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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ndru said...

Very good post as always Mark. I was very happy to see so many people on Blackfriars Bridge. Indeed it seems we are only scraping the surface, when the problem lies at the foundation. I do hope that CEoGB manages to take off because I fail to see any kind of realy visionary approach and any kind of strategy from LCC.
The places you mention are those, which "lack space for cycle tracks", cycle tracks which would basically mean, that no one really cares if the cars are doing 20 or 30, because they are on a separate road, so to speak. So while I was only too happy to carry that "Keep it 20" sign on my bike (I keep seeing myself a lot all over the net now :) ) I feel, that this is not really the message that's important. And seeing the design proposed by LCC for Blackfriars it seems that their vision of cycling paradise might be different from what people really need to start cycling en masse.
In my opinion the LCC principles have to change long before we can ask TfL to reconsider it's core (if misguided) principles.
Just to clarify, I have high hopes for LCC, while I was very sceptic about it some time ago - this was due to an email exchange with Tom Bogdanowicz, who gave me all kinds of reasons why we can't have safe cycle tracks in London - I don't want to antagonise people - I would like to see a strong strategy from LCC to oppose that of TfL - at the moment this is the only chance I see for any change.

Anonymous said...

great post, mark...

ndru - of course, in the real world, there's plenty of space for wide cycle lanes and safe junctions in most of london. pessimistic cycle campaigners who settle for useless bits of badly-built infrastructure (and 'vehicular cyclists' who don't acknowledge that cyclists, unlike cars, are vulnerable flesh and bone) are as much a part of the problem as tfl.

inconvenient_truth said...

excellent post, Mark. Agree with all that you say. It's so important to analyse wider transport policy in order to understand the place our cycling ghetto has in the greater scheme of things.

I suspect LCC's problems are not dissimilar to the historical difficulties of Sustrans and CTC. Once they have an opportunity to access large funds for cycling projects, clear fundamental principles go out the window in the interests of "doing the possible". Thus the Sustrans call in the early 90's for infrastructure fit and safe for an 11 year old cyclist was quietly forgotten when the opportunity to finance a lower-standard national cycle network arose.

As a member of a local (Darlington) Cycling Campaign, we find it equally saddening that our national organisation (Cyclenation) fails to adopt clear and well-known policies required to move towards mass cycling - 20mph residential streets and high quality separated cycle paths on busy roads.

As those of us who have got a tape measure out to compare such roads with their continental equivalents know, there is indeed enough space. What is lacking is political will and engineering imagination.

ibikelondon said...

@ndru @anonymous @Richard Thanks for your feedback on this issue. The more I look in to this issue the more important I see it is to dig deep and find out who is really putting a stop to our cities becoming more progressive and pleasent places.

With regards your points about the LCC, in their defence they do seem to be upping their game a lot recently and have been proactive on the Blackfriars issue. And their new Chief Exec states in the latest edition of their magazine that they are absolutely pro-segregation where appropriate. I wait to see this in action but welcome even seeing it written down, which is a first for them.

Anyone who is, as you describe, a 'pessimistic cycle campaigner' really needs to check their notes. It is only be asking for the really big wins that we are likely to achieve the small ones. If we set out just asking for the small stuff from the outset, we'll only get less than that again.

As for my post, TfL's network assurance team are my new target and firmly locked in to my blogging cross hairs!

Tim Lennon said...

Anon is wrong to blame vehicular cyclists. As Gaz points out in his post today ( most people who are vehicular cyclists do it for their own safety.

Mark, another to-the-point piece of analysis, and a very good observation on how TfL choose to interpret what they're meant to be doing.

(Putting asdide the obvious observation that TfL could have smoother (=faster) flow for cars if they helped cyclists move around safely, away from cars ...)

ibikelondon said...

Tim, I quite agree - with regards to VC it is important to distinguish between those who use VC as a useful tool for surviving on the roads in their current form (that's pretty much all of us), and those who use VC as a campaigning stance for growing cycling, which clearly is just a bit mad. I really enjoyed reading Gaz's piece.

christhebull said...


I do feel that, just as there are places with unsuitable cycle lanes squeezed into the existing roadspace with the same number of lanes for general traffic; there are places where VC "best practice" is used by planners to justify something unsuitable and unprogressive - eg the Stupidhighway proposals for Vauxhall Bridge which replace a pathetically narrow cycle lane with some blue squares, whereas a true cycling revolution that is not just a half hearted attempt to relieve pressure from other modes would see cycle tracks along busy routes in line with the "degrees of separation" idea. Just because one may have the skills to navigate Parliament Square, it doesn't mean that anyone should use training to justify maintaining the TfL "network assurance" regeme.

Anonymous said...

yes, just to be clear, i am referring to the ideological 'vehicular cyclists' who campaign against protected space for cycling even on busy main roads (and who have done no end of harm by assuming, wrongly, that everyone wants to act as they do), not those who engage in 'vehicular cycling' as a form of self-preservation...

Jim said...

Excellent post Mark! On the subject of 'network assurance', I would just add that government guidance is very clear that 'smoothing traffic flow' should not take automatic priority over other policy priorities, such as the safety of cyclists or pedestrians. The guidance couldn't really be clearer on this point, so TfL really don't have any statutory backup for their position that traffic flow comes first.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks for the tip Jim! Indeed, it would seem that TfL have got some questions to answer...

Anonymous said...

Rocking post +1. TFL are a deeply compromised org and will never be able to satisfy all the conflicting agendas. They just need to catch up.with the bicycle I guess... Proper leaders would help.

Paul M said...

Good post Mark. You might want to add that TfL currently has its draft Network Operating Strategy document out for public consultation, and cyclists, pedestrians, teachers etc might like to pass comment on it. This link takes you to the document itself and to a web page where you can enter freeform narrative comments on the document – no multi-choice answers to leading questions.

I would encourage as many people as possible to go to the page and have their say on how TfL’s approach to its streets network place undue emphasis on motor vehicles, and how they are failing in their statutory duty to consider the interests of other road users, which term is defined to include pedestrians and cyclists etc and other safety or economic factors. I also commented specifically on the following:

- Cyclists’ satisfaction with the network appears well below the average scores for motorists
- While 93% of motorcyclists support the bus lane trial, only 51% of “cyclists, car and van drivers” did, and I’ll bet that this is designed to disguise a much lower approval level among cyclists alone
- The review of traffic light phasing makes meaningless claims of no disadvantage for pedestrians – the percentage having to wait more than one light cycle to cross remains in low single figures, whereas the true measure should be how long they have to wait for a single cycl e to complete (ie, a lot longer now)

Anonymous said...

I am danish and have to say that Londons way of looking at cyclists is not up to date in my views

A plan should be in place to introduce safe, and secure cycle paths away from trafic like in Denmark and Netherlands. This is the only way to ensure safe cycling and will allow London to perhaps live up to their CO2 demands proposed

If anyone knows of a group who is working to get this through i would be happy to hear about it!

ibikelondon said...

Hi Rina,

I completely agree. Having been to Copenhagen I know how much more successful and how much more pleasant it is to ride on the bicycle track system they have there. The only group that is calling all-out for this kind of infrastructure here is the Cycling Embassy if Great Britain - you should look them up and get involved!


inconvenient_truth said...


Cycling Embassy if Great Britain is not the only organisation. There are many grass roots groups fighting in their own town or city for just this approach. `Up here in the north east of England, both Newcastle and Darlington Cycling Campaigns have a clear Copenhagenize policy. I suspect there are many others around the country who think the same. We are disappointed that Cyclenation are failing to rally groups around this clear strategy, and Darlington are currently considering disaffiliation for that reason. Could the CEGB fulfill this role, I wonder?

Just a thought. Keep up the good work in London!

ibikelondon said...


Forgive me, I was thinking nationally again when of course there are countless regional and local groups who want the same thing - some of whom are doing invaluable work (Darlington comes to mind)

With regards to your comment about CycleNation have you tried raising your point with them? The CEoGB is having an ongoing dialogue with CycleNation on this very issue and of course it's important that all different types of voices are heard.

Lastly, when are you going to make Beauty and the Bike II? I still love your film and think it is a real beacon. I'd be interested to know how the girls are getting on now, or what developments have happened in Darlington as a consequence of that and the DarLoVeLo project. I *must* come up north to visit some time soon and see some of the great work you guys are doing.

All the best from down south,


inconvenient_truth said...

Good point re CycleNation, Mark. I'll raise this with the Campaign Ctte (I'm abroad more than in Darlo at the mo).

As for BATB 2 we're on the road with BATB 1 and starting to develop ideas for 2 as we go. Sadly most of the Darlo girls, with a few great exceptions, are not currently cycling. But then the Demo Town money was not used by the council to Copenhagenize Darlington. Like many Cycle Chic groups around the country, we have the desire but not the power.

But BATB has had a deep impact on all the girls - many, I'm sure, will be cycling in September when they go off to uni!

Darlovelo continues with a wonderful worker in Annie, and women are taking to the bikes, albeit in smaller numbers than was hoped. But as we always said, it's the infrastructure that will make the biggest difference.

ibikelondon said...

"we have the desire but not the power." Indeed, the bane of us all!

Next time you have a Council cycle forum let me know if you need a speaker - I recently spoke at Kensington and Chelsea Council on this very same issue, and things seemed to go down well;

Let me know if there's anything I can do to help?

Mike said...

Looking at the dodgy TfL "Network Operating Strategy" that you linked to, page 23. A rather dubiously biased collection of questions can be found. It is this that they try to shoe-horn cycling into. Oddly they don't include anything about safety or sense-of-safety at all, in any of the assessment. (They also don't say how many cyclists they asked.). Note that they even say that the NOS /should/ include safety and encouraging cycling (see page 10)...

Is this really the document upon which the capital's transport is based on... incredible. It reads like a school child's research project.

PS p18: interesting to note that they feel that the main cause of congestion is collisions... rhetorical question: are there more serious collisions when cars are going fast or slow?

PS Maybe you should make clear that non-Londoners can also contribute to the petition etc (if they can?)

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