London needs ‘culture change’ on walking and cycling

Thursday 10 August 2017

© Juliana Vasquez

© Juliana Vasquez

© Juliana Vasquez

© Juliana Vasquez

London’s new transport strategy is the most ambitious that London - or almost any city like it – has ever seen. And the 25-year plan will be needed if the UK is to get out of its ‘serious inactivity crisis’, delivering safer and less polluted streets in the process. But a culture change is also needed to accompany infrastructural improvements if real progress can be made.

Those were the main messages from the mayor’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner Will Norman at last week’s Active Travel Summit at NLA.

Our public transport system is the envy of many cities around the world, said Norman, but this masks the reality of how Londoners actually move around – as many people use cars (36%) as take public transport (37%). That car dependency contributes to polluted, congested and dangerous streets which are not welcoming places in which to walk or cycle, and to the fact that more than 40% of Londoners do not achieve the recommended 150 minutes of activity a week. Some 28% do less than 30 minutes a week and we have a generation of kids who will be expected to die at an age 5 years earlier than their parents as a result of inactivity. ‘We have designed activity out of our lives’, said Norman, So, said former Nike employee Norman, the strategy’s ‘Healthy Streets’ approach is not about sport but about ‘putting people and not vehicles at the very heart’ of the GLA and TfL’s decisions, prioritising walking, cycling and public transport over private vehicles. The plan includes for all Londoners to do at least 20 minutes of active travel each day and changing streets by reducing car parking, providing safe crossings and redesigning junctions to make them safer for those on bikes, along with a general reduction in traffic.

Norman commended Waltham Forest’s mini-Holland, where Orford Road has been transformed and, as a result, there are no empty shop units. ‘It’s made the area so much more attractive for residents and visitors but also for local businesses’, said Norman. A new funding scheme, Liveable Neighbourhoods, has been launched to pay for similar projects, with £86m available for exemplars of the Healthy Streets approach. Norman’s work on walking ‘in the greatest walkable city on the planet’ will include a design for Oxford Street which will be presented to the public at a consultation in the autumn, while for safer cycling his department is aiming to tackle dangerous HGVs to make them comply with the world’s first Direct Vision Standard, and work on improving junctions including at Waterloo IMAX, where one arm of the roundabout will be closed to create a new pedestrian space. ‘I don’t think that just doing the infrastructure is enough’, said Norman. ‘If we really want to drive change we need a change in culture at the same time. But we also need to inspire people to drive change.’

Lucy Saunders, Public Health Specialist, Transport & Public Realm, Transport for London presented on wellbeing and the epidemiological evidence base on health of traffic dominance. She said it was important to ‘connect’ with people, ‘be active’ with rhythmic activities to release endorphins and make us feel good, ‘take notice’ of the world around us, ‘keep learning’ and ‘give’ in terms of helping others. These Healthy Sreets indicators are important given that one in six Londoners does not even leave their house on a given day and most children don’t play out on streets, eight in ten of them not getting the required amount of activity.

Transport for London’s Brian Deegan, meanwhile, spoke about innovation in design and the integration of walking and cycling in developments, with investment decisions at TfL to be made against Healthy Streets Indicators on every scheme. All new developments should also discourage car use, he said, and TfL is keen to see from developers some form of monitoring over strategic outcomes on cycling. Miquela Bezuidenhoudt of Remit Consulting said the BCO report into cycling facilities showed that increased provision and better quality facilities at the office would encourage 38% to cycle to work, and that showers and parking spaces for bikes were now the ‘bare minimum’ where facilities are becoming differentiators. The report recommends that for 100 employees, 10 bike spaces should be provided, at least 10 lockers, and one shower, although every organisation is different. Air quality is also an important reason to encourage active travel, said Brendon Harper, Air Quality Project Manager, Cross River Partnership especially given it contributes to 9,400 deaths every year in the capital and 50% of London’s emissions come from transport engines.

The conference also heard from London Cycle Campaign’s infrastructure campaigner Simon Monk and Living Streets’ Tom Platt showing the ideas to recreate the ‘unhealthy’ ‘uncomfortable, overcrowded, failing’ Oxford Street as ‘the London Boulevard’ and the iconic potential Healthy Street for walking and cycling, as a tree-lined space with wider pavements, better crossings and places to stop.

Bill Taylor, partner at Robin Snell and Partners, spoke about the local politics behind his proposal and potential locations for a Nine Elms Pimlico Bridge. ‘This is about the first time I’ve experience it where the design is easier than everything else’, he said. Elliott Wood’s Gary Elliott took the audience through his company’s Rotherhithe Bridge project with Nick Randall of ReForm Architects, a ‘self-start initiative with no client, no brief and no fee: not a great starting business model’. The popular scheme could be on site within this mayoral period, he said.

Finally, assistant director (City transportation) at the City’s department of the built environment Iain Simmons showed the safety improvements that have been made at Bank Junction in reducing casualties, pedestrian crowding while improving air quality and the perception of ‘place’. ‘It’s about transforming Bank, and that takes about 10 years’, said Simmons, highlighting the difficulty of making real change during political terms. One key to its success was fighting resistance and emotional capital from taxi drivers especially by generating ‘positive emotional capital’, with key groups actively saying they wanted Bank to happen.

David Taylor

Editor, New London Quarterly 
@davidntaylor

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