Monday, 14 November 2011

Transport for London and road safety for pedestrians and cyclists - A personal note to Conservative London Assembly Member Richard Tracey

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Richard Tracey, Conservative member of the London Assembly was one of several London politicians asking Transport for London about cycling safety last week.

His contribution to the discussion was to ask Leon Daniels, head of surface transport - the man responsible for London's roads - this one question about the roundabout pictured above.

"It has already been touched on by colleagues about the relative safety of the pedestrians, and indeed young mothers and fathers pushing buggies, against those of cyclists. I have actually got one case on Cycle Superhighway 8 in my constituency where the flow of cycles going both ways, north and south, are on a pavement which really leaves very little space for pedestrians. In a situation like that - it has been put in and it is proving to be really very hazardous - is there some opportunity to change that? Do you come back and review the thing and can you change it? Can I give some hope to my residents that that will actually be changed to make it safe for them to walk there?"

I don't think he's wrong to ask the question. And he's actually correct about the narrow width of the pavement. But I do think the man has an obsession with this one issue. I have seen a lot of Richard Tracey's correspondence wtih 'his' residents. Every single time, he brings up the same issue.

The bigger point, though, is this: The roundabout in question is pictured above. It is the end of Prince of Wales Drive. Mr Tracey is so upset about the design of the Cycle Super highway on this roundabout that he has asked Leon Daniels specifically to trog out and come and see it for himself.

What I find astonishing is that Mr Tracey seems not to realise the Cycle Super Highway has changed absolutely nothing at this roundabout. The same ludicrously dangerous cycle lane has been there for well over a decade. All that's changed is the colour on the cycle track. You can see the earlier track in the google maps image above.

The issue at this roundabout is that the cycle track is completely and utterly useless. It is dangerous for pedestrians. It is extremely dangerous for cyclists. And drivers don't understand it either.

To get from Chelsea Bridge to Prince of Wales Drive using the Cycle Super Highway by bicycle you would need to cross several roads, giving way six separate times to motor traffic. The motor traffic is either queuing to get on the roundabout which means you can't physically get yourself across the road anyhow or it is speeding off the roundabout which makes it pretty dangerous to cycle directly in front of the motor traffic on to the cycle lane. As a pedestrian you face exactly the same issues. There should be proper zebra crossings here to enable pedestrians, cyclists and children to get to and from the park and around the Super Highway in safety.

The scheme is, as Mr Tracey says, way too narrow to be shared by pedestrians and cyclists. The roundabout, however, is extremely wide. And there is plenty of space to redesign it and give some space to pedestrians and cyclists. But Mr Tracey misses the point. The cycle track and the pedestrian crossings (or complete lack of them) aare dangerous for cyclists AND pedestrians. This scheme is designed to be safe and practical only for motor traffic - it is not designed for pedestrians OR cyclists.

He also misses the point in correspondence with one of 'his' residents when he says: "For the vast majority of cyclists the decision to do so is informed by a simple cost benefit analysis. Cycling to work is cheaper than any other option bar walking, it will often be quicker than the alternatives and it has the benefit of being fantastic exercise"

Pictured left, the 'car park' of a major City of London employer. Do you think these cyclists did a simple cost benefit analysis and chose to cycle because it is cheaper than walking, Mr Tracey? No, I thought not. I think you need to take a proper look at your prejudices, maybe look at some of the very solid research that Transport for London produces about who cycles in London, and then update your opinions based on fact.

Something else Mr Tracey came up with recently at an event hosted by Sustrans:
"I don’t see that smoothing the traffic should clash with cycling. Quite frankly, the point of roads is to be able to get from A to B, whether you’re on a bike, or on a bus, or in a private motorcar, or in a taxi. So it is our duty as government to make sure that there is a smooth flow – and of course cyclists are a part of that.”

Except that your job as an Assembly Member is to understand the dynamics of 'smoothing the traffic flow'. Transport for London prioritises the smooth traffic flow of motor vehicles over the smooth traffic flow of pedestrians and cyclists. It admits that is the case.

What pedestrians and cyclists both need as this junction (assuming the current road design remains) is one of these. A sodding great sign, now seen all over cities in America. 

I would have thought, Mr Tracey, that those parents with small children deserve a pedestrian crossing so they can get to the park across this roundabout without having to dart in front of motor traffic that is accelerating off the roundabout or without having to dodge idling motor vehicles trying to get on the roundabout. Cyclists should be included in that prioritisation as well.

But no. Instead of fighting for something that would benefit pedestrians, benefit children, benefit parents AND benefit cyclists, you are stirring up a phoney war between pedestrians and cyclists and basing your views on out-of -date prejudices about who these cyclists are. I think you'll find that an awful lot of those cyclists actually are the same people who are walking their children to the park at the weekends.

The real issue here, Mr Tracey, is that Transport for London is prioritising motor traffic flow over pedestrians and cyclists. What should happen here is: a) build zebra crossings so people (especially children) can get to and from the park safely on foot and on bike b) take a little bit of space away from the 3.5 lanes of motor traffic around the roundabout so there is enough room for everyone.

And let's leave aside the fact that in your statement at the Sustrans event you claim a duty as part of the government. You're part of the London Assembly, Mr Tracey, not the government. And 'your' residents, as you describe them, deserve better of you when it comes to the roads and their safety. On foot and on bicycle.


  1. Mr Tracey is quoted as saying: "For the vast majority of cyclists the decision to do so is informed by a simple cost benefit analysis. Cycling to work is cheaper than any other option bar walking, it will often be quicker than the alternatives and it has the benefit of being fantastic exercise"

    Call me paranoid, but that sounds to me like a coded message. I think he's really saying "cycling is for poor people".

  2. This section of CS8 actually seems to be a significant downgrade over the previous facilities.

    The pre-CS route took a cyclist from MacDuff Road into Battersea Park avoiding the narrow, congested, Prince of Wales Drive. There isn’t space for a cyclist to safely progress when traffic is backed up and vehicles passing the other way.

    Heading North the worst of the junctions is from the roundabout to Queenstown Road. The CS moved the cycle path OFF the shared use pavement onto the bus lane and you are intended to join from the pavement into the space occupied by an ‘Easybus’ on here -

    It used to be that you made your way north on the pavement, shuttling behind the bus stops, on a piece of path that is not heavily frequented by pedestrians - why *would* you walk down this busy road rather than through the park?. Now you are in the bus lane, which ends on one section to become a 2 lane drag race, and supposed to merge right to get around buses at the bus stops. It wasn’t ideal before – getting behind the bus stops, road signs blocking the path – but it’s worse now. Heading South has also changed. It used to be that the footpath on the east side of the bridge was shared use for southbound cyclists. Now you’re mixing with traffic on the single, admittedly fairly wide, southbound carriageway.

  3. Having read Tracey’s bio I am not altogether surprised by his comments: firstly, he’s no spring chicken, being born in 1944, secondly he served in Margaret Thatcher’s government, thirdly, he is author of a book on motor racing! So, in summary, he is of an age and background which is likely to be near the nadir of bicycle-friendly.

    In fact, his reported remarks remind me somewhat of some of the things said by similar individuals in committees of the City of London council, where again any reference to cycle infrastructure or safety of cyclists can quickly degenerate into a Tufton-Bufton style rant about pavement cyclists or red light jumping, oblivious to the minuscule physical risks that these behaviours actually represent.
    Fortunately, in the Assembly as in the City committees, there are younger and more with-it personalities who approach cycling more positively.

    And to be fair to Tracey, he did advocate permitting cyclists to use the Olympic Route Network “Zil lanes” – even if his rationale had more to do with the difficulties of enforcing them against vehicles which carry no identification!

  4. "For the vast majority of cyclists the decision to do so is informed by a simple cost benefit analysis. Cycling to work is cheaper than any other option bar walking, it will often be quicker than the alternatives and it has the benefit of being fantastic exercise"

    Cycling is cheaper, faster and makes you fitter than any other option. What's the problem with that statement?

  5. The worst part of my daily commute is the section of the Vauxhall gyratory where cyclists have to share a narrow pavement with pedestrians...while cars get five lanes. Same issue - and as you say, pedestrians and cyclists are often the same people at different times of their weeks. We should make common cause - we are all traffic too and need to be part of the smoothing.

  6. When Mr. Tracey takes about smoothing, he misses the more important point of safety and accessibility. He may wish to smoothen the trafficflow, but the save movement of pedestrians should be ensured first.

    The group of 5-year old heading to the park, as well as blind people or the Alzheimer patient trying to escape his fate by walking away from retirement home, have the right to use the public space without being in danger of becoming collateral damage of driving. These people lack the ability to follow the very complex and demanding laws and basic survival skills in a car reigned environment. They will never be able to learn, as they are physically unable to do so.
    Thus we have to change this man made environment.

    If Mr Tracey gets that problem solved I am happy to solve the smoothening of car traffic. I would just need a mere 4 trillion £ to build a sufficent network of underground motorways to convert London into driving heaven;)

    Fortunately this roundabout could be made save and accessible to almost everyone for far far less money. Just move the car lines 12 metres towards the centre. Build a 4 metre wide sidewalk with Zebra crossings as well as a 4 metre wide bikepath with priority around the place. (Some cheap stop signs for cars would help enormously to garantee bike and pedestrian savety.)

    The 10 metres or so distance between the outer ped and bike pathes and the central carriageway give drivers enough space to stop without blocking the entire roundabout.
    Due to the smaller corner radius the cars would drive slower, allowing for better merging and higher throughput!
    If lawn is chosen between the inner and outer circles the amount of green in this crossing actually increases. No excuse possible!

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