Gear Change , But Downwards

Cover Photo from Gear Change

The Department for Transport (DfT) have recently published a document entitled “Gear Change: One Year On”. It’s a celebration of the radical changes implemented by Government policy in the last year, with more active travel. It also contains a forward by the Prime Minister containing such phrases as: “Hundreds of new schemes have created safe space for people to cycle and walk, supported pubs and restaurants that might otherwise have closed, and allowed us to get the exercise we need. For decades we mourned that children no longer played in the street. Now once again, in some places, they do”.

That’s a very distorted view of what has happened during the pandemic. More people have walked and cycled partly because they have been working from home and hence have more time to do so, but also because they have been avoiding public transport.

The PM also says: “I know many people think that cycling and walking schemes simply increase car traffic on other roads. But there is now increasing evidence that they do not. We sometimes think of traffic as like water: if you block a stream in one place, it will find the next easiest way. Of course some journeys by car are essential, but traffic is not a force of nature. It is a product of people’s choices. If you make it easier and safer to walk and cycle, more people choose to walk and cycle instead of driving, and the traffic falls overall”. The latter comments may be true but there is certainly evidence that closing roads which is a typical element of LTNs does increase traffic on other roads.

The Gear Change document is a panegyric to the wonders of walking and cycling, but it totally ignores the needs of major segments of the population such as the elderly or infirm, or those who rely on vehicles to transport goods, tools or multiple passengers. It also contains some very misleading data on such issues as the take-up of cycling. It also suggests there is widespread public support for LTNs when independent surveys suggest the majority are against them. It depends on who you ask, the questions posed and who runs the survey.

Gear Change promotes a negative, downward move to local transport that will be opposed by many. It’s basically a propaganda piece exhorting us to change our way of life rather than the Government tackling the underlying causes of traffic congestion.

A good example of the kind of opposition to LTNs is the formation of a new group in Dulwich called “Age Speaks”. They say “We are a group of older people within One Dulwich who have banded together to amplify our voice.  As individuals we are being ignored by Southwark Council and our views and needs are being drowned out by the lobby groups the Council is listening to.  Together our voices will be louder and so we are uniting to make sure that older people are heard.

We want to make sure that the Council understands the difficulties the experimental road schemes cause us and how the Council could change things to make sure that we are treated equally.  Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and the Council has a duty to protect older people from unfair disadvantage.  This is particularly important now, as the Council will be making a decision on the road schemes in October, and so far has paid very little attention to the needs of older people”. They are particularly critical of an Equality Impact Assessment report from Southwark Council which is a typical example of such recent publications which tend to simply ignore many of the problems faced by the elderly.

Those who write such documents tend to be young and fit and simply have no understanding of how the elderly are impacted by attacks on the use of vehicles.

Gear Change report: https://tinyurl.com/yhc2fxkf

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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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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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Andy Byford Speaks to the Standard

London Transport Commissioner Andy Byford recently gave an interview with the Evening Standard which is informative. He talks about the problem of re-establishing confidence in the underground network to help restore the finances of TfL, and the promotion of electric buses to cure air pollution problems – but that won’t happen for the whole bus fleet until 2030.

One interesting point the article makes is that Mr Byford is a non-driver. He does of course have responsibility for the road network in London as his remit includes Transport for London who control the roads. Is it not astonishing that we have a Transport Commissioner who has no personal experience of using the road network which is used to transport a very high proportion of people and goods in London?

This shows the innate prejudice against motorised road transport that has been introduced into London by politicians.

Reference 1: Evening Standard Article: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/tfl-boss-andy-byford-clash-ministers-plan-ditch-masks-tube-b943356.html

Reference 2: Andy Byford interview: https://www.londonrising.standard.co.uk/programme/andy-byford-in-conversation-with-emily-sheffield

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Telegraph Summarises Surveys Against LTNs, and John Redwood’s Blog Article

The Daily Telegraph has published an analysis of the 10 consultations on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) that local councils have reported to date. Three quarters of the people consulted over LTNs and cycle lanes opposed them.

The councils reporting their survey results include Harrow (82% opposed) and Windsor + Maidenhead (89% opposed). One exception was Bromley though with 64% supporting but their schemes are very limited in scope.

The newspaper also reported that one in three councils have axed, modified or reduced their active travel schemes. They also quote Tony Devenish, Conservative London Assembly Members as saying: “My Government is at fault to some extent, because they gave councils the power not to publicly consult for up to 18 months. You can’t just do these things to people. There has been absolute outcry from the Great British public – and that’s why so many councils have had to U-turn”.

But some Councils such as Lewisham have avoided doing public consultations despite promising to do them, or they keep moving the goalposts by changing the nature of the road closures (for example by changing them to “School Streets” or by reissuing Traffic Orders to avoid legal challenges).

Comment: Such public surveys show that the general public (even those who don’t own a car but rely on public transport such as buses), are opposed to the obstruction of our roads. Roads are essential for the movement of people and goods.

In Praise of the Car

John Redwood, M.P., has spelled out the advantages of cars in a good article on his blog (see Reference 2 below). He says: “Acquiring your first vehicle is a major advance in your personal freedom. Yet today government, Councils and better off greens from the security of their homes in major cities lecture the rest of us on the wickedness of the car. The better off Green city dweller can rely more on the tube or mass transit and has the money for taxis when needed. The aim is to get people out of car ownership or to reduce their use of the car, and in the meantime to cow people into keeping quiet about their reliance on this flexible and most popular form of transport”.

He explains at length why cars are more practical and economic for most of the journeys which he takes. A number of good comments have been added. I hope Grant Shapps reads the article.

Reference 1: Telegraph Article: https://tinyurl.com/2d44vbcn

Reference 2: Redwood Article: https://tinyurl.com/cchhcurc

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Crossing Lights Permanently at Red, No TfL Settlement, Electric Boris Bikes and E-Scooter Trials

Green Lights for Pedestrians

Transport for London (TfL) have announced their latest attack on vehicle users. A number of light-controlled pedestrian crossings are being changed so that they are permanently set at red for vehicles. Pedestrians will see a permanent green signal until a vehicle approaches when it might then change to red. But how soon? And won’t it encourage drivers to ignore the red lights they see when there is obviously no pedestrian waiting to cross?

This change will be made to 18 pedestrian crossings, initially in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hounslow, Richmond and Hillingdon. The justification is that locations of high pedestrian flow require such a change. See Reference 1 below for the TfL press release.

No TfL Settlement

It seems the Government has not responded to Sadiq Khan’s 115-page document based on what was said at the Mayor’s Question Time. The existing temporary funding settlement to keep TfL afloat expires today (28th May). The Mayor said there has been “no engagement” on the Mayor’s proposals which include giving the Mayor power over Vehicle Excise Duty and imposing a charge to drive into the outer London boroughs. The latter is strongly opposed by the Conservatives who dominate in the outer London boroughs and the surrounding shires and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has opposed both ideas.

Comment: It seems we edge even closer to the Government taking control of TfL, as they should do, as a settlement of this problem seems increasingly unlikely. TfL and the Mayor seem to be like most socialists – namely unable to plan for budgets that enable them to live within their means without raising more taxes. They will keep spending until the Government tells them to stop.

Electric Boris Bikes

Santander is to extend their sponsorship of TfL’s flagship cycle hire scheme until 2025 and the scheme’s first e-bikes will be rolled out in summer next year. It will be expanded to cover new parts of the city and there will be a permanent discount for NHS staff. There were a record number of hires in the past year. See Reference 2 for the TfL press release.

What are the finances of the Santander bike hire scheme and what are Santander contributing? The press release is remarkably silent on the costs and income. But this is what Wikipedia say on the figures in 2016: “TfL funded a net £3.6 million to the scheme in the 2016/17 period during which ~10 million bikes were hired, this equates to 16.9% of the scheme’s operating costs being funded by subsidy this is on par with TfL’s operating costs as a whole”. It appears that TfL are therefore massively subsidising the scheme and Santander are simply paying for the advertising of their name. Expanding the scheme will drive TfL even further into deficit however worthy it might be to get more people cycling.

E-Scooters Trial

TfL have also announced that a trial of E-Scooters will commence in London on the 7th June. The operators will be Dott, Lime and Tier. They will be limited to 12.5 mph, must have lights and audible warning signals.

They will only be allowed to be used on roads and in cycleways, which is the only legal use permitted by any e-scooter but this law is of course regularly ignored by e-cycle users and the police do not have the resources to enforce the law. So they are regularly ridden on pavements.

They are also regularly abandoned on pavements which causes problems for disabled people.

Comment: E-Scooters are positively dangerous to pedestrians when ridden on pavements, and are also dangerous to the e-scooter riders as they are less conspicuous to drivers of vehicles than cyclists.

We will await the outcome of the trials but from the evidence seen to date they do not appear to be safe.

All pedestrians who see cyclists or e-scooter riders on the pavement should tell them to get off, and stand in their way until they do. They might then get the message!

Reference 1: Pedestrian Priority: https://tinyurl.com/37k66bvn

Reference 2: Cycle Hire Scheme:  https://tinyurl.com/fdzwae2v

Reference 3: E-Scooter Trials: https://tinyurl.com/vxbsarwt

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Blackwall Tunnel Fire

A car has caught fire in the Blackwall Tunnel northbound this morning. Both tunnels are now closed and gridlock is spreading over South-East London as a result.

This shows how important it is to build the Silvertown Tunnel as there are few alternative routes to cope with current volumes of traffic. The older tunnels such as the northbound Blackwall Tunnel and the Rotherhithe Tunnel are known to be very dangerous and vulnerable to fires as they have no escape routes and limited fire prevention/control measures.

It’s symptomatic of the ageing and archaic Thames River crossings in London that these tunnels are still in use. Hammersmith Bridge is also closed and needs repair. Under investment in London road infrastructure by recent Mayors is the cause. They have preferred to spend money on grandiose rail/underground projects.

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More Changes at Bank

The City of London Corporation have been working assiduously to remove all traffic from London’s streets in the last couple of years regardless of the impact on residents, businesses and visitors. Bank Junction has already been subjected to severe restrictions on all vehicles except buses and cycles, thus effectively closing this key junction in the centre of the City. Even taxis have been excluded much to the annoyance of taxi drivers. The Corporation are now proposing to go a step further and close more of the roads, even to buses.

The latest changes include the following:

  • The closure of Threadneedle Street to motor vehicles that runs along the south of the Bank of England.
  • The closure of Queen Victoria Street between Bucklersbury and Bank Junction for motor vehicles, except those vehicles exiting Walbrook in a westbound direction.
  • Closing Princes Street except for buses and cycles northbound; and except as a route for servicing to Cornhill in a southbound direction.

It includes proposals for widening pavements around the junction which the road closures will enable (artist’s impression above). Bus routes will also have to be changed.

For more details and to respond to a public consultation go here: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/services/streets/all-change-at-bank-project

Comment: It was certainly the case that Bank Junction was a problem on two grounds: 1) the volume of pedestrians using the junction with the station being enlarged when pavements are very narrow (at least until the recent epidemic); and 2) as regards road safety with frequent casualties including fatalities. The complex nature of the junction with many buses passing through it and high pedestrian traffic were partly to blame.

It therefore was not unreasonable to look at simplifying the junction to enable more pedestrian space and improve the environment. However, the removal of all traffic was very damaging to the road network in the City of London, and has caused traffic to simply move to other roads with additional congestion.  

The latest changes do not improve matters but will make things worse. For example if Threadneedle Street is to be closed it should also be closed to cyclists to avoid conflicts with pedestrians.

Please respond to the public consultation if you have an interest in these roads.

Roger Lawson

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Albemarle Road, Bromley – Another Unnecessary Covid Scheme

Albemarle Road in Bromley is one of those roads where an experimental traffic scheme has been introduced using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse and on which funding has been provided accordingly. In reality it is a scheme that favours cyclists when very few of them use this road, while disadvantaging vehicle users.

The former two-way road, which is a key route between Beckenham junction and Bromley town centre, has now been reduced to a one-way street westbound so as to make way for a cycle lane (see latest photo above). Vehicles wanting to go east from Beckenham now have to use Bromley Road. Residents of Albemarle Road and adjacent roads now have tortuous and longer routes to many destinations, or to get to their properties.

This was a road that worked well before the changes and there is no justification for the proposals which are in essence a waste of money. However the introduction of traffic lights on the Westgate Road Bridge and removal of the bus lane before Shortlands may make sense.  

The London Borough of Bromley is now running a public consultation on the scheme even though traffic volumes have not returned to normal. Responses need to be submitted before the 3rd of March. There is an easy on-line form where you can submit your comments here: https://tinyurl.com/23k67p3j  

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Albemarle Road, Beckenham Public Consultation

One of the few road traffic schemes in the London Borough of Bromley prompted by the Covid-19 epidemic and financed by funding like other schemes to encourage cycling was that in Albemarle Road, Beckenham. This road is a major route between Beckenham Junction and Bromley Town Centre via Shortlands.  It worked perfectly well but the introduction of a one-way system, with a cycle lane and other changes has created more traffic congestion. For our previous comments on this scheme, see https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2020/11/23/covid-19-induced-madness-comes-to-bromley-in-albemarle-road/

A petition against the “temporary” scheme has collected almost 2,500 signatures on change.org and many residents of Albemarle Road and surrounding roads have objected.

Now Bromley Council have launched a public consultation on the scheme. They give a couple of options, one of which is to remove the scheme completely. But it might make sense to retain traffic lights on Westgate Road bridge to avoid vehicle conflicts.

But please give your own views by responding to the consultation here: https://www.bromley.gov.uk/info/545/traffic_management/1510/traffic_management_on_albemarle_road_and_westgate_road_bridge_-_consultation

They want answers by the 3rd of March which may be rather soon. Traffic has not returned to normal levels because of the lock-downs and recent poor weather. But it certainly does not appear to have encouraged more cycling on this route.   

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