Londoners have learned the hard way that Boris Johnson’s boosterism will fail

Never not relevant. Image: Getty.

In many ways, Boris Johnson’s new economic strategy – “boosterism” – is the embodiment of our new Prime Minister. Like the man himself, at first glance, it’s compelling and cartoonish. It’s only when you delve deeper, that it becomes clear that it’s reckless, impulsive, and bursting at the seams with contradictions.

According to sources within Number 10, Johnson wants to put “rocket boosters” under the economy in the form of heavy infrastructure investment. He has already outlined a few initial ways he would like to do this: spending billions on new high–speed rail lines, and rolling out super–fast broadband across the country.

Yet, here in London, we are still recovering from the impact of Boris Johnson’s boosterism over the course of his eight years as Mayor.

Londoners learned the hard way how detached Johnson is from reality – watching him pour funds into hare–brained schemes like “Boris Airport” and the “Garden Bridge” that cost millions without a single brick being laid.

His array of costly vanity projects left taxpayers footing a bill of nearly £1bn, and this figure is continuing to rise three years on. What do we have to show for it? A handful of shiny monuments on the skyline that do nothing to tackle the underlying problems faced by those living in our city – growing inequality, child poverty, and a chronic lack of social housing.

This money could have been invested in schools, hospitals, housing, libraries and youth centres – reviving the lifeblood of our communities, rather than tearing them apart.


Of course, Johnson is right about one thing: that the UK is desperately in need of greater infrastructure funding after years of crippling Tory austerity. However, his fanatical approach to Brexit completely undermines this goal.

With one hand he’s offering “billions” to help stabilise our poorest regions. Yet, with the other he’s threatening to pull the rug out from beneath them with a no deal Brexit that would plunge our country into the grips of recession. We all know who would be hit hardest. It’s not our new Prime Minister or his pals.

Even if Johnson strikes a deal in Brussels, the UK will soon be cut off from critical EU funding streams that are designed to reduce inequalities. Parts of the country that have been “left behind” will face a multi–billion–pound gap in funding for housing, transport and infrastructure projects, and countless other EU schemes designed to support the most vulnerable will evaporate. This will all take place at crunch time, as UK Government ministers scrabble to set up and oversee a number of new national systems and procedures to replace the EU mechanisms that their predecessors helped to build.

Should Johnson succeed in dragging us out of the EU without a deal, the economic shock will be severe. In the short–term, we can realistically expect to experience long traffic jams at the border, disruption at airports, food and medicine shortages, a mass cull of farm animals, thousands of job losses, and research funding flooding out of the country.

Anyone who thinks that speedy broadband connections and some new trains will fix this problem is either naive or incompetent – I fear our new Prime Minister may be both.

Scott Ainslie is a Green MEP for London.

 
 
 
 

Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

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