£50 to Drive into Westminster, and Superhighway Challenge?

The City of Westminster is proposing to impose a 50% surcharge borough-wide for parking of older diesel vehicles – those registered before 2015. It has already trialled such a scheme in Marylebone. On-street parking charges will rise therefore to £7.35 per hour in the West End.

The Times newspaper suggested that taking into account the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax), and the additional tax of £12.50 being imposed by the Ultra Low Emission Zone in 2019, that will mean that driving into the area and parking for just a few hours will result in charges of over £50. That should deter the casual shoppers or business visitors unless they own newer lower emission vehicles.

There is likely to be a public consultation on this proposal so if you are affected by it keep an eye out for that. Westminster Council consultations are listed here: https://www.westminster.gov.uk/consultations

Cycle Superhighway Challenge

Westminster Council are pushing ahead with a legal challenge to Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11) which runs through Swiss Cottage. A judicial review has been launched and will likely be heard in September. In the meantime, the street works which were due to start imminently have been put on hold. New Deputy Mayor of Transport Heidi Alexander called the Council’s move a “disgrace”. But why should not a local council challenge the typically unaccountable actions of Transport for London (TfL) if enough of their residents object? CS11 has been vigorously opposed by many people who live in North London. The basis of the council’s objections is that the current plans will increase congestion and air pollution.

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20 Mph Speed Limit on Major London Roads

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced measures to improve road safety in London including a 20-mph speed limit on all major roads within the Congestion Charge zone. That will include such major arteries as the Embankment and Upper/Lower Thames Street. In addition he will be encouraging local London boroughs to introduce the same limit on TfL controlled roads in 32 town centres.

He is also proposing to improve 73 junctions which have been identified as those with the worse road safety record. These proposals are part of the Mayor’s “Vision Zero” policy which attempts to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on the roads.

Comment: ABD Campaign Director Roger Lawson had these comments on the proposals:

The Mayor trots out those old misleading claims that reducing speed limits will remove almost all fatal and serious accidents. This is simply not borne out by the facts. For example, the City of London Corporation that covers the square mile introduced a blanket 20-mph speed limit in 2014. It had negligible impact on overall casualty figures, minor injuries actually increased and there were 2 fatalities in that area in 2016 – see references below. The results of signed-only 20 mph schemes have been very mixed and a Government report on the subject is still awaited.

Although the “Vision Zero” concept might make for good media coverage it does not necessarily help if ill-informed road safety policies are introduced. The reduction in speed limits will slow traffic causing additional costs in increased journey times and the police will no doubt be vigorously enforcing these new limits.

Many people will say that with average London traffic speed now nearer 10 mph than 20 mph, it may not make much difference. But that is not always the case. For example, outside rush hour times traffic moves much faster than 20 mph on many parts of the TfL road network (the “red routes”). This just looks like another attempt by the Mayor to remove all vehicles from the streets of London so as to achieve his vision of almost no private vehicle use (including cars, LGVs, taxis and PHVs) as spelled out in his Mayor’s Transport Strategy.

The only sensible part of his proposal is to improve junctions where there is a known poor accident record. Otherwise this latest move to slow traffic in London is another nail in the coffin of an efficient road transport network for our capital city. Sadiq Khan is surely the most incompetent London Mayor we have yet had.

Those who oppose this proposal should contact their Greater London Assembly Member (see: https://www.london.gov.uk/people/assembly ) or write to the Mayor himself: https://www.london.gov.uk/contact-us-form .

Roger Lawson

Notes:

The Mayor of London’s Press Release is given here: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/boldest-ever-plan-to-eliminate-deaths-on-the-roads

Report on the City of London 20-mph scheme: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/city-of-london-20-mph-scheme-first-results/

TfL Road Casualties in 2016: http://content.tfl.gov.uk/casualties-in-greater-london-2016.pdf

The Mayor’s Transport Strategy and the ABD’s comments on it: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm

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Stopping the School Run by Closing Roads

The “school run” is now a major cause of traffic congestion. It has got worse for three reasons: 1) more ownership of cars, 2) the ability of parents to apply to any school for admission of their children introduced a few years ago and 3) parents concern with the safety of their children if they walk or cycle to school.

Although schools do often have “catchment” areas that limit applications to a geographic area around the school if there are too many requests for places, in practice these are quite wide. For example, this map shows the catchment are for Coopers School in Chislehurst (London Borough of Bromley): https://www.schoolguide.co.uk/schools/coopers-school-chislehurst . For those who know the area, that means that children come from as far afield as Mottingham, Swanley and Orpington, i.e. several miles distant. Walking would be impractical, and even cycling would be difficult due to steep hills, so only buses or car use (if they don’t live near a bus route) would be an option for many children. The result is daily congestion around that school during school term times, particularly as there are several other schools in the same area including some private schools whose catchment areas could be even larger.

How to solve the school run problem? Some local councils are now looking at road closures during school opening/closing times to deter the use of cars and encourage the children to walk or cycle. Road safety benefits are also suggested. The Borough of Croydon have already experimented with such a scheme for six months at 3 schools. The access restrictions were enforced by ANPR cameras with £130 fines for infringement. Local residents within the boundary could obtain a permit. Croydon council has now decided to make the scheme permanent despite many objections from residents (some living within the boundary).

The justification for the scheme was that it would reduce air pollution and encourage more healthy life styles but there was no evidence of the air pollution being a problem (no measures were taken), and it is exceedingly unlikely that excluding vehicles from a very small area for very limited times of the day would have any impact on air quality. No evidence on road safety benefits was provided. Such schemes just cause vehicle users to park further away outside the boundary causing wider parking problems, or they turn-up and park earlier. It causes major problems for delivery drivers, or other visitors to homes within the boundary as drivers are often not aware of the scheme.

The London Borough of Greenwich is also considering such a scheme for eight schools according to an article in the Newsshopper local paper and it suggests the access restriction would even be imposed by rising bollards.

Such schemes are spreading across the country. Solihull is another example of an experimental scheme which was put in without consultation. One local councillor said they did not consult first because they thought people would object!

Another area considering using such a scheme is Cambridge County Council where one councillor has put it forward. Again this is was primarily on spurious environmental grounds. The writer of this article spoke on BBC Radio Cambridge on the subject on 17/7/2018 and I suggested that such policies emanate mainly from car haters and that no evidence is provided on the environmental or other benefits.

There is another motivation for such schemes which is money (just like the closure of Bank Junction in the City of London which is generating enormous sums in fines). In Croydon, some 2,000 fines were issued in six months, which is likely to generate hundreds of thousands of pounds per year of additional income to the council.

The school run and the congestion it causes is of major concern to many people but this writer does not support road closures of this nature. They just obstruct and corrupt the road network.

In Croydon local activist Peter Morgan claims the council have acted illegally by not taking notice of objections and failing to meet their obligations under the Traffic Management Act. He is asking the Secretary of State to block the councils move.

The Alliance of British Drivers opposes road closure schemes of all kinds on the grounds that they create major inconvenience for many people, rarely provide any claimed benefits and particularly so when they are used as money making schemes by councils to exploit unwary motorists.

But if you have other solutions to the congestion caused by school run drivers, that are more practical and less unreasonable, then please let us know.

Roger Lawson

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England World Cup Win and Keep London Moving

I was in central London yesterday so picked up a copy of the Evening Standard. The Editorial covered the question of “Can England show the world we’re winners?”, to which of course the answer is “Yes” after the evening match, but perhaps more interestingly it had a section entitled “Keep London Moving”. This is what that said:

“Walk, cab, car, bike or bus: however you travel London’s streets you’ll know they are packed. The big question is how to share the space fairly. Plans to redesign Oxford Street are on hold after a battle between Transport for London (which wants buses to make way for people) and Westminster council (which wants to keep side streets quiet).

Today there’s news of plans for a much-needed redevelopment of Olympia as a cultural hub, which will add to pressure to keep people moving in the west. And this week has also seen a plan from the City of London authorities for “pedestrian’ priority” routes around some of the biggest office buildings in the east, including Leadenhall Street, Lime Street and St Mary Axe. Narrow pavements can’t handle the crowds that now use them — and that’s before Elizabeth line trains bring even more people into the City from the end of the year. If schemes like this are to work, they need to pass two tests.

First, places like the City can’t be cut off from the rest of London. People still need to get through, by car, on the way to other commercial centres such as Canary Wharf.

Second, they can’t slow bus routes down even further. As the battle over Oxford Street’s future has also shown, planners need to think of the impact on the whole of London and not just a handful of roads.

A successful city needs space for buses, bikes, people — but also cars, something we’ve sometimes forgotten in recent years. Get change right and London will keep on moving.”

This is a well argued point that TfL and the City Corporation seem to have lost sight of.

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Degrading the Road Network in the City of London

On Friday (29/6/2018) I attended a Transport Strategy Meeting hosted by the City of London Corporation. The Corporation covers the square mile and acts as one of the London boroughs in most respects. They are currently drawing up their 25-year Transport Strategy, are holding a number of consultation events and have done surveys. See this previous report for more information: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/city-of-london-transport-strategy/ . Note that the consultation is still open so if you work, live or visit the City, make sure you respond.

The meeting was hosted by Bruce McVean, Strategic Transportation Group Manager, and there were less than a dozen people attending most of whom seemed very unlike the typical City office worker who dominate the streets of London during the day, i.e. it was a very unrepresentative sample of those who might be affected by the proposed plans. The number of City residents attending also seemed minimal which is not surprising as there are so few of them.

Bruce mentioned that a new “Road Danger Reduction and Active Travel Plan” was out for consultation which was news to me. It is here: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/services/transport-and-streets/road-safety/Documents/road-danger-reduction-and-active-travel-plan.pdf

Bruce talked about the “draft outcomes” for the Transport Strategy as they have clearly already come to some conclusions. Some of the evidence already obtained suggests that 60% of people think that pedestrian space is too small a share of street space and that cycling is under-prioritised. Bearing in mind that the vast majority of those surveyed or who have responded to the consultations will be pedestrians or cyclists this is perhaps not surprising. Should they not have asked a similar question of road users? Such as do you think roads are overcrowded and would you like more road space allocated to vehicles? One can guess the answer they would have obtained. Everybody wants “more” without consideration of any rational or economic allocation.

Bear in mind that private cars are a vanishing species in the City. The roads are occupied mainly by buses, taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs – minicabs), and goods vehicles. In fact 93% of travel in the City is already by public transport, walking and cycling. The Mayor of London’s target is 80% so the City already exceeds that, but Bruce said the Mayor would like it to be 99%! If the Mayor gets his way there would be no private cars or cabs in the City at all!

Some 90% of on-street journeys in the City are already partly or completely walked – this reflects the reality of city commuting where several hundreds of thousands of people arrive at the main-line stations and walk to their office.

I took the same conventional route to his meeting in the City of London Guildhall where the meeting was held from Cannon Street and walked through Bank junction. Still lots of vehicles ignoring the closure and no doubt collecting a fine as a result. Bruce suggested this closure was a major success when it does not provide any more space for pedestrians as a full redesign of the junction would have done. Neither does it fully solve the road safety problems at the junction as there are still likely conflicts between buses, cyclists and pedestrians. It looks like a proper solution is being kicked into the long grass while major damage to the road network is being implemented.

Bruce indicated that there will be 90,000 more workers in the City in the next few years which may be true and will certainly put an extra load on the streets. Pedestrian space at certain locations is already very crowded (e.g. at Bank). I asked whether the Corporation knew where cyclists were coming from and who they are. It seems the Corporation do not know but are currently doing a study on that. I asked because I was sceptical whether cycling could help other than the minority of people coming from nearby boroughs and hence there may not be the growth in demand for cycling anticipated. A member of the audience suggested there might be a growth in “cargo cycles” as an alternative to LGVs.

The “draft outcomes” already determined indicate that “people walking will have their needs prioritised” and that there will be “motor traffic reduction”. The latter and the change to lower emission vehicles will reduce air pollution (which is still a problem in the City which I noticed on my short walk even though the streets I walked through actually had very few vehicles on them at 2.30 pm – I just don’t understand why many people who responded to the survey felt that streets were “dominated by motor vehicles” – that’s not my experience on most City streets).

The proposal is to use street space “more fairly and effectively”, and that includes the suggestion that “transformational change will be accelerated through temporary interventions and trialling projects prior to making permanent changes”. In other words more closures like Bank junction and closures perhaps of some streets at lunchtime as indicated in the aforementioned document.

As I said to Bruce at the end of the meeting, the likely strategy seems to have been developed by deciding what they wanted to do and then doing a consultation based on asking the questions needed to get apparent support for it. The discussions at the previous Workshop event I attended do not seem to have been taken on board at all.

It is certainly a priority to improve pedestrian space where it is currently congested (such as Bank) but that needs to be done without damaging the road network. I opposed temporary or timed closures because these create major difficulties for road users. Vehicle users should not suddenly find that their planned route is blocked and even Sat Nav devices get baffled by such timed closures.

Removing vehicles altogether from the City is also not a viable suggestion. There is still a need for buses, construction traffic, goods deliveries and service operators’ vehicles. Even private cars and taxis provide a valuable service to a few people (and they are already very few – reducing them further won’t make much difference). I consider the suggestion that cargo bikes could take over LGV deliveries as a very inefficient use of labour and is unlikely to be cost effective.

But you can see from this brief description of this event the way the winds are blowing. The City is following the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and other London boroughs are likely to follow suit. The road network will be degraded in the alleged interests of cyclists, pedestrians and environmental dogma.

As regards the “Road Danger Reduction….” Document, the objective is zero KSIs (“Vision Zero” as it is called). A laudable if perhaps impossible objective unless all vehicles are removed and we revert to a pre-industrial age (cargo bikes are one example, perhaps rickshaws already common in the West End, and Sedan chairs will be next). But at least the Corporation have got around to working with the Police on a “Causal Factors Programme”. That involves looking at the causes of collisions and where they take place which may enable dangerous behaviours and locations to be tackled. This is similar to what other London boroughs have been doling for years. A statistical analysis approach of where, when and why accidents take place is one of the best approaches to improving road safety. That is of course different to the “driven by political gestures” approach such as the wide-area 20 mph scheme imposed on the whole of the City which has proved totally ineffective in reducing accidents. KSIs have not been falling in the City, not helped by increases in both pedestrian and cyclist numbers who are the main casualties. But one suggestion is to “research opportunities for timed closures to certain classes of traffic” which would be a retrograde step.

Behavioural change is one approach being suggested. This arises from such problems as pedestrians stepping into the street without looking or under the influence of alcohol, and pedal cyclists taking unnecessary risks in their hurry to progress. The latter will be targeted by a “City Etiquette” campaign so that they take more notice of pedestrians. Education of all road users is one of the main themes, and people opening vehicle doors without looking is another problem that may be amenable to education.

In summary, there are some useful ideas on the document but it’s not likely to make major inroads into the road safety statistics unless more money is spent on road engineering. It’s not always an easy task to reconfigure roads in the City – Cheapside is a good example of what can be achieved. But schemes like Bank junction are surely ones to avoid.

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Cycle Superhighway 11 – Yet Another Legal Battle?

To follow on from my last blog post about current and future legal cases, another pending one is the application for a judicial review by Westminster City Council and a campaign group both opposing the route of Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11). This runs through Swiss Cottage and Regents Park but there have been many objections from residents north of the Park due to the likely increased traffic congestion and the closure of Regents Park to vehicles. A very active public campaign against the proposals was run by local activists, countered by the usual vociferous cyclists’ groups who even alleged that tacks had been sprinkled in the Park as a protest against the cyclists.

Westminster are also blocking the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street – again because of the many objections from local residents. This is what Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office had to say: “There is an urgent need for safer cycle routes into central London and there is an equally strong case for pedestrianising Oxford Street. The idea that Westminster Council think they can hold the rest of London to ransom is totally unacceptable. Both of these schemes have significant public support. They will make a real difference to making London’s streets safer and cleaner and they shouldn’t be held up by petty political posturing.”

TfL intends to start work almost immediately on CS11 at Swiss Cottage, but legal proceedings may halt work on the stretch that runs through Westminster.

Comment: If Sadiq Khan wonders why he is getting entangled in legal battles it is because he is not listening to a major proportion of the population, or the people most affected by his proposals. Cyclists may support the changes in Regents Park but favouring their views alone and ignoring others is not what democracy is about. There needs to be a compromise that satisfies everyone and which does not change the status quo to the major disadvantage of one group versus another. It is of course the same reason why the Mayor is supporting a legal challenge over Heathrow airport – because the Government is not listening, and why so many people don’t like the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. The latter is a strategy that favours young, active people who live in central London and ignores large swathes of the capital’s population.

When politicians stop listening, the law tends to be invoked. Nobody goes to law if they can avoid it because it is a very expensive and time-consuming process for even the simplest case (and judicial reviews are potentially simple but rarely are in practice). Westminster Council should not be criticised for listening to the electorate and pursuing their concerns.

On the subject of “not listening”, I have requested a meeting with the new Deputy Mayor for Transport Heidi Alexander, but she has refused it. More on that at a later date.

Roger Lawson

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Uber and London Airport – One Current and One Future Court Case

Uber have been appearing in court to appeal the loss of their licence to operate in London. The magistrate’s decision will apparently hinge on whether they are “fit and proper” persons to operate a taxi service, and with the weight of evidence about past failings, whether they have changed their management or the way they operate. A decision should be delivered in a few days.

It would seem unfortunate if they are not allowed to continue as it has proved to be a very popular service with many users, although no doubt competing firms would no doubt fill the gap rapidly.

A legal battle is now in prospect after Parliament voted yesterday to progress the expansion of London Heathrow Airport with a third runway. Local west London borough councils and the Mayor of London are queuing up to join a threatened legal action against the development on the grounds that it will be unable to meet environmental regulations.

An application for a judicial review looks likely from at least Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor & Maidenhead with support from Mayor Sadiq Khan. Hillingdon have already reserved a budget of £200,000 for the case.

Some readers were surprised by this writer’s previous comments opposing the expansion of London Airport. A good letter by Dr Sally Cairns in the Financial Times summarised the reasons very well – here’s a part of it: “Heathrow already subjects more than half a million people to significant noise annoyance; generates more than 30 million car journeys a year through a busy part of London with air pollution problems and is the UK’s biggest point source of carbon dioxide emissions. Objecting to Heathrow expansion is not about nimby-ism – it is about the lack of evidence for the benefits, and the strong likelihood of high social and environmental costs”. The letter writer gives an address in Wokingham, but it was painful to watch BBC TV News last night with some of the residents talking whose homes will be demolished as a result. That’s if it ever happens. In the meantime, they are stuck in limbo and probably for some years, being unable to sell their homes.

Note though that the air pollution problems around Heathrow are caused to a large extent by aircraft. Cars and goods vehicles do contribute but are getting cleaner very rapidly with electric cars now very viable for most drivers. Electric aeroplanes of any size are a long way from reality and the growth in air traffic is a major problem for toxic emissions.

The legal and other delays, such as the likely reluctance to fund the enormous cost, could mean years wasted when other solutions to increased travel demand are available and could be progressed more rapidly. The disruption caused by the expansion of road capacity to serve a larger airport and the need to divert the M25 into a tunnel will be a major problem for road traffic during the lengthy construction period.

Many factors mitigate against expansion of Heathrow, despite the apparent commercial benefits of doing so.

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