Tag Archives: tfl

Westminster and TfL: quietly making things worse

Traffic wasn’t going anywhere fast around Picadilly Circus tuesday lunchtime. It was backed all the way from the bottom of the still one-way Haymarket up onto Picadilly Circus and beyond:

Trying to turn onto the newly two-way Pall Mall:

And up the still one-way Lower Regent Street:

It’s presumably because we’re at a half-way stage, where Pall Mall has gone two-way, Haymarket and Regent Street remain one-way, and Picadilly is half-closed and half-way transformed:

All of these works are, of course, a massive wasted opportunity. But they can’t make things any worse than they were, can they? They could, if the announced removal of traffic lights makes crossing the road more difficult for pedestrians. But the new cage-less central reservation is supposed to make it easy for pedestrians to cross wherever they like through gaps in the traffic. We’ll see about that.

But Westminster have quietly made things worse in another way. I’ve not seen any blogs mention it, and can find no note of the change from Westminster. But I am sure I do not hallucinate it.

Jermyn Street runs parallel to Picadilly a single block south. As Google Maps indicates, it’s a one-way street, westbound from Haymarket to St James Street. A quiet back street, it provides an alternative to the Picadilly bus lane, or going all the way around the system on Pall Mall. Popular with cyclists* — though perhaps Westminster wouldn’t know that, since nobody really bothers to count them.

Except that this is now the view from Haymarket looking down Jermyn Street:

You can see where once a solid white line protected a cycle lane heading west. It has been burned out because this short section of Jermyn Street between Haymarket and Lower Regent Street, marked in red on the map, has been reversed, without even keeping the cycle lane as a contraflow, thus putting an end to this route.

Why? Smoothing the traffic flow, of course. And it’s for the benefit of pedestrians, you know. While pedestrian crossing lights remain at the intersection of Regent and Jermyn Streets (not that they are either necessary or helpful when a static bendy bus has been blocking them for five minutes), since traffic can only turn into, not out of Jermyn Street, a phase of the lights can be eliminated.

You can see the previous arrangement still on Streetview: a bicycle cut through for continuing along Jermyn Street, while preventing motor vehicles using it as a rat-run. Clever of Westminster to get rid of it under the cover of fiddling with the traffic lights.

The only question for which the answer isn’t obvious is whether this work was all of Westminster’s own initiative, or whether TfL put the idea to them.

It’s probably for the best. With all the chaos on Pall Mall and Picadilly, the narrow quiet route west from Regent Street is now choked with trucks and coaches trying to break out of the endless jams around it.

* I used the route frequently on the way to events at the Royal Institution on Albemarle Street, just off Picadilly. In the early nineteenth century, events at the Royal Institution were so popular that Albemarle Street became congested with carriages. After a particularly well attended lecture by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, it was made the world’s first one-way street, all in the name of smoothing the flow of this traffic.

Once more unto the bridge, dear friends, once more

After the Conservative group of the London Assembly walked out on the first attempt to discuss Jenny Jones’s Blackfriars Bridge motion, the members redeemed themselves somewhat by voting unanimously — all parties, all members — against making Blackfriars Bridge and the Blackfriars Station road junction even worse for cyclists and pedestrians. Boris has refused their plea for a review of the speed limit increase, but even he recognises that the plans are nowhere near good enough for the centre of a modern world-class city.

But the mayor has lost control of his officers and TfL quietly revealed on tuesday that the diggers will move in this weekend — and be out again by monday morning.

Tomorrow is the last friday of the month: there will therefore be a Critical Mass.  The Mass gathers under Waterloo Bridge on the South Bank and usually sets off on a spontaneous route around London any time between 6 and 7. ***Update: a more specific protest gathering will ride on Blackfriars Bridge at 6pm. The rides will merge somewhat, so come to both/either. *** Critical Mass means all sorts of things to all sorts of people; the one thing that unites everybody is the belief that we should be able to have a nice bicycle ride in our city. The overwhelming majority of Londoners are denied that bicycle ride because of TfL’s roads, and TfL are acting like they’d rather it were all of us. Set aside everything else you might think about Critical Mass, focus on that issue, and come along. RSVP on Facebook, and invite your friends!

Then on monday we will be gathering again en masse at 8:15am on Blackfriars Bridge for a short, gentle, polite and peaceful ride around the junction, before disbanding to whatever it is we all do. RSVP on Facebook, and invite your friends!

Bring placards, t-shirts, Boris wigs, cargo bikes. “TfL will kill again” is my favourite slogan so far.

This battle is about so much more than a few city clerks on Bromptons — or whatever the stereotype of the London cyclist is this week — having to deal with more hostile traffic on the way to the office from Waterloo. Blackfriars represents a battle over the very basics of what sort of a place we want London (and Britain) to be. By driving these great roads and massive junctions through the centre of our cities we are not just sacrificing — sometimes literally — cyclists and mass cycling. We are destroying a chance to step towards a fairer, more pleasant and more liveable city. And with that we are falling behind the progress of the rest of the world and sacrificing London’s future as a competitive world city. And all to avoid inconveniencing the pampered powerful few, and to accommodate a bunch of wasteful business practices.

TfL have misjudged the mood on this one. In the 1950s the future was the car and road transport, and for five decades TfL could get away with their assumptions and their institutional motorism. The times are a changin’. We need to show TfL that they can’t get away with this in 2011.

There has been much comment on TfL’s actions being a failure of democracy — by ignoring our elected representatives and by putting the convenience of the few who drive in central London ahead of the many who walk and cycle. But TfL’s failures go way back. Our society is supposed to be more than a democracy, better than a pure democracy. Our society is democracy but with safeguards to protect the weak and vulnerable few from the powerful. But our streets are the product of fifty years of letting the powerful drive out — and drive into — the vulnerable. It’s time for a u-turn: come and tell TfL it needs to be driving things the other way.

If you haven’t done so already, read why Danny and Mark have been stirred to protest this issue.

The out-of-sight commuters that don’t matter to TfL

The sky lightening, I head for a bridge with a scene that would suit a subtle sunrise photograph, as Big Ben rang for four fifteen.  Bored policemen loiter beside their van, parked in the Westminster Bridge bike lane.  Tired taxi drivers inch across advance stop lines and cautiously through red lights.  A refrigerated truck of fresh Dutch imports — tulips, one must assume — obediently follows the satnav’s directions onto the Embankment.  On the pavement before the entrance to Portcullis House is a man in City of Westminster hi-vis vest, bent on hands and knees with a brush and a big barrel of hot soapy water.  Yesterday’s dirt must not be allowed to stick to the soles of our dear leaders.  And three late-teenaged blokes on BSOs head home from the night shifts, back to their mums’ flats on the housing estates of south London, weaving around the tourist-free zone that is the Westminster Bridge footway.  (And why not? The pigeons can’t call You and Yours or have their say in the Daily Mail letters pages.)

Waterloo Bridge is delightfully empty still, thanks to yesterday’s fire.  Somehow, London’s roads seem to have been coping with the reduced capacity.

Most of the traffic is simply diverting to the next bridge — Blackfriars — where, as St Paul’s announces five, they have a sufficiently uninhibited run to hit forty or more before they make it to the red lights and temporary twenty limit at the now infamous north junction.  Dawdling past them on an average hybrid bike without lights (but that’s hardly needed by now anyway), a man in an old helmet and orange hi-viz bib heads north on the pavement.  I stop him briefly to ask him where he’s going and what he knows about pavement cycling.  He can’t talk for long — he’s come from Lewisham and has to hurry on to a zone 1 tube station, I won’t say which, for an early customer services shift.

It shouldn’t surprise anybody that the reason this railwayman was cycling on the pavement is because he is terrified of mixing with vans and minicabs that are autopiloted through a cycle of rapid acceleration, flagrant speeding, and sudden stops as they tour the traffic lights of central London.  He was vaguely aware that he wasn’t actually allowed to cycle on the pavement, but since he only dared cycle in these quiet early hours, with just a sparse scattering of tired night-shifters and early-rising joggers to negotiate, he had a reasonable argument for it being a victimless crime.  He’s only cycling because the trains don’t start early enough.  He would never attempt to cycle anywhere when heading home through the bustling streets of lunchtime, road or pavement.  He isn’t crazy.

You’ll recognise these sunrise pavement cyclists from the work of Dave Horton: they are the people, often poor and marginalised, who cycle despite all of the barriers, just because there really is no alternative.

So when somebody high-up in TfL tells you that speed of motor-vehicles doesn’t matter outside of the rush hour, spare a thought not just for those who want to use their bicycle for things other than a commute, and not just for the schoolchildren whose day does not align with the normal rush, but also for the tens of thousands of Londoners who work non-standard hours, scrubbing the front steps of the powerful and making sure that everybody else’s morning trains run.

TfL directors, it turns out, are failing in their duties to their own staff on the ground.  Who would have believed it possible?

And it wasn't even worth it for the photography.  The clouds gathered for a boring grey morning.

And after all that, it wasn't even worth it for the photography. The clouds soon gathered for a boring grey morning.

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Bridge Diet time

The latest from Streetfilms explains how everyone, especially motorists, can benefit from taking road space away from cars:

Boris Johnson promised to “smooth the traffic flow”.  It’s a vague policy which could be interpreted in any number of ways, and used to support a great variety of often conflicting policies.  I think when most people imagine a “smooth” traffic flow, though, they do not think of high motor vehicle speed or great motor vehicle capacity.  They think of reliable journeys.  Consistent journeys.  They could be reliably slow and consistently congested if those are the prevailing conditions.  And that’s fine.  The point of things being “smooth” is not to shove more people though the system in shorter times.  It’s to eliminate surprises.  A “smooth” flow means that deliveries leave the depot at the same time each day and always reach the shops on time; people get the same bus each morning and are never late for work.  Most people, I think, would interpret “smoothing the flow” as a move away from the impossible fantasy of solving congestion, to a new fantasy policy of reducing random one-off congestion incidents — of making congestion a little more predictable.  Businesses can plan for the predictable.

The biggest cause of unpredictable congestion is crashes.  Crashes are themselves frequently caused by excessive speed and complicated road layouts.  Road layouts that require lane-changing and lane-merging, especially.  Things like this:

Consider the southbound carriageway of this proposed TfL road design.  Vehicles from two roads feed into the carriageway and have to sort themselves into two southbound lanes and a right-turn lane.  The drivers of those vehicles will have to negotiate with buses that will be crossing all of the lanes from their left-hand-side bus stop to their own special right-turn bus lane.  They will need to be checking for the bicycles which have to share their lanes, and which may be wobbling out of the under-size bicycle lane (where it is provided); pedestrians at the crossings and islands; and bicycles which are dumped in the road from a perpendicular bike lane.  Certainly many of the drivers of those vehicles will choose to swerve around such obstacles, taking advantage of the raised 30mph speed limit, rather than slow down for them.  And after enjoying a couple of hundred yards with two lanes through which to meander, motor vehicles will all have to merge into a single lane — just at the moment that they are all racing away from a set of pedestrian crossing lights — because one of their lanes becomes a bus lane at the south end of the new layout.  All this high-speed lane changing and merging is a recipe for crashes.  Unpredictable congestion.

Indeed, even when it doesn’t result in crashes, the waves of braking that follow a lane change or merge still causes “lumpy” traffic.  (Tom Vanderbilt’s blog and book explain the phenomenon and its subtleties excellently.)

I would suggest to TfL, and to its chairman, that a road design like this could conflict with the mayor’s election promise to “smooth” the traffic flow.  But I know they would come back with the perfect solution.  They would remove the bus lane restriction on Blackfriars Bridge.

In the meantime, we have one day left to contribute to the “engagement” on this road design.

When did trucks become a problem?

Too busy even to make lunch, I picked up some of the ever awesome streetfood from Simply Thai at Exmouth Market.  Interestingly, TfL had picked the market as a method for distributing their latest marketing campaign: some truck shaped postcards reminding one that undertaking at junctions can be fatal.  The campaign has prompted another outburst of blogging noting that the authorities are engaging in victim blame and doing too little to improve standards of drivers and hauliers.  The Cycling Lawyer, for example, discusses the need for more cuddlier trucks in London.  The Lawyer suggests that rather than frightening cyclists, the authorities should be thinking about things like enforcing proper design standards on lorry owners, and reducing urban speed limits.  The LCC have at least retaliated with their own truck/cyclist safety campaign.

What never seems to be asked at all, though, is why these trucks are even driving into London.  It is always simply assumed that they have to be there.  Suggest in public that the congestion charge should be many times higher, or that central London roads should simply be closed to private and commercial motor transport altogether, and somebody will point out that we all rely on the goods that are driven in.  It would be unfair to penalise those whose livelihoods depend upon cheap and easy access to our city centres.  People doing vital things — like the truck delivering ice to an establishment on Charing Cross Road during last night’s critical mass; the truck on the double yellows blocking Ludgate Hill in the monday morning rush hour so that it could deliver critical life sustaining water to offices; or the truck on Queen Victoria Street that was filling up with dirty table cloths to be taken to an industrial estate for washing.  How else do you propose that offices might get water, bars get ice, or hotels get clean towels?

When the Congestion Charge was introduced, traffic in central London fell by 25%: the roads freed up and journey times fell by a third.  But three years in, traffic was only 16% below pre-CC levels.  By the end of 2007, traffic speeds and delays were back to pre-CC levels.  The long-term effect that the Charge has had is a shift in the make-up of central London traffic rather than a reduction in congestion or emissions, or an improvement in our environs.  Unfortunately, Boris seems to have stopped collecting data on the CCZ traffic, but the data from 2007 already hints at a trend (take a look at page 40 of the TfL report for a nice visualisation of the change in the context of overall numbers of vehicles):

Table 3.1  Key year-on-year changes to traffic entering the central London charging zone during charging hours, 07:00-18:00. [To keep column headings concise, they indicate change compared to previous year; I've also condensed vehicle type names.]

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2002-2007
All vehicles -14% 0% -2% 0% 0% -16%
- 4+ wheels -18% -1% -2% -1% 0% -21%
Chargeable -27% -1% -3% 0% 1% -29%
- Cars & minicabs -33% -1% -3% -1% 0% -36%
- Vans -11% -1% -4% 2% 1% -13%
- Lorries -10% -5% -4% 6% 9% -5%
Non chargeable 17% 1% -1% -1% -1% 15%
-  Taxis 17% -1% 1% -3% -5% 7%
- Buses 23% 8% -4% -3% 5% 31%
- Motorbikes 13% -2% -9% 0% -3% -3%
- Bicycles 20% 8% 7% 7% 12% 66%

So cars (shame that they grouped these with minicabs, which I suspect have a very different profile) fell immediately and stayed down, at least as far as 2007.  Many of those drivers shifted to taxis; a few took to bicycles and motorbikes (but the effect is not impressive, given the low base rate compared to cars).  But the potentially interesting pattern, I think, is how vans and lorries initially fell (although, as we would expect given their vital work, by much less than cars), but have since started growing again.  It’s a shame that the data stops three years ago, too soon to draw any definite conclusions about a growth trend for deliveries.  But it’s enough for me to speculate on a hypothesis.

My hypothesis would be that, by initially reducing the journey times through central London, the congestion charge had the counter-intuitive effect of making it cheaper and more attractive for businesses and organisations to drive ever more goods through town.  Transport infrastructure projects have shown again and again that in highly and densely populated places like England, there is always far more latent demand for transport infrastructure than can ever be provided.  Create vacant capacity and within a decade or so, people will have found a way to use that capacity.  (Take it away, and within a decade everybody will have forgotten why they needed it.)  Offices and bars have discovered that driving bottled water and bagged ice into town is so absurdly cheap that it’s a more attractive deal than buying a mains water cooler or an ice machine; hotels have discovered that driving their bedsheets to a barn on the M25 makes more business sense than paying for a washing machine and a maid to operate it.  Waste has become cheap.  All London’s spoons are plastic now.

The numbers from TfL aren’t good enough to say whether businesses are or are not finding creative new ways to re-fill central London’s briefly free-flowing roads.  But opposite the Exmouth Market stands one great big anecdote: the Royal Mail.  The Mount Pleasant Sorting Office is the largest in London, situated amongst the creative industries and start-ups of Farringdon — not the busiest part of zone 1, but well within the CCharge Zone.  The Mail must contribute thousands of pounds to the CCharge every day for the scores of articulated trucks — including road trains with multiple trailers — and hundreds of vans that drive the mail into central London from around the country and around the world, to be sorted and driven out again.  These are the trucks that you have to watch out for turning at Old Street or the Elephant & Castle.  These are the trucks that will broadside you changing lanes on the Farringdon and King’s Cross Roads.  These are the trucks that TfL are warning you about while you buy your lunch in the shadow of the sorting office at Exmouth Market.

Alongside Mount Pleasant, the Post Office had a dozen big district sorting offices in central London.  Today it drives mail between the remaining ones in articulated trucks.  But for 76 years, the mail was shuttled between seven of the sorting offices on awesome little computer-controlled electric trains that ran on the private underground Mail Rail line, from the Whitechapel office to the Paddington office.  It collected the out-of-town mail straight off the trains at Paddington and Liverpool Street, and sent the mail out again to the same stations.  At their final destination offices, the mail would of course be loaded on to bicycles for the final mile to your door.  Very little mail now comes in by train; the bicycle they announced this year was over — the roads have become too dangerous lately, they said.  And the quiet, safe, direct and dedicated little electric railway under London?  The Royal Mail announced its closure in April 2003, two months after the Congestion Charge was introduced.  Running a railway had not become more difficult or expensive, but driving a truck had become vastly easier and cheaper.

The Congestion Charge is a great money maker for TfL, and a great incentive for a section of drivers to give up their cars.  But as a mechanism for keeping London traffic moving, it might ultimately be doomed to failure, along with all the other schemes that attempt to solve road transport problems by creating vacant road capacity: there will always be somebody with a new idea for using that capacity.  Again, the only hope for our city centres seems to be to reduce road capacity: to close a significant proportion of roads and lanes for private motor vehicles.  The offices and bars and hotels will cope.  They might even rediscover that magical device that we all have: the one that produces water at the merest turn of a tap.

Weekly War Bulletin, 14 Aug

A slightly delayed one, as I just caught up with the newsfeeds after returning from Beijing — of which more later this week.

The justice system’s response to killing somebody by driving a car over the speed limit in a residential area as an unsupervised learner driver?  Eight weeks curfew and £85 legal costs.  A curfew.

It’s alright, though.  A car insurance company tells us that all our transport problems can be solved if everyone on the roads just shows each other a bit of respect.

The Chief of Cambridgeshire Police agrees: driving offences are the middle classes’ anti-social behaviour of choice.  I propose reforming the legal treatment of anti-social driving such that motoring offences come with a simple easy to assign ASBO that indefinitely bans the Motorist from going within one mile of a motor vehicle.

But the hundreds of pedestrians killed by cars?  Pffft.  They were probably listening to iPods, so they’ve really only got themselves to blame, shows research by Motorist lobby group.

Anti-social Motorists caught by the dwindling traps are electing to sit through re-education programmes to save themselves from points.  But the ultimate natural alternative traffic calming has now been discovered: carefully positioned trees.

I have no interest in cycling as a competitive sport, and apparently a competitive sportsman cyclist who I’m informed is accomplished in the field has no interest in cycling outside of the velodrome, preferring to race around in his jag without looking where he’s going.

More farce on the tube as failure to follow safety procedures leads to a runaway engineering train chasing panicked passenger trains for four miles.  And boss Peter Hendy jokes that tube staff haven’t got enough to do: ho ho ho, look at you all, nothing to do, he he, I may as well have you all fired.  Hah.

With record passenger numbers, Heathrow is clearly full: the T3 drop-off had a 5-car crash.

Spoilt brats play smash the toys in Knightsbridge; charged with dangerous driving.  It’s alright, just a bit of fun, don’t worry, we’ll pay somebody to clear up afterwards.

Allegedly more people are cycling.  Or they’re cycling a tiny bit further.  Or they’re buying new bikes, at least.  The CTC are celebrating this historic victory.

Where have all the hire bicycles gone?  Try this map.

Careful with these hire bikes, though.  After they arrived in Denver, the Republican candidate for state governor uncovered the bikes’ role in an internationalist anti-American plot.

Posh South Bank restaurants want riff-raff on bikes banned from the riverside.

While the train operating companies want to know if you’d be interested in hiring a bike from their stations…

There’s a bug in the oyster system: TfL don’t seem to have worked out quite why it’s double charging some customers when they top up — and don’t seem all that bothered about finding out.

Finally, while I’d usually hate anything that came out of a marketing department on principle, I’ve been suckered into giving free marketing to the creators of this ad.  Your moment of zen…

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.)

Weekly War Bulletin, 24 July

TfL aren’t happy about delays to the cycle-hire scheme.  I’d have thought TfL would have bigger contractor fuckups to get upset about — implementation of the bike hire scheme looks fabulously competent compared to most transport projects.

Speaking of which, TfL have resorted to banning colour photocopies and first-class mail, in order to save every penny.  Network Rail, though, seem happy to chuck another £600k bonus at boss Iain Coucher, with the DfT actively stepping back from the matter.

Kids in Slough are shining laser pens at aeroplanes; kids near King’s Cross are chucking rubble at sub-surface line trains.  Woman with veil thrown off Russell Square bus; Metroline investigate.

Hammersmith & City line closed for three weeks in order to demolish a taxi rank at Paddington in preparation for Crossrail.  That’s, erm, the war on taxis?  No engineering work during the olympics, though.  The IOC and olympics organisers have decided that they can cause enough disruption by themselves.

Regeneration plans at Wembley include a residential and retail development focussed on a street that people will be expected not to drive on.  That’s the war on the motorist, that is.