Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Boff Interview

The more comprehensive and city-wide a cycle network is, the more journeys it can provide for. This seems to me to be a wholly legitimate point of view. If you want more people to drive their cars, for example, then you build more roads (or increase the road capacity). If you want more people to fly, then you build more airports. If you want more people to read books, say, as the Victorians did, then you build more libraries. 

I regard this as a very straightforward premise. Similarly, I think that if you're going to encourage more people to cycle - the latest target is for an extra million journeys to be made by bike by the year 2026 - then there needs to be some sort of plan in place to ensure the development of the appropriate infrastructure. 

I think both of these ideas are entirely reasonable. Conversely I regard as witless any suggestion that every single road should be closed and every single car banned.

Having already indicated that this is what cycling campaigners are seeking, Andrew Boff then goes on to say:

'The fact that we're spending so much time [discussing Blackfriars] I think is because actually some people expected more of Boris. Perhaps cyclists expected him to ... erm ... stop all the traffic going over Blackfriars Bridge. That's not going to happen. I wouldn't support a measure to make this a cycling-only bridge. It's ridiculous. I know they're not saying it, but if you look in the background of the arguments, every single argument that some of the - some of the lobbyists put, is actually geared towards, 'We don't want cars on here at all.' Well, that's not something I can subscribe to, you know. We want to make this the safest environment for all users of the bridge. And cyclists, and pedestrians, being the most vulnerable ... we have to pay particular attention to the safety of cyclists and pedestrians, but that doesn't mean we have a hierarchy, that doesn't mean we have, that we have a car ban or anything - restriction on cars. What we say is that [cycling] is the way in which Londoners have chosen to get to work and we've got to - our job is to make them safe in doing that.'

Phew. Right, so no car ban then? What a relief. I mean, I was worried there for a second. A car ban. Wow. Who would even think of such a stupid idea?

Personally I think the reason that we're spending so much time talking about Blackfriars is because the people who are making the decisions about this are not giving any serious regard to alternative proposals. 

Andrew Boff again: 'There is common sense in smoothing traffic flow: the biggest pollutant is idling traffic. If you do something that makes that traffic congested, then you're contributing to pollution in the city, and we already know we've got a problem with air quality in London, so we don't want to go and take any actions that's actually going to make that worse. So, that's one of the things they [TfL] got to take into consideration. They got to take into consideration the egress of the pedestrians who are pouring out of that station; we've got to take into account the safety of cyclists to ensure that they've got a safe route north and south over the bridge; and we've got to look at traffic flow as well, because, you know, the reason we're able to pay for things like the Blackfriars development and improvements is because we are in an extremely wealthy country, in the wealthiest part of that wealthy country, and the reason we're wealthy is because of the economy, and if we start taking steps that damage the economy of London then we're shooting ourselves in the foot. There will be no more future improvements if we make this place poorer as a result of decisions about traffic.'

I dunno, but I reckon that decisions about whether the economy may or may not be damaged by altering the layout of a bridge over a river have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with TfL. A traffic engineer can only tell you about the traffic, after all. And if you ask a traffic engineer a particular type of question then I imagine you'll get a particular type of answer. So for Andrew Boff to be saying that London might be poorer (in the strictly monetary sense) if more emphasis were placed on alternatives to the private car, then this must mean that he has been talking to some economists. Remember, he's just an Assembly Member. He's just a bloke who happened to get elected, so he's no expert on this. All he can do is go on the advice of others. Because politicians who make decisions purely on their own set of priorities aren't politicians at all; they're dictators. 

Andrew Boff rightly points to the opaqueness of TfL whenever they make a decision. Of course we need the data on which they base their decisions out in the open. Of course we do. How astonishing that we even tolerate such secrecy. The case is, TfL are a law unto themselves, and they need to be more accountable. I don't care that they are experts in traffic engineering. That doesn't impress me at all. What does it matter that they know all about traffic if they know nothing about people?

'Vancouver killed the freeway,' said Ventura City Manager Rick Cole, 'because they didn't want the freeways to kill their neighbourhoods. The city flourished because making it easier to drive does not reduce traffic; it increases it.' The former Mayor of Bogota, Enrique Penalosa, said, 'We can have a city that is very friendly to cars or we can have a city that is very friendly to people. We cannot have both. Anything you do to make a city more friendly to cars makes it less friendly to people.' The Director of the Project for Public Spaces, Fred Kent, has said, 'If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.' 

Meanwhile, our beleaguered Mayor has been telling BBC London News, 'People have got to understand that there are consequences for behaving like this.' 

An example of a 'shelf' cycle lane from Dublin.

Andrew Boff said that we've got to make it easier and safer for those people who are thinking about cycling to do so. The important thing is that we continue to take incremental steps forward.

The other thing, apparently, is that we have to do this in a way which is not going to harm the economy. I have no problem with this, but if we are going to be saying things like that, then we need to be able to back it up with some facts. We can't proceed on mere assertion, after all. How do we know that encouraging alternatives to the car would be bad for the economy? What evidence is there for this?

What I find so disappointing about the Blackfriars decision is that it is a step backward. Motorists have been using two lanes on the bridge for I don't know how long, so why do they now need three lanes? There has to be a reason, and we're not being told what that reason is.

To hear the interview in full, please click here.