Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Highway Code Isn't Fit For Purpose

What is the point of the Highway Code? It seems to me that the only people who read it are those who want to point out how people are wrong in an argument about some obscure detail to win an argument.

OK, so I have been known to use it the same way, but I've not read it from cover to cover since I passed my driving test in 1991 - even for this blog, I haven't read it from cover to cover because it's just a pointless waste of time.

The main problem with the Highway Code is not the Highway Code (HC) itself - the issue is how we design and manage the streets and how risk is apportioned. In introducing the HC, the Government suggests:

"The most vulnerable road users are pedestrians, particularly children, older or disabled people, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders. It is important that all road users are aware of the Code and are considerate towards each other. This applies to pedestrians as much as to drivers and riders."

This is the heart of the problem because while on the face of it everyone knowing the "rules" might seem a good idea, we perhaps end up having the wrong impression that everyone has an equal responsibility which patently isn't matched by the capacity to inflict harm by whichever mode someone is using at the time.

For example, take Rule 170;

Take extra care at junctions. You should

  • watch out for cyclists, motorcyclists, powered wheelchairs/mobility scooters and pedestrians as they are not always easy to see. Be aware that they may not have seen or heard you if you are approaching from behind
  • watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way
  • watch out for long vehicles which may be turning at a junction ahead; they may have to use the whole width of the road to make the turn (see Rule 221)
  • watch out for horse riders who may take a different line on the road from that which you would expect
  • not assume, when waiting at a junction, that a vehicle coming from the right and signalling left will actually turn. Wait and make sure
  • look all around before emerging. Do not cross or join a road until there is a gap large enough for you to do so safely.

The way in which the the HC is written, the word "should" is essentially guidance whereas "must" relates to the legislation quoted in the text. Rule 170 is guidance and I am not entirely sure anyone is going to be shouting it as they scatter from the mobile phone wielding SUV driver who hasn't seen them crossing. Oh, and the photo with Rule 170 doesn't even have decent dropped kerbs to help everyone to cross.

Rule 170 does help demonstrate how out of date the HC is and how in fact road design leaves us in the unsatisfactory position of having to guide those who could inflict the greater harm by asking them not to clobber other people. Why do we need to have a rule for this? Shouldn't the street design explain what is required? Should we even need to explain that driving into people is a bad thing?

Compare the Rule 170 photo with this one;

The layout of the street explains what is required of those turning into and out of the side road. How about this example;

For a driver emerging from the side road, the continuous footway and cycle track makes it clear that people walking and cycling have priority. There is no legal requirement for the give way road markings, but they are useful in reinforcing what is expected.

How about Rule 63;

"Cycle Lanes. These are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway (see Rule 140). When using a cycle lane, keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer."

It's guidance and actually quite meaningless when you read it a couple of times - "experience and skills"; does that mean they are aimed at people with lots of both, or little of both? In my photo above, I'd argue that to even get to the cycle lane pictured one would have to be fast and brave. Compare with this;

You don't need to guide people to use this cycle track over the road. The use of the cycle track isn't compulsory, but most people will choose to use it regardless of their experience and skills. If we built this routinely, then we wouldn't need to suggest people use it, they just would.

The HC is split into sections aimed at different groups. For pedestrians, there are no less than 35 rules. Rule 6 is a lesson in stating the bleeding obvious;

Motorways. Pedestrians MUST NOT be on motorways or slip roads except in an emergency (see Rule 271 and Rule 275).

The "must not" means there is legislation prohibiting people from walking along motorways. Do we really need to explain this? Despite the rule and the law, someone walking along a motorway is always a good news item for the local press, but unfortunately we rarely find out why because the person walking has often ended up dead.

I could spend hours analysing all of the rules I think are daft, but I won't because my point is either so few people read the HC as to render it pointless or if most people have read it, then they ignore it anyway.

The HC has over 300 rules and lots of other information (on the Government website) and so it's no wonder that people don't follow its teachings. Frankly, unless you're learning to drive, why would anyone else pick it up?

It might be useful to have some basic universal guidance for people using the highway. There is also a need to update some of the legislation - not because people require it to behave, but it's needed when something goes wrong. For example, if Rule 170 was replaced with a universal rule to give way when turning such as being lobbied for by British Cycling and then backed up in legislation then it would be explicit on what is expected; especially if this is reinforced by street design - a simple change to zebra crossing rules (in terms of the need for Belisha beacons and zig-zags) could help provide priority over side roads cheaply or where a continuous footway isn't needed;

The new Rule 170 would simply read;

"You MUST give way when turning."

The problem with the UK is we have allowed the design and use of our highways to become too complicated, therefore our guidance on how people use them has become too complicated. Time to overhaul the lot.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

London Isn't Amsterdam

With apologies to the rest of the UK, a commonly-heard wheeze from the dinosaurs who cannot bear the thought of us developing cycling networks is the weary "but London isn't Amsterdam" cliché.

In more recent times, this has shifted a little as London has built pockets of decent stuff and so we sometimes hear "well, outer London isn't central London". When you point to Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston, then it does become hard for the naysayers' simple brains to process the paradox.

Obviously, London *isn't* Amsterdam, so at least on the raw geographical fact the statement isn't wrong, but it is a shorthand for people who at best lack imagination and at worst, want to continue with the mess that we are in with a misguided assumption that motoring is freedom, everyone should be able to aspire to this freedom and anything which impacts on driving takes away freedom.

This position is independent of politics because even the most pro-cycling parties often end up with local councillors on the ground getting it spectacularly wrong. Of course, there is plenty of politics too; and short-termism pervades the management of London's streets in the same way as it does for the rest of the UK.

London is not Amsterdam on the basis that the entire Capital hasn't been systematically reworked over decades after realising that the motorisation of the 1960s, 70s and 80s didn't work. In London, we attempted to paint cycling around backstreets which didn't particularly grow numbers. We've tried bolting cycling onto the footways and we've tried painting lanes on roads not being far off urban motorways and it's not worked. There are some good examples of provision, but they were implemented years ago and are showing their age.

Only now, are we starting to see what I would call proper cycling infrastructure become mainstream in design approach, but it is still sporadic and much is aimed at getting commuters into Central London; and that for me is the real reason why London isn't Amsterdam. 

People often suggest that Amsterdam's success is down to the fact that it is much smaller the London. Yes, that's a geographic fact too - even if you are relaxed about where you draw the border! Amsterdam is about 23kn wide whereas London is about 58km wide. Amsterdam has a population of perhaps 2.5m whereas London has perhaps 9m. Amsterdam is flat, whereas London is edged by hills.

But what people seem to miss or ignore is the fact that London is not a single city. We do have the cities of London and Westminster, but that the modern layout of government with the 32 boroughs and the City. In fact, London is a city of towns and villages which have (mainly) sprawled out to meet each other.

We should think of there being several types of London. We have Inner London with the distance across (Hammersmith to Greenwich) being a bit smaller than Amsterdam at about 18km. For cycling, much of the area is therefore within 5 miles/ 8km of The City and so if you happen to work there it could be ideal for getting about under your own steam.

We have Outer London from where (if we are honest) most people aren't going to be commuting by bike into The City; this will be bike, train, tube and perhaps bus. And for most discussions, that's it. What we keep missing is the towns and the non commuting trips.

In planning policy, London has a town centre network (set out in the London Plan) comprising of a couple of hundred places. There are broadly classified as follows;

  • International Centres - eg. the West End
  • Metropolitan Centres - eg. Croydon
  • Major Centres - eg. Chiswick
  • District Centres - eg. Sidcup
There are also smaller "Neighbourhood Centres" which serve an immediate areas and the Central Activity Zone (CAZ) places such as Borough High Street.

I'm going to look at the Metropolitan Centres because it's quite interesting for active travel, especially in Outer London;
  • Bromley
  • Croydon
  • Ealing
  • Shepherds Bush
  • Wood Green
  • Harrow
  • Romford
  • Uxbridge
  • Hounslow
  • Kingston
  • Stratford
  • Ilford
  • Sutton

Thinking of these centres as places around which one could design cycling networks to get people into them for shopping, working, education and so on, a 3 mile radius around each one covers a pretty impressive area - 20 minutes to get from the edge to the centre. So by putting cycle tracks on main roads and filtering residential streets, we could transform these areas for active travel. 

For even more impressive coverage, a 5 mile (33 minute ride) would transform even more places;

In other words, it doesn't matter whether we are talking about Amsterdam, London, or indeed smaller or larger cities, the key is to look at the town centres and redesign the streets to make access to them easy. Whether or not those towns form part of a wider city area is kind of irrelevant. Where they are, then their spheres of influence will overlap to create larger networks and where there are gaps for longer journeys, then we have public transport.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

When You Are Right, It Is Easy To Be Consistent

Build cycle tracks and pedestrian crossings on main roads. Filter through traffic from residential streets. Default urban speed limit of 20mph. Default rural speed limit of 40mph. Pursue a policy of motor traffic reduction. Stop building new roads.

I've been trotting this out on Twitter for a couple of weeks and unsurprisingly it seems to be resonating with many people, although so people have disagreed with my take (hey, people have opinions, but as I will show, they are wrong).

This week, I thought it might we helpful to expand on these points because a tweet doesn't convey the full picture. Before I continue, I am going to modify what Green London Assembly Member and Islington councillor Caroline Russell called a 280 character transport manifesto (give or take a few letters).

The modification came from Mark Strong of Transport Initiatives who felt it needed a slight addition; "stop building car dependent developments". So, there we have it a really simple statement which can be used to describe what is needed to transform local active travel in the UK and to tackle all of the other problems we have which can either be linked to or influenced by transport choices;

Build cycle tracks and pedestrian crossings on main roads. Filter through traffic from residential streets. Default urban speed limit of 20mph. Default rural speed limit of 40mph. Pursue a policy of motor traffic reduction. Stop building new roads and car-dependent developments.

Build cycle tracks and pedestrian crossings on main roads
Even with the clouds of motorisation blocking the view, it is clear that motorised vehicles are here to stay and there will need to be main roads on which we have bus networks, emergency routes and delivery routes operating. We are of course not going to see the end of private cars, but they need to take less of a priority. Yes, we'll still have taxis and minicabs, but numbers need to be controlled with the free for all for the latter being tackled.

Because main roads are still going to convey traffic, we must separate people from it and this has to mean cycle tracks for people cycling and pedestrian crossings (either zebra or signals, depending on location). I accept there will be difficult locations and difficult decisions to be made, but dealing with those shouldn't detract from dealing with the rest of the network - not making perfection the enemy of good and all that.

Copenhagen: Some of the cycling network is a
bit rough and ready, but it is a network and even
in the depths of a snowy winter, people use it.

There is another discussion to be had behind this in terms of what and who we prioritise on main roads in terms of managing kerbspace beyond installing cycle tracks and pedestrian crossings. Good design allows all manner of elements to be 'floated' between cycle tracks and traffic lanes such as bus stops, loading, planting and perhaps even parking (with accessible parking being the priority). 

London: A floating bus stop

Where this all works together is where those kerbside activities can be used to protect cycling space and in fact, a fair bit can be done lightly and on a trial basis, deploying kerbs when layouts are right and money is available - this in turn means target the investment at junctions and other conflict points and work back from there.

Filter through traffic from residential streets
The term 'rat-run' has long settled into English as a shorthand to explain the motor traffic that the user of the term considers should not be using a particular street. When we hear people talk about rat-runs it's often stories of drivers trying to beat traffic on the main road, sometimes at speed. 

Photos of streets used for rat-runs often reveal heavy use of traffic calming (which adversely affect people cycling) and on occasion only space for one vehicle width between rows of parked cars. The counter argument to a rat-run is that it's a convenient route through which one can get to a destination. 

I would suggest (in general), people rat-running are frustrated with sitting in congestion and who could blame them, it's a waste of time. But, it is an issue we must deal with because unless we do, we can never get people safely and comfortably to and from our main roads in creating a walking and cycling network.

From a technical point of view, filtering is the cheapest approach to walking and cycling infrastructure because it removes through traffic. A line of bollards is enough to transform a rat-run back to a quiet street, but we can be far more creative in forming traffic cells and movement plans which maintain full motor access for those who need it, but requires them to use primary routes to go any distance.

London: A few bollards is all that is needed to
filter a street from through traffic, but maintaining
access for residents and visitors.

As with providing protection on main routes, we can spend a minimum to deal with the initial filtering and then gradually update layouts to repurpose the space for pocket parks, rain gardens, long-term residential cycle parking and the like.

In Ghent and other cities, grand circulation plans have been enacted which essentially cellularise the entire area which means people can access each area by car, but they cannot drive between areas; they have to divert out and round by longer routes by the main road network. This removes through traffic from neighbourhoods which makes them safer and more pleasant to walk and cycle through which helps the shift away from cars.

Filtering techniques are numerous and so they need to be though through, but time and again the approach has been shown to work. In London, the first 'Mini-Holland' Village scheme at Walthamstow saw a 56% drop in traffic through the area and even with some increases on some boundary roads, the effect was still a significant reduction. The key here is to carry on rolling out the scheme to other 'villages' (neighbourhoods in effect) and continue with building walking and cycling protection on the primary road network.

Default urban speed limit of 20mph
At the moment, we have two national speed limits; 30mph in urban (and street lit) areas and the National speed limit elsewhere if it is unlit. I won't go into the full details, there's plenty of information out there, but changing the default 30mph limit to 20mph could be done on countrywide basis with a change in legislation (Scotland is looking to do this itself).

This idea has been criticised in terms of cost because it would require highway authorities to assess their road network, decide on which streets and roads should not be subject to a 20mph speed limit and go through a traffic order process accordingly.

Yes, there would be costs, but if the country can afford to spend £15bn on building more large roads, then it can afford to change the speed limit. A cheap fix would be to move from mph to kph, but the frothers would lose it! 

In fact to start with, a local authority would only need to concentrate on changing any 30mph 'terminal' signs to 20. In other words, if a current limit goes from 50mph to 30mph, the default limit change would require the 30mph signs to be changed to 20mph.

Conversely, a local authority could decide on a core primary route network staying at 30mph so they'd need to place 20/30mph signs at every side road leading from the primary routes. In many places, this has already been done where side roads are now 20mph. There are some large roads which have been limited to 20mph, but in my view, they could easily revert back to 30mph if redesigned to provide the protection people walking and cycling need. Such street redesign would encourage lower driving speed anyway, regardless of the posted limit.

Default rural speed limit of 40mph
This is absolutely not an excuse to ignore people walking and cycling because if the road in question is a main road, then protection is going to be needed. If the road in question is a long way from where most people are going to walk, then a cycle track on which people can walk will be enough.

Like the default 20mph limit, this doesn't mean that every rural road should be 40mph. A roads, trunk roads and other wider rural roads might reasonably have higher limits, but these would have to be signed as we would do now if we dropped the limit from the National limit.

It would be a useful opportunity to tweak the National speed limit which does not automatically mean the same for every vehicle type and situation now. The only real general change would be for single carriageway roads as the limit becomes 40mph for everyone. 

If a single carriageway needed a higher limit, then it could be signed at 50mph which is the current National limit for all classes of vehicle other than cars. Interestingly, Scotland kept lower limits on National speed limit roads when England & Wales had theirs raised.

A Dutch single carriageway with a 50mph
speed limit, very similar to a rural UK A-road,
but with a cycle track on which one can walk if
needed (it's a fair distance from town!)

Currently, many places of the UK are dropping limits on rural roads to 40mph (other than the roads designed for higher speeds) and so these has led to lots of clutter with repeater signs. A default 40mph limit would allow this to all be swept away over time.

In villages and hamlets, nothing then stops us dropping the limit to 30mph or 20mph - in fact, this has happened in many places and so signage doesn't need to change.

The reason for change is one of giving drivers more time to think and act on the conditions in front of them. If a route is so important that a speed limit needs to be higher, then the road layout should be changed so that this can be managed safely.

Pursue a policy of motor traffic reduction
For a long time, the UK has motorised in pursuance of economic growth. The success of this policy is questionable with mixed outcomes at best. Congestion and dealing with 'pinch points' is a favourite government staple, but in most of our urban places, there isn't room to expand the road network unless we start knocking down the places the network serves. 

Where cities have invested in active travel and transit networks, they have been able to turn the clock back on motorisation somewhat and in doing so, made the surface transport systems more efficient and in many cases, the space is being repurposed from roadspace into more active travel corridors, parks (of a decent size, not parklets) and public plazas.

Amsterdam: Residents parking on side streets
allows the primary streets to be used to move 
people around the city.

This is very much a chicken-and-egg problem because until we give people alternatives, they won't switch from their cars, but at the same time if we are repurposing road space for alternatives we can people up in arms. There is no easy answer other than saying it needs visionary political leadership - but there are cities doing it now.

Manchester: A developing tram network allows
people in the suburbs and city alike to ditch the car

In providing the alternatives, we need to find funding and in my view, destination parking charges could be a good source of revenue. In Nottingham, a workplace parking levy has been in place for some some time and it is helping to pay for the extension to the city's tram network.

In Oslo, the city is removing parking spaces from its streets (although with opposition and modifications to the original plan). The idea here being that taking away parking forces people to confront their travel choices. For my mind, charging for parking (as a local tax or levy) together with the removal of parking spaces from the streets is powerful.

In many parts of the UK, town and city centres have an abundance of on-street parking and it is going to take a lot to wean people off them. I would target main roads and high streets first because we need to reallocate space to walking, cycling and the kerbside activities I have mentioned about. 

Stop building new roads and car-dependent developments
This is essentially an extension to pursuing a policy of motor traffic reduction and captures the link between development, car ownership and usage. Where maximum parking standards prevail we have seen cars dumped all over streets and especially on footways, but you can't blame the people moving in.

The problem is that if our shops are in retail parks, our hospitals out of town, our bus services awful, employment on business parks, there is nothing in walking distance and cycling is horrific, then low parking provision is going to fail. Development in urban areas with good transit and active travel networks will also have parking regulated so low car and car-free development is possible and desirable in terms of maximising residential and retail space.

Suburbs are harder to deal with and where we see edge of town development, we tend to build just housing which means travel to work, school and the doctor become expeditionary undertakings so people grab their car keys. However, nobody is saying we should roll this idea out to every part of the UK, but given that 2/3 of trips (in England) are under 5 miles, it's not a huge leap of the imagination to decide where we could deal with this issue, even in suburbia.

London: Even with relatively dense housing, a
lack of alternative transport options means the
car remains the dominant mode and so it ends
up dominating the streets and so makes walking
for short trips unpleasant.

There has to be a link with planning policies in order to densify some suburban areas as transport options improve. For example, a local shopping centre is never going to have enough parking, but if we can prioritise walking, cycling and buses, then we might have the chance of saving these vital community assets and perhaps they can even be revitalised. Otherwise, people will have to do more shopping at the retail park or drive into town.

Centralisation of medical services has seen the creation of large regional hospitals on edge of town sites with smaller sites given up for redevelopment. Not only does the redevelopment lead to more people, they have to travel (along with existing residents) to the regional hospital. It is not surprise that we then see the stories about parking capacity issues and outrage at parking charges when NHS trusts try to manage the problem.

The current government is utterly wedding to roads for growth - growing congestion means people using the network which means more roads and more growth. It's not just cause and effect, it is stated policy. In previous years, the approach started to change, but since the ConDem government of 2010, the old ways have come right back and we are doomed to repeat past mistakes.

One of the significant issues with the continuation of motorisation (apart from endless growth being essentially beyond the laws of physics) is that when private car trips hit our urban areas, there is little opportunity to expand capacity in terms of road space, junctions and parking. This also plays against attempts to try and reallocate road space and continues our rat-running problem. It is truly a vicious and predictable cycle.

When you are right, it is easy to be consistent
The concepts I have outlined here are not my ideas. They have been successfully deployed all over the world. There is evidence and data out there to support them and experts have written countless books and articles on how it has been made to work.

These concepts all complement each other and on their own, they are not going to deal with the problems we have created for ourselves. It is clear to me that we cannot carry on as we are because we don't have enough urban space to cope with unlimited traffic growth; the road-building-constant growth idea is not sustainable environmentally, socially and physically.

Distilling a transport manifesto into a social media-friendly statement makes it very easy to present a simple and consistent position. The approach is bound to create plenty "whataboutery", but there are no rational arguments to the contrary. The current model is broken and other places are becoming more successful than us because they have grasped the concepts.

Being right about something makes it very easy to be consistent. In the current apparently post-fact world, many people like to give opinions that are not founded in reality. We hear from people that think cycling networks can be developed away from primary streets, but that's where shops are and so we need cycle tracks on main roads.

We hear that cycle tracks impact emergency services, but the same people saying this don't support repurposing a traffic lane for buses that emergency vehicles could use. We hear from shopkeepers that their businesses depend on passing trade by car. While there may be individual cases where this might be true, in the round, there is data to show that this is not the case.

Closing roads cause pollution; except the evidence shows that we are actually reopening the street for people and as a result there are shifts to walking and cycling which in the round reduce pollution. There are plenty of other counter opinions, but the reality shows them to be wrong. So, I am going to continue with the simple message because it is right and hopefully in this post, I have given a flavour of why it is right;

Build cycle tracks and pedestrian crossings on main roads. Filter through traffic from residential streets. Default urban speed limit of 20mph. Default rural speed limit of 40mph. Pursue a policy of motor traffic reduction. Stop building new roads and car-dependent developments.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Silvertown: Another Road To Nowhere?

The Mayor of London often talks about the challenges the Capital faces with air pollution and he backs a £1b tunnel in East London. In this week's guest blog post the Silvertown Mole goes digging in the SIlvertown dirt so you don't have to.

What is the Silvertown Tunnel?
It's a proposed £1bn twin-bore, four lane tunnel between the Greenwich Peninsula & Silvertown. But, effectively, it's a doubling of the existing Blackwall Tunnel; or you could see it as a massively expensive road widening scheme, widening the Blackwall Tunnel from four lanes to eight.

What's the point of widening the road at Blackwall from four lanes to eight in the most expensive place possible when the approach road to the South has only six lanes?
Good question. Unless TfL have some massive road widening project on the A12 they haven't told us about, at least two lanes worth of this new capacity will never be used. (And, as it turns out, even using the other two lanes fully makes things worse..)

So, what's the purpose of the tunnel?
Fourfold, according to TfL;

1) To relieve congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel, 

2) To provide an alternative option ('resilience') when one of the Blackwall bores is closed 

3) To enable future economic growth in East London

4) To enable new cross-river bus routes. It also aims to do all of this without a significant increase in traffic or pollution. 

Will it achieve these objectives?
It will likely achieve the first two.

TfL aim to double traffic capacity across the river, but not allow any actual increase in traffic. 

Won't traffic increase sharply when drivers no longer have to queue?
TfL will toll both the Blackwall and the Silvertown Tunnel. In their estimation, the level of the toll they propose will almost exactly compensate for the removal of queues. (see P33); and with the tolls in place, they estimate that instead of 100K vehicles a day taking the Blackwall tunnel 75K will take Blackwall and 25K Silvertown. 

So, effectively, instead of drivers at peak hours waiting in a queue, nobody will queue and drivers at all times will pay a toll? 
That's basically it. 'In terms of capacity: The Silvertown Project adds 100K vehicles/day of extra capacity to  Blackwall - but it only ever actually uses 10K of this extra capacity -  5K in the morning peak, and 5K in the evening peak (represented by the  green blocks above the black line in the images). (And, of course  similar congestion benefits could be achieved by using a smart toll to  redistribute these trips to times of day when Blackwall has excess  capacity - and one would save £1bn in the process).

Does the project do anything to support the Mayor's active travel priorities?
Not really. There's a proposal for a cross-river cycle bus, but historically, at the Dartford Tunnel, for example, these kinds of services have not been successful ( And they can't take cargo bikes, zero emissions logistics vehicles, etc. 

But the tunnel will enable new bus services?
Debatable. There are suggestions that the tunnel could enable new routes, but so far TfL only have user suggestions as to what these routes might be ( not data on actual demand. And there's only one bus through the Blackwall tunnel right now. Maybe delays reduce demand. Maybe there just isn't that much demand for short cross-river journeys at this point. TfL doesn't know, and they've only committed to research the question until the tunnel is nearly built. 

So does the tunnel do anything at all for the Mayor's local air pollution reduction / carbon reduction priorities?
Nope. The project expects (at best) to maintain provision for existing levels of heavy motor traffic, and existing levels of pollution. At worst, it'll enable much more traffic & pollution. And then there's the pollution & carbon cost of building it. 

OK, so, at Silvertown, TfL are proposing building a new tunnel that's capable of carrying 100K vehicles a day, but that will only ever actually be used by 25K/day? How does that make sense?
Very good question.

Maybe, in future, traffic will increase due to growth in East London, and extra cross-river capacity will be needed? Shouldn't we provide for the future?
Well, perhaps. But the tunnel is being built on an explicit promise that traffic (and pollution) won't go up in the future, and that the toll will be used to hold it to existing levels. ( That promise was key to planning consent. And to the health of surrounding communities.

So, the tunnel can't enable growth in East London?
Not if growth implies increased traffic, & TfL holds to its promise not to let traffic & pollution increase.

Ok, so let's say we believe TfL's promise that traffic levels won't be allowed to increase. Why, then, are they building this tunnel with capacity of 100K/day to take no more than 25K vehicles/day? Isn't there a cheaper option?
Well, yes. TfL could build a single-bore two lane tunnel with a bike & pedestrian pathway (and emergency escape) under the roadway. This will certainly provide all the extra capacity they think they need (for example, the single-bore Rotherhithe Tunnel carries 45K vehicles/day). 

So would this single-bore option provide all the benefits of TfL's Silvertown Tunnel?
Pretty much, in terms of congestion & resilience. They might need to run this tunnel in one (reversible, according to peak) direction only for motor vehicles, for safety reasons, - but given that congestion in the Blackwall tunnel is tidal - northbound in the morning and southbound in the evening that won't impact congestion benefits. 

It would require running any new buses mostly through the Blackwall Tunnel. But that's where most demand appears to be anyway. And, of course it would provide a new cycling/walking/zero emission logistics route that the existing proposal doesn't. 

Is there demand here for a cycle/pedestrian route?
Good question. TfL analysed adding a cycle/pedestrian tunnel in their initial optioneering & decided it wasn't financially viable. But, since then, they've changed the way they analyse cycle demand, bringing in electric bikes, cargo bikes etc - but no-one has done a new analysis.

How much would this option save?
Maybe £300m, compared to the existing proposal. The single bore would need to be a little wider than one of the individual bores in the existing proposal.

Did TfL ever consider/evaluate this option? 

Why not?
Your guess is as good as mine. 

Ok. Let's go back to that toll. Couldn't TfL reduce congestion and queuing just by smart- tolling Blackwall?
Yes. But that wouldn't provide the resilience benefits of Silvertown.

Is resilience, alone, worth £1bn?
Good question. And one that, to the best of my knowledge, TfL haven't answered.

What happens if TfL have got their calculations wrong, and the toll isn't high enough to balance out the induced traffic from creation of extra capacity and removal of queues?
Traffic (and pollution) will increase. 

What about the mitigation strategy in the Development Consent Order (DCO)?
Good point. For six years after the tunnel opens, TfL has to monitor environmental impacts, in consultation with the Silvertown Tunnel Implementation Group, and recommend mitigation strategies.

So, TfL will increase the toll, and traffic and pollution won't go up?
Well, it depends on the Mayor. TfL is obliged to investigate, and consult, and propose mitigation strategies, but according to the DCO ( page 41, item 54,  the final decision on toll levels is the Mayor's.

So, in theory a future Mayor could remove the Silvertown and Blackwall tolls entirely?
Absolutely. At any time. They'd need to consult the public on the proposal, but it's an executive decision for the Mayor.

Would this be likely?
Well, it might not be popular with those living near the tunnel, but it might be very popular with drivers. And it's the kind of pre-election commitment mayors like to make. Like the removal of the Congestion Charge Western Extension. 

So what happens if the tunnel is built and the toll is not increased in line with inflation, or reduced, or removed?
Traffic and pollution will increase. There won't be new queues at the tunnel (because capacity has been increased so much) - instead we'll see new traffic, congestion, and pollution in the surrounding area, as nearby roads and approach roads hit their own capacity. 

Has TfL modelled what will happen if the tunnel is built and the toll is reduced or removed? 
Yes. At least in terms of traffic, but not in terms of air quality It's here (  Look at page 52 onwards. The maps on page 58, 61, 63 give a good idea of what will happen to traffic (and air quality) if the toll is removed. 

Their conclusion (P79): The option of introducing the Silvertown Tunnel without road user charging has some considerable negative impacts on the surrounding network, notably in Greenwich in the evening peak, and the impact over the three host boroughs as a whole mounts to no net improvement. While the no charge scenario shows improved resilience compared to the reference case, the high levels of traffic forecast throughout the day would in effect mean that the tunnels would struggle to recover from an unplanned incident.

So if a future Mayor decides to remove the toll, the £1bn Silvertown tunnel will bring exactly no benefit whatsoever?
Correct. TfL's words, not mine. Though it will bring lots of new traffic (a back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates about 15-20K new vehicles driving through the tunnel and surrounding area), congestion, and air pollution. 

Ok, so what are the conclusions here?
Depends on your priorities. But:

1) Whether they support a new crossing at Silvertown or not, nobody should be supporting the scheme TfL are proposing. There's at least one much cheaper (probably about £300m cheaper..) option that has essentially the same outcomes in terms of congestion, resilience & new bus options - and better active travel benefits. And it'll be East Londoners who end up paying for all the excess road capacity that's being created in TfL's scheme.

2) If you support any new scheme here, you've got to believe that the resilience benefits alone are worth the £700m+ cost (because the congestion benefits can be mostly achieved with tolls) - and that it's more useful to spend at least £700m on this than on schemes that might, say, enable active travel, or zero emissions logistics. 

3) If you think that the scheme will contribute to growth in East London by taking new growth-related traffic then you've got to also accept that it can only do this if TfL breaks the promise it has made, and allows traffic, pollution and area-wide congestion to increase, and local communities to suffer. 

4) If you think that any version of the Silvertown Tunnel can be built without a sharp increase in local traffic, pollution, and congestion, then you've got to also believe that all future Mayors will keep the toll high enough to restrict traffic, despite the electoral temptations of big giveaways to drivers..

5) If you think London's priorities should be 1) acting on the urgent climate crisis, and 2) air pollution threats to public health - then you should not support this scheme. Instead, a smart toll on Blackwall (or, better, on all of London's roads..) should be used to reduce congestion at peak, and the money used to enable public transport & active travel. 

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Infrastructure Creates Culture

We often hear about cycling culture which in itself sets up the mode as something other people do, yet the tenuous idea still exists.

This subject has been written about by others and I'm not even sure I can bring anything new to the discussion, other than an engineer's eye and my own prejudices I guess. 

I am approaching my 23rd year as a post-graduate civil engineer and one way or another, I have been involved in building stuff. The reason we build stuff is for people to use it and hopefully it will make people's lives better.

My first job was with a utilities contractor where we basically laid telecoms ducts in the street, constructed chambers and ran the odd armoured cable to houses and businesses. Without the construction of this stuff, people wouldn't have had telephone services and so until we connected people, they weren't involved in telephone culture.

Fast forward to 2018 and the amount of data being carried through wires and cables in 100mm plastic tubes in the ground is astonishing and one could (I suggest) sensibly argue that we have a pretty mature communications culture. Unless people had spent the last several decades digging trenches in streets, we wouldn't have this "culture".

That all being the case, given the UK's tiny mode share for cycling, why would anyone talk about a cycling culture? Apart from some specific locations, cycling is seen as a weird way to travel and so whenever something is proposed which would enable cycling, we are often told that it's a waste of money because nobody cycles. 

We've heard the saying that nobody can see the demand for a bridge by the number of people swimming across the river and this holds for transport more generally. The data is there, the examples are there - unless we build for cycling, people won't do it and then we cannot claim to have the culture. In fact, I find the whole culture discussion to be an excuse not to confront the infrastructure issue.

Like the digital pulses through the glass and copper cables, unless the infrastructure is provided, the flow along it is not enabled. Telecommunications rely on a network of connections and cycling is the same. London's Embankment cycleway is (roughly speaking) carrying a quarter of wheeled traffic in a quarter of the space taken by asphalt surfacing, but we are already seeing congestion at junctions which will always be the weak point in any system of flow. 

Cycling 'culture'

It is a good problem to have to a certain extent, but when one considers the parallel routes which don't provide any meaningful protection from traffic, cycle trips are nowhere near the same. In other words, people will be diverting to use the Embankment cycleway, even if it makes their journey longer. The cycling culture of central London is concentrated to a few corridors and the more progressive boroughs. The rest of the Capital has a similar mode share as the rest of the UK. 

We are also too obsessed with routes. It is difficult because one has to start somewhere and the classic approach has been to build routes and this perhaps shows some obsession with thinking too much about commuting or leisure. By this I mean, we  built routes into town centres for commuting, but unless someone lives very close to the route, they will have to get to it. For leisure, we have routes which may go through lovely parks and open spaces, but they are no use for transport.

With telecommunications networks, we generally don't rely on single routes to take all of our signals because in the event of damage or another failure, we have taken a big hit on our capacity. With a proper network, we have the ability to cope with a failure by rerouting the data flow a different way or coping with a reduced flow.

One route for cycling, even though it isn't great
quality is a nightmare to go around when it is
closed - a 500m diversion in this case.

This is resilience. Even better than coping with a failure, we can build in adaptability which means that a temporary fix can maintain most of the flow or we might undertake repairs when demand is lower.

A cycling culture is created where there are sufficient main roads and streets with protected layouts connected with each other and genuinely quiet residential and commercial streets. A cycling culture is created where this network does not rely on a single route and is sufficiently resilient to provide alternatives for people which are at least as convenient to pass the disruption.

A cycling culture is where people planning roadworks or other events have properly taken people cycling into account and they have alternative ways of getting people around the works in safety and comfort. Unless the basics are dealt with (and interventions don't need to be pretty; this can come after review and tweaking), then we won't see the indicators of a cycling culture such as people of all ages, women, children, disabled people, ordinary clothes for short trips, cargocycles, adapted cycles and so on.

So, for me at least, I will continue to bang on about throwing the kerbs, asphalt, traffic signals and bollards around as it is the correct mix of these elements in the right place that gives us a cycling culture.