Sunday, 12 June 2011

Elephant & Castle is the latest TfL Blackfriars battle. Now TfL decides cars are more important than tube passengers as well as cyclists and pedestrians

Elephant & Castle: Woman cyclist crushed by HGV as she
turns left: Source Evening Standard
For some time, I've been writing about the evils of Transport for London's obsession with "smoothing the traffic flow" and how it marginalises people on cycles and pedestrians on London's roads in favour of smoother flowing motor traffic.

Many people have wondered why I'm so critical of the Mayor's agenda for 'smoothing the traffic flow'. Put quite simply it's because that agenda seems to over-ride all other concerns on London's roads. Two weeks ago, it lead the man in charge of London's roads to tell cyclists that there's no safety benefit in having a two metre bike lane and that 1.5 metres would do just fine. His statement flatly contradicts all international and UK government recommendations and even contradicts Transport for London's own guidelines. Frankly that statement was in direct contradiction of common sense as well. There's no way a cyclist can feel safe in a narrow strip next to two lanes of HGVs in equally narrow lanes. Leon Daniels should realise this.

One of the problems with talking about cycling infrastructure is that most Londoners don't cycle. So it's tough to explain to most Londoners what the impact of 'smoothing the traffic flow' means to them. Unless you've tried cycling through some of the dangerous schemes that TfL is designing and unless you've seen first-hand how the 'smoothing the traffic flow' agenda consistently makes conditions more dangerous and less convenient for cycling, you might well think, oh well, it's fine, there aren't that many cyclists and why does it matter?

Well believe it or not, 'smoothing the traffic flow' matters to people who use the tube too.

Last week, Transport for London told Southwark Council it was blocking plans to create a public square at the north side of Elephant & Castle. The reason, according to Eleanor Kelly, deputy chief executive of the Council "[TfL] can't allow that [square] because it would interfere with the traffic flow too greatly". According to LondonMoving blog, Southwark's director of regeneration: "Even within the TfL family there are competing views as to what the transport priorities should be at Elephant & Castle". 

My opinion is that TfL knows exactly what its transport priorities are and they are the motor vehicle above all other types of transport. That includes the tube, the buses, cycling and walking.

Elephant & Castle tube station is busy and about to get busier if the Northern Line extension to Battersea goes ahead. TfL's tube people think that the station needs escalators (rather than the current lifts) to manage the flow of people using the tube station properly That means taking a bit of space away from motor vehicles on the northern roundabout, so that there's enough room for the escalators at ground level. But TfL's road people evidently think that fast flowing motor vehicle speeds are more important than the flow of people. They are saying that, if the tube station escalators and the civic square are installed, that will take away too much space from motor vehicles. Elephant used to be a major nightlife spot. My nan still talks about how she used to love coming here as a young adult. But now it's a motorway roundabout. And TfL's road people want to keep it that way.

This is exactly the same situation as Blackfriars. At Blackfriars, cyclists and pedestrians are being fed a drip drip mantra about how creating safer cycling and pedestrian facilities would have a negative effect on smoothing the traffic flow. TfL's first plans for the bridge made conditions for cycling considerably worse than they are at the moment and used the excuse that there simply wasn't room to give cyclists a safe way through this junction because it would impede the smooth flow of the traffic.

It took nearly 600 people to write to TfL for our traffic bureaucrats to actually work out whether their smoothing the traffic flow agenda was right or not: "We explored [only after considerable media coverage] whether it would be possible to retain the southbound cycle lane without causing significant congestion, and...[now] believe that we could do so".

From the perspective of the average Londoner, it's beginning to feel that Transport for London may be interpreting its obligations to keep London moving solely in favour of fast-moving motor traffic. This is very much the Mayor's agenda. My own view is that TfL's road bureaucrats may be interpreting their powers in a way that is not entirely legal. Their obligation is to make London's roads safe and convenient for all road users. My opinion is that TfL makes the roads convenient for motor traffic and then tries to shove some last minute safety compromises into those schemes where enough people protest. What a mature transport authority should be doing, of course, is treating road junctions in a way that recognises the way all sorts of people use that space, whether they're in a motor vehicle, on foot or on bicycle and to build schemes that make cycling, walking or using the tube just as convenient as driving a car. Not less convenient.

Blackfriars and, now Elephant & Castle are about making car use more convenient and public transport, cycling and walking less convenient.

The facts on the ground are this. If you cycle, walk or use the underground, I think TfL's road surface team consider smooth-flowing motor vehicles more important than you. And I believe Mayor is giving his transport authority complete freedom on this issue. Is it time that all sorts of Londoners started to make the Mayor realise enough is enough?

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