The London Boroughs: Saving Lives or Saving Pounds?

Report by Will Nickell, on behalf of the Stop the Killing coalition

2nd April 2014

Introduction and methodology

During a 2-week period in November 2013, six cyclists lost their lives in road traffic collisions through London. This prompted many groups, both from the government and civil society sectors, to question the state of cycling and cycling infrastructure in the capital. This report has been produced from primary research into the infrastructure standards and spending of all local councils operating in London, including the City of London. The questions asked included levels of spending since the last set of local elections on the 5th of May 2010, the distance of cycling infrastructure separated from the main carriageway by a hard divider such as a kerb and the levels of planned spending for the upcoming 2014/15 financial year. The questionnaire was made in the format of Freedom of Information requests, submitted at the end of January 2014, to all 32 London borough councils and the Common Council of the City of London. At the time of writing on 23 March 2014, the following councils had failed to successfully respond to the request: Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrow, Kingston-upon-Thames, Newham and Waltham Forest. The results of this research, from the councils who did respond, paint a concerning picture.

Responses

The first 2 questions asked about the distance of segregated infrastructure, as described above, and the percentage of the total road network under the council’s control that this constituted. Greenwich Borough Council claimed responsibility for 6.5 kilometres of segregated cycling infrastructure within their borough, meaning that out of the council’s that responded, Greenwich has the highest absolute distance. However, the figure of 6.5km constitutes only 1.2% of their total roading infrastructure. By contrast, the following councils have zero segregated cycling infrastructure: Barnet, Bexley, Bromley, Enfield, Haringey, Havering, Hounslow, Lambeth, Richmond upon Thames, Tower Hamlets & Wandsworth. Croydon and Southwark councils failed to provide the information for this question. The average distance of segregated cycleways, for those councils who did respond, is 1.05km.

In terms of percentage, Camden Borough Council state that 1.63% of their roading infrastructure consists of segregated cycleways, giving them the highest percentage. The average percentage of segregated cycleways for those councils who did respond with appropriate information is 0.39%.

Questions 3 and 4 related to the spending by councils on such segregation since the last set of local elections, which were held in May 2010. Bromley and Southwark councils responded to the freedom of information request, but failed to answer these questions. Only 2 councils that responded claimed to have spent any money on segregated cycleways since the last election; Croyden and Ealing, spending £320,000 and £400,000 respectively. All other responding councils who provided information for this question stated that they had spent nothing at all since the last election, meaning that the spreadsheet where this information was collated was left with a large series of zeroes running through the middle. Given the large number of councils who have spent no money on segregated cycleways in the 4 years since the last election, the average spend works out to be just under £27,700 per council, or £180,000 per year across all areas under local borough control.

Whilst the sums of £320,000 and £400,000 may appear to be a reasonable sum of money, these transpire to be only 3.1% and 2% of the council’s total transport spending for the given time period. With so many councils responding to these questions stating they had spent nothing, the average percentage spend is only 0.2%.

Questions 5 and 6 were asked with regard to the predicted spending by councils on segregated cycleways for the 2014/15 financial year, which begins in April. Some councils stated that the budget was yet to be decided and thus they could not give an accurate figure for their predicted spending. These councils were: Bexley, Brent, Croydon, Ealing, Haringey, Islington, Lewisham, Merton, Richmond-upon-Thames, Southwark and Westminster. The following councils stated that they had not budgeted any money to create safe cycling infrastructure; Bromley, Camden, Enfield, Greenwich, Hackney, Havering, Hillingdon, Kensington & Chelsea, Lambeth, City of London, Redbridge, Sutton, Tower Hamlets and Wandsworth. Only Barking & Dagenham, Barnet and Hounslow stated that they are intending to spend any money on such infrastructure, with sums of £750,000, £400,000 and £200,000 budgeted respectively. The average spend per responding council equates to £79,500.

The figures above are equivalent to 34%, 11% and 9% respectively. None of these councils had spent any money on such infrastructure from the local elections until the date of response, thus it remains to be seen whether these pledges are fulfilled.

Question 7 was the last question that could be answered qualitatively. It asked councils for the percentage of roads under their control which have 20 miles per hour speed limits. The following councils failed to provide information for this question; Croydon, Havering and Hillingdon. The following councils provided some information, but stated that it was up to the person asking the freedom of information request questions to do the research themselves: Richmond-upon-Thames, Southwark and Wandsworth.

There is a wide variation in the levels of provision for 20mph limits across the different councils. Kensington & Chelsea have not implemented a single 20mph limit according to their response, whereas Camden and Islington both have all roads under their control set at 20mph.

Implications

The responses above would appear to indicate that the majority of London’s local councils simply do not take the needs and safety of cyclists seriously. In some areas of the city, over half of morning commutes are now conducted on a bicycle, however safe cycleways only constitute 1.63% of the road surface is the highest performing borough.

The average person would apply the logic that with an increasing number of the population of London using the bicycle as their transport of choice, and given that the number of cycling deaths and serious injuries are increasing whilst the same rates for other road users are declining dramatically, further spending on safe cycleway provision must be advanced without haste. However, less than 10% of local authorities in London are intending to make any progress on this during the upcoming financial year.

Without such spending, it remains only a matter of time until the next cycling death. Deaths that will be the blood on the hands of those running London’s local authorities. At the time of writing, London has already witnessed 2 deaths since the new year. How many more deaths and serious injuries will the borough councils allow to happen to their residents?

Notes

Waltham Forest Borough Council were the only authority to respond to the request stating that, whilst they hold the information, they will not be providing it as they believe it would cost them more than the £450 statutory limit. An internal review of this decision has been requested.

Southwark Borough Council responded to the request, but for questions 1-6 stated that they did not record the necessary information to be able to answer the questions. For question 7, regarding 20mph limits, the response from the council was that we could gather the information from their website and put it together ourselves. With exception to Croydon, Southwark were the only council to claim not to know how much money they had spent on safe cycling infrastructure since the last local elections.

Harrow Borough Council attempted to send a response to the request, however the file format would not open on any computer. A different format was requested in February 2014, however no response or acknowledgement to this request has been received at the time of writing.

Newham Borough Council sent a reply near to the deadline stating that they would be late delivering the results. They are the only council that has not replied at the time of writing to send such a notification.

Aside from the above-mentioned councils, responses are still be waited for from Hammersmith & Fulham Borough Council and Kingston-upon-Thames Borough Council. No contact has been received from either council either explaining their delay or when a response can be expected.


The questions posed through the Freedom of Information act and the answers received are in the appendix: click HERE.

The press release associated with this report is HERE.

Information about the #WallOfDeath protest organised to present this report and its conclusions on 2 April 2014 is HERE.

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