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March 13, 2011 / clayliesstill

In defence of non-motorised crossings

A strange post appeared from A War with the Motorist last week.

The author takes the view that the Mayor’s approach to transport is exemplified by his take-up of a Green Party idea of a cable car linking two parts of rapidly developing East London.

The post claims that the cable car is a pointless waste because it doesn’t provide any more capacity than a ‘well served bus route’ (presumably flying buses, given the barrier the cable car is overcoming) and apparently there isn’t much demand for that journey. This ignores the fact that huge amounts of more housing is planned for the North Greenwich peninsula, an area currently isolated from other areas except by motorised transport. While I somewhat agree that a cable car is a vanity project to create headlines and nice pictures, the tone of the  rest of the post is horribly indulgent to the bridge builders who have been waiting to despoil London for years.

To quote AWWTM:

Most importantly, it doesn’t solve the supposed lack of river crossing supply here: the demand is from road vehicles that are fed into the area on the north and south circular routes

For a blog entitled ‘At War with the Motorist’ this is a very strange – indeed dangerous – thing to say.

First of all, let’s try and avoid the pathetic fallacy: road vehicles can’t express demand for anything, they are inanimate. The people in those vehicles are responding to a demand for trips generated by a range of factors, but that demand is limited by the infrastructure available to use. If I stand on the side of the Thames at North Greenwich Excel isn’t really a trip generator for me at the moment because there is no way of getting there, create a means and I might go there. Likewise the rise of cheap flights released previously suppressed demand.

This idea that one simply caters to demand is dangerous: without modal selection you are left with the  mid 20th century transport planning mindset of joining up big roads to allow journeys to be made. Perhaps AWWTM is unaware of the decades of battling by real anti-motoring campaigners against an East London River Crossing?

The implication in the post is that it is vitally important  to enhance and ease movement  for motor vehicle users is important but little pedestrians and cyclists don’t need a crossing for them alone. It perpetuates the myth that trips on big roads are made only by important people making long trips: not so, actually a huge number of those using major roads are making short trips, which could easily be made by walking or cycling if driving were impossible, say, by the lack of a bridge.

Actually the provision of pedestrian/cycle only links (preferably fixed) can have an amazing effect on transport choices. The Millenium Bridges in York and London are good examples – though the latter is irritatingly pedestrian only. Other sketchily planned bridges are Canary Wharf to North Greenwich – vaguely an alternative to the Blackwall Tunnel, from which pedestrians and cycles are banned. The Rotherhithe Tunnel is a horrible link which cyclists and pedestrians area permitted to use, but very few actually do. Other than the expensive ferry to Canary Wharf and the randomly closed Greenwich foot tunnel there is nothing decent for non-motorised users between Tower Bridge and the Woolwich Ferry.

AWWTM should be promoting cycle/pedestrian links as an alternative to large river crossings for motor vehicles, not the old fashioned approach of ‘fixing the missing links’ of major roads.


One Comment

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  1. Joe Dunckley / Mar 14 2011 10:20 am

    Gosh, did I really “promote fixing the missing links of major roads” and express opposition to cycle/pedestrian links?

    I don’t think I did. Perhaps I was careless in my wording when bashing out the post and could have given that impression.

    Obviously I don’t care for creating new motor vehicle crossings. The point is that two years ago (and for decades before that) the mayor and TfL themselves were saying that the demand was for motor vehicle crossings (and in my post I was careful to say supposed demand: a repeated theme of the blog is, after all, the extreme flexibility of transport demand in response to supply, especially in dense cities). They said they needed to build a new one. I would obviously have preferred for them to cut the demand. The point of my post is that they have failed to do either, and instead proposed a big engineering vanity project which they declare solves the problem of East London river crossings, despite the fact that it doesn’t provide the sort of capacity that they themselves were saying was missing, nor is likely to provide the sort of alternative that would significantly reduce that demand (because it caters for a very different journey than the one drivers are making). The point is that this fails by the mayor’s and TfL’s own criteria.

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