Friday 8 March 2013

London's new plans. Serious campaigning must start now

London's Evening Standard
and other sources added
10% to make headlines more
Like everyone I was surprised at the sudden announcement in London about investment in cycling. In typical London style, the press release quoted lots of baffling but impressive sounding numbers. As so frequently happens, these were mostly reported verbatim without any analysis, though some news sources inflated what was on offer to make a more impressive headline.

Competing with Amsterdam ?
At least one news source claimed that London was going to compete with Amsterdam.

Just four days ago, London's "cycling czar" used the well worn excuse of Britain being "40 years behind" the Netherlands in a weasel worded blog post which prepared the audience for plans that would have no intention at all of "turning London into Amsterdam anytime soon" but which we were still to see as representing "a real shift in our ambitions for the bike". As it happened, I'd already written a blog post this week which pointed out that the "forty years excuse" is very commonly used to excuse inadequate action in future and it seems that I was bang on target for this announcement.

The Netherlands spends €487 million euros every year on cycling infrastructure. That's over €30 per person per year to maintain and slowly grow from the existing strong base of cycling. This is a national figure, not just for Amsterdam, though Amsterdam's investment is about average. What London is being offered is £913 million. This sounds good until you realise that this is to be spread over ten years and is to serve a city which will have a population of 9 million people by the end of the ten year period. It works out as a mere £10 per person per year, or little over a third of the Dutch level of expenditure.

Once past the impressive headlines from London you see that Andrew Gilligan's and Boris Johnson's proposed solution to being "40 years behind" the Netherlands is to spend a third as much as the Dutch and to do so for just ten years. How can that possibly work ?

And of course the rest of the UK is not included in this. With just an inadequate plan for just one part of the country how can we expect Britain to be less than "50 years behind" at the end of this ten year period ?

Looks nice enough, but the video glosses over the difficult bits at either end where cyclists have to join or leave this cycle-path. Oh, and actually cycle-paths like that already go everywhere in the Netherlands but are not thought worthy of press-releases.

Hype compared with the plans
Quite apart from adding 10% to the amount to be spent in order to make a nice round "billion" for headlines, newspapers have also reported on a "15 mile segregated bike lane" which the original document refers to as being only "substantially segregated". Many sources reproduced claims without any critical analysis, including Dutch language sources. This is of course the intention of such a dramatic press release.

Many sources quote a figure of "£18 per head", but that's only for one year out of the ten, a peak in 2015. Even this peak is still behind average in the Netherlands. What's more, this peak implies that actual expenditure in the other 9 years will be below the average of £10.

We are told that "Timid, half-hearted improvements are out – we will do things at least adequately, or not at all". I'm sure this statement is welcome because Britain has quite enough "farcilities" already. However the document doesn't actually follow this up. Some of the proposals made within it are very much "half-hearted":

For a start, setting a target of only around 5% of journeys by bike is not very ambitious at all. Nowhere in the Netherlands has such a low modal share and Britain has been promised more than this before. The lack of a serious target shows that this is not a real attempt to "catch up".

Assen. Four metre wide cycle-path
behind bus-stop with cycle-parking.
The same width as the proposed path
in London. These already go
everywhere in this country, tens of
thousands of kilometres of such cycle
paths form the backbone of a network
which covers the whole country.
The suggestion that bus routes cannot have segregated cycle-paths because "Everybody getting off or on a bus would step straight into the lane, risking being hit by a cyclist" is without grounds. In this country, best practice places cycle-paths behind bus stops and bus-stops provide cycle-parking for multi-modal use (sometimes for an extraordinary number of bicycles).

(Update August: a few months after this article was written, London constructed an inferior design of bus stop which creates exactly the pedestrian/bicycle conflict problem they wrote about and branded it as Dutch, even though it does not resemble real Dutch bus stop bypasses at all. Similarly, the extension of Cycling Superhighway 2 was trailed as being of "Dutch" quality but includes a ludicrous junction design never found in the Netherlands).

"Shared bus and bike lanes" are also certainly not "Dutch" and these also simply not good enough. They do not meet any reasonable standards for cycle provision and I'm not alone in thinking this. PRESTO guidelines also suggest that "buses, just like lorries, create greater hazards for cyclists than passenger cars" and that they "frighten cyclists away" and cause "additional stress and less comfort". Subjective safety is all important for encouraging a high cycling modal share.

Given the small budget it won't be possible to achieve the needed change across all of London. For that reason I quite like the idea of the "mini-Hollands" (see footnote about the name). If they truly are "every bit as cycle-friendly as their Dutch equivalents; places that suburbs and towns all over Britain will want to copy" then they could have the desired effect. However, it will only work so long as these promises are met. i.e. so long as the areas they cover are extensive enough to be useful, they genuinely have high enough quality design to attract people to cycle, and so long as there really is an intention to follow it through over the rest of the city and the entire country at a later date. That may sound like a lot to ask, but it is not an unreasonable aim. The Dutch have already demonstrated that it is possible to do this over an entire country with double the population and over 20x the area of London.

The "Central London Bike Grid" sounds positive. Joining up routes is vital. However, if this is inspired by the Dutch concept of a tight grid of very high quality routes then it really needs to be of the same high quality and density, and over the entire city, not just the centre. It's fair enough to start in the centre (and the "mini Hollands" should naturally have this as a matter of course if they're to live up to their name) but it must spread everywhere eventually. In the Netherlands, the importance of such a grid was known to be vital for attracting people to cycle so far back as the early 1980s. No cycle-route is stronger than its weakest link.

"We will grade routes so people know what to expect" is a strange thing to put into the proposal as it's a tacit admission that not all the routes proposed will be usable by all people. Dutch cycle-routes do not have and do not need, grades. Every route in the Netherlands is suitable for every person to use. If London is truly building to Dutch standard then London's cycle-routes won't need to be graded either.

Improving access to Advanced Stop Lines by providing a short length of cycle-path is not nearly enough. ASLs need to go. Yes the Netherlands also built ASLs in the 1980s and yes, some of them still survive. However, those which caused most problems have gone and the remaining few are to be found on relatively minor roads. It's just a matter of waiting for them to go, their days are numbered. New ASLs are not being built in the Netherlands and there is no reason why they should be built in London. London doesn't need to copy a mistake which causes conflict. Move on. Advanced designs of traffic light junctions do not put cyclists into conflict with cars. Why not try simultaneous green traffic lights in London. These are very successful because they remove conflict in both time and space.

Why not just be cheerful ?
For all I've written above I cautiously welcome the proposals because they do appear to offer London's cyclists more than they've ever been offered before. However, I call upon campaigners in the UK to stop behaving as if they are already victorious. There has been no success yet. All you have is a few nice mocked up photos and animations and some actually quite vague promises about how less than adequate funding will be spent. It's just possible that with enough campaigning effort this will turn into something great. However, no turf has been disturbed as yet. It is premature to celebrate or to write about "success". We must remain skeptical.

1996's "National Cycling
Strategy" set a target to
double cycling by 2002 and
quadruple by 2012
. Cycling
nationally should already
be double the ambition
for London
I've been involved in cycle campaigning for long enough to have seen this sort of thing before. In 1996 I was one of the campaigners who celebrated the National Cycling Strategy, which was abandoned before anything had been achieved.

In recent years, cyclists also seen the National Cycling Plan for England come and go with barely a whisper.

Bristol was named as a "Cycling City" and several other places were named as "Cycling Towns". There was a lot of publicity, and just as in this instance many newspapers and websites reproduced the press-releases uncritically.

2009: TfL's original concept of
a "Superhighway". People
criticized me for pointing out
that this wasn't good enough.
London's new plans are also
not good enough.
London made many bold claims for the bike hire scheme and when the city proposed the very obviously flawed "superhighways" the resulting storm of publicity was sufficient even to make some Dutch people think they were about to be overtaken.

However, publicity is not the aim. Cycling is the aim. Given past experience of promises made but not always kept, campaigners are not here to help politicians or councils make a name for themselves, they must judge their success on how much people cycle. Campaigners need to be very cautious in their support. It's important to stay focused and make sure that London delivers more than has yet been promised.

That's why the serious campaigning must start now.

Monday 11 update
Spokes point out that Transport for London's annual budget amounts to approximately £5 Billion per year and that the proportion to be spent on cycling is under 2%. They also point out that Edinburgh has committed 5% of its budget to cycling, but I suppose the smaller numbers involved don't make such impressive headlines. They certainly have not been used by a publicity machine so large as that in London.

Tuesday 12 update
I read a few other reports including one on the Fietsberaad website which highlighted some facts not reported widely which I had missed. The plans include a near doubling of the London shared bike scheme to 11000 bikes and there are to be 80000 cycle-parking spaces built. It also suggested that only a third of the headline total of £913M promised has actually been sourced. Schrödinger's Cat pointed out that the figures were in the original document on London's own website, but had been overlooked by most people.

So let's look at this in more detail. The bike hire scheme cost London £140 million pounds and operating costs work out as approximately £2500 per bike per year. Hopefully the expansion won't result in quite the same capital cost again, but clearly we need to expect it to take a good chunk out of the money already allocated and if operating costs increase in line with the number of bikes, that's £27M per year that London will be paying for a service used for 0.2% of journeys. Will it be good value for money ? As I pointed out three years ago, a lack of bikes was never the problem in London, it was just that people were scared to cycle. The bike share scheme could easily consume a third of the total funding that has been announced.

A photo of just the indoor parking
at a Dutch railway station before
the initiative to build more spaces.
80000 cycle-parking spaces ? I was quite hopeful about because I thought it might make London's railway stations more comparable with those in the Netherlands. However, I then realised that these are not just for railway stations. but for all uses across the city. It sounds like a good number but actually it's only one bike rack for every 1000 citizens. As this is a ten year plan I think it's constructive to compare with the result of ten year cycle-parking construction plan which ran in the Netherlands. In 1999 a promise was made to install 200000 extra cycle-parking spaces at railway stations. In 2010 the 200000th of these stands was installed. A further 60000 spaces were then constructed by 2012 and the railway company promised that they would install 25000 more each year per year until 2020. You may think it's unreasonable to compare a single city with a whole country, but the population of the Netherlands is only double that of London. If London's promise had been 80000 more spaces at railway stations only in ten years, that would still have been considerably fewer per capita than the Dutch have already delivered over the last ten years and will continue to build for the next 7 years.

Finally, the finances. The Fietsberaad link says that just £300M has yet been allocated in London. That's enough to invest at Dutch levels in London for just 18 months. However it appears that this money is to be tapped into to pay for expanding the bike hire scheme and this may leave less than one year's worth of funding at Dutch levels.

What can I say ? These extra figures are disappointing. Unfortunately, the more we find out, the more it seems was hidden by the initial hype.

Who is the "Cycling Commissioner" ?
The language of the "new vision" is lovely of course. It has convinced many cyclists that there is a real change in the status of cyclists in London and that was of course its job. However, in reality TfL has so far committed only 2% of the transport budget for London to this project and it has done so for just three of the ten years.

So who is behind the language ? It is surely not for nothing that Boris chose to employ a journalist, Andrew Gilligan, as cycling commissioner rather than appointing an engineer to the job. If you want good headlines and to convince people without making any really large commitments then a good writer is surely exactly the person you need.

A message to TfL
I know someone there reads my blog because an expensive firm of architects that you asked to find out about Assen tried to get me to do their work for them for free. Why don't you give some credit ? More to the point, if you want to know about what you've read on my blog, why not ask me directly instead of asking someone else to ask me ? And if you want you planners to understand how the infrastructure here works, how about actually sending some of your staff on one of our study tours so that we can demonstrate everything to them. They can see it for themselves and benefit from our experience. We'd be very pleased to meet them and to show them what state of the art cycling infrastructure looks like. Take advantage of our extensive knowledge of cycling in both the UK and in the Netherlands - I'm quite sure we don't cost as much as that large firm of architects.

Update December 2013
London has sadly experienced a run of cyclist deaths and this has been followed by protests. The response from both Andrew Gilligan and Boris Johnson has been weak at best. Both have blamed cyclists for their own misfortune rather than accepting that the extremely poor infrastructure in London, which they both have responsibility for, is to blame. While both of these two continue to claim that no change to infrastructure could have saved lives, in the Netherlands people live on a day to day basis with infrastructure which achieves exactly that. Read my response to a visit to London this year or all the articles about London, which demonstrate many of the problems and dangers which the city poses for cyclists.

Update one year later
One year later, nothing much had changed in London, but there were plenty of new press releases. Read my response: Another year without progress in London.

Update two years later
Another year as passed and London still has little to show for it past a flurry of preposterous proposals, bad designs and voluminous hype. It's still the case that nothing significant has changed in London and as 2015 is the year of maximum expenditure this is the make or break year.

Just over two years after I wrote this piece, the inadequate target of 5% of trips in London by bike by 2026 was abandoned.

Please also read David Arditti's excellent response to the proposals. He's a little more positive than me, but he's still critical.

LCC, TfL: Please stop talking about "Holland". Holland is to the Netherlands much as England is to the UK. You'll have noticed that Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh people can get quite upset about parts of their countries being referred to as England. It's much the same over here. People from the 10 provinces of the Netherlands which are not either North Holland or South Holland would prefer that you refer to this country as "The Netherlands"


David said...

Are you claiming that Steer Davies Gleave are Canadian architects? Because they're not: they're British.

Take a look at their offices, specifically the email addresses. The only one without a city or country descriptor in the email address is the London office.

About the only thing "Canadian" about them is the fact that their Canadian offices engage in that familiar Canadian employer tradition of demanding absurd levels of experience before they'll hire anyone for anything.

Anyway, frankly, looking at the email they sent, I think you were overreacting. Asking if you knew where they might be able to find information is not the same as asking you for that information or asking you to work for free. I got the impression that the writer thought you might have contacts in the Assen city administration. I'd be over the moon if someone had asked me something similar.

Also, directing a message at TfL is kind of pointless. Most transport authorities in the English-speaking world now farm out just about everything to consultants, including design standards. It's absurd, but that's the way it now is.

andi-kam said...

A fair comment about my piece on London Cyclist. I certainly wasn't implying that London was anywhere near the model for Amsterdam but more that we're making steps in that direction.

There's a follow on piece on Monday titled: "Are cyclists being shortchanged?" that talks about the investment amount. It raises many of the points you've brought up here and makes a comparison with the percentage of the TfL budget that actually goes to cycling versus the cycling modal share.

Appreciate the post and your continuing coverage of London on your excellent blog.

David Hembrow said...

David, I was wrong about them being Canadian and I've deleted that reference. No idea why I had that impression. Sorry.

As for "overreacting", you've not "walked a mile in my shoes". Initially it seemed flattering to be noticed. However, as the number of "requests" rose and the number of times that my work appeared elsewhere just slightly warmed over without any credit grew, my patience with people doing this quite naturally faded.

Overall I've enjoyed writing this blog and enjoyed perhaps changing the world a little through it. I've always it clear that individuals and non-profit organisations without paid staff are very welcome to use sections of my material (not wholesale copying of blog posts, please) and photos so long as they give credit and a link. That's what I have done this for. It is my gift to give, not something that anyone else has a write to expect.

However, the more known the blog has become, the more I've found a darker side. People take stuff, sometimes warm it over a little and present it as their own work. They do this even in commercial organisations.

I do not consent to being exploited as a source of free labour for other people to make a profit from. Such exploitation takes a lot of the fun out of writing the blog and it's a very good part of the reason why posts have appeared less frequently over the last year.

Companies who receive generous consulting fees can afford to share a little of it if they require people to work for them. TfL can also afford to do so.

I suspect you might feel the same yourself if you were in the same position. I also suspect that you like to paid for your work. However, if you're still absolutely sure that you don't agree, you are very welcome to come over here and work unpaid for me.

David Hembrow said...

andi-kam: If you make reference to what I've written or your work is in any way derived from what you have read on my blog, please provide a link.

Richard Adamfi said...

Why don't TfL just hire a number of experts from NL for the next few years? TfL are a well resourced authority and can afford to bring in the world's experts, such as when they got Bob Kiley to sort out the Tube.

Dennis Hindman said...

I found some information about what Londons' TFL is trying to accomplish with bicycles from a link to a Love London/Go Dutch Conference which took place last October. I came across this on the BicycleDutch website of Mark Wagenbuur:

The presentation: Making London the world's most bicycle friendly city by Ben Plowden--who is one of the directors in Transport for London.

He points out that the lowest point for the cycling rate in Amsterdam was when it hit a 25% modal share, and in London, TFL started when bicycling was at a 1% modal share. The rate of spending on bicycling under Mayor Boris Johnson went from a low single digit millions of Pound figure to over 100 million Pounds in 2010.

I can tell you from my experiences from trying to get any kind of bicycle infrastructure installed in Los Angeles, that it is not only a question of adequate funding and design, but that political will is the most difficult thing to address.

Recently there were outreach meetings in Los Angeles where the public could see and comment on the proposals for upcoming bikeway projects that would require the removal of a travel lane from motor vehicles on each of the streets under consideration. The response of my neighborhood council to doing this to a street near me--which has a subway running underneath--was 10-0 against and the councilmember turned it down.

There was a similar response to having bikeways installed that would connect people to a upcoming light-rail extension on the west side of the city (perhaps the most traffic congested area in the U.S.). I will be quite surprised if even one of these bikeway projects in this area even gets partially installed.

Los Angeles has been dramatically picking up the pace in installing bike lanes on arterial streets as a graph on this link shows:

Painted stripes on a major street is inadequate for attracting the mass population, but as the expression goes, when you are handed lemons, you make lemonade.

Even with these limitations, I calculated that should be at least a 10% increase in the commuting bicycling rate in Los Angeles (judging from average results of the 90 largest U.S. cities) when the Census Bureau survey results are released for 2012 in September and the same should hold true for the 2013 results.

Perhaps the biggest driving force to getting the political will to make advances in bicycling for Los Angeles is the CicLAvia events.

The sixth, which took place in October, had an estimated 150,000 people that participated on bicycles. The next event is in April, and this will be extend the route from downtown to the beach. About a fifty percent increase in length from the previous event.

This event gives a community a glimpse of what can happen when people are given an opportunity to ride a bike without worrying about motor vehicles.

It can act as sort of a meat tenderizer to soften up the tough resistance from motorists and businesses to having bike lanes installed. The vast majority of people in Los Angeles do not even ride a bicycle regularly and this makes it difficult to get them to relate to how bicycling could be a positive force for transportation. CicLAvia can help make a significant influence towards increasing the bicycling rate in an area.

Dennis Hindman said...

New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan made a Tedx presentation in Puerto Madero on how that city used paint to quickly transform areas of the city into places for pedestrians and bicycles:

An advantage of using paint is that you can move very quickly to grab territory. You can paint a bike lane in a day, it would take weeks or months to create a bike path.

David Hembrow said...

Richard, that would be a good start, but they'd have to try hard to import the culture of planning from this country.

For instance, people often talk about the CROW documentation but merely importing those books, even though they're translated into fine English, doesn't import the way that they are interpreted in the Netherlands. Dutch planners see those suggestions in many cases as absolute minimums. As a result, we don't have cycle-paths as narrow as they suggest are adequate. I suspect that British planners would read the same and think that they were looking at an unattainable target.

Dennis: It makes absolutely no sense at all for London to look to Los Angeles, a city which has far less cycling than London and where plans for improvement are almost impossibly bad, nor to look to New York, where politicians may now how to make a noise, but which is also doing far less well than is London.

There is altogether too much of this going on. While you're suggesing that London should copy New York, at the very same moment you find that people in New York are suggesting that they should copy London. They actually use the expression "London may soon take the lead". On what exactly ? Unless it's a fight to see which city can produce the most press-releases, they're surely only fighting over (being generous) 100th place as a cycling city.

This is a pointless too and fro discussion. Neither city is learning anything much from the other because neither has much to show the other.

London and New York and Los Angeles, and another place which actually wants to achieve a high modal share for cycling needs to refer to where there genuinely has been success in maintaining and growing a high modal share. That's the Netherlands.

Dennis Hindman said...

David, one of the points I was trying to make is that it can take different techniques and strategies to increase from a very low modal share of bicycling in a very large city, or mega-sized city such as London Or New York City, when there is a small amount of money and political capital to work with. It would be next to impossible to start out spending 40 or 50 dollars per capita on bicycling when the modal share is 1%, or less.

Using CicLovia events and bicycle sharing can be very effective to quickly get people in a large area of a city to try bicycling for local trips.

New York City was able to move very fast in constructing bike lanes using mainly just paint. If they would have just adhered to following the design techniques of the Netherlands, then they would have not been able to get complete networks done with the amount of room and money that they had to work with in this amount of time.

Bicycle sharing and being forced to try alternatives means of transportation, such as bicycling, immediately after Hurricane Sandy is going to increase the support for bikeways across lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Putting in complete networks of bikeways using mainly paint and sometimes parked cars as barriers enabled New York City to quickly put in a large bicycle sharing system and to have a bikeway network ready when Hurricane Sandy struck. The volume of bicycling on some of the bridges leading into lower Manhattan literally tripled in a matter of days after Hurricane Sandy struck.

Bicycle sharing will get more New Yorkers to support having bikeways. This will help ensure that the bikeways stay when a new mayor takes over in a few months. A incomplete network of more robust and expensive bicycle infrastructure could get torn up with a change in political leadership, since it would have impacted a much smaller area and segment of the total population of the city.

You wouldn't be able to get very far with the money and political will available with a low single digit modal share for bicycling if you just stuck to techniques that are used in the Netherlands. There needs to be some other creative ideas used to quickly increase the bicycling modal share (such as bicycle sharing and Ciclovia type events, or using paint and parked cars as barriers for bikeways).

As the money, modal share of bicycling and political will grows, the techniques used for bicycle infrastructure can move more towards what the Netherlands has. Chicago has been using buffered bike lanes and bike lanes between the curb and parked cars as the minimum standard for bikeways under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

This may seem like a trivial step-up when compared to what the Netherlands installs, but it is a significant change for a U.S. city that can inspire even bolder techniques to be used and could increase the amount of money that is available to fund bikeway improvements.

What is being used for bikeway designs has been quickly evolving since New York City installed its first barrier protected bike lane on 9th Ave in 2007. Recently, the federal head of the department of transportation, Ray LaHood, announced that the DOT would be working on their own standards for bikeways. This is a significant change, and not having these standards is a reason why a lot of cities in the U.S. have not yet installed cycle tracks (Los Angeles is one of those cities).

Between 1874 and 2011 only 62 on-street protected bikeways were built in the U.S. The new inventory shows that this number will nearly double to 102 protected lanes on the ground in 32 U.S. cities by the end of 2012. Building on this momentum, the U.S. is projected to add another 100 of protected lanes in 2013.

Strong Walker said...

i wouldn't be overly critical. I'm from Munich, Germany, a city of 1,5 Mio inhabitants which has a traffic share of cyclists of about 20%. Our city likes to call itself "Radlhauptstadt" ("capital of cyclists") and one of our Mayors dubs himself "Radlbürgermeister".
Other german cities like Freiburg or Münster have almost dutch conditions, scraping around the 30% mark.

Yet we dream of one of our major politicians making such a clean and outspoken point pro-cycling.
For me, the key in the "Mayors Vision" is less the money he is going to throw at cycling (and he is throwing a lot, considering from where London is coming) - it is the messages he gives.

"Cycling will be treated not as niche, marginal, or an afterthought, but as what it is: an integral part of the transport network, with the capital spending, road space and traffic planners’ attention befitting that role."

"I want cycling to be normal, a part of everyday life. I want it to be something you feel comfortable doing in your ordinary clothes, something you hardly think about."

"at the very heart of this strategy is my belief that 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 place and fewer cars in front of yours at the lights."

Those are the most important sentences in that bold plan.

I qwish one of outr top politicians would one day say something like that. Unfortunately, they all are way to far up BMWs, Audis, VWs and Porsches asses...

Martin, cycling activist and blogger
Munich, Germany

David Hembrow said...

Strong Walker: Words are cheap and British cycling campaigners have seen all these words before. There is always a revolution just around the corner.

This is how British politics work. Always promising. Not necessarily delivering.

While German cycling infrastructure is mostly some way behind the Dutch in quality, I can assure you that it is far in advance of what you will find in the UK.

The actual results are what matter, now how many nice words a politician can speak.

Strong Walker said...

@David Hembrow: You will have noticed that Johnson's paper does not consist merely of "cycling infrastructure". As you may know, us german bike activists have little love for them, we have very bad experience with those as they have been used primarily to block traffic space exclusively for "the more important" motorised traffic and are notorious as accident magnets, to the extent that poltics stopped counting how dangerous they were. Cycling infrastructure *can* be good but building good ones takes alot of money, space and effort not everywhere available. So cacling advocats requesting improvement in infrastructure may find themselves ending up with infrastructure, but a bad one.

I am aware that politicians should be judged by actions, not words, but Johnsons paper is a bold statement and he knows he will have to stand up for what is in it, at least to a certain extent (politics is compromises) It includes a lot of important messages - he talks about cycling improving the quality of inner-city life, he talks about strict speed limits, he talks about mandatory measures to improve vision for lorry drivers, most important of all the paper seems to take "all traffic is equal" far more serious than most official statements i've seen.

David Hembrow said...

Strong Walker: Why on earth are you arguing about this ? You've never lived in the UK, have you ? I can tell. You trust in British politicians far more than I do.

Look, we've heard all this language before. All of it. They keep saying things like this every few years. Look back at what Boris was saying in 2008. Look at what was said by others in the early 2000s, or in 1996 when a huge announcement was made by a totally different government. None of what was promised actually came to be.

What's more, you can go back much further to find politicians claiming that cycling was "booming" for one reason or many many times over a period of decades.

This is why I don't care what statements are made. I care only what action is taken. The UK has never had the action to back up the statements.

And before you say it's different this time, please read the updates the blog post above from the last two days. The wheels are already starting to come off. For a start, only a third of the funding promised in the press-release that they sent around the world has actually been allocated. What's more, an amount which could be equivalent to about half of the true allocated funds has already been set aside to expand the Boris Bikes scheme, which is itself not a success at building cycling in London.

There's not much left.

And as for your infrastructure problem, yes I know that inadequate infrastructure doesn't work. You might notice that a few comments previously on this blog post I was trying to explain this for the umpteenth time to Dennis who seems to want to insist on low quality.

However, just because cycle-paths are comparatively terrible in Germany, and they are - I've cycled in Germany, that doesn't mean they're terrible here. Please watch this video which compares German and Dutch cycle-paths.

The idea of campaigning for a Dutch standard of infrastructure in the UK was to achieve a Dutch standard (at least eventually). However, what happened instead was that the London Cycling Campaign and Times newspaper jumped in headfirst without any research in order to grab headlines without understanding what it meant. The response from TfL was to this watered down nonsense and not to the call for truly Dutch levels of infrastructure, and TfL have in any case failed to provide the funds. Meanwhile, the rest of the UK has done more or less nothing at all.

My feeling is that the brief chance we had has now been lost.

seiklmeikl said...

@ David and Strong Walker: I think you are both right from your own perspective and experience.

I live in Berlin (which is calling itself bicycle city, with 15% modal share - though not bicycle capital). Here we have just learned, that the city will continue its bicycle strategie. The government failed to achieve the goals for the last strategy and now they dare to simple continue with new, even more ambitous goals. Its not too hard to predict, that the city will fail with these goals as well. So you might say, its the british approach of much talking and less doing.

Anyhow, the bicycle is such a good way of transport, namely in the city, that ever more people start cycling or continue to cycle for longer periods and longer distances. It does help that the Berlin government is not opposing this trend but (inadequately) supporting it to a certain extend. Whilst the federal minister of transport is very fond of cyclist bashing, the Berlin government view on cyclists is much more positive, though the will (and options) to spend money on dedicated infrastructure is limited (- the money is needed for more prestigous projects, which again makes me think, that the Copenhagen way with its strong marketing aspects is not that bad at all).

I would love to see dutch style cycle path here, and I won't support the thesis, that german bike activists are per se opposing dedicated bike infrastructure. The point is, that nobody would expect this suited infrastructure to be build anytime soon. Even the latest new built cycle paths, planned years ago, are mostly crap. Well, the government has nearly stopped to build those cycle paths. Instead they are giving us SPACE. I know that a painted bike lane seems like a cheap solution only and far from perfect, that subjective safety is low, that it can be blocked by parking cars etc. But at least it is a strong sign of the government, that some precious space is given (back) to the cyclists, not without VERY hard opposition. This space is visible all over the city (hey - those paths are not blue, but you can make 3 London style wide paths out of one. The bike paths which we got so far, are mainly invisible - part of the reason, why they are dangerous and not popular with bike activists, as Strong Walker states. My hope is, that some day there will be such a big demand for good infrastructure, that politicians not only dare spend the money on it across all political groups, but that they don't dare NOT to do so. Thats when you will see study groups from Germany in the Netherlands - I guess they will arrive well before the british.