March 26, 2021

Recommended Reading: The Fairness Finesse in London and San Francisco

Here’s a report on the changes being levered by the pandemic to accelerate the move to active-transportation infrastructure and design of neighbourhoods in Britain – and the reaction against the constraint of motordom. 

Notice, as well, the use of the ‘Fairness Finesse.’ That’s the use of progressive language, defense of the marginalized, particularly the disabled, and the strategy of anti-gentrification – all to maintain the status quo: “motorists reasserting their right to take up space on urban streets.”  

And let’s throw in a little class warfare:  “Steve McNamara, the chair of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association … repeatedly returns to a theme that cyclists are a privileged minority making life more difficult for working-class drivers in the suburbs.”

From The Guardian:

In London, the Streetspace plan unveiled by mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL), demanded “an urgent and swift response” to the crisis. The strategy funnelled money from the government’s new active-travel fund to London’s boroughs for low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and other projects to encourage walking and cycling, such as temporary cycle lanes and timed road closures outside schools. By the end of last year, there were about 100 in London, where they have been most widely adopted, but they are now being rolled out in Manchester, Birmingham and other cities. …

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Sullivan, a columnist with New York magazine (and an early blogger – one of the best before it became too great a burden), provides some helpful perspective for our time by comparing it to year of the London plague (one year before the Great Fire):

Historians now rank the 1665 plague as the worst of that century (though much less severe than the Black Death of 1348). By September, as it peaked, there were 7,000 deaths a week. In COVID-19, the fatality rate is around one percent. In London in 1665, in a matter of seven months, around a quarter of the population perished. The number is vague because so many records were destroyed by the Great Fire of London, which broke out a year later. But it’s still staggering. A rough equivalent today would be 4 million deaths in the New York City metro area this year alone — with no real medical care, and people dropping dead on the streets.

Now imagine that after the deaths of those 4 million, much of Manhattan were to be burned to the ground by a massive and uncontrollable fire. That’s what Londoners had to handle in just two years: a pandemic of far greater scope than ours, and a conflagration that amounted to 9/11 several times over. And it was not the end of the world.

In fact, in just a couple of years, the population of the city had rebounded. The massive fire had killed much of the rodent population that had been spreading the fleas behind the plague. London was rebuilt, stone replaced wood, and Christopher Wren was brought in to design and replace the old Saint Paul’s Cathedral and over a dozen other landmarks of the city to this day.

What must have felt like an apocalypse of plague and fire became, with astonishing speed, a new city, forged anew by communal trauma, and soon to be the most powerful capital in the world. And somehow, Pepys lived through all of it, face-to-face with death, and never stopped living, maintaining a stoic cheerfulness and humor throughout. And today, in the richest country on Earth, with medical technology beyond Pepys’s wildest imagination, and a plague killing a tiny fraction of the population, some are wielding weapons in public to protest being asked to stay at home for a few more weeks and keep a social distance. Please. Get a grip.

Full column here.

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It will probably get worse.

From The Guardian:

London has achieved the impossible by eradicating the private car – and still having desperate traffic congestion,” says Prof Tony Travers, the director of LSE London, a research centre at the London School of Economics that explores the city’s economic and social concerns. “People keep saying we need to get the cars off the road. In central London, there aren’t any.” …

London brought in (a congestion charge) 17 years ago. … The number of cars in the City of London fell 15% either side of the introduction in 2003 of the congestion charge – allied since April 2019 with an ultra-low emission zone that more than doubles the daily charge for older diesel cars to £24. The city is also blessed with quicker, cheaper public transport alternatives. …

So why is traffic moving more slowly than ever?  Among most analysts, there is consensus on two underlying reasons: more vans and more Ubers. But in case we should feel righteously smug, Travers adds a list of contributors to the gridlock: “Cycle lanes, in some places, are bad. Ubiquitous four-way pedestrian crossing. Wider pavements. Any one of those makes perfect sense individually. But the buses are completely screwed.”

The bus easily outstrips the tube and rail as the main mode of transport for Londoners – even more so among disabled people, those with mobility problems and the poorest residents. Frozen prices, plus the introduction in 2016 of the hopper fare, which allows unlimited journeys within one hour for the cost of one trip, have made buses even cheaper under the current mayor, Sadiq Khan. However, the network has shrunk and patronage has declined in the past four years….

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Mayor agrees £1 billion plan to build 11,000 new council homes

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has … plans worth more than £1 billion with 26 London boroughs to build 11,000 new council homes at social rent levels over the next four years.

The plans form the cornerstone of ‘Building Council Homes for Londoners’ – the first-ever City Hall programme dedicated to council homebuilding. 

When Sadiq launched the programme in May, it set a target for 10,000 new homes – and today he has responded to overwhelming interest from boroughs by agreeing allocations for 11,154 new council homes at social rent levels, and a further 3,570 other homes, including those for London Living Rent. …

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From CityLab:

After 15 years of existence, London’s method of congestion charging is dated. It needs to be bigger, longer, and greedier. London’s congestion charge turned 15 in February and it is showing its age. When the charge was introduced, no one foresaw the rapid proliferation of private hire vehicles like Uber. From 2013 to 2017, private hire vehicle registrations soared by over 75 percent: These cars are exempt from paying the congestion charge. … Read more »

An interesting way to change the nature of traffic is written in this article by The Standard. Imagine  Walthamstow England (in East London)  which introduced partial road closures along twelve main roads. Traffic which was over 20,000 vehicles per day was cut by 50 per cent. The aim of the project was to reduce short cutting through the neighbourhoods, making roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
This project was part of  past Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s plan to bring cycling culture to  the suburbs, with 30 million pounds available to run these types of projects in Waltham, Kingston and Enfield. And surprise! “Traffic evaporation” occurred, where fewer trips were taken by car and less rat running happened in neighbourhoods.
Collisions were also reduced with none being reported after the partial closures, compared with 15 in a three-year period.  The project was backed by local residents but had some pushback from some businesses that feared it would reduce their commercial trade. The “full results — including an expected large increase in the number of people cycling and walking — will be released by the council early next year.” 
And the take away? As Simon Munk of the London Cycling Campaign observed ““It’s very clear that this is a replicable approach and other areas can do it. There is not some kind of ‘magic dust’ that means only Walthamstow can do it…It doesn’t cause chaos, despite what some people say. It’s capable of making our town centres and city centres, and communities where people live and work, work much better.”


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There are no roads in London. Take a look~there are Streets, Squares and Alleys, but “traditionally” not one single road. As The Londonist observes the word “road” was not developed until the late 1500’s, and by that time all the major streets in London had already been named. Even the historic Square Mile, which includes “Bleeding Heart Yard” had no Roads until 1994. At that time half of Goswell Road  went under the City’s jurisdiction, while the other half stayed in the Borough of Islington.

The word “road’ is used only once in the King James bible and at that time it meant a “raid”. Shakespeare used the word road to mean a type of street only three times, the other thirteen uses meant a trip or foray. The word comes from the old Anglo-Saxon “rad”, for a journey on horseback. And the word “street”? That is from Latin meaning a way paved with stone, and developed with a more urban connotation than the more rural usage of “road”.
Back to London. Purists still insist that there is technically no “road” in the City of London as the Borough only owns half of Goswell Road, not the full Road.


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From the always affable Daily Scot, Scot Bathgate sends this rather cheeky article from The Guardian where 26-year-old Elle Hunt who defines herself as “squarely a millennial” decides to account for all her purchases to see if she can save up for a down payment on a place. And she is in London England. As Ms. Hunt notes “House prices have grown faster than rents and incomes, moving far beyond what is considered affordable, especially for twentysomethings. The only people my age I know who have bought a house have done so outside London, as part of a couple, with help from their parents or all three. But you wouldn’t know that from the commentators who argue that a deposit would be within the grasp of all millennials – if only we would cut back on takeaway coffee and avocado toast.”
“But I find the argument that I could afford a house simply by going without luxuries for a few years hard to swallow… But I have decided to test my assumption that, as a single twentysomething committed to living in a major city, I will never be able to buy a house.”
Ms. Hunt uses a money-saving “expert” to record all of her spending  for a month. Realizing she needs a mortgage of around 350,000 British Pounds (which is over $612,000 Canadian dollars) the “expert” suggests she won’t be able to save up, and asks if she has a Significant Other.
Ms. Hunt records all of her  purchases and thoughts over the month and at the end, the money “expert” tells Ms. Hunt that “on the basis of my salary and my spending, Lewis believes home ownership is within my grasp – even outside a relationship. I am astonished. Scanning my spending diary, he says it would be “very possible” for me to save from £400 to as much as £700 of my disposable income each month by cutting back on coffees, lunches out, rounds at the pub and holidays. “Let’s be blunt: you do not need a money-saving expert to tell you that.”
Of course it would take four to eight years to reach a ten per cent deposit of  35,000 British pounds, and that is assuming ten per cent down and prices staying stable. “But I have to want it, the money expert continues. He has pages of evidence that I do not. “The most telling point in the whole thing, for me, was this line: ‘Brought lunch in, felt smug about it.’ If you were deliberately saving for a house, that would be habitual. It would not be smug.” Elle Hunt’s journal entries of spending and wit are available here.


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