I recently interviewed Westminster Council’s City Commissioner for Transport, Martin Low, as part of a feature for The House magazine. Due to space constraints I didn’t get to use everything he said in our wide-ranging chat; here are some highlights:
Westminster rejects the idea of a central London daytime HGV ban
He spells out two objections: disruption to central London residents, and costs to businesses.
We’re not very keen on [a daytime HGV ban] … The concern we have is there’s an awful lot of people that live in Westminster. Sometimes delivery drivers come to an area like Piccadilly Circus and they assume it’s purely commercial. They’re quite horrified when a resident comes out in the early hours of the morning to remonstrate with them because they’ve just been woken up.
But equally, during the Olympic games some businesses were happy to put up with the inconvenience, but what they weren’t prepared to do was the continue doing that week-in-week-out. What they were trailing was staff specially coming into open up their premises to allow the delivery to be made, it was a huge extra cost to those businesses.
Westminster sees hotel taxis ranks as a barrier to building cycle lanes
Low cites high levels of “curb-side activity” as one of the reasons segregated lanes don’t get built.
It’s extremely difficult in Westminster to try and cater for the needs of all road users, so a balance has to be struck. Obviously we’ve got a huge amount of curb-side activity; 90% of businesses that visit the UK spend some time in the city of Westminster, and we’ve over 30% of London’s hotel accommodation. Some if it’s the five-star hotels, but there are other, smaller budget hotels around Westminster and they obviously need reasonable servicing facilities.
Westminster is trying to reduce supplier vehicle numbers on major shopping streets
A pilot scheme will see Bond Street traders try to use the same refuse collection company to reduce traffic. As this road safety film from a lorry driver’s perspective explains, this would be a good thing.
What we are keen to do is see freight consolidation. The Crown Estate had a fantastic scheme introduced before the Olympic games which reduce commercial delivery movements by 70%. We’re working with businesses along Old Bond Street and New Bond Street who have 57 separate suppliers collecting refuse from their premises, when one supplier could do the whole lot. There could be some huge financial benefits in them for doing that. It also creates a much safer environment for cyclists.
The Government won’t let Westminster remove sign clutter around bike lanes
Low questions why cycle lanes need a separate sign explaining what they do when road markings do the same job without clutter.
We’re trying to reduce the impact that some of the signage has on some of the network. I’m very disappointed that the Secretary of State for Transport and the former Transport Minister Norman Baker didn’t take the opportunity to give Westminster City Council what it sought, which was: if you have a mandatory cycle lane, it shouldn’t be necessary to have a bloody great metal sign at the side of it telling the motorist it’s a mandatory cycle lane. The fact you’ve got a bloody great white line with a big cycle logo in it should be enough, if it’s 24/7. I was staggered that both of them weren’t prepared to relax the rule and allow mandatory cycle lanes simply with a solid white line and a cycle logo.
The reason they gave was that there’d be confusion between advisory cycle lanes and mandatory cycle lanes: What a load of nonsense: as you are aware advisory cycle lanes have a dashed lines. Then they said the solid white line might be confused with an edge of carriageway marking… we’re talking about a line of a distance 1.5m or more from the curb, so they’re hardly going to be edge of carriageway lines and misunderstood.
There’s enough space to put segregated bike lanes in Parliament Square
He says the square, which was featured in our London’s Worst Cycling Junctions list, is big enough to have curb-separated cycle lanes. Low also spells out some possible routes that are being looked at.
We’re also looking to see what we might be able to do help cyclists around the square. We’re looking at with TfL at the possibility of having further feeds coming off that major cycle route [Boris’s ‘Crossrail for bikes’], on the west side of the eastern arm of Parliament Square, where the demonstrators used to have their placards opposite the entrance to the House of Commons carpark, and also having a cycle lane running along the north side of the southern arm of Parliament Square, going towards Victoria Street, and then another one which sweeps around the eastern side of the western arm. They’re a mixture of segregation and lining. A lot depends on the space. In Parliament Square you could have a curbline, it wouldn’t present a problem.
Westminster doesn’t want to remove traffic lanes in Parliament Square so MPs can drive to votes
The Council is anxious that MPs could be inconvenienced by taking space away from cars and giving it to bikes.
The big challenge for us in order to get the cycle facility in on the north side of Parliament Square is that you need to take out a general traffic lane. There are peers and MPs who need to get quickly to the House to vote, not all of them are cycling or walking there, some of them are driving there, so we’re trying to preserve the right-turn from the north side of Parliament square into the eastern arm of Parliament square. We could get rid of that altogether but it would make it very difficult for peers and MPs to get to the House.
Note: I put this to Liberal Democrat MP Dr Julian Huppert, who is co-chair of Parliament’s cycling group, and said that Westminster was “clutching at straws” here.
Westminster is keen to add more bike parking around the city
Low says he’s not sure where to put it and would welcome submissions.
We’re very keen that we extend the cycle parking facilities in Westminster to help people with their journeys … we’re looking at providing additional on-street parking to help those who want to use their bikes during the working day, perhaps to travel to a meeting or conference in Westminster.
So again, with respect to peers reading, and those supporting them on the House, it would be very useful to have requests for additional on-street cycle parking. If any of the readers are aware of potential locations where we might put some more cycle parking in which would be of use for them in their daily jobs, we’d like to hear from them.