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.

kingscrossenvironment.com - 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"

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