Cycle opponents “on wrong side of history”

Walking and cycling commissioner for London Will Norman gives keynote

Cycle opponents “on wrong side of history”

Opponents to the steps being taken to make London a better city for walking and cycling are on the "wrong side of history", said Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s walking and cycling commissioner Will Norman last week.

But despite a record growth in cycling in the capital, City Hall needs the help of campaigners to help convince politicians and everyday Londoners that it is the right thing to do, he added. "We cannot do it alone."

Norman was addressing New London Architecture's Active Travel conference at the City Centre on August 1, providing an update on the "incredibly fast" rate of growth of cycling in London – up almost 20% in the congestion zone during 2018-2019, with almost four million km cycled every day across London. That increase was hardly surprising, he said, given the high quality infrastructure being built to cater for it. The Embankment clocked some 14,000 riders last month, "a phenomenal number"; but it was not just central London seeing this kind of upward tick, said Norman. There had been an 85% increase in cycling at Green Lanes in Enfield, he added, and the thrust was to improve things for pedestrians, too, whenever work was going on in the carriageway.

Challenges included not having open, digital data that could be supplied to third parties – until now, with Norman unveiling a new cycling infrastructure database. But another difficulty was countering the many objectors who rise up at schemes, in one case suggesting that a new cycling project would unearth terrorist attacks, youths with guns, fly-tipping, noxious chemicals and syringes, and even "unexploded WWII ordinance". "These comments are reflective of the continued challenge we face," said Norman. He also cited political opposition to a new route proposed through Hounslow and Hammersmith and Fulham. People needed to be shown the merits of schemes to be persuaded of their worth, Norman added. "We cannot give up or slow down."

Also at the event, Jon Little, director at Bespoke Transport Consulting, ran through some of the key changes he had worked on around low traffic neighbourhoods, with Waltham Forest, lessons from which he is now applying to Southampton. Discussing Edinburgh, meanwhile, head of cities solutions at Jacobs, Carlo Castelli, said that the main thrust was to ease often "stark" conflicts between groups, concentrating on cutting congestion caused by through traffic, accounting for 30% of total congestion. Castelli's work included improving the arrival experience at Edinburgh Waverley, cutting through its car dominance. "Edinburgh really wants to slow down and pay attention to its residents," he said.

Manchester is well advanced on improving its streets for cycling and walking, but it was definitely doing walking first, said Brian Deegan. Design engineer at Urban Movement, and featured in the upcoming Velocity Magazine, Deeegan said: "it's about taking cars away and thinking about what we can do with spaces". A particular focus is on creating perhaps 10,000 new zebras, and 1,700 junction crossings. Deegan’s "big mission", though, was to ease massive problems of inactivity, with the city like a "ghost town" as people stayed in houses, at work or in cars. "Nobody’s outside," he said. Getting things done, though, had been eased by an approach where Deegan let the answers come from the people before constructing the data around them: "the ideas have to come out of the mouths of people there," he said.

Other speakers included Fran Graham, coordinator at the London Cycling Campaign, who said upcoming projects will include work on more considerate cycling in London; and Bruce McVean, strategic transportation group manager at the City of London Corporation, who suggested that work on the St Paul’s gyratory may come next, after the successes at Aldgate. The Square Mile’s vision was to create streets which inspire and delight, he said, using a "healthy streets" approach and with traffic numbers brought right down. Architect Sarah Wigglesworth showed her practice’s work on Kingston’s Mini Holland scheme, including a major cycling hub. Again, public perceptions were important, she said: "It’s a bit of a drip, drip, trying to encourage people into behaviour change."

Finally, Steer director and head of design Phil Berczuk looked at the challenge of "micromobility" and approaches from London to cities in Mexico, and Car Free Day co-founder Hamish Stewart called for more effective use of car parks in the city, with 6.8 million car parking spaces across London. "Surely there’s a more productive use of that land," he said. "It should not be an acceptable land use in London."