Saturday 24 August 2013

The new Royal College Street cycle tracks

Context map: the completed cycle tracks on Royal College street (and the bit on St Pancras Way) are shown in solid red. The proposed extension of the tracks to Kentish Town Road is shown dashed red. The route I advocate developing as another pair of tracks on Delancey Street and Pratt Street, to link to Gloucester Avenue, is shown dashed blue.
I wrote quite a bit on how the two-way cycle track built in 2000 on Royal College Street, Camden Town, London NW1, came to be, in my post "Understanding Walking and Cycling", "deja vue" and the history of Camden's cycle tracks. I also covered proposals to change the street again in While Boris so far fails to "Go Dutch", Camden quietly gets on with it.

It is now possible to cycle the new pair of one-way cycle tracks on Royal College Street. The scheme is not yet complete. It has been delayed by various utility works, and ongoing work by the National Grid by the Pratt Street junction means it cannot be completed for another 12 months. From this junction there is a temporary northbound cycle lane in place. In addition, though the southbound track now starts at Baynes Street, a section of it is constructed with temporary plastic blocks to allow for lorry movements associated with the electricity works. The commitment from Camden is to build the tracks through the Camden Road junction, to provide the full, direct two-way cycling linkage between Kentish Town Road, Somers Town and Euston Road that has long been called for by Camden Cycling Campaign.

Temporary arrangements near Pratt Street
The scheme is therefore still being built, and in a continual state of flux. However, there has been a lot of comment on it on the cycling blogs, so it deserves some discussion here.

The old Royal College Street track, present from 2000 to 2013
As I've mentioned before, I was never particularly keen on the idea of ripping out the existing 3m wide green two-way kerb-segregated cycle track on the west side of Royal College Street in favour of a new scheme, as the old scheme seemed to be working well, to me, and I believed that if the money was available it would be better spent building a wholly new facility elsewhere, or, alternatively, on radically expanding the Bloomsbury Seven Stations link track, or replacing it with a no-through traffic cycle street, as it is now so clearly over capacity. The Royal College Street track was not over-capacity. Because the flows on it were mainly tidal, the 3m total width was used efficiently.

The over-capacity Seven Stations Link track at Tavistock Place,  photo by Rob Hayles
However, it needs to be understood that it is not a high priority of councils to construct additional cycle infrastructure; not even in one of the most cycle-friendly local authorities in the country. It is not really even a high priority for them to increase cycling, or, indeed, walking. It should be, but it is not going to be, until a very clear steer, and funding to match, is provided by the Department for Transport. Local campaigning can do nothing to change this: we need a massive national movement to make it so. Groups as diverse as the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, the British Medical Association, the Institute of Civil Engineering and The Times newspaper, are campaigning for this change, but it is still very, very far away. As Gabriel Scally wrote in the British Medical Journal this week:
If we really want to make a substantial difference to the physical activity profile of our population, and to help combat obesity, we need to concentrate on dramatically increasing the proportion of overall personal journeys that are made by walking or cycling. This will simply not happen, or at least not within our lifetime, unless there is a substantial political commitment that follows through into a restructuring of spending plans. The type of pathetically small investments we are continuing to see will make a difference, but given the scale of the challenge that we face, that difference will be insignificant.
The politician that takes the initiative and changes our entire approach to walking and cycling will be revered and remembered.
He put is well. How far away the change is is shown by the DfT's own map of cycle funding in England, excluding London:

They are hoping, with this publicity release, clearly, to make some people who don't analyse very far think they are doing something for cycling. But transport investments are measured in billions of pounds. Estimates for the cost of the High Speed Two line from London to Birmingham are between £40 and £80 billion. Cycling is cheaper than other kinds of transport investment, for the benefits obtained, but the funding needs to be serious. As I pointed out in another post, it is easy to show, with a bit of rough and ready costing, that to solve even the most fundamental cycle network problems of the Borough of Brent it would take more than Boris Johnson's entire allocation of £100 million that is earmarked for selected areas of Outer London. If the sums that the Mayor of London is projecting for cycling are two to four times too low, as I hold it is easy to show they are, if we are serious about making a difference, then the sums the DfT are projecting nationally are two orders of magnitude too low. The point is nicely made in Dave Atkinson's reworked version of the map:

So the point I a making, in a lengthy digression, is that we don't yet have a serious, prioritised policy of building cycle infrastructure (or indeed improving the walking infrastructure) yet in London or in England, and this cannot be laid at the door of local councils, nor probably at the door of the Mayor of London, and neither is there much that local campaigning can do about it, given the legal constraints on local authority spending.

What then is the priority placed on local authority transport departments by the DfT? There are two main priorities: maintaining the flow of "traffic" (whatever that means), and "reducing accidents". "Reducing accidents", of course, is not the same thing as reducing danger, or reducing the barriers to walking and cycling. In many cases the results of the (highly successful, in international terms, it has to be said) policy of "reducing accidents" is to make it harder for people to walk and cycle, and to reduce the share of these modes in the transport mix. We all know how this occurs: through the imposition of indirect and inconvenient "sheep-pen" main road crossings on pedestrians (very safe), and of guardrailing to keep, again, pedestrians out of mischief and maintain the dominance of cars on the streets, and through the imposition of barriers to convenient cycling and the creation of cycle routes that take absurd routings through a city (a terrible example in Durham here), all that stuff.

The point I am getting round to is that the changes to Royal College Street must not be regarded as part of any policy to extend cycle infrastructure, or increase cycling. They had nothing to do with The Mayor's Vision for Cycling in London, predating that, though the concept drawing did appear in that document. They came out of the current prioritised policy for local authority transport departments, imposed on them by government, of "reducing accidents". Officers cannot easily go against this policy; they regard themselves, in my experience, more or less contractually bound by it. For good or ill, this is the position.

The old cycle track on Royal College Street did not have a very good safety record. The problem was the Pratt Street junction. Drivers would emerge from this and only look right, for a gap in the two lanes of northbound traffic, and make their turn, often failing to observe the southbound cyclists on the track, who had marked priority. Everything had been tried over the years: installation of a severe speed table, "Stop" signs and flashing lights like at a railway crossing, a sign saying "Two-way cycle track". But there were still enough crashes that "something had to be done". Officers felt obliged to do something. Clearly we did not want to make the cyclists give way at a minor road, that would be calamitous for the whole principal of segregated cycle tracks (though many officers had wanted to do this in the past and had to be resisted by Camden Cycling Campaign), so the solution needed to be a redesign that placed both directions of cycle traffic on the expected sides of the street.

I continued to lobby against changing Royal College Street for a while, arguing that other locations in Camden, where there had been cycling fatalities, should be addressed first: Kings Cross, and the St Pancras Way – Camden Road junction. But these were both junctions with TfL roads, where TfL and the buses had a big, obfuscating interest. They were locations with a history of policy conflict between Camden, local groups, and TfL, which seemed deadlocked, and where nothing was likely to happen quickly. At Royal College Street, Camden could make changes quite quickly. Moreover, there was a synergy with the Camden Road danger problem. Moving cycle flows onto the expected sides of Royal College Street would make it much easier to construct a safe two-way cycle crossing of Camden Road, creating a junction cyclists could more safely use than the St Pancras Way one, and which they certainly would use preferentially if it became possible. Looking further north, mono directional-tracks would almost certainly be more straightforward to merge into St Pancras Way and then Kentish Town road.

I was won over to the idea that Royal College Street should be rebuilt in the way proposed by these factors:
  1. The length of segregated cycle route would be ultimately more than doubled by the scheme
  2. The minor junctions would become safer
  3. The total width allocated to cycling would increase by 1m
  4. The surfaces would be renewed
  5. The whole route would become far more useful to far more people with the extension to Kentish Town Road
  6. A better crossing of Camden Road than exists currently should be created
  7. The proposed scheme would not be very expensive, due to the style of "lighweight segregation" proposed, making it a good template for elsewhere in London, if successful
  8. The space dedicated to motor traffic would be halved from two lanes to one and speeds should be reduced. (It is hard to remember now the character of the three-lane motorway that existed here before 2000).
  9. It would be demonstrated how a cycle track can co-esist with residents' parking
  10. The "lightweight segregation" could easily be changed if the results were not good
My concerns were largely around the effectiveness of "lightweight segregation". Would it work, and be durable, and respected by motorists?

I no longer cycle this route regularly, since I moved from Camden to Brent. I made a special trip to observe the operation of the tracks between 6 and 7pm this week. So I've not seen it under an assortment of conditions, and my conclusions have to be highly provisional.

Northbound track near the south end
The scheme, so far as it has got, seems to be working. It is respected by motorists (and I've not heard reports to the contrary from those who use the route regularly). The segregation consists of an alternation of planters, filled with plants, and "armadillos", about 80cm long and 10cm high (these are officially called "zebras" by manufacturer Zicla and they cost €26 each, if anyone is interested). The tracks have been built at 2m wide. I did have doubts if this would be wide enough for two-abreast, social cycling, but I observed more than one pair of cyclists succeeding in cycling in parallel, so it turns out it is. There is car parking outside the cycle track on the east (southbound) side. This means that the drivers' doors will open on to the cycle track. However, drivers will be facing the oncoming flow of cyclists, so a classic "dooring" accident is unlikely. If it does occur, it will be a glancing blow, and the cyclist will not be thrown into passing traffic, as he or she would be in the usual UK roads arrangement, but deflected towards the pavement.

Southbound track near the north end
One thing that did impress itself upon me, using the Brompton, with its low tolerance of uneven surfaces, is the quantity of ironwork in the track surfaces. The road laying people have tried hard to get the finish as good as possible, but the presence of so much metalwork clearly reduces the quality of this new-build below that of its Dutch equivalent. The Dutch remove and reinstall all utilities when they redesign a street, as a matter of routine, so they achieve absolutely perfect cycling surfaces. Clearly that is not part of our maintenance culture or system, and to have moved all these access covers and drains would have enormously increased the cost of the scheme.

The northern end of the southbound track can only be accessed from Baynes Street at the moment, and most cyclists will probably continue to access it in the traditional way, from Georgiana Street, further south, as this is a slightly shorter route, so this part is slightly out on a limb at the moment. But it will become integrated when the northern extension is built.

Southbound track at Baynes Street junction
The junction of the track with Crowndale road, at its southern end, had to be completely changed. The priority afforded by the signals seems to be about the same as it was before, though I never measured timings. Cyclists positioned at the southbound stop-line have reported they have had some conflicts, or near-conflicts, with the flow of traffic northbound from Midland Road, as two queuing lanes try to merge into one to get into Royal College Street, but I did not experience this, being there at a less-busy time. Some adjustment might prove necessary here.

Looking at the Crowndale road crossing from the south
A lot of attention has focused on the execution of the bus stops. There are two of these, the one opposite the Royal Veterinary College, and the more northerly one.

The southerly bus stop
The northerly bus stop
With these stops, the passengers board from, and disembark on to, a table on the cycle track: there is not a separate boarding island (or "floating bus stop") as you would generally find in Dutch designs, or, indeed, that is being built on the Cycle Superhighway 2 extension, or that has been built on Lewes Road, Brighton. The cycle track is not interrupted by stopping buses; on the other hand, cyclists on the track have a big onus to look out for, and give way to, passengers. Considering that, in the southern case, there clearly was the space for a boarding island, this does not seem to be an optimal solution. There seems to have been an error of measurement in the plans of the road with at this point, as they show insufficient space for moving motor traffic to pass between the bus stop and the car parking, whereas, in fact, there is space. I am not interested in gratuitously holding the cars up behind buses, if there is space for them to get past without causing the buses problems. However, the potential for cycle-pedestrain conflict at the southern bus stop, and possibly also at the northern one, could have been reduced, with boarding islands (which were provided, in a limited way, by the narrow segregating strip in the old design). Certainly this design would not be suitable for busy bus stops.

In practice, on Royal College Street (and people who use the route regularly are welcome to correct me on this), there does not seem to be a significant problem with the bus stops. There are five buses an hour here, on a single service, all northbound. I don't know what the passengers think of these stops, and whether they are finding this arrangement better or worse than the old one. It would be interesting to find out, to apply the findings to future designs. But the number of potential interactions has clearly been reduced, because the southbound flow of cyclists has been transferred to the other side of the street, with no interaction with buses. That being said, the main northbound flow of cyclists will be in the evening peak, when presumably most passengers are getting off northbound buses, so I don't think we can go so far as to say the number of potential interactions has been halved. But at least now the passengers only have to look one way. Similar bus stop designs can be found in Denmark, in comparably busy places, or busier ones, and they do not appear to cause great problems there.

Another criticism that has been levelled is that the tracks could have been made wider. Seeing the street now, that does seem to be the conclusion. On the other hand, doing that would have placed cyclists closer to the motor traffic, travelling in one stream in the centre of its lane. The buffer would have been less, and so would the buffer between the parked cars and the moving motor vehicles (not relevant to the cyclists, but to car occupants). I'm not sure the balance of space achieved is optimal, but one advantage of this design is that it could cheaply be altered.

Another touted advantage is that cyclists can easily get into and out of the tracks, between the "armadilloes". Is this an advantage at all, it has been questioned? Should not the track be wide enough to accommodate all the cyclists, only needing to let them in and out at junctions? If cyclists are entering and leaving the track otherwise, is this not evidence of problems with the design, for example, obstruction at the bus stops? Well, I'm not sure it is all as simple as that. We are starting from where we are, which is a highly fragmentary (indeed, almost non-existent) dedicated cycle network, and an established culture of vehicular cycling. We need to develop the dedicated network, and interface with the established norms of London cycling as well.

Elsewhere in London, I sometimes find myself cycling past bits of cycle facility, ignoring them. And occasionally I think, "If that was in the Netherlands, I would have used it. It is not, in itself, a bad bit of infrastructure." Why is that the case? It is because the more continuous and pervasive cycle infrastructure becomes, the easier and simpler it becomes to stick to it as much as possible. We may, and should, aim for the best possible infrastructure, that will accomodate all cycling styles simultaneously, with enough capacity, but we simply will not get 100% take up from existing cyclists, however good we make isolated sections, because the network is fragmentary. With a fragmentary network, fast cyclists who are used to London traffic will often not find it worth their while to join it, even if sections are excellent.

I observed this effect at the Crowndale Road junction, when I saw that on every phase of the lights, the fast cadre of northbound cyclists coming from Kings Cross on Midland Road (the people who do not use the more intricate, quieter "Somers Town Route" past the British Library) join Royal College Street. Some of them would do what the design allows them to do, and nip in to the track between the planters. But a few would carry on resolutely up the carriageway of Royal College Street, rejecting the cycle track option.

Cyclists joining, or not joining, the northbound track from Midland Road
I can understand why the the rejectors do this. It's a switch of mindset to go between fast, pressurised vehicular cycling, and using cycle facilities, whether the facilities are good, bad, or indifferent. If this is the only bit of cycle track on your journey of 5–10 miles, which you aim to accomplish at an average speed of 17–20mph, and you think you might have to stop for bus passengers, or slow down for a couple of girls cycling side-by-side, in a place where you can't easily get out of the track, would you join it? There would be advantages and disadvantages either way, and it would be a marginal decision, so you might just stick to doing what you have always done. But such decisions, and the need for them, reduce, the more extensive the segregated cycle network becomes. The almost 100% takeup of the segregated networks by Dutch and Danish cyclists is not entirely on account of their point-to-point quality, it is also on account of their ubiquity. We'll have to work with an evolving situation, for a long time, on this street, and elsewhere, where the balance of attractiveness of the tracks versus the carriageway continuously shifts for various groups of cyclists. We're not interested in forcing cyclists to use dedicated infrasteructure if they do not want to. But all the same, it's a good idea to give them a lot of opportunities to get into it. From that point of view, this design is rather good. It's not what the Dutch do, but our whole situation is different.

So, the overall verdict on the scheme so far: is the result attractive? Yes, in my view it is. Is the cycling experience pleasant? In my opinion it is. Is this an improvement on what we had before? It's marginal, I think, at the moment. But the extension northwards will be the game-changer. Is it safer? Probably, we'll have to see. Could the design be improved? Probably. Will it be? It might well be. It could easily be adjusted. Would I be happy to see more streets rebuilt like this? Suitable streets, yes, unsuitable ones, no. As always, we need to proceed case-by-case.

Is it "Dutch"? Hmm. This last question has caused a a surprising amount of heat in some circles. On one level, what does it matter if it's Dutch, Danish, American, Spanish or a uniquely British product? What matters is the cycling experience, and of course, safety. On another level, well, in important senses it is "Dutch". It is a rare example on UK roads of decent-quality physically separated cycling space giving cyclists a high level of convenience and subjective safety. That's what we were always talking about when we campaigned under the slogan "Love London, Go Dutch" – clearly. I know that no street in the Netherlands actually looks quite like this, but let's apply a little common sense here. We need to take into account context.

One point of context is that we have little history in the UK, and few native models, in effective engineering to separate bikes from motor vehicles on the roads. We need to develop these, and, as I say, we need to make these interface well with the cycling culture that we already have. A specific point is that where there is a demand for both cycle space and car parking space, we have traditionally had the idea that bikes should be outside the car parking space on busy roads, sandwiched between the parked cars – with doors opening primarily on the drivers' side, right into cyclists' paths, and fast-moving, heavy traffic, in direct contradiction to the model used in the Netherlands, Denmark and other countries that have developed effective cycle networks. These countries have usually placed parking between the cycle flow and the motor flow, to protect it.  In breaking with UK tradition, and finding a way to combine the cycle flow with parking the correct way round, this can reasonably be described as a "continental" design, if not really all that 'Dutch". The same argument applies to the bus stops. These look like some of the Copenhagen bus stops (except those that I saw where passengers disembarked directly on to the cycle track did not even have a table on the track, so were even less kind to bus users).

Is the result at Royal College Street one that Camden Council should basically be congratulated on? As I say, it's very early days, but I would say "yes', and I would go on to point out what needs to be done next. Camden is very obviously a council that "gets" cycling, in contrast to some other London boroughs, where council policies are working directly against the "space for cycling" agenda. In Southwark a set of guidelines for cycling policy has been drafted that set the council hard against giving cyclists their own space on the roads. In Hackney, the councillor responsible, Vincent Stops, has declared clearly that "Hackney is a 'Share the Road' borough", and implied, in my hearing, that there will be no place on Hackney's roads for cyclists who refuse to cycle with motor traffic.

Camden's councillors and planners, or at least some of them, on the other hand, seem to have understood that to extend the cycling demographic and make cycling objectively safe, as well as convenient, requires that prioritised and protected space to be given over to cycling on significant through-roads. Other boroughs have yet to make that leap. If any London authority is close to "Going Dutch", it is Camden. They need sensible and balanced support. Not uncritical support, but, as I say, sensible support that will tease out new issues as they arise and find good solutions for the borough and for London. We only have to look at the farce of the segregated cycle lane that Tower Hamlets has just completed on Bethnal Green Road to see how far ahead Camden is with Royal College Street.

I look forward to hearing others' opinions, and not just from the usual bloggers, on the new Royal College Street design. Those cyclists I have from on Twitter, who have actually tried it out, appear generally to be pleased with it. It cost, it is reported, £50,000. I presume this includes the resurfacing and also the removal of the old cycle track. If this is the case, then the cost of the same length of track on a road which did not have an existing cycle track  to be removed would be even less. For the results, the money has been pretty well-spent. The original track, for information, cost £1 million in 2000, for less than 1km. Most of this cost came about because the drains had to be rebuilt. That having been done reduced the cost of the recent works. So, to an extent, one thing has been built on another, and earlier investments have not been wasted.

What I'd like to see next, apart from the northwards extension of the Royal College Street tracks to connect with Kentish Town Road, is for the connection of this route westwards through to Primrose Hill and Hampstead to be tacked. This currently goes westbound via Pratt Street, which has reasonable conditions, with a recently-improved mode-filtered crossing of Camden Street, and then via the appalling Delancey Street, with its nasty pinch point at the corner with Camden High Street, that the roaring vehicles exiting Pratt Street always try to get through before the cyclist can reach it, which then widens, pointlessly, into a three-lane one-way motorway on a curve as it approaches the Parkway junction, only for cyclists going straight-on, towards Gloucester Avenue, to be forced into a narrow centre lane between islands, competing with motor traffic to get through that junction, while just beyond lies the low-traffic oasis of relative tranquility that is the Primrose Hill area. Eastbound, there is no good route. The best is via the pedestrian/cycle bridge on Regent's Park Road, and via the congested and traffic-light strewn Chalk Farm Road.

The nonsensical three-lane one way racetrack of Delancey Street

The tight centre lane in which cyclists must jostle with motorists in order to get from Delancey Street to Gloucester Avenue. The short pink cycle contraflow track does not allow the other direction of travel, it goes towards Regent's Park
The relatively quiet haven of Gloucester Avenue, past one of the mode filters that effectively takes the whole district of Primrose Hill out of the through-traffic system
The solution to all this is clearly to replicate something like the Royal College Street design on Delancey Street. Royal College Street was also a three-lane, roaring, one-way motorway before 2000. Delancey Street could be civilised similarly, reduced to one consistent lane, westbound only for motor traffic, with cycle tracks going in both directions. This would effect a high-quality cycling connection in both directions between Kings Cross and Bloomsbury and the residential areas of north-west Camden: Primrose Hill, Belsize Park, Hampstead and Kilburn, and on to Brent, with minimal change to the existing traffic systems.

Context map: the completed cycle tracks on Royal College street (and the bit on St Pancras Way) are shown in solid red. The proposed extension of the tracks to Kentish Town Road is shown dashed red. The route I advocate developing as another pair of tracks on Delancey Street and Pratt Street, to link to Gloucester Avenue, is shown dashed blue.
I believe the new Royal College Street design provides, overall, a good model, that, with tweaks, would be applicable to other streets in Camden and London generally. If it were applied widely, we would see significant results in terms of increased cycling. I commend those involved with it, both in Camden Cycling Campaign and Camden Council.

Thursday 8 August 2013

My response to the City of London's Aldgate gyratory proposals

The City's consultation on the proposals for Aldgate ends today. There is an online opinion survey, which may be currently found here. It's not my area of London, but for more excellent perspectives on it, see Cyclists in the City, As Easy As Riding A Bike, and Rachel Aldred.

Here are my responses to the opinion survey, excluding the yes/no ones:

The provision for cycling east-west, towards and away from the City, and connecting with Barclays Cycle Superhighway 2, is not good enough. On such a major artery, space should be made for segregated cycle tracks of adequate width and good priority, that cannot be blocked by stopping and loading. In order to create that space, it would probably be a better idea to retain the gyratory system for motor vehicles, but provide a short-cut two-way east-west cycle track, or two separate unidirectional tracks on different parts of the junction. 
Middlesex Street: The cycle track (not cycle "lanes") should be 3-4m wide for two-way flow. It should be at a different level from the rest of the paving to make it distinctive and separate cyclists clearly from pedestrians 
Elsewhere, the cycle lanes in the design are unsatisfactory. They are not even continuous on specific alignments, and they will not protect cyclists against large numbers of heavy lorries and fast cars using this route. They need to be physically segregated throughout. To create the space for this on all alignments, the basic idea of removing the gyratory system may need to be rethought.  
There are too many "pinch-points" for cyclists in the current design, which will bring them into conflict with heavy vehicles such as buses and lorries, and continue to be a huge deterrent and a source of danger to those trying to cycle into the city. I am not in favour of the advanced stop areas for cyclists at the junctions. These achieve little on such busy roads. Segregated lanes going up to junctions are needed instead, with signal phases that separate cyclists from turning motor vehicles, and particularly prevent motor vehicles turning left across their path. The pavement space in this design appears excessive, and the discontinuity of the cycle facilities shows that cycling has been a low priority in the design.
Pedestrian facilities are generally good, but the pavement space and general wasted space in the design is too great. The balance between pavement and cycling space is wrong, and this will encourage cycling on the pavements, which nobody wants.  Cycle lanes and tracks must be continuous on specific alignments. 
Suggestion for new public space: You could consider one of the "open air gyms" that I have seen other boroughs installing in public parks. These are very popular with all ages, and provide healthy outdoor recreation. They take up little space and are low-maintenance.
David Arditti, Edgware 

Sunday 4 August 2013

FreeCycle floods a tiny part of London with bikes for a few hours

So we've now had the great RideLondon festival of cycling that Boris Johnson promised us last August. I congratulate Boris himself for finishing the 100 mile ride today, and I congratulate all those who made it to the eight-mile FreeCycle circuit yesterday, especially those families with children who cycled all the way to it, from other parts of London, especially more distant suburbs, on roads that were fully open to motor traffic as normal. I congratulate even more those who cycled back. In my experience, there were very few families who attempted this.

It would be interesting to find out if anybody has surveyed how the participants got to and from the FreeCycle. My guess is that the vast majority either came by car, by train, or they did cycle, but live very close to central London (say within 2 miles of the circuit). I really doubt the value of London Cycling Campaign's led rides. There were about 30 of these, from most of the boroughs apart from Westminster and the City. I would guess that they took about 50–100 riders each, so that would be of the order of 2,250 riders brought to the circuit in this manner, out of the 50,000 who took part: only about 5%.

LCC go a little money from this enterprise, and very limited exposure. LCC representation could be found in one of the tents in the Cycle Village in Green Park, along with British Cycling and some other concerns, but few participants would have found it or sought it out. Much volunteer time was taken up with the effort of arranging the led rides, in support of an event which was commercially sponsored,  necessarily attracting attention away from the bread-and-butter work of trying to hold Transport for London and the borough's transport departments to account for their failure to create everyday decent cycling conditions for Londoners. Officers in those organisations who don't like being pestered by campaigners must have been most grateful to the holiday afforded them by Boris's clever diversionary tactic. The LCC exercise in collaboration over RideLondon seems strange to me in the context of the ongoing protests over the high death-rate for cycling in London and slowness of progress in "cycleising" the city. I think it was a wrong decision, and, as a member, I don't recall being consulted about it.  If it was to take part with the feeder rides, LCC should at least have made a minimum demand that the roads on the routes of the feeders must be closed, temporarily, by the police, to allow the rides to pass.

Anyway, people turned out in their thousands, as they will do, in great weather, to ride on "closed" roads (but were these roads not "opened" to them in a more real sense?) FreeCycle, like its predecessors, the SkyRide, and Hovis Freewheel before that, mainly showed, of course, that Londoners, and indeed people who came from distant parts of the country to take part (Radio 4 today featured a family who travelled from Yorkshire), are desperate to cycle, but the vast majority won't do it on an everyday basis with our road conditions as they are. When the tannoys announced at 3pm on Saturday that "The circuit will close at 4pm and you must be off it by then", there was no mistaking the voice of doom. It was saying, in effect, "You've had your fun; now we return to normal, for the serious, proper business of the nation that is these roads' real purpose. You will have no place here anymore. Get out, go home. Right to Ride, what's that? Never heard of it. This ain't Holland, you know."

Riders on the Embankment enjoying their theoretical "right to ride" ride here, briefly made real, for 7 hours a year, through the munificence of our city authorities
 Londonneur summoned up a good metaphor for the situation in this tweet:
@VoleOSpeed the prisoners and their children allowed to taste freedom but once a year while being taunted by the guards. #cruelty #freecycle
And Kristian also made a good point:
#FreeCycle was mostly a big go-slow, they didn't close nearly enough roads to comfortably accommodate everyone riding
To which Chris Lowe responded:
@KristianCyc @VoleOSpeed And some cyclists won't have gone because they didn't want to go slow - full demand not realised.
So in other words if cycling had be allocated more space than the eight miles of "closed" roads, even more cyclists would have been attracted.

The route actually had been improved over previous years. Last time (the Sky Ride two years ago), there had been a huge jam where it turned left from Horseguards Road into Great George Street. This time the route was altered so it went straight from the Mall, through Admiralty Arch, into Whitehall, which worked far better. But into the City it was much the same, and crowded as before. Those who went earlier in the day seemed to have a better experience than those who were there after midday.

There were cock-ups in other areas of organisation. It seems as if, because the ownership of the event keeps changing, first Hovis / The Mayor, then Sky / British Cycling, now something called the London & Surrey Cycling Partnership, sponsored by Prudential, new mistakes are made every time, or old lessons are not learned in the organising of it. Publicity for the LCC feeder rides went wrong, with, in one case, nobody turning up at one of the start points because it had not been publicised. There was little or no free refreshment provided for the volunteer ride marshals, or, at least, nobody could find it: a fine reward for giving up your weekend to do a painfully slow ride sheperding inexperienced and unfit cyclists on dangerous astreets full of aggressive traffic.

But aside from details, I go back to the question: What the point of it all actually? One of the first things that happened to me when I arrived at Green Park was that I spoke to a lady with some foreign accent (probably not Dutch). She said, of the scene outside Buckingham Palace, as the riders arrived for the FreeCycle, "It looks just like Amsterdam Centraal. But there it's like this every day of the year". (She might have added, "And it's also the same in city and town centres across the Netherlands every day of the year"). She went on: "I won't cycle in London normally. The roads are too dangerous".

rare cycling-related report on Radio 4's The World this Weekend today interviewed a selection of FreeCycle participants, all of whom expressed the same sentiment. People wish to be able to cycle away from motor traffic every day. And we know it could be done. Why does it look like that in Amsterdam and throughout the whole country of the Netherlands every day of the year? It looks like that because the have made permanent traffic-free space for cycling. And they have made far more space than just contained in eight miles of road. They have made about 30,000 miles of cycle paths. (And that doesn't take into account the ways in which the roughly 100,000 miles of other roads have been made cycle-friendly). And that traffic-free space is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. No officious stewards with megaphones are required to tell people that their ride is over. Ever.

Caged-in in both space and time: the riders outside the home of the British monarch
There is progress in London. Thirty-five years of campaigning by the LCC have not been wasted, as David Hembrow has claimed. We have a lot that we did not have when the campaign began. Physically, one can point to some of the better pieces of infrastructure, like Camden's Somers Town Route and Bloomsbury cycle track, and Cycle Superhighway 3 in East London, and smaller features like safe bike crossings of major roads and junctions at Hyde Park Corner, Bayswater Road, Knightsbridge, Swiss Cottage, Strand, and other places, and allowed cycling paths through the Royal Parks, all features used by thousands of cyclists every day. We had none of this 35 years ago. It's all been achieved by campaigning.

We've now got extensive 20mph limits, and we've got an increasing number of useful minor road routes opening up through councils implementing cycle exceptions to one-way schemes. Just on the way to the FreeCycle I utilised one of the latest of these, a great scheme by Camden whereby Priory Road, a long, straight residential road in West Hampstead that provides an alternative to a section of the congested A5 or the twisty and bus-riddled West End Lane, has been opened up to two-way cycling along its length, with minimal engineering, just signage. The resulting experience is exactly like cycling in a Dutch residential street: you have to exercise caution at give-ways where it crosses other residential streets, but there is no traffic to speak of, because cars cannot use this as a through-route due to the one-way system. Camden rightly won the LCC's award for "Best Borough cycling Initiative" (jointly with the City) for this and similar schemes elsewhere.

Camden's recent scheme at Priory Road, West Hampstead, NW6
Campaigning has also given us the creation of the post of Cycling Commissioner, it's given us the Mayor's Vision (still only a distant vision, five months on from publication), and it's given a definite political momentum to the issue at London level and borough level, with every council seemingly now wanting to be involved (with the possible exception of Greenwich), to the extent of even such an historically cycle-hostile authority as Barnet actually coming up with a bid for the mini-Holland funding with some impressive features. (This has not been published anywhere, but I can reveal that one idea it contains is for a Dutch-style makeover of Edgware High Street, a road I have blogged about before).

There's been slow change, and its been terribly slow, but 35 years of campaigning have not been wasted. It may be that Hembrow needs to justify his move to the Netherlands to himself by claiming that nothing in the UK ever changes in response to campaigning efforts, or that the campaigning in the UK is always done wrongly, but those are claims I reject. In saying there is no change, he also underestimates the influence of his own blog.

We've got commuter cyclists now dominating the traffic at peak hours on some of the Thames crossings and other main roads in central London. That's really only a central London thing, and just on a few routes at a narrow times, and there are wide areas of Outer London where cycling is still languishing, and where it remains massively marginal. And it's still just fit young people, and mostly men. The rest just come out for the FreeCycle, and put the bikes in the shed for the rest of the year, unless they occasionally make a foray into the local park, or cycle on the pavements.

The disastrous collapse in London children cycling to school, and for other journeys, has continued over the last 35 years, and shows no sign yet of reversal. This has been a massive failure. We were told, back in the 1990s, that the London Cycle Network would be suitable for a well-trained 12-year-old child to cycle on, but that turned out to be a lie. Campaigning never focused enough on children, and it was never tough enough on the authorities, in the sense of trying to hold them to their professed claims of wanting to get children cycling, because children and schools didn't seem to have that much to do with the whole subject, to many. The only place to cycle was on hostile roads, and children could not be expected to attempt to do that. But I think these attitudes are now getting righted.

We've got a lot more words now, in the Mayor's Vison, that promise a "step change" in progress. The Embankment, that I photographed above, during the FreeCycle, should look very different in three years' time, with the promised cycle track. The extension of Cycle Superhighway 2 to Stratford is now taking shape, also properly segregated from motor traffic, and Gilligan is talking of bringing the whole route up to the same standard. We've got also a new willingness amongst cyclists to take to the streets as and when necessary to pressurise the politicians to make good their words, and we've got powerful support from large sections of the media. What we still lack is powerful support in the Westminster government. London and local government raise little of their own money. TfL's £1 billion cycling programme escaped the Chancellor's axe in the latest spending review (in fact, the last time I spoke to Andrew Gilligan, he claimed to have more money now than anticipated at the time of writing of the Vision), but this may only have been a lucky, brief reprieve, and the rest of England is doing very badly for cycle funding. But no progress in London in 35 years? I don't think so.

We certainly need less hype about plans, we need less marketing, and we need more and faster action. It would have been better if the effort and money that had gone into RideLondon had gone into the creation of infrastructure that could be used every day of the year. It's great that some already fit and active people, including Boris himself, had a 100-mile ride on closed roads, but I want the 89-year-old man next door to me to be able to ride to the local shops, and the children on the other side of me to be able to cycle to school. So many other people clearly want these things too. Fifty-thousand people on the FreeWheel circuit demonstrated the vast suppressed demand for traffic-free cycling space in our cities. Boris Johnson seems to be on-side. Bristol's new elected mayor, George Ferguson, has some ambitious plans also. I wonder when our other leading politicians will wake up to the issue.