Category Archives: Cycle planning

Please stop killing London's cyclists and pedestrians – give them good landscape architecture

Here is a video of the recent Stop Killing Cyclists protest march in Oxford Street. It was very well organised, with a theatrical dash, but did not get the media coverage it deserved. There was a massive police escort. The officers were very friendly to the marchers but I wonder if the relationship has become too cosy. The police would not have liked it but we might have achieved more if the die-in had taken place in Oxford Circus and if we had waited for the police to remove each and every demonstrator in a police van.

Cycle infrastructure expenditure in the UK and Holland

Cycling infrastructure in Amsterdam (left) and London's Battersea (right)

Cycling infrastructure in Amsterdam (left) and London’s Battersea (right)

  • The UK spends £2/person/year on cycling
  • Holland spends £24/person/year.
  • So Holland has better cycling infrastructure.
  • The Dutch spend ten times as much on cycling as the British and they have ten times as many urban journeys/person (30%+ vs 3%+)
  • It figures

To make up for years of neglect, the UK should spend £50/person/year on cycling. When UK cycling infrastructure is as good as Holland’s, this can drop back to £25/year.
Just think, about this quotation from a Sky report on The British Cycling Economy.
The proportion of GDP spent on public infrastructure by the UK Government has been lower than government spending in many other countries, averaging around 1.5 per cent between 2000–2004 – around half of the investment occurring by governments in Italy and France. Despite rail accounting for only six per cent of total passengers in the UK, the sector received a subsidy of around £6.5b, almost equalling road investment, which carries the majority of journeys undertaken in the country. In addition, tax revenues from transport eclipse expenditure on transport by £14b, reflecting a net flow out of the sector from receipts. Cycling’s proportion of the UK transport budget is less than one per cent, whilst in the City of London, one of the UK’s larger cycling ‘hot spots’, cycling has been apportioned 0.45 per cent of the £135m transport budget, amounting to around £600,000.54 Currently, 10,000–15,000 cyclists commute into the Capital each day, which has increased by 52 per cent since 2007, and is forecast to quadruple by 2025.55 These macro and micro conditions continue to create the ideal milieu for cycling participation to increase across social strata, with significant benefits.

The landscape architecture of greenways and cycling to school and to everywhere

Why do so few children cycle to school in the UK?

Why do so few children cycle to school in the UK?

Congratulations to Northern Ireland Greenways for a super set of infographics (+ thanks for permission to reproduce the above pic). Of the chosen countries, why does the UK have the lowest figures for cycling to school? Does the UK have colder weather and higher mountains than Switzerland? Is it windier than Denmark and Holland? Is the UK’s GDP so much higher than Germany’s that we all have big cars? Or is the UK governed by blockheads who prefer cars to bikes and therefore employ legions of highwaymen and hardly any landscape architects to plan the country’s transport infrastructure? I incline to the last of these explanations – but we have a Mayor of London and a Prime Minister who are both keen cyclists. So there may be another explanation: the UK has over-strong central government and lapdog local government. The Whitehall bullies and barons keep asking themselves ‘What does THE COUNTRY need?’, Nobody can take locally relevant decisions to benefit local people. Switzerland has the best system for subsidiarity and local decision making. My guess is that were it not for those pesky Alps and snowdrifts it would have the best cycle infrastructure in Europe.

How to plan a cycling protest demo – the POP Pedal on Parliament 2014 event in Edinburgh

It is good to have
– scenic drama, with the route planned by a landscape architect
– emotional music, planned by a musical director and extending along the whole route
– a persuasive narrative, with speeches by children, activists and politicians
– good co-opration from the police
– jokes, fun and glamour
– good supporting information on a website, with facts, figures and international comparisons
And it’s good to reflect that ‘Power must be taken, it is never given’. (William Powell)
The 2013 London bicycle die-in was good on music and drama but not so good on speeches.
The 2014 POP Pedal On Parliament in Edinburgh was good in all respects.

Another Stop Killing Cyclists event in London – to give a petition to the Mayor's advisor

Holding a box containing the signatures of 36,795 Londoners, including mine, Mayor Boris Johnson’s Cycling Advisor, Andrew Gilligan, states on this video that ‘I think we more or less agree about policy. The only disagreement is about timing’. WELL: if he was speaking to me then he agrees that cycling should receive 35% of London’s transport for at least the next decade, or until the percentage of journeys done by bike increases from 2% to 35%. At present cycling receives 2% of the TfL budget. So my comments are:
Thank you very much Mr Gilligan!

London cycling die-in protest outside TfL offices on 29th November 2013

I have been hoping for a protest like this for years and was delighted to be there. Here is my next suggestion: Transport for London TfL should set a target for the percentage of journeys to be made by cycling and then (1) raise the percentage of the transport spent on cycling to that level eg 30% (2) ensure that the same percentage of TfL staff commute to the TfL office by bike.
Here is an excellent BBC news report on the demo in which Donnachadh McCarthy an organiser of the Stop Killing Cyclists Campaign, calls for 10% of the TfL budget to go on cycling (compared to 35% in Holland) and makes the excellent point that the Board of TfL is ‘big businessmen’ – with no representatives of pedestrians or cyclists. I see this as a key point. It is likely that TfL staff often cycle to work and support cycling. This is less likely to be the case for big businessmen.
Boris: please remember that you are the only politician I have voted for who has ever been elected: now is the time to come good: organise a London Cycling Summit and cram the board of TfL with die-hard cyclists. Please re-read the history of Lloyd George’s victory over the House of Lords. He asked “Should 500 men, ordinary men, chosen accidentally from among the unemployed, override the judgement – the deliberate judgement – of millions of people who are engaged in the industry which makes the wealth of the country?” The 1911 Parliament Act was passed only when King George V said he was willing to pack the House of Lords with Liberal peers to ensure the vote would swing their way. Bring on the cyclists.
The November 2013 event could be a great precursor for a full-scale event in The Mall in 2014, remembering Martin Luther King and the March on Washington of August 28, 1963. The 2014 event should be on the same weekend as another London cycling event eg the Prudential Ride on Sunday 10 August 2014. It is part of the Mayor of London’s annual festival of cycling.

Capital Ring – walking and cycling past London's suburban landscape, gardens and architecture

London Capital Ring Walk

London Capital Ring Walk Completion Certificate

I did it and I enjoyed it!
Critical observations and suggestions to follow but let’s start with some good points:
– the best sections of the route are really excellent
– the weather was wonderful – it is hard to imagine better climatic conditions for such a journey
– despite having lived in London for 50 years I had hitherto traversed well under half of the route
– arriving back at the starting point gave me a surprising ‘sense of achievement’ that I do not get from most walks
– receiving the certificate was also nice, though I would like it to have the Mayor of London’s signature (a rubber stamp would do)
– following the route from a map requires advanced orienteering skills and luck. The sign posts are very useful but one could not follow the route without support from a map and compass. The maps in Colin Saunders’ book on the Capital Ring are just right
– you find a London which is very different to the famous sights in the central area: it is the ‘real London’: the suburbs in which most of its 8.174 million people live (Google figure, for 2011)
– despite being a South Londoner, and having an unreliably small sample, I am willing to say that the North Londoners are friendlier than South Londoners (though the coffee and rolls were more expensive north of the River Thames).
I’ll finish with two confessions which, I hope, does not lead to a recall of my Certificate: (1) I used a bike for much of the route and it still took me just over 5 days (2) Declaration of Interest: I was a member of the London Walking Forum when the Capital Ring route began its life (1989-91). See Towards a green strategy for London.

UK Cycling Policy and Landscape Architecture Grade Cycle Paths

London's famous Yellow Cycle Lanes are perilous for cyclists but great for the medical profession

Isn’t it amazing that a mere 2% trips in the UK are made by bike, compared with 14% in Germany and 30% in Holland? As everyone knows, Britain’s cycle paths, like its NHS and Black Cabs, are ‘the envy of the world’. Our famous Yellow Cycle Paths are designed to protect the jobs of highwaymen and create jobs for doctors. And what a great contribution they make. We hardly have to allocate any land or money to cycling and it makes a massive contribution to the workload of Accident and Emergency Departments throughout the land.
London is raising the percentage of its transport budget spent on cycling to 2%. This is great news for doctors and nurses. If it had been increased to 30%, heading for Dutch and Danish levels, there is a real danger that cycling would become safer and more popular. This would lead directly to fewer accidents, fewer strokes and fewer heart attacks. There is also a terrible risk that the salaries of landscape architects would exceed those of doctors, because of the great contribution to health and wellbeing made by Landscape Architecture Grade Cycle Paths. This could threaten the very liveliehood of thousands of health professionals. They would give up being highwaymen and sawbones to become landscape architects. What good would that do for the British Medical Association or the Institute of Civil Engineers? None! ‘Say No to Greening London’. Keep the two-wheeled blighters in their Narrow Yellow Lanes. Let them drip sweat, break bones and ooze blood for a thousand years.

London cycling image courtesy Tejvan

Would a future queen have been better for the urban landscape? welcomes the Royal Babe. Hurrah boys, hurrah!
The boys are due a turn on Britain’s throne but would a royal girl have been better for the urban landscape? The two Elizabeths and Victoria did very well and I hope no one will claim superiority for one or other sex. But they have different talents – and were not much interested in landscape design.
At Sissinghurst, though both owners were gay, the man did more on the layout and the woman did more on the details. If these are general characteristics, what does London’s greenway system need most (though it obviously needs both)? I think what it needs is common sense and practicality. The design exists and is taking shape but it has been dogged by dumb ideas – like Abercrombie’s idea of treating the links between parks as ‘green corridors’ and Boris Johnson’s idea of getting a cycle system on the cheap by painting lines on roads. With regard to bicycle transport planning what London needs is profound good sense eg (1) create cycle routes through most parks (2) make very many of the paved sidewalks beside roads into shared pedestrian-cycle paths (3) invest money in cycle planning on a scale which is proportionate to the capital invested in other transport modes – and keep on increasing the expenditure as cycle transport expands. This policy would result in an enormous increase in expenditure on cycle facilities – which would result in homengous increase in commuter and leisure cycling. I hope nobody will want to put my neck on a block for saying it, but I think London would be more likely to adopt these policies under female patronage. But there is hope: I think cycle planning would have appealed to Diana more than to Charles and I think the spirit of Diana, in the person of William, is second in line to the throne. So if King Billy the Fifth does this job then we may well be in need of more strategic planning by the time his son takes over. I therefore recommend Henry for the babe’s first name – remembering that Henry VIII was London’s greatest open space planner, even if it was done for personal reasons, it is time for a Henry IX. All this, of course, is from the standpoint of London open space planning. Perhaps the ‘best of all’ option would be a Gay King Henry – though I can imagine this not being too popular in some parts of the Commonwealth.

We welcome the Royal Baby and hope London's Greenway Network will have a King Queen Champion

What are kings and queens for in the 21st century? I don’t know, but opening hospitals and attending state funerals does not seem ALL THAT useful. is therefore putting in a pre-natal plea for the Royal Baby to become a patron of London’s Greenway Network. Princess Di used to run incognito in Kensington Gardens and I wished at the time that she had laid the foundation for a Scandinavian-style Cycling Monarchy. It would be wonderful if her first grandchild could lead London, as Henry VIII and Charles II did, in the creation of a London Greenway Network. It should provide for green transport and green recreation throughout London. Though welcome, Boris Johnson’s  cycleways are not places of pleasure. London needs greenways fit for kings and queens and royal babes.

Cycling policy in Amsterdam and London

With thanks to Christine for the link, I am delighted to extend the availability of this history of cycling in Holland. Britain had a Conservative Government at the time of the 1973 oil crisis, which is identified as the starting point for the Dutch cycling policy. The response of Heath’s government was pathetic. They (1) gave a few grants for 50mm of roof insulation (2) borrowed a lot of money to keep downt he price of fuel (3) did nothing whatsoever about cycling. Today we have a Mayor of London and a Prime Minister who are keen cyclists. Please can we do what the Dutch did after 1973. And please can the London Cycling Campaign stage some really good stunts. I would, for example, like to see Whitehall, The Mall, Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square CARPETED WITH PRONE CYCLISTS for the state opening of parliament. I’ll the there, sun, wind or rain.

Parliament square urban landscape redesign LCC

London Cycling Campaign re-design of Parliament Square landscape

Congratulations to the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) for publishing a re-design of Parliament Square’s urban landscape, also discussed on this blog this last year (see The landscape architecture of Parliament Square, Westminster, London UK). My comments on the LCC design are:

  • it concentrates on traffic at the expense of other considerations
  • the urban design history of the space is crucial: it began as New Palace Yard. The Square was a nineteenth century addition
  • the future use of the space is also crucial: just creating a patch of grass is insufficiently ambitious
  • the LCC design proposals also lack ambition: the fountain is perfunctory and the roadworks are ugly

The LCC’s scheme opts for a ‘Trafalgar Square’ solution on the north and west sides of the square. It would be better to revert to the historic idea of a ‘palace yard’ in which paved space was shared between vehicles and pedestrians. This is now known as a ‘shared space’ and Exhibition Road is a good recent example. With regard to the future use of Parliament Square, it should be a place for the elected representatives of the people (MPs) to meet the people they represent and the people who are affected by their decisions (you, me, cyclists, drivers, visitors to London). The below maps show the evolution of New Palace Yard into the Parliament Square Traffic Gyratory

The beginning or the end of the car?

Is peak oil, sustainability and climate change the beginning or the end of the car as we know it? With the advent of modernism carparks became first part of a highrise building to be constructed and were considered as part of the foundation system. There are a number of concerns with parking in urban areas. Will pollution and noise issues be meet by electric cars? Will innovative greened multistacking carparking arrangements be proposed for multi-density dwellings? How will congestion be addressed?

How will car supply and demand issues be thought about? Should urban residences be carfree with the possibility of outer-urban garaging accessible beyond the urban core area? Should urban work and commuting also be limited to the periphery of the inner-core? If so, who should be able to access this inner centre by car? Why?

Will eco-traffic engineers be engaged to design flow throughs and do capacity modelling for all new development sites so that designers can innovate and demonstrate best practice? Who will dream of the transit and traffic organisational schemas of our new cities?

More questions than answers!

Re: cycling It is Cost Effective

What is needed to induce the die-hard city commuters to leave behind their cars and adopt cycling as a mode of transport? Should the cost of using the car in central city areas be so cost prohibitive that only the those willing to part with large sums for the privilege persist? Or should urban designer adopt a range of innovative measures to entice inner city commuters to adopt what is afterall a healthier lifestyle alternative?

The McDonalds Cycle Centre in Chicago’s Millenium Park is leading the way in rethinking what it means to cycle and the sort of facilities which may transform the way commuting and recreational cycling is viewed. Philip Modest Schamberlan and + Anton Fromm’s Bicycle Hotel intends to entice the cyclist into the mountains in pursuit of a recreational touring lifestyle by providing an intriguing Fractal experience perched above Lake Garda.

Paris goes green

The French farmer’s protested their financial plight in a charmingly French manner by greening the Champ-Elysee.

Another unusual example of the trend towards green is the Lost House of Paris. The occupants literally live within a greenery covered house. To travel green in the city of romance you simply phone a ‘Vectrix’ taxi.

As Pierre Patel’s 1688 painting of Versailles (below)  shows, axes can be green and they can be canals. And canals can be used for transport.  Civic leaders need courage, imagination, wisdom – and a wealth of ideas from the design professions.

London's cycle superhighways are not meant to be beautiful or pleasurable or expensive

London's 'super' cycle highways are designed for ugliness

London's 'super' cycle highways are designed for ugliness. The 'artist's impression' shows threatening busses and cyclists who are already ghosts.

Transport for London TfL has an implementation programme for Cycle Superhighways and claims that they will be ‘safe, fast, direct routes into central London from outer London. The first two routes open in Summer 2010 with ten more being introduced by 2015.’
‘Highway’ comes from the Old English heiweg “main road from one town to another” and planning them as direct routes from origins to destinations is unusually sensible for UK cycleroute planning. But I object to their being described as ‘super’. They will be narrow, ugly,pale blue, bargain basement tracks. See for example the implementation schedule for the ‘Super Highway’ from Barking to Tower Gateway. The work can be done quickly because it is merely a paint job – and the chosen shade of blue is suspiciously close to that used by the Tory party during its recent election campaign.
A really super cycle highway would be ‘ ‘safe, fast, direct, quiet, clean, beautiful – and expensive’. So they should employ landscape architects, not engineers with paint brushes, to do the work. I worry that badly conceived cycle paths will get little use – so that the planners will then argue that it was a waste of money. They should (1) go ahead with the present plans as a quick stopgap measure (2) design AT LEAST ONE truly excellent cycle route to show what could be achieved.

The strange re-birth of liberal England has not reached Windsor Great Park, yet

No Vehicles and No Entry for Horses and Cycles onto the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park

No Vehicles and No Entry for Horses and Cycles onto the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park

I re-visited Windsor Great Park on the day, in May 2010, that Britain got a Liberal-Tory government and tried to ride my bike along the 4.26 km Long Walk. A flunky dashed out and told me to stop it. I offered to push the bicycle. He said this was forbidden. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘The Queen doesn’t like cyclists’, he told me. ‘I think I’ll become a republican’, I told him. ‘Me too’ he said. In the course of a long stroll up the Long Walk I noticed the above signs and was overtaken by many vehicles, including picturesque horse-drawn carriages, for paying guests, and a fleet of warden’s cars with no apparant purpose other than ridding the realm of pestilential cyclists. Those with money and power lord it over the poor plebs who pound their own pedals. ‘Twas ever thus’ you might think.
But there is hope for the future: our current Prime Minister (David Cameron) and the current the Mayor of London (Boris Johnson) are both cycle commuters – and it is hard to see Prince Charles as anything other than a postmodern liberal tory. Nick Clegg could buy a bike too. It’s a pity about the Queen but she does belong to another era and Windsor Castle remains the best symbol of what the best historian of French Gardens (Kenneth Woodbridge) saw as the Norman strand in British life. The Normans conquered England in 1066 and despite their origin in a tribal and pagan region (Scandinavia), what they brought to England was the centralist administration and palace civilization of West Asia (as modified by the Macedonians, the Romans, the Franks and the French). This may add up to a historical justification for banning cyclists from Windsor Great Park. But I hope Prince Charles removes the ban, when and if he acceeds to the British throne. It was the Norman Tendency which converted Anglo-Saxon-Viking England into the imperial power we know as Great Britain and it remains the case that more-recent immigrants think of themselves as ‘British Asians’, ‘Black British’ etc rather than ‘English Asians’, ‘Black English’ etc. ‘Civis Britanicus sum’ may be embedded in their psyches. Though also descended from immigrants, I feel more English than British – possibly because I do not like imperialism. Dunno.
Historians may view the UK’s 2010 election as a key event in the re-birth of the Liberal England. George Dangerfield said it had died (in a 1935 book on The Strange Death of Liberal England). Re-birth would please admirers of John Locke, John Russell, William Cobbett, William Gladstone and David Lloyd George. And it would please me. Liberalism is the grand theme of English politics – and of English garden design in the last 3 or 4 centuries. The best garden and landscape design has often had political themes. So it is very appropriate that English liberalism was reborn in a rose garden – despite the irony of roses being associated with Mary Gardens, Medieval Marianism and Catholic Toryism.

‘What passes for optimism is most often the effect of an intellectual error.’

Note The word ‘warden’ reached England in the early 13th century. It means ‘one who guards’ and derives from the Old Norman French wardein and from the Frankish warding, which derives from wardon ‘to watch or guard’. In about 1300 warden came to mean ‘governor of a prison’.

Masdar City Two & Abu Dhabi landscape planning

Hasan Fathy design for New Gourna (photo 1975)

Hasan Fathy design for New Gourna (photo 1975)

Without knowing too much about Masdar City, I am sceptical about Norman Foster’s proposals. So my suggestion is to develop a Masdar City Two with its focus on using a happy blend of traditional technology with as-little-as-necessary high technology. I would have David MacKay as the energy supremo and Hasan Fathy (had he not died in 1989) as the chief architect – and a landscape planner responsibile for the strategic direction of the new city. I guess there would be lots of mud walls, planting, and shade with excellent provision for cycling and electric floats for transport (as in Nanjing Street, Shanghai). All the roof space would be roof gardens with retractable awnings and limited vegetation supported by grey water. The gardens would be legendary – and related to the lost gardens of Ancient Mesopotamia. I think the result would be cheaper, better, more sustainable and more popular than Masdar City One. It might get less coverage in the architectural press but we could live with this.
Sorry about the quality of the above photograph, taken in 1975. I went to re-take the photo 30 years later and could not find the place – I guess it has been destroyed. The residents of Old Gourna (or Kurna or Qurna) did not want to leave their homes amongst the tombs of the nobles, which had rich pickings and many tourists. Fathy was unpopular in Egypt but designed some beautiful and environmentally appropriate homes for Saudi princes.
Odd that Iran should want nuclear power and Abu Dhabi should want solar power. What next? Will Iceland start making artificial snow? Or is Masdar City One really, as I will assume, an enlightened example of a rich country using its resources to develop technology which will benefit the world? The competition between Masdar City One and Masdar City Two would be very healthy and there should be a prize for the winning design team. Success would be judged from three criteria (1) construction costs (2) measures of sustainability (3) popularity with residents.

Buddhists and the bicycle: use of the Great Green Machine could join the Pancha Sila

Buddhist urban design and bicycle planning“It must be asserted that the Pancha Sila (Five Precepts) do not necessarily make a person a Buddhist, but to be a real Buddhist, one has to observe the five precepts”. Furthermore, to be a good Buddhist one should ride a bicycle instead of driving a car. Is there such a thing as a Buddhist approach to urban design? I wish there were: urban design based on bare scientific rationalism has produced, and is producing, ugly and unsustainable cities throughout Asia. The above photograph of the Great Green Machine was taken beside the canal in Kenzo Tange’s preposterously bombastic baroque design for the Buddha’s birthplace: Lumbini.

The snowball effect

Tom once the winter is over you will be free of snowball throwing teenagers! Then perhaps, given your recent acquisition of expertise in the art of dodging snowballs through firsthand experience, you can give lessons on snowball etiquette in urban and rural areas and advice for the unwary…

I found this description of teenage snowball warfare that might be of assistance in compiling the necessary advice.

Here are several scenerios with which to contextualise your advice:

Scenerio One: A seventy year-old was arrested for allegedly pointing a gun at snowball throwing teenagers.

Scenerio Two: The police and hoodies engage in snowball fight.

Scenerio Three: A man kidnaps a teenager for throwing a snowball.

Scenerio Four: Girl throws a snowball at a boy.

Scenerio Five: Police hunt teenagers throwing snowballs at traffic.

Here is some helpful opinions from the general snowball fight interested public. Overzealous teenagers, snowballs and transportation seem to be a particularly potent mix.