Streetspace and Healthy Streets

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 29th September 2020.

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Photo of David Kurten David Kurten Brexit Alliance

How will you ensure that your Streetspace and Healthy Streets programmes do not cause congestion on London’s roads?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London): London has led the way globally with the rapid rollout of our Streetspace programme, making it easier and safer for Londoners to walk and cycle and taking pressure off public transport. We are opening up London streets to people, enabling them to rethink the way they travel around our city and not just shift their car journeys to new routes. This is already working. During lockdown, we saw increases in cycling. At weekends, we have seen increases over 170%.

It is imperative that we continue to focus on active travel and public transport, the most sustainable ways to travel, for those who can do so, in order to deliver a green, fair and prosperous recovery from COVID-19. With nearly half of London’s households not having access to a car and with cars owned disproportionately by wealthier households, it is vital we prioritise modes of travel that will enable the city to keep functioning safely and sustainably.

Even before COVID-19, London was under pressure. We have been exposed to poor quality air. Many Londoners were dependent on their cars to get around and health was suffering as a result. We are also live to the scale of the climate emergency that we face. Since the end of lockdown, on some roads in London, we have seen traffic meet and exceed pre-COVID-19 levels. That is why we are encouraging more Londoners to walk and cycle and to build confidence in public transport.

Photo of David Kurten David Kurten Brexit Alliance

Good morning, Mr Mayor. That was a very interesting answer to my question. It was very interesting that you said that now in some places traffic levels have met and exceeded levels before the whole coronavirus situation took place. The reason for that is that you put in these so called Streetspace measures, which have narrowed the street space available for vehicles to travel on, and that includes buses, taxis and business vehicles. That is causing congestion, Mr Mayor. Will you accept that? Why have you done it and why are you continuing to do this?

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London): Your analysis, I am afraid, is wrong. We predicted some time ago a car-led recovery because we saw it around the world. You will be aware that other places around the world are ahead of us in relation to the spread of the virus, because of the way the epidemiology has worked. We saw, for example, in the Far East, car-led recoveries. We were keen to avoid that. The Government deserve credit for also seeing that and seeking to avoid that, which is why they were invested - and we support them in this - in more walking, more cycling and to keep public transport running at decent levels.

One of the reasons why people are using their cars is because they have not yet been encouraged to walk and cycle, or because they cannot for very good reasons. We have to assist them to make sure that if they have to use their cars, they use cars that are zero emission, because it helps with air quality, or they use public transport when it is safe to do so. It is really important for that to happen. Even with a slight increase in traffic in London it leads to gridlock. The problem with gridlock is not simply bad quality air, it means our emergency services, it means our deliveries, and it means those who really need to use the roads cannot do so. That is why I would ask you to use any influence you have to avoid people using their cars if they can.

David Kurten AM: I am glad you acknowledge now that emergency vehicles and delivery vehicles are getting trapped in this congestion, and that this is happening and this is because of your Streetspace programme. Mr Mayor, you can say that I am wrong, but I am right. I am right, because I am in touch with Londoners and I listen to the many and not the few, as it seems that you might do, Mr Mayor.

There is one thing that is really disturbing about your Streetspace programmes and pop-up bicycle lanes. There are barriers everywhere, in many of these places, between the pavement and the curb side and the roads. This means that disabled people and wheelchair users who need to use buses and taxis are not able to get in buses and taxis. Mr Mayor, for example, how would you travel, if you wanted to get a taxi from, say, Borough High Street, where there are barriers, to Park Lane, where there are barriers as well, and you are in a wheelchair? You simply cannot do it. What would someone in that situation have to do? Can you give me an answer, Mr Mayor?

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London): There are a number of issues in your question. In relation to the barriers that you talk about in local authority streets, you asked what I would do. I would politely and courteously, not in an insulting, threatening or abusive way, lobby the council to look at the consequences of their policies and maybe suggest that they amend their policies, tweak them, or in some cases change their policies.

With some of the policies the council may, not unreasonably, want to give it some time to bed in. We saw in Waltham Forest, for example, a few years ago, huge uproar when Waltham Forest introduced some of their policies, not dissimilar to what has been introduced in some low traffic neighbourhoods, and lo and behold, a couple of years on, we have seen businesses flourishing and thriving. The evidence is the more people who walk and cycle the more people pop into their shops and shop there. Communities that were previously against their Mini-Hollands are now advocates for it. In fact, we have seen in the last few weeks some Londoners in some boroughs changing their minds in relation to being quite anti are now being quite positive. It takes some time for it to bed in.

There are a number of different things taking place across our city. There is Streetspace, which you referred to. There are School Streets across our city. These are streets outside schools. There is additionally, you will be aware, changes being made in relation to low traffic neighbourhoods, and there is additionally, you will be aware, increased cycling taking place as well.

Bishopsgate is a specific project that we are doing in partnership with the City of London. We will have to wait and see how that progresses. I take on board your advocacy of those black cab drivers who take disabled passengers. It is a really important issue. One of the reasons there was an Equalities Impact Assessment was to look into that. We will wait and see how the finished scheme addresses some of those concerns and ameliorates them as well.

Navin Shah AM (Chair): Mr Mayor, that is the end of questions from Assembly Member Kurten. He is out of time now.