Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Andrew Gilligan's Cycle Superhighways need YOUR support!

In recent weeks Boris Johnson, City Hall, and Andrew Gilligan (his cycling commissioner) have released plans for an ambitious network of dedicated, segregated cycle lanes across London. This really is a game-changer and exactly what Londoners have been asking for. However, with opposition springing up from the embattled and embittered motor lobby (as well as journalists or politicians that simply don't get it) it's extremely important than anyone who wants to be able to ride a bike in safety in London fills in the various consultations TfL have published so that far-reaching public support for these plans are noted and they don't get watered down, or worse, cancelled.

Proposed East-West route

A fully segregated two-way cycle route from Acton to Tower Hill. But we need you to make it a reality.



This route will run from Acton, along the Westway, through Lancaster Gate and the Royal Parks into Parliament Square, then along the Embankment and Lower and Upper Thames Street out through Tower Hill into Tower Hamlets. These plans aren't perfect, but they are a complete game changer from the horrible, dangerous and disgusting cycle environment currently found on many of these arterial routes.


These are big, important plans and need public support to make them a reality.



The Consultation on the East-West cycle highway plans is available here.



Blackfriars road as it looks now, and as it will look if these plans go ahead. Which version is better for those on bike, those on foot, and Londoners in general?
The North-South cycle highway will run from King's Cross station down Farringdon Road, over Blackfriars Bridge and down to Elephant and Castle. Again, it's a fantastic and much needed route and it will have a great intersection with the East-West cycle highway at the north side of Blackfriars Bridge. But, again, it needs your support to make it a reality.

These plans aren't perfect, and niggles could be improved. But overall they are a massive move forward and should be supported as such.
The Consultation on the North-South cycle highway plans is available here.





Over 8 Londoners have been killed my people driving motor vehicles on this stretch of road in the last few years. Moreover, I know from personal experience of trying to visit a friend in Mile End that Whitechapel Road, which then becomes Mile End Road, is the only way to get out into this part of East London. So it's essential that we make this route safe for anyone on a bike to use, and this what these plans largely will do.


Like the North-South and East-West cycle highways, these new plans for the CS2 running from Aldgate to Bow would completely transform cycling in this crucial part of London. But because they would slightly increase motor traffic journey times on these specific routes, and because much of London and the UK is still run but a maniacal motor lobby that will accept no increase, not even the slightest, to their journey times (nor even the smallest reallocation of road space), it's extremely important that everyone takes time out of their day to respond to TfL's consultation and show widespread public support for the plans.

The Consultation on the Cycle Superhighway 2 [CS2] upgrade plans is available here.


Proposed cycle highway from Oval to Belgravia



Lovely two-way segregated track replaces horrible lane-sharing with buses, taxis, and HGVs.

This route is again a game-changer for cycling in London, providing segregated cycle tracks running along Vauxhall Bridge and then through the middle of the awful Vauxhall gyratory, cutting journey times for those on a bike, but more importantly making it much, much safer. The consultation for it has now closed but you can still contact TfL by email on the issue at: consultations@tfl.gov.uk.

This cycle route from Belgravia to Oval also important to place the East-West, North-South, and CS2 upgrade plans within a wider perspective. TfL is trying to build a real network of segregated cycle routes which is sort of completely amazing when one considers the woeful blue-paint-in-bus-lane that they rolled out back in 2010. There's been a complete step-change in their thinking, their planning, and their proposals, and it's important that any Londoner who has any interest in ever riding a bike to get from A to B gets behind TfL at this crucial juncture and says, 'yes, this is exactly the way to do it. No more half-arsed fudges please.'


What Businesses Can Do

London First, an organisation which claims to represent businesses in London, has come out against TfL's plans for segregated cycle lanes, citing spurious argument that don't add up. These include that the plans will lead to 'increased pedestrian crossing times', when in fact the timings for all of London's traffic lights are controlled electronically by TfL and therefore pedestrian crossing times depend on when TfL want you to cross, not if there's a cycle lane or not. Another gripe from the limo-from-Chelsea-to-Canary-Wharf-and-back lobby is that these plans will making things 'more dangerous' for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Again, this is baloney. Separating slower-moving cycle traffic than faster, wider motor traffic can only make things safer for both parties, as well as discouraging pavement cycling, and distancing motor traffic from the pavement which is only going to make things safer for pedestrians. 

This sustained, well-financed campaign of misinformation needs to be combatted, so if you work for a London employer please consider asking them to publicly back the Mayor's plans by signing up via this website: http://cyclingworks.wordpress.com/ 


What business (or person) wouldn't want a safe way to cycle through Parliament Square? The current layout of 4 lanes of speeding motor traffic is terrifying and unsafe for anyone on a bike. Humanising this massive public space in the centre of London can only be a good thing for business.
It's incredibly important that we all show as much public business support for these plans as possible. Danny Williams, who writes Cyclists in the City, has blogged about the issue in detail here: http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/how-you-can-help-make-londons-planned.html


Cycle Superhighway 2 (CS2) Extension - Bow to Stratford



TfL built the Cycle Superhighway 2 extension last year after consulting on their plans just as they are doing now with the East-West routes et al. It's worth remembering that though bits of it could definitely be improved (i.e. protection from motor traffic at junctions and lowering the intimidatingly high curbs on either side of the cycle path), the CS2 extension is largely a safe and pleasant route to use. There's no reason to think that all the other planned cycle highways wouldn't be too. In fact, the plans for the newer routes are largely regarded as being an improvement, in terms of design and safety, on the Cycle Superhighway 2 extension from 2013.

We need to get behind these new routes, and get behind the man who has turned what organisations like the London Cycling Campaign have called for, into concrete plans; Andrew Gilligan. In the video below, filmed at the London Cycling Campaign's big May demonstration ride through London, Gilligan says 2014 a 'test of strength'. These plans are ambitious, but need our democratic voices to be made a reality. 

Let's not be found wanting.



Wednesday, 16 April 2014

An email exchange with Kensington and Chelsea Council over the toxic levels of air pollution that plague the borough

I've left this blog fallow for a few months but hope to write a few posts in the coming weeks. To kick it off I'd like to post online an email exchange I've been having with my local council, prompted by The Guardian's report that Kensington and Chelsea has the most polluted air in the UK. It's a bit fiery but I believe that a health risk that's on par with that posed by second-hand smoking merits a strong treatment. I hope reading this might inspire readers to pursue their own line of inquiries with their own local councils if they are similarly petrol-headed like RBKC!

-------------------------------

Dear Cllr Coleridge,

Have you read this: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/10/kesington-chelsea-most-polluted-air-uk-public-health-england-report ?

May I ask what new policies you intend to pursue in order to address the fact that "Traffic levels give [RBKC] the worst air, finds first study to measure pollution by borough"?

Clearly the policies you have pursued for the last 4 years have been actively damaging to the health of the RBKC population, including the health of my elderly parents who live in the borough. A clear and substantial change in policy is needed if you actually intend to address this issue.

I trust the Ladbroke Association and the Norland Conservation Society will also want to see action on this issue which is crucial to the health and well-being of their members.

Thank you very much,

--------------------------------------

Dear Mr Johnston

Thank you for your e-mail of 11th April 2014.  The statistics that you refer to in the Guardian article have been published for the first time at a borough level. I have therfore listed below for you a number of initiatives that we are pushing that will help to improve the bquality of local air. Please do let me know if you would like more detail about any of them.

* We can't actually tell from the study published in the  Guardian whether our air quality is getting better or worse as this is the first time that statistics have been published at borough level. The press release on which the Guardian article is based actually says "Air quality has improved considerably in the UK in recent decades due to new cleaner technology and tighter environmental legislation, which have reduced emissions from industry."
* Regardless of this improvement, air pollution continutes to be a key issue tackled by the council, and we are currently working with our colleagues in Environmental Health to review and update our Air Quality Action Plan. A new version of the plan will be ready by the end of the year.

* The biggest sources of pollution from road traffic are the TfL roads such as the A4. We are currently working with TfL on implementing a scheme for "greening" a section of Cromwell Road which will reduce both noise and air pollution.
* We are working with TfL and other Central London boroughs to develop a Central London Grid of "Quietways" which will be suitable for less experienced cyclists.
* We are investigating options for improving access to Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure in residential areas.
*We are continuing our programme of opening up one-way streets to two-way cycling.
* We have been working with TfL to introduce cleaner buses in the borough and several routes are now operated by the New Bus for London, which uses hybrid diesel and electric power and therefore has lower emissions than conventional diesel buses.
* The Mayor of London's cycle hire scheme was extended furtheer into RBKC at the end of 2013, and there will be a further extension in 2014-15 in south Kensington and Notting Hill Gate.
*We plan to improve the cycle route under Westway, linking Latimer Road with Freston Road.
* We are continuing to promote cycling to our residents and businesses theough our "Bikeminded" brand. This will include campaigns targeted at people most likely to try cycling and a programme of events to promote the benefits of cycling.
* We are extending our programme of cycle training for both adults and children, and providing more residential and workplace cycle parking.
* We are increasing the proportion of children walking to school and staff walking to work through school and workplace travel plans.
* We are extending the Legible London wayfinding scheme, which encourages walking in the borough by making it easier for visitors to find their way around.
* We also promote "Walkit", the urban route finding website, via our transport web pages:http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/environmentandtransport/transportandstreets/cyclingandwalking/walking.aspx
Please let me know if you would like to discuss this further, or would like any more information.

With kind regards

--------------------------------

Dear Cllr Coleridge,

With respect, all of the measures you outline below have been a complete and utter failure. We live in the most polluted borough in the UK; The most polluted streets in Great Britain are the ones we have the pleasure of walking every day. 

Clearly the measures you have been pursuing thus far have, therefore, absolutely and conclusively failed for this to be the case.

In my humble opinion, you need to pursue some new policies rather than the old swadge of 'cycle training' and 'promoting electric vehicles' which have completely failed. I've taken the liberty of putting forward a number of solutions that would have an immediate and concrete improvement to the air quality that we all breath:

1. Converting traffic lanes to cycle-only lanes. This could be done on roads such as Holland Park Avenue, Cromwell Road, and Ken High St. It would have the twin effect of seriously increasingly cycling levels while dramatically reducing motor traffic flow and hence air pollution from motor traffic. It would also shield pedestrians on the pavement from the toxic fumes emit by motor vehicles because there would be a cycle lane in between.
2. Immediate 20 MPH limit for the borough. This would reduce air pollution because less fuel would be burnt owing to: a) lower average speeds, b) less unnecessary accelerating and breaking, c) reduced motor traffic flow
3. Restricting car parking in the borough. A no-brainer!
4. Implementing various 'green taxes' on high polluting vehicles such as motorbikes, chelsea tractors and taxis.
5. Building more zebra crossings and increasing pedestrian crossing light-phases to reduce motor traffic capacity in the borough.

May I ask if the council are interested in pursuing any of these?

Please can we have no more policies of failure. Think about your parents. Think about your children. The council's relentlessly pro-motor traffic policies are poisoning them everyday.


Very best,

-------------------------------

Dear Mr Johnston

I would like to point out that the average resident in RBKC lives considerably longer than the average in the UK. The whole borough is not polluted, it is polluted around certain heavily used road arteries, our side streets are not the most polluted in the UK and visitors and residents are able to walk our streets without concern.

You ask me to think of my parents, they live in Chelsea, are in their early eighties, healthy (touch wood) and going strong, my two sons live in Chelsea and are extremely fit and healthy, and my wife goes jogging three times a week.

We penalise large engine owners with a sliding scale residents parking, and the vehicle excise licence for large engines is extremely expensive. We have introduced permit free new developments which has reduced the number of new cars on our streets, in fact the number of parking permits has dropped by nearly 4000 over recent years.

We also have a great many residents who either need a car or wish to have a car and we respect this choice.     

best wishes

--------------------------

Dear Cllr Coleridge,

Thank you for your response.

I am afraid that it is completely incorrect - some might say to the point of lying - to claim that 'visitors and residents are able to walk RBKC streets without concern', when over 1 in 12 of all deaths in the RBKC borough are attributable to tiny particles of soot largely emitted by diesel engines (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/10/kesington-chelsea-most-polluted-air-uk-public-health-england-report). The air pollution that covers our borough is not limited to road arteries, as you claim (!), but spreads over the entire area despite being even worse next to main roads. That's why the recent smog was as visible in Hyde Park as on Ken High St.

I am glad that your family are currently so healthy, however, that does not prove that our borough has clean air! The fact your wife goes jogging three times a week does not stop her being at a greater risk of developing heart or lung disease, cancer, or asthma because of the air pollution in the borough in which she lives. On the contrary, the negative health effects of RBKC's toxic air pollution are even worse for her because she is suffering more acute and intense exposure to our toxic air pollution every time she goes jogging.

For the sake of your wife, therefore, for the sake of the rest of your family, and for the sake of the 1 in 12 residents of this borough that, because of RBKC's high level of motor traffic, die unnecessarily early and of diseases that they wouldn't have developed if they lived somewhere else in London, I am compelled to ask you again if this new research is prompting the Council to look at any new measures to tackle air pollution and whether they would consider any of the measures I outlined in my last email (which I've pasted again at the bottom of this email for your convenience)?

With the local elections coming up shortly I would be very grateful to know the Council's position on taking new measures to tackle this issue which possess to such a insidious and constant health risk to all those that live, work or study in RBKC.

Very best,

1. Converting traffic lanes to cycle-only lanes. This could be done on roads such as Holland Park Avenue, Cromwell Road, and Ken High St. It would have the twin effect of seriously increasingly cycling levels while dramatically reducing motor traffic flow and hence air pollution from motor traffic. It would also shield pedestrians on the pavement from the toxic fumes emit by motor vehicles because there would be a cycle lane in between.
2. Immediate 20 MPH limit for the borough. This would reduce air pollution because less fuel would be burnt owing to: a) lower average speeds, b) less unnecessary accelerating and breaking, c) reduced motor traffic flow
3. Restricting car parking in the borough. A no-brainer!
4. Implementing various 'green taxes' on high polluting vehicles such as motorbikes, chelsea tractors and taxis.
5. Building more zebra crossings and increasing pedestrian crossing light-phases to reduce motor traffic capacity in the borough.

The air pollution in Hyde Park earlier this month. Disgusting and very harmful to our health.
---------------------------------------

Dear Mr Johnston

Please try to keep the correspondence polite, I do not lie.

I assume you are familiar with the RBKC website at www.rbkc.gov.uk

If you look at the Environment and Transport section , and then look under "Air Quality" you will find a useful tool that tells you each day precisely what the level of pollutants are  in our borough, broken down if you request it by many different measurements of different particulants.

You will see that every area of the borough is today experiencing "low" levels of pollution.

I would ask you to have a good look around this part of our website as it is full of useful data and live measurements. I look at it quite frequently, which is why i have more faith in our air quality than for example the Guardian that I would not rely on for long term data or accuracy.

best wishes

---------------------------------------

Dear Cllr Coleridge,

I'm afraid to say that you are sounding more like O'Brien from Orwell's 1984 than a local councillor concerned with improving the air quality, and therefore health and well-being, of the residents who voted for him. I'm very sorry if that sounds impolite, but the information which I have supplied you with (i.e. that over 1 in 12 of all deaths in the RBKC borough are attributable to tiny particles of soot largely emitted by diesel engines) is not data measured by The Guardian, but in fact collected and published by Public Health England, an agency of the Department of Health! You can see their entire document here: http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317141074607. All The Guardian have done is reported the findings of this governmental body that estimated the long term exposure to air pollution on a borough-by-borough level!

This not spurious opinion but accurate, scientific research which has shown RBKC to be the most polluted borough in UK and hence subject to a significant and unnecessary 'mortality burden'. If, bearing this fact in mind, RBKC Council decides that the air pollution here is 'low', what call you 'high'?!

So, I am forced to ask for a third time (!): given the recently published findings of Public Health England that show that far from having 'low' levels of air pollution - as the RBKC Council mistakenly claims on its website (!) - Kensington and Chelsea actually has the highest level of air pollution of any borough in the UK, are the Council considering any new measures to counteract this gigantic public health risk to the population borough? Would any of the measures I've already outlined in my two previous emails appeal to the Council?

Would you also please consider improving the accuracy of the "Air Quality" section of your website in line with the data that Public Health England is able to provide on RBKC's appalling air pollution?


Many thanks,

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

#VictimBlamingIdiot, Operation Safeway and the 'Dead Cat' on the table

This week I was asked (again) to speak on LBC Radio (London's Biggest Conversation). I'd been asked quite a few times this month but declined thus far, mainly because I find Nick Ferrari's views on cycling to be quite repulsively ignorant which makes it difficult to have anything near a balanced debate. But I thought I would give it a go on Tuesday because I wanted to air my thoughts on 'Operation Safeway' publicly. As expected, I wasn't given a chance to talk about something sensible, and instead was quizzed by Nick Ferrari about whether it was 'okay' for someone to cycle their kids into school in a cargo-bike if that involved the children inhaling lorry fumes.

I pointed out that at least the kids were being reminded to exercise and that we were the fattest country in Western Europe and that obesity and lack of exercise would kill you much quicker than air pollution. Nick Ferrari, a rather portly man himself, didn't take well to this. Of course what Nick should have asked was, is it okay for Boris Johnson to have created a city where if a man wants to cycle his kids to school they have to inhale poisonous fumes in the first place? Is it okay that Boris Johnson is happy for London to be the most polluted capital city in Europe and it's 'low emission zone' to be nothing more than duplicitous Orwellian double speak? Is it okay for Boris Johnson to allow large numbers of lorries and HGVs to use London's streets at the exact time that children are cycling, and being cycled to school?

Unfortunately none of these questions occurred to Ferrari. His surname's appropriate, I suppose.

I was then cut off before I could talk about Operation Safeway, so I'll set down here my thoughts on the Metropolitan Police deploying 2,500 officers to police London's most dangerous junctions. One of my problems with this is whether it will it actually safe lives. I appreciate that people might drive and cycle slower when police are around, but TfL's own figures show that in accidents were a cyclist was killed or badly hurt the cyclist was presumed to have committed an offence in just 6% of cases. Therefore, making cyclists 'obey the law' won't safe the lives of the 94% of cyclists killed or maimed on London's roads who weren't committing any offence when they were killed or maimed. Moreover, though law-breaking motorists account for a large proportion of those killed while cycling on the capital's streets, in most cases of a driver killing a pedestrian or cyclist, the driver is not arrested, let alone formally charged. How, then, will compelling drivers and cyclists to obey the law help save lives, when people are being constantly killed when they are following the law, trying to get home, going about their daily business?

Operation Safeway, in my opinion, won't save lives. The most dangerous junctions where these officers are being deployed are not dangerous because of law-breaking road user behaviour, but because the design itself is inherently criminally dangerous for vulnerable road users. Bow Roundabout is fundamentally unsafe for someone on a bike (or, indeed, on foot). Putting an officer there isn't going to change this. An immediate temporary 20 MPH limit on the roundabout and approach roads until road layout changes are completed might at least improve things, but Boris Johnson has rejected this measure. Why? For political reasons he wants to victim blame instead.

Operation Safeway is part of Boris Johnson's wider strategy of being a #VictimBlamingIdiot. When he come to power in 2008, partly on a 'cycling ticket', Johnson should have immediately began segregating cycle and motor traffic on London's most dangerous junctions and roads, and lowering speed limits and putting in cameras to ensure safe driving where this was not possible. Instead Johnson has pursued 5 years of 'smoothing the traffic flow' and actually speeding up much of London's motor traffic, while forcing increasing numbers of Londoners cycling to share road space with ever faster motor vehicles (often on his death-trap 'Superhighways'). The intolerably high number of killings in the recent months and years are a result of this. (Although, granted, in the last 5 years Johnson has, to be fair, done a lot to push cycling up the political ladder of issues, even if he hasn't done anything positive for the safety of Londoners using bikes).

So, Boris Johnson finds himself in a position where, to quote the man himself, "you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case." This is his position in terms of London cycling. He's done nothing to make it safer for Londoners while encouraging them to cycle for the last 5 years. The result: 81 Londoners killed. Directly his fault, often on or near 'Superhighways' which he personally had built. The more people focus on the reality the worse it is for him.

So what's Johnson's solution to this problem? Again his own words speak volumes: "Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as 'throwing a dead cat on the table, mate'. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout 'Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!'; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief." This is exactly what Johnson has done in response to six Londoners being killed in two weeks while cycling in the capital. He has slung a dead cat on the table, namely blaming the victims for either breaking traffic laws or cycling with headphones in (neither the Met nor TfL can cite a single instant where the latter has led to a cycling fatality). Given that the cyclist was breaking the law in only 6% of fatal crashes, attacking cyclists who break the law in response to a string of fatalities is a totally irrelevant issue. It makes everyone sit up and say, 'bloody hell, that's a dead cat', and forget that the reason these fatalities have happened is because Boris Johnson has refused to segregate, introduce 20 MPH, or tighten lorry restrictions and regulations throughout his 5 years in office.

The kind of 'dangerous cycling' Boris Johnson has hypocritically and maliciously blamed London's recent fatalities on. This is the 'dead cat' Johnson wants us to think about and attribute cycling deaths to, rather than appalling road design, which in many cases the mayor and TfL were explicitly told would mean "casualties were inevitable"
Operation Safeway is part of this victim blaming operation by our duplicitous mayor. He tried it before when he lied and said that in 61% of fatalities cyclists were responsible for their own death, when TfL's own figures actually put this at just 8%. Though some police are stopping and checking lorries (which is to be commended) the primary thrust of the operation is being directed against supposedly errant cyclists, therefore furthering the incorrect public perception that cyclists are at fault for their own deaths, a fatuous lie (and 'dead cat') that Johnson wants the public to swallow so they don't see his own grievous failings on the issue of cycle safety.

Moreover, Operation Safeway allows Johnson to further the 'collective guilt' that is currently thrust on 'cyclists' by the media and politicians: i.e. simply because someone jumps a red light in Holborn that makes it okay for a lorry driver to run me over and crush me to death at Bow. He says, 'I know a lot of cyclists have been killed recently, but they've really got to stop jumping red lights and take responsibility for their own safety'. So if someone jumps a red light in front of me that makes it okay for a driver to turn their car directly into my path and kill me? Imagine if a British political figure said, 'I know a lot of British Muslims have been killed recently, but they've really got to stop being terrorists and take responsibility for their own safety'. Some British Muslims are terrorists, but that doesn't mean that British Muslims shouldn't be entitled to not travelling in fear of being killed, and every other right that belongs to UK citizens. Yet Boris Johnson can say it's okay that six cyclists were killed because a bunch of other cyclists have been jumping red lights? Appalling. You can't treat a minority like this. There is no way that I, or anyone else, should have to assume collective guilt for the actions of anyone else that rides a bike. If I'm not breaking the law, I'm entitled to a safe journey home on my bike where I'm not 7 times more likely to be killed than in Amsterdam. I refuse to accept that whether someone else chooses to wear high-viz, a helmet, or obey a red light should have any impact on the standards of road safety I demand from my political leaders.

Yet this is what Boris Johnson is trying to do with Operation Safeway. He's trying to cement the false image of the law-breaking cyclist whose responsible for his own death, and in so doing divert responsibility away from himself, as Johnson is far too aware that it is the decisions he has made at places like Bow Roundabout or King's Cross that have led to the fatalities there, and that he is actually responsible.

It's vile and disgusting. Politics at its lowest. And it's alienating Boris Johnson from not just cyclists, but also Londoners more widely. A lot of people aren't being taken in by Johnson's 'dead cat' trick, and are instead calling the mayor out on his callous and insulting victim blaming antics. Come 2016, he will be in a lot more trouble.

Moreover, this Friday at 5pm the first ever London 'Die-In' is occurring, where Londoners will lie down with their bikes in Blackfriars Road opposite TfL Headquarters to protest at Johnson's failure to act, or even take responsibility for the spate of recent killings on our streets. I urge you to attend.

Cyclists mass die-in protest Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum 1970's. It's because of protests like this that Holland is now a far safer place to cycle than in the UK. Nothing to do with the country being flat, unfortunately...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Leadership Crisis for Boris Johnson

I've borrowed the phrase 'leadership crisis' from Mark Ames, who writes the admirable ibikelondon blog, but I feel that he's really hit the nail on the head. This really is a leadership crisis for Boris Johnson.

Six Londoners in two weeks have been killed while cycling (something Johnson, and the rest of TfL, constantly actively encourage Londoners to do through, among other things, a series of costly PR schemes). Boris Johnson could have tried to take something constructive out of the tragedy of these deaths. He could have reiterated how important actually delivering his 'Vision for Cycling' was (rather than just talking about future consultations), and how necessary it was to accelerate the road layout changes he wanted to achieve. He could have immediately installed temporary cycle lanes using bollards or cones of key routes in the capital. He could have imposed an immediate 20 MPH limit on all of London's most dangerous junctions. He could have highlighted the intransigence of certain local councils (Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea) in getting on board with his cycling vision and used the media attention around these deaths to force difficult councils to come to heel and embrace segregated routes and 20 MPH limits.

Richard Muzira, the sixth Londoner in two weeks to be killed while cycling. The road were he was killed has neither a cycle lane nor a 20 MPH limit. Did the Mayor suggest providing either of these to prevent future killings? No, he blamed the victim instead. Photo courtesy of Evening Standard.
Boris Johnson could have done any of these things. He chose to do none of them. Instead, he engaged in vile and despicable victim blaming. First he said publicly that cyclists need to obey the law and implied that the six recent killings were caused by law-breaking. One of them may have been. But what about the other five Londoners that were killed who were without a shadow of a doubt behaving completely lawfully? What is Boris Johnson doing for them? Absolutely nothing.

Moreover, Johnson then went on BBC London and described people that cycle with headphones in as a 'scourge', again implying that cycling with headphones in has something to do with the last six Londoners to be killed while cycling in the capital. It doesn't. Indeed, none of the almost 80 Londoners that have been killed while cycling since Boris Johnson came to power lost their lives due to headphone use. It's the equivalent of six Londoners being stabbed to death by gangs, and Boris Johnson telling people not to flash their cash in public, rather than doing anything to improve street safety and crack down on crime. Appalling.

One of key elements of 'Brand Boris' (to borrow another phrase, this time from Dave Hill) is his 'cycling' image. And this is important not just to Londoners, and Brits, who cycle. Many people who don't cycle like Boris Johnson partly because they feel he does 'stuff' for cycling, which seems like a good thing in general. However, over the past few weeks Johnson's credibility among all Londoners on cycle safety has been completely eroded by his utter refusal to act in a constructive manner, and his decision to victim-blame and stir up prejudice instead. 

The wider British public now see Johnson failing on one of his key policies: cycling.  This will undoubtedly have very negative implications for his future political career, and prevent voters from trusting him on any other issues he chooses to get behind. 

You can almost hear Londoners saying: 'if he betrayed the cyclists and did nothing to reduce how many of them were killed or maimed each year that he was in office, then he'll probably betray me'.

This blog has been very supportive of Johnson in the past, but his victim-blaming actions over the past few weeks have been despicable, vile, and offensive to the memories of those who have lost their lives while just trying to cycle from A to B. All Londoners are reacting negatively to this appalling hypocrisy by the Mayor, not just those that cycle.

-----

Also, if you want to make your voice heard in protest about TfL and the Mayor's non-reaction to the recent spate of killings, please try and come to the TfL Die-In, taking place Friday, 29 November 2013 17:00 until 18:30, outside TfL's headquarters on Blackfriars Road.

Friday, 15 November 2013

5 Londoners killed while cycling in 9 days, and Boris Johnson cowardly blames the victims

If you are reading this you are probably aware that five Londoners have been killed while cycling on our capital's streets in nine days. This is a truly appalling figure, and what is worse is that nearly all the deaths have happened in noted accident hotspots where Londoners have been killed before. To take just one instance, Venera Minakhmetova, 24, is the third Londoner in two years to be killed at Bow Roundabout. Is the key issue, therefore, 'cyclists-jumping-red-lights' or the design of specific killed-junctions? An easy question to answer.

Map of recent deaths, courtesy of the BBC

However, when interviewed on this recent spate of deaths Boris Johnson said cyclists 'must obey the law', implying that these Londoners were killed because they were lawbreaking vandals. This is a vile and cowardly response from Mr Johnson. Errant and irresponsible cyclists do not frequent killer-junctions and roads, such as Holborn and the unsegregated section of CS2, in order to throw themselves under an HGV. People get routinely killed while cycling at these junctions because there is no way to cycle through them safely, because they are fundamentally and criminally dangerous. TfL need to be prosecuted for manslaughter.

If there were a section of tube line, say between Vauxhall and Victoria, where trains habitually derailed killing drivers and passengers, then TfL would close the line and fix it immediately. Yet we have junctions and roads in London were Londoners are continually killed while cycling, and TfL thinks it can wait until 2015 or 2016 (at the earliest) before it does anything to change anything. And instead we're told by Andrew Gilligan, 'well, all the other tube lines are safe so how dangerous can taking the tube really be!'. Just because there are quieter roads in London and some half-decent cycle provision doesn't mean TfL should let roads like Holborn gyratory continue to kill people. They know where the problems are. There are specific streets and roads that are incredibly dangerous and these need to be fundamentally changed.

Announcements are all well and good, but we need to change now, before even more innocent Londoners are killed for doing something that the Mayor, TfL, and all London borough councils are actively encouraging them to do.

Please TAKE ACTION NOW and email TfL and the Mayor asking them to prevent further deaths. Just click this link to go the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) page.

Also, do please consider joining the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) if you aren't already a member. They are the only organisation in London that is consistently pushing Boris Johnson to give us continental standards of cycle safety. They are the primary reason the BBC ran a story today on 'Calls for action over cycle deaths in London'. They deserve everyone's support.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Boris Johnson to install rental e-bikes in Haringey

The Evening Standard asked me for a comment piece on the news that next year a rental e-bike scheme will be installed in Haringey. They didn't publish it in the end (perhaps because of the venom in the last paragraph), so I've posted it up here:

I was excited to read in yesterday’s evening standard about Boris Johnson’s plans to install rental e-bikes in Haringey. This will obviously be a great asset to anyone that lives, works or studies in Haringey. However, I believe they will also help bring e-bikes into mainstream British culture and provide an important spark in creating a thriving e-bike industry in Britain.
It is remarkable how popular e-bikes are on the Continent; not only with customers, but also with politicians like Angel Merkel who see the clear economic benefits of boosting cycling rates. Over in Blighty, David Cameron has cynically dropped cycling from his agenda ever since he left opposition so it is good to see Boris Johnson raising the public profile of e-bikes as an easy, cheap, clean, and green way to get from A to B without even having to get sweaty. 
I understand concerns that the large cost of this e-bike rental scheme will be coming out of the Mayor’s £913m fund for cycling infrastructure improvements. It is clear that the single most important thing London needs to boost cycling rates and make it safer is not rental e-bikes, but dedicated, segregated space for cycling which doesn’t involve those on bikes sharing motor traffic lanes with taxis, buses or HGVs. However, creating this dedicated space for cycling is fast becoming a political, rather than financial, issue. 
Take the proposed Cycle Superhighway 9 which TfL would like to build, and segregate, along Kensington High Street. Boris Johnson has the money to do this but is currently being blocked by his intransigent and ignorant fellow Conservatives on the Kensington and Chelsea Council who oppose the creation of any space for cycling in their borough. Councillors like Nicholas Paget-Brown would rather see more Londoners die on streets like Ken High St – or Notting Hill Gate where Eilidh Cairns was killed by a lorry driver in 2009 – than segregate this wide London road. Until local councils like Kensington and Chelsea start placing the lives of their residents above their councillors’ endless desire for private, on-street car parking, Boris Johnson is better off spending his money on e-bikes.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Newspeak of Nicholas Paget-Brown, leader of RBKC Council

Last week I emailed the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, Nicholas Paget-Brown, asking him for an official response on the fact that the Council are currently obstinately blocking a fully segregated cycle lane that TfL want to install on Ken High St as part of the proposed Cycle Superhighway 9 (CS9). I thought he might take a rather more balanced few than Cllr Coleridge on the matter, and was therefore incredibly disappointed by an Orwellian response that would have been more appropriate to Animal Farm. It is copied below:


Another photo of Cllr Paget-Brown.
We have long taken the view that it is important for all road users to share space responsibly and to respect other transport modes. The re-design of the High St was designed to achieve this. Clearly there are also wider concerns in London that cycle superhighways may not be the best solution to the increasing number of cyclists and do not address the concerns of cyclists using other streets. 
You do not explain how a dedicated and separate cycle lane would protect the safety of pedestrians and bus uers and why the Council should consider one mode of travel over all others in this one location. Grosvenor Road and Millbank are much more lightly used roads than the High St and one sits inside the Congestion Charge Zone where volumes of car usage are in any case lower. The junction with Church St and the High St is more than a “T” junction, it has to allow for left and right filters and pedestrian crossing phases at a point just before the carriageway narrows. 
The Council has undertaken a huge number of initiatives to make cycling safer in the Borough but has always considered these in the light of the fact that we need to take account of all modes of traffic in such a busy Borough if we are to improve overall levels of road safety.
I find it deeply insulting (especially to the memory of Eilidh Cairns who was run over and killed by a lorry driver while cycling through Notting Hill Gate in 2009) that Cllr Paget-Brown feels he can blithely equate the dangers posed to someone on a bike by a bus, lorry or HGV, as comparable to those posed to a pedestrian when having to cross a cycle lane that runs behind a bus stop. The threat posed to someone's 'safety' is completely incomparable. In fact, cycle lanes that pedestrians have to cross to reach bus stops are the norm in much of Holland, Germany and Brighton, and are currently being built by TfL on Stratford High Street.

Moreover, I find it extremely worrying that Cllr Paget-Brown feels that taking 2-3m of the ~20m of building-to-building space on Kensington High Street in order to create a segregated cycle lane is 'considering one mode of travel above all others in this one location'. This is just nonsensical. It's newspeak. It's untrue. Anyone can see that using 2-3m of Kensington High Street to create a segregated cycle lane is only using 10-15% of the total available road space for cycling. In no rational world is this 'considering one mode of travel above all others'. There is currently ~8m of space on Kensington High Street used as pavements (discounting additional space created by the wide islands in the middle). Does this mean the Council is 'considering walking above all other modes of transport'?

The story becomes even worse when one remembers that, contrary to Cllr Paget-Brown's implications, there are not any continuous segregated cycle lanes, or even quiet-ish roads, running on parallel routes that cyclists might use instead of 'this one location'.  In fact, there are no continuous segregated cycle lanes anywhere in the Royal Borough. Coupled with Paget-Brown's opening statement that, 'we have long taken the view that it is important for all road users to share space', one can only conclude that Paget-Brown is opposed to the entire idea of dedicated, segregated space for cycling, wherever in his borough it might be suggested.

Paget-Brown's opposition, then, is perhaps not really about Kensington High Street. It's simply about segregated cycle lanes, that he plainly feels shouldn't be built in the first place.

The breathtaking arrogance Paget-Brown's position becomes clear when one remembers that Cllr Paget-Brown is a Conservative and is therefore rejecting the advice and guidance given by his Conservative Prime Minister (David Cameron, who unequivocally endorsed the Get Britain Cycling Report in April), his Conservative Mayor (Boris Johnson, who as head of TfL is proposing the segregating track that Paget-Brown is so stubbornly blocking), and even his Conservative MP (Sir Malcolm Rifkind who wrote last year that: 'a long-term paucity of proper cycling infrastructure has forced many cyclists onto busy roads, where they are bound to come into conflict with drivers of cars.').

The breathtaking ignorance and heartlessness of Paget-Brown's position becomes clear when one remembers that Eilidh Cairns has already been killed through having to 'share space' with fast moving motor traffic at Notting Hill Gate where the Council also refuses to provide a segregated cycle lanes. Furthermore, just last week in the news there were two inquests into the deaths of Brian Dorling and Philippine de Gerin-Ricard where the Coroner, Mary Hassel, clearly stated:
What we would like, of course, is to have cyclists in a separate cycle lane. It would be safer for cyclists, and motorists wouldn’t have the potential in the same way for this appalling experience of perhaps colliding with a cyclist.
Having 'cyclists in a separate cycle lane' is exactly what TfL are now proposing for Ken High St, and exactly what our 'bikeminded' councillors are blocking. It's shocking.

Paget-Brown says, 'there are also wider concerns in London that cycle superhighways may not be the best solution to the increasing number of cyclists'. Again, this is simply untrue. Concerns have not been raised about the concept of cycle superhighways, but rather about them being built in exactly the way Cllr Paget-Brown clearly wants them built; i.e. with HGVs and Londoners on bikes 'sharing space' and no segregated cycle lanes. The 'wider concerns' Paget-Brown cites in defence of his argument are actually critiques of himself, and his own position in opposing the sort of segregated infrastructure that would make cycle superhighways safe for everyone who chose to cycle.