Thursday, 29 September 2011

Boris Johnson - doing nothing for London's transport. Doing even less for cycling. Why I'll be at Blackfriars Wed 12th October after work. I hope you'll join us.

Boris Johnson's so-called cycling revolution in action
This picture pretty much sums up why I don't think the Mayor's Cycling Revolution adds up to anything much. Pictured left, the Cycle Super highway on Southwark Bridge as you enter the City of London.

It also sums up why I will be at the cycling Flashride on Blackfriars Bridge Wednesday 12 October at 5.45pm.

Click here for more details about the Flashride planned by the London Cycling Campaign for thousands of people in two weeks' time.

(Update on Friday morning: London Assembly Members Val Shawcross, John Biggs and Jenny Jones have all indicated they hope to join the Flashride. So now you have no excuse not to. I don't feel this should be party-political. But I do feel it is a political issue, after all every single Assembly Member voted that this scheme is a disgrace)

The Super Highways were supposed to be efficient routes for people to cycle and to feel they had some sort of safe space away from motor vehicles. Routes where there would be safe and sensible junction designs. Not routes where you have to leg it across several lanes of fast-moving motor traffic just to keep going. Then the Mayor realised that he wasn't really ready to deliver quality cycle infrastructure after all. So the wording got changed and the focus was switched to providing clear, signed routes for people to follow when they cycle. Lots of paint, lots of money. Little action.

Like so much of the transport policy of Boris Johnson, it feels like a lot of waffle and a lot of media-savvy soundbites. But not much happens on the ground. The Evening Standard wrote yesterday about the new Routemaster bus planned by the Mayor: "The bus was a key 2008 election promise of Mr Johnson's and is likely to be one of his few self-generated transport achievements in his four years as Mayor, alongside the introduction of Boris bikes."

I am not a huge Ken Livingstone fan. But he 'got' transport. You might not like some of what he achieved but he was fairly radical, investing hugely in London's buses, in the London Overground, implementing the congestion charge, the list goes on.

When I get around London, I have the overwhelming sense that Boris Johnson just doesn't care about transport very much. He's announced a cones hotline and he's announced a cable car. Oh, and he's going to try and glue pollution from exhaust pipes to the road. And stick up a 'green wall' on a tube station. Nothing that's really serious about sorting out London's transport issues.

Boris Johnson has two tranport policies: a 'cycling revolution' and 'smoothing the traffic flow'. The first, a feeble-funded exercise in splashing blue paint on the road. The second boils down to what officials within TfL call "getting traffic moving". Nowt wrong with that, you might think. And in theory it sounds great. Except what I feel has happened is that the Mayor has given TfL carte blanche to speed up the flow of motor vehicles through London and sod the consequences for everyone else, they're irrelevant. All that matters is faster journeys for people in motor vehicles.

No space for cycilng here, clearly....
In other words, if you cycle, the Mayor is saying sod off. People in motor vehicles deserve more priority than you. You will get only scraps of concessions in road schemes. The majority of households in London own one or more cycles. Hardly any of them get used. Know why? Most people are too aware of fast-moving juggernauts just inches from their shoulders to want to consider cycling here. Even if they do cycle, it tends to be to the office and back but not to the shops, in the evenings. The Mayor and his top officials at TfL don't, in my opinion, care to change that.

If you mainly walk around London, you can expect less time to cross the road and fewer pedestrian crossings as these are gradually removed. So, once again, the Mayor is saying sod off.

If you mainly take the bus, the officials I meet at TfL all confirm that funding for bus routes is cut, so you too can expect longer and less reliable journey times. Tube or rail? Should I mention fare rises?

Funny, though. If you look at traffic patterns on London's streets, you'll quite often see that  the number of taxis (and mincabs) is on the increase. And although overall car usage is on the decrease, the Mayor's over-riding strategy is all about getting those motor vehicles moving through London faster. But if you drive around London, you will (perhaps fairly) think the roads are full of road works, pavements are being widened and filled with blue cycle lanes (however ineffectual) and that you're bearing the brunt of the Mayor's road policies.

The Economist put it very politely a few months ago "Until London decides what it wants its roads to do, Mr Johnson’s measures will only offer limited lubrication."

I think the point is actually this. Boris Johnson has to decide what he wants London's roads to do. And to date, I think his priority has been to make London's roads faster, noisier, more dangerous places to be by prioritising the private motor vehicle at the expense of everyone else.

I first realised this when I became involved back in February in Transport for London's cloak and dagger approach to re-designing the junction at the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge. When, despite hundreds of letters, thousands of people protesting, London assembly members all voting on the issue and even the Mayor commenting that he realises the junction is dangerous, nothing has changed.

It feels to me that Transport for London is just ploughing on, junction by junction, street by street, turning London into a place designed exclusively around the private motor vehicle. Cars have a place. But in the centre of London, that place shouldn't be at the top of the tree.

It feels to me that Boris Johnson has decided what he wants London's roads to do. And that is to be fast-moving gutters filled with more and more motor vehicles. Even in the very centre of the City where there's little need for them.

I'm going to be at Blackfriars Bridge on my bicycle on Wednesday 12 October at 5.45pm. Not because I want to block the traffic. But because I am the traffic. And I want the Mayor to give me the same right to get around London by bicycle and on foot as he is giving to motor vehicles. I want him to stop faffing around with cable cars, pretty buses and green walls on tube stations. And focus instead on decent bus travel, decent tubes and rail and decent fares too. And frankly, fewer cars would be nice to see too. And I say that as a driver. Becuase it would make for easier driving too. That's simply not happening at the moment. And it's time that changed.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

'Sustainable travel' in London means spending lots of money to make car parking look prettier

Exhibition Road - £30million spent. Looks the same to me
Exhibition Road, in London's museum land is getting a nearly £30million makeover. "The crowded, narrow pavements and heavy traffic will go. In their place we will make an elegant kerb-free surface across the length and width of the road. Pedestrians will have more space and vehicles will be limited to 20mph."

Sounds stunning doesn't it?

This nice new shared space is yet another example to add to the list of greenwash coming out of the Mayor's transport plans. Yesterday, we had the proud declaration from the Mayor's Transport for London that 12 electric bicycles and a 'green wall' at Edgware Road tube station would trap harmful pollution. We had a cheap trick of a rap group being engaged to stop teenage deaths on London's roads. And then we discover that Exhibition Road is basically some expensive paving, a slower speed limit and, well, lots of cars, lots of car parking. Vive la difference. As the twitter feed of VoleOSpeed puts it "We are discovering that the new Ex Rd will be much the same as the old one, but with chequered paving, after £27m spent".

Cheapside. Cycle space reduced to a few centimetres
I cycled earlier today along two London roads that have been "street-scened". Vast amounts spent to make them nicer places to walk and cycle - Southwark Street and the Cut. Both have fancy, stylish pavements that sweep in and out, making the carriageway alternately wide, then narrow. Both had motor vehicles at a complete standstill. To proceed on a bike, you had to cycle down the middle of the carriageway, directly in the path of the oncoming traffic. Either that, or you end up with situations like this one on Cheapside in the City on the left, with a few centimetres between you and the motor vehicles.

This isn't just about cycling, to be honest. It's about the fact that our politicians are spending millions on designing roads that look nice. They don't actually work any better. In fact, for cycling, they are often considerably worse. But they look lovely.

Nesciobrug, Amsterdam.
Compare this with London
In the Netherlands, they spend money on infrastructure that helps people get to work or to friends or family more efficiently and more cheaply. More often than not, that means by bicycle. In London, the Mayor rejects a bicycle and walking bridge that would have helped tens of thousands of people cross the river and builds a cable car. It sounds amazing. It will get voters who don't live anywhere near the thing to think that the Mayor is adding value to London. But it's a vanity project that does little to help improve access for people to work across the river. In Holland, they just build the bleeding bridge and get on with it. No rap songs. No green walls. No ridiculously expensive but oh so attractive car parking spaces.

We seem to be in thrall to a cult of things that look nice and smell nice but don't actually do anything. It's pretty galling, when you come to think of it.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Mayor's TfL 'stealing from rail budget' for cable car after rejecting walking / cycling bridge

Thames cable car coming here
Let's face it. The cable car planned across the river Thames between the O2 and the Olympics is a something of a gimmick for tourists.

Last week, Tom Edwards of the BBC flagged that not only had the cost zoomed up towards the £60million mark but that the Mayor's Transport for London is funding the project from its rail budget. Get that? TfL is pushing up fares for most people on the trains in order to fund a tourist attraction. It's not just cyclists being stuffed by the Mayor's Transport for London, it seems.

Same cost would have built this instead
It took a canny cyclist from Southwark Cyclists to point out that the Mayor could instead have stuck with plans for something that would have been way more useful to people who live and work in London and actually need to get places. Namely, this. The Sustrans/TfL pedestrian and cycling bridge that was originally planned for a nearby crossing back in 2006.

"The proposed bridge started life as an Olympic Legacy vision, to connect planned greenways south of the Thames to the Olympic Park. However, it was increasingly apparent that an existing need for a north-south crossing to serve Canary Wharf had been identified....A bridge is therefore proposed to link the Rotherhithe Peninsula to the Isle of Dogs at Westferry Circus, providing the opportunity for commuters from south of the river to travel directly to the heart of this important business and financial district. The bridge would be the first Thames crossing to cater specifically to cyclists as well as pedestrians, and as such would make a landmark contribution to the Mayor’s sustainable transport goals."

Sounds amazing doesn't it? Something that could have worked for people north and south of the river, providing easy and quick access for tens of thousands. The Mayor could have gone ahead and built this. But he didn't. Instead, the Mayor is trying to get us excited about a gimmick that will weave a maximum 2,500 people across the river for a fee.

The cycling and walking bridge was estimated at £66 million to build. The gimmick will cost £60 million. So much for the Mayor's "contribution to  sustainable transport goals".

To read more about the scrapped bridge, look at this report by Sustrans, which suggests that over one million people would have used the bridge on foot each year and possibly as many as 1.5million people on bike. Makes the cable car feel like a real waste of money, doesn't it? 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Big business is starting to ditch cars in favour of bikes in central London

News reaches me from a colleague at one of the big four City accounting firms that the firm is adding a further 200 additional bike parking spaces in its  offices in the Square Mile.

Earlier this week, I reported how a property developer that owns some of the world's most iconic office buildings is asking the Mayor to sort out better conditions for people to walk and cycle. It's not doing this for altruistic reasons. Its letter to TfL is clear that this is about making it easier for people to walk or cycle to meetings rather than have to sit in taxis, going nowhere and belching fumes. The streets controlled by the Mayor in the City of London, it says, are not suitable for walking or cycling and they should be. 

So it's extremely encouraging to see the accounting firm Deloitte taking out car parking spaces in its offices in the Square Mile and adding yet more cycle parking spaces. From what I understand, the partners at Deloitte pay for parking spaces on an annual fee. Not only have they given up those spaces but the company has given up that income in order to provide extra space for people who cycle to work.

Makes me think I'd like to work at Deloitte, quite frankly. They join the ranks of a number of other City employers who are wholeheartedly embracing the fact that people want to get around London on foot or on cycles. Too bad that the Mayor's Transport for London is trying to do pretty much anything it can to stop them, in favour of more and faster motor vehicle traffic. 

By the way, if you have time, skip to minutes 3.40 and 3.59 in this video from the newly-launched Dutch Cycling Embassy. And just imagine that sort of thing ever happening in the UK. It's standard practice in all sorts of countries. Not here, though.

Cycling For Everyone from Dutch Cycling Embassy on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Global property developer asks TfL to sort out cycling and walking on central London roads and indicates that Mayor's current policies simply adding to congestion

Farringdon Street - seven lanes wide. None for cycling.
Credit: Crap Waltham Forest blog
In an article from 2010, Crap Waltham Forest blog pointed to Farringdon Street as a place where it would be perfectly feasible to build a segregated cycle track. The carriageway is seven lanes wide, two reserved for taxi parking, none devoted exclusively to cycling.

Unfortunately for most of us, Blackfriars Street is managed by the Mayor Boris Johnson through Transport for London, the capital's transport authority that loves speeding traffic flow through our streets as quickly and unpleasantly as possible.

There's an awful lot happening on Farringdon Street these days. For starters, several of the tower blocks have been demolished and new ones going up in their place. There's also the brand new Thameslink station and the Crossrail station under construction just to the right of this picture. And, of course, the scene pictured above is just minutes from Blackfriars Bridge.

So it's very interesting indeed to have the chance to see what one of the property developers responsible for the development of one of the new office blocks here has to say about Blackfriars Street. The property developer in question is no small fry, they're a very sizeable firm, owning several landmark properties around the world. I can promise, several of their properties are globally iconic landmarks you'll have heard of. The following is copied from a letter sent on behalf of the property's owner to TfL:

"We understand that the area in the a red route operated by TfL", says a letter sent on behalf of the property's owners. "Many cyclists find this red route an intimidating and unpleasant environment along which to cycle as the wider-than-average street and multiple lanes encourage drivers to drive at high speeds".

And then comes this: "We consider that a redesign of Farringdon Street is necessary to order to provide a more attractive cycle friendly environment".

And not only that, the letter also flags poor quality pedestrian crossings and points out that there is insufficient time for pedestrians to cross before traffic lights change and insufficient places for pedestrians to cross the road. Which is no surprise, frankly. Because TfL's policy under the Mayor is to shorten green phases for pedestrians and, in essence, as Cycle Of Futility points out "People are being designed out of London's streets".

So, it's rather heartening to see in writing that big business is beginning to have enough of Boris's election commitment to 'smooth the traffic flow'. Yes, a poll of London's businesses states that 57 per cent of London business leaders say that reducing disruption from roadworks should be a top priority for the next mayor. But it's starting to become apparent in all walks of life that people and businesses don't think that dealing with road works in isolation are the only way to go.

Here's a big global property owner putting its name to the fact that more people would like to walk and cycle but that TfL is preventing them from doing so. Thereby adding to the numbers of people using taxis during the day. In this particular case, one-third of business travel in this particular development is by taxi. This developer reckons that number would be far lower if people felt confident they could cycle safely to meetings on London's streets. Which implies this developer thinks the Mayor's policies are not creating safe spaces to cycle in and are directly adding to congestion. Therefore buggering up the Mayor's promise to rid the city of congestion.

I think it's very encouraging that a large City of London property developer is telling TfL that business wants to get around the city on foot and by bicycle but that business is being thwarted from doing so by TfL's policies. And that TfL's strategies are adding to congestion as a result.

As it happens, a very different sort of organisation is organising a protest on Blackfriars tomorrow morning. Protesting about this:

"In the eyes of TfL one car-user deserves and is given 5x the space of a cyclist or pedestrian. Every time TfL design a road or public space they put the needs of a life-endangering car above the needs of vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists.

It’s time their attitude changed. Our clogged up streets can’t carry this capacity any more.  People should be encouraged to leave their car at home, jump on their cycle or use public transport and walk."

The protest is tomorrow morning on Blackfriars Bridge at 8am starting from the south.

Interesting isn't it, that property developers and climate campaigners are both starting to say fairly similar sorts of things. Boris's plans to cut congestion aren't working. They're adding to congestion. And one of the key solutions, more people walking and cycling, are what people want. It would even benefit the people who want or have to drive.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

London's Cycle Super Highway - dismount and use the pavement

CS7 at Southwark Bridge Road. Dismount and use the pavement
Pictured left, the Cycle Super Highway route into the City of London this morning. The picture is taken at the junction of Southwark Bridge Road and Marshalsea Road.

The Super Highways are supposed to "improve cycling conditions for people who already commute by bike, and to encourage new cyclists".

So, once you've cycled over the grit and stones left all over the cycle lane by the contractors just before this picture, once you've dodged the several cars parked in the cycle lane this morning, you round the corner and see this. A sign telling you not only to dismount but to get off your bike and push it along the footpath. Cyclist number one pictured above clearly doesn't think much of that idea.

So, let's see what happens if you do obey the sign, get off your cycle and push it along the footpath.

But the pavement is using the road. Fabulous.
Well, then you come to this. No footpath! Cyclist number two ignores the signs.

You see cycling conditions like this all over the country every day. It's absolutely pathetic. We're incredibly capable of designing safe, well-thought through roads for motor vehicles. I simply don't understand how we fail at almost every turn when it comes to cycling. Even here, which is supposed to be the Mayor's flagship cycle route, taking people in to the Square Mile, we can't get it right.

If you're interested, have a look at how Transport for London (which is directly controlled by the Mayor) justifies its Cyclist Dismount sign on Blackfriars Bridge, the busiest cycling bridge in the city.

We might have a Mayor who talks a lot about cycling. But his message sure as hell doesn't seem to be getting through to his own transport people.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Mayor's attempt to speed up traffic using the traffic lights has a significant impact on everyone else. And it doesn't even work for drivers - in response to Dave Hill at The Guardian

Traffic lights at Cedars Road, Clapham Common

This weekend, Dave Hill at The Guardian posted an excellent piece about Boris Johnson's transport strategy. He talked about how the Mayor is prioritising the streets for more and more people to drive through and how the city is straining under that policy.

Dave Hill is one of the few mainstream journalists to successfully  have grasped the true nature of Boris Johnson's election commitment to 'smooth the traffic flow' and I urge you to read his article. 

At one point, Hill describes how the smoothing traffic flow policy means "a great deal of attention being lavished on traffic lights to no great effect".

I think there is one traffic light that exemplifies everything about the Mayor's obsession with pumping more motor vehicles, more rapidly through London's creaking infrastructure.

In 2009, Transport for London decided to change the traffic light sequence at Cedars Road where it meets Clapham Common. The offending lights are pictured above.

Cedars Road is a signed cycle route and people can cycle straight ahead over Clapham Common to head towards Wandsworth or south Lambeth.

At the time, TfL stated:

"The objective of the scheme is to reduce delays for left turners from the CedarsRoad approach to the junction by introducing a left turn filter phase that can fit within the existing signal staging. The primary driver of the scheme is reducing delays to the eastbound Route 345. However the proposal wouldbenefit all traffic on this approach equally."

The report went on to estimate the impact on cyclists and pedestrians. "Neutral impact on both," it declares. 

Sounds sensible, doesn't it? Fiddle around with some traffic lights and people on the bus can get through the lights faster. And, according to TfL, everyone's a winner because there's no impact on anyone else. 

Except, that's not strictly true. 

For starters, pedestrians get less time to cross Cedars Road because the signals are changed in favour of motor vehicle green phases and less time for pedestrians to cross the road. 

But for people on cycles, TfL has added an extra danger. The overwhelming majority of people cycling through this junction are heading directly ahead, over the Common. The design of the advanced stop box very clearly shows that you are supposed to cycle to the lights and enter the advanced stop line from the left hand side. In other words, the street is designed to make you think you should cycle into the advanced box and wait on the left hand side to continue straight on. But if you do that, you'll find the left-filter now turns green well before the lights to go straight on.

Net result: lots of motor drivers honking lots of people on cycles who are then surprised by drivers behind them trying to turn left directly through the space that is reserved for them. What's more, if you're on cycle, you can't see the left filter from the advanced stop box and there's no signage to warn you not to wait in the box where you would naturally think you should wait.

Transport for London has corresponded at length with Lambeth Cyclists about this junction. After some initial correspondence a Transport for London review did acknowledge that “the potential safety issue for cyclists as a result of this change must be addressed” and some very minor tweaks were made. But nothing that gets rid of the basic problem - Transport for London is adamant that the scheme is staying. 

All of this got me wondering: Why would TfL be so wedded to this particular traffic light scheme? The plan was to shave 11-19 seconds off bus journey times. Except TfL has apparently conceded in correspondence that the time saved by buses at this junction is - wait for it - a maximum of four seconds but probably as low as ONE SECOND.

In other words, Transport for London has:

a) made this junction less pedestrian-friendly by reducing pedestrian green phases
b) made this junction much more dangerous for cycling by adding the left filter
c) to save one second on average bus journey times

But there's also something massively revealing in the correspondence between the teams at Transport for London about this traffic light.

In September 2009, an FOI request reveals an internal email that points to what's really going on here: "this proposal could be seen as one that would help to 'get traffic moving'"says one TfL official to another.

TfL is supposed to regard traffic as meaning everyone on London's streets. It is supposed to make it safe and convenient for people to get around London by foot, by cycle and by motor vehicle. This traffic light works to save one second for the average bus journey at the cost of much longer journey times for pedestrians and more dangerous journeys for people who cycle.

Dave Hill is right to point out how the Mayor is obsessed by traffic lights. But he's not right to say that has  'no great effect'. It would be more accurate to say, the tinkering with traffic lights is being done to give the impression of faster journey times to motor drivers while creating significant new risk, slower journeys and more inconvenience to other road users.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge understood
what Boris Johnson hasn't yet worked out.
Traffic lights won't sort the congestion out.
Back in 1982, there was a debate about traffic lights in the House of Lords. 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."

The same thing is happening now. But it didn't work in the eighties. And it won't work now. 

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge was very clear in the same debate when 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."

In recognising that fact, Dave Hill, your article is completely spot on. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

TfL responds to Cyclist Dismount sign on Blackfriars revealing a cavernous difference in attitude to another London highway authority. No wonder cycling in London is so rubbish on the roads controlled by the Mayor

TfL tells cyclists to dismount on its roads. Where should
I go exactly? Should I walk down the middle of the road?
A few weeks ago I posted a piece headlined "TfL tells 36% of rush-hour traffic to dismount and walk at Blackfriars".

Here's a picture of the offending signpost.

The point of my article was pretty obvious to anyone to has ever used a cycle to get about on London's roads. The message was three-fold:

a) As the Department for Transport guidelines state quite clearly "Where access is permitted for motor vehicles, "Cyclist Dismount" signs should not be used. The hazards to cyclists at roadworks are rarely great enough to justify this measure. In any case, cyclists are likely to ignore such instructions."

b) Using simple common sense, if you dismount here, in the middle of the carriageway, where exactly are you supposed to go? Are you supposed to walk along the carriageway? 

c) I'm fed up of being treated with a complete lack of understanding by the Mayor's transport authority (TfL) on TfL roads, where it is increasingly obvious to me that TfL thinks that roads are infrastructure for motor vehicles alone. 

A reader of this blog sent an email to Transport for London asking why the signs are there in the first place. And the response is almost beyond belief. TfL's official response states that the message contained in my earlier blog post is incorrect. For the reason that the signs are not there at rush-hour, only between 10am-4pm. So, I stand corrected. If you are a person using a cycle, you are expected to dismount right here, in the middle of the road. But only between 10am-4pm. 

Compare and contrast. City of London tells motor users to
take responsibility

The wording of the sign is a bit odd but compare the City of London with Transport for London. The Square Mile has signs that seek to make drivers aware of their responsibilities behind the wheel.  

Transport for London's response is copied in full below. In my opinion, this couldn't be further from the common sense approach of the City of London if it tried. Rather than educate road users and ask them to treat each other with respect, the TfL response suggests that it is more interested in making pedantic points about when rush hour does or doesn't start and utterly fails to engage with any of the reasons why people who cycle do not deserve to be instructed to get off their cycles and push. 

These two signs reveal quite glaringly just how the TfL machine fails to get to grips with the people using its roads on cycles and how successfully other transport authorities are trying to engage with people who cycle. 


TfL response to Cyclist Dismount signs. Don't blame the individual. Blame TfL.

Date: Tue, 13 Sep 2011 16:03:53 +0100
From: TfL
Thank you for your email. We've investigated and I'm now in a position to reply. 
The information contained in the Cyclists in the City blog is incorrect - the signs requesting that cyclists dismount are present only from 10am
- 4pm.. You may recall that the very great majority of cyclists pass through the junction during the peak hours, so would not be affected by this at all. It is necessary to request that cyclists dismount between the peaks as our works at these times take in a greater proportion of the carriageway at these times. This narrows the space available for vehicles and cyclists to share beyond the point that can be safely accommodated. We ask that cyclists dismount in order to ensure that they can safely pass through the area affected.
I hope this is useful but if you have any questions please let me know,
Andrew Miles I Government Relationship Manager
Transport for London

Monday, 12 September 2011

In 2010 did more people cycle over Blackfriars than TfL predicts for 2012? Is TfL trying to hide increase in cycling from London's politicians?

TfL data - share of people using Blackfriars junction %
According to Transport for London, once the new station at Blackfriars opens, there will be plenty more pedestrians using the junction at the northern end of the bridge.

One of the justifications they have used for the design of the junction is that a vast increase in the number of pedestrians means they need to make it a better place for walking. I absolutely agree with that.

What I totally disagree with is the way that Transport for London continues to try and justify the way it marginalises people on cycles at this junction. As The Campaign for Better Transport says about Blackfriars "is right to improve facilities for pedestrians at an enlarged and improved station but there is no objectivity in the balance between the needs of all modes. The ‘balance’ is driven by policy choices." Those policy choices are in favour of motor vehicles, over the majority of people using this junction.

TfL recently released a copy of the report that it presented to London Assembly Members to justify its road design. I first commented on the report a couple of weeks ago here.

One feature of the report to the London Assembly's politician's is TfL's claim that a massive jump in the number of pedestrians means that the number of people on a cycle will drop from 9% of all users of the junction to 6% - a one third drop which compares with a two-thirds drop in the number of cars and light goods vehicles.

In a separate freedom of information request statement, TfL has told the London Cycling Campaign that "Both the April and May 2011 proposal were designed to accommodate an estimated six per cent of people travelling through the junction by bicycle."

I am trying to find out how TfL works out that 6%. Somehow it doesn't quite feel right. I'm hoping to see what raw data they have based their assumptions on but in the meantime, here are my very rough calculations that explain why I think TfL is under-estimating the number of people who cycle here.

TfL states that "an essential new road layout on Blackfriars Bridge ...will be capable of handling the 40,000 passengers expected to leave the upgraded Blackfriars station every day".

The eastern side of Blackfriars. No priority for
pedestrians here, only for motor racing
So, let's assume all 40,000 of those passengers both leave Blackfriars and then come back again. And let's assume one-third of them leave via the new south bank exit. Let's also assume a further 10,000 people use the junction on foot but not the station each day. And we have 70,000 pedestrians in total.

TfL uses 2008 as its base year in the chart above. In 2008, only 4,000 people crossed Blackfriars Bridge on a cycle each day. But by 2010, that had jumped to over 6,300 people using Blackfriars Bridge on cycles. That excludes people crossing the junction from east to west so let's assume 7,000 cycles in total. Plus a further 33,000 motor vehicles, according to TfL. If you add 70,000 pedestrians (2012 forecast), 7,000 cycles (2010 actual numbers) and 33,000 motor vehicles (2010 actual numbers), you get 110,000 'people' moving through the junction a day and cycles equivalent to 6.3% of that total.

So, when TfL claims cycles will make up only 6% of the total number of people using the junction in 2012, I reckon that if TfL had modelled the number of cycles in 2012 using 2010 data as its starting point, rather than 2008 data, then it would probably show the percentage of people cycling was already more than it predicts for 2012.

In other words, by using 2008 as a starting point, TfL is telling London Assembly Members that there are thousands fewer people cycling on this bridge than there are in reality.

I realise my numbers are fairly sketchy. But they hint that TfL may be underestimating the percentage of people who cycle over the bridge. It is certainly choosing not to show the extent to which cycling has increased here in the last couple of years.

In a broader context, this suggests is that TfL is justifying not creating proper cycle infrastructure by claiming there are fewer people cycling here than there actually are. And it perpetuates that claim by showing forecasts that may be lower than figures recorded last year. 

In that context, it's not all that surprising therefore to see TfL's response to one part of the London Cycling Campaign's freedom of information request:

"Question: Cyclist modelling report for the Blackfriars junction used in preparing the initial and revised plans for the Blackfriars junction.

TfL answer: TfL does not undertake separate modelling studies for the different traffic modes.  Cycling was incorporated into the wider traffic modelling for the scheme as illustrated within our traffic models previously requested and provided to you."

Kind of says it all really. 

Monday, 5 September 2011

Telegraph and Guardian both reveal how completely useless the Mayor's cycling revolution really is

Typical London cycling scene.
Would you cycle in conditions like this
unless you had to?
I wrote last week about how the man who is repsonsible for London's roads thinks that cycling along a main multi-lane road and crossing gyratories is a sensible way for people to cycle to the Olympics.

Well, it turns out the BBC's Transport correspondent Tom Edwards has also looked at the same routes. He's used material given to him by the Olympic Development Authority where the ODA suggests we should all cycle along to the London Olympics by darting between HGVs and buses and sprinting across urban motorways. His video on this link explains in more detail.

One alternative would be to cycle along the Olympic Greenway - a traffic free route. Except that as one person points out that doesn't really work either. If you read the comments to that BBC piece, you'll see this:

"As a disabled cyclist I am unable to use the Greenway due to the poor design of the gates which render it unusable for those with modified bikes or those who have to use panniers. So much for an accessible Olympic Games."

Specifically, this is what the cycling Greenway gates look like in action:

So, fine, you get a traffic-free route. But every few hundred metres, you have to stop, get off your cycle, and clamber over, under, around a piece of torture equipment.

In no other country have I ever seen a device like this. But in the UK, if you are a person in a motor vehicle you get priority and fast-moving roads. If you're a person on a cycle, you are expected to get off, clamber around some pathetic piece of ironwork, wait for all the nice people in their motor cars, cross the road, clamber around another pathetic piece of ironwork, continue on your way.

So, you're either forced to cycle along motorways or discouraged even from the off-road routes.

It's pathetic, frankly.

But it's very encouraging to see the mainstream media beginning to realise what an utter farce the Mayor's cycling revolution really is.

The Telegraph's Olympics Editor Jacquelin Magnay has an excellent piece "London 2012 Olympics: work to be done to make Games accessible for cyclists" She describes just how terrifying is the route suggested by the Olympic Development Authority: "Clearly there is still a lot of work to be done if these Games are to encourage and promote cycling in the city," she concludes.

Meanwhile, over at the Guardian, Dave Hill's excellent London blog reports on yesterday's mass-participation bike ride. He correctly notes that the Skyride is a "sign of a thwarted craving for far greater quantities of truly safer road space at all times"

Unlike the Telegraph's Magnay, he doesn't then cycle off home again. Why's that? It's the infrastructure, stupid. Reading between the very clear lines, he doesn't want to put himself in harms' way on London's road. One of the very many Londoners perhaps who would like to cycle but feel London's roads aren't safe enough to cycle on. He too concludes "Yes, road space is a limited resource, a white-hot crucible of competing road-user interests and so on. But it still seems to me that Boris's cycling revolution is further from completion than it might be."

You might wonder what Transport for London has to say about this sort of attitude.

Simple really: When it describes the new junction at Blackfriars, TfL says "This junction is not atypical of other central London junctions which work successfully for cyclists."

That's complete rubbish. The Blackfriars junction, like the junctions to the Olympics, are designed to allow only the fast, the brave and the slightly reckless to cycle on London's roads. The majority of Londoners aren't cyclists. But a lot of them want to be able to cycle here. But not in conditions like this. And not if TfL persists in thinking that junctions like Blackfriars 'work successfully' for cycling.

TfL's defiinition of 'successful cycling' seems to me to mean making cycling a fringe activity for a very small percentage of Londoners.

Transport for London is essentially sticking two fingers up at people who would like to cycle in London. And I'm delighted that the Guardian and the Telegraph are sensing just how underwhelming the Mayor's cycling revolution really is. I wonder if the BBC might catch up some day soon?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Blackfriars - TfL justifies the scheme saying it's "not atypical for central London" so it must be fine for cyclists. I don't think TfL knows or cares about what's fine for cyclists.

This picture shows the first image I've seen from Transport for London of the new look for Blackfriars junction.

The image was released by the London Assembly. It is part of the presentation made by Transport for London to Assembly Members to explain the designs for the new junction at Blackfriars Bridge.

I'm going to focus on one piece of this presentation and that is this statement:

"This junction is not atypical of other central London junctions which work successfully for cyclists."

In my view, that is exactly the point. I would agree that it is not atypical of other central London junctions. Think of Oval, Stockwell, Lancaster Gate, Stratford, Old Street.

I think what these places have in common is that they don't work successfully for cyclists. Nor for pedestrians, for that matter.

They are fast, hostile environments where the motor vehicle is king. If you want to get from A to B on a bicycle, you have to cross multiple lanes of fast-moving motor traffic. It doesn't matter that TfL claims average motor speeds at rush hour here are only 12mph. It matters that you feel you have a safe and sensible way of getting where you want to go without feeling endangered.

Interestingly, TfL now has a counter part in Manchester with similar transport dilemmas and with similar authority. Transport for Greater Manchester released some statistics this week that sing a very different tune to Transport for London. According to TfGM, "A "lack of dedicated cycle lanes", "road safety" and "poor road layouts" were highlighted as the biggest barriers to cycling in Manchester.

Transport for Greater Manchester cycle survey results
Transport for London's presentation is focussed almost exclusively on justifying why the Blackfriars junction needs to be designed this way. TfL doesn't once ask the question that is being asked in Manchester: will this junction be a barrier to cycling? Transport for London doesn't ask if that actually matters to people.

My view, and that shared by the thousands of people who have so far turned out to protest about this scheme (coverage of the latest demonstration here) is that people want Transport for London to remove barriers to cycling.
Since I posted that piece, plenty of people have posted comments on Mr Daniels's blog.

Here's a selection of the comments they have made:

"I am a female cyclist and I find a large number of the roads with more than one lane the scariest heart-stopping experience trying to cross them while cycling with a number of motorised vehicles behind me overtaking me at speed. There is a real problem with cycling in London at the moment for anyone with less than a Tour de France bent....are the roads just for those fit enough to ride at a speed?"

"'superhighway' 2, which is mostly just blue paint on a very busy road with heavy bus and hgv traffic, and does virtually nothing to make cycling safer or easier"

"sensible cycling policy for the olympics would have been to create safe, fast, direct family-friendly cycling routes to the olympic park from all create cycle parking at the venues themselves... tfl and the oda have failed to do either of these things. there's no reason anyone would want to negotiate heavy traffic and then walk for ages to bring their family to the olympics by bike".

I think what TfL has failed to realise is that Blackfriars is still a design that puts a massive barrier in the way for cycling. And I think it has also failed to realise is that by producing self-justificatory presentations, by sweeping under the carpet the fact that TfL was FORCED into a last-minute public consultation and the scheme would have been even worse had this not happened, they are creating a totem.

So Transport for London is absolutely right. Blackfriars is not atypical for a junction in central London in that it stands for the way in which people who walk and cycle are marginalised, made to take inconvenient routes to keep out of the way of motor traffic and, in the case of cycling, are made by TfL to play chicken with motor vehicles.

But as Transport for Greater Manchester points out "A 'lack of dedicated cycle lanes', 'road safety' and 'poor road layouts'" are massive barriers to cycling. London's no different. But, increasingly, Londoners are different. They're beginning to make clear that they don't want TfL's typical junctions any longer. And Blackfriars does not suddenly 'work successfully for cyclists' just because TfL says so. Nor do those many other not atypical junctions all across London.