Earlier in the year, Transport for London set about finding a way of quantifying how much travel in London could be made by foot or bike. They took data on all of the journeys Londoners made each day, stripped out those already walked or cycled and those that were too long, or involved carrying heavy tools and equipment, and a few other criteria.
The idea was they would find out how many journeys could be reasonably cycled. What they found surprised them: an enormous 8.17 million daily trips that could potentially be cycled.
Conducting a similar exercise for walking, it was found within that number 3.6 million trips could be walked. Together this would account for over 40% of all journeys in London.
Why are these huge numbers useful?
The health benefits of walking and cycling are so substantial that it should come as no surprise that unlocking this potential is the top policy of the mayor’s strategy. What is a surprise is that it is (as far as I know) a world first in having a health target at the top of a transport strategy.
The strategy states ‘the mayor’s aim is that, by 2041, all Londoners do at least the 20 minutes of active travel they need to stay healthy each day’.
While this might sound like a fairly simple proposition, only 34% of adults report achieving two 10-minute sessions of walking or cycling on the previous day. Achieving this goal – for technical reasons – requires 70% of adults to report achieving the recommended levels.
For the huge health benefits this could bring, we have called on the mayor to bring this target forward to 2030 along with the London Assembly Health Committee.
But even 2030 is over a decade away. The strategy needs near-term target to focus the efforts of transport authorities in London and galvanise action in this political cycle.
First, this target will make boosting walking and cycling the core aim of Transport for London and its spending. When a choice is being made between traffic impact and walking and cycling impact, boosting healthy travel should take priority. This is a major change from a focus on increasing transport capacity, smoothing traffic flows and speeds. The main thing is that transport supports and enables healthy travel, rather than hindering it.
Second, it should change where investment is focused. There is huge potential from trips people are making to the shops, for leisure and personal business. Not just commuting. Expect town centres around London, particularly those in places where people suffer poorer health than other parts of the capital, to benefit from spending on walking and cycling improvements.
Third, the possibility of droids, drones and autonomous vehicles mean that this active travel target should also ensure that the threat of ‘reverse’ modal shift to sedentary travel is actively managed. For example, under this strategy it won’t be acceptable to have an autonomous, privately owned pod taking a teenager from school to sofa with screen time on route. Of course, how you manage that is an altogether different question.
The expansion and improvement of public transport is of course central to the active travel aim. For every tube, train or bus journey there’s a short walk to the stop or station.
But fundamentally, cycling has a major role to play in meeting it. Not every journey can be walked and for many practical reasons cycling is often more convenient and quicker. This will require a lot more new cycling infrastructure. Which brings us to the next point.
The document tells us that the mayor’s aim is ‘for 70% of Londoners to live within 400 metres of a high quality, safe cycle route by 2041’.
By focusing on something the mayor can do – build a cycle network – it is a clear recognition that there are a lot more and safer dedicated cycle routes to be built.
However, first, we need to know what ‘high-quality and safe’ means, and how it will be measured – there are already good foundations for this. And secondly, we need clear interim targets for this mayoral term and beyond – so that planning and construction picks up its pace and future routes continue to be developed.
While it may not seem like it, a significant amount of work is underway to develop new routes. Consultations are due to start on two new superhighways, work happening on around 30 quietways, and major progress has been made on Mini-Hollands – most notably in a transformed Waltham Forest – and the strategic cycling analysis sets out where future routes will be brought forward.
It was nearly five years ago that Boris Johnson said he would build the segregated Embankment Superhighway and over three years later his commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, inaugurated the route with a kiss.
These projects take time, but the mayor needs to up the pace through this strategy.
From the inefficiency of our streets, the inactivity that threatens our health to the air pollution choking the capital the mayor’s strategy is impressive for the clarity of its aims and priorities. Previous mayors may have shied away from pointing the finger so squarely at the damaging impacts of an outdated system geared around private motor traffic. But with targets set solely for 2041 it risks lumping difficult decisions about the use of street space and whether to price our roads up to the next mayor and leaving Londoners health and quality of life to suffer as a result.
The strategy needs to set out a clear road map towards the cycling, walking and public transport focused future it says is needed. There’s a huge gap between where we are now and where the mayor wants us to be in 2041.
On the one hand, that means short-term targets to direct the funding and resources for cycling and walking schemes this term to unlock demand for active travel. On the other, it means urgent reform of the congestion charge to meet today’s challenges and the development of an emissions based road pricing strategy that deals jointly with congestion and air pollution to manage demand for motorised-travel.
Sustrans will be making these points clear in our response to the mayor’s draft transport strategy, which closes on October 2.
Photo by Transport for London