Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Transport for London and the City – Why Boris doesn't want cycle-friendly streets


Network assurance at its best: A TfL bike lane

There’s been some chatter recently over at the London Cycling Campaign about the Transport for London Road Network. Basically, these are London’s red routes and main roads. According to TfL, five per cent of the roads in London are TLRN but they carry about a third of London’s traffic. And the problem for cycling in the City is that TfL's understanding of "traffic" equals "motor vehicles". Cycles aren’t part of the traffic, apparently.

The debate at LCC is really interesting. For all the pressure campaigners put on the local borough, it’s actually TfL that operates these roads. And the traffic lights. And a whole host of other things. Broadly speaking, if you think London Bridge or Victoria Embankment aren't nice places to cycle, it’s TfL that you have to thank for the road design and not the City. The City wanted to implement some more two-way streets for cycling recently. It was TfL that prevented this.

When it comes to urban road and street space, TfL seems a bit stuck in the dark.

Clare Neely is a regular contributor to the various London Cycling Campaign forums and a passionate cycling campaigner and I’ve asked her permission to quote from one of her recent email posts on this blog.

Clare spends a lot of time talking about something that seems painfully dull at first but vitally important if you want to understand London’s streets and how to make them better for cycling. And that is Transport for London’s understanding of “network assurance”. I’ve quoted Clare’s email in full in the previous blog entry but I wanted to highlight a few points that I think merit wider circulation to those of us who aren’t experts in the field of road engineering.

Network assurance is the current buzzword for capacity for things to get around and across the network, including at many junctions, such as Bank or Moorgate. I say ‘things’ because some of us view London streets as places where people need to get about whether on foot, on a bike, in a car or on a horse. Clare’s beef is with the fact that TfL’s understanding of network assurance is entirely about capacity for motor vehicles. And that has a significant impact on how Transport for London plans pedestrian and cycle access to its road network.

TfL’s understanding of its road network is heavily focussed on network assurance. That means designing junctions and road spaces which in TfL’s case seems to mean motor vehicles first and foremost, then everybody else if you’re lucky. If you ask TfL why a junction can’t be made safer, more convenient or more practical for cyclists, pedestrians or anyone not inside a motor vehicle, you will quite often see a response not unlike this one at Mayor’s Question Time which relates to a pedestrian scheme in Lewisham: “Detailed work has been undertaken but the options developed so far have all raised serious concerns about the impact on traffic movement and congestion in an area where extensive queuing and delays already occur.” And a further and more revealing comment: “simply taking time out of this junction [ie for motor vehicles] to provide for pedestrian facilities will have an unacceptable impact on an already congested network”.

Clare sums this attitude up neatly:

The priority given by TfL to Network Assurance for motor vehicles to the detriment of TLRN highway development for cycling

Quoting Clare in full:
"LCC & Lambeth Cyclists are currently working with TfL on the next stage of the Cycle Superhighways in Lambeth. We have obtained schemes in a reasonable time for detailed comment, however it is unlikely that LCCs main requirement which is to provide more direct routes through Vauxhall Cross, essentially removing that gyratory, will be implemented. The reason given by TfL will be because of network assurance. Network assurance, junction capacity, the name has changed over the last 20 years but not the reality."

And this is the real crux of the problem, according to Clare. TfL is basing all its decisions about junctions and road layouts on models that only account for cars. If people switch from cars to bikes or to walking, well, that doesn’t count. What Clare writes below completely sums it up for me. TfL is putting money into cycling. But it doesn’t care enough to really make the leap that would get people out of their cars and into cycling or walking. And as a result, nothing much is going to change. Cycling will continue to be a bit part of London’s transport infrastructure, always playing fifth, sixth or 10th fiddle to motor vehicles. To quote:

“… as part of the development of any highway, a combination of one or both of macro and micro computer modelling of the scheme takes place, predominantly only the motor vehicle traffic is modelled. The macro model currently used by TfL was developed by the GLC, so is using data from the 20th century and though there are more recent area based models they are not widely used. The macro model purports to tell TfL, as the highway authority for the TLRN, what will happen in Bromley if development on the TLRN takes place at Vauxhall. A micro model of a scheme will probably also be used. The data collected to input into these models is taken during a midweek rush hour. The predictions of the models are not tested post implementation of a highway scheme.


Modelling of Vauxhall Cross in 2000 for the proposals to develop the TLRN in that area for bus priority predicted that congestion would cause the area to seize up. This has never happened. Probably the modelling of the Oval on the CS7 showed that measures to remove the danger to cyclists from left turning vehicles and current modelling of the junction with the gyratory removed for direct Cycle Superhighway routes through Vauxhall Cross show something similar.


The data collected to input into these models ... [does not consider]people who are currently driving but could walk or cycle or use public transport.


It only considers a static number of motor traffic movements not what real people can and will do."

TfLs own figures confirm that over 40% of people whose journeys finish in Lambeth are driving 2 milesor less. Other research by TfL concludes that 1 in 5 people currently driving would cycle.


If as part of the CS development the gyratory was removed at Vauxhall or the dangerous left turns for cyclists at the Oval, how many of those people driving 2 miles or less would cycle? We won’t know as it has not been done at the Oval and it is unlikely that TfL will reduce highway capacity to remove the gyratory at Vauxhall. If you leave the same amount of highway for people to drive on, those people driving 2 miles or less are very unlikely to change their behaviour.


..Network assurance could be achieved by all those people driving 2 miles or less walking or cycling, but nothing in the CS3 or CS7 works or current highway proposals for CS is likely to encourage [highway engineeers] to do this.”

I think Clare's post says it all. If Boris wants a cycling revolution to take place in London, he's going to have to change the way his highway authority thinks about its streets. It's all well and good pitching up at press events and talking cycling. That has merits in itself. But to really make a difference, we need the engineers to think bike. Or to think pedestrian. Or to simply stop looking at London's road space as something that is entirely modelled around car use. We're never going to get people out of cars and onto their bikes if the only measure of success is how much impact a scheme has on motor traffic.


Even Surrey County Council, home of the die-hard car-owning classes and of Philip Hammond, our petrol-head transport minister, seems to have realised it can't just build its way out of motor congestion. It is accepting a pile of cash from BAA, operators of Heathrow airport, to force modal shift from cars to feet instead of building underpasses for cars to avoid level crossing downtimes that will result from a new rail link to Heathrow:

"Travel planning, web pages, walking/cycling improvements/footbridges in the vicinity of the Egham level crossings. 60% of journeys across the level crossings are less than 5 km and would be partially replaced through increased walking and cycling. The measures would also improve safety at junctions affected by Airtrack to encourage modal shift."

If we want to have a City of London where people walk and cycle more and use motor vehicles less, we're going to have to build it. And that involves TfL. But neither TfL nor the City really gets the point that it's how we plan and build our streetscape that has to change.