Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Evening Standard: 'It is hoped pedestrians will hurry' out of the way of motor vehicles in London. The cyclists are going out again at Kings Cross on 23 January to protest. This time, it's not just about cycling.

Boris Johnson: is suggesting something like this:
 'Assume there will be more traffic, fewer crossings and you will
have to hurry across the road and not upset the motorists'
At a recent residents' meeting I attended, the talk was about the new housing development around the corner - a development of several hundred apartments and terraced houses.

That specific development is mentioned in a strategy document by Transport for London here:

The road in question is Clapham Road - four lanes between Stockwell and Oval. Everyone at the meeting disagreed with TfL: there isn't a safe way to cross the road here unless you take a 400 metre detour via the traffic lights. Transport for London says the road lacks pedestrian demand. In the eyes of the people that live and work there, it is by no means clear how TfL measures 'demand'.

Last week, I spotted something similar in Kidbrooke: Developers are building a new residential 'village'. According to the local blog KidbrookeKite, Kidbrooke Park Road will continue to be a 'formidable divide running through the centre of the community'. A crossing is a 'fundamental' requirement, say the developers. No, says Transport for London. That would compromise motor traffic. Once again - a new residential development, designed so that people who don't live there can get through the area by car. Not designed so that the people who do live there can walk to the shops.

New houses going up on the right. TfL is not going to
build any crossings for pedestrians on this road.
Source KidrookeKite
The policy of removing or reducing pedestrian crossings has been going on since Boris Johnson took office. Back in 2009 the Evening Standard reported that pedestrian crossing times would be made shorter. Why? 'To cope with increased traffic when the Mayor abolishe[d] the western extension of the congestion zone'. We now know that motor traffic has increased 8% in the area since the congestion charge was removed. The Evening Standard headline at the time was: "Hurry up and cross..." Says it all really. 

Two years on, Boris's anti-pedestrian policy is growing. There are 58 pedestrian crossings for the chop in the next couple of months. They will be replaced with nothing - not a zebra crossing, just nothing.

Let's take a few examples. Curtain Road in Hackney is losing its traffic lights. There is a new east-west cycle link along Rivington Street that crosses Curtain Road right here. You'll have to wait for a gap in the traffic and hop across. Older or infirm? Want to get from the shops on one side of Rivington Street to the other? Zebra crossing? No can do. Take a detour. 

At the top of London Bridge, another crossing is for the chop. Several more in Westminster, Richmond, Croydon, Barnet. You name it. 

This is all part of a deliberate policy by the Mayor to favour the motorist over everyone else in London. At any cost, it seems. 

The thing is, Londoners either haven't noticed or simply don't care. My reckoning is that Boris Johnson will still be Mayor in 2013. And I suspect most people think he's doing a good job. They think about how he is fighting off roadwork congestion, how he is removing congestion charge 'taxes', how he has battled Westminster council's parking charges. What they don't seem to have noticed is that comes with a cost. The cost is higher road casualties; more congestion as more people drive;  the fact that it's more difficult and more dangerous to cross the road; the fact that pedestrian crossing times are being made shorter. As someone who cycles more than he drives, I'm particularly irked that cycling seems to be getting shunted out the way of schemes that favour motoring instead and that people are being refused the option not to drive.

But my sense is that the Mayor thinks he's on the right course. Because he is pandering to a populist agenda - I want or need to drive, I want to do so cheaply and to park where and when I want. That agenda seems to be trumping alternatives. And when you look at other cities (New York, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen), you'll see the exact opposite. Mayors in those cities are making it easier and cheaper to cycle or walk or take public transport. Our Mayor is making as easy and cheap to drive as his powers allow him. The alternatives are being shrunk not expanded. It's very strange that we are the only place busy going backwards.

When 2,500 people took to the streets to protest against exactly these sorts of policies at Blackfriars last year, the Mayor ignored them. Even when people are killed - for example at Bow roundabout - as a direct consequence of these road policies, the solution is to offer up something to the cyclists but nothing whatsoever for pedestrians. Two people were killed on their bikes at Bow in late 2011. Three people have been killed crossing the road near Bow in the last three years. What does the Mayor want? A half-hearted facility for cyclists. And nothing for the pedestrians. Why? They might get in the way of motor traffic. 
It seems to me that being polite and lobbying for change to these policies isn't working very fast. The letter-writing and the polite protests are shifting the debate a little bit. But Boris isn't really listening. His agenda is about making it easier for Londoners to drive around London. Not about reducing pollution or about offering Londoners cheaper and more convenient alternatives to the car, such as cycling. And I sense that the Mayor thinks road collisions are just one of those things that happen to people 'who don't have their wits about them' (to quote the Mayor talking about cycling London's most dangerous junctions).

What the Guardian didn't spot was the number of pedestrians also taking part. And it also failed to notice the very mainstream charitable organisations and lobbyist groups that were there on foot - watching, listening and learning about the Mayor's anti-people road agenda. 

BikesAlive is going out again on Monday 23rd. Once again, it will be making the point that the Mayor's policies are unbalancing London's streets, that the policies are not equitable. To some extent, that the Mayor's road policies are immoral.

And this time, I sense the pedestrians will be there in greater numbers as well. And I imagine it won't be too long before some very big names start to join in with the protests.

Old people, young children, disabled people can't just hurry across the road, the way the Mayor wants them to. And nor should they.