Archive for June, 2011

Following the money: how does Boris Johnson’s TfL value cycling?

June 27, 2011

Transport for London have this week published their Annual Report, Statement of Accounts and Commissioner’s Report. This avalanche of financial data provides an excellent opportunity to get a sense of their priorities.

The documents contain funding information about Cycle Superhighways, Barclays Cycle Hire, Biking Boroughs and the Community Cycling Grant. Unless otherwise stated, all figures below are for the financial year 10/11.

Biking Boroughs

This flagship program appeals to the Mayor’s core Outer London constituents by providing funding to “harness the huge appetite that already exists for cycling in Outer London”.

Boris Johnson says, “My cycling revolution continues and I am determined to help more residents of outer London to take to two wheels. “

The numbers say:

Vive la Révolution

But maybe I’m being unfair. After all, I’m comparing the Biking Boroughs budget to huge projects, like the London Overground and the TfL PR machine.

How does it stack up against smaller items?

Kingston: His name is Rob Holden if you're looking to borrow a fiver.

Cycling Community Grant

These are grants funded by TfL to “fund events or start projects which promote the benefits of cycling”.

Boris Johnson says‘”This is all about helping the smaller cycling groups within London to pass on their enthusiasm for cycling to local people.”

The numbers say:

Just pension, not salary

Perhaps this is too harsh. After all, these are small grants but there must be hundreds of them, right? Unfortunately, no. There are 25 in total – less than one per borough.

Cycle Superhighways

These are part of the Mayor’s vision for a “cleaner, greener, safer city, where you have a cycling revolution.”

Boris Johnson says: “These radial routes are set to transform our great city into one where cycling is the first choice for many thousands of Londoners.”

The numbers say:

But £6.7m sounds great in a press release

Curious that the Bounds Green central reservation hasn’t had 5 times as much marketing as the Superhighways, as well as funding.

Barclays Cycle Hire

There has been some investment in Cycle Hire this year, but the London Assembly notes that the scheme is designed to break even over three years (p8 – although it looks like it will take a little longer). Just another example of how TfL doesn’t see cycling as a proper form of transport like trains and buses and cars, which all receive huge amounts of public money (yes, even cars).

Assuming TfL do hit their targets, the Cycle Hire balance sheet will look as follows over a three-year period.

Not accounting for inflation

Figures and sources for all of the above here (.xlsx).

With investment like this, is anyone actually surprised that London’s cycling revolution never happened?

A Conservative infatuation with Russell Crowe?

June 24, 2011

Consider the gladiatorial amphitheatre as a model for justice and equality.

A very fetching Ray Stevenson in HBO’s Rome

The warrior is not subject to the whims of an arbitrary or artificial power. He (and occasionally she) lives or dies by his own strength, agility and cunning. No liberal intervention will decry the acts undertaken as “brutal” or “disproportionate”. The fighter will not be interrupted by state-armed goons who consider it their duty to “police” the population according to some sort of irrational legal code. In many ways, the arena is the only example of an equal realm, and the most natural form of justice.

Is this convincing? It might have a romantic allure, but I’m not sure it should be the foundation of public policy.

The Conservative Party’s London Assembly Members seem to feel differently. This week, they distanced themselves from the rest of the London Assembly in a report entitled The Future of Road Congestion in London.

Neither the Mayor nor the Government should impose an artificial road user hierarchy as this inevitably has the effect of deliberately slowing down some users.

And in a comment on the Cyclists on the City blog, Tory Assembly Member Andrew Boff tells us:

It is true that we [the Conservatives] are, by instinct, anti-hierarchical and I agree with you that we should be making decisions to accommodate people’s choices not what we think their choices should be.

Street users, like those in the gladiator’s ring, are not created equal. Put them in a situation of conflict and some will suffer and others will thrive.

Sadly (and I mean this), most pedestrians are not Russell Crowe. Look what happens when there are more people than there is available space for them:

Stuck: trying to finish crossing a road in Hackney, yesterday

Is this an absence of hierarchy?

And when there are more motor vehicles than there are space for:

Image from Crap Waltham Forest

When a motor vehicle is in a pedestrian’s space, the motor vehicle wins. When a pedestrian is in a motor vehicle’s space, the result is the same.

The Conservative claim that they are anti-hierarchical is deceptive in two ways:

  1. It is based on idea that not explicitly creating a hierarchy of road users means that you will not end up with one naturally.
  2. Andrew Boff’s quote is even worse, because it is implicitly based on the premise that there are transport choices which are independent of (or prior to) infrastructure. People’s choices are what they are because of the streets which are available to them.

If you avoid an “artificial” hierarchy, you end up with a natural one. I’d prefer our streets to be designed for people who want to use them, than for us all to be subject to some sort of will-of-the-stronger struggle for power where, naturally, it is given to large, fast, heavy vehicles.

But I’m beginning to feel that we’re being left with little choice.

Blameless road deaths: the BBC “think hard”

June 22, 2011

A post by Stabiliser about how language is used when reporting vulnerable road user deaths reminded me of a complaint I made to the BBC last year about the same. Unlike most of my complaints to the BBC (‘schizophrenic’ is not a synonym for ‘ambivalent’), I did actually receive a (rather unedifying) response. The correspondence is below.

6th December 2010

Hi,

I am writing to complain about your use of language in this article:  Two cyclists killed in coach collision in Cumbria

I am extremely unhappy with the way you have used the passive tone both in the headline and throughout the article. I note the BBC Style Guide has a whole chapter dedicated to explaining why generally using the active voice is preferable. Indeed it says, “officials of all kinds love the passive because individual actions are buried beneath a cloak of collective responsibility. They say ‘mistakes were made’ instead of ‘we made mistakes'”. This is precisely what happens in this article – the event comes across as tragic but unavoidable. Surely, “Coach collides with cyclists”, is much stronger?

I understand that perhaps the passive tone was used deliberately out of fear of libelling the coach driver. However this occurred on an ‘A’ road while travelling in the same direction. The coach driver was arrested for causing death by dangerous driving. It is pretty clear that the coach collided with the cyclists and not the other way around.

I feel constantly frustrated by the BBC’s lack of sympathy in its coverage of cycling accidents. This example may seem like pedantry but it is typical of the attitude that no one is really responsible when a driver’s carelessness causes two young people to die.

I would be grateful if you could confirm that you have received this.

Many thanks.

12th December 2010

Dear [my name],

Thank you for your email. As you point out, the driver of the coach has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving. This means we had to be especially careful with the language we used reporting this story, to avoid any risk of contempt of court.

Please be assured we always think hard about the way crash stories involving cyclists and pedestrians are written.

Regards,

BBC News website

12th December 2010

Dear [their name],

Thanks for your response – I do appreciate it. Sadly, your assurance does not bring me much confidence given the frequency of passivity in articles about cyclists, even when all the fact are known. A quick Google search brings up some particularly bad examples:

9th March 2010 – Jake Chapman, a 14 year old who was killed when knocked off his bike, “collided with a car” according to the caption under his image. And in another story about the same incident, “he collided with a Honda Civic travelling in the same direction.”

12th April 2010 – both passivity and victim blaming: Cyclist killed in collision with car in Wallasey – actually, a driver ploughed into the back of Matthew Chapman’s bicycle and he was killed.

31st March 2010 – A day when Amber Magginley, 29, was killed after “colliding with an articulated lorry.” They were “travelling in the same direction”. Hmmm…

This is not to say that all BBC News coverage of cyclists who are killed is in this vein – the language used about, for example, Anthony Maynard’s death was appropriate (“who was killed”, “struck by a van” etc.). But there seems to be no consistency.

If you can say, “cyclist collides with car” when you do not know who is at fault, why can you not say “coach collides with cyclists,” in the article I initially emailed about?

Thanks.

Sadly, I never received a further response.

Cycle safety on TfL’s roads has flatlined since 2004

June 18, 2011

When challenged about the death and injury of cyclists on London’s streets, the mayor or TfL’s press machine come out with statements like

“Cycling in London is safer now than it was a decade ago.” – Boris Johnson

“The overall number of cyclist KSIs [killed or seriously injured] on London’s roads has fallen by almost a fifth since the mid-to-late 1990s (18 per cent).” – TfL press release

Safer streets? An extra traffic lanes and no advanced stop box in the Blackfriars plans

Both these statements are true. However, they are somewhat misleading.

I have spent some time “reverse engineering” the data about TfL’s own road network (the TLRN) from a November 2010 London Road Safety unit report (p7), using the GetData Graph Digitizer (h/t Drawing Rings). I have indexed the 2010 full year figures by mapping existing indexed values to actual figures from here, here and here.

With this new data set, it is possible to calculate the KSI rate on the TLRN. This is the number of cyclists who are killed or seriously injured in each year, divided by the total cyclists that year. This is what it looks like (setting the year 2000 value to 100):

Not a graph you'll find in a TfL report

The reason that cycling is safer than it was a decade ago is because, for some reason, there was a significant reduction in danger between 2000 and 2004. Since then, TfL have achieved nothing.

Actually, it is worse than having achieved nothing. Research has shown that as the number of cyclists increases, the number of accidents decreases, as driver awareness of cyclists improves, as does driver behaviour as they are increasingly likely to be cyclists themselves.

What TfL have managed to do since 2004 is to preside over a road network so dangerous that it actually cancels out any safety benefit of the 170% increase in people riding bikes on the TLRN:

With modelling which treats people on bikes as having the value of 0.2 people in cars, is this any wonder?

If TfL really want people to “catch up with the bicycle”, they have got to stop prioritising motor vehicle convenience at the expense of cycle safety.

If you would like to use the data I’ve put together, email me at the address on my About page and I will send it to you.

On campaigning

June 16, 2011

“Politically speaking, the man is still in the nursery who has not absorbed, so as never to forget, the saying attributed to one of the most successful politicians that ever lived: ‘What businessmen do not understand is that exactly as they are dealing in oil, so I am dealing in votes.’”

-          Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1942 (p285)

Why have we got anywhere with Blackfriars?

In February, TfL gave people 5 days to respond to their Blackfriars “consultation” about the right hand turn. People who cycle were enraged, and blogged about their anger – and the volume of these objections may well have contributed to what happened next.

But actually it was the Labour Party London AM Val Shawcross who met with TfL and managed to make them extend the consultation.

Since then, other politicians have raised the issue, the most recent news being that the Transport Minister Norman Baker is going to speak to TfL – although he has no formal power over their decision.

Why are politicians being so helpful?

Is it because they passionately believe in our cause? No, or there would never have been the political will to pass the thousands of anti-walking and -cycling decisions of this decade.

The next London Assembly and Mayoral election is May 2012 – only a few months after the Blackfriars redesign finishes. They want our votes.

I think this is clear if you look at who has been involved, when, and how vocal they have been.

After Val Shawcross, John Biggs quickly came on board. Is it a coincidence that they represent inner South and East London, areas with far more cyclists than most others? (See p27 here for stats.)

As it became clear this was larger than most cycling issues, Lib Dem Caroline Pidgeon and then Tory Andrew Boff both spoke out in support. And why not? Still a relatively niche campaign – their presence might curry favour with some voters. Other than TfL, no one really seems to be in favour of the speed limit being raised to 30mph, so unlikely to hurt them. A safe issue.

Boff and Pidgeon are both London-wide representatives: the election won’t be decided on cycling conditions in Bromley or Edgware or Penge. This might explain why Boff’s support has been limited to an email – and why Boff was prepared to wash off the positive sheen he might have gained here when he walked out with his Conservative colleagues, rather than discuss this motion in the London Assembly.

Pidgeon has been a little more active, actually going on a site visit with TfL. But then she did stand as the Lib Dem candidate for the Vauxhall constituency in 2010 – cyclists’ votes may yet be important to Ms Pidgeon.

What now?

Some have suggested another event where we cycle slowly over Blackfriars Bridge, or maybe some other bridges. Others have suggested a co-ordinated commute. One thing seems clear to me:

If Blackfriars remains simply a cycling issue, then it by definition remains an issue that most Londoners either don’t care about or actively hostile towards.

If this is the case, we will not win this battle. Boris “I am TfL” Johnson has made his smoothing traffic flow priorities perfectly clear. Inner London Labour AMs and the Green Party (much as I admire them) are not enough to change the central tenet of TfL policy.

But Blackfriars is also about pedestrians, cleaner air and ultimately more pleasant streets.

So what do we do? Well, I’ve got a couple of ideas, but the responses I’ve had so far are “you need a slap” and “your mother will kill you”, so I’m going to research them a little more. Whatever we do, I think it has to fulfil two conditions:

  1. Media friendly – column inches are vote-winners.
  2. Inclusive – this is about making our city people-friendly. People who can participate should ideally include those who walk London, those who’d like to cycle but currently don’t, and in fact even motorists who also want London’s streets to be more pleasant.

Answers on a postcard.

TfL’s ‘smoothing traffic flow’ ignores pedestrians, cyclists and even buses

June 10, 2011

This has been quite the week for TfL. On Wednesday, a Conservative London Assembly walk-out put them under the spotlight for their Blackfriars plans which make the street better for drivers, and worse for everyone else.  Yesterday, the story broke that a new pedestrianised “civic square” in London’s Zone 1, at Elephant & Castle, is being blocked by TfL because “it would interfere with the traffic flow too greatly”. .

Elephant and Castle southern roundabout from Strata

Elephant & Castle: a jewel in TfL's traffic-smoothing crown

If we take a closer look at what this actually means, it quickly becomes clear that TfL are subjugating the needs of people who walk, bike and even take the bus, to those of people driving cars. Once again, this becomes quite technical I’m afraid, but the detail exposes some questionable political choices made by TfL.

What are TfL’s traffic flow obligations?

Transport for London have a legal duty to ensure their network of streets run smoothly.

As Cyclists in the City explains:

TfL’s obligation under the Traffic Management Act 2004 is to: Ensure the expeditious movement of traffic on its own road network; and facilitate the expeditious movement of traffic on the networks of others.

Under TfL’s current Chair, Boris Johnson, this translates into a policy called Smoothing Traffic Flow, which aims to ensure journey time predictably and reliability.

Who counts as traffic?

Legally, everyone, even people walking. It is explicitly stated in the Traffic Management Act 2004 that “traffic” includes pedestrians, cyclists and “motorised vehicles – whether engaged in the transport of people or goods.” (Traffic Management Act 2004, Section 31, and DfT Traffic Management Act 2004, Network Management Duty Guidance, DfT page 4, paragraph 10).

On TfL’s website, Boris claims to accept that smoothing traffic flow, “also includes smoother journeys for pedestrians,” although no mention is made of people on bikes or public transport.

As ever with TfL, we shall see that there’s many a slip twixt press release and policy.

What does smoothing traffic flow actually look like?

TfL’s Draft Network Operating Strategy (May 2011) explains how this Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) objective is translated into reality:

The key measure for smoothing traffic flow set out in the MTS is journey time reliability .(p14)

And how is this measured?

Journey time reliability scope includes all classes of light good vehicles, Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV’s) and cars. (p14 – footnote 2)

So there you have it. Pedestrians don’t count. Cyclists don’t count. Buses don’t even count.

Kingsland Road Bus Park

Smooth as silk: Buses definitely not in traffic

Will asking for 20mph at Blackfriars help?

The prioritisation of cars, vans and HGVs by TfL is why schemes like Blackfriars Bridge and Elephant & Castle are inevitable. Not to mention other similar schemes all over London. Or Cycle Superhighways which disappear at junctions even though that’s where 4 out 5 collisions happen. Or people being killed by HGVs on roads that boroughs have begged TfL to make safer.

Asking for the speed limit to remain 20 at Blackfriars is like trying to cure chicken pox by lopping them off one-by-one.

So what next?

This is a problem that goes right to the core of TfL’s and ultimately the Mayor’s transport strategy. A complement of responses is required, some aimed at TfL and some at their political masters. For now, I’m going to suggest the former: take advantage of the fact that the Network Operating strategy is currently under consultation.

Responses needn’t be long. They simply have to say something like: the performance of the road network cannot be measured solely by smoothing traffic flow and by the speed of motor traffic, as is outlined in Chapter 3. The time of cyclists, pedestrians and people on buses is just as important as those in cars and vans.

STEngagement@tfl.gov.uk

Tory walk-out: a PR stunt that might just work

June 8, 2011

This afternoon, the London Assembly was due to debate a motion about whether the speed limit at Blackfriars Bridge should be kept at 20mph or raised to 30mph. Prior to the vote, the Conservative Assembly Members walked out of the chamber, rendering any vote inquorate.

Why would the Tories do this? They must know that a walk-out is only likely to increase the publicity of this motion, and inflame an already irascible opposition (particularly because this also prevented a clean air motion from taking place). Twitter is already awash with angry people, demanding a reaction.

In order to see why the Conservative AMs have acted so, and therefore to plan an appropriate response, it is necessary to understand the following: people in favour of promoting motor traffic at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists are also in favour of the the 20mph motion gaining publicity.

I will try to explain why. This may become slightly theoretical, but please bear with me as I think this is crucial to our response.

The malleability of political reality

Political possibilities morph over time. Ideas which were once unthinkable become policy. In 1984, 50% of the country thought unemployment benefits were too low, and 30% too high. By 2009, those figures had switched places. (British Soc. Attitudes Survey.) The vigour and vitriol with which the current government has been able to attack welfare benefits could only have been dreamt of by Geoffrey Howe, or Nigel Lawson.

The constraints on potentially achievable political outcomes are constantly moving – this much we know. There are social, cultural, economic and political reasons for this. Let’s talk about the political.

Political constraints as a function of political action

As Steve Waldman brilliantly argues, a fact which is too often ignored is that the distribution of future [political] constraints is a function of present moves.

Waldman describes a world where there are two opposing teams. The first is a group of intelligent technocrats, who believe that the movement of political constraints is beyond their control, and that therefore their most advantageous political move is to argue for the optimum choice available to them within the current, given constraints.

The second group is comprised of politicians who understand, correctly, that their own actions influence what future political constraints will be.

Both teams act according to their respective viewpoints, and both are of the view that the other team’s actions are illogical. But, the technocratic team, the people who are constantly exasperated about the perfidy and sheer irrationality of the other side, is the team that is in fact ill-informed.

Sound familiar?

Walk-out as political weapon

We have to understand today’s vote not as a poll on a speed limit on a bridge, but as an event which shapes the culture of political possibility.

Today there was an argument about whether one component of an already dangerous and unpleasant road should be worsened, or kept the same. The outcome is irrelevant. The fact that this is the debate we’re having shows that those of us opposed to the primacy of the motor vehicle in London are failing to campaign.

The scale of the problem. Thanks to Jim from Drawing Rings for the data

Even its staunchest critics accept that the London Cycle Campaign has recently changed direction. It is undeniable that the LCC has been more active and vocal than usual. In choosing the 20mph speed limit as the focus of the Blackfriars issue, it has probably even successfully selected the most marketable aspect of the current plans to rally people behind.

The very fact that this campaign has worked – and yet those who oppose us are manoeuvring to gain publicity for this motion – demonstrates that we are fighting the wrong battle.

As Waldman notes,

Going forward, we oughtn’t confine ourselves to making the best of a terrible ideological environment. We should be considering how we might alter that environment to be more conducive of good policy.

This is why everyone who wants London’s road conditions improved needs to be arguing for a radical reallocation of street space. It is the reason to support the Cycling Embassy of GB, Clean Air London and Living Streets (Disclaimer: the views in this post are mine not theirs). Not necessarily because you think these organisations will ever fully succeed – or even because you support all of their goals. But because it is the only way to change the parameters that define the possible.

In 2002, George Bush’s notorious advisor Karl Rove famously said the following to his opponents:

When we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.

Cyclists, pedestrians and anyone who wants London’s streets to be a more pleasant place to be have a choice. We can study the political constraints set by our opponents and select the least-bad choice from within them. Or we can change those constraints.

What do we do now?

Naturally, we need to respond. But if we respond simply with a go-slow over Blackfriars Bridge, demanding that the speed limit is maintained, all this does is reinforce the culture that the only politically possible options are either a horrendous road with the current speed limit, or a horrendous road with an increased speed limit.

Whatever we do next, whether it is a go-slow, or something more inclusive of pedestrians and others affected by the Tory walk-out, one thing is clear:

The time for asking for the speed limit not to be increased is over. Our protest needs to demand that Blackfriars bridge be closed to motor traffic.

It’s time to change the discussion.

Pedestrian countdown: TfL report shows it endangers pedestrians. Suggests city-wide roll out.

June 3, 2011

Most Londoners will by now have come across one of the pedestrian countdown timers being piloted in London.

TfL inform us that,

Crossing the road at traffic lights is getting easier in London. Pedestrian Countdown counts down how long you have to cross the road after the green man light has gone out.

Pedestrian Crossing Countdown Timer

Ah, so they’re for the benefit of pedestrians, then? Well, you won’t find it on their website, but TfL have buried deep in their Network Operating Strategy that, other than their effect on pedestrians, countdown timers are considered advantageous for their

potential to improve the overall efficiency of the junction and reallocate a few seconds green time back to other modes. (p30)

No doubt taking green time away from pedestrians makes things “easier”. Perhaps the easiest thing of all would be to remove the green phase completely so pedestrians are never allowed to cross the road? This would avoid confusion, particularly for hard-to-reach groups like the visually impaired.

TfL have commissioned transport consultancy TRL to produce a report on the pedestrian countdown system, published 31st May 2011. It reveals the extent to which TfL have used the countdown system as a pretext for removing time from the pedestrian-crossing phase and “reallocating” it to motor traffic:

Page 28

Yes, you’re reading it correctly, time has been moved away from pedestrians in every single case and by up to almost five minutes per hour in one location.

The need of spending money

Oxford Street, one of the pilot sites: do we need to make pedestrians less of a priority?

The effects of this are (A) making walking in London an even less appealing experience by rushing pedestrians, and (B) increasing pedestrian risk. And the data proves it.

Do pedestrians feel rushed?

While it is intuitive that pedestrians facing a countdown feel more rushed, TfL have shrugged this off. But look at the TRL results of average walking speed times before and after the installation of a countdown timer:

People are walking considerably faster (page 26)

Now, remember this is measuring the average walking speed throughout the pedestrian phase. As a significant proportion of the cycle is the same under both trials – the green man – the real extent to which pedestrians are rushed by these timers is actually much greater than what is shown here.

Naturally, perceived pressure to cross the street particularly affects those groups already marginalised as pedestrians, such as older people, parents with children, and the physically less-able.

Pedestrian safety

TRL have published the results at four sites for what they call “conflict”, an oddly neutral term defined as “when two people attempt to use the same space at the same time.”

When “conflicts” happen on “roads”, I would consider this “a car crash”. To each their own. The data (p33) shows the following:

  • At Kingsway, Finsbury and Blackfriars, conflicts between pedestrians and traffic more than doubled from 152 to 342 conflicts.
  • At Oxford Street, conflicts were reduced. However, the severity of the conflicts which did occur increased.

Interestingly, on a page which TfL have now taken down but which Google still has a cache of, TfL claims:

Crucially, the study showed that there were no negative impacts on safety during the trial.

Conclusions

So what to take from this? Pedestrians are more rushed and more at risk. On the above cached page, TfL says that in light of this report they are looking at:

how Pedestrian Countdown technology could be rolled out to a number of key road junctions across the TfL Road Network from early 2012.

Garrett Emmerson, Chief Operating Officer for London Streets at TfL said: “Pedestrian Countdown can deliver significant benefits not just to pedestrians, but to all road users.”

Except it is pretty clear that the new system reduces the amount of time pedestrians have to cross the road, bullies them while they do it, and actually increases their risk. So why are TfL so keen?

Look at this graph of vehicle delay after countdown timers have been installed:

A net reduction. TfL are pushing a project to decrease vehicle delays at the expense of pedestrian safety.

And, to be frank, they’re lying about it.


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