Saturday, 22 October 2016

Congestion or congestion charging?

London's congested roads are always a talking point for Londoners, motorists, bus passengers, cabbies, cycle campaigners and the papers they read. Last weekend the Sunday Times had an article re-hashing previous commentary. It reports that Lord Wolfson of the Next chain has offered a reward of £250,000 to find a solution. There is to be a Parliamentary Select Committee to look at urban congestion.

Everyone points the finger elsewhere. The black cabbies blame the explosion in the number of PHVs, as well as the cycle lanes and pedicabs; PHV operators tell us they mainly operate during quieter periods so it's not them, it's a loss of road capacity. Peter Hendy, the then London Transport Commissioner pointed out that everyone from the Chief Exec down, including himself were having their Amazon parcels delivered to their central London offices during peak hours. Cycle campaigners say it's not them, nor is it the new bike tracks, which, they say, will in the end, be a solution for congestion. Bizarrely there is quite a head of steam behind the notion that buses, the most space efficient mode are part of the problem - the 8000 buses in London are causing more delays than the 2.6 million private cars!!

Add to all of this the fact of population rise and jobs growth (the biggest cause of increased travel demand in London) and the near certainty of more to come; the fall in fuel price, rise in public transport costs and lots more construction sites.

So how to solve it? Solutions abound. From the cyclists, it's greater use of cargo bikes and even more cycle tracks. The cabbies want a limit on PHV numbers and restraint on them competing as hailable vehicles. Some say more technology is needed. Rephasing the traffic lights is always offered up as a solution; managing traffic as London did for two weeks during the Olympics is suggested. The latest technology is the shared autonomous vehicle which is so clever it will travel closer to the car in front leaving more space (for more cars). Night time deliveries are to be part of a solution as is freight consolidation.

This all matters. The cost of us all sitting in traffic in London is counted in billions. It's a massive part of the pollution problem - even cars running on fresh air would create small particle pollution from their tyres. Too many people are being injured on our roads - a direct consequence of designing our road system for huge numbers of motor vehicles.

But none of the above solutions go anywhere near solving this problem. It is an uncomfortable truth - no amount of freight consolidation, cargo bikes, cycling, rephasing of traffic lights even bus lanes will solve this problem. Modal shift is great. Of course the use of the most space efficient modes and many of the other ideas should be encouraged. However research tells us that there is so much travel demand in London that if the travel behaviour of one motorist changes (to a more space-efficient mode), the space that's freed up will be filled by another motorist.

Congestion charging needs
more sophistication

Along with changing travelling habits any freed up road space should not simply be occupied by others taking the opportunity for private car travel. In the jargon, there has to be a mechanism to 'lock-in' the benefits of modal switch and one proven method is roads pricing. Roads pricing is simple. The user of road space pays directly for its use and at busier times in busier locations pays more. Others pay less for their travel.

And this is not new. In 1963 the Ministry of Transport published the Smeed report: it said you can only manage congestion by permit or price. There can not be a single academic or practitioner that works in the field of transport planning that would challenge the view that roads pricing has to be part of any sensible policy to manage roads in urban areas. The choice is simple: 

you can have a managed road network or an unmanaged one; you can have congestion or congestion charging.

And it's really not good enough to keep coming up with clever forms of words to avoid this. It is too important and the solutions have been delayed too long. Politicians should be debating how best to to persuade the public and how best to implement roads pricing, and not simply finding excuses to leave it it up to the next generation to solve.

Friday, 14 October 2016

The closure of Wordswoth Road

Next week the Wordsworth Road will be closed at its junction with Matthias Road
I am privileged to live where I do on the Stoke Newington ladder roads. We live in a 20 mph zone enforced by speed cushions. There's a 6 day a week, 12 hour controlled parking zone (CPZ). Next week the council will stop through motor traffic by means of three point closures and my neighbourhood (see map below) will become a quieter and pleasanter place. 

Along with over a thousand residents, three local schools will benefit, as will hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians who pass through. Overall, prioritising cycles and keeping them on the carriageway is by far the best way of providing for cycling. 

Motor vehicles can gain access, but will be discouraged from diverting off of the primary road network in order to make a short cut. They'll be accommodated where they can best be managed - on the primary road network.

Stoke Newington Road and Matthias Road will be safer because there will be far fewer turning movements into the affected side streets. The turns will happen at controlled junctions. Over time there will be fewer short car trips.

Three road closures will have area wide benefits

Seen on their own the closures are just a minor local scheme. But they are part of Hackney's hugely successful strategy for incremental change to:  "create a better balance between walking, cycling and motor vehicles". These closures along with over 100 others are shown on the map that prompted our local MP to say in Parliament:
In fact, it is possible to cycle around the backstreets of Hackney and rarely meet a moving car. That is what gives me the confidence to cycle slowly in my own little way.

Meg Hillier MP, Hackney South and Shoreditch, Parliamentary cycling debate, 16 October 2014

Friday, 29 July 2016

Towards a Fine City for People

Reflecting on transport policy and practice in London over the last 15 years the high point must surely be 2004. The Mayor had introduced the congestion charge, the London Bus Initiative was transforming bus services, Trafalgar Square and the Shoreditch one-way system were radically overhauled to prioritise the sustainable modes: walk, cycle and bus.

Gehl's Towards a Fine City for People, 2004

Topping all of this, the world’s foremost urbanist, Jan Gehl, had been commissioned to develop a blue print to make London a liveable city for people. His report, Towards a Fine City for People was a masterpiece. It was a simple programme of change, but at the same time a sophisticated analysis of that which is far from obvious: people like living in cities in close proximity to other people if there are good quality, legible, human scale, clean environments that are not dominated by motor vehicles. 

Gehl’s formula is simple: 

creating a better balance between motorised vehicular traffic, pedestrians and cyclists;

and in practice means incrementally improving the streets with good quality materials and creating attractive places where people want to be. Clear away the obstacles to walking, improve cycling and public transport. Reduce the amount of on-street parking and provide public seating - it should come as no surprise that if you provide seating people will use it to enjoy public space! 

The then Mayor, Livingstone, made steady progress with this agenda. In Hackney great improvements were made transforming what was once a poor streetscape for the better. Jan visited in 2013 and described the Mare Street commercial area as a ‘great city street’. 

But progress on transforming London into a liveable city slowed dramatically when Mayor Johnson first chose to remove the western extension of the congestion charging zone, then ‘smooth traffic flow’ (a code for enabling private motor vehicular transport), all but abandoned a bus priority programme and latterly focused almost exclusively, and at considerable expense on movement by cycle. 

This short blog post is an appeal to Mayor Khan and a reminder to others that although movement is important and cycling is important, cities are for people and ‘place’ is as important as movement. I commend Jan Gehl’s Towards a Fine City for People as a great route map to a more liveable London.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Why close streets to through traffic? A personal view.

Hackney has benefited from reducing and slowing traffic through measures such as humps, parking zones, improving junctions—which remains the biggest challenge in any city, particularly London—and, as I mentioned earlier, assigning quieter routes off main roads. In fact, it is possible to cycle around the backstreets of Hackney and rarely meet a moving car. That is what gives me the confidence to cycle slowly in my own little way.
Meg Hillier MP, Hackney South and Shoreditch, Parliamentary cycling debate, 16 October 2014
London is currently a city of 8.6 million inhabitants and that will rise to 10 million in a relatively short time. The population of a single Borough, Hackney, grew by 20% between Census 2001 and 2011 and 15,000 more homes were built in the borough in that time period. Hackney has to deliver even more homes to meet demand - at least 1,500 homes each year. Looking beyond Hackney, half of all new homes in London are due to be built in the East of London. 

If car ownership in all new Hackney households were to be at similar levels to that of the borough's existing households (at 35% the lowest in the UK) there would be an additional 525 private motor vehicles per year moving or parked on Hackney roads. TfL has forecast  rises in congestion of 25% for inner London ( ).There are city-wide problems of physical inactivity, vehicle pollution, climate change and housing those in need. How we travel has a bearing on all these problems.The figures are conceptually staggering, and unsustainable! It is imperative that we change the way we travel.

Hackney has prioritised the bus on bus routes. The best example on 
Amhurst Road, Hackney Central
In fact, Hackney has been at the forefront (by a very long way) and has de facto taken the lead in changing how we travel in London. Hackney's public transportation has improved beyond recognition with the expansion of rail services and the prioritisation of the bus on its roads. Hackney has improved the pedestrian and cycling environment more than any other London borough with  myriad interventions; from high quality paving and 20mph zones on its' residential streets; speed tables on many of the borough's roads (creating a lower speed environment); to the removal of pedestrian guard railing and pavement parking. 

Kingsland High Street at Dalston Kingsland is a street for walking

There have also been major street improvement projects. Our shopping streets at Dalston Kingsland, Mare Street in Hackney Central, Stoke Newington Church St and Broadway Market have been transformed, in a manner that encourages informal crossing of streets for shopping and commerce, with space for people to linger and chat, as well as to circulate.

Car-free development has helped to reduce the number of private
vehicles in the  borough

Hackney has benefited from being part of the congestion charge zone, itself an initiative which has contributed to reducing private motor traffic and increasing bus use and cycling in the borough. Controlled parking has been introduced across much of the borough and almost all (97%) of new housing development is car-free, which means that new home owners purchase those homes knowing that they will not be entitled to an on-street car parking permit. This basket of measures reduces the prevalence of private car use and allows better public use to be made of the public space of our streets.

In addition, and over many years, large areas of Hackney have had streets closed to through motor traffic, which improves the environment on those streets for cycling and walking and, crucially, simply for living on. More recently Hackney has ensured that these closures are easily passable by cycles. The most well known area to have had this treatment is De Beauvoir Town in the west of Hackney. Here much of the through traffic has been excluded for a generation and the streets are great for cycling and for walking.
De Beauvoir Town. The most photographed of all area wide filtered 
permeability schemes in place for over two decades.

There are other sizeable residential areas in Hackney which have received similar street scene treatment to De Beauvoir Town. Finsbury Park; Lower Clapton; the part of Hackney which abuts  the City of London, south of Great Eastern Street; and the Stoke Newington ladder roads south of Church Street are some of the larger schemes.

Palatine Road, one of the point closures that has had an area wide impact 
on the Stoke Newington ladder roads.
Smaller areas have also benefited from such interventions, including the area behind Hackney town hall. New Kingshold estate was regenerated in the recent past and has been designed with street patterns that exclude through traffic. There are many single point closures too - Downs Park Road east of Hackney Downs and Ashwin Street in Dalston for example

The point closure on Ashwin Street..

Closing streets to through traffic, alongside the many other measures mentioned above, provides a good and ever improving, area-wide cycling and walking environment. However, the objective is not simply to move vehicular traffic from one street to the next, but as part of a strategy to bring down the overall volumes of traffic across the borough's roads. Closures will restrain some motor vehicle journeys through and originating from the area. Not all vehicular journeys will simply be displaced, and over time there will be net reduction in traffic volumes. 

Hackney's proactive and consistent approach has meant that it has the most enviable transport statistics in the UK. More residents cycle to work than drive. The number of walking trips doubled in just ten years between the Census years 2001 and 2011. The proportion of residents using the bus is higher than anywhere else in the UK. More children are cycling to school, building on the very high numbers who presently walk. Car ownership is among the lowest in the UK.

It is important to see these measures, not in isolation, but as having a cumulative effect. Part of the effect is an increase in physical activity, as people walk - to the shops, to their work, or to their public transport. Public health professionals do not distinguish, in general, between the relative physical advantages of, say, cycling, over walking or walking to get to public transport. What is important is the physical activity in all three cases. Creating a more welcoming environment for walking, cycling and the use of public transport - and for living in - is one of the main strategic aims of transport planning. Taken on their own, the measures that Hackney has implemented may not seem to contribute to reduced congestion, more active lifestyles, a reduction in emissions and a more liveable, denser city. However, as our MP said, even for her, an occasional, not a committed user of the bicycle, Hackney's streets are welcoming and encouraging.

Hackney, and London generally, should continue to improve the alternatives to the private car. Selectively closing streets to through traffic - while maintaining and enabling access to properties for builders, plumbers, electricians and others who contribute to how we live our lives, is one part of a strategic approach to accomplishing these ends and should be supported.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

They're not all hipsters. The demographics of cycling in Hackney 2

The cycle bloggers (and some academics and journalists) would have us believe that the fact that Hackney has succeeded in getting more residents to cycle than any other borough (by a long way) is down, in large part, to the demographics of the borough. They suggest it's a function of the number of 'hipsters' living in the borough. That this claim is made about one of the most diverse local authority areas in the UK is simply lazy and wrong.

In my view large numbers of people cycle in Hackney because Hackney has consistently applied policies ( that might work and are respectful of the other sustainable modes.

There is no Census category of 'hipster'. The interesting  demographic groups in the Census when considering cycling are ethnicity, socio-economic class and age ( Looking through the prism of these Census groupings, if the high levels of cycling were down to demographics alone, then Hackney would be characterised by higher numbers of white residents, more residents in lower managerial occupations and more residents aged 30 to 44 than other boroughs.

Below is an analysis of Census 2011 that charts these demographic aspects as they compare to two other boroughs. I have compared Hackney (15.4% cycle to work) against Islington (10.1% cycle to work) and Hammersmith and Fulham (5.1%). Islington has the next highest cycling rate in the Census and Hammersmith and Fulham (H&F) is higher than many boroughs and does well in realising its cycling potential. Below is a comparison of the above three Census categories by borough. 

Is the population of Hackney characterised by those ethnicities who cycle most?

White British (and other white) categories cycle most in all three boroughs. The margin between these ethnic groups and others is considerable. Therefore if Hackney's high cycling level resulted from the demographics of the Borough, the population would be expected to have a higher proportion of white residents and fewer black residents, who cycle least.

In fact the data shows that Hackney has a much lower proportion of those ethnicities which are most likely to cycle.

Hackney has only 54.7% white residents (those most likely to cycle) compared to Islington at 68.2% and H&F at 68.1%. It has a much greater proportion of the ethnicity least likely to cycle.

Does Hackney have a greater number in the socio-economic class that cycles proportionately more?

People in 'lower managerial, administrative and professional' occupations are the group who cycle most in all three boroughs. If Hackney's high cycling level resulted from the Borough demographics it would tend to suggest that the Borough had higher numbers of residents employed in these jobs.

A comparison of this Census category by borough shows that  Hackney has a lower proportion of the socio-economic classes most likely to cycle than the other two Boroughs.

Only 24.7% of its residents are in the socio-economic class 'lower managerial' compared to Islington at 25.7% and H&F at 27.9%. It also has a greater proportion of residents in 'routine occupations' which is the group that is least likely to cycle.

Does Hackney have a greater number of those in the age range that cycles most?

In all three boroughs people aged between 30 and 44 cycle significantly more than any other age range. If Hackney's high cycling level was a function of demographics one would expect Hackney to have more residents in this age band than the other two comparator Boroughs.

Below is a comparison of the age range that has the highest proportions cycling by borough. It shows that all three Boroughs have about the same proportion of those ages most likely to cycle.

Hackney has same proportion of residents aged 30-44 as Islington at 27.9% with H&F at 29%.


It seems clear that Hackney has i) a lower proportion of the ethnic categories that cycle most and a higher proportion of the ethnic categories that cycle least, ii) a lower proportion of the socio-economic classes that cycle most and a higher proportion of those that cycle least iii) a similar proportion of residents in the age bracket that cycle most; compared to boroughs with lower cycling rates.

This demonstrates that back when the Census was taken and gentrification less evident there was a much higher cycling rate in Hackney. And it is not simply a function of its demography. The high levels of cycling have been undoubtedly influenced by the policies of the borough. Policies that have made Hackney a better place to cycle, restrained private motoring, and positively encouraged cycling.


Some people seem absolutely determined to belittle and undermine what Hackney has achieved. When you posit answers to what they propose in relation to demographics (high levels of cycling are caused by hipsters), they shift ground to say that the reason for so much cycling must be the geography, topography or lack of a tube. None of those can account for the fact that Hackney:
- has the highest level of cycling in London 
- AND has increased the rate more that any other in the UK, (by 125% between Census 2001 and 2011)

Comparisons with other high performing boroughs shows this.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Who cycles? The demographics of cycling in Hackney

Guardian journalists are publicly debating the issue of socio-economic class, culture and the propensity to cycle. This is good as understanding these things should have a beneficial impact on policy development.

The cycle bloggers (and some academics and journalists) would have us believe that the matter of those who do and do not cycle is one-dimensional. They say that the main thing that prevents people from cycling is fear of road traffic linked to feelings of personal safety. However the picture below suggests that the picture is more complicated.

Below are some of the statistics relating to cycling. The information comes from three sources. Firstly Census 2011. The Census is a good data source because it cannot be manipulated, participation is mandatory and, unlike many cycling surveys that are promulgated, it shows how people actually travel, not how they 'say' they might travel. The other authoritative surveys are Transport for London's Travel Demand Survey and Transport for London's analysis of cycling potential (the number of journeys that might be cycled).

Note also that there is academic research which suggests that Census figures are a good proxy for cycling statistics generally.

If you cycle in London you will probably live in inner London

Census 2011 found that 7.2% of commuters in inner London cycled to work compared to 2.3% overall. Hackney has the highest level of cycling commuters of any London borough, double the inner London average, at 15.4% and much higher than the next highest borough, Islington, at 10.1%.

Transport for London's survey, the London Travel Demand Survey reports 7% of all journeys (not just commuting journeys) are undertaken by cycle in Hackney. TfL's analysis of cycling potential indicates that Hackney has been particularly effective in realising its' cycling potential with 24% of cycleable journeys actually being cycled, almost 10% higher than the next borough (Hammersmith and Fulham).

However, if you live in Harrow you almost certainly won't cycle to work. Only 869 (or 0.8%) of residents do so.

If you cycle in Hackney you'll probably be white British

Further analysis of Census 2011 shows the importance of culture and socio-economic class.  21.6% of white British commuters cycle, 4.3% of black commuters do. This means 61% of those residents of Hackney who cycle to work are white British (if 'other white' Census categories are included, the figure rises to 85%). 

Note also from the graph below that the Census category of Black/African/Caribbean/Black British people are major users of the bus.

If you cycle in Hackney you'll probably have a white collar job

The Census reports socio-economic classifications against method of travel to work. Higher professional occupations are hugely over-represented in the cycling figures. 

22.5% of those in higher professional occupations cycle to work. In comparison 7.1% (a third) of those in semi-routine occupations do. 63% 
of those residents of Hackney who cycle to work are in managerial, administrative or professional occupations.

If you cycle in Hackney you'll probably be aged 30 to 34

20.6% of those aged between 30 and 34 cycle to work. Only 9.9% of those between 20 and 24 years do. 55% of those residents of Hackney that cycle to work are aged between 25 and 34 years old.

If you cycle in Hackney you'll probably be male, but are more likely to be female than in any other London borough

In countries where cycling is much more prevalent there is close to parity in cycling rates between the genders. Although it is some way off parity, Hackney is significantly better than the inner London average. 

Cambridge in particular does well both in terms of levels of cycling and gender balance.


If you cycle in London you will probably live in inner London. If you are a Hackney resident you will probably be white; have a managerial, administrative or professional occupation; and be a 25 to 34 year old male. 

The absolute figures for ethnicity are telling: of the 16,411 who cycle to work in Hackney the Office of National Statistics classify 13,875 (85%) as 'White'. This is in the context of a resident population of 246,270 in one of the most diverse boroughs in the UK with a walking share of all trips at 37%; bus trips at 26% (the highest in the UK) and cycle trips of 7%.

The cycle bloggers would have us believe that everyone wants to cycle and the single thing that would make people cycle would be to introduce separated cycle tracks, bus stop bypasses and associated junction treatments to our streets. They say this course of action should be pursued, whatever the cost and regardless of detriment to others (in particular people walking and those using the bus). The argument is that it is largely fear of motor vehicles that puts non-cyclists off from cycling.

This cannot be true. Is the proposition that fear is behind the five fold difference in cycling rates of 21% to 4.3% of two different ethnic groups really plausible? Similarly can anyone truly believe that it is fear of motor traffic alone that means that one socio-economic group cycles at a rate of 22.5% and another at 7.1%? The differing rates between different age groups are clearly also worthy of more analysis and consideration.

Although road safety fears will be a reason why people choose not to cycle it simply cannot be the only reason. More sophistication is needed if the right mix of policies are to be pursued so as to genuinely encourage a broader range of people to cycle. The vogue for segregated tracks on relatively narrow roads seems to additionally privilege an already privileged group - by giving this group dedicated street space. This space is given to the detriment of walkers and bus users, and walking and buses are the most space efficient modes of transport. After all, not all may wish to cycle and many may simply want to get on the bus and read a book!