Tag Archives: blackfriars bridge

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.

Blackfriars Flashride photos

Are on my photography blog.

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.