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Posts Tagged ‘New Cycling Vision for London

New “Cycling Vision for London”? Cycling no longer that safe

Yesterday, Sept 23, 2013, a niece of mine, graduating and who moved to a new house a month ago, had a biking accident. She had been biking for 6 years in London and never expected that the hazard of experiencing a biking accident will touch her.

Is it a coincidence?

Last night I watched a movie where a girl (Winona Rider?) died as she was biking back home. She was biking safely and using all the safety regulation…

I had the instinct of sending my niece a message suggesting that taking the bus is a safer mode of transport in London, even if it takes a little more time to arrive at work.

Due to lack of connection I failed to send the message. I doubt that my niece would have considered my suggestion after cycling for 6 years in London without an accident. Should we exclude falling off the bike or skidding occurrences as not within the category of hazardous accidents?

She is now researching why and how this could have happened to her…

She posted on FB: “Spent a horrible day today in the ambulance and A&E after a bicycle accident. I’m home now and feeling much better with no serious injuries luckily. I don’t know though how long it will be before I am able to brave cycling in London again. After having cycled for 6 years in this city, today I understood that no matter how safe I ride, and how safely I am equipped on a bike, cycling in London can never be safe unless the cycling infrastructure changes…”

Coincidentally, I watched today a documentary on Copenhagen biking infrastructure: The over 200,000 bikers who go to work every day have their special lines and traffic lights.  Traffic lights for cars are regulated according to the biking priority: Bikers’ Green light goes on 5 seconds prior to the cars light.

Bikers don’t have to slow down on the main junctions or when reaching new suburbs.

Over 400,000 bikes are recycled every year, and the city government provide 500,000 new bike for every stolen or damaged bike. Bicycles are used for practical transport and not as a luxury property.  All kinds of individual businesses are done using bikes, from eating to drinking to selling.

You see a parent biking and carrying two kids and a dog on a special basket in the front of the bike. Not many bikers use helmets in this safe city for bikers.

Less than 25% of Denmark citizens own a car…

This post is one of her research findings.

Boris Johnson announced  a month ago a new “Cycling Vision for London”:  £93m to be spent per year on cycling infrastructure

The plan was widely heralded as a break in the conventional attitude from both Transport for London and Boris as regards the importance of cycling within London’s overall transport mix.

There was a noticeable change in vernacular to reflect the seriousness with which a bicycle is now being considered as a serious mode of transportation, and not merely a sport or leisure activity.

To this end, the Daily Telegraph’s former London correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, was appointed as Boris’ cycling “czar” – tasked with working with the boroughs to enact the Mayor’s vision.

While the proposals are not necessarily in-line with the international “best-practice” evident in countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, they are nonetheless a serious, and arguably long-overdue step in the right direction.

In principle, it means a complete abolition of the kind of half-hearted, ineffective cycle design that has been emblematic of Britain’s approach to cycle provision – which should, fingers crossed, eliminate the blue paint, gutter-lane “add-on” provision which anyone on two wheels is sure to tell you is as good as useless when riding a bike.

The meat of the proposals involves a network of “quietways” across the city, a joined-up bike grid around central London, an east-west “Crossrail” for bikes, and a series of mini-Holland projects in up to 4 London boroughs (preferably outer).

While these are all impressive commitments, perhaps the most fundamental, and little emphasized, aim from improved cycle provision was the need to make London a more efficient city for everyone – regardless of what mode of transportation they use. This is, in essence, the goal of creating a cycle-friendly city, which Boris neatly summarizes in the foreword to his vision document:

“Helping cycling will not just help cyclists. It will create better places for everyone. It means less traffic, more trees, more places to sit and eat a sandwich. It means new life, new vitality and lower crime on underused streets. It means more seats on the Tube, less competition for a parking space and fewer cars in front of yours at the lights.” 

The emphasis on an improvement in the civility of urban life that the bicycle can help achieve is not a point made often enough in the public sphere. And of course, no mention has been made of the potential for cycling to help alleviate the ever-looming obesity crisis (with the potential to save the NHS approximately £17bn over 20 years), as well as London’s pollution problems (said to be the worst in Europe, contributing to 4,300 premature deaths every year).

Why does this matter to Lewisham (a London suburb)?

Like many London boroughs, Lewisham suffers heavily from congestion – for readers of alternativeSE4, this is most prominent in areas such as the A2 – which stretches down to New Cross Gate, and then to the Old Kent Road and into central London – Lewisham town centre and Ladywell town centre. TFL analysis has shown that at least 50% of car trips (possibly more) involve distances of 2 miles or less – an eminently cycleable distance, particularly if it involves a trip to work, the school run, or to pick up a few bits and pieces from the shops.

Clearly, there is enormous potential to use cycling as a means of freeing up road space for the more essential journeys – bus trips, vans/lorries transporting goods and those who are perhaps travelling distances that are not well-catered for by public transport options.

Unsurprisingly, Lewisham has a very low percentage of its population that travel by bicycle.

According to 2011 census data, just 4.1% of residents cycle to work, compared with 15.4% in Hackney and 10.1% in Islington.

Even our neighbouring borough of Southwark has a much higher cycling rate, at 7.7%.

Interestingly, Lewisham’s figure is lower than that of outer London boroughs such as Richmond and Kingston, which have rates of 6.7% and 4.4%, respectively. Wandsworth too, has a cycling rate of 7.9%, which shows that geographical distance from the centre of London, which would seem to be the obvious indicator for the differing rates, is not necessarily the driver behind such figures.

Percentage of people who travel to work by bicycle (2011, by London borough). Image c/o: cyclistsinthecity

More likely, is the subjective attitude to the safety of cycling in an environment that caters almost solely to the needs of the motor car and not to those on two wheels.

It is a fact that driving in London has been getting progressively safer for a period of many years, while cycling has been getting progressively more dangerous.

Again the 2011 census data bears this out.

KSI casualties (killed or seriously injured) for car occupants in Lewisham have been falling consistently for the last six years, and are at their lowest point for six years. Cycling KSIs in Lewisham, on the other hand, have been rising steadily since 2008, and over the 2010-11 period, shot up to reach the highest point in six years.

KSI figures for car occupants in Lewisham (from 2011 Census data)

KSIs for bike users (2011 Census data)

It is not hard to see why this might be the case. Main roads and junctions have little to no cycle provision – with Deptford Broadway a case in point. This is a junction that has 7 motor vehicle lanes in the east-west direction, but no cycle lanes. Understandably therefore, bicycles here are not a particularly common sight.

Similar problems are evident in Lewisham roundabout, with several lanes of approaches in every direction, but still no cycle lane provision. Again, understandably, however much people might want to cycle, it is unsurprising that the majority will choose to drive.

Add to this mix a reluctance on the part of Lewisham council to commit to ensuring that all of its lorries are fitted with safety equipment (falling behind 8 London boroughs that have fully signed up to the London Cycling Campaign “safer lorries” pledge), and a refusal to commit to 20 mph speed limits on borough roads (covered by alternativeSE4 here), and it becomes apparent that building up cycling levels is going to be a real uphill battle.

What else can be done?

An interesting trend across several parts of London is pavement widening. Brockley Cross has received this treatment, and in the near future, Ladywell town centre will also have its pavement widened.

Ostensibly, this kind of intervention is a positive one – granting more freedom for pedestrians, brightening the streetscape and with narrower vehicle lanes forcing lower speeds. However, it is often also touted as pro-cyclist intervention, when in actual fact it makes conditions worse.

A good example of this is Ladywell, shown below. The image of the chap happily riding along on his bike here is simply not going to play out in reality. On a high street with such a heavy volume of traffic, anyone on a bike within such a narrow carriageway is going to obstruct vehicles, which is only going to increase tension and conflict between motorists and bike users. It may even lead to more dangerous road behaviour, thereby increasing the unpleasantness of the cycling experience.

Ladywell carriageway improvement.

The extended pavement will civilise a heavily congested street, but why couldn’t the extended paving have been a separated cycle lane?

The Ladywell designs also include provision of a “shared path” for cyclists and pedestrians, which runs across the corner of Algernon Road (a PDF drawing of the plan can be seen here). Much like the narrow carriageway in the image above, converting a pavement for the use of two different groups is only going to ramp up animosity and conflict, inevitably provoking more resentment among pedestrians towards those on bicycles.

Brockley Cross has also received similar pavement widening treatment – again, to the benefit of pedestrians and a more amenable high street environment, but with no positive knock-on effect for cycling.

Given that it has been proven that cycle-friendly streets actually help improve prospects for local business (businesses on 8th & 9th Avenues in New York are said to have seen a 50% increase in sales receipts after protected bike lanes were installed), there is certainly an economic case, as well as a health, noise and general environmental one, to be made to fit space for bicycles within the streets of SE4 and its surrounding environs (although admittedly, Brockley Rd is not 8th/9th Ave, but the principle is sound).

An arguably easier, short-term and funding-lite approach would be for Lewisham to facilitate cycling by enabling “filtered permeability” (ie, allowing two-way cycling on one-way streets for motor cars), selective street closures and conversion of car parking spaces to bicycle parking.

These kinds of interventions have been incorporated to great effect in Camden, Islington and the City of London, and more importantly, cost very little to implement and cause very little disruption. The cyclist blogger “CyclistsintheCity” has covered this, along with accompanying images, in this well-written post.

Boris’ cycling vision for London is bold, but most of the potential change in Lewisham is out of his hands, primarily due to the fact that TFL control just 5% of London’s roads. Clearly, Andrew Gilligan is going to have to work hard to get all London boroughs on-side with the Mayor’s proposals.  But in order to see real progress, Lewisham Council is going to have to start taking cycling seriously, and recognize that while not everyone will ever be prepared to take to two wheels, joined-up thinking on provision is going to have enormous long-term economic benefits, from rejuvenating many of the boroughs tired high streets to transforming urban space and improving health.

The latter is an issue sure to come into focus with the emergence of the Public Health Outcomes Framework, released early last year, which has set a comprehensive set of health targets and devolved responsibility for achieving those targets to local boroughs.

A quick glance at Lewisham’s statistics shows obesity rates for 4-5 year-old and 10-11 yr olds that is far higher than the average across England (and some of the highest in London).

A far greater challenge lies in improving conditions to allow children to cycle to school, but for now, Lewisham could do worse than take a leaf out of Hackney’s book.

 


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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