Archive for the ‘PR’ Category

Following the money: how does Boris Johnson’s TfL value cycling?

June 27, 2011

Transport for London have this week published their Annual Report, Statement of Accounts and Commissioner’s Report. This avalanche of financial data provides an excellent opportunity to get a sense of their priorities.

The documents contain funding information about Cycle Superhighways, Barclays Cycle Hire, Biking Boroughs and the Community Cycling Grant. Unless otherwise stated, all figures below are for the financial year 10/11.

Biking Boroughs

This flagship program appeals to the Mayor’s core Outer London constituents by providing funding to “harness the huge appetite that already exists for cycling in Outer London”.

Boris Johnson says, “My cycling revolution continues and I am determined to help more residents of outer London to take to two wheels. “

The numbers say:

Vive la Révolution

But maybe I’m being unfair. After all, I’m comparing the Biking Boroughs budget to huge projects, like the London Overground and the TfL PR machine.

How does it stack up against smaller items?

Kingston: His name is Rob Holden if you're looking to borrow a fiver.

Cycling Community Grant

These are grants funded by TfL to “fund events or start projects which promote the benefits of cycling”.

Boris Johnson says‘”This is all about helping the smaller cycling groups within London to pass on their enthusiasm for cycling to local people.”

The numbers say:

Just pension, not salary

Perhaps this is too harsh. After all, these are small grants but there must be hundreds of them, right? Unfortunately, no. There are 25 in total – less than one per borough.

Cycle Superhighways

These are part of the Mayor’s vision for a “cleaner, greener, safer city, where you have a cycling revolution.”

Boris Johnson says: “These radial routes are set to transform our great city into one where cycling is the first choice for many thousands of Londoners.”

The numbers say:

But £6.7m sounds great in a press release

Curious that the Bounds Green central reservation hasn’t had 5 times as much marketing as the Superhighways, as well as funding.

Barclays Cycle Hire

There has been some investment in Cycle Hire this year, but the London Assembly notes that the scheme is designed to break even over three years (p8 – although it looks like it will take a little longer). Just another example of how TfL doesn’t see cycling as a proper form of transport like trains and buses and cars, which all receive huge amounts of public money (yes, even cars).

Assuming TfL do hit their targets, the Cycle Hire balance sheet will look as follows over a three-year period.

Not accounting for inflation

Figures and sources for all of the above here (.xlsx).

With investment like this, is anyone actually surprised that London’s cycling revolution never happened?

How TfL’s Blackfriars bluster is undermining their public face

May 31, 2011

TfL are an optimistic organisation. They believe things can be better for everyone. They might build infrastructure which is actively hostile to cyclists, recently for example here, here, here, here, here, here, and of course here. But this is no obstacle to bombarding us with material endorsing cycling as the provocative choice of the insouciant, the glamourous and the ever-so-slightly seductive, like in this image promoting June 2011’s TfL Cycle Challenge:

I would.

TfL’s claim that they can cram as much motor traffic as possible on to our streets, while still effectively promoting cycling and walking, is perhaps crystallised in this quote:

It is imperative that the road network functions effectively both as a set of corridors for traffic movement and as a collection of places in which people live, work and play.” – p4, TfL Draft Network Operating Strategy (pdf), May 2011

I wonder whether the authors of this strategy (TfL Directors Garrett Emmeson and Ben Plowden) really imagined this was persuasive. I doubt even estate agents would try it:

On the A406, North Circular Road, Nr Wembley, London

“The cosy upstairs property is situated by a charming traffic corridor for when little Jenny starts to toddle…”

Smoothing traffic flow and accessibility for pedestrians cannot both be priorities – this is not controversial. It is why parenting groups spend time campaigning for traffic reduction. Even the relatively regressive City of London Local Implementation Plan accepts that decisions favouring a particular group are necessary:

The City of London intends that its streets are safe and accessible for all road users… There is however not the capacity to give all road users the space and facilities that they may want.

Choices that are made about street design are political ones – in the sense that they inevitably privilege the interests of one group of road users over another. For a more insightful analysis of this than I could hope to provide, read this fantastic blog post.

So, what does this have to do with Blackfriars?

The interesting thing about Blackfriars is that at first TfL pretended that there was basically no decision to make. When we found out in February 2011 about the plans to redesign the bridge, we were told that they were set in stone and had been agreed upon last year. They were initially only willing to “consult” about one right-hand turn on the bridge, which was sent out on a Friday to “interested parties” (i.e. almost no one) with a response required in 3 working days. (The current government’s Code of Practice suggests that consultations should normally be open for at least 12 weeks. They’re also meant to be accessible to those who are being consulted.)

That TfL expected to be able to get away with this can be understood when we look at the other projects that they have managed to pull off, for example this extraordinary campaign:

I'm convinced.

(Six cyclists have been killed by freight vehicles in London so far this year.)

Yes, at Blackfriars TfL were planning to reduce the number of cycle lanes, reduce the width of cycle lanes, remove a pedestrian crossing, increase the number of motor-traffic lanes and increase the speed limit. But who cares? Why should this actually affect cyclists or pedestrians? We can all share the road together. It’s certainly not a political decision which might have negative consequences for anyone.

Of course this is obvious nonsense. Thankfully, Val Shawcross got involved and the media and political scrutiny eventually forced TfL to consult on the proposals for the entire bridge.

And that’s where things became interesting. It was only at this point that TfL came to accept that there might be a conflict between the needs of motor traffic and other bridge users, issuing a letter at the end of February which defended the plans for Blackfriars Bridge due to the need to,

develop a scheme that provides the best balance between the needs of all modes; including pedestrians, vehicles and cyclists.

And then finally, in TfL’s May 2011 response to their consultation on the new proposals, they begin to admit reality:

Reason for reducing the current cycle lane width (2m) to 1.5m: It is not possible to reassign carriageway space to cyclists, or to reduce the number of traffic lanes, without significantly worsening conditions for bus passengers and general traffic.

Reason for scrapping the Watergate pedestrian crossing: Our modelling showed that retention of the temporary crossing opposite Watergate would further reduce the capacity of the junction beyond the point that could be accommodated… through marking out of additional traffic lanes that allow motor vehicles to ‘stack’.

And there’s the rub: TfL are prepared to accept that there are competing interests as a justification for not allocating street space to cyclists and pedestrians.

The myth is shattered. TfL have admitted that street design has winners and losers. No longer can they continue to widen motor-vehicle lanes, demolish pedestrian crossings, bus lanes and cycle lanes, and pretend that they are an organisation which encourages anything other than travelling by car.

So sign the LCC motion before Friday’s debate. And remember: this is just the beginning. Blackfriars is about fighting the dirty, noisy, unpleasant and dangerous car-culture entrenched in our streets and in the minds of our city’s transport policy-makers.

If we win at Blackfriars, it can affect a lot more than just one bridge.

Is the Big Society the solution to our transport needs?

March 12, 2011

Philip Blond, the Big Society poster boy, has published a blog about an attractive sounding ideal, the Transport Retail Model.

Firstly you would see marketing techniques and IT used to get more information about people’s lifestyles.

Secondly you would see integrated transport services, perhaps provided by a single ‘mobility manager’ with the remit to meet city or community requirements.

Thirdly, you would at last see more subtlety in transport policy and practice. Instead of blunt instruments like charging for use of infrastructure (like roads) that have been accepted as free for decades there could be continuous dynamic ‘nudging’ of behaviour using small scale sticks and incentives.

Sexy as this marketing fluff is, no amount of sophistry can change the fact that there are essentially two ways to change people’s behaviour with regard to transport:

1. Persuade people that the choices about transport they currently make, based on the conditions of their travel environment, are wrong.

2. Change those conditions.

The cycle-blogging community has robustly rejected the first. And as Cycalogical notes, the Department for Transport itself has admitted that “soft measures” do not have a long-term success rate.

Deflated: Soft measures don't work

The proponents of the Transport Retail Model are aware of this. They need to find a Big Society approach to improving how people get around. For my international readers, what this means is that it needs to be:

1. Cheap

2. Shiny

And lo, the Transport Retail Model is born. Once we get past the management meshugas [pdf] (attractive as a seamless, end-user focused, zero-wait state solution sounds), we realise what this actually boils down to is this:

1. A bunch of cool phone apps.

2. Extending where you can use your Oyster card

3. Wrapping up some leisure centre discounts or other promotional offers with (2), based on your behaviour.

But how does that help us with this:

Now, don’t get me wrong, incentives are important. But is my mother likely to consider cycling rather than driving the 3 miles to work around the Highgate Triangle (above) because she gets 20% off cinema tickets? No – and given the focus on car-clubs, parking info and road toll payment systems, I’m not convinced the architects of this model actually want her to.

Approaches like these are just another instance of trying to fix a powercut by releasing a new type of candle. Nudge all you like, you won’t “meet potentially conflicting objectives such as growing out of recession while meeting carbon reduction targets” without dealing with the root of the problem: infrastructure.

This is a problem that the Big Society alone cannot solve.

TfL’s Cycling Revolution – a bloody one

February 20, 2011

According to TfL, we’re undergoing a Cycling Revolution.

Behind the PR, the reality is that there are avoidable deaths on London’s roads and a disproportionate amount of these are caused by TfL. In June 2009, where a father of three was dragged under the wheels of a cement mixer, the police said,

“Our traffic management unit has advised me that that cycle lane is not of the required width. It is not the proper width for a cycle lane.

What does this have to do with TfL? Well, there are a number of trunk roads which are managed directly by TfL, rather than the borough that they are in (and according to Cyclists in the City, 50% of road casualties occur on these 5% of London’s roads.) Vauxhall Bridge Road (the A202), where this death occurred, is one of them.

Let’s take a journey down the A202, 4 miles south-east of where Everton Smith was killed, to Queens Road, Peckham. TfL have resurfaced this road to make it two-way since this time – around August 2010, if I recall correctly. This is actually quite convenient when travelling eastbound. Westbound, however, is a different story. The junction with Kender Street, by the Montague Arms, has been redesigned:

What used to look like this (thanks Google Earth),

now looks like this:

Fortunately, unlike the above case, the cycle lane here is wide enough to fit a picture of a bicycle in it. Not without painting over the red lines, of course, but it’s there. No, wait, that’s exactly like the above case:

After Everton Smith was killed, Sergeant Seeley of the Met Police said that the problem was that, “the road layout was too cramped”. Fortunately, TfL have the foresight to ensure that on Queens Road, there remains plenty of space for cyclists despite the “traffic calming” island: