De Beauvoir Improvements: A great opportunity – missed?

De Beauvoir Town has some of the loveliest streets in London.  Since the 1970s, half a dozen roads have been accessible to pedestrians and people on bikes – and blocked to rat-running drivers.  Now, residents have the chance to extend this area of safety and tranquility to cover almost all of De Beauvoir.  It’s not yet clear whether they will take it…

Lawford

Lawford Road – Image: Chris Whippet

When planning for ‘Cycle Superhighway’ 1, Hackney Council and Transport for London decided not to tackle the A10 – the main North-South route through the borough, the road on which most shops and services are located, and the current main site of casualties for people on bikes.

Instead, the route was put along the existing ‘London Cylce Network’ alignment through De Beauvoir.  They may be safer than the A10, but these roads attract a lot of rat-running drivers, and certainly do not meet the criteria for a safe and desirable route on which ordinary people, aged 8-80, will willingly cycle.  Hackney Cycling Campaign and Hackney People on Bikes requested filtering to create a worthwhile route which met the needs of people who cycle, and who might in future.

Separately, a large number of residents organised themselves to petition their councillors calling for filtering.  These streets can be very busy with fast-moving drivers and are not fit for pleasant residential use.

The result from TfL and Hackney is an admirable and thorough plan to remove through traffic from the area.  Building on the existing excellent filters in the bottom left of the map below, this area would see through traffic only on the main roads along the edge, and through Englefield Road in the middle.

CS1 closures

While the money has come from TfL’s ‘Cycle Superhighway’ 1 pot, it is primarily a neighbourhood improvement project: cutting out through traffic, reducing noise, pollution and danger.  This is an area which has seen a number of crashes over the last ten years, shown below – a danger and an unpleasantness which local people now have the chance to avoid.

When I attended a Ward Forum on the topic of the closures, I was disappointed to find that many of those attending were hostile to the closures (they numbered perhaps thirty-five or forty, but made up in heat what they lacked in numbers).  While almost almost everyone seemed to recognise the negative effects of large number of outsiders driving through the area, many seemed minded to object to the proposals.  In a meeting which was at times exceptionally unpleasant as attendees shouted over one another, council officers (and me), a number of strange arguments were made: the dangers of people cycling were brought up, ‘Will the council put a police officer on the junction of Culford Road’; the undesirability of restricting rat-running drivers, ‘it’s better to have ten cars go down ten roads than down one’ and of course ‘road tax’.

There were many strong, positive voices too.  Local residents attended who had knocked on one another’s doors to gather support for the plan.  One lady noted that she was on crutches and wouldn’t be able to cycle, but we must do more for people who do – and that she can hardly get her car out of it’s parking place on Ardleigh Road owing to the weight of traffic.  Another lady noted that she was willing to be inconvenienced by a slightly longer route when she needed to drive, because it would be good for the area and for local people.

I very much hope that those in favour of these excellent proposals will make their voices heard too.  If you want to see a safer, nicer De Beauvoir, be a good citizen and respond to the consultation – you have until the 18th November.  All you have to do is click this link, choose ‘yes’ and write your name on the next page.  You can add a reason and additional details about yourself if you like.

There are two additional consultations for closures further up the ‘Superhighway’ route – please do support these too:Wordsworth Road Consultation
Broadwater Road Consultation

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Silvertown Tunnel – the best TfL can offer?

If you invest £1000 in my business, the best thing I can offer you is learning.

21st century planning

The cost of small production lines and website development is so low that £1000 is best spent testing the water: make 100 T-shirts and a website, and see if they sell, rather than building a factory for millions only to find out your T-shirt design is unpopular, or out of fashion.  The idea that the currency of success is now learning – from a friend who once worked in tech startups – seems a very 21st century way of doing business.  There is another way to do business that remains popular though; with plans for Silvertown Tunnel, TfL are doing business in the style of the 1950s.

Silvertown: 1950s planning

1950s thinking – particularly around road design was to ‘predict and provide’:

Predict and provide

The earliest, and perhaps most destructive road transport policy in the UK, whereby traffic levels were forecast, and capacity provided to meet this forecast (University of Nottingham)

At Silvertown, TfL have predicted a massive growth in cross-river traffic by people who will want to drive.  Rather than seeking to provide alternatives, reduce that demand or prioritise those who actually need to drive there, they propose a tunnel:

The Silvertown Tunnel will reduce congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel, improve the resilience of the surrounding road network and support economic and population growth.  (All quotations are from this TfL page or linked documents, unless otherwise indicated).

Despite creating a new, quicker way to drive, TfL claim this won’t attract many additional drivers, in fact:

We estimate that by 2031, delays on the approach to the tunnel would be virtually eliminated.

This is in defiance of the experience of every major road-building scheme in Britain over a period of thirty years, which shows that ‘improving’ roads invariably induces more people to drive:

The average traffic flow on 151 improved roads was 10.4% higher than forecasts that omitted induced traffic and 16.4% higher than forecast on 85 alternative routes that improvements had been intended to relieve. In a dozen more detailed case studies the measured increase in traffic ranged from 9% to 44% in the short run and 20% to 178% in the longer run. This fitted in with other evidence on elasticities and aggregate data. The conclusion was:

 “An average road improvement, for which traffic growth due to all other factors is forecast correctly, will see an additional [i.e. induced] 10% of base traffic in the short term and 20% in the long term.”

(Taken from this post, which summarises this DfT report).

If Silvertown Tunnel is similar to every other major road scheme, it will increase traffic on the Greenwich Peninsula.

Note to TfL - you cannot build your way out of a traffic jam (source - Citylab)

Note to TfL – you cannot build your way out of a traffic jam (source – Citylab)

So, TfL’s other claims seem doubtful too:

The environmental impact of current traffic congestion on some of London’s most polluted roads would be reduced

The scheme would bring about an overall air quality improvement on the main approach routes to and from the Blackwall Tunnel,

TfL promises to charge for the tunnel, and for Blackwall, to alleviate the otherwise inevitable harm.

TfL proposes to use to manage traffic impacts arising from the Silvertown Tunnel is user charging, which would act to deter increases in demand and should therefore minimise adverse impacts (TfL)

A 21st century business proposal

What upsets me about this (apart from the waste of money, induced demand caused, additional pollution and general obtuseness of the approach) is that TfL’s approach does not offer us any learning.

Were we to charge for the crossing now, we could find out how many people actually need to drive across the Thames here.  Demand might be managed sufficiently to avoid the massive expense of a new bridge. Pollution might be reduced in the area.

That’s what happened when Stockholm did something similar, as beautifully summarised in this TED talk.  Introducing a very small congestion charge has a significant effect.

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One or two euros was enough to make 20 percent of cars disappear from rush hours.  If you can reduce traffic even somewhat, then congestion will go down much faster than you might think

People changed their behaviour.  Were they massively inconvenienced?

We did this huge interview survey with lots of travel services, and tried to figure out who changed, and where did they go? And it turned out that they don’t know themselves.  For some reason, the car drivers are — they are confident they actually drive the same way that they used to do.  

This seems logical, but without doing it, we’ll have no idea.  What I can’t understand is why TfL don’t start by charging, then decide whether we need another crossing.  Rather than building another crossing, then charging, then see if things clear up.

This is an amazing offer for TfL: it’s a trial which would make them money, rather than costing it.  (And there’s no negative – it’s infrastructure they will have to build, and unpopularity they will have to face anyway – as they’ve promised to toll the new crossing and Blackwall Tunnel eventually anyway).

TfL desperately want this toxic tunnel

However, even if it were to charge, TfL are adamant that a new bridge is needed:

While a charge at the Blackwall Tunnel would reduce some demand, a charge alone could not prevent incidents at the tunnel.

TfL say there were almost 1,000 incidents at the Blackwall Tunnel

Although a charge at the Blackwall Tunnel might reduce some demand from motorists – depending on the level at which it was set – it could not prevent planned and unplanned incidents at the tunnel, which is a significant cause of congestion across a wide area.

So we are building a toxic tunnel due to ‘planned and unplanned’ incidents.  What kind of incidents?

The new Silvertown Tunnel would significantly reduce incidents at the Blackwall Tunnel which force its temporary closure, in particular incidents involving overweight vehicles.

So, we’re going to spend £750 million to accommodate drivers of overweight vehicles – who presumably know they shouldn’t be using the tunnel?

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Source: TfL

Surely TfL can come up with a smarter approach to preventing people using a tunnel they don’t fit down than building another tunnel?

Automatic_level_crossing_with_height_restrictions

Image credit: Mcivory

We could even combine my two ideas: charge now, and spend some of the money on better incident prevention and breakdown services.  At at least £2 per journey, TfL can get its hands on perhaps £250,000 pounds a day – this would nicely cover something a high-tech solution and an investment in sustainable alternatives.

I don’t know for sure.  TfL may be right:

We concluded that a charge at the Blackwall Tunnel without any increase in new crossing capacity was not a suitable option, since it would not address our wider objective of reducing incidents at the Blackwall Tunnel and providing more resilience and choice for people crossing the river. In addition, although charging would reduce some demand to cross at the Blackwall Tunnel, there would still be significant congestion and adverse impacts on alternative crossing routes.

TfL don’t know either.  Concluding that a charge wouldn’t work without trying it is lunacy.  The best TfL can offer is a toxic tunnel, at a cost of £750m.  We won’t learn anything for five years, and we’ll face all the negative consequences before and afterwards.

TfL desperately need to take a 21st century approach – trial charging and find out.  Maybe some of those journeys aren’t necessary.  Maybe some of them could be retimed, rerouted or put on a changed mode.  We could find out and TfL could make a profit in the process…

Tell TfL you are against their toxic tunnel here – demand user charging instead.  The consultation is live now until Sunday, 29th November.

And help the No campaign, here.

Quietway 2 – an embarrassment to all

Quietways always sounded pretty rubbish.  I use the vestiges of the London Cycle Network frequently – as with so much cycling in London, as a least-worst option – and I never cease to resent the wiggly routes it takes me on and the rat-running drivers I have to contend with in amongst the parked cars.

I thought Quietways might be a step up.  I’ve always seen them as a cop-out, avoiding TfL’s and the boroughs’ responsibility to provide safe space for cycling on main roads.  But at least I thought I might be able to get around the indirect and inconvenient routes safely and comfortably.  Here’s what TfL promise:

Quietways will complement Superhighways by providing a network of cycling routes through less heavily trafficked streets…  They are aimed at new cyclists who want a safe, unthreatening experience.

(London Cycling Design Standards)*

London Cycling Campaign, rightly, expected something clearer than this:

To actually be ‘quiet’ the routes need to restrict through motor traffic (rat-running) and provide separation where required (where speed limits are above 20 mph or traffic volumes are high).

(LCC)

So to Quietway 2

This is a pilot route, being delivered by Camden, Islington and Hackney, with the assistance of Sustrans.  I should probably have seen the writing on the wall when Camden consulted on the Guildford Road section – a choked rat-run and taxi route with car parking space – in which they promised a speed table or two and some painted signs.

Looking through Islington’s Consultation document (and let’s take a moment to note that it’s in nineteen separate pages, such that only really interested people are going to bother), I was disappointed, initially, to note no filtering, just some signs and some new road humps.  Sadly, the next page offered the same.  I got to the third page, and there were some more signs and new road humps…  You get the idea.  Nothing.

Here’s a fairly standard extract, showing the extent of what is to be done:

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 09.01.28

Signs and raised entry humps on side roads.

 

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the route as it stands – notably whoever designed it, let me take you down it.  This was yesterday on the way to a meeting – a random Tuesday morning – so unfortunately, some bits which are often horrible and choked were less so.  On the other hand, I got close-passed in an area which is usually fine, so it balances out.  This post focuses on Islington, with two exceptions, but I’ll start with something nice:

P1040161

Filtering in De Beauvoir Square – good for skateboarders too.

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Welcome to Islington!  The driver on the left is stationary, of course… (Northchurch Road)

The route takes a dog-leg diversion in the wrong direction and back on to the main road, which I didn’t bother to follow.

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This isn’t on the Quietway, this is the direct route. But it shows you the number of vehicles going down these back roads (and on to Prebend Street, which is on the Quietway). Drivers aren’t happy either – you can’t hear the driver on the right of the picture tell someone on the left to ‘F–k off’ as he passes (Basire Street meeting New North Road)

Back on the proposed ‘Quietway’ route.

 

P1040213

Lots of rat-running drivers. (Prebend Street)

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Lots of rat-running commercial drivers (Colebrooke Row)

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Four more rat-running drivers queued up behind people on bikes (Margery Street)

 

 

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See those drivers queuing up opposite – that’s what you’ll be joining to make it here from Camden’s side (Calthorpe Street)

At this point, my camera ran out of battery – which is fine, because this is the borough boundary.

My point is that these routes were all busy.  It’s probably true to say they are “less heavily trafficked streets” but only because the main roads are so heavily ‘trafficked’.  It’s certainly not true that they will offer a “safe, unthreatening experience” as the driver of 7861H was kind enough to demonstrate Middleton Road.

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What happens when you have lots of drivers mixing with people on bikes at a range of speeds? Close passes. And collisions. And injuries. And deaths. 

P1040157

Risk dooring or risk being knocked down – not a choice I’d ask a child to make.

[This part of the route, where I was close-passed, may be modally-filtered – although the works notifications have gone up in Hackney Today before we see any plans for this, which makes me nervous].

This new route won’t make it any safer or more pleasant to cycle, because it won’t provide any new space for cycling which isn’t already busy with drivers.  The only people it will help will be people unfamiliar with the route, due to the signs.  But why would anyone else bother with a  round-about route which is neither safe nor pleasant?

There are excellent parallel routes which drivers are free to take.  Islington is encouraging and continuing to allow rat-running commercial drivers to use these back, residential streets.  De Beauvoir shows what could be done here.

At the moment, we are looking at more money spent for absolutely no gain.  TfL can claim they have succeeded – these streets are “less heavily trafficked” – but only by comparison tot he main roads.

Thankfully, Islington claim they are willing to listen.

I would urge everyone reading this to oppose this scheme outright.  The money will be wasted and we will benefit not at all.

In contrast to the consultation plans, the consultation response is very simple.  To finish by the 17th May.

* I’m not even going to get into the ridiculous idea that new cyclists and existing cyclists want different kinds of infrastructure.

A question for National Express on the safety of people on bikes

At the TfL board meeting on 7th February 2015, your chair, Sir John Armitt, said: “I would say the biggest danger to cyclists on the roads in London are actually themselves.”

This is directly contradicted by the research. For example, this paper from the Transport Research Laboratory, shows that over 60% of collisions are caused by drivers not looking properly.

This article in The Times reports on a study by Westminster Council which says that only 20% of collisions are caused by cyclists.

As someone who cycles daily along roads used by National Express coaches, I found your chair’s disregard for the evidence (or ignorance of it) alarming. It suggests to me that National Express’s culture does not prioritise the safety of vulnerable road users sufficiently. Naturally, I avoid spending money with a company which endangers me and others.

I tweeted National Express at the time, to say that I was not prepared to travel with the company until the chair had apologised for, and retracted his statement. I did not receive a response.

I have to make a journey next week which, for the last six years, I have always taken by coach. I wanted to check whether the chair has apologised for and retracted his comments, and what he has committed the company to do to promote the safety of people on bikes. If you are unable to confirm the former and inform me about the latter, I look forward to taking the train instead.

Many thanks,
Harry