Glasgow has launched an app to measure and improve cycle routes

Cyclists during this year's Commonwealth Games. Image: Getty.

Unless you follow a lot of angry cyclists on Twitter, it can be difficult to work out which bits of infrastructure are working for our two-wheeled brethren. Cyclists aren't always included in traffic surveys, and cycle lanes are a relatively new technology: we know far less about how they're used than we do about vehicular roads. 

That's why Glasgow's city authorities have launched a new, route-tracking app to collect data on how the city's streets are used by cylists. Glasgow Cycling uses GPS to track your route; it also shows you other cyclists' routes, and nearby locking stations and repair shops (the green and purple icons on the right hand screenshot, below). 

Image: Glasgow Cycling.

 According to the app's website, the data will allow the city to better plan for future cycling infrastructure:

By giving visibility of routes, the types of journies being undertaken by the citizens of Glasgow, together we can build a true picture of our cycling needs and allow the city to deliver a better cycling experience to citizens and visitors.

There is a flaw in this plan, however. Measuring how people use existing infrastructure can only tell you that their chosen route is better than the alternatives: there's no way of indicating that the route is actually dangerous, long-winded and will otherwise make your daily commute hellish. The data Glasgow collects may therefore end up being self-fulfilling, showing only that the current system appears to be working, and that more of the same is needed.

Hopefully, though, the data will be combined with surveys and public consultations – and, for the best insight possible, perhaps a scan of angry cyclists' Tweets will be thrown into the mix, too.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.