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.