by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders
London, (site of the Ecocity World Summit 2023, June 6, 7, and 8), aims to become the world’s best big city for cycling. That’s going to be an uphill climb. But a congestion charge has created a more welcoming environment for pedestrians and bicyclists in the city center. And progress on the city’s ambitious Cycling Action Plan has made it possible for an increasing portion of Londoners to live a car-free life.
In 2003, London launched what is now one of the largest congestion charge zones in the world in order to reduce congestion, reduce pollution, and raise funds for the city’s transportation system. Non-exempt vehicles are charged 15 pounds to drive within the congestion charge zone between 7am and 6pm. Electric vehicles are currently exempt. Between 2000 and 2012, traffic declined by over 10 percent and traffic speeds have slowed. The slower speeds result from interventions that reduce capacity for motor vehicles but increase safety, improve urban environments, and prioritize access for cyclists, pedestrians, and public transportation. Between 2003 and 2018, the charge generated 2.8 billion pounds and funded 1.2 billion pounds in roadway improvements, public transportation, and new infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.
Pedestrians can be motivated to navigate London on foot with the help of self-guided routes that Transport for London calls one of the largest walking networks of any city in the world. This network totals 379 miles divided into seven routes further broken into 79 bite-sized walks. These routes link destinations within the congestion charge zone including walks along the banks of the River Thames and the Jubilee Walkway that connects the Tate Modern Art Museum, Shakespeare’s Old Globe Theater, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, St. James Park, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament.
In its quest to become the world’s best big city for bicycling, London’s Cycling Action Plan argues that cities in the Netherlands and Denmark are bicycling havens not because of their culture or their climate but because their transportation infrastructure prioritizes people, not cars. Active transportation infrastructure is part of London’s Healthy Streets Approach, which aims to make walking and cycling more attractive by making roadways safer and more accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
London has used the term Cycle Superhighways for longer-distance cycle routes that accommodate significant bicycle traffic and connect with key destinations as well as the rest of the cycle network. Segregated cycle lanes were opened on Blackfriars Road and Bridge in 2016, contributing to a 127-percent increase in the number of people on this Cycle Superhighway over 2014 levels. An increase of this magnitude is only possible using space-efficient travel modes. Not surprisingly, 180 major London businesses voiced their support for Cycle Superhighways as an essential way to attract and retain employees.
London’s Mini-Holland program made roadways more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly in London’s outer boroughs using techniques tested in the Netherlands including segregated lanes, safer intersection design, and reduced traffic on residential streets. As a result, cycling increased by 18 percent and walking grew by 12 percent in Waltham Forest, Kingston, and Enfield.
Since the 1970s, London has also established Low Traffic Neighborhoods (LTNs) that prevent cars and trucks from taking shortcuts on quiet roads. Additional LTNs were created during the pandemic and are seen as a key element in achieving the Mayor of London’s goal of making active transportation or other sustainable modes responsible for 80 percent of all trips by 2041 as well as creating a greener, cleaner, healthier, and safer city.
The Cycling Action Plan aims to double the number of daily cycle trips from 0.7 million in 2017 to 1.3 million in 2024. The plan likewise targets more than a tripling of Londoners living within 400 meters of the London-wide cycle network, from 8.8 percent in 2017 to 28 percent in 2024. To do this, the plan calls for 450 kilometers of new cycle infrastructure configured within 25 new orbital and radial routes with the best potential to grow cycling in London. Additional actions include a new Cycle Parking Strategy, improved bike infrastructure standards, expansion of the highly successful bike share program, and new digital wayfinding using cycle maps powered by the world’s first Cycling Infrastructure Database.
In a page out of the Ecocity Standards, the Foreword to London’s Cycling Action Plan observes that cycling is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Increased cycling improves affordable mobility, air quality, mental health, fitness, neighborhood vibrancy, and the livability of cities.
Experience London’s advances in ecomobility and other Ecocity Standards by attending the 2023 Ecocity World Summit this June.
Transport for London. Cycling Action Plan: Making London the world’s best big city for cycling. Accessed at https://content.tfl.gov.uk/cycling-action-plan.pdf.