Towards a revitalised London Cycling Network

A guest article by Simon Parker, creator of the London Cycle Map

In the foreword to a book about self-sufficiency, E.F. Schumacher says, “Pioneers are not for imitation, but for learning from. The pioneers show us what can be done, and it is for every one of us to decide what should be done.”

In the post-war period, the undoubted pioneers of the bicycle as a mode of transport are the Dutch. No one has strived harder than they have to make cycling safe, convenient and stress-free. Through the provision of separate cycling facilities at junctions and alongside busy roads, and also through the widespread development of woonerfen (home zones), they are creating an environment which treats children, women, the elderly and the disabled with dignity and respect. As Jim Davis from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain recently pointed out, the key is sustained investment, “progressively reprioritising towns and cities towards the needs of pedestrians and people on bikes.”

Sustainable Safety

For the last twenty years, the Dutch have pursued a policy known as Sustainable Safety. As the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research (SWOV) explains, “Anyone can have an accident. Everybody makes an error now and again; there are more than enough examples. People make errors and the risk of fatal errors increases when people break traffic laws and regulations. This explains the need for safeguards against these errors. This is the Sustainable Safety approach in a nutshell.”

Sustainable Safety, it must be stressed, is a proactive approach, and starts with ‘man as the measure of all things’. The main objectives are preventing severe accidents, and mitigating the worst effects of these accidents as and when they occur. It sets about doing this by recognising, firstly, that roads are inherently unsafe places, and secondly, that human beings are capable of making mistakes and don’t always follow the rules.

There are about a thousand road deaths a year in Holland now, but, says the SWOV, “The average Dutchman does not really seem to care about all these anonymous deaths: road crashes are simply a part of life. The chance of being killed in a road crash seems too abstract for him to worry about.” Of course, it’s an entirely different story for the individuals who are directly affected by these incidents. “Only then do we wonder how this could have happened, and ask if and how it might have been prevented. But what are the answers?

The Dutch have identified five principles that lead to sustainably safe road traffic:

  1. Functionality of road
  2. Homogeneity of masses and / or speed and direction of road user
  3. Predictability of road course and road user behaviour
  4. Forgivingness of the environment and of road users
  5. Self-Awareness of the road user

Peckham High Street. Plans to make it into a conservation area have recently been approved, and CS5 is due to open next year, but is there enough space here for segregated cycling facilities?

The first principle of Sustainable Safety demands that traffic functions should not be mixed. Keeping them separate can sometimes be difficult, particularly on roads like the one above, where there are shops and restaurants and houses and people and so on in close proximity to heavy traffic, and not always very much in the way of available space.

Still, the Dutch have shown, by their experiment, that by advancing confidently in the direction of their dreams, they have been able to meet with a success unexpected in daylight hours. What one nation says cannot be done, they have tried and found that it can be done. This said, even with all the will in the world, Sustainable Safety doesn’t come cheap. As the SWOV have noted, with more than a little dryness, financing road safety measures “is a matter that continues to require attention.” The bottom line is that many billions of Euros are needed to implement Sustainable Safety, and even if this is done gradually over 20 to 30 years, large annual amounts are still required.

The first step

It is money well spent, however. Danish research has shown that, in the built-up area, for every mile driven society loses something like 30 pence, whereas for every mile ridden society gains something like 20 pence. No surprise then that the Danes invest the equivalent of £40 per person per year in improving their cycle infrastructure. As the LCC’s Go Dutch advocate explained: “You won’t get a cycle revolution for free. You do have to spend money on getting high quality infrastructure that is good enough to get a large proportion of the population cycling.”

Here in the UK we are currently spending less than £1 per person per year improving our cycle infrastructure. Whilst there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we should be spending considerably more, I do rather think that, before we start throwing money about the place, we ought to do some groundwork first. TfL have recently confirmed that they are “adopting best practice from other European countries”, and that being the case, I would like to explain how these cycling nations set about creating an amenable cycling environment in the first place. To this end I will be relying heavily on a seminal publication entitled Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities.

“The essential thing,” said Ritt Bjerregaard in the foreword to this work, “is to take the first step.” (Dr Schumacher says pretty much the same thing, though in another context, in his foreword: “It is the essence of self-reliance that you start now.”) Given that Boris Johnson has already made a commitment to Go Dutch, what can we reasonably expect from him over the next four years?

The good news is that quite a few boxes can already be ticked. In the chapter entitled ‘How to Begin?’, Cycling: the way ahead kicks off by asking, “If only one thing were needed to start, or to progress more rapidly, what would it be?” For them, “The most crucial omission is often that of a cycling representative or cycling coordinator.” To his credit the Mayor is already on to this. At a hustings event just before the elections hosted jointly by The Times and Sustrans, Boris Johnson “talked about the creation of a ‘cycling commisioner’ and about cycling being represented on his proposed London Roads Taskforce” (here, reported by Cyclists in the City).

“It will be the task of this coordinator to remind everybody of the implications of cycling,” explains Cycling: the way ahead, “and to act as a resource person at all levels of the municipality (policy formulation, decision-making, execution and monitoring) … All projects should be submitted to the coordinator as a matter of course, and his or her approval should be made compulsory for all projects in the areas of town planning, transport and public works.”

Thinking in terms of a network

Sustrans have already confirmed that they are “fully committed to a cycle network for London.” The London Cycling Campaign have said, “The everyday journeys we know many Londoners would like to make by bike need to be continuous, unobstructed, and built into a network.” The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain have opined that unless we start to think in terms of a network, instead of piecemeal solutions, the bicycle will continue not to be taken seriously as a mode of transport. The European Cycling Federation have claimed that the development of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network is “a basic precondition” of extended cycle use. Cyclists in the City have made the point that “people will only start using the bicycle when they get proper bicycle networks.” Dave Horton, the author of Understanding Cycling and Walking, regards a dense physical network of cycle-friendly routes as “absolutely vital”, and Steve Norris, the former Minister of Transport who oversaw the launch of the London Cycle Network nearly twenty years ago, has recently suggested that an extensive and interconnected network of safe routes would be “a valuable part of a delivery strategy to encourage more cycling.”

There are two ways to approach the development of a cycle network. One way proceeds by analysing situations (that is, the type of roadway, level of traffic, frequency of accidents, proximity of facilities, etc), and building from the bottom-up. This so-called Adjustment policy is, somewhat curiously, the approach being promoted by the London Cycling Campaign.

As far as it goes, this work is very necessary (in particular here I am thinking of TfL’s review of the top 100 priority junctions). However,it is possible to “go much further than this strictly pragmatic and ad hoc approach”, and if I might be allowed a metaphor here, basically what you need to do is look through the other end of the telescope. That is, approach the development of the cycling environment from the top-down, by analysing journeys (origin / destination). This would then provide you with a strategic overview, enabling you to see ‘the bigger picture’, and from here you can then plan the network that would provide for these journeys. This ‘global’ approach is known as the Voluntarist policy.

Ideally, Cycling: the way ahead suggests, such a network should be designed for beginners and hesitant cyclists as a priority. It may therefore “comfortably include” small detours which are inaccessible to heavy vehicles.

The London Cycle Network

Dave Horton told me recently that, to a large extent, “We’ve got to work with what we’ve got.” What we’ve got in London is lots and lots of quiet back streets, and making the best use of these is something which works very well in Montreal, for example, where, according to Cyclists in the City, only 10% of the people who cycle regularly use the untreated main road network, whereas 87% use the quiet back streets.

The architects of the original London Cycle Network also placed a heavy emphasis on quiet back street routes, but their strategy fell down, not because of this, as some commentators have claimed—”cyclists do not belong on the back streets any more than motorists do”—but because of what Paul Gasson of Camden Cyclists has described as a “blind adherence to procedural bureaucracy instead of common sense”.

The long and short of things back then was that a section of route could not be waymarked until it had been through the design / consult / build process. Famously, a 1.5km section of the LCN in West Hampstead, which was intended to have a segregated cycle track along its full length, ended up comprising ten metres of advisory cycle lane and a three metre section of mandatory lane in the centre of the road to help cyclists negotiate a junction after the council decided it was too difficult to remove car parking for residents and businesses.

This was in 1998, which meant that, in this instance, on a one-and-a-half kilometre section of the LCN, cyclists had to wait four years just to get 13 metres of ‘cycle infrastructure’. The important point, however, is that only then, once the route had been ‘built’, could it be signed.

This procedural mindset, if I can call it that, resulted in a network which was full of holes, and this meant it never was any use at a strategic level. This is significant. As Matthias Doepke from Northwestern University has pointed out: “Once there is a connected network, the attractiveness of cycling goes up a lot.”

Keeping this in mind, and remembering that that the planning process can often prove to be somewhat anesthetising, Cycling: the way ahead recommends introducing the network by developing it to a minimum level of functioning first. This, they say, is “a prudent course to follow”.

The key with this type of approach, as before said, is sustained investment. But first things first. When the World Service was launched in 1932, for example, John (later Lord) Reith broadcast the following message: “Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. This occasion is as significant as any in the ten years of British broadcasting. From today, programmes will be broadcast regularly from the Empire Station [as it was then called]. Don’t expect too much in the early days, however. The programmes will neither be very interesting nor very good.”

On the right track? An example of a route functioning at a minimum level. (Photo: aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com)

The important thing for the BBC back then was that the broadcasting network was set up and made to work. The quality could come afterwards (very soon afterwards, if you are able). Indeed, the Dutch and the Danes developed their cycle networks along similar lines. In their case, as more people took to cycling, certain back street routes ended up giving way to main road alternatives, making the invitation to cycle even stronger. (See also this article on how the Americans set about developing their rail network.)

The idea with accepting a minimum level of functioning as a first step is that one can cut through a whole load of red tape, and thereby liberate Cycling Officers from the stifling constraints imposed by the planning process. The network can therefore be established relatively quickly and relatively cheaply. In taking this step, the cycling environment would be made safer, if only just a little bit perhaps, but soon. “It is simply immoral not to recognise this.

On the margin

Specific action can obviously be taken on each occasion that works need to be done, but if this is the full extent of “a real policy to encourage cycling”, progress would obviously be fairly lingering and pretty random (to what advantage I cannot tell).

The tried and tested method—the one supported by many Borough Cycling Officers—is to establish the network first and then build upwards from there. Because it is intended that such a network should be developed fairly quickly, it obviously won’t be suitable for everyone, particularly in the early years. However, Andrew Davies, Director of the Environmental Transport Association, suggests that, in order to create the conditions that would lead people towards healthier and more sustainable forms of travel, it’s important to recognise that, to begin with, “It only needs people on the margin: the people who are more likely to do it, to encourage them.”

In this regard, Olaf Storbeck at Cycling Intelligence thinks that we might have something to learn from the Americans. He says, “Roger Geller, the cycling coordinator of Portland, Oregon, has developed a very convincing taxonomy of cyclists that I think can be [adapted] to London. Roger divides the citizens into four groups: ‘The Strong and the Fearless’ (less than 1%), ‘The Enthused and the Confident’ (7%), ‘The Interested but Concerned’ (60%) and ‘The No Way No How’.

‘The Strong and the Fearless’ (the ‘hares’) are “an important and perhaps dominant subset of those who will ride regardless of conditions”. But if you bear in mind that, currently, only about 2% of all journeys are being made by bicycle in London, where are all the ‘tortoises’? Where are all the people on the margin? Particularly, where are all ‘The Enthused and the Confident’? It is true that this group would appreciate segregated bicycle paths, but according to Roger Geller, these people are “comfortable sharing the roadway with automotive traffic.” So where are they all?

Another practical step recommended by Andrew Davies would be to reduce the speed limit in residential areas to 20mph. “Now that might seem quite drastic in a way,” Andrew explains, “but in fact traffic travels much better when it’s going slower, because it merges better, people get out of junctions faster, congestion drops, and where cities have done it across the whole city—except for main roads, I might add—it’s meant that the congestion has improved—or it’s got better in the sense that there’s less congestion—the air quality’s improved, the accident rate has gone down and more people are prepared to cycle. So it’s not as if we’re stopping anyone doing a journey they might otherwise do. We’re saying if we drove more gently, the evidence is quite clear that we would reduce the things that frustrate motorists as much as anything else.”

Remembering that we’re still talking about things on the margin, it is worth noting that for the majority of road journeys in London, the bicycle provides the quickest, the most convenient and the most reliable way to get around. More generally speaking, it offers considerable environmental, social and economic benefits. It improves the user’s physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. And it increases children’s mobility, making them less reliant on their parents, and much happier by consequence. It can even leave you with the most wonderful feeling when you wake up in the morning, knowing that, because of the bicycle, the city is a little bit better than it was yesterday. It is, in short, the best invention of all time.

Like the other ideas discussed in this section, considering the bicycle in a more improved light is primarily a way to get the ball rolling. The long-term goal, to quote LCC’s Go Dutch advocate, is “a strategic network of routes which look really attractive to cycle on.” Introducing this network to a minimum level of functioning first, appealing to people who are most likely to cycle, implementing a 20mph speed limit in residential areas, and so on, are but means and not the end. “Even if their impact is not massive,” Cycling: the way ahead observes, “they will be real.”

“You may reasonably expect a man to walk a tightrope safely for ten minutes; it would be unreasonable to do so without accident for two hundred years.” (Bertrand Russell)

Love London, Love Cycling

Never mind Going Dutch, Ben Irvine has exhorted, let’s Go London!

Ben makes the point that, whereas a city such as Amsterdam covers an area of just 219 sq. km, London is a whopping 1,583 sq. km (seven times bigger); whereas the population of Amsterdam is a manageable 790, 654, London’s is a rather more significant 7,556,600 (ten times bigger).

He goes on to say that in the developed world, he doesn’t know of a single metropolis (i.e. a huge, sprawling urban space) where cycling is as popular as it is in town-like cities, e.g. Amsterdam, Munich, Copenhagen, Cambridge or Oxford.

“Just as bigger ponds contain bigger fish,” he explains, “the biggest cities in the developed world contain the biggest vehicles in the greatest numbers. When a city sprawls (and is sufficiently wealthy) it develops ever-larger transport arteries that heave with enormous but efficient vehicles—trucks, buses, vans, and so on.

“The problem with this inevitable progression is that the traffic on those large roads forms a barrier to cycling—as if hoards of angry bears were lying in wait just around the next corner for the unprepared cyclist. Apart from a few die-hards, no one wants to ride alongside the monsters of the road.

“In smaller towns (or town-like cities) there are fewer or none of these behemoth roads. In Cambridge, for instance, I can’t think of a single street I wouldn’t be happy to cycle on …”

Riding a bicycle in Cambridge is widely regarded as the best way to get around.

By delineating pleasant cycle routes on which you are unlikely to encounter any terrifyingly massive vehicles, a revitalised London Cycling Network would give London a ‘town-like city’ feel. It is, as Ben says, “the difference that would make a difference.”

“If you had a bicycle that was roadworthy apart from the fact that it had no wheels, you’d know what you needed to do to get cycling. When a bike hasn’t got wheels, adding wheels is the difference that make the difference. Everything else—a new coat of paint, tinkering with the seat-height, buying new lycra shorts—can wait.

“When it comes to getting Londoners cycling, what is the difference that makes the difference? The answer is safety. The vast majority of Londoners are terrified of cycling in heavy traffic, so the only way to persuade them to cycle regularly would be to guarantee that they can cycle throughout the capital on safer, quieter streets.

“Amazingly, this could be achieved immediately by signing and marking the streets of the London Cycling Network with the routes detailed on Simon Parker’s London Cycle Map. In following these routes, cyclists could get from anywhere to anywhere in the capital on safer, quieter streets.”

There has been some criticism of this strategy, but such as there is tends to be very wide of the mark. Here are a couple of recent examples:

“My 72 year-old mother wouldn’t ride a bike in London however many pretty signs you put up—it’s too bloody dangerous. Your campaign’s like the emperor’s new clothes: look closely and there’s nothing there.”

“It’s a myth Dutch cycle streets won’t work here—just like it’s a myth that putting up a few coloured signs will suddenly convince my granny that it’s safe to ride a bike through Bow roundabout.”

TfL have “already made significant improvements at Bow roundabout“, and so if my anonymous critic feels it isn’t safe enough for his granny to use, he should be busting their balls, not mine. Besides, a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network introduced to a minimum level of functioning is aimed mainly at ‘The Enthused and the Confident’, as I have said before.

If grannies were to be encouraged to ride their bikes in London, then maybe they would prefer to do so in a less hurried environment? The point is that it isn’t (particularly) dangerous to ride on roads which “avoid the capital’s heaviest and most aggressive traffic”. More than half of the routes on my design for a revitalised London Cycling Network are on safer, quieter streets.

Safer, quieter streets have their limitations, of course, mainly due to the fact that it is not always possible to join them up to form meaningful and direct routes. A revitalised London Cycling Network must therefore incorporate a good proportion of main road routes. Incidentally, the LCN+ got this much right, but the project was ultimately to sink, pretty much without trace actually, not least because it failed to recognise the prudence of introducing the network to a minimum level of functioning and then building up from there; that is, it was allowed to become bogged down by the planning process.

When Cycling: the way ahead was written, a couple of years before the LCN+ was launched, “the worst enemies of the bicycle in the built-up area” were held to come not from motor vehicles, but from “longheld prejudices”. I think attitudes have much improved over recent years, however, and the political will seems now to be getting stronger, so there is a very real prospect that high-engineered solutions would start to become increasingly commonplace.

But we know how long these high-engineered solutions take to deliver. By the end of 2013, TfL intend that their junction review would have been finished, that improvements to 50 priority junctions would have been made (including 15 schemes on Barclays Cycle Superhighways and TLRN), and that work on some of the Cycle Superhighways would have been completed (though not, it would appear, as many as was originally planned. Still, as Cyclists in the City points out: “Provided they do it well, I’d far rather see one-and-a-half really decent cycle highways built in London next year than four utterly mediocre ones”).

All of the foregoing is most welcome, of course, and suggests that “TfL seems to be thinking about the right ingredients.” But isn’t there one thing still missing? To quote the ecologist Aldo Leopold: “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” If, then, we are to rebuild a revitalised London Cycling Network—if we are not, I’d love to hear the reason why—we ought not to discard what is already useful. Also by the end of next year, therefore, I believe that it ought to be possible for TfL to oversee the introduction of more than 2000km of signed routes.

Ben says, “You could support the London Cycle Map Campaign by proudly displaying the campaign logo or maps on your website, by recommending our film London’s True Colours, by joining us on facebook or twitter (if you’re into all that), or just by telling your friends about the campaign and petition.”

Seven steps towards a network

(Unless otherwise stated, all quotes are from Cycling: the way ahead)

1. Appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms

“The essential tools are a person or a unit responsible for the pro-cycling policy and a committee.”

“In order to guarantee a certain consistency of approach, and to be able to ensure success—however qualified it may be—it must be possible to appoint a cycling coordinator, even if this only amounts to naming a person who will always be consulted for all works projects. An enormous amount of highly valid basic work can be achieved this way, with no special budget, by integrating the cycle dimension into the planning of even small work projects on every occasion, including:

  • treatment of roadways or crossroads where accidents have taken place;
  • taking cyclists into account when redesigning crossroads;
  • systematic installation of cycle parking areas in places of major confluence;
  • contraflow for cyclists in one-way streets;
  • interventions near schools as part of measures to make the approach to schools safer.”

“Even if a plan for a cycle network is adopted later, all of these measures will constitute practical elements which contribute to multiplying a network’s effectiveness once set up.”

“The setting up of a cycling committee (bringing politically-elected representatives together with representatives of the administration, public transport and cycling advocacy groups) can only give a boost to any pro-cycling policy in your town.”

2. Plan the network (analyse journeys)

My design for a revitalised London Cycling Network is largely based on LCN / LCN+ / CS routes. You can put this design to the test, if you like, by logging your most-often used routes here (you will need to sign in).

3. Study the feasibility of the network

“Studying the feasibility of a network is of a similar importance to setting up a cycling unit or appointing a cycling coordinator.”

Sadly, when a consortium of five boroughs sought to study the feasibility of a network back in 2006, this was rejected by TfL “in light of the views expressed by the London Cycling Campaign”.

4. Public relations

“It’s not just better for the environment, it’s better for our own health, it’s better for our children’s health, and it’s better for the movement of traffic generally in a city. It’s a long-term plan, and it’s not about being anti-car, it’s about having the right form of transport in the right place and at the right time. And we need to do it, and we can do it gently and purposefully, that’s the point. You know where you’re going to go, and you tell everybody this is why we’re doing it, and you bring them on board. If you make swingeing changes, no one likes that, it’s quite understandable. A change of ramping up petrol prices or blocking roads is not on. It’s got to be saying, ‘This is where we’re going in our cities, and we’re going to do it purposefully, and we’re telling you why we’re doing it.’ That’s the main thing.” (Andrew Davies)

5. Involve the private sector

“The private sector itself can contribute to a cycling policy. Compelling companies to provide a mobility plan for their employees, for example, is one way of inducing them to promote cycling among their staff. Some employers offer an entire panoply of incentives to encourage their employees to cycle (indemnification per kilometre, facilities for purchasing a bicycle, showers and changing rooms, free drinks, tombolas with special prizes for cyclists, etc).”

“The economic interest of cycling for firms must be stressed, as the savings made on car parking are considerable. A reduction in absenteeism (better health and better psychological state of cyclists) also represents a significant gain.”

“There is a company in Brussels which offers public authorities free parking for bicycles. The equipment and its maintenance are paid for by income generated by advertising. This means that the public authority is not having to incur any expenditure, which can otherwise prove to be a significant obstacle in the start-up phase of a pro-cycling policy.”

Ben Irvine has made the point here that the cost of waymarking the routes on a revitalised London Cycling Network could be paid for entirely by sponsorship.

6. Introduce the network

“The network can be introduced on the basis of an overall plan (preliminary plan). Ideally, such a plan ought to be based specifically on cycle routes that have been studied […]. If it is not possible to systematically remodel the entire network to better meet the needs of cyclists, specific action can be taken on each occasion that works need to be done. Most of the time, the additional expenditure needed to meet the requirements of cyclists is comparatively minimal.”

“Using a carefully drawn up plan as a basis, it should be possible to examine closing certain roads to car traffic, creating traffic loops or comparing various options to remove obstacles to cyclists’ mobility.”

“There are a number of places in towns where prohibitions to cycling could be lifted: foot bridges and pedestrian streets, alleyways, paths in parks, pontoons, parking areas and cul de sac roads, one-way streets, towpaths, small steps to be equipped with ramps, etc.”

7. Develop the network further on the basis of priority interventions and a timetable

I was very fortunate to be able to discuss many of the ideas in this article with Dave Horton. He said, “I know that cycling can be massive, and that we can have, and need, a mature bicycle system with a very well developed network of fantastic cycling routes as part of that. […] Whilst I agree with your emphasis on the network, I’d hope / expect that at some point in the article you would pay attention to the quality of the network itself, i.e. what are / will be the precise qualities of the ‘cycling network’ at, for example, junctions?”

I hope Dave doesn’t mind—I am sure he won’t—but I am going to duck this question. It’s not really my area of expertise for one thing. Besides, as David Arditti has said, “There are many possible ways in which cycle space can be arranged in towns, and I found that there are often several Dutch solutions to the same question. The Dutch have experimented constantly with cycle provision. So you don’t find consistency, but you do find a large range of possible solutions to problems. Whatever the traffic or infrastructure problem is that is hindering cycling, there is a Dutch solution, and usually a choice of solutions.”

TfL and the Mayor have an opportunity to show us how they intend to take cycling to the next level when they start their planned programme of works, and I am greatly looking forward to see what ideas they come up with.

The London Cycling Campaign are asking the Mayor to “put in place a concrete, timetabled, durable plan of action to make London’s streets as safe and inviting for cycling as they are in Holland.” Such a plan would of course be the cherry on the sundae.

Final thoughts

“If you have built castles in the air,” Henry Thoreau once said, “your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Given that Boris Johnson has already made a commitment to Go Dutch, as I said before, what can we reasonably expect from him over the next four years? If the Mayor is minded to set about the development of a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network, he could ensure that all of the first six (foundation) steps are taken, and that a good start towards the seventh (ultimate) step has been made.

Now, wouldn’t that be fantastic? Truly. Could we realistically ask for more, even?

I am obliged to the Movement for Liveable London for publishing this article. I note that their aim is to stimulate debate amongst citizens, campaigners, professionals and policy makers in the hope that together we might take a more ambitious approach to sustainable movement and the design and management of London’s public realm. They do this, in part, by publishing articles and facilitating a dialogue between existing campaigns and other interested parties. I might also add ‘without fear or favour’, and certainly could not wish for a more appropriate forum to air my views.

A final word to Dave Horton: “Progress will be ad hoc, imperfect and messy; c’est la vie. So for me, actually, it’s the visions and ambitions, and getting the maximum number of people possible to share those visions and ambitions, and to discuss them, which is much more important than ‘concrete action on the ground’, although I of course know that such concrete actions matter greatly too.” I am grateful to him for these comments, and invite discussion of the points raised above.

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19 thoughts on “Towards a revitalised London Cycling Network

  1. Mike, you say the LCN+ is only 60% complete, with the 40% unfinished creating the worst barriers to cycling. Do you have a map to show which bits are finished and which are not? Tom

    • This is a fantastic piece of work by the People’s Republic – I’ll definitely be looking at how I can follow up the implications… Thanks!

  2. Mike, a few points:

    It’s good to know that the LCC still supports the idea of a network in London. It is, however, very far from clear that the importance of a network is what is being championed by the Go Dutch campaign. And if you support the idea of a network, do you also support the provision of a single map and system of signage to make this network easily navigable?

    It is surely misleading to say that Parker’s proposal would do “NOTHING to enhance the safety of cyclists in London”. Are you saying that cyclists would be just as safe cycling on non-LCN routes as they would be cycling on LCN routes? Even if the LCN routes aren’t up to the standards required by Go Dutch, that doesn’t mean they are no better than pot luck as far as route choice is concerned. Your position reminds me of the ‘half an eye’ argument which religious people use against Darwinism: half an eye is more useful than no eye at all, and a network which is half as good as we ideally want it to be is better than no network at all. In enabling new cyclists to navigate on the LCN (as opposed to other roads), signage would help them stay safer.

    And I do think that salience is an important issue when it comes to cyclists being safe. A saliently signed LCN would surely make the LCN safer. A similar point can be made regarding the superhighways. They may not be perfect (and I have often criticised the ethos of putting cycle lanes on main roads as a priority), but surely the streets the superhighways are on would be even more dangerous without the signage and paint.

    It is slightly misleading to say that I have ‘claimed repeatedly’ that the LCN could be ‘completed’ for £50,000. The point is that it could be signed (not necessarily completed in the sense of ‘unimproveable’!) for this amount of money. And this estimate is from Brian Deegan, development manager for the LCN. As far as I am aware, I have always attributed the estimate to him. The fact that I have repeatedly mentioned minimum functioning should be enough of an indication that I do not believe that the LCN could be finished without significant further expenditure. It worth emphasizing yet again that minimum functioning is the prudent course because a half-decent signed network would attract new cyclists and therefore the political will for further development.

    Finally, I’m afraid it is nonsense to say that “despite all the hype and pretty colours there is simply NOTHING new in Parker’s map idea, except a distraction from the real issues”. Is cycle navigation not a real issue? And have you read any of our 100 reasons for a London Cycle Map? (Are they all “hype”? Obviously not.). I would especially like to draw your attention to reason number 1: the Compass Colour System. Parker’s proposal, if implemented properly, would enable new cyclists to get from anywhere to anywhere in the capital by following just a few coloured routes, like on the Tube. Even if completed to Go Dutch standards, the LCN would not achieve this wonderful result without Parker’s London Cycle Map.

  3. Good to see you commenting on here Mike. It’s also good to see that you think there is “plenty of common ground between Simon and the LCC”. Like Simon, I would love to hear further clarification on the LCC’s approach to the issue which is central to the London Cycle Map proposal: the importance of getting a comprehensive network functioning to a minimum standard in the capital.

    Your statement that the LCC would “love a high-quality citywide cycling experience built on the principles of sustainable safety, and that’s what ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ is aiming to achieve” is tantalisingly ambiguous. Simon’s proposed network (and signing strategy) is ‘city-wide’ in its scope, but is obviously much more achievable than influencing what happens on “every local street and cycle route”. Are you saying that the LCC supports the network approach AND an everywhere-at-once approach?

    If you are striving to spend members’ funds in the best way, surely the former approach is a priority at this stage, because it offers the most effective payoff? After all, however many new developments the LCC is able to succesfully campaign for, those developments will be immeasurably more useful to cyclists as part of a comprehensive network. A network is more (much, much more) than the sum of its parts.

  4. Many thanks for this useful article – but what about investment in the domestic infrastructure required for cycling? The problem of where to keep a bike at home can be a huge obstacle to cycling in London. For people living in flats this can rule cycling out completely. What if you are able to enjoy cycling but not strong enough to carry a bike up 8 flights of stairs? What if you’re unemployed and your bike is stolen from the railings outside and you can’t afford to replace it? What if you are a student in a single room in a shared flat? Or a family in a house divided into two or three flats with a narrow hall and no access to the garden? The cycling towns mentioned (Cambridge, Oxford) have massive bike sheds for students along with many streets of smallish houses with small back gardens where bikes can be kept. Again, the Dutch example is a good one – flats (both private and social housing) tend to have a shared basement used for bikes or basic sheds for each household at ground level. How can we persuade London councils to invest some of their housing budget in sheds/lockers/hangars for the sake of all their residents’ health?

    • Thank you for this very useful comment, Eleanor. You ask how we can persuade London councils to in invest in communal bike-sheds, and the only thing I can think is to get more and more people cycling.

      The Dutch have developed some very interesting ways to put cycle parking close to the places where it is most useful, as you can see on this video.

      I genuinely believe that all things are possible once a cycle network has been set up and made to function. This means working to a plan. Charlie Lloyd has said here, “Going Dutch […] is about planning for people to have easy, safe access to wherever they want to go.” That’s basically Step 2, above.

      The LCC have decided to set the Mayor three “tests”. But what are they to the purpose? I wonder if instead they could be encouraged to present the Mayor with a vision which is not just evidence-based, but also unified (assuming they don’t disagree with the proposal outlined above). Surely they would be doing the cycling community a great service if they would put the public good ahead of their own prestige. We are so much the more weaker divided.

      Or else, of course, they should falsify my account, and be done with it.

  5. I wondered when this debate would hot up. But having said this, apart from the ancient history stuff, there’s not really anything to discuss, is there? I mean, who can argue against doing as much as possible at least cost first? Nobody. So what does it really matter what happened six years ago?
    Probably the development of the cycle network would be further advanced if the feasibility study had been allowed to proceed, but it wasn’t allowed to proceed, so what can you do?
    Cycalogical has it right: “Why have we gone from a nation where we barely registered at the elite level of cycling, to a position where we dominate the world? Good organization, science, targets, the pursuit of marginal gains. Targets are set, progress and performance constantly measured. We consult experts in each relevant field. Evidence is gathered and alternatives to improve performance evaluated. Changes are made and their effects measured. Gains are pursued without compromise in every area, on the basis that small improvements in many areas aggregate up to big improvements in overall performance. If something doesn’t work, it’s changed for something that does work. Problems that are holding back performance are identified and fixed. We invest money wisely.”

  6. Hi Mike, I think articles such as this one tend to reinforce the message that LCC are a bunch of tightwads. I could be wrong about that, in which case, apologies, but why did LCC oppose a feasibility study back in 2006? Have you seen how many cyclists have been killed in London since then?

    You say as well that the ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ campaign “is built on the the principles of sustainable safety”, but when I typed ‘sustainable safety’ into the LCC search engine, nothing came up.

    The Go Dutch advocate, David Arditti, told the LCC membership that what is needed is a strategic network of routes that look really attractive to cycle on. That’s what the membership voted for. The Mayor / TfL would (presumably) control the budget of such a network. But your campaign (“rightly”?) focused on three “tests” instead. What for?

    Finally, you say that for the borough council elections of 2014, you want to influence what happens on every local street and cycle route. I’ll bet you do.

    • The claim that London Cycling Campaign opposed a feasibility study of a network in 2006 is untrue and absurd. The London Cycle Network has been promoted by London Cycling Campaign for over 30 years. LCC opposed a proposal for a feasibility study into new mapping and signage system which would mean abandoning the existing network designation at at time when funding for any actual network improvement was at risk. Less than 20% of London Boroughs and an even smaller percentage of LCC members supported this diversion of funds.

      For ‘Frigtful Bore’ to imply that there is a link from opposing a feasibilty study of a map to cyclist fatalities is simply offensive.

      • 24 February 2006 Chris Bainbridge (Chair, BCOG)

        The proposal for a minimum functioning network [my emphasis] was discussed at the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group on 23rd January. We had previously expressed our support for this scheme, and had submitted a package bid to TfL in 2003 suggesting a feasibility study, but this was unsuccessful.

        We maintain our in-principle support, but unless TfL direct us otherwise, we cannot make this a high priority because of the need to implement the LCN plus. However, a significant number of boroughs are keen to pursue the idea further [my emphasis].

        15 June 2006 Simon Brammer (Director, LCC)

        In relation to the proposal that David Rowe forwarded, we have asked our Cycle Planning and Engineering Committee to have a look at the proposal, but only in relation to your recommendations for coloured signage. [Eh? The major part of my proposal is for a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network introduced to a minimum level of functioning. Why did not LCC consider this as well?]

        6 July 2006 David Rowe (Cycling Centre of Excellence, TfL)

        TfL works closely with LCC, who provide a useful means of determining cyclists’ views on different proposals (together with market research that TfL commissions directly with users). Clearly if a wider network of routes was to be pursued it would not only require support from the boroughs, but also from key stakeholder groups like LCC. I forwarded the information you sent to LCC who shared it with members of their Planning & Engineering Group. I met with LCC officials yesterday (5 July 2006) and they advised their priority is for TfL and the boroughs to complete the LCN+ by 2009/10.

        In light of the views expressed by the London Cycling Campaign […] TfL cannot proceed further at the current time with evaluating the case for your proposal.

        16 July 2006 Dave Wetzel (Vice Chair, TfL Board)

        Have LCC given us any reason why they are only looking at Simon’s signage and not his other proposals? Would it be worth a small experimental trial of his ideas?

        31 July 2006 David Rowe (Cycling Centre of Excellence, TfL)

        I believe the reason why Simon Brammer at LCC did not ask their Planning & Engineering Committee to look at Simon Parker’s proposal for a wider network was due to LCC’s view that the first priority should be completion of LCN+.

        LCC’s concern is that a wider network could (a) divert borough and TfL engineering and planning resources from LCN+ completion by 2009/10 and (b) divert financial resources.

        10 Aug 2006 Simon Parker

        Please note that the strategy of Minimum Functioning has never, ever, ever been challenged, either by TfL, or by the LCC, or by Sustrans, or by the boroughs. It is rock solid. It is a prudent course to follow. It will enhance, not diminish, the value of the LCN+. It offers the best opportunity to deliver a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network relatively quickly and relatively cheaply. It is the major part of my proposal.

        It is also the proposal that I would like to see put before the Mayor. To my way of thinking, only once a decision has been reached on this issue would it then be appropriate for anyone to concern themselves with the various signing strategies that are currently available.

        Certainly nobody needs to conflate Minimum Functioning with my signing strategy: it is entirely possible that TfL could end up accepting the one and rejecting the other.

        21 August 2012 Charlie Lloyd (Campaigns Officer, LCC)

        The claim that London Cycling Campaign opposed a feasibility study of a network in 2006 is untrue and absurd. […] LCC opposed a proposal for a feasibility study into new mapping and signage system which would mean abandoning the existing network designation at at time when funding for any actual network improvement was at risk. Less than 20% of London Boroughs and an even smaller percentage of LCC members supported this diversion of funds.

        A ‘minimum functioning network’ (as the Chair of BCOG put it) can be introduced quickly and cheaply, and would, in my opinion, make cycling conditions safer. More than this, it would help to establish the network, the development of which would now be much further advanced than it currently is had the feasibility study been allowed to proceed. Your stated opposition to a feasibility study on the utterly flimsy grounds that it “would mean abandoning the existing network designation” is astonishing.

        Your claim that less than 20% of London Boroughs supported a diversion of funds (diversion away from what?) sounds to me like so much bullshit. The Chair of BCOG said at the time that a significant number of boroughs were keen to pursue the proposal for a minimum functioning network. Are you now setting out to repudiate this?

        One has to wonder why AutoExpress went to the trouble of producing their one-sided report, when we do such a good job of shooting ourselves in the foot. Charlie, it says here that what you don’t know about cycling probably isn’t worth knowing. Do you wish to challenge the importance of thinking in terms of a network? If no, do you accept the prudence of introducing this network to a minimum level of functioning? I am going to take no answer as an answer.

      • Charlie, you said that it is ‘simply offensive’ for me to have implied that there is a link between opposing the feasibilty study of a map and cyclist fatalities. Charlie, what is the point in studying the feasibility of a map? Part of Simon’s proposal – the ‘major part’ he says – is for ‘a wider network’ introduced to a minimum level of functioning. That was the point of the feasibility study. We saw how ‘a blind adherence to procedural bureaucracy’ resulted in a stilted development of the cycling environment. How feasible would it be for the authorities to cut through the red tape and get the network up and running? That’s what I would be interested to study at any rate.

        If this network could be made to function, there is an excellent chance that, over the years, it would be further improved. Voleospeed has recently shown how NCN Route 2 in Brighton is now functioning at a very acceptable level. Okay, the bit in Worthing looks like it could do with some more work, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

        Just the fact that the network is functioning would be a significant step. You say that the LCC has been promoting the LCN for over 30 years, and yet, in all that time, we have never even had a functioning cycle network; all we’ve had is bits and pieces. Doesn’t this simple fact tell you anything?

      • Simon Parker’s attempts to conflate his mapping plan with the LCN+ are absurd. It is entirely consistent for LCC to support the LCN+, which we have done for years (in words and deeds) yet to reject his mapping project, which in itself does NOTHING to enhance the safety of cyclists in London. A brief look at the map (http://goo.gl/2UXT8) sees coloured lines running through some of the most dangerous junctions in London with no clue as to how to make them safe for cyclists. The whole idea presupposes that this map will in some way ‘complete’ LCN+, which is ridiculous to anyone who knows LCN+ is only 60% complete, with the 40% unfinished creating the worst barriers to cycling.

        This was the London Cycle Map’s flaw in 2006, and this is its flaw now. I invite anyone to look at these maps and tell us how this ‘network’ can be completed for just £50,000 per borough as Ben Irvine has claimed repeatedly on his blog (http://goo.gl/qk3QY). Good signage was always supposed to be a part of LCN+, so despite all the hype and pretty colours there is simply NOTHING new in Parker’s map idea, except a distraction from the real issues.

        And anyone who blames the failure of LCN+ on the London Cycling Campaign could barely be less informed. LCC put hundreds if not thousands of staff and volunteer hours into working with the boroughs and TfL to analyse the barriers (largely junctions) on LCN+, and come up with safer solutions. We still have hundreds of these route inspection documents on file, as no doubt do the LCN+ team.

        Despite the best efforts of LCC and the LCN+ team, many boroughs did a poor job of implementing their part of the network, Transport for London failed to tackle most of its major barriers, and then Boris cancelled the project entirely in 2008. It’s a shame some people choose to characterise this as an LCC failure.

        Here’s an example of a section of LCN+ on a busy road, which was analysed by our Lambeth local group several years ago, but never rectified by TfL. The outcome was that someone on a bike died there last year:

        http://lcc.org.uk/articles/cyclist-killed-on-stretch-of-clapham-cycle-route-identified-as-dangerous-in-2008

        Should LCC have gone out with picks and shovels and dug up this road ourselves?

        Or should we have supported Simon Parker’s plan to put enormous coloured signs (http://goo.gl/wL3B4) on this road, which would be otherwise untreated, so people don’t get lost but sadly still get side-swiped by fast-moving vehicles? Should we have believed Ben Irvine’s campaign video which says: “[With a London Cycle Map] cycling in London would also become much safer. Seeing the signs, drivers would expect to encounter lots of people on two wheels” (http://goo.gl/LV3Xg). It’s a shame this principle didn’t save Brian Dorling’s life when he was run over on the highly visible Cycle Superhighway 2 at Bow roundabout last year.

        For the record: If the Mayor were to wave his chequebook, LCC would fully support the completion of LCN+ with continental standards of cycling facilities. We continue to reject Simon Parker’s coloured map system as any kind of realistic solution to the dangers facing London’s cyclists today.

  7. Although I was a student and then worked in London for about 8 years in the eighties/early nineties, I now live in Yorkshire. Just wondered if you might be interested in a few thoughts having just come back from a long weekend in London?

    Clearly London is undergoing a wave of cycling enthusiasm – compared to when I lived there 20 yrs ago, there are more bikes with bikes being seen as more normalised. The hire bikes have given the London more of a utility biking scene perhaps – showing that you don’t need an ultra-mean or ultra-fast bike to cycle in London. A tiny little bit of Dutch/Danish cycle culture has arrived. The hire bike scheme looks good though I’m sure to regulars it will have many ways in which it could be improved…I suspect it will grow and improve with time. More than anything else it gives the impression of creating an invitation to the superficially exclusive world of utility cycling in London…

    But as you point out above…you have a million miles to go yet! Something is wrong that’s hard to put into words…but I’ll try. The whole cycling thing still looks a litttle token, like a bolt-on…trendy, modern, forward looking, good image but it doesn’t look convincingly fundamental or radical. It is striking that there is (to the untrained eye) virtually no decent segregated facilities – even on multi-lane highways where there would be ample room for such things. Tiny little scraps of lanes and paths litter the place but look pathetic in the grand scheme of things. Occasional route signs start but after a few turns, you’re lost and soon give up on ever following them again.

    I don’t know the stats, but you do see/hear evidence of enforcement against cyclist red-light jumping but almost none against aggressive drivers, the majority who seem to be breaking the speed limit when not limited by congestion. Invading advance stop boxes (technically red light jumping , I think) is routine and it’s very common to be honked at for, er, cycling normally. You get a strong sense that the police haven’t bought into cycling as a realistic transport option and still see it as a radical threat.

    My feeling is that radical cycling London sometimes doesn’t mind this. Perhaps they don’t really want a mass cycling culture – preferring the trendy exclusiveness of mixing it with the monsters on a daily basis. Your real test of cycling maturity is when cycling reflects the population as it largely seems to in Denmark and the Netherlands. Apart from tiny numbers, where are the elderly, pregnant women, people going to the opera by bike, children, people carrying significant loads or pulling trailers? In fact, London cyclists look remarkably homogenous in the scale of things and not at all reflective of London’s diverse population.

    Ultimately, cycling throughout the UK got a bit messed up about facilities. Riven with conflict over whether that was what we really wanted and shocked by the appalling examples of ‘facilities’ we have here…we fell into anti and pro camps. Pressure became disunited – CTC, Sustrains, local campaign groups, wider transport groups…each pushing for a different utopia. However progress in the Netherlands and Denmark has finally perhaps, produced a growing consensus of where we need to go. Alas too late though because in conservative Britain the wheels of change move slowly. I remember the anti-facilities debates in the 80’s and 90’s…perhaps we stayed radical and trendy ‘coolly’ mixing it with the lorries and buses…and now our children can’t easily cycle on the roads becuase not enough progress has been made.

    Unite and fight for proper cycling facilities…the sort that take your breath away the moment you arrive in Rotterdam on the ferry from Hull (or another ferry route for you Londoners perhaps) and we will finally move forward.

  8. I am not surprised to learn that LCC opposed a feasibility study back in 2006. I have heard that they are really stingy, and basically just not nice people in general.

    • Well, you won’t have any disagreement from me about your assessment of LCC, although I will say that the local groups seem to be much more alive to what Ashok calls “policy-wonkery.”

      Consider this recent comment from a regular contributor to many blogs, Paul M: “Using back streets would be excellent advice, apart from one thing. They are generally quieter, less scary, less polluted, and generally more interesting to view the scenery as you pass. Some of them even have interesting shops , cafes etc. The one thing is one-way systems. Apart from a little bit of wiggling, because we don’t have a grid system like many US cities, we could make relatively straight lines if only we could ride both ways down each street, or even if the this-way streets and the that-way streets were at least roughly lined up with each other. But they are not.”

      Identifying the best of these back street routes and getting them to function in both directions ought to be part of our thinking, at the very least.

    • LCC are stingy? While I don’t think this is accurate, as a charity we do try to spend our members’ contributions wisely, especially when we’re tasked with facing up to 33 local authorities and the £7 billion behemoth that is Transport for London with our limited resources.

      And though we don’t claim to be perfect, characterising our 30-odd staff/trustees and 200 local volunteers as “not nice people” is a rather unpleasant generalisation, especially if it’s something “heard” rather experienced.

      Anyway, leaving aside the schoolyard insults, it appears there’s plenty of common ground between Simon and LCC. We’d love a high-quality citywide cycling experience built on the principles of sustainable safety, and that’s what ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ is aiming to achieve.

      For our mayoral election campaign we rightly focused on main roads, because those are the streets the mayor controls, but for the borough council elections of 2014 we want to influence what happens on every local street and cycle route.

      Anyone who wants to get involved in shaping these campaigns should get involved in our Campaigners Conference on Saturday 8 September:

      http://lcc.org.uk/articles/campaigners-conference-on-8-september

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