With the consultations on London’s planned ‘Crossrail for the Bikes’ scheme as well as proposed improvements to the existing Cycle Superhighway 2 due to end a month today, battle lines have been drawn between critics and supporters of the schemes.
Business organisations as well as the City of London Corporation and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets have expressed strong reservations over Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s plans, but dozens of major employers – banking group RBS and building materials firm Cemex being among the latest – have gone public with their support for segregated bike lanes.
Last month, after consultation opened into the two routes, one running from Tower Gateway to the Westway, the other from King’s Cross to Elephant & Castle, the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the organisation London First warned the proposals would disrupt businesses.
They claimed they would cause more congestion and affect deliveries, and also said the six-week consultation period on both routes – which has since been extended from 19 October to 9 November – is too short.
City of London says pedestrians will miss out
But as blogger Danny Williams of Cyclists in the City points out, the City of London Corporation’s objections to the scheme, contained in a report to be put considered by its Transport & Environment Committee next week, are more to do with the potential impact on pedestrians within the Square Mile rather than any effect on motorists.
While acknowledging that “these proposals have significant benefits,” the report adds that “are heavily biased towards cycling but results [sic] in negative impacts for some other users.”
It adds: “The overall impact of the current proposals on pedestrians, local access and the environment are not in keeping with the Mayor of London’s Vision to “create better places for everyone.”
In particular, the report raises concerns about increased wait times for pedestrians at crossings, noting that they have already increased in recent years in favour of motor traffic, and also expresses reservations about changes that will be made to left or right turns at certain junctions.
The report recommends requesting Transport for London (TfL) to extend the consultation period further and lists a number of suggestions it says should be put to TfL, although it notes that those “are not expected to detract from the mayor’s plans for the segregated cycle routes.”
It adds: “They should provide a much more balanced and better outcome for the City and for London.”
A briefing note circulatedrecently among businesses and journalists in the capital and believed to have originated from property owner Canary Wharf Group has warned that the two routes would "be extremely damaging to London.”
It also said that it would result in a "significant increase in traffic in outer London," and "put the safety of cyclists, pedestrians and drivers at risk" – claims described as “unfounded” by the London Cycling Campaign.
Tower Hamlets mayor raises cycle safety concerns over CS2
The Canary Wharf Estate, which over the past three decades has developed into London’s second major financial district alongside the City, lies within Tower Hamlets, but it is plans elsewhere in the borough that concern its executive mayor, Lutfur Rahman.
He believes that proposals for an upgrade to Cycle Superhighway 2, which runs through the borough, will be detrimental to the safety of cyclists and pedestrians and will also lead to severe delays for motorists and people travelling on buses.
Mr Rahman wrote to Mr Johnson last month to express his concerns, focusing in particular on the stretch of Whitechapel Road occupied by Whitechapel Market.
He said: “I am disappointed with the proposals offered because of the impact they will have on the market. The design is also flawed in ensuring cycle safety, as well as in the impact it will have on pedestrians.
“Whitechapel Market is a vibrant and busy shopping street with both street stalls and shops. It is one of the oldest street markets in London and I would not like these proposals to prevent it from prospering.
“This proposed design will place delivery vehicles outside the cycle lane, in the bus lane. It will disrupt bus services and bring cumbersome delivery movements involving heavy goods, waste, and pedestrians across the cycle lane, causing frequent obstruction to cyclists.”
Mr Rahman went on: “This won’t just have an impact on market traders and shopkeepers. It is also a less than ideal solution for cyclists, whose journeys will be disrupted. I worry that cyclists will get increasingly impatient with these continual obstructions. As they will have less flexibility to move out of the lane to avoid them, due to the island segregation, they may choose to stay in the main traffic flow.
“This isn’t my only concern for cycle safety. There are still numerous side roads where cyclists are left unprotected from left turn hooks and little improvement is offered for local cyclists seeking to join the route other than at major junctions.
He added that it is not just the danger face by people on bikes he is concerned about, saying: “Pedestrians too face greater safety risks. The removal of the central reservation will reduce the ability for pedestrians to safely cross the road informally and the road will become a more significant barrier.”
Major employers pledge support for segregated bike lanes
The south side of the stretch of Whitechapel Road where the market sits is occupied by the Royal London Hospital, home to the capital’s biggest trauma unit, which treats more than 100 seriously injured cyclists each year and is also the base of the capital’s air ambulance.
The hospital is run by the Barts Health NHS Trust, which employs 15,000 people on six sits in the city and is one of around 60 employers that have publicly affirmed their support for the planned cross-London routes on the website, Cycling Works.
Major businesses pledging their support in recent days include Royal Bank of Scotland, which has 12,000 employees in London, and building supplies firm Cemex, whose lorries use the capital’s roads daily to deliver cement and other materials to sites across the capital.
Emphasising the company’s support for segregated cycle lanes, its vice president for Cement Commercial, Building Products and Logistics, Matthew Wild, said: “As a major building materials supplier, our large goods vehicles are constantly transporting concrete, aggregates and cement across the capital.
“We have to share the road space and since 2004, we have introduced additional safety features on our vehicles, undertaken regular driver training including putting our drivers onto bikes and encouraged more than 6,000 cyclists to get into our cabs to see the road from the driver’s perspective at Exchanging place events throughout the country. All aimed at keeping vulnerable road users safe.
He added: “Segregated routes will give cyclists their own road space while allowing businesses to continue their day-to-day work.”
Another high-profile name that has pledged its support is Anglo-Dutch fast moving consumer goods business, Unilever, which has head offices at Blackriars in London and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Its chief human resources manager, Doug Baillie, said: “We have tragically lost employees in the past who have been killed while trying to cycle to or from work. We do not want to lose any more.
“Our sister head office building in Rotterdam is surrounded by cycle lanes and an efficient urban tramway system. We see the benefits to urban mobility and quality of life.
“We value employee satisfaction, health, and wellbeing and that’s why we proudly endorse the plans outlined by TfL to create new segregated routes through the heart of the city.
“Both the proposed north–south and east–west routes will help us attract and retain the employees our business needs to continue to thrive. These plans are good for business, for London, and for all Londoners whether they cycle or not,” he added.
Boris’s balancing act
Mr Johnson has acknowledged that he faces a balancing act in keeping diverse groups happy, saying: “We must make cycling safer for all types of cyclists – and segregated lanes must be part of the solution.
“In a congested city like London it is simply not possible to do this without taking some road space.
“We would be failing as a city if we were in any way daunted by the difficulties,” he added.
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