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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Bromley Council Experimental Traffic Orders – Objections Submitted

Albemarle Road, Beckenham and School Road/Church Row in Chislehurst

The London Borough of Bromley have published two sets of Experimental Traffic Orders to put in one-way systems, cycle lanes, parking restrictions and road closures in Beckenham and Chislehurst. These are being justified using the Covid-19 epidemic as a feeble excuse to assist walking, cycling and social distancing. The changes are being financed by TfL – the cost is not disclosed but must be very considerable as it even includes a new pedestrian crossing.

The first such scheme covers Albemarle Road and Bromley Road which are the main roads between Bromley and Beckenham. This is what the ABD has submitted in response to these proposals:

Our objections to these proposals are as follows:

1.       The changes are unnecessary and not justified in the given “Statement of Reasons”. These changes will not “facilitate walking, cycling and social distancing” as specified. There will certainly be no additional advantages to walking as the pavement on the affected roads such as Albemarle Road are wide, and there is no problem with “social distancing” at present. Neither is there any apparent benefit for cyclists who have no difficulty in cycling on these roads at present.

2.       The introduction of a one-way system on the stretch of Albemarle Road between Downs Bridge Road and Bromley Road will mean vehicles that wish to travel west will have to turn right at the junction with Bromley Road, which is currently banned for obvious safety reasons. There is undoubtedly a considerable volume of vehicles wanting to do that as there are numerous visitors to the Sloane Hospital.

3.       The introduction of a pedestrian crossing on Bromley Road, just east of the junction with Albemarle Road, is surely dangerous. This is a relatively sharp bend on a busy road. We recognise the need for a pedestrian crossing on this stretch of Bromley Road, but it should be moved further east or west (preferably west to avoid interaction with the Shortlands junction traffic lights).

4.       The introduction of parking restrictions along the whole of Albemarle Road will inconvenience local residents, and visitors to the Sloane Hospital, very considerably.

5.       These proposals will clearly be very costly and there is no justification for such expenditure on a cost/benefit basis.

More details of this scheme can be obtained from traffic@bromley.gov.uk by referencing:

The Bromley (Prescribed Route) (No. 1) (One Way) Experimental Order 2020; The Bromley (Prescribed Route) (No. 2) (Cycle Lanes) Experimental Order 2020; The Bromley (Prescribed Route) (No. 3) (Road Closure) Experimental Order 2020; The Bromley (Waiting and Loading Restriction) Order 2003 (Amendment No. 207) Experimental Order 2020; The Bromley (Controlled Parking) (On Street Places) Order 2004 (Amendment No. 128) Experimental Order 2020; (Bromley Road and Albemarle Road, Beckenham; Crystal Palace Park Road, Penge).

The second scheme includes the closure of School Road (see photo above) and the introduction of a one-way system in Chislehurst plus some School Streets. The ABD has put in the following objections:

1.       The closure of School Road at its junction with Royal Parade will cause more traffic to use Church Lane to reach the St.Pauls Cray Road or Centre Common Road. This is already heavily congested at busy times of day.

2.       The introduction of a one-system covering School Road and Church Row makes sense but it should be in the reverse direction to that proposed with the exit onto Royal Parade maintained. This would maximise traffic flows and avoid long circuitous routes for residents of Church Row and other roads.

Note that as a matter of principle we object to the closure of roads unless there are very good reasons to do so. The justifications provided are inadequate. These changes are not justified in the given “Statement of Reasons”. These changes will not “facilitate walking, cycling and social distancing” as specified.

Note that there will be signs on Royal Parade diverting traffic via Bromley Road and Watts Lane. But not only does Watts Lane have a width restriction on it but there is an awkward left turn from Bromley Lane at the Hangman’s Corner roundabout. Larger vehicles going to the Crown Inn are surely going to have difficulties also because of the sharp bend introduced on the one-way system.

For more information contact traffic@bromley.gov.uk by referencing:

The Bromley (Prescribed Route) (No. 4) (School Streets) Experimental Order 2020; The Bromley (Waiting and Loading Restriction) Order 2003 (Amendment No. 208) Experimental Order 2020; The Bromley (Prescribed Route) (No. 5) (One Way) Experimental Order 2020; The Bromley (Prescribed Route) (No. 6) (Road Closure) Experimental Order 2020 (Various Locations). Or contact the ABD for more information.

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More Cycling During the Epidemic? Actually No.

The reason for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and emergency road closures during the epidemic has been given as encouraging people to walk and cycle more. But are they?  Will Norman, London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, recently said on Twitter that “we’re seeing a huge increase in cycling”.But is there more cycling? In reality there is no change in the numbers cycling and it remains a minority pastime of young males primarily.

The chart above shows the trend since the start of the pandemic (covering the last 19 weeks) from surveys taken by Transport Focus. It shows that both walking and cycling have not changed in the numbers using those modes with the former stuck at about 7% of all people surveyed.

The use of public transport such as buses and trains has been recovering but car/van and taxi use has been rising. Clearly people prefer to use private transport rather than public transport during the epidemic and they are not converting to cycling.  

So in summary, the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are not creating modal shift as expected, even before the harsh winter weather sets in.

You can read the full Transport Focus report here:  https://www.transportfocus.org.uk/research-publications/publications/travel-during-covid-19-survey-week-19/  

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Private Eye Letter and Daily Mail Coverage of Road Closures

A very amusing letter has been published in the latest edition of satirical magazine Private Eye. It read:

“…Looking for a foreign holiday with a nostalgic twist? Then look no further than the Lee area of the London borough of Lewisham. It is East Berlin circa 1975 with road blocks, cameras and nearly motor-free. It is almost impossible to get into and out of, and impossible to go across. And if you have a business – selling ice-creams, doing deliveries, visiting the sick and elderly etc – it is almost impossible to do business.

Rotten Boroughs in Eye 1528 summed up the situation very nicely……..Gerard Pearson”

The Daily Mail ran an article on Friday 11September by Mark Edmonds headlined “The road to madness: How eco-obsessed councils – under cover of Covid – have spent millions of YOUR money to shut roads across Britain”.

It covered very well how road space is being removed resulting in increased traffic congestion. It said “The same pattern has emerged, almost overnight, all across Britain: cities and towns are facing narrowed lanes, closed roads and interminable snarl-ups and pollution”.

Marylebone Road in London was given as one example. It used to be a three lane road. It was reduced to two by the installation of a bus lane and has now been reduced to one lane. The result has been gridlock.

One interesting fact given was that “Figures released this week by the satnav company TomTom showed a 25 per cent increase in London’s traffic congestion alone on this time last year”. Howard Cox of campaign group Fairfuel UK was quoted as saying. “This is a co-ordinated attack on the world’s highest-taxed drivers: they have become cash cows” and he said that dozens of MPs support his campaign against the new measures. Drivers pay the Treasury £40billion a year in taxes — but the war on them is deepening. ABD Chairman Ian Taylor was also quoted in the article, although they got his name wrong.

See https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8724177/MARK-EDMONDS-Eco-obsessed-councils-spend-money-shut-roads-Britain.html for the full Daily Mail article.

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Wandsworth Suspends Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Wandsworth Council is suspending its Low Traffic Neighbourhood which has affected areas such as Tooting and West Putney following an urgent review subsequent to residents’ complaints. Wandsworth Council’s cabinet member for strategic planning and transportation, Cllr John Locker said:

“We have monitored the traffic flows and listened to feedback from residents and businesses. We have also spoken to our partners including local hospitals and key services to hear the impact on them.

It is clear that the LTNs are not delivering the benefits we want to see. In fact it looks like the combination of changes in areas like Tooting, where TfL are making changes to the main high road, are unfortunately having the opposite effect. That is why we have taken the difficult decision to pause and re-think about how we can achieve our objective of delivering healthier, safer streets”

He added: “We all want to do what is right environmentally, whilst maintaining people’s ability to travel and making sure town centres and high streets function properly. It’s important that we listen to what people are saying so that we get this right.”

But other London Councils such as Lewisham are not listening and are still persevering in the vain home that the worsening traffic congestion they have caused will go away. It will not.

Opposition is growing to road closures across London with many local groups being formed. The ABD is happy to advise or assist any local groups.

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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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If You Can’t Beat the Virus – Beat the Motorist, and Wandsworth Demonstration

The following is an interesting article recently received from a contributor who prefers to remain anonymous. It no doubt reflects the views of many ABD members:

“Over the recent months of attempting to carry on with life under the dark cloud of Covid19 we have all learnt that there are sacrifices that we must make for the greater good of the community. The great British public have rallied to the cause and, in the main, accepted the restrictions to the conduct of their daily lives.

My fear is that we are being forced to accept a number of limitations to our freedoms that are not justified by the Covid crisis but are being implemented without care or consultation.

I am specifically concerned about the redistribution of the road space in favour of pedestrians and cyclists and against the interests of other road users be they private motorists, commercial users or those on public transport.

The widening of payments and cycle lanes, the closures to facilitate pavement restaurants, and, worst of all, the closure of many routes through suburban areas all come at a cost. There is more congestion and hence more pollution and longer journey times consuming more fuel and adding to the burden of private citizen and business operation alike.

Anyone who has tried to get a response from a local council over the last few months will be familiar with the refrain that “Due to Covid 19 there are restrictions on staffing and many services may take longer to implement”. Given that councils are unable to provide basic and urgent care and support services it is a miracle that they are somehow able to create road closures complete with blooming planters overnight! 

Perhaps we should question our representatives about what their priorities are.

A cynical person might suspect that they are diverting the few available resources they have to these road closure schemes because the current Covid 19 regulations allow them to introduce them with little or no consultation. It is quite clear that many of these schemes have been ill thought out and are causing chaos. This is hardly surprising given that so little thought has gone in to considering the consequences on neighbouring streets. My only thought is that what the council can put in place overnight residents could remove in the same timescale.

This is only one part of the concerted effort to bully and demonise the motorist. It is said that there should be no taxation without representation and maybe this is a lesson that the motoring public can learn. If the available road space is to be redistributed in favour of pedestrians and cyclist then the burden of tax should move in the same direction. That motorists are treated as cash cows and required to pay more and more for less and less is nothing short of a scandal that will eventually lead to acts of civil disobedience”


Wandsworth Road Closures         

On the subject of road closures, the following is a note recently received on a demonstration against them in Wandsworth on the 12thSeptember:

“The onewandsworth group are arranging a peaceful socially distant protest, details can be found below


Also please sign the Wandsworth Council petition. Every signature helps:

Roger Lawson

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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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Chiswick Road Closures and Grant Shapps Recanting

Opposition to road closures in London using the spurious excuse of the Covid-19 epidemic continues to grow. The latest example is in Chiswick where a petition against the closure of Turnham Green Terrace and Fishers Lane has been created. The result of the closures is to push north-south travelling locals on to Acton Lane and Goldhawk Road.  Both roads are gridlocked for far longer than was typical pre-Covid. Please sign the petition which is here: http://chng.it/CKDhT8JvdL

Grant Shapps Backtracking

The Government, and Transport Minister Grant Shapps, have caused many of the problems with statutory guidance that supported road closures and other measures that have created traffic congestion all over the country. But he has written an article published in the Daily Telegraph where he seems to be recanting.

The Telegraph article states: “The Secretary of State for Transport says he will personally intervene to scrap the worst examples where local authorities have ruined high streets and residential roads in an attempt to build cycle lanes and promote social distancing for pedestrians.

His comments come after a series of petitions attracted thousands of signatures from people across the country who fear councils are pandering to the cycle lobby.

Campaign groups representing the disabled, small business owners, pollution activists and motorists have criticised the schemes for being rushed through with little or no consultation”.

See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/09/05/grant-shapps-tells-councils-stop-abusing-250m-fund-meant-green/ for the full article.

Readers should write to their Member of Parliament to complain about the past actions of Grant Shapps and request the Statutory Guidance supporting these measures be withdrawn.

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Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and Disabled People

The population of the UK contains a high proportion of “disabled” people. According to Government statistics they actually represent 22% of the population (that’s 13.9 million people). In London a borough such as Lewisham reports that 15% of the population consider themselves disabled.

Disabled people face numerous problems such as access to health services and access to employment. They often rely on “carers” for assistance with many activities such as shopping.

How do Low Traffic Neighbourhoods such as the Healthy Neighbourhood plans (and associated road closures) in Lewisham and other boroughs affect them? We certainly know from the numbers responding to our campaign against the road closures that a very large number of them object to the road closures.

The problem is that many disabled people rely on motor vehicles for transport as they have difficulty using public transport and suggestions that they should cycle are treated with derision. They also often cannot walk far. They don’t just own cars and use them, they use taxi services or get transported by carers in vehicles. In addition, they often have support from social service workers who use vehicles to get around.

For example, this is one comment just received “I strongly disagree with these closures, I work for the Borough of Lewisham and respond to vulnerable clients in the Borough. These road closures have delayed us responding to our clients, and one day the outcome will result in more serious consequences. Sitting in traffic, unable to access roads, this is not solving anything. If anything the situation is causing more pollution,  congestion and more aggressive drivers. The fact that we as residents of the borough were not consulted is not acceptable”.

Life has become much more difficult for disabled people since the road closures were introduced in Lewisham with much extended journey times as a result. Simply accessing Lewisham hospital is a common complaint.

Has Lewisham Council considered the impact of the road closures on disabled people? In other words, have they done an “Equality Impact Assessment” as required by the Equalities Act 2010?  So far as we are aware they have not done so. Paul Howarth submitted a Freedom of Information Act request on this subject back in February but does not appear to have received an answer – see https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/the_so_called_healthy_neighborho

Just like the lack of public consultation, it seems the Covid-19 epidemic is being used to bypass and abandon the normal requirements for new road schemes.

An interesting recent publication from Lewisham Council was from the Stronger Communities Select Committee (see https://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=6323&x=1 ). The Council is reviewing its obligations under the Equalities Act and have produced a draft report. But perhaps surprisingly they don’t cover this issue. Note that Lee Green Ward Councillors James Rathbone and Jim Mallory actually sit on this Committee so they should surely take a great interest in the impact of the road closures on the disabled community but not obviously so to date.

Lewisham has also created a “Disabled Peoples’ Commission” chaired by Jamie Hale – see https://labourlist.org/2020/02/our-disabled-peoples-commission-can-identify-barriers-and-deliver-change/ . I suggest disabled people who have been affected by the road closures in Lewisham ask the Commission to represent their interests.

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