Beyond Thameslink and Crossrail: A London Transport Update
With the Mayor’s proposal for Oxford Street in tatters thanks to a decision by Westminster Council, there is the outstanding issue of what is going to happen in December when Bond Street station gets much busier. The Mayor has described Westminster’s decision not to go ahead with the scheme as a betrayal. It has certainly put a major dent in his ‘Healthy Streets’ policy.
What appears to be the case now is that Westminster Council wants funds from TfL to fund a further study. TfL, not surprisingly, take the attitude that a study has already been done and paid for by TfL, so another study is not needed. It is unclear as to whether there will be some compromise arrangements implemented before December, or whether this will become the ultimate political football between Westminster and the Mayor (except that there is another contender).
The TfL board Programmes and Investment Committee have requested an update about Oxford Street for their next meeting so the situation should then become clearer.
CS11 cycle superhighway
To some extent the delays and problems with the Underground and London Overground are less fundamental to the current Mayor’s Transport Strategy than they were to previous mayors, as Sadiq Khan is placing a lot of emphasis on healthier streets. That is why, in many ways, the failure to pedestrianise Oxford Street is probably a bigger blow to his strategy than many might think.
CS11 is arguably one of the more imaginative cycle superhighways. It utilises Regents Park in an endeavour to make it a truly pleasant cycling route. Critical to it is a changed, cycle-friendly remodelling of Swiss Cottage junction. The scheme also involves more segregation than a lot of the earlier schemes.
Not surprisingly this scheme has not gone down at all well with various sections of the community, with Swiss Cottage Junction being the future battleground.
Raising its ugly head in a similar way is a judicial challenge to Cycle Highway CS11. Not entirely surprisingly, this comes from TfL’s ‘frenemy’ – Westminster Council. This despite the fact that the critical part of the scheme, Swiss Cottage, does not lie within the City of Westminster.
The City of Westminster seems to have grasped that they have to select their grounds for a judicial review very carefully and have chosen to do it on the basis of making air quality worse. It does seem quite incredible that a proposal to encourage people to use their bikes more should be opposed on the grounds of causing the air quality to deteriorate. No doubt, in the short term, Westminster could have a case, but the argument for the long term will include such hypotheticals as the take-up of electric vehicles, the effect of the Mayor’s plan for an Ultra Low Emission Zone, removal of congestion charge exemptions for private hire vehicles and other factors difficult to quantify. In addition Westminster has to show not merely that they think it is a bad decision but that the Mayor could not reasonably have made such a decision.
What is also not known is the extent to which reduction of injuries and fatalities is a legitimate factor in the Swiss Cottage proposals. One suspects road safety trumps an alleged deterioration in air quality but maybe a judge would have to decide on that point.
Whatever happens, if this goes to court, London Reconnections hopes to have another fascinating day at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Although the TfL schemes mentioned seem to be having their problems, they need to be put in some kind of context. If the Elizabeth line opens on time on the 9th December 2018, even if some of the stations are in a bit of an unfinished state, then these delays elsewhere will be almost insignificant in the bigger scheme of things. The TfL transport estate is wide, varied and complex. The challenges they currently face – particularly in terms of finance – are great. In that regard, that many of the projects here are still progressing, albeit with issues, is a significant achievement in itself. That doesn’t mean those issues shouldn’t be highlighted, however – particularly with regards to the GOBLIN, which has the genuine potential to fall foul of the same logistical issues that have plagued Thameslink, albeit on a smaller scale.
It also needs to be borne in mind that the Mayor’s Transport Strategy has significant elements to do with healthier living and air quality. These are subjects that we have hardly touched on, yet a lot of preparatory work in these areas is taking place in the background. With another Mayor we may have had headlines about issues concerning railway improvements striking at the heart of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. With the current Mayor, this is still important, but some of the focus is elsewhere and the implementation of his Transport Policy needs to be seen against its broader context.