What I learned talking to Westminster’s transport boss about cycling

Westminster has been a major focus of campaigning around space for cycling - Photo by  Alexander Baxevanis

Photo by Alexander Baxevanis

I recently interviewed Westminster Council’s City Commissioner for Transport, Martin Low, as part of a feature for The House magazine. Due to space constraints I didn’t get to use everything he said in our wide-ranging chat; here are some highlights:

Westminster rejects the idea of a central London daytime HGV ban

He spells out two objections: disruption to central London residents, and costs to businesses.

We’re not very keen on [a daytime HGV ban] … The concern we have is there’s an awful lot of people that live in Westminster. Sometimes delivery drivers come to an area like Piccadilly Circus and they assume it’s purely commercial. They’re quite horrified when a resident comes out in the early hours of the morning to remonstrate with them because they’ve just been woken up.

But equally, during the Olympic games some businesses were happy to put up with the inconvenience, but what they weren’t prepared to do was the continue doing that week-in-week-out. What they were trailing was staff specially coming into open up their premises to allow the delivery to be made, it was a huge extra cost to those businesses.

 Westminster sees hotel taxis ranks as a barrier to building cycle lanes

Low cites high levels of “curb-side activity” as one of the reasons segregated lanes don’t get built.

It’s extremely difficult in Westminster to try and cater for the needs of all road users, so a balance has to be struck. Obviously we’ve got a huge amount of curb-side activity; 90% of businesses that visit the UK spend some time in the city of Westminster, and we’ve over 30% of London’s hotel accommodation. Some if it’s the five-star hotels, but there are other, smaller budget hotels around Westminster and they obviously need reasonable servicing facilities.

Westminster is trying to reduce supplier vehicle numbers on major shopping streets

A pilot scheme will see Bond Street traders try to use the same refuse collection company to reduce traffic. As this road safety film from a lorry driver’s perspective explains, this would be a good thing.

What we are keen to do is see freight consolidation. The Crown Estate had a fantastic scheme introduced before the Olympic games which reduce commercial delivery movements by 70%. We’re working with businesses along Old Bond Street and New Bond Street who have 57 separate suppliers collecting refuse from their premises, when one supplier could do the whole lot.  There could be some huge financial benefits in them for doing that. It also creates a much safer environment for cyclists.

The Government won’t let Westminster  remove sign clutter around bike lanes

Low questions why cycle lanes need a separate sign explaining what they do when road markings do the same job without clutter.

We’re trying to reduce the impact that some of the signage has on some of the network. I’m very disappointed that the Secretary of State for Transport and the former Transport Minister Norman Baker didn’t take the opportunity to give Westminster City Council what it sought, which was: if you have a mandatory cycle lane, it shouldn’t be necessary to have a bloody great metal sign at the side of it telling the motorist it’s a mandatory cycle lane. The fact you’ve got a bloody great white line with a big cycle logo in it should be enough, if it’s 24/7. I was staggered that both of them weren’t prepared to relax the rule and allow mandatory cycle lanes simply with a solid white line and a cycle logo.

The reason they gave was that there’d be confusion between advisory cycle lanes and mandatory cycle lanes: What a load of nonsense: as you are aware advisory cycle lanes have a dashed lines. Then they said the solid white line might be confused with an edge of carriageway marking… we’re talking about a line of a distance 1.5m or more from the curb, so they’re hardly going to be edge of carriageway lines and misunderstood.

There’s enough space to put segregated bike lanes in Parliament Square

He says the square, which was featured in our London’s Worst Cycling Junctions list, is big enough to have curb-separated cycle lanes. Low also spells out some possible routes that are being looked at.

We’re also looking to see what we might be able to do help cyclists around the square. We’re looking at with TfL at the possibility of having further feeds coming off that major cycle route [Boris’s ‘Crossrail for bikes’], on the west side of the eastern arm of Parliament Square, where the demonstrators used to have their placards opposite the entrance to the House of Commons carpark, and also having a cycle lane running along the north side of the southern arm of Parliament Square, going towards Victoria Street, and then another one which sweeps around the eastern side of the western arm. They’re a mixture of segregation and lining. A lot depends on the space. In Parliament Square you could have a curbline, it wouldn’t present a problem. 

Westminster doesn’t want to remove traffic lanes in Parliament Square so MPs can drive to votes

The Council is anxious that MPs could be inconvenienced by taking space away from cars and giving it to bikes.

The big challenge for us in order to get the cycle facility in on the north side of Parliament Square is that you need to take out a general traffic lane. There are peers and MPs who need to get quickly to the House to vote, not all of them are cycling or walking there, some of them are driving there, so we’re trying to preserve the right-turn from the north side of Parliament square into the eastern arm of Parliament square. We could get rid of that altogether but it would make it very difficult for peers and MPs to get to the House.

Note: I put this to Liberal Democrat MP Dr Julian Huppert, who is co-chair of Parliament’s cycling group, and said that Westminster was “clutching at straws” here.

Westminster is keen to add more bike parking around the city

Low says he’s not sure where to put it and would welcome submissions.

We’re very keen that we extend the cycle parking facilities in Westminster to help people with their journeys … we’re looking at providing additional on-street parking to help those who want to use their bikes during the working day, perhaps to travel to a meeting or conference in Westminster.

So again, with respect to peers reading, and those supporting them on the House, it would be very useful to have requests for additional on-street cycle parking. If any of the readers are aware of potential locations where we might put some more cycle parking in which would be of use for them in their daily jobs, we’d like to hear from them.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

22 Responses to What I learned talking to Westminster’s transport boss about cycling

  1. Patrick O'Riordan 16/01/2014 at 5:16 pm #

    A load of wriggling, really, purely looking at “why it won’t work” rather than the benefits.

    How many deliveries in Westminster are actually HGVs (>3500kg)? Does he really want vehicles this size in Westminster? If HGVs are banned, then won’t people just use smaller delivery vehicles.

  2. James CycleLove 16/01/2014 at 5:30 pm #

    Yup, it sounds like the only thing Westminster are really concerned about is “bloody great metal signs”.

    Infrastructure changes will necessarily change existing patterns of use, but access for MPs is a truly lame excuse.

  3. James R Grinter 16/01/2014 at 8:20 pm #

    The whole reason for mandatory cycle lanes using the continuous white line is because it is to be interpreted as the edge of the carriageway for other traffic- that is, not to be crossed! So it really shouldn’t be confusing at all.

  4. rossi 16/01/2014 at 8:46 pm #

    Westminster have gotten away with this ignorance for too long.

    I, like thousands of others regularly work, socialise, go to the cinema, go to the theatre, eat, shop in Westminster, so to put it in that Westminster might understand….MONEY.

    Perhaps we should boycott spending money in Westminster and tell local businesses why we’re doing so, then the businesses could explain to Westminster that they backwards attitude isn’t doing anyone any favours.

    LCC are asking for our thoughts:


  5. Vincent 16/01/2014 at 11:54 pm #

    I’d be curious to see what experts from Holland or Denmark would advise about turning London into a cycle-friendly city.

  6. Fred Smith 17/01/2014 at 9:24 am #

    The idea cycle lanes will cause congestion rather than solve it is pure nonsense, Westminster’s current strategy has resulted in virtual gridlock twice a day – but they don’t seem to see that as a problem. Only by encouraging people to ride to work will Westminster solve it’s traffic problem. Also, what about the MPs who cycle? Why do they all need cars when there is a tube station right over the road!

    • Jon Stone 17/01/2014 at 9:34 am #

      I’ll be honest, I don’t think a very high proportion of MPs do actually drive to work; if anything the number who cycle is probably a bit higher than the general population

      • Alex Ingram 18/01/2014 at 10:15 pm #

        Fewer of them may drive to work than the general population, but at the same time more of them probably drive to work than comparative employees with jobs in central London. Westminster is curiously generous on car parking compared to most employers.

        • Jon Stone 19/01/2014 at 8:26 am #

          Yeah that’s probably a fair point

  7. Robert Walker 17/01/2014 at 10:39 am #

    One day someone will realise London is so overcrowded that they will have to use the Underground to make freight deliveries – that will take HGV traffic away from the city centre. I wonder how soon we’ll see this?

    • Jon Stone 17/01/2014 at 3:04 pm #

      This actually existed, for the Post Office http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Post_Office_Railway

    • Vincent 19/01/2014 at 2:05 am #

      Robert Walker > One day someone will realise London is so overcrowded that they will have to use the Underground to make freight deliveries – that will take HGV traffic away from the city centre.

      What about organizing delivery at night in secure locations in the city instead?

      Do HGVs really have to drive during the day?

  8. paul gannon 17/01/2014 at 11:54 am #

    Does Westminster not realise that there are other countries which manage to combine busy curb-sides with high-quality cycle networks? Do they think that businesses in Amsterdam and Berlin don’t have deliveries?

    I’m afraid this is all excuse seeking from Westminster. It’s shocking that such poorly informed people are engaged by Westminster council.

  9. Patrick O'Riordan 17/01/2014 at 11:57 am #

    Pity you couldn’t have done the interview on a bike with both of you cycling around Westminster….

  10. micky bubbles 17/01/2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Can an elected official be so out of touch with the policy of T.F.L. Can Westminster be so different that it will not benefit from safer cycle lanes. This outlook just flies in the face of what we now know from numerous towns and cities throughout both the U.K. and the rest of the planet.
    The arguments used belong back in the early eighties another example of how out of touch the
    wealthy and unique borough of Westminster is with policy common to the rest of the U.K.

  11. Andrew 17/01/2014 at 4:11 pm #

    ” If any of the readers are aware of potential locations where we might put some more cycle parking in which would be of use for them in their daily jobs, we’d like to hear from them.”

    Well they could probably start by re-purposing some of the car parking bays to fit in bikes. Obviously though that won’t earn them the same amount of money …

    • Alehouse Rock 17/01/2014 at 9:45 pm #

      [[[[[ +1

    • Vincent 19/01/2014 at 2:07 am #

      Andrew > Well they could probably start by re-purposing some of the car parking bays to fit in bikes

      Easy enough: http://www.cyclehoop.com

      1 car space = 10 bicycles = 10 voters.

      • micky bubbles 23/01/2014 at 2:02 pm #

        Barclay bikes have made docking stations all over central London and beyond,
        so there is no real excuses for not providing cycle parking bays or how they are constructed and which locations are best suited to cyclists. Perhaps future Barclays bays could also have secure locking racks for cyclists to use, although
        i think this proposal would test Barclays real commitment to cycling in London.

  12. Jim 17/01/2014 at 11:31 pm #

    I have a better idea. Ban cyclists, they are a pain in the f***ing ass!

    • Tessa 19/01/2014 at 3:17 pm #

      In what sense? And are you the ass?

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