Today is 6th May 2016, and Londoners have just elected Sadiq Khan as their new Mayor – the third the city has had, and the fifth Mayoral term since the creation of the role in 2000.
I live in London and Urban Movement has its office in London. We also do a lot of work in the city, the vast majority for its elected authorities – the 33 Councils, Transport for London, and the Greater London Authority. You might think, therefore, that whomever I voted for, the key thing for Urban Movement is that Mr Khan runs the city in such a way that there continues to be work for us to do.
The key thing for us, however, is that there should continue to be work for us to do that we believe in.
As Chair of the Transport Planning Society, I take a similar view: that elected leaders should do what is good for their constituents, not merely what is easy, popular or expedient. And as a Trustee of Living Streets (the UK charity for everyday walking), it won’t surprise you to know that I believe one of the things that is good for London – and indeed the citizens of all towns and cities – is that it is convenient, safe and comfortable to get around on foot, including for trips of which walking is only a part.
With this in mind, and since the Mayor, as head of Transport for London, will shortly need to start work on his new Mayor’s Transport Strategy, I thought that I’d set out a few thoughts about what this next MTS should encompass, and how it should be pursued. If you happen to have Mr Khan’s ear, you could always pass this on to him.
Like all politicians, the new Mayor will want to make his mark – to do things that people can associate positively with him, not his predecessors.
In transport terms, Ken Livingstone (Mayor for the first two terms) is justifiably famous for introducing what’s still the world’s largest and most comprehensive urban road pricing/congestion charging system. Finally getting Crossrail going is another thing to his credit. In addition, he had a clear focus on improving bus services, and also on making London more walkable. The Walking Plan for London was published in 2004, the same year as Towards a Fine City for People (a report for Ken by Jan Gehl), and guidance on Improving Walkability followed in 2005.
Boris Johnson, by contrast, will be remembered as a ‘Cycling Mayor’ – thanks to ‘Boris Bikes’ (although the cycle hire idea was actually Ken’s) and the cycling infrastructure that followed his 2013 Vision for Cycling in London. (Indeed, just this morning, I was present when Boris officially opened the North-South and East-West Cycle Superhighways.) He also became (in)famous for scrapping ‘bendy-buses’, replacing them with ‘Boris Buses’; for the Cable Car; and also for scrapping the western extension of the congestion charge zone that Ken introduced. While his cake-and-eat-it policy of ‘Traffic Smoothing’ can hardly be said to have had positive results for the city, he oversaw a highly effective Olympic Transport Strategy (although the city has yet to take forward some of the positive lessons learned about demand management). His promotion of ‘Better Streets’ has resulted in significant improvements to many of London’s high streets and town centres.
However, while I think both Ken and Boris were behind a number of important transport achievements, there is much that Sadiq can do to surpass these and establish a positive, lasting transport legacy of his own. For what it’s worth, my advice to him is as follows.
I’ll close by going back to my first bullet point. What London needs – really, needs – is a transport strategy that is configured around a clear idea of what the city must become to remain the greatest in the world. When it’s said, for example, that “even with our lowest traffic growth forecasts, we’ll have to build new roads, tunnels and bridges to meet the demand”, that ignores the matter of what the city can or should bear. However reluctant, it’s still a form of predict-and-provide. Mr Khan should grasp the opportunity to help London decide-and-provide: “This is the city we want; so this is all the private motor traffic growth we can handle; so this is what we’re going to have to do to enable the movement of people and goods in other ways”.
To brand such an approach as anti-car is completely to miss the point. This is about being pro-London. Transport should serve the city, not dominate it. To make our city healthy and prosperous, and to retain its international status, its citizens and businesses will need to make and accept changes to how we and our goods and services get around. And since we might not like some of those changes, Mr Khan will need to make the wider case, develop a shared vision, and show determined and inspirational leadership. I wish him very well in doing so.
The best way to be ‘A Mayor for All Londoners’ is to be a Mayor for London.
If you’re interested, BBC London’s Tom Edwards has produced this piece on Mayor Johnson’s transport legacy.
Thanks to Bill Chidley for the photo of Andrew Gilligan.