Friday, 6 May 2011

Inspectors tell Mayor: re-allocate road space to cycling (and other sustainable transport) now

London's streets - Inspectors tell Mayor it's time to
re-allocate space to cycling and walking. Clearly not much
space here....
It was Val Shawcross who first pointed out on Twitter this week: "Inspectors report on London Plan calls for constraint on traffic growth". Gosh.

The London Plan "describes an integrated economic, social, environmental and transport framework for the development of London over the next 20-25 years". When it comes to cycling, there are only two things of any significance in the plan (remember this is a 25 year plan, not just a few months): Cycle Super Highways and Cycle Hire.

There are a couple of interesting bits to note in all of this. As I understand it, the inspectors' report is a kind of critique of the plan, containing recommendations to the Mayor. 

Firstly, the inspectors make extremely clear that they think the Mayor's policy of 'smoothing traffic flow' is inconsistent with government policy as it fails to enable priority for more sustainable forms of transport. If you don't create priority for sustainable transport, you essentially make it easier to drive than you do to walk or cycle. And so you drive to the supermarket, to the cinema, to your friends...It results in compromises like the junctions on Cycle Super Highways, where people on cycles have to leg it across multiple lanes of fast-moving motor traffic. It designs conflict in to our streets between cycles and motor vehicles and sometimes between cycles and people on pavements. In Holland (and in Germany and in France and even now in New York), they design that conflict out of the streets. Have a look at this if you don't believe me.

Exactly this issue is at the heart of the Blackfriars Bridge scheme and of the Cycle Super Highways. Just when you need the road conditions to be asafer and easier to navigate on a bike or on foot, the Mayor is encouraging policies that do the exact opposite. As I've said before, Blackfriars is being redesigned to favour fast-moving motor vehicles. 

Back to the inspectors' report which states "it seems to us that there is clear Government guidance encouraging a hierarchy in road use in order to give priority for the more sustainable forms of transport...., we consider that there should be a place for explicitly recognising a hierarchy of roadusers in the over-arching transport policy in order to guide formulation of public realm as well as transport schemes."

You can't get clearer than that for dismissing the Mayor's policy of 'smoothing traffic flow'. 

Well, actually, you can. Because the inspectors then continue to say that boroughs should (see p214 on this link):

"where appropriate re-allocate road space and land to bus priority, bus or tram (light transit) schemes, cyclists and pedestrians to support sustainable transport"

If you look at how TfL is designing Blackfriars, it is basically adding space for motor traffic. And reallocating space away from cyclists. The exact opposite of  what the inspectors recommend. If you look at any number of schemes around London such as this one, this one, or maybe this one.

But here's the rub. These recommendations are very significant if you walk or cycle more than you drive in London. And yet Boris Johnson seems to disagree. But seemingly so does Ken Livingstone, if you read this review by the Crap Walthamstow blog,

An Islington street. Clearly no room to re-allocate space
to cycling here....
So it's good to see that Jenny Jones of the Green Party has joined the dots. Jenny is one of the five Assembly Members who have taken a strong interest in Blackfriars Bridge. She quite rightly notes that the inspectors report is telling the Mayor to prioritise sustainable transport forms where possible and Blackfriars is one such possibility. Here's a copy of the letter she sent to the Mayor yesterday: "Blackfriars Bridge has shown a significant shift towards sustainable transport with an increase in the number of cyclists. The opening of the new station will also increase the number of pedestrian users at the north end of the bridge. These increases clearly need to be recognised and accommodated. The inspectors report makes clear that such shifts should be recognised and encouraged when planning London’s public realm. The existing TfL scheme not only fails to do this, but seeks to impose a road hierarchy which places motorised traffic as priority. This may not be explicitly stated in the consultation, but it is clearly implicit within the value judgements made concerning your fears of increased ‘congestion’.

Whilst I understand that the Mayor needs to consider the Panel’s recommendations and respond to them, I do believe that the Inspector is right on this point. I therefore urge you to accept the Panel’s report and for TfL to take it into account when making its decision on Blackfriars Bridge. I hope you will give me your reassurance on this point. "

Spot on for both Val Shawcross and Jenny Jones on this one. The question is, will the Mayor accept the findings of the report? It's not about Blackfriars any more, it's about how the Mayor plans all of London's roads.