Friday, 7 October 2011

Revealed: TfL tells politicians it is planning for cycling growth but road scheme assumes cycling will decline and there will be more motor traffic - hence more congestion

The Mayor's Transport for London has tried all sorts of ways to justify why it doesn't believe cycling needs serious infrastructure investment in London. Just have a look at how the Camden New Journal has been reporting TfL's unbelievable claim that simply adding an advanced stop box is going to make it safer to cycle around Kings Cross, scene of yet another woman killed by an HGV on her bicycle this week.  

At Blackfriars, I think Transport for London has been particularly duplicitous.

Early in the summer, Transport for London was forced to sit down in front of a committee of London politicians to explain how it was planning to make cycling safer at Blackfriars. This, you might recall, only happened after hundreds of people wrote to their politicians and protested at the bridge to make the point that they want the Mayor to make cycling safer, not to remove the already useless facilities for cycling and replace them with something worse.

Transport for London justified its new scheme at Blackfriars by saying that cyclists would make up only 7% of the people using the junction during the morning rush-hour and specifically stated that the junction was safe for cycling because other junctions in London are designed in a similar manner. That's exactly the point. Junctions like this are designed for motor vehicles. Pedestrians and people cycling are made to fit around motor vehicles. They're not 'safe' for cycling, any more than addign a bit of paint to the killer juntion in Kings Cross makes it 'safe' for cycling.

In any case, the Transport for London presentation tried to show that the number of people cycling through the junction would decrease as a percentage of the total once the new station had opened. They showed cycling dropping from 9% of all the people using the junction to only 7%. They were then extremely duplicitous and showed cars and light vans as the biggest percentage vehicle group, which hides the truth that there are more people cycling here than there are in private cars. In other words, TfL was trying to spin the story to the politicians to make it appear that cars vastly outnumbers cycles, which just isn't true.

The reason this all struck me as odd is that we know cyclists made up 35.6% of the traffic using the junction in rush-hour during 2010, cars plus taxis combined made up only 31.9%. The figures that Transport for London showed the London politicians just didn't add up.

John Biggs, Labour London Assembly Member for City and East London thought so too. So he asked Transport for London to justify the claim that only 7% of people using the junction would be cycling.

And guess what.

Transport for London has based its claim on numbers from a miserable January day and then fiddled around a bit to come up with a number of people cycling. 1,666 cyclists, to be precise. So, Transport for London claims that 1,666 people will cycle through the junction in the morning peak in 2012.

Using exactly the same rules as Transport for London's data but using 2010 statistics (which were available to TfL at the time, they just chose to use material that was three years out of date), I've calculated that:

  • Transport for London told London politicians the number of people cycling in 2012 would increase by 42%. They've actually modelled it showing it would decline 7% on current levels.

  • They told London politicians the number of people in cars and light goods vans (drivers and passengers combined) would decline by 7% to 2012. They've actually modelled it showing a 5% increase on 2010 levels.

The movements aren't enormous but they speak volumes. Transport for London claims it is building to support growth in cycling. But it's not. It's building on the assumption that cycling will decline and motor vehicle use will increase. More congestion, more crap transport, more deaths on the road. It's not good for anyone, whether they cycle or not. The Mayor knows there's a problem. He told the London politicians: "I do think is that more work needs to be done on cycling over Blackfriars Bridge and the accessibility of cycling over Blackfriars Bridge”. But it seems he's not telling TfL to actually make that happen.

If this rings bells for you, then come and make some noise to let the Mayor know you think things should change. Blackfriars Bridge. Wednesday October 12. 5.45pm.


  1. The saying which Mark Twain attributes to Benjamin Disraeli seems to fit TfL perfectly: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
    Statistics can lie by selective choice of data, such as a particular year, when cycling volumes were lower than they are now. One of TfL’s tricks – here they could have used Blackfriars screenline data but instead they have used London-wide data from the Travel in London report, which depress cycle statistics compared with motor vehicles.
    They can also mislead by combining them or comparing them in inappropriate ways. We know that cyclists outnumber private passenger vehicles (owner-driven cars, taxis and minicabs) over Blackfriars bridge and some others because the screenline counts tell us so. But, by sleight of hand, cars and light good vehicles are lumped together either to give a misleading impression of their relative importance compared with cyclists, or to give users of private cars – surely the last priority for a metropolitan transport authority by anyone’s measure – a veneer of respectability.
    Also, all of a sudden, TfL has discovered the notion of individual movements. Most of their stats are based on vehicles, subject to a weighting which make one car equal five bicycles. Here they are counting the occupants of the vehicles to inflate their numbers and their relative importance. But even then the facts are pathetic when you peel away the layers of deceit – average occupancy of a car/light goods vehicle is only 1.6. Occupancy of a taxi is a miserable 1.8 – bearing in mind that every taxi must have a driver which comes as part of the package (ever seen a driverless taxi? Thought not) that means in reality 0.8, or more than 20% of taxis must be empty.

  2. But surely an official department such as TfL is bound by ethical code of conduct for statisticians? If, as it seems, TfL is getting creative with their statistics I'd imagine UK Statistics Authority would be interested (though I can also see TfL weasel out by claiming those are not official statistics)