Proposed Changes to the Highway Code

There has been some controversy about the proposed changes to the Highway Code with some pro-motoring groups complaining they are both prejudicial and dangerous. See the Daily Mail coverage in the link below for examples.

But are the proposed changes so unreasonable? They do give more priority to pedestrians and cyclists, such as at junctions, but the proposals are not that different to what may already be common practice in reality. Giving way to pedestrians who are crossing at side roads is not unreasonable and giving priority to cyclists who are travelling straight ahead at junctions is hardly a big imposition.

The Code includes specific advice now about passing distances when overtaking cyclists which will clarify what you should allow. But bear in mind that most of the Highway Code is advisory and does not necessarily have the force of law.

The new Code does put some more obligations on motorists but is also puts more on cyclists. For example it warns against passing pedestrians closely at high speed. But it also says “[cyclists’ should] ride in single file when drivers wish to overtake and it is safe to let them do so. When riding in larger groups on narrow lanes, it is sometimes safer to ride two abreast”. The last part of that paragraph may be arguable but is certainly likely to cause frustration to drivers so that is one thing to which I would object. Likewise where it suggests cyclists should position themselves in the centre of the lane at junctions.

The Code also recommends the use of the “Dutch Reach” when moving out from the side of the road, but that is neither practical for some people in some vehicles nor necessary when wing mirrors are properly set and used.

The Code introduces a hierarchy of road users which ensures that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others. This is surely not unreasonable is it?

The new Code has not yet been finalised and could do with some minor improvements but on the whole, I suggest that it is not unreasonable. You can read about the proposed changes in detail from the link below.

Will the new Code make a big change to road user behaviour? Very unlikely as most drivers have never re-read it since they originally passed their driving test and most cannot remember what it says. Cyclists have no obligation to even read the Code which is a great pity. There is more clamour for cyclists to be licensed than ever before as they so often ignore traffic lights and Highway Code rules so a test for cyclists to ensure they know the Code would surely be a good idea.

Daily Mail Article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9841809/Highway-Code-changes-cyclists-given-rights-motorists-junctions.html

Proposed Highway Code Changes: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/review-of-the-highway-code-to-improve-road-safety-for-cyclists-pedestrians-and-horse-riders/summary-of-the-consultation-proposals-on-a-review-of-the-highway-code

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Good News – Transport Action Network Lose Legal Case

Anti-roads campaign group Transport Action Network have lost a legal challenge to halt the Government’s £27.4bn Road Investment Strategy for the next 5 years. The group argued in a judicial review application that the plans were inconsistent with the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, the net zero target for the UK in 2050 and the Climate Change Act 2008.

Mr Justice Holgate said: “It is well-established that where a decision-maker decides to take a consideration into account it is generally for him to decide how far to go into the matter, or the manner and intensity of any inquiry into it, which judgment may only be challenged on the grounds of irrationality.

Accordingly, the success of this challenge depends upon whether the claimant is able to show that the decision was vitiated by irrationality.”

The judge said the real issue raised by this challenge was whether the Secretary of State failed to take into account implications for the net zero target and carbon budgets leading towards that target. He also said: “I see no reason to question the judgment reached by the DfT that the various measures of carbon emissions from the roads programme were legally insignificant, or de minimis, when related to appropriate comparators for assessing the effect on climate change objectives”.

Let us hope that this is the first of many victories in the courts against those who oppose the use of road vehicles and sensible provision of capacity to meet demand.

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Congestion Charge Changes

The Mayor of London has announced a number of proposed changes to the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax). This tax was first introduced in 2002 when the charge to enter the central London zone was set at £5. It has subsequently been increased several times with the last change being to raise it to £15 and extend the hours to most of the day and to weekends.

That change was proposed to be a temporary measure to ensure that traffic did not increase during the pandemic as people avoided public transport but was also clearly intended to help with TfL’s budget problems.

It is now proposed to make the £15 charge permanent, but to reduce the charging hours during weekdays to 0700-1800 and weekend hours to 1200-1800.

Residents’ discounts will be reinstated but the previous discount for using Autopay is not reinstated.

You can see details of these changes with a link to the public consultation on this web page: https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/congestion-charge-changes . PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU RESPOND TO THE CONSULTATION

Comment: As is usual, the Mayor breaks a commitment that the increased charge was temporary so as to make more money. The pandemic is effectively over so there is no longer any justification for the increase. The reduction in hours may give some assistance to entertainment venues in the evening but that is a minor benefit to relatively few people in comparison with the number likely be affected by the increased tax.

The congestion charge has never proved to be effective in reducing traffic congestion and is a very expensive way of collecting more tax. Claims for its success are simply wrong.

The congestion tax should be removed!

See https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm for more details on the history of this tax and the evidence for its failure to achieve its objectives.

Roger Lawson

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Do LTNs Cut Accidents?

A study on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) by Anna Goodman et al, which has been widely reported by the Guardian and the Mayor of London, suggests that road casualties have fallen dramatically in London after LTNs were introduced. The fall is as much as 50% overall with large falls in pedestrian casualties.

One might say that if roads are closed and traffic reduced (the main objective of LTNs by their advocates although the Covid epidemic was used as the excuse to do so) then accidents are bound to fall. On the logic that the end justifies the means then to reduce the high road casualty toll, all roads should be closed. But that would not be very practical.

But if you look at the study, you will realise that it is hardly a scientifically accurate study of the impact of LTNs.

The key measure to look at when considering road accidents is the Killed and Seriously Injured (KSIs) where the data in this study seems to be very small, as minor injuries can suffer from under reporting. That is particularly so in the pandemic as people would be reluctant to visit police stations to report accidents.

In addition it seems a lot of the reduction is to pedestrians who were probably much reduced, particularly on busy shopping streets where most casualties take place, because of the pandemic. Few people were going shopping other than via the internet during the pandemic (many shops were closed), and the elderly and young, who are most prone to road accidents were particularly avoiding going out (schools were closed for example). The data has not been adjusted to take account of these factors.

The other issue is that road safety professionals consider that a three-year before and three-year after comparison is best used when considering the impact of road changes. This is because if road layouts are changed there tends to be a significant but only short-term impact on road user behaviour.

This is very selective data over a short period of time and not likely to reflect longer term trends. It is a great pity that Sadiq Khan has promoted this report without thinking. There are many good reasons why LTNs are opposed by the majority of people and LTNs are not a good way to reduce road accidents. All such simplistic solutions will fail because the reasons for accidents are complex and scientific studies need to have proper “controls” in place before conclusions are drawn. In this study, why were pedestrian casualties much reduced while other types were not and what features of the LTNs may have reduced accidents? There are several ways to implement LTNs but the report tells us nothing about those issues.

Reference: https://findingspress.org/article/25633-impacts-of-2020-low-traffic-neighbourhoods-in-london-on-road-traffic-injuries 

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Mayor Raking it in from ULEZ Charges

The “This is Money” web site have published a very good article on how the ULEZ charge is generating large amounts of tax money for the Mayor and TfL in London. It reports, based on data obtained by the AA, that the Mayor raked in £107 million in the first year of the ULEZ. See link below for the article.

We pointed out when the ULEZ charge was first proposed that this was about raising money for TfL to plug a big hole in their budgets. It was not primarily about improving the health of Londoners as claimed because any cost/benefit analysis indicates it is very poor value for money. See Reference 2 below for links to past articles.

With the ULEZ expanding in October and likely to affect another 300,000 drivers of older vehicles, the tax income raised will grow exponentially.

This is basically an attack on car drivers, particularly those who cannot afford to buy a new car, such as the elderly or poor.

Implementing the expanded ULEZ will cost £130 million in capital expenditure and by 2030 the expected benefit in reduced emissions is forecast to be zero as the vehicle fleet changes. But will the taxes ever be removed? We doubt it.

In reality the Mayor will plead poverty as he regularly does and the ULEZ and Congestion Charges will increase.

Reference 1: This is Money article: https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-9792587/London-rakes-107m-extra-ULEZ-zone-expands-14-weeks.html

Reference 2: FFDF Articles on the ULEZ: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/environment.htm

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Residents Oppose Road Closures in Dulwich

Campaign group OneDulwich have published this note:

80% against 24/7 closure of Dulwich Village junction

Surveys of residents in ten roads close to Dulwich Village junction show that over 80% of more than 800 local households (representing a far greater number of individuals) do not support the 24/7 closure.

You can read their full report on their web site here: https://www.onedulwich.uk/ along with a lot of other useful information.

It might be time for Southwark Council to stop referring to those in opposition as a small vocal minority.

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Air Pollution Data in London Does Not Support Mayor’s Claims

Yet again the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has used school children to promote his policies to expand the ULEZ in a photo-shoot. He said “In central London, the world-leading Ultra Low Emission Zone has already helped cut toxic roadside nitrogen dioxide pollution by nearly half and led to reductions that are five times greater than the national average”.

But in fact a recently published report by the London Borough of Lewisham shows that air pollution has fallen dramatically in recent years even in outer London boroughs. This is clearly the result of changes to vehicles and in 2020 by Covid lockdowns reducing traffic.

This is what we have said to supporters of our campaign against the Lewisham LTNs:

There is major public concern on the impact of the road closures in the LTN on air pollution because they have diverted traffic onto surrounding roads. Such roads as Burnt Ash Road, Lee High Road, Lee Road, the South Circular and others are residential roads and there are reports of increased air pollution.

A useful report (at least to some extent) has just been published by Lewisham Council. It contains their “Air Quality Annual Status Report for 2020” (available from this page: https://tinyurl.com/pmhsu6up ).

The report contains measurements of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates (PM2.5) over the last few years up to the end of 2020 from about 50 sites across the borough. An additional 51 sites were added in September 2020, many located within the LTN such as on Manor Lane and Burnt Ash Road, but that was of course after the Lee Green road closures were instituted. It is therefore impossible to see the impact of the road closures as no proper “before and after data” has been collected and the Covid lock-down measures will also have complicated any analysis. The biggest reduction occurred in the last two years but that might be due to reduced traffic volumes.

However the data shows that there have been consistent falls in pollution since 2014 (an average decrease of 38% for the seven year period). The levels reported are now all within the National Air Quality Standards, although some people argue that those standards should be raised.

It is no doubt the case that the falls in air pollution levels that have taken place prior to 2020 and continued in that year have occurred due to cleaner vehicles. Older vehicles have been scrapped and standards for new vehicles have been raised by Government regulation – for example by the move to Euro 6 standards. 

The borough supports the Mayor of London’s commitment to reduce the PM2.5 limit but as the report says “a large percentage of PM2.5 in London comes from regional and other transboundary (non-UK) sources”. It is clear that action on particulates, which is probably more important in health terms than NO2, needs to be taken at a national or international level.  In other words, local LTNs in Lewisham are not going to have a significant impact on background levels of air pollution.

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Lower Thames Crossing Consultation

Highways England have launched a new public consultation on the Lower Thames Crossing. A number of changes have been made after a previous consultation. This tunnel under the Thames east of the Dartford Crossing will relieve traffic congestion on the M25 and cope with the large increase in housing and businesses east of London and in Kent/Essex.

See https://ltcconsultation.highwaysengland.co.uk/ for the consultation and how to respond.

Our main response to the consultation was to encourage them to get on and build it! But those living near to the route may have more detailed comments.

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Government Powers Ahead with Decarbonising Transport

An announcement from the Government today spells out the world’s first “greenprint” for decarbonising all modes of domestic transport by 2050.

Plans include a ban on all new “polluting” road vehicles by 2040 and net zero aviation emissions by 2050. The former includes the phasing out of all petrol and diesel HGVs by 2040 – subject to consultation. Consultation will be very important because the practicality of HGVs that need to go long distances without repeated refuelling is important economically. LGVs can probably be electrified but HGVs need to use alternative fuels.

The 2050 commitment applies to aviation emissions and a consultation on that is also launched under the “Jet Zero” banner. It is clear that new technologies and aviation fuels need to be developed to achieve a major reduction in aviation emissions. Whether such changes to reach zero emissions are achievable is not at all clear and the cost, which might be very considerable, is not given.

Similarly the costs of electrification of all rail transport is likely to be enormous as the UK lags far behind other European countries in that regard. Only about 50% of the UK rail network is currently electrified.

The Daily Telegraph has speculated on a new system of road pricing to replace the £30 billion currently raised through taxes on petrol and diesel. But the latest Government announcement leaves out any mention of how that issue is to be tackled.

As with all good political missives, the Government document contains lots of fine words about how the environment will be improved while not inhibiting us from travelling when or where we want (for example, taking holiday flights). It’s a policy statement in essence that leaves out all the detail of how this nirvana is to be achieved and at what cost. It ignores a lot of the practical difficulties. But it’s worth reading to get an impression of what might happen in the next few years.

Government GreenPrint Paper: https://tinyurl.com/8ymtap38

Telegraph Article on “Road Toll Confusion”: https://tinyurl.com/edxxh4rp

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Beech Street to Reopen

Beech Street runs under the Barbican in the City of London. It was closed to all but zero emission vehicles recently using an Experimental Traffic Order. But that order will expire in September and it seems a mistake has been made by the City Corporation so it will be reopened. This closure was exceedingly inconvenient to Barbican residents and this is what a residents association had to say about this news:

There has been an unexpected development in the continuing saga of the Beech Street traffic experiment. It appears that Beech Street is to re-open to all traffic for anything up to a year when the experiment traffic order expires on 18 September 2021 because the City has bungled the introduction of a permanent traffic order which would be necessary to keep the traffic restrictions in place.

This means that on 18 September 2021, Beech Street will revert to how it was before the experiment began. All vehicles of all types will be at liberty to use Beech Street at any time without penalty, just as they were before the traffic scheme came into operation. The traffic signs will be taken down, the cameras will be de-activated, the junctions with Bridgwater Street and Golden Lane will re-open, the concrete blocks will be taken away and the new gaps in the central reservation allowing right turns into Lauderdale Place and Defoe House car park will be blocked off.

You may be wondering why the gaps in the central reservation have to be closed since they are of value with or without the experiment. The City says the gaps can only operate safely at low levels of traffic because vehicles making right turns into off-street premises leave their tail ends sticking out into the eastbound carriageway.

The reason why Beech Street is to re-open is a little convoluted. As many will know, the City’s refusal to postpone the experiment when the pandemic struck has been challenged in the High Court. The ground for the challenge was that a traffic experiment carried out in abnormal traffic conditions was not a fair test and that the start of the experiment should have been delayed until traffic conditions returned to normal.

The High Court hearing took place on 29 and 30 June. Prior to the hearing, on 15 April 2021, the High Court issued an injunction prohibiting the City from making the Beech Street scheme permanent in advance of the court’s decision on the challenge. The City wasn’t sure whether this meant it had to stop all monitoring and consultation in relation to the experiment. Instead of asking the judge for clarification, it took the decision to suspend the monitoring and consultation, which threw its timetable for making a permanent traffic order into disarray.

At the hearing, the judge said this was entirely unnecessary since she had never intended the monitoring and consultation to stop and if the City had sent her an email asking for clarification, which was what everyone else did when they wanted the meaning of a court order clarified, she would have told them there and then.

The City told the court that it would not now be possible to make a permanent traffic order until February 2022 at the earliest and possibly not until autumn 2022.

A ruling on the High Court challenge is likely to come in about a month. It is possible that the High Court will revoke the experimental traffic order which in the circumstances would be good news. It would mean that the City could start a new experiment as soon as traffic conditions returned to normal, thereby reintroducing the Beech Street traffic restrictions much earlier than would be possible if it were to make a permanent traffic order. And there would then be a proper experiment”.

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