LCC responds to LTDA accusation of “gross misrepresentation”

The LTDA has sent a letter to LCC and has also passed it to at least one media outlet on the ongoing LTDA opposition to Tavistock Place (and other schemes). Here, is the LCC response to that letter:

The LTDA said (letter from Chairman Richard Massett, and Chairman Steve McNamara, 17 October): “At the Safer in the City launch event in September, both the LTDA and LCC agreed to co-operate to improve cycle safety in London. This centred on informing cyclists and black cab drivers about how they may reduce the number of collisions through a series of simple steps. We remain committed to implementing these steps and building a stronger relationship between cabbies and cyclists, helping to make the capital’s roads safer for everyone that uses them.”

LCC was glad to have worked on Safer In The City with the LTDA and the City, and remains keen to cooperate with any party on areas of shared concern.

We welcome the LTDA’s publicly stated support for cycling infrastructure. We believe the best possible way to increase safety for those cycling - and to improve the difficult conditions London cabbies face - is to reduce motor vehicle traffic overall and provide separate space for cycling. There are other specific, common issues we face – such as the rise of vans, lorries and private hire vehicles in central London.

That said, the joint agreement between the LTDA, City of London and LCC appears to have been changed by the LTDA without prior authorisation (p15, September issue of LTDA magazine), introducing the word “must” into the sentence “A responsible cyclist [must]”; and the word “always” into the first bullet point, to read “[Always] looks out…” This changes the nature of the agreement, appearing to put the onus for safety on those cycling – whereas the evidence is that a majority of taxi-cycle collisions in the City are caused by drivers, and that there are a worryingly high number of such collisions.

It’s also worth pointing out for clarity that it is LCC's view that the best possible ways to improve safety in the City (and elsewhere) are not solely by promoting good conduct on the road. That work is of worth – but of greater worth would be infrastructure changes to remove conflict and make cycling and walking in the area comfortable, convenient and safe, and more appropriate enforcement of road rules and behaviour, including police response, investigation of collisions and more rigorous prosecution of those responsible for them. We would welcome the opportunity to work constructively with the LTDA and the City of London, as well as other boroughs, on these areas.

The LTDA said: “We are concerned by the statement… stating the LTDA have “betrayed their publicly-expressed sentiments” and your subsequent comments to cycling website road.cc. These… are a gross misrepresentation of the LTDA position in relation to both cycling and on Tavistock Place.”

The LTDA has on one hand repeatedly stated it is in favour of cycling and improved cycling infrastructure. Yet, simultaneously, the LTDA has opposed all major cycling schemes in practice. It leads to the question: if the LTDA won’t support these schemes that separate taxi flows and cycling flows, what schemes would the LTDA support?

We’ve been here before (not just with the LTDA). Organisations say they support cycling but oppose specific schemes – often ones that have the support of the local council, the Mayor’s office, TfL, cycling and walking groups etc. That’s the LTDA’s prerogative. Equally it is LCC’s prerogative to express what we see as the inconsistencies in that position.

The LTDA said: “At Tavistock Place we believe that a better solution can be provided by Camden Council: one that works for all road users whilst still providing an improved space for cycling. In all our statements on Tavistock Place we have pledged support for improvements to east to west cycling provision in the Bloomsbury area… We have been clear on this since we began campaigning on Tavistock Place and it is therefore strange that the article seems to suggest that we wish the old measures reinstated.”

Separately, in The Evening Standard, Richard Massett, Chairman of The LTDA said Camden Council should rework the scheme to: “provide a two way motor route on Tavistock Place and Torrington Place.”

The LTDA appear to be calling for two-way cycling and two-way motor vehicle traffic – in other words a reversal of what has been implemented and a return to the original scheme. Simple mathematics on the width constraints make it obvious that would either mean no pavements or a return to unacceptably narrow cycle tracks that were already over capacity.

We are aware that some taxi drivers have also suggested a simple reversal of motor vehicle lane direction to westbound. This would make the route much more attractive to through motor vehicle traffic, including taxis. And would therefore reduce air quality along the route, and its amenity for most users of the area.

What actual scheme the LTDA would support in Bloomsbury and at Tavistock Place however, remains impossible to tell. The lack of clarity on this scheme and others – such as CS11 and the East-West Cycle Superhighway – has allowed the LTDA to claim it supports cycling in general, while opposing every single major scheme.

If the LTDA has specific proposals to improve a scheme, it should bring them forward, not offer blanket opposition to all schemes without being clear about alternative proposals it would support.

Any proposals the LTDA would support could then be assessed (as any proposal LCC proposes is) by traffic engineers at Camden Council, TfL etc.

It’s very easy to claim to support cycling; for the LTDA to do so credibly, it needs to explain what its alternative vision actually is, and have that assessed on potential performance for motor traffic, cycle safety, cycle numbers etc.

In the absence of clear alternative proposals, or even a willingness to engage in constructive dialogue on what they might be on schemes (as compared to the blanket opposition given by the LTDA to the schemes above, with a call to LTDA members to do likewise), then it's unsurprising that many people view the LTDA’s actions as a clear and concerted attack on all cycling infrastructure.

The LTDA said: “The current measures do not achieve the benefits of reduced congestion and better air quality in the wider area. As things stand, the measures have led to increased congestion on neighbouring routes and reduced air quality on key arterial routes such as Euston Road.”

As far as Camden’s figures show, we would dispute the scheme has led to increased congestion or worsened air quality overall.

Traffic on parallel east-west main road routes is up an average of 1%. There is also an increase in “ratrunning” in parallel east-west quiet streets, but this is relatively small in overall terms (an average of 38 vehicles an hour). And these issues could easily be mitigated as with other schemes in the past.

Similarly there is little increase in traffic on north-south quiet and main streets (4% and 9% respectively). The biggest change is on Judd Street, which gets an added 80 motor vehicles an hour. Camden Council has already proposed a scheme that would mitigate the impact on Judd Street. It is unfortunate then, that the LTDA opposed these plans, describing them as liable to cause “misery” (LTDA magazine).

Across Camden’s traffic counts of the area, 3,500 fewer vehicles used the area during the scheme. Increased congestion and pollution across the area? The opposite is more likely. If the LTDA is genuinely interested in improving air quality and decreasing congestion it will not achieve those laudable aims by opposing cycling and walking schemes, ignoring the data, and pushing for increased road capacity as a matter of course. 

The LTDA said: “We have undertaken extensive engagement… a large proportion of residents and businesses do not support the measures as they currently stand however they are not opposed to improvements in cycling provision in Bloomsbury. Instead of criticising local residents, as you have done… we recommend you engage with them too to understand their concerns.”

It is not critical of local residents to say: “Sadly, some residents, particularly on Judd Street, are also up in arms about the scheme – due to displaced traffic. Our view is that Camden is proposing several schemes in the area aimed at reducing or removing through traffic – and residents should get behind those and the Tavistock Place scheme.”

The LTDA’s view of engagement appears to be problematically biased leaflets delivered to residents, and very one-sided briefings of local businesses. LCC and its Camden borough group has also been talking to residents in the area – many feel they were misinformed and scared by LTDA leaflets.

The LTDA said: “We would like to work with you, and the community, to bring forward a solution for Bloomsbury that meets the needs of all road users in this area. We remain committed to working with the LCC on Safer in the City and other initiatives such as efforts to clean up London’s air and hope to continue to work with you on these and other issues in the future.”

The LCC also remains committed to reducing taxi-cycle collisions – of which there are too many in the City (and elsewhere). We remain committed to working with the LTDA, with any and all partners willing to improve the safety and experience of cycling in London.

LCC representatives would also happily meet the LTDA (and others) to discuss a “solution… that meets the needs of all road users”. Any LTDA proposal should cater successfully and safely for the numbers of people currently cycling and likely increasing numbers in the future (as the current scheme does), and successfully restrict motor vehicle traffic across the entire area with a view to reducing pollution and traffic volumes across it (as the current scheme does).

Background on The LTDA and Safer in the City announcement here: http://lcc.org.uk/articles/safer-in-the-city-safer-on-number-taviplace

Take action in one minute and call for the Tavistock Place scheme to be retained here: http://lcc.org.uk/articles/take-action-save-tavistock-place-in-less-than-a-minute