Wednesday, 8 June 2011

ITV news report. Did Transport for London really just say that? Implies that it's fine for cars to speed through pedestrian and cycle crossings so long as it's not in rush-hour

ITV's London Tonight had an excellent and well-balanced piece about Blackfriars Bridge on its evening broadcast last night. The clip is here on ITV's site.

One interesting point was made by Ben Plowden, Transport for London's Director of Integrated Programme Delivery. What Ben Plowden implied was that speed isn't an issue on the bridge. His words were "the design means that in the rush hour...traffic will be at or below 20mph anyway."

A few thoughts spring to mind:

There's a school at the northern end of this bridge. So, if a 14 year old wants to cycle over the bridge on the way home from school, by Mr Plowden's logic, then the speed of motor traffic here 'isn't an issue' because it's outside commuter times. 19% of school children in the borough of Southwark, on the south side of this bridge want to cycle to school and state it's their number one preference. But they don't Mr Plowden, because TfL only designs a very limited number of (I think very poor) cycling facilities for young, fit, healthy adults who can keep up to speed with motor cars.

What he doesn't say in this clip is that TfL is actually adding lanes for motor vehicles. So, if you're a cyclist, you have to leg it across multiple lanes of traffic to turn through this junction. Which is exactly how Dr Clare Gerada - - tyre marks now showing on her legs -  got knocked off her bike last week thereby putting a local GP, who happens to also be chair of council at the Royal College of General Practitioners out of action for several months. Under TfL's new plans, there will actually be one ADDITIONAL lane added here for motor vehicles, making it even more dangerous.

Oh, and then there's the question of speed. TfL's own road safety unit recommended that the bridge be made a 20mph zone across its entire length. Why might they have said that? Well, it's because in the evenings, traffic whacks across this bridge at way, way over the 30mph speed limit on two, soon to be three, lanes of traffic. Great for trying to turn right on your bike if you want to cycle towards Waterloo heading south, or into the City heading north. A really easy, safe manoeuvre.

I know this all sounds like it's about cycling. But it's not. Some of the pedestrian crossings are going as well. And if you think the pedestrian crossings on the south side of the bridge aren't much good, then that's because everything here links back to TfL's models for transport flows. The reason you get shoved into a very narrow cattle grid when you want to cross the road on the south side of the bridge or the reason you don't actually have any pedestrian traffic lights at all at the junction with Stamford Street are all to do with those traffic flow models.

It feels to me like there's something very fishy going on with those models. But whatever it is, the reality on the ground is that the models clearly result in fast motor traffic flow at the expense of safe or convenient crossings for pedestrians and cyclists. And if you think that's a good way to design the centre of a city where most people are cycling and walking, then you'd have to disagree with me and agree instead with Mr Plowden in this ITV video instead.

I know the LibDems aren't very popular right now but Caroline Pidgeon, vice chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee put it perfectly:

"[TfLfavours smoothing the traffic flow for motorists and worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists." Her words, not mine.


  1. Did I hear Plowden right?

    "The design of the junction means that in the rush hour - when most cyclists go through the junction - traffic will be at or below 20 mph anyway."

    I don't think it's "the design", is it? It's just the volume of motor traffic. A bit disingenuous.

  2. I think it's crazy that someone from TFL said that! It pretty much sums up that most of the people in TFL are all about the motorist and not about the safety of vulnerable road users.

    But, there is still a problem of speeding as it is, even if there is a 20mph limit, without something like an average speed check camera, what is to stop a driver from speeding?

  3. The speed limit argument here seems to be focussing on the junction area, where the limit is currently 20. While the immediate demand is to retain the 20 limit where it stands, it goes further - extend it across the entire bridge both ways. This is supported by the Road Safety Unit which indicates an economic benefit (in reduced casualties loss of earnings, hospital bills etc) more than compensating any economic cost. Even in rush-hour, it is common to see vehicles pointlessly racing at well over 20, quite often well over 30, to be the first to join the back of the next queue even though no-one can overtake them anyway. So Plowden is doubly wrong.

  4. It's precisely that 'pointless racing' that makes such a strong argument for wider 20mph limits. Fast acceleration is dangerous for other road users as it's difficult to judge distances when a car is accelerating (for example, when turning right on a bike) and also creates lots of pollution (watch the exhaust of an accelerating vehicle).

  5. Southwark Bridge is so bloody short I don't think it will save (or lose) much time by going over it at 30mph vs. 20mph. By my rough estimate via Google Maps and their measure tool I'm getting the Bridge from the bank of the river on the south side to the junction on the north end as being 0.202734 miles!! The time lost/saved it going to be around 10 seconds if even that if down at each of those speeds. It ludicrous that such a short span of time is obviously more important to TFL then ensuring the safety of the most vulnerable road users. Oh but then again we are in a country with a "war on the motorists" so heaven forbid we upset them.....