Archive for the ‘tfl’ Category

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.

Blackfriars: Critical Mass 6pm Friday

July 27, 2011

Transport for London have announced that they are gong to ignore the unanimous vote of the democratically elected London Assembly demanding a review of Blackfriars, and start building overnight from Friday.

Cyclists in the City is calling for Critical Mass to loop on Blackfriars this Friday. The London Cycle Campaign has also said that Critical Mass is the vehicle for cyclists to make themselves heard.

No one really needs any more persuading that what TfL is doing is regressive, but I felt compelled to address TfL’s main justification for not providing for cyclists:

Usage by cyclists through this junction [Blackfriars] is predominantly for travelling to and from work and is therefore concentrated during traditional ‘rush hour’ periods

This is true: but it’s true of traffic in general. That’s why it’s the rush hour. Look at 24 hour bike and car flows northbound in 2010:

Are they making the same arguments about cars not being important because they peak at rush hour?

The other point is for three years now, during rush hour bicycles have outnumbered all other modes of travel.

Blackfriars Bridge, north, 7-10am 1988-2010.

As we can see, bikes are also the only mode whose share is increasing. Even if we do nothing, the problems cyclists face at this junction are going to get worse, not better. Actively designing cycling out of this junction is outrageous.

If the campaign on Blackfriars fails, TfL will probably try to impose the same engineering style on all the Thames bridges, and, by extension, all other major road junctions in London under their control.

Come Friday night, I know where I’ll be…

Update 29/7/11: the London Cycle Campaign are calling for people to meet tonight at at the south end of Blackfriars Bridge, for a slow ride to Waterloo to join Critical Mass. Be at this ride first if you possibly can.

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?

A framework for marginalising cycling and walking: TfL Network Operating Strategy response

July 13, 2011

The deadline for responses to Transport for London’s consultation Draft Network Operating Strategy is Friday. This is the document which sets out London Streets’ overall approach to the management and operation of the road network in London… as well as providing a framework through which to prioritise capital investment and ‘business as usual’ operational expenditure decision-making across the road network.

At the moment the strategy is all about cars, vans and HGVs, so it really is important that we get as many responses as possible from people interested in making London’s streets cleaner, more sustainable, more pleasant and less dangerous.

I just realised that I hadn’t actually sent a response yet, so have just bashed out some of my main objections. This is what I’ve written – feel free to use it/expand on it/dismiss it as communism:

1. Smoothing Traffic Flow

Response to: Measuring the performance of the road network (pages 14-24)

The majority of people on London’s streets – myself included – are not usually in cars, vans or HGVs. They are pedestrians, people on buses and people on bikes.

And yet “journey time reliability” is your “key indicator” for measuring the success of the road network. Which:

a)      Only measures the journey times of cars and goods vehicles – not people on buses, pedestrians or cyclists.

b)      Ignores other factors are important such as air quality, road danger reduction, and how pleasant streets are as places.

It has been pointed out to me that the strategy is able to focus on motor vehicles by systemically undercounting pedestrians in your Foreward. You talk about “journey stages” for cars, motorcycle and bus users but “trips” of pedestrians. As you know, this means anyone walking to a train station or bus stop will not be counted as a pedestrian but as a bus/train user. If you were to include all these people, pedestrian numbers alone would vastly eclipse the number of motor vehicles. The strategy needs to reflect this.

2. Repressing walking

Response to: Maximising the efficient and reliable operation of the road network (pages 25 – 37)

In this section, pedestrians are viewed mainly as a traffic hindrance. We see this in:

a)      SCOOT – the system to electronically optimise traffic signal timings – does not even measure its effect on pedestrians. London Assembly Members have noted this is inadequate in their report, The Future of Road Congestion in London (p9).

b)      Signal timing reviews which are designed to improve road traffic journey times with “no dis-benefit” to pedestrians. TfL should actively encourage people to be pedestrians – this is the only way to manage London’s congestion and air quality issues.

c)      Pedestrian Countdown takes time away from pedestrians at some of the busiest crossings in London, like Oxford Circus and Kingsway. TRL’s research shows that pedestrian walking speeds increase, particularly in the over 60s. Additionally, while evidence on conflicts is not conclusive, it suggests that they increase.

c)       Signal removals naturally need to be decided on a case-by-case basis, but the city-wide implementation is underpinned by the principle that the way forward is to remove restrictions on drivers. This will simply increase the number of drivers.

It concerns me that you are aware these measures will increase car usage and are still in favour of them. Indeed on page 32 you use a 12% increase in traffic at an Ealing junction as evidence that signal removals are a success. This is perverse. If TfL are serious about achieving a modal shift towards sustainable transport (as you claim to be in this document), you need to be making driving less attractive relative to cycling, walking and public transport (which usually includes walking). The measures in this chapter will achieve the converse.

3.       Motorcycles in bus lanes

I sincerely hope that now that LB Ealing have banned motorcycles from bus lanes, following an increase in collisions during the pilot, that TfL will follow suit.

Personally, as a driver I find being undertaken at speed by motorcycles quite disconcerting, and when on my bicycle I find being overtaken with inches to spare quite chilling. The latter is particularly important. At TfL you say you want more people cycling: the more frightening you make the experience, the fewer people will do it.

This point is so important and this response is so very dry that I’m even boring myself slightly, so I’ll do you a graph.

I don’t mean to insult you with this analysis but I am honestly in awe of the cognitive shift required to claim in a single document that you promote cycling, and also that you are rolling out a scheme which will make it more terrifying.

I think cyclists talk about fear in a general sense but perhaps not personally – potentially an effect of the dominance of the macho 25-44 year old male commuter cyclist. So let me make this clear: measures like this are scary and make me want to not cycle in London anymore.

4.       Managing demand and achieving modal shift

I appreciate the fact that this chapter is in here, but am extremely disappointed with the contents. You say that it is not in the scope of the Operating Strategy to focus on “strategic measures” for increasing cycling and walking, as you will be focusing on “more locally targeted measures”.

a)      This is inconsistent with the rest of the document – even the examples I have mentioned in this response are enough to demonstrate this. Also, neglecting strategic measures seems bizarre for a strategy.

b)      You do not actually go on to recommend a single measure (local, strategic or otherwise) which aims to increase cycling or walking. The rest of the chapter is just about managing the worst areas of traffic on your road network.

I am also dismayed that you see an increase in motor vehicle traffic volumes and speeds only as positive outcomes (p32 and p17, respectively).

Failure to take cycling and walking seriously

Let me say, there are some good ideas in the strategy – particularly in the managing planned interventions chapter.

On the whole, however, I think the strategy will actually be rather harmful. The following areas are outlined (p10) as being within the remit of TfL’s Network Operating Strategy:

  1. An increase in walking and cycling – can you honestly point to one measure in here that will do this, or even that aims to do this? I can’t, and I think I’ve listed a few which will discourage people from opting to walk or cycle.
  2. Reducing road casualties  – There’s nothing on this. Everything about collisions is about how to reduce the traffic disruption which arises after a serious incident occurs.
  3. Improving road user satisfaction for pedestrians and cyclists – I have no idea how you expect to do this if you plan to increase motor traffic volumes and speeds.

It is clear when reading the strategy that you recognise the way to address road traffic problems is through infrastructure (pages 14-37 are entirely about this). But every approach to infrastructure mentioned either ignores cyclists and pedestrians or is actively hostile towards us (including Pedestrian Countdown).

If this strategy is meant to be the framework for prioritising capital investment, you are guaranteeing that pedestrians and cyclists will get none. Please address this in the next draft.

I hope you find this feedback helpful. I would be very grateful if you could confirm receipt of this response, and let me know what the next stage is of this process.

Many thanks.

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



Green man




Pedestrian red


Total pedestrian time


Road traffic phases




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.


  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)

How TfL came to claim that pedestrians want less time to cross at Oxford Circus

July 6, 2011

Oxford Street is a pedestrian hell. Everyone knows this.

The need of spending money

In February 2010, the London Assembly demanded more time for pedestrians to cross Oxford Street (p25). Transport for London (TfL) responded by denying that this was their responsibility, claiming that “service levels for pedestrians would have to be discussed with Westminster City Council” (p3).

Despite apparently having no power to give pedestrians more time to cross Oxford Street, TfL have miraculously managed since last year to cut around 25 minutes a day from pedestrians crossing at Oxford Circus.

This is through their Pedestrian Countdown trial, part of the Mayor’s Smoothing Traffic Flow agenda.

Oxford Circus countdown

The clock is ticking...

In his most recent report to the Board, TfL commissioner Peter Hendy said about Pedestrian Countdown,

A majority (83 per cent) of pedestrians surveyed liked the trial technology, as did 94 per cent of mobility impaired users and 79 per cent of children, with the majority of people surveyed feeling safer and less rushed. (p10)

This seems unlikely. Having a massive timer counting down the seconds until cars bear down on you seems likely to instil panic – or at least to make you feel rather harried. Indeed, when scoping attitudes to the idea in 2009, this is what even drivers told TfL:

“They have this in Mallorca. You have everyone pushing and shoving as the timer runs out.” [Private motorist, male, 36+, inner London, non-time critical]

What are TfL’s claims based on?

TfL have, it seems, used two pieces of research as the basis for their remarks here and in their press releases claiming that pedestrians love the countdown system. The first is a questionnaire by market research company Synovate called Smoothing Traffic Flow – Intervention Testing. The second is significantly more comprehensive research by transport consultancy TRL.

This is the question which people were asked about the countdown system in the Synovate research:

Some pedestrian crossings could have a countdown display. This display would show pedestrians how much time they have left to cross the road. This would make it easier for pedestrians to know when they can cross safely. It could also reduce the likelihood of people trying to cross the road when they should not do so. This would mean traffic would not be delayed further, and would make pedestrian crossings safer.

How do you rate this idea? (p43)

This question is about as loaded as a Primal Scream fan in a 1991 club. Let’s unpick it a little. It seems to me that the penultimate sentence in particular makes two extraordinary claims:

  1. The solution to London’s motor traffic congestion problems lies in changing pedestrian behaviour.
  2. Pedestrian countdown makes pedestrian crossings safer.

The first claim is so preposterous that I am not going to bother with it.

There does not seem to be any evidence to support the second claim. Indeed, the TRL report summary published by TfL shows that at three of the four sites with a statistically significant change in conflicts between pedestrians and traffic, conflicts increased hugely (more than doubled – p33). I see no basis for Peter Hendy claiming that Pedestrian Countdown is safer, and if anything the evidence seems to indicate the converse.


The Synovate research is no basis for claiming that anyone is in favour of Countdown. People were given, frankly, false information about what a new system might look like and then asked to how much they might like this fantasy system. Of course people are in favour a magical clock which increases safety, makes people feel calmer crossing the road, and significantly reduces traffic congestion  – this is not what Pedestrian Countdown is, and it is duplicitous of TfL to claim that it is.

I viewed the Synovate questionnaire through an FOI request. It contains plenty of content that I have not blogged about. To download it, click here. Fear not: plenty on the TRL research to come.

A Conservative infatuation with Russell Crowe?

June 24, 2011

Consider the gladiatorial amphitheatre as a model for justice and equality.

A very fetching Ray Stevenson in HBO’s Rome

The warrior is not subject to the whims of an arbitrary or artificial power. He (and occasionally she) lives or dies by his own strength, agility and cunning. No liberal intervention will decry the acts undertaken as “brutal” or “disproportionate”. The fighter will not be interrupted by state-armed goons who consider it their duty to “police” the population according to some sort of irrational legal code. In many ways, the arena is the only example of an equal realm, and the most natural form of justice.

Is this convincing? It might have a romantic allure, but I’m not sure it should be the foundation of public policy.

The Conservative Party’s London Assembly Members seem to feel differently. This week, they distanced themselves from the rest of the London Assembly in a report entitled The Future of Road Congestion in London.

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.

And in a comment on the Cyclists on the City blog, Tory Assembly Member Andrew Boff tells us:

It is true that we [the Conservatives] are, by instinct, anti-hierarchical and I agree with you that we should be making decisions to accommodate people’s choices not what we think their choices should be.

Street users, like those in the gladiator’s ring, are not created equal. Put them in a situation of conflict and some will suffer and others will thrive.

Sadly (and I mean this), most pedestrians are not Russell Crowe. Look what happens when there are more people than there is available space for them:

Stuck: trying to finish crossing a road in Hackney, yesterday

Is this an absence of hierarchy?

And when there are more motor vehicles than there are space for:

Image from Crap Waltham Forest

When a motor vehicle is in a pedestrian’s space, the motor vehicle wins. When a pedestrian is in a motor vehicle’s space, the result is the same.

The Conservative claim that they are anti-hierarchical is deceptive in two ways:

  1. It is based on idea that not explicitly creating a hierarchy of road users means that you will not end up with one naturally.
  2. Andrew Boff’s quote is even worse, because it is implicitly based on the premise that there are transport choices which are independent of (or prior to) infrastructure. People’s choices are what they are because of the streets which are available to them.

If you avoid an “artificial” hierarchy, you end up with a natural one. I’d prefer our streets to be designed for people who want to use them, than for us all to be subject to some sort of will-of-the-stronger struggle for power where, naturally, it is given to large, fast, heavy vehicles.

But I’m beginning to feel that we’re being left with little choice.