A bright new dawn for cycling in London?

Gearing up

“Gearing up – An investigation into safer cycling in London” has now been produced by the London Assembly Transport Committee .

“Gearing up” should, and already has, attracted a good deal of attention Since some regard me as overly negative, let’s start off with some very positive points in the document.

Money

The RDRF view is that non-motorised users are discriminated against in contemporary transport policy, and indeed the wider car-centred culture. One way this happens is through under allocation of funding towards cycling. If we consider the funding for public transport, let alone the funding for the hidden (external) costs of motoring it is apparent that cycling is very much the poor relation.

So it’s nice to see “Gearing up” call for serious money to be directed at spending on cycling, apart from on the Barclays Bike Hire Scheme. (The submission from the Road Danger Reduction Forum making the case for a substantial tranche of funding is quoted sympathetically on p.23).

“Gearing up” goes into quite a bit of detail about what could  and should be asked for.  I have always made a comparison with subsidy for public transport as a key way of doing this, with additional amounts for the relative health and sustainability benefits of cycling. The Assembly transport committee get hold of a percentage of Transport for London spend, which looks like an politically acceptable tactic.

So pretty good news there – although the money has to be spent properly. “Gearing up” considers an expansion of the Biking Borough programme, and match funding good projects in the Outer London Boroughs.

This is where things could get tricky. 95% of roads in London are Borough roads. How are projects in the Boroughs going to be assessed for support? A typical Outer London Borough may have a local infrastructural improvement not far away from a new car-based development creating more motor traffic and worse conditions for cyclists down the road. Also, rather than adding on
funding through the Local Implementation Plan (LIP), it would be more pertinent to reduce LIP funding to those Boroughs obviously not supporting cycling – but I am laying off the negativity for now.

Basically, the clear and well-argued demand for proper funding is very good news.

Targets

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. “Douglas Adams.

In the last 20 years I have seen a number of – often quite good – targets set. They have almost all subsequently not been met, with nobody seeming to notice very much. The National Cycling Strategy, John Prescott’s reduction in motor vehicular traffic …does setting targets actually get us anywhere? Or do they not just fly by as they remaint, like Douglas Adams’ deadlines, unmet?

The “Gearing up” recommendation to have a higher London cycling modal share target and get to the existing one by 2020 could be meaningless. However,  the recommendation is associated with regular monitoring by a Cycling Commissioner and so could be useful.

The trick is to actually see what is happening – there is very little knowledge about exactly how much cycling is done in London – relate it to initiatives to support cycling, and to act accordingly. In fact, this should have happened already. Those initiatives that are working get supported, that those that don’t, don’t.

Could this happen in London?

Highway Infrastructure

“Gearing up” recommends:

  • Filtered permeability
  • Removing all one-way gyratory systems as a priority (albeit only in the current junctions review)
  • Reducing speeds to 20 mph at complex junctions.
  • The benefits of reducing motor traffic. It refers to our friends in RoadPeace’s comments on the benefits of the lorry ban during the Olympics and says: “Reduced motor traffic can benefit cycling and the environment for all Londoners” (p.37) and “The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games provided evidence that space can be reallocated for prioritised traffic schemes. Reallocating road space can both reduce general motor traffic and increase cycling.” .

It questions Transport for London’s tendency to use modelling biased towards retaining motor vehicular capacity.

Not surprisingly, some are reacting as though all London’s cyclists’ Christmases have come at once.

So what are the problems?

The Committee was comprised of 4 Conservatives, 1 Liberal Democrat, 6 Labour and 1 Green, so could be expected to be not particularly pro the current mayor – but not particularly anti either. In that context the recommendations are not only often radical and forceful – but come from a more or less mainstream section of the Members of the London Assembly. That should give it some clout – but while I believe there are requirements for some of the recommendations to be responded to by the Mayor, I don’t think he is actually under any legal obligation to pursue any of them.

That’s the number one problem:  a sensible demand for a set percentage of TfL’s budget to be allocated towards cycling projects is positive IF the mayor agrees to it.

And “if” is a very big little word.

Next are the views of the staff in the GLA and TfL bureaucracy. Practitioners working regularly with TfL staff find that it is sometimes difficult to understand exactly how decisions have been arrived at. Somehow reasonable intentions become contorted in the labyrinthine processes at work at unknown levels in the bureaucracies. The second issue then is this: how will the
“Gearing up” recommendations be discussed, fought over (some staff will lose budgets if more funding goes to cycling), elaborated and eventually presented to the Mayor for (dis)approval?

Number three: the Boroughs. Transport for London, to be fair to them, are only directly reasonable for some 5% of the roads in London. TfL can – and do – always argue that problems in the Boroughs are not their fault.

However, that’s not fair either. Boroughs are funded primarily by TfL, and adequate funding, high quality guidelines etc. from TfL are necessary for supporting cycling. Also, TfL can, and have, prevented measures which interfere with their version of Network Assurance in road schemes in the Boroughs. Ultimately, while there are potential legal difficulties with too much interference in what Boroughs have decided to do, TfL can limit LIP funding.

So we have some significant  obstacles to be cleared before any new dawn appears. But there are some problems within “Gearing up” which need to be looked at as well – which I’ll leave for the next post.