Why is the Evening Standard’s transport correspondent presenting the Superhighway proposals in the worst possible light?

A short piece on the Evening Standard’s reporting of the Superhighway proposals.

The first article in the Standard came on the 11th September, entitled Business leaders in revolt over Boris Johnson’s cycle superhighway plans, quoting an (unnamed) business leader describing the plan as ‘an absolute mess’ that ‘will cause gridlock’, without providing any evidence to back up these claims. This ‘gridlock’ theme is one the paper returned to later, as we shall see.

The next article appeared nearly a week later, on the 18th September. This was an ‘exclusive’ which revealed, in a large headline, that

Mayor’s new £48m cycle superhighway would have to be removed after just one year to make way for supersewer construction

Really? In the article, an unnamed ‘source’ (another one) had this to say –

“The idea is that they do the cycle superhighway in 2015 and then in 2016 take it out all again for Thames Water. The concern is you are going to have to pay tens of millions of pounds and you are going to have to take it all out.”

The implication of this comment (and the article in general) is that tens of millions of pounds will be going to waste; once the Superhighway is built, TfL will ‘have to take it all out’. But the ‘tens of millions of pounds’ cost of the Superhighways is for the whole project, both E-W and N-S routes, from end-to-end. How much of the Superhighways might have to be taken out for the ‘supersewer’?

The Thames Tideway Tunnel website confirms that between Horse Guards Avenue and Northumberland Avenue along the Victoria Embankment a section of “roadway and pavement” will be required on the westbound carriageway.

How long is this section?

Supersewer distance

… Just 200 metres.

A tiny, tiny percentage of the whole Superhighways scheme. And in any case –

Leon Daniels, Managing Director of Surface Transport at TfL said: “We are working closely with Thames Water to ensure that there is no impact on the superhighway. It is planned that in the event of any closures, a safe, segregated and clearly signed cycle lane will be installed to get cyclists past the works.”

This silly article was followed on the 23rd September by an article that contained this bizarre passage

… transport chiefs have pledged that all major sports will be able to take place as usual along the Victoria Embankment despite the [Superhighway] changes.

It follows concerns that there would be insufficient space to stage the BUPA 10k, British 10k, Royal Parks 10k and half marathon, London triathlon, and cycling’s Tour of Britain.

Again, unnamed, unreferenced ‘concerns’, this time about sporting events being unable to take place – ‘concerns’ that are completely unjustified. Here’s Leon Daniels again –

Leon Daniels, managing director of surface transport at TfL said: “Major sporting events in the capital will not be affected by the east-west Superhighway.”

Sporting events – just like supersewers – will happily coexist with the Superhighways. But plainly they are extremely ‘concerning’ for the anonymous people being quoted in the Standard. Where next for this paper, in its trawl for negative things to write about this project?

Yesterday Transport for London published the (projected) effects of the Superhighways on journey times for motor vehicles, and the effects on pedestrian crossing times. The Standard splashed with the headline

Car journeys to take 16 minutes longer because of bike highways

Which was subsequently changed to include the crucial detail ‘up to 16 minutes longer’ –the original wording is contained in this tweet from the author, Matthew Beard.

Update – Beard has now set his tweets to private, so here is a screen capture of that tweet.

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 16.08.49

As the article reveals, this ’16 minute’ figure is the very worst case scenario, the maximum possible delay for people driving from the Limehouse Link to Hyde Park, at peak times.

The TfL summary of effects of the E-W route is here, and the table of modelling impacts is here. The effects on motoring journey times is shown below. The right hand columns show the difference, either positive or negative, if the scheme were to be implemented, against current journey times. The ‘headline’ figure is in the top row.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 12.48.01Notice that for most of the other motoring journeys, the effect on journey times is negligible, or even beneficial. This hasn’t been reported by the Standard.

From the same table, here’s the potential delay to pedestrians at a variety of crossings (in seconds). The right hand columns show the difference in maximum waiting time, in the AM and PM peak, if the Superhighways were to be built.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 12.55.41

At worst – 9 seconds, and mostly no change. This should be set in the context of a 4000 square metre gain of pedestrian space, 25 crossings being shortened, and 4 staggered crossings changed to direct crossings. The figures released by TfL confirm that the project as a whole will offer significant benefits to pedestrians.

Much the same is true of the north-south route. Again, the net gain for pedestrians will be 3000 square metres, there will be six shortened crossings, and three staggered crossings will become direct crossings.

Amazingly TfL don’t even mention new crossings, like the one on the north side of the Blackfriars Bridge junction.

No crossing here at present (top). There will be one with the Superhighway.

No crossing here at present (top). There will be one with the Superhighway.

The modelling suggests that maximum waits for a green signal for pedestrians will increase by up to 24 seconds at some crossings, but as Cycalogical points out, this extra delay (indeed, any delay at pedestrian crossings) is purely a function of an attempt to accommodate motor traffic, rather than cycle tracks, in and of themselves. More people cycling means less motor traffic, and less delay for pedestrians, in the long term.

One final point here is that the TfL modelling (as is increasingly becoming clear) is extremely conservative, not least because these figures are based on static motor traffic. The modelling assumes no continuing decline in motor traffic in central London, and no modal shift to cycling.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 13.19.02

From the TfL summary

The Evening Standard has chosen to focus on the very worst headline figures from the TfL modelling release, without setting them in context, or even mentioning  the positive effects of the Superhighways, either for drivers, or pedestrians, or for the functioning of London as a modern multi-modal city. Getting more people cycling – rather than causing causing gridlock – is in reality a way of avoiding it.

The Standard’s latest report fits into a pattern of negativity about the Superhighways, with worst case scenarios, and unjustified ‘concerns’ from unnamed sources, forming the basis for articles. What’s going on?

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20 Responses to Why is the Evening Standard’s transport correspondent presenting the Superhighway proposals in the worst possible light?

  1. Tom G says:

    “What’s going on?” Newspapers exist to make money by selling newspapers. Articles and headlines which induce worry in readers are a cheap proven way of encouraging them to buy newspapers.

    That’s a sufficient explanation, but it doesn’t preclude other forces at work behind the scenes!

    • jonokenyon says:

      Except of course the Standard is free. So other than a bit of click bait this just doesn’t follow. He has an agenda, but it’s going to make him look silly.

      • All newspapers, not just free ones, or the free on-line versions of print journals, rely on advertising to a significant extent. It looks to me like on-line advertising is specifically targeted according to what you enter in search engines, but I pick up the print edition of the Standard most evenings on the way home and anecdotally I’d say that there are two major sources of advertising revenue. First and foremost is the auto industry, mainly cars but also some ads for motor insurance, or petrol etc, and secondly mobile phone networks of resellers. After that it drifts off into small ads for theatre productions, auctions of bankrupt stock Persian carpets, and visiting tailors from Hong Kong.

        One edition I checked had two half-page car ads and one full-page. No other category of advertiser came close (a couple of quarter-page ads for mobile providers).

        So I would guess that lobbyists and PR peeps for the auto industry are constantly reminding the editor which side her bread is buttered.

      • Nick Evans says:

        It’s only free because advertisers believe it has a high readership. So they still need to persuade people to pick up the paper: sensationalist headline do that.

        More seriously, TfL do seem to have caused themselves problems by publishing the CSH plans before the traffic figures were ready. That allowed the likes of the City and Canary Wharf (if it is them) to complain about unknown impacts and then, when the traffic figures finally were available, for the ES to pick out the worst likely impacts. This should all have been ready at the outset, as is the case for most infrastructure schemes.

  2. “Matthew Beard’s Tweets are Protected”.

    What an absurd position, for the transport editor of a major newspaper to suddenly hide his public statements.

  3. platinum says:

    The Scottish independence referendum and its “tidal wave of bullshit” opened my eyes to the sheer amount of fabricated nonsense masquerading as fact that is currently presented in newspapers and supposedly neutral broadcast tv. As a scientist I care passionately about fact, separating the truth from the fiction, and the dissemination of that to the public, but newspapers just have too much vested political influence – they’re basically free to say and make up whatever they like about anything, too many people generally believe it, and no one can ever hold the newspapers to account. It’s a bit depressing really.

  4. Christine Jones says:

    Could the editorial team of the Evening Standard be
    a)being paid by a motoring lobby
    b)have shares in something related
    c)the paper receive a lot of advertising revenue from automotive industries who are getting nervous about the possibility of a city that isn’t totally reliant on it?
    Delete as appropriate.

  5. I think all you can do is try and speak to none-cyclist and explain how this infer structure will benefit them buy adding capacity to the other modes. More who feel safe to move onto bikes means more capacity on every other mode and will reduce or slow the crush. At the end of the day bikes tend to have 100% occupancy rates, where as cars are about 25%. So it makes sence to get everyone who want to be on a bike, on a bike.

  6. rdrf says:

    The mainstream press tends to operate in terms of things going wrong. “here is a scheme which makes sense and will work” doesn’t make a headline.

    But the main issue is that as soon as something appears to remove just some motorist privilege, the shit hits the fan. If it’s a minority of drivers (e.g. lorry drivers, drunk drivers, blind drivers etc.) killing or hurting cyclists, then it’s OK to report. The moment motorist power in general is questioned – or just apparently questioned – watch out for the ordure striking the ventilating machine.

  7. Jim Moore says:

    Great detective work and rebuttals. Hopefully some of the less tabloid newspapers in London pick up on what you’ve written and print an expose or two, which would also highlight the benefits of the SH and the trivial inconveniences it will place on motorists.

    “What’s going on?” I fully agree with all the other commenters who are basically saying: follow the money.

  8. Paul Gannon says:

    Last weekend I had an initially rather dispiriting discussion with a TfL official, whom I met at a social occasion, about the TfL ‘super cycle highways’ proposals. It was disappointing in that if his opinions, as I fear, are representative of internal TfL opinions, there is real internal opposition to the proposals. It was also disappointing in that the mix of opinions were identical with those I recall encountering 15-20 years ago campaigning in Camden Cycling Campaign and London Cycling Campaign for support from boroughs and TfL for the Royal College Street phase 1 and Bloomsbury phase 1 (‘Seven Stations Link’) In essence: no space, no demand, no possibility of realisation.

    I was also disappointed by the opening argument that he put, namely that the cycle lobby (or maybe he said LCC, I cannot recall which) had played a ‘blinder’ of a campaign. However, on reflection I realised that there was an important, and quite unintended, message here: the campaign of LCC and others, including die-ins, flash rides, protests, petitioning, lobbying in parliament, social media campaigning, etc. have had an real effect, forcing a senior politician to respond to the force of our combined efforts.

    Despite the internal and external opposition the proposals will encounter, even if they are approved, the initiative remains with us. Things are going our way for the first time in decades. And these proposals can become reality.

    It’s going to be a tough battle, but we are currently playing a blinder and we need to keep it up.

    • Paul says:

      There do seem to be a number of dinosaurs roaming the corridors of TfL so that the current proposals represent a major achievement by LCC and allies.

  9. Paul Gannon says:

    Some material, full of puff and empty jargon, from Canary Wharf Group’s website:

    Canary Wharf Management Limited (CWML) undertakes management of our 97 acre estate. With a current working population of over 100,000, 34 office buildings constructed to the highest standards of quality, resilience and environmental sustainability, over 280 shops, cafés, bars and restaurants, and our stunning venue, the East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf is a world-class centre for commerce, retail and leisure and needs to be managed as such.

    CWML’s myriad roles on the estate include, but are not limited to, security, traffic management,

    The Group has always considered transport a major factor in sustainable development. Consequently, each November we participate in a cordon survey of the local area and Canary Wharf, which measures all movements into or through the area. To complement this, every two years we commission a survey of the transport arrangements of people travelling to and from Canary Wharf. The latest survey* took place in 2011 with the following results:
    • 85% of respondents used public transport (Underground, DLR, Bus, Coach or River Transport)
    • 4% of respondents travelled by bicycle
    • 4% of respondents walked.
    • 5% drove or were passengers in private vehicles
    • 1% travelled by motorcycle
    *The survey was undertaken by Steer Davies Gleave in June/July 2011. Approximately 94,500 employees were working at Canary Wharf during the survey period.
    CWG’s transport strategy includes working with key organisations to improve public transport access toCanary Wharf and encourage forms of transport other than private cars, providing environmental, social and economic benefits.
    CWG encourages staff to use alternative methods when travelling to and from the estate. The Group operates the government backed ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme where staff can buy discounted cycles and pay over a period of time. In 2009, this scheme was extended to include the purchase of electric cycles.

  10. Andrea says:

    Private Eye alleges that the Torygraph Scottish editor was on a bonus if the No vote won. How much is Beard expecting to make from a No vote on CSHs? And who has promised him the bonus?

  11. Beard’s negative campaign against the first two little bits of genuine Superhighways being proposed is rather odd in the light of the Editorial support the Standard gave to Segregated Cycles lanes and infrastructure recently and also the excellent coverage Ross Lydall and others have given to the Stop Killing Cyclists Die-Ins and other protests over the last 9 months.

    • Mark Williams says:

      I think he is just cut-and-pasting it from the fragmented rump of the British Driving Society’s press release due to mainstream `journalism’. Whether the TFL staff who review the resultant consultation responses will see through this sort of FUD remains to be seen…

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