How westminster plans to keep the cyclists out and Simon Cowell in

Waterloo bridge no bike lane

One day, cycling around Soho, a Rolls Royce with blackened windows was stuck behind me. With cars parked on the left, the road was too narrow for the driver to pass. It felt a little intimidating to be holding up this big hunk of metal.

Eventually, the road widened and the car overtook me. Pulling up in front of me, Simon Cowell, the brains behind talent TV shows such as X-factor, stepped out from the back and walked in to an office. 

Simon Cowell’s decision to drive, negative impacts the people around him. The car causes pollution that others have to breathe in. It requires space to park, which could be occupied by 8 bicycle parking spots, or space for pedestrians. His decision to drive, means that others will decide not to take their bikes to work. It means shops won’t benefit from more pedestrians. It means visitors in London will leave with memories and stories of noisy, congested streets. Office workers won’t be able to open their window without being greeted by the sound of cars. 

Am I angry at Simon Cowell?

Not at all. 

It’s not Simon Cowell’s fault. He is a smart businessman that I look up to. 

It’s the fault of Westminster council. 

Westminster Council, led by cabinet member for transport Cllr Algar has decided that everyone should have the unchallenged right to own, drive and park a car in central London. 

Do I expect Simon Cowell to walk, cycle or take the bus to his office? 

Not really, but I also don’t believe any special provision should be made for him at the disproportionate expense of everyone else.

However, that’s exactly what Westminster council is doing.

For the few people in central London who insist on using a car, the rest of us have to suffer. 

Cycling should be thriving in Westminster and we should all be reaping the benefits. The only reason it isn’t is because Westminster council has decided against it. 

Here’s how they plan on keeping the cyclists and pedestrians out, and the cars in:

Public space should be allocated for people to park their car

If you’ve ever cycled, walked or driven around Soho, you’ll recognise there isn’t much space. The pavements are tiny, there’s nowhere to leave your bike and driving here is a nightmare. 

Why then is it, that with such limited space available, it is agreed that it is a fundamental right for the residents here to use public space to park their car?

Residents of Soho have made the conscious decision to live in the very heart of the city. Everything they could possibly want or need is walking distance away. If it isn’t, then there are plentiful public transport options.  

One person, parking one car outside their home, is inconveniencing 100’s if not 1000’s of people.

Road narrowing

Perhaps the oddest of Westminster’s road design policies is to narrow roads. They reason that cars and cyclists should mix together and that without enough space for cars to overtake, everyone will travel at the same speed.

Anyone who has cycled on these narrows streets will agree that this is incredibly intimidating. I’m sure drivers will also attest that it doesn’t work. 

For more on the ill conceived policy of road narrowing read here and here.

Maintain current speed limits

Westminster council controls 92% of the roads in the borough. Average driving speeds in London are already around 10mph, yet occasionally a road will be clear and cars will speed up to 35-40mph. It’s easy to see how that would be intimidating and irritating to both pedestrians and cyclists.

A uniform speed limit of 20mph could really help reduce dangers and improve conditions for cyclists.

Give cyclists free “bike bells”

I was baffled to read in the Cyclists in the City blog that the council plans on giving out free bike bells to cyclists to encourage them to warn pedestrians of their presence.


We’ll never see the benefits

In the draft version of the 2013 – 2026 version of the council’s cycling strategy, it’s clear the benefits of cycling in Westminster are recognised:

  • Sustain its population growth and new jobs
  • Ease congestion on its roads
  • Offer a viable way to its population of travelling at minimal cost
  • Significantly improve the health of its residents, workers and visitors
  • Improve local air quality

Yet, Westminster council, spearheaded by Cllr Algar, is planning to fail cyclists. If they fail cyclists, then they’ll fail the Mayor’s cycling vision. They’ll fail the local residents, they’ll fail visitors to London, they’ll fail businesses, cafes, shops, workers and they’ll fail London as a whole. If they were hoping that at least they’d be making a handful of car owners happy, then ask any car owner if they are happy with driving conditions in central London.

Image via Cyclists in the City

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

37 Responses to How westminster plans to keep the cyclists out and Simon Cowell in

  1. Tim 09/05/2013 at 10:56 am #

    You make a really good point about the relative benefits of providing on-street parking.

    So often you hear both drivers and small businesses owners argue in favour of on-street parking like it’s some god-given right. But consider a restaurant like those I regularly cycle past on Manchester’s curry mile. The restaurant might have 50 covers or so? But directly outside is space for maybe 2 cars – a maximum of 8 or so customers (but probably fewer)? . Surely much better to provide more parking away from the road where you can accommodate more cars without getting in the way of the road users (who may well also be restaurant-goers, shoppers, etc). Commercially run out of town shopping centres wouldn’t dream of putting parking spaces directly next to each shop, because it makes for a much less pleasant shopping experience.

    Local authorities will often charge for on-street parking and argue that the drivers are at least paying for the privilege? But how much is reasonable? Why should I, as a tax payer subsidise the tiny minority who choose to drive and are lucky enough to get one of those few spaces. Given the opportunity cost related to all the factors you’ve covered, if there is a real requirement for parking in the area surely better to let a business buy up some space for a carpark and provide space at a competitive rate.

  2. hcba 09/05/2013 at 12:24 pm #

    I too cycle everywhere, however Westminster will not change their tune as they know they are onto a good thing………………………..

    The reason why Westminster are pro cars – is due to the fact that their revenue is made from parking tickets! If you look at their financial accounts for each year they make more money from fines than they do from their council taxes – even though they are one of the richest boroughs – considering the value of property in central London! Westminster council raked in five times more in parking charges and fines per household than any other London borough.

    The council made £637.31 per household in parking fines, followed by Kensington & Chelsea — on £485.90 (according to figures about council revenues from on- and off-street parking and fines). The figures also show Westminster council made £38m in 2011/12, up 8.7% from the 2010/11 figure.

    When challenged on what the money went to they stated the money was not profit, but a surplus spent on transport and infrastructure!

    I hate to say it – why kill the cash cow? Ironic that the bike came before the car!

    • PaulM 10/05/2013 at 11:55 am #

      Absolutely right, hcba. Westminster raises more in parking charges and in fines for overstays/illegal parking than any other local authority in the UK. It is a very handy revenue stream which enables them to drive down their council tax precept and so make them more popular with the residents who re-elect them. Remember that WCC is the corrupt body which gave birth to the “gerrymandering” strategy pursued under Shirley Porter.

      In principle revenues from parking charges and fines should only be spent on road and transport projects but that is not much of a restriction – they have a hefty annual commitment to this anyway so would otherwise have to raise more council tax to pay for it.

      WCC doesn’t want to do anything to discourage cars from coming into the borough because that would reduce their income from parking. Things won’t change until national government realises that this is an area which should be regulated by national standards. It is already the case that local authorities which manage schools must conform to certain standards on curriculum, teacher/pupil ratio etc, and when they manage streets they must conform to certain standards with regard to the Traffic Management Act and the Road Transport Act etc. Extending these to include compulsory minimum standards would not be hard – then we could avoid the postcode lottery where a resident of Brighton or Gosport can enjoy some fair quality cycle infrastructure, while a resident of Westminster must suffer medieval cycling conditions

    • Tom Lynch 10/05/2013 at 7:18 pm #

      I agree hcba, wouldn’t it be great if the government did realise this. and ordered Westminster to pay back the parking fines and encourage motorists to make claims against them, like the PPI claims industry. Westminster would then surely start to encourage cycling rather than driving.


  3. Dutch 09/05/2013 at 7:41 pm #

    FGS. What’s wrong with having a bell? Or do hipster fixie riders consider them far too un-cool?

    • Andreas 09/05/2013 at 9:05 pm #

      Hey Dutch – it’s not a cool vs uncool thing – it’s about the council applying a plaster to a huge problem and trying to convince us they are doing “everything they can” for cycling.

    • Kristian 09/05/2013 at 9:05 pm #

      Nothing is wrong with having a bell. Who is this straw man you are attacking?

      What is wrong, is a council’s cycling strategy (STRATEGY!) including a paragraph on giving out free bike bells. What is worse, is that when you take out all the hot air from the “strategy”, handing out bike bells is the only thing of any substance. Its an embarassing disgrace. Westminster council deserves nothing but ridicule and mockery for this insult.

    • Sooz 10/05/2013 at 11:14 am #

      As someone who works in Westmister I have found that having a bell is utterly ineffective – pedestrians simply continue to ignore you as they blithely stride into the road without looking or assume that you are a rickshaw. Only hollering actually gets their attention before they step off the curb and into my side.

      • Nick Donnelly 10/05/2013 at 11:16 am #

        Just cycle into them – it’s very easy to do it in such a way that they go down, and you don’t. Then THEY will say sorry – and never do it again…

        • Jonathan 10/05/2013 at 11:29 am #

          Good idea Nick. Just make sure you are not cleated to your bike!

        • Nick Donnelly 10/05/2013 at 11:31 am #

          Oh for this I’d be in a steam roller 😉

      • Pete Smith 10/05/2013 at 1:39 pm #


        Bell no good. A super-loud “OOOOOY !!!” freezes them to the spot, and you can swerve round them.

  4. Liz 09/05/2013 at 9:04 pm #

    I find it just so frustrating that we’re continually told that London’s too old with streets that are too narrow for decent bike lanes, but Westminster continue to protect on-street parking in the middle of town. If our roads are too narrow for bike lanes, they’re too narrow for parked cars!

    Re: bells – this made my eyes roll too! Nothing wrong with a bell to warn people who’re about to step into your path, but the idea that they’re promoting safety or encouraging cycling by handing out bells is ridiculous. Bells won’t stop an HGV running you over, or prevent a dooring. Half the time they won’t even help when a dog on an extendable lead runs out across the bike path.

    • Andreas 09/05/2013 at 9:06 pm #

      Agreed – at least this old argument seems to be fading the more people are looking in to it. Councils used to hide behind it continuously! I hope Westminster listens to the concerns of cyclists.

  5. Nick Donnelly 10/05/2013 at 10:58 am #

    Please don’t look up to simon cowell.

    He has single handedly destroyed the music industry – polluting the ears of young people, and others, with the worse mass produced music in human history – keeping the masses dumb.

    With so much amazing music in the world – he is sub human and should have been drowned at birth.

    If he were on a bike – someone would run him into a tree (hopefully).

    • Andreas 10/05/2013 at 11:45 am #

      I’m not a big fan of the kind of music he churns out Nick or indeed the TV shows (I’m sure both of us are in the same boat on that one!) but he’s been successful in making those incredibly popular.

      I feel that jokes about running people over are not really appropriate. As it’s a little too close to home!

      • Nick Donnelly 10/05/2013 at 11:54 am #

        Hey well I’ve been run over like anyone (broken jaw, rearranged face etc) – and I didn’t destroy the music industry.

        So if it has to happen to anyone, might as well be him.

        Though some death involving listening to the child abusing, audio toxin he creates would be more fitting.

  6. Emma 10/05/2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Bells – it’s putting the onus on cyclists to be responsible for pedesrtians who don’t look before stepping off the pavement whilst they’re listening to music and texting.
    Hollering means you can tell them, and every other person who hears, that they, the pedestrian, is about to step in the road without having looked and that they’re being very careless. (not sure it comes out of my mouth so politely, though ;-0 )

  7. Mark 10/05/2013 at 1:55 pm #

    I used to ride through westminster on a motorbike with a twin air horn and it still didn’t stop pedestrians walking out in front of me or cars u-turning across my path.
    A bell wouldn’t be heard over traffic/car stereo/ipods in the majority of cases anyway.

  8. Neil 10/05/2013 at 2:43 pm #

    As cyclists, we must be aware that a pedestrian may be deaf, blind, infirm, or possibly suffering from dementia (more common now as we all live longer). If we make the assumption that a bell or a shout will allow us to cycle at speeds that may take some pedestrians by surprise, then we are no better than motorists who drive too fast.

    We really have to stop this arrogant aggression towards pedestrians, no matter how ill judged their road sense may be, because if we don’t then we’ll end up seeing ourselves on Youtube and all the good work that’s going on could be undone.

    • Pete Smith 10/05/2013 at 3:14 pm #

      Indeed. But blind or partially sighted people will be carrying a white stick, and deaf people, presumably, will be LOOKING where they’re going.

      I think we’re all talking about the people (iPeds) who don’t even bother looking before they step out into the road. In this age of silent electric vehicles, they won’t live long enough to become infirm or suffer dementia …

    • Sooz 10/05/2013 at 3:23 pm #

      Neil, I used to work in theatres all across Covent Garden. The pedestrians in this area are indeed deaf and blind, but not medically, they are simply ignorant and have no spatial awareness.

      WCC have made the roads in this area so friendly towards pedestrians that they seamlessly glide from pavement to road without even needing to lift their feet. What happened to “stop, look, and look again”? Apparently without a curb pedestrians are incapable of differentiating between roads and pavements.

      And if you have ever cycled down Bow Street (from outside the Lion King to the bottom of Endell Street and onwards to Seven Dials) you will know that even the physical action of stepping INTO THE ROAD is not enough to make some people take pause. Between looking out for rogue pedestrians and enraged taxi drivers cycling to work feels like running Takeshi’s Castle on some days.

      • Neil 11/05/2013 at 11:54 am #

        Sooz, I agree that there are many pedestrians without much roadsense. But there are some clues to help us. Take your example of Covent Garden. It can’t possibly come as a surprise that there will be loads of tourists, loads of ipeds, and loads of people who have probably never been taught how to cross the road safely. If you know things are tricky, why not walk with your bike awhile, or ride slowly when mingling with peds, like the Dutch do (which seems to work very well).

        The key to safe cycling, somewhere like Covent Garden is to expect the unexpected and cycle accordingly, and that means much more slowly than many of the “urban warriors” out there who put everyone’s backs up and do so much damage to the cycling cause.

        I’ve never had so much as a near miss on my bike, and I’ve ridden well over 100,000 miles. And, crucially, I’ve never had to shout at a pedestrian. Just slow down in town, and only put the hammer down when you’re out on the open road.

        • Sooz 11/05/2013 at 12:05 pm #

          People who have never been taught to cross a road safely? Surely you must be joking. Everyone older than a toddler knows how to cross a road safely, they simply choose not to.

          Despite your assumptions, I cycle at a casual pace on roads, not pavements or pedestrian areas.

          Perhaps you should pitch your suggestion that cyclists dismount in tourist areas to WCC.

        • veryrarelystable 11/05/2013 at 8:58 pm #

          Indeed Neil. In fact why not have a friend walk with a red flag 3 yards in front warning pedestrians who don’t know to look before crossing the road?

          Or why not fit cycles with compulsory speed limiters – no-one “needs” to go more that 4mph; if it takes 3 hours to get to work and 3 hours back, well so be it – it’s our fault for wanting to cycle.

          In fact it should always be for cyclists (not car drivers, of course!) to limit themselves to the speed of pedestrians or slower, and make sure that pedestrians don’t need to take any responsibility themselves before crossing the road.

          I’m surprised no-one has suggested these simple measures before!

  9. Tom Lynch 10/05/2013 at 7:12 pm #

    Wouldn’t it be great if the government did realise this. and ordered Westminster to pay back the parking fines and encourage motorists to make claims against them, like the PPI claims industry. Westminster would then surely start to encourage cycling rathere than driving.

  10. RobbieC 11/05/2013 at 12:49 pm #

    yep love to have a westminster bell on my bike – a ‘Ben Bell’ but would also like to see millbank, the embankment and parliament square civilized – or does Boris own them? I have a feeling that there is a requirement that any new build needs to have car parking provision too – maybe there is a cunning plan to provide enough spaces so that they can say at some point in the 2070’s that residents need to have somewhere to keep the car off road if they want to keep one in the Borough?.

  11. RobbieC 11/05/2013 at 12:53 pm #

    I cannot believe that there should be as many black cabs and mini cabs as there are in the Westminster. Most seem to go around empty.

    I find the pedal cyclists a bit annoying but they are an ideal way of getting people around the cramped streets of Soho.

    • RobbieC 11/05/2013 at 12:55 pm #

      sorry that should be pedal cab things – I am a pedal cyclist and not annoying at all.

  12. Peter King 11/05/2013 at 1:24 pm #

    As a car owning cyclist who uses both on a daily basis, the principle l’ve never been able to understand is that if l as a motorist cross a pavement in order to reach a property and in so doing kill or even injure an iped, then I get the book thrown at me. I have no problem with that. After all, the pavement is pedestrian territory. But that same principle doesn’t seem to have got through to the pedestrian who has given himself carte blanche permission to wander all over the vehicles territory usually without a second glance and then scream . “why don’t you look where you’re going” after being knocked down by a cyclist /motorist, who WAS looking where he/she was going. Pavements for ipeds, Roads for traffic. BUT one also has to remember that cyclists have a right to use the roads that was enshrined in law back in the mid 1800’s. Car driver’s do not. They have a LICENSE to use the roads, that can be taken away at any time. Ipeds have a similar system, that is if they ignore their own, (and other people’s safety) they have their freedom curtailed too. Usually in hospital.

  13. Downfader 11/05/2013 at 1:50 pm #

    On bike bells. I use several, and have had them on every bike since a child. I do use mine in traffic and on shared spaces and the verdict is:

    they are universally ignored.

  14. Alan Southern 14/05/2013 at 6:17 pm #

    I live in Cardiff and have just come back from a weekend cycling in cental London. Yes, the pedestians are a pain in the arse but then I am a pedestian every day and a car driver a little less frequently. (I also travel by bus.) So I am a pain to everybody else however I travel. What I have noticed in many of the comments above (not all as a few make perfectly sensible comments) is the arrogence displayed. This goes along the lines “I am a cyclist so I should be able to cycle anywhere I want, how I want, at any speed and bugger the rest of you.” I suspect that those cyclists who take that attitude (see comments by others above) would, if given half the chance, would drive the same way in a car.

    • veryrarelystable 14/05/2013 at 9:40 pm #

      I too am a car driver, pedestrian and cyclist. What I detect is the opposite of your experience: that car drivers and pedestrians seek to impose rules well beyond road laws on cyclists when they say that cyclists ride too fast.

      No! Cyclists largely are not capable of breaking the speed limit on roads. A lot of us do extraordinary distances which simply would not be possible if we could not do the 20mph (far less than cars) which is about the maximum we can reach. And even then we can only reach this speed for small sections of our journeys.

      I stick to the rules – I don’t jump lights, I don’t ride on pavements. But I have car drivers and pedestrians scream at me to slow down when the lights are green for me and it’s my right of way according to the road rules. Their attitude is just arrogant and luddite.

      I had one taxi driver pull out in front of me from a side road recently and had to jam on the breaks; he screamed at me to slow down, when I would only have been doing 10mph max; it didn’t occur to him that *he* should look both ways before pulling out of a side road. He seemed to think it was my fault for being a cyclist using the road according to the Highway Code!

      I regularly have pedestrians step out right in front of me who think they have no responsibility for their own safety – a sort of “if I don’t look before stepping into the road, then my death will be the road user’s fault”.

      The pathological hatred shown to law-abiding cyclists has got so extreme I’ve taken to wearing a camera for evidence. Yes, I know some cyclists go through red lights; I won’t excuse their behaviour, but on the other hand I’ve never met a pedestrian who didn’t cross on a red man; pedestrians are much less law-abiding than cyclists.

    • John 03/06/2013 at 11:20 pm #

      I won’t dispute there are some cyclists who think the world revolves around them and that saving a few seconds is the most important thing in the world. They are the ones who weave in and out of traffic, run red lights, ignore turning restrictions, ride at speed on the pavement and the like. Personally I hate seeing people doing that as it just reinforces the belief that cyclists as a group are scofflaws.

      That said it is entirely reasonable to cycle on the road within the speed limit. Is it really so much to ask that pedestrians look before stepping out into the road and take a little responsibility for their own safety?

      Personally I’m heartily sick of the pedestrians who look right at me and then walk out into the road anyway. I’ve shouted at several people for doing just that. It’s all well and good to consider whether they are blind or not but if they were blind they could just as easily have walked out in front of two tons of metal going faster than me on my bike.

  15. Henri 04/06/2013 at 4:55 pm #

    What’s it with this hatred towards pedestrians? We are all pedestrians at one time or the other, whether we usually drive a car or cycle. We still have to walk from the parked car or locked bike to the shop or wherever we go!

    I commute to work by bike in Manchester and used to cycle in London when I was a student. I don’t have any problem with pedestrians. I see them close to the road and slow down or make sure I can slow down in time. It’s called defensive cycling/driving. If a pedestrian steps on the road when it’s green for me, I simply swerve, slow down or wait. Waiting a few seconds is not going to kill you!

    I much more hate those cars that squeeze too close to you. Just this morning, I overtook some cars at a red light and stopped in front of one. When the light turned green, I waited for the car in front of me to move off so I could move off in turn. The driver behind used its horn at me; what for, I have no idea because I had no place to move as there was still a car in front of me. Impatient drivers!

    Comparing cycling in London and elsewhere, I found cycling in London very safe… because of the traffic. Cars move slowly so they are not such a danger. I never had any problem in London. Up north in Manchester, drivers are much more rude and impatient and as a result, I shout back rudely at them. I never encountered these impatient and rude drivers in London. Maybe they are all resigned to driving slowly?

  16. Alan Southern 05/06/2013 at 8:24 pm #

    For those who have commented about pedestrians who cross the road against the red light it is not against the law to do this in the UK. You can be prosecuted for jay walking but not for walking across against a red light. Red lights apply to motorised traffic and others (cyclists!) who use the road (as distinct from those walking across the road). Other countries (Germany and Spain come to my mind) view pedestrians crossing against a red light rather differently.

  17. Steve@Tern 10/06/2013 at 2:12 pm #

    Bear in mind that Cowell needs a good egg-proof mode of transport…

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