Tour du Danger 12/11/11 – The most “fearless” ride in London

Firstly, I want to thank Danny at Cyclists in the City and Mark from ibikelondon for putting this together. If you want to know all about The Tour Du Danger, please check out the Press Release.

This ride has tapped into a  deep desire to have a more pleasant city to work and live in. It’s not just about cyclists…that’s why there was such good support on the day. People get it.  It means looking at the way the car dominates the urban space and taking some of that space back for other uses. The  Mayor, Boris Johnson needs get his act together with respect cycling provision.

We want better choices Boris! We want the roads made safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

A quiet moment for those who died recently at Bow roundabout

Our Mayor, Boris Johnson, thinks that one just needs “to keep your wits about you” to be able to use our road system safely by bike. In other words, since cycling is growing in London and is actually getting safer, per TFL’s stats, why do we need to do anything?

Now, leaving aside the distasteful victim blaming, that suggests those killed or injured whilst cycling did not “have their wits about them”, I can almost see his point…. almost. After all, I am someone with over three decades solid experience of riding in London. I work full-time as a National Standard Cycle Instructor, averaging over 5500 miles/year in the city. I “have my wits about me” and can easily navigate any junction I choose. I’m sure, Boris Johnson is just as able. But what about everyone else? He is supposed to represent us all not just those who are like him. “I can do it so you should be able to do it too”, is a pretty poor position from one who is supposed to be working for ALL londoners.

Oi Boris, if your cycle polices were any good, do you think cyclists would be protesting?

Mayor Boris is very keen to grow cycling or so he says… but does his professed enthusiasm stand up to any examination? Over the last few years, I have met and trained hundreds of adults who want to start cycling for utility purposes. The overwhelming feeling from them has been that they are “scared of traffic”. I help them with that and by the time I am through, they will be able to go where they please without fear. But for every trainee I see, I know there are very many who will never take that step because their fear of traffic stops them. Telling them the “fact” that the roads are actually quite safe to use, is of no benefit at all. The roads need to be made into a friendlier place if we genuinely want to see sustained growth in cycling.

But Boris has done loads for cycling, I hear you say…. what about the Superhighways?

On my way down to Oval for the Tour Du Danger, I found myself on one of the Cycle Superhighway (CS) routes that approaches Oval from the west. I had never ridden on one before as there are none in North London yet. I have read the critical reviews from the cycling community but tried to keep an open mind. Frankly, the CS design is  utter nonsense. They have been pulled apart enough and I have no intention of repeating that here. Suffice to say that I would advise any trainee of mine to ignore most of what was there. A “superhighway” ought to feel, well….. Super. They don’t. They feel like all the rubbish cycle facilities that have gone before.  Boris needs to own it too, since he changed the plans for the CS from those inherited from his predecessor. What we have today is a badly compromised design that fails to produce any space or real priority for cyclists beyond what they would have anyway… hardly super. The CS should be wide and fully protected from the motor traffic in the Dutch style. Now that would have been SUPER! He has wasted the investment on something mediocre at best and at worst, deadly.

At Bow roundabout, scene of two needless deaths in under a month, the CS runs from the left edge of the lane ACROSS an exit. This sets up a collision in the event someone (like a HGV driver) needs to exit across the CS lane. It’s a terrible design… an accident waiting to happen. No National Standard instructor worth his or her high-vis, would tell a trainee to ride the line that the CS is taking here. It’s the wrong way to go straight on at a roundabout. I am certain that Boris would not stay on the CS at this point; he is too experienced a rider. TFL were warned about all this and I really hope that some of the corporate manslaughter cases that are being discussed (re. Kings Cross) make it to court. Boris and TFL own this nonsense. They have repeatedly ignored warnings given in their own internal reports and from the cycling community about the CS and the junction treatments they seem to favour.

Bow Roundabout - The scene of two tragic deaths within three weeks

When I look at the proposal for Blackfriars Bridge, I see it as part of a wider policy that favours those who choose to drive. Traffic flow is all important and all you lot who aren’t driving will just have to wait or be marginalised into the gutter. The recent redesign of Henley’s Corner, in Barnet, is another example. I will be making a fuss about it in due course but suffice to say that TFL, Boris Johnson and Barnet council have greatly worsened conditions for cyclists at this junction. There will be a fatality there as a result of this redesign. TFL take note.

This pattern is being repeated all over the city and calls into question how genuine Boris/TFL are about their desire to grow cycling. My personal view is that TFL are conflicted about this issue. Cycling measures do not generate much positive cash flow for them (like bus fares). Although cycling measures are highly efficient in cash terms, the benefits are indirect and accrue in other organisations, like the NHS. Put simply, it’s hard for TFL to do something which might lessen the Oyster take if the savings don’t go to TFL too. That is where the Mayor should step in to provide direction that looks to London’s future overall. It’s his job to see beyond the conflicting interdepartmental agendas and provide guidance in London’s best interests. Growing cycling now, helps with air quality, health, congestion and yes… social equity. We all pay for the roads! We want our share of the pie! If you want something to happen, you allocate resources. Come on Boris!

But what about the cuts? Can we afford all this engineering? For cyclists?

We spend a fortune on the roads now. Can we afford that? It’s a question of equity. At any budget level, the question is about how you allocate funds or indeed how you allocate space. Here is one way of looking at it:

Choose a statement –

  • Cycling is good and is to be encouraged
  • Cycling is neither good nor bad – do it if you wish
  • Cycling is bad and is to be discouraged

From this there follows –

  • Provision should lead demand (social engineering)
  • Provision should try to match demand (libertarian)
  • Provision should trail demand (social engineering)

Cycling makes up a significant percentage of London traffic. By any measure, we are massively discouraging cycling by the level of investment. Even if TFL were only trying to match demand, they should be spending well over 5% of their total budget on various forms of cycling provision. A genuine request is always accompanied by a wheelbarrow full of money you know. If they really want to encourage cycling how about 20%…?  Dream on Londonneur!  😉

So yes, there is plenty of money for whatever facilities we can dream up. There is also plenty of space… if we reallocate some of it away from its current use. There is a democratic issue here. Many Londoners want to ride their bikes. We want our money spent on that, not on making things worse for us, as at Blackfriars or Henley’s Corner and elsewhere.

The fact is that this can be a good thing for all road users, even the taxis! London just has too many vehicles on its roads. I have seen it get worse and worse for years to the point now where it is just a huge car park in many areas. It just seems too nasty out there for many people to feel comfortable riding their bikes despite the fact that cycling is far from a hazardous activity . If it looks inviting, many people will ditch their cars and ride a bike. If it looks safe, many people will let their children ride to school. Imagine easing the school run congestion or having cleaner air to breath. For those who drive for a living, the absence of a load of motor commuters can only help.

I’ve been riding all these “dangerous” junctions for years without problems but I know that I am somewhat unusual. I have gotten used to managing the various risks dynamically as I go. I am highly assertive to the point that I don’t even know I am doing it. But, unlike our Mayor, I can see that not everyone can just, be like me. Cycling should be an easy choise available to all.

Hear me Boris! You know we are right on this. Do what your heart is telling you.

On the Tour Du Danger, the truth is, it felt so much better to just relax and have space that was just for us on these roads… Without fear.


Another hugh thanks to the organisers and everyone who came! I hope you enjoy this video of the day

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