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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

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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.

-L

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.

-L

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.

-L

Clarkson talks tosh – Update

After a slightly too long delay, I have received a reply to my complaint about Top Gear. Andy Wilman the Executive Producer of the show has been busy answering not only my complaint but that of others I am aware of. He completely fails to address the main thrust of my issue with what was said on the show.

You can see my original complaint here.  I have included his response and my answer at the end of this post.

A transcript of the dialogue from Top Gear is available here with thanks to the wonderful Carlton Reid.

It is now time to escalate the response to all this. The simple issue is that the BBC operate under strict public service guidelines as opposed to say The Telegraph or any other privately owned organisation that Mr. Clarkson may work for. If you want to see JC apologise on air, the best way is for us all to complain to OFCOM.

Complain to OFCOM here. I have…

You may also wish to contact the Executive Producer of Top Gear directly. He is Andy Wilman – andy.wilman@bbc.co.uk

He says:

Thank you for your feedback about Top Gear broadcast on 6 February 2011 and indeed thank you for pointing out that the Road Tax doesn’t exist and that we pay the Vehicle Excise Duty. Firstly, please accept my apologies for the delay in replying.

I know Top Gear is hardly the shining beacon of shows for dispensing factual information but the truth is, we do know that Road Tax doesn’t exist. However, we used the term Road Tax because it’s a colloquialism for the Vehicle Excise, the same as “quid” is for pounds, and in a chatty news such as ours, we’re not going to come out with a formal mouthful such as “Vehicle Excise Duty”. Likewise, strictly speaking, our presenters are supposed to say metres and kilograms, but they still say “yards” because that’s an informal vernacular that people are used to.

We’re also fully aware that the VED is based on vehicle emissions, and that cyclists don’t produce emissions, but Jeremy’s point was that if motorists are paying into the government coffers for the act of motoring, (and even if that money does not necessarily go into road building they are still paying a tax before they go on the road), then motorists should be given due respect by militant cyclists on the road. It is an extreme view, but it’s hardly going to shape any serious policy on road use.

I hope this clarifies to some degree, the piece that you refer to in the show.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.

Yours sincerely

Andy Wilman
Executive Producer
Top Gear

To which I have replied:

“then motorists should be given due respect by militant cyclists on the road. It is an extreme view, but it’s hardly going to shape any serious policy on road use.”

This drivel says it all…

What he (JC) said was that cyclists(militant or otherwise) “deserve” road rage attacks and/or being cut up. Suggesting violence against another group is a kind of ignorant bigotry that is well outside of your remit! Please don’t patronise me by suggesting that JC is not going to influence policy so it doesn’t matter what he says. Your response tells me all I need to know about how seriously you take your responsibilities as a broadcaster.

As I said in my complaint, normal people who ride bikes for transport (You use “militant” as a means of marginalizing my views) regularly are the victims of harassment by motorists operating under a false sense of entitlement. The most cursory research reveals that cyclists subsidise motorists through the tax system. Don’t believe me, after all I am a “militant”. Believe the IFS. please see:  http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/14930/1/14930.pdf

“Why, in theory, should a government be concerned to change consumer behaviour through the use of fuel duty? The argument is that the costs of motoring exceed the private costs faced by an individual motorist. There are environmental costs, noise costs, road-damage costs and congestion costs which people may not factor into their decision about whether and how much to drive. This means that the costs to society of motoring exceed the costs to the individual, which will lead to a level of motoring that is both inefficiently high and inefficiently cheap from a social perspective. The duty is therefore a way of forcing the private motorist to take account of these social costs.”

Your response to JC inciting violence against a vulnerable group is completely inadequate and I will be launching a formal complaint with the regulator. I do not pay my licence fee so some twat can tell the general population that I “deserve” to be attacked. You are not paid to promote violence. As the EP you should really know better.

The simple fact, is that, if OFCOM receive enough complaints they will sanction the program makers. The issue here is not that Jeremy is well…. Jeremy. We all know who/what he is. The issue is about the public service remit of the BBC. Let’s see if OFCOM think they have breached the editorial guidelines that they MUST work within. Go for it!

-L

Clarkson talks tosh

I woke up this morning feeling angry. Jeremey Clarkson used not “paying road tax” as a reason to ignore the complaint of a cyclist. Propagating this nonsense is not on.

Complain here

I did:

Top Gear Feb 6 2011 BBC2

Around the 23rd minute Mr. Clarkson made reference to paying “Road Tax” in a context clearly ment to mean that drivers have more right to the roads then others, in this case cyclists. He also stated that “Cyclists need to behave”.

The most cursory possible investigation reveals that NO ONE pays Road Tax and that the roads are paid for by all for all to use.

Please see:

http://ipayroadtax.com/

In fact cyclists subsidise other road users acording to the IFS:

http://thecyclingsilk.blogspot.com/2011/01/transport-policy-again.html

This is old news. The issue here is simply that Mr Clarkson is a paid journalist and should be(is) well aware of the facts. His comments are worthy of an ignorant pub know it all and fall well below the standards we expect from the BBC.

He either has no idea what he is talking about or is simply lying to generate interest.

Why do I care?

I work for several London authorities as a Cycling Instructor. One of the problems on our roads is the bullying of cyclists on the basis that they “do not belong on our roads”, “we pay for the roads” etc.

This is the view of the DFT too:

http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roadsafety/research/rsrr/theme1/researchreport/

How do his ignorant comments fit in with the idea of Public Service under which the BBC is constituted? Cyclists(who also mostly drive as well) do not need media figures propagating this sort of tosh.

He should make an apology, prominently, on the next show and clarify the position. Perhaps he could interview someone from the IFS and get them to do a lap of the track. Can accountants drive?

I would like to see this turn into an opportunity to spread some truth into an area of discourse that is currently blighted by BS.

The episode is available on iPlayer . The offensive comments start at about minute 21, including comments like, “they(cyclists) deserve it”. “it”, being cut up and having Road Rage attacks against them.  Have a look and please complain… if you are so moved.

-L

Statistics

The world of cycling is suffused with stats. The need to be accurate and root out any bias is paramount. But sometimes it is so much easier than that.

Recent surveys confirm that many people who drive (let’s call it 30% ish… now that’s accurate!) do not think people on bikes should be in the road because of something to do with not paying “Road Tax” or some such tosh… sigh. There is an excellent writeup of the survey on BikeHub.

Here’s another good stat:

No matter how it’s measured, slightly below 50% of people are of below average intelligence (a proven fact!) so it follows logically that the 30% mentioned above are the thick end of a wedge of idiots.

Revenue raised from drivers doesn’t even meet the wider cost to society. Effectively, when you ride your bike YOU are the one subsidising someone in their car! There is a great post on this courtesy of The Cycling Silk.

-L