The London Cycling Campaign and what cyclists in London want

The continuing saga of Blackfriars Bridge has revealed a more high profile and combative London Cycling Campaign, preparing a new strategy for the organisation the year before the Mayoral elections. Will this be the way towards getting “the cyclised City”?

Consider LCC CEO Ashok Sinha’s approach as described in London Cyclist June-July 2011 (pp.16 – 18). Having stated that London is indisputably not a cyclised city, and not on a trajectory towards becoming one, how are we to remedy the situation (an issue we have addressed before here , here ,  and here ? The answer for him is “everything

“Everything means (hold your breath) more money for cycle promotion, more road space for cyclists, lower volumes of motor traffic, slower motorised traffic speeds, more cycle training, safer lorries, more cycle awareness training, for drivers, better wayfinding, more segregated tracks, more mandatory lanes, no one-way streets for cyclists, ending rat-runs, providing ample and secure cycle parking, integrating cycling targets into planning gain, zero-tolerance cycle theft policing, opening up greenways, car-free routes, places and/or times, integrating cycling into public health, air pollution abatement, climate change strategies, and stricter liability for insurance claims purposes. You get the picture”.

Basically, I have four problems with Ashok Sinha’s “everything”.

  1. “Everything” becomes “one thing”. Following up from the wish list of “everything”, we get an account of how we might get the political leadership to make this happen. In his article (London Cyclist June-July 2011,pp.16 – 18) he moves on to arguing for  the need for LCC to run “a popular, positive single-issue campaign …If we can target a single totemic issue that, while not a panacea, is big enough to help pave the pathway towards a cyclised city, then we may have traction.”  So now we are on to what is not “everything” – but the single totemic issue, with options such as ”Getting 100,000 children cycling to school regularly”.

 2.      What “everything” actually means. Looking a bit closer you see that it gets a bit more complicated – the peril of a thrown-together shopping list. So, in more detail:

(a)    Infrastructure: the debate about segregation is going again, so what exactly is it that people want? If it is to be fully segregated tracks, then that may be opposed to other kinds of engineering, and raises a host of issues about changes in motorist behaviour at junctions, costs, and how the space necessary is to be removed from parked and moving motor vehicles. If we are to remove road space from motor vehicles, do we want it to be for segregated cycle tracks? Just saying we want more of mandatory cycle lanes, greenways, car-free routes/places/times may raise possibilities but doesn’t provide actual objectives. What would a small amount of road space being re-allocated in one part of London actually mean for cycling on the vast majority of London’s roads?

(b)    Cycle awareness training for drivers. An important area for not just lorry, but all drivers at work. But what proportion of drivers can actually be reached by working through Councils (the main thrust of the LCC campaign on lorry driver training)?

(c)    Secure cycle parking. A desirable aim, but how does this fit in to the almost unrecognised area of home parking?

The problem with a shopping list like this is you can easily end up with some small local improvements at the expense of more important things elsewhere. I suggest we need a whole more than the sum of its parts: but shopping lists can end up with not many parts, let alone a whole that is more than the sum of them.

Also, some key areas of “everything” have been missed out:

3.         Not enough of “everything”.  Elements that have been missed out:

(a)    I refer above to home parking: about half of London’s homes are flats, mainly with inconvenient or insecure cycle parking – and many houses have the same problem. LBs Lambeth and to a lesser extent Hackney, Southwark and Ealing have made attempts to improve this.

(b)    Adequate retail facilities. In large areas of London there are no specialist cycle shops – a necessity for novice cyclists. Government can help retailers through business tax exemptions and/or assistance through apprenticeship schemes. There is an obvious demand for cheap bicycles which can be addressed through recycled, recovered and second-hand bike outlets.

(c)    Support with equipment and accessories, particularly in winter. One of the reasons for the middle class preponderance in cycling is that cycling, particularly with more reliable equipment and clothing, can be expensive. There is also a very distinct reduction in cycling in the winter months which may be alleviated if assistance is given with “winterizing” cycling with support for purchasing wet and cold weather accessories, as carried out to a small extent in LB Ealing’s “Keep Riding in Winter” programme.

(d)    A sea change in law enforcement for careless and dangerous driving. Of value to all road users, and hardly on the agenda.

4.      An overall organising principle.

Road Danger Reduction is essentially about reducing danger at source as part of a sustainable transport policy.  The principle is actually simple. What the LCC is not doing is stating what the problem is.

 For RDRF the problem is: danger from a transport system excessively based on motor vehicle (particularly car, motorcycle, van and lorry) use, with sustainable and more benign modes, particularly cycling, discriminated against.

 The answer is to oppose this through making accountable and reducing the source of danger as part of a more sustainable transport policy. Discrimination is opposed by an equitable approach to the different transport modes. This means equity – fairness – with regard to two basic elements: resource allocation and danger. Instead of “everything” we have the simple response of equity, or fairness.

 The merit of the fairness approach is that it is simple and based on the idea that we are not asking for anything special, just an equal deal without discrimination against cycling. It is based on an idea of natural justice which is morally difficult to oppose.

 Of course, it will be opposed because the motoring lobby sees itself as oppressed. That is an ideological battle which will have to be joined. Let’s look at the two basic elements we need to consider.

Resource allocation.

Essentially every transport user both pays for their mode of transport (in fares, purchasing vehicle, VAT etc.) and also inflicts costs on society through use of the transport mode of choice. This is a hotly contested matter, not least because of inevitable argument about how to calculate the costs of, for example, pollution – and whether we should do so in the first place. In fact monetary forms of calculation are traditionally used in cost-benefit analyses which tend to reinforce the transport status quo.

Nevertheless, we can argue that private motoring has net costs to society and the environment even after all the various forms of motorist taxation are paid – and that there is a good case for requiring motorists to pay more, primarily through increased costs of fuel. http://rdrf.org.uk/2011/01/266/  But even without discussing car and road freight costs, we have to remember the subsidy to public transport.

While Mayor Johnson has been cutting TfL’s expenditure, subsidy for public transport is still far higher than spend on cycling. Roughly speaking, a typical bus passenger gets at least 80p per trip, or some £350 per commuting year, subsidy. Tube and rail passengers get more, and that’s without the extremely expensive (£15+ billion) Crossrail scheme.

By comparison, without the Bike Hire and  Cycle Super Highway (CSH) schemes, undefined TfL spend on cycling is supposedly about £20 million annually (it is unclear whether this includes Borough LIP spending on items such as schools cycle training)

If cycling were to get more or less the same amount of subsidy as bus transport, we could expect a ring fenced amount approaching £100 million per annum. (£350 x 275,000, the number of cyclists daily). That is for a mode which is generally far healthier and environmentally benign, as well as being more convenient in outer London. Cycling England (the now abolished advisory body to Government) gave a figure of a £10,000 (over a lifetime) as the benefit of an extra regular cyclist.

In addition, where highway infrastructure is the target for expenditure, one can argue that costs should be borne out of general highways budgets.

And still £100 million annually would be a very small part of even a much reduced TfL annual budget – some 1% of the 2009/2010 budget of £9.2 billion.

Before getting too bored with figures, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that – before he got to power – Ken Livingstone’s advice to cycling campaigners was to aim for more than 1% of the transport budget. Under his regime it never got to half of that – and then mainly for the “LCN+”. And then there is the additional massive subsidy over-60s get with public transport – what about free bikes for over-60s?

What would equitable resource allocation actually mean?

Above I have tried to show that it makes sense in terms of equity for cyclists to expect a substantial tranche of ring-fenced funding of some £100 million per annum.  This represents a tiny proportion of the existing TfL budget which – whatever the climate of economic austerity – could be diverted from the massive general budget with minimal detrimental effect to other modes. All of this is without comparison with, for example, the Dutch model of 25 Euros per head of the population annually for investment in cycling, or some £170 million in the London context.

Where would it go?  A range of areas of support are mentioned above:

  • Support with subsidised equipment, wet and cold weather clothing and other necessary accessories to individual cyclists.
  • Support for cycling retailers and second hand / recovered bikes schemes.
  • Subsidised home parking; on-road confidence and maintenance skills training.
  • Anti-cycle theft programmes including secure parking at workplaces and in public places.

The idea is to actually assist people who want to cycle by dealing with obstacles that will occur whatever kind of danger there is on the road or whatever kind of infrastructure exists. Programmes like LB Ealing’s Direct Support for Cycling make a minimal effort to achieve this. The loss of cycling culture means that a variety of groups, such as women in black and ethnic minority communities is particularly distanced from cycling and can benefit from specific support.

This equitable resource allocation could include the financing of necessary highway and off-road infrastructure and policing- although these should arguably be financed out of general budgets.

Danger

The RDR approach is to address the reduction of danger at source for the safety of all road users, by making those responsible for that danger accountable. That can mean real accountability for whoever is considered responsibility for danger from motor traffic – highway authorities, vehicle engineers or individual motorists. It ranges from the volume and flows of motor traffic to specific vehicle manoeuvres and ways of reducing them by whatever means are necessary.

The approach has to be based on the fact that the kind of rule and law infractions by motorists implicated in endangering other road users are commonplace, and that current levels of law enforcement do not even scratch the surface of the iceberg of motorised rule and law breaking. Furthermore, the idiot-proofing of the road and car environment by “road safety” professionals has exacerbated the danger posed by the motorised to other road users.

The shopping list of danger reduction initiatives normally wheeled out (enforcing existing speed limits, more 20 mph areas or zones; higher levels of police enforcement, pressure on national government to reduce lenient sentencing, specific HGV measures etc.) has  to be looked at through this perspective.

What this means is that we become aware that the initiatives will not only have minimal impact, but that they may occur in an environment with danger increasing elsewhere. RDR also suggests that pressing down on road danger in one area leads to it appearing elsewhere: it is crucial to keep the overall picture in mind and not allocate all the effort in a few specific areas. Urban cyclists know that there are a number of potential manoeuvres by motorists which can lead to collision with cyclists (or pedestrians), and there is little – if any – advantage in concentrating on just one or two.

Some reminders on road danger

  • Speak English, not “roadsafetyese”. Very often all you have to do is invert the speech to get the real road safety meaning. For example, more crashworthy cars which encourage less careful driving are not “safer”, but more dangerous. A “safe road” which has few reported casualties may be one where there is a lot of motor danger which reduces pedestrian and cyclist traffic. Check up on these basics when engaging with the official “road safety” paradigm presented in local and central government. Always remember the “who kills – or just endangers – whom?” question.
  • Safety on the road is above all a moral and political question involving a pronounced hierarchy of danger. Inevitable attention to cyclist (or occasionally pedestrian) rule/law breaking can create the space to draw attention to the more important kinds of danger which tend to evade media and public consciousness.
  • The aim of real road safety is reducing danger at source (e.g. primarily from motorised traffic) and holding those responsible for it accountable. The numbers of people reported as injured is another issue – even the better indicator of casualty rates (per journey or distance travelled) is less important than reducing danger and holding those responsible for it accountable.
  • Always remember that people adapt to perceived danger. This can be in both the short and long term, with cultural change accepting practices previously thought unacceptable. The strategy is to get adaptation so that danger is reduced at source.

Raising the real road safety agenda

The kind of measures we could have for real road safety are not on the agenda yet – although they could be – and discussion needs to involve suggesting what we might require if we are to have safe roads for all:

  • Call for black box recorders for motor vehicles to establish cause for post-crash criminal and civil law investigation.
  • Call for a shift to driver liability for collisions involving cyclists or pedestrians for both civil and criminal law – based on (a) the fact of the “iceberg” of motorists rule and law breaking (b) the assumptions by “road safety” professionals of the inherent danger posed by the motorised and (c) the insurance industry actuarial estimates of danger from motorists compared to cyclists or pedestrians.
  • Consideration of technologies (pedestrian activated motor vehicle braking systems, citizen road user camera users, on-board speed governors etc.) not so much for actual implementation, but for raising the issues of RDR.
  • Use targets and indices should not just be the “rate-based” (casualties per journey or distance travelled), but should move on to rates assessing whether a third party is at fault. Indices relating to perception of safety can also be used.
  • Give proper evidence-based information on supposed “safety” initiatives such as helmet and hi-viz advocacy

These are the thoughts of someone who has been cycling in London for 35 years and a member of LCC for most of them. Your comments to chairrdrf@aol.com will be considered.