Sunday, 16 January 2011

Southwark's transport plan is miles better than the City's. Help encourage the City to realise where it's going wrong

Southwark Councillor Hargrove.
Can you come and rescue
the Square Mile please?
 The more I read the City of London transport plan, the more I think it's a complete fudge. And when I compare it with other boroughs, even more so.

Over in Southwark, home of the busy Southwark Cyclists group, the council is also consulting on its borough transport plan. You can download the whole document here.

One interesting feature in the Southwark transport plan, which has traditionally been a more cycle-friendly council than the City of London, is the way that it talks about road casualties.

In Southwark, the number of people killed and seriously injured on the roads has been decreasing for a number of years (while increasing in the City of London). However, since 2005, the number of slight injuries has been rising among cyclists while it decreases among other road users generally.

Southwark is aiming to do something about the fact that more and more cyclists are being injured on its streets. And one interesting thing stands out loud and clear in Southwark's response: Half of all road casualties occur on Transport for London's trunk road network (ie the bit managed directly by Boris Johnson rather than the boroughs. In fact the boroughs have very little say about these roads). So, 50% of road casualties are occurring on 5% of the capital's roads. You can see a map of those TfL trunk roads here.

And there's some definite pass the buck going on between Southwark and Transport for London. You see, in order to get money for its transport plans, Southwark (in the same way as the other London boroughs, including the City of London) has to achieve the following to keep the Mayor and TfL  happy:

Objective 1: Manage demand for travel and increase sustainable transport capacity
Objective 2: Encourage sustainable travel choices
Objective 3: Ensure the transport system helps people to achieve their economic and social potential
Objective 4: Improve the health and wellbeing of all by making the borough a better place
Objective 5: Ensure the transport network is safe and secure for all and improve perceptions of safety
Objective 6: Improve travel opportunities and maximise independence for all
Objective 7: Ensure that the quality, efficiency and reliability of the highway network is maintained
Objective 8: Reduce the impact of transport on Southwark’s air quality
Objective 9: Reduce transport’s contribution to climate change

And here's the nub. Getting more people on bicycles and out of other motor vehicles would pretty much help all of these objectives. 52% of Southwark households don't have access to a car. Bike lanes would help objectives 3 and 4 in that case. I don't need to explain that cycling would help objectives 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9 just by using a bike rather than some motorised transport alternative.

But there's a nasty trick lurking in these objectives. And that is objective 7, to 'ensure that the quality, efficiency and reliability of the highway network is maintained'. Dig a little deeper into what the Mayor is asking Southwark to do here, and you'll see that one of the key objectives of this objective is to "smooth traffic flow".

What does "smoothing the traffic flow" mean, you ask?

Smoothing traffic flow is detailed in this document here. What it consists of is finding technical solutions to allow motor vehicles to avoid congestion. Just remember, that means motor vehicles. Bicycles are vehicles too. But there's nothing about smoothing the flow for bicycles. It's about things like removing traffic signals or rephasing them. And it's entirely about moving motor vehicles around the system as efficiently (ie as rapidly) as possible.

So, good on Southwark for saying this about the Mayor's insistence that the borough should smooth traffic flow:

"We will work with TfL to help smooth traffic across all modes, provided this can be achieved without disadvantaging vulnerable road users...We will support the removal of traffic signals where they are shown to be unnecessary, but at the same time resist any measures that have a negative impact on pedestrians."

And then even better of Southwark for reminding the Mayor that the concept of smoothing traffic flow is entirely at odds with all the other objectives he's trying to achieve. If you read between the lines in the statement below, what Southwark seems to be implying is something like: "Mr Mayor, you want fewer motor vehicles, you want sustainable transport, you want to encourage cycling and walking. But your insistence on smoothing traffic flow runs completely counter to all of those objectives". Here's what Southwark has to say:

"There is a risk that improved traffic flow and greater reliability of motorised modes may increase this mode share and therefore reduce cycling levels. This will be combated by prioritising cycling (as shown in our hierarchy) above all other modes in scheme design."

In other words, Southwark is sticking up for making cycling safer versus increasing motor vehicle speeds, which run directly counter to making cycling safer. And it is undertaking to prioritise cycling. Prioritising cycling is exactly what Paris is doing if you look here. Paris wants it to be easy to cycle around the city, harder to use a motor vehicle. Southwark is hinting at the same.

Let's just compare Southwark's statement about prioritising cycling with the City of London's transport plan:
The City of London intends that its streets are safe and accessible for all road users, engender considerate behaviour, function efficiently, feature exemplary design and maintenance and, where practicable,meet the needs of all of the City’s communities. There is however not the capacity to give all road users the space and facilities that they may want

In other words, Southwark is undertaking to give priority to cycling even if if that means a conflict with the Mayor's stated aim of improving traffic flow and retaining high motor vehicle speeds. Whereas, the Square Mile is undertaking to leave things pretty much as they are and not give space or facilities to different types of road users (read people on bicycles perhaps). In fact, the City of London plan specifically undertakes to ensure there will be "no increase in average journey times...for journeys by car drivers on key routes around and across the City"

And just to bang the point home, the City of London even goes as far as to specifically state that any provisions made for people on bicycles, will be made half-hearted. Just review these weasel-words:

"...the City Corporation concurs with the Mayor that there is a need to maintain a particular focus on improvements for this key mode of travel (cycling). Projects implemented within the cycling revolution programme will nevertheless be designed with the needs of all road users in mind".

So there you have it. Southwark is choosing to prioritise travel by foot and by bicycle. It is quietly and diplomatcially rejecting the idea that roads should be places for cars to move at speed with no hold-ups.

The City of London is underlining that although it would like to see more bicycles on its streets, it is not going to prioritise bicycling, it is not going to do anything to slow motor speeds (specifically it states motor car speeds) on key routes and it bangs home the point by stressing a lack of space (which isn't true, read more here or here or even here) and literally covers its transport plan with caveats that will ensure cycling is suppressed and motor vehicles retain priority.

If you think this sounds like a half-hearted strategy, then you can help by writing in and commenting on the City's plans.

You can use our template letter here but far better if you have 30 minutes to spend some time preparing your own response to the City's transport plan and sending it to the same people listed on the template. You can borrow any of the points raised above or have a look also at these two articles for further background, here and here.


  1. Does this perhaps give some clues as to why the published LIP has deleted this section from the draft submitted to the City Planning & Transport and Policy & Resources committees concerning average traffic speeds in the City?

    "1.7 Motor vehicle traffic speeds in the City experienced a significant increase following the introduction of the congestion charging scheme in 2003, but immediately recommenced their general decline thereafter. However, a low of 11.5 miles per hour was reached in 2007 and speeds have slightly, but continuously, increased since then, which is the first sustained increase in motor vehicle traffic speeds in the City recorded since consistent surveying was introduced in the mid 1990s."

    In other words, average speeds are improving so there is no obvious need to "smooth traffic flows" as proposed?

  2. @Paul M

    "Smoothing traffic" isn't just about improving speeds. It's about improving reliability, as well as other measures, such as the amount of time spent stop-starting (and hence increased air pollution).

    I suppose the paragraph was cut as no-one yet knows the effects from the WEZ removal. Or how much of the speed changes are due to capacity constraints.

    I think the capacity constraints are the City's biggest concerns.

    I note that Southwark states their "emphasis will be placed on developing people's skills over that of providing infrastructure" (Transport Strategy, 2010, page 44).

  3. "emphasis will be placed on developing people's skills over that of providing infrastructure"

    Does this apply to other modes of transport as often as it does to cycling? I know there are efforts at improving other road user's skills, but I doubt a council would use the "Green Cross Code" as an excuse for not providing a pedestrian crossing on a major road. Likewise, drivers should know how to turn right, but that hasn't stopped councils from closing gaps in the central reservations of rural dual carriagways.

    Clearly some cyclists need to improve their skills though...