Response to City of Westminster's Draft Cycling Strategy

Westminster's Draft Cycling Strategy makes frequent reference to the complexity of managing competing demands on the Borough's roads.

Unfortunately this complexity appears to be being used as an excuse to do very little to make cycling a safe and attractive prospect for people travelling in or through Westminster. The apparent high demand, for multiple uses, on the road network in Westminster makes it even more important that many more trips are made by bicycle in the borough, particularly instead of by private car. High demand means more space-efficient modes of transport should be prioritised.

Indeed, the Strategy itself acknowledges that

cycling should be encouraged not least because of the benefits it delivers to the community: through reduced congestion on the roads and public transport, better local air quality, less noise and improved health and wellbeing.

But in the foreword to the Strategy, this position on congestion is contradicted by Westminster's Cabinet Member for Transport, Edward Argar, who writes

We need to further improve things for cyclists without making it harder for other road users to get around the city or causing unacceptable increases in congestion.

The Embassy would argue that designing properly for cycling - creating conditions suitable for all potential users - will serve to reduce congestion in Westminster, as well as making the Borough safer, less noisy and less polluted - a better place to be.

Even conservative TfL estimates suggest that 230,000 trips by motor vehicle in Westminster could easily be cycled instead. This would make a tremendous difference to congestion, and to the quality of the borough. But these trips have to be enabled. Conditions for cycling have to be attractive, and that must mean the reallocation of road space on major roads, away from the private car.

The Draft argues that

The narrow, historic nature of many of Westminster’s streets means that providing separate space for each road user on every street is simply not feasible and a balance needs to be struck.

We would respond that this fundamentally misses the issue at hand. Many of Westminster's streets - particularly its main roads - are not 'narrow', in any reasonable understanding of the word. They are often four or five lanes wide, or more. The space on these wide streets is used almost entirely for facilitating the flow of private motor traffic.

Indeed, the wider issue is one of what function Westminster wants its streets to serve. Genuinely narrow streets can be made safe and attractive for walking and cycling by removing through traffic, and ensuring that these streets are access-only for motor vehicles. There is not a single street in Westminster that could not be made pleasant for cycling, if the City Council chose to adjust its priorities in favour of transport modes that would make the borough a better place.

Although the Draft suggests that

limited road space and competing demands… mean that the ability to physically segregate cyclists on the majority of Westminster’s roads is limited.

This is again a question of priorities. Road space in Westminster is not 'limited'; it is simply used badly.

Worryingly the Draft Strategy appears to suggest that increases in cycling in the Borough can be achieved through the 'integration' of cycling with motor traffic, in defiance of all the evidence that fear of motor traffic is the biggest barrier to the uptake of cycling in the general population.

It is separation from motor traffic that is a fundamental requirement if cycling levels are to be increased in Westminster. That does not mean physical segregation on every single street in the Borough. But it does mean measures to cut out through traffic on streets where physical separation is not provided.

Finally, it is also essential that the speed of motor traffic is reduced in the Borough, even on these roads where cycle traffic is physically separated. Lower traffic speeds mean lower risk of death and serious injury. We are unconvinced by the Strategy's argument for rejecting 20mph limits, namely

In terms of cycle safety it is considered that a 20 mph limit across the borough may only have minimal benefit as traffic speeds on Westminster’s roads are often below 20 mph already, with the average speed being just 10mph

it is not average speeds that matter, or even what speed traffic is 'often' travelling at, but the maximum speed motor traffic hits in Westminster, which is plainly too high. Indeed, if average speeds in Westminster are that low, a 20mph upper limit in the Borough will make no difference to the overall journey times of motor traffic.

Cycling is the answer in Westminster - the answer to congested roads and overcrowded public transport. Yet cycling levels are stagnating in the Borough, at just 3% of all trips. It needs to be taken seriously as a mode of transport in its own right - not fitted in around the margins.