Bike City Amsterdam – a Manual for Changing the World

The day I received a copy of a book I had ordered on the history of cycling in the dutch capital city, Bike City Amsterdam, I also happened to read a very brief summation of that story by London-based journalist, Dave Hill, in his On London blog. Hill is a frequent critic of physically separated cycle lanes which form an important part of Amsterdam’s renowned cycle network. He comments that Amsterdam’s cycle network ‘emerged from a long period of quarrels and compromises in which lanes were installed to discipline cyclists rather than to liberate them’ (

Overtoom, Amsterdam, 2020 (Photo Ken Wynn)

This rather surprised me as I’d not come across such sentiment previously as a motivation behind the development of an admirable bike network in the Netherlands in general and Amsterdam in particular. So the arrival of Bike City Amsterdam, by Fred Feddes (in collaboration with Marjolein de Lange) was a serendipitous coincidence. The book is subtitled How Amsterdam became the Cycling Capital of the World and chronicles the social and political forces the came together to create Europe’s best known cycling city. However, distinctly absent from Feddes’s account is any suggestion that the city got its network to discipline cyclists, rather than as the work of activists and others who sought to make cycling safe and attractive and to establish cycling as an essential means of transport in the modern urban environment.

I tweeted Dave Hill asking him if he could share details of the source(s) of his assertion. Not getting a reply, I’ve now tweeted him two further times, but again with no response. I leave the invitation to respond open, so Dave, if you are reading this, please feel free to use the comments option to reveal your source(s) and add to the richness of our understanding of how cities adopt pro-cycling policies.

It’s easy for foreigners to view cycling in the Netherlands as something that is done by everyone and to imagine that the entire population are avid cyclists. But, as Hill correctly points out, cycling in the Netherlands, as elsewhere, is a contested activity and many aspects of cycle policy have been and still are being quarrelled over in the self-proclaimed ‘cycling capital of the world’. One interesting chapter in Bike City Amsterdam recounts the bitter ten-year struggle to preserve a cycle passageway under the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Some of those who wanted to scrap or divert the cycle route used such terms as ‘bicycle terrorism’ and ‘bicycle fundamentalism’ to describe supporters of retaining the cycle route in opposition to the desires of the museum management to divert it. These are terms we in the UK are used to hearing from London’s cab drivers and anti-cycling councillors, but don’t really expect to hear used across the North Sea.

Weteringscircuit is the junction between Weteringschans and Vijzelgracht just north of the Heineken brewery, it was completely redesigned to accommodate the fietstraat installed on Weteringschans, a crossroad of trams and also the metro station of the new Noord-Zuid line (Photo Ken Wynn)

The Amsterdam motor lobby has fought hard over the years to resist the advances made by bicycle campaigners and it must be acknowledged criticisms are indeed voiced about unruly cyclists. Despite that, foreign visitors to Amsterdam cannot fail to notice the prevalence of the bicycle on the city’s streets (and in other Dutch towns and cities too). Foreign bicycle activists are especially impressed and jealous of the seemingly ubiquitous and high-quality of bicycle infrastructure.

Bike City Amsterdam certainly contains a lot of material that will be of interest to what British cycle campaigners call ‘kerb nerds’ – activists who develop a deep knowledge of the technicalities of cycle track design and the like. However, I hardly mention this sort of matter in this review of the book, hoping instead to convey something of the historical dynamics of social change recounted in its pages.

It’s all too easy to say, as many have done – even including some leading cycle campaigners – that Amsterdam has its bike network because cycling is deep in the Dutch culture. This, of course, is intended to imply that it will be impossible to replicate cycle networks in countries which lack that culture and that we should not bother to try. So it is important to get a valid assessment of how Amsterdam became such an iconic cycle city.

Weteringscircuit (Photo Ken Wynn)

Feddes describes how Amsterdam got its bike network, not from an inherent cycling culture, but due to a convergence of various social and political forces. As he writes, ‘Amsterdam could have ended up looking like car-dominated cities such as London, Paris, Madrid or Hamburg, where some space could only be created [for bicycles] later with a lot of effort … but in the end a different course was taken. There was no single cause for this reversal; instead it was the outcome of a confluence of some fortunate, semi-accidental and semi-deliberate factors.’

Ceintuurbaan (Photo Ken Wynn)

About the nearest that I came to finding anything in the book to substantiate Hill’s assertion about disciplining cyclists dates from the 1930s. A city transport planner is cited as saying that ‘The bicycle is an ideal means of transport for its rider. The tractability and small size of this vehicle, however, enable the cyclist to use it in all kinds of “individualistic manners” that make this means of transport extremely unruly and unmanageable for the experts.’

By the 1950 and 1960s, national Dutch transport policy aimed to facilitate the growth of the motor car as the key means of personal transport. Cycling was seen as an old-fashioned, outdated means of transport that was set to disappear from the streets. The British Buchanan report was a major influence on Dutch planners. Buchanan is cited observing that, ‘for obvious reasons of safety and the free flow of vehicular traffic’ it made sense to keep bicycles away from motor vehicles – but he opposed the means of doing so. ‘It would,’ he said, ‘ be very expensive, and probably impracticable, to build a completely separate system of tracks for cyclists.’

Ceintuurbaan (Photo Ken Wynn)

In the 1950s Dutch town planners often wanted to demolish existing city and town centres to make space for the expressways necessitated to cater for motor vehicle traffic, and without room for the bicycle. Plans were presented that would have driven highways through the middle of Amsterdam, requiring the demolition of swathes of the historic city centre. Feddes even observes that, ‘Occasionally one can note some sense of jealousy of bombed-out cities like Rotterdam, which had much more flexibility in terms of modern traffic planning.’ In some cities, such as the Hague, canals were filled in to be converted into roads.

However, such proposals roused opposition from those wanted to preserve the beauty of Dutch towns and cities. Here was the first sign of resistance, indirectly, to the forward march of the car.

Canal side parking, Amsterdam 1996. In the 1950s the city chief of police proposed filling in several city centre canals to convert into roads

As well as new roads, policy also discouraged cycling. ‘The repression suffered by the bicycle was visible everywhere’, says Feddes. ‘In 1960 [Amsterdam] City Council ruled that the narrow Leidsestraat had become too busy to allow unrestricted access to all types of traffic, namely trams, cars, bicycles and pedestrians.’ Their conclusion was to ban bikes. ‘Policy makers, urban planners, traffic engineers and futurologists announced that cycling as a form of transport was dead … many forward-thinking experts were secretly happy that the bike was on its way out, because it was seen as part of the problem and not as a possible solution.’

Feddes quotes one view that ‘a city with excellent public transport will not have to contend with such chaotic street situations [i.e. the presence of bicycles on the streets].’

Dutch journalist Ben Kroon wrote in the 1960s that ‘Until recently the cyclist has had absolutely no status in either traffic or society in general. The Traffic Act treats them like a bothersome fly. … The cyclist was still the pariah of urban traffic and, in anticipation of its inevitable extinction, we had to struggle for survival day in, day out.’ As yet, however, there was no organised resistance to the planned demise of the bicycle.

By the early 1970s a sort of stalemate had been reached. Urban campaigners saw off attempts to demolish city centres, build flyovers or fill in canals. They aimed to protect the city’s heritage from rampant motorisation. ‘For the first time public opinion placed an unequivocal limit on the power of the car to dictate urban development … That in itself did not automatically lead to a bicycle city, but when traffic tensions escalated in the 1960s and 1970s, the hidden benefits of the bicycle were rediscovered.’

Canal side parking, Amsterdam, 1990s

Yet the number of cars on the streets grew apace, crowding the city streets, requiring new, wider roads to drive along and vast areas given over for parking – and all the while exacting a tragic toll of lives lost and fragile flesh and bone crushed in collisions. In 1965 Amsterdam experienced 31,868 traffic accidents with 93 deaths and 5,655 injured. Numbers of victims of the motor vehicle rose relentlessly. Nationally in the Netherlands there were 3,264 fatalities in 1972, 457 of whom were younger than 15 years of age. This was taken as something normal. Little fuss was made about the carnage.

But social changes were also taking place. The city’s social structure was altering, with growing numbers of young adults moving to Amsterdam to study, to get a good job – and to enjoy city life (there is a saying in Dutch: Rotterdam verdient het, Den Haag beheerst het, Amsterdam viert het – Rotterdam earns it, the Hague governs it, Amsterdam parties on it). The incomers moved into the cramped nineteenth century districts, some of whose residents had cycled to work in the docks and factories, but were now encouraged to migrate to newly developed and more spacious suburbs and then often had to drive to work. But many chose not to move and continued to cycle in the city, while others bought cars and clogged the streets. The incomers had cycled as kids in the small towns and villages, and brought their bicycle with them to the big city and found it to be the perfect way to move around the city.

At the same time, social movements such as the ‘Provos’ in the mid-1960s and other activists in the 1970s began to agitate for a better quality of life in the city. Residents in crowded inner city districts began to agitate for ‘play streets’ and to ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ (Stop the Child Killing).

Traffic calmed Amsterdam school environment with two-way cycle track

Over time cycle activism grew in extent and sophistication. On 17 February 1970 twenty-four cargo bikes ‘squeezed their way through rush-hour traffic’ in Amsterdam. ‘Police ordered the riders of these cargo bikes to leave because they were obstructing the traffic. The cyclists refused, claiming that ‘We are commuting to work on our cargo bikes.’ In March another action took place with 50 cargo bikes. And a third was organised in April. As Feddes observes, ‘ The logic annoyed motorists and authorities, but it was hard to refute: how can we be hindering traffic as we are traffic.’ In May and June demonstrations took place with wrecked cars used to block streets. The first call for a bicycle demonstration for a ‘car-free’ city was issued in May 1974. In 1976 a demo attracted 4,000; in 1977 it drew 9,000 and in 1978 a massive 15,000.

Activists also developed expertise in what was needed to make cycling a practical possibility in the age of the motor car. As Feddes observes, ‘Before the car took over, the street layout was simple and clear … The car, when it arrived, occupied much of the space in the street, and introduced stark differences in hardness, speed and vulnerability. The minimalist road design of old turned into a free-for-all where survival of he fittest was the only rule. Making the street suitable again for every road user required a thorough redesign. This was no minor task. The car had rapidly acquired a customary right to public space, which was vigorously defended by both business people and the growing number of ordinary car-owners in Amsterdam.’

The School Run’, Amsterdam style

Proposals were lodged with the City Council to treat the bicycle as a ‘full-fledged alternative in public transport.’ The transport brief in the city had traditionally been given to the PvdA (Labour Party) and its appointees had favoured policies leading to the ‘democratisation’ of the car and the building of suburbs requiring the use of the car. But some planners officials and politicians began to question the wisdom of rampant pro-car policies. The key development came in 1978 when PvdA aldermen were appointed to planning and transport posts who were committed to changing the priority given to the motor vehicle in the city. With this change of political policy-making, ‘The powerful Public Works Department suddenly became a bastion of outdated expertise, overtaken by new concepts and different forms of developing skills and knowledge.’

The PvdA began to embrace a pro-social policy favouring the less powerful – women (the majority of cyclists), children and the elderly. According to the ‘Bicycle Memorandum’, defending the interests of the bicycle was not for the sake of a minority, it was for the common good.’

However, ‘Reaching the heart of power did not mean that cyclists had already won the battle … They remained a vulnerable party in the conflict being fought out there. Nevertheless, the defence of the bicycle had shifted from the radical margins to the political centre.’

De Lairessestraat, at Valeriusplein (Photo Ken Wynn)

So the key point is the convergence of these various social and political forces: cycle activism (who agitated for change and provided technical expertise te professionals lacked); resident campaigns for safety and environmental improvement; city preservation lobbying; and modernisation of social policies in political parties. There was obviously some joint participation by individuals in more than one of these social currents, but they grew initially somewhat independently.

Plans were developed for a comprehensive cycle network. Car traffic in residential neighbourhoods was to be limited by concentrating through traffic onto main roads. ‘Tackling the parked car proved to be the best starting point.’ However, reducing car ownership was never really treated as an essential policy. The motor lobby campaigned against promotion of cycle space under the slogan, ‘Blij dat ik rij’ (Happy that I drive).

Over the next few decades, as more and more cycle-friendly infrastructure was introduced, cycling levels grew and, from the mid-1990s, car travel declined. In 1986-91 the average number of bike trips in the city on a working day was 470,000; in 2000 that number had reached 600,000 and by 2015 it topped 710,000.

Plans for a comprehensive bicycle network for Amsterdam, 1983

The success of the bicycle network has now even begun to create its own problems as capacity of bike lanes proves to be inadequate. New, and often faster, forms of vehicle, such as the fast ‘snorfiets’ (a motorised form of bike/moped) and small cars were legally permitted to use bike lanes. And the spatial dominance of the car was in many respects still in place. In the 2010s of the 45 hectares of space available for transport in Amsterdam 25 percent was devoted to bike lanes, 4 percent to tramways, 20 percent to motors on the move, and a massive 60 percent to parked cars.

Stadhouderskade (Photo Ken Wynn)

In another book, Het Recht van de Snelste (the Right of the Fastest), by T Verkade and M te Brömmelstroet, it is noted that the space allocated to car parking in the whole of the Netherlands is equivalent to the entire area of Amsterdam. 92 percent of that total national parking space is on publicly owned land, mainly ‘on street’. In Amsterdam the market price of a parking place would be Euros 3,600, but the actual cost of an annual city centre parking permit is Euros 535; in Rotterdam it is Euros 69. The data was compiled by the economics writer of De Correspondent, J Frederik, who wrote ‘We must make parking much more expensive … [it would be] the solution to almost everything.’ The book lays out how ‘fast traffic’ still holds a tight grip on national policy-making, something that Bike City Amsterdam only hints at.

The absence of a strategy for reducing car ownership is perhaps the major weakness of Dutch transport policy.

Despite that, nowadays the cycle networks of Amsterdam and other cities, such as Utrecht, are the envy of cycle activists and modern city planners all round the world (as is evident from my twitter timeline with links to campaigners in Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia).

Even as we in the UK think about how we can strive to catch up with Dutch ideas on cycling and the city, the Dutch themselves are looking ahead to where they should be heading. Even Amsterdam faces challenges, as outlined in the book. Among those challenges is an ageing population. Feddes says, Dutch cycle policy now needs to be aimed at making cycling more inclusive. ‘A bicycle city that manages to incorporate an ageing population may well be Amsterdam’s contribution’ to the global challenge of sustainable and equitable mobility. ‘This places specific demands on traffic control and road design, and more generally on the calmness and clearness of traffic … Bicycle friendliness for children and for the elderly is the ultimate benchmark for the liveable and healthy city.’

Stadhouderskade (Photo Ken Wynn)

I recommend Bike City Amsterdam as an essential handbook for how bicycle policy can become effective. It remains necessary to distinguish between specific Dutch/Amsterdam factors and ones that have general applicability, but there is much to learn here from a largely successful political policy-making process. In view of the urgent climate crisis, Amsterdam’s success with cycling is a lesson we all need to learn.

I have drawn out only a fraction of what can be found in this richly packed (and superbly translated) book and Bike City Amsterdam is as good as starting point as you are likely to find for advocates of treating cycling as a fully legitimate form of urban transport. Buy it, read it, learn from it, act upon it.

My thanks to Ken Wynn @highfielder80 for permission to use his photos of the present day cycle network in Amsterdam.


Save Bloomsbury and the ‘Taviplace’ cycle scheme

Thank you to @SaveBloomsbury for taking time to lay out the reasons for your dislike of the ‘Taviplace’ cycle scheme.

To start, I should declare an interest in the matter in that I was responsible in the late 1990s for coming up the idea for the Taviplace cycle route and that on Royal College Street, which introduced to Inner and Central London the use of ‘segregated cycle tracks’ using two-way cycle traffic physically separated from the motor traffic lanes.

The reason for introducing segregated cycle tracks is that cycling mixed with motor traffic, because of the inherent speed differentials, is unattractive to people in general and to women, to older people and to younger people (or their parents) in particular. Those countries which have adopted widespread use of segregated cycle networks have much higher rates of cycling, a balance of genders in the cycling profile, more young people and more older people cycling. Of course, to achieve this effect it is necessary to have extensive, inter-connected networks, something that is only slowly being worked towards in London in particular and the UK in general.

I won’t go into detail of the reasons why governments and local authorities want to increase cycling levels, but in outline, cycling ‘ticks all the boxes’ of tackling congestion, eliminating pollution in terms both of air quality (particles) and greenhouse gases, reducing the strain on the NHS and social care budgets, being cheap for the individual and for government bodies to implement and run, flexible, etc. The need to address congestion, pollution, casualty numbers, etc is being recognized on a global scale and all over government bodies are looking at bringing more balance into the public realm by lessening the traditional dominance of urban space by motor vehicles. This is the context in which Taviplace should be viewed.

However, since it was introduced, as I’m sure you know, the Taviplace two-way track has attracted increasing numbers of cyclists and it soon became clear that the initial implementation was under-resourced. This led to the trial of the present system with two one-way cycle tracks and which Camden Council has confirmed will be made permanent. It was, and as far as I know still is, the intention to re-design the street layout to ensure that the new system radically improves the aesthetic look of the route.

The same location (junction of Tavistock Place & Woburn Place in 199 & 2019

I asked you to layout your reasons for saying in a tweet that, “Nobody contests that the scheme has had benefits – to cyclists. What about everyone else?”

More young and older people and more women are now beginning to cycle on the Taviplace route

I will tackle your points but in a different order from yours which begins by arguing that the traffic circulation layout “means travelling by car is ridiculously convoluted”. This is to reflect the adoption of a new hierarchy of design ideas that reverses the 20th century view that placed the motor vehicle as the top priority of urban street design. This new view puts ‘vulnerable’ road users first, and starts with pedestrians.

It was always recognized that ‘taming’ the area, between Tottenham Court Road and the eastern border of the borough of Camden, by introducing the cycle track(s) would also bring benefits to pedestrians. I was surprised that you didn’t include any issues with the scheme for pedestrians in your points. When I prompted you about this you responded by saying that “I’m not sure it really makes any difference to pedestrians. If anything the unpredictability and general aggressiveness of cyclists makes the streets far more dangerous at rush hour. But at other times there’s little difference.”

I actually take it as a good sign that pedestrian issues hadn’t occurred to you. No doubt if you or others reported issues you would have brought them up without needing to be prompted.

Here we reach my first point of difference with you. There is no doubt that cycle tracks provide for more predictability, not less. This is well attested by research and, as predictability in general is an important factor in road safety, I dispute your view that the scheme is now “more dangerous” than before. So at the top of our design hierarchy the scheme is doing well, as suggested by your unawareness of any problems until prompted.

My own experience is that it is enormously better walking through the area (as I often do going between Euston station and Tottenham Court Road) than it was before the cycle track was installed. As the area is heavily used by pedestrians going to work, college, hospital, shops, cinemas etc., the motor traffic reduction aspects of the scheme alone would mark it out as one of the most important and welcome recent developments in Central London.

It is worthwhile noting that Torrington Place is effectively a main road running through the centre of a university campus; a crazy concept when you think about it. Students began campaigning about this since the 1950s as this video, unearthed by @cycleoptic, shows. I’m greatly heartened to say that the cycle route scheme has achieved so much in this respect – even if the level of motor traffic outside Waterstones remains excessive.

The length of the motor vehicle queue if it contained as many motor vehicles as there are cycle waiting at the red light.

The second level in the rebalanced hierarchy is cyclists. I can certainly agree your comment that “Nobody contests that the scheme has had benefits – to cyclists.”

The ever increasing number of cyclists using the route demonstrates how much the facilities, despite a number of less than perfect points, is welcome to people who want to be able to cycle in safety and in that respect the scheme meets its primary objective of stimulating cycling levels in a previously hostile urban environment. As you found no fault with the scheme as far as cycling is concerned we can move on to deal with your points relating to motor traffic.

The refuse collection issues should by no means be unsolvable. Cycle tracks are widely used throughout many parts of continental Europe and solutions to any problems can be devised given goodwill, if necessary by adopting good practice from our former EU partners.

My own preference would be for refuse trucks to use the motor lane to ensure that cycle traffic is not badly disrupted especially as the number of users grows apace. This would only delay motor users for short periods and would be no different from the situation found in many narrow roads found throughout our now sovereign realm. An alternative would be for the trucks to use the eastbound cycle lane as this would not necessitate cyclists to have to advance head on into oncoming motor traffic as this is obviously particularly dangerous.

As for the “no stop” zone, I think the problem is less severe than you imply. It doesn’t arise from the junction with Gower Street through to the junction with Woburn Place as side road deliveries/servicing is applicable to all the businesses as far as I can see (for example the Tavistock Hotel is fully serviced from side streets with only guests using Tavistock Place and arrangements have been implemented here). Similarly it’s not clear that any businesses on the northern side of the road are badly affected. On the southern side of the road and east to Marchmont Street and on to Judd Street, businesses can be serviced from side roads at short distances. In special cases where unusually large loads are involved special arrangements can be made.

We should note, in contrasts, that there can be many benefits for businesses that spot how to make cost-savings and efficiencies thanks to the cycle route. We can see this happening with the growing number of ‘cargo bikes’ being used in the area.

An increasing number of local businesses is beginning to benefit from the significant cost savings they can make by using bike deliveries for small to medium loads

I spoke to the cyclist with the cargo bike seen in the upper photo. He told me he works for a small chain of coffee shops who have a couple of outlets in the area. Previously deliveries to the shops from one point were made by van, but now can be done with the cargo bike. The cost-savings of having a bike (no VED, no MOT, low insurance, enormously cheaper maintenance, much cheaper parking – perhaps eliminating parking costs by leaving the bike inside one of the shops overnight – & importantly healthier, fitter & happier staff) over motor transport are significant. Go ahead businesses finding real gains in many different business sectors.

Regarding “traffic circulation problems causing huge delays in journey times for emergency services”, I am not aware of any specific reports of delays due to the circulation pattern. The underlying determinant factor with delays is the same as it has been for some decades – primarily by excess motor traffic and secondarily by all manner of road and utility works.

The introduction of two-way working on Tottenham Court Road, restricted to buses and cycles during the day (plus taxi access), should offer a pretty unobstructed run for emergency vehicles on that road.

It is often the pattern of revised road layouts that any ‘losses’ (in the sense of longer journey times) are offset by ‘gains’ (i.e. shorter journey times) in different directions, thus making an overall ‘net neutral’ effect.

The same applies to the first point you raise, and which in the hierarchy, comes further down, private motor traffic. Any inconvenience in terms of longer ingress routes is likely to be balanced by shorter egress routes.

Obviously for people who rely on cars in inner city areas there will often be issues of restricted mobility, though for many residents those issues are offset by the many great advantages of having the facilities of that city close to home – whether it be University College Hospital, University College of London, the British Museum, Tottenham Court Road, etc., etc.

Another important factor in this area is that car ownership levels are among the lowest in the borough and in the city as a whole given the closeness of many facilities. It is well established that car ownership is also lowest among the less affluent and the young; it also drops off with ageing. It is all too easy to overlook these aspects of society given the visual effect of the presence of lots of cars which take up lots of public space while serving a minority of people.

Figures show that Bloomsbury and Kings Cross wards have 0.2 cars per household (i.e. 1 in 5 households own a car and 4 in 5 don’t), compared with 0.5 in Camden borough as a whole and 0.8 in London as a whole. It’s also interesting to note that Bloomsbury has extremely good access to public transport, calculated as 8.0 for the ward (Kings Cross 7.8), compared with 5.7 for the borough and 3.8 for the whole city. These figures underline the need for the rebalance of the public road space following several decades of providing primarily for the minority that uses private cars to get around the inner city.

Some friends stayed in the Tavistock Hotel for a few days in the summer of last year. They live in a pretty quiet rural area and were worried whether they would find it hard to sleep in noisy Central London. However, they were overjoyed to find that they could even leave the window open (yeah, these hardy rural types, eh!). They said there was a constant background roar of noise from the direction of Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road – but not enough to prevent sleeping, and comparatively quiet immediate area. They were delighted and refreshed and spent a petty sum in local restaurants and shops given the unexpectedly peaceful environment of the area. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like if all night there had been cars and vans running up and down the road outside the hotel – we would never have slept,” one said to me.

The calm inner city location of the Taviplace cycle route

As city dwellers we may find it easy to overlook this, but studies show that, even if one can ‘switch off’ to continuous loud noise, it does still have a deleterious effect on one’s long-term mental well-being. It is all too easy to overlook such benefits brought by large-scale traffic-calming schemes such as this cycle route – indeed as easy to overlook as the great advantages the scheme has brought to pedestrians and adaptable businesses as well as to cyclists.

Finally, I need to comment on some misapprehensions you hold that are evident from your remarks. You say, “you might say that ‘anyway shouldn’t everyone be walking or cycling?’ We have an ageing population in Bloomsbury and King’s Cross with mobility issues and also blind people visiting the RNIB. For them there is no choice but to use vehicles.”

This is a very common argument but it is a ‘straw man’. No one has ever said that everyone must walk or cycle. It is blindingly obvious to all that some people cannot do either and must be catered for (though it is important to note that they are more likely to be in households without a car). But, just as no one would argue that not everyone can drive, therefore there should be no roads, it’s is illogical to argue tht not everyone can cycle, therefore there should be no safe cycling facilities or that not everyone can walk therefore there should be no pavements.

It is also important to acknowledge that, maybe not many, but some blind people – admirably brave souls one must say – do venture to travel by public transport and we should do all to help encourage such independence. I find it is inappropriate to make a jibe about blind people cycling as you did in one tweet.

Similarly, in greater numbers for sure, many elderly people can and would like to be able to stay active and independent. Many people in the Netherlands carry on cycling well into their late 80s and numbers have risen considerably with the availability in recent years of e-bikes, and it is very important with our ageing demographic to give people all the help they want and need to stay active and thus healthier. The provision of safe, calm cycle tracks is again the key here. Indeed we are already seeing local residents use teh cycle route for the ‘school run’.

Parents are now increasingly willing to use the cycle route for the ‘school run’ – something unimaginable without the safe, segregated cycle route

Of course, let it be repeated, not everyone wants to or can cycle, even with safe cycle tracks, and we must ensure that people in this situation must be able to maintain mobility in whatever ways they need. But you are completely wrong when you say that an ageing population is an argument against the cycle scheme.

To conclude, we may continue not to see eye to eye about it, but I hope I have explained the wider thinking and the multi-layered nature of what we are trying to achieve. I do ask you to consider that the inconvenience of slightly longer journey times can be balanced out by the great benefits to everyone in general and even, to you as you get used to the scheme, bringing benefits to you too that you currently haven’t thought about, such as quiet nights, cleaner air, calmer streets and happier, healthier people. Thank you for your attention.

‘Taviplace’ Cycle Route – Where Next?

A bike path is only one stage in a journey, not a destination.

It’s easy, when you spend a lot of time and effort campaigning for the installation of a bike path (by which I mean a safe, separated, Dutch-style bike path), with the necessary intense focus on the technical detail as well as the politics, to see the bike path as an achievement in itself.

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 10.18.02

Once the path is in situ and after sorting out the inevitable snags, you should reasonably be able to be relieved of the slog of fighting for agreement with the local authority and overcoming the guaranteed irrational NIMBYist opposition, and that you’ll be able to ‘sit back’ and enjoy safer, more pleasant cycling instead of attending endless numbers of public gatherings, site meetings and press calls.

But, life’s not like that. A bike path is not an end, but just one step in a long journey.

The ‘Taviplace’ cycle route in the Bloomsbury area of central London, is in the midst of a contested upgrade. The local council, and Camden Cycling Campaign, want to upgrade the route from a single two-way cycle path to a pair of one-way cycle paths (with motor traffic restricted to one direction, namely east bound for most of the route). This has been trialed in a simple form (using ‘armadillos’) for the last year or two – and has worked very well.

But opposition from the ‘usual suspects’ (taxi drivers, the Tavistock Hotel, the Bloomsbury Residents’ Action Group, etc) led to a public inquiry. The inspector concluded that the new scheme should not be given the go ahead. But the inspector did say that if the direction of motor traffic flow was reversed (i.e. to run westbound), it should go ahead.

Camden Cycling Campaign has argued that having motor traffic running westbound has major disadvantages. It is now up to Camden Council to decide what to do and whether to reject the inspector’s flawed judgment or not. CCC’s comments can be seen here:

Whatever the Council decides it is clear that the demand for cycling is simply far too high to be catered for in a single two-way cycle track – indeed that was the primary reason why the Council proposed the upgrade.

In some form or other, the two one-way cycle paths scheme must go ahead.

It’s worth briefly looking at the history of the Taviplace cycle route.

Back in the Dark Ages of cycling in London, some 25 years ago, two one-way painted cycle lanes were provided on either side of the roads making up the Taviplace route.

With constant parking in the lanes, taxis picking up and setting down ‘fares’, vans stopping to make deliveries, the painted lanes were as useless here as they have proved to be everywhere.

Taviplace pre-2000 – time-limted painted ‘London cycle network’ lanes 

Camden Cycling Campaign in the late 1990s proposed to Camden Council that a two-way separated cycle path was needed and after a couple of years of campaigning, and with the critical support of some progressive councillors, Camden Council took the decision in 2000 to implement the scheme.

It should be remembered that at that time there was no London Mayor or London Assembly and decisions about cycling projects lay with the Government Office for London with boroughs give some degree of manouevre for local schemes. Which gave space for Camden Council to take the brave decision to proceed.

The GoL representative at one of the many meetings that led to Camden’s Council’s historic decision, said that he agreed that it was a ‘nice idea’ and he personally would use it, but that he was sure that there was no demand as most people didn’t want to cycle.

Fortunately he was proved wrong in a short time and the route rapidly became one of London’s busiest cycle routes with 1,000 cycle users in the morning peak period. Cyclists voted with their wheels that safe, separated cycle paths were the route they wanted to follow. It’s also worth pointing out that the availability of safe cycling paths has encouraged ‘modal shift’ – or ‘motor traffic evaporation’ – as small and large companies see that they can ditch expensive motor vans for local deliveries and use cargo bikes instead.

Taviplace two-way separated cycle path, post-2000

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As elsewhere in London, such as the two-way cycle tracks on the Embankment, the policy of introducing safe, separated cycle paths is a resounding success – less congestion, less pollution ad more people travelling with a cheap, healthy mode of transport.

‘CS3’ two-way cycle path, Embankment, Westminster has had over one million cyclists using it in the period between mid-February ad mid-July 2018,.

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However, the Taviplace two-way cycle path was provig to be too narrow for two-way traffic and as numbers of users built up it became obvious that space for cycling was under-resourced (actually the term used was ‘over-crowded’ – but that’s the wrong way to look at it).

After much campaigning by Camden Cycling Campaign, the Council agreed that a more radical approach was needed and that they should upgrade the scheme to two one-way tracks and with motor traffic should be restricted to one direction. Which brings us back to where we began this posting and the unsatisfactory conclusion of the public inquiry.

We are thus currently at a standstill of sorts, except that London’s traffic crisis cannot be allowed to stand still as the city continues to grow, there’s tens of thousands more minicabs on the streets and thousands more vans doing deliveries. Also, though an often disregarded factor, cars and motor vehicles are getting bigger and bigger (so-called ‘super-sizing’) thus taking up more space and adding to congestion.

Taviplace two one-way cycle paths, post 2017

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Something has to give and re-allocating space along the Taviplace ‘corridor’ is an obvious approach. So it is hoped that Camden Council as the courage to do what it knows is right and goes ahead with its proposals.

If it does, then can we sit back and simply enjoy another building block having been put in place to introduce sustainable, non-polluting, non-congestion-inducing transport in the capital?

Well, the answer is ‘no’. Even while planning and, hopefully, implementing the two one-way system it is increasingly obvious that cycle demand will before long outstrip the capacity that even the two one-way paths are going to provide. This means that we should be thinking already about the next upgrade.

It’s worth noting that this is not a mark of failure but of success. The original single two-way path was proposed back in 1998 in the expectation that it would, sooner or later, prove to be inadequate and need upgrading to two one-way paths.

It is already obvious in the morning peak period that the number of people cycling westbound is just about practically catered for by the narrow cycle path. Standing at the junction of Tavistock Place and Woburn Place and looking eastwards in the morning peak period, there is a steady path-filling quantity of cyclists heading west – and fed by a considerable number of cyclists coming out of Judd Street onto Tavistock Place.

Camden Council has recently given the go-ahead for building cycle paths on Judd Street that will link in with safe cycle routes coming from Camden Town and Kentish Town from north across Euston Road as well as linking up to cycle routes from the south. This will, as we now know for certain, lead to a considerable increase in the number of cyclists using both the Camden Town-Judd Street and the Tavistock Place cycle paths.

Attention thus needs to be given to how to cater for the demand on Tavistock Place in five years time.

Currently, despite the heavy cycle traffic and low levels of motor traffic, motor vehicles are allocated the greater part of the available road space.

Plenty of cyclists now use the route, but many fewer motor vehicles

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Consideration needs to be given to removing all ‘through motor traffic’ (currently only westbound) from the whole Taviplace route allowing only deliveries (where deliveries cannot be catered for by using side roads), resident access and disabled access. By restricting motor traffic to each block on an access only basis through traffic can be removed to the main road a short distance north, Euston Road and motor traffic levels on Teviplace could be drastically reduced.

The concept being evolved in the Netherlands of a ‘fietsstraat’ (literally a ‘cycle-street’) could be usefully borrowed here – just as the idea of using safe, separated cycle paths was borrowed from the Netherlands for ‘phase 1’ of the Taviplace route back at the start of the Age of Cycling Enlightenment in London back in 2000.

Dutch ‘Fietsstraaten’ – ‘cyclestreets’ (photos: Mark Wagenbuur, David Hembrow, Mark Treasure, Cycling Embassy of Great Britain)

It has been said – I don’t know by whom – that to cycle you need to carry on forwards as if you stop you’ll fall off. The same is true of planning for cycle infrastructure – if you stop planning you’ll end up with under-resourced cycle routes and that means retarding sustainable, pollution free urban transport, restraining mobility in the city and encouraging the already chronic motor vehicle-induced congestion that is the bane of London.

Even as decisions are being made about what to do following the Taviplace cycle route upgrade public inquiry, it is necessary to be thinking about planning the next step.

An Open Letter to Michael White

Dear Michael White,

Thank for your response to my question about your views of the new London cycle paths which you say you don’t like as they are ‘frightening to both pedestrians and non young/bloke bikers.’

I’m sorry to hear that this is your view of these cycle paths as, in my opinion, they are precisely the opposite.

First, I must say that your description of them as ‘super cycle commuter highways’ is fundamentally mistaken.

They are not ‘super highways’ but bog-standard European style high-quality, safe separated cycle paths. Additionally they are not designed for specifically for use by commuters but for cyclists of all ages and genders, from 8-85 years of age.

Unfortunately, certain British politicians and the British political/media culture, as you have probably noticed in your job as a political journalist, are addicted to ‘bigging things up’. This has led to them describing the bog standard European style paths as ‘cycle super highways’.

I fear that, in this case, your normally sharp political instinct for spotting a bit of ‘bigging-up’ has failed you and you have fallen for the hype and envisage the cycle paths as the equivalent of motorways designed for speeding motors. This misapprehension led to you hyperbolically tweeting: “Am currently dealing with a TfL super cycle commuter highway proposal which is neither safe, not sensible, let along ‘fair’ to anyone but high-speed commuters biking down our shopping st like lorries through Kent.”

I have been campaigning for Britain to install European style bike paths for some 20 years – but for exactly the opposite reason to that which you ascribe to them. My views were shaped by having lived, in the 1980s, for some years in the Netherlands – the land of the cycle path. The unpleasant experience of cycling mixed with motor traffic, so typical of the UK, was replaced by a much more attractive cycling environment. After returning to Britain I eventually became involved in arguing for the UK to adopt such cycle paths (though never by using the ‘cycle super highway’ label).

Safe cycle paths, it was clear to me from my contrasting experiences of cycling in London and the Hague, meant more cycling, enabling indeed ’mass cycling’, rather than the elitist pastime it was in the UK, skewed towards ‘YAMs’ (young adult males).

A key revelation came when I chanced upon some OECD stats (as you know, one of the core tasks of the OECD is to publish internationally comparative stats) which showed that not only did safe cycling paths mean may more cyclists, but also different cycling demographic with a balance of the genders and many more older and younger cyclists. These stats dated from the 1980s but similar more recent ones show the same underlining that this is a long-standing structural aspect of cycling.

Opposing safe cycle paths, in my opinion, whether intentionally or not, is to back a sexist and an ageist agenda. I’m quite sure that is not what you intend. But it is the effect.

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The experience with London’s new cycle paths backs up this view, with vast increases in the numbers of people cycling, more women cyclists and a wider age range. It is even possible now for youngsters to be able to cycle in central London. And, safe cycling paths make cycling available as an option for many disabled people who cannot easily if at all walk, but can cycle. All this is to be applauded. Not to be denigrated.Photo: Richard Warner

Despite this resounding success (even though the cycle paths remain unlinked up and very few in number) has engendered a fierce backlash from the usual suspects (cabbies, Lords & MPs, the right wing press, motoring organisations, and the backward-looking sections of the mainstream political parties – the ‘establishment’ indeed).

This is why so many cycling campaigners were shocked – and angered – by your inflammatorily worded tweets with their UKIP-style conspiracy overtones (“killer bikes are a growing threat to pedestrians, as we all know but are not allowed to say”… “the bike lobby is aggressive and self-serving”). The anger came because we expected much more intelligent comment from a former Guardian writer.

More serious in my view, however, is your misapprehension of the motivations behind the new cycle paths – the assertion that they are for the “non-young/blokes” when the opposite is true. As I’m sure you understand, change will not occur overnight, but it is already clear that the new cycle lanes have vastly increased the number of cyclists now that you don’t have to be a desensitized, risk-tolerant young male to cycle in London.

Also, it is wrong to say that pedestrians are frightened by the new cycle lanes. Some may initially find them unusual and thus suspect, but that is largely a reaction to change. With time, pedestrians will find they benefit as much as cyclists from separating different streams of traffic making it safer and easier to cross roads.

Compare and contrast the two elderly women in these photos, one from inner city London and the other from inner city Hague. The Londoner is squeezing herself up against a lorry terrified as her attempt failed to cross the road before the motor drivers started to move forward with disregard for her. The Hague pedestrian is alert and taking care to cross the cycle path, but she show no signs of fear. She has crossed the motor lanes already and now just waits for the lights to stop the cycle flow and complete a safe crossing. This is what you are opposing on the grounds that it will ‘frighten pedestrians’ while you are silent on the trials and tribulations of British pensioners trapped by uncrossable roads.

I do find it frustrating that lots of anti-cycle path campaigners only seem interested in pedestrian safety when it serves as a weapon with which to bash cycle paths, but have happily put up with the dire conditions for pedestrians in our towns and cities, where people are required to run across roads at un-signalled junctions and where the UK has long had a dire safety record for pedestrian casualties.

Your tweets, I’m afraid to say, are based on a lack of insight and feed on the irrational opposition that has been engendered towards CS9.

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I may be old-fashioned in these days of urgent twitter-rage, but I expect better from a respected national newspaper journalist. I expect that you would research the subject and find out what actually motivates the campaign for safe cycling facilities – for being a modern European country with proper cycle paths rather than adopting a knee-jerk British exceptionalist approach. My suspicion is that you did not talk to anyone from the “bike lobby” before tweeting.

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I hope the anger you expressed, and which you received in return, could lead to a more sensible discussion of why and how cycling should be encouraged. Don’t let this be the end of your thinking about what is represented by the new cycle paths – liberation for women, young people, older people and indeed non-macho males to be able to cycle in relative safety – but the beginning.

The Nazi Pupil

Dick Woudenberg was the son of a leading member of the wartime Dutch national socialist party (NSB). He was educated for several years at Dutch NSB and then German Nazi schools where he imbued lessons that emphasised the superiority of the “Germanic’ peoples over others, especially Jews and Slavs.

In the last weeks of the war, when Dick was just sixteen years old, he and his class mates were assigned to help defend Germany from Allied and Russian troops. Fortunately for him, his group’s commanding officer kept him and his comrades away from trouble and they ended up being captured uninjured and by British troops (rather than the feared Russian soldiers).

After a while Dick was sent to a ‘re-education’ centre and there he began to learn from Jewish teachers about what had happened to Jewish people during the war and Dick slowly began to realise that he had been taught lies and hatred.

Dick’s story is told in a compelling new book, sadly only available in Dutch, written by journalist Mischa Cohen. Called the Nazi-leerling: de schuldige jeugd van Dick Woudenberg (The Nazi Pupil: the guilty youth of Dick Woudenberg), was published in April this year and was already into its third print run by May.


Dick’s older brother, Jan, whom Dick always looked up to, was not so lucky. He had also been a keen fascist and had willingly joined the Waffen-SS and was sent to the Eastern Front, where he died aged twenty-five.

What worried Dick, gradually as a minor note of doubt even before his capture, but increasingly with time, was whether Jan would have been involved in the murder of Jews and others behind the front. He knew that it was the Waffen-SS that carried out mass executions in the rear of the fighting troops and thus it was likely that Jan would indeed have taken part in such activities.

In his re-evaluation of his own thoughts and beliefs after the war Dick began to appreciate that the most inhuman behaviour could be the work of quite ordinary people. Asking himself, if he had been older or the war had dragged on for longer, would he have taken part in violence, he accepted that he would have obeyed orders. As Cohen writes, ‘the group pressure would have been too great to refuse.’

In other words, Dick realised that it was just an accident of his age that, while his brother probably became an agent of racial violence, he did not.

Dick in fact came from a politically sharply divided family that lived amongst the poverty of the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam.

While Dick’s father was a leading NSB’er, the oldest of Dick’s uncles was a leading social democrat (who survived the war to become a key member of the Dutch Labour Party). Two of Dick’s uncles married Jews (who did not survive the war) and plenty of the two generations had Jewish friends from the local area where they grew up.

Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, were on one side of the family political divide or the other. At a one family funeral they all gathered to send off a deceased relative but did not communicate across the schism. Dick, the young teenager, proffered his hand to a social democrat uncle but he refused to shake hands with the boy, so deep was did the political differences cut into the family.

A few tens of thousands of Dutch people fought for and/or collaborated with the German occupiers of their country and after the war those who had been on the wrong side were socially and economically shunned. Dick actually had to adopt a different surname to get his first job, so toxic was the atmosphere towards those who had become ‘traitors’ to their country.

This is a searing story but one of great relevance to today as we ask how do today’s terrorists get radicalised and how the radical cultures of violence and hatred of others can be countered.

Dick’s transformation was not abrupt, but some troubling little doubts – that had existed even during his period of going along with what he was taught – slowly festered and were encouraged when he encountered other people and other ideas post-1945. This tells us it is important that we engage in debate with far right wing ideas today. Every time you put a question on twitter, say, to a fascist supporter that he or she cannot answer, you sow a seed of doubt though one that may well not blossom for some time.

Dick’s moving story is about how he sloughed off the shell that his Nazi education had encased him in. It is indeed a pity that it is not available in English to win a wider audience for its timely insights.

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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 – ) 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.


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’.


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.






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.




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.


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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




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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Rat run around the University College London campus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LTDA’s leading question

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

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

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

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

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



Cabbie views on the Tavistock Place scheme

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

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

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

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

In the information war, truth is the first casualty.


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

Early reports ( show that cycling levels are increasing on the new TfL routes (just as happened with the earlier Tavistock Place scheme). Chronic congestion on the underground railways is being reduced by people switching to cycling even with the limited short sections of safe protected cycling space that have been installed (calculated to be on about just one-fifth of one percent of London roads).

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

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


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



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

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


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

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