Saturday 25 June 2011

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.

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