Monday, 31 March 2014

Flow chart & local travel

Thinking about how people get around locally the other day, I thought that a flow chart could be a good way of visualising why I think making our local streets safer will improve transport choice/options. First point is the recognition that the principle cause of road danger comes from motor vehicles on our roads. (See Road Danger Reduction Forum for more info on this)

Second is how we make decisions in terms of local trips. Broadly I think the following variables come into play:

1. Purpose of trip
2. Distance to travel
3. Available options
4. Ease/comfort of journey

There may well be others, but I think these really cover it. I'm also sure that academics will have done something similar. If you know, then please do comment with a link at the bottom.

The first point could be described as the 'function of the trip/journey'. Examples could be, going to the shops, getting the children to school, going to work. The second point clearly depends on the first and will vary accordingly.

The third one is different clearly for everyone. Broadly speaking, walking, walking and public transport, walking and driving (private car/scooter/motorbike), walking and cycling. With car clubs and taxis/mini-cabs in my mind we can lump them together with public transport.

The fourth and final point, is how easy or comfortable will the trip be based on the the other points. For some, doing a big shop, will mean that they need to use the bus, or a taxi/mini cab to get their groceries home. Others will drive their car, and some ride a bicycle.

Public transport has experienced a huge growth period in the past 15-20 years in London. As I understand it, the availability and reliability of the bus network has improved significantly. Also a lot of work has been done to promote bus travel, and reduce fears about safety when using the bus network.

When it comes to walking or cycling progress is being made belatedly. According to TfL's 'Attitudes towards Cycling report' from March 2012 whilst 86% of Londoners know how to ride a bicycle, and 50% have access to a bicycle the report highlights that 'concern about safety is the most commonly mentioned deterrent to increasing/taking up cycling'.

The petitions and campaigns I've been running locally, are about creating a safer street environment. I believe that if we do that the options in terms of how people travel locally will increase. The failure to address the very real danger presented by motor traffic for years, has resulted in cycling being effectively removed as a viable choice for most people. The consequences are more congestion, more strain on public transport, and unacceptably high levels of people getting hurt on our streets. Mistakes people make behind the wheel of a car/van/lorry or bus sadly too often result in terrible consequences for people who are caught on the outside.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

What Wandsworth bike hire stats can tell us

Last week, the council announced that almost 23,000 bike hire journeys had been made in February.

It's certainly encouraging that people are choosing to use the bikes locally. That said, usage numbers on their own are difficult to judge as good/bad or indifferent if there is no benchmark or comparison point.

The article goes on:
the area around Battersea Park proved to be the most popular destination with 1,305 journeys to and from the docking station in Albert Bridge Road, 1,206 uses of the docking station at Queen’s Circus, which is directly adjacent to the park’s south easterly entrance, 940 uses on the nearby Ethelburga estate and 558 a stone’s throw away in Alfreda Street.
Battersea as a whole saw the highest level of use with a total of 9,855 bike rides.
One simple reason in my mind why the area around Battersea Park has proved so popular. The park offers a virtually motor traffic free environment where people can use bicycles.

There is another point, which I also think important to consider. Until the recent arrival of the docking stations, people who wanted to cycle, but had no storage space weren't able to cycle.

Hopefully the impending arrival of the bike hangers to Wandsworth later this summer will start to address that issue. In essence, if we provide space where people can store bicycles and a safe environment where they can ride, people will cycle.

Sadly across too much of Tooting and Wandsworth borough, most people don't feel that our streets are safe enough to cycle on. Even if they would like to, many people don't currently have any space to securely store a bicycle for daily use.

With all the support for a number of the local campaigns I've been running, hopefully change is in the offing.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Traffic a religion - it's all about belief

With all the furore surrounding the proposed trial scheme for Fishponds Road, it has certainly given me food for thought.

There are a not an insignificant number of residents in and around Tooting, who hold the belief that the scheme is crazy, a waste of money, and will cause even more congestion and potentially loss of business for local shop keepers. 

I respect their right to hold that belief.

However, I hold a different belief. One that challenges and questions their belief. This means that the debate is no longer held on rational grounds, but on emotional ones. To question the status quo, and suggest that there is a better way is threatening, and can lead to further questions as to what else could be different.

I believe that when there are differing views, which can be tested in the real world, it is right and proper to put them to the test. 

A lady I was speaking with last weekend within the trial area, who opposes the scheme, commented:

"It's all fine you talking about the theory, but I'm talking about practical issues. There will be congestion, it will be a nightmare."
Trying to explain that the very purpose of conducting a trial, is to move from the theory to the practical, was lost in that moment. Below are some more examples, of where similar schemes have been implemented, in other parts of London.

Towards Colliers Wood:

View Larger Map

Off Fulham Palace Road:

View Larger Map

Famous Goldsmiths Row:

View Larger Map

These are London examples. Not from another country, not even from other parts of the UK. Just a few miles away. Some have been in for years. The first example from Colliers Wood isn't as high quality as the Goldsmiths Row one, but it's exactly the same principle.

The Fulham Palace Road, is perhaps more relevant to Tooting, as there are a good number of shops there too. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Tooting Broadway - ideas for further discussion

A few years ago I recognised that not only is Tooting Broadway a horrifically dangerous spot. See if you are in any doubt. But, more to the point, the recognition of this danger was screaming out for action to be taken.

So with the support of members of Wandsworth Cycling Campaign, and Wandsworth Living Streets, I came up with a new proposed layout for Tooting Town Centre. I'm no highway engineer, but I do think the amount of space dedicated for motor traffic in our town centre is way out of proportion to the benefits that taking all that space away from people presents.

The low-res visual above, you can view in higher resolution in the pdf links below. The Cyan cycle routes, are 2m wide to give you an idea of scale. The width of the motor traffic lanes are 3m.

In October 2012 I was invited to present my ideas to the Town Centre Partnership.

I put together this report - Enhancing Tooting Town Centre.
I took this presentation with me, and presented these ideas of layouts for Tooting Town Centre.

PDF high resolution visuals:
Tooting Town Centre - Broadway heading north along Upper Tooting Road
Tooting Town Centre - Broadway heading east along Mitcham Road

The Tooting Labour team have recently sent out literature calling for a re-design of the town centre, which I'm really pleased about. It seems unfortunate that they have had to wait for an election to be approaching to start to look at the issue.

I'll be standing with the local Lib Dem team at the coming local elections. Making our streets safer isn't an issue which only comes up at election time. It should be a constant work in progress to improve our street environment.

Take a look at the report, and proposed layouts for discussion. Be interested to know your thoughts.

PS If you haven't already seen the latest petition to fix Tooting High Street, check it out here, and be really grateful if you could sign up and support it.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Proposed closure of Welham Road - Graveney School

Daytime picture of the gate on Welham Road. Impossible to cycle through, so I mount the pavement to get around the cars. Why there aren't double yellow lines on the approach to the gate passes I don't know.

Just responded to the Conservative's survey on their support for the proposed closure of Welham Road to public access (on foot and by bike).

These are my comments:

Closing this road to through access for people on foot and bicycles would be awful. Currently it provides a safe, quiet route which avoids the horrendous Southcroft Road. Cycling around the top involves going up a hill, expending further energy which when you are cycling or walking one tends to take the easiest route, or one that expends the least amount of energy.

Your support for the closure, yet again, illustrates that you completely don't get that an environment which is attractive to walk and cycle in, is good for everyone irrespective of how they choose to travel. In terms of safety concerns, let's consider how many actual reported incidents there have been in terms of 'stranger danger' and compare against the very real number of people who have been hurt as a result of car crashes in the area.

As I understand it from the local police there have been no reported incidents of 'stranger danger'. However, if you care to look at you will quickly see, there is a very real danger on our streets, with people really getting hurt.

Let's create a safer street environment where walking and cycling are the most attractive ways for people travel short trips (up to 2-3miles), in turn reduce congestion for those who need to drive, as well as reducing wear and tear on our roads.

It isn't difficult to get. Frustrating that the Conservatives (as a party, there are exceptions) are so blind to this, even after years of campaigning by local groups and individuals.


As a result of this post Dan Watkins tweeted me about it. Now he seems to agree that maintaining pedestrian/cycle through access shouldn't be as difficult as keeping space for cars, which in essence the road does at present. Just very unfortunate that simple things like this needed to be pointed out in the first place.

Do I survey before I start a petition?

In light of the latest petition that I've started for Tooting High Street, Simon Robinson, posed the queries above on twitter. The limitations of 140 characters, and a bit of a wordy response, made me think a blogpost would be a better way of putting across my point of view.

1. Do I survey locals before I start a petition?

With the safer streets petitions the answer is no. I'm a local resident myself, and through my involvement with groups like Wandsworth Living Streets, and Wandsworth Cycling Campaign (local branch of London Cycling Campaign) have become much more aware of both the problems that our current street environment present, as well as some of the solutions.

2. Re: emailing for ideas, talking, consulting and listening.

With my involvement with the groups mentioned above, I have talked through evidence based solutions which have worked in other locations. So discussions have taken place with debate, and differing views put across.

What I find horrific is the current council policy which basically states that either someone has to be killed, or 25% of local residents need to agree to a specific ask for the council to just look into making improvements to our streets. We are not all highway engineers, but we do employ them at the council. Hope you would agree with me that those engineers ideally should be planning and working to constantly improve our streets. Why the current political parties that represent us seem to think that the current policy which prevents them from doing so, with the exceptions raised above, is a good one is beyond me.

Over a 3 year period residents from every street in the borough will write to the council telling them that they think there is an accident waiting to happen. Local people see and feel the danger. Our current politicians instead of seeing this as a call to action have hindered anything happening with their policy position.

Whilst the policy is in place, in the meantime, I do want things to improve. Petitioning is one way to achieve that. Indeed, if the petitions weren't worded in a way that people could sign up to, then they don't have to. There are many differing views in the local community on a whole range of issues. Also, a petition if successful, will ultimately result in a consultation, as has happened with the proposed trial for the Fishponds road area.

With other areas/issues where I'm not so well informed, then yes I would look to gain further information through surveys, and speaking with relevant groups who have people who are informed on the specific topic.

Hope this answers your queries Simon, and do let the local Lib Dem team know of any issue which is of specific concern to you.

PS of course you, and others are free to comment below should you have further queries.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Our streets are political - Part 2 - Tory perspective

Whilst for many management of our streets should be about improving them based on evidence, the reality is that any changes are very political. The consultation currently on-going for the proposed trial is really highlighting the differences in approach between the local parties.

I looked at the Labour position yesterday. Let's now look at the Tory position. They've sent out a letter to local residents which you can see at the bottom. Let me highlight a few points that they have raised.
The proposals to pilot a series of road closures in this area has been put forward by Liberal Democrat activist Jon Irwin, who presented a petition to the Council.
So far so good. Almost 3 years ago I collected 243 signatures from local residents to support trying to make the streets safer. They go on.
Rather than simply imposing a series of road closures on residents the Council is quite rightly consulting residents that would be affected, asking for at least a 40% response rate before taking any action.
I did originally think if I got so much support to conduct a trial, then we could go ahead with it as a trial to see if it improved the streets. That said, I understand the need to consult. Still the implication from their wording is that it's Lib Dems trying to impose unwanted changes on the area. Guess all those signatures from local people don't really count for the Tories.
From knocking on doors and speaking to residents in the area the general feeling is that residents are overwhelmingly against the proposed series of road closures.
They must be speaking with different people to the ones I speak with, and got to sign the petition originally.
We firmly believe that our streets should be safe for all their users - pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. We do not believe in the imposition of policies to favour one group above another.
This made me laugh. On Fishponds Road, people are allowed to park their cars half on the pavement, whilst at the same time there are signs up asking people not to cycle on the pavement. So space to walk reduced so that people can park cars. Allowed to drive on the pavement (pedestrian area), not allowed to cycle. As a result of the Tory policies, the traffic counts that have been done for the Fishponds area (to have baseline data in the event of the trial happening) are only for motor traffic. No pedestrian or cyclist counts have been done.

The Tories claim to not favour one group above another, the implementation of their policies shows that claim is totally false. If it was equal, wouldn't there have been counts for pedestrians and people on bicycles? Clearly cars come first for the Tories, not people. They have a track record of failing to deliver balanced policies, for all their claims, the evidence on the ground speaks much louder.

Final point from this letter, they continue:
We also believe that any proposals for transport in our area should be resident led.
Perhaps they think if we are ill we should just self medicate and not visit the doctor. Why do we employ highway engineers at the council, if instead of asking their views as professionals it's up to local residents to solve the problems on our streets? Shouldn't councillors also be looking for the greater good too, and actively seeking to improve our streets? They are a public resource, and should be managed for the good of everyone.

Not only are they choosing to ignore evidence, here they are actively encouraging not even gathering evidence locally to see if this potential solution can work.

No wonder we've got so many issues with street management in the borough. If the Tories won't listen to evidence and don't want to make decisions based on evidence, what chance is there of making real progress unless local people vote them out?

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Our streets are political - Part 1 - Labour perspective

Whilst for many management of our streets should be about improving them based on evidence, the reality is that any changes are very political. The consultation currently on-going for the proposed trial is really highlighting the differences in approach between the local parties.

Let's look at the Labour position.

Cllr Ben Johnson has put his views across on Streetlife:
On the proposals: when similar (but permanent) measures were proposed a couple of years ago, the response from residents was overwhelmingly against the changes. The feedback I've received so far suggests that the view on this proposed trial scheme is similarly negative.

I do think it's right that every now and again residents are consulted on proposals to mitigate frequently reported problems such as traffic on residential streets, so that councillors and officers at the Town Hall can be clear that we're acting in accordance with the will of residents. I don't live on one of the streets affected, so I won't try to tell those who do how to respond; but along with James and Sheila, I'll be absolutely clear that once the results are in, the views of residents who live in the streets affected take precedence over all else - and of course no changes should ever be forced on residents by those who don't live in the area. (Streetlife link here)
I'd like to make a few comments with regards to his position. The people who are against doing anything are very fervent in their position. Those who are more open to the possibility that it could work, aren't screaming and shouting about it.

He also says that he thinks it's right that people should be consulted every now and then on frequently reported problems. Why doesn't he think that instead of consulting to throw a bone to those concerned local residents, we actually try something different on our local streets? Frequently reported problems won't go away by consulting every now and then, unless I'm mistaken.

Our Sadiq Khan MP has had this to say:
Whilst I welcome efforts to improve safety in our area; I also understand that these plans would have a big impact on local residents. Some residents feel the trial could lead to an overall reduction in traffic and rat-running on roads such as Broadwater and Fishponds, but I also know that other residents disagree and feel the trial could prove more inconvenient for them and others, and create further traffic problems, as others have highlighted.

Therefore it is really important that all local residents affected by these proposals don’t miss out on the chance to have your say – and that no changes should be introduced without the views of the local community’s being heard. (Streetlife conversation here)
Here he recognises that there are two differing views, and therefore a possibility that the scheme could result in an overall reduction in traffic and rat-running. Yet instead of welcoming the prospect of a trial and encouraging people to support it so that we can see if it works here or not, he is not taking a position on this other than to encourage people to respond.

I've been campaigning on this well before I was campaigning as a Lib Dem candidate for council. I'd love this scheme to go ahead as a trial, so that we can test in the real world if what I've suggested works here or not. From the people I've been speaking with on the doorstep I'm quietly optimistic that we might just get enough people supporting it for the trial to take place.

From the way Labour are presenting themselves on this, I really think if you want things to happen to improve your streets locally in Tooting Labour are all talk and no action.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Do we trust experts?

The local consultation for the Fishponds road trial is now out, and it's fair to say has generated a bit of controversy locally.

Expert view:
The officers who are highways engineers, are of the view that the scheme should reduce overall traffic congestion in the wider area.

Residents views:
All in all there is generally a widespread desire to see safer streets. The challenge is how do we best achieve that. Some people hold very firm views that the proposals will cause chaos, and significant disruption to how they get about locally.

With the current proposals it is about trying an approach which has worked elsewhere to see if it works locally. There are also fears that the proposed trial, is a trial in name only, and not a genuine trial which seeks to see if we can improve our streets.

My view:
I think the scheme will work if it is allowed to go ahead. I hope, if it does happen and work, that those who currently oppose it come round to see the benefits. That said, I'm also equally comfortable with the possibility of the scheme not working. It would allow me and other local campaigners the opportunity to scratch off this potential solution to the list of options in trying to improve our streets.

If more people respond against trying it than in favour of it, the option that it could work still remains. I'm prepared to be proved wrong by the evidence. I'm not convinced that those who are opposed to trying are as prepared to accept that there is a possibility that they too could be wrong in how they think it would work.

As a commenter 'Platinum' put at the bottom of this blogpost:

"Time we took road safety decisions away from politicians. If I’ve got cancer, I go to a doctor for a treatment plan, not the mayor."

Granted, I'll be standing as a prospective candidate for councillor in the coming local elections. That said, if the Highways Engineers think it would work, shouldn't we trust them?

PS if you haven't seen the proposals already you can download them from this previous post.