Monday, 15 August 2011

Vauxhall Gyratory: Greed, irresponsibility and entitlement.

(Photo taken from Tradescant Rd blog)

In a post-riot London, whilst our current Prime Minister is waxing lyrical on greed, irresponsibility and entitlement, Lurking about SE11 continues to think about local matters.  "Local" names where we're brought up, how we're socialised, who we talk to and how we learn to interact with others.  Smart phones, iPads and technology aside, our built environment, communities and neighbours are where we learn to discover shared goods.  On a positive note, I'd like to point to a great photo from Vauxhall City Farm, applauding the efforts of Clapham residents to repair their local community.  But just over a mile away from Westminster, in Vauxhall, decisions will need to be taken that speak into what sort of city we'd like London to be.  The future of the Vauxhall gyratory remains a tiny decision for politicians, but a massive concern for drivers and residents, cyclists and businesses.

Listening to the voices on the ground is something that both politicians and decision makers will need to do in the days to come.  Readers might suggest that it is fatuous to try and draw links between riots and city planning, but much of the issues boil down to who is being heard.  Anybody who has attended a local consultation will understand that the question is always whose voice counts?  Concerning our own gyratory, we must ask "who is being greedy given the current road layout?",  "who is being irresponsible in the face of death?" and "to whom is entitlement owing?".  These are the questions David Cameron wants us to think about concerning rioters and bankers, but they affect ordinary people in their daily routines too.

Plans concerning the Vauxhall Gyratory, are slowly chugging through the wheels of local government.  Val Shawcross (chair of Transport Committee on London Assembly) confirmed at the end of July that Lambeth Council are now to work with TFL to carry out a "Vision for Vauxhall" exercise on an improved public space and transport plan for Vauxhall to add to the VNEB OAPF.  Val Shawcross is "hopeful" that this might lead to a "better pedestrian and cycling environment" for the whole area, as opposed to it remaining a "motorway blighted backyard" (private email).  There are currently no dates for the proposed consultation.  At present, we know that Lambeth Council and Val Shawcross both support the removal of the gyratory, but there are concerns about Boris' "traffic smoothing" policies.  When you read "traffic", in that phrase, you need to think vehicle rather than pedestrian or cyclist.

Ms Shawcross may well be hopeful, but I am not, mostly because the exercise is to involve TFL.  I regularly drive through Vauxhall, tube underneath it, bus into it, walk across it and wheel a Boris bike through it (I daren't ride through the interchange) so I  know my subject.  We all know that there are bad cyclists and bad car/lorry drivers.  It is the latter that tend to be involved in accidents that kill people.  Cyclists very rarely kill other road users.  And yet, despite their road use, they are not given anywhere near the amount of road space they require at Vauxhall.  Cycle London has pointed out that 20% of Vauxhall southbound traffic between 5pm - 8pm and 20% of Vauxhall northbound trafiic between 7am-10am is cyclist traffic.  Cyclists are not given 20% of the space, and this gyratory remains nasty, brutish and full of traffic looking to escape the congestion charge.  Something has to give, so let's raise David Cameron's first point.  Who is being greedy?  Before we move on, I urge you to read Cyclists in the City's post on the proposed cycle superhighway to pass through Vauxhall from Peckham to Victoria and the followup after his walkaround with TFL.

A number of angry emails continue to pass through my inbox, and one (or maybe several) anonymous commentators want me to oppose options concerning removal of the Vauxhall gyratory!  I am not clear that any of us fully understand the proposed options, but I cannot see that retaining the gyratory aids anything other than vehicular traffic.  It is time for south Londoners and residents (especially those that live on the gyratory) and cyclists to ask for their requests to be heard.  Vauxhall interchange is a blight upon Vauxhall, particularly given the pollution levels in the area.  Nobody wants it in their backyard.

I remain unhopeful because we know that even with cross-party support and London assembly support and a huge recent protest, Blackfriars' bridge cyclists were not heard.  So, here perhaps is a good time to raise David Cameron's second point.  Who is being irresponsibleLondon Cyclist weighed in with a good answer concerning Blackfriars Bridge when he noted,
"I’m proud to live in a city where despite the Mayor saying “more needs to be done on cycling over Blackfriars Bridge”, despite unanimous support from all the political parties of the London Assembly, despite expert recommendations for 20mph speed limits on all of London’s central bridges, despite growing pollution levels and despite mass protests by cyclists, we have a transportation authority that can override them and do what it knows is right for London." 
The most recent published info. on ideas for the Vauxhall Interchange from TFL is found in TFL's Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersa report, catchily named, "Public Realm & Highways Modelling Study".  The relevant pages are p40 - p48.

There are seven options outlined in the report. Four options concern removing the gyratory and returning it to two-way working.  The other three options propose leaving the gyratory as stands...   My guess is that TFL will push for one-way working because even the minimum two-way working plan requires 31% reduction in morning peak-time vehicular traffic.  Despite the fact that it is clear that vehicle drivers are the greedy party, and despite the fact it is clear that TFL are the irresponsible party when it comes to addressing cyclist and pedestrian concerns, the question remains concerning entitlement, and those to whom is's owed.  Is entitlement owed to cyclists?  Residents?  Commuters?  Pedestrians?  Public transport users?  This is an eminently political question and there is no one good answer.  But I suggest politicians and TFL planners ask themselves the question, "would I be prepared to live and raise children on the Vauxhall gyratory?"

I have provided a summary of sketchy TFL options for Vauxhall gyratory, but it's rather difficult to imagine unless you know the roads and their names exceedingly well.  The diagrams in the document are not currently helpful (unless zoomed in closely) and contain too much detail to see traffic flow.  Ideally, diagrams would show basic arrows indicating traffic movement.  If anybody wants to email me simplified diagrams, I'll add them.

Removing the gyratory and return to two-way options

1) Remove South Lambeth Rd from gyratory and relocate the bus station to South Lambeth Rd.

Advantages summary:  
A new public square at the Underground and Rail station entrances (same as with option 2, 3 and 4), simplification of Vauxhall Bridge and other junctions (helps cyclists) and additional public realm at Southern end of Albert Embakment. 

Disadvantages summary: 
31% reduction of traffic required in morning and 21% reduction required for the evening, affecting network capacity and increasing congestion.  (Not clear if that's car/lorry traffic or bus capacity?).  Also traffic delays, bus delays and reduced bus station capacity.

2) Two-way with simpified layout at Nine Elms Lane / Wandsworth Road
You're going to have to go and look at the document diagram for more info. on this!

Advantages summary: 
Link between interchange and new linear park.  Carriageway reduction on Wandsworth Rd. New public square at Underground and Rail station entrances (same as with options 1, 3 and 4).  Changes to Wandsworth Rd and Nine Elms Lane, Albert Embankment and Vauxhall Bridge would reduce accidents and improve cycling conditions (same as option 3).  Wouldn't need to move the bus station. 

Disadvantages summary:
Traffic reduction of 40% of current capacity in morning and evening which would produce congestion and delayed bus journeys.  But...  the bus station structure (is this the ski slope?) would need to be removed (as with option 3) and the bus station capacity would be reduced. 

3) Two-way with Buses and Cyclists only in Parry Street

Advantages summary:
Improvements for pedestrians crossing Parry St and other junctions, due to two-way working.  A new public square at Underground and Rail station entrances (same as with options 1, 2 and 4).  Changes to Wandsworth Rd and Nine Elms Lane, Albert Embankment and Vauxhall Bridge would reduce accidents and improve cycling conditions (same as option 2).  New uses for arches in South Lambeth Place.

Disadvantages summary:
Traffic reduction of 36% required in morning and 31% in evening, affecting network capacity and increasing congestion. Buses experience delays. Bus station structure would need to be removed (as with options 2 and 4).

4) Two-way with Buses and Cyclists only in Wandsorth Rd

Advantages summary:
Improvements for pedestrians crossing Wandsworth Rd.  Reduced carriageway improving public realm. A new public square at Underground and Rail station entrances (same as with options 1, 2 and 3). Simplification of Vauxhall Bridge junction which will help cyclists.  Improvements for pedestrian crossings.

Disadvantages summary:
Vehicular traffic reductions of approx. 50% required in both morning and evening(!!!) affecting network capacity and increasing congestion. Buses experience delays.  Bus station capacity reduced and structure would need to be removed (as with options 2 and 3)

Options for one-way movement

5) One Way:  Do Minimum

Advantages summary:
Improvements to pedestrian movements by adding pedestrian crossings, introduction of contraflow cycle lane on Harleyford Road and a nearside bus lane on Vauxhall Bridge to benefit cyclists.  Has negligible impact on traffic or bus station capacity.

Disadvantages summary:
Loss of one bus stop, no improvements to public realm or increase in public space and increased pedestrian congestion.

[Hmm, that options looks atrocious really, doesn't it?  Might as well be called "do nothing"!]

6) One Way:  Do something
This involves moving and relocating the bus station next to railway viaduct, replacing existing buildings. 

Advantages summary:
Improvement to cyclists by simplification of Vauxhall Bridge/Albert Embankment Junction.  Consolidated public realm and new public square at Undegeround station entrance.  Removal of buses from South Lambeth Place, making it a shared cyclist/pedestrian route.  Widened footways on South Lambeth and Wandsworth Rds.  Introduction of contraflow cycle lane on Harleyford Road and a nearside bus lane on Vauxhall Bridge to benefit cyclists.

Disadvantages summary:
10% reduction of vehicular traffic required in the mornings.  Existing buildings would need to be removed.  Bus station is completely separated by entry and exit routes from Underground station.  Bus station structure would need to be removed and capacity reduced.  Increased pedestrian congestion.

7) One way: Do something (else)
Consolidation of Public Square at Vauxhall undeground station, but with retention of bus station.  Bus station will become shorter to allow buses to enter from Kennington Lane.  New pedestrian crossing on Wandsworth Road.

[Option 7) should probably be looked at carefully.  The study notes that parts of this option were added at quite a late stage, making it a likely strong contender for TFL]

Advantages summary:
Improvement to cyclists by simplification of Vauxhall Bridge/Albert Embankment Junction.  Consolidated public realm and new public square at Undegeround station entrance.  Improved conditions for cyclists by reduction of left turn from Wandsworth Road on to Vauxhall Bridge Rd.  Increased public realm.  New crossing from St George Wharf to central gyratory area.  Lots of additional pedestrian crossings. Introduction of contraflow cycle lane on Harleyford Road and a nearside bus lane on Vauxhall Bridge to benefit cyclists.

Disadvantages summary: 17% reduction of morning vehicular traffic, and 8% reduction of evening vehicular traffic.  Reduced bus station capacity.  Pedestrian congestion likely to increase in vicinity of Nine Elms Lane, Wandsworth Road  and bus station.  Train station entrances remain separated by carriageway.  Bus station separated from underground station, requiring pedestrians to cross busy carriageway (ARGH!)

Now, those are my written sketches.  If you've managed to make it this far, I congratulate you.  I think it's time for a public consultation, but I challenge people to continue to keep asking the question of entitlement.  Who benefits from what you propose, both concerning Vauxhall gyratory and in wider society, and do they deserve to benefit?


dukest said...

Hi, thanks for so conscientiously reiterating the significant aspects to the discussion. I intend this to be constructive and positive but while being pragmatic too. I hope it comes across that way.

I’ve lived near and used Vauxhall Cross as a driver, motorcyclist, cyclist, pedestrian and public transport user on and off for well over a decade now, and also been the same at most of the other significant gyratory-style junctions in central London. I've tried for some time tonight to write a response that’s detailed yet concise enough for anyone to engage with, but unfortunately it simply doesnt seem to be in me.

So, instead, I'm just trying to respond to your questions. However, the conclusion I start with, and can’t escape, is that even if aesthetically a 2-way traffic layout might seem ideally better, a 30% traffic flow reduction at a major central London river crossing is simply not desirable seen with full perspective. Significantly, what no-one seems to consider, leaving aside the economic impact (which we really shouldn’t), is also that Vauxhall is the most efficient river crossing for miles in either direction, and that reducing its efficiency will negatively impact other crossings nearby. More importantly, the increased queuing traffic, consequent pollution and lower general quality of life in neighbouring communities for at least an additional mile on all approaches would greatly detract from any benefits concentrated at Vauxhall Cross itself.

Firstly then, “who is being greedy given the current road layout?”. Clearly it is motor vehicles over cyclists, if only given the changing ratios in recent years. Cyclists certainly need more space than they have but, at the same time, not the same proportion of space per individual as other road users since their footprint is smaller than many other road users. Further, there is a major difficulty reconciling cycling and major gyratory road junctions which I cannot see is easily solved without using entirely different roadspace. We rely on roundabouts & gyratories in this country - they are a major foundation of our traffic flow models - but by definition they need to be fluid and allow lane changing and such an environment is not always safe for cyclists. Concentric gyratories are perhaps the answer, and let’s not forget that, to a limited extent, this is what has been implemented so far with the pavement cycle lanes, yet being no more than a token effort, those lanes remain largely unused.

(continued in following comment)

dukest said...

(continued from above)

The fact that discussion is ongoing shows no-one is maliciously “being irresponsible in the face of death?" and so "to whom is entitlement owing?" is next, but it’s muddied by the origins of the debate itself. This is reinforced when you ask “Who benefits from what you propose, both concerning Vauxhall gyratory and in wider society, and do they deserve to benefit?”

Reading other blogs on this issue there is a clear suggestion of a maligned Vauxhall Cross “community”. Were there one, they would certainly deserve support. But in fact, with the exception of the St George residents, who you might argue are reasonably catered for in luxuries and also knew what they were getting into, there is no distinct community at Vauxhall Cross that is there to be retrieved or saved. The collection of Bonnington Square streets are certainly a haven from the nearby volume of traffic but they are self-sufficient in terms of community. Given their location, they already have a rare and fortunate combination of homeliness and convenience beyond what might normally be expected.

So, let us concede that Vauxhall Cross is, and has been for a very long time, an urban, commercial junction with few, if any, street level residents, but whose purpose is necessarily transport. This lack of genuinely affected residents means that “entitlement” is therefore owed thoughtfully to all users of this gyratorial transport hub, whether they live one street or one county away. I think in fairness this also addresses the test question of whether you would seek to raise a family on the gyratory – it doesn’t really apply, because no-one is trying to involuntarily, nor is anyone being asked to since there were no long standing residents on it anyway.

Trying to summarise now, removing the gyratory is extremely unlikely and has obvious economic but also significant and unvoiced social costs. Within that constraint, cyclist and pedestrian provision is still obviously inadequate and some significant peripheral and central rearrangement and redesign is needed to address the shortcomings for those users. Whatever is agreed upon should certainly improve the general aesthetics and potentially the facilities of the area, eg. if the currently vacant island in the gyratory is not built on as I understood it would be, then absolutely it should be landscaped and made more appealing for those passing through. Traffic calming, and separation from cyclists, without significant flow reduction should be actively pursued, and improving pavement space and pedestrian access to the river and to the two nearby parks should also be included along the way. Realistic but valuable compromise is possible without being blind to the legacy transport and landscape realities of the surroundings we live in.

Paul Steeples said...

I live off Clapham Road near the Oval and walk through the Vauxhall Gyratory almost every morning. I also get a bus through it frequently in the evening. I don't cycle, through lack of need and lack of courage, don't have a car and can't drive.

I'm really in two minds about this. Yes, the area is unfriendly and clogged by cars. But it's not that dangerous to cross it on foot (unless you're in a hurry), and all the options in the TfL document - which I've read quite carefully - seem to involve serious delays to buses or a loss of capacity.

Being selfish, that means I gain a possibly nicer area to walk through, but lose because of delays to buses. Also, I doubt whether changes to the gyratory will cause people to get out of their cars (not to mention coaches, vans or lorries), so the traffic will have to go somewhere else in the area.

I'd like to agree with you about this, but as a non-cyclist, I'm not convinced yet.

SE11 Lurker said...

Thank you to dukest and Paul Steeples for such cogent and well-reasoned responses. It's useful that both of you come to the topic as mixed-transport users so that the debate isn't immediately polarised. I'm going to address dukest's comments in my firt comment and Paul's in the next.

Dukest, I think you're right that the sticking point for two-way gyratory working is the minimum 30% traffic reduction. I'd like a closer scrutiny of the 30% figure to ensure accuracy. Some concerns have been raised concerning the figures. It's my view that traffic expands to fill the space available, so if the Vauxhall gyratory were to be slower for vehicles, fewer cars/lorries would use it. In the same way, if bicycles are given more space, more people would opt to use them instead.

You're also correct that I didn't focus on Vauxhall as the most efficient river crossing for miles. As well as a hyper-local context, there is a London-wide context to be considered. There would be impact on the other bridges, no doubt. I also accept that slowed traffic would affect pollution levels in surrounding areas too. But, as suggested above, I think that slowed traffic could lead to less traffic, and I also think that reducing traffic needs to be considered as part of a multi-pronged solution that would reduce 1-person car travel in London. You're right that a solution should involve residents living within a mile of Vauxhall as we don't want an improved Vauxhall to detract from the rest of the environment. Such residents seem (on the whole) to object to the current gyratory, in part because it makes access to the river difficult.

But there are other issues to be addressed that might bring us more naturally to the 30% decrease. At present, Vauxhall is used as a crossing by a huge amount of traffic because it provides a route that escapes the congestion charge. Implementing the congestion charge over Vauxhall Bridge might redistribute traffic more evenly across other bridges.

We're agreed that there is a major difficulty reconciling cycling and major gyratory road junctions. There are possibly other solutions that might suit cyclists better than the current Vauxhall solution, particularly if a shortcut route could be provided across the gyratory that worked to ensure cyclists would remain ahead of vehicles. I'm not clear whether any such solution has been suggested by the TfL models (that's not to say it hasn't, but I can't fully picture the 7 options at present).

My suggestion re. irresponsibility in the face of death concerned the reduction in cycle lanes that was being suggested through the implementation of the Cycle superhighway. I didn't make that clear enough, but the post is already too long. You're right that it hasn't yet taken place.

When I talk about community at Vauxhall Cross, I refer to St George Wharf, Bonnington Square, Langley Lane, Lawn Lane and Vauxhall Grove, as well as people on the south end of Kennington Lane. But I'm also very aware that there will be hordes of people expected in the area (3 or 4new hotels) as well as the Island site, Bondway, Vauxhall Square and everybody on the Albert Embankment. You could argue that new residents know what they're getting into, but I doubt people would have the luxury of turning down social housing in the vicinity. Everybody in the wider area deserves to live in as pollution-free an environment as possible.

I think you're right that we will need realistic compromise, but I'd like to see what would happen to the current gyratory were the congestion charge introduced.

SE11 Lurker said...

@Paul I think you're right to be concerned about loss of bus capacity. The lack of tube in south London makes bus provision more essential, and buses clearly shouldn't be sacrificed in the mix. I'd be inclined to try to improve bus lanes and remove them from cyclists.

Option 5 doesn't seem to affect buses too much, but that's because it's the "do nothing" option, which I'm pretty sure won't be selected.

I don't cycle (but push my bike through the gyratory) and you've said that you don't cycle through lack of courage and need, but perhaps we'd both cycle were there to be improvements.

I think I'm arguing that giving cyclists more room and making it safer for them to use the gyratory should happen at the expense of cars, rather than buses.

SE11 Lurker said...

Just to clarify, when I said, "I'd be inclined to try to improve bus lanes and remove them from cyclists.", I meant, I think we need to separate cyclists and buses (due to size), rather than build bus lanes and not build any cycle lanes!!

Cyclists in the City said...

Thanks for the references to my site. I live off South Lambeth Road. Very happy to feedback on things Vauxhall-gyratory related. It's hugely confusing.

SE11 Lurker said...

@Cyclists I think what we really need is seven diagrams, just showing traffic (car, bike and bus) movement across the roads that comprise and lead up to the gyratory.

Andrea said...

I think you're right about option 7 being the most likely - simply because it doesn't involve any of the more costly measures and includes the all-important pedestrian crossing from the island site to St George Wharf across Wandsworth Road, the absence of which is currently one of the big sticking points re the Kylun development.

Regarding nobody having to live on the island site involuntarily - I believe there will be some (though not much) social housing provided as part of the Kylun development, and anyone on the housing list turning down offers of social housing does so at their own peril.

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