Friday, 12 August 2011

A segregated space for cycling

Following the death earlier this year of a 20 year-old student, Paula Jurek, on Camden Road, Ken Livingstone called on Boris Johnson to do more for cyclists. However, expressing what I imagine to be the default position for all Mayoral candidates, he said, 'In a perfect world we would have hundreds of miles of segregated cycle routes, but we have to face the reality that this is very difficult on many of London's roads.'

Please click here to see a map showing a proposed cycle network for the central London area. LCN+ routes are shown in dark green, LCN / CS routes in light blue, and borough / advisory routes (plus one or two of my own) in deep red.

Developing such a comprehensive network to European standards takes time, money and commitment, and there's only so much that Borough Cycling Officers can do in the current economic and political climate. But let us consider some tangible examples that have been discussed in recent weeks by everyone's favourite blogger, freewheeler, beginning with Russell Square.

I think if I was in charge of planning at Camden I would be looking to return the road Woburn Place / Russell Square / Southampton Row back to two-way motor traffic, and to remove (or unwind) the one-way section around the Square itself. Obviously I would be looking to plan for 'people and places', so no car parking really, limited access to motor vehicles, including maybe even blocking off certain sections of the Square (but keeping in mind that there is a cabman's shelter in the NW corner). That's what I would do, anyway.

Another one that caught freewheeler's eye was Vernon Place. As you can see from the map, this is actually part of an LCN+ route, and as the photo below shows, it looks like you might just be able to squeeze in a segregated cycle lane somewhere.

Vernon Place looking west (photo by freewheeler)

In the 'perfect world' that Ken Livingstone was talking about, we could lose a traffic lane, probably, and have a segregated cycle lane on either one side of the road or the other. That doesn't seem to me to be at all contentious, particularly given the fact that this is an LCN+ route. I suppose, if we actually went ahead and did something like that, we would need to consider whether it would cause any damage to the economy, as the Mayor's cycling ambassador, Andrew Boff, fears it might. Or else, what exactly is 'the reality' that makes it 'very difficult' to install a segregated cycle lane on a route such as this one?

Vernon Place looking east (photo by freewheeler)

Freewheeler reports that two cyclists, both female, have been killed at this junction in recent years: one was going straight on (probably) and was killed by a left-turning lorry, and the other was turning right and was killed by a right-turning bus. Freewheeler has blogged about this second fatality, and I was astonished by his report. For one thing I don't see why a cyclist should be expected to wear high-visibility clothing, even at night. The lights on her bike were working. She was wearing a white hat. The street was well-lit. No problem.

The Evening Standard reports that the bus-driver said, 'I always knew in my heart that it wasn't my fault, but I felt so guilty. I think about it every single day. I went into the office and they told me they had seen the CCTV and that I was at fault. I was treated like a murderer. They told me I was sacked and to give back my uniform.' Freewheeler reports that the driver was initially charged with causing death by dangerous driving, but that this was subsequently reduced to a charge of causing death by careless driving. The jury took just 40 minutes to reach a verdict of not guilty.

A few years ago, Stuart Jeffries from The Guardian wrote an article about a cycling holiday he took in Paris:

'In London," said Michel Noë before we set off on our cycling excursion around central Paris, "you have to be too much, you know, the Mad Max. The attitude, the clothes, all of this. You have to be a little bit crazy. In Paris, it is different. Here we have not the helmets, the Lycra. It's much more relaxed."
And it's true. I pulled on my black helmet, slipped on my black waterproofs, appliquéd all this with fluorescent strips and sashes. [...] I appeared, no doubt, completely bonkers and, yet, to my mind, quite voguish in a proto-Hitler Youth kind of way. For his part, Michel looked worried: "Now you are him! The Mad Max! This is how you roll in London. I see it now!"
By contrast, everybody else on this tour was dressed as though they were going to appear in Five Go Cycling in Dorset. Some wouldn't have looked out of place in pleated skirts and straw baskets filled with fresh produce. And that was just the men. Not that the women were any more butch. They looked as though they wouldn't be up for giving a bus driver the finger or a choice piece of Anglo-Saxon if they were involved in an altercation at Highbury Corner. I was the only one in a helmet. Amateurs, the lot of them!

But the point is, of course, if we don't dress up like this, like the Mad Max, and somebody runs us over, and kills us, then it's nobody else's fault but our own. That's the clear, unequivocal message from both the legal system and our politicians.

The cyclist, Dorothy Elder, was, by some quirk of fate, killed outside the college where she was a student. I haven't been able to establish where exactly she had come from that evening, but I do know she was on her way home, and that she lived in Whitechapel. At the very minimum, she should have been able to make that journey using a functioning cycle network.

On 30 October 2006 I wrote to the Vice Chair of the TfL Board, Dave Wetzel, as follows:

'The Europeans say that a basic precondition for a high level of cycle use is a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network. They also say that, in developing such a network, the level of Minimum Functioning is the most prudent course to follow. This is the first and major part of my proposal.'

A couple of days later I received this reply from the Interim Head of Cycling, Walking & Accessibility at TfL, Peter McBride:

'There is currently little or no support within TfL for your proposals and little or no prospect of this situation changing in the near future. This position is partly derived from concerns over the appropriateness and efficacy of what you have proposed and partly from our priorities and resources being focused elsewhere.'

If you want to read his reply in full, please click here.

The other route that freewheeler blogged about was Blackfriars Bridge, which again is part of the LCN+. Freewheeler's assessment is spot-on, and the only thing that I would wish to add is that even Andrew Boff thinks this route is too dangerous to cycle on. And that was before TfL decided to make conditions even worse for cyclists.

There needs to be some changes at TfL. They need to held accountable for their decisions.