Tuesday, 26 February 2013

It is not acceptable to willingly make a key cycle link between two Cycle Super Highways and the heart of the City of London more dangerous and more intimidating to travel along by bike.

Fenchurch Street in the City of London. Courtesy google maps
At some point today, the City of London Planning Committee will meet to approve a strategy to improve the streets around Fenchurch Street. Much of that plan is good news: it seeks to make the area much better for walking. And, in theory, for cycling.

But there's a rub. And the rub is Fenchurch Street. Fenchurch Street links Bank junction, in the middle of the  Square mile with two Cycle Super Highways that come into the Square Mile from east London. It's a fairly uneventful street but it is easy, direct and works two-ways for people on bikes from end-to-end via Lombard Street, but only one-way for motor vehicles. It's a wide road with a bus route along it. And endless delivery vans and lorries.

The City of London is quite right that parts of this street could be made better for walking and it is proposing to spend between £3-5million alone on improving this street (bear in mind the total budget from the Mayor for cycling in outer London this year is a pathetic £2 million).

Department for Transport recommends
buses and bikes need at least 9 metre
width carriageways to co-exist safely
I profiled the scheme last year when the City of London ran a public consultation about its plans. My concern at the time is that this scheme (and others elsewhere that will be approved over coming months) all involve significant narrowing of the carriageway. In the case of Fenchurch Street, the City has plans to narrow the road to between 6.5 - 7 metres wide. To put that in context, a typical Volvo tipper truck (of which there are hundreds crossing the Square Mile daily) has a 2.5m wide driver's cab. Add in wing mirrors and it's 3.0 metres wide. Put simply, a truck and a bike can't get past each other on a 6.5m wide carriageway. As most people are all too aware, tipper trucks do not mix well with people on bikes and account for a disproportionate number of road deaths in London.


The City has now published the responses to its consultation for the Fenchurch Street plan. Unsurprisingly, the City admits "There was significant comment received regarding the need to improve cycle safety throughout the Strategy area, including a desire for the provision of cycle lanes, particularly in busy locations such as Fenchurch Street and the adjacent junctions.

Many comments were received about restricting traffic in the Strategy area to improve cycle safety and movement. Some responses commented that the draft Strategy did not account adequately for cycling needs and increased footway widths would impact on cycle safety."

Too darn right.

Even the Department for Transport's neolithic Cycle Infrastructure Design guide LTN 2/08 notes that if you want to mix buses, lorries and bikes, you need a nine metre wide carriageway. The Department notes: "Research from the Netherlands (CROW, 2003) shows that motorists driving at 20 mph will often pass cyclists leaving a clearance of only 0.85 metres [and] 1.05 metres when passing at 30 mph. These clearances are not necessarily sufficient for comfort and have been increased to establish the minimum suggested passing distances in Table 2.2 (above)"

Kingsland High Street as it used to look.
Cramped lanes, everyone fighting over the same space.
Courtesy Hackney Plus
Nine metres is the width that Hackney council has adopted on a section of Kingsland High Street, for example, which is a heavily-used bus and bike route. It's not 'Dutch' and it's not perfect. But it gives cyclists and buses and lorries at least enough space to travel in generally separate flows without knocking into each other. The City's plans for Fenchurch Street would do the exact opposite: they'd encourage dangerous overtakes by motor drivers when traffic is flowing and when it isn't, they'd force cyclists to sit stuck in belching traffic fumes unnecessarily.

There's plenty of research to back this up. The Transport Research Laboratory (former government body that is currently testing new cycle infrastructure layouts for Transport for London) wrote a report on "The effect of road narrowings on cyclists" in 2004. The report is pretty damning about the impact road narrowings have on cycling: "road narrowings contribute to the sense that parts of the highway network are inimical to cyclists". Yet the City of London is proposing to narrow the roads to make the environment better for walking and cycling.

Kingsland High Street now. Wide pavements. Carriageway
has no markings. Plenty of space for everyone to flow around
and past each other. 
Although the TRL report is focussed on traffic islands and pinch points rather than whole street narrowings, I think the conclusions are still representative in this case: The Transport Research Laboratory notes that women, in particular, are intimated by road narrowing - 85% of women felt the presence of medium or heavy goods vehicles at road narrowings was "intimidating". It also notes that only 35% of people feel confident enough to "take the lane" i.e. to always cycle in the middle of the lane in order to prevent dangerous overtakes by impatient drivers at road narrowings.

If you take this evidence and apply it to the current plan for Fenchurt Street, it would not be wrong to suggest that the City is proposing to build a street that only 35% of people who cycle will always feel confident enough to use "properly", i.e. by placing themselves directly in front of an HGV.

The result of this sort of road narrowing, says TRL, is that people either don't cycle or they cycle on the pavement where they feel safer. 

City of London cycle planning done well. Bike lane all the
way through Beech Street tunnel, keeps buses, bikes and
goods vehicles apart. 
It's terribly odd that the City authorities don't understand this point. They understood it perfectly in the north of the City of London at Beech Street. This tunnel used to feature two motor vehicle lanes. It now features one lane for motor vehicles and one for bikes. Perfect. Everyone here now has their own stream of traffic. And the City of London admits this has been a huge success. 

The TRL report is just as clear as the Department for Transport that narrowing carriageways in the way that the City of London has proposed at Fenchurch Street is bad news for cycling: "Where narrowing features are provided in order to calm traffic, it is recommended that they should not be installed where they lead to running widths of less than 4m", i.e. not 3.25-3.5 metres as proposed here.

I think that very slowly, the message is getting through to the City of London authorities that narrowing roads is bad news for safe and easy cycling unless you leave sufficient space for people on bikes and people in trucks to flow around and past each other safely.

What gives me some hope is that the minutes of the Fenchurch Street report, presented to the City's Planning Committee says this: "Whilst the Fenchurch Street proposals received significant support, there was also concern raised that a reduction in carriageway width would result in a less safe road environment, particularly for cyclists. The Strategy document has been revised to highlight that whilst there is clear evidence that the pedestrian environment needs improving and increased capacity, this will not be undertaken at the sake of cyclists". 

Good.

If the City goes ahead with its original plans to narrow Fenchurch Street to 6.5 metres, it would be the height of irresponsibility and send the Square Mile in exactly the opposite direction of all prevailing guidance and of what is being practised up the road elsewhere in London.

Let's hope that today's committee meeting agrees with the report that although the pedestrian environment needs improving, it is not acceptable to willingly make a key cycle link between two Cycle Super Highways and the heart of the City of London more dangerous and more intimidating to travel along by bike. 


Saturday, 23 February 2013

The future of Brixton: more car parking, some nice paving slabs. Cycling seems to have been left completely and utterly out in the cold. Fill out Lambeth's questionnaire to ask for a much, much better strategy for cycling and walking in Brixton than this plan.

Brixton town centre - image courtesy Lambeth council. Massive roads, masses of cars. "No space" to
facilitate safe, convenient cycling. 

Earlier this month, Lambeth Council issued its draft strategic plan for Brixton town centre called Future Brixton. The plan comes out at the same time as Lambeth's Local Plan - a document which sets the planning policies for the borough for the next 15 years. A key part of that Local Plan involves infrastructure, including bicycle infrastructure.


Lambeth's broader Local Plan sounds pretty promising. It commits to a compelling vision in support of transport by bike: "Lambeth will promote cycling through improvements to routes, giving greater priority to cyclists in the use of road space, reducing road danger from other transport modes and through improvements to signage and facilities". There is much discussion, too, about improving bicycle parking in town centres and in residential streets and estates. All good stuff and considerably more positive about cycling than the draft Local Plan being developed in the City of London, for example (more on that later this week). 

The Brixton plan has been written within the context of Lambeth's wider Local Plan. You can read all about the Brixton plan on Lambeth's website and fill out the online questionnaire to share your views.  

The Brixton plan is where Lambeth's vision of "promoting cycling through improvements to routes and greater priority to cyclists in the use of road space" should move from lofty strategy to practical detail. 
Masses of bike parking outside the shopping centre 
in Dalston, Hackney. 
Yet Lambeth seems to have no practical plan for cycling in Brixton. There is literally nothing in the Brixton plan that talks about how Lambeth will actually make it safer or more convenient to cycle to Brixton than drive. And nothing in the Brixton plan about promoting cycling through improvements to cycle routes. The entire document is focussed on nicer pavement areas, better lighting and better car parking. Oh, and more bike parking. 

I think it's instructive to have a look at a comparable Strategic Plan - one written by Hackney Council for Dalston town centre. Dalston is similar to Brixton to the extent that it is a busy inner London high street area with a heavy number of bus routes and links to major strategic roads out of London. 

Hackney is extremely clear about how it wants Dalston to function better. It wants to "facilitate ease of movement by improving the network of streets and footpaths to make walking AND CYCLING as safe and pleasant as possible". Hackney talks about creating "seamless connections" between the town centre, its market, shopping centre and other key local points by creating new pedestrian and cycle routes. It has produced a map showing where those routes will be and how they'll benefit people walking and cycling to the area. 


Hackney improved cycle and pedestrian routes 
to Dalston. Lambeth's plan for Brixton seems 
to completely lack any of these intentions.
The Hackney plan involves improving certain junctions to: "facilitate the movement of cyclists along the London Cycle Network", for example. I've seen many of these routes in action. Roads have been closed to through motor traffic; there are new quiet routes linking the town centre with residential areas; and there is masses of bike parking. All of these benefits for cycling also benefit people coming on foot as well. 

Lambeth's plan in Brixton starts out sounding full of promise. It describes how "greater emphasis and priority will be given to pedestrians and cyclists across the town". But look into the detail and what Lambeth is promising for Brixton sounds less than impressive: "Brixton will be easier and safer to get around for both residents and visitors. There will be an emphasis on enhancing the pedestrian environment and promoting the use of public transport". 

No mention of cycling. And absolutely no mention of making it easier to access Brixton and get around the centre on foot or by bike, just some chatter about an "enhanced" environment. That's about style, not about substance. Substance would be a document that commits Lambeth to improving the way Brixton works for people to get around, not just the way Brixton's pavements look. 

Where Hackney has a clear map of the cycle routes it would open up around Dalston, nothing like this exists in the Brixton master plan. All that Lambeth offers up is a vague plan for "greater emphasis" on cycling. When it describes what that 'greater emphasis' actually means, it promises "improvements to footway and carriageway surfaces, provision of raised table crossings on key pedestrian desire lines, enhancements to street lighting and removal of street clutter...Where feasible, the public realm enhancements will improve the supply of public cycle provision. New cycle parking will be provided". 


Former rat run just off Kingsland High Street, Dalston. 
Now open for bikes and pedestrians only. 
None of this planned for Brixton?
There we have it. Hackney planned for and built better bike and pedestrian connections. Lambeth plans some bike parking, raised tables and nicer-looking pavements. There is simply nothing in Lambeth's plan about genuinely facilitating access to Brixton town centre by bike, just some vague intentions. 

It may be that I'm being unfair on Lambeth. Perhaps I'm missing some of the detail. But it strikes me that Lambeth's plans for Brixton town centre are all about style over substance 

I think that's a crying shame. Brixton is an amazing and vibrant place but one choked by excessive motor traffic. And Lambeth council's draft plan seems to utterly ignore the fact that it is deeply intimidating to cycle to and around many parts of Brixton town centre. What Lambeth seems to be promising is to create a more attractive public realm but nothing in this plan suggests that Lambeth will build the sorts of changes that genuinely make it easier for people to use a bike in Brixton than to use a car. These are the sorts of things that need to change to make Brixton a more vibrant place for people who work here, live near here and shop or go out here. 

What Brixton needs is better, safer and easier access for people not coming by car. Not just some raised tables, expensive flower pots and some bike stands. 

Lambeth has an online survey you can complete to share your thoughts on its plans for Brixton's town centre. The sole question relating to cycle infrastructure is '[Do you agree that] Improved cycle parking and the availability of bike hire bays will encourage people to cycle?" That's it. However, you can leave your thoughts in the Additional Comments section. I'd encourage anyone who lives or visits Brixton to add their comments and let's see what Lambeth's Brixton strategy team come back with. 



-----

Note. It's well worth having a look at the Lambeth strategic plan for the Vauxhall area which is now considerably more disposed to safe, convenient cycling and walking. The plan was amended after consultation to include fairly sensible measures for cycling and walking under the following premise: "Cycling should be a preferred means of travel for short trips, especially given that this area is relatively flat. The Mayor has proposed that this area will “Go Dutch” and meet Dutch cycling design principles. Routes should be safe and direct with a coherent cycle network that provides safe routes for everyone. Existing routes are not necessarily the best
that could be provided and should be reviewed, which may mean providing different routes for commuters and leisure cyclists". Kennington People on Bikes blog has a full review of the Plan











Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Cycling in Dublin - Ireland is years ahead of UK on cycling policy; way ahead in implementing that policy; and has much higher targets for cycling than anywhere in the UK. It's fantastic to see but embarrassing to put the UK in such sharp perspective.

Cycle lane behind bus stop. Standard design guidelines exist for this already in Ireland but not yet in the UK. 
Last month, Transport for London announced design plans for Cycle Super Highway2 Extension to Stratford. The design would include what the Americans now call "barrier protected" bike lanes running the length of the route. At most points, when the bike lane comes into contact with a bus stop, the plan is to route the bike lane behind the bus stop.

For Transport for London this is quite a brave move and something not yet seen in London. It has the feel of something quite new and quite untested.

And yet, get on the plane to Ireland and it turns out Ireland already has exacting national design standards for exactly this sort of thing. Those standards have been created by the National Transport Authority which was founded in 2009 to act "(a) to regulate the provision of public transport services in the State and (b) within the Greater Dublin Area, to secure the development and implementation of an integrated transport system in a manner that contributes to environmental sustainability and social cohesion and promotes economic progress."

Get that second part? The Irish transport authority is designed to develop and implement integrated and sustainable transport that provides social cohesion and promotes economic progress. Have you ever heard such an incredibly common sense approach in the UK? Does TfL have an obligation to do this? It does talk about delivering on cycling in its road surface transport commitments but there is nothing as clear and undeniably 'let's get people on bikes' in the Act that gives TfL legal powers. The Highways Agency? Not really. The Department for Transport? Again, not really.

What an off-road bike lane looks like at the moment
in Ireland (and UK). No priority over driveways, no
clarity of design. Courtesy
Irish National Transport Authority Cycling Manual
The NTA has a hugely detailed set of designs for cycle lane infrastructure. It has designs for what a cycle lane should look like behind bus stops, for example There are four designs, each to cater for different pedestrian and cycle flows. They have minimum requirements and minimum standards. None of this exists in the UK. It has designs for bike tracks, it has policies for how to plan a cycle network, it dictates what traffic speeds and traffic volumes require what sort of cycling solution. In short, it's embarrassing. The UK is a decade behind Ireland.

A year ago, I wrote about the fact that Transport for London already has a set of cycling design standards. In 2005, Peter Hendy, then managing director of surface transport, ie head of London's roads and now TfL commissioner, wrote to all local authorities saying the standards were to be included in ALL new road schemes in the capital. There were two problems. Firstly, the standards were nowhere near as good as those in Ireland and secondly, they were never implemented and have just sat on shelves gathering dust.

What that cycle lane should look like. Courtesy NTA Ireland
Last week, I wrote a submission to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group Inquiry to Get Britain Cycling. My key theme was this: "I worry that the government wants cycling to be delivered at a local level. In many ways, that is the right thing to do. But the disparities between Hackney and Newham make it abundantly clear that different local authorities have very different biases when it comes to cycling. It often seems that the personal opinion of one or two heavy-weight councillors about the use of bicycles will determine the chances of a local authority going the way of more cars and more congestion or the way of giving its residents the chance to walk or cycle instead."

Brighton's new bike lane behind a bus stop. Picture by
Mark Strong, Transport Initiatives
Not only does each local authority have different biases, each authority seems to be able to get away with implementing cycling infrastructure at an entirely different level. So you have the complete farce of cycling along a protected bike lane in Camden but as soon as you reach the City of Westminster boundary, that bike lane becomes a lane for parking cars and you're back to mixing with motor traffic. On the same road.

It can be done in the UK. Just look at the bike lane that has just been built in Brighton (pictured left, courtesy Mark Strong of Transport Initiatives) and bear in mind that Transport for London really is getting its act together these days.

Cycling in Dublin - The numbers.
By the excellent Cycling in Dublin blog
But Ireland's authorities are being much more vocal about what's really wrong than their equivalents in the UK. Michael Aherne from the National Transport Authority came out last year and said this: “For years local authorities have had aspirational networks on their development plans – we want to work with them to move from aspirational to reality and to make that reality a prioritised one.” This is exactly what the UK needs too. A national transport body that commits to getting people using sustainable transport methods (and I don't mean electric cars, for goodness sake) in a way that actually means something for people's social and economic well-being. 


I leave with a infographic created by freelance journalist Cian Ginty on his excellent Cycling in Dublin blog. Not everything in Dublin is rosy. But the direction of travel is simply astonishing when you compare to the average UK city. You can read more of the background on Cyclist.ie and it's well worth having a look at this brief speech by the National Transport Authority. It will make you want to move to Dublin.  




---------------

Just a couple of examples from the Irish National Cycle Manual. If only the UK was thinking about this as well.

Design for a cycle-friendly roundabout

How to handle left-hand filter lanes and make them friendly for people on bikes




Friday, 8 February 2013

Increase in motor traffic leads to decrease in car driver/passengers killed or seriously injured. So why do we accept that more child pedestrians and people on bikes are being killed or seriously injured? Road safety only for car passengers?

Latest casualty data from the Department for Transport against long term average

Earlier this week, the government released its latest road casualty data for the third quarter 2012.

The figures show exactly the same trend we've seen for the last couple of years. Although motor vehicle traffic levels have increased (up 0.2% on 12 months previously), the number of people killed or seriously injured in motor vehicles is decreasing.

Meanwhile, the number of people killed but not in a motor vehicle is increasing month after month.

We are designing danger out of our roads for people but only when they're in motor vehicles. Look at the number of children killed or injured on our roads: The total number of all child road casualties fell 9% between third quarter 2011 and third quarter 2012. But the number of child pedestrians killed or seriously injured jumped 8%.

Pedestrian casualties (adults and children) are up 6%  The number of people killed or seriously injured on bikes is up 8%. If you look at the long term trend in the graph above, the picture is blindingly obvious. The trend shows that the number of people killed or seriously injured on bikes is up 25% on the long-term average.

In London, we've seen this tend coming. Ever since 2006, the number of casualties per cycle trip in London has been on the increase. We know this because the London Assembly crunched the numbers to show that the rate of people being killed and seriously injured on London's streets was increasing faster than the number of cycle trips being made (which is also increasing). As the London Assembly pointed out, when bike journeys grew 50% 1995-2010, the risk of cycle casualties actually dropped 50%. The London Assembly report is quietly damning about this: "The Mayor believes the 'safety in numbers' effect will improve cycling safety in London but this is not currently evident". Too true.
Tulse Hill in south London. This is probably classified as a 'safe' road for cycling. 
Pictured above is an example of the sort of road I believe is part of the problem of our road safety culture in action. This is Tulse Hill in south London. It's a busy A-road that links Tulse Hill and Brixton. It looks simple doesn't it? A basic, straight road that could be in any town in the UK. Yet this is the sort of thing that, I think, is helping to make cycling more dangerous.

Look at how this road works.

Each lane is just wide enough for the bus. I'd hazard just over 3 metres wide. With massive pavements most of the length of the road and hatchings down the middle. The hatching provides a relatively safe space for pedestrians to cross the road. And the narrow vehicle lanes mean motor traffic can only travel as fast as the vehicle in front. I can see how this road design slows down motor vehicles and, potentially, makes the road safer for people in cars.

Now, the funny thing is that when transport people define 'dangerous' roads, they tend to look at the casualty statistics. In the last five years this short stretch of road has seen 'only' eight cyclist casualties. I've seen countless pieces of correspondence from TfL and from London boroughs that talk about roads like this: "Low number of cyclist casualties on this road therefore equals 'must' be safe for cycling". Or words to that effect.

Safe road for cycling then? Well, no it's not actually.

The lanes are just about wide enough that motor vehicles think they can squeeze past you. It's filled with huge potholes. It's just intimidating. My own guess is that people generally avoid cycling down Tulse Hill if they can because of the way the road brings people on bikes and in cars into dangerously close proximity again and again along its length.

More importantly, a road like this actively stops people from cycling in the first place. For the simple reason that the road just feels horrible to cycle on.

Believe it or not, this sort of thing is 'normal' in most
countries. Not the sort of roads we get in the UK.
We're stuck in the dark ages.
Courtesy ibikelondon blog
The latest government data tells me that our whole road safety culture is wrong. We have road engineers who look at a road like Tulse Hill and think it is 'safe'. On a statistical measure, perhaps it is indeed 'safe' but that's only because everyone else (the people who might otherwise choose to cycle here, for example) use common sense and leave the road to the motorist. As Manchester Bike Mummy points out on her blog, most people already feel they've lost their right to use the roads, precisely because of road layouts like this. So, people drive instead of getting on a bike.

The tragedy is that the government will continue to sell us all the message that UK roads are getting safer. Because, looked at in totality, they are. There were 7% fewer fatalities than there were a year ago. But the number of people being seriously injured increased 2% on the previous year. And the people driving that growth in serious road injuries are a) children pedestrians and b) people on bicycles. My own feeling is that the roads aren't getting safer. Perhaps modern car design makes people in cars safer. But the corollary of that is that those 'safer' people are busy making the roads more dangerous for everyone else.

I'll leave with a comment by a newspaper I rarely read. But which got the message absolutely right on this a year ago. And that newspaper is the Daily Mail:

"I think our roads are statistically safer largely because soft targets, particularly child cyclists, have almost entirely retreated from them. But the roads are not really safer. It’s just that people have learned to avoid them unless they themselves go out in armour". 

If you want people to cycle and walk, you have to create conditions where they can cycle and walk. And that means making safer networks for people on foot and on bikes. Not only for people in motor vehicles. The government is clearly failing to achieve that.



Saturday, 2 February 2013

My submission to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group "Get Britain Cycling" Inquiry. Cycling needs consistency: consistent funding, consistent standards, consistent laws. Can the Inquiry help that to happen?


Below is the text of my evidence submitted to the All Party Parliamentary Cyling Group "Get Britain Cycling" Inquiry. I apologise in advance for the length of the article. But I'd welcome people's comments and feedback.
One of the two roads connecting north of the A3 motorway with
the south. The town straddles both sides of this road. Roads like this are the only options for people who want to cycle from
the north to the south of the town. Most people drive.
 Would you like to cycle here with your children?

"Crossing this barrier by foot or bike requires resolve,bravery and a belief that one is capable of making the journey without being squashed. There are few places where it can be achieved."

These are the comments made to a local newspaper in Guildford by someone who cycles there. The 'barrier' in question is the A3 - a motorway-style dual carriageway that runs through the town and splits the northern and southern halves. All of the crossings between north and south are designed to maximise the flow of motor traffic. They look like motorway slip roads and pedestrian and cyclist alternatives are extremely thin on the ground.

There is one crossing that does feel safer to cross on foot or by bike, namely a labyrithine set of concrete stairs and walkways that crosses over the A3. It is a fairly grimy sort of place. Not somewhere you’d want to hang around at night.

People have been asking for years for this bridge to be upgraded so that there is a safe and convenient way to walk or cycle between the north and south of the town. But the town council has never shown much interest and focussed its efforts instead on winning DfT funding to widen a roundabout half a mile down the road so that more cars can drive off the A3 in the hope of reducing traffic congestion towards the university and science parks. 

I grew up in a village just outside Guildford. I know exactly just how hostile the roads are because when I was a teenager, I was too scared to cycle into town from where I lived. I would cycle on quiet lanes but there were no routes into town that felt safe. 

When I was 20, I moved to Germany for one summer and took up a job making components in a car factory in a town there. I lived in a small village about the same distance from the factory as my home village was from Guildford. But the difference was that the village was connected to the town by a bicycle street. Cars could drive on the bicycle street but they couldn't use the whole length of it - there were barriers in the way, so only people on bikes or on foot could use the route to get from A to B. Cars had to stick to the main road. 

That bicycle street gave me the opportunity to cycle safely and conveniently to work. Most of the other factory workers also cycled to work. After living in the car-choked south east of England, this was a major revelation to me. I didn't need to spend my hard-earned cash on the bus. I could save the money and cycle instead. And I needed to save money. I needed money to fund my way through university. 

Had I been working in the UK, I feel I would have had to spend a higher proportion of my income on transport than I did in Germany. I would have probably had to consider buying a clapped-out car, for example (the shifts started at 6am, before the bus got started). Rather than invest in my future, I would have had to spend my money funding insurance and petrol costs instead. 

Ever since that time, I have consistently failed to understand why the UK makes it so difficult to choose to use a bicycle as a normal, everyday form of transport. I would look at streets in a different way to before. I could actually see how all the thinking about safety and about convenient transport would go into making the street safe and convenient for driving but not for cycling. Or, for that matter, for walking. 

At times, the sheer lack of consideration for cycling and walking here can be chilling. There is an official cycle route in north London that links the town centres of Elstree and Edgware. These two hubs are not far apart but very few people would cycle between them. The reason most people wouldn't cycle here is obvious when you look at the quality of the cycle infrastructure that has been built here. To cycle from one to the other, you need to cross the M1. The situation is very similar to Guildford, where I grew up: In order to cover a fairly short distance by bicycle in both these places, you need to find a way of getting across a major road barrier.

In the case of Elstree, you have to cycle along shared usefootpaths and then at one point you are told to cross the slip road thatconnects the M1 and the A41. You are told to do this with only your wits to protect you and you need to be an exceedingly good judge of speed and distance at any time of day or night, or in the rain. It is possible to get across the four lanes of the slip road on a bike and make it unscathed to the other side. But it's not an experience most people would want to do daily as part of their journey to work. Two years ago, a young woman called Zoe Sheldrake was killed on this crossing. 

The driver who hit ZoĆ«, Clive Sanford, was found not guilty of causing death by careless driving. I can only speculate as to what actually happened here that day but common sense tells me that Clive Sanford was probably not expecting a young woman on a bicycle to pull out across a motorway slip road in front of him. There are no warning signs to tell him cyclists might be crossing here, for example. More importantly, though, I think we have to ask ourselves why we even design cycle networks of such poor quality that these networks lead people directly into scenarios where they don't stand a hope of survival if they make the slightest error in judging the speed of four lanes of motorway traffic bearing down on them. 

The situation in Elstree is by no means a rarity. The options for people who want to cycle from the north to the south of Guildford are just as bad as those at this junction. Guildford's heart is ripped apart by fast-moving, multi-vehicle lane roads that are designed to move people in motor vehicles and where there is little or no consideration of the safety or convenience for those same people if they're on a bicycle. 

The official cycle network route from Guildford to
Godalming. Would you cycle here to go to the shops
in your jeans? At night? On your own? On anything
other than a mountain bike?
Over the years, some councils have made small steps to make cycling seem more attractive. There is the start, for example, of a half-decent cycle link between Guildford and another local town, Godalming. There is a lovely off-road cycle path, shared with pedestrians, that runs from Guildford town centre and through one of its parks southwards. When you leave the park, however, things take a turn for the worse. The cycle path enters woodland. There is no street lighting in the woods. The smooth tarmac surface gives way to mud. And half a mile further along, there is a set of 10 stairs. What the councils have done is created a link that exists for people to cycle between these two towns that exists only on paper. In reality, no-one is going to cycle to the shops if it means heading back in the dark, putting on specialist clothing to protect your clothes from the mud and, hauling a bicycle laden with purchases up some stairs. 

These situations are repeated all over the country. Over several years, London built a network of routes radiating out from the centre called the London Cycle Network. Some of the routes are extremely good and very useful. But for the most part, they are very fiddly. They are often poorly signposted; you find that the routes give up just when you need them most, for example at busy junctions like Parliament Square where the official London Cycle Network involves navigating your way through five lanes of motor traffic. Many of the routes take you down dark alleyways and through industrial estates. The parallels with Guildford are many and obvious.

When Boris Johnson became Mayor of London, he promised to sweep in with a vision for Londoners to get on their bikes. In his first term, he launched the Cycle Super Highway concept. At last, here was someone who understood why more people weren't using their bikes to make short journeys (Bear in mind, the majority of trips in outer London are made by car and half of those trips are less than 2 miles long. These are trips that large numbers of people could and should be doing by bicycle rather than in the car).

The Mayor promised "priority" for cycling and that he would keep bicycle traffic "separate" from heavy and fast moving motor traffic. As the launch of the Cycle Super Highways approached, the Mayor's commitments were watered down. Instead of prioritising cycling, the routes would be "clearly marked" and "continuous". Here was the same thinking as we'd already seen in places like Guildford - routes that were 'clearly-marked' and that were 'continuous' when you looked on the map. But whereas Guildford put its bike route through mud, stairs and woodland, the Mayor was putting his bike routes through busy and fast-moving A-roads, with little or nothing by way of protection for people on bikes. 

And, yet, to give the Mayor credit, cycling has increased on these routes. The numbers of people who cycle to the centre of London along Cycle Super Highway 7 from Tooting has mushroomed. Look around you, though, at who those cyclists are. For the most part, the people who cycle on this route are fit, young and overwhelmingly male. 

London Cycle Super Highway in action. The 'bike lane' is the blue
paint underneath the HGV, the vans and the bus. 
When you think about cycling in cities like Copenhagen or even, increasingly, New York City, you don't think of cycling as a form of transport that is preserved only for those fit enough, young enough or masculine enough to get on two wheels and pedal. You think and see all sorts of people on bikes. Mothers with their children in boxes on the front, older people pedalling gently from place to place. For the most part, they are wearing normal, everyday clothes. And what you have is a whole cross-section of the population getting about their day-to-day business. On bicycles. 

On Boris Johnson's Cycle Super Highways that's not what you see. My own view is that most people look at the Cycle Super Highways and don't see them as a safe or sensible choice for getting around. That's because the facilities on the Super Highways have, to date, been fairly threadbare. Transport for London has moved some white lines and put some blue paint on the road. But we know from study after study and from countless other cities around the world that large numbers of people do not switch from cars to bikes unless they feel it is safe, that they don't need to mix with lots of traffic, in particular with large buses and HGVs and that they don't need to wear specialist clothing and cycle at the same speed as a taxi in order just to get from A to B. 

And yet it's clear that things don't need to be like this. London, a city that is already falling way behind its global counterparts like New York when it comes to bicycle transport, is showing signs of success. Transport for London has published designs for the next two Cycle Super Highways that show a step change in design that could be very promising.

In the London borough of Hackney, 15% of people now cycle to workversus 12% who drive to work. Hackney's councillors have banned the construction of new parking spaces in new build residential developments. They have closed off rat-runs to through motor traffic but kept routes open to people on bikes and on foot. They have planned and built an environment that makes it safer and more convenient to walk or take your bicycle than to drive.

In the nearby borough of Newham, however, fewer than 2% of people get to work by bicycle. Newham has, until this year, done nothing to cultivate an environment that favours cycling instead of driving. Newham is a Labour-controlled council, just like Hackney. It has poor public transport connections (slightly better than Hackney's but still relatively poor) and has plenty of quieter streets that could and should link-up to create a place where people can choose to cycle. But it has pursued policies that encourage more cars instead. 

I worry that the government wants cycling to be delivered at a local level. In many ways, that is the right thing to do. But the disparities between Hackney and Newham make it abundantly clear that different local authorities have very different biases when it comes to cycling. It often seems that the personal opinion of one or two heavy-weight councillors about the use of bicycles will determine the chances of a local authority going the way of more cars and more congestion or the way of giving its residents the chance to walk or cycle instead. 

A bicycle street in Hackney. Used to be a rat run for cars, now a
useful link for people on bikes or foot. Not for people to race
through in cars.
The result, when you look at a map of London, is that cycling is taking off in areas where local authorities create provisions for people to use their bicycles as transport. I mean by that all sorts of people, not just young, fit commuters. There is latent demand in London and many other cities to cycle. Transport for London data shows that 23% of all journeys in London arepotentially cyclable - most of the potential comes from women, ethnicminorities, older and younger people. 

Even when a local authority does decide to get behind bicycle transport, there is a serious dearth of basic common sense around bicycle transport in the standards we use on our roads. The Highway Code is complicit in dampening the demand for cycling. When you confront a scary-lookingroundabout or junction, says the Highway Code, you should get off your bicycleand push. You ought also to wear a helmet and you ought to wear high visibility clothing. If I want to adhere to this last recommendation, I ought to wear clothes that are bright in the early morning sun when I cycle to work (probably some reflective items, say), then switch to different clothes if I cycle to a meeting during the day (probably bright yellow or red as hi-viz reflective wear isn't particularly helpful at noon) and then an entirely different outfit at night when it is dark that maximises reflectivity. It simply isn’t realistic to expect people to live up to these standards.

Rather than design roundabouts that are safe for a child to cycle to, we are telling that child to dismount and push. Rather than encourage (dare I say, enforce) drivers to slow down in residential areas and in our town centres, we are shoving responsibility for safety on the roads down to the person who is at highest risk on the roads. Our laws, our Highway Code, our street design manuals: all of these have been designed in favour of keeping people safe and within the law in a way that encourages them not to cycle but to drive instead. 

It is the whole way we look at roads that needs to change. A sizeable number of people in this country want the choice of being able to use a bicycle to do their business and to do so conveniently and in safety. They want to feel protected by the law, rather than exposed as they do currently. They want to feel that streets are designed in a way that keeps them safe, rather than exposes them to lethal danger, as many road designs do currently. Most of all, they want consistency. A consistent approach to making bicycle transport as well-respected, as well thought-through, as well adapted to their needs as jumping in the car is today and hopping three miles down the road.