In April 2012 mayoral candidate Boris Johnson committed to our Love London, Go Dutch campaign. Here, we assess the first 100 days of his second mayoralty...
On 27 April 2012, the day before the Big Ride took place in central London, then-mayoral candidate Boris Johnson agreed to the commitments laid out in our Love London, Go Dutch campaign. The prospect of the UK’s biggest-ever protest bike ride taking place without his support was too much, as was the pressure from the 42,000 people who’d signed our petition calling for streets that are safe and inviting for everyone to cycle. Johnson was the last of the five leading candidates to sign up to our campaign, making it our most successful ever.
In the days after he won the election, we announced our ‘First 100 Days’ campaign to monitor what steps the Mayor was taking to comply with his three Go Dutch commitments. While we recognise these commitments are to be implemented over a whole four-year mayoral term, it’s vital to get off to a good start. That's why we decided to scrutinise the Mayor’s performance after 100 days, as we would for any senior politician, to make sure he sticks to his election promises.
The three commitments to be implemented over the lifetime of his mayoral term are:
- creating three flagship Love London, Go Dutch developments on major streets and/or locations;
- making sure all planned developments on the main roads that TfL controls are completed to Go Dutch standards, especially junctions;
- completing the Cycle Superhighways programme to Go Dutch standards.
Our Love London, Go Dutch standards embrace Dutch-style street design, exemplified by their Sustainable Safety model:
- high-quality segregated bike tracks or lanes where speeds or volumes of motor traffic are high, allied to cyclist-friendly junctions
- priority for walking and cycling on shared-space residential streets by removing rat-runs and reducing motor traffic speeds.
The overarching principle must be to prioritise cycling and walking above motor vehicle use, including the reallocation of roadspace. While we accept transforming a city of London’s size to being truly walking and cycle-friendly will take many years, our three Love London, Go Dutch commitments are meaningful steps in this process.
1. Three flagship walking and cycling projects
We were delighted when the Mayor announced Greenwich and Vauxhall as the first two locations for flagship walking and cycling projects at his first Mayoral Question Time in May. There were a number of questions around Love London, Go Dutch from Assembly Members, including the Green’s Jenny Jones and the Liberal Democrat’s Caroline Pidgeon.
We’ve made the case why these two places are desperately in need of a people-friendly makeover. However, while we’re pleased with the announcement, we’re keen to see action: consultation with local councils and communities, with cycling and walking groups, and the formation of a Transport for London taskforce. So far all we have is a vague announcement...
2. Major developments Go Dutch
With the Olympics and Paralympics dominating the summer, there have been no major transport works apart from the Olympic Route Network itself. Sadly, the ORN was another example where TfL and the Games organisers failed to adequately meet cyclists’ needs without major prompting. Removal of an ASL and poorly signed or non-existent cycle routes came under the spotlight following the death of a cyclist outside the Olympic Park. Where there are major plans for redevelopment, such as around Elephant & Castle and London Bridge station, we’ve yet to hear the mayor signal the radical change in approach he promised.
3. Superhighways & Junctions
There has been a significant change in the language that TfL is using around the extension to Superhighway 2, from Bow roundabout to Stratford. Senior TfL civil servant Ben Plowden is on record as saying that the new section of Superhighway 2 will conform to Love London, Go Dutch principles.
This is essential because the first four Superhighways fail to provide the kind of safe and inviting cycling environment the Dutch enjoy. Along many stretches cyclists are forced to share road space with fast-moving motor vehicles. Recently, a supporter contacted us to say she’d been terrified by being overtaken by a lorry on her right, and then being undertaken by a taxi on her left. We hope Plowden’s pronouncement is a recognition that this kind of infrastructure is potentially fatally flawed.
After a hiatus for the Olympics and Paralympics, the Junctions Review is again progressing at speed. We’re sitting around the table with TfL putting forward our ideas for safe and inviting junctions. However, ours aren’t the solutions on the table, and it’s distressing to realise that ‘doing nothing’ at every junction is still one of TfL’s options.
4. Bogus statistics - UPDATED 28/9/12
Sadly, there are still politicians and sections of the media that attack the reputation of cyclists as a group and – more often than not – these attacks are based on incorrect information. It was distressing to hear the Mayor, supposedly a champion of cyclists, give these people ammunition by quoting a bogus statistic at Mayor’s Questions in the London Assembly.
On Wednesday 23 May 2012, Johnson said 62% of cyclists who suffered death or serious injury in London did so as a result of violating traffic law.
Despite requests at the time, the mayor was never able to provide a source for this bogus figure, which contradicts police and TfL data showing law-breaking by cyclists is only a factor in a tiny percentage of cyclist collisions. In fact, when bicycles and motor vehicles crash, the driver is 2-3 times more likely to be the cause of a crash than the cyclist.
Pleasingly, the mayor had the courage to retract this figure in a written answer to Jenny Jones in September 2012, publicly and unequivocally retracting the falsehood.
Annoyingly, we’ve heard versions of this bogus figure repeated several times by major news organisations as fact since the mayor announced it. Most recently the Evening Standard published a story that included the incorrect assertion that over half of cycling casualties are the fault of the cyclist. Clearly, the mayor’s retraction goes a long way towards restoring his credibility as a cycling champion, but not without damage to the reputation of many innocent Londoners having already been inflicted.
5. Where’s the plan, Boris?
On 3 July 2012 we and British Cycling received a letter from the mayor in which he said he had instructed TfL to review our Love London, Go Dutch campaign to see how its principles could be implemented in new street designs. This was great news and probably the best source of hope to date that the mayor intends to keep his promises on Love London, Go Dutch. However, these instructions contained worrying provisos around “physical constraints of London’s streets” and “the needs of all road users”.
In reality, there are Dutch-style solutions for all of London’s streets, and Go Dutch contains a commitment to prioritise walking and cycling. On 1 August 2012 we felt compelled to write to Boris Johnson because we could see no plan of action or timetable to deliver the three Love London, Go Dutch mayoral commitments. We considered such a top-down plan from the Mayor essential to having continental best-practice for cycling permeate the whole of London’s transport system. Disappointingly, we’ve yet to receive a response.
6 Cable car & skyways
On 28 June, TfL opened its new cable car — the Emirates Air Line — from North Greenwich station across the River Thames to Royal Docks. Cyclists who’ve transported their bikes on the cable car have praised the efficiency of staff there, and their willingness to accommodate bicycles. However, each gondola only carries two bikes, so large groups can wait a long time to cross. Because of this waiting time at busy periods, the cable car doesn’t have the capacity to handle large volumes of rush-hour commuter journeys.
While the Sky Line is an intriguing piece of tourist-centric architecture, many more local journeys could have been encouraged by building a dedicated cycling and walking bridge, a plan that was put forward by Sustrans in 2008, yet dropped by the Mayor.
The cable car wasn’t the only piece of blue-sky thinking from the mayor recently. He also announced a back-of-the-envelope plan to build raised cycleways alongside railway tracks on key commuter routes. While the media has enjoyed speculating over this, most serious cycling commentators dismissed the idea as unworkable and likely to be more expensive than actually redesigning our city streets. The ‘Skyways’ plan is also based on an inaccurate premise that “there isn’t enough space in London to have Dutch-style solutions”.
7. Road Task Force & Cycling Commissioner
The Mayor’s pre-election promises included a promise to create a Roads Task Force (including a cycling representative) and to appoint a Cycling Commissioner. One of our elected trustees, Oliver Schick from Hackney Cyclists, has been given a seat on the Task Force, but it’s too early to say what direction this group will steer public policy on roads.
In his transport manifesto, the mayor implied that this body’s main remit would be ‘congestion-busting’. Sadly, this kind of language often signifies prioritisation of motor traffic, which ironically often creates more short motor journeys and more congestion, rather encouraging walking and cycling, which keeps cars off the street.
The mayor also promised to create the position of Cycling Commissioner. There’s a strong argument that the Mayor’s administration needs someone with political power to make sure that cycling and walking are an integral part of all traffic management projects. A recent article on the London Bridge developers in Local Transport Today showed that cycling isn’t even on their radar, which is incredible considering how many cycle journeys the £1.2 billion development is likely to affect. The existence of a Cycling Commissioner with influence could change that and avoid situations like that at Blackfriars, where piecemeal solutions are added late on.
Our '100 Days' verdict
The good news is that the mayor has made one big pledge along the path to meeting his promises to Go Dutch, namely identifying the locations of his first two flagship schemes. He also appears to have set the ball rolling for TfL to move towards adopting international cycling best-practice for Superhighways and other streets. The not-so-good news is that we still don’t have a plan, and with developments on London’s roads continuing to show little sign that the mayor’s promises have taken root, our optimism remains guarded.
True we are still only a few months into the Mayor’s four-year term, and much of that time he has been focusing on the Olympics and the Paralympics, which is a massive PR opportunity for him and the city. But by now he should have done more to convince Londoners that he has given the backing to TfL that it needs to press full steam ahead with measures to make London as safe and inviting for cycling as it is in Holland. The verdict? Boris has been saying enough of the right words to get a pass mark at 100 days, but nothing tangible has actually changed yet.
A year into this new term we’ll have another stock take, by which time we’ll not only need a convincing Love London, Go Dutch plan to be well underway, but change must be visible in a big way on the ground. We’ll be pressing the mayor all the way on your behalf to make sure this happens.