Reducing car use and increasing walking and cycling key to success of mayoral Roads Task Force

congestion in London

The report of the Mayor’s Road Task Force was published yesterday, alongside Transport for London's response to it, and these documents seek to address the likely increase in journeys expected from London's growing population over coming decades.

We welcome the aspirations within these documents to address these needs by:

  • promoting walking and cycling
  • improving quality of life and the ‘urban realm’
  • creating a more efficient road network for all users
  • stimulating local and London-wide economic development

However, whether these aspirations will be achieved or not will depend critically on whether TfL’s new plan for London’s roads sustains and accelerates the historical decline in car use that's taken place in London, in favour of walking and cycling for everyday journeys.

We're concerned the recommendations made by the Roads Task Force to increase ‘road capacity’ will be interpreted by many as a call for increased ‘motor traffic capacity’, which will thwart the Roads Task Force’s and TfL’s own stated aspirations.

If that happens, then the £30 billion of public expenditure over the next 20 years that TfL proposes to make on London’s roads could have severe negative effects.

Therefore, it's vitally important the Mayor makes clear, following the publication of the report and TfL’s response, that his vision for London is one of increased walking, cycling and public transport and reduced private motor car use.

A year ago, the Roads Task Force set out to determine "what are the main challengers facing London's roads?" and "how should the competing demands on road space be defined and managed?".

While the report contains useful material about improving public spaces and streets, we're very concerned some of the measures proposed will actually increase motor traffic.

London depends on the movement of people and goods, but the quality of life of Londoners depends on minimising the negative impacts of those movements on the health and welfare of people and communities.

At present, increases in population are being accommodated by increased housing density provided by thousands of new property developments, primarily in inner London.

At the same time, there's a revolution in travel behaviour taking place in inner London, with cycling a key factor in this, along with increased bus travel and the realisation that neighbourhoods that support walking and cycling develop thriving street-level economies.

This transport revolution is essential because increased housing density means the street network can't accommodate widespread use of private motor vehicles.

The Roads Task Force report contains many good ideas, particularly around improving streets as places, where transport is benign and mostly local.

However, it should have been much clearer that the future of London will be enhanced by doing everything possible to reduce the impact of the most intrusive transport modes, enticing people away from private motorised transport.

Proposals in the report for building more tunnels under the River Thames and expanding road capacity for motor vehicles are deeply misguided.

The evidence from London's past, as well as from other cities across the world, is that raising road capacity increases use of the most damaging vehicles.

Sadly, the fear of congestion is a chimera that has led to generations of failed attempts to improve London with bigger, higher-capacity roads – unless that increased capacity (and then some existing capacity) is exclusively given over to sustainable modes.

An enlightened and progressive vision for London would put changing travel patterns at its core, converting private motor trips to more efficient modes, which in turn would create greater road capacity for essential journeys and services.

TfL’s response hints at this, but we need a clearer statement from the Mayor that motor capacity in London will continue to decrease if the RTF and TfL’s response to it are to be successeful and not retrograde.

Ideas we like in the vision delivery plan

  • 'Improve public spaces and streets' - this should mean prioritising walking and cycling
  • 'Support borough revitalisation of high streets using the ‘Mini-Holland’ approach'
  • 'Invest in technology to improve traveller information'
  • 'Make it easy and attractive to walk, cycle and take the bus'
  • 'Better targeted enforcement' - this should mean working with the police to target dangerous and anti-social road behaviour
  • 'Make streets greener' - this should mean more trees and low-energy lighting

Ideas we consider worrying 

  • 'Tackling congestion by increasing capacity' - this approach has consistently failed at the cost of worse conditions for all Londoners
  • 'Better manage the road network' - disrupting Londoners with night time lorry deliveries while doing nothing to control the most dangerous vehicles in peak hour is not acceptable. Night-time deliveries only benefit the largest retailers, at a cost to small businesses.
  • '19 projects including new river crossings' - new major road projects, including river crossings, create greater severance and community decay, as seen already around the A13 and A12 corridors, with increased motor traffic and road casualties.

What we're not sure about yet

  • 'Feasibility studies on putting major roads in tunnels' - other world cities have realised the cost and extra severance at entry points doesn't make these viable solutions
  • 'Getting more from the network' - yes, we need more dedicated space for cycling and walking but we don't need faster routes for motor traffic, which increases risk for all. Plans to allow motorcycles in every bus lane cause concern because this measure has been proven to increase casualties.