The LCC’s Love London, Go Dutch campaign has again featured on the BBC Daily Politics programme, again with Mustafa Arif fielding the questions.
This time the opposing voice – instead of the incoherent Stirling Moss – is Simon Jenkins, who despite being a commentator on public space does little better in coming up with credible arguments.
Having watched the excellent film of Groningen, and listened to Mustafa Arif’s reasoned points about London’s streets being made more pleasant for people on foot and on bike by means of filtered permeability and separation on busier streets, Jenkins was asked whether he agreed with this as a future vision for London, with less dependency on the car. His very first comment is
There’s very little dependency on the car now in London.
This bears little relation to fact. From Transport for London’s latest Travel in London report [pdf], published in 2010 -
We can see that the number of daily stages made by motor car far outstrips the number of stages made by any other mode of transport. Car use has been declining over the last decade, but to suggest that there is ‘little dependency’ on the car is, frankly, gibberish. The picture is even worse for outer London, where 50% of all trips (by main mode) were made by car or motorcycle between 2007/08 and 2009/10.
Jenkins then says that there is, despite this apparently ‘low’ dependency on the car, ‘a lot of traffic’ in London, remarking that a lot of the footage shot by the BBC in Groningen was taken in ‘small back streets, in small towns.’
Not so. Groningen, while by no means the size of London, is a city with a population of 190,000. It is not a ‘small town’. Nor was the footage taken on ‘small back streets’. It was – as far as I can tell – mostly shot in the city centre itself, particularly around the main railway station. Jenkins evidently has no idea what a city centre street can look like if you strip out a great deal of the motor traffic. The absence of cars and congestion does not automatically mean that a Dutch street is a ‘back street’. Yet more complacent ignorance.
Jenkins then steers the debate to his favourite subject, ‘shared space’, arguing that
The real conceptual breakthrough will come when the great Hans Monderman, who wrote the great book on traffic, a true revolutionary, is taken aboard, as in Exhibition Road in London, the only example in London of Monderman’s theories. Which is basically you don’t endlessly separate. If you separate, you allow cars to go much faster. The most important thing is you create a pattern of a street in which everyone’s using it all the time. Traffic is slowed down – drastically, often. But you don’t try and separate. You make sure that people, cars, buses – whatever it may be – and cyclists police each other. And the extraordinary thing about it is – as in Germany, in Holland, in other places in Europe – accidents reduce. Speed reduces, accidents reduce, the street is safer.
It’s hard to know where to start with this.
Hans Monderman did not write any books.
Exhibition Road is not the ‘only example’ of Monderman’s theories – there are a large number of new ‘shared space’-style environments across London, including Byng Place, Seven Dials, Long Acre and Sloane Square, to name but a few.
Traffic on Exhibition Road – which is, it is true, subjectively a little slower than before – has not been slowed down ‘drastically’.
It’s all very well talking about pedestrians and cyclists ‘policing’ the space to keep vehicle speeds down, but what you are in effect doing is asking them to play chicken with fast and often heavy traffic. Nobody wants to play, and pedestrians have separated themselves, despite the ‘pattern’ of the street inviting them to do so.
Monderman himself, despite being an adherent of these types of road designs, was firmly of the opinion that separation – in the form of cycle paths and tracks – on surrounding streets was an essential corollary to sharing on a street with ‘open’ designs like Exhibition Road. Again, this is ignored by Jenkins, before he moves on to present another slice of evidence.
Intrerestingly, the Dutch don’t wear helmets. Why don’t they wear helmets? Because they know it’s safe. And it’s been made safe by the way you grade the streets. These are often mechanical things you do, just to make it easier for all people to use the street. If you have endless lights, signs, and lanes, cars think they’re safe, everybody thinks they’re safe, when they’re not.
The implication being that it is the shared space environments in the Netherlands that make cyclists feel safe, and accounts for their lack of helmets.
Never mind that Dutch cyclists tend to be viscerally opposed to shared space (their organisation, the Fietsersbond, regularly writes critical pieces about it), and that shared space is actually found only intermittently in the Netherlands, where roads and streets are designed according to the principles of subjective safety. This point is made firmly by Mustafa Arif, who also notes that Dutch cyclists tend to cycle less in areas of shared space. Jenkins is, again, simply ill-informed.
Finally, in response to arguments from Arif, and from the host, that shared space is not appropriate where there are high volumes of motor traffic, Jenkins says
The most problematic thing in London is quite simply there are an awful lot of people using the street, and there’s no way you can ultimately separate them. What you must do is simply make them safer by slowing the traffic.
This is a variant of the bogus ‘our streets are too narrow for cycle paths’ argument, which pretends that we cannot separate cyclists (and indeed pedestrians) from vehicles because there’s not enough space between the building frontages, coming this time in the form that there’s ‘too much traffic’ on the street. The argument is bogus and self-defeating precisely because London currently manages to accommodate vast amounts of private motor traffic, journeys that can and should be made in far greater proportion on foot and by bicycle. Again, Mustafa Arif makes the point that half of all car journeys in London are under two miles. There is space in London; it is just poorly allocated.
It’s actually rather pleasing that the arguments against ‘Going Dutch’ are so weak and incoherent. More please.