Thursday 30 June 2011

Traffic smoothing in progress

Traffic flow is a costly business.

£3.4bn is being spent on widening the M25 on a 22 mile stretch. £657M was spent on 5 miles to link the M8 and M74 in Glasglow. We are talking over £100M a mile for these types of schemes.

Even putting some car parking on the pavement and mucking around with some tarmac costs around £0.5M

In 1994 the M11 link road was built through Leytonstone effectively cutting a swathe through Waltham Forest between Leyton and Leytonstone. It was 4 miles and cost £250M

It was the subject of a large protest, and heated debates. A government spokesman at the time said

And so the scheme went ahead.
And various promises were made about the improvement in environment in Leytonstone and Leyton areas. Freewheeler wrote a comprehensive article concerning how the proposals for reducing car dominance on these local roads were watered down over time until they were so insipid that they meant nothing.
But what is the M11 link road like now? Has it relieved congestion for those deciding to travel by car through East London?

M11 link road at Leytonstone
Oh. This typical picture taken at around 6:30pm doesn't seem to indicate that a "hugely congested area of London" has been "relieved".

But wait.

The government spokesman also said that 
"The Leyton High Road is choc-a-bloc every day and this will take that traffic away from it and make the area breathable."
Well thank goodness for that. At least Leyton High Road has had the traffic taken away from it and the air is as sweet as summer meadows. Because surely such an expensive and controversial scheme would be an utter embarrassment if even this fundamental aim wasn't realised.

Leyton High Road at the same time
 Oh dear.

But surely there must be something special about the M11 link road that means it hasn't relieved any congestion, but instead caused more? After all, if building more roads in general led to more traffic and ended up making congestion worse then spending billions on road expansion schemes even now would be ridiculous?

Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Well he may have been a smart-arse when it came to relativity but he got this wrong. In the UK it isn't the definition of insanity; it is the definition of transport policy. 

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Another Captain Angry

Again, today, I had the fortune of meeting one of our good motorists in London who appear to have been taking the angry pills.

Minding my own business, cycling along broad lane (a 3/4 lane arm of the wonderful Tottenham Hale gyratory) and I obviously upset an important motorist.

He came up behind the cycle, hanging off the rear wheel and beeping his horn. The traffic was light and he could have simply moved to the next lane to overtake. He clearly decided that he had to harass a cyclist instead.

Eventually he passed whilst shouting at me.

My camera was working at the time, so I have the incident recorded, and have reported it to Roadsafe. I doubt this will be effective at all, presumably the worst that will happen is he gets a letter.

Why people do this is a mystery. I had no altercation with him beforehand, he had a clear 3 other lanes to use, the traffic was light and I was in no way holding him up. I assume it is the misplaced entitlement that some motorists have. I say misplaced, but when the whole road system, and nightmares like the A10 at Tottenham Hale in particular, are designed to cater to the motorist with little or no sanction for speeding and anti-social behaviour, some idiots are always going to take advantage.

If TfL and local councils like cycle-hating Newham insist on multi-lane urban motorways in our city then I think the least that should be provided are average speed cameras to at least try to keep traffic within the limits, and a robust attitude to the type of deeply anti-social behaviour exhibited by this driver. Later on I went down the A11 and the speeds attained by motorists on this road must near 50mph in some cases. Enforcement is an utter joke.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Olympics - start as you mean to continue?

The "greenest ever" Olympics is starting to shape up. Here we have the Greenway diversion near Stratford. For reasons only known to the authoritis doing the work, this part of the road has had concrete barriers scattered liberally around it to form a very narrow pedestrian pathway. The obligatory "cyclist dismount" signs are, of course added to the mix. In fact twice, one in blue and one in red in this picture. The pathway is so narrow that actually wheeling the cycle may be more inconvenient to pedestrians than slowly navigating the little path on the bicycle.

I can see no reason why this impromptu maze has been constructed. I can also see no reason why a cycle path couldn't have been added alongside the pedestrian path.

I assume that this is all conditioning us for cycling to the Olympics. For added realism, I would suggest that they should construct a ZIL lane for the dignitaries next to the "cyclist dismount" sign and have someone issuing huge fines for anyone daring to use a bicycle in the presence of important people.

New TfL documents - they want the same but more of it.

TfL recently published two documents.

The first is the Network Operating Strategy (NOS)  for the roads controlled by TfL.

The second has been blogged by cyclists in the city and is "the future of road congestion".

The NOS is up for consultation here.I would issue a warning - those who are easily depressed should probably refrain from clicking the link. In fact the second document "The Future of Road Congestion" could be easily answered simply by the words "It will get much worse" and a link to the NOS.

So, first things first. The NOS. This covers TRLN which is basically the main arterial roads through London. I believe the A10 is one of these such roads. The types of roads that cyclists often use because the LCN+ network (or quiet routes) are simply a recipe for contending with rat-running traffic on narrow roads, fragmented routes punctuated by impromptu no-entry signs, and the added bonus of probably getting completely lost with the misleading and missing signage. These are also often the types of roads that serve as high streets and heavy pedestrian areas. Therefore these roads have several conflicting usages that require difficult decisions. The NOS document details how TfL make these decisions - by ignoring any consideration outside getting as much traffic through as humanly possible.

Not only does the document barely mention other forms of transport outside private cars (buses get the odd mention), but they have a couple of case studies on not installing pesky pedestrian crossings which might slow important people in cars.

What the NOS is really interested in is new technology. The authors have watched one too many episodes of the Gadget Show. The latter part of the report is littered with acronyms of fancy light and traffic management IT. There are case studies which detail SCOOT implementations that save a driver, for example, 3 minutes on a journey - neglecting to mention what this infrastructure costs. Quite a lot I should wager - and the gains seen so puny, to the point that the document itself recognises that even drivers won't really notice and improvement.

Cycling, as one might imagine, is pretty invisible in the document - aside from the usual ecofluff nonsense about how everyone at TfL thinks it is really important. Worse, the general environment around these roads is barely considered. We have had decades of these important roads - many of which are effectively local town centres - turned into traffic canyons, and TfL clearly think we haven't had enough of this treatment. The fact that the decades of this view has left us with congested and deeply unpleasant roads (even for motorists) doesn't seem to deter. There is absolutely no mention of measures that may make some of these roads more pleasant for everyone - for instance at no point are 20mph limits discussed. Yet, not only would this make some of these roads more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists, it would actually help traffic flow by reducing the likelihood of serious accidents and help traffic merge more easily whilst reducing bunching. Judging by the seriously pathetic speeds measured in fig3.3, I doubt it would make motorist journey times longer either.

The second document details the future issues of road congestion. This document is slightly less depressing, but only if you are actually optimistic enough to think that a TfL document talking about sustainable transport options will actually change anything. And that is a lot of optimism - the type of optimism one might encounter after simultaneously taking a bottle full of prozac and winning the lottery.

But - cynicism aside - what does this document tell us? That congestion is bad and it is going to get worse. Sherlock Holmes clearly is being employed by TfL these days.

Some bon-mots from the report include the fact that 42% of London journeys are in private car but there has been some success in promoting cycling and sustainable transport (clearly TfL think they are responsible for this as opposed to horrible congestion, strikes, and the actions of the lunatics on 7/7). They appear to want TfL to measure all transport (cycling and pedestrian) to use in their plans - which is a novel approach for an organisation that appears to only include private transport - and buses at a push - when looking at road planning.

Then page 32 has the section on reducing the demand on the roads. This includes cross-rail, thameslink upgrate, tube upgrade and cycle superhighway / hire scheme expansion. It is interesting to note that, although the superhighway and hire schemes cost millions, the other alternatives talked about cost billions. Clearly we need all of these schemes, but it highlights how cost-effective cycling actually is.

The conclusions include the normal stuff, alongside re-enforcement of the hierarchy of provision (or the enactment in the first place - evidence of this hierarchy is somewhat difficult to come by on the roads), and road pricing.

There is also an interesting "dissent" appendix where the conservative members of the group clearly felt that even this fairly insipid document was going too far. The two areas of concern for them were

Hierarchy of provision - stating that they felt everyone should be equal on the road, and motorists should not be penalised. This neatly sidesteps the fact that motorists have been prioritised in road planning for decades and still are. Hierarchy of provision is trying (and mostly failing) to get some equilibrium back to the equation.

Road pricing - here the conservatives get really odd. When a resource is limited then using a free market to price the value of said resource for its users is surely the cornerstone of capitalism? It is how we value virtually all goods and services we trade. Yet the conservatives, on road pricing, appear to be incredibly concerned that this isn't right and will disadvantage the poor. They appear to have suddenly gone all socialist on us! I think we need to keep a close eye on these anti-capitalist revolutionaries. The argument they give is, of course, laughable. They are concerned that road pricing would disadvantage the poor, but the poor generally don't have cars in London, and anyway how about all those fixed costs like insurance and VED? Surely, with this thought process, these need to be scrapped as well as they are by far the biggest barriers to car ownership. And then the second canard they trot out is that there may be no alternative. Seriously? In London? Road pricing is a sensible way to value the use of our roads and reduce congestion - if congestion carries on as it is at the moment, then we have to have some way of prioritising certain road usage over others and this has to be the most efficient way.

Looking at both documents in the round, it would appear that the TfL strategy du jour involves traffic smoothing and playing around with clever IT systems and models to shave off a second here and a minute there from journeys, thus allowing more people onto the roads for the status quo to be resumed. SCOOT and all the other fancy acronyms aren't going to be a long-term solution, looking at road usage and our environment in the round will be.

Meanwhile decades of road policy which marginalises anyone not in a car has managed to create an environment as shown in the video below. Which is Selborne Road and Hoe Street the other Saturday. This is not unusual for a Saturday. And is why, despite the best efforts of TfL, I prefer to cycle.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Blackfriars Bridge, the two faces of TfL and Newham's aversion to blue paint

I haven't spoken much about Blackfriar's bridge, simply because other people have been covering it much better than I could, and have been heavily involved with the protests against the proposed changes.

It is interesting to note how much TfL took for granted when the plans were first released. And, as CycleOfFutility notes, how much this contradicts the eco-fluff words that spill out from their website and other publications. Freewheeler believes that TfL is the enemy.

No doubt there are keen and knowledgable people in TfL who want to enact upon the heady words given by TfL concerning walking, cycling and "sustainable transport policy". It just appears that these people's ideas are sidelined as soon as any major road changes are to be made in favour of the car-centric policies enacted since the 1960s. TfL cannot have their cake and eat it. They cannot be making chic little films involving minor celebrities extolling the magic of cycling, or have a cycle challenge, when, on the other hand, they are taking away cycling space to turn a bridge that has more cyclists than private cars in rush hour into some kind of mini-freeway. And increasing the 20mph limit to 30mph for reasons that seen somewhat less than transparent.

TfL also seemed to do this and present it as a fait accompli with laughable consultation. I assume they felt that the usual suspects would have a bit of a moan about yet another part of the road network made deeply unpleasant for anyone not in a car, and that would be that. Except that this moan seems to have developed some momentum. With members of the GLA asking some awkward questions, cyclists having a protest on the bridge and the LCC really getting their teeth into this change, they appear to have discovered that there might be some room left over for cyclists after all. 

I wait to see what happens with this in the end. TfL are probably desperately hoping it will all blow over, they will rejig the design a little bit and normality will be resumed. To the credit of many who have blogged on the subject, and LCC itself, I don't think that they are looking to let TfL off as lightly as that. 

From one apparently unaccountable anti-cycling shambles of an organisation to another: it appears that the antics of Newham council in relation to cycling infrastructure has reached the attention of the press. Under the banner of "Boris's superhighway not welcome in Olympic Borough", Ross Lydall has a blog outlining the blocking of a cycle super-highway to the olympics. This was first reported in the LCC magazine in Febuary - I wrote a post here.

 The council's response to the story?

Our primary concern is cyclists' safety. Newham council is committed to a cycling legacy from 2012 and we are in constructive negotiations with TfL about the route. Kulveer Ranger will be visiting the borough later this summer so we can work together on the best way forward."
I give them 10/10 for Chutzpah anyway. Their concerns for cyclists' safety runs so deep that they are blocking any attempted taming of the multi-lane free-for-all that is the A11 and the Stratford gyratory. I can only assume this is to encourage us silly cyclists into our cars where we can travel with the comfort of airbags and impact protection bars. It is reassuring to know that they are committed to a cycling legacy after 2012 - presumably for those of us who survive their appalling roads until after the Olympic games. And does it really make much sense to put in the infrastructure for cycling to the Olympic games (remember, the greenest games yet!) after the event? Not that it matters too much since apparently cycles will be banned from the Olympic park anyway for "safety reasons". Should make the velodrome events somewhat interesting if they carry out this ban for all cycles...

TfL are being made to care about cycling because they are starting to face some awkward questions from people about what exactly they are doing to our streets. Newham council don't care about cycling, and they don't care about anyone knowing they don't care. They don't even care if people care they don't care as they have full control of the council offices and a bunch of silly cyclists aren't going to change that. Hell, they even banned the "woodcraft folk" from their offices - it would appear they were going to ask some questions that the Mayor didn't want to answer. Democracy in action.

As cycleoffutility says, Blackfriars bridge matters. It even matters to those of us who use it very rarely or even never at all. Because if this protest gets TfL to rethink their plans then it shows that they can be held to account for their treatment of cycling (and walking). And if it fails, then there is no hope of ever holding places like Newham council to account for their idiotic actions.