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Mayor of London Sadiq Khan standing in a charcoal grey suit in front of a leafy green backdrop of plants, arms folded.

Sadiq & cycling: what next?

With Sadiq heading into a record 3rd term & prospect of a government in line with him, what does our Mayor most need to do next?

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New Mayor, new challenges

The Mayoral election saw Sadiq Khan, standing for an unprecedented third term, trouncing closest rival Conservative Susan Hall, with a result that clearly demonstrates London does indeed love cycling and more, is fairly in favour overall of measures such as the ULEZ expansion to reduce overall motor vehicle use and tackle associated crises of climate, pollution, inactivity, road danger, congestion etc.

Sadiq wore a green suit on the morning after confirmation of his win – clearly symbolising his intentions and sending a signal – he’s since followed it with several announcements on cycling and active travel and a recommitment in front of the Pope no less to his tough Net Zero target of 2030. However, he won’t make those targets without really bold action. He’s got four years (presumably he won’t go for a fourth term) to get close to Net Zero and leave his lasting legacy on London.

However, not only is he already falling behind on Net Zero targets and the need to reduce motor vehicle km driven by 27% as well as electrifying much of the remaining motor vehicles on the road by 2030 (that his own report set him), he’s also got more stormclouds gathering. Not only has Sadiq taken his own biggest lever for change off the table in unequivocally rejecting Smart Road User Charging (replacing congestion charging, ULEZ etc. with a simpler charge that takes in time of day, location, emissions class of vehicle etc.), he’s also being outboxed by Mayor Anne Hidalgo in Paris (who has admittedly more power over her roads directly in the central area), and while it looks likely that the next government will be more positive on climate action and cycling, Keir Starmer was all wobbly over ULEZ already.

So, assuming Sadiq isn’t about to jettison his climate and transport targets, what does he most need to do now to leave a positive lasting legacy on London – and get us most of the way to Net Zero in the next four years? We’ll be coming back to this topic soon – but for now, here are some initial thoughts…

Move fast, think big

None of these big bold ideas alone will get Sadiq to net zero – but they’ll help establish a strong leadership on these issues and bring recalcitrant boroughs to heel. He’ll need to do all of these and more probably to stand a chance of rivalling Paris’ Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

Really do main roads – TfL has tinkered around the TLRN or ‘red route’ roads it has direct control over, but we’re yet to see wholesale reallocation of roadspace away from private motor vehicles by TfL apart from perhaps the Bishopsgate ‘bus gate’ scheme. While Mayor Hidalgo in Paris makes major roads pedestrian/cycle only, we’ve still got too many delivery bays in too many part-time bus lanes. If Sadiq wants to get serious, we need to stop tweaking main roads and go for big bold schemes like Tottenham Court Road (which Camden did, not him) and Bank Junction (City of London, not him) and Stoke Newington Church Street (Hackney, not him) and Bishopsgate (yes, TfL, you score once) where capacity and access for private motor traffic is cut dramatically. TfL couldn’t even deliver cycle tracks on Euston Road during the pandemic – where thousands cycle daily in dangerous conditions. Sadiq really needs to crack main roads – do them better, faster. In part, that will (surprise surprise) mean more cycle tracks as well as more ‘bus gates’ and more 24/7 bus lanes – and with that it definitely will mean a lot more and better junction designs for safety and to enable mode shift.

Fund outer London mini-Hollands (again) – Waltham Forest has just publicly celebrated its 10 year anniversary. And while the other boroughs who received ‘mini-Holland’ funding under previous Mayor Boris Johnson didn’t deliver half as well, the Waltham Forest schemes stand as a template for rapid and bold changes to enable folks in outer London to walk and cycle around town centres. Just about every outer London borough has at least one major, dense town centre with housing around it where the Waltham Forest approach could be done well. But would Bromley, Bexley, Hillingdon etc. bid and commit to such an approach? Possibly – if any transport or government funding at all depended on their delivery of such. Sadiq then needs to find funding for such intensive schemes – but he can do that by simply cutting off funding for weaker schemes every borough currently gets from TfL.

Car-free Sundays – other cities have made huge strides in gaining public support for active travel and car use reduction measures by claiming huge amounts of space for it on a temporary basis. A monthly programme of big cycle rides, ideally on closed roads, but certainly with good organisation, wouldn’t deliver physical but social change – you’d need to do it alongside many of the other things here, but the Ciclovias in Bogota and other such events show a different city is very possible. It’s time for some of that if we are to build a mass cycling culture here. Given the cost of putting on Ride London, it might be doing smaller mini-Ciclovias in each borough’s town centre monthly might be more achievable. But ultimately, getting loads of people out cycling across London regularly could be part of driving change in the capital.

Car-free West End – yes, the West End couldn’t actually be car ‘free’ but it’s so much more catchy than ‘low car’ or ‘car lite’ etc. Deliveries constrained to certain hours of the day, permits for necessary vehicles and no ‘through’ traffic with a European (and Birmingham) style ‘circulation plan’. We could actually get a city centre most of London and the tourists would love. The Soho ‘al fresco’ schemes during Covid showed how this could work, but also some of the issues that would need fixing. This will need boroughs and Sadiq to be far bolder on ‘leading’ the conversation though.

Now add Starmer?

If a Labour government does join forces with a Labour Mayor of London, that could also provide further opportunities for London too. Could a Starmer and Sadiq double act result in funding and fixes for our rapidly falling apart river crossings, making them cycle-friendly in the process? How about the prospect of the government handing strategic roads to Sadiq from no-go boroughs? It’s likely the only way Kensington High Street will get back cycle tracks any time soon! We’ll return to this theme later this summer – if the polling is accurate. But for now, there’s no excuse for Sadiq, elected on a wave of support for his progressive active travel and decarbonisation agenda, to not get cracking regardless of who is or isn’t at Number 10. It’s the only way he stands a chance of leaving a London legacy as a pioneer on the global cities stage.

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