Thu 13 Sep 2018
A legal challenge by Westminster city council to block a major cycle route in London has succeeded on a procedural point, in a move that could send Transport for London back to the drawing board and set safety improvements to one of London’s most dangerous junctions back by months.
The council’s successful judicial review of Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11), which was due to run from Swiss Cottage to Portland Place, is the latest of its blocks to cycling, walking and road safety improvements. Following the scrapping of the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, the review has cemented Westminster’s reputation as the car-is-king borough of London.
Following hundreds of hours of protracted talks with other stakeholders, Westminster launched its judicial review on CS11 in June as TfL started work on Swiss Cottage gyratory at the northern end of the route. Although Swiss Cottage is outside the borough’s boundaries, Westminster said it was concerned about the knock-on impact of traffic on its roads, and argued TfL had not provided appropriate traffic modelling of the impacts or considered the possibility Westminster wouldn’t agree to the scheme. In the end, the judge ruled on the latter point.
Will Norman, London’s cycling and walking commissioner, called the route “crucial” and accused Westminster of “obstructing plans that will improve the local environment and road safety for all Londoners”.
TfL says it provided modelling data on traffic impacts, predicting faster journey times after construction of up to 10 minutes and slower journeys of up to five minutes westbound, and talked this through with the borough in detail. It also produced a response addressing issues, and made some compromises to the original scheme.
Ashok Sinha of the London Cycling Campaign said: “Westminster seem to be laying down endless conditions for their support, so it looks like they are never going to be satisfied. If that’s the case, then we can only treat this as a deliberate attempt to block CS11.”
The Guardian recently submitted a freedom of information request to Westminster asking for documentation concerning the decision to block CS11. Westminster returned a legal advice document that was entirely redacted, claiming legal privilege.
The borough prides itself on a “residents first” policy. One wonders which residents it thinks it is serving, though, and for what benefit. Westminster has the highest level of pedestrian casualties of any London borough by quite a way, with 1,776 in 2016, including 13 deaths.
Meanwhile, a quarter of residents say air pollution is what they like least about living in Westminster, with air pollution regularly exceeding EU limits – while an air quality report advised Westminster to restrict private car use and vehicle emissions. Westminster is often accused of having a “cars first” policy at the expense of other residents, despite the fact car ownership among Westminster residents is among the lowest in the country – just 223 cars per 1,000 people. You can see why; the list of schemes it has blocked seem to have one thing in common:
• This year Westminster blocked Oxford Street pedestrianisation because residents were concerned about the knock-on impact on traffic on surrounding roads.
• Last year Westminster councillors objected to safety improvements to Lambeth Bridge North roundabout, where cyclist Moira Gemmill was killed two years earlier. Why? Because they didn’t want a palm tree removed, and because they said it would increase congestion.
• The year before, in consultation on a Baker Street scheme, Westminster removed cycling responses and discounted them to support their scheme that kept motor traffic capacity the same, while including several “critical fails” for cycling – elements of design expected to place cyclists at risk of left hooks by motor traffic.
Meanwhile, the borough is spending cycling “quietway” money on increasing parking spaces.
The Westminster Cycling Campaign tells me the borough is gradually losing cycle access through a combination of pedestrianisation schemes and one-way streets that don’t allow for two-way cycling. It may seem a small detail, but this forces people cycling to use busier roads, and make longer diversions.
This, it says, is “despite a clear statement from a residents’ working group that: ‘To the fullest extent reasonably possible, we would like any traffic calming measures implemented to be bicycle-friendly. Our concerns are with motorised vehicles, not pedalling at a reasonably sedate pace.’”
So it’s not those residents first, either.
You can understand why London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, recently called Westminster city council “a disgrace”.
TfL says it will now take some time to consider its options, which include appealing against the judge’s decision. Whatever happens, this ruling sets the scheme back by months.
TfL insists it is “100% committed” to the scheme, which got overwhelming public support when it was consulted on. “It’s about how to do that in the shortest amount of time,” a TfL spokesperson said. “Westminster have been very open about not wanting the scheme to go ahead. We know people are dying and getting injured at junctions – that’s where collisions happen.”
Councillor Tim Mitchell said Westminster supports improving cycling infrastructure, but that “all traffic and air quality impacts must be properly assessed before a decision is made to construct”.
He said: “It’s clear from today’s outcome, TfL have not completed the due diligence that our residents deserve and the current CS11 proposals need to be assessed in more detail. TfL must consider the effects of the entire route before an informed decision can be made.”
It doesn’t have to be this difficult. Next door to Westminster, the City of London on Thursday voted to make traffic restrictions to Bank junction permanent – meaning only buses, pedestrians and cycles are permitted from 7am-7pm Monday to Friday. A year-long trial not only reduced pollution and cut traffic casualties by 52%, it made bus journey times quicker and created a far more pleasant area.
In the meantime, those living, working and visiting in Westminster have time to think about the curious situation where a borough in the centre of a capital city in the 21st century still sees motor traffic as a priority, as most other global cities now prioritise people instead. History is unlikely to remember it kindly.