Saturday 4 July 2020

An open letter to Brent councillors on safe cycling infrastructure

An open letter to Brent councillors from Charles Fernandes

Dear Councillors, 

I'm writing with regards to the urgent need for safe cycling infrastructure in Brent. 


Today marks ten years since I first bought a bicycle as an adult. That was when I started on my journey from depending very heavily on public transport into a new world of empowerment, freedom and wellbeing. At the time I was emerging from a long difficult period of depression. Cycling transformed my life in so many ways for the better. 


Brent is amongst the boroughs with the most cumulative cases of Covid-19infections and deaths. 

The public are told to avoid public transportas much as possible. However Brent has the most train connections and is the borough most dependent on public transport. 

There's a harsh disparity in how BAMEcommunities are impacted from Covid-19. [01]. And Brent has amongst the largest and most diverse BAME communities in the country.
Brent is amongst the most pollutedboroughs in the UK [02]. And there's growing evidence that pollution makes coronavirus worse [03]. 

Brent has the highest rates of obesityand diabetes[04] [05]. These amongst some other illnesses disproportionately affecting Brent closely correlate with inactivity. 

Partly from its demographic and geography, Brent seems to have a unique combination of circumstancesthat makes it very badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. It continues to be at risk from resurgent outbreaks and also from the ongoing climate crisis impacts on health.


The need to social distance has led to a sudden reduction in public transport capacity and a recommendation to avoid it where possible. A small transfer to cars leads to road gridlock. Both cycling and walking are now recognised as the favoured means of transport by far. These points are what has led to the Department for Transport issuing emergency statutory guidance on 9th May 2020, instructing local authorities to reallocate space to safely enable both cycling and walking. The mandate specified “Measures should be taken as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect.”[06] 


I recognise there has been important attention on care homes, with Brent Council apparently doing well to save lives there. This work must be complemented by enabling people to travel safely while minimising new infections. The aim of reducing infections is also to protect the same people Brent

Council protected at the peak of the pandemic. Otherwise while saving lives in one aspect, it risks taking lives in another. 

Most London boroughs have been taking action on active travel, with a mixture of low traffic neighbourhoods and pop-up protected cycle lanes appearing throughout April, May and June. To my knowledge, Brent has still not implemented any such measures. It appears that Brent is not appreciating the emergency, and may be at severe risk of breaching the DfT’s 9th May mandate. 

Extract from Forbes article: 

“A DfT report found in 2014 that investing in cycling brings huge economic, social, and health benefits, with some cycling schemes having a benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) of up to 35 to 1. That is, for every pound spent, the U.K. gets back £35 in social benefits.

The DfT’s “Value for Money” guidance says an infrastructure project will generally be regarded as “medium” if the BCR is between 1.5 and 2; “high” if it is above 2.
35 to 1 is, therefore, off the scale”[07] [08]

Amongst other reasons, such an incredible benefit-to-cost ratio should be sufficient alone for a local

authority to fast-track cycle infrastructure, without waiting for external funding. 

People may lack the time or motivation to incorporate exerciseinto their daily routines. Cycling as transport can integrate exercise seamlessly into an individual’s way of life. 

Compared with the financial costs for individualsof using public transport and driving, the financial costs of cycling are minimal and very quickly recouped [09]. 

There are countless studies showing that pedestrian- and cycle-friendly realms benefit local business. [10] 


Resistance from some should be expected. The council should put efforts into educating people of the benefits, combating misconceived fallacies, informing that people who need to drive will still be able to do so, etc. 


Cycling as transport is progressive. It’s a mode for people of all incomes. 

Disabled people, as well as elderly people, are often disabled by the environment not being made inclusive; many are only too willing to use adapted or mobility cycles such as tricycles or handcycles. A Guide to Inclusive Cycling by Wheels for Wellbeing: 

Parents want to cycle with, or to allow their children to cycle to school. Children who cycle to school have measurably better concentration than those who don't. [11] 

There are political rewards too as demonstrated by Anne Hidalgo being re-elected as Mayor of Paris with her plans to reallocate road space to cycling and walking. [12] 


A Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN)by means of modal filters such as bollards or planters, restrict rat-running through traffic, while opening up a neighbourhood to a pedestrian- and cycle-friendly realm. Living Streets and London Cycling Campaign have published an introduction the more detailed guide 

A School Streetis a road outside a school with a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times. Find out more at 

Pop-up cycle lanesare a reallocation of road space on main routes to provide a protected, safe and inviting space for cycling. These provide the connectors between LTNs and School Streets. 

We often hear contrary argumentsthat it cannot be done from people theorising about potential problems. Yet a cycle-friendly environment is not theory. The Netherlands over four decades ago began changing from a car-centric society – just like ours – into a cycle-friendly society. In London, Waltham Forest has become a beacon and is continuing to make a substantial transformation. 

I urge Brent Council to learn from good real-world examples, including how they managed to overcome local obstacles. 

Brent Cycling Campaign provide some FAQsin their blog posts: * Emergency Measures? What Does This Mean? 

* Wembley To Willesden Junction Healthy Streets 


I'm pleased to learn of announcements of funding for emergency cycle infrastructure in Brent. However, in recent cycle route infrastructure schemes Brent received funding for, it has implemented the schemes very poorly, that in no way meet the aims of enabling new people to cycle. 

This is most notable with Kingsbury Road and Quietway 3. So I urge for a willingness to be open to scrutiny, to liaise with partners such as Brent Cycling Campaign, London Cycling Campaign, Clean Air for Brent and others. 

Yours sincerely, 

Charlie Fernandes
Resident in London Borough of Brent (address supplied) 

[01] Covid-19: understanding the impact on BAME communities (PHE, June 2020)
[02] Brent listed three times in top 10 of worst air pollution breaches across the UK (Brent & Kilburn Times, 2019)
[03] Air pollution likely to make coronavirus worse, say UK government advisers (The Guardian, July 2020) y-uk-experts
[04] Brent named as the ‘fattest borough’ in London (Brent & Kilburn Times, 2016)
[05] Brent 'worst borough for diabetes' (BBC, 2013)
[06] Statutory guidance: Traffic Management Act 2004: network management in response to Covid-19 (DfT, published 9 May 2020, updated 23 May 2020) guidance-for-local-authorities/traffic-management-act-2004-network-management-in-response-to-covid- 19
[07] UK Government Dangles £100 Billion For Green-Recovery Infrastructure (Forbes, 2020) ery-infrastructure-deadline-june-18/
[08] Value for Money Assessment for Cycling Grants (DfT, 2014) 43/vfm-assessment-of-cycling-grants.pdf
[09] Is cycling to work really cheaper than public transport? (BBC, 2016)
[10] The Complete Business Case for Converting Street Parking Into Bike Lanes – An annotated, chart-filled review of 12 studies from around the world (Bloomberg, 2015) erting-street-parking-into-bike-lanes-has-on-businesses
[11] Children who cycle to school have measurably better concentration than those who don't (, 2013) ose-who-dont
[12] Anne Hidalgo Reelected As Mayor Of Paris Vowing To Remove Cars And Boost Bicycling And Walking (Forbes, 2020) o-remove-cars-and-boost-bicycling-and-walking/

No comments: