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Jenny Jones blog: Bow Roundabout safety and Mayoral involvement (+ video)

Green Assembly Member determined to get to bottom of decision-making process behind design of junction where two cyclists died

You can see from the YouTube exchange below that things got rather heated at Mayor’s Question Time the other day. The reason I care about how and why two cyclists died at Bow Roundabout is because I simply don’t want the same mistakes to be made again. In the five years from 2005 to 2010, we had eight slight injuries of cyclists and two serious ones. A few months after the Cycle Superhighway directed people onto Bow Roundabout we had two fatalities. This does not seem like an unfortunate coincidence.

The current review of junctions, which comes out of those deaths, is a big opportunity to make London a safe city for someone to cycle in, whether they are eight or eighty. Understanding the role of the Mayor’s office in the mistake that was made at Bow Roundabout is crucial to how we go forward.

We know that the proposals to make Bow Roundabout safer, which were recommended in the Jacobs report of January 2009, were rejected because they would: “push the junction over capacity and introduce significant delays to traffic.”  Previously the rule was always to prioritise safety on any traffic scheme and traffic flow would have to be mitigated. Under Boris Johnson, the rule became that ‘smoothing the traffic flow’ was at least equal to safety.  The phrase used was “we’ll consider safety, but within the context of smoothing the traffic flow”.

We know that Boris was responsible for the policy shift, but he has consistently said that he was not involved with decisions about individual junctions, such as Bow Roundabout. In February he stated “it is not the Mayor’s role to be involved in the detailed development of individual schemes.”

I have asked numerous questions about the involvement of his mayoral advisor in charge of cycling (2008-12) Kulveer Ranger and the Mayor has repeatedly made clear that his ex Transport advisor “played no part in this decision making process”, and also “nor was the design, or issues relating to the design, discussed with him”.  It does make me wonder what a mayoral advisor does, if not part of decision making on behalf of the Mayor?

A Freedom of Information request to Transport for London (TfL) revealed that from 2009 onwards, Kulveer Ranger had monthly meetings with TfL to discuss cycling. The Superhighways were a standing item, discussion and decisions were minuted and the project managers of all the various cycling schemes attended the meetings. For example, on 25th May, the minutes state: “Possible impact on route 2 delivery beyond Bow Flyover leading to Olympic Park in Newham was discussed in more detail, including solutions for Vallance Road and Bow.”

So these meetings discussed ‘detail’ and ‘solutions’, although the Mayor maintains that his transport advisor was only involved in trying to ‘unblock’ the Superhighway going into Newham and the Olympic Park. It is true that Kulveer Ranger was talking to Newham about this in both June and December last year according to Boris, but could he really have avoided discussion of the safety concerns raised by cyclists and the local Assembly member, John Biggs?

An FoI request to Tower Hamlets council showed that:

“22nd October 2009 Kulveer Ranger {Mayor’s transport advisor} and Simon Milton meet Tower Hamlets Corporate Director Steve Hasley for tour of the borough. Bow Roundabout one of sites visited, as Tower Hamlets keen to take forward improvements to the crossings for pedestrians, as they had identified these “improved crossings at Bow as a deliverable” in a design brief for “High Street 2012”.”

So the Mayor’s advisors did go to Bow to look at safety concerns back in 2009. His transport advisor then had a follow up meeting with the Tower Hamlets Corporate Director on 28th January 2010, which “discussed amongst other issues – High Street 2012, promotion of Cycle Superhighways and A12 crossings”. This is two days after the visit to Bow Roundabout by the experts who wrote the Jacobs report recommending safety improvements. It would seem odd if TfL didn’t provide the Mayor’s representative with a briefing on the safety options they were considering?

On 21st October 2010 Kulveer Ranger again met the Tower Hamlets’ Director to discuss Cycle Superhighways and High Street 2012. This was followed a few days later with a project update on CS2 at the monthly ‘cycle revolution’ meetings between TfL and Kulveer. The Mayor states that the final decision on the scheme was then made two weeks later at a TfL Cycle Superhighways programme board meeting on 16th November 2010.

I have written to the Mayor [letter attached below - ed] pointing out that he failed to mention any of these meetings where Bow Roundabout was discussed and his Transport advisor was involved. Of course, I would see no problem with the Mayor’s advisors using their authority on behalf of cyclists concerns. In fact, that is what I would like to see the Mayor’s current advisor doing with the junction review. However, that would require the Mayor to drop the ‘smoothing traffic flow’ policy which gives priority to the speed of drivers rather than the safety of vulnerable road users.

I have also asked the Mayor to release both the minutes of the TfL meetings he referred to and to help unblock the various FoI requests. Going forward, I think it is essential for restoring trust between TfL and cyclists that all the minutes and papers relating to the review of junctions should be automatically available. Transparency is not only a good principle, it is crucial to good decision making.

Whilst I still don’t know for certain (rather than guessing) why the Jacob’s report recommendations on safety at Bow Roundabout were rejected, I am determined to see this through and to find out.

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