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Taxis gain ground in row over Bloomsbury cycle route

Former council chief's view of public inquiry result: 'Keep the cycle lanes but reintroduce a polluting taxi rat-run to Euston'

01 June, 2018 — By Tom Foot

The road layout around Tavistock Place

A PLANNING inspector has told the Town Hall it should allow black cabs better access to Euston if it wants to make a new cycling route permanent.

Martin Elliott handed down his verdict on the controversial changes at Tavistock Place and Torrington Place in Bloomsbury after a 13-day hearing. He said that there had been significant increase in pedestrian casualties and that traffic jams had got worse after the implementation of a new cycle lane, although pollution had reduced and the number of people riding bikes had doubled due to the scheme’s popularity.

Back in 2015, the council made the roads one-way and introduced bigger cycle paths, following calls for better protection after a series of harrowing deaths and injuries in Bloomsbury. The changes were made on an interim basis using an “experimental traffic order”.

Mr Elliott said in his judgment that the “disadvantages outweigh the advantages” and the changes should be revised before being made permanent.

“I recommend that the council provide for westbound-only vehicular traffic while retaining the provision for separate westbound and eastbound cycle lanes,” he said. “A westbound configuration would provide a much-needed westbound route and would address issues relating to access for black cabs.”

The scheme’s big supporter, former Labour councillor Phil Jones – the regeneration chief who left the council last month – summed up the inspector’s report as “keep the cycle lanes but reintroduce a polluting taxi rat-run to Euston”.

The new layout triggered uproar among taxi drivers and residents, who said traffic spilled into surrounding streets. University College London Hospitals, in evidence submitted to the inquiry, said patient journey times had almost doubled on some back roads around Bloomsbury.

In 2017, a consultation on whether to keep the new layout triggered more responses than any other consultation in Camden’s history, according to the council.

Mr Elliott’s final report said: “There had been an impact on attendance times for the fire and ambulance service, although there is nothing to indicate that the adverse effect is significant.” The report accepted there had been a “significant increase in pedestrian casualties in Great Russell Street” since the changes were introduced. It said there was no evidence to back up UCLH’s journey time claims and added that, although journey times had gone up for some cab drivers, there had been “consequently a resultant increase in taxi fares”.

Statistics showed cycling on the road had more than doubled, with greatest benefits being safety and comfort. There has been “a reduction in pollution levels on the corridor” and “extended journey times blamed on the trial probably had some other cause”, the report added.

In its evidence, Camden Cycling Campaign said: “There has been a significant reduction in motor vehicle numbers, leading to a much-quieter street and a more-pleasant environment for walking and cycling. There have been improvements in air quality (reduction in NO2) along the corridor.” The council does not have to abide by the inspector’s conclusions but they could be used in a legal challenge by drivers’ groups if the findings are not implemented.

Main opponents of the scheme were landowner Bedford Estates, Friends of Tavistock Square, Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, Bloomsbury Residents’ Associations Group (BRAG) and Imperial London Hotels.

BRAG said this week it “welcomes the findings”, adding that the recommendation to switch the flow of the traffic was a happy compromise. “It keeps the trial’s advantages for cyclists (many of BRAG’s members cycle) while recognising the trial’s negative effects on congestion and air quality around the corridor,” the group said. “It also provides University College Hospital patients, staff and visitors with an alternative westbound route to that part of Euston Road.”

Chairman of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association Richard Massett said yesterday (Wed­nesday): “The LTDA has long thought that Camden Council should look again at the Tavistock Place measures to ensure that they fairly balance the needs of local residents and all road users.”

A Camden Council statement said: “We are pleased that the inspector has recognised the importance of retaining high- quality cycling infrastructure here. We are currently reviewing the inspector’s report with a view to taking recommendations to cabinet in the near future.” See Letters, page 18

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