Tolling for Growth – London’s New Highways Studies

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Just as we fail to report on buses as much as we should, we tend to not report on London’s roads – in part because there is normally little that attracts our attention. It must not be forgotten though, if a total solution for London’s transport issues is sought, that one has to consider the inter-relationship of all modes and it would be impossible to ignore roads. It is therefore particularly appropriate, as well as a bit of a change, to look at how TfL’s plans for roads fit into the future.

On the 9th April TfL’s Surface Transport Panel (STP) received a report and presentation from TfL’s MD Planning, Michèle Dix. She provided a wide-ranging update on progress since last year’s Roads Task Force (RTF) report, itself looking towards the year 2031, and the capacity and congestion conditions faced then by surface transport. It is consistent with the longer term planning underway for 2050.

The STP report (which can be found here in the appendices of this Roads Task Force Update) reveals that TfL have already undertaken a number of studies as a package of additional transport measures up to 2031, and have concluded that these don’t keep congestion sufficiently under control. So TfL are now going ahead with four more studies (largely road based), in addition to the first package, in order “to explore how the capital’s road network can cope with TfL’s prediction of burgeoning travel demand and rising travel congestion”. The objectives are to try to reduce congestion further, improve the London street environment and open up other growth and housing-related opportunities.

Investment levels foreseen in the RTF report were for £30bn being needed over the next 20 years – a comparable level of investment to that planned in Underground and rail for the same period. The STP documents look to more radical measures being assessed in the new studies, including combinations of demand management and tolled road tunnels. The previously mentioned Roads Task Force Update says that “strategic measures, such as tunnels, would require funding over and above that [£30bn]”. One tolled tunnel might be able to replace the Inner Relief Road, the former LCC ‘A’ Ring around and through central London.

Readers may like to review the Roads Task Force Update found in the appendices in the context of our recent look at London 2050 planning.

It’s that population issue (again)

Michèle Dix has stated that the GLA’s revised population forecast “of an extra 1.6 million people living in the capital by 2031 would place increased pressures on the capital’s roads, with ‘significant increases’ in road congestion expected”. To clarify what the report is about she has said that “This is about understanding the high level feasibility of potential options, not about designing projects”.

RTF slide page 19

The curly brace on the right hand side shows the level of increase of congestion in central London that would be expected in 2031 despite mitigation measures being introduced.

One graph (pictured above) is clear in highlighting the expected gap between congestion in Central London, forecast as up 60% in 2031 over 2007, even after baseline measures are undertaken. So bear in mind that this is not a standstill but involves investment and traffic management policies from 2007 to 2031 and yet congestion is still forecast to rise greatly.

Additional proposals to further tackle congestion

The slide shows the proportional contribution in central London of the package of transport initiatives which have already been studied in more detail. These are easier measures that might reduce congestion, such as more traffic control technology, freight and personal travel demand management, and public transport investment beyond that already set out in the Mayor’s transport strategy.

That detailed package included:

  • Extending SCOOT traffic signal control to the whole road network
  • Active network management to manage flows into congested areas especially central London
  • 3% of car trips replaced by other modes or home working
  • Reduction in Heavy Goods Vehicles in peak hours
  • Bus capacity increase in line with population growth
  • Conceptual new outer London orbital rail service

It is the relative contribution of those elements to reducing congestion which are highlighted in the slide above for central London. Compared with 2007, congestion is forecast to increase by 60% in central London (as noted above), 25% in inner London and 15% in outer London. The relative contribution of those elements is likely to be different in other parts of London. For example, it is not very surprising that the congestion reduction benefits in central London of an outer orbital rail service are minimal. They should be greater in inner London and greatest in outer London, along with the benefits of suburban bus enhancements. Graphs were not shown for those zones.

Measures to implement the proposals

The STP paper begins with a restatement of the ten measures recommended by last year’s Roads Task Force (RTF):

  • The case is made for a far greater programme of investment in London’s streets and roads..
  • The core principle is that the strategy must deliver overall against all three aims of
    1. Transforming conditions for walking, cycling and public transport
    2. Delivering better, active and inclusive places and new city destinations
    3. Maintaining an efficient road network for movement and access.
  • A bold approach is needed, including tools not yet fully applied, including demand management and new/improved infrastructure. It will not be possible to cater fully and equally for everyone, everywhere, at the same time.
  • TfL will work with stakeholders to undertake initial feasibility studies. In the interim, a plan for the Inner Ring Road must be developed urgently, given the cumulative development pressures.
  • All organisations involved in the totality of street management must have ‘fit for purpose culture’, governance and resources to deliver. This will require changes to how things are done, as well as what is done.
  • A ‘street-family’ and street-types approach is required. This should be assisted by pilot schemes, framework and performance standards, and completed initial schemes before the end of 2014.
  • Adopt innovation, and trial new approaches, with five pilot schemes by the end of 2014. Work on regulatory barriers, linked to the Government’s Red Tape Challenge.
  • London to be a world leader in traffic and road network management, and ‘smart city’ mobility management and planning. New technology and data sources to include real time communications with road users, with benefits for reliability, customer experience, safety and the environment.
  • TfL to increase evaluation, monitoring, reviews of specific schemes, and an annual review of progress against the RTF aims and recommendations.
  • The vision should be set out and a programme of engagement undertaken with Londoners and stakeholders, in ways which increase understanding about challenges and trade-offs and the need for action.

Not radical enough says TfL

In its response last year to the Roads Task Force report, TfL said:

“An increased demand on limited road space means congestion is likely to remain a feature of the network in 2021/22. To address this, we will need to consider new ways of managing demand and providing capacity for living and moving. To understand the scope of change needed and the role of strategic measures, we will begin a series of further studies to understand their application more fully. These will include:

  • A study of the Inner Ring Road, to assess its strategic ‘moving’ function and role in enabling new development
  • Assessment of further measures to tackle congestion including increases in junction and link capacity, and enhancements to orbital capacity
  • Feasibility studies to assess more radical solutions. For example, physical measures to improve the public realm cater for growth, and increased levels of cycling and pedestrian activity while providing alternative space for vehicle movement
  • Assessment of measures to further manage demand in Inner and Outer London, including: ‘maximum’ application of smarter travel initiatives; time or area-based HGV restrictions; a tougher town centre first higher density, mixed development policy, including parking restraint; and ‘car-lite’ housing development
  • Development of a longer term strategy for delivery and servicing activity in London, potentially complementing work to develop an Ultra Low Emission Zone and including consideration of restrictions on vehicle access to central London

TfL will start these studies immediately, and aim to complete them by late 2015”

Work streams and major new studies

The report and presentation to the Surface Transport panel on 9th April 2014 confirmed that TfL is adopting the RTF vision. It has seven work streams underway, which collectively address the ten RTF recommendations:

  • Project development and delivery – Adopt RTF’s three aims, Use world leading technology, Be Bold.
  • High level vision and strategy – Develop strategic measures (infrastructure such as tunnels counts as strategic).
  • Street types and service levels – Adopt the street-family approach.
  • Capability and partnership development – Improve governance
  • Pilots – Innovate
  • Communications and stakeholder engagement – Engage for action
  • Monitoring and evaluation – Enhance evaluation and review.

The existing studies already undertaken in the detailed package described above, are measures which are worthwhile but would be insufficiently effective by themselves, and “will in fact only provide a few years of mitigation” according to the accompanying report.

We now take a brief look at the four major new studies now underway.

Study 1: Central/Inner London

This “is intended to better understand the long term vision for central London and the role of the Inner Ring Road (IRR)”. The IRR is “key to movement” in inner London but much of the IRR is “equally important for its ‘place’ function”. A series of major developments are underway or planned at locations such as Vauxhall, Battersea, Nine Elms, Elephant and Euston. The study “will seek to understand the extent (and benefits) of place ambition, how it may be achieved, and to what extent traffic congestion might increase”. Replacement capacity in a tolled tunnel “elsewhere in inner London” will also be studied, as an alternative to sustain the network function. There will be a 5-20 year strategy balancing movement and place.

Inner relief road

The historic Inner Ring Road. The Congestion Charge Zone boundary follows this route for much of its length.

It is a material question what “elsewhere in inner London” might mean in terms of high level feasibility (and not about designing projects) if seeking to locate a tolled tunnel to replace the Inner Ring Road. Possibly the surface junctions with a tolled tunnel could be a sensitive issue, as they were with the North/East/South/West Cross Routes in the 1960s and 70s. Conceptually, if relying on such feasibility, one might look at existing extensive road junctions, or new junctions in opportunity areas where wider land-use changes and mitigation of impacts could be possible.

Tolled tunnel option

A tolled tunnel option for the Inner Relief Road might achieve the congestion relief modelled for central London.

Study 2: Outer London

A similar study to the one for inner London is underway for the rest of London, to transform key corridors in terms of tackling congestion, unlocking growth and improving community impact. Fly-unders and tolled tunnels will be considered, and also decking over sections of road to free up land for housing. This will include the North and South Circular Roads.

North and South Circular

It seems that that land is at such a premium in London that TfL not only will TfL be considering new tunnels, they will consider decking over existing roads.

It is worth observing that these are the same roads that in the 1960s and early 1970s were to be part of the GLC primary roads and Ringways policies. Some main roads were then still under direct Transport Ministry control. The future ‘direction of travel’ for this primary road network will be an important policy development, when the studies are concluded.

Study 3: Demand Management Measures

TfL is assessing the effectiveness of a range of measures to encourage the use of walking, cycling, the use of public transport, ‘car lite’ developments, and the use of car clubs as well as more radical demand management measures.

Study 4: Freight

The fourth and final study is considering freight issues, with options from voluntary measures through to regulation, to reduce impacts on congestion, safety and the environment.

More consultation and more reports

The studies are underway, and TfL is maintaining extensive stakeholder engagement. Prior to the 9th April report and presentation, TfL had shared work to date at a stakeholder event on 3rd March 2014. Updates on the four new studies will be provided in summer 2014, interim reports in late autumn 2014, and TfL aims to complete them by late 2015. We’ll obviously report on them here as they reveal more information.

These timescales can be contrasted with publication of the draft 2050 infrastructure report in early summer 2014, and its completion in autumn 2014. It follows that initial outcomes from the new roads studies can be expected to feed into the 2050 thinking.

Written by Jonathan Roberts