Wednesday, 21 December 2011

An open letter to all advocates of cycling in London

I am a self-confessed map addict. I can’t even look at a map without wanting to draw lines on it.

About twelve years ago now, I stumbled upon a signing strategy which uses colours to indicate the direction of travel, compass colours. Although I find it to be an extremely flexible design tool, I have to concede that it is not so flexible as to allow me to code all of the routes – or rather, sections of route – that I would like. This is in fact a shortcoming. Only one person has pointed this out to me, Professor John Parkin from London South Bank University, who otherwise described my proposal as ‘technically flawless’.

He suggested that the main problem I have is a PR one, and in this I feel I am not alone. Cycling also has a PR problem. Indeed, when considering the development of the cycling infrastructure in London over the past couple of years, it’s actually impossible to avoid the impression that things are going backwards.

Recently Transport for London have more or less explicitly stated that, as far as they're concerned, the convenience of the motorist is now more important than the (safety and) convenience of just about everybody else. For the life of me I don’t understand this one little bit, and would be indebted to anyone kind enough to explain their thinking.

I mean, what actually are the benefits to society attached to the use of the private car in the built-up area? Anybody? No? It doesn’t seem that difficult a question to me. Let’s try something else. What is the point of living in towns and cities if you can’t access local facilities, such as schools or railway stations, safely and conveniently on foot or by bike? No really; what is the point?

The major advantage of high-density conurbations is that these facilities are usually fairly close to hand, and easier and quicker to reach by ‘the humble bicycle’, which has so many benefits, both to the individual and to the wider community, that it is, I suggest, no surprise that a Radio 4 poll from a few years ago determined it to be the best invention of all time. “It was an easy victory for the bicycle,” this BBC report says, “with more than half of the vote.”

Did you get that? More than half of the vote! In Britain! The bicycle! In a poll to determine the best invention ever! (The internet, by way of comparison, received just 4% of the votes cast. Second was the transistor, with 8%.)

On the one hand, then, we have these horribly inefficient machines, which nobody can find a good word for; and on the other hand, we have these wonderfully efficient machines, which even a child can enjoy.

I wonder, then, how is it that Boris Johnson can tell a Conservative Party Conference, that everything they do at City Hall is about bringing the village back into the city, receive the warmth and laughter of an appreciative audience in return, whilst at the same time actually making conditions worse for cyclists and pedestrians, in an attempt to smooth the traffic-flow, which was mentioned not at all in his speech, and which takes us about as far as it is possible to get from the ‘nothing more villagey’ scene so vividly conveyed?

What’s going on there? And Peter Hendy, TfL’s Commissioner of Transport, echoing the Mayor’s theme, explained in his inaugural lecture to the Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics (UK) that:

“Making cycling itself more attractive means overcoming some challenges, such as: improving its 'reputation'; removing barriers to cycling; [...] using more green spaces to make more attractive cycle ways [...]; and increasing the understanding of cycling design considerations amongst professionals and ensuring these are adequately reflected within scheme designs – particularly in road schemes.”

Now what Peter Hendy is saying there sounds absolutely bang on the button to me. And yet, these words are not being reflected in schemes such as Blackfriars, King's Cross, Vauxhall, the Elephant and Castle, etcetera, etcetera, and I have to ask why not.

More recently, TfL’s Director of Environment, Kulveer Ranger, issued a statement about improving cycling safety. He said: 

“Historically our roads have been designed with motorists in mind, but that must change, and the Mayor intends that with thousands more Londoners taking to two wheels, their needs be given greater attention.”

Sounds promising. Let’s read on.

“Sixteen cyclists have been killed in London this year, and nine of those deaths involved a heavy goods vehicle. There is no doubt we need to address that horrifying connection.”

Hmm. I wonder if a penny has finally dropped? Following the death of Sebastian Lukomski in 2004, Rose Ades, then Head of the Cycling Centre of Excellence at TfL, said that the best solution would be for cyclists and HGVs to ‘safely’ share the same road space. I suggested that this was like asking surfers and sharks to ‘safely’ share the same stretch of coastline. Maybe TfL have finally realised that segregated cycling is the only proper way to resolve ‘that horrifying connection’.

“The Mayor has asked TfL to commission an independent review of the design, operation and driving of construction-industry vehicles such as […] skip lorries, tipper trucks and cement mixers […]. We will look at how we can make those vehicles safer through physical improvements such as side bars, extra mirrors and sensors; and through better training for drivers.”

They’re planning to make some of the sharks safer in other words. No bad thing of course. I mean, who wouldn't want to go surfing when there are safe sharks around? And there’s a safety review planned of over 300 junctions, including Bow Roundabout. But not the least indication that TfL are thinking in terms of a network; nothing at all about a reduction in the road capacity; and nor is there any evidence that they are serious about ‘removing barriers to cycling’.

These barriers are known beyond any shadow of a doubt, thanks to TfL / MVA Consultancy research:

·         too much traffic / congestion
·         not trusting other road users
·         lack of cycle lanes / routes
·         not knowing where to go

The first two can only properly be addressed through the creation of ‘clear space for cyclists on London's main roads’, as the LCC's Go Dutch campaign is calling for, and the last two can only properly be addressed through the development of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network.

The benefits of developing a network are beyond dispute.  As Olaf Storbeck explained in one of his blogs:

“Two economists independently drew my attention to another issue: network effects. ‘A few isolated bike lanes don't help much if you still have to go through dangerous stretches on most trips,’ Matthias Doepke (Northwestern University) wrote me. ‘Once there is a connected network, the attractiveness of biking goes up a lot. That's where we are in Chicago now - good number of lanes, but no real network yet.’

“Greg Ip, US economics editor with The Economist, puts it this way: ‘Just as you are likely to buy an Ipad the more applications it has, you are more likely to switch from car to bicycle the more bicycle lanes (and therefore destinations reachable by bicycle) are available. Doubling the number of bike lanes more than doubles the number of cyclists likely to use them.’”

Jim Davis said, “If we don’t […] think in terms of [a] coherent network instead of piecemeal ‘solutions’ that act like a Band-Aid on a laceration, then […] the bicycle will continue not to be taken seriously as a mode of transport.”

A good question to ask at this point is, Which routes? I understand that the LCC is drawing up a list, borough by borough, of those main roads which they think should be given the Go Dutch treatment. I imagine this would largely be based on the LCN+. Obviously I am very interested to see the detail, but to be quite honest with you, it’s not my concern whether this road gets treated first, or that one. What does matter to me is that I am able to code whatever it is that people think is worth incorporating into a network.

This is why I have developed, and this is why I am writing an open letter to all advocates of cycling in London. 

For what it's worth, I think Matthias Doepke has it absolutely right: 'Once there is a connected network, the attractiveness of cycling goes up a lot.' Indeed, once there is a connected network, the only way is onwards and upwards. 

Monday, 28 November 2011


I am pleased to be able to tell you about a new website,, which I hope you will be interested to visit.

The purpose of this website is to facilitate the study of a revitalised London Cycling Network. Primarily we are seeking to establish which sections of this network are functional and which are not, and from here we should be able to build up a complete picture of the current cycling environment. It is hoped that, in turn, this would help to inform the debate about where future investments in cycling would be best placed.

The website is aimed mainly at people who have an interest in developing an amenable cycling environment in the capital, but recognising that many hands make light work, if you do happen to have any photos of the London streetscape that are just sitting on your hard drive doing not very much, then please upload them onto the photomap.

Bikemapper was made possible because of a number of people, beginning with Ben Irvine from Cycle Lifestyle, who is responsible for the London Cycle Map Campaign, and who, together with his girlfriend Becks, took us through to the finals of the Geovation Challenge. My sincere thanks to them, and also to Chris Parker at Ordnance Survey, whose excellent idea it was to support innovation in geography.

My thanks also to Martin Lubikowski from ML Design, who has worked with me since 2005 (check out the map tour). Also to Jon Haste from KOLB and Stuart France from Stuff Animated for their inspirational work. To Josh Coleman and James Nash from Bike Dock Solutions for their generous sponsorship of £500, and to Willy and Guy Pearson from Pearson Cycles, who let me have a bike. (Not a Pearson bicycle, unfortunately, just an off-the-shelf number. Drat.)

I would like to thank Oph, who very kindly allowed me to stay in his house for the period of the streetscape study, and also Chris and Saffron. They organised a bit of a party for everyone some time before I left, and it was here that I had the enormous good fortune to meet a talented young man named Fela, who very patiently and competently has worked with me since then to develop the website.

But mostly I would like to thank my family, who have been my rock. Thank you so much for everything that you have done for me.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Hackney High Street

A couple of weeks ago, the police were out on Hackney High Street (properly, the top end of Mare Street), warning cyclists that if they were caught cycling the 'wrong way' up the street again (i.e. the following week), they would either be fined or have to attend safety training.

Hackney High Street

The police are pointing people to a parallel route, which adds an extra quarter mile, just under, to your journey (nearly sixty miles a year). Click here for the details. Cyclists who, not unreasonably, are disinclined to go out of their way just in order to stay on the right side of the law are, said the police, 'just being lazy'. Cyclists! Lazy! Whatever next!

Of all the one-way streets in London that form part of a revitalised London Cycling Network, this one is probably the toughest nut to crack. Complaints about cyclists going the wrong way up Hackney High Street come from three groups: bus drivers, shop-keepers and pedestrians.

As a 'London cyclist', I routinely ignore the 'No entry' signs on one-way streets. What I will not do, however, is ride on the pavement.

In order to go up Hackney High Street, then, I use the parking bays, like stepping-stones. Sometimes I have to wait for a break in the traffic - it's buses, mostly - but I prefer to do this than go a quarter-of-a-mile out of my way.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Who's in the peloton?

An investigation of the growth of cycling in London

I have been meaning to lay my hands on the above-named document for some time. The authors of this report, TfL and MVA Consultancy, refused to share it with me, and neither is it available on their websites, but luckily, the London South Bank University were able to point me in the right direction.

The report notes, 'A unique opportunity to track (cycling) behaviour over time and understand the reasons for change.'

Having already established a baseline picture of cycling behaviour through existing monitoring, the study team were able to follow up with a further round of telephone interviews. 500 interviews were conducted with cyclists in Richmond and Sutton, of whom 64 were 'new cyclists'. (A new cyclist was defined as someone who was cycling once a month or more in September 2009 and who, one year previously, had been cycling once every six months or less.)

Over 75% of the sample had been resident in London for ten years or longer. Over 90% had access to a bicycle prior to their behavioural change. Around 35% did most of their cycling during peak periods. 66% had concerns before they started cycling.

There were three main groups of concerns: confidence and skills, facilities, and road and traffic conditions.

With regard to road and traffic conditions, the main issues were too much traffic / congestion, not trusting other road users, and a fear of being knocked off one's bike. With regard to facilities, a lack of cycle lanes / routes was cited as the main barrier, followed by a lack of showers and changing facilities, and finally, a lack of places to leave one's bike. As for confidence and skills, the major barrier in this category was, 'Don't know where to cycle'. (Remember, over 75% of respondents have been living in London for ten years or longer.)

In joint first place was too much traffic / congestion, and not trusting other road users. In joint second place was a lack of cycle lanes / routes, and not knowing where to cycle. And in third place was a fear of being knocked off one's bike.

A former Chief Executive of the London Cycle Campaign said, 'The endgame is the prioritisation, completion and signage of an effective London Cycle Network.' Assuming cycle training would always be at hand to those who want it, assuming more cycle parking would continue to be made available, assuming employers and colleges would meet an increase in demand for cycling by providing showers and changing facilities, the development of a London Cycling Network would represent a huge step forward in terms of dealing with those other 'concerns' that new cyclists have.

And how important are new cyclists to the current growth in trip rates? ANSWER = VERY.

So, which way now? How does TfL 'nudge' more people into cycling?

TfL have taken the trouble to understand their 'customers'. They know who is most likely to cycle. These people fall into four different categories: Urban Living, Suburban Lifestyle, Young couples and families, and High-earning professionals.

They know, as well, that there is great potential for cycling in London. 4.3 million journeys a day have been identified as potentially cyclable, by origin, by current mode, and by journey purpose. M'lud, 2.8 million of these journeys are currently being made by car. Every day, then, 165 million 'potatoes' are being 'consumed' unnecessarily. No wonder Britain is becoming so obese.

Interestingly, the main benefits of cycling were identified as health, and then general enjoyment / stress release. More convenient / able to get to more places came fourth.

In response to the above, TfL propose taking a targeted approach, focusing delivery on areas of high potential. These have been identified as short hops in Central London, commute trips from Inner to Central London, and local trips in Inner and Outer London (i.e. to the shops, school and work).

The current strategy involves the Cycle Superhighways and the Barclays Bike Hire Scheme. Both schemes are used mainly by young men. It doesn't look like this situation will change any time soon.

The following conclusions are drawn:

  • Understanding behaviour through targeted research is key to our work
  • Enabling a targeted approach to planning and delivery
  • In support of the cycling revolution which is underway in London.

Please click here to see the TfL / MVA Consultancy report.

If Antony Gormley ruled the world

He'd ban cars in cities.

He says, 'As a cyclist myself, it's encouraging that our tribe is growing bigger. But I think it's crazy that we still insist on cohabiting with cars in cities. In Paris there are so few cars now - Parisians really feel their city is theirs, their own communal living room, and they treat it with respect.'

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The London Cycling Network

I have finished laying down the course of the routes that make up a revitalised London Cycling Network. As always, these maps are best viewed with the terrain box ticked.

Navy Routes

Side-to-side routes 205.8 mi

Additional routes 45.1 mi

Total 250.9 mi

Red Routes

Side-to-side routes 221.4 mi

Additional routes 54.7 mi

Total 276.1 mi

Green Routes

Side-to-side routes 236.4 mi

Additional routes 35.3 mi

Total 271.7 mi

Cyan Routes

Side-to-side routes 255.2 mi

Additional routes 45.3 mi

Total 300.5 mi

Orange Routes

Side-to-side routes 213.2 mi

Additional routes 66.5 mi

Total 279.7 mi

Circular Routes

Total 11 mi

Grand total: 1389.9 mi

Average (not including Circular Routes) 275.8 mi
North-south ('cold' colours) 551.4 mi
East-west ('warm' colours) 555.8 mi

Certain sections of these routes are coded with more than one colour (bridges, for example), so the actual network distance is going to be somewhat less than the stated total. Something a little over 2200km would be my guess. But the LCN was 3000km, the LCN+ was 900km, and the Cycle Superhighways are whatever they are, and when you consider that pretty much all three networks are incorporated into this new design, you'd have to say that 2200km of network is not excessive, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Granted, the network as shown does not cover all of the Greater London area, and working out which routes should make up the rest of the network, and how they should be coded  - which I have looked at, but not for a while - is something that will need to be addressed.

To remind you, my proposal can be broken down into two parts:

i. a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network developed, in the first instance, to a minimum level of functioning; and

ii. a signing strategy which uses compass colours to distinguish one route from the next.

The first part of my proposal generally stands up well to criticism, such as I have heard, at any rate. The second part of my proposal is also fairly robust, but is more likely to be misunderstood. I will consider now those criticisms which are known to me.

Lower speed limits, dedicated bike lanes and priority at junctions will encourage new cyclists, not a load of signs. This map idea is dead before it's even started. (Michael Cave)

I’m having another of those moments where I feel like I’m the only person in the world who dislikes something. (To be clear: I dislike this map.) 
I’ve cycled in London. Not as much as some people, but for a year or two that was how I commuted, three to five times a week. I also did a few longer rides, and got to try the hire scheme before I moved away. 
I want to see there be more cycling in London. The problem is that this map doesn’t make it any easier. Instead, it abstracts away some complexity you need to understand (how to deal with one-way systems, for example) and replaces it with other complexity which you don’t (what is R1 and how is it different from R1a?) 
Remember, the Tube map can make compromises with geography because it is disconnected from the surface geography except at stations. By contrast, cyclists have to share the same messy, often medieval, street plan as everything else on the ground, and this map won’t show enough to let them do it. 
I’d much rather have the TfL/LCC cycling maps, large as they are, because they actually work. (I know. I used them.) On the other hand, perhaps everyone is liking and reblogging this because it’s colourful and pretty. Call it a nice artwork if you like, but I don’t think it’s good design. (Paul Mison)

Pretty, but not Practical. OK for a tube as you can't get lost between stops, but on a bike, I'd rather have the street map version to know where I really am. (Paul Adams)

Clearly my critics have not understood the detail of my proposal, which is how it goes sometimes. But 'dedicated bike lanes and priority at junctions' where? Tell me, and I'll see if I can code them. And do you actually need maps to show you 'how to deal with one-way systems' if the routes on this network are functional in both directions? No, as I say, these aren't criticisms, they're misunderstandings.

The second part of my proposal is a signing strategy which uses compass colours to distinguish one route from the next, and 'this map idea' is a way of conveying that in a stylised form.

'A map is a graphic representation of a portion of the earth's surface drawn to scale, as seen from above. It uses colours, symbols, and labels to represent features found on the ground.'

'A map provides information on the existence, the location of, and the distance between ground features, such as populated places and routes of travel and communication.' 

Another criticism - this one anonymous - is that the map doesn't include enough detail to show which streets the routes are on.

How do people want it? I could make my map as big as the London Cycle Guides, if you like, and then I could show all of the detail that you desire.

'The ideal representation would be realised if every feature of the area being mapped could be shown in true shape. Obviously this is not feasible, and an attempt to plot each feature true to scale would result in a product impossible to read, even with the aid of a magnifying glass.

'Therefore, to be understandable, features must be represented by conventional signs and symbols. To be legible, many of these must be exaggerated in size, often far beyond the actual ground limits of the feature represented. On a 1:250,000 scale map, for example, the symbol for a single-track railroad (the length of a cross-tie) is equivalent to a railroad cross-tie of about 1,000 feet on the ground.'

First and foremost, the London Cycling Network is a strategic cycle network. When you make a strategic journey by bus, say, you do not need to know the name of every road the bus travels along. I am trying to think why things should be different if you are making a strategic journey by bike.

Paul Adams said (above) that you can't get lost in between stops when using the tube [or bus], which is why, when he's out and about on his bike, he'd rather have a street map to know where he really is. Quite right. Anyone who has used the cycle network knows how easy it is to lose sight of the waymarkers and then to become disorientated.

In places like Holland, however, I have heard that the waymarking is very effective, so we know that the problem which Paul Adams relates can be solved. The case is, if you are making an A to B journey, there's a reasonable chance that you are already familiar with A and B, it's the bit in between that would most likely cause you to become lost and get out your street map.

Interestingly, about a third of the population cannot read a map. Indeed, a survey of more than a thousand motorists revealed that only about 1% knew enough to earn a Cub Scout Map Reader's badge. We ought to be careful, therefore, not to confuse our skills and requirements along with those of everyone else.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Going Dutch?

I will be joining the LCC Flashride over Blackfriars Bridge planned for 12th October, but whilst I accept that their proposal for a double T-junction is an improvement on the motorway-style development planned by TfL, this design is still all about vehicular cycling, right?

LCC's 'much safer design'

This plan was drawn up in 2007. Things should be brought more up-to-date. If the LCC really are committed to 'Going Dutch', then their proposals ought more accurately to reflect this.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Mistakes past and present

The idea to code routes according to the direction of travel occurred to me some time after I had gotten lost whilst cycling from Greenwich to Wimbledon. As I recall, I reached the end of this residential street and then, lo' and behold, no signs. Which way now? I think I turned left but I would have gone straight on if I could.

Within a few months of having this idea, Chris Bainbridge invited me along to a BCOG meeting, but I think I upset John Lee a bit by criticising the standard of the waymarking. It seemed to me then, and still seems to me now, very worthwhile to get a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network to function, even at a minimum level.

It was health and safety considerations that prevented  the London Cycle Network being properly signed. If a section of route wasn't thought to be safe enough for an unaccompanied twelve year-old child to use, then it couldn't be waymarked. That's why the boroughs painted white lines on the pavement, because they wanted routes that were safe, and they didn't have enough money to do the job properly.

Anyway, this single policy effectively made such waymarking as there was utterly redundant. If you knew where you were going you didn't need the signs, and if you didn't know where you were going you couldn't rely on the signs.

Safe Walking Route

The LCN+ sought to smooth all the jaggedy lines that were a feature of its forebear by developing a high-profile 'spine' network of cycle priority routes. But although this network was very much aimed at a different user, the commuter cyclist, the standard of design was still high.

A London Assembly Transport Committee report on the LCN+ published in November 2005 said that the LCN+ will be characterised by a socially inclusive cycling environment where high quality standards are maintained. Sounds great. The routes themselves will be continuous, fast, safe, comfortable and easy to use. Copenhagen, eat your heart out!

However, as the report percipiently noted: 'Completion depends on the participation of all London boroughs, which is uncertain, and on the promotion of cycling up the transport hierarchy, which seems unlikely.'

One of the recommendations which emerged from this report was as follows: 'TfL and Camden should take a much more strategic approach to the implementation of the LCN+, route-by-route rather than kilometre-by-kilometre. TfL and Camden should identify a small number of key routes across London
and prioritise their early completion.'

The idea was that these routes would encompass ‘difficult’ areas such as Parliament Square or Marylebone Road, and you know, go across London, but TfL definitely understood the route-by-route bit, as we see now with the Cycle Superhighways.

The seventy or more routes that make up my design mostly comprise the LCN and LCN+. If I re-jigged things around a bit, I probably could incorporate most of the CS routes as well, but if I did that, something else would have to give. A good example is CS1 vs. LCN10: it's really got to be one or the other. Or CS11 vs. LCN50. There's one or two others as well. The only thing I would say about this is, don't decide now! Look first, and then decide.

A strategic cycle network for London was first proposed by the LCC back in 1978. Sixteen years later the LCN was launched. This simple fact should tell you everything you'd want to know about the realities of cycle campaigning in Britain. Sixteen years just to get started.

There obviously were problems with the design of the LCN, but I have maintained from the start that TfL did not need to abandon two-thirds of this network just in order to create the LCN+. It seems to me that TfL had another choice than to reduce the extent of the network, and that is to reduce the level at which the network functions. By all means, straighten the course of the routes. But there is every advantage to making the most of quiet routes, particularly the good ones.

I think, when all is said and done, it basically comes down to a choice between a network which is 100% functional and x% safe, or one that is y% functional and 100% safe (where x is actually a much, much higher number than y).

Incidentally, I was delighted at the way Mark Ames responded to Cyclenation's comment about the need to do some baselining: 'The embassy will succeed or fail by the extent to which it changes the way people view cycling in this country, not by the number of miles of Dutch-style infrastructure built.'

As long as the exception is not made into the rule, I am not aware of any benefits attached to the use of the private car for short journeys in built-up areas, at least during daylight hours. Comparatively there are numerous benefits attached to the use of the bicycle. It should therefore be possible to appeal to people directly. I mean, politicians and bureaucrats might be impenetrably dense, but from what I know of the people around me, they generally seem open to a good idea.

Photo credit: Joe D /

As a minimum, I believe that the routes on a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network should be able to be used in both directions. One of the more difficult questions to answer when considering the development of such a cycle network is, For whom is it being designed? We have seen that so far the emphasis has been on the commuter cyclist and the unaccompanied twelve year-old child. For many years now, my thought has been that since it is only existing cyclists who are being killed on their bikes, that the cycle network should be designed with them in mind, first and foremost.

I am reluctant to stray too far from this position, but having considered the matter further since my last blog, I would like to take a much more well-defined step towards the European model. A cycle network should be developed for the riders of these bikes. The riders of these bikes will do everything that is necessary to make all of the network safe for children, even including those hostile bits that David says there is no point in waymarking.

Image from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Tales from the saddle

It was a very representative bunch of bicyclists that gathered for the launch of the Cycling Embassy a few days ago. I didn't get the chance to talk to everyone, unfortunately, but those I did speak to told me tales which I think would be familiar to anyone reading this. 

One of the friendly faces I met talked about the urge to pick up your pace when cycling in fast-moving traffic, and that was certainly something I could relate to. Normally I like to potter along at about 12 - 14 mph, but on faster roads I suppose I just feel more secure if I'm travelling quicker. You've got to go with the flow, really, or else you might be all gobbled up. It's only when there is no pressure from behind that you feel relaxed enough to travel at a more leisurely rate, I find.

Not everyone who turned up on the South Bank was happy enough to cycle on roads with fast-moving or heavy traffic, of course - it was, as I say, a very representative bunch - and I was fascinated to hear another friendly face relate how he had plotted the route of some twelve miles' distance, from Twickenham to Lambeth Bridge, that both he and his wife could use. This task is not nearly so time-consuming as it used to be, by the way, thanks mainly due to Cycle Streets, who have even gone to the trouble of allowing users to refer to Google Street View at every turn so that, when they get to those trickier bits, they can get a virtual idea of what they'd need to do on the day. As someone who uses quieter routes more often than not, I understand very well how easy it is to get a bit lost and how difficult it then becomes to work out where exactly you are on the map.

I can see that you wouldn't want to be flustering about in front of the missus an' all, trying to work out where to go next, but isn't it just a little bit strange that this sort of prior preparation and planning is even necessary? Nothing at all against Cycle Streets, of course, who are making the best of the current situation. But just to give you some idea of how things stand at the moment, when I pasted details of the fastest route option of this particular journey into Word, the document ran to nine pages. Comparatively, I could describe the same journey, pretty much, with just a letter and a number (and some proper waymarking, of course). 

One of the more interesting conversations I had was with a chap from Inclusive Cycling, who said in his blog that the Cycling Embassy is 'a group calling for the kind of high quality cycling infrastructure that everyone can use.' Hear, hear to that.

And then there was this other bloke, a family man who worked in Canary Wharf, who just wanted his kids to be able to cycle to school. Yeah, why not?

Whoever they were, and however far they'd come, all of those who turned up presumably shared a desire to see Britain move away from the passé style of urban planning so common in our towns and cities, and exemplified in such schemes as the Blackfriars Development.

Looking again at TfL's 'vision of the future', I am struck by just how jolly uncivilised it is. I am also intrigued by TfL's forecasting. Motor vehicular traffic - excluding buses, taxis and motorbikes - is expected to make up just fifteen per cent of the modal share of journeys through Blackfriars Junction. So why on earth are TfL not designing a streetscape that reflects this? It's absurd.

15% of the modal share should not require 85% of the available space (which it how it looks to me, if you include the traffic 'islands'). Someone is being very unimaginative, it seems to me.  

Sunday, 4 September 2011

City Cycling

I went along to the Skyride today. I approached Trafalgar Square via The Strand, which was choc-a-bloc, no doubt because Victoria Embankment was closed to traffic.

I handed out my small bundle of Embassy post-cards, and then joined the throng of cyclists alongside the river. The thing that I found particularly striking was that the noise was different. You could hear people laughing, for instance.

As I was riding around I had a quick look at Blackfriars Bridge. The case is, TfL are not making the best use of the available space. Obviously they are not thinking in terms of a network, and obviously they are not thinking about segregated cycling.

Image from Cyclists in the City

If there was to be a segregated two-way cycling track, it would make most sense to put it on the eastern side of the bridge. I imagine that most of the cycle traffic crossing the bridge from the south would either want to go straight on towards Farringdon or turn right towards the City.

For those wanting to turn left onto Victoria Embankment, I can see where I'd put the crossing and the segregated lane. Probably you can too. Under the current plans, however, look at what you'd need to do for the return journey. I think this is completely unacceptable.

Again, we need to look at the entire length of this route, that is, from St. George's Circus all the way up to York Way and beyond. We need to submit an alternative proposal for the Mayor to consider, which has been properly designed and fully costed up.

Another thing to say is that if we really do want to see 'a network of direct, well-designed, separated cycle routes', then one of the keys to success, I think, would be the City. I say this for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are the major employer in London, and therefore very influential. Secondly, given that the benefits of the bicycle are so numerous and so compelling, I believe they can be persuaded to consider the business case. Thirdly, given that most trends tend to start with the ABC1s, they can lead the way and show their fellow Londoners that the bicycle is indeed by far the best way to get around.

I have prepared a map showing the extent of the cycle network in the City (plus environs). The key is as follows: blue - segregated cycle tracks; red - shared cycling or no change; pink - local routes.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Welcome to the 21st century

Jan Gehl graduated in 1960, in the heyday of modernism, when Corbusier and his followers were talking about pre-planned and widely-spaced tower blocks set within gardens - the Vertical Garden City. This startlingly new approach sought the elimination of disorder, congestion, and the small scale. In Jan Gehl's opinion, this represented the all-time lowpoint of urban planning.

A voice was raised against this style of urban planning. Jane Jacobs, who in 1961 wrote the very influential book, The Desert Life of Great American Cities, fought from one street to the next with New York City master-planner and builder, Robert Moses. He had a plan for a Trans-Manhattan Freeway, and in order to see the plan through, he wanted to demolish the derelict and old-fashioned buildings in Greenwich Village and SoHo, plus a few other districts, and replace them with state-of-the-art high-rise buildings for families. In a fury at her efforts to thwart his grand designs, she recalled him saying, 'There is nobody against this - NOBODY, NOBODY, NOBODY, but a bunch of ... a bunch of MOTHERS!' He then stomped out.

In 1933 European town planners met in Athens and signed a famous charter on urban planning, which basically went like this: you must never, ever put together workplaces, residences, recreation and communication in the same place; always keep them separate. Sixty-five years later, in 1998, European town planners met again in Athens to sign a second charter on urban planning, which said, in short, you must never, ever separate workplaces, residences, recreation and communication. It took sixty-five years to achieve this turnaround, but now the tailwind is very strong for this humanistic style of town planning, and which Jane Jacobs so elegantly pointed to in the early '60s.

So anyway, Jan Gehl graduated at around this time, and he was looking forward to designing all these high-rise buildings, surrounded by grass and ornamental planting and so on, and then he got married. From that day on, the train of his thoughts were changed once and for all. His wife practised as a psychologist, and she and her friends would ask him, 'Why are architects not interested in people?' Gehl had no answer. He recalled that they didn't study people much in the School of Architecture. Architects were then, and still are now, mostly concerned with form, he points out. 

Good architecture, Gehl says, is the interaction of life and form. Circular staircases, for example, were designed as a defensive strategy for the knights and villagers living in a castle. By curving a staircase in a descending counter-clockwise direction, the defending knights could use the full breadth of their swords to cut down on their attackers.

Being sweet to pedestrians and cyclists similarly encourages the interaction of life and form. Moreover, it allows cities to realise five very important goals, which all cities have on their agenda. They want a lively city, they want an attractive city, they want a safe city, they want a sustainable city, and they want a city inviting a healthy lifestyle. The point is that if you make a people-friendly city, it will be lively, and attractive, and so on. Thus, with just a single stone, you can kill five birds! (Gehl is sorry that so many birds get killed by the way, but so much for cliché.)

As our lives are more and more privatised, as we have smaller and smaller households, as we live longer and longer, in more and more isolated residential areas, as we have more and more leisure time, it becomes increasingly important that we have a lively, active public realm where we can meet our fellow citizens. 

By making a city for people, the scale becomes much smaller. Other people gather around, the streets become safer places, noise and air pollution is diminished, public transport gets better, and our physical and mental well-being is improved. Not bad, is it?

Jan Gehl proposes his one-stone-five-birds philosophy as a way of focusing attention on a simple 'Healthy City' policy, and suggests that everything should be done to invite people to walk and to bicycle as much as possible in the course of their day-to-day lives.

It's very important to note the emphasis on the word invite. Because you have to be really serious about it, you see. If the preferred routes Mr Daniels describes were nice and inviting to cyclists, so that cycling to the Olympics was, like, er, you know, a no-brainer, then the people of London really could have done their bit to help make this the greenest-ever Olympics. It's not that far away, after all.

But TfL don't give a monkey's stuff about cycling. It's not on their agenda. Walking fares only marginally better. I was in Camden yesterday, when some numb-nut honked his horn at a chap who was crossing the road in front of him, in a way that told everybody else in Camden he was coming through.

Actually, that's one thing that really, really gets me about motorists. If they're behind you, and they want to attract your attention, they can't just gently bib their horn, can they? No, they have to honk it. Scares me out of my skin, it does.

Image courtesy of a taxi-driver

Just as I was about to snap, a TfL-registered taxi-driver honked his horn. Oh, and doesn't the path on the left look really safe? Great if you're walking on your own.

The one I was planning to take

Jan Gehl asks the question, why walk? Well, because that's what we're made to do! We're made to walk; we're made to be on our feet. And as we walk, we can talk. That's what some of the people in these pictures are doing. Walking and talking.

Whilst we are walking, we have time to watch and be watched. Indeed, Jan Gehl says that it is other people actually that are the number one attraction in any city. (As I think about it, I suppose there must be any number of street performers and market-traders who would agree with him.) 

You have a fantastic mobility when you are walking. You can stop and chat, or you can sit and watch, or you can browse, or scurry; you can even learn a thing or two (throughout history the public realm has always been an important place to go and find something out). And you can walk and walk as well, of course. Sometimes I have walked quite a long way in order to get home.

This brings us neatly onto the bicycle. For journeys under five miles, the bicycle really ought to be the obvious choice for lots and lots of people living in cities. It is incredibly energy-efficient. On one potato, you can travel a certain distance by bike, let's say. You'd need three potatoes if you were travelling the same distance on foot, and sixty potatoes if you were doing it by car. A person riding a bicycle moves along more efficiently than a salmon swimming in a lake. Okay, I made that last one up, but really, is it any wonder that many people regard the bicycle as the greatest invention of all time?

You can stop at any moment, you know. That's brill, that is. And what about what that Mr Boff said? It's the best way to get around, was it? Or did he say the easiest way to get around? Or both? Oh, I can't remember. These politicians say this and they say that, and it's so difficult to keep up, I find.

What else? Well, it's good for you of course, but you knew that already. 

Obesity rate

Another benefit, suggested by Enrique Peñalosa, is that it makes the city more egalitarian. As he explained, the guy on the $30 bike is encouraged to feel just as important as the guy in the $30 000 car.

It is said, often with some pride, that Britain has defied all foreign invaders for nearly a thousand years. But the mass-produced car began its conquest in the 1920s, and by the mid-1950s it was becoming master of all that it surveyed, since which time resistance has mostly been limited to the fringes. Nowadays it is the dominant force in many of our towns and cities. 

For too long now, we have been concerned to increase the capacity of the roads in the naïve belief that this will smooth the traffic flow. It's as if everybody in the nation is trained as traffic engineers; certainly most of us have grown to think like them. We have to keep the cars happy, don't we? Everyone knows that.

My cartographer, who is a very enlightened fellow, simply could not understand why his local authority have installed width restrictions close to a junction where there is a mini-roundabout. The traffic has to squeeze through now, so everything gets all clogged up. HGVs never used the route much - it's right in the middle of suburbia - so really, what on earth did the council think they were playing at? When I suggested that maybe we should be trying to make it more difficult for cars to get around, it took him a moment to realise that I was actually being serious.

What is interesting about Copenhagen, Gehl suggests, compared to a city like Brisbane, say, is that in Brisbane they have about 2% of people commuting to work by bike. They are mostly young men, aged between about 25 and 35, and they are dressed to take part in the Tour de France

In Brisbane, as in many other cities, cycling is an extreme sport, with these crazy cyclists thinking they should be allowed to go 40km/h. Not so in Copenhagen. In Copenhagen, the majority of cyclists are women. Consequently, a more leisurely pace is encouraged: they have these green waves, even, so that if you keep to between about 17km/h and 20km/h, you can just sail along without any interruptions to the flow of your journey. Smooth.

In 2009 Jan Gehl said that 36% go to work in Copenhagen by bike, 27% by car, 32% by public transport and 5% by foot. He also said that cycling numbers had doubled over the last ten years. But Wikipedia said that the modal share of cycling was 36% in 2004, and Soren Elle was saying at roughly the same time that cycling numbers had doubled over the last twenty years, so I don't know what the hell is going on with some of these statistics. What is not in doubt, however, is Copenhagen's commitment to ensure that the invitation to people should be so strong that by 2015 everyone walks 20% more and 50% of all commutes are made by bike. Thus it is that they have embarked on the process of doubling the width of some cycle lanes.

Are there any other cities in the world that have adopted the one-stone-five-birds philosophy? Yes, of course there are. You are invited to Melbourne, which has now been voted the most liveable city in the world. Or what about New York? Mayor Michael Bloomberg is urging cities to set clear targets in tackling climate change and to fill the 'vacuum of leadership' surrounding the issue. 'We must be bolder,' he said. 'We must be more collaborative, and we must be more determined. Our cities have demonstrated that we are prepared to boldly confront climate change. As Mayors, we know that we don't have the luxury of simply talking about change without delivering it.'

'The very best that we can do in city planning,' Jan Gehl concluded, 'would be to have a holistic policy where we try to make it people-friendly so we can achieve more [of] the goals in one operation and move peacefully amongst each other on foot or on bicycle in our cities. That is, as far as I can see, the most sure way to better increase the possibility for better health in the population in the 21st century. Welcome to the 21st century.'

This posting is based heavily on two lectures that Jan Gehl gave in 2009, one in Copenhagen entitled A City for People, and the other in Toronto entitled Treating People Sweetly. For more news about what's going on in New York, refer to this presentation from Copenhagen, about seven minutes in. What is it they say? If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Thinking in terms of a network

If we were to 'get started on building a network of high-quality segregated cycle tracks,' asks Vole O'Speed, 'where should we start'?

According to Camden Cyclists, 'David suggested that the LCC should campaign to raise the Cycling Superhighways to Dutch Standards'. For their part, Camden Cyclists 'felt that this was a good idea', but they 'also wanted something for Camden, based on the idea that the Mayor of London should be persuaded to fund one Go Dutch scheme in each borough.'

I'll come back to this, but whilst I was having a butcher's through the Camden Cyclists' report, my attention was directed towards a presentation that Jim Davis of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain gave in April, and which I had come across before, but not with the accompanying slides.

Once Jim had established that the streets here in the UK are very hazardous places, particularly for children - the most dangerous in Western Europe, believe it or not - he sought to ascertain what lessons could be learned from the experiences of the Dutch and the Danes. He noted that, in the post-war years, the rise in 'car culture' was not just limited to the English-speaking countries, and that during the period 1950-1975 the bicycle was pretty much excluded from any transport policy anywhere in Europe. But two things happened at the beginning of the '70s that triggered change. The first was a steep rise in the number of deaths on the roads, particularly in Holland, and the second was the OPEC oil crisis.

A total of 450 child deaths were recorded on Holland's roads in 1973, and this prompted the foundation of a new campaign organisation, Stop de Kindermoord. This group successfully petitioned the Dutch government to make the money available to pay for the development of some segregated cycle paths.

Also around this time, there emerged a grass-roots movement concerned to get away from oil dependence, as more and more people began to realise that fuel shortages could lead to further hikes in the price of petrol.

If you haven't already done so, would you please watch this video.

In 2004, the modal share of cycling in Copenhagen was approximately 36%, as we can see from this table. At roughly the same time, one of the interviewees, Soren Elle, was indicating that cycling numbers had doubled during the previous twenty years. Even by the mid-1980s, then, there was a considerable level of cycling in Copenhagen.

I believe that the traffic engineers and town planners in Copenhagen began by developing a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network to a minimum level of functioning. That was their first step. Inevitably they would have placed a heavy emphasis on those routes which were already safe and pleasant, although I think it is reasonable to assume that they would also have found it necessary to construct some segregated cycle tracks from place to place (as happened in Holland, following Stop de Kindermoord's successful campaign). By the mid-1980s, however, it became apparent that some of the back-street routes were not being used; rather, significant numbers of cyclists were heading down the main arterial routes into the centre of the city. And so, as Jim explained, if only a little uncharitably, 'they started building infrastructure, not where they thought cyclists should go, but actually where cyclists were going.'

After a couple of minutes of the Contested Streets video, we see Jan Gehl stood alongside one of those main arterial routes. He explained that it used to be a four-lane highway with traffic and noise and lorries and 'the whole hula-boo'. It has now been 'reconfigurated'. Interestingly, 'when everything is made up about this street, it has the same capacity as before'.

Roads such as this have their equivalents in London, of course, but at this early stage, how much bang would we get for our buck if these were developed to European standards? What would be left in the pot for other schemes once these works had been completed? How long would they take to deliver? Would schemes such as this form part of a 'realistic five-year programme', in the style of a glory project such as the LCN+?

In the mid-1980s, when the Danes started looking at major roads such as these, there was already a significant body of cyclists. I resolutely believe that we would be well-advised to follow Copenhagen's example and do as much as possible with whatever funds might be available, in the expectation that this would still result in a healthy increase in the number of cyclists, and in the hope that the Euston Road, say, would one day have segregated cycling.

It wouldn't much matter if, as in the case of Copenhagen, some of the formative routes fell by the wayside. The Darwinian bottom line - be good at it or make way for something better - should always come into play sooner or later. What does matter, however, is that a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network be established.

Darwin also showed us how something such as an eye evolved to its present level of complexity. He suggested that the earliest eyes would only have been able to distinguish light from dark. But from such rudimentary beginnings as this, of course, it was mainly a question of time as to what happened thereafter.

So anyway, let me just say that where the routes go is more important to me than what the routes look like. I am not at in any way qualified to speak on the subject of urban design, but I have spent a fuck of a long time drawing lines on a map.

And so, to get back to David's point, if we were to set about developing a network of high-quality segregated cycle tracks, where should we start?

Please click here to see a map which shows a proposed trial area.

Map Legend:

CS routes: black

London Cycling Network routes: colour coded (please fill in any gaps)

Local routes: not shown

I don't know about you, but having sat in front of this map for five minutes or so, I think I could convince myself of just about anything. Indeed, the only conclusion I did reach was to reaffirm my conviction that somebody else needs to have a bloody good look at this. As Cycling: the way ahead points out, 'Studying the feasibility of a network is of a similar importance to setting up a cycling unit.'

Before I go, I would like to point out that the Camden Cycling Campaign proposal for Tottenham Court Road is, in fact, a micro-measure, aimed at improving a specific situation. I concede, it makes a lot of sense to consider this section of route, particularly since Camden Council are also looking at it, but I also believe it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture, and so I wonder if it might be a better idea to plan the whole route from top to bottom, that is, from the junction of Lots Road and Cheyne Walk all the way up to Kentish Town Road and beyond (via Trafalgar Square).


Jan Gehl reminded us that Copenhagen was one of the first cities to take an interest in public spaces. And if he were to give advice to a city - it could be any city in the world - what would he say? He would say, Try to take the people more seriously, just as seriously as you've been trying to smooth the traffic flow.

All cities have their traffic departments, he explained, and they get all this data all the time about the traffic; they know everything there is to know about it. But when it comes to people in the city, he said, they know nothing.

Jim said, 'The movement for mass cycling has to come from the people, and not just cyclists.' He also said, 'For journeys under five miles, people should be able to consider cycling or walking.' And, 'The creation of a cycling culture is not that difficult to achieve - it just simply takes a consistent policy developed over years.'

This is from one of his recent blogs: 'If we don't do something to a decent standard, and think in terms of [a] coherent network instead of piecemeal 'solutions' that act like a Band-Aid on a laceration, then cyclists using the open road in the meantime will get continuing and unwarranted abuse as more junk gets built and the bicycle will continue not to be taken seriously as a mode of transport.'

This seems like a good place to bring this posting to a close.