As the protests at Blackfriars continue, it is worth looking at the issues which made this bridge the battleground for variety of campaigners around cycling, air pollution and reclaiming streets for people.
A key part of the reason that Blackfriars became so heated so quickly was the announcement in February that TfL would not consult at all on their proposed plans for Blackfriars – except regarding one right hand turn, and only for five days (including a weekend).
Such manifestly unreasonable actions led to many Londoners writing to their Assembly Member, and ultimately Val Shawcross was able to reveal that TfL would be consulting on plans for the entire bridge.
But there are plenty of cases where TfL refuses to be transparent and is able to get away with it. Here is just one of those.
I am aware of two recent incidents where someone has been killed by a London bus driver who has subsequently claimed in their defence that they accidentally pressed the accelerator rather than the brake.
- July 2011 – a bus driver who claimed his sciatica caused him to press the wrong pedal on Oxford Street, killing 25 year old Jayne Helliwell, had the case against him dropped after the CPS decided to offer no evidence.
- August 2011 – the South London Press reported that the driver of the bus who claimed she accidentally pressed the wrong pedal, crushing 65 year old civil servant Newell Lewis to death against some railings, was given a 12-month suspended sentence and 150 hours of unpaid work.
To their credit, Transport for London seem to be doing something about this.
The minutes of their Health, Safety, Environment and Assurance Committee in August say:
A study commissioned by London Buses looking into ‘pedal confusion’ (where the wrong pedal is pressed accidentally resulting in unintended acceleration) among bus drivers was concluded. The recommendations will be shared with bus manufacturers. Bus operators have agreed to incorporate key lessons into their training and bus driver awareness materials. (p10)
I emailed Transport for London on August 5th, to request a copy of this study under the Freedom of Information Act.
Transparent as a rock
These are the events that have occurred since then:
|5th August||I request a copy of the pedal confusion study under the FOI Act.|
|23rd August||I receive an email from TfL informing me that this Freedom of Information request (amongst others) is being refused as they consider that I have put in too many similar requests in a 60 day period.|
|TfL agree that they will consider some other requests under the Environmental Information Regulations – which are broadly similar to FOI for information relating to the environment, but have no cost limit.|
|26th September||I ask my London Assembly Member, Val Shawcross, to request a copy of the study at Mayor’s Question Time. She kindly agrees to do so.|
|1st September||TfL say they will not accept the Pedal Confusion study under an Environmental Information Regulations request, despite the fact that information on buses, the built up environment and human health & safety is covered by the conditions set out in the Information Commissioner’s guidelines.|
|14th September||Mayor’s question time rolls around, and Val Shawcross requests a copy of the pedal confusion study from Boris Johnson.|
The answer from Boris Johnson was:
Officers are drafting a response which will be sent shortly.
Apart from delaying in the hope that Val Shawcross, Ken Livingstone’s running mate, might have better things to do than chase up an answer, such a response also takes the issue out of the public domain.
People who are not Val Shawcross (and this includes me) will have no idea if or when TfL officers have drawn up a response, or what it might contain.
The above behaviour is not so scandalous that it alone warrants anything more than slight irritation.
But it is just one, mundane example of TfL’s everyday obstinacy, which shows the divergence between their attitude and the public’s.
That TfL has commissioned the pedal confusion study is commendable: but that it won’t release it demonstrates its deeply held view that the public ought to sit back and let their city be run by the professionals.
Until Transport for London is prepared to listen to Londoners, I suspect we will see a lot more people protesting at Blackfriars Bridge.