The best transport strategy for London is to make it easier to access alternatives to the car, writes Tim Fendley
The overarching goal of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy is that by 2041, 80% of journeys are to be made by walking, cycling and public transport. This target is closer than we might think.
By some accounts, private vehicles currently account for only 27% of commuter journeys and 37% are by public transport. The rest is nearly all by walking.
But getting everyone to adopt an alternative to the car for the ‘last mile’ of their journey is proving the hardest target to achieve.
The reality is that London and its people thrive on the ability to travel. We enjoy the freedom to meet and explore and any transport strategy has to enhance, not restrict, people’s ability to move.
At the same time, London is growing again and could soon crack under the pressure of its increased population. It will become more complex, requiring more services and goods to be shipped in, and it will be more vital and more socially connected.
London should continue to be a melting pot of ideas and protest and, we hope, of democracy.
So how can we make it easier to move around the city? The need for better public transport cannot be met simply by building more railways, tube lines or buses.
Toronto is spending $50bn to just provide for growth. London’s Crossrail, at £20bn, is but one line - ideally London needs five more. HS2 will be lucky to be delivered for under £80bn, while Crossrail 2 looks further off than ever.
Carrots and sticks
Local papers, radio, social media and podcasts all respond excitedly to news of changes that some believe restrict freedoms or are seen as a means of raising revenue. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are seen in this light. So too is the recent expansion of ULEZ.
These are seen as the ‘sticks’ that are needed to change travel behaviour. But what about the ‘carrots?’ What can be offered to encourage us to walk or cycle rather than drive?
The reality is that nearly all the alternatives to commuting by car are harder to do. They require more thinking, more effort, and a sizable degree of assumed knowledge.
A car journey may take longer, be more expensive, more frustrating, yet a car will still win in the choice game if the driver doesn’t have to think too much and feels in control.
And it’s not all about cost or time. Transport planners are fixated with factors they can measure, yet the public are more interested in how convenient their choice might be.
It’s about time we planned on the basis that humans do not primarily make decisions based on economic or logical factors.
So, to compete, walking and cycling routes and transport systems need to beat travelling by car at its own game. To do this, they need to be ridiculously easy to use - so obvious that the public don’t really need to think too much about it.
It’s only when we are able to tell each other that it’s easier to walk there, pick-up a cycle hire or catch a bus that these underlying attitudes will shift. For many of the younger generation in London, this is already their experience.
They don’t own cars and don’t have much desire to do so. But this cohort is more fearless, willing to experience mistakes so they can learn, and they have become fundamentally transport confident.
These isolated prototypes will need to be transformed into city-wide integrated systems
Addressing the ‘last mile’ means focusing on people who are currently unconfident or lack the knowledge to adopt walking, cycling, buses and tubes. For these people to switch, these alternatives will have to work much, much harder.
How do we encourage these Londoners to use their cars less and cycle/walk more – and how do architects and developers consider these cycling/walking schemes when creating future urban developments?
We will need to implement systems that are specifically designed for the novice, the less-able, the less-confident. We had the honour to design London’s walking system – Legible London, and this group of people were exactly who we designed the system for. This has helped increase walking in London by 5%.
Public transport systems will need to be equally as clever, optimised and easy to use. They will need to be completely integrated and networked – everything in the city will need to link up.
The system and wayfinding will need to be designed for people to use, easy to understand, and work for everyone’s differing abilities.
Such a system will have to react to flow and demand in real-time, while listening to travellers’ habits. There are some experiments that show the way forward: the way TFL manipulated traffic flow for the Olympics and Ford’s experiments with on-demand bus services. Belfast already has shared taxis that announce the direction they are heading.
We created the wayfinding strategy for Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland scheme, which began in 2013 and set out to upgrade the borough’s streets and road network, tackling key issues around road safety, air quality and public health. The project brief involved developing a wayfinding strategy for cyclists and pedestrians and concept designs for signage and mapping.
These isolated prototypes will need to be transformed into city-wide integrated systems - they need to become the standard.
If we begin implementing more projects like this to make our walking, cycling and transport systems fundamentally easier, we might have enough ‘carrots’ to hit the mayor’s target after all.
Tim Fendley is a partner at Applied Information Group, a consultancy specialising in wayfinding, information and design