Tuesday 7 June 2011

Dr Clare Gerada and the Battle for Blackfriars

I had been intending to blog on the cycling culture in Geneva, where I was last weekend, or on the Lancaster University study on cycling and walking, the preliminary conclusions of which are very significant, but this is more urgent.

As you may know there is a determined campaign by cyclists now on to get TfL to re-think their ideas for Blackfriars bridge and the junctions at the ends of it, and, in particular, to keep the temporary 20mph limit on the bridge permanently. There was a mass protest ride across the bridge on 20 May which I covered earlier.

Now, in perhaps the best campaigning coup in the history of British cycle campaigning, the LCC has issued this video featuring the Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Dr Clare Gerada, a cyclist who was recently injured in a collision the north junction at Blackfriars, talking from her couch, pleading for Boris and TfL (which he is supposed to be in charge of) to rethink their plans for Blackfriars for the sake of the safety of all pedestrians and cyclists using the bridge and adjacent junctions.

The message is clear. Cyclists are people whose interests cannot be ridden over roughshod in the way TfL and the government are currently doing. This is no longer acceptable in our 21st century democracy, just as ignoring the rights of women, children, racial minorities, or the disabled, became unacceptable in the 20th century.

The "Battle for Blackfriars" has become totemic of the struggle to establish decent treatment for pedestrians and cyclists in the way that major roads in London are engineered. If the campaign on Blackfriars fails, TfL will probably try to impose the same engineering style on all the Thames bridges, and, by extension, all other major road junctions in London under their control. I don't cycle in central London much, but this matters enormously to me, as it must do to all London cyclists. Nearer to me, in the NW London suburbs, TfL, in collaboration with private developers and the Conservative-run Barnet Council, are also planning really bad changes at Staples Corner (on the A5/North Circular Road) and Henleys Corner (on the A41/North Circular road) which will without the slightest doubt, between them, destroy what little cycle commuting there is between outer NW London and the centre.

If, however, cyclists and pedestrians win The Battle for Blackfriars, a vital precedent will have been established, on the acceptability, indeed expectancy, of 20mph being the limit on main roads in UK city centres where cycle and pedestrian flow is larger than motor vehicle flow, and the unacceptability of motorway-style high vehicle-throughput engineering in such places. The implications will be national.

I am not one of those who think that 20mph is the El Dorado of cycle campaigning. I don't think 20mph will, of itself, transform our roads to cause a mass cycling culture to emerge. 20mph will still leave the current volume of motor traffic on the roads, with the pressure on roadspace and aggression that puts most people off from taking to the roads on two wheels. 20mph is in fact mostly helpful to existing, fast "vehicular" cyclists, as it reduces the speed differential between them and the motor traffic to almost nothing, but it does little for the child or pensioner who wants to cycle to the school or the club at 8mph. But it is a fact that 30km/h, 19mph, is the default speed limit in urban centres in most of NW Europe, and it definitely makes as very significant contribution to these places' attractiveness and safety for pedestrians and cyclists, without in any way harming economic efficiency or productivity, and, actually, without significantly impacting motor vehicle journey times. Experiments with general 20mph limits in some UK cities, such a Portsmouth, have shown major safety gains with no down sides (though no major new uptake of cycling).

Leon Daniels, head of Surface Transport at TfL, says:
As the responsible highway authority Transport for London (TfL) has a ‘Network Management Duty’, as defined by the Traffic Management Act 2004, to ensure all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, bus passengers and general traffic, have equal priority in using the road network.
But in fact:
TfL's obligation under the Traffic Management Act 2004 is to: Ensure the expeditious movement of traffic on its own road network....
Where "traffic" in the act is defined in the act to explicitly includes pedestrians and cyclists. It was never the intention of Parliament that the Traffic Management Act should be used as an excuse to deliberately make conditions more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists so as to maximise motor vehicle flows. It was not intended that the requirement for"the expeditious movement of traffic" should overrule safety considerations for vulnerable road-users. 

There is surely a case for a test legal case to be brought against TfL on it's wayward interpretation of the Traffic Management Act, to clarify the law and set a clear precedent for other local authorities: a job for the Cyclists' Defence Fund? Pedestrians would benefit from a clear ruling on this as much as cyclists, so perhaps they could be supported by Living Streets.

In the meantime, the GLA will be taking a vote tomorrow, Wednesday 8 June, on a motion to retain the 20mph limit on Blackfriars. All Londoners are urged to sign the LCC petition in support of the motion and to email their GLA members (particularly the Conservatives, who support 30mph) asking them to vote for the motion. The GLA however has no power over TfL on this matter.

What if the Mayor and TfL ignore the GLA, ignore the LCC, Living Streets, the Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, and thousands of others, who want London to have a decent environment for all those not travelling in motor vehicles? Well, we will know who not to vote for in the elections in 2012.

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