Euston Road cycle lane features in London’s streets overhaul plan

Euston Road. Image: Duncan Harris/Wikimedia Commons.

The Euston Road is, in normal times, horrible: the closest thing central London has to a motorway, a traffic-choked six lane highway skirting the northern edge of the city centre. But these aren’t normal times, the pandemic and the lockdown mean that traffic has fallen to levels last seen in the early 1970s, and cities are rethinking their transport systems and use of space. 

So this morning Transport for London (TfL) announced that the Euston Road was to get a cycle lane. The agency said that its modelling suggested that the crisis could lead to a ten-fold increase in kilometers cycled, and five-fold one in walking, as commuters return to work but prefer to avoid over-crowded spaces like public transport. So the centrepiece of its “Streetspace” plan will be “the rapid construction of a strategic cycling network” using “temporary materials”. At a guess, this means using plastic wands to carve out chunks of existing road space, rather than fully separated space.

Euston Road – which parallels the northern side of the London Underground’s Circle Line – is the only brand new route listed in the press release. But Park Lane – another urban motorway – could follow suit, and delivery of already planned cycleway schemes, between Brentford and Kensington, and Greenwich and Tower Hill, will be accelerated. More details of these and other proposed schemes here.

All this, of course, is exactly the sort of reallocation of space from cars to bikes and pedestrians, that Will Norman, the mayor’s walking and cycling commissioner, has been hoping to achieve anyway. And once new cycle routes exist, the path of least resistance may turn out to be to leave them as they are. As the release notes: “The temporary schemes will be reviewed by TfL – and could become permanent.” 

So perhaps the Euston Road cycle path will become an established part of the London streetscape – though how much fun it’ll be to cycle in a place with that much air pollution remains to be seen. 


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.