Friday 13 May 2016

High Society

It seems that no corner of London is without groups who actively seek to prevent people cycling in their neighbourhoods.

This week, a statement from the Chelsea Society on Quietways (from last March) was ridiculed on Twitter and I think it is worth exploring this in a little more detail as it is a microcosm of the self-interest which seeks to prevent change under the thin veils of faux concern, heritage and traffic-centric NIMBYism. I am going to spend some time responding to the points raised, so bear with me, it will take a while to go through (bingo cards at the ready);

The Society is certainly not against responsible cycling in Chelsea, but it has to be acknowledged that central London is a very dangerous place for cyclists, and too many of them suffer injury and even death. 

What is "responsible cycling" exactly? Well, it's the classic parallel to "some of my best friends are cyclists"; it's the classic set-up of the out group.

Moreover the polluted air in central London is not conducive to the health of people engaged in strenuous activity such as cycling. It is perhaps possible to make cycling in central London safer but it is not possible to make it safe. The Mayor is determined nevertheless to encourage more cyclists on to the roads.

Cycling per se is not particularly strenuous (well it is compared to sitting in a car) and we know that despite London's pollution, it is a method of transport which is good for us and the statement utterly fails to realise the cause of the pollution that everyone has to breathe (unless the residents of Chelsea are wearing space suits). On safety, yes people have been hurt and killed (from a casualty point of view) and yes, there are experienced safety issues to be overcome. We deal with both by separating people from heavy traffic and filtering it out elsewhere. Tried, tested and successful; we can make it safe and the good people only have to look down the Thames a bit to see what is going on.

He has therefore designated certain streets as Quietways as part of his Cycle-grid for the use of cyclists who are nervous about riding on busy roads in London. In Chelsea two routes have been designated:

There is probably some agreement that Quietways should not be an alternative to direct routes on busy roads with protected cycling space, but for sure, there will be quieter streets which can form part of a useful grid to complement main roads (if direct).

a route running north-south from South Kensington to Albert Bridge, passing the Royal Marsden and Royal Brompton hospitals, Chelsea Fire Station and a connection on Oakley Street to …
… a route running east- west from Belgravia to Oakley Street, via Holbein Mews, Turk’s Row, Franklin’s Row, St. Leonard’s Terrace Tedworth Sq., Redesdale St., Alpha Place, Oakley Gardens and Phene St.

OK, I'm not going to analyse the routes (I don't know the area well enough), but looking at one of the approved sections, there doesn't seem to have been any radical changes and the crossing of main roads is pretty weak indeed. But there is no technical reason why decent treatments cannot be deployed.

We do not believe that it makes sense to channel large numbers of cyclists into these designated routes, and if large numbers are not expected there is little point in designating the routes at all.

Well yes, a classic bit of self-defeating circularity!

Large numbers of cyclists using a street do have an impact on pedestrians. They make it more difficult to cross the road, they are less visible than cars to other road-users and some do not wear high-visibility jackets. Some ride without lights on their bicycle at night, some ride on the pavement, some do not warn pedestrians of their silent approach (some do not have a bell at all) and some ignore the traffic lights. Large numbers of cyclists in a street would also add to the hazards faced by local residents when driving or parking their cars.

Boom! Here we have the meat of the bile. Have a look at some of the streets in the area (and on the Quietways) such as Oakley Street and St Leonards Terrace which are wall to wall parking and maximum door zone for cycling; they are not going to be streets you will want to ride with your kids in their current, unfiltered state and I do wonder how busy these streets are with the pedestrians the Society is so worried about. Of course, it's nonsense, people walking and people cycling can get along and if there or lots of people cycling, clear space for each mode is the proven and safe solution. The rest is classic cycling bullshit bingo and the real nub is that people cycling will essentially make it harder for residents to park their cars. Oh boo hoo! 

Don't take my rhetoric, let's look at some facts and data. According to the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea's report on the 2011 census, 56% of households in the borough do not have access to a car or van. Yes, over half of residents are car-free and this group is growing. It seems to me that there is a ready market for people to cycle in the borough!

With the aid of the A-Z or Google Maps, cyclists are capable of planning their own route to avoid the busiest roads, and they do not need to be directed. They will each have their own point of origin and destination and are therefore unlikely to concentrate so as to add significantly to cycle-traffic on any of the roads they have chosen. Cyclists tend to be independent people and don’t like to be herded.

You really cannot make this up. Cyclists don't need to be directed and don't like to be herded. Like anyone navigating towns and cities, people cycling don't like to get lost and having to stop every five minutes to check one's route is daft. With a dense grid of cycling-friendly streets (however that is achieved), people are enabled to choose a route for sure, but sooner or later there will be convergence on the most direct routes too as the just opened CS3 and CS6 extensions have shown us. This is no different to how people walk and drive.

Generally the Society is opposed to the proliferation of road signs (including those painted on the road) and “street-furniture.” They are unsightly and are distracting for drivers.

I'm not sure there are many straws to clutch at, but still they do. Again, look at the roads I linked to earlier and others on the Quietway routes and what do we see in terms of road signs (including those painted on the road, or road markings as we know them and other items of street furniture. We have traffic signals which deal with conflict between traffic streams, let people out of side roads onto busy roads and give people a chance to cross the road. To be fair, zebra crossings also help people cross the road and even in a low car utopia, they have a place where cycle routes might genuinely be busy to the point people need help to cross the road. The zig-zags, however are there as people can't be trusted to work out where they shouldn't park and stop near zebra crossings and this is why zig-zags are not needed on cycle tracks (under the new 2016 Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions).

Parking bays and parking bay signs essentially control where people can store their vehicles on the street (mostly the car-owning minority) and parking restrictions (yellow lines) where people cannot store their vehicles. Keep left arrows to help people notice traffic islands and by people I mean drivers in general because of the speed and size of their vehicles. Cyclists in the whole don't tend to flatten traffic signals because they didn't see a keep left arrow. Large advanced directional signage (ADS) is aimed at drivers moving at speed an so need large letters. People cycling need smaller ADS. You get my point, most of the clutter our there is concerned with the management and regulation of motor traffic. Cycling is light-footed in street clutter terms by comparison.

We have consulted with Residents’ Associations for some of the streets affected, and they will be making their own detailed submissions to RBKC.

Well OK, I'm not sure I can be critical about this statement!

A large increase in cycle traffic in Turks Row would be particularly undesirable, as there is a school there and the street is congested at the beginning and end of the school day. Also, some of the streets have “speed-bumps” which are a hazard to cyclists, but local residents do not wish them to be removed.

Turks Row appears to be exactly the kind of street (taken in an area) which should be filtered. Congestion at the school is congestion by motor vehicles and presumably the Society wouldn't want people cycling getting in the way of the Chelsea Tractor brigade (sorry, I had to be as bad as they with a bit of stereotyping). The kids at the school should be enabled to get there by foot or bike, especially as the majority of households don't have access to cars. Next to Turks Row, we have Franklins Row which has humps. As we know, humps are a symptom of innapproproate speed and people cutting through in motor vehicles. Yes, they are a pain for cycling and if really needed, they can be improved by making them sinusoidal. The answer for this residential areas is to filter out through traffic which would make the area nicer for the people who live and it would take away their ability to access their homes by car.

It is difficult to see how a busy street like Oakley Street could possibly be designated a Quietway.

Well I've looked at the street in Google and with a combination of armchair punditry and experience, I am included to agree. It's a 'B' road which connections Albert Bridge to King's Road (an 'A' road); let's face it, it's going to be a traffic sewer and I would lay odds that in terms of a cycling level of service assessment, we will be talking protection for people on cycles. I also lay odds that the street could be reworked to provide stepped cycle tracks inside some parking and possibly by making the road one way so some (not all) parking and access is maintained.

Dovehouse Street has many problems with difficult junctions, speeding cars, aggressive drivers, some very thoughtless cyclists, serious ambulance-and-other-delivery-vehicle-related congestion at the northern end of the street and generally quite difficult conditions crossing the street for the oldest and youngest residents at morning and afternoon/evening rush hours.

Well from the description, Dovehouse Street, sounds like another traffic sewer. It's a shame as it runs past two hospitals; The Royal Brompton and The Royal Marsden. I'm sure that there are plenty of staff and indeed patients who might find cycling convenient. The through traffic clearly needs dealing with. But cyclists.

This Cycle-grid is likely to be a costly exercise, and the Society would like to know how much the tax payers would be expected to pay for it.

Yes, building stuff costs money and yes, tax payers fund it ultimately. I am sure maintaining the local roads to a standard suitable for driving is a costly exercise, but using that as an argument would be silly.

I have also had a poke around the Society's website and even the RideLondon cycling event is subtly laced with anti-cycling rhetoric;

As the route for the event goes through east, central and west London before heading out to Surrey it requires over 100 miles of road to be closed which will have a major impact on getting around the Capital.  If you are planning any special events such as weddings or making a journey out to an airport it will be advisable to plan ahead. 

For most people, "getting around the capital" doesn't automatically mean "by car" and let's be honest here, Chelsea isn't exactly the suburbia of Outer London, although, there are some pockets of the area less served by public transport as you would imagine (but it's relative). The image below is a Public Transport Accessibility Level (PTAL) map of the area taken from the wonderful TfL Webcat tool;

The green and yellow areas have a score of 3 and 4 respectively which is still better than a suburban tube or rail interchange which tend to have a high score around the interchange, but then tails off quickly because of lack of options. The Thames plays a role because it is a barrier to transport accessibility itself. I digress, the area isn't a public transport wasteland, but perhaps cycling could improve local accessibility, especially as most residents have no access to cars.

Anyway, this has been a long and rambling post which is probably rather pointless in terms of influencing the views of the good people of the Chelsea Society. They don't speak for everyone, but they have influence and that alone makes them fair game to be singled out for their position to be challenged. I am sorry to be blunt, but when it comes to cycling, the Chelsea Society are dinosaurs.


  1. Clutter on the streets largely comes down to UK regulations. Dutch traffic signals are simple and uncluttered. They use arrow shapes, no extra signs, and only 1 set needed per lane. Parking bays too, they are simple and intuitive. Built into the road as a physical feature, they are simple and easy to understand and don't look visually obtrusive. Zig zags are not needed because it's always understood where you park on a distributor road and not a centimetre more.

    In other news, terrorists to kill two school-fulls of people. The government viciously hunts them down and arrests them and sentences to life in prison and enacts security legislation. Drivers to kill 1800 people this year, UK government does nothing to by design restrict how and when a car can be used to as to prevent crashes and justifies it with this is how it's always been done and that there is a loud minority of people against it. Good analogy IMO Ranty?

    1. Yeah, spot on with the analogy. We certainly over-do signals here - what about Canada?

    2. Let's see. The nearest set of traffic signals, well, actually the second nearest, has a signal that prevents traffic from turning left (what you'd do with right turns) in at the same time as oncoming traffic. We use double red lights, both of which are circles, and a sign that says no left turn on red. There's another set of lights about 6 km to the north of my house where there are two sets of those left turn signals, both double reds, there's a no left on red sign and a sign that in words reads "left turn signal". This is what we do in Alberta and Saskatchewan (you know you're a Canadian when you can spell Saskatchewan on the first go in less than a second).

      In BC, Vansterdam (I like using this as a joke, but police do enforce that law), a flashing green signal means a crossing where the red and amber is triggered only by a pedestrian pushbutton, and they use a mini signal on the far left side of the street. Toronto requires two sets of signals for each movement, turns and transit signals and even bicycle signals included. Full sized, well, full sized by their standards, which is a 20 cm head, though the red aspect is usually a 30 cm head, as are any green turning signals.

      Oh, and they are on the far side of a junction. This means that you can go ahead of the pedestrian crossing and still see the signals, and right turns on red are almost always allowed, if they are not made not a concern by having a slip lane for the turn, even in urban areas. And also, I've seen signals in the city centre spaced as frequently as every 120 metres apart, as in, every block.

      And don't get me started on stop signs, we use those absurdly frequently. Apparently the city, and provincial governments, which are responsible for transportation, though national organizations like to copy most of what the US does so that we can have a uniform standard, believes that stop sign violations result in many crashes. They fail to realize that this is a failure to let cross traffic go first, almost never is it that it is a failure to stop 100% of the time.

    3. Oh we have give way signs which local politicians like to get installed as they are cheap and it looks like they are doing something.

      I did see a new signal layout for the UK the other day (at least I had never seen it) it had signals on red for left turning traffic and lit ahead greens (no red or ambers controlling them). I think the way it works is green ahead arrows come on first, the red, amber green for left turners - I forgot to get a photo!

    4. I am thinking more about the signs that don't need to exist. We could use amber and red arrows and get rid of the blue arrow static sign.

    5. That would make perfect sense, but such is our Department for Transport and change!

    6. I wonder whether you also talk about projects like railways, motorways and maybe updated roadways. Your name is ... Highwayman" after all, not, The Ranty Cyclewayman, IE a thief plaguing the cycleways (of course your not a thief, except maybe for your wife's specialty cereal). I know that a lot of rural roads have a particularly nasty safety record in the UK, and for that matter, most of the world. High speed, 60 mph by default in the UK, 100 km/h, often without lighting, and with few divides between the two directions and often too little forgiving space. The Dutch also have a solution to these roads as well with safe shoulders that don't optically widen the road and centre lines that reduces the risk of a head on crash and with lower speeds, usually 70 or 80.

    7. I probably should talk about other things, but cycling is my interest at the moment, although I do have lots of unfinished non-cycling posts to deal with!

  2. "if large numbers are not expected there is little point in designating the routes at all."

    What about moderate numbers? But what a joyless view! I'd imagine that the grid is mostly going to be used recreationally, with visitors being a significant user group i.e. for fun. Lots of interesting locations to explore round there, and easy to get lost. Because of these elements, I'd imagine it would work better than much of the Outer Boroughs' LCN. So the Quietways could have value in the sense of the Dutch system of fietsroutes and knooppunten, which is (semi-)independent of road treatment, except that I've yet to hear of a numbered or lettered junction point system being proposed for the Central London Grid. Sort it someone. Also a shame that the hire bike docks are mostly off the specific routes you discuss.

    PS I'd imagine PTAL is low because the residents objected to that, as they have done with the superhighway planned to go down Ken High St. And the hire bike docking stations are curiously absent in the area between the Kings Road and the River. Seems there's a lot of previous.

    1. The PTAL is based on access to bus, train and tube, including walking distances although I think this mob object to anything! I have suggested that TfL develops a PTAL for cycling, but I can't remember who I mentioned it too! I might tweet that idea!

    2. What a failure I am! I have conceived a lovely signing strategy which is intuitively useful to people, which codes all of the cycling routes in London without missing anything out, and which has received an award from Ordnance Survey, and yet still the cycling community prefers numbers.

      The local LCC group, rbkccycling, has produced a map entitled What the Bike Grid should look like in Kensington and Chelsea (here). I copied the route information onto a Google map and laid compass colours over the top (here). As I say, I didn't miss anything out. In fact there are more routes in my design than in the rbkccycling design, including LCN 38 (Fulham Road).

      Unfortunately, the LCC believe that my work would somehow undermine their campaign for safe and inviting routes, which is a real shame, because now we have ended up with a "grid" which, apparently, "is mostly going to be used recreationally". I can't believe that this is the best we can do.

      P.S. In the Foreword to Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities, Ritt Bjerregaard suggests that the worst enemies of the bicycle in urban areas are not cars, but longheld prejudices.

    3. It's always chicken and egg. One argument is that signed routes is job done as far as councils are concerned and then there is never continuous improvement to upgrade routes/ grids etc. This means that people don't cycle because the signed routes are still dangerous from an experienced safety point of view and so the same Councils don't justify further expense.

      The other position is only ask for perfection which never comes!

    4. How would the councils regard a low-engineered network as job done if such a network would not encourage people to cycle?

    5. `We [<0.5-heartedly] tried it---and it didn't seem to work, so we immediately gave up'. Totally standard response from all departments in all councils since forever.

      FWIW, I have just read an article about your `code' and found it utterly baffling rather than `intuitively useful'. It has what appear to be arbitrary, sometimes long, numbers and letters (dyslexic unfriendly), in addition to a set of colours which couldn't be better chosen to be ambiguous to those with either of the most common types of colour-blindness (or yet another set of letters) to deal with. I honestly can't see the point in knowing approximately which direction you are travelling in if you still don't know where you are in relation to your destination, notwithstanding that in London you will eventually reach the M25 and be able to work it out from the junction number... What is the distinction between lines that are parallel vs. adjacent? I suppose I might simply be atypical, though; and it's not really a problem for me as I can generally just resort to consulting a GPS receiver for any mode of highway travel if I'm lost. Have you considered or conducted any form of rigorous usability testing for everyone else?

      That's not to say that the LCN (and NCN, etc.) numbers are anything other than completely inscrutable, though. By contrast, I find the zonal system (this latter being the key word) for general-purpose [A and often B] roads very helpful, including outside London and Glasgow. On one occasion, with GPS problems and too tired + homesick to stop, I had no difficulty navigating from outside Dover to leafy Hertfordshire---crossing the Thames in Roman fashion---using only the road numbers without getting lost once and in such good time that it might have been close to an optimal route. Obviously, you need to have a reasonable idea about where the joins are---and know that London Bridge is A3---but I was nonetheless impressed that it had even been possible, let alone so straightforward! I have done plenty of guesstimation of where I am throughout Britain using this method since then and been grateful for it. The USA (and Canada; Cycling in Edmonton?) use odd and even numbers and square-ish grids rather than radiating zones. You might find that people are [quite rationally] attached to meaningful numbers...

      But, if you are convinced that your proposal has genuine merit and you can communicate it effectively then you really don't need validation from LCC---who, after all, receive half of their income from TFL (previously London Councils PLC) which naturally comes with strings attached. Presuming you aren't proposing to spend any of the `resources' they `oversee', their objection is not valid and irrelevant. Nor should you feel constrained by `longheld prejudices'---unless, of course, it is your own holding you back. If your idea is sound, then it doesn't matter how many people are propounding it or denouncing it as heretical. You hereby have my permission to go straight over everyone else's heads and approach the various highway authorities direct on behalf of your anti-infrastructurists-who-doesn't-cycle-very-much-themselves campaign---could get lumped together with CTC, ABD, Chelsea Society et al, though. I imagine one of the first hurdles will be the non-TSRGD-compliance of the road markings (which the council will possibly be unwilling to seek a derogation for---and RBKC would have kittens about) and upright signs (which, therefore, shall require planning permission which they are moderately unlikely to receive). Perhaps approach Ranty's council first to give it the best chance of a fair hearing?

  3. Chelsea residents have form for complaining against everything. They are also campaigning against the proposed Crossrail 2 station off the Kings Rd as this may spoil the "village like" atmosphere!

    I've seen it suggested elsewhere that London should cede the RBK&C to another local authority where their residents would be happier, like Gloucestershire. Then close all tube stations and withdraw all bus routes in the borough and have a congestion charge at the borough boundaries!

    1. To be honest, I think the boroughs hold up progress too much. Perhaps they need to lose control of their roads to TfL!

    2. We could use fewer authorities dealing with the roads. Especially when their duties are so intertwined. The DfT can deal with motorways, they are a completely separate kind of roads from the distributors and access roads TfL and the boroughs need to deal with. It's like the obtructionists in Texas holding up vital legislation that everyone else supports.

    3. I like your idea about re-assigning ownership of roads from obstructionist boroughs. In my response to cycle `superhighway' 11 consultation, I even suggested transferring all of Westminster's highways to a competent authority after putting the rest of the council into special measures (because of its astounding record of inefficiency and apparent inability to achieve value-for-money under any circumstances) so that proper cycling infrastructure could be installed. I did---and still do---hesitate to nominate TFL as that competent body, though. Passing highways via TFL to another council under s.14B Highways Act 1980 would probably be easiest. Problem is that all other councils are similarly rubbish, too.

      BTW: smaller [than 150 km/h dual-carriageway] ADS, yes; tiny (25 mm x-height now rolled out from `that London' to E&W and most likely rest of UK, too, by dint of TSRGD 2010/5/6) ADS, no!

  4. It is necessary to carefully unpick and demolish arguments in the way that you have here. However, it is also worth remembering that rational argument has its limits. Essentially, people like this organisation just don't like people cycling, particularly if it is felt to impact (let alone actually impact) on their "right" to drive and park. In other words, make the argument, but don't expect a rational response,

    Dr R Davis, Road Danger Reduction Forum

    1. Oh I don't expect any response at all! Seriously, I think it is worth dismantling this stuff from time to time as we are dealing with people who have some influence. Someone pointed out on Twitter that the RBKC reported their comments as "strategic", but the proposals for the area are not good enough. Perhaps this type of negative view does have influence but not on a scheme basis, but as background noise which puts people off designing better for fear of large objections. Actually, that might be a blog post on its own!