Richmond Ignores 20 Mph Vote, and Wandsworth’s Doubtful Claims

 

The London Borough of Richmond is set to ignore a public consultation where a majority of respondents opposed the introduction of a borough-wide 20 mph speed limit. The almost 10,000 respondents voted 47.9% in favour and 49.7% against. There was even less support for the notion that 20 mph speed limits will improve air quality and reduce car use.

However they have made some changes to the original proposals with more roads excluded from the scheme. See https://tinyurl.com/y2qcfz2m for more details.

Note that the LibDems won control of Richmond Council in 2018 when it had previously been Conservative controlled. They took over from LibDems in 2010 after the latter repeatedly ignored public opinion, e.g. over emission-based permit parking charges.

Comment: It looks like the LibDems are back to ignoring the results of public consultations, presumably because they think they know better. A very dubious decision which they will surely live to regret.

Wandsworth Claim 20 Mph Success, But Is It?

Meanwhile the neighbouring London Borough of Wandsworth have claimed a success for their borough-wide 20 Mph scheme which was implemented in 2017. Analysis of the first year post implementation data indicated a reduction of 9% in casualties although mean traffic speeds only fell by 0.6 mph. On that basis they have claimed it to be a success although casualties actually fell by 28% across all roads in the borough (which includes the Transport for London controlled main roads where the speed limit generally remained unchanged).

The other problem with this data is that using only a one-year post implementation period is known to distort the figures. A three-year before and after period is recommended by road safety engineers to avoid temporary reactions to perceived road changes.

But Wandsworth is claiming it as a success anyway and is looking to impose 20 mph limits on some major roads such as Putney High Street.

Roger Lawson

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TfL’s Business Plan and Budgets – Financial Profligacy

The Mayor of London has published a Business Plan for TfL for the next five years plus a Budget for 2018/19– see https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/business-plan. The Business Plan is much as outlined in his adopted Transport Strategy so he aims to get the proportion of journeys taken by walking, cycling or public transport up to 65% by 2024 when it’s about 63% today. That’s despite the recent lack of progress in achieving that goal as highlighted in our previous article on London travel trends here: https://tinyurl.com/ybtchctj

For east Londoners he is committing to progress that vanity project called the Rotherhithe bridge, but there should be new Woolwich ferry boats delivered in 2019, progress on the Silvertown Tunnel and the document mentions a budget for “renewal” of the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

But the bad news for all Londoners is that the Mayor intends that TfL will continue to run a big financial deficit until 2021. That date does of course coincide with the expansion of the ULEZ zone to the North/South Circular which will be providing more income and also the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) should also be in operation by then which will also assist. There is a small surplus budgeted for in 2022/23.

Another item of bad news for all Londoners is that “proactive” street maintenance budgets will remain at zero so we will see more short-term and reactive patching. This is surely a short-sighted financial approach. Has the Mayor not heard of the phrase “a stitch in time saves nine”.

The delays to Crossrail and falling bus usage have been two causes of the short-term deficits but the Mayor continues to hobble himself with the promise he made to freeze public transport fares so as to get elected. The Mayor claims to have reduced “like-for-like” operating costs in the last two years but that is a claim that is difficult to verify and overall income/costs are what matter.

One consequence of this financial ineptitude is that TfL are having to borrow more money. Debt has been, and will continue to rise rapidly based on the budgets. It will be 175% of revenue in 2018/19 (revenue not profits note), and financing costs will be 7.5% of revenue in that year. That does not look like a sound financial strategy to anyone familiar with the financial world. The Mayor is just in the process of building up a big problem for his successor.

What is remarkable about the two aforementioned documents is the lack of detail on where the Mayor is actually spending money, e.g. the proposed capital expenditure. We just get headline titles such as £116 million to be spent on “Healthy Streets”, £80 million on “Air Quality”, £114 million on “Public Transport”, etc. There is also little detail on operational income and expenditure. The budget for 2018/19 has to be approved by the London Assembly and there is a bit more detail in this version submitted to them: https://tinyurl.com/y78cjoyq

So for example it shows (on page 37) that the introduction of the ULEZ (for central London only in 2019) will cost around £40 million. But the revenue from it seems to be just dumped into “other income” so it is impossible to evaluate the cost versus benefit of it.

Here are some simple questions one could ask that are not answered by these documents such as:

  • How much money is being spent on Cycle Superhighways, Quietways and other cycle projects?
  • How much does the Santander Cycle Hire scheme cost to run, or does it make a profit? What is being invested in expansion of that scheme?
  • How much is TfL spending on funding wide-area 20 mph schemes in local boroughs?
  • What will be the real costs and income from the ULEZ, both before and after expansion?

There is simply insufficient detail provided to answer these questions. These documents do not provide enough financial detail to judge the merits of the Mayor’s plans at all. One suspects a lot of dubious projects and expenditure are being concealed in these public relations documents.

But there is one thing for certain. There is no budget to improve the road network in London so as to increase capacity and reduce traffic congestion. With London’s population expanding, that is a serious omission.

Roger Lawson

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Money Generation By Councils

The ABD has covered several examples of money generation by local Councils from PCNs. For example, for illegal turns, infringement of yellow box junctions, infringement of bus lanes and other “moving traffic offences”. See coverage of complaints about Bank junction in the City of London, and by Westminster and Hackney councils in our London blog. These often arise from poor signage that drivers fail to spot. These are rarely deliberate infringements but are simply caused by unfamiliarity with the road and simple oversight. By using automated camera systems, councils can quickly generate hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue. Appeals against the fines rarely succeed.

Sometimes it appears that changes to roads are often implemented by councils with the knowledge that drivers will be caught by unexpected route changes and poor signage.

A Parliamentary petition against the abuses that this is producing has now been created. It calls for an independent review of the law. Please sign it here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/232919

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Fighting For Air – Another Piece of Air Pollution Propaganda from the BBC

Last night the BBC broadcast a programme on air pollution entitled Fighting for Air (BBC2 on 19/8/2018). It was presented by Dr. Xand van Tulleken in a populist and dramatic style.

He first did a simple test by “cleansing” his system by donning a chemical weapons suit followed by 3 hours of deliberately breathing in traffic fumes. He did blood pressure tests, analysed blood composition and checked for brain function before and after. This unscientific and uncontrolled test apparently showed a slight increase in blood pressure and blood clotting and possibly a very small change in cognitive function. No actual data was given. Bearing in mind that such tests as blood pressure can vary significantly from hour to hour, and the other tests likewise, this proves nothing at all. Note that there have been a number of scientific studies of a possible link between blood coagulation and air pollution but no clear conclusions about which pollutants are relevant and no specific link to heart disease or stroke risk identified. That did not stop Dr van Tulleken alleging such a link.

He then moved to Kings Heath High Street near Birmingham. This road exceeds national legal limits for NOX apparently by a small amount at some times. It is used by a large number of diesel buses (no hybrids or electrics), and by significant numbers of HGVs. Traffic is stop/start with high congestion because of traffic lights that are not linked and road side parking as people move in and out of the parking spaces.

Dr van Tulleken persuaded the local council to suspend the parking bays for a day (filled with bay trees instead) and to synchronise the traffic flights to provide a “green wave” and he also persuaded the bus company to offer free tickets. The result was the volume of traffic remained the same, but NO2 fell by 10%. It is not clear to what extent any adjustment was made for other factors such as weather changes although mention was made that the changes were measured against wider area changes.

Local shopkeepers were not happy particularly a butcher who had traded in the road for 50 years.

Comment: In summary all this programme showed is that smoothing traffic flows may significantly reduce some emissions from vehicles. We already knew that, for example from studies of speed hump schemes. Replacing road side parking by off-street parking is clearly something that councils should look at. I only wish that removing such parking be done in my local High Street (Chislehurst in the London Borough of Bromley) which has been proposed in the past but never progressed (there is already plenty of off-street parking). It would both reduce the air pollution and reduce congestion by improving the flow of traffic.

What the programme did not demonstrate was that air pollution is a major health hazard or a public health emergency as the Doctor disclaimed. Indeed the High Street Butcher demonstrated how much cleaner his shop is than it used to be suggesting particulate emissions were lower than a few years ago.

In conclusion, another disappointing and hysterical programme on air pollution rather than a truly balanced study of the issues.

Roger Lawson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No Benefit From 20-MPH Speed Limits

Hampshire County Council have reported that there is no road safety benefit from signed-only 20-MPH speed limits. The county have installed such limits in 14 residential areas since 2012. But this is what Stuart Jarvis of the Council said: “In terms of accident and injury data, the impact of the pilot schemes upon road safety is projected to be neutral and there is no evidence of enhanced road safety benefits compared with that observed for the entire road network maintained by the county council”. The overall accident rates for the pilot schemes have actually risen, although this is not considered to be statistically significant. There have been marginal, or nil, reduction in traffic speeds in the scheme areas.

The residents in the scheme areas seemed happy though so it is not proposed to remove the existing 20-mph limits. But it is unlikely that any new such schemes will be installed.

The full council report on the schemes is here:

http://democracy.hants.gov.uk/documents/s19310/Review%20of%20Residential%2020mph%20Pilot%20-%20Report.pdf

Comment: The ABD has consistently argued that such schemes cannot be justified on any sensible cost/benefit basis and that the large amounts of money spent on them would be much better spent on other road safety programmes. Not surprisingly perhaps, the latest Hampshire report does not mention the costs and links on the council’s web site to previous reports and decisions that might have mentioned the costs seem to no longer work. I wonder why that is?

It is regrettable that Transport for London (TfL), and local borough councils such as Croydon, have consistently ignored the mounting evidence that wide-area signed-only 20-mph schemes are a waste of money. TfL continue to finance them with taxpayers’ cash, and local borough councils in London are still implementing them. Why do they continue to ignore the evidence?

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The Menace of Potholes

Chislehurst High Street Pothole 2018-02-20A

You may not be aware of it, but today (8/3/2018) is National Pothole Day (twitter #natioonalpotholeday2018). This is an annual event dedicated to raising awareness of the problems caused by potholes.

Spending on maintaining roads across the whole country is being cut back by local councils to save money. As a result, potholes are increasing. This is creating dangerous roads. Cyclists are particularly at risk. There have been deaths reported of cyclists who ran into a pothole (pensioner Ron Hamer of Manchester is one such case). Roads Minister Jesse Norman reported to Parliament that 22 cyclists died and 368 were badly hurt between 2007 and 2016 where a factor in the accident was a “poor or defective road surface” and the numbers seem to be rising. Bicycles are vulnerable to damage and cars and other vehicles can also suffer very expensive damage.

Now it happens that I had cause to complain to the Leader of Bromley Council (my local borough) only a week ago. This was to Councillor Colin Smith who recently got the top job and I am confident he will do it well as he is more sensible than many Councillors. He was also previously responsible for the Environment portfolio which includes traffic issues so he should know about the subject.

I said in summary that Bromley’s roads seem to be getting much worse of late in terms of numbers of potholes – and that’s even before the recent bad weather. Bromley’s roads used to be better maintained than many other London boroughs but I do not think that is true any longer. But he did not exactly agree with me.

It is true that if one uses Bromley’s fix-my-street web site to report potholes, they are normally rectified relatively soon, particularly if they are dangerous ones more than a few inches deep. One I reported recently in Chislehurst High Street is shown in the photo above. But there are now so many potholes to report I could spend days doing so. In addition there are now so many repeated “patches” on some roads that the whole surface is poor quality and soon another pothole will develop. The general standard of the road surfaces is declining in my view.

Coincidentally Bromley Council recently published a report on their use of the “Pothole Action Fund”. This is grant funding via the Government Department for Transport to local councils. Bromley will receive £113,000 in 2017/18 and a similar amount in 2018/19. They do plan to use it to “supplement revenue budgets”. But they expect expenditure on general maintenance of roads will be reduced because the Mayor of London has cut it back – local boroughs won’t get money from him for that purpose (this is part of Sadiq Khan’s budget restrictions arising from his financial difficulties as a result of past poor decisions which I have covered elsewhere).

So we may see less major road resurfacing projects, but more patching in Bromley. Will £113,000 help a lot? It seems unlikely to me. Anyone who has any knowledge of the cost of road works would not expect that to cover more than a few rushed patches.

Drivers are advised to purchase a car sticker that I saw recently on an ABD Member’s vehicle which reads “I’m not drunk – I’m just avoiding potholes”. It’s available from Amazon.

Roger Lawson

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