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

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.

City of London Transport Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problems to be faced:

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

What should be aimed for:

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, there is a public consultation where you can give your own views here: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/transportstrategy

Postscript: Under the City Corporation’s “Road Danger Reduction Plan”, there are some interesting new initiatives. These include:

  • Lane closures on multi-lane roads at night. Not that there are many in the City but Mansell street is one where there was a pedestrian fatality in 2017.
  • Part-day filtering of certain vehicle types at peak times.
  • Active Travel Priority Zones where the recommended speed for vehicles would be no greater than 10 mph.
  • Lunchtime closures of streets as there are more pedestrians around at that time.

These measures are in response to the latest road safety statistics which show high numbers of pedestrian casualties, mainly from stepping into roads without looking. Pedestrian numbers are rising, and the 20 mph wide area speed limit across the City has had negligible impact. There also seem to be increasing numbers of collisions between cyclists and pedestrians, which can be serious or fatal (e.g. the example of Charlie Alliston on Old Street).

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Press Release: Mayor Sadiq Khan Ignores Objections to his Transport Strategy

The ABD has issued the following press release:

The response of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to the public consultation on his Transport Strategy has been announced today. The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has been actively campaigning against certain aspects of his proposals.

We suggested that his proposals were a direct attack on the use of cars or indeed private transport in general and that not only were his proposals unrealistic but would not work. Our campaign attracted more responses to his proposals than any other campaign group.

Has he made any significant changes to his proposals? In reality NO. The response document (see below) is full of comments that say “no change” is proposed.

A Brief Analysis of Responses to the Public Consultation

The Mayor claims “broad support” for his Healthy Streets approach and the 80% mode share target for cycling, walking and public transport use. But then goes on to say “there were sometimes divergent views across issues”. Indeed, if you look at the details of the comments TfL received there was substantial opposition to many points, including much opposition to road user charging or congestion charging schemes.

There were clearly lots of opposing comments from outer London residents and although the Mayor has committed to respond to them by improving the bus network and surface rail in outer London, this is hardly likely to placate many objectors. Our experience is that many of those objecting are disabled or very elderly who often rely on private vehicles and who would have difficulty with public transport (most of them consider the suggestion that they should cycle as laughable). You can see some comments from our campaign supporters on our web site.

This is also evident from the Consultation Response Document where it says “there was a notable level of disagreement with the aim that by 2041 Londoners should be doing 20 minutes of active travel each day” (page 30 of the Consultation Report).

Opposition to road charging was evidenced by 566 “comments of concern” versus 250 supportive comments (see page 103). That’s good evidence of the level of opposition. That’s despite the repeated claims by the Mayor that the Congestion Charge system reduced congestion (see page 106), which is simply not true. But it is “no change” for his strategy to support charging schemes. His only concession is that it will be up to local boroughs to consider how or whether to implement them (see page 109). The ABD is likely therefore to be fighting these in individual boroughs in future as we successfully did in Greenwich when this was last proposed.

Even the Mayor’s environmental policies received a lot of negative comments (see page 110) and there were also many against “densification” of London which is a major concern in outer London boroughs (see page 162). The Mayor again proposes “no change” to his strategy on those.

In summary a disappointing outcome, with consultation responses minimised by the short timescale allowed. The outcome is much as one might expect when you have a Mayor who has dictatorial powers and who does not seem to understand the diverse population of London and those who live in outer London.

More Information

The ABD’s campaign against the Mayor’s Transport is described here: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm

The Announcement from TfL and the Consultation Report document can be obtained from here: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/policy/mayors-transport-strategy/?cid=mayors-transport-strategy

For more information, contact Roger Lawson on 020-8295-0378.