Thursday, 25 September 2014

Major corporates, investors, London's hospitals and air ambulance are starting to support new Cycle Super Highways. There are clear business benefits and big benefits for all Londoners. But sources tell me Canary Wharf Group is briefing against London's new cycle network. You need to ask your employer to join the many who support this.

According to a press briefing that has been sent to a large number of businesses and journalists in London, Boris Johnson's planned Cycle Super Highways will:

"be extremely damaging to London"

lead to "significant increase in traffic in outer London"

"put the safety of cyclists, pedestrians and drivers at risk"

This press briefing has been sent to all sorts of influential people and it is as misleading as it is poorly-researched. It presents subjective opinion as fact and it is full of falsehoods. My understanding  (from two different sources) is that this briefing document has been circulated by Canary Wharf Group PLC. You can review the briefing yourself via this link.

Now, it is important to mention that several of London's large employers are actively supporting the Cycle Super Highways. Just some of the companies that I'm aware of are shown in the image below and you can see their statements on the CyclingWorks website. As you can see, some of London's major real estate players - Jones Lang LaSalle, Knight Frank and Barratt Homes - have already come out in support of the Cycle Super Highways. Deloitte, a massive employer, has also come out in support. Only yesterday, Knight Frank, published a report on the effectiveness of global cities, praising cycle tracks and the need to invest in Cycle Super Highways.Plenty of other big employers (and, interestingly, plenty of big real estate players) are preparing their own letters of support to the consultation.

NHS Barts (which runs the Royal London) and the London Air Ambulance have both come out in support of the Cycle Super Highways by the way. A number of London's other big hospitals will be adding their support next week.

Just some of the employers and investors who have so far issued statements of support for the Cycle Super Highways


















Let's look at some of the noise that is being bandied about against the cycle super highways. If there is any "anti" noise in the media, it all seems to be stemming from this briefing note and it all seems to be saying the same thing. So I'll address most of the points which are raised in this briefing note for you to consider:

a) The Cycle Super Highways "would take 50% of the road space on one of London's main arterial roads". Not true. The East-West highway will reduce the current four lanes to three lanes in some places, it will remain four in most locations. There is a very short stretch of a few hundred yards through Blackfriars underpass that will be two lane and that is the only section where this is the case. Along the Embankment, what's happening is that space currently used for coach parking during the rush hour is going to be used for a bike track. I'd suggest this is a good use of space. It will create a much more enjoyable environment along what should be an iconic stretch of the river but is currently choked with coach fumes and traffic that jockeys for position. It is worth noting how Paris has actually removed an entire road along its river banks and replaced it with beaches, bike tracks and walking space. London has got nothing on Paris on this front.

b) The Cycle Super Highways will "halve  the capacity of a primary transportation artery". Not true. The scheme will cause "gridlock" in central London. Not true. TfL is "unwilling to publish" its traffic analysis. Not true. Why are none of these true? Well, the east-west capacity data was released today along with the north-south capacity data. TfL said from the outset that they would release the traffic data. They have done that today and they have also extended the consultation period to adjust for this. That is admirable and seems to be proper process.

You can read the full TfL statement on capacity changes via this link. I have also copied a section of that explanation below. I think the most important part of the TfL statement is this: "This scheme aims to allocate road space more in line with the actual usage of the road network." This is a fact that the press briefing chooses to ignore.

TfL statement on traffic capacity 


What is apparent from TfL's data is that some journeys in central London will be quicker (as much as three minutes quicker) by motor vehicle than they are now. Others will, it is true, be slightly slower. But as far as central London is concerned, we are talking about extra journey times of generally a minute or a minute and a half extra at peak hour in a sample 35 minute journey time as the absolute maximum. This is hardly the stuff of meltdown and gridlock.

What's more, as TfL points out, this scheme very deliberately goes along routes where there will be minimal impact on buses (there are no bus routes on most of the length of the scheme) and very little impact on car parking (there is hardly any car parking along the Embankment). You can't accuse TfL of doing this in a rush. It is clearly chosing the East-West route to minimise obstructions to other users.

On most of the routes in central London, the traffic impacts are minimal. On the core stretch between Tower Bridge and Parliament Square, the extra journey time in the morning rush hour will be a whopping 19 seconds.

Elephant & Castle to Farringdon Station by car would take 41 seconds longer than now in the morning peak. In the evening, to be fair, it would be quite a bit slower (4 minutes longer) but the majority of traffic is flowing south at this time and this journey would increase by only two minutes. I don't think this is the stuff of gridlock. It is what you have to accept if you want people to be able to cross the road safely and to get them on their bikes.

That said, there is one big issue and that is in east London on the A13 approach. TfL points out that "road space would remain the same as now but westbound traffic will be held longer at various points to control the flow on to Tower Hill and Upper Thames Street". This could mean delays of up to 16 minutes. That clearly doesn't make sense. And so it's not surprising that the Mayor has asked TfL to review this part of the scheme again and get those numbers down. That's the point of a consultation. It brings this stuff out and gives TfL and the Mayor a chance to improve the designs. Let's trust them to do that. It's in everyone's interests.

It is also important to raise one other issue which TfL has been pretty bad at explaining. That is that the traffic projections that have been published today show the results of a total of 19 different major schemes on London's roads, not just the impact of the cycle highways themselves. What the projections are showing is what the roads will look like when the cycle schemes have been built, ie once all sorts of other schemes have also come into effect, not just the cycle highways. One of those schemes is the new Haymarket in Westminster. Westminster council has removed traffic lanes on the roads around here and replaced them with pavements. This doesn't help traffic or cycling in any way. I don't hear Canary Wharf Group or anyone else complaining to Westminster Council about the knock-on effect of daft road narrowing programme in the West End.

c) It will cause delays for pedestrians. Yup, that's true. At a handful of sites on the east-west highway, it will take nine seconds longer to wait for a green man east-west and possibly 24 seconds north-south. Now, bear in mind, that big chunks of the north south route currently lack formal pedestrian crossings in the first place, in particular for the 10s of thousands of people who walk over Blackfriars to Waterloo and have to play hopscotch with the cars to cross Stamford Street. That junction will get a pedestrian crossing for the first time ever, which is sorely overdue. In fact, the pedestrian crossing which the City of London was happy to have ripped out across New Bridge Street (north side of Blackfriars Bridge) will also be replaced. This is a hugely busy desire lane. Should motor vehicles have fractionally slower journeys so that people can cross the road? Yes, they should.

The critics are completely blind to the many benefits for pedestrians in these schemes. In total, there will be 25 improved (shorter) corssings on the east-west route, four crossings will be changed from two-stage (requiring pedestrians to wait in the middle of the road) to one-stage to allow pedestrians to cross entirely in one movement. On the East - West route, there will be a further 14 new traffic light controlled crossings for pedestrians and there will be over 4,000sq metres of new pavement. On the North - South route, 10 new pedestrian crossings.

There are some other very significant benefits for pedestrians:

A new traffic-free pedestrian boulevard on Horse Guards Road, removing a barrier between Whitehall / Horse Guards Parade and St James’s Park.

At long last, proper pedestrian access to Parliament Square (currently only one access point)

Getting rid of horrible shared cycle/pedestrian crossings that cause conflict at Constitution Hill

Sorting out the ridiculous traffic island at Westminster station where tourists spill into the carriageway pretty much all day, every day.

And as I've already mentioned, the installation of safe crossings just south and north of Blackfriars Bridge where thousands of people are forced to run across the road at the moment.

c) "Reducing road capacity could potentially hold back growth in the east of London". Err, this scheme is about boosting growth in east London. As Knight Frank stated in its report yesterday, the growth of cycling to date "can only benefit the growing markets around Shoreditch and Hackney as they expand to the east".

d) There are lots of claims bandying about that "TfL did not consult on the details of the scheme with any relevant major organisation or transport organisation". Sorry. Complete rubbish. Writing in the Standard, Andrew Gilligan points out the scheme was discussed over 25 times with the City of London. I was at a public meeting with TfL and the City of London plus several employers weeks before the consultation went public where the super highways were discussed (with supporting nods from the City, in fact). This has been known about, talked about, vision documents shared, images shared, press comment made for well over a year. My understanding from other big organisations is that TfL did consult with the Freight Trade Association and with some very large property owners and businesses. In other words, anyone who makes this claim is lying.

e) The document demands a "business case" and"economic impact assessment". Right ho. So TfL is now supposed to be an economic forecasting agency as well, is it? Nope.

f) Bus journeys. Now, tellingly, this press briefing doesn't seem to care much about bus users. It hardly mentions the buses, which suggests to me that the sponsors of this report don't actually care about workers who use buses.

Very broadly, the impact on bus users along the east to west route is almost non-existent. North to south is slightly different. One route will see increases of up to seven minutes (along its entire journey, ie from the very start of the route to the end) in the evening peak. Other routes, however, will be 1-2 minutes faster. That longer delayed route is the 45 which travels from St Pancras to Streatham. Seven minutes sounds a lot and doesn't look great but it is seven minutes over a pretty long distance.

What is worth pointing out as well is that the forecasts don't include a whole a host of initiatives that are going to be added to minimise these delays. So, bus traffic lights will be introduced. They aren't factored into the forecasts but will help speed things up. Proper, forceful traffic policing will take place on the route, so no more vans blocking a whole carriageway for 20 minutes. The forecasts assume traffic patterns will stay flat on current flows. In fact, they've been falling every year for a decade, so it's safe to assume there will actually be less, and therefore faster traffic flows in the future.

On a personal note, I'd like not to see delays to bus travel times. I note that when the Cycle Super Highway 2 was brought to Stratford, TfL predicted longer journeys of around two minutes. My understanding is that in reality that hasn't happened. The extra journey times have been in seconds, not minutes.

In summary 

There are plenty of other statements in this briefing that are simply false. The document smacks of an organisation that wants to bully London to do things its way. But what is very clear is that the document has gone to people with influence and with access to the media who are already starting to quote bits of it to the press and in my opinion this briefing note is all about scaring Londoners to think the Cycle Super Highway will kill off London's businesses, close down central London's streets and be a disaster for pedestrians. None of this is true. In fact, in most scenarios, the opposite is pretty much the case.

What is also interesting is that a lot of other businesses just don't seem to see things the same way. Several other large real estate players have already come out on record in support of the scheme. My understanding is that several more CEOs are poised to do the same.

What is good is that the Mayor is asking TfL to review elements of the scheme. I do see why people would have genuine concerns with the traffic projections in some parts of east London. And those need reviewing and sorting out. What they don't need though is the battle force of corporate heavyweights ramming this scheme into oblivion based on misinformation and subjective opinion.

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