Archive for the ‘GLA’ Category

Behind the stats: How TfL misled the London Assembly about Blackfriars

October 7, 2011

In September, Transport for London released a copy of a presentation they had submitted to the London Assembly about Blackfriars Bridge.

This contained some rather extraordinary claims, for example this projection (p3):

AM peak 2012 – pedestrians 58%, cyclists 6%, car occupants 14%

Given that there are currently more cyclists than car occupants, and cycling is increasing while driving is decreasing, the above is quite clearly wrong.

Thanks to the tenacity of London Assembly Member John Biggs (and his researchers), TfL has been forced to release an explanatory note, which shows the dubious assumptions that they have made in order to arrive at these figures.

TfL’s projection in their presentation:

There are a number of sins in the explanatory note (detail below). Here are some of my favourite:

  1. Citing a figure from the Department for Transport’s guidelines, but actually using a different figure.
  2. Extrapolating about what will happen at Blackfriars based on a survey about travel in the whole of London – when we have exact figures at Blackfriars going back to 1986.
  3. Using a dataset from JMP consultancy, rather than TfL’s own screenline counts, where the consultancy’s figures lend more support to TfL’s argument.
  4. Despite cycling increasing every year at Blackfriars since 1994, assuming that there will be no increase between 2010 and 2012.
  5. Similarly, despite people driving cars decreasing every year since 1996, assuming that this will not change between 2010 and 2012.

A projection based on correcting the clear errors in TfL’s methodology:

Pedestrians, cyclists and bus passengers increase. Car occupants decrease. Cyclists far outnumber car occupants.

Without pedestrians, this is what this looks like:

Cyclists 23%, car occupants 14%

Get the data behind this here.

I outline the errors and idiosyncrasies in TfL’s methodology that I have addressed below. TfL’s comments are in italics and mine are in bold.

Cars and LGVs

In 2007/08 there were 4033 car and LGV occupants.  This is based on JMP’S January 2007 counts and an occupancy rate per vehicle of 1.63. The occupancy value is from ‘Values of Time and Operating Costs’ (April 2009) TAG Unit 3.5.6, Department of Transport.

This is calculated by adding 1400 cars to 850 LGVs and multiplying by a 1.63 occupancy rate. However, the relevant occupancy rate from the DfT TAG figures cited by TfL is not 1.63 – this is the all week average for all cars. The average per km travelled figure between 7-10am for cars is 1.37, and for LGVs is 1.23.

Using the correct figures, the number of occupants is actually 2963.

For 2012 there are assumed to be 3750 [car and LGV] occupants.  This is based on modal share reported for 2007-2009 in Travel in London Report 3, where car and LGV numbers reduced by 7%.

Using the figures from a report about travel in the whole of London is an odd choice when we have exact year-on-year figures about car and LGV rates at Blackfriars back to 1986.

When we look at those figures, we see that cars have reduced by 7% over the last 2 years – so a reduction of 7% by 2012 would mean that they stayed constant between 2010 and 2012. This seems unlikely, given that car usage has decreased in every period since 1994. 7% is the smallest post-congestion charge 2 year reduction, so it seems conservative to use that for the change between 2010 and 2012.

LGVs increased 6% in the last 2 years, and stayed constant in the 2 years before that – so let’s assume a 3% increase next year.

HGVs

In 2007/08 there were 259 HGV occupants.  This is based on JMP’S January 2007 counts and an occupancy rate per vehicle of 1.

Again an interesting choice of dataset – using the figures from a consultancy rather than TfL’s own screenline counts in the same year which show only 67 HGVs during rush hour.

There is nothing wrong with having two datasets, but it seems reasonable to use an average of the two for a total of 163 HGVs.

Cyclists

In 2007/08 there were 1173 cyclists.  This is based on JMP’S January 2007 cycle counts which have been uplifted by 17% to reflect seasonal differences in cycle numbers.

Once again this is lower than TfL’s own screenline data (1288 cyclists) but it’s not too different so let’s accept it.

In 2012 there are assumed to be 1666 cyclists.  Cycling numbers uplifted by 42%, based on modal share changes reported 2007-2009 in Travel in London Report 3.

Except once again TfL use a report for the whole of London when we have hourly data for this particular bridge for the last 25 years.

Cycling increased 40% between 2008 and 2010, so TfL are saying that it will not increase at all between 2010 and 2012 which seems highly unlikely. In four year period of 2006-2010, cycling over Blackfriars increased 100%. So once again let’s go for a reasonably conservative estimated 2008-2012 increase and say 65%.

Taxi Occupants

In 2007/08 there were 2254 occupants.  This is based on JMP’S January 2007 traffic counts and an occupancy rate of 1.8 based on TfL Strategy Guidelines.

Which guidelines? We know that 1/3rd of taxis in the City are empty between 7am and 10am. So this claim means that the average occupied taxi has 2.7 passengers. A figure this high demonstrates what we already suspected: that TfL are including the driver as an occupant.

This is simply incorrect. 1000 empty taxis add nothing – in fact it’s worse than that. Indeed some might argue you should count taxis with just the driver in as worth less than 0. But let’s not, and just subtract the driver for a figure of 0.8 people per taxi.

Pedestrians, bus passengers and motorcyclists

There aren’t enough other sources of data for pedestrians or bus passengers, so we have to accept those estimates. Motorcyclists seems about right.

I am astonished that Transport for London seem to be able to get away with this. Are they accountable to anyone? This is what I’ll be asking on Wednesday, 5.45pm at Blackfriars.

London is broken: why people keep taking to the streets at Blackfriars

September 20, 2011

Running the roads is an enormously expensive business. TfL’s Surface Transport division’s expenditure is forecast at £2.6bn this year.

Let’s put this in perspective for a second – this is twice the figure lost by rogue trader Kweku Aduboli, which last week plunged global investment bank UBS into a quarterly net loss.

While much of the press bemoaned last week’s fares rises in articles which might as well have been written by Ken Livingstone’s campaign team, Dave Hill deftly pointed out the actual issue: Transport for London needs cash.

Hill argues that this money should instead come from higher road pricing for car users – which there is plenty of evidence for. But let’s take a step back.

Where does all the money go?

Transport for London give the public some idea what happens to this money through Finance and Policy Committee meetings.

But how useful is this? Thursday’s meeting, for example, revealed that TfL had revised the estimated final cost of the Cycle Superhighways down from £145m to £105m.

Did someone tell them cyclists like downward inclines?

Why isn’t this news? Basically: because no one really knows what it means.

Can Transport for London really have just reduced the budget by £40m without bothering to consult beforehand, or tell anyone afterwards?  It looks like it – but astonishingly for a public body, they don’t have to say.

Open up TfL

Here’s the rub. Does the Mayor really have to choose between two politically horrible options to come up with capital, raising fares or charging car users – where the decision of a leader largely elected by the outer boroughs is preordained?

That depends if the roads really require the level of government subsidy that they currently receive.

Climate Rush, an organisation who protest primarily about climate change, are on Thursday holding a protest at Blackfriars where their first demand is “an open and democratic Transport for London”.

They cite when TfL ignored the London Assembly’s unanimous vote about Blackfriars Bridge as their watershed moment – but there are plenty more.

Why has Transport for London this month suddenly said it has to splash out an unbudgeted £60 million at Hammersmith Flyover to “address recently identified structural defects”?

Vanity project? Same budget as Boris’s Cable Car

Might such maintenance be required because of the high volumes of wear caused by motor traffic? Is it right that £60m of public funds is being used to restore the very conditions that doom us to perpetually pouring more money into a congested, destructive streetscape?

Why does London keep taking to the streets?

Londoners are not happy with the political choices that are being made on our streets – choices being made with our money.

Thursday will be the third mass protest against TfL at Blackfriars Bridge alone in the last four months – and I suspect that there will be more.

Transport for London are not accountable to the public, nor to our elected representatives, the London Assembly. Nor our MPs, nor our local councillors, nor anyone else we ever get to vote for – with one exception.

TfL are only accountable to the Mayor – and so, for those concerned with transport, protests sizable enough to make Boris take notice are the only form of political engagement left.

The Climate Rush protest is on Thursday September 22nd, meeting at 8am on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge.

Mayor’s office: Boris “not advised” over 20mph report

August 19, 2011

Last Friday, we looked at Boris’ claim that:

“On the 20mph limit zone on the bridges, I’ll look at anything. I’m told, my advice is, from the traffic engineers that this would not be a good way forward.”

Transport for London revealed, in response to a Freedom of Information request, that no one had provided Boris with said advice.

Mayor’s office response

At that point, with a mind to not libelling the man, I was forced to assume that Boris had received this advice from elsewhere. It might not be traditional for the Mayor to keep off-the-books traffic engineers who provide convenient post-hoc justification to his policies, but I couldn’t see any other explanation.

The Mayor’s office has now responded to my Freedom of Information requests. I asked them for:

The job titles of any traffic engineers who advised the Mayor’s office that this report was not the best way forward.

And they have responded:

The Mayor’s office was not advised as to the findings of this report.

I think it is fair to say at this point that what the Mayor said was simply not true.

We know that Boris was given advice that 20mph over Blackfriars Bridge was not the best way forward.

Possibly he thought the Blackfriars Bridge advice referred to all bridges. Or possibly he just lied. Who knows?

Whether you infer confusion or calumny, neither provides an optimistic outlook for Londoners while Boris Johnson remains in charge of London’s transport decisions.

See the full response from the Mayor’s office here.

Lights out: more ways people are being designed out of London’s streets

August 17, 2011

In January 2011 Enrique Peñalosa, the inspiring former Mayor of Bogota, asked at the London School of Economics,

If road space is the most valuable resource in the city, how do we distribute it?  To the many, or for the few?

Designing public space around cars is one answer. Designing space around people is another.

TfL are systemically engaged in the former. One policy which has received some attention is that they are explicitly reducing pedestrian time at existing crossings through Pedestrian Countdown.

But this is just the beginning. They are also removing puffin, pelican and toucan crossings all over London. And they are making changes to thousands of sets of traffic lights without considering the effect on pedestrians at all.

This is all quite explicitly in the name of “smoothing traffic flow” – the Mayor’s policy to design London for the convenience motor vehicles.

What are pedestrians worth?

To see the value attributed to people who walk in London, look no further than a 2009 report commissioned by the Greater London Authority, entitled The Economic Impact of Traffic Signals.

The study calculates the value of time gained by road users at specific junctions if traffic lights were removed.

Palace Road/Norwood Road in Lambeth – One junction examined in the study

The analysis comes up with remarkably precise conclusions, such as: the removal of traffic signals between 10am and 4pm at the above junction would save around £9000 per annum (p37).

It also says quite baldly on page 43:

The results do not include the net economic cost or benefit to pedestrians who are assumed to cross at gaps in traffic or at stand alone pedestrian crossings.

Just to be explicit: If you’re driving a car, your time is considered to be worth £26 an hour. As a taxi passenger, £45. Pedestrians’ time, however, is worth nothing.

In the above image there is one van, two cars and seven pedestrians. Prioritising the motor vehicles over the pedestrians is simply perverse.*

How is this affecting London’s streets?

This stuff is real. Ideas become policy, policy becomes practice and right now that practice is being installed on our streets in metal, concrete and stone.

Other than Pedestrian Countdown, Transport for London is rolling out a number of changes to traffic signals, without any regard to pedestrians. (Warning: this bit is a bit technical.)

  1. SCOOT (Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique) – sensors in the road detect when traffic is building up and change traffic lights accordingly. TfL’s are committed to installing SCOOT at 3000 of London’s 6000 traffic signals by March 2012. The effect on pedestrians is not measured – despite the London Assembly calling for it to be (p9).
  2. SASS (System Activated Strategy Selection) – SASS uses “network intelligence” to change signal timings in order to pre-empt traffic problems. It does not measure its effect on pedestrians.
  3. “21st Century Traffic Signals” – This is a new initiative by TfL, which is expected cost £17m. Its first and only public appearance is in their July Finance Policy Committee minutes (p5). It aims to “optimise signal settings between adjacent sets of signals from a central control source.” Does it account for pedestrians? I seriously doubt it – I have put in some FOI requests to find out more.

Lights out

It’s not just light timings. This is not to mention the dozens of puffin, pelican and toucan crossings that Transport for London are removing all over London.

Poland Street/Oxford Street - One junction set for signals removal

In one of their most laughable attempts at spin, TfL have claimed that the removal of pedestrian lights will lead to “fewer obstacles for pedestrians”.

Places for people

My friends have asked me why I keep banging on about traffic lights, when even in the world of street design there must be bigger fish to fry. But these small changes are harmful in so many ways:

Safety: increasing the ease of travelling by car at the expense of everyone else – which is what all this does – is dangerous for the people who are maimed and killed by them.

Accessibility: Reducing pedestrian time makes life harder for mobility impaired people. Removing crossings can kill blind and partially sighted people. Everyone from Guide Dogs to the Equality and Human Rights Commission notes that pedestrian crossings are lifesavers due to being able to hear when it’s safe to cross – but TfL are scrapping them.

Play: Why have we seen such a decline in children playing out? According to childhood experts, the increase of cars over the last generation is a significant factor: streets don’t feel safe anymore. Policies like this which reduce pedestrian time, priority and, basically, presence cause this.

Air quality: Road traffic is responsible for 80% of London’s particulate emissions, which a report commissioned by the Mayor estimates causes the premature death of over 4,000 people a year. The Mayor’s current strategy is to let the emissions into the air and then spend millions of pounds (literally) trying to suppress them. Guess what? Policies which encourage driving will just make this worse.

Cycling: None of these traffic light changes account for cyclists at all – technology could be used to encourage cycling, with all the according benefits. Like in The Netherlands, where traffic lights default to green for bikes.

Environment: Streets designed around cars are just not pleasant. Who wants to sit on a café on the pavement next to a motorway?

Boris Johnson’s justice

In a sense, of course, my friends are right. The changes I’ve mentioned in this post are basically quite small. Each individual change on its own is harmful, but maybe not disastrous for people in London.

But as the GLA study shows, this is not isolated. This is a pattern where people are simply not counted if they’re not in a car. Look at this quote from Boris Johnson about rephasing traffic signals:

There is surely not a single Londoner who has not waited at a red light at two in the morning on a deserted street and wondered why on earth they are being delayed.

To conflate Londoner with driver is an astonishing sleight-of-hand, and betrays Boris’s prejudices. In London, 43% of households do not have access to a car. And many of those of us who do, even if we find the odd 2am red light annoying, will actually still be adversely affected by policies which prioritise road traffic over pedestrians.

Enrique Peñalosa said about planning for cars,

Often, injustice is right before our noses but we are so used to seeing it we don’t even notice it. 

Under Boris Johnson, TfL are incrementally and systemically driving people off London’s streets. Worryingly, for them, it looks like London might be beginning to notice.

*Some of the logical fallacies behind these ridiculous hourly figures are exposed here.

Boris Johnson’s secret traffic engineers

August 12, 2011

Update: The Mayor’s office have confirmed that Boris did not receive advice on this document.

On 13th July 2011, Boris Johnson was grilled during Mayor’s Question Time by Assembly Member Jenny Jones about upcoming changes to Blackfriars Bridge. He said:

“On the 20mph limit zone  on the bridges, I’ll look at anything. I’m told, my advice is, from the traffic engineers that this would not be a good way forward.”

Detail from image taken by the CBI, shared with a Creative Commons license

(This can be seen 2:40 in this video of Boris’s response.)

I put in a number of Freedom of Information requests to both the Mayor’s office and Transport for London about this rather surprising statement – given that TfL’s own report suggests rather strongly that reduced speed over bridges is the best way forward. I asked to be provided with:

The names of any traffic engineers who advised the Mayor’s office that this report was not the best way forward.

The response came back:

No traffic engineer provided advice to the Mayor’s office.

The only conclusion that we can draw from this is that Boris must be getting advice from some secret, bit on the side traffic engineers. You know the type: that’s-right-just-like-that-do-you-think-the-latest-vulnerable-road-user-KSI-stats-demonstrate-a-change-in-direction-of-travel-or-merely-expected-variance-hurry-up-TfL-are-expecting-me-for-dinner.

Off script

This isn’t the only time Boris goes off script during his response. He also rather embarrassingly tries to suggest that the report was produced “under the previous regime, and the previous Mayor did nothing about it” . As Jenny Jones points out, it was published 7 months after Boris became Mayor.

Boris’s crib sheet actually tells him to say that the report was commissioned by the previous Mayor.

We know this because, thanks to another FOI request, TfL has kindly provided his script, which I have made available for download here.

All star cast

The document confirms that the figures right at the top of TfL were intimately involved in the Blackfriars decision making process. Ben Plowden, Director of Better Routes and Places, wasn’t just wheeled out as a figurehead when he defended TfL’s action at Blackfriars. His name sits at the bottom of this internal document, approving the officers’ response.

A draft was also approved by Daniel Moylan, Deputy Chair of TfL, who publicly at least has been notably absent in the Blackfriars Bridge issue. Perhaps he has been “de-cluttering” himself from the scene. Fortunately, we know what Mr Moylan thinks: he is the man responsible for the evidence-defying claim that, “Coercive measures like 20mph limits are the wrong approach to road safety.”

I’ll say one thing for TfL, though. At least they responded to the FOI requests within the statutory time limit. I’ve still heard nothing from the Mayor’s office. I suppose the question asking which traffic engineers Boris might have been referring to are perhaps a teeny bit more difficult for them to answer…

In the interest of transparency, I enclose TfL’s full response to my FOI requests.

Transport for London declares war on the London Assembly. Has Boris Johnson lost control?

July 26, 2011

Last week, the London Assembly passed a unanimous motion against Transport for London’s controversial Blackfriars Bridge plans, which marginalise pedestrians and cyclists in an attempt to cram more motor traffic through the heaving junction.

Conservative Andrew Boff called the plans “too dangerous” and Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon demanded that the Mayor “use the facts”.

The Green Party’s Jenny Jones, who submitted the motion, said it was time for a “fresh think” about Blackfriars Bridge.

The motion, passed with support from all parties, called on Mayor Boris Johnson to “revisit” the plans for the bridge, particularly due to the dangerous junction designs at either end.

Executive power             

Transport for London’s strategy for dealing with scrutiny seems to be to rush things through and hope no one notices.

In 2004, after cyclist Vicki McCreery was killed by a bus on Blackfriars Bridge, they scrapped the cycle lane overnight.

Faced with allowing the Mayor time to asses their plans at Blackfriars, TfL announced on Monday that they will begin work on the junction this Friday – and will work through the night to finish by 5am the following Monday.

The London Assembly may be our democratically elected representatives – but they have no direct power over TfL, whose strategic direction comes from the Mayor.

What are the facts?

Here are some facts to which Lib Dem AM Caroline Pidegon may have been refering:

  1. Transport for London are proposing to add a new traffic lane at the north of end of the bridge, remove a pedestrian crossing and increase the speed limit.
  2. Cyclists make up the enormous majority of traffic over the bridge during peak times, and the number of cyclists is still going up while cars are in decline.

Blackfriars Bridge Northbound Traffic by Mode 2010 - Source: TfL Screenline Counts

Has Boris lost it?

The Mayor of London has responsibility for appointing three functional bodies:

  1. Metropolitan Police Authority
  2. Transport for London Board
  3. London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority

On his third Police Commissioner in as many years, Boris is facing criticism from all directions about his direction of the Met.

Police first: transport next?

The stain of the Met’s activities already has the public suspicious that Boris is either incompetent or iniquitous.

Blackfriars is just the latest in a string of events at Transport for London which suggest that they Mayor can’t quite grasp this brief, either. TfL are currently blocking plans for regeneration at Elephant and Castle because it would “interfere with traffic flow too greatly”. They are also systemically taking time away from pedestrians at London’s busiest crossings, including at Holborn and Oxford Circus.

This latest Blackfriars blunder comes straight off the back of the news that, despite claiming poverty to justify hiking fares last year, TfL’s budget shows a £1.3 billion underspend

Crisis of control

The private motor car is simply not the way that most people get around Central London. The position of Londoners at Blackfriars is clear. Far more people will use the bridge each day as pedestrians and cyclists than they will as drivers.

All London’s political parties, including Boris’s own Conservatives, understand this. They have all explicitly stated they are against TfL’s proposed Blackfriars redesign.

That TfL is still designing streets for cars and not people makes them look increasingly out of touch and out of control. The question now is: is Boris out of his depth?

Justice: City of London style

July 20, 2011

In February 2011, I was stopped by a police officer in the City of London for cycling through a red traffic light. It was the reason that I started this blog. I stated to that officer at the time, and I maintain, that I did not commit this offence and so since then I have been embroiled in the process of appealing it in court.

The Court

After one adjournment from an original court day in May, I received last month a Summons to City of London Magistrates Court for this morning at 10am.

I sat in the court room for 4 hours. During this time, I watched three cases. All of them were people who already had between 6 and 9 points on their driving licenses, and who had subsequently committed a variety of motoring offences. They were:

  1. A man with 9 points on his license, including various speeding convictions, who was caught driving at 48mph through a red traffic light in a 30mph zone.
  2. A man with 9 points on his license, including speeding and driving while using a handheld mobile phone in May 2011, who was caught driving at 30mph in a 20mph zone.
  3. A man with 6 points on his license for driving without insurance who was facing charges after having been caught driving while using a handheld mobile phone, at which point it transpired that he was not insured.

All three pled guilty. In normal course, they would all lose their licenses. However, they all claimed that it would cause “exceptional hardship” if they were to do so.

The magistrate told driver one that he did not accept the exceptional hardship claim, however due to his early guilty plea he would only face a driving ban of six months. Driver two was given three points (bringing him to a total of 12), but his exceptional hardship claim was accepted – he was given no driving ban.

Sadly, I was not around to see the verdict for driver three, as while the magistrate was deciding (4 hours after my arrival at the court), I was told that my case would be adjourned again and I would have to come back in November.

This is half the story.

The Street

After leaving the court, I cycled down Queen Victoria Street towards Blackfriars Bridge:

At this narrow point, I decided to “take the lane”, as I’ve been overtaken by buses here before and it’s a little close for comfort.

A black cab driver behind me became very angry, aggressively revving and trying to squeeze past. At the end of this section (about 15 seconds after the beginning of it), he leaned out his window as he overtook me and said, “Who do you think you are? I’ll slit your fucking throat.”

There was a police car stopped at the next set of traffic lights. I knocked on their window, reported what the taxi driver had said, and one of the two officers within asked both me and the driver to pull over.

The Police

One officer spoke to me and one to the driver. The one who spoke to me (CP 241) was very friendly, said she understood my concerns but also that it’s understandable that taxi drivers get frustrated being on the road all day.

Her colleague, PC Jeffreys (CP 267), spoke to the taxi driver then came over and said that I had been cycling in the middle of the road and this was why the taxi driver had become so aggressive. He said that the taxi driver had admitted that he had sworn at me, but not the threat to kill.

PC Jeffreys then told me that I should not have been cycling in the middle of the road and that both parties were in his view in the wrong. He said that in future if I felt intimidated by a taxi driver behind me, the correct action would be to pull over to the side of the road, dismount my bicycle and wait until I no longer felt at risk.

I could not understand why on earth we were talking about where I had been cycling, when it was clearly not illegal, whereas I had just been the victim of a verbal assault and threat. I said so.

I then tried to take a photograph of the taxi driver using my mobile phone, so there would be no possibility of the man denying that he was driving should I wish to take the issue forward with either to police or the Public Carriage Office. PC Jeffreys physically prevented me from doing this by grabbing my arm and pushing me back to the kerb.

Futility

Honestly at this point, I lost the will to continue. I’d just taken holiday from work to sit in a court room watching drivers who clearly should have been disqualified for a long time managing to avoid it, then to be told that these cases were more important than mine so come back in November, then immediately upon leaving been aggressively bullied by a taxi driver, and then been told by the police that it was my fault.

On the plus side, the London Assembly agreed today to review a 20mph limit on Blackfriars Bridge. Great, right? Speeding is incredibly harmful. (Source: Amy Aeron-Thomas’s Street Talk). (Update: having read this while less frazzled, they’ve actally agreed to “ask the Mayor to instruct TfL” to do a review. So it may not even happen.)

I’d like to pretend to care about the London Assembly vote, but I just can’t. We already have a report saying 20mph on London’s bridges would be safer. Even if the review says it is unambiguously advantageous to move to a 20mph limit (it won’t), and if somehow the London Assembly manages to on this basis pressurise the Mayor into actually implementing such a limit (doubtful), it will make basically no difference.

Unlike Tower Bridge, the road layout at Blackfriars lends itself to driving much faster than 20mph, which people will do. Enforcement of the limit will be rare, and as I saw today, consequences in those cases where it is enforced minimal. We need to stop devoting our energy to tinkering around the edges like this and start campaigning for proper infrastructure – yes segregated cycle lanes, but this as part of a package of properly designed streets, not huge urban motorways.

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.

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.


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