Monday, 19 March 2012

London expects 43% growth in motor traffic. Berlin expects 15% decline. Car saturation on its way. Why can't Londoners be given the choice not to drive?

Last week, the Department for Transport announced that it expects road traffic in London to increase 43% by 2035. 'Traffic' of course means motor traffic, not people on bicycles. In Berlin, the figure for motor traffic is minus 15% by 2025 as more and more people use bicycles and public transport instead.

Vehicles crossing Blackfriars Bridge morning peak
Those of us who cycle in zones one and two have seen motor vehicle numbers falling over the last few years. Take a look at this graphic that shows vehicles crossing Blackfriars Bridge in the morning peak in percentage terms.

But recent moves by the Mayor have started to undo those changes. Transport for London reckons that motor traffic inside what used to be the western extension of the Congestion charge increased 7% after the extension was removed.

The folk up in Barnet know first hand what cycling looks like when motor traffic is left to its own devices. Barnet Cycling Campaign is organising a 'Great Divide' ride on Sunday 25th March to highlight the formidable barriers that Transport for London and Barnet council erect to stop people cycling and force them instead into their cars. Even brand new infrastructure ignores cycling.

Just have a glimpse at this video (courtesy of the excellent londonneur blog)to see how intimidating these streets are to cycling and you can all to easily understand why most people don't bother. They just jump in their cars instead.

Barnet seems a bit far out to many Londoners. But it's really not all that far away. Even more significantly, what happens in Barnet is a portent of what's coming to all sorts of London neighbourhoods (think East London with the new Thames crossings).

You see, London doesn't have to drown under more and more motor traffic. Cities like Berlin or Copenhagen show that you can reduce car use by encouraging people to use other forms of transport, whether that's public transport or cycling. Given that the majority of journeys in outer London are under five miles (and easy to cycle), the option is there to make cycling a reality. But there's absolutely no evidence of the fundamental shift in investment that is needed to make cycling a sensible option for most people.

That's why Barnet is very relevant to everyone who wants to cycle in London and who wants the choice not to drive. That's why it's also hugely encouraging to see the London Cycling Campaign announce no less than 14 feeder rides to its 'Big Ridge' on April 28th in central London. Huge credit to the Campaign. It has secured streets all the way through central London that will be completely free of motor traffic. And it has feeder rides coming in to Hyde Park for the start from Wanstead, Sutton, Kingston, Hounslow, Richmond, Bromley, Stratford and Barking. You can read more about The Big Ride and the feeder rides on this page here.

I wouldn't want to cycle around some of the places in the Barnet video. They're almost actively designed to make cycling feel like a minority pastime for people with a death wish.

Our streets shouldn't be like that. Barnet isn't very far away. You can cycle up there pretty quickly. But people are going to opt for their cars every time if the only choice is streets that look like the ones we're building. With the government expecting nearly 50% growth in motor traffic in London, there's just going to be more and more of this to come.

If you want a future that doesn't mean London coming to a polluted, noisy, slow standstill, now's the time to start coming out on your bicycle and asking for it.


Barnet Great Divide Ride:

London Cycling Campaign The Big Ride and 14 feeder rides: