TfL’s reply about Courthill Road – cars first

A few days ago I received from TfL the reply to my enquiry about the Courthill Road junction and you can read the full letter here.

A very important element of the letter is the disclosure of the statistical data about the junction:

The number of collisions is higher than we would expect for a signal controlled junction similar to this in Lewisham. Our latest personal injury collision statistics up to the end of June 2009 indicate that there have been 19 injury collisions, in the last three years, with pedestrians having been involved in four of these collisions. I do not believe that the accident you mention in your letter that occurred in April is included in these statistics, for reasons that are not at all clear, but this would bring the total collisions to 20, with pedestrian collisions rising to five. These would appear to have occurred on all arms of the junction and we are therefore focusing our attention on seeking ways to improve pedestrian facilities for the whole junction, not just Courthill Road.

First of all the fact that 8 months after this accident happened TfL still has no record of it is a very worrying thing that casts a doubt over the reliability of their statistics altogether, especially in absence of an explanation.
Still, they have on record 20 injury collisions in the past three years alone, and 5 of these involving pedestrians! Isn’t that enough?

Evidently not, because as they go on explaining according to them it’s not that easy:

The fact that there are queues on all the approaches to the junction during peak periods with the current traffic signal operation is a clear indication that this junction is operating at its capacity limit. To provide pedestrian signals we would need to shut the entire junction down for traffic to enable pedestrians to have a free period to cross or we would need to re-phase the traffic signals and provide wider pedestrian islands to enable pedestrians to cross all arms of the junction at different times without being opposed by vehicles. If all traffic movements were to be permitted both of these options would have a significant impact on the amount of time that traffic currently has to move through the junction.

And later on the letter says that:

Clearly, there is a balance to be struck between the competing modes and it is important to understand that we, as a public authority, are governed by a number of other, sometimes conflicting policies, one of which is an initiative to “smooth traffic flow”. This seeks to reduce the delay and congestion along the Mayor’s network and presents particular challenges when the task is trying to integrate signalised pedestrian crossings into congested junctions like this one.

That’s the key, they want to help traffic flow, and pedestrians get in the way. Or so they think, only that it’s nonsense, because as I already said in a previous post the context of this junction is not a flowing route, this is between Catford and Lewisham. Traffic only flows to the next junction and it makes almost no difference whatsoever if you can go past this junction fluently in either directions because inevitably you’ll hit another one, and being this between Catford and Lewisham if you’re at peak time almost invariably it’ll be gridlocked.
When it’s not peak time you’ll have instead a decent ride, what will one extra pedestrian crossing add? Not much, especially since they’re all request crossing nowadays.

A tangent consideration here is due, two junctions down from Courthill Road there’s the Lewisham Station roundabout, that TfL agreed to redesign to allow the Lewisham Gateway development to happen. Now, I don’t think that there are many better ways to slow down traffic than to build a 20 storeys complex over a major roundabout.
I remember that when the consortium for the Lewisham Gateway admitted that contrary to all they had said to that point the new layout would slow down traffic then all of a sudden the talk was about “capacity constraint”, now it was a positive and even green thing. Slowing down cars to convince drivers to get on buses and trains instead. Only that the traffic going through the Lewisham roundabout, as also Lewisham’s Head of Planning recently recognized, is not a locally generated traffic, is a traffic that only passes through here to go from somewhere else to somewhere else and there’s very little that can be done locally to discourage it and therefore we can imagine that slowing that junction, which is truly a key junction for the area, will lead to an environmental worsening for what air quality and noise are concerned across all the arms of the junction, which means up Lewisham Way, Loampit Vale, Lee High Road and upstream towards Catford including also the Courthill Road junction of Lewisham High Street. But that’s ok for them. A pedestrian crossing on Courthill Road instead cannot be done.

Because that’s what I feel is the gist of this letter:

We will continue to investigate whether we can provide pedestrian improvements but this process takes some time. To comply with the other policy objectives we must be able to demonstrate that the introduction of signalised pedestrian crossings will not have an adverse impact upon traffic flow through the junction. If we cannot demonstrate this then, it is unlikely that we would be able progress any pedestrian improvements.

It’s taken them years to come to this point, where they know that there is a serious problem, they know that there are solutions and yet all they are prepared to say is that they’ll study the problem again!

How can they ignore that this junction leads to another clogged up junction whatever way you go? They’re TfL, these are their roads, they surely know this. Why don’t they act?

The Mayor’s Transport Strategy states that it aims at:

Providing better, more attractive streets to encourage people to walk and lead active, healthy lifestyles

This was not quoted in the letter, they chose the other point of the strategy:

Improving road journeys and smoothing the flow of traffic

For TfL the Courthill Road junction is therefore primarily a place for traffic to flow and for us to keep on risking our lives, in other parts of London the other part of the strategy may apply instead, there they’ll be providing better, more attractive streets to encourage people to walk and lead active, healthy lifestyles.

I’m not impressed. Last year I asked Lewisham Council’s Head of Highways about this junction and what he told me was that according to TfL statistically it wasn’t a very dangerous junction and as funds are limited (and shrinking) other junctions had to be invested on first and Courthill Road wasn’t likely to be sorted out anytime soon.
But then TfL agreed to study the situation so that was a glimmer of hope. In that context this letter doesn’t sound good as it carefully avoids to commit to anything and specifically states that only if we don’t slow down traffic at all they’d provide a solution, which is obviously impossible because however minimal there would always be an impact, but it’s a compromise that we must keep on pursuing, because as TfL’s (possibly incomplete and completely contradicting what told last year to Lewsham Council) statistics now show, it is a dangerous junction indeed, and a strong case can therefore be made.
There are ways to design safe pedestrian crossing and keep delays to traffic to a minimum, this is in fact alluded to in the reply:

we would need to re-phase the traffic signals and provide wider pedestrian islands to enable pedestrians to cross all arms of the junction at different times without being opposed by vehicles

and that’s what should be done here.

And if you haven’t done it yet then please sign the petition for a safe crossing at Courthill Road.

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2 Responses to “TfL’s reply about Courthill Road – cars first”

  1. Craig Says:

    its sad when pedestrian safety is given a back seat in a capital city which is bustling with life. Activity at the street level is what keeps places like london alive! and all for the short-sighted rhetoric of car is king!?? roads to prosperity was destroyed as a policy in the 90’s that is a lesson they should learn here!

  2. Max Says:

    Completely agree, that junction is a place where people don’t want to be. It’s not just unsafe, it’s an unwelcoming corner of our neighbourhood.

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