Is London's cycling strategy about to unravel?
Anger is building against the city's new 'floating bus stops'
Morning — here’s what we’ve spied in the capital on Sunday, March 19, 2023:
🚴♂️ There’s a new battleground in London’s cycling culture war: ‘floating bus stops’. They’re part of a new wave of changes to protect cyclists in London, but they’ve seen opposition bubble away ever since they were introduced in 2013. Now the campaign against them has been taken up a notch, after the Telegraph published an exposé into what it reports as “death traps”. There’s a lot to unpack, so first:
What exactly is a floating bus stop? Basically they’re cycle lanes wedged between the pavement and a bus stop island. There’s a decent chance you’ve encountered one — there's around 50 in London now, in locations like Whitechapel, Westminster, and Stratford, and their numbers have grown since the pandemic. They’re designed to give a safe bypass for cyclists, allowing them to continue on in a cycle lane without needing to pass a stopped bus. They’re also known as ‘bus stop bypasses’ and are big in European cities like Amsterdam.
The flipside is that pedestrians getting on or off the bus have to cross the cycle lane. The first floating bus stops in London were “uncontrolled”, meaning there were no markings indicating where people should cross. After concerns were raised that those with mobility issues and visual impairments were struggling to cross, TfL decided to retrofit them all with zebra crossings. That means that, technically, pedestrians have priority and cyclists should give way.
So what has the Telegraph found? In practice cyclists are rarely stopping for pedestrians, even with the zebra crossings, according to a survey by the paper. The Telegraph scoped out three floating bus stops in central London, counting every cyclist who stopped or not when pedestrians were waiting to cross. They found 92% of cyclists, or 364, failed to stop and only 8%, or 33, did. Their reporters also saw “multiple near-misses and some collisions caused by bikers edging through even when pedestrians were in the middle of the crossing”. They go on to describe how “some cyclists shouted and swore — sometimes in front of children” and how a man on crutches had to wait for 17 cyclists to pass before being able to cross.
Is their data legit? The Telegraph survey was conducted on just one day, in an hour and a half timeframe, during rush hour. That might be why its data is a bit more harsh on cyclists than independent, longer-term studies conducted on behalf of TfL. One from 2018 found that it was more like 38% of cyclists that gave way, rather than the Telegraph’s 8%.
That’s still a majority of cyclists failing to stop though, and the same study also found cyclists weren’t slowing down just because a zebra crossing had been added. That might be why 30% of pedestrians surveyed said they didn’t feel safe crossing them.
Of course what’s missing from the Telegraph report is stats on the situation the floating bus stops are meant to prevent — cyclists running into trouble while trying to pass buses. While the Spy can’t find any evidence of a death related to a floating bus stop so far, it’s clear cyclists are vulnerable to buses. Data from TfL shows that in the four years before the first was introduced in London, three cyclists were killed by a bus and 67 suffered a major injury.
What now? Disability organisations have reacted to the Telegraph report with dismay. The National Federation of the Blind commented: “Our concerns, our evidence and our accessibility needs have been ignored, diminished and ridiculed for far too long over the inherently discriminatory floating bus stop design. We need a complete halt on any new ones being installed, getting the ones installed in lockdown taken out and all the others removed.” It does feel like resolving such concerns will be an impossible job for TfL. In October a blind woman told Southwark News she’s unable to get to eye appointments as she can’t cross her local floating bus stops.
But aside from legimiate concerns for disabled people, one can take a quick look at the Telegraph’s comment section to see the other impact of the report: enflaming the cycling culture war. “Bloody minded, pedal pushing, sweaty bar stewards. Should be made to pay road tax,” reads one of the most liked comments. The debate around cycling feels more toxic than ever right now. Broadcaster Jeremy Vine has started posting drone videos of his close shaves on Twitter, to much vitriolic reaction.
For now though, City Hall is planning to bring more floating bus stops to London. Getting more Londoners cycling is a huge priority for mayor Sadiq Khan, who’s aiming to double the bike trips made each day from 0.7m in 2017 to 1.3m in 2024. And perhaps sketchy cycle lane crossing and outrage at cyclists is a price he’s willing to pay to get there.
👮 All eyes on the Met next week — the force is expected to be heavily criticised by a report for being racist, sexist and homophobic. Baroness Casey is publishing a report on Tuesday into the force’s culture and standards that was commissioned in the wake of the abduction and killing of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens in 2021. The BBC has been told by a government source it will make for “bad reading”.
🚆 An end may be in sight to the crazy overcrowding seen at London Bridge station lately. Earlier in the year several commuters reportedly had panic attacks at the station after being trapped on platforms amid severe overcrowding. The station has now had its layout rejigged in an attempt to ward off further chaos.
🏢 A failed riverfront development in east London that hoped to rival Canary Wharf is now causing more headaches for its new owners. A hedge fund is suing the new owner of the troubled Royal Albert Dock development over claims they reneged on a deal to buy assets of the £1.7bn project together.
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