Thursday, June 23, 2011

Congestion in London

The London Assembly Transport Committee has published its report on congestion, "The Future of Road Congestion in London".

It can be best summed up by this statement on P11:

"the Committee concluded that a road user hierarchy, enshrined in the Mayor’s London Plan, and prioritising walking, cycling and public transport over private car use, would help to ensure the Mayor’s modal shift targets are met"

However, the Conservative group inserted an additional, dissenting paragraph:

"Roads should be thoroughfares which enable all users, whether they are cyclists, motorists, pedestrians, bus passengers, van drivers, taxi passengers or motorcyclists to get from A to B as swiftly and as safely as possible. 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. Further to this, the Mayor should encourage cycling by emphasising that it is cheap, healthy and quick, not by worsening conditions for other road users."

A couple of bloggers have interpreted this along party political lines, so, ever the contrarian, and as a purely academic exercise, I am going to propose an alternative spin. Labour has a record of talking a good game on cycling, but getting cold feet when it comes to actually doing things that disadvantage motorists. The Livingstone era in London consisted mainly of spot improvements for existing vehicular cyclists, and while cycling rates did increase during this period you'd have to work pretty hard to attribute the increase to improvements in road conditions. Parking in cycle lanes didn't start with Boris Johnson, neither did the replacement of proper crossings with cycling-hostile 'pedestrian refuges'. The Traffic Management Act 2004 - which introduced the 'network management duty' currently being used by TfL to justify the Blackfriars Bridge scheme - was Labour Government legislation. Labour had a clear run of 13 years and plenty of cash to fix cycling, and the end-result is decidedly underwhelming. I don't know anyone who started cycling in the 'noughties' because they thought it had become safe - however I do know people who started cycling because public transport (courtesy of Mr Bin Laden) had become more dangerous.

The Tory statement has elements that we can all agree with. "Roads...that enable all get from A to B as swiftly and safely as possible", for example. From this statement, any change to the road system that enables an aggregate improvement in journey times would be a good thing. So, if you could improve the journey time of 8 cyclists by a minute each, that would be acceptable if one motorist was delayed by 7 minutes, because there is an aggregate gain. Given that cyclists occupy about a tenth of the roadspace of a car, and are much better at exploiting available roadspace, it follows that it's pretty easy to improve cyclist journey times significantly with fairly minor improvements. Furthermore, encouraging cycling equals fewer motors which equals everyone gets from A to B faster. So this statement is by no means incompatible with better cycling conditions.

Is it necessary to have an 'artificial' road user hierarchy? I suggest not, given that we've had one that favours cycling in the official guidance for a while and it's been widely ignored. In fact, there are an awful lot of 'artifacts' that favour motors over cyclists - such as gyratory systems, one-ways, and so on. Furthermore, there are many cases where junction priority and safety has been determined solely by considering motor traffic, and ignoring the effect on cyclists.

Now it is pretty obviously a stretch to read Appendix A (the Tory paragraphs) as pro-cycling, given that there's clearly an underlying political agenda linked to Philip Hammond's 'war on the motorist' philosophy. On the other hand, if you take it literally, the idea that cyclists actually get equal treatment, particularly in terms of safety, would be a massive step forward. However, freedom and equal treatment for all road users is not the status quo, and the Tories need to acknowledge this, if they expect to be taken seriously by cyclists.

1 comment:

  1. "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"
    Isn't this already in place, with motoring being at the top?