of cycling in traffic). Cycling is being massively suppressed and one third of Outer London households do not own a car. It accurately notes that

the potential for a substantial increase in cycling in Outer London is huge.

The report then

proposes a range of practical solutions for boroughs to implement.

And that’s where the document falls apart. Its ‘practical solutions’ in no way address the Network Assurance/smoother traffic flow model, or the relentless on-street accommodation of increased vehicle ownership. All it has to offer is vehicular cycling solutions – a range of small initiatives which

build on the good work already being done by boroughs to promote cycling. These include cycle training, cycle parking, London Cycle Network Plus (LCN+), Greenways, school and workplace travel planning, and initiatives aimed at improving cycle safety and reducing cycle theft.

There is no hard evidence that projects like these, individually or collectively, will result in a substantial increase in cycling. Nor could they when (i) most people don’t want to cycle in traffic (ii) TfL and London Councils model their transport planning on making car journeys as quick and convenient as possible, and re-allocate street space to accommodate households buying their first car or adding to the number of motor vehicles they already own.

These are perfectly worthy objectives in themselves but they amount to an incoherent campaign strategy which will lead nowhere other than to a continuing tiny modal share for cycling in London. Such objectives signally fail to address (i) the failure of past vehicular cycling strategies of this kind to shift modal share in London (ii) the massive obstacle to cycling represented by the whole issue of safety (iii) the massive obstacle to cycling represented by transport modelling based on prioritising and accommodating car ownership and car use.

Dave Horton takes us to the heart of the matter when he observes

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. To me, the solution is obvious then – get rid of the problem. If you’re in the Council chamber, people will start saying ‘on your bike’ and ‘get in the real world’, but then you say, well, go to Groningen, Ghent, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Munich – there are so many examples across the world of places which are now hollowing out their city centres, creating places for walking and cycling.
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.

The London Borough of Waltham Forest is a very good place from which to perceive the failure of traditional cycle campaign objectives, because it already has the kind of vehicular cycling infrastructure which other campaigners still dream of: large neighbourhood 20 mph zones, extensive traffic calming, 40 miles of cycle lanes and quiet routes, Advanced Stop Lines at most signalled junctions, signed London Cycle Network routes, bike sheds at railway stations which are regarded as iconic by other campaign groups, road closures with cycle access.

What’s more the borough is astonishingly compact – think of it as roughly oblong-shaped, no wider than 3 miles from east to west, and about 6 miles from north to south.

Yet none of this has worked and cycling remains deeply unattractive to local residents, with a modal share of less than one per cent.

The reason for this is quite simply traffic. The borough is bursting at the seams with parked cars and people driving cars for ridiculously short journeys.

A tiny number of people are prepared to cycle among lorries, buses, vans and cars on car-choked streets but the overwhelming majority are not. Even if every single driver drove with consideration and treated cyclists with respect, Waltham Forest would still provide a discouraging environment for cyclists. This was my route in Leyton yesterday, for example. A cycle lane designated as part of the London Cycle Network. An action shot taken alongside moving traffic.

London Travel Watch explicitly recognises the contradiction between Network Assurance and its own aspirations for a better environment for walking. However, there are no obvious signs that Sustrans or the London Cycling Campaign recognise the same glaring contradiction between Network Assurance and a better environment for cycling (even though there are plainly individual activists within the LCC who understand all too well its implications).

To put it another way: the route to mass cycling in London and elsewhere lies through the re-allocation of street space from the motor vehicle to the cyclist, and the separation of cyclists from motor vehicles.

It’s not as if we don’t now have a model of proven success, or numerous examples of infrastructure that really works.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Biker down on High Road Leyton

Cycling along the High Road at lunchtime I came across the aftermath of a crash, close to Leyton Tesco. A helmeted powered-two-wheeler was on the ground by a red motorbike, receiving assistance from two paramedics. The rider seemed to be conscious.

Update 5.15 pm

According to the local paper the rider was hit by a car but not seriously injured. Police attended the scene but a spokeswoman said no offence had been committed.

Waltham Forest: gateway to the Olympics

‘It’s happening here!’

And if you plan on coming to the Olympics via regenerated Waltham Forest, just remember to bring a good pair of boots. (Hawthorne Road E17)

‘Jesus, I trust in you’

Jesus, I trust in you is the message in the back window of this parked car in Walthamstow.

I have forwarded this pic to the council’s parking section with the appropriate details and I am praying that the attendants give this person of faith a fixed penalty notice.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

cycling and the North Olympic Fringe Area Action Plan

Lea Bridge Road (A104) – more fun than a Center Parc.

Waltham Forest Council is keen to hear local views on that electrifying document entitled North Olympic Fringe Area Action Plan (AAP) Preferred Options.

The spin boils down to a glorious vision of a post-Olympic paradise in which

local people have a better quality of life and greater opportunities, in the form of jobs, homes, services, open spaces, and public realm improvements.

Cut through the crap and the eco-fluff, though, and you soon see what the North Olympic Fringe Area Action Plan (AAP) Preferred Options really boil down to.

Firstly, the council can’t wait to get its hands on green belt land and cut some more deals with property developers. Part 8.9 states

Although most developments will not normally be acceptable in the Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land, there may be exceptions where development is necessary.

But not to worry because

the Council will consider how these sites can be sensitively developed.

And sensitivity is this Council’s middle name when it comes to disposing of public land and flogging it off to developers.

And what could be more sensitive to local green space than building tower blocks or hotels on it, beside it, or overlooking it.

Part 4.10 states

Redevelopment at Leyton Mills would provide the scope to introduce taller buildings into the area, particularly along the A12

None of this should be a surprise in the context of the material posted on Fight the Height. If you are worried about the future of the Lea Valley then you should certainly read this AAP and respond to it.

The AAP promises ‘enhanced pedestrian/cycle routes’, though these will be largely leisure-orientated and will require cyclists to use unpleasant car-choked streets to access them. So they will deter everyone except hardcore vehicular cyclists, and will fail to attract families.

Documents like these are often worth reading just for the new information they contain. For example, the Council has discovered that

many young people who lived in proximity to Marsh Lane playing fields were unaware of its existence and had never used the fields.

That’s a sign of the new car-centric generations, who never cycle and who rarely go for a walk in their neighbourhood. They’ve been brought up on car travel and anything which is outside the infrastructure of the motor vehicle is invisible.

On Leyton High Road and Lea Bridge Road the planners have noticed that ‘the dominance of vehicular traffic detracts from the shopping experience’ but naturally have no plans to address this condition, other than superficially:

Higher quality public spaces, street trees and street furniture would improve both this experience and public perceptions.

This is a bit rich from a council which can’t even supply adequate cycle parking in its major shopping centres. The council’s own planners are grey fleet planners – many of them probably don’t live locally, they travel everywhere by car on generous and unmanaged expenses, they don’t use buses, they don’t walk, and they don’t cycle.

For Leyton

Appropriate parking in the Town Centre was seen as an essential tool for promoting local shopping by local business owners.

Well of course it was. Shopkeepers have never understood that it is possible to enjoy commercial prosperity in a non-vehicular environment. Britain’s shopkeepers bitterly opposed the country’s first pedestrianisation schemes, until they were forced on them and found to work. They have never understood that people might want to arrive at their shops by any other means than the car. That’s why I do very little local shopping. It annoys me when I arrive at a local shop wanting to buy an expensive electronic item and I find parking bays but no cycle stands at all. That’s why Van-Haaren lost my custom, as did Rapid Radio.

As for cycling.

This AAP seeks to promote enhancements to Lea Bridge Road to create a more natural and friendly setting, with open views to the north and south up and down the Lea Valley, creating a nature focused pedestrian and cycling experience along the valley crossing.

Like that shown in the paradisal picture shown above. It either shows Lea Bridge Road just after the junction with Orient Way, looking towards Clapton, or (the more probable of the two alternatives) the view east just after the Ice Rink, looking towards Leyton.

Yes, in just a few years time people will be pouring down to Lea Bridge Road for a picnic on its grassy banks. Outside sensitive developments people will sip their cappuccinos and admire the mysterious absence of traffic on Lea Bridge Road, which normally carries 27,000 vehicles a day. In this vision of the future the bus lane has been removed, as has the speed camera, doubtless as a testament to the borough’s success in restraining and taming the traffic. And, realistically, there are no cyclists to be seen anywhere.

I expect the missing cyclists are still stuck in traffic further up the road. You know, like on these cycling-friendly sections of Lea Bridge Road. Who can possibly doubt that entire families will be leaping on their bicycles and pouring west on these safe and attractive cycle lanes in order to enjoy the sunlit green spaces of the fabulously regenerated North Olympic Fringe Area?

The AAP document can be accessed here.