TAVISTOCK PLACE PUBLIC INQUIRY – OBSERVATIONS
The Tavistock/Torrington Place Public Inquiry is now over and we await the judgement.
In the meantime RMT would like to set out some observations and reasons for our objections and highlight the evidence we collected, which were presented to the Inquiry by Ranks and Highways officer Ray Alleeson.
RMT have no objection to traffic schemes which increase public safety and reduce pollution (something our members are constantly exposed to and which are intensified in stationary traffic) and we acknowledge those improvements which have occurred on Tavistock Place.
Our objection to this particular scheme is that the consequences of it are visited upon the surrounding area and its residents, workers, visitors and indeed commuters (unless we wish everyone to live and work in one neighbourhood).
We’d also like to raise a question which remains unanswered: That if the planned West End Project (WEP) was the reason to bring this trial forward, why was the impending major disruption of the HS2 construction along Euston Road and its environs not considered to be an even bigger reason to delay it?
We have been almost overwhelmed with (often repetitive) documents by the Borough of Camden which seem to over-complicate a straightforward scheme which has not delivered on its promised benefits for all but has predominantly focussed on the requirements of a specific modal group to the detriment of others. The Bloomsbury Residents’ Action Group (BRAG) is the nearest group resembling pedestrian representation.
Camden Council has expressed its confidence in the traffic modelling carried out for this scheme many times. However the truth is that traffic modelling is based on calculated speculation: Theory.
This was illustrated perfectly on Camden’s website by a barely legible map/diagram showing alternative routes disregarding Bedford Way, a road now acknowledged by Camden to have had an unexpected rise in traffic congestion.
To us Taxi drivers, this would have been an obvious conduit for traffic trying to re-establish its route to the surrounding area having been diverted from Tavistock Place. As we know well, this area has a concentration of medical, educational and tourist establishments.
Camden pointed to Endsleigh Gardens traffic being affected by the closure of Gordon Square North for building works. Whilst this is nominally true, the critical site of congestion is actually the junction of Gordon Street/Euston Road. This junction is fed by traffic from Endsleigh Gardens and Gordon Square which are fed by Bedford Way, Tavistock Square and Byng Place/Torrington Place. Not considering the exacerbating effect Bedford Way (already apparently disregarded by traffic modelling) has had on congestion at the junction of Gordon Street/Euston Road and collision statistics suggest a correlation.
Much of the traffic redirected south from Tavistock Place is rerouted along Great Russell Street past the British Museum, which happens to be the UK’s most visited tourist attraction with a footfall of six and a half million people annually. The traffic modelling identifying this street as suitable for diverted traffic would make Interesting reading.
Major surrounding roads have the increased congestion you would expect from the displacement (not reduction) of thousands of vehicles on a daily basis. Central London is a crowded place and these ill thought through schemes are beginning to overlap displaced traffic from other schemes and create congestion bordering on the limits of human tolerance. Driver stress levels, created by displacing traffic into already congested areas, are reaching critical levels and we may well be seeing the consequences of it.
The logical observation on this is that where you displace traffic, you displace congestion and pollution. Data seemingly contradicting that view should be re-examined.
An example of selective data interpretation by Camden in this Public Inquiry is that, when observing excessive pollution levels on Endsleigh Gardens, mitigation was used by citing DEFRA ‘drop off’ figures (pollution reduction per metre of distance from source) to infer satisfactory kerbside levels whilst claiming possible distortion to readings caused by Euston Road, 50 metres away though a solid, multi storey building. A contradiction like that cannot go unmentioned.
Hearing about collision stats seemed to surprise the Borough of Camden representatives and the Camden Cycling Campaign (CCC) although they were already aware of increased cycling collisions along the Tavistock Place corridor during the trial where speeding cyclists were an issue (use of a ‘challenge based’ tracking app named Strava was mentioned).
As the preferred response by those above to our presenting collision stats was to accept the correlation but to question the causation (stats requiring a three year average to confirm) we’d like to present some ‘stunning coincidences’.
On Great Russell Street, pedestrian accidents during the trial period went from a three year average of 0.66 to 6, an increase of 800%.
Why count only pedestrian casualties? (There’s a cyclist we could also add)
Because 6 ½ Million pedestrians use this stretch of road to visit the British Museum every year.
Camden acknowledges their duty under the Traffic Management Act to expedite the progress of all modes of traffic but reserve their right to prioritise cyclists and pedestrians. Although Camden has correctly followed procedure in this instance, this has in fact managed to disadvantage pedestrians.
In the case of Great Russell Street, the pedestrian casualties seem to have been re-prioritised as acceptable collateral damage.
This street seems to have become significantly more dangerous for pedestrians as a result of the Tavistock Place trial – as correlation goes, that’s quite a coincidence.
As explained earlier the real ‘pinch point’ of traffic congestion at Endsleigh Gardens is Gordon Street/Euston Road.
The collision rate during the trial period went from a three year average of 3.66 to 9 during the trial period, two and half times the original rate.
This is a traffic light controlled junction where the only change is increased congestion.
Is this ‘engineered congestion’ pushing human frustration beyond acceptable limits and provoking reckless behaviour?
Correlation/causation?…….or just another coincidence?
This Public Inquiry was occasioned by the Borough of Camden’s casual attitude to the process required to consult on and commission a new traffic scheme.
Their inability to think outside the box called Tavistock Place has hindered an opportunity for a pragmatic, practical solution facilitating all modes of transport and providing adequate space for them.
Camden Council Cabinet member Phil Jones (since stepped down but still a councillor) stated to the Camden Cycling Campaign that:
“You’ve managed to achieve that rare balance for a campaign organisation between being a tough advocate for cyclists’ interests, pressing hard for change from outside the system, combined with detailed working on the inside as a trusted and informed partner influencing the council.”
During that same meeting he also stated that:
“The Council’s approach is that the street determines the design and not that we seek to impose ideas rigidly on places that aren’t suitable.”
We’ll leave others to conclude the suitability of one of those statements and which of those has been applied in the case of Tavistock Place.
Applying Councillor Jones’s second statement we feel that a solution to satisfy all modes of transport would be one sufficiently sized unidirectional cycle highway on Tavistock Place, thus allowing the reinstatement of two way vehicular traffic and modified pavements.
An opposite direction cycle highway on Guilford St, traversing Russell Square to Montague Place and Bedford Square would address future cycling growth.
Bernard St is also available to supplement this system.
The very obvious advantage of these suggested revisions to the scheme is that they avoid displacement of traffic, pollution and collisions.
We cannot stress enough that in our opinion (reinforced by empirical evidence) the claimed reductions during this trial are in fact, displacements.
Regardless of prioritisation of particular modes of transport, pollution, traffic congestion and collisions (all pedestrian casualties in our Great Russell Street statistics) impact all human beings equally and relocating the consequences of traffic participation from one group to another, modally or geographically, is unacceptable.
To then state that the advantages to your preferred modal group offset the detrimental effects to others is disingenuous and displays all the signs of an abuse of the democratic process known as ‘Elite Capture’.