Even on a moist, chilly November night time, London’s flagship cycle superhighway alongside the Embankment is thronged. Throughout the entire 24 hours, it is used by 10,329 cyclists, a median of seven a minute. However presently of day, it’s one each three seconds. Within the rush hour, the bike monitor – which takes up one lane of this four-lane street – carries extra visitors than the opposite three lanes put collectively.
It’s a rare success, and it appears to be like like a everlasting fixture. Nevertheless it may not be. Behind the scenes, a robust property firm, Canary Wharf Group, is working with a political lobbying agency and main street organisations on a marketing campaign to get it ripped out.
My antennae began twitching after I seen a mysterious new organisation referred to as Unblock the Embankment, a “group of companies and street customers” calling for a “wise re-route” of the superhighway. Its web site provides no names or contact particulars, however I instantly thought again to 2014, after I was London’s biking commissioner, a kind of chargeable for getting the factor constructed within the first place.
Canary Wharf opposed it then, too – however not, for a very long time, within the open. They knew it was too standard. As a substitute they ferociously lobbied everybody they may consider, and employed PRs to attempt to kill it off behind the general public’s backs. They failed, however now the “previous males in limos,” as Chris Boardman referred to as them, are again for one more go.
Unblock The Embankment, it seems, is run by the lobbying agency Newington Communications. Its co-ordinator, Newington’s Tony Halmos, instructed me that the shoppers are Canary Wharf, the one main enterprise, together with the London Chamber of Commerce, the Highway Haulage Affiliation, the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents coach operators, and the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Affiliation, amongst others. Canary Wharf didn’t reply to a request for remark.
The marketing campaign has a low public profile as a result of, as in 2014, it isn’t actually aimed on the public. It might in all probability lose any battle fought within the open: 84% of Londoners supported the superhighway within the session, 64% backed it in an impartial YouGov opinion ballot and Metropolis companies, Canary Wharf aside, got here out overwhelmingly in favour. So as an alternative Newington, which has shut hyperlinks with London authorities, has spent the final two months quietly assembly folks at Metropolis Corridor and Transport for London, which constructed the superhighway and which owns the roads it runs on.
It’s not clear how a lot progress they’ve made. However TfL is one other of Newington’s shoppers, although not for this. And Halmos was head of PR for the Metropolis of London Company – which additionally made difficulties over the superhighway again in 2014, and is now planning visitors restrictions in its core space that might drive extra automobiles onto the superhighway route. Halmos says the Metropolis “would possibly find yourself” supporting his marketing campaign. The Metropolis mentioned it didn’t help it and the visitors proposals it had made had been “along with the prevailing cycle superhighways.”
If the Metropolis’s place must be watched fastidiously, extra reassuring is that Unblock the Embankment merely hasn’t thought its case by. Halmos insists it really desires to maintain the segregated cycle route on the Embankment bit itself, and scrap solely the jap finish of the monitor, between Blackfriars and Tower Hill.
That is unusual – not simply due to the marketing campaign’s title, however as a result of eradicating the monitor over solely half its size would do little or nothing to extend the street’s capability for motors. East of Blackfriars, Halmos is proposing an alternate route for cyclists by the Metropolis that may nonetheless dump them again on to Tower Hill, the tightest pinchpoint on the entire route. He mentioned he had proof that this may relieve congestion, however didn’t present it when requested.
We went by all these choices in my time and dismissed them, primarily as a result of they don’t work but in addition as a result of the Metropolis Company would by no means permit segregation on its roads. Cannon Avenue and Eastcheap might change into lower-traffic sooner or later. However not like the superhighway, they won’t be traffic-free, or something close to it.
Roads’ job is to maneuver folks, not motor automobiles – and because of the superhighway, the Embankment is transferring extra folks than ever. Even should you took out the entire monitor and threw cyclists again in with the lorries, that may create room for maybe 200 further automobiles an hour on three or so miles of street – earlier than all of it floor to a halt anyway as new visitors was drawn to the additional area. In contrast with the three,000 bike-an-hour capability of the cycle lane, it looks as if a reasonably dangerous deal. I all the time thought that to work within the Metropolis, you had to have the ability to depend.
On which topic, Unblock The Embankment has claimed the cycle monitor prices companies £5.3m a yr. This determine considers solely the claimed disbenefits to motorists and ignoring all the protection, journey time and well being advantages to cyclists, presumably on the grounds that they don’t matter.
Nevertheless, the determine is unquestionably an personal objective: the £5.3m determine is simply over 0.001% of a London economic system value £430bn a yr.
Halmos additionally claims that the superhighway has triggered “extra air pollution,” a canard that has been disproved again and again. After I requested for the proof, he mentioned: “We’re performing some air high quality work, but it surely’s hardly began but.”
Sadiq Khan shouldn’t discover it too laborious to withstand these flaky efforts. Nevertheless it’s barely plausible that severe figures are spending time to destroy even the tiny steps London’s made to turning into a extra human metropolis – and nonetheless assume the way forward for transport might be extra folks driving automobiles and vans.
• Andrew Gilligan was London’s biking commissioner from 2013-16