‘Our opponents are on the wrong side of history’ – Will Norman

Wednesday 7 August 2019

Opponents to the steps being taken to make London a better city for walking and cycling are on the ‘wrong side of history’, said Sadiq Khan’s walking and cycling commissioner Will Norman at the NLA’s Active Travel summit last week.

But despite a record growth in cycling in the capital, City Hall needs the help of campaigners to help convince politicians and everyday Londoners that it is the right thing to do, he added. ‘We cannot do it alone’.

Norman was addressing the conference at the City Centre, providing an update on the ‘incredibly fast’ rate of growth of cycling in London – up almost 20% in the congestion zone 2018-2019 and almost 4million km cycled every day across London – even if it was hardly surprising, given the high quality infrastructure being built to cater for it. The Embankment clocked some 14,000 riders last month, ‘a phenomenal number’; but it is not just central London seeing this kind of upward tick, said Norman. There had been an 85% increase in cycling at Green Lanes in Enfield, he added, and the thrust was to improve things for pedestrians whenever work was going on in the carriageway too. 

Challenges include not having open, digital data that could be supplied to third parties – until now, Norman unveiling a new cycling infrastructure database. But another challenge was in countering the many objectors who rise up at schemes, in one case suggesting that a new cycling project would unearth terrorist attacks, youths with guns, fly-tipping, noxious chemicals and syringes, and even ‘unexploded WWII ordinance’. ‘These comments are reflective of the continued challenge we face’ said Norman, also citing political opposition to a new route proposed through Hammersmith & Fulham & Hounslow. People needed to be shown the merits of schemes to be persuaded of their worth, Norman added. ‘We cannot give up or slow down’.

Jon Little, director at Bespoke Transport Consulting, ran through some of the key changes he had worked on with Waltham Forest and low traffic neighbourhoods, which he is now exporting some of the key lessons from, to Southampton. In Edinburgh, meanwhile, head of cities solutions at Jacobs Carlo Castelli said that the main thrust was to ease often ‘stark’ conflicts between groups and concentrating on cutting the 30% of the city’s congestion which is through traffic. The work also included trying to improve the arrival experience to the city at Waverley, cutting through its car dominance. ‘Edinburgh really wants to slow down and pay attention to its residents’, he said.

Manchester is well advanced down its road to improving its streets for cycling and walking, but it was definitely doing walking first, said Brian Deegan, design engineer at Urban Movement. It’s about taking cars away and thinking about what we can do with spaces’. A particular focus is on creating perhaps 10,000 new zebras, and 1700 junction crossings. Deegan’s ‘big mission’, though, was to ease massive problems of inactivity, with the city like a ‘ghost town’ with people in houses, at work or in cars. ‘Nobody’s outside’, he said. Getting things done, though, had been eased by an approach where Deegan let the answers come from the people and then constructing the data around it, he confided. ‘the ideas have to come out of the mouths of people there’, he said.

Other speakers included Fran Graham, coordinator at the London Cycling Campaign, who said upcoming projects will include work on more considerate cycling in London and Bruce McVean at the City of London Corporation, who suggested that work on the St Paul’s gyratory may come next after the successes of Aldgate. But the Square Mile’s vision was to create streets which inspire and delight, using a healthy streets approach and with traffic numbers brought right down. Sarah Wigglesworth showed her practice’s work on Kingston’s Mini Holland, including a major cycling hub, but again, public perceptions were important. ‘It’s a bit of a drip, drip, trying to encourage people into behaviour change’, she said.

Finally, Steer’s Phil Berczuk looked at the challenge of micro-mobility and approaches from cities in Mexico to London, and Car Free Day co-founder Hamish Stewart called for more effective use of car parks in the city, with 6.8 million car parking spaces across London. ‘Surely there’s a more productive use of that land’, he said. ‘It should not be an acceptable land use in London’.

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ

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