Monday, 6 June 2011

TfL is the enemy part 2: In 1982, the House of Lords debate on congestion. Only way to ease congestion is to make motoring disagreeable. Lesson for TfL?

Yesterday I profiled what Transport for London, on behalf of Leon Daniels, Head of Surface Transport has to say about cycling and walking at the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge.

I'm continuing to review parts of Leon Daniels's response. It is extremely revealing to see what the man responsible for London's road transport is happy to put his name to.

Continuing with Mr Daniels's letter:

" As you know the junction is extremely complex....As the responsible highway authority Transport for London (TfL) has a ‘Network Management Duty’, as defined by the Traffic Management Act 2004, to ensure all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, bus passengers and general traffic, have equal priority in using the road network. In this case, our challenge has been to develop a scheme that will accommodate a significant increase in demand from pedestrians at the new station, but without impacting negatively on conditions for other road users, including cyclists, bus passengers and general traffic."

I've mentioned again and again just how evil I think 'equal priority' in using the road network is when it comes to facts on the ground. Caroline Pidgeon, LibDem London Assembly Member and Vice Chair of the Transport Committee said it better than me: She is quite clear that claims such as Leon Daniel's statement that TfL is interested in 'equal priority' for all road users actually translates into the following on the ground: [Tfl] favours smoothing the traffic flow for motorists and worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

I think Caroline Pidgeon is absolutely right. In the case of Transport for London, it's a jungle out there. The bigger and faster you are, the more your needs are taken into account.

As War on the Motorist puts it:

When transport bureaucrats say things like “there is not the capacity to give all road users the space and facilities that they would like“, that means that there is a decision to be made about which road users get the space. Remember: that is a political decision. Technocrats in highways departments can model the options and make suggestions, but it is not for them to dictate what gets built.

Let's just be clear about this.

Boris Johnson has allowed his transport bureaucrats to pursue two agendas. First, the cycling revolution - a project that sees investment in cycling decreasing against its already pitiful historical levels and 'smoothing the traffic flow' which TfL describes as less stop-start traffic, more predictable journey times and fewer obstacles for pedestrians. It is important to note that smoothing traffic flow is not about reducing journey times, but about better journey time predictability and reliability.

Except it just doesn't feel like that in reality. This blog post shows TfL's own data which reveals how London's new pedestrian countdown system "reduces the amount of time pedestrians have to cross the road, bullies them while they do it, and actually increases their risk". Why are they doing this? "TfL are pushing a project to decrease vehicle delays at the expense of pedestrian safety".

I think it's time TfL started calling a spade a spade. It's obvious to anyone who walks or cycles in London more than they sit in a motor vehicle that motor vehicle convenience is being prioritised over walking and cycling. Caroline Pidgeon is 100% right in her assertion that TfL is worsening conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

Back in 1982, The Earl of Avon reviewed the then Greater London Council's new 'spilt-cycle offset optimisation technique system'. To you and I, that means traffic light sequencing. At least he was honest enough to say what the new traffic light configuration meant:

"The GLC's decision to make a substantial investment in the [system] is to be welcomed, and it is hoped that it may lead to significant improvements in traffic speeds in the central area."

In 1982, London's then transport bureaucrats were trying to increase motor vehicle speeds by fiddling around with traffic light sequences. They're doing exactly the same now but in my view, they're hiding it under the concept of 'smoothing the traffic flow'. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work in 1982. And I suspect it's unlikely to work in 2011.

However, my hat goes to Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge for his foresight in realising that the GLC's traffic light magicking wouldn't work any more than TfL's smoothing the traffic flow isn't going to work: "When it comes to too many cars and solo drivers, there is only one way to deal with that; namely, to make motoring short distances in London so disagreeable and expensive that people stop doing it."

I feel that our transport authority doesn't want to make motoring disagreeable. I believe it wants to do everything in its power to encourage convenient motoring. And I don't believe our Mayor's strategy of a cycling revolution has any bite whatsover when it has tiny amounts of funding versus a transport hegemony that is still, after 30 years of failure, trying to speed motor traffic through central London.


  1. Good post! I think everyone agrees that a change in thinking has to happen. And it will have to happen, let's just hope within out lifetimes :)

  2. good post, ironically driving in London is already very slow and inconvenient (in a car you spend more time sat at red lights than actually making progress) but for most people cycling is even worse... the computer in my car reads 13 mph average speed around London. The trip computer on by bicycle is not much less varying a bit more between 10 and 12 mph. By bike I know how long a journey will take, its nice to ride (some trips) but cycling in traffic in London is not nice, it is horrible. Close overtakes, inconsiderate passes, speeding cars, cars parked all over the few so called cycle lanes. Buses pulling out, pulling in. Other cyclists undertaking, jumping light, blocking the ASL.

    Give us wide separate lanes like the Danes have done at the least...

  3. There is a big problem with this "Network Management Duty, as defined by the Traffic Management Act 2004". TfL and some other authorities are interpreting it as the law telling them, essentially, to prioritise traffic flow over safety of vulnerable road users. I'm sure this was not the intention of Parliament in passing this act. Perhaps a test court case is needed, taken out by the Cyclists' Defence Fund?

  4. @David Arditti. I think you may be right. It feels like there are two camps at TfL. And the surface transport camp seems to be setting the agenda here/has the money I'm not sure which but, yes, it is riding roughshod, I think.