Archive for the ‘Mayor of London’ Category

Blackfriars: Don’t let Boris Johnson’s TfL send cycling back to 2006

October 5, 2011

In the recent discussions about the proposed 80mph motorway speed limit, I was reminded on twitter of an article by Jeremy Clarkson, where he says,

“People go with the flow. We drive as fast as traffic conditions allow. We use public transport when it’s better than taking the car. We use an umbrella when it’s raining and wear a jumper when it’s chilly.”

Clarkson is right. I love driving – but I always cycle or use public transport to commute in London. It makes sense.

Expanding on Clarkson’s point (words I don’t write often) is that as well as people shifting between modes of transport, they also shift routes within those modes, according to what makes sense at the time.

This effect seems to be present if we look at cycling levels at Blackfriars Bridge over the last 10 years – and it shows just how harmful TfL’s changes will be if they go ahead.

Blackfriars in 2004 (image from LCC City of London)

The magnet effect

Blackfriars Bridge has seen a greater than threefold rise in cycle commuters since 2000. But this increase has not been constant.

Prior to 2006, cycling over Blackfriars changed at around the same rate that cycling increased overall on London’s main roads. Since 2006 the number of cyclists over Blackfriars has more than doubled – far outpacing the overall cycling rise.

Increase in rush hour cycling over Blackfriars compared with increase over London's main roads: since 2006, the popularity of Blackfriars has skyrocketed.

What is interesting is that we have not seen the same increase in cycling on the bridges which neighbour Blackfriars: Waterloo to the west and Southwark to the east.

In fact, rush hour cycling on both those bridges between 2006 and 2010 actually decreased – although cycling in London increased by around a third.

Cycling rates over three bridges, 7-10am northbound, 2000-2010. 100 = average in 2000 over all Central London bridges.

Why did commuters old and new (the total number of people crossing all three bridges still increased) suddenly choose Blackfriars over the other bridges?

I may be misinformed, but I don’t believe London’s office space all moved between 2006 and 2010.

What did change was the deaths of two cyclists in 2004 over Blackfriars Bridge. Transport for London resurfaced the road, adding a wide cycle lane.

Blackfriars post 2006 – resurfaced after the deaths of two cyclists with a wide, mandatory cycle lane, no longer between two lanes of traffic.

This wasn’t perfect – the northbound junction was still a problem – but a wide clear space, largely separate from the bus lane, suddenly made this route cyclable again, at least relative to the neighbouring bridges.

The lane won the London Cycle Campaign’s award for best cycle facility of the year in 2006.

The increase in cyclists supports the argument that cycle bloggers have been making for a long time: what really bikes on streets is not marketing (competition in public services has not yet led to each bridge advertising its individual benefits to prospective consumers) – it’s feeling safe.

Going backwards

Jenny Jones, the Green Party London Assembly Member said last week that London’s cycle revolution is losing momentum.

At Blackfriars, TfL’s plans to narrow the northern cycle lane, remove the advanced stop box and addition of an extra traffic lane, are all clear signs that we’re now moving backwards.

I don’t want cycling to return to 2006 levels at Blackfriars - or at Elephant and Castle, Finchley, Richmond, Vauxhall or anywhere else that Boris Johnson’s TfL is making regressive changes to London’s streets.

That’s why I’ll be at Blackfriars on Wednesday October 12th at 5.45pm, for a flashride to show the Mayor which direction London needs to be moving. See you there.

Get the data.

London is broken: why people keep taking to the streets at Blackfriars

September 20, 2011

Running the roads is an enormously expensive business. TfL’s Surface Transport division’s expenditure is forecast at £2.6bn this year.

Let’s put this in perspective for a second – this is twice the figure lost by rogue trader Kweku Aduboli, which last week plunged global investment bank UBS into a quarterly net loss.

While much of the press bemoaned last week’s fares rises in articles which might as well have been written by Ken Livingstone’s campaign team, Dave Hill deftly pointed out the actual issue: Transport for London needs cash.

Hill argues that this money should instead come from higher road pricing for car users – which there is plenty of evidence for. But let’s take a step back.

Where does all the money go?

Transport for London give the public some idea what happens to this money through Finance and Policy Committee meetings.

But how useful is this? Thursday’s meeting, for example, revealed that TfL had revised the estimated final cost of the Cycle Superhighways down from £145m to £105m.

Did someone tell them cyclists like downward inclines?

Why isn’t this news? Basically: because no one really knows what it means.

Can Transport for London really have just reduced the budget by £40m without bothering to consult beforehand, or tell anyone afterwards?  It looks like it – but astonishingly for a public body, they don’t have to say.

Open up TfL

Here’s the rub. Does the Mayor really have to choose between two politically horrible options to come up with capital, raising fares or charging car users – where the decision of a leader largely elected by the outer boroughs is preordained?

That depends if the roads really require the level of government subsidy that they currently receive.

Climate Rush, an organisation who protest primarily about climate change, are on Thursday holding a protest at Blackfriars where their first demand is “an open and democratic Transport for London”.

They cite when TfL ignored the London Assembly’s unanimous vote about Blackfriars Bridge as their watershed moment – but there are plenty more.

Why has Transport for London this month suddenly said it has to splash out an unbudgeted £60 million at Hammersmith Flyover to “address recently identified structural defects”?

Vanity project? Same budget as Boris’s Cable Car

Might such maintenance be required because of the high volumes of wear caused by motor traffic? Is it right that £60m of public funds is being used to restore the very conditions that doom us to perpetually pouring more money into a congested, destructive streetscape?

Why does London keep taking to the streets?

Londoners are not happy with the political choices that are being made on our streets – choices being made with our money.

Thursday will be the third mass protest against TfL at Blackfriars Bridge alone in the last four months – and I suspect that there will be more.

Transport for London are not accountable to the public, nor to our elected representatives, the London Assembly. Nor our MPs, nor our local councillors, nor anyone else we ever get to vote for – with one exception.

TfL are only accountable to the Mayor – and so, for those concerned with transport, protests sizable enough to make Boris take notice are the only form of political engagement left.

The Climate Rush protest is on Thursday September 22nd, meeting at 8am on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge.

Blackfriars Bridge: what we can learn from radical feminism

September 6, 2011

A constant barrier faced by people arguing for change in conditions is the claim that the presence of those conditions is, in itself, evidence that the groups involved are in favour of their existence.

Perhaps my favourite, slightly pretentious example of this is the 17th Century political philosopher John Locke. One of the founders of liberalism, a staunch advocate of the social contract and fierce opponent of the arbitrary rule of monarchy, when discussing the role of women he has a pretty serious wobble:

She should be subject to her husband, as we see that generally the Laws of mankind and customs of nations leave ordered it so: and there is, I grant, a foundation in nature for it.

Locke is unable to overcome the conviction that women ought to be subjugated by men. His only justification for this being “natural” is that this is the behaviour that he has observed.

This continues into modern political debate. Attempts to strike a balance between economic productivity and the need for childcare are concluded with statements from media and policy outlets like:

Pay mothers to stay at home.

Why? This presumption that state should legislate in a gendered fashion based on the historical behaviour of one sex is underpinned by the assumption that actions in the past have been choices.

This view – that the actions of women are an approximate indicator of social vocation – is perhaps most succinctly rejected by Catherine MacKinnon:

Take your foot off our necks, then we will hear in what tongue women speak.

Blackfriars Bridge

In Transport for London’s presentation to the London Assembly about Blackfriars Bridge, published last week, they similarly use the argument that a situation currently exists as evidence that it ought to exist – even though what we see at Blackfriars has quite clearly been artificially created by the very body who refuses to change it, Transport for London.

The Assembly were presented with this pie chart as part of the justification for making cycling conditions worse (p3):

These figures are highly suspect – we know that actually, there are more bicycles than any other vehicle over Blackfriars Bridge into the City during the AM peak.

Note how in the above graph, TfL lump together car and LGV occupants to make that section larger than cyclists (both would otherwise be smaller).

They also assume inordinately high vehicle occupancy rates – on average more than 3 people per occupied taxi – leading to the ridiculous conclusion that more people commute over Blackfriars Bridge by taxi than by bike.

But none of this matters. Even if TfL’s data was correct: so what?

Are we to assume that a relatively low percentage of cyclists over Blackfriars Bridge is an argument for worsening conditions over the bridge?

The demand is there

Transport for London can perpetually produce presentations and press releases of modal share stats, layout drawings and planners’ projections of junctions where they squeeze cycle lanes and remove pedestrian crossings.

But they cannot keep trying to use the fact that people are not cycling in London as an excuse for making London’s roads more hostile to cyclists.

There is a demand for cycling in London on traffic-free routes. On Sunday, 55,000 people on London’s streets showed us that.

And yet TfL in Blackfriars and elsewhere are not just refusing to make streets better – they are actively making them worse. The reason that there aren’t more cyclists on the streets is because of how those streets are being designed.

An executive decision

This is not about TfL and the figures they plug into which modelling software – if the Mayor and TfL can persuade us that it is, then we will never have conditions for cycling in London that would get the tens of thousands of Sky Ride participants on London’s streets any other day of the year.

Sky Ride

Our streets for a day

This is a political situation where people do not have the freedom to use their streets in the way that they would like to. The way out is through a decision that the Mayor has to make.

Image problem

This is an irritating issue for Boris Johnson and TfL because they are aware that Blackfriars has the ability to undo the good work of the Sky Rides: the persistent focus on the day-to-day reality of cycling can harm both Boris and TfL.

Catherine MacKinnon argued that practices of inequality do not require that acts be intentionally discriminatory, “all that is required is that the status quo be maintained”.

Boris can opt to do this – keep building streets the way that they have been built, keep designing people out of London’s cities, keep telling us that this is “not atypical” of London. Or he can choose not to.

But as more people start to notice, and write about it and take to the streets, Boris will find it harder and harder to convince Londoners that he’s in favour of cycling, while continuing to design it out of the city he runs.

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.

Transport for London declares war on the London Assembly. Has Boris Johnson lost control?

July 26, 2011

Last week, the London Assembly passed a unanimous motion against Transport for London’s controversial Blackfriars Bridge plans, which marginalise pedestrians and cyclists in an attempt to cram more motor traffic through the heaving junction.

Conservative Andrew Boff called the plans “too dangerous” and Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon demanded that the Mayor “use the facts”.

The Green Party’s Jenny Jones, who submitted the motion, said it was time for a “fresh think” about Blackfriars Bridge.

The motion, passed with support from all parties, called on Mayor Boris Johnson to “revisit” the plans for the bridge, particularly due to the dangerous junction designs at either end.

Executive power             

Transport for London’s strategy for dealing with scrutiny seems to be to rush things through and hope no one notices.

In 2004, after cyclist Vicki McCreery was killed by a bus on Blackfriars Bridge, they scrapped the cycle lane overnight.

Faced with allowing the Mayor time to asses their plans at Blackfriars, TfL announced on Monday that they will begin work on the junction this Friday – and will work through the night to finish by 5am the following Monday.

The London Assembly may be our democratically elected representatives – but they have no direct power over TfL, whose strategic direction comes from the Mayor.

What are the facts?

Here are some facts to which Lib Dem AM Caroline Pidegon may have been refering:

  1. Transport for London are proposing to add a new traffic lane at the north of end of the bridge, remove a pedestrian crossing and increase the speed limit.
  2. Cyclists make up the enormous majority of traffic over the bridge during peak times, and the number of cyclists is still going up while cars are in decline.

Blackfriars Bridge Northbound Traffic by Mode 2010 - Source: TfL Screenline Counts

Has Boris lost it?

The Mayor of London has responsibility for appointing three functional bodies:

  1. Metropolitan Police Authority
  2. Transport for London Board
  3. London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority

On his third Police Commissioner in as many years, Boris is facing criticism from all directions about his direction of the Met.

Police first: transport next?

The stain of the Met’s activities already has the public suspicious that Boris is either incompetent or iniquitous.

Blackfriars is just the latest in a string of events at Transport for London which suggest that they Mayor can’t quite grasp this brief, either. TfL are currently blocking plans for regeneration at Elephant and Castle because it would “interfere with traffic flow too greatly”. They are also systemically taking time away from pedestrians at London’s busiest crossings, including at Holborn and Oxford Circus.

This latest Blackfriars blunder comes straight off the back of the news that, despite claiming poverty to justify hiking fares last year, TfL’s budget shows a £1.3 billion underspend

Crisis of control

The private motor car is simply not the way that most people get around Central London. The position of Londoners at Blackfriars is clear. Far more people will use the bridge each day as pedestrians and cyclists than they will as drivers.

All London’s political parties, including Boris’s own Conservatives, understand this. They have all explicitly stated they are against TfL’s proposed Blackfriars redesign.

That TfL is still designing streets for cars and not people makes them look increasingly out of touch and out of control. The question now is: is Boris out of his depth?

Justice: City of London style

July 20, 2011

In February 2011, I was stopped by a police officer in the City of London for cycling through a red traffic light. It was the reason that I started this blog. I stated to that officer at the time, and I maintain, that I did not commit this offence and so since then I have been embroiled in the process of appealing it in court.

The Court

After one adjournment from an original court day in May, I received last month a Summons to City of London Magistrates Court for this morning at 10am.

I sat in the court room for 4 hours. During this time, I watched three cases. All of them were people who already had between 6 and 9 points on their driving licenses, and who had subsequently committed a variety of motoring offences. They were:

  1. A man with 9 points on his license, including various speeding convictions, who was caught driving at 48mph through a red traffic light in a 30mph zone.
  2. A man with 9 points on his license, including speeding and driving while using a handheld mobile phone in May 2011, who was caught driving at 30mph in a 20mph zone.
  3. A man with 6 points on his license for driving without insurance who was facing charges after having been caught driving while using a handheld mobile phone, at which point it transpired that he was not insured.

All three pled guilty. In normal course, they would all lose their licenses. However, they all claimed that it would cause “exceptional hardship” if they were to do so.

The magistrate told driver one that he did not accept the exceptional hardship claim, however due to his early guilty plea he would only face a driving ban of six months. Driver two was given three points (bringing him to a total of 12), but his exceptional hardship claim was accepted – he was given no driving ban.

Sadly, I was not around to see the verdict for driver three, as while the magistrate was deciding (4 hours after my arrival at the court), I was told that my case would be adjourned again and I would have to come back in November.

This is half the story.

The Street

After leaving the court, I cycled down Queen Victoria Street towards Blackfriars Bridge:

At this narrow point, I decided to “take the lane”, as I’ve been overtaken by buses here before and it’s a little close for comfort.

A black cab driver behind me became very angry, aggressively revving and trying to squeeze past. At the end of this section (about 15 seconds after the beginning of it), he leaned out his window as he overtook me and said, “Who do you think you are? I’ll slit your fucking throat.”

There was a police car stopped at the next set of traffic lights. I knocked on their window, reported what the taxi driver had said, and one of the two officers within asked both me and the driver to pull over.

The Police

One officer spoke to me and one to the driver. The one who spoke to me (CP 241) was very friendly, said she understood my concerns but also that it’s understandable that taxi drivers get frustrated being on the road all day.

Her colleague, PC Jeffreys (CP 267), spoke to the taxi driver then came over and said that I had been cycling in the middle of the road and this was why the taxi driver had become so aggressive. He said that the taxi driver had admitted that he had sworn at me, but not the threat to kill.

PC Jeffreys then told me that I should not have been cycling in the middle of the road and that both parties were in his view in the wrong. He said that in future if I felt intimidated by a taxi driver behind me, the correct action would be to pull over to the side of the road, dismount my bicycle and wait until I no longer felt at risk.

I could not understand why on earth we were talking about where I had been cycling, when it was clearly not illegal, whereas I had just been the victim of a verbal assault and threat. I said so.

I then tried to take a photograph of the taxi driver using my mobile phone, so there would be no possibility of the man denying that he was driving should I wish to take the issue forward with either to police or the Public Carriage Office. PC Jeffreys physically prevented me from doing this by grabbing my arm and pushing me back to the kerb.

Futility

Honestly at this point, I lost the will to continue. I’d just taken holiday from work to sit in a court room watching drivers who clearly should have been disqualified for a long time managing to avoid it, then to be told that these cases were more important than mine so come back in November, then immediately upon leaving been aggressively bullied by a taxi driver, and then been told by the police that it was my fault.

On the plus side, the London Assembly agreed today to review a 20mph limit on Blackfriars Bridge. Great, right? Speeding is incredibly harmful. (Source: Amy Aeron-Thomas’s Street Talk). (Update: having read this while less frazzled, they’ve actally agreed to “ask the Mayor to instruct TfL” to do a review. So it may not even happen.)

I’d like to pretend to care about the London Assembly vote, but I just can’t. We already have a report saying 20mph on London’s bridges would be safer. Even if the review says it is unambiguously advantageous to move to a 20mph limit (it won’t), and if somehow the London Assembly manages to on this basis pressurise the Mayor into actually implementing such a limit (doubtful), it will make basically no difference.

Unlike Tower Bridge, the road layout at Blackfriars lends itself to driving much faster than 20mph, which people will do. Enforcement of the limit will be rare, and as I saw today, consequences in those cases where it is enforced minimal. We need to stop devoting our energy to tinkering around the edges like this and start campaigning for proper infrastructure – yes segregated cycle lanes, but this as part of a package of properly designed streets, not huge urban motorways.

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

July 11, 2011

Transport for London’s Pedestrian Countdown at Traffic Signals [PCaTS] trial is one of the more visible parts of Boris Johnson’s agenda to smooth London’s traffic flow. TfL has claimed that Londoners are in favour of countdown timers for pedestrians, but has faced criticism for using the rollout as a pretext for cutting pedestrian time at busy crossings like Oxford Circus.

Green Party Assembly Member Jenny Jones has argued that “less agile Londoners and people with children, should not be expected to sprint across the road,” and that in fact TfL should be allocating more time to pedestrians.

Very Important Pedestrian (VIP) day - a traffic-free day on Oxford Street and Regent Street

Oxford Street when closed to traffic - the demand is there

The Pedestrian Countdown “package”

The Pedestrian Countdown trial actually masks a raft of changes which make walking a slightly less appealing choice than driving.

When TfL tells us how much pedestrians like the new signals, they don’t talk of the timers themselves, but of “Pedestrian Countdown technology” or in technical documents, “the PCaTS package”.

The reason for this is buried on page 73 of over 300 pages of unpublished technical appendices to this report produced for TfL:

The Green Man time was reduced on all sites with PCaTS, and the Countdown time provided was longer than the Blackout time in the ‘Before’ surveys.

The change in available crossing time was a limitation of the study. Any observed changes in behaviour will be a result of both the change to the signal timings and the introduction of PCaTS, that is, the effects are confounded.

TfL rolled out a number of changes to pedestrian crossings at once and then asked people what they thought of them – it is extremely difficult to discern which changes people are reacting to when they respond to the Pedestrian Countdown package.

What did the study actually do?

The following is a summary of the changes to crossing times made by TfL.

Pedestrian phases

Increase

Decrease

Green man

X

Blackout/countdown

X

Pedestrian red

X

Total pedestrian time

X

Road traffic phases
Green

X

Red

X

To clarify:

- “Pedestrian red” is the grace period at the end of the pedestrian phase where the red man appears but road traffic signals are still red.

- “Blackout” is the period for pedestrians after the green man where there is no green or red man showing, and is the phase wholly replaced with Countdown.

Why are we being told pedestrians are given more time to cross?

Despite the above, it is argued in the report on Pedestrian Countdown by Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) that the crossing time for pedestrians is increased (e.g. p73). This defines “available crossing time” as “the sum of the Green Man time and the Blackout time.”

This seems just another attempt to steal time from pedestrians. The red period at the end of pedestrian crossing time, prior to a road traffic green signal, is still part of pedestrians’ time. Road traffic is legally not allowed to advance, whereas pedestrians face no such restrictions. People routinely finish crossing the road during this stage, particularly those who move less quickly. Cutting this time is cutting pedestrian time.

The following graph, composed with data extracted from TRL’s appendices, shows the average change in time across all trial sites:

Pedestrian time decreases

(“After” here is the “After 1” trial, immediately after PcATS is installed. The appendices do not contain the figures for the tweaked “After 2” trial, three months later, though we are told the green time is the same.)

What about road traffic time?

On average across all sites and across both the “After 1” and “After 2” stages of the trial, this time which did belong to pedestrians is reallocated to green for road traffic:

Pedestrians' lost time gives cars more green and less red

How does this affect Jenny Jones’ pensioners?

When countdown was rolled out, Jenny Jones voiced her concerns that,

Pensioners in London are not necessarily fitter than ones in Birmingham or Manchester. The mayor will have a tricky job speeding up the flow of traffic while protecting these vulnerable road users.

The package of measures above seems to have two notable effects in this regard:

1. More people begin to cross the road and then dash back to the kerb. (p89)

2. Walking speeds go up – interestingly, particularly in people over 60. (pp103-4)

TfL says,

At all trial sites, fewer people felt rushed when crossing the road with Pedestrian Countdown, compared to without.

However:

  1. This is a measure of questionnaire responses, rather than time taken to cross the road.
  2. This is not true of mobility impaired people (Appendix 1, pp30 – 34).

What about all the positive responses mentioned by TfL?

It seems likely that there is some good in the Pedestrian Countdown package – certainly in response to the questionnaires, people seemed to be saying they liked something. But because so many changes were introduced at once, we don’t know exactly what. Similarly, when we look at the change in behaviour at the trial sites, there are a number of negative outcomes, but it is difficult to work out why they occur.

We see, for example, an increase in conflicts between pedestrians and road traffic during the curtailed “pedestrian red” phase (p130). This might be because pedestrians are unable to accurately judge against the Countdown how long it takes to cross. It might be because that phase has been reduced in time. It might be for another reason. We don’t know, and there’s no way of knowing.

Let’s stick to what we do know. A timer counting down the seconds that people have to scurry across the road is implicitly hostile towards them. Cutting green man time is explicitly hostile. As is cutting overall pedestrian time.

Who gains?

After hundreds of pages of research, there’s still no clear evidence of any specific advantages, other than more green time for motor vehicles.

This is partly due to the methodology of the study. Given the multiplicity of  measures introduced at once, it is very difficult to draw out which changes might advantage pedestrians. But the very fact that the study was conducted in this way suggests that Boris Johnson’s TfL do not really care about the effects of individual changes on pedestrians, provided that road traffic is delayed by them for less long.

Pedestrian Countdown is explicitly part of Boris Johnson’s Smoothing Traffic Flow policy. In reality, what this means is: pedestrians are seen not as people making journeys, but simply as a factor contributing to the impedance of road traffic.

Is deliberately slowing pedestrians for the benefit of others hierarchical?

In June 2011, the Conservative Party’s London Assembly Members wrote:

Neither the Mayor nor the Government should impose an  artificial road user hierarchy as this inevitably has the effect of deliberately slowing down some users.

I think my hypocrisy-meter just exploded.

Attached: Transport Research Laboratory – PCaTS Technical Appendix 1 (pdf)

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