#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.

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 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?

London Mayor Election – Voting with My Bike

Boris Johnson graffiti

Boris Johnson graffiti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On 3 May, London will go the polls and elect a new mayor. Or re-elect the old one. Or re-elect the one who came before him perhaps.

As a London resident and cyclist, this election is of great interest to me.  Thankfully, a number of organisations have done the hard work and analysed the manifestos of the various candidates from a number of perspectives of interest to me.

In the last two months I have cycled over 350 kilometres on my commute, so in the upcoming election I will most definitely be voting with my bike.  Transport is one area the London mayor has massive control over, so the policies of the next mayor will have significant bearing on my life..

The London Cycling Campaign, of which I am a proud member, has been very vocal in the run up to the election. Being a charity, they do not go so far as advising people on how to vote, but they have conducted a review of the main candidates manifestoes, scoring each of the main candidates on their cycling policies.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jenny Jones of the Green Party comes out on top.  Ken Livingstone of the Labour Party was some way behind in second place, leaving Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party and Brian Paddick of the Liberal Democrat Party far behind.

The London Cycle Campaign is also running a longer term campaign under the banner ‘Love London, Go Dutch’; they say “We’re calling on the next Mayor of London to build continental-standard cycling infrastructure in the capital, so everyone has the freedom to cycle, whatever their route, and whatever their destination.” It was recently confirmed by the LCC that Jenny Jones, Brian Paddick and Ken Livingstone had all committed to taking forward all three of the LCC’s Go Dutch demands if they were elected. If only Boris were to commit, then we would be nearly certain of this happening in the next mayoral term.

Finally, as a show of the strenght of feeling with regard to cycle safety, the LCC organised the UK’s largest-ever bike ride supporting safer streets for cycling on Saturday 28 April.  The Big Ride, as it was called, attracted over 10,000 cyclists, despite atrocious weather.

The Cyclists in the City blog has been closely following the mayoral campaigning.  I have picked up a number of interesting tidbits from this.  Boris Johnson is the subject of much ire.  I found this particular post, entitled Jeremy Clarkson admits he loves Copenhagen-style cycling and implicitly rejects Boris Johnson’s cycling strategy, as fourth transport organisation slams Mayor’s transport policies. Why are London’s Conservatives so out of touch on cycling as a normal, safe, everyday mode of transport?, very interesting in highlighting some of the big problems with Boris’s transport policies.

Londoners on Bikes has been set up specifically in the run up to the election to mobilise the cyclist vote.  The organisation is seeking to engage with all of the main candidates for mayor to demand action on cycle safety.  The day before the election, they will recommend the candidate to vote for with the best plan to make London safe for bikes.  Their preliminary ranking, released a week ahead of the election, had Jenny Jones in first place, Ken Livingstone in second, Brian Paddick in third, and Boris way back in last place.

For me, this is not simply about making London a better place for cyclists.  I see it as just one fundamental part of making London a more livable city; a city fit for cyclists is also a city fit for pedestrians, a city fit for children to play in the streets, a city fit for outdoor eating and drinking, a city where you can open your window without being deafened by traffic noise and a city where thousands of people will not die prematurely due to the effects of air pollution.

interestingly, a study by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth looking at the green credentials of all the candidates from a broader sustainability perspective arrives at the same ranking as Londoners on Bikes – Jones, Livingstone, Paddick, Johnson.

Before campaigning for the election had begun I had thought that perhaps there isn’t much between the main candidates, particularly between the favourites Boris and Ken.  Having reviewed all this information I can see that there is some clear daylight between them, and also come compelling reasons to look at the other candidates too.  The voting system used also gives a great opportunity to register a first preference vote for one of the less likely candidates, while reserving a second preference for Boris or Ken, if that was your choice.  So when Thursday comes, I will be hopping on my bike to the local polling station and although it won’t be coming with me into the booth, I will certainly be voting with my bike.