Monday, 16 January 2017

A smug expectation, a messy reality - and why it's time to get to grips with a tough conundrum

Before I got out on my bike, I was anticipating that Monday, January 9, was going to be my smuggest cycling day since returning to London from New York in July. A strike by station staff on the London Underground had brought the busiest bits of the capital’s most important public transport system to a halt. And, as I sat at home writing initial stories about what was happening, I noticed account after account of chaos on the roads as would-be underground users turned to cars and buses to get to work. I imagined myself slipping casually through the traffic on my bike, warmly congratulating myself on the excellence of my transport choices.

In the event, the day ended up feeling less like a triumph and more like a reminder of the acuteness of the transport policy challenges facing London. By the time I left home to ride to the office, around 10am, the bus lanes that I’d normally use for the early stages of my journey were choked with other forms of motor traffic. Progress was so slow I retreated to the side streets, which in places were little better.
Traffic backed up on Vauxhall Bridge on January 9: a visible
demonstration of London's reliance on its underground.

The incident dramatised an issue that’s been worrying me for some time. London’s roads become congested when people are emptied out of the underground and other non-road forms of transport onto the roads. Yet it’s an uncomfortable truth of campaigns to encourage cycling in inner London that the vast bulk of the growth in cycle commuting must be coming from a similar, slow-motion shift from rail-based modes onto already over-stretched streets. More and more complex demands are being heaped onto constrained roadspace, without much sign of a strategic plan to manage the resulting pressures.

On top of that, I noticed once I got to work how many twitter users were complaining of having hours spent on buses even on short journeys. Later in the week, would-be commuters on Southern, the mainline rail service, would undertake similarly unpleasant journeys during strikes by their service’s drivers. The stories illustrated the shortcomings of decades of efforts to encourage cycling. Cycle provision in most of London still consists of signed routes down backstreets, most of which are growing ever busier and less attractive. It’s clear that most people will not consider riding on these, even in the most desperate circumstances.

Faced with placating demand for better cycle provision and the challenges of congested, polluted roads, Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, seems anxious about building more of the direct, segregated cycle routes that might get such reluctant cyclists pedalling.

The challenge for everyone in London who wants more, safer cycling in central London is to devise arguments for better provision that recognise the new realities. It’s vital as the system accommodates growing cycling to safeguard road provision for the buses, delivery vehicles, emergency vehicles and other vital road-users that make up a high proportion of central London’s current road users. The challenge is similar for advocates in other big urban centres - including New York, my old home - where people shift to cycle commuting mainly from modes that don’t depend on the roads.
 
Pedestrians spill out of Southwark underground station by the
north-south cycle superhighway. How many of them can switch
to cycling before the roads get even more congested?
Yet some of the most influential figures on London’s transport scene continue to insist that the conundrum is so simple it barely exists. On January 5, Andrew Gilligan, London’s former cycling commissioner, tweeted a graph from Transport for London’s latest “Travel in London report that attributed 75 per cent of London’s congestion to “excess traffic”. The conclusion was “blindingly obvious to all but motorists,” he wrote, dismissively.

A little digging into the statistics for central London fills in the details of the policy dilemma. Traffic volumes entering Central London fell 3.4 per cent between the June to September quarter in 2015 and the same quarter in 2016, part of a long-term decline that’s seen the volume of motor traffic entering central London decline by more than 20 per cent since 2000. Instead of increasing with declining traffic volumes, however, average traffic speeds in central London - the easiest available proxy for congestion - fell 3.5 per cent, to 7.8mph. The network’s capacity is very clearly falling even faster than motor vehicle are going away. The amount of traffic that it takes for traffic to become “excess” is falling.

It is not clear, either, which part of the traffic can easily be reduced to alleviate the problem and free up space for cycling. The same Travel in London report that Andrew Gilligan quoted says that private cars now account for only 18 per cent of motor traffic during weekdays in the central London congestion charging zone. The other vehicles - private-hire cars, taxis, vans and heavy lorries - all have at least some arguable economic reason to be in the area. They are likely to be more resistant than private vehicle owners to stopping driving in the area.
 
A typical traffic queue on Southwark Bridge: it's not clear
crackdowns on private cars or encouragement for cargo bikes
will solve this problem.
One of the most popular suggestions among cyclists for reducing the traffic is that more of the growing numbers of internet deliveries being made in central London could be shifted to cargo bikes. The idea is sufficiently attractive that I investigated the subject in my day job for a piece about the growing numbers of cargo bikes I see around central London. Yet I emerged from interviewing even courier companies that use cargo bikes a little depressed. While cargo bikes were helping them to make urgent deliveries despite the heavy traffic, courier companies told me, they would always be a niche vehicle compared with the vans that were their fleets’ mainstays.

Amid this growing crisis, meanwhile, the one unutterable suggestion among cycle campaigners is that the building of segregated cycle superhighways along a number of central London roads might be contributing to the problem. When Florence Eshalomi, a member of the London Assembly, asked cyclists on twitter on January 11 whether they agreed with a senior TfL manager that cycle lanes had had some impact on bus journeys, the replies mostly struck a similar note.

“Making London a byword for cycling is more important than bus usage,” one twitter user replied.

“I think any far measurement of bus delays would show that excess cars are the main cause,” wrote another. “There aren't that many cycle lanes.”

The replies drew on the now-conventional wisdom among London cyclists that the 12 miles of new cycle superhighways in central London - which I love using, especially when with my children - have had no significant effect on congestion. The facilities, however, have been put in on arterial roads that were already operating at or near full capacity. They have, crucially, introduced new, cyclist-only light phases that can only have introduced extra waiting time for motor vehicles both on the streets with the new facilities and those crossing them.
 
A bus in a traffic jam by the cycle superhighway
on Blackfriars Road: the superhighway has no bearing
on what goes on on the rest of the road, it's said.
While there are plenty of other factors restricting London’s road capacity, it seems fanciful to imagine that cycle facilities alone can remove capacity from busy roads and have little effect on congestion. It is certainly clear the capacity of London’s roads fell around the time the new facilities were built. It is not unreasonable, it seems to me, for Sadiq Khan and Mike Brown, commissioner of Transport for London, to seek to reduce the effect of any new facilities on congestion before giving them the go-ahead.

Yet to say that the challenges facing London’s leaders are hard is very definitely not to say they are impossible. It is quite clear, for example, that action that reined in the growth of services such as Uber in central London could have a significant effect. Private hire vehicles - the vehicles that provide the Uber service - now account for 12 per cent of traffic in central London on weekdays. Any measure that makes deliveries to the scores of construction sites in central London more efficient could free up significant amounts of road space. It is hard to understand why low-emission vehicles, which take up the same road space as others, remain entirely exempt from congestion charging.

It is regrettable, meanwhile, that London relies so heavily on the double-deck New Bus for London given its poor capacity and the time it takes to load and unload. A wholesale reform and extension of the current central London congestion charge to make it more sophisticated and more closely related to the space each vehicle takes up on the road seems overdue. The mayor should continue to pursue increases in cycling because bikes provide clean, healthy, flexible transport. Extra cycling journeys can almost certainly be catered for more economically than extra journeys on the underground.
 
Fog and pollution haze sits over south London:
more cycling might avert such incidents
It is far too easy, however, for the debate over this complex issue to slip into glibness. Taxi driver groups slip into this trap when they claim the simple removal of new cycle paths would restore London’s roads to flowing freely. Cycling groups fall into it when they pretend new cycle paths magically shift London commuters from wasteful cars onto space-efficient bikes.

The rest of my ride to work on January 9 was a stark reminder of the risks of ducking serious debate. I encountered drivers engaged in fierce rows over road space, a furious woman cyclist yelling at a man who had somehow wronged her and, in van after van, long lines of stressed-looking delivery drivers and workmen. An air of unhappiness and frustration hung over everything.

While the scenes were far worse than those on a normal day, I made an inward vow to renew my efforts to think more seriously in future about the less acute but still worrying levels of congestion I encounter daily.

If others do the same, it may prove easier to build wide support for the kind of excellent facility I found myself using towards the end of the trip. Wanting to take in the scene, I rode over Vauxhall Bridge then down the east-west cycle superhighway along the Embankment. As van and taxi drivers sat motionless in the neighbouring traffic jam, I was finally slipping by the traffic jams, as I’d anticipated. Looking at the grim faces of the stationary drivers, it was a pleasure I was keenly aware I shouldn’t take for granted.

25 comments:

  1. I did my normal bike ride to work on 9th January and the extra traffic in Barnet was clearly down to people in cars. Given the A1 which I cross was very full this then created jams in local roads which people could not get out of, like they would in the normal rush hour.

    There are no cycle lanes worth speaking of on roads in Barnet, so the extra jams were to me clearly about people in cars. I'd love some of the people who blame cycle paths to come and see how in Barnet, the removal of cycle and bus lanes several years back has not solved anything. Just now the buses are stuck in the traffic and the cyclists have to squeese past a bit more dangerously.

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    1. Adam,

      Thanks for the comment. I'm not disagreeing that the issue on January 9 was down to people in cars. The issue on that day is that people who would normally have travelled on the underground drove instead. My point about the effect of cycle paths, meanwhile, is deliberately about central London, the congestion-charging zone. Very few trips in that area are by private car. In outer London, by contrast, around 90 per cent of trips are by car and the issues are, as you point out, entirely different.

      All the best,

      Invisible.

      Delete
  2. There vare plenty of ways that motor traffic can be reduced: 1. Road user charging refelcting "external costs" of driving. 2. Enforce road traffic laws which would take a lot of drivers off the road + uninsured vekicles. 3. Incentives for home working 4. Reduce available car parking 5. Reduce ermissions for the vast amount of building in London, cutting HGVs and other vehicles.
    The list can be added to, but it depends what you think the problem is: you CAN speed up motors by cutting pedestrain facilities, but is that what you want to do? It depends whom you think the road network should work for.
    Above all, you have to remembr that if you free up space, it will fill up again (if not by cars, by otherr oad users). "Reducing congestion" is thus a question which gets ou nowhere - I repeat, it depends who you want out there. I would also say that cyclists shouldn't see themselves as responsible for congestion, and that in terms of more pluses and fewer negatives, cyclists are ahead of private car users - and, dare I say it, bus users.

    Robert Davis

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    1. Robert,

      Thanks for the comment - and I'm sorry to have been slow replying.
      As you'll have gathered, I'm enthusiastic about the potential of road-user charging to curb driving and improve the functioning of the road system. Since I wrote the post, the London Assembly's transport committee has recommended road charging for London and I very much hope that is adopted. I'm not sure what the true external costs of driving in London are, but it's not inconceivable that the current congestion charge, along with fuel duty and vehicle excise duty, already captures them for some trips.
      I'm less sure about some of your other points. I'd like to see better enforcement of road traffic laws, particularly through wider use of safety cameras. But I don't think that is likely to reduce traffic much.
      As for incentives for home working, I think the tail is beginning to wag the dog here. There are many good reasons why people mostly work communally and few people in central London get to work by car. So I think this could be mostly cost and not much benefit.
      If car parking is reduced without a big fall in traffic levels, meanwhile, it might worsen congestion. In some places, a high proportion of traffic is down to people's driving around looking for parking spaces. The London Assembly suggests a workplace parking levy, which I'd like since it would make people recognise the costs of driving to work.
      Finally, you suggest cutting emissions for the building going on in London. I can see the argument for ensuring the cleanest possible lorries are going to and from building sites, but do you really want to cut down on building activity? Do you want Crossrail built more slowly? Do you want HS2 built more slowly? Do you want big delays to the building of new homes? Many of these schemes are vital to London.
      That, I suppose, brings me to your point about streets’ purposes. I want them to do the things they're good at. Those include passenger transport in some forms - particularly bicycle and bus. But it includes other things that can't shift to public transport, such as deliveries to building sites and retailers and logistics deliveries.
      Nor is it impossible to reduce congestion in London. People said before the congestion charge came in in 2003 that London's congestion was unsolvable and the congestion charge wouldn't solve it. Levels have only now returned to 2003 levels, on a road network with far less space and with 20 per cent fewer vehicles entering central London's roads. It's not inevitable space will fill up in a situation where one charges reasonably for road use.
      Finally, you say cyclists shouldn't see themselves as responsible for congestion. I'm not saying individual cyclists should think that and I clearly think that cyclists are a better use of road space than casual private vehicle trips by people who could use alternative transport modes. But, if one wants extensions to the existing cycle superhighways, there's no point in telling politicians who've seen the implementation reports on the superhighways that they haven't exacerbated a congestion crisis that started before they were built. The reports are very clear that journey times for motor vehicles on neighbouring roads have lengthened.
      That point is particularly important when it comes to bus travel. There are 6.5m bus trips in London every day and only 700,000 trips by bike. Bus is a space-efficient, flexible, relatively cheap-to-operate mode on which some of London's poorest people depend to reach work. It's hard to imagine any rational transport policy that says it's worth causing considerable delay to those bus users for the sake of far smaller numbers of cyclists.
      I believe there are ways of further driving down traffic volumes, improving speeds for the important traffic that remains and continuing the development of bike infrastructure. But I think the dilemmas are neither imaginary nor trivial.

      All the best,

      Invisible

      Delete
  3. An excellent, thoughtful piece. As a cycle campaigner, I don't think that bikes are ever going to be a complete solution, but I believe that decent, widespread provision will make them a compelling part of a good solution.

    London can't afford to build more road space, and it's going to carry on getting denser - based on existing data - so any medium or long term solution needs, essentially, to find the most efficient ways to move goods and people around.

    For me, this means a broad menu of activities: cargo bikes, super highways, efficient bus use, co-ordinated deliveries, night time deliveries, strict controls on vehicles in busy areas, etc. All of these will not only go some way to resolve congestion, but also the appalling levels of air pollution we are experiencing.

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    1. Tim,

      Thank you so much for your kind comment. I agree with pretty much all of it. As you'll see, that sets it apart from many of the comments I'm getting on here and the abuse I'm receiving on Twitter.

      All the best,

      Invisible.

      Delete
  4. "Traffic volumes entering Central London fell 3.4 per cent between the June to September quarter in 2015 and the same quarter in 2016"

    Congratulations, you've discovered that people go on holiday in August.

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    1. Dominic,

      I normally thank people for their contributions but I'll make an exception for you.

      Traffic levels are down against the same quarter the previous year. People went on holiday in August both years. Your comment is consequently not only rude and insulting but deeply silly.

      The blog is an appeal to people to stop coming up with glib excuses and to start being serious. You have done an excellent job of illustrating the problem.

      Invisible.

      Delete
  5. The forces generating traffic must be established before blame can be apportioned for congestion. Setting aside population growth, commercial models within central London are driving changes in road usage, to give just a couple of examples.

    Just-in-time delivery schedules free-up stockroom space in retail/ catering outlets for more profitable purposes. But those outlets now require multiple daily deliveries as opposed to a single large delivery.

    Centralised laundry services for hotels (towels, bedding, dining etc) require daily pick-ups/ deliveries to process laundry which was previously done on-site.

    I strongly suspect that the vehicle movements generated by these changes have had a far greater impact on congestion than a handful of miles of segregated cycle lanes.

    Tks, Bill G

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    1. Bill,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I’m seeking to show that motor traffic congestion is real and worsening and then discuss the causes. It remains clear from the statistics I quote that, while there are many pressures generating traffic, traffic levels are falling. And, despite that, average traffic speeds are also falling. So, whatever the pressures on demand, the shrinking supply of road space must be the main cause of increasing congestion.
      It's obvious that work on demand issues could affect congestion. But, for the moment, demand looks less of an issue than supply.
      The next question is why the road network's capacity is falling. This is important because fears about further worsening congestion and doing more damage to the performance of buses, waiting times for deliveries and so on helping to inhibit the building of new, high-quality cycle facilities.
      The conventional wisdom among London's cycling advocates is that the cycle superhighways can have played no role in this. The contention is that it had no significant effect on congestion to build sizeable superhighways along some of the busiest roads in a constrained network, including a cross of roads in the absolute centre of London, and to add some cycle-only traffic light phases. Yet it's clear there was a big fall in the central London road network's capacity around the time the routes were built. TfL's figures also show journey times for motor traffic on neighbouring roads have lengthened.
      There are, clearly, multiple reasons why the network’s capacity shrank. There is work on Crossrail. There is a huge amount of building work. Multiple underground pipes are being worked on. But it's important to face squarely the consequences of changing the space available for motor vehicles, because that is what cycle advocates are pressing the mayor and Transport for London to keep doing. It doesn't wash to keep saying of the superhighways "Oh, they're having no effect" when there are statistics to show they are. People who use the roads regularly are seeing the speeds of their vehicles falling and the lengths of the jams increasing. It makes even less sense, as some are currently doing, to claim congestion isn't rising at all. Multiple indicators show that it is.
      I am not at all suggesting it was wrong to build the cycle superhighways or that more should not be built. But I am absolutely clear that it's not a sustainable path to keep putting more and more pressure on scarce road space in central London, let average motor vehicle speeds fall below the current 7.8 mph and pretend that everything will be alright.
      Many of the arguments I see make out that there's an easily-squeezed group of private car users who can be discouraged, persuaded to shift to bicycles and who can square the whole circle. Yet the volume of private cars in central London is now only 18 per cent - tiny compared with most other bits of the UK. It's hard to imagine that trips either by the hard core of drivers or large numbers of the vans and lorries in the remaining traffic are going to shift to bicycle.
      Cycle activists now face a choice. People can keep making arguments that ignore the message of the statistics. They can keep pretending there's no real public policy dilemma here. Alternatively, they can face the uncomfortable realities and start devising plans that will persuade cautious people like Sadiq Khan. I've made clear I'd like those options to include a more sophisticated congestion charge as well as the other options listed in the post.
      I wrote this post because I hoped that maybe people were ready to take the latter course. It's becoming depressingly clear they're irrevocably committed to the former. That course might work and the capital might benefit from better infrastructure at the zero cost that many people suggest. But I suspect that it will contribute to a further worsening of congestion that risks a backlash.

      All the best,

      Invisible

      Delete
  6. Wouldn't a lower population level be the ideal solution?
    Unfortunately most people are too proud and egocentric to ever have themselves sterilized.

    Just how much more space can societies afford to continue digging up to compensate for (and appease) all the various demographics?

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    1. Tal,

      Thanks for the comment. As you'll note from the post, I think there are ways to manage the growth of London - and other big urban centres - without resorting to population control. The slow-motion demographic disaster of China's one-child policy also illustrates the substantial problems that a falling population can bring.

      All the best,

      Invisible.

      Delete
  7. Looking at the graph of average traffic speeds in London (Travel in London Report 9, p 163) what I see is a long-term very gradual decline in speeds from 2010 to March 2016. This is the same for Outer London as for Inner London. Construction of the segregated Cycle Superhighways commenced in 2014. They are entirely in Inner London. It thus looks to me unlikely that the decline in traffic speeds is anything to do with Cycle Superhighways.

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    1. David,

      The issue here, I think, is that you're not looking at the latest data, which are in the latest version of the Streets Performance report, found here: http://content.tfl.gov.uk/street-performance-report-quarter2-2016-2017.pdf On page 19, you'll see that average traffic speeds in central London fell 3.5 per cent between the June to September quarter of 2015 and the same quarter of 2016. On page 17, you'll see that traffic volumes fell 2.6 index points, or 3.4 per cent. This covers the period of introduction of the superhighways and strongly suggests the network's capacity fell. For the previous quarter - covering the time the superhighways were being built - traffic volumes in central London fell 5 per cent, while speeds fell 2.2 per cent. Those data are here: http://content.tfl.gov.uk/street-performance-report-quarter1-2016-2017.pdf That paints a similar picture.

      To reiterate the point that I hope came across in the post, I think it was a good thing to build the superhighways and I'm delighted to use them. But I don't think it's prudent to explain away central London's growing congestion or to insist that the superhighways aren't contributing to it. I think it's vital to devise plans to avoid a further deterioration of the situation on the roads and I don't think the answers are as easy as people might like.

      It's certainly true that other issues have contributed to the slowing of traffic. Around the time I left London in 2012, for example, water main replacement was a big contributor. But it seems to me wishful thinking to pretend there isn't a big issue and that the superhighways haven't contributed to it.

      All the best,

      Invisible.

      Delete
  8. As a non-londoner I am always amazed when visiting the capital. It used to be the architecture, museums and galleries, but now it's the hustle and bustle.

    Living in a small village outside a small market town in Suffolk, we are far removed from the problems in London, however even here the roads are getting worse. They have added a few thousand houses to the nearby town and there is a daily commute gridlock that never previously existed, and Saturdays are almost continually busy from 8am to 6pm.

    It seems to me that population density plus poor road design is exacerbating existing problems. Perhaps if more Londoners worked in other towns, spread across the country then the density of movements in London would reduce and ease the traffic. Unfortunately it will impact the other towns, but it would help kick-start the economies of some deprived areas.

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    1. Will,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I'm a firm believer in the potential for big agglomerations of people to produce significant benefits. Diverse cultures can flourish somewhere like London or New York. New ideas are generated. There's also the potential in a big agglomeration for more environmentally-sustainable transport such as public transport or cycling on dedicated facilities to take off. Outside big cities, meanwhile, cars have far bigger advantages, with the effects you note. While I hope life in your Suffolk village becomes more pleasant over time, I remain a firm believer in big cities and in trying to retain the bustle with less hustle.

      All the best,

      Invisible.

      Delete
  9. "...it seems fanciful to imagine that cycle facilities alone can remove capacity from busy roads and have little effect on congestion. It is certainly clear the capacity of ’s roads fell around the time the new facilities were built."

    When using the word "capacity" it appears you are excluding bike capacity. Why?

    Isn't it the case that adding cycle facilities *increases* the traffic capacity of the road overall, but may reduce the road's capacity for motor vehicles?

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    1. Unknown,

      Thanks for the comment.

      The whole point of this post has been to point out that London's roads serve multiple purposes. They carry deliveries, trucks to sites where badly-needed new homes are being built, trucks supplying supermarkets and so on. It represents an acute policy challenge if efforts - which I support - to transfer trips from non-road modes to bike further increases the strain on the roads and reduce their ability to perform these useful functions. While there are some bike trips - courier deliveries, trips by cargo bikes and so on - on bikes, they represent a far smaller proportion of cycle trips than they do of trips by motor traffic. The now-common boast that cycle tracks have increased the passenger capacity of roads strikes me as obscuring rather than illuminating the policy challenge that's at hand.

      All the best,

      Invisible.

      Delete
    2. I guess I'm not that worried about what you're worried about. There isn't a static number of motor vehicle trips to be accommodated, but a dynamic number that is strongly influenced by the amount of road capacity for those trips. Business, and the society at large, will easily adjust to a reduction in that capacity without any need for policy to predict and accommodate it.

      Delete
    3. Unknown,

      Thanks for the reply. I think you're worried about the wrong things. There obviously isn't a static number of motor vehicle trips. That's obvious from the long-term decline in trips into Central London and the continuing decline at present. However, there are more and less useful trips. Trucks carrying equipment to fit out Crossrail stations and build badly-needed new homes are stuck in the same traffic as someone who is, say, driving to a matinee at a West End theatre. The conditions are obviously deterring some people from driving but they're not doing it anything like fast enough. While stationary vehicles emit fewer pollutants than ones that are moving, I don't think there's any doubt that London's current pollution levels are a result in part of the large numbers of vehicles stuck in queues. The congestion charge in 2003 showed it's possible to reduce traffic substantially, speed up traffic and create space that can be reallocated to better means of moving people. I don't think it's rational just to shrug at the current emergency and ignore the possibility that we can again take a rational policy step to make things better.

      All the best,

      Invisible.

      Delete
    4. Fair enough. In my more optimistic moments I also dream of a policy to efficiently ration scarce street space in a way that also minimises pollution and other negative externalities. In my less optimistic moments I recognise that the barriers to any of that are political, and the arguments that work in the political sphere have no relationship to the arguments about how any particular policy would work.

      Delete
    5. I think that ultimately political arguments end up coming down to what actually works and what's actually happening. That's why I'm arguing for people to focus on those things.

      All the best,

      Invisible.

      Delete
  10. I think congestion and pollution do need to be seen as having the same cause because they are both the result of a lot of petrol and diesel vehicles being used. Could emissions tax on diesel vehicles be raised and VW and other carmakers which lied about emissions be sued to fund a diesel scrappage scheme? Could diesel cars be banned on very high pollution days? We are getting new public transport in the form of Crossrail - that should make a lot of bus, uber and private car journeys unnecessary. It will also bring many more people into central London - they will need somewhere to walk and that space will have to come from roads that are currently devoted to the motor vehicle. Oxford Street is to be pedestrianised and this cannot come too soon as it is dangerous for pedestrians at the moment when the narrow pavements are crowded. Bank is to go bus and cycle only. Both of these measures will take space away from drivers of all sorts and thus could arguably increase congestion in the way it is argued here that cycle superhighways do. Road pricing? Congestion charge for hybrid vehicles on the reasonable basis that they contribute to congestion? A limit on the number of PHVs in central London before 7pm? Many will not agree but I think some of the Quietway routes, while they will never meet their own criteria of being safe for 8 & 80-year-olds, could end up being effective cycle superhighways for commuters. The Walthamstow to Bloomsbury route will - once a proper solution for getting across the horror of Mare St is found and some of the more aggressive speed humps in Islington pacified - be a really pleasant corridor into central London, much nicer than a superhighway along a congested and polluted main road like the Seven Sisters road. But again that pleasantness is made possible by filtering roads and preventing lorry access, which is also argued to increase congestion elsewhere. At the end of the day, if you agree that congestion/pollution is a problem, you have to discourage motor vehicle journeys and also take space away from motor vehicles. Sprry, very long comment!

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    1. Hello Hello,

      I think the big challenge is that many recent policy efforts - such as the Low Emissions Zone - have focused on tackling pollution without recognising that congestion is a separate issue that needs to be tackled with different tools. For instance, someone drives to my office nearly daily in the congestion-charging zone in a huge hybrid SUV that takes up lots of road space but is exempt from the congestion charge because it doesn't emit much pollution. There needs to be a clear recognition that congestion is a significant issue, that it creates problems even when the vehicles involved are not big polluters, but that there have to be separate, extra charges on highly-polluting vehicles. You are absolutely correct, meanwhile, that Crossrail raises big questions about how to reorganise transport in London. I interviewed Val Shawcross about this in my day job, for a story you can find here: https://www.ft.com/content/1c8ae594-7fea-11e6-8e50-8ec15fb462f4 If you're not an FT subscriber, you can register for free and read some free articles here: https://registration.ft.com/signup/register;jsessionid=40EF049005F251F308FEFFAD68ABD06F.signup-app-02-8432?segid=70009&execution=e1s1 I also warmly welcome the London Assembly's proposal of a road-pricing scheme for London, which has been announced since I wrote this post.

      The problem with private-hire vehicles, meanwhile, is that the Department for Transport has refused to let Transport for London limit the number of private-hire licences being issued. Uber is also suing over TfL's efforts to rein in the growth by imposing new requirements, such as an English-language test. While it would be possible, as far as I know, to make those vehicles subject to the congestion charge, all such steps I think are currently on hold while the legal action plays out.

      Finally, I like cycling on backstreets as long as they're quiet. I very much like Quietway 1 to Greenwich. But far too many of the Quietways aren't quiet enough. Quite a few of them also follow overly-convoluted routes. There's also the problem that they require cooperation from boroughs, not all of which want to help. So, while they have a role to play, superhighways down TfL-controlled main roads will continue to be vital.

      All the best,

      Invisible.

      Delete
    2. Hi Invisible - thanks for your reply.

      A big electric SUV contributes to pollution in the same way the cabbie lobby argues that cycling contributes to pollution - by taking up space and thus increasing congestion. You're right of course that pollution is not the only problem caused by congestion.

      I'm a huge supporter of cycle superhighways. I hope many more are built. Segregated cycle lanes should be a mandatory element of any new development of any kind. Car-free residential developments should also get planning priority.

      Cheers :)

      Delete

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