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Mayor announces “radical” plans for London

London Cycling Campaign | 5th May 2020

The Mayor Sadiq Khan, and his Walking & Cycling Commissioner, Will Norman, have announced a major new “Streetspace Plan” to implement emergency measures during and as lockdown eases. The plan aims to ensure motor traffic levels do not return to where they were before the crisis, or higher, while also enabling millions of journeys to be walked and cycled across the city.

Details on the plan thus far are light, but include:

  • Pavement widening at key main road locations where social distancing and queuing for shops is proving impossible
  • UPDATE "Pavements have already been doubled in size at Camden High Street and Stoke Newington High Street and widened at six further locations... . Pavements will be widened in more than 20 locations, including in Brixton and Earl’s Court in the coming days" says the press release
  • “Repurposing general traffic lanes and parking spaces for temporary cycle lanes,” to create a “strategic cycling network using temporary materials, building new routes to reduce crowding on underground and train lines”
  • UPDATE: Euston Road has already been done, Park Lane set to be done soon according to the press release. However, TfL traffic cams show Euston Road hasn't been done yet after all (as above pic shows!) - we're waiting for a comeback from press office.
  • UPDATE: "Upgrades will also be made to existing routes including creating sections of temporary segregation from Merton to Elephant and Castle, and Pimlico to Putney. Space for cycling will be created between Catford town centre and Lewisham via the A21, and on the A23 between Oval and Streatham Hill" says the press release
  • UPDATE: "Cycleway 9 between Kensington Olympia and Brentford, and Cycleway 4 between Tower Hill and Greenwich will be accelerated with temporary measures"
  • Traffic lights rephased to give more green man time
  • Bus/cycle only sections of road are being considered “at certain times of the day”
  • UPDATE: "The temporary schemes will be reviewed by TfL – and could become permanent" says the press release

Early modelling by TfL, Norman says, shows that by the end of the crisis, the measures proposed could result in a tenfold increase in cycling, and five-fold in walking. What does that look like, how will we get there and what does it mean for London? In this rapidly-evolving situation, here’s a few of our initial thoughts:

  • Our existing calls as below stand, particularly around the climate crisis. The Mayor, TfL and City Hall must implement our Climate Safe Streets recommendations and should look to our Covid-19 crisis recommendations too such as 24/7 bus lanes, rapid expansion of the ULEZ and an emergency 20mph default.
  • Cycle parking and car parking will become rapidly vital to consider too – now is the moment to repurpose on-street and multi-storey car parking spaces to bike parking, particularly at key hubs such as in central London and town centres. Similarly, bike shops and mechanics could face a flood (and many already are, apparently) of custom – but people will need to be able to store those bikes somewhere at home too.
  • Capacity needs will be changing temporarily, perhaps long-term, but need a serious look at. Will a tenfold increase in cycling mean the Cycleway on the Embankment is far over capacity? Will we need loads more Cycleways urgently in central London? Or is TfL predicting most growth in cycling is between outer London town centres? Or both? We are asking the Mayor for his modelling now so we can start to understand where demand will be highest for cycle routes.

UPDATE: Quotes from the press release

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:

The emergency measures included in our major strategic London Streetspace programme will help those who have to travel to work by fast-tracking the transformation of streets across our city. Many Londoners have rediscovered the joys of walking and cycling during lockdown and, by quickly and cheaply widening pavements, creating temporary cycle lanes and closing roads to through traffic we will enable millions more people to change the way they get around our city. I urge the Government and boroughs to work with us to enable Londoners to switch to cleaner, more sustainable forms of transport - and reduce the pressure on other parts of our transport network – once the lockdown is eased.”

Dr Ashok Sinha, CEO of the London Cycling Campaign, said:

As the lockdown is eased, London will need to get moving again, but in a manner that maintains social distancing. The only way to do this effectively - whilst also avoiding a calamitous return to toxic air, high carbon emissions and traffic-choked streets - is to make it easier and safer for millions of people to walk and cycle. Large numbers of Londoners have already taken to cycling for essential travel and exercise during lockdown; the demand is there, and the Mayor’s new Streetspace plan can and should be the start of a permanent transition to a greener, healthier and more resilient city.”

Our calls for emergency measures

LCC has of course been pushing for emergency measures in response to this crisis for some time. We wrote a brief list for the Mayor on 24 April and a broader list on 9 April. Summarised, these are:

  • Safe space for cycling… while car volumes are low using cones and temporary barriers to take carriage space on main roads
  • 24/7 bus lanes with no parking in, for buses and cycles only
  • Low traffic neighbourhoods – residential areas without ratruns
  • Smart road-user charging, with a rapid reinstatement of the congestion charge and expansion of the ULEZ
  • Keeping public parks and spaces open for cycling
  • Cutting speed limits to 20mph across London
  • Rephasing push button crossings
  • Using cycling as a tool for keyworkers, deliveries etc.
  • Most importantly, lock in permanent change for the better and implement the key findings of our Climate Safe Streets report.

Boroughs in action

As well as calling for emergency action, we’ve also tracked the response from individual London boroughs as they emerge. Hackney, Lambeth and Hammersmith & Fulham pre-empted TfL and City Hall in taking emergency action on their roads. As of this weekend, other boroughs are joining them in coning off sections of their roads to enable wider pavements and social distancing, and a second wave of plans have been announced to enable safer cycle routes. Many of our borough groups are pushing their councils for further action and suggesting locations where action is a priority. And at last, TfL and City Hall are taking action too.

TfL and City Hall spent the first few weeks of the Covid-19 crisis trying to keep public transport running, then trying to deal with staff safety. Meanwhile, Paris, New York and a growing list of global cities joined Bogota in taking emergency action on enabling cycling and walking, while London did not. On Friday, the Mayor and Commissioner finally announced similar action for London – following it over the weekend by widening pavements at locations across TfL’s network using temporary barriers. This is the first stage in the Streetspace Plan.

A "radical" plan?

Norman has called the emergency “Streetspace Plan” “radical” and “unparalleled in a city London’s size”, so theoretically topping Paris’ 650km of emergency cycle track plans and proposals to close major roads such as Rue de Rivoli to motor traffic.

The plan also pledges TfL will work with boroughs on town centres, shopping streets and “low traffic neighbourhoods”. This will be key. TfL’s congestion charge and ULEZ are currently suspended, and we understand that it could take up to three months to reinstate these from any point when the Mayor decides to do so. With motor traffic rates rising daily at the moment, any chance of enabling more people to cycle and walk now hangs in the balance.

Why action is needed

We know that people cycle in mass levels (levels we’re currently seeing sporadically in London), when cycling is kept separate from large numbers of fast moving motor vehicles, and/or on roads that are truly quiet, in a coherent, comprehensive network of direct routes. All the nurses, keyworkers and parents and children cycling on side roads and main roads won’t keep doing so if and when the motor traffic returns. And while TfL can take rapid action on main roads, if all the ratruns are still available, London will rapidly become a no-go city for most to cycle in. So boroughs acting on their roads too will be imperative.

Lambeth. Hackney and Hammersmith & Fulham are already moving, Richmond, Waltham Forest, Camden and others are close behind. Whereas, what have Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Havering etc. said? Not much so far, sadly. If and when the cars do all come back, it will rapidly become clear which boroughs prize motor traffic movements over their residents’ health and safety – and it won’t be just about cycling. The most obvious issue will be pollution.

The need for rapid action is because, as Norman says in his BikeBiz article: “With London’s public transport capacity potentially running at a fifth of pre-crisis levels, up to eight million journeys a day will need to be made by other means.” If buses and trains and tubes can’t get people returning to work, shops, restaurants there as London’s lockdown eases, what will? Cars?

The spread and lethality of Covid-19, it looks increasingly likely, is exacerbated by pollution levels. And of course, the current crisis will be followed by a far larger one, in the form of the climate emergency. Even returning to current motor traffic levels would be a disaster on emissions, pollution, but also inactivity, and road danger. But we could easily face motor traffic levels far higher than we’ve seen in decades.

The Streetspace plan and borough action will be absolutely vital in ensuring we don’t face a London not just economically weakened by lockdown, but at gridlock, with worse air quality, road danger and climate-changing emissions.