Go West, Look East

This weekend marks the AGM of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and will be held in Bath & Bristol (details here). Since the Embassy started last year, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to be shown around infrastructure ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous via the Scottish (which at times also veered toward the ridiculous). Although we shall be kicking off with a leisurely jaunt along the Bath Bristol Railway Path which I’m really looking forward to, the pace will only quicken when we discuss what we are as an organisation and where we’re going.

The reason is simple; it could have been a predictable year in cycle campaigning. Some additional decent momentum with LCC and their Love London Go Dutch Campaign building up to Mayoral elections followed by the Parliamentary Bike Ride followed by Bike Week with its accompanying optimism of rising numbers of cyclists followed by everyone going on their holidays and then the cycling numbers receding as Autumn takes hold.

But on 4 November 2011, Mary Bowers, a 24-year-old Journalist for the Times was knocked off her bicycle and to this day tragically remains in a coma. And The Times decided to do something about it.

To say the World of cycle campaigning as a result lurched to breakneck speed would be bordering on reckless understatement. Cycling was suddenly thrust beyond the realm of cycling magazines, blogs and internet forums and out far, far into the public domain. Every day brought a new initiative, pledge or commitment from politicians and officials in National and Local Government. There were excellent protest events organised such as Pedal on Parliament in Edinburgh and of course London Cycling Campaign’s excellent ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ ride, both remarkably well attended considering the atrocious weather that usually marks the transition to a British Summer. Thanks to The Times Cities Safe for Cycling campaign, I make the suggestion that more was achieved for cyclists than established campaigns had been trying to do for years [through no fault of their own, I hasten to add].

Or has it? Now that the dust has cleared, the protest rides ridden and the best Parliamentary china has been cleared away, I’ve listed below some of the key points and achievements extracted from a report by the jolly nice instigator of The Times campaign, Kaya Burgess.

‘….Support

Nearly 40,000 people have signed up to The Times’s ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Opposition leader Ed Miliband, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson and Mayor of Salford Ian Stewart have all backed The Times’s campaign, while Cambridge, Brighton and Leeds councils have all voted through official support and ten cities back the campaign. A host of famous names also backed the campaign in the first few weeks.

A Westminster debate saw 77 MPs attend a debate on cycle safety.

Cycling becomes a major issue in the London mayoral elections. A cycle-specific hustings is hosted by The Times and Sustrans for the five main candidates.

About 45 per cent of all regular cyclists are aware of The Times’s ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign.

More than 10,000 people take to the streets of London and Edinburgh in support of cycle safety.

Minicab chief John Griffin, boss of Addison Lee, pledged his support to the campaign after angering cyclists.

Lorries

Crossrail refused entry to 31 of 253 vehicles bringing building materials to sites because they failed safety standards imposed to protect cyclists.

The Department for Transport are discussing with insurers whether incentives can be offered to hauliers who fit their lorries with extra safety equipment to protect cyclists.

Construction companies are also exploring ways to improve cycle safety.

Leading engineers call for every bus and lorry to be fitted with sensors to protect cyclists and pedestrians by 2015…

…Dangerous junctions

At least 85 per cent of councils (366 of the 433 councils in Britain) contain a dangerous cycling blackspot, according to 10,000 points nominated by Times readers.

Transport ministers promise to study the cycling blackspots nominated on the map and investigate ways to improve them.

Safe cycle lanes are to be made law in Wales, with plans to force local councils to develop and maintain safe routes.

Local councils no longer have to seek permission from Government every time they install a rear-view “trixi” mirror at dangerous junctions, due to pressure from The Times.

A scheme in Paris allows cyclists to turn the near-side corner of a T-junction at a red-light. Similar schemes in Britain could give cyclists their own short green phase to allow them to get a head-start from lorries and HGVs.

Futuristic projects to build elevated, enclosed cycle lanes would cost a prohibitive £38 million per kilometre. But less hi-tech projects have been constructed at a far more economical cost, such as elevated tracks in Copenhagen and pedestrian and cycle-friendly bridges in Cambridge.

National audit

Polls conducted by The Times revealed much about the habits of drivers and cyclists, while more than 10,000 submissions were added to a reader-generated map of Britain, showing where the most dangerous spots for cyclists can be found.

Funding…

….A £100 million annual fund to finance cycle infrastructure should be set aside, according to leading transport charities. But the £4.9 billion Highways Agency budget has already been cut by 20 per cent.

Transport for London received £15 million in the Budget to put towards improving dangerous junctions.

The Labour Party will consider adopting parts of The Times’s ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign, including the call for more funding, in its own manifesto, during its policy review in autumn. Voters credit Labour as the party which has responded best to cycle safety concerns.

Copenhagen has undergone a £77 million cycling makeover in the past decade, with another £28 million earmarked for upcoming projects. This far outstrips spending in the UK.

Training for cyclists and drivers

The Times revealed that councils are failing to claim millions of pounds in funding for children’s cycling, putting pressure on councils to improve on last year’s figures, when fewer than 200,000 children took a cycle training course funded by their local authority.

There will be guaranteed Bikeability funding for the whole of this Parliament.

Speed limits

Cutting speed limits to 20mph in trial areas showed a 50 per cent reduction in the number of cyclists killed or serious injured, and a 60 per cent reduction in casualties among child cyclists.

The Scottish Parliament has called for more 20mph zones in response to cyclist fatalities north of the border.

The AA throws its weight behind calls to extend 20mph speed limits.

Business involvement

Norman Baker, the Transport Minister, promoted The Times’s call for more corporate sponsorship in promoting safe cycling.

The incoming mayors of both Liverpool and Salford have pledged to explore bike-hire schemes in their cities, following the model of the Barclays Bikes in London.

Cycling commissioners

A House of Commons inquiry into cycle safety heard demands for David Cameron to appoint a cycling tsar to represent the needs of cyclists in government.

Boris Johnson, in securing re-election as London Mayor, pledged to appoint a cycling commissioner.

The Times’s call for every city to have a cycling commissioner won government support after a Westminster debate on cycle safety.

The new Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, also pledged to appoint a cycling commissioner…….’

By the way, here is The Times’s ‘Cities Safe for Cycling’ Manifesto

Great stuff (especially when you consider the timeframe) but you will note that there are a lot of pledges, ‘calls for…’, ‘explores..’ and reviews but as to whether this will turn into firm action (and more crucially, funding for that action) remains to be seen. I personally still remain severely sceptical about the state of infrastructure in this country which is the best chance we have of increasing numbers of everyday cyclists through subjective safety. This is why I feel that there will always be a need for a Cycling Embassy of Great Britain as long as it never deviates from its core mantra of ‘Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure [to aid and assist training, promotion et al]’. Even when other groups launch campaigns pushing for Dutch Infrastructure such as LCC, or start holding policy reviews about ‘Going Dutch’, we should still be there to assist or support if needed but mostly developing our knowledge base and demonstrating what ‘Going Dutch’ actually means as a benchmark. We should all know only too well that to deviate or go for compromise will force us down the wrong road (pardon the pun) again with yet more crap infrastructure. And no cycling organisation wants that. Much of our current infrastructure continues to be a published joke, designed and built with the same result as a Toddler group given the chance to design the successor to Trident. However if it starts to join up in their idea of a network, cyclists right to certain roads could be brushed aside as easily as Cycling England. And don’t think it can’t happen.

NOT to be confused with the West Sussex County Council Sustainable Transport Plan

People are still signing up to the Embassy website, making generous donations and giving some excellent reasons for joining which is fantastic and I thank you personally for placing your faith in our fledgling organisation. I shall be reading out some of the reasons at the AGM (not giving names or details away of course) as they really warrant a listen. Above all, we need fresh input (and a new Press Officer) so please, please come along and help shape our destiny. Some good ideas have already been submitted for discussion and it won’t be the same without you. I’ve even ordered nice weather for you so you have no excuse.

After having a think on the Brompton this morning (I’m commuting 24 miles a day on the Brompton at the moment in training for this in case anyone wants to pop along for support), I was trying to think of a metaphor or some such that best summed up the frustration of taking perfectly good ideas from Europe and getting them back to Britain.

Me at the front at an earlier Smithfield Nocturne after stampeding through the pack like Bonnie Langford on Amphetamines

Suddenly, the classic ‘Penguin Game’ from ‘Jeux Sans frontieres’ leapt to mind. Take a look and imagine Britain enjoying playing in Europe, not taking it that seriously and getting tangled up occasionally but when a good idea tries to get carried back it either gets spilt, spoilt or upset in some way. The coloured water represents Dutch cycling infrastructure. But I think you guessed that already. I know it’s not a cycling clip but enjoy one of my favourite TV moments and see you in beautiful Bath & Bristol this weekend.

Misinterpreting Interpretations

No! No! No! Not 'Go DITCH'.....

Now that the internet has uncovered the realities of cycling in Denmark and The Netherlands and people in Britain have started to discuss what it means to ‘Copenhagenize‘ and ‘Amsterdamize‘ and realised that the cycling infrastructure design and implementation in Britain lags a bit behind the Falkland Islands and London Cycling Campaign members voted to ‘Go Dutch‘ and Norman Baker MP stated that we could learn from our Dutch colleagues and handsome, gifted young men start a Cycling Embassy to eventually start lobbying and exchanging ideas with British, Dutch and Danish friends and more friends beyond, there now follows the desperate period where British people start to speak with sudden authority interpreting what it all actually means such as this latest offering from the Guardian Bike Blog.

To many, ‘Going Dutch’ means having segregation everywhere! There are many British people, who through no fault of their own, are not Dutch or are in any way conversant with the Dutch experience. Thus the very notion of segregation will instantly make people instantly think of their local high street, housing estate or country lane and try to mentally cram in a couple of with-flow cycle paths with separating kerbs. And then dismiss the idea as bunkum.

The fact is that ‘Going Dutch’ does mean having segregation everywhere! But there’s one fundamental caveat; The British assume segregation to mean ‘segregating cyclists from the road to ‘improve traffic flow’ for motorised traffic’ whereas the Dutch mean ‘segregate motorised vehicles from people to improve movement for everyone’.

Through the years, the British have created a lot of bypasses, relief roads, motorways, urban expressways and the like. The Dutch did the same but ensured that it became an utter pain in the buttocks to get across the town being bypassed in a car, in effect forcing motorised traffic to use the new infrastructure built. The British didn’t and are still paying the price with heavily congested town and city centres. In fact we keep using it as some perverse justification to build more bypasses, relief roads, motorways, urban expressways and the like. Here’s a clip from ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ made in the very early 1980’s that captures it perfectly.

With traffic where it should be, it then becomes a lot easier to transform areas that were for people into areas for people, and giving planners a chance to make cycling and walking very direct, pleasant and safe options indeed. It also becomes less like political suicide to start suggesting things like ‘Strict Liability’, defined by Wikipedia like so,

‘”Strict liability”, supported in law in the Netherlands,[1] leads to [a] driver’s insurance being deemed to be responsible in a collision between a car and a cyclist. This makes car drivers very wary of bicycles.’

The fact is that no-one is saying that there should be segregated cycle paths everywhere, not even the Dutch or the Danes. It doesn’t help that cycle infrastructure in this country resembles something designed by someone who really, really, really hates cycling. But to dismiss them arbitrarily because of not understanding their true context in mainland Europe is a cheap shot. Even if they only create the ‘Placebo effect’ to which the Guardian Bike Blog post alludes, I’d prefer that to consistent fines from the EU for failing to meet air pollution targets, or more gastric band surgery or one of the worst road safety records for cyclists and pedestrians in Western Europe (as tragically demonstrated in this moving blog post from Embassy Press Officer, Mark Ames). Now that my Study Tour experience has really started to sink in (which the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain intends to make an annual event), I shall be revealing more over the next few weeks (and years) mainly through the Embassy website as well as addressing further how all this should be taken to a wider British audience that doesn’t know yet how much they love riding a bicycle like previous generations.

I leave you with this ditty I’ve quickly put together for the Cycling Embassy from footage taken by me on the Study Tour and then from my commute to work (Worthing to Brighton) on the Monday morning after returning home.

If TfL’s Feats Create Unpleasant Streets, Then That’s More Lame.

From London Se1

‘Mayor of London Boris Johnson has ruled out making the current temporary 20 mph speed limit on Blackfriars Bridge a permanent measure despite a vigorous campaign by cyclists.

Mr Johnson was questioned at City Hall on Wednesday by Green Party London Assembly member Jenny Jones who put to the Mayor the findings of a 2008 Transport for London report which recommended a 20 mph limit on several Thames bridges.

“My information is that the general speed [on Blackfriars Bridge] is nearer 12 miles an hour, therefore a speed limit of 20 mph isn’t necessary and could be a serious impediment to smooth traffic flow,” said the Mayor. “I’m not convinced of the case for this.”

He added: “I do think more work needs to be done on cycling over Blackfriars Bridge … speaking as someone who uses that route the whole time I am very much familiar with the problems of the cyclist on Blackfriars Bridge and I am working with TfL to try and sort it out.

Ms Jones pressed the Mayor on why he was ignoring the findings of the report prepared by TfL in 2008. The Mayor replied: “I am told that it does not represent the best advice and therefore I am not pursuing it”.…..’

Danny, writer of the excellent Cyclists in the City blog provides an update here, and my favourite pedalling pugilist, Freewheeler, pulls no punches in his synopsis here. They think it’s war. And I agree.

To me and indeed the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, the ‘Battle of Blackfriars’ has ramifications way beyond London which is why we have supported the London Cycling Campaign wholeheartedly. Our Press Officer (and flashmob ride Rabble Rouser) Mark Ames published a blog post for the Embassy site a couple of weeks ago in which he wrote the following,

‘……All eyes in London are on Blackfriars Bridge, but why is this issue important to the whole of the UK and not just London? Because Transport for London are governed by a rule called the Traffic Management Act 2004 which states that TfL’s obligation is to ensure the expeditious movement of traffic on its own road network; and facilitate the expeditious movement of traffic on the networks of others. This is all well and good, but how is TfL interpreting this rule? But does ‘traffic’ include people on bikes, people on foot and people on buses – people who have jobs to go to, shops to spend in, schools to teach at? The law is explicit on this issue: “traffic” includes pedestrians, cyclists and “motorised vehicles – whether engaged in the transport of people or goods.” (Traffic Management Act 2004, Section 31, and DfT Traffic Management Act 2004, Network Management Duty Guidance, DfT page 4, paragraph 10).

But TfL’s Draft Network Operating Strategy (May 2011) explains how this Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) objective is actually translated into reality:

The key measure for smoothing traffic flow set out in the MTS is journey time reliability .(p14)

And how is this measured?

Journey time reliability scope includes all classes of light good vehicles, Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV’s) and cars. (p14 – footnote 2)

So there you have it; pedestrians don’t count, buses and trams don’t count, cyclists don’t count. If you’re not in a car, you just don’t count. Figures via Cycle of Futility blog.……’

When I was a child (and a bit bored), my friends and I played a game where we tried to cram as many of us as we could into a phone box. It would appear that TfL along with all Highways Authorities across the land also enjoyed the same game. The problem is, they’re still playing it. In this exciting new updated version, the children (ironically) represent motorised traffic and the phone box is a ‘strategic road network’.

I think that the whole approach is incredibly anti-social. In any urban area where people live, work and play the car should have its place but the people come first. In the UK the people have their place but the car comes first and it is to the nation’s detriment in every way.

In a talk I gave for Movement for Liveable London last April, I spoke about TfL’s strategic red routes. To me, painting double red lines down a busy road merely amplifies the sense of urgency in the streetscape; these are not places to walk or cycle or shop or stop and talk with friends and family. These are places where you have to get through as quickly as possible, I assume to the next traffic ‘hot spot’.  

The red paint signifies the red rag to a bull. People get flustered when placed under the pressure of playing TfL’s high stakes game. Tempers flare, road users punch other road users and mistakes are made, sometimes with tragic (and needless) consequences.

Many non-cyclists would probably rather do this than cycle through a UK town or city

To all bicycle riding and walking Londoners; please take part in TfL’s Draft Network Operating Strategy Consultation. The deadline is tomorrow. Further details on the excellent Cycle of Futility here.

I’m off on a study tour in the Netherlands in September with David Hembrow. The main reason is to weep openly at infrastructure provided by a nation that is actually capable of designing for such a simple and effective mode of transport and gives a toss about its people. Another reason is to do further research into how they got here from the car-centric Netherlands of the 1970’s. Although Mr Hembrow has written a very good blog post on ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ (Stop the Child Murder), there doesn’t seem to be much else on the social changes that occurred (even less in English).

My point is that there needs to be an emotive element that can engage all Londoners in the case of Blackfriars and the UK public in the case of villages, towns and cities across the land.

For the moment, I would like to suggest (and this is me speaking personally about an idea I had this morning and not on behalf of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain) creating a special day where all cycling & pedestrian groups can unite to lay a wreath and hold a memorial service at TfL headquarters to remember all cyclists and pedestrians that have died in London as a result of TfL’s skewed logic. Then we can head along to Department for Transport and do the same for all those that have died in the UK needlessly as a result of a Department that refuses to take travelling by pedal or foot seriously and make these simplistic modes of transport simple.

I personally believe that it’s time we started to make this personal and poignant.

Words and Pictures

The police escort arrives to give me my Guard of Honour to the Houses of Parliament. Oh, and escort some MP's and Lords and yadda yadda yadda.

Last Wednesday, I caught the train up to London for the Annual Parliamentary Bike Ride which is the promotional prelude to Bike Week. As I was taking my Dutch Bike along, I had to catch the first train out of Worthing to beat Southern Rail’s [non-folding] bike ban which operates between 7-10am. I then cycled along Victoria Street, round Parliament Square (fine for me on an upright Dutch bike but I wouldn’t expect my mother to cycle this comfortably – unless she was actually a reasonably fit man aged between 18-45), over Westminster Bridge taking the vaguest of vague left turns into Belvedere Road toward the start point at the London Eye.

Carlton Reid interviewing Ed Clancy. He'd just interviewed me which was all the work he had to do really.

This is an event organised by CycleNation and ex-colleague Adam Coffman of CTC in particular. The great and the good of cycle campaigning were there including London Cycling Campaign’s new Chief Executive Dr Ashok Sinha. The ride was to take us over Blackfriars Bridge where Carlton Reid made this film.

We cycled along the Embankment, past Buckingham Palace and on to the Houses of Parliament where Norman Baker (MP for Lewes, East Sussex and Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department for Transport) took questions before dashing off to catch a train.

Cycling over Blackfriars Bridge. It's quite pleasant and relaxing with a police escort. Some decent infrastructure and a maintained 20mph limit will do.

 It was all very nice but that’s all it was. I’m all for devolving power but it needs the Department for Transport to treat the bicycle seriously as a mode of transport and keep a grip on Local & Highways Authorities whose main mission seems to be making cycling look as inviting as a timeshare in Tripoli. Councils across the land are continuing to build pitiful infrastructure whether cycle campaigners want it or not and the Local Transport Fund is not going to help that – if anything it will only encourage them to paint more bicycle symbols on pavements. The Monday before the Bike Ride, I wrote a blog post for the new Cycling Mobility magazine outlining my views on this and more here.

What I really cannot understand is why this country continues to ignore the Netherlands and Denmark – countries that have had proven success in creating bicycle cultures, that have made lots of mistakes since the 1970’s when developing its infrastructure and learnt from them now using a mixture of solutions to achieve modal shares we can only dream of over here if we continue the way we are. Maybe I should have asked Norman Baker on the study tour I’m going on in September.

The day after I was commuting to work and the puncture fairy visited me..

Bicycle repair in Shoreham by Sea

 In a former life I would have thrown my arms in the air, sworn a lot, replaced the inner tube as to engage in repair would lose valuable time in my cycling rat race (time was always against me when I cycled quicker for some reason), sworn again as I get grease from the chain and derailleur onto my work clothes in my super dooper courier bag etc etc. This time I just set about the gentle art of bicycle repair, reminded by the advice given to me by Stefan Petursson when I purchased the bike from Amsterdammers in Brighton. The conversation went like this;

Stefan: (put on your best Icelandic/Dutch accent here) ‘you know the best way to repair punctures on a Dutch Bike?’

Me: (put on your sexiest British accent here) ‘No’

I was at this point expecting to hear some incredible tip known only by the Dutch Peoples – maybe something treasured & carried over from generation to generation by word of mouth

Stefan: We pump the inner tube up like so…….and we listen.

I closed my eyes in a half wince/half flinch way. This advice was of course nothing new to me. But in that instant it made me realise that I had been taking the commute far too seriously with all the kit and speed and competitiveness and the subscription to Cycling Plus. By buying an upright utilitarian bike, I had yet to realise that things were about to get a lot slower and far more interesting. Again, this is not to discredit other forms of cycling as we are all part of one big family. But since riding the Dutch Bike my life has become simpler and cheaper and more spontaneous with more freedom and time for thought as a result. Exactly as cycling should be.

Lancing Beach just off NCN2 looking back toward Worthing. I can think of worse commutes.

Obviously they are not everyone’s cup of tea but quite why we ignore Dutch & Danish bikes (and indeed classic British roadsters too) as well as their infrastructure standards is quite beyond me. In the UK, mudguards are still regarded as an accessory! In Wimbledon Fortnight!! Madness, I tell you.