Friday 15 February 2013

Stonecutter rat-run to be closed

I got this letter the other day from the City’s department of Built Environment (planning and highways)

A year or so ago, I was asked, as I dare say were a number of others, to write to TfL to urge them to agree to a plan by the City to open up a cycle contraflow on Stonecutter Street, which would have required some steps to facilitate right turns by cyclists, coming south down Farringdon Street across the northbound traffic at the traffic lights here.

Stonecutter St is one-way eastbound at its far eastern end, that is vehicles can exit onto Farringdon Street but they cannot enter it.  The rest of the street is two way, to permit delivery vehicles to come back the way they came in.  The cycle contraflow would have used the broad footway there to get from Farringdon St to the main two-way section of Stonecutter St.

TfL declined this invitation so the plan didn’t proceed.

This new plan is rather more radical (except that it still doesn’t envisage southbound cyclist right-turns, presumably because the traffic lights here will not now be needed for motor vehicle movements) in that it turns Stonecutter Street into a cul-de-sac at the point marked by the blue pin on the satellite shot below. 

View Stonecutter in a larger map

I responded to a consultation on this, and on an associated proposal to create a cul-de-sac at the eastern end of Little New St, where it meets Shoe Lane, so preventing a circulation of traffic anticlockwise around thus area and so making Shoe Lane also a cul-de-sac.  I was pleased with both ideas, as they would reduce the rat-running of taxis and vans through this area and make it a more civilised place.  Unfortunately, the Little New St aspect of the proposal apparently didn’t get enough support, or at any rate not from the right people.

Now I think I know what was driving this:  as disclosed in the minutes of the City’s Streets & Walkways subcommittee, the scheme was requested by Goldman Sachs, whose current offices are shown bordered by a red line in the overhead shot above, and they further offered to meet the costs of the works, a six-figure sum.

Why?  I can only speculate, but I imagine it is because Goldmans (or a property company acting on their behalf) are rumoured to have acquired the two redundant buildings shown bordered by a blue line above:  Fleet Place, an old BT building, and Plumtree Court, once home of the accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand.  When they have redeveloped the site, they would move from their current offices on Fleet st.

I believe Goldmans also requested, and paid for, the closure and pedestrianisation of the southern end of Shoe Lane, which passes between their two buildings down to Fleet St.  I don’t know whether Goldmans had anything to do with it but the star-point between Shoe Lane and Stonecutter St, Saint Bride St, has also been closed off at the Farringdon St end, allowing for two-way access for deliveries and a taxi rank.  I should imagine that doing the same with Stonecutter St provides Goldmans with the benefit, in the future, of a front access onto a traffic-free street with space for a taxi rank.

Plus it also hosts a sizeable docking station for hire bikes, which hopefully will survive these developments.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, a while ago, someone replied to a tweet suggesting that the big city institutions should be urging the City of London to raise its game on cycle infrastructure.  (To be fair, there are far worse boroughs in London on cycling matters – Westminster, for example).  If the big firms made clear what they expected, then it would be bound to happen.  After all, Money Talks.

Now, while the Stonecutter scheme does have marginal benefits for cyclists, I can’t imagine that cyclists were at the forefront of Goldmans’ minds when they requested this.  While I have absolutely no doubt that some serious heavy-hitters at Goldmans commute by bicycle, I doubt that cycling forms a central part of their public engagement strategy.

Much the same is true of my organisation.  We sponsor one of the major end-to-end events in the cycling calendar.  We have a thriving staff cycling cub – sports cycling, that is.  We have secure cycle storage for 8% of our London staff – well above average, much higher than the planning standards of the day and not far away from the new standards to be implemented in the Local development Framework from this year – plus lockers, showers, and even fresh towels for those prepared to pay a modest fee. Many senior figures in the organisation, including my own ultimate boss, are regular cycle commuters.
But, as I have been told, the firm does not get involved in “political” engagement outside the narrow confines of our professional service specialisms, ie company law and accounting, tax and financial regulatory law.  Cycling would be seen as political.
Also, quite clearly, while there are many senior figures who cycle, there are even more who don’t.  They might well be concerned that pro-cycle measures could have an adverse impact on the freedom of movement of London’s tax and hire-car fleet, of which we are a major customer.
Finally, there is the question of health and safety.  One of my colleagues, at the time in charge of our corporate social responsibility and sustainability programme, requested the board that they provide for staff’s annual subscriptions to the hire bike scheme.  They turned down this proposal, at least partly because of concerns about liability in the event that an employee suffered an accident and argued that they had been encouraged into the way of danger by this policy, and partly because of the third party liability risks.  If employees use their cars in the course of work, they are of course required to be insured and claims would be made against their own insurance. On a bicycle, there can be no automatic presumption that staff would be insured, so a claim might rebound on the firm as their employer if it were to be established that they were using a bike in the course of their work.
I have no idea whether commercial insurers provide “fleet” policies for cycling, the way they do for company car fleets.  I suppose there is always a first time for everything.  Also, this is something that perhaps British Cycling, CTC or LCC might consider as part of a corporate membership scheme?

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