Today we bring you the latest on the scandal relating to Transport for London’s culpability at the lethal junction at Kings Cross; and we also bring you a story of everyday faux-East London folk (ie, Bumbling Boris and his merry men). And please remember: we’ll be back at Kings Cross on Monday (12 March) from 6.30 to 7.30pm. Will you be there?
TfL’s INJURY TOLL
Following the revelations a few days ago that, for years, Transport for London (TfL) told its road engineers to ignore cyclists when planning junction changes at Kings Cross (see kingscrossenvironment.com/2012/03/05/buchananreport), we now know that this was despite dozens of cyclists being injured there during this period.
The work undertaken by traffic engineers Buchanan and Partners, when TfL told them to ignore cyclists, covered the period 2005-2009. Research by Levenes Solicitors, who specialise in cycling safety, has looked at the part of the Kings Cross road system where Bikes Alive holds its go-slows (a total road length of less than half a mile), and has found 25 occasions from 2005 to 2010 when cyclists were injured seriously enough to show up in official statistics. (See blog.cycleinjury.co.uk/2012/03/kings-cross-go-slow-25-cyclist-injuries.html.)
And yet more research disclosed on the local Kings Cross community website has found that even when the traffic engineers did try to behave ethically and include recommendations relating to cycle safety, they were watered down between the draft report and the final report (see kingscrossenvironment.com/2012/03/07/did-tfl-weaken-pro-cycling-recommendations-for-killer-kings-cross-junction-as-long-ago-as-2007). Minutes of a Camden Cycling Campaign meeting from this period show that a TfL representative explained the unwillingness to improve cycle safety quite simply – they were “very insistent on through traffic”. (By which, of course, they mean motorised through traffic.)
We have no reason to believe that TfL’s dirty dealing over Kings Cross for many years is any different from the way it behaves everywhere else in London. But at Kings Cross we have the incontrovertible evidence … hence Bikes Alive’s concentration on Kings Cross, where we think the history, the strength of the local campaign, and the focus given to the Kings Cross situation by Bikes Alive and others, gives us a chance of getting TfL on the run – as a starting point for getting them on the run all over London, of course. Indeed, for hints of TfL at least claiming that they could be re-thinking their current Kings Cross plans, see the next item.
Our immediate lesson, of course, is that we need to return to Kings Cross in ever-greater numbers to keep up the pressure. So – see you on Monday evening!
AN ENCOUNTER WITH BUMBLING BORIS
Last Wednesday evening, Bikes Alive discovered that Mayor Boris was due in the East End on Thursday morning for the public (ie press) launch of the major expansion, that day, of the area covered by the Bike Hire scheme – of which he’s very proud. Discussions were had, and it seemed that the mayor’s hypocrisy – claiming to be pro-cycling, yet being in charge of a body (TfL) which has policies that are responsible for so many avoidable deaths and injuries of cyclists – deserved pointing our publicly. So, Bikes Aliver Albert Beale cleared his diary, and arranged to head out to the farthest reaches of the borough of Tower Hamlets on Thursday morning. He came back with a tale to tell.
This is that tale…
As I cycled east along Roman Road, shortly before the appointed time for Boris’s photo op, I spotted a crowd of people at a crossroads in the distance, some wearing fluorescent yellow jackets, and wondered whether I’d found the venue sooner than I expected. As the bright sunlight glinted on my grey hair, I suddenly saw a number of cameras raised in my direction; but my instinctive reaction to that was to tidy my hair, rather than to deliberately make it more boyishly tousled, and the cameras were quickly lowered again.
Once I arrived, I found a greeting party of clumps of press, Pearly Kings and Queens, and dozens of TfL officials of various ranks. Five minutes later, a group of cyclists arrived from the same direction as I had, this time with the real Boris at the fore. As he wheeled round the corner in front of the crowd, I called out his name, and shouted, “Why are you such a hypocrite – pretending to support cycling when you run TfL which has policies responsible for cyclists’ deaths?” His reaction made it clear that he heard me; but my intervention was apparently only partly audible in any of the media coverage. Though one local news report did say: “The Mayor of London was greeted with a mixture of cheers and heckles…”, which is encouraging.
I then went ahead of the official party, while Boris glad-handed stallholders in the local street market, so as to attempt further interaction with him and the media at the new docking station site which had been chosen for his formal “unveiling”. It was noticeable that, apart from some of the officials on the new hire bikes, there was no sign of anyone else at all having arrived by bike “normally”.
I did a bit more heckling when he arrived, and once he was ensconced in front of the cameras I was approached by a couple of smartly-dressed members of the TfL entourage who started talking to me about my criticisms; no doubt a major reason they decided to interact with me was in order to distract me from continued heckling, and since I was sufficiently polite to let them engage me in a lengthy conversation, I must admit that their ruse worked.
I subsequently discovered that one of my new chums was Leon Daniels, since last year TfL’s Managing Director of Surface Transport; and the other was the Tory Party’s Kulveer Ranger, one of the mayor’s official “advisers”, in this case in the role of “director for transport policy”. In terms of their ability to empathise with people over whose lives they have so much influence, it should be noted that each of them is paid as much in a week as many Londoners have to live on for a couple of months. Leon Daniels, in particular, is an example of the revolving door between public servants and affluent corporations in the same area of business, which is so common in most areas of government these days: he arrived at TfL last year from a private transport company, as his predecessor left for a similar role at another such corporation.
It was, and is, hard to know how seriously to take what they told me. At one stage, Kulveer Ranger, when responding to my complaint that there weren’t separate traffic lights for cyclists, said that such a system was now being installed at the site of last year’s two cycling deaths at Bow Roundabout, and claimed that this would be “the first in Europe”. When I pointed out that I’d cycled in European cities with such systems back in the last century, he changed the claim to it being the first such example in the UK. And when I pointed out the need to slow down traffic light phasing, to allow enough red overlap for slow-moving cyclists and pedestrians to get clear of the junction before vehicles were coming at them, I was told there were national transport ministry regulations stopping this; yet I was then told proudly that TfL often went beyond the ministry-prescribed minimum.
I had a lengthy discussion with Leon Daniels about the fact that not only were existing junctions dangerous for cyclists, but that most changes to junctions made them worse. He referred proudly to the revamped plans for Bow, implying that they’d learned their lesson. I said I would reserve judgement. His general message seemed to be, “Even if we have messed up until now, we’ve seen the light, and from this day onwards…” As far as Kings Cross was concerned, he repeatedly suggested that it was included in the recently announced review of junctions. I asked whether this meant that the planned changes announced some while back, which those of us who know the area see as introducing new dangers for cyclists, were now being reviewed before the (overdue) work got under way (and was this perhaps the reason it hadn’t already started); he was far from explicit, but he didn’t actually deny this. In the end, after he wouldn’t be pinned down, he said he’d send me details of the current state of play, in terms of what work was now due and who was currently being consulted about Kings Cross. Naturally I’m still waiting.
I also spoke to Nick Aldworth, who manages the hire bikes scheme for Transport for London, who had little useful to say once I’d agreed with him that having lots of extra bikes on the streets was a good thing – even though, I pointed out, Barclays had got the best of the deal financially. He didn’t try to rebut that point very strongly. My only regret was not discovering that another of the besuited men on blue bikes was actually a senior official from Barclays Bank – given other news emerging that day, there was the making of another interesting conversation there…
I did manage a bit more attempted dialogue with BJ, including telling him – when he was leaving – not to run away when people wanted to talk to him. But he seemed reluctant to meet his public one-on-one. I spoke to some journalists, including making one probably useful new contact on local radio. But the only person to record an interview with me was a charming young man from Romanian Radio; I charmed him back with my – very slight indeed – knowledge of the orthography of the Romanian language and he let me have quite a rant.
The only serious attack I had was from a raucous local who saw me with my bike and denounced cyclists as being the main cause of the world’s ills. And apparently we didn’t even know the Highway Code. He only slightly calmed down when I told him I’d once won a prize for my knowledge of the Highway Code – which was perhaps fair enough since, although I didn’t tell him, it was when I was at primary school.
SOME LINKS OF INTEREST
Statistics – which match common sense – on the dangers of collisions with HGVs: www.londonnet.co.uk/news/2012/mar/london-cyclist-death-rate-hgvs-revealed-new-report.html
A friendly local report about Kings Cross (though note it has the wrong start time for Monday’s go-slow): www.islingtontribune.com/news/2012/mar/tfl’s-advice-ignore-cyclist-data-kings-cross-accident-junction-‘scandal’
There’s been a sudden flurry of hits on the Bikes Alive website emanating from Reddit; this seems to be why: www.reddit.com/r/london/comments/qqk1l/peaceful_action_in_defence_of_the_saftey_of