Archive for March, 2011

“We will not be banning cars from city centres anymore than we will be having rectangular bananas”

March 29, 2011

Yesterday the European Commission released, A vision of an interconnected Europe, a new transport plan.

This controversial document contains a number of howlers that you would only find written by the idiotic pen-pushers in Brussels who’ve got no idea what life is like in 2011 Britain.

Oncoming Traffic

The bureaucratic bods have included statements such as,

“Oil will become scarcer in future decades, sourced increasingly from uncertain supplies.” (p3)

Infrastructure shapes mobility. No major change in transport will be possible without the support of an adequate network and more intelligence in using it.” (p4)


“If we stick to the business as usual approach, the oil dependence of transport might still be little below 90%… CO2 emissions from transport would remain one third higher than their 1990 level by 2050. Congestion costs will increase by about 50% by 2050. The accessibility gap between central and peripheral areas will widen. The social costs of accidents and noise would continue to increase.” (pp 4-5)

Obviously these jobsworths need to check themselves. (Perhaps there’s a problem with their masculinity?) We know that the current government tries to belittle civil servants as either rubber stampers, backroom functionaries or, in the cases where it can’t be denied that they are having an effect, “enemies of enterprise”.

And fortunately, our beloved Transport Minister is nothing if not reliable. The very same day as the release of the plan, he managed to issue a statement not just rejecting the plan, but the very idea that the EU might be allowed to have a say:

“”It is right that the EU sets high-level targets for carbon reduction, however it is not right for them to get involved in how this is delivered in individual cities.”

Back to business as usual, then.

Sharing the roads with behemoths

March 22, 2011

This morning, at 7.10am on the way to work, I saw what was easily the most terrifying and dangerous piece of driving I have seen all year.

I was cycling up Amersham Road, about to turn left on to Lewisham way.

As I was turning, an HGV did two things:

1. Decided to overtake me and turn left simultaneously, forcing me on to his inside as he was making a left turn. (I have no idea if he’d seen me – fortunately I was just able to accelerate away.)

2. Stopped at traffic lights less than a minute later, the HGV was directly behind me and the driver edged it forward until the front of the cab hit the back of my bike. When I turned around and shouted to him, he gestured to indicate that I should get to the side of the road.

When visiting the website of the owner of the vehicle, Norbert Dentressangle, to make a complaint, I was struck by the folowing:

These vehicles may well an efficient form of international transport. But why on earth are they polluting our cities with their oppressive presence? TfL try to tell me that the problem is my fault:

But it isn’t. Where the driver chose to overtake me, there must have been a point where I was ahead of him and he either didn’t see me or opted to undertake the manoeuvre anyway. Where he rolled into me, he could clearly see me, as his response demonstrates.

The problem is cultural. Norbert Dentressangle drivers are basically unaccountable. They’re almost certainly both employed and residing outside of the UK.  The British police are not going to pursue them for intimidating or inconsiderate driving towards cyclists and they know it. They no doubt have tight deadlines and are desperate to avoid London’s rush hour as much as possible – so why on earth should they care about me?

People have commented that my use of pictures borders on the extraneous. Here’s another one for you in the form of a Venn Diagram:

I have reported this incident to the police and complained to Norbert Dentressangle. I’m not holding my breath.

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”.



TfL lies about consultation

March 17, 2011

Cyclists in the City has just posted an excellent line-by-line response to the email from Alexander Jackson’, TfL Customer Services Manager.

I wanted to highlight just one sentence that deserves particular scrutiny.

TfL said:

The drawing for this wider scheme was used for initial engagement with key stakeholders in February 2010. At this initial engagement the City of London consulted the local cycle group Cyclists in the City.

Cyclists in the City responds:

I think that means me. The bright-eyed among you may have noticed that in February 2010, this website didn’t exist.

I’ve let TfL know, also copying in the relevant London Assembly members. Watch this space for a response.

Blackfriars Bridge – TfL don’t understand their own data

March 16, 2011

I have just received a very long email from Alexander Jackson, TfL customer service manager, about Blackfriars Bridge.

Going through the email line-by-line and responding is a pleasure I will save for later. Right now, I only want to isolate one sentence:

“TFL is not expecting to see an increase in the amount of traffic using this junction from the original levels in 2008 (prior to any station works).”

The question is not whether there will be an increase in traffic, but how much the trend of decreased motor traffic will continue.

A longitudinal view of TfL’s screenline data for Blackfriars Bridge northbound from 7-10am from 1988-2010 shows us the following:

Car use is in decline, goods vehicles and taxis remain fairly constant, and people are cycling much, much more. Any scheme based on the amount of traffic remaining constant is folly.

Adding an extra motor traffic lane and narrowing the cycle lane is indefensible.

Pedestrian killed by lorry – fear not, TfL have a Memorandum of Understanding

March 16, 2011

As we know from Boris Johnson’s February 2011 Q&A, there is “simply not enough space to provide segregated cycle facilities” in London. Fortunately, however, there plenty of space in inner London for lorries to speed around our streets, killing whoever is in their path. The most recent fatality was a female pedestrian in Hackney.

Ghost Bike

Ghost bike: Brixton Brady was killed by a lorry in 2006 less than half a mile from where this death took place

Everyone knows that lorries in London are a problem. Indeed, in the Q&A session linked to above, Jenette Arnold, Assembly Member for Hackney, Islington & Waltham Forest, asked the Mayor several questions regarding what he was doing about HGV road safety.

Strangely, after being a question in the context of the death of a vulnerable road user, Mr Johnson did not seem to think that TfL’s July 2010 Memorandum of Understanding (pdf) with the Freight Transport Association (FTA) was worth a mention. I find the memo rather surprising with its talk of “equitable approaches” and other eqiuvocal, unquantifiable intentions.

If I was drafting it, I think I could boil it down to three points:

1.  HGVs are allowed to drive around densely populated areas with significant blind spots.

2. HGVs are the heaviest vehicles on the road and when they collide with people, those people are likely to die.

3. You would therefore expect HGVs to kill or seriously injure the highest number of people/km, and they do (pdf, p15).

Still, I’m sure that, “to share details of forthcoming events and announcements with a view to adding value by broader engagement,” is just as important a point for us all to understand.

From the point of view of the FTA, of course, “broader engagement” means that those of us who use the same roads as HGVs can understand how to enjoy “shared space” with >7.5 tonne vehicles. The same people whose website would no doubt have us believe this death was the elderly walker’s fault – she was obviously a “novice” pedestrian.

OK – so clearly I don’t think a weak-willed Memorandum of Understanding is an effective method of reducing the number of people killed by HGVs. The question is whether TfL do. I have put in an FOI request to TfL to find out.

Subject to the FOI Act (2000), TfL have 20 working days to respond.

TfL complaints escalation

March 16, 2011

I sent a formal complaint to TfL on February 22nd regarding potentially lethal infrastructure on the A202. Their complaints procedure outlines that they will respond to the complaint or send an update within 15 days

It has now been 16 working days – I have no idea whether or when a response will be forthcoming. This matters – someone may be seriously injured here at any point. I have therefore escalated the complaint to London Travelwatch, as per their procedure. I am to expect a response within five working days.

Updates to follow.

Val Shawcross’s response to TfL: Not good enough, and I’ve told her so

March 12, 2011

Update: I may have been a bit harsh. See here for more.

Danny at Cyclists in the City has posted Val Shawcross’s latest response about Blackfriars Bridge.

I have to admit, I’m disappointed. I always knew we would have to fight TfL. But I thought that my London Assembly member might actually be on my side. Here is what Ms Shawcross has said she will actually do:

Val understands TfL’s need for more pedestrian crossings, but would like you to know that she and John challenged TfL about the loss of cycling facilities and have asked them to consider reducing the speed limit of the cars around Blackfriars Bridge. They have also asked TfL to see if they could look into the potential reworking of the teardrop shape island. TfL have confirmed that they will look into this and that they are investigating the costs involved.

To be fair, we wanted Ms Shawcross to ask for two things and she has said she will. Sadly, they’re not the same two. At the risk of repetition, but just to be perfectly clear, she has said she will:

1. Ask TfL to consider reducing speed limits. (We know how well this works.)

2. Ask Tfl to consider re-shaping the the traffic island.

Notably she will not:

1. Ask TfL not to add an extra lane of motor traffic.

2. Ask TfL not to make the cycle lane narrower. (She may have “challenged” TfL about the loss of facilities but it seems like her solution to this is lowering speed limits – in any case, unless she asks them not to add an extra traffic lane, which she hasn’t, then it is impossible to ask them not to reduce the cycle lane width.)

We know from TfL’s own data that at any random point during rush hour there are on average 17 bikes, compared with 6 private cars and 4 taxis on this section of road. This is what this looks like.

Is the solution to this creating more space for motor traffic and narrowing the bike lane, with a conciliatory reduction in the speed limit (and no mention of enforcement)?

In the email, Ms Shawcross’s assistant says:

Jenny Jones AM has been actively looking into this issue as well and has informed Val she is going to be doing a site visit with TfL and Val is hoping to go.

Hoping to go? She is chair of Transport Committee. She is the elected member for Lambeth and Southwark (where the south side of the bridge sits). I understand Ms Shawcross may be busy – but the pretense that she doesn’t have time to go and look at Blackfriars Bridge doesn’t wash.

If Val Shawcross doesn’t even bother to go and look at the bridge, she really doesn’t care.

I have replied to Ms Shawcross’s assistant’s email making the points I’ve made in this post. I’ve CCed in Jenny Jones so at least someone who is doing a site visit will be able to keep them in mind. I will post an update if I get a response.

Is the Big Society the solution to our transport needs?

March 12, 2011

Philip Blond, the Big Society poster boy, has published a blog about an attractive sounding ideal, the Transport Retail Model.

Firstly you would see marketing techniques and IT used to get more information about people’s lifestyles.

Secondly you would see integrated transport services, perhaps provided by a single ‘mobility manager’ with the remit to meet city or community requirements.

Thirdly, you would at last see more subtlety in transport policy and practice. Instead of blunt instruments like charging for use of infrastructure (like roads) that have been accepted as free for decades there could be continuous dynamic ‘nudging’ of behaviour using small scale sticks and incentives.

Sexy as this marketing fluff is, no amount of sophistry can change the fact that there are essentially two ways to change people’s behaviour with regard to transport:

1. Persuade people that the choices about transport they currently make, based on the conditions of their travel environment, are wrong.

2. Change those conditions.

The cycle-blogging community has robustly rejected the first. And as Cycalogical notes, the Department for Transport itself has admitted that “soft measures” do not have a long-term success rate.

Deflated: Soft measures don't work

The proponents of the Transport Retail Model are aware of this. They need to find a Big Society approach to improving how people get around. For my international readers, what this means is that it needs to be:

1. Cheap

2. Shiny

And lo, the Transport Retail Model is born. Once we get past the management meshugas [pdf] (attractive as a seamless, end-user focused, zero-wait state solution sounds), we realise what this actually boils down to is this:

1. A bunch of cool phone apps.

2. Extending where you can use your Oyster card

3. Wrapping up some leisure centre discounts or other promotional offers with (2), based on your behaviour.

But how does that help us with this:

Now, don’t get me wrong, incentives are important. But is my mother likely to consider cycling rather than driving the 3 miles to work around the Highgate Triangle (above) because she gets 20% off cinema tickets? No – and given the focus on car-clubs, parking info and road toll payment systems, I’m not convinced the architects of this model actually want her to.

Approaches like these are just another instance of trying to fix a powercut by releasing a new type of candle. Nudge all you like, you won’t “meet potentially conflicting objectives such as growing out of recession while meeting carbon reduction targets” without dealing with the root of the problem: infrastructure.

This is a problem that the Big Society alone cannot solve.