From the Street Talks archive – Ashok Sinha and Richard Lewis, London Cycling Campaign

Street Talks with Ashok Sinha and Richard Lewis, London Cycling Campaign: Love London, Go Dutch – how we can make our streets as safe and inviting for cycling as they are in Holland (3rd April 2012)

Presentations from all previous Street Talks are available here.

Street Talks with Jim Davis, 9th April

Jim Davis, Chair, Cycling Embassy of Great BritainThe Joy of Sects: The Evolution of the Embassy

Two years after his first appearance, Jim Davis, Founder and Chair of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain returns to Street Talks in April to reflect on why he decided to set up a new campaign, the problems the Embassy has faced in moving amongst the cycling establishment, cycling enthusiasts and national government, and the fun they’ve had along the way.

Jim will discuss what the Embassy stands for and the challenges that they may face in the future. He will consider how they can help ensure the Mayor and his successors deliver on the Vision for Cycling in London, and whether London can act as an inspiration for investment in cycling infrastructure across the UK.

Jim Davis is a writer, campaigner, lobbyist, occasional blogger and even more occasional stand-up comedian. He founded the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain in January 2011 having campaigned locally and worked for CTC as an Information Officer.

Upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8PN at 7pm on Tuesday 9th April 2013 (bar open from 6pm).

A new movement for The New City – Bruce McVean’s The New City lecture

This is a write up of Bruce McVean’s The New City lecture given on Monday 11th February 2013 at Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture.

A brief (and over simplified) history of transport and the city

Cities have always been shaped by transport, while the planning and design of cities impacts on transport choices. The first cities were inherently walkable – the primary mode of transport was people’s feet and cities were necessarily compact in size and form as a result.

Public transport allowed cities to grow well beyond a size that would allow a person to comfortably walk from one side to the other. The expansion of train, tram, bus and tube lines helped suburbia spread, but the component parts of suburban growth remained walkable – homes needed to be within walking distance of train stations, tram stops, bus routes, shops and services. Today we’d say that cities were expanding through ‘transit orientated development’.

Mass private transport came in the form of the bicycle, which enabled people to travel further for journeys not served by public transport, bringing new personal freedom of movement that helped whet the appetite for the even greater freedoms promised by the car.

Aspirations towards car ownership were matched with aspirations towards home (and garden) ownership. After the Second World War rising car ownership freed developers from the need to provide easy access to public transport. Shops and services no longer needed to be within walking distance. Aggressive lobbying by car manufacturers, government investment in road building, and changes in planning policy and development economics all helped fuel the rise of the car as the transport mode of choice.

Now those who live in suburbia have little choice but to drive – trapped in a vicious cycle of car dependency as the separation of land uses continues to place jobs and services beyond the reach of those on foot, while low densities make the running of decent public transport nigh on impossible – and most people looking for a new home have little choice but to buy in suburbia.

Of course, it wasn’t just suburbia that was being shaped by the car. In existing urban areas perfectly functional buildings and even neighbourhoods disappeared under the wrecking ball to provide the road and parking space necessary to bring the car into the heart of the city.

The problem with cars

The negative impacts of our love affair with the car have long been acknowledged. As have the difficulties of trying to do anything meaningful to address them. In 1960 the Ministry of Transport commissioned a team led by Colin Buchanan to look at the problem, resulting in the publication of Traffic in Towns in 1963. 50 years on the project steering group’s famous acknowledgement that, “We are nourishing at immense cost a monster of great destructiveness. And yet we love him dearly…” still rings true.

Undoubtedly many people still aspire to car ownership, or view owning a car as essential to maintaining a high quality of life. And who are we to deny them? Engines keep getting more efficient and electric cars will help wean us off carbon dioxide emitting toxic fossil fuels. What about those self-driving cars we keep hearing so much about? Aren’t they going to use road space so efficiently that congestion will be a thing of the past, along with crashes? Perhaps, but what kind of city do we want to live in? One where everyone zooms about in their own metal box, completely removed from their fellow citizens? Ask anyone how they think their city can be improved and the answer is unlikely to be more cars – self-driving or otherwise.

Technology may soon address the problems of the internal combustion engine and the contribution that car travel makes to carbon emissions and air pollution; but technology alone can’t solve the myriad of other negative impacts of car dependency that are neatly summarised in the diagram below from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s report The Urban Environment. Tackling carbon emissions and air pollution is an essential task, but it’s not the only task – the big villain isn’t the internal combustion engine, it’s the car. As Taras Grescoe argues in Straphanger, “The automobile was never an appropriate technology for [cities]. As a form of mass transit for the world, it is a disaster.”

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November’s Street Talk

Mark Ames, editor of ibikelondon: I bike, you bike, we bike – cycling towards an equal city

Mark Ames has been writing about cycling for four years and in that time has seen everything from tens of thousands of cyclists on the streets in demonstrations to an old aged pensioner riding the notorious Elephant and Castle roundabout. He’ll chart the highs and lows of cycle advocacy in London and propose new ideas as to what really needs to be done to achieve a real cycling revolution in London, and more importantly who needs to ask for it. Finally, Mark will put forward the idea that keeping cyclists safe and designing the built environment go hand in hand, and, when done well are a true indicator of an equal city.

Mark Ames is the editor of i b i k e l o n d o n and a sustainable urban travel advocate. He was instrumental in organising mass participation bike rides in 2011 on Blackfriars Bridge and around the 10 most dangerous junctions for cyclists in London. In 2012 he fired the starting gun for the ‘Love London, Go Dutch Big Ride’ setting off 10,000 cyclists calling for roads in London to be made as safe for cycling as they are in the Netherlands. He’s appeared on television, online and in print talking about bicycle safety and in 2012 was invited to Oxford University and the Houses of Parliament to talk about everyday and ordinary cycling.

Upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8PN at 7pm (bar open 6pm) on Tuesday 6th November.

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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What’s next for Cycle Safe?

At June’s Street Talk we asked people to share their thoughts on what The Times Cycle Safe Campaign should do next by responding to the following questions – you can see the reponses to each question and add your comments/suggestions by following the links below (please note the deadline for additional comments is 2nd July):

1a) Did we get our manifesto right? What would you have in there if we wrote it again?

1b) Many senior politicians including Boris Johnson have pledged their support for the campaign, how should they be held to account and their track record assessed?

2) Local councillors and local government representatives have the final say on how money is spent in their area; how do we reach them and convince them this is important?

3a) What are the priority issues that need to be addressed to make London and other cities fit for cycling?

3b) What are the short, medium and long term opportunities to make London and other cities fit for cycling?

4a) What articles should The Times commission to encourage non-cyclists to support the aims of the campaign?

4b) Are there campaigns/organisations that The Times should support/partner with to achieve the aims of the Cycle Safe campaign?

What’s next for Cycle Safe? Question 1a

Did we get our manifesto right? What would you have in there if we wrote it again?

This is one of seven questions that people were asked at June’s Street Talk. The responses below are unedited and in no particular order. We’d welcome further comments/suggestions – comments will close on 2nd July.

  • Bigger focus on children and future of our cities.  Otherwise, very good?
  • 20 mph should be default speed limit in all urban and residential areas regardless of cycle lanes or not.
  • More emphasis on adopting best European practice – learning from those countries that are successful.
  • Freight consolidation centres and night-time deliveries.
  • £100m? Not enough if we want 10% of journeys by bike = 10% budget, 20% of journeys = 20% budget
  • Better integration of cycling and public transport would encourage more people to cycle, esp. For longer trips. (This would include secure cycle parking, which is noticeably deficient across the UK)
  • DfTs Mode Hierarchy should be mandatory, not optional for local authorities/highways
  • Sensors on lorries don’t help if drivers on phone and not paying attention.
  • 20 mph zones need to be polices, problems in Edinburgh in 20 mph residential zones where cars are speeding and going on to pavement to avoid speed bumps.
  • Ask non-cyclists what they need to see to be tempted onto a bike and work from there.
  • Item 6 suggests that 30 mph speed limits in residential lanes are ok where there are cycle lanes – not the case (ignores needs of children, pedestrians, older people, pets and social functions of streets)
  • Needs to include introduction of assumed liability
  • Every local authority (or group of authorities) to have a specific officer in charge of cycling (and walking) and to liaise with local cyclists etc – no fake consultations.
  • “Road safety” is flawed, health and safety pyramid is needed on roads where personal protective equipment (hi viz, helmets) is LAST and removing danger is FIRST
  • Zero fatality approach as starting point in road design, as would be expected for construction sites etc
  • Get commitment to Road Danger Reduction (RDR)Charter:
    1) Identify and tackle sources of danger
    2) Develop science of RDR including street design
    3) Use RDR to support and encourage sustainable travel
    4) Promote actions and charter widely
  • Science includes Understanding risk ‘thermostats’ and what influences risk-taking/compensation
  • Like the idea of encouraging % of road danger for next generation road users…..need to ensure figures available to counter claim that cyclists don’t pay for roads
  • Mostly yes – but quite a conservative manifesto, should push hard for implementation soon
  • Balance reducing danger and positive aspiration
  • There is no one element, no golden bullet (infrastructure, training etc) The problem with cycling in the UK are a systematic failure from uninsured drivers using the roads, to the roads themselves, to the CPS dropping charges and it goes on and on like E$ repeating Friends or Dave repeating Top Gear or whatever
  • Don’t have a manifesto with specific policies.  They know how to do it.  The information is out there we just want it to get better.  Let the councils decide how.
  • 20 mph on all city roads. Cyclists and pedestrians don’t just get killed/injured in residential areas.
  • I think the manifesto is good, but I would. There’s a lot of data on the number of cyclists and accidents out there already, does it need to be in the manifesto or replaced by something else? Encourage cycling training at schools?
  • Include justice system – highlight problems with investigation, prosecution, sentencing and compensation
  • More money essential but also:
    – Rewrite DfT guidance to dutch standards
    – Major road schemes built around cycle infrastructure rather than vice versa
    – Make change in subjective safety a target. See DfT surveys etc.
    – 2% budget commitment – while laudable – is unambitious. Bar set too low as a negotiating position – should be wider to include all public realm improvements, and road maintenance budgets
  • Why for 500 most dangerous junctions?  Why not if there is a certain level of danger deal with them even if turns out to be 5000!
  • Stop calling us ‘cyclists’: talk about ‘people’ on bikes
  • Infrastructure and money should be higher on the list
  • Health, health, health!
  • Adopt a road danger reduction approach
  • Dutch-style infrastructure – cycle tracks – the populace wants it!
  • Not quite, look at southwark cyclists manifesto: all about stopping ’intimidation’ of cyclists either by segregation on main roads or calmer residential routes. Check their website for their very detailed manifesto.
  • Drop the sponsorship nonsense – nobody will do it
  • We have, have, have to move this beyond simply a cycling issue. We cannot simply appeal to common humanity around road traffic incident/victims and move to making it a children walking to school and pedestrian issue.  The dutch won this around ALL road victims.
  • Does not mention looking to Holland & Denmark (and Seville, NY etc) for solutions
  • Ask people who don’t cycle!

What’s next for Cycle Safe? Question 1b

Many senior politicians including Boris Johnson have pledged their support for the campaign, how should they be held to account and their track record assessed?

This is one of seven questions that people were asked at June’s Street Talk. The responses below are unedited and in no particular order. We’d welcome further comments/suggestions – comments will close on 2nd July.

  • Introduce a ‘Ben test’ the non-cyclist is the one who matters and can judge whether interventions have worked
  • Ensure consistency of measuring from year to year
  • Invite them to cycle with children and local LCC groups to show them the problems
  • ‘Reference panel’/mystery shoppers??(perhaps involve Which??)
  • Data on number of children cycling, mode share of child cyclists, ditto for older people. Mode share of journeys
  • Number of streets per year which have reintroduced 2-way cycling
  • Challenge them on every statement they make e.g. cyclist error
  • Boris (TfL) produce quarterly report – what has been achieved, and what can be expected in the next 3 months.
  • Whip them!
  • The Mayor could highlight best practice across all London boroughs and actively encourage all communities to respond and engage (ultimately name and shame) (The biking boroughs at £30k per year doesn’t muster).
  • How about an independent commission to monitor how well he’s doing? And to monitor all levels of government – they can’t pass the buck.
    – Cycling England did some of that holding local authorities to account on spending.
  • Quality audit for cycle facilities – could be based on what Dutch Fietsersbond [Dutch Cyclist’s Union] have been developing
  • Encourage discussion between different levels of government. Forum of local and national government so as to avoid tendency in which one camp sperately blames the other and no action is taken.
  • Focus on individual promises and track each one, e.g. Boris has been allowed to get away with woolly promise of ‘something’ at Vauxhall Cross and Greenwich and nobody’s quite sure what he was on about.
  • Track ‘cycling is booming” speeches, press releases v. 3 year rolling average modal share.  See Joe Dunkley’s blog for graph of soundbites versus cycling rate
  • On street survey of opinions – what impression do people have (qualitative)
  • Fact checking and evidence
  • Keep emphasising what cycling can do for them
  • Number of children walking to school and cycling
  • Identify/agree key indicators for each manifesto point and do annual review e.g. has TfL done enough to bring in HGV safety technology – NO!
  • DfT (Baker & Penning) will blame everything on local authorities who
    a) Have no money
    b) Are given crap instructions by DfT
    c) Are constrained by crap rules, laws etc e.g. bicycle specific traffic lights
  • Dft casualty stats compared to DfT cycle counts…
  • Survey subjective opinion of safety. Ask your readers “Would you feel safe cycling in borough X?” etc and compare the results.
  • Write letters t local and hyper-local media showing how individual politicians have or have not delivered on their promises.
  • Video capture and disseminate widely when they say things contrary to the pledges they made in April 2012.
  • Record and track cycling numbers.
  • Boris will say it’s up to local communities to decide (e.g. when 20 mph introduced) but he should hold LA’s to account and get their feedback on what works.
  • Money allocated to real facts on the ground.
  • Identify clearly measurable indicators and get politicians to endorse them.
  • Ask people what they think – use interactive mapping – this has been used successfully in Copenhagen and Hounslow