Cyclingballs #4: The enemies within

If you thought emotionlessness means rationality, and irrationality means emotionality, then think again.

I received an email today from the Greater London Authority’s ‘Public Liaison Unit’, replying (better late than never) to an email I sent earlier this year. My email made a number of suggestions in regard to the ‘Central London Grid’ proposed by TfL. The key point I made is that the best way to organise and map a network of cycle routes in London – or any metropolis – is to use the Compass Colour System devised by Simon Parker.

Unfortunately, this point seems to have fallen on deaf ears: perhaps that’s because someone from a ‘Public Liaison Unit’ isn’t necessarily the most suitable person to address my detailed enquiry. (And why does there have to be a Public Liaison Unit, anyway? Why can’t the people whose wages we pay to serve our interests ‘liaise’ with us?)

The email I received not only managed to miss the point entirely, it also managed to show no human acknowledgement of the fact that I enthusiastically volunteered my time to get involved in creating the proposed Grid. Welcome to the world of modern centralised planning, where ineptitude and indifference are practised in the name of the common good, spurred on and inspired by the legions of armchair humanitarians who are currently operating from the nation’s living rooms and council offices.

The email I received contained a reminder ‘of the TfL cycling maps that are available off [sic] the TfL website’ - advice which was not very helpful, since these are part of the problem, not the solution. It also contained assurances that my call for a ‘cycling equivalent of the LU map’ is being met ‘through the Central London Grid, which will be a mixture of Quietways and Superhighways in the City, West End and surrounding boroughs’. Well, no, that misses the point too, since most of the proposed network already exists, and the whole point of the London Cycle Map Campaign is to map and sign the existing network properly. Indeed, when I visited the link provided by the email, I saw a 'proposed routes' map of the Central London Grid that looks nothing like a Tube map, and I found a promise that two (wow, two!) Quietways will be completed by 2015: to repeat, both the map of proposed routes and the new routes are irrelevant to the idea of creating a Tube-style map and signage for a cycle network that (mostly) already exists.

As for the email’s incantation that ‘Superhighways are mostly segregated and on main roads’ – well, this is just absolute, unmitigated rubbish. The Cycle Superhighways should, in my opinion, go down as one of the great political scandals of our time – hundreds of millions of pounds spent doing little more than daubing blue paint on some of the most dangerous main roads in the capital, in the name of cycling safety. Indeed, even if the Cycle Superhighways were all fully 'segregated', they'd still be a waste of money: if lots of people used those routes, they wouldn't be fast anymore, and there are more sensible ways and places to invest money in cycling than trying to seize back the busy main roads that were made busy precisely through the backstreet traffic-calming measures previously (and sensibly) implemented in the name of cycling. 

Finally, and most worryingly, the aforementioned website declares that Quietways will be ‘a network of radial and orbital routes throughout London’ (my italics). So there will be no Compass Colour System. There will be no guarantee that a cyclist can travel from A to B, from anywhere to anywhere in London, by following no more than a few coloured routes, on safer, quieter streets. There will, most likely, be a few concentric circular routes created on quiet streets – probably cobbled together out of routes that already exist – marked with some confusing new signage, as well as a confusing new system of signage for the almighty tangle of (mostly existing) routes proposed for (and for leading into) Central London. I can predict this confusion with confidence, because there is simply no sensible way to sign so many routes without using the Compass Colour System.

I can also predict that this ‘new’ Grid (which be will be rolled out ridiculously slowly, over ten years) will repeatedly be announced with great fanfare, proclaiming the ‘cycling revolution’ that is currently seeing cycling numbers in London stagnate, with all likelihood that the stagnation will continue.

Rest assured though: 'TfL will continue to develop route proposals with our delivery partners'. This is what counts as public services these days.

The simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic organization, as the poet and historian Robert Conquest pointed out, is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its own enemies.

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