Dear Lord Adonis,
I write regarding your recent comments on social media regarding the cycling infrastructure around Parliament Square.
You have asserted that more people are choosing to use the road instead of the cycling infrastructure, and in doing so imply that, as a consequence, there was little point in building that cycling infrastructure in the first place.
I fear that – regardless of the numbers involved – your comments might betray a failure to understand the reasons behind people avoiding that infrastructure, and that in turn could lead you to erroneously dismiss the utility of separating cycling from general traffic at this location, and indeed at other locations across British towns and cities.
Given the importance of your role as Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, I hope you will forgive me if I seek to explain to you why cycling infrastructure of the kind in question remains essential even if some choose not to use it, and also what we can learn from a minority of people failing to use a specific piece of infrastructure as intended.
In the last decade, there have been sixteen KSI (killed or seriously injured) incidents involving people cycling in Parliament Square, and along the section of road running past the Houses of Parliament, alone.
Every single one of those incidents is a personal tragedy that could have been avoided by separating those people from the motor traffic running through the Square.
The new cycling infrastructure achieves this. It greatly increases the safety of people cycling here by removing entirely any interactions with motor traffic. To take just one example, I have seen families with young children cycling through the Square in complete safety; something that would have been totally unthinkable before this infrastructure was built.
I hope you will agree with me that the failure of some people to use this infrastructure should not – in any way – be used as a reason to take those safe conditions away. There is a great deal of point to this infrastructure in safety terms alone, without even considering its importance in enabling cycling as a mode of transport for people unwilling to cycle at present, with all the concomitant (and significant) benefits in terms of public health, congestion mitigation, and pollution reduction.
When it comes to the matter of a minority of people choosing to use the road instead of the cycling infrastructure through the Square, I’m afraid the explanation is rather obvious, so again forgive me if I am telling you something you already know. (I’m prepared to take that risk to ensure that someone in your influential position is fully appraised of the facts).
If one is cycling in an eastbound direction across the Square, there is, unfortunately, a significant amount of delay at each set of traffic lights on the cycleway – typically it will take two or three times as long to negotiate the Square compared to using the road, a delay of several minutes. I don’t think it should be very surprising, therefore, that some people will naturally choose to avoid that delay by using the road instead, especially given that many of these people will have cycled on equivalently hostile roads as part of their daily journey. (As I hope you know, cycling infrastructure in London is far from ubiquitous). These people are not wilfully choosing danger over safety – they have merely chosen to save time.
By analogy, if we see people choosing to dash across a busy road instead of walking several hundred metres out of their way to use a pedestrian crossing, I trust you will agree with me that we shouldn’t respond by questioning whether pedestrian crossings are useful, or whether there is any point building them. No – an appropriate response is to build pedestrian crossings where people actually want to cross, so they aren’t forced to choose between danger, and inconvenience.
In precisely the same way, if you are concerned about the safety of people cycling (and indeed concerned with enabling more people to cycle), an appropriate response to the issue you raise in Parliament Square has to involve increasing the convenience of the cycling infrastructure there, rather than questioning whether it should even exist at all. Nor should we attempt to pass new laws compelling people to use inconvenient walking and cycling infrastructure. If we are serious about enabling these modes, we should be designing environments where convenience and safety directly, and naturally, align, rather than attempting to compensate for poor design with regressive laws.
In this context, I must emphasise that the new cycling infrastructure built by Transport for London in recent years is of a high standard and does, in general, pass this test. Over 90% of users are indeed naturally choosing to use the cycling infrastructure in preference to the road, because it offers them both convenience and safety. I would be interested to see your figures for Parliament Square, not least because it will be a useful way of identifying the degree of inconvenience there.
I will be more than happy to offer any further clarification,