#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.

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.

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Courtesy of Daniel Sparing

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Courtesy of Joe Dunckley

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Courtesy of Amsterdamize

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Courtesy of Amsterdamize

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Courtesy of Amsterdamized

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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:

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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.

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.