Two new cycling superhighways planned for London

A whole road, just for bikes. Image: Greater London Authority.

As one door closes, another opens. In the same week as his plans for an airport island on the Thames were rejected by the Airports Commission, London mayor Boris Johnson has unveiled plans for two new cycling superhighways across London. Subject to public consultation, they could be completed as soon as May 2016.

The two routes, according to the Greater London Authority, would be the longest cycling superhighways in Europe. One will run for three miles, from King’s cross in the north to Elephant & Castle in the south; the other will run for 18 miles from Barking in the east to Acton in the west, swallowing the existing Cycle SuperHighway 3 from the City through Docklands, and taking over an entire lane of the Westway flyover. (We’ve included full route maps at the bottom of this post.) Once completed, these two will make Copenhagen’s 220m orange superhighway look like a tiny village lane by comparison.

So how did TfL figure out where to put 21 miles of cycle-only highways? For a start, planners found roads where traffic had fallen by around 25 per cent over the past decade. Then, they narrowed it down to roads with little residential parking and where TfL buses don’t currently operate. All this should minimise the impact of the new routes on existing road users.

The proposals also include fixes for other problematic sections of London’s cycling network. The segregated routes should give cyclists a safe path through dangerous junctions such as Tower Hill, Blackfriars, Parliament Square and Lancaster Gate (no mention of segregated lanes at other cycle injury hotspots at King’s Cross or Elephant, though).

There’s also a buried reference to improving the CS2 route to Stratford. Let’s hope this includes upgrading the cycle route through Bow interchange, a notoriously dangerous junction which is less “segregated bike lane” and more “a narrow blue stripe on road which stops mid-roundabout”:

This week’s plan isn’t just good news for bikes, either. It also includes the introduction of bus priority lanes, as well as new pedestrian areas at Parliament Square and Victoria Embankment.  Here’s a mock-up of what the new layout at Victoria Embankment would look like:  

So far, the plans seem to be going down well with cyclists, mostly because they actually offer fully segregated routes. Ashok Sinha, chief executive of the London Cycling Campaign, said:

“LCC is really pleased to see commitments to substantially reallocate carriageway space to ensure protected space for cycling – particularly on the east-west superhighway, where cyclists regularly make up almost half of traffic during the morning peak.”

He added, however, that the group has concerns about the width of the track and the safety of some junctions.

The new routes don’t cover the entire city, of course. Let’s hope this is a start, and not a conclusion.

Here’s a map of the East-West route:

And the North South route (the intersection with the E-W route is marked in pale blue stripes):

 
 
 
 

Could more cities charge employers for parking spaces to help fund local infrastructure?

Look at all that lovely, empty space. Image: Getty.

As government budget cuts continue to bite and competition for funding increases, it’s becoming harder for UK cities to secure the money needed to build or maintain good quality infrastructure. For example, Sheffield’s Supertram network faces a £230m funding gap, and could close unless transport executives can raise the funds to renew the network.

But if central government won’t provide funding, there are other ways for city authorities such as Sheffield to generate income for much needed transport infrastructure. One idea is a workplace parking levy, which is a charge placed on all workplace car parking spaces within a specific boundary.

The premise is simple: each year, the business who owns that space must pay the local authority a set amount of money. Businesses may chose to pay this themselves, or pass the charge on to their employees through car parking fees. The money collected from the levy is used to help fund transport projects within the local area, while also encouraging commuters to shift away from cars and onto other modes of transport.

Pioneer cities

After being adopted in Australian and Canadian cities, the levy was first introduced to the UK in 2012 in the city of Nottingham. During its first year, the charge raised £7m and has continued to raise funds since. The money has allowed Nottingham to keep up its contributions to the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) that was used to pay for an expansion of the city’s tram network, along with other important transport improvements.

Currently, the cost per space stands at £402 per year, although there are some notable exceptions to the charge: businesses with fewer than 11 spaces don’t have to pay, and there’s no charge for emergency services and disabled parking.

Other cities have begun to follow Nottingham’s path. Both Oxford and Cambridge have made steps towards introducing their own versions of the levy to fund transport improvements.

Manchester considered the levy as a tool to help improve the city’s air quality, although a proposal was recently rejected by the city council on the basis that the levy would need to be applied across the whole of Greater Manchester to work. Sheffield made a small reference to the potential use of a levy in its recent draft transport vision, although it’s not clear how well developed these plans are.

Together with colleagues from the universities of Nottingham and Southampton, I’ve undertaken research which included interviewing a range of key people from Nottingham’s city council, the local tram operator, the Chamber of Commerce, as well as politicians and managing directors of several Nottingham-based businesses, to find out what made Nottingham’s workplace parking levy a success.


Recipe for success

For one thing, Nottingham is a politically stable city. Labour are the dominant party within the local council and have been since 1991, so councillors are less concerned about suffering electoral losses in response to a poorly received policy, and more confident about implementing more radical ideas.

Nottingham’s boundary is also tightly drawn, which meant that deciding where to apply the charge was more straightforward. Manchester’s experience shows that larger cities may have more difficulty in determining who is subject to the charge.

Initially, some businesses saw the charge as a “tax” on them and opposed the policy; media reports at the time warned of businesses leaving the city and moving to nearby economic centres, such as Derby. But there is no evidence to suggest that these worries have materialised in the longer term.

Identifying a piece of infrastructure, such as a tram system, that will be built using funds from the levy also appeared to be an important argument to “sell” the charge to sceptics. So although there was opposition to the workplace parking levy, there was also a lot of support for the tram expansion and the benefits this could bring.

An opportunity to invest

The workplace parking levy offers cities an opportunity to collect and invest large amounts of money in their own infrastructure; or to leverage even greater amounts of money from other sources, which might otherwise be unfeasible.

For Nottingham, a large part of its success is based on the fact that it preemptively used the money raised through the workplace parking levy to leverage significant finance from the UK government, through the PFI deal. To secure these funds to pay for the tram expansion, Nottingham agreed to commit to repaying 35 per cent of the value of the PFI (estimated at £187m). The council has used the levy on an ongoing basis to help it meet these costs.

The experience of Nottingham and other pioneer cities shows that while the workplace parking levy is based on a rather simple premise, introducing one is not a simple process. There will undoubtedly be opposition; the local authority may need to work hard to emphasise the benefits, in order to adopt the policy. And of course, every city and town is different, so there’s no single path to success.

But as local authorities continue tightening their belts in response to ever more challenging budgets, it may not be long before we see more places taking steps to introduce their own workplace parking levy.

The Conversation

Stephen Parkes, Research Associate, Sheffield Hallam University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.