Congestion in London

Articles, Election 2008, LondonUnlockedEditor2 Comments

200807041102.jpgA flurry of articles have appeared over the last couple of days discussing the various merits of the Mayor's embryonic transport agenda.

First, James Daley in the Independent wrings his hands of the absence of pip-squeezing Green influence on the Mayor's budget, which pushed Ken Livingstone to support a cycling agenda. Mayor Johnson, he says, does not seem so committed:

...the fact that the Greens are now having to fight Boris on a cycling issue shows how the balance of power has shifted. Alas, Jenny Jones (the London Greens leader and former cycling adviser to Ken) no longer has the same sway in the assembly, and will find it harder to keep Boris on the straight and narrow.

I'm sure it won't be all bad news. Boris does at least support the abolition of bendy buses – one of London's true menaces – and has agreed to push ahead with Ken's plan to implement the bike rental scheme. But it does seem ironic that in the future cyclists may look back and realise that they did much better out of a mayor who didn't even ride a bike.

Jenny Jones herself joins the chorus, debating the merits of Johnson's decision to allow another consultation on the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge. This will, most likely, result in the extension being closed down (the previous consultation showed 63% of residents and 72% of firms being opposed).

The congestion charge successfully reduced traffic and made central Londoner's streets slightly more pleasant places to live, work and shop. I won't claim it as the miracle cure to the major problems of climate change and air quality, but it certainly helps.

Finally, Dave Hill comments on the impending launch of the competition to design a 21st century Routemaster for London. A self-confessed fan of the bendy-bus, he nonetheless speaks warmly of the idea behind the scheme:

At its heart lies the excellent and rather socialist principle that a city's public facilities should be cherished and protected; rendered sacred. The return of conductors or the Oyster-age equivalent would make any bus feel friendlier and in so doing make it safer and more pleasant to use.

One could argue that Mayor Johnson is merely fulfilling his campaign pledges and not forging a coherent policy towards above-ground transport in London. However, there is a distinct whiff of strategy in these moves - one of reducing congestion and therefore C02 emissions.

The Climate Trust, based in Portland, Oregon has argued for a sensible and joined-up policy of above-ground transport which Mayor Johnson seems very close to implementing. These policies would include re-phasing traffic lights in order to cut idling and the carbon intensive practice of accelerating and breaking towards traffic lights, making biking safer, encouraging cycling, and cutting the congestion caused by single-decker buses by reintroducing higher capacity ones. He has made moves in all these directions.

Tied to his plans for greater use of river transport, the overall reach of Mr Johnson's vision for transport in London appears to be one of low-congestion, creating a better environment for cars to operate in, and enabling the switch between cars and bikes, or cars and other forms of public transport, to be less painful.

Perhaps this isn't the most dynamic of proposals, but its goals are both achievable and coherent. We must wait for the Mayor to deliver his full plan for London before we know for certain his priorities, though at the moment efficiency and de-congestion appear to be his strikingly sensible watchwords.