Boris Johnson's bicycle revolution; the next chapter

Just a few short weeks ago Mayor of London and Chair of Transport for London Boris Johnson appointed our city's first ever cycling commissioner, Telegraph journalist Andrew Gilligan.  Despite some fairly predictable party-political accusations of 'jobs for the boys" from some corners, the creation of his post and the appointment of Gilligan has so far been met with a "good, let's suck it and see" approach by cycle campaigners.  Gilligan has accused campaigners of being "shrill" in the past, but on this occasion it would seem the expectation of action is being met with a cautious silence whilst we wait for the facts to become clear.  Tomorrow, Johnson and Gilligan will launch the Mayor's new Cycling Strategy for London, and they are promising big things.

 Plans for CS2 in Stratford - separated cycle lanes created by removing space for other traffic.

So, what can cyclists expect from Johnson and Gilligan's "Cycling Strategy 2.0".  Undoubtedly, there is much more cash earmarked for cycling (almost £1billion over the next ten years) which will mean there's enough in the pot to attempt bolder and more convincing cycling schemes - such as the plans for Cycle Superhighway 2 in Stratford.  This, coupled with Gilligan's clear understanding of cycling to be a suitable means of transport for a much wider demographic of London's population will hopefully steer cycling away from being solely the domain of the young, quick and the brave.  (No more "keeping our wits about us" at places like the Elephant and Castle, please.)  Gilligan has publicly criticised some of Johnson's cycling plans previously, and also has suitable political nuance to know how to wend his way around TfL's corridors of power; matched with the right-on and no-nonsense approach of Deputy Mayor Isobel Dedring, cycling has found itself a formidable set of friends at the power broker's table.

So will cyclists and cycle campaigners be happy with the contents of the new Cycle Strategy when it is launched tomorrow?  Not necessarily.  Rome wasn't built in a day, and as Gilligan is keen to point out on his new Cycling Commissioner's blog Amsterdam took even longer;
"Will it give cyclists absolutely everything they want? No. Will it turn London into Amsterdam any time soon? No. It took 40 years to turn even Amsterdam into Amsterdam, with the kind of cycle facilities it has now. But it will, I think, represent a real shift in our ambitions for the bike.
A lot of people have worked on this - the Mayor and Transport Commissioner, both of course keen cyclists themselves; Isabel Dedring, Deputy Mayor for Transport; me, also a cyclist; and a very large number of people at TfL who will be delivering it"  
And I think Gilligan is right that before now cycling hasn't received this kind of top-level scrutiny - and expertise - before.  In an agenda-conflicted behemoth of an organisation like TfL, this in itself is no small achievement and where I think the importance of the Cycling Commissioner's role will come in to it's own.
 One of London's pilot Cycle Superhighways - launched just 2 years ago.

So what can we expect from the new cycling strategy?  There will be a renewed focus on making some key outer boroughs centres for cycling safety (let's hope this is done in a more co-ordinated fashion than the miserably miserly "Biking Borough" work done in the past), and more Cycle Superhighways, taking in to account the feedback from the creation of the initial pilot routes.  Some existing ideas will be 'upgraded'; expect bigger Advanced Stop Lines, and a wider roll out of trixie mirrors at dangerous junctions - as well as the significant remodeling of a number of dangerous junctions.

But what I'm hoping we will see on Thursday is not necessarily a revolutionary scheme that blows everyone's heads away, (we don't, after all, want to scare the motoring lobby!) but a quiet yet extremely significant acknowledgement that there needs to be a shift in the way in which we provide cycling infrastructure on the ground.  I'm hoping for more plans for bigger and better separated cycleways that a much wider proportion of the population will feel comfortable using, of course, but more importantly I'm hoping that these will be coupled with the understanding of how it is not only important - but actually feasible - to re-allocate existing road space to people on bikes without bringing London to a standstill.  Reflecting on all of the "smoothing the traffic flow" sillyness that we went through with this Mayor at the beginning of his first term, that would be nothing short of the foundation of a true cycle revolution in our city.  Considering the importance of the issue in terms of people's actual safety, (no more smoothing the flow when you're in receipt of reports that say it will endanger people at killer junctions like Bow, Kings Cross, Camden and Clapham please TfL!) I have to live in hope of a quiet but significant turning point being reached.

As always, it will be up to cyclists to stay tuned and to lead the way in helping to make any proposed new schemes a success.  As always, we'll have to "be the change we want to see" and get involved in the decision making processes leading to new infrastructure, and help to guide planning and design choices to ensure that those choices aren't made for us by well-meaning but little experienced transport planners.  London will not become a cycling utopia over night, but if we really are about to see a shift towards delivering much higher quality infrastructure then all those plans will be much easier for us to deliver.  Fingers crossed!

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4 comments:

Paul M said...

If anyone is expecting any real departure from "Network Assurance" - trying to maximise motor capacity and increase journey reliability for cars - they are going to be disappointed. I really don't think Boris is about to give up on that.

And until they bite the bullet and accept that the bull has two horns - better cycle infra and unbetter car infra - that will continue.

Gilligan's remark about Amsterdam is silly. Just because they started 40 years ago doesn't mean it has taken them 40 years. I was last in Amsterdam at least a decade ago and it was just fundamentally better than London even then. If the comments box permitted I would draw a graph, but you know how it would look. Starts steep, then gradient decreases until it is just a gentle 1-in-20 rise. They got to that part decades ago.

Anonymous said...

To echo Paul M's point about Amsterdam: it's like telling rural Africans they can't have mobile phones until they've already had the telegraph and landline phones installed.

departmentfortransport said...

David Hembrow demolishes Gilligans "40 years" claim here: http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2013/03/what-do-we-want-gradual-change-when-do.html

I'm starting to hear it repeated already, which proves the old adage about repeating a lie often enough and it becomes accepted as fact.

Still, fingers crossed for tomorrow! I wait with cautious interest.

Austen said...

Let's wait and see what this latest cycling document actually says before passing judgement