Tag Archives: Hear me Boris

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…?


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.


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.

Tour du Danger 12/11/11 – The most “fearless” ride in London

Firstly, I want to thank Danny at Cyclists in the City and Mark from ibikelondon for putting this together. If you want to know all about The Tour Du Danger, please check out the Press Release.

This ride has tapped into a  deep desire to have a more pleasant city to work and live in. It’s not just about cyclists…that’s why there was such good support on the day. People get it.  It means looking at the way the car dominates the urban space and taking some of that space back for other uses. The  Mayor, Boris Johnson needs get his act together with respect cycling provision.

We want better choices Boris! We want the roads made safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

A quiet moment for those who died recently at Bow roundabout

Our Mayor, Boris Johnson, thinks that one just needs “to keep your wits about you” to be able to use our road system safely by bike. In other words, since cycling is growing in London and is actually getting safer, per TFL’s stats, why do we need to do anything?

Now, leaving aside the distasteful victim blaming, that suggests those killed or injured whilst cycling did not “have their wits about them”, I can almost see his point…. almost. After all, I am someone with over three decades solid experience of riding in London. I work full-time as a National Standard Cycle Instructor, averaging over 5500 miles/year in the city. I “have my wits about me” and can easily navigate any junction I choose. I’m sure, Boris Johnson is just as able. But what about everyone else? He is supposed to represent us all not just those who are like him. “I can do it so you should be able to do it too”, is a pretty poor position from one who is supposed to be working for ALL londoners.

Oi Boris, if your cycle polices were any good, do you think cyclists would be protesting?

Mayor Boris is very keen to grow cycling or so he says… but does his professed enthusiasm stand up to any examination? Over the last few years, I have met and trained hundreds of adults who want to start cycling for utility purposes. The overwhelming feeling from them has been that they are “scared of traffic”. I help them with that and by the time I am through, they will be able to go where they please without fear. But for every trainee I see, I know there are very many who will never take that step because their fear of traffic stops them. Telling them the “fact” that the roads are actually quite safe to use, is of no benefit at all. The roads need to be made into a friendlier place if we genuinely want to see sustained growth in cycling.

But Boris has done loads for cycling, I hear you say…. what about the Superhighways?

On my way down to Oval for the Tour Du Danger, I found myself on one of the Cycle Superhighway (CS) routes that approaches Oval from the west. I had never ridden on one before as there are none in North London yet. I have read the critical reviews from the cycling community but tried to keep an open mind. Frankly, the CS design is  utter nonsense. They have been pulled apart enough and I have no intention of repeating that here. Suffice to say that I would advise any trainee of mine to ignore most of what was there. A “superhighway” ought to feel, well….. Super. They don’t. They feel like all the rubbish cycle facilities that have gone before.  Boris needs to own it too, since he changed the plans for the CS from those inherited from his predecessor. What we have today is a badly compromised design that fails to produce any space or real priority for cyclists beyond what they would have anyway… hardly super. The CS should be wide and fully protected from the motor traffic in the Dutch style. Now that would have been SUPER! He has wasted the investment on something mediocre at best and at worst, deadly.

At Bow roundabout, scene of two needless deaths in under a month, the CS runs from the left edge of the lane ACROSS an exit. This sets up a collision in the event someone (like a HGV driver) needs to exit across the CS lane. It’s a terrible design… an accident waiting to happen. No National Standard instructor worth his or her high-vis, would tell a trainee to ride the line that the CS is taking here. It’s the wrong way to go straight on at a roundabout. I am certain that Boris would not stay on the CS at this point; he is too experienced a rider. TFL were warned about all this and I really hope that some of the corporate manslaughter cases that are being discussed (re. Kings Cross) make it to court. Boris and TFL own this nonsense. They have repeatedly ignored warnings given in their own internal reports and from the cycling community about the CS and the junction treatments they seem to favour.

Bow Roundabout - The scene of two tragic deaths within three weeks

When I look at the proposal for Blackfriars Bridge, I see it as part of a wider policy that favours those who choose to drive. Traffic flow is all important and all you lot who aren’t driving will just have to wait or be marginalised into the gutter. The recent redesign of Henley’s Corner, in Barnet, is another example. I will be making a fuss about it in due course but suffice to say that TFL, Boris Johnson and Barnet council have greatly worsened conditions for cyclists at this junction. There will be a fatality there as a result of this redesign. TFL take note.

This pattern is being repeated all over the city and calls into question how genuine Boris/TFL are about their desire to grow cycling. My personal view is that TFL are conflicted about this issue. Cycling measures do not generate much positive cash flow for them (like bus fares). Although cycling measures are highly efficient in cash terms, the benefits are indirect and accrue in other organisations, like the NHS. Put simply, it’s hard for TFL to do something which might lessen the Oyster take if the savings don’t go to TFL too. That is where the Mayor should step in to provide direction that looks to London’s future overall. It’s his job to see beyond the conflicting interdepartmental agendas and provide guidance in London’s best interests. Growing cycling now, helps with air quality, health, congestion and yes… social equity. We all pay for the roads! We want our share of the pie! If you want something to happen, you allocate resources. Come on Boris!

But what about the cuts? Can we afford all this engineering? For cyclists?

We spend a fortune on the roads now. Can we afford that? It’s a question of equity. At any budget level, the question is about how you allocate funds or indeed how you allocate space. Here is one way of looking at it:

Choose a statement –

  • Cycling is good and is to be encouraged
  • Cycling is neither good nor bad – do it if you wish
  • Cycling is bad and is to be discouraged

From this there follows –

  • Provision should lead demand (social engineering)
  • Provision should try to match demand (libertarian)
  • Provision should trail demand (social engineering)

Cycling makes up a significant percentage of London traffic. By any measure, we are massively discouraging cycling by the level of investment. Even if TFL were only trying to match demand, they should be spending well over 5% of their total budget on various forms of cycling provision. A genuine request is always accompanied by a wheelbarrow full of money you know. If they really want to encourage cycling how about 20%…?  Dream on Londonneur!  😉

So yes, there is plenty of money for whatever facilities we can dream up. There is also plenty of space… if we reallocate some of it away from its current use. There is a democratic issue here. Many Londoners want to ride their bikes. We want our money spent on that, not on making things worse for us, as at Blackfriars or Henley’s Corner and elsewhere.

The fact is that this can be a good thing for all road users, even the taxis! London just has too many vehicles on its roads. I have seen it get worse and worse for years to the point now where it is just a huge car park in many areas. It just seems too nasty out there for many people to feel comfortable riding their bikes despite the fact that cycling is far from a hazardous activity . If it looks inviting, many people will ditch their cars and ride a bike. If it looks safe, many people will let their children ride to school. Imagine easing the school run congestion or having cleaner air to breath. For those who drive for a living, the absence of a load of motor commuters can only help.

I’ve been riding all these “dangerous” junctions for years without problems but I know that I am somewhat unusual. I have gotten used to managing the various risks dynamically as I go. I am highly assertive to the point that I don’t even know I am doing it. But, unlike our Mayor, I can see that not everyone can just, be like me. Cycling should be an easy choise available to all.

Hear me Boris! You know we are right on this. Do what your heart is telling you.

On the Tour Du Danger, the truth is, it felt so much better to just relax and have space that was just for us on these roads… Without fear.


Another hugh thanks to the organisers and everyone who came! I hope you enjoy this video of the day

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…