Monday, 13 June 2011

Tories finally 'get' what Blackfriars is about. All five parties in the Assembly plus the AA understand the issue. TfL doesn't. Time for the Mayor to tame the beast?

Last week, my instinct reaction to the Conservative party walk-out at the London Assembly was to accuse them of failing to engage with the issue of creating safe and convenient ways for Londoners to get about on foot and on cycles. I went further to point out here how I felt that failure was probably something of an own-goal in the way it works against their core voting constituency - including the tens of thousands of people who cycle to work in the City and Canary Wharf.

Until now, it has been left to the Green party, Labour and the LibDems to make the point that Transport for London is interpreting its duties as being exclusively about making London's roads more convenient and safer for private motor vehicles and less convenient and less safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

It's increasingly encouraging to see that the alliance against Transport for London's naked obsession with smoothing traffic flow for private motor vehicles is not some left-wing conspiracy against the motorist.

Last week, even the President of the Automobile Association chipped in "Blackfriars needs to be improved for cyclists"

It's almost unbelievable, but Transport for London's obsession with making the roads more convenient for private motor vehicles may even mean that tube passengers may not get the escalators needed at Elephant & Castle underground station as TfL doesn't want to give up road space needed to cope with the expansion and increased passenger volumes in the underground station. What's more, TfL's objection could mean that 170 acres of prime zone 1 land won't be able to be redeveloped around Elephant & Castle because TfL seems to think a motorway roundabout is more important.

It almost defies belief that even ignoring the tube station, the strategic travel priority of TfL seems to directly work against the local economy. You might argue that if facilitating motorists is preventing economic benefits, never mind social and environmental ones, then what is the point?

I keep pointing out that I think TfL's intepretation of its role on London's roads is wrong. It defies common sense on so many levels - it makes life harder for people who want to walk and cycle. It's even pitting TfL against tube passengers and, potentially, against private developers.

It's good to see that the Conservative party in London is also beginning to realise just how poisonous Transport for London's obsession with 'smoothing the traffic flow' is turning out.

Had the vote gone ahead in the London Assembly last week, then according to Victoria Borwick, a Conservative Assembly Member, then several Tory politicians would have voted for 20mph here. According to Victoria Borwick:

"On a free vote which is what we had planned I know Andrew, myself and others would have probably voted for the 20 mph and addressing the turning across the traffic which does need to be resolved."

Andrew Boff went further when I talked with him late last week. Andrew is a Conservative Assembly Member based in Hackney. Talking about the initial Blackfriars scheme, he commented "[TfL] just hadn't thought about cyclists. You have got to have an obvious route to go safely".

Boff's wider point was something I agree with whole-heartedly: "[The broader issue] is that it's not just about recognising the [private motor vehicle] capacity of the road any more. It's about the thought that goes into the people using that junction, it's about how people use that junction."

My own summary of that comment is that people who walk or cycle, should feel they have just as much priority on the roads and at junctions like Blackfriars or Elephant & Castle (my words not Andrew Boff's but I think we agreed on the general idea). The fact is that, at the moment, they don't. If you're 12 and you're on a bike, there's no way you will feel you have the same right to cross Blackfriars junction (or Oval junction for that matter) as the bloke in a van revving through the junction behind you. Frankly, if you're a fit adult like Dr Clare Gerada, knocked off her bike and injured here a couple of weeks ago, you'll also find yourself dangerously exposed on the new Blackfriars junction. Or on the Elephant & Castle roundabout. To name but a few examples.

My feeling is that Transport for London's obsession with smoothing the motor traffic flow means it is designing out opportunities to help Londoners walk and cycle more. Now the Conservative party is gently showing that it also has issues with these sorts of ideas. That puts it in the same ranks as the Automobile Association President but also the LibDems, Labour and Green party politicians in London.

My question is, is Transport for London's road surface team turning into some sort of monster obsessed with private motor vehicle speeds? And if so, is it time the Mayor stood up and tamed the beast?