Tuesday, 7 June 2011

TfL won't release any data to support today's Conservative claims that 20mph will cause congestion on Blackfriars. Are the Tories being sold up the river by TfL?

Blackfriars northern junction. How a normal
city might design this space to give 'equality' to
pedestrians, cycles and motor vehicles.
And in that order
Earlier, I wrote about how three Conservative Assembly Members are stating that 20 mph should not be retained on Blackfriars Bridge. All three letters that I have seen from Conservative Assembly Members parrot the same wording "the key is to ensure a balance for all road users" and then refer to 20mph or safer cycle or pedestrian crossings creating a threat to 'traffic flow'.

This is very similar wording to TfL's new head of surface transport who justifies how TfL can't make conditions better for cycling or walking because it has a 'duty' to give equal priority to all users:

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. 

My understanding is that TfL's obligation under the Traffic Management Act 2004 is to: Ensure the expeditious movement of traffic on its own road network; and Facilitate the expeditious movement of traffic on the networks of others

What I am beginning to feel is that TfL and the London Conservative Assembly Members may be re-intepreting the Traffic Act and talking about 'traffic' as exclusively motorised traffic. Which is odd, really. Because as Mr Daniels states, the Traffic Management Act is very clear that TfL's obligation is to create an efficient network for everyone, including pedestrians. In fact, the Act states very clearly that “traffic” includes pedestrians.

Furthermore, TfL's own guidance on its obligations under the Act states that:

"Where the volume of cyclists exceeds approximately 20% of the traffic volume on any one approach they may have a disproportional effect on modelling results and their influence may need further attention. For this reason it is encouraged to ensure classified traffic surveys explicitly include cyclists."

In the morning and afternoon peaks, 37% of vehicles on the Blackfriars junction are people on cycles. So, let's see if TfL has ensured that it has taken those cyclist flows into account, as its own obligations insist it must:

First attempt to see if TfL has included cycling in its modelling for Blackfriars junction was a Freedom of Information request in March:

"TfL is not obliged to supply this information to you.......TfL recognises the need for openness and transparency but considers that the public interest favours maintaining this exception as disclosure of incomplete modeling work could give a false impression of the impacts of the scheme. TfL considers that the public interest is better served by allowing TfL to complete and audit the modelling in line with changes made to the scheme."

Only yesterday a TfL information officer told one of my colleagues that "the safety audit should be fully signed off by the end of the week. Discussions are ongoing with Signals regarding the modelling". In other words, it seems the modelling for cycling and pedestrians still hasn't been done. If that's the case, then claims by London's Conservative Assembly Members about the potential down-sides of retaining 20mph on Blackfriars are based on complete and utter fiction.

But let's just be sure about this:

Second, third and fourth attemps to see if TfL has included cycling or walking in its models for Blackfriars junction were questions posed to the Mayor by Assembly Members that relate to cycling and Blackfriars Bridge at Mayor's Question Time sessions and which were not answered at the time:

Question by Valerie Shawcross

‘The number of bicycle casualties occurring on the Thames Crossings has continued to rise under this administration. Can the Mayor please provide an update on its work with the DfT on performance led innovation at traffic signals? Does the Mayor feel that an advanced green phase for cyclists on the Thames Bridges would provide a safer environment for those crossing the river, for example by giving cyclists the time needed to cross several lanes of traffic?’

Answer by Boris Johnson

Officers are drafting a response which will be sent shortly.

Question by Valerie Shawcross

There is a 20mph limit on Tower Bridge. Will the Mayor consider imposing a limit of 20mph on other river crossings such as Blackfriars Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge?

Answer by Boris Johnson

Officers are drafting a response which will be sent shortly.

So, Transport for London won't release information about whether or not it included cyclists or pedestrians in the models for Blackfriars junction. Then TfL fails to give the Mayor answers to three fairly straightforward written questions at Mayor's Question time about whether or not they have looked at their own easily accessible data about cycle volumes over central London's bridges.

Is it me, or is something fishy going on? We have three Conservative Assembly Members all on record saying it is "important to ensure that all traffic flows at a reasonable rate. My fear is that creating a 20mph zone would run the risk of causing excessive congestion on this busy crossing" but TfL either doesn't have or won't supply any data to either prove or disprove this point. In other words, the Conservatives in the London Assembly are being asked to defend a political decision about Blackfriars that seems to have no factual or statistical backing. At least, not using statistics that can be made public.

You can't help but feel that TfL's first and second schemes for this junction simply try to shove cycling in as an after-thought. And it certainly doesn't feel to me like TfL is creating the safest, most efficient scheme that specifically takes into account the high cycle volumes here and builds a scheme around them, rather than exclusively around for motor vehicles.

As one cyclist put it to me, could this be a case where TfL does what it likes, when it likes, and then uses legislation to protect itself from scrutiny? And if that is the case, why are the London Assembly Conservatives proposing to back something at tomorrow's London Assembly motion on Blackfriars when TfL won't release information about that modelling to the public at large?

(As a follow-up, you might want to see almost exactly the same policies in action over in Richmond where local cyclists and pedestrians say: "We think it’s disgraceful that people, cyclists and pedestrians, are brought to the edge of a busy road and given no help to cross by TfL: why not?" Sound familiar?)


  1. Just to add to your points regarding TfL's interpretation of their 'network management duty'. The official Dft guidance on this is very clear that the duty to maintain 'traffic' (not 'vehicle') flow does NOT take precedence over issues such as road safety or the promotion of cycling. It states:

    "The overall aim of the “expeditious movement of traffic” implies a network that is working efficiently without unnecessary delay to those travelling on it. But the duty is also qualified in terms of practicability and other responsibilities of the authority. This means that the duty is placed alongside all the other things that an authority has to consider, and it does not take precedence. So, for example, securing the expeditious movement of vehicles should not be at the expense of an authority’s road safety objectives... For example, measures to secure the expeditious movement of traffic should always be safe for all road users, particularly pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists".

    So TfL seem to think they have a duty to put vehicle flow first, but the government's own official guidance makes it crystal clear that they do not.

    The Network Management Duty guidance can be found here, under 'Archived content': http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roads/tpm/tmaportal/tmafeatures/tmapart2/

  2. 'Equal Priority' is surely a class 5* oxymoron.

    Of course this may be indicative of the logic inherent in London's transport policy.

  3. @Jim: that's an interesting point. Giving TfL the benefit of the doubt that would mean the suggested new design really is safe as far as TfL knows based on their modelling and experience. Not a very comforting thought.

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