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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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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30 MPH Limit on the A40

The ABD has received a number of complaints about the temporary 30-mph speed limit imposed on the A40 between the Target Roundabout and the Greenford Flyover. It was previously 40 mph and there seems to be no obvious reason for the new limit. This limit was put in place on the 15th December 2017 so has now been present for many months.

The justification is apparently that some corrosion of the central safety barrier was noticed so there were “safety concerns”. But according to Transport for London (TfL), “until we have the funding in place and contractors are able to reschedule the works, we are still unable to provide you with a timetable when normal speeds will resume”. But they are “hopeful” that the works will be completed soon.

Those affected by this matter should consider complaining to TfL. A limit of 30-mph on this stretch of road is unnatural and with speed cameras enforcing the 40 limit it seems unnecessary even if the barriers are not as good as they might be.

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How to Travel Safely in London

London residents will no doubt be aware that the capital is suffering from a major crime wave at present. Robberies on the street (muggings) are now a major problem in London, typically by youths armed with knives while moped crime is at record levels. The latter is where mopeds are stolen and then used in street robberies. The police have been markedly ineffective in preventing such crimes or catching the criminals.

One recent case was that of comedian Michael McIntyre who was mugged for his £15,000 Rolex watch while doing the school run in north London. Even Home Secretary Sajid Javid had his mobile phone stolen outside Euston station as he called a cab.

Here’s a few tips on how to avoid being mugged:

Don’t wear expensive watches. They don’t tell the time any better than cheap watches.

Avoid flashing expensive jewellery, watches or mobile phones on the streets, particularly at night.

Do not use your mobile phone while walking or standing on the streets of London. Let all calls go to voicemail and respond later in a safe place. This will also avoid you being the victim of a road accident as in London many pedestrians do not see or hear vehicles and step out into the street without looking.

When driving a car, always allow space in front of you to the next vehicle so you can drive around it and escape if attacked, and where there is more than one lane use the outside lane at traffic lights so that you cannot be boxed in. Even if a moped rider stops alongside you, remember that a car can push a moped and its rider out of the way.

How can this crime wave be reduced, other than by people taking more precautions? Clearly the police numbers in London have been falling in recent years – now down to about 30,000. Mayor Sadiq Khan blames this on lack of funding, although per head of population funding of London’s police is higher than in other parts of the UK. But others blame the reduction in “stop and search” activity due to pressure from the black community. The Mayor published a “London Knife Crime Strategy” last year but the impact on such crime has not yet been apparent with fatal stabbings rising this year.

In the case of moped crime, the police do not seem to have been responding with new tactics to tackle it and are allegedly being hampered by rules that prevent them chasing such criminals. Police officers are reluctant to do so simply because if the criminal is injured they may be the subject of an inquiry. Their procedural rules need changing and they need new motorbike patrols using smaller, agile bikes.

One of the problems is that although there is now very extensive video coverage of London’s streets, the criminals’ faces are concealed by crash helmets and the mopeds are typically only recently stolen. Here’s one suggestion that might help. Why not license the helmets used by riders as well as the mopeds or motorbikes. Unlike the latter, helmets are generally not left lying around by their owners and hence would be quickly reported to the police if stolen. Licensing helmets might enable criminals using helmets to be traced, and unlicensed or stolen helmet users could be stopped and questioned or prosecuted. All helmets would have to display their licence number clearly. Is this a workable solution or not?

Postscript: the latter suggestion was criticised by some twitter respondents on the basis that it would not work as the police are unable to stop moped riders. Clearly if that is the case then it probably would not so it would have to be linked to a way of ensuring they could be, and an active “stop and search” programme. Regardless, the key point is that new tactics and new laws need to be considered to stop the crime wave.

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Speed Limits in London to be Reduced, and More Enforcement

Mayor Sadiq Khan has stated that speed limits on London’s roads are to be reduced. In addition, there will be more “enforcement” of the limits.

The London Assembly Transport Committee published a report a few months ago calling on Transport for London (TfL) to review the speed limits on all its roads in the capital. They believed this would encourage more walking and cycling.

In response to a letter from Conservative London Assembly member Steve O’Connell which raised concerns that the majority of drivers ignore 20mph speed limits, the Mayor said: “Lowering speeds is fundamental to reducing road danger and Transport for London (TfL) is actively developing a strategy to increase the number of communities which will benefit from 20mph speed limits and speed reductions”. The Mayor said he will be publishing an action plan this summer which will provide details on City Hall and TfL’s approach and timescales for implementing lower speeds, as well as what measures will be rolled out in order to enforce them and ensure compliance. The plans apparently included imposing 20-mph speed limits on TfL controlled roads, which are the main roads in London.

However GLA Conservatives have raised concerns over the speed limit proposals, saying: “The Transport for London road network or red routes are London’s arterial roads. Although they make up just five per cent of London’s roads they contain approximately 30 per cent of London’s traffic. Their purpose – and the reason that they are run by TfL rather than London’s boroughs – is to keep London and Londoners moving.”

Comment: they are right to raise concerns. This looks like a plan to make London’s road transport network even more sclerotic than it is at present. The London Assembly seem to believe that simply reducing speed limits will cut road casualties when that is unlikely to be the case. The reason why speed limits, particularly 20-mph ones, are often ignored is because drivers see no purpose in them on some roads at some times of day. Drivers object to having their intelligence about what is and is not a safe speed at which to drive undermined by limits that apply regardless of traffic, pedestrians presence, cyclists presence, weather conditions and all the other factors that affect at which speed it is safe to drive. Imposing the lowest common denominator of a speed limit set by token gestures rather than the speed limit sent in a scientific manner using the 85th percentile of free flowing traffic speed will not increase compliance.

Other News

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has resigned from the Labour party. That’s probably before he was thrown out for his comments on Hitler. Readers should be reminded that the declared car-hating Livingstone was the catalyst for the destruction of London’s road network and it has gone downhill ever since. From the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) imposed to reduce congestion which it has not done, to the creation of Transport for London as a body that promoted the wonders of public transport, cycling and walking to the prejudice of all private transport. In reality TfL is an enormous expensive bureaucracy that is now running a massive budget deficit. Mayor Sadiq Khan has simply taken up similar policies in his new Transport Strategy, for example with the ULEZ proposals which will impose enormous costs on Londoners for very little benefit. Like Livingstone he is a “populist” Mayor who panders to the electorate with promises to freeze London’s public transport fares, promises to fix air pollution, promises fix our health problems by encouraging walking and cycling, and other very expensive policies that won’t work with a growing and ageing population in London. But as in the case of Livingstone there are signs that the public are becoming disenchanted with his regime as they see the results of his policies.

Incidentally I happened to walk past Sadiq Khan on the streets of London recently. I had not realised how short he is which is not obvious from his TV appearances. He would make a good shoe-in for Rick Moranis in a remake of “Honey, I shrunk the kids” if you recall that popular film of the 1980s. To quote Mr Khan: “Although I’m 5ft 6 I’ve grown in relation to the ideas I’ve got and what I’m going to do”.

The City of London Corporation that covers the square mile in the business district is drawing up their Transport Strategy. They are holding several meetings on the 29th June and the 6th July to discuss the proposed “vision, aim and outcomes”. Anyone with an interest in the road network in the City may care to attend – it’s free. See https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/city-of-london-transport-strategy-briefing-tickets-46108726442

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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

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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

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