Thursday, 22 December 2016

Fairy Godmother Wanted for Southampton City Cycling Plan

It is the season for pantomimes. At this moment the City Cycling plan is a fairy story, and the council has no plans to invest the money required to bring give the frog the kiss of life. They are hoping that a fairy godmother will arrive to give them the money.

The evidence of this was clear this morning, when I was interviewed by Julian Clegg on Radio Solent - just after the 0700 News. And after the 0800 News, Pete Boustred, the City Strategic Transport Manager, gave a response. (You can listen to this again - details at the bottom of this post)

Before the interview the BBC reporter, Jess Parker, gave an excellent summary of the highlights of the Southampton Cycle Plan. You can read the plan, and my response to it, and make your own response from my previous blog,  The Southampton City Council Strategy for Cycling.

In the interview I was able to affirm that the plan is indeed a very promising move in the right direction. But I raised the following doubts.

  • The plan does not appear to be linked to the city strategy;
  • It is not clear where the money is coming from;
  • It is not clear how the council will govern this project to make sure it really happens.

I explained that Southampton City Council has produced previous Cycle Strategies but they have sunk without trace, and that many cycle campaigners are highly cynical about the real intention of the council in this version of the plan, believing that the council are merely going through the motions of satisfying government that they are addressing their appalling transport statistics and air quality figures without any real intention of doing anything.

The "headline" for this item was "Doubts have been Raised about the Council Ten Year Cycling Plan", and it provided the council with a real opportunity to deny the doubts and demonstrate real commitment.

It didn't start well.  No-one from the council was prepared to be available to answer the challenge, and Pete Boustred, who gave the response is a council employee, not a member of the council.  He is the man that manages the work - not the politician who is responsible for the vision.

It went from bad to worse.  Pete said the the plan was ambitious.  The plan is not ambitious at all - it is conservative in the extreme.  The ambition is to increase cycling by 10% each year for 10 years, which will get us to only just more journeys by bike than Gosport already has, and still way short of the "real" cycling cities.  

Now most cycle campaigners would be happy with a plan that is conservative if that means it is realistic and will really happen.  So Julian Clegg pointed out that I had done a back of the envelope calculation that showed that the first four years of the plan would cost about £2M per year, and he asked Pete if that money was in the budget.

No.  That money is not in the budget, and Pete gave the same shifty answer that is in the plan - "We will look for offers of funding bids", and he did admit that the allocated budget is about £0.5M per year.

This is absolutely not satisfactory. The accident rate for cyclists, alone, should be justification for doing more - how many people have to die to prove the point? (16% of all accidents in Southampton involve cycles - When these sort of stats hit the Netherlands in the 1970's, the people started the "Stop The Child Murder" campaign which changed the country)

  • £2M per annum is around 10% of the transport budget.  If we want more than 10% of journeys done by cycle then we should certainly be investing AT LEAST 10% of the budget - we have a lot of catching up to do!
  • Actually, the first four years of the plan does not get get us anywhere near 4/10ths of the stated aim of the ten year plan.  We actually need far MORE than this.
  • Southampton has the fifth worse air quality figures in the country, in spite of the fact that there is very little industrial pollution - it all comes from ships and transport.  If the council is serious about addressing this then one of the most effective ways would be to significantly increase the number of journeys by bike. This is a perfectly realistic ambition, when we know that 50% of journeys in Southampton are less than 3 miles!!  Money should be coming from environmental budgets to address this.
  • Whenever there is a new development it should only be allowed if the development makes a contribution to the cycle infrastructure. The cycle plan actually suggests that this will indeed happen.  (Imagine if new developments did not have parking, or pavements!).  But there is no sign of it so far - for example the new West Quay Watermark development removed an essential cycle route from the esplanade up to the centre of town, with no replacement, instead forcing bikes to mix with two lanes of dense traffic on a steep hill, or else get off and walk. You can hardly blame the cycle plan cynics for pointing out that this is not the behaviour of a council that has any seriousness about creating a "Cycle City".
  • External funding would be good too! From central government perhaps, but, for example, one could point to the damage done to the roads and the environment by lorries going to the docks (often driving through the city centre instead of coming in via the M27), and ask whether ABP might consider sponsoring a few cycle lanes from their considerable profits. Or maybe companies such as Carnival that fill our port with ships exuding the pollution equivalent to 100's of thousands of cars, even while stationary.

I am really disappointed to report that the council is waiting for a fairy godmother rather than taking any real responsibility for implementing its plan. All the signs are that the council will continue, as it has for many years, to duck and weave at any request to actually do anything useful for cycles. This would be enormously disappointing.

Thanks to

PLEASE PLEASE Southampton City Council, prove me wrong!  This is about the future of our city,  and the quality of life of the people who live in Southampton.

If you want to hear the interviews on Listen Again, go to
and the two relevant sections are at 42:30 - 47:33  and 1:38:10 - 1:43:01

Friday, 9 December 2016

Change Didn't "Just Happen"

I have been much heartened by a number of recent events which I saw in tweets in the last month, as I expect have many other people who care about the way cycling can transform cities.

Tweets this Month

This tweet from pointed to the post here with the full story
I think the graph says it all. Sometime in the late 80's bike riding in Copenhagen started to increase and by the late 90's car use started to decrease, with the result that 20 years later more than 50% of all journeys are now done bike.  (Average figures in the UK are around 2% of journeys done by bike, and even in the very best cities it is nowhere near 50%).

Things are looking up in London too - there was this from @mragilligan.   
Build the right infrastructure and people will use it!

Finally there was this from @CarltonReid
Cycleways map.
There are significantly more cycle paths in the Netherlands and Belgium and Germany than there are in France and the UK.

This is great for those countries that have invested, but for those of us in the UK (with the exception of a very small number of cities) the situation is much worse than it looks.  The red lines shown on the UK map are the Sustrans network.  I'm a great supporter of Sustrans, but I would have to admit that realistically these paths are mostly not dedicated cycle infrastructure, but are carefully chosen quiet routes that are not necessarily the quickest route between places - so great for recreation, but often not ideal commuter infrastructure.

How did Change Happen?

Our family was discussing the reasons why some countries have been so much more effective at building cycle infrastructure than the UK when Tom said ...
"These things didn't just happen - people made them happen"
... and that led me to thinking about what did happen?  Clearly at some stage some city councils and governments have been persuaded by the arguments that don't need rehearsing here (liveable cities, pollution, gridlock, noise, health, death on the roads, etc.) and have got behind the cycling movement. Once this happens properly you are in business - 

  • cycling infrastructure spend increases, 
  • planning permissions are only granted when developers improve the bicycle infrastructure, 
  • lanes are removed from roads to make way for the people walking and on cycles, 
  • employers that allow car-parking pay a tariff towards cycle infrastructure,
  • public transport is required to carry cycles for free, etc.

... and everything gets into a virtuous circle; as infrastructure improves, so more people come by bike, so infrastructure is improved to meet the demand.

There are many cities where this change to a people centred city has happened and I will save a few of their stories for another post.  

At this moment I am interested in what happened in, say, Amsterdam or Copenhagen in the 1980's that succeeded in convincing governments and city councils to make these changes.  It must have been hard!  At a time when the car had become king, and Thatcher was reputedly suggesting that a man who didn't have a car in his 30's should consider himself a complete failure, and global warming was still denied by the right wing - it must have been difficult for leaders to be so visionary and to move against what was so obviously the "Peoples' choice" - the car.

And indeed, it turns out that, certainly initially, the leaders were not so visionary! They needed persuading. 

I had previously seen the film "Bicycle", and this related the story of Dutch society changing direction after a few well publicized deaths of children on the roads.  It all sounded rather consensual and as if society "got it" and changed autonomously.  This is not what happened.  For a better picture of what happened you could read "How the Dutch got their cycling infrastructure", "How Amsterdam became the bicycle capital of the world", and you will read about the formation of Stop de Kindermoord ("Stop the child murder")  - the activist group that formed after the deaths mentioned above, and we are told that:

"The 1970s were a great time for being angry in Holland: activism and civil disobedience were rampant. Stop de Kindermoord grew rapidly and its members held bicycle demonstrations, occupied accident blackspots, and organised special days during which streets were closed to allow children to play safely."

.. and there is plenty more about critical mass rides, guerrilla cycle path painting, rolling out carpet cycle lanes across parked cars, etc.
"Painting cycle lanes, Amsterdam 1980" from
How the Dutch got their cycling infrastructure

So my point is that their leaders did not create the excellent Dutch infrastructure because they were visionaries who saw the right way for society; they did so because a section of society was very forcibly making a case - and that case was right even if not popular!  

It is really very difficult for our leaders to construct any logical argument against increasing cycling except by showing that there is no evidence of the demand. However, this is usually the sticking point: if the demand is not there then the authorities won't invest, but the majority of people will not cycle until the infrastructure is there, as demonstrated by the London experience in the tweet above.

So if we want change in most of the UK, my argument says, then we have to show the leaders (city and county councillors) that there is a demand. How can we do that?  In my city (Southampton) 12,000 people turning up for a Sky ride round the streets does not appear to be convincing enough.  It seems that if we are going to win this fight we want some of those 12,000 people to be more radically activist. Like the Dutch! (yes, the phonological ambiguity was intended :-)

Postscript: or Maybe I am Wrong?

I don't feel very comfortable advocating radical activism.  Even in my youth I was always the one to believe that consensus and good sense would prevail if only people understood the facts and the effects that certain behaviours and decisions would have on other people.

In Southampton, at this moment, the City Council is collecting feedback on a draft Cycling Plan - see the plan and my feedback in the post here -  and there is much discussion in the cycling community about whether this the plan is serious, and how to respond.  (I am certain that this story will be the same in councils across the UK). There appear to be two courses of action we could take:
  1. We could take the Council at face value, and believe that they have a real intention to see this through and implement the strategy or something close to it.  In that case we should warmly congratulate those involved in the production of the plan and do everything we can do to help them steer it through what will inevitably be a difficult inception at a time when budgets are so tight and when it is easier to maintain the status quo than to invest in making transport better, less polluting and less expensive in the future.
  2. Those that have been cycle campaigning longer are usually more cynical. They feel that this plan is nothing more than a sop or concession to government and funding initiatives which require councils to show that they are doing something about transport and about pollution.  They feel that the council has absolutely no intention of implementing the plan and they point to the lack of serious funding or implementation detail as evidence for this view.  These people argue for a far more activist and confrontational approach to change.
So what are we to do?

Possibly we have arrived at the point in the evolution of cities and transport systems where even councils are beginning to understand the damage that we are creating?  I'd like to believe that this plan genuinely is a first attempt to change things.  I've been around change management long enough to know that there will be setbacks on the way, but I'd like to support the council in every way possible.  

But I suspect that a bit of "irresponsible" activism (from a lot of people) would help our council to remain responsible  and focussed when trying to navigate the difficult times ahead!

Now, where's my paintbrush....?