De-congesting London is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, the lowering or better management of traffic density encourages safe and reliable transport. Secondly, less congestion means lower carbon emissions, the benefits of which feed both the environment and the economic strength of the city.
The Climate Trust, based in Portland Oregon, have argued for a sensible and joined-up policy of above-ground transport which would meet these aims. Mayor Johnson's direction of travel seems very similar to their plans. The Trust argues the following:
This project helps reduce emissions from vehicles by reducing the amount of time cars spend idling at and accelerating from traffic lights. Improved traffic flow and reduced fuel waste from stop-and-go driving will lead to less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
The Mayor has already taken several promising steps in this direction. Since election, Mr Johnson has re-phased traffic lights in order to cut idling and the carbon intensive practice of accelerating and breaking towards traffic lights, taken steps towards making biking safer, encouraged cycling, and also aims to cut the congestion caused by single-decker buses by reintroducing higher capacity ones.
The implementation of these policies should cumulatively reduce congestion and help to shift commuters onto other forms of transport. However, proper planning is required in order to ensure that the shift does not itself bring congestion. In Beijing, unmanaged bike use has led to congestion and dangerous streets. Closer to home, Oxford Streets struggles under the congestion caused by the sheer number of buses using the thoroughfare.
Projects such as the "bicycle superhighway" scheme offer a genuine opportunity to revolutionise bicycling in London. Offering true links between the suburbs and centre, the development of a true network for cycling in London is a hugely important one. However, as Brian Paddick, former Lib Dem candidate for Mayor stated, the route chosen should not simply be a "path of least resistance". Such a move would be counter-productive. The Mayor should use his new planning powers to ensure that the best route is chosen for London, not just the simplest.
The economic benefits of lowering congestion are considerable. Ken Livingstone signed London up to an ambitious programme of carbon reduction at the C40 Climate Leadership Group. To not meet those targets has an economic cost, and so the importance of switching to low and carbon neutral transport in London is imperative, especially at a time of economic downturn.
New transport also has a significant role to play in de-congestion. This is a topic which will be covered later in this series, though it is worth mentioning that for people to make the shift from private transport there has to be capacity and reliability inherent in the public transport system. Investment in the transport infrastructure is key to convincing people that there is a viable alternative.
As we suggested in our "Urban Planning" section, the definition of local communities, new developments and live/work arrangements in the future will hold substantial sway over the demands placed on the transport network.
All is connected when trying to change the public's behaviour with regards to transport, and therefore it is heartening that the Mayor appears to be employing a broad policy of de-congestion, as detailed earlier in this article. However, in order to effect the kind of change which is needed, much more needs to be done.
On Monday 11th, our fifth article will examine the new transport methods for London and the opportunities which they offer for commuters, residents and tourists alike. The next article will follow on Wednesday 13th, two days after that.
Check back here on Monday to see the next step in the Transport Manifesto.