Streets Network Meeting | 24 October | Summary Report
The Taskforce is the first major strategic review of London’s road network in decades. Michèle Dix from TfL gave a full overview of the issues it sets out tackle, the initial direction of the work, and the results of consultation undertaken so far. This was followed by an appraisal from John Dales of Urban Movement, who looked at some of the more controversial issues that the Taskforce might need to grapple with.
Michèle set the scene with some arresting statistics:
- 28.5 million journeys are made on London’s roads daily
- London’s growth means an extra 1 million trips a day by 2016, with the majority expected to be by public transport, cycling or walking
- 90% of freight in London currently travels by road
- By 2016, there may be up to 30% more vans making freight and servicing trips
- Road congestion costs the London economy £2 billion per year
- Even with everything proposed by the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, including unfunded measures, congestion is projected to worsen by about 14%
- Road traffic contributes significantly to poor air quality in London, with EU limit values for NO2 regularly exceeded
The Taskforce itself consists of 26 invited members, who will meet several times over the coming months with the aim of producing a final report in Spring 2013. The members have been selected to represent a range of user interests as well as being able to bring specific skills and knowledge to the process. Their initial thinking has included developing a typology of roads to help in considering the balance between ‘moving’ and ‘living’ functions in different areas: a framework that owes much to ‘Link and Place’ theory. There is an explicit recognition that streets are where people live, work and shop and that London’s international profile depends on the quality of its public realm and street environments as much as it does on the ability to get around.
Consultation, which ran from July to September 2012, has highlighted several areas of concern, including: the impact of population growth; recognition of the need to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists and to support public transport use; concerns around air quality, noise and vibration; the need to improve the physical state of London’s road network; and challenges of managing street works and utilities infrastructure. A suggestion has emerged that reinstating a hierarchy of road users would help inform thinking about future priorities, while the kind of delivery options mentioned by consultees have ranged from using rivers and canals for haulage to funding new infrastructure through tolls.
John Dales was enthusiastic about the agenda set out by Michèle Dix, finding much to commend in the scope of what he felt should rightly be called the ‘Streets Taskforce’. He supported the notion of taking the time to look properly at what the future may hold. However, he voiced concerns about several specific points, while also worrying that the views of certain road users would be outweighed by others in the process, particularly the perceived ‘motoring electorate’.
He questioned the assumption that we need to accommodate an increasing amount of motor traffic when traffic volumes have not been growing in recent years, and he was concerned at the suggestion of a return to a ‘predict and provide’ approach to road space. If it’s about making more road space available, then we need to be clear about who it’s for and where it gets us once we consider other policy areas and take ‘the bigger picture’ about the future of London into account.
John also cautioned against reading too much into headline-grabbing statistics, particularly the notional cost of congestion to the economy. Even if we can really calculate how much future congestion will cost London, are we able to weigh that against the economic potential of other modes? How would we factor in the value to the economy of air quality, visitor friendliness and resilience to climate change? There may be lessons we can learn from international experience to help with understanding how to measure and predict social, economic and environmental impact.
He also took issue with overly simplistic ideas about traffic behaviour, such as the assumption that traffic calming measures in one place will shift traffic and cause congestion elsewhere. While research could no doubt be more extensive, there is no current evidence to prove that street improvement and traffic calming measures have a traffic displacement effect. The Taskforce should take an evidence-based view of these issues, not allowing instinctive reactions and “numbers masquerading as facts” to colour its judgements.
“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”
Doc Emmett Brown, Back To The Future
In conclusion, John offered his own version of the Terms of Reference for the Taskforce, suggesting that the key question should be “what do we want London’s streets to be like when we’re done?” rather than starting with “what do we do to address existing problems?” If we are to protect the qualities of London as a fine city for people, then we need to have an open mind about the future and a willingness to challenge assumptions. Sometimes that’s about going back to basics – does all the motor traffic we see on London’s streets really need to travel that way? Who does it benefit? – and sometimes it’s about seeing through political barriers – if extending road user pricing is unacceptable now, that doesn’t mean it will always remain that way in the future.
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