Tag Archives: taxis

The M4 bus lane (repeat)

I heard Radio 4 news report that the Games Lane™ on the M4 in west London came into force today and that there had been “no noticeable effect on the rest of the traffic”. Of course there was no effect on traffic: the Games Lane™ is just the old M4 bus lane, de-restricted in 2010 by the then new government. The bus lane was just an engineering hack, and abolishing it was always a pointless political gesture that could do nothing to help the Motorist. This seemed like a good excuse to re-publish this 2 year old post on why.

I rather let the announcement of the removal of the M4 bus lane pass without comment during the busy period, but with work commencing on painting over the lines, it seems a good moment to revisit the topic. Because while the M4 bus lane was never a remotely important feature of the national or local transport system, and the effect of its removal will be negligible, it has always been of huge symbolic significance.

The short stretch of bus lane at the inner-London end of the motorway was introduced in June 1999 by John Prescott — one of our best and most progressive transport secretaries (one of those non-achievements like “best British cycle route” or “most likeable cab driver”) — and was something new and difficult to understand. The government tried to explain how it would help everybody, how Motorists themselves would benefit from it, but all anybody heard was that the amount of concrete that Motorists could put their cars on was going to be reduced for the first time ever. The media were desperate for it to fail. What if it set a precedent? Take this fabulous rant from a BBC correspondent, in the days before BBC correspondents had their teeth filed for fear that they might be accused of anti-Tory bias.

The M4 bus lane was the symbol of the first government that had ever shown signs of recognising that the country has a dangerous car addition; the first ever road policy whose entire purpose was not to make it easier for more people to drive more cars further and faster. And in the tabloid media fantasy world, that amounted to a declaration of war on the motorist.

The irony is that the purpose of the M4 bus lane was not any different to any roads policy that had come before. It was introduced to smooth the traffic flow: to make journeys faster, easier and more reliable for motorists on the M4. The issue is explained with nice diagrams here. I won’t try to explain the whole thing in words (well, I did try, and failed, and deleted it), but the take home message is that the rate-limiting step for this section of the M4 is a bottleneck at Brentford that can never be eliminated. Where that bottleneck occurs, three lanes became two, causing merging and lane-changing throughout the three-lane section — behaviours which are known to slow overall traffic flow. By effectively making the M4 consistently two lanes wide, the bus lane is in fact a clever hack to make the traffic run more smoothly and reliably. It needn’t be a bus lane at all, it only needs for this section to be consistently two lanes wide instead of three lanes merging into two.

And it works. Despite having less space, and despite the reduction in speed-limit that coincided with the change in layout, journey times for all road users fell after the bus lane was introduced. (Only by seconds — it’s a very short stretch of road — but you know how much a second means to a Motorist.) And with less lane-changing, accident rates fell. Even the Daily Mail had to acknowledge that it had been a successful implementation of an evidence-based intervention for improving journey times, reliability, and safety.

But this was soon forgotten, because it just didn’t feel right. An empty lane that you’re not allowed to use doesn’t feel like it’s helping you when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, especially given the absurd rule that allowed rich businessmen to sail past in their taxis from the airport to the city (and still allows them to do this in most remaining London bus lanes). And the fact that it was a bus lane, not a hatched-out or fenced-off wasteland, seemed to make an important difference to many people — the AA took the bizarre stance that the lane’s success could only be measured in modal shift; that any other beneficial effect would be a failure. By the time Philip Hammond decreed that in the name of ending the War On The Motorist the lane must go and the road revert to three lanes, no journalist could remember it being anything other than Prescott’s folly, a joke on a road that is barely used by buses, and the cause of much Motorist misery. No journalist mentioned that it had once been hailed as a great success independent of its role as a bus lane. No journalist questioned the received wisdom that the bus lane was a stupid, pointless, unfair, in-your-face ideologically anti-Motorist waste of money.

The lane improved journey times by seconds. Removing it will probably worsen journey times by seconds. It will affect cabbies marginally more, and every few days the Motorists will close the road by smashing up their cars when changing lanes. It doesn’t matter; it never mattered. But installing it had the symbolic significance of suggesting that the government might, for once, now and then, just consider transport policies that go beyond Motorism; to occasionally provide for more than just the car user. Its removal is the symbol of the opposite stance: that this government will continue to provide for the car, and nobody else.

But more than that. By removing the M4 bus lane, Philip Hammond is telling us that this government will happily pursue policies that hit the Motorist, so long as they hit the non-Motorist harder. This is the deliberately spiteful act of a government that cares for dogma not evidence.

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Weekly War Bulletin, 18 Dec

An SDLP Northern Ireland assembly member has proposed making riding a bicycle in Northern Ireland illegal except where the rider is wearing a plastic hat.  I can’t find much coverage of it, but this proposal appears to have already been delayed from August.

Also ongoing under-reported news from Northern Ireland, highlighted by Christian Wolmer this week, is the £800 million A5 dual-carriageway construction.  The bankrupt Irish government (who are already being prevented from opening another new motorway by the workers who are waiting to be paid for having built it) and the cut-happy British government are going halves on the Derry to Dublin road apparently because it makes for a nice piece of symbolic government cooperation.  I’m no expert on the Northern Ireland issue, but my understanding was that the British and Irish governments were already quite good at cooperating, and the issue is instead one of divided communities.  So what could be better than further dividing communities by driving another motorway through them?

The DfT has found that 60% of the people who are able to cycle say that they don’t because they think it’s too dangerous.  Who would have guessed?  And the road haulage industry have noticed that they’re getting rather poor publicity over all the cyclist deaths and victim that’s blame going on — but it’s ok, their PR department are on the case.

After a slow start, Bristol has allocated all of its £11 million cycle city budget.  York is still getting through its cycle city pot, with half a million on routes to and facilities in the station.

There is nobody cycling in Blackpool, therefore building cycle paths is a waste of money, say taxi drivers.  Blackpool cabbies have slammed the council for creating a road nightmare in the town.  “That’s our job,” the taxi drivers said.

Meanwhile, Boris has announced that London taxis will be electric by 2020.  I expect this to happen about as much as anything else that Boris has promised to make happen.  Boris is being praised for bringing in strict rules for taxis — six month checks and an age limit on the vehicles.  No newspaper journalist seems to have noticed that all he is doing is reversing his earlier relaxation of the rules…

There’s a 46% rise in those unregulated First Capital Connect season ticket prices outside of central London.

Northamptonshire’s road safety partnership is the latest to run out of money and switch off its cameras.

36,000 Motorists break speed limits at Gateshead Metrocentre.  None prosecuted. The Metrocentre, largest “shopping and leisure complex” in Europe, looks horrible: wide roads, dual carriageways, and acres of car parks.  And they’re surprised that people drive too fast in this sort of environment.  (I notice that 200k of the Bristol cycling city money went on a bike path to Cribbs Causeway, a similar out-of-town motorway-side “shopping and leisure complex”, when the goal should really be to reverse these awful soul-destroying developments.)

A kitten was thrown from a car on the M1.  And somebody’s throwing snowballs back at the motorists.

An Oxford Tube intercity bus fell over after taking the wrong exit from the motorway.

Two pedestrians were killed by a Range Rover driving on the pavement in central Glasgow.

The Waterloo cycle hire station is open.  I used it last night, and then ran for the train — ten minutes had been wasted running around the Picadilly area trying to find a bike in the first place.  Could you put some on Albemarle Street please?

Fat coppers break their bikes.

Nice acceptable middle-class crime: while local authorities have to cut services, Westminster are owed £18 million by people who think the world should organise itself around their Mercedes.  Meanwhile in Kent, nice middle-aged Jaguar owners have a bit of fun killing people on the motorway.

Wanking behind the wheel gets you a driving ban.  Mobile phone use not considered an equivalent offence.

For the benefit of vulnerable road users, the US are setting minimum noise levels for electric vehicles, which will presumably amount to a de facto global standard (unless and until another major car purchasing nation sets a stricter standard).

Delightfully absurd transport solution of the week?  A system of delivery tubes under Croydon.

A special bumper pack of zen: first, via RailwayEye, a Christmas carol flashmob in Sheffield station:

And via Going Underground, Christmas carols at Charing Cross:

Finally, via Hembrow, this delightful 1960s video of trains in the snow:

The M4 bus lane

I rather let the announcement of the removal of the M4 bus lane pass without comment during the busy period, but with work commencing on painting over the lines, it seems a good moment to revisit the topic.  Because while the M4 bus lane was never a remotely important feature of the national or local transport system, and the effect of its removal will be negligible, it has always been of huge symbolic significance.

The short stretch of bus lane at the inner-London end of the motorway was introduced in June 1999 by John Prescott — probably our best and most progressive transport secretary ever (which is one of those non-achievements like “most reliable train operator” or “most likable cab driver”) — and was something new and difficult to understand.  The government tried to explain how it would help everybody, how Motorists themselves would benefit from it, but all anybody heard was that the amount of concrete that Motorists could put their cars on was going to be reduced for the first time ever.  The media were desperate for it to fail.  What if it set a precedent?  Take this fabulous rant from a BBC correspondent, in the days before BBC correspondents had their teeth filed for fear that they might be accused of anti-Tory bias.

The M4 bus lane was the symbol of the first government that had ever shown signs of recognising that the country has a dangerous car addition; the first ever road policy whose entire purpose was not to make it easier for more people to drive more cars further and faster.  And in the tabloid media fantasy world, that amounted to a declaration of war on the motorist.

The irony is that the purpose of the M4 bus lane was not any different to any roads policy that had come before.  In today’s favoured terminology, it was introduced to smooth the traffic flow: to make journeys faster and easier for the Motorist on the M4.  The issue is explained with nice diagrams here.  I won’t try to explain the whole thing in words (well, I did try, and failed, and deleted it), but the take home message is that the rate-limiting step for this section of the M4 is a bottleneck at Brentford that can never be eliminated.  Where that bottleneck occurs, three lanes became two, causing merging and lane-changing throughout the three-lane section — behaviours which are known to slow overall traffic flow.  By effectively making the M4 consistently two lanes wide, the bus lane is in fact a clever hack to make the traffic run more smoothly and reliably.  It needn’t be a bus lane at all, it only needs for this section to be consistently two lanes wide instead of three lanes merging into two.

And it works.  Despite having less space, and despite the reduction in speed-limit that coincided with the change in layout, journey times for all road users fell after the bus lane was introduced.  (Only by seconds or minutes — it’s a very short stretch of road — but you know how much a second means to a Motorist.)  And with less lane-changing, accident rates fell.  Even the Daily Mail had to acknowledge that it had been a successful implementation of an evidence-based intervention for improving journey times, reliability, and safety.

But this was soon forgotten, because it just didn’t feel right.  An empty lane that you’re not allowed to use doesn’t feel like it’s helping you when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, especially given the absurd rule that allowed rich businessmen to sail past in their taxis from the airport to the city (and still allows them to do this in most remaining London bus lanes).  And the fact that it was a bus lane, not a hatched-out or fenced-off wasteland, seemed to make an important difference to many people — the AA took the bizarre stance that the lane’s success could only be measured in modal shift; that any other beneficial effect would be a failure.  By the time Philip Hammond decreed that in the name of ending the War On The Motorist the lane must go and the road revert to three lanes, no journalist could remember it being anything other than Prescott’s folly, a joke on a road that is barely used by buses, and the cause of much Motorist misery.  No journalist mentioned that it had once been hailed as a great success independent of its role as a bus lane.  No journalist questioned the received wisdom that the bus lane was a stupid, pointless, unfair, in-your-face ideologically anti-Motorist waste of money.

The lane improved journey times by about one minute.  Removing it will probably cut journey times by about one minute.  It will affect cabbies marginally more, and every few days the Motorists will close the road by smashing up their cars when changing lanes.  It doesn’t matter; it never mattered.  But installing it had the symbolic significance of suggesting that the government might, for once, now and then, just consider transport policies that go beyond Motorism; to occasionally provide for more than just the car user.  Its removal is the symbol of the opposite stance: that this government will continue to provide for the car, and nobody else.

But more than that.  By removing the M4 bus lane, Philip Hammond is telling us that this government will happily pursue policies that hit the Motorist, so long as they hit the non-Motorist harder.  This is the deliberately spiteful act of a government that cares for dogma not evidence.

Weekly War Bulletin, 2 Oct

The exciting news of the week is that petrol head secretary of state for transport Philip Hammond has ended the War On The Motorist by announcing that John Prescott’s M4 bus lane will revert to an all-traffic lane.  Never mind the fact that this will do nothing to improve the actual journey times of Motorists, because a bottleneck further down the road determines its overall capacity.  This is politics, after all: no room for evidence in deciding policy.  Interestingly, this news has pitched private Motorists against cabbies, with desperate attempts to justify the presence of taxis in bus lanes.  Despite being the most universally hated road users in London, the taxis could at least rely on the politicians — who in turn rely on taxis to avoid mixing with the proles on the buses — for friendship and a free ride down the bus lane.  Now even Phillip Hammond has deserted them and told them to sit in the jams with all the other non-public transport.

A meaningless PR “study” finds that Clapham and Wandsworth have the most congested roads in London.  The AA say the problem is roadworks and a lack of “money thrown at the problem”.  Not too many cars, then?  The Evening Standard commenters actually fill me with hope for once:

What the lobbyists fail to mention though, is that there are simply too many cars in London. Why is that simple fact not mentioned?

You could a south London version of the Westway and it would still end up gridlocked. Road works don’t help in the slightest but it’s just a distraction from the true cause.

Of course, they won’t mention that, because in UK plc any attempt at tackling this problem is a “war on the motorist”.

– Ashley, Camden, 01/10/2010 13:57

The government has stumbled upon a clever scheme to keep good news about transport funding flowing: regularly announce that Crossrail funding is safe.  Everyone will forget that you already announced that last week, and the week before…

But Norman Baker, Minister for Pedestrians, Cyclists, Bus Passengers, and Other Unimportant Transport Users, has this week announced that Bikeability will not be allowed to go up in flames with the bonfire of the quangos.

The Met have expanded their Cycle Task Force.  There are some hilarious and presumably sarcastic comments from the mayor’s transport advisor: “the Cycle Task Force is a fundamental part of the cycling revolution the Mayor has delivered in London,” and “however there is always more that can be done to make London the best cycling city in the world…”

A hit-and-run killer dragged a woman under their car for a mile, around Belsize Park.  Meanwhile, a killer delivery driver in the city gets a suspended sentence.

Driver re-education courses, for careless driving and law breaking, won’t work.  Not that the £1000 fine given to hardened criminal Katie Price for careless driving and apparently texting while driving a horsebox on the motorway will.

The government has published its Manual For Streets, advocating shared space for the nation’s high streets.  Look forward to some of the ideas being implemented in the street regeneration plans that have been announced for Belfast, Bournemouth, Prestatyn, and Reading.  Also in the regions, Clay Cross in Derbyshire has been given conservation status; and Aberystwyth gets more money to spend on green transport (interesting that the BBC illustrate the story with a “cycling forbidden” sign).

Work begins on the next couple of “superhighways”.  Interestingly, they’re the ones to serve, erm, the two parts of town that already have superhighways.

Going places is going to continue to get more expensive.  (Unless, erm, you walk or cycle there?)  Lets all blame the government and ignore the rising prices of increasingly hard to obtain oil.

TfL aren’t very good at replying to freedom of information requests — or are good at procrastinating on them, anyway.

French towns are replacing their bin lorries with horse-drawn recycling carts.  This is still the least absurd modern transport solution I’ve heard all year.  The robotic high-density deep-underground car park in Birmingham being one of the many absurdities indicative of late-phase chronic car dependency.

South Wales are making more shock adverts about careless and dangerous driving.

Drivers who pass their driving test are safer than the ones who don’t.  Thanks, Professor Obvious.

Stratford Central Line westbound has an exciting revolutionary new platform where the doors can open on both sides of the train.  Magic.

Nobody is stealing hire bikes.  Well, five.  Of more concern is that the Independent have adopted the Evening Standard‘s awful name for them.

Segway owner accidentally rides Segway over cliff, falls to his death.

Smelly cyclists not welcome in New Forest tea shops.

Kingsland cyclist muggers arrested.

Anti-social Motorists in Guidford “block one-way system“.

Lorry collides with M6 at Coventry.  Car collides with M11 in Essex.  And the National Arboretum has opened a memorial to those who have died in the name of Motorways.

And a house has collided with a 206 in Hampshire, a Cafe has collided with a Vauxhall in Aberdeenshire, and three houses collided with a car in Sunderland.  Meanwhile a bollard has collided with a Nissan in Derbyshire.

Luxury cars torched in Dundee and Devon, and a “spate” of scratched cars on the IoW.

Australia have launched a National Cycling Strategy.  Lets hope they’ve looked at Europe and noticed which country’s strategy has succeeded and which is failing, and picked the one that works.

Finally, Google Street View now covers Antarctica.

Some moments of zen: Old man rides a bikeBear rides a train.  And, man carries carpet on mobility scooter — how irresponsible: that 8mph carpet could have been a danger to the poor Motorists…

“It’s a danger to himself and a danger to other motorists. If someone wasn’t careful, they could’ve hit him off and he could’ve got seriously hurt and his family wouldn’t like that.”

Britain’s Essential Services

When the blockades of refineries first began to fall on the 15 September 2000, where did the first deliveries of fuel go?  They went to Britain’s Essential Services:

  • Emergency services
  • Health and social workers
  • Special schools and colleges for the disabled
  • Coastguards and lifeboat crews

Obviously. Got to get those fires extinguished, and all that postponed cancer surgery done.

  • Armed forces
  • Prison staff

Can’t have the country descend into anarchy.

  • Refuse collection and industrial waste
  • Funeral services
  • Water, sewerage and drainage
  • Essential workers at nuclear sites

It would be unsafe and unhygienic not to.

  • Food industry
  • Agriculture, veterinary and animal welfare

People gotta eat before they starve; crops gotta be harvested before they spoil.

  • Fuel and energy suppliers
  • Postal, media, telecommunications
  • Central and local government workers
  • Essential financial services staff including those involved in the delivery of cash and cheques
  • Public transport

Well, I suppose there’s an economy needs getting back up to speed.

  • Essential foreign diplomatic workers

Uh, well, alright, I suppose they are “essential”.

  • Airport and airline workers

Uhm. Er…

  • Licensed taxis

Oh.

“Essential services” for definitions of “essential” that include “saving a politician from having to get on a bus.”  Sounds like another call for the Old Ladies’ from the Job Justification Hearings.

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:

Bike Hire: the bikes are just the start of the process

The Guardian speculates on the likely effects of the bicycle hire scheme that launches tomorrow morning, based on observations of other cities that have mature systems.  The scheme is not expected to make any significant difference to private car journeys.  This is hardly surprising.  Some London drivers of course can not easily switch to the hire bike — deliveries, and the disabled.  Most, though, will notEver. Most London drivers are the kind of bankers and drug dealers for whom there is simply insufficient mental capacity to even begin to understand how harmful, selfish, and ludicrous their behaviour is.  The congestion charge does not affect them; parking charges go unnoticed; no amount of traffic jams will get them out of the shell that protects from the proles.  Like religion and conservatism, driving in London is purely irrational; impervious to reason.  This we already knew.

What the hire bikes are expected to provide is faster journeys for those who would have walked; relief for overcrowded trains and buses; and most interestingly, a cut in taxi journeys.  During the day, bike hire will displace a particular type of taxi journey: the businessman, journalist, politician, academic, civil servant whose journey is short, but has a strict deadline in a busy schedule.  The bus wastes time at stops; the tube station too far away; you don’t have time to wait and you can’t take even the remotest risk of getting stuck in a tunnel.  So you reluctantly flag a cab.  Except that, now, with docking stations outside both your office and the place of your important meeting, and an ominous queue of traffic building at the end of the road, the hire bike looks like the faster and more reliable option.

These hire bikes are conveniently located outside the Rose and Crown in Southwark.

Meanwhile, at night, when the last tube has left, and the night buses have filled with tramps and creeps, wannabe gangsters and spotty chavs, one might have found tempting a taxi home from your late evening working, your evening classes, cultural performances, or — we know you — pub.  Now you can grab a hire bike, and sober up with the wind in your face.

This leads us to the inevitable conclusion that the full introduction of the bike hire scheme must be followed immediately by at least two other changes to London’s transport infrastructure.  Firstly, the clear evidence we see is that London’s streets already host an extravagant surplus of taxis, driving around empty, producing enough pollution each for a thousand of us, or else sat idle on the side of the road, day and night, occupying valuable central London land.  The bike hire scheme makes our quaint old fashioned taxis even more redundant and, for the sake of the taxi drivers who will be facing ever tougher competition for fares, their numbers will need to be reduced.  We propose retraining the drivers to operate the cute little electric trucks that will redistribute bikes from popular destinations back to popular starting locations.

Secondly, there will be a jump in the numbers of people taking a hire bike home from the pub.  They are liable to wobble, and, if action is not taken now, could end up scratching an Important Person’s paintwork.  Which is why next week we will be explaining why there is sadly no avoiding the fact that the time has come when, for the Motorist’s own protection, we simply have no choice but to remove all private cars from unclassified roads in zone one.