Normally Boris’s timing leaves a certain amount to be desired, but in picking summer 2009 to try and boost cycling he appears to have leapt unerringly onto a moving occasionally-open-doored imaginary neo-Routemaster.  Take this from the Independent:

Bike shops are struggling to meet demand, which has tripled in the past 12 months despite massive price hikes. And that was before yesterday’s start of the Tour de France, usually an annual sales trigger for armchair cycling enthusiasts.

There are a number of reasons for this, to my mind, but the one picked out by the Indy is this:

Mark Brown, director of the Association of Cycle Traders, said: “Cycle to Work has been really important as it reduces the cost of cycling and means it’s no longer just for enthusiasts. It has reached a tipping point, which is getting more people on to their bikes.”

I can attest to this – we’ve recently acquired a bike through this scheme, and my other half is as good as a mine canary for indicating forthcoming trends (her workplace is currently fifth in TfL’s Cycle Challenge list, actually).  This is also a good example of why the tax system is a great way to get things done – CtW was set up in 1999 (which makes it, er, Gordon Brown’s work, and an example of the early promise of New Labour which does make you wonder where it all went wrong) but in the nature of these things it’s the peculiar combination of last year’s massive oil price rise, the good weather, the Olympic cycle triumphs in Beijing and a general undercurrent of opinion that cycling is no longer for idealistic greens or superfit Lycra clad exotics that has produced what does appear to be a tipping point.  Boris is, rather surprisingly, in the right place at the right time for once – at the Blur gig on Friday a mate who cycled in from West Kensington to work in the City to beat the tube strike confessed that he’s carried on cycling, as it beats the tube for convenience.  Nice one, Bob Crow.

This does cause a problem, though – so far Boris’s cycle policy appear to be one of trying to encourage people to get (back) on the bike (which is cheap, even taking into account that Saatchis did the campaign, which looks like a soap powder ad to me).  It looks like this is rather superfluous now, and the next big issue will be equipping London to deal with all these new cyclists, either with safety training to improve confidence, more secure cycle parking/stands (particularly at transport interchanges) and better cycle lanes.  Generally, the wider the group of people doing something, the more help they’ll need (and the greater the benefits).  Not everyone will be ready to mix it with HGVs on a gyratory on the first day.

Now, it’s fairly obvious to me that there’s a sharp division in the cycling community over cycle lanes – practically no one thinks that painting 30cm of the road green and parking cars on it really counts, but there’s disagreement over whether it’s best to have completely segregated cycle lanes or force car drivers to share space with cyclists and thus (hopefully) work out an equitable sharing of road-space and respect.  Personally I lean towards the segregated idea, contraflow cycle lanes, creating routes away from main roads by intelligent use of parkland and riversides etc. plus, of course, actual carrot-and-stick measures like congestion charging, smarter travel schemes etc. to reduce the number of cars in the first place, which has public health and environmental benefits by itself, plus allowing the redistribution of road-space to less damaging forms of transport.  Finally, there needs to be a long-term commitment to cycle facilities being maintained rather than put in place for the PR boost and then neglected.

This kind of joined up thinking is where Boris’s current strategy falls down.  Let’s take it piece by piece:

  1. Velib-style bike hire scheme – yes, it provides substantial cycling facilities overnight, removes the problem of secure bike parking and with Oyster it’ll be easy to use, but it’s expensive in the context of the overall cycling budget, does nothing to deter car users (because it’s mostly in the CC zone anyway) and as far as I can see will only abstract passengers from buses and tubes, which isn’t the kind of modal shift that we need.  The lack of parking actually at main stations is a major negative, too.
  2. WEZ abolition – this is now looking seriously out of whack with the times.  People are moving towards cycling partly because places like the WEZ are much easier to cycle through, at which point Boris is going to allow the cars back in and deter cyclists.  Wrong.
  3. Modal hierarchy abolition – Boris’s poor pick of transport advisor is to blame here – Kulveer Ranger appears, despite his age, to be more old-fashioned than people like Christian Wolmar whom he criticises for being out of touch.  If you’re putting money into promoting cycling at a time when cycling is expanding for numerous reasons, it’s mad to rebalance the road space equation in favour of the car again.  I’ve seen absolutely no rigorous academic study of why this should happen, and it seems to stem purely from kneejerk ‘lefties-like-buses-and-bikes-so-Tories-must-discriminate-against-them’ blue rosette wearing ra-ra.  Grossly unhelpful.  Get a proper advisor in (no, not Richard Bowker).
  4. Cycle Superhighways – there’s nothing wrong with good quality marked routes – that’s what main roads are, after all, and they work.  However, there’s a sneaking suspicion that the low budget nature of Boris’s work and the aversion to upsetting the poor motorist will lead to markedly sub-standards schemes of painting existing schemes blue and putting out a press release.  LCC seem to be conducting their own study of what is actually necessary here, which is worth keeping an eye on.
  5. Community cycling groups – Boris is on record as saying, more or less, that cyclist campaign groups like the LCC are full of Tory hating lefties who see cycling as a campaign and cause rather than an expression of individual freedom, which probably explains why he appears not to be listening to them.  This is a shame, as they’re basically on the same side, although the LCC and their ilk don’t have the budget and needs balancing part of the job to distract them.  In fact, as more people start cycling it’s not hard to imagine that these groups are only going to grow in prominence – witness the stirrings of a campaign to highlight the cyclist death toll from HGVs.  There are echoes here of the New Tory attitude to Pride, where being gay is OK, but campaigning for gay rights makes you a troublemaking lefty.  Unhelpful prejudice – we’ve already noted that Boris’s transport team is not chock full of talent with great ideas for adapting London to the bicycle, so he needs to build bridges.  Notably, the quality of cycle route mapping is better outside TfL, and that’s an area where a positive difference could be made quickly.
  6. The Boroughs – it was noticeable that London Councils are much less enamoured of Boris’s cycle plans than the man himself would probably like to admit.  Red-blooded outer London Borough Tories like Brian Coleman still think that cycling is for muesli eating socialists and Real Men drive Jaguars, preferably in the cycle lane, hooting.  Given Boris’s aversion to conflict with the boroughs, this is a recipe for business as usual masked with spin.

Finally, it’s time we got some more blogs linked here, so if anyone knows good London cycle blogging I’ve missed (and there’s a lot out there, further evidence of that tipping point) then we’ll add them to the roll.

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13 Responses to Sold Out Summer Of Cycling

  1. Helen says:

    Val Shawcross knows about a billion times more about transport than Kulveer Ranger.

  2. Jim says:

    I don’t think the hostility to modal hierarchy is entirely or even primarily Kulveer’s doing. It’s consistent with Boris’s apparent view that we can all ‘just get along’, i.e. find better ways to cooperate in the absence of government intrusion, and that most apparent conflicts, whether they be in transport or other areas, were just cooked up by Ken and other lefties wedded to conflict and class warfare. The policy implication is that there are ‘win-wins’ out there just waiting to be found but which the previous London mayoralty was incapable of picking up. I suspect this is mostly an illusion, but it will take some time to dawn on Boris and co.

  3. sevillista says:

    I’m no fan, but I think Boris/Kulveer have a good point when it comes to road hierarchy, conditional on this being a balanced approach.

    It is a myth that the road hierarchy should always favour pedestrians and cyclists. Take the M4 or the North Circular – it stands to reason that these are roads where the car should be king.

    Their plan would be sound if alongside re-balancing the hierarchy towards the car in some places, they made sure there were high-quality and comprehensive pedestrian and cycle routes and town centres where the hierarchy was shifted in the opposite direction.

    That way everyone wins.

    Unfortunately I don’t think that’s the approach that’s being pursued. All I’ve seen is “get pedestrians to run across the road and wait longer to do it”, “abolish the congestion charge”, “paint some lines on the road for cyclists to make a ‘safe’ road”, and “remove street furniture and pedestrians and lorries can be each others friends”.

  4. Tom says:

    “I don’t think the hostility to modal hierarchy is entirely or even primarily Kulveer’s doing”

    Quite, my point is more that it’s unlikely such an inexperienced tyro is going to able to put up either cogent argument in public for this position or, more importantly, one in private about why it’s bollocks.

    “Take the M4 or the North Circular – it stands to reason that these are roads where the car should be king.”

    That’s rather a wedded to the past view – London rather gave up on the idea of solving the traffic problem by demolishing half the city for urban motorways in 1973. Since then we’ve mostly had muddle, but recently the tube and bus have been publicly prioritised, currently the tide is moving in favour of cycling and walking and Boris and Kulveer are stuck in the pre-1973 mode that the rest of Tories finally gave up on in about 1990.

    The point about urban motorways is not so much the roads themselves as the fact that cars have to get to them first, so the end result is that one merely moves the congestion, at massive cost and disruption, half a mile up the road, and simultaneously you have just left your public transport system unfunded and declining for twenty years. You can’t continue squeezing more and more into the same space and sadly that means the role of the politician is to decide who loses out. The car, by any logical, environmental, economic or indeed any other analysis, comes last. At which point you’re back to a hierarchy.

  5. Helen says:

    Not to mention that Kulveer is wilfully ignoring Department for Transport guidelines by *not* having a hierarchy. It’s “la la la la I can’t hear you” time again.

  6. sevillista says:


    The argument’s not about urban motorways though, is it?

    It’s about giving cars a little more priority on the key strategic roads to get the roads moving for business and freight needs. I think that’s a justifiable goal.

    But it must be combined with making sure that London’s town centres become nicer and that pedestrians and cyclists have safe and convenient routes to travel across too. I’m not yet convinced that this is really being taken seriously by the Mayor (it all seems a lot of window-dressing like the Velib gimmick and blue lines on roads), but it has the potential to if he stops caving into the motorist lobby every time there is conflict.

    I think that way there can be a win for both car-users and others.

  7. sevillista says:


    That’s a misinterpretation of what the DfT guidance says – which is that road user hierarchy depends on the functions that the road performs. While pedestrians should be top in town centres, in other contexts it is completely right that cars should be at the top of the hierarchy.

    The relevant guidance is contained in the “Network Management Duty Guidance” under Section 2 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 paras 87 to 89

    87. Identifying and grouping roads according to their location and the activities on them can assist LTAs balance competing demands whilst continuing to manage their network efficiently. To group roads in this way a LTA should define the uses of different sections of road or types of road in its network, then establish hierarchies of different road users for these different sections or category of roads. These road user hierarchies will depend on the authority’s policy objectives and the road classification, layout and the extent of its use by different types of traffic including cyclists, and its use by pedestrians as a place for example, for living, working and shopping.

    88. In a town centre environment a road user hierarchy might give particular attention to the accessibility needs of pedestrians and people with disabilities, including around temporary works. So the resulting hierarchy might be Visually impaired and other disabled people, Pedestrians, Cyclists, Buses and Public Transport (including taxis and private hire vehicles), Freight (including loading facilities),Private cars and motorcycles, On street Parking

    89. In other environments a different hierarchy might result, giving more emphasis to the movement of people and goods including more extensive bus priority on significant bus routes or priority to freight traffic. Each LTA will need to strike a balance that reflects the policies and priorities set out in their transport strategies, those of the Mayor in London and those of the PTE in a metropolitan area.

  8. Andreas says:

    I like the depth in which you went to, to cover all the issues. Its clear to me you keep a very keen eye on the latest developments in London. I run a London cycling blog – the address is listed under my name. Will link to this soon because it is great content.

  9. […] Sold out summer of cycling – an indepth review of the Boris cycling initiatives by Boris Watch […]

  10. Guano says:

    The bit at the end of the Times’ interview, where Boris gives his opinion of LCC, is just bizarre.

  11. A recent study showed cycle use in UK rising and death rates falling. Hopefully this critical mass will continue

  12. Tim says:

    best cycling blog I’ve yet found.

  13. NO Endeavour says:

    How about ours…

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