Road Safety Week

MQT on 2008-11-12
Session date: 
November 12, 2008
Question By: 
Valerie Shawcross
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor



Answer for Road Safety Week

Answer for Road Safety Week

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Val has asked me a question about road safety which is whether I support Road Safety Week. Where are you Val? Val, the answer is yes.

Valerie Shawcross (AM): Well, I am relieved to hear that you support Road Safety Week because we certainly do. Am I right in thinking, as far as you are concerned, from what you have said previously and from what Kulveer Ranger [Director of Transport Policy, GLA] says constantly, you think all modes of transport are equal and you want to be 'fair to all modes of transport'?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I love this debate because this is one of those things where you, as an egalitarian, seem to be in favour of hierarchy. Is that right? You absolutely insist that some people are more equal than others and there are some forms of getting around which are morally preferable.

Let me open up with that irony and then answer your question seriously. I think it is our job to treat all transport users as sensible, sapient human beings and not to bully them, not to take a moral view about whether they are doing the right or the wrong thing. It is our job to help them however - and this is the key thing and this is the thing I think you find inconsistent but is not - wherever possible to take modes of transport that we think are actually cleaner, greener and more efficient and will actually end up with them having a better transport experience. That is our job. I think there are plenty of ways we can do that and plenty of ways we can help them. I certainly want to encourage more people to walk, which is, I think, the purpose of your question.

Valerie Shawcross (AM): Let us get down to those practical things - those practical wrong theoretical issues. I think last month in a reply to Jenny and John you agreed that removing gyratory systems would be a benefit to all road users. You talked particularly about cycling in that context. You said it could only be funded through Section 106 agreements.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Did I say it could only be funded through Section 106, Ms Shawcross?

Valerie Shawcross (AM): You did; it is in writing. If road safety --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): This was in our session last month?

Valerie Shawcross (AM): This is in the written reply to the question from Jenny about --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Oh, so it is a written reply.

Valerie Shawcross (AM): -- gyratories. You said, 'Gyratories would be removed when funding was available from Section 106 agreements'. If road safety and cycling is important to you why is it so far down the priority list for TfL funding?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Well, it is not. Have you all got or read a copy of 'Way to Go'?

Assembly Members: Yes.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Have we got lots of copies of 'Way to Go'? I want them to be distributed to the Assembly, if not to the assembled multitudes. Extremely fine document!

Valerie Shawcross (AM): OK. Well, 'Way to Go' is a very confused document. I have been told not to be rude today so I will not use the word 'drivel'. You are willing to scrap plans to remove the big gyratory in Parliament Square; you are holding up the project to take out the fast rat-run around the Elephant & Castle roundabouts.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No, I am not.

Valerie Shawcross (AM): Because they may slowdown the motorists a tad in order to make the streets safer for pedestrians. Let us talk about traffic lights. How about that? You seem more comfortable on the issue of traffic lights.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): You have asked me about three questions. Which question do you want me to answer, Val?

Valerie Shawcross (AM): All right, let me sum it up then. Do you think the green light phases for pedestrians are long enough?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Do I think the green light phases are long enough?

Valerie Shawcross (AM): Yes, the green man phase for pedestrians.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Can I just say something about the urban realm and Parliament Square and the Vauxhall gyratory that you mentioned. I am, in spite of your efforts to paint me as some crazed member of the Motorists' Liberation Front, I am very, very keen to encourage cycling. I am not confident that everybody in this Assembly cycles as much as I do. I am not confident that every member of the Labour Group cycles as much as they should, Val, and I want to see more cycling and certainly I am by no means against taking out the gyratories. I do think you are right when you say the gyratories are threatening to cyclists. Where possible to do it, for instance at Highbury Corner, if that can be delivered economically, fantastic. Let us do it.

On Parliament Square there was a separate issue, which was that in my view the proposals that we had did not represent a sufficiently wonderful scheme. It was just another big blasted piazza full of bubblegum and it was not, in my view, going to be sufficiently good-looking to justify the expense and the extra delay that it would have inevitably have caused in the traffic.

On your point about green lights - and do I think that pedestrians have enough time at green - we are absolutely determined to do nothing with traffic lights that would prejudice the rights of vulnerable road users. I want to make it absolutely clear. We are working very, very calmly and methodically to deliver what improvements we can to all the 6,000 traffic lights in London - we are doing 1,000 a year. Yes, we are trying to shave seconds off red because - and we have done 150 or so lights so far - I think that is a valuable thing. I think if it can get the traffic to flow more smoothly, Darren - it is a point I always make - then it will be less emitting of harmful pollution. That is why we are doing it. I certainly do not want to do it in a way that will damage the rights of pedestrians. In fact, one thing we are going to do is look at introducing the countdown system on the lights so that instead of having the baffling blackout phase, where you do not know what to do and the lights are not telling you anything, you are going to know - 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - how long you have got to cross the road.

Valerie Shawcross (AM): I have just been doing some survey work and asking Londoners to tell me about their experience of road safety and I have to say the biggest number of responses is coming in from people, pensioners and mums with small children, saying their most common complaint is that they do not feel that the green man phases are long enough. Now, from what you have been saying you have actually found a few seconds, I think you said, to --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Well, can I just point out that a few seconds shaved off a red light in central London can make a huge difference to the speed of traffic. These are very, very important differences.

Valerie Shawcross (AM): If you believe that all transport users are equal and you found one or two seconds on traffic lights, why are you allocating it solely to the motorist rather than giving some time back to the pedestrians?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Because as you know very well there are plenty of cases, not least at Trafalgar Square or elsewhere, where actually the lights are on red when absolutely nobody is crossing, in the depth of winter, when there are no tourists around, and it would be greatly to the advantage of this city and to the economy of this city if the traffic was allowed to flow a little more smoothly. You can do that, and this is what TfL's traffic engineers are doing; they are trying to find those extra seconds in a responsible and pragmatic way without affecting the rights of vulnerable road users. I think that millions of Londoners will be grateful to us for doing that.

Valerie Shawcross (AM): The whole purpose of the review, as you said, is basically to speed up the traffic. What are you going to do at the pedestrian lights where there is pedestrian congestion? If you find one or two seconds, why would you not give that to the pedestrians rather than using it to speed up the traffic? We all know there is a direct relationship between the speed of traffic and the number of serious casualties that there are in London. I think what you are really saying is that you are more interested overall in speeding up the traffic than in the 1,300 serious injuries, the 250 children who are injured on the roads every year. What we want to see is a clear programme for reviewing those gyratories and a clear programme where one of the priorities is improving pedestrian safety. I do not see how you can increase walking in London if you do not pay attention to that as a priority matter.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I have just given you an answer, but let me elaborate by saying that I think we should also be thinking about making public space more attractive for walking. You talk about pedestrians queuing to get over the road; I think it is absolutely true. Very often they are fenced in by, I think, unnecessary railings. I think we should be moving towards lifting them out of parts of central London because I think they impede pedestrians. They are, in my view, dangerous particularly for cyclists and I think they would be to the advantage and the beautification of this city if they were to be removed.

I also think that if you look at the phasing of traffic lights, again, I think the countdown system will greatly help pedestrians and encourage them to have the confidence to cross the road. This is not a zero sum game. There are things you can do to smooth traffic and reduce frustration, reduce the irritation of people stalled in traffic without prejudicing the rights of vulnerable road users.

Valerie Shawcross (AM): Well, there are things you can do to make pedestrians safer.

Jennette Arnold (Chair): Mr Mayor, did I hear you confirm the removal of Highbury Corner gyratory in that answer to Val?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No, you did not.

Jennette Arnold (Chair): Oh, OK. Just wishful thinking on my part then!

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): What you heard was that if it can be done in an economical way then I think it is certainly something that would make Highbury Corner safer and more attractive.