Tuesday, 27 September 2011

'Sustainable travel' in London means spending lots of money to make car parking look prettier

Exhibition Road - £30million spent. Looks the same to me
Exhibition Road, in London's museum land is getting a nearly £30million makeover. "The crowded, narrow pavements and heavy traffic will go. In their place we will make an elegant kerb-free surface across the length and width of the road. Pedestrians will have more space and vehicles will be limited to 20mph."

Sounds stunning doesn't it?

This nice new shared space is yet another example to add to the list of greenwash coming out of the Mayor's transport plans. Yesterday, we had the proud declaration from the Mayor's Transport for London that 12 electric bicycles and a 'green wall' at Edgware Road tube station would trap harmful pollution. We had a cheap trick of a rap group being engaged to stop teenage deaths on London's roads. And then we discover that Exhibition Road is basically some expensive paving, a slower speed limit and, well, lots of cars, lots of car parking. Vive la difference. As the twitter feed of VoleOSpeed puts it "We are discovering that the new Ex Rd will be much the same as the old one, but with chequered paving, after £27m spent".

Cheapside. Cycle space reduced to a few centimetres
I cycled earlier today along two London roads that have been "street-scened". Vast amounts spent to make them nicer places to walk and cycle - Southwark Street and the Cut. Both have fancy, stylish pavements that sweep in and out, making the carriageway alternately wide, then narrow. Both had motor vehicles at a complete standstill. To proceed on a bike, you had to cycle down the middle of the carriageway, directly in the path of the oncoming traffic. Either that, or you end up with situations like this one on Cheapside in the City on the left, with a few centimetres between you and the motor vehicles.

This isn't just about cycling, to be honest. It's about the fact that our politicians are spending millions on designing roads that look nice. They don't actually work any better. In fact, for cycling, they are often considerably worse. But they look lovely.

Nesciobrug, Amsterdam.
Compare this with London
istructe.org
In the Netherlands, they spend money on infrastructure that helps people get to work or to friends or family more efficiently and more cheaply. More often than not, that means by bicycle. In London, the Mayor rejects a bicycle and walking bridge that would have helped tens of thousands of people cross the river and builds a cable car. It sounds amazing. It will get voters who don't live anywhere near the thing to think that the Mayor is adding value to London. But it's a vanity project that does little to help improve access for people to work across the river. In Holland, they just build the bleeding bridge and get on with it. No rap songs. No green walls. No ridiculously expensive but oh so attractive car parking spaces.

We seem to be in thrall to a cult of things that look nice and smell nice but don't actually do anything. It's pretty galling, when you come to think of it.