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Abbey Road, Belvedere

A senseless, mismanaged, incompetent and thoroughly dishonest waste of half a million pounds

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Abbey Road forms part of the most direct route between the Abbey Wood south of the railway and Erith. It is otherwise known as the B213 and much of it between Abbey Wood and Belvedere provides delightful views of Lesnes Abbey and the surrounding woodlands. It was developed to its recent standard 100 years ago by a progressive town council, in days when councils saw their rôle as benefiting the citizenry rather than the reverse , so that they could construct a tramway.

Parking spaces are provided for visitors to the abbey, residents, and commuters using Abbey Wood railway station. The banner image above shows a small section of Abbey Road. People locally have long regarded it as a pleasant asset to the area, the only complaint being that its most attractive feature, its width and straightness encourages some people to regard it as a race track. There have been at various times two speed checking signs along the route, the fastest I ever noted was 49 m.p.h. by a 229 bus but I’m quite sure that is far from being the fastest. Some drivers must be doing nearer 70 m.p.h. and occasionally ignore the keep left bollards. The worst example I saw was someone who raced along the wrong side of the road from Fossington Road to Elstree Gardens where it disappeared from sight around the bend still on the wrong side of the road. I referred to the excess speed in an email to Andrew Bashford Team Leader (Traffic Projects) at Bexley council in 2007 and it was a major discussion point at a meeting to set up a Neighbourhood Watch for the area late in 2008.

Mr. Bashford had said that a new scheme to be implemented at the end of 2008 should ‘cause some reduction in speed’ but for most of 2008 Abbey Road was disrupted by the replacement of water mains and it wasn’t until after the snow in February 2009 that Bexley council was able to make much progress. By May there was sufficient to form some opinion on what the overall effect might be. I wrote to councillor John Davey on 7th May. “It would be interesting to know what advantages this latest example of Bexley’s constant fiddling with road design is supposed to bring”. A same day reply said…

“The idea, if I remember it correctly, is that the pavement will be split into a cycle track and a pedestrian track, so the cyclists (I have never seen any in this road) will not have to go on the road. They tell me, that the narrowing will cause motorists to go slower and reduce accidents. (I am not certain that I believe this).”

“It is a Transport for London plan, that came though (sic) when Ken was in charge. I don’t think much of it and I am pleased that Boris has said that Bexley will be able to have much more say about traffic schemes that are in Bexley. The only thing in its favour is that the existing scheme was worse, requiring cyclists to follow the cycle lane that goes on the outside of the parking spaces in places. In Bexley, we have formed a Sub-Committee that is looking at traffic schemes, with a view to have some more sensible schemes, or ideally no schemes where they are not needed. I am pleased to be on this Sub-Committee”. Councillor Davey is in fact Vice- Chairman of the Traffic Scrutiny Sub-Committee.

This struck me as a bit odd on several counts. Ken Livingstone had been gone for a year. If the Vice-Chairman of the Traffic Scrutiny Sub-Committee didn’t believe in its justification why wasn’t it simply cancelled even if it meant paying a penalty charge to the contractor? I suspected that I was only hearing half of the truth.

It wasn’t until 4th June, by which time the full devastation of the scheme was only too apparent that I wrote to the council for the first time. I addressed my enquiry to Mr. Bashford, picking up on his email from 14 months before. Two weeks later there was no reply. I complained via the Chief Executive’s office. He didn’t reply either so after another week I tried again. This time I copied the email to Councillor Davey who answered one of my questions of 4th June by sending me a full set of plans for Abbey Road and a copy of the document, dated 15th February 2008, signed by councillor Peter Craske (Cabinet Member for Transport) that approved it. I was amazed to see he had casually dismissed objections from nearby residents and wondered why I and others living even closer to the road had not been consulted. Some of those omitted have boundaries to Abbey Road. On 29th June Mr. Bashford was eventually pressured into providing a reply.

“Abbey Road forms part of the London Cycle Network Plus Link 11 route, running from Erith to Abbey Wood and into Greenwich. After detailed review by local cycle representatives, the London Cycle Network Plus programme managers, design consultants, police, and council officers, a number of concerns were raised for cycle use along Abbey Road. The key concerns being the speed of passing traffic when in the road and the problem of parking vehicles alongside; both in terms of parking movements and doors being opened onto passing cyclists. Following detailed study, it was felt that there was no safe way to retain the on-road facility, without significantly impacting on general use of the road for travel, parking, and buses. The designed on-footway cycle facility would move cyclist away from any speeding traffic, cut down on the probability for vehicle doors being opened onto cyclists, narrow the carriageway widths, reduce vehicle speeds generally, and not unduly impacting on the movement of other traffic or parking levels. The on-footway facility would provide a facility for the less-confident and/or leisure cyclists to use to reach destinations such as Belvedere Station, Abbey Wood Station, or Lesnes Park. The proposals were put to public consultation back in November 2007, and the results reported to the Cabinet Member for Transport early in 2008. The local ward councillors were involved in the development and consultation on this scheme, and any comments they made at that time would have been considered and included in the design prior to the actual consultation being distributed. The consultation showed a favourable response, with some suggestions being incorporated into the detailed design, and was formally approved for implementation by the Cabinet Member.”

London Cycle Network Plus is a group of cyclists who have banded together to form a pressure group. Their mission statement is “to influence decision making”.

I had requested a copy of the consultation document but none arrived. Councillor Davey had sent me a summary of what the 38 residents whose views were allegedly taken into account had said and it showed no evidence that Mr. Bashford’s assertion that some suggestions had been incorporated into the scheme. None were. The criticisms of the scheme on safety grounds were all countered by predictions of improvements. Subsequent events have proved the critics were right.

What the questions were was still unknown. What is known is that Bexley council (probably all bureaucracies) like to issue questionnaires designed to produce the ‘right’ answer; as I know from my time on one of Bexley’s consultation panels. On 30th June I sent some initial comment to Councillor Davey and copied it to Mr. Bashford. Nine days later I wrote a similar email directly to Mr. Bashford and again asked for a copy of his questionnaire to residents. I also commented on various of his claims. These were…

A collision resulting in permanent brain damage in Worthing was the direct result of segregating pedestrians and cyclists by only a white line as have several similar incidents since. The statement that car door opening posed less risks under the new scheme given the number of park visitors and residents unloading children and shopping on to the pavement. The situation facing unsuspecting bus passengers alighting into the path of cyclists and for good measure I asked about the apparently unrelated changes to Florence Road which councillor Davey, Vice-Chairman of the Traffic Scrutiny Sub-Committee had by then described as “absolutely bonkers”. At the same time I sent a report and some photos to The Transport Research Laboratory (T.R.L.) which I knew a little about because I used to live close by and an old school friend worked there all his life until retirement. I didn’t want to involve him but I did send a general enquiry about the effects of simple road narrowing especially as a speed reduction measure.

T.R.L.’s reply included the fact that “There is evidence that traffic can be slowed by mind-games, e.g. on a straight wide road, paint a chevron section in the middle to make it visually look narrower and put pedestrian traffic islands in to make it less open looking.” Strangely enough that was exactly what we had before Bexley decided to spend £400,000 of taxpayer’s money trying something different. More ominously it said that “one obvious thing would be not to do the mind games by just narrowing the road from the edges, thus forcing the traffic streams closer together. This increases the likelihood of a small lack of attention and consequent deviation from a straight line resulting in a head-on collision!” This is exactly what Bexley council have done.

I additionally put the possibility of increased collision risk to Mr. Bashford for his comments.

Abbey Road, September 2009

Eastwards from Carrill Way Eastwards from Fossington Road Eastwards from Fossington Road

Click any of these images to see larger versions.

Two weeks later there was no response from either councillor Davey or Mr. Bashford and I phoned the Local Government Ombudsman for advice. They were very attentive and sympathetic though possibly more interested in the lack of information and lack of replies than the mismanaged road project. They gave me a reference number and said I must turn my enquiry into a formal complaint and be prepared to wait three months. I emailed the Chief Executive the same day. He didn’t reply either but one more ‘chaser’ did elicit a reply from a helpful lady in the contact centre and four days later came the long awaited reply from Mr. Bashford. This time things looked much more promising. I got another copy of the plans that councillor Davey had given me nearly three months earlier and the all important questionnaire. (You may link to the questionnaire and some of the responses from residents.)

Mr. Bashford’s reply provided some interesting information. That there was an average of 300 vehicles per hour. That one of the speed detectors showed an average of 39·3 m.p.h., the other 28·9. “Less space”, he said “can mean less time for drivers to recover from errors, but it can also encourage/force slower speeds. In the case of Abbey Road, forward visibility is very good, so drivers should have ample opportunity to assess and react to anything happening in their path.“ The latter you will note is quite different from the advice received from T.R.L.

Mr. Bashford went on to say “For your information, the Department for Transport’s recent document ‘Manual for Streets’ details that ‘Achieving appropriate traffic speeds’ can, in part, be carried out through ‘Psychology and perception’. Under this heading, it suggests a number of features that are likely to be effective, which include ‘reduced carriageway width’, ‘Pedestrian Refuges’, ‘edge markings that visually narrow the road’, and "on-street parking"; this coming from research by the T.R.L. (Report no 641 ‘Psychological’ traffic calming). The Manual also goes on to present the relationship between Average Speed, Forward Visibility, and Road Width. It can be seen that, if the forward visibility remains the same, Average Speeds have a direct relationship with Road Width; more detail information is in T.R.L. report 661.”

Clearly there was some agreement between Bexley council and T.R.L. The “Psychology and perception” bit for one and using parked cars as impediments to speed was another. So thinking that Bexley council had looked into the matter properly I sent the reply to my earlier contact at T.R.L. His reply rather shocked me. He said Mr. Bashford’s reply was all “meaningless”. “The bit that seems missing in the argument is the results of their casualty analysis – i.e. what safety problems are they trying to solve? if there have been no cycle traffic or accidents this does not seem appropriate but it is a government aim to encourage more cycling.” In a nutshell, if there have been no accidents then the scheme is not appropriate unless it is merely a politically correct move to favour cyclists over pedestrians, motorists and residents who park their cars along the road. At last some insight into the council’s constant desire to make the lives of the majority more difficult.

This was all getting rather technical so I thought I had better buy copies of T.R.L reports 641 and 661 which the council was using to justify its actions and try to find out why my T.R.L. contact was tending to say that Bexley had got things all wrong. At the same time I asked Mr. Bashford for the accident statistics for Abbey Road.

Transport Research Laboratory approved designs

TRL road design TRL road design TRL road design
TRL road design TRL road design TRL road design

Click any of these images to see larger versions.

These illustrations are taken from the T.R.L. reports which show successful speed reduction measures elsewhere. Do they look anything at all like the Bexley scheme? No, and none of them are deemed appropriate for an urban road. Bexley has taken the T.R.L. suggestion that narrower roads can reduce speeds and not implemented any of the associated features that might ensure it is effective and safe. Neglect of the highest order.
Click on any of these images to see larger versions.


From the T.R.L. Reports

Successful speed reduction schemes involve ‘playing mind-games’ with motorists and giving them recovery space in the event of a mistake. Bexley’s scheme does none of those things.

I eventually digested the T.R.L. reports and on 6th August put some of the simpler aspects to Mr. Bashford. The T.R.L. report said that using on-street parking as a tool in any speed reduction measure resulted in damage to the parked cars and Mr. Bashford had already alluded to the same thing. My next questions included “Should you not have warned residents that their wing mirrors were to be used as a traffic calming measure?” Also the issue of bus passengers alighting into the path of cyclists. Children and dogs anxious to get to the park who would open doors into their path; and the Florence Road restrictions. Most were repeats of what had gone unanswered over the previous three months’ correspondence.

Once again I had to go through the usual routine of reminders, emails to the Chief Executive who doesn’t seem to be concerned about anything apart from trousering large quantities of our cash, until eventually the helpful lady in the contact centre offered to help again. A mere 33 days after I wrote I received another reply. Guess what the accidents statistics were. None; accident statistics were not taken into account. Cheekily Mr. Bashford said “If these types of designs were as dangerous as you suggest, the design standards would be revoked.” Well yes, I’m sure they would, there is probably nothing wrong with the T.R.L. reports and the government guidelines which are based on them. Where the whole thing goes wrong is Bexley’s failure to implement the recommendations properly. They merely saw the headline that road narrowing can reduce speeds and didn’t read any of the caveats. In fact I rather suspect the reports were never looked at and only used as a belated excuse when pressed on the issue. Probably no one ever dreamed a resident would be prepared to get hold of the reports and contrast them with Bexley’s incompetent handiwork.

And the response to the car door opening question? This is the official word. “Admittedly, moving the cycle facility onto the footway does not remove the possibility of car doors being opened onto passing cyclists, however, it does reduce the danger of such occurrence. Although somewhat governed by parking space availability and the proximity to destination, drivers most commonly park against the kerb in the direction of travel, meaning that the driver exits on the road side for right-hand drive vehicles. Since single occupancy driving is by far the majority, the frequency of doors opening into the cycle route will be greatly reduced. Should a door be opened towards an approaching cyclists, there is space within the footway to to try to avoid actual conflict, whereas within the carriageway, this could have a far dangerous consequences due to other traffic.”

That statement is not the same as in the consultation where it said car door/cyclist conflict would be “removed”. There was still no word about protecting bus passengers from speeding cyclists but the developing scheme was beginning to show what is happening and it doesn’t look good.

I thought the comments and the logic about single car occupancy was particularly silly and I didn’t pull my punches in the reply. “You have also argued that there is less danger to cyclists from opening doors with the new arrangement and say that single car occupancy is far the majority”. Maybe I have the advantage with more than 20 years of observation, but this comment is both wrong and displays mathematical naivety. There are three parking sections along the section of road facing Lesnes Abbey. I shall ignore the fourth one which is presumably temporarily available only because the yellow lines were lost to the scheme a couple of months ago. Those three have differing restrictions such that one is used by commuters 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. approximately, another is for residents only at certain times and the third is mainly for park visitors. There are typically 24 spaces for commuters which will be mainly single occupancy; but they only park once a day. The other spaces allow, indeed encourage given the short time allowed, frequent movement. These vehicles are nearly all multi-occupancy, often children and dogs and people unloading shopping to the pavement; and don’t forget the ice-cream van. For your argument to make sense we would have to accept that the once a day commuter parking exceeds the total of all other parking manoeuvres, and once you take summer evenings and weekends into account it is clearly a ludicrous argument, and one that you felt good enough to offer to Mr. Craske. However although your mathematics are wrong I will accept that many accidents under the new scheme may be preferable to one under the old and will not pursue this aspect any more except perhaps as an example of your muddled thinking.”

By now the discussion was beginning to be pointless as the road is nearly completed and would have been some while ago if work hadn’t come to a halt in mid-July. It has been left with road markings which are presumably totally incorrect for the new situation and the pavement is one long length of trip hazards. I decided to conclude the correspondence. “There are some things that I feel I ought to pursue further, such as why you failed to provide a green cycle track at Florence Road and chose to inconvenience everyone else instead, to solve a problem you had misdiagnosed, but if I pursued every nonsense perpetrated by your department there would be no time for anything else.”

It has become apparent over the months that many people locally are incensed by the changes to Abbey Road. Never have I heard a single word in favour. Those who used to park outside their houses no longer do so because of the loss of wing mirrors. Dog walkers and others using the refuges to cross the road now do so at much greater risk as high speed traffic rushes by within a foot or so of them instead of the five or six feet now lost to the cycle track. Others regret the loss of a much more pleasant outlook. Maybe it is the extra black tarmac on the pavements that has largely removed the semi-rural look. All of these comments are not imaginary, they come from real residents appalled at the waste of money and desecration. One resident who has a good view to the road told me there have been nine minor shunts within his view since work began. He also complained many times to the council about the loss of street lighting and never once got a reply.

Others have complained about pavements left strewn with rubbish and protruding drain covers for long periods, well over a month, and how the officials involved blamed the contractor and did nothing, however when I got wind of this and reported it to the aforesaid helpful lady in the contact centre some remedial work was carried out within a day or two. Coincidence or not I do not know but I did note that the improvements were made only on the small section I use most often and not the whole length of the road.

On 16th September T.R.L.’s prediction came true. I have also seen, along with others, motorists frustrated by buses, overtaking at high speed on the wrong side of Keep Left pedestrian refuges. Two consecutive ones in the case I saw, which makes crossing the road and instinctively looking the ’wrong’ way even more dangerous. When we get a really serious accident we will know who and what helped to bring it about. Politically correct decisions by politicians at Transport for London and in Bexley, incompetent design and implementation by Bexley council officials. And don’t forget councillor Craske who could have looked into the proposal more deeply but displayed his unfitness for the post he holds by not doing so.

Picture Gallery

Obstacles for pedestrians Trip hazards Bus straddles white line to avoid parked cars
Traffic passes through pinch point Bus stop and central refuge combine to block road Car squeezes past bus at stop

Click any of these images to see larger versions.

Problems both temporary and permanent have been created.
Obstacles and trip hazards along 150 metres of pavement throughout the summer months. Buses struggle to keep within the carriageways. Bus stops potentially block the road totally or merely make things difficult for other road users.

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