A new set of road use rules devised specifically for London is among the ideas proposed by an independent commission studying ways of making the capital’s highways work more efficiently.
A ‘Movement Code’ is one of a series of policies proposed by the Commission on the Future of London’s Roads and Streets, convened by the Centre for London think-tank with the aim of developing new thinking on what can be done to manage the conflicting pressures on the capital's surface transport system and public realm.
The Movement Code would set down clear principles and rules for all street users, including those who currently do not require formal training. It is anticipated the code would encourage greater civility in the interaction between different street user groups. The code would not be a statutory document in the way the Highway Code is, but the commission believes that if it were promoted in schools, workplaces and through civil society organisations, it would gradually start to carry weight.
The commission’s final report, Street Smarts, has been published just as the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, finalises his Transport Strategy. The commission calls on the Mayor to make more efficient use of London’s finite road network by focusing his efforts on creating a transport system centred on public transport, walking and cycling, and on making the most of new technology.
The Commission on the Future of London’s Roads suggests a range of measures including:
The commission, chaired by Sir Malcolm Grant, chair of NHS England, drew on the experience of a panel of experts drawn from across disciplines such as a transport, architecture, town planning and public health.
In his forward to the report Sir Malcolm writes: “London’s roads and streets, built up over centuries, face unprecedented pressure today. With a larger population than ever before, and an increase in traffic of most types, many of London’s roads and streets are congested, polluting and poor quality places. While the challenges are large, so are the opportunities: public awareness of the environmental and public health impact of driving is growing, cities around the world have been experimenting with ways of reallocating road space and promoting active transport, and technological developments promise dramatic change in how mobility is provided to citizens. As London’s growth continues, we need a fundamental reappraisal of how our roads and streets operate – not only as conduits for travel but also as public spaces, enabling activity and sociability, adding to the vitality of neighbourhoods, and creating a better city.”
The commission recognises that its proposals will not go unopposed, but believe that its ideas are achievable. “London has already made large strides,” the report concludes. “Car ownership and use has declined, more of us are cycling and many more of us are using public transport. As the city grows and low-density areas of the city become more populated so local public transport services will improve and local high streets and town centres will flourish, hence reducing the need to travel. Cycling infrastructure and wider, attractive pavements will encourage more of us to walk and cycle. New technology will make it ever easier to move around the city without a private car.”
The Centre for London was founded in 2011 as a politically independent think-tank that seeks to help national and London policymakers think beyond the next election and plan for the future. Ben Rogers, director of the Centre for London, said: “London’s roads and streets make a vital contribution to the capital’s economy, community life, public health and wellbeing. As such, they are at the very centre of our concern. And as the commission sets out, London has taken steps to address congestion and pollution, and to create a safer and more inviting public realm. But we have much further to go. Congestion and pollution will only get worse as London’s population grows unless we adopt new policies and approaches. London tends to score badly on measures of livability. Tackling this is imperative if London is going to sustain and build on its standing as great world city – a particularly urgent priority post-Brexit.”
In its 112-page Street Smarts report, the commission sets out a 15-20 year vision of: “A London that is loved by its citizens and admired across the world for the way it enables easy, pollution-free and affordable movement around the city, the vitality of its neighbourhoods and the quality of its public realm.”
To realise this vision commission has developed seven packages of policies to meet the objectives:
The commission focused on five developments that it believes represent challenges to and opportunities for London’s roads and streets:
Population growth: London’s population and its economy are continuing to expand, placing unprecedented demands on its finite system of roads and streets. At the same time, this growth could support a more extensive public transport service, stronger local economies and better local amenities, so lessening the need to travel.
Equity and deprivation: Despite its wealth, London has high and long enduring levels of deprivation and on some measures at least, inequality is growing. It has a significant population with physical and sensory impairments including a growing population of older people who can find moving around the city more difficult. The design and management of London’s roads and streets shapes these patterns of equality, deprivation and opportunity. Poorer Londoners are more likely to fall victim to air pollution, road accidents and street crime, and to live and work in places with poor quality public realm and transport connectivity.
Quality of place: Roads and streets are not just transport corridors linking one part of the city to another. They also have a place function. People use them to do business, socialise, play, exercise, protest and celebrate. We have seen, over recent decades, a growing appreciation of the value of the ‘place’ dimensions of roads and streets. As London’s population and density grows, a high quality public realm and local quality of life will become increasingly important to the economic and social life of the city.
Health and wellbeing: London faces some major transport related public health challenges. Air pollution from vehicles has worsened in recent years and is doing real harm to Londoner’s health. The pervasive presence of cars and the neglect of the public realm have helped foster sedentary lifestyles, which have contributed to a growth in obesity and associated diseases. We still have an accident rate on our roads and streets that we would not tolerate in any other area of life. A move to a transport system that is less car-reliant and promotes more active travel would have large health benefits.
New technologies: Technological advances are changing the way that people travel, communicate, live and work. Smart personal devices are making it easier for Londoners to plan routes and order services. New vehicle technologies could make London’s roads safer, more efficient and less polluting. The rise of new mobility services could expand choice, free up valuable kerb space and enable greater ride-sharing. But these new technologies could also provoke greater vehicle use and worsen congestion and pollution.
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