What makes a cycling strategy – You can’t do it all on your own

Working together

Working together – that’s the idea, anyway

As many hours of frustration have taught me, the delivery of transport in the UK is far more complex than it should be. Just in the area where I work, we have us (the unitary authority), the Highways Agency, Network Rail, Train Operators and Bus Operators all delivering transport (that I can think of at the moment). Each organisation has varying levels of expertise in different fields, has different decision making procedures and responsibilities, and different powers of funding. Not to mention different priorities. 

For strategy development and delivery, this presents a major challenge. Successful delivery of a strategy relies not on just accepting the word of a strategy, but accepting the principle of its meaning amongst many different people and in many different organisations. Making streets safer for cycling is fine to accept, but accepting how this is done – whilst also making room for healthy debate – amongst many different delivery organisations is very tricky to do.

I’ll just come straight out with it: this is the one area of the strategy that I have the most concerns about, and poses the biggest risk to delivery. Whilst this is a vision for London, what must be accepted is that this is primarily a Transport for London document. The Mayor has the greatest degree of power over TfL, and TfL does have power to make changes on the strategic roads within London – the Transport for London Route Network (TLRN). But this network makes up but a fraction of the cycle network required to deliver the vision.

The strategy rightly identifies that the majority of the highway network is the responsibility of the London Boroughs, and consequently they are the most important stakeholders for the successful delivery of the strategy. As with all strategies, there are warm words about committing to work positively with the Boroughs to deliver the strategy, which is wishy-washy but fine. But unless the interpretation of the meaning of the strategy is communicated clearly, what you are attempting to achieve will be lost.

The different London Boroughs have some notoriety among bloggers of their varying standards of cycling infrastructure, and attitude to cycling generally. Unless I have misread the consensus view completely, Camden and Hackney are considered to be the better of the Boroughs for cycling (even if some consider them the best of a bad bunch), whilst other Boroughs are – how shall we say – on the must do better list.

This presents a clear challenge to TfL. How can it deliver the vision when the power to deliver and decision-making behind it rests elsewhere? Fortunately for them there are ways in which they can influence work outside of their direct control:

  • Supporting Borough officers by delivering and sharing best practice. Learning through doing, I think its called. And its the best possible way to learn and spread best practice. And based upon the fact that all us transport professionals are jolly nice fellows who are eager to learn, supporting Borough officers in this learning can only help.
  • Update the London Cycling Standards. Whilst its only guidance, doing this will go a long way to delivering better quality cycle infrastructure throughout London, and setting out what is expected of others looking to deliver the same. It is pleasing to see a commitment in the vision to revising this document.
  • Money. Working on the basis that power over schemes are directly related to where it comes from, TfL has significant influence. It can fund schemes itself, or use the existing Local Implementation Plan allocations to direct funding towards the sorts of cycling improvements that it wishes to see. Professionally, I would see this as very much the last resort, and it will cause no end of problems for relationships between the Boroughs and TfL, but it is an option.

And this is before we get onto the various legal powers that, if needs be, TfL can use on Borough highways to deliver infrastructure improvements.

Old Shoreham Road

More power to people who do this, please (yes, I know, its not in London)

Critical to the success of the strategy will be ensuring that the right people are given the powers, resources, and political backing in order to deliver the vision. The delivery structure for transport infrastructure improvements in London cannot be changed short of an Act of Parliament, so in the meantime the existing delivery structures need to focus much more on outcomes for cyclists.

A consistent conflict in project management is ensuring there is an effective balance between flexibility and firmness. In London, the delivery structures need to be flexibile enough so that the right people in different organisations are given freedom to deliver the cycling vision – even if this means ceding both funding and some decision-making power to other authorities. But they also need to be firm in what outcomes are expected, and what is meant by delivering a true cycling revolution in London.

All of this will not happen overnight. Culture change within organisations takes a long time, and appropriate methods of delivery take time to think through, set up, bed-in, and deliver. Rushing the job will lead to poor outcomes – just look at the first bash at the Junction Review for that. I would estimate that any such changes – should they be needed – will take at least 3 years to start seeing real benefits. But when the support for delivery is set up and running well, the benefits for cycling in London will be significant.

Time to get cracking.

In this post I have focussed particularly on the Boroughs and TfL, being the major parties who will actually deliver infrastructure and promotional measures in London. This is not to say that others do not play a role. Network Rail, the Royal Parks, Urban Design London, Sustrans, and the London Cycling Campaign are just a few I can think of. Apologies if I have missed you off!

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