My manifesto to be mayor 4

September 11th, 2012 Times

London is stuck in an intellectual traffic jam. When it comes to moving  millions of people around the metropolis each day with ease and in comfort,  the Mayor has nothing to say.

In this year’s drab mayoral election neither act in the “Boris and Ken show” could summon up a vision of how to adapt London to the 21st century.  Transport is one of the few powers that the Mayor has, yet we’ve seen only  tinkering on the issue that matters to every passenger and pedestrian,  cyclist and car driver.

That is why I am putting my name forward as a candidate for the Labour  nomination for mayor. I have written about transport for 20 years and can  see that towns and cities abroad are pulling ahead of London in how they  organise their roads and railways.

Just look at Paris. There the mayor has just agreed to pedestrianise a large  section of the riverfront; the architect Richard Rogers put forward a  similar scheme for London in 1986 but it has gathered dust. Nearer home,  Belfast has just redesigned its city centre to give priority to bikes and  buses.

London needs visionary thinking. The key is weaning the city off its addiction  to the car. That means targets to cut the number of cars coming into central  London.

The current situation makes no sense. While the vast majority of people travel  into Central London by public transport, bike or foot, cars get vast amounts  of space and priority. So Parliament Square has become an ugly roundabout  where Churchill’s statue is marooned, invisible to all but the most intrepid  tourist. Traffic-choked Oxford Street is a park for empty buses and  bad-tempered taxi drivers — no wonder shoppers are deserting it for  Westfield and Bluewater. Hyde Park is a dual carriageway for motorists  speeding between two roundabouts less than a mile apart. Meanwhile cyclists  are squeezed on to perilous cycle lanes or told to “dismount” if there are  roadworks.

All this could change. Parliament Square could be part-pedestrianised, an idea  rejected by Boris Johnson. Oxford Street is another obvious candidate, while  Park Lane could be turned back into a two way street, liberating the  northbound lane to create a fantastic space for people.

On cycling we have had a series of initiatives such as London Cycling Network,  LCN + (don’t ask) and now the Cycle Superhighways. Yet, even though in parts  of the city cyclists form a majority of road users, there has been no  sustained work to change road conditions for them. That will require a clear  commitment to adopting the kinds of measures The Times has  highlighted over the past few months.

This is not a matter of providing a few bikes for hire in central London or  slapping down some strips of blue paint and calling them Cycle  Superhighways. It requires being much more radical — doing everything from  creating a high-class set of priority lanes for cyclists to making the roads  safe enough for children and their parents to cycle to school. Only when we  see old ladies cycling on London’s streets as they do in Copenhagen or  Amsterdam, will we know that we have succeeded.

The Olympics have shown that we can limit car use. A large chunk of London’s  road network was effectively taken out of commission, yet hardly anyone  noticed. If I am elected mayor, I will use those plastic “games lanes” barriers to create space for cyclists, buses and pedestrians.

Once we set a target for reducing the number of cars coming into central  London, every other policy will flow: pedestrianisation schemes, bus  priority, 20mph zones, joined-up routes for cyclists, one-hour tickets for  bus users, an extended but better targeted congestion charge zone.

Of course cars and vans must be accommodated but they are not the lifeblood of  London’s economy. People on foot are. Motorists are always too worried about  paying high prices for parking to do any casual shopping.

Outer London is different but much more can be done there too. We could  introduce express bus services, orbital cycle routes and tram schemes, like  Croydon’s, or cheaper trolleybuses.

Ever since the invention of the automobile, transport planners have failed to  distinguish between mobility and accessibility. People travel because they  want to reach things or places, whether it is shops, offices or simply to  visit friends.

Yet huge amounts of effort and billions of pounds have been spent on  increasing mobility, often at the expense of access, so people cannot walk  to the shops because a thundering highway blocks their path. Thankfully,  that was recognised before London was turned into Los Angeles with the three  ring roads proposed by a Tory GLC in the late 1960s.

By making car travel easier rather than other forms of transport, the  four-wheeled minority has benefited to the detriment of the many. Attempts  to remedy this through, say, bus lanes, do not address the fundamental issue  that every additional car on congested streets disadvantages the majority.  We need to be more radical than that.

If we can reduce our addiction to the car, London could become a very  different place, a truly liveable city.

www.wolmarforlondon.co.uk

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  • http://twitter.com/frankieroberto Frankie Roberto

    Good luck! The Mayor of London role is largely dominated by transport issues, so having someone like you who is well versed in the complexities would be a boon.

    Whilst I suspect there is limited scope for major changes to existing TfL plans (new tube lines, or even stations, seem unlikely at this moment in time), I think you will probably need some ‘big ideas’ to capture people’s imagination.

    If I could offer a few, they would be to commit to a date by which buses (and then tubes?) should be completely cashless, to specify a few extra surburban rail services which you’d try and bring into the Overground network (with correspondingly frequent service patterns), and to ‘fix’ Oxford Street with either trams or high-capacity buses only (allowing for improved pedestrianisation).

  • RapidAssistant

    What were to happen if, say David Cameron got the shove in the next year or two like a lot of media commentators are speculating (not that outlandish given the Tories don’t have any problems in knifing an incumbent leader if they think they will lose votes as we have seen in recent history with Thatcher, Major and IDS) – and some way has been engineered to get Boris back into the HoC, and the blonde one is made PM. Early mayoral election? The possibilities!

  • christianwolmar

    no kevin, too fanciful. But hey I might be the only Labour person with his hat in the ring

  • Paul Holt

    Once again, CW has missed the target. “…targets to cut the number of cars coming into central London…” can be achieved by simply fencing central London off, but is isolating central London a good idea? The point CW has missed is that reducing car usage is a *consequence* of a proper transport policy, just as the explosion in private car ownership in the sixties was the consequence of Beeching; targets to cut car usage are useless in isolation. Similarly, car usage will fall when there are viable alternatives.

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