Saturday 30 April 2016

Cost, Invest, Value

A Twitter debate has got me thinking about getting a bang for one's buck when it comes to transport. It started with a discussion about a London Mayoral candidate promising to spend £100m a year on cycling.

There was a flurry of virtual applause, but I pointed out that in terms of the city-wide budget, it really wasn't much money and gave the example of the multi-million pound refit of the Hammersmith Flyover as a contrast. So, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the cost of various transport projects for some real contrast. I will give a bit of a health warning as the examples are quoted from various sources and prices depends on the year announced and much investment is over a number of years; but the ball will be in the park as they say!

Let's start with a London cycling scheme. The East-West Cycle Superhighway weighs in at around £47m for about 18 miles of route (when complete); or roughly £2.6m per mile (yes, I know most places can only dream of money like this). Just out of the eastern side of Greater London, Highways England is rebuilding the junction of the M25 and the A13 for a cool £79.3m. Mind you for a bit more cash, Highways England will delivery 200 cycling projects (£100m) over 5 years (although I'm too sure of the detail!).

The Superhighway approaching Parliament.

Bridges are expensive bits of kit, although most people only notice them when they are closed! The Hammersmith flyover refit has been reported as a £100m scheme; I was under the impression it was more like £60m, but it is sometimes hard to get the exact figure. £100m is likely to include emergency works undertaken in advance of the main scheme. The flyover was in a terrible state after years of under-investment by the Department for Transport which was responsible for it before TfL took over in 2000. For what it's worth, the flyover is 622m long and so at £60m, the refit cost the equivalent of £154m per mile!

At the smaller end of the scale, the New Bus For London costs about £350k, which is a bit more than the £300k for a "normal" hybrid bus and there is a New Tube For London project which is looking to provide 250 new trains and upgrades to 4 tube lines. The trains could cost £1bn to £2.5bn with a total scheme investment of perhaps £16bn. Still on the tracks, London (yes, sorry) has the 73 mile Crossrail project under construction with a £15bn budget (£205m per mile). High Speed 2 on the other hand has a gargantuan budget of £50bn for track and stations - I've looked at this before and it's roughly £104m per mile, so better value than Crossrail? The good thing about rail (and I am not a fan of HS2), is that it can carry lots of people and has a long life in operation. Meanwhile in Manchester, the recently opened 9 mile, 15 stop airport link ate up £400m, or £44m per mile.

 A tram at Manchester Airport.

Meanwhile, over on the motorways and trunk roads of England, £15bn has been promised to build 1,300 lane miles. This is lanes and not length of road of course. So, this is £11.5m per mile; over 4 times the cost of the East-West cycle, although the EW is 2-way, so being cheeky, I'll say 8 times the lane cost! Meanwhile in Scotland, there is a £3bn plan to dual 80 miles of the A9 (£37m a mile) and the Welsh Government wants to invest £1bn in a 15 mile bypass of the M4 which is a staggering £67m a mile.

Back at the little end of the scale, a new zebra crossing might need a budget of £20k and a new signalised crossing about £50k. A job I'm working on at the moment has a budget of around £180k which is adding pedestrian and cycle crossings to an existing junction along with about 320 metres of new 2m wide, stepped cycle track (160m in each direction approaching/ leaving the junction); so this is about £1225 per metre (both directions) or £1.8m per mile treated, including junctions.

OK, I think I have made the point. Things have a cost and they have a benefit. They have direct costs, they have indirect costs. Things have a design-life and a life cycle cost. All of this makes it difficult to compare like with like and even with official benefit to cost ratio calculations, transport investment remains largely political (and that is at any level). But, if we are talking about moving people around a town or city, we cannot ignore the fact that for decent cycling infrastructure, we can get a huge bang for our buck. As you know, I am a fan of local transport which moves people on their day to day journeys, so I am probably biased against those big ticket schemes. 

However, I'll leave you with the following graphic which compares the cost per mile of some of my examples relative to the East-West Cycle Superhighway (which is one unit per mile). It's quite interesting!


  1. A few other things to know.

    The Dutch spend about 30 euro per person per year on cycling. Note that this is cycling, not cycling and walking. Walking has another budget dedicated to it. If this was the UK, at the current exchange rate, that would be 23.50 pounds per person. For the UK, that should be about 1.48 billion pounds per year. Note that was per year. For London, that should be just about 200 million pounds per year. Or two E-W cycle superhighways per year.

    There are several ways that London and the UK in general could be more efficient with it's money. The repeater lights at traffic control systems cost a lot of money. We don't really need those, the Dutch certainly don't need them. So just having one signal per lane would be by far more efficient. Zebra crossings don't really need to be having those belisha beacons (the European zebra crossing sign works well) or the zig zags. A double solid centre line between the lanes to prohibit overtaking and a more clear design about where you may or may not park, the Dutch design for parking (and stopping for that matter) bays, improve the efficiency. And other efficiency designs, for example how cyclists don't need to be signalized when they cross a pedestrian crossing, a crossing giving priority to either the pedestrians or cyclists volume dependent with a refuge between cycle track and roadway would prevent the need for cycle specific signals. We also don't need as many signs as we do now. Why not be more efficient and have standardized rules instead? Fewer words, simpler signs, the cost of having each and every one of those give way or no entry signs underneath the symbolic signs that mean the same thing, they all contribute.

    Other ways include having more standardized designs. If everyone in the UK was buying thousands of kilometres of the forgiving kerbs, the 30 degree ones and the in-kerb grates to match, then it would be simple and easy to deliver them. If everyone was getting millions of square metres of red asphalt surfacing each year, that would be efficient. I don't know how the UK deals with utilities, but the Dutch but them under the footways and pave the footways in blocks. They are easy to replace and dig up when need be, and pedestrians are easy to relocate on a temporary basis. This makes maintenance for example efficient. If the UK had standard designs for normal protected junctions and simultaneous green junctions, minor side road crossings, etc, then contractors and builders and the engineers too would be familiar with them, and so would the public. Fewer and fewer people would be making a fuss with them as people knew how well they worked from personal experience, and fewer people would make a mistake. Also, many road designs still give motor traffic too much space. Removing all of the space for motor traffic except what is absolutely required for them is a good idea. Why have 3.5 metre wide lanes when 3.1 metre wide lanes will do just fine? Or 4.5 metre wide bus lanes when you could spend the extra 1.4 metres on some green space, the footways or cycle trackd?

    By not needing traffic regulation order consultations for every little bit of road regulation, the costs could be decrease as well. Whoever is doing them would still publish them on the website, the designs could be downloaded for free for everyone should they desire to care, and you could still ask the government about their plans, but they don't need a giant consultation.

    Developers have done a lot to contribute to the transportation costs by creating a large amount of sprawl. How about from now on forward, the developers are required to pay for upgrades to the road network, the public transport network and cycling and walking networks to help offset the costs of allowing them to build? It's fair in my opinion.

    1. Note that we need QUALITY designs. Not superficial improvements. If it isn't making cycling more pleasant, then there is obviously a reason why. A narrow cycle lane that doesn't attract people is useless. Why spend the money on a cycle lane like that when we could have spent a little bit more and gotten a cycle track that people actually use?

      If you think that almost 1.5 billion is rather much for the UK, remember that I said about 23 and a half pounds a head on cycling per year per person. You could be spending about 6 pence per day. That's not really much is it? If you went to the McDonalds every 3 months, you'd spend about as much on that as you would on your taxes going to cycling. It adds up over time and over the number of people. The UK spends a lot of money on the army. David Hembrow wrote a blog post about how the UK along with other countries spending even more money, spent 4.5 billion pounds over 3 years for almost exactly the same amount of money as a Dutch level cycling investment over the same timeframe to turn Iraq into a dictatorial yet stable place to an even more brutal and unstable place. And we know in 2016 where Iraq has sent us.

      And think about the savings we will get. The NHS will become much cheaper as obesity rates go down, air pollution will lessen, even ears will be in better shape with less car noise so close to our ears. We have less need of spending on the results of car crashes, from insurance companies to the NHS. The US calculated that an average death costs the economy about 7.9 million dollars (I don't know what year that was), which is about 5.4 million GBP. This costed the economy roughly 10 billion GBP, every single year. Preventing even only an 8th of those deaths would have given the UK enough money to build these cycle paths and the rest could go to preventing road deaths via other means like clear zones next to A roads and lowering the speed limit to 70 km/h on roads with no central barrier like a box girder kind or cables. The schools improve as children who cycle or walk to school get a mental boost by just doing that! Parents don't have to act as taxis for their children as they can just walk or cycle for most shorter trips and take the train or sometimes buses for longer trips, and seniors don't have to call literal taxis to ferry them around if they can't drive anymore. And the SWOV and many other people did the maths and found that the savings outweigh the costs by a factor of 4. Meaning about 6 billion pounds per year on the cycling budget alone, let alone the extra money for walking, public transport and the Dutch model of roadway building that saves many lifes and prevents many crashes and is far more efficient than the UK model.

      And think about the alternative. If we continue down the path of cars, we will have to spend more money on the healthcare system, more money for larger roads, children are less productive as they grow older and begin to join the workforce, and we have to spend a lot of money on spending even more against global warming and environmental damage than we already do. It would cost a lot more than cycling and walking ever could.

    2. And finally, note that all roads have to be rebuilt at some point. If we waited long enough for all of the roads to require rebuilding for maintenance then all of our roads could have cycle tracks anyway, so why wait for all of the benefits?

    3. There is an obvious explanation for installing useless cycle `facilities': as plausibly deniable motor traffic calming. The idea is that when the UK motoring public see them, they think that it is #bloodycyclists and not #saintedhighwaysdept who are `getting in the way' of their lawlessness where/ when/ how they like. Unusable and unused cycle `facilities' even more so---it would be completely counter-productive if anyone actually cycled on them!

      Of course, the reason why highways in `that London' are so eye-wateringly expensive is because of the Dick Whittington obligation to build everything below the wearing course out of solid gold (presumably why motorists put so much effort into smashing potholes therein). That and #bentcouncilemployees refusing to countenance cycling infrastructure which cannot support [heavy] motor vehicle axle loading, etc.

  2. According to this TfL press release from February 2015, the total cost of constructing four new Superhighways (E-W, N-S, CS1 and the inner section of CS5) and upgrading four existing Superhighways (CS2, CS3, CS7 and CS8) was expected to be around £160m.

    The question is whether the £47m quoted for the E-W Superhighway includes the section to the west of Westminster Bridge. You're suggesting that it also includes the section along the Westway, but this is most unlikely.

    1. It does indeed seem to be that the cost-per-mile of a Superhighway is rather more than the figure you quoted. I have found this table on page 67 of this report which shows amongst other things that the cost of the segregated part of the CS5 route is just over £10m.

      In this instance the entire Vauxhall Gyratory had to be reconfigured, and by the looks of things, it was all paid for out of the cycling budget. A similar thing happened at the Elephant and Castle (total cost £25m), "part of a £300 million plan to rebuild 33 of the most dangerous junctions in the capital" (source).

      This is a starkly different approach to the one recommended in Cycling: the way ahead. It says: "The network can be introduced on the basis of an overall plan (preliminary plan). Ideally, such a plan ought to be based specifically on cycle routes that have been studied; it could also be based on the existing hierarchy of roadways and corrections introduced. If it is not possible to systematically remodel the entire network to better meet the needs of cyclists [in one go], specific action can be taken on each occasion that works need to be done. Most of the time, the additional expenditure needed to meet the requirements of cyclists is comparatively minimal."

      In his message to the Mayor, John Dales from Urban Movement recommends a new Transport Strategy based on "a shared vision of what the city should become, not on relatively modest tweaks to the status quo." Top down, he says, not bottom up.

      A top-down or holistic approach is exactly what is needed, but unfortunately the London Cycling Campaign and their supporters do not see it that way.

  3. I just did some math and found that the UK needs a major efficiency update here. Assuming 25 GBP, about 30 euro, per person, assuming a UK population of 63 million, and assuming that we are spending as efficiently as the E-W superhighway, we'd only get 400 km of cycle tracks per year. For a country the size of the UK and with 63 million people? That doesn't sound right. We need to spend far more efficiently, and possible in the beginning, more than 25 GBP/year, maybe 50 or more to get the ball rolling and to quickly build the infrastructure. We need to legalize having fewer traffic signals for motor vehicles where we can safely remove them, we need more non traffic signal solutions, we need fewer traffic signals, more zebra crossings and informal crossings rather than signal crossings for pedestrian - cycle conflicts. We also need to have better standards and deliveries for the UK, we could coordinate better with the local services so that you can get this done fast and you get it cheaper if you get a big order. This is why it's cheaper having a single 1435 mm track gauge rather than 1432, 1433, 1434, 1435, etc gauges, even if the tolerance is fine. We need to create laws protecting local planners, so that the taxi associations don't frivolously sue like they did in London. We don't need to have big consultations for every little traffic regulation order, every sign, etc. These all add tremendously to the costs.

    If we were more efficient, having something like 400 metres of cycle path, a set of traffic lights included, for a total of 200 thousand euro, think of what the UK could do with about 1.5 billion GBP, or 25 pounds per person. I did some (crude) math and got about 4000 km of cycle paths per year if we spent as efficiently as the Dutch. The UK would need about 205 thousand kilometres. If we quadrupled the rate so that you spent about 100 pounds sterling per person, this is still fine and given that the math works out to that the benefits outweigh the costs by a factor of 4, this isn't unreasonable, you'd get it done in about 11 years. By the time that your kids turn into teenagers, my age, they'd live in a world fit for cycling for everyone.