Friday, 5 October 2012

Updated: National Cycle Network route Waterloo to Blackfriars still due to close, no safe diversion route for people on bicycles planned yet. But Southwark has agreed not to shut the route until a safety audit has been carried out. Progress and thanks to Southwark Council officers.

Here we are looking at the building sites on National Cycle Network
Waterloo to Blackfriars. Shuts Monday. 
Earlier today Southwark Council held an on-site meeting at Upper Ground on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge. Joining the Council representatives were managers of the three (no less) separate construction projects all taking place around this junction, plus  representatives of Southwark Cyclists, Living Streets, Sustrans and Transport for London buses. Oh, and yours truly. 

I can report, following this morning's meeting, that there is not yet any plan to put in place a safe diversion for the thousands of people who use this route every day on a bicycle. 

More precisely, a spokesperson for Southwark Council has asked me to clarify:

"The Temporary Traffic Order for the proposed closure will be in place for 12 month [from Monday] but the actual closure, should it go ahead, will only be in force until the opening of the hotel in early September 2013. As mentioned at the meeting, the closure will be reviewed periodically and decisions will be taken on whether the closure remains in place will be based on construction vehicle numbers from the developments.

Upper Ground will not be closed on Monday. No date for the closure will be considered until we have reviewed the Road Safety Audit being undertaken and consulted with Transport for London regarding safer provisions for cyclists and pedestrians."

What that means is that from Monday, Southwark has given the go-ahead to the construction companies to close the road so that they can get their lorries on site. Perfectly sensible. Each site may have as many as 100 lorry movements a day. That's 300 lorry movements here per day, given three sites. 300 lorries plus thousands of bikes in a very narrow space, not a good idea.

But Southwark council's officers admit that they only thought about the cycle route far too late. I hate to bash the officers themselves. They're good, nice, honest people. Actually, I quite liked them. But they should have included the cycle route in their planning. All the more so given this is a National Cycle Network route. 

What they're now saying is that the whole thing may not be closed after all and that the whole closure can now only go ahead after there has been a safety audit. Amen to that.

If the closure does go ahead and you want to cycle from Blackfriars to Waterloo, your only option will be to turn right at the bottom of the Bridge, across four lanes of traffic and then run the gauntlet of Stamford Street. You can then chose to try and turn right further along Stamford Street back to the section of Upper Ground that is still open (in other words, you'll have to sit in the middle of two very fast streams of motor traffic just hoping a gap will open up in the narrow lanes to let you cross) or you carry straight on to the Waterloo Imax roundabout. Previously, you had the option of avoiding both the dangerous right turn from the Bridge and to go underneath the Imax roundabout by using Upper Ground. Let's just remember that Blackfriars Bridge and the Waterloo Imax roundabout are two of the top 10 most dangerous junctions for cyclists in London

Blackfriars Bridge southern end - let's all cram
into the cycle box together. Hardly safe, good-quality
cycle infrastructure. Now the only way to Waterloo.
The problem with all of this is that if the road closure does go ahead, cyclists are going to be thrust into a very busy alternative route on main roads that takes in two of the most dangerous junctions in London and that route has absolutely nothing to make it safer for cycling. 

What's more, the alternative route is entirely along streets that belong to Transport for London. In other words, by closing its own route, Southwark (wittingly or otherwise) has pushed the problem on to TfL. Only, TfL is now having to rush around last-minute to try and think of solutions to resolve the problem. 

My sense is that all parties now understand the problem. That Southwark Council realises it's made a mistake and wants to make up for it. That the construction firms realise the problem. And TfL realises the problem.

I have to hand it to Southwark Council for reacting promptly to public criticism and to the Council for pulling together representatives from the construction, bus, cycling and pedestrian communities at short notice to try and resolve things. Yes, the Council messed up. But it is trying to resolve the situation. At least, for now, there's a sort of temporary reprieve.

Question now, is anyone going to sort it out? And how? 


  1. You might be better passing Stamford Street and going on to the Cut and Lower Marsh, approaching Waterloo from the other side. You'd still have to cut across the traffic on Blackfriars Road to turn right, but the Cut is generally less threatening than Stamford Street.

  2. This is really awful. Could they not at least put up some signs, saying sorry, and they are planning an alternative as soon as possible?

    1. Hardly..All you got, and some eagle-eyed individual stopped to look, was a densely-printed legal notice which is seled in a polythene bag and taped to a lamppost half way along the contraflow section.

      Perhaps we all need to learnt that when we see something like that, we need to stop and look properly at it. Even then, it was only posted there a week or so ago.

    2. Sorry if this makes too light of a serious issue but this is yet another "Beware the Leopard" moment.

  3. Sadly I think the only thing that will light a fire under them is another fatality and calls for a corporate manslaughter conviction.

    Someone somewhere will feel very guilty and perhaps have their competence called into question but nothing else. It's totally unsatisfactory.

  4. I'm sure that the author of this blog is correct in saying that the council officers are nice people, but the fact is that these people haven't done their jobs properly. They got paid their wages, yet their work is substandard. They need to do much better in future. One more mess-up on this scale, and then surely they should begin looking for alternative employment?

  5. Yes, the key issue here is to very publicly throw the book at the team that 'forgot to consider cyclists', however pleasant they may be as drinking buddies after hours.

    That way, at the very least, individuals with similar duties will all make careful mental notes to avoid a similar fate. We may even be able to use to draw to the attention of other councils and authorities the need for consideration of cycle routes and cyclists to be a line item in all their planning procedures.

    1. I'm sure that if I were to suggest in any other context that an employee should be fired for a single mistake, you would be howling with outrage. Certainly there are plenty of people who would, me among them. Public humiliation is barely any better.

      Such bullying and intimidatory behaviour is also counter-productive. Any manager should know that fear quickly renders people ineffective - they look for the way to miminise their personal risk, rather than the way to get the job done.

  6. Perhaps we need to see an analysis of those 300 lorry movements per day. I suspect that in the early stages this will be around 250-300 of the most dangerous trucks on London's roads, involved disportionately in the majority of fatal and serious crashes with cyclists and delivering the greatest amount of damage to the road structure (according to DfT reports). These are the 32T 4 axle tipper trucks, the largest size which is not an articulated truck and for which the pool of casual and agency drivers is largest (most Class 1 (artic) drivers get cleaner better paid work driving retail and parcels traffic).

    300 trucks is moving 10,000T/day of spoil and waste off site and likewise will ship in concrete and steel to complete the construction. In context the Frances Crick project at St Pancras had 150 movements per day with around 40-50 trucks making 3-4 round trips to Pitsea across the city, creating a noticable 'presence' of HGV traffic on City Road and onwards - this is twice the level of traffic.

    However it does not need to travel that distance. Upper Ground is practically on the river's edge Barges of up to 2000T capacity can work up as far as Battersea, and the refuse barges that load adjacent to Cannon Street Station carry 20x25T containers. Strings of 3-4 500T barges are typically worked through this section of river.

    Thus if TfL and Central London Boroughs had a committed freight transport strategy major construction projects would be using the river, or railway system to move bulk tonnages out, making a massive saving in road repairs costs, a major reduction in CO2 and other emissions impcating on air quality (has no one assessed the effect on air quality of 300 trucks moving out from Upper Ground and across the city?), and as a further benefit the wider risk across the streets used to get to Upper Ground of 300 lorry movements per day to all road users - especially pedestrians and cyclists- is reduced substantially.

    As a first move these major projects should collaborate to connect with a loading point on the South Bank, and ship out containerised material (this mitigates spillage & dust in the transfer process from land to water transport, and can allow for pre sorted loads, as well as bringing in materials in container loads).

    Failing the river connection there is an old goods depot on the viaducts and some 'spare' trackbed space, which could equally be fed to load trains, although these might be limited to around 1500T a time, running in & out outside the rush hour, when train paths are available.

    The developers might also find the rail or river options a cost-saving option, as a tipper run across London can cost around £100 per trip, with the pressure on to get those 4 trips per shift and bring down the cost per trip by getting more trips per day (£300-£350/day to run a 32T tipper)

    So actually getting TfL to provide the structure to get this bulk material movement using a more sensible, safer and less damaging mode of transport is the detail to press for.

    Remember it isn't just 300 truck movements per day on Upper Ground, they have to get to and from the site across London with the pollution, road damage, and risk to cyclists and pedestrians also increased

    1. Well reasoned.

      I have no idea whether your ideas are truly practical but it does seem to me that you have thought through your suggestions, which would appear to be considerably more than LBS and the project managers have done.

    2. Your mention of the economics of tipper-truck operations - paid a set fee per trip - strikes at the heart of why we have so many egregious examples of dangerous and occasionally murderous behaviour by professional drivers in London - cases like Denis Putz and Joao Lopes.

      If a driver is paid piece rates, then he will aim to carry out as many pieces a day as he can - especially when the rates are so low. £100 to cart 15T of spoil all the way across a congested city like London, in a vehicle which must tens of thousands to buy and a shed load to fuel, insure, etc? That is frankly daylight robbery - perpretrated on the driver/operator, not the customer.

      I am sure that road danger would reduce significantly if the pay model was reformed.

      I am sure it is no co-incidence that Addison Lee drivers have a poorer reputation than black cabbies - the former pay to "lease" their vehicles and then get a per-trip fee for driving it, with fee steps being some miles apart. The latter know that they are paid per mile plus an element per minute. They are less incentivised to cut corners to complete trips in less time.

  7. Oh and of course there's a similar or even larger number of trucks piling on to the same roads network from the work planned at Elephant & Castle- yet no one does the joined up thinking and planning!

  8. I wonder if the original article would have been as sympathetic if the administration concerned had been run by the conservative party??? ;-)