Boris, we have a proposition for you…


From the blog

Boris, we have a proposition for you...

Posted 3 December 2009 17:56 by martin

So the London Assembly's Transport Committee, in its new report 'Too Close for Comfort' [pdf], has concluded that using the Underground can often be a grim experience.

The report says that crowding can even lead to a suspension of normal codes of behaviour, with people “going after a seat regardless of who else might want it, ignoring pregnant women and people carrying babies”.  There's a “dog-eat-dog or survival of the fittest attitude”.

Sound familiar?

It states, slightly obviously, that people should be provided with information so they can make more informed choices about the alternatives to the tube.  They even provide a little mock-up of the sort of signage that may help at specific pinch-points:

Too close for comfort

Nice effort.  But yes, we agree that “the map would need to be enhanced to indicate specific walking…routes”.  We can help you there Boris/TfL.

The depressing thing about the report is that it seems to presume that a huge rise in tube passenger numbers is inevitable, and therefore we have no option but to spend 10s of billions of pounds increasing the network's capacity (by 30% by 2020).

Yes, good public transport is intrinsic to any city's economic, social and environmental well-being, but at what point do you say enough is enough?   The wonderfully-named Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA) produced a report back in 1994 that, for the first time, gave some official recognition to the notion of 'induced' traffic.   You have a congestion problem, so you widen a road or build a bypass, and lo and behold, this just encourages more people to get in their cars and you're back to where you started.

Surely what's true for roads is also true for tube systems?






Estimates have put the increase in demand on the Underground at 40 per cent in the long term.12 When compared to the 30 per cent
10 TfL, Business Plan 2009/10 – 2017/18, October 2009, p. 33
11 Richard Parry, Transport Committee meeting transcript, 3 September 2009, p. 32
12 For example, London Underground’s presentation to Underground News, as reported in Underground News Number 571, July 2009, p. 453
increase in capacity, it is clear that if the estimates are correct crowding will actually increase.
The Too Close for Comfort report says that as “estimates have put the increase in demand on the Underground at 40 per cent in the long term, when compared to the 30 per cent increase in capacity, it is clear that if the estimates are correct crowding will actually increase.”

So we're spending 10s of billions of pounds on something that will get worse!

Surely we've got to start addressing this challenge in a radically different way?  As a nation we (literally) can't afford not to.  Who can defend the economic models that state that the extra mobility offered by a 30% larger tube system justifies the vast expense in building that extra capacity?

What would happen if TfL and its political masters were up-front with us and said, 'right, that's it, the tube's big enough, we're going to carry on investing in it to make it run as smoothly as possible, but sorry folks, no more capacity'?  Would we all have an attack of the vapours?  London would turn into an economically unproductive third world city?  Or would human ingenuity and innovation kick in?   More flexible-working to avoid rush hour congestion, more working from home, more tele-conferencing, more cycling, and yes, more walking.

When the country is up to its neck in debt wouldn't it be little short of criminal to commit vast amounts of taxpayers' money to a tube expansion project without first having taken a long hard look at how that extra mobility (or to be more precise, accessibility) could be provided in much cheaper and more efficient ways?

Here's a proposition Boris:

Let's take one of your tube pinch-point areas as a pilot.  We can produce a customised poster or leaflet with a map centred on each and every home and business in that area, with isochrones that highlight exactly how far you can walk within, say, 10, 20, 30 and 40 minutes.  We can also produce similar maps centred on train stations, tube stations or bus stops, which could be handed out in rush hour.  So basically we're talking about a saturation campaign to help everyone – residents, workers, visitors – understand the 'walkability' of their area.

Can we guarantee a dramatic decrease in tube congestion in the area?  No.  Is it worth a try given that it would cost a fraction (in the realms of rounding errors) of the sums of money being committed to Underground upgrades?  We think so.

Boris, give us a call and we can discuss further.

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  1. rosamundi says:

    December 3rd, 2009 at 7:13 pm (#)

    I will walk the three miles in the pouring rain from my office near Oxford Circus to Liverpool St to pick up the overland trains to home rather than take the Tube. I see no point in getting jammed in a giant tin can with hot angry people, getting hot and angry myself, when the only benefit is that I get home a bit quicker.

    If I lived closer I'd do it in the morning as well, but, at the moment, the extra hour in bed is slightly more valuable. One more fight because someone inadvertently stepped on someone else's foot and this could change, however.

  2. Ross Gayler says:

    December 10th, 2009 at 10:05 pm (#)

    What a great suggestion (regardless of whether they accept the argument about stopping Tube expansion). Have you delivered this offer to Boris in a way that catches his attention? (Perhaps, as isochrone maps centred on his office and home – if that is public knowledge.)

    BTW would there be much difference in walking speed at peak times? I guess that pedestrian density is too low in most places to make a difference. Perhaps you could automatically estimate pedestrian density as a function of time of day from (blurred) surveillance camera images.

  3. Simon K says:

    January 15th, 2010 at 10:18 am (#)

    Well it's a good idea, but you seem to be ignoring the fact that TFL are already doing it, including the use of isochrones. See

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