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Posts Tagged ‘cycling in London’

London’s so-called Cycle Superhighways, once a flagship project of mayor Boris Johnson, have been criticized right from the beginning in 2010. Most of the flak  is focussing  on the particularly dreadful Cycle Superhighway 2, where five cyclists died within two years.

But Cycle Superhighway 3, which runs from Barking to Tower Gateway, has flawed bits as well. Yesterday, I gained some first hand experience on how  bad design puts cyclists at risk and annoys motorists who don’t understand the odd layout of the cycle lane.

The flawed spot is on Horseferry Road in Tower Hamlets, which is a one way street. It has a contra-flow cycle lane for eastbound cyclists riding towards the City. The snag is that that cycle lane runs on the right hand side of the road, rather than the left one. The lane is not physically separated from the street and entails a blind turn.

Car drivers who don’t know the layout assume that riders not only go in the wrong way of a one-way street but also think those bloody lycra louts are doing this on the wrong side of the road. A real life example of such a situation can be watched in the video. Unnecessary and potentially dangerous conflicts are imbued in that layout.

A second, related problem is that the cycle lane is too narrow so you can’t safely overtake a slower cyclist, as you can see in seconds 6 to 9 of the video.

This has been an issue for years, as this 2011 comment on Londonist’s website shows:

 “I live in a flat overlooking the CS3 that flows past the T-junction at Branch Road & Horseferry Road in Limehouse. At least once per day, a cyclist runs into a car turning right off of Branch Road onto Horseferry Road one way system (the cycle route runs opposite in the opposite direction to the one-way system).

IT IS A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE SOMEONE IS KILLED OR SERIOUSLY INJURED AT THIS INTERSECTION.”

I guess the reason for this odd layout is that there are parking spaces on the left hand side of the road; and I fully understand that it is of course utterly unacceptable to sacrifice parking space for the safety of cyclists.

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Velib', Métro Courcelles, Paris

Velib’, Métro Courcelles, Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently was in Paris for a couple of days. I pootled around in the city using Velibs, the French cousin of the Boris Bike. The French scheme has just celebrated its fifths anniversary.

Since I used both schemes, I thought a subjective comparison might be interesting. (My detailed experiences as a casual user of the Boris bikes are available here.)

All in all, both systems are great but both have their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Overall, however, from the perspective of a casual user I like the Velib scheme more than the Boris bikes.

Let’s compare the different aspects of the schemes one after another.

Terminals

English: Boris Bikes docked at Hyde Park, Lond...

A Boris bike docking station in London (photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found the Velib terminals rather confusing at first sight. They have to different sides, one is apparently for subscribers while the other one is for casual users. It was 1 am when I used the Velib for the first time, and some vin rouge might have been a factor. Be it as it may, initially I was trying to use the side for subscribers and was desperately looking for a credit card slot. I was close to giving up, buy my wife, who had only drunk Perrier, finally managed to figure it out that we have to use the other side of the terminal.

England scores the opening goal: England: 1 , France 0 (more…)

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The safety of cycling in the UK has become a hot topic recently. Even the parliament discussed the dangers for cyclists. This debate was triggered by an impressive campaign “The Times” has launched several weeks ago entitled “Cities fit for cycling”.

Should cyclists welcome this debate?

Traditionally, the cycling community is very wary about openly discussing the safety issue. A lot of cycling campaigners fear that too much focus on the (perceived) dangers of cycling do more harm than good because this might  reinforce a misguided perception that cycling is a dangerous endeavour.

This could turn off potential cyclists and harm our interests. It is generally assumed that the more riders are on the road, the safer cycling gets for everyone – this effect is called “safety in numbers”. Hence Andrew Gilligan, the “Daily Telegraphs” London editor and a cyclist himself, recently raised concerns about “The Times'” campaign.

When I started to collect detailed statistics about killed and severely injured riders in London last year, I had similar qualms.

In the meantime, however,  I’ve become sure that such worries are misguided. Most of the people who haven’t started to cycle yet do this because they consider it unsafe anyway. They look at  the traffic and the road infrastructure of this country and just don’t have the guts get on their bike in such an environment. If you want to turn them into cyclists, you have to increase the actual and the perceived safety first.

Roger Geller, the cycling coordinator of Portland Oregon, has developed a very convincing taxonomy of cyclists that I think can be adopted to London. Roger divides the citizens into four groups: “The Strong and the Fearless”, “The Enthused and the Confident”, “The Interested but Concerned” and “No Way No How”.

“The Strong and the Fearless”

The first group consists of a few diehards : People who cycle not matter what. As Roger puts it:

“They are ‘bicyclists;’ riding is a strong part of their identity and they are generally undeterred by roadway conditions regardless of road conditions. (…) Messengers immediately came to mind. Those “type” of people— generally young, predominantly male, fit — are an important and perhaps dominant subset of those who will ride regardless of conditions.”

According to Rogers estimates, this group equals less than 1 percent of the population.

“The Enthused and the Confident”

These riders can be easily attracted by better cycling infrastructure. In Roger’s terms:

“They are comfortable sharing the roadway with automotive traffic, but they prefer to do so operating on their own facilities. (…) They appreciate bicycle lanes and bicycle boulevards.”

Roger estimates 7% of the population belong to this group.

“The Interested but Concerned”

This is the biggest group: About 60% of the residents who are curious about cycling but scared of at the moment. Hence, they use the bike only very rarely in their local area. Roger describes them like this:

“They like riding a bicycle, remembering back to their youths, or to the ride they took last summer. (…) But, they are afraid to ride. They don’t like the cars speeding down their streets.

They get nervous thinking about what would happen to them on a bicycle when a driver runs a red light, or guns their cars around them, or passes too closely and too fast. (…)

They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all.”

“No Way No How”

Well, the Jeremy Clarkson’s of this world, you know. About a third of the population who cannot fathom to use a bike: People that are “currently not interested in bicycling at all, for reasons of topography, inability, or simply a complete and utter lack of interest”

The four types  of cyclist and London

My hypothesis is that in London, currently only the “strong and fearless” and a small part of the “Enthused and the Confident” cycle frequently. The large surge in cycling in the last ten years probably can be explained by the fact that more “enthuse and confident” riders decided to cycle. However, I would predict that given the current road layout and planning priorities in London, this effect will soon peter out.

According to the latest figures in the “Travel in London 4” report that was published in January, the typical cyclist in London is male.

Across all age groups, there is a striking sex gap: Males are much more prone to cycling as females are. According to the numbers, 64 per cent of cyclists are men. If you look at the numbers of journeys, the difference is even bigger: 72 per cent of cycle journeys are done by men.

Especially striking is the difference in the age group 25 and 44 years: Males outnumber females in a ratio of almost 1 to 3.

Psychological research shows that men are more prone to overconficence than women. I think it’s a sure bet to say that women are just scared off by the conditions on the road.

I’m convinced that without a major transformation of the transport policies in London, cycling is about to stagnate in the future because nobody will be able to convince the “Interested but Concerned” to hop on their bike in today’s London. Probably the stagnation of cycling in London has already begun.

According to the “Travel in London” report, the number of daily cycling journey in London in 2010 has risen by about 40000 to 54000. In relative terms, this is an impressive gain of 6.4 per cent. However, about 25 000 of the new journey were due to the new cycle hire scheme which was a major investment. Without the Boris Bikes, the number of journeys would only have increased by 15000. This would have been the weakest increase for a number of years.

The big spike in cycling in London happened between 2002 and 2005, as this chart confirms. Ever since, cycling seems to have reached a new plateau.

Since 2008, the increases were so tiny that they disappear in the statistics if you round to the first digit after the comma.

In the last three years, the numbers of daily bus journeys increased by 300.000 from 3.4 to 3.7 million journey while the number of daily journeys by bike only increased by less than a third.

Seen from this perspective, London is experiencing a bus revolution rather than a cycling revolution.

This is even more appalling given the fact that using the bus is much slower and more expensive than cycling. Busses in London on average travel at a speed of about 12.5 Kilometers an hour, at the same time bus fares increased massively.

So why don’t more people cycle?

Interestingly, this question isn’t asked by Transport for London (presumably because they would not like to hear the answer).

Let’s turn to Portland’s Roger Geller instead. He asserts:

“Despite all the considerable advances Portland and the region have made in facilitating bicycling, concerns about the safety of bicycling still loom large.

Riding a bicycle should not require bravery. Yet, all too often, that is the perception among cyclists and noncyclists alike. No person should have to be “brave” to ride a bicycle; unfortunately, this is a sentiment commonly expressed to those who regularly ride bicycles by those who do not.

There are many cities in modern, industrialized nations around the world with a high bicycle mode split. They have achieved these high levels of bicycle use through adherence to various cycling-promoting policies and practices.

But, one thing they share in common is they have substantially removed the element of fear associated with bicycling in an urban environment. They have created transportation systems in which bicycling is often the most logical, enjoyable and attainable choice for trips of a certain length for a wide swath—if not the majority—of their populace.

For residents of these cities, concern about personal safety associated with bicycling is rarely a consideration, and certainly not to the levels we experience here. In these “fearless” cities septuagenarians are able to ride alongside seven-year-olds safely, comfortably, and with confidence throughout the breadth of the cities.

Making bicycling a more widespread and mainstream means of transportation in Portland will require substantially addressing concerns about personal safety.”

 Compare this assessment to the statements of Boris Johnson and Transport for London. They are constantly stating that cycling in London is safe and has become safer.

It’s a small wonder that most Londoners remain sceptical with regards to cycling.

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Boris Johnson likes to label himself as the “cycling mayor” who wants to kick-start a cycling revolution in London. 2010 was supposed to be “the year of cycling”. However, a lot of cyclists have the impression that their needs aren’t really respected by traffic planners in London.

Interestingly, figures released by Transport for London in their latest  “Travel in London” report compellingly show that they have a point. According to data published in Chapter 9 (“Transport and quality of life: Customer satisfaction and perception”), cyclists in London are by far the least satisfied users of roads in the capital.

The authors of the report put it this way:

“Satisfaction levels were similar for users of all road modes except cycling, where satisfaction was significantly below average at 67 out of 100.”

How severe the level of frustation is becomes clear if you compare the statisfaction of cyclists to the statisfaction of Tube users. There is a lot of moaning and complaining going on about the Tube: fares, punctuality, crowding. However, the average cyclist in London is significantly  less happy with the road network than the average Tube passenger is with the Tube. According to the report, the overall satisfaction of Tube users is at 79 out of 100. Even with regard to train crowing, Tube users are more satisfied than cyclists are with London roads (72 out of 100).

Aspects of satisfaction

This frustration of cyclists  is confirmed by other results. For example, the conditions of cycle lanes get the worst marks at all. Amazingly, this aspect even fares below traffic congestion! The satisfaction with the availability of cycle lanes and advanced stop lines is also significantly below average.

Here’s another evidence that London is massively neglecting cyclists:

Proportion of satisfied road users

Taken together, from my perspective these results are pretty devastating.

The report states that

“the Mayor has made it a particular priority to improve the quality of Londoners’ overall daily travel experiences. The substantive outcomes of these policies should be visible, in due course, in the various formal and informal performance measures considered elsewhere in this report”

If this pledge, the fuss about the “cycling revolution”  and the results in the report were taken seriously by London’s policy makers, improvements to the cycle infrastructure would be of utmost priority.  Why do I have a hunch that this is  not  the case?

Thanks to the “Love London, Go Dutch” campaign we talk a lot about making London more like Amsterdam. However, judged by the low satisfaction of cyclists with the road network, it would be nice to make London (for cyclists) at least like London (for cars).

 Interestingly, despite the awful road network and the lack of cycle paths, cyclists in London in general love what they do.

Journey Satisfaction

Asked about our  general satisfaction with their most recent journey, we are happier than the users of public transport and cars. This proves the vast benefits of cycling: It is quicker and cheaper than most other means of transport.

Even the wretched road network and the biased priorities of London’s traffic planner cannot botch this!

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In the last two years, at least three cyclists in London died after they were knocked off their bike by a car door being opened: Patrick Gorma in January 2010 at Chalk Farm in Camden, Sam Harding in August 2011 on Holloway Road in Islington and James Darby in January 2012 on Upper Elmers End Road, Beckenham. (Details about all cycling  fatalities in London since 2006 are available here.)

The Highway Code does not leave any doubt on who is to blame in such occasions. Paragraph 239 says:

“If you have to stop on the roadside: you MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door – check for cyclists or other traffic.”

The driver of the car who killed Sam Harding currently is charged with manslaughter.

However, being on the right side of the law gives small consolation if you’re “doored”. Additionally, even if you’re not severely injured, running into a car door is really painful, as I can report from first hand experience.

Unfortunately, a lot of cyclists, however, are not aware of the danger parked cars pose to them and do not leave enough room when they cycle alongside parked cars. (more…)

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Tomorrow evening (10th February), there will be a memorial ride for Henry Warwick, the cyclist who was killed by a Terravision coach at the junction of Bishopsgate and Wormwood Street last week.

Meeting point is the Foundry in Clerkenwell (corner of Old Street & Great Eastern Street) around 7pm. (Details here on the Moving Target website)

Henry was one of the most experienced cycling couriers of the capital and was featured in this film about cycling couriers in London last year.

The ride on Friday is organised by fellow couriers who want to commemorate a friend and colleague.

However, as this discussion on the Moving Target Form points out, the ride is open for everyone who wants to show his respect for Henry. Please be aware that the organisers stress the ride is not a protest ride (as the Evening Standard has claimed) but a memorial ride.

I’ll be there.

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According to a report on the website Moving Target and a number of posts on the London Fixed Gear Forum, the cyclist who was killed by a left turning coach at the junction of Wormwood Street and Bishopsgate last Friday was a bicycle courier named Henry Warwick who worked for Rico Logistics.

There will be a memorial ride organised by couriers of London this Friday. The City of London Police is still looking for eyewitnesses of the crash.

Henry is said to be the ninth courier who died on London’s roads while working.

There is a poignant video on Youtube about the work of cycling courier that features Henry Warwick. It’s an episode of a TV series called  “Ed’s up”, where Ed Robertson, a member of the Canadian band “Barenaked Ladies”,  tries out dangerous jobs.

In this episode, Ed works as a cycling courier in London and is incorporated by Henry.

Watching the film now is absolutely terrifying for a number of reasons.

The manager of Rico Logistics introduces Henry as “one of our most experienced riders”. Apparently, Henry was working as a courier in London for more about 20 years.

Ed muses about the risks for cyclists on London’s streets in a way that appears both prescient and repugnant at the same time.

For instance, Ed asserts that

“London is a city of eight million people. With that comes dangerous traffic which does not bode well with me at my new job. (…) I think I’m more afraid of this than I’ve been of any episode I’ve ever done.”

Horrifying is a scene in a video where Ed discusses the map of London and asks the manager of Rico: “Where will I die exactly?”. The answer he get is: “Oh, you could die anywhere”. The managers the  tells Ed:

“Remain nervous. If you remain nervous, you remain alert and be scared. If you don’t watch out, you’ll die.”

I take issue with Ed’s suggestion that the dangers on the roads are an act of God which is clearly wrong. London’s roads are dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians because the mayor and Transport for London give priority to motorised traffic and stick to a road design that poses unnecessary risks to weaker road users.

The traffic planning decisions of Transport for London triggers situations where even very experienced cyclists like Henry, who was on  road for almost 20 years, have no chance.

This is a point made by a number of people on the London Fixed Gear forum. For example, somebody calling himself “Badman ratio” writes:

“IT DOESNT MATTER HOW GOOD YOU ARE or how good you THINK you are, sudden death or being maimed for life can snatch you off your machine quicker than you say fixie. Henry was probably the most experienced/exemplary courier in London, if not Europe”

It’s just so sad and agonising.

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