In a report to the City of London dated May 31, 2023, Dillon Consulting described its investigations with respect to the long-term usage of the Blackfriars Bridge located just northwest of downtown London, Ontario. These investigations were conducted in the spring and summer of 2022.
Prior to 2022 a scarcity of data was available with respect to the general issues surrounding the bridge such as traffic patterns and safety issues. This lack of information led many residents to express opinions about these matters without the opportunity to examine basic, objective data. As such Gorski Consulting decided to conduct a traffic study at the bridge and data from that study was made available through several articles posted on the Gorski Consulting website. While it became known that the City of London intended to commence a study that would guide the long-term usage of the bridge there was no information as to what form the study would take and when it might be completed. Thus with the revelation of the Dillon Consulting report it became known that Dillon conducted its study at a similar time as the Gorski Consulting study.
In a prior article posted on June 5, 2023 I provided a comparison of the Dillon and Gorski studies focused on the general findings from traffic volumes. I define traffic here not just as motor vehicle traffic but all traffic, including cyclists, pedestrians and special units such as e-scooters, medical carts, etc. This comparison showed that, during a September 29, 2022 site visit, Dillon observed about 2 times as many motor vehicles and pedestrians per hour than what was observed in the Gorski study. With respect to cyclists both studies observed approximately similar volumes.
While Dillon reported on traffic counts from several dates those data appeared to have been taken by the City of London. Dillon’s own documentations occurred from only the single day of observation, on September 29, 2022. The Dillon observations occurred for a total of 8 hours encompassing the morning and evening peak hours and a two-hour session near noon. One has to be careful when reading the Dillon conclusions as they evolve from a single day and could be affected by unknown events that could skew the results. While the Gorski data came from observations from five different dates, those data were also only from 2-hour video sessions on each day resulting in a total documentation time of 10 hours. Thus both studies are limited by this. Further observations would be useful to provide more certainty about what typically occurs at various days of the week or seasons of the year, particularly with respect to the safety of the site.
While the Dillon Report provided a comprehensive study traffic patterns and what impacts may result from opening or closing Blackfriar Bridge to motor vehicle traffic, it is my observation that the reporting on safety issues was limited. Therefore it is the reason why this second article has been produced; in order to notify all involved that there are safety concerns at the Blackfriars Bridge that have not been fully identified.
Because of their larger number of pedestrian and motor vehicle observations it is my belief that Dillon should have observed a substantial number of interactions in the area where the Thames Valley Parkway (TVP) intersected at the pedestrian crosswalk at the east end of Blackfriars Bridge. Even though the Gorski study reported smaller volumes of pedestrians and motor vehicles a number of interactions were observed where the flow at the crosswalk was interrupted as traffic units had to adjust to the presence of each other. An example of this is shown in the photo below taken from observations on June 17, 2022.
At the present time our documentation of the observations at Blackfriars Bridge from the spring/summer of 2022 is incomplete. There is a substantial amount of data that is available however other commitments have prevented a detailed study at this time. As a retiring collision reconstruction and road safety expert I have some time and resources available to conduct this work as a free benefit to the community, however that time and resource is not limitless. It has been reported that the City of London Civic Works Committee will make a decision on the long term usage of Blackfriars Bridge on June 13, 2023. This is only two weeks after the Dillon Report was released. In-between these dates I am aware that a City Staff Report has been prepared and will be submitted to the Civic Works Committee. This rushed time is unusual as it is unlikely that either city councillors nor members of the public can examine the details of these reports in this short time frame.
Never-the-less, while certain data reviews from the Gorski Consulting study have not been completed, I was present throughout the time during each of the five dates when observations were made and I have a reasonably good recall of what conditions existed. Thus given the shortness of time to reply, my comments here will have to suffice.
Review of Safety Issues
Our observations in the Gorski Consulting study were that essentially no one using the pedestrian crossing actually activated the crossing lights. I would not be surprised if a detailed study would reveal that more than 95% of users on the TVP did not activate the crossing lights. This can provide an inconsistent warning to eastbound drivers whether pedestrians/cyclists intend to use the crossing. The push button for activating the pedestrian crossing lights is located at the edge of the curb of the roadway and this arrangement makes it highly unlikely that users would press the button before crossing.
There is also an obvious conflict with respect to how cyclists riding on the Thames Valley Parkway use the pedestrian crossing. Officially cyclists are prohibited from riding through a pedestrian crossing. Yet virtually every observed cyclist did not dismount and simply rode through the crossing. Again I suspect a detailed review would show that more than 95% of cyclists on the TVP simply rode through the pedestrian crossing. This is not unusual behaviour as such cyclist motions are seen elsewhere. Yet when there is no other option to cross the road except via the pedestrian crossing cycling through the pedestrian crossing is far more common here than elsewhere. Unexplainably Dillon Consulting did not mention this in their report and this is why in my previous article I questioned the scope of their assignment as defined by the City. Cyclist behaviour like this is crucially important and the City of London ought to be aware of this.
The presence of stop signs on the Thames Valley Parkway (TVP) on approach to the pedestrian crossing is confusing. These stop signs cannot be meant to apply to pedestrians as they would have the right-of-way at the crossing. If the stop signs are meant to apply to cyclists then those signs are being unanimously ignored. But they are also obscured by vegetation or have become removed altogether. An example of this is shown in the following photos which were taken on July 4, 2022. These photos show views looking southbound on the TVP toward the pedestrian crossing toward Blackfriars Bridge. A stop sign exists on approach to the crossing but it is obscured by vegetation.
The site was visited again in the spring of 2023 where it was observed that the stop sign for southbound users of the TVP became missing, as demonstrated in the photos below which were taken on June 4, 2023.
The lack of a visible stop sign for southbound cyclists means that there is a difference in instructions provided to southbound and northbound users of the TVP as they approach the pedestrian crossing at the east end of Blackfriars Bridge. As an example the photo below was taken on April 29, 2022 and it shows a view looking northward from south of the pedestrian crossing. Note that a stop sign is clearly visible (even though it is defaced) along with two tabs below the sign with instructions about how crossings should be made.
The next two photos show the same views of the sign but taken on June 4, 2023.
It can be seen that detailed instructions exist for northbound users of the TVP. Press the pedestrian crossing button; wait for traffic to stop; make eye contact; cyclists dismount and walk your bike across the road. But no such instructions are visible on the north side of the TVP for southbound users. The tabs existed on July 4, 2022, as can be seen in the next photo, however they were totally obscured from view by the vegetation and the chain link fence. And of course the southbound stop sign was obscured from view by vegetation in the spring/summer of 2022 and is now non-existent.
Visibility between drivers and users of the TVP is limited to the south and north of the pedestrian crossing due to vegetation. This visibility changes through the seasons as the vegetation grows. However the visibility is less at the north end of the pedestrian crossing. For example the photo below was taken on July 4, 2022 and is a view looking toward Blackfriars Bridge taken from a few paces north of the crossing.
Looking back at the photos from June 4, 2023 it can be seen that the tabs of detailed instructions are missing along with the southbound stop sign.
The combined effect is that southbound users of the TVP are given no instruction with respect to passing through the pedestrian crossing and they are also faced with the limited visibility caused by the vegetation.
Visibility at the site also changes according to the time of day and the sun’s position. The two photos below were taken on August 9, 2022 and they illustrate how the combination of trees and sun position can make the area of the pedestrian crossing dark in shade while it is sunny and bright on approach to the crossing. Such factors cannot be easily detected from just a single attendance at the site as was done in the Dillon study.
In my presence at the Blackfriars site I have observed what I expected to observe with respect to the high speed of cyclists and other mobile devices travelling on the downslope of Ridout Street toward the pedestrian crossing at the TVP at the east end of the bridge. It is a given that a downslope creates heightened cyclist speeds. This is not an empty comment as substantial documentations by Gorski Consulting at various locations in London support this comment. Some of the westbound riders on devices such as skateboards are not equipped with reliable methods of braking. This can lead to collisions with traffic units entering the study area from every direction.
In their report Dillon Consulting discussed the collision data that they obtained from an unidentified source, but presumably from City data. With respect to collisions occurring near Blackfriars Bridge they provided the following comments:
“Blackfriars Street at the Bridge (Napier to Albert):
There were 18 reported collisions over 8 years from 2004 to 2012; nine of these collisions were ‘single motor vehicle (SMV)-fixed object or unattended vehicle’ or ‘SMVother’; there was also three approaching (head on) collisions, two rear-end collisions, one sideswipe, one turning movement, one right angle (t-bone) collision, and one ‘SMVanimal or pedestrian’.
Five of these collisions occurred in October and three occurred in January, but otherwise there was no pattern observed to these collisions. There have not been any reported collisions since the Bridge was re-opened in late 2018. The conversion from two-way traffic to one-way traffic across the Bridge and better vehicle and cycling facility delineation has likely resulted in fewer collisions.”
I do not share this optimistic view. Looking at Table 5 of the Dillon report shows that there have been no reported collisions since the year 2013, yet all 18 collisions reportedly occurred in 2013 or earlier. That data appears suspicious to me. I have examined other sites in the City of London where many collisions and incidents have not been reported yet the physical evidence that I documented clearly indicated that those events occurred.
Specific to the Blackfriars site, scenarios can exist where collisions are not reported due to the actions of the participants. For example, if a cyclist rides through the pedestrian crossing and is struck by a vehicle that cyclist would likely be deemed at fault because the cyclist should have walked the cycle across the pedestrian crossing. If the collision is reported there is a likelihood that the cyclist could face a traffic fine. So there is an incentive for the cyclist not to report the incident even if injuries were sustained. And similarly the motor vehicle driver would be apprehensive about reporting the incident as impacting a cyclist is often viewed as the fault of motor vehicle drivers.
I am also aware that certain expert reports do not provide a full account of the collisions that occur at a site because the official data does not include collisions from a collision reporting centre.
My examinations at the pedestrian crossing indicate that traffic conflicts are common and the understanding of who has the right of way is clouded by the unpredictable behaviours of all traffic units. I have observed many instances where everyone comes to a stop at the pedestrian crossing and a variety of gestures are used to communicate who should pass through. Yet I have also observed instances where no one has stopped and impacts are avoided by the narrowest margins. I do not accept that the lack of reported collisions since 2013 accurately reflects the conflicts that are actually occurring.
In their report Dillon Consulting provided some comments about their observations during the September 29, 2022 site visit. Those comments have been copied below.
“A few other observations were noted:
1. fifteen pedestrians were observed to walk in the westbound contraflow bike lane; some were observed taking pictures and/or sightseeing;
2. four cyclists were observed to use the sidewalk instead of the cycling facilities on the Bridge;
3. four joggers were observed to cross the Bridge using the eastbound vehicle lane if there were people on the Bridge sidewalk;
4. three people were observed doing a photoshoot on the Bridge westbound cycling lane during the 5:15 PM to 5:30 PM period;
5. two electric scooters were observed crossing the TVP southbound during the 4 PM to 4:15 PM period; and,
6. one vehicle was observed to drive the wrong way over the Bridge (i.e. westbound), which appeared to be a deliberate act (i.e. not a mistake).“
With respect to the first point, I concur that a number pedestrians were observed to be walking in the westbound cycling lane of Blackfriars Bridge. The exact numbers have not been counted and due to the shortness of time I cannot provide that count at this time.
With respect to Dillon’s point #2, I am not surprized that four cyclists were observed riding on the sidewalk of Blackfriars Bridge. I expect such observations also exist in the videos of the Gorski study.
With respect to Dillon’s point #3, I recall observing joggers in the eastbound lane as well as in the cycling lane of Blackfriars Bridge. Again the precise numbers are not available at this time.
With respect to Dillon’s point #4, my recall is that the numbers of pedestrians observed conducting photoshoots on the Bridge were more than just three in the Gorski study and Dillon’s observations may under-report those numbers. A number of pedestrians were observed simply standing on the cycling lane within the Bridge and gazing down at the waters below, either at fish, or birds such, as herons, on the shoreline.
With respect to Dillon’s point #5, I think this under-reports the numbers of e-bikes and e-scooters, as well as other less common vehicles such as mini-motorcycles using the TVP. I suspect that these numbers have risen in 2023 and will likely rise more in the future.
With respect to point #6, the Gorski study will demonstrate that several vehicles travelled the wrong way through Blackfriars Bridge. My best estimate is that about 4 such vehicles were observed.
The Dillon report has made little mention of the fact that various unconventional traffic units exist at the site. While Dillon provided data on the numbers of motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, it is also important to acknowledge that the site is traversed by vehicles and persons with special needs and characteristics. The Gorski Consulting study noted that there were 70 observations of those kinds of less-common traffic units. A couple of examples are shown in the two images below.
A further difference in the Dillon and Gorski studies is that Dillon did not provide a detailed discussion of the speed of traffic units on Blackfriars Bridge and on the pedestrian crossing at the TVP. Although analysis in the Gorski Consulting study is incomplete, data regarding the speed of eastbound vehicles on the bridge was documented. This is shown in the table below.
Similar procedures should have summarized the speed of other units such as cyclists, pedestrians, etc. It is by these methods that we can come to an understanding of the potential for future collisions. Traffic units change their character, motor vehicles will progressive become battery powered and the noise they create could be less, therefore providing less warning of their approach. Similarly future cyclists are likely to ride more e-bikes and there may be more e-scooters and other e-devices. All these can change the collision risk. Thus information about the speed of all traffic units needs to be monitored. Again, while the observations are available in the videos no analysis has been conducted at this time.
Comparison of July 6, 2022 Results
While exploring the Dillon and Gorski Consulting studies I became aware that data was reported by both studies for July 6, 2022. In Table 7 of their report, copied below, Dillon showed data from that date as well as data from other dates. Dillon made the following comment about the Table:
“Table 7 summarizes the traffic data collected at the Blackfriars Bridge by the City and
Dillon between March and October, 2022. The table shows AM, Noon, and PM peak
hour traffic volumes, as well as the 8-hour total volumes. Some entries are blank
indicating that traffic data was not collected at that location, or the data obtained could
not be verified.”
July 6, 2022 was also the date when Gorski Consulting conducted its Session #3. Observations were documented between 0648 and 0848 hours. This is similar to the “AM” period of 0700 to 0900 hours when Dillon reported that someone, likely the City of London, collected their traffic data.
What is peculiar about Dillon’s comments is that I was present at Blackfriars Bridge throughout Session #3 from about 0630 to about 0920 hours. Most of my time was spent at the east end of Blackfriars Bridge where the documentations were focused. I did not observe any official, or even unofficial, persons who would appear to be making any observations of traffic near the bridge. In their report Dillon did not provide any information as to how the collection of traffic data was made, or where precisely it was made. Most likely all the five dates in Table 7, except for September 29, 2022 refer to data collected by the City of London. Clearly data became available and reported by Dillon over the typical 8 hour period (AM and PM peaks and noon time) they discussed throughout their report.
What is confusing is that the observations for the morning of July 6, 2022, presumably collected by the City of London, do not match with the observations obtained by Gorski Consulting. As can be seen in Table 7, the City data for the AM period indicated that 77 eastbound vehicles crossed Blackfriars Bridge. Their data also indicated that 50 pedestrians and cyclists crossed Blackfriars at the TVP.
In comparison the table below shows how many eastbound motor vehicles were observed crossing Blackfriars Bridge during the morning on July 6, 2022 from the Gorski Consulting study. In total 109 vehicles were observed in the Gorski study versus only 77 in the Dillon study. One can appreciate that a difference of one or two vehicles could be acceptable, but the difference is 32 vehicles. That difference cannot be acceptable.
I am certain of the accuracy of my data because it was obtained from examining video which is a permanent record that can be re-examined by anyone. So further investigation is needed to determine why this large discrepancy exists.
The next table shows the results of the Gorski Consulting cyclist observations. This table shows all the directions from which cyclists entered the study area and in which direction they exited the study area. So the first column (“Source”) indicates from which location a cyclist entered the study area. The next three columns indicate where that cyclist exited the study area.
So taking the first row as an example, the “Source” was all the cyclists who entered the study area travelling southbound on the TVP. So the columns in the row show that 39 cyclists crossed the pedestrian crossing and continued travelling southbound on the TVP, next 7 cyclists turned left to travel southbound on Ridout Street, and one cyclist turned right and travelled westbound on Blackfriars Bridge.
The comparison of the Dillon and Gorski data is more tedious because the Dillon study did not separate the pedestrian observations from the cyclist observations. However this can be overcome.
If we understand the Dillon table correctly we should be looking at all our observations where cyclists crossed the pedestrian crossing at the TVP. Those observations would come from where the “Source” is either “SB TVP” or “NB TVP”. We would then select those observations where the cyclists continued to travel either SB or NB on the TVP. So in our table we want to sum the first two cells in the second column (39 +63) which would give us a total of 102 cyclists. Even without examining the pedestrians we can see that the 102 cyclists is already double the 50 observations of Dillon which were comprised of both cyclists and pedestrians. Never-the-less we can complete the analysis by looking at our pedestrian data, which is in the next table.
In our table of pedestrian observations we can select the two cells that we just described for cyclists (16+15) and this indicates that 31 pedestrians crossed Blackfriars at the TVP.
Summing the cyclist and pedestrian observations indicates that the Gorski study found a total of (102 +31) 133 cyclists and pedestrians who crossed Blackfriars versus the City of London data where only 50 such observations were noted. This is a substantial difference in results.
Perhaps there is a misunderstanding somewhere however it is difficult to understand how this difference could exist, especially for those observations of cyclists and pedestrians crossing Blackfriars at the TVP. Since I was standing at the pedestrian crossing for essentially the entire period of the documentations I do not understand how the City could obtain its data at this location without my being aware of it. Further inquiries should be made with Dillon and/or City staff to determine if perhaps the date of July 6, 2022 is in error and if, perhaps, the traffic data was collected on a different date.
We must be careful in any study to consider whether enough data exists to allow us to provide conclusions that persons, who may not know the details of our study, will reply upon to make some form of decision. Both the Dillon and Gorski Consulting studies provide some guidance as to what might be occurring at the Blackfriars Bridge but, in my opinion, the quantity of data does not warrant anyone coming to a definitive conclusion about what the data means. More data is needed. A case in point is what is shown in the three photos below which show a group of boys, mostly cyclists, who happened to meet in the middle of Blackfriars Bridge and then began to ride eastbound, in the westbound cycling lane. One deviant event like this amongst a small sample of observations can quickly skew the results.
I have raised a number of concerns about the safety of the Blackfriars Bridge site at the intersection with the TVP. At present these concerns are not supported with details from the Gorski Consulting study because that analysis has not been completed. It is my view that traffic at the bridge needs to observed on a regular basis. It is insufficient to simply document traffic volumes and directions of motion, as these do not provide the details of what is actually occurring at any site. I have many years of experience in conducting detailed studies of collisions sites for the purpose of developing base data to use in resolving civil litigation claims or criminal charges. While I’m retiring I believe these methods are valuable tools in evaluating the safety of any site where traffic unit conflicts exist.