What did Boris ever do for cycling?

LCC's Infrastructure Campaigner, Simon Munk assesses the impact that Boris Johnson has had on cycling in London

Elected for his first term in May 2008, Boris Johnson immediately showed a keen interest in transport - if not cycling directly. Pledging to revive the iconic Routemaster bus and scrap the unpopular ‘bendy’ buses, he also banned alcohol on public transport, introduced Oyster cards to rail and scrapped the proposed congestion charge extension. However he did spot the potential for his predecessor Ken Livingstone’s mooted Cycle Hire Scheme, to boost London’s attractiveness as a city.

Livingstone had laid the groundwork for other schemes too, such as the Cycle Superhighways. The first two to be built were under Johnson’s watch but they weren’t wildly successful. CS3 was already largely in place and segregated from motor vehicle traffic; while CS7 was immediately criticised by LCC for its failure to deal with key junctions including the Stockwell gyratory.

Needless deaths

Despite criticisms Johnson pressed ahead with further Cycle Superhighways that failed to separate cyclists from fast-moving heavy traffic or protect them at junctions like the ‘perfectly negotiable’ Elephant & Castle. It took pressure from campaigners and the needless deaths of Brian Dorling and Svitlana Tereshenko - both killed by lorries at Bow roundabout on CS2 within a few weeks of each other at the end of 2011 - to start to change minds.

LCC organised mass demonstrations - the big turning point was our Love London, Go Dutch campaign, during the 2012 Mayoral election campaign. 40,000 people signed our petition calling for the Mayor to make our streets as ‘safe and inviting for cycling as they are in Holland’, and 10,000 turned out in the rain for the country’s biggest-ever protest ride. The campaign called for:

  • the implementation of three high-profile Dutch-style cycling infrastructure schemes
  • all planned developments on main roads to meet Go Dutch standards, especially junctions
  • the Cycle Superhighways programme to meet the same standards

Finally, to his great credit, Johnson grasped what was needed for cycling infrastructure and he started to deliver:

  • the three Dutch-style schemes became three ‘mini-Holland’ boroughs
  • ‘Go Dutch standards’ for main roads started turning Cycle Superhighways from blue paint into proper, protected space for cycling

Better junctions

There has been a serious commitment to make Better Junctions better - 33 of the worst junctions have been funded an average £9 million each to fix them. The planned scale of transformation to places like Vauxhall Cross, Westminster Bridge Road and Highbury Corner is stunning.

However on-the-ground progress has still been painfully slow. TfL needed to find and train up designers and engineers to turn out the quality of cycling schemes required; Andrew Gilligan, Johnson’s Cycling Commissioner was only appointed in January 2013; and until 2012, Johnson didn’t seem to support the need to invest in Dutch-style cycling infrastructure.

Johnson’s schemes live on, but will the next Mayor be as bold? With your help on our Sign for Cycling campaign, LCC is going to make sure they are -  and that they understand the importance of continuing Johnson’s legacy towards making London a truly world-class cycling city.

 The next Mayor must also understand that progress so far has also taken strong political leadership. Opponents to space for cycling have been numerous and powerful:

  • The London Taxi Driver’s Association (LTDA) has been arguably the most vocal - with its General Secretary calling cycling campaigners the ‘ISIS of London’
  • some councils remain unsupportive
  • some large private landowners and consortiums appear to have prioritised the limo journeys of their CEOs over lives, failing to see that their own members and users increasingly cycle
  • even within TfL many see a real tension between space for cycling and traffic capacity for buses and private motor vehicles

Johnson, TfL’s cycling teams and Gilligan have had to face down all these and more - with LCC’s help and support. The next Mayor must be ready to fight for space too. And they can count on LCC’s active support when they do.

Cycle Superhighways

The first few Cycle Superhighways did not inspire cyclists. The segregated track on CS3 along Cable Street was already largely in place. And CS7 was just ‘blue paint’. And further schemes continued that approach to lethal effect. Even after six fatalities in two weeks in November 2013, Johnson still seemed to feel the problem lay with cyclists’ behaviour rather than infrastructure.

But the penny did drop and Johnson’s Vision for Cycling plan was published in 2013 and adopted our ‘Go Dutch’ agenda. It included the east-west Cycle Superhighway, Quietways and a central London ‘Bike Grid’. For the existing and new Cycle Superhighways, the vision stated: ‘All future... Cycle Superhighways will be delivered to much higher standards, closer to international best practice’ while existing ones would be ‘substantially’ improved.

The result so far?

  • a significant upgrade and extension to CS2, with kerbed segregation and improved junctions - although several still remain dangerous, including Bow roundabout
  • ‘hold-the-left’ at some major intersections, including Oval
  • the east-west and north-south Cycle Superhighways with long sections of two-way track and better junctions which opened in May 2016
  • CS1 - the ‘Cycle SuperQuietway’ from Old Street to Tottenham is due to complete shortly

Plans are fairly advanced for these Cycle Superhighways:

  • CS4 from Tower Bridge to Greenwich
  • CS11 from Portland Place to Swiss Cottage
  • CS3 is finally due an upgrade soon

Quietways

Many campaigners viewed these ‘low-traffic back street’ and park solutions with suspicion. Quieter routes can be good, if direct and with appropriate main-road treatments where encountered, as the Mayor’s vision said they would be. Sadly, the assessment so far is not good in most cases.

While the Quietways revealed or constructed so far include good elements, they also include compromises that leave significant barriers in place particularly in the central London boroughs where they form part of the Central London Cycling Grid.

Very few of the longer Quietways have made it to public consultation yet. LCC will be pushing the new Mayor to ensure Quietways aren’t seen as an easy win, yet only useful for those who already cycle.

Mini-Hollands

The direct result of our Love London, Go Dutch campaign, Boris Johnson funded three outer boroughs - Enfield, Kingston and Waltham Forest - approximately £30 million each, while allocating a further £10 million to the shortlisted boroughs.

The result so far? Mixed. Political willpower has been vital in getting good schemes off the ground. But the principle is sound: a high proportion of short trips to the shops, the tube and other local destinations can be walked or cycled, as they are in Holland’s suburbs and towns.

  • Waltham Forest’s mini-Holland is off to a flying start, with clear political leadership and award-winning schemes going in already, despite significant ‘bikelash’ from some locals
  • Enfield also has pushed forward with major schemes and remained firm against opposition, including from the local MP. But they aren’t as far along in terms of construction or ambition
  • The weak link so far is Kingston which has only started construction on one scheme and initially attempted to dilute plans on schemes from the initial bid. It took  extreme pressure from the local cycling campaign and Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner to improve them

Cycle Hire Scheme

‘Boris bikes’ are already a much-loved feature of London’s streets. And the scheme has gradually expanded from central London to reach as far out as the Olympic Park. Over 10 million trips were registered in 2014, with over 1,000 locations due shortly. The scheme also has an excellent safety record for the numbers of people using it.

Safer Lorries

The issue of lorry danger has moved up TfL and the Mayor’s priorities - mostly due to the ongoing campaigning from LCC and others to highlight the serious and disproportionate risk posed by lorries mixing with cyclists in our tight and congested city streets.

TfL, with the strong backing of former Transport Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy, has promoted the Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS, a quality standard for lorry operators) and the Construction Logistics and Cycle Safety (CLOCS) standard to ensure fleet operators act appropriately and drivers are trained to a good standard. And the enforceable Safer Lorry Scheme has helped push lorries that operate inside London to have better mirrors and sideguards. TfL are now consulting on further changes to the Safer Lorry Scheme to include windows in the lower half of door panels to further improve driver sightlines.

Of course, LCC thinks there’s a long way to go to realise our goal of ending lorry danger. The single biggest step towards that will be when Sadiq Khan delivers on his pledge to ensure ‘Direct Vision’ lorries with minimal blindspots become the default across London (as part of our Sign for Cycling Mayoral campaign).