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Archives for July 2010

Red lights, cycling helmets and the police

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 10:25 UK time, Wednesday, 28 July 2010

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A very good friend of mine was pulled over by the police for shooting a red light on his bike.

Boris Johnson Cycle Helmet

Now, yes, he broke the law of the land and took his punishment like the hardy Scotsman that he is, but if you stand at most red lights in London you will see many cyclists doing the same.

In fact, the Mayor Boris Johnson has been filmed doing it himself. So it's not uncommon.

This time not only was he sternly told off by the police, he was also told his helmet and his bike were not safe enough to be cycling with.

Is that a new thing?

Are the Metropolitan Police now able to tell when a bike is safe, or indeed have the police been briefed on the controversial debate about helmets?

Is all of that, part of the training now at Hendon?

In my friend's words the officer described his helmet thus: "It's cr*p, look at the state of you. If a car hit you, it would come right off."

Anyway, I digress slightly.

I did wonder if there was a crackdown by police on cyclists jumping red lights.

Transport for London said, yes, there was a crackdown ahead of the launch of the bike hire scheme.

The press release says:

"The Mayor, Boris Johnson, Transport for London (TfL) and the capital's police forces are stepping up the number of operations targeting cyclists and drivers who disobey the rules of the road.

Over the coming months, police will regularly target key locations across the capital to crackdown on road users who disobey traffic signals, encroach on advance stop lines, cycle carelessly or on pavements, or use their mobile phones."

The old spin alert kicked off a bit at that so I thought I'd chase it up further.

Our Home Affairs producer Nick Beake called the Met and initially they were none the wiser.

However, once we sent them the press release from TfL they did say:

"In Westminster, Strand and Whitehall, Safer Neighbourhoods Team is supporting these operations by patrolling the streets around Trafalgar Square to tackle anyone using the road in a dangerous and irresponsible manner and to hand out advice to cyclists/motorists about the sensible cycling/driving.

Officers will also be on hand to offer crime prevention advice to bike owners, around cycle security and not becoming a victim of cycle theft."

They also sent us the latest figures about the extent of the issue.

These are the number of cyclists issued with Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) of upto £60 in Westminster. Many more get a dressing down, as happened to my friend.

  • In 2008/09 - 1051
  • In 2009/10 - 2225

So in just one year the number of offences by cyclists in Westminster where a FPN was issued has gone up by 112%.

That's even before this latest crackdown started...

Did you manage to register for the Bike Hire scheme?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 11:07 UK time, Friday, 23 July 2010

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Big day today for the Bike Hire contractors Serco with the launch of the members registration on the website.

This launch would give a huge indicator as to how resilient the backroom systems are at Serco and how the system will work in the future.

As I said earlier in the week, the bike hire scheme will be members only for the first four weeks after the launch on 30th July.

I tried to register first thing at 0615 and was greeted with this:

Bike Hire website unavailable

Oh I thought they have dropped the ball there big time..... But I pressed refresh on my computer and the website login came back.

I didn't try to register then even though you could from 0600 (and I sacrificed a free T-shirt).

This was to manage demand according to Transport for London so those who'd signed up for email alerts got an early heads up and could sign up from 0600.

I did also notice on the website that the bike hire scheme isn't going to be open for those Under 14. There are going to be a few disgruntled 13 year olds.

When asked why this is, TfL say:

"Because they are designed for adults. The adjustable seat post does mean that they are adaptable to a huge range of heights, but it's 'one size fits all adults' rather than 'one size fits everyone from 5-100."

Anyway, later in the office I tried to sign up for real. My colleague and fellow cyclist Paraic O'Brien told me he was having trouble at 0845.

The video below is how I got on at 0920. I'm told 300 people signed up to be members in the first hour, and 1000 had done by 9am.

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If you can't face watching the video - which is basically me sitting at a computer - I am now a member. If the process was successful then you should have received an email like this one:

Bike hire email confirmation

So far, the system looks OK.

Let me know how you found it? Have there been problems?

A sign of things to come in 2012?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 10:33 UK time, Wednesday, 21 July 2010

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Kings Cross

At the brand new northern ticket hall this morning at King's Cross station, London Underground had to restrict the number of entry gates.

This was due to overcrowding on the platforms.

Not a particularly massive story but as my colleague Olympics Correspondent Adrian Warner (continually) reminds me this is a key interchange for the Olympics. Oh......

Can we afford to keep running an antique Tube?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 15:24 UK time, Tuesday, 20 July 2010

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Rail levers

Walking into the signal box at Edgware Road you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in a Transport Museum.

The signal box is all well-worn steel levers you'd associate with The Railway Children.

The box is 85 years old and it controls the District and Circle Lines through the station.

London Underground showed us this to make the point that the Tube upgrades are vital.

Without them the service will rapidly start to get worse. This 1920s technology is reaching the end of its life and needs replacing.

The Unions have said it is "rotten infrastructure", although LU say it's extremely safe.

Budget cuts though are looming and the Tube upgrades look vulnerable.

The Department for Transport has a budget of £12.7 billion pounds.

Of that Transport for London gets £3.2 billion (as part of an annual £9bn budget) and £1.7bn goes on the Tube upgrades.

So if the DfT's budget is cut by 40 per cent some say the upgrades may never happen.

It's up to the Treasury to decide the level of cuts.

The Department for Transport says it's arguing the Tube upgrade is crucial to maintain economic growth.

But there will be cuts to TfL's grant. At the moment we don't know by how much. The DfT says it will be up to the Mayor to prioritise.

But if the cuts are large - worse case scenario 40% of TfL's grant - then it will be services, fares and upgrades that'll be affected.

London Underground's Howard Collins gave me a tour of the Control Centre at Earl's Court.

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Bike hire: Not a member? Come back later then

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 17:24 UK time, Monday, 19 July 2010

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At the launch of the first cycle superhighways today and an extremely interesting revelation about the cycle hire scheme which is meant to launch on July 30th.

Hire Bikes

For the first four weeks you have to be a pre-registered user to use the bikes.

That means you have to sign up from Friday July 23rd at www.tfl.gov.uk/barclayscyclehire and get sent a key.

That will cost you £3 and you'll have to load on your subscription of either one day (£1), a week (£5) or a year (£45).

Now that will not go down well with those casual users who wanted to use their credit cars and get on the hire bikes from the first day.

Transport for London say they never ruled out this kind of "soft" start but senior people at TfL tell me the expectation was for a fully "open" system from the start. But I think there is now an understanding that technically this might be the easier way to do it.

There is some teeth gnashing about how Serco the contractor have handled it and some concerns about the scheme although I'm assured the bikes will be ready on time.

We shall see.

Will this make a difference to you?

The bottom line is if you want to use them from the launch date you will have to register...

A superhighway to paradise for cyclists?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 15:00 UK time, Sunday, 18 July 2010

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Cycling Superhighways - what do you think?

And so the Mayor Boris Johnson's cycling revolution begins with the launch of the blue superhighways on Monday.

There's plenty of opinion about them - these are some of the arguments for and against.

For:

  • Car and Lorry drivers know where cyclists are (mainly) going to be
  • HGV drivers can see in their blindspots with (some) the trixi mirrors on traffic lights
  • Smooth surface
  • Voluntary agreement by Frieght Transport Association to do deliveries outside rush hour
  • "Critical mass" theory - more bikes means car drivers give cyclists more space
  • Funding for companies to provide cycling training
  • Direct route into town
  • Signs tell cyclists how long there is to go (I've yet to see these)
  • Continuous cycle lanes at junctions (although not everywhere)

Against:

  • Reduces space on the road for vehicles particularly over bridges
  • Cars drive in them
  • Cars and vans park can legally park in them
  • Cost - £23 million for two.
  • Moves funding away from the London Cycle Network
  • The colour and the tarmac is already wearing out
  • Highways cross busy lanes especially outside Oval tube
Other points:
  • They're not segregated from motor traffic. Some prefer this, others don't.
  • They're blue. Is that a political message from City Hall?

Let me know of your experiences on the superhighways over the coming days and weeks.

And if you've got any photos or videos you can post them up on BBC London's Facebook page.

Mind the Gap's Mind your Manners!

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Steve Phillips Steve Phillips | 10:00 UK time, Saturday, 17 July 2010

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Crowding on the Tube

So earlier today I put this question on our Twitter feed...

'What would you describe as bad manners on the Tube or the buses?'

To coin a phrase, I was inundated by the responses.

Can you add to this list? Also, have you done of any of the list below, but don't see it as bad manners?

Breathe in, let the floodgates open:

  • Starting to get on a tube before people have finished getting off
  • Standing in the doorway and not moving to let others get off at a stop
  • Coughing on someone
  • Hot and smelly food
  • Snogging
  • Playing music on a speaker
  • Loud headphones
  • Phone keypad tones
  • Feet on seats
  • Bags on seats
  • Not making room on seats so others can sit down
  • Sitting on outside seat and not moving to let someone sit on inside seat
  • Not giving up a seat for pregnant/elderly passengers
  • Taking up a seat and a half
  • Not washing or brushing teeth
  • Body odour pushing on, pushing in
  • Forcing buggies onto crowded buses
  • Spitting
  • Leaving chewing gum on the floor/seat
  • Leaning/hugging on a pole when the tube is crowded so no one else can use it
  • Walking up busy stairs against the flow.
That's a list and a half.

Got anymore?

What makes us so bad mannered on the Tube?

Who would you blame for a Tube shutdown?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 00:01 UK time, Friday, 16 July 2010

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Tube Strike lock-out

We've had smaller strikes so far this summer that haven't caused much disruption but now news of the Big One.

It's been brewing for three months and was talked about before the general election, but it's taken the RMT Union a while to sort out the admin.

This admin is important especially these days because the courts have already blocked an RMT National Rail strike due to inaccuracies in the records of members.

So it seems that's why there has been a long delay to get to this point.

This is a full ballot by the RMT Union of all its members across the Tube network.

It will close on 11th August and it will ballot on strike action, and action short of that.

I'd be extremely surprised if the RMT didn't get a strike result, so we could feasibly have strikes by the end of the summer.

And if all RMT members go on strike, apart from a handful of services, the Tube would shut down.

What the strike is about is the proposed closures of some ticket offices and cuts to staff.

These were proposed on 11 March by London Underground.

At the time it said the cuts would include 100 managers, 450 ticket office posts and up to 200 other jobs.

LU said it completely ruled out compulsory redundancies and would look at re-deploying staff and this was about the success of the Oyster card.

Also ticket offices would be closed although every station that has a ticket office would still have one.

What it means really is if a station has two ticket offices and one isn't used regularly then it could be shut.

The RMT claim up to 140 offices could go and some hours of opening will also be cut.

The TSSA Union thinks 278 stations will have their hours of opening cut and some will be shut at the weekend.

This is what London Underground said about the RMT threatening strike action back in March:

  • Stations will continue to be staffed at all times
  • All stations with a ticket office will continue to have one
  • LU reiterates that there will be no compulsory redundancies

The RMT Union say this will jeopardise safety. They have also brought the 7 July bombings into it by saying the staff that served London so bravely then are now facing the axe.

Bob Crow said:

"This is a dispute about jobs and safety and that's why it involves all of our members on London Underground. We remain available for further talks but nobody should underestimate our determination to push back the tide of job and safety cuts."

Huge crowds for the bus because of a tube strike

London Underground are two years ahead of many areas of the public sector in trying to push through cuts.

So many will be watching this closely because it could give some indication of how job cuts on a national level will play out.

Also Boris Johnson's opponents will be lining up to point out that during his mayoral election campaign the following was in his manifesto:

"I will also defend local ticket offices. Ken Livingstone plans to close a large number of ticket offices at Tube stations, predominantly in outer London because he claims that the increase in Oyster use has made them surplus to requirements.

However, what he has not taken into account is that local people feel it is important there is a manned ticket office at their station, as often there are not enough Oyster outlets in the local area.

There has been little consultation with local residents, and I think it is wrong that some local stations could lose this service. I will stop the planned ticket office closures."

So what do you think? Do you have sympathy with the Unions?

Or should jobs and ticket offices be cut if technology is being used more by passengers? And will it be safe?

Help for nervous cyclists and an unlikely coalition...

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 12:31 UK time, Wednesday, 14 July 2010

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Mass cycle in London

Remember Cycling Fridays?

They were guided cycling tours for the nervous cyclist. Well, the idea has been resurrected to tie in with the launch of the Mayor's new Cycle Superhighways.

They will start next Monday, and then on Tuesday and Wednesdays for four weeks on the two new routes from Merton to the City and from Barking to Tower Gateway.

Transport for London says:

"Subject to demand, the rides will depart from eight different locations along - or in close proximity to - the Superhighways."

"Subject to demand..." is different to Cycling Fridays where the number of cyclists petered out a bit towards the end of the summer and many started to question the cost so lessons have been learnt.

These rides will be marshalled by London Cycling Campaign. More details www.tfl.gov.uk/guidedcyclerides.

Transport types call these schemes "soft measures."

The most succesful probably in London being the Smarter Travel Sutton scheme.

The bottom line is that compared to building a new Tube line it's a cheap way to change travelling habits. So expect to see more of these especially with Department of Transport cuts looming.

That brings me onto the campaign being waged by businesses and Transport for London about the need to protect the Tube upgrades.

TfL gets a large chunk of the Department for Transport's budget. And if that was cut by 40 per cent then senior figures at TfL tell me the upgrades would be over and that would mean more and more crowded tubes as the population grew.

Incidentally, the DfT say they "understand the importance of the tube upgrades."

What this looming axe has done though is bring together the most unlikely marriage.

Hold the front page. The RMT and Transport for London are in agreement (a little bit).

The RMT says:

"TfL today warned of the dangers of allowing trains to continue to run on signaling and equipment dating back to the 1920's and 1930's - the first time that TfL have come out and backed RMT's safety concerns over the tube cuts programme."

But now we have businesses, unions and Transport for London all agreeing that investment on the tube has to be protected.

As someone said to me: "A rainbow coalition or any port in a storm?"

Cyclists gaining traction on two big schemes

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 15:39 UK time, Friday, 9 July 2010

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Much talk in the blogosphere about the impending arrival of Boris Johnson's cycle superhighways on July 19th and the bike hire scheme on July 30th.

Having spoken to a number of cyclists using Cycling Superhighway 7 (CS7) I have to report, in the main, that the feeling was positive.

London Cycling Campaign is broadly supportive although of course there are areas of concern as we reported this week.

This great video from a rather quick paced Mr Origamist shows what the cycle superhighways look like from the saddle.

Parking legally in the lanes outside rush hour is one area that's raised concern.

Another point I haven't mentioned is the voluntary code some hauliers from the Freight Transport Association (FTA) are going to try and stick to.

What it means is if it's possible to deliver goods outside of rush hour then they will try and do that on the cycle superhighways.

There is one sticking point and that's the London Lorry Control Scheme.

It limits deliveries on certain roads from 18 tonne lorries to after 7am. It's legislation to protect residents from noise.

However the FTA will be lobbying very hard to relax this and say they have introduced quieter methods of delivering.

For example, the beep beep beep of a reversing lorry has been replaced on some lorries by a hiss.

Back to the cycling superhighways and David Hembrow offers a forensic assesment of the issues on CS7.

There are a number of links from there outlining what the Dutch are doing with their "fietssnelwegen."

And have a look at this map and how the planners in Holland are encouraging cycling by making the red cycling route into the centre of town the most direct.

Cycle Superhighway map

Finally look at the video footage at the top of this blog from Transport for London of the hire bikes at a top secret factory.

We are not allowed to reveal the details of where it is exactly. We have been told:

"Please note the location of the warehouse where bikes are being stored is confidential and cannot be used in print or broadcast. Journalists should only refer to the warehouse's location as being in north London."
Errrr... If they're worried about them getting nicked then how worried are they going to be when they install them on the streets on July 30th?

Please keep the links and photos coming ... Only two weeks to go until the launch of cycle superhighways...

Do you want to use your mobile on the Tube?

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Steve Phillips Steve Phillips | 17:07 UK time, Thursday, 8 July 2010

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Last week we published this article on Boris Johnson's backing of Wi-Fi access on the Tube.

If you read down the page it says:

He [The Mayor] said that if it eventually became possible to use mobile phones on trains, perhaps there would be "quiet carriages" - as on some mainline rail services - where the use of handsets would be discouraged.

Tom Edwards talking on his mobile phone

Here is a photo of Mind the Gap's Tom Edwards talking on his mobile phone. No doubt he is talking to a very important source about a very important story. But should he be allowed to do so on the Tube?

Questioned at this year's State of London Debate about technological advances for the Tube, Mr Johnson said he was "on the side of progress, if we possibly can do it."

But he acknowledged the idea would not be "universally popular."

So, would you welcome using your mobile on the Tube? Let your family know you're on your way home?

Or would it become a removal of the last bastion of getting away from the hubbub of London life, with people bellowing "I'M ON THE TUBE! YES THE TUBE!!"?

Here are some of your replies so far on our Twitter feed:

@fionaleung Yes a brilliant idea! They should do it like in Japan where you are only allowed to text on your phone but not talk on it :)

@pjlewis I'd love to have data access in the tube, but not voice. Altho I doubt it's actually possibly to talk over the tube noise...

@roamingray No - too noisy for phone calls. And how would you use it? One hand on grabs, one full of bags etc...Bad Idea. Also, it would bring to an end one of the last excuses for not answering calls - I was underground!

What say you?

Bike hire etiquette: No animals allowed

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 10:41 UK time, Wednesday, 7 July 2010

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Last week the BBC helicopter was filming over Parliament so on its way back to base we asked it to film the Mayor's blue cycling superhighways along the A23.

The results you can see in this report.

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Critics are already lining up to pick holes in the highways.

There are a couple of issues including utility companies already digging them up (City Hall not happy) and incomplete lanes.

And outside Oval station cyclists have to make their way across a lane of traffic to get from one blue lane to another.

But as the Mayor's adviser told me they're not actually finished yet. They open on July 19th - watch this space.

Another positive for safety is the introduction of trixi mirrors on the tops of traffic lights where HGV drivers can see in the blind spot on the left hand side.

TfL tell me:

"There will be 39 in total as part of a six month trial. 37 of these are going up on the pilot Superhighways routes (with 31 installed in time for the scheme's launch on 19 July). The remainder will go up shortly afterwards.

"Two of the mirrors are going up off the Superhighways routes so we have a couple of control sites - and can separate the impact of the Superhighways infrastructure from the impact of the mirrors."

Another development cycling wise is the appearance of these docking stations across the capital ahead of the bike hire schemes launch on July 30th.

Bike Hire docks

This is the one outside the Portugese Embassy on Portland Place.

Interestingly there is a list of 20 recommendations of what you should and shouldn't do on the hire bikes.

It says you should "consider" wearing a helmet - do I detect a nifty sidestep of the cycling helmet debate with that phrasing?

And also don't put animals in the basket on the front.

So now you know.

7/7: "Things you never expect to deal with"

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 13:09 UK time, Monday, 5 July 2010

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The station manager Stephen Goszka had been in charge of Edgware Road tube station for just four days when he heard the "muffled boom."

Looking out of his office window, he checked the nearby A40 flyover expecting to see a crash. Nothing.

Then the phone rang. His station supervisor was on the platform downstairs. All she said to him was: "You better come down here."

Two minutes later Stephen Goszka was on the platform. Already some of his staff were down the tunnel.

In the dark he could see the tail lights on back of the train. He thought it might be a train crash.

Then, out of the dust and smoke he saw commuters walking along the tracks out of the tunnel.

They had blackened faces and dishevelled clothes. He called the control centre to "get some help down here."

As more people came out of the tunnel the injuries got worse.

Stephen Goszka and his staff helped them through a small grey metal gate onto the platform.

His staff then helped them up the stairs and into the ticket hall. There they sat them on the floor next to one another.

This was when the London Underground staff were on their own. The emergency services had yet to arrive.

As Stephen Goszka told me they were "dealing with things that day that you'd never expect to deal with."

Five years on and the team is much the same at Edgware Road although after 3 years Stephen Goszka moved onto the Piccadilly Line.

In the main though, they've stuck together. They say stations on the Underground operate like families and that's what happened here.

For 22 days while Edgware was shut, the staff had to go to other stations and they didn't like that.

When the station re-opened they got on with it. There's been counselling and most of the staff are still here now.

Wider criticisms

Away from Edgware Road, a London Assembly report after the bombings found that communication between the emergency services "did not stand up on July 7th".

The teams at Tavistock Square couldn't use the radios to talk to each other and talk to the control rooms.

Workers had to run to the trains and back to the platforms to communicate.

In five years has that changed?

A new digital system Connect was finished in 2008. It's the same system for the whole network whereas previously each line had its own system.

So, for example, control can now send a message to all staff at the same time. It has had teething problems but TfL says it is far more reliable than the old radios.

Another system for the emergency services, Airwave, was completed in October 2008 five months ahead of schedule. It means emergency services can use radios underground.

The London Assembly report also recommended first aid kits should be placed at stations and there should be clear instructions for passengers about what they should do in an emergency. Both have been acted on.

After the bombings, Transport for London also said it would increase the number of CCTV cameras on London Underground.

There were 8,500 CCTV cameras on the system. The pledge was to increase it to 12,000.

There would also be a move to digital technology away from magnetic tape. Transport for London said in 2008:

"This will ultimately mean that no one will be able to enter the Underground network without their face being recorded by CCTV camera."

It says it has implemented these changes. On the buses there are now 60,000 cameras fitted on the fleet.

There were also calls in 2005 for screening devices and detector arches at the entrances at stations on the Tube to detect whether someone was carrying explosives.

These were ruled out as being impractical, expensive and they'd become a target themselves.

There have undoubtedly been improvements to monitoring and the way emergencies are dealt with but is the transport network safer?

Police numbers on the transport network have increased but could they stop an attack similar to July 7th? Extremely unlikely.

And as many people have said to me, the reality is it is extremely difficult to stop a suicide bomber on a mass transit system like the Tube.

Back at Edgware Road, there are beautiful colourful flowers on the station concourse now and in the corner behind the kiosk where a staff member sits is a plaque bearing the names of those who died here.

Every year away from the cameras the families return.

The staff are helpful and friendly and as the commuters rush past, it could be a normal tube station.

It may now look everyday but for this station and its staff as Stephen Goszka said:

"What happened that day was just the beginning. This was weeks and months of recovery for us."

Digging up another hole for cyclists to get out of?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 11:29 UK time, Monday, 5 July 2010

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Cycle Highway being dug up

Quite a photo of a brand new cycling superhighway being dug up by a utility company.

The superhighways are meant to be smooth radial routes for cyclists into the centre of town and there's a trial at the moment of two routes from Morden and Barking.

The actual scheme doesn't start until 19th July and already the diggers are in.

I'm just trying to find out which utility company is responsible - perhaps Thames Water.

What it also shows is Boris Johnson's roadworks permit scheme didn't work here or it couldn't stop the utility company digging up the lane.

That will be no surprise to anyone who drives around London given the amount of roadworks on the streets at the moment.

The photo will also raise all kinds of questions about lack of co-ordination, joined up thinking, how the superhighways will be resurfaced and who's going to pay?

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