Back in late 2011, I wrote a post about how the TfL policy of ‘smoothing traffic flow’ is antithetical to the creation of space for cycling. Creating ‘smooth flow’ means attempting to push as many motor vehicles through a green signal phase as possible, either through longer phases, or more stacking lanes. A ‘100% efficient’ junction is one at which all the queuing motor vehicles manage to pass through the junction on a green signal; the queue disappears at each signal phase. So taking some of that space away for cycling, or allocating more time for pedestrians to cross, will inevitably mean ‘flow’ is ‘less smooth’, when flow is measured purely in terms of motor vehicles.
The context for this post was the death of Deep Lee at the King’s Cross gryatory in October of that year, and a public meeting in December at which TfL representatives tried to justify doing pretty much nothing at all to adjust the layout of the junction where she died. They argued that taking one of the two queuing lanes away and replacing it with protected space for cycling would cause ‘considerable queues’.
In the short term, this would probably have been true. Queues would lengthen around King’s Cross, as the amount of time allocated to drivers to pass through the junction would have been reduced. But this assumes a static volume of motor traffic, that can’t be adjusted.
People are not stupid. If congestion on the road increases, they will switch to other routes, or more importantly switch to other modes of transport, if those modes of transport are sufficiently attractive. By contrast, demand for driving in cities is so high that however much space and time you allocate to it, that space will become filled with vehicles.
We know from cities around the world that taking space away from driving does not result in congestion, or increased journey times. It results in better cities. The private motor car is an extremely inefficient mode of transport in built-up areas, and the space in our cities can be used far more efficiently.
But even if it were true that more congestion would result as a consequence of changes to junctions like King’s Cross, should that matter if people on foot or on bikes are being seriously injured, or dying, because of compromised layouts? Is it acceptable to trade off queueing times for drivers against the risk of death? I argued in that 2011 post that
Transport for London have chosen minimizing queueing times for motor vehicles over the safety – indeed, the lives – of vulnerable road users on their network.
That’s even more clear from the details that have emerged from this week’s inquest into Deep Lee’s death. She was stuck in traffic, unable to progress forwards, trapped just ahead of the HGV that was to kill her.
In this picture of the junction, taken while some minor changes were being made in 2012, you can see a man on a bike (just visible on the left) filtering his way forward through the two stationary lanes of traffic, like Deep Lee would have been doing.
She had the misfortune to find her progress forward blocked by two vehicles, a bus and a minicab (close to each other thanks to the narrow lanes here), precisely while she was stranded just ahead of an HGV, apparently in its blind spot. This much is clear from Andrea Casalotti’s summary of the inquest, particularly this detail -
Deep Lee did nothing wrong, nor dangerous. She was unable to reach the ASL, because there was no feeder lane, because TfL was and is still unwilling to take one lane out. The lanes were too narrow and she became bottled in. Even if she had been able to reach the ASL, it was occupied by two vehicles.
Quite obviously, she would not have found herself in such a dangerous position had there been a safe, dedicated cycling route to the head of the junction. Providing two narrow lanes for queuing motor vehicles, instead of an approach that takes the safety of people on bikes seriously, demonstrably leads to dangerous situations like the one that resulted in Deep Lee’s death.
The report in the Camden New Journal notes
TfL head of capital development Nigel Hardy told the court there was a plan to introduce cycle lanes in Pentonville Road and Caledonian Road as part of a second-phase revamp of King’s Cross expected to begin next year. Despite calls from the London Cycling Campaign, which attended the hearing, a cycle lane will not be set up at the junction where Ms Lee died.
So it seems that while there will be some adjustments elsewhere in King’s Cross, this junction will remain unchanged. However, the details for the Central London Bike Grid, released yesterday by Transport for London, suggest that the North-South Superhighway will run through precisely this location.
So there should be serious, substantial change here – the kind that is desperately needed. What form it will take, time will tell.