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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Cycle Superhighways Brought in Too Quickly

London Transport Commissioner Mike Brown conceded at a recent LBC event that former London Mayor Boris Johnson pushed through implementation of the first cycle superhighways too rapidly. He said “I think it was ill-judged, it was too fast and ill thought through in the speed in which it was done which I’m afraid is the main downside of living in a democracy because people want to do things in their term”. In other words, Boris wished to get some implemented before he departed for higher things and pushed the plans through too quickly.

Mike Brown did say that he supported the superhighways which he suggested had reduced accidents to cyclists and expenditure on cycle schemes is still rising.

What was wrong with the cycle superhighways? They have increased congestion substantially – for example on a key east/west route along Upper/Lower Thames Street and the Embankment. Indeed cyclists have to now breath air on one of the most heavily polluted roads in London because of the air pollution from slow moving traffic and the fact that many buses and HGV/LGVs use that road. The extra journey times were forecast but the cost/benefit analysis or consideration of alternative routes were not properly considered. Motorists are as a result deeply unhappy. Other routes including some still being developed are causing opposition from road users because of the lack of thought in their design and the impact on traffic speed and congestion. Transport for London (TfL) still seem to prioritise the needs of cyclists over all other road users while spending enormous sums of money supporting them when very little is otherwise done to improve the road network.

But cyclists are also unhappy because of the poor design of some aspects of Cycle Superhighway 1 where there are junctions with other roads or it runs along main roads.

If more consideration had been given to the design of cycle superhighways, and their routing, all these problems could have been avoided.

Roger Lawson

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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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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 be 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

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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

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