Archive for the ‘GLA’ Category

How TfL’s Blackfriars bluster is undermining their public face

May 31, 2011

TfL are an optimistic organisation. They believe things can be better for everyone. 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 endorsing cycling as the provocative choice of the insouciant, the glamourous and the ever-so-slightly seductive, like in this image promoting June 2011’s TfL Cycle Challenge:

I would.

TfL’s claim that they can cram as much motor traffic as possible on to our streets, while still effectively promoting cycling and walking, is perhaps crystallised in this quote:

It is imperative that the road network functions effectively both as a set of corridors for traffic movement and as a collection of places in which people live, work and play.” – p4, TfL Draft Network Operating Strategy (pdf), May 2011

I wonder whether the authors of this strategy (TfL Directors Garrett Emmeson and Ben Plowden) really imagined this was persuasive. I doubt even estate agents would try it:

On the A406, North Circular Road, Nr Wembley, London

“The cosy upstairs property is situated by a charming traffic corridor for when little Jenny starts to toddle…”

Smoothing traffic flow and accessibility for pedestrians cannot both be priorities – this is not controversial. It is why parenting groups spend time campaigning for traffic reduction. Even the relatively regressive City of London Local Implementation Plan accepts that decisions favouring a particular group are necessary:

The City of London intends that its streets are safe and accessible for all road users… There is however not the capacity to give all road users the space and facilities that they may want.

Choices that are made about street design are political ones – in the sense that they inevitably privilege the interests of one group of road users over another. For a more insightful analysis of this than I could hope to provide, read this fantastic blog post.

So, what does this have to do with Blackfriars?

The interesting thing about Blackfriars is that at first TfL pretended that there was basically no decision to make. When we found out in February 2011 about the plans to redesign the bridge, we were told that they were set in stone and had been agreed upon last year. They were initially only willing to “consult” about one right-hand turn on the bridge, which was sent out on a Friday to “interested parties” (i.e. almost no one) with a response required in 3 working days. (The current government’s Code of Practice suggests that consultations should normally be open for at least 12 weeks. They’re also meant to be accessible to those who are being consulted.)

That TfL expected to be able to get away with this can be understood when we look at the other projects that they have managed to pull off, for example this extraordinary campaign:

I'm convinced.

(Six cyclists have been killed by freight vehicles in London so far this year.)

Yes, at Blackfriars TfL were planning to reduce the number of cycle lanes, reduce the width of cycle lanes, remove a pedestrian crossing, increase the number of motor-traffic lanes and increase the speed limit. But who cares? Why should this actually affect cyclists or pedestrians? We can all share the road together. It’s certainly not a political decision which might have negative consequences for anyone.

Of course this is obvious nonsense. Thankfully, Val Shawcross got involved and the media and political scrutiny eventually forced TfL to consult on the proposals for the entire bridge.

And that’s where things became interesting. It was only at this point that TfL came to accept that there might be a conflict between the needs of motor traffic and other bridge users, issuing a letter at the end of February which defended the plans for Blackfriars Bridge due to the need to,

develop a scheme that provides the best balance between the needs of all modes; including pedestrians, vehicles and cyclists.

And then finally, in TfL’s May 2011 response to their consultation on the new proposals, they begin to admit reality:

Reason for reducing the current cycle lane width (2m) to 1.5m: It is not possible to reassign carriageway space to cyclists, or to reduce the number of traffic lanes, without significantly worsening conditions for bus passengers and general traffic.

Reason for scrapping the Watergate pedestrian crossing: Our modelling showed that retention of the temporary crossing opposite Watergate would further reduce the capacity of the junction beyond the point that could be accommodated… through marking out of additional traffic lanes that allow motor vehicles to ‘stack’.

And there’s the rub: TfL are prepared to accept that there are competing interests as a justification for not allocating street space to cyclists and pedestrians.

The myth is shattered. TfL have admitted that street design has winners and losers. No longer can they continue to widen motor-vehicle lanes, demolish pedestrian crossings, bus lanes and cycle lanes, and pretend that they are an organisation which encourages anything other than travelling by car.

So sign the LCC motion before Friday’s debate. And remember: this is just the beginning. Blackfriars is about fighting the dirty, noisy, unpleasant and dangerous car-culture entrenched in our streets and in the minds of our city’s transport policy-makers.

If we win at Blackfriars, it can affect a lot more than just one bridge.

Blackfriars Bridge Verdict: “It is not possible to reassign carriageway space to cyclists” – TfL

May 18, 2011

Update 19/05/2011, 17.55: As everyone else is reporting, flash ride tomorrow at 8.30am, south side of the bridge by Doggett’s pub. Be there.

This afternoon, TfL wrote to stakeholders with details of their updated plans for Blackfriars Bridge.

There are a number of welcome changes in the revised plans. To read more about those, see Cyclists in the City.

There is one detail of the plans so callous, and so dangerous to people riding bikes, that for the moment I find it an insurmountable obstacle to focusing on any of the positives.

Look at the junction at the north end of the bridge:

Now: two traffic lanes, a cycle lane, an advanced stop box

Looking forward: Three traffic lanes, no advanced stop box

We know that 4 out of 5 crashes involving cyclists are at junctions. So why reduce the cycle lane from 2m to 1.5 metres and add an extra traffic lane just where it counts?

The comments on the relevant area (Section D) in TfL’s accompanying written document enlighten us:

It is not possible to reassign carriageway space to cyclists, or to reduce the number of traffic lanes, without significantly worsening conditions for bus passengers and general traffic.

This is yet another example of TfL’s duplicity when discussing Blackfriars Bridge. There are currently two traffic lanes for cyclists at the junctions to contend with. Asking TfL not to add another one is simply not “reassigning carriageway space to cyclists”. It just isn’t.

There are positive details in the new plans, as well as other objectionable ones (e.g. TfL are still getting rid of the pedestrian crossing opposite Westgate, and still raising the speed limit from 20mph to 30mph against the advice of their own Road Safety Unit).

But examples like this demonstrate that TfL are living in a fantasy world, where they continue to pretend that not destroying infrastructure which is less dangerous than average should somehow be seen as actively assigning road space to vulnerable road users.

London Assembly members Val Shawcross and John Biggs are heralding this as a triumph for cyclists (and themselves). But this just shows they’ve swallowed the same fallacy: that TfL not making a road significantly more dangerous is a victory. Feels rather hollow to me.

TfL wastes £5m of central government cash trying to launder London’s air

May 8, 2011

Note: This post is a little policy-ish and maybe not for everyone. However, it reveals TfL’s extravagant and astonishing attempts to cover up their failings on air emissions. The main points are as follows:

  1. The UK is failing to meet the EU’s air quality standards in London.
  2. In March 2011, the Department for Transport gave the GLA £5m to deal with the problem of emissions in London. The project is being delivered by TfL.
  3. TfL have devoted this money entirely to tricking the EU emissions counter on Marylebone Road, and to “power cleaning” the dirty air by repeated visits which cost up to £5k each.

Read on for more detail…

Garrett Emerson, the Chief Operating Officer of TfL’s London Streets department, is due to submit a report to the Surface Transport Panel on Wednesday this week. The report is entitled,

UPDATE ON DELIVERY OF THE MAYOR’S AIR QUALITY STRATEGY – CLEAN AIR FUND

Its main purpose is setting out to the Panel how the Mayor is adapting said strategy now that the daily concentration of particulate emissions has consistently been above the limit set out in the EU Air Quality Directive.

Less road traffic emissions

Oh, really?

The report notes that, in March 2011*, the European Commission exempted Greater London from EU air quality standards until June 2011. This was on the condition that “the UK adapts its air quality plan for the area, setting out the steps to achieve compliance by 11 June and detailing relevant abatement actions.”

After this was granted, the GLA had the audacity to write to the Department for Transport (DfT) asking for funding so they might actually have a chance of meeting the targets. Obviously all the money originally in the budget had been allocated to projects more important than air quality targets, like anti-walking and cycling “improvement” works and schemes designed to maximise the number of cars on London’s streets (pdf).

Astonishingly, DfT acquiesced to the tune of £5million. (Or perhaps it’s far from astonishing that the current government does not want the Conservative mayor to face headlines about being fined for air quality a year before the next mayoral elections – it’s certainly not the place of this blog to hypothesise.)

Photo the property of JJWillow

So, what are TfL actually doing to achieve this aim? Essentially, the entirety of the £5m is being wasted on two things:

  1. Repeated, “cleaning” visits of air at “priority locations” which cost up to £5k a piece,
  2. Trying to reduce the emissions of taxis and buses specifically around the Marylebone Road air quality measuring station.

In detail: Tfl have agreed with DfT 6 priorities (point 3.5 of the report), which can be split into two categories:

  1. Prevention of emissions on Marylebone Road – more on these in a second
  2. Attempting to clean the dirty air – this is a range of measures from “power cleaning” tunnels (£3-£5k per tunnel) and flyovers (£1250 per visit), applying dust suppressants, and installing green infrastructure (don’t get excited) which means “green walls” and “vegetated barriers” (i.e. total greenwash).

The preventative measures are the following:

  1. Reducing idling of taxis near the air quality measuring station (or as the report puts it, “at priority locations” which just happen to be along the Euston/Marylebone Road where the station sits).
  2. Applying Diesel Particulate Filters to 71 buses on route 205, which travel along the “priority location” of Marylebone Road.
  3. Working with businesses to reduce their air quality emissions at, you guessed it, “priority locations”.

It is scandalous that £5m of DfT money is being squandered in this manner,  especially while other transport budgets are being cut to the bone. With Cycling England gone, the total budget for all of London’s ‘Biking Boroughs’ is £4m.

TfL’s report even goes as far as to admit that:

Road transport is the dominant source of PM10 emissions within central London, contributing around 79 per cent in 2008, 80 per cent in 2011. (Emphasis mine.)

And yet after being given £5 million to potentially deal with this, TfL’s plan does absolutely nothing to reduce road traffic.

Their paltry, reactive measures guarantee that London will fail to meet future targets. And no doubt, when we do, we will either be bailed out by central government (costing us money) or fined (costing us money).

And meanwhile, London’s streets will continue to be the same dirty, noisy, traffic-infested rat-runs and racetracks which deter simple, sustainable transport like riding bikes and walking. Good work, TfL.

*TfL’s report says that this happened in March 2010 but this is an error.

Credit where it’s due: Val Shawcross has been pulling her weight

March 20, 2011

A week ago, I wrote a post expressing my disappointment with Val Shawcross’s email explaining where she stood on the Blackfriars Bridge issue. Part of my concern was that it was not clear that she was committed to doing a site visit. On Friday, however, she did just that.

Another issue was that Ms Shawcross had not explicitly said that she was going to ask TfL not to reduce the cycle lane’s width. Since then, I’ve been in email contact with Val, and she has said that, “I went over at least 40 emails from cyclists marked up all the issues on the site plan and went over them with TfL. The removal the cycle lane by the station was one of them and the width of the lanes on the northwards side another.”

So that’s that cleared up, then. Well done, Ms Shawcross.

Boris’s cycling strategy: Do as I say, not as I do

March 20, 2011

You’ll be glad to know that the Greater London Authority sees cycle parking as a priority:

A shortage of safe and convenient cycle parking is a major barrier to the uptake of cycling in the capital. Increasing the quantity and quality of cycle parking is therefore a priority. The Mayor plans to have 66,000 more cycle parking spaces in the capital by 2012.

This is all to help the achieve the 400% increase in cycling the mayor is aiming for. Other blogs have covered in some detail that a target of 5% modal share by 2026 is both a pathetically low figure and also with the current resources devoted to cycling completely unachievable.

And what better example of this than City Hall itself? I had an event to attend there on Friday afternoon. Here is a picture of the entirety of the cycle parking facilities:

A freezing, fairly windy afternoon in March, where it was raining and had been doing so all day, and the 15 or so Sheffield Stands were pretty much full. There were 140 people at the event I was attending alone – and that was just in one room!

Maybe there’s some sort of other cycle parking? Not according to their website. I suppose, like infrastructure on roads, there is“simply not enough space”.

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers