Boris Johnson’s secret traffic engineers

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.

10 Responses to “Boris Johnson’s secret traffic engineers”

  1. Tom Says:

    How about putting in an FoI to see what advice Daniel Moylan got, since he appears to be running TfL now?

  2. aseasyasriding Says:

    “A permanent 20mph speed limit is not appropriate for Blackfriars. A temporary 20mph limit was introduced whilst the new station is being constructed. When completed, the new road layout, and in particular the new pedestrian crossings, mean that speeds during the morning peak are expected to be around 12mph through the junction – significantly slower than at present. For this reason a 20mph limit with additional signage and enforcement measures are not required.”

    Speeds are plainly not going to be “around 12mph”. They haven’t even bothered to hedge their bets by including the word “average”. It’s utterly contemptuous of TfL to think they can get away with this crap.

  3. Tommi Says:

    If you consider 20mph speed limit as just a sign stuck up in the beginning of an urban motorway while doing nothing about the urban motorway conditions then I’m inclined to agree it’s not appropriate. They should design the roads so that drivers will *want* to drive more slowly, not because of some sign, but because it feels unsafe *for them* otherwise. I’m sure the collective intelligence at TfL have a large arsenal of design principles to apply if the wanted to. (Though not sure which alternative would scare me more, that TfL are homicidal bureaucrats, or incompetent engineers.)

  4. Twitted by silentypewriter Says:

    […] This post was Twitted by silentypewriter […]

  5. tryingtothriveinlondon Says:

    Great stuff. Power to FoI. Is it compatible with the Big Blue Society? Will it be Pickled, too?

  6. tryingtothriveinlondon Says:

    By the way, I tried to cross Blackfriars bridge road on feet the other night. The green man safe to walk sign and countdown numbers don’t give this 68 year-old stroke survivor enough time to cross.

    I mentioned this to Richard Tracey AM, JP.

    He didn’t seem phased…

  7. Mayor’s office: Boris “not advised” over 20mph report « Cycle of Futility Says:

    […] for London revealed, in response to a Freedom of Information request, that no one had provided Boris with said […]

  8. Freedom of Information: TfL gets nasty « Cycle of Futility Says:

    […] 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 […]

  9. Boainfo Says:


    […]Boris Johnson’s secret traffic engineers « Cycle of Futility[…]…

  10. Blackfriars Bridge | transportandpolitics Says:

    […] Assembly at Mayor’s Question Time he has been advised that 20mph limit on Blackfriars Bridge would not be the way forward. Here are his briefing […]

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