How 9+2 = 9 in TFL’s arithmetic

Shooters Hill Road 4 - pedestrian crossingDetails of the traffic-light timings of a pedestrian crossing on Shooter’s Hill Road may not seem to be the most exciting of topics to blog about, but please bear with me. This is a tale of how a bureaucracy can tie itself in knots, and has a serious moral at the end.

About a year and a half ago I was contacted by three or four residents – independently of each other – to complain that they were finding the crossing on the corner of Shooter’s Hill Road and Vicarage Avenue was giving pedestrians less and less time to cross the road. TFL (Transport for London – the super-agency run by the Mayor which runs, buses, tubes and major roads like the A2) had announced, under new Mayor Boris Johnson, a review of traffic light timings on main roads across London, and it seemed that this crossing may have been one affected by it.

I had a look for myself and found that the crossing gave pedestrians nine seconds to cross four lanes of traffic (there is no central island here) before the green man started flashing – just enough time for an able-bodied person to get across, but not enough time for those slow on their feet, with heavy shopping, or pushchairs. The crossing is well-used, being a vital link between the Kidbrooke Grove and Kidbrooke Park Road area and the shops and services around Old Dover Road and the Standard to the north.

Len Duvall (the local Labour member of the London Assembly) and I wrote to TFL to ask if the crossing times had been changed, and if so could the change be reviewed – or the timings adjusted, even if they had not been changed as thee public perception was that this crossing did not give enough time to cross in safety. Replies from TFL were contradictory – timings had been changed as part of a new “traffic response system”, but would now be reviewed; no changes had been made; and that timings had not been intentionally changed but a computer glitch had crept in and this would be corrected.

Back at the crossing, the timings stayed the same and more complaints trickled in. Even when the green man was still on, I was hearing that motorists jumped the ,lights and narrowly avoid hitting pedestrians, or would rev their engines aggressively. More needed to be done to make it clear to motorists, for whom the A2 is a motorway-style road all the ay from Dover to the Sun-in-Sands roundabout, that Shooter’s Hill Road is not a motorway and they needed to slow down and respect pedestrian crossings. More importantly, TFL needed to recognise that roads like the A2 need to be crossed in safety, and that TFL have a responsibility to makings these crossings safer, not just speeding traffic flows up.

The local Tory councillors, to their discredit, have put out a leaflet lately saying “Labour gets it wrong” about the crossing, and insisting the timings  have not been changed and that the crossing is judged to be safe by TFL, so that’s that. The trouble is that local residents disagree, and say that they feel the crossing now gives less time for them to cross – and that in any case the crossing may not have given pedestrians enough time to cross in the first place.

TFL have now said that Department for Transport guidelines mean that they have no discretion to give more than nine seconds of a “green man” phase, but have now agreed to add in an extra two seconds in the cycle before the yellow light starts flashing for motorists, after the green man starts flashing for pedestrians. An extra two seconds have, at long last, been found by sleight of hand for pedestrians to cross the road in relative safety, but only after months of lobbying. Not a great rate of return, but it is better than nothing.

If only TFL had moved more quickly, been more willing to think beyond the Highways rulebook, remember that guidelines are not rigid rules, and recognise that Shooter’s Hill Road is a community, not a motorway verge.


One Response to How 9+2 = 9 in TFL’s arithmetic

  1. Pingback: Credit where it’s due: TFL now want to make Shooter’s Hill Road safer | Blackheath Westcombe Labour

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