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A cure for London's congestion?

Former campaigner's picture

Traffic jams in London are something we increasingly take for granted, an unwelcome fact of life.  It’s not just annoying: the impact on bus reliability, air quality and emergency services, is damaging.

So it’s timely that the London Assembly Transport Committee is holding an inquiry into congestion.

In their call for evidence, the Committee asks a range of questions on congestion, including the impact of the congestion charge, potential for road user charging, how to tackle the freight challenge and how to promote shift from cars to other, less space-hungry, forms of travel.

These are good questions and there’s a lot to say: in our evidence, we’ve highlighted examples from the UK and around the world. (Even car-mad Los Angeles is now adopting greener transport policies.)

Make space for buses, cycling and walking

Animated gif showing how much space is taken up by 200 travellers in different vehiclesIt’s a myth that providing space for other modes causes congestion: in fact, it relieves it. Buses and bikes are much more space-efficient than cars, and having dedicated lanes makes them an even safer and more reliable alternative. Walkable cities create better public spaces and are good for health and the economy.  Cycle lanes work in the busiest cities: New York found that dedicated cycle lanes in Manhattan cut traffic delays as well as improving safety. London’s cycle superhighways are already serving thousands of people, as Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign report.

Sort out parking and planning

Free parking belongs on the Monopoly board, not in modern London. It's a traffic magnet. Boroughs have sophisticated schemes to manage residents’ parking, often in response to pressure from commuter parking. Nottingham has shown that a Workplace Parking Levy can work: their scheme has cut traffic by 8 per cent, generated £9M a year for public transport investment and seen the city hit its carbon reduction targets ahead of schedule. It's time for London to catch up: we'd like to see the levy piloted in one of the outer centres. 

London’s other big challenge is housing. Building new homes near public transport – and connecting up public transport deserts – is common sense. Many boroughs now routinely require new homes to be ‘car free’ – no private cars but access to car clubs -  and we’d like to see that approach London-wide.  It makes best use of scarce land, and makes homes more affordable.  Travel planning for major attractions - such as combined tickets with public transport - also makes sense. 

Smarten our approach to freight

There’s a negative cycle of more congestion leading to more half empty vans on the streets as suppliers struggle to meet delivery deadlines. Congestion has grown despite falling car use in London, in part because of our love of online retail. But more business doesn’t have to mean more traffic if we are smart about freight. That means making better use of rail freight to free up road space from HGVs, already trialled with off peak freight arrivals at Euston.

Regent’s Street stores already share a consolidation centre from which low emission vehicles bring combined loads to the shops. Similar ‘smarter last mile’ approaches are used in Paris, Gothenburg, Utrecht and many more, so let’s make them the norm across London.

Consider road user pricing

London already has a congestion charge and will soon have an Ultra Low Emission Zone.  Joining these up in a proper pay-as-you-go system for London’s roads would tackle congestion by discouraging unnecessary trips and helping pay back for some of the environmental costs of cars and lorries. We’d also like to see some of Londoners’ road tax kept in London to fix potholes and fund congestion-busting bus and cycle routes.

Don’t build any more roads

We know that new roads create new traffic, costing a fortune in the process. Transport for London could save billions by abandoning controversial plans for new road-based river crossings at Silvertown, Gallions Reach and Belvedere, and invest in congestion-busting public transport and cycling connections instead. 

That will also help tackle London’s filthy air pollution. Relying on electric cars to clean up our air is a gamble:  and of course they take up just as much space as gas guzzlers. 

You can read our full submission here.

It’s great news that Assembly members are looking at the causes and cures for congestion in a joined- up way, and we look forward to their conclusions.

The real test will be how this influences the new Mayor and Transport Commissioner as they develop their strategy for London’s transport in the coming year. 

London’s been a pioneer with the congestion charge, Oystercard, hire bikes and more: now we’re looking to the capital to lead again, moving away from 20th century car dependency for a greener, more liveable future.


Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport,  gave evidence to the Committee on Thursday 8 September: view the webcast here.