The Big Stink

London 1858 absolutely stank.

For many years the practice of dumping our sewage into the Thames and open cesspits had gone unchallenged but as the population of London had grown so had the problems that come with such an arrangement. The stench had made life intolerable and Cholera was rampant.

“The summer of 1858 was unusually hot. The Thames and many of its urban tributaries were overflowing with sewage; the warm weather encouraged bacteria to thrive and the resulting smell was so overwhelming that it affected the work of the House of Commons …. Heavy rain finally ended the heat and humidity of summer and the immediate crisis ended. However, a House of Commons select committee was appointed to report on the Stink and recommend how to end the problem.” – Wikipedia

I suppose it is telling that it was not until the conditions affected the workings of the state that action was finally taken. Try to imagine the misery of living a life in what must have been little more than an open sewer across most of London with conditions worsening each year as the city grew.

Part of the problem was due to the introduction of flush toilets, replacing the chamber-pots that most Londoners had used. These dramatically increased the volume of water and waste that was now poured into existing cesspits. These often overflowed into street drains designed originally to cope with rainwater, but now also used to carry outfalls from factories, slaughterhouses and other activities, contaminating the city before emptying into the River Thames.” – Wikipedia

The solution? Sewers. Big new ones. Step forward Joseph William Bazalgette, visionary engineer who delivered the bulk of the sewers we are using to this day. This was a massive civil engineering project, with the attendant disruption and costs but it had become clear for all to see that a significant investment in new infrastructure was what was needed to deliver a city that was fit for purpose now and in the future. With hindsight we can see it as one of the greatest public health interventions in London’s history. It has paid for itself many many times over and no one would ever question the need for continued investment.

This ability to innovate our way out of problems, to adapt to change, is part of why we are strong today. Do we still have that kind of clear vision that looks to the future need?

London faces new challenges. Congestion, pollution, sedentary lifestyles (obesity) all play their part in draining the life out of the city in terms of cost and utility and premature death. Average vehicle speeds are around 10mph (often much less) with queuing traffic backed up to the suburbs. Driving is hell! (because of all the other cars) and its costs rise day by day despite its massive subsidy. The tube is rammed and expensive (but free of cars). The bus is slow (because of all the cars) and often rammed too. Many more would consider cycling if it looked an easier option (but it doesn’t, because of all the cars) Around 1 Million more people are arriving over the next decade or so, who will all need to get about too…. Where will the extra capacity come from with everything maxed out now? What if they all decide to drive…?

Paraphrasing the quote above:

“Part of the problem is due to the introduction of mass car use, replacing the bicycles that many Londoners had used. This dramatically increased the volume of large vehicles that now poured into existing main roads. These often overflowed into side streets designed originally to cope with only a few locals, but now also used to store the vehicles and carry output from factories, slaughterhouses and other activities, contaminating the city before emptying onto the M25/Dartford Crossing.”

Car Storage

So many cars need to be stored here that the residents accept loss of their pavement for all in return for parking for some of them. This is the new “normal”.

The solution? A return to cycling. Cycle infrastructure in a coherent network along with some other measures can make cycling into an easy choise for the many. Building such a network is a fairly large bit of engineering and money will need to be spent to do it right but it is no less of a necessary intervention than Bazalgette’s sewers. Although a well designed network would help existing cyclists, the main benefits would be felt by all Londoners. Less cars means more safety, better air, lower congestion (for those who MUST drive) and more money and more time to spend it in local economies for those who begin to cycle. More cycling will ease overcrowding on public transport too. What other mode can increase its capacity so readily whilst simultaneously improving the efficiency of use of the finite street space?

School run hell

It’s the school run and this car is parked! Nowhere left to leave it and the children have to get in to school don’t you know. Other parents with children have to walk in the busy road to get around it. The fact is there are too many cars trying to use the space at the same time. If only people felt they had other choises….

To those who doubt the existence of a mass of “latent cyclists” just waiting for conditions to change before taking to the streets, I say this:

As a cycle trainer, I meet person after person who, “would like to use my bike to get about” but is, “frightened of the traffic”. I can help most of those who want the training but there must be many others who will not give it a go with or without training. I never meet them but I know they exist. It is well established that fear of traffic (despite almost always being overstated) is the reason people don’t cycle. Instead of “latent cyclists” think of them as Londoners. Londoners under pressure. Pressure to get to work, to get over, to get by, to get ahead, to go get some milk, to get on with it, to go go GO!!!! For our sins, that is who we are. As individuals we make transport decisions that balance utility/cost/risk/etc. each time we plan a journey. Providing space and priority for cycling creates more cycling because of the pressure that is driving us. On aggregate we will do what is easy, cheap and looks safe/normal. Transport demand flows into and fills new capacity following the path of least resistance, provided there is demand for those journeys. Making clear space for cycling is the right next step.

There are historical and economic forces that are driving the growth of cycling in London that have nothing to do with anything TfL may or may not be doing. Quite apart from trying to grow cycling, there are compelling arguments for re-engineering our road spaces simply to accommodate current use and what future growth would be like. Cycling in London has outgrown the marginal road spaces it has existed within for years. As it claims more and more space, the arguments in favor of reallocation become more compelling still.

We hear a lot at the moment about the need to invest in big infrastructure projects like HS2 or new motorways but these are only additions or patches to our existing system; like adding more cesspits. I propose that it is past time to re-imagine our transport system as a whole with an eye to the future health and security of London.

Back in 1858, Conservative PM Benjamin Disraeli (no less!) declared, ”That noble river (The Thames) has really become a Stygian pool, reeking with inevitable and intolerable horrors.” Who amongst the current Cabinet or within City Hall has the stomach to offer a response to such an exclamation, were it even being uttered today?

It’s time for thinking big! Step forward our new Bazalgette! We need that kind of vision and the political integrity to do what is right despite opposition from those who would resist such change.

Here are some quotes from evidence given at the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group this week:

Living Streets said: “simply painting white lines on the road is not generally helpful. It can sometimes put cyclists and pedestrian in conflict.

Urban Movement’s John Dales said: “communities must start designing roads for people who aren’t already cycling. We must be very ambitious.

Transport Planning Consultant Phil Jones said: “The approach must be dependent on local circumstances. Segregated lanes are not always necessary. If we’re going to segregate, we should only do it when we can do it properly.

Reducing pedestrian conflict, being ambitious and building for new riders but only doing it properly. I like the sound of that, particularly given this country’s woefull record with respect supporting cycling by design. Since we begin at virtually zero we have nothing to gain by compromise. The designs must be subjectively and actually better than what we now have. London should have the best cycle facilities in the world for the benefit of everyone.

I hope our leaders take heed of the excellent evidence being presented to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. Please follow @allpartycycling and #GetBritianCycling to stay abreast of developments.

– L


Nice one Boris

I think we may have got somewhere. It took a lot of prodding and even some swearing but there are positive signs.

Thank you Mayor Johnson for sending out your top folks!

Last Friday, members of BarnetLCC met at Henlys Corner, with Isabel Dedring (Deputy Mayor for Transport) and senior members of her team, including the designer of the scheme. They listened to our issues and made many positive noises. Since the meeting there have been good contacts with Tfl and I really believe that we may get some movement here.

The issues we raised were:

–          The junction has been made worse for cyclists despite really excellent improvements for other modes.

–          The “cycling facilities” offered, amount to a over engineered “cyclist dismount” sign and are not being used by most riders, including the schoolchildren who kindly rode through the junction, on cue, while we stood there.

–          The cycle facilities are poorly engineered and introduce new and rather serious risks.

–          The potential Super Highway route here will mean that this junction needs redesign in any case.

–          The same problems can be seen at the newly designed crossing of the A406 at Bounds Green.

–          There is a systemic issue in that junctions are being designed that worsen conditions for cyclists. This should not be happening.

To be fair to the designer(a thouroughly nice chap), it seems clear that within the brief he had, he did a fantastic job. There was little or no instruction to provide for cyclists. I won’t blame the workmen. The problem here is with the client’s brief.

I put it to them that an underlying issue was the lack of an overall plan for cycling in London. A genuine point of reference that designers/clients could look at to determine what cycling provision is needed at a given location. There is no such plan and there never has been in my memory. Aspirations…  yes. But no plan.

Since I was calling for a Cycling Plan, it seemed churlish to me not to suggest one myself, so I cobbled together a collection of my own ideas and presented them in this document:

A Cycle Plan for London? (pdf)

Obviously, putting it up here is inviting comment and I would welcome that. I’m sure that many will have opinions but if you want to have a “Segregation vs. Integration” debate please don’t have it with me. I think it a false polemic. We should do what is appropriate to a given location and we should do what works.

A big thanks to all those who have retweeted, blogged and particularly those who came on The Great Divide Ride. You are what got us to this point. I should also thank our Mayor again, whose off the cuff comments have also played a positive role. Cheers Boris.


A message to you Rudy

Dear Mayor Johnson,

On Tuesday the 19th June this year, as you rode through the sunny  morning  peloton of Islington, I’m sure the conditions for cycling at a northerly crossing of the A406 were the last thing on your mind. That was certainly the case for me. All that changed when I found myself waiting at the lights with none other than the Chairman of TfL himself.

I would never normally trouble a public figure in the street as I consider it to be rude but in this case I had to make an exception. After all, I have been trying to get some issues flagged up with your office for some time now and the opportunity was too good to miss.

We had a short exchange at the lights, perhaps you remember…

Me: It seems churlish not to ask you a question as I find myself at the lights with you. Would that be ok?

You: Fire away!

Me: Would you be surprised to know that local cyclists and cycling groups are unhappy with the new Henlys Corner?

You: Oh fuck them! We have spent billions up there!

Me: I live up there and the money has been spent badly with respect cyclists…

The lights changed and off you went…

I will admit that I was shocked at your language… but in no way offended. I don’t mind a bit of rude language. I am also certain that you have the needs of London’s growing cycling community in your heart. Actually, you spoke from your heart  and I have a lot of respect for that, despite disagreeing. I understand your remark to mean something along the lines of…  those whinging cyclists are never happy! “Oh fuck them! We have spent billions up there!”.  I can quite understand that you could feel that way given the expense and endless planning process. As Mayor, you cannot be expected to know the fine details of every junction redesign. Your commitment to the “go Dutch” tests and to cycling, more widely, means that you will be able to see the problem if only I can get the message to you.

You were not to know…

–          That I am one of those whinging cyclists so it was really me you were telling to get fucked. That felt great, cheers.

–          That, as an experienced National Standard Cycling Instructor, who has to carry out risk assessments of roads and junctions for cyclists as a daily part of my job, I have the expertise to make the judgement. Safety and amenity are worse for people on bikes, who use the junction, post the redesign, despite major improvements for other modes.

–          That it’s not just folk like me who can see the problem…   For example, Cllr Brian Coleman. Before the elections this year, I found myself on the phone with, the then, AM Coleman and took the opportunity of putting the same question to him. He was surprised, being under the impression that the new design was better for all. Like you he mentioned that loads had been spent… but without the swearing.  After meeting me for 15 mins at Henlys corner one morning, he accepted that there, “is a problem” and showed willingness to work toward a solution. He gets it.

–          That the plenary question put by AM Andrew Dismore about Henlys Corner, on the day after we met, was as a response to a meeting he had with me at Henlys Corner recently. He gets it too.

–          That Phil Jones, who delivers training to TFL engineers, on cycling provision, has looked at the video I made about the new Henlys design. His verdict  – “Excellent – clear, unemotional, irrefutable”. He gets it so much that he has offered help getting whatever proposals are eventually made into a really useful and compliant form. – Gold dust… Cheers Phil!

–          That I attended the Talk London event in Barnet earlier this year to try to raise the issue but was only able to talk to one of Isabel Dedring’s team, a Mr. McGeevey. In any case, the GLA office has been aware of the issues at least since January 2012 when we began corresponding.

–         That The Great Divide Ride took place in March to highlight the issue of poor provision for cyclists crossing the A406.

Please see this video:

When one really looks at what has happened to the cycling provision at this flagship scheme, “fuck them” may well have been key design guidance.  There are many other issues too technical to go into in the video. I am really pleased that TfL is working with Barnet on the issue of Barnet’s refusal to allow a Cycle Superhighway. Henlys Corner will need re-designing, in any case,  should that ever change. The question remains; Why wasn’t state of the art provision included in the original design, given the “cycling revolution” and this junction’s planned inclusion in a CS? Seems like an own goal.

A positive result would be someone senior from each of TfL/GLA and Barnet coming to meet the local stakeholder group (  as a matter of urgency. We have a number of suggestions/solutions and a top transport consultant in Phil Jones to help present them in the most usefull way. (Note: since I began writing this last week, there has been a very positive contact with senior GLA people and I expect a constructive meeting to take place soon! Hurrah!)

Alternatively, you and I could enjoy some wonderful Salt Beef after a brief tour of Henlys Corner one afternoon… during the school run perhaps, when there are lots of children riding across. What do you say?

The new Henlys corner design lets cyclists down badly and fails to support your vision of cycling in our city. Local cyclists, transport consultants and two AMs have been able to see the problem. Can I get my message to you…?


Come for a visit… to New Southgate

On March 25th at 10AM I will be outside New Southgate train station ready to take part in Barnet’s Great Divide Ride. I know why I will be there but I wonder what I can say on this blog to encourage someone from further afield to make the short trip up to New Southgate to support us.

I keep coming back to Henlys Corner…  In both senses.

My twice daily commute keeps it under my wheels and in my mind. This is what you get when a local council, Barnet in this case, leaves cycling up to TFL who in turn leave it up to Barnet. Result… utter failure. The point is that, despite the rhetoric from City Hall, the needs of the many cyclists using this junction have just been ignored during a multi million pound “state of the art” redesign.

The wonderfull @veloevol and I felt strongly enough to make a short film.

One major issue has been the diffused responsibility for the final design, with TFL and Barnet having control over different parts and often at loggerheads. The one thing they seem to agree on is the importance of “Traffic Flow” above all else… It was never going to be a win for cycling.

Without wishing to politicize to too much, it must be said that the current leadership of Tfl have publicly stated their position on traffic flow. This is what you get with them unless there is a sea change.

And that is exactly why I am hoping that as many of you as possible will make the trip up here on the 25th of this month…  😉

Tfl’s traffic flow agenda is in alignment with the policy Barnet has been pursuing for years. The removal of traffic calming during regular road works is stated policy up here. Recent proposals include  review, with an eye to removal, of all the light controlled pedestrian crossings in the borough.

Do you want to see this kind of thing on the TFL roads in your borough?

Join us on the 25th in sending a message to TFL and local councils that they need to work TOGETHER to deliver quality provision for the ever growing demand for cycling. The pavement is not a solution!

The ride finishes at the secret park at the center of Staples Corner… I like the sound of that.  See you there.


Cycle Training is not in league with the enemy!

This post is a response to this post on the wonderfull Vole O’speed blog…

I like the critique of the Times campaign and I agree with most of your points. However, this post contains some incorrect notions regarding cycle training that I want to clarify.

“the Government is paying for lots of cycle training, so that’s all right then, isn’t it? Training for cyclists is what government wants to pay for when it doesn’t wish to challenge the basic hierarchy on the roads,”

Er… no it isn’t. A typical allocation for Cycle Training (CT) in a London borough is below £100000 and typically must pay for the cycling officer as well as administrative overhead. It it true that there is no stomach in government to challenge the status quo but that is not because of the pittance spent on training. There should be much more spent on training AND changes to the roads to favor cycling. The issue is about funding levels.

“Moreover, the cycle training that we use in this country, Bikeablity, concentrates on the development of an assertive riding style designed to minimise risks to the cyclist in a car-dominated cycling environment, that is quite irrelevant to cycling as it is practised in the bike-dominated cycling environments of the Netherlands and Denmark. “

As it happens, the Dutch are rather good at assertive cycling. I recently trained a 12 year old dutch boy who had moved to London. He has a really assertive riding style and had no problem taking on Old St roundabout and other similarly “hairy” junctions near his new school. I asked him where he learned to ride like that and he said that is how you have to ride in Holland where there are no cycle paths… Their great infrastructure gets them cycling young so I guess they develop the skills independently but to suggest these skills are “irrelevant” to Dutch or Danish cyclists is just wrong.

“It cannot be part of the long term solution to cycling, as the majority of the population will never have any interest in riding assertively (which really implies “fast” as well), in the way that Bikeablity seeks to teach them.”

To say that assertive equals fast is just wrong. That is not how the Bikeability syllabus is taught if it’s being done right. Going faster can help but it’s not necessary. I train lots of “slow” riders and they like their newfound assertive stylings! It is quite common for people with no direct experience of training to reduce it to “Primary Position” and “going fast” but that does it a great disservice. About two thirds of cycling casualties happen without the involvement of another vehicle… CT looks at that as well as MANY other aspects of the riders practice. My experience is that even very knowledgeable riders get something from training despite not expecting to. That was the case with me… 😉

“ The other problem with Bikeability is that it can be regarded by its proponents (such as some of those working in the largely state-funded industry that delivers it) as the correct way to cycle, rather than as what it is, a stop-gap mitigating.”

No one is making a good living delivering cycle training David…. People do it because it calls to them. Giving someone else the freedom of the road that we take for granted, is an honor.  There are only a handful of us in London and yet at every demo or action pushing for better infrastructure we are there in force, often as organizers or marshals. Pitching us as some sort of government stooges with a finantial interest in the status quo, is factually wrong and does us a great disservice.  When I began work as a cycle trainer, a much more experienced colleague told me, “look mate, if we are successful then there will be no need for cycle training”. He was being ironic but the point is that we know it’s not something to do instead of building a network of lanes but right now it is helping people who want to ride to do so safely.

“Dutch cyclists do not need to assert themselves in front of streams of hostile traffic.”

Oh yes they do….  But not as much as us. The fact that so many more ride there has to help too.

“Cities fit for Cycling, not Cyclists fit for Cities. It has taken a long, long time for this realisation to become mainstream in the UK. A watershed has been passed.”

I certainly hope so. The need to change the road network to unlock that mass of non riders is clear to me but I do not see CT as being an obstacle. We make new riders… The cost of the infrastructure changes needed are several orders of magnitude greater than even the most generous CT budgets. CT is not consuming budget that could be spent on lanes.  The money for cycle lanes is there in the roads budget. It’s just a matter of allocation/priorities.

David, it is clear to me that you have either not tried training or been exposed to some very poor practice. I propose offering you a free session. CTUK run good training in your borough or I would be happy to organize a session for you. At the very least it will be a chance for us to talk about Brent/Barnet things… You may even learn something new…. I did.


Daddy, the cars aren’t stopping

My 4 year old wanted to go to “the dinosaur museum” and with this month’s Street Talks subject being “shared space”, a post on Exhibition Road seems in order. Many local authorities are looking at this in the hope that it can offer some relief from what I will call the “inter modal tension” on our streets.

We took the tube to South Ken and joined the throngs of tourists and families heading north over Cromwell Road toward the museums.

I should say right up front that my impression is that the scheme is very poor. Here’s why:

It’s not really Shared Space
My understanding is that there are many other measures that should be in place for shared space to be effective. Pedestrians and cyclists should dominate the space. Through motor traffic should be eliminated or greatly reduced. The fact that Exhibition Road remains a major through route, combined with all the parking spaces rather negates any positive effect that the design might create. A typical London half measure.

Ugly Ugly Ugly
The whole space has been clad in grey granite. Those of you who have been to Aberdeen will be familiar with the effect. There is a diagonal grid of lighter stone which is supposed to represent and reinforce the pedestrian “desire lines” but ends up looking like a giant Argyle sock laid down the road. The pattern looks totally out of place and does not relate in any way to the magnificent Victorian architecture that surrounds it. The chance to do something beautiful with all that contrasting stone, has been lost in favour of what looks a rather lazy design decision.

poor amenity
Does this look like a nice place to sit with your children after a museum session? Where is the shade? In the height of summer this is going to be like an oven. Why is there a seat right next to parking? It’s not really a bench is it….? The doctrine of removing street clutter says that you shouldn’t use bollards. However, sometimes you need them. The bench is doing the job of a bollard and in doing so, compromises its function as a bench. This is dishonest… people before traffic!

I love the smell of deisel in the morning!

There were many chauffeur driven cars just stopped anywhere waiting with their engines running. The absence of road markings makes this perfectly legal. My 4 year old and I don’t want to sit right next to idling cars! Crap design.

It doesn’t work
Fail!The marking on the road surface does have an effect on behaviour… My son kept running along the lines, straight into the path of the taxis and vans! The whole experience was very stressful for me as he had no idea where he was supposed to walk. My boys know to stay on the pavement and we walk to school/nursery daily without problems.  But here in this new “shared” environment, I couldn’t relax for a second. That is exactly how Shared Space is supposed to work…!  Shame no one told the drivers who consistently failed to slow or stop as my little one wandered out. The council know that it’s not working too as they have had to put up signs telling motorists to give way. Those aren’t working either.

The surface is poor for cycling
The stone is slippery when wet and has already resulted in a number of cyclists falling. To be fair, the stone is faced with a rough pattern but this will wear away in time with all the heavy vehicles. I also doubt that the stone sets will remain flush and flat over time… we’ll see.

A massive missed opportunity
Oh what could have been….! All that cash to clad one of London’s most historic streets in granite and er… that’s it. Where are the trees? Where are the kiosks? Where are the fountains? Where is the “place” for all the people who come to this street? It could have been a really lovely place to hang out before/after going to museums or the Albert Hall. There is ample space to have provided two way traffic AND a really pleasant place to be. Think the Ramblas in Barcelona but with cars down one side. As it stands, it is really a car park with the odd unsheltered bench to demarcate the ends of the parking bays. But that is not the greatest tragedy… Where is the cycle lane? This was a golden chance to put in a cycle lane, extending the route that crosses Hyde Park to South Ken and beyond. Amongst the many flaws of the Cycle Superhighway scheme is the fact that the inner ends of the routes do not join up. Any chance to begin to create those connections should not be wasted. Obviously, one can ride down the road but it’s just another fast London road… where is the improvement for cycling?

Is it all bad?
Not at all… What has been done IS an improvement but the part of Exhibition road, to the south of Cromwell Rd., gives a better taste of how these schemes should work. The absence of parking and the fact that the through route to South Ken has been closed, means that this area is working much better. Pedestrians dominate and the two shopkeepers I spoke to said they loved the massive increase in footfall.

Some remain confused, like this driver who got “lost” in the uncertainty of it all and ended up having to get back onto the road via a ped crossing but overall this area felt better.

What is clear is that Shared Space doesn’t work without the raft of other measures that complement it. Principally that motor traffic must be limited or removed for the scheme to work. Local authorities are attracted to the concept but fail to implement the wider changes needed. Ultimately, the way to reduce the negative effects of heavy motor traffic is simply to reduce its access. There is just no getting around the fact that there are too many private cars in our city.

If you want to hear a pompous urban designer enjoying a totally uncritical fluffing from a supposed science journalist, you may enjoy this. Apparently, pedestrians are “natural Pythagoreans” who always favour the hypotenuse… Hence the Argyle sock pattern. What a knob.

If you think a thoughtful critique is more up your street, I recommend:
Waronthemotorist and Voleospeed

My 4 year old put it well as we tried to cross the road outside the Natural History Museum, “Daddy, the cars aren’t stopping!”


A Place at the Table

Sometimes you find yourself in a situation wondering how you got there…

I was in a room, filled with TFL and Borough traffic engineers and planners. I just kept thinking “I don’t belong here” and that at any moment someone would realise their error and have me chucked out! We were all waiting for the start of the London Cycling Design Standards Workshop, delivered by Phil Jones (@phil_PJA if you tweet – worth following) and John Parkin, Professor of Transport Engineering, South Bank University. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded and I think it was a very valuable session for all concerned, especially me.

This two day course was aimed at officers who needed to deliver cycling provision. There was also a good look at the current guidance contained in the LCDS (London Cycle Design Standards). The course itself was very well presented and if all present go back to their posts and do it the way Phil and John told em’ to, we will see a massive improvement in the infrastructure we get in London…. It’s a big “if” but not for the reasons I might have given before the workshop.

Much of the discussion concerning cycling these days focuses on infrastructure and this puts the spotlight on the engineers. After all, they are the ones tasked with delivering it.

It was clear that there is very genuine concern over safety and that they really wanted to get it right for cyclists. There was the odd suggestion that cycling should be moved onto minor routes and other such tosh but overall I would say I was pleasantly surprised at the acceptance of cycling as mainstream transport and the breadth of knowledge displayed regarding good infrastructure. So if the engineers and planners know what they are doing, how come TFL keep getting it so wrong?

One word…. Governance

Again and again as we all discussed various projects or interventions the officers said things like, “that would be great but I will never get it past my superiors or elected members”. Often we came up against the fact that there was no one in the room senior enough to answer core questions like, “What are we trying to achieve on a broader scale?” or “is the goal, modal shift or accommodation of existing demand?”. Answering these questions defines what gets built.

On the second day Phil very kindly gave me the chance to show a short video over lunch. I live in Barnet and the recent changes to Henlys Corner loom large in my life so it seemed a good subject. I added a few of my pet gripes at the front too. What I hate is that stuff gets put on the road which I then have to tell my trainees not to use. Here is what I showed them…

It was kinda quiet afterwards… so I asked, “I think we can all see how much worse that is for cyclists, so given all the expertise amongst practitioners and the good guidance in the LCDS, how did the redesign of Henlys Corner ever get signed off?”

One chap rather bravely said he had signed off on an early version of the design but had then passed it on to another team for review. (Correction Dec 20 2011! Please see note at the end) A colleague mentioned that it would have gone through some sort of cycle review but I can’t see that went very well.

In fact, with my new knowledge of the LCDS gained from the excellent workshop I was attending, it was clear that Henlys Corner fails to meet TFLs own design guidance. There are several small details that turn out to be rather safety critical which are very poorly implemented and that I do not flag in my video as I was unaware of how wrong they were when I was filming.

It is both ironic and timely that only today Jenny JonesAM has got a motion passed (with support from AMs of all the parties) at the London assembly that specifically cites TFL failing to follow their own guidance with respect cycling. Clearly something needs to change.

It really looks as though TFLs internal design review process is not fit for purpose, with respect cycling. Or is it just that those in charge are asking for things to be done in a certain way. How could one tell?

The TFL board is made up of people who all have something good to contribute. There are people with direct experience, not just knowledge, of the various transport modes as well as those whose broad knowledge can only be an asset. There are train, bus and taxi (black and private hire) people, someone who knows about aerospace, people with business and property development experience and of course someone from the tubes. But where is the member representing cyclists?

Black cabs are a private business and make up only 0.6% (per TFL 2009) of modal share, it seems bizarre in the extreme that cycling, with a modal share that is conservatively five times that, is unrepresented while they have a permanent seat. Indeed, the chap from Camden told us that cycling is up to around 12% of modal share in their borough.  Why is there no expert presence on the TFL board to protect our interests? Surely, that would represent some sort of check and balance against some of the nonsense that is going on at the moment at junctions all over the TLRN. Junctions like Henlys Corner… Does it make sense that volunteers from the local LCC group have to fight to get  a compliant design. I thought that was someone at TFL’s job.

In my personal opinion some of the board members may have a financial interest in “smoothing the flow” and could lack impartiality. You may judge for yourself by reading about their declaration of interests here.

I am calling on TFLs Chairman (Boris to you and me) to step up and show us that he is really serious about cycling issues. He should appoint a board member for cycling, who can be part of directing top level policy. The engineers will do the rest. Come on Boris!

The issue is one of democracy. It’s time we had a seat at the table.


A correction:

On 20 Dec. I got this email:

I was at the LCDS cycling training days earlier on in December and may have been the person who you described as “One chap rather bravely said he had signed off on an early version of the design but had then passed it on to another team for review.”

Just to clarify the point, I had undertaken a stage 1 Road Safety Audit in 2008 but that doesn’t mean the design is signed off, the only people who can do that are the designer /client!

It may seem pedantic but it is important to realise that the RSA does highlight safety issues and it is up to the designer/client to react to these and respond.

Glad you enjoyed the course and it was good to see “a user” representing some views of the non-engineer / planner despite that fact that a good deal of those attending ride regularly. To add I regularly commute into central London on my bicycle .

As he says, only the client can sign off the final design… That’s the board of TFL in this case.