Saturday, 30 July 2011

Battle of Blackfriars - is the message confused?

I had to think long and hard before posting this - I am aware that not all people will agree with what I am about to say, maybe no-one will. But I want to put this thought out there - even if you don't agree with it, at least know that what I say, is said with the best intentions.

Let me start off by saying that I was there at Blackfriars on Friday 29/6/11. I felt it was important to make a stand against 
1) lack of democracy 
2) that planners should start to take the bike into more account when designing road layouts.

For me Blackfriars Bridge represents a strong position for cyclists - here we can say that without any doubt we represent a significant amount of traffic (16% overall and around 60% during rush hour). As far as I am concerned we have the bums on seats here and we have a right to demand reasonable allocation of resources and planning consideration.

I have posted a few pictures I took whilst there, in this post (hope you get to see yourself in them, as I have spectacularly failed to do in all other photos or news coverage). Sorry for the poor quality but I only had my iPhone on me.

On the Demo, a few questions initially sprung to mind - why did we head off to Waterloo afterwards? Given that TfL are based a few hundred meters South of Blackfriars Bridge I think it would have been far better to meet up there or at least ride past them as they cross the road to Southwark tube station. 

As an aside when I was at the LDA I used to work in that building too (between you and me, on my way to our I.T. area which was on the same floor as TfL I used to always grab a few of their biscuits on the sly).

The demonstration was the first ever that I have been too, I don't do sedition that well and I am generally speaking not a fan of it - as far as I am concerned we live in a democracy (or as best as can be achieved) and although we don't necessarily like all the decisions made, we have to suck it up and deal with it. But because I felt (as mentioned before) that there was no evidence of real democracy having taken place - more like the asking and then ignoring of what was said. 

A similar example to this (although you will not like this) was the expansion of the congestion charge West - people were consulted, they voted and responded overwhelmingly against it - then Mayor Ken went ahead and installed it. Now I know Boris removed it - in my mind this was the right and democratic thing to do - but if this is the case and he is going to remain consistent then he has to halt and rethink the Blackfriars design. But both are examples of TfL going ahead with something against peoples wishes.

Anyway for the first time in my 45 years I went "on a demo". I think I felt like a vast majority of people there - I really was unhappy to have to screw up other peoples journey home - I saw many cyclists trying to wave at cars on the other side of the bridge and be polite to them, well aware that they were probably not feeling the love for us. I have a feeling many were like me and did not in general support the idea of demo's (on the bright side at least the "Socialist Worker" didn't feel like joining in and smashing up a few shop fronts in our name).

So there you have it - I supported the demo and I hope you understand I am on the side of the cyclist -now having made my excuses I shall go back to my main point. I think the message being given out is confused and not one that is going to win over the majority. Given that cycling accounts for 1% to 2% of overall journeys made, we therefore need friends - we need the motorist to support us! 

I wish I could hear more often about the benefits to car drivers from more people using bikes - if you are wedded to your car - wouldn't you support people who, if their number grew, would mean a big drop in congestion. Also what about, if in the busy sections of town there was segregated infrastructure - that way you can zoom along your merry way with only speed cameras to worry about.

Yet when I read all the news from the demo - the main talking point seemed to be about the 20mph speed limit. To me, far more important was to get the message about sensible design and infrastructure for the cyclist, this is what is needed.

Whether we like it or not - whether we think it makes total sense - no matter what we think, only a minority of drivers are going to want to see a 20 mph speed limit. They are going to turn round and say why should the 98% of other road users going to have a 1/3 cut in speed limit for the sake of 2% (and yes it is not going to come into their mind about pedestrians).

I was very aware of this feeling when Mayor Boris made his comments on the design of the Bridge and asking for a rethink - he was careful in how he chose his words making sure he did not align himself with the 20mph speed limit - the man is not a fool by any means, and he is not going to alienate himself from all the car users - and before we all go and get into a "class" argument. Nowadays most people rich and poor have a car of some description or another.

For me I would have much rather seen a simple and clear message go out there - we want properly designed roads, and sufficient infrastructure not only for current cyclists but also to help promote cycling as a form of transport over the coming years. Blackfriars is an excellent opportunity for us to unite and say we cannot be ignored on this request, but I feel we are doomed to failure if we muddy this argument with a blanket 20mph speed limit - that will become the focus (as it is rapidly becoming on Blackfriars Bridge) and any positive steps forward that could achieve will be lost.

Please note I am not saying a 20mph speed limit would not be a benefit to cyclists or improve road safety - I am talking here about sending out a popular and winnable political message right now.

OK flame on if you have to.


  1. Hope this doesn't come across as a flame, I intend it to be constructive...

    re. "Nowadays most people rich and poor have a car of some description or another."
    I don't believe this is true nowadays, where I live it is less than 50% and car ownership levels are declining. Even if it is true in London, why can't we be learn from the enlightened European cities where lots of people own cars but choose to hardly use them because the alternatives are superior ?

    I'm a supporter of 20's Plenty, and think it's a great soundbite, but agree there's a bigger issue here. A 20mph limit should only form part of the solution when considering how this road (and pavement) space can be best shared in a safe and efficient manner that considers all users.

    This iconic bridge and its 'consultation process' offer a great opportunity for a progressive solution instead of the usual 'build it (for motors) and they will come' - already proven to lead to more congestion and more parking problems.
    It would be good if that message could be put across in a digestible soundbyte, something like 'People matter', ie. take the people's views seriously, and count the number of people crossing the bridge rather than choosing to focus on counting the motor vehicles.

    The cultural change of the road's users needs to be addressed too but this may not be possible until the alternatives improve, we maybe in a catch 22 situation at the moment. Some people readily create and then complain about congestion 10 times a week. These same people often feel they are dependent on their car even if it is not the most effective form of transport for them.

    An intervention is needed and we need the authorities to make the first step.

    Thank you Londoners. Good luck and keep up your efforts!

  2. Hi Jonathan - no it doesn't come over as a flame and thanks for the comment. I agree in fact with everything you say.

    I suppose you could be right when you talk about car ownership - to be honest I was only basing it on the area I live in.

    I think my only difference is in the timing of the 20mph message with respect to Blackfriars - I was quite disappointed when I looked at the news coverage and saw them focusing on the 20mph limit much more (in my opinion) than telling TfL to start road planning that takes cyclist and pedestrians into account.

    I would say out of London Friends 30% cycle at weekends and 20% are regular like me. But 50% care not at all about the bike, and quite a few (they tend to be car commuters) are quite anti the cyclists. I am working on them to show them the benefits to them of having cyclists, as long as they are on a sensible road system.

    On the bright side you have given me an idea for a great cartoon - now all I need is some artistic talent.

  3. Hi, totally agree with what you are saying and have tweeted to that effect too. 20mph is the wrong issue, if it's even an issue at all for blackfriars, south to the north in the morning and car lane is stationary or crawl and motorbikes speed down the bus lane at over 30.

    I am also not entirely sure what people are excting as a solution to turning right onto queen victoria st, what ever the solution at some point cyclists will have to cross the traffic flow. They tried it with the "killer" cycle lane down the middle before and look how that went.

    Daily I see people having problems when cycling because they dont think about their positioning for the right turn until they are at the junction where if the lights are red it's fine but if not they have to cross moving traffic. My usual plan of action is to start looking back over my shoulder half way accross and looking for a space to cut accross the bus lane and possibly also fully to the right of the main traffic lane early. I do not have issue with the junction, but I am an experienced cyclist with over 10 years cycling in london traffic.

    Maybe rather than expecting tfl to come up with a magic design for the junction more training for cyclists is the answer, teaching them awareness and positioning as this seems to be what many are lacking. I watch so many oblivious to what is happening to the side or behind them, many never ever glance back...