Archive for August, 2011

Lane rental will “deter walking”, admits Transport for London

August 31, 2011

Documents detailing Transport for London’s proposed Lane Rental scheme reveal that we can expect to see a lot more of this:

Image from Construction Photography

The scheme charges works companies to dig up the road in the most congested areas, at the busiest times. You can read some details of the national consultation in my blog here.

The technical is the political

What is perhaps more interesting is that it once again shows how, under Boris Johnson, TfL pays lip service to the idea that people might matter when they’re not driving (or being driven), yet does nothing about it. They tell us in their consultation document that lane rental will apply,

at the most critical parts of an authority’s street network in terms of high traffic flows (whether the traffic is vehicular or pedestrian). (p5)

A promising prospect.

However, if we dig down into the more detailed cost-benefit analysis, we are informed that calculating where Lane Rental should apply uses a number of metrics for measuring vehicle flows, delays and value per vehicle (pp13-15).

None of this has anything to do with the people who use the roads who are not in motor vehicles.

We are then subject to another 40 pages of fascinating analysis of motor vehicle flows (the graphs are pretty), before being told:

The London Lane Rental scheme would not impose any charge on works occupying the pavement only. (p50)

Image from HU17

Seems rather likely to encourage works providers to move works from the road to the pavement, doesn’t it?

Costs and benefits

One of the wonderful things about TfL is that they are a public body and, while perhaps they are the moment suffering from a crisis of political leadership, there are a large number of very sensible people who work for them.

The cost-benefit analysis does, therefore, actually include some costs:

On walking (p50):

It is unavoidable that the occupation of the pavements will increase as a result of the lane rental scheme, during peak times, for the parking of vehicles and the storage of materials.

As a consequence, there is a high probability for the lane rental to deter walking along the congestion management areas.

On cycling (p50):

One could note the risk that lane rental would allow an increased volume of traffic to flow on the TfL Road Network, travelling at higher speeds, reducing the safety and attractiveness of cycling.

On emissions (p48). Lane rental will:

induce additional traffic to an extent… which may have a detrimental impact on climate change.

Streets for who?

This push for more, faster motor traffic – at the expense of people who walk, cycle and just be in London – comes straight from the top.

Back Boris, the mayor’s website to push for re-election in 2012, has told us that lane rental will lead to works being carried out “more quickly”

But in fact, TfL’s own document says that for works “will have a longer lasting effect on pavements”, as contractors will have to clear the carriageway at times deemed traffic sensitive (p50).

The same press release also tells us that works will be “at less disruptive times of day”. But pushing works from the traffic-heavy day time to nights is also disruptive – just to people who live, walk and go out near the areas, rather than people sitting in traffic.

TfL’s own document estimates that lane rental could lead to “2 million nights of sleep deprivation per year” (p49). Shifting the negative effects of roadworks away from people in traffic jams is a political decision.

Driven to action

All of this demonstrates just how much of London Boris Johnson is prepared to sacrifice to attain re-election, by pandering to the cohort of Outer London car owners.

But attitudes are beginning to change, Boris. This Saturday the Cycling Embassy will launch in London, a national campaign which aims to bring about mass cycling in the UK.

And on September 22nd, Climate Rush will take a protest to the now totemic Blackfriars Bridge to object specifically to TfL’s car obsession.

As Climate Rush points out,

Our clogged up streets can’t carry this capacity any more.

The city is changing. Can the Mayor?

Freedom of Information: TfL gets nasty

August 24, 2011

Last week, I used the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to reveal that Boris Johnson had misinformed the London Assembly about the advice he had received from traffic planners.

The information was somewhat embarrassing, not just for Boris but also for senior Transport for London figures named in internal documents, such as Ben Plowden and Daniel Moylan.

I have now received an email informing me that TfL will not be providing me with any of the information on the various outstanding requests that I currently have.

This is surprising, as I have successfully received regular FOI responses from TfL since I started this blog.

Are they allowed to do this?

TfL’s legal team are now claiming that they are not obliged to provide me with any information if costs more than £450 in total to respond to the requests that I have submitted.

This is not actually what the legislation says. Costs of individual requests may only be aggregated if,

the two or more requests relate, to any extent, to the same or similar information.

What requests are they refusing?

The claim that my outstanding requests relate to the same or similar information seems far-fetched. I am currently waiting to hear back about a number of different things, including:

  • Transport for London’s usage of “grey fleet” and “support fleet” cars in London’s streets.
  • Pedestrian Countdown Equality Impact Assessments
  • A ‘Pedal Confusion Study’ commissioned by London Buses
  • Information on a project entitled ‘21st century traffic signals’
  • Details of the disbanding of TfL’s Cycling Centre of Excellence
  • The Vauxhall, Nine Elms & Battersea Planning Framework

These are “similar”, I suppose, to the extent that they all refer to TfL’s operations. But essentially any FOI requests made to TfL, or any public body, will have to refer to the activities that they carry out – this can’t be the test of whether information requested is similar.

I have emailed TfL asking them how they have arrived at the conclusion that the above requests constitute “the same or similar” information and will publish their response.

Why now?

Since starting this blog, I have put in a lot of FOI requests to TfL, allowing me to post in detail a range of topics such as freight regulations, the street design process and Pedestrian Countdown.

I don’t know why TfL have suddenly decided, a week after I exposed through FOI that claims made by Boris Johnson were not accurate, that they are not going to respond to my outstanding requests.

Accountability

At the end of the day, the reasons do not really matter. This is about democratic accountability. As the Information Commissioner’s Office informs us, the public have the right to request any information held by public authorities.

That Transport for London is refusing to reveal information about the above topics, on frankly the most spurious of pretexts, leaves me wondering just one thing:

What is Transport for London trying to hide?

Click here to read the full text of TfL’s email to me.

What’s wrong with lane rental: it counts vehicles not people

August 22, 2011

The Department for Transport have today launched a 12-week consultation on a proposed “lane rental” scheme, where utilities companies would charged for digging up the road.

Transport for London will tomorrow begin their consultation on whether we should have this in London.

New design

When lane rental was piloted in Camden and Middlesborough in 2002-04, it was concluded that it had little effect on the amount of time companies spent digging up the roads. 

The scheme currently being proposed by the government is quite different to the previous one. The 2004 pilot applied one charge to all streets at all times. The scheme the government are currently proposing will only charge at times which cause the most disruption.

This, we are told, will provide an incentive for companies to carry out works at less inconvenient times.

Inconvenient for who?

This all sounds somewhat sensible. But where will this actually apply?

The streets where evidence shows that works in the highway cause the highest levels of disruption and thus require the greatest efforts to smooth traffic flow.

DfT Guidance to Local Authorities, p8.

This is a phrase straight out of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and demonstrates the extent to which TfL have influenced (or written) the national policy here. A google search for “smoothing traffic flow” on TfL’s website produces over 20,000 results:

On the Department for Transport website, three results.

What will lane rental look like?

The DfT guidance tells that “the detailed design of lane rental schemes is best determined at a local level”.

Fortunately for us, TfL have done exactly this. They have produced a map of the “most congested” areas in London.

TfL Network Operating Strategy p46

These Congestion Management Areas are where lane rental will apply – as explained to the Surface Transport Panel in May 2011.

And how is this measured? By counting delays on roads, to motor traffic. Doesn’t include pedestrians. Doesn’t include people on bicycles.

This means that – despite the fact that Blackfriars Bridge is actually a designated Congestion Management Area – the following will still be acceptable:

There are more bikes here than any other vehicle at rush hour - yet delays to bikes aren't counted by the TfL methodology (image from Cyclists in the City)

Closing a footpath rather than a “lane” will be encouraged under lane rental:

Year long works at Henley's Corner

If Transport for London want to prevent delay and disruption to journey times, great.

But once again they continue to define “disruption” and “delay” as only counting when it affects people in motor vehicles. This simply creates an incentive for people to use cars over other forms of transport – which apart from anything else will actually cause more delays.

The fact that TfL has managed to influence the national policy here is all the more concerning.

FOI: Transport for London start to react

August 19, 2011

In his memoirs, Tony Blair laments his government’s introduction of the Freedom of Information Act:

Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.

While Open Democracy campaigners have reproached Blair’s about-face as a sign he was corrupted by power, there may be some merit to his argument.

The civil service and much of the country was concerned with Blair’s “sofa government” – decisions being made without involving the Cabinet, after consulting with a largely unelected (and to most of the country unknown) inner circle.

It is not far-fetched to suggest that when the Freedom of Information Act came into force in 2005, it provided an incentive to continue with such an approach: discussions are informal, undocumented and unknowable by journos, bloggers and busybodies.

Whatever – it’s not my job to discuss the merits of the Act. On balance, I think it’s probably a good thing, but clearly it can encourage behaviour we might not want our decision-makers to be engaged in.

We can see this in Transport for London. Wading through the minutes of TfL’s Network Management Group from April 2011 (which I received through a Freedom of Information request) I came across this little tidbit:

Any Other Business

Greenwich FOI

Noted that an FOI requesting copies of all correspondence between DR and Greenwich had included NMG minutes.  Agreed that going forward minutes to be brief action points.  Action – SC

It seems Tony’s cronies aren’t the only ones trying to evade the prying eyes of the public.

As ever, you can download the full (dull) minutes here.

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.

TfL to tender out £6m contract to reduce pedestrian times at 220 crossing in London

August 2, 2011

Transport for London’s Pedestrian Countdown scheme reduces crossing time for pedestrians, as part of a strategy to squeeze more road traffic through junctions.

London Assembly Member Val Shawcross has warned it will  make the city “less pedestrian-friendly”, and Green Party member Jenny Jones has raised concerns that it discriminates against “less agile Londoners and people with children”.

Run before you can walk: Pedestrian Countdown at Oxford Circus

The most recent minutes of TfL’s bi-monthly Finance and Policy Committee meeting reveal that they have now been granted authority for the procurement and roll-out of Pedestrian Countdown at Traffic Signals at 220 sites over three years  (p7).  They note:

This will reduce confusion and uncertainty and give pedestrians more confidence to cross before the red man. While (sic) also allowing a standard six second green invitation to be introduced with the remaining time allocated to trafficimproving efficiency and through put, and contributing to the Mayor’s objective of smoothing traffic flow.

The estimated final cost is £6m. The project will now be put out to tender.

Thanks to Boris Watch for highlighting these minutes on twitter.

Pedestrian Countdown: the facts

Some reminders about pedestrian countdown:

1. It takes time away from pedestrians and reallocates it to motor vehicles at some of London’s busiest crossings, including so far Oxford Circus and Holborn.

2. Walking speeds go up at crossings with pedestrian countdown, particularly in people over 60.

3. Transport for London claim that fewer people feel rushed crossing the road during pedestrian countdown. This is based on questionnaire responses, not walking speeds. It is also not true for mobility impaired people.

Is this legal?

Reducing time for pedestrians clearly negatively impacts people with mobility issues, older people, parents with children and pregnant women. Fortunately, public authorities and those who exercise public functions have due regard to eliminate discrimination against at least three of these groups.

Additionally, there is a significant chance that some other legally protected groups are over-represented as pedestrians, and therefore reducing times at crossings would disproportionately negatively affect these groups too.

I have sent Transport for London a Freedom of Information request, asking for any Equalities Impact Assessments relating to pedestrian countdown. They are obliged to respond by 1st September.

Get a grip, Boris

Pedestrian Countdown is an iconic, visible and explicit part of Boris Johnson’s smoothing traffic flow agenda, and it exemplifies the rotten state in which Transport for London operates under his stewardship.

In a swift and unambiguous way, road traffic is prioritised over pedestrians. Insultingly, press releases are then issued which try to sell this as a pro-walking measure. All the while, key documents remain unpublished until obtained through FOI requests.

Being a pedestrian in London is already unpleasant enough. Long waiting times, staggered crossings, pedestrian “cow pens”, noise, air pollution and of course road danger (even on the pavement).

People who walk in London – which, I’m afraid Boris, is almost everyone – aren’t going to put up with this forever.

Pedestrian Countdown: Full Appendices

August 1, 2011

In July, I published an analysis of Transport for London’s pedestrian countdown technology:

Artificial road-user hierarchy imposed by a Conservative mayor: a closer analysis of Pedestrian Countdown

Reports obtained through Freedom of Information requests show in detail how TfL have systemically removed time from pedestrians at junctions under the pretext of the pedestrian countdown trial.

I attached the main report, which contains this information, at the end of the above post. Recently, I have received some requests for the rest of the reports.

These have now been published on the London Transport Data blog.

London Transport Data is young, but growing. Read more about it here.