Friday, 29 July, 2011
… has been dubbed the “Battle for Blackfriars Bridge”. Work to alter the layout of the bridge is going to start this evening, despite protests from cyclists and some politicians. Cyclists claim the controversial redesign, by Transport for London, may cost lives. TfL, however, insist the changes have to be made and will be safe, but the Mayor appears to have indicated that the plans may have needed a bit more thought.
Well joining us now to discuss this is Mark Ames, who contributes to the “I Bike London” blog, and also Ben Plowden, Director of Better Routes and Places for TfL. Good morning gentlemen.
Can we start with you Mark, if we may. What, in the shell of a nut, what’s the problem from the cyclists’ perspective. What are the dangers?
Sure, well, essentially at the moment the junction at the north end of Blackfriars Bridge is 20mph and two lanes in each direction with reasonably good quality cycle lanes. Under the scheme which Transport for London want to introduce, which we only originally had five days to consult on, they want to increase the speed limit from 20mph to 30mph and increase the lanes for traffic from two to three – basically introducing a sort-of motorway-style junction on a bridge where, at peak times, cyclists, and pedestrians of course, far out-number motorised traffic. There is genuine concern amongst the cycling community that these designs will make cycling more dangerous.
I think you said, if I heard you right there because the phone line was slightly muted, that you originally only had five days consultation. Was that extended then?
Well, after extensive lobbying by concerned cyclists, and concerned pedestrians, Transport of London re-opened the engagement on the scheme and sort of said they’d add in better cycle lanes. Those cycle lanes that they’ve introduced are actually not up to design standard – their own safety audit, in fact, has said that they are an issue of concern. So it’s been a sustained campaign of petitioning and writing, and all the democratic channels to try to get Transport for London to listen. But it would appear that this evening they’re going ahead with their scheme all the same.
Of course it could just be that they’ve listened, and decided that actually your points aren’t sufficiently weighty to be considered, and they’re going to maybe adopt one or two of them and go ahead with it. You just haven’t got your own way?
Well it’s not just our way, in fact. I wouldn’t mind if it was just me whistling in the dark, but in fact over 2000 people have signed a petition, the Greater London Authority have passed a unanimous party-political motion saying the entire scheme should be revised and the speed limit re-considered. Even the chair of TfL, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, says that he things more work needs to be done on the issue. But Transport for London, who of course aren’t elected and are unaccountable, have gone ahead anyway.
They are accountable, with respect, they’re accountable to the London Assembly.
Well it would appear that they’re not listening to the London Assembly, because they’re going ahead anyway.
Turning now, if we may, to Ben Plowden, Director of Better Routes and Places for TfL. Some fairly strong words there from Mark Ames, what’s your response, Ben?
Well the first thing to say is that it’s very important to remember why it is we’re doing these junction works. The junction works are necessary to allow the re-opening of Blackfriars Station after its three year, £550 million, upgrade, and there’s going to be a huge increase in the number of people going into and out of the station on foot. In fact there’s going to be a ten-fold increase in the number of people going into and out of the station on foot, and in order to accommodate that increase we’ve had to make more pavement space available for pedestrians and put in two new pedestrian crossings to allow street-level access to the station. We’ve also got to do that in a way which allows all the other people going through that junction, which includes cyclists of course, but also bus passengers and taxi drivers and regular traffic to go through the junction safely and efficiently. And we think, having responded to several of the concerns raised by people during the consultation, we’ve managed to do that in a way which allows pedestrians to use the station in vast numbers, but also everybody else who has to go through that junction, particularly in the rush hour, to do so safely and easily.
When you say “safely and easily” , that seems to be at the heart of Mark’s concerns. Is that right, Mark?
Absolutely. You know we’re not doing this, we’re not jumping up and down with anger, just because we’re itinerant cyclists. We’re genuinely concerned about safety, and that is the nub of the issue. I don’t see how increasing the road lanes from two to three, and increasing the speed limit are beneficial to all those thousands of pedestrians who are going to come out of Blackfriars Bridge at all. In fact their exposure to road danger will be increased, so it won’t be as safe for them as Ben makes out.
Sorry, that’s simply not true, and we’re putting in two… this will not be a motorway-style junction. You don’t have two pedestrian crossings within 50 metres on most motorways. And the 20mph speed limit, it’s very important to get this clear, was introduced solely to allow construction traffic into and out of the site, and also to stop traffic going over a part of the bridge at speed that wouldn’t support it. There is no history of speed-related crashes on this bridge, or at that junction, and that would be the only reason you’d put in a permanent 20mph speed limit. And during the rush hour, which is when most cyclists and other users will be going through the junction, traffic speeds will actually be significantly below 20mph because of the pedestrian crossings…
Let’s get a final word, if we may, from Mark. Thank you very much for joining us. That was Ben Plowden there, Director of Better Routes and Places. So what’s the next step for you, Mark?
Well, Paul, we’ve exhausted all the democratic channels. Like I said, the Mayor has said he’s concerned, the Greater London Authority have passed a motion calling for Transport for London to stop, we’ve petitioned, we’ve written, so unfortunately this evening there will be a demonstration on Blackfriars Bridge. Because we want Transport for London to make places for people, the value of a place should be based on it being a space for everyone, not just trying to force as many cars and buses through as quickly and unsafely as possible.
Got to leave it there, I’m afraid. Thank you very much, gentlemen, for joining us. That was Mark Ames there, who contributes to the “I Bike London” blog, and also Ben Plowden, Director of Better Routes and Places for TfL. So obviously if there is disruption this evening on Blackfriars Bridge, you heard about it here…