Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mayor's Question Time

Yesterday saw the first MQT since the elections. Labour now dominate the Assembly with twelve members but the Conservative group remains a respectable size at nine - the election was far from the rout that some commentators expected. The real losers were the small parties who were once again squeezed between the two big players and there are only two Lib Dems now along with two Greens. The growth of the Labour Group has forced the remaining Libs around the horseshoe onto the Conservative side and they look distinctly uncomfortable - no coalitionism here.


Questions started where they left off, on cycle safety. Both the Libs and the Greens are pushing a campaign called 'Go Dutch' which seeks to replicate Holland in London with respect to cycle safety. It is a noble cause but fails to allow for the conditions in our capital city - one might as well promote a 'Go Vegas' campaign to increase tourism or a 'Go Littlehampton' campaign to cut crime and pollution. For the Greens in particular this is their way of opposing plans to smooth traffic flow and cut congestion, which they consider to be incompatible with cycle safety.

Boris assured us that he was working to improve safety at key junctions. Keen cyclist and new Conservative Group Leader Andrew Boff risked opprobrium by suggesting that if cyclists obeyed the Highway Code there would be many fewer accidents. On his ride to work he feels that he is the only cyclist to stop at the red lights. Some tougher enforcement action would improve safety and save lives.


Val Shawcross, who narrowly missed becoming Ken's Deputy Mayor, is back at transport and she asked a good open question about TfL's business plan. The good thing about open questions is that they allow supplementaries to range quite widely. I took advantage of the opportunity to seek a meeting with Boris to review Crossrail's plans in Havering & Redbridge.

During the promotional phase of Crossrail we were treated to artist's impressions of glittering new stations - a cornucopia of Tie Racks and Sock Shops. The reality is different, and a sad let down. At Romford disabled access is being improved but the new station looks very cramped, as Network Rail have increased the back office space at the expense of the ticket hall and existing retail units. At the start of the month passengers queue out of the entrance and down South Street to purchase tickets and whilst developments with Oyster will reduce demand for tickets to London, they will do nothing for travellers heading out of town who will still have to join the line.

Furthermore there are no plans to link the station to the nearby bus terminus on the south side of the station. Instead a new entrance will debouch on the north side into an alleyway known as The Battis, an area currently dominated by recycling bins and parked vans. An opportunity to regenerate this run down part of Romford is in danger of being lost because of Network Rail's penny pinching.

Boris agreed to a meeting, so that was 'mission accomplished' and we moved on.


I asked Boris about plans to roll out the new look 'Routemaster' and he stated that the budget exists to bring 600 of these fine vehicles into service. New technology will make this the cleanest bus yet, improving air quality and cutting CO2 emissions - air quality in London has been getting better, although you would never know it from the hot air that has been issuing from the Labour and Green Groups.

The bus would also save money by cutting fuel consumption and of course, reducing fare evasion. Boris couldn't confirm which route would be the first to run the new buses in my constituency, but they will be getting an enthusiastic reception when they arrive - unlike the defunct bendy bus who's fan club maintained a sullen silence across the horseshoe...


In a response to a question from Tony Arbour, Boris maintained his opposition to plans for a Third Runway at Heathrow. He was surprised to learn that the Lib Dems in Richmond have been claiming that we support such plans. Tony urged the Mayor to resist the temptation to 'Love Bomb' the Assembly Lib Dems - given their dwindling size precision bombing would be required...


New Member Andrew Dismore pressed the case for a memorial to the Israeli athletes and coaching staff who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists 40 years ago.

The cross party campaign for recognition of this tragic episode has involved Cllr Linda Kelly of Hackney who promoted a plaque to be unveiled in the borough in July. There will also be a commemoration hosted by The Guildhall. However the IOC - with characteristic small mindedness - have rejected the call for a minute's silence during the games themselves.

Andrew and I hope the IOC will change their minds and allow a commemoration of a tragedy that is uniquely a part of their history.


There are five new Members following the election. Andrew Dismore, Onkar Sahota, Tom Copley and Stephen Knight all asked their maiden questions at this meeting leaving only Labour's Fiona Twycross to make her mark. They all looked quite promising so it will be interesting to see how the new Assembly develops over its term of office. 


Bob said...

It's not just the Greens and Lib Dems who are 'pushing' the Go Dutch campaign, but the Mayor too -he stated during the election campaign that he is "fully committed to meeting the three key tests of LCC’s ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ campaign", which seems like a fairly clear promised to me.

You don't think he has already changed his mind, do you?

Anonymous said...

How does "Go Dutch" fail to allow for conditions in our capital city? The "conditions" are not natural, they are the result of decades of deliberate policy to marginalise cyclists and pedestrians in favour of motor traffic. These can and should be reversed by the Mayor and the London Assembly.

Anonymous said...

GIven that Boris signed up to 'Love London, Go Dutch' in the election, your view that we may as well 'Go Vegas' seems either remarkably ill-informed, or confirmation that the Mayor doesn't really believe London can really have more people cycling ...

Anonymous said...

If the mayor signed up for 'Love London, Go Dutch', why do you suddenly think it's such an awful idea? Boris had weeks to read the LCC manifesto before he signed up for it, so to abandon it now would seem the lamest bit of politics ...

Anonymous said...


You're not quite correct on 'Go Dutch'. This is not an initiative from the Greens and Lib Dems, but one from the London Cycling Campaign.

It's an initiative that's intended to improve both actual and perceived safety to allow Londoners to choose to use their bikes if they want to. (TFL's own figures show both that there are a vast number of journeys in London that could be made by bike (ie, under 5 miles, 1 vehicle user) and that the main thing preventing people from using bikes is fear of traffic)

Boris signed up to the key demands of this campaign ( ) before the election - so it's just a case of the Lib Dems and Greens making sure he keeps his own promises.

Increasing cycling is not incompatible with a decrease in congestion. Bikes take up much less space on the road than cars do - something like a fifith of the space, in TFL's own estimates. Every driver who chooses to cycle instead frees up space for other drivers (who maybe can't choose to cycle) to get to their destination more freely. Increasing cycle safety is a win-win for everyone. I hope you'll support it.

Anonymous said...

Your comments on "Go Dutch" are short sighted. Creating cycling infrastructure and separating cyclists from cars would help with traffic flow. Getting more commuters on these separate bike paths and out of their cars would also help with traffic flow. If people feel safe on their bicycles, they will get out of their cars... many of us are afraid to bicycle in this city.
Being a cyclist who obeys traffic signals and is very aware of my surroundings, I have still almost been hit multiple times by cars/vans turning into my path without looking. I have had car drivers scream at me and threaten me for simply being on the street in the correct lane. I have had taxis almost clip me as they pass me within the bus lane. Citing & fining cyclists who run traffic signals is not a real solution. When you suggest this is the solution to problems with cycling safety, you make it clear you dislike people who choose to ride bicycles. Without some more proactive action on the part of government, cycling deaths will continue in this city. London is better than this.

Paul M said...

Your flippant remark about Go Dutch is unworthy of you. In any case, the campaign handle is not about replicating the Netherlands in London, it is partly that it is a snappy title and largely because the Netherlands shows what can be done and provides an example to aspire towards.

Why is London somehow differnt? The Netherlands is no less densely populated, has generally no wider or straighter streets, just as much history.
/heritage architecture to contend with, and contrary to the prejudice the Dutch are also a nation of motorists.

They do however eschew the car more than we do when the journey doesn't really warrant it - when the distance is not great - and they rule the car, rather than letting themselves be ruled by it as we do. We don't have to follow their example to the letter, but there is much we can learn from them.

Roger Evans said...

Wow! That's the fastest response this blog has had for some time. Some very good points made and responding almost merits a separate post - but for now:

1. I'm not saying the Mayor has ditched his commitment to your campaign - if anything he appeared very positive in his responses yesterday.

2. We all agree that safety for cyclists needs to be improved. The most immediate way to do this is to prosecute dangerous drivers, particularly unroadworthy HGVs. Also motorists who abuse other road users including cyclists - I agree there have been some terrible cases. And also cyclists who jump red lights or ride on the pavement.

3. Personally I am in favour of greater segregation where we can do it. Separate cycle paths remove the understandable fears which come from sharing road space with larger vehicles. This should also be the case at dangerous junctions.

4. And we can also encourage cycling by providing secure parking for bikes at the start and end of journeys. Lack of space for a bike in my flat is one of the main reasons I don't have one - I don't have a car either.

5. And learning from other places is a good thing. So if there are good ideas in Holland we should take them up. But we should not expect to change the whole dynamic of our city. London is unique and a lot of its problems stem from its sheer busyness. Good solutions will stand within that London context rather than seeking to change our town - a point I was seeking to make without ruffling feathers...

Anonymous said...

Roger -

Thanks for this thoughtful response. It would be good to read more from you on this!

One question - I would like, for example, to be able to take my children (11 and 9) by bike from Hackney to the Science Museum. In Amsterdam, I'd be able to do this. In London, right now, it's impossible. We'd have to pass through too many busy roads and junctions

Clearly, to allow people to do this, one would need to make some changes (high quality, well-signposted routes on quiet streets, segregated routes through some junctions and along some busy roads). So, what kind of changes do you think are acceptable, and which would you think not so suitable for London?


Roger Evans said...

Better signposting is a must - in London we often don't realise how close things are to each other and everyone has the Tube map which is not much help above ground. In the centre of town walking is my preferred mode and good signs and maps would encourage more people to take to their feet and explore - also freeing up space on buses and the underground.

In the last couple of decades a lot of residential roads have been closed to through traffic and these would make ideal cycle routes, much safer and pleasanter than the main roads and often faster too.

I'm much less keen on measures that slow down the main roads and cause congestion. I can see the argument that people are encouraged not to drive by delays but emergency services, essential road users and buses are also caught in the web. The key is to make the best use of very limited road space - in London that will always involve some give and take...

wulfhound said...

Hello Roger,

"Smoothing traffic flow" is not in itself a bad idea (the few times I drive in town, would be great to know if the journey will be 40min or 2h), but it's unpopular with those who prefer to get around the city on foot or by bike because of the following things done in its name:-

* Increased number of general purpose lanes at junctions (reduces length of queues at lights but results in aggressive lane changing immediately after - nasty if you're on a bike and obey the law).

* Removal of pedestrian crossing points (Tooley St., Curtain Rd., etc.) in places where people actually want to cross the road.

* Shorter pedestrian crossing times and "countdowns" (ask elderly people what they think of those.)

* Increased speed limits on bridges (Blackfriars - which merely causes traffic to "sprint" from one junction to the next while having no benefit to journey times).

* Blocking borough councils from implementing pedestrian crossings/phases on TLRN roads even where the local community has made a case for it (Crystal Palace Triangle).

And I'll save one the worst for last - it requires a little explanation, but is a neat illustration of the problems we face.

Here is the "T" junction at the northern end of Southwark Bridge:-,-0.093104&spn=0.006457,0.016512&sll=51.507868,-0.095519&sspn=0.006457,0.016512&t=m&radius=0.43&hq=southwark+bridge&z=17&layer=c&cbll=51.510871,-0.093104&panoid=WTcPMNo7wu23JFVanHX-Yg&cbp=12,203.32,,0,0

This is an old photo prior to the Cycle Superhighway being constructed. Three lanes of traffic, two going right, one going left. Cycle lane to the ASL running along the gutter. Not good, but not unusual. Cyclists going straight on have to merge with cars in the centre (right-turning) lane.

When they built the Cycle Superhighway, the junction was reduced to two lanes. Left turning traffic in the left lane, right turning traffic in the right lane, bikes headed straight on in the middle. All good...

... until some bright spark at TfL decided there wasn't enough junction capacity for smooth traffic flow, and allowed traffic from the *left* lane to turn *right* - across the path of cyclists headed straight on in the centre. If you arrive at the junction on a bike & there's traffic already in the left lane, you can't even see the arrow permitting them to turn right. An accident waiting to happen (if it hasn't already), and all in the name of smooth traffic flow.

Rog T said...


Interesting post on the shape of the new assembly. Good to see you giving a proposal from my AM Andrew Dismore the thumbs up

Anonymous said...

You say there should be 'give and take' - but it's a little more complex than that.

The problem is that, if one wants to go any distance in London on a bike, one inevitably encounters major roads and junctions - and these have been designed exclusively for motor traffic - so much so that they're dangerous and intimidating to all but the most confident cyclists - so they act, effectively, as a barrier to cycling. So people who want to cycle feel they need to drive, and add to the congestion.

If we're going to reduce congestion by making cycling possible for all who want to, at a bare minimum we need to make ways through these junctions and across (and sometimes along) these roads that are safe to cycle. Even with the best engineering, this is going to have some initial effect on traffic capacity. The effect of this reduction might be an initial increase in congestion, but a decrease over time as more people find it's safe to cycle - and we end up in a more efficient equlibrium

So what we're looking for from the politicians is the nerve to make the initial moves (which might be briefly unpopular), in order to make gains in the longer term (three or four years down the line)_. This pattern has already happened in New York, where there's been a huge expansion of cycle facilities over the last four years. There was some resistance at first - but now they're at 60-70% approval, even among car owners...

Morris Hickey said...

Not only spelling lessons - tips also for the exercise of general courtesies. What a pathetic pint-sized ignoramus you are.

Roger Evans said...

Rog T - With respect to Andrew Dismore, I'm happy to give support where it is merited as in this case.

Anonymous (the most recent one) - I'm interested in what you said about New York. Partly because their situation is very similar to London and also because they were such an aggressively pro car city when I visited a few years ago. I have asked the LCC to provide more information about this.

Mr Hickey - I assume the second sentence of your comment is not an example of the 'general courtesies' you ask for in the first!! And can you go and troll somewhere else please...

Anonymous said...

The problem with promoting/tolerating excessive motorised vehicle use is that it's unsustainable.

We can't just keep adding more and more cars/trucks into the city and people can't realistically expect to be able to drive and park through London hindrance-free. The population will increase further and the pollution and congestion levels are already too high and costing too much.

The only future is to reverse this trend, and that omelette requires breaking some eggs. Ultimately there is not enough space in London for everybody who wants to drive so it's time to take active measures to reduce the number (and expectations) of those using motorised vehicles.

Many people survive without cars in London and they should be prioritised. Ultimately as the population and anti-pollution measures grow we will all be forced in that direction anyway so let's get the building blocks in place now and start reallocating space away from cars.

Anonymous said...

Roger - might I recommend the following blogpost, which features a video that gives you a flavour of what is being done in New York:

I echo the comments of a previous poster, when I say this is about unpopular short-term moves for a significant long-term gain. London (and any other global city), simply cannot sustain more traffic, and it is about time we started to do what so many major cities are doing (Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, NY, Chicago), lest we end up falling way, way behind in giving our city a brighter future.

Anonymous said...

May I recommend this post Roger, as a flavour of what is being done in New York. This is exactly the kind of thing we need to do here. London is falling way, way behind other major global cities on this.

Cyclists in the City said...

I'm encouraged by the intelligent responses that this post has generated, and particularly pleased to see you've given much more useful explanation to your original post.

Putting cycling higher up London's agenda doesn't need to mean being opposed to 'smoother traffic flow'. Chicago has a transport strategy that is very explicitly aimed at smoothing traffic flow for car drivers, for example. But it gives equal weight to its cycling and walking policy as well. Chicago has got the balance exactly right and you can read more about it here

In London, we need to be much more honest that smoothing traffic flow is about motor journeys. TfL and some of your Conservative colleagues imply that smoother flow is good for cycling and walking. Chicago has quite clearly demonstrated that's not the case. They are intervening to make cycling and walking safer and more convenient in different ways. In other words, they are trying to balance the needs of motor transport with a proactive push for better walking and cycling. In London, the bias is still too far weighted towards motor transport and we need to support smoother traffic flow but only in the context of better access for those of us who aren't using our cars.

Cyclists in the City said...

Just following up my earlier comment on Chicago. The plan there is as follows:

Smooth traffic flow:

"Improve the reliability and consistency of workday auto travel times on monitored major streets."

So far, so similar to London.

But then they say this:

"The safety and convenience of ALL users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and motor vehicle drivers, shall be accommodated and balanced in all types of transportation and development projects and through all phases of a project, so that even the most vulnerable – children, elderly, and persons with disabilities – can travel safely within the public right of way.”

London's missing this bit.

If you want to know more about New York (which has absolutely leapfrogged London on cycling), the transport strategy there is "reducing private auto use in the most crowded parts of town ... to make more room for [cycling and for buses]".

It is all about reducing congestion but also about giving people genuine options not to drive.

You should also look at your colleagues in Bournemouth who have just announced a plan for 3 cycle highways to try and cut congestion, get kids cycling to school and boost the local economy through more tourism and making it easier for people to get to jobs. 48% of their car traffic is under 2 miles (London similar) and they want to reduce that sort of fairly pointless car journey and replace it with cycling.

London hasn't worked out why it wants cycling yet. I think pro-growth, less congestion, healthier people all good, positive values that can be delivered for Londoners through cycling. Nothing to do with being Green or being Labour or being Conservative. Just the right thing to do.