How did TfL build a junction, brag about it, and demolish it within a year?

This post exists to demonstrate how TfL are unfit to be designing cycling infrastructure. It will do this through examining the design, construction and subsequent destruction of a junction in Lewisham, built at the end of 2010.

It is not the claim of this post that no one in TfL knows how to make safe infrastructure. However, it will become clear that the process is so convoluted, subject to so many (often conflicting or erroneous) guidelines, principles and stakeholders, that any resulting type of sensible infrastructure would be miraculous.

Some might find this post confusing – I found it confusing to write. This is a symptom of the labyrinthine manner in which directorates of TfL’s Surface Transport division are expected operate. To clear this issue up, I have added a timeline of events at the end of the post.

The Kender Street Triangle is one of TfL’s flagship “improvement” works in South-East London. In November last year Kulveer Ranger, then the Mayor’s Transport Advisor, gleefully informed us that,

The Mayor is committed to making London’s streets more accessible through his Great Outdoors programme and Kender Street Triangle is a perfect example of that.

If the junction is a ‘perfect example’ of anything, it is how TfL are so internally divided about cycling that they cannot even decide what safe infrastructure might look like.

The junction, built towards the end of 2010, now looks like this:

It seems clear that this advisory cycle-lane leading straight into a pinch point could be hazardous to cyclists. How could TfL fail to notice that?

The original plans for the design were drawn up by London Streets, part of TfL’s Directorate of the Road Network. They sit on the 4th floor of TfL’s Palestra offices. A Safety Audit was then conducted by a different part of the same directorate, the London Road Safety Unit (LRSU), who sit on the 7th floor.

Apparently, moving up three floors provides a completely different perspective. Look at the following comment in the LRSU’s Stage 2 Safety Audit:

So the safety audit did raise an issue with the cycle lane (counter to what I was told by TfL when I initially complained about it). Why, then, did TfL’s London Streets allow the junction to be built?

To find out, let’s draw our attention to the Safety Audit Response Report, published by London Streets to address the issues raised in the LRSU’s audit:

Aha! London Streets feel that LRSU’s perceived danger is acceptable, because it is outlined in the London Cycle Design Standards (LCDS).

And to be fair to London Streets, if we go to Appendix C, p180 we find that it is in there:

Click image to enlarge

So, TfL finds themselves facing a problem. On the one hand, the Road Safety Unit thinks that the pinch point is hazardous. And yet their London Streets disagree – and this is backed up by the TfL’s LCDS.

Quite frankly, the London Cycle Design Standards are dire, and rather alarming. I think the above case speaks for itself. Let’s look at some other examples:

Cyclists in this example are at risk of being "doored" by a parked car. Those who cycle outside of the lane will incur the wrath of impatient drivers. (p183)

And the following example, forcing cyclists between two lanes of motor traffic, is shockingly similar to the lane on Blackfriars Bridge which was replaced overnight after Vicky McCreery was killed in 2004 (this link contains a picture of that lane).

Best practice (p184)? These guidelines were published over a year after Ms McCreery's death

The LCDS were (rather ironically) published by the Cycling Centre of Excellence, another (now defunct) part of the Surface Transport division. They appear to have been subsumed into the Better Routes and Places directorate, headed by Ben Plowden, who are responsible for the much more general task of “delivering the mayor’s vision of urban realm improvements” on TfL’s road network.

This lack of focus on cycling clearly has detrimental effects. Better Routes and Places conducted a post-construction safety audit of this scheme in February 2011, where they found no issue with this cycle lane.

Interestingly, Mr Plowden, at this week’s Surface Transport Panel meeting, submitted a report bragging about how the Kender Street triangle program is being “progressed” (pdf, point 4.4).

Which brings us back to to the junction in question.

Pinch me

Despite works only having been completed in the summer of 2010, TfL’s complaints division informed me in April that,

Having discussed this with internal colleagues and cycling experts we believe a modification to the markings would be desirable. “

Rather oddly, none of TfL’s pages for the public exclaiming the success of Kender Street improvement, nor their publicly available internal communications, seem to mention what is at best a flip-flop, and at worst a callous waste of public money.

So what to take from all of this? Let’s recap the events over time:

Date Action
Before March 2009 Plans are drawn up for a new junction.
March 2009 TfL’s Road Safety Unit describes the plans as hazardous.
April 2009 London Streets says that the plans are fine because they’re consistent with the London Cycle Design Standards, published by Cycling Centre of Excellence, a vision of Surface Transport which no longer exists).
Mid-end 2010 Construction takes place
Feb 2011 TfL’s Road Safety Audit Team in conjunction with Better Routes and Places produces a post-construction safety audit where they find no issues with the cycle lane in question.
Feb 2011 I email TfL Surface Transport complaints with my concerns about the advisory cycle lane (I did not know at that time about the above audit).
March 2011 I escalate the complaint to London Travel Watch as TfL have not responded within the time limit set it out in their own policies.
April 2011 TfL email me to say that they are going to remove the cycle lane by the end of June 2011.

TfL’s departments can’t agree what cycle lanes should look like, and cycling is so down their list of priorities that they lack a strategy to deal with this fact.

Infrastructure is built that London Streets has been told is a risk, and when the public start to notice then they scrap it. Designing streets like this increases the risk of injuries and fatalities, as well as reducing the number of people who are willing to get out their cars and on their bikes. And cases like this one are not just dangerous: they’re also an obscene waste of time and money.

TfL are a public body. They should be held to account.

3 Responses to “How did TfL build a junction, brag about it, and demolish it within a year?”

  1. Joe Dunckley Says:

    The buck at TfL stops with its chairman, one Boris Johnson. Good luck trying to hold him to account.

    For three years Boris has evaded any attempt by the assembly to hold him to account. Our only chance of success I think comes next spring…

  2. How TfL’s Blackfriars bluster is undermining their public face « Cycle of Futility Says:

    [...] They might build infrastructure which is actively hostile to cyclists, recently for example here, here, here, here, here, here, and of course here. But this is no obstacle to bombarding us with material [...]

  3. Freedom of Information: TfL gets nasty « Cycle of Futility Says:

    [...] FOI requests to TfL, allowing me to post in detail a range of topics such as freight regulations, the street design process and Pedestrian [...]

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