Would Micro Cars and Cargo Bikes Help?

Two initiatives that might help to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution in big cities are the promotion of “micro” cars and cargo bikes. The former take up less space on the road and the latter might remove a lot of trips by LGVs to deliver goods.

Micro cars such as the BMW/Isetta or Messerschmitt KR200, otherwise known as “bubble cars” at the time, were popular in the 1950s as they provided very cheap transport with a lower tax rate. From my personal experience of a ride in one they were uncomfortable and very noisy – like sitting in a metal can with a motorcycle engine next to you. But at least they carried more than one person and enabled you to get out of the rain.

Japan encouraged the production of very small vehicles by lower taxation on “kei” cars that had limits on engine capacity – more latterly 660 cc. These proved very popular in Japan and a few other countries but not in western economies with a few exceptions. One such exception was the Suzuki Cappuccino (see photo above) which my wife owned for a time. It might look like a full size car but in fact was less than 11 feet long. Leg room was OK but otherwise the cockpit was cramped for those of even average size.

There are now some new vehicles being sold that attempt to meet the need for very small vehicles. These include the Citroen AMI which is available in France but not the UK.  With a battery under its floor (it’s a BEV electric vehicle), the Ami weighs 485kg, has a range of 43 miles and a regulated top speed of 28mph. But it looks like a brick.

A similar vehicle but somewhat more stylish and which is available in the UK is the electric Renault Twizzy (see photo above). It has a range of up to 56 miles but typically somewhat less. It does not get great reviews in the motoring press and is rated as expensive.

There are competitive vehicles such as the petrol-engined Kia Picanto,  Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen up! plus the battery-powered VW e-up! (range up to 159 miles) and SEAT Mii Electric. My oldest grandson just bought a Picanto as his first car having recently passed his driving test and it’s very impressive in terms of facilities. It looks like a conventional small car.

Another possible contender in the market is the Microlino (not yet available in the UK). This is an electric vehicle which is similar in styling to the old BMW/Isetta and with a good range. 

The pricing of extremely small vehicles tends not to be much less than more conventional vehicles which may be one reason why they have never taken off in the UK. They may be seen as good for driving short distances in big cities but in reality they can be tricky to pilot in heavy traffic where there are much larger vehicles such as buses and HGVs who may not see you.

The countries where they have taken off have been those where there are substantial tax benefits or other fiscal encouragements. In the UK these have been missing. For example, vehicles such as the Renault Twizzy qualify as a “light quadricycle”. Such vehicles have to weigh less than 350kg (not including batteries if they are electric) and have a top speed of less than 28mph. But there’s no plug-in grant money available from the government for the Twizzy because a) it doesn’t travel the required distance on electric power alone and b) in official terms, it’s a quadricycle, not a car; however there’s no road tax to pay. They will not be exempt from the London Congestion Charge after 2025 though.

There could certainly be more incentives to drive very small vehicles in the UK particularly in big cities where they would be environmentally better and ease the parking problems. But in London Sadiq Khan seems keener to discourage all vehicles and to raise the maximum in taxes from them.

Cargo Bikes

Another way to reduce traffic congestion and cut emissions is to promote the use of E-Cargo bikes. The Government has provided £400,000 via the Department for Transport in 2021/22 for the purchase of e-cargo bikes. Funding covers up to 40% of the total cost of an e-cargo bike, up to a maximum of £2,500 for two-wheel models and £4,500 for three-wheel models. See https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/grants-and-loans/ecargo-bike-fund/ for details.

Photo above is from the Energy Savings Trust’s document “Electrifying Last Mile Deliveries” which covers the benefits and applications of cargo bikes, electric vans and micro vehicles. There are certainly many options now available if people wish to dispense with the conventional “white van”. Whether they are easy to maintain and cost effective to run I think will only become clear after more user experience.

Roger Lawson

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The Cause of London’s Problems

We all know that London has major problems with traffic congestion, air pollution and housing shortages. These are all symptoms of a population that has been growing rapidly and is now way too large for the supporting infrastructure.

One of the causes of the rapid increase in the population is immigration into London from Europe. The Daily Telegraph have published an article that spells out the figures after an analysis of applications under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) that allows EU citizens permanent residence in the country. The figures they report are not just unexpectedly high, they are truly astonishing.

The article (see reference below), reports that 35% of the population of the London Boroughs of Newham and Brent are EUSS applicants. Some 1.8 million people have applied in London, meaning 1 in 5 Londoners are EU citizens. But other UK towns such as Northampton, Boston and Corby now have major proportions of EU migrants as residents.

As the article says, these numbers are startling and are much higher than previous Government estimates of EU migration. This has meant that estimates of requirements for school places and healthcare provision have been wildly wrong.

But the worse impact of this unplanned migration has been on housing and transport provision, particularly in London. This problem has been ignored by politicians in London for far too long. They have ignored the cause of the problems that have been created because they don’t wish to be seen as critical of the social problems that such immigration has caused.

Further EU migration might be deterred in future but we will have to live with the problem that has been caused. Massive investment will be required to cope with this influx.

Telegraph article: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/06/25/eu-citizens-make-third-population-british-towns/

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The Mayor of London’s Agenda and New York’s Congestion Charge

Our new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has issued a tweet that spells out his priorities. This is what he said:

Okay—here’s the plan:

🔨 Create + protect jobs
💰 Help businesses grow
🌳 Tackle the climate crisis
🏠 Build new homes
🚓 Invest in policing
🎬 Create opportunities for young people
🏆 Celebrate diversity
💪🏽 Root out inequality
⚽ Deliver an amazing Euro2020

<END>

These are all fine words, but rather like the Government’s policies as outlined in the Queen’s Speech, rather short on detail. It also contains phrases like “celebrate diversity” that are not just meaningless, but do not lead to specific actions or budget allocations. Many people would argue that there is too much diversity in London and that leads to social incoherence, and why should the Mayor be spending time or money on celebrating it anyway? We all know that the population of London is now very diverse and we have all come to accept that. So what is there to celebrate?

One big issue is certainly the comment that he plans to “Tackle the Climate Crisis”. Is there one? If you look at many London boroughs who have introduced Low Traffic Neighbourhoods they have justified this on the basis of tackling climate change. They argue that it is important to cut emissions from vehicles when doing so will have minimal impact on the climate. Climate may be influenced by man-made emissions (although some dispute that) but cutting vehicle emissions in London will have a negligible influence. Emissions in London come from many different sources and directly relate to the population of London and their requirements for buildings, heating and transport. The Mayor’s policies imply more businesses, more buildings to accommodate them, more homes for the workers and more infrastructure to support them so this is all contradictory.

Only if the Mayor adopted a policy of reducing the population of London while providing more infrastructure – particularly in terms of transport – would the environment be improved.

New York, New York

It’s interesting to look at another major city which has similar transport problems – a heavily congested road network and a public transport system in deficit. Just like the impact of the Covid epidemic on the budgets of Transport for London, New York is facing a major problem. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) budget (which covers the subway and some bus services and is equivalent to TfL in London) is projecting a deficit of $16 billion for the period 2020 to 2024, even after major cuts in services.

New York is planning to introduce congestion charging to cut traffic and of course generate some income for the MTA – as much as $15 billion by charging $10 to $15 dollars per day for those entering Manhattan. But the adjacent state of New Jersey, from which many people commute into New York City, is threatening retaliation. Senator Laguna and Assemblyman Tully are developing legislation that would impose tolls on non-residents driving between New Jersey and New York. Mr Tully said “We should not be used to fund the MTA”.

This is equivalent to Essex or Kent imposing a tax on Londoners who drive into their counties if Sadiq Khan imposed a toll on those who drive into London from outside the M25 – as he is proposing. This is surely a very good response to such a threat!

County Councils that border the M25 should surely be asking the Government for such legislation, or asking the Government to stop this taxation without representation.

Roger Lawson

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The Danger of Encouraging Cycling

There is a very good article which has been published by an organisation named “Single File” on the dangers of encouraging cycling. It suggests London is about to have an explosion in cycling deaths as more cyclists on the roads mean more deaths of cyclists.

It also demolishes the myth that Holland has made cycling both safe and popular. Holland has more than twice the number of fatal cycling deaths than the UK despite the fact that they have many more segregated cycle lanes. The article also points out that getting more people to cycle will not solve London’s traffic congestion problems.

One good quotation from the article is this: “When you reallocate limited road space on a 24×7 basis for bicycles, the problem you introduce is this  –  in London only one in 50 road users are cyclists,  and that’s only during peak hour.  The rest of the time that precious road space becomes woefully underused”.

See https://singlefile.org/london-is-about-to-have-an-explosion-in-cycling-deaths/ for the article.

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A Better Deal for Bus Users, Or Is It?

Transport Minister Grant Shapps has announced “A better deal for bus users”. He claims “fill a double-decker with motorists and it’s possible to remove 75 cars from the road”. That is clearly not true on most roads because it does not take into account the density of such traffic. Very few roads see nose to tail bus traffic that would maximise the volume of people carried. Most bus lanes actually carry less people than they would if they were left to carry all traffic because the frequency of buses is low.

Bus traffic has been falling across the UK for some years – for example passenger numbers were down by over 6% in 2018/19. See Reference 1 below. The only part of the country where bus journeys have been rising (until the recent decline caused by the Covid epidemic) is London which accounts for over 50% of all bus journeys. London buses are massively subsidised and congestion on other public transport services such as the underground and on the roads has encouraged usage. The use of concessionary fares such as the Freedom Pass in London has also promoted use at the expense of rising local taxes to pay for them.

Why do people in the rest of the country choose to own and drive cars when a bus would be cheaper? Because buses are not door-to-door services and you have to fit in with their schedules rather than pick your own travel times. Also anyone who uses buses will have experienced the problem of standing in the cold and rain for the next bus only to find it never turns up because it’s been cancelled.

How does Grant Shapps aim to make buses more attractive? By developing a National Bus Strategy and giving hand-outs to bus operators (or “grant funding” as it is euphemistically called).

He also intends to ensure that buses are given priority in new road schemes (i.e. more bus lanes). The Government will be providing taxpayers money to fund such schemes.  

The Government will also provide more funding to assist the purchase of all-electric or hybrid buses so as to improve air quality. This is a positive move as diesel buses are still a major contributor to air pollution, particularly in London and other major cities. While cars have got much cleaner in recent years, buses have not with too many old diesels still in use.

A summary of what is proposed is as follows:

  • National Bus Strategy focussed on passenger priorities.
  • review of £250 million bus service operators grant to ensure it supports the environment and improved passenger journeys.
  • over £20 million investment in bus priority measures in the West Midlands.
  • all new road investments receiving government funding to explicitly address bus priority measures to improve bus journey times and reliability.
  • refreshing the government’s guidance to local authorities to provide up to date advice on prioritising those vehicles which can carry the most people.
  • investing up to £50 million to deliver Britain’s first all-electric bus town or city.
  • improving information for bus passengers through new digital services and at bus stops.
  • challenging industry to deliver a campaign to attract people to buses
  • incentivising multi-operator ticketing with lower fares.
  • trialling new ‘superbus’ network approach to deliver low fare, high frequency services and funding 4-year pilot of a lower fare network in Cornwall.
  • ambition for all buses to accept contactless payment for passenger convenience.
  • £30 million extra bus funding to be paid direct to local authorities to enable them to improve current bus services or restore lost services.
  • £20 million to support demand responsive services in rural and suburban areas.

But it’s worth pointing out that the level of investment and subsidies is still quite trivial in comparison with that spent on rail services (for example £106 billion on building HS2 alone).

Grant Shapps announcement looks like a canard to win political support in some areas rather than something that will have a real impact. Bus users will continue to be the poor relations of other public transport users, and this writer does not see it encouraging people to get out of their cars and onto buses.

Spending money on bus priority measures rather than improving the road network for all vehicle users is simply a mistake. In summary this looks like another misconceived policy from Grant Shapps’ Department rather like the recent encouragement of LTNs.

Roger Lawson

Reference 1. Bus journey statistics: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/bus-statistics

Reference 1. Shapps’ Announcement: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-better-deal-for-bus-users

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Covid-19 Induced Madness Comes to Bromley in Albemarle Road

The changes to Albemarle Road in Beckenham have created the anticipated traffic congestion problems. See photo below taken from a petition web site created to oppose the changes.

The changes included making Albemarle Road, a key east-west route between Bromley and Beckenham Junction, a one-way road with the introduction of a cycle lane and the banning of parking. Note that we submitted objections to these proposals when they were first announced in September – see this blog post for details: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2020/09/20/bromley-council-experimental-traffic-orders-objections-submitted/

Albemarle Road worked very well as it was, but it is now the cause of greatly increased traffic congestion and massive inconvenience to local residents. The changes were introduced using Experimental Traffic Orders justified by the Covid-19 epidemic which makes no sense whatsoever.

Will it encourage cyclists to use this route? I doubt it because there was probably no problem with them using it before, and in any case any cyclist travelling eastwards would have hit a steep hill before getting to Bromley which may have deterred them anyway.

Send in your objections to ESD Traffic (Group) traffic@bromley.gov.uk to ensure this scheme is not made permanent.

And sign the petition here: http://chng.it/pTf7PTjqqN

More details are here: https://www.bromley.gov.uk/info/545/traffic_management/1453/albemarle_road_-_traffic_management_alterations

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Active Travel and Road Safety – The Facts

There has been a big push to encourage people to take up “active travel” in the last few years, i.e. to cycle or walk on the premise that this will improve their health. It is hoped that this will relieve pressure on public transport and reduce traffic congestion by getting people out of their cars. So the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy that he adopted focussed on this well before the latest attempts to encourage active travel in response to the Covid-19 epidemic.

How successful has this strategy been and what are the unintended consequences?

The latest figures available from the Department for Transport (DfT) in their National Travel Survey for 2019 showed no change in the number of stages cycled and an actual fall in the average distance cycled from 58 to 54 miles. The number of stages walked also fell from 347 in 2018 to 332. Cycling remained very much a male dominated travel mode – they made 3 times as many cycle trips as women.

There was little change in the road casualty statistics in 2019. The number of people killed was 1,748. Despite sharp falls in the number prior to 2010, the figures plateaued in the 2010s. The DfT suggests that any changes in recent years are simply random variations (only 2% down in 2019). There has of course been some increase in traffic volumes in the last few years but the results are still very disappointing.

Although overall casualty figures fell by 5% in 2019, this data is probably an under-estimate as it is known that slight casualties are under-reported and recent pressures on police resources mean even fewer are reported with police forces not even turning out to attend many road traffic accidents.

We have been claiming for some time that the failure to bring down casualties is due to defects in road safety policies. For example a concentration on automated speed enforcement rather than spending money on road engineering and education. The encouragement of cycling may not have helped either. These are the relative figures for fatalities per billion miles travelled using different transport modes:

Motorcycling: 113.3

Walking: 34.1

Cycling: 29.4

Car use: 1.8

HGV use: 0.9

Bus use: 0.6

Van use: 0.6

A new negative trend may soon appear if E-Scooters are widely adopted as they appear to be positively dangerous. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) recently said this: “From evidence and experience around the world, it is now very clear that the public benefits of [e-scooters] are illusory and the disbenefits substantial, at least in a European context”. They oppose the current trials and wider legislation to support them. Very few car trips apparently transfer to e-scooter use and they also are not “active travel”.

They are also a particular danger to pedestrians when ridden on the pavement which is happening all over London at present with the police doing very little to stop it.

What have been the changes in transport modes prompted by the Covid-19 epidemic?  They have been substantial, particularly in London. Underground and London bus usage has fallen greatly as more people worked from home which is why the Mayor and TfL have financial difficulties as income has fallen while the network has not been reduced. Nationwide cycling rose by as much as 300% on some days in the first couple of months (April/May) over the start of the year. The weather does of course have a big impact on cycle use which has been relatively benign in recent months and summer makes cycling more enjoyable. Cycle use rises sharply during weekends and bank holidays which suggests it is dominated by “leisure” and “exercise” use, particularly as gyms and sports venues have been closed. But the cycling numbers are now reverting to more normal levels. You can see the data for different modes during the epidemic here: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/transport-use-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic   

Car use fell very substantially during the first few weeks of the epidemic but that has also reverted to near normal levels across the country. Any big increases in traffic congestion in London are surely due to the road closures and removal of road space by cycle and bus lanes using Covid-19 as an excuse.

Comment: The fear of gridlock on the roads as people avoided public transport is not born out by the facts. They have mainly avoided travelling altogether. As people have learned to work from home, it is clear that the demand for central London offices will fall, and the number of commuters may never recover to previous levels. Why should TfL maintain a network of bus and underground services at previous levels when the passengers are much reduced? Any commercial business would cut services to match demand because to do otherwise leads to bankruptcy. That is what will happen to London’s transport services unless the Government bows to Sadiq Khan’s demands for more cash to keep it afloat. The Government should ignore such requests and force TfL to adapt to the new world rather than waste the taxes we all pay.  

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Who Is Right About Traffic in London?

Lewisham Councillor James Rathbone is a strong supporter of the newly introduced Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme in Lee Green ward. He recently issued a Tweet which said: “People are right to be angry that there is so much congestion on their streets but it’s been a growing problem for the last decade”. He also suggested that “Without traffic reduction the number of vehicle miles will only rise”, i.e. that the alleged problem would get worse. He backed it up with some graphs without giving the source or what they actually represented.

My response was that from my experience of living and driving in London for many years, I believed he was exaggerating. I have taken the time to actually locate the relevant data and here it is:

London and Lewisham Traffic Data

Traffic volumes in London, and even more so in Lewisham, have been falling for the last 10 years. If there is any increase in traffic congestion it is the result of new traffic management measures, road narrowing, road closures, new bus lanes, imposition of cycle superhighways and other attempts to impose modal shift on drivers. In other words, poor traffic management is the cause, not increases in traffic volumes. 

I hope Mr Rathbone will apologise for misleading people.

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Does Closing Roads Reduce Air Pollution and Improve Health?

The Freedom for Drivers Foundation has long argued that there is way too much scaremongering about the impact on people’s health of air pollution. We published a paper two years ago (see Reference 1 below) that in summary said that we believe it is not a major health crisis but simply a major health scare fed to a gullible public by a few politicians and by journalists wanting a story. We also criticised the relative contribution of vehicles to existing air pollution. Most air pollution arises from home and office heating, building and industrial activities and from home activities such as cooking and smoking.

Is there actually a public health crisis? The simple answer is NO. The evidence does not support such claims. In reality air quality has been steadily improving and will continue to do so from technical improvements to heating and vehicles. Meanwhile life expectancy has been increasing. There is no public health crisis!

The Covid-19 epidemic has given a great opportunity to see the likely impact of removing cars and other vehicles from the roads as businesses closed down and home working spread like wildfire.

The Daily Mail (see Reference 2) has reported on a study by Stirling University with the headlines: “Decline in vehicle use in lockdown had no impact on reducing toxic particle emissions and suggests traffic is ‘not a key contributor to air pollution” and “It found no significant fall in harmful toxic particulate matter – known as PM2.5” based on roadside measurements. That was despite a 65% fall in traffic.

Particulates are more dangerous than NOX and as people spent more time at home, they may have increased their exposure to them. But it is clear that removing vehicles from the roads does not cut particulate emissions.  Although NO2 levels fell, which mainly come from transport, the Mail article suggests that might cut attributable deaths but in reality there is no certainty about the impact of NOX emissions on life expectancy and it may be a totally spurious claim.

We have also recently debunked the alleged claim linking asthma to NOX emissions. There are a number of possible causes for asthma and very poor air conditions (worse than generally experienced) can trigger or exacerbate attacks, but one has to be very careful about a specific linkage.

Life expectancy data tells us that there is no air pollution health crisis. But London boroughs such as Lewisham argue we have to remove vehicles from our streets as a matter of urgency – see Reference 5 for Lewisham air quality data.

A lot of published data on air quality and sources of air pollution are out of date as road transport has rapidly changed as vehicles are replaced. Less than 50% of air pollution in London now comes from vehicles and stopping private cars will have minimal impact as most vehicle emissions come from buses and goods vehicles.

Another problem is that much of London’s air pollution blows in from outside the metropolis. According to London Councils (see the report in Reference 6), 75% of particulates actually originate from elsewhere.

In summary, closing roads to reduce vehicles in London generally, and in boroughs such as Lewisham specifically, based on a claimed need to reduce vehicle emission makes no sense at the present time. The recent epidemic impact when vehicles were much reduced shows that there was nil or minimal impact on air quality so it would be a pointless exercise.

In reality the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods introduced in boroughs such as Lewisham has diverted traffic onto main roads and created more traffic congestion. It also means longer routes have to be driven and traffic piles up on residential roads (see photo of Horncastle Road above). Overall air quality has surely been made worse as is clear from residents’ comments on the impact. These “experiments” to cut traffic should be abandoned now!

Reference 1: Air Quality and Vehicles – The Truth: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Air-Quality-and-Vehicles-The-Truth.pdf

Reference 2: Daily Mail article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/cars/article-8710499/Decline-vehicle-journeys-lockdown-did-NOT-reduce-emissions-toxic-particles.html

Refence 5: Lewisham air quality data:  https://lewisham.gov.uk/myservices/environment/air-pollution/read-our-air-quality-action-plan-and-other-reports

Reference 6: London Council’s Report “Demystifying Air Pollution in London”: https://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/node/33224

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Is the Traffic Management Act Being Ignored?

The Traffic Management Act was passed by Parliament in 2004. Its objective was to improve the management of the road network.  Part 2 of the Act imposes a duty on all local traffic authorities to secure the expeditious movement of traffic on their road networks. Authorities are required to make arrangements as they consider appropriate for planning and carrying out the action to be taken in performing the duty and part of the arrangements must be the appointment of a “Traffic Manager”.

Section 16 of the Act specifically says:

The network management duty

(1) It is the duty of a local traffic authority or a strategic highways company (“the network management authority”) to manage their road network with a view to achieving, so far as may be reasonably practicable having regard to their other obligations, policies and objectives, the following objectives—

(a) securing the expeditious movement of traffic on the authority’s road network; and

(b) facilitating the expeditious movement of traffic on road networks for which another authority is the traffic authority.

(2) The action which the authority may take in performing that duty includes, in particular, any action which they consider will contribute to securing—

(a) the more efficient use of their road network; or

(b) the avoidance, elimination or reduction of road congestion or other disruption to the movement of traffic on their road network or a road network for which another authority is the traffic authority;and may involve the exercise of any power to regulate or co-ordinate the uses made of any road (or part of a road) in the road network (whether or not the power was conferred on them in their capacity as a traffic authority).

But the road closures that are taking place all over London and in many other parts of the country are surely ignoring that obligation. In other words, the law of the land is being ignored. As a result we have massively increased congestion which the Act was designed originally to avoid.

Local councils such as Lewisham are claiming that they can do so because of the Guidance published by the Secretary of State in May (See Reference 2). This provided additional guidance on how to adapt roads to cope with the Covid-19 epidemic – for example to improve the support for active travel modes such as walking and cycling . That included reallocation of road space and the use of Modal Filters to close roads to motor traffic. But that surely contradicts the basic wording and obligations imposed by the Act of Parliament. That should not be overturned simply because some civil servant in Whitehall thinks it’s a good idea to do so.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is apparently reviewing the Act but it would surely be unwise to change the principles behind the Act as it stands.

Reference 1: The Traffic Management Act 2004:  https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/18/contents

Reference 2: Statutory Guidance 2020: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reallocating-road-space-in-response-to-covid-19-statutory-guidance-for-local-authorities/traffic-management-act-2004-network-management-in-response-to-covid-19

Reference 3: Statutory Guidance 2004: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roads/tpm/tmaportal/tmafeatures/tmapart2/tmafeaturespart2.pdf

Roger Lawson

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