London elects: What does this week's election hold for London's cyclists?

“Bye, Boris.” London’s outgoing mayor enjoying his new cycling infrastructure. Image: Getty.

Cycling is starting to be seen as a key part of the solution to London's looming transport problems. We simply can’t go on in the old way – if we don’t cut car use, the city will choke and traffic will grind to a halt. And, with nearly 10,000 Londoners killed each year by air pollution, clean modes of transport such as cycling will be vital to creating a more liveable city. What’s more, London is experiencing unprecedented population growth, so unless we can get more people on their bikes, we’ll see strained public transport systems and worsening congestion.

The city desperately needs a mayor who will bring cycling into the mainstream, rather than considering it a fringe form of transport. The main thing people say stops them taking up cycling is their unwillingness to mix with motor traffic. So, can the candidates who are currently leading the polls commit to the changes we need? I took a look at the manifestos of Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the Conservatives' Zac Goldsmith, to find out.


If London is truly to become a city of mass cycling, the next mayor will need to invest in a dense network of direct routes, which entail little or no mixing with motor traffic. This network would be comprised of three key elements: protected tracks on busy roads; routes through parks and other green spaces; and quieter streets with little motor traffic. In London, these have been called cycle superhighways, greenways and quietways respectively.

Infrastructure is not the only issue – for instance, better traffic enforcement will also be important. But the priority is creating an “8-80” network – accessible for users of all ages, situating the bike as the default mode of transport for many short trips. London’s still a long way from this goal, despite some high-quality, high-profile new schemes. So, what would Khan and Goldsmith do to bring cycling into the mainstream?

What’s Goldsmith got?

Goldsmith’s transport manifesto promises “a new deal for cyclists”. This may sound promising – but to make cycling a mass mode of transport, we need to focus less on “cyclists” and more on people who aren’t yet cycling.

The first three sections of the manifesto only mention cycling briefly, to criticise pedicabs. Goldsmith leaves the cycling pledges to the fourth section, on air pollution. It’s disappointing that he seems to view cycling as only an environmental issue, as important as that is. Cycling’s potential to keep London moving or reduce congestion goes unmentioned – even though bikes are much more space efficient than cars.

 

 

Instead, the Conservative candidate’s focus is on extending cycle hire, making safety requirements for trucks more rigorous and extending Transport for London’s junction review process. What about new bike routes? It needs “community consent”, implying that – unlike some other major schemes Goldsmith proposes – usual consultation processes are not enough. If “residents' fears about congestion are borne out”, cycle superhighway schemes could be scrapped.

Khan’s contribution

Sadiq Khan’s manifesto includes a section on “a modern and affordable transport network”, which contains pledges on cycling and walking, with a strong focus on safety. Again, it’s a shame not to see cycling discussed as a way of “keeping London moving” – if delays to motorists harm “business competitiveness”, isn’t the same true for delays to pedestrians and cyclists?

Nevertheless, cycling infrastructure features prominently, with promises to increase spending and build more separated routes on main roads. Mention is made of completing and extending “town-centre improvement plans”, which outgoing mayor Boris Johnson called mini-Hollands. These have potential to overcome the delivery problems that beset quietways, by focusing on improving local areas rather than just cycle routes. Although Khan still hasn’t really made cycling mainstream in his manifesto, the content is better.

Still, both main candidates are arguably outshone by the Green Party’s Sian Berry, and the Liberal Democrats' Caroline Pidgeon. Berry’s manifesto shows the strongest grasp of the scale of change needed, while Pidgeon’s pledges 3 per cent of TfL’s budget for cycling. Whoever wins, I suspect continued pressure from Londoners, businesses, health organisations and others will be needed to ensure that cycling is seen as a core part of London’s future – not just something for “cyclists”.The Conversation

Rachel Aldred, Senior Lecturer In Transport, University of Westminster

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

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.