Is the night tube good for London?

First night of the night tube. Image: Getty.

After months of delays and industrial action, London’s long-awaited “night tube” is finally a reality. This will be music to the ears of punters who want to party on beyond one o'clock in the morning, and night-time workers who want to get home quicker after their shifts.

Successive London mayors have been trying to deliver a 24-hour tube service for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it will make the city even more attractive to international investors and visitors. Non-stop mass public transport will place London in an exclusive group of cities with 24/7 metro services, including New York, Chicago, Melbourne and Copenhagen, and help it continue to compete in a post-Brexit environment.

The second reason is that a 24-hour service would allow the city’s night-time economy to prosper. A recent study estimated that the night tube would give London a £360m boost over the next 30 years. In particular, clubs, bars, theatres and restaurants stand to make solid financial gains.

The bright side

Those who already have to move around at night will experience immediate benefits. The tube is faster than taking the bus, walking and cycling, and much cheaper than taxis and Ubers.

Keeping the London Underground running around the clock is expected to cut anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour off night-time commutes, as well as providing a cheap form of transport for people on low incomes who travel in the early hours of the morning.

It also means that more drivers will be able to leave their cars at home: less emissions, less pollution, less noise and fewer traffic accidents are to be expected.

Transport for London expects that nearly 180,000 trips will be made on the night tube between 00:30 and 06:00. This is good news for night-time businesses: they will have more clients and earn more money.

It is also going to benefit all sorts of companies that run night shifts. They will have a larger pool of potential employees to choose from, as the night tube enables more people to travel quickly to and from work during unsociable hours. This will smooth the way to help global businesses implement flexible working hours, which will help them to operate more effectively.

Not so bright

Unfortunately not everything is bright in the cities that never rest. If the night time economy grows, it follows that there will be more people working and commuting at night. This might be good for business, but there is evidence to suggest that working night shifts can have significant negative impacts on the health and well-being of employees and their families.

What’s more, the quality of life of people living nearby tube stations, clubs and bars is likely to fall – as is already being seen in some central areas of London, such as Soho. Many Londoners won’t enjoy being exposed to London’s hectic streets during the day, only to come home to the noise of a bustling night life in their neighbourhood. And there are several other documented drawbacks to the night-time economy; from damages inflicted on town centres, to growing power centred in the hands of large chain pub companies.


A bit grim. Image: Stròlic Furlàn/Davide Gabino/Flickr/Creative Commons.

Property prices in areas served by the night tube are likely to change. Some will see their values decreasing because of exposure to noise and other nuisances. But the majority of houses will see their values increase even more. The long-term consequences of this are increased gentrification and more debt.

Roughly 90,000 of the 180,000 night tube journeys are expected to come from people switching over from other night-time transport services – including the night bus, taxis, car sharing schemes, private hire vehicles and night parking services – so these will inevitably lose some clients. But these alternative services are also likely to benefit from the anticipated boost to the night economy.

In the long term, a 24/7 tube service might prompt more people to move out to the edges of the Greater London area. As people realise that travelling to London is becoming easier and can be done at any time of the day, the appeal of cheaper accommodation outside the inner city rings will increase.

Striking a balance

Whether or not the night tube is a good thing depends on what you value. Investing in the night economy and facilitating it by means of better transport services means greater revenues, a more competitive city and more night-time fun for those who want it, and can afford it. But it also means that many could see their quality of life diminishing.

There are a few general principles, which could help London to make the most out of its night tube. The first is to co-ordinate the time and fares of different transport modes, including regional train, bus, cycle schemes, taxis and even airport services. This will improve the overall efficiency of all transport systems, taking the strain off service providers and making logistics easier for travellers.

Next, decisions about transport and urban land use must balance the need for movement with the importance of sustainability and high-quality of urban spaces. This will ensure that the city stays functional and liveable for decades to come.

It’s also important to keep thinking about transport on a human level. This goes beyond measuring the impact of changes to the system in terms of time savings and efficiency. It also requires city planners to think about what possibilities different transport systems offer, to meet different passengers' needs. It also means considering how various types of transport can affect local communities.

So, is the night tube a good thing? It’s up to you, really.The Conversation

Enrica Papa is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster.

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


How can cities become more bike friendly? The Netherlands offers useful lessons

(Aurore Belot/AFP via Getty Images)

It might seem like cycling is in the DNA of the Netherlands, a country where even the prime minister takes his bicycle to work. But the Dutch haven’t always lived as one with their bikes. In the Amsterdam of the early 1970s, cars were considered the wave of the future. They can be seen filling up squares and streets in historical photographs, and killed an average of over two Amsterdammers per week, including many children.

It is nothing more than an “accident of history” that the Netherlands embraced cycling, says Marco te Brömmelstoet, the director of the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam and a man better known as the city’s cycling professor. Today’s bike rider’s paradise was created after parents and activists took to the streets to protest “child murder” by car. A Saudi oil embargo, rising gas prices, concerns about pollution and anger about the destruction of entire neighbourhoods to build motorways did the rest. 

Amsterdam, 1958. Not a cyclist's paradise. (Keystone/Getty Images)

What’s important about this history is that it can be replicated in other cities, too. Of course, the Netherlands has certain advantages – it’s flat as a pancake, for example. But in the eyes of traffic reformers, the rise of e-bikes (and even cargo bikes) means there’s no excuse for prioritising cars everywhere. 

So how can cities, flat or not, follow Amsterdam’s path to creating places where cycling is a pleasant, safe and common way to get around? The Dutch have some tips. 

Separate bikes from car traffic

Any city could start painting dedicated bike lanes on the streets. But in the Netherlands, those white marks indicating space for cyclists are considered just a minor first step. 

“A line on the road is not enough. Motorists will ignore it,” says Frans Jan van Rossem, a civil servant specialising in cycling policy in Utrecht. If other cities want their residents to choose bikes instead of cars when dodging pandemic-era public transport, protecting them from fast-moving car traffic must be the priority, Van Rossem says. 

The Dutch research institute CROW developed a widely praised design manual for bicycle infrastructure, full of tips for creating these protected lanes: A row of vertical white posts or a curb can serve as a physical separator, for example. Still, cyclists tend to feel safest in a "solitary" path, separated from the road by grass, trees, or an elevated concrete island. 

“The main bottleneck, the main reason why people don’t cycle, is that they don’t feel safe,” Van Rossem notes. “To start, construct separate paths.”

Turn those bike paths into a network

Many cities may have some bike lanes on some streets, but leave cyclists to roll the dice everywhere else. Will conditions still be safe when they turn left or right? Often they have to continue their way without any protected facilities for cyclists. 

“In many cases, cities take fast action, without thinking it through very well,” says Lucas Harms. He leads the Dutch Cycling Embassy, a partnership between the Dutch government and several companies, which promotes Dutch bike knowhow globally. “Don’t build small pieces of bike lane from nothing to nowhere. Think about a network of cycling infrastructure.” 

Utrecht aims to have cyclists within 200 to 300 metres of a connected path anywhere in the city, Van Rossem says. Avoid constructing those paths in sketchy industrial areas, he warns. “A connection through an unattractive area may be fast, but won’t be used a lot.”

Embrace the ‘fietsstraat’, a street where bikes come first

On some streets, drivers have to give up their privileges. (Rick Nederstigt/AFP via Getty Images)

A peculiar Dutch invention called "fietsstraat" (cycling street) holds strong potential for the rest of the world, Kevin Krizek says. He’s a transportation professor from Colorado who spent three years at Radboud University in Nijmegen. 

On cycling streets, cars are “guests”, restricted by a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour. Drivers are not allowed to pass, so cyclists comfortably dominate the road. In the Netherlands the fietsstraat is usually paved with red asphalt, to resemble a bike path and notify drivers of their secondary status. But creating a cycling street can be easy. “All you need to do is put signs at intersections,” Krizek says. The effect is revolutionary in his view. Drivers have to give up their privileges, and cyclists can take the lead. 

Some Dutch traffic experts worry the cycling street won’t work if a city doesn’t also have a robust cycling culture. In the Netherlands, drivers are aware of the perils of urban cycling because they too use bicycles. Moreover, Dutch cities use sophisticated “circulation plans” to direct cars away from city centres and residential areas, onto a few main routes. 

Without “calming” traffic this way, the cycling street could be a step too far, Harms says. “In a city like New York, where all roads are equally accessible and full, it’s better to separate bicycles and cars,” he says.

Redesign intersections for cyclists' safety

If cyclists have to cross intersections “at the mercy of the Gods”, you’re not there yet, says Harms. When he travels abroad, he often finds clumsily designed crossings. As soon as cars turn, cyclists may fear for their lives. 

Harms recommends placing physical barriers between cars and bikes in places where they must cross. The Dutch build elevated islands to direct traffic into separate sections. The golden rule: cars wait behind bicycles. That way, drivers can see cyclists clearly at all times. Barriers also force Dutch cyclists to turn left in the safest way possible. They cross the street first and wait for their turn again before making their way left.

“You can create that with simple temporary measures,” Harms says. Planters work fine, for example. “They must be forgiving, though. When someone makes a mistake, you don’t want them to get seriously injured by a flower box’s sharp edge.”

Professor Krizek points out how the Dutch integrated cycling routes into roundabouts. Some are small; some are big and glorious, like the Hovenring between Eindhoven and Veldhoven, where cyclists take a futuristic-looking roundabout lifted above the highway. Most of those traffic circles move high volumes of cars and cyclists through intersections efficiently and safely. For a simpler solution, the Dutch manual suggests guiding cyclists to quieter streets – crossing a block up or down may be safer. “Nobody knows how to do intersections better than the Dutch,” says Krizek. 

Ban cars, or at least discourage them

A man rides down from a three-level bicycle parking garage near Amsterdam's main train station. (Timothy Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The quickest, most affordable way to make a city more bikeable is to ban cars, says Ria Hilhorst, cycling policy advisor for the City of Amsterdam. It will make streets remarkably safe – and will most likely enrage a significant amount of people. 

Amsterdam doesn’t outlaw cars, but it does deliberately make their owners feel unwelcome in the historic city’s cramped streets. Paid parking is hugely effective, for example. Many car owners decide to avoid paying and use bicycles or public transportation for trips into the city. Utrecht, meanwhile, boasts the world’s largest bicycle parking garage, which provides a dizzying 12,500 parking spots.

To further discourage drivers from entering the city’s heart, Amsterdam will soon remove more than 10,000 car-parking spaces. Strategically placed barriers already make it impossible to cross Amsterdam efficiently by car. “In Amsterdam, it is faster to cross the city on a bike than by car,” Harms says. “That is the result of very conscious policy decisions.”

Communicate the benefits clearly

Shopkeepers always fear they will lose clients when their businesses won’t be directly accessible by car, but that’s a myth, says Harms. “A lot of research concludes that better access for pedestrians and cyclists, making a street more attractive, is an economic boost.”

Try replacing one parking space with a small park, he recommends, and residents will see how it improves their community. Home values will eventually rise in calmer, bike-friendlier neighbourhoods without through traffic, Van Rossem says. Fewer cars mean more room for green spaces, for example.

“I often miss the notion that cycling and walking can contribute a lot to the city. One of the greatest threats to public health is lack of exercise. A more walkable and bikeable city can be part of the solution,” says Ria Hilhorst. “But in many countries, cycling is seen as something for losers. I made it, so I have a car and I’m going to use it, is the idea. 

“Changing this requires political courage. Keep your back straight, and present a vision. What do you gain? Tranquility, fewer emissions, health benefits, traffic safety, less space occupied by vehicles.” 

Again, she points to Amsterdam’s history. “It is possible; we were a car city too.”

Karlijn van Houwelingen is a journalist based in New York City.