Bank Junction Closure To Be Made Permanent?

Bank junction in the City of London has been closed to all but cyclists and buses for more than a year on an “experimental” basis. This was declared to be in the interests of road safety following the death of a cyclist a couple of years ago, and to reduce air pollution. The City of London Corporation have now issued a press release and report on the scheme – the latter can be found here in the Agenda Reports Pack: http://democracy.cityoflondon.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=19871&x=1

In summary, Corporation staff claim it has been a great success with casualties reducing by 52%, air pollution reducing and bus journey times improving. They also claim no major impact on surrounding roads and that three quarters of people responding to a consultation supported the scheme.

The ABD opposed the closure because this is a key hub in the City’s road network, and because there were many people who were not aware of the closure and ignored the signs. The latest detail data on that indicated 800 drivers per day were infringing with the result that they will get a £130 penalty fine (reduced to £65 if they pay promptly). That’s equivalent to £15 million per year in total.

We also suggested that the road junction be redesigned to improve safety at the junction and provide more pedestrian space. There were plans for a longer-term project to improve the junction but it looks like this has now been dropped as there is no mention of it.

What are the facts about this scheme? Firstly only 45% of respondents supported the scheme in the consultation without changes being made, i.e. THERE WAS NO OVERALL SUPPORT.

Journey times on alternative routes to avoid Bank Junction have been substantially increased in some cases. For example it now takes an extra 1 to 2 minutes along Cannon Street, a relatively short road.

Taxi drivers are particularly concerned by their inclusion in the ban, and they have problems with delivering people to some locations – for example the relatively new NED hotel just west of the junction.

As regards the road safety benefits, obviously if roads are closed then accidents are reduced. But as the traffic simply diverts to other roads, there may be no overall benefit. In addition there is always a temporary improvement in accident figures after road engineering work which is why a three year before and three year after analysis is usually considered best practice by road safety engineers. But in this case the City Corporation have not waited for the full results.

I spoke briefly on the LBC Nick Ferrari show about this proposal and questioned why the whole of the City was not closed to traffic as that would obviously improve road safety even more. If you think that is a good idea, then you are ignoring the needs of certain road users (including bus users), and the need to deliver goods and services to offices and shops in the City.

The report mentioned above will now be considered by a number of City Corporation Committees. Let us hope that some members have the sense to object.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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How the Mayor Spends Your Money

An interesting report was recently published by the City of London Corporation on how they plan to spend a £1 million grant from the Mayor of London for a Low Emission Neighbourhood scheme (LEN). This was a figure (£990,000 to be exact) to be spent over three years and although some minor projects have been delivered it seems that the intended “transformational” scope is missing and that the money needs to be spent in the 2018-19 financial year or it will be lost.

As a result two schemes have been put forward: 1) for a Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) restriction on Moor Lane in the City; and 2) for a similar restriction on Beech Street. Beech Street runs east/west underneath the Barbican like a tunnel and is a particularly poor location for air quality as a result.

But it looks like only a Moor Lane ULEV scheme will be delivered in 2019 using the LEN funding. The air pollution benefit may be relatively low but it will enable the impact of such schemes to be measured, particularly as they affect taxi drivers who are some of the more common users of that road. It will also encourage taxi owners to upgrade to newer zero emission capable vehicles.

The Beech Street proposals will be phased but if found to be viable will ultimately be restricted to west-bound only ULEV vehicles. Funding for this will apparently come from later schemes and might be delivered in 2021.

Comment: Moor Lane is a very minor part of the City road network and it would seem likely that air pollution there not just arises from vehicles on the street itself but is blown in from the surrounding area. It may be a good location for an experimental ULEV scheme but it’s a huge amount of money for a scheme that will probably have relatively little impact on air pollution. Beech Street would have a much bigger impact but would seriously affect traffic in the City as it is one of the key routes. No doubt that is the reason for deferring that scheme. But there seems to have been no consideration of the impact on the residents of the Barbican who have car parking provision in underground car parks and would be affected by the closure of Beech Street (partial or otherwise).

Roger Lawson

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Silvertown Tunnel Gets Go-Ahead

The Government has given the go-ahead for the new Silvertown Tunnel in East London under the Thames. This will run slightly to the East of the existing Blackwall Tunnels which are one location of high traffic congestion every day. The slightest hiccup such as minor accidents or people running out of fuel in the existing tunnels or on the approach roads can create miles of traffic queues.

With the Secretary of State giving planning consent, and Mayor Sadiq Khan not apparently likely to block it despite the many objectors to the scheme, it looks likely that construction will start next year with completion in 2023. This is what the Mayor had to say: “I’m delighted that the green light has been given to progress with the Silvertown Tunnel. Since I became Mayor I’ve been determined to ensure the Silvertown Tunnel doesn’t have a detrimental impact on our environment. That’s why the new plans have such a focus on cleaner transport, with only buses with the highest emission standard using the tunnel, and substantial investment in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.”

A toll will be introduced on both the new tunnel and the old tunnels to help pay for the scheme. Although there were objections on air pollution grounds, it is not expected to make matters worse in that regard and the smoother traffic flows will mean substantial benefits. That’s apart from the economic benefits of reducing the wasted time of people stuck in traffic jams and the improved public transport provision (the new tunnel will be large enough to accommodate double-decker buses).

Comment: On behalf of the ABD I have submitted a number of supportive representations for this scheme over the last few years. For residents of South-East and North-East London this will prove to me a major improvement to the road network which is long overdue. Let us hope there are no further delays and that schemes for other Thames crossings are also progressed.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Heidi Alexander Appointed Deputy Mayor for Transport

Mayor Sadiq Khan has appointed Heidi Alexander, M.P., as Deputy Mayor for Transport in London. She takes over from Val Shawcross who has overseen major damage to London’s road network as a result of the Mayor’s policies.

Heidi Alexander will be resigning from her position in Parliament where she has acted as a representative for Lewisham East. A bye-election will therefore have to be held for a replacement. She has not announced the reason for her departure from Parliament except she was known to be opposed to Brexit and not apparently a Corbyn supporter.

Does Heidi Alexander have special expertise or knowledge of the transport sector which would quality her for this position? A quick search of the internet reveals only that she expressed concern about access to Lewisham Station. Otherwise she is quoted as being “excited about her appointment” and that “I know just how important it is we ensure everyone has access to a high-quality and affordable public transport network with safe cycling routes across the capital”. So it looks like more of the same policies we have endured in London in recent years. Not that Heidi looks like she does much cycling from her physical appearance. If she does not she might want to practice a bit because no doubt there will be calls for photo shoots of her cycling with the Mayor very soon.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Opposition to Oxford Street Pedestrianisation

Proposals to pedestrianise most of Oxford Street in central London have been put forward – see our previous blog post here for details: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/oxford-street-to-be-pedestrianised/

But according to a report in the publication Transport Network, the scheme is in jeopardy because Westminster Council has objected. They report that residents in Marylebone, Fitzrovia and Mayfair raised concerns about the diversion of traffic, including bus routes, which were likely to cause traffic congestion in surrounding streets. The Westminster council cabinet member, Daniel Astaire, who was responsible for the roads instructed staff to stop work on the proposals.

Note that the ABD also expressed concerns about the impact on traffic congestion in surrounding roads, but it seems many residents’ objections might have been lost because TfL gave out an incorrect email address. Regardless they claimed 64% of respondents supported the proposals.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Smart Motorways Not So Smart

Anyone who drives around the M25 will have noticed that the speed limits set on the overhead gantries appear to bear no relation to the traffic volumes. Speeds are often set at 60, 50 or even 40 for no obvious reason. Other “Smart Motorways” across the country show the same problem, and the result has been a large increase in the number of people fined (or diverted to speed awareness courses) for exceeding the set speed limit. The number of infringements doubled last year according to the Times.

The justification for smart motorways was that they can reduce congestion by smoothing the traffic flows and help to maintain safety. The speed limits are set partly by automated systems that measure the speed of traffic, but apparently they are also set “pre-emptively” by staff where known congestion is likely to occur at busy times. But as traffic volumes can be unpredictable this sometimes results in lower speeds being set than is appropriate – you can frequently see this around the western side of the M25 around London airport and on the eastern side near the Dartford Crossing.

In addition it is known that the odd particularly slow moving vehicle can result in the speed limit being reduced by the automated system. In other words, the “smart” system is not at all intelligent.

However Highways England is now undertaking a comprehensive review of variable speed limits on motorways. Surely it would be better to simply have an advisory system to tell drivers that there was congestion ahead so that they can slow down and avoid the “stop/start” problem that reduces traffic flows?

At present you have a dumb system instructing intelligent humans (which they mostly are) with the result of needlessly slower traffic speeds and drivers being caught out by unexpected changes in the limits or signs they may not have seen or noticed.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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MTS Campaign Meeting Report

On Saturday the 28th April we held a meeting for supporters of the ABD’s campaign against the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) in central London. I chose to drive to the venue as I was carrying quite a weight of equipment and papers, but it turned into a typical nightmare trip on London’s roads. It ended up taking 2 hours to drive the 15 miles there. We were doing well until we hit a closure of Upper Thames Street and The Embankment with all traffic being diverted across Southwark Bridge south of the river – the exact opposite direction to where we wanted to go. So I turned round and aimed to take a route around to the North via City Road and the Angel, Islington. But that route was also closed by apparent crane work. There was no advance notice or signs of these closures on two of the key routes in London. Even on a Saturday they are now very busy. What a dreadful way to run a transport network of a major world city!

I did eventually manage to get there in time to give my presentation, but one or two people didn’t make it perhaps because of the traffic congestion. Here’s a brief summary of what was said at the meeting. The Powerpoint presentation slides are available here: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/MTS%20Meeting%20Presentation%202018-04-28.pdf

After a brief explanation of the objectives and background of the Alliance of British Drivers I explained the key themes of the Mayor’s Strategy. These are to turn streets into places for “active travel and social interaction”, and to reduce “car dependency”. The latter is of course an emotive phrase when nobody talks about “cycle dependency” or “public transport dependency”. Why should it be used to describe people’s rational choice of transport mode? Such phrases are just part of the “spin” put on these policies and the graphic I showed taken from the Mayor’s document demonstrates how unrealistic are the depictions of London in the future. Such graphics often ignore the needs for local transport deliveries of goods and services in London. In addition the Mayor has ignored the needs of the growing proportion of elderly and disabled people in London, many of whom have responded to our campaign as they are dependent on private cars or PHVs.

I talked about the Mayor’s problems which the Strategy aims to counter. This includes a rapidly growing population in London which is putting a stress on public transport capacity and road congestion, and also leading to higher air pollution (and not just from traffic). These of course result from past policies adopted by London Mayors. But one of his key problems is shortage of money with a massive budget deficit looming. This results from public transport fare freezes which he promised to get elected, increasing subsidies and general financial mismanagement.

I explained that the answer from the Mayor are policies that will extract more money from Londoners (and those who visit London from outside) and restrict private travel in the name of making the population healthier. There are a number of ways the Mayor can implement these policies, via the encouragement of the London boroughs if not directly.

What alternatives could the Mayor have proposed? Obviously one of the key factors has been the growing population of London and he could have reduced that by encouraging redistribution of business activity and population as was done in the 1960s via New Towns, or by not promoting it as “more open” to immigration as he has done recently. The implementation of cycle superhighways in the manner done, road space removal (road closures, removal of gyratories, etc) and other detail policies emanating from TfL have also contributed. I suggested that it was possible to improve the road network for cyclists and for road safety without such damaging impacts on the road network.

There was a brief explanation of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and the misleading claims made about deaths from air pollution in London (as one member of the audience put it: “40,000 deaths a year in London”, which shows how spurious statistics are being propagated). There is no major health crisis, Londoners are living longer and air quality is improving! We then had a session from Howard Cox of FairFuelUK. He explained what his organisation has been doing to obtain 1.7 million supporters for a campaign that is well worth supporting. He has been good at obtaining both media and political support as a result. He questioned why the Government have not looked at alternative ways of improving air quality and looked at other sources of emissions rather than just focussing on vehicle owners. FairFuelUK are working with others to produce better scientific evidence on the real health impact of emissions and the cost of ignoring alternative solutions to reducing emissions.

I explained what the campaign against the MTS had been doing and what we will do going forward. The audience was encouraged to support us in several ways to enable us to generate more supporters and more funds to fight the campaign.

Lastly there was a session on how to defeat the MTS. This can be done in local boroughs (for example I explained earlier how the ABD had defeated a proposed congestion charge in Greenwich promoted by Ken Livingstone over ten years ago), or perhaps by ensuring Sadiq Khan does not get re-elected as Mayor in two years’ time. As he is doing a good job of becoming unpopular for other reasons, just like Ken Livingstone at the end of his reign, perhaps the slogan should be similar to the popular one in that era – namely “anyone but Khan” for Mayor at the next election.

It was noted that the ABD can give assistance with local campaigns in several ways – you just need to ask for it.

We covered how supporters can help the campaign. Recruiting more supporters is one key aspect over the next few months, ensure that people find out what is being done in their local boroughs (a member of the audience suggested that people ask if there are any proposals for a local congestion charge) and provide funds to fight the campaign. It is important to ensure that more London residents, and those in surrounding areas, know what is being proposed because there is general ignorance on the subject – few people have actually read the Mayor’s Transport Strategy document but it will dictate many aspects of travel and parking in London over the next few years.

There was plenty of time for questions from the audience. Two particular subjects that arose was the status on Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11) and Bank Junction closure in the City. On the former, which was proposed to result in the closure of Regent’s Park to vehicles, it seems that it may be being held up by objections from affected borough councils after all. CS11 is a good example of how local opposition can delay or thwart unreasonable proposals. On Bank this is an experimental scheme but will be subject to a review in a few months’ time and I explained what representations the ABD had made on this topic.

The key as always if you want to have an impact on politicians is not just to moan in private or on social media, but to directly contact the political decision makers – the Mayor London, London Assembly Members, your local M.P, local Councillors, et al. It is also necessarily to respond to relevant public consultations and get the vote out when necessary.

In my experience politicians do listen, particularly when it seems they might be at risk of losing an election by pursuing unpopular policies! Please bear that in mind. That was perhaps one of the most important points communicated at this event.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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