Why did Transport for London's procedures fail cyclists at Blackfriars?

In 2004, after two cyclists were killed on Blackfriars Bridge, Transport for London (TfL) recognised that its procedures for providing for cyclists were seriously flawed.

Following the second of these cyclist deaths, that of Vicki McCreery, TfL promised to deliver in the following three crucial areas:

  1. Consultation on an improved cycle lane on the northbound side of the bridge, which resulted in the present 2.5m-wide lane in the carriageway;
  2. Investigation of a major reworking of the Blackfriars ‘interchange’, including a simplified and more people-friendly double-T junction. This was done, as shown in this previously unreleased report retrieved by LCC from the TfL vaults.
  3. A major independent review of its ‘standards and procedures’ associated with cycling, which was published in 2004 and led to a TfL action plan (TIRA) based on the report’s recommendations.

What was promised by the independent review?

The independent review, carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), made 35 recommendations for improvements at TfL. Without another review at TfL we cannot know how many recommendations were fully incorporated into TfL procedures but surely they should have prevented the ill-considered designs that were submitted for Blackfriars?

Here are a few of the recommendations from the original report:

  • Recommendation 31: It is recommended that Surface Transport (a TfL division) develops a strategy for assisting cyclists on bridges in London;
  • R32: Surface Transport should investigate the consequences of introducing 20mph limits;
  • R35.1 It is recommended that a strategy of bringing traffic speeds on the bridges down nearer to the central London average and allocating space effectively to cyclists should be pursued;
  • R35.2 Traffic movements onto and off the bridges should be signal controlled;
  • R35.3 The practice of permitting parking on some bridges and bridge approaches should be reviewed.

So what happened?

TfL produced an Action Plan (TIRA) following the TRL review which said:

“TfL Surface Transport, with its borough colleagues, will devise a strategy for
assisting cyclists on Thames bridges.”

And it went on to say:

“A key element of developing this strategy will be a detailed investigation into the benefits and consequences of introducing 20mph limits for the bridges, with a view to taking action during 2005 if it can be demonstrated that the potential for significant benefits outweigh any negative impacts, and that it is practical and enforceable. Careful consideration will also be given to the signalisation of all traffic movements onto and off the bridges, and a review of the practice of permitting parking on some Thames bridges and bridge approaches.”

TfL carried out a study of introducing 20mph limits on bridges, which they eventually released to LCC in 2008. It concluded that enforcing a 20mph speed limit on 13 bridges would save more than £2 million in reduced collisions but no action was taken.

The TfL Action Plan (TIRA) also said:

“As recommended within the report, a ‘non-motorised user audit’ standard
will now be adopted for all new street schemes where this is applicable.”

We asked to see the audit for Blackfriars. Following our request for this document, we were told that a ‘non-motorised user audit’, which would have identified the needs of cyclists and pedestrians at the Blackfriars interchange, was not carried out for this junction. Road safety audits, which are obligatory for such schemes, have not yet been released.

The 'review of the TRL independent review'

A review of the original TRL independent review was carried out a year after the first one was published. It came up with a further 13 recommendations, which again stressed the issue of bridges. They included the following:

  • R7. When the TIRA communications plan is implemented and the products launched, a clear message should continue to be given by senior staff that the products should be adopted and brought into use by staff. This message will need to be reinforced over time and instances of non-compliance identified and challenged.
  • R8. Priority should be given to developing a strategy to improve conditions of access and safety for cyclists on the central London bridges.

Both recommendations were accepted by TfL, yet subsequently the inadequate Blackfriars junction designs were proposed and the more pedestrian- and cycle-friendly ‘double-T’ plans were dropped.

The review of the review also recommended that a follow-up be carried out once outcomes were evident.

What needs to be done?

The cited evidence indicates that TfL, and/or its partners in the Blackfriars project, did not follow the recommendations and action points contained in the TRL indepedendent review or the TfL ‘TIRA’ action plan.

Following those recommendations might have saved time and money on consultations and revised plans and, had all the recommendations been adopted, road danger to walkers and cyclists would have been reduced.

TfL needs to:

  • Adopt a 20mph speed limit on Blackfriars and other bridges and their approaches as recommended in its own review;
  • Set in motion a programme to remove the mini-gyratory at Blackfriars and replace it with a simplified junction that provides safe passage in all directions for people who cycle and walk, as proposed in its consultation study;
  • Revise the current plans in the light of comments from stakeholders and take steps to make the right turn into Queen Victoria Street significantly safer for cyclists;
  • Undertake an independent review of its own standards and procedures as followed at Blackfriars in order to ensure that the needs of vulnerable road users are considered in every future TfL traffic scheme.