Archive for the 'London' Category

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Why we need [to] clear space for cycling on London’s main roads

In July, London Cycling Campaign (LCC) members voted overwhelmingly (58.4%) for ‘Go Dutch‘ to be our single-issue demand for the 2012 Mayoral elections. Our chosen strapline is ‘clear space for cycling on main roads’ – which has attracted some negative comment from those who consider it ambiguous or dilatory in some way. There is particular criticism at the choice of the word “clear”.

Personally, I think the choice of the word ‘clear’ (first proposed by Ben Tansley, Co-ordinator of Brent LCC) is a master stroke. What some seem to have missed is precisely that “clear” is deliberately ambiguous: it is both an adjective and a verb – and the latter form is the most powerful.

Let’s stick the adjective, first. To me, “clear space for cycling” means:

  • Clear from the dangers of cycling in motor traffic: On the busiest roads I expect this to mean separate bike paths, on other roads it might be possible to divert motor vehicles elsewhere (e.g. by closing to through-traffic); most importantly it means not having to play chicken at junctions.
  • Clear from conflict with pedestrians: No-one wants any more painted pavement rubbish.
  • Clear from obstructions: Cycle paths that are properly maintained, free of debris, and certainly no parked cars.
  • Clearly visible: Well sign-posted so it’s easy to know where I’m supposed to go.
  • Clear air: Always a relative thing in London but… cycle routes shouldn’t take me through a load of smog where there’s a convenient, non motor-vehicle clogged alternative.
  • Clear from weather effects: Unlike Islington, remember that cycle paths need proper drainage; unlike Camden, remember to grit them in winter!
  • Clear from slower cyclists in my way: wide enough for me to overtake on my commute to work.

    That’s just a few off-the-top-of my head. I’m sure one could think up many more and indeed LCC will be publishing our comprehensive policy position for Go Dutch, in due course.

    But remember, “clear” is also a verb – that’s where it comes in most useful: Proper cycling facilities cannot be made from thin air. On London’s roads that means space needs to be taken away from other purposes (motor traffic lanes, on-street parking, overly-wide footpaths, etc.) in order to provide good quality, cycle paths that most people would feel safe riding on. The Mayor of London’s Cycling Superhighways have been poor primarily because that political will isn’t there to take road space away from private cars. Lobbying highway engineers to create good facilities is like banging one’s head against a brick wall when the politicians are unwilling to provide them with the road space to do so.

    The cycle paths of Copenhagen are the most visible aspect of that city’s cycling revolution. However, what they hide is the more important enabler – the removal of on-street car parking that previously used to be where many of those cycle paths are today. I can’t find a reference just now but I believe the then Mayor of Copenhagen cited ‘on-street car parking’ as both the single biggest barrier to cycling – and its removal as the single most important step they took. Without creating space they could not have built those cycle paths – which whilst good are still not up to the standards of the Netherlands.

    How much is it right to constrain car use to provide for good cycling facilities? Rightly this is a political issue. Car use is an important part of life, especially in outer London, and politicians risk voters’ wrath if they are seen to unfairly constrain people’s freedom. However there are some points that our representatives need to digest and understand:

    1. Current levels of car use are unsustainable. As London’s population inevitably grows (and remember the working population that commutes in from the shires is far greater than the residential population) we have to find better ways of making use of scarce road space. Private cars just take up far too much of it.
    2. Increasing cycling is much cheaper than building mass transit – and even then there are only so many tube lines we can dig.
    3. Londoner’s want to cycle more but don’t feel it is safe to do so. Transport for London’s 2008 survey showed that 58% of residents of outer London wanted to cycle more and that 32% of outer London households don’t own a car. Providing good cycling facilities will give all these people the freedom to cycle safely.

    Ultimately, the thrust of the campaign is about the verb, not the adjective: we are asking the next Mayor (and the wider public) to clear space for cycling on London’s main roads. We don’t want the same old junk in the gutter.

    Anyone still unclear?

Flashride tomorrow (Friday) 0830am: Why we need to draw a line in the sand over Blackfriars

Blackfriars bridge is a watershed. Despite the hositle environment, there are more bicycles on it in rush hour than any other form of transport and there’s a major opportunity to improve conditions as part of the Crossrail work in the area. Yet unbelievably instead TfL decide to make things even worse for cycling! If not here, then where? If not now then when? Read the background here and join us on the #flashride tomorrow (Fri 20 May) morning at 0830. We’ll be on the south side of the Bridge, outside the Doggett’s pub. Follow @london_cycling for updates.

Since I took over the chairmanship of LCC‘s Campaigns Committee I have found there has been one single, recurring theme frustrating many of our objectives: Transport for London, the quango responsible for the major road network in London is drunk on maximising space for cars at the exclusion of all other road users. Now in the right circumstances (e.g. motorways on the outskirts of Greater London) that might well be appropriate. However, on streets in which people, live, work, shop and play that cannot be the case. Our streets must be liveable places where it is pleasant to walk, cycle or just hang out – not ghettos in subservience to a trunk road passing through them. Bridges are particularly important as there aren’t many options to cross the River. As our Chief Executive, Ashok Sinha says “The choice for cyclists shouldn’t be to navigate through a dangerous junction or take a boat.”

Despite the Mayor’s vision of a cyclised city, Transport for London are failing to delivery the much-vaunted ‘Cycling Revolution‘ because they simply refuse to make space available for quality cycling facilities. Next week the London Cycling Campaign will launch its biggest ever democratic exercise to select a single-issue campaign demand for the 2012 Mayoral election. Not a single one of the four options we’ll be asking our members to vote on is attainable without the political will to make road space available to cycling. That’s why, whilst the menial back-tracking by TfL this last week is welcome we must now make a stand and press for a more equitable allocation of road space.

I hope you will join us on Blackfriars bridge tomorrow morning. If you feel as strongly as we do perhaps you’d consider joining LCC and help us in our mission to achieve a world class cycling city. If nothing else, you’ll get to vote on our headline demand for the next Mayor (and discounts at virtually all good local bike shops).

Uninspiring, nebulous drivel – Barnet’s “Sustainable Community Strategy”

This evening I attended a Barnet Civic Network event at North London Business Park. It was new to me but many of those present (generally greying men) complained about the participation being dominated by the “usual suspects”.

The agenda was a consultation of the “Vision”, “Values”, and “Priorities” of Barnet’s Sustainable Community Strategy for 2010-2020. The values were okay and the priorities weren’t too bad but there was nothing inspirational. It was mostly nebulous waffle. The real problem was the dearth of any real vision. The supposed vision statement consisted of tired old phrases the simply described the status quo (good schools, low crime, etc.). I also couldn’t see anything remotely addressing the word “sustainable”.

Of course Barnet already has a 10 year sustainable community strategy, adopted in 2008. Cllr Robert Roms explained that we needed a new one now because much had changed since 2008 (new government, financial crisis, etc.) though when I asked what in the proposed strategy was actually different from 2008 the lead he was somewhat stumped for an answer! A couple of people on my table commented they had seen the same stuff 10 or 15 years ago. A quick web search now I’ve got home shows there was also a 10 year strategy agreed in 2006 which was also much the same.

Cllr Rams did seem keen to impress that he had some sort of vision, though I couldn’t quite discern what it was. He did ask me to get in touch with him to discuss further so I’ll email him and give him the benefit of the doubt for now. But this uninspiring, nebulous technocratic waffle is just another reminder of how hollow Town Halls have become.

An elected Mayor would bring focus and profile to civic leadership that would attract higher calibre politicians and also encourage them to be braver. Certainly Barnet needs a shake-up.

SwisticMing.com a new independent London listsings network

My brother has set up a new startup called SwisticMing.com, an independent London guide for what’s on in London and going out in London, including night clubs, pubs and bars, gigs and tickets, arts and literary events, film listings for indie cinemas, different and unusual things to do in London and free things in London. The site is soon to be relaunched with a brand new membership scheme available to all users, allowing members access to discounts and offers across a network of London venues and events.

You can follow SwisticMing on Twitter.