Congestion in Central London is nothing new, rush hour is no longer in existence, it's a thing of the past. From 6am until around 1am you will find a traffic jam somewhere within the sprawling metropolis in London, it is a daily occurrence with no respite.
The congestion we now face in London traverses a myriad of causes, some of those causes are temporary and completely justifiable, others long-term and mind-bogglingly unnecessary, as well as being ill thought-out.
There are now more vehicles in London than there were a decade ago, but many of these vehicles are not your average driver, or even commuter vehicle, travelling from A to B, a massive proportion are working vehicles that are essential to keep London functioning. Everything from taxis, buses, vans, delivery lorries, construction vehicles, every kind of profession, from plumbers to bricklayers, from cabbies to emergency vehicles, have no choice but to use London's roads.....there are no other options. These vehicles are not the cause of London's malfunctioning road system.
The uptake of cycling is encouraging to see, everybody should feel safe when travelling around London. As drivers, we all have a responsibility toward the protection of those who are in a vulnerable position, that being motor-cyclists, pedal-cyclists and pedestrians. This therefore means that we must have segregated cycle lanes as well as a traffic-light phasing system that will ultimately protect the public when crossing.
This need to protect the most vulnerable has now inadvertantly created both congestion and pollution. This now means that firm action needs to be undertaken very swiftly to keep London moving and to protect those who are forced to operate and work in the subsequent pollution created through gridlock. What seems to have been forgotten is that a moving vehicle is a less polluting vehicle.
In the latest in a series of eyebrow-raising schemes, Camden Council are looking to close Tottenham Court Road to all vehicles, with the exception of buses and cycles, whilst turning Gower Street into a two way street. You therefore will have three lanes of traffic (excluding buses) being diverted from a heavily used Northbound one way street into another heavily used three lane one way street which heads in the opposite direction, converted to a single lane two way street.....anybody see the problem here?
This isn't solving a problem, it's diverting the problem thus creating a bigger and potentially far more dangerous and deadly issue, one where pollution will rise in the area, creating health issues for anybody using Gower Street, as well as making the road unsafe for cyclists, who will obviously continue to ise Gower Street, despite Tottenham Court Road, which runs parallel, being given over to them. This will also create safety issues for pedestrians because of the educational facilities within that area.
Let's not demonise any council or local authority though, they may in some cases be doing the wrong thing, but it is undoubtedly for the right reasons. We, as drivers, should avoid the condemnation of any authority, instead we must work with them so as to formulate workable, viable solutions, which can be of a benefit to all, they in turn must acknowledge the fact that the driver has the same rights as every other individual who lives, works and functions in London. The "them and us" attitude has to end on all sides before London completely siezes up.
Looking at some of the solutions that could be made available is a difficult and an unenviable task. To allow London to move again we need to experiment where possible. One of the biggest bottlenecks in London is the Embankment, Upper and Lower Thames Street as well as Blackfriars Road Northbound and Farringdon Road and New Bridge Street Southbound. There have been major traffic jams in the area right up until 2am, this is manifestly ludicrous and should not be happening.
The reason for these traffic jams are simple, the purpose built cycle lanes have created more problems than they have solved. The divisional island between road-lane and cycle-lane is excessively wide. In the case of the Blackfriars area the problems are even more stark given that you have a cycle lane within a bus lane heading south, this then crosses to a cycle lane within the central reservation. On the Northern carriageway you have a two-lane multi-directional cycle lane, a barrier on the bridge reducing the width of the bus lane and a cycle lane within that bus lane.....its utterly confusing for just about everybody and is not only gridlocked for most of the day but is also potentially highly dangerous for those it is designed to protect.
One of the ways that congestion outside of peak hours could be alleviated is to allow buses and taxis to use certain stretches of cycle lane outside of proscribed hours, but always giving any cyclist priority when using that lane, after all, how many cyclists do you see between the hours of 9pm and 4am using the portion of cycle lane along Upper and Lower Thames Street, heading East. There needs to be a root and branch re-assesment as to how cycle lanes are built and operated, there should also be a legal requirement for cyclists to use these purpose built lanes where available. For safety to ensue everybody must bare some responsibility for their actions.
Parking in London is another major problem, where some of the parking restrictions actually create congestion. Where a road is wide enough to take parked vehicles on both sides of the road it makes perfect sense to use that space, conversely if a road is not able to take parking on both sides of the carriageway then restrictions must be put in place and rigourously enforced, it's of no use having parking on opposing carriageways if it constricts the road itself down to one lane. Great Portland Street at the junction with Oxford Street is a glaring example of ill-thought out parking restrictions, where people park there vehicles, directly opposing traffic islands, thus preventing wider vehicles such as buses or dustcarts from being able to pass.
Un-coordinated roadworks are a real problem in London, a prime example is the artificaial closure to through traffic at Bank Junction between 7am and 7pm by the Corporation of London, allied to roadworks and road closures within the surrounding periphery roads such as Cannon Street, with no means of escape. It can now take between 45 minutes and a full hour to travel between Cheapside and Guys Hospital.....this is a solvable problem, allowing traffic to travel through Bank whilst those major roadworks are ensuing is the common sense solution.
Empty buses and a PHV industry at saturation level is another major problem creating congestion. To solve this problem is relatively easy. Bus routes can be manipulated to allow them to become more efficient, all this would take is a simple time and motion study, diverting buses away from where there is a reduced need, to areas where there is a greater need. The PHV induatry is a tougher nut to crack because until the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, decides to allow local authorities and regulators to cap numbers Transport for London are hamstrung. The only real option is to raise the PHV licence fee to an exorbitant amount or introduce the congestion charge for PHV vehicles so as to combat the sheer weight of PHV numbers.
Finally we come to traffic lights and how they are phased. It's quite clear to just about everybody in London that the gating system used to control the flow of traffic is fatally flawed. We have a system where a light can remain on Red for 2 or 3 minutes in areas where there is neither cross-flowing traffic nor a pedestrian presence, this needs looking at as a matter of urgency. Every set of traffic lights in London must also be fitted with advance cycle lights so as cyclists can pull away safely, pedestrians must also be given a few seconds longer to cross in certain areas. Areas where there is a constant flow of foot-traffic needs a pelican crossing rather than a pedestrian crossing so as to maintain safety for that foot-traffic as well as allowing road and cycle traffic to proceed in good time.
These are all simple to solutions to what is a relatively simple problem. Every authority in London as well as TfL must now start actively talking to AND listening to those who use the roads most, bus companies, taxi representatives, utility companies etc as well as those who cycle or walk. The whole Orwellian "two wheels good, four wheels bad" needs to end before London comes to a complete standstill.
When London sneezes the rest of the country catches a cold, make no mistake, whatever happens in London will eventually be coming to a town or city near you.....sooner than you think.