Why Blackfriars Bridge is more than just a London issue.

Proposals to re-design the northern junction of Blackfriars Bridge have generated a striking campaign to ensure that cyclists are kept safe; galvanising cycle campaigners and everyday and ordinary people on bikes alike. Whilst the ‘Battle for Blackfriars’ rages on, it is becoming clear that the policies which seek to endanger cyclists are not just a London issue.

It was back in February that Transport for London (TfL) released their plans for the re-design of the Blackfriars junction – the newly refurbished train station of the same name would lead to many 1000s more pedestrians crossing the junction, and this was used – auspiciously – as the reason to introduce a new design which would increase the road space for motorised traffic from two lanes to three, increase the speed limit from the current 20mph to 30mph and remove the cycle lanes completely at the most difficult part of the junction. TfL gave just five days for people to examine the plans and have their say. Thanks to the work of Cyclists in the City hundreds of concerned cyclists wrote to TfL and demanded they open the entire scheme for a proper public consultation. TfL acquiesced and hundreds more blogged, emailed, tweeted and wrote to the planners telling them that the scheme was wholly insufficient. TfL went back to the drawing board and came out with revised plans which magically made space for 1.5metre painted cycle lanes – but the expansion of the road from two traffic lanes to three, and the increase of the speed limit from 20mph to 30mph remained. Despite all the pleas to make the Bridge safe for cyclists, TfL’s new plans had in fact made it worse.

Cyclists were furious. Data shows that people on bikes make up the majority of traffic on the bridge at peak times, and yet here were plans which not only sought to endanger the people who currently choose to ride on the bridge but made no provision for future cycling rates. Whilst private motorcar rates on the bridge have been steadily declining, all those teachers, designers, clerks, nurses, bankers and traders who ride across the bridge every day have been very much in the ascension. All those people came together on Friday 20th May – brought out by social media in less than 48 hours for a ‘flashride’ – to protest against TfL’s plans. Approximately 300 cyclists rode the bridge together in a peak time ‘go slow’ to make their point, and coverage in local and national media followed. A further 2000 added their voices to a petition spearheaded by the London Cycling Campaign demanding the speed limit be kept 20mph to start with, and then re-designed to accommodate cyclists safely. Hundreds more submitted their photographs to show that everyday and ordinary cyclists – in all their diversity – must be considered when major road schemes are implemented.

Blackfriars montage

An attempt to have a motion of support for 20mph on the Bridge tabled at the London Assembly failed when the Conservative members walked out due to an ongoing protest about their role on Assembly Committees. There was condemnation of the party politicising what is essentially a road safety issue. The motion will now be debated in July, however the bulldozers and builders are due to start work on Blackfriars in just a few weeks.

All eyes in London are on Blackfriars Bridge, but why is this issue important to the whole of the UK and not just London? Because Transport for London are governed by a rule called the Traffic Management Act 2004 which states that TfL’s obligation is to ensure the expeditious movement of traffic on its own road network; and facilitate the expeditious movement of traffic on the networks of others. This is all well and good, but how is TfL interpreting this rule? But does ‘traffic’ include people on bikes, people on foot and people on buses – people who have jobs to go to, shops to spend in, schools to teach at? The law is explicit on this issue: “traffic” includes pedestrians, cyclists and “motorised vehicles – whether engaged in the transport of people or goods.” (Traffic Management Act 2004, Section 31, and DfT Traffic Management Act 2004, Network Management Duty Guidance, DfT page 4, paragraph 10).

But TfL’s Draft Network Operating Strategy (May 2011) explains how this Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) objective is actually translated into reality:

The key measure for smoothing traffic flow set out in the MTS is journey time reliability .(p14)

And how is this measured?

Journey time reliability scope includes all classes of light good vehicles, Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV’s) and cars. (p14 – footnote 2)

So there you have it; pedestrians don’t count, buses and trams don’t count, cyclists don’t count. If you’re not in a car, you just don’t count. Figures via Cycle of Futility blog.

This wilful misinterpretation of the Traffic Management Act has shocked cycle campaigners in to action, realising that they are literally being classed as second class citizens. More and more examples of the priority and importance of private cars are becoming evident; in Elephant and Castle a major pedestrian and Tube station upgrade plan has been shelved because turning the notorious roundabout into a junction will inconvenience motorists.

If the Battle for Blackfriars fails, cyclists will have a real fight on their hands wherever TfL proposes a new road scheme with their measurements and timings which only count cars and lorries.

Cycle campaigners across the country are watching keenly to see what the outcome will be, whilst looking to their own local transport authorities to see who they prioritise on their roads.

What can you do?

If you live in London: Write to your Local Assembly Member encouraging them to back retaining 20mph on Blackfriars Bridge and supporting the re-design of the bridge for people and place, not just cars.

Everyone: Add your photo to the London Cycling Campaign photo petition showing your face as someone who counts when it comes to designing our roads.

Mark Ames: Press Officer