An introduction to the Ramblers in London

A guest article by Alex Mannings, Chair, Inner London Area Ramblers and Ramblers GB trustee

The Ramblers in London are an active mass-membership campaigning organisation.  You might associate the Ramblers with group walking in the countryside however over 10% of our membership lives in London.

The Ramblers is approaching it’s 80th anniversary next year but we are still campaigning across the country for walkers rights and seeking new places to walk – for example we recently won a battle to introduce a coastal path around England despite pressure from government to scrap this.

Walking is everywhere in London; commuters walk to work and people walk for leisure in the city’s green spaces and along footpaths.  London also has a national trail right through the middle of it – the Thames Path – and has two footpaths which circle London – the London Loop and Capital Ring. Other routes include the Green Chain Walk, which links green spaces across southeast London.

However footpaths in inner London lack legal protection. In other areas of the country footpaths are protected by their inclusion on a definitive map of public rights of way. Inner London is currently excluded from this map, something we’re campaigning to change. The lack of legal protection for where we walk is evident in how footpaths can be blocked and diverted in London with little warning. Just in the last year we have led campaigns against blockages to the Thames Path in Greenwich and to the Green Chain Walk to Bexley.

As well as campaigning the Ramblers, in partnership with Macmillian, also run Walking for Health – group walks of 1 to 3 miles that aim to get people who are currently inactive out walking.  These are a crucial way of enabling people from all walks of life and backgrounds to get out, get active and improve their health.

Walking is a great way for people to interact with the city, and many short journeys that are currently made by tube, bus or taxi could be easily walked – why take the tube from Waterloo to the city when you can walk it along the Thames Path in 30 minutes past London’s famous landmarks?  Just imagine the social, economic and environmental benefits of encouraging more people to walk instead of using over crowded tubes and buses.

More can and should be done to promote walking in London.  Cycling makes the headlines and Boris has appointed a cycling tsar, but commuting by foot is undertaken by thousands of people each day and almost every journey starts and ends with a walk. Despite this walking enjoys little media coverage and is not really mentioned by our politicians.  Walking needs to be championed, promoted and made safer – at a recent parliamentary committee it was suggested that pedestrian deaths in London were as high as cyclists.

Come and join us on a walk in and around London to see how great walking is. Ramblers Inner London area has 9 walking groups including a group that specialises in short walks (the London strollers) another for people in their 20’s and 30’s (the Metropolitan walkers) and those in their 40s and 50s (the Capital walkers) as well as 6 walking groups covering all the Inner London boroughs. You can find out more about us on our website.

Playing Out in Hackney

Photo: Hackney Council

Photo: Hackney Council

A guest article by Jono Kenyon.

People are constantly amazed when I mention I live on the same road I grew up on. Something about London seems alien to the concept. Either you grew up here, then promptly upped sticks the moment you had a family, or you moved here at some point in life. For me, fate and luck brought me back to the same street I played on as a boy. Many of the local roads adjacent to Seven Sisters Road were closed off to through traffic in the early eighties to curb prostitution. This was an incredibly successful strategy, and it also led to a better street environment.  My brother and I played in the street regularly, despite there being the huge Finsbury Park less than 100 metres away.

So here we are, 20 years later, and things have changed. It’s rare to see children playing in front of their houses with other kids from the street. Children are spending more time indoors or being shepherded from one structured activity to the next.  In many parts of London, people don’t know their next door neighbours, let alone any other families on their street. I often wondered whether we could ever rekindle the old sense of community and see children out playing as I used to.  Then two things happened.  We had a street party, instigated by some neighbours we had never met, and I read a piece in the Guardian about a scheme called ‘Playing Out’, started in Bristol, aimed at encouraging street play. It struck a chord with me. We want our children to trust the space outside our home. We want them to get to know the people we live near, not just next door to.  We would like to generate a sense of community, rather than waiting for one to magically come about.  At the street party, we found many people that we live amongst, but had never met, who felt the same way.

So what stops us from just opening our doors and letting the kids roam free? Cars. Despite the gates, vehicles continue to travel in a fashion unlikely to encourage kids to play naturally in the street. Drivers just don’t expect to encounter anyone or anything on the 200-metre zip up the road.  Playing Out offered a way to begin to take back some ownership of the space outside our homes.

Essentially the idea is to formally close a street to through traffic to allow children to play.  Giving children the freedom to play in the street allows them to form relationships with kids they don’t go to school with.  Younger children can bond with older ones too. Unstructured playtime allows children the opportunity to gain independence from their parents.  Kids make up their own games with their own rules and ultimately resolve their own conflicts without adult interference.  In addition, Playing Out helps to develop a sense of community in the street. We had a lot of support, not just from the parents of children playing, but also from childless and elderly neighbours.  Our experience of other sessions elsewhere in Hackney was that many people simply came out to have a cup of tea and a chat with others.

So how did we organise the first of our 12 playing out sessions this year? I attended an evening workshop given by Alice Ferguson, who co-created the Playing Out concept. The workshop outlined why Playing Out was a good idea, and ran through the procedures required to get it going. Our road had a great head start as two other neighbours came to the workshop. The three of us got together and began the process. A great deal of the groundwork had been done by others including local resident Claudia Le Sueur Draper who had organised with Hackney council to facilitate the sessions. The council were encouraged to start a 12 month trial to allow the granting of temporary road closures for street play, or TPSO.

We leafleted the whole street to introduce the idea and find more support. We then had to go through a formal consultation process, notifying all residents of our intended 2-hour road closures. Once that was completed, Hackney supplied us with formal notices and some ‘Road Closed’ signage. Volunteers strung up bunting across each end of the street and stewarded these entry-points, slowly escorting through any residents’ cars and turning away all other traffic.

Our first session was for 2 hours last Sunday, and was great, albeit cold! What struck me was how little encouragement the kids need. We didn’t need to worry about them being bored at all. As soon as the barriers went out, it was ‘game on’. Neighbours came out to offer cups of tea and home-baked treats.

Ultimately, I would like the formal side of Playing Out to fade away in our street, as well as neighbouring ones. I would like the 6 roads that make up our network here, to become a safe zone for street play. It would be nice for cars entering residential streets across the UK to know that children may well be in the road, and should take priority.

Lots of information is available on the Playing Out website.

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:

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.

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London’s Towpaths: The Fastest Way to Slow Down

A guest article by Dick Vincent, London Towpath Ranger, Canal and River Trust

Share the Space is a new campaign run by the Canal and River Trust, encouraging considerate use of towpaths in London. The Canal and River Trust, which will take over from British Waterways as the guardian of London’s waterways later this summer, are calling for all those who use London’s towpaths to follow a new Greenways Code for towpaths and to help keep the capital’s historic network of waterways safe and pleasant for everyone to share.

We, the Canal and River Trust, as guardians of London’s towpaths, are faced with a problem, albeit quite a lovely problem to have. We are just too popular. Our towpaths provide a network of green spaces that seem such a novelty in a city like London. They’re a lovely way to get from A to B by foot or by bike, simply enjoy a relaxing stroll or a picnic lunch. At peak times, however, in busy places like the Regents’ Canal, some 500 cyclists and 300 walkers per hour use the towpath and it’s our responsibility to ensure the towpaths remains safe and enjoyable for everyone. This is why we have  recently launched our Share the Space campaign, as part of a package of measures, to encourage those who use London’s towpaths to be considerate of other users, and help to keep the towpaths as havens for people and nature.

Behavioural change campaigns, such as this, are not new to us. We ran the Two Tings campaign for the past three years, encouraging cyclists to give ‘two tings’ of their bell, to let others know where they are when they are approaching, or wanting to overtake. In terms of raising awareness and engaging with cyclists, the campaign was an overwhelming success. How do we know this? Pretty simple really, just stand on the Regents’ at peak time – all you can hear is bells!

This is why we’ve created this new campaign. Based on our research , which we undertook with Forster Communications and involved focus groups workshops and a canal network wide consultation, we discovered most people are now more concerned about the speed at which other visitors travel and their consideration for others.

Share the Space is for everyone, not just one particular group. We want everyone who uses the towpaths, cyclists and pedestrians alike, to be considerate, and follow our ten point Greenway code;

1)      Share the Space- consider other people and the local environment whenever you’re on a Greenway.

2)      Drop your pace- jogging and cycling are welcome, but drop your pace in good time and let people know you are approaching by ringing a bell or politely calling out before waiting to pass slowly.

3)      Pedestrians have priority- towpaths are Greenways, or shared use routes where pedestrians have priority.

4)      Be courteous to others- a smile can go a long way.

5)      Follow signs- they are there for the safety of everyone. Cyclists should dismount where required and use common sense in busy or restricted areas, recognising that pedestrians have priority.

6)      Give way to oncoming people beneath bridges- whether they are on foot or bike and be extra careful at bends and entrances where visibility is limited.

7)      When travelling in large groups- especially if you are running or cycling, please use common sense and give way to others.

8)      Try to avoid wearing headphones- as this makes you less aware of your surroundings, and others sharing the same space.

9)      Keep dogs on a short lead- and clean up after them.

10)   At all times, keep children close to you– and encourage them to learn and follow the Greenway Code for Towpaths.

And – to be honest – we don’t think it’s much to ask! We worked hard to keep the rules simple, easy to follow and above all else common sense.

We have also recruited an excellent team of Volunteer Towpath Rangers, in all the boroughs the London canal network flows through to spread the word. They run towpath events, act as our eyes and ears but more importantly they’re our ambassadors meeting with local groups and communities.

We’re sure that by spreading the message about Share the Space, we can help relax the towpaths, which can be incredibly congested during peak times with the same success that Two Tings had. We want our waterways to be a pleasant experience for everyone to enjoy, and we would encourage anyone who meets CRT staff or volunteers on the towpaths to say hello and talk about the campaign.

Share the Space is entirely funded through the Greenways fund; a joint venture from Transport for London (TfL), the Mayor of London and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), which is making enhancements across the capital to facilitate better access for walking and cycling. With the surge in popularity of the towpaths, we are also working with TfL to provide alternative routes, improving the quality of roads in the capital so that cyclists who wish to travel at speed can use the roads safely, and leave the towpaths for those – such as less able walkers or not-so confident cyclists – seeking the more leisurely way of life.

To join the conversation on Twitter, tweet us @BWcomms, use the hashtag #sharethespace, or for further information visit

Addison Lee – a road danger reduction myth buster

A guest article by Dr. Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum

Following cancellation of some accounts and the promise of a flash-mob protest outside his offices tonight, the boss of Addison Lee has issued a pseudo-apology while re-stating his prejudices  – which discriminate against cyclists and other road users outside motor vehicles in general and Addison Lee vehicles in particular.

For us he is digging himself in deeper. This saga is not just about a publicity seeker angling for notoriety and some extra business (he has form, as indicated by the excellent David Mitchell in yesterday’s Observer). It actually reveals a lot about the way in which we are supposed to think about transport and safety on the road.

This is not just one more extremist. His views are simply versions of the dominant ‘road safety’ ideology which bedevils a civilised approach to transport and real safety on the road. His tendency to get hold of the wrong end of the stick not just once, but on a range of issues is typical of the inversion of the reality that passes for ‘road safety’.

The most obvious example of this corrupt ideology is that Mr Griffin (see Saturday’s Times) has actually signed up to The Times cyclists’ safety campaign. Yes, he is actually on the side of cyclists!

But ‘road safety’ has so often been against the safety and well-being of cyclists and others: after all, if cyclists get out of the way of motor traffic, they won’t get hurt or killed. If people are too scared to cycle or walk (or their parents to let them), then they won’t get killed – something which traditional ‘road safety’ sees as progress. Griffin is just part of that tradition, and the following expresses it:

“My foreword in Addison Lee’s magazine Add Lib, has caused quite a storm amongst the Twitter community, and I’m glad it has. In the article, I argue for compulsory training and insurance for London’s bicycle owners and I still stand by my contention.

“About one cyclist is killed on London’s roads every month and countless others horribly injured. If the article causes a debate around cycle safety, and perhaps saves some lives, bring it on.

“Cycling is a deadly serious issue and lives are at stake. There have been huge campaigns recently to encourage cycling, but not so much in terms of improving safety and awareness for cyclists. “I’m glad that the issue is being debated. If anyone has more ideas for improving safety for cyclists, I would be delighted to hear them. In the meantime, I will continue calling for compulsory training and compulsory insurance for bicycle users.”

So let’s take this opportunity to puncture some of the myths:

TRAINING (or perhaps we should say ‘TRAINING’, as plainly what Addison Lee drivers are all too often up to indicates that any training they may have received has been for a form of behaviour which is not advocated by the Highway Code).

This is the classic example of getting hold of the wrong end of the stick – twice over. Firstly, if anyone needs regulation to control behaviour which is genuinely anti-social because it threatens other people’s lives, it should be the motorist. After all, by any objective measure (the third party insurances of motorists as compared to members of the cycling organisations, for example), it is motorists, not cyclists, who need control and regulation.

The other stick wrongly handled is that of ‘training’ in the first place: generally it is not about control or regulation anyway, it is about breeding confidence. The RDRF has strongly supported National Standards cycle training as a way to do this and generate more cycling, with major safety benefits accruing from the greater awareness by motorists of increased numbers of cyclists. Much of this cycling will of course be precisely the assertive cycling (taking the primary position, etc.) which seems to upset so many motorists, Addison Lee drivers among them.

It is about empowerment and enablement. It is not something to be forced on actual or potential cyclists; it isn’t what Mr Griffin would probably like to see anyway (it teaches rights as well as responsibilities), and it is ludicrous to see cyclists, rather than motorists, as the problem to be controlled.

INSURANCE There is a  good case for motorists carrying third party insurance – but there have to be proper chances of errant motorists actually being found liable and with proper pay outs for the damage they cause to people’s lives: we would argue that neither happens at the moment.  We need black boxes on vehicles to establish cause of collisions and proper reparations. Also, we certainly have a significant proportion of London’s motorists who don’t pay third party insurance, which Mr Griffin does not seem to be chasing up.

But full insurance against responsibilities is just that – a way of protecting motorists from their responsibilities. At the very least no more than 80 – 90% of the cost of injury to human beings (we are not so concerned with damage to property) should be recoverable through insurance. Third party insurance should be seen as at least in part another example of motorists getting away with it.

WHAT – OR WHO – IS ‘DANGEROUS’? Throughout, Griffin assumes that because some road users are not inside crashworthy vehicles there is something wrong with them – not the road users who are dangerous to them and everybody else on the road. We won’t go into how the increasing crashworthiness of vehicles has made motorists even more of a potential menace to others: suffice it to say that we need to see the principle problem as  those who can endanger others the most. This seems to be completely outside Griffin’s world view.

‘Road safety’ ideology protecting the (careless) motorist has always patronisingly muttered about ‘protecting the vulnerable road user’ (that’s human beings outside cars) – what do you think may actually be endangering them?

In case anybody wants to point out that cyclists and pedestrians can – surprise, surprise – actually break the Highway Code, well:

1.     We would argue that it is generally less dangerous to others than motorist law breaking, and therefore less of a priority, and:

2.     Motorist law and rule breaking is generally accommodated – or even colluded and connived with – by the creation of crashworthy vehicles (crumple zones, seat belts, airbags, roll bars etc.) and a highway environment (anti-skid, crash barriers, felling roadside trees etc.). Maybe try doing that for cyclists if equality is what you’re after?

TAXATION We need to demolish the myth of motorists being ‘overtaxed’, although it is not there in Griffin’s latest outpourings.

LAW ENFORCEMENT We will certainly need to raise again – London cyclists have long complained about this – the lack of law enforcement by motorists in general and private hire cars in particular. This episode should be seen as an opportunity to do so. The failure to discuss this has been a major problem in The Times campaign so far, as we have pointed out. If it is not to fail it needs to be addressed.

One thought does stick in the mind from the original Addison Lee ‘Editorial’: what cyclists would have to do to join ‘our gang’, including being ‘trained’. If it is a question of being in a gang which can hurt and kill with minimal (if any) punishment, there might be quite a few cyclists who would welcome such ‘training’…

A City of 20

A guest article from Tom Platt, London Coordinator, Living Streets

How we might work towards a safer, more liveable London is a topic debated energetically at each month’s Street Talks.  Whether it is the pros and cons of shared space or the practicalities of segregated cycle lanes, the desire is to create a safer London where people feel comfortable to walk, cycle and spend time. Yet the fact remains that last year alone, 65 pedestrians and 16 cyclists were killed on the capital’s streets.  So what can be done?

Living Streets is the national charity working to create safe, attractive and enjoyable streets around the UK. In our opinion the single biggest change we can make to creating a more liveable London is to reduce vehicle speeds across the capital.

That’s why this year in the lead up to the London mayoral elections Living Streets, Sustrans and a coalition of 27 other prominent organisations are asking for mayoral candidates to commit to introducing 20mph on parts of the mayoral controlled streets where we live, work and shop in our campaign a City of 20.

Simply put, if you get hit by a car driving at 30 mph you are much more likely to get seriously injured or killed than at 20 mph. If fact a pedestrian struck at 20 mph has a 97% chance of survival whilst at 30 mph the figure is 80%, falling to 50% at 35 mph.

In London, Transport for London (TfL) found 20 mph limits to have cut fatal and serious casualties by almost a half. Applying results from previous TfL research to the four hundred 20 mph zones London has today suggests an equivalent of 192 killed and seriously injured casualties are already being prevented each year.

So far most 20mph campaigning in London has focused on residential streets and near to schools. We strongly support this and are calling for the next Mayor of London to inspire and encourage local authorities to follow Islington’s example by implementing a default 20 mph speed limit on all residential streets.

However we also know that around a third of London’s collisions are happening on those streets controlled by the Mayor (the TLRN) and that’s despite it only making up 5% of the street network.  The reason the City of 20 campaign is focusing on parts of the TLRN where we live, work and shop is simple -that’s where the biggest impact can be made.  By first tackling those streets where the greatest risk of conflict arises we can make the greatest benefit to people’s everyday lives. These are community centres and local high streets – the streets where people live, walk to school and go to their local shops.

Of course 20 mph doesn’t just make our streets safer, it also makes for better streets where people are more likely to walk and cycle. Unsurprisingly, in Europe 30km/h (18mph) speed limits are the foundation of cycling and walking policies in Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Importantly 20 mph can be implemented at low cost, and is easy to do. Portsmouth converted 1,200 streets in the city to 20mph for a cost of just over half a million pounds. Prior to this, they had been planning to spend £2 million on ten targeted 20 mph zones over five years. New government legislation makes it now possible to introduce 20 mph limits without expensive roads calming measures. In fact the cost of road casualties suggests a sound economic argument for 20mph simply with the amount casualties it will prevent, with the DfT estimating that a road fatality costs in the region of £2 million.

There simply is no excuse for the entirety of the TLRN to be exempt from 20 mph. Already other main roads such as the Walworth Road in Southwark have a 20 mph limit. Islington has recently announced plans to expand 20mph from residential to all main roads in the borough.  Getting London to be a truly world class city for walking and cycling is a huge challenge but 20 mph speed limits on the streets where we live, work and shop would be an excellent start. Please join the campaign by writing to the future Mayor of London today.

For any enquiries about the City of 20 campaign, please contact Tom Platt on 020 7377 4900 or email

Saving Soho

A guest article from Mark Stanley, Saving Soho

In many ways, Soho is the historic heart of London. It’s home to the capital’s café culture, creativity, design and the evening economy.

But this unique character is slowly and steadily being eroded with excess, speeding traffic. Soho, with its intimate, high density feel and narrow streets was never designed to accommodate such heavy volumes of rat-running traffic.

In London, we should be creating a city that we can be proud of, which is fit for 21st century life. With the capital’s population steadily increasing, creating quality environments will be key to the future success of the city. A unique place like Soho with so many opportunities deserves better treatment, to maximise its assets.

For too long now, the streets and lanes of Soho have been dominated by traffic, while pedestrians have been relegated to narrow overcrowded pavements and are forced to overspill onto the carriageway. The narrow pavements make things particularly difficult for people with disabilities or those with prams and pushchairs. The area’s footways are simply not wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. Imagine the legacy for London’s Paralympics Games if all visitors, including wheelchair users, were able to visit and enjoy Soho. The time is long overdue for equal priority to be given to pedestrians.

Instead of being a quality neighbourhood, Soho has become an embarrassment to London. Every other city in the UK or indeed the world would have long since taken action to reduce the impact of rat-running traffic in such an exceptional but sensitive area. Instead of being able to relax and enjoy the area’s uniqueness, pedestrians come second to cars, forced to use narrow pavements while traffic benefits from wide lanes and 30mph speed limits, which are way in excess of acceptability in such a sensitive location.

The results of all of this traffic are accident rates much higher than those expected for secondary and tertiary streets such as these. In the past two years alone, there were 44 serious traffic accidents reported to the police. Accident hot spots include Wardour St, Great Marlborough St, Old Compton St and Brewer St (Dept of Transport figures).

The lifeblood of Soho comes from those who live and work here, and visitors coming to eat and drink here. The area gains little or nothing from speeding through traffic. Workers, residents and visitors to Soho are being urged to push for Westminster Council to help rid Soho’s narrow streets of some of the unnecessary traffic. A new campaign ‘Saving Soho’ is aiming for pedestrians to get the priority, instead of an environment that is dominated by traffic.

Imagine having some decent space outside a café to enjoy a meal without the constant drone of traffic. The campaign is not calling for permanent pedestrianisation of the area. Instead, pedestrian priority works are advocated which would continue to allow traffic, but re-prioritise people over cars. This includes:

  • Traffic calming and speed restrictions to deter rat-running.
  • Pavement widening and kerb build outs to reallocate space in favour of shoppers and visitors.
  • Part time pedestrianisation of certain busy areas, for specific peak times only, such as weekends, or evenings. (Both the North Laines in Brighton and Copenhagen have successfully operated such schemes for decades).
  • Possible closure of some roads – but only to through traffic – so access remains for residents, businesses and deliveries.

Some of the benefits of pedestrian priority works in Soho include:

  • Reduced speed and less traffic mean fewer accidents.
  • More space for leisurely shopping and dining means more visitors, increased turnover and more profits for businesses.  Space could be available for more outdoor restaurant seating and tables.
  • Less traffic, less traffic noise, less traffic pollution.
  • The works could be cheap to implement, e.g. a road closure or a bollard to prevent through traffic would have minimal cost.
  • Minimal disruption to residents and businesses. Continued deliveries for businesses (at certain times only), and ongoing access for residents would be permitted.
  • Improved environment and quality of life. More space for al-fresco living.
  • Sufficient access provided for wheelchair users.
  • Soho is a designated conservation area, with dozens of listed buildings; it has a high density, “enclosed” character – unique for London. The distinctive character of Soho as a working historic neighbourhood is being eroded, and action is needed to redress the balance from vehicles to pedestrians.

More details of the Saving Soho campaign are available at A petition has also been launched seeking immediate action from Westminster Council to safeguard this unique area, help deliver the long overdue improvements that Soho deserves and create a city centre that Londoner’s can be proud of.

When the chains go marching in

A guest article from Julie Holck

In order to understand cities properly, we have to look at them through retail. Retail and urban life have always been two sides of the same coin and although shops alone cannot create a city, retail is a crucial part of urban life. Thousands of cities have been founded on market places and retail has been one of the most powerful drivers in the development of civilisation.

Shops attract people and thereby life – without customers they wouldn’t exist – but they do it in different ways. According to their size, location, structure, values and aesthetics, stores create different kinds of life and different kinds of cities. Shops are ‘mini worlds’, potentially framing experiences, enchantment, surprises and dialogue. Everyday conversations between retailers and customers can create confidence between people and establish a kind of local pride as well as a sense of place.

But shops can also do the opposite, providing homogeneity, boredom and unattractiveness. They can destroy the inner urban structures and suck the life out of the city streets.

Being aware of the consequences of shops is essential when dealing with urban planning on any scale. If we want not only liveable but also lovable cities we need a life generating retail structure and a counter strategy to today’s challenges – which involve the closure of more and more individual stores, the increasing number of chain stores and the growth in store scale.

The concrete situation is that we see more and more towns with very few or no shops at all. When the last grocery shop closes down, so does the town.

Every year 2000 individual food stores go out of business in the UK and the same goes for a number of other Western countries. When that happens, the city loses a little bit of its character. And every time a shop closes we lose a destination in the city. Eventually we lose reasons to go out and thereby we lose people and life in the streets.

While the individual shops go out of business, the chain stores continue to go in. Chain stores look the same everywhere (that’s kind of the point!), but it’s not necessarily a pretty sight – at least it’s not a very interesting sight, as you’ve probably seen it all before. The result, in the end, is that we can hardly distinguish one high street from the other. When the chain stores go marching in, those qualities of chance, the unpredictable and the unusual, which has always given cities their renewable, variable, cosmopolitan, living character, is lost.

Parallel to this we can observe how shopping centers still attract loads of customers. Shopping centres are comfortable and predictable and protect us from bad weather and other inconveniences of the real world (such as beggars, activists, litter and traffic). But although they do attract a lot of customers, who might also sneak out to do some shopping in the streets, aesthetically their contribution to the living city is rather small. Turning their back to the city, they only show the passer-by their huge, enclosed facades. Looked upon as identity makers and street life generators, shopping centres (and chain stores) don’t score very highly. No matter how spectacular the design, they just don’t provide a feeling of place.

Cities (especially in Northern Europe) have been craving for identity for decades. Every city wants to be unique and those who can afford it build beautiful museums and expensive apartments. And that’s fine, but it’s not enough. It’s not the museums that create the everyday buzz of the city; shops do that.

Shops provide an important social and sensuous space and in order to create a living city, it’s crucial to nurse and encourage a unique retail environment with a certain amount of smaller, individual stores. The right shops in the right location function as strong place makers for cities that are or want to be: ALIVE.

Case studies: Jaegersborggade and Vaernedamsvej, Copenhagen

Jaegersborggade Farmers Market from

In Copenhagen a street called Jaegersborggade has changed dramatically within the last 10 years, thanks to the residents’ retail initiatives. From being a gloomy and unattractive place, the home of a motorcycle gang, the street is now a hip and rather unique shopping and leisure destination with small designer shops, famous chefs’ restaurants and a weekly organic market. The residents decided to rent out – to a low rent – all the ground floor/basement spaces to unique shops and eateries and the result is clear today. Jaegersborggade has become a very attractive street and lively, especially on Saturdays. The board of the housing cooperatives is in charge of the renting procedures and decides who to host.

Vaernedamsvej by

In another street, Vaernedamsvej (200 m.), known as Copenhagen’s “little Paris” (very little!) we find 46 different shops/eateries and only 6 of them are part of a chain. There is a special relation between the owners here, and the street makes up a small local community in the middle of the big city. The long history of the street as a shopping street but also the small spaces may be part of the answer to why this is so. There is no formal programme for the street but it has, somehow, found an order of its own, thanks to the social relations and the agreed upon aim of creating/maintaining a special atmosphere with unique shops, focusing on food and fashion.

Low rents, small spaces (rooms), some kind of substance/image consensus and a certain degree of self-determination seem to be constructive in the creation of lively and attractive (shopping) streets.

Julie Holck is a retail consultant for Gehl Architects and has recently completed a PhD on the relationship between cities and retail. Her dissertation, ‘The Shops and the Living Cities’ focuses on how shops contribute to living cities, including reflections on the definition of ‘a living city’, why they are important to us – both socially, culturally and economically – and how we can create alternative and sustainable urban shopping environments.

What to do about cycling in outer London

A guest article from David Arditti

We know there is a particular problem with cycling in outer London. We know this from the figures. While the cycling modal share (proportion of all trips) in Hackney, the highest-cycling  London borough, is 6%, for Bromley it is only 0.5%, and for 18 of the other outer London boroughs it is below 2%. This is not to say that cycling is absolutely high in inner London. Dutch cities have cycling modal shares between 20% and 60% – so even Hackney has nothing particularly to boast of on the European scale. But it has been the case that, while cycling has undergone a significant revival in inner London in the last four decades, it has stagnated or declined in outer London; the “Cycling Revolution” proclaimed by Boris Johnson (which was in fact occurring in inner London long before his mayoralty) has not touched the suburbs.

The borough of Brent is a particularly interesting case, running from within easy cycling distance of central London, in the dense suburbs of Queens Park and Kilburn, to the very different environment of semi-detached, big-garden, rail-commuting “Metroland” in places like Wembley and Kingsbury. Figures for the proportion of people cycling to work for the different wards of Brent show a huge variation, from 4.2% in Queens Park to 0.5% in Kenton. In such places as Kenton, cycling may be said to have fallen to a level of mere “noise” in the transport background: no longer a significant element of transport at all, the 0.5% probably represents an irreducible minimum level of people temporarily trying cycling for a while, before giving it up again owing the hostility of the environment.

While people who live in outer London and work in central London might not be expected to commute to work by bike in significant numbers, given the efficiency of rail services, it should also be borne in mind that most workers in the outer boroughs do not now commute to the centre. Outer London has developed strong local economies and associated travel patterns between residential areas and local town centres, and many of the resulting commutes could be easily cycled, but are not, because cycling is not felt to be an attractive option. In addition, there are a great many other short journeys that outer Londoners make, for shopping, leisure, and particularly school trips, and other journeys that children may make, that could easily be cycled, if conditions were right. But for the whole of Brent, shockingly, cycling only accounts for 0.3% of journeys to school.

To make cycling a viable option for the very high number of short trips that outer Londoners make, we need to look hard at what has been shown to work to increase cycling in urban environments of similar density in other countries, in particular, the high-cycling countries of Europe: the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Switzerland and Austria, which give the closest parallels to our culture and human, physical and economic geography. In so doing, we need to be evidence-driven, and to throw out the “witchcraft” approach to promoting cycling which has for so long dominated thinking on the subject in the UK. By “witchcraft”, I mean all those traditional ideas about training people to cycle in a vehicular manner to fit in with a motor-dominated environment (known as Cyclecraft or Bikeability), the emphasis on propaganda through “encouragement” and “awareness-raising” that forms such a large part of local authorities’ cycling strategies, and the emphasis on protection and visibility for cyclists (helmets and dayglow) and on telling cyclists to stay out of the way of lorries. Forty years of promoting such ideas have resulted in the virtual death of cycling in the suburbs.

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