Why Blackfriars matters to us here in Waltham Forest

You may have heard that as part of upgrading Blackfriars station in the heart of the City of London TfL has proposed a newly designed junction at the north end of Blackfriars bridge. The original design has attracted lots of criticism for designing cycling out of the junction. Now, 560 consultation responses later, a revised scheme has been proposed and you might be hard pushed to spot the difference.
LCC has acknowledged that some minor improvements have been made, but it remains a motorway style junction which has no place in the the middle of the City or anywhere in London’s town centres. Therefore LCC has been there joined by hundrets of cyclists on Friday 20 May 8:30am to show their disapproval.
Blackfriars bridge is a major cycle route with a third of peak time traffic being cyclists. On the junction itself pedestrians and cyclists will have to dodge fast moving motor traffic on three lanes in each direction whilst being given bits of cycle lane and staggered pedestrian crossings.
Why does this matter to us in Waltham Forest I hear you ask.
Well, some might actually use this area on their way to work or for leisure. But more important are the underlying reasons why these dinosaur designs come about.

The north circular road in Waltham Forest

The dogma of maintaining fast motor vehicle flows at the expense of pleasant streets for cycling and walking has been around for a while and has resulted in all sorts of monstrosities across London. The North Circular road with all its hideous junctions such as Billet roundabout, and Charlie Brown’s roundabout or the M11 link road that severs Leytonstone and, despite promises, has not reduced but increased motor traffic on our local streets. And lets not forget that the dogma filters down to other junctions on our local streets as well.
The dogma is based on traffic models and a, some might say irrational, fear of gridlock. Computer models predict what happens to a junction under different conditions. When trying to reallocate road space to walking and cycling or reduce speeds the computer literally says no.
Now these models are incredibly sophisticated and they are of course a fantastic tool for understanding ‘junction performance’. I would never suggest we should just have a gang ho attitude, build something and then see what happens.
But traffic models are ONLY a tool, not the decision maker. However sophisticated, they are not very good at modelling human behaviour or even the more sustainable modes of transport such as walking and cycling. At Blackfriars as with many other road schemes cycling data, if at all included, can be quite unreliable and outdated. Traffic models also tend not to take account of ‘traffic evaporation’. This phenomenon tends to refer to motor traffic and seems to occur when a disruption such as a bridge closure for example does not lead to (expected) gridlock elsewhere, but to reduced motor traffic over all. The reason is that cars are not ‘data’ but vehicles operated by humans and humans make choices. 50% of car journeys in central London are shorter than 2 miles. If not provided for, these journeys are being made by other means at other times or not at all.

Kirkdale road, Leytonstone. Will Olympic money improve matters?

Those same sophisticated but ultimately imperfect models are being used for our local streets too. And, just like with TfL, engineers will tell us that improvements for walking and cycling can’t be done because the computer says no.
We need to demonstrate that we are no longer willing to bow to computer models or engineering dogma. We need to show that in our cities and town centres there is no room for motorways. Our streets need to be civilized and human scale for the benefit of everyone including, ironically perhaps, drivers.
So supporting LCC at Blackfriars on Fri 20 May 8:30am has been important for all Londoners and demonstrating that the age of the urban motorway has gone will have benefits in our borough as well as across London.
Got to www.lcc.org.uk  and follow @London_Cycling to find out more.

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