Saturday, 12 December 2015

Why close streets to through traffic? A personal view.

Hackney has benefited from reducing and slowing traffic through measures such as humps, parking zones, improving junctions—which remains the biggest challenge in any city, particularly London—and, as I mentioned earlier, assigning quieter routes off main roads. In fact, it is possible to cycle around the backstreets of Hackney and rarely meet a moving car. That is what gives me the confidence to cycle slowly in my own little way.
Meg Hillier MP, Hackney South and Shoreditch, Parliamentary cycling debate, 16 October 2014
London is currently a city of 8.6 million inhabitants and that will rise to 10 million in a relatively short time. The population of a single Borough, Hackney, grew by 20% between Census 2001 and 2011 and 15,000 more homes were built in the borough in that time period. Hackney has to deliver even more homes to meet demand - at least 1,500 homes each year. Looking beyond Hackney, half of all new homes in London are due to be built in the East of London. 

If car ownership in all new Hackney households were to be at similar levels to that of the borough's existing households (at 35% the lowest in the UK) there would be an additional 525 private motor vehicles per year moving or parked on Hackney roads. TfL has forecast  rises in congestion of 25% for inner London ( ).There are city-wide problems of physical inactivity, vehicle pollution, climate change and housing those in need. How we travel has a bearing on all these problems.The figures are conceptually staggering, and unsustainable! It is imperative that we change the way we travel.

Hackney has prioritised the bus on bus routes. The best example on 
Amhurst Road, Hackney Central
In fact, Hackney has been at the forefront (by a very long way) and has de facto taken the lead in changing how we travel in London. Hackney's public transportation has improved beyond recognition with the expansion of rail services and the prioritisation of the bus on its roads. Hackney has improved the pedestrian and cycling environment more than any other London borough with  myriad interventions; from high quality paving and 20mph zones on its' residential streets; speed tables on many of the borough's roads (creating a lower speed environment); to the removal of pedestrian guard railing and pavement parking. 

Kingsland High Street at Dalston Kingsland is a street for walking

There have also been major street improvement projects. Our shopping streets at Dalston Kingsland, Mare Street in Hackney Central, Stoke Newington Church St and Broadway Market have been transformed, in a manner that encourages informal crossing of streets for shopping and commerce, with space for people to linger and chat, as well as to circulate.

Car-free development has helped to reduce the number of private
vehicles in the  borough

Hackney has benefited from being part of the congestion charge zone, itself an initiative which has contributed to reducing private motor traffic and increasing bus use and cycling in the borough. Controlled parking has been introduced across much of the borough and almost all (97%) of new housing development is car-free, which means that new home owners purchase those homes knowing that they will not be entitled to an on-street car parking permit. This basket of measures reduces the prevalence of private car use and allows better public use to be made of the public space of our streets.

In addition, and over many years, large areas of Hackney have had streets closed to through motor traffic, which improves the environment on those streets for cycling and walking and, crucially, simply for living on. More recently Hackney has ensured that these closures are easily passable by cycles. The most well known area to have had this treatment is De Beauvoir Town in the west of Hackney. Here much of the through traffic has been excluded for a generation and the streets are great for cycling and for walking.
De Beauvoir Town. The most photographed of all area wide filtered 
permeability schemes in place for over two decades.

There are other sizeable residential areas in Hackney which have received similar street scene treatment to De Beauvoir Town. Finsbury Park; Lower Clapton; the part of Hackney which abuts  the City of London, south of Great Eastern Street; and the Stoke Newington ladder roads south of Church Street are some of the larger schemes.

Palatine Road, one of the point closures that has had an area wide impact 
on the Stoke Newington ladder roads.
Smaller areas have also benefited from such interventions, including the area behind Hackney town hall. New Kingshold estate was regenerated in the recent past and has been designed with street patterns that exclude through traffic. There are many single point closures too - Downs Park Road east of Hackney Downs and Ashwin Street in Dalston for example

The point closure on Ashwin Street..

Closing streets to through traffic, alongside the many other measures mentioned above, provides a good and ever improving, area-wide cycling and walking environment. However, the objective is not simply to move vehicular traffic from one street to the next, but as part of a strategy to bring down the overall volumes of traffic across the borough's roads. Closures will restrain some motor vehicle journeys through and originating from the area. Not all vehicular journeys will simply be displaced, and over time there will be net reduction in traffic volumes. 

Hackney's proactive and consistent approach has meant that it has the most enviable transport statistics in the UK. More residents cycle to work than drive. The number of walking trips doubled in just ten years between the Census years 2001 and 2011. The proportion of residents using the bus is higher than anywhere else in the UK. More children are cycling to school, building on the very high numbers who presently walk. Car ownership is among the lowest in the UK.

It is important to see these measures, not in isolation, but as having a cumulative effect. Part of the effect is an increase in physical activity, as people walk - to the shops, to their work, or to their public transport. Public health professionals do not distinguish, in general, between the relative physical advantages of, say, cycling, over walking or walking to get to public transport. What is important is the physical activity in all three cases. Creating a more welcoming environment for walking, cycling and the use of public transport - and for living in - is one of the main strategic aims of transport planning. Taken on their own, the measures that Hackney has implemented may not seem to contribute to reduced congestion, more active lifestyles, a reduction in emissions and a more liveable, denser city. However, as our MP said, even for her, an occasional, not a committed user of the bicycle, Hackney's streets are welcoming and encouraging.

Hackney, and London generally, should continue to improve the alternatives to the private car. Selectively closing streets to through traffic - while maintaining and enabling access to properties for builders, plumbers, electricians and others who contribute to how we live our lives, is one part of a strategic approach to accomplishing these ends and should be supported.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

They're not all hipsters. The demographics of cycling in Hackney 2

The cycle bloggers (and some academics and journalists) would have us believe that the fact that Hackney has succeeded in getting more residents to cycle than any other borough (by a long way) is down, in large part, to the demographics of the borough. They suggest it's a function of the number of 'hipsters' living in the borough. That this claim is made about one of the most diverse local authority areas in the UK is simply lazy and wrong.

In my view large numbers of people cycle in Hackney because Hackney has consistently applied policies ( that might work and are respectful of the other sustainable modes.

There is no Census category of 'hipster'. The interesting  demographic groups in the Census when considering cycling are ethnicity, socio-economic class and age ( Looking through the prism of these Census groupings, if the high levels of cycling were down to demographics alone, then Hackney would be characterised by higher numbers of white residents, more residents in lower managerial occupations and more residents aged 30 to 44 than other boroughs.

Below is an analysis of Census 2011 that charts these demographic aspects as they compare to two other boroughs. I have compared Hackney (15.4% cycle to work) against Islington (10.1% cycle to work) and Hammersmith and Fulham (5.1%). Islington has the next highest cycling rate in the Census and Hammersmith and Fulham (H&F) is higher than many boroughs and does well in realising its cycling potential. Below is a comparison of the above three Census categories by borough. 

Is the population of Hackney characterised by those ethnicities who cycle most?

White British (and other white) categories cycle most in all three boroughs. The margin between these ethnic groups and others is considerable. Therefore if Hackney's high cycling level resulted from the demographics of the Borough, the population would be expected to have a higher proportion of white residents and fewer black residents, who cycle least.

In fact the data shows that Hackney has a much lower proportion of those ethnicities which are most likely to cycle.

Hackney has only 54.7% white residents (those most likely to cycle) compared to Islington at 68.2% and H&F at 68.1%. It has a much greater proportion of the ethnicity least likely to cycle.

Does Hackney have a greater number in the socio-economic class that cycles proportionately more?

People in 'lower managerial, administrative and professional' occupations are the group who cycle most in all three boroughs. If Hackney's high cycling level resulted from the Borough demographics it would tend to suggest that the Borough had higher numbers of residents employed in these jobs.

A comparison of this Census category by borough shows that  Hackney has a lower proportion of the socio-economic classes most likely to cycle than the other two Boroughs.

Only 24.7% of its residents are in the socio-economic class 'lower managerial' compared to Islington at 25.7% and H&F at 27.9%. It also has a greater proportion of residents in 'routine occupations' which is the group that is least likely to cycle.

Does Hackney have a greater number of those in the age range that cycles most?

In all three boroughs people aged between 30 and 44 cycle significantly more than any other age range. If Hackney's high cycling level was a function of demographics one would expect Hackney to have more residents in this age band than the other two comparator Boroughs.

Below is a comparison of the age range that has the highest proportions cycling by borough. It shows that all three Boroughs have about the same proportion of those ages most likely to cycle.

Hackney has same proportion of residents aged 30-44 as Islington at 27.9% with H&F at 29%.


It seems clear that Hackney has i) a lower proportion of the ethnic categories that cycle most and a higher proportion of the ethnic categories that cycle least, ii) a lower proportion of the socio-economic classes that cycle most and a higher proportion of those that cycle least iii) a similar proportion of residents in the age bracket that cycle most; compared to boroughs with lower cycling rates.

This demonstrates that back when the Census was taken and gentrification less evident there was a much higher cycling rate in Hackney. And it is not simply a function of its demography. The high levels of cycling have been undoubtedly influenced by the policies of the borough. Policies that have made Hackney a better place to cycle, restrained private motoring, and positively encouraged cycling.


Some people seem absolutely determined to belittle and undermine what Hackney has achieved. When you posit answers to what they propose in relation to demographics (high levels of cycling are caused by hipsters), they shift ground to say that the reason for so much cycling must be the geography, topography or lack of a tube. None of those can account for the fact that Hackney:
- has the highest level of cycling in London 
- AND has increased the rate more that any other in the UK, (by 125% between Census 2001 and 2011)

Comparisons with other high performing boroughs shows this.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Who cycles? The demographics of cycling in Hackney

Guardian journalists are publicly debating the issue of socio-economic class, culture and the propensity to cycle. This is good as understanding these things should have a beneficial impact on policy development.

The cycle bloggers (and some academics and journalists) would have us believe that the matter of those who do and do not cycle is one-dimensional. They say that the main thing that prevents people from cycling is fear of road traffic linked to feelings of personal safety. However the picture below suggests that the picture is more complicated.

Below are some of the statistics relating to cycling. The information comes from three sources. Firstly Census 2011. The Census is a good data source because it cannot be manipulated, participation is mandatory and, unlike many cycling surveys that are promulgated, it shows how people actually travel, not how they 'say' they might travel. The other authoritative surveys are Transport for London's Travel Demand Survey and Transport for London's analysis of cycling potential (the number of journeys that might be cycled).

Note also that there is academic research which suggests that Census figures are a good proxy for cycling statistics generally.

If you cycle in London you will probably live in inner London

Census 2011 found that 7.2% of commuters in inner London cycled to work compared to 2.3% overall. Hackney has the highest level of cycling commuters of any London borough, double the inner London average, at 15.4% and much higher than the next highest borough, Islington, at 10.1%.

Transport for London's survey, the London Travel Demand Survey reports 7% of all journeys (not just commuting journeys) are undertaken by cycle in Hackney. TfL's analysis of cycling potential indicates that Hackney has been particularly effective in realising its' cycling potential with 24% of cycleable journeys actually being cycled, almost 10% higher than the next borough (Hammersmith and Fulham).

However, if you live in Harrow you almost certainly won't cycle to work. Only 869 (or 0.8%) of residents do so.

If you cycle in Hackney you'll probably be white British

Further analysis of Census 2011 shows the importance of culture and socio-economic class.  21.6% of white British commuters cycle, 4.3% of black commuters do. This means 61% of those residents of Hackney who cycle to work are white British (if 'other white' Census categories are included, the figure rises to 85%). 

Note also from the graph below that the Census category of Black/African/Caribbean/Black British people are major users of the bus.

If you cycle in Hackney you'll probably have a white collar job

The Census reports socio-economic classifications against method of travel to work. Higher professional occupations are hugely over-represented in the cycling figures. 

22.5% of those in higher professional occupations cycle to work. In comparison 7.1% (a third) of those in semi-routine occupations do. 63% 
of those residents of Hackney who cycle to work are in managerial, administrative or professional occupations.

If you cycle in Hackney you'll probably be aged 30 to 34

20.6% of those aged between 30 and 34 cycle to work. Only 9.9% of those between 20 and 24 years do. 55% of those residents of Hackney that cycle to work are aged between 25 and 34 years old.

If you cycle in Hackney you'll probably be male, but are more likely to be female than in any other London borough

In countries where cycling is much more prevalent there is close to parity in cycling rates between the genders. Although it is some way off parity, Hackney is significantly better than the inner London average. 

Cambridge in particular does well both in terms of levels of cycling and gender balance.


If you cycle in London you will probably live in inner London. If you are a Hackney resident you will probably be white; have a managerial, administrative or professional occupation; and be a 25 to 34 year old male. 

The absolute figures for ethnicity are telling: of the 16,411 who cycle to work in Hackney the Office of National Statistics classify 13,875 (85%) as 'White'. This is in the context of a resident population of 246,270 in one of the most diverse boroughs in the UK with a walking share of all trips at 37%; bus trips at 26% (the highest in the UK) and cycle trips of 7%.

The cycle bloggers would have us believe that everyone wants to cycle and the single thing that would make people cycle would be to introduce separated cycle tracks, bus stop bypasses and associated junction treatments to our streets. They say this course of action should be pursued, whatever the cost and regardless of detriment to others (in particular people walking and those using the bus). The argument is that it is largely fear of motor vehicles that puts non-cyclists off from cycling.

This cannot be true. Is the proposition that fear is behind the five fold difference in cycling rates of 21% to 4.3% of two different ethnic groups really plausible? Similarly can anyone truly believe that it is fear of motor traffic alone that means that one socio-economic group cycles at a rate of 22.5% and another at 7.1%? The differing rates between different age groups are clearly also worthy of more analysis and consideration.

Although road safety fears will be a reason why people choose not to cycle it simply cannot be the only reason. More sophistication is needed if the right mix of policies are to be pursued so as to genuinely encourage a broader range of people to cycle. The vogue for segregated tracks on relatively narrow roads seems to additionally privilege an already privileged group - by giving this group dedicated street space. This space is given to the detriment of walkers and bus users, and walking and buses are the most space efficient modes of transport. After all, not all may wish to cycle and many may simply want to get on the bus and read a book!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Place is as important as movement: a tale of two high streets

As mayor Johnson's Cycle Superhighway proposals progress the look, feel and operation of these schemes as they affect the first busy high street is becoming clearer. Why this matters is that in London, as in many major cities, 80% of public space - space that is available for all the public to use - is not in parks or anything that is specifically set aside, but rather is public highway - our streets. 

For too long it had been assumed that the only function of streets was to be movement corridors, and that too primarily for motor vehicles. However, in the early noughties, in London, that assumption began to be questioned, and practical changes made to the way streets were thought about. Architect Richard Rogers was commissioned by the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to promote urbanism and Jan Gehl (the world's foremost urbanist) was commissioned by the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone to report how London might be made into a more walkable city with better public spaces that were pleasant to walk through or linger in. As an early exemplar, Kensington High Street became an icon for good street design.

The regeneration of Kensington High Street changed how we looked at our streets - 'place' became as important as movement.
The more progressive local authorities followed the example of Kensington High Street. They cleared the clutter on the streets and footways, so that pedestrians did not have to dodge around obstructions of all sorts, they widened pavements, introduced single-stage pedestrian crossings and used high quality paving. They recognised that creating streets and places where people wanted to be was as important as seeking ever more effective movement corridors. It became increasingly clear that segregating pedestrians from motor traffic by using pedestrian guardrail and other devices detracted from the look and feel of the street and moreover made the streets no safer, from a road safety point of view.

London's high streets are used by almost all Londoners and visitors to shop, travel, enjoy and just watch the world go by, London's high streets are some of its most important places. They are, to use Gehl's terms, public places for public life. We should be mindful that our high streets are a vital part of London life and continue to improve them if we are to live together in ever higher numbers in our city.

However, creating movement corridors for cycling has emerged as a new priority and we are at risk of forgetting how important great streets are. The cycle bloggers, cycle safety campaigners and friendly cycling journos have promoted a world view in which liveability has come to mean cycleability, and a particular form of cycleability, (characterised by kerbs and physical segregation) at that.

Whitechapel High Street is the first of London's High Streets to get the full separated cycle track treatment which some campaigners claim is the only way to make cycling safe and attractive. It is therefore interesting to look at Whitechapel as London's first busy high street cycle superhighway starts to appear. The approach to Whitechapel High Street contrasts with the approach to the development of Dalston's Kingsland High Street nearby. In the latter case developed primarily to regenerate Dalston and improve it as a 'place', as well as being one that is safer for all users of our streets and modes of transport.

Kingsland High Street, Dalston

Dalston's Kingsland High Street is a thriving shopping street by day and one of London's most important (and coolest) night time economy destinations. It's a busy bus corridor and arterial road into central London. It was regenerated only a few years ago to give the street an uplift. Whilst nominally a TfL road, the borough, Hackney, and the local cycling group had a great influence on its redesign.

Kingsland High Street performs multiple function including being a great place to eat and cycle.
It is now still a busy motor vehicle street and an important bus corridor, but the balance between movement and place has been tilted in the direction of its 'place' function. The pavements have been widened, paving material improved, clutter removed along with the removal of the central white line. Its now a more pleasurable street for people to visit, shop, linger and enjoy. Like Kensington High Street before it is an exemplar streets scheme that attracts professionals to visit. It is regarded as a good cycling environment by the local cycling group - the lane width is wide enough (4.5 metres) for cycle to safely pass bus and bus pass cycle. Formal pedestrian crossings are provided for, while informal crossing is also easy. 

Informal crossing is easy. Removing the central white line is known to slow vehicles.

It's not perfect, it is congested sometimes. But it is a fine approach to a busy high street recognising the multiplicity of needs and functions that a high street fulfils, and enables all people and functions to rub along together with a degree of equity. It teems with cyclists, the pavements are crowded with pedestrians and it works as a vibrant London street and most importantly it is a place people want to visit both by day and by night. 

Whitechapel High Street

Like Kingsland High Road, Whitechapel High Street is also a busy bus corridor and arterial road into central London and most importantly, is also the local high street, with the diverse mix of shops that should be found in any thriving high street environment. However encouraged by the cycle bloggers, some cycle campaigners and journalists, it is having a kerb separated cycle superhighway inserted along its entire length. The argument that holds sway at present is that in order to encourage more cycling, regarded as a public good, kerb separated cycle tracks are the only way to make potential new cyclists 'feel' safe - called subjective safety by the cycle bloggers.

Whitechapel High Street will remain a busy street, dominated by motor vehicles, with London's busiest bus services using it. Unlike at Dalston the balance between movement and place has been tilted further in the direction of movement. Pavements have been narrowed, reduced to 6 feet (narrower than many residential streets) along some sections where there is a huge amount of pedestrian movement. And it is the first busy street in London in which cycles are routed around the back of newly installed bus stops - so that cyclists cycle between the pavement and those getting on and off the bus. These so-called bus stop bypasses are designed to facilitate high speed cycling with cycle priority, so that cyclists do not need to slow down, nor need to overtake a bus which has paused to pick up passengers. Visually impaired pedestrians and passengers will be most disadvantaged.

Cyclists dip into the cycle lane depending on traffic conditions. Some use the new lane, others prefer to stick to the cariageway. All maintain their speed.

The bus lanes have been retained, but off-peak parking within the bus lanes will mean slower bus journeys and more congestion off-peak. There is less space on the street now to stop or linger and enjoy the street. Informal crossing of the street is made more difficult because of multiple additional raised kerbs on which one must perch before crossing. Wheelchair users, buggy pushers, luggage pullers and cycle pushers can no longer informally cross the street without having to navigate these additional obstructions. 

A new breed of pedestrian is developing on Whitechapel High Street - the percher, pusher-througher and up-and-over-mum

Some clutter has been removed as part of the scheme, but some has been added in the form of plastic bollards, coloured paint and traffic islands introduced into the carriageway

Poles have been removed and poles have been added

In conclusion

The cycle bloggers, some campaigners and friendly journalists have changed London's streets policies and successfully demanded kerb separated cycle tracks. They claim that more people would cycle in safety and this would improve our streets.  The first of these tracks, along a busy London high street, is being built at Whitechapel. The kerbs detract from the look, feel and utility of our streets for other users. The main losers are users of other sustainable transport modes - the pedestrian and the bus passenger. The usable space available to pedestrians has been reduced. Boarding and alighting the bus now means dodging cycles travelling at speed around the back of bus stops. The consequences for those with businesses on Whitechapel High Street remain to be measured, but the street is being made a less pleasant environment in which to linger - so it is conceivable that fewer people will visit to shop. 

The introduction of segregated facilities may attract more commuting cyclists, but won't achieve its other expressed objectives - namely use by 8 to 80 year olds, not clad in lycra, and a reduced casualty rate. Tilting the balance further in favour of movement (primarily high speed cycle commuting)  will not attract more, slower cyclists who will visit, use the shops and just linger. Improving all of the sustainable modes and improving public transport, cycling and walking and creating great London streets is an objective we shouldn't retreat from. Only time will tell whether these changes will result in lower casualty rates. In the meantime, life is made less convenient for the myriad other users of streets. For my money Kingsland High Street beats Whitechapel High Street hands down!