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”. .
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.
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.