City of London Transport Strategy

City Traffic 2018The City of London Corporation is currently developing its Transport Strategy. The Corporation covers the square mile of the City and in some respects takes the role of other local London borough councils. It therefore has to also develop a “Local Implementation Plan” to match the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy. The aim is to publish a Transport Strategy for the City by Spring 2019.

As part of this exercise they are running a series of “Workshops” for interested parties and I attended one on the 6th March. This is a report on the event.

The meeting was hosted by Bruce McVean who is heading up the strategy development team. Apparently they have 8 people working on this project. It was amusing to note on my journey to the event where I had to walk through the Bank road junction that there were still numerous vehicles driving through it and ignoring the no-entry signs. See previous blog posts on that subject. Although this scheme is “experimental” the Corporation recently decided to postpone any longer-term proposals for improving the situation.

There is also a “Strategy Board” who will be considering the Transport Strategy, but I have previously commented on the lack of representation on that of anyone with a knowledge of transport issues other than City Corporation staff.

The people attending this Workshop were a very mixed bunch and I have no idea how they qualified for an invite. Apart from myself there was at least one elderly City resident, a lady who represented the interests of the disabled and a keen bus rider (also enthusiastic about trams and trolley buses).

The meeting commenced with a short talk by Iain Simmons (Assistant Director – City Transportation). I had previously communicated with him on the closure of Shorter Street. He gave an overview of the process and the public consultations being undertaken which should complete by the end of the year with findings to be published in March 2019. He discussed the current use of transport in the City based on a report they recently published (called “Traffic in the City 2018” which you can find on the web). The chart above,  taken from that report, shows traffic trends in the City.

As I said to one of the Corporation’s staff this just shows how the road network in the City has been damaged over the last twenty years as it seems unlikely that the demand by users of cars, taxis and PHVs has declined but usage has been obstructed by road closures, removal of road space, traffic congestion and other factors (the congestion charge is not one of them and claims for the impact of that are spurious).

Iain Simmons said that “virtually nobody is now riding around in the City in private cars” which I can well believe. Such vehicles have not just declined, they have been replaced by PHVs to a large extent (minicabs and Uber like services) with even licensed taxis declining in the last two years. There has also been a reduction in goods vehicles (LGVs) perhaps because of consolidation of trips and companies banning delivery of internet orders to their offices. Note that one cause of the reduction of vehicles is now simply the difficulty of entering the City from surrounding roads – for example TfL are using traffic lights to restrict access along the Highway to Upper/Lower Thames Street and the East-West Cycle Superhighway has obstructed access to some parts of the City. The removal of the Aldgate gyratories in the East has also caused congestion and problems with access from that direction.

There has been a big increase in cycling as you see from the chart, but motorcycling has been declining.

One of the key issues to be faced is that the City “population” is increasing. This is mainly driven by the growth in commuters as business offices increase in number and size. This has resulted in pedestrian KSIs going up while others have remained static. Mr Simmons said they still have “a big problem with road danger reduction”. (Note: the 20-mph wide area scheme was noticeably ineffective in improving the road casualty statistics). He also mentioned there was a drive to “turn streets into places”.

Bruce McVean then covered the transport challenges and the opportunities. He said they had received very mixed responses to the consultation so far, with concerns about cycling and the disabled. But he promoted the concept of turning streets into “places” as there was a desire for more open space for pedestrians in the City.

We then broke up into smaller discussion groups. There were lots of ill-informed suggestions made, but there was some agreement on the growing dangers posed by cyclists to pedestrians in the City due to the former’s inconsiderate behaviour. The difficulty of access to some parts of the City, including tube stations, for the disabled or elderly was mentioned. Route finding by pedestrians was often difficult (the Barbican was an area particularly mentioned as being obstructive).

A Corporation staff member suggested that one way to free up more open space would be to remove on-street parking. It was unclear why visitors were using this as such spaces would be difficult to find and there are several off-street car parks. I suggested they ask the users. Note: I think removal of such spaces would only make sense if more off-street parking was provided as many such car parks are now full to capacity. They are also often difficult to access and difficult to find for casual visitors.

There was some agreement that in some areas there was insufficient capacity for pedestrians on pavements and this problem might get worse.

Suggestions were also made to remove all road traffic from the City, simplify and rationalise the road network, develop a ring road, have a “park and ride” scheme and other oddball or impractical ideas (bring back trams for example). There seemed to be little understanding of why vehicles are on City streets although it was mentioned that there are food deliveries for example.

The large numbers of currently highly polluting buses in the City needs to be looked at, particularly as some of them seem to be on “long distance” routes where there seems little need for them to go through narrow City streets.

It was suggested by a staff member that timed road closures as around the bank junction might help (as to how was not clear). I opposed that because occasional visitors are unlikely to be aware of the timings and hence create the difficulties seen at Bank.

At the end of the session I said that I considered the Mayor of London’s desire to turn roads into “places for social interaction and exercise” to be nonsense. Surely the purpose of roads is to enable the movement of goods and people. This issue was not really debated with the City Corporation seeming to have swallowed the dogma of Transport for London and the Mayor hook line and sinker without any thought. Indeed as I have commented before, City Corporation staff seem to have a prejudice against motor vehicles on the roads of the City and the history of the road network in the City over the last 30 years demonstrates many damaging changes which have increased congestion.

Here’s my analysis of the issues and what improvements should be aimed for:

Problems to be faced:

  • Increasing numbers of commuters/pedestrians.
  • Rising traffic congestion, despite reduced vehicle numbers.
  • Air pollution from vehicles and businesses still poor, the former mainly caused by traffic congestion (damaging levels of emissions from vehicles are coming down rapidly due to technological improvements).

What should be aimed for:

  • Improvements in traffic speeds to provide economic benefits and help to cut pollution.
  • Safer roads (stopping pedestrians stepping off pavements into the paths of vehicles is still a major problem).
  • More capacity for all transport modes (i.e. vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians).

I suggest it would be possible to rationalise the road network to gain all those benefits. Bank junction is a good example of where a major redevelopment could simplify the roads, improve traffic flow, free up more open space and reduce road traffic accidents.

One of the problems with releasing more open space is that there is very little unused land in the City and it is of course enormously expensive land. Therefore new office developers like to maximise the developed land space. This is a planning issue that needs to be tackled. Developers really need to have an obligation to ensure some ground space is provided as a public amenity and pavements around new developments should be widened.

In summary there are lots of ways that transport in the City of London could be improved, but I am not convinced that concepts such as turning streets into places, an Orwellian redefinition of the word street, is going to help.

In the meantime, there is a public consultation where you can give your own views here:

Roger Lawson


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