Tuesday, 27 November 2012

City of London approves plan to investigate imposing a 20mph 'environment' on all its streets, notes considerable number of people driving through Square Mile way over the speed limit

People cycling to work in the City of London during the summer
Pictured Queen Victoria Street - two lanes in each direction, no bike lanes

In the last fortnight, the City of London has released two sets of figures that independently suggest there are two key issues around road user behaviour in the Square Mile.

The first of these is speeding drivers. In the 10 months to October 2012, City of London Police recorded 5,839 vehicles exceeding 30mph and issued 2,063 penalties for speeding. And this is the important bit: In an area packed with people on foot and on bikes, the average speed of those fined for speeding was 40mph.

What's interesting about the number of people speeding is that speeding is NOT one of the City of London Police's priorities.

The second issue is cyclists jumping red lights. In nearly all wards in the Square Mile, local people have asked the police to focus on cyclists, in particular those cyclists who jump red lights. This is understandable. There is heavy footfall at crossings in the Square Mile. Lots of people crossing the road feel that cyclists are taking liberties at red lights. I watched last week as one guy on a road bike charged through a red light sending three women who were crossing the road scattering out of his way. That's not on, frankly. It's downright pig-headed, arrogant and selfish cycling.

In the same period, to end-October 2012, City of London Police issued a total 2,188 non-endorsable fixed penalty notices. The majority, but not all, of these are to cyclists jumping red lights. If we use the more detailed statistics from the Police report at the Barbican, it looks like around 80% of those penalty notices are for cyclists jumping red lights. That suggests that slightly fewer than 2,000 people have been stopped and fined for cycling through red lights in the whole of the Square Mile this year, which compares with 2,063 stopped and fined for speeding.

Given the fact that the Police have been asked to prioritise "law-breaking" cyclists, I think it's quite telling that even more people have been stopped for speeding through the Square Mile's streets. It suggests that driving way above the speed limit is endemic in the City of London and it seems that speeding drivers are just as much, if not more of a menace in the Square Mile than red-light jumping cyclists.

In that context, I have to commend the City of London which earlier today approved a budget to investigate the benefits (or 'disbenefits' as the report calls them) of applying a 20mph speed limit across the whole of the Square Mile.

What is particularly interesting about the investigation is that the City intends to review a broad but important range of possible outcomes. These include:

  • The impact on average and maximum journey times for all users (so far so expected)
  • The impact on the frequency and severity of road traffic collisions (again, fairly expected)
  • The impact on air and noise quality from various types of emissions from motor vehicles (as above)

But then, interestingly, the City includes a couple of categories that go slightly beyond these usual measures:

The City officers say that they would like to measure the impact of 20mph on enabling people to shift from private motor vehicles to cycling, walking or public transport. Very specifically, in other words, the Square Mile is trying to work out whether by creating a 20mph environment, it can create a space in the centre of London that actively encourages more walking, more cycling and more use of public transport. The City expects to see "continuing strong growth in the numbers of pedestrians and the numbers of cyclists; and therefore in the proportion of City road traffic that these groups comprise".

This is quite an interesting approach. The theory being that if motor vehicle speeds are lower, more people might feel the streets are safer to cycle on, which in turn might lead to fewer motor vehicles on the streets in the first place.

The City's investigation will rumble on until next summer when the first results will be published. I think it will be very interesting to see how the City handles this topic and whether it manages to find a balanced perspective on all these issues.


  1. Before you reach any conclusions concerning the number of speeding offences versus the number of red light violations by cyclists you need to determine where they took place.

    I would venture that the vast majority of speeding offences committed by motor vehicles took place on the so called 'strategic' road network that passes through the CofL. Those roads are controlled by TFL and will not be impacted by the proposed 20 limit.

    Making a straight comparison between motorists that exceed the posted limit on relatively fast roads (that are in the less crowded parts of the city) and cyclists who generally commit offences (or get caught in) in the more crowded city streets is very misleading. I daily see numerous examples of poor behaviour by drivers and cyclists in the CofL. But to the best of my recall I've never been charged at by a speeding car! Where as the same can not be said of cycles, as that is a daily occurrence!

    1. "Will not" be impacted by the proposed limit.

      Not necessarily so. The City would prefer that all streets in its area, TfL or otherwise, are limited together, so they would, subject to their survey, like the red routes also to be 20 zones.

      And it would not be for the first time. Upper/Lower Thames Sts were a 20 zone with average speed enforcement cameras for a while, and could easily be so again, especially as during that time accidents fell dramatically and average speeds improved.

      Because that is another, perhaps counterintuitive, product of a 20 limit - average speeds do not reduce and indeed they can increase. It is fairly obvious why - the faster you race between lights or junctions, the longer you then have to wait for the light to go green or the junction to clear. This is something which is seen by cyclists - much to their amusement - on a daily basis as some white van man or boy racer screeches past and is then left behind again as the cyclist reaches the lights.

  2. Another difference is that motor vehicles run red lights while cyclists tend to jump red lights.
    At any light controled junction in the City you will see two or more vehicles passing well after the amber is off and the red light is on.
    As a pedestrian I know that once those motor vehicles have passed in the first several seconds of the red light no other vehicles will follow until the amber light re-appears.
    Some cyclists on the other hand tend to slow down, look to see if it is clear and then take off irrespective of how long the light has been at red.
    So if I see a cyclist approaching the light while I cross there is always an element of doubt in my mind whether they will stop or not.


    1. Bill - I think you have spotted the distinction although you seem to see it rather differently from me.

      Yes, motor vehicles which run red lights are generally "amber gamblers" or worse - they are continuing regardless of the fact that the light is imminently turning red or indeed has turned red. I often see taxis and occasionally cars pass me, through a red light as I wait at the line.

      In doing so they are gambling that vehicles on the other branches of the junction will not yet have moved away and so present a collision risk to them.

      Cyclists do sometimes do this, but less often than motorists, probably because courting a collision risk is a much more dangerous proposition for them. More likely is that they will pull away early, before the light turns green again. They will do this with a careful eye on the road to see that the crossing traffic has all passed, and while no doubt some do it out of hurry, others do it to get a head start on cars and so reduce risk of conflict with them which the cyclist can only lose.

      You yourself admit this - they slow down to check the space, so while you may be right to say you don't know what they are going to do, you should know by now that they are not planning on colliding with you and are very unlikely to do so.

  3. Allowing for the much higher numbers of motorists than cyclists these speeding numbers are scary, so many drivers flout the limit and make London a more dangerous, unpleasant place to be a cyclist or pedestrian.

  4. @Anonymous I would so like to hear more about these "less crowded parts of the city" where there are roads big enough and people-free enough to make breaking the (already high) speed limit okay, in the middle of the teeny tiny City of London. They sound most jolly!

    1. Lower Thames Street perhaps!

    2. Precisely which part of Lower Thames St do you find to be "less crowded" and at what time of day?

      At any time of day when I have been there, whether in a taxi, or crossing as a pedestrian (I would simply never risk riding a bike there) it has been very crowded, even when the traffic is moving fairly fast.

    3. I think the KSI data for Lower Thames Street speaks for itself. It's an abhorrent scar on the face of the City and the fact that traffic is currently encouraged to go very fast there is no reason at all to continue to encourage it to do so. I repeat, there is no where in the COL where it is okay for people to BREAK the speed limit.

  5. Why doesn't the taxi licensing authority force cabs to have black boxes that track speed and position and are subject to random checks? Given the high number of cabs, this would force them to follow the limits and would slow down any following traffic.

    I still don't understand why driving is the only profession in this country where law-breaking is forgiven BECAUSE it's someone's profession!