Tag Archives: bad

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.


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!


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:


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


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:


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.


How does this happen?

Travelling south on High Road (A1000) toward East Finchley, one may encounter the following bit of cyclo-infrastructural madness:

Is it me or is this bit of cycle lane just a total joke? It systematically takes you from one poor position to another, exposing the rider to every possible hazard en route.

  • It takes you along the “door zone” of the parking bay to the left. Getting “doored” is all too common, sadly. One should ride well away from parked cars. ( but on this day there were none )
  • This is a mandatory cycle lane (note solid line on right edge). Motorists must not cross the solid line. So how do cars using the parking bay get in and out legally?
  • It leads you along the left side of the road as you approach the side turning, leaving you vulnerable to a “left-hook”.
  • It leads you across the side road absolutely flush with the give way lines. This is the worst possible position to take when crossing a minor road.
  • At the Traffic Islands, it keeps you to the left. Again, a poor position for someone on a bike, despite the width of the lane.
  • Finally it dumps you into the “door zone” before vanishing.
  • I ride this road from time to time and often get hooted or told off for leaving the cycle lane. In fairness to the drivers, they may not realise my predicament but the existence of the cycle lane does seem to encourage people tell you where you “should” be riding.

What I can’t understand is how this stuff gets through the planning process. How can it ever get signed off? Someone using this lane as intended will experience more close calls then they otherwise would. If we intend to encourage more cycling we need to make it as pleasant an experience as possible. Is this what the engineers were thinking when they pooted this little marvel out? I think not.

What agenda is being satisfied by these sort of designs? I see the same mistakes being repeated over and over in bits of cycle infrastructure all over London. It can’t be an accident. There is some sort of process at work.  What makes me sad is the fact that so many of them are developed with the involvment of local cycling groups. Somehow the “stakeholder consultation” system is broken. Bad infrastructure does more harm then good I believe.

Personally, I am in favour of cycle lanes where they can be done well. I am hopefull that this will become easier as more and more people get on their bikes over the next decade. At some point (say above 5% modal share) it will be possible to demand large scale reallocation of road space in favour of people on bikes. Cycle lanes will work a lot better when they really are whole lanes (whole roads even) rather then a strip painted on the side of a lane. Bring it on.