Sunday, October 23, 2011

Low Emissions Zone - Don't Breathe Easy Just Yet

The next phase of London's Low Emissions Zone will start at the beginning of 2012. This was delayed by Mayor Johnson, but the threat of EU action has made the move inevitable.

The current LEZ covers larger commercial vehicles, but 2012 will see the emissions requirements extended to cover smaller commercials. However, it's interesting to see how some vehicles are more equal than others. Older minibuses belonging to schools and charities will fall foul of the rules, no matter how low a mileage they do. Similarly, pickups and vans belonging to businesses in outer London, which may cover few miles and operate away from the worst pollution hotspots, also get caught. Even private camper vans aren't exempt.

Now this would be fair enough if there were a no-exceptions, zero-tolerance attitude to pollution. But taxis - the class of commercial vehicle that is responsible (according to TfL) for 30% of central London's particulate emissions - are exempt. This is a bit of a choker for small businesses and charities that need vehicles but don't drive huge mileages. It's also a bit of a choker if you attend a school in inner London and you suffer from asthma, or if you're one of the estimated 50,000 people who die early as a result of air pollution in the UK.

Boris Johnson's air pollution strategy is simple. Try glueing it to the road, soaking it up with plants; anything rather than reduce it at source by forcing the taxi industry to clean up its tailpipe emissions, or by promoting alternatives to motor traffic.

Johnson said in answer to Jenny Jones' questions about the use of dust suppressants around air pollution monitoring stations, "It makes sense to deal with the [pollution] hotspots". This is nonsense. It's Johnson's attempt to dodge EU fines without dealing with the main underlying problem - too many high-emitting vehicles. People don't die from air pollution only near the monitoring stations. The high numbers from the monitoring stations simply give a picture of what emissions are like all over London. It's not like the monitoring stations are the only places to worry about, and 50 yards away the air is like a forest glade and vehicle exhausts are purer than a mountain stream. If the taxi fleet is emitting large amounts of particulates, then no matter where you happen to be, when a taxi accelerates past you, you'll get a couple of lungfuls of dirt.

The only way that Boris Johnson's air pollution strategy makes sense is if you consider that dead people don't vote, but taxi drivers do.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Uninsured Drivers

It's good to see one of the first things the new Met Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, has done is crack down on uninsured drivers. Uninsured drivers are 5 times more likely to be involved in collisions than the rest of us, and are likely to have criminal convictions. It should be easy to take them off the road with ANPR technology linked to the insurance database. What's more, there are a lot of vehicles that are technically insured, but their drivers have lied about modifications to the car or about their personal history. Stop any car with blacked-out front side windows (and there are plenty of them around) and the vehicle insurance is likely to be invalid, because it doesn't conform to the construction and use regulations. No insurer would insure such a car.

The Met Police yesterday organized a crackdown with 1000 officers targeting uninsured vehicles. Different news sources have reported betwen 300 and 500 vehicles being seized. That doesn't sound like a very good hit rate to me, given that 1 in 7 drivers are estimated to be uninsured in London. To give you an idea, if you stand by a busy road like Kennington Park Road, you'll have in excess of a thousand vehicles passing you in an hour, of which over 140 will be uninsured. (That's assuming uninsured drivers clock up the same sort of mileage as other motorists and that they use the same routes, but even making pessimistic assumptions, it should be like shooting fish in a barrel.) Yet the Met achieved less than 1 vehicle impounded per officer per day. No-one in the mainstream press has questioned this hit-rate. I'd like to know what's going on. Did it take a day to file the paperwork on every car? Did they let off a lot of drivers with a caution and a friendly 'Mind how you go now' ? Did they spend a lot of time at the burger van on Clapham Common ? Or maybe there's something about nabbing one car in every seven that is a lot harder than it looks? Are there loopholes that enable drivers to slip through the net? I'd really love to know.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

TfL Chief Speaks on Cycling

 It might surprise you to know, given Transport for London's less-than-stellar record on cycling, that its current Commissioner, Peter Hendy, rides a bike. Hendy recently delivered a lecture to the Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics about cycling, which was part of a launch of a resource for planners on cycling  called The Hub. The Hub is apparently largely stuff looted from the now-defunct Cycling England.
I'm going to take a quick look at some of the things Hendy said in his lecture:

"London has undoubtedly been the engine of growth in Britain and is where cycling has really taken off – up 150% since 2000. Nearly 150,000 people per week cycle on the 6,000 hire bikes through the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme. But while it's one thing to pedal round Hyde Park Corner or the Vauxhall gyratory in the rush hour, in outer and suburban London, there are plenty of quiet roads and routes that could be developed to help people leave their cars at home."

Well, that pretty neatly sums up the problem in London, where very few people cycle in comparison with Holland, Germany or Scandinavia. Hyde Park Corner and the Vauxhall Gyratory both figure in the Top 10 most dangerous junctions for cyclists, which is testament to TfL's failure to get to grips with the problem of cycle safety on main routes. Meanwhile, 'quiet' routes are still dominated by motor vehicles which is why people don't cycle there either - they desperately need 'development'.

Hendy's solution?

"...The Biking Boroughs Scheme to really try to develop local cycle hubs in places where the potential for a shift to cycling is greatest and resources can be targeted. These cycle hubs will become beacons of cycling excellence in outer London and act as catalysts for change in these areas. In pursuit of this, earlier this year, thirteen councils across London made successful bids for a share of £4million funding after pledging to put cycling at the heart of their local transport plans."

That's right. Money being dished out to boroughs like Merton, which really has very little clue about cycling. And of that already cheese-paringly small £4M slice of London's massive transport budget, Merton will receive £100,000. Over 3 years. To put that amount in perspective, one Government department, the Treasury, spent nearly £100,000 just on taxi fares last year.

So what's the £4M going to be spent on?

"more cycle lanes and other cycling infrastructure"

Ah yes - no doubt the kind of lanes that are usually blocked by parked vehicles and stop abruptly when TfL decide that 'traffic flow' is more important that cyclists' safety.

"This growth [in cycling] is driven by a number of factors. Across London, there are many more cycle lanes than there were 10 years ago and measures such as cycle zones at traffic lights together with safety mirrors give cyclists more confidence "

Confidence?? Gimme a break! Hendy obviously doesn't cycle in London very often, or he wouldn't be able to say any of that with a straight face. 'Cycle zones' at traffic lights are more often than not blocked by motor vehicles, assuming you can get to them in the first place. Quite often there is no lead-in lane, at other times the lead-in lane is blocked, and you can end up in the most vulnerable position on the left side of a queue of vehicles, any one of which may left-hook you without warning.

"Here in London, the London Cycle Network has carefully paved the way for today's cycling environment for over a decade."

That's about right - today's cycling environment is a pretty good indication of why so few Londoners cycle. The London Cycle Network is a random collection of difficult-to-find small blue signs directing you down roads where little or no effort has been made on cyclists' safety or reductions in motor traffic. There is almost no segregation from motor traffic. The routes are full of hazards just to make a cyclist's life interesting - pinch points created by pedestrian islands, speed cushions that cause traffic to swerve around whilst trying to overtake you, lines of parked cars that make you risk a 'dooring', or alternatively, the brave decision to 'take the lane' may elicit a friendly musical accompaniment of blaring horns from your fellow road-users. Hendy is obviously under the impression that the LCN is the reason more people are cycling in London. This is nonsense. The Wife used the LCN to take the kids to Wimbledon Park and was scared out of her wits by the behaviour of drivers, as a result I'm under strict instructions to avoid that route. The reasons more people cycle in London are: 1) Osama Bin Laden; 2) Sweaty, unreliable, expensive public transport; 3) 4 years of recession squeezing household budgets. LCN has improved conditions on parts of some routes, but as a network it sstill falls well short of what an average person would judge 'safe enough to cycle'.

"Safety is improving too: casualty rates are falling, from 60 per billion kms in 1980 to less than 25 today - still too high of course, but moving in the right direction."

Interesting use of statistics there. 25 is 41% of the 1980 figure (60). Comparing the total fatalities across all modes, in 2010 - 1857 - is 31% of the 1980 figure of 5953. So cycling has got relatively more dangerous compared with other modes. And what's worse, the absolute numbers of cycling casualties have gone up over the past two years, not down, despite the 'safety in numbers' effect that should be making cycling safer.

"In short, while more can and is being done to encourage cycling and improve provision, cycling is truly a serious mode that offers real benefits for the 21st century travel planning."

I guess by 'improved provision' he means schemes like Blackfriars Bridge? Anyway, let's cut to the meat and potatoes of the speech, which is where Hendy sets out a series of steps that could make this a 'Century of Cycling':

"1. Further improvements to cycle safety such as cycle lanes and traffic safety mirrors, cycle zones at traffic junctions;

2. Much more cycle training not only for cyclists – adults and children - but also PCV and HGV driver training to help reduce the 40% of cycling accidents that involve a heavy goods or passenger carrying vehicle;

3. Investing in more cycle parking conveniently located in towns and near bus and railway stations and providing easy to access journey/route planning information for cyclists;

4. Workplace and school travel planning to get the cycling culture ingrained into daily commuting and school runs;

5. Making cycling itself more attractive means overcoming come challenges such as: improving its 'reputation'; removing barriers to cycling; challenging misperceptions of 'danger'; using more green spaces to make more attractive cycle ways to encourage people to use the bicycle for leisure and commuting; and increasing the understanding of cycling design considerations amongst professionals and ensuring these are adequately reflected within scheme designs – particularly in road schemes.

6. Continuing with Sky Rides and similar schemes, not just in London but on a localised basis across the country to introduce and encourage cycling – around 400,000 people have taken place in these since their introduction in 2009."

Here's why none of the above will work. Cycle lanes and advance stop boxes don't work if they're of the low quality that's typical in London. Lanes need to be segregated - a word that Hendy doesn't use once. There's not much point in training people who aren't going to cycle - and the reason they don't is fear of traffic...which Hendy dismisses as a 'misperception'. That's right - when you get cut up at a junction, or a car passes you a cigarette paper's width away, you're deluded - it's actually perfectly safe. School travel plans? We've already got those, and they don't work, for the simple reason that most parents won't let their kids cycle to school when they've no choice but to mix with fast-moving traffic. Using green spaces? Great idea - until you consider what happens in Richmond Park at the weekend. People are perfectly happy to cycle in large numbers on the quiet segregated paths, but on the busy roads nearby that are devoid of decent cycle facilities, the numbers unaccountably fall off. And it's the same story with Sky Rides. People love cycling when there's not the constant threat posed by motor traffic. But if they cycle back through the Victoria gyratory system, they get a taste of the reality that commuting cyclists face every day - and they don't like it. So the bike goes back in the shed until next year's Skyride.

What next?

"Britain has a reputation for being a laggard in cycling in international standards: the Dutch, Danish and Germans are certainly well ahead of us at least in ridership for local journeys, but in at least two of those countries, their topography and quieter roads greatly incentivise cycling."

This is completely disingenuous. London is mainly flat, and the weather in Holland and Denmark is no better than in Britain. The UK really has no excuse for being behind other North European countries. As for quiet roads - the reason they're quieter is because people cycle. In any case, with segregated paths, traffic isn't the massive disincentive to cycling that it is in the UK. Segregation really is the elephant in the room that Hendy's very careful to avoid eye-contact with.

Hendy does have a parting shot:

"cycling is now part of transport planners' 21st century lexicon of solutions for improving urban spaces - giving town and city centres back to the people as shared and green space, instead of more roads for more cars, 'bringing the village back into the city'. "

Wow. Gimme some of that. I hope he's told his underlings at TfL. Maybe we can look forward to Parliamemt Square being pedestrianized?

Now I don't want to be too hard on Peter Hendy. The state of cycling in London can't be blamed on one person, even if that person is the head of the organization in charge of - er - the state of cycling in London. Hendy has political masters who are scared stiff of upsetting the status quo with any bold moves. On the other hand, if you look at Blackfriars Bridge, at King's Cross, or at any of the other cycling causualty blackspots, you see a pattern of cyclist safety being pushed aside to make way for more, faster motor vehicles. Even TfL's best efforts for cycling - the Superhighways - are in a different league to facilities on the Continent (the Blue Square Premier league, perhaps?), with little attempt to provide safe passage past side roads or through junctions, or even to consistently keep cyclists out of the traffic flow. Hendy's attempts to take credit for increases in cycling are particularly wince-inducing. I don't know anyone who's started cycling because they thought it had become safe. Some people feel safe on the Superhighway blue lanes, but that's in comparison with other cycling conditions in London, and the blue lanes disappear when you most need them, and only operate 6 hours a day, in what is increasingly a 24hr city.
I have no reason to believe that Peter Hendy is not a perfectly charming person - but he's in charge of an organization that has proved itself to be institutionally anti-cycling. Until we see signs that TfL takes cycling seriously, I won't be taking seriously anything Peter Hendy has to say about cycling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

King's Cross - Who's to Blame?

The road system around London's King's Cross Station claimed the life of another cyclist recently. Fashion student Min Joo Lee died there on 3rd October.

The layout of the road system is the classic 'urban motorway' - fast, multi-lane roads with totally inadequate cycling facilities. It's a grim story of sheep-pen crossings and generally second-class treatment if you're on foot as well. - which is a general community website that covers all local issues, not just cycling or road safety - has some interesting history behind the current road layout. William Perrin writes that TfL commissioned a report on the King's Cross road system around 2008, and then tried to bury it. Perrin FoI'd the report, and summarised it thus:

‘road markings are faded and the crossing space is no longer clear'

‘it is notable just how aggressive vehicles are at this point’ 

‘auditors felt that casualties were inevitable...auditors felt that vehicle speeds should be reduced..the carriageway surface was uneven’ 

‘the key crossing location at the southern end of York way should be redesigned

The report called for ‘proper traffic calming measures’ and ‘enforcing/revising speed limits’ ... 'reduce traffic speeds around the junction by installing traffic calming measures'

So, in the TfL-commissioned report's words, Min Joo Lee's death was 'inevitable' given the existing layout, yet they did nothing about it.

It's not just TfL at fault however, it's also the labyrinthine system of bureacracy that means that different bits of this particular road system fall into the jurisdiction of TfL,  Camden Council and Islington Council.

Fragmentation of responsibility and the absence of integrated policy at a city-wide level mean changes to even very localised road systems can be impossible to manage given the need to coordinate between multiple organizations, fund from different budgets and fit to different political priorities, plans and electoral timeframes. The result is that solutions have to be designed within the bureaucratic and political constraints, and without cooperation between authorities that are often of different political colours, nothing can happen. That's one reason the Cycle Superhighways don't work well: TfL have planned them along roads they control, which are often not the most sensible cycle routes. It's the reason why the cycle facilities stop when you get to cycle-phobic Westminster. It's also why local councils can't put in pedestrian crossings to help people cross busy roads.

It's difficult to escape the conclusion that the system of control for maintaining London's roads is broken by design. However, TfL can't wriggle out of ultimate responsibility for the mess that King's Cross currently is, because they didn't even try to sort it out. And we know from Blackfriars Bridge that TfL care little for pedestrians or cyclists, so the current layout of King's Cross might be one they actually prefer.

UPDATE: There was a report on BBC London News this lunchtime from Tom Edwards covering this story. TfL responded with talk of revisions to the junction for the 2012 Olympics...which will take into account "the needs of all road users". That sounds uncannily similar to the TfL-speak that I and others got in response to letters about Blackfriars:

"the safety of the proposals were assessed from the perspective of all road users including cyclists"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The End of Growth?

One thing that both the Coalition Government and the Labour opposition have in common in terms of economic policy is the pursuit of growth (anyone remember what that is?), and the assumption that we'll somehow be able to grow our way out of the current mire. With the Government, it's the private sector that will magically take up the slack from public sector layoffs. With the opposition, it's more about stimulus - VAT cuts while still keeping half an eye on deficit reduction.

There are a few problems with that thinking. First, we've had no significant growth in the Western economies since the credit crunch, despite quantitative easing and Keynsian stimuli. Second, many economists are warning that there may be no meaningful growth for some years and that we're headed for a double-dip recession. Third, the growth that occurred prior to the credit crunch was in part fuelled by debt, meaning that the period of anaemic 'real' growth goes back further than headline growth figures suggest.

What exactly is economic growth? One definition is "the increasing capacity of the economy to satisfy the wants of its members. Economic growth is enabled by increases in productivity which lowers the inputs (labour, capital, material, energy, etc.) for a given amount of output. Lowered costs increase demand for goods and services."

Let's look at those enablers of growth for a second. Labour costs have been lowered over the past decade by the increasing relocation of labour-intensive work to low-wage economies. As countries like India and China develop, the cost of their labour will likely increase. Energy costs are also likely to increase, partly because of increased demand from emerging economies, and partly because of peak oil - the increasing cost of extracting oil, and the problem of supply being limited and starting to diminish. Material costs similarly will rise with increasing demand from emerging economies both for raw materials like copper. The cost of the ultimate raw material - food - will rise as the world population expands and as the emerging middle classes in China and elsewhere increasingly eat a meat-rich Western diet. The cost of capital is raised by the need to recapitalise the banks, and the banks' current unwillingness to lend.

That's set the scene. I hope I didn't scare you too much. I'm suggesting that even in the more optimistic scenarios that don't involve sovereign debt defaults or banks going bust, we're all going to have to tighten our belts and consume less for a good while. Indeed, former Prime Minister John Major said so recently on the Andrew Marr show. In very simple terms, in all likelihood we can't grow our way out of the current economic mess. Growth is at an end.  That means that the traditional assumption of goods and travel becoming cheaper and available in larger quantities to more and more people needs to be ditched, and instead we need to start planning on conservative stewardship of our resources and a retreat from consumerism.

So what are we going to consume less of? Everyone has to eat, pay rent or mortgage and heat their home, and cutting down in those areas will be tricky. Travel is one area where discretionary journeys can be cut down, and people can travel less by combining essential trips, working from home more, and so on. Where public transport is an option, people can go car-free, taking advantage of car clubs for trips that really do require a car. And of course, this being a cycling blog, you would expect me to suggest that people use bikes. Now, the important thing is, this is already starting to happen. Petrol and car sales are declining, and bike sales are increasing. But as usual the Government is behind the curve.

The transition to lower car use needs to be supported by policy. But current policy still has the built-in assumption that more and more people will be driving further and further. We're building more roads . The Government still aims to convert us from fossil-fuelled cars to electric cars that actually cost more to run, despite the abject failure of that policy so far. They also want us to increase our travel costs by driving at 80MPH! Meanwhile TfL are still trying to increase traffic flow rather than turn roadspace over to the increasing number of cyclists.

It's time politicians of all parties stopped reading the public bedtime stories about how everything will get back to normal and there'll be a happy ending, and start planning on people having to do more with less. A good place to start is by moving away from our increasingly-unaffordable dependency on cars.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Isn't politics strange! It didn't occur to me that the affair of Defence Secretary Liam Fox's ill-advised advisor/best man/lobbyist could turn out well for transport. Fox's departure has resulted Philip Hammond being reshuffled into Defence and Justine Greening being appointed Transport Scretary. Which surely has to be good news - no-one can be worse than Hammond...can they? A quick Google turns up very little past form on Greening. She's only been an MP since 2005, and her website lists campaigns against Heathrow expansion and on improving the District Line. So far so good. She's even met Wandsworth Cycling Campaign in passing, it seems. Will she prove as green as her name? At Cycalogical we're not counting any chickens (geddit?) just yet...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Walk to Work

The Government is suddenly concerned about the obesity crisis, and is suggesting we all walk to work. "The idea is to get off the bus or the Tube a couple of stops early and walk," said Anne Milton, Public Health Minister and former nurse. In other words, take your medicine, it's good for you, and don't complain about the nasty taste. If you work in London, you work in a city where most of the public space is specifically set up to benefit the least healthy forms of transport and discourage walking. Since Boris was elected, TfL has been busy re-timing traffic lights and re-designing junctions to get as much traffic flowing as possible and getting pedestrians out of the goddarned way. The capital's pavements are often narrow and crowded, and you're walking next to noisy, fast-moving traffic - hardly a pleasant experience. As an additional disincentive, London is one of Europe's most polluted cities, as a result of a long-standing reluctance to tackle emissions standards and traffic levels. In fact, walking in London is often so unpleasant you'll be wanting a large cappucino and a doughnut to cheer yourself up when you arrive.

Walking is a fine thing, but I suspect the Government don't have much idea of the real world of commuting. Walking is slow. Walking for a mile or two will make your journey take considerably longer, and with a public transport system that's dogged by delays, many commuters can't afford the extra time. Also, while walking is better than sitting down, it's also not the best way to burn calories.

I wonder why Anne Milton isn't pushing cycling instead? Cycling is a lot quicker than walking, it's quicker than public transport for a lot of journeys, and will save you money, which walking won't in most cases. Cycling a 5-mile journey will burn a lot more calories than taking the tube for 4 miles and then walking the remainder. But once again, it's the conditions of the public realm that put people off. Roads are set up for motor vehicles, and cyclists and their safety is an afterthought, if it's thought of at all.

One of Cameron's big ideas was to set up a 'nudge' unit to try to make things like exercise and healthy eating an easy choice. The fact is that London, along with most other UK cities, is set up to 'nudge' people the other way. It's all very well for Anne Milton to say "Londoners need to take responsibility [for getting more excercise]". It's about time the Government took responsibility and started creating the conditions in which active travel becomes the default choice for shorter journeys. The economic benefits of a healthier population will far outweigh the costs of the infrastructure. It's been done in Holland, so it can be done here, given the political will.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Decline of the Car - Again

The mainstream press have been turning out more articles about the fact that the British, and Londoners in particular are driving less, and fewer of us have licenses. Andrew Neather is the latest, in the Standard. Cycalogical picked up the story in May from an Independent article.

There's more evidence just lately: various sources report petrol sales declining by 15% since the credit crunch, and more gloomy news from the car industry that September sales were down 0.8% on the same period in 2010 - which was itself hardly a vintage year. Crucially demand from private buyers fell 9.3 per cent. On the other hand Halfords, one of the few businesses to have a horse in both races, reported a decline in car-related business being compensated by robust bike sales.

And it ain't about to end any time soon. Although oil prices have taken a battering just recently, approaching the $100/bbl level earlier in the week before ending just over $106 today, the dollar has been rising in value which will negate some of the benefit to UK consumers. And the most optimistic scenario for the world economy seems to be low growth for some years, while the worst-case is complete armageddon, so consumers are unlikely to rediscover their profligate pre-recession spending habits for a while.

 So the question seems to be, how long will the Tories persist in gearing their transport policy around the motor car, if more and more people are looking for lower-cost ways of travelling?

Greenwich Cable Car

The BBC reports that the estimated construction costs of the Thames cable car have been revised. Again. Upwards. The estimate has gone from £25M initially to £60M, and it will be paid for partially out of the rail budget.

It occurred to me that the point of this cable car is rather unclear. If it's being paid for out of the rail budget, then it must be a transport project, and on that basis it must stand comparison with other transport projects costing £60M. On the other hand, if it's simply a tourist attraction, then why is it being paid for out of our already stretched transport budgets?

To pass muster as a transport project, it has to deliver as many people as possible as fast as possible where there is demand for travel. The fares need to be reasonable, and you need connectivity.

I'm not an expert on cable cars, but a bit of googling indicates it's not the fastest mode of transport (gasp!). The world's longest cable car system, in Vietnam, achieves an average speed of around 20km/h over about 5km. The Thames cable car will run from North Greenwich to Royal Victoria Dock. That'll be handy if you live in North Greenwich and work near the Royal Victoria Dock, or vice versa, but it seems a safe bet that there's not a huge market for that particular journey. Will it be any use for other journeys? It seems unlikely. For any other journey you will end up changing at one or both ends, and the Jubilee Line stops at North Greenwich and crosses the river nearby giving a faster, better-connected option. I suspect there are very few journeys that will be faster given that the cable car run is a slow 1 km plus a walk at either end. On the other hand, the view will be better. That brings us onto the tourist attraction aspect. For tourism, you can set the fares rather higher, but for regular transport you can't charge much more than the cost of a bus fare for such a short journey, given the presence of alternatives. If the cable car is going to attract more tourists than people using it as transportation, which I expect it will, should it be subsidized or paid for out of transport budgets?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Another Cyclist Death

Another woman, another HGV. Rest in peace.

It seems that the details were so horrific that the original Standard report has been redacted and is now a succinct statement of her name and the location of the collision. The original said "witnesses tell of haunting images". There's a bit more here.

She is the 13th victim this year, and we're barely into the dark evenings. Statistically it's impossible to say if London is really becoming more dangerous for cyclists because there have always been considerable variations in deaths from year to year. However, it is possible to say that it isn't getting any safer, because TfL are doing nothing about redesigning dangerous junctions so that HGVs can't run over cyclists as appears to have happened in this case. Instead, they are trying to push more traffic through the Capital's streets, by cramming more lanes in (see the Blackfriars redesign for an example of this).

They are also altering traffic light timings. I've observed the danger of this recently at both Trafalgar Square and Lambeth Bridge (south side), which are both light-controlled roundabouts. The light timings are such that you regularly see vehicles coming round from your right even if the lights are green in your favour. This is partly because when the lights go red, the leading vehicle, and even the vehicle behind, often jumps the light. But it's also because TfL are so obsessed about getting as much traffic through the junction as possible they don't leave enough time for vehicles to clear when the lights change. This is particularly problematic for cyclists, because you will normally be at the front of the traffic queue in the advance stop box (if it's not occupied by taxis or motorcycles), and your safety relies on your ability to get away quickly in front of the general traffic and through the junction without getting overtaken, undertaken or cut up. If there are vehicles failing to give way, you have no choice but to cede passage, whereas larger vehicles can be more aggressive. The result is often you get sandwiched between vehicles entering the junction from two directions.

Multi-lane junctions roundabouts and gyratories are dangerous enough for cyclists by their very nature. Chuck in ASLs that are occupied by 4-wheelers, approach lanes that are blocked, as many lanes as possible, as much traffic moving as fast as possible regulated by super-aggressive lights phasing and you have a lethal cocktail of factors that are guaranteed to lead to tragedy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Westminster - Congestion and Growth

West End stores have called for a traffic ban in Oxford Street and Regent Street every Sunday, after seeing how well a similar scheme in Times Square has worked. The New York trial scheme has reportedly been so successful it has been made permanent and retail rents have soared along with visitor satisfaction.

Westminster Council have been playing around with the roads in the West End for a while now, returning some to two-way working and widening pavements, but it's all sticking-plaster stuff, and they remain full of traffic. That's because Westminster is ideologically opposed to doing anything effective about congestion or striking a balance between transport modes based on a vision of a city whose streets are attractive to visitors rather than simply attracting traffic jams.

Westminster Council's car keys will only be prised from their cold, dead hands. It doesn't matter that unrestricted driving is making shopping streets a place not to linger, or that it's increasing TfL's bus running costs and damaging bus journey times.

The Chair of the New West End Company, representing the retailers, said:

"Tackling these priorities could prove to be the deciding factor in the mayoral elections in May 2012. Other cities around the world have dealt with their traffic congestion. London can do the same."

Now isn't that interesting. Boris was elected on a ticket of tackling congestion by playing around with traffic light timings. It clearly hasn't worked too well in the view of these retailers - and remember these are business people, not environmental campaigners. It's time the Tories were honest with the public: the price of unrestricted car use is congestion. If you're not prepared to treat roadspace as a valuable resource that needs to be conserved and used sensibly and productively, the result is unpredictable journey times and streets where people don't want to be. Businesses increasingly understand that. It's time the Tories did too.