Time is running out to show your face for Blackfriars!

Time is running out for London's everyday and ordinary cyclists to show that they expect better of Transport for London and more from their Mayor when it comes to creating conditions which encourage walking and cycling.  It's now just a few weeks until the diggers are planned to roll across Blackfriars to widen the lanes for traffic, rip out the 20mph signs and introduce a 1960's planner's dream of a motorway-style junction; and this where bicycles outnumber private motor vehicles at peak times and where already the most space is given over to traffic.

Blackfriars montage

Where Blackfriars leads, other schemes are bound to follow.  The pursuit of "network assurance" (ie smoothing traffic flow) is not only a Mayoral policy, it intentionally serves to discriminate against those who are on buses, bikes and on foot in order to ensure those in cars aren't delayed.  I don't want anyone who has to drive to be any more delayed than is necessary, but neither do I want them to be accommodated to the detriment of my safety and comfort.  As I wrote previously;

"It is 'network assurance' which stops Oxford Street from becoming the pedestrian paradise it ought to be, and it is because of 'network assurance' why the Cycle Superhighways disappear under parked cars or evaporate entirely at busy, dangerous junctions. It is also why Parliament Square remains a hideous roundabout instead of the fascinating World Heritage Site it ought to be. God forbid creating streets for people - for all people - might create a jam. Don't even TRY to cross the road in Henly Corner for fear you'll be run down by the fast moving cars which simply MUST be given priority.

Of course, Transport for London are keen to be seen as pro-cycling. Indeed, they're always encouraging Tube users to 'catch up with the bicycle'. But let there be no doubt that their incentive for doing this is to alleviate over-crowding on the railways, as oppose to aiming to create a true cycling city. Once you are off their trains and on your bike on their streets it's each to their own; you'll have to take to the roads in spite of the prevalent conditions, not because of them.

And that is why TfL have been busy trying to increase the speed limit and strip out the cycle lanes on Blackfriars. Their 1960s-style obsession with accommodating motorised traffic at all costs is to the detriment of all others. It's why you don't see kids riding to school across Blackfriars in the morning, and why cycling's modal share in London remains pitifully low. "
And so Blackfriars has become a 'watershed' battleground for everyone who wants a  better city in which to live and move.  The London Cycling Campaign is mounting a photo petition asking everyone who wants a safer more equitable city to show the Mayor their faces and join the many 100s like those in the photograph above (click on the picture to see it enlarged and see the wide range of people who believe that Blackfriars must be kept 20mph and re-designed for the 21st Century).  Time is running out to add your voice, so don't delay - take your photo today and email it to blackfriars-photo@lcc.org.uk

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Practical Town Bike Reviews; the Brompton M2L

Our occasional series of practical town bike reviews continues.  Most recently we reviewed the Moulton TSR2, today it's the turn of that other British small-wheel bike manufacturer; Brompton.


The purpose of these reviews is to point out great and good bicycles available; I am convinced that so many would-be London cyclists are sold such a pup when they visit certain High Street bicycle stores that it puts them off cycling for ever, so here we're putting the spot light on bikes that will make you fall in love with riding in the city forever.

Brompton have been around a lot longer than you might think - the original patent for the distinctive 'curved arch' top tube design was registered in 1979 by designer Andrew Ritchie, and from small beginnings in a bedroom workshop, the company is now the largest British manufacturer of bicycles.  There are countless combinations of components that the discerning Brompton owner can chose from, but the frame design stays essentially the same.


It's in the city that the Brompton feels most at home; I don't believe there is a comparable bike on the market that folds as small, and indeed as comfortably, which allows you to ease from being a cyclist to a bus rider in seconds, or to stow your means of transport under your desk where it is safe (try doing that with your car!)  When I first received the lovely deep claret Brompton I rode for this review it took me a few efforts - and one bruised thumb - to really get to grips with the folding and unfolding mechanism.  It's a bit like learning to tie your shoe laces for the first time, or one of those infuriating little metal puzzles you get in Christmas crackers - seemingly impossible and fiddly the first time you do it, but before long you are flicking your bike up and down with the most deft slight of hands.

The model I test rode was an M2L - 'M' stands for the distinctive (and extremely popular) M-shaped handlebars which offer a very upright riding position for such a small bike and good control of the machine as you're whizzing along to work or the shops.  The '2' is for the 2-speed derailleur which came with this model (and what an ingenious thing, the folding derailleur is!) whilst L refers to the kind of back rack fitted.  Where this bike trumps its competitors is the sheer volume of combinations a customer can choose from when buying their bike; you can get 2-speed derailleurs, 3-speed hub gears, hub dynamos with attached lights, rear racks, telescopic seat posts, or even all-titanium componentry if weight is your thing.  The possibilities are endless!  And there's a paint box of colour choices too.  Indeed, if you can't decide on one colour, why not go for a multi-coloured one?  The choice is yours... 


I'm used to cruising around town on a big upright Dutch bike, so riding the Brompton was a mildly 'fish out of water' experience for me.  I was astonished at how light, nippy and responsive the bike felt, but terrified at the sensation of the rear wheel which flaps like a tail fin when you really put in some effort.  In the same breath the bike veritably hops, skips and jumps around potholes, tight corners and over bumps in the road - it feels incredibly responsive.  Whilst the rear triangle and suspension block makes for a comfortable ride, you'll feel every vibration in the road through the handlebars which can be quite disconcerting at first.  2 gears were more than enough for cruising around town, but if I was to buy one for myself I'd probably go for a 3-speed hub dynamo to keep the gears internal and protected.
Likewise, it takes some time to build up trust in a bike frame which essentially has been snapped in two by design and then held together with some slightly rudimentary looking steel clips.  At first I felt incredibly exposed riding around on such a small bike, but its responsiveness, speed and performance soon showed me that technology outweighs first impressions and I had nothing to be worried about.  I've seen people racing these bikes like mad men at the Smithfield Nocturne (and often winning), and if it's good enough for them it's good enough for me and my decidedly more meagre requirements.


There are a few inherent problems with the design; although you can choose from flat top, M shaped or 'S' handlebars, you can't adjust the height of the handlebars themselves.  And if you are exceptionally tall, I'm not sure if this is the bike for you, although a heavier telescopic seat post is available.
A bike which combines speed and comfort is a rare thing indeed; even rarer is a bike you can unfold from a tiny package in a matter of seconds, which has only got 16" wheels, and yet which keeps up with the big boys on any London road.  Even with just the well-spaced 2-speed derailleur gears the Brompton cruises along briskly; put a bit of kick in to your pedal and the wind races through your hair.  If there was anything I found most astonishing about the bike (and there is certainly plenty to admire in its design) it was this; the fact you can go from carrying a small folded frame with you to riding at speed in the streets in a few moments is nothing short of an engineering marvel.

And the best thing about the Brompton is undoubtedly the inherent flexibility in choosing a bike which can fit in the smallest of apartments safely, or which even lets the office junior with the small corner desk have room for a bike (without having to wait for an executive parking space to become available!)  Going to the opera?  Check your bike in at the cloakroom.  Live too far away to ride all the way home?  Take your bike on the train, on the bus, or even in the overhead locker on an aeroplane, and become a multi-mode rider.


And for those of you who need to carry more than just yourselves around, Brompton sell a whole array of bespoke luggage to go with their bikes which wouldn't look out of place in any board room.  Choices, choices, choices!  When I started to look in to all the different ways you can set these bikes up I felt positively spoilt.  And you can get some models on the Government Ride To Work scheme.  Would I buy one?  You bet I would...  Why?  Because despite all their engineering largesse, their eminent practicability and indeed their relative comfort, these bikes are FUN!  When was the last time someone said that about a Ford Focus?  Why settle for the mediocre when you can own a truly astonishing machine which fits in to your life, as opposed to the other way around?


Brompton have an extensive network of world wide dealers and are available to order via good quality local bike shops, for further information and specifications check out their website.

This review is formed of my own feelings and opinions; I have not received cash or favours from the bike designer or their associates in return for this review.

Are you a practical town bike designer? Get in touch via the ‘About Me’ section if you’d like me to test your ride!

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Blackfriars; let's make it a bridge for you and me

The battle for Blackfriars rumbles on...

We've established that TfL's proposed designs are anti-cycling, anti-pedestrian and can't demonstrably be shown to make things better for air quality, for safety or even for the economy.  (Indeed, the last person to be hit on the northern junction was an eminent Doctor - how much is her recuperation time costing the economy?)

There's a risk, outside of cycling circles, that we forget what a tabloid view some of our movers and shakers who run London actually have about cycling.  To them, we don't count because we're a bunch of bearded yoghurt-knitting harpies who don't deserve to be taken seriously.  They could never imagine that these packed bike racks could be at one of the Square Mile's most prestigious firms, or that the chief correspondent for the Evening Standard might also be a cyclist, or a famous Hollywood A-lister likes it best when he makes it around London on a push bike.  Even the president of the Automobile Association rides a bike here and thinks Blackfriars needs to be improved for cyclists.

People who care about Blackfriars (you, my dear readers) and recognise that it is just the tip of the TfL 'network assurance' iceberg - have been doing a fantastic job of writing, petitioning and protesting.  Indeed, I've never experienced so many cyclists in London all agreeing at the same time that 'something' must be done.  But sometimes these more traditional means of protest are not enough; sometimes we need to show the faces of the everyday and ordinary cyclists and pedestrians who want to see change in our city.  Those tabloid views of our safety and comfort somehow not being important need to be challenged outright.  So the London Cycling Campaign is leading the way and stepping the Blackfriars campaign up a gear...

On the issue of Blackfriars the LCC have been proactive and professional throughout and I've been more impressed with them on this issue than I have been before.  And having launched a new, fully interactive website, they're now taking a step in the social media direction with the latest part of their Blackfriars campaign.

They want you, the people who care about Blackfriars, and space for people, and safe cycling conditions, and a better city for all, to show your faces and send a photo message for the Mayor, Boris Johnson.  From street sweepers to executive bankers, the LCC is inviting us to snap a picture and send it to them for their photo petition.  Hopefully enough people will join in and send a clear and truly spectacular message that lots and lots of us want change.  Maybe we can get enough photos to line the entire length of Blackfriars Bridge itself?

Snap your kids on their bikes, take a photo on your commute home, sit for a portrait in your office.  Be as creative or as sensible as you like, and email your photo to the LCC via their website, here. In the age of camera phones and digital snappers, how hard can it be?

Tell your friends and get going; if we all keep plugging away at this issue, who knows, we might just win the battle for Blackfriars!

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Boris! Give us streets for people!

Before I moved to London I would drive in to the city occasionally, on streets like the Old Kent Road, the South Circular, the Purley Way or via the Elephant and Castle roundabout.  I'd wonder where the people were, why there was such a proliferation of low-rent fried chicken shops, and whether indeed the entire city was like this.  Then I'd blow my horn at the inattentive driver ahead of me and forget about it all.

Transport for London are in charge of those major streets, our 'red routes', and these routes blight us all.  They are uniformly dirty, dangerous and stuffed with traffic to the exclusion of all others.  The buildings along them are usually shabby, smog-stained and either boarded up or rented out to cheap enterprises like the aforementioned chicken shops, betting parlours or converted for use in to mildly exotic budget African churches.  Traffic noise along them is usually so loud that it is not possible to maintain a conversation with other pedestrians if you are walking, and at peak times the air is often foul smelling and filthy.  (Indeed, ask any visitor to London and they'll tell you about the horrifying experience of discovering their bogies have turned grey from breathing in all that lovely London air.)  But these routes are not just limited to outer London - TfL is also in charge of streets like Park Lane, Regents Street and, of course, Blackfriars Bridge and they all exist with one aim: to get as many vehicles through them as quickly as possible.

Cyclists protest on Blackfriars Bridge

"The battle for Blackfriars" has been rumbling on for a long time now.  Ever since TfL first proposed their terrifying redesign of the bridge, cyclists and pedestrians have been calling, emailing, blogging, petitioning and protesting in the hope of getting this bridge turned not in to an urban motorway but in to a space for all - and a safe one at that.  Things came to a peak of publicity last week when Tory members of the London Assembly walked out of the chamber rather than debate a motion calling on Transport for London to retain the 20mph limit currently in place on the Bridge.  More and more people are waking up the debate and realising that Blackfriars is just the tip of the iceberg, and that if as Londoners we want streets which are open, safe, fair and accessible for all then Transport for London is a barrier to that desire.

TfL have, under law, an obligation to 'keep London moving'.  They are governed by a rule called the Traffic Management Act 2004 which states that TfL's obligation is to ensure the expeditious movement of traffic on its own road network; and facilitate the expeditious movement of traffic on the networks of others.  This is all well and good, but how is TfL interpreting this rule?  My take is that 'traffic' must of course include people on bike, and people on foot, and people on buses - people who have jobs to go to, shops to spend in, schools to teach at.  Indeed, the law is explicit on this issue too: “traffic” includes pedestrians, cyclists and “motorised vehicles – whether engaged in the transport of people or goods.” (Traffic Management Act 2004, Section 31, and DfT Traffic Management Act 2004, Network Management Duty Guidance, DfT page 4, paragraph 10). (Links via Cycle of Futility blog)

But are other road users being taken in to account when it comes to the management and design of our roads?  Or is it all about the movement of cars?  The excellent Cycle of Futility blog has looked in to TfL's Operating Strategy to see how they measure "keeping traffic moving", and his findings are telling in the extreme:

TfL’s Draft Network Operating Strategy (May 2011) explains how this Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) objective is translated into reality:

The key measure for smoothing traffic flow set out in the MTS is journey time reliability .(p14)

And how is this measured?

Journey time reliability scope includes all classes of light good vehicles, Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV’s) and cars. (p14 – footnote 2)

So there you have it. Pedestrians don’t count. Cyclists don’t count. Buses don’t even count.And the results of this approach to managing our streets is there for all of us to see....

Second class citizens.

In Elephant & Castle it is TfL which is blocking the creation of a signficant pedestrian square which would allow thousands of foot passengers faster access to the newly developed Tube station - they want to keep the Elephant & Castle as a hostile car-centric roundabout because the pedestrian plan would "slow down traffic too much".

It is TfL's pursuit of 'network assurance' which has kept this killer junction in Camden; allowing vulnerable road users to continue to die here rather than slow down or decrease capacity for motorised traffic.

It is 'network assurance' which stops Oxford Street from becoming the pedestrian paradise it ought to be, and it is because of 'network assurance' why the Cycle Superhighways dissapear under parked cars or evaporate entirely at busy, dangerous junctions.  It is also why Parliament Square remains a hideous roundabout instead of the fascinating World Heritage Site it ought to be. God forbid creating streets for people - for all people - might create a jam.  Don't even TRY to cross the road in Henly Corner for fear you'll be run down by the fast moving cars which simpy MUST be given priority.

Of course, Transport for London are keen to be seen as pro-cycling.  Indeed, they're always encouraging Tube users to 'catch up with the bicycle'.  But let there be no doubt that their incentive for doing this is to alleviate over-crowding on the railways, as oppose to aiming to create a true cycling city.  Once you are off their trains and on your bike on their streets it's each to their own; you'll have to take to the roads in spite of the prevalent conditions, not because of them.

And that is why TfL have been busy trying to increase the speed limit and strip out the cycle lanes on Blackfriars.  Their 1960s-style obsession with accomodating motorised traffic at all costs is to the detriment of all others.  It's why you don't see kids riding to school across Blackfriars in the morning, and why cycling's modal share in London remains pitifully low.  Kulveer Ranger is fond of telling us that "It’s staggering that half of all car trips in outer London are less than two miles in length, a distance you can cover on a bike in around 10 minutes."  Any ideas why all those people don't want to ride in the current conditions, Kulveer?

And as the above examples show, it's not just about us cyclists; it's about people who want to be able to get on the Tube at Elephant and Castle, or do their shopping without fear of breathing in dangerously high levels of traffic fumes.  It's about people wanting a fair and balanced and safe and pleasurable city.  This very policy is why those corridors like the Old Kent Road are littered with the corpses of formerly succesful cinemas, fried food outlets and harried people scurrying from door to door.  The cost of creating spaces which prioritise the smooth and expeditious movement of traffic is the creation 'no go zones' which are not only deeply unpleasent places to be, they are practically undemocratic.

Streets for people?

When Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogotá, spoke in London on how he made his city a better place to be for all, he was clear on what needed to be done: "Choosing between a city friendly to people or a city friendly to cars is a conflict... ..Often, injustice is right before our noses but we are so used to seeing it we don't even notice it. 
    Under our - and most - constitutions, all people are equal under the law.  Therefore, a bus with 100 passengers has 100 x the right to access and space as a single occupancy car.  Likewise, a child on a tricycle has the same rights as a motorist.  This is not about being anti-car, this is about equality for all"

If Boris Johnson really wants London to become a 'cyclised city' he needs to take a leaf out of Peñalosa's book and wrestle with his traffic planning dinosaurs at TfL first.  Until then, our city will continue to be a traffic-clogged, smoggy, noisy, dangerous hostile place for all.  No one that I know, whether a cyclist, a pedestrain or a car driver, wants to live in a city like that or impose those conditions on other people simply so they can get to work 5 minutes faster.

So a clear choice is emerging; streets for cars or streets for people.  What's it to be, Boris?

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Street Talks 4: Andrew Cameron on designing great streets

It's almost time for the next Street Talk from the Movement for Liveable London - and the timing couldn't be better!  For all the debate thatis swirling around at present about the Blackfriars Bridge redesign and everyone complaining about the roads we've got, Andrew Cameron, Director of Urban Design at WSP Group will be talking about the Manual for Streets 2; the very bible that designers use to plan and build the spaces between buildings.


Come along to discuss priority over side streets (essential for succesful cycle paths), the good and the bad of street design, and how we can go about re-balancing the places where we live.

As always, there will be a friendly crowd and all are welcome upstairs at the Yorkshire Grey pub, 2 Theobalds Road, from 6PM next Tuesday the 14th June.  Food is available, the ales are great and Andrew's talk will start about 7PM - get there early to guarantee a seat.

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Your packed week of cycling events ahead...

Summer is here and that means the cycling social calendar is stepping up a gear... Here's a round-up of some of the many cycling events, big and small, taking place in the capital over the following week...

Blackfriars vote
London Assemble, City Hall - Wednesday 8th June

Cyclists and pedestrians alike will watch in anticipation as the London Assembly votes to support the retention the 20mph speed limit on Blackfriars Bridge.  Not signed your support for the motion yet? Do it now at the London Cycling Campaign website.

London: World Naked Bike Ride - 5 of 5

World Naked Bike Ride London
Saturday 11th June - 3PM, Hyde Park

Look out London, here come a thousand naked people on bikes!  It's an annual tradition on the London cycling calendar and all kinds of cyclists, young, old, big, small strip off to ride their bikes for a leisurely 7 mile spin through the city. Some say it's about oil dependance, others about road safety.  Some just go 'cos they like to feel the wind in all of their hair, and its certainly a unique experience!  If you've not been before don't be put off by the slightly daunting gaggle of photographers at the start (you can always keep your clobber on until you get going), but a happy, welcoming chilled-out clothes-free vibe is guaranteed.  And it's one to tell the Grandchildren about when you're old and wrinkly, after all...  Riders gather in Hyde Park from 3PM, full details on the website (contains nudity!), and don't forget your sunscreen!

Smithfield Nocturne
Saturday 11th June - 16:00 to 22.30

It's one of my favourite cycling events of the year, and the 5th Annual Smithfield Nocturne promises to be a scorcher...  Penny Farthing races, longest skid competitions, roller rig racing, clash of the Bromptons in the folding bike sprint, and of course some seriously competitive professional cycling all "up close and personal" on the streets around Smithfield Meat Market on a closed night time track.  Arrive early to guarantee a spot to lock your bike, bring some beers with you, catch up with cycling friends and have a jolly good time.  Extra points for banging the crowd barriers and shouting "Allez! Allez!" as the riders pass.  Or maybe that's just me?  The full schedule for the evening, plus lists of the professional race line up is all on the IG Markets Nocturne website.


London Night Bike Hike
Saturday 11th June, over night to Sunday 12th June

As you wobble perilously home from Smithfield, do keep your eyes peeled for a couple of hundred fool-hardy souls taking part in the London Night Bike Hike; the 'Nightrider'.  Setting off from Crystal Palace late on Saturday night the riders will complete a 100km circular tour taking in some of central London's most famous sites across zombie apocalypse-style deserted streets at 3AM.  Do give these charity fundraising riders a cheer if you see them! Places for next year's ride are already filling up fast.

Tour de Dalston and Cycle Sunday
Sunday 12th June - all afternoon

The Two Degrees Festival at Toynbee Studios offers bicycle riding bingo, bike-led graffiti tours of East London, pimp my bike and rider training sessions as part of Sunday's festival programme, culminating in the 'Tour de Dalston', a family-friendly bike ride connecting neighbourhoods and celebrating bicycles and camaraderie.  Le Tour leaves Toynbee Studios at 6PM and winds its way to the Curve Gardens in Dalston; follow @TourdeDalston on Twitter for updates and leave your EPO at home!  Check out the Two Degrees website for full details and a downloadable programme.

Open Garden Weekend Bike Rides
Saturday and Sunday, 11th and 12th June 

If two-wheeled nudity or a ride around the East End aint your thing, how about a more leisurely afternoon visiting some of London's most beautiful private gardens by bike?  Open Gardens Weekend sees the doors thrown open to the public at 100s of gardens, courtyards and private squares which are usually private.  The LCC will be leading two different guided rides, on Saturday and Sunday, taking in some of these secret gardens.  Always wanted to know what's the other side of that privet hedge?  Saddle up to find out; full details on the website here.

And if all that's not enough for you, the 4th Street Talk, on making perfect streets, is coming up on the 14th June and national Bike Week starts on the 18th with a tonne of events in and around London.

So, what are you waiting for?  Gather together your friends and families and get on your bikes and ride!

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y o u b i k e l o n d o n; Martin from Camden

Name / age?
Martin, and I was 43 the last time I checked.
Where do you live / ride to?
I live in Camden and I ride everywhere really, for my job, I work in hospitality so am often riding round to events.
What do you ride?
It's difficult to say... it's an old French frame, I got it years ago and it's my knocking about bike really.
How often do you ride?
Every day, come rain or shine.

Helmet or no helmet?
It depends on how safe I feel; what time I'm riding, that kind of thing.  If it's dark and raining and I'm riding in rush hour then generally I'll put a helmet on, but if I'm at leisure and not in a rush then I won't.
What's your primary reason for riding?
I like to keep fit, it is fun and I hate public transport.
What's your least favourite aspect of riding in London?
The wind!
Most favourite aspect of cycling in London?
Just the sense of freedom really, and not having a roof over your head as you get about.
When you're riding your bike what do you never leave the house without?
That's a good point actually, usually my Oyster card just in case I get caught out.
How many locks do you carry and have you ever had a bicycle stolen?
Yes, I always carry one big lock and then another lock to lock the wheels with.  I've had 5 going so far.
That's an impressive theft rate!
I know.. half were my fault, half weren't.  The last one was a favourite, I'd built it up gradually myself and it was a real shame.
What advice would you give an aspiring cyclist thinking of riding in London for the first time?
Just stay in your lane; don't zig zag around.  Try and get used to riding again before you go out on the road.  I find, with some of the newer cyclists you see on Boris Bikes that they sometimes zig zag between parked cars and are unpredictable - being predictable and riding in a straight line is the way to go.
Lastly, if you were Mayor for the day what would you to improve the lot of the London cyclist?
I think they've done some reasonable work in south London with the blue lanes, but I'd just finish it off properly and make the bike lanes like the M25 with no breaks in it so you get to your destination as quickly as possible.