Projects With No Benefit – Rotherhithe Bridge and HS2

When evaluating capital projects, it is wise to estimate the benefit/cost ratio (“BCR”), i.e. the likely value attached to the benefits divided by the overall costs. That is the best way to evaluate differing projects so one can pick the best ones. Those with a negative ratio are clearly not worth doing.

The DfT’s “Value for Money” guidance says a project will generally be regarded as “medium” value if the BCR is between 1.5 and 2; and “high” if it is above 2. The Eddington transport study of 2006 said the BCR for trunk roads was 4.66, local roads 4.23 and light rail schemes a measly 2.14. When there are so many possible projects that give high benefit/cost ratios, why bother with lesser ones? It’s just a misuse of public money to do so.

Transport for London (TfL) have published their response to the results of their public consultation on the proposed new Rotherhithe/Canary Wharf river crossing. This is a vanity project of the latest Mayor, rather like Boris’s “garden bridge” – it was covered in a previous blog post here: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/new-thames-river-crossing-at-rotherhithe/

This bridge would only be useable by cyclists and pedestrians and the favourite plan now is for a bridge rather than a tunnel or a ferry. However the bridge would need to have a lifting section to allow for river traffic. How the bridge might be funded is still not clear (possible costs of well over £300 million for a “navigable” bridge was previously estimated including discounted running costs over the life of the bridge). The latest report simply says they are investigating a number of funding options.

More information on costs is given in this document: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings/rotherhithe-canarywharf/user_uploads/r2cw—background-to-consultation-report.pdf

When it comes to the benefit/cost ratio for the proposed bridge it is estimated to be between 0.7:1 to 1.97:1. In other words, it might actually be negative and will be unlikely to be a “high” return project. Even those figures assume very high usage of the bridge by cyclists and pedestrians but it is justified on the encouragement to cycling and walking that it would provide – and hence is consistent with the Mayor’s “healthy streets” policy.

In summary, this bridge is not justifiable in relation to other transport projects and knowing the Mayor’s budget problems it is simply unaffordable anyway. Time to kick it into the long grass surely before more money is wasted on it?

The latest report on this project from TfL is present here: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings/rotherhithe-canarywharf/

HS2

In comparison to the aforementioned bridge, the HS2 high-speed rail line is a mega-project of the first order. Likely cost is now more than £80 billion with major disruption in London and many other parts of the country. Local Transport Today (LTT) have published details of a leaked report by Paul Mansell, a Government-appointed advisor. It’s a very damning assessment of the value of the project. It seems his report was not shown to Government ministers before Parliament voted to proceed with the project.

Back in 2013, the benefit/cost ratio of HS2 was calculated by the Government to be 2.3. What it is now, after a major escalation in costs, is not at all clear. But it seems that the only justification for continuing with it is the possible boost to the economy that might be needed if a “hard” Brexit is the outcome.

Surely this is another project that should be canned sooner rather than later, simply because there are better things to spend the money on – and that includes not just railway lines.

It is of course fortunate that we have some benefit/cost information on the above two projects. TfL (and the Mayor of London) now often fail to provide such information. Figuring out whether the ULEZ scheme is worth doing for example is not easy. But in reality it’s wildly negative – see http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Cost-of-the-ULEZ.pdf

It is unfortunately a symptom of the modern trend to make major public policy decisions on irrational grounds. They just need to sound appealing to a few segments of the population (preferably those who might vote for the politicians backing the proposals), when economics should be the key decision basis.

Roger Lawson

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Garden Bridge Down The River

Yes that vanity project the Thames Garden Bridge has finally been cancelled. After it lost the support of Mayor Sadiq Khan it has not been able to get enough funding from private sources. The amount of money wasted is forecast to be about £46 million. And most of that came from public funds, i.e. your taxes, with nothing to show for it at all. But better late than never so far as cancellation is concerned.

It was a bridge sold on attracting tourists but was not in the right place and not useable by many people who might wish to cross the Thames at that point. No proper cost/benefit analysis was done on it. But like that other more grandiose vanity transport project, HS2, once these projects get launched they soon gain a momentum of their own as lobbyists for commercial groups who might benefit promote the project.

Now HS2 has only spent about £2 billion to date, without laying a single foot of track, but if it was cancelled now might save over £70 billion. As with the Garden Bridge, there are lots of other better uses to which the money could be put.

It’s not too late. Just time to make a tough decision.

Roger Lawson

TfL’s Damaging Proposals for Cycle Superhighway 11

Transport for London (TfL) are proposing to install a new Cycle Superhighway in London, with dedicated cycle lanes linking Swiss Cottage to the edge of the West End at the northern end of Regent Street.

To facilitate this scheme, dubbed CS11, they also plan to make dramatic changes to arterial through routes and surrounding roads in the NW3 and NW8 areas. The main proposals are to replace the one-way gyratory system around Swiss Cottage with two-way streets; close off the northern end of Avenue Road to all traffic except buses; close the rest of Avenue Road – a main route into central London – to traffic for 20 out of 24 hours a day; and close four out of the eight gates to the Outer Circle of Regent’s park, also for 20 out of 24 hours a day.  Dedicated cycle lanes will be installed over this route, further squeezing traffic onto less road space.

Accompanying this, and evidently in some misguided attempt to aid the flow of traffic in this new layout, TfL are planning to ban various right and left turns off Finchley Road in its approach to Swiss Cottage, making it extremely difficult to reach neighbourhoods such as Belsize Park by car.

Into this mix comes central government’s long term plans for the construction of HS2, the new high speed rail link to the midlands and north of England, which include the building of a railway tunnel under Adelaide Road (another road leading into Swiss Cottage), and of two massive ventilation shafts – one in Adelaide Road and the other one near Fairfax Road, also in the Swiss Cottage area.

In a nutshell, these two unconnected projects will inevitably clash with, and intrude on each other, resulting in massive disruption, traffic congestion, increased air pollution, and absolute hell for local residents – for up to sixteen years, the timescale for completing the HS2 works. On its own, if CS11 in its proposed form goes ahead this will be bad enough.  However, combined with the estimated hundreds of HS2 lorries that are expected to be using the roads in this area every day, the mind boggles as to the impact this will have.  TfL’s response to this is that they don’t think it will be a major problem.

Needless to say, the CS11 plans have been met with fierce opposition from residents and road users. A consultation resulted in a 60% approval, but it was later revealed that TfL had canvassed every single cycling club in Greater London, including many south of the river in areas nowhere near the affected area, to take part in the consultation.

However, various protest groups have been formed to try and persuade TfL to either moderate their plans or abandon them altogether, with petitions organised and approaches made to MPs and officers of TfL and Westminster and Camden councils. No final decision has yet been made.  Westminster Council are opposed to the CS11 proposals, and Camden council partly opposed.  Putting off CS11 until later is not an option because of the sixteen-year timescale of the HS2 works.

In the meantime, rumour has it that TfL will now scrap the plan to close the four gates to the Outer Circle. The cycling fraternity will not be happy.  Anyone driving around the Outer Circle these days knows that this road has almost been hijacked to be used as a training circuit for two-wheeled enthusiasts.  Supporters of CS11 have called the Outer Circle a dangerous rat run, which is complete nonsense.  It is only subject to light traffic, and most of any danger that might exist comes from mobs of cyclists crowding out other vehicles.

Anyone with an interest in this matter can look up the CS11 plans on the TfL website, and the main protest website, www.cs11.london . Please give the latter your support.

Danny Michelson