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transport strategy coverLondoners have until 2 October to give their views on the draft Transport Strategy that was published by the Mayor of London in June.

The strategy is described as "the start of an ambitious plan that will reshape London over the next 25 years. It sets out a bold approach to achieve an essential vision – to create a healthier, fairer city; one that is not only home to more people, but that is a better place to live in." The complete draft document is over 150 pages long, but there is a summary page on the Transport for London website, with a link to an online questionnaire.

Reducing car dependency

The overarching theme of the strategy is the need to move away from current high levels of car dependency and their malign effects.  It sets a target of changing the way people choose to travel, "so that, by 2041, 80 per cent of all Londoners’ trips will be made on foot, by cycle or by public transport. This will be a significant change from today, when only 64% of journeys are made by these healthy, efficient and sustainable forms of transport." 

To enable this it will be necessary to reallocate road space and enable "car-free lifestyles":

"Using street space more efficiently to encourage more walking, cycling and public transport should be considered. This could include creating vehicle-free zones, introducing ‘filtered permeability’ (so certain traffic is physically prevented from using specific streets) or creating space for cycle parking, greening or seating.

"This is not about being anticar, but about supporting Londoners in moving around the city without having to rely solely on cars. By doing so, road space can be freed up for cycling and walking and for more necessary road usage.

"More car-free days in central London, town centres and high streets would enable people to experience their local area from a different perspective. In inner and outer London, boroughs’ support for car clubs can enable more Londoners to give up their cars when delivered as part of a wider package to reduce car use."

Healthy streets

The strategy says that London streets, which make up 80 per cent of public space in the city, should become "healthy streets":

"Local streets and neighbourhoods will be designed to make them pleasant places for people to walk, cycle, use public transport and spend time. Walking will be prioritised across London’s streets, including around schools, so this easy means of getting around becomes easier and more appealing. Streets will be made more accessible for disabled people, with wider, clutter-free pavements and crossings that are easier to access and use. A new London-wide network of strategic cycling routes – which will also be good environments for walking – will transform the convenience and experience of cycling for all types of trips. More traffic-free areas will be created, starting with the transformation of Oxford Street and including trial closures of streets to motor traffic to help people see their streets differently."

The strategy seeks to bring in strict emissions limits for cars, lorries and buses, to rationalise deliveries to reduce the number of vans and lorries on the road, and to reduce total traffic in the capital by 10-15 per cent.  Reduced congestion will speed up bus journeys and measures will be taken to make all forms of public transport more attractive, easier and pleasanter to use.  The strategy acknowledges that public transport in outer London is inadequate:

"[M]any have no choice but to use cars because there are no suitable public transport alternatives available. New and better services are required, particularly in outer London where car use is high and public transport links are relatively poor. Providing reliable bus services to and between town centres and improving rail services is essential to getting people where they want to go without relying on a car."

The only realistic way forward

My view of the draft strategy is that at long last we have been presented with a realistic and sustainable way of solving London's increasingly difficult traffic problems.  There is absolutely no way that London can be a prosperous, healthy and happy city without a significant reduction in traffic. Even if we were to disregard the risk of injuries, toxic fumes and stress-inducing noise, we can't get away from the reality of congestion.  There are already too many cars and commercial vehicles on London's roads, a situation which is being exacerbated by the trend towards longer and wider cars, and almost no scope for increasing road capacity.  Even if roads could be widened here and there, there will always be bottlenecks where road widening is out of the question.  It would be unthinkable to demolish the buildings along Highgate Hill, beautiful buildings in the centre of Hampstead, or the Edwardian shopping parades in Muswell Hill, but these streets are congested every day because of the sheer number of people who choose to drive to them or through them.  In order to restore normal life to these places we have to get enough of those drivers out of their cars and onto public transport, bicycles or simply get them walking.

So I think that the aim of reducing car usage hits the nail right on the head.  In order for it to be realised, major expenditure and some tough and bold decisions will be vital.  Public transport in outer London needs to become more frequent and many new bus routes will be needed.  Money will be needed to boost rail and tube capacity.  Hundreds of roads will have to have cycle lanes.  Streets which are currently ugly will need to be made attractive for walkers - which in some cases will require forcing shopkeepers and house owners to smarten up the appearance of their shops and front gardens.

The sequencing of changes will be important.  Before Ken Livingstone introduced the Congestion Zone, he made huge improvements to public transport, so that alternatives to the car were already available on day one. At the time the idea of the congestion zone being a success was widely dismissed, but by being bold and using an integrated approach, Livingstone achieved a striking reduction in congestion (sadly, subsequently whittled away by Boris Johnson's inaction).  The draft Mayor's Transport Strategy takes a similarly bold and integrated approach - let's hope that the Mayor's transport team can walk the walk as well as talking the talk.

Locally, the current Cycle Enfield projects are just the start of what is needed.  So far only four roads will have proper cycling infrastructure and there are some major centres that won't have any provision - such as Southgate, Cockfosters and Hadley Wood.  A much denser network will be needed before there is a major uptake of cycling, but we have to start somewhere.  The cycle lanes should have been built 40 or 50 years ago. Building them now, when traffic volumes have become so high, means that they create more inconvenience - but that temporary inconvenience is nothing compared with the major inconveniences to which people are subject every day because of the huge volumes of traffic on our roads. Making up for that lost time will be a slow and sometimes painful process, but we have at last made a start.

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