Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 8

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 8

 May 13   2014

Day 8 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry saw a new witness take the stand, Mr Gordon Robertson, Traffic Signals Engineer for the NGT project.

Audio recordings of all of today’s sessions can be found at the following links

Early morning

Mr Gordon Robertson, who is responsible for traffic management in the NGT proposals, explains how this is expected to work. Traffic Regulation Orders (TRO) are examined by Mr Walton for the Applicant.

Late morning

Gregory Jones QC cross examines Gordon Robertson of NGT on the traffic modelling for the trolleybus scheme.

Early Afternoon

Gregory Jones QC cross examines Gordon Robertson of NGT on the matter of traffic flows, and Chris Longley of the Federation of Small Businesses follows with a short series of technical questions.


Late Afternoon

Emeritus Professor Peter Bonsall cross examines Mr Gordon Robertson, Traffic Signals Engineer for Leeds City Council and subjects the detail of the altered junctions and traffic modelling to close scrutiny.


Today’s evidence saw the Enquiry move from the strategic planning levels of the last two weeks onto the serious detail of the proposed new road junctions and traffic flow modelling.  Much of this was of quite technical nature and deserves to be listened to rather than have me try to explain it blow by blow.

However, certain facts stand out from the massive detail, such as that the Inspector asked why the new layouts had not been tried before, (without the trolleybus obviously).  It is really telling to hear such a question asked by ‘the only person in the room who really matters’ as one of the objectors described Mr Whitehead the other day.  Clearly if traffic flow could be optimised by making these kinds of changes at junctions and so forth then it would be sensible to see how much improvement they could effect without the massive extra involvement of the trolleybus and its dedicated lanes.

Standing back to try and gain some overview one can’t help feeling that this is an immense jigsaw made of parts which are only partially connected to each other.  When in the examination from Professor Bonsall it emerged that the city traffic control system had a stock of ‘archived’ traffic programs it did not sound to me like a state of the art smart system which responded in real time to vehicle numbers on the ground but one which had stock responses to standard scenarios, such as rugby matches at Headingley and so on.  So perhaps this is where the Inspector’s question originates, the amount of research that has, or has not, gone into optimising the flow in the present configuration.

Gregory Jones QC attacked this question from a number of angles including whether ‘bunching’ otherwise known as ‘platooning’ of buses would be likely to occur.

Those readers familiar with the concepts of mathematical Chaos Theory will know that small changes in dynamic systems can have large outcomes.  Whilst Mr Robertson certainly came across a great deal better than his two predecessors, one can’t help having reservations about the limits of what his profession can achieve, especially transferring his skills in mathematical modelling to an entirely new situation.  Indeed at one point he said that certain aspects of the new system could not be precisely modelled in advance and would need to be adjusted after it was up and  running. 

We must be cautious about the claims made for the trolleybus system and remember that at this stage it is all entirely speculative and if a decision were to be taken it would be a gamble with the whole future of Leeds.  Its cost competes with, and seems to outrank, other, what are normally considered as essential, services such as care of the elderly and education.

If it was unsuccessful, we could scrap the trolleybuses (the first time in Leeds a century ago they lasted for all of 17 years from 1911 to 1928) but we would be left with the massive debt, the evisceration of a series of Conservation areas, and we would still have the same problems as we have now, except the widened roads and Headingley bypass would encourage more road users to fill up the empty space.

At a conceptual level this is all not coming at it from a level of intelligent and integrated design.  The whole scheme is predicated on the value judgement that communities and environments are expendable.  Perhaps the time has come when this sort of assumption has to be challenged.

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