Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tfl incompetence

On Sunday my girlfriend and I were driving to Norfolk, with a rental car (and don't give me "take the train" finger pointing, as the car was full with possessions as she is moving there for five days a week for work reasons), and to undertake this journey should be straightforward. We live not too far from the A406 North Circular road (around 40% of a circular route) which is 3 lanes in each direction over much of its length.
It was a wet day and a busy one, with a considerable amount of holiday traffic - including some tube replacement buses - and so you might wonder why Tfl authorised its contractors to close to one lane each way the underpass (under a railway line) between New Southgate and Colney Hatch lane. Why were the second lanes closed (the road already narrows from 3 to 2 lanes each way because this is the beginning of an awful gap in the A406)?
Very simple. Contractors were scraping unauthorised posters from the walls of the road underpass.
Were they doing this on a roadway? No, in fact there are very wide footpaths where the workers were working. Traffic passed beside them quite safely (as pedestrians can walk through this underpass).
Were they doing work in the road median? No! The only reason the central lanes were closed was to create a space for the contractors' vehicles to be parked!! Parked!!
The resulting tailback added 20-25 minutes to a journey of about a mile eastbound, it was easily a 2 mile tailback westbound.
So for some inexplicable reason, TfL authorised the contractors to close lanes in the middle of the day so that some cleaning activity could be carried out. Now, let's just assume for the sake of argument that it wasn't just to park the trucks somewhere (there is an adjacent service station and vehicles could have been parked less than 100m further away on the road without closing both lanes), and there is work in the middle of the road...
Why isn't this work carried out at night? Dare I say, in Australia and New Zealand such work on a major arterial route which halves the capacity of the route would be carried out in the wee small hours. Yes you pay people more, but this is nothing compared to the cost in lost time, fuel and the safety risk of traffic slowing from 50mph to a stop-start crawl - something that clearly doesn't seem to matter to Tfl. Heaven help you if you catch the Northern line replacement buses that were stuck in the jam in the other direction.
I can put it down to either:
- Sheer incompetence either driven by failure to appraise whether it is cheaper for London to pay to do this work at night or to do it on the cheap, and create huge traffic jams;
- An obsession with public transport and little interest in highway management, and little interest in minimising congestion through better traffic management.
Tfl should be split in two - one body dedicated to managing public transport franchises and another dedicated to managing London's highway network. The latter should have a hypothecated stream of funding prioritised to road maintenance, with specific output goals of minimising incident or planned congestion, and maximising the efficient and safe operation of the network. To do this means a major political change in the Mayoralty and the Greater London Assembly. London has one of the worst urban highway networks in the Western world, the north circular (A406) is incomplete and erratic, the south circular (A205) is a circular by signpost only, it is about time that London's road network was properly managed and funded. London's road users already pay enough to use it!


Anonymous said...

Has this task been on the Roading network that I look after, yes I would had scheduled it (or at least encouraged the contractors) to wrk during an off peak time.

Not a lot of thought gone into that one. I wonder who signed off teh Traffic Managment Plan (or if there was one)?


Hans Versluys said...

You'd be crazy to want to drive in London unless your company paid your congestion charge and car parking space. Paying for causing congestion is so for little people only, if I may paraphrase that former Tory leader of Westminster Council.

Libertyscott said...

Well like I said, the drive was to shift furniture and belonging to a rural address - so besides paying hundreds of pounds for someone else to do it, it make sense to drive.

The point remains, the road network is appalling, and the congestion I was caught in was stopping plenty of trucks and buses. The congestion charge doesn't operate in weekends and is a long way away from the North Circular, though I'd support an intelligent roll out of congestion charging to a 7 day a week operation going out as far as the A406/A205, with variable charges by time of day and place.