Blackfriars: an opportunity to rethink how we design our city centre

Tomorrow is something of a watershed, when the London Assembly will vote on what might seem like a fairly trivial matter of a 20mph speed limit on one bridge in central London.

It isn't trivial to people like Clare Gerada, the cyclist knocked off her bike last week on Blackfriars, sustaining serious injuries.

Nor is it trivial to the thousands who cycle across that bridge during peak hours, making up over one-third of the traffic.

Yes, each morning more bikes cross Blackfriars than cars and taxis combined, and cyclists outnumber cars on five central London bridges.

The vote tomorrow is about no less than the future direction of London's transport policy.

On one side, there are those of us that say our city is best served by encouraging sustainable and healthy modes of transport, such as walking and cycling.

On the other side, there are those who want to perpetuate road designs that favour motor vehicles to the detriment of the comfort and safety of everyone else.

Increasing the speed limit at Blackfriars to 30mph only makes sense if you worship the false god of ever-increasing car use.

Putting the limit up to 30mph willl increase danger for cyclists and, to no small degree, the thousands of pedestrians who walk through this area every day.

That's what organisations like Living Streets are saying (who represent pedestrians) and RoadPeace, who represent all road users:

Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Living Streets, said: “Reducing motor traffic speeds is the single biggest measure which makes our streets safe, vibrant and sociable places, not just corridors for traffic.”

Amy Aeron Thomas of RoadPeace said, "If 20mph on Tower Bridge can be enforced out of concern for the bridge, then surely the same can be done on Blackfriars to protect pedestrians and cyclists?"

The move would also contradict a report published by Transport for London itself, calling for 20mph on all central London bridges to reduce road danger.

Transport for London has also rejected a new design for the northern Blackfriars junction that would reduce road danger for everyone, with the greatest impact on walkers and cyclists.

This double-T junction design, which has the support of the City of London Corporation, would create public spaces that all Londoners could use, and remove the motorway slip-roads that have no place in a civilised city centre.

And this is the rational that must be applied to other dangerous junctions and one-way systems, such as Vauxhall and Swiss Cottage.

It's time we redesigned London for the next 30 years, rejecting the outmoded thinking of the last 30.

Who's supporting the motion?

The Assembly Members who have not yet come out in favour of the Motion for 20mph are all Conservatives.

Those Conservatives who have made a statement (Richard Tracey, Gareth Bacon, and Victoria Borwick) are repeating an eerily similar mantra about 'balance for all road users' and 'traffic flows'.

However, the Mayor and any Assembly Member that chooses not to support the 20mph motion is seriously out of touch with the people on the street because the Londoners from all walks of life are choosing to cycle and walk in increasing numbers, and that's despite (not because of) places like Blackfriars.

Imagine how many more would choose to walk or cycle if those motorway slip roads and suicidal right turns were taken out?

It would be enough to start improving London's health (apparently the Mayor's "number one priority"), and to make those predictions of congestion evaporate into thin air.

Whatever happens in the Assembly vote tomorrow, we call on the Mayor to show that he can take the decisive and progressive decisions that Londoners deserve.

Otherwise, while cities like New York and Paris make public spaces and public safety their priorities, London will be stuck with the grim, outdated convention of improving traffic flow.

Is this the future we really want?