Tag Archives: cycle lane

A message to you Rudy

Dear Mayor Johnson,

On Tuesday the 19th June this year, as you rode through the sunny  morning  peloton of Islington, I’m sure the conditions for cycling at a northerly crossing of the A406 were the last thing on your mind. That was certainly the case for me. All that changed when I found myself waiting at the lights with none other than the Chairman of TfL himself.

I would never normally trouble a public figure in the street as I consider it to be rude but in this case I had to make an exception. After all, I have been trying to get some issues flagged up with your office for some time now and the opportunity was too good to miss.

We had a short exchange at the lights, perhaps you remember…

Me: It seems churlish not to ask you a question as I find myself at the lights with you. Would that be ok?

You: Fire away!

Me: Would you be surprised to know that local cyclists and cycling groups are unhappy with the new Henlys Corner?

You: Oh fuck them! We have spent billions up there!

Me: I live up there and the money has been spent badly with respect cyclists…

The lights changed and off you went…

I will admit that I was shocked at your language… but in no way offended. I don’t mind a bit of rude language. I am also certain that you have the needs of London’s growing cycling community in your heart. Actually, you spoke from your heart  and I have a lot of respect for that, despite disagreeing. I understand your remark to mean something along the lines of…  those whinging cyclists are never happy! “Oh fuck them! We have spent billions up there!”.  I can quite understand that you could feel that way given the expense and endless planning process. As Mayor, you cannot be expected to know the fine details of every junction redesign. Your commitment to the “go Dutch” tests and to cycling, more widely, means that you will be able to see the problem if only I can get the message to you.

You were not to know…

-          That I am one of those whinging cyclists so it was really me you were telling to get fucked. That felt great, cheers.

-          That, as an experienced National Standard Cycling Instructor, who has to carry out risk assessments of roads and junctions for cyclists as a daily part of my job, I have the expertise to make the judgement. Safety and amenity are worse for people on bikes, who use the junction, post the redesign, despite major improvements for other modes.

-          That it’s not just folk like me who can see the problem…   For example, Cllr Brian Coleman. Before the elections this year, I found myself on the phone with, the then, AM Coleman and took the opportunity of putting the same question to him. He was surprised, being under the impression that the new design was better for all. Like you he mentioned that loads had been spent… but without the swearing.  After meeting me for 15 mins at Henlys corner one morning, he accepted that there, “is a problem” and showed willingness to work toward a solution. He gets it.

-          That the plenary question put by AM Andrew Dismore about Henlys Corner, on the day after we met, was as a response to a meeting he had with me at Henlys Corner recently. He gets it too.

-          That Phil Jones, who delivers training to TFL engineers, on cycling provision, has looked at the video I made about the new Henlys design. His verdict  – “Excellent – clear, unemotional, irrefutable”. He gets it so much that he has offered help getting whatever proposals are eventually made into a really useful and compliant form. – Gold dust… Cheers Phil!

-          That I attended the Talk London event in Barnet earlier this year to try to raise the issue but was only able to talk to one of Isabel Dedring’s team, a Mr. McGeevey. In any case, the GLA office has been aware of the issues at least since January 2012 when we began corresponding.

-         That The Great Divide Ride took place in March to highlight the issue of poor provision for cyclists crossing the A406.

Please see this video:

When one really looks at what has happened to the cycling provision at this flagship scheme, “fuck them” may well have been key design guidance.  There are many other issues too technical to go into in the video. I am really pleased that TfL is working with Barnet on the issue of Barnet’s refusal to allow a Cycle Superhighway. Henlys Corner will need re-designing, in any case,  should that ever change. The question remains; Why wasn’t state of the art provision included in the original design, given the “cycling revolution” and this junction’s planned inclusion in a CS? Seems like an own goal.

A positive result would be someone senior from each of TfL/GLA and Barnet coming to meet the local stakeholder group (www.barnetlcc.com)  as a matter of urgency. We have a number of suggestions/solutions and a top transport consultant in Phil Jones to help present them in the most usefull way. (Note: since I began writing this last week, there has been a very positive contact with senior GLA people and I expect a constructive meeting to take place soon! Hurrah!)

Alternatively, you and I could enjoy some wonderful Salt Beef after a brief tour of Henlys Corner one afternoon… during the school run perhaps, when there are lots of children riding across. What do you say?

The new Henlys corner design lets cyclists down badly and fails to support your vision of cycling in our city. Local cyclists, transport consultants and two AMs have been able to see the problem. Can I get my message to you…?

-L

A Place at the Table

Sometimes you find yourself in a situation wondering how you got there…

I was in a room, filled with TFL and Borough traffic engineers and planners. I just kept thinking “I don’t belong here” and that at any moment someone would realise their error and have me chucked out! We were all waiting for the start of the London Cycling Design Standards Workshop, delivered by Phil Jones (@phil_PJA if you tweet – worth following) and John Parkin, Professor of Transport Engineering, South Bank University. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded and I think it was a very valuable session for all concerned, especially me.

This two day course was aimed at officers who needed to deliver cycling provision. There was also a good look at the current guidance contained in the LCDS (London Cycle Design Standards). The course itself was very well presented and if all present go back to their posts and do it the way Phil and John told em’ to, we will see a massive improvement in the infrastructure we get in London…. It’s a big “if” but not for the reasons I might have given before the workshop.

Much of the discussion concerning cycling these days focuses on infrastructure and this puts the spotlight on the engineers. After all, they are the ones tasked with delivering it.

It was clear that there is very genuine concern over safety and that they really wanted to get it right for cyclists. There was the odd suggestion that cycling should be moved onto minor routes and other such tosh but overall I would say I was pleasantly surprised at the acceptance of cycling as mainstream transport and the breadth of knowledge displayed regarding good infrastructure. So if the engineers and planners know what they are doing, how come TFL keep getting it so wrong?

One word…. Governance

Again and again as we all discussed various projects or interventions the officers said things like, “that would be great but I will never get it past my superiors or elected members”. Often we came up against the fact that there was no one in the room senior enough to answer core questions like, “What are we trying to achieve on a broader scale?” or “is the goal, modal shift or accommodation of existing demand?”. Answering these questions defines what gets built.

On the second day Phil very kindly gave me the chance to show a short video over lunch. I live in Barnet and the recent changes to Henlys Corner loom large in my life so it seemed a good subject. I added a few of my pet gripes at the front too. What I hate is that stuff gets put on the road which I then have to tell my trainees not to use. Here is what I showed them…

It was kinda quiet afterwards… so I asked, “I think we can all see how much worse that is for cyclists, so given all the expertise amongst practitioners and the good guidance in the LCDS, how did the redesign of Henlys Corner ever get signed off?”

One chap rather bravely said he had signed off on an early version of the design but had then passed it on to another team for review. (Correction Dec 20 2011! Please see note at the end) A colleague mentioned that it would have gone through some sort of cycle review but I can’t see that went very well.

In fact, with my new knowledge of the LCDS gained from the excellent workshop I was attending, it was clear that Henlys Corner fails to meet TFLs own design guidance. There are several small details that turn out to be rather safety critical which are very poorly implemented and that I do not flag in my video as I was unaware of how wrong they were when I was filming.

It is both ironic and timely that only today Jenny JonesAM has got a motion passed (with support from AMs of all the parties) at the London assembly that specifically cites TFL failing to follow their own guidance with respect cycling. Clearly something needs to change.

It really looks as though TFLs internal design review process is not fit for purpose, with respect cycling. Or is it just that those in charge are asking for things to be done in a certain way. How could one tell?

The TFL board is made up of people who all have something good to contribute. There are people with direct experience, not just knowledge, of the various transport modes as well as those whose broad knowledge can only be an asset. There are train, bus and taxi (black and private hire) people, someone who knows about aerospace, people with business and property development experience and of course someone from the tubes. But where is the member representing cyclists?

Black cabs are a private business and make up only 0.6% (per TFL 2009) of modal share, it seems bizarre in the extreme that cycling, with a modal share that is conservatively five times that, is unrepresented while they have a permanent seat. Indeed, the chap from Camden told us that cycling is up to around 12% of modal share in their borough.  Why is there no expert presence on the TFL board to protect our interests? Surely, that would represent some sort of check and balance against some of the nonsense that is going on at the moment at junctions all over the TLRN. Junctions like Henlys Corner… Does it make sense that volunteers from the local LCC group have to fight to get  a compliant design. I thought that was someone at TFL’s job.

In my personal opinion some of the board members may have a financial interest in “smoothing the flow” and could lack impartiality. You may judge for yourself by reading about their declaration of interests here.

I am calling on TFLs Chairman (Boris to you and me) to step up and show us that he is really serious about cycling issues. He should appoint a board member for cycling, who can be part of directing top level policy. The engineers will do the rest. Come on Boris!

The issue is one of democracy. It’s time we had a seat at the table.

-L

A correction:

On 20 Dec. I got this email:

I was at the LCDS cycling training days earlier on in December and may have been the person who you described as “One chap rather bravely said he had signed off on an early version of the design but had then passed it on to another team for review.”

Just to clarify the point, I had undertaken a stage 1 Road Safety Audit in 2008 but that doesn’t mean the design is signed off, the only people who can do that are the designer /client!

It may seem pedantic but it is important to realise that the RSA does highlight safety issues and it is up to the designer/client to react to these and respond.

Glad you enjoyed the course and it was good to see “a user” representing some views of the non-engineer / planner despite that fact that a good deal of those attending ride regularly. To add I regularly commute into central London on my bicycle .

As he says, only the client can sign off the final design… That’s the board of TFL in this case.

Cycle Superhighways are there to “instruct motorists”

Since the Tour Du Danger, there has been a lot to read and listen to. It’s easy to miss something. I think this is worth pointing out.

I was listening to The Bike Show podcast, which covers recent events. A good portion of it is given over to Mayor Boris responding to Assembly questions.

Amongst what is mainly waffle,  I noticed a startling admission. At 21:50 he says that the “whole point” of the Superhighways is “to instruct the motorist that this is a place where you are going to find loads of cyclists, so be careful”.

Well, that’s cleared that up then… The CS is not, in fact, a “superhighway” for cyclists. It is, rather an overpriced and massively over engineered road sign for the benefit of those who choose to drive. How silly of us not to realise. Any expectation that the CS ought to provide priority for cycling is completely unfounded it turns out. Indeed, viewed through the cipher of his statement, the design of the CS starts to make some sense. It wasn’t built for cyclists…

I suppose no one at TFL realised that there were many cyclists on these busy commuter routes who were already serving the purpose of,  “instruct(ing) the motorist that this is a place where you are going to find loads of cyclists”.

A simple road sign saying “Bikes Belong” or “Give Cyclists Space” would probably have been just as good but this wouldn’t have generated the publicity of a “flagship” scheme. Boris likes a bit of publicity…

So the Cycle Superhighways are not “for” cycles, fail to be “super” and are not, in fact, “highways” by any definition of that word.

Boris…. What an utter sham.

HGV blindspots to be marked at junctions?

Cycling Infrastructure or “Hard Measures” as they are sometimes known litter London’s streets. Artifacts of myriad forgotten cycling policies are to be found here and there. Fragments of narrow lanes appear and vanish for no discernible reason. Some of it is still of  use. You can spot the good bits because there are riders on them.

Overall, cycling in London’s traffic is perfectly fine… mostly… once you get used to it. As things stand, it’s not going to be for everyone but training can help A LOT. A great number of people will just never be comfortable sharing with the autos. Their sense of the dangers of cycling might be exaggerated but that’s how they feel. Untill they have segregated lanes to ride on, they just aren’t interested.

For those who take the plunge, it is a revelation. They are soon zooming about and getting all the time, health, productivity, fun and financial benefits of riding a bike.

The various nature of London’s infrastructure throws up some issues though. For example:

If one were going to have a serious problem whilst out and about on a bike, it might involve a left turning lorry. HGV drivers are amongst the most skillful drivers on our roads and the very last thing they want to have happen is any sort of crash. The issue is that, visibility is limited and it is easy for a cyclist to get into the “Blind Spot”.  In my view this is due either to the cyclist undertaking or bad overtaking by the HGV.

The importance of dealing with this issue is well recognised by the various authorities involved.

During training, I always go over the location of HGV blind spots including the instruction NEVER to undertake a lorry or bus. As the driver of a HGV is high up they can not see you if you stop right in front of them either.

blindspot trainingTFL funds HGV awareness training for cyclists. The chance to sit in the cab of a HGV really drives the point home. If that isn’t enough, the blind spot is marked on the floor (in yellow here) so the cyclist can see where NOT to go.  Knowing where the risks are makes them easy to avoid and a trained rider will never let themselves get into this situation. As with all National Standard training, the goal is to minimise the incidence of any conflict.

What then, is the goal of the road markings in the following image?

HGV TrainingAre riders supposed to enter the box up that left side? To me, this says everything about the utter confusion that surrounds cycling provision in London. This is the area FOR cyclists? These boxes are the prefered solution for some traffic engineers.  There is a total failure of consistancy. What on earth is going on?

This mess comes about due to the historical  lack of any coherent cycling policy for London, going back for at least the last 30 years. We need leadership on policy if there is to be a real increase in riders beyond those who are up for sharing the road. There has to be some sort of a plan and someone prepared to make AND push through what will be some unpopular changes at the time. Someone prepared to think beyond the next election. But who can we look to provide such leadership?

Hear me Boris!

Are you for more cycling or against? You’re a rider! You know this is all wrong. If you really want to increase cycling you know what you need to do! You’ve read all the docs. Go on, you know in your heart it’s right. Give us some good cycle lanes. You know the ones… the type people will actually use. Big separate ones with priority. Put them on big arteries. Ones that go where we need to go. Stuff that will encourage non-cyclists to have a go.  Bite the bullet and start removing parking spaces…. Go on.

All those empty taxis circling around in the West End are just that…. EMPTY! There is plenty of room if you have the will. Go on… connect up the inner ends of the Superhighways with new segrageated lanes/streets. If you segregated the Superhighways, more people would use them. Reallocation of space is the way forward if you really want to grow cycling, as all your own studies indicate. Lets have some beautifully planted ped/cycle only streets as well, like they do in other cities and create a real, usefull network for London’s future. How else will you achieve your very laudable cycling targets?

If we are really 3%(or whatever) by mode  in London then can we have 3% of the money to spend on some good facilities? We should have more of the budget than our modal percentage. How about 5% of the road space? If you want to encourage a behavior then provision should lead demand. True?

What percentage of funds/space do taxis take with a 0.6% modal share? It’s all got a bit out of whack, I say.

Follow your heart. I am calling out to you from mine. Hear me Boris!

Let’s get together to hammer out the details over lunch at one of my favourite pie shops. My treat…

-L

“Granny Fear” on the rise

We’ve all seen it… Lately, as I approach a red light or a zebra crossing, I can often  see it in their eyes… Granny Fear! Somewhere between terror and a sort of inner rage, their eyes pierce into me as I approach. Pleading and intense that look leaves me in no doubt about the low expectations of my behavior. I have been more and more aware of this over the last few years.

I am a middle-aged man on an upright bike in ordinary clothes. I don’t ride fast and I always stop at lights, crossings or whatever. I don’t see the benefit of rushing, as I am already on one of the speediest methods of transit in the city. In any case,  I can’t really hurry or I might miss a pie shop.

It’s obvious that they think I am not going to stop… or worse. There is a sense that I am some sort of threat.

Now, I am not a threatening looking person so I must infer that it is my use of a bike that is causing this. I am well aware that the behavior of some riders leaves a lot to be desired but in my experience they are in the minority. Where there is inconsiderate riding, I often think that it’s good that the person involved isn’t driving a car. Some people are just very selfish and uncaring about others, sadly.

What drives me mad is that we all get tarred with the same brush. There is clearly a feeling amongst some people, particularly the elderly, that cycling is threatening in some way. Where riders have to share space with pedestrians there are often complaints. This has been the case with the closure of the Thames Path to cyclists. More on that here.

Constant negative stereotyping in the media serves to reinforce the notion that riding a bike is somehow deviant or odd. People’s perceptions become somewhat warped. The proof of this could be seen in the glaring eyes of the lady who used the pedestrian crossing in front of me this morning. A look more at home in a rough pub then in a genteel shopping street. I almost said something but a cry of “Oi! Why are you screwing me out?!” probably wouldn’t have helped and I don’t think she would have got the joke. She actually looked as if she wanted to deck me, despite the fact that I had cruised to a gentle stop for her to cross. You don’t have to say, “thank you” just don’t touch my face!

A common complaint at residents forums from elderly attendees is pavement cycling. There is clearly a real concern here. Untill the local council provides something meaningful in the form of decent infrastructure, people WILL ride on the pavements. Leaving us all in a rising tide of Granny Fear. It’ no good for anyone. Cycle training is going to help some people onto the road but it’s not going to be right for everyone. We need a road system that does more than just tolerate cyclists and pedestrians in deference to people in cars. It’s a way off….

So,  till then, let’s be nice for folks on foot and stop so they can cross the road. Stay off the pavements too. Grannies, cut me some slack please. We are lovely really, despite riding bikes. Let’s all be nice to each other and end the scourge of Granny Fear.

-L

P.S. Have you experienced GF? Please tell us about it in the comments.

How does this happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

More…

-L