Friday, 23 November 2007

Democracy not bureaucracy

The European Commission publication Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities identifies 'the first strings that need to be pulled' in the development of a cycle network. These are:

1. The essential tools are a person or unit responsible for the pro-cycling policy and a committee

A 'key action' of the Mayor's transport strategy was the establishment of the Cycling Centre of Excellence, with the appointment of Rose Ades as its head. But right from the start I found it very, very difficult even just to see Rose.

In 2001, I was corresponding with Lynn Featherstone, who at that time was Chair of the GLA Transport Policy Committee. Her researcher, a chap by the name of Denys Robinson, emailed Rose on 21 September 2001 requesting some professional guidance on whether such revisions to the LCN as I proposed were practicable and desirable, but he got no response. On 11 October, Lynn herself wrote to Rose repeating that request. Again, no response.

Then Lynn tried a different tack. She got in touch with Susan Kramer--the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London in 2000--who, it seemed, not only went to the same school as Rose, but was also in the same class!

Using this 'old girl' connection a meeting was set up. Then, horribile dictu, Rose turned up on the wrong day and at the wrong time. Oh no! Having made this mistake, there was simply no way she could rearrange things to turn up as scheduled.

Nothing much came of the meeting I had with Lynn, and so on the morning of 7 January 2002, I waited for Rose to turn up to work. When she arrived on her bicycle, I approached her and asked her straight: Would she look at my work? No, she answered, she would not. As she explained, she didn’t have time at the moment to take on anybody else’s agenda. And in any case, no one had asked me to do all this work. (I always did get the feeling that she wished I hadn’t bothered.)

In his letter to me dated 18 February 2002, Mark Watts, a policy adviser at the Mayor's Office, endeavoured to keep things entirely reasonable. 'Unfortunately,' he told me, 'CCE is not resourced to meet with individuals to develop their ideas.’

It wasn't until 10 March 2003 - more than two years after Rose was appointed to her post - that I had my first meeting with her. Attending that meeting were John Biggs AM (who arranged the meeting--by this time John was Chair of the GLA Transport Policy Committee, having taken over from Lynn), Lynn Featherstone (who was now Vice-Chair), Chris Bainbridge (Chair BCOG), Rose and myself.

About a month after this meeting came the offer to participate in the Wandle Trail Signing Study, which I declined (See 'Swandle').

Halfway through 2005 I took a break. When I returned at the start of 2006, I asked Chris Bainbridge to confirm the boroughs' position, which he kindly did.

Date: 24 February 2006
Our Ref: sp0206

Dear Simon,

The proposal for a minimum functioning network was discussed at the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group on 23rd January. We had previously expressed our support for this scheme, and had submitted a package bid to TfL in 2003 suggesting a feasibility study, but this was unsuccessful.

We maintain our in-principle support, but unless TfL direct us otherwise, we cannot make this a high priority because of the need to implement the LCN plus. However, a significant number of boroughs are keen to pursue the idea further.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Bainbridge
Chair, London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group

Having established that BCOG's view had not substantially changed, I wrote to the TfL Board a few days later. What happened thereafter I will relate on another occasion (see 'On a one-to-one basis').

But where is the committee comprising representatives of the electorate, the boroughs and other stakeholders? Who exactly is responsible for scrutinising the work of the CCE? If the 'CCE is not resourced to meet with individuals to develop their ideas', how can I as an individual get my ideas properly considered? What did the Mayor mean when he said that he would put people first and give them a say in how services are run?

2. The level of minimum functioning is a prudent course to follow

I have already discussed the idea of Minimum Functioning in quite some detail (See 'Any path is only a path' and 'A price too high'), but consider this quote taken from the above-mentioned section in Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities ...

'Studying the feasibility of a network is of a similar importance to setting up a cycling unit or appointing a cycling coordinator.'

3. Thinking in terms of a 'network'

Ideally, one should start by studying a cycle network which, as a priority, is designed for beginners and hesitant cyclists ('tortoises'), but which must, if possible, also be able to satisfy the requirements of swift and experienced cyclists (hares).

The results of a study of this kind go much further than a strictly pragmatic and ad hoc approach and the existence of a plan increases the effectiveness of each intervention made in favour of cycling by the mutual consolidation of the various measures taken or features installed.

Using a carefully drawn-up plan as a basis, it should be possible to examine closing certain roads to car traffic, creating traffic loops or comparing various options to remove obstacles to cyclists' mobility. A total absence of hindrances and a bicycle's size make it easy for cyclists to 'go off the beaten track'. Itineraries in a cycling network may therefore include shortcuts and even small detours which are inaccessible to heavy vehicles.

There are a number of places in towns where prohibitions to cycling could be lifted: foot bridges and pedestrian streets, alleyways, paths in parks, pontoons, parking areas and cul-de-sac roads, one-way streets, towpaths, small steps to be equipped with ramps, etc.

4. Information

i. Public relations

ii. A prime information tool: a special map for cyclists

'Right from the start,' the Europeans point out, 'even if no particular measures have been introduced yet, publishing a specific map for cyclists can easily be justified [...] Such a map can always be updated later when new signposted [routes], bicycle parking areas, cycling lanes and cycle tracks, etc. have been introduced.'

5. Involving the private sector

Visit, or, or

6. Involving associations

On 6 July 2006, David Rowe, the then Head of Project Development at TfL Street Management (and Rose's immediate boss), wrote to me as follows:

'TfL works closely with LCC, who provide a useful means of determining cyclists' views on different proposals (together with market research that TfL commissions directly with users). Clearly if a wider network of routes was to be pursued it would not only require support from the boroughs, but also from key stakeholder groups like LCC. I forwarded the information you sent to LCC who shared it with members of their Planning & Engineering Group. I met with LCC officials yesterday (5 July 2006) and they advised their priority is for TfL and the boroughs to complete LCN+ by 2009/10.

'In light of the views expressed by the London Cycling Campaign [...] TfL cannot proceed further at the current time with evaluating the case for your proposal.'

In reaching this conclusion, David Rowe appears to place more confidence in the judgement of the LCC than he does in the Borough Cycling Officers' Group.

Bureaucracy, properly defined, is '(Government by) a central administrative group, esp. one not accountable to the public etc.; officials of such a group collectively; excessive official routine.'

Democracy, comparitively, is defined thus:

1. Government by the people; a form of government in which the power resides in the people and is exercised by them either directly or by means of elected representatives; a form of society which favours equal rights, the ignoring of hereditary class distinctions, and tolerance of minority views.

G.M. TREVEYAN An age of transition from aristocracy to democracy, from authority to mass-judgement. B. CASTLE The Labour Party ... rank and file were ready to defend the unions to the death as a vital expression of democracy.

2. A state or community in which the power of government resides in or is exercised by the people.

C.S. LEWIS All nations, those we call democracies as well as dictatorships.

Can anyone guess how 'mediocracy' might be defined?

The following is an extract from an email I sent to Dave Wetzel (Vice Chair TfL Board) on 30 November 2006:

Just imagine, said the Italian writer and philosopher, Umberto Eco, what it was like when the airship was invented. What a wonderful thing to be able to travel through the air, just like a bird, people thought. And then it was discovered that the airship was a dead-end invention. The invention that survived was the aeroplane.

When the first airships appeared, people thought there would subsequently be a linear progression, an advancement to more refined, swifter models. But this did not happen. Instead, at a certain point, there was a lateral development. After the Hindenburg went up in flames in 1937, killing 35 people, things began to move in a different direction.

At one time it seemed most logical that you had to be lighter than air in order to fly in the sky––but then it turned out you had to be heavier than air to fly more efficiently.

The moral of the story, says Eco, is that you must be very careful not to fall in love with your own airship.

Dave concluded his reply thus:

Everyday TfL is forced to make difficult decisions. Unfortunately, some people, like yourself are disappointed.

I’m sorry I don’t know much about airships but my grandson is teaching me something about flying kites!

I replied on 4 December 2006. Under a sub-section entitled 'Flying kites' I wrote the following:

The thing I don't understand about this is, what would you have me say to the media that you could not just as easily say to them yourselves?

I will talk to them if I have to, but why should I have to? If this is the only way in which the TfL Board can hear my petition, then I wish it to be known that there is a part of me which is not being represented.

As it happens, I am moving to a new WWOOF host tomorrow morning and will not, I know, be in any position to contact the media until the New Year at the earliest. If you won't help, I'll have to see what I can do about things then.

I am writing to you, and you alone, because I believe in you, and because I like you: you make me laugh for one thing, but more than that, I can see that you're a family man. Spare a thought then, for the family of the cyclist who, if the past five years is any guide, will be killed between now and Christmas.

You say that when TfL is forced to make difficult decisions, some people, like myself, end up disappointed. But don't worry about me. I'll get over it. As my dad says, It's no worse than being made redundant.

But then again, I'm an optimist, and if things work out as I hope, then maybe we can meet up in the New Year and you can tell me what your grandson knows about flying kites.

Dave replied two days later:

Simon Parker writes: "I notice, for example, that you chose not to refute my assertion that it was not just inappropriate, but entirely unnecessary for TfL to have abandoned two-thirds of the London Cycle Network (LCN) just in order to create a slimmed-down network of high profile, highly-engineered cycle routes (LCN+). Does this mean that you accept the point, then?"


Simon, on 13 November you wrote "Dear Dave, Further to recent correspondence, could I please ask you to investigate the possibility of securing the necessary funding for a SMALL trial of my ideas," (my emphasis on SMALL).

On 30 November you stated "Dave, I have never, ever suggested that my ideas should take precedence over your existing business plan, or anything like it, and it grieves my poor, bleeding heart that I have been so badly misrepresented again."

and "So there we have it, Dave: in addition to and not instead of. That is my proposition, and not as you have said."

Now you say below:

"Probably this would amount to something like £500k," and "then very obviously the necessary funds for a small trial could easily be released from the existing cycle budget."

DW: £500k SMALL? Maybe by your standards - not by mine.

And then first you say not out of the business plan and now out of it.

DW: Contradictory or what?

Simon Parker writes: "You were Leader of the London Borough of Hounslow between 1987-91 and, amongst other things, you introduced recycling to the borough and established the Feltham Urban Farm. My man! However--and I have no wish to diminish your achievements in any way ..."

DAVE WETZEL's response:

nothing you say Simon could ever diminish the achievements of the Socialist council in Hounslow that I led during the years that the Tory governments were trying to destroy local democracy. I'm proud of our many achievemments including the introduction of equal opportunities, involving the community in our decision-making, attracting businesses, starting the first wheelchair accessible scheduled bus service in the country, improving education, social services and leisure services etc. etc.


I'm not prepared to continue with this correspondence.

Best Wishes,


After Dave had sent this, but before I'd had a chance to check my emails, I spoke to his PA, Vicky Jennings, on the phone.

I told her that when Dave was talking about flying kites, I thought he meant that I would have to talk to the national press. For reasons which I may talk about on another occasion, I didn't want to do this. However, on the bus from one WWOOF host to another, it occurred to me that I could present my proposal to the London Cyclist magazine, and this (I told Vicky) I now intended to do.

Vicky then phoned me back to say that Dave had not properly understood what I was saying, and could I put something in writing to clarify my position?

Dear Dave,

Thank you for your latest email.

When I spoke to Vicky earlier today, I had no idea that you had responded in this way.

She tells me you did not quite understand what I was saying, and would I mind putting something in writing.

Briefly, I had intended to write an article for the London Cyclist, which is the LCC magazine, with a view, firstly, of putting my proposal in the public domain, and secondly, of seeing if the LCC membership were happy to support my proposal.

Do you think this is worth the trouble?

Best wishes,


Dave responded as follows:


You don't need my permission to write articles on this and other subjects.

Best Wishes,


As I feared, one cyclist was in fact killed between 4 December and Christmas. Rather depressingly, the accident involved a left-turning Heavy Goods Vehicle:

THU 21/12/06 09:17 .. LIGHT .. GOODS WAY/CAMLEY WAY




VEHICLE 001 GDS => 7.5T .. (51 Yrs - M .GU35) .. BT - NEGATIVE


V002 .. B .. 308 (FOLLOWING TOO CLOSE)


Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment. (Edmund Burke)

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12: 48)