This document from the Transport Committee of the London Assembly, entitled ‘The Future of Road Congestion in London’, has been attracting a lot of interest this week, principally because of the way in which it has exposed how the Conservative members on that Assembly seem to be completely opposed to steps towards what I would call a more ‘humane’ transport policy in London.
The debate centres on what is termed a ‘hierarchy’ of road users. The previous London Plan had proposed a prioritizing of walking, cycling, and public transport, over the private motor vehicle, in setting transport policy. A ‘hierarchy’. Boris has decided to remove that hierarchy from the current plan, apparently because doing so would give local transport planners ‘more freedom.’
The London Assembly Congestion document attempts to take Boris to task for this decision, writing that
the Panel Report on the draft London Plan’s Examination in Public reported that virtually every organisation which responded to the consultation, including London Councils and London TravelWatch, criticised the removal of the road user hierarchy. The report concluded that “there should be a place for explicitly recognising a hierarchy of road users in the over-arching transport policy in order to guide formulation of public realm as well as transport schemes.”
Indeed, ‘Recommendation 3’ of the document states that
In the final draft London Plan the Mayor should reinstate a hierarchy of road users, which would ensure that future schemes would support economic development and encourage more people to use sustainable and public transport.
But the Conservatives beg to differ. Indeed, they have a special ‘dissenting paragraphs’ section included in the document, which on the matter of the ‘hierarchy’ has this to say –
Roads should be thoroughfares which enable all users, whether they are cyclists, motorists, pedestrians, bus passengers, van drivers, taxi passengers or motorcyclists to get from A to B as swiftly and as safely as possible. Neither the Mayor nor the Government should impose an artificial road user hierarchy as this inevitably has the effect of deliberately slowing down some users. Further to this, the Mayor should encourage cycling by emphasising that it is cheap, healthy and quick, not by worsening conditions for other road users.
This paragraph is, of course, completely arse-about-tit. It ignores how, in reality, getting more people on bikes and public transport, as well as walking, will actually speed up, rather than ‘deliberately slow down’ (and what an odd choice of words that is), motor traffic. Congestion is caused by motor traffic, not by bicycles, or pedestrians. Getting more people to switch to public transport, bikes and walking creates more space on the road for motor vehicles. Indeed, the only way in which congestion cold possibly be ’caused’ by bicycles and pedestrians is if thousands of ‘extra’ walking and cycling Londoners materialize out of nowhere, suddenly getting dumped on top of the existing pattern of road users. Needless to say, this will not happen. ‘Cyclists’ and ‘pedestrians’ are simply people who choose not to drive. For some reason, the Conservatives seem unable to grasp this simple principle.
The other serious flaw with the Conservatives’ position here flows from their mistaken belief that if you strip away the ‘hierarchy’ of road users, what will automatically ensue is ‘equality.’ Cycle of Futility has written an excellent post which explodes that myth.
Street users, like those in the gladiator’s ring, are not created equal. Put them in a situation of conflict and some will suffer and others will thrive.
‘Equality’ amongst road users is never going to happen without intervention, despite what the Conservatives think. Any measure that attempts to redress the balance in favour of pedestrians and cyclists is seen by them as ‘artificial’, a very strange term, given that the balance between road users is always ‘artificial’ – it is a direct result of the conditions and environment created by our transport planners and legislators. As Cycle of Futility puts it, not explicitly creating a hierarchy of road users does not mean that a hierarchy will not result naturally.
A hierarchy is already in existence on Britain’s roads, one that many of us don’t seem to be able to recognize, because we are so inured to it. It’s a hierarchy with motor vehicles right at the top. The Conservatives have made the mistake of assuming that this ‘natural’ situation is one that is automatically ‘equal.’