Report of the Director of the Built Environment.
The Committee considered a Gateway 5 report of the Director of the Built Environment relative to the City Streets: Transportation response to support COVID-19 recovery.
Officers reported that there had been quite a large increase in the number of people returning to work the City in recent weeks and it was expected that this trend would now continue going forward. Members were informed that there had also been an increase in the number of responses to the City’s online consultation on its on-street COVID interventions in recent weeks. The consultation would be further publicised via social media and on-street signage in the coming weeks as well as through the usual communication channels with City businesses and residents in an attempt to ensure that the feedback received was as widespread as possible. In terms of progress, Members were informed that Phases 1 and 2 had now been completed and provided more space for those walking and cycling on the City streets. Officers had also now started to transition some measures from temporary barriers to what were termed as ‘temporary-plus’ barriers, meaning that these were more robust physical interventions. It was hoped that this work would provide further clarity around which users should be in which spaces and which areas were footways/cycle lanes. Bus stop build outs would also be provided to allow street users to get on and off of buses in the City with greater ease.
Phase 3 works which were the complimentary measures around seating and planters would begin to be rolled out around Middlesex Street as of next week with works to the other 9 identified locations beginning in the week commencing 21 September 2020. Funding for Phase 3 had only very recently been approved and so these works had moved forward very quickly thereafter.
Finally, by way of an update on Transport for London (TfL) interventions (who were also introducing a suite of changes in and around the City in response to COVID-19), Officers reported that the bus-gates on Bishopsgate went live last week. This was a series of points closures restricted access along Bishopsgate corridor to buses only. Members were informed that TfL were also retaining the restrictions that had been put in place on London Bridge during the City’s waterproofing works and that this restricted vehicle access to taxis, buses and motorcycles only Monday-Friday 7am-7pm. The City Corporation were supportive of these measures as it reduced the amount of traffic entering the Southern part of the City, allowed for segregated cycle lanes in both directions and supported an active travel return to work in the City. It was also reported that Officers understood that the London Borough of Islington and TfL were now pausing on the Old Street/Clerkenwell Road proposals and that these would not be progressing later this month as originally thought.
The Chair commented that he was pleased with the news on the Old Street/Clerkenwell Street proposals as he and other Members felt that the City Corporation ought to be given the opportunity to input into these properly before works commenced.
A Member noted the issues around barriers on Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill being moved and sought further information on this. Secondly, the Member took the opportunity to really emphasise the need for more cycling space, particularly spaces that were near on-street provisions. Failing this, there should be proper signage informing cyclists of where such provisions were located in order to help SME’s in the City to begin to attract more custom. She added that Regents Street had recently created a hub for cycle provision in unused office space and questioned whether these kind of approaches were also being considered by the City Corporation. Officers responded that the issue with barriers being moved on Fleet Street related to servicing vehicles and deliveries. This matter had been closely looked at and Officers had been looking at provisions around bus stops and tourist bus stops with designs being refined and adapted to take into account concerns and needs in this area. With regard to cycle spaces, Officers explained that they were always willing to listen to businesses about where they might want to locate these. More proactively, designs were being refined around suitable cycle spaces throughout the City but Members were asked to contact Officers with details of any specific locations where they felt that this may be possible/beneficial so that they could be assessed.
Another Member questioned the consultation that had taken place around these measures commenting that he had had some organisations within his own Ward expressing surprise at some of the on-street interventions they had seen introduced around areas including Threadneedle Street. He asked what proactive consultation had taken place to date and what notification local businesses had received ahead of any on-street changes being implemented and the fact that these were only temporary in nature. Officers reminded Members that Appendix 5 to the report that this Committee had received at its 23 June meeting had set out the extensive consultation undertaken prior to these measures being introduced. It was noted that the consultation undertaken was not of the sort that would have been embarked upon if these measures were to be introduced on a permanent basis and that this was therefore perhaps more accurately described as an awareness and engagement exercise. All available channels of communication such as residential newsletters/associations, contacts through the City Property Advisory Team, social media, the City’s public website and City AM were utilised to consult on the current changes. A letter drop to individual homes and businesses was not possible in the timeframe available. Officers reemphasised that the message here was that these measures were temporary and adaptable. In terms of defined timescales for these measures, Officers reported that no one was aware of what the requirements around social distancing would continue to be as yet but it was the intention that they would remain in place for as long as the government required individuals to maintain this. The Member came back to question whether Officers had used the City Occupiers email database used for generating Ward Lists for consultation purposes. Officers undertook to look into this and to ascertain whether the information held here differed from the details held by the City Property Advisory Team. It was noted, however, that there were some GDPR issues around using Ward lists for communications that were not related to voting.
Another Member made the point that in some City locations such as Threadneedle Street and Old Broad Street, heavy downpours had led to the flooding of some of the additional space allocated for pedestrians rendering it unusable. As winter approached this would become more of an issue. Officers commented that there may be a simple solution to these issues which could be caused by blocked gullies that needed to be flushed through. They asked that Members notify them of any ponding issues that they became aware of so that these matters could be investigated.
A Member questioned when work to convert the temporary measures to ‘temporary plus’ would be completed, suggesting that the temporary measures could become a health and safety hazard if it was not made entirely clear which areas were intended for which users.
Another Member echoed this point and highlighted that there were some unintended consequences of the temporary measures which, in some locations, made things less safe for pedestrians and cyclists. He asked that further consultation be carried out with cyclists on this matter fairly urgently.
A Member commented that temporary plus bollards were beginning to be installed around Bank Junction which clearly defined pedestrian and cyclist spaces in a way that the plastic, temporary bollards did not. Another issue with temporary, plastic bollards was that they could be (and frequently were) removed or kicked down, causing obstructions for vehicles and cyclists. Vehicles were also tending to reverse over them. The Member went on to comment that there was confusion around the TfL temporary build out at Gracechurch Street and whether this was intended to be for pedestrians or cyclists and that this ought to be more clearly defined going forward. This location was also particularly dark at night making it difficult to distinguish the kerbside from the carriageway which was likely to lead to further issues and confusion. Finally, the Member commented that there ought to be clear routes identified for road users and taxi drivers travelling North, South, East and West across the City that highlighted all road closures. Officers noted the points made in relation to Gracechurch Street and undertook to raise these directly with relevant colleagues at TfL. It was recognised that this amount of change was unprecedented in terms of how streets function not only in the City but across London and the Traffic Management Team had worked incredibly hard to try and coordinate TfL’s work alongside the City Corporation’s own work around bridge waterproofing and COVID-19 recovery measures and a significant amount of utility works. Members were informed that a map had been produced and placed on the public webpages that helped drivers to identify which routes were available and which were closed. Officers undertook to look at how this might be sent out to taxi and private hire vehicle drivers.
A Member agreed that there ought to be clarity and consistency in terms of signage for all road users including cyclists. The Chair commented that he had conducted several tours with Officers in recent months to view the temporary measures and agreed with the points being made here. Officers commented that they were certain that there were changes that could be made to signage to help users identify which spaces were available to them and were happy to take Member feedback on this.
Another Member commented that some of the feedback received was very specific in terms of location and questioned whether a management decision/process ought to be taken here in terms of when the feedback received would translate into on-street alterations where necessary.
Officers reported that these measures had to be introduced quite quickly in mid-June with some decisions made at pace. It was always intended that this would be a two phase approach with temporary cones and barriers like those normally erected around infrastructure or utilities work put in place initially to determine what would and would not work and to offer flexibility. It was, however, appreciated that these may have caused issues around maintenance and clarity around which road spaces were delineated for which road user. This had driven a move to temporary-plus infrastructure that were now beginning to be introduced in the City. Temporary plus measures were bolt-down materials that could not be moved such as the tall, black and white wands that were placed at 2m and 4m intervals in widened footway areas. Officers had been out on site with engineers and contractors in the past week to ensure that these were being implemented in the correct way and to identify any immediate issues. The coming weeks, which were expected to see further increases in the number of workers returning to the City, would be very important in terms of monitoring these measures and identifying any issues. Members were also informed that it was likely that an Independent Road Safety Audit would be undertaken in the next few weeks and that this would help to identify any issues independent of Officers. This feedback alongside any additional consultation feedback received online would help with the review of on-street measures as necessary.
Reports would be brought back to future meetings of this Committee to highlight how any concerns raised had been addressed.
RESOLVED – That, Members:
· Note the forecast overspend pertaining to staff costs and that alternative arrangements are being explored to accommodate this in order to focus Transport for London and Department for Transport funds on delivery and;
· Delegate authority to the Director of the Built Environment to approve any necessary agreements with private landowners for enabling the installation of temporary cycle parking on publicly accessible private land and the carrying out of any associated works by the City Corporation.