In yesterday’s BBC Sunday Politics piece on the Superhighways, presenter Tim Donovan repeated, in the form of a question, the City of London’s statement that the proposals are ‘heavily biased’ towards cycling and cyclists (that comment appears three times in this City response). Donovan included Canary Wharf in his comment that the plans are

heavily biased towards the cyclists

and he then followed this up with the statement that

They [the City] are saying that when you’re looking at changes, you are being biased towards the cyclist in the changes you’re putting in.

You can see these exchanges in this video of the whole section of the programme, from the six minute mark.

Gilligan makes the obvious point that this is (predominantly) a cycling scheme. If it wasn’t ‘biased’ towards cycling, something would be seriously wrong.

Other allegations of bias have been made by Michael Welbank of the City of London, as documented by Cycalogical. In this BBC piece, he argues

Cycling in towns is here to stay, and is going to grow, and we don’t resist that, we try to accommodate it… but normally… major infrastructure, you really want years to get everybody on-side… not just one group, you want everybody on side.

In the context of 50+ years of road and street design that has utterly failed to consider cycling as a mode of transport this is, frankly, a laughable comment. To suggest that when, for pretty much the very first time, cycling is being considered in a serious way on a few major roads in London, that such a scheme amounts to a sudden departure from the normal procedure of getting ‘everybody on side’ is deeply ahistorical.

Likewise, in an interview with the Guardian’s Peter Walker, Welbank makes a similar point, this time about cycling apparently being ‘prioritised’ –

All road users should have equal opportunities. At the moment [with these plans] we believe the cyclists are having priority to the disadvantage of other users.

This isn’t what’s happening, at all. Cycling is, for the very first time, being treated as a mode of transport suitable for anyone who might want to ride a bike, rather than the usual process of making token (and often completely ineffectual) changes. The only way in which this scheme could amount to cycling being ‘prioritised’ is if you are blinkered enough to believe that the existing road network has been designed and built to equally prioritise cycling and driving – that they are impartial, and mode-neutral.

Let us, hypothetically, imagine that there is no footway along the Embankment, as shown in the picture below. Understandably, very few people are prepared to walk along here. Transport for London then propose to install a footway, to make walking attractive enough for everyone, along this road.

Would that amount to ‘bias’ in favour of pedestrians? Would it mean that Transport for London are only considering the needs of pedestrians, failing to get everybody else ‘on side’?

The BBC's Tom Edwards, finding out what it feels like to cycle on a road that isn't 'biased' towards cycling

The BBC’s Tom Edwards, reporting for yesterday’s Sunday Politics item, finding out what it feels like to cycle on a road that isn’t ‘biased’ towards cycling

Let’s get one thing straight here. Roads and streets in London, and everywhere else in Britain, are almost without exception heavily biased – but heavily biased against cycling.

The changes that are being proposed to the roads like the one in the picture above aren’t some kind of ‘icing on the cake’ for the people already cycling there; a bit of extra ‘niceness’ for the existing cyclists.

These roads are extremely unsuitable for cycling, such that only a tiny percentage of the population would be willing to cycle there. The changes that will (hopefully) be implemented are really the bare minimum we should be expecting; they begin to put cycling on something approaching an equal level of consideration with motor traffic, and walking.

The only conceivable way in which these proposals could be seen as ‘biased’ is if the existing road network is taken to be equally attractive to people cycling, driving and walking. But that’s plainly a nonsense. Walking along the Superhighway route is not always pleasant, but it’s something that families can do, reasonably happily. By contrast, I have never, ever seen children cycling on these roads, except for the one day a year when they are closed to motor traffic.

So these comments about ‘bias’ and ‘too much prioritisation’ really amount to ignorance about cycling as a mode of transport, manifested as reluctance to move away from the existing state of affairs in which cycling remains the preserve of a small minority of the population. It’s perhaps forgivable that the general population continues to see ‘cycling’ and ‘cyclists’ as a minority pursuit, but the people in charge of transport – people who should be knowledgeable and informed – should really know better.

This entry was posted in Andrew Gilligan, City of London, Subjective safety, Superhighways, Sustainable Safety, Transport for London. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Bias

  1. Mark Hewitt says:

    Did you see BBC Breakfasts facebook post here the comments made are just really scary. That there is really that much hate for cyclists out there.

  2. geoffrone says:

    Don’t be silly Mark, Cyclists, Christians and Fat People are the only people it’s OK to have a go at nowadays – in fact the meeja encourage it. We just need to man-up and live with it.

  3. Andrea says:

    Gilligan missed an opportunity to spell out that everyone can cycle and everyone loves cycling if given the opportunity to do it safely, so these improvements are for everyone.

    • My view? I think Andrew Gilligan did a really good job. He plainly explained that it IS a cycling scheme. He talked about the benefits to non-cyclists. He calmly countered inaccurate accusations. The interviewer attacked hard and Gilligan didn’t falter, he knew his stuff and, in a limited time, he got a lot of points across firmly while showing that they are realistic and engaging constructively with objectors. Few interviewees would have done as well.
      The shame is that, once Gilligan had responded so well, there was no representative from the ‘anti’ faction to be put on the spot -I think they could easily have been mincemeat there.

      • fonant says:

        Quite agree, Gilligan came across very well, logical, confident, and well-informed.

        I suspect the “anti” faction knew very well that their arguments are poor and easily dismantled. No longer can you say “London’s roads are for cars, and cars alone” and have everyone agree.

        The motorists (wasn’t the London Taxi Drivers Association man fun to watch!) are fighting a losing battle. Motor vehicles must be the least efficient method of moving lots of people around in a city like London. I don’t feel sorry for them, they’ve had their own way in our towns and cities for far too long, with a terrible toll of deaths and injuries.

      • Andrea says:

        I am afraid if one thinks Gilligan did “a good job”, one still has a one-vs-them loser mentality.

        He was competent and answered eloquently, but one would not expect less.

        However, this is what he should have said to the presenter;

        “Stop saying that these schemes favour one group of people. This is for everyone; everyone should have the freedom to cycle in the capital in safety, and we are giving this opportunity to the millions of people who are presently too scared to cycle. At present the freedom of Londoners to use the most efficient mode of urban transport is curtailed by an antiquated and unjust road layout”

  4. Jitensha Oni says:

    What hacks me off is that those who are not cycling campaigners or TfL appear not be be capable of engaging with the plans and suggesting actual “improvements”. Bit like being given an exam to sit and then complaining there wasn’t enough time to revise. I mean, dudes, it’s not difficult. Even I could do (have done) it.

    So from where I sit it looks like the issue is that the antis haven’t had enough time to think of major impediments to the plan. But they’ve surely had long enough, which means the plans should go ahead with the one or two mods suggested by the campaigners.

    PS childbacktandem – I agree with everything you write here 😉

  5. ezpc1 says:

    Reblogged this on ezpcgoescycling and commented:
    Sums it up quite nicely …really…..

  6. Cycle Super highway being railroaded?? It has 80% backing from businesses, you want to see railroaded the HS2 has less backing & is being pushed through so why cant this as has more support? And this BBC presenter is an arse by asking stupid questions by trying to make it look bad for pedestrians. And yet again they say it will add congestion to motor vehicles, they just cant see that it will give drivers the chance to cycle instead, cyclists not have to share lanes with drivers & the more people cycle in these segregated lanes mean less motor vehicles. It aint bloody rocket science but as usual the archaic politicians are more interested in their oil shares…

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