i b i k e l o n d o n

Biking to buy: how campaigners in Whitechapel are using the money in their pocket to lobby for change


There's a sudden glut of cycle schemes on the cards in London, and the stakes couldn't be higher.  We've been monitoring how businesses and residents are rallying behind plans for central London's "Crossrail for Bikes", and yesterday we looked at top tips for campaigning for change in bike-lite outer London.  Today it's the turn of my home borough, Tower Hamlets, where campaigners are having to take a different tack to muster support from their neighbouring community.

When the original Cycle Superhighways were laid out in Boris Johnson's first term as Mayor, not all Cycle Superhighways were made equal.  Some - like CS3 along Cable Street - were very good.  Others - like CS2 along the Whitechapel Road - were very bad.  Stretching from Aldgate to Bow Roundabout it was little more than blue paint splashed across the existing narrow carriageways in most places, with no actual protection for people on bikes.

 The existing CS2 (it's that blue bit under the taxi, by the parked market lorry) Picture by As Easy As Riding a Bike blog, with thanks.

Despite the lack of safety, cycling numbers climbed 32% after the introduction of CS2.  However, a series of shocking and high profile deaths - in particular that of Philippine De Gerin-Ricard at Aldgate and Brian Dorling at Bow roundabout - led to a spate of protest rides and pushes for safety improvements.  A coroner looking in to the deaths of both was particularly damning of the unprotected blue paint, with an expert witness stating that it "lulled cyclists in to a false sense of security."

Responding to criticisms of their previous designs and keen to make the route as safe as possible, Transport for London recently published proposals to upgrade the entire CS2 route from Aldgate to Bow.  At Bow Roundabout the upgrade will connect with the river Lee towpath, the Jubilee Greenway, the Olympic Park and a further stretch of separated Cycle Superhighway (CS2Ex) from Bow to Stratford which looks like this, thus creating an extensive network of connected traffic-free bike routes across the borough.

Transport for London's new plans for the upgraded CS2, seen here passing Whitechapel Market towards the City.

The plans will create some delays for other road users, including bus passengers, described in detail in this useful blog by East London Lines.  Additionally, the new Cycle Superhighway will pass directly past Whitechapel High Street market, the power base of Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman and the focus of many of his supporters.  Traders there are so concerned that restrictions on curb-side loading will damage their businesses that the Mayor has written in very strong terms to Boris Johnson, stating "This proposed design will place delivery vehicles outside the cycle lane, in the bus lane. It will disrupt bus services and bring cumbersome delivery movements involving heavy goods, waste, and pedestrians across the cycle lane, causing frequent obstruction to cyclists."  

But politics also play a part here. Rahman and the Cycling Commissioner for London Andrew Gilligan (who has spearheaded the delivery of these plans) have a long history of animosity between each other.  As a Telegraph journalist Gilligan has described Rahman as "extremist linked" and has even published a 30-item long list of serious accusations against his conduct.  As you can imagine, the idea that Gilligan the commissioner might now be taking out traffic lanes and pushing bike tracks through the heart of Rahman's support base is considered to be more than a little affront.

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A "bus stop bypass" under construction on CS2ex in Stratford in 2013.

Local cycle group Tower Hamlets Wheelers, the borough branch of London Cycling Campaign, are keen to extend the olive branch to their neighbours.  Fully aware of the political background to the issue, they want to re-focus attention on the fact that this scheme has been devised to increase safety on a route where 6 cyclists have been killed in recent years.  And they want to show that people on bikes - of which over 2,000 a day currently pass the market by - are also good economic partners for the concerned market traders.

This Saturday they'll be leading a ride from Mile End ecology park bridge to the Whitechapel market to stage a "buy in"; a positive opportunity for cyclists to exercise their purchasing power directly with the traders, to understand some of their concerns, and to show that the market and Cycle Superhighway plans can peacefully exist together.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Wheelers said: "Bring every possible pannier, saddlebag and basket to fill with your delicious market goodies.  Together, we can show that improving cycling infrastructure can improve local business."

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Bikes and people at the centre of economic activity - here at Amsterdam's historic market in the working class De Pijp neighbourhood.

In order to earn all of the proposed changes to streets across London we are going to have to win an awful lot of hearts and minds along the way.  I like the plan to hold a "buy in" to show that, because of the power in our pockets, inviting cyclists in to your neighbourhood can only be a good thing.

Why not join the Wheelers for their ride this Saturday?  

Meet beneath the Mile End green bridge (just south of Mile End tube station) on the 25th October at 11AM before a short ride along the existing CS2 to bustling Whitechapel Market where there will be the opportunity to talk to local traders, buy fresh produce from their stalls and explore this fascinating and bustling corner of diverse London.  Afterwards the ride will roll on to a tea and cake stop.  Full details can be found here.

Can't make the ride?  

Be sure to add your e-support to the plans by responding to the consultation using this easy to use form, and to say "yes" to plans to make Tower Hamlets a 20MPH borough here.

You can check out the full plans for the CS2 upgrade on the TfL website here.

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Fighting for "Mini-Hollands" in outer London; 5 things we can learn from Walthamstow

Recently on ibikelondon we've been focusing on the fight to ensure London's "Crossrail for Bikes" get built.  But these are not the only important plans for London cyclists currently under consideration.  Later in the week we will look at some of the issues surrounding other Cycle Superhighways; today we hear about Walthamstow's "Mini-Holland" proposals, and what the struggle to get them implemented can teach other campaigners.

Walthamstow resident Ruth Standing has been out on the streets trying to drum up support for the proposals to stop rat running through the borough and to create a more inviting environment for pedestrians and cyclists. (For the full bid document, click here)  Here, in a special guest post, Ruth takes us through her experience of 'being the change she wants to see' and helping to set the agenda where she lives:


Taking the online fight to the streets of E17, in 5 simple stages:

Stage 1: Despondency
 

My journey began with a deep sense of despondency. Whatever my mood when I left the house, my daily cycle commute down Lea Bridge Road from Walthamstow to Hackney left me glum. As I dodged opening car doors and speeding drivers with their eyes glued to their mobile phones I wondered how a civilised society could create such an uncivilised transport system. Other cyclists I saw on route looked just as beaten down as me. Worst of all, I saw no political will for change amongst my elected politicians at either a national or local level.
 

Stage 2: A glimmer of hope!

I then heard that Waltham Forest council was bidding for a large chunk of government money to improve cycling infrastructure in Walthamstow. Plans were mooted for a segregated cycle lane down Lea Bridge Road and road closures in Walthamstow Village to prevent rat-running. But I was cynical. 
"I’ll believe it when it happens." And then it did happen! 
The first phase of Walthamstow’s Mini-Holland trial started just over two weeks ago. Orford Road, a narrow traffic choked strip of shops at the heart of the Village was blocked to traffic. And the transformation was incredible. The street filled with bikes, children playing, people hanging out and drinking coffee, actually talking to their neighbours. Seeing a workable alternative before my eyes made me feel well, rather emotional! I felt, for one of the first times in my life, proud of the politicians I had elected to represent me. 

 Day 1 of the trial road closure. Photo via @rosslydall with thanks.

Stage 3: Step away from the computer!

But then came the backlash from residents, annoyed that they could no longer drive exactly where they wanted. Angry petitions began to circulate both the internet and the streets.  This felt like a call to action, but just ranting on twitter to those who already shared my opinions didn’t feel like it would cut it. So I put down my phone and went to hang out on my newly reclaimed local street. Within minutes I met Jakob, a local resident armed with a clip-board and a huge smile, collecting signatures in favour of the scheme. I immediately thought"I want to help you!"
 

Stage 4: Empowerment!

Over the next two weeks I helped Jakob collect over 700 signatures (although he collected many more than me). I talked to more people from my community than I had in the previous 5 years of living in the borough. I felt empowered and buzzing with positivity and my perception of my neighbours began to shift radically. In an atomised car-sick society, you simply don’t meet your neighbours, treating each other with annoyance and suspicion. In my case, my neighbours were those who bullied me on the road whilst I was cycling. But here I was discovering that actually many of them were just like me and shared my despondency about the way our public space was being used.




Orford Rd after the street re-opened after the conclusion of the Mini-Holland trial.  Video via @rosslydall with thanks.

Stage 5: Keeping up the slog!
 

Now the job was to keep going and keep up the fight. We collected more signatures. I contacted our local paper, angry about their negative and biased coverage of the scheme. They agreed to post a short comment piece on their website. It attracted a lot of negative comments from people accusing me of being a na├»ve ‘newcomer.’  But at least that meant that people had read it. And last Thursday, we went to Waltham Forest Town Hall to present our petition to the Mayor.

All in all, I hope that I’ve made some small difference to the future of my borough.  It sure felt good to step away from the keyboard, stop moaning and do a little bit of local campaigning. I’d recommend it to you all.


A huge thanks to Ruth for sharing her thoughts on campaigning for this trial.  Here's a write up of a visitor's perception to the trial, by Cycling Weekly's Laura Laker.  What tips would you share with fellow campaigners?

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As another Londoner is killed whilst riding a bike, how DARE the Canary Wharf group talk of "damage to growth"

UPDATE: 20th October 2014 at 13.45 
This article was originally titled "as another Londonder is seriously injured riding a bike", however very sadly it was just confirmed that the female cyclist who was hit by a lorry on Friday has sadly died of her injuries. (Source)  My thoughts go to her loved ones.  My anger only grows.

A steady stream of London businesses have been pledging their support for the Mayor's ambitious new Cycle Superhighway plans - from the smallest of start ups to behemoths of the City - one after another they've come forward with comments like "build it", "great for London" and "keep our employees safe".

Last week the Evening Standard revealed the massive support among London residents for keeping our cyclists safe; 64% of those polled support the Cycle Superhighway plans as they currently stand, the majority back building segregated cycle infrastructure even if it means taking road space from other traffic and - perhaps most tellingly -  a massive 71% of those polled (who came from all economic and political backgrounds) NEVER drive in central London.  

"Brave new world", you might think, but when looking around my own office that's a simple reflection of reality.  Our Head of Investment catches the bus to work when he is staying in his London home. Our company cook rides a bike across Vauxhall Bridge every day, and loves talking about cycling with one of our most senior lawyers who has a fleet of gorgeous bicycles at her disposal.  Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Peter Anderson is the Finance Director from Canary Wharf Group.  He's also Chair of Transport for London's finance and policy committee and a member of their board.  On one hand he makes critical decisions about what sort of public transportation infrastructure does - and does not - get built. On the other hand he's one of the most senior employees of a company which has received billions of pounds of direct public support in the shape of transport connections; train lines, road tunnels, Underground routes, Crossrail.  I can remember when Canary Wharf was little more than a destitute shell on London's outskirts.  Now it is a financial powerhouse, employing thousands of people, the majority of whom come and go every day on those very trains and tubes and light railways built with public funds. (Fun fact: the majority of Canary Wharf employees live in inner London, of which only 5% drive or are driven to work - almost the same amount as arrive by bicycle according to this GLA Intelligence report)

 TfL and Canary Wharf Group's Peter Anderson

But being in receipt of billions of pounds of public investment is clearly no cause for humility in the Canary Wharf Group.  Far from it.  Their Chief Exec might tell the newspapers “As a company you have to be a good citizen and do what’s right”, but behind the scenes it seems to be another story altogether...  

The Canarf Wharf Group have admitted (to Guardian journalist Peter Walker) that an anonymous briefing paper against the Cycle Superhighway plans had come from them, and that they had been lobbying against the proposals, even sending a lobbyist stuffed with misinformation to party political conferences.  It clearly had an effect; local MP Jim Fitzpatrick has been spouting some dubious and drip-fed figures in Parliament whilst the Guardian's Dave Hill - usually a voice for cycling - has adopted a "calm down dears" attitude


On Thursday the 16th October Canary Wharf Group told the London Evening Standard "[we] believe that certain elements of the proposed east-west cycle superhighway could be improved to ensure not only that better and safer provision is made for cyclists, but that there is no damage to the growth and day-to-day operation of London."

The following day, Friday the 17th October, the same newspaper reported how a female cyclist went in to cardiac arrest on Ludgate Circus after she and her bicycle were crushed beneath the wheels of a left turning tipper lorry.  Her crash took place just a few metres from the spot where earlier this year another cyclist, Victor Rodriguez, was killed when his bicycle disappeared beneath a truck.  At least 7 cyclists have been killed or seriously injured on this one spot alone since 2008.  *see update, above.


The scene of Friday's crash on Ludgate Circus, 
Photo via @craigshepheard on Twitter with thanks.

Fourteen London cyclists were killed in 2013, six in a single two-week period alone last November.  Each one had a valuable role to play in our city: from students to eminent Doctors, from hospital porters to famous architects.  It is not just the friends and family of each of these cyclists who notice their loss, but the wider city too.  And on a purely logistical basis, each time one of these terrible tragedies occur the emergency services are scrambled, road crash investigators are roused, the roads on which they take place are closed for many hours.

How DARE the Canary Wharf Group talk about damage to the growth of London, when it is London's own who are being killed in such great numbers on our roads.  How DARE they go about briefing against these plans, seemingly more concerned about the speed of a handful of car trips vs the safety of people on bikes, when the very people who drive our city forwards are being killed on its streets. The suggestion that cyclists are somehow detrimental as oppose to central to London's economic success is a fallacy.

Olympic champion Chris Boardman described those who are briefing against these plans as "old men in limos".  But I know that the sort of people who are driven around London are fond of hard figures, not existential ideas about road justice. 
So here's some hard figures...
The two new Cycle Superhighways will carry 6,000 people on bikes every hour: that's the same as 20 Underground trains or 84 new London buses.  They will cost about the same as 0.0002% of the colossal budget allocated to build Crossrail.  They have the support of the majority of Londoners according to the latest polls, and the support of hundreds of businesses - including Deloitte, Unilever and Argent - companies hardly in the habit of being breathless about aspirational cycling projects.  600,000 journeys take place in London every day by bicycle, or 22% of the amount of journeys conducted by Tube.  This is against a backdrop of decreasing car use in central London.  In Westminster, where Mr Anderson lives, traffic volumes have fallen by approximately 25% since 2000 according to the Department for Transport.  

Assuming that something odd happens and traffic volumes don't continue to fall, and taking in to account the impact of all other proposed road schemes, and assuming that the new cycle routes will not lead to people changing their travel habits and traffic evaporation occurring, once built the average journey time in a car from the City to Whitehall will increase by a negligible 19 seconds. 

In short, bicycle transport in our city is now a big deal, a good thing, and it is not going to go away.  It's time we started to keep all of those cyclists - all of those Londoners - safe, rather than pushing for faster journey times for company directors in chauffeur driven cars.


Decline in motor traffic on major roads in Westminster '00 - '13

And here's another fact that is worth pointing out: the north / south Cycle Superhighway currently being proposed crosses the exact spot on Ludgate Hill where the cyclist was crushed on Friday and where another cyclist was killed in April.  If these plans which the Canary Wharf Group are briefing against do go ahead, cyclists will be separated in space and time at this junction from other traffic.  That is to say, there is a possibility to make safe a known problem junction where people on bikes being killed or seriously injured has become an alarming statistical probability.  Why would anyone want to brief against that?

I agree with Danny Williams at Cyclists in the City blog.  It is imperative that Peter Anderson from Canary Wharf Group has nothing to do with the funding decision for the Cycle Superhighway plans at the finance committee in November.  Furthermore, if he is to retain his positions at Transport for London he must declare his interests and disclose exactly the extent of the Canary Wharf Group's lobbying to their tenants, to journalists, to business groups and to politicians at party conferences against the Cycle Superhighway plans.

The sort of people who rise to become Financial Directors at companies like the Canary Wharf Group have an intrinsic understanding of how gambling works.  In this instance, they've played their hand, but I think they've lost.  It's time they threw in their cards.
  • For more facts on the Cycle Superhighways and their likely impact, The Guardian have churned the data to bring us this Reality Check: will Crossrail for bikes bring gridlock to central London?  
  • To find out more about the businesses pledging their support for the Cycle Superhighway plans visit CyclingWorks.London
  • To make your own contribution to the Transport for London consultation (every voice counts!) visit the proposal's designated page here.

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My Top 5 Tips for Cycle Campaigning with Social Media (You won't believe number 4!)

The London Cycling Campaign is supported by an army of volunteers who work tirelessly away behind the scenes to improve conditions for cyclists.  A number of them were honoured on Saturday with Campaigner Awards recognising their outstanding contribution, and I was pleased to be asked to present them.

Before the awards I gave a fast and furious presentation on the increasing importance of social media, and some advice on how to use social media to increase the strength of campaigns.  Of course, it would be contradictory of me if I encouraged campaigners to embrace sharing everything online if I didn't then do the same myself.  So, here's my Top 5 Tips for Cycle Campaigning with Social Media...



Special congratulations should go to Jean Dollimore from Camden, who received the Outstanding Contribution to Cycle Campaigning Award to recognise her years of tireless and successful work. Congratulations Jean!

Do you have some tips for effective campaigning? Don't forget to share them below!

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Your ride to work in the morning just inspired a whole album of music: introducing Me For Queen

The Beach Boys sang about cars. Kylie wiggled through the Locomotion. And Kraftwerk were more than a little obsessed about the Tour de France.  Music and transport have always gone hand in hand, but now riding a bicycle in London has inspired an entire new album of music by upcoming band Me For Queen.



I love how as cycling increases in popularity it inspires new cultural output; from the beautiful posters for the Grand Depart to high-end clothes dreamt up just for London riders, riding a bike has never had so much cultural cache. 

Four-piece band Me For Queen crowd sourced the production of their album, Iron Horse, and built up a name for themselves via social media before launching a few weeks ago at London's 2012 Olympic Velodrome in Stratford. (Check out the video if you missed the night, here)

Singing about everything from riding with deer in Richmond Park, to crushing on your fellow riders at the traffic lights (just another reason to stop at red), their lead single White Bike reflects on the haunting experience of witnessing a cycling crash:



Lead singer Mary Erskine's stunning vocal ability is put to work beautifully in this song, seamlessly blending with the keyboards and guitars to create a wall of sound that belies their tiny line up.  And it's genuinely affecting and poignant too, with Mary and her band mates clearly passionate about their chosen subject matter.  There's a blend of influences here too, from electro (Mary's other love) to classical (one of the band has a Classical Grammy. No really), with drums, bass and trumpets thrown in for good measure.  Think Beth Orton or Martha Wainwright with a London bent and a handful of Tijuana brass and you're on the right (cycle) track.

If like me you think the fact that something as simple as your daily commute can be magical enough to inspire people to write music is amazing, then you should check out Me For Queen online or take a look at their Facebook page and join their growing base of fans. 

The album, Iron Horse, is available for download via iTunes now and you can catch them live in Camden this Friday.  Just don't blame me if you're stuck with some beautifully crafted ear worms next time you go for a ride...

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