Covid-19 Induced Madness Comes to Bromley in Albemarle Road

The changes to Albemarle Road in Beckenham have created the anticipated traffic congestion problems. See photo below taken from a petition web site created to oppose the changes.

The changes included making Albemarle Road, a key east-west route between Bromley and Beckenham Junction, a one-way road with the introduction of a cycle lane and the banning of parking. Note that we submitted objections to these proposals when they were first announced in September – see this blog post for details: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2020/09/20/bromley-council-experimental-traffic-orders-objections-submitted/

Albemarle Road worked very well as it was, but it is now the cause of greatly increased traffic congestion and massive inconvenience to local residents. The changes were introduced using Experimental Traffic Orders justified by the Covid-19 epidemic which makes no sense whatsoever.

Will it encourage cyclists to use this route? I doubt it because there was probably no problem with them using it before, and in any case any cyclist travelling eastwards would have hit a steep hill before getting to Bromley which may have deterred them anyway.

Send in your objections to ESD Traffic (Group) traffic@bromley.gov.uk to ensure this scheme is not made permanent.

And sign the petition here: http://chng.it/pTf7PTjqqN

More details are here: https://www.bromley.gov.uk/info/545/traffic_management/1453/albemarle_road_-_traffic_management_alterations

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Active Travel and Road Safety – The Facts

There has been a big push to encourage people to take up “active travel” in the last few years, i.e. to cycle or walk on the premise that this will improve their health. It is hoped that this will relieve pressure on public transport and reduce traffic congestion by getting people out of their cars. So the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy that he adopted focussed on this well before the latest attempts to encourage active travel in response to the Covid-19 epidemic.

How successful has this strategy been and what are the unintended consequences?

The latest figures available from the Department for Transport (DfT) in their National Travel Survey for 2019 showed no change in the number of stages cycled and an actual fall in the average distance cycled from 58 to 54 miles. The number of stages walked also fell from 347 in 2018 to 332. Cycling remained very much a male dominated travel mode – they made 3 times as many cycle trips as women.

There was little change in the road casualty statistics in 2019. The number of people killed was 1,748. Despite sharp falls in the number prior to 2010, the figures plateaued in the 2010s. The DfT suggests that any changes in recent years are simply random variations (only 2% down in 2019). There has of course been some increase in traffic volumes in the last few years but the results are still very disappointing.

Although overall casualty figures fell by 5% in 2019, this data is probably an under-estimate as it is known that slight casualties are under-reported and recent pressures on police resources mean even fewer are reported with police forces not even turning out to attend many road traffic accidents.

The ABD has been claiming for some time that the failure to bring down casualties is due to defects in road safety policies. For example a concentration on automated speed enforcement rather than spending money on road engineering and education. The encouragement of cycling may not have helped either. These are the relative figures for fatalities per billion miles travelled using different transport modes:

Motorcycling: 113.3

Walking: 34.1

Cycling: 29.4

Car use: 1.8

HGV use: 0.9

Bus use: 0.6

Van use: 0.6

A new negative trend may soon appear if E-Scooters are widely adopted as they appear to be positively dangerous. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) recently said this: “From evidence and experience around the world, it is now very clear that the public benefits of [e-scooters] are illusory and the disbenefits substantial, at least in a European context”. They oppose the current trials and wider legislation to support them. Very few car trips apparently transfer to e-scooter use and they also are not “active travel”.

They are also a particular danger to pedestrians when ridden on the pavement which is happening all over London at present with the police doing very little to stop it.

What have been the changes in transport modes prompted by the Covid-19 epidemic?  They have been substantial, particularly in London. Underground and London bus usage has fallen greatly as more people worked from home which is why the Mayor and TfL have financial difficulties as income has fallen while the network has not been reduced. Nationwide cycling rose by as much as 300% on some days in the first couple of months (April/May) over the start of the year. The weather does of course have a big impact on cycle use which has been relatively benign in recent months and summer makes cycling more enjoyable. Cycle use rises sharply during weekends and bank holidays which suggests it is dominated by “leisure” and “exercise” use, particularly as gyms and sports venues have been closed. But the cycling numbers are now reverting to more normal levels. You can see the data for different modes during the epidemic here: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/transport-use-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic   

Car use fell very substantially during the first few weeks of the epidemic but that has also reverted to near normal levels across the country. Any big increases in traffic congestion in London are surely due to the road closures and removal of road space by cycle and bus lanes using Covid-19 as an excuse.

Comment: The fear of gridlock on the roads as people avoided public transport is not born out by the facts. They have mainly avoided travelling altogether. As people have learned to work from home, it is clear that the demand for central London offices will fall, and the number of commuters may never recover to previous levels. Why should TfL maintain a network of bus and underground services at previous levels when the passengers are much reduced? Any commercial business would cut services to match demand because to do otherwise leads to bankruptcy. That is what will happen to London’s transport services unless the Government bows to Sadiq Khan’s demands for more cash to keep it afloat. The Government should ignore such requests and force TfL to adapt to the new world rather than waste the taxes we all pay.  

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Who Is Right About Traffic in London?

Lewisham Councillor James Rathbone is a strong supporter of the newly introduced Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme in Lee Green ward. He recently issued a Tweet which said: “People are right to be angry that there is so much congestion on their streets but it’s been a growing problem for the last decade”. He also suggested that “Without traffic reduction the number of vehicle miles will only rise”, i.e. that the alleged problem would get worse. He backed it up with some graphs without giving the source or what they actually represented.

My response was that from my experience of living and driving in London for many years, I believed he was exaggerating. I have taken the time to actually locate the relevant data and here it is:

London and Lewisham Traffic Data

Traffic volumes in London, and even more so in Lewisham, have been falling for the last 10 years. If there is any increase in traffic congestion it is the result of new traffic management measures, road narrowing, road closures, new bus lanes, imposition of cycle superhighways and other attempts to impose modal shift on drivers. In other words, poor traffic management is the cause, not increases in traffic volumes. 

I hope Mr Rathbone will apologise for misleading people.

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Does Closing Roads Reduce Air Pollution and Improve Health?

The Alliance of British Drivers has long argued that there is way too much scaremongering about the impact on people’s health of air pollution. We published a paper two years ago (see Reference 1 below) that in summary said that we believe it is not a major health crisis but simply a major health scare fed to a gullible public by a few politicians and by journalists wanting a story. We also criticised the relative contribution of vehicles to existing air pollution. Most air pollution arises from home and office heating, building and industrial activities and from home activities such as cooking and smoking.

Is there actually a public health crisis? The simple answer is NO. The evidence does not support such claims. In reality air quality has been steadily improving and will continue to do so from technical improvements to heating and vehicles. Meanwhile life expectancy has been increasing. There is no public health crisis!

The Covid-19 epidemic has given a great opportunity to see the likely impact of removing cars and other vehicles from the roads as businesses closed down and home working spread like wildfire.

The Daily Mail (see Reference 2) has reported on a study by Stirling University with the headlines: “Decline in vehicle use in lockdown had no impact on reducing toxic particle emissions and suggests traffic is ‘not a key contributor to air pollution” and “It found no significant fall in harmful toxic particulate matter – known as PM2.5” based on roadside measurements. That was despite a 65% fall in traffic.

Particulates are more dangerous than NOX and as people spent more time at home, they may have increased their exposure to them. But it is clear that removing vehicles from the roads does not cut particulate emissions.  Although NO2 levels fell, which mainly come from transport, the Mail article suggests that might cut attributable deaths but in reality there is no certainty about the impact of NOX emissions on life expectancy and it may be a totally spurious claim.

The ABD also recently debunked the alleged claim linking asthma to NOX emissions. There are a number of possible causes for asthma and very poor air conditions (worse than generally experienced) can trigger or exacerbate attacks, but one has to be very careful about a specific linkage – see Reference 3.

Life expectancy data tells us that there is no air pollution health crisis – see another article published by the ABD in Reference 4. But London boroughs such as Lewisham argue we have to remove vehicles from our streets as a matter of urgency – see Reference 5 for Lewisham air quality data.

A lot of published data on air quality and sources of air pollution are out of date as road transport has rapidly changed as vehicles are replaced. Less than 50% of air pollution in London now comes from vehicles and stopping private cars will have minimal impact as most vehicle emissions come from buses and goods vehicles.

Another problem is that much of London’s air pollution blows in from outside the metropolis. According to London Councils (see the report in Reference 6), 75% of particulates actually originate from elsewhere.

In summary, closing roads to reduce vehicles in London generally, and in boroughs such as Lewisham specifically, based on a claimed need to reduce vehicle emission makes no sense at the present time. The recent epidemic impact when vehicles were much reduced shows that there was nil or minimal impact on air quality so it would be a pointless exercise.

In reality the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods introduced in boroughs such as Lewisham has diverted traffic onto main roads and created more traffic congestion. It also means longer routes have to be driven and traffic piles up on residential roads (see photo of Horncastle Road above). Overall air quality has surely been made worse as is clear from residents’ comments on the impact. These “experiments” to cut traffic should be abandoned now!

Reference 1: Air Quality and Vehicles – The Truth: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Air-Quality-and-Vehicles-The-Truth.pdf

Reference 2: Daily Mail article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/cars/article-8710499/Decline-vehicle-journeys-lockdown-did-NOT-reduce-emissions-toxic-particles.html

Reference 3: Epidemiological Fallacy on Asthma and Nitrogen Dioxide: https://www.abd.org.uk/press-release-scare-pollution-the-latest-epidemiological-fallacy-on-asthma-and-nitrogen-dioxide/

Reference 4: Life expectancy data: https://www.abd.org.uk/life-expectancy-data-no-air-pollution-health-crisis/

Refence 5: Lewisham air quality data:  https://lewisham.gov.uk/myservices/environment/air-pollution/read-our-air-quality-action-plan-and-other-reports

Reference 6: London Council’s Report “Demystifying Air Pollution in London”: https://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/node/33224

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Is the Traffic Management Act Being Ignored?

The Traffic Management Act was passed by Parliament in 2004. Its objective was to improve the management of the road network.  Part 2 of the Act imposes a duty on all local traffic authorities to secure the expeditious movement of traffic on their road networks. Authorities are required to make arrangements as they consider appropriate for planning and carrying out the action to be taken in performing the duty and part of the arrangements must be the appointment of a “Traffic Manager”.

Section 16 of the Act specifically says:

The network management duty

(1) It is the duty of a local traffic authority or a strategic highways company (“the network management authority”) to manage their road network with a view to achieving, so far as may be reasonably practicable having regard to their other obligations, policies and objectives, the following objectives—

(a) securing the expeditious movement of traffic on the authority’s road network; and

(b) facilitating the expeditious movement of traffic on road networks for which another authority is the traffic authority.

(2) The action which the authority may take in performing that duty includes, in particular, any action which they consider will contribute to securing—

(a) the more efficient use of their road network; or

(b) the avoidance, elimination or reduction of road congestion or other disruption to the movement of traffic on their road network or a road network for which another authority is the traffic authority;and may involve the exercise of any power to regulate or co-ordinate the uses made of any road (or part of a road) in the road network (whether or not the power was conferred on them in their capacity as a traffic authority).

But the road closures that are taking place all over London and in many other parts of the country are surely ignoring that obligation. In other words, the law of the land is being ignored. As a result we have massively increased congestion which the Act was designed originally to avoid.

Local councils such as Lewisham are claiming that they can do so because of the Guidance published by the Secretary of State in May (See Reference 2). This provided additional guidance on how to adapt roads to cope with the Covid-19 epidemic – for example to improve the support for active travel modes such as walking and cycling . That included reallocation of road space and the use of Modal Filters to close roads to motor traffic. But that surely contradicts the basic wording and obligations imposed by the Act of Parliament. That should not be overturned simply because some civil servant in Whitehall thinks it’s a good idea to do so.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is apparently reviewing the Act but it would surely be unwise to change the principles behind the Act as it stands.

Reference 1: The Traffic Management Act 2004:  https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/18/contents

Reference 2: Statutory Guidance 2020: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reallocating-road-space-in-response-to-covid-19-statutory-guidance-for-local-authorities/traffic-management-act-2004-network-management-in-response-to-covid-19

Reference 3: Statutory Guidance 2004: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roads/tpm/tmaportal/tmafeatures/tmapart2/tmafeaturespart2.pdf

Roger Lawson

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Seminar on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

There is a great deal of irrationality in the world at present. A good example was a webinar I attended this morning run by Landor Links on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). These are being promoted by the Government and frequently consist of road closures using the euphemistically named “modal filters” Several of the speakers promoted the wonders of such schemes typically using slides showing the joy of cycling in sunny weather. They failed to cover how the residents of boroughs such as Waltham Forest got to vote on the proposals, before or after implementation – they did not of course! I know there is a very large amount of opposition in Waltham Forest, in Lewisham in the Oval area, in Islington and several other parts of London. But the Covid-19 epidemic is being used to justify emergency measures without any public consultation.

It’s all quite disgraceful as democracy is being undermined and the road network is being destroyed. Traffic congestion in Lewisham for example has been made a lot worse to my personal knowledge and that’s even before the schools return. Labour controlled Councils are frequently a particular problem as they tend to like to decide what is good for you rather than listening to their electorate or taking into account any rational arguments.

This is all part of the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy which the ABD has been campaigning against for some time (see https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm ). But boroughs such as Lewisham controlled by keen cyclists are pushing through simple anti-car measures without any reason and to the disadvantage of many groups of people who need to use vehicles.

Roger Lawson

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Radical TfL Plan to Remove Road Space from Drivers

When the coronavirus epidemic is over, will transport and traffic in London return to normal? Not if Cycling Commissioner Will Norman of Transport for London has his way.

In an article published by Bikebiz (see link below) he says that TfL is working on a radical solution – a Streetspace Plan. That might include converting general traffic lanes and parking spaces to cycle lanes and installing wider footpaths. Some roads may be restricted to buses and cycles only at certain times of day.

This is not just about providing more distancing space for pedestrians temporarily during the epidemic. It is clearly focussed on what happens after restrictions are lifted with the objective of making permanent changes to the allocation of road space.

In other words, it’s just another attack on the use of motor vehicles led by a cycling enthusiast. There is no justification for such measures and there is no public information available, nor any apparent public consultation proposed.

This is yet another damaging attack on the road network coming out of the Mayor of London’s office. Make sure you oppose it!

Bikebiz article: https://www.bikebiz.com/mayors-streetspace-plan-could-see-cycling-increased-tenfold-post-lockdown/

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Bus and Underground Usage Collapses While Anti-Car Measures are Promoted

According to figures published by Transport for London (TfL), bus usage is down by 85% from the pre-virus epidemic levels and underground usage is down by 95%. That’s hardly surprising as Mayor Sadiq Khan is now advising people not to use public transport unless they are essential workers travelling to work. That’s a big “U-Turn” from his original comment in March that there was no risk of catching coronavirus on the tube. That was a very ill-advised comment at the time when it was already obvious that it was a highly contagious disease.

It is also causing the deaths of many bus drivers who are exposed to the general public although the Mayor is belatedly taking steps to protect them by limiting access, providing screening and PPE. Meanwhile crowding of people on the underground is still happening as the service has been reduced, partly because underground staff are sick or “self-isolating” (or “under house arrest” as Norman Tebbit aptly called it recently).

Note that income from bus and underground fares provides almost 50% of TfL income so the Mayor has a major financial problem to add to the already high deficit in TfL if the Covid-19 epidemic continues for much longer.

It is very clear that using private cars is a much safer way to travel and that public transport should be avoided but the anti-car and cycling lobbies continue to try and make capital out of the epidemic. The Times reports that roads in built-up areas may be converted into car-free zones to create extra space for joggers and cyclists during lockdown and there is a call for lower speed limits to protect the NHS from having to deal with road casualties. That’s despite the fact that most A&E Units have fewer customers than normal probably because many potential users probably consider them high risk places to visit so are avoiding them.

ABD Spokesman Paul Biggs said: “At a time when vehicle reliant key workers such as mobile carers, NHS staff, delivery drivers etc, are working hard to provide care and keep shops and hospitals supplied, the senseless, shameless anti-driver lobby comes up with ideas to obstruct them in favour of people who aren’t working.

Whether we like it or not, the Government have made it clear that they want people to ‘Stay Home’ as much as possible in order to minimise the spread of virus. Driving a car is the lowest risk form of transport in terms of virus transmission. Jogging and cycling entails heavy breathing outdoors, which is obviously a higher risk. However, it is quite possible for all three to coexist with the common sense and courtesy that is currently being displayed by the vast majority. There is no need for any activity to be banned, including essential car travel, but the roads need to be kept clear for those who actually need to use them rather than being closed for spurious reasons.”

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Lewisham Spending £0.5 Million With No Justification

The ABD has been running a campaign to oppose the road closures proposed as part of Lewisham Council’s “Healthy Neighbourhoods” scheme for Lee Green. We submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain information to justify the scheme to which we now have most, if not all, of the answers.

The cost of the proposed “trial” will be just less than £500,000! Will the trial ever be abandoned if there are too many objections? That is very, very unlikely because Councils never want to admit they have wasted money. So the suggestion that it is a “trial scheme” is a fiction.

We also asked for what cost/benefit analysis had been done to justify the scheme. Apparently NONE!

We also asked for information on what traffic modelling had been done to see the impact of likely increases in traffic volumes on the major roads. It seems that it is still being carried out. In other words, the scheme proposals have been put forward without any study of the impact.

We asked for details of the consultations with the emergency services (fire, police, ambulance services). No formal consultations to date – only informal meetings. So clearly the proposal was to put in the trial scheme without doing any proper consultation with them first.

We asked for details of the road accident statistics. Some data has been provided. There were no fatal accidents in the Lee Green/Lewisham area covered by the scheme between 31/1/2013 and 31/12/2017 although there were a few serious and a large number of slight casualties. Drivers and vehicle passengers were the majority of casualties. The figures are typical for inner London boroughs.

We asked for information on air pollution in the area. The answer was that “baseline monitoring” is currently being carried out. So it seems that the scheme was proposed without key data on the historic air pollution and the proposed benefits from the scheme.

Bearing in mind the claims for “rat-running” on the area’s roads we asked for what proportion of the claimed vehicles were non-resident delivery or service vehicles. No data on that is available apparently.

In summary it seems the trial scheme proposals have been put forward without any proper investigation of the need for it. In addition, as no baselines have been established it will not be possible to say later whether the scheme has provided any benefits or not.

It is rather as the ABD suspected. The scheme has been proposed simply by councillors and council staff who have a prejudice against private vehicles and would like everyone to cycle, walk or use public transport.

There is no evidence that it will provide any health benefits as is claimed and it will simply be a waste of public funds. But with Transport for London providing the funds and the Mayor of London encouraging such schemes, this is the kind of perverse result that we are seeing.

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Getting Rid of Cars in London

Bus Jam 208-01-17There was a good article recently in the Guardian by Gwyn Topham entitled “How London got rid of private cars – and grew more congested than ever”. It described in graphic terms how despite falling numbers of cars, congestion has got worse. Part of the problem is that the reduction in private cars, which are almost non-existent in central London now, has been offset by the increase in PHVs (Uber etc) and LGVs delivering internet parcels or doing “just-in-time” deliveries.

Cycle lanes and other reductions in road space have also made matters worse while the Congestion Charge has been totally ineffective in reducing congestion (see this page for our analysis of that costly and ineffective system: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm ).

The impact of more congestion has hit bus users hard and reduced ridership. Slower buses put people off using them and congestion also means an unreliable service. Traffic speed is now down to about 8 mph.

All of these problems have been caused by poor transport policies in London with unintended consequences. Attacking private car use has been turned out to be particularly pointless and just makes matters worse, as Councillors in Lewisham with their “Healthy Neighbourhoods” scheme will no doubt soon learn if they do not reconsider their proposals.

There is a better way, but the Mayor of London and his transport bosses will not listen because they seem more interested in making money from charging road users than fixing the congestion problem.

You can read the Guardian article here: https://tinyurl.com/yxy8g5lq

Roger Lawson

 

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