Capital chaos?01 Oct 2009

A transport vision for London

The Mayor of London is in danger of becoming pre-occupied with minority-focused transport schemes, and high-cost initiatives rather than concentrating on the fundamental travel problems faced by millions of people every day.

His emphasis on cycle ‘super-highways’, bikes for hire and a new bus for London has blinkered him to the wider strategic issues.

With increasing demand for road space, many areas of central London could become no-go areas for cars because of the proliferation of road works, bus lanes and cycle-ways. In outer London population and traffic growth is set to bring increasing misery for motorists.

And the concentration on the 2012 Olympics is threatening to divert engineers away from the day-to-day management and development of the road network.

These are amongst the key findings of ‘A Roads Policy for London’, by Peter Brown which was commissioned by the RAC Foundation and is published today, ahead of Boris Johnson’s draft London Plan due out later this month.

The report also concludes a better way of identifying and managing the strategic roads is needed to allow proper implementation of 20mph zones and the encouragement of cycling and walking. There are over a 1,000 kms of higher tier roads in London, yet only half are managed by TfL.

It says that an efficient road network is essential to London’s continued competitiveness. The car will remain the mode of choice for travel outside central London, and freight will be almost exclusively carried by road.

And the report also casts doubt on the Mayor’s commitment to remove and replace bendy-buses with new Route Masters, saying this is misdirected and prohibitively expensive.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Stephen Glaister, Director of the RAC Foundation, said:
“The future is stark. There are already an estimated 7.6 million people in greater London and this figure is set to grow by 800,000 by 2025. In the same period an extra 900,000 jobs will be created. This means an extra four million journeys in the city each and every day.*”

“The report’s conclusion is clear. There is no overall strategy for transport in London. Undoubtedly this is not helped by having 36 competing highways authorities in the capital: the boroughs, TFL and others – including the Royal Parks.”

“This isn’t about politics, and to some extent Boris Johnson is a victim of history, yet as the current leader of this city he has to take a long-term, strategic view of transport and we hope this will be reflected in his draft London plan when it is published.”

“To that end we hope the Mayor gives the road network the attention it deserves, and dedicates more resources to the day to day management, investment in renewal and better traffic control systems.”

“The Mayor must show leadership. He needs to think less about attention-grabbing policies linked to niche modes of travel like cycling and grasp the bigger problems of transport in the capital, not least congestion in outer London. With the best will in the world, encouraging a few more people onto their bikes is not going to solve the relentless jams in the suburbs. What might solve it is a London-wide road charging scheme. Not one just focused on the centre.”

“The Mayor also needs to rethink plans to re-introduce the Routemaster. Whilst there are routes where bendy-buses are inappropriate, when it comes to mass transport, they carry more people, more quickly than double-deckers ever will. And with TfL facing a reported £2 billion budget shortfall there is also the small matter of where the cash is going to come from to pay for these new vehicles.”

The report welcomes the new road works permitting scheme being introduced by Transport for London and a number of the boroughs, but fears it does not go far enough.

Professor Glaister continued:
“Permit scheme or not, the level of utility road works in London is set to remain high. There is a strong argument for going further than permitting and introducing lane rental which more closely links the strategic importance of a road to the fee a firm would have to pay to dig it up.” 

The report also says:
•    A radical rethink of the London Lorry Control Scheme is needed which might lead to incentivised night-time road freight movements. Night-time street works also need to be considered.
•    There is a lack of evidence-based transport initiatives and evaluation of transport schemes after implementation.
•    The Mayor and TfL have failed to be transparent about the benefits anticipated from capital and revenue expenditure. This makes it difficult to know whether the balance of funding between the different modes of transport is appropriate.
•    Accident clear-ups need to find a better balance between gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution and keeping London moving.


For more information, please contact: Philip Gomm, Head of External Communications, RAC Foundation.
[email protected] / 020 7747 3486 / 07711 776448 / 020 7389 0601 (ISDN)

Notes to editors:
The RAC Foundation is an independent charity dedicated to researching the mobility, economic, environmental and safety issues relating to motoring.

‘A Roads Policy for London: Challenges and opportunities for maintaining and improving road transport operations in London’ is an RAC Foundation commissioned report, authored by Peter Brown. Peter Brown was Assistant Director in the Office of the Traffic Director for London for nine years, before joining TfL in 2000 where, in 2004, he was appointed Chief Operating Officer; Streets until his retirement in July 2009. An embargoed copy of the report is available on request.

*Figures come from the London Transport Museum/Transport for London.