Viral van driver video offers an insight into the failure of UK transport policy

The video of a frustrated van driver deliberately driving his van into a cyclist has achieved cult status. It has attracted outraged comments on twitter both from cyclists, for whom such dangerous punishment behaviour from motorists is all too common, and from motorists fuming about the cyclist being in the “middle of the road” for “too long”.

Meanwhile, twitter is also alive with angry complaints from the motoring fraternity (and much less often from the motoring sorority) about money spent on cycleways and other cycle infrastructure which is blamed for allegedly worsening congestion and pollution.

British transport policy is in a self-created vortex of conflicting objectives.

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The blogger and traffic engineer, Ranty Highwayman, put his finger on the essential point in a tweet:

In London the black cab trade (which has been the originating force of most of the myths and lies about the new London cycleways) has argued vehemently against the cycleways being physically segregated. Their initial claims that the cycleways would only be used for an hour or two per day in peak periods and then only in summer months were rapidly proven to be false with a steady and increasing use all year round and for much of the day.

But they persist in demanding that the physical protection for cyclists be removed and replaced with painted lanes which would only be in operation for 12 percent of the week – and which experience tells us would be made useless during those minimal hours of operation by taxis stopping in it to pick up and let down passengers (obviously they wouldn’t be prepared to stop in the “middle of the road” to let their passengers out).

In twitter discussions I have repeatedly asked cabbies propounding this approach whether they would prefer to have all the cyclists currently using the cycleways cycling in front of them on the carriageway rather than in their own space so both bikes and motors can travel at their own preferred speed. It may come as no surprise to hear that I have not received a single answer to that question.

British transport policy is also expert at declining to address choices prompted by the reality of the problems that result from over-dependence on the motor vehicle.

As the murderous van driver video illustrates, drivers really don’t like cyclists in front of them on the road. And, of course, those of us who venture to cycle in the United Kingdom already know this. The video just captures everyday life on Britain’s roads and the asymmetric war conducted by some (but not all) motorists. How many of us haven’t suffered a motor driver using his/her ‘ton plus’ of metal to grab space by force majeure? It may not be in exactly the same manner, but we’ve all many times had to brake like fury or throw ourselves off our path to avoid the metal-garbed space-grabber.

Cyclists (except for a sad minority of self-proclaimed “keen cyclists” who display remarkable subservience to motor-domination) don’t want to share the roads with faster cars. Some cyclists have been trained to value and argue for the “take the lane” philosophy.  But most of us use it only in extremis, fearful of meeting someone like the viral van driver.

Motorists don’t want cyclists in front of them. Some because they just want to speed, others because they are fearful of rousing the ire of speedsters behind them.

But there should be a community of interests. But, as the London cabbie trade shows, lots of motorists get upset at seeing money spent on cycle infrastructure.

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Local authorities and highway agencies have long ignored cycling and often do their best to avoid spending on cycle infrastructure and, where they do dig into the public coffers, often spend the money on implementations that are ineffective, unsafe and frequently of laughable quality. That London’s cycleways have aroused such anger is a sure sign that they are better quality than the normal British botch.

British transport policy has got itself into a gridlock. Unwilling to fund quality infrastructure, it’s also unwilling (and probably quite incapable) of humanising mixed infrastructure. The system lacks the will to enforce road law effectively.

The viral van driver video tells us much more than that there is a dangerous sense of entitlement abroad in drivers. It also points to the policy impasse that successive governments and road designers have herded us into.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is frozen with fear at the prospect of continuing on with his predecessor’s highly successful cycleways programme, fearful of protests from cabbies, bus company lobbyists and too many old Labour ‘small-c conservatives’ within his party power base.

Theresa May, who endlessly proclaims herself a strong leader, is also paralysed with fear. This is amply illustrated by the government’s wet blanket of a policy for improving air quality, announced under intense legal pressure from the courts this week. The prime minister is said to have been responsible for vetoing any measure in the proposals which might upset the motorist lobby in the right-wing press which have taken up cause of the right to pollute our cities.

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Transport policy in the UK has backed itself into a stand off. The van driver video is a terrifying symptom of the outcome of government policy. Not strong, not stable, but weak, unstable – and unsustainable.

Cycling – the European link.

One of the ironies of Brexit is a conspicuous and controversial European-inspired legacy for which Boris Johnson must take much responsibility from his days as mayor of London.

Johnson was a leading figure in the campaign to leave the EU and since the Brexit referendum he has been British foreign secretary, deploying his trademark side swipe rhetoric in pursuit of a full British break with the EU.

It is on the streets of London – right in front of the Houses of Parliament indeed – that Johnson’s mayoral legacy is at its most prominent. Thanks to Johnson there are now a couple of classic European style cycle paths in Central London.

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The new Dutch style cycleway along the Embankment in London (photo: TfL)

They have proved immensely successful in boosting the numbers of people cycling in central London. Cyclists now make up 70% of traffic on the nearby cycleway on Blackfriar’s Bridge. Just under 4,700 cyclists used the bridge in the morning peak period. The count for the Embankment topped 3,600 cyclists in the same peak period.

However, Johnson’s cycleways have aroused the ire of the Tory establishment. The eurosceptic and climate change denying former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson (a migrant living in France) visited the House of Lords and, deploying his trademark lack of connection with reality, told his fellow peers that Johnson’s cycleways were ‘doing more damage to London than almost anything since the Blitz,’ (as the Second World War bombing of London is known).

And Johnson has revealed how he was regularly berated by Tory MPs and Lords who resented his providing cycling infrastructure.

Protected cycleways have long been common in several European countries, but London has equally long been largely antipathetic towards cycling, with only grudging provision of ineffective painted cycle lanes.

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Traditional British cycle infrastructure – poor design, ineffective and limited to paint

The result of traditional policy is that the UK has a small number of people cycling and a cycling profile that is dominated by young adult males. This contrasts with countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands where there are not only many more cyclists, but also a balance of the genders, as well as more younger and more older cyclists – due to the safe, attractive cycle facilities.

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Statistics demonstrate conclusively that British style of ‘mixing it’ with motors leads to ‘young adult males’ dominating the cycling profile, unlike the Netherlands where there are many more young and older cyclists and also a balance of males and females. Cycling is also significantly safer with segregated cycleways. 

In recent years, awareness of the what’s available for people to choose to cycle in some of our European neighbours has led to a grass roots inspired demand for change in UK policy. This raises the important question of how ideas are disseminated across national boundaries and the role of ‘informal’ technology transfer as result of tourism and also of people working in other countries within Europe.

The spread of ideas about a part-technical, part-sociological system, such as providing for cycling as a serious transport mode, is often obstructed by national stereotyping. ‘Dutch people cycle because it’s their culture, we can’t replicate that here,’ is a persistent refrain.

Cycleways look quite natural on the streets of Copenhagen or Utrecht, but few find it easy to conceive of how such cycleways could possibly fit into the traditional road design of the UK. But things are changing.

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Planned cycleways for the upgrade of the ‘Taviplace’ road layout (currently on hold while a public inquiry is held)

It’s not just a matter of mass movement of tourism with people seeing plenty of cyclists in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. The ability for people to work in other EU countries with ease, means that tens of thousands of British people have lived and worked in Denmark, Flanders or the Netherlands over the past few decades. Many have come back with an understanding that it is primarily a matter of policy, not of ingrained culture, that determines how we travel.

The change has been driven by the grassroots. This was necessary in Britain because, way back in the 1930s, the British cycle lobby, organised as the Cycle Touring Club (CTC), took a stance against protected cycleways. This policy was handed down over generations of cycle campaigners and was rigorously enforced.

Groups such as the CTC and the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) have indeed only recently shifted position to welcoming cycleways under pressure from their grassroots members. Certainly in the case of the LCC it was members persistently calling for the adoption of the European way – with an explicit ‘Go Dutch’ campaign.

It may not rank with the issues of hard or soft Brexit and the like, but we can discern the way in which grassroots British cyclists rejected the special (and ineffective) British way and consciously adopted the ‘Continental approach.’

The cycleways in Camden in inner London (the Royal College Street cycleways and what has become known as the Tavistock Place scheme) installed in 1999/2000 were consciously based on a model borrowed from the Hague, the seat of government of the Netherlands.

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Roygl College Street, Camden, phase 1, 1999. 

In more recent times several more cycleways have been installed in London (alongside poor quality, i.e. painted ‘Quietways’) following determined campaigning by activists.

Cycle campaigner Jim Davis says that a few years ago, ‘I was an information officer at CTC and thought cycling mixed with traffic was the only way. British bicycle infrastructure was always designed as an afterthought. But I gradually started to hear more about the Netherlands.’

‘I saw no organisation in Britain that represented bikes as transport, rather than as sport and leisure, and I wanted to fill that gaping hole. That’s why the Dutch Bike was chosen as the logo of what we called the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.’

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A classic Dutch urban cycleway. 

‘The Netherlands and Denmark had already set up Cycling Embassies. However, they were set up to promote the Dutch and Danish domestic achievements abroad, rather than to lobby their own governments. I set up the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain as a tongue in cheek nod to the fact that we need all the help we can get and have much to learn from just across the North Sea.’

Davis began by organising a trip to see Dutch cycling facilities. A group of three went by ferry from Harwich, taking their bikes with them, and then cycled to Rotterdam.

‘It was my first experience of cycling in the Netherlands. I was genuinely crying with laughter at the sheer simplicity. Try riding away from Harwich with the same comfort.’

“It was my first experience of cycling in the Netherlands. I was genuinely crying with laughter at the sheer simplicity. Try riding away from Harwich with the same comfort.”

Philp Loy is a principal engineer managing cycling schemes for WSP Parson Brinckerhoff and also a member of the LCC. He recalls how ‘a visit to Copenhagen for a cycling conference in 2010 was the culmination of long-considered ideas about what really was the best approach to promote cycling as a means of transport.’

‘Up until then, my cycle campaigning work involved a lot of discussion and debate about whether ‘cycle tracks’ were a good or bad thing. However, there were many who argued for the ‘Continental approach’, and it was the combination of these ideas and seeing them implemented in European cities that finally persuaded me of their merit.’

Organisations such as the Dutch and Danish Cycling Embassies are important to such technology transfer by influencing politicians and professionals. ‘It’s not about us just coming and designing one or two streets and then leaving. We want to help build and develop their own skill and experience,’ says Mirjam Borsboom, director of the Cycling Embassy of the Netherlands.

‘It’s not a question of ‘cut and paste’ the Dutch approach, but there are fundamental features such as separating traffic where motors travel at 50kph or more. I always say that you can’t do it cheaply because you need vision and design.’

“It’s not a question of ‘cut and paste’ the Dutch approach, but there are fundamental features such as separating traffic where motors travel at 50kph or more. I always say that you can’t do it cheaply because you need vision and design.”

The transfer of ideas about the role of cycling in the future urban environment is not limited to the Britain.

Cian Ginty of the campaigning organisation, Irish Cycle, says, ‘campaigners are, as they are everywhere, a mixed bunch. Some see the Netherlands as a good example of a number of examples across Europe. Others, including myself, see the Netherlands as the best example and the example we should be mainly following if we want mass levels of cycling.’

‘In 2015 I led a group of eighteen people on a cycling study tour in the Netherlands, a mix of councillors, campaigners, consultants and Department of Transport officials. The positives from that so far is that the councillors are looking for better standards and some campaigners asking why can’t we do it more like the Dutch.’

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Classic Dutch style cycleways allow for easy servicing of businesses – it’s often imagined in the UK that segregated cycleways prevent servicing of businesses, but those who actually been the the Netherlands or Denmark have seen that this is not true.  

The transformation in British cycle campaigning policy has been an enthusiastic adoption of the idea that we can learn from our European neighbours and that we do benefit from participation in a wider European community both officially and at grassroots levels.

Brexit may not seriously damage intra-European tourism, but it may well reduce opportunities for people to live and work in other countries and to discover aspects of those countries that are worth importing back home.

More seriously, it may be that the inward-looking mind set may spread its tentacles in British politics and lead to a rejection of all things ‘European’, making it more difficult to campaign to ‘Go Dutch.’ Mark Treasure, chair of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, says, ‘I don’t know if Brexit is going to be helpful as it could become less easy to transfer ideas and people.’

Johnson’s successor as mayor of London, Labour party member Sadiq Khan, has promised to continue his predecessor’s cycling policies – but he is showing signs of rolling back on plans Johnson left in the pipeline.

What an irony it would be if Eurosceptic Johnson’s European-inspired legacy of a high-quality cycle network were allowed to wither by the pro-Europe Khan.

Cycleways and congestion – getting beyond the windscreen mentality

A new fact has entered the common psyche, namely that London’s congestion is caused by 18 kilometres of physically protected (as opposed to painted) cycle lanes in central London. An accomplice fact is that these same ‘cycleways’ are also responsible for central London’s pollution.

Michael Gove MP, as part of a Brexit committee meeting in Parliament with Sadiq Khan, asked London’s mayor, “do you think that we might more easily be able to meet the very welcome things on air quality, if we were to revisit exactly how the provision of bike lanes has been implemented?” In effect Gove was claiming that removing cycle lanes could be key to tackling London’s illegal air quality (needless to say it didn’t occur to Gove to consider whether London’s air quality problems have only started since the cycleways were implemented in the last year or so).

The only other factor Gove raised as a potential cause of congestion and pollution was the “regime which allows so many roadworks to operate in London at the moment.” Gove claimed that there had been a 200% increase in the number of roadworks on London’s roads “over the last few years.”

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What Gove didn’t consider is the fundamental cause of London’s pollution and congestion – a decades-long policy of standing idly by while the city had become clogged with motors, in the outskirts as well as in the heart of the city.

Regrettably, Khan gave a rather limp response, blaming any problems on the way in which construction of the cycleways was organized by the previous mayor, Boris Johnson, though he did point out that fewer than 2% of ‘our’ roads (presumably meaning TfL roads as opposed to roads that are the responsibility of London boroughs) have “segregated cycle lanes.”

TfL’s roads statistics show that the ‘average speed’ of motors in London continues to decline as it has done for some years now (now down to 7.8 mph). However, those statistics also show a slight recent year on year decline in the ‘volume’ of traffic in central London (down 3.4 percent in summer 2016 from summer of 2105).

Thus the search is on for culprits. People mention various factors such as an increasing number (and duration) of roadworks, increases in construction traffic, increased numbers of delivery vans carrying goods ordered over the internet, the rapid increase in ‘public hire vehicles’ (PHVs) – primarily new Uber vehicles (now about 120,000 seeking customers in London alongside a slightly sagging number of about 21,000 black cabs). But most attention has focused on the immensely popular (with cyclists) cycleways – such as that running along the Embankment towards the Houses of Parliament.

What is notably lacking in this whole debate about the new cycleways is any enlightening quantification of the relative contributions of the various potential causes.

What, for example, is the actual contribution of the rapidly increasing number of PHVs on London’s roads to congestion and pollution? There are some 600 licensed issued every week – i.e. 31,000 per annum – if the black cab lobby is to be believed.

Assuming that the average length of a modern motor car (and a small amount of inter-car space) is about 5 metres, the present fleet of 120,000 PHVs, when stationary, requires 33 times the total length of London’s new cycleways.

The space requirement is, of course, dynamic and increases when the vehicles are in motion. So, in movement the PHV fleet requires 99 times the total length of the infamous cycleways. The numbers would be higher if we were to include black cabs. Together, indeed, cabs and PHVs account for 68 percent of ‘all car traffic’ in central London.

It’s worth noting that, at the present rate of increase, the new PHVs need as much space as all the cycleways every six weeks when stationary. When moving new PHVs soak up as much space as all the cycleways every two weeks. If TfL and the Mayor were building cycleways at the same rate, i.e. 18 km every two weeks, we would indeed be talking about cycleway-induced congestion!

If we are serious about discussing the causes of congestion and pollution, surely we would look first at reducing the primary emitters of pollution and the primary creators of congestion given that this one category of vehicles has an increased demand for road space about 100 times as much as the cycleways. If we were serious about understanding what causes congestion and pollution we would be looking at the bigger problem, and not resort to having a pop at cyclists as being responsible for congestion and pollution generated by others.

There’s another factor that is ignored in the assessment of what is behind the shrinking availability of road space – ever-expanding size of cars. This too has an effect on the road space equation – but how often do you see it mentioned, other than as a another burden on the hard-pressed, hard-working, much deserving motorist just trying to park in the supermarket’s ridiculously narrow parking places?

No doubt we are expected to use our common sense and dismiss such as a silly point as not to be taken seriously as a contribution to congestion while we can blame cycleways. I can see for myself, on my local High Street, that widening the parking bays has narrowed the available carriageway and whereas two cars could pass alongside a lane of parked cars, that it no longer possible and they have to wait (or to not wait) for the cars in the other direction to pass. I’ve not heard a single squeak about the congestion and pollution caused by these wider parking bays, in contrast to the way the subjects come every time anyone suggests a serious cycle scheme.

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An ever increasing amount of road space capacity is being lost to ever bigger motor vehicles. 

But, that’s anecdote. So, instead, allow me some leeway and let’s delve a wee way into what we can work out.

The calculations here become a little bit more assumption based, but let’s say that cars have become about 10 percent bigger (in terms of road space occupied) over the last, say, 20 years. There are 2,600,000 cars registered in London. If we work out the average extra space occupied (length x width) by those cars we get a figure of about 2,127,000 square metres.

A little bit of calculator work shows that this is 4,123 times as much space as occupied by all the London cycleways (assuming 3.5 metres wide and 18km in length).

This is almost certainly a considerable underestimate for a number of reasons. First, the motor vehicle space requirements boom has been most marked among popular car models. The space requirement of the Ford Fiesta has grown 20 percent, that of the VW Golf GTi by 25 percent, of the VW Beetle by 23 percent, of the Fiat 500 of by 47 percent and of the Mini a whopping 75 percent, so taking a 10 percent increase is conservative. Second, the calculation applies just for like to like models and doesn’t take into account the immensely popular new types of vehicle such as the ‘people carrier’ and the ‘SUV’ which have replaced many smaller cars. Third, as we are talking purely about cars, we are not including the extra space requirements of bigger light goods vehicles and bigger lorries. Combine these factors and it is easy to see that the growth in vehicle space requirements is not a trivial matter.

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The ballooning size of the modern car (Photo: Richard Ambler)

Yet the extra space demand of bigger motors is a problem that the experts manage not to see. For all the repeated droning on about congestion ‘created’ and pollution ‘caused’ by cycleways, we can see that simple, obvious factors, such as the explosion in PHV numbers and the growth in space requirements for each individual motor vehicle are between one hundred and many thousands of times more significant.

There is a nice Dutch saying: meten is weten. Alas, the closest English translation – to measure is to know – is somewhat less poetic than the original, but it does all the same reveal that the puff and hyperbole of the ‘cycleways cause congestion and pollution’ campaign is born out of the willful ignoring of the real factors that are the main primary causes of these problems.

I know some cycle campaigners will see dark forces of managerial capitalism at work in this wholly unbalanced accounting of the contribution of cycleways to pollution and congestion. But there may well be a simpler explanation (or more likely that there is more than one explanation): what I call ‘windscreen mentality’.

Cycleways are visible and recent, and there is recent congestion, ergo cycleways “must” be responsible. It’s a form of tunnel vision, whereby every aspect of transport policy is determined by what the driver can see from looking forward – they see themselves a heading towards a narrow road where two lanes merge into one, or they see red traffic lights ahead, or, horror of horrors, there’s a cycle lanes they think without it they could get ahead (not realizing it would just be to get to the next set of red lights half-a-second sooner). Windscreen vision has it that it is narrowing roads, traffic lights or cycle lanes are responsible for slowing their speedy progress through city streets, not too many, too big vehicles.

The dictum here is ‘to see is to know’, so no need to waste time looking into measuring and understanding the changes around us. In this world view, cars haven’t got bigger, but parking spaces and carriageways have shrunk. It’s obvious, you can see it for yourself. It’s the Flat Earth theory of congestion – after all to the human eye the horizon is clearly flat. Indeed, I was prompted to this thought by an item on the radio about the problems faced by drivers as they try to squeeze their over-sized cars into parking spaces in car parks. A vox pop voice actually said, “Yes, the spaces have shrunk.”

For car park management companies, supermarkets, local authorities, etc. this is a real problem as making bigger spaces means fewer spaces which in turn means lower income or increasing charges to maintain income. Whatever, clearly car parking capacity has been shrunken by car obesity.

As grown ups we need to stop ignoring this issue and ask how this arms race in vehicle size affects the capacity of our roads, just as it affects car parks, and what can be done about it.

In his polemical blogs Robert Wright (a transport correspondent for the Financial Times as well as a cycle blogger – http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/a-past-mayor-miserable-blogiversary-and.html ) argues that cyclists need to accept that the cycleways have contributed to congestion. “While there are plenty of other factors restricting London’s road capacity, it seems fanciful to imagine that cycle facilities alone can remove capacity from busy roads and have little effect on congestion. It is certainly clear the capacity of London’s roads fell around the time the new facilities were built. It is not unreasonable, it seems to me, for Sadiq Khan and Mike Brown, commissioner of Transport for London, to seek to reduce the effect of any new facilities on congestion before giving them the go-ahead.”

There is room – indeed there is urgent need – for a mature discussion about the effect, if it is demonstrably measurable, of cycleways on congestion in a dynamic time-adequate assessment (i.e. allowing sufficient time for bedding in and motor traffic adjustment). But, until those pointing the finger at cycleways acknowledge that there are much greater factors, no such grown up discussion can take place. The ball is in their court. Hit the ball straight and we can return the compliment. Treat cycling differently – treat it as an easy scapegoat for the decades-long shortcomings of British transport policy – and expect a fierce, insistent resistance.

I think it’s entirely reasonable for Sadiq Kahn and Mike Brown to work out what is actually causing congestion and to come up with a plan for addressing those actual causes. What is not reasonable is to blame cycling and to demand that cyclists fess up to causing congestion. To do so would be politically suicidal for the cycle lobby as the assertion of cycle lanes causing pollution would rapidly become ingrained and immovable. We have no real choice but to point out that the figures simply don’t justify that argument.

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What can London’s new Walking & Cycling Commissioner achieve?

The appointment of London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, Will Norman, is a welcome development that could potentially be very significant.

Both walking and cycling have been sidelined in London (and the United Kingdom generally). This is despite two decades of promises by politicians, of all political stripes, that they would encourage use of these cheap, non-polluting, non-congesting transport modes.

Unfortunately, the actual implementations of walking and cycling schemes throughout the UK have, on the whole, been poor to abysmal (with a few honourable exceptions, such as the London boroughs of Camden and Waltham Forest, showing that things can be done differently if the political will exists).

Conditions for pedestrians and people cycling are all too often atrocious especially for the old, young, more vulnerable. It is a situation which is all too easily ignored. Any attempt to tackle it is characterised in the pulp press as a ‘war on the motorist’.

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Pedestrians and people cycling often face atrocious conditions – and a lack of will by the authorities to do anything serious about it 

The core problem has been the reluctance of politicians and the UK transport engineering profession to embrace the need for effective, as opposed to eye-candy, solutions. It’s encouraging to see recent signs of change among transport professionals, but progress among local authorities remains extremely slow.

When it was first announced that the Mayor was intending to add walking to the cycling commissioner’s job description there was some concern among cycling campaigners that it would dilute the success shown by the previous incumbent, Andrew Gilligan, in pushing effective Cycleway schemes through against the opposition of some parts of TfL as well as the black cab lobby.

One person asked on twitter, why the commissioner needed to take on walking as well as cycling, on the grounds that pedestrians already have a ubiquitous network of dedicated space in London, the pavements, while cycling desperately needed its own safe infrastructure. These contrasting needs were, it was suggested, necessitated separate champions.

I disagree. There are of course many differences between the needs of people cycling and of pedestrians, but they also have much in common, most especially in the existing social structures which accord motor vehicles a much higher priority in transport planning and implementation. As ‘vulnerable’ road users (a fact attested by the very poor injury rates for pedestrians and people cycling in the UK compared to our partners in Europe) there is a common interest in tackling the power balance (or more accurately the power imbalance) on our roads.

One area of commonality between cycling and walking is the predominance of injuries being inflicted at junctions – accounting for between about two-thirds and three-quarters of injuries to walkers and people cycling.

Though it is true that pedestrians have access to a network of pavements, like people who cycle, they face serious problems crossing the road at junctions.

According to the Highway Code motor drivers should give way to pedestrians crossing the road into which the driver wants to turn his or her motor vehicle.

As everyone knows, this rule is universally ignored and motor vehicles always take priority at junctions (even at driveway and car park entrances etc.). If there is no specific set of traffic lights giving pedestrians a ‘green phase’ to cross the road, then they must wait until there is a gap in the motor traffic and then cross the road as fast as they can manage.

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Even at key tourist sites, pedestrians are all too often left with no help in crossing the road except for a gap in the motor traffic. This is replicated at thousands of junctions daily throughout London and is largely ignored as a problem. 

There is a fantasy world in which official road safety organisations remind people on twitter of pedestrian priority at junctions, but life rumbles on totally disregarding this injunction not to run people down.

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To cross the road in London, wait for a gap in the traffic and then run for your life

Some local authorities recognise there is a problem and have eagerly adopted variations of so-called ‘shared space’. But these schemes have all or nearly all been failures. They don’t tackle the underlying problem and sell the idea that fancy design paving slabs can be effective, when they can’t. The most notorious example is the multi-million pound flop of Exhibition Road in Kensington where thousands of visitors on foot flock to world class museums, only to be squeezed into inadequate, ill-designed pavements and forced to yield to motors at every minor junction.

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The multi-millon pound resurfacing of Exhibition Road has not altered the traditional hierarchy of priority to motors; this van driver could easily have slowed slightly and let the pedestrians cross the junction, but chose not to. 

The key policy objective for anyone who wants to stimulate walking levels in our towns and cities must be to change priorities at junctions.

This can be achieved by a change in the law to give greater legal force to the stipulation in the Highway Code (which is only advisory and is not the law) as recently proposed by British Cycling and Chris Boardman. It’s not clear whether the walking and cycling commissioner and the mayor have the power to effect this legal change and it is unlikely that the present central government will be sympathetic to such sentiments (that would no doubt be reported by the UK’s mainly foreign-owned national press as a ‘war on the motorist’).

Another way to achieve the objective is to re-design junctions, providing ‘continuous footways’ at junctions where physical design of the junction which requires motors to slow right down to cross the raised pavement combined with appropriate give way markings/signs.

This approach is certainly within the power of the mayor and, if the walking and cycling commissioner wants to stimulate walking, the best approach would be to plan a rapid and widespread roll out of installation of continuous footways on TfL roads and to encourage boroughs to adopt the same approach on their roads.

There is a connection here with high-quality cycle infrastructure, as installing such safe cycling space offers the opportunity at the same time to install continuous footways at junctions alongside the Cycleway across the junctions. This would be an appropriate policy for a true walking and cycling commissioner rather than a walking or cycling commissioner. The coming of the Cycleway would also bring significant benefits to pedestrians. There’s a marketing person’s dream combination.

For encouraging people to venture into cycling, too much effort has been focused on marketing and training as a substitute for implementing safe cycling space. Painted cycle routes are also popular with local authorities but make no effective difference in conditions for people wanting to cycle but fearing the mad chaos of the present system of mixing with motors going at much higher speeds.

London’s failing new largely painted ‘Quietways’ are yet another example of how the real issue has been dodged. They contrast, however, with the much higher quality of some of the new ‘Cycle-super-highways’ (unfortunately, with an absurdly over-hyped name). These are in fact near bog-standard ‘Cycleways’ of the sort that have been standard in places such as the Netherlands, Denmark and elsewhere. There’s nothing ‘super highway’ about them, rather they are just good old effective every day design.

And, they have had the same result here as in those other countries: more people cycling. Those on bikes now account for 70% of traffic on Blackfriars Bridge and all the high-quality Cycleways have seen big increases in use.

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The previous mayor and his commissioner made real achievements – will their successors have the same political will?

However, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been less than enthusiastic about Cycleways, preferring to put some of his ‘eggs’ (his word) into the ineffective (because politically unchallenging) Quietways and rolling back, or currently appearing to roll back, on some of the Cycleways in the planning pipeline.

Will the new walking and cycling commissioner throw his weight behind more Cycleways? Or will he fall in line with TfL and the mayor in promoting projects that do not engender Nimby opposition from the decaying black cab trade and a few local people who claim that any provision of safe cycle routes would, for example, prevent them from getting from Swiss Cottage to ‘Theatreland’ (they apparently being unable to conceive of using the tube, bus or bike). Will he be able to take on the forces of stasis within TfL, who can call on all sorts of bureaucratic tricks to stymie any progress, and it looks likely, from the Mayor’s office too? Or will he cave in to the loud Nimby lobby?

The Nimbys loudly proclaim Armageddon if any tiny sliver of road space is not devoted exclusively to motor vehicles. But when Camden Council consulted on its proposal to upgrade the Tavistock Place cycle scheme, it received a record number of responses to a consultation, some 15,000 in all or which 70% supported the scheme. People like Cycleways because they can imagine themselves cycling on such cycle tracks when most would shrink from cycling on roads mixed with motor traffic.

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Support was expressed by 70% of respondents, in a record 15,000 responses, to Camden’s consultation on upgrading the Tavistock Place cycleway

The intellectual argument in favour of Cycleways (and progressive filtering projects such as the successful ‘Mini-Holland’ scheme in Waltham Forest) has been won. We don’t need another round of Paintways (as the Quietways mainly are) in London, just more safe cycling space.

We must all wish the new commissioner well. He is undertaking a formidable task and must find the intellectual and organisational wherewithal to overcome some of the fiercest resistance to be encountered in any public role in London today.

The commissioner’s public CV suggests he has a strong background in the marketing of getting people to be active. No doubt this will have its uses, but he will need to grasp that he can succeed in his job only by concentrating on what he can influence, namely infrastructure.

Fortunately, safe attractive infrastructure just happens to be the best, most effective means of achieving more cycling and more walking. If he adopts the right policies and effectively stimulates cycling and walking in the traditionally hostile environment of London’s roads, truly tackles the barriers to change, Will Norman will make an international reputation for himself (equivalent to that of Derek Turner who was in place when London’s congestion charge was introduced and became a global consultant on congestion charging).

More importantly, for Londoners the prize would be a more liveable city – a city fit and prepared for the sustainability challenges that it will face in the next few decades.

I must publicly acknowledge that when Andrew Gilligan was first appointed as Boris Johnson’s cycling commissioner I was highly sceptical that a mere journalist would have the heft and guile needed to overcome the tenacious opposition to Cycleways that I knew existed within TfL. Well I’m delighted to say that I was wrong.

I wish Will Norman the same success. Get to it Will and the best of British luck – you’ll sure need it.

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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

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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.”

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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.

https://consultations.wearecamden.org/corporate-services/torrington-place-tavistock-place-route-proposed-im/supporting_documents/Detailed%20information.pdf

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)

https://letzterkunstgriff.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/re-bus-stop-protest-support.pdf

and Tom Kearney (@comadad)

https://twitter.com/comadad/status/775684979498029057

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.

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

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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).

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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!”

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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.”

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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?”

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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.

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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?”

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.