Glynn Barton: Happy streets, healthy cities
Where are you working now Glynn, and what do you do?
Currently I’m the Director of Network Management at Transport for London (TfL). Essentially, I look after the operation and maintenance of our Surface Transport Road Network. This involves running our 24/7 control room – leading TfL’s response to all incidents on the road network, managing the maintenance of our roads, bus stations, piers and all other associated assets and operating our extensive network of traffic signals.
I’m also responsible for how we coordinate works on the network as well as ensuring these works are carried out in the safest way possible.
How did you gravitate to studying/working in the mobility field?
I sat next to a man on a long train journey between Liverpool and Bournemouth when I was a student. We got talking, he asked me to give him my CV – a little while later I was invited for an interview as a traffic control engineer for TfL. I didn’t really know what the role involved but I managed to get through the interview and I’ve been working for TfL since.
The unique nature of our transport role and offering makes TfL both a dynamic and exciting place to work.
Where else have you studied/worked?
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to study for a Masters degree in Transport Planning and Management whilst working for TfL and over the last 18 years I’ve held a variety of positions within the organisation and worked on some fantastic projects.
I led the team that designed the majority of London’s new cycle infrastructure, I was responsible for the project that dynamically changed all the traffic lights that moved the Olympic Family around London during the 2012 Olympics and I’m currently looking at how we futureproof our operational systems for the significant changes we expect to see over the next decade or so.
A hypothetical question. In your fields of interest, what is the one transport project you’d like to undertake that would have a quick, appreciable impact?
We have two very ambitious aims at TfL that I think will really change transport in London. Firstly that 80% of journeys will be made on sustainable modes by 2041 and secondly our Vision Zero target where nobody will be killed or seriously injured on our roads by 2041.
I’d love to have a magic wand that would get us to the attainment of these targets. I do think something that would really help us in the short term to achieve these targets would be accurate real-time data on cycle numbers, origins, and destinations so a project that got us this data accurately and cheaply would be brilliant.
What work/projects are you most proud of to date?
The project I am most proud to have worked on was the part pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square. I was only a junior member of staff at the time but it was the big scheme I was involved in and was really the catalyst for how London’s roads have changed since.
Other that what you’re doing now, and what you’ve done previously, is there something new, perhaps even a new field for you entirely, that you would like to take on?
I love what I do but I secretly have always wanted to be involved at the sharp end of operations. Any opportunity I get to be on site in my PPE (Personal protective equipment) getting my hands dirty I take.
In the next 3 to 5 years, what in transport/smart city/etc technology are you most excited about?
It’s a rather introspective answer but it is one I have most control over and that’s where we take the development path of our traffic control system.
Has there been a shift toward public and active transport since the launch of the Healthy Streets program in early 2017? What are some of the key metrics you have at hand for any shifts made by commuters?
The Mayor’s Healthy Streets vision is of active, affordable, efficient and sustainable transport where, by 2041, 80% of trips will be made on foot, by cycle or using public transport, and no one will be killed or seriously injured on London’s roads.
The investment that TfL has made in bus lanes, cycle infrastructure and urban realm has made these modes of transport more appealing. In 2016, one in four vehicles in Central London was a pedal cycle, with growth in cycling witnessed in all areas of the capital, with the total distance cycled increasing by 4.3% in 2017.
My responsibility is to maintain and operate the road network to ensure we make the most of the investment that has been made. For example, previous growth in bus patronage has, since 2014 started to decline, with the trend associated in part to delay to buses caused by works associated with London’s dramatic development and investment programmes, which saw a peak of activity in 2015/16.
My team have been collaborating with the bus team to target routes where performance is unreliable, tackling every aspect that is causing a delay, including installing our very best signal control technologies where needed. We are now starting to see a slowdown in the decline in patronage, and bus performance is at its best-ever level for some years.
We measure the impact of our operational activity to adjust traffic signal timings, by using a metric which calculates the hours of delay saved to people every day, who use sustainable and active modes at the junctions we have changed. This is a brand new ‘Healthy Streets’ focused metric and we have seen fantastic results in 2018/19, with 17,500 person hours saved every day for people walking, cycling or using the bus network.
Data in this answer from Travel in London: Report 11 (2018)
Have there been any changes that have surprised you, or that were weren’t thought of when the plan started?
Our cycling facilities are top-class in many locations, and we have designed out many aspects of road risk to tackle the devastating increase in cycling injuries and deaths that London had experienced earlier in the decade.
But it has surprised me that not everyone can see the benefit of these safer cycling facilities. I think this is because the heaviest use of the segregated lanes is in the morning and evening peak periods, and drivers feels that those lanes are “wasted” during the middle of the day.
My team have come up with a solution to address this, and we are investing in cycle SCOOT to better balance the capacity at our junctions in line with the changing demands from cyclists and vehicles at different times of day. It certainly hasn’t eradicated the complaints, but it’s really helped for drivers to see that the cycle lane traffic lights are not on green for too long when cyclist numbers are low.
The Healthy Streets vision is something that everyone agrees with in principle, and most Londoners support safer cycling and more pleasant walking environments. However, these transformational changes are not without impact (usually marginally slower vehicle journeys at peak times, or some displacement of vehicular traffic).
How important is active transport for the health of a city, and the health of the city’s people?
London’s Mayor has called out health as a key pillar in his Transport Strategy. He explicitly cites car dependency as a contribution to the increase in poor health in London, and when he took office, he committed to tackling London’s streets, which he saw as “polluted, congested and dangerous – unwelcoming places to walk or cycle”.
The Mayor’s Transport Strategy sets out a range of benefits to people’s health from choosing active travel modes, with the commitment to help Londoners get more the physical activity that they need to stay healthy through, in part, their transport choices.
Are there any health-related and crime-related metrics attributable to Healthy Streets?
TfL has a balanced scorecard that is used to drive business performance and is discussed throughout the year. It provides a clear line of sight from the Mayor’s Transport Strategy down to individual performance. It’s made up of 4 areas Financial, Customer, Operations and Safety and, People and does include measures relating to crime and Healthy Streets, but not health outcomes, as these will be measured in one-off studies which we undertake to evaluate the impact of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy.
Chapter 6 of the 11th Travel in London report outlines the approach to assessing the impact and benefits of the Mayor’s Healthy Streets strategy and details the Healthy Streets scheme assessment, which is a matrix evaluation of the change in 10 different indicators of a healthy street to ensure that any investment we make into the road network delivers the right outcomes to support active travel and reduce crime.
Has there been a reduction in single-occupant car journeys directly attributable to Healthy Streets?
In 2017, motorised vehicle kilometres in London were up by 0.1 per cent overall against 2016. This is the third year in the last four that has seen an increase in motorised traffic in London. While traffic in central London decreased by 1.5 per cent, traffic in inner London increased by 0.6 per cent, although traffic in outer London, which accounts for about 70 per cent of all traffic in London, decreased by 0.1 per cent. Population growth is the driver of this growth in motorised vehicle use. We do not specifically measure single-occupant car journeys.
Does any-one mode of active transport have precedence in results, or is it rather making the mix as rich and broad as possible?
The focus of the investment programme is on all sustainable modes which includes people walking, cycling or using the bus network, targeted to a specific area or location to achieve the right balance of outcomes for that area. The mayor’s Vision Zero policy to eradicate all deaths on London’s road network by 2041 drives much of the investment decision making, because designing out road risk, especially for vulnerable road users, is one of our key objectives.
Buses are the mode which carries most people sustainably on the road network, so inevitably, our focus is often drawn to improving bus performance, as it benefits the most numbers of people travelling.
What were the main driving factors in Transport for London deciding to begin this program?
Transport for London works to deliver the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. We play a key role in helping every Mayor set out their strategy, informing it with a range of intelligence and transport planning experience.
The most recent Transport Strategy was set out to deliver Mayor Sadiq Khan’s manifesto commitments; he was elected to the position on a promise to improve public health through the development of a strategy focused around the promotion of active lifestyles, including walking and cycling. He committed to making walking and cycling safer and easier for Londoners, to also tackle London’s air quality challenge. The Healthy Streets approach was born out of his manifesto.
What do you see in the Transport of Tomorrow in the short-term? (5 years out)
I see more and more electric bikes – exciting stuff!
What do you see, if your crystal ball/wish list extends this far out, in the Transport of Tomorrow in the medium-term? (20 years out)
I’m not going to guess because I’ll only get it wrong but my wish list would include a hoverboard.
What have been the biggest challenges in getting Healthy Streets both off the ground, and running?
Healthy Streets started to drive a new approach to decision within my directorate and for the first time I had to get my Network Managers to refocus and encourage innovative ways to reduce delays for people using public transport (buses), pedestrians and cyclists, without seriously impacting other traffic. It was paramount to ensure that right balance was struck to ensure everyone who wants to use that junction (not just cars) to move through it effectively, and with minimal delay.
I’ve also led a fairly radical change in the way our control centre operates and makes decisions. The 4Ps approach considers Protection (safety), Pedestrians, (bus) Passengers and Pedal Cycles in all decisions about how to respond to an ongoing disruption on the road network. Only a year ago, the focus was almost entirely on motorised vehicle impacts and alleviating congestion for traffic.
How important has collaboration been in Healthy Streets? How extensive has the collaboration been? What types of entities and communities have been brought in?
We have huge support from cycling and walking groups, charities who represent the interest of people for whom travelling around a city is challenging, and some of the London Boroughs (depending on the alignment of their own transport strategies). We cannot do what we do without the support of these organisations.
For example, my team have recently concluded some work with Living Streets, who are a powerful pedestrian lobby group, and who have been campaigning for many years to reduce wait times at signalised crossings, to replace them with zebra crossings, to give pedestrians higher priority. They challenged us to do more for pedestrians in our signal timing review programme, and we were pleased to be able to prove that we were, as this is our new direction under Healthy Streets.
We conducted a study which showed that a large proportion of pedestrians did notice when we reduced the wait times (mostly by more than 30 seconds) and better linked staggered crossings, and we have now asked Living Streets to nominate 50 signalised crossings that they would like to see included on our annual signal timing review programme next year.