Saturday, 26 April 2014

Lambeth Cyclists take part in Chuka Umunna MP's cycling question time

On Wednesday 23 April 2014 Streatham MP Chuka Umunna convened a meeting in Brixton to consider cycling issues.

Although Members of Parliament have little input into cycling beyond deciding on national policies Chuka in his role as a local MP sought to bring together some of the people who have responsibility and control of cycle policy and measures for cycling in Lambeth.

Lambeth Cyclists' Borough Coordinator Charlie Holland attended the meeting to give the cyclists and LCC viewpoints and set out how we can create Space For Cycling in Lambeth.

We thank Lambeth Cyclists member Charlie Ullman for taking notes at the meeting - here are his reflections

Cycling question time with Chuka Umunna MP 23 April 2014 at Grand Union pub, Acre Lane, SW2


Simon Castle (SC) (Metropolitan Police's Traffic Unit and Cycle Task Force)
Andrew Gilligan (AG) (TfL Cycling Commissioner) 
Charlie Holland (CH) (Lambeth Cyclists Borough Coordinator)
Pete Robbins (PR) (Lambeth Labour Councillor and Cabinet Member responsible for cycling)

The idea was that it would work like Question Time on the telly, with Chuka as a slightly more partisan David Dimbleby.

So he took questions, and got panel members to answer them. He answered a few questions himself, but in general, he avoided any political grandstanding, and just focussed on getting the question answered by the most qualified person.

Chuka opened by saying that he wanted to see more, and safer cycling. He isn't a cyclist, but his family cycles, and he has a friend who was hospitalised (nearly killed) after a very serious accident in Lambeth while cycling.

Q: How to reduce volumes of motor traffic where separate facilities not possible?
CH: Large proportion of journeys in London are very short. Road pricing likely the best solution.

PR: Broadly agreed. But made the point that politicians don't want to be unpopular, and there may be work that activists can help with in getting voters "on-side" with regard to traffic reduction measures. This was a point that was picked up repeatedly by various people over the evening. Pete later gave the example that if the meeting was about parking, it would have had many multiples of the attendees. People love their parking spaces. The way to go is probably to pilot things in small areas, and get buy in. Big problem is lack of funds. 

Q: Potholes
PR: Lambeth has been focussing on this. Believes this has got better. There should now be better monitoring and reporting apps, so that people can flag up potholes early.

AG: TfL roads see heavier traffic, so unsurprising potholes are more of a problem on TfL roads. Darren Johnson has suggested focussing on cycle-heavy streets to make sure those are particularly clear of potholes.
Q: London Cycle Network exists, but is not signposted.
AG: Quietways will incorporate the LCN mostly. Broadly, the Quietways will be an attempt to do the LCN properly, as the LCN has a habit of giving up where the going gets tough (gave specific example up towards Oval). Said we would see results "quite soon". Has no plans to improve the A23, as this has significant bus and van traffic. But there is a plan for a Quietway that runs parallel to much of the A23.

Q: TfL traffic modelling misleading. When road between Stockwell and Oval closed, no chaos resulted, but this is what traffic models predict with the slightest changes.
AG: 75% of AG's job is fighting the traffic models. Trying to get TfL to test their models, and believes that much resistance to change in TfL might actually be because they don't want to see their models tested. Each battle is fought one at a time.

Q: Bus traffic at Telford Avenue is now deadly post the bus garage work. Can anything be done?AG: TfL are slowly starting to look at better solutions for bus lanes and bus stops. But not familiar with that particular area.

Q: Dutch got their cycle infrastructure by focussing on deaths of children on the roads. Could we try something similar? This was phrased as quite a long question, with a lot of interesting information (for instance, the figure of 32,000 children killed or injured on the streets in this country every year, which I was astonished by, cross checking with suggests this estimate may be too high, but that doesn't alter the force of the argument, of course). Anyway, the length of the question meant it was slightly misinterpreted by the panel, I think. The second part of the question was "how is Lambeth going to reach targets given that things have actually got worse in some places".
SC: While infrastructure is happening long-term, police want to focus on immediate problems, and to that end, believe that cycle training, enforcement and lorry refitting are key. Bikeability 3 should be taught at 15, as 15 is an absolutely critical age to create future cyclists. Police are asked for their opinion on road design, and road hierarchy.
CH: Children really, really want to cycle. We are preventing them from doing so through crummy design. Lambeth strategy is excellent, but it's just an aspiration, it hasn't yet been converted into anything concrete. PR: Council have improved cycle parking, HGV training and give free cycle training.

Q: Extend Cycle hire into Streatham and Brixton
AG: Costs too much
PR: Costs too much

The last group of questions came together, and were sometimes quite complex, so I've grouped them together here.
Q: Rather complex three part question revolving around cycle safety and enforcement. I'm afraid I didn't get all of the details. At the end the questioner brought up the topic of helmet compulsion which rather meant that the rest of her question wasn't really addressed (as this is obviously a hot button issue for cyclists).

Q: Zero tolerance for motorist crimes (dangerous driving etc.)
SC: Police treat crash investigations where there has been a death in the same way as they treat a murder investigation. There is a report coming in soon on police approach to enforcement. Notably, Operation Safeway resulted not just in fewer road deaths, but also a reduction in overall crime. Personal view was that this might be evidence in favour of more "bobbies on the beat" Robert Peel style approach to London policing. While cars are obviously more dangerous to pedestrians, cyclists ARE a problem, and there have been some serious pedestrian injuries due to dangerous cycling, so there will remain a focus on enforcing rules for cyclists.

Chuka asked the audience for more information on the helmet compulsion argument. Slightly went down a rabbit hole here, but panel seemed pretty united that while helmets are a good idea for the individual, compulsion probably won't save any lives (AG mentioned that in Australia cycling levels dropped post compulsion).

Lastly, there was a question from the chaps at "People Empowering People" ( who I hadn't heard about before this evening, but who do some really interesting work on fixing bicycles and training youths up with bike mechanic skills. The question was whether any of the panel could help with the work they are doing, and I saw them in discussion at the end of the meeting, so hopefully some good links will have been found.

Thanks to Charlie for his reflections on this interesting and informative evening - we hope we can take this further and after the May local elections work with Lambeth and TfL to make Lambeth better for cyclists.

See also Brixton Blog report of the cycling questions