Tag Archives: boris johnson

An invitation

The Mayor of London is “doing an awful lot to try to encourage people to cycle”: telling us that there is a cycling revolution going on and all he needs us to do is get on out on the lovely London streets to be a part of it.

Meanwhile, York is challenging its residents to take to the bicycle: their city needs them to put in the effort and hard work of cycling in its battle against Cambridge.

Skyride urges people to cycle, cycling organisations and officers spend what little money cycling is given on devising new ways to persuade us that we can cycle, yet apparently we’re still not doing enough to promote cycling.

Jan Gehl describes the cities where people ride bikes.  They all invite the bicycle user: they make the bicycle journey an inviting prospect.

They’re just words.  But the difference between the approaches that they represent is that Gehl’s works.

(via ibikelondon and the bike show.)

Utter tripe in the outer boroughs

It was Transport Question Time at City Hall this week: the 25 London Assembly members’ monthly-ish check up on the chair and the commissioner of Transport for London — Boris Johnson and Peter Hendy respectively.  If you’re as big a loser as me, you’ll want to watch it here.  Alternatively, London Reconnections can usually be relied upon to post a report (but haven’t yet).

The fun bit starts at 38 minutes, where Jenny Jones (one of two Green AMs, and regular at Critical Mass) asks Boris what he is going to do in order to reach his (depressingly unambitious) target of five percent share for cycling by 2026, given that his existing flagship “cycle revolution” schemes — bike hire and “superhighways” — are only projected to generate 180,000 of the 1 million additional daily journeys that are needed to hit the target.  Jones is particularly interested in the Mayor’s ideas for the outer boroughs, whose modal share is especially low.  (Boris did, after all, campaign on a platform of ending Ken’s obsession with Zone 1.)

(Lets leave aside for now the fact that it is dubious whether bike hire will hit its 40,000 target, and there is absolutely no chance of “superhighways” creating their target 140,000 additional journeys, unless they are radically redesigned — so we shouldn’t be letting the Mayor get away with those 180,000 made up journeys.)

The Mayor’s waffling non-answer and farcical performance was a great insight into just how committed he is to a “cycling revolution”.  These are the fantastic initiatives that the Mayor thinks will more than double the modal share for cycling in London (my lazy paraphrasing — except #3: he really did say that):

  1. “More Sheffield Stands.”  Thanks.  Not having convenient parking can indeed be very annoying.  Just ask anybody: why don’t you cycle in London? “Oh, I’d love to, but there just aren’t enough Sheffield Stands.”
  2. “Waffle waffle erm, Biking uh Boroughs, mumble rarh, Bogota.”  [At this point the chair tells the Mayor off for wasting everyone's time.]
  3. “We want generally to see a London where motorists feel that they can find cyclists on any road.” Oh.  Right.  Hang on.  What?
  4. “Outer London Skyrides.”  After which everybody went home and put their bike back in the garage until next year.
  5. “Participatory activities.” No details on what these were, or how many hundred thousand cyclists they create.  Perhaps he means the guided bike rides on tube strike days?
  6. “Free cycle training.”  Doesn’t work.
  7. “Asked people to cycle or walk to school in Sutton.”  Looks like a very successful scheme: 85% of pupils walk to one school.  Walking is like cycling, right?  I’ll put them down as cyclists.  Close enough.
  8. “Thought about outer London bike hire, but decided it was too difficult.”

At one point during this list (I say “list”, it came out as an unstructured stream of straw-clutching) — just before we got to Skyrides, I think — Jenny interrupted the waffling to try at least to pin the Mayor down on one specific point (my paraphrasing from memory):

Jenny: Will you spend the £60 million needed to complete the London Cycle Network in the outer boroughs?

Boris: How much?

Jenny: £60 million

Boris: [derisive laugh quickly stifled] We’ve been doing skyrides…

When Jenny noted than none of these schemes had any chance of actually working, he replied that Jenny was — with all of the due respect, of course — talking “total and utter tripe.”  He was, he said, “doing an awful lot to try to encourage cycling.”

Let the ruling classes tremble at Boris Johnson’s cycling revolution.

Are we winning?

I’ve just been scrolling through Google Reader clearing a couple of months worth of posts with videos that got saved-for-later when using a mobile connection.  Peter at Pedestrian Liberation asks whether we are winning, citing London Bridge as evidence that maybe we are.

I shot a similar video — above — of London Bridge a year ago almost to the day.  Peter wouldn’t have been able to make same film as me because the night after I shot it, TfL cut down the pedestrian cages (my improvised tripod) on the bridge, to improve the conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.  In the year old film, you see the bridge at a little after 8am — the peak time — on monday 4th january.  I’m not very good at estimating crowds, especially fast moving ones where you can’t see everybody, but there were surely 300-400 people per minute walking over the bridge, plus a couple of dozen cyclists (on a morning so cold that the docks were frozen inches thick) and several stuffed buses.  And what you can’t see in the film is the stuffed tube line beneath, the trains rattling over the neighbouring Cannon Street railway bridge, or the bicycles on the neighbouring and less bicycle-unfriendly Southwark Bridge.  (But nor can you see all the cars on the neighbouring CCharge-less Tower Bridge.)

There are only a handful more private motor vehicles than there are bicycles in the video, with taxis making up nearly half of them, and motorcycles and delivery and tradesman vehicles accounting for most of the rest.  Of the few remaining cars, a lot are probably actually minicabs.  It’s entirely plausible that they were all minicabs.

Yes, this is normal for London Bridge, and has been since at least the introduction of the CCharge in 2003.  London, of course, is not normal, but nor is it a world entirely different to the rest of the country.  As in London, all through the UK you’ll find that most people want an alternative to the blight of the car — to their spoiled streets and miserable hours wasted in jams.  They recognise that they are both a victim and an unwilling perpetrator of this car sick situation, but they don’t think they’ve been given a viable alternative.

On London Bridge they do have alternatives: development is an appropriate density for walking and cycling (at least from the railway terminus to the office); there’s a rail and tube line; and the cheap 24hr buses are too frequent to timetable.  Provide alternatives like these and they get used.  And that’s despite the many limitations that Londoners can happily whine about while not knowing how lucky they are: just imagine how much they would get used if one lane each way were a proper cycle path, and if London Bridge and Cannon Street stations were served by British Rail instead of Southern and SouthEastern, and if the Northern Line had better capacity and better reliability and better stations, and if the City’s streets were more pleasant places to walk around…

This is the most worrying thing about the latest policies of Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond — not so much that we are losing bits of the congestion charge, and other sticks with which to beat the motorist; for motorists already beat each-other more than enough to put normal people off driving — but that the alternatives are under threat.  The media remembers Ken Livingstone for the CCharge, but at least as important was the massive improvement to bus services (then priced at 65p a journey) that he introduced on the same day; Boris is cutting the Western Extension Zone, but more importantly, he is funding this with another bus fares hike, so that a journey is now twice the 2003 price.

Very few people are the kind of capital ‘M’ Motorists, who are never pedestrians; and the majority of people who drive say they would like to drive much less or not-at-all.  But that has been true for a long time, and that alone has not yet got us much closer to “winning”.  Partly this is because we have allowed the tabloids to get away with claiming that most Britons are big-M Motorists, and allowed them to dictate which policies the Motorist will stand for.  Part of turning things around is to get more people to declare: not in my name.  Some ideas for doing that another time.

Weekly War Bulletin, 11 Dec

Ken Livingstone has picked Val Shawcross as running partner.  Val chairs the assembly transport committee and has experience with both the outer and inner boroughs, so from a transport perspective, she’s probably the best person for the job.  She wants people to get out of their cars (including Olympics VIPs).  It’s worrying, though, that despite commissioning the cycle superhighway survey and stating that she “wants to know what what would get you cycling”, she hasn’t quite acknowledged yet that the result of the survey was a massive call for proper cycle paths.

The Scottish Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson, resigned for his slow response to the snow.  By his criteria, Boris would have resigned several times over by now.  Truck drivers in Scotland have been allowed to work overtime — because safety rules matter less when it’s icy?  Of course, making sure that petrol stations have supplies is more important than preventing overworked truckers driving into a fuel tanker.

And according to BBC News, SouthEastern management have made up for all their snow-related customer service failings by, erm, turning up to their long-scheduled recurring meeting with passengers.  No resignations (or franchise forfeit) there, yet, then?

There are no drink-driving TV adverts this year — after all, the government has ended the War On The Motorist!  In Oxford, the annual police operation has caught twice as many wannabe killers as last year.  (I’d be cautious about concluding that one caused the other on such a small and non-controlled sample, though.)

Absurd innovation of week: yet another device to allow Motorists to pay less attention.

South Yorkshire are “trialling” a speed camera switch off.  Uh, haven’t we done enough “trials” to know what happens there?

And in South Wales, Motorists demonstrate their contempt for the lives of the people who are building roads for them.

There are record numbers riding the railways in London — but for how much longer?

While it’s hard to give a damn about car parking charge increases when you don’t have a car, it does seem unfortunate that the rising price of station car parking (at the same time as 13% p.a. fares hikes) appears to be making people give up the train rather than the car — one in four say they’re considering switching.

And a government adviser’s report suggests that we can cut overcrowding, by, erm, charging much more to use overcrowded trains.

Labour are reconsidering high speed rail, while the Tories are promising to keep those Tory voters along its route happy with fabulous cash payouts.

The Campaign for Clean Air in London are threatening to challenge Boris in court over the removal of the Western Extension Congestion Charge Zone.  Waste of public money if it goes to court?  No news outlet I can find mentions the massive EU penalties for poor air quality (many times the cost of a court case), or the vast numbers (much greater than direct road deaths) of otherwise economically-active people who are disabled and killed by pollution-related diseases.  Meanwhile our own Green MEPs are encouraging the EU to reject the mayor’s application for an extension to the deadline for complying with those air quality laws.

That runaway Northern Line train was both human error and faulty equipment.

The Met are looking at thousands of people’s Oyster records behind their backs.

Having cut back on customer services, SouthEastern are looking for more staff savings: look forward to strike action in the new year.

Somebody’s stealing the pavements in Camden.

Apparently a couple in a ridiculous chauffeur driven car got viciously attacked by a mob of rioting thugs?  They should have ridden inconspicuous hire bikes to their appointment…

“Grannies don’t like being thrown around”: cuts to pensioner bus travel will mean dedicated crap bus services for them.

(I’m late to this story, but had to post it.)  Ferrari driver who “unwittingly” drove around at 100mph is allowed to continue driving because he is reliant upon the car for his hospital treatment.  Apparently ferrari owners can’t afford bus fares, and they don’t have taxis in Devon…

And for some reason not allowing blue badge holders to use the olympic lanes is considered an outrage too far.  How will builders get to their jobs now?

The RV1 riverside bus has gone hydrogen powered, in order to test the technology.  The hydrogen production requires electricity, and the electricity is still mostly generated by burning coal and gas.  It might at least reduce the particulate pollution given off by these vehicles (or shift them back to the out-of-town power station, anyway).

Here’s an updated tube map for the day London goes under the waves.

I don’t often cover news outside of the UK, but: this is just how they drive in China; and this story from NZ made me giggle — they seem surprised that building a new motorway caused congestion.  Has NZ learned nothing from the mistakes that Europe made forty years ago?

Your moment of zen: the mayor’s Christmas card:

I took the opportunity to pen a few lines on this occasion.

We three kings of Orient are,
One in a taxi, one in a car,
One on a Boris Bike beating the tube strike,
None of them getting far.

When I see a medical statistician on a bicycle…

…I do not despair for the future of the human race.

In my day job I work for scientific and medical journals, a million miles from transport and planning policy.  Except that this week I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of our papers was on all the bike blogs.  (I had nothing to do with the paper, and didn’t even notice it until it was published.)  In BMC Public Health, Andrei Morgan and colleagues have done what we at AWWTM love: taken the best methods that we have for evaluating evidence and applied them to the topic of London cycling; specifically they have described the data on cyclists killed in London traffic.

The interesting factoids are:

  • While annual death rates remained relatively static over time, when considered against a background growth in estimated cycling kilometres from 0.85% to 1.48% of the total estimated traffic kms in London, they have fallen considerably in terms of deaths per estimated cyclist km.
  • Three quarters of the killings were on or at junctions with main roads.
  • Women were more likely to be killed in inner-London and during daylight; Men got killed day and night throughout London.  Men accounted for more of the total deaths, but the authors did not normalise any of these data, so we can’t say whether it’s because men are more incompetent or women more safety conscious, whether drivers behave differently around them (as Ian Walker previously found), whether men are more likely to be using the main roads where crashes happen, or whether there are simply more men cycling, especially in the outer boroughs and at night.
  • 40% of the killings were in the outer boroughs, despite there being much lower levels of cycling there.  The two are probably not unconnected: the outer boroughs have bigger faster roads and fewer cycling facilities.  The inner boroughs have slower speeds and “safety in numbers”.  People who think that London’s main roads are dangerous places are not entirely stupid.
  • There were five reported incidents in which “only the cyclist was involved”.  Presumably people riding in lampposts, or “just falling off“?
  • And of course, the most timely finding: over 40% of incidents involved freight vehicles, half of those on left-turns.

The authors — themselves London bicycle users at the School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in Bloomsbury — conclude that trucks should be banned from central London.

The paper is published coincidentally (it was written over a year ago, before peer review) in the same week that Dennis Putz was sentenced for killing Catriona Patel with a truck at Oval last year, and that Boris Johnson promoted his own ideas about banning HGVs from central London (despite delaying the LEZ which might have helped a bit), amongst many other events that have highlighted the problem of trucks in central London this autumn.  So to an extent the paper only adds more weight to a conclusion that most of us had already reached, through previous studies and through our own amateur observation and experience, and for other reasons additional to safety issues: that trucks do not belong in city centres.

Rather, the important message that I got from the paper was to highlight just how poor the evidence-base for cycling safety policy is.  The authors repeatedly had to acknowledge and apologise for the limitations of their work — in the places where I, in my lowly blog post, can speculate wildly about possible explanations for the authors’ observations, the authors themselves must stay silent because there simply isn’t good enough data on things like the characteristics of London bicycle users and their bicycle journeys.  It’s an issue that we keep coming across, in arguments over bicycle helmets, segregated infrastructure, and every other policy, intervention, and initiative: the documented evidence rarely approaches the quality necessary for making important decisions on important policies.

We at AWWTM are very much of the (evidence-based) opinion that a policy or intervention isn’t worth pursuing unless it is informed by evidence of the way that the world works, and how it might affect the way that the world works.  And it depresses us that this even needs saying, but it seems that many politicians and planners are happy to dogmatically follow policies that have been shown to fail, and to implement new ones without doing anything to check that they are working.

More of that later.

at junctionsThe important o

Roadwork charging

The Evening Standard this week declared that the Mayor and the Prime-minister are exactly equally powerful in London. And yet it appears that Boris feels that he is being ignored by the PM, and even thinks that Dave is more likely to listen to we peasants than to his old Bullingdon chum:

@MayorOfLondon Boris Johnson
Had enough of utility companies digging up our roads & causing traffic mayhem?! Help me do something about it: http://bit.ly/cAr9wS

21 hours ago via web

The mayor’s campaign is for road charging — but don’t panic, this is not another war on the poor motorist!  The mayor recognises that London’s streets are not gridlocked because there are too many cars on them, but because there are too many people digging them up.  So this is a “lane rental” scheme for utilities companies, encouraging them to make quick, dangerous and botched jobs on their road works by charging them by the hour for closing lanes on busy roads.  This will have the beneficial effect of smoothing the traffic flow.  But the scheme can’t go ahead until central government say it’s OK, and central government seem to think that they have more important things to be doing.

So Boris Johnson realises that if central government won’t listen to him, it will certainly listen to the 200 people who participate in his online poll and share his page on Friendface.

I voted “no” in the mayor’s poll.  Not because I think I’m sufficiently informed to comment on the desirability of an initiative that is likely to have complex and not entirely predictable effects, but simply because online polls are absurd.  Mainly, though, I wouldn’t be able to make my mind up until I know the Mayor’s proposals for how much the utilities companies will be fined per “cyclists dismount” sign, and the hourly rate for blocking the pavement.

Or is the mayor’s proposal precisely to incentivise a shift in utilities works out of the very important carriageway and into the unimportant bike lanes and footpaths?

If you build it they will come

On the London Cyclist thread “is there anything super about the Cycle Superhighways?,” we hear Chinese whispers on the reason why TfL decided against making real superhighways and instead came up with the overpriced and failed PR exercise that are the blue lines on the side of the road:

“TfL said the routes are simply not being used frequently enough to warrant separation of traffic.”

and,

Boris, when asked why the Superhighways are not segregated, always says “There is just not room on London’s roads”.

Whether Boris used one or both of these excuses, he is wrong.  The reason he is wrong is Transport Economics 101 stuff — the sort of thing that even amateurs like us understand.  Simply, the demand for transport — and especially the demand for a specific mode of transport in an area with competing modes — is extremely flexible, and easily adjusts to supply.

People like to go places.  If you give them fast and affordable railways, they will jump on the train to the seaside.  If you give them fast and affordable roads, they will drive their car to work.  If you give them budget airlines, they will herd into planes to southern Europe.  A new transport mode releases latent demand: previously, though they would have liked to have gone somewhere, they chose not to because it was too difficult or expensive.  And it induces demand in other ways: a new road creates car journeys by allowing small local shops and services to be closed and merged into large centralised versions that people have little choice but to drive to, or by removing the incentive for efficient means of transporting goods, or by making it feasible to develop residential suburbs and new towns far from centres of employment, etc.

This is why in densely populated places like the UK, building a new road to solve one problem always creates another before long: the new road makes driving easier and cheaper, so more people drive and they drive further and more frequently, putting additional pressure on all the existing infrastructure surrounding the new road.  We could bulldoze corridors through the cities and pave the whole countryside, build ten times the road capacity that we currently have, and the road network would be just as overloaded as it is now.  This we already knew.

What is less well known is that the reverse is just as true.  Make it more difficult to drive somewhere and people will not drive there.  Make taxis sit in traffic jams instead of subsidising their industry by allowing them into bus lanes, and their fares will take the train instead.  Make it more expensive for goods vehicles to get into central London and the businesses and organisations that are based there will stop being so wasteful with goods.  Impose airport taxes on budget flights to the continent and people will realise that they can have an equally appalling stag night somewhere nearer home.

Take away a transport route and our remarkably robust network copes just fine.  A sudden emergency causes disruption because people aren’t expecting it; but sufficiently well publicised road works have a far more modest impact because people adjust their plans around them — take a different route, move their journey to an off-peak time, or do something else instead.  Permanently closing a whole road is even better tolerated still: such closures do not leave the surrounding roads gridlocked, at least, not in the long term.  People shift modes and shift behaviours; and eventually, all of the businesses and development patterns that had adjusted to a world in which everybody drove down that road will happily adjust back to one in which they don’t.

The amount of road space that we have now is essentially arbitrary: it could go up or down without making the slightest difference to the traffic jams its users moan about.

So it is not true that our streets are too small to accommodate dedicated cycling facilities.  Our streets are already too small, and will always be too small, to accommodate even a tenth of the potential for private motor-vehicle use, and we cope with that situation.  The road network copes with this situation because nine out of ten Londoners are quite aware of the fact that trying to drive a car through town is an absurd thing to do, and they don’t do it.  Taking away a little bit more will make a negligible difference because a few of the more stubborn Motorists will wake up to the fact and the volume of traffic will adjust accordingly.

And it’s not true that there is no demand for segregated facilities, and anybody who says there isn’t must be living in a fantasy land.  Pick a random non-cycling London commuter and ask them about cycling: more often than not they will tell you that would love to be able to replace their horrible bus journey with a bike ride.  But ninety-nine out of a hundred of them will tell you that they don’t do so because the roads aren’t safe, and there’s nothing to stop a truck driving into them.  Not because they’re afraid that they might get sweaty, or because it occasionally rains, or because they don’t know how to use a spanner, or because they’ve never heard of cycling before.  Entirely because there is no infrastructure that is perceived to be safe.  Cycling has a modal share at the lower end of single figures; it could plausibly account for a third or more of commutes.  Provide fast, capacious, sensible, joined-up and conspicuously safe infrastructure and you will unleash the vast latent demand for cycling.

If you build it they will come.  The only reason not to that Boris has left is to protect his credentials with the primarily non-London Motorist Tories who he will one day want to vote for him to be prime-minister.

–Joe

Weekly War Bulletin, 25 Sep

As we know, Boris has been quietly dropping policies that improve our transport and built environment by cutting private and business vehicle use.  The already delayed Low Emission Zone, for example, has been pushed back another two years — so another two years of the smogs that cost the city millions of pounds and thousands of lives.

All Newspapers reported the story that Brake are backing helmets for hire bikes – they’re essential, apparently.  Indeed, Boris is terrified by people’s careless Borisbiking.  As CycaLogical points out, though, All Newspapers overlooked the next part of Brake’s recommendations — that traffic be cut, speed be cut, and more routes be de-Motorised.

Oona King thinks that cycling in London will take off only if we provide showers for “hot and sweaty” cyclists.  No mention of the one issue that non-cyclists most consistently cite as putting them off: too much traffic too badly driven, and the lack of sane de-Motorised infrastructure.

Car park fees at tube stations are to rise — a stealth fares hike says All Newspapers.  Presumably, since there is no other way to get to a tube station, Motorists will just have to drive all the way to their final destination instead.  And up and down the country local councils are continuing their War On The Motorist by considering raising parking fines.

From the department of absurd transport “solutions”: the 155mph 23 seat business-class “superbus“.  And the electric van fitted with sci-fi sound-effects, because people would obviously be unable to adapt to a world with quieter vehicles.

Instead, how about a more stepped introduction to driving, with recently-passed Motorists kept off the roads after dark?

Via Boing Boing: the story of an Illinois state trooper who sends emails while driving at 126mph, before inevitably veering into an oncoming car, killing two.  His comeuppance? A 30 month suspended sentence, two years off work on full pay, and the receipt of $75,000 worker’s compensation.  If that isn’t a harsh disincentive to drive dangerously…

The number of careless driving convictions is falling.  Interpret this fact as evidence for anything you like.

Cycling is cool — but not for professionals.  Therefore professionals are not cool.

Recall of Bentleys: the flying B mascot will impale the pedestrians that get hit by the cars, they found.  Obviously, it’s fine to sell something that you know will kill people, it’s only the impaling bit that’s wrong.

London Underground will be fined for flying flaps that slapped passengers on the platform.

The proposal to give Waterloo Station (a “much altered and uncoordinated mix of styles”) listed building status has been rejected, leaving Network Rail free to mess about it with it.

Brixton bus depot burned down.

Apparently it was car-free day on Wednesday.  Me neither.

Railway first-aiders say they’re not allowed to give first-aid to passengers.

And your moment of zen, via flickr blog and flickr user Brunocerous: the sad sight of an old tree downed by storms in NYC.

BJN_1152 tree v SUV

Weekly War Bulletin, 4 Sep

How to shift modal share to cycling?  Shut down the tube.  TfL say commuters should get on their bikes during the strikes that start today.

Prince Charles has another brilliant idea: a national tour to say nice things about cycling.  But how to get around such a big and difficult to traverse country as the UK?  How about a £100k private train?  “‘Peep peep,’ said Charles the Mental Engine to Thomas, as he was pulling Annie and Clarabel on the 08:27 stopping service to Birmingham New Street.  ‘Get out of my fucking way.  Don’t you know who I am?'”

A professor of marketing has discovered that sad non-cyclists envy us awesome cyclists.  This is not news.  One only needs to watch all the cabbies, bikers, and white van men sat in the advanced stop lane for cyclists at the lights, desperately hoping that people will see their position and mistake them for a cool bicyclist.

And from the desk of Professor Obvious: drivers are not very good at driving when they are angry.

We were supposed to be able to use hire bikes without a subscription and key around about now.  TfL now say casual users won’t be allowed to have a go until the new year.

And with other important transport projects being mothballed, scaled back, and dropped entirely, rumours are flying that Boris, fearing that the electorate will take it out on him, might give up and seek to return to Parliament, to represent Londoners as a back bench trouble maker.

Oxfordshire towns and villages can rent their own speed cameras for £5000 a year, after a residents’ backlash against the county’s cameras being switched off.

The motorways are full, and the M6 toll road has failed to solve the congestion problem around Birmingham, because Motorists will not pay for a road when there is a free one going to the same place.

Want to get to your destination three minutes quicker?  You can now take advantage of a new convenient fast-track level-crossing service from the British Judiciary, where you can put the lives of hundreds of people in danger for the competitive price of just £50.  Payment may be made by direct debit; no need to turn up in person to pay.  On days when revenue enforcement officers are unavailable, the service is free.

Police arrest drunk driver; crash his supercar into garden.  Heh.

London-Frankfurt direct trains are moving into the testing phase; but intra-national high-speed rail is going to face hiking nimbys.

Finally, your moment of zen: a cyclist with a reckless disregard for his own safety — where is his helmet?

Final reminder: Congestion Charge consultation

TfL’s consultation on proposed changes to the Congestion Charge ends today.  This is your final chance to send in your comments.

Briefly, the notable proposed changes are these:

  • Abolish the Western Extension Zone (WEZ) — the section in Kensington and Knightsbridge, west of Park Lane and east of Shepherd’s Bush.  This was a manifesto promise of the mayor.  The WEZ has been unpopular with rich tories who want to drive to posh Knightsbridge shops, and with the residents of Shepherd’s Bush, Hammersmith, and Wandsworth, who believe that it has merely shifted the congestion into their own streets.
  • More discounts and exemptions for cars with low CO2 emissions, including exemptions for plug-in hybrids and any conventional car that emits less than 100g/km.
  • Increasing the charge by £1, to £9.

Roughly, my comments on these were:

  • If the CCharge zone is merely redistributing congestion to other neighbourhoods, why not extend it, all the way to the M25 if necessary?  If the shifted-congestion claim is true, then TfL’s proposal is endorsing the return of congestion (even worse than before, given the recently remodelled streets) to Knightsbridge and Kensington.  I can’t say I’m much of a fan of these particular neighbourhoods, but our friends at NHM and Imperial might want to let the mayor know what they think about his endorsement of a congested and polluted Kensington.
  • This implies that the purpose of the CCharge is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  It’s not.  Carbon emissions are important, but there are a whole suite of other equally important considerations, most notably saving our streets from the blight of continuous noisy intimidating gridlocked traffic, and saving a few of us from the particulate pollutants that kill 4-5,000 Londoners every year.  The new exemptions are an extra invitation for people to burn diesel in our streets — releasing pollutants so deadly that they would, if produced by anything other than a car, be illegal, and which will cost London taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds — so long as they keep within the 100g/km CO2 limit
  • The price is, of course, absurd and regressive.  For most of the people who would want to drive in London — the bankers and drug dealers — £9 is nothing.  They’ll spend three times as much on lunch.  And for anybody who lives more than 30 miles out, it’s probably equal to a return train ticket.  The CCharge is failing, and will continue to fail, because the price is a token price — it’s not enough to put the Motorist off, but it’s sufficient to give them a sense that they have paid for a service, and are owed something in return, something that pedestrians, bus passengers, and cyclists have not paid for and are not owed.  The CCharge is the greatest example of our town planners attempting to manage the harm caused by car use, without actually solving the problem.  This practice is elsewhere exemplified by one-way systems, traffic signals, speed cameras, bus lanes, double-yellow lines, and forests of road signs.  Easily ignored, often useless, and yet frequently cited as evidence of the “War On The Motorist”.  Managing the problem isn’t working.  It’s time to simply close the central zone roads to any motor vehicle that doesn’t have a very good reason for being there.

I’m not really sure what I’m asking the mayor to do.  Strengthen the CCharge as an interim solution, until the problem can be tackled properly, I think.

(Tip of the hat to Clean Air London, @CleanAirLondon.)

When you start paying road tax…

The Grauniad reports that London is about to breach its annual allowance of “bad air days”.  The consequence of the city’s authorities’ impotence in preventing summer smogs is that they will be fined £300m.  Three hundred million pounds.

And four to five thousand people will die prematurely every year.

That’s twenty five times as many people as die in “collisions” on London’s roads; more even than get seriously injured.

The Guardian rightly chastise the authorities — primarily the mayor — for their hopeless incompetence in allowing such a massive preventable loss of life to occur, and for throwing away such a vast quantity of our money at a time when we’re all being told we must tighten our belts.  It was Boris’s absurd decision to reduce the congestion charge footprint, and his pointless delaying of the low emission zone introduction that are to blame, they say.  They come so close to identifying the problem.  And yet they don’t actually mention it: they don’t name the actual source of the problem.  Why do we have smogs?  The politicians are to blame for ignoring the problem, but who created the problem in the first place?

We have smogs in London because a dangerous minority of the population are invited to burn oil in our streets; because a selfish minority elect to use a singularly inappropriate method of transporting themselves across it.  We have smogs because the public has chosen to devote vast tracts of land and sophisticated expensive infrastructure to the proposition that driving into central London is acceptable behaviour.  We have smogs because London’s authorities have simply decided that what the city needs is twenty one thousand dirty diesel burning black cabs running around half empty all day, every day; needs them so much that they are to be given an even freer reign over our city than the already free reign given to private cars and trucks.

We have smogs because people don’t consider or care for the consequences of their actions.  And we have smogs because some people think that the consequences don’t matter because they’re paying for it.  “When you start paying road tax and insurance and get a number plate and MOT…”

Your and my council tax will be paying for London’s £300 million fine; a collective punishment for the selfish behaviour of the few.  Meanwhile, no amount of any tax will make it OK for five thousand Londoners to die slowly, painfully, miserably, rasping through ruined lungs.

Weekly War Bulletin, 26 June

It was budget week, and the nation is up for sale bit by bit — before the bailiffs can get to it.  Starting with High Speed 1.

The government can’t even make money by bleeding the poor hard-done-by rule-breaking motorist dry.  The BBC reports that 1.5 million drivers could have been illegally fined for breaking no-right-turn signs.  This is an outrageous act of war on the motorist, and as the BBC article rightly intones, we should feel sorry for those who are innocent on a technicality.  There’s nothing more dignifying for a driver than being not-guilty of a crime on a technicality.

Olympics organisers are fretting about how they could hold cycling events without — horror — inconveniencing other people who might be trying to use London’s roads.  Olypics organisers have never before shown any sign of caring about the lives of those living in the cities that they descend upon.  We suspect that this spontaneous display of sympathy is actually cover for a more vexing problem: how to deal with all the athletes who would be desaddled by the potholes along the route chosen.

Stats say: cycling miles up 4.4%, driving miles down for the second year running — a historic first — cycling deaths down 10%, but injuries up.  So cyclists are no less likely to “collide” with vehicles, they’re just less likely to kill themselves in the process.

We were wrong: “Superhighways” will have specialised engineering features — mirrors for truck drivers to see people passing on the left at traffic lights.  This initiative assumes that truck drivers stop at traffic lights, rather than at an angle just beyond the advance stop line, where they will be unable to use the mirror.  Still, it’s not really about anybody being able to see anything: it’s to remind cyclists that “they should not be on the left-hand side of vehicles.”  And what could be a better reminder?  A one-metre wide green strip with a bicycle icon running to the left of the vehicles leading up to the lights, perhaps?

Hurrah!  Boris will run for another term.  We can only guess at what fabulous fantastical and revolutionary ideas for fixing London’s transport he would come up with in a further four years.  No need to guess his rival Ken’s policies, though.  He’d fix it with an iphone app for parking spaces — a sure solution to the problem that most people driving in central London are supposedly looking for one.

Meanwhile, in the regions…

In Buckinghamshire, Peter Silverman has become a local hero for restoring a great national beauty spot — the M40.  Fed up with the litter lining the once pleasant chocolate box motorway, he took none other than our old friend Phillip Hammond to court to force him to go and pick it all up.  The Guardian article even provides a helpful picture of the great piles of rubbish blotting the roadside — presumably taken by Mr Silverman stopping on the hard shoulder and exiting his vehicle for the shot.  Possibly while having one of his M40 picnics.

In Devon, killer has weapon confiscated for two years; sentenced to community service.  It was all just an accident that occurred in two seconds of distraction.  The Cycling Layer ponders on the law that says it’s fine for people to put themselves within two seconds of killing somebody.

Gunman on rampage in Kent.

Dog arrested for driving while intoxicated.

And finally, via els76uk on twitter, the traffic cam for the Strand near Charing Cross during last night’s Critical Mass: