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.


  1. That presentation makes me furious.

  2. I love it how the illustration makes the whole design look very spacious. In fact it looks like you could easily fit cycle tracks all the way both ways and still have plenty of room to spare. (And where are all the pedestrians? I thought the new design was claimed to be primarily for them...)

  3. Great article, but I think you're using "atypical" confusingly. TfL think Blackfriars is "not atypical" - in other words, they think it IS typical. So in your second to last para you should say "They're beginning to make clear that they don't want TfL's typical junctions any longer.", I think.

  4. Corin's right: we don't want TfL's "typical" junctions any longer. Apart from those little typos, this article is pretty much spot-on.

    I'm not entirely convinced by "TfL has failed to realise" though. I think they know perfectly well how bad their designs are for cyclist. Why else are they apparently so desperate to cover their asses? I think they're either being forced into these plans anyway by Boris, or they genuinely don't give a damn.

    To be fair, it might be true that they really and truly don't understand the issues around the safety of cyclists and pedestrians in London's lethal motor-infested environment. But that would make them incompetent and/or criminally negligent, wouldn't it? :(

  5. I just can't believe their denial of real life - hardly a cyclist in sight, even the ASLs are temptingly empty of occupants. Have any of these planners (or their illustrator colleagues) ever actually crossed a bridge during working hours? I suppose 'remerson' is probably right. They can't be that thick. They've been told that this is how it must be.

  6. Corin. Ooops you're completely right. I've either ensured i've included 'not atypical' or made 'typical'. thanks for the spot

  7. @remerson: The other option is that they don't want to admit that they got it wrong. I remember up in Edinburgh nearly a decade ago where the city planners put in a new railing for "safety reasons" however they made it so long, that it block the crossing on the side of a t-junction that had the better sight lines and was used more, thus actually making the junction worse for pedestrians. Also crossing from one side meant that you hit the railing and were forced to walk round it. When we talked to the officials, the body language was rather interesting in the way that their head dropped and they sighed.

    About half a year after the local community gave up trying to get the railing shortened, suddenly the railing was shortened.

  8. Not a mention of those dangerous right turns in all of that presentation. Or the danger of narrow cycle lanes next to narrow vehicle lanes. And, again, attempts to minimise the number of cyclists.

    And, despite the shouting about pedestrians, it's all about minimising motor traffic queuing, in the end.

    Perhaps we should draw up a response for the Assembly members?

  9. We're not worried about 'average' speeds. We're worried about maximum or supra-maximum speeds and dangerous manoeuvres, as motorists attempt to make up for perceived slowdowns in the '12mph' area. Make the maximum speed 20 (psychologically less disparity between maximum and optimum), give motorists less room to manoeuvre (sheep in a pen), and you cut out most of the danger.

  10. Look closely at the centre-right of that image. There's a heavy construction truck of the type responsible for so many fatalities pulled right in to the green feeder lane to the ASL. Says it all really.