How are other UK cities responding to the crisis?

This blog has reported extensively on “Streetspace”, London’s plan to reallocate road space from cars to pedestrians and cyclists. But, even though you wouldn’t always know it from the media, there are other cities in the UK. What are they doing to handle the crisis?

Here are three examples.

Birmingham City Council’s emergency transport plan suggests turning parts of main roads into cycling or bus lanes, and turning on-street parking into space for pedestrians. It’s also looking at turning parts of wider, quieter pavements into cycle lanes.

In addition, the council is hoping to identify two parts of the city to pilot “active, low traffic neighbourhood” schemes, and limit private car access to “transform” the city centre.

The council’s cabinet member for transport has also written to the government requesting the authority to introduce 20mph speed limits on all but main roads.

Bristol is planning to totally pedestrianise its historic Old City, in the area around St Nicholas Markets. The plans, mapped by the Bristol Cable here, will connect up several other already pedestrianised areas.

In addition, the city is planning to wide pavements in suburban shopping districts such as Clifton and Bedminster, and to close Bristol Bridge to private cars.

Glasgow has created a new east-west cycle route along the Broomielaw, on the north bank of the River Clyde. Not everyone in the city is a bike fan, though: residents of its affluent West End have literally phoned the police about cyclists who are using the pavement.

Before the crisis began, Glasgow was actually planning to extend opening hours for outdoor seating at the bars and restaurants of the city centre – exactly the sort of thing many other cities are considering introducing to enable such businesses to reopen safely as lockdown eases. Alas, the plans have been delayed by the fact that lockdown is preventing the city council from meeting to sign the plans off.

There are many more cities than this out there, of course, so this is probably a theme we’ll be coming back to. Feel free to drop me a line with tips.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.



What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.