London’s next big blackspot

New Bridge Street, with traffic proceeding onto Blackfriars Bridge. As part of the reconstruction of the junction, sold as “improvements” for pedestrians using the new mainline station, the pedestrian crossing has been removed from New Bridge Street. But apparently a sign saying “crossing not in use” is not enough to make it so. Pedestrians don’t know that TfL have modelled a junction in which well-behaved pedestrians either take a 250 metre detour up New Bridge Street, or push four buttons, wait four times, and take an only slightly shorter detour to use the remaining marked crossings at this junction. Who could possibly have guessed that removing a pedestrian crossing would not stop the large number of pedestrians who are on one side of the road and who want to be on the other side of the road from trying to cross it? It’s not like we have sixty years of experience and research on the subject or anything.

People are going to die here, and  TfL will have to choose between pleas of incompetence, indifference, or malice.

The Rt Hon Lieut-Col JTC Moore-Brabazon MP, commenting on the 1934 bill which proposed speed limits, said:

“It is true that 7000 people are killed in motor accidents, but it is not always going on like that. People are getting used to the new conditions… No doubt many of the old Members of the House will recollect the number of chickens we killed in the old days. We used to come back with the radiator stuffed with feathers. It was the same with dogs. Dogs get out of the way of motor cars nowadays and you never kill one. There is education even in the lower animals. These things will right themselves.”

The principle of educating the lower animals by a process of natural selection seems to be a key ingredient in TfL’s smoothing the flow programme.

While hanging around filming things, I heard a couple of young women who had just run across the road commenting on the loss of the crossing. The word “Boris” was used, amongst a selection of Anglo-Saxon monosyllables, as one explained to the other that it was the Mayor’s policy to remove pedestrian crossings in favour of faster motor vehicles. Clearly the consequences of Boris’s policies are more widely understood than he would like.

Flashride

We reported a roadworks problem, but Boris wouldn't fix it.

This man has matched his outfit to his Boris bike... and 15 minutes before departure, the gathering crowds have gathered as far as the eye can see.

People friendly streets!

Full length of the bridge and junction, with more still to come.

Time for a U-turn.

Lots more photos were taken by zefrog.

We stand now where two roads diverge…

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one “less traveled by”—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
— Rachel Carson

I don’t think that the road we’re on is easy. I don’t think that, as Gordon Brown said of tackling climate change, “taking this path will not be easy for any of us.” Solving our problems, if done right and done early, doesn’t make austerity, it makes a better, fairer, freer, happier and healthier world.

It’s not easy, for example, to carry on building a city where people don’t want to live and work, don’t want to spend their money or raise their families. A London so choked with cars, trucks, and taxis, and the noise and fumes from them, that people give up on Oxford Street shops, West End cafes and East End markets. A London that creates no opportunities for its children, and shuts away its elderly. A London that people long to leave, and which people do leave, as soon as they can, for the south coast or the countryside.

The urban motorway we have been travelling is a road designed to induce rage in even its most pacific users, a road designed to immobilise children and the elderly, to prioritise anti-social transport over social transport, and a road designed with a high tolerance for the blood of its users.

It’s easy to imagine a better road, a calmer, safer, more egalitarian space. Here, look, the London Cycling Campaign have done just that, with Blackfriars Bridge:

I don’t even think that the LCC’s road is the best possible: the Danish-influenced design is clearly far superior to the road we’ve been on, but even the Danes haven’t quite designed streets for everybody to the extent that the Dutch have.

(And that’s why I disagree with the reason given for the Danish model — that it’s more achievable in the UK. If the Dutch model can appeal to a greater diversity of would-be-cyclists, as the demographics of Dutch and Danish cyclists suggests it does, it should be more achievable. It is true that the Danish model is less alien to us and so easier to comprehend when looking at rhetorical drawings, though.)

We’re on the road to disaster, but we could turn off at any time, build a new road to one of any number of superior designs, Dutch or Danish, they’d all be smoother than this one. All it would take is for Boris Johnson to man up, admit that he has been going the wrong way, and to stand up to the powerful few who are invested in the road to disaster.

Tell the mayor to do it, today at 5.45pm, Blackfriars Bridge.

Things to do

I am on the road, rails, waves, and cycle tracks, far away from the comment moderation tool. While I am away, you might occupy some of your time with these activities.

If you’re in London on Thursday 22nd, head to Blackfriars Bridge at 8am to ride against traffic fumes.

If you’re in Bristol this week, join the bike trains. Guided bike rides on tube strike days in London were an utter failure, with nobody turning up, but if enough people turn up, bike trains could make a nice little social critical mass ride.

Victim of bike theft, dangerous driving, kettling, or phone hacking? Tell the Met what your priorities for policing are.

Walk, ride a bicycle, or even drive a car? Ask your MP to keep dangerously inappropriate trucks off our streets.

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.

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.

Bonus friday photo: Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars

I mentioned in the first of these that all of my photos are licensed under the Creative Commons attribution-noncommercial-sharealike license, meaning that if you run, for example, a non-commercial blog or a not-for-profit club or campaign, you’re welcome to use them.

M’coblogger Dawn mentioned the other day that she has never seen Blackfriars Bridge without the builder’s hoardings.  Indeed, they’ve been up for two years now — originally, if I recall correctly (and of that I am hardly confident), unplanned, but put up with little consultation or announcement after the builders realised at the last minute that pedestrians would wander up the pavement only to discover that it simply ends at the northern junction with no crossing (and they couldn’t possibly put in a crossing for a few years during the work — think what it would do to the traffic flow!).  So they simply shut off the pavement, and to the newer members of London’s ever changing population, Blackfriars Bridge just doesn’t have a pavement on the eastern side.  There is no view of St Paul’s over the remains of the old railway bridge, no winter moonrises over Tate Modern.

So I thought I better share this one sooner rather than later, for anybody who doesn’t know what lurks behind the MDF.  And it just happens to show that cyclists infinitely outnumber cars here, at 2-0.

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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Association of British Drivers “not a bunch of fanatics”

The ABD tries very hard but is often dismissed as a bunch of fanatics and speed freaks (which it is are not) [sic]. — Honest John

The Association of British Drivers — the group that is to mainstream motoring organisations what time cube is to mainstream cults — have made the shock move of saying something that isn’t totally batshit insane: the government should scrap £5k ‘gift’ to buyers of £25k electric cars.

It’s true.  If the government wants to meet its carbon targets and make the world a nicer place in the process, there are far more effective things it can do with the money than help buy toys for the rich.  While they’re at it, instead of funding EV charging infrastructure, there’s another kind of transport infrastructure they could fund that would make a much bigger impact…

Fortunately the ABD have saved their reputation for a laugh on every page with the excellent line “leaving aside the considerable doubt that CO₂ has any significant impact on climate change…

Ah.  “Not a bunch of fanatics…”

Like most ABD press releases, the most coverage this achieved was to be churned on a couple of obscure trade press blogs.  Still, more than can be said for their previous comedy offering, which was ignored completely: 20mph too slow for Blackfriars Bridge.

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.

Streets versus Democracy

We don’t have to accommodate private motor vehicles in places like central London.  The world wouldn’t implode if we did not; the economy wouldn’t collapse.  We don’t have to accommodate any specific number of private motor vehicles in central London.  We could choose to accommodate twice the number that we currently do, by bulldozing great corridors through houses, offices and public buildings, or by digging multi-billion pound tunnels and paving the parks for parking lots.  We could choose to accommodate half the number that we currently do, giving what is currently road space instead to wider pavements and bus and bicycle lanes or street markets or cafes or flower pots or office blocks or docking stations or tramways or whatever we want to do with the scarce resource that is zone 1 land.

It is not necessary to increase, to decrease, or to maintain the current level of cars, taxis, or even trucks in central London.  Which one we choose is just a political decision.  Each of the options has consequences, good and bad, but London would adjust to the circumstances, whatever we decided to do with roads.

When transport bureaucrats say things like “there is not the capacity to give all road users the space and facilities that they would like“, that means that there is a decision to be made about which road users get the space.  Remember: that is a political decision.  Technocrats in highways departments can model the options and make suggestions, but it is not for them to dictate what gets built.

There are three layers of government (I would like to be able to say politicians, but government it is) making that political decision in London.  The Secretary of State for Transport, with the consent of parliament where required, has a say on whether major new roads get built, and sets a few rules and a lot of guidelines for the authorities who design and maintain roads — for example, local authorities are asked to maintain the capacity of their road network, where possible.  At the other end of the scale, the borough mayors and executives, with the consent of councilors, decide what to do with the little roads and pockets of public space — within the rules set from above.

In the middle is the Mayor, who in London is responsible for the network of main roads, and some of the public realm around them, under the constraints of central government rules, borough lobbying, and the oversight of the London Assembly.  The last mayor took an active interest in roads and streets, with election promises that led to redistribution of road space from private vehicles to bus lanes and pedestrian space, most noticeably in Trafalgar Square.  The current mayor has quietly dropped such policies — including Ken’s plans to redesign the five lane roundabout and inaccessible traffic island that is Parliament Square.  Boris Johnson’s only roads policy is to “smooth the traffic flow” — an ill-defined aim which could be used to justify any number of contradictory actions and which, given London’s transport elasticity and the chaotic nature of traffic flows in complex networks, is probably impossible to achieve.  But as an election promise, smoothing the traffic flow allows Boris to leave the unglamorous world of roads and public spaces to the highways department technocrats, who will dictate the removal of pesky flow perturbing pedestrian crossings, and the installation of fast new urban motorway junctions at Blackfriars Bridge, without so much of that wasteful and obstructive democratic oversight.

Three London Assembly members are attempting to inject a bit of that absent democratic oversight and they have put a lot of pressure on TfL to properly accommodate the needs of more than just car and taxi users at Blackfriars Bridge.  Val Shawcross (Labour AM for Southwark, leader of the assembly transport committee and Ken’s deputy for the forthcoming election), Jenny Jones (Green AM and mayoral candidate), and John Biggs (Labour AM for the city constituency), are all doing the politician’s job excellently: they are trying to make their bureaucrats do what their constituents need and want them to do.  So far as I am aware, Boris Johnson, Mayor and Chairman of Transport for London, has remained silent on the issue, despite transport and the public realm being the main part of the mayor’s remit, and this being one of the biggest road redesign projects of this mayoral term.

In his short 1978 book Motorways versus Democracy, the great campaigner John Tyme documented his battles with the Department for Transport in a series of public inquiries into the more destructive parts of the 1970s motorways project.  The motorways project could not, he explained, be considered the result of legitimate democratic processes.  The decision to focus transport planning and spending on motorway construction, to the exclusion of all alternatives, was taken by Marsham Street bureaucrats under the influence of a well organised roads lobby, with complicit secretaries of state and only token oversight from parliament.  The need for road construction was never questioned or studied or debated in parliament, and the public consultations and inquiries which were supposed to allow the public to influence government decisions were not fit for purpose.  Residents and stakeholders were denied the opportunity to question the need for new roads, only the route that they took; and they were denied the information that would allow an informed evaluation and opposition to be made.  If the department had conducted studies on alternative routes and alternative modes, or on the effects that their projects would have on traffic and future development, those studies all remained locked away in the department.  And the true extent and effect of a motorway would be hidden from stakeholders: though the department knew that a motorway would induce new demand that would require later extensions, spurs, link roads and relief roads, these would never be mentioned in proposals for the original road, so that by the time most stakeholders realised that they would be affected, it would be too late to contribute or object to the original project.  At the end of the inquiry, the motorway would be built, regardless of the personal pleas and legal objections raised.

Blackfriars Bridge shows that little has changed.  Transport and the quality of our streets and public spaces have a huge effect on our daily lives — on our health, wealth and happiness — and on the general success of a city or region.  It is the largest part of the mayor’s portfolio, and on every major road redesign in London, the buck stops with Boris.  But Boris is ducking his duty to Londoners, ignoring the needs of the majority of central London street users, and leaving the decisions to his bureaucrats, who are pushing through dangerous traffic-generating street designs in the name of “smoothing the flow”.  TfL have opened a legally meaningless token “engagement” with stakeholders — a token engagement in which, like the motorways inquiries of the 1970s, stakeholders are denied the information that would allow them to make an informed decision.  But TfL aren’t short of opinions from street users.  What they’re lacking is leadership: somebody to make the political decision when “smoothing the flow” for a minority is not worth the inconvenience and mortal danger to others.

Edited to add: I originally forgot to mention that TfL have turned down a freedom of information request for the background information on the Blackfriars Bridge redesign on the grounds that the information would cost too much to collate.  (That was actually the main inspiration for this post, but I rather got carried away and forgot why I was writing it!)  Thus, like the motorways projects of the 1970s, we are denied the information that would allow us to properly evaluate the plans and the claims that TfL have been making in support of their design.