The UK government has finally come to an agreement for a longer term package of funding with Mayor Sadiq Khan and TfL to prop up TfL’s collapsed revenue due to Covid-hit ridership, renew ageing trains and buses, and provide capital funding for big projects on a longer term footing – and the money includes budget for walking and cycling schemes. (Full details of the agreement available here.)
The government had been funding TfL on short bursts of six months– and this short-term approach had clearly heavily impacted TfL’s ability to deliver on large-scale schemes and fund boroughs for just about any walking and cycling schemes – particularly any larger ones. In a climate crisis, the initial rush of delivery in the first six months of the pandemic rapidly gave way to boroughs and TfL largely paralysed and falling behind on delivery. However, now, the government has announced £80 million a year ringfenced over the funding period until end of March 2024, just for active travel – walking, wheeling and cycling schemes – delivered by TfL in concert with the boroughs. On top we have now learned there’s a further £69m a year for Local Implementation Plan (LIP) schemes that TfL will disburse to boroughs based on their LIP bids.
The £69m will go to reinstate borough LIP budgets. These are walking, cycling and car and road danger reduction schemes largely – with boroughs having to align their scheme bids to the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS). As long as LIP broadly aligns with the goals of the MTS, then the money will be disbursed – so every borough should get funding. Boroughs were told about their initial LIP allocations in late September. And LIP schemes aren’t all infrastructure schemes – boroughs often use them to roll out cycle parking, do up their tube and rail station frontages and deliver cycle training etc. However, TfL are indicating that there will be a more rigorous assessment of LIP bids than in the past.
It is likely however that the separate £80m for active travel will be far more tightly controlled by TfL. These schemes have in the recent past been ‘gated’ so that while funds for an entire scheme are allocated at the beginning, initially only money for feasibility or design work is given, then consultation and not until a borough cabinet have signed the scheme off has money been given for construction etc. More, the announcement from government says that strict quality controls will be in place: “any cycle schemes implemented or supported under this funding shall be fully compliant with LTN 1/20 cycle infrastructure design guidance.” The deal also highlights that TfL and boroughs will have to “collaborate with Active Travel England to ensure standards in Active Travel are consistent with the rest of England.”
Historically, TfL and London have been far in front of the rest of the country for scheme quality and design guidance, but new DfT design guidance LTN 1/20 is raising the bar on what is the minimum expected of highways authorities across England. The words “fully compliant” may be more vague than we hope (compliance with LTN 1/20 is not the same as achieving the stringent bar to funding LTN 1/20 includes), but the intent is clear, this is the government telling TfL: do not fund rubbish.
This is very much the way TfL and the Mayor were already pushing boroughs anyway – where funding has been available in the last few years, it has clearly been prioritised to those boroughs willing and able to deliver high-quality schemes, and not where the only schemes on the table were weak. Indeed, it’s likely we will see significant rebalancing of funds between boroughs on active travel and LIP as those boroughs that move too slowly, or fail to approve schemes see their allocated funding reprioritised to other, keener, faster-moving boroughs.
TfL is also expected as part of the settlement to deliver at least 25km of new bus lane and improve at least five bus corridors by removing or consolidating parking and loading.
The long-term aim of the deal clearly still is an expectation that TfL, unlike major cities across the world, will cost the government nothing in revenue subsidy. To that end, the obvious point being made is that as well as likely fare rises, the Mayor will need to look at smart and fair road-user charging as a priority.
The government is clearly no fan of Sadiq’s proposal to extend the ULEZ to all of London (we are). But they leave the door open for more road-user charging saying “You have decided to consult on proposals for the introduction of a London-wide Ultra Low Emission Zone for introduction in 2023, to improve air quality in London.
“TfL have estimated this will cost £250m in capital infrastructure costs. HMG grant funding in this settlement should not be used to cover the costs of your policy decisions to charge road users, and therefore if you choose to implement this scheme or other road user charging options, you must fund them through alternative sources available to you.”
This is likely code for: ‘we think you will need to implement road-user charging to be revenue neutral, but we reserve the right to attack you for doing so and the costs to develop it, and the resulting flack, are on you’.
The deal includes “all parties’ commitment to the reopening of Hammersmith Bridge on a permanent basis – initially to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic and, depending on cost, to motorists.”
The issue here is that while the bridge really should never reopen to private motor traffic, buses may be a different issue. While some roads near the river continue to see raised traffic levels the answer should never be more road capacity for cars in a climate crisis – and particularly given the closure of Hammersmith Bridge to cars has clearly reduced car use across the area. However, all that said, some current car journeys clearly aren’t shifting to walking and cycling and it looks like some sort of public transport crossing here is needed. So could the bridge costs be kept down to exclude private motor traffic but not buses?
With capital funding for schemes as large as Hammersmith Bridge back on the table does that mean we’ll see a lot of big dangerous junctions fixed any time soon? Unlikely, sadly. For now, the less than two year funding window, and the reduced overall budget for TfL means that most larger capital expenditure is still reduced or on hold for now. The ‘new normal’ is clearly that boroughs and TfL will need to box clever and continue using cheaper, semi-temporary materials as seen during the last few years.
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and main road cycle tracks should still be possible to roll out – using wands. But don’t expect many high quality and large-scale junction fixes for now. Of course, the risk of that likely outcome is a failure to reduce road danger and really trigger mode shift, in a climate crisis. So that will need to be resolved, fairly fast.
Indeed, it’s worth remembering that Sadiq immediately made a promise to spend £154 million a year just on cycling after election in 2016, which would have seen London finally approaching the kind of spending levels the Dutch have long enjoyed. £80 million is just over half that. If Sadiq truly is serious about getting to a net zero London by 2030, and fulfilling the aim the modelling suggests is needed of cutting 27% of road km driven by then, then this funding approach won’t work. And doubling funding to at least £160m a year in TfL overall budget terms would still be small change.
Regardless, at the bare minimum, it is incumbent on the Mayor, TfL and London’s boroughs to spend every pound of the money available to them to deliver #ClimateSafeStreets and not underspend as before, and more, to spend it all wisely – not on consultants and high-end paving ‘setts’ but on schemes that reliably reduce road danger, trigger mode shift and help more people ditch their cars.
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