Saturday, 30 April 2016

Cost, Invest, Value

A Twitter debate has got me thinking about getting a bang for one's buck when it comes to transport. It started with a discussion about a London Mayoral candidate promising to spend £100m a year on cycling.

There was a flurry of virtual applause, but I pointed out that in terms of the city-wide budget, it really wasn't much money and gave the example of the multi-million pound refit of the Hammersmith Flyover as a contrast. So, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the cost of various transport projects for some real contrast. I will give a bit of a health warning as the examples are quoted from various sources and prices depends on the year announced and much investment is over a number of years; but the ball will be in the park as they say!

Let's start with a London cycling scheme. The East-West Cycle Superhighway weighs in at around £47m for about 18 miles of route (when complete); or roughly £2.6m per mile (yes, I know most places can only dream of money like this). Just out of the eastern side of Greater London, Highways England is rebuilding the junction of the M25 and the A13 for a cool £79.3m. Mind you for a bit more cash, Highways England will delivery 200 cycling projects (£100m) over 5 years (although I'm too sure of the detail!).

The Superhighway approaching Parliament.

Bridges are expensive bits of kit, although most people only notice them when they are closed! The Hammersmith flyover refit has been reported as a £100m scheme; I was under the impression it was more like £60m, but it is sometimes hard to get the exact figure. £100m is likely to include emergency works undertaken in advance of the main scheme. The flyover was in a terrible state after years of under-investment by the Department for Transport which was responsible for it before TfL took over in 2000. For what it's worth, the flyover is 622m long and so at £60m, the refit cost the equivalent of £154m per mile!

At the smaller end of the scale, the New Bus For London costs about £350k, which is a bit more than the £300k for a "normal" hybrid bus and there is a New Tube For London project which is looking to provide 250 new trains and upgrades to 4 tube lines. The trains could cost £1bn to £2.5bn with a total scheme investment of perhaps £16bn. Still on the tracks, London (yes, sorry) has the 73 mile Crossrail project under construction with a £15bn budget (£205m per mile). High Speed 2 on the other hand has a gargantuan budget of £50bn for track and stations - I've looked at this before and it's roughly £104m per mile, so better value than Crossrail? The good thing about rail (and I am not a fan of HS2), is that it can carry lots of people and has a long life in operation. Meanwhile in Manchester, the recently opened 9 mile, 15 stop airport link ate up £400m, or £44m per mile.

 A tram at Manchester Airport.

Meanwhile, over on the motorways and trunk roads of England, £15bn has been promised to build 1,300 lane miles. This is lanes and not length of road of course. So, this is £11.5m per mile; over 4 times the cost of the East-West cycle, although the EW is 2-way, so being cheeky, I'll say 8 times the lane cost! Meanwhile in Scotland, there is a £3bn plan to dual 80 miles of the A9 (£37m a mile) and the Welsh Government wants to invest £1bn in a 15 mile bypass of the M4 which is a staggering £67m a mile.

Back at the little end of the scale, a new zebra crossing might need a budget of £20k and a new signalised crossing about £50k. A job I'm working on at the moment has a budget of around £180k which is adding pedestrian and cycle crossings to an existing junction along with about 320 metres of new 2m wide, stepped cycle track (160m in each direction approaching/ leaving the junction); so this is about £1225 per metre (both directions) or £1.8m per mile treated, including junctions.

OK, I think I have made the point. Things have a cost and they have a benefit. They have direct costs, they have indirect costs. Things have a design-life and a life cycle cost. All of this makes it difficult to compare like with like and even with official benefit to cost ratio calculations, transport investment remains largely political (and that is at any level). But, if we are talking about moving people around a town or city, we cannot ignore the fact that for decent cycling infrastructure, we can get a huge bang for our buck. As you know, I am a fan of local transport which moves people on their day to day journeys, so I am probably biased against those big ticket schemes. 

However, I'll leave you with the following graphic which compares the cost per mile of some of my examples relative to the East-West Cycle Superhighway (which is one unit per mile). It's quite interesting!

Friday, 22 April 2016

Stories From The School Run: Rosie's Story

This week, we have been collecting your #schoolrunstories for our little pop-up campaign "Stories From The School Run". This week's post has photos by my daughter, Rosie (7) and it shows her typical journey.

The school run to our local primary school has always been on foot for Rosie as it was for her brother now at secondary school and as it will be for her little sister in a couple of years. Our walk is just under 500 metres and it takes about 6 minutes.

The walk is normally pleasant as the little ones blast along on their scooters, buggies are pushed and the kids skip along. There is the occasional bike, but it is always being ridden on the footway and as we get close to the school, it is obvious why;

As we approach the school, the normally (relatively) quiet road (despite feeding 3 industrial estates) starts to fill up with cars and pretty much all of them are dropping kids off.

Par for the course, fellow parents blocking driveways. Amazingly, we are walking through a footway parking bay which isn't being used (it's normally full).

The parking on the far side of the road pushes traffic closer to the kerb which is not particularly pleasant. We do have yellow lines at the junctions which are generally respected and so makes it easier to see when crossing the side roads.

We are running a little late which is why the footway isn't that busy (Rosie was on time though!). As well as feeding the industrial estate with lorries the road is a bus route; so the traffic calming is designed for large vehicles. There are no humps as HGVs and humps don't mix without causing noise and vibration. Note the blue car in the distance.

The traffic calming is priority pinch points. The parking helps clog them up and people have to drive very slowly which is perhaps a good thing!

We are starting to get parking on both sides now and still plenty of parents driving off after delivering their kids to school.

Remember the blue car? Yes, it was "parked" like that.

As we reach the school gate, the obligatory car parked on the zig-zags of the zebra crossing on the right hand side of the photograph.

I think the photos are fairly representative of what it's like to walk to our local school. The vast majority of kids walk and scoot, but the road outside is completely clogged up by a relatively small minority of parents. 

It's the age old problem of people having busy lives and many dropping the kids off as they are going on to work after. They are driving because there is no real alternative for them and so their behaviour impacts on everyone else who is not driving. Perhaps if people parked further away and walked for 5 minutes, there might be a bit more space which could be re-purposed for walking and cycling? Welcome to Suburbia.

Monday, 11 April 2016

But The Blue Pill Remains Stubborn

Last week, I waxed lyrical about some of the cracking new cycling infrastructure being built in Central London, although I did point out how the rest the area is really like.

This week, I'm back on the ground with a bump (not literally thank goodness) as the pledges of some of the Mayoral candidates drip out. By that I mean that beyond the manifesto headlines we are being subjected to campaigns becoming increasingly personal and less about what they are actually going to do. As you know, my interest is in making our urban places more liveable and so far, I'm not at all impressed. 

I realise that policies are wider than transport alone, but transport touches pretty much everyone on a daily basis and so I think it is the most important issue for a city. Some candidates are doing really well on transport and some of the linked issues, such as the air quality emergency facing us, but others seem to be desparate to maintain business as usual by supporting big road schemes or pushing for anything other than walking, cycling and public transport. The Labour and Conservative candidates couldn't even make the Institution of Civil Engineers' infrastructure hustings

To be honest, I made up my mind about who to vote for as a first preference a very long time ago. My second preference is another matter as this has fluttered over the last few weeks (although I think I probably now know who it will be). As well as the Mayoral elections, we have elections to the Greater London Assembly which consists of constituency members (i.e. where you live) and list members which represent more of the vote of London (and more likely to be minority parties). Full details here

For me, the election is about local transport rather than the big ticket projects which politicians seem to flock to. In truth, it has always been about local projects for me as I probably have a vested interest in them for my day job! But it is about local journeys; the ones which people could walk or cycle which are the important ones. The election is about our children being able to travel independently, safely and without being subjected to the pollution and danger created by adults driving everywhere (at least in Outer London). So building bridges and tunnels over the Thames, providing free parking or allowing electric cars in bus lanes is bugger all use to them.

With this in mind, I will be casting my votes for the people I think are best placed to make change happen for my children. I am pragmatic, we will end up with a new mayor in any case and I think the hard work is yet to come as the game moves forward with campaigners, professionals and Londoners needing to hold whoever wins to account on their promises or try to push them towards making our city more liveable.

My main message for the candidates is that they need to listen to the children of London as their voice is simply being drowned out by the adults.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Fragments Of The Red Pill: London Cycling Infrastructure Safari 2nd April 2016

As promised, the London Cycling Infrastructure Safari returned last Saturday and as usual, it was arranged in association with the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.

As usual, Alex Ingram provided the local knowledge to get us round the tricky bits and the event enticed about 25 people out into the warm Spring sunshine. It's a far cry from mooching around looking at kerbs on my own and it gives the opportunity for people of all backgrounds and views to put their points across. If you search #LDNCycleSafari on Twitter, you'll see some photos of what we looked at. It was the third outing of the event and we will carry on into the future and expect to see some blog posts from time to time.

I'll come back to the route we took shortly, but I think it is interesting to remind ourselves what cycling in Central London is usually like. This little video is us trying to get from the paint'n'signs CS8 which fizzles out at the notorious Millbank Roundabout to Parliament Square which is a maelstrom of cars, buses and lorries. There is no way most people would clamour to cycle here. I have on an irregular basis, but I wouldn't recommend it (unless it is at the end of the London-Surrey 100 when it is closed for the sportive!);

The video ends as we are about to cross Parliament Street before turning left onto Victoria Embankment where works are currently underway to take the East-West Cycle Superhighway from Victoria Embankment to Great George Street via Parliament Square.

I would also like to take the opportunity to think about Victoria Embankment as well. As we got into the street, the lanes are set up for roadworks and are narrow. We were heading northbound (on the west side of the street), but we needed to find somewhere to cross to the east side of the street where the currently completed section of the superhighway has been placed. This section has been built for some time and so it was a little bit of a shock to see it closed again!

As we headed northbound, we became aware of hooting behind our group. It was someone driving a Range Rover who was extremely upset being caught behind us and proceeded to barge past, hooting as she did. We caught the driver at the next set of lights of course. I raise this not as a pop at people driving in this area (although I think it madness), but as a contrast to having got used to the calm and comfort of the cycle track. Here is what Victoria Embankment used to look like;

I took this during the 2014 FreeCycle ride where the road was open to just cycles, but it shows the amount of space given over to motor traffic under normal conditions. The next photo was taken a bit further north for my post about zebra crossings and was to show how risky it is having to cross two lanes of traffic (with one masking the other); it does show again the total absence of protection of space for people cycling and was always awful to use.

So, let's get back to the safari. We started at the western end of CS3 at Royal Mint Street where work was underway to connect the route to the East-West Cycle Superhighway. By the Summer, it will be possible to cycle from Barking to Westminster on mostly protected cycle tracks. After a bit of a detour because this end of the route is still being built, we had a ride down Lower Thames Street (which isn't strictly open yet);

We stopped just after Monument Street for a chat, although the bells from St. Magnus The Martyr Church kind of drowned us out!

We retraced our steps back to Monument Street where we debated and tested the link from the cycle track into the street itself. The link has been there years but as Ruth-Anna with her cargobike and Isabelle with her hand-cycle found, it is pretty awful and hard to use so is now overdue for a complete change. The popular solution was to de-bollard the area and restore the historic road layout, but as a cycle access. As a wider issue, the group felt that there were lots of locations where the connections to side streets were lacking.

We then hit the awful roads again and got ourselves to Southwark Bridge where we picked up the paint'n'signs route of CS7 which we followed all the way to the Elephant & Castle (I can't resist linking this NSFW clip). Being a Saturday, many areas along CS7 weren't under parking restrictions and so in many places, vehicles were parked in cycle lanes which were less than useless. We had a quick peek at Elephant & Castle which was being remodelled (and will be the subject of a future safari) to start at the southern end of the North-South Cycle Superhighway.

We then spent some time cycling along the route which takes in St George's Road (one-way for motor traffic), a stub of Lambeth Road (which is filtered), St George's Circus and Blackfriar's Road. The thing that soon strikes you is that there is plenty of space, it is calm and comfortable and feels safe. Have a look at this video from St George's Road showing the group (without prompting) cycling in twos and chatting, still with space for people cycling the other way;

Here is the same street, but from the handlebars;

The photo above shows the treatment at the junction with Garden Row which is one-way, only allowing motor traffic to turn right onto the main road. I had thought it a bit over-engineered, but Garden Row connects with London Road which is a one way road and so maintains access. The bidirectional tracks have been used quite a lot on the North-South (and East-West) Cycle Superhighway and is presumably easier to deal with in terms of traffic signals. The private accesses and smaller streets don't have signals, but there is space between the main road and the track to give drivers space to pause and check before they complete their turns.

The photo above is on Blackfriar's Road which believe it or not was previously just a single carriageway, so the cycle track hasn't taken out much motor traffic capacity, other than at some junctions. My perception from visiting the area a lot over the years is traffic has reduced in the area and so the space is a freebie. This is confirmed by the DfT traffic data for the location;

Notwithstanding the ups and downs of the figures, we are currently in a less trafficked era and we are lower than 2002 which was the previous low. The wheeze is that protected infrastructure is now in place and the cycle counts will rise considerable in coming years; this has locked in people-moving capacity improvements. We were going to stop for lunch on Blackfriar's Road, but the place I had in mind was closed and so we retraced our steps back to the Imperial War Museum. Although we did use the opportunity of the sun behind us to take some more photos!

From the museum, we picked up the old LCN3 route which took us along Lambeth Road (which could so easily be provided with protected cycle infrastructure) and then the back streets of Vauxhall (Lambeth Walk and Tyers Street) before turning off the route to stop at Vauxhall Walk for lunch (and which I looked at a few weeks ago). We even saw a couple of people drive through and the space still worked fine!

After lunch, it was a short hop across to CS5 where we picked up Harleyford Road and cycled south-west passing The Oval to pick up a section of CS7 which had recently been upgraded to provide uni-directional kerb-protected and stepped cycle tracks on each side of the A3 Kennington Park Road. Again, a short video;

About half way through the video, we pass Magee Street which is one-way onto the A3 and has a continuous footway as well as cycle track. At the end, we approach a floating bus stop and you will note that Isabelle uses the very small hump at the pedestrian crossing point into the bus stop island to leave the track because everything is flush. It was a good point of discussion because even the slight kerb between the footway and the track is difficult for some people to deal with and by that I mean that if someone wanted to leave the track to stop at a shop, they may not be able to. The whole issue of UK kerbs lacking proper off-the-shelf solutions to this (which assist visually impaired people locate them) and seems to me to be a big issue which is bubbling under the surface of all of this really good work being done. The debate will continue.

We skirted by to CS5 via Bowling Green Street and Kennington Oval and headed north-west towards Vauxhall Bridge on CS5 once more. 

The south-eastern side of the bridge has the cycle track and footway separated by a "demarcation block". The block is raised, but with shallow ramps either side and for those using cycles for mobility or with tricycles and other types of cycle, they offer no block from mounting the footway (for the reasons I gave above). These blocks have been around for years being used with shared, segregated cycle tracks, but with tactile paving to make layouts messy. I'm not sure if how they have been used at Vauxhall Bridge works for visually impaired people and I would welcome the feedback as it is a detail we just struggle with. 

I still like the idea of the footway being stepped up above the cycle track level and I know we now have the "Cambridge Kerb" which could provide delineation between footways and cycle tracks (although they are being used between the carriageway and cycle track in Cambridge). For straight runs of kerb line, I think the best layout I have seen so far is in Leicester where a stock half battered kerb has been laid on its "back" to provide a gentle rise from track to footway (as below). We'll see where this all goes I suppose.

Vauxhall Bridge has maintained motor traffic lane capacity and despite people who are against the cycling infrastructure saying it is never used, it has been created by removing the southeast-bound bus lane and so people are free to sit in traffic jams as they did before while people whizz by on bikes. For us, the bridge was a breeze;

I really cannot see how some people were worried about losing the right to ride on the road when we have infrastructure like this. Before the cycle track, Vauxhall Bridge was only for the brave; everyone can cycle on Vauxhall Bridge now and that includes those who want to stay on the road (I doubt there are many takers).

From Vauxhall Bridge we turned right onto Millbank and then to Parliament Square where this post started. Keeping in mind how awful the area used to be, let's have another quick look at Victoria Embankment now;

It's now hard to remember Victoria Embankment without this cycle track; genuinely enabling stuff! 

After riding Victoria Embankment, we ended up at the South Bank for a drink and a chat about what we had seen and more importantly, the forthcoming London Mayoral elections on 5th May. This brings me round to the title of this post. The red pill is a reference to the film The Matrix (have you been under a rock?) and in a concentrated area of Central London we are seeing changes to our surface transport system which recognises cycling as a mode of transport which needs its own safe and comfortable space to enable everyone to cycle. It's not a "nice to have" any more as cycling represents a huge untapped amount of people-moving city-capacity. Not only that, it can release capacity on the Tube, rail and buses for people travelling longer distances (or just don't wish to cycle).

The problem is, it is very easy to get carried away, but most of London is awful for cycling, especially in Outer London. So far, Mayoral hopefuls have been pretty vague on cycling in their manifestos and I think they all need a push (some much more than others). Once we have a new Mayor, then campaigners and professionals alike must ramp up the pressure to explain what it means to have a liveable city with enabling cycling being a key component. Luckily for us, we now have stuff we can go and point at and to be honest, me writing blog posts on it will no longer be necessary as the infrastructure becomes boring and ordinary!

Monday, 28 March 2016

And The ALARM Bells Won't Let Up

The Asphalt Industry Alliance has released it's 2016 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey and it is predicable enough in that our local roads are not improving.

As ever, I recommend you read the full report yourself, but the headlines are not surprising. I should be clear that the report only covers England and Wales, so apologies to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The headline figure for the one-off investment to bring things up to a reasonable standard is £11.8bn, slightly down from £12.2bn last year, although when we are talking about such vast sums, it's not much of an improvement. So, let's have a quick look at the other headlines (taken from the summary which I have broken down). I like this year's format, although it makes it a little trickier to compare with previous years.

The percentage of authorities responding is up from 52% last year to 56% which means the figures remain pretty representative in my view. Budgets are up a little in London and Wales, but this is to the detriment of England and overall, budgets are down. Around half of maintenance budgets are spent on carriageways, although there are lots of other things which need maintaining and so I am not sure how this really helps as a metric. Overall, carriageway budgets are down.

On shortfalls, the headline one-time catch up figure is down a little as is the length of time needed to clear the backlog, but the picture remains pretty static to be honest

This extends to the amount of work done (in terms of the government's favourite silly statistic of potholes filled), although the length of time to resurface an average road is down too. Again, the changes are small and so trends can't really be pulled out of the data.

On claims, London is paying out a little more overall and Wales a little more per claim, but overall, the total payout and costs associated with claims are down.

* England, London & Wales
** Excluding London

What we are seeing is that local authorities continue to improve efficiency (doing more with less), but they have been doing this for a long time and we are now in the realms of marginal gains. They probably know more about the condition of their network than ever before and there is more cross-authority collaboration than ever before.

The reality is that we are standing still and we still have a huge highway maintenance backlog. As the Chancellor continues to hammer local government, funding is being taken out of highway maintenance and put into other areas, but at the same time, national funding is being put into the strategic road network (through Highways England and also through the Welsh Government, both looking a motorway expansion). For local roads, where people live and work, the outlook remains grim as we juggle to paper of the cracks of a failing asset.