Tag Archives: tube

This pretense of neutrality

On Saturday I wrote about the leaked draft of the Tories’ coalition’s draft new planning policy document:

LAs are told to take into account existing local car ownership rates when doing this.  Fair enough, but why aren’t they also told to take into account the elasticity of modal share in the local area?

The line reminded me of the comment made recently by Andrew Boff, summarising the views of Conservative members of the London Assembly, who recently rejected the idea of a “road user hierarchy” which puts cyclists and pedestrians above motor vehicle users:

“It is true that we [the Conservatives] are, by instinct, anti-hierarchical and I agree with you that we should be making decisions to accommodate people’s choices not what we think their choices should be.”

Boff’s statement and the planning policy document imply the Tory position is that politicians should keep their own ideals out of transport planning and merely provide for the journeys that are already being made — to remain neutral, and let the people choose.  Leaving aside how this fits with the idea that creating new journeys is required to boost the economy (“roads for prosperity” under Thatcher; high-speed rail and reduced planning control under the current government), the idea that merely “making decisions to accommodate” the modes that people currently “choose” to use could be either a neutral or a desirable policy is either spectacularly naive or spectacularly dishonest.

People’s transport “choices” are informed by the real world. The fact that somebody is making a specific journey by a specific mode does mean that they choose that journey and that mode or that they wouldn’t prefer to go somewhere else or use a different mode if it were available. This should be self evident. I write from a village in Dorset where people have today “chosen” not use the bus or train.  Their choice may be informed by the fact that neither have been provided.

It is impossible to make a transport decision, even a decision to “accommodate” the status quo, which does not affect people’s choices, because people’s choices do not reflect an ideal isolated from the real world.  And “carry on with what we’ve had for fifty years” is no less a political decision than “do something different,” because what we’ve had for fifty years is itself the result of a political decision.  Cities do not naturally grow up with eight lane roads running through them; there is no objectively correct traffic signal priorities determined by the laws of physics.  These are things that we have been given as the result of political decisions, decisions which affect our choices for which modes of transport to use, and more importantly, which modes not to use, however much we might want to use them.

This is a pretty core principle which affects everything in transport.  Politicians must understand this if they are to get it right.

A couple of quick examples that passed my eyes this week (just a couple — really, any transport project or infrastructure could illustrate the principle).

First, Ian Visits reviews the history of the Docklands development, and the reason that the DLR was built.  The original idea was that the Jubilee Line would be extended through the derelict industrial lands of the East.  But the government took a look and realised that nobody was trying to make that journey — well duh, there was nothing and nobody there — and concluded that the £450 million would be wasted building a tube line for a journey that nobody made.  So the Docklands Development Corporation built the light railway instead, and of course the glass skyscrapers and posh apartments soon followed.  Suddenly there were a lot of people making journeys to and from the Docklands, so they reversed the earlier decision and extended the Jubilee Line out to it.  Now there are 64 million journeys a year on the DLR, over 40 million through Canary Wharf on the Jubilee Line, and now Crossrail is on the way.  The whole point of the Docklands redevelopment was “build it and they will come”.  Saying “they don’t come so there’s no point building here” clearly missed that point.

Second, in Reversing Dr Beeching, which looked at the fact that Scotland (and to a lesser extent Wales) is reopening its railways, the new Kincardine Line, north of the Firth of Forth in Fife, was explored.  The line connects the town of Kincardine to Stirling and the rest of the railway network.  In the planning stages, all of the journeys made in the catchment area were analysed, and an estimate was made of how many of the journeys to Stirling would shift onto the railway.  About 150,000 journeys a year were predicted, and the line only really got built at this time because it could also be used to get coal to the nearby power station. But of course, in the first year of operation it took three times as many passengers as predicted.  Why?  Because the railway opened opportunities for people to work and shop and spend their leisure time in Stirling and Glasgow, instead of having to drive to Dunfirmline or Falkirk.  The fact that people were driving to Falkirk before the railway was built is not evidence that they wouldn’t rather have been going to Stirling by train.

There is always a difference between people’s transport ideal and the least-worst option that’s available in the real world.  That difference is latent demand.  There was latent demand for a railway to Stirling, and there was latent demand for a tube line to the Docklands.  The fact that people were making different journeys, to different places, by different modes, was not evidence that the new lines, when built, would not be used.

(This is, incidentally, why the government’s decision not to pursue a network of electric vehicle charging points, though the correct decision, was made for the wrong reason.)

London can never provide for everybody’s ideal means of getting around.  Most people in London travel in overcrowded buses and overcrowded tube trains, not because they want to, but because those are the least worse options available.  Maybe on their journey they are dreaming of an ideal world where there is room and resources enough for all of us to have our own personal helicopters, but there isn’t.  Or perhaps they have a more down-to-earth fantasy of room and resources enough for us all to drive into Central London, where congestion has magically been solved.  Perhaps they have already abandoned those dreams, and merely long for the day when they can onto a bicycle without fear of being run off the roads by the trucks and taxis.  The politician’s job is to eliminate the impossible and decide which are the least worst remaining options.  That inevitably means accommodating some people’s ideals more closely than others’.

I fear I’m labouring the point, and anyway, the Tory assembly members’ argument fails on, from the politician’s point of view, a much more basic and important point: if Tory AMs think that the people who take the bus, or the people on the tube, or the people sat in cars in traffic jams, or the people braving the streets on bicycles are content with the transport choices available to them and would like their representatives to carry on giving them more of the same, they’re clearly not talking to their electorate, who would disabuse them in a second.

Weekly War Bulletin, 20 Nov

For really large values of “week”.  I was too busy to digest October’s news as it happened, so here’s a quick look at the stories that stood out since the last Bulletin.  Normal service should be resumed from next week.

Continue reading

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?

Weekly War Bulletin, 28 Aug

The Motorist ranks are divided by news that the suckers who pay for insurance are subsidising, to the tune of £50 per driver per year, the 2 million who don’t bother to get insured on account of the fact that they’ll almost certainly get away with it, and even if they don’t, the worst they’ll get is a slap on the wrist.  But the AA, always quick to spot an unfair attempt to blame the poor hard done by Motorist, has found that the high cost of insurance is not the fault of people driving uninsured, but of those who are killed or injured by drivers and who subsequently exaggerate the seriousness of their deaths and injuries so that they can over-claim.

And the Institute of Advanced Motorists, who must surely be anti-Motorist impostors, are even claiming that 70% of drivers are in favour of safety cameras.  It’s almost as if they’re suggesting that Tory newspapers have invented the War On The Motorist, and that in fact most drivers do not think that speeding is acceptable behaviour.  Everyone already knew that the IAM were imposters.  But what’s this?  The AA signing a letter in favour of speed cameras?  What has happened to the great institutions of Motorism?

Luckily, Motorists can unite against local councils who want to tax people for parking at work.  It’s just another stealth tax on the working man.  A War On The…, well, you know the rest.  Meanwhile, in Brent, Motorists are being bribed to give up their residents’ parking permits, with vouchers for bikes, season tickets and car clubs on offer.

Luckily, Super Philip Hammond to the rescue: central government might step in again and veto these anti-Motorist councils and their parking taxes.  And more importantly, Hammond has saved the pub industry, by agreeing that preventing drink driving would be bad for business, and is therefore unacceptable.

Cycling England, the quango administering Bikeability training courses and Cycling Cities looks likely to be cut.  What does anyone need Bikeability training for anyway, when we have PCSOs to teach people how to cycle safely and courteously — as they have with the 84 year old pavement cycling war veteran.  Police around the country are cracking down on the menace of anti-social cycling.

Manufacturer of 200mph car is baffled as to why they keep crashing.

This week, it rained.  The tube got a bit damp and stopped working.  And the first monthly tube strike is coming up in two weeks, as TfL proceed with plans to close ticket offices, arguing that modern technology has made many redundant.  Depot staff are also walking out over the coming months.

Every time is peak time on the railway now: rush hour has been redefined, so that train companies can charge more for longer.

TfL are having to manage the daily problem of Hire Bikes piling up around Waterloo in the evening.

Metal railings have collided with a bus in Picadilly Circus, injuring one.  This presumably makes things easier for the proposed Picadilly Circus remodelling, which will remove the remaining railings.

Stoned pop singer drives Range Rover into Snappy Snaps; not allowed to drive for six months.

And finally, Londonist has the architects’ pictures of the new Blackfriars Station: all pedestrians are expected to be ghosts by the time it opens.

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…

Weekly War Bulletin, 31 July

Apparently some sort of new bicycle thing — a hire scheme of some sort — launched in London on Friday.  After things got heated with an organised anti-bank stickering campaign, a man was arrested for kicking one of the poor things.  And if we had known that usage on Friday would be free — and with hindsight, we probably should have expected it — we’d have taken one on the Mass.

The Olympic Road Network (the news have been misnaming it Route — all of the routes are in fact roads) has been confirmed: Park Lane, Embankment and Upper Thames Street are in.  25,000 “sponsors and their guests” will be able to use them, thus guaranteeing that the Olympics will not be ruined by the absence of “sponsors and their guests”.  Some are already expressing their shock at hearing that even taxis will not be allowed to use them.  We really have been expertly conditioned to believe that taxis have some sort of right push in and drive wherever they like.  With the fine for “improper use” at £100 (or, in newspeak, £200 with a 50% discount if paid on time), a nicely flowing Olympic lane will no doubt prove very tempting to the sort of idiot who already thinks it’s a good idea to drive in the congestion charging zone.

Ho ho.  Parking, eh?  Harrods owners’ luxuary cars clamped on Knightsbridge.  Kensington & Chelsea council have realised that a £70 fine means nothing to the sort of person who already thinks that it’s a good idea to drive into their borough, and so instead of a token fine that merely gives the fine payer the feeling of having paid for a service, K&C are taking away the children’s toys and making them stand in the corner.

Those new Victoria line trains that we’ve been expecting for three years turn out not to work perfectly first time.  They shut down if you stand too close to the doors, and are therefore described as “23 times less reliable” than the old ones.  Except, as London Reconnections points out, this won’t be a surprise to the engineers and project managers, who will know that this is how engineering projects work, and be ready with the fix right away.

Of a more long term concern to tube commuters should be the cuts to station staff, which this week are prompting strike ballots, and the Mayor’s great Air Con.

Meanwhile, talentless banjolele players accuse TfL of discrimination after being told they’re not good enough to play on the tube.

Bus firm repudiates last week’s racist abuse story.

Camera on world’s most blindingly obvious “Buses and taxis only” road rakes in £2 million from Motorists who get confused and think they’re a bus.  I for one welcome this tax on the stupid.

The New West End Company have an artists impression of St Giles’ Circus after the Crossrail works are completed at the station below: a scene delightfully free from street furniture clutter, where pedestrians and cyclists meander about in the junction, while buses, whose motion blur implies quite some speed, plough through them.  Most depressingly of all, they tell us that the Queen musical will still be playing a decade from now.

Finally, after Tom Hall suggested six uses for a hire bike, your moment of zen: the author demonstrates how a 20kg hire bike can be a complete replacement for a gym membership: