Tavistock Place – a consultation about London’s future

A very important public consultation is taking place in Camden on the future of the Tavistock Place ‘cycle scheme’. This runs along some side streets well away from the main roads in central London.

Under normal circumstances putting the words ‘cycle scheme’ in quotation marks would herald a critique of a mad, bad or pointless project of the sort which we see too much of in Britain. But on this occasion I use the quotation marks because, while this consultation is primarily about a high-quality scheme, it is about more than cycling.

The consultation is about the type of city that can be built in the twenty-first century. It is about whether we start switching towards a liveable city serving people, or whether we continue to cling tenaciously to a twentieth-century model of an urban realm dominated by motor vehicles.


Impression of what the Tavistock Place scheme will look like if it wins approval

The proposed cycle scheme on Tavistock Place has been trialled (using a temporary layout) since October 2015 and has generated enormous favourable comment, especially from cyclists and from pedestrians in the area. The traffic reductions have been achieved by allowing motor traffic to drive in just one direction (while ensuring maintenance of access to the whole area by those who need to use motor vehicles). It has recently been reported that poisonous emissions in the area are down 21% since the start of a trial.


But the scheme has also encountered stiff opposition, especially from the black cab lobby for whom the roads where the cycle track runs have become a much-used route, especially for cabs heading for Euston rail station, but also as a rat-run for other destinations. Some of them simply dismiss the reduction in emissions as “fraud”. One taxi organisation, the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) has openly declared “war” on the scheme, saying, “make no mistake, this is a war, being fought on every conceivable marketing and communications front.”


London Taxi Drivers’ Association announces war on the Tavistock Place scheme

So much motor traffic uses the route that cabbies insist that this is not a side street, but a ‘main road’. Taking this argument (for the time being) at face value, it raises an interesting question of balance. There is now a consultation on whether to implement the cycle route as a permanent feature.

But there has never been a consultation on allowing side roads to become so clogged with motor vehicles – to such an extent that all side roads become transformed in popular cabbie and motor lobby discourse to be main roads and, thus, can never be subject to measures aimed at reducing motor vehicle traffic, minimising congestion and lowering pollution levels.

In essence this consultation is about that issue, not just about a cycle route. This is our consultation on whether we ever approved of the policy of allowing motors to become the dominant force in our capital city public spaces.

Before looking at some more of the detail of the debate, some background may be useful for those not familiar with the history of the cycle route.

First, there has been a cycle route on Tavistock Place since the year 2002 when a two-way, physically separated cycle track was installed and ran on one side of the road. This proved to be progressively more popular and within a couple of years there were simply too many cyclists wanted to use the facility for the safer, more attractive cycling conditions – the only such facility at the time in central London.




Above: The route before 2002 (with painted lanes in operation for 8% of the time)


The route after 2002 with a single two-way cycle track on the northern side of the road

In October 2015 an experimental system of two one-way cycle tracks (one on each side of the road) was introduced. The present consultation is whether to make the trial approach permanent (and importantly to upgrade the quality of installation very significantly over the temporary methods used for the trial).

The route since October 2015 with two one-way cycle tracks and motor vehicle routing reduced to one direction (photo @1woman2wheels)

It is currently the busiest cycle route in the borough of Camden, and one of the busiest cycle routes in the whole of London, with over 1,000 cycles counted in the morning peak hour.

I should declare an interest here as I was one of those involved in Camden Cycling Campaign (now Camden Cyclists) that persuaded the London Borough of Camden streets and environment committee (led by its chairman Councillor Gerry Harrison) to install the two-way physically separated cycle track 14 years ago (along with another two-way track on Royal College Street about one kilometre north of Tavistock Place – this site has already been upgraded to two one-way cycle tracks).

The term ‘Tavistock Place’ is something of a misnomer and is just a useful handle for a route that actually runs along a side road on a roughly east-west axis with a variety of street names, running from Tottenham Court Road in the west, along Torrington Place, Byng Place, Gordon Square, Tavistock Square and Tavistock Place, to Judd Street in the east.


Two one-way cycle track trial layout (photo @HackneyCyclist)

Its course runs pretty much in parallel with the Euston Road (which is a multi-lane main road, the A501) about 0.25 kilometres to the north. The only other continuous east-west route through the area is another main road (A40) about 0.75 kilometres further south on Bloomsbury Way/Theobalds Road. Neither route is suitable for cycling. An intermediate east-west route using Bayley Street, Bedford Square, Montague Place, Russell Square and Guildford Street, is currently unsuitable as it is a secondary main road (B502) and would require an awkward routing around the heavily used roads on Gordon Square.

The area is roughly known as Bloomsbury and includes a number of important destinations including the sprawling University College London (UCL) campus, University College Hospital (UCH) and other hospitals, and the British Museum as well as having three major railways stations (Euston, St. Pancras International and King’s Cross) on the northern side of Euston Road.

Torrington Place at the west end of the route, cuts right through the centre of the campus of University College London’s Bloomsbury site, effectively slicing it in half. I can recall Torrington Place twenty years ago when the volume of motor traffic it carried was significantly less than in recent times. We have – with no consultation remember – allowed this minor side road through the centre of one of world’s leading universities, to become a choking, fume-infested, frequently congested rat run for taxis, delivery vans and cars.

Rat run around the University College London campus

But we are so accustomed to traffic clogged streets in London that we don’t even think about how crazy it is to have allowed this situation to develop in an unplanned fashion, through the carelessness of successive governments. Torrington Place without the two one-way cycle tracks is a monument to the complete failure of the generalized governance of London’s public space.

It is good to see the London Borough of Camden trying to do something to change its streets and to think about creating better conditions for cycling and walking as transport modes. Indeed, even if one has quibbles with some details, the proposals out for consultation are radical not just in the idea of giving pedestrians and cyclists more space (and safer space), but also in the aesthetics of the road design in the area – challenging the standard British urban road design of a central channel for motor vehicles abutted by available space for a pavement.

Some 50,000 to 60,000 students are based at the UCL Bloomsbury buildings, many of them travelling there by foot or by bike. Over 1,800 pedestrians were counted during the morning peak hour in Torrington Place at the heart of the campus. The number counted between 1pm and 2pm in the same place was 2,580.

It is obvious that we need to cater better for the large numbers of non-motor vehicle users.

As a society we have chosen to dump heavy debts onto students in the form of tuition fees. The least we can do is enable them make use, in safety, of cycle routes so that they can enjoy the benefits of exercise and flexible as well as a very cheap means of getting around the city in which they study.

Trial cycle route with two one-way cycle tracks and one-way for motors – note lack of congestion despite contrary claims of gridlock by taxi lobby (photo @HackneyCyclist)

Similarly, there is every reason to provide the same opportunities to people who work in the area, many at UCL & UCH, but also at the thousands of small businesses that make this such a vital location for one of Britain’s most important export industries (in media/publishing/music etc) and in other sectors. Hardly any of these people drive to work here.

Apart from those with expense accounts and the affluent, who may arrive by taxi, nearly 100% of tourists and visitors to the British Museum arrive on foot (with just shy of seven million visitors last year, it is the most popular museum/gallery in Britain).

Counts conducted by the council show that cycling as a mode of transport accounts for 43% of all users on the Tavistock Place route, pedestrians for 41% and motor vehicles for just 16%.

But, before the current trial system was introduced, cycling was accorded just 13% of the actual road space, pedestrians 44% and motor vehicles 43%. Under the proposed upgrade these figures would be rebalanced with 33% of road space devoted to cyclists, 46% to pedestrians and 21% to motor vehicles.

But this potentially game-changing scheme faces visceral opposition from the cabbie lobby, one wing of which, the London Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA), bizarrely, has launched its own parallel (and unofficial) consultation full of leading questions.

Question Number 0ne sets the tone: “Thinking about the area as a whole, do you believe prioritising cycling on Tavistock Place and Torrington Place has made neighbouring roads busier?”

LTDA’s leading question

It can be assumed without further explanation, of course, that they actually mean busier with motor traffic, but that is to be expected. They only think about motor vehicles. “Thinking about the whole area” (as per their leading question), they do not wonder why we have allowed every side street within it to become a rat run. Their only concern is the ability to drive unimpeded everywhere regardless of suitability of the area for through motor traffic.

The LTDA which set up this survey of cabby opinion, does not represent all cab drivers in London, of whom there are about 23,000. But clearly it is trying, not to gather real evidence of motor traffic levels by counts, but by asking London cabbies for their opinion. This opinion will then be presented as ‘fact’.

This is not very convincing. According to LTDA statements, they want to return to the pre-trial situation which would mean restoring the two-way cycle track (unless they really want to go back to pre-2002 with no cycle track at all). But back in 2002 the LTDA was among those who opposed the two-way cycle track being installed.

LTDA opposition to cycle schemes is a deeply ingrained, reflexive action, as are anti-cycling views in other bodies which organise cabbies, including the unions Unite, RMT and GMB. Here it is objecting in 2002 to the two-cycle lane it now wants to revert to!

The LTDA is quite open about the fact that it is conducting an information and marketing war against cycling. And war is always very nasty:



Cabbie views on the Tavistock Place scheme

It’s worth looking at another closely related cycle scheme, on the Embankment and run this time by Transport for London (TfL), the London-wide authority with responsibility for main roads. This was implemented around the same time as the Tavistock Place trial, and we can see that the arguments now being deployed by the cabbie lobby were pre-prepared for the Embankment.

Here we can see one aspect of the information war in action. Taxi lobbyist, Geoffrey Riesel (Chairman & CEO Mountview House Group, Radio Taxis, Xeta Taxis & One Transport; Director London Chamber Commerce; Vice President Taxicab Limousine and Paratransit Association; Chairman, European Radio Taxi Association) published a series of wild claims about the Embankment cycle scheme. Among his assertions Riesel said that, “It will not only cause delays but it will thus raise costs for every business in London, difficult to calculate the total amount of financial damage to London’s economy.”

Riesel’s grounds for making this claim was that that a senior TfL official, Leon Daniels (Managing Director of Surface Transport) had told him that while the scheme “will be good for cyclists and possibly some pedestrians, it will however, be bad for all other users of what is a very contentious and limited amount of space, causing additional traffic congestion, costs and delays for passengers in Buses, in cars, in taxis and in PHVs.”

However, according to TfL, Mr Daniels, said: “I have no recollection of such comments.”

In the information war, truth is the first casualty.


Daniels added, “I was charged with delivering segregated Cycle Superhighways to cope with the growing number of cyclists and to improve their safety. The final results are excellent and we are now moving on to further schemes to benefit walking and cycling.” Thus the man in charge of implementing the scheme sees its benefits and is keen to do more.

Early reports (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/davehillblog/2016/sep/21/how-many-londoners-are-switching-from-public-transport-to-bicycles?CMP=share_btn_tw) show that cycling levels are increasing on the new TfL routes (just as happened with the earlier Tavistock Place scheme). Chronic congestion on the underground railways is being reduced by people switching to cycling even with the limited short sections of safe protected cycling space that have been installed (calculated to be on about just one-fifth of one percent of London roads).

Given that the Underground regularly has to shut stations at peak periods due to dangerous overcrowding on platforms and trains, the cycleways are the best possible investment in improving public transport for all users.

But the taxi lobby was predicting doom and dire congestion – even before a single bit of work had been done. Now they are gathering their ‘evidence’ by asking cabbies for their opinions to back up their claims.


Taxi lobbyists at work (confusing Camden Council with former mayor Boris Johnson)



The taxi lobby paints as fraud any evidence of (upper photo) cyclists queuing for red lights on the trial layout and (lower photo) reduce pollution levels

Elsewhere in his rant, Riesel says, “In my view a press and radio campaign would have a similar effect in reducing accidents as the proposed Cycle superhighway and would not cost a fraction of the proposed cycle] scheme, in terms of capital outlay nor in terms of the on-going additional costs to London’s businesses.”


At least this time he admits it is his own view, but it shows how the taxi lobby will put forward any ill-informed nonsense in their blanket opposition to improving the city and to preventing any road space being given over to non-polluting, non-congesting forms of transport.

If the cabbie lobby is able to overwhelm the council with negative opinions about Tavistock Place – however fanciful and however false – and the liveable cities lobby fails to get in lots of positive responses, this pioneering scheme may meet its end. Please spread the message and get lots of people to take part in Camden’s consultation.


Hospital bus bypass operation goes awry

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act an email from the chief executive of a major London Hospital Trust to a colleague has cast some light on things normally shaded from the public gaze.

For obtaining this information thanks must go to Francis Gaskin (@MisterFrancis)


and Tom Kearney (@comadad)


The background to this story is the opposition of Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital Trust, on the south bank of the Thames, to the design of a cycle route passing the main entrance to the hospital.

Transport for London (TfL) proposed to use the tried and tested system known as a ‘bus stop bypass’ (or ‘floating bus stop’).This involves running a cycle track ‘behind’ a bus stop, allowing buses to pull up and pull away unimpeded by cyclists and also means cyclists don’t have to deal with large motor vehicles pulling up in front of them, forcing them out into the lane of motor traffic to pass a stopped bus, and pulling away dangerously.

A ‘bus stop bypass’ scheme in London (photo: @TerryPatterson)

Bus stop bypass at a Dutch hospital (photo: @HackneyCyclist)

However, the design requires those who want to get on or off a bus to cross the cycle track and this feature has engendered opposition from the some quarters to their use in Britain – despite their being quite common in continental Europe.

The evidence suggests that bus stop bypasses do not pose any threat to the safety of pedestrians. Also, they are popular with both cyclists and bus drivers, the latter having one less hazard to deal with in their testing job of driving all day round the streets of London (or other city).

TRL research backs the safety and ease of use for pedestrians & cyclists of bus stop bypasses

Yet the Hospital Trust has fought a determined campaign to prevent this type of solution being applied in its neck of the woods. So what, one might well ask? Corporations frequently oppose such proposals. What’s different here?

In an email to colleagues tasked with producing the Trust’s ‘media strategy’ for fighting the bus stop bypass, Peter Allanson, the Trust’s ‘Secretary and Head of Corporate Affairs’ begins by saying, “Thank you for this and particularly the effort that has gone into producing it. New territory for me to be a community activist!”


This is a very revealing statement, not because the Hospital Trust is running a campaign but because it is quite consciously employing the methods and spirit of a real community campaign. The Hospital Trust has set up a petition and organised a street “protest”.

The Hospital Trust emphasises that it is “particularly concerned” about impact on patients, carers, the elderly, disabled, and families with children in buggies and wheelchairs.” A local community activist from the Lambeth Pensioners Action Group is quoted as saying, “All Londoners, especially the most vulnerable, have the right to safety on the roads and not to have their safety and lives compromised.” And Professor John Porter, the “Lead Governor” of the Hospital Trust’s Council of Governors, says that “We are very concerned that having to cross a busy, uncontrolled cycle lane will often put people at considerable risk.”

Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital Trust’s web campaign

In its publicity about the bus stop bypass proposal the Hospital Trust says, “we believe that TfL’s (Transport for London) plans for cycle lanes and so-called ‘floating’ bus stops on Westminster Bridge pose risks to both pedestrians and cyclists.”

This is where we need to refer back to Peter Allanson’s “community activist” email. In one paragraph, commenting on the draft media strategy document, Allanson questions a statement in the draft that claims that “floating bus stops … are unsafe”. Allanson suggests that, “I don’t think we’ve any evidence that they are unsafe – even though we think they are. Would it be better to talk about posing unnecessary risk and could be unsafe – or is that too pusillanimous?”


Setting aside the spectacle of a senior NHS health service manager describing telling the truth about the absence of evidence for its campaign as “pusillanimous”, we gain an insight into the reality of the Hospital Trust’s “community activism”.

It’s a sham, borrowing the tools of community activism – petitions, letters to the local papers, protest demonstrations, etc. – for a corporate purpose.



As a follow on from its petition the Hospital Trust also issued a press release and organised a street “protest” (actually a staged photo shoot). An email from Peter Allanson noted that, “We’ve fixed the date in consultation with Kate [Hoey MP] so she can be there[,] so no worries. We need to make sure we have at the front of any photo those we think will be most affected – wheelchair user, blind person, mother with lots of children including a buggy etc – have you any of these you could field?”


The documents uncovered by the FOI requests show that there was disquiet within Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals with the Hospital Trust management’s programme aimed at preventing implementation of the bus stop bypass and at some of the language used by the Hospital Trust management. But these views were disregarded. As you can see from the documents reproduced here, these dissenting emails have been censored to remove the name of who sent them so we remain unaware of whom within the Trust opposed its pretence of “community activism”, and some of the emails were totally or almost totally ‘redacted’.



Also we get a hint of the pressure of mid-level management charged with running day to day hospital services as well as contribute to the senior management’s “community activism”. Yet despite the NHS being in a crisis of capacity and of funds, the Hospital Trust used NHS funds to run its campaign. Furthermore, one FOI document revealed that the Hospital Trust has spent nearly £10,000 of NHS funds on “legal advice” for its unsuccessful judicial review which it undertook alongside the “community activist” campaign. The response to the FOI requests also showed that the Hospital Trust did not record the time its management and employees spent on the “community activist” campaign, so the actual cost to the taxpayer of the Trust’s community activism is considerably more than just £10,000.


Cycle campaigners – truly community activists funding their campaigns out of their own pockets and running them in their spare time – were left with providing the evidence from the that suggests that bus stop bypasses are not a safety problem. The UK’s own Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) has studied the issue in detail and concluded that safety of pedestrians is not seriously compromised.




Meanwhile, a supposedly science- and evidence-based medical services profession has promoted its corporate campaign based on a lack of evidence. It’s almost as if the NHS were promoting the evidence-free assertion that inoculation causes autism while the public were uncovering that the evidence showed they were wrong. It’s a form of role reversal.

Increasingly (or so it seems) we are facing pretend community campaigns being conducted by corporate interests. In a previous blog – https://cyclableblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/cyclings-dodgy-dossier/ – I wrote about how the British bus industry had set up a body called “Greener Journeys” to run a campaign to promote buses and denigrate other transport modes such as rail and cycling. The “campaign” was run by a public relations firm with specialists in providing “reputation uplift” services to their clients.

The Greener Journeys tried to give cycling a ‘reputation down-shove’ in a report claiming that cycling was predominantly a transport mode of the affluent. Unfortunately for Greener Journeys, I pointed out that the study it cited to back up the claim, had been selectively cited and did not actually support that conclusion. Instead it showed that the ‘participation rate’ for cycling in London is roughly the same for all of those with (household) incomes of £15,000 or more.

The sight of the combined corporate class of bus company executives, well-paid PR professionals, academics sitting on comfortable ‘advisory boards’ and friendly journalists, attacking cyclists for being too upper class may be a delicious irony. However, it underlines the seriousness with which we need to take corporate “community activism”. Greener Journeys was cool enough about it all to assume that no one would call them out for hypocritically creating a class war. All that matters to them is that the class war or other message get circulated and undermine the target of their ire.

Bus company executives wouldn’t seem to be obvious collaborators with anarchist groups such as Class War

Now, this may all be nothing new. Certainly corporations and other powerful interests have long lobbied (often corrupted and sometimes even controlled) governments and local authorities. A lot of the arguments deployed to rubbish the science of climate change no doubt originated in corporate meeting rooms when reputation uplift specialists discussed the needs of the carbon fuel industries when faced with the realities of fossil fuel based global warming, such as opposition to wind turbines.

Maybe what is new is that modern tools like Freedom of Information Act and the organising and information-spreading capabilities of the internet are having an effect.

We – genuine community activist groups – can exchange information with an ease that is previously unparalleled. With the rights gained through the Freedom of Information Act we can prise out information formerly kept secret for 30 or more years. With twitter, facebook and the blogosphere, we can circulate that information, get it into the public debate, perhaps to become of influence.

It’s interesting to note that the first to circulate some of the revelations about the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust were campaigners who put in the FOI requests. Other cycle campaigners then rapidly retweeted the information. Sometime later the specialist cycling press had picked up the story and wrote about it, to be followed a day later by ‘mainstream’ press in London’s Evening Standard. No doubt a Guardian and maybe a couple of other newspaper articles will follow.  This too is new. The press have only beginning to cover cycling as a transport issue in recent years and even though we may often despair at the vapidity of much coverage it is a very welcome development.

From a report in the Evening Standard

But it remains the job of the campaigners to ferret out the information, even to do basic research, while corporates can dig into their coffers, public or private, to try and hide the research and the facts, and to spin a message that represents their corporate view – we have no evidence that bus bypasses are dangerous, but let’s say they are.

This is “community activism” in the service of corporate interests and which requires real community activists to divert their efforts from their normal activities of lobbying, petitioning, protesting, etc., into uncovering the truth in any situation.

In recent months I’ve heard of staff working for a hydro scheme company sending in responses to the planning consultation as local residents and, in one case, engaging in Facebook discussions under the same pretence. The planning application was rejected and the company is now appealing. In objecting to the new application local campaigners discovered that the competent natural resources authority had acceded to a company request to do a survey of bio-diversity in one area from a distance using binoculars. The campaigners commissioned their own ground survey to establish the real situation and, not surprisingly, revealed a much denser biology that would be put at risk.

Another hydro scheme involved using the site of a World War II and post-war weapons dump. Official and corporate surveys found little to worry about. But local campaigners again commissioned their own water survey after discovering that the official and corporate surveys were limited to near surface sampling. Deeper sampling revealed that, if the waters were disturbed or released, there would be worrying levels of chemical weapons waster and even small amounts of nuclear waste material. A decision on planning approval for this project is awaited.

A third scheme concerned an application for sinking a new mine into some hills in a former coalfield area which had been affected by a recent landslip where mud and trees slid down and across a road, and halfway up buildings on the opposite side. Fortunately there were no injuries, but the landslip alarmed local campaigners who also worried that the new mine would alter underground drainage patterns and undermine the hill causing more landslips.

The applicant company employed a geologist who claimed there were no faults in the area. However local campaigners checked out the official geology maps and discovered there was indeed a deep-going fault that would endanger drainage patterns and make more landslips likely. This evidence led to the rejection of the planning application. But, once again, economic use of the truth by corporate interests put local community campaigners on the back foot, only for those genuine campaigners to have to uncover the truth.

This a form of role reversal. Professionals don’t serve to garner information about reality, but gather and invent distortions to aid the sponsoring corporation to get its way. It is up to campaigners to garner the evidence for change and to take the lead in proposing solutions.

As corporates get more powerful and more amoral (if indeed they are any more amoral and not just as amoral as ever they’ve been) democracy is at risk from corporate “community activism” distorting the truth to pursue corporate interests. Transparency is critical in evening out the imbalance of power between corporates and citizens.

Perhaps the most unsettling thing about the Hospital Trust’s determined and expensive opposition to the bus stop bypass is that it is getting worked up about such a comparatively trivial matter and on what is clearly a personal bee in the bonnet of a senior manager or managers at the Trust. The bus stop bypass is important to cycling in London as we are only just beginning to build a handful of high quality cycleways which need this sort of approach to maintain an effective integrity to the quality of the nascent network. But, to the Hospital Trust this is not a priority, especially if it is true that the NHS is in crisis, tottering under an explosion of demand. But at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust, there’s plenty of funds and a bevy of senior managers and IT and media specialists on hand to run a “community activist” campaign about a standard design bus stop. Something’s gone awry.

Cycling’s Dodgy Dossier

As a campaigner for improved cycling facilities in Britain one quickly gets used to absurd arguments. The favourite anti-cycling theme at the moment is that cycle lanes cause pollution, not motors that burn fossil fuels.

Another new line of argument that I’ve not encountered much before in my twenty years as a campaigner for better cycling conditions is the class nature of cycling.

None other than the much-admired transport economist, Professor David Begg, is the latest in a line of more or less distinguished individuals who have taken to playing the class card in trying to restrict or prevent spending on effective cycling infrastructure.

Economist Professor Begg plays the class warrior in a report of which he is the author, entitled ‘The Impact of Congestion on Bus Passengers’. The report was commissioned by an organisation with the eco-friendly sounding name, Greener Journeys. Greener Journeys actually describes itself as a ‘campaign’ to promote bus and coach travel.

However, Greener Journeys is funded by bus companies. Professor Begg is chairman of the campaign’s advisory board. He is also a non-executive director of the bus company First Bus, one of the companies that bankrolls Greener Journeys.

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 10.46.21

In his report Begg points out that car drivers and rail users are usually from wealthier social groups than bus users. This has become a frequent theme of the anti-rail lobby, which is in part funded by the bus industry. The bus operators see themselves in competition with rail for customers and for public funds – an example of how the different bits of the British transport industry are engaged in actively undermining any notion of integrated transport.

Professor Begg soon switches from deriding rail users as class enemies to painting cyclists with the same brush.

“What is less well-known,” he writes, “is how relatively affluent cyclists in London are compared with bus passengers. Transport for London describes the London cyclist as typically white, under 40, male with medium to high household income. [Further] A report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Transport & Health Group (LSHTM) in 2011 describes cycling in London as disproportionately an activity of white, affluent men. Only 1.5% of those living in households earning under £15,000 cycled compared with 2.2% of those living in households earning over £35,000’.”

Certainly this may look impressive: the participation rates for people cycling from rich bastard households (2.2%) are about 50% higher than for downtrodden, hard-working poor households (1.5%).

But we need to look a bit more closely at the statistics on which Professor Begg bases his assertion. Helpfully, Professor Begg provides details of where he has sourced his claim and he cites a report by a London medical college: ‘Steinbach et al, Cycling and the city: a case study of how gendered, ethnic and class identities can shape healthy transport (April 2011)’.

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 11.02.04

Professor Begg’s citation of an incomplete secondary source


However, this cited report is not actually a report on the class make up of those who cycle in London. Rather it is a study of attitudes and perceptions (as in fact is indicated in the study’s title). The interviews involved 78 London cyclists in ‘qualitative interviews’.

While this report is not the source of the statistical data, it does include the same statistics as Professor Begg. The Steinbach report says, “Cyclists are also more likely to come from more affluent social groups, with on average 1.5% of those living in households earning under £15,000 cycling, compared with 2.2% of those living in households earning over £35,000.”

‘More likely to come from’ has morphed into ‘disproportionally’ in Professor Begg’s paper, but the figures are the same, so we have at least found the intermediate source for Professor Begg’s statistics.

The Steinbach report cites as its source another report, “Green et al’ or in full, ‘Green, J., Steinbach, R., Datta, J., & Edwards, P. (2010). Cycling in London: a study of social and cultural factors in transport mode choice’.

In this report we do at last find the original statistics. Table 12 says that for households with an income of below £15,000 per annum only 1.2% cycle, whereas for those households with incomes greater than £35,000 per annum as many as 2.2% cycle, a roughly 50% higher participation rate.

So it seems that Professor Begg has made his case.

Yet, for complete view, if not just for curiosity’s sake, I’m surprised that neither Professor Begg, nor the Steinbach report which he cited, passed on the information about the other income group in the original study – the cycling participation rate of households with an income between £15,0000 and £35,000 per annum.

Looking at Green’s 2010 report we find that it does in fact provide that information – and it turns out to be 2.1%. For some reason, unexplained, Steinbach omitted it and Professor Begg copied the truncated Steinbach version.

The omission is a pity. The figure for the middle income group participation of 2.1% is very close to the 2.2% of the over £35,000 group and clearly affects the interpretation of the class basis of cycling in London.

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The statistics in Green et al


Rather than the most affluent predominating in the cycling profile in London, as asserted by Professor Begg, the report shows that those households where the income is above £15,000 have effectively the same participation rate as the more affluent. The omission of this middle income group thus makes way for the insertion of the false picture given by referring only to the categories of below £15,000 and above £35,000 household income.

Obviously I don’t know why Professor Begg has omitted this middle category and I invite him publicly to explain his decision to base his argument on a limited and misleading subset of the data. I also invite him to comment on whether he stands by his assertion in view of the fact that the middle household income group has the same participation rate as the over £35,000 category. Does he think that a household income of £15,000 or £16,000 or £17,000 for people in London makes them part of the affluent?

The bulk of Professor Begg’s report is about bus times and congestion, however it is worth looking at some of the other mentions of cycling in his report.

In the first release of his report in the Executive Summary (the bit most people read), Professor Begg made the quite outlandish claim that the growth of congestion in London was down to two factors, one of which was ‘the reduction in road capacity in central London by 25% through the introduction of cycle superhighways without taking action to curtail traffic in central London.’

This amazing claim made its way into the Guardian newspaper in an article written by Dave Hill who has made his mark as a sharp critic of cycle ‘superhighways’ and of cycle campaigners. The claim initiated a stir on twitter as people realised that such a claim was utterly absurd. For some reason, Professor Begg didn’t spot the patent improbability of the assertion that 25% of central London road space had been handed over to cycleways.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 09.33.24Dave Hill has written a series of articles criticising cycle campaigners – this is an example of him in full flow in the Guardian


Following a series of complaints on twitter, both Professor Begg and the Guardian  amended the text of their reports to a less risible claim (25% of ‘key routes’) to correct this patently false claim.

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Dave Hill’s revised version in the Guardian of the 25% claim


This second claim is also made in on page 30 and elsewhere of Professor Begg’s report: “One of the most radical reallocations of road space that has occurred on UK roads in recent years has been London’s supercyclehighways, whereby 25% of road space on key routes has been allocated.”

This is still a bold statement given that the cycleways have only been operation for a few weeks and Professor Begg’s figures elsewhere in his report show congestion growing well before work started on the cycleways. Also no one has yet published any assessment of how the cycleways have affected motor traffic, let alone how total capacity has been affected by the very few cycleways that have been opened in the spring of this year. He also asserts that the result has been worsening congestion and slower speeds, resulting in the claim that “bus passengers have been the main losers.”

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Professor Begg making grandiose claims but without offering any evidence


There are still several problems with this ambiguous formulation (how many ‘key routes’ and are they all bus routes, how was the calculation done and what is the evidence for these cycleways causing the claimed disbenefits to buses and passengers?). The figure needs explanation.

Professor Begg was asked by cycle industry journalist, Carlton Reid, for the source of his claim (as none was provided in the report). Carlton was told that it was sourced from a presentation made by a Transport for London (TfL) official and I understand he is pursuing the matter with TfL.

Dave Hill of the Guardian claimed in a tweet that a TfL official had confirmed the ‘25% of key routes’ figure to him, but Hill had no other information and also asserted that he was given the information on an unattributable, off-the-record basis. Enquiries are being made for the data and calculations to verify the accuracy of the claim, as secret claims by anonymous officials are not sufficient.

What’s going on here? As noted above, Greener Journeys, is a bus industry funded lobbying organisation. The bus industry has decided to treat cycling as competition to bus services, for passengers and for fare revenues and public investment. The references to cycling in the report are an attempt to create a false narrative that large amounts of space have been given to cycling in central London – and to stop any further cycleways being introduced.

Professor Begg makes this quite clear in the following sentence: “While more sustainable forms of transport should be supported, and the critical importance of reducing cycling accidents through segregation is clear, care must be taken to ensure cycling improvements are not to the detriment of bus passengers.”

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There is no way to read this other than that Professor Begg is asserting the bus industry policy that improving cyclist safety is secondary to avoiding alleged ‘detriment to bus users’ (and bus industry revenues)


The reader should note the semantic sidestep from ‘reducing cycling accidents’ in the middle of the sentence, to ‘cycling improvements’ in the last part of the sentence. However, despite the semantic shift, it is clear that what is meant is that care must be taken to ensure that reducing cycling accidents is not to the ‘detriment of bus passengers’.

Of course, if Professor Begg, writing a report remember in his role as a bus company director, had said that there would be uproar.

Also as Mark Treasure pointed out on twitter, imagine if Professor Begg written this sentence substituting ‘walking’ for ‘cycling’: “While the critical importance of reducing pedestrian casualty numbers is clear, care must be taken to ensure walking improvements are not to the detriment of bus passengers.”

The bus company funded campaign is deliberately trying to create the false impression, in Professor Begg’s words, that “While there is often a conflict between catering for cyclists and bus passengers, and the London cycle superhighways are a topical case in point, policies favouring pedestrians and buses are more complementary and have greater synergy between them than many think.”

The reader may ask if I am not being a pit paranoid here, seeing a conspiracy where in reality there is just shoddy research, biased presentation and opinionising substituting itself for information. But a quick peek at the details of Green Journeys’ ‘campaign team’ shows that all are actually employed by the PR and lobbying firm MHP. The website describes the skills of key individuals:

“a wealth of experience in public affairs and media relations, and specialises in devising and managing successful business-critical lobbying and reputation uplift campaigns”

“joins the team having advised clients on a variety of public affairs campaigns and stakeholder engagement programmes “

“responsible for driving strategic media and social campaigns. As a former journalist at the Daily Telegraph, where she spent 10 years covering general news, health and media [and] has a deep understanding of what makes a good story, and uses this insight in her day-to-day dealings with transport writers across print, online, radio and television”

“his innate [sic] understanding of how news companies operate in the digital age, to help maximise clients’ positive media coverage and inform future PR strategies”

This is not a ‘campaign’ in the sense where concerned individuals get together in their spare time to lobby for improvements to their daily lives or some good cause. Greener Journeys is a campaign organization that employs highly paid media professionals (all bound to be earning well over £35,000 you can be sure) and Professor Begg’s report cannot be treated as anything other than a propaganda job on behalf of the bus lobby. Virtually everything it says about cycling is wrong, contentious or based on cherry-picked statistics.

However, it does allow us to see how lobbying companies in the powerful motor lobby work. One route they use is to compile semi-academic reports which spread misinformation and create false narratives – such as bus versus bicycle.

We can also see how these false ideas spread. Dave Hill of the Guardian uncritically repeated the absurd claim in the first version of Professor Begg’s report that 25% of road capacity in central London had been re-allocated to cycling and remained in place until challenged. But he was not the only dupe for Greener Journeys’ PR puff.

A leading transport industry newsletter, TransportXtra, headlined its report “Cycle lobby has overridden bus interest.” At least this doesn’t adopt Greener Journeys’ pretence that it is only concerned with ‘bus passengers’ when in fact its real concern is bus company interests which would benefit from the higher bus speeds and more space devoted to buses, and which Professor Begg’s report calls for.

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TransportXtra headlines the urban myth (and expands the myth by it applying not just to London but to the whole of Britain)


But TransportXtra’s report dutifully parrots Greener Journeys’ lobbying message: “Britain’s [sic – note sidestep from London’s to Britain’s] predominantly [sic] white middle class cycling lobby [sic] has skewed urban transport priorities [sic] to the disbenefit of buses and their passengers [sic], says Green Journeys report author David Begg.”

We are witnessing the creation of an urban myth thanks to Greener Journeys’ and MHP’s professional PR midwifery – and all based on a dodgy dossier. Professor Begg’s report is a discreditable piece of work and should become a notorious example of how expensive lobbying operations can poison public policy discussion by inserting incorrect information.

It is important to note that Transport for London officially doesn’t play one transport mode off against another in discussing ‘capacity’: It says, “In considering the capacity of the road network, it is important to consider the capacity in terms of ‘total people movement’, including travel by public transport, cycle and on foot. Where capacity for general traffic has been moved, this often (but not always) reflects reallocation of available capacity to other forms of ‘on road’ movement.” In other words, Professor Begg’s use of the term ‘road capacity’ needs to be judged in the light of overall capacity increase achieved by reallocating road space to provide space for space-efficient modes, such as cycling rather than as the zero-sum outlook evident in Professor Begg’s bus-company oriented misuse of the term.

In the cycling lobby we have become accustomed to councillors and officials who do their best to constrain provision of cycling infrastructure and their friends in the media. But this report should alert us to the fact that as our campaign grows, we will meet a new type of opposition to sensible provision of cycle infrastructure as part of an integrated transport system. That opposition is one that will use all the tricks and opportunities that their corporate money can buy to destroy the prospects of Britain seeing a cycling renaissance – even as far as funding a cadre of highly affluent company  directors and PR executives to conduct a neo-Trotskyist class war campaign against a green transport mode that they decide they want removed from our roads.

Professor Begg’s report is a clear declaration of an information war on cycling from the well-funded bus company lobby.

Brexit – can we learn from Ireland?


The British EU In/Out referendum debate is pitting an economic argument against a distaste for immigration and a desire to ‘get our country back’.

The Remain lobby has clearly had the best of the economic argument. The Leave lobby has been unable to show any serious support for the case that Britain would be better off out of the EU, apart from a handful of long-term Eurosceptic economists, most notably the Thatcherite professor of economics at Cardiff University, Patrick Minford, and the Camden Labour councillor and television shopping entrepreneur, John Mills.

The main economic case put by the Out lobby has been, ‘everything will be fine, everyone everywhere will be only too happy to give us tariff-free trade deals and they’ll do it without delay.’

When confronted with the wealth of economists predicting disadvantages to the British economy if we were to leave the EU, the Out lobby dismisses them out of hand. Nigel Farage exclaimed that people were fed up with ‘experts’. All would be fine and everyone better off if only we were to shed the shackles of the EU’s Single Market.

But every so often the mask slips and Farage shows that he accepts that Brexit would slow the economy  even stating that slower economic growth would actually be desirable if it meant achieving ‘independence’.

For example, according to the Daily Telegraph, in January 2014 he said that, “Lower economic growth is a price worth paying to radically cut immigration”. It’s a point Farage has made again and again in the last couple of years.

On 7th May this year, questioned on television about the likely hit to the British economy if Britain votes to leave the UK, Farage said that it was, “wrong, wrong, wrong that the average decent families in this country, their living standards have fallen by 10% over the course of the last few years and it’s about time as a society we started thinking about not just about GDP figures, not just about the rich getting richer, but about ordinary decent Britons who had a rotten time.”

There is a rather obvious contradiction here: if we stop thinking about GDP growth, we will find it harder to reverse the fall in living standards of those decent Britons since the crash of 2007/8. But this is not the main point – though it should be a warning to those who are tempted to believe that Farage does really have the interests of poor, decent Britons at heart.

The key issue is that the Brexit lobby, when pressed, acknowledge that prosperity comes second to ‘taking back control of our country.’

This is a clever slogan. It plays on the one hand to the idea that the EU is un-democratic and that we should take back democratic control from unelected Brussels bureaucrats (never mind that the EU Council comprises elected national ministers and the European Parliament is directly elected while the House of Lords is not).

But in popular opinion what most people actually mean is taking back control of our borders; that is, reducing/stopping immigration.

The argument thus combines nationalism and dislike of immigrants to create a powerful ideology – one that its leaders acknowledge that is happy to accept lower economic growth to achieve its nationalistic ends.

An episode in British and Irish history from a little less than 100 years ago is relevant here. During negotiations in the early 1920s between Britain and Ireland about independence, writes one historian, ‘economic prosperity was not a priority for [Irish leader] Éamon de Valera and he never saw it as an essential element in his bid for power.’ (R Fanning, Éamon de Valera)

“If a man makes up his mind to go out into a cottage [vacating the mansion, i.e. the British state and economy, ‘he’ had lived in previously] … he has to make up his mind to put up with frugal fare of that cottage,” said de Valera – the selfsame view as expressed by Nigel Farage and other hardline Eurosceptics.

‘Promises of larger and more comprehensive doles [welfare payments], of protection[ism] and industrialization, coupled with repudiation of British debts, constituted a nice amalgam of nationalism and democracy. They clinched the wide and durable support which Fianna Fáil enjoyed among the poorer classes.’

Though de Valera introduced old-age pensions, the other promises were forgotten and prosperity remained out of reach as Ireland entered a long period of economic stasis. This threatened de Valera’s power base and he had to find other ways of retaining support. ‘Catholic triumphalism and [Gaelic] language revivalism alike were rooted in the necessity to find something to celebrate in an infant state scarred by political disappointment and economic austerity and by the general disenchantment typical of a post-revolutionary age … Religion and language – identifiably different from those that characterised the British national ethos – were the two most obvious hallmarks of independent Ireland.

Even as late as the end of the 1950s, De Valera could say, “The policy of self-reliance is the one policy that will enable our nation to continue to exist. I would rather go short of the things that have to be got by external loan than have an external loan’. Meanwhile, Ireland suffered migration of its people to other countries, most notably to Britain – the same neighbouring Britain that Ireland had struggled for so long to ‘take control back’ from.

The similarity between de Valera’s words and those of Farage and pals is striking. The difference is that, rather than language and nationalism, Farage et al are hawking dislike of immigration and nationalism in a mythical quest to ‘get our country back’.

Another historian, Desmond Williams, writing about independent Ireland’s foreign policy choices, said, “States are never wholly free in relation to the policy they follow … because a state must observe the limits circumscribing its geographic, economic and ideological situations in the world. What states are free to do is always subject to some restrictions and constraint.” The same words are as applicable to the Brexit debate as to Ireland.

The desired end to migration, that is the main driver of the Brexit vote, is either not attainable or only achievable by doing immense damage to the British economy and by withdrawing from the European Single Market (so as not to be subject to its essential freedom of movement commitments).

But this, in a way, does not matter. The choice is about nationalism and dislike of immigrants against nefarious concepts of cooperation and compromise with those with whom we are ineluctably joined in geographic, economic and ideological reality.

‘It’s the economy stupid’ is wrong. For many ‘it’s the immigrants stupid.’

I fear that the Breixt campaigners may win thanks to the same nationalist sentiments as those that diverted Ireland, after its heroic struggle to achieve independence, into half-a-century of economic sluggishness and the slow bleeding of its greatest asset, its young people.

Why I’m in favour of compromise and cooperation

This blog site is about cycling as a transport mode, but the UK is currently engaged in a debate of historic importance about its continued membership or quitting of the European Union. As we edge towards the momentous referendum vote, I want to explain the fundamental reason why I will be voting for us to remain a member of the EU. Two specific incidents lay behind my decision to write this blog: first, a pair of tweets from a former Financial Times journalist, and second, a conversation with a Brexit supporting neighbour.

I’m sure everyone knows that the key steps to founding what later became the EU took place in the aftermath of the Second World War when it was recognised that the long-standing enmity between France and Germany, and that had led to three dreadful wars in less than a century, was destroying Europe. Many may also know that the first intergovernmental manifestation of this aftermath was the European Coal and Steel Community, set up with the aim of tying the key economic sectors, and the raw materials of war-making, into an inter-governmental authority. The appointed council of the ECSC later evolved into the European Parliament, one of the three main pillars of the constitutional structure of the EU, and elected by voters across the EU.

But, in fact we can discern ideas that eventually led to the EU in the First World War (and indeed back to the 17th century). During the ‘Great War’ an inter-governmental authority was set up by members of the ‘Entente’ (which included Britain, France, Italy and other countries) to control shipping resources, which were pooled. Decisions about what (troops or ammunition or food or coal) should be transported to Entente members, and in which ships, were taken in a body that made decisions which were then ‘imposed’ on sovereign states. Governments may not have liked the individual decisions, but they jointly agreed on and stuck with the structure for making those decisions for the benefit of all.

Other inter-governmental bodies were also set up. Perhaps the best known is control given to French military authorities over Britain’s troops on the Western Front in 1918 (after years of slaughter and determination not to cooperate between proud, touchy generals and field marshals).

One historian, Adam Tooze in The Deluge, writes: ‘In halting Germany’s final onslaught [in spring 1918 and which initially threatened to defeat Entente troops on the Western Front], the Entente created precedents for inter-governmental cooperation that went beyond anything ever realized in the League of Nations. … Through the involvement of a generation of businessmen, engineers and technocrats, such as Briton Arthur Salter and his close colleague and friend, the Frenchman Jean Monnet, this cooperation was [later] to provide the inspiration for the project of the EU.’

As we know, Europe didn’t go down the road of cooperation from 1918 and succumbed to an even worse bout of bloodletting in the Second World War. It took that awful conflict (which killed fifty million people compared with about seventeen million in the First World War) for a serious attempt to be made at setting up inter-governmental structures, first by pooling coal and steel resources.

Monnet, looking back with dismay at how France and Germany squandered any opportunities to put past division behind them at the end of the First World War, wrote in his memoirs, ‘It was to take many years and much suffering before Europeans began to realise that they must choose either unity or decline.’

Britain, of course, stood aside from these moves to build cooperation in European in the aftermath of the Second World War until some years later. In 1975, twenty years after the end of the war, a referendum voted to ratify Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community.

We hear frequently that we were told in 1975 that the EEC was a purely economic organisation and that joining it was all about trade. Well, I was around in 1975 and in my early 20s (and voted in favour of ratifying the treaty with the EEC). I have to say that I cannot actually recall any arguments that were used at the time – and quite honestly I doubt if more than a small fraction of those proclaiming what was said four decades ago by some politicians actually remember it. More likely people remember having heard this claimed incessantly in recent years by Britain’s predominantly Europhobic press.

What I can recall is the reason why I voted in favour of the EEC all those years ago. It was because I thought that Britain would be better by being more European, more like some of our neighbours and less like Enoch Powell’s vision of Britain with its rivers overflowing with the blood of our fellow citizens. Those were the years of young people’s revulsion at the US’s methods of war in Vietnam, and with Britain’s addiction to small nasty colonial wars in far away places; they were the years in which many grew up to hate the racial segregation in the American South and South Africa; they were the years of the early awakening of realisation of issues about gender equality and ‘gay liberation’. And, a year after the referendum was the birth of punk, with the new Britain screaming out its rejection of the old.

Joining Europe to me was about rejecting a call to cling on to Britain’s imperial glory and its hangover of racism, sexism, militarism and class division. I was in favour of becoming just another European state. I voted for Britain to be more European.

Perhaps, being young, I didn’t pay enough attention to the debate others were having about joining a trade bloc, but trade policy really had nothing to do with my voting to be ‘a European’. In the years since then, my awareness of what became the European Union does has grown and it remains my view that we did the right thing in joining a supranational institution that can, on the one hand, restrain the nation state in its atavistic tendencies and, on the other hand, empower nation states and peoples, through working together, to foster progressive international cooperation.

Coincidentally (or not), 1975 was also the year in which the British public first made acquaintance with the memorable character of Basil Fawlty. Here was the classic representation of the ranting little-Englander with his literally knee-jerking behaviour when German guests turned up at his hotel. The tag line, “Don’t mention the war” became a national theme. Here was boring, staid, inward-looking England in painfully laughable form.

The tweets that prompted me to write this blog post came from a former Financial Times journalist, Paul Quigley, a supporter of Britain leaving the EU. He tweeted that he had ‘to say how cultured and compelling the Brexit case has been made, unlike the lies, and disgusting scaremongering of the Remainiac gang’.

cyc Quigely 2

This was not long after Quigley had posted another tweet. This one had a photo of a severe looking Angela Merkel eyeing an out of focus profile of David Cameron. Quigely’s text ran:

AM: So, Herr Camoron. Venn vill vee haff ze British?
DC: ‘Projekt Fear’ is going as planned
AM: Schnell!

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Given some of the very convincing parody sites on the web, I suppose it is possible that Quigley is running a parody campaign to damage the reputation of the Brexit lobbies. But, taking his tweet at face value, we can see here an example of a disturbing change in the last four decades – of how Basil Fawlty has morphed from figure of fun to role model, with Quigley’s sharp-suited, post-modernist Fawlty being just one of many resurrecting Basil as a man to emulate.

We sure laughed at Basil, but I can’t raise even a giggle for someone so unaware of the gross and reactionary irony (100 years since the First World War) of labelling funny German accents as ‘cultured.’ It’s all getting very serious now. We may well be on the way out of the EU after the referendum. This will be bad news for the younger generations who already will have to face challenges such as climate change and to deal with potential very dangerous countries such as Putin’s Russia. The dying generations may carelessly destroy the tools the younger ones need to cope with the future.

If the Remain lobby is deploying Project Fear, the Out camp is plugging away at Project Paranoia. In the UK the press is overwhelmingly Eurosceptic. The EU is routinely described as ‘dictating’ to us. This was the other prompt to me to write this post, a conversation with a Brexit supporting neighbour. He complained that he was “sick” of Britain being told what to do by Brussels.

My neighbour, now retired, spent many years as a water industry civil engineer and has observed and written extensively about the global water industry. I reminded him of something which he knew was true: we have European law to thank for our clean beaches.

Without pressure from the EU’s commonly agreed water quality standards you can be pretty certain that the ‘dirty man’ of Europe would still be pumping raw sewage out into our bays and beaches (and indeed we still do in storms).

I welcome having the UK forced to mend its ways and take environmental responsibility. In return for agreement on other things that the British government wanted, the UK government agreed to undertake what others wanted – a level playing field where all nations improved their coastal water quality for the benefit of all. If you have a dirty neighbour polluting their seas and the prevailing currents send the pollution to your costal areas, you may question whether it’s worth the cost and effort of cleaning your own beaches. Working jointly on problems that cross-borders and oceans is what the EU is about – and it involves compromise with others.

Those tempted to say, ‘we don’t need others to tell us what we should do as we are quite capable of solving these problems for ourselves’, should look at the related issue of air quality. Currently it is estimated that some 9,000 people are dying early each year in London alone because the British government, terrified of the motor lobby, has allowed air quality to become dire. As a nation we face fines for successive governments having failed to implement agreed EU law on improving air quality.

Brexit would mean the end of any prospect that British politicians, of the left or right, would take on the challenge of tackling air quality. But continued EU membership may help lead our recalcitrant government to summon up the political will to tackle air quality issues that it would much rather ignore.

One problem is that these complex subjects easily become complex technical matters, far away from the day to day life of citizens. They don’t translate easily into tabloid articles or twitter debates or mock German accents.

Yet, in our global world, such issues can and do affect everyday life. Indeed, they are often matters of life and death (directly so in the case of air quality) and demand international cooperation to be resolved. The EU gives us opportunities to organize that cooperation. Why walk away from that?

For all its great difficulties and challenges, for all its weak and divided response to the financial crisis in 2007/8 and to the current migration crisis (caused by war, repression, widespread rape, mass torture, economic collapse and environmental degradation in part caused by global warming), the EU remains an essential tool of cooperation between the nations of Europe in a dangerous and changing world order. It remains a good thing, something we should cherish.

After the First World War, France initially tried for a ‘moderate’ peace settlement. But this depended on structures of common agreement and common economic policy to ensure security and economic recovery. Failing this, the French recognised, that security would have to be ensured by a “peace of reprisals and punishments”.

Some twenty-five years on, another Frenchman observed that, “a couple of years in a Gestapo cell and Buchenwald concentration camp could inspire either a passion for revenge or a determination that there would be no more camps.” The author of those words, a wartime Resistance leader Christian Pinean, signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 on behalf of France, initiating the construction of European integration. I will be voting to continue his work.

New uses for London’s streets

Cities are a mix of the old and the more recent. Street patterns in particular may persist for long stretches of time, indeed for well over a thousand years in some instances. But over time, the way we use those streets changes.

In London’s old centre, known as the City of London, many of the narrow medieval streets are the same as those described by Samuel Pepys in his seventeenth century diaries and were old even when he wrote about his daily travels around the city, at first on foot, but when Secretary to the Navy, in his important status symbol, a personal horse-drawn carriage painted appropriately with sea scenes.

Even older are some of the roads that head out of the centre of London, slicing through Central London, Inner London, Outer London and beyond, to the far corners of Britain. They date from when the Roman legions would have marched along them. Today, within the bounds of the capital, these roads are usually clogged with motor traffic – for example, the Edgware Road.

But London was primarily a city built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and most of London’s roads date from these more recent times. One very specifically nineteenth century road is the Embankment on the north bank of the Thames in Westminster. It was built when the river was confined into its present much-narrowed channel. In recent decades, like most nineteenth century streets, the it has been a conduit for motor traffic.

Something quite revolutionary is happening along the Embankment these days and it involves that mode of transport that has played only a tenuous, marginal role in London in recent decades. Along the Embankment, and in a few other locations, the humble bicycle is getting its own infrastructure.

I hasten to add that this ‘revolution’ is not introducing any great innovation to cycle infrastructure. High-quality cycle networks are new to London. But not to Copenhagen or Utrecht. All the same, in London it is a challenge to deeply ingrained patterns of use of the public road system.

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New cycleway in development along the Embankment, near the Houses of Parliament [photo: Transport for London]

London’s street culture is severely dominated by motor vehicles which race from one set of traffic lights or traffic queue to the next hold up. Motor traffic is so dense in the centre that average speed is 13kph or less. However, attained speeds, as a convoy of vans, taxis and cars rush from one stopping point to the next, can by as high as 80kph and on many heavily trafficked roads 65kph is commonly achieved between traffic signals. Only congestion limits speed.

This pattern of driving is seriously problematic. There are added air quality consequences from fuel burned during lots of rapid acceleration, deceleration and concomitant idling. Also it degrades the public sphere for pedestrians, and the few who dare to cycle, making cycling a singularly unpleasant experience when compared with cycling in the Netherlands or Denmark.

The high speeds are bolstered, formally and informally, by a legal system that encourages fast and aggressive driving.

There is, for example, a rule in the Highway Code that motorists should give priority to pedestrians crossing a road into which the motorist wants to turn. This will not strike many European readers as anything unusual. However, in the United Kingdom, though this rule exists, it is universally ignored and entirely unenforced.

As a pedestrian, if there is not a traffic light system that gives you the right to cross the road, it can be very difficult to get from one pavement to the next at junctions. For many Londoners the rule is ‘wait for a gap in the motor traffic and then RUN!’

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To cross the road in London: wait for gap in the motor taffic and then RUN! [photo: Paul Gannon]

Traffic engineers make matters worse by chipping away at the pavement to provide motors with easier turning angles – resulting in faster turning by drivers. All this is so deeply ingrained that even pedestrian lobby groups don’t appreciate the nature and scale of the problem.

Change on London’s streets always generates resistance. The few kilometres of cycleways currently being introduced in London have generated a hysterical response from the old enemy of change, the taxi lobby, backed by the tiny minority of people who live in Inner and Central London and hold firmly to the view that ‘one simply must have a car to get around in London’.

A proposal to stop motor traffic driving through one of London’s premier parks, Regent’s Park (while still allowing motor access to the Zoo and other destinations within the park), is raising another storm of protest. One of the organisers of the protest wrote, “If this goes ahead, none of us will be able to get around London and theatres, art galleries and restaurants, not to mention commerce, that make this the amazing city that it is, will all die out, as no-one will be able to get from one side of London to the other. There will no route from this area [Primrose Hill] to Theatre-land, unless we are prepared to sit in hours of traffic along Prince Albert Road, which will cause the most dreadful pollution and endanger the health of us all.”

Such protesters routinely ascribe to bicycles and to cycleways the pollution actually caused by the burning of fossil fuel to power motor vehicles. Further, they label the space-efficient bicycle as the cause of all congestion of motor vehicles in London.

London photo 03

Opposition to plans to remove through traffic from within a park

The mayoral candidate of the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith, promised to subject the cycleways to a special test – which has never been applied to any other transport mode – namely to see to what extent cycleways had worsened congestion and pollution and, if necessary, to “rip them out”.

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, (Lord) Nigel Lawson, told the House of Lords that the new cycleways were, “doing more damage to London than almost anything since the Blitz” (as the Second World War bombing of London is called). A taxi driver announced on twitter that he had driven Lawson (who is actually resident in France) along the Embankment and that Lawson “couldn’t believe it” when he saw a proper European-style cycleway so close to the Houses of Parliament.

One of the running themes of those opposing new cycleways in London is that they attract ‘fast, lycra-clad cyclists’. The mayor of London, who approved the new cycleways, helped promulgate that myth both directly and indirectly. He did this by supplementing the cycleways with a mishmash of what have been called ‘quietways’, aimed at ‘less confident’ cyclists. These look, as expected when they were announced, to be a monumental failure for two fundamental reasons. First, they are based on the flawed concept that there needs to be different types of network for different cyclists. Second, they are actually favoured by the mayor’s office and local borough administrations because they are cheap, largely symbolic (being implemented with minimal engineering, relying on paint and signs) and, critically, insufficient if any, motor traffic reduction.

London photo 04

So-called ‘Cycle Quietways’ are used by cars, vans and lorries as well as cyclists and pedestrians [photo: James Watthey]

On the other hand, even before they are fully open, the cycleways (standard European style cycle paths remember) are already proving immensely popular with the ordinary person who wants to cycle and some are even willing to let their children use them.

London photo 05

A new sight on the roads in Central London – thanks to cycleways [photo: Mark Treasure]

Something, that just two months ago was inconceivable, is now a practical possibility – cycling with a child alongside the Thames to the Houses of Parliament, and maybe soon to Regent’s Park and other places too.

And, what, if anything, will the provision of cycleways do for the poor pedestrian in London? One councillor, Vincent Stops, fears that cycleways will be ‘trip hazards’ for pedestrians. In his view dedicated cycle infrastructure will ‘always disappoint’, regardless of a multitude of cyclists telling him that the well built cycleways very definitely don’t disappoint. His fellow councillor, Rita Krishna, has expressed her disquiet at the idea that ‘public space’ should be devoted to cycling inherently at the cost, as she sees it, of the pedestrian.

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The environment of London is potentially being improved: this scheme may be introduced on Tavistock Place within a few months [image: London Borough of Camden]

My view is that pedestrians will benefit in lots of ways from reducing motor dominance of the streets: fewer fumes, lower speeds, less space needed, plus all the social and health benefits that ‘active urban travel’ offers.

And, critically, cyclists can help pedestrians regain the priority at junctions that has been lost to motorists and which remains the biggest problem facing those who try to walk around London. Cycleways lend themselves to installing ‘continuous footways’ over junctions where both cyclists and pedestrians have formal priority over turning motors, aided by the need for motor drivers to slow down to negotiate the turning.

This would be an enormous advance for pedestrians as junctions are the place they are most likely to be struck by a motor. Again, this is something that many, or even most, continental Europeans will take for granted. But for one of Europe’s great cities, London, it truly is a big step.

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Cycleways offer the opportunity to starting enforcing the Highway Code’s pedestrian priority at junctions [photo: Mark Treasure]

London is a pretty large city. Change will happen fitfully and patchily. But with the Central London cycleways we are potentially witnessing the start of another historic change in the way London’s streets are shared and used. Motor vehicles have lorded it over the city’s streets for several decades. But it’s time to start thinking of a pattern of use that is fit for the 21st Century.

Campaigners are feeling confident, and lots of London businesses and other organisations such as colleges and medical institutions, have backed the case for high-quality cycle infrastructure. So we may well be seeing a lot more cycling in London in the coming years if more cycleways are installed, and hopefully we can introduce significant improvements in conditions for pedestrians along the way.

Is UK cycling on a roll, or on hold for the next 10 years?


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Are we witnessing the birth of a cycling boom in Britain? New cycleways and filtering projects coming on stream in London (thanks to Transport for London and the boroughs such as Camden and Waltham Forest) offer the potential for revolutionary change in British cycle policies.

Or, are we facing ten years of stasis, another lost decade marked by continued disregard for cycling as a transport mode by central, devolved, regional and local authorities alike? This, certainly, is what the government’s recent Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, with its pathetically minimal funding, promises.

The answer has to be that the future could take either course (or indeed some other course, but for the purposes of this article let’s pretend that there are two quite distinct possibilities).

An energetic twitter exchange between Carlton Reid, journalist & author, and Katya Leyendecker, an academic and campaigner, about this question prompted me to write this blog. The twitter exchange followed an article by Carlton in BikeBizNews reporting some pessimistic view of prospects for investment in cycling in the opinion of his contacts in industry and the professions.

 Carton’s article: http://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/government-publishes-go-dutch-cycling-reports-but-ignores-them/019348

& Katya’s reply: http://www.bikebiz.com/news/read/changing-the-record/019359

Katya found Carlton’s tone too negative and wanted him to report as well on the potential for change for the better. She tweeted, ‘I think it’s glass half-empty [to say that there was] “no chance that there will be any national investment.”’

Carlton’s twitter response was, ‘I am not predicting, I am reporting, after talking to folks at the very top who know exactly what’s coming.’

I have much sympathy with Carlton here. We need journalists to report all points of view and not to act as cheerleaders. We need to know as much as possible about the situation we are in and what might be possible to change that situation to the better.

Many of the greatest blunders in history have followed on from misunderstanding the starting situation, the intentions and motives and capabilities of others. Trying to establish the actual prospects we face following publication of the government’s wishy-washy document has enormous value.

However, Carlton goes too far in suggesting that his folks can know ‘exactly what’s coming’. This is simply too big a claim. No one can know ‘exactly ‘ what’s going to happen in the future (especially journalists, historians and sundry experts, who have lamentable records when it comes to predicting events). A common rule of thumb is to say that no prediction will be totally correct (though many will be totally incorrect). Looking into the future is about assessing the options and likelihoods, not just about relaying the thoughts and wisdoms of the better-connected experts. But more important, both experts and the rest of us can also easily overlook the potential for contingent events to affect what happens.

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The result of a new protected cycle route to a Swansea University campus site

Only a month or two ago the present British government was at the top of its game having won the 2015 election and then seen the election of a rather ineffectual leader of the opposition. The government looked forward after the 2020 election to at least one, probably two or more, terms in government.

But, look how much its prospects have changed in recent weeks: a bungled budget, a botched response to the Mossack Fonseca leak, and all to the background of a civil war that threatens to rip the Tory party asunder. I doubt any experts predicted the sudden crisis of confidence that would strike the recently victorious government.

Carlton’s (reported) predictions may well turn out to be more or less what happens in reality. But it is a mistake to assume that the path of the future is pre-determined.

Yes, the car is deeply embedded in the economy, topography and psychology of modern life. To imagine life without overwhelming reliance on cars is beyond most people. To the average cycle campaigner it must seem that the power of the oil and motor industries is unassailable. But history has many examples of seemingly permanently entrenched institutions that collapse in a fairly short time span.

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In the late 1980s many experts predicted that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (and the Apartheid State of South Africa) would survive and thrive into the future. They were, we were told, too solidly buttressed and too powerful to change (or at least not without apocalyptic violence). But, in both cases a crisis of confidence in the ruling elites of hollowed-out, contradiction-ridden societies led to the surprisingly rapid dissolution of those seemingly all-controlling, security-obsessed states.

Change can happen much more quickly than looks likely to those who live in the shadow of some impressive-looking social edifice, whether it be the Soviet ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ or the Reign of the Car.

We can see signs of the crisis of confidence within the realms of Transport for London (TfL) and the Mayor’s office. A steady growth in cycling numbers, a critical level of fatalities and astute campaigning (aided by the organizational & propagandizing wonders of the internet) combined to weaken the traditional attitude of London’s circles of governance towards cycling: ‘no demand, no space, no way.’

By the skin of his teeth, in the last few months of his tenure, Boris Johnson, aided by Andrew Gilligan and presumably others less well known, shattered that old approach. The cycleways have established, even before they are officially opened, that if you build quality cycle facilities there is indeed much demand for them, that there is enough space if you re-allocate it from often wasted functions (such as wide striped lanes in the centre of roads) and that, given the political will, there is very definitely a way: a Cycleway.

Few could have predicted that this would happen and happen so quickly. London Cycling Campaign was engaged in the organizational equivalent of contemplating its navel – talking about changing its name from London Cycling Campaign to London Cyclists – and had to move sharply to catch up when a bottom up campaign caught it out introverting. Other established cycling organizations have not caught up as rapidly as LCC, and, to the great sorrow of many of us, Sustrans seems not to even have noticed the on-going revolution in attitudes to the desired quality of cycle facilities.

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So, that’s all a long-winded introduction to my countering Carlton’s assertion that he or his contacts know ‘exactly’ what is going to happen. Chances are that it will turn out as Carlton reports/predicts. But there are always countervailing forces, as society is made up of multiple interlocking, overlapping, cooperating and conflicting forces. What actually happens depends on the ever-changing interactions of these forces. Things that look firmly entrenched (the Czar or the Car) may be ready to crumble.

The issue at heart is how firmly entrenched is the motor vehicle. Any attempt to provide for alternatives, such as the humble cycleway, can give rise to the most incredible opposition, indulging in an Alice in Wonderland anti-logic, where the non-polluting bike becomes responsible for pollution, not the fossil-fuel burning machines that actually create it, and space-efficient bicycles become the cause of all congestion anywhere, anytime in the foul air of the Great Wen.

Just look at the exaggerated rhetoric of the anti-cycleway London cabbies and ‘StopCS11Hell’ doom-mongers: you ‘won’t be able to get to see your dentist in Maida Vale,’ or visit ‘Theatreland’ and ‘London’s arteries will clog up and the city will die,’ (yes, that has been claimed). It seems obvious, to many if not to most, that modern society cannot function without millions of motors parading around our cities and towns.


Pro-car zealots pretend to have environmental concerns


The powerful industrial interests of British cotton mill owners opposed the emancipation of American slaves (it had already been outlawed in the British Empire). ‘So crucial was slave labour [to the mid-19th century British economy] that the Liverpool Chronicle and European Times warned that if slaves ever should be emancipated, cotton cloth prices might double or triple, with devastating consequences for Britain.’ In 1844 ‘A Cotton Spinner’ wrote, “Emancipation [of US slaves] might shake Britain to its “very foundations”.

US slavery was abolished after the Civil War despite the immensely powerful British and American cotton industry lobbies, which had previously and successfully persuaded their respective governments to conduct industrial, trade, financial, foreign and military policies in their favour.

Despite all that entrenched power, the plantation owners lost out to other interests (especially those of cotton manufacturers) and social currents (rooted in Enlightenment ideas about human rights) in addition to purely economic interests. Yet, many simply believed that life would end without slavery, just as many nowadays many believe modern life would be unlivable without a car.

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However well entrenched a social or political or cultural or industrial institution may appear to be, it will have weaknesses, internal contradictions and all sorts of opposing forces. These external and internal influences can lead to crises of confidence and consequent rapid change.

Such problems can easily be hidden when an institution is on the rise or has reached a dominant position. But eventually they eat away at the functioning internal organs and expose the fragility of the institution. The Ottoman Empire inflicted some shattering defeats on the British Empire in the First World War, at Gallipoli and at Kut (in Iraq). For the first time, European imperial forces suffered serious defeats at the hands of an army of a non-European, non-industrialized state. Yet, this was the high water mark for the Ottomans. Even as it achieved these military victories, internal contradictions fatally undermined the Empire’s ability to prolong its war effort and the Ottoman Empire joined the Romanov, Austro-Hungarian and German Empires as immediate victims of the devastating war they (and others) had started in expectation of easy victory.

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One internal contradiction that will have unpredictable effects on multiple aspects of the world of the automobile is what will happen when it does become automatic. The consequences of self-driving automobiles are all but impossible to predict and the role of driving software may well present challenges to industry and socially condoned road driving practices. We allow dangerous styles of driving because the effort of enforcing road law would be too disruptive to society for many reasons. However, the introduction of driving software offers an opportunity for social currents to lobby for safer driving practices precisely because judges and juries are less likely to feel the sympathy for corporate software interests than they do for fellow drivers. I’m not predicting what will happen, but new possibilities will open up for campaigners against the dominance of the fast, urban motoring model.

Most important, what Carlton’s deterministic prediction omits is any appreciation of the potential for the solid-seeming car culture to collapse of its own contradictions – if given sufficient push by campaigners for change. What Carlton’s experts cannot know is how independent actors – cycling campaigners, air quality campaigners, urban walking campaigners and others – will act and organize.

One prediction I will make is that the new London cycleways will prove to be highly successful and very popular, broadening the appeal of cycling in the capital.


Plans for Tavistock Place, Camden if the present twelve month trial is successful

The next mayor of London will have to face a strong, reasonably well organized cycling lobby that will be on a roll, it’s own predictions confirmed about safe, attractive, protected cycleways (and other effective approaches such as filtering).

The nay-sayers will look foolish and as a result the absurdity of their propaganda about cycleways causing pollution and congestion will look ever more ridiculous. Outside the capital, it is guaranteed that campaigners in Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and in many other places, will be pointing to London and saying ‘we want that here’.

And, among the public, people will be saying to themselves and others, ‘I could cycle on something like that.’

Cycle campaigning has grown in the last few years, but it may well be on the verge of achieving an even faster rate of growth. The confidence and level of expectation of the British cycling lobby is about to collide head on with the paltry ambitions of the government for cycling.

When Isambard Kingdom Brunel was informed that the rail locomotive in which he was heading west on the GWR was steaming straight towards a locomotive on the same single track coming from the opposite direction, he ordered the driver to go faster, aiming, he hoped, to push the oncoming loco aside through ‘superior momentum’.

The question is, can we divert the government’s measly projected strategy by the superior momentum of our growing movement and our own more expansive strategy? The future is not determined.

‘Dangerisation’: myth or reality?

As Easy As Riding a Bike blogged recently (https://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/talking-about-danger-again/) about a phenomenon known as ‘dangerising’. Basically this suggests that cycle campaigners in particular should avoid talking about the alleged dangers of UK cycling policy which in general requires cyclists to share the carriageway with fast-moving motor vehicles. The reason for this, it is asserted, is that talk of danger puts people off cycling. A further twist is the assertion that cycling in the UK is not dangerous and also the idea that training and learning about ‘taking the lane’ can improve (even, in some claims, guarantee) safety.

Over the years campaigning for British authorities to adopt continental-style cycle networks, primarily because of the unsafe and unattractive cycling environment of mixing it on the road, I have repeatedly heard the claim that I am putting people off cycling by doing so. We are told that cycling on British roads, whatever our own experience, is not dangerous.

As Easy As Riding a Bike’s blog cited Anna Glowinski (cyclist, clothing designer and Cycle Show presenter):

“I think it can be quite damaging to talk about how ‘dangerous’ cycling is. I really don’t think it is that dangerous.”

Bob Davies of the Road Danger Reduction Forum (ironically given the name of his forum, Bob is a leading proponent of the ‘don’t emphasise the dangers’ tendency and author of a book entitled Death on the Streets) wrote:

“I think there are indeed issues associated with the talking about danger which are highly problematic and worthy of consideration. “Dangerising” is a real issue. Often, in everyday discourse, the use of the word “danger” and associating it with cycling is not (just) about danger to cyclists. It is implying that cycling is indeed (whatever you correctly think) intrinsically hazardous. It also involves the association of cycling with endangering others.”

I added comments to the blog asking for the evidence to show that campaigning against road danger discouraging people from cycling. Bob conceded that there was no direct evidence and he linked it a wider range of negative attitudes to cycling. He said:

“The area I’m trying to analyse is that of beliefs, ideas and culture (as used in the anthropological/sociological sense). I can’t give the kind of evidence requested because it is either difficult or impossible (depending on what philosophy of social science you adhere to).”

Other comments re-asserted the link, but offered no proper evidence. Colin McKenzie said:

“The point about dangerisation of cycling is not that it will put people off cycling. It already has, massively, and continues to do. For evidence, look no further than the catastrophic decline in children cycling to school since the 70s. Over that time, the roads have not got more dangerous for cyclists (actually they are safer), nor has the traffic got significantly scarier.”


What I struggle with is the mechanism by which my and others’ campaigning about the dangers of cycling in the UK influences the wider population. The best coverage we had for years in the media was the occasional letter, written by a cycling campaigner in response to a consultation or crazed coverage of cycling, in a local newspaper. In Camden we could get an article in the local newspaper, the Camden New Journal, if we could get a national celebrity photo-shoot opportunity – fortunately local resident Jon Snow called be called upon now and again to get us a bit of coverage. No national celebrity, no coverage. (That Camden borough council was becoming one of the handful of local authorities starting to transform UK cycle policy was beyond their news agenda.)

I doubt that in pubs, cafes, hair-dressing salons, schools, factories, office, canteens and shops throughout Camden, let along the whole of the UK, people were excitedly discussing the latest press release from Camden Cycling Campaign calling for safe cycle tracks:

“I was thinking of cycling, you know, but I read a quote from a cycling campaigner in the local paper about how dangerous it is, so I’m not going to bother with that now even though I’ve already bought a bike.”

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As has been discussed by other bloggers, ordinary people think cycling is dangerous because of what they can see happening on the roads. They think it is dangerous because it is obvious that mixing vulnerable flesh and bone travelling at 15mph with a ton upwards of metal travelling at 30 to 60 mph in a contested space is inherently dodgy. They do not think cycling is dangerous only because someone else has told them that it is. The ‘dangerisation’ thesis is so patronizing.

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The danger of ‘dangerisation’ is a common theme too among those who promote cycle training as providing more than it can in fact deliver in an anti-cycling public environment (which denies people the opportunity to gain vital experience). David Dansky wrote:

“While this is happening [i.e., cycling is on the increase and safety improving] the voices shouting how dangerous it is have been getting louder, more strident, and calls for separation and the introduction of Dutch infrastructure all paint (pun intended) quite a negative picture. Apart from these scares putting off some new riders there is also an effect of not acknowledging progress and successes that have been achieved without Dutch style infrastructure.”

This is weird as, if one thinks about it, those engaged in training are among the biggest ‘dangerisers’ of all. They must be, they have to alert trainees to dangers, such as dooring or guttering, that they had not previously thought of. Understanding the dangers of cycling empowers people to be aware of those dangers and to take action to minimize them. This applies to campaigning as well as to individuals; we will make no real gains if we deny actuality. Recognizing the reality of road danger has galvanized the UK cycle lobby over the past decade or so.

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There seems to me that there is another flaw in the ‘dangerisation’ argument. The starting point here is a graph showing the age and gender profile of cyclists in the UK (and other countries).

The first set of graphs dates from the late 1980s and was compiled by the OECD one of whose remits is the preparation of internationally comparable statistics. It should be noted that the vertical scales are different, having been adjusted to use the whole space available for each graph.

Three things stand out about Great Britain: the low number of cyclists comparable with Denmark and the Netherlands (reflected in the different vertical scales used); the overwhelming dominance of men in the British cycling profile (unlike the Netherlands and Denmark with a balance and Finland with more women cyclists than men); and the very rapid rate at which male cycling declines with age in Great Britain.



The second graph for the UK only is somewhat more recent, coming from around 2010 (http://cyclinginfo.co.uk/blog/2636/cycling/stats-uk/). It is essentially not very different from the late 1980s in terms of gender profile and rapid decline of male cycling rates with growing age. One difference to note is that the first set measures distances cycle per day, while the solo UK graph measures number of trips per year. Whichever way you look at it, cycling in Britain is predominantly a male activity and there is a fairly rapid fall-off rate as these men age. This has been true for 25 years or longer. We can surmise that we are looking at clear structural features that endure over long periods of time.



Leaving aside the main lesson about the higher cycling numbers and better age and gender profile of countries with plenty of high quality cycle networks (such as the Netherlands, Denmark & Finland), what conclusions can be drawn from such graphs regarding ‘dangerisation’?

The high rate of decline of cycling with growing age, sometimes called a high ‘churn’ rate, implies that there must also be quite a high rate of take up.

If one simply looks at figures of total UK number of cyclists, miles cycled per year, cyclist trips, etc., measured over a number of years, the most obvious feature over the past few decades is the drastic decline in cyclists. But the age profile statistics reveal to us the rate of churn that exists within those total figures. (And it is relevant that people who give up cycling most commonly cite road danger as the main reason for doing so.)

The argument about so-called ‘dangerisation’ is drawn from statistics showing a long duration decline in cycling in the UK. It is assumed, wrongly, that this means that people are being put off cycling. A closer look shows that there is a much higher up take of cycling than the total figures show. Bike sales in the UK have remained more or less level for the last ten years, another indication that loose talk of ‘dangerisation’ is not endangering the desire of people to cycle.



‘Dangerisation’, is thus a phenomenon that is contradicted by the statistics and has no mechanism for its propagation. It is a myth, not a reality.

So what lies behind it? In the case of traditional cycle campaigners such as Bob Davies of Road Danger Reduction Forum and Colin McKenzie I suspect that they have simply heard and taken up an argument that they can deploy against something that they dislike: continental-style cycle networks.

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‘Dangerisation’ is a tool, a device to be deployed in argument. David Dansky makes this clear in the quote from him above where he explicitly asserts that it is those who argue for segregated (actually for high-quality continental-style cycle networks) who are, not just putting people off cycling, but arguing for an unnecessary approach because of the advances being made in Britain without such networks. Dansky is antipathetic to cycle tracks except in very specific and limited circumstances and he is just adopting the myth ‘dangerisation’ to attack something he disapproves of.

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‘Dangerisation’ should be added to the list of urban myths that circulate in the anglophone cycling world, along with the thoroughly disproven assertion that high-quality cycle networks are less safe than cycling in the road and that in countries that have pioneered their use are now in the process of getting rid of them, as asserted in the blog comment above. I’ve been hearing that last claim, about the Netherlands and Denmark consigning cycle tracks to the “scrap heap”, for the last two decades; despite the clear evidence to the opposite, this claim is another one that just won’t go away.

It’s time to do away with this nonsense about cycle campaigners and ‘dangerisation’ being responsible for the decline in cycling in Britain, but I expect we will continue to hear it rehearsed for some time yet.

Institute of Economic Affairs joins anti-cycling lobby

The cycle lobby in Britain is finally beginning to show some progress with the decision by Transport for London, TfL, to build two ‘substantially segregated’ cycleways in London. This is rightly seen as a major step forward with potentially significant potential for developing cycling as a realistic means of transport in the UK. It is indeed the first major positive move in cycling policy in the UK in modern decades and also marks a major advance in the organizing potential of the modern UK cycling lobby.

However, a bitter battle will now be necessary to ensure that cycleway routings are direct and coherent, and that the quality of implementation will be high enough to provide effective safety.

The hardline opponents of the cycleway proposals, such as the London Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), which represents about one-third of London’s black cab drivers, and the Canary Wharf property group, are left consoling themselves with empty threats of judicial review.

The next issue will be TfL’s detailed plans and the attempts to modify them by recalcitrant bodies such as the City of Westminster and the City of London. Then there’s those other bodies comprising (no doubt well-recompensed for their efforts) London’s “great and good” and in particular the traditionally anti-cycling-obsessives at the Royal Parks Agency who are objecting to routing a cycleway in front of Buckingham Palace and also intend to close routes via Hyde Park at dusk.

As if this is not all bad enough, the anti-cycle lobby has attracted an influential voice, the heavyweight Institute of Economic Affairs, IEA. This well-established think-tank is a regular provider of ‘call it as it is’ economic analysis on the BBC and in the newspapers. Tough, hard, unsentimental economics is the trade-mark of the ‘free-market’ IEA. No sacred cow is too sacred to be spared its searing insights into why economics must be taken seriously.

IEA spokesman Richard Wellings recently put out his take on the economic costs of the cycle lobby.* Referring to a seminar on ‘Cyclists and the Law’, Wellings regretted that none of the policies he supports was put forward by the cycle lobby: “It was disappointing that several win-win measures with the potential to benefit all road users were not mentioned. Removing a high proportion of traffic lights, for example, would speed up journeys and improve safety for both cyclists and motorists.” His only other policy was to improve pot hole repairs and road maintenance, but he overlooked that this is something the cycle lobby also favours (though it shouldn’t be that surprising even to a free-market economist like Wellings that this was hardly likely to be top of the agenda at a seminar about cyclists and the law, unless he wants a law to compel better road repairs).

But what of Wellings’s economic analysis? What’s the free-market low-down on the economic case for or against cycling?

From an economic perspective”, he writes, “two aspects of the seminar were striking”.

The importance of cars and lorries to London’s economy was almost completely ignored. According to Jenny Jones, ‘London has become a city of buses, pedestrians and bikes’. This simply isn’t true. Within London, cars carry as much passenger traffic as the Tube, buses, trains and bikes put together. It is correct, however, that car use has been falling in recent years. This is unsurprising in the context of falling living standards and transport/planning policies specifically designed to push people out of cars and onto other modes. Nevertheless, the sheer scale of motoring within the capital means that any measures that increase delays are likely to have substantial economic costs. Using DfT estimates of the value of time and making a conservative allowance for running costs, it can be calculated that a 1 per cent increase in car journey times will impose costs of approximately £200 million on motorists in London [the precise accuracy of this figure is less important for this argument than its order of magnitude]. And further substantial costs would be imposed on other road vehicles such as HGVs. The impact of particular measures is of course time and place specific, but it was telling that the potential economic costs of some cycling policies, both to other road users and taxpayers, were barely discussed at the event”, [emphasis added].

Interesting, persuasive even. All that cost – £200 million on cost for every 1 per cent increase in car journey times – induced by ‘any measures that increase delays’. Well, actually any measures except one. Missing from Wellings’s analysis is the present policy of providing as much throughput space as possible which induces demand and creates congestion through stimulating use of the most inefficient space using transport modes.

The other looming gap in Wellings’s analysis is the imbalance of his concepts of economic value. Reducing motor traffic and displacing it onto space-efficient modes will provide multiplied benefits. One person out of a car and onto a bike or into a tram frees up much more space than they use in the new mode of getting about. If this cannot find room in the IEA’s economic analysis, it suggests that they aren’t taking a really very thorough look at the economic issues.

Furthermore Wellings’s analysis has another gaping hole – he obviously finds no economic value in the time and productivity of those who use cycling and other space-efficient modes. But the value of motorists’ time and productivity is very high. If it were an undergraduate essay the imbalance of analysis might be merely embarrassing, but in the blogspot of the august IEA it’s laughable.

Wellings’s other concern with the conference was that, “it was notable that the focus was almost entirely on ‘command and control’ measures centred on extra regulations, more surveillance, stricter enforcement and the centrally planned installation of new infrastructure. Once again there was little awareness of the economic costs of such policies or the misallocation of resources likely to result from the knowledge and incentive problems facing state bureaucracies.

Once again in Wellings’s analysis there was little awareness of the costs of the lack of enforcement of traffic law. This week’s news that casualty numbers are increasing as police enforcement is rolled back underlines the need for deeper analysis of the economic (as well as the social) costs of scaling back enforcement.

Among the policies discussed at the seminar and pilloried as economic ignorance by Wellings was the idea that “cycle lanes should continue across side roads”. Not surprisingly Wellings didn’t offer any rational case as to why he thinks that this is an economic problem. The more one reads them the more obvious it becomes that the IEA’s views on cycling are simply the prejudices of the chronically car-bound dressed up in economic jargon.

* https://richardwellings.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/more-regulation-more-surveillance-and-more-enforcement-the-policies-cycling-groups-plan-to-impose-on-other-road-users/

Speed limits for Dutch cycle paths?

Fietsberaad proposes 25kph speed limit

The arguments over the use by non-traditional pedal cycles of cycle paths in the Netherlands has taken a new twist with the Fietsberaard organization proposing a 25kph limit for cyclepaths in urban areas. Any user who wanted to go faster would be expected to leave the cycle path and use the carriageway.

The proposal is one of a number of solutions being suggested to deal with what is seen as a growing problem. Defining the problem is in itself controversial. Partly it is defined as inadequacies in existing cycle path infrastructure given the growing number of users. But the problem is also partly defined as being that non-traditional modes travel at higher speeds than traditional bicycles; these new modes include ‘snorscooters’, faster pedelecs as well as allegedly growing numbers of race cyclists and fast recumbents.

The problem, if it is a problem, is essentially a manifestation of the success of cycle policy in the Netherlands which has seen significant growth in cycling and the new motorized forms of scooters/mopeds/e-bikes.

The proposal is likely to cause some controversy especially among lobbyists for non-traditional users, but even the cyclists’ organizations, Fietsersbond, has cast doubt on the value of a 25kph limit, preferring a limit of 30kph, if a limit is to be introduced. However, the Fietserbond, in common with many individuals, does question how a speed limit could be enforced (not least as bicycles are not required to be equipped with a speedometer).

Snorscooters have speed limiters fitted, but these are easily, and it is claimed widely, disconnected allowing them to be ridden at speeds of up to 40-60kph. Cyclists organizations, such as Fietsersbond, have been expressing discontent with the increase in higher speed users on cyclepaths.

The proposal from Fietsberaad follows the recent rejection in the Dutch parliament of a proposal, put forward by Amsterdam council, to move snorscooters from the cyclepaths and require them to use the carriageway (and also thus to use a helmet which is not required for riding on cyclepaths).

According to the Het Parool newspaper, the Amsterdam council is ‘disappointed’ at the rejection of its proposal and a member said that ‘It is clear that something must be done on the flow and safety of the ever more busy Amsterdam cyclepaths and the rapid growth of the number of snorscooters’. He said that the council was working on a new set of measures.

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However, there is vigorous opposition to the proposals. Blogger David Hembrow (http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/06/being-member-of-out-group-little.html) argues that, while ‘Some mopeds are ridden aggressively .. this not a problem due to mopeds. Some cars and some bicycles are also used aggressively. Sending responsible people onto the carriageway with a slow vehicle, with nothing more than a token helmet for protection, is not an answer… The best way of avoiding this danger is to keep light and slow vehicles away from large fast vehicles, and that is what the cycle-paths of the Netherlands already do extremely well. But the majority of injuries to cyclists are not the result of crashes with motor vehicles of any kinds. The two biggest dangers are inadequate infrastructure and personal behaviour’.

He also challenges supporters of speed limits or proposals to shift faster modes to the carriageway to back up claims of ‘thousands’ of collisions between scooters and cycles and increasing numbers of users.

Hembrow acknowledges that ‘Subjective safety is very important for cycling. If cycling feels unsafe then people won’t cycle. Subjective safety is improved by building an environment where it feels safe to cycle. Quite apart from separating high speed traffic from low speed traffic, a high degree of subjective safety also requires changing the infrastructure so as to reduce the frequency of conflicts on the cycle-path.’

However, he adds, ‘concern over subjective safety should not be used to mask a desire to ban a minority group based on prejudice.’

This argument is not having much impact on the Fietsersbond which maintains its view that ‘speed pedelecs do not belong on cyclepaths in built up areas.’ They also argue that ‘cyclists who want to go faster than 30kph should have the choice of using the carriageway’ (which may well be forbidden on certain carriageways according to present regulations). Pressure is coming from cyclists who find the higher speed users of cycle paths uncomfortable and the Fietsersbond and local authorities are expressing their view nationally and locally.

The Fietsersbond in one town in Friesland supported a trial, which began last August, whereby ‘hardfietsers’ (ie fast cyclists) who wanted to go faster than 30kph were offered the opportunity to use the carriageway

According to the Burgemeester the aim is to reduce the speed differential between users of cycle paths. ‘On the carriageway the fast cyclist is not hindered by slower cyclists and thus can easily move forward and this also makes them more visible at junctions. This means too that the speed differential on the carriageway must not become too great’.

The locations for the trial have been carefully chosen, says the Burgemeester, to ensure that they are not dangerous for faster cyclists to use.

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The recumbent cyclists’ organisation said that the ‘eager’ media attitude to the proposals for speed limits had caused ‘indignation, disturbance, surprise and amazement’. They suggest that more attention should be paid to improving the infrastructure rather than seeking to limit cycle path speeds.

One reader’s comment on the recumbent’s organization website illustrates the anger and frustration that is creeping into the debate on all sides: ‘The problem is not that there are more people cycling at higher speeds. The problem is that there are ever more people cycling slowly’.

British cyclists will be jealous that the Dutch have to face the problems of success. It is also interesting to note that the Dutch are considering lifting any ban on cyclists using certain carriageways. The first point raised by British (and US) cycle activists who oppose dedicated cycle paths in the UK (and USA) about the Dutch system is their concern that it leads to cyclists being banned from using carriageways. This issue would disappear if faster cyclists were encouraged/expected to share the carriageway.

Finally, I want to add that I am not taking any sides in these debates, primarily as I don’t have enough current experience with cycling in the Netherlands. I am only reporting the debate for the enlightenment (hopefully) of English-speaking cycle activists to give an insight into the Dutch debate.