Earlier this year, Sadiq Khan unveiled his ‘Cleaner Vehicle Checker’, a joint bid with Paris to help curb the air quality crisis engulfing both cities. The problem of air pollution is aligned with a wider issue: London’s roads and streets are not coping with the pressures they are facing.
London’s problems are not unique, and so as the mayor looks abroad for partnerships, what lessons can it learn from other cities? Nowhere is wholly comparable, nor does any solution tackle every problem, but lessons can be learnt: parking efficiency improved, encouraging shifts from cars to public transit, promoting active modes and improving the quality of place.
It is thought around 30 per cent of urban congestion is caused by cars looking for parking. San Francisco deals with this via block-by-block demand-based street parking prices, using sensor technology. Prices change no more than monthly, and rise by no more than 25¢ per hour, nor falling by more than 50¢, in one go. Results are promising: vehicle miles travelled in pilot districts fell 30 per cent, and average searching time decreased by five minutes.
Drivers in London typically spend eight minutes searching for somewhere to park, so change could be effective. But parking places are often in high demand, and it’s a hot political topic – Westminster’s Council Leader stepped down in 2012 amid a row over proposed increases.
Promoting public transport use
London’s private car use is slowly falling, but we should be looking at radical methods to reduce ownership and usage. In Murcia, Spain, residents could swap roadworthy vehicles for lifetime passes on their new tramway network.
In London, such an initiative would face issues around funding and logistics, but it offers two lessons: financial incentives to trade in cars are reasonable to discourage use; while people are happy to surrender their cars when public transport provides a convenient alternative.
Walking and cycling
In New York and Paris over half of central journeys are on foot; the London figure is just over one third. Though London’s centre is much more dispersed, we can do better.
Paris has been aiming to increase its attractiveness to pedestrians since 2001, but a turning point was introducing the Pedestrian Paris Initiative in 2012. The scheme has seen pavements widened and Parisians now engage with their streets more, aided by some streets closing to cars one Sunday a month, which also improves air quality and encourages active modes.
Cycling is rising in the capital – inner London saw it rise from 2.5 to 4 per cent of trips in a decade, equivalent to 120,000 journeys, according to a TfL survey – but there are still ways to increase its attractiveness. To combat the frustration of hitting red lights, which affects journey reliability, Utrecht uses a system of sensors determining a cyclist’s speed, telling them to slow down or speed up to make a green light. Connected to wider dynamic light systems, it highlights small actions that persuade people to cycle regularly.
Public space as a priority
New York underwent a transformation over 2007-2013, thanks to the work of Janette Sadik-Khan as transportation commissioner. Her redesign focused around Broadway, installing 60 plazas, and the development of the High Line.
London has made progress in particular areas and employed innovative solutions to problems, but can still follow New York in making public spaces more attractive, improving perception and reality for walkers and pedestiran. Enhancing the public realm could have economic effects, as workers want to work in cities where high quality public spaces facilitates a higher quality of life.
London needs strong leadership – à la New York and Paris – in City Hall and the boroughs to revive our public realm, to create a healthier, cleaner and more successful city.
Tom Colthorpe is a researcher at Centre for London. The think tank has convened an expert Commission to analyse the problems facing London’s roads and streets. It will get different parties to cooperate and will propose solutions, in a report due out later this year.