Saturday, 26 February 2011

Blackfriars Bridge is not just about one junction: It's about how TfL plans London's streets in general

Blackfriars Bridge. Welcoming cyclists to the South
Bank. Would you let your 12 year-old cycle here?
"Dear Ms Shawcross

I am writing to you as my local Assembly Member and in your capacity of Chair of the Transport Committee on the London Assembly. I live in Lambeth and work in the City of London. I tend to cycle to work but also walk, drive, tube and bus my way into the City.

Last Friday I was alerted by the London Cycling Campaign to the new plans for the northern junction of Blackfriars Bridge. The alert was sent for comments on a small new bicycle track across the proposed gyratory at this end of the bridge. I looked at the plan and was horrified by the nature of the entire scheme. I decided to write about this on my blog, http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.com/

The story has been read by several thousand people and investigated further by The Guardian, Evening Standard and by a number of other publications.

I should stress that I don't regard myself as a transport campaigner. I am someone who works and lives in London and who happens to cycle to work. Like many of my colleagues, I am increasingly fed up that London's main roads continue to be designed for people in motor cars to move as quickly as possible about the city. I feel this is in sharp contrast to the many other European and American cities in which I work.

The central London bridges are a particular issue. They are spaces where cars move extremely quickly and where 1960s gyratory systems are very much the norm at either end (Blackfriars, Vauxhall gyratory, Aldwych, Aldgate). These create deeply unpleasant environments and are dangerous for the majority of people who use them, who aren't in motor vehicles. Look at the maps of road casualties and you can see that very large numbers of cyclists and pedestrians are killed or seriously injured at either end of central London's bridges.

The dynamics of these bridges is changing. I was sent the latest manual traffic counts for London's bridges by TfL's surface transport team:

On London Bridge, the number of bicycles crossing north from 7am - 10am grew from only 320 bicycles in 1990 to 1,545 in 2010. There are three times more people on bicycles than driving cars (only 665 drove cars).

On Blackfriars Bridge 1,926 bicycles head north in the rush-hour and constitute 35.6% of the total traffic in the mornings. That's more than any other type of vehicle and more than both private motor cars and taxis combined (31.9%).

Across all of the zone 1 bridges, bicycles now comprise 27.7% of total northbound traffic in the rush-hour. Private cars make up 28.2%.

The trend is of continued declined in motor use and a parallel in crease in bicycle use. There will be more bicycles than cars crossing the zone 1 bridges at rush-hour from some point this year.

With that in mind, I find it incredible that Transport for London persists in designing central London's bridges almost exclusively around the needs of the private motor car when Londoners are quite clearly voting with their feet and using the bridges for cycling and walking more than they are for driving. I feel that the London Assembly is not taking the needs of those people cycling or walking (or in mobility scooters, frankly) seriously. My broad point is that the poor conditions for people on bicycles are deeply unfair, given the number of people using these bridges and respective junctions.

Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandra Goodship - TfL Policy Manager Cycling and Tovin Odusina TfL Regional Planning Manager - Central at a meeting organised by the City of London. I believe Ms Odusina is directly responsible for central London's trunk road network. I was impressed by some of the cycling-focussed TfL initiatives that Ms Goodship described. But I was appalled by Ms Odusina's apparent lack of understanding of just how vulnerable most people feel using central London's bridges when they're not in cars. She simply couldn't answer any of my questions about how the Blackfriars scheme would make it more dangerous and much less convenient for pedestrians or cyclists to navigate this dangerous junction and focussed instead on how important it was for people to access the new station entrance and to maintain 'traffic flow' - ie motor traffic speeds. I can agree with the former. I think the latter point extremely worrying.

I have set out my specific objections to the planned Blackfriars northern end junction in an appendix below. By there are some general principles that I would like to highlight here first.

It is very clear from this scheme and from talking to the relevant planners that:

1) TfL is simply not engaging with making central London's bridges and bridge junctions safer for people to cycle and walk through.

2) The focus is to allow cars to travel faster through these junctions on as many lanes as possible.

3) As a result, these city centre spaces will become less convenient for pedestrians.

4) TfL expects people on bicycles to be part of the traffic flow, even where those people have to sprint across newly-added and utterly unnecessary lanes of fast-moving motor traffic. (imagine your son, daughter, niece or nephew trying to turn right across the proposed three lanes of motor traffic here and you get the idea)

5) That, outside of Cycle Superhighways, TfL is institutionally opposed to helping people get around central London on foot or on bicycle.

6) Consideration of cycling is a last-minute after-thought (for example, TfL requested consultation late on a Friday night and wanted responses within 72 working hours).

I think the junctions on both sides of Blackfriars Bridge are designed almost exclusively for motor vehicles. People, whether on foot, bicycle or mobility scooter, are very much an afterthought.

I urge you to help persuade the Mayor and TfL that, in an age where more and more people are ditching cars, now is the time to start unpicking some of this monstrous 1960s urban planning and create spaces in the centre of our city that are designed around people, not motor vehicles.

With best regards"