Wednesday, 20 October 2010

car-centric Transport for London is the enemy of cycling

A year ago this was a cycle lane. Now this section of the A503 in Walthamstow has been re-allocated for car parking bays, with the cycle lane moved closer to overtaking traffic (below). A killer design.

Here’s one small example of how Transport for London (TfL) wastes money. In a recent tube strike

at one Tube station - Brixton - three guides were paid £240 to escort one cyclist three miles to The Mall in central London.

At Clapham Common, four commuters on their bikes found themselves escorted by three guides and a Transport for London (TfL) traffic controller, whose job it was to ensure the roads were not blocked by the large numbers of people turning to their bikes.

These risibly low numbers (comparable to the Cycle Friday farce) show once again how few non-cycling Londoners actually want to try out cycling. But it’s also completely in character for car-centric Transport for London to fret about cyclists getting in the way of drivers.

Here’s the problem. Huge sums of money are being squandered promoting cycling in London, yet the infrastructure just isn’t there. Transport for London purports to be the friend of the cyclist but the one thing it won’t do is put the interests of cyclists before the interests of car drivers, or re-allocate road space from cars to cyclists. TfL is institutionally on the side of car dependency, and it continues actively to encourage greater car dependency. Cyclists (and pedestrians) are treated as a subordinate species, who must never be allowed to slow down motor vehicles. London’s entire transport infrastructure is designed to prioritise the car driver over the cyclist and the pedestrian.

Some examples.

It's striking how much cycle promotion there is around London these days. You can't get on a tube or bus without seeing posters exhorting you to cycle.

And lots of people do want to cycle. But then come the practicalities. A question we just received on our Yahoo! group was: "What is a good way to cycle from Dollis Hill to Stanmore?" This cyclist has been on the TfL journey planner, and selected "bike only", and got the suggestion to go up the A5 and over the 50mph (in practice 70mph) Staples Corner flyover with it's terrifying motorway-style slip roads. And one has to answer his question, sorry, but it isn't actually possible to cycle from Dollis Hill to Stanmore by an acceptably direct route without going through feasome motorway-style junctions, or breaking the law and riding on pedestrian bridges and pavements. Brent south of the A406 North Circular road is completely cut off from north Brent and the outer suburbs, that is the way it is.

The same message is coming in loud and clear from cycling bloggers across London.

Over in Kennington they talk about TfL’s invitation to die.

In the London Borough of Merton the complaint is that

TfL don't accept they have a problem. They are institutionally car-centric. Listening to them protest about what good they've done for cycling is like listening to an alcoholic say they don't have a drink problem.

I struggle to think of anywhere in London where the safety or convenience of cyclists has ever taken priority over motor traffic, except at the Stockwell Gyratory where they removed one general traffic lane. Yet despite this being the jewel in TfL's crown, Jenny Jones pointed out they've not even solved the problem, which is that the junction is still dangerous and intimidating in both directions, although slightly less so northbound.

In the City a group of cyclists complain:

The problem for cycling in the City is that TfL's understanding of "traffic" equals "motor vehicles". Cycles aren’t part of the traffic, apparently.

If you think London Bridge or Victoria Embankment aren't nice places to cycle, it’s TfL that you have to thank for the road design and not the City. The City wanted to implement some more two-way streets for cycling recently. It was TfL that prevented this.

When it comes to urban road and street space, TfL seems a bit stuck in the dark.

In Haringey there’s the little matter of the Tottenham Hale gyratory redesign.

Question: Why has the scheme not been designed to reduce motor traffic or give preference to walking and cycling?

Answer from Transport for London:

We want to make Tottenham Hale a better place to be. The proposals have been developed with the needs of all modes of transport being important. Removing the one-way system will allow the transformation of the area, making the area a more attractive place to live, work and visit. Our proposals will provide an opportunity to meet the needs of proposed future developments in the area.

One can read this response any number of times and be completely mystified about its meaning.
It is the pinnacle of ecofluff nonsense.

Meanwhile TfL and the London Borough of Waltham Forest’s Forest Road Corridor Scheme nears completion.

The spurious justification for this scheme was that it was intended to reduce vehicle speeds in a 30 mph zone. At the last moment, long after the consultation period was over, Waltham Forest’s car-centric transport planners slipped in a little extra to the traffic order – raising the speed limit to 40 mph on a section by a school and where cyclists are forced out closer to overtaking traffic.

Naturally there is no evidence whatsoever that speeds have been reduced. All that has happened is that conditions for cyclists have drastically deteriorated on a major route, further ensuring that cycling in the London Borough of Waltham Forest will never get above a modal share of one per cent. Because no one would want to send their child to school on a bicycle on what was previously an unsafe road and is now, thanks to TfL and Waltham Forest, twice as unsafe.

The only people to benefit from this insane scheme are drivers, who were previously not allowed to park in the road, but who have now had parking bays created specially for them. If you wonder why car ownership in Britain grew from just over 26 million in 2005 to more than 31 million in 2009, a rise of nearly 20% in just four years, look no further than schemes like this.

The cost of this scheme is £222,357 which makes these some of the most expensive parking bays in London. What’s more parking is free and without restrictions of any sort. And some of these new bays have been created outside houses with garages and drives (below).

This scheme was approved by Transport for London – the same TfL whose Director of Integrated Programme Delivery at Transport for London, Ben Plowden, has the impudence to say

It’s staggering that half of all car trips in outer London are less than two miles in length, a distance you can cover on a bike in around 10 minutes.

There’s nothing at all ‘staggering’ about it when bodies like TfL and the London Borough of Waltham Forest implement anti-cycling pro-car projects like the Forest Road Corridor Scheme.

Half a mile down the road incidentally is Wood Street library, one of the many public buildings in the borough which lacks even a single cycle stand. While vast sums are spent on motor vehicle infrastructure, even the most rudimentary cycling infrastructure remains neglected.

And in a final two-fingers to the spurious road safety justification for this insane scheme, the advisory flashing speed sign on Forest Road at the junction with Fernhill Court E17 remains broken. It’s been like that for over two years, but obviously with over £200,000 to spend building car parking bays there’s no money to repair a speed sign.