#spaceforcycling on my high street – call for suggestions

My local high street will receive major improvements next year with an injection of £600,000 from Transport for London. This presents a great opportunity for much needed improvements to both the carriageways and footways. The question is, how can space for cycling be accommodated?

The context is rather complicated. The map below shows the location of the street, Dartmouth Road, in Forest Hill, south-east London. Access to Forest Hill is limited. Dartmouth Road is an important route south from the A205 towards Sydenham – there are few alterative routes nearby with Sydenham Hill Woods to the west and the East London Railway to the east. Its importance is recognised by the fact that Dartmouth Road is an A-road, although it remains a local authority road and does not form part of the strategic Transport for London Road Network. It has three bus routes and a pretty large volume of traffic – almost 18,000 motor vehicles per day according to the Department for Transport.

Dartmouth Road and surrounding area
Dartmouth Road and surrounding area

The image below shows a view along Dartmouth Road illustrating the limited space available. Further north, towards the background of the image, space is even more constrained.

View north along Dartmouth Road, on a quiet day

View north along Dartmouth Road, on a quiet day

However, as well as functioning as an important thoroughfare, Dartmouth Road forms part of Forest Hill town centre. It is home to numerous shops, restaurants, cafés and bars, and also important civic facilities such as the local library, swimming pool and a primary school. After a period in decline, Dartmouth Road and the wider town centre have experienced a resurgence in recent years. This success has brought with it some problems though. There are issues with illegal parking, parking and loading on pavements (which cause problems for the flow of road traffic and people on foot) and the general amenity issues that come with a heavily trafficked route, such as noise and pollution. For all road users, the success of the planned improvements will depend on resolving these issues.

As yet, no details are available regarding what Transport for London and Lewisham Council are planning for the road improvements. I think it can be safely assumed that nothing will be done to reduce traffic volumes. My wish list would therefore focus on providing improved and clearer parking and loading facilities to avoid causing problems for traffic flow and pedestrians; initiatives to benefit pedestrians such as more and better crossings and priority at side streets; a 20mph limit and removing the ineffective traffic calming; and providing good surfaces for both the carriageway and pavements.

What I am unsure of is where mass cycling can be accommodated in this context. (Of course it actually needs to be considered on a broader scale, but let’s put that aside for a moment.) Allocating some space for cycle parking would be an easy thing to do and would offer clear benefits to local businesses. But what about providing safe space for people to cycle there in the first place? Are there case studies from other cities and countries that could be applied? Or is it the case that this route should be abandoned to motor traffic and an alternative sought for cycling? If you have any ideas I would love to hear from you.


Cycling is (or should be) FUN!

As Easy As Riding A Bike

I couldn’t make it to Street Talks on Monday, to hear Mustafa Arif of the London Cycling Campaign discuss the Space for Cycling campaign, although I did manage to follow some of the discussion on Twitter. One tweet in particular stood out –

That is, how does cycle campaigning break out of the bubble, and convince people who don’t go anywhere near a bike on a day-to-day basis that demanding change is something they should be involved in?

There are no easy answers here, but I think one profitable angle is fun. People who don’t consider themselves ‘cyclists’ will ride bikes at some point during the year, but usually only under certain conditions.

They will ride bikes along seafronts, when they are on holiday.

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Some thoughts on #cycling safety and #space4cycling

Today on my way to work on my bike I was hit by a car. The driver had made a snap decision to turn left into a side street to avoid a traffic jam. In his haste, he executed the manoeuvre quickly and without checking his mirrors or indicating. I was filtering down the left hand side of the lane past the static traffic and went into the side of his car. Through skill, good fortune and thanks to my awesome disc brakes, I avoided any damage to myself or my bike. The guy’s wing mirror came off worse in fact. If I could choose the outcome of being hit by a car I would certainly choose this.

Anyway, this got me thinking. If cycling is truly a safe activity (and we are regularly told that it is a statistically safe activity), why do I, and everyone I know who cycles, have so many stories about near misses and collisions?

One of the statistics that regularly gets rattled off is that cycling is safer per kilometre travelled than walking. But most people I know, myself included, have no such horror stories of near misses and collisions while walking. I am beginning to doubt that this statistic holds true.

Either way, a reason why one perhaps hears relatively few horror stories from walking occurred to me. There is effective segregation between motor traffic and pedestrians – people walking have dedicated space in the form of a pavement and separation in the form of a kerb. With the exception of road crossings, which are often in controlled circumstances at pedestrian crossings, pedestrians never have to mix with motor traffic. Hence the reason pedestrians are free to relax, to amble, to be distracted by kids, music, mobile phones, etc. without fear for their lives.

In contrast, to survive while cycling in the midst of motor traffic, as we are obliged to do in London, requires a state of hyper-alertness at all times (“having your wits about you” as Boris Johnson calls it). While I do really enjoy my cycle to work, this takes its toll and even while maintaining this hyper-alertness, near misses and occasional collisions are clearly unavoidable. I am more convinced than ever that we need safe space for cycling in London. Take a look at the Netherlands, where they have consciously in the last 40 years decided to make space for cycling. Statistically, cycling is safer there than it is in the UK but that only tells one part of the story. Take a look at photos of people cycling there – I have added a selection from Flickr below. Take a look at the demographics – men, women, the young, the old, families, people from all walks of life. Finally, take a look at their faces – they are clearly relaxed and enjoying cycling. They are not in a tense state of hyper-alertness waiting for a driver to do something unexpected that may endanger their lives.

7363373730_49cc4092d1_b (1)

Courtesy of Daniel Sparing


Courtesy of Joe Dunckley


Courtesy of Amsterdamize


Courtesy of Amsterdamize


Courtesy of Amsterdamized


Courtesy of Amsterdamized


Why I will be attending the #StopTheKilling #TfLDieIn this Friday

Stop the Killing

Stop the Killing

This Friday a mass die-in will take place in front of the headquarters of Transport for London. This peaceful protest has been organised by un-affiliated grassroots cyclists who feel that recent fatalities to pedestrians and cyclists on our roads mean that radical action now has to happen quickly to make London’s roads safer for all Londoners.

Those who know me know that this is a cause close to my heart and I read much on the subjects of safe cycling and liveable streets. However even I was shocked today when I looked at a map showing all those killed and injured on Britain’s roads between 2000 and 2010. I have read various statistics on this subject but looking at my local roads gave me an entirely different perspective. I am simply astounded at the number of people in cars, on motorbikes, on bikes and on foot hurt in my neighbourhood. Seriously, take a look. This isn’t about bikes vs. cars – it is has no data on the cause of the incidents, just the records of the injuries and fatalities. When you open the website it is just a mass of data so zoom right in on a street in your neighbourhood and take a look. This is my local high street:

Screenshot (6)

My conclusion? There is something very wrong with our roads that this level of harm occurs. And there is something very wrong with our society for allowing this. For these reasons I will be attending the die-in to demand change on our roads.

Why we need space for cycling

As Easy As Riding A Bike

Ahead of today’s parliamentary debate on cycling, and subsequent Space for Cycling protest, I thought I’d give a brief reminder of why change is so urgently needed in Britain, and to persuade you to come along to the ride.

The first graph, below, shows the percentage of all trips made by bike – split by age group – in the Netherlands and the UK (click to enlarge) –

With the proviso that the age groups are slightly different, the contrast is remarkable. Note in particular the extraordinary differences in the amount of cycling in the under 16/17 age groups, and in the over 65s. Dutch people over the age of 65 make 23% of all their trips by bike; just 1% of trips by British over 65s are cycled. Likewise Dutch children under 17 make 40% of all their trips by bike; just 2% of all trips by British under…

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Will Jim Dowd MP Help Get Britain Cycling?

I previously posted regarding my letter to Jim Dowd MP asking him to attend the Get Britain Cycling debate in the House of Commons on 2 September. I got a response recently, saying the following:

Thank you for your e-mail regarding the forthcoming debate on Get Britain Cycling in the House of Commons.  I recognise the importance of cycling and the need to improve conditions for cyclists, especially in London.

Although I have several other commitments in my diary for September 2nd, I will endeavour to attend the debate at some stage if at all possible.

You may also be interested to know that I added my name to an Early Day Motion in the last Parliamentary session, which read;

That this House notes that cycling benefits public health, the economy, the environment and quality of life; further notes the strength of public and parliamentary support for The Times newspaper’s Cities fit for Cycling campaign, and its backing for an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group on Getting Britain Cycling; further notes calls from national cycling organisations for a cycling action plan to increase cycling among people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, and to reduce the actual and perceived risks of cycling, whether for day-to-day travel, outdoor recreation or sport; and calls on the Government to provide leadership, resources and Cabinet-level co-ordination across Government departments and external partners to produce and implement such a plan as part of our Olympic legacy, including measures to strengthen road traffic law and its enforcement, improve cycling conditions and perceptions of safety, integrate cycling with public transport, promote cycling through schools, colleges, workplaces, community organisations and beyond, and embed cycling into the heart of transport, planning and other relevant policies.

Thank you again for contacting me about such an important issue to many of my constituents and I hope I have been able to provide a positive response.

Best wishes

Jim Dowd MP

So, tentative support but no commitment to attend. I have replied to Jim, seeking a firm commitment to attend:

Dear Jim,
Thank you for your email. Now that we are approaching the date of the debate in the House of Commons, have you any more clarity on your availability to attend?
I am pleased to hear of your support for the Early Day Motion you mention.  However, this has failed to achieve any traction within the Department for Transport, as evidenced by the Government’s response to the Get Britain Cycling report published this week. The response is a recipe for the status quo, and will see little in the way of investment (despite their attempts to spin a small one-off financial commitment as a ‘cycling revolution’) and real change on the roads to create safe cycling for all. This makes it all the more important that as many MPs as possible attend and let the Government know that the status quo is not good enough.
I look forward to hearing from you.

It’s not too late to urge your MP to attend. This is all the more important now in the face of the Government’s disappointing response to the Get Britain Cycling report.

Get Britain Cycling – Get Your MP Involved

As you might expect, the folks at The Times can write better than me, so I will use their words:

A landmark debate on cycling will take place in the House of Commons on Monday, September 2, when MPs will debate the findings of the Get Britain Cycling report. This calls on the Government to increase investment in cycling across the UK.

This debate only came about because almost 70,000 people, perhaps including you, signed our vital e-petition. Thank you so much for doing so.

Now we are requesting that you to write to your MP and implore him or her to attend the debate on your behalf. You can do so on our campaign page here.

The result of your actions would not only improve safety for the 750,000 cyclists who already commute to work by bike in Britain, but would also have a significant impact in reducing traffic jams for motorists, easing overcrowding on public transport and saving millions from local health budgets.

When we last asked you to contact your MP in February 2012, more than 4,000 of you did so, which resulted in 77 MPs attending a debate on cycling in Westminster Hall. Many said they attended because they had been contacted by their constituents.

Almost 18 months later, we would urge you to do the same.

This is my letter to Jim Dowd MP, representative for West Lewisham and Penge:

Dear Jim Dowd,

I am writing regarding the Get Britain Cycling debate being held in the House of Commons on Monday 2 September.

I am a resident within your constituency and I can tell you that cycling here, as in much of the rest of the country, is often an unpleasant experience. The streets are poorly designed, traffic-choked and in many cases, simply unsafe.

That said, I love cycling. On a Saturday morning I love nothing more than putting my daughter on the back of my bike and flitting between Forest Hill and Sydenham for a spot of shopping. It occurs to me that this area, with its fine collection of High Streets a 5-10 minute ride from each other, is made for cycling, if only someone could make the road environment feel safe and inviting for everyone, regardless of age or ability.

My daughter, now three-years old, is still small enough to ride on a child seat on the back of my bike. It may seem strange, but I do not look forward to the day she is too big for the child seat and has a bike of her own – in the current situation I do not feel I could let her ride a bike on the streets where we live. Conditions are such that one small mistake may cost her life, and children on bikes do make mistakes. The most vulnerable people on our roads need protection. The recommendations put forward in the Get Britain Cycling report need to be implemented in order to achieve the step changes required to make our streets feel safe an inviting to all.

I am proud to live in West Lewisham and Penge. Despite the ongoing economic uncertainty there is an air of optimism on the High Streets of Forest Hill and Sydenham. I am sure you will agree that every effort should be made to secure their economic future. Cycling can be a key part of this. Research consistently shows that people on bikes and on foot spend more in local shops than people in cars. Initiatives that would see more traffic, congestion, pollution and noise on our High Streets, such as Eric Pickles fallacy of encouraging more parking on our High Streets, should be rejected as they will simply ruin the qualities that make the High Streets attractive places to shop.

As I have already mentioned, I also think the particular geography of the area is well suited to cycling. While you might not reasonably take in shopping in Forest Hill, Sydenham and Kirkdale on foot in a single trip (and doing so in a car would be unpleasant), they are within easy reach of each other by bike. Each High Street has a great offering that does not necessarily overlap with the others – adding the three together results in an offering that in my view is more than the sum of the parts.

Finally, I understand that health is a particular area of interest to you. Getting more people on bikes has obvious public health benefits, and would also save millions from local NHS budgets. At a time when the NHS is under threat, there could not be a better time to get more people on bikes.

I would be grateful of you could confirm to me that you will be in attendance at the Get Britain Cycling debate and that you will fully support the recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling report.

 Yours sincerely…

If I get a response, I will post it to this blog.

Leon Daniels and ‘knee-jerk reactions’

As Easy As Riding A Bike

In the wake of the latest cycling death in London, the head of Transport for London’s Surface Transport, Leon Daniels, told BBC News

I think it’s very important we don’t have too much of a knee jerk reaction. Of course, as I said, one cycling death is one too many, but the circumstances for these accidents take a while to come through while all the investigations take place. And I’m sure there’s a whole range of measures that, over time, we will be taking in order to try and ensure cycle safety.

The problem here is that this isn’t just ‘one cycling death’. This is just the latest in a long line of deaths and serious injuries involving people riding bikes in London, deaths and injuries that are increasing in frequency.

To say we shouldn’t have a ‘knee jerk reaction’ rests on an assumption that the death on Monday was…

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Why is it acceptable that air pollution kills thousands each year in the UK?

Nelson's Column during the Great Smog of 1952 ...

Nelson’s Column during the Great Smog of 1952 Original description: Nelson’s Column in December. Foggy Day in December 1952. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In December 1952, a combination of cold weather, high atmospheric pressure and windless conditions collected airborne pollutants to form a thick layer of smog over London.  Over the four days that the smog lasted, thousands died prematurely and tens of thousands were hospitalised for respiratory illness.  Action was needed and in 1956, the Clean Air Act was passed, the first comprehensive attempt to control smoke emissions from homes and industry in the UK.

Fast forward 60 years, and where are we?  Well, thousands die prematurely and tens of thousands are hospitalised each year as a result of air pollution in London.  Don’t be mistaken, the Clean Air Act has been a success – the big killer in the Great Smog of 1952 was sulphur dioxide from the burning of coal and this is no longer a significant problem in the UK.  The pollutants of concern now are nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, mainly from vehicle engines.  Various epidemiological and toxicological studies into the health effects of traffic-related air pollution have identified a range of effects including cardiopulmonary conditions, increased risk of non-allergic respiratory symptoms and disease, myocardial infarction, changes in the regulation of the nervous system and inflammatory responses. Further studies have identified an increased risk of various cancers such as lung cancer with prolonged exposure, adverse effects during pregnancy and a decrease in male fertility.

There is legislation in place to manage these pollutants.  The EU has set air quality limit values (expressed as ‘objectives’ in UK law, interestingly).  These limit values are based on empirical data about the effect the pollutants have on health – some pollutants have standards expressed as annual average concentrations due to the chronic way in which they affect health and others have standards expressed as 24-hour, one-hour or 15-minute average concentrations due to the acute way in which they affect health. Some pollutants have standards expressed in terms of both long-term and short-term concentrations, as they have the potential to cause both chronic and acute health effects.

The UK Government passes the responsibility for meeting the air quality objectives to local authorities.  Under the Environment Act 1995, local authorities are required to review and assess air quality. Where objectives are not predicted to be met, local authorities must declare the area as an Air Quality Management Area. In addition, local authorities are required to produce an Air Quality Action Plan which includes measures to improve air quality within the Air Quality Management Area.  But that’s as far as it goes.

In the UK, most large cities fail to meet the air quality objectives.  In some areas, such as in Brixton and Putney, both in London, the objectives are exceeded by a factor of three.  The result of this has been estimated at 50,000 premature deaths per year across the UK by a House of Commons Committee report. The Greater London Authority has also commissioned research which suggests that air pollution contributed to 4,267 premature deaths in London in 2008.

Clearly the system is not working.  With the Great Smog of 1952 providing a stark realisation that earlier legislation was not working (air quality legislation in the UK dates back to the Alkali Act 1863) and that death and disease on this scale was not acceptable, the Government of the day passed the Clean Air Act in 1956.  Faced with economic woes (sound familiar?), the Government (Conservative, led by Harold Macmillan) took action, albeit following severe pressure from back benchers.  They took bold, costly and effective steps to deal with the problem. So, faced with an air quality and mortality problem on a similar scale, what does our Conservative (and Liberal Democrat) Government of 2012 do?  According to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, “the Government is putting thousands of lives at risk by trying to water down EU air quality rules instead of prioritising action to cut pollution on UK roads.”  And rather than cutting pollution from UK roads, this Government, also faced with economic difficulties, chooses instead to spend £1 billion building more roads.

Why is this acceptable?

A snapshot of climate science

Make Wealth History

powell climate survey

Here’s a striking pie chart that’s been doing the rounds recently (thanks to Simeon for drawing it to my attention). It doesn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know, but it does make a point pretty succinctly. The survey was by James Lawrence Powell for a book called The Inquisition of Climate Science.

There’s a degree of subjectivity to all these things. You need to decide what constitutes rejecting global warming, for starters. The most contentious bit of the debate isn’t over whether the planet is warming or not, but why. You also need to choose your pool of articles to survey, and I’m not sure if it’s possible to be 100% comprehensive. Here’s the methodology, and take it for what it is.

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